For this edition of "What a Shock!" we're looking at a relatively recent bout between two men who both had genuinely notable careers, and are both active at the time of writing. This upset wasn't a massive one, but was certainly a surprise, especially with the bookies who saw one man as the very clear favourite, and the eventual winner as the clear under-dog.
May 7th 2014
Bodymaker Colosseum, Osaka, Osaka, Japan
Kazuto Ioka (14-0, 9) Vs Amnat Ruenroeng (12-0, 5)
At the time of this bout Japanese fighter Kazuto Ioka was a real star of the lower weights. He had won his first world title in just his 7th professional bout, before unifying the WBC and WBA Minimumweight titles and then winning the WBA Light Flyweight title. In just 14 bouts he had already beaten Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Juan Hernandez, Akira Yaegashi and Felix Alvarado. Aged 25 he was seen as being in his pomp, and was out growing the Light Flyweight division.
With his body maturing and growing Ioka then looked to become a 3-weight world champion, doing what his uncle Hiroki tried to do during his career, and moved up to the Flyweight division. In his first bout at Flyweight he challenged the tricky and slippery IBF champion Amnat Ruenroeng, who had actually beaten Ioka in the amateurs.
At this point in time Amnat wasn't particularly well known as a professional fighter. He had won the world title a few months earlier, beating Rocky Fuentes for the vacant title, but that was his only win of any note. Not only was he untested at the highest level but he was also 34 years old, an age that is ancient for a Flyweight, and this was set to be his first bout outside of Thailand. In fact he was travelling not just out of Thailand for the first time but was heading to Ioka's backyard, with this being Ioka's 13th bout at the Bodymaker Colosseum, which was previously known as the Prefectural Gymnasium in Osaka.
Given his age, his lack of top tier experience and travelling for the bout the odds were stacked against against Amnat. The bookies knew that things were stacked against Amnat, and the British ones made him a 3/1 under-dog for the bout whilst Ioka was a 2/9 favourite. Even with the move up in weight Ioka was expected to be too good for Amnat, who was taking a massive step up in class.
To begin the bout both men looked to find the range with their jab, and it quickly became apparent that Amnat was the crisper fighter, with the longer arms and the quicker handspeed. He seemed to manage to control the distance well for large portions of the opening round. When he was backed up, later in the round he looked very composed under Ioka's pressure and also looked the more physically imposing man, pushing Ioka around when he needed to. Despite looking the more skilled and quicker man, Ioka was the one coming forward and being the aggressor.
Ioka continued to press forward in round 2, but he was regularly tasting jabs on his way in, pressing with limited success, and having no real answers when Amnat let his hands go in short but crisp combinations. As the rounds went on the handspeed, reach and combinations of Amnat continued to score at ease against Ioka. Ioka was struggling to get close, was struggling to get his shots off and struggling to make his pressure count for much. He had moments but struggled round after round to have any sustained success.
In the middle rounds Ioka tried to turn the bout around, and had more success than he had earlier on, but still struggled to build moment. When he won rounds he seemed to win competitive ones, and rarely stamped his foot on the fight, with Amnat always responding. Even when he pinned Amnat on the ropes, as he did for many of the middle rounds, Ioka was still being caught by clean counter shots and having his aggression used against him. He looked the aggressor, and the man putting so much effort into everything he did, but the relaxed, calm counter punching of Amnat really caught the eye of the judges, with his uppercuts being fantastic.
In round 10 Amnat was deducted a point, as he hit on the break. This was one of the first times we had seen some of the sneaky, dirty tricks that Amnat had in arsenal which he would later become well known for. Despite the deduction he looked the more relaxed fighter whilst Ioka looked like he was the one chasing the bout, as if he knew he had to do more. He may have been at home but that didn't assure him of victory, like it might in some countries, with 3 neutral judges scoring this bout.
The desire to turn the tables from Ioka was clear in round 11, when he raced at Amnat to begin the round, again forcing the Thai backwards, but again taking clean, accurate counter shots as he came forward. It was clear that the strength, power and physicality that Ioka had at the lower weights wasn't helping him here. Instead Amnat was able to tie him up when he wanted, which he did repeatedly in round 11, further frustrating the Osaka local.
Ioka seemed to know he needed a knockout at the end of round 11, and came out for the final round with aggression in mind, landing a nice body shot early and pressing hard through the round. He knew he needed to get inside, and get to work up close, neutralising the reach of Amnat. Sadly for Ioka Amnat also seemed to know that, and tied him up when he got close, stifling Ioka's aggression.
After 12 rounds it seemed like a close bout, but one where Amnat had fiddled his way to victory, even with the point deduction. It wasn't pretty, but the clean punching of Amnat early on, and the counters in the middle of the bout had put him in the lead early on. A lead that he protected with some ugly tactics late on. It was a performance that he seemed confident was enough to earn him a victory, whilst Ioka looked less confident in his corner. In fact Ioka looked like he knew he hadn't quite done enough.
Then we got the scorecards. The first went to Ioka 114-13, and got a roar from the crowd. The second went to Amnat, 115-1112. Then we had the third score, 119-109, a completely bizarre score either way. There was then had a pause, before the announcer confirmed that the title was staying with Amnat.
Amnat would later go on to record 4 more defenses of the title before losing it to John Riel Casimero in 2016. In the years that followed he would compete at the Olympics and in Kickboxing whilst also becoming a high class gatekeeper in Thailand, where he is still an active fighter.
As for Ioka he would later go on to win the WBA Flyweight title and the WBO Super Flyweight title, becoming the first Japanese man to become a 4-weight world champion, and despite this loss has remained one of the most significant figures in Japanese boxing.
Note - Fight begins about 11 minutes into the video below.
