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 #12 in our list of Ones to watch in 2020, and began our count down to the man we rank #1
Taku Kuwahara (7-0, 4)
The Ohashi gym have proven they know how to handle talent, taking Naoya Inoue, Katsushige Kawashima, Ayaka Miyao and Akira Yaegashi to world titles. The head of the gym, the fantastic Hideyuki Ohashi, is himself a former world champion as well and the gym has enough brains to really know how to guide talented fighter to the top. With that in mind we start this by saying that Taku Kuwahara is probably the best Ohashi Gym fighter to have not won a title, of any kind, but that's likely to change in 2020.
The talented 24 year old has been frequently compared to Kazuto Ioka, with the Japanese press regularly referring to him as "Ioka II" and although he's not quite on Ioka's level you can see they do have things in common. Not only did they both attend the same educational facility but they are both talented fighters who have crisp punching, fight with smart pressure, though lovely combinations and have particularly good body shots, a trade mark for both men.
Kuwahara has lot of reasons to follow him. Not only is the Ohashi gym pushing him as a future star, and not only is his an exceptional talent, but 2020 is expected to be the year where he goes out there and begins to collect gold. As we've seen with Ohashi gym fighters in the past when they are ready for titles Ohashi pushes them for titles, rather than wasting time with talk and bluster, and Kuwahara is certainly at the point where he's ready for serious tests.
What do we expect?
With 7 fights under his belt, a couple of completed 8 rounder and 4 fights in 2019, including a massive step up in class, it's clear that the fighter is wanting to go places, his team know he has the talent and together they have the drive. The minimum expectation we have of Taku Kuwahara in 2020 is for him to win his first title, which we expect to be a regional belt. With that belt we expect to see the youngster breaking into the world rankings and fighting against a fellow ranked fighter by the end of the year.
Kuwahara certainly needs more fights before fighting for a world title, his relative lack of experience and limited opposition make it clear that he needs more ring time before thinking about world titles. However an OPBF champion in these lower weights to tend to be fringe world class, and a bout against a world ranked opponent after that will certainly be 2 solid fights that will help Kuwahara develop his experience.
One other thing we would expect from Kuwahara is to face off with a Western opponent of some kind. To date all of his opponents have been from Asia, so it would be good to see him in with a tough Mexican or a Puerto Rican later in 2020.
Whist we have no real concerns over Kuwahara the fighter, he looks like a complete package even if he has now gone the distance in back to back fights, there are still question marks regarding how his career will go from here, and how well it can be managed.
Whilst we do think the Ohashi is great, and the way they've developed fighters over the years has certainly been more exciting than we've seen from many other promoters, there is a worry they are spreading themselves a bit thin. The company, who maintain an interest in Naoya Inoue and Andy Hiraoka, will see their focus split between East and West and it may mean that a fighter like Kuwahara doesn't get the time they deserve. It's not happened yet, but might in 2020.
On the flipside of that the links up with Top Rank from some of the more marketable stars in the gym may well turn out to be a positive for fighters like Kuwahara who could be fighting on US soil on an Inoue undercard, if things fall in place. So there is a worry he could be over-looked, but on the other hand that worry could be alleviated and quickly become a positive, if things go well for his US based stablemates.
Unfortunately we don't have much professional footage of Kuwahara so we've included an amateur bout of him below from 2014, in a tournament in Taiwan.
(Image courtesy of Boxkob.jp)
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