By Alexey Sukachev
Ending what will be quite a peaceful weekend with just two events of a lesser note, taking place in the Old World, is a Sunday extravaganza in Tokyo, Japan, the sort of competition, which comes back to your mind only following these dizzy boxing weekends.
The star of the show would be two-division world champion Roman Gonzalez, a remarkable (yet an outshined) slugger, maybe even P4P entrant on some lists – if he was to fight someone worthy. Instead, a worldwide focus will be on local stars, another testament of an ever-growing Japanese power in lesser weight classes. Akira Yaegashi, after a strong 2013 campaign, will be in a spotlight as a main event competitor. Yet the true heroes of Hideyuki Ohashi’s latest installment will be different.
Enter Inoue brothers. The elder, Naoya, just 20 years of age, will challenge a two-time WBC light flyweight champion Adrian Hernandez (29-2-1, 18 KOs) for his regalia, while the younger one, Takuma, takes on Thai opponent Fahlan Sakkreerin Junior (23-2, 15 KOs) as a part of the undercard.
It’s to be understood what the task is. Hernandez, nicknamed Confessor, had four wins over three former titleholders. He has been holding his title for quite a time, ever since his stoppage victory over Thai Kompayak Porpramook, making four defenses of his belt, albeit against very questionable opposition. Naoya is just 20 years old and 5-0, 4 KOs. Meanwhile, Sakkreerin Jr., the son of an ex-champion as well, though also young, has already won his accolades by upsetting undefeated WBA minimumweight champion Ryo Miyazaki in closing hours of 2013 in a non-title fight. Seems to be a stern test for 1-0, 18-year old fighter Takuma.
Make no mistake though. Both brothers will be favorites in their fights. The nature of this early advantage is both remarkable and shady, sending a somewhat clear message to boxing community. The message is “Forget about nursing and honing your skills – be confident and take right away what you want”.
Inoue is neither the first one, nor the last one to avoid a long-time maturing process in favour of a jump start. Yet, in recent years this trend became obvious and clearly seen.
Two most telling samples of it are Vasyl Lomachenko and Kazuto Ioka. The former took a single fight as a pro (although some will point out he had seven indeed – but this is a very arguable point) and then rushed straight into the lion’s den for possibly the toughest fighter of his division. He paid the price for his bravery but it wasn’t very high. Losing that fight on a close split nod, the Ukrainian powerhouse will probably only get better, and his world title awaits him right around the corner.
Ioka was more successful. Fighting for a title in just his seventh pro contest, Ioka, his boxing genes being on display, marched into the long-reigning WBC champion Oleydong Sithsamerchai (35-0-1, 13 KOs), who had six times as many bouts as a pro as his Japanese opponent. Experience sucked big time, as the Thai, weakened through non-title nonsense and bogus title defenses, was completely outboxed, then outslugged, and finally swept out by his foe. Amazing it was.
Ioka and Lomachenko aren’t in the league of their own. Guillermo Rigondeaux stunk out a snoozer versus Ricardo Cordoba to get a worthless WBA interim title also in his seventh bout but just a fight after that broke down Rico Ramos for a full WBA crown. The same year Rigondeaux was half-belted, but much earlier, Beibut Shumenov (8-1, 6 KOs at the time) looked awful in his bid for the black belt (fighting as if he was a karateka) but was awarded a dubious decision over Spanish veteran Gabriel Campillo. Four of a kind this way.
One can argue, amateur pedigree can be a clue to these success stories but it is not. A more thorough look will reveal something entirely opposite to this statement: the level of Olympic boxing has drastically dropped over the last twenty years, with amateur stars (specifically, Olympic champions) doing less and less in terms of transcending their achievements to the prizefighting from one Olympics to another one.
More proofs can be found instantly. Kazuto Ioka was only good at national level, failing to win something meaningful in international amateur competitions. Shumenov, though an Athens Olympian, wasn’t the most talented of the squad – and by far so… Examples of another kind are also seen clearly. It took 2004 US Olympian Vanes Martirosyan (33-0-1, 21 KOs) nine years and 34 fights to finally get his opportunity, which was wasted as he lost to another US Olympian but from the Beijing squad. Following this sad road is now Matvey Korobov (22-0, 13 KOs), an ultra-talented amateur who turned into a forgettable fringe contender in less than a couple of years after shifting to a pro game.
