Asian Boxing Scene: Olympic special
With the 2016 Olympics underway, Boxing Monthly's Asian columnist Marcus Bellinger takes a look at five participants from across the world's largest continent who not only have the potential to medal, but also would be fantastic editions to the professional ranks.
Light-flyweight Rogen Ladon was one of the new young talents to emerge from the 2015 World Championships in Doha, with the 22-year-old capturing a bronze medal losing to Russian Vasiliy Egorov in the semi-final. In his second contest Ladon put on a virtuoso boxing display to defeat experienced and highly ranked Mexican Joselito Velazquez impressing all those who were in attendants including iconic countryman Manny Pacquiao.
Ladon made sure of his Olympic place in the Asian/Oceania qualifier in China with a win over Laishram Devender Singh. He was beaten in the final of this particular tournament by Uzbek Khasanbay Dusmatov. Ladon won silver at both the 2015 South East Asian Games and the Asian Confederation Boxing Championships, and he also has a 2012 victory over outstanding Japanese light-flyweight professional champion Ken Shiro on his resume.
As one of only two boxers representing the Philippines in Rio, there will be much expectation on Ladon in his attempt to break a 20-year medal drought for his homeland. Due to the small Filipino delegation there will only be one coach between himself and lightweight Charlie Suarez, which certainly isn’t an ideal situation but it is something that the pair will just have to manage as best they can. Cuba’s Joahnys Argilagos and Ireland’s Paddy Barnes look to be the men to beat, and Galal Yafai could be the surprise package in a very competitive 49kg division.
As one of only five nations to be sending a full quota of male boxers to Rio, Uzbekistan are a genuine powerhouse in the amateur code. The country has had a real purple patch over the last year or so, scalping bundles of medals in various tournaments as well as reaching the semi-finals in their debut season of the World Series of Boxing this year. One of the main protagonists of their success has been bantamweight Murodjon Akhmadaliev who is among a cluster of talented young Uzbek’s who are not only technically adept but possess plenty of offensive capabilities.
Akhmadaliev secured his Olympic spot claiming silver at the 2015 World Championships in Doha losing out on gold in the final to the classy Michael Conlan. Despite dropping the Irishman in the final stages it wasn’t quite enough for the 21-year-old, but he had put everyone on notice and had added his name to an already bulging bantamweight mix. A two-time national champion, he moved up in weight in 2013 after winning a silver medal at the 2012 Youth World Championships at light-flyweight. He also won silver at the 2015 Asian Confederation Boxing Championships only being beaten by Thai Chatchai Butdee.
A compact, pressure fighter with plenty of power Akhmadaliev would have very few issues transitioning in to the professional game, but with the Uzbek set up possessing a numerous amount of resources at their disposal it will take a very lucrative offer to even tempt him. After a slow start in their WSB quarter-final WSB on the road in Russia, Akhmadaliev eventually overcame Abdulkhakim Batyrov but he was outclassed by outstanding Cuban Robeisy Ramirez in the semi-final.
The 56kg weight class is without doubt the most talent laden of all and as well as Conlan, Ramirez and Chatchai, gifted American Shakur Stevenson will be a medal candidate so Akhmadaliev will need to be at 100% both physically and mentally if he wants to return home with any sort of silverware.
We’ve seen India’s Vijender Singh adapt to the professional code extremely well, and his recent homecoming contest against Kerry Hope in New Delhi could be the start of something special for boxing in his country. But the next potential superstar from the cricket crazy nation is bantamweight Shiva Thapa. The 22-year-old turned in a terrific display to gain bronze at last year’s World Championships losing in the semi-final to Murodjon Akhmadaliev. He made sure of his Olympic place by reaching the final of the Asian and Oceania qualifier in China with Chatchai Butdee the only man to defeat him in the March/April 2016 tournament.
Thapa showed promise very early on, claiming bronze at the AIBA Juniors in 2009 and silver at both the 2010 Youth Olympics and World Championships. Robeisy Ramirez prevented him from winning gold on both occasions in 2010, but the seeds were sown for Thapa to enjoy a successful career if he continued to progress.
The next few years were spent travelling all around the world taking part in various tournaments gaining valuable experience. Whilst success was mixed, he shared the ring with fighters such as elite Cuban Lazaro Alvarez, current WBO featherweight champion Oscar Valdez and 2012 Olympic Bronze Medallist Satoshi Shimizu, and he was unfortunate to be drawn against Ireland’s Michael Conlan in his first bout of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014.
He fought at the London Olympics whilst still a teenager and reached the quarter finals of the 2013 World Championships but recent results have shown a real sign of maturity and improvement, with Thapa now really coming in to his own as a boxer. As I mentioned, the bantamweight division is bursting at the seams with fantastic fighters so any medal won will be a tremendous achievement, but whatever happens the man from Guwahati has the ability to be India’s golden boy for the next decade in what ever side of the sport he chooses.
The second member of the powerful Uzbek squad to be featured is flyweight Shakhobidin Zoirov. After a disappointing showing in Doha, Zoirov left no doubt of his participation in Rio winning the Asian/Oceania qualifier in China gaining revenge in the final on Hu Jianguan who defeated him in the 2015 world championships.
At just 23, Zoirov has been part of the national team for around five years and in this time he has fought in countless tournaments all over the globe, giving himself a copious amount of experience. He captured silver at the 2015 Asian Confederation Boxing Championships losing to Olzhas Sattibayev in the final, and also won silver in both the 2013 and 2014 Asian Games. Zoirov has a victory from the 2014 Asian Games over talented Pakistani Muhammad Waseem who is currently 4-0 in the professional ranks and he was also crowned national champion in 2014.
In this season’s WSB he was highly impressive when beating Viacheslav Tashkarakov on the road in Russia, but was surprisingly left out of the semi-final encounter with Cuba which the Uzbek’s lost 10-0. Cuba’s Yosvany Veitia is the bookies favourite but the 52kg division is arguably the most wide open of all 10 male weight classes, so Zoirov has a good a chance as anyone to grab a medal.
Daisuke Narimatsu is a definite outsider to claim a medal in the lightweight division and his all action, come forward style make him a name worth noting and a prime candidate to flourish in the professional side of the sport, if and when he chooses to go that route. These attributes were on full display in a three-round thriller against Timur Belyak in last year’s World Championships, with the pair delivering nine minutes of superb entertainment. Despite the loss to Belyak, who incidentally failed to qualify, Narimatsu secured his spot in Rio at the Asian/Oceania qualifier, defeating Shan Jun in a box off.
The 26-year-old won bronze at the 2015 Asian Confederation Boxing Championships, and he is also a five times Japanese champion. With Narimatsu nailing the Olympic birth, former foe Satoshi Shimizu decided to turn professional and makes his debut on 4 September, but a clash between the pair could be a domestic classic for somewhere in the future. Also on his record is a 2012 victory over fledgling pro Koki Inoue, and cousin of Naoya and Takuma.
Not only is the man from Japan representing his nation, but more relevantly he is aiming to bring some cheer to his home town of Kumamoto where a series of earthquakes have caused major disruption in recent months. Cuban Lazaro Alvarez is the man to beat at 60kg, Brazilian Robson Conceicao will enjoy huge home support and Welshman Joe Cordina is also a threat. The awkward spoiler Amnat Ruenroeng and the honestly putrid to watch Albert Selimov will, um, add some variety to proceedings. But whoever faces Narimatsu will know they’ve been in a contest, that’s for sure.