Here we have looked at some of the best in the division with short profiles on 9 of the best in Asia as well mentions of other top Asian's in the division and the other top names in the division world wide.
“The Filipino Flash”
Undeniably the biggest name in the division is Filipino stare Nonito Donaire ( 35-3, 23) who has won titles in numerous divisions and is now looking to become a 2-time champion at 122lbs. Currently he is said to be targeting WBA “regular” champion Scott Quigg in what could be a blockbuster contest.
In the ring Donaire has proven to be skilled, fast and power and has scored wins over a relative who's who of the lower weights, such as Vic Darchinyan, Fernando Montiel and Jorge Arce. Sadly however at 32 years old he is regarded as a fighter coming to the end of his career and it could well be that another loss will spell the end of his remarkable career.
Popular with fans, TV networks and the boxing media in general Donaire is one of boxing's darlings. He has however shown some issues in recent years and after suffering loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux and Nicholas Walters it does seem that the Filipino has seen his star dull slightly after several memorable years as a star of the sport. Despite his waning popularity he is still among the biggest name “little men” in the sport and has been a staple of American TV for the better part of a decade.
The third Filipino to make it on to this list is Pagara's stablemate Genesis Servania (26-0, 11) who has actually got one of the most impressive lists of names on his record and has one of the best resumes of anyone in the division, despite not being spoken about by too many outside of his homeland.
Aged 23 Servania is another of the youngsters of the many youngsters on this list. Despite his age he has already beaten the likes of Gerson Guerrero, Genaro Garcia, Angky Angkotta, Konosuke Tomiyama, Rafael Concepcion, Alexander Munoz and Jose Cabrera, all of whom were either world title challengers or world champions. Sadly though his career has faltered in recent times with only 2 fights in the last 13 months. Despite that he has continued to develop his skills at the ALA gym and is likely ready for a big fight when one is offered to him.
Blessed with natural ability, a sound boxing mind, good movement, under-rated power and a developing sense of experience the world really is Servania's oyster. There are things that could hold him back though he has shown more than enough to suggest that a world title will be his in the future. Not only has he shown skills but also the ability to be exciting, as he was in his 2013 war with Tomiyama, a bout that saw 4 knockdowns, including 3 in the opening round! Of course he'd rather not be needing to prove his heart, but he did pass that unexpectedly hard test and has genuinely impressed ever since.
“The Shinsei Prospect”
Another unbeaten Japanese prospect making his name at 122lbs is the world ranked Shun Kubo (7-0, 5). Kubo isn't a fighter who has received rave reviews but the 25 year old southpaw has impressed in several of his wins, including his victory last December against Luis May. Although world ranked already it's hard to say how good he's going to become.
Although footage of Kubo has been hard to come by he is a member of the Shinsei gym and has been in the gym with Hozumi Hasegawa who would have been as good a mentor as a young fighter would have wished for. Sadly however he's an almost unknown outside of Hyogo where all 7 of his bouts have been staged. Hopefully that will change soon though with Shinsei being based in Hyogo there is a real possibility that most fans won't get to see much of Kubo until he progresses beyond Japanese level. If that's the case he may remain one of the most well kept secrets in Japan, despite his WBC ranking.
Whilst Kubo is world ranked we need to confess that his next bout, scheduled for August 28th, is a real disappointment. He is lined up to fight Thailand's Jakarachlek Sor Wankaew, a man who really shouldn't last more than 2 or 3 rounds with Kubo. A win there is a given though we're hoping that that bout has merely been arranged to be a prelude to a much bigger fight before the end of the year.
“The Mandatory Challenger”
We all know that Cuban fighter Guillermo Rigondeaux is the most slippery fighter at Super Bantamweight though Japan's Shingo Wake (19-4-2, 11) has shown similar ability on route to his rise through the ranks, and he's now the mandatory contender for IBF champion Carl Frampton.
Wake, like many Japanese fighters, was matched hard early in his career though has turned things around and is now on a 9 fight winning streak which has seen him turn his career around and score notable victories over the likes of Yukinori Oguni, Jaesung Lee and Mike Tawatchi, with the win over Tawatchai being the one that has netted Wake his big opportunity,
Whilst relatively unknown outside of Japan Wake is the sort of fighter who could well become a nightmare on the world scene with his tricky southpaw stance, his relative elusiveness, sharp punching and under-rated power. Sadly though for him he's not with a powerful promoter so will likely need to travel for the Frampton fight with rumours it could take place in either Ireland or the UK by the end of the year. That fight really could be a coming out party for a fighter who has been slowly making a name for himself in his homeland.
"The Mongolian King"
It's rare to get excited about a Mongolian fighter though we really couldn't be more excited than we are about the career of 23 year old former amateur stand out Tugstsogt Nyambayar (2-0, 2), who is widely tipped to become the most successful Mongolian since Lakva Sim.
