With 2015 quickly approaching we've decided to do out look at the 15 prospects to watch in 2015. Here we bring you the first selection of those prospects, ranked from 15 to 11. Hopefully you'll put them on your radar for the test of the year.
15-Eaktawan Mor Krungthepthonburi
Although WBA Asia Flyweight champion Eaktawan Mor Krungthepthonburi (7-0, 6) has just began to be seen on the WBA world rankings we really wouldn't be surprised to see him race through those rankings throughout the next year. Talented, powerful, fast and with a lovely variety of punches Eaktawan has the ability to be fast tracked and he also hase a powerful Thai team behind him, the type of team that could open up “interim” world title doors for the youngster.
We've liked Eaktawan since we first managed to see him and although we know there is a lot of improvements to be made we also acknowledge that he is young and that improvements will be made over time. We don't see any point in rushing him and instead his development will be key, especially if he comes up against opponents who try to beat him, as Ichal Tobida tried to do. There is a lot to like about him and we suspect more will come with time, even if he is a bit of a “sleeper prospect” for now.
It would seem likely that Eaktawan's team will try to use the WBA Asia belt to move him towards a WBA “world”, or more likely “interim” title fight. He's not ready for that yet but the odds are that by the middle of 2016 he will be ready, as long as he is developed properly with rounds against varying opponents and fights that do, eventually, see him being pushed against foes looking to beat him.
Thai teenager Stamp Kiatniwat (11-0, 5) has gone 6-0 (3) in 2014 and scored a statement win with a decision over former world champion Kwanthai Sithmorseng. The win over Kwanthai was a major eye opener though he's not been pushed too hard since then and has not faced another notable foe. On paper that sounds bad though on the other side it's clear there is no need to rush Stamp, his team know he is a very good prospect and that giving him time to develop is the key. At the moment it's a development process for Stamp and that's the right attitude to take.
Although young Stamp has shown a real understanding in the ring, has shown real boxing ability, movement, speed and intelligence. We won't pretend he's the best pure boxer in Thailand but he's a man with the potential to be a star and with his age it's clear he's going to build up his power and strengthm, the two flaws in his game.
Stamp is the current PABA interim Flyweight champion, as per the PABA website, and although going for the full title is a possibility we suspect it's not an option he will be looking to follow through with, instead he'll be out there to develop. Development has to be the key word with Stamp for the next year and we suspect he'll be kept busy as part of that development. For Stamp that activity begins in January and we suspect will continue through the year with another 6 if not 7 fights before the year is over. All of those fights will be designed for Stamp to get some rounds under his belt not to move forward.
Aged 25 it may be hard to call Super Bantamweight prospect Hikaru Marugame (3-0, 2) one of the best prospects in Asia but, in all honesty, he is that good with all the tools anyone could wish in a prospect. Unlike many Japanese prospects he has high level amateur experience, competing at major international tournaments, and that is partly why he is so old yet so inexperienced as a professional. Sadly he has also only fought once this past year and has struggled in some ways to generate career momentum.
Fast, powerful, highly skilled and with a good team behind him we think Marugame has all the ingredients to be a major player on the world scene in the coming years. He does have some things sat in his way, for example he's competing in what looks likely to be a packed Super Bantamweight division domestically, however we can't see past the fact he's a sensational talent and his wins so far have been at a very solid level for such a novice.
If Marguame has another year like he's had he's going to be struggling through the domestic rankings, thankfully however we expect he'll be having a much better year in 2015 than he had in 2014 and by the end of next year we suspect he'll be banging on the door for an OPBF or Japanese title fight. We don't think he'll have a belt around his waste but we'd not be shocked to see him win the Strong Korakuen or be fighting an what amounts to an OPBF eliminator.
The highest Thai entry on this list is Kongputorn CPFreshmart (5-0, 4) who has looked special since he made his debut earlier this year. He's shown heavy and fast hands, lovely combinations, nice movement and a wonderful variety of shots through his first 5 bouts.
Yes, we said 5 bouts because, at the time of writing, boxrec doesn't recognise 2 of Kongputorn's 5 contests however footage we've managed to collect has shown him fighting 5 times and it's hard not to have been impressed by the footage which has made him look like one to watch despite a lack of experience in the boxing ring. We have however been told that he was a very good Muay Thai fighter and that may explain why he looks so natural so early in his career.
Thai's typically ignore the OPBF route to the top and we suspect Kongputorn will be no different there with the odds favouring him to go either the PABA route to a WBA title fight or follow in the footsteps of many other Thai's who have gone the WBC route via various WBC regional and lesser titles. Having already won the WBC Youth Flyweight title we suspect Kongputorn will progress to regional WBC titles in 2015 and maybe make an appearance on some world rankings by the end of the year.
One man who hasn't yet made his debut though we're expecting very big things of is Japanese teenager Hintata Maruta (0-0) who we have been told is the next on the production line of super talented Japanese kids set to rise quickly through the ranks. Unlike both Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka we're expecting to see Maruta competing at a more palatable division for western fans, either Bantamweight or Super Bantamweight, though like Inoue and Tanaka he is expected to rise just as quickly.
Maruta isn't set to debut until the second half of 2015 but the talented teenage is expected to spar with some notable fighters in the US as he looks to develop his teenage frame into that of a professional and, most amazingly, he is said to be eyeing up a world ranked foe for his debut. We're taking a punt on this kid but, if what we hear is true, Maruta will end 2015 as a world ranked fighter and may well end up winning titles in 2016 despite having not even made his debut at the time of writing.
It's clear he won't be winning world titles this coming year but if everything we read about him is true then 2016 will see him winning some sort of title, being world ranked and looking like a man on the extreme fast track to the top. Do not sleep on this fighter even if he is yet to debut.
We hope to get part 2 of this up short though hope that these 5 men will be added to your lists of fighters who names you will remember for the coming year.
(Image of Maruta courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
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