Over the last few years we have seen more and more sports people using their platform to talk politics. We famously saw Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the American national anthem and we've also seen Colby Covington go the other way, with a pro-Trump stance. We know some fans want to keep sports and politics apart, and we do understand that, but the reality is that two are linked, and have long been linked. From people like Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, George Weah, Alexis Arguello, Irman Khan and Vitali Klitschko sports and politics are do go hand in hand.
Whether you agree with the views of the sports people or not is somewhat irrelevant, it's not going to change things and we will always see sports people show an interest in politics. With that in mind we are going to look at 7 boxers who have, in some way been linked to both politics and sport, in one way or another.
Note - This is not extensive list, a lot of other Asian fighters have involved themselves in both boxing and politics.
Masamori Tokuyama - One Korea
The political affiliation of Masamori Tokuyama is arguably more well known than his boxing career, despite the fact he was a 2-time world champion and managed 9 successful world title defenses.
Tokuyama, who fought 1994 and 2006, was a third generation Zainichi Korean who affiliated with North Korea for much of his boxing Korea and was often seen with the North Korean flag, or the One Korea flag. Unlike many Zainichi Korean's Tokuyama didn't really hide his heritage, and in fact it was used to sell a number of his bouts, such as his two contests with In Joo Cho. He not only fought as a North Korean but also used their national anthem as his ring walk tune and even defended the reported kidnappings of Japanese citizens by North Korea. He was regarded as a hero in North Korea, there was special stamps created in celebration of him and he managed to meet top North Korean officials.
The political views he had drew significant attention and saw him being banned from the USA. After his retirement however he renounced North Korea and became a South Korean citizen, making one of the biggest U-Turns in sport.
Tae San Kil and Heuk San Lee - Political refugee
You can't get much more political than a political refugee and we have a number of those involved in Korean boxing. These include Cameroonian born fighters Tae San Kil and Heuk San Lee, who were both born and raised in Cameroon and have since sought solace in South Korea, with both being given asylum status in their new home.
Both fighters left Cameroon having been in the military and abandoned the Cameroonian team during the 2015 World Military Games. Both cited persecution and abusive treatment as to why they left their team.
Kil, who was born Jean Durandal Etobil Etobil, revealed how his life was in Cameroon when he spoke to the Korea Herald and explained:
"The brutality, torture would torment me physically and mentally. My wage would often be withheld. I had to participate in daily training and maintain ‘the right position,’ even when I was sick,”
Lee, also known as Abdoulaye Assan, swore that he wouldn't return to Cameroon. It was thought that if either did they would have been arrested for deserting the military. The same military that had persecuted them when they were members.
Both failed in their first attempt at getting Asylum status, but thankfully were successful after submitting a petition to the Ministry of Justice, in 2017. Both have managed to carve out small but notable career in their new, adoptive, homeland.
Payao Poontarat - Politician
Thai great Payao Poontarat had a truly remarkable, and yet horribly tragic life, fitting a lot into his 49 years. In 1976 he won an Olympic bronze medal, becoming the first Thai to win an Olympic medal. Following his amateur success he would turn professional and win the WBC Super Flyweight title, before twice losing the Japanese star Jiro Watanabe.
Following his boxing career Poontarat got a role within the police, rising through the ranks there, before later turning his hand to politics, joining the Democratic Party in Thailand.
As a politician Poontarat struggled to begin with but in 2001 he was voted into the Thai House of Representatives, whilst running as a democratic candidate and looked set for a successful career in politics. Sadly any long term hope of his being a major politician ended early when he began suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and in 2006 he passed away at the age of 49.
Takefumi Sakata - Politician
We stay with boxers who have become politicians as we talk about former world champion Takefumi Sakata, who has actually been in politics for around a decade now and has been elected 3 times now.
As a fighter Sakata fought from 1998 to 2010 and won the Japanese and WBA Flyweight titles, fighting the likes of Daiki Kameda, Denkaosan Kaovichit, Roberto Vasquez and Lorenzo Parra. He announced his retirement in January 2011 and just a few months later he was elected to the Inagi City Council. He has been part of that council ever since being re-elected in 2015 and 2019
As a sitting council member Sakata is an independent and has pushed for better education and stronger child care support among other things
Manny Pacquiao - Politician
We end this with the most obvious example of a boxer being involved in politics as finish with Filipino boxing icon and sitting senator Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao, a man who may one day become the leader of the Philippines.
