December 2020 was a huge month for fights, and we got a lot of great action during the month. Thankfully with so many great bouts fans were entertained through the entire month. We were also happy to have a lot of fights that didn't get much fan attention. Today we look at one of those bouts as dig in to the Treasure Trove again for what was one of the most impressive debut performances of the year.
Kanta Kawamura (0-0) Vs Koyo Nakayama (0-0)
On December 8th Korakuen Hall played host to a rather small card, that had 7 bouts on it, including 3 all debutant bouts. Only 2 bouts were scheduled for more than 4 rounds and it was a card that was easy to overlook, even with the involvement of the brilliant Ichitaro Ishii acting as the promoter.
One of the all debutant bouts took place at a contracted 51.5KG's, just over 113.5lbs, and saw Kanta Kawamura, from the KG Yamato Gym, take on Koyo Nakayama, from the Hachioji Nakaya Gym.
On paper there was no reason to be too excited about this one. It was just an all debutant clash a few weeks before Christmas. But to the two men, this one mattered. It was their debut!
Aged 21 coming in to this Kawamura was the slightly older and taller fighter, but other than that it was hard to say he had any advantages. There was no amateur record that stood out, there was nothing about him that screamed he was anything special or that he would be in a fun bout. Nakayama was only slightly younger, at 20, and was giving away around 3" but again there was nothing to say he was going to be in a bout was memorable here. He, like Kawamura, was also not a fighter with any sort of notable amateur background.
Going in to this neither man was touted. Neither man had any notable publicity, and both went in looking to make a statement, and make people sit up and take notice.
From the opening bell Nakayama came out like he knew Christmas was just around the corner. He was aggressive, fighting like a raging bull, storming out of his corner. It seemed as if he felt the quicker he won, or lost, the sooner Christmas would be here and the sooner he could tuck into some KFC. Kawamura on the other hand fought sensibly, backing up, making Nakayama miss, using his reach and skills and landing counters.
From the first 10 seconds it was clear this one was not going to go the distance, and soon afterwards the two stood and traded. It was clear, there and then, that Nakayama was completely out of his depth. He didn't care though. He knew he had to continue pressuring, hoping to land something to turn the fight around. He had come to fight and fight he would!
Sadly the effort and desire of Nakayama was for nought with Kawamura luring Nakayama into one mistake too many, landing two huge right hands as Nakayama flailed away, then an uppercut as veteran referee Akihiko Katsuragi stepped in and waved this over. In just over 100 seconds Kawamura had made us fans and so to had Nakayama.
Although this was an all debutant bout the men were clearly on different levels. The winner showed he had the tools to go a long way, but the loser, he showed that he has the tools to be a very fan friendly fighter. Both guys here won us over and we'll not complain about that!
One thing we don't usually get in Asia are bouts involving the big lads, the Heavyweights. They are few and far between in the Orient, and many of the Heavyweights from Central Asia are off making their name in the US, with very few of them really being involved in memorable bouts. Back in November 2020 however we got a rare Korean Heavyweight fight, and man was this a spectacle we got the intensity and action of a typical Korean bout but with men who were much bigger than fighters who typically fight in a Korean style.
With that in mind lets look at this weeks Treasure Trove bout! And it's a good one, even if it's just a touch unusual for a bout in Asia!
Sung Min Lee (7-1, 2) vs Hyun Tae Bae (6-1-1, 4)
In corner was Korean Heavyweight champion Sung Min Lee, who was looking to make his first defense around 17 months after winning the title. Lee's reign had been a weird one outside of the ring, due to various bouts being cancelled and Covid19 scuppering various plans including a bout in Japan. Despite not defending the belt for over a year he had remained, arguably, the best in Korea in the weight class, and won his last 6 bouts. Although not a world beater he was a decent fighter, he came to fight and typically came in decent shape, typically weighting in around 220lbs. This bout however saw him come in at a career heaviest, 234¾lbs, after a career longest lay off.
In the opposite corner was 31 year old challenger Hyun Tae Bae, who had debuted way back in 2013 but had had a very stop-start career. Typically Bae had been fighting at Cruiserweight, where he had won a Korean title, and in fact it was possible that he could have made Light Heavyweight had he needed to, something backed up by a 2016 bout where he weighed in at 176lbs. Coming in to this he had very little momentum. He had fought just twice in the previous 4 years, was only a few bouts removed from a TKO loss to Quintin Carey. Despite being a natural Light Heavyweight-come-Cruiserweight he was the taller man, and was, in many ways, the more natural boxer, whilst Lee was a natural fighter.
