For today's Treasure Trove we're looking outside of the usual places for Asian boxing, and glancing over at Pakistan for a bout that we would describe as a fun, entertaining slopfest. For those expecting high quality action you look elsewhere, however for those who want boxing's version of fast food this will be a real ride, from a country that rarely gets any attention from the boxing media. This is the sort of bout we enjoy, knowing that both men are desperate to win, and really did give their all. Even if their all isn't all that impressive.
Adil Said (0-0) vs Abbas Ali (0-0)
The bout in question took place in October 2020 in Islamabad and pit debutants Adil Said and Abbas Ali, also spelled "Abbass Ali", against each other in a 4 round Middleweight bout. Coming into this neither man had any professional bouts to their name, and that likely showed given just how raw they were in the ring. Despite that neither man wanted to begin their professional career with a loss.
Of the two men Said was the older man, aged 26, and the heavier man on the scales, weighing in at 158lbs. He was based in Mardan, about 140KM or almost 90 miles from Islamabad, and that was essentially all we knew about him coming into this bout.
Ali on the other hand was 22 years old, came in at 154½lbs and came from Kamalia, which is about 430KM or around 200 miles from Islamabad. Other than that there was little to read into him.
In all honesty we went into this one blind when the bout was uploaded by the Pakistan Boxing Council, weeks after it took place. That however hardly mattered when the fight began and we were instantly entertained by the in ring action.
At the start of the bout Said rushed towards Ali and within seconds bombs were being thrown by both men. Neither man looked polished, or particularly well schooled in the first 20 seconds, but it was clear that both men were in there to let their hands fly and that's exactly what they did. Sadly for Ali it was often Said getting the better of the exchanges and his lack of defense was being punished. Ali tried to fire back but every time he did he seemed to come off second best, with Said landing some big but crude straight left hands. To end the round they just stood, squared up and unloaded bombs in a thrilling finish to the round that looked truly brutal.
It was really clear that neither man was technically well school, but they were well matched, and evenly crude, making for a really compelling round of crude, brawling, sloppy action.
The two men came out hungry in round 2 and again it was Said on the front foot, looking the bigger, stronger, more powerful man. Ali knew he was outsized but tried to be game, tried to use his quicker feet to avoid a tear up. Sadly for him however he couldn't stay off the ropes and Said pinned him against up against the ropes, unloading until the referee stepped in and waved it off.
Again this isn't the most skilled fight, it really is two raw novices swinging away at each other. Despite that the bout is wonderfully entertaining and wildly exciting. We also want to add that the commentary for this is brilliant. It was as if the commentator had little understanding of the sport, and was easily excitable as a result, adding to the raw entertainment factor. This looked like a fight outside of a pub on a Friday night, and whilst that can be a bad thing, it made this bout more endearing and was a very fun all debutant clash.
Expect to be entertained, but not impressed here!
Usually in this serious we look at the best bouts, the most exciting action and the best back and forth. Sometimes however the fights we feature in the Treasure Trove are not included due to the action of the bouts, but rather the fighters involved in them. That's the case today as we shine a light on a hugely enigmatic fighter who caught our attention when he made his debut in December and put on a performance that we feel deserves to be viewed again. It was interesting, it was exciting and it was very much a "non-Japanese" style performance from someone who wanted to make an impression from the off.
Takahiro Tai (0-0) vs Ryosei Hamaguchi (6-6, 2)
The debutant in question was Takahiro Tai, a young switch hitter who had been a solid amateur on the Japanese scene before turning professional under the gym run by his father. Before his debut he had spoken about wanting to show what he could do in the professional ranks and seemed like an ambitious youngster, looking to race through the ranks at a young age. He wanted people to remember his name, to sit up and to take note of him. At this point in time he was just 23 and despite being young he was very much the sort of fighter who wanted to grab attention and not waste time to create a buzz about himself.
In the opposite corner was 24 year old Ryosie Hamaguchi, who had debuted in 2015 and had had mixed success. Up to this point he had fought 12 bouts, and despite losses piling up he had shared the ring with some decent opposition, such as Yuki Iriguchi and Toshiki Shimomachi. Sadly coming in to this bout his form had been faltering, and he had lost his previous 3, and 4 of his previous 5, but came into this with a point to prove. He didn't want to be shown up by a debutant, he didn't want another defeat on his record and he wanted to kick start his career against a some what cocky fighter. He wanted to give Tai an introduction to the professional ranks.
The confident Tai came out southpaw but after just 10 seconds made his first switch and quickly began fighting with his hands at his waist. It was a weird start for a man in his debut, given that so many fighters on their debut show nerves and focus on winning rather than looking stylish or flash. It was also not a very Japanese style, with Tai's style looking more like of Emanuel Augustus than a typical Japanese one. Switches were a regular thing through the round, as was Tai opening up with some wild, wide shots, that were thrown with bad intent. He was being caught, quite a bit, himself, but he really didn't seem to be phased by anything and was instead trying to entertain, show what he could do and show glimpses of the flash and style that he had been talking about before his debut. He was, in some ways, the perfect mix of clowning and action, and within a round it was hard to look away from him as we really didn't know what was about to happen next.
