For a second week in a row we're in Thailand for our Treasure Trove fight, and this time we're not looking at a Thai teenager shining but instead a surprise result in a brutal and hard hitting fight that was far more entertaining and exciting than it had any right to be. The only thing it has in common with last week's Treasure Trove bout is that the same promoter, TL Promotions, put both on.
For fans of boxing from Thailand this is one of those bouts that really is just a tough bout, with both guys taking clean shots in a thriller of a bout. A really tough entertaining scrap with brilliant 2-way action.
Tanes Ongjunta (4-0, 2) vs Adrian Lerasan (8-4, 1)
In 2019 former Thai amateur standout Tanes Ongjunta turned professional leaving behind a very solid amateur background that had seen him win a 2- silver medals at the South East Asian Games, in 2015 and 2017, and compete at various notable international tournaments. Although not an elite level name Ongjunta had beaten a number of solid fighters including Muhamad Ridhwan, Ian Clark Bautista and Jasurbek Latipov. He had made his professional debut at the age of 26 and expectations were high on the man from Bangkok.
To begin his professional career Ongjunta had fought in the TL Promotion tournament "The Fighter" and had impressed winning that in 2019. To begin 2020 he was looking to capture the WBA Asia Super Flyweight title. The man looking to stand in his way was Filipino youngster Adrian Lerasan.
The 21 year old Lerasan was an unknown and there was nothing on his record to suggest he was going to be any kind of a test for Ongjunta. He had made his debut back in 2016, aged 17 and after winning his first 6 bouts had lost 3 in a row. He had bounced back with a decent win over Jeny Boy Boca, but that looked like a blip when he was easily out pointed by Dave Apolinario just 3 months later. A low key win over Anthoy Galigao did little to help him establish momentum. Not only had he gone 2-4 in his previous 6 but Lerasan seemed to have no power, and hadn't scored a stoppage since his 4th bout, when he stopped the limited MJ Bo.
From the opening seconds it seemed that Ongjunta was the more skilled man, relying on his amateur schooling to get behind his excellent jab, control range and make Lerasan fall short. The Filipino was there to fight but within a minute he looked the lot less polished and had eaten a solid counter right hand and several jabs. The technical skills of the two men looked a world apart and whilst Ongjunta was well school Lerasan was wild, and trying to catch Ongjunta with heavy leather. Something his record suggested wasn't in his arsenal. Towards the end of the round however a firefight broke out as Ongjunta got over confident and Lerasan responded with a nice flurry of his own.
In round 2 we again saw the gulf in skills between the two men shining and Ongjunta just looked so much more polished, rounded and skilled than his Filipino foe. Ongjunta was landing solid jabs, good body shots and nice counters, even rocking Lerasan part way through the round. It seemed ominous for the Pinoy who was taking punishment, struggling to land, and was being backed up late in the round. Credit to the Filipino however for standing in their and taking the shots without folding.
Despite taking a shellacking late in round 2 we saw Lerasan come out with a point to prove in round 3. Sadly for him that saw him throwing himself off balance and taking more punishment in the opening minute of the round. It seemed like Ongjunta was going to take out his man, and was now landing to head and body with ease. It was starting to get painful for Lerasan who we knew was tough, but was taking huge shots, and legs buckled half way through round 3. Ongjunta was putting a beating on the young Pinoy, until the dying seconds of the round when, out of nowhere, Lerasan landed some huge shots, backing on Ongjunta who was seemingly saved by the bell. The instantly being injected with danger for the Thai, who had seemed in control until the final 30 seconds of round 3.
Lerasan knew he'd hurt Ongjunta. He knew he had had a window of opportunity taken away by the bell. Just knowing he could hurt his man was, however, a major break through. Ongjunta also knew he had been hurt, and in round 4 he still looked buzzed and bothered by the Filipino who was coming forward and putting the local under intense pressure. Ongjunta tried holding, spoiling, smothering and seeing out the storm. Lerasan however wouldn't stop coming forward, trying to turn this into a street fight and rocking Ongjunta again late in the round and forcing a big response from the Thai.
