Monday, April 15, 2024  |

By The Ring | 

World Beat

By Anthony Cocks

Above: Justis Huni punches Kiki Toa Leutele. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)


Sometimes boxers go out of their way to prove their critics wrong – and not always with positive results.

That was the case with heavyweight Justis Huni (7-0, 4 KOs), who won a wide unanimous decision over Kiki Toa Leutele (8-2-2, 7 KOs) in Brisbane on November 4 but suffered yet another hand injury that could require surgery and a lengthy stint on the sidelines.

The 23-year-old Huni made the fight more difficult for himself than necessary, standing toe-to-toe with the big-punching Kiwi when he could have elected to use his superb boxing skills to pick up the win from long range.

But with questions surrounding his punching power, it seemed as though Huni was adamant about proving his doubters wrong.

One of his critics has been three-weight world champion and International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Fenech, who famously had his own problems with his hands throughout his career.

“I’ve got a huge rap on Justis Huni. He’s got great skills, but he can’t punch,” Fenech told Fox Sports ahead of Huni’s previous fight, a unanimous decision over Joseph Goodall in June, which was following a win against Paul Gallen a year earlier.

“[Huni’s team, led by his trainer and father, Rocki, are] talking about teaching him to sit down on his punches. Who’s teaching him? People that have never had a fight in their life.”


Huni was scratched from the Tokyo Olympics after facing former rugby league star Gallen in June 2021, stopping him in the 10th and final round. Considered a genuine gold medal hope in the super heavyweight division, Huni busted his right hand on Gallen’s head less than two months out from the Games.

The injury Huni sustained against Leutele was similar to the one he suffered against Gallen, only this time it was his left hand.

“It does feel the same as after the Gallen fight,” Huni said to Fox Sports. “However, I’ve been told there is still a lot of swelling around the knuckle, so I now have to wait another month and see. Let the bruising and swelling go down and check everything out then.

“If the pain is still there, it’s most likely a sagittal band tear. That’s exactly the same as what happened to my right hand after the Gallen fight. … So if I do have to then go in for surgery, it would be a recovery of nine months. That’s the worst-case scenario.”

At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Huni is surprisingly nimble for a big man and has demonstrated a high boxing IQ. If he can get his hands right, the ceiling for this young man is high.



They say that the world dies not with a bang but a whimper.

Former IBF middleweight titleholder Sam Soliman (49-17-1, 19 KOs) lasted little more than 60 seconds against Joel Camilleri (25-8-1, 13 KOs) in Melbourne on December 9.

An overhand right followed by a volley of shots was enough for the referee to step in and stop the contest.

Soliman was an excellent, evasive boxer in his day, defeating Felix Sturm on points in Germany in 2014, but at the age of 49 his legs have long since betrayed him.

It’s time for Soliman to put the cue in the rack and concentrate on the next generation of fighters at his gym, Sam’s Stable, in North Melbourne.



Middleweight Michael Zerafa (31-4, 19 KOs) looked less than impressive in his comfortable 10-round points win over Danilo Creati (8-1, 1 KO) in Sydney on November 23.

The bout was dreary with little sustained action in what was supposed to be a showcase for Zerafa. The 30-year-old Melburnian was angling for a shot at Gennadiy Golovkin next year, but that fight now seems further away than ever.

On a brighter note, Joel Taylor (9-0, 4 KOs) is an emerging star after his sixth-round stoppage of Ty Telford (8-2-1, 4 KOs) in the main support bout.

The all-action affair saw both boxers get their licks in before Telford retired on his stool due to a damaged eye.

Like all good fights we remember, this one had next to no clinches.



Undefeated Sydneysider Tim Tszyu (21-0, 15 KOs) will have to wait a little while longer to get a crack at undisputed junior middleweight champion Jermell Charlo (35-1-1, 19 KOs), who suffered two injuries to his left hand in sparring just weeks out from their scheduled January 28 bout.

The 28-year-old contender, rated No. 3 by The Ring, is looking for a replacement opponent for a fight back in Australia. The frontrunner appears to be American veteran Tony Harrison (29-3-1, 21 KOs).

Meanwhile, junior lightweight Liam Wilson (11-1, 7 KOs) of Caboolture will face former junior featherweight and featherweight titleholder Emanuel Navarrete (36-1, 30 KOs) for the vacant WBO 130-pound crown at the Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona on February 3 after original opponent Oscar Valdez withdrew due to injury.

