By Tri Nguyen: Manny Pacquiao’s meteoric rise through the ranks of Boxing may be a prelude to a wave of Asian boxers ready to burst onto the professional boxing scene.
Pacquiao’s thorough domination of one of the toughest welterweights on the planet may be a scenario that will be played out more frequently in the coming years. Asian athletes have slowly but surely begun to creep into our consciousness. Asian baseball players have been imported for decades, so that’s nothing new. In the past few years, we’ve seen them on the basketball court with our best NBA players. Occasionally, you’ll see an Asian player in the NFL although that’s still a very rare occurrence. But it’s Boxing that has seen the most dramatic influx of Asians competing at the highest levels.
If the trajectory of Latin American fighters in Boxing can be used as a model, then expect Asian fighters to be more widespread in all weight divisions in the next few decades. Boxing expanded in Latin America in the 1930s when Sixto Escobar from Puerto Rico, Baby Arizmendi from Mexico, and Kid Chocolate from Cuba won titles. Contenders from Latin American countries began appearing in all the lower weight classes and by mid-century many titles were held by fighters south of the border. Carlos Monzon, Roberto Duran, Salvadore Sanchez, Alexis Arguello, and Julio Cesar Chavez are not just the best fighters from Latin America, they are on most lists for best fighters in history. Nowadays, Latin Americans fight in all weight classes and many hold belts. Boxing has gone mainstream in these countries, firmly ingrained in the culture. Can Asians be the next ethnic group to inject life into Boxing?
"Asian fighters are always in a good fight. Their style makes for great action fights." says Tuan Tran of TKO Promotions. "Outside of the ring, they’re model citizens. Once they are properly marketed by promoters, we could see a huge rise in their popularity."
Prizefighting has long been a part of Asian culture in some form or another. Western style Boxing, which abide by the Marquess of Queensberry rules, was introduced to many Asian countries by visiting military personnel or on trade routes. In Thailand, where Thai Boxing (Muay Thai) has been around for centuries and is the national sport, prizefighters are revered national celebrities. A typical fight card will draw thousands of spectators. Many of these Thai fighters are finding success as pro Boxers in the West. Pacquiao’s success has rejuvenated Boxing in the Philippines and there are several top fighters from the island country that currently hold belts. South Korea and Japan have a long history in Boxing and continue to produce contenders on the world stage.
The most compelling story is China. Boxing was outlawed by Mao Zedong’s communist party in the 1960s because it was considered too capitalist. It wasn’t until Muhammad Ali was invited to visit China by then Chairman Deng Xiaoping in 1979 that Boxing was poised for a return. The 2008 Olympics in Beijing was a coming out party of sorts for the Chinese Boxing program. Chinese fighters won four medals in Beijing, two of them Gold. These weren’t gift medals tainted by corruption like the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea; these were well earned medals won by talented fighters. Shiming Zou is a celebrity in China for his breakthrough performances at the Amateur Boxing World Championships in the early part of this decade, capping it off with a Gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. Maybe the most surprising development for the Chinese was that they won two of their medals in the higher weight classes (Gold in Light Heavyweight and Silver in Super Heavyweight).
Although professional Boxing is in its infancy in China, that hasn’t stopped Don King, the world’s biggest opportunist, from jumping in feet first. He knows a grand opportunity when he sees it. And China, with its enormous population, may be the biggest opportunity he has ever encountered. He promoted a pro fight in Chengdu, China in 2008 that featured well-known stars Devon Alexander, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Andrew Golata that was well received. That may be the start of a lucrative venture for Don King Promotions.
In addition, the Duva Boxing team is actively working with the Chinese government to gain a foothold in their Boxing program. They recently reached an agreement with the Chinese Boxing Federation to develop and market its best fighters with the hopes of someday creating a professional Boxing industry. After some initial trepidation, the Chinese are warming up to the idea. While many substantial hurdles are still in place before professional Boxing takes off in China, it’s encouraging that the Chinese government seems to have embraced amateur Boxing. In a September 2010 dual match between the Chinese and American amateur Boxing teams held in New York City, The Chinese won 6 of 11 matches to the delight of Chinese officials sitting ringside. The Duvas will continue bringing Chinese fighters to the States for training and matches with the clear goal of bringing them into the professional ranks. Nobody can deny the potential of China in the business world, but it may be the sports world where China makes its big return to the world stage.
The wave of Asian prizefighters has already formed and continues to grow. They are entrenched in the lower weight classes of all major rankings. Besides Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire of the Philippines is a former IBF Flyweight champ and poised to challenge for the Bantamweight title. Japan has a host of contenders, including Toshiaki Nishioka, who holds the Junior Featherweight title. Indonesia’s undefeated Chris John has had a stellar career and holds a belt at Featherweight. Some noteworthy prospects from Asian countries include Bayan Jargal from Mongolia (15-1-3), Dat Nguyen from Vietnam (17-1), Ryol Li Lee (17-1-1) from Japan, Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym (42-1) from Thailand, and Ji Hoon Kim from Korea (21-7).
Manny Pacquiao’s ascent up the weight classes may never be seen again but his achievements may usher in a generation of Asian Boxing stars.
November 23, 2010