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.
South Korean boxing is a long, long way, from what it once was. Despite that the sport has been able to provide some amazing bouts in the last few years, in a variety of settings. They haven't always been the tidiest, or prettiest of bouts, but they have had their own charm. Today we share one such bout, from our Treasure Trove, and this is really one of the most bizarre, thrilling, action packed, messy wars you're likely to see this week.
Seung Hee Lee (3-6, 1) vs Jin Soo Kim (6-6-1, 3)
In October 2019 the WJ Boxing Club played host to a small card, featuring a number of lesser talented fighters. Despite the limitations of the men involved many of the men on the show felt this was a chance to make a mark and pick up a victory. Two such men were Seung Hee Lee and Jin Soo Kim.
Entering the bout the 26 year old Lee was 3-6, he had won just 1 of his previous 5 and had done very, very little of note. He had been testing the water at Middleweight in bouts prior to this one but a lack of success there saw him move down the scales and take this fight, just above the Light Middleweight limit.
Kim on the other hand was a 30 southpaw and, on paper, had the better record. Despite having the better record his recent form was even worse than that of Lee and he was 0-4-1 in his previous 5. He had scored a win since April 2013 and was naturally the smaller man, having regularly fought at Light Welterweight.
The bout didn't start too well. In all honesty it was a mess to begin with, as Lee struggled with the southpaw stance of Kim, and Kim struggled to get anything going himself. To his credit Lee was pressing forward, taking the center of the ring, and forcing the fight, but Kim was tying him up and thwarting his aggression. By the end of the round however Lee's pressure and relentlessness was forcing Kim to fight back out of the corner and by the end of the round we were getting a fight. It wasn't pretty, but it was exciting, rough and had huge shots thrown by both.
After the rather frustrating start to the opening round we saw the pace pick up in round 2. There was still some messy clinches, and moments that were frustrating, as the men got too close, but for the most part this was a war, with Lee fighting like a man possessed and Kim trying to do all he could to him away.
Round by round we saw the two men hammering each other. Bombs flying both ways. Defense playing a clear second fiddle to offense. As Kim realised he couldn't just hold and spoil he let his hands go more, catching Lee coming in with clean counters, but Lee walked through them, desperate to get Kim back against the rounds, ropes, using anything and everything at his disposal to make this fight.
In the end the willingness to use anything and everything up close saw us going to an early conclusion, heading to the scorecards in round 5, but prior to the ending this was chaotic violence. This was entertaining, rough, tough and brilliantly violent. It was an ugly, grimey fight, but it was thrilling, adrenaline filled and so much fun!
For fans who want boxing to be clean, technical, smooth, angles and high IQ, we have something great for next week in this series. For those who just want to see two blokes unloading wide punches on each other in dingy little gym, this is for you. This type of fight in the UK would be described as a small hall classic. In Korea it was simply a gym fight. To us, it's a rough, crude, ugly, treat and a genuine treasure.
For this week's treasure trove we get to share one of the true forgotten classics from 2019, and a bout that had skills, excitement, drama, competitive action and ticked the boxes that we all want to see from fights. It did so in a way that combined everything else with high level boxing, and two men who both wanted to move their careers forward, and both delivered great performances in a bout that really deserved more international attention that it got.
Hironori Mishiro (8-0-1, 3) vs Yoshimitsu Kimura (12-1, 7)
In one corner was OPBF Super Featherweight champion Hironori Mishiro, a man tipped for success from the moment he signed a professional contract with the Watanabe Gym. He had been a talented amateur and after 3 fights, to get comfortable with the professional scene, he was put on the fast track. In just his 6th bout he won the OPBF Super Featherweight title, beating Carlo Magali, and was unfortunate not to unify the title with the Japanese title just 4 months later, fighting to a draw with Masaru Sueyoshi.
In his fourth defense the then 25 year old Mishiro took on 23 year old challenger Yoshimitsu Kimura.
Kimura wasn't tipped for big things when he turned professional. Instead of a strong amateur background Kimura had learned on the job and began his career in 4 rounders before winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year. In 2018 he stepped up, big time, and came up short against tricky Filipino Richard Pumicpic, in a WBO Asia Pacific Featherweight title bout. Following that loss he allowed his frame to fill out and quickly found his groove at Super Featherweight, with 3 stoppages.