Heading into round 5 it seemed Ongjunta knew he needed more than just nice boxing skills. He knew he was in a fight, and he had to dig deep and try to fight fire with fire and get Lerasan's respect once again. That's exactly what he tried doing in round 5, and seemed to again hurt Lerasan who was backed up on to the ropes. Lerasan however recovered quickly and fired back late in the round. He was missing with most of his shots, but doing enough to force Ongjunta think twice about just wading in.
It seemed as if the momentum was back in favour of the Thai as we entered round 6, and Lerasan landed a great right hand early in the round as he looked to re-establish his rhythm again. Lerasan wasn't there to come up short though and fought back through the round, really coming on strong in the final 90 seconds of the round as the tempo, and shots seemed to begin to take their toll on the unbeaten Thai, who had never faced a test like this in his short professional career. That pressure from Lerasan eventually broke Ongjunta who was wobbled, and then rocked and then, finally, hit the canvas with just seconds of the round left.
Credit to Ongjunta, he beat the count, made his way to his corner and tried to get his head clear as we entered round 7. He looked much better at the start of the round, and had success early on in the round, landing numerous uppercuts on the inside. Lerasan however turned the tables after about a minute of the round and had Ongjunta all at see before the Thai managed to get back on the inside smothering Lerasan and unloading counters. The round swung one way, then the other, then back, and forth giving us sensational 2-way action until Ongjunta was dropped for the second time. With almost 40 seconds left when the bout resumed Lerasan went for the finish but Ongjunta saw out the storm and fired back. This was one of the very best rounds of 2020 and deserves to be enjoyed in full.
With the insane 2-way action of round 7 it was hard to know what we were set to get in round 8. Had the two men punched each other out? Was Ongjunta able to come back from two knockdowns to take control of the bout once again? Could the light punching Lerasan really stop Ongjunta?
Starting the round it was again the Thai on the front foot, looking to reestablish his control of the contest, and grind down the young Filipino. Several times in the opening minute Lerasan looked under pressure, but he fired back with around a 70 seconds and dumped Ongjunta on to the canvas. He was hurt but a proud fighter, getting back to his feet again and looking to continue the bout. The referee gave him the chance but it was futile and moments later Ongjunta was down for the fourth time. He got up again and then pummelled down to the canvas for the third time in round. That was it. The referee knew he couldn't let the local fighter take any more. He was spent.
Although this was a hidden gem, way back on March 1st, it is very much worth a watch. It is jaw dropping at times, intense at others, with sensational back and forth action, heart, determination and momentum shifts. This is up there with the very, very best fights we saw in the entire of 2020. This was just an unexpected treat as a fight fan and something all fans owe themselves the chance to watch. A brilliant fight.
Thankfully we are almost through a very, very quiet and somewhat dull February and next month we will begin to see the schedule pick up with more bouts and more action. Before the month ends however we do still have some action to go, and we have a very promising Thai fighter in action this coming weekend.
The One to Watch?
Yuttapong Tongdee (5-0, 4) Vs Arthit Kaewbantid (3-1, 2)
February 27th (Saturday)
On paper this is far, far from the best bout we’ll be getting this week, but sometimes it’s not about the quality of the fight that makes us want to bring a contest to your attention but instead the fighters involved. In this particular case the bout features one of the most promising hopefuls in Thailand, as he looks to move his career forward and begin the pursuit of titles later in the year. We love drawing attention to prospects, and here we have a prospect worthy of your attention.
Although there has been very little fanfare about Yuttapong Tongdee the Thai 27 year old is a prospect to keep a serious eye on. He’s older than most prospects we talk about, but there’s two things that make us less worried about that. Firstly he was a very good amateur with years of international experience behind him. Secondly he and his team seem to realise that they need to move quickly, and he managed to squeeze 5 fights into 2020, despite not debuting until July. Not only did he fight 5 times last year, but he also took on progressively better opponents, and ended the year with a win over Pigmy Kokietgym.
Yuttapong might not be creating much buzz, but we suspect he will be fast tracked into the world rankings by the end of this year and given his age and experience it’ll be great to see just how quickly TL Promotions do step him up, and do move him into bouts with notable names.
In the opposite corner to the 27 year old Yuttapong will be teenager Arthit Kaewbantid, a 19 year old looking to bounce back from his first professional defeat. Coming into this he is the clear under-dog, and will not be the man many expect to see come out on top. Saying that however he is still a live under-dog and will be in the ring to win, to push his career forward and to get back on track following a loss last time out.
