Throughout the history of international boxing, Asia has always been an influence in ways that often become forgotten in time, or overlooked by the untrained eye.
Asian boxers know this as much as anyone outside the US, and very recently, India’s Mary Kom made the most topical step towards maintaining Asia’s outreach into international boxing, by signing a two-year deal with Puma to be their ambassador for women’s training in India. Her role is set to play a vital part in giving women’s boxing a global boost throughout 2019 and beyond.
Should it prove to be a success, then a new chapter in Asia’s historical role in international boxing will be opened. However, the Asian influence over international boxing won’t stop there.
Pacquiao: An underdog on the betting scene
Kom at the World Amateur Boxing Championships in November 2018.
In terms of Asian boxing idols retaining their status as global favourites, especially in boxing betting circles throughout 2019, the world need look no further than 40-year-old Manny Pacquiao.
He remains as active as ever, and his recent defeat of 29-year-old Adrien Broner, despite being an outsider across every boxing sportsbook prior to the bout, will sustain him for a long time.
Rumours of a 2019/20 bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr continue to cook, and though he would again be an outsider in boxing sportsbooks, Mayweather’s own backers would be foolish to rest easy.
The ways in which Asia, or even the Philippines alone, could make a mark on international boxing this year need not even involve an Asian boxer at all. Rather, it could be how a major event that once took place in that continent echoes a potential matchup in the near future.
That major event was, of course, 1975’s ‘Thrilla in Manila’, and it bears potential similarity to Tyson Fury’s for-now hypothetical rematch with Deontay Wilder could unfold.
Like they were for Ali in 1975, the pre-fight odds were against Fury prior to his first battle with Wilder back in December. Yet, as the night of the fight drew nearer, and the full extent of his weight loss and improvement in fitness was revealed, the odds against him shortened drastically.
In the end, many were backing him to do what Ali did throughout ‘Thrilla’ and out-manoeuvre a stronger opponent. Fury, albeit not to a winning end, did just that.
Fury is already favourite to win should this potential rematch occur, leading the betting odds as of 12th March at 4/5 against Wilder, who trails closely at 5/4.
For many, ‘Thrilla in Manila’ is the most pivotal bout in history, during the process of popularising boxing in densely populated Asian countries throughout the final quarter of the 20th century. Today, all of their citizens not only have the luxury of being able to watch their favourites dance in the ring, but they can also back their favourite boxers in an easy and convenient way.
The first Wilder/Fury bout proved no exception in offering niche markets to Asian bettors sooner than the rest of the world.
As such, the process of globalisation instigated by Thrilla is – however indirectly – set to provide Fury with an indicator of how his role, as the ‘Ali’ of this saga with Wilder, is to develop on a global scale this year. Simply put, the more people back him from Asia, the greater his personal and professional vindication.
The Thrilla in Manila also brought two countries together in a way never thought possible.
Asia’s influence on boxing is ever present
There are a notable number of additional other boxers representing Asia who have unfinished business in 2019, and British fighter Amir Khan is undoubtedly one of them. While many still doubt that he has truly made good on the potential he showed as a 2004 Olympian, he has made every effort to improve the UK and Pakistan’s currently-undulating political relationship, by representing both nations simultaneously in the ring.
Khan fights Terence Crawford in Madison Square Garden on 20 April, almost a year to the day of his defeat of Phil Lo Greco in the more humble surroundings of Liverpool’s Echo Arena, and will be aiming to overturn his status as a massive outsider, despite winning twice since his loss to Canelo Álvarez in May 2016.
Ultimately, although Asia will always be at a disadvantage in terms of its presence in US-dominated heavyweight circles, its impact on all aspects of boxing culture is set to be profound over the next twelve months.