As well as the champions at 130lbs we also have some interesting contenders in the division, with a mix of established names and emerging hopefuls.
Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (15-0, 12)
IBF mandatory contender is Tajik born Russian Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov, an aggressive, raw fighter with heavy hands and brutal body shots. He's mostly fought in Russia where he has notched solid wins over Malcolm Klassen and Robinson Castellanos, though did travel outside of Russia for his last bout, an 8th round TKO win over Azinga Fuzile. Rakhimov can certainly be outboxed, but he's a hard man to beat with his power, toughness and physicality.
Oscar Valdez (27-0, 21)
Former WBO Featherweight champion Oscar Valdez has abandoned the 126lb division and began his pursuit of a second divisional world title as he's moved up to 130lbs. On paper this looks like a move that may not be the best for the Mexican. At 126lbs Valdez was a brutal, explosive boxer-puncher but he didn't look good at all in his Featherweight debut, where he was dropped by Adam Lopez and given a real test. At 29 years old we understand him outgrowing the Featherweight division, but we do wonder whether he can replicate his success at 130lbs.
Andrew Cancio (21-5-2, 16)
American puncher Andrew Cancio lost the WBA "regular" title last time out, when he was stopped by Rene Alvarado. That bout saw Cancio lose the WBA title and later leave Golden Boy Promotions under a cloud dissatisfaction, following a very public falling out between fighter and promoter. Cancio has since signed with Top Rank and is likely to get opportunities under Bob Arum who has several top names in the division under his promotional banner. Although not the most talented fighter out there the 31 year old can punch and a bout between him and some of the other contenders in the division would be fantastic to watch.
Joseph Diaz (30-1, 15)
Joseph "Jo Jo" Diaz is a former is a 2012 Olympian who has banged on the door a few times, albeit at Featherweight. He lost a competitive bout in 2018 to Gary Russell Jr, then beat Jesus M Rojas, but failed to make weight. Since the Rojas mishap Diaz has moved up to the Featherweight and looked a bit hot and cold. He looked solid against Freddy Fonseca but struggled with journeyman Jesus Cuadro. He'll be getting his first crack at a Super Featherweight world title at the end of the month, when he takes on IBF champion Tevin Farmer. For Farmer the bout is a chance to legitimise his much maligned reign whilst Diaz will be looking to prove he's world class.
Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov (15-0, 9)
Another Tajik born Russian in the division is 24 year old Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov. He's not on the same level of development as Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov, despite the two men having the same number of bouts, but he is another very talented, very aggressive and very fun to watch fighter. In recent years Yaqubov has beaten the likes of Ernie Sanchez, Emanuel Lopez, Jhon Gemino and Abraham Montoya. The unbeaten Yaqubov is really fun to watch but will need to alter his style if he's to make the most of his abilities, and is likely to take longer to get into the mix than some of the other contenders in the division.
Carl Frampton (27-2, 15)
Former Super Bantamweight champion Carl Frampton singled his intent to be a player at 130lbs last year, when he took on Tyler McCreary and took a clear win over the previously unbeaten American. At the age of 32, and turning 33 in February, time is ticking on Frampton's career and it really does seem like it'll have to be this year for him to make a mark on the 130lb weight class. There has been a lot of talk of the "Jackal" fighting against Jamel Herring, though the original plans for that bout have had to be pushed back.
Joe Cordina (11-0, 7)
Welshman Joe Cordina is a former Olympian who is inked to the powerful Eddie Hearn. Talented, well schooled and at 28 years old Cordina looks like he's ready to push on with his career and 2020 could be a really big year for him. He turned professional with a very strong amateur background, though didn't have much hype. He has since developed carefully and it would seem almost a given that Eddie Hearn will secure the Welsh Wizard a title fight sooner rather than later. Expect him to fight in at least 1 eliminator this year, and potentially make his US debut to try and drum up interesting in him facing the Tevin Farmer or JoJo Diaz winner.
3 bouts we want to see in 2020:
Leo Santa Cruz Vs Rene Alvarado
Oscar Valdez Vs Andrew Cancio
Miguel Berchelt Vs Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov
The Super Featherweight division is one that has an interesting feel to it right now, with a good mix of champions, and a solid variety of challengers. Sadly the division hasn't been giving us the fights we want, but it's not been boring either with a number of solid bouts taking place at 130lbs in recent years.
