It feels like it was a very, very, very long time that we opened up the 2019 Treasure Trove, looking back on some of the best Asian action of 2019, and it's been a really fun time looking back on the year that was, though today we begin to close the treasure trove and begin to look forward. For those wondering, this will actually be the final 2019 Treasure Trove bout that we cover.
Originally the plan was to keep this going for 12 months, then move on to bouts from 2020. Unfortunately 2020 has been a horror of a year, and we thankfully had more than enough bouts from 2019 to cover over a year, in fact we've managed, quite easily, to exceed the 52 bout target we set ourselves for this series and although 2020 has not been the year we had been hoping for we feel we now have enough bouts to begin looking back at 2020.
With that said, lets take a look at the last of the 2019 treasure's in our trove!
Kazuto Ioka (23-2, 13) Vs Aston Palicte (25-2-1, 21)
For thos bout we head back to the summer of 2019, and focus on the Makuhari Messe in Chiba for a contest that pit former 3-weight world champion Kazuto Ioka against hard hitting Filipino Aston Palicte. It was a bout that saw both men looking to claim the WBO Super Flyweight title, a title they had come razor close to claiming in 2018, when both were denied by Filipino legend Donnie Nietes.
Of the two men Ioka was the much, much more well known. The Japanese 30 year old was a bona fide star in Japan, he had won world titles at Minimumweight, Light Flyweight and Flyweight, was the nephew of a boxing from the 1980's and 1990's, and had been groomed for success. Although his personal life had gotten a bit messy, with a public falling out with his father and a divorce from a popular musician, he was still one of the biggest draws in Japanese boxing. Coming in to this he was looking to become the first Japanese man to claim world titles at 4 weight classes, adding another piece of history to his brilliant, and often over-looked, career.
On the other hand Aston Palicte was a huge Super Flyweight, with spiteful power, and he looked like he belonged at least one weight class higher than Ioka, if not 2 or even 3. He was a 28 year old who had shown what he could do in 2018, when fought to a draw with Donnie Nietes, and was being groomed under the promotional stable of Roy Jones Jr to be a star. He ticked many boxes of a future world champion and many in the Philippines were tipping him as being too big, too strong, and too fresh for the smaller, but more skilled Japanese fighter.
This bout was rarely a war, but it was consistently intriguing, and the sort of fight where the ending felt like it could come at any moment.
From the off the size distance between the two men was clear, and Palicte looked much, much bigger than Ioka, who looked cautious. Despite giving away size Ioka was smartly using his speed, his movement and his experience to ease his way into things and get a read on Palicte's power and timing. By the end of the opening round both men were beginning to find their groove, with Ioka managing move through the gears just a little better than the Filipino.
In round 2 the pace was beginning to turn up a notch, with both men putting their foot on the gas slightly. It was clear that Palicte was the bigger puncher, but the skills, jab and counter punching of Ioka were off setting that power well. Despite that Palicte's reach was working well for him and he was catching Ioka at range, with his jab, and catching him coming in as well.
With both men getting a study on what the other had in the locker we began to see Ioka step into the reach of Palicte, showing great head movement to make Palicte miss, regularly, and judging the distance brilliantly. Palicte still looked the more dangerous man, but was, slowly, being out thought, out boxed, out sped and out manoeuvred. Palicte even got rocked from a left hook as Ioka's power told for the first time.
By round 4 the pace was solid, without being spectacular. This was tactical, cerebral, smart, patient, yet intense. The men were never far apart, neither man was negative as such, but neither seemed willing to take too many risks. Instead they were boxing smartly, and this was high level stuff with really intelligent work from both without fireworks ever being lit. What was really notable was the ring IQ of Ioka, who was really doing the subtle things well. He was making Palicte fight the wrong fight, he was making Palicte over think, and for fans who like smart boxing this was brilliant.
In round 6 we were beginning to see Ioka move up the gears again, he was starting to play with Palicte mentally. The Filipino was regularly coming forward, and Ioka was slipping and sliding in the pocket, catching Palicte coming in. Palicte tried to let his hands go, and had some success in the final minute, but Ioka took the play away quickly answering back almost immediately and forcing Palicte to back off.
