Asian boxing scene lights up December

Marcus Bellinger
09/12/2015 10:53am

Whilst December sees boxing in both Europe and the US slowly come to a halt, the exact opposite can be said of the Asian scene with a schedule fuller than a lucky child’s Christmas stocking. The Japanese schedule is especially bulging with no less than six world, one secondary, three OPBF and four domestic titles being contested between 26-31 December. 

Before we get to Christmas and New Year’s feast from the ‘land of the rising sun’, December features a number of other important bouts involving Asian fighters.

We kicked off the month with the vacant OPBF flyweight title at the Highway Hills Integrated School Gymnasium in Mandaluyong City, Philippines, as Ardin Diale (30-9-3, 15 KOs) overcame Renoel Pael (19-2-1, 9 KOs) scoring a 12-round decision.

Despite being the shorter man, Diale used his notable championship experience to outwork his younger challenger also scoring a knockdown in the fourth round. At the end of the contest, the scorecards were 114-113, 115-112 and 117-110 all in favour of the 27-year-old. Fans may remember Diale’s epic war last June with Koki Eto for the same belt which saw Eto eventually score a knockout in the eighth of an absolute classic encounter. Right at the top of my 2016 wish list is a contest between Diale and Asia’s 2015 breakout fighter Daigo Higa, which could not be anything other than a brutal, colossal clash that would certainly add to the fabulous flyweight legacy seen over the last five years or so.

Pael, whose recent contests have been well above the flyweight limit, will have gained a valuable amount of experience and, at 25, he can certainly come again.

This past Monday reigning IBF flyweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng (17-0, 5 KOs) made the fifth defence of his crown against Myung Ho Lee (19-5-1, 6 KOs) scoring a wide points victory. The bout at the Hua Hin Centential club was part of the King’s birthday celebrations with it being a public holiday in Thailand.

The fight was pretty entertaining for the most part with the Thai’s silky skills being complemented by Lee’s non-stop pressure tactics. It wouldn’t be a fight involving the champion without some holding and, in the ninth round, he was deducted a point while a traditional Amnat body slam followed in the 10th stanza. Lee had given his all, but a knockdown in the final round sealed his fate and, after the final bell, it clearly wasn’t enough with the judges tallies reading 118-108 and 117-109 (twice).

Amnat’s frustrating and often ugly style will never be liked by many but wins over Rocky Fuentes, McWilliams Arroyo and John Riel Casimero, as well as victories on the road against Kazuto Ioka and Zou Shiming, demand respect and a mooted unification clash with WBC boss Roman Gonzalez is an intriguing blend of opposite styles that will hopefully take place sometime in 2016.

Lee will probably head back to the Japanese domestic scene where he is capable of being in some watchable contests and he can hold his head up high after putting up a solid effort against one of the most tricky and talented fighters in the sport.

This Friday (11 December) sees the return of one of Japan’s most popular recent fighters as Hozumi Hasegawa (34-5, 15 KOs) takes on Carlos Andres Ruiz Machuca (14-1, 5 KOs) in a 10-round contest at super-featherweight at the Central Gym in Kobe Hyogo.

The former two weight world champion’s career looked to be over after being stopped in seven rounds by then IBF super-bantamweight champion Kiko Martinez in April 2014 but a vintage boxing display to defeat previously unbeaten Horacio Garcia in May suggested that the 34-year-old may have one more world title tilt left in him. At the moment, it’s unclear which route Hasegawa’s team are aiming for but 126lbs would probably be the wisest choice and fights with Vasyl Lomachenko or Gary Russell Jr could present some intrigue.

Machuca comes in to the contest as a real unknown quantity. The 22-year-old did pick up the WBO Latino super-featherweight strap on the road in Argentina, scoring a 10-round decision over Raul Horacio Centeno in September so he does at least have some experience fighting away from home. His only defeat was a 10-round split decision to Francisco Rojo back in November 2014.

Later that evening sees ‘The Filipino Flash’ Nonito Donaire (35-3, 23 KOs) square off against Cesar Juarez (17-3, 13 KOs) at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan Puerto Rico as part of Top Rank’s Friday night Tru TV series. With long-time WBO champion Guillermo Rigondeaux being stripped of his belt (pending an appeal) this bout may be for the vacant title but nothing has been confirmed just yet.

