It's fair to suggest the Welterweight to Middleweight divisions in Japan do go a bit over-looked, especially by international fans who don't typically get the chance to see many Japanese fighters above 135lbs. Despite that the divisions often give us some amazing battles, and the Japanese Middleweight title consistently gives us barn burners. In 2020 we got several great Japanese battles above 135lbs including today's Treasure Trove bout, which took place at 154lbs and matched a Japanese ranked Welterweight against a Japanese ranked Middleweight, with the two men compromising on weight class.
Junpei Tsujimoto (6-1-3, 4) vs Nath Nwachukwu (5-0-2, 2)
For this bout we go all the way back to February 1st 2020.
In one corner was 25 year old Teiken prospect Junpei Tsujimoto, a promising puncher who had cracked into the JBC's Welterweight rankings, with a #15 ranking coming in to this bout. He had been stopped on his debut, in 2014, then taken almost 2 years out of the ring before returning with some success. He had draw 3 of his next 5 bouts before reeling off 4 straight wins. He was fighting at a low level, but had impressed in 2018, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Welterweight, and had won both of his 2019 bouts.
In the opposite corner was 22 year old Nath Nwachukwu from the little known Marvelous Gym. He had began his professional career in 2017 and had built his name in 2018, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Middleweight, and had scored two wins in 2019 as he continued to build some career momentum. Given his success he had earned a #13 ranking with the JBC at Middleweight and had ran up a 7 fight unbeaten run up to this point.
With both men having won Rookie of the Year, in 2018, there was an interesting sub story in regards to their Rookie triumphs. As well as that story there was also intrigue coming from the fact this was two Japanese ranked fighters and the fact they were meeting between the natural weight of the two men. Would moving up in weight be an issue for Tsujimoto? Would Nwachukwu be able to make 154lbs without any issue?
There was also a big of a strange aspect to the two men. Despite being the supposedly smaller man, Tsujimoto was the much bigger man. He looked like the natural Middleweight here, and towered over Nwachukwu, who was dwarfed, despite being the man who was typically fighting at a higher weight.
The bout started fast, though it wasn't long until Tsujimoto looked to create some space, use his reach and establish control of the tempo. Despite Tsujimoto trying to control the range and use his jab Nwachukwu had other ideas in mind and pressed forward, applying continual pressure through the round. Nwachukwu wasn't able to land too much of note, but was doing enough to get in and get shots off before Tsujimoto managed to create some space.
The opening round wasn't a spectacular round, but it was a very solid way to start the fight, it was a much better opening round than we typically see, and it was one that saw both men having moments. It was a round that left us engaged, wanting more and excited about what we were set to get. The pressure of Nwachukwu was exciting, but there was a chance that he was going to walk on to something and that Tsujimoto's long levers would detonate something big.
Nwachukwu started round 2 much like he had fought round 1 and right at the start of the round Tsujimoto looked to fight fire with fire. Soon afterwards Tsujimoto tried to get back to moving and boxing, realising that getting into a war with Nwachukwu wouldn't end well for him. Despite trying to box more and fight less Tsujimoto couldn't stop Nwachukwu from walking forward, and pressing.
Despite the pressure from Nwachukwu we saw Tsujimoto having success at range and half way through the round he seemed to be settling into the bout. That was until a looping right hand from Nwachukwu landed clean, dropping Tsujimoto hard. The knockdown had been a big one, but Tsujimoto got back to his feet. He wobbled, but he easily beat the count. Upon the restart Nwachukwu went for the kill whilst Tsujimoto tried too survive. The pressure ended up forcing the referee to jump in and save Tsujimoto.
Whilst certainly not a Fight of the Year contender this was a really fun 2 rounder. It was a bout that helped Nwachukwu earn a fight with Takeshi Inoue later in 2020, in what was a tough bout for Inoue, and was certainly a big win for Nwachukwu. As for Tsujimoto it proved his weakness, it showed up his relatively poor chin, and his ability to be hurt. That was an ability that ended up rearing it's head again in his sensational bout with Daiki Ogura, which took place 9 months later.
This is short, but fun and well worthy a watch with both men firing off bombs, a huge knockdown and a good chance to see Nwachukhu's exciting style.
When we do this weekly series of Treasure Trove bouts we’ve always wanted to have a mix between well known bouts, such the attention grabbing world title contests that some fans may have missed out one, as well as the less well known and obscure bouts that few outside of the hardcore would have seen. This week we certainly look to focus on a more obscure bout, but still a sensational one, that took place in Russia back in August.
Erzhan Turgumbekov (8-0-1, 2) vs Albert Batyrgaziev (1-0, 1)
In one corner was 25 year old Erzhan Turgumbekov, an unbeaten Russian based fighter from Kyrgyzstan, who had debuted in 2018 and built himself a decent little record after just 9 bouts. The most noteworthy thing on his record was a very good win over Heorhii Lashko in 2019, but he had also been putting in solid performance against lesser opponents and was generating a little bit of buzz for himself.