On New Year's Eve we saw WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (26-2, 15) put in one of his career defining performances as he stopped Kosei Tanaka in 8 rounds to record his second defense of his title. The 4-weight Japanese world champion went into the bout as the under-dog with the bookies, though pulled out an excellent win over the younger man who was looking to etch his name in the history books. The bout saw Ioka drop Tanaka twice and force referee Michiaki Someya to save Tanaka midway through round 8.
With the win now under his belt and with Ioka able to look forward, towards the future, we thought there was no better person to look at for one of our regular Five For articles.
For those new to this series this is where we look at five potential bouts for a fighter to take next, looking at who’s available and who would make the most sense for the fighter at hand, in this case Ioka.
For the sake of this, and given what is expected in 2021, we will not be including Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman Gonzalez or Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. They are obviously 3 men we would love to see Ioka take on next, but the reality is that their calendar for the next 9 months are so will make them unavailable, with Gonzalez Vs Estrada II booked for March and Srisaket expected to take on the winner. Ideally however Ioka Vs the winner of that trio would certainly be the bout we want at the end of 2021 in the now traditional New Year’s Eve show from Japan.
1-Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22)
The obvious #1 choice for Ioka’s next bout, all things considered, is IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas with the bout seeing the two men unifying the WBO and IBF titles around the Summer or Autumn time. The two men are the two champions sitting outside of the Gonzalez Vs Estrada situation and the only chance either will get to unify before the very end of 2020. The match up would be a compelling one between a technically excellent Ioka and a very sharp and naturally bigger Ancajas, who would also bring his southpaw stance to the fight. For Ioka this really is a chance to unify, to return to a US ring and a brilliant opportunity to showcase what he can do against a man who is somewhat known to an American fan base. As for Ancajas it would help silence some of his critics who have condemned his long, but incredibly poor, IBF world title reign. For both men it would be a big bout, and given the situation with Gonzalez, Estrada and Srisaket, there really aren't that many big bouts out there at Super Flyweight.
2-Francisco Rodriguez Jr (33-4-1, 24)
If Ioka can’t secure a big unification bout with Ancajas he’ll likely want to face someone who can make him look good, can bring the action and make for an exciting fight. With that in mind Mexican warrior Francisco Rodriguez Jr seems to tick a lot of boxes, and could, potentially, be lured over to Japan for a Summer fight. Rodriguez is a former unified Minimumweight champion, like Ioka, he’s also well respected in Japan thanks to his 2014 FOTY bout with Katsunari Takayama, and he makes for fun battles. He would be the very clear under-dog against Ioka, where natural size and boxing skills would play a big factor, but he would make for very fun action. It’s also worth noting that Rodriguez is expected to become the #1 contender when the WBO re-issue their rankings, and this would be a great chance to request an early mandatory, get it out of the way and have Ioka free for New Year’s Eve with no obligations to defend against anyone in particular.
3-Charlie Edwards (16-1-0-1, 6)
We’re thinking a little bit outside of the box here, but bear with us a moment as we try to explain why Ioka should consider Charlie Edwards. Throughout the history of boxing only one Japanese world champion has ever won a world title bout in Europe, and that was Naoya Inoue when he stopped Emanuel Rodriguez in Scotland. Notably Inoue’s WBA “regular” Bantamweight title wasn’t on the line for that bout, meaning no Japanese fighter has ever defended a world title in Europe. For Ioka there’s a great chance here to travel over to England and take on former WBC Flyweight champion Charlie Edwards, create another little bit of history and improve his global profile. With Edwards being promoted by Frank Warren the bout would get UK TV exposure on BT Sport and ESPN+ in the US would likely pick the bout up, building Ioka’s profile on both sides of the Atlantic. It would also open the door wider for the Ancajas fight, with Ancajas being promoted by Bor Arum and having his fights aired on ESPN+. Admittedly we suspect Ioka would prefer to fight in either Japan or the US, but he has been a man who has chased his place in history, and becoming the first Japanese fighter to successfully defend in Europe would be another big historical moment in his legacy.
4-John Riel Casimero (30-4, 21)
As mentioned a moment ago Ioka has chased history. He won the first unification bout between Japanese world champions from two world title bodies, when he beat Akira Yaegashi, he was the first male Japanese 4 weight world champion and he was involved in the first world title fight between 2-Japanese multi-weight world champions. With that in mind a move up to Bantamweight wouldn’t be the biggest surprise for Ioka before his career is over. At Bantamweight there is a very logical option there for him, and that would be WBO champion John Riel Casimero. Physically the two men are about the same size, they are very similar in age and in terms of legacy they are both multiple weight world champions, with Casimero being a 3 weight champion himself. If Ioka wants to make a splash at 118lbs this is a very logical bout to make, and a relatively simple one to make.
Now before we get into our fifth choice we really need to explain why we’ve ignored the proverbial elephant in the room at Bantamweight, the Ioka Vs Naoya Inoue bout. This is a fight we’ve seen mentioned for years though is one that might as well be forgotten about now as there is no way TBS would allow Ioka to fight on Fuji TV, and Fuji won’t allow Inoue to go the other way. The only way this bout could happen is if it was in the US, with WOWOW broadcasting it live whilst TBS and Fuji make do with some form of tape delay. It’s possible, but highly unlikely.
5-Khalid Yafai (26-1, 15)
Former WBA Super Flyweight champion Khalid Yafai hasn’t fought since losing the WBA title to Roman Gonzalez in February 2020. Despite that loss Yafai could be a very interesting opponent for Ioka for a potential US bout, as he looks to establish himself as premier fighter in the division. The trio of Gonzalez, Estrada and Srisaket are all aligned with DAZN, and so too is Yafai, via Matchroom Sports, so for Ioka to try and make a super fight more appealing he may also need to affiliate himself with DAZN in the West. To do that a bout with Yafai on the service in mid 2020, potentially on the same card as Srisaket Vs the Gonzalez/Estrada winner, would really help build up the Super Flyweight super fight, and help showcase Ioka to a US audience, many of whom missed his bout with Tanaka. Yafai wouldn’t be the toughest test out there, and Gonzalez really did give him a beating, but it may well be the smartest move form Ioka and team if they are wanting to grow his profile in the US. A bout in the US looks to be a smart move for Ioka, especially given how US broadcasters turned their nose up at his bout with Tanaka, and Yafai gives him that option here.