Arthit made his debut in 2019 and faced fellow debutants, as he ran his record to 3-0 (2) before clashing with the very talented Phongsaphon Panyakum in September 2020, and suffered a 3rd round loss to the highly touted Phongsaphon Panyakum. Despite losing to Panyakum there was something to like about the teenager, who tried to take the fight to his more experienced and more polished opponent before being stopped in 3 rounds.
What to expect?
We expect this to be a genuine showcase for Yuttapong, but a showcase against someone coming to win. Arthit might not be a world beater in the making but he comes to fight and will show some ambition. Sadly for him we expect to see that ambition being beaten out of him by Yuttapong, who we feel is too big, too strong and too polished. We suspect a body shot in round 3 or 4 will be the end for Arthit, but he’ll have given an honest account and will be in the ring looking to win, making for a rather fun back and forth fight, but one where Yuttapong always looks in control.
Despite how we all want to see boxing, with a winner and a loser, sometimes bouts can be good for both men. We really do see this as being an easy win for Yuttapong, we just think he’s better in so many areas. However for, Arthit sharing the ring with Yuttapon should help develop his skills, and we suspect the 19 year old will learn from sharing the ring with him. He might not be a prospect racing to the top, like Yuttapong, but in 5 or 6 years we suspect he’ll have developed into a good fighter, whilst Yuttapon will have fought at fringe world, if not actual world, class.
The bad news?
There isn’t really anything too bad here, except for the fact that Yuttapong won’t really get much attention from beating Arthit, especially given his win against Pigmy Kokietgym last year. That aside, there’s nothing particularly bad to take away from this fight, which will be shown for free, live on Thairath.
The last few bouts covered in this series have been in Japan so we thought it was a good time to get out of the Land of the rising Sun and bring you a treasure from else where. With that in mind we pop over to the Land of Smiles for this week's Treasure Trove bout, and this time it's the turn of one of boxing brightest young prospects scoring his most impressive win to date.
If you like prospects, and young fighters, and getting to know them before they are big names this is a Treasure Trove fight that you need to watch!
Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (9-0, 4) vs Atchariya Wirojanasunobol (13-0, 5)
Over the last few years there had been talk about a Thai youngster called Phoobadin Yoohanngoh, who was born in 2004 and made his debut in 2018, at the age of 14. Early on it seemed weird that such a youngster was fighting, but by the end of 2018 he had racked up a 3-0 (2) record and proven himself capable in the ring, albeit against novices. In 2019 he added 5 more wins to his record, winning TL Promotion' "The Fighter" series.
By then Phoobadin had moved from a young fighter to a genuine curiosity, and entered 2020 8-0 (4). Was this youngster the new megastar of Thai boxing? Was he a boxing savant? Was there more to this young man than just the latest in a long line of kids thrown into the ring at a young age? In July 2020 he proved there was more to him, out pointing Somboon Meesitdee for the WBA Asia Light Welterweight title. Some 4 months later, after a training scuppered the original date, he made his first defense.
Unlike many fighter who get an easy first defense Phoobadin was matched with the once very highly regarded Atchariya Wirojanasunobol, who like Phoobadin was an unbeaten fighter with aspirations of big fights. Atchariya had promised a lot early in his career, but a 2018 arrest for drugs charges, which were later dropped, had derailed his career. He had started his comeback, and noted a solid win in September, but needed something big. He needed a win here over his teenage compatriot.
With TL Promotions putting the fight on in November we had high hopes of something truly intriguing. What we ended up getting was intriguing but also sensational.
Atchariya started the bout on the front foot. Like many men he likely assumed the teenager he was up against wasn't going to be able to take his shots, and was hype rather than true substance. Phoobadin however shows great composure under some early pressure, moved around the ring well and made Atachariya miss, and the countered him with some excellent clean shots.
Atchariya wasn't discouraged by the counters in the first round and kept his pressure up in round 2, making Phoobadin back up and fight from the ropes. It was clear by the end of the round however that Phoobadin had no fear of Atchariya. He was getting a read on his opponent, understanding him, catching him and making the most of the clear difference in speed. Phoobadin continued to bide his time, countering well through rounds 3 and 4, though did let some combinations go when he decided to counter and there was a tension that maybe, just maybe, Atchariya's composed and educated pressure would have an effect on the youngster mentally.
