One of the sad things about boxing is when we see a fighter get their big chance, a bit too late. It's something that leaves us wondering what could have been, and wondering whether or not the fighter could have gone all the way with a big more luck and good fortune. One of the hidden treasures of 2019 was a great performance, in a loss, by a 34 year old Light Flyweight against one of the rising of the division.
Hiroto Kyoguchi (13-0, 9) vs Tetsuya Hisada (34-9-2, 20)
We suspect anyone who follows us has heard of, and seen, Hiroto Kyoguchi's rise through the ranks. The Watanabe Gym promoted fighter raced through the early part of his career and took the IBF Minimumweight title just 15 months after making his professional debut. He then moved to Light Flyweight and became a 2 weight world champion at the end of 2018, stopping Hekkie Budler.
We suspect many won't have been too aware of Tetsuya Hisada however, at least not until October 2019, when he challenged Kyoguchi for the Light Flyweight title. He was, until then, a fighter who had mostly been fighting on the Japanese domestic scene. He was in great form, but with 45 bouts under his belt the 34 year old was expected to put up a brave effort before being stopped by the much younger Kyoguchi. Even with the Osakan fans well and truly behind him, he was still being given next to no chance to even see the final, never mind make the bout interesting.
What we ended up getting was a real thriller, that wasn't a purely competitive bout, but was certainly fought on a much more even keel than many had anticipated, and at times it seemed like the old man was coming out on top. Overall it did seem like Kyoguchi, the younger yet more proven fighter, was stronger, but after being wobbled and left with some serious swelling there was a sense of drama. Especially with Hisada digging deeper and deeper. It was, potentially, Hisada's only chance to become a world champion, and unlike many he wasn't willing to give up that dream without giving everything he had.
What we ended up with here, was something special, something thrilling, yet had technically skills on show through out. It was overshadowed just a few days later by Gennady Golovkin going to war with Sergiy Derevyanchenko, a bout with bigger names, but in reality little separated them in terms of quality, action, heart, desire and drama. This was a real hidden gem, despite being a world title bout.
In 2019 we saw a lot of great fights, many of which went completely under the radar of your typical western fan. Some of these included some pretty well known names, others didn't but whatever the status of the bout we've been lucky to share so many of them already in this Treasure Trove series. Thankfully we have even more to share, and today we take you back to a short but exciting war from mid-November that saw one of the rising hopefuls of Japanese boxing take on a former Japanese title challenger in a very exciting contest.
Aso Ishiwaki (7-2-1, 5) vs Ryuji Ikeda (14-6-3, 9)
After losing a split decision in the 2018 Lightweight Rookie of the Year final, as a 19 year old, Aso Ishiwaki had continually impressed through 2019. He had began the year with a hotly contested draw against Yoji Saito, a former amateur standout, and had then scored two relatively low key stoppages, including a knockout win over glass cannon Takuya Matsusaka. Although not a big name he had been impressing in his performances and creating some real buzz due to his physical strength, toughness and power. He was very much a basic but physically imposing fighter who, despite his youth, was very much a man with very impressive strength. Despite being strong he wasn't particularly experienced at 140lbs.
Ryuji Ikeda on the other hand was a 24 year old veteran of the ring. He had been a professional for more than 7 years, had won the Rookie of the Year was back in 2013 and had fought for the Japanese Light Welterweigth title earlier in the year, lasting 5 rounds with Koki Inoue. Although not an amazing fighter he was a solid domestic contender with wins over Yuichi Ideta, Kentaro Endo, Ryosuke Takami and Cristiano Aoqui. He had the edge in experience and went into the bout as a Japanese ranked fighter looking to bounce back from the loss to Inoue in July. He also had a very aggressive and fan friendly style, that involved throwing a lot of leather, and although not a massive puncher he was the natural Light Welterweight and had fought at the weight for the previous 4 years or so.
