Asia has an amazing boxing culture. In countries like Singapore, the Philippines, Korea, and Japan, you can find a boxing gym in practically every neighborhood. People turn to boxing not just for sport, but also as a fitness program to help get them into shape.
Without a doubt, boxing is one of the most popular martial arts in the world. But Asia, in particular, enjoys a rich boxing tradition and heritage. Throughout history, there have been countless Asian legends who have given fans indelible memories — performances that have inspired generations of pugilists.
These incredible sports icons have all harnessed their natural talent, transformed it into unbelievable skill through hard work and training, and showcased unbreakable heart and willpower in the ring.
While this is not an end-all, be-all list of great Asian boxers, these fighters are all truly noteworthy for what they’ve achieved in the sport. Let’s take a look at a handful of Asia’s best pugilists.
Today, Evolve Daily shares five of the greatest Asian boxers of all time.
1) Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao (Philippines)
No “greatest” list in the world would be complete without mention of boxing’s only eight-division world champion, the legendary Manny Pacquiao.
Pacquiao is one of the fastest, most explosive southpaws in boxing history. He has tremendous hand speed, thunderous knockout power (with both hands), and dazzling footwork. In his prime, Pacquiao overwhelmed opponents with volume punching and dynamic movement.
Beginning his career as a scrawny flyweight, Pacquiao rose through the ranks, capturing multiple world titles in his ascent. He is the first man to win lineal world championships in five different weight classes.
Pacquiao was awarded the BWAA “Fighter of the Decade” for the 2000’s for his performances over Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Oscar Dela Hoya. He was also ESPY’s “Best Fighter” in 2009 and 2011.
He’s treated like a rockstar in the Philippines, with millions of fans swarming him wherever he pops up. Today, he’s a Philippine Senator, and still active in the ring. Suffice to say, Pacquiao is a living legend, and there may never come another fighter quite like him.
2) Chris “The Dragon” John (Indonesia)
Those who were fans of Asian boxing in the 2000’s also know of arguably Indonesia’s greatest champion, Chris John. Though he largely competed mostly in his home country, John is considered one of the best featherweights of his time. He’s the fourth Indonesian fighter to win a boxing world title after Ellyas Pical, Nico Thomas, and Muhammad Rachman.
John held the WBA Featherweight World Title in a reign that spanned nearly a decade between 2004 and 2013. It’s the second-longest reign in the division’s history.
Fans who remember “The Dragon”, recall a charismatic stylist — a highly-skilled and technical fighter with a passion for showmanship. He would often walk out to the ring with his own signature music.
But despite his lofty stature, John spoke to the heart of the working class, and everyone in the country adored him. Indonesian fans will never forget the glory he brought to his home country.
John enjoyed an unbeaten streak throughout the majority of his career, with notable victories coming over Juan Manuel Marquez, Rocky Juarez, and his countryman Daud Yordan. After his only career loss to Simpiwe Vetyeka in 2013, John retired.
3) Gabriel “Flash” Elorde (Philippines)
Another talented and immensely skilled southpaw from the Philippines is the great Gabriel Elorde, more popularly known as “Flash.” Elorde was a dominant force in the super featherweight division for several years, and holds multiple records.
Elorde is the inaugural WBC and WBA Super Featherweight World Champion. In his home country, he was a sports and cultural icon, and enjoyed a level of fame similar to what Pacquiao enjoys today.
“Flash” began his career in 1951 at the age of 16. He eventually finished his career in 1971, ending with a record of 89-27-2 with 33 knockouts. His style consisted of a fast and relentless body attack, as well as solid fundamentals.
Elorde’s signature victory came in 1955 when he decisioned all-time great featherweight champion Sandy Saddler in a non-title affair. Elorde went on to win the super featherweight world title in 1960, when he knocked out Harold Gomes within seven rounds. He would successfully defend the belt 10 times before succumbing to Japanese challenger Yoshiaki Numata by majority decision.
Elorde’s reign as super featherweight world champion is the longest in history at seven years and three months.
4) Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (Thailand)
Boxing is absolutely huge in Thailand, with an unbelievably rich tradition. All that pride and honor in the ring was never more evident than with the legendary Pongsaklek Wonjongkam.
At the age of 7, Wonjongkam, like many children in Thailand, took up the discipline of Muay Thai. It wasn’t until he was 12 years old that he learned how to box, and eventually turned professional.
Wonjongkam is a two-time former lineal flyweight champion, and is arguably the greatest boxer in Thailand’s history. In 2001, he captured the lineal and WBC Flyweight World Championship with a first-round knockout of Malcom Tunacao. In his fourth defense of the world titles, Wonjongkam stopped Japanese great Daisuke Naito in just 34 seconds. That victory went on to become the fastest knockout in the division’s history. Other notable victories include wins over Julio Cesar Miranda, Koki Kameda, and Edgar Sosa.
Wonjongkam holds the flyweight record with 16 straight world title defenses.
5) “The Korean Hawk” Chang Jung-Koo (Korea)
Known for his indomitable will and fearlessness, former world champion “The Korean Hawk” Chang Jung-Koo is one of the most beloved fighters to come out of South Korea. He’s considered one of the best flyweight champions of all time.
Chang competed between 1980 and 1991, ending his career with an impressive record of 38-4 with 17 KOs.
In the ring, he was swift and courageous, and never backed down from a fight. He won his first world title in 1983, when he scored a technical knockout victory over Panama’s Hilario Zapata to capture the WBC World Light Flyweight Title.
He went on to set the previous world record for the most defenses as light flyweight champion, defending the belt successfully 16 times from 1983 to 1988. That record was subsequently broken by his countryman, Yuh Myung-Woo.
In 2010, Chang was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, becoming the first Korean boxer and the fifth Asian boxer to be awarded the honor.
Honorable Mentions: Brian Viloria, Nonito Donaire, Pancho Villa, Khaosai Galaxy, Yuh Myung-Woo, Francisco Guilledo, Fighting Harada, Ji-won Kim, Duk Koo Kim
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