One of the bouts shown last weekend on Fuji TV was the Super Bantamweight clash between the unbeaten Kazuki Nakajima (9-0-1, 8) and the upset minded Kenta Nomura (7-4, 3). On paper this wasn't expected to be much of a test for Nakajima, and in the end he didn't need to work too hard for the win, stopping Nomura in the third round of a scheduled 8 rounder.
With the bout now aired and having been watched, and rewatched, we've got some take aways from the bout to share.
1-Nakajima is horribly stiff and upright
The first thing to note watching this bout, and other Kazuki Nakajima bouts, is that Nakajima is so stiff and upright. He looks really rigid, everything he does looks forced and his chin is in the air. We get that it's very much his style, but he looks so hittable, predictable and like someone with a bit of skill will be able to take him out. Nomura wasn't the guy to ask questions, but we did see Seiya Tsutsumi ask those questions earlier in the year and we assumed that Nakajima would have looked less stiff here than he there. Nope. Just as stiff. The focus for Ohashi should be on trying to get him to relax in the ring a little bit, it's obviously not easy, but it would improve his game so much. Despite being stiff he does have surprisingly quick handspeed.
2-Despite being stiff Nakajima has a nasty straight left hand
Again we're not stating anything new here but Kazuki Nakajima has a fantastic straight left hand. It's straight, it's quick, it's powerful and it's sharp. It's a bit on the predictable side of things, as a lot of Nakajima's work is at range and worked off his straight shots, but it's easily the best punch in his arsenal and does, in some ways, remind us of Shinsuke Yamanaka. It's not quite as brutal as Yamanaka's, but the way he makes every shot counts, and is efficient with is it Yamanaka-like.
3-Koji Matsumoto wears glasses in a weird way
This is an odd one, for sure, but it was weird that Koji Matsumoto put his glasses on the back on his head. It's more of an observation than anything else, but we are curious as to why the great trainer rests his glasses in such an odd position. Several of our team wear glasses and we put them on the top of our heads, but Koji, he puts them on the back of his head, under his ponytail when working in the corner, as he was for Nakajima. If anyone can explain this one we'd love to hear it!
4-Nomura isn't very good against southpaws
This was Nomura's second bout against a southpaw in 13 months and he has been stopped by both of them. He tried to box with Nakajima, and didn't look like he had any idea how to cope with the left stance. He was throwing out range finder jabs that had no effect, was caught regularly by left hands and looked genuinely lost and confused. Nakajima, although rather stiff looking, is quite tricky, but Nomura really showed no idea how to deal with even the most basic of Nakajima's work.
5-Michiaki Someya is a referee that is in the right place at the right time
We've mentioned Michiaki Someya in one of these before and we do so again here as he once again showed his ring positioning is brilliant, and he's where he needs to be, when he needs to be there. This wasn't a tough bout for him but we can't ignore that he was consistently doing what he had to, was in the perfect place for the stoppage and made things crystal clear. He's not a big name referee but he is certainly a very good one, and from his showings on this card he's one we'll be keeping a close on here following two solid performances on this show.
Some of the best KO's come from fighters we don't think of as punchers and that's what we have today thanks to a 2017 bout that saw a brilliant KO scored by someone who think more of as a boxer-mover rather than a puncher. Interestingly it came against someone who was boasting a high KO rating. This was genuine one of the most over-looked KO's of the year and one of the most perfectly timed.
Masaru Sueyoshi (13-1, 8) vs Allan Vallespin (9-0, 8)
Japanese boxer Masaru Sueyoshi was climbing his way through the ranks as we entered 2017. He had scored 10 straight wins and was moving towards a domestic title fight thanks to wins against the likes of Kazuma Sanpei, Roman Canto and Shingo Eto. Although he had been in great form, and showing a lot of improvements, he wasn't seen as a puncher. In fact Sueyoshi was more of an awkward, high skilled boxer who often controlled the distance and tempo of a bout whilst keeping things at long range.
Allan Vallespin on the other hand was a relative unknown outside of the Philippines. At home he was blowing away low level opponents. From his first 9 bouts he had scored 5 wins in the opening round, and had also picked up the GAB Super Featherweight title. Despite looking good against low level domestic opposition this bout was a big step up in class and was coming in Vallespin's international debut. He was expected to have the power and aggression to bother Sueyoshi, but probably not the skills to over-come the rising local.
What we ended up with was a stunning finish. Before we got there the bout was really not too interesting.
Anyone who has seen Sueyoshi before will know what to expect from the first few rounds. He tried to set an awkward distance, drawing mistakes and countering without taking too much damage or over exerting himself. It wasn't the most exciting of bouts but it was clear that Sueyoshi was neutralising the apparent power and aggression of Vallespin. It wasn't pretty but it was effective from Sueyoshi who used his educated jab very well.