It is a major step up in class for the 26-year-year-old Wilson, but one thing is certain. If he loses, he will go down swinging.


By Jamie Rebner


On December 16, 2022, in Shawinigan, Quebec, standout heavyweight contender Arslanbek Makhmudov quickly dispatched Michael Wallisch in the first round to bring his record to 16-0. The win ended a solid year for “The Lion,” during which he won three fights. In addition to Wallisch, Makhmudov earned wins over Mariusz Wach and Carlos Takam, the latter of which was the first time Makhmudov went the 10-round distance. Those opponents represented a significant step up in competition, which is a promising sign for the Montreal-based Russian. He needs to continue stepping up in order to gain the necessary experience to challenge for a world title. Although the top heavyweights won’t likely give him a shot, since he is a high-risk, low-reward proposition, he will have to force his hand as a mandatory. Hopefully, he will get a significant fight in 2023. 

via Arena Tarung on YouTube:


On December 17, one of Canada’s best title hopefuls, Christian M’billi, was in action. The fifth-ranked super middleweight extended his unbeaten streak to 23 after scoring a unanimous decision over Vaughn Alexander in Nantes, France. Like Makhmudov, M’billi went 3-0 in 2022, scoring a Knockout of the Year candidate against Nadjib Mahammedi in March and then another stoppage of DeAndre Ware in September. M’billi’s competition level has steadily increased in the past couple of years, and if he can beat a top-10 contender this year, that should put him in line for a title shot. 


On December 25, one of Canada’s top prospects, junior middleweight Saddridin Akhmedov, beat Nkululeko Mhlongo by first-round knockout in Kazakhstan. It was Akhmedov’s first bout in almost two years, having last won against Stephen Danyo by decision in January 2021. Also on that card, Batyrzhan Jukembayev scored a sixth-round stoppage of Xolani Mcotheli. It was Jukembayev’s first and only fight in 2022, and it came a year after his previous win against Juan Jose Martinez, which happened six months after Jukembayev suffered his first pro defeat to Subriel Matias in a May 2021 barnburner. 


On the Makhmudov-Wallisch undercard, junior middleweight Mary Spencer suffered a shocking upset to Femke Hermans of Belgium. Spencer had built up a record of 7-0 (5 KOs) since she turned pro in 2021 after a stellar amateur career. She was being fast-tracked to a world title, but those aspirations took a hit with her decisive loss to Hermans. 

Spencer’s trainer, Ian MacKillop, explained that the main reason for Spencer’s sub-par performance was that she was ill during fight week.

“Training camp went fantastic; she was in great shape. She felt good. Mary didn’t want me to tell anybody, but she tested positive for COVID the day after the fight. She doesn’t want to make excuses, because that’s the type of person she is. […] Mary was doing 10 rounds [in the gym] with no problem; she was in great shape. And then she went to Shawinigan and felt sick,” says MacKillop. “She was having a hard time eating and sleeping a lot. She just felt really under the weather. I thought it was nerves, so I brushed it aside, and then in the fight, it was not good at all. She had no energy. And her normal power wasn’t there. You could see right from the first round that it wasn’t her.”

However, MacKillop quickly credits Hermans for putting on one of her best performances to date.

via DDSportTV on YouTube:

“Femke came to fight. She knew this was her last chance at a world level, and had Mary beaten her in one round, that would have been it for her. So she came and fought a really good fight, and I am not taking anything away from her,” says MacKillop. “Hermans fought well. She came into a new country with the deck stacked against her, and she didn’t give a fuck. She fought her best fight ever, and that is a commendable thing. The last thing we want to do is take away from her performance. And now I assume she will get a big payday out of this win, which she deserves.”

Despite Spencer suffering her first loss, MacKillop has complete faith in her and her promoter, Eye of the Tiger, to get her back to the top level. 

“We’ll give her a little rest because she had an extremely active year; she fought eight times in 16 months. Especially after having COVID, she needs a rest. […] Sometimes, in a loss like this, you see who your real team is,” adds MacKillop. “I have been in the sport my whole life, and I’ve seen it many times. The vast majority of promoters will wash their hands of a fighter easily, and the fact that EOTM is standing by Mary shows they’re extremely loyal, a trait often lost in boxing. And it shows they are smart people. With Marc Ramsay involved and Camille [Estephan], they know what they are looking for, and I’m sure they see Mary will be a world champion. Without question, she will be a world champion. It was just a matter of everything going wrong at the worst possible time and the opponent coming in and fighting her best fight. 