In round 7 we saw Palicte putting his foot hard on the gas. He let it all hang out and it seemed like he felt it was his time. He had to turn the bout around and he was throwing the kitchen sink at Ioka. It was the change he needed to make and it saw him wobble Ioka for a moment. After 6 relatively interesting, but cautious rounds, the fight was coming alive and Ioka had to respond, which he did in the final minute of the round, with Palicte looking like he was feeling the pace of his effort.
After a thrilling round 7 the pace dropped off massively in round 8 as Ioka resumed control of the bout behind his boxing skills and Palicte paid the price of his big 7th round charge. With Palicte looking like he wasn't able to get his gas tank going again Ioka began to turn the screw, coming on the inside and using the left hand really well, Palicte had moments firing back, but was struggling to get any sustained success, and taking solid single shots himself.
In round 10 the solid, clean, accurate shots of Ioka began to add up as he let combinations fly. Those combinations landed clean and began to hurt Palicte who was left stumbling, reeling, and needed saving by the referee as Ioka went through the gears and showed exactly what he could do.
Although not the most exciting of bouts, or the biggest bout of the year, this really did have it all. It had skills, it was cerebral, it was smart, it was high level boxing. It had drama and action in round 7, it then had the skills and finishing instincts of Ioka who seemed to turn a switch in round 10 to force the stoppage.
This was the treasure that had a bit of everything. If you're here for a war unfortunately you need to dig deeper into the Treasure Trove, and in fairness we have included of wars in this series. But here we have something a little bit special, and something that saw Ioka become only the second Japanese fighter to win world titles in 4 weights, following in the footsteps of female star Naoko Fujioka.
Yu Che Li (5-1-2, 4) KO4 Waldo Sabu (13-15, 3) - This is Sabu's third loss since his surprise KO win Vs Ernesto Saulong last July
Ju Wu (7-0-2) UD8 Adones Aguelo (31-20-2, 21) - Career best win for Chinese teenager
Leshan Li (16-3-1, 9) MD6 Venson Delopere (6-5-4, 2) - Li scores third win since TKO loss to Takuya Watanabe, but is run very close by unheralded Filipino
Danrick Sumabong (9-2, 8) RTD3 John Rey Lauza (13-21-4, 6) - Young Filipino puncher continues to impress. Lauza now 0-10-1 in last 11
Elvin Gambarov (5-0, 4) UD6 Larry Smith (10-41-1, 7) - Azeri hopeful hears the final bell for the first time
David Drapac (7-1, 3) Pts6 Deok No Yun (3-1, 2) - Korean fight Yun suffers first defeat at hands of Drapac
Davao del Sur, Philippines
Ronald Johnson (16-1, 4) UD12 Saul Farah (69-23-3, 60) - In Heavyweight action Johnson dominates Farah over 12 in Davao City
Aries Buenavidez (13-3, 7) UD12 Roy Nagulman (8-1-1, 6) - Nagulman loses unbeaten record in 12 round defeat by Buenavidez
Joe Tejones (13-6, 7) SD12 KJ Natuplag (8-1-2, 7) - Unbeaten Natuplag loses narrow decision to under-rated Tejones
Orlie Silvestre (14-5-1, 8) UD8 Jenuel Lauza (5-7, 5) - Exciting Filipino warrior Silvestre takes decision win over limited Lauza
Metro Manila, Philippines
Bienvenido Ligas (10-1-1, 7) UD10 JC Francisco (8-15-6, 3) - Ligas claims PBF Super Flyweight title with wide win over Francisco
MJ Bo (8-2-2, 4) UD6 Powell Balaba (9-30-1, 5) - Bo recovers from opening round disaster, when he was down twice, to defeat Balaba
Floryvic Montero (5-7, 3) TKO1 Joan Ambalong (6-13-1, 3) - Limited fighter Montero wins GAB female Light Flyweight title inside a round
Yeoncheon, South Korea
Hyun Min Yang (8-2, 7) TKO5 Yihao Wang (5-4, 1) - Wang dropped twice in round 5 as Yang claims WBA Asia Middleweight crown
Dong Kwan Lee (11-2-2, 5) RTD5 Anthony Sabalde (13-9, 8) - Filipino Sabalde suffers 4th loss in 5, Lee scores third straight win