The bout looked interesting on paper and the two fighters seemed to not only respect each other, but also boxing history, producing a poster for the event that mirrors the design used for the iconic bout between Takanori Hatakeyama and Koji Arisawa. The build up had been genuine, the fighters were genuine and both were regarded as very solid technical fighters.
What we didn't expect was a bout that was going to deliver a brilliant, high tempo battle of skills, wits and determination.
From the opening moments the two men looked to set a high pace behind their jabs. Both men were looking to create space for their jabs, though it was Mishiro who seemed to establish his first. As a result Kimura began to chance tactics, trying to get inside and letting shots go up close. Sadly for him Mishiro responded and a right hand dropped the challenger less than 2 minutes into the bout.
With the knockdown scored Mishiro took the early lead however Kimura wasn't done, not in the slightest. He hadn't been hurt and his hopes were merely banged.
The technical action was back in play in round 2, with Mishiro using his jab well, keeping range for the most part, but Kimura wasn't afraid of the champion and picked his moments to step on the gas. This gave us a quiet, but tense round, where we had some exciting moments, but nothing too dramatic until late on.
From there on the bout began to build and build with Kimura settling well in round 3 and beginning to put his foot on the gas in round 4. He had realised he couldn't match Mishiro in a boxing contest and instead looked to make things into a war. Mishiro was forced to respond as Kimura's pressure began to amp up. By the mid-point of round 4 we were starting to see something a little bit special unfold in front of us. It wasn't a brawl, it wasn't a war, but it was a technical, exciting battle that had a bit of everything between two men who matched each other really well.
The middle rounds saw more and more action coming on the inside as the two men became happier to stand their ground and let their shots go, trying to get the upper hand.This lead to some amazing exchanges, with Mishiro generally landing the flashier work and Kimura landing the harder shots. For those who like to watch single rounds the 7th was particularly good, with both being hurt during a fantastic 3 minutes of action.
The brilliant back and forth was becoming more and more tricky to score, with the judges struggling to split them in what was a fantastic 2-way technical battle. A battle so tightly fought that it genuinely went to the wire.
This wasn't an all out war, it wasn't a pure technical fight, instead it merged the two perfectly. It gave us smooth boxing, brilliant technical work, a high tempo, some thrilling exchanges and such a hotly fought and competitive bout that it is well worthy of a watch.
Note - Not all rounds are shown on the broadcast of this fight, but the ones that are show just how great this contest was, and makes it worthy of a place in the Treasure Trove.
As we start to get closer and closer to the end of the 2019 Treasure Trove series we continue to re-watch some low key bouts, some obscure and unheralded contests and some bouts that we simply forgot about. Today is one of those that we somehow just forgot about. It's one that we probably should have covered much, much earlier in this series and yet kept getting over-looked despite being a fantastic low key bout and the type of contest this series was set up to show case.
Shohei Yamanaka (0-0) vs Tatsuhito Hattori (3-1-1, 1)
In one corner was the debuting Shohei Yamanaka, a 27 year old who was looking to kick off his career with a win. There was very little to talk about in regards to him and he had nothing in terms of any amateur experience.
In the other corner was the more interesting Tatsuhito Hattori. He had debuted as a Light Flyweight way back in 2003 and had gone 2-1-1 by the end of 2004. Sadly he then disappeared from boxing for 4 years before making a 1 off return in 2008. Then he vanished again, for over 10 years, before resurfacing for this bout with Yamanaka, all the way up at Super Bantamweight. It was a strange career and one that lost all momentum that it could have had. In fact by the time this bout came along he was 35 years old and had remained out of the ring for pretty much the entere of his physical prime.
Despite the status of the two men, as professional rookies, they took their chance to shine in the first Japanese televised card of 2019.
From the off off Yamanaka came forward, boxing behind his jab and pressing the older man. It was clear that he felt his size and youth were going to be a difference maker and at times he seemed to look capable of bullying Hattori around the ring. Hattori however showed a sense of calmness under pressure and looked to counter, taking his time and showing a good boxing brain whilst Yamanaka expanded a lot of early energy.
Whilst the first round was good it was certainly not a round of the year contender. In round 2 Yamanaka put his foot on the gas, and rocked Hattori in the opening seconds, this forced a response from the 35 year old, though it was a rather weak response with Yamanaka then forcing him on to the ropes. To his credit Hattori fought back well off the ropes but took a number of huge right hands though the round as Yamanaka's size and strength again showed against the older, smaller, man. By the end of the round it seemed like Yamanaka would eventually break down Hattori, who showed some nice skills but was being caught repeatedly.