“Mary is a true fighter. Most times, it’s a blessing, but sometimes it can be a curse. We probably should have stepped out of the fight when she wasn’t feeling up to par a couple of days before. But that’s not what a true fighter does. A true fighter fights,” says MacKillop. “I can’t say enough good things about Mary. She is everything that boxing, especially female boxing, needs. She is highly intelligent, motivated, and a good person with a good heart. She helps all kinds of people, although she never wants credit for it. Unfortunately, for this fight, things imploded a little bit. But she will have her day.”


By Yuriko Miyata


Rest In Peace

Akio Kameda (November 19, 1956-April 16, 2022)

Kameda was the Japanese Boxing Commission champion at welterweight from 1978-1981 and junior welterweight between 1982-1984. He challenged Aaron Pryor for the Ring/WBA 140-pound titles in Cincinnati, Ohio, on July 4, 1982. Kameda knocked the champion down in the first round but was dropped three times in later rounds en route to a sixth-round stoppage win for Pryor. Kameda’s last fight was a loss to IBF 130-pound titleholder Terry Marsh in London on July 1, 1987. The gutsy southpaw retired with a 27-4 (21 KOs) record.  

Sadao Yaoita (November 28, 1935-September 13, 2022) 

The Japanese (1958) and Oriental & Pacific Boxing Federation flyweight champion (1958-1962) had many notable bouts, including fights against hall of famers Pascal Perez, Eder Jofre and Jose Medel. Yaoita was expected to be Japan’s second world champion after Yoshio Shirai, but he abruptly announced his retirement in June 1962, canceling a title shot against Ring/WBA flyweight champ Pone Kingpetch in October. (Fighting Harada served as a substitute challenger and won the 112-pound title.) Yaoita, who retired with a 53-11-2 (7 KOs) record, became a well-known boxing analyst and TV commentator for years. 


Japan year-end awards for 2022

It was an active year with epic events. The Japanese Boxing Commission restarted with new financing just a week after the shocking announcement that it would close after 70 years of history due to bankruptcy at the end of March. Though careful measures to prevent the spread of COVID are still in place, limiting the number of fans to major boxing venues, there were 173 shows nationwide in 2022, a number that came close to the pre-pandemic tally of 177 in 2019.

Naoya Inoue attacks Nonito Donaire during their rematch. (Photo by Naoki Fukuda)

Fighter of the Year – Naoya Inoue, the undisputed bantamweight champion

No argument can be made against naming Naoya Inoue “The Man of Japanese Boxing” in 2022. The stature of climbing to No. 1 in The Ring’s pound-for-pound rankings (the first time ever for a Japanese boxer) following his breathtaking second-round stoppage of future hall of famer Nonito Donaire in June was so significant that NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, headlined the news. Inoue ended the year as the undisputed world champion – ninth in the world and the first from Asia during the four-belt era – after his 11th-round stoppage of WBO 118-pound beltholder Paul Butler. Inoue has nothing left to prove or pursue in his bantamweight campaign, which began with his 112-second KO of top contender Jamie McDonnell in May 2018. He won the vacant Ring championship when he seized the IBF belt from then-unbeaten Emmanuel Rodriguez in May 2019, then earned the WBA strap from Donaire with their Fight of the Year in November 2019, and he added the WBC title with the Donaire rematch in June 2022. “It took four years to become undisputed,” Inoue said in the ring after the Butler fight. “It was not an easy way at all. I struggled with my weight, pushing myself forward, and I made it, finally. Now I am thinking of moving up to [the 122-pound and featherweight] divisions.” 