Jong Hwa Yoo (1-0-1, 1) KO1 Woong Hee Jung (0-1) - Yoo and Jun trade opening round knockdowns, Jung fails to see round 2
Bang Phli, Thailand
Thanongsak Simsri (9-0, 9) TKO2 Watcharaphon Chaisai (0-1) - "Srisaket II" picks up latest stoppage win. Simsri is now looking to train at the Green Tsuda gym in Japan and the 18 year old is building a fearsome reputation
Sukkasem Kietyongyuth (23-10, 15) TKO3 Anuch Noithong (0-6) - Sukkasem bounces back from May's loss to Yukinori Oguni with an easy win
Aso Ishiwaki (6-2-1, 4) TKO1 Sudtay Daungmala (0-1) - Excellent Japanese teenager Ishiwaki makes international debut and scores first win in 3
Artem Dalakian (19-0, 13) TKO10 Dennapa Kiatniwat (20-2, 15) - Thai southpaw comes up very short against WBA Flyweight champion Dalakian
Yuri Takemoto (7-1-1, 4) TKO1 Kiki Marciano (1-4) - Rookie of the Year king Takemoto blows out Marciano in a round
Retsu Kosaka (10-4, 4) TKO2 Anshori Anhar Pitulay (9-18-2, 6) - Inconsistent form continues for Kosaka who is now 4-4 in last 8
Shisui Kawabata (2-0, 2) TKO2 Mongkol Kamsommat (5-5, 4) - Japanese amateur standout picks up second win
Shu Utsuki (5-0, 4) KO3 Omrri Bolivar (8-2, 3) - Utsuki breaks down OPBF and JBC ranked Bolivar, in 3 rounds
Miyo Yoshida (13-1) UD10 Casey Morton (8-2-3, 1) - Miyo makes it look easy as she dominates Morton for WBO female Super Flyweight title
Hiroto Kyoguchi (13-0, 9) UD12 Satanmuanglek CP Freshmart (11-1, 5) - Kyoguchi retains WBA Light Flyweight title, Satanmuanglek puts up solid effort in loss
Kazuto Ioka (24-2, 14) TKO10 Aston Palicte (25-3-1, 21)- Ioka claims WBO Super Flyweight title to become 4-weight champion, stops Palicte in 10 rounds
The Super Flyweight division is a really notable one due to the depth in the division, and the wonderful mix of recognisable top tier names, former champions and rising hopefuls. It's not the best division in the sport right now, but it is certainly a good one for the contenders, even if the champions have failed to shine recently.
For those who missed our look at the champions, that's available to read here The state of the Division - Super Flyweight - The Champions
Kazuto Ioka (23-1, 13)
Japanese star, and former 3 division world champion, Kazuto Ioka is one of the biggest names in the lower weights, and is one of the biggest attractions in Japanese boxing, despite having only fought twice since the start of 2017. Ioka has won titles at Minimumweight, Light Flyweight and Flyweight and will be looking to become a 4 weight champion on December 31st when he faces Donnie Nietes for the WBO title. Ioka is a brilliant boxer-puncher, one of the best body punchers in the sport and a smart fighter. Although he took time to grow into the Flyweight division he now looks like a very strong Super Flyweight and really impressed in September when he dominated McWilliams Arroyo. At 29 he's still relatively young, and hasn't had a hard career, so could well a lengthy reign if he defeats Nietes
Donnie Nietes (41-1-5, 23)
Having mentioned Kazuto Ioka it makes sense to go stright to Filipino fighter Donnie Nietes, the man Ioka will be facing. The 36 year old "Ahas" has also won world titles at Minmumweight, Light Flyweight and Flyweight and will be getting his second shot at a Super Flyweight title when he faces Ioka. The Filipino veteran has been a professional for over 15 years and his record reads like a who's who of the lower weights, with wins against the likes of Pornsawan Porpramook, Jesus Silvestre, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Moises Fuentes, Francisco Rodriguez Jr, Edgar Sosa Juan Carlos Reveco. Technically Nietes is an excellent fighter, but given his age, his relatively small size and long career it's unclear how long he will remain in the sport, win or lose at the end of the year.