By round 5 Phoobadin had began to look more at ease and more comfortable letting his hands go, whilst Atachariya had began to look wary, realising that he was putting in a lot of effort for little return. He wasn't taking a lot of punishment, but Atchariya was certainly not having much success and was starting to visibly slow, getting more cautious and and wary that the teenager he was up against was a very smart and talented young man.
In round 6 we finally saw Phoobadin open up properly and this was the start of the end for Atchariya who took a pounding in round 6 forcing his corner to step in and save him after he had been down numerous times. It was statement finish from Phoobadin, who had boxed smartly on the backfoot later on, punished his older foe with counters and then took him out. It was an amazingly mature performance by someone who was still just a kid, in their 10th professional bout.
If you want to talk about sensational prospects shining in 2020 there wasn't many more impressive than the 16 year old Phoobadin was here. Brilliant from him both defensively and offensively. A genuine star making performance in his homeland, and a win that really should help open big doors for him in the future.
With so few fights taking place during this month we’ve not been able to talk about too many solid matchups during this series. The reality is that the boxing calendar is still far, far too empty and the effects of Covid19 are still being felt on the fighters and the amount of fights we’re getting to enjoy. Despite that we do have a notable Japanese show this coming weekend, thanks to the annual All Japan Rookie of the Year final.
The One to Watch?
Eiki Kani (3-0-2, 1) vs Katsuhiro Nakata (5-0, 4)
February 21st (Sunday)
Although the Middleweight division in Japan has been notoriously thin on the ground the division has consistently given us some amazing bouts, thrilling wars, and brutal brawls. With that in mind we figure this year’s Middleweight Rookie of the Year final could end up providing us with some special. Especially given the men involved, who are both unbeaten, both typically fun to watch, and both have styles that should gel to give us one of the more exciting Rookie bouts from the finals on Sunday. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not expecting a high level boxing contest, but we are expecting an all action war.
Eiki Kani is a 19 year old fighter who’s tiny for a Middleweight, but also a pretty smart fighter, who uses his lack of size well and makes for a small target. His lack of stature also allows him to jump in and out of range, and he regularly unloads off on his way in, or way out. He can be kept at range, and will struggle against fighters with a good jab, however he’s aggressive, and when tagged he covers up very well. Up close he’s the sort of fighter who sets a higher pace, and picks his moments well. Technically he’s not the most polished, but he’s a strong fighter with real determination and some sneaky tricks in his arsenal.
Whilst Kani is a short, aggressive, teenager how opponent, Katsuhiro Nakata, is a 29 year old who will dwarf him when the two men get in the ring. Standing at 6’1” Nakata is what you expect a Middleweight to look like. In regards to Japanese fighters he’s big, tall, rangy and even a little bit awkward looking due to his height. For a Japanese fighter he really does look much bigger than many of his opponents. Despite being a tall and rangy guy Nakata doesn’t really fight like a big man. Instead he’s more of an inside fighter, who launches really ugly looking power shots and seems very adverse to throwing a real jab. He is very, very basic. But very heavy handed. Last time out he was was forced backwards by Norifumi Hayakawa, before his heavy power turned the fight around.
What to expect?
Looking at the two men, it would be fair to assume that Nakata would control the range behind his straight punches and dictate the tempo and range. In reality however, that is not Nakata’s style. Instead he wants to fight. He wants a war, a battle and a tear up. With that in mind Kani will likely find himself getting the fight he wants.
With both men wanting a tear up we expect an all out war. We expect to see Kani closing the distance, getting inside, and going to war with Nakata responding with his wild, looping, heavy heavy shots. This won’t look pretty, oh no this will be a mess at times, but it will be a thoroughly engaging mess, with bombs thrown by both men and all out excitement from the off.
We suspect the shorter, busier, Kani will have more success, however that success could be neutralised, rather easily, by the power of Nakata who certainly has enough on his shots to give Kani real issues, if he can land clean, and can land successively.
The bad news?
