It's fair to say that 2020 was a year where Thailand shined with a lot of great shows and fantastic all-Thai bouts. The most notable of those often featured emerging talents and prospects looking to make a statement, move their career's forward and begin to show what they could do against decent opposition. The pandemic, whilst certainly an issue for Thailand, ended up being a partial blessing for their boxing scene with fighters from Indonesia no longer padding out cards and acting as easy wins for local fighters. As a result we ended up with several all-Thai Treasure Trove bouts from 2020 including today's compelling contest featuring two youngsters at 140lbs. It wasn't the most exciting bout we'll feature, but it was a compelling chess match that got better as the bout went on, and featured a young prospect who we suspect we'll be hearing a lot about over the next 10 to 15 years.
Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (8-0, 5) Vs Kulabdam Sor Jor Piekuthai (2-1, 1)
In one corner was 15 year prodigy Phoobadin Yoohanngoh, a touted youngster who had won TL Promotion's "The Fighter" tournament in 2019 and had been building a reputation for himself as a young fighter with a lot of potential. He was young, really young, and had made his debut as a 14 year old child back in 2018. He had been impressive but had mostly fought limited opponents in the professional ranks, often novices and those without much of a fighting background. He had also never fought in a bout scheduled for more than 6 rounds, and had only gone beyond 3 rounds twice in his 8 bouts. Here however he was scheduled for 10 rounds against a fighter who had made his name in Muay Thai, where he was highly regarded.
In the opposite corner to the teenager was Kulabdam Sor Jor Piekuthai, a kick boxing prodigy who had began to make his name all the way back in 2016, and had really become a bit of a star in 2017 when he began to pick up awards. He had continued to build a solid reputation in kick boxing circles with appearances at ONE and was a multi-time Lumpinee Stadium champion before turning his hands to professional boxing at the end o 2019. In professional boxing he took part in TL Promotion's "The Fighter" and reached the semi-final of the tournament, losing to Thosaphol Thongplew. Despite that loss their was still big hopes for him as a boxer, and the loss was expected to be a major learning experience for the youngster, who had bounced back from losses in Muay Thai and knew a defeat wasn't the end of the road.
Despite both men being youngsters and relative professional novices, TL Promotions made this a 10 rounder for a WBA Asia title at 140lbs. Giving the bout some extra allure, and setting us up for a regional champion who was 15 or had just 4 fights to his name. Either way the winner was going to be on the radar going forward.
From the opening bell things were tense. Kulabdam looked the bigger, stronger man and took center ring whilst Phoobadin looked to box at range, using his speed and jab to feel out what Kulabdam had. Despite the inexperience of both men this was a very technical start to the bout, with neither fighter wanting to slip up, and neither wanting to give their opponent an opening. Despite being high level stuff it wasn't the most entertaining, and it really was a tense, technical start from two men were surprisingly skilled for such novices.
In round 2 the pace began to pick up just a little bit, though was again not the most exciting with both men still trying to figure out what the other had in their locker. They were both playing very safe, and not wanting to dig into their arsenal too soon. In some ways there were probably still too respectful, but it was an improvement from the first round. The bout kept improving and round 3 saw the pace pick up again as Phoobadin got more active on the outside and Kulabdam's pressure moved up a notch, forcing Phoobadin to fire off some heavy shots in an attempt to get Kulabdam's respect. Although Phoobadin managed to land some solid shots himself it was Kulabdam landing a shot very late in the round that seemed to be the lasting memory before the start of round 4.
The pace picked up again in round 4 as Kulabdam's pressure really forced the action. It wasn't always the most successful of pressure, but it was pressure that was forcing Phoobadin to respond, and it was pressure that gave Phoobadin openings to land his own shots, especially when he countered. By the end of the round it was clear we had gone from a slow start to a bout that was warming into a really exciting match up between a pressure fighter and a pure boxer.
Through the middle rounds we continued to see the battle of pressure vs boxer, Kulabdam was determined to press, press and press. It was calculated pressure, based off his footwork, upper body movement and jab. Phoobadin was happy boxing off the ropes, soaking up the pressure, countering when the opportunities arose, and using his speed and polished skills well. Both men continued to have moments and success, and both continued to take the odd clean shot. It was making scoring incredibly hard, and the bout, by the end of round 8, seemed to be all up for grabs still, and really dependent on whether the judges preferred the come forward style of Kulabdam or the clean punched of Phoobadin.
