To begin we look at 9 of the best from Asia, then we take a look at some lesser figures from the Asian boxing scene and then some international fighters. Hopefully we'll help to show just how interesting the division is right now.
The God of Left
Shinsuke Yamanaka (23-0-2, 17)
The top dog in the division is, by quite some margin, is Shinsuke Yamanaka. The destructively hard hitting southpaw is the current WBC champion and has been since November 2011 with an impressive 8 defenses already under his belt. Not only has he run up a number of defenses but he has also beaten notable opponents such as Ryosuke Iwasa, Vic Darchinyan, Tomas Rojas, Malcolm Tunacao and Suriyan Sor Rungvisai.
In the ring Yamanaka shows brilliant ring generalship, solid over-all skills and a rocket of a straight left hand. Sometimes he fails to really use his jab as he should to set up his left hand but it's fair to say that when he's on song he looks in a completely different league to everyone else in the division. When he's not on song he still has that left hand to bail him out of any tough situation, as seen when he dropped Suriyan 3 times to open up a big gap in the score cards.
At the moment we're unsure what Yamanaka's next step is though he has often spoken of having a big bout in Las Vegas. It seems unlikely that that will be next but it's certainly going to be interesting to see what he does and who he faces, though hopefully it will be a step up from Diego Ricardo Santillan, who he fought last time out.
The Mexican Kameda
Tomoki Kameda (31-1, 19)
We recently saw Tomoki Kameda suffer his first defeat as he came up narrowly short against Englishman Jamie McDonnell in a bout for the WBA title. Prior to that bout Tomoki had vacated the WBO belt and now sets on the outside looking in, though he does have powerful advisor Al Haymon backing him and a large Mexican fan base who supposed him in the US, where he is now based following the JBC's ban of the Kameda brothers.
Stylistically Tomoki is the most exciting of Kameda brothers with lovely flashy hand speed, fanstic combinations and great movement. Sadly however he still has the issues that the other Kamaeda's have. Not only is he banned from Japan but he also has that air of arrogance, something that was certainly on show following his loss to McDonnell. At 23 years old he has a lot of time to grow up, though he may find himself needing to realise he lost his last fight by fighting like an idiot in the 12 round.
Tomoki's next fight is almost certainly going to be in the states but who it will be against is a mystery. We suspect it'll be a world ranked opponent with the hope of getting another world title fight by the end of the year though we do wonder whether Haymon will put as much money behind him as he would have had Tomoki beaten McDonnell.
The Thai Tough Guy
Suriyan Sor Rungvisai (41-6-1, 19)
Thailand gives us some of the most bizarre records in the sport and sometimes they are all smoke and mirrors. Other times they are very legitimate, as is the case with the criminally under-rated Suriyan Sor Rungvisai. The Thai is one of the toughest and bravest fighters out there and is a real handful for anyone, despite having first made his name down at Flyweight, where he ran the great Pongsaklek Wonjongkam very close back in 2010.
Suriyan debuted way back in 2006 and yet is only 26 now. Despite that he's not got the wear and tear that one would expect, despite fighting with an aggressive pressure style and facing the likes of Wonjongkam, Tomas Rojas, Nobuo Nashiro, Yota Sato, Yamanaka. Blessed with dogged determination, a very high work rate and steely toughness Suriyan is a headache for everyone, though his lack of power is likely to prevent him from being a truly elite fighter in the division.
Ranked #2 by the WBC Suriyan is thought to be looking for a world title eliminator against Zhanat Zhakiyanov, for the right to fight Yamanaka. We know that for now however Narkonloung will look to keep their man busy and we'd not be shocked to see him out again in the coming weeks, possibly even on the under-card of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai's bout with Jose Salgado.
The top WBO contender
Ryo Akaho (26-1-2, 18)
Whilst Japan only boasts a single world champion at the weight they do have a number of top contenders, one of which is the WBO #1 ranked fighter Ryo Akaho. Akaho first made his name at Super Flyweight, where he claimed the OPBF title and challenged for a world title, though has out grown 115lbs and now sits as one of the leading contenders in the much more packed Bantamweight division.
Technically Akaho is very flawed as a boxer though he's also entertaining with his flaws making him an enjoyable to watch fighter who possess genuinely nasty power, a gritty toughness and a fighters attitude. More notably however is the fact he has linked up with Filipino promotional powerhouse ALA Promotions who have pretty deep pockets and solid trainers to help round out Akaho's flaws before putting him into a world title bout later in the year.