As a boxer Pacquiao has become a national treasure for the Philippines, a multi-weight world champion and the inspiration to a generation of fighters. As a politician he has quickly risen through the ranks, after originally struggling to make a mark, and is now creating a new legacy in politics.
Pacquiao, like Poontarat, actually failed to get elected in his first attempt, losing in the 2007 to Darlene Antonino-Custodio, whilst running as a Liberal in South Cotabato's 1st district. In 2010 he got elected to the Filipino House of Representatives, whilst running under the People's Champ Movement. He would be re-elected 3 years later as part of the UNA, and has remained in office since.
Despite being in office Pacquiao has certainly shared some questionable political beliefs. They have included being against same sex marriage, and being a backer of Rodrigo Duterte war on drugs, which has pushed for capital punishment. A rather big turn around for a man who originally ran as a Liberal back in 2007.
Unlike Poontarat and Sakata we have seen Pacquiao continue to compete in the sport whilst also holding office, and he has had some notable success since becoming a senator.
And a fighter who has tried to avoid politics:
Hyun Mi Choi - Defector
We're back in Korea here with the very interesting case of Hyun Mi Choi. Unlike Tokuyama, who spoke about his allegiance to North Korea, Choi did the opposite, quite literally.
She was first scouted by the North Korean government, who tried to turn into an amateur star and a North Korean boxing hero. The plan had been to take her to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when there was talk of female boxing being the Beijing games. In late 2003/early 2004 Choi, and family, would abandon North Korea and move south of the border, defecting from the North to the South.
Unlike some in similar positions Choi has actually tried to distance herself from politics, stating that she wants to be known for boxing, rather than the defection. Despite that she has played a major role in proving that defectors can be a positive and her career in the ring is one of the few boxing highlights South Korea has had in recent years.
Choi is, unlike some on this list, linked to politics due to things outside of her control and sadly for her she will remain a figure in Korean political discussion, whether she wants to be, or not.
Over the last few days we've seen a lot of talk about Wanheng Menayothin and his 54-0 record. Some look to devalue it, others look to use it to troll fans of Floyd Mayweather Jr, who of course seemed to himself use his unbeaten record and final bout to troll fans of Rocky Marciano. What we've seen is a lot of argument over whether the record should be recognised, which really seems an odd argument to be made, when the record, for all intents and purposes, is little more than a meaningless bit of trivia.
Of course boxing is full of pointless records, records that, at the end of the day, mean very little. The big argument when it comes to Wanheng and whether his 54-0 should be recognised seems to be based on his competition. Though since when did competition become part of recognising an actual record? Who decides when level of competition should, and shouldn't count?
Of course Wanheng's competition wasn't consistently great. In his 54 bouts he had 5 bouts against fighters who were former, future or reigning world champions. If competition was so key however fans would, or should, be giving Roman Gonzalez a lot more respect, especially given that 3 men he beat went on to not just win world titles but to unify them!
With that said we've decided to look at some other rather pointless boxing records, to show that competition doesn't affect the actual record. In fact some of the records out there are there because of how bad some fighters are.
Shortest world title fight:
11 Seconds - Zolani Tete TKO1 Siboniso Gonya (WBO Bantamweight title)
Set in 2017 South African fighter Zolani Tete scored the ultimate "blink and you miss it" world title defense stopping fellow South African Siboniso Gonya in 11 seconds. Gonya had done little to deserve a world title bout, but the record stands.
Prior to Tete's win the record was set at 20 seconds by Gerald McClellan, who stopped Jay Bell in 1993 to defend the WBC Middleweight title. No one is ignoring these two incredibly quick wins due to the level of opponent.