Early in round 3 Vallespin became more aggressive, throwing wild shots at Sueyoshi in the hope of landing something. It wasn't an issue for Sueysohi, who saw the shots coming a mile off, but it did give the Japanese fighter openings to really counter.
About 45 seconds into the round Vallespin over-committed and missed with a right hand, catching a left hook as punishment, a left hook from Vallespin was then thrown as he was tagged by a huge straight that sent him crashing to the canvas.
This was gorgeous to watch and perfectly executed by Sueyoshi, who certainly opened up the eyes of some fans on the back of this impressive finish.
We've all heard of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and we've decided to put our spin on things with "Six degrees of separation" looking to connect Asian fighters you may never have assumed were connected! Today we connect former world champions Ratanapol Sor Vorapin and Takanori Hatakeyama.
Just as ground rules, we're not doing the more basic "A beat B who beat C who beat D" type of thing, but instead we want to link fighters in different ways. As a result we will limit A fought B connections, and try to get more varied connections together, as you'll see here! We also know there are often shorter routes to connect fighters, but that's not always the most interesting way to connect them.
1-Fantastic little Thai Ratanapol Sor Vorapin was a brilliant fighter in the 1990's running up numerous defenses of the IBF Minimumweight title over 2 separate reigns. Although he was never the best in the division he was one of the staples at the top. He wasn't the only fighter in the family however and his brother Ratanachai Sor Vorapin was also a world class fighter, winning a world title at Bantamweight.
2-Whilst Ratanachai Sor Vorapin is best known for his WBO Bantamweight title reign, which lasted over a year, that's not the only thing of note he did. In fact he fought several opponents of note outside of his title reign, including Indonesian great Chris John. In fact John had one of his closest decision wins in 2002 when he narrowly over-came the Thai.
3-Fantastic Indonesian Chris John is best known for his lengthy reign as the WBA Featherweight champion that wasn't the only title he held during his career. Another belt that John Held was the PABA Featherweight title, which was later held by thrill a minute Korean warrior Ji Hoon Kim.
4-Notably the PABA Featherweight title wasn't the only regional title that Ji Hoon Kim held. Later in his career he moved up in weight and won the WBO Asia Pacific Welterweight title, which was later won, in an all out war, by Japanese puncher Yuki Beppu.
5-Japanese Welterweight puncher Yuki Beppu first made a name for himself in December 2014, when he won the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Welterweight with a KO2 win against Hironobu Matsunaga.
6-Hironobu Matsunaga one of the latest starts from the Yokohama Hikari Gym. That's the same gym that lead Takanori Hatakeyama to being a 2-weight world champion!
For a second week running we turn out attention to South Kore for our Tuesday feature as we focus on former Welterweight contender Chung Jae Hwang (28-3, 25). The big puncher from Seoul fought between 1979 and 1989, a fairly long career for a Korean fighter from that time period. During his career he fought in 15 OPBF Welterweight title bouts, including 13 successful title defenses, and was one of the standout Asian Welterweight fighters of his time.
Although Hwang's career wasn't the most successful he did face some pretty well known names, the most notable or which was Saensak Muangsurin, and before turning professional he had been a successful amateur, again on the Asian scene.
With that introduction out of the way lets take a look at 5 Midweek Facts about Chung Jae Hwang.
1-In 1975 Hwang was arrested and spent time in prison. At the time he was very much a ruffian, and admitted that his actions were "really stupid". Following this he turned his aggressive nature into that of a boxer.
2-After turning things around Hwang became a genuinely good amateur. His amateur career really took off after he defeated 1976 Olmypian Ju Seok Kim and he went on to win gold at the 1978 Asian Games in Bangkok.
3-Notably Hwang's professional debut came against a former OPBF Champion. That was Fred Rolando Pastor, who had previously held the OPBF Lightweight title. Whilst it's not unheard of for fighters to debut against former champions this is still a pretty impressive feat for Hwang.
4-Interestingly Hwang is the only man to defeat Saensak Muangsurin in Thailand. The Thai great did suffer 6 losses in total, but the other all came abroad. They occurred in Spain, twice, Korea, Philippines, and the USA. It should however be noted that Hwang's win over Muangsurin did come in the Thai's final professional bout, and he was very much a diminished fighter by this point.
5-Hwang released an album in 2018 as he turned to music, and almost a bit of male modelling. We have included a live performance of him singing below.
It's been a while since we've had some action worthy of breaking down into one of our Take Away articles, but last week we had several bouts of note. One of those was the latest win for unbeaten Japanese prospect Katsuki Mori (7-0, 1), who over-came Yuki Uchida (7-8, 1) in a 6 round bout at Korakuen Hall. The bout wasn't shown live, but was televised over the weekend on Fuji TV, giving us a chance to watch the contest, albeit on delay.