The final major bout of 2020 saw WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (26-2, 15) successfully defending his title with an 8th round TKO win over 3-weight world champion Kosei Tanaka (15-1, 9). The bout was a brilliant ending to the year and saw fans around the world tune in to see an all Japanese world title bout that delivered action, excitement, skills and thrills. After a 2020 that had given us heartache, disappointment, frustration and setbacks the bout was the perfect way to put 2020 behind and move into 2021.
With the bout now viewed by almost all the hardcore boxing fans we’ve decided to re-watch it and give our feed back on the bout as we again give a bout the Five Take Away treatment.
1-Japan can deliver the big fight feel
We usually associate the big fight feeling to big bouts in the US and the UK but this bout proved that Japan can deliver that same feeling as well. From the pre-fight build up and the buzz among hardcore boxing fans to the walk in and the in ring action this really was a big fight. It may not have matched the biggest all-Japanese fighters ever, but it was still a bout that had all the hallmarks of a big, super fight event. Sadly it’s a huge shame, still, that no US broadcaster picked up the rights, though it’s fantastic that broadcasters around the world did, giving fans a chance to see it without needing to resort to Japanese streams. It was a shame that the bout came in 2020 with a partially empty arena, and with fans needing to wearing masks, rather than being allowed to roar and cheer their support for the fighters. Despite the minor complaints this was still a special event, and credit to all involved in putting it on.
2-Ioka is incredibly adaptable
Kazuto Ioka is one of the most overlooked and under-rated fighters in the sport, and has been for years. The talented 4-weight world champion hasn’t had success by fluke or by chance, instead he’s had due to an excellent boxing brain and fantastic skills. Those skills have been honed amazingly well in recent years, and since linking up with Ismael Salas we have seen Ioka become more adaptable and smarter than ever. In recent fights Ioka has mixed up his gameplans and tactics, he’s adapted to his opponents, and hasn’t just relied on fighting his style. Instead he seems more apt at neutralising his opponents. A year ago we saw him up against the taller, longer and faster Jeyvier Cintron, and it was Ioka who took center ring and tried to rip Cinton’s body apart and neutralise his movement. This time around Ioka played the role of counter puncher, neutralising the speed of Tanaka, and again cracking the body. A few fights back he neutralised the power of Aston Palicte. To beat Ioka you need to be able to out think him, and very, very few fighters are able to do that. In many ways that’s why a potential dream fight between Ioka and Juan Francisco Estrada is so high on the wish list for boxing fans around the world.
3-Tanaka would have wanted an interim fight
When Kosei Tanaka vacated the WBO Flyweight title in early 2020 it seemed like his intention was to have a bout at Super Flyweight to adapt to the weight, and then to take on Ioka at the end of the year. Sadly 2020 didn’t allow him to have that bout and to test himself at the weight or to get used to fighting against the power of Super Flyweight. A bout against a top 25 type guy at the weight would have helped prepare him for Ioka. We suspect that 2021 will see him bouncing back and getting a bout or two to adapt to the weight, get used to things at 115lbs and in 2022 we wouldn’t be surprised at all by him getting a second world title fight. He looked good at the weight, he looked sharp, and he seemed very strong, but a little ill prepared for what would happen when a fighter, like Ioka, could take his power. Thankfully for Tanaka he’s the young gun at 115lbs, and the likes of Ioka, Estrada, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Roman Gonzalez are all the other side of 30. The general shift he was speaking of before this bout will happen, but it might be a year or two away from happening.
4-Commentary can really add to a fight
One of our biggest complaints through 2020, in general, has been the appalling quality of commentary in boxing, with the likes of DAZN, Sky Sports, BT Sports and ESPN having some awful commentary. For this bout the contest the English language commentary, done by the excellent Corey Erdman, and the Japanese commentary, let action speak for itself.
The Japanese commentary, as always, intensifies when the action picks up, they don’t feel the need to speak for every moment of every round. Pauses add to action, they allow the fighters to take center stage and simply compliment what is going on in the ring. It’s an art form.
As for the English commentary that was fantastic, it added to the occasion, was well researched, by someone who seems to actually care about the fight they are watching, caring about the men, and realising that fans watching might not be massively familiar with the fighters. It takes an excellent commentator to educate fans without talking down to them, and to add to the event and that’s exactly what we got here. Compare the commentary done here, by a single person, to the commentary done by other channels when there’s a team and the quality is massively different. This added to and improved the fight, which was already fantastic.
5-Michiaki Someya continues to shine
Through this series we’ve been praising referees a lot more than we expected, and Michiaki Someya has received praise several times during this series for being an excellent referee. He has consistently impressed with his ring positioning, his awareness and his ability to know when to step in and when to let the action flow. Time and time again he has been showing exactly what he’s capable of on the domestic stage. This time around he was given a chance to show what he could do to a wider audience and once again he was flawless. The way he stopped the bout was given widespread praise, especially with the way Tanaka essentially went limp for a moment in his arms, proving the stoppage wasn’t an early one, but that certainly wasn’t the only outstanding bit of refereeing here. Little things like making sure Ioka was in the neutral corner after the knockdowns before seeing to Tanaka were also very clear. His instructions throughout the bout were clean and he only involved himself when he had to. Through the entire of 2020 Someya has been fantastic and we really hope he gets more big bouts like this.
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 champion Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym to Kazuto Ioka.