Shortest career of a world title challenger
90 seconds - Arturo Mayan
Not too much is known about Arturo Mayan, who Boxrec list as a Spanish based Mexican but in 1994 he shared the ring with the WBO Minimumweight cham Alex Sanchez, and was stopped in 90 seconds. That wasn't just his debut, but is his only recorded professional bout. Yes he retired 0-1 after this one off contest. We don't imagine this record will ever be beaten, and is one of the most bizarre bits of trivia. One of those great answers when someone asks about the worst world title challenger either.
Fewest fans in attendance for a world title fight
0 Fans - Jason Moloney Vs Joshua Franco
Whilst the WBA "regular" Super Flyweight title might not mean much to many fans it's an interesting bit of trivia to note that the title was on the line for Jason Moloney's bout with Joshua Franco this week. The fight, which was a great one, was the first ever time a "world title" had been fought for in front of 0 fans. Again this is a record that will never be beaten, and can only be matched, but is an intriguing bit of trivia, and something we expect will be never be done again.
Most successive opening round wins
21 - Ali Raymi
When we talk about records that are dubious, but should be recognised, the run of Ali Raymi that saw him stopping his first 22 opponents inside a round should be acknowledged, and is actually a more interesting record than many as it's one that we had seen several fighters try to set. Edwin Valero set a record 18 in a row in 2006 before Tyrone Brunson beat that with his 19th in 2018. Brunson's record was then beaten by Raymi who set the new record at 21 in 2014.
On paper there's no reason why this one couldn't be beaten going forward, but it's certainly not an easy one to beat, and would likely only be possible with the help of a relatively suspect commission.
Fewest Fights to a World title
1-Hyun Mi Choi
One of the records we hear mentioned about Vasyl Lomachenko is how he won a world title in his third professional bout, tying the record of Thai legend Saensak Muangsurin. What both of those men did was incredibly impressive, though the actual record for winning a world title in the fewest fights is a record held by Korean fighter Hyun Mi Choi. The talented Choi, and her family defected from North Korea to South Korea where Choi turned professional and, in her debut, won the WBA female Featherweight title, taking a decision win over Chunyan Xu.
Whilst this record is matchable, in theory, we don't expect anyone to match it. Saying that however several fighters have attempted two win a world title on debut, such as the aforementioned Arturo Mayan, Joko Arter, Joves De La Puz, and Domingus Siwalette.
Over the last few years we've seen a growing number of fighters being put on the fast track to the top, and they've genuinely come from across the globe. We've had Japanese fighters like Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka, Thai's like Knockout CP Freshmart, Ukrainians like Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk as well as Russian based fighter Dmitry Bivol. Whilst not all fast tracked fighters get the success they are looking for, with Lu Bin and Mark Anthony Barriga both coming up short recently, it's been an exciting period to see prospects raced to success.
As well as those who have had chances straight away we've also seen a number of fighters having to wait, though looking like they could be hot shotted straight into the title picture, the likes of Israil Madrimov seemed like they could compete best in the world straight away. Win or lose it's hard to imagine someone like Madrimov wouldn't at least be competitive with someone like Tony Harrison, and that's not us trying to be disrespectful to "Super Bad".
It got us thinking, who has fought for a world title on debut? And how have they done? And if we're being honest our research showed more fighters than expected had actually gotten a shot, with one notable success having done better than just fight for a title but also win it!
Surprisingly from 8 examples we found 5 were from Asia, with the other 3 coming from across America.
The most notable example, and the first we found, was US Heavyweight Pete Radamacher, who made his professional debut in 1957.
The then 28 year old Rademacher had won an Olympic gold medal in 1956 and had amassed a reported amateur record of 72-7. His route to an Olympic gold medal had seen him stop all 3 of his opponents, and do so in a combined 6 rounds before he headed to the professional ranks. On debut, on August 22nd 1957, he faced off with the then 32-1 Floyd Patterson, the Heavyweight champion of the world!
The bout was widely seen as a mismatch, though Rademacher did have success and dropped Patterson in the second round. Sadly however Rademacher was unable to build on that and Patterson roared back, dropping the challenger a total of 7 times before scoring a KO towards the end of round 6.
