The Treasure Trove has had some great fights shared in it, and we dig back into it today for another, less well known, fight from 2019 that's well worthy of a watch. This time we go to Hong Kong of all places in a bout that was thrilling and also rather sad, as it essentially put boxing in Hong Kong on the back burner, at least for the short term
Raymond Poon KaiChing (7-1, 4) vs Xiang Li (6-2-1, 2)
In one corner was Raymong Poon, the rising star of boxing of Hong Kong, the man to fill the void left by Rex Tso. He was exciting, young, fresh faced and talented. Although Poon didn't exude the natural charisma of Tso or the skills of the "Wonder Boy" he was another good looking kid with potential, power, high out put and the tools to make a mark on the sport. Aged 24 at this point he was riding a 5 fight winning running, after starting 2-1, and had scored a decent win in summer 2018 over Ryo Narizuka.
In the opposite corner was Chinese 20 year old Xiang Li, a genuinely unheralded fighter who didn't have much of a name at all at this point. Li had made his debut in April 2017 and had struggled to make a mark of any kind, and had lost his only other outside of the Chinese mainland. On paper he had little to threaten Poon. He lacked power, he lacked momentum and he was fighting in Poon's home of Hong Kong. On paper he was expected to just put up an exciting performance but clearly lose to the local.
What no one did, was tell Li he was there to lose.
From the opening round it was clear Li was much better than his record suggested. It turned out he could could box, he knew what he was doing and was able to match Poon for output. This immediately made the action a lot more exciting than anyone thought it had any right to be. Poon seemed the heavier handed, and the more aggressive, but Li showed he could hold his own, with smart counters, making Poon pay for his misses.
Poon's pressure, especially early on, made the fight fun to watch, and several times he went low taking the wind out of Li's sails. It was Poon's pressure making the fight, but it was Li's counters that were adding to the excitement. Li wasn't running away, but was counting in combinations, with eye catching exchanges and thrilling back and forth action.
For those who haven't seen this it's a fun little hidden from last May. Don't get us wrong, it's not an incredibly high level fight, but it's a real fun one all the same between two energetic young men each willing to let their hands go in an attempt to impress the judges.
Genuinely a fun low level fight, where the man who was supposed to lose really does surprise us all and does more than just plays his part in a great little bout.
One of the rather unique features of Japanese boxing is it's tournaments. Be it a small title tournament, the Rookie of the Year, C Class tournament or some other themed tournaments. One of the more interesting tournaments that we saw begin in 2019, and will end later this year, is the Hajime No Ippo 30th Anniversary tournament. The tournament is a 7 man international Featherweight tournament, featuring 4 Japanese fighters, and one fight from China, the Philippines and South Korea. Today's Treasure trove sees us take the best of the quarter-final bouts from the tournament, and share it with those that may have missed it the first time around!
Tsuyoshi Tameda (21-4-2, 19) vs Jae Woo Lee (6-2, 5)
Going into this it was the quarter-final that we expected the least from. On paper it was the biggest mismatch, but yet it delivered the best bout, by far.
Japan's Tsuyoshi Tameda is a fighter that had been on the radar for a few years. He had competed in the 2011 Rookie of the Year, as a teenager, and had gone on a tear from 2012 to 2016 with wins against the likes of Hero Tito, Takenori Ohashi, Mark Bernaldez. Although his winning run had come to an end in 2016, it had only ended when he lost a decision to Simpiwe Vetyeka. Following the loss to Vetyeka Tameda had gone 8-2 (8), with his only losses coming to the brilliant pairing of Reiya Abe and Hinata Maruta, whilst he had won the Japanese Youth Featherweight title and stopped the likes of Tae Il Atsumi and Joe Tejones.
With 8 fights to his name Jae Woo Lee was a bit of an unknown coming into this bout. He had never previously fought outside of Korea and had suffered 2 losses in 8 bouts. However going through his record there were some interesting take aways. Both of his losses had come in his first 3 bouts, his only win to come on the score cards had come against a natural Welterweight and he had shown a real will to win in his previous bout, pulling out a come from behind KO to claim the KBM Featherweight title. Despite his record showing some signs that he could be a banana skin, he hadn't fought in well over a year following an injury, and he had never previously fought outside of Korea.
Within seconds of the opening bell we seemed to be in for something special as the two men quickly found their range, and it turned out their range was the same. This resulted in both being very happy at mid to close range and both had similar game plans. Take the other man out! Less than half way through the opening round Tameda began to unload on Lee, who responded soon afterwards, and then we started to see a sensational back and forth war. This was perfect two way action between two punchers who believed they had the power and toughness to out last the other in a war.
Round 1 was incredible, but round 2 was even better, the movement of both began to vanish and it was even more a case of toe-to-toe warfare. Hookers and uppercuts were the order of the day, jabs were almost banned.
It wasn't the prettiest of stuff but this was brutal, this was damaging, and this was Asian machismo on full show. This was the gem of the Hajime No Ippo tournament!