From the off it was clear that Bae was in the ring to take the title from Lee. He had looked over the champion at the final instructions and quickly got behind his jab. Lee, however, had ambitions to keep his title and was all out on the offensive, pressing forward, through some wild shots, and letting his weight and physical strength play a factor. Within a minute or so it was clear. Bae was the skilled boxer, the more well schooled and polished man, and Lee was the supposed puncher, looking to make up for his crude technique by landing the big shots. Despite Lee looking like the puncher he was the only one to be staggered during the round as Bae's clean head shots shook Lee for a moment.
It was a great round of action to kick off the bout and it set the stage for what would become a genuine fantastic, and easily over-looked war.
In the first half of the bout Bae's skill, movement, and technical skills were on show, as he out landed Lee and made the champion look super crude. Even more crude than he actually is. Huge right hands from the challenger crashed into the champions head, and it seemed like Lee was going to eventually crumple to the canvas. The champion looked unfit to begin with and he couldn't avoid the power shots of the challenger, who had him backing up time and time again. The head of the champion was being used as target practice by the challenger.
As the rounds went on however the challenger began to tire. His more polished skills couldn't make up for the energy he was using to keep up a relatively high output and the chin of the champion wasn't cracking as expected. The huge shots that Bae was landing had shaken the champion but not dropped him, and Lee himself was landing plenty of solid shots of his own. The challenger had put a lot in to the first few rounds and had won them, but not won the bout.
Then we saw Lee begin a real comeback. As Bae slowed Lee began to come on strong. He began to dig deep like a champion, and was pushing the challenger back. Bae went from bossing the fight with his power shots at mid-range to being beaten on the inside, and force to hold, lean on and do what he could to catch his breath. Things had gone from easy for the challenger to a struggle in the middle rounds. He was still having success, and landing plenty of shots, but was being out worked, and was having to fight Lee's fight more and more regularly.
With the fight turning in Lee's favour, and Bae seemingly fighting through exhaustion it seemed like we could end up seeing the challenger dig deep, but dig too deep and eventually fold with his body seemingly running on fumes. And then Lee began to tire and as a result boxing became a second thought. The primary thought was to fight. The resulted in some sensational back and forth in the middle of the ring as both men started to fight in a very flat footed manner. When we saw some glimpses of boxing they favoured the challenger, who was clearly the more intelligent boxer, but they were merely glimpses before his energy tank ran low and he was forced into a fight, which saw the tide turn back to Lee.
As the rounds flew by, it was getting harder and harder to tell who was in the lead. In many ways however it felt like it didn't matter. It seemed inevitable that one, or the other, would collapse before the final bell. They had both looked exhausted for much of the fight. They had both eaten shots like it was an addiction and they had both been biting down hard on their gumshields a lot more often than either guy would have wanted. Amazingly however we saw rounds 8 and 9 tick by, and we somehow entered round 10.
The final round was another gruelling 3 minutes for the two men who seemed determined to leave every ounce in the ring. Both had slowed, drastically, both seemed to be fighting out of instinct, and yet both refused to take the easy option and accept defeat. But were still willingly going through serious punishment in the hope of taking the Korean title home with them. Both seemed out on their feet. Both seemed off balance, and both were looking like they needed a long rest, but neither was willing to wave the white flag.
In the end the two men managed to stay up right, and neither ended up suffering a loss as the judges had this even, ending a great fight by leaving the door wide open for a rematch. Something we, as fans, want to see, but something that the fighters may wish to avoid given the punishment they doled out on each other here.
For those who like the sweet science this is probably not for you, but for people who enjoy seeing big guys punching lumps out of each other this is a perfect way to spend 40 minutes of your day.
One thing Japan does that no other country seems to have quite the same ability to do, is the "well matched 4 rounder". Japan has given us so many great 4 round bouts in recent years due to the fact that their promoters don't aim to pad records left right and center. Instead the fighting comes first, at least for the most part, and the record doesn't matter in the same way. As a result we often see debutants thrown in against each other, and novices clashing. Heck that's the entire idea behind the Rookie of the Year, the C-class tournaments and the All round 4 shows that wee see in Japan regularly.
