Asia: The future of boxing
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - October 27, 2018 - 12:00am

It is the world’s biggest market, with 4.7 billion people, almost 70 percent of the planet’s population, and growing by the day. Yet, in many ways, it is still a mystery to the louder, allegedly more advanced Western world. It is a continent so vast and so diverse, it cannot be classified, cannot be put in a box. It spans 49 countries and China’s territories of Hong Kong and Macau. Each nation has a distinct language, where English is often – at best – a far second. Asia remains a riddle to the other side of the globe, a waking giant just starting to realize its awesome power to influence the world not just economically, but in all areas of life.

In boxing, Asia is already a power, with more than 20 world champions, and dozens of contenders. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, more and more of the former USSR nations have contributed mightily to the sport. Kazakhstan, for example, has produced world-class boxers up to the super heavyweight class, shattering the myth that Asians are tiny little pugs like Pancho Villa, the first champion from the continent, a flyweight. There is even a photo of Villa looking like a child sitting on the shoulders of heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, who wasn’t even the biggest heavyweight of his era. Many former Soviet nations have had very strong amateur boxing programs, owing to the Communist desire for Olympic glory, and disdain for the free enterprise of professional boxing.

We haven’t even touched on Russia. Online encyclopedic sources are divided as to whether Putin’s realm is part of Asia or Europe. Geographically, almost 80 percent of the country lies within Asia. Russia regularly breeds elite boxers.

As for us, we owe a great deal to pioneers like Flash Elorde and Manny Pacquiao, who went seven and six years without a loss, respectively, bringing attention to the sport in this part of the world. Meanwhile, over in Central Asia, Gennady Golovkin has brought attention to Kazakh boxing, and is considered by some to be the best pound for pound fighter today. They have bridged the gap between Asia and North America, the most lucrative market in boxing (for now). In their wake, the number of world champion boxers from the Philippines and Kazakhstan has grown at an accelerated rate.

By most accounts, Japan, Thailand and the Philippines are three of the top 10 boxing nations on earth. Japan currently has eight or nine world champions, depending on which organizations you recognize. Philippine boxing, much like Philippine billiards after Bata Reyes’ triumph in the 1998 World 9 Ball Championships in Cardiff, has grown by leaps and bounds. We haven’t even counted Filipinos and Fil-Ams campaigning independently.

Japan also leads the way with over 200 boxing events a year. China is coming up fast with close to a hundred, no longer restrained by its Communist past. Just as a hint of its potential as a sports market, every regular season game that Yao Ming played for the Houston Rockets, an estimated 20 million additional Chinese spectators watched the game on television from the mainland. There are other emerging markets in Asia: Uzbekistan, Indonesia, South Korea and others. 

The main reason that we are not aware of what is going on around us is that many promoters establish themselves in their own countries, where they know everyone, and where everyone speaks the language. Everyone speaks a different language in Asia, with Mandarin being the one more commonly spoken than the rest. All told, there are over 2,000 boxing events in Asia each year. That is a staggering figure that keeps getting larger by the year.

The main advantage Asia has over a similarly diverse continent like, say, Europe, is the time difference. A European boxer only becomes famous in the US, for example, when he moves there. The awkward time difference makes it impossible to broadcast to an American pay-per-view audience. In Asia, all we have to do is fight at lunchtime. Problem solved.

In the next decade, we are going to see an explosion of Asian talent on the world stage. Everything points to Asian dominance in pro boxing. The wave is coming.

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