We head back into obscurity for this weeks Treasure Trove article, but we get the chance to see a fighter we absolutely love watching meeting someone who was able to match him for action and give us a real hidden gem in November. The month was a busy one to begin with, and one where several gems were over-looked including this little thriller from Korea.
Han Bin Suh (5-0-2, 4) vs Jong Min Jung (9-9, 3)
If you've followed us the last year or so you'll realise we are massive fans of Han Bin Suh. The youngster isn't the best fighter out there, he's not a monster puncher, or a slick and smart fighter. He is much more a throw back to an older Korean mentality of "punch, punch, punch". His fight with Jong Won Jung in July had been something special, and less than 4 months later he was back in the ring defending his Korean Super Bantamweight title for the second time. For those who haven't seen Suh imagine someone who just wants to have a tear up every time he gets in the ring! He's a nightmare to fight with incredible volume and he's always willing to take one to land one.
Suh's opponent here was Jong Min Jung, who had a 9-9 record but and was 32 years old, whilst Suh was just 19. Although no world beater he was a former PABA "interim" Featherweight champion an was better than his record suggested, in fact he had lost 3 of his first 4 bouts messing up record badly. His only losses in the previous 5 years had been a TKO to Korean star Ye Joon Kim, a razor thin split decision to Woo Hyun Kim and a loss to Japanese boxer-puncher Kai Chiba. His record was a mess, but he was much better than the numbers suggested. And that was obvious here.
The fight, like many Suh fights, was just amazing to watch. The unbeaten champion continually tried to force a fight, chasing Jung, trying to get inside and let his shots go in bunches. To his credit Jung not only fought well at range, but also held his own on the inside and gave us a spectacular battle.
The early rounds were ones where Jung could create distance more, picking Suh off on his way inside. As the bout went on the distance between the two men became less and less noticeable and instead the bout became a more and more exciting, inside war. The type of bout Suh enjoys.
Despite the fight becoming Suh's type of fight Jung was holding his own in the inside battles, backing up Suh at times, and catching the unbeaten youngster with clean shots whilst they both fought up close.
With Jung getting the best of the early action it really forced Suh to take extra risks in the second half of the fight, giving us more intense action as the fight went on.
This isn't a bout we expect many to have seen, but if you haven't yet got around to giving it a watch, we advise you to get yourself 45 minutes and enjoy this violent little gem.
Sometimes fighters leave it right to the end of the year to really thrill us, as if they need to give us a Christmas Cracker just a few days early. That was shown wonderfully at the 2019 All Japan Rookie of the Year final on December 22nd when we had a number of fantastic bouts. Today's we feature one of those gems as our Treasure Trove article, and it really was something amazingly special. Today we bring the you 140lbs Rookie of the Year final, and one of the most remarkable comebacks of late 2019.
Kodai Honda (4-1, 3) vs Yasutaka Fujita (5-0, 5)
The All Japan Rookie of the Year, for those who don't follow it, is the biggest annual boxing tournament. It takes months to go from the preliminary bouts to December's All Japan final and sees fighters needing to prove their value on the local area and advance through to the final stages. Typically the Rookie of the Year is the launchpad for fighters, with a lot of examples of fighters going from Rookie of the Year to Japanese, OPBF and World titles.
The stand out fight from this year's tournament saw the once beaten Kodai Honda from the Kawasaki Nitta take on the unbeaten Yasutaka Fujita, from the little known Nagoya Ohashi gym, run by former OPBF Super Bantamweight champion Hiromasa Ohashi.
Whilst expectations were that this one would be exciting, we didn't expect what we'd get, which was something very special.
Honda had lost on his debut, in November 2018, but had found his footing in 2019, racking up 4 wins to earn his place in the All Japan final. He had taken out his previous 3 opponents, in a combined 6 rounds, and was proving himself to be a vicious, heavy handed pressure fighter. Although lacking in polish he made up for it in aggression, power and his under-rated ability to slip shots, helping him get in close.
Fujita on the other hand had been a wrecking ball since turning professional. He had debuted just 18 days after Honda, scoring an opening round win, and only 1 of his first 5 opponents had survived beyond the second round. He was in the ring not just in search of victory, but in search of a destruction, pursuing opponents, punishing them, breaking them, and stopping them. He had shown the ability to box, but in reality he was an ultra-aggressive puncher.
When they got in the ring the styles of the two men looked like they were made for each other. Within just 10 seconds bombs were being launched and Honda was quickly dropped. His pressure was leaving him open and the power of Fujita was having it's effect. From there on Fujita spent the entire first round looking for his 6th straight early win. He threw everything at Honda who tried to grit it out and come forward. From then on it was clear that we were on the verge of something special, and something special we got as the momentum began to shift, and the fight turned.
This was intense, this was exciting, this was dramatic, this was a gem that is well and truly worth a watch. A genuinely incredible bout!
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.