1-Mori Carries himself like a star
Watching Katsuki Mori in action leaves us feeling like we are watching a star in the making. He oozes charisma, know that he needs to come forward and take risks, and knows how to put on a show, which we saw in round 6. He's a lovely aggressive stylist who controls range very well, has a tight guard and really does have very quick hands. Not only has he got the skills and mentality to be a star but, at just 20, he already appears to be connecting with the Japanese fans, and it's clear that they too are buying into the Mori journey. His baby faced good looks will help appeal to female fans and it's hard to not see him becoming one of the more notable stars of the lower weights.
2-Mori's shorts were familiar
This is probably a coincidence more than anything but the shorts Mori wore, with the red design and gold trim, were very, very similar to the shorts Naoya Inoue wore against Yuki Sano. Whilst Mori and Inoue are obviously very, very different fighters the similarities in their shorts, and overall look, was starling. What this even more notable was that for both men it was the first time they were shown on Fuji TV. For Inoue the bout with Sano was shown live, and part of a major broadcast, whilst Mori had never had a bout shown in full on terrestrial TV, with G+ carrying some of his previous bouts. Maybe, just maybe, they view him as being the next special talent from the Ohashi gym and want to evoke these connections as soon as they can.
3-Uchida was the perfect foil
Although Yuki Uchida had a pretty poor looking record the selection of him as the opponent for Mori was perfect. Uchida was known as a flawed, slower fighter who's tough and will come to fight. That allowed Mori chances to counter, chances to box, and a chance to prove he can fight 6 rounds at a good pace. Don't get us wrong, Uchida didn't have much of a chance, but he always seemed to feel like he felt he had one, and he wasn't just accepting a loss. He came to win, he gave an honest effort, and he asked questions of Mori. This is what we want to see from fighters with losing records, not the survival mentality but someone giving it a go. These sorts of efforts actually help the prospects develop quickly, and do more than a string of meaningless wins, like we see in some countries.
4-Japanese referees continue to keep things simple
Whilst this wasn't a hard bout for an official, and one where he was rarely needed. However if you concentrate on Michiaki Someya, the referee for the bout, he was doing a lot of little things that were very notable. He was always maintaining a good distance from the action a good view of the two men, he, for the most part, remained out of camera shot and let the action go on the inside when he had to. Once again we can't help but be impressed by how well Japanese referees are letting the action flow.
5-Mori is still a work in progress
We are massive Katsuki Mori fans, and we do see him as a star in the making. He is however still "in the making" and is certainly a long, long way from being the complete product. He's high skilled, has star appeal but, fast hands and a good boxing brain. What he's missing is experience, man strength and power. Experience is guaranteed to come with time and as long as Ohashi keep him busy we'll see him building on that part of his game. The power and man strength issue is the thing that is still holding him back. He repeatedly caught Uchida clean and yet struggled to really hurt him. Against Uchida that wasn't too much of a problem, but as he steps up in class he will need to have some stopping power. It may never come, which would limit how far he can go, but we suspect it will, and as he matures we do see him having enough pop to get the attention of his opponents.
From September 26th to November 23rd there are set to be a number of Japanese shows made available, for free, on YouTube. Whilst we'll be tuning in to all of them we know some fans need a reason more than just "free boxing" to put their time aside, so with that in mind let us try to tempt you into watching the free action we'll be getting!
Firstly the shows are free. There is no catch there. If these are a success they may become a more regular thing, and may show promoters that there is a market for these, and a reason to put them on. Secondly they give everyone a chance to dip their toes into Japanese boxing during a time when life is certainly not great for many of us, and it could a bit extra escapism from what is going on outside of where we all live.
And there's also some interesting fighters and bouts coming up on those shows.
On paper this is probably the show we are the least interested in, especially given the other action taking place on the same day, however this shouldn't be ignored outright. Firstly the fact that BOXING REAL are behind the stream is something to sit up and make a note of, as they have provided amazing streams in the past and are very much a growing channel at the forefront of these free streams.
Anyone who has ever watched an Atomweight fight will know the women are small, but never stop throwing and we suspect that will be the case again here when Mika Iwakawa (9-5-1, 3) defends her WBO Atomweight title against Nanae Suzuki (10-3-1, 1). It may not be the most dramatic bout of all time, but it will certainly by a high tempo battle and given that women's rounds are still 2 minutes long this will really fly by. We're expecting non-stop punching, in a thrilling, if some what low level affair.