With this being a Rookie of the Year bout, it actually is somewhat tricky to predict what will happen with the men in the future. We suspect Kani will move down in weight, and fight at 154lbs which isn’t included in the Rookie of the Year. With that in mind there’s also a chance that Kani’s lack of stature will be an issue against the much bigger Nakata here. Saying that however we still expect this to be a barn burner from the offer!
When we think about fights to include in this Treasure Trove series we try to look at bouts that fit certain criteria. For example major debuts fit in here, exciting bouts, low key slugfests, and meaningful contests. The Treasure Trove is all about the contests that we want fans to give a watch to, and lets his talk about them.
Today's bout certainly falls under the fun to watch match ups, and comes from August 2020. It's not a Fight of the Year contender, but it's a bout that warms it's way into becoming an action bout. It's got a slow and steady start, before one man's pressure forces a real battle, and we genuinely love those types of bouts. It's not the prettiest or the most exciting, but it is an entertaining one and one that features the Japanese debut of a re-imported figher.
Shoki Sakai (23-11-2, 13) vs Hironori Shigeta (6-1-1, 3)
In one corner we had "re-imported" Japanese fighter Shoki Sakai, who had fought his entire career up to this point in Mexico and the US. He had earned a reputation in the West as a tough guy, with a typical Japanese attitude in the ring. He was about heart and desire, determination and hunger. Often his bouts would see him show a lot more desire than skill, but it had made him a worthy gate keeper for prospects, testing the likes of Gor Yeritsyan, Alexis Rocha and Eddie Gomez. He was no world beater, but was the ideal type of opponent for rising prospects.
In 2020 Sakai returned to Japan, where he was born, and signed with the Yokohama Hikari gym, who had him headline an A-Sign show in August at the Shinjuku FACE in Tokyo.
In the opposite corner was the once beaten Hironori Shigeta, a 30 year old who had won the 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year, but failed to build on that win, with two relatively low key bouts following it. He had shown promise early in his career but by August 2020 he had all but seen his career fade away before it really got going, due to inactivity. Despite that he knew this was a big fight for his career and a win over Sakai could end up boosting his career to the point where he was going to get another big fight in late 2020 or early 2021.
Given the styles of the two men, we had expected a fun match up here, especially given that both had a point to prove.
The opening round was surprisingly quiet. Shigeta, fighting in black and orange shorts, looked to create distance and box at range. He looked to make the most of his better jab and his quicker movement, and it seemed like he had scouted Sakai well. Sakai however wasn't in Japan to lose, after all he had lost his previous 4. He was there to win, to make a successful Japanese debut, and he was there to win fans over. Despite being out boxed during the opening round Sakai was relentless with his pressure, following Shigeta around the ring, and forcing him to work hard for every inch of space.
Shigeta again did well to neutralise the pressure of Sakai in round 2, and landed some solid shots of his own as Sakai came forward without managing to force the war he was looking for. The experienced veteran was however getting a read on what Shigeta had to offer and forcing the relative novice to tire himself out, creating space and trying to keep himself safe. It did, however, feeling like it was only going to be a matter of time before Sakai would go through the gears, get inside and get his shots off, adding a real tension as we entered round 3.
In round 3 we finally saw Sakai getting closer and in round 4 we started to see a war break out as Shigeta's legs began to tire and Sakai's experience, toughness and hunger kicked in. From here on the fight began to take on a new personality. No longer was this Sakai following Shigeta, but it was instead Sakai walking down Shigeta, getting inside and forcing Shigeta to fight hard, something he tried to do through out round 4, before the pace increased again. And again.
In the final rounds this became a rough and tough battle, with Sakai trying to stop Shigeta, and Shigeta trying to get Sakai's respect.
Was it a fight of the year contender? God no, but it was a worthwhile watch, at a time where we needed some fun fights, and from round 5 onwards this was certainly a real fun fight. The change in momentum and dynamic made the fight compelling from the off. It was also a really meaningful bout, giving us a chance to see Sakai in a Japanese ring for the first time after his lengthy run over in the west.
