This week we head to China for our Treasure Trove, as Beijing played host to a very interesting card. Despite this bout being in China it's worth nothing that neither of the fighters involved are Chinese, with a Japanese 33 year old taking on a Ukrainian 19 year old. The bout saw the two men clashing in one of the IBF Silk Road tournament bouts up at Super Featherweight and it was genuinely compelling when the man got in the ring. We don't think many would have seen this one, but really, you should take the opportunity now as it's a very solid little bout that was pretty easy to over-look at the time.
Ryo Takenaka (18-4-1, 11) vs Heorhii Lashko (7-0, 4)
The 33 year old Ryo Takenaka had made his name at Featherweight originally. He had debut back in 2008, following a respectable amateur career, he had suffered a couple of losses in 2012 but had continued on and in 2015 claimed the OPBF Featherweight title by stopping Vinvin Rufino. After 3 defenses, including a sensational KO against Ryuto Araya, he came up short against Korea Sa Myung Noh, in what was a great come from behind win for Noh in 2017. After a year out Takenaka moved up in weight and took part in an IBF tournament, beating Lorence Rosas in December 2018 to advance to the next stage. In the ring Takenaka was technically very good, with solid power, and his wins KO's against Rufino and Araya were very impressive, but there was questions about his durability, and at 33 there was also question marks about just what he had left in the tank.
The 19 year old Heorhii Lashko, who really was a baby faced youngster, had done nothing as a professional up to this point. He had never fought anyone with a winning record, had never been in a bout scheduled beyond 8 rounds, had never gone more than 6 rounds and had never fought outside of Ukraine. On paper he looked like he was up against it, big time. Despite his low level of professional experience the teenager had looked promising, with some nice skills, and looked good in regards to the eye test, however his competition did make that relatively easy for someone as talented as Lashko.
From the very early moments it was clear we were going to get a bout that was going to be a fast paced boxing bout with both men trying to feel the other out at super speed. Lashko was the quicker man, in terms of foot speed and hand speed, but Takenaka seemed to land the harder single shots, getting through with several solid straight right hands. Although Lashko was the quicker man he was being continually pressured by Takenaka, who didn't look like he was bothered at all by Lashko's power.
As the bout continued on the fight continued to be a high paced boxing contest between two men who were incredibly well matched. Stylistically they were different, but both let their hands go, both looked confident through out and both were will to throw first. They rarely clinched, and their was rarely a moment without something happening.
For those who like well matched boxing bouts this is genuinely a gem. It's not a toe to toe war, but it doesn't need to be to be an entertaining fight, and this was certainly entertaining, fought at a high pace, and saw both men show a high level of skill. A very nice bout.
People who follow our Closet Classic series will know we love a good rematch, and a number of the bouts featured in that series are brilliant rematches that see fighters who had a great first bout go on to have a great second bout. Of course not all rematches are greats fights and not all bouts that get rematches were originally great. Here we look at a rematch that took place last year. Whilst not an amazing bout it was short, action packed, and well worthy of a watch.
Ryota Murata (14-2, 11) Vs Rob Brant (25-1, 17) II
In 2018 we saw Ryota Murata lose the WBA Middleweight title in rather embarrassing fashion as he was easily out boxed, out fought and out worked by Rob Brant. In July 2019 they faced off again. This time Murata was out for revenge in an attempt to recapture the title.
Murata had been a Japanese star since the 2012 Olympics, where he won the gold medal. He had been groomed for professional stardom, but had put in some mixed performances during his 16 fight pro-career. At his best he was an aggressive brute, with huge power, an iron chin and an impressive will to win, with under-rated hand speed and scary physical strength. He was a bit rigid but regularly fought to his his strengths with intense pressure. When he struggled to get opponents to back up however he typically looked poor, due to his slow feet and need to set himself before letting shots go. If he couldn't cut the ring off he could be beat, as we saw in the bout with Brant.
American fighter Rob Brant wasn't the number one choice for Murata's 2018 title defense. In fact the bout was essentially forced on Murata as a mandatory by the WBA and it seems like this played a part in Murata over-looking the American. The reality is that there was little on his record to scream world title challenger. He had no wins of note prior to facing Murata in October 2018, and had lost his notable bout to that point, being easily outboxed by crafty German veteran Juergen Braehmer. Despite being unheralded before beating Murata the American had shown what he could do in the first Murata bout, and it seemed logical that his style was always going to be a nightmare for Murata. He had quicker feet and quicker hands than the Japanese fighter, and was a more athletic talent than the strong, but rather rigid, Murata.
From the very start it was it was clear that Brant felt full of confidence, like his previous win over Murata was going to be repeated again here. He was on the move, letting his hands go and fighting in a similar style to the one which had seen him easily beat the Japanese fighter in their first clash. Murata on the other hand looked like he was more intense, applying more pressure and finding gaps to lands his shots in. He was going to the body with success, and was looking more active and hungrier than he had in their first bout. Brant was still busier, but Brant was being forced to work, rather than choosing when to work.
What's forgotten now is just how great the first round of this bout was. It set the stage for an equally fantastic second round as the two men continued to let leather fly.
Whilst the bout wasn't a long one it was short, thrilling and action packed, with a lot of heavy leather being thrown.