Nyambayar only turned professional earlier this year yet has already impressed with back-to-back opening round stoppages, including a genuinely impressive 98 second victory over Manuel Rubalcava. He's now expected to be moved quickly through the ranks with aggressive match making that should make him into a contender in 18-24 months. Not only has he got real talent but he also has strong connections and a very good team guiding him in his career which is currently based in California. Given his connection he can be moved fast.
His amateur background is the basis for much of the excitement surrounding Nyambayar however in his pro bouts he has shown excellent shot selection, power, timing and all the other traits a fighter needs to progress. The real question will be regarding his chin though as we all know Mongolian fighters have proven to be very tough in the past and there is little doubting that Nyambayar could well be another iron chinned warrior from the harsh surroundings of Mongolia. Another question will be getting the youngster worth while rounds, a real problem if he keeps blasting opponents out in double quick speed.
Qiu Xiao Jun
“The Chinese Hope”
Chinese boxing has had a year to forget with Zou Shiming, Ik Yang and Ma Yi Ming losing in world title bouts. For many the attention has shifted to Rex Tso however some in the know are now tipping Qiu Xiao Jun (17-2, 7) as the next big thing in Chinese boxing, and with good reason. He's already the WBC #2 ranked fighter and holds the WBC “Silver” title.
Jun, unlike many of the top fighters in China, isn't aligned to Bob Arum but instead has stuck loyal with Zovi Boxing who have guided him this far and appear to be willing to match him well in an attempt to prepare him for a potential world title bout. That match making has seen him avenge his losses, both to the experienced Jonathan Baat, whilst also picking up the scalps of Rasmanudin, Jason Cooper and Silvester Lopez, who he impressively stopped in 6 rounds. He'll be looking for win #18 on September 12th before possibly having his team push him for a world title shot.
Although not the most skilled Jun has got a lot to like. He's on a 9 fight winning streak, since losing a razor thin technical decision, he's just 25 and is developing both his skills and his power. Although his record doesn't show it he's a heavy handed fighter and has stopped 3 of his last 4 foes, including Lopez. Of course with Zovi backing him the possibility is that he could become the new face of Chinese boxing.
“The uncrowned Prince”
Nonito Donaire isn't the only notable Filipino plying his trade at 122lbs. In fact he's one of 3 really notable fighters from the country making a mark on the division. Arguably the most promising is the unbeaten Albert Pagara (24-0, 17) who is just 21 years old but has already moved into the world rankings.
Blessed with genuine confidence, a good boxing brain, impressive speed, spiteful power and comprehensive amateur grounding Pagara is regarded by many as the top Filipino prospect. Whilst we know some Filipino's do get over-hyped by their countryman Pagara does look like a future champion and passes the “Eye Test” every time he steps foot in the ring.
Pagara was last in action on August 7th in Dubai where he defended his IBF Inter-Continental title. It's thought that if he keeps winning a world title fight will come sooner rather than later and with ALA Gym backing him there is little doubt that he as the right team behind and the connections to go all the way. He will, unlike some of his stablemates, likely have to travel for for the biggest fights out there but the key seems to be to continue developing him, for now at least.
“The Show of Naniwa”
Japanese prospects seem to be coming through at an alarming rate in recent times. Another to possibly add to that list is the unbeaten 22 year old Sho Nakazawa (7-0, 4) who some are tipping as the next big star of the Osaka Teiken stable and one of the future stars of the Osakan boxing circuit.
Nakazawa was a stand out amateur on the Japanese domestic scene and although he took a while to really get going as a professional, being matched against 4 poor imports to begin his career, he is now looking thoroughly impressive and recently out pointed former world title challenger Silvester Lopez in his best win to date. As well as the win over Lopez we've also seen the youngster shut out former OPBF title challenger Jhunriel Ramonal. Of course those wins aren't huge wins but it's expected that he'll be fighting for a Japanese title in early 2016 before swiftly moving towards a world title.
Nakazawa is boxer-mover who has shown good speed, movement, power and punch selection. He has been down, dropped early by Lopez, but showed maturity to change his gameplan and never looked in trouble again after the knockdown. There is perhaps some worries about how long he'll remain at the weight, given that he's a tall fighter for Super Bantamweight, though given his youth he is likely to make his mark at 122lbs, at least domestically. We suspect his long term future will however be at Featherweight where his body will fill out.
Ye Joon Kim
“The Korean Wild Boy”
Talking about wildcard's its worth giving a mention to Korean bad boy Ye Joon Kim (12-1-2, 6) who is seen as the poster boy of the Korean Boxing Federation. Kim may not be the biggest name in boxing but to many he is viewed as one of the potential saviour to the Korean boxing scene. Sadly however he's an enigma who appears to blow hot and cold.