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-Talented Thai former world champion Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym is a really interesting fighter who is perhaps best known in the west for failing a medical prior to facing Guillermo Rigondeaux. Despite that issue he had a great career that included wins against the likes of Ricardo Cordoba, Leo Gamez, Somsak Sithchatchawal, Bernard Dunne, Satoshi Hosono and Shoji Kimura. His debut came on a card that also featured Sornpichai Kratingdaenggym.
2-The talented Sornpichai Kratingdaenggym was another Thai world champion, though was a former world champion by the time he shared a card with Poonsawat. He had originally held the WBA Flyweight title, from 1999 to 2000. He lost the belt in 2000 to the controversial Eric Morel whilst seeking his second defense of the title.
3-Eric Morel is certainly a controversial figure, but we're not going to get into our views of Morel's out of the ring activities as we're here to speak about boxing. In regards to boxing one of Morel's most controversial wins was his robbery of Filipino fighter Gerry Penalosa in 2010, which was a terrible decision.
4-Sadly for Gerry Penalosa his loss to Eric Morel wasn't the only dodgy decision he suffered, in a career that was plagued with questionable judging and officiating. Despite the poor judging Penalosa actually had a brilliant career, scoring more than 50 wins in a career that ran from 1989 to 2010. One of his standout wins was his 2007 KO win over the big punching Mexican Jhonny Gonzalez for the WBO Bantamweight title.
5-Hard hitting Mexican Johnny Gonzalez has fought a number of Asian fighters, not just Penalosa. These include Toshiaki Nishioka, Hozumi Hasegawa, Ratanachai Sor Vorapin, Akihiko Katagiri, Kazuki Hashimoto, Hurricane Futa, Hirotsugu Yamamoto and Jessie Cris Rosales. Of those the most notable was his 2011 win over Hozumi Hasegawa at the World Memorial Hall in Kobe, in April 2011.
6-The World Memorial Hall hasn't been used too often as a venue for professional boxing, but it has hosted a number of big bouts and big fighters and big fighters. One of those fights was the February 2011 bout between Kazuto Ioka and Oleydong Sithsamerchai, which saw Ioka claim the WBC Minimumweight title with a 5th round win over the previously unbeaten Thai, announcing himself on the world stage!
With no fights currently taking place we've had a bit of time on our hands, and with that in mind we've decided to look at the sport in terms of how divisions sit, and do something that had previously been requested. The Asian divisional top 10's. We'll be starting this at Minimumweight and working our way through the divisions over the coming days and weeks. We know there will be some debate about some rankings and there is certainly some area for discussion, and that is certainly not a bad thing at all!
One of the most interesting division's in the sport, and particularly in Asia, is the Super Flyweight division. The division has had the spotlight shined on it a lot in recent years with, and has had more than it's share of great bouts. Here we look at the best in Asia.
1-Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (47-5-1, 41)
Although no longer holding a world title former 2-time WBC champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai is widely regarded as one of the best of the best in the division. The now 33 year old Thai has the best record in the division, with wins against Yota Sato, Jose Salgado, Roman Gonzalez, twice, and Juan Francisco Estrada. Blessed with heavy hands, an iron chin, freakish size and an awkward southpaw stance he's a very tricky man to beat. He was beaten last time out, in his second bout with Juan Francisco Estrada, though that was at partly down to some of the stupidest tactics seen in a world title bout. We do wonder how much longer Srisaket can continue to compete at the top, 33 is old for a man in the division and with 46 fights he has taken damage but for now he's in the divisional elite.
2-Kazuto Ioka (25-2, 14)
WBO champion Kazuto Ioka is perhaps not the top Asian in the division but is almost certainly the Asian money man with TBS and SANKYO backing him heavily. The Japanese fighter won the WBO last year to become the first Japanese male 4 weight champion and has since defended the belt once. A tactically smart boxer-puncher, with some of the best body shots in the sport, he's managed to look like a strong and complete fighter at 115lbs, not something we expected when he was looking like an under-sized Flyweight a few years ago. With wins against McWillians Arroyo, Aston Palicte and Jeyvier Cintron in his last 4 bouts, to go alongside a close loss to Donnie Nietes the Osakan has proven his value at the weight. At 31 years old time is certainly not running down on his career, and he's got the perfect mix of skills and experience.
3-Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22)
Current IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas has one of the longest active reigns of any world champion in the sport, and the 28 year old "Pretty Boy" also has one of the most significant promoters on the planet, with Bob Arum behind him. He began his IBF title reign back in 2016, when he beat McJoe Arroyo, and has made 8 defenses of the belt. Whilst that sounds impressive some of his opposition during his reign has been disappointing. Despite some of his competition being questionable he does have noteworthy wins over Arroyo, Israel Gonzalez and Jonas Sultan, among others. When Ancajas is in full flow he's a joy to watch, though his draw against Alejandro Santiago Barrios does leave us wondering how he'd cope with some of the more technical capable fighters at 115lbs.
4-Kosei Tanaka (15-0, 9)
Another Japanese multi-divisional champion is Kosei Tanaka, who signalled his intent to move up in weight earlier this year, vacating the WBO Flyweight title to join the ranks at Super Flyweight. It's hard to know what he's going to be like at 115lbs but the reality is that he's move proven, as a fighter, than anyone outside of the top 3 in the division. He's the mandatory for Ioka, and they could potentially clash later this year if the suspension on boxing is lifted. The 24 year old has a lot of questions to answer at the weight, but given his speed, will to win, under-rated power and his skills he could be a genuine handful. His ranking is based, at least somewhat, on what he's done at lower weights, but see him fitting right into the mix at the top of the division when he returns to the ring.