WBC-Miguel Berchelt (37-1, 33)
Heavy handed Mexican Miguel Berchelt has become a bit of a forgotten figure in the division, yet he's probably the most interesting fighter at 130lbs. "El Alarcran" is 28 years old and has held the title for around 3 years, since stopping Francisco Vargas way back in 2017. Berchelt not only has a win over Vargas but also victories over Takashi Miura, Miguel Roman and Jason Sosa. Heavy handed, exciting, and aggressive Berchelt should be a focal point for the division but needs a suitable dance partner in 2020, rather than fighters who are on the slide, like he's faced in recent bouts.
IBF - Tevin Farmer (30-4-1, 6)
One fighter who has been given a lot of attention is American Tevin Farmer, who has been one of the big winners from Eddie Hearn working with DAZN, who have really tried to make Farmer into a star despite serving him up some awful challengers. The "American Idol" is a slippery and highly skilled defensive fighter who has run up 4 defenses since winning the title in August 2018. Sadly his competition has, for the most part, been against European level challengers who were horribly unproven at world level. Thankfully at the end of this month he steps up, massively, to take on Joseph Diaz in what should be a genuine, and well over-dug, test for Farmer.
WBO- Jamel Herring (21-2, 10)
American fighter Jamel Herring is a real good guy, a former US Marine and a man with a fantastic story. He was a former amateur standout who struggled to make an impact at 135lbs but has really found his footing at Super Featherweight with wins against Masayuki Ito and Lamont Roach. Aged 34 his time on top is likely limited, though there is talk of a big money bout with Carl Frampton fight later in the year. Despite a likely short reign he'll make the most of it and is a very skilled southpaw boxer-mover with fantastic height and reach for the division. Probably the "weakest" of the champions but still a very good fighter, who seems to want the big bouts.
WBA "super" - Leo Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19)
The WBA have a mess on their hands at 130lbs, with Leo Santa Cruz winning the "super" title in November when he moved up in weight and took on Miguel Flores for the then vacant "super" title. Santa Cruz is a legitimate big name, and a "4 weight" world champion, but a title like this does him no favours at all. Sadly his reign at Featherweight was relatively poor and although still a fun fighter to watch the Mexican has lost much of the good will fans had for him when he was at Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight. A high guy with a solid chin and under-rated skills Santa Cruz had the tools to be a star, though like Berchelt a lack of credible opponents and in ring activity, has helped him back from being a real star.
WBA - "Regular" Rene Alvarado (32-8, 21)
The WBA really do want us to never forget the mess they have created at 130lbs. We've just mentioned Santa Cruz winning the "super" title, the supposedly more legitimate version of their "world" title. The reality however is that Rene Alvarado is the true champion in the division. Alvarado beat Andew Cancio in November for the belt, which was the same belt Cancio had taken from Alberto Machado, who in turn had beaten Jezzrel Corrales who had beaten Takashi Uchiyama, who's reign had been 6 years. The WBA really have created a mess and it doesn't end here. As for Alvarado he's an under-rated, aggressive, rugged type of guy who is riding an excellent 8 fight winning run. Although he has 8 losses he's very much better than the record he sports and a true nightmare at 130lbs.
WBA "interim" - Chris Colbert (14-0, 5)
When we said the WBA have made a mess here we weren't joking. It was on November 23rd that Alvarado claimed the WBA "regular" title, beating Andrew Cancio. On the same night the WBA let Santa Cruz and Flores fight for the Super title. Less than 2 months later they manufactured an "interim" title that talented 23 year old American Chris Colbert won when he beat Jezzrel Corrales. Colbert is a genuine talent, but this title is a farcical one and the heads of the WBA are really making a mockery of themselves with things like this. Colbert is a very good contender on a good run of wins, and fought 5 times in 2019. He should be a top contender, not a plastic title holder.
The contenders, and hopefuls, at Featherweight do make for an interesting mix from all over the globe. It's a division that perhaps lacks in terms of depth, but makes up for it in just how varied the division's hopefuls are. This isn't a division based around one country, but has contenders from every corner of the planet.
Tugstsogt Nyambayar (11-0, 9)
Mongolian fighter Tugstsogt Nyambayar is set for a WBC title fight in February, against Gary Russell Jr, and if he wins he would become the second ever world champion from Mongolia. "King Tug" is a skilled, heavy handed boxer-puncher but has got some real question marks over his head. He has been down a number of times, and it's hard to know, for sure, if that's a chin issue, or a problem with his balance. He often seems to be completely fine when he gets up, and it doesn't appear he's got any durability issues, but he has been down a few times so the question does remain. If he can dethrone Russell Jr we are likely to see the WBC title being a lot more active than it has been, so fingers crossed Nyambayar does take home the win in February.