From the opening moments it was Ikeda who looked to set the pace, starting fast behind his jab and looking to unleash a combination after around 30 seconds. He seemed to believe that his power and experience were going to be the key and even when he wasn't letting big shots go he was applying intelligent pressure behind his footwork. This caused Ishiwaki to back up and several times during the round Ishiwaki would find himself on the ropes as Ikeda came in with combinations of power shots. To his credit the youngster never looked flustered and seemed to end the round coming forward, building his confidence as we went to the bell.
In round 2 we saw the pace pick up, with Ishiwaki pressing more often and within a minute of the round we looked like we were on to something a little bit special as both began to unleash big shots. The more eye catching work seemed to come from Ikeda early in the round, but Ishiwaki's consistent and heavy shots were taking a toll on Ikeda who was dropped almost 2 minutes into the round. Ikeda seemed to know that time was limited if he was going to win so began to take more risks, and was punished for them.
This short, but action packed bout might not have been in the conversation for a FOTY award, but was a great little back and forth war and a real fun fight and well worth 7 minutes of your time!
Whislt most Treasure Trove articles have tried to give focus on low key bouts, there are some bigger bouts that deserve the attention of a Treasure Trove piece. Today we look at one of the biggest bouts to take place in Asia in recent years, and it was a bout that exceeded all expectations and became an instant classic. That was a bout that was well and truly in the running as the 2019 Fight of the Year, and it was the WBSS Bantamweight final.
Naoya Inoue (18-0, 16) Vs Nonito Donaire (40-5, 26)
In October 2018 we saw the WBSS Bantamweight competition kick off in explosive fashion, with Naoya Inoue taking out Juan Carlos Payano. A few weeks later Nonito Donaire upset Ryan Burnett in his quarter final bout. The two men had made it clear they wanted to face off, but to do so they would need to make it to the final, which they did, and in November 2019, more than a year after the tournament had began they finally faced off. It wasn't the WBSS final many had really wanted, with fans generally suggesting the best possible final would have seen Inoue face Zolani Tete, but it ended up being the final we had deserved after such a long and protracted tournament.
The expectation was that Inoue would continue to sweep opponents aside as he had done in his previous few bouts. He had needed only 19 rounds to take out his previous 7 opponents, and 4 rounds for his last 3 opponents. Since moving to Bantamweight Inoue had even more destructive than he had at Super Flyweight. Although Donaire was clearly a hall of famer, most though he was going to be taken out quickly by the Monster, and had seen better days.
What ended up happening was that Donaire, who had always been incredibly tough, refused to play his role in a mismatch. Instead of toppling over at the power of Inoue the Filipino pressed, was aggressive, and showed a chin made out of something they should be making tanks out of. He took huge shots, and despite being shaken a number of times he was only dropped by a body shot. Even that came later, and came after he had drawn first blood.
This bout was as good as any other world level bout in 2019, and saw two men with massive amounts of respect for each other beat the living snot out of each other in a bout that had massive amounts of drama, incredible skill level, a little bit of controversy and so much action!
Here we give one of the biggest and best gems of last year!
One of the best things about these Treasure Trove articles is that we get to relive some fights that caught our attention due to the in ring action, even if we didn't have huge expectations of them going into the bout. Today we look at one such bout that legitimately went under the radar, until the bout took place and we fell in love with it mid fight. And we did so as it unfolded in front of us, and really took on a personality of it's own. That was despite being hidden away on an obscure stream from Vietnam. This bout legitimately has a claim to be the best ever bout, in Vietnam. It was sensational.
Jong Seon Kang (9-0-2, 6) vs Tomjune Mangubat (11-1-1, 9)
Unbeaten Korean teenager Jong Seon Kang had impressed in his international debut, stopping Qixiu Zhang in June 2019, but with 2 draws in his previous 3 bouts there was a feeling that he's wasn't going to far. He had shown some promise, and his win over Ravshanbek Shermatov in March was genuinely notable, but we couldn't stop thinking that his draws showed his limitations and that his unbeaten record was some what fortunate....and not likely to survive much longer. He was fun to watch, but appeared too crude to really go far.