If you saw this originally it's worth reliving again now. If you missed it's worth a watch and was a very short bout full of big shots from two men each fighting like they had a point to prove. It wasn't a fight of the year contender, but it's a bout that was a lot better than we were expecting, very exciting, and full of explosive shots. A very intense but short thrilling war
Fights in China tend to get over-looked. Streams for them are possible but for the most part western fans only really watch the biggest bouts from China, the world title bouts. This leaves a lot of gems that get over-looked. Today we look at one of those gems as we roll back to August and see an unbeaten Chinese hopeful take on a hungry Filipino, looking to take a win on the road.
Zhong Liu (13-0, 5) vs Jess Rhey Waminal (13-2-1, 8)
Chinese southpaw Zhong Liu isn't someone we expect many fight fans to be too familiar with. The Super Bantamweight prospect made his debut in late 2015 and spent the first year of his career fighting as a very low level, with his most notable early opponent being Filipino journeyman Landy Cris Leon. He began to step up his competition in 2017, when he beat Noldi Manakane. He continued to face progressively better competition and in 2019 Liu took another step up as he took on Filipino fighter Jess Rhey Waminal. Liu had shown plenty of promise but still had a lot of questions to answer, and we expected to see him being asked those question by Waminal.
Whilst Liu is an unknown Chinese fighter it's fair to say that Jess Rhey Waminal is also a relatively unknown outside of hardcore fans of the Asian scene. The Filipino had developed a reputation as an exciting fighter to watch with an aggressive style and was fringe regional level, having given Ben Mananquil a real tough bout in an OPBF "interim" title bout in 2017 and his only other loss was an early career defeat to the under-rated Carlo Demecillo. Despite those set backs he had beaten the likes of Joe Tejones and Jin Wook Lim coming into this bout. Technically he's raw, but he's aggressive and has power that can turn fights around.
Coming in to this we knew it could be a lot of fun, as any bout with Waminal can be, but we didn't know what to expect from Liu, who was showing promise but had so many questions still to answer.
To start the bout Liu was the one coming forward as Waminal tried to see what the local had to offer. It was smart from the usually aggressive Waminal, giving him a chance to get used to the reach and southpaw stance of Liu. Midway through the opening round we began to see more from Waminal as both men showed more willingness to let their hands go. Liu did more than enough to take the opening round, but we were starting to see Waminal respond to everything.
Liu tried to stick to a game plan of fighting at range, using his southpaw jab and straight left hand to keep Waminal at bay in round 2. That was easier said than done as the Filipino mixed things up well, backing off at times, then rushing Liu, and hammering him with body shots when the two got close, trying to take Liu's legs.
Waminal became more aggressive in round 3, and was on the front foot early as the bout began to resemble the fight he was wanting. Liu was being forced backwards and being forced to work very hard.
Although the bout never became an all out war it was a thoroughly engaging and had two men with contrasting styles that worked well together. A worth while watch for those who missed it live, back in August.
Not all fun of our treasures from 2019 had much fan fare, and today we look at one of the more hidden gems from China. This bout was on a card that featured two world title bouts and as a bout was very much over-shadowed at the time, but may have oddly ended up being the best bout on the card. It was fun, it was exciting and it was compelling clash of two men who's styles gelled surprisingly well.
Wulan Tuolehazi (11-3-1, 5) vs Ardin Diale (35-13-4, 17)
At the end of 2019 we saw Chinese fighter Wulan Tuolehazi challenge WBO Flyweight champion Kosei Tanaka. That was Tuolehazi's 5th bout of 2019. In his third bout of the year he clashed with Filipino veteran Ardin Diale in what turned out to be an entertaining little scrap in Fuzhou.
Tuolehazi had started his career in 2015 and suffered back to back losses to begin his career, and was actually 2-3 after 5 bouts. He then went on a solid unbeaten run which had included wins over Noldi Manakane, Kwanthai Sithmorseng, Jayr Raquinel and Ryota Yamauchi. Although not an impressive fighter to watch he has proven to be tough, tricky and very awkward. He's sneaky good, rather than eye catching good, and his straight right hand had proven to be a very good weapon against Yamauchi. He could be out worked, and was sometimes too patient, and could be out boxed, but he knew how to wins rounds, and how to neutralise opponents behind his under-rated boxing IQ.
On the other Diale was a certified veteran of the sport. He'd had 52 bouts at this point, was 30 years old and had been a professional since 2006. During those 52 bouts he had faced a genuine who's who including Rodel Mayol, Wanheng Menayothn, John Riel Casimero, Julio Cesar Miranda, Koki Eto, Daigo Higa, Andrew Selby, Moruti Mthalane and Jonas Sultan. Although he had lost plenty very, very few fighters had had an easy time with Diale. Although not a world class fighter Diale was a handful, with under-rated power, an impressive work rate, and a veteran's head on his shoulders. He could be stopped, but wasn't really a fighter that many could blow away, and had real will to win.
The opening moments were the typical feeling out process, with Wulan getting the better of it, and landing a decent body shot. Diale however quickly put his foot on the gas and the tempo rose quickly in the second minute of the first round. We weren't getting a war, but things were certainly getting more active.
By round 3 we starting to see more and more activity, with the output from Diale picking up, and Tuolehazi looking to take center ring and responding with flurries of his own. By now the fight had gone from the two men scouting each other to two men trying to match each other in some brilliant back and forth exchanges. The tempo continued to be solid, with glimpses of real thrilling action through out, with momentum shifting regularly.
Whilst this was a million miles away from a flat out war, this was still an excellent little bout that was far too easily over-looked at the time.
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.