In the opposite corner was Russian amateur standout Albert Batyrgaziev, who was a truly outstanding young amateur. Coming into this fight he was 22 years old and had only made his professional debut a few weeks earlier, when he had beaten Armen Ataev in 7 rounds. As an amateur he had proven himself as a skilled and aggressive fighter, but there were question marks as to why, with the day before weigh in, he was fighting at 130lbs, when he seemed like he could make 122lbs. The reality, if we’re being honest, is like the fact he wanted to be developed quickly as a professional and be tested against bigger, stronger men.
Unlike many bouts there absolutely no feeling out process here, the two men started fast with both looking to establish their busy, crisp, clean jabs. Throughout the opening round both men had success, but the bigger, heavier shots seemed to come from the wiry frame of Batyrgaziev, who looked incredibly composed for a man who had only had 7 professional rounds to his name. The entire first round was fought at a great pace, it was technical, clean and efficient boxing from both, but it was highly entertaining, with both men fully aware of how to box, and how to do so in an aggressive manner.
The tempo continued to be quick through round 2, though both men began to trade more on the inside. It was still high quality action, from both, but rather than keeping at range, they were now working their way inside, and letting hooks and uppercuts fly. With 2 minutes of the round gone we finally got the first clinch, but it was a short one, with the referee splitting them quickly and letting the high intensity action resume almost immediately. The only disappointing thing was the fact that neither man seemed to have the power to actually hurt the other, though both were landing solid amounts of leather.
In round 3 it was getting clear that the skill level between the two men was obvious. Batyrgaziev was much, much more polished, crisp and natural than Turgumbekov, who was landing plenty of shots but was getting caught much more often. Turgumbekov, who looked the naturally bigger, stronger and more powerful man, was often hitting air, being countered and being forced to back up. Despite being tagged a lot, Turgumbekov continued to try and match his more skilled Russian foe, that sadly seemed to just draw out a more determined response from Batyrgaziev, who looked absolutely brilliant for a man in just his 2nd professional bout.
Through the middle rounds the bout had become even more one sided, and the work rate of Batyrgaziev had started to really chip away at Turgumbekov, who looked to break away more often, and seemed to need to spend a bit more time catching his breath. He also had a point deducted in round 6 for a low blow. Unfortunately for Turgumbekov it seemed clear that Batyrgaziev had no intention of letting his foe take a breather and kept the pressure and the tempo high. Not only was the tempo still high in rounds 7 and 8 but the most telling factor was that Turgumbekov was starting to visibly wilt, and seemed to begin coming apart in round 8. The key was Batyrgaziev’s intelligent approach to the action, landing straight shots almost continually when the men were at range. He prevented his foe from ever settling, and completely controlled the rhythm of the action.
In round 9 Batyrgaziev seemed to hurt his man once again, but to his credit Turgumbekov showed heart and determination, digging deep to fight back, trying to summon everything he had to discourage the Russian and turn the action around. Sadly for him it wasn’t nearly enough and the final minute of the round was a really painful one for Turgumbekov, who took a lot of heavy leather. His team could, in fairness, have pulled him out between rounds but let him continue into round 10. A mistake as Batyrgaziev really wanted a stoppage and put his foot hard on the gas in the final round, clobbering his man around with big left hands up top, finally sending his man to the canvas. It was ruled a slip, but Turgumbekov’s legs had gone and only moments later the referee jumped in to save the brave, but beaten Turgumbekov.
This hidden gem is a high quality fight, fought at an amazing tempo. It’s brilliant throughout with few clinches and is up there with the best all-southpaw battles from recent years. It may have lacked a little bit in terms of drama, given that much of the bout was one sided, but in terms of action, skills, determination and entertainment this was brilliant and is a true gem of 2020. You will not regret watching this one.
Just one thing to add, the bout is completely void of commentary, which, in some ways, improves the action and viewing experience. Fingers crossed we’ll see multiple premium services offering a commentary free option over the coming years!
It's fair to say that 2020 was a year where Thailand shined with a lot of great shows and fantastic all-Thai bouts. The most notable of those often featured emerging talents and prospects looking to make a statement, move their career's forward and begin to show what they could do against decent opposition. The pandemic, whilst certainly an issue for Thailand, ended up being a partial blessing for their boxing scene with fighters from Indonesia no longer padding out cards and acting as easy wins for local fighters. As a result we ended up with several all-Thai Treasure Trove bouts from 2020 including today's compelling contest featuring two youngsters at 140lbs. It wasn't the most exciting bout we'll feature, but it was a compelling chess match that got better as the bout went on, and featured a young prospect who we suspect we'll be hearing a lot about over the next 10 to 15 years.
Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (8-0, 5) Vs Kulabdam Sor Jor Piekuthai (2-1, 1)
In one corner was 15 year prodigy Phoobadin Yoohanngoh, a touted youngster who had won TL Promotion's "The Fighter" tournament in 2019 and had been building a reputation for himself as a young fighter with a lot of potential. He was young, really young, and had made his debut as a 14 year old child back in 2018. He had been impressive but had mostly fought limited opponents in the professional ranks, often novices and those without much of a fighting background. He had also never fought in a bout scheduled for more than 6 rounds, and had only gone beyond 3 rounds twice in his 8 bouts. Here however he was scheduled for 10 rounds against a fighter who had made his name in Muay Thai, where he was highly regarded.
In the opposite corner to the teenager was Kulabdam Sor Jor Piekuthai, a kick boxing prodigy who had began to make his name all the way back in 2016, and had really become a bit of a star in 2017 when he began to pick up awards. He had continued to build a solid reputation in kick boxing circles with appearances at ONE and was a multi-time Lumpinee Stadium champion before turning his hands to professional boxing at the end o 2019. In professional boxing he took part in TL Promotion's "The Fighter" and reached the semi-final of the tournament, losing to Thosaphol Thongplew. Despite that loss their was still big hopes for him as a boxer, and the loss was expected to be a major learning experience for the youngster, who had bounced back from losses in Muay Thai and knew a defeat wasn't the end of the road.
Despite both men being youngsters and relative professional novices, TL Promotions made this a 10 rounder for a WBA Asia title at 140lbs. Giving the bout some extra allure, and setting us up for a regional champion who was 15 or had just 4 fights to his name. Either way the winner was going to be on the radar going forward.
From the opening bell things were tense. Kulabdam looked the bigger, stronger man and took center ring whilst Phoobadin looked to box at range, using his speed and jab to feel out what Kulabdam had. Despite the inexperience of both men this was a very technical start to the bout, with neither fighter wanting to slip up, and neither wanting to give their opponent an opening. Despite being high level stuff it wasn't the most entertaining, and it really was a tense, technical start from two men were surprisingly skilled for such novices.
In round 2 the pace began to pick up just a little bit, though was again not the most exciting with both men still trying to figure out what the other had in their locker. They were both playing very safe, and not wanting to dig into their arsenal too soon. In some ways there were probably still too respectful, but it was an improvement from the first round. The bout kept improving and round 3 saw the pace pick up again as Phoobadin got more active on the outside and Kulabdam's pressure moved up a notch, forcing Phoobadin to fire off some heavy shots in an attempt to get Kulabdam's respect. Although Phoobadin managed to land some solid shots himself it was Kulabdam landing a shot very late in the round that seemed to be the lasting memory before the start of round 4.
The pace picked up again in round 4 as Kulabdam's pressure really forced the action. It wasn't always the most successful of pressure, but it was pressure that was forcing Phoobadin to respond, and it was pressure that gave Phoobadin openings to land his own shots, especially when he countered. By the end of the round it was clear we had gone from a slow start to a bout that was warming into a really exciting match up between a pressure fighter and a pure boxer.
Through the middle rounds we continued to see the battle of pressure vs boxer, Kulabdam was determined to press, press and press. It was calculated pressure, based off his footwork, upper body movement and jab. Phoobadin was happy boxing off the ropes, soaking up the pressure, countering when the opportunities arose, and using his speed and polished skills well. Both men continued to have moments and success, and both continued to take the odd clean shot. It was making scoring incredibly hard, and the bout, by the end of round 8, seemed to be all up for grabs still, and really dependent on whether the judges preferred the come forward style of Kulabdam or the clean punched of Phoobadin.
Round 9 was more of the same, though it seemed like Kulabdam was landing some of his best shots of the fight, as his pressure ramped up even more. Phoobadin had moments, and forced Kulabdam back at one point, but it was certainly one of the most impressive rounds from Kulabdam, who landed some solid shots to both head and body. We were entering the final round expecting more of the same, pressure from Kulabdam, movement and counters from Phoobadin. The youngster however had a different plan in mind and after landing some good southpaw lefts early on turned the tables, backing Kulabdam up momentarily, creating more space than he'd seen in recent rounds and landing his left hands at will.
Through much of the contest it really was a case of "scoring what you like". You could see judges giving Kulabdam a number of rounds based on his intelligent, but conservative, pressure, but at the same time the defensive skills of Phoobadin and his counter punching was eye catching, and he looked in control for a lot of the bout, despite fighting almost entirely on the back foot.
In the end the judges gave it to the teenager, giving him a genuinely huge win at a very young age.
The bout won't go down as one of the most exciting bouts of 2020, though it was a very enjoyable contest through out and a compelling match up with styles that gelled well. It will, however, go down as the bout that helped put Phoobadin on the map, with the teenager taking the decision win and the WBA Asia title.