Then the bout changed and in round 3 as Hattori began to let his hands go more, landing numerous clean counter shots on Yamanaka, who continued to march forward. The skills, and slippery, under-rated defense work of Hattori then caused the moment of the fight as he landed a short left hand counter on Yamanaka, who went down to the seat of his pants. It was a massive moment and although Yamanaka got to his feet the single shot had essentially wiped out the lead he had earned in the first two rounds.
With the knockdown being such a fight changer in a 4 rounder it was essentially all to play for in the final round and both men knew it as they gave us something absolutely incredibly. In the opening seconds Yamanaka came forward, then Hattori responded, and from there it was pretty much a back and forth, tit for tat war. Yamanaka's shots seemed to have more thudding power on them, but Hattori landed the cleaner single blows. Both men were fighting their style, but Yamanaka was looking like a man desperately digging deep, whilst Hattori looked relaxed and calm as he slipped rolled.
Whilst this will not be considered a Fight of the Year contender this was the perfect example of why we do these Treasure Trove articles. This was a hidden gem, hidden part way down a card that was televised incredibly early in 2019. This was a forgotten treasure, and this is a bout that deserves to be seen! At just around 20 minutes we suggest everyone tried to make time to enjoy this brilliant little fight that deserved much more attention than it got!
One of the great things about this Treasure Trove series, at least for us, is the fact we get to share some really under-seen bouts. Many of those are 4 rounders which are often over-looked yet can often provide some of the most intense, exciting and thrilling action. The 4 rounders we often seen in Japan, China and South Korea are typically well matched bouts, between two men who feel they have the ability to pick up a win, and as a result both come to fight. Unlike in some countries where 4 round bouts are knock over jobs or a case of a youngster getting ring time against someone there just to survive.
With that said we have a thrilling 4 round brawl for this weeks Treasure, and it is a fun one from the 2019 Rookie of the Year!
Yuta Ashina (3-1) vs Shodai Nagata (4-5) II
In early November we got the East Japan Rookie of the Year finals. One of the bouts there was the second clash between the limited Shodai Naata and the once beaten Yuta Ashina.What few would have expected was the war they gave us.
In 2018 the men fought for the first time, with Ashina taking a clear decision over Nagata. The bout wasn't close or competitive, but was a fun little bout that laid the seeds for what we were to get in their rematch.
Sadly following his win over Nagata we didn't see Ashina build on that win and instead he was out of the ring for more than 9 months. When he returned to the ring in, September 2019, he beat Ryuya Seto and helped move towards this match up. At this point in time he was 25 years old, an aggressive, strong and brutish fighter, but one who lacked technical know how and was very much a come forward, brawler, with a focus on pressure, aggression, physical strength and letting his hands go.
Following his loss to Ashina in 2018 we had seen Nagata reel off two wins and he was pretty much fighting for his career at this point, given he was already 32. Despite his record he had shown enough to to be regarded as a live fighter and was in the ring looking to not only avenge his loss to Ashina but also reach the 2019 All Japan Rookie of the Year final. Despite not being much of a puncher Nagata was tough and his style, although crude, was made for fun fights, as we'd seen in his win over Kazuki Ikeye a few weeks earlier. In fact that was actually last week's Treasure Trove bout!
Within seconds of the bout starting Ashina was pressing Nagata, trying to walk him down and get up close. Although Nagata's first instinct was to back off it wasn't long until he began to hold his feet, and when that began to happen we began to see some great back and forth action with both men letting their shots go on the inside. Up close it always seemed like Ashina was the more active and the cleaner, tidier puncher, but Nagata was taking his chances to let his own shows go, and try to counter the pressure of Ashina.
By the end of the first round we were getting a brilliant little low key inside war. It was a round that Ashina took, based on quality and work rate, but Nagata was playing his part in a fantastic opening round.
The second round started much like the first one finished. We again saw Ashina getting up close, and dragging Nagata into his fight, giving us some brilliant and forth inside action. This was a real fun round with both men trying to wear out and break down the other man whilst trading shots. Sadly neither looked like they had the power needed to take the other out with a single shot, but both landed enough to suggest they could chip away at the other and force a stoppage.