Roman Gonzalez (47-2, 39)
With Ioka and Neites both fighting to become 4 weight champions at the end of the year it's worth noting they would join Roman Gonzalez in achieving the feat. The Nicaraguan great, who we like many others regarded as the pound for pound #1 before his first loss to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, is still a major name in the division and was one of the few fighters in the lower weights who really helped prove what the little men could do. Sadly at Super Flyweight Gonzalez looks under-sized, but he is still a very dangerous fighter, with great speed, hurtful power and fantastic combinations. If Gonzalez picks his opponents carefully he can reclaim a world title at the weight, but will need to avoid the big Super Flyweight fighters, like Srisaket, in the future. At 31 years old he still has time to come again, but it's unclear what his body has left after a very tough career.
Juan Francisco Estrada (38-3, 26)
Mexican boxer-puncher Juan Francisco Estrada is one of the few truly elite level fighters in the sport, to not currently hold a world title. He's a former unified Flyweight champion, judges distance and tempo excellently, puts punches together fantastically and has an amazing resume. His record includes close losses to Roman Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and rematches with either man would be welcomed in 2019, as well as wins against a who's who including Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr, avenging his first career loss, Brian Viloria, Milan Melindo, Giovani Segura, Carlos Cuadras and Felipe Orucuta. Although he's not the biggest Super Flyweight he is strong at the weight and is a very technically rounded fighter.
Aston Palicte (24-2-1, 20)
Filipino fighter Aston Palicte is best known for his debatable draw with Donnie Nietes form back in September, in what was a bout for the vacant WBO Super Flyweight title. That's the one mark against the hard hitting, physically imposing and under-rated Filipino boxer-puncher. Palicte hasn't had much coverage in the US but has proven to be a very capable fighter with very heavy hands. His best wins are against the likes of Ismael Garnica, Vergilio Silvano, Oscar Cantu and Jose Alfredo Rodriguez, but he looks like he will be a fixture on the world stage for years to come. There are some technical improvements for Palicte to make, but if he can make them he will become very hard to beat.
Ryuichi Funai (31-7, 22)
Japanese veteran Ryuichi Funai is a relative unknown outside of Japan, though he recently became the IBF mandatory title challenger with a TKO win against Victor Emanuel Olivo. That win was Funai's 7th straight win, and followed short reigns as both the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific champion. He's been a professional since 2005 and lost a number of early bouts, but is 23-3 (17) since losing to Shinsuke Yamanaka way back in 2009. Funai is a hard hitting fighter, who's not the quickest or the sharpest, or has the highest work rate, but really can bang with his right hand. We suspect that he'll come up short at world level, but certainly deserves a shot given his recent form.
Andrew Moloney (18-0, 11)
Naoya Inoue isn't the only fighter going by the "Monster" moniker, and another is Australian Andrew Moloney, a very talented boxer-puncher, and the brother of Bantamweight hopeful Jason Moloney. The unbeaten Andrew Moloney is a 27 year old who has been ranking up good wins in recent years against the likes of Renoel Pael, Rene Racquel, Richard Claveras and Luis Concepcion. He's made it clear that he wants a world title fight but is perhaps going to have to wait until the end of 2019 to get one, given how fighters are now queuing up for shots in the division. He would be the under-dog against any champion, but would be a very live under-dog.
Daigo Higa (15-1, 15)
Japanese exciting boxer-puncher Daigo Higa was stripped of the WBC Flyweight title earlier this year, due to failing to make weight, and suffered his first loss a day later, being stopped by Cristofer Rosales. Following his failure to make weight he was given an indefinite suspension by the JBC but it now seems likely that suspension will be lifted in 2019. In the ring Higa is an incredibly exciting fighter, who is still a boxing baby at the age of 23, and we're looking forward to seeing him back in the ring. Whether he stays at 115lbs for long is unclear, but we wouldn't be surprised at all to see him make a mark there with his style and aggression. A bout between Higa and either Roman Gonzalez or Srisaket Sor Rungvisai would have FOTY potential.