Since being knocked out by Nicholas Walters in six rounds last October resulting in the loss of his WBA ‘regular’ featherweight crown, Donaire made the correct decision to move back down to 122lbs and seems to have found a new vigour, hunger and enthusiasm for the sport and especially training. In 2015, the 33-year-old has scored two KO wins over William Prado and Anthony Settoul, but tougher tests lie ahead. With the divide between the PBC and the rest of the boxing universe in the US, Donaire’s options could be limited but an all-Asian showdown with long reigning bantamweight king Shinsuke Yamanaka could be a makeable and interesting fight.

Juarez comes into the Donaire clash brimming with confidence having scored two solid wins over former world champion Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr and former world title challenger Cesar Seda respectively. The 24-year-old has never been stopped and could present a stiff challenge to the former four-weight champion.

At the prestigious Korakuen Hall on 14 December, the next generation of Japanese super-featherweights take centre stage with the domestic and OPBF belts on the line in separate contests.

Rikki Naito (13-0, 5KOs) makes the fourth defence of the Japanese 130lbs crown against Kenichi Ogawa (16-1, 14 KOs).

A tall classy, highly skilled southpaw, Naito was picked as one to watch in October’s edition of Boxing Monthly and moves back down in weight after outpointing Nihito Arakawa over 10 rounds in June. The 24-year-old narrowly won a decision over Masayuki Ito in February in an absorbing, high speed chess match between two unbeaten fighters.

Ogawa gained his most significant win last time out stopping the world-ranked Deivi Julio Bassa in 10 rounds on the undercard of Shinsuke Yamanaka’s WBC bantamweight title fight with Anselmo Moreno. The 27-year -old is a definite puncher, but the rest of his resumé is pretty patchy and he was knocked out in five by Yuki Miyoshi back in August 2012.

The other part of this excellent double-header sees Masayuki Ito (17-1-1, 8 KOs) make the first defence of his OPBF trinket against Shingo Eto (17-3-1, 9 KOs).

Ito bounced back in emphatic style after the razor thin defeat to Naito by stopping Dai Iwai in 10 rounds to capture the OPBF bauble in August. The 24-year-old also has an 8-round points win over the hard-hitting Masao Nakamura back in July 2014.

Eto is another man who was thwarted by Naito via decision last October in a national title fight. He picked up the IBF Asia title at 130lbs in January scoring a 12-round decision victory over Maxsaisai Sithsaithong in South Korea.

Two days later at the Shimazu Arena in Kyoto, Shohei Omori (15-0, 10 KOs) and Marlon Tapales (27-2, 10 KOs) fight in a WBO bantamweight eliminator for the right to face current champion Pungluang Sor Singyu.

Omori, another big, hard-hitting southpaw out of Japan, was also identified as a man to look out for in October’s BM. The 22-year-old made hardcore observers take notice when he stopped former Yamanaka opponent Christian Esquivel in four last May. In 2015, Omori blitzed Kentaro Masuda in three rounds to snatch the domestic 118lbs crown in April and, four months later, he overwhelmed Hirofumi Mukai in six.

Tapales gained this opportunity through winning the WBO Asia Pacific belt. The 23-year-old lost a majority decision on the road in February 2013 for a regional WBC super-flyweight strap. The Filipino has two very credible KO scalps over Naoya Inoue’s next opponent Walito Parrenas and the very talented Randy Petalcorin. A former Philippines light-fly and flyweight champion, his power has levelled off somewhat when moving up in weight and the huge height, size and reach disadvantages against Omori could prove to be highly problematic.

Poor John Riel Casimero just can’t seem to catch a break after seeing his proposed challenge to IBF 115lbs champion McJoe Arroyo postponed for undisclosed reasons. This after the former IBF light-flyweight belt holder fell victim to one of the most inept refereeing performances seen in recent times as Larry Doggett failed to prevent any of the persistent fouls by Amnat Ruenroeng in their world title fight in June.

In our next article, we will look at the fantastic fights coming up over the Christmas and New Year’s period in Japan.