Mark Magsayo (20-0, 14)
Filipino fighter Mark Magsayo has been banging on the door of a world title fight for a while and it would be a surprise if he get a shot sooner, rather than later. The talented Pinoy has managed to move out of the shadows of ALA and scored a couple of wins last year. Another win or two, letting him shake whatever rust is left, would help prepare him for a world shot, and an eliminator later in the year would certainly be over-due. It's time now that his backers put some money up for top opponents and let us find out just how good Magsayo really is.
Ryo Sagawa (9-1, 4)
Japanese champion Ryo Sagawa has been on a great run after an early career loss in 2017. He's won his last 8 in a row and has beaten the likes of Ryo Matsumoto, Al Toyogon and Reiya Abe, and has raced up the rankings. The talented boxer-puncher is 25 years old and is expected to defend his Japanese title against mandatory challenger Hinata Maruta later this year, after that's out the way don't be surprised to see Sagawa being linked to world title eliminators, if not world title fights themselves. He's a former amateur standout and he's quickly proving to be a versatile professional fighter who can box, punch and if needed, brawl. The only real worry is a concern about his chin, which has been shown to be less than solid already.
Michael Conlan (13-0, 7)
Talented former amateur standout Michael Conlan turned professional after a controversial 2016 Olympics, and did so after famously giving the bird to the judges. He turned professional with a lot of hype and expectations and the popular view was that he was going to be raced to a world title, potentially facing Shakur Stevenson somewhere down the line. Sadly Conlan has proven to be a rather frustrating fighter to get behind. The 28 year old is talented but appears to lack real power, and has a style that certainly isn't going to attract huge volumes of fans. He has strong Irish backing, and that will certainly help him get big fights and big crowds, but it would take some real changes for Conlan to go all the way to the top.
Musashi Mori (11-0, 6)
Another Japanese fighter than deserves a mention is 20 year old prospect Musashi Mori. The youngster, who is trained by Ismael Salas and managed by former world champion Yasuei Yakushiji, is already a regional champion and ended 2019 by stating that he was intending to fight for a world title in 2020. Don't be surprised at all if we hear a lot about Mori this year, and potentially even see him making a US debut at some point, to try and raise his profile. At the moment it's hard to see his route to a world title, though a potential bout with Can Xu, in China, would be possible, but a very tough ask for the youngster.
Miguel Marriaga (29-3, 25)
Hard hitting Colombian Miguel Marriaga is in an interesting position as his career seemed to be winding down after a loss to Vasyl Lomachenko, but now rumours are that he will get a world title fight with WBO champion Shakur Stevenson. Marriaga is certain on the wrong side of 30, aged 33, but is powerful, tough and dangerous. We wouldn't say he's the best possible opponent for Stevenson, but he is arguably the toughest opponent Stevenson will have faced so far, so it's hard to complain too much. Marriaga is a good test for a youngster and that's essentially the role he'll be playing against Stevenson.
Oscar Escandon (26-5, 18)
It's hard to know what to make of 35 year old Colombian Oscar Escandon. He's lost 3 of his last 4 but gave his career a massive, almost career saving, shot in the arm in December when he took out Jhack Tepora. Although no world beater Escandon does seem to be a very legitimate gate keeper and it'll be interesting to see whether or not he can land another big win this year. If he can it wouldn't be a surprise at all if Escandon managed to another world title fight before his career comes to an end.
The Featherweight division has gone through a lot of changes recently and we wouldn't be surprised to see it shine as a division in 2020 with a lot of very interesting match ups already being spoken about for the year ahead, one of which is just a few short weeks away.
IBF - Josh Warrington (30-0, 7)
One of two champions in the division known more for their volume punching than their power is Englishman Josh Warrington. The IBF champion claimed the belt in May 2018, when he dethroned Lee Selby, and has made 3 defenses, including wins over Carl Frampton and Kid Galahad. Warrington is a massive star in Leeds, and can fill out the local football stadium and at 29 is coming into his physical peak. Talk of unification bouts, with either WBO Shakur Stevenson or WBA Can Xu, have done their rounds and both of those would be very interesting bouts for Warrington, if the Englishman wants to prove he's the best in the division.