The incredible action and tempo continued into round 3 as Nagata tried to pull back the fight, and became the more aggressive of the two. It was this round that saw the best of both men, as they both held their feet more often, letting shots got almost none stop between them. This gave us some intense, and lengthy back and forth exchanges which were brilliant to watch. In the end however Nagata simply couldn't keep pace with the much younger Ashina. Despite that he continued to give everything and play his role in one of the most action packed rounds that we had in the entire of the 2019 Rookie of the Year.
Unsurprisingly, after the first 3 rounds were fought at such a high tempo, the final round saw the pace catch up with both men. Even then, when both looked tired, they continued to fight at a great pace until the later stages when exhaustion became too much for both men and they both began to run on fumes. That was a huge issue for Nagata in the final minute or so, as he had to dig deep and see out some rocky moments.
For fans who like gruelling inside wars, with a lot of leather being thrown and intense, long back and forth stretches this is one of the most well hidden gems of Asian boxing from 2019. A genuine treat of a fight.
One thing that needs saying about this sport is that the best fights are sometimes bout we don't expect much from. For example two guys who both sport losing records meeting in a 4 rounder. Today however we are going to prove that even bouts like that can provide some real thrills and spills as we bring you an action packed East Japan Rookie of the year bout between two men with losing records, but the right mentality.
What needs to be remembered when two fighters each having losing records is that they believe the other fighter is beatable. When both share that mind set we can get some amazing action with two men desperate to pick up what would be considered a rare win. That's exactly what we saw here in a real action packed thriller.
Shodai Nagata (3-5) vs Kazuki Ikeya (1-2)
In one corner was Shodai Nagata, a 32 year old sporting a 3-5 record. There was little on his record to suggest he was one to watch. Just 2 fights earlier he had been dominated by fellow novice Yuta Ashina, and had bounced back with just a single, low key win over Futoshi Yamada. Nagata's 5 wins up to this point had been stretched over more than 3 years and he'd lost 4 of his previous 6. There was literally no reason to believe he had much to offer the sport. Thankfully though he was given a chance with this bout and he took that chance by putting in a wonderfully entertaining performance.
Whilst Nagata had nothing on his record to excite anyone neither did Ikeya, who was also 32 and had lost his first two bout before squeaking a decision over Atsushi Mikita in May 2019. He had been stopped in his debut, and had, perhaps, been a little unfortunate in his second professional bout, but had anything on his record to really suggest he was going to suddenly have some kind of thriller. As with Nagata however he played his part in a thriller here.
Of course both men would have assumed they were better than the other. Nagata would have assumed his extra experience would help him here, whilst Ikeya would have felt that he should have had wins in his previous 2 bouts. Both would have known a win would take them to a chance to fight on Japanese TV, and opened the potential door to an All Japan Rookie of the Year final. As a result the two Welterweights would have gone in to this knowing they could win, and they could open rather large doors for their career.
From the off Ikeya came out swinging, put his head down and unloading hooks like he had purchased them in a sale. He was landing on the guard, the head, the shoulders and every part of Nagata's body. He didn't care about where, as long as they were landing. Having realised Ikeya was setting a high pace Nagata decided to fire back, but selected his moments better, landing the cleaner shots and kept more in reserve whilst Ikeya continued to chase him down and unload bombs.
Ikeya's lack of power was evident in round 1 and in round 2 Nagata began to try and turn the tables, pressing Ikeya back more. It was still the intensity and hunger of Ikeya that was the making the fight, but Nagata's cleaner punching, and more refined technique was becoming a difference maker. Ikeya threw a lot, but stilled to land, Nagata threw less and may have even managed to out land Ikeya, who was feeling the tempo by the end of the round.
In round 3 we saw the action continue at a hectic pace, though the action was paused for quite a while after Ikeya took a ball busting low blow. This was smartly handled by Ikeya who sold it like it was a monstrous low blow and took his time to catch his breath. It was something he seemed to need and was a perfectly break for a man who had set a high pace and really needed a few extra moments to rest. After that we got straight back to the action we'd been having, with the two trading blows up close in some thrilling back and forth action. By now however it was becoming clear that the skill and strength advantages of Nagata were too much for Ikeya's energy and heart to over-come.
Despite being out classed, exhausted and put on the back foot Ikeya continued to try and fight hard in round 4. By then however Nagata was feeling in control whilst Ikeya felt like a man who had given everything and could really only muster arm punches and shoe shining shots, rather than anything with the power needed to stop Nagata in his tracks. In fact the only stopping in the tracks anyone had was Ikeya being stopped in his and a point being taken from Nagata in round 4, as he again went low, with less than a minute of the fight left. The restart afterwards was brilliant with the two men essentially trading to the bell with 40 seconds of pure, raw, violence ending the bout.