Former world champion Shun Kubo (13-2, 9) isn't a huge name in the sport but as a former world champion it'll be interesting to see what, if anything, he still has to offer the sport. He shouldn't struggle too much with Takashi Igarashi (13-4, 5), but there is a chance that Kubo's heart isn't in the sport after stoppage losses to Danny Roman and Can Xu in recent bouts.
One time world title contender Kohei Oba (36-3-1, 14), who was once dubbed the "Mayweather of Nagoya", will end a multi-year break from the ring to take on former Rookie of the Year winner Yoshiki Minato (8-3, 3). Not a great bout, but you've got to admit that having the nickname of "Mayweather of Nagoya" is at least a little bit interesting and we're curios as to what he has left in the tank.
Whilst the September 26th show isn't the best we do really want you to get behind the September 27th show if possible. This is from a small local promoter in Shizuoka who are almost certainly losing money to put this show on, but wanted to continue to have boxing in the region during these tough times. Originally they had wanted to run a boxing festival, as they have the last few years, but the on going situation prevented that but they are going to showcase local fighters regardless. With that in mind it'd be great to get behind the Suruga gym for this one.
If the feeling of supporting a small promoter isn't good enough there are 3 interesting bouts on this show.
The first of those is the return of Tsubasa Murachi (4-1, 3), who was knocked out hard by Froilan Saludar last year. Murachi was hoping to be fast tracked and risked it all against Saludar, who's experience and power proved too much. Rather than having an easy comeback he's taking on under-rated domestic foe Ryotaro Kawabata (12-3-2, 6) in a well matched 8 rounder. This looks competitive on paper and will let us see what Murachi's loss to Saludar has done to the 23 year old.
Although a faded force Koichi Aso (23-9-1, 15) has been a consistently exciting fighter to watch. Win or lose Aso is rarely in a dull fight and his aggressive, pressure style makes him on of Japan's most fan friendly fighters. He's up against a man flying high, as he takes on Shogo Yamaguchi (12-5-3, 7), who scored a a career best win over Shuhei Tsuchiya last time out, having been knocked down before pulling out the victory. This has the potential to be a real humdinger of a bout!
There are a lot of exciting prospects making their name in Japan, this is not a secret. One of the very best from those is Rentaro Kimura (1-0, 1), who made his debut earlier this year with a KO of the Year contender, which you can see below. He is the big hope of Shizuoka, a former amateur standout and a man who we suspect will be fighting for titles in 2021. One thing we'd love to see from fans is for them to get on the Kimura express early, and if you missed his debut there's no need to miss his second bout, as he takes on Takafumi Iwaya (4-3) on this show. There's a good chance this ends in Brutal fashion just as Kimua's debut did
From where we're sat the October 13th card on A-Sign Boxing is the show that needs the least amount of "selling" done for it. Before we even mention the fighters we need to just say this is promoted by arguably the most forward thinking promoter in world boxing. Ichitaro Ishii is thinking out of the box regularly, employing social media brilliantly, adapting things like behind the scenes and special documentaries into promoting events and giving fans more access to knowing fighters than any other promoter in the sport. What he's doing on a relatively small budget brilliant for the sport.
As for the bouts the main event is a truly fantastic match up between world ranked Featherweight Reiya Abe (19-3-1, 9) and the unbeaten Ren Sasaki (10-0, 6). Abe is one of the most talented boxers in Japan, but also a frustrating one, with a style is focused around countering, a lot. As a result Abe needs a suitable dance partner to look good against, and we suspect Sasaki will be such an opponent. If you like boxing skills, counter punching, ring craft, a cerebral approach to boxing and in ring genius, this is a bout you'll enjoy. A lot.
Of course not everyone likes the cerebral stuff and some people just want to see action! You need not worry as Kai Ishizawa (6-1, 6) is in the house and taking on the rugged Masashi Tada (13-7-3, 8). Ishizawa is a super heavy handed, aggressive youngster who's somewhat rough around the edges, but scary strong, a serious puncher and one of the most exciting youngsters in the sport. When he gets in the ring it's always worth tuning in for. Tada isn't the best fighter, but he's tough and it'll be great to see if he can blunt the buzz saw that is Kai Ishizawa.
Although the other two bouts mentioned for this show have the ingredients to be show cases of different styles the bout we suspect will be the best of the bunch is the clash between Kai Chiba (12-1, 8) and Haruki Ishikawa (8-2, 6). On paper these two are made for each other, and in the ring we'll likely see that play out. Chiba is a real solid boxer-puncher, who had his chin cracked by Brian Lobetania. We know Chiba can punch, and can be taken out. Ishikawa on the other hand gave us one of the best fights of 2019 last time out, as he took on Toshiya Ishii, and in that fight showed a willingness to wage war on Ishii.