Despite losing on debut Rademacher would go on to have a pretty good career, going 15-7-1 (8). Those numbers however don't do credit to what he did, with wins over LaMar Clark, a real fraud, George Chuvalo and Bobo Olson, whilst being matched insanely tough through his career. His losses came not only to Patterson but also Zora Folley, Brian London, Doug Jones, Archie Moore and Karl Mildenberger.
The Controversial Lovera
It would be 18 years until we had another debutant challenger, with Paraguayan Rafael Lovera fighting for the WBC Light Flyweight title against Luis Estaba on September 13 1975.
The title had been stripped from Italian Franco Udella, who refused to fight Lovera. Udella had become the inaugural champion in April 1975, beating Valentin Martinez for the title. For some reason the WBC allowed Lovera to fight for the belt, though he was stopped in 4 rounds by Estaba. Estaba himself would go on to hold the belt until 1978, when he was stopped by Freddy Castillo, having had 11 defenses of the belt. Lovera would never return to the ring, retiring 0-1.
1984 see the IBF do a double
Interestingly 1984 saw two different debutant challengers, at least we think so.
We say that because the first of those was Indonesian fighter Joko Arter, and it's impossible to be 100% about Indonesian records. What is known is that Arter was the second Indonesian to fight for a world title, following Thomas Americo, and didn't fair very well in what is thought to be his only professional bout.
The debuting Arter took on Korean fighter Min Keun Oh on March 4th 1984 in a bout for the newly created IBF Featherweight title, and he was stopped in 2 rounds by the Korean. We've not been able to find any other bouts featuring Arter afterwards, though we do know that Keun's reign was regarded as a very disappointing one, and he lost in his third defense.
Interestingly Joko's brother, Dobrak Arter, would go on to have significantly longer career, though his record, like that of Joko is pretty unclear, with reports being that he fought over 80 times, whilst Boxrec have only 23 of his bouts in their database.
Exactly 5 months after Arter lost we have the year's other debutant challenger, Filipino Joves De La Puz. The Filipino took on Japan's influential Satoshi Shingaki in a bout for the IBF Bantamweight title, in what was Shingaki's first defense, and came close to shocking the boxing world, losing a narrow split decision to Shingaki over 15 rounds.
The bout, which was held in Japan, really is an oddity in lots of ways, not just the debut challenge but it was also the first time a Japanese fighter had defended an IBF title on Japanese soil, under the auspices of the renegade IBF Japan outfit. Sadly it appears Puz, like many others on this list, never actually returned to the ring, and he needs to go down as a real "what could have been?" given that a close loss to Shingaki, over 15 rounds, shows there was something about him.
More IBF mess, this time Minimumweight
We stay with the IBF and the IBF Japan for the next debutant title challenger, Masaharu Kawakami. On June 14th 1987 Kawakami fought Kyung Yung Lee in the inaugural IBF Miniumweight title bout, losing in 2 rounds to Lee.
Unlike a number of fighters on this list Kawakami would actually go on to fight further bouts, losing by stoppage 6 months later to Romero Opriasa and then in 1990 to Joe Constantino. However their is a huge asterix to his name when it comes to this, for several reasons. Firstly the graphic on the screen for the bout suggests Kawakami has an 88% stoppage rate and secondly Kawakami had been scheduled to fight in a professional bout prior to face Lee, though that bout was turned into to an exhibition with details regarding the bout being very sketchy. Sadly we've not been able to find in depth details on that contest, but it certainly appears there was something very odd about Kawakami's entire career.
We stick with the IBF for the next debutant challenger, Domingus Siwalette, who fought for the IBF Minimumweight title against Ratanapol Sor Vorapin on September 26th 1993. Siwalette, like Joko Arter, was an Indonesian fighter so we're not totally sure on his professional record, though the suggestion is that this was his professional debut, with their being a struggle for qualified fighters at the weight at the time.
Siwalette was stopped in the 4th round by the Thai world champion and began what was a disappointing career. Like Kawakami he did continue to fighter after his loss, and like Kawakami there is no record, at the time of writing, of him ever scoring a win. Instead Siwalette went 0-10 in his career, losing 3 of his 10 bouts by stoppage. That sounds amazingly bad, though his competition is actually pretty scary. Not only was he beat by Ratanapol, but also Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, Pichitnoi Sithbanprachan and Muhammad Rachman. In just 10 recorded bouts he fought 4 fighters who would hold world titles!
