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.
Yesterday we looked at the champions in the Light Welterweight divisions, and whilst the division has two unified champions, leading to an obvious bout down the line between the two, the division also has an amazing line up of contenders, which is varied, exciting and very, very interesting.
Downua Ruawaiking (16-0, 13)
Unbeaten Thai Downua Ruawaiking, also known as Apinun Khongsong, is set to get a world title fight with Josh Taylor later in the year. The 23 year old won his first 14 bouts in Thailand, against mostly regional level competition such as Sonny Katiandagho and Adam Diu Abdulhamid before going over to Japan and stopping the teak tough Akihiro Kondo in a world title eliminator, which has seen him secure his fight with Taylor. Talented, big, powerful and with under-rated speed Downua is a credible, if relatively unknown, challenger for Taylor who is expected to get his shot this coming coming spring.
Viktor Postol (31-2, 12)
Ukrainain fighter Viktor Postol is a veteran at 36 and a former WBC champion, having beaten Lucas Matthysse for the belt back in 2015. Sadly Postol's reign was a short one, and he lost the belt in his first defense, to Terence Crawford. Since then he has gone 3-1, with a controversial win over Jamshidbek Najmitdinov, a clear loss to Josh Taylor and then decision wins over Siar Ozgul and Mohamed Mimoune. Despite being 3-2 in his last 5 he's now in a mandatory position to face Jose Carlos Ramirez. He was meant to face Ramirez in February but the bout has been cancelled due to the illness sweeping through China.
Regis Prograis (24-1, 20)
Once beaten American fighter Regis Prograis was the losing finalist in the WBSS and despite the lost has proven himself as one of the top fighters in the division. "Rougarou" is aggressive, exciting, hard hitting, talented and so much fun to watch. He's a former WBA and WBC "Diamond" champion and is expected to have a big 2020 as he looks to bounce back from the loss to Taylor. Aged 31 he's still got time on his side, but will clearly want to have a big year and his style, unfortunately his style is one which will not hold up as he gets older, as it's a very high energy style.
Subriel Matias (15-0, 15)
Big punching Puerto Rican fighter Subriel Matias is an exciting, aggressive, heavy handed and tragic fighter. Whilst he only really came to fans attention in s019 he had been racking up an impressive streak of wins from around 2017, when he stopped Patrick Lopez, then followed that up with wins against Daulis Prescott, Adrian Estrella, Breidis Prescott and Fernando David Saucedo. Sadly Matias made headlines last July with his win over Maxim Dadashev, who passed away following their bout. Although Matias is a real talent it's going to take a while to know what effect the Dadashev tragedy will have on Matias.
Jose Zepeda (31-2-0-2, 25)
Jose Zepeda is a talented southpaw who's career has been plagued by misfortune, had he had some luck there's a real chance he would have won a world title at some point. He suffered a freak injury in 2015, when he lost to Terry Flanagan, and lost a very close decision last year to Jose Carlos Ramirez. Although he's yet to get the win at the top level he did beat Jose Pedraza back in September and is certainly still in the mix for another title fight this year. Aged 30 he has more than enough time to earn another big shot at the top.
Jack Caterall (25-0, 13)
Unbeaten Englishman Jack Caterall has been on the verge of a world title fight for a few years but has yet to land the big fight, and it has felt like his career has stagnated in recent bouts. Solid domestic level wins in 2018 over Tyrone McKenna and Ohara Davies looked like they were going to open the door for the 26 year old from Chorley, England, but 2019 was an effective write off. Although talented Caterall has yet to show anything that would worry any of the divisions top fighters, but there is a feeling that he has got more in the locker than he's had to show. We could see 2020 be a big year for "El Gato", who is expected to get his first world title fight by the end of the year.
Shohjahon Ergashev (18-0, 16)
Big punching Uzbek contender Shohjahon Ergashev looks like he has dynamite in his hands, and has been destructive when he's been in the ring, as we saw earlier this month against Adrian Etrella. The 28 year old is very much a raw puncher who has some great tools to work with but needs to work on some areas. Fighting out of the southpaw stance his left hand is brutal but he really does under-utilise his right hand, which will be an issue when he steps up and it's worth noting he struggled massively against lanky boxer mover Mykal Fox, in what was his most testing bout to date.
Batyrzhan Jukembayev (18-0-0-2, 14)
Unbeaten Kazakh fighter Batyrzhan Jukembayev isn't a big yet in the US or Europe, but has been carving out his career in Canada and has picked up a couple of minor titles and began to make a genuine name for himself. The 28 year old, who made his pro debut in 2015, has already picked up a number of solid wins including a very solid one against Miguel Vazquez last September. It's unclear when, or if, his team are going to begin pushing him for a world title fight, but at the moment he is ranked by 2 of the world title bodies and is certainly heading towards a shot, albeit a touch slower than he needs to be.