For something of a taster for the Chiba Vs Ishikawa bout, enjoy round 2 of Ishikawa's last bout:
We don't think we need to really tell people why they should tune in to see Hiroto Kyoguchi (14-0, 9) take on unbeaten Thai Thanongsak Simsri (14-0, 12), but if you're not already on board for this one we'll try to entice you to tune in on Kyoguchi's own YouTube channel.
Kyoguchi is regarded by many who follow the lowest divisions as one of the very best at 108lbs. Don't take our word for that though but instead that of experts. He's the Ring Magazine champion, the WBA "Super" champion, and is ranked #2 by BoxRec, TBRB and ESPN. He's a fun, exciting fighter and is quickly becoming a YouTube star in his own right, with his own channel being the outlet for this bout.
Simsri is obviously not regarded as highly as Kyoguchi, but he is a hotly tipped Thai fighter who has been dubbed "Srisaket II" by the Thai press and is regarded as one of the brightest hopes in Thailand. He's actually fought in Osaka a few times and despite being in Kyoguchi's homeland we don't see that being an issue for the hard hitting Thai. He'll be there to win and should make for a thrilling bout here.
On paper the best card, from what we know of right now, is the final card which takes on November 23rd and features a former multi-time world champion and 3 world title challengers and a man we have already mentioned for one of his previous bouts. This is being shown by Osaka TV and should, in theory, have the best production values, and the stronger overall name name appeal.
The main event here will see youngster Riku Kano (16-4-1, 8) one of the former world title challengers, battle against Ryoki Hirai (13-6-1, 4) in a brilliantly well matched bout do the vacant WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight title. At one point Kano was seen as the super prospect, and fought for a world title when he was just 18! Sadly things haven't gone his way since then, but it's still way too early to write him off. Hirai on the other hand had a terrible start to his career but is very much in the mix for regional and domestic titles. We expect this to be a compelling, and hotly fought 12 rounder for the belt.
Another of the world title challengers on this show is Sho Ishida (28-2, 15), who is best known for his competitive bout with Kal Yafai in the UK. Once tipped as a potential face of Osakan boxing Ishida's career is beginning to struggle and he's likely hoping that a move to Bantamweight will help save give new life to his once promising boxing career. In the other corner is the unbeaten Toshiya Ishii (3-0, 2), the main who faced off with Haruki Ishikawa in that round we shared a little bit earlier. Given Ishii's fun aggressive boxing style and Ishida's need to win to remain relevant this really can't disappoint.
Once again we have saved the best until last with former multi-time world champion Katsunari Takayama (31-8-0-1, 12) taking on multi-time title challenger Reiya Konishi (17-1, 7) in a 6 rounder that could end up being something very, very special. This will be Takayama's first bout since announcing his return to professional boxing earlier this year, afater failing to qualify for the Tokyo games, and there are real questions over what he has left in the tank. On the other hand Reiya Konishi is no push over and has twice fought for world titles, showing his heart and toughness in those bouts. Both of these men like letting their hands go, both get involved in trench warfare far too often and together they have the potential to give us the best damn 6 rounder of 2020!
For those note familiar with Takayama we have have left one final treat below, his incredible war with Francisco Rodriguez Jr, from 2014.
When we talk about the best fighters to never win a world title we see a lot of names thrown out there. For Japanese boxing it's fair to say that Eijiro Murata was probably the best from the country to never win a belt at the top level. The talented Bantamweight went 24-2-3 (15) during his career which ran from 1976 to 1983 and fought for world titles 4 times, he was a long term Oriental champion and an excellent talent who was unfortunate to come through in a time period before the WBO and IBF.
Despite his failure to win a world title Murata is still a notable figure in Japanese boxing history and someone everyone should know more about. With that in mind, here are 10 facts you probably didn't know about... Eijiro Murata!
1-Murata fought out of the Kaneko boxing gym, both as an amateur and as a professional. As a professional he we the gym's third overall champion and their first OPBF champion, following in the footsteps of two national champions.
2-As an amateur Murata ran up a very impressive 78-10 (43) record. One of those 10 losses came to the excellent Hitoshi Ishigaki in the All Japanese championships, which ended up preventing Murata from going to the Olympics.
3-As a professional Murata fought only 2 bouts scheduled for less than 10 rounds. He had his debut, over 6 rounds, his second bout, over 8 rounds, 10 bouts scheduled for 10 rounds, 13 bouts scheduled for 12 rounds and 4 bouts scheduled for 15 rounds.
4-In just his third professional Murata beat the then Japanese Bantamweight champion Hisami Numata in 8 rounds. That was however in a non-title bout, fought above the Bantamweight limit. Notably Numata was just a year removed from a close loss in a world title bout against the then WBC Bantamweight champion Rodolfo Martinez.
