In boxing right now we have so many political arguments, especially among fans, who will argue for or against a promoter or a broadcaster. The reality is that certain fans seem to spend more time focused on the people running the shows than the actual shows, and you go online and see vitriol thrown the way of both promotional outfits and promoters daily. And by vitriol we don't mean fair and honest criticism, we mean hypocritical views and bizarre hatred.
We'll leave our approach on some of that to another day, but it does open up the flood gates as to what we need to see boxing do to actually improve, and it could certainly take a hint from the East here, likewise lets not pretend in the East is perfect because it isn't. There are things done in the East that would be relatively easy to add to the Western boxing world and would genuinely improve it.
It's also worth noting that the JBC have taken a different approach. If a foreign fighter misses weight they are added on to a list of fighters that aren't allowed to fight in Japan for a set amount of time. For domestic fighters lengthy bans are given and the gym is also warned to take more responsibility with their fighters going forward.
A combinations of the JBC's approach, with the bigger gloves, would potentially give a direct in fight punishment, along with a longer term punishment, and with a financial penalty as well we suspect that fighters simply wouldn't take the risk of missing weight going forward.
One thing that isn't allowed in Japan is for any gym to match 2 of their own fighters against each other. This is almost a polar opposite to how the Western promoters work, where "in house fights" are almost a regular occurrence. This means that promoters need to either look internationally for opponents, which can mean some absolutely terrible opponents, or work together. It's the working together part of this that would really help Western promoters.
No more "crossing the street" debates, have the guys fight, and if it's good they can fight again down the line. Sure it doesn't always work like that, and rematches between Akira Yaegashi and Kazuto Ioka and between Takashi Uchiyama and Takashi Miura never happened, but that wasn't promoters hiding behind a network, that stopped them happening.
This working together idea extends as far as TV with a fighter who fights on one channel doing commentary work on another and looking to build the sport first, channel second. Fighters crossing over opens the door to big profiles and needs to be considered going forward by Western fighters
A loss early is nothing if a fighter learns
We often see prospects handled with kids gloves in the west, and a loss can be the end. In the East a loss is often seen as part of a fighters development. Fighters like Kohei Kono and Sho Kimura may never have been global stars but both claimed world titles, both were popular and both lost on their debut. Other fighters like Akira Yaegashi, Ryoichi Taguchi and Ryosuke Iwasa all suffered early losses and bounced back.
A fighter who has spent their first few years being touted, whilst fighting in mismatches will not learn what they need to give themselves a fair chance when they get a big bout. Instead a promoter needs to risk their man to help them find their level, expose flaws that need correcting and work on areas that aren't quite there. That's not to say throw them in with killers straight away, but don't let fighters stagnate to just avoid a loss until their get a big fight. It hinders their development.
This teams up well with another concept we'll get to in a moment, which takes a slightly different approach when it comes to super prospects.
With a Super Prospect test them quickly and let them fly
Historically in Korea and Thailand, and more recently Japan, the top guys have had jetpacks strapped to them from the off. We've seen the same with some Ukrainian fighters and Uzbek fighters, and now it's time for the US and UK to follow suit.
If you have a sensationally talented super prospect. Don't spend 3 or 4 years telling us they are good. Get them in there against tests, and get them to the top. We've seen fighters like Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka show this in recent years, and really get a lot of attention in the West from fans usually not that bothered about the lower weights. These guys want to prove they are the best, and don't fall into the Western trope of "my manager tells me who to fight and I just fight". At the end of the day there is no point winning top levels medals in the amateurs then beginning your career in 4 rounders against fighters not there to win.
We know that some will point to Robeisy Ramirez's debut loss and go "the sports are different dick head!" but that's missing the point. Ramirez fought like an idiot against someone who had come to win. Firstly that should have been a 6 rounder, and why it wasn't is still a mystery,and secondly Ramirez's lazy ass would have gotten a better wake up call with that loss than he would with an easy peasy win over someone with a losing record. Yes Ramirez should have got on with things, and not thought professional boxing was a cakewalk, but the loss will serve him better, and we wouldn't be surprised to see him being put in deep quickly now he has his first win.
One thing Japan and Korea do so well is their Rookie tournaments. DAZN's John Skipper is quoted in a recent Boxing Scene article explaining "Boxing is not a sport that lends itself to being organized.” and we don't view that as being particularly true, due to how well run the Rookie tournaments, especially the Japanese Rookie of the Year, is.
The Rookie of the Year, for those unaware, is an annual tournament held in Japan which pits novices against each other. It starts as a regional competition, and ends up with the All Japan final in December. This adds a narrative to the sport, gives something to fill the schedule and works to provide a lot of action whilst also helping take someone from a Rookie to a national contender. Due to the fact the Rookie of the Year covers a significant number of weight classes, a fight falling through doesn't hamper the events too much, and due to the level the fighters are competing at it's relatively cheap to put the events on.
Of course not all tournaments work well, the God's Left tournament for example was a 7 man tournament which ended up seeing Seiya Tsutsumi reach the final without fighting, due to Kenya Yamashita missing weight for their semi-final. However tournaments add structure to the sport, have a running narrative, and can get people to buy in and care about fighters. Just try to not over use 1-night tournaments, like "Prizefighter", for this. Although "Prizefighter" it quickly became a go to for Matchroom, who need to bring it back, but use it sparingly.
National titles need to mean something
One thing Japan, and to a lesser degree the UK, has is a national title that means something. It's a belt that fighters want. In fact it's a belt that many go for on their route to a world title due to the JBC's rules. It's treat like it's special, and every year the Japanese boxing scene has it's Champion Carnival, where the champions defend against a challenger who has earned the right to a shot the previous year.
In the US there really isn't a title similar. Some would point to the NABF or NABA titles being similar but they aren't. The the NABF and NABA are almost nationalised titles from the big 4 looking to offer a belt for a ranking. A true USA national title, would help focus domestic fighters, giving them a bridge between prospect and world title. It could again be part of a tournament to crown the first champions, and if used right it would give a sub-world title a real meaning. A lot like how the British title had meaning until recently.
A big problem, is that we do have "too many" titles in the sport. Those titles however are typically the alphabet boys looking to make every penny out of the sport they can. The national titles need to be regarded as outside of their remit. There isn't a ranking for winning a Japanese title, and their shouldn't be one for winning any national title. The ranking should be based on who you beat for it.
(Image of Kimura and Tanaka courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
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.