Batyr Akhmedov (7-1, 6)
Uzbek born Russian based boxed-puncher Batyr Akhmedov may look inexperienced compared to some of the other contenders but the former amateur standout has already fought for the WBA "regular" title, and was unlucky in his bout with Mario Barrios. Akhmedov, also known as Batuhan Gozgec, was a 2016 Olympian, competing for Turkey, and has been matched hard since he began his career. He has been fast tracked, but has beaten solid competition already, with wins against Ricky Sismundo, Ismael Barroso and Viktor Plotnikov already. He's been ordered by the WBA to have a rematch with Barrios and that's expected to take place this year.
Koki Inoue (15-0, 12)
The 27 year old Koki Inoue is the cousin of Bantamweight sensation Naoya Inoue, and although not as destructive or impressed as the "Monster" Koki is already making waves and has unified the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific titles, whilst also breaking into the fringes of the world rankings. The southpaw can box or punch, and although some of his bouts haven't been fireworks he has been able to shut down and neutralise talented aggressive fighters. We expect 2020 to be a big year for Inoue and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him fight outside of Japan later this year, in what would be his second international bout. Next up for him is a mandatory defense of the Japanese title against Daishi Nagata on March 16th.
Having looked at the Champions and the Contenders at 140lbs we now move onto the interesting prospects rising through the ranks at 140lbs, and we really get a lovely look across the boxing world in a weight class that has a really metropolitan feel to it.
If you missed our looks at the champions that can be found here The state of the Division - Light Welterweight - The Champions whilst the review of the challengers can be found here The state of the Division - Light Welterweight - The Contenders
Batyr Akhmedov (5-0, 4)
If we were asked to mention just 1 prospect in the division it would have been Uzbek born Russian based Batyr Akhmedov, who confuses things even more having fought at the 2016 Olympics for Turkey under the name Batuhan Gozgec. Akhmedov debuted in early 2017 and hasn't been particularly active, yet has already notched big wins over Ricky Sismundo and Ismael Barroso. He's highly skilled, heavy hand, exciting and wanting to prove himself quickly. We're expecting 2019 to be a massive year for Akhmedov, who will almost certainly be ending the year in the world rankings, even if he does only squeeze 2 or 3 fights into the year.
Fabian Andres Maidana (16-0, 12)
The younger brother of Marcos Rene Maidana is Fabian Andres Maidana, a rising prospect, former amateur standout and one of the future stars of Argentinian boxing. Like his older brother he is a brutal puncher, and his 16 bouts have averaged less than 4 rounds. Notably he has been getting tested, with bouts against the tricky Johan Perez in 2017 and Andrey Klimov in 2018, with wins against those two men helping building his image and profile. There is a lot work for him to do, but with a good team behind him, his brother's advice and a willingness to travel, the expectation is that Maidana will go far. He's Scheduled to fight in January, against Jaider Parra, and could end up having a huge year ahead.
Akeem Ennis Brown (12-0, 1)
One of the lighter hitting prospects in the division is Englishman Akeem Ennis Brown, a tricky, smart, boxer who shone in 2018 with notable wins over Chris Jenkins and Darragh Foley. Those wins saw him build on good victories over Freddy Kiwitt in 2016 and Glenn Foot in 2017. At the age of 23 "Riiddy" looks like being a nightmare to face off, and is perhaps only going to be held back by his lack of power. Despite not having much sting in his shots he is an awfully good fighter, a nightmare to come against and a truly frustrating proposition for anyone in the division.
Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (6-0, 3)
A third notable Uzbek at 140lbs is 27 year old Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, who despite being a gold medal winner looks a lot less of a threat to the champions than compatriots Shakhram Giyasov and Shohjahon Ergashev. Whilst Giyasov and Ergashev turned professional with pro-ready styles the same can't be said of Gaibnazarov, who has had to adapt his style since making his debut in 2017. He has began to show touches of brilliance but unfortunately the jury is still out on him as we enter 2019. Despite not standing out it is worth noting that Gaibnazarov is promoted by Top Rank and will be expecting a huge 2019, beginning with his January 18th bout against Ricardo Garcia.