5-Sho Ishida (28-2, 15)
It's really hard to know how go Sho Ishida is. When he's been matched against better competition he's come up short, losing to Kal Yafai and Israel Gonzalez, but by that same token he has shown flashes of brilliance and looks like a talent. At least at times. The tall and rangy Osakan is a former stable mate of Ioka's and it's clear he has learned a few things from Ioka, but it very much feels like he's missing a higher gear. It would be great to see him in with some top regional fighters in the next year or two to see if he can sink or swim at the Oriental level. Right now it feels very much like his Japanese title reign, which ran from August 2014 to mid-2016, is a very long time ago and he's not managed to replicate that level of performance since.
6-KJ Cataraja (11-0, 9)
At 24 years old the time is rife for KJ Cataraja to go from being one of the best kept secrets in Asian boxing to being a star. The former amateur standout had been matched well early on, and was fighting in 8 round bouts as early as his third contest. Sadly it took a bit too long for him to progress into facing a genuine test, with his 2018 bout against Victor Hugo Reyes being his one true test so far. He's ready to be let off the leash, but ALA Promotions, who guide his career, had a horror in 2019 rarely putting on shows and seeing Nietes vacate his title. If ALA can't push Cataraja forward when boxing returns to the Philippines we wouldn't be surprised by the youngster leaving the ALA stable and following Mark Magsayo in the pursuit of bigger and better things. He's too good to waste his career against the likes of Delfin De Asis and Crison Omayao, the two opponents he faced in 2019.
7-Ryusei Kawaura (7-0, 4)
Of course Cataraja isn't the only promising youngster ready to be unleashed when boxing returns on a wider scale in Asia. Another is Ryusei Kawaura, the protege of Hiroshi Kawashima. The unbeaten Kawaura only fought twice in 2019 but his competition there was solid with wins against Renoel Pael and Joy Joy Formentera. He proved his boxing brain and toughness in those bouts, and was asked questions that he had to answer. Although he's yet to fight beyond 8 rounds it's worth noting he has gone 8 completed rounds in 3 of his last 4 bouts and doesn't appear to have struggled with that distance so far. Hopefully 10 or 12 rounds will come for him in the next year or two and he's got skills, a smart manager and a lot of potential. One thing he will need to do however is get more eyes on him, and so far he's lacked any form of TV coverage, something that will need to change sooner rather than later.
8-Kongfah CP Freshmart (32-1, 16)
Kongfah CP Freshmart, aka Jakkrawut Majoogoen, is arguably the forgotten man of the division.The 25 year old Thai has been a professional since 2013 and his only career defeat came way back in 2015 to Daigo Higa. Since then he has reeled off 18 wins including victories over Renz Rosia, Ryoji Fukunaga and Hyuma Fujioka. Whilst much of his competition has been poor he has been climbing up the rankings based on his competition, and his win over Fukunaga is certainly one worthy of note, as he also fits into the top 10. Talented, with respectable power, good speed, work rate and toughness he could go on to be a player in the division, but really will need to step up his competition when boxing resumes in Thailand.
9-Ryoji Fukunaga (12-4, 12)
Current WBO Asia Pacific champion Ryoji Fukunaga scored a career defining win last time out, when he stopped Froilan Saludar. Prior to that win he had done little of note since winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year back in 2016. His career seemed to go off the tracks, especially when he suffered back to back losses in 2018 to Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart, but the win over Saludar has given the 33 year old a major win and a chance to build something from. Sadly at 33 years old his potential is limited, but with his power and will to win he'll make for some interesting fights, until father time takes him down. It'd be interesting to see him in with the likes of KJ Catraja or Ryusei Kawaura in the future, but we feel the youngsters both have the tools to out point Fukunaga, even at this point their career's.
10-Froilan Saludar (31-4-1, 22)
Once tipped as a future world champion the 31 year old Froilan Saludar rounds out our top 10. The former WBO Asia Pacific champion is very much a fighter who has failed to reach the heights expected of him, but yet has remained a constant enigma. At his best he is very good, but it's hard to know how good he really is when he keeps losing his biggest bouts. Set backs against McWilliams Arroyo, Takuma Inoue, Sho Ishida and Fukunaga show he isn't world class, but he's very much in the mix at the regional level. He's skills, heavy handed and dangerous, but question marks about his durability and stamina will always hang over him and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him become a regional gate keeper in the coming years.
On the bubble
Kenta Nakagawa, Jonas Sultan, Takayuki Okumoto, Jade Bornea and Yuta Matsuo
Note - Donnie Nietes has not been considered as he has been inactive for over a and would be at least 38 by the time he returns to the ring. His long break from the ring may not have been confirmed as a retirement but it's impossible to know what he'll have left it he returns.
For a second week running we've decided to take an international fighter and look at 5 Asian options that they may consider for a future bout, following on from something similar we did last week in regards to Emanuel Navarrete. This week things are a little bit different however, as the international fighter we look at is very closely linked to Japan, and actually fights for a Japanese promoter. Despite that we thought it was worth talking about Nicaraguan star Roman Gonzalez (49-2, 41) in our second international "Five For...".
Thankfully due to Gonzalez's links to Japan and comments made after his recent win over Kal Yafai it's obvious he is willing to return to the Land of the Rising sun for bouts, and there's where two of the bouts would likely take place, though we certainly have other potential match ups for Chocolatito.
1-Kazuto Ioka (25-2, 14)
The bout that Gonzalez himself seems to be chasing is arguably the most interesting between himself and an Asian fighter, with that being a clash with WBO champion Kazuto Ioka, . Gonzalez, the current WBA champion, would be looking to unify with Ioka and this is a bout between two men who have circled each other for much of their careers, but things never really lined up. By the time Ioka won his first world title, the WBC Minimumweight title, Gonzalez had left the division. By the time Ioka moved up to 108lbs Gonzalez was on his way out of the division and by the time Ioka was looking settled at Flyweight Gonzalez had moved up again. Neither man blatantly avoided each other, but the windows for the two men to fight were rather slim, they existed but only for a matter of months rather than years. Now they are in the same division, both are world champions and this would be a very special unification bout between 2 men who have held world titles in 4 weight classes.