Fight of the Year – Kenshiro Teraji TKO 7 Hiroto Kyoguchi (for the Ring, WBC and WBA junior flyweight titles at Saitama Super Arena on November 1)

The best matchup was made at the best time. Since Kenshiro Teraji (20-1, 12 KOs) avenged his upset loss to Masamichi Yabuki to regain his WBC belt in March, he had voiced his ambition for a unification fight with Japanese rival Hiroto Kyoguchi (16-1, 11 KOs), the two-division champ who had fought in America and Mexico in defense of his Ring and WBA titles under the Matchroom Boxing banner. When Teraji was visiting Los Angeles for sparring in early September, just before the official announcement of the fight, he told The Ring: “I have nothing but confidence to win.” Not only because he beat Kyoguchi three times in the amateurs after losing their first encounter, but because the rough 2021, which included a drunk-driving incident and his first pro loss, had matured and strengthened him as a boxer. The confidence was real. Teraji pushed back Kyoguchi with heavy jabs from the first round of the first all-Japanese title unification bout since Kazuto Ioka battled Akira Yaegashi at strawweight in 2012. He geared up and dropped Kyoguchi with a straight right in Round 5, but Kyoguchi’s dignity during those three minutes made the fight more memorable. Kyoguchi got up and fired back when he saw Teraji tire from rushing the stoppage. Both used Round 6 to recover, but once the seventh began, Teraji sparked back into gear, punishing his rival with right hands until referee Michiaki Someya halted it. “As I learned a lot from a loss, I hope [Kyoguchi] also gets stronger from this,” Teraji said during his post-fight interview. “I am looking forward to holding the Ring belt in my hands,” he recently told this columnist. 

Knockout of the Year – Naoya Inoue KO 2 Nonito Donaire (for the Ring/WBA/WBC/IBF bantamweight titles at Saitama Super Arena on June 7)

Within 264 seconds, The Monster smashed most of the pre-fight predictions based on the extremely hard 12 rounds that he and Donaire shared two years and seven months prior at the same venue. To be fair, the predictions that Inoue would have another hard fight with the Filipino legend were also due to Donaire’s subsequent age-defying performances against the previously-unbeaten duo of Nordine Oubaali (which earned him the WBC belt) and Reymart Gaballo. It was Donaire who landed a left hook first, instantly setting an intense tone to the rematch. Inoue kept good range to watch Donaire’s movement and pick the right moments to strike – which came early. A short right hand dropped Donaire down straight to the canvas just a few seconds before the end of Round 1. Donaire got up but was obviously hurt. In the next round, Inoue overwhelmed the 40-year-old veteran with powered left hooks until the future hall of famer fell down in the corner. Inoue had no mercy this time.

Golovkin vs. Murata (Photo by Naoki Fukuda)

The Most Inspirational Fight – Gennadiy Golovkin-Ryota Murata (WBA/IBF middleweight title unification at Saitama Super Arena on April 9)

Everything about this fight was dramatic. Its historic and economic magnitude was incomparable in Japanese boxing. It took years to make (with another four months added after it was officially announced due to a resurgence of COVID-19). But beyond the time and money it took to bring the bout to fruition, what the heroes showed in the ring is what will be remembered. Murata, the 36-year-old WBA titleholder, was totally determined to connect with hard jabs, powerful rights and debilitating body shots against GGG, The Ring’s No. 1-rated middleweight as well as the defending IBF beltholder. The Japanese spirit pulled out the best of Golovkin, who had his 40th birthday a day before the fight. Despite their age, the boxers gave it all they had, touching the hearts of everyone in attendance. Golovkin’s skill and experience eventually overpowered Murata’s braveness until the Kazakh’s iron fist finally dropped Murata to the canvas in the ninth. At that moment, it was good to see the corner throw in the towel, knowing their fighter had done all he could do. The spectators who filled the megaarena remained there as if to fully appreciate the history they had witnessed. In the ring, following his post-fight interview, Golovkin gave his traditional Kazakhstani robe to the beaten fighter. No words were needed to explain that it was the best way for him to show his respect to Murata. 

Rising Star of the Year – Shuichiro Yoshino (lightweight prospect)

Having already collected national and regional 135-pound titles, Yoshino (16-0, 12 KOs) is ready for a bigger stage to shine. Yoshino defeated former WBO 130-pound titleholder Masayuki Ito in April 2022 and knocked out Japan’s most experienced contender, Masayoshi Nakatani, seven months later to prove himself the best lightweight in the nation. The prospect has guts and a strong sense of defense that work well together when taking the fight to his opponents. While Nakatani used solid jabs to lead the fight, Yoshino moved forward boldly as he gained his rhythm, landing punches on the veteran who made his name facing Teofimo Lopez, Felix Verdejo and Vasiliy Lomachenko in America. He dropped Nakatani once in the fifth and again in Round 6, forcing Nakatani’s corner to call it a day. 