Today for the Treasure Trove we have one such bout that isn't just a very solid 4 rounder but also an all debutant bout. Although not unheard around the globe, these are less common than you'd have realised, and rarely are they are fun as they manage to be in Japan. As we see here!
Ryusei Sasanoike (0-0) Vs Masato Ichino (0-0)
In one corner was 35 year old Masato Ichino, from the Token Boxing Gym in Tokyo, a pretty small, low key one. He's stated that the boxers he likes include Edwin Valero and Takashi Miura, aggressive and big punching fighters, and his goal for the sport is to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2021. Debuting at the age of 35 it's clear his potential is limited, especially given Japan has essentially got a retirement age for fighters that isn't too much older than Ichino's age when he debuted, but his hunger to compete is a positive and it's great to see fighters like Ichino willing to put the gloves on and give the sport a go.
In the opposite corner was 17 year old Ryusei Sasanoike, who also fights out of a small gym, the Mt Fuji Nexus Gym. Despite being 17 he had fought a few amateur bouts, going 3-0 in amateur bouts at the Under 15's level and has set himself the goal of becoming a world champion. A lofty ambition for someone so inexperienced, but an ambition that shows the level he wants to get to, and how that is far above the aim of Ichino. Given his age there is a lot of time for him to develop, but he was quite literally a boy up against a man here.
Despite their vastly different targets in the sport the two were both debutants. Sure Ichino was twice the age of Sasanoike, but he was going to have his man strength and be more physically mature than the youngster. At 17 it was way too early to say anything much about Sasanoike, who had only turned 17 a few months earlier.
From the off both guys looked fast and hungry to pick up their first win, there there was some nervous energy from both men. It didn't take long however for Sasanoike to show that he did have that something else. He looked very sharp, and like a man who knew how to box, picking some nice shots and looking very calm and confident. He didn't look the complete product, not by any stretch, but there was something about him that did catch the eye. Ichino on the other hand looked raw, as we'd expect from a debutant, but someone who didn't want to lose to a kid half his age. Sadly for Ichino not wanting to lose didn't help him win, and the speed of Sasanoike was a major difference maker through the opening round.
In round 2 we saw real hunger from Ichino, he knew he had lost the opening round and that he had to turn things around, something he tried to do with a lot more offensive work than in the opening round. Sadly for him the extra energy didn't really pay off too well, and later in the round Ichino was put on the canvas, as Sasanoike scored the first knockdown of his professional career. By the end of round 2 Ichino, was clearly down on the scorecards and sporting a swelling under his right eye, but still hungry and still fighting like a man with a point to prove. He was still the aggressor, the one coming forward and the man who seemed to want to turn the fight around, something he showed again in round 3. Unfortunately for him he wasn't good enough, Sasanoike had settled into his groove, was picking some very nice shots and as round 3 ticked on he was really letting shots fly. Those shots forced some rather nasty swelling, that forced the doctor to take a look before allowing the bout to continue.
Down by a wide margin as we entered the final round Ichino had nothing to lost by going all out and trying to take out the young upstart, who had been embarrassing him at times. Sadly for him however Ichino was merely seeing his younger, more talented rival going through the gears and showing what he could do. The older man some success late in the round, but that merely forced a response from the youngster. By the final bell Ichino bloodied, beaten and bruised, a clear loser, but had been his part in the debut of a really promising youngster.
This is not a fight that will get FOTY talk, or even be considered in the top 1000 fights of 2020. It was however a fun 4 rounder and the first showcase of someone who looks like he has the potential to be a notable figure on the Japanese boxing scene. For those that haven't seen this one, it's about Sasanoike, a teenage prospect who looks like he has the tools and youth to reach some heady heights. It's a good solid bout every all, if somewhat one sided, but it's worth a watch to see the teen in action.
(Note - The first bell rings around the 8:50 mark of the below video)
Korean fight fans don't get a lot of fights. It's a shame in many ways that Korea, a country with a strong history of boxing, has such a lack of fights taking place on it's soil. Despite that the fights they do get are almost always amazing and few countries give us as many fun fights to enjoy than South Korea. One of the best things about the country's boxing scene is that the country gives us all novice bouts, regularly, and they almost always deliver some incredible action.
