By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
-Kyotaro Fujimoto (20-1): WBO #6 / WBA #11
The former K-1 champion and the unified OPBF & WBO Asia Pacific title holder recently defended his belts twice in 2018.
-Ryota Murata (14-2): IBF #6 / WBC #6 / WBA #7
The 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist lost his WBA world title to Rob Brant in October, and once again finds himself in the position of the title chaser.
Super Welterweight / Jr Middleweight:
-Takeshi Inoue (13-0): WBO #3
The undefeated 4-year veteran and the unified OPBF & WBO Asia Pacific champion will challenge Jaime Munguia (31-0) for the WBO World title, on January 26, in Texas.
-Keita Obara (20-3): IBF #6 / WBO #15
After avenging his shocking loss to Alvin Lagumbay (10-4) and regained the WBO Asia Pacific championship, Obara was set to takes on the undefeated former WBC Silver champion Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (15-0), on January 4th, in an IBF world title eliminator, but the match never happened. No updates yet if it will be rescheduled or not.
Super Lightweight / Jr Welterweight:
-Hiroki Okada (19-0): WBO #2 / WBA #3 / IBF #5 / WBC #9
The former Japanese & WBO Asia Pacific champion made his US debut this past September, against Cristian Rafael Coria (28-7), winning via unanimous decision. Okada is rumored to face the former WBO Lightweight World champion Raymundo Beltran (35-8) on February 10.
-Akihiro Kondo (31-7): IBF #4
Since losing to Sergey Lipinets (14-1) in 2017, Kondo has won his last 2 fights against the debuting Rikhit Thunritsa and Tatsuya Miyazaki (9-12). He will meet the undefeated IBF Pan Pacific champion Apinun Khongsong (14-0), on February 18, in an IBF world title eliminator.
-Masayoshi Nakatani (18-0): IBF #5 / WBC #7 / WBO #10
Nakatani marked his 11th successful OPBF title defense recently, when he stopped the WBC International champion Hurricane Futa (25-8) in round 6. He is rumored to face former EBU European & WBA Intercontinental champion Edis Tatli (31-2) in an IBF world title eliminator.
-Nihito Arakawa (31-6): WBO #4
The former Japanese, OPBF & WBO Asia Pacific champion is looking for his second world title opportunity in 2019.
Super Featherweight/ Jr Lightweight:
-Masaru Sueyoshi (18-1): WBO #6
Sueyoshi has defended his Japanese title thrice this year. His next one will probably be a rematch with Ken Osato (15-2) in early 2019.
-Satoshi Shimizu (8-0): IBF #3
The 2012 Olympic Bronze Medalist has marked 3 successful title defenses of the OPBF crown in 2018, against Kyung Min Kwon (6-5), Shingo Kawamura (16-5) and Takuya Uehara (16-1).
-Reiya Abe (18-2): IBF #4 / WBC #12
Abe is the number 1 contender for Taiki Minamoto’s (16-5) Japanese title. These 2 will collide at the 2019 Champion Carnival, on May 1st, but before that the young lion has another match set first against Daisuke Sugita (4-0) on January 12.
Super Bantamweight / Jr Featherweight:
-Shingo Wake (25-5): IBF #4 / WBC #4
The 12 year veteran has re-established himself at the top of the division after stopping Yusaku Kuga (17-3) in July to win the Japanese title. However, Wake recently vacated his belt and he is rumored to face a world champion in 2019. Until then, he will square off against Takafumi Nakajima (29-11) on January 19.
-Ryosuke Iwasa (25-3): IBF #3 / WBC #14
Iwasa lost his IBF world title to DJ Doheny (20-0) this past August. Rumor has it that he maybe fighting Cesar Juarez (23-6) in an IBF world title eliminator in the near future.
-Ryohei Takahashi (16-3): IBF #10
Takahashi won the IBF Pan Pacific championship from Pipat Chaiporn (45-12) back in June and defended it against Shingo Kusano (11-7) in September.
-Yukinori Oguni (20-2): WBA #6
After losing his World title in 2017, Oguni has picked only one victory in 2018.