Aged 22 the Korean has proven to be a real talent, as seen in wins over the likes of Akihiro Matsumoto, Vergil Puton and Yoshihiro Utsumi. Sadly however the Puton fight was unexpectedly competitive and at times the youngster was made to look silly. Although a genuine talent it does seem like Kim is lacking a strong team behind him to keep him from being a clown out of the ring. Once he mentally matures he will almost certainly become a contender, and given the fact he holds an IBF regional title the odds are he could well become an IBF ranked fighter in the coming years or two.
If Kim can sort out his mental flaws there is a real possibility that he could become one of the fighters to help revive the Korean boxing scene. The odds are, however, that for him to get the bigger bouts he will have to travel away from Korea, possibly relocating in Japan or the Philippines, if that happens it really would take someone special to keep Kim on the right track, and we wonder if anyone will make that effort.
Yukinori Oguni (14-1-1, 4)-Oguni is a technically well schooled boxer-mover who is the current Japanese champion and a former OPBF title holder, who lost the belt by stoppage to Wake. Although talented he is a light puncher and will likely struggle to get beyond Japanese level again. Despite that he will be in interesting fights, especially at domestic Japanese level.
Yasutaka Ishimoto (26-8, 7)-Another Japanese level fighter who is often in entertaining bouts is Ishimoto, who is best known for out pointing Wilfredo Vazauez Jr. Ishimoto has come up short in a couple of Japanese title fights but is expected to get a third shot shortly and it could well be his last. If he manages to claim a domestic title then that will be a perfect way to close out his career.
Yusaku Kuga (11-1-1, 7)-One beaten Japanese prospect Kuga is a talented and capable fighter who is expected to reach OPBF level in his career. Aged 24 he's not viewed as a sensational prospect but certainly as a man with real promise. Promoted by Watanabe his future is bright but it's hard to see his route to the top considering his domestic competition. Saying that however we do like a lot.
Hikaru Marugame (5-0, 3)-Marugame is another Japanese prospect and one who is tipped to go a long way. The 25 year old turned professional last year and has looked fantastic at times though has yet to have a serious test. That comes on October 19th when he takes on Jonathan Baat in a really testing 8 round bout at the Korakuen Hall. A win there would be a big statement for the youngster.
Kongthara KKP (7-0, 5)-We'll admit we don't know enough about Kongthara to really make a comment about how good he will be, but so far he has been really impressive and already holds wins over Shingo Kawamura and Nouldy Manakane. The talent he has shown has already impressed and he's already proved his stamina and ability over 12 rounds. One to keep an eye on.
As well as the Asian fighters there are also copious non-Asian fighters in the division worth noting.
Guillermo Rigondeaux (15-0, 10)-The best of the division, by some margin, is Cuban sensation Rigondeaux. Unfortunately Rigondeaux is a fighter who has proven to be hard to match, had to advertise and almost impossible to keep onside. Plenty of fans will accuse fighters of ducking him though comments from his own manager make it seem like he's actually as tricky outside of the ring as he is on the inside. An on song Rigondeaux is a pure boxer, but sadly his time may be running down.
Carl Frampton (21-0, 14)-Northern Irishman Frampton is regarded by many as the clear #2 in the division. He's a boxer-puncher with a lot of talent, a growing fan base and a combination of skills, speed and power. In a recent bout fans saw Frampton being dropped twice, in what was his US debut, those knockdowns saw some question his chin, and ability, but he did win the bout and has continued his unbeaten run. It's now thought that Frampton will be fighting Wake before the year is out in what really looks like one of the best bouts the division could give us.
Leo Santa Cruz (30-0-1, 17)-Mexican warrior Santa Cruz once looked like one of the sports emerging stars. A 2-weight world champion with an exciting style he was supposed to be a throw to the Mexican fighters of old. Unfortunately a lot of the shine and good will he had built in his career has been damaged in the last couple of years as he's gone through a number of WBC defenses against weak opponents. Although he's tough and does throw a lot of punches the belief seems to be growing that he's a divisional cash cow but one with out the ability to face the other top fighters.
Scott Quigg (31-0-2, 23)-WBA “regular” champion Quigg was often seen as the weakest of the champions. In recent times however he has looked impressive and his recent blow out of Kiko Martinez was one of the most impressive wins of 2015. He's looking for a showdown with Frampton though it does seem unlikely that we'll see that one as mandatory obligations and promotional spats are standing in the way. Hopefully we'll see Quigg fight another top name in the near future, and Donaire is said to be the man his team are targeting in what would be an intriguing contest.
(Images courtesy of www.boxrec.com apart from the images of Kubo, courtesy of Shinsei Gym, and Kim, courtesy of the KBF)