5-After winning the OPBF Bantamweight title in December 1978 Murata made 12 defenses before vacating the title around 5 years later. Those 12 defenses still stand as record for the title, with no one else having double digit defenses of the belt.
6-Murata took part in his retirement ceremony in March 1984, in a show that was part of the "Guts Fighting" series.
7-In 1989 Murata began to guide Hiroki Ioka, helping Ioka rebound following his loss to Napa Kiatwanchai.
8-After retiring from his in ring Murata became the chairman of the Eddie Townsend Gym, and trained Noriyuki Komatsu to the OPBF Flyweight title.
9-Although Murata failed in his 4 world title shots at Bantamweight he was from the same prefecture, Shiga, as Shinsuke Yamanaka who famously went on to have a long and successful reign with the WBC Bantamweight title, a belt that Murata challenged Lupe Pintor for in 1981.
10-Eiijiro's older brother Katsumi Murata was part of Japanese band "High Society", as the band's drummer. Katsumi would later leave the band, in 1973, to form "Super Ages", before forming "Question" and later "Katsumi Murata and High Questions"
Recently Matchroom announced that they had signed a promotional deal with Chinese Heavyweight hopeful Zhang Zhilei (21-0, 16), and the response by was somewhat mixed. Even the usually loyal Matchroom fans seemed unsure on the decision with some asking who, others saying it wasn't big news and others questioning why Matrchoom would sign him.
In all honesty it's a strange signing. Zhilei is a talented, well sized, southpaw with surprising speed, solid power and a good boxing brain. He ticks some boxes that are worthy of note. Sadly though it's also a signing of a 37 year old who's career has never got going, and he's 38 early next year, so he's an ancient Heavyweight who has achieved little of note in the professional ranks. Today we are going to look over some things regarding Zhang and how we see him fitting into the Matchroom fold.
"He was a Great Amateur"
There is no argument here, Zhilei was a fantastic amateur and, along with Zou Shiming, one of the standout Chinese amateurs of the 00's and 2010's. He won an Olympic Silver medal in 2008, World Amateur Bronze medals in 2007, and 2009, and Asian Games gold in 2010 and a gold, silver and 2-bronzes at the Asian Championships, from 2004 to 2011.
He was a great amateur, but that was a long time ago, and he's now heading towards 40. Added to that is the fact that he sadly didn't turn professional until he was 31, that's older than Anthony Joshua is now.
Although he was a great amateur, he left turning professional way, way too late. Despite his amateur success he was never the out and out #1 in the world and often clashed with more talented fighters, as we can see below in his 2011 World Amateur Championship bout with Ivan Dychko.
"He's world Ranked":
Matchroom's announcement proudly told us that Zhilei "sits at #11 with the WBO and #12 with the IBF" and if we're being honest that's about as nice as a world title body could possible rank him based on his competition and achievements.
BoxRec rank him at #40 whilst the independent PBO rank him at #33 and they both seem a lot more accurate than a top 15 position.
In terms of pure talent we can understand a potential top 20 position. Zhang is talented, and we are living in a rather poor era for Heavyweights. But on achievement he's only won the very lightly regarded WBO Oriental title and his best win is over Andriy Rudenko, who took the fight at short notice. There is no defense to rank him as highly as the IBF and WBO do.
"I’m the best Heavyweight coming out of China":
In the press release regarding the signing Zhang is quoted as saying "I’m the best Heavyweight coming out of China." Technically that is true, and it can't really be disputed, but it is a strange claim. In total there's only about 10 Chinese Heavyweights out there and most of the others have a single bout to their name. It would be similar to Sheldon Purdy describing himself as the best Minimumweight in the UK. Technically it's true, but it's a rather empty and meaningless claim.
Added to that is the fact that Zhang isn't really fighting in China anyway. From his 21 professional bouts only 4 have taken place in the country with 16 in the USA.
To answer whether he's the best in Asia we need to consider what we mean by "best". He's certainly the most proven Asian Heavyweight in the professional ranks. But that doesn't mean he's the best, and we're not sure we would favour him over the likes of Bakhodir Jalolov, Ivan Dychko, Zhan Kossobutskiy, Mahammadrasul Majidov or even Ruslan Myrsatayev. The reality is that Central Asia is developing a lot of interesting Heavyweight hopefuls, and they are all younger than Zhang.
For those who have missed Jalolov, we've included some footage of him below, and he's significantly younger than Zhang.
He's a big star in China and his fights are huge!:
As mentioned Zhang has fought just 4 times in China as a professional, and has had 16 bouts in the US and 1 in Monaco. Firstly. If he was big in China why wouldn't he have fought more there? Why has he has only fought 1 of his last 7 bouts the country? And most notably why was the venue only half filled for his last bout at home? Don't believe us? See the video below and look at those empty seats!
