WHILE the debate rages as to who should be hailed “Fighter of the Decade,” with names like Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez cropping up, it is worth noting that, right in our backyard, there are a number of Asian pugilists who ruled with an iron jab the past 10 years.
Pacquiao, of course, is the hands down choice for Asia’s best fighter in the 2010s. Heck, the Pacman is the best Asian fighter of all-time. Pacquiao’s unprecedented eight title reigns are actually spread in four different decades: 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s. He won 1 division world title (flyweight) in the 1990s, 6 in the 2000s (junior featherweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, lightweight, junior welterweight, welterweight) and 1 in the 2010s (junior middleweight), making him the only boxer to be recognized as a champion in four different decades.
Pacquiao settled in the welterweight (147 lbs.) division in the 2010s, taking on some of the best fighters in the weight class. He lost the WBO welterweight title to Tim Bradley in June 2012 but regained it in a rematch in April 2014. Pacquiao lost the WBO belt in a unification bout with Mayweather Jr. in May 2015, but captured it again with a decision win over Jessie Vargas in November 2016.
In a huge upset, Pacquiao lost the WBO welterweight plum to Jeff Horn in July 2017. With his career in dire straits, Pacquiao rebounded by stopping Lucas Matthysse in July 2018 to win the WBA’s ‘regular’ version of the welterweight crown. Pacquiao closed the decade with two stirring victories in 2019: A decision over Adrien Broner in January and a hard-earned points win over Keith Thurman in July for the ‘super’ version of the WBA belt.
In sum, Pacquiao was crowned welter king three times in the decade. It’s an amazing feat for someone who turned 41 last December.
As aforementioned, however, Pacquiao was not the only Asian boxer who ruled the decade. There are other champions worth mentioning and some of the names might surprise you.
Filipino Donnie ‘Ahas’ Nietes reigned in four weight divisions in the 2010s (minimumweight, junior flyweight, flyweight and junior bantamweight) and did not taste defeat during the decade, compiling a magnificent record of 17-0 with 2 draws. Nietes, a consummate ring tactician, closed the decade with a decision over Japanese Kazuto Ioka in December 2018 to win the vacant WBO junior bantamweight crown.
Another Filipino, Nonito Donaire Jr., electrified the bantamweight, junior featherweight and featherweight classes in the 2010s. Donaire unified the bantamweight (118 lbs.) crown in February 2011 with an eye-popping second-round knockout of Mexican Fernando Montiel. He moved up to junior featherweight in February 2012 and won the WBO junior featherweight crown over Wilfredo Vasquez. Donaire invaded the featherweight class and won the WBA belt with a technical decision over Simpiwe Vetyeka in May 2014 before succumbing to a knockout loss to Nicholas Walters five months later. Though no longer the same fighter, Donaire still won the WBA bantamweight crown in November 2018 over Ryan Burnett. In 2012, Donaire was hailed Fighter of the Year by the prestigious Boxing Writers Association of America.
Japanese Shinsuke Yamanaka held the WBC bantamweight title from 2011 to 2017, the fourth longest reign in the history of the 118-pound division. Yamanaka posted 12 successful defenses before yielding the belt to Mexican slugger Luis Nery in August 2017. After losing again to Nery in a rematch in March 2018, Yamanaka retired with an overall record of 27-2 with 19 knockouts.
Filipino Jerwin Ancajas closed the decade on a winning note, retaining the IBF junior bantamweight title with a 6th-round knockout of Miguel Gonzalez in December 2019. Ancajas has been the junior bantam king since September 2016 and has made a total of 8 successful defenses.
Thailand’s Wanheng Menayothin occupied boxing’s lowest weight class (minimumweight, 105 lbs.), but ruled it with impunity. Menayothin has been the WBC minimumweight champion since June 2014. The Thai was unbeaten in the decade, going 42-0. Overall, Menayothin has a record of 54-0 with 18 knockouts.
Japan’s Kazuto Ioka also enjoyed a magnificent run in the recent decade, winning four world championships (minimumweight, junior flyweight, flyweight and junior bantamweight) between 2011 and 2019. In June 2019, Ioka defeated Aston Palicte to win the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title and become Japan’s first four-division world champion. Ioka went 22-2 in the decade, losing only to Nietes and Amnat Ruenroeng. Overall, Ioka has a record of 25-2 with 14 knockouts.
Japan’s Naoya ‘Monster’ Inoue caps our list. Inoue turned pro in 2012 and won three world titles (junior flyweight, junior bantamweight and bantamweight) between 2014 and 2018. A helluva puncher, Inoue (19-0, 16 knockouts) is currently the unified WBA-IBF bantamweight king, a feat he accomplished after beating Donaire in ESPN’s pick for 2019 Fight of the Year.