Despite the fact neither had much power or had winning record they had, between them, given us 4 fantastic rounds of fan friendly action. The bout may have lacked in terms of drama, but for action alone this is worth a watch. Simply a great fun, low level, action bout. The perfect type of gem for this series.
One of the fun things about this series is the fact we get to go back and look over some fights from 2019 that few people would have paid any attention to, and we get to shine a light on them. Sharing some of the true hidden gems of Asian boxing from 2019.
With that in mind let us share with you, today, a brilliant little 4 round inside war between two men looking to progress to the East Japan Rookie of the Year final. This wasn't some high level chess match but instead had two men willing to match each other on the inside in what was a truly brilliant 4 round war.
Hidetoshi Takane (3-0, 1) vs Yuri Wakabayashi (3-1-1, 3)
Coming in to the bout the 21 year old Hidetoshi Takane was a Kadoebi Gym fighter who was looking to move his career forward. Although a relative non-puncher he was an exciting fighter, with an aggressive style and he had impressed since making his debut in December 2018. He had booked his place into the East Japan Rookie of the Year semi-finals with a clear decision win over Dan Sawai and looked like one of the fighters who could end up giving their career a big boost at the end of the tournament. He was fan friendly, exciting, young, and with a great engine.
Aged 33 at the time of this bout Yuri Wakabayashi would have known his future in the sport was limited. He was only weeks away from his 34th birthday and was looking to get has career back on track. He had debuted almost 2 years early, fighting for the first time in October 2017, and had looked powerful and aggressive in stopping his first 2 opponents. Sadly a close loss and a draw derailed his rise before he blew out Shosuke Oji in August 2019 to secure his place in the East Japan Rookie of Semi final the following month.
With Takane being a note non puncher and Wakabayahi having stopped 3 of his 5 foes the presumption was that Takane would smartly here, and keep things at range. Instead we got both men meeting each other in center of the ring, and from there we ended up getting a special treat.
From the opening seconds of the opening round the two men met each other front on and were unloading huge shots on the inside. There was no feeling out process, this was just an immediate war. The inexperience of both men played a part, and the referee would occasionally be needed to tidy things up in the first minute, but there we just got a phone war.
The two men hammered each other up close through out the opening round trying to mirror each other. This was not the type of opening round anyone have expected going in, but boy did the deliver one of the best opening rounds of any bout in Japan last year.
It would have been easy for the tempo to have dropped after the hectic and brilliant first 3 minutes, but it really didn't, and instead they stood toe to toe. The referee was occasionally needed, but it was rare and he was left just as much of a spectator as the fans, able to enjoy one of the truly exceptional rookie wars.
The action really didn't slow down at all in the 4 rounds, with both men throwing and landing an incredible amount in a gem of a fight that deserves to be in the Treasure Trove.
It's a shame this was just a 4 rounder and was fought off TV, on A-Sign, as this deserved far viewers than it got.
In recent weeks we've been sharing bigger, more well known fights in this series, but today we roll back the clock to December 2019 for an under-the-radar thriller that we suspect very few fans have seen. It's battle that is well and truly worthy of a watch, with action, drama and a back story, as the two men had previously fought in 2018. What we ended up getting was a real gem and one we think deserves a lot more attention than it gets.
Shunsuke Isa (7-2-1, 1) vs Yoshiki Yamashita (6-2) II
The 21 year old Shunsuke Isa was a Kawasaki Nitta promoted fighter who had been struggling in recent bouts. He had started his career 6-1 but had then gone 1-1-1 and had seen the moment of his early success go to waste. Still at only 21 years old the future was still bright for Isa on the domestic scene as he entered in to his 4th bout scheduled for 6 rounds. He was looking to end 2019 with some momentum and enter 2020 with something to build on.
At 22 years old Yoshiki Yamashita was slightly older than his foe and was looking for his third straight win, following back to back victories over Ryo Shintomi. He was not just coming into this fight with a bit of form, but also hunger, as he was looking to avenge a 2018 loss to Isa, in what was a razor thin split decision loss. That loss had ended a 4 fight winning run for Yamashita, who seemed to have been building some momentum before meeting Isa for the first time.
About 16 months after their first bout they faced off once again and just like their first bout this was hotly contested!