WBA - Can Xu (18-2, 3)
Chinese fighter Can Xu really burst on to the global scene last year when he took the WBA title with a win over Jesus M Rojas. Since then he has gone from strength to strength, defending his title against Shun Kubo and Manny Robles III. Like Josh Warrington it's fair to say that Xu is more known for his volume, and according to Compubox threw over 1,500 in his last bout, than his power. Despite that Xu does seem to hit harder than his record suggests and he has enough on his shots to get the respect of his opponents, even if he can't stop them. After his second defense he did call out Josh Warrington, and that would be an insane bout to watch, though we would be surprised to see that fight being made next. As the face of Chinese boxing Xu has the potential to bring huge attention to the sport, and could be a very significant figure going forward.
WBO - Shakur Stevenson (13-0, 7)
Fast rising American star Shakur Stevenson turned professional on the crest of momentum following a very impressive run at the 2016 Olympics. The expectation was that he would be an immediate star. It did however take a little while for Stevenson to settle into the pro ranks and really find his feet. In his last few fights however the Top Rank Promoted youngster has looked fantastic blowing out Viorel Simion, stopping Jessie Cris Rosales and dominating Christopher Rosales and Joet Gonzalez. It's still early days for the 22 year old, who only won the WBO title in October, but the future looks very, very bright for Stevenson. Rumour was that he would be facing Warrington next time out, but it now seems that his first defense will be against 33 year old Colombian Miguel Marriaga, who has quietly rebuilt since a 2017 loss to Vasyl Lomachenko.
WBC - Gary Russell Jr (30-1, 18)
It's hard to think of a man with the talent of Gary Russell Jr who has squandered their prime in a similar fashion. Russell had the ability to take the Featherweight division by the scruff of the neck and make it his. He could have been the face of American boxing and a massive star with his lighting quick speed and under-rated power. Instead his WBC title reign, which began in March 2015, has seen him defending the title just 4 times so far. That's once a year! It's unclear whether Russell doesn't like fighting, or just can't be bothered but his horrific level of activity has sat the WBC title on a shelf and really damaged both the title and his reputation. He is expected to make his annual appearance for 2020 in February, when he defends the WBC title against Tugstsogt Nyambayar. At the age of 31, and with his 32nd birthday coming in June, Gary Russell Jr really has wasted his career. A massive shame.
What we often seem to see in Japan are under-card fighters looking to grab attention away from the main event fighters, especially when they know their bouts will be made available in some form, be it TV or online video. Today's Treasure Trove is one such bout, which was hidden deep down a card that was made available on A Sign boxing and featured two relative unknown fighters putting on a real hidden of a bout. This is one we expect many to have seen, but it is one that is well worth 20 minutes of anyone's time.
Ryo Tanimoto (4-2, 3) vs Yusaku Sekishima (8-2, 4)
Taking place on October 21st, on a card under the "Slugfest" banner. The card featured a Japanese title eliminator, a WBO Asia Pacific title bout bout and the long awaited ring return of Kyotaro Fujimoto, we wouldn't have expected Ryo Tanimoto or Yusaku Sekishima to have managed to grab our attention in their 6 rounder. What we ended up seeing however was a brilliant bout between these two that was thoroughly engaging, incredibly competitive and nicely mixed boxing and fighting into a fantastic bout.
Coming in the 22 year old Sekishima had been the 2018 Rookie of the Year at Super Featherweight. He had lost on debut before reeling off 8 straight wins, until May 2018 when he was stopped by Soreike Taichi. That loss had seen Sekishima dropped on to his backside but end up being too shaken to beat the count. So coming in to this he was looking to get back to winning ways, and would have been full of confidence, despite the loss to Taichi, which would have been seen as more of a learning experience.
At 26 years old Tanimoto was the older man but was the man out of form. He had won his first 4 bouts, from September 2016 to May 2017, before suffering back to back stoppage losses in the second half of 2017. Coming into this bout with Sekishima we hadn't seen Tanimoto in the ring for close to 2 years, with his last bout being a 3rd round TKO loss to Masanori Rikiishi in November 2017. Although talented his inactivity and chin issues saw him coming in as the under-dog, despite being a southpaw.
The bout started relatively slowly. The first round wasn't anything to write home about, though was more entertaining than most opening rounds, with Tanimoto pressing and Sekishima looking to counter. The same basic gameplan was employed in round 2 from both men, but the pace and action ramped up significantly with Tanimoto's pressure increasing and Sekishima.