Super Flyweight / Jr Bantamweight:
-Kazuto Ioka (23-2): WBO #3
Ioka debuted at the Super Flyweight division this past September, defeating McWilliams Arroyo (17-4) to become the WBC Silver champion. In December, he fought Donnie Nietes (42-1), for the vacant WBO Super Flyweight World title, losing a very close decision.
-Koki Eto (23-4): WBC #5 / WBO #8 / WBA #8 / IBF #12
The former interim WBA Flyweight World champion has fought and won twice in 2018 against lesser opponents.
-Ryuichi Funai (31-7): IBF #1 / WBO #6 / WBC #10
Funai stopped Victor Olivo (15-3) in an IBF world title eliminator, this past November, to become the number 1 contender. However, if the rumored Jerwin Ancajas (30-1) vs. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (47-4) fight takes place, Funai might have to wait for a few months more before he receives his opportunity.
-Sho Ishida (27-1): IBF #4 / WBO #7 / WBA #7 / WBC #13
Since losing to the WBA world champion Khalid Yafai (25-0) in 2017, Ishida has won all of his 2018 bouts, against Ratchanon Sawangsoda (12-3), Richard Claveras (18-6), as well as former world title contender Warlito Parrenas (26-9).
-Daigo Higa (15-1): WBA #6
The former WBC Flyweight World Champion has been suspended for the majority of 2018, since failing to make weight in his last title fight. Recently though, there have been rumors of his upcoming return, including training videos of him, and with his inclusion to the WBA rankings, it’s almost a certainty that we will see Okinawa’s favorite son back to the rings this year.
-Junto Nakatani (17-0): WBC #4 / WBO #10
The unstoppable Japanese prospect has fought 4 times in 2018 and has won all of his bouts, 2 of them via KO. He will finally compete for a championship belt when he faces Naoki Mochizuki (15-3), on February 2nd, for the vacant Japanese crown.
-Sho Kimura (17-2): WBO #5
The former WBO World champion lost his title to Kosei Tanaka (12-0) this past September, in a FOTY candidate. Already ranked at the top 10 of the WBO, he will probably find himself in a championship match again very soon.
-Masayuki Kuroda (30-7): WBC #3 / WBO #3 / IBF #4
Kuroda has recently vacated his Japanese title as his has set his sights on the World championship. He is rumored to meet Moruti Mthalane (37-2) for the IBF title in 2019.
-Tetsuya Hisada (33-9): WBA #1 / WBO #2 / WBC #2 / IBF #11
Hisada recorded a 5th successful Japanese title defense in November, before vacating the belt. Ranked at the top of the division all year long, it will be a surprise if he doesn’t fight for a World championship in 2019.
-Ryoichi Taguchi (27-3): WBC #3 / WBA #3 / IBF #7
Taguchi could be challenging Kosei Tanaka (12-0) for the WBO World title this Spring.
-Reiya Konishi (17-1): IBF #3 / WBA #4 / WBO #4 / WBC #14
After losing a decision to Carlos Canizales (21-0), for the WBA world title, Konishi came back in July and knocked out Orlie Silvestre (12-5) to become the new WBO Asia Pacific champion. His first successful title defense took place on December 1st, against Richard Rosales (13-8).
Kenichi Horikawa (35-18): WBC #6
Horikawa ends 2018 with a 4-0 record.
-Tsubasa Koura (14-0): WBC #3 / IBF #4 / WBA #10 / WBO #9
Koura defended his OPBF title, for the 3rd time, against Daiki Tomita (12-1) in September. He is now set to face Simphiwe Khonco (19-5) in a WBC World title eliminator (date TBA).
-Tatsuya Fukuhara (21-6): WBO #3 / WBC #6 / IBF #14
Fukuhara has been victorious in both of his 2018 bouts.
-Shin Ono (23-9): WBO #5 / IBF #12 / WBA #13 / WBC #13
Ono marked his first successful Japanese title defense against former world title contender Riku Kano (14-4) in August. He will make his second one against Norihito Tanaka (17-7), on January 12.