The bout saw both men spend a few seconds to feel the other out, but it wasn't long until both began to let their shots go, giving us some early back and forth, and within a minute of the fight starting Yamashita, in the silver and green, had landed several eye catching shots. Around 90 seconds in Isa was responding in kinda as we began to get some thrilling back and forth exchanges. By the end of the opening round it was clear this wasn't the first round of the bout, but was instead the fifth round of their rivalry.
The action and intensity grew in round 2 as Isa dropped Yamashita with a right hand, followed by a jab as Yamashita was heading downward. Although Yamashita was quickly up to his feet it took a few moments before the hot, competitive action returned, but when it did it began to step up another gear, with the two men hammering home body shots on the inside and landing big head shots at the bell.
The knockdown in round 2 was essentially neutralised in round 3 as Isa was himself put down, with a huge right hand. He got to his feet and managed to recover his senses between rounds before we ended up with some more brilliant, and violently vivid exchanges. The exchanges highlight the final 3 rounds, which were fought for as if every round mattered too the result.
The exchanges, and back and forth head shots weren't none stop, by any stretch of the imagination, but were a frequently thing through the bout, interspersed by some nice boxing from both, and they gave the bout a real tension, especially given the two knockdowns. The action was fantastic, both men came to win, and both had some real moments in an ultra competitive 6 round thriller.
If you want a hidden gem from 2019 to watch, then give this Treasure a shot. It's well worth 20 minutes of anyone's time, and will almost certainly give you a chance to enjoy a fight that you probably haven't seen before.
Last year we saw a Chinese fighter really announce himself on the world stage with two big wins in the US. Between those two bouts he fought one at home, in what is actually a bit of a forgotten treasure from the year. It's a bout that we don't think many Western fans watched, but it was entertaining, action packed and a fun little battle in Fuzhou. Albeit a rather one sided little battle, with the Chinese star battering a former world champion in impressive fashion.
Can Xu (16-2, 2) v Shun Kubo (13-1, 9)
The Chinese fighter in question is Can Xu, who announced himself in a big way in January, when he upset Jesus M Rojas to claim the WBA "regular" Featherweight title. The win was a massive shock, and saw Xu become the first Chinese fighter to win a world title above Flyweight. It wasn't just a big win but was an exciting win, with Xu throwing an incredible amount of leather in that fight and instantly endearing himself to US fans with his style, toughness, and personality.
After winning his title his next saw him go home and fight in front of Chinese fans, who wanted to see their new star in action. That lead to him taking on former WBA "regular" Super Bantamweight champion Shun Kubo, a talented and gutsy Japanese fighter.
Although Kubo isn't a big name he managed to make something of a buzz in 2017, when he stopped veteran Nehomar Cermeno, who retired between rounds 10 and 11, for the WBA "regular" title. His reign was a short one, as he was beaten up by Daniel Roman in his first defense. He bounced back from that loss by defeating Hiroshige Osawa and appeared to be fighting at a better weight for his gangly and rangy frame. It was assumed the extra few pounds would actually help him take a punch and allow him to fight at a weight more suited to his body.
In the opening moments we saw Kubo looking to create distance, use his jab and keep Xu at range. It was the type of gameplan the challenger was going to need to use to have any chance. Not only did he need did he need to keep it at range, but he also needed to get Xu's respect, some how. Sadly for Kubo that was always going to be the toughest part, given Xu has a brilliant chin, to go alongside his incredibly engine.
Kubo's tactics had success in the opening round, but by the end of it Xu was starting to cut the distance, get inside and get some of his shots off. The second round saw Xu build on a good finish to the opening round, and Kubo realised he had to respond, giving us some fun back and forth as both men let shots go up close. Kubo's gameplan had began to fall apart, and he had began to fight Xu's fight. This was where the excitement level began to increase, and where the bout began to get one sided.
From round 3 on wards Xu began to fully fight his fight, setting the pace, coming forward and letting his hands go, throwing punches in bunches. Kubo fought back, bravely, trying to do what he could to fight off Xu, standing his ground when he needed to, boxing when he could, and fight with heart and desire of someone desperate to win. That desire shone, but the gulf in ability wasn't something that be over-come by desire alone.
In the end Kubo got ground down, but not without playing his part in a short, exciting, little battle that was overshadowed by Xu's two other fights from the year. Of course those other two bouts were much memorable 12 round battles, and exhibitions in volume punching at a higher level.