From there on the bout got progressively more and more exciting as both fighters opened up more and we'd certainly suggest every fan watches this one, and how it progresses from competitive boxing into a thrilling back and forth fight between two men who's styles really gelled perfectly.
This was a hidden gem among hidden gems and whilst it's not an all out war, it is very much a great fight.
The Super Bantamweight isn't overly reliant on just the top guys, as there are some excellent fighters coming through the ranks and forcing themselves into the mix as legitimate contenders. It's here that the division really does it's self some massive favours. Not only is there a lot of contenders, but they are very varied in how they fight, and their experience.
Murodjon Akhmadaliev (7-0, 6)
Former Uzbek amateur standout Murodjon Akhmadaliev is leading the charge for contenders and will be getting his shot, at unified champion Danny Roman no less, at the end of January. The talented "MJ" is a heavy handed boxer-puncher who really was an exceptional amateur before turning professional and being fast tracked through the ranks, to a mandatory title fight. Despite the amateur pedigree Akhmadaliev hasn't fought like an amateur, and is instead a very aggressive fighter who is very fun to watch. A real emerging gem, who could be on the verge of something very big this year.
Hiroaki Teshigawara (21-2-2, 14)
Heavy handed Japanese boxer-puncher Hiroaki Teshigawara has really made himself into a legitimate contender in the last few years, after almost an unknown in 2016. Prior to his loss to Ryo Akaho in October 2016 few would have paid much attention to Teshigawara but since then he has gone 9-0 (8) and picked up notable wins against Keita Kurihara, Jason Canoy, Teiru Kinoshita and Shohei Omori. Those wins have helped put "Crush Boy" on the verge of a world title fight. Although gifted with heavy hands Teshigawara is more than just a puncher and utilises feints and peculiar angles and timing much better than most Japanese fighters.
Tramaine Williams (19-0-0-1, 6)
Unbeaten "Mighty Midget" Tramaine Williams has promised a lot since his 2012 debut, and it's really time the 27 year old broke through. The talented southpaw is lightning quick, hits much harder than his record suggests and is a real natural talent. Sadly his progress hasn't been anywhere near as quick as it should have been, but with 4 fights in 2019 he now has the momentum to have a big 2020. If Williams can be focused on the sport and get the support from promoters that he needs he could become a genuine contender this year, and he appears to be a genuine a genuine nightmare to fight.
Angelo Leo (19-0, 9)
Few men made the moves that Angelo Leo made in 2019 to move from prospect to contender. "El Chinito" went 4-0 during the year and scored notable wins over Mark John Yap and Cesar Juarez, stopping Juarez in 11 rounds, to put himself on the map. The 25 year old hits harder than his record suggests, is highly skilled, quick, exciting and looks a natural in the ring. Although he's maybe a year away from a title fight we would expect a big 2020 for Leo who will almost certainly end the year on the verge of a world title fight. Do not sleep on this very talented youngster.
Ronnie Rios (32-3, 16)
It seems hard to believe that Ronny Rios has only just turned 30! The upset minded veteran has been a professional for over a decade and despite some mixed results he has repeatedly shown that he can pull it out the big wins and be involved in the upper levels of the division. With wins over Rico Ramos, Andrew Cancio, Jayson Velez and Deigo De La Hoya it's hard to write Rios off against anyone. He'll almost certainly get a another shot at a world title and he could, on his day, upset any of the champions.
Carlos Castro (24-0, 10)
The 25 year old Carlos Castro isn't a big name but he's someone who has started to knock on the door of the division. The skilled boxer-mover scored a notable upset last year, over Genesis Servania, where he made the Filipino look very slow and clumsy, and is maybe only 3 or 4 fights away from becoming a legitimate contender. We'd like to see Castro face a couple of opponents of some note this year and really earn his shot. He's a legitimate hopeful, who has remained under the radar, some how.
Mike Plania (23-1, 12)
Unheralded Filipino Mike Plania is one of the many hidden gems from the Philippines, and one who should be on the radar of fight fans. If he's not he will be. The 22 year old "Magic" has notched 8 wins since his 2018 loss to Juan Carlos Payano and looks to be edging his way to another big fight in the US. From his last 5 bouts 4 have been in the US, and it'll only be a matter of time before his handlers let him off the leash and put him in there with a fellow contender. Although not a huge puncher Plania hits hard enough to get respect from opponents, is well schooled and is certainly someone who will begin to get a lot of eyes on him in the near future.