Back at the start of the year we had some really interesting fights, as we began 2020 blissfully unaware of what was to come over the rest of the year. One of the early bouts the promises little but delivered everything took place at Korakuen Hall back on January 18th. This is not the best bout you'll see from 2020 but it is one that gave us drama, action and controversy, all within just a few rounds. It also featured a touted prospect who did not look like much of a prospect during the bout. This was the perfect little gem for those who assume boxing is predictable, and one of the first bouts we highlighted for our Treasure Trove series.
Takuma Takahashi (4-0, 4) vs Leonardo Doronio (17-17-3, 11)
Although not too well known outside of Japan Takuma Takahashi is regarded as a genuine prospect in his homeland and through his first 4 bouts he looked like a prospect worth following. He came from the World Sports Gym, the same gym that manages Takeshi Inoue and Kazuto Takesako, and was widely viewed as their #3 behind those two.
A former amateur standout, blessed with nasty power, good speed and and exciting mentality Takahashi ticked a lot of boxes and early career wins over Jonel Dapidran and Sitthidet Banti seemed to show that he was on the right line for bigger and better tests.
In January it was the turn of Filipino veteran Leonardo Doronio to take on the rising Japanese hopeful. The 31 year old Filipino was very much a journeyman, but like many Filipino journeyman he could be a genuine banana skin, and on his day he could be too much for less experienced fighters. His 17-17-3 record looked poor but included wins over Jeffrey Arienza, Jose Ocamp, All Rivera and Taiwo Ali. It also included narrow, and controversial, losses to Nery Saguilan and Yoshitaka Kato. Although he looked like a poor opponent, he was, in all honesty, the perfect type of opponent for Takahashi at this point in his career.
For all intents and purposes this looked like a straight forward win for Takahashi against an opponent with a decent reputation. What we ended up with was very, very different. What we ended up with was dramatic, exciting, entertaining and controversial. It was a heart in mouth, a gut check and something totally engrossing.
From the off it seemed Takahashi was the better boxer. He was quicker, sharper and quicker, but Doronio looked much sturdier and more powerful. It was that power that told around a minute into the fight when the Filipino twice caught Takahashi. This should have been a sign for Takahashi to take Doronio seriously. He didn't heed that warning and just over 30 seconds later he was dropped to the canvas for the first knockdown of the fight. The knockdown came as a result of a clean, sweeping left hook, and it was the sort of shot that could, easily, have kept a lesser fighter down.
To his credit Takahashi rose to his feet but Doronio knew his man was hurt and went hunting for him, hurting him again before Takahashi was dropped again. By the time he rose there was just seconds left in the round, but this was a 10-7 to Doronio and the unbeaten prospect had taken some serious punishment.
After a torrid lesson in round 1 Takahashi showed a lot more respect to Doronio in round 2, holding when he needed to, riding shots when caught and avoiding exchanges as much as possible. He did caught once or twice, but knew not to try to respond with fire when tagged. It was clear he had learned his lesson, and learned it in a painful fashion. This was much smart from Takahashi, who had began to use his physical tools at last. It was a near perfect bounce back round.
We had drama in round 1, a moment to catch our breath in round 2 and then we moved on to controversy in round 3.
Within seconds of the round beginning Doronio was rocked, then took a knee. Then took a 3-punch combination from Takahashi, who seemingly wanted to punish the Filipino now he was vulnerable. This could, and perhaps should, have seen Takahashi being disqualified but instead saw him at the end of a telling off. Then the fight restarted and Takahashi was rocked from a huge Doronio right, then a left. He was in trouble again. Thankfully for Takahashi he responded quickly and rocked Doronio before the crowd erupted.
With around half of round 3 gone Takahashi's face was a bloodied mess, both hand landed bombs and it was clear that was not going to last much longer. With the two men letting fire go it wasn't long until Doronio was backed into the corner, dropped for the second time and again hit when down. This time the late shot was essentially ignored as the referee waved off the bout, giving a bloodied Takahashi the win.
Although not a fight of the year contender, this really did squeeze a lot into 3 rounds and is a must watch. It had literally everything we could hope to see, with both being hurt, both being downed, some questionable refereeing, and a fire fight in round 3. This was sensational stuff, in a bout that looked, on paper, like it was going to be an easy days work for an unbeaten prospect.
We admit the refereeing left much to be desired here, though don't let that overshadowed what was a genuine barn burner.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.