(Photo by Naoki Fukuda)

Performance of the Year – Referee Michiaki Someya knowing when to stop the Teraji-Kyoguchi fight

Referees must be appreciated when they do a great job, considering the gravity of their task in the ring. Astute fans who watched the Kensiro Teraji-Hiroto Kyoguchi fight were impressed by the sharp moves of referee Michiaki Someya, who stepped in to catch a falling Kyoguchi to save the stricken fighter from hitting the canvas, an action that wouldn’t have been made if the official hadn’t remained in good position and known the perfect time to stop the fight. Mr. Someya, who also made the decision to save Kosei Tanaka from extra damage in the eighth round of his fight with Kazuto Ioka in 2020, told The Ring that he is just one of all referees who respect boxers enough to know that their safety is the No. 1 priority. “We referees have to be impartial always and let the nature of the fight take its course as far as possible. At the same time, when we see damage being done to fighters, we can’t miss the opportunity to end it in order to have them return home healthy. I keep them all in mind whenever I go into the ring, no matter if it’s a four-rounder or a world title fight.” An aspiring prizefighter in his younger days, his bad eyesight prevented him from passing the JBC professional boxer exam, but he never lost his admiration for those living his dream. The native of Tokyo applied to be a JBC official in 1997 at the age of 30 and debuted in the ring as a referee at Korakuen Hall, the world’s busiest fight venue, two years later. “I am always grateful for people encouraging me and remain humble to learn from every fight to improve myself to be a good referee.” This sport cannot survive without such love and effort of everybody around the ring. 


Other notes:

Japan’s only male four-division champ and current WBO 115-pound titleholder, Kazuto Ioka (29-2-1, 15 KOs), battled WBA beltholder Joshua Franco (18-1-3, 8 KOs) to a majority draw in his 11th appearance in a New Year’s Eve event. Ring/WBC champion Juan Francisco Estrada and the WBO’s No. 1 contender, former flyweight titleholder Junto Nakatani, were ringside. There was talk of a showdown with Estrada or a rematch with Franco, but the mandatory defense against Nakatani is what is likely next. 

Former WBO strawweight champion Ryuya Yamanaka won two consecutive fights in his hometown of Kobe this year following his retirement at the age of 23 due to a brain injury suffered during a loss to Vic Saludar in July 2018. Although regulators must be extremely careful about it, the JBC allowed Yamanaka to resume his career with medical evidence. 

Former female OPBF junior bantamweight champion Tamao Ozawa won the WBO title from Miyo Yoshida via a split decision at Korakuen Hall in May, although Ozawa was the clear victor with her effective jabs. It was a one-time comeback fight after a three-year hiatus due to the birth of her son, and her third attempt at a world title. 


By Ryan Songalia


There’s no way to sugarcoat it: 2022 was a rough year for Philippine boxing. The first year after Manny Pacquiao retired from active competition was not unlike the Bulls’ first season after Michael Jordan decided to sell underwear and sneakers full-time. Perhaps, after years of Pacquiao leading the way as a major star, fans of Filipino boxing were spoiled by having that guiding light. After all, he was more than just a generational talent. He was a once-in-a-lifetime, never-see-something-like-him-again kind of talent who has done things in the ring that no one else can say they have.

Where do we start? Longtime champion Jerwin Ancajas lost his IBF junior bantamweight title to Fernando Martinez before taking another beating in a rematch. There was also the rise, and then fall, of Mark Magsayo, who ended the longest-running title reign in men’s boxing by taking the WBC featherweight belt from Gary Russell Jr. by majority decision, then subsequently lost the title by split decision to mandatory challenger Rey Vargas. Then there were the losses of longtime standard-bearers Nonito Donaire and Donnie Nietes, both who looked to be spent forces in respective rematch losses to Naoya Inoue and Kazuto Ioka. To round out the bad fortune, Rene Mark Cuarto lost his IBF strawweight title in July, dropping a split decision to Daniel Valladares in Mexico.

There was also whatever happened to John Riel Casimero, which we’ll get to later on.

When it all seems bleakest, Sean Gibbons, the Frank Churchill of the new millennium, knows how to take a sad song and make it better. “It’s time to bring the Philippines back to glory in 2023,” said the MP Promotions president as he discussed a slew of world title opportunities that will be available for Filipino boxers on his client list during the first half of the new year. 

