On February 2nd we'll see Japanese-Korean Gonte Lee make his professional debut, following an excellent amateur career. Although he isn't a medal winner at a major international event, such as the World Amateur Championships or Olympics his debut is one worth getting very excited about.
Lee had been a standout amateur, winning numerous tournaments on the Japanese scene, including 6 high school crowns, whilst running up a spectacular (102-10) record, including a Japanese record setting 62 straight wins. Those performances had lead him to fighting in a number of international competitions, competing for North Korea.
It was hoped that Lee would compete at the 2020 Olympics in Japan under the North Korean banner. His decision to instead turn professional was a clear sign of fear that the 2020 Olympics may not have boxing, and his decision to turn professional was certainly effected by the issues going on in amateur boxing. The fact he was one of North Korea's biggest hopes in boxing, and was deciding to give up his Olympic dream 2 years out due to the uncertainty of AIBA was a statement, and he made it alongside Japanese hopeful Mikito Nakano, with both turning professional under Teiken.
Although, at the time of writing, the only footage of Lee is as an amateur it's hard not to be impressed by him. He is a razor sharp Southpaw, who has excellent speed, anticipation and reflexes, as well as a lovely variety of punches. Unlike some fighters who rely on speed he manages to combine those traits with excellent boxing skills, solid fundamentals, an accurate jab and a powerful straight left hand. He also looks like he has impressive body punching, something we don't typically see amateurs having, and a style that should suit the professional game well.
We know that his first bout is a gimme, as he takes on Thai novice Aphisit Namkhot (1-1, 1) but the expectation is that he will be moved quickly through the ranks in 2019 and 2020. His style pedigree and style should see him competing for titles in the near future, and we're incredibly excited to see his rise through the ranks.
With Teiken having had a few bad years, with the likes of Shinsuke Yamanaka, Akifumi Shimoda, Toshiyuki Igarashi and Takashi Miura all retiring, and high profile losses for Ryota Murata, Roman Gonzalez, Carlos Cuadras and Jorge Linares, the gym is need of some success stories. Whilst some of those successes have come in the form Masaru Sueyoshi and Hayate Kaji they will want significantly more and the signing of Lee is a clear statement of intent, and we suspect after Lee shines on debut we'll be seeing Teiken approach a number of other amateur standouts later in the year as they look to bolster their future hopes. Although Teiken is still the most well known gym in Japan others have started to sign up talent for their future, with Watanabe, Kadoebi and Ohashi all signing top prospects, and we think Lee, and Nakano, will be the start of Teiken's upcoming talent raid of the amateur scene.
Is Lee's debut going to shake up the Japanese scene in a seismic way? No. But it will be something to look forward to, and the start of a journey that we expect will see success at domestic, regional and world level.
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.