-Masataka Taniguchi (11-2): WBO #2 / IBF #6
Taniguchi recently defeated Joel Lino (10-1) for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title. It’s almost certain that he will take on Vic Saludar (18-3) on February 25th for the WBO title.
(Image courtesy of World Sport Boxing)
Back in 2011 a young 21 year old upstart called Kazuto Ioka scored a hugely impressive victory over the then unbeaten WBC Minimumweight champion Oleydong Sithsamerchai. The victory boosted Ioka from exciting prospect to world champion and with in an instant fans around the world were sitting up and taking notice of the youngster.
At the time many predicted Ioka to be a "once in a generation" fighter, a fighter whose impressive race to a world title had taken just 7 fights and less than 2 years. As it turns out however Ioka probably isn't a once in a generation fighter but instead the start of a new generation, the generation of hyper-talented Japanese youngsters who are, between them, racing towards world titles from their professional debut. A generation so ridiculously talented that we are almost certainly at genesis of a golden era in Japanese boxing and era that could well see Japan become the leading national in global boxing.
If Kazuto Ioka was the lead figure in this possible golden era then the second man in line was Naoya Inoue. The touted Inoue is a man who was fast tracked to a Japanese title in just his 4rd fight and an OPBF title in just his 5th bout. He was widely viewed, on debut, as being the most naturally talented and most promising young fighter in world boxing. This wasn't just a youngster who tipped for big things but was tipped to be a major star.
The belief in Inoue has come from every angle. The Japanese press love him, fans love him, fellow fighters have spoken highly of him and from just watching him you know you're watching a special fighter.
When we think of amazing prospects we tend to think of guys who pad their records but Inoue's 5 opponents to date have had a combined record of 78-20-9, with a single opponent, Ngaoprajan Chuwatana, accounting for 50% of those total loses. Ioka's opponents at the same time in his career had a combined record of 85-39-13.
What makes Naoya Inoue even more impressive is that he's not even 21 yet. The youngster, who turns 21 in March, is already ranked in the top 10 by 3 of the 4 major bodies and the stories come out of his camp are that he will be fighting for a world title this year, with the hope being that he gets to fight for one in his very next fight.
If we realise that Ioka and Naoya Inoue are both Light Flyweights then it may make sense to rule out other Light Flyweights. Unfortunately for the 108lb division Japan really is just churning out amazingly talented guys at the weigh class with both Kosei Tanaka and Takuma Inoue, both just 18 years old, tipped to become world champions. If we suggest Japan has a gold generation of fighters then it's impossible not to regard their 4 promising guys at Light Flyweight as the best group of youngsters any country has in a single division. Of these two fighters however it's hard to not to imagine Tanaka as having the most upside with his near future almost certainly being at Minimumweight where he may find some more openings.
The Super Flyweight division has a number of interesting Japanese fighters in it. Recognisable fighters like Koki Kameda, Daiki Kameda, Kohei Kono and Nobuo Nashiro have all been fighting at the world level. Below those 4 fighters is former Japanese national champion Teiru Kinoshita.
For me however the name to keep an close eye on is actually 22 year old Sho Ishida. Ishida, a stable mate of Kazuto Ioka's, is a name that many may not recognise but the unbeaten man is already forging his way in to the world rankings and notching up impressive victories.
Rangy with a lovely jab, fantastic hand speed, wonderful variety in shots and brilliant size Ishida looks every bit of a world champion in the making. Though for now that's all he is, a fighter in the making. He has still flaws to sort out, he still has skills to develop and he still needs to step up, though he looks more than capable. Unfortunately with Ioka and Inoue on the scene he's likely to be over-looked for a little while but I have no doubt on this kid becoming a world champion in the next 2-4 years. Hopefully before then we'll see him fighting at least one top domestic rival later this year before his moves into OPBF class and then world class.
