In November we counted down a number of honourable mentions for our 20 for 20. Now it's time to look at the 20 fighters who have managed to make it into the list properly, and they come from all over Asia and all over the weight classes. Some of these you may already be aware of, some are perhaps less well known, but either way these 20 men are going to be well worth following in the new year as they look to push forward in their career and move towards major success.
For these fighters we will look at the the reason why you should follow them, our expectations for them in the coming year and the issues they may face going forward. The one rule with all of these fighters is that they can't have fought for a world title at the time of writing.
Some of these are world ranked, and some of these may well be set for world title fights in the near future, but so far they have not had that top level bout.
Without any further ado, lets take a look at the man we have ranked #13 in our list of Ones to watch in 2020, and began our count down to the man we rank #1
Apinun Khongsong/Downua Ruawaiking (16-0, 13)
When a fighter is on the verge of a world title fight they are really are one to take not of, almost by default, especially when that title fight would be in a division that has international appeal. That however isn't the only reason to take note of Downua Ruawaiking, aka Apinun Khongsong, who is the IBF mandatory challenger at 140lbs. In fact there is a lot more to the Thai than just his mandatory situation, he is a big, talented, smart, hard hitting fighter in a division that we rarely see Thai's making a mark in.
The unbeaten 23 year old is a talented boxer-puncher who had been making a name for himself in Thailand with wins against lower level regional fighters until 2019. It was this past February that he fought outside of Thailand for the first time, and he left a real impact by stopping Japanese veteran Akihiro Kondo in 6 rounds, scoring one of the most eye catching KO's of the year. That win set him up for a shot at the eventual WBSS winner at 140lbs, and left him in a situation where the key was to tick over and bide his time, rather than risk his ranking.
Although certainly not a big name outside of his homeland his win over Kondo showed he was a legitimate fighter, a real brutal puncher and someone who could perform on foreign soil It was the sort of win that instantly puts a fighter on the map, and stopping a man who had fought for a world title just 3 fights earlier, when Kondo went 12 rounds with Sergey Lipinets, was impressive.
What do we expect?
We're realists and we know the clamour internationally isn't for Downua to fight Josh Taylor. In fact the reality is that no one outside of Thailand is even thinking about that fight, especially given that other options on the table for Taylor, but we do expect to see the Thai get a title shot at some point during the next 12 months. He would be a big under-dog but we still see him getting a shot.
Prior to a title fight we expect the title scene at 140lbs to change quite dramatically, and wouldn't be surprised to see the Thai waiting until quite late in the year for his shot. Sadly that will mean stay busy fights whilst the IBF, and their champion, sort things out.
It seems likely that the champion's will look to take part in an undisputed unification bout at some point in the new year, with Jose Carlos Ramirez, and that really is the bout to make at 140lbs. Hopefully after that happens the Thai will get his shot, however he is very much a low reward opponent and has little value to a champion who may not be in a rush to risk anything against him.
Basically the division will move on before Downua gets a title fight, but he'll be linger waiting for the opportunity he earned in 2019.
He is truly part of the "who needs him?" club. The IBF won't want to shoot themselves in the foot or strip Taylor, to give Downua a shot, likewise Downua lacks the political backing to force the bout on his terms, and his team aren't going to be winning any sort of purse bids. The reality is that he's a mandatory without the finances needed to make the most of his shot, and is likely getting his shot as, and when, the IBF deem fit.
Adding to the awkward position he's in there is always, as we've seen numerous times with Thai's, also the chance he simply doesn't travel well. Yeah he good in Japan, but Thailand to Japan is much less of a trek than Thailand to the UK, where he will likely need to be to face Taylor.
At the age of 23 his team might also take the odd, though maybe understandable, decision to decline an immediate title shot, if offered, so that their man can get a bit more experience. He's only had 62 rounds as a professional and has only gone beyond 6 rounds once. If offered the right step aside money they may well take the money and try to develop Downua, rather than let him fight for the title.
At the moment it's really hard to understand what exactly the future holds for the young Thai, but he is in a great position and one we hope he can make the most of.
This coming Saturday we'll be focusing on the action in Glasgow, Scotland, where Naoya Inoue and Emanuel Rodriguez battle in their WBSS Bantamweight semi-final. It's worth noting that Inoue isn't the only unbeaten Asian fighter on the card however, with Thailand's Downua Ruawaiking (15-0, 12), aka Apinun Khongsong, also on the card as a reserve for the WBSS tournament at 140lbs.