I n round 2 Tai looked a bit more serious and the clowning was toned down a notch as he got more aggressive. That was afor around 20 seconds before the clowning resurfaced and he began to try and embarrass Hamaguchi. Sadly Hamaguchi had no answer. When he let his hands go Hamaguchi would be punished, when he showed some ambition Tai would cover up and counter, and it was clear the men were operating on totally different levels. That was shown even more when Tai put his man down with a sweeping left hand. Hamaguchi beat the count but Tai wasn't there to waste his time and a follow up left forced the referee to jump in.
For those expecting a competitive bout this wasn't one of those. For those wanting to see a debutant entertain and show a fun, flashy style this is perfect. This was entertainment first, this was almost exhibition stuff at times from Tai who looks like a genuine character. He might not be the sensational talent he thinks he is, and he will almost certainly need to tighten up to reach title level, but there's no denying that this youngster caught our attention and made us desperate to see more and more of him. We think his cockiness will catch up with him one day, but until that happens we're going to enjoy the new clown of Japanese boxing thanks to this performance.
The Treasure Trove series is designed to share fights you might have originally missed, but are worth watching. That's because they are either controversial, exciting, dramatic or a showcase of a top prospect. For today's bout we are looking at a dramatic one from the East Japan Rookie of the Year final. It didn't have the clearest of endings, but it did have drama and action and featured one of the men regarded as one of the favourites for the tournament. It was a bout we had high expectations from and it was a bout that delivered more than expected.
Kosuke Tomioka (4-0, 3) vs Shunpei Kubo (5-1-1, 3)
the bout in question was the East Japanese Rookie of the Year final at Super Flyweight, a division that tends to see Rookies make a solid mark on the Japanese, Oriental and even world scene after the tournament finishes. Given the division is one of the most notable for the Rookie of the Year the match up already had attention on it, and that was before we even looked at the fighters in question.
The younger of the two men was the unbeaten Kosuke Tomioka, a charismatic, almost cocky, youngster who had impressed in his first 4 bouts. He was a touted amateur at junior level, came from the Tomioka boxing family which included him, two brothers and his cousin, and was regarded as one of the hot favourites for the tournament. He was just a teenager but he was widely seen as a super stud with talent, speed, reactions and enough experience from the amateurs to be a star.
In the opposite corner was the unheralded Shunpei Kubo, a 23 year old who had won his first 3 bouts before suffering a TKO loss to Rui Ikari in 2019. He had bounced back with 2 wins but was then held to a draw by Aito Abe, in what was a real hidden gem of a 4 rounder. Despite the older man, and the more experienced professional, he was seen as the under-dog, and the man expected to pick up a loss. He was fully aware that he was the under-dog but that hardly mattered, and he was there to win. In fact he was determined to prove the pre-fight perceptions very wrong.
At the opening bell Tomioka was half way across the ring and seemed relaxed whilst looking to control the action from the middle of the ring. Kubo seemed wary of making mistakes and didn't give Tomioka much to counter in the first minute, and it was clear Kubo was wary of Tomioka's power and speed. Despite being cautious Kubo did land some solid shots through the first round, particularly with his right hand, making the most of Tomioka's rather low guard. It was a technical first round, but one that seemed to suggest that both men knew what was at stake, and it had a very clear sense of tension.
The action picked up in round as Tomioka began to land powerful single shots, including a huge left hand that dropped Kubo about a minute into the round. Following the knockdown Tomioka went hunting, landing a number of solid shots, though Kubo took them surprisingly well. It seemed like Tomioka was zoned in and regularly landing hard lefts up top, he seemed to have found his groove, his timing and his range and Kubo was forced to take some genuine punishment without landing much himself.
In round 3 Kubo began pressing with a little more intensity and backed up Tomioka and within 20 seconds of the round starting the pressure had success as he dropped Tomioka with a right hand. Tomioka rushed to his feet, holding the ropes, as the referee looked at him and quickly decided he was unfit to continue.
The stoppage seemed a quick one, and soon after the fight Tomioka looked fine. It would have been good to have seen the referee take the mandatory 8 to make a decision, but the finish aside, this was one to watch. We had technical action, we had drama, and given the ending we also had some controversy. All in all a short, tense, but exciting fight, with a drama turn around, and a bout well worthy of a watch if you missed it the first time around.
For this week's Treasure Trove fight we return to Korakuen Hall and bring you another really easy to over-look bout which took place in December. It wasn't a notable bout going in, as it featured two novices and wasn't a Rookie of the Year or a tournament bout of any kind, but managed to deliver some fantastic action in a short but thrilling contest well worthy of a watch.
Kenshiro Ishimori (1-0) Vs Tomoya Tanaka (0-2)
The bout matched Kenshiro Ishimori and Tomoya Tanaka, two really unknown fighters who were both in their 20's and both looking to make the most of a rare TV opportunity, with the bout being aired live on G+.
Aged 24 at the time Ishimori was a novice who had taken a 4 round decision win in his debut, way back in February 2019. Following his debut he had been out of the ring for almost 22 months coming into this bout. There was essentially no momentum in his career and coming into this he would have been desperate to try and find a way to catch the eye of fans and TV viewers alike.
Aged 23 Tanaka was a win-less fighter who desperately needed to get a victory to his name. He had made his debut in December 2019, losing a very wide decision, before being stopped in his second professional bout in August 2020. Given his first two performances he desperately needed not just a good performance, but a positive result. He would have known that falling to 0-3 would be a very hard position to rebuild from.
From the opening bell it was clear that Tanaka wanted to make a point as he came across the ring to meet Ishimori. Sadly for Tanaka it quickly became apparent that Ishimori was the quicker handed fighter and the more polished boxer as he started to make the most of his jab, moved well and began to land a lot of jabs. Tanaka however wasn't going to be thwarted by some simply jabs and kept pressing forward himself, despite tasting a lot of leather as a result. As a result of Tanaka's desire and Ishimori's jabs we were getting a really fun opening round that ended up getting better. With less than 30 seconds of the round left Tanaka was rocked and Ishimori tried to jump on him, looking for a quick finish before taking a huge right hand himself, and hitting the canvas. Ishimori beat the count, but looked shaken as we went to the bell, and he was somewhat fortunate that the bell came when it did, giving him a minute to shake the cobwebs.
In round 2 we saw Tanaka coming after his man, hoping that Ishimori hadn't had enough time to recover. This saw the two men trading some jabs, though it seemed like Tanaka could smell blood and was looking to turn the screw. Sadly for him however chasing Ishimori proved to be a mistake and after about 25 seconds of the round Ishimori landed a brilliant straight right hand, dropping Tanaka. To his credit Tanaka got to his feet, but had no idea where he was as the referee waved off the bout.
Although this was short it was dramatic, it was exciting and it was a really fun bout which left us wanting to see more of both men.
For this week's Treasure Trove fight we're looking at a November bout from Korakuen Hall that was shown on G+ and featured two relatively unknown fighters who ended up giving us a genuine treat in a bout that few would expected to deliver anything. That match didn't have any name value attached to it, in fact the show it was on was a pretty low key one, headlined by an 8 rounder after the originally planned main event was cancelled at short notice. For fans tuning in however, they were given something really exciting early on the show.
Shun Sekine (4-0, 3) vs Atsuyuki Sato (5-2-1, 3)
Coming in to the bout Shun Sekine was an unbeaten 23 year old Featherweight hopeful who had debuted in late 2018 and picked up 3 wins in 2019, including 2 in Thailand. On paper his record looked good at first glance, but his 4 opponents up to this point had a combined record of 1-10, and he had never faced a fighter with a winning record. He had looked powerful at times, but it was really hard to read much into his performances given how poor his competition had been. Having been out of the ring for 16 months it was clear he was going to want to make a statement here, and he was stepping up, not just in terms of opponent but also length of bout, with this being his first scheduled 6 rounder.
In the opposite corner to Sekine was fellow 23 year old Atsuyuki Sato. Sato's record was less eye catching than that of Sekine but in reality he had proven himself more than his foe. He had began his career in 2017, with a win, before going 1-1-1 in his next 3 fights to leave him with a 2-1-1 record. In 2019 he began a charge and managed to reach the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, losing a razor thin decision to eventual All Japan Rookie of the Year winner Hyoga Taniguchi in November 2019. He had been inactive since then, and like Sekine was desperate to get a win in his first 6 rounder. Interestingly his competition up to this point had a combined record of 15-20-4, significantly better than the competition of Sekine.
The fight started quickly, with both men looking to pump out their jabs and establish a range they were comfortable at. After about a minute of jostling for range the two men both upped their pace and tempo and during the second minute of the fight both men were standing their ground and letting their hands got up close. We had gone from a slightly fast start to the bout to a contest that was very exciting, very quickly. Neither man looked like they managed to hurt the other, but the round flew by and it was genuinely exciting, competitive and a great way to kick off the fight. It seemed Sato landed the better shots, but it was close either way.
The second round took off where the first ended and saw Sekine begin to find the range for his big right hand whilst Sato looked to walk him down and force a fight up close. This resulted in another fantastic round that saw a lot of work up close on the inside from both men. It seemed to be the fight Sato wanted but, in fairness, Sekine held his own and when there was space it was often Sekine having the better success.
The in fighting continued through round 3 as the tempo, some how, intensified. The two men spent less and less time at range, and although their work was slowly becoming sloppy, it was still incredibly enthralling, and it seemed, late in the round, that Sato was staggered, before he regrouped and fired back himself, showing his toughness and desire as the fans began to get far, far more than any of them would have expected.
Sadly with neither man having gone beyond 4 rounds prior to this fight, and the pace and tempo of the contest, both men began to show their flagging stamina in the second half of the fight. Whilst this impact the quality both men threw with, and seemed to limit their output in the later stages, they both continued to give their all, and the phonebooth exchanges continued time and time again. With the tempo slowing it seemed like Sekine was slowly getting more and more success, using his more refined boxing skills, but every time he seemed to be getting the upper hand Sato would come forward and will himself back into the contest.
The final round was one of the best we saw in 2020. The two men stood their ground and let shots fly, they traded bombs, and they threw everything they had in their arsenal, fighting right to the bell in 3 minutes of crazy, none stop action. If the bout had taken place before the covid19 rules limited fan behaviour, this would have resulted in fans on
For those who love in fighting, high tempo bouts, lots of uppercuts and body shots this is a great watch. It's well worth the 25 or so minutes needed to watch it. It really is a sensational fun, and action packed bout!
For this week’s Treasure Trove article we thought we’d go back to early 2020, a time before empty venues, and crowd less boxing, but . A time when the world was a different place and when it seemed like we were set for a brilliant year of fights. The fight in question was a match up that was easy to overlook internationally, but saw a Japanese fighter take on a Filipino in a contest that delivered sensational action and seemed like a platform for the winner to move on to bigger and better things. Sadly, however, the Pandemic essentially saw the winner left on the side for the rest of the year, and unable to build on the momentum from this barn burner.
Kento Hatanaka (10-0, 9) vs Roland Jay Biendima (15-5-1, 8)
The bout in question was a WBC Youth title fight that took place at the Aioi Hall in Kariya. It pitted two youngsters against each other, and delivered something genuinely thrilling, even if the result was never really in doubt.
Heading into the bout 21 year old Japanese fighter Kento Hatanaka was the WBC Youth Flyweight champion and was a second generation fighter, following in the footsteps of his father and former world champion Kiyoshi Hatanaka. Through his first 10 bouts he had quickly become a fan favourite with an exciting and explosive style that made for fun fights. He had also shown enough vulnerabilities to look beatable. With his power he always looked dangerous and his offense was always great to see but his defense was a major issue, and he had been dropped just 1 fight earlier by Jaysever Abcede. He was also very willing to go to war with opponents, as he had in his first defense of the WBC Youth title against Songsaeng Phoyaem in 2019.
His opponent was 23 year old Filipino challenger Roland Jay Biendima, a less well known fighter but a promising one himself. Coming in to this he had won 2 in a row, but was 3-3 in his previous 6 and had never won a bout on foreign soil. That sounds bad, but he was unlucky in a previous visit to Japan, losing a razor thin decision to Taiyo Inoue, and had lasted 9 rounds with Wulan Tuolehazi, who fought for a world title at the end of 2019. On paper there wasn’t much on his record to get too excited about, though he had run future world title challenger Samuel Salva close very early in his career, and had proven to be tough, with his only stoppage loss in 21 bouts coming to Tuolehazi.
On paper this looked like an easy second defense for Hatanaka against a tough, but limited, challenger. In reality however this ended up being anything other than easy for the unbeaten “Prince” Hatanaka.
The bout started quickly, with Hatanaka trying to establish his jab and use his explosive speed to keep Biendima at range. The Filipino, for the most part, took shots on the gloves whilst occasionally swinging for the moon. The opening round went pretty much as perfectly for Hatanaka as he could have hoped for and the pre-fight conception of this being an easy win for the Japanese local looked right. In round 2 however we began to see Biendima come to life, taking more chances and was being punished for his ambition. The fight was starting to warm up nicely, and the Filipino was the one starting to press the action, coming forward, and trying to turn the bout into a fight. His uncultured approach wasn’t netting him sustained success, but was starting to make things more exciting.
The pressure and work rate of the Filipino was making the fight exciting and in round 3 saw him have some major success as he left Hatanaka with a bloodied nose. The pressure of the Filipino saw him getting inside and the two men began to trade uppercuts, with Biendima getting the fight he wanted. That continued in round 4, when he began to land uppercuts with alarming regularity. The smooth movement, speed and explosiveness of Hatanaka was unable to shine as he was being cramped for space, limited in where he could go, and unable to force Biendima to respect him. For fans watching things were getting exciting, quickly, and for Hatanaka’s team things were getting just a touch nervous. He was fighting his opponent’s fight far too often. Whilst he was having success, this was not the type of fight he would have been wanting and not the type of fight that suited him against a less skilled, but gritty challenger.