Mangubat on the other hand had been an impressive fighter on the Filipino scene, showing impressive power and promising skills. Sure he'd lost in April to Arnel Baconaje, but Baconaje wasn't an easy opponent for anyone and held a notable win over Brian Lobetania and have given a really good effort against Yasutaka Ishimoto. Mangubat had bounced back from his sole loss with a win over Joffrey Garcia, and seemed to be coming in to this bout with belief, power and a lot of potential. At the age of 22 he seemed to be maturing well and was likely the favourite coming in to this bout.
The bout was for the WBO Oriental Youth Featherweight title and we weren't expecting anything too special. We were, however, very, very wrong with our expectations, and we got something sensational.
From the opening round the Korean was on the front foot, pressing the fight, but having limited success as Mangubat boxed well on the move, soaked up the pressure and landed the better shots. The Filipino really looked comfortable using his jab and his more polished boxing skills seemed to be the key in the early going. Those skills helped Magubat drop Kang in the second round with a sweeping left hook. The Korean got back to his feet but was in horrible trouble when Mangubat tried to finish him off. Kang needed time to recover and backed off through much of the round before regaining his composure.
Mangubat continued to be the better boxer through the middle rounds but the pressure of Kang built and built and built. That pressure began to take it's toll on the Filipino, who began to slow, tired and feel the effects desire and by the later rounds Mangubat had began to fade, and fade fast, as Kang came on strong. That meant the final few rounds were in effect the direct opposite of the early rounds. The skills of Mangubat weren't enough to keep Kang away and rounds 8, 9 and 10 were pretty much all Kang.
The bout had it all, massive momentum shifts, a lot of action, a lot of leather being traded, heart on short from both and two totally different game plans each having their success. This might have been hidden away in Vietnam, but it so deserved a bigger audience!
What we often seem to see in Japan are under-card fighters looking to grab attention away from the main event fighters, especially when they know their bouts will be made available in some form, be it TV or online video. Today's Treasure Trove is one such bout, which was hidden deep down a card that was made available on A Sign boxing and featured two relative unknown fighters putting on a real hidden of a bout. This is one we expect many to have seen, but it is one that is well worth 20 minutes of anyone's time.
Ryo Tanimoto (4-2, 3) vs Yusaku Sekishima (8-2, 4)
Taking place on October 21st, on a card under the "Slugfest" banner. The card featured a Japanese title eliminator, a WBO Asia Pacific title bout bout and the long awaited ring return of Kyotaro Fujimoto, we wouldn't have expected Ryo Tanimoto or Yusaku Sekishima to have managed to grab our attention in their 6 rounder. What we ended up seeing however was a brilliant bout between these two that was thoroughly engaging, incredibly competitive and nicely mixed boxing and fighting into a fantastic bout.
Coming in the 22 year old Sekishima had been the 2018 Rookie of the Year at Super Featherweight. He had lost on debut before reeling off 8 straight wins, until May 2018 when he was stopped by Soreike Taichi. That loss had seen Sekishima dropped on to his backside but end up being too shaken to beat the count. So coming in to this he was looking to get back to winning ways, and would have been full of confidence, despite the loss to Taichi, which would have been seen as more of a learning experience.
At 26 years old Tanimoto was the older man but was the man out of form. He had won his first 4 bouts, from September 2016 to May 2017, before suffering back to back stoppage losses in the second half of 2017. Coming into this bout with Sekishima we hadn't seen Tanimoto in the ring for close to 2 years, with his last bout being a 3rd round TKO loss to Masanori Rikiishi in November 2017. Although talented his inactivity and chin issues saw him coming in as the under-dog, despite being a southpaw.
The bout started relatively slowly. The first round wasn't anything to write home about, though was more entertaining than most opening rounds, with Tanimoto pressing and Sekishima looking to counter. The same basic gameplan was employed in round 2 from both men, but the pace and action ramped up significantly with Tanimoto's pressure increasing and Sekishima.
From there on the bout got progressively more and more exciting as both fighters opened up more and we'd certainly suggest every fan watches this one, and how it progresses from competitive boxing into a thrilling back and forth fight between two men who's styles really gelled perfectly.
This was a hidden gem among hidden gems and whilst it's not an all out war, it is very much a great fight.
Some fighters in the sport just deliver great fights. It doesn't matter who they are facing off with they deliver the action, they force opponents to fight their fight and they give us thrillers time and time again. At the highest level we don't see them last long at the top, the wars take their toll, but at the lower levels they can have some really fun careers to follow. Today's Treasure Trove sees us fall back on an old friend for his second entry in this series, and like his first one, it was a thrilling, crude, wild, action packed fight against a Chinese opponent.
Seong Yeong Yang (7-2-5, 3) vs Fan Cai (5-3-1, 2)
The man we were talking about in the opening to this article was Korean warrior Seong Yeong Yang, Korean domestic answer in many ways to Brandon Rios or Mike Alvarado. His first entry in the series January's bout with Jian Wang, where he fought to a draw in Suzhou over 10 rounds, and that was an excellent war. This time he was on a much less notable card in Korea as he took on Fan Cai for the WBF Asia Pacific Super Bantamweight title.
Yang aged 23 at the time of this bout, is dubbed "Alpha Go" in Korea and our good friend David Seo explained to us that he's known as a fighter who will take throw try to simply out throw and out land his opponents. Despite being technically open, crude and static, he is very much a 100mph fighter who throws a lot of leather, to both head and body and looks to simply out work and out fight opponents. It would be crazy to suggest he's a good boxer, but he's a very, very entertaining fighter and someone every fan should watch, at least once this year.
Fan Cai on the other hand was a relatively unknown Chinese fighter. Aged 23 he wasn't tipped for any sort of major success, and his 9 bouts coming in were all against limited opposition, in either China or Thailand. There was nothing of note on his record, though he had gone 5-1 in his previous 6 to build some momentum. Coming in he and had never been stopped, despite going win-less in his first, 3 bouts, but had shown little to get excited about.
Right from the off Yang's all out aggression and sloppy defence saw him marking forward like a human version of the terminator. He was wild, he was open, he was eating clean counters, but he was refusing to back off or respect Fan. Yang's wild style made for excitement but the number of counters he was being forced to take left the bout in a rather fine balance and his face was showing signs of the punishment he was taking.
Although all the pressure was coming from Yang he's ultra open style and the sheer number of clean shots he was eating, especially the straight right hand down the pipe, was making this interesting and leaving us to question whether Yang would punch himself out or whether one of Cai's counters would have the desired effect of breaking through the Korean's chin and take him down.
This was level, all action fun, and the sort of bout that showed there is still the old school Korean mentality in boxing, even if the fighters with that mentality aren't anything like the fighters of yester year.
This is a very fun Treasure Trove, just don't expect much in terms of pure boxing skills and instead enjoy this for what it is, a low level, all action brawl.
One of the very best things about covering boxing in Asia is the huge scope of fights we get to see, and how we see bouts that very, very few fans will get the chance to see. That is what essentially what out "Treasure Trove" articles are all about, a chance to show off something that we've enjoyed that we feel many fans have missed out on in 2019. Today we get to delve deep in to the treasure trove and bring you a real hidden gem. A gem that few would have seen, that got little fanfare at the time, but was well worth 20 or so minutes of any fight fans time.
Hyeon Joon Lee (6-3-1, 4) vs Sheng Peng (4-6, 2)
This really didn't get much attention at all, coming on an obscure Korean card put on by the KPBF in Gyeongju, Korea. Despite the lack of attention the bout it's self was none stop action from the first round to the last.
In one corner here was Korean fighter Hyeon Joon Lee, a 20 year old who had fought for the Korean Super Flyweight title in April, coming up short to Min Jang. His record didn't show much of note, with 10 bouts to his name and a 3-3-1 record in his 7 fights leading into this, following a 3-0 start to his professional career. He debuted all the way back in 2016 and really had no momentum at all in his career coming into this bout.
In the other corner was diminutive Chinese battler Sheng Peng, a 30 year old who had lost 4 of his 5 bouts coming into this and had never scored a win of any note. Although he had been picking up losses he had been facing some good competition, with losses to the likes of Wulan Tuolehazi and Yuto Takahashi. Going back to the start of his career, in 2011, he had also for Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep. He was well travelled, but very limited.