The reality is that Zhang isn't big news in China. The talk of him headlining at the Bird's Nest in Beijing was always laughable and something that has always seemed frankly ridiculous. The venue can hold up to 91,000, and from a population of 1.3billion that's not a lot, but the reality is that Zhang isn't not a draw in China.
Not only is he unable to sell tickets but there is also a limit to the other financial things to do with boxing. There is no massive PPV market for boxing in China, piracy is rife, and whilst there is money in the sport most of it will come from sponsors, not ticket sales or broadcasters.
In a few fights he'll be ready for a world title:
Whilst this is, potentially, true, it's also not an option that looks viable right now. As we write this in September 2020 there are a number of issues with the statement.
Firstly Zhang is 37. If he has 3 more fights, fighting every 6 months, he will be just weeks away from is 39th birthday before getting a world title fight. Time is not on his side. Time is running down on a talented man who never got the chance to show what a younger version of himself could do.
Secondly the titles are tied up. We essentially have the WBC title, held by Tyson Fury, held up for a year. We have Fury set to face Deontay Wilder for a third time, then a bout with the winner of Dillian Whyte Vs Alexander Povetkin II. That could mean that he's busy right through 2021.
The WBA "Super", IBF and WBO titles are all held by Anthony Joshua. Joshua has a mandatory against Kubrat Pulev set, likely for later this year, and is then expected to have a mandatory against Oleksandr Usyk, which will likely keep Joshua tied up for a year.
We are also being promised a deal has been agreed for Joshua and Fury to fight, by Eddie Hearn who promotes Joshua, Whyte, and Usyk.
Matchroom can match him in house!:
This is what we suspect will happen, but that doesn't mean it's a great thing. Matchroom have been acquiring a lot of Heayweights in recent years. According to their own website they currently promote:
That should be great to get Zhang bouts! Should be the key word however as Hearn failed to get Michael Hunter bouts against the same stable of Heavyweights, and has struggled to get his top Middleweights and Super Middleweights to fight. What we tend to see instead is that Matchroom get a lot of talent in a division then keep it apart. For Zhilei it could actually see him being unable to fight guys in his own stable.
What we expect is that Zhilei will be kept away from fellow Matchroom fighters, will pick up a few C tier wins, climb into the top 10 of at least one title body, then be cashed out, at the age of 38 or 39, against Hrgovic or Bakole. He'll be paid decently for it, sure, but it will very much feel like he's been another pawn in a bigger game of chess.
The truth of it all:
Zhang could, potentially, have been a star. But that's a huge "could".
Firstly he needed to turn professional earlier. If he'd turned over after the 2012 Olympics, the Olympics he fought Joshua in, he could have been 29 when he launched his professional career. That would have given him a little bit of extra time to make a mark. Even better would have been him turning professional after the 2008 Olympics.
He would have also needed a big promoter behind him early on who was willing to invest in the Chinese market. That would have been Top Rank, they were the only ones buying into the Chinese scene, and even then they were doing it around Zou Shiming primarily.
Most importantly he would have needed to be pushed in China, and not the US. Again 16 of his professional bouts have been in the US, that did nothing to build him in China. That did more harm to him being a Chinese star than anything. Had he been more active in China, faced the likes of Kyotaro Fujimoto, Zhiyu Wu, Kotatsu Takehara, Ryu Ueda and Zhang Junlong, he'd have had a chance to be star in China. Instead however they matched him against meaningless opponents in China and killed any hope of him being a star there.
This past week Japanese fight fans at Korakuen Hall saw Kazuki Nakajima (9-0-1, 8) score his latest win, as he dipped his toes at Super Bantamweight and took out Kenta Nomura in 3 rounds. Following that win his promoter, Hideyuki Ohashi, suggested that next year Nakajima would be fighting for a Japanese or OPBF title.
Whilst Nakajima was fighting at Super Bantamweight for the contest he seemed open to fighting at either Bantamweight or Super Bantamweight, and with that in mind we have some interesting for the hard hitter in this weeks "Five For..."
Given travel restrictions in Japan we have kept to just looking at Japanese opponents for Nakajima, but that's not a bad thing given the Japanese depth at Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight.
1-Keita Kurihara (15-5, 13)
With Bantamweight being one of the division's where Nakajima is plying his trade we can't think of a more exciting bout than seeing Nakajima take on Keita Kurihara in what would be a thrilling shoot out. The hard hitting Kurihara is the current OPBF Bantamweight champion but has only defended his belt once since winning it in December 2018. Given the power of both men and their styles this would be a sure fire barn burner, for as long as it lasted. This would be a huge step up in class for Nakajima, but given he wants a title fight he needs to step and this is an ideal match up.