Who are those fighters? Vincent Astrolabio, the opponent-turned-contender who burst onto the scene after a pair of big wins, now looks set to fight Emmanuel Rodriguez for either the WBO or IBF belts whenever Inoue decides to chase further greatness with a move to 122 pounds. There is also junior featherweight Marlon Tapales, who must get his long-overdue mandatory title shot against Murodjon Akhmadaliev by March 11, according to the IBF. Jade Bornea, the 27-year-old from General Santos City, is likely headed to a purse bid for his mandatory opportunity against IBF junior bantamweight titleholder Fernando Martinez. Cuarto was promised a shot within 90 days at the winner of the strawweight title fight between Valladares and Ginjiro Shigeoka on January 6 in Japan, though the situation was muddied after the fight was ruled a no-contest due to an accidental heabutt.

All of that, combined with Magsayo’s ring return in a potentially big fight in February or March, plus Ancajas moving up to bantamweight at a time when a bunch of titles are about to become vacant, plus Donaire’s likely WBC bantamweight title opportunity against Jason Moloney, and there is plenty to be excited about for Filipino fans. 

Enough about 2023. Let’s look back at the year that was.

Vincent Astrolabio after his victory over Nikolai Potapov. (Photo by Esther Lin/Showtime)

Fighter of the Year: Vincent Astrolabio

Who could have imagined that Astrolabio would have the year he ended up with? The 25-year-old from General Santos City was brought in as a bounce-back, stay-busy opponent for Guillermo Rigondeaux this past February in Dubai and ended up dropping him once to score an upset decision and make himself a player in the bantamweight division. For comparison, Astrolabio (18-3, 13 knockouts) beat the former unified junior featherweight champion more convincingly than Casimero did the previous year. 

Could it all have been a matter of Rigondeaux being way past it at 41? Age didn’t help Rigondeaux’s cause, but Astrolabio showed he was more than a one-hit wonder during his U.S. debut on Showtime December, when he dropped Nikolai Potapov three times to win by sixth-round knockout. That win sets him up for a title opportunity when the previously mentioned “Monster” decides to terrorize another weight class, and it also brings Astrolabio all the way back from three shock losses that he attributed to family issues.

Runner-up: Mark Magsayo

If Magsayo had gotten the decision in the Vargas fight, he’d be the no-brainer for this award. Magsayo still is the favorite to be the face of Philippine boxing. He’s in a big enough division to get mainstream attention, is an explosive, exciting fighter who generates lots of views on social media, and he is still just 27 years old. Magsayo will be a force to contend with for years to come.

Honorable mention: Charly Suarez

It’d be criminal to not at least say something about Suarez, the 2016 Olympian who went 5-0 in 2022. He had an exciting 12th-round stoppage over Tomjune Mangubat to begin the year and a bizarre second-round stoppage of Defry Palulu in Vietnam to end it. At 34, the junior lightweight Suarez (14-0, 8 KOs) needs to stay busy and push for a title shot as soon as possible.

Fight of the year: Eumir Marcial TKO 4 Isiah Hart
April 9 – Virgin Hotels, Las Vegas, Nevada

You don’t often expect a highly prized prospect to have a knock-down, drag-out thriller in their second bout, but that’s exactly what the few hundred fans who arrived early to the Sebastian Fundora-Erickson Lubin fight were treated to. The Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist Marcial (3-0, 1 KO) was hyper-aggressive from the start, leaving him open for the one-two down the middle that put the Filipino middleweight on his back in the first round. He rebounded and hurt Hart several times in the second, but Marcial was dropped twice more in that round after walking into counters. Marcial adapted by the third, keeping his distance to avoid the Hail Mary counters from the N.J. resident, and finally scored a stoppage in the fourth round.

via Filipino Boxing TV on YouTube:

Runner-up: Mercito Gesta UD 10 Joel Diaz Jr.
April 21 – Fantasy Springs Casino, Indio, California

Gesta (33-3-3, 17 KOs) had been out for over two years but showed he still could produce fireworks on the California club-circuit level. Diaz was dropped twice in the first round but rose up to make it a fight. Even in the twilight of his career, Gesta can still put on a show.