Round 9 was more of the same, though it seemed like Kulabdam was landing some of his best shots of the fight, as his pressure ramped up even more. Phoobadin had moments, and forced Kulabdam back at one point, but it was certainly one of the most impressive rounds from Kulabdam, who landed some solid shots to both head and body. We were entering the final round expecting more of the same, pressure from Kulabdam, movement and counters from Phoobadin. The youngster however had a different plan in mind and after landing some good southpaw lefts early on turned the tables, backing Kulabdam up momentarily, creating more space than he'd seen in recent rounds and landing his left hands at will.
Through much of the contest it really was a case of "scoring what you like". You could see judges giving Kulabdam a number of rounds based on his intelligent, but conservative, pressure, but at the same time the defensive skills of Phoobadin and his counter punching was eye catching, and he looked in control for a lot of the bout, despite fighting almost entirely on the back foot.
In the end the judges gave it to the teenager, giving him a genuinely huge win at a very young age.
The bout won't go down as one of the most exciting bouts of 2020, though it was a very enjoyable contest through out and a compelling match up with styles that gelled well. It will, however, go down as the bout that helped put Phoobadin on the map, with the teenager taking the decision win and the WBA Asia title.
The last few bouts covered in this series have been in Japan so we thought it was a good time to get out of the Land of the rising Sun and bring you a treasure from else where. With that in mind we pop over to the Land of Smiles for this week's Treasure Trove bout, and this time it's the turn of one of boxing brightest young prospects scoring his most impressive win to date.
If you like prospects, and young fighters, and getting to know them before they are big names this is a Treasure Trove fight that you need to watch!
Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (9-0, 4) vs Atchariya Wirojanasunobol (13-0, 5)
Over the last few years there had been talk about a Thai youngster called Phoobadin Yoohanngoh, who was born in 2004 and made his debut in 2018, at the age of 14. Early on it seemed weird that such a youngster was fighting, but by the end of 2018 he had racked up a 3-0 (2) record and proven himself capable in the ring, albeit against novices. In 2019 he added 5 more wins to his record, winning TL Promotion' "The Fighter" series.
By then Phoobadin had moved from a young fighter to a genuine curiosity, and entered 2020 8-0 (4). Was this youngster the new megastar of Thai boxing? Was he a boxing savant? Was there more to this young man than just the latest in a long line of kids thrown into the ring at a young age? In July 2020 he proved there was more to him, out pointing Somboon Meesitdee for the WBA Asia Light Welterweight title. Some 4 months later, after a training scuppered the original date, he made his first defense.
Unlike many fighter who get an easy first defense Phoobadin was matched with the once very highly regarded Atchariya Wirojanasunobol, who like Phoobadin was an unbeaten fighter with aspirations of big fights. Atchariya had promised a lot early in his career, but a 2018 arrest for drugs charges, which were later dropped, had derailed his career. He had started his comeback, and noted a solid win in September, but needed something big. He needed a win here over his teenage compatriot.
With TL Promotions putting the fight on in November we had high hopes of something truly intriguing. What we ended up getting was intriguing but also sensational.
Atchariya started the bout on the front foot. Like many men he likely assumed the teenager he was up against wasn't going to be able to take his shots, and was hype rather than true substance. Phoobadin however shows great composure under some early pressure, moved around the ring well and made Atachariya miss, and the countered him with some excellent clean shots.
Atchariya wasn't discouraged by the counters in the first round and kept his pressure up in round 2, making Phoobadin back up and fight from the ropes. It was clear by the end of the round however that Phoobadin had no fear of Atchariya. He was getting a read on his opponent, understanding him, catching him and making the most of the clear difference in speed. Phoobadin continued to bide his time, countering well through rounds 3 and 4, though did let some combinations go when he decided to counter and there was a tension that maybe, just maybe, Atchariya's composed and educated pressure would have an effect on the youngster mentally.
By round 5 Phoobadin had began to look more at ease and more comfortable letting his hands go, whilst Atachariya had began to look wary, realising that he was putting in a lot of effort for little return. He wasn't taking a lot of punishment, but Atchariya was certainly not having much success and was starting to visibly slow, getting more cautious and and wary that the teenager he was up against was a very smart and talented young man.
In round 6 we finally saw Phoobadin open up properly and this was the start of the end for Atchariya who took a pounding in round 6 forcing his corner to step in and save him after he had been down numerous times. It was statement finish from Phoobadin, who had boxed smartly on the backfoot later on, punished his older foe with counters and then took him out. It was an amazingly mature performance by someone who was still just a kid, in their 10th professional bout.
If you want to talk about sensational prospects shining in 2020 there wasn't many more impressive than the 16 year old Phoobadin was here. Brilliant from him both defensively and offensively. A genuine star making performance in his homeland, and a win that really should help open big doors for him in the future.
Around a year ago we took a look at 10 teenage prospects from around Asia, and now seemed a perfect time to re-run that article by taking a look at 10 prospects who are currently teenagers and that we're really excited by.
As with last year's article we are genuinely exciting about how bright the future is looking for Asian fighters and Asia in general has a lot of young talent breaking through the ranks. Not just the teenagers we mention here, who are very much the youngest of the emerging talent, but the 20, 21, 22 and 23 year old's who are all looking to make their mark. Thankfully one thing we know about Asian talent is that the top prospects don't tend to want to waste time and in a year or two we may be talking about some of these fighters are regional champions or world contenders.
In fact with that in mind, and before we go in to the 10 for this list we'll just note that two of the men featured last year, Musashi Mori and Ginjiro Shigeoka, are currently world ranked and regional title holders, whilst several others from last year's list reappear again this year, showing just how young they actually are!
For those wondering, the ordering is by age, starting at the youngest. There is no ranking system used.
Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (9-0, 4) [16 years old]
The youngest of the prospects we've been really impressed by is 16 year old Thai hopeful Phoobadin Yoohanngoh, who fights at Light Welterweight and has already ticked off more boxes than many much older fighters. The youngster, who debated at the frankly ridiculous age of just 14, has been a professional since 2018 and actually ended the year 3-0 (2). In 2019 he really built on his momentum by winning TL Promotion's "The Fighter" tournament, and going 5-0 (2) during the year. All that was impressive but nothing compared to what we saw him do this past July when he claimed the WBA Asia Light Welterweight title with a 10 round decision win over Kulabdam Sor Jor Piekuthai.
Although he's only 16 Phoobadin is a very mature youngster and with a good 10 rounder under his belt it's hard to not be very, very impressed by what he's shown us, and potential that he has to show. He's proven he can box, move, and fight, and has battled through some adversity already. Definitely one to keep an eye on!
Dastan Saduuly (3-0, 3) 
Aged 18 Dastan Saduuly is one of the youngest Kazakh fighters out there, and is one who has shown a lot to be excited about, though we actually think it's what we've not seen from him that is more interesting. Through his first 3 fights he has pretty much had everything all his own way, and hasn't had to break a sweat. Despite that we have seen nice quick punches, good movement, a good temperament and really good aggressive instincts. There is some work to do on his technique, and it certainly feels like he's not as physically mature as Phoobadin, despite being older, but he looks like a brilliant prospect who simply needs time to develop and mature.
Saduuly debuted at the age of 16, back in September 2018, and fit 6 fights into 7 months. Sadly he's not fought since March 2019, though part of that is understandable given the current global situation. As we write this he is pencilled in for a fight in Russia later this month and that should be a credible step up for the Kazakh wonder kid.
Kosuke Tomioka (3-0, 2) 
Another 3-0 fighter worthy of real attention is Japan's Kosuke Tomioka, who is just 2 days older than Dastan Saduuly. The Japanese youngster comes from a boxing family, with 2 of his brothers and his cousin all being professionals, and was a notable omission last year. That was, in part, due to the fact he was just 1-0 (1). Since then Tomioka has become one of the must watch prospects, thanks in part to a flashy performance against Asato Mori, in October 2019.