With that in mind let us take you back to November 2020 for this week's Treasure Trove article, which is a thrilling action bout from Hwaseong in South Korea.
No Jin Lee (0-1) vs Yong Wan Jung (1-1-1)
It's fair to assume, before we talk about the fighters, the that no one outside of Korea will be too aware about No Jin Lee or Yong Wan Jung. Both men were total novices when they fought and neither man has gone on to do much of note since. In fact neither fighter is ever expected to go on to do much with their career's. Despite that, they made for a hell of a hell of a bout together.
Lee was the older man, at 35 years old, and had only made his debut 5 months earlier, losing a majority decision on his debut to fellow debutant Jin Uk Jeon. The reality, at this point in time, was that he wasn't going to have an amazing career, but for many fighters that's not as important as we, as fans, some times think it is. Especially in Asia, where lots of fighters turn professional for the enjoyment of the sport, rather than to become a world champion.
Jung was much, much younger, than Lee and was in fact just 23 coming into this bout, but was already much more experienced than Lee. Jung had made his debut in July 2019, scoring a decision win over Hyo Jae Yoon before losing his second bout, to Jiayilawuhan Zanghaer over in China, and then fighting to a draw against Tae Gwang Park. All 3 of his bouts coming into this had gone the distance, and he really hadn't stood out as being some one worthy of attention following those bouts.
As with many low level Korean bouts it didn't take long for leather to begin flying here. In fact it took only the blink of an eye after the opening bell to see both men letting leather fly. Originally it was Lee coming forward, behind his southpaw stance, but within seconds Jung turned it around began to drill his man with big right hands. Lee's response being tagged was to try and walk through shots in an attempt to land his own. As a result we ended up getting a prolonged back and forth exchange. Through the round it was clear Jung was the much more skilled man, often finding the target with his right hand and even wobbling Lee late in the round. Despite landing almost at will however Jung was taking shots himself as Lee refused to wilt, making for a thrilling 3 minutes of almost non-stop action.
Round 2 started much like round 1. We saw Lee coming forward, and walking into shots, eating them flush, whilst trying to grind down Jung, or force Jung to break his hand on Lee's head. This wasn't high quality boxing, but it was intense, with both throwing, and landing, a lot of leather. Against Lee was taking the worst of it, but ever so often he would land a big left hand, or a right hook, and it seemed, just for a moment, that he could perhaps stop Jung in his tracks. Until Jung again took control with some accurate right hands and uppercuts. By the end of the round Jung was clearly beginning to wear down, the accumulation of shots taking its toll, but like any good Korean fighter he didn't know how to quit and he kept fighting back, right through to the bell.
Given that both men had taken a lot of punishment in the first 2 rounds it was probably a relief to both men entering round 3, knowing this was only scheduled for 4 rounds. Despite that we wouldn't actually see round 4. Instead we saw Lee landing bombs again at the start of round 3, and leaving Jung cut and swollen around the right eye. The facial damage saw Jung being taken to the ringside doctor who said enough was enough. At first glance the damage wasn't too bad, though on a second look it was clear he had taken a lot of shots to the head, he couldn't get out of the way and the shots had taken a visible toll on him.
Although not every Treasure Trove bout is a war, this one is. It's not the highest skill level, or the most impressive technically, but it's exactly what we love about Korean boxing. It was exciting, it was brutal, and it featured the perfect mix of intense offence and dire defense!
One of the things particularly notable about 2020 was the huge number of upsets we had, all over the planet. It seemed not a week could go by without at least one major favourite slipping up in a bout where they were expected to win, and to win with ease. Today we look at one such bout as we head back into the 2020 Treasure Trove and find a bout that was worthy of attention, especially if you missed it the first time around.
Koki Inoue (15-0, 12) vs Daishi Nagata (14-2-1, 5)
Before we get on to the bout we need to really go into some details about what the world was like in July 2020. By that point boxing was pretty much on a global standstill waiting for governments to asses their strategy to deal with the Covid19 pandemic. As a result the Ohashi promoted "Phoenix Battle 71" was the first card at Korakuen Hall since late February and was only the second card in Japan upon the sport restarting the country, and was fought in front of an eerie and empty Korakuen Hall. It was also a chance for the long over-due Champion Carnival to continue.