2-Donnie Nietes (42-1-5, 23)
Another potential bout between a couple of 4-weight world champions would see Gonzalez take on Filipino veteran Donnie Nietes. The Filipino has chased this bout publicly but has failed to secure it, with his team not really having the financial clout they once did. On paper this would have been a brilliant match up when the two men were in their primes, but with his 38th birthday fast approaching, and with more than a year away from the ring, we really need to wonder what Nietes has left in the tank. At his best the talented Filipino was a nightmare for anyone, with fantastic skills, and a brilliant high level IQ, but would that ever have been enough to deal with the power, poise and pressure of Gonzalez? This is probably a safer option for Gonzalez to face next, but in reality Gonzalez has rarely been able having "safer" fights as title defenses.
3-Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22)
Another potential bout that would see Gonzalez not only facing a Filipino, instead of Neites, but also getting a chance to unify, instead of facing Kazuto Ioka, is a bout with Jerwin Ancajas. The long reigning, though somewhat underwhelming, IBF champion has the longest active reign in the division, dating back to September 2016, but has yet to get that A level championship type of bout. He's beaten a mix of B tier contenders, and worse, but hasn't yet notched a real top tier defense of the IBF crown. If this bout takes place it would finally give Ancajas a chance to face an A tier opponent, and he would have significant size advantages over the Nicaraguan, but Gonzalez would almost certainly be the betting favourite.
4-Kosei Tanaka (15-0, 9)
Not the most likely choice, but an interesting choice all the same, would be a bout between Gonzalez and 3-weight world champion Kosei Tanaka. Both men are chasing a bout with Kazuto Ioka, and a clash between the two would essentially be an eliminator, of sorts, to face the WBO king. In reality neither man needs this bout, but it would be a brilliant match up with the old veteran looking to tame the young lion. Gonzalez would be strongly favoured, and would be expected to take out Tanaka, but Tanaka has shown an incredible will to win, and has the speed to make life difficult for someone like Gonzalez. The bout would test what Gonzalez has left, and give Tanaka not only a chance to become a 4-weight champion but also a chance to announce himself internationally. It's an unlikely bout to happen but one worth thinking about, and a really fun one to imagine. Sadly though if Gonzalez is 80% the fighter he once was he would likely grind down Tanaka around the middle rounds.
5-Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (47-5-1, 41) III
We've mostly looked at bouts where Gonzalez would be the favourite, but lets finish this by looking at a bout where the Nicaraguan wonder would be the under-dog, a bout with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Or rather a third bout with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. The heavy handed Thai is the only man to have beaten Gonzalez, having done so twice, and is known to be looking to get back into the world title mix in 2020. For Srisaket the bout would be against a fighter he knows he can beat, and beat decisively, as he did in the rematch. It would also be a bout where Srisaket can, after Gonzalez's last performance, come in knowing the Nicaraguan isn't a shot fighter, and is still very much a top name at Super Flyweight. As for Gonzalez it would give him a chance to avenge his defeats and beat the only man to have beaten him during his legendary career.
Of course when it comes to Roman Gonzalez the modern day legend has numerous other options out there, including a second bout with Juan Francisco Estrada, or a potential bout with one of the current Flyweight kings such as Moruti Mthalane or Artem Dalakian, or unbeaten Australian Andrew Moloney. There are so many options out there for him that his win over Kal Yafai opens the doors to yet another amazing champter for Gonzalez, and a chapter we are really lookign forward to seeing play out of the coming months and years.
One of the world champions who defended their world title at the very end of 2019 was WBO Flyweight champion Kosei Tanaka (15-0, 9). The man from Chukyo made his third defense of the title in impressive fashion, putting on a near punch perfect display against Chinese challenger Wulan Tuolehazi, before clinically closing the showing with some sensational uppercuts.
With 3 defenses behind him and a potentially massive 2020 ahead of him it seems we're now at an ideal time to give Kosei Tanaka the "Five For" treatment, and look at five potential match ups for the "KO Dream Boy". Here are 5 options he, and manager Kiyoshi Hatanaka, should be looking at if they want to have a huge year!
1-Moruti Mthalane (39-2, 26)
A bout between Tanaka and South African Moruti Mthalane would be a sensational match up between two men who are incredibly talented and smart in the ring, but go about things very differently. Mthalane, the current IBF champion, is a defensively sound fighter, with clean punches and a willingness to press forward behind a tight guard to force mistakes and open up counter opportunities. Tanaka on the other hand is a speedy fighter who likes to let his hands go, and will involve himself in a war far too easily. This could end up being a brilliantly exciting, yet high skill, war, though with Mthalane now in his late 30's we'd want this sooner rather than later.
2-Kazuto Ioka (25-2, 14)
Leading into the end of year show to close out 2019 it seemed TBS and the WBO were both building to a potential all Japanese show down between Tanaka and WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka. The bout would see Tanaka leaving the Flyweight division, just as it seems to be heating up, but for a bout against a Japanese icon like Ioka, with a 4th divisional title on the line it'd have been hard to fault Tanaka for going this route. Sadly since the show on New Year's Eve this bout has began to seem unlikely, at least for now. It seems both are on different paths, and if they do cross, it could well be 2 or 3 years from now.
3-Julio Cesar Martinez (15-1, 12)
Although it seems WBC champion Julio Cesar Martinez won't be available until the middle of the year, given he's pencilled into defend his title in late February, this is still a match up that genuinely intrigues us. On one hand you'd have Tanaka, a lightning quick boxer-puncher, blessed blink and you miss it speed. On the other hand you have "El Rey", a destructive freak of nature, who walks through opponents, with intense pressure and brutal power. Speed against power is always fun to see, and we can't help but view this as a super competitive bout between men with very different abilities, but abilities that would gel well. Oh and it'd be a unification bout!
4-Artem Dalakian (19-0, 14)
Another unification bout, and another we'd have to wait until summer for, would be a clash between Tanaka and WBA champion Artem Dalakian. Tanaka might not yet have truly shined as a Flyweight, though has beaten decent competition in his defenses, but Dalakian has completely wasted the good will of his title win. Despite being an excellent fighter Dalakian has done little of note since winning the belt in the US against Brian Viloria. Dalakian set to make his 4th defense in February, against Josber Perez, and that should be his final easy bout. With Dalakian turning 33 in August he needs big bouts, and he needs them soon, what better than facing Tanaka, in a unification bout in summer?
5-Sho Kimura (18-3-2, 11) II
The dark horse bout, though it really shouldn't be, would see Tanaka take on former foe Sho Kimura in a rematch of their 2018 Fight of the Year. Their first bout was a sensational war that helped put Tanaka on the map, and for him to give Kimura a chance to reclaim his title would be the right thing to do. If we ended up with a rematch half as good as their first contest then we wouldn't be complaining at all! We do imagine Tanaka would win a rematch easier than he won their first bout, but we'd still absolutely love to see these two share the ring one more time!
In the final world title bout of 2019 we saw WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (25-2, 14) make his first defense. After the bout there was 3 names linked to him, and whilst one of those is now looking less and less likely, it is an interesting point in Ioka's career, especially if the rumours of him going independent and setting up his own gym turn out to be true. If he does that it would essentially give him the chance to call the shots on his career in a way that was never previously possible, and give him full flexibility in terms of match making.
With that in mind Ioka seems the perfect fighter for the first "Five For" of 2020!
1-Juan Francisco Estrada (40-3, 27)
The main Ioka has publicly stated is his ideal opponent is Mexican Juan Francisco Estrada, the current WBC Super Flyweight champion and a former WBO and WBA Flyweight champion. The two do have some history, with Ioka being the mandatory back when Estrada was a Flyweight champion, before the Mexican vacated to pursue Super Flyweight action. They also have rather similar styles, with both being technical and adaptable fighters. Estrada is the more pure boxer of the two, but both are fantastic, and have found ways to adapt to over-come naturally bigger fighters. Despite being technicians both are happy to let their hands go and this would be amazing high speed chess.
2-Roman Gonzalez (48-2, 40)
Another name mentioned by Ioka in a recent article is Nicaraguan great Roman Gonzalez, who like Ioka is a 4-weight world champion having won titles from 105lbs to 115lbs. Although now seen as a faded force Gonzalez is still one of the biggest names in the lower weights and recently returned to a Japanese ring for the first time in over 5 years. Various reports from Japan suggested that Gonalez's fight on December 23rd was designed to help build this potential show down, and it's one that would certainly be a big fight, still. The two have circled each other for years, but never shared the ring, and it would be a great shame if we don't get to see them face off at some point. In his prime we suspect Gonzalez would have been too much for Ioka, but with Gonzalez slipping, this would be a real test to see what he has left in the tank.
3-Kosei Tanaka (15-0, 9)
In the lead up to the New Year's Eve show this year there had been a lot of talk in Japan about Kazuto Ioka potentially facing WBO Flyweight Kosei Tanaka in 2020, with Tanaka moving up to Super Flyweigth for the bout. The talk of that has quietened a bit since, with Tanaka suggesting he was happy to remain at Flyweight for now. The bout certainly isn't dead in the water, but it does seem likely the two men will continue on different trajectories, at least for now. Despite that the bout is a brilliant all-Japanese bout pitting two of TBS's top fighters against each other in what would be a sensational high speed fight. The reality is that it's "bad" for Japanese boxing, particularly for TBS, though it would be good for fans. If this one waits a year or two we don't think many would complain, as long as both face fitting competition.
4-Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22)
If Ioka is going to go with his own gym and does want a unification bout it wouldn't be a bad idea to do that by working with Bob Arum and taking on IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas. The Filipino is known in Japanese fighting circles due to wins over Teiru Kinoshita and Ryuichi Funai, he's also a man who had ESPN broadcasting his fights, and would likely be an easier unification fight to make than facing off with Kal Yafai. Technically this would be an interesting fight, where both are against skilled fighters and both would enter the bout with belief they could walk away a double champion. Notably however Ancajas does have a mandatory due in 2020 against Israel Gonzalez, who earned his shot with a recent win over Ioka's former stablemate Sho Ishida.
5-Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (47-5-1, 41)
We want the best to fight the best right? Then pitting Ioka and Srisaket is about as good as it gets, with the exception of the Estrada fight. Ioka would be taking on the single most dangerous man of his career, and Srisaket would be getting a chance to become a 3-time world champion. This would be skills against power, speed against strengths, body punching against bludgeoning punching. It's a real shame that Srisaket hasn't fought since losing to Estrada in April 2019, and to return against Ioka would be perfect. Given how it seems Eddie Hearn is already bored with the Thai there is a real chance this could take place in Japan and continue the long and stories Japan Vs Thailand rivalry as well. Double it up with Tanaka against a Thai in a wonderful double header and fans would be in with a treat!
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 Kazuto Ioka to Choi Tseveenpurev.
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-Well known by modern day boxing fans as a multi-weight world champion and one of the best Japanese fighters of the current generation Kazuto Ioka isn't actually the first member of his family to be a boxing star. Whilst his father Kazunori Ioka, failed to leave a big mark in the pro ranks his uncle Hiroki Ioka, was a fantastic fighter and a multi-weight world champion him.