As alluded to, Akaho's future certainly looks like it is moving towards a WBO world title bout. At the moment the title is vacant and Akaho is the top contender so expect his next bout to be for the belt, possibly is Japan or possibly in the Philippines. Given his style and personality he could well be a sold draw as a champion even if he's a long way from being the best in the division.
The Demon of Left
Shohei Omori (14-0, 9)
Kyoto isn't a boxing hot bed though it does seem to have one of the sports most exciting Bantamweight prospects in the form of Shohei Omori, the current Japanese champion and a former Japanese Rookie of the year. Omori burst on to the scene last year with a one-sided victory over Christian Esquivel though managed to blow everyone away in April with a dominant and destructive victory over Kentaro Masuda for the Japanese title.
Omori is yet another southpaw boxer-puncher though we dare say he's the most talented of the 3 mentioned here. He's destructive with his left hand, incredibly quick, looks to be huge at the weight and is still very much a boxing baby at just 22 years old. Amazingly he wasn't much of an amateur though as a professional he has been nearly flawless hardly losing more than a few rounds through his career so far. To say he has a bright future ahead of him is merely stating the obvious though the question is how bright?
The future for Omori isn't clear though we'd like to see him either defend his Japanese title or move towards an OPBF title fight. At the moment he's only had 45 rounds and has only been beyond 5 rounds once so we'd like to see him pass some stamina tests and then make the move towards a world title. He has however looked very special so far.
ZZ The Kazakh Banger
Zhanat Zhakiyanov (25-1, 18)
Kazakhstan boxing clearly has one megastar in the form of Gennady Golovkin, below him however are a number of emerging fighters including flawed Bantamweight puncher Zhanat Zhakiyanov. The hard hitting Kazakh is promoted by Britain's Ricky Hatton and has fought all over the globe already with bouts as far afield as he UK, China, Australia, Russia and Thailand though has often left the impression of an exciting but raw puncher.
Zhakiyanov, from now on referred to as “ZZ”, has a vicious right hand, a hurtful left and an exciting aggressive style that all about come forward aggression. Sadly though watching ZZ is relatively difficult and it often appears that the aggressive fighter is stumbling in the dark looking to land his right cross without ever setting it up, his footwork is sloppy and his accuracy is appalling. But he's a hard hitting fighter who always looks for the home-run punch.
ZZ fought this past weekend, stopping the limited Hector Rolando Guzman in the 6th round to claim the WBA international tite. The future may be that he goes the WBA route though he is currently the WBC #1 ranked contender and may get a cash out offer against Yamanaka or a potential pay day to face Suriyan in Thailand. The future will be fun for the Kazak but maybe not the most amazing.
The top IBF contender
Ryosuke Iwasa (19-1, 12)
In June we will see Ryosuke “Eagle Eye” Iwasa fight in his first world title fight as he takes on Britain's Lee Haskin's in a bout for the IBF “interim” title. This was the next step up for Iwasa who has previously held both the Japanese and OPBF titles. The talented 25 year old from Chiba was on the fast track to the top before being halted in his 9th professional bout, by Yamanaka, but he has regrouped incredibly since then.
Iwasa is another southpaw boxer-puncher, like Yamanaka, and has improved markedly since his loss more than 4 years ago. At the moment he's on an excellent 11 fight winning streak with victories against the likes of Kentaro Masuda, David De La Mora and Hiroki Shiino. He has however been given a real gut check, by Richard Pumicpic, and there is a suggestion that his body is struggling with the 118lb weight limit, something he mentioned following his bout with Pumicpic.
At the moment we know Iwasa is set to fight Haskins on June 13th for the IBF title in Bristol, England. If he wins that bout he is then expected to fight with the full IBF champion Randy Caballero. It's hoped that if he wins both of them a rematch with Yamanaka could be made, possibly for the end of this year or early next year.
The Ohashi gym hopeful
Ryo Matsumoto (14-0, 12)
The Ohashi gym is rightfully bouncing right now with a wave of top former amateur talent, including charismatic 21 year old Ryo Matsumoto. Matsumoto, like Akaho, made his name at Super Flyweight before needing to leave the division due to issues making weight. So far in his career he has claimed the OPBF Super Flyweight title and scored notable wins over Hiroyuki Hisataka, Denkaosan Kaovichit and Rusalee Samor, a trio of very solid wins for a prospect.
In the ring Matsumoto really is a bit of a genius. He can fight, he can box, he can move and he can brawl. At time he makes things look too easy, as he did against Samor late last year, though he has proven he can do 12 rounds and still have enough power to finish off a guy. For a tall fighter, 5'8”, Matsumoto has shown he can both control the range of a fight or land killer body blows and he looks like he's now maturing into a fully fledged Bantamweight and filling out his large frame.