Another fighter to keep an eye on at Super Flyweight, or possibly Bantamweight, is 20 year old Ryo Matsumoto. Whilst Ishida is the Ioka fighter here Matsumoto is the Ohahsi gym fighter, sharing a camp with Naoya Inoue and appears to be a fighter with a serious whack on him having stopped 8 of his first 9 opponents, with 7 of them not seeing out 2 rounds. At 5'8" I expect Matsumoto to be making his name at Bantamweight though I believe at the moment he could still make Super Flyweight if an opportunity was there to be had.
If Matsumoto attempts to make his name in the Bantamweight division has an immediate rival in the form of the 20 year old Shohei Omori who, like Matsumoto, is a solid punching fighter who stands at 5'8".
Omori's power, like that of Sho Ishida, wasn't immediately visible with Omori stopping just 2 of his first 5 opponents. Since then however he has blown 4 of 5 opponents out inside 2 rounds including a notable victory over Kiron Omura. With talent, power, size and growing maturity it wouldn't be a shock if Omori was singled out to be the successor to Shinsuke Yamanaka as the big Japanese hope at Bantamweight. He's still, obviously, a long way from that but the building blocks are there for this 20 year old to be a real star.
Fortunately for Omori he's probably young enough to make a charge for a title when the the likes of Yamanaka, Ryosuke Iwasa and Tomoki Kameda have either out grown the division or, in Yamanaka's case, retired from the sport. There's no rush at all for Omori at this point who is a mere baby in the Bantamweight division yet already seems like a champion of the future.
When we discuss the best divisions in Japan it's hard not to think that Super Featherweight is the strongest. Not only do Japanese fighters hold the WBC and WBA titles but Japan also has a nailed on future champion in Daiki Kaneko who looks like he'll claim a world title sooner rather than later.
Outside of the top 3 there is still strength in numbers with the likes of Satoshi Hosono and Hiroshige Osawa both of whom are very capable fighters. For me though the guy to keep a close eye on is the unbeaten Rikki Naito.
Naito, who fights for a Japanese national title in his very next fight is a very talented 22 year southpaw who seems capable of moving through the levels given time. He's no where near as polished as Ioka, Naoya Inoue or Sho Ishida but yet he still has a lot to like about him, including his skills and confidence.
To date Naito has only really faced 1 tough test. That came in his most recent fight, a majority decision over Keiichi Izumi in the Strongest Korakuen last year. That bout was a worry for Naito though if given time to develop his skillset I can see him at least challenging for a world title somewhere down the line.
At Lightweight, though certainly expected to move up to Light Welterweight in the near future, we have Masayoshi Nakatani. Nakatani, the OPBF Lightweight champion, is only 24 though has a perfect 7-0 (5) record including a huge win over Yoshitaka Kato last time out and an impressive stoppage of Shuhei Tsuchiya. Those two wins are what should bring Nakatani to any fight fans attention.
Blessed with power, speed and a very tall rangy body Nakatani looks like the sort of fighter who will be able to pick his fights between Lightweight and Light Middleweight if not Middleweight. He's a smidge under 6" and like Ioka and Ishida, he's being brought along in the Ioka gym being given a high quality gym environment to train his skills and hone his craft.
Our biggest worry about Nakatani is his weight. His frame is huge and he'd probably be better off fighting at 140lbs sooner rather than later. We saw Ryo Miyazaki, another Ioka gym member, struggle with weight and hopefully Nakatani will have learned from Miyazaki's mistakes.
Staying with 24 year olds I really like the look of the unbeaten Hiroki Okada. Okada, who sports a perfect KO record of 7 fights, 7 wins, 7 KO's is a Light Welterweight powerhouse who scored a noteworthy stoppage over Indonesia's Heri Andriyanto last year. Expected to fight for the national Light Welterweight title later this year Okada could be the dark horse to become the next Japanese banger even though he's a hugely different style of fighter to current KO sensation Takashi Uchiyama at Super Featherweight.
With so many exciting youngsters coming through the Japanese ranks right now, I won't be surprised if Japanese boxing really does entertain a genuine golden age. And lets not forget, I've only been looking at a handful of talented unbeaten youngsters. Throw in a few guys with a loss or two and you really do have an amazing depth of promising fighters which, to take Fuji TV's line, leaves us on the verge of an "Exciting Time".
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