Straight from the opening moments Peng came forward, applying pressure, backing up the Korean youngster and fighting with the gameplan of wearing down Lee. This was the perfect idea over 6 rounds against the taller, younger man who wanted space to work with. The lack of size allowed Peng to make himself a tricky target, avoiding shots to cramp the distance and work away on the inside. This forced Lee to fight back in kind, trading shots up close.
What we ended up getting from this bout was just a real, fun, back and forth tear up. A bout that, had it been held in the UK, would have been described as a small hall classic. It lacked polish, it and finesse but it delivered in action, excitement, violence, and heart. This 6 rounder was all entertainment, and the true definition of a hidden gem, one of the many hidden gems from our 2019 Treasure Trove!
We may now be in 2020 but the 2019 Treasure Trove continues to roll on into a new year and we have another hidden gem from the year to share with you guys!
Whilst the rise of the WBO Asia Pacific title has been something of a frustration in some ways, splitting the title level fighters for the regional scene in 2, it's also managed to deliver some solid bouts of it's own, including today's Treasure Trove bout from October.
Yusuke Sakashita (18-8-3, 13) vs Naoki Mochizuki (16-4, 8) II
In December 2016 Naoki Mochizuki easily out boxed Yusuke Sakashita. Following that bout the two men had seen their careers go in rather different directions, with Sakashita having a solid run of form, and claiming the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title, whilst Mochizuki had seen his career begin to falter. Despite their careers heading in opposite directions the feeling was that the two men would make for a very interesting and competitive bout.
Although neither man is a big name, but are usually quite fun guys to watch, despite their limitations.
Sakashita is a solid boxer-puncher, with genuinely damaging power, but a rough around the edge style. His shots are naturally heavy and it makes up for him being technically slow and not a very crisp puncher. He had won the WBO Asia Pacific title earlier in the year, when he pretty much broke up Masahiro Sakashita's face, but this was about more than the title. This was about revenge and a chance to get back at Mochizuki for their 2016 bout.
On the other hand Mochizuki lacked power, but always came to fight. We'd had seen him take punishment in early bouts in his career, but he was up for this. He knew he could out box and out fight Sakashita, he had the speed and the combinations to to defeat the champion and the belief to carry out his game plan and make Sakashita pay for his technical flaws. He would have gone in knowing this wasn't going to be easy, but that he had the tools to take the win, and the regional title.
The bout really began with Mochizuki's boxing, balance, timing and footwork winning out. There wasn't a lot of explosive moments, but there was enough to enjoy the early rounds, with Sakashita seeming to be hurt a number of times, and having a huge swelling on his head. As the rounds went on the pace from Sakashita increased and we began to get more and more and forth action. It wasn't always pretty but it was growing into something bigger, better and more exciting, with both taking turns to come forward, landing on the other and the success of both growing.
We won't ruin this, but the later rounds really ended up getting wild, earning the bout it's seal of approval as a genuine Treasure Trove fight.
One of the unique features of Japan, and South Korea, are the Rookie of the Year tournaments. Whilst the Korean ones are a bit confusing, due to the fact the KBF, KBC and KBM all have their own tournaments, the Japanese one is relatively simple, and comes down to the best in East Japan fighting the best from across the rest of Japan in the All Japan final in December. Today we look at one of the East Japan semi-final bouts, and wow what an amazing bout this was!
Shu Nawai (2-1, 1) vs Yuichi Baba (3-4, 3)
The 21 year old Shu Nawai had debuted just a year earlier, losing to Katsuki Mori, but had bounced back with wins in January and July, including a blow out win over Tomonori Sakanashi. Given his age and lack of experience he was a genuine Rookie, however he was fighting out of the Watanabe gym and given the talent in the gym it was fair to suggest he had learned a thing or two from his talented stablemates. He was a boxing baby, but with high quality fighters around him, we expected to see him develop quite a bit early in his career. No one would suggest he was going all the way to the top, but he was pretty solid novice given his previous 2 performances.
