To keep things simple we have decided that for us a prospect is someone who hasn't yet fought on the world stage. They could well be a qualified “contender” but for us the terms aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.
As with the Fighter of the year we felt one man was a rclear winner, and although several contenders did emerge, including two men who fought on December 30th, no one really put on a performance as impressive as our winner did in their most notable win.
Ryo Matsumoto- The clear “top runner up” was OPBF Super Flyweight champion Ryo Matsumoto 4-0 (3) who had a massive year and would have won this award easily were it not for the eventual winner. Matsumoto began the year with a decision over former world title challenger Hiroyuki Hisataka, it was a tough win for the youngster but one that served him well down the line. A quick blow out of Zun Rindam followed before another blow out, over former world champion Denkaosan Kaovichit, really put the youngster on the map. To end the year he would then stop Rusalee Samor in 12 rounds after a dominant performance. It was as good a year as he could have hoped for.
Takuma Inoue- Another good contender was teenager Takuma Inoue who went 3-0 (1) for the year, with notable wins against Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, back in April, and Nestor Daniel Narvaes, in December. The talented youngster was tipped for the top when he turned professional and wins over Fahlan and Narvaes have proven just how good he is. Despite his ability he has yet to fight in a title bout though we suspect that will change next year and we imagine he will be chasing either a Japanese or OPBF title in his first bout of the new year, from what we've seen it's hard to see him losing to any of the domestic or Asian champion at either 108lbs or 112lbs. It was an outstanding year but again his year paled in comparison to our winner.
Albert Pagara- Filipino 20 year old Albert Pagara had himself a very memorable year which saw him going 4-0 (3). The problem in some ways is that only one of those wins really made us say “wow”, but it was a win that put him in the mix for a world title bout. Stoppage wins against Isack Junior and Skak Max were both expected, to say the least, and although he did dispatch Hugo Partida quicker than we expected, it was his near shut out against Raul Hirales that blew us away. That win told us more about Pagara than his previous 21 wins combined. It showed that he was a patient, intelligent boxer, he could counter, set traps and not need to depend on his thunderous power. It was the sort of win that tells the boxing world “I'm ready” and we really do believe that Pagara could win a world title in the next 12 months.
For us the Prospect of the Year was current OPBF Minimumweight champion Kosei Tanaka, who went 3-0 (2) for the year including an exceptional win over Ryuji Hara to claim his OPBF title. The 19 year old kicked off his year in March with a 8 round decision win over the then world ranked Ronelle Ferreras, he gave away a round but ran away with the fight and showed why his promoter Kiyoshi Hatanaka was so excited about him. A fight later he decimated Crison Omayao in just 115 seconds to show that he had power to go with his skills and speed. It was, however, the victory over Hara that broke him away from the pack. Hara was 18-0 (10), a former Japanese champion and the reigning OPBF champion, he was also a highly ranked contender and ranked in the top 10 by all 4 title bodies. Tanaka however showed he could do it all by boxing with Hara for 8 rounds before turning the screw as he entered uncharted territory and stopped Hara in the 10th. It seemed as if Tanaka could have stopped it earlier but was wanting to test his stamina, wanting to go beyond 8 rounds and wanted to see if he could it on as and when needed.
A year ago we knew Naoya Inoue was on the fast track to the top, coming into 2015 we suspect Tanaka will be on an even fast track and it's now expected that he will be fighting for a world title in April. If he manages to do that, and win, he will break Inoue's Japanese record for fewest fights to a world title. Is he manages that then we'll likely be talking about Tanaka as a contender for the 2015 Fighter of the Year.
For those who haven't seen Tanaka feast your eyes on his win over Omayao.
(Image courtesy of Kyodo News)