It could be argued that such a milking should be blamed on a promoter. But Martirosyan and Korobov are promoted by Top Rank, the same team that catapulted Lomachenko and Rigondeaux to early fame. Sorry but no, this just doesn’t work this way.
Grinding and farming is considered disgraceful amongst video game devotees. While “you can’t play boxing”, for many fans and experts alike boxing is a dangerous game rather than anything else. That’s why long-time record-padding doesn’t get along well with those hardcore junkies. But fans aren’t a part of equation to be resolved co-jointly by managers, promoters and a fighter himself. Risk vs. reward plus building a (casual) fan base plus easy money outweighs other factors, leading to a misrepresented view of reality and sometimes distorted future.
You can hone your skills to a degree fighting one nonsense opponent after another but chances are higher that either you’ll be downplayed to your level of opposition or even degrade out of fighting no ones, no names and mediocrity. That is exactly what happened to Martirosyan, who lost his steam and sharpness against forgettable opposition.
Oppositely, Ioka fought 20-3-2 ex-title challenger Takashi Kunishige in his third fight and never looked back. Similarly, Shumenov after three easy opponents at the start of his career went 154-29-6 in his next five fights, including two wins over former champions Montell Griffin and Byron Mitchell. Naoya, who is trying to hunt down Ioka’s Japanese record (winning a major title in the least number of bouts), stopped 17-2-4 Yuki Sano in his third fight, then captured a national title against 18-1-1 Ryoichi Tagushi, and added OPBF trophy with a quick destruction of 18-3-3 Jerson Mancio. It took him a year and a half to get a world title shot – can you imagine any of recent American Olympians fighting for a world title that soon? Deontay Wilder is laughing out there somewhere…
Successful or not, boxers like Inoue, Ioka, Lomachenko are (unconsciously) trying to set a new trend of moving quickly and in power mode, saving expenses and time, both their and their fans’. A good reason to root for them, not against them.
HALL OF FAME
1. Saensak Muangsurin (Thailand). The Thai master wasn’t exceptionally fast – in terms of the time taken for granting himself with a title shot – but he was uniquely in his steps to win it. It took him just two to get an opportunity: firstly he tuned up against Rudy Baro (14-9), knocking him out in just two minutes, then he stopped Japanese fringe contender Lion Furuyama (31-7-3) in seven. His rise hadn’t stopped at this point as he broke through exhausted (temperature that day was around 120 F) reigning WBC master Perico Fernandez and, by doing so, through the world record book to win the green belt in just his third fight as a pro. He proved to be a quality champion, although the ending days of his career were marred with one-sided losses.
2. Veeraphol Sahaprom (Thailand). Just like Muangsurin, Sahaprom was a renowned muay thai practitioner, having won three Rajadamnern titles, akin three wins in world amateur championships. Sahaprom turned to pro boxing at the age of 26 and four fights and nine months later celebrated his first world title win against his compatriot with 63 fights under his belt. The Stone Face lost his title to underestimated Ghanaian Nana Konadu but enjoyed a lengthy and successful career afterwards.
3. Jeff Fenech (Australia). Fenech won his IBF bantamweight title in the seventh fight – a huge achievement – but not a unique one. More important is the quickness of Marrickville Mauler’s rise. Fresh of his Olympic experience in Los Angeles, the Australian swarmer debuted on Oct. 12, 1984, fought four times the same year, and captured his belt just six months and two weeks into a pro game, which is a world record.
WALL OF SHAME
1. Yori Boy Campas (Mexico). He was 56-0, 50 KOs, coming into his fight with 23-0 Felix Trinidad on Sep. 7, 1994. And guess what?! He was just 23 years old when he fought Trinidad! Think about zounds of poor Mexican cab drivers he has hammered out during his run at a title…
2. Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo (Thailand). 44-0, with 27 KOs, provided little help to the Thai padding champion, when he entered the ring against Super WBA featherweight champion Chris John. Years of farming and grinding resulted in a one-sided loss to already a slipping fighter, further proving little use of Thai “best feeding practices”.
3. Chris John (Indonesia). Talk about payback time at a different level of competition. Strategy of fighting piriyapinyos of the world time and again finally caught seemingly eternal WBA champion, when he was closing on to Joe Louis’ standards of championship longevity. John was good at some point lo-o-o-ong ago but his desire to risk and his results made such a lengthy downward spiral, that those famed times look to be surreal now.