Yuichi Baba on the other hand was a 34 year old who had debuted way back in 2006 but had been away from the ring for over 11 years, before returning in 2018. His return had real mixed success, and he went 2-2 over the year, alternating wins and losses. He had continued that inconsistent form in 2019 with another loss and another win, leaving him 3-3 since his return to action. Although his form was inconsistent he was given a chance, as he was coming from the FLARE Yamagami gym, a decent gym, and had the big edge in physical maturity and experience, with more than twice as many fights as Nawai.
From the opening moments it looked like the older man had the clear edge in skill as well as experience. He boxed on the outside and quickly got behind his jab, picking off Nawai as he came in, making the youngster look like a novice. Nawai would come forward through much of the opening round but he was force fed lefts and rights and eventually dropped 2 minutes into the fight. Rather than the knockdown putting cracks into Nawai's confidence it instead sent him into fighter mode and the rest of the opening round was a wild brawl with Baba throwing an incredible volume of shots. Nawai fought back hard and and the final 30 seconds or so of the round were amazing.
As we went into round 2 the same hectic pace pace continued, and both men went all out to try and secure their place in the East Japan Rookie of the Year Minimumweight final against the unbeaten Katsuki Mori, who had taken a win a day earlier to book his place in the final. Neither man wanted to miss out on the next round and this showed as they dug deep, then deeper.
Despite the bout only being a 4 rounder it seemed like they were going to eventually punch themselves out due to the none stop punching and the intense aggression of both.
This was a brawl, this was exciting and this was exactly what Rookie of the Year means to those involved. This was amazing and is a bout every fan owes themselves a chance to watch. Technically it's crude but the drama, intensity and action more than makes up for the bouts flaws.
It's Christmas folks treat yourselves to this cracker, and enjoy the rest of your day!
The legendary Korakuen Hall is one of the sports best venues. It's an intimate little hall in Tokyo, combat sports are a near daily event and the venue consistently delivers great action. Today's Treasure Trove sees us picking one of those great bouts from the Korakuen Hall, and sharing that. It was, going in, not a bout we had high hopes for, but it delivered, in fact it massively over-delivered giving us a great fight that combined skills, power, physicality, action and drama. It lacked the up and down affairs of some great bouts, but it was still brilliant, and a real tough man's fight between two novices, each looking to break the other down and beat them into submission.
Yoji Saito (1-1, 1) vs Aso Ishiwaki (5-2, 3)
Going in the 23 year old Yoji Saito was favoured. He had turned professional with a decent amateur background, and had dropped Shu Utsuki on his debut before steam rolling rolling through Tameji Ito in his second bout. Although not the most technical of fighters Saito was a physically powerful guy, who his hard, and given his amateur background was expected to go through the ranks quickly under the guidance of the Kadoebi gym. He was seen as a bit of a bull and in going 6 rounds with Shu Utsuki in his debut he also showed he was tough, able to take shots from Utsuki and keep coming forward.
The 19 year old Aso Ishiwaki lacked the amateur background of Saito but had come through the Rookie of the Year reaching the All Japan final in 2018, where he lost a split decision to George Tachibana. On debut Ishiwaki was stopped in the first round, but following that loss he had developed into a brute, and shined in the Rookie of the Year tournament. This was his first bout of 2019, and with Nobuhiro Ishida behind him the youngster seemed full of desire and ambition. He was regarded as the under-dog, due to Saito's amateur reputation, but he really didn't seem to care about Saito's reputation.
From the opening round what we got was something, very, very special. We had two young men putting it all on the line. In the opening minute or so it seemed like the older man had got the better of it, pressing Ishiwaki back and making the teenager fight off the back foot. As the round went on however both men began to stand their ground more, launching huge head shots at each other on the inside. The intensity was amazing and only got better in round 2 as the fighters proceeded to try and shatter the other's will with one of the best rounds of the year. This was brutal, this was damaging and this was pure machismo on show. This was beautifully balanced brutality with both giving as good as they got.
We'll leave the rest of the bout to you, but if you love seeing bombs thrown, heavy hand traded and two men digging deep this is the bout for you!
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.