Matsumoto has been strongly linked to a potential fight with WBA “super” champion Juan Carlos Payano with that fight being rumoured “for summer”. Whilst no official statement has been released about it there is some thought that it may come in August, potentially on the same card as Naoya Inoue's return to the ring.
The other Thai
Pungluang Sor Singyu (50-3, 34)
Whilst we rate Suriyan Sor Rungvisai very highly he's not the only Thai in the mix as former WBO champion Pungluang Sor Singyu is also hovering around a title bout, in fact he's likely to fight Akaho for the WBO title later in the year. Sadly he does have a misleading record that suggests he's much better than he really is. That's not to say Pungluang is a bad fighter but he's certainly not up there with the truly world class guys.
The Thai, like many fighters from his homeland, is a basic enough come forward fighter. He's tough but predictable with a grinding mentality and a gameplay that is often based on gradually breaking down his opponents. He can be very fun to watch but against a world class boxer/boxer-mover he is made to look distinctly average. From his 50 wins the stand out is a victory against AJ Banal in the Philippines whilst his losses have come to Stephane Jamoye, Paulus Ambunda and, most spectacularly, Tomoki Kameda.
The future for Pungluang is likely to be the Akaho fight though there is the possibility that he could slip in a fight before then. Unfortunately there is little that we've seen of Pungluang that merits another world title fight so soon after the loss to Tomoki, thought he WBO do seem to have a good relationship with their former champion and that could lead to purse bids being called shortly.
Malcolm Tunacao (35-5-5, 20)-Former Flyweight champion Tunacao is 37 and father time will certainly end his career shortly but he's still a real threat in the division and the 2-time OPBF champion still can't be forgotten about given his ability and experience. In fact he gave Yamanaka one of his toughest fights so far back in 2013.
Hideo Sakamoto (16-1-2, 5)-Japanese 29 year old Sakamoto isn't a world beater by any means but he is one of the divisions most over-looked fighters and he is currently on a 6 fight winning streak, dating back 4 years, since losing a close one to Eita Kikuchi. Among those wins are stoppages against Hiroki Shiino and Kazuyoshi Niki.
Yu Kawaguchi (23-6, 10)-Current OPBF champion Kawaguchi isn't the best fighter in Asia but he's a feel good story and his recent win over Takahiro Yamamoto was certainly career defining. We suspect he may be a target for fighters like Omori or Matsumoto if they can't secure bigger fights next time out.
Kazuki Tanaka (2-0, 2)-Japanese prospect Tanaka is viewed as one of the most exciting young fighters in Japan and his team are suggesting he could go all the way. Whilst it's hard to say for now we don't expect to need to wait too long with the view being that he will fight a JBC ranked opponent next time out.
Petch Sor Chitpattana (30-0, 19)-Unbeaten Thai youngster Petch is only 21 but has been racking up wins at an alarming pace since his 2011 debut. His competition so far has been poor to say the least but he already has a WBC world ranking.
Panomroonglek Kaiyanghadaogym (47-2, 27)-Thai veteran Panomroonglek is best known for losing to Koki Kameda though it seems he now has every intention of making a move towards a WBA title fight.
Jamie McDonnell (26-2-1, 12)-Englishman McDonnell recently defeated Tomoki Kameda to retain his WBA "regular" title and it now seems like we could describe him as the #2 in the division. His title might only be a "secondary" title but the win over Kameda was a big one.
Juan Carlos Payano (16-0, 8)-Dominican fighter Payano is the current WBA "super" champion and is the man who eventually defeated Anselmo Moreno, albeit it in controversial circumstances. Payano is "the man" in terms of the WBA but he's yet to defend his title and has done nothing to inspire us into believing he'll be a long term title holder.
Randy Caballero (22-0, 13)-IBF champion Caballero made a splash in Japan last year when he stopped Kohei Oba in an IBF eliminator. A fight later Caballero claimed the IBF title though unfortunately suffered a serious injury before his first defense. On his return he's expected to face Ryusoke Iwasa or...
...Lee Haksins (31-3, 13)-Haskins is another Englishman and will be fighting Iwasa on June 13th. He's a tricky southpaw who holds notable wins over McDonnell and Stuart Hall and has done everything but fight for a world title.
Julio Ceja (29-1, 26)-Big punching Mexican is a serious threat and has spoken of fighting Shinsuke Yamanaka in the past. On paper he's a major threat and a really good boxer-puncher, though he has been beaten by McDonnell and was surprisingly taken the distance by Oscar Blanquet last time out.