2-As a youngster Hiroki Ioka was a great talent, and he would become the 6th world champion to be trained under the legendary Eddie Townsend, who is such a big part of Japanese boxing that he's even had an award named after him, the "Eddie Townsend Award". Townsend was one of the most revered and legendary trainers in Japan and his time as a trainer really changed Japanese boxing, and how the sport was taught in the country.
3-The "Eddie Townsend Award" is one of the major Japanese boxing awards, and has been around since 1990. It recognises the best trainer in Japan in a given year, and has seen a number of very notable winners. In 2014 the winner was Shingo Inoue, the father of Naoya Inoue.
4-Japanese trainer Shingo Inoue is one of a number of trainers who also happen to be fathers of the fighters they train. Others come from all over the world, with a notable and loud mouthed example being Angel Garcia.
5-Angel Garcia has trained his son, Danny Garcia, for more than 20 years and whilst he's a controversial figure the work he has done for his son has been brilliant. Angel has often deflected attention from Danny and his performances, as well as teaching him the tools for Danny to go a very long way in the sport and have success through out his career. That includes Garcia's professional and amateur career. During his son's days as an amateur he won gold at the 2005 Tammer Tournament in Tampere, Finland.
6-Going back to the 1994 Tammer Tournament, 21 years before Danny Garcia won his, we saw popular Mongolian fighter Choi Tseveenpurev winning a gold medal! This was long before he made his name in the pros as a tough nosed warrior in the UK, and became a bit of a cult figure in British boxing circles.
Last weekend we saw IBF Super Flyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22) continue his reign and record his 8th defense in just over 3 years. On paper that sounds impressive but in reality Ancajas has been kept away from the big dogs of the Super Flyweight division since upsetting McJoe Arroyo for the title back in September and his reign has really failed to impress, and big fights have slipped by, including a unification bout a few years ago with the then WBO champion Naoya Inoue.
Thankfully there is time to turn things around, and rebuild his reputation as a true world champion. A chance to put defenses against the like Miguel Gonzalez, Israel Gonzalez, Jamie Conlan and Teiru Kinoshita behind him and get back to the point where he is on par with some of the divisions other top names. Here we give you Five For... Jerwin Ancajas.
1-Francisco Rodriguez Jr (33-4-1, 24)
We've always liked a match up between Ancajas and former unified Minimumweight champion Francisco Rodriguez Jr, aka "Chihuas". The Mexican is highly regarded, and is currently ranked in the top 10 by the WBC and WBA, and despite not currently having an IBF ranking it would be out of the the realms of logic for them to place him in there soon, especially given they currently rank a retired fighter in their top 15. Rodriguez brings aggression, power, a fun style and a decent name to the ring. Sure he made his name at 105lbs, but he was always outgrow the division and has settled well at 115lbs and has won 14 in a row, with 11 T/KO's. This is a bout we'd genuinely love to see.
2-Donnie Nietes (42-1-5, 23)
Nietes has been out of the ring since the end of 2018, when he beat Kazuto Ioka to become a 4-weight world champion. For whatever reason Neites gave up the title he won there, though hasn't officially retired. What better way to retire than after a fight with Ancajas? For Nietes it gives him a chance to add one more notable name to his brilliant legacy, and claim a world title in 3 different decades. For Ancajas it would be a chance to rip the torch from Nietes and carry it as the Filipino flag bearer for the lower weight classes. This is cross generational fight and one with real appeal, matching Ancajas's speed and fluid boxing against the excellent experience and ring craft of Neites. A really appealing bout for a neutral fan and a huge bout for Filipino fans specifically.
3-Kazuto Ioka (24-2, 14)
Unification bouts have been absent from the Super Flyweight division for too long, and even planned unification bouts seem to fall apart for no real reason. So, how about an all-Asian unification bout at Super Flyweight between IBF champion Ancajas and WBO Champion Kazuto Ioka? It wouldn't match the height of Naoya Inoue Vs Nonito Donaire in terms of attention, another Japan Vs Philippines unification bout, but it would still be huge and give the winner a stronger claim as the best in the division. Technically this would be a joy to watch, with both being technically solid, aggressive fighters, with some of the sweetest looking punches in the division. This bout is, of course, dependent on Ioka winning his year ending bout against Jeyvier Cintron, but we do see that as a bout Ioka should win.
4-Roman Gonzalez (47-2, 39)
Like Ioka we'll see Roman Gonzalez in action in December, in what looks to be a straight forward come back bout. A win there and the door opens up for "Chocolatito" to get some bigger bouts and why not a shot at Ancajas? For both men this should be seen as an appealing match up. For Ancajas it's finally a chance to take on a well known name, albeit a faded and post-prime Gonzalez, and a win over Gonzalez would do his reputation the world of good. Yes even this version of Gonzalez. As for the Nicaraguan the bout would allow him a shot to reclaim a portion of the Super Flyweight crown, and if he wins it would increase his negotiating power in a potential divisional unification bout with Juan Francisco Estrada.
5-Kosei Tanaka (14-0, 8)
Another man with a fight before the year ends, but another really interesting option for Ancajas, is Japanese youngster Kosei Tanaka. Tanaka is already a 3 weight world champion and he has spoken about moving up to Super Flyweight in the relatively near future. If he retains his WBO Flyweight title on December 31st then a move up in weight would certainly be something of interesting. For Tanaka a chance to become a 4 weight world champion in just 16 or so fights must be something that's hugely appealing to a man who has tied Vasyl Lomachneko's record for fewest fights to become a 3-weight champion. For Ancajas this would be a chance to take on a naturally smaller man, but someone who has a growing fan base, and has very high standing among hardcore fans. Ancajas would be the betting favourite, but that doesn't take away from the quality of the match up, and the fact it's a genuine test for the Filipino. This might not be the best possible match up, but is certainly a very interesting bout all the same
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).