Thomas Patrick Ward (29-0, 4)
Englishman Thomas Patrick Ward is one of the fighters that belong the long list of fighters who should be better known than they are. The 25 year old is backed by MTK and is skilled enough to be in the world title mix. Sadly his team haven't yet backed him in the way they should and he's been unable to build on the momentum his 2019 win over Jesse Angel Hernandez. If MTK really believe in Ward they now need to put their money where their mouth is and pay for him for him to face fellow contenders and move him forward. His last 3 opponents were awful and he needs better. Ward lacks power but has a brilliant boxing brain, fantastic skills, great movement and understand of the ring. Now he just needs some suitable dance partners.
Luis Nery (30-0, 24)
Controversial Mexican fighter Luis Nery continued to drag his name through the mud in 2019 by missing weight for a WBC Bantamweight title eliminator. With that weight issue rearing it's head again it's clear he needs to move to Super Bantamweight, where he will actually be able to fight without expecting opponents to bend over to accommodate him. The exciting and heavy handed southpaw will make an interesting addition at 1222lbs, though we do wonder if his weight bullying tactics will have the same effect here as they did at Bantamweight. Nery, despite all his issues, is a talent and he can be involved in some thrilling contests down the line, but he really needs to sort his career out. This year he needs to put all the issues with weight behind him, leave the Bantamweight division, and go make his mark at Super Bantamweight.
3 bouts we want in 2020:
Emanuel Navarrete vs Hiroaki Teshigawara
Rey Vargas Vs Thomas Patrick Ward
Angelo Leo Vs Tramaine Williams
Action is a bit thin in January but there are a few standout bouts, and today we cover one of those. In fact we cover one of the most interesting looking bouts of the month, and better yet, it's a tournament final which features two men who have serious power in their hands!
The One to Watch?
Kazuki Nakajima (8-0, 7) vs Seiya Tsutsumi (5-0, 4)
January 28th (Tuesday)
The brilliant God's Left Bantamweight tournament comes to it's conclusion with a final between two hard hitting, former amateur standouts risking their unbeaten records in what looks like a truly mouth watering bout. This promises to be explosive and will put the winner into the mix for a title later in the year. On paper this is brilliant, and given the styles of the two men there really is no way this going to be anything but a thrilling shoot out!
Kazuki Nakajima, 26, is one of a number of talented and promising fighters from the Ohashi Gym. He was an excellent amateur, going 70-15 (30), before turning professional in in 2017. His career started explosively, with back to back opening round wins, before he got a serious test from Taiga Higashi in his third bout. Since then Nakajima has impressed bout after bout, and has reached the tournament final after opening round wins over Kenichi Watanabe and Jin Minamide. In the ring he's a boxer-puncher fighting out of the southpaw stance and is well polished with very heavy hands, good composure and patience.
Seiya Tsutsumi, 24, is also a former amateur standout, running up an excellent 84-17 (40) record in the unpaid ranks. He began his professional career with the Watanabe Gym in 2018 and quickly impressed, destroying Junpei Inamoto in an under-the-radar classic in September 2018. Sadly in 2019 he fought only once, stopping Ryan Rey Ponteras inside a round in March, before transferring to the Kadoebi Gym. He got a bye in the first round of the tournament, where he was the sole seed, and then got a walk over in the semi-final when Kenya Yamashita had to pull out. In the ring he's an aggressive pressure fighter with dynamite in both hands.
What to expect?
Both fighters will be well aware that the other man is a big puncher and that risks can't be taken recklessly. On paper things point towards Nakajima being the favourite. He's the naturally bigger man, he's been more active recently, and he's the more polished fighter. However Tsutsumi is a smart offensive fighter who is physically very strong, and will hold his own on the inside, if he can get up close and personal.
We see this as being a bout where the distance decides the outcome. If Nakajima can keep it long he'll be able to dictate being his more polished boxing and his southpaw stance. If it's fought up close however Tsutsumi has a fantastic chance to take out Nakajima.
We expect explosive action, no matter what the range for this one, and we do not expect it to go the distance. We expect bombs to be thrown, and this will be a bout that could end at any second. This could end up a blink and you miss affair, with both having the power to take the other out.
The bad news?