In May 2019 we got a bit of a forgotten gem in the Philippines as a then rising Japanese fighter made his international debut and took on a Filipino who held a minor regional title. On paper this was a really interesting match up, and it gave us fans a chance to watch bout that combined boxing, brawling, and fighting. Neither man seemed to have the power to hurt the other, but both men managed to put on a cracking bout together and, in the 18 months or so since this bout, one of the fighters has since gone on to become a national champion one of the rising faces of the Featherweight scene.
Ryo Sagawa (6-1, 4) vs Al Toyogon (10-2-1, 6)
The Japanese fighter in question was Ryo Sagawa, who coming in to this bout had won 5 in a raw since suffering a stoppage loss very early in his career to Retsu Kosaka. Although he had an early career loss to his name Sagawa had shown some fantastic boxing skills and came in to this bout with wins over the likes of Junki Sasaki, Ryo Matsumoto and Shingo Kawamura. Despite his impressive wins coming in to this bout, this was regarded as a step up. No only was he travelling over to the Philippines for the bout, but he was also stepping up in weight, to take on an opponent at Super Featherweight.
Prior to turning professional Sagawa was a talented amateur who had turned professional with lofty ambitions. His early set back showed their was issues with how he responded to being his, but the way he had bounced from that loss was very impressive. Of course those who have followed him recently, will know that he has continued to develop and since this bouts he has gone on to great things winning the Japanese Featherweight title, and making 2 defenses of the title as we write this.
The Filipino that Sagawa was facing was 21 year old Al Toyogon, who sported a 10-2-1 (6) record and had won his previous 5. Whilst he didn't have a big win to his name he did have a number of decent regional level wins including victories over Naotoshi Nakatani, Nathan Bolcio and Ryusei Ishii. He looked like he was going forward with his career, and had won, and defended, the WBC Asian Boxing Council Silver Super Featherweight title.
Although not a big name Toyogon had momentum, he was young, he was promising, he was in form, he had more experience, he was the naturally bigger fighter and, most importantly, he was fighting at home. In fact all 3 judges and the referee were from the Philippines as well. The deck seemed to be stacked in his favour, big time.
From the early going both men tried to box, and it made for a rather slow start, with both looking to get behind their jabs and box at mid range. It didn't make for the best of action early on, though Sagawa did manage to show the skills, and smoothness that we now used to seeing from him. Although the skills of Sagawa showed through, Toyogon showed his toughness, coming forward behind a tight guard and not taking too much cleanly, whilst landing probably the best single shot of the round, a solid right hand. In round 2 Toyogon began to show a bit more ambition, and clearly had the fans in the venue behind him, cheering any success he had.
Toyogon pressed the action early in round 3 as he began to come alive, and as he began to use his aggression well. That success didn't last and by the end of the round Sagawa was the one coming forward, boxing off his jab and landing some gorgeous uppercuts. Essentially walking through the best of Toyogon. Although Sagawa had success it was a Toyogon round though his momentum didn't really last and Sagawa boxed brilliantly through round 4, to stem the success of Toyogon up close and seemingly begin to take control of the action.
Whilst we know some hate open scoring it was actually in effect here, and amazingly Toyogon was leading on 2 of the 3 cards after 4 rounds, with the third judge having it even. That included one judge who had the bout 4-0 in favour of Toyogon, which was an awful scorecard. Thankfully for fans wanting to see someone put a light to the touch paper, it was perfect, as the cards essentially told Sagawa to put his foot on the gas, which he did. And he did in style.
From round 5 we saw Sagawa dropping the "boxing" mentality and become more of a swarming pressure fighting, pressing the action and turning the bout into a brawl. This was where the bout took off, as he looked to make sure the judges couldn't possibly rob him.
After 8 rounds the Japanese fighter was leading on two of the cards, leading by a point on one of the cards with another card even. He knew he could still get done on them and he knew he couldn't let off the action as we ended up getting a brilliant finish to the bout.
This is a genuine hidden gem from 2019 but one this is well worth watching, especially now that Sagawa is the Japanese national champion and is a world ranked contender. It wasn't a Fight of the Year contender, not even close, but it was a genuinely worth while bout, well worth the 55 minutes or so that it takes to watch. A very good, solid hidden gem that had some great exchanges, and built from a slow temp at range to an inside war up close.
The dynamic and action changed significantly due to the scoring, and it is one of the rare bouts where open scoring positively affected the bout. Both guys had to dig deep at times, and we ended up with a genuinely good fight here.
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.