As part of the Champion Carnival Japanese Light Welterweight champion Koki Inoue, the cousin of Naoya Inoue, had to defend his title against mandatory challenger Daishi Nagata.
The Polish betting website STS bet had Inoue as a very clear favourite, the polls on Japanese websites had Inoue favoured with 67% of the vote backing him and a lot of people saw this as a formality. After all Inoue was an Inoue, he had already won and defended the title, he had also won the WBO Asia Pacific title and seemed like a man with the ability to compete at a very high level. He was an unbeaten and talented southpaw, with explosive combinations heavy hands, a good amateur pedigree and an Ohashi gym fighter.
Nagata on the other hand was a guy who had already lost twice, including a TKO loss to Vladimir Baez, and had struggled past both Min Ho Jung and Cristiano Aoqui. He wasn't a bad fighter, not by any stretch, but was a technically limited boxer, with a pretty basic style. There was nothing that really stood out as being in his locker that should have been too much for Inoue. He had been a good amateur, but hadn't really shined on the professional ranks and his best performance, to this point, had come in a regional title fight against Rikki Naito, a bout he had lost.
Despite being the under-dog Nagata was hungry and straight from the opening bell he came out and rushed Inoue, putting the champion on the back foot and under pressure. The speed, aggression and tenacity from Nagata was great to see as he consistently pressed forward and forced Inoue to use his feet through out the first minute of the fight. Not only was Nagata pressing forward, but he was also landing quite frequently and connected with a very nice left hand. The pressure and Nagata was incessant through the entire round and it was clear that he wasn't there to make up the numbers. He was there for the belt and if Inoue wanted to keep it he'd have to earn a victory, rather than just turn up as many had originally expected. To his credit Inoue did have some success late in the round, but it was too little, too late to turn the round in his favour.
The pressure of Nagata continued into round 2 and he managed to really lay the shots off on Inoue in one particular sequence around 40 seconds into the round. Inoue didn't seem capable of responding the to the fast start of Nagata, who looked like a man possessed. Inoue looked the more talented boxer, and he showed more boxing ability, but he was being forced into a fight, and Nagata was getting the better of it, by far.
Round 3 we saw more of the same, though we also saw a massive headclash that left Inoue cut. It was a nasty headclash but the resulting cut wasn't a particularly bad looking one, even if it did seem to bother Inoue who was again backed up time after time and was even rocked to his core at one point, with his legs buckling after a shot.
After 5 rounds all 3 judges had Nagata in the lead. Inoue had tried to fight his way back into things, in rounds 4 and 5, but it wasn't nearly enough and the open scoring had Nagata up 48-47, twice, and 49-46. The champions title reign wasn't just slipping away, but it was being ripped away by a super determined challenger, who was forcing his fight on the bout. Inoue was slowly finding his feet though and knew he had to turn things around.
Round 6 turned out to be Inoue's best round as he gritted his teeth and stood his ground, trying to turn things around. He let Nagata continue to come forward but this time fired off shots on the inside, finding room for some brutal uppercuts and excellent straight left hands, despite blooding dropping from his right eye, which was a repeated target for Nagata's jabs. It felt, for the first time, like the tide might be swinging and that Inoue was being forced to show his champion's spirit. He was still under pressure, and he couldn't make Nagata go away, but he was landing his own leather, and was slowly getting Nagata's respect.
Sadly for Inoue his success in round 6 was for nought as Nagata came out even hungrier in round 7 and ended up connecting repeatedly with the swollen and cut right eye of Inoue. The eye, was quickly becoming a swollen, grotesque lump of flesh and it was clear that the doctor was going to want a look at it sooner, rather than later. With around 45 seconds of the round left Michiaki Someya took Inoue over to the corner, with the doctor waving the bout off and saving Inoue from further punishment.
For those wanting an all out war. This isn't one of those. It's a very good bout, regardless, but isn't a war. Instead it's a great example of will over-coming skill. Nagata wanted it so much more than Inoue, he jumped on him from the opening bell, and ripped up the odds on the bout. He put in a career defining performance and showed what he could do.
Sadly for Inoue he would announce his retirement soon after this loss and begin a journey into his other love, anime, with the plan being for him to become an animator in his post boxing life.
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.