2-Toshiki Shimomachi (12-1-2, 8)
A completely different type of match up for Nakajima would be a clash with the slippery and skilled Toshiki Shimomachi at Super Bantamweight. The talented Shimomachi is the type of fighter who would expose Nakajhima's technical flaws and over-all stiffness, but the bout would always have the potential to end with just a single shot, from either man. Although he's slippery Shimomachi is a heavy handed counter puncher and he could pounce on a mistake from Nakajima, whilst Nakajima's power will mean he's always a threat. A really interesting match, even if it's not the assured fire works of a bout with Kurihara.
3-Yusaku Kuga (19-4-1, 13)
Back to potential wars, a bout between Nakajima and the heavy handed Yusaku Kuga would have the ingredients for a Japanese Fight of the Year. Nakajima is the better boxer, but he is rather rigid at times, and a bit on the predictable side. Kuga, the current Japanese Super Bantamweight champion, is less technical but is rather unpredictable in the ring and can box, brawl or bang. Kuga would likely bring the pressure and the aggression and it would be interesting to see if Nakajima could control the distance and make Kuga pay for his offensive charges. This is, probably, the toughest bout for Nakajima but also the one with the biggest rewards. A win over Kuga would not only see Nakajima become a Japanese champion but also take huge strides towards a world ranking.
4-Yusuke Suzuki (11-3, 7)
Current Japanese Bantamweight champion Yusuke Suzuki is another interesting potential match up, and one that looks easy on paper, but would deliver fireworks. Nakajima's chin, mental toughness and work rate would all be questioned by Suzuki who is insanely tough, improving with every fight and will be hungry to keep the title he won last year. In his title win Suzuki fought through some serious facial damage and gutted out the victory, showing his will to win was incredible and we suspect that would be a major problem for Nakajima, who would begin to question himself when Suzuki was still there 6 or 7 rounds into the bout.
5-Ryoichi Tamura (13-5-1, 7)
If Nakajima can't land a title fight then a bout with Ryoichi Tamura is as good as it gets from a fan perspective. Tamura is insanely tough, has an amazing work rate, heavy hands and real desire to show what he can do in the ring. Technically he is limited, but he's a nightmare to face due to his physicality and strength. If Nakajima is looking to see what he can do at Super Bantamweight a contest with Tamura, himself a former Japanese champion at 122lbs, would serve as a great test for Nakajima before a title fight at the weight.
We've all heard of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and we've decided to put our spin on things with "Six degrees of separation" looking to connect Asian fighters you may never have assumed were connected! Today we connect World Amateur Super Heavyweigth champion Bakhodir Jalolov to former IBF Minmumweight champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin!
Just as ground rules, we're not doing the more basic "A beat B who beat C who beat D" type of thing, but instead we want to link fighters in different ways. As a result we will limit A fought B connections, and try to get more varied connections together, as you'll see here! We also know there are often shorter routes to connect fighters, but that's not always the most interesting way to connect them.
1-Uzbek Super Heavyweight Bakhodir Jalolov may not yet be a big name in professional boxing, but it seems inevitable that he will be in the future. He's however not the only big Uzbek to shine on the amateur scene and another is Ruslan Chagaev, who also won the World Amateur Championships at Super Heavyweight, all the way back in 2001.
2-Whilst Ruslan Chagaev is probably best know for winning the WBA Heavyweight title in the professional ranks he was a legitimately excellent amateur. Among his amateurs wasn't just the World Championships win in 2001 but also the 1998 Asian Games, where he took home the Heavyweight gold. Another gold medal winner at those games was Thailand's Somluck Khamsing.
3-Thailand's excellent Somluck Kamsing was a brilliant boxer, winning Olympic gold in 1996 and winning gold at 2 Asian Games. One thing he was less good at was singing, though that didn't stop him trying, and he recorded several songs with fellow boxer Khaosai Galaxy.
4-In his boxing pomp Khaosai Galaxy was a long reigning WBA Super Flyweight champion, and one of the divisional greats. Another man who held that title was Japanese fighter Nobuo Nashiro, who held the belt twice during his short, but often exciting, career.
5-The teak tough Nobuo Nashiro first won the WBA Super Flyweight title in his 8th bout, becoming one of the few fighters to win a world title in so few fights. Another man who also won their first title in their 8th bout is fellow Japanese fighter Hiroto Kyoguchi, who beat Jose Argumedo in his 8th fight.
6-The title that Hiroto Kyoguchi won by defeating Jose Argumedo was the IBF Minmumweight title. That was the same title that Ratanapol Sor Vorapin held twice in the 1990's, when he dominated the IBF title scene. Although not too well remembered internationally Ratanapol holds the record for the IBF Minmumweight title, having 12 defenses in his first reign and 6 in his second.
(Images courtesy of Olamsport and Komthai)
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).