The last man
Only a few months after Siwalette's shot we saw the most recent male debutant world title challenger, Arturo Mayan. Mayan, a Mexican fighter, would get his world title shot on January 7th 1994, when he challenged Puerto Rican Alex Sanchez, and was stopped in 90 seconds in Spain. Sanchez, the then WBO Minimumweight champion was making his first defense, just weeks after winning the title, and would actually go on to make quite a few defenses before coming undone in 5 rounds against the legendary Ricardo Lopez.
Mayan's 90 second loss to Sanchez was the Mexican's only bout, and in fact his career is the shortest of any world title challenger, by quite some margin in fact.
The Solitary Success Story
The most recent world title debutant, that we could find, came in 2008 and was actually female fighter Hyun Mi Choi, a North Korean refugee who is now based in South Korea. Choi did what none of the men could, and ended actually winning the WBA female Featherweight title on her debut, as she defeated Chunyan Xu by unanimous decision on October 11th 2008. Impressively she did this at the age of 17!
Choi no only won her world title debut but then went on to defend it. In fact she made 7 defenses before moving up to to become a 2-weight world champion, adding the WBA female Super Featherweight title to her collection.
Notably Choi has run up wins over a number of good fighters, including Claudia Andrea Lopez, Sandy Tsagouris, Fujin Raika, Diana Ayala and Mayra Alejandra Gomez. At the moment her record stands at 16-0-1 (4), and is set to make her next defense on June 29th, against Japanese challenger Wakako Fujiwara.
Given we are more than 20 years removed from the last male debutant world title challenger it's unlikely we're set to see another any time soon, if ever, though with the rise in female boxing we really wonder if we will, some day soon, see someone match Choi's incredible debut achievement.
(Image courtesy of Ohashi Gym, boxrec and the KBA)
So, May has finally ended and we're now in June. What a perfect time to look back on the fights we've had over the past 31 days.
The action kicked off almost immediately with an intriguing Japanese show on May 1st. The headline bout saw Ryota Murata (7-0, 5) score an impressive TKO against Brazilian fighter Douglas Damiao Ataide (13-2-1, 6) and in fairness to Murata it was the sort of finish that he needed after going the distance in back-to-back fights. There is still a lot of questions regarding how far Murata will go but at times he looked world class, especially with the way he finished of Ataide, who had never previously been stopped.
Although Murata's bout was, technically, top of the bill there was also a world title fight on the card as Takashi Miura (29-2-2, 22) took care of Australian Billy Dib (39-4-0-1, 23) with a very destructive stoppage. This was Miura's 4th defence of the WBC Super Featherweight title and he's now looking to break out his passport and fight in the US or Mexico in the hope of building his international fan base.
The day wasn't all good for Japanese fighters however as Takahiro Ao (27-4-1, 12) got stopped in a WBO Lightweight title bout by Raymundo Beltran (30-7-1, 18). Beltran, who had failed to make weight for the bout, looked significantly bigger than Ao and made light work of the under-sized Japanese fighter. Interestingly a story has since broke that Beltran has failed a drugs test and if that story is confirmed this bout will be changed to a No Contest.
Just a day later we saw the richest fight in history as Manny Pacquiao (57-6-2, 38) and Floyd Mayweather Jr (48-0, 26) finally got it on. Sadly the bout failed to live up to the expectations of many and although the bout made an insane amount of money it really did little to advertise our great sport. Pacquiao, who lost the bout by unanimous decision, did himself no favours following the bout by citing an arm injury for his performance and numerous people have since filed court cases against the hugely popular Filipino.
On May 6th we had more title action with a Watanabe promoted triple header. The most impressive performance here saw WBA Super Featherweight “super” champion Takashi Uchiyama (23-0-1, 19) blast away Thai challenger Jomthong Chuwatana (9-1, 4) in just 2 rounds. Uchiyama looked sensational at times in one of his most impressive performances since winning the title more than 5 years ago. Although the Japanese fighter looked amazing he did later require surgery on his left elbow.
