2023 was a marquee year for kickboxing with tons of incredible talent. While many impressive fighters were competing this year, one athlete clearly rose above the rest. The Combat Press 2023 Kickboxing Fighter of the Year is Toki Tamaru.
Fighter of the Year – Toki Tamaru
Japan’s Toki Tamaru was entered in the RISE Flyweight 2023 tournament, for the inaugural world title, as an underdog. For most of his career, the young Tamaru was a notable name on other athlete’s records. Since turning pro in 2017, he sustained losses to champions such as Masahiko Suzuki, Kazuki Osaki, and Jin Mandokoro.
The 21-year-old took losses at the highest level, and he seemed destined to be another talented striker, and nothing more. Even taking close decision wins against Riku Kazushima and Khunsuknoy Boomdeksian, ahead of the grand prix, not many kickboxing pundits were picking Tamaru to make it very far in this tournament.
To introduce the RISE flyweight championship, -54 kg, RISE WS opted to host an eight-man tournament that would span all of 2023. It featured top pound-for-pound striker Kazuki Osaki, Muay Thai world champion Petchsila Wor.Auracha, Muay Thai stadium champion Kumandoi Petcharoenvit, plus kickboxing and Muay Thai world champion Shiro Matsumoto, among others.
The young 21-year-old Southpaw Tamaru would show new skills and become the fighter he needed to be at a time when it meant the most. To qualify for this tournament, Tamaru needed to defeat former tournament champion, and training partner of Tenshin Nasukawa, Kazane Nagai. He defeated Kazane by decision. Then, in the opening round of the grand prix, he was able to defeat Muay Thai king Petchsila with a knockout in the first round.
Next would be the biggest challenge of his career. Looking to avenge a loss against RISE world champion and top pound-for-pound striker Kazuki Osaki. The TRY HARD GYM trained fighter dropped the first round against the skilled striker but adjusted his tactics for the final rounds. With tight punching combinations and pressure, Tamaru was able to earn a unanimous decision nod to get past Osaki.
In the tournament final, Tamaru needed to defeat Omnoi and Rajadamnern Muay Thai stadium champion Kumandoi. The powerful Thai-born kicker had just defeated RISE world champion Shiro. The tournament finals was a high-stakes event of two top strikers.
When he needed it most, Tamaru had the best performance of his career. The Japanese striker showed tight punching combinations and smart defense to win all the rounds against his Thai opponent. Along the way, he even scored a knockdown against Kumandoi. The Southpaw was able to shut down and counter the heavy kick game of his opponent to capture the RISE flyweight world title and emerge as an important pound-for-pound athlete. Overall the 21-year-old athlete was able to win five notable victories, in a competitive division, and a world title in 2023.
2023 saw the rise of a talented crop of kickboxers who were all considered for Fighter of the Year. These included Chingiz Allazov, the ONE world champion who defeated Marat Grigorian, and Superbon Singha Mawynn this year. China’s Liu Ce who had captured the K-1 Openweight Grand Prix, and five fights in the year, all by knockout. Jin Mandokoro, of Japan, was also considered, with four impressive victories to qualify to become a title contender. Also, Donovan Wisse was able to shut out three opponents in defense of his GLORY middleweight title.
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