Through middle rounds we continued to see the two men trading big headshots, trying to take each other out. The results of the headshots saw Hatanaka’s face being bloody and swollen as he continued to exchange shots up close, far too often. Biendima was taking the cleaner punches, being punished time and time again by the classier shots of Hatanaka, but wasn’t showing the damage in the same way as the local hero. In fact if anything the facial damage of Hatanaka was adding extra tension to a hotly competitive fight, with not just his nose bleeding, but also a nasty cut forming around his left eye.
As rounds went by it seemed to become harder and harder to score. A number of rounds were incredibly close, and could have gone either way. It felt like Hatanaka would get them, given he was pretty much fighting at home, but he was being pushed all the way and the blood and cuts were certainly making it look like he was coming off worse. He looked the more talented, but it became a case of will Vs skill and Biendima’s will was giving Hatanaka’s skill all it could handle.
The action never really slowed down in the later stages, as the two men looked to state a case for them deserving the win. Both had to battle like stubborn bulls at times, whilst the fight captivated with a mix of fantastic action and drama.
This wasn’t an all out war, at high intensity, but it was a captivating back and forth battle. A really, really good fight, and a bit of a forgotten gem. Sadly however it was marred by very wide scorecards in what felt like a clear but very competitive, bout. The judges barely gave Biendima anything, despite his effort and successes through the contest.
Sadly the Pandemic saw Hatanaka sit on the sidelines for the rest of 2020 after this contest whilst Biendima was out of the ring for 10 months, before returning in December and being stopped, in a round, by the world ranked Christian Araneta.
The Rookie of the Year tournament always throws some amazing fights our way and 2020 was no different, with a good number of really thrilling fights and excellent match ups. Today we share one of those bouts from the 2020 Rookie of the Year, with the bout in question being the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, pitting two unbeaten men against each other in a mouth watering match up.
Akira Hoshuyama (3-0, 2) vs Shugo Namura (4-0, 4)
In one corner was Akira Hoshuyama, a 24 year old fighter originally from the Shirai Gushiken Gym and a man who had once trained alongside Daigo Higa in the amateurs. Early in his career he was regarded as “Gushiken II”, due to being at the Gushiken gym and a similar style to the Light Flyweight legend, but had transferred to the Misako Gym when Yoko Gushiken closed his gym earlier in 2020. In September he had taken a 4 round decision over Shoji Matsumoto to book his place in the final and was looking to win here and move to a place in the All Japan final, in February.
Shugo Namura was a little bit more experienced and, at 26, a little bit older but had looked like a destructive fighter under the guidance of former multi-time world title challenger Hiroyuki Sakamoto. His first 4 opponents had lasted a combined 5 rounds, and he was destroying everything he hit. There was a crudeness to his style, but in many ways it was a style reminiscent of Sakamoto, who was a star back in the 1990’s and one of the most popular fighters in Japan when he was active.
Going in this hard everything. It had unbeaten men, it had men who could punch, fighters with exciting styles and it had the East Japan Rookie of the Year crown on the line. It ticked all the boxes we like to see for a fight. An even looking match up, with a really notable reward for the winner.
From the off it seemed clear that Hoshuyama was the more polished fighter, with his southpaw stance immediately giving Namura issues. Despite the stance advantage for Hoshuyama it seemed clear that Namura’s physical strength was a strength for him and Namura looked to tie up when the men were up close, rather than wanting to go to war with his man too early. After about 2 minutes of the bout a fight broke out with both having success, before Namura found himself on the canvas, giving Hoshuyama a huge 10-8 round to start the fight.
In round 2 the two men stood and traded bombs up close in what was a thrilling round of action. Despite the fact both were novices, it was clear both men were trained professionals, sadly for Namura however he was on the wrong end of many of the most telling shots. Despite taking more shots, Namura never backed down and always looked the more dangerous puncher, even if his defense was more open and letting him down. As a result of Namura’s flaws, his defense, and his dynamite power, the bout felt like we were walking a tight rope and that either man could end up being hurt, especially given how much leather was being thrown and how close the two men were.
Round 3 was much like round 2. It was another round fought up close, fought with bombs from both and with Namura always looking dangerous, but open, and Hsohuyama looking more polished, but like a fighter who needed to be careful, just in case Namura caught him clean. This made for a brilliant dynamic, and it was made even better by the fact both men were looking to score a stoppage, with neither wanting a decision. This ran over into round 4, as the two continued to box up close, with the cuter skills and better boxing of Hoshuyama neutralising the power, strength and hunger of Namura who refused to just sit and accept his loss.
For fans who haven’t seen this one, it’s great to watch. A really thrilling Rookie of the Year bout, and despite the scores being one sided, it was certainly a lot, lot better than the scorecards would suggest.
For this week’s Treasure Trove article we turn our attention to Russia for a bout that took on Christmas Eve. It was on a big Russian card, stacked with talent, but it was also a bout that we suspect many missed, due it being around Christmas, being in Russia and featuring fighters they may not have been too aware of. Despite how few people saw it, the bout was one of those gems that had people talking about it afterwards, yet still, somehow, remained under the radar. With that in mind it was a perfect bout for this series!
Bakhodur Usmonov (0-0) vs Vildan Minasov (4-0, 3)
In one corner was 23 year old Tajik debutant Bakhodur Usmonov, a former amateur standout who was one of the crowns in the jewel for Tajik boxing. As an amateur he had been very impressive, winning gold at the 2019 Asian Boxing Championships in Bangkok, and later qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics. He had impressed in the unpaid ranks and had signed professional papers with MTK Global, who seemed to see him as a potential long term success story. After all he was a proven fighter and still just 23. He was also from a country not known for professional boxers, Tajikistan, but a country that had good links to Russia where he could begin his career and begin to develop his professional skills.
In the opposite corner was the unbeaten Vildan Minasov from Russia. He was 24 years old and relatively unknown, though just 3 months earlier he had battered Kazakh teenager Dastan Saduuly in 2 rounds, really given Saduuly a lesson in a clear example of a boy fighting a man. That win aside there was nothing on Minasov’s record to suggest he was anything more than a can crusher. Despite that he was unbeaten, very early in his career and hungry to prove himself. A win here, against a touted prospect making his debut, could be the sort of result that would put him on the map and build on the momentum following his victory over Saduuly.
On paper this looked like a match up where Usmonov could get a win against an unbeaten fighter on debut. A win that that would look good on paper, but, on further inspection, not be as impressive as the numbers suggested. In reality however he got a lot, lot more than he, or MTK bargained for. He got a real test against a man who was determined to win. This gave us, fans, something brilliant to watch, with drama, action, excitement and controversy.
From the off Usmonov looked to box on the outside, use his polished amateur skills and fight long. Minasov on the other hand didn’t want to play that game and looked to apply pressure, coming forward and trying to bully Usmonov around the ring. This immediately gave us a thrilling opening round, with styles that were polar opposites, but gelled immediately and left Usmonov trying to box off the ropes. At times Minasov looked crude, wild and open, but he was the one pressing the fight and looked to be the much more dangerous man in there and not the patsy that Usmonov and his team may have been expecting. In fact with around 20 seconds of the opening round left Usmonov found out Minasov’s power was legit, as he got put on his backside.
It was a horror opening round for Usmonov in his pro debut and left him in a serious hole. A hole that Minasov was hoping to increase in round 2 as he applied more pressure, again pinning Usmonov on to the ropes and going to work on the Tajik hopeful, who looked skilled and showed some nice touches, but was taking some very clean shots upstairs.
By round 3 it was clear Usmonov was going to need to turn things around and he began the round by doing just that, and letting his hands fly. He was showing more aggression, more hunger and more output than he had earlier in the fight. He looked relatively feather fisted in comparison to Minasov, but was starting to turn the tide, and repel the Russian. He was starting to get respect from Minasov and starting, finally, to find his footing in the contest. It was great to see him turning around the tide and trying to hurt the heavier handed man, despite blood coming from his nose.
Despite his success in round 3 Usmonov couldn’t keep Minasov at bay in round 4 as the Russian got back on the offensive, giving us a brilliant round of action. We had Minasov, looking slightly slower and energetic than the first 2 rounds, trying to press and pressure as he had done earlier. We had Usmonov trying to unload and fight off his man, and we had some absolutely amazing back and forth action.
With Usmonov knowing he had to make a statement and build his momentum had let his hands go more often again in round 5, despite Minasov trying to walk him down. The tactics of the Russian seemed to be all about pressure, but he lacked the energy to let his hands go, walking forward and taking shots more often than landing his own. This allowed Usmonov to have some real success and he even wobbled Minasov at one point late in the round as the Russian began to run out of steam and have his face begin to look like he had been in a meat grinder.
Going into the final round the bout had been utterly compelling. Both men had taken a lot of leather, both men were showing clear signs of battle and both looked like they had been giving their all. They had been involved in something special, and we still had 3 minutes to go. 3 minutes that could decide the winner of the bout. It seemed Usmonov knew that. He knew he was flirting with a defeat on debut and he dug deep, again taking the fight to Minasov, who looked a little bit sorry for himself at times but still stood tall and dug deep himself. Usmonov was the man with the energy, the man letting his shots go more, but Minasov was conservative, picking his moments and landing the heavier shots through the round. A round that really was the deciding factor in a thrilling, and hugely over-looked, 6 round slobber knocker.
If you missed this one back in December make sure to give it a watch now. It is well worth 30 minutes of anyone’s time.
For this week's Treasure Trove we're digging a little bit deeper than usual as we get the rare chance to share a bout that was shown not on TV, or even a free stream, but on Boxing Raise! The bout was shown live on boxing Raise before the promoter of the event, Dangan, put the fight on their own YouTube for fans to enjoy and share.
Before we get into the bout we do need to talk a little bit about Boxing Raise, which is a premium Japanese service which combines a VOD service with a streaming service, showing boxing. The service is relatively cheap, has an insane amount of on demand content and is a service we do use. Sadly however so many of the best bouts on the service remain behind a paywall, which is why this fight being available to share is a little bit different. Thankfully it's not just one that's freely available, but it's also a very good fight, a controversial one and a hidden gem.
Kazuki Nakajima (8-0, 7) vs Seiya Tsutsumi (5-0, 4)
The bout in question saw the unbeaten pairing of Kazuki Nakajima and Seiya Tsutsumi clash in a scheduled 8 rounder back in January 2020. The bout wasn’t just a typical 8 rounder between two unbeaten prospects however. Instead this was a bout between two amateur standouts and was also a tournament final, serving as the final bout of the God’s Left Bantamweight tournament, which had begun in 2019.
The tournament had been a 7 man tournament. Tsutsumi had originally gotten a bye into the semi-finals, and then got a bye to the final when his semi-final opponent, Kenya Yamashita, was unable to compete. Nakajima on the other hand had had to fight twice to reach the final, stopping Kenichi Watanabe in the quarter finals and Jin Minamide in the semi final, blowing both out in the opening round, earning his place in the final.
For those who don’t follow Japanese domestic level boxing we will quickly talk about the two men before getting on to the fight.
Nakajima is an Ohashi promoter hopeful, fighting out of the same gym as Naoya Inoue. He’s a big, strong, powerful, Bantamweight, who has since moved up to Super Bantamweight, and although technically somewhat rigid, he is a very destructive fighter and when he lands clean he tends to hurt people. He’s not only big and powerful, but also a rangy southpaw, making him a true nightmare to get in the ring with.
Tsutsumi on the other hand is a smaller fighter, a natural Super Flyweight who has dipped his toes into the Bantamweight division a few times, and is best known for his bout with Daigo Higa that came after this. He’s also heavy handed, but is more of a rounded fighter who can move more and is more cerebral with his in ring work. Technically he is a lot more polished than Nakajima, but was giving away natural size and power. He had also fought just 112 seconds in the previous year due to the two bye’s he had had in the tournament.
Going in we had expected a war. We expected the styles of the two men to give us something of a tear up, and a short firefight. It seemed clear this was made to be a shoot out and was going to be short, but thrilling. Seemingly however no one told Tsutsumi that was the plan, and instead we ended up with a much, much more compelling bout, even if it wasn’t intense as expected.
Instead of tearing chunks out of each other from the off what we saw to open the bout was a smart boxing contest. Tsutsumi bucked the preconceived ideas and instead of standing and fighting with Nakajima he used his feet, moved, jabbed and try to prevent Nakajima from setting his rhythm. He also came out southpaw, not his usual orthodox stance. It was clear he had a gameplan and he wanted to fight to it, getting into Nakajima’s head immediately.
The unexpected tactics from Tsutsumi threw everyone, and saw him really leaving Nakajima looking bewildered to begin the fight. The smaller man continued to box and move through the early rounds, putting on a display that would have convinced many that he was a natural lefty. When Nakajima made a mistake he was punishment, when the fight was slow Tsutsumi was using the ring, using his jab and being incredibly smart.
As the bout went on the action began to pick up, with desperation from Nakajima forcing him to let his hands go more, especially given the large financial bonus set aside for the winner. This forced us to edge towards a shoot out, with Nakajima desperate to force his style of fight on the action. We never got a full on shoot out, but in the middle rounds it was clear Nakajima knew he had to do more, but even then he was still trying to solve a problem he didn’t expect, Tsutusmi as a southpaw.
By the final rounds Nakajima was starting to find his range and had was landing more regularly. He clearly closed the gap on the scorecards, though seemed to still be behind as we entered the final round and it seemed like Nakajima was either going to lose a decision or go all out in an attempt to win.
Given the controversy we don’t want to ruin the result of this one and instead let you watch it “as live”. What we will say is there was controversy and although it wasn’t the fire fight we expected it was a truly compelling bout. It always felt like Nakajima’s power could turn the tide, but Tsutsumi’s gameplan was near perfect. Despite a technical display from Tsutsumi it was a long way from being a “dull” performance, and was instead an exciting, technically smart showing from him against a very dangerous fighter.
The Rookie of the Year tournament in Japan is one of the annual highlights of the Japanese boxing calendar and something that often brings highlights throughout the entire tournament. From the preliminary bouts, to the regional finals and the All Japan finals we get so lucky with Rookie of the Year and the consistently fantastic bouts that it delivers. The competition really is a Treasure Trove on it’s own and is one of the key reasons why Japanese boxing is so much fun to follow. The match ups are, generally, competitive, well matched and evenly fought between novices. The tournament tends to develop prospects and unearth real talent, and fans usually get the chance to join a fighter early in their professional journey. It is a tournament format that really should be copied in other parts of the world and it would certainly help make under-cards more interesting in the West.
We’ve said all that to begin with as this week's Treasure Trove bout is one of the East Japan Rookie of the Year finals, which took place on December 20th at Korakuen Hall. And boy did this deliver. Big time.
Kenji Yoshino (1-2, 2) vs Eiki Kani (2-1-1) II
Before we talk the actual bout we need to go back a little bit to just lay down the foundations of the bout, but we’ll get there in a little bit.
In February 2019 Kenji Yoshino made his professional debut at the age of 18, losing in 4 rounds to Taigo Ito. Some 5 months later he suffered his second loss, being stopped in 4 rounds by Eiki Kani to end 2019 0-2. Like most fighters he ended up sitting out most of 2020 due to Covid19 but returned to the ring in November 2020 and stopped Taiga Ito in a rematch of his debut, to secure his place in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final around 6 weeks later.
Eiki Kani on the hand had debuted all the way back on December 30th 2018, at the age of 17, on the under-card of Masayuki Ito’s win over Evgeny Chuprakov. He had fought to a draw in his debut before fighting his second bout in July 2019, when he stopped Yoshino in 4 rounds. He then added a win over Daijo Kogo towards the end of 2019. He then scored a win in an East Japan Rookie of the Year bout against Tomohiro Ishida which should have led him to a clash in the semi finals with Masanori Iwai, who pulled out of their bout giving Kani a bye to the East Japan final.
So for those who followed that, Yoshino and Kani had fought back in 2019, when both men were fighting in their second professional bouts, with Kani stopping Yoshino in the 4th round. Despite that, the two men had fought their way to the finals of the East Japan Rookie of the Year in 2020, with Yoshino now out for revenge and Kani looking to do the double over Yoshino.
There was a lot on the line for the two youngsters, who were fighting for a place in the All Japan final, which will take place in February, the chance to call themselves the East Japan Rookie of the Year and to settle chapter 2 of their personal rivalry. This was more personal than pretty any of the other Rookie of the Year bouts from the year, and it was also among the most exciting.
The bout started relatively slowly but within a minute both men were starting to let their shots go, and both managed to find real success. Yoshino, who sported the Teiken shorts, looked the bigger man, and the heavier handed fighter, but was putting a lot into his shots, and he even wobbled Kani late in the round. Kani on the other hand seemed to be the smarter man, landing the better counters and covering up better. The dynamic of the two men made for an exciting first round, which got better and better as it went on, and the final 40 seconds or so of the round were tremendous as both men looked to make a statement for the judges.
Although the first round was great it was fought in bursts, from both. The second round however was a lot more consistent, with both men looking to go tit for tat. Again it was Yoshino who looked the bigger single shot puncher, but Kani was regularly finding excellent counter shots, punishing Yoshino for his wider shots. Almost the entire final 90 seconds of the round was thrilling back and forth up close with neither man wanting the other to have the final say. Both rounds were hard to score, but both were brilliant to watch.
The action continued to be enthralling through round 3. By now Yoshino’s pace was dropping. He was still throwing hard shots when he threw, but was throwing a lot less, and Kani was starting to land more. This felt like Kani was starting to finally break up a tiring Yoshino. That was until Yoshino got a second wind and started to connect with his bombs, forcing Kani to hold for a few moments until he came back trying to shine at the very end of the round. It was another compelling round, and it left the bout very finely balanced as we entered round 4.
In round 4 Kani began to look tired, backing off, letting Yoshino come to him, and then tried countering. It was a somewhat negative tactic, especially given how he’d fought earlier in the bout, but it was clear that he was feeling the pace of a hectic bout, and he was desperate not to be stopped by Yoshino in round 4, like he had been in their first bout. With just over a minute left Kani was rocked, but gritted it out, once again spoiling and trying to catch his breath. With that done the two men then exchanged some big shots as they each looked for a decisive blow to secure a win.
After 4 rounds both men had given their all, they had each taken a lot of heavy shots, and they had each battled through exhaustion. They had gone to a decision and amazingly the judges were unable to split them, leading to a majority decision draw in one of the best 4 rounders we saw in the entire of 2020.
Yes the action might be bitty, the quality of the fighters might not be the highest, and the fight itself might not be anywhere close to a Fight of the Year contender, but this was certainly a war and was a thoroughly enjoyable 4 round tear up.
One day, somewhere down the line, we hope these two youngsters clash again in a third bout. Given how good this was when both were novice we can only hope a third bout in 3 or 4 years, manages to be just as good!
Note - There are some minor issues with the signal for this video. They should only last a few seconds.
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.