The 22 year old Thai was announced for the show last week, and at the time of writing his opponent for the show still hasn't been announced, and his appearance will be his first bout in Europe following 15 straight bouts in Asia. The travel, however, shouldn't be an issue with Downua having scored his best win on the road, and secured himself a future world title fight whilst outside of his native Thailand. Despite that we're probably right in assuming most fans, especially those focusing on the main WBSS bouts in Glasgow, don't know anything at all about the unbeaten Thai, making him an ideal subject for one of our "Fighter Focus" articles, and as usual we'll begin with some factoids
As with many Thai fighters there isn't a lot public about Downua's early live other than that he was born in the summer of 1996 in Trang. He was born Apinun Khongsong, though like many Thai's he adopted a fighting name, Downua, and took a name of a sponsor. For those unaware this is how most Thai's get their unique names, and why their "surnames" seem to change, with sponsors and gyms changing. Downua has reportedly had 2 notable sponsor names, originally "Sakkreerin", like that of stablemate Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, and now Rauwaiking, like many others in the Kiatkreerin stable.
Whilst little of Downua's amateur career can be found he told journalists in Japan, earlier this year, that he had had over 100 amateur bouts becoming part of the national team in his teenage years. Those claims were also reported in the Thai press back in 2017 from his promoter, Ekkarat Chaichotchuang
Those amateur claims seem to be backed up by his style, which is similar to that of a Western professional, rather than a former Muay Thai fighter who has converted to boxing. He is quick on his feet, has good technical skills and makes the most size. Those skills were clear early on. In his second recorded bout, a meeting with Matthis Bernot, he showed an aggressive but technical style boxing behind his jab, looking to counter his man and controlling the range behind his straight shots and footwork.
As is typically the case with Thai's Downua was busy early in his career, fighting monthly between June 2017 and December of that year. On the whole his opponents were novices, though he did end the year with a semi-notable victory against Indonesian veteran Heri Andriyanto. Sadly this was a bout with Andriyanto after the Indonesian started to put in poor performances, and was 8 years removed from him going the distance with Yoshihiro Kamegai and more than 5 years after he'd gone the dirstance with Shuhei Tsuchiya.
Downua would stop Andriyanto in 2 rounds, to move to 6-0 (4), stopping the Indonesian in the same round as Koki Inoue had done 3 months earlier. That was followed up 2 months later by a big step up in class, as he faced Yuta Maruoka for the IBF Pan Pacific title. This title meant something to the Kiatkreerin stable, with Patomsuk Pathompothong, also known as Komsan Polsan having previously held the belt before losing it in Macau to Ik Yang. Downua would have no problem with Maruoka, taking him out in the first round to claim the title. He dropped Maruoka with a huge right hand in the early moments and whilst Maruoka would get back to his feet he was set straight back down by another right hand, and then again soon afterwards forcing the referee to stop the action.
Like many Thai's Downua fought in a stay busy bout after winning a belt, taking out Indonesian journeyman Eddy Comaro in the third of a scheduled 6 rounds. This was followed by a straight forward defense against Filipino visitor Junar Adante. This was a very uninspiring first defense against a man who had been stopped in 4 of his previous 5, and had fought much of his career at Super Bantamweight. The over-matched Adante was dropped from a right hand up top and decided enough was enough, making it clear he didn't want to continue.
Thankfully Downua was stepped up after the farcial bouts with Comaro and Adante, taking on former Filipino amateur talent Adam Diu Abdulhamid, in a bout for the IBF Asia title. The under-rated Abdulhamid had not read the script and had come to upset the Thai pressing Downua backwards and showing good defense to avoid the shots of Downua whilst cutting the distance. For the first time the Thai was tested, and only narrowly pasted the test, taking a very close unanimous decision.
Unsurprisingly, after the close call, Downua was given a lengthy rest before being allowed to get some more seasoning. After an 8 month break he swiftly took out Rusmin Kia Raha, Jasen Egera and Ray Rahardjo, in a combined 12 rounds over 7 months. Those wins lead to another step back up in class, and he shined as he beat down Sonny Katiandagho in 3 rounds. This was the first time that Downua really impressed, showing great timing, handspeed, movement and skills to take out the under-rated Katiandagho.
In a way the win over Katiandagho opened the eyes of those who had followed him, including our selves, and seemed to build the belief in the youngster again, following the worries that Abdulhamid had put into the mind of his team. That rebuilt belief lead him to travel to Japan to face Kondo this past February in an IBF world title eliminator. At the time Downua was ranked #7 by the IBF, Kondo was #4. Not only was Kondo higher ranked, more experienced and more proven, but Kondo was also fighting at home, fighting his 39th bout at the Korakuen Hall. Despite being the under-dog Downua impressed, boxing well behind his jab before taking Kondo out with a brutal uppercut, and planting himself as top contender for the IBF crown.
Although he's not well known outside of Asia the unbeaten Thai will look at this weekend to announce himself as one to watch, and despite "only" being a reserve for the WBSS this is a great chance for Downua to make an impression on a whole new audience, and continue his march towards an eventual world title bout. His style is one that should appeal to Western fans, he's heavy handed, a good boxer-puncher and although still a baby in terms of his place in the sport, is clearly a fighter looking to build on a career best win only a few months ago. He's one to keep a very close eye on.
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features