KO of the Year: Jeo Santisima KO 5 Hiroshige Osawa
August 14 – EDION Arena, Osaka, Japan

The main knock on the Masbate-born Santisima is that he relies too much on his left hook. That shortcoming was evident in his biggest step-up fights against Emanuel Navarrete, who stopped him in 11 rounds back in 2020 in defense of the WBO junior featherweight title, and Joet Gonzalez, who stopped him in nine rounds on ESPN this past March.

But what happens when that left hook connects with someone’s head? Oftentimes, what happened to Hiroshige Osawa is what occurs. Santisima observed that Osawa was not bringing his right hand back to his chin after throwing it and accepted the invitation to let his hooks fly. After scoring a knockdown in the third, Santisima finished matters in the fifth, when a left hook to the temple caused Osawa to short-circuit and the referee to end the fight without a count.

via Powcast Sports on YouTube:

The win was Santisima’s first abroad after losing the two aforementioned high-profile bouts, and it earned him another invitation to Japan four months later. This time, Toshiki Shimomachi successfully defused the Jeo Bomb, winning an easy unanimous decision.

Runner-up: Jayr Raquinel TKO 2 Landi Ngxeke
October 23 – International Convention Centre, East London, South Africa

Raquinel is a Filipino southpaw who can punch. Imagine that! A straight left hand anesthetized Ngxeke, and not even the assistance of referee Lulama Mtya trying to help the South African fighter buy time and recover could save him. At age 25, the road warrior Raquinel (13-2-1, 10 KOs) probably has many more upset KOs up his sleeve for the years to come.

Prospect of the Year: Dave Apolinario

“The Dobermann” showed he was almost ready for prime time in 2022, highlighted by his first-round knockout of Gideon Buthelezi this past July in South Africa. The 23-year-old southpaw flyweight from General Santos City is promoted by Sanman Promotions and has an impressive amateur background, which includes gold medals at the Philippine National Games and Palarong Pambansa tournaments. Apolinario now has a record of 17-0 with 12 knockouts.

Runner-up: Criztian Pitt Laurente

He has the looks to follow his younger brother Russu into show business, but Criztian Laurente has shown he has real potential in the ring as well. The former amateur standout went 3-0 in 2022, including a near shutout of the much larger Richard Bulacan, who outweighed Laurente by two divisions. Still, the junior lightweight Laurente won a unanimous decision in the 10-round bout, and the southpaw added knockouts of Vicente Casido and JR Magboo to bookend his year.

“Sayang Naman” Award for Missed Opportunities: John Riel Casimero

At this point, we might as well rename it the Casimero Award. A surface glance at Casimero’s record would have you thinking that Quadro Alas should be among the all-time great Filipino fighters, but there has been one obstacle that the 33-year-old from Ormoc City has not been able to overcome, and that is himself. Casimero began the year as WBO bantamweight titleholder but lost the title after a pair of false starts against mandatory challenger Paul Butler.

Casimero first was scheduled to face the interim titleholder in Dubai last December but failed to make it to the ring after being taken to the hospital with a case of gastritis that some suspect was a misdiagnosed case of being over the 118-pound weight limit. The WBO did not strip him of the title then, but it ruled that Casimero would have to face Butler in his hometown of Liverpool, England, or Butler would assume the title. Casimero made it to England but was denied a license to fight after violating the British Boxing Board of Control’s medical guidelines, which forbid the use of saunas to make weight. Where did the evidence come from? Casimero’s own YouTube channel, of course.

Most would have expected Casimero to handle Butler in short order, but instead it was Butler who got to cash in the belt for a shot at unification with Naoya Inoue, losing every second of the fight before being knocked out in the 11th round. Casimero could have gotten that opportunity himself, but his latest instance of self-sabotage has him once again in boxing purgatory. This is the same fighter who lost his first world title, the IBF junior flyweight belt, in 2014 after coming in nearly six pounds overweight, and who blew a dream fight unification bout with Nonito Donaire last year after dragging his feet on signing on to VADA drug testing and insulting Donaire’s wife/manager, Rachel. 

In his only fight of the year, Casimero traveled to South Korea to face two-time title challenger Ryo Akaho on December 3. Casimero was dropped in Round 2, came back strong, and then the fight ended in a no-contest due to a Casimero rabbit punch — a result that was later changed to a knockout win for Casimero after a review by the Korea Boxing Member Commission. In other words, Casimero’s year ended as weirdly as could be expected.

Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].


By Droeks Malan


It was a tumultuous year for South African boxing in 2022, with exhilarating highs and devastating lows.

With junior bantamweight Gideon Buthelezi getting knocked out in a single round by Dave Apolinario, two-time IBF flyweight boss Moruti Mthalane retiring after a dominating decision win over Diomel Diocos and strawweight contender Simpiwe Konkco getting stopped in seven by unheralded Garen Diagan, it seemed curtains for the old faces.

Not quite. Former Ring junior flyweight champion Hekkie Budler was not given much of a chance of upsetting former WBO beltholder Elwin Soto in Mexicali, Mexico, in June, but that is exactly what he did.

via TV Azteca Deportes on YouTube:

In one of his finest technical performances, Budler won a unanimous 12-round decision, becoming the mandatory challenger for Ring/WBC/WBA champion Kenshiro Teraji.

Budler utilized his jab and side-to-side movement well, while Soto’s success with the odd overhand right and body shots was sporadic at best.

Soto changed gears midway, trying to drag Budler into a fight. Budler did not fall for it and continued to outbox Soto. Whatever the Mexican did, Budler did just a little more.

In the final round, a right to the temple from Budler caused Soto to stumble backward. His glove touched the canvas, and the referee correctly ruled a knockdown.

Turns out that Budler needed that knockdown, as all three judges had the fight ridiculously close by similar scores of 114-113. There were some close rounds, no doubt, but it was hard to give Soto more than four of them. In the end, the right man won.

Then there was former two-weight titlist Zolani Tete. Fighting as a junior featherweight, he scored a devastating fourth-round knockout over Jason Cunningham in the U.K. in July. His trademark southpaw straight left kickstarted the Brit’s demise.

via BT Sport Boxing on YouTube:

The win got Tete the Commonwealth title and a ranking at 122 pounds, but the joy was short-lived. It was announced months later that he tested positive for a banned substance. At the time of writing, Tete, who claims his innocence, was awaiting the results of the B sample. If found guilty and slapped with a suspension, it could well spell the end of the 35-year-old’s career.

Some new blood did arrive on the world scene in the form of junior flyweight Sivenathi Nontshinga, who proved that he is indeed “The Special One,” as his nickname claims. He, too, journeyed to Mexico, scoring a razor-thin split decision over previously unbeaten Hector Flores in September to claim the IBF title.

Nontshinga started well, scoring a second-round knockdown courtesy of a hard right, but Flores worked his way back into the fight with his sustained body attack. Just as it looked like Nontshinga was fading, he came roaring back with body punches of his own and a head-snapping right uppercut.

Not only did he win a war in his opponent’s backyard, but he also turned the trick in only 11 professional bouts, a new South African record for a major sanctioning body beltholder. At the age of 23, he is also the second-youngest South African to do so.

It is not always fair, but the heavyweights do hog the limelight. Former cruiserweight contender Kevin Lerena got his big break in December when he went up against Daniel Dubois in the main supporting bout on the Tyson Fury-Derek Chisora card in London.

For three minutes, it looked like Lerena was going to pull off a massive upset. During an exchange in the first round, he clipped Dubois with a left hook thrown from his southpaw stance; Dubois’ legs buckled oddly and down he went for a count. On unsteady legs, he went down for two more knockdowns before the bell rang a few seconds early.

In the second, Lerena continued to stalk an unsteady Dubois. It was revealed after the fight that Dubois had injured a knee, but Lerena inexplicably would not let his hands go. Dubois found his balance toward the end of the round and Lerena’s window of opportunity closed.

A big right in the third dumped Lerena on his back. He rose, but Dubois, in contrast, did let his hands go and pounded Lerena on the ropes. A flurry featuring a head-swiveling right uppercut sandwiched between two left hooks forced the referee to wave it over at the 3:00 mark.

Junior bantamweight Yanga Sigqibo had perhaps the toughest assignment of them all. He faced former three-weight titleholder Kosei Tanaka in Japan in December. He hung tough but lost a unanimous decision over 10 rounds. It was a big step up and he can take consolation in the fact that he managed to stay on his feet.

It’s too close to call for the “South African Fighter of the Year,” which could go to Nontshinga, the country’s only major titleholder, or Budler, the only fighter to beat a Ring-ranked opponent.

Droeks Malan is on Twitter: