Asian Boxing Scene: Round-up and hot prospects

Marcus Bellinger
17/01/2016 10:52am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFs7HvjQj4o

It was an enjoyable but hectic time for boxing in Japan with expected knockouts, upsets and young fighters coming through their biggest tests to date. For those who managed to catch the action, well done and, for the publications and UK TV channels who once again ignored it, shame on you. Here’s a quick recap of events from the ‘land of the rising sun’ during the holiday season.

Shun Kubo grabbed the vacant OPBF 122lbs strap with a fifth round stoppage of Lloyd Jardeliza ending proceedings with a hard left hand. Riku Kano overcame former world title challenger Pigmy Kokietgym scoring a unanimous decision over eight rounds and Ken Shiro claimed the national light-flyweight crown winning on points over 10 rounds versus Kenichi Horikawa. All three youngsters are now in line for big fights in 2016 and are worth noting.

On the big Ohashi show in Tokyo, Koki Inoue won via KO on his debut with Ryo Matsumoto winning via the same method. Takuma Inoue recorded the first defence of his OPBF super-flyweight title scoring a unanimous decision over Rene Dacquel and Satoshi Hosono won a controversial split decision over Akifumi Shimoda to retain his Japanese 126lbs belt. In the two world title bouts, Naoya Inoue dispatched Warlito Parrenas with aplomb, taking out the Filipino in two rounds to hopefully set up a busy and fruitful 2016. Akira Yaegashi warmed the hearts of many by outboxing and outmuscling IBF 108lbs belt holder Javier Mendoza in a thoroughly enjoyable 12-rounder that saw the 32-year-old rejuvenated and become a bonified three-weight world champion.

On New Year’s Eve in Nagoya, Kosei Tanaka had to climb off the floor to eventually stop Vic Saludar with a body shot in the sixth round of a highly entertaining contest. At 20, he has plenty of time to grow but a far more regimented and tactical approach will be required especially with Tanaka moving up to a light-flyweight division that is now full of quality operators. Also, let’s hope for more activity in 2016 as two ring appearances is criminal for someone of his age and ability.

As expected, Takashi Uchiyama and Ryoichi Taguchi took care of their poor opponents winning in the third and via ninth round retirement respectively. Uchiyama looks to be headed for the US with hopefully a clash with Nicholas Walters in the offing in the first half of the year. For Taguchi, domestic options are aplenty and the 29-year-old requires a fight to really test his mettle.

Apart from Yaegashi, the best performance from a home boxer came from Kazuto Ioka who left no doubt in his rematch with Juan Carlos Reveco boxing superbly and stopping the Argentine in the 11th round. After being extremely critical of Ioka in 2014, the 26 year old has now properly developed in to a genuine world class, fully-fledged flyweight and he has already stated the intention to face the division’s elite this year.

Unfortunately, lower weight stalwart Katsunari Takayama lost his IBF strawweight belt to Jose Argumedo in a ninth round technical decision. As usual in a fight involving Takayama, there was non-stop action but a cut left him unable to continue. The champion looked to have done enough to retain his belt but the judges disagreed and the 32-year-old is now pondering his future. Finally, Takahiro Yamamoto and Sho Ishida retained their OPBF and Japanese straps scoring second and fourth round KOs.

Apart from the daring matchmaking, one of the other notable features of the Japanese scene is the fantastic TV viewership that boxing receives with ratings well in to the millions for shows on a regular basis. For those unaware, Japanese boxing doesn’t revolve around PPV and the paid model is an extremely rare occurrence. The country’s flagship fighters are broadcast on terrestrial stations with TBS, Fuji, NG TV and TV Tokyo being the main distributers. Also only a handful of fighters have deals with specific networks so many of the divides that prevent fights from happening in Britain and the US are rarely an obstacle to making the best match-ups.

The doubleheader featuring Inoue and Yaegashi drew around 5 million viewers, the Kosei Tanaka bout 4 million, the Ioka/Takayama broadcast 5.5 million and even the mismatch doubleheader from Tokyo featuring Uchiyama and Taguchi was viewed by 2.4 million viewers in a delayed showing. Also Shinsuke Yamanaka’s last ring appearance against Anselmo Moreno was watched by around 8 million viewers showing that boxing can be a ratings winner given the appropriate fight and platform. All numbers are approximate and many thanks to Asianboxing.info for providing them. 

Being the tight miserable scrooge that I am there will be no awards handed out but here are five young talents from the continent to keep an eye on in 2016.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the breakout Asian fighter in 2015 was ferocious flyweight Daigo Higa who scored five wins all coming inside the distance to take his record to 8-0, 8 KOs including two victories on the road. After crushing the useful Cris Alfante In June 2015, Higa embarked on a trip to Thailand a month later to take on a then unbeaten Kongfah CP Freshmart for the vacant WBC Youth flyweight strap.

Given the time of day that fights take place, the sweltering conditions and the venues that can exacerbate these advantages, Thailand is arguably the most difficult country for visiting boxers to gain a victory. Higa showed little regard for his surroundings or his undefeated foe waring him down to force a stoppage in round seven and make the hardcore aficionados take notice. With a relentless pressure style, he is a fun fighter to watch and his 10th round KO of Renren Tesorio in November demonstrated his ability to maintain a high pace in to the later stages. With the true legend Yoko Gushiken at the helm of his career, the 20-year-old couldn’t be in better hands and a slugfest with OPBF flyweight ruler Ardin Diale is right at the top of my desired encounters for 2016. The clash with Kongfah can be seen here.

Ambitious matchmaking is pretty much the norm in Japan but eyebrows were raised when the much touted Hinata Maruta made his debut against the world ranked Jason Camoy over six rounds in November 2015.

The 18-year-old justified the belief shown in him winning a unanimous decision and even putting the tough Filipino on the floor in the fourth round. In his previous contest, Camoy had disposed of Drian Francisco in a single round and, of course, Francisco took Guillermo Rigondeaux the distance but triangle theories are often null and void. At around 5 feet 8 inches, there is much scope for moving through the weights and he already has a ranking with the WBC just outside the top 15. He has engaged in top class sparring both in his homeland and in the US and impressed. Maruta is expected to return in the spring and it will more than likely be another good quality opponent for Japan’s next wonder kid.

For over a decade, Chris John carried the burden of expectations of Indonesian boxing on his shoulders and, since his retirement, things have been pretty quiet with only Daud Yordan achieving any semblance of success. However, there is a beacon of shining light who could very well be the much-needed focal point to rebuild the sport in the country and his name is Iwan Zoda.

The very promising flyweight went 4-0, 4 KOs in 2015 and avenged his sole loss in another cracking away win in Thailand against an unbeaten foe. Now with a record of 8-1, 7 KOs, he stopped Phupha Por Nobnom in three rounds on the final day of 2015 but his most significant win to date came three months earlier when he scored a 12th round KO of 13-0 Petchorhae Kokietgym to grab a fringe WBO title.

The pair met previously with the Thai winning a decision over six rounds in October 2014. At just 19, there should be absolutely no rush to push him in to the furnace at the top of the 112lbs division and let’s hope he doesn’t become just an opponent like many fighters from Indonesia. Of course, comparisons will be made with John and, if he achieves half of what the long-time featherweight ruler did, then he will have done superbly well. Zoda’s win over Petchorhae can be viewed here.

It’s fair to say Mongolia hasn’t been a boxing hotbed but the nation has enjoyed some decent success in the amateur ranks in recent times with Tugstsogt Nyambayar being one of the stand out performers capturing a silver medal at the London 2012 Olympics. Now based in Carson, California, the 23-year-old turned pro in February 2015 and has racked up four wins all coming inside the distance. His level of opposition so far has been modest but he has knocked out durable men designed to take him rounds. A step up in quality is certainly required in 2016 and, if he possesses the hardnosed traits synonymous with other Mongolians such as Choi Tseveenpurev, he could be a real dangerman at super-bantamweight in the coming years.

There are many exciting boxers from the Philippines yearning for the opportunities to display their skills on a big stage and there is more than enough young talent coming through in the country for the nation to be confident in the future of the sport going forward.

One of the highly capable pugilists in the infancy of his pro career is 20-year-old Kevin Jake Cataraja (2-0, 2 KOs) who turned pro in July 2015. Wins over Ardi Tefa and Ellias Nggemggo, who upset Merlito Sabillo, don’t stand out from the crowd but an extensive amateur background and beginning his professional run with six-rounders make him a Pinoy to watch going forward.  Under the same ALA banner as Donnie Nietes, Albert Pagara and Mark Magsayo, Cataraja has a wealth of experience to call upon and no shortage of quality sparring. He returns on the big ALA show on 27 February against an opponent to be determined.

Lastly some upcoming fights from Asia to keep an eye on.

This 30 January sees the return of Zou Shiming who faces unbeaten Natan Santana Coutinho at the Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai in a 12-round flyweight contest.  Also on this card, Ik Yang squares off against Chalermpol Singwancha in a 10-round contest and middleweight contender Ryota Murata takes on Gaston Alejandro Vega, also in a 10-rounder.

In Jakarta on 5 February, Daud Yordan goes up against Yoshitaka Kato for a WBO lightweight regional strap in what should be a really fun fight. This 12 February sees Pungluang Sor Singyu make the first defence of his WBO bantamweight belt against Jetro Pabustan in Nakhon Rachasima with the winner to face Marlon Tapales who stunningly bombed out Shohei Omori in two rounds in December. 

Finally, the ALA 27 February card at the Waterfront Hotel & Casino in Cebu City sees super-bantamweight hot shot Albert Pagara take a step up in class against former IBF 115lbs champion Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr and destructive featherweight prospect Mark Magsayo take on Eduardo Montoya.