In the ring Tomioka is a speedy fighter with a flashy style. He throws great counter punches, has fast feet, very fast hands and is confident in his reflexes and speed. Sadly last time out we saw him put on a rather dull win over Shota Hara, though that was partly down to the fact Hara had come to survive and not win, making for an awful clash. Aged 18 and fighting at Super Flyweight Tomioka is in a great division domestically, and getting attention among hardcore, both in and out of Japan, for his style, his flair and his charisma. Thankfully he blends that flash with a lot of skill and really does understand the sport, and his strengths. We suspect he's going to shine as he matures and he looks like a very, very exciting and talented youngster, with the potential to go all the way, even if it will be a long journey there.
Ayumu Hanada (5-0, 3)* 
We stay in Japan for a very, very interesting fighter who has gone the road less travelled, in many ways. Ayumu Hanada is an 18 year old old Flyweight who debuted in Mexico more than 2 years ago. He won his first 4 bouts in Mexico, and these are the 4 bouts that show up on his boxrec record, all of which were scheduled for 4 rounds. Last year he then turned up in Osaka fighting on a non-JBC show where he won a 10 round decision to claim a WBF title. That result isn't on his boxrec record, despite it taking place, and being his Japanese debut, essentially because without the JBC sanctioning it the bout isn't recognised, despite the minor title.
Back in August Hanada announced that he would stop fighting as a free-lancer and would be joining the JBC, with his pro-test taking place later this month. When that happens he will be a JBC licensed fighter and begin his climb towards becoming a star at home. We expect the 18 year old to squeeze in his JBC debut later this year and move quickly through the domestic and regional rankings, though given his career so far we wouldn't be surprised at all if he ends up doing something else a bit unusual.
In regards to ability Hanada is a genuinely talented boxer puncher with quick hands, quick feet, real power for a youngster and an aggressive mean streak. There is, as with many fighters here, some real polishing that needs to be done, but we suspect sparring in Japan will help there and should help him again sort out his somewhat flawed technique.
Jong Seon Kang (11-0-2, 6) 
The Korean boxing scene has been underwhelming for years, but it does appear that the country has got some quality talent emerging through the ranks. One of their most interesting young prospects is 18 year old Featherweight Jong Seon Kang, who is a hell of a fun fighter to watch, despite being a very flawed fighter, who needs a lot of work if he's to reach the top.
Since debuting in 2017, aged 16, Kang has done a lot, without making too much noise. He scored a number of upsets in 2019, beating Ravshanbek Shermatov, Qixiu Zhanf and Tomjune Manguabet, claimed a couple of minor titles, went 10 rounds and picked fought on foreign soil. In terms of achievements in the professional ranks he has done more than anyone else on this list, but like the others he's a work in progress, and he needs to work on his defense, which is questionable at best.
Despite Kang being easy to hit he appears to take a shot well, have a great engine and a real desire to put on thrilling action fights. He is one of the most fan friendly fighters in Asia, but that may come to his detriment down the line. Win or lose he's the sort of prospect who will leave fans happy after seeing him in action, and he's bout to have a damn fun rollercoaster of a career.
Chaiyapong Phongwankittikun (3-0, 3) 
Thai youngster Chaiyapong Phongwankittikun isn't a name we suspect many will be familiar with, however his father is someone who we suspect fans will known, as Chaiyapong is the son of former world champion Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai, who held the WBA Super Featherweight title in the early 00's. The hope is for Chaiyapong to follow in his father's footsteps and allow the family to become the first father-son world champions in Thai boxing history.
The youngster made his debut in August 2019, aged 17, and sadly looked a bit raw, clumsy and over-awed by the occasion, as his opponent gave him a legitimate chin checking in the opening round. Despite being under pressure the youngster made his way through the round, even dropping his man, before calming down. He would later go on to stop his man in the 4th round, proving his resolve, guts, determination and heart along the way.
Chaiyapong didn't have the debut performance he had hoped for, and he was chastised by some for it, but it was a great learning experience, and since then he has scored 2 more wins and looked like he's improving with every fight. Given the fame of his father and the backing of Tantelecom Boxing Promotion the hope is they can take him and mould him into a success. Given his age, his toughness, and his power he's one of the ones we're going to be interested in following, and one the potential wild cards here. They know he needs time, and the talk is that they want him to have 3, if not more, years of learning the craft, and that really does seem the smart idea. There's plenty to like about him, but he's very much someone who needs a lot of time and development.
Jin Sasaki (8-0, 7) 
Japanese Light Welterweight Jin Sasaki may, potentially, be the best teenager in Asia, and the one with the biggest upside. The 19 year old puncher appears to have it, and understands what it is. He's charismatic, confident, a tough cocky even, but backs it up with aggression, speed and power. He's a brutish puncher who is growing into his frame and he looks like a genuine top tier prospect, with the potential to make huge strides over the next year or two.
At the end of August Sasaki scored his biggest win to date, flattening Shun Akaiwa in just 45 seconds, and we suspect by the time the next time the JBC rankings are updated his name will appears. With that in mind it's hard to imagine his team waiting too long before angling him into a Japanese or regional title fight.
With an international bout under his belt, and 5 wins in the first 2 rounds the things Sasaki needs now is rounds, some adversity, and a chance to prove his chin and gas tank. If his team are confident, like they appear to be, we suspect he will get a real test in the next 12 months as they push onwards and upwards with their rising star.
Sung Min Yuh (5-0, 1) 
We mentioned a little bit earlier about emerging talent in South Korea and with that in mind we want to bring your attention to arguably their best young prospect, Light Middleweight Sung Min Yuh. In terms of natural ability Yuh might be the best teenager in Asian boxing. He's a natural in the ring, with fantastic handspeed, shot selection, and slippery defense, not things we always associate with Korean boxing. He is however a fighter who seems to need to be tested to get the best from him, and he has, at times, been seen fighting well within himself, and fighting down to his opponents level.
Yuh is a really brilliant talent, who stands at 5'11", is fighting at 154lbs, is already the KBM champion and at just 19 years old is getting better and better. Amazingly Yuh only made his debut in March 2019, 12 days after his 18 birthday. He didn't look great on his debut, but since then has developed into a real talent. We just now need to hope that the desire, and mental side of the sport is with Yuh, and he can make the most of his skills. If he can this kid has the potential to be the biggest thing in Korean boxing in decades. If he can develop that potential we could see South Korea have another world champion in a few years time.
Toshiya Ishii (3-0, 2)
We head back off to Japan for the penultimate name on this list as we look at JBC Youth Bantamweight champion Toshiya Ishii, an outstanding young talent, who made his professional debut in April 2019 and has rapidly risen through the rankings. His debut came against a relatively poor opponent, Adam Wijaya, but since then he has taken on two very good domestic opponents, beating the then 8-0 Fumiya Fuse and the then 8-1 Haruki Ishikawa.
Despite only having 3 professional bouts to his name, as well as a solid amateur background, Ishii has already shown the ability to box, the ability to fight and the ability to punch. He has taken his opportunities to shine and his bout with Ishikawa was one of the most exciting bouts of 2019. In that one bout he showed his heart, determination, power, ability to recuperate, and skills. We think Ishii might need a year or two to really be ready to move on to the main Japanese title scene, but given he's still only 19 that's not going to be an issue at all.
Ishii is, interestingly, one of the teenagers, along with Yuh, who is technically very good, but for Ishii the big thing he needs is experience, and of course the only way he gets that is by fighting. The technical ability and physical traits are there for him, and he has a very, very bright future ahead of him.
Talgat Shayken (1-0) 
We finish this with 19 year old Kazakh hopeful Talgat Shayken, who debuted recently following a strong amateur career. On debut he didn't look flawless, but he did look exciting and like a man full of potential. He showed a fun to watch style, a really impressive physical maturity and a solid gas tank, going 6 complete rounds on his debut. Unlike many debutant teenagers he was almost matched hard, going up against the then 5-0 Berikbay Nurymbetov, who did come to win, rather than roll over.
As an amateur Shayken always a bit rough, and relied on his physicality and physical strength. Now in the professional ranks that will have to change, and he will certainly have to polish off some technical issues, but he's only 19, there is a lot of time for him to make those changes, and given that MTK are managing him there is going to be the chance for him to get top sparring, and time to develop. Although MTK are big, and powerful, they have allowed their prospects a lot of time to develop when they have needed it, sometimes too much time. With that in mind we don't imagine Shayken will be rushed, but we do expect to see him being tested early, and often.
Yifan Wang (2-0-1, 2)  - Yes he 14!
Yoo Chan Lee (2-0, 2) 
Nan He (1-0) 
Bryan James Wild (5-0, 4) 
Issei Ochiai (2-0, 1) 
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.