Sho Ishida (27-1, 15)
Former WBA title challenger Sho Ishida lost in a competitive, but forgettable, bout against Kal Yafai in 2017. Since then he has reeled off 3 wins, including a stoppage victory over Richard Claveras and a decision over Warlito Parrenas, to get himself back in the title mix. Although a talented fighter, with wins against the likes of Yohei Tobe, Ryuichi Funai and Hayato Kimura, Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking and Petchbarngborn Kokietgym there has long been a feeling that Ishida doesn't quite fight to his best, and we're still waiting to really see how good he actually is. He's certainly a leading contender, but it's hard to know if he's a future world champion still, or someone who's just going to bang on the door a few times.
McWilliams Arroyo (17-4, 14)
Former amateur standout McWilliams Arroyo is a heavy handed boxer-puncher who has lost 3 of his last 5 but is a real notable contender who is much better than his record suggests and will only lose to the top men. He's fought for the IBF Flyweight title, back in 2014 losing a split decision to Amnat Ruenroeng, and would lose in a WBC Flyweight title fight to Roman Gonzalez in 2016. In 2018 we saw Arroyo upset Carlos Cuadras before losing to the returning Kazuto Ioka. He's certainly someone who belongs in the title mix, but at the age of 33 it's hard to really know what he has left in his career.
Norbelto Jimenez (29-8-4, 16)
Tricky Dominican fighter Norbelto Jimenez is best known for a 2014 draw with Kohei Kono in a WBA title bout. Since then he has gone 9-0 (6) to run up a 30 fight unbeaten run, going 27-0-3, since May 2011. Although relatively unknown he is ranked #1 by the WBA and is expected to be their next mandatory challenger for Kal Yafai. The bout with Kono is the only one that has seen Jimenez share the ring with a world class opponent, but he is certainly a contender, courtesy of his WBA ranking, and hopefully he does get a big shot sooner or later. If he loses at the top level then we can remove him from the mix, but by not giving him a chance he remains a contender and as someone who really is being over-looked, something we've seen since the Kono fight.
Yanga Sigqibo (12-1-1, 3)
The South African boxing scene currently has world champions at Light Flyweight, Flyweight and Bantamweight. They also have a very interesting Super Flyweight contender in the form of Yanga Sigqibo, who is a relative unknown but is racking up decent wins in the last year or two and is to be considered a genuine contender. Footage of Sigqibo is hard to come by, but wins over Rene Dacquel and Keyvin Lara have seen him pick up minor WBC and WBO titles and shoot up the rankings. It'd be nice to see him travel outside of South Africa for a bout in 2019, allowing him so notable exposure, but for now he seems happy to develop his skills and record at home. He's a bit of a divisional dark horse, but certainly deserves a bit of attention at the moment.
Jonas Sultan (15-4, 9)
Earlier this year we saw Filipino fighter Jonas Sultan challenge Jerwin Ancajas in an IBF title fight. Sultan looked poor in that bout, but is a genuine contender at Super Flyweight despite the loss. He holds notable wins over Brian Lobetania, Rene Dacquel, Makazole Tete and John Riel Casimero. Sultan is a technically solid fighter, but is an uninspiring one, who seems to lack a higher gear and can be a frustrating fighter to watch. He's good but not exciting and certainly needs someone else to force the action so that he can show what he can really do. Interestingly when he is facing more aggressive fighters he does look better, so it could be that he needs to be matched against fighters who can make him look good, rather than expect Sultan to make the fight.
Francisco Rodriguez Jr (29-4-1, 21)
Former unified Minimumweight champion Francisco Rodriguez Jr seems to have been around for years, but is only 25 and is proving himself to be a very credible fighter at Super Flyweight, where he's been fighting the last few years. He naturally outgrew the Minimumweight division, where he beat the likes of Merlito Sabillo and Katsunari Takayama, and never really found success at Light Flyweight, but looks to be a perfect fit at Super Flyweight. His recent bouts at 115lbs have seen him stopping the likes of Hernan Marquez, Yohei Tobe, Pablo Carrilo and Ronald Ramos, and he looks to be a very strong and very powerful fighter at the weight.
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.