On the same show Uchiyama's stablemate Ryoichi Taguchi (22-2-1, 9) retained his WBA Light Flyweight title with an 8th round TKO of Thai veteran Kwanthai Sithmorseng (49-4-1, 26). Kwanthai brought the fight for the most part but was dropped numerous times by the champion who certainly his harder than his record indicates.
The third champion to defend their title on this show was WBO female Minimumweight champion Kumiko Seeser Ikehara (7-1-2, 3) who managed to take a very close technical decision over Kayoko Ebata (8-6, 4). Sadly for Ebata this was her 4th loss in world title bouts and it now seems unlikely for her to get another.
We saw more Japanese world title action on May 9th as WBC female Minimumweight champion Yuko Kuroki (13-4-1, 6) retained her title with a wide points win against Masae Akitaya (9-6-2, 3). For Kuroki this was the second defense of her title and it seems likely that the 24 year old is only going to get better and better. Sadly for Akitaya this was her 4th set back in world title bouts and the 37 year old, who actually fought on her birthday, is clearly coming to the end of her career.
Also in action on May 9th was the iconic Hozumi Hasegawa (34-5, 15) who put on a stellar performance to clearly defeat the heavy handed Mexican Horacio Garcia (29-1, 21). The bout was Hasegawa's first for more than a year and he looked like a fighter who had more fight in him than we had expected. On the other hand Garcia was disappointing and never looked like really testing the talented Japanese southpaw.
Sadly May 9th wasn't all good for Japanese fighters as it ended with Tomoki Kameda (31-1, 19) suffering his first professional defeat. Kameda, who vacated the WBO Bantamweight title, took on WBA “regular” champion Jamie McDonnell (26-2-1, 12) and despite dropping McDonnell in round 3 Kameda came up short on the cards. The Japanese fighter suffered his first loss though there has since been a lot of talk regarding a rematch later in the year.
On May 12th we saw the ring return of former world champion Kompayak Porpramook (51-5, 36). The Thai had been out of the ring for 21 months following his October 2013 loss to Koki Eto in a FOTY contender. His return was a very low key affair against the debuting Fahpratan Kwanjaisrikot (0-1) and it was no surprise when Kompayak stopped his foe in the 2nd round.
We had one of the biggest upsets of the year, so far, on May 16th when unheralded Filipino Eden Sonsona (34-6-2, 12) shocked previously unbeaten Mexican fighter Adrian Estrella (22-1, 20). Estrella had been touted as a future world title contender though was stopped in the 2nd round by Sonsona who may well find himself capable of getting a sizeable payday next time out.
On the same night we saw Kazakh puncher Gennady Golovkin (33-0, 30) continue his reign of terror in the Middleweight division. Golovkin, defending his WBC “interim” and WBA “super” titles saw off Willie Monroe Jr (19-2, 6) in the 6th round. Monroe had given a spirited effort, especially given that he was down twice in round 2, though it did often seem like Golovkin was toying with his American foe.
May 23rd saw our attention turning to South Korea where Hyun Mi Choi (10-0-1, 3) retained her WBA female Super Featherweight title with a wide decision win over Japanese veteran Chika Mizutani (14-5, 7). Choi was in control through out the bout and looked very talented whilst Mizutani generally looked out classed but brave.
On May 28th we saw Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (34-4-1, 31) score one of his best wins to date as he mowed down Mexican Jose Salgado (34-3-2, 27) in 4 rounds. This bout was for the WBC “silver” Super Flyweight title and with the win Srisaket is now the mandatory challenger for WBC world champion Carlos Cuadras, the man that actually took the title from Srisaket last year.
The final highlight of the month came on May 30th when Japanese teenager Kosei Tanaka (5-0, 2) claimed the WBO Minimumweight title in just his 5th professional bout. The youngster over-came Mexican Julian Yedras (24-2, 13) in a compelling 12 round affair which saw Tanaka show off everything he was capable off in the ring, including a few defensive issues that will hopefully be worked on when he gets back in to the ring. The youngster became the “quickest” Japanese world champion beating the previous record of Naoya Inoue by a single fight.
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
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).