It's fair to say that 2020 was not a year that any of us expected, with the world pretty much shut down due to the pandemic. The reality is that boxing was a long way down the priority for most fans and just surviving through things was more important. Rather than talking about what we all went through we want to actually raise a note before we look at this week's Treasure Trove bout, and that is China. Over the previous few years China was growing as a key area for boxing, it was hosting notable bouts and was giving us more and more shows worthy of tuning in to. In 2020 however the country held very few bouts with any international attention.
One of the very few they did have with anything representing a genuine international level bout came on January 12th in Qingdao. The main event of that card was a particularly interesting matchup as it pit an exciting and fun to watch Korean against an exciting and fun to watch local, in a bout for a regional title. It wasn't a huge bout, but it was one of the few bouts of genuine note to take place in China during 2020.
With that introduction out the way let's take a look at this week's Treasure Trove bout!
Youli Dong (15-2-1, 9) vs In Duck Seo (12-2-2, 7)
The match up featured Chinese hopeful Youli Dong battling against South Korean In Duck Seo for the OPBF Silver Welterweight title. The bout was part of a 4 bout show and was, by far and away, the most interesting match up on the card.
The 24 year old Dong was one of the few Chinese hopefuls of real note. He had been beaten a couple of times, though he had avenged a 2018 loss to Adam Diu Abdulhamid and the only other loss came on the road in a close bout to the unbeaten Mikka Shohena. He lacked recognisable names on his record, but his style was fun to watch and he would have thought that the OPBF silver title would have begun to open doors for him, if he could win here.
Seo on the other hand was more well known internationally. He was a South Korean who had clashed with a number of Central Asian fighters in South Korea and had scored a brutal KO in Australia against Tysinn Best, in a genuinely big upset. Coming in to this bout he had lost a close technical decision to Khusniddin Pulatov, which had slowed the momentum he had been building, but he has won his 3 prior bouts and there was still some hope that he was going to make a mark on the regional and become one of the major players for Korean boxing.
The bout got off to a very, very quick start with Seo being put down within seconds, from a jab! This was just 20 seconds into the bout and not a good sign for the Korean. Despite being down he wasn't hurt, but it did, essentially, help secure the momentum for the local, momentum that Seo tried to slow almost immediately as he got to his feet and began to pressure Dong around the ring.
With the first round not going his way Seo tried to set the pace for round 2 and Dong answered back almost immediately. It was a great start to the ring with both men freely letting their shots go. Technically it wasn’t the sweet science, but it was a good fun early round, with both men being forced to take some big shots during a captivating 3 minutes. It was a round that clearly showed the defensive and technical limitations of the two men involved but it was also a round that provided some good action. That good action spilled over into the start of round 3 as the quicker, sharper Dong looked to punish the clumsier, slower Seo. It very much seemed like Dong was having things his way, despite the pressure and tenacity of Seo.
As we got into the middle rounds of the bout the tempo increased. Seo, now becoming more desperate, was pressing more and throwing more, whilst Dong continued to use his feet well and looked comfortable when he had to fight in the pocket with combinations to the body. Seo’s face was reddening but he hardly seemed to notice and he trudged forward looking to break down Dong, and looking to land the punches needed to make the Chinese fighter question himself. In round 6 we finally seemed to see Dong showing some cracks under the pressure, but Seo couldn’t make them stick before Dong began to have success again, leading to a brilliant sequence at the end of the round.
With the rounds ticking on Seo would have gone into the final rounds knowing he needed something big, and to his credit he kept looking. He kept coming forward, trying to draw Dong into a war on the inside. He had success, and caught Dong with a lot of clean shots, but they came at a price. He was eating a lot coming forward, he was eating a lot when the two men traded blows, and he was putting a lot into trying to close the distance. Midway through round 9 however he had shaken Dong to his core, and had left the Chinese fighter with blood smeared across his face. Seo knew there was still a chance to turn this around as we went into the 10th, and final, round whilst Dong likely knew he needed to remain on his feet. With that in mind it’s no surprise we continued to see Seo come forward, launching bombs and further punishing the then swollen, bloodied and damaged face of the Chinese fighter.
We won’t ruin the result of this one, but it’s a wonderfully brutal, yet sloppy, hard hitting affair. At times this looks more like a drunken pub fight than the skilled art of boxing, but through out it’s wonderful. It’s violent. It’s exciting. It’s the sort of bout that we enjoy and was one of the very, very few boxing highlights from China in 2020.
*Note - The video for this bout has some weird cuts, including one towards the end of round 2 and 5 among other rounds, and some terrible sound that jitters between almost silent commentary and loud, brash music between rounds. Sadly alternative videos for the bout were worse than this one.
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.