Yazid Amghar (21-0, 9)
Over the last few years the French boxing scene has come alive, with a number of interesting and talented fighters breaking through the ranks. One of those is 29 year French Light Welterweight champion Yazid Amghar. Having debuted in 2012 it took a while for Amghar to gain much traction with his career, but that has started to happen recently thanks to good wins over Douda Sow, Jarkko Putkonen and Berman Sanchez, as well as a total gutcheck against Renald Garrido, a favourite of everyone here! Amghar is perhaps not a world class prospect, but will certainly be mixing in the European title scene in the years to come and will be a good addition to those ranks.
Alexander Duran (17-0, 4)
Duran is the most iconic of names in Panamanian boxing, and 26 year old southpaw Alexander Duran has been unfortunate enough to share the same surname as the legendary Roberto Duran. Despite the same surname the two won't every be fairly compared, however the unbeaten hopeful is worth talking about following some good recent results. These have included wins over Patrick Lopez, Luis Ronaldo Castillo and once touted Mexican Adrian Estrella. There is still a long way for Duran to go, but he's had a good 24 months and should be breaking on to the radar of more fight fans in 2019.
Genaro Gamez (8-0, 5)
American 23 year old Genaro Gamez came to our attention last year when he beat Shoki Sakai, in what was a really good step up for the youngster. Gamez looks to build on that win in February when he takes on Ivan Delgado and despite being a big of a hidden gem we would be very surprised if more fans weren't talking about him towards the end of the year. He has been featured on Golden Boy on ESPN cards, the Golden Boy team and has looked like a sharp puncher with nice movement and quick hands. There is clearly a lot of work to do with Gamez, but after just 8 fights he looks really promising and just needs his team to put him in the right tests in 2019.
Juan Pablo Romero (9-0, 6)
We don't see too many Mexican fighters making a mark on the international amateur scene before beginning their career but Juan Pablo Romero, or "Pivi", did just that, making his way to the 2016 Olympics. Sadly Romero's Olympic dream was ended by Italian Vincenzo Mangiacapre but he's now on a professional journey and is rising quickly. He debuted in April 2017 and was 5-0 (3) by the end of the year, before stepping up his competition in 2018, going 4-0 (3) including a very nice win over Jose Luis Prieto. Mexican TV are behind him, he looks a very clean puncher, very sharp and defensively smart with some lovely body shots in his arsenal. At 28 he's going to be moved quickly this year and we'd suspect his US debut is just around the corner.
Mykquan Williams (13-0, 7)
American youngster Mykquan Williams has been a pro for close to 3 years, but is still only 20 years old. He's not had the spotlight shined on him in the way some American prospects have, but has impressed, especially in 2018 when he went 4-0 and hardly lost a round. He's a boxing baby but took his first professional title last year and will look to continue building momentum. He has a pretty aggressive style, a likable personality and a recognisable promoter in DiBella. He comes across as someone who has his head on his shoulders and a strong team guiding his career at this early stage. It could be a few years before we see what he's able to do, but we do like what we've seen of him.
Lei Wang (2-0, 1)
Whilst Batyr Akhmedov might be the 1st name we'd put on a prospect list at 140lbs China's Lei Wang isn't far behind. The former Chinese amateur star made his professional debut in September 2018, stopping Anthony Sabalde, and went on to beat Ricky Sismundo in December. Although he's only done 11 rounds as a professional Wang has shown a lot to be excited about. Although he was given a really tough time by Sismundo that shouldn't be a negative for Wang, who would have learned more in that bout than 10 at a lower level. There's a lot to like about Wang, but also a lot that he and his team need to work on now he's in the professional ranks.
Koki Inoue (12-0, 10)
The third member of the Kanagawa Inoue clan is Koki Inoue, the cousin of Naoya Inoue and Takuma Inoue. The Shingo Inoue trained southpaw boxer-puncher will be getting a Japanese title fight later this year and looks to add to his impressive start to professional boxing. There's a lot to like about Inoue, even if he isn't comparable to his cousins, and he's an aggressive, exciting, hard hitting fighter who is expected to move well beyond domestic level. He didn't look close to his best last time out, against Marcus Smith, though it was later revealed he was carrying several injuries into that bout. If he can defeat Valentine Hosokawa in their title showdown he will instantly be getting a lot more attention.
Masahiro Suzuki (1-0, 1)
Another fighter who made their debut in 2018 is Masahiro Suzuki, who debuted in November against the hard hitting Antonio Siesmundo. We were incredibly impressed by Suzuki who showed a real calmness in the face of a hard hitting pressure fighter, and we were instantly looking forward to what he's going to do in the future. He looked talented, sharp, intelligent, exciting and incredibly promising on debut, and was clearly looking to use his amateur background as a starting point for what he's doing in the professional scene. He's expected to be back in the ring in Spring and it's going to be a very exciting journey to follow him on.
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.