The bout will only be available on Boxing Raise, as the service delivers yet another amazing show. If you're not a Boxing Raise subscriber you will, sadly, miss out on this potential firecracker.
The Super Bantamweight division has been an interesting one in recent years, despite some issues. We've had some really interesting fights, fighters who appear willing to be busy and prove themselves. Whilst we've not seen a host of unification bouts we have seen top fighters facing legitimate contenders and the division has moved on nice in the last few years, without really setting it's self on fire. Right now we have good champion, a good amount of talented contenders, and a lovely mix of styles.
WBA "super and IBF - Daniel Roman (27-2-1, 10)
Aggressive technician Daniel Roman is, at the time of writing, the unified WBA and IBF champion and went about things the hard way. He won the WBA title in Japan, stopping Shun Kubo, went back over to Japan for his first defense, against Ryo Matsumoto, and then went to war with TJ Doheny in a unification bout. The wonderfully respectful Doman was sadly forced out of a mandatory defense against Murodjon Akhmadaliev last September, but will face Akhmadaliev at the end of January in a mouth match up.
WBC - Rey Vargas (34-0, 22)
The 29 year old Rey Vargas may not be the most exciting or explosive fighter at 122lbs but the WBC champion is going to be a very tricky man to dethrone. Standing at close to 5'11" and with freakish reach Vargas is a guy that fighters will struggle to get close to and will have to take risks against. Sadly for all his talent, and he is talented, his bouts lack drama and excitement. Potentially set to change his promotional affiliation in 2020 there are options out there for Vargas, though we suspect he'll out grow the division before someone takes a title from him. Decribing Vargas in a word is easy, "awkward", beating him however is not easy in the slightest.
WBO - Emanuel Navarrete (30-1, 26)
Every division needs a destructive force and at Super Bantamweight we have Emanuel Navarrete, the Top Rank fighter who went 4-0 (4) in 2019 and has only seen the final bell once in his last 13 fights. His 2018 win over Isaac Dogboe saw him winning the WBO title and since then he has shown no mercy in stopping his opponents. Sadly his opposition hasn't been great since winning the title, a rematch with Dogboe aside, so hopefully 2020 brings a step up in class for the 24 year old "Vaquero". Quantity was fine in 2019, now lets see him in with some quality this year.
IBF "interim" - Ryosuke Iwasa (27-3, 17)
Former IBF champion Ryosuke Iwasa enters 2020 as the IBF "interim" champion, and is in an interesting position as the year kicks off. He'll be the mandatory challenger to the Roman Vs Akhmadaliev winner, if they wish to keep the unified titles and is in a great position to build on an excellent win against Marlon Tapales. The Japanese fighter, dubbed "Eagle Eye", does blow hot and cold but he looked really good against Tapales and will hopefully show that level of performance more often going forward.
The Bantamweight division doesn't just have some excellent champions but also some fantastic contenders making it one of the most interesting and deep divisions in the sport. The WBSS, which has been a thorn in the side of some divisions, has helped give time to the contenders at Bantamweight and we now have a multitude of fighters chomping at the bit for a big fight.
Nonito Donaire (40-6, 26)
A man who has got himself a title fight, at some point in 2020, is Filipino veteran Nonito Donaire, who was named as the WBC mandatory challenger. The 37 year old "Filipino Flash" exceeded all expectations in giving Naoya Inoue a tough bout in the WBSS final and we wouldn't be surprised if that wasn't a 1-off performance for Donaire who has looked better at Bantamweight than he ever looked at Super Bantamweight. The veteran has taken good care of his body, still has a dynamite left hook, a real iron chin and masses of experience. Despite his age he's someone who could well have 1 more run at the top.
Michael Dasmarinas (30-2-1, 20)
IBF mandatory challenger Michael Dasmarinas is set to get a shot later this year, though it's unclear when, and could end up having a massive 2020, win or lose in his eventual title fight. The talented Filipino has shown flaws in recent bouts, and was lucky against Manyo Plange in 2018, but is certainly a handful when he's on form. Like many Filipino fighters there seems to be two Dasmarinas's. There's the one who schooled the likes of Hayato Kimura and Jhaleel Payao, and lost a competitive one in South Africa to Lwandile Sityatha. Then there's the one who needed judges to help him get a draw with Plange and needed a thunderbolt from the blue to take out Karim Guerfi.
Zolani Tete (28-4, 21)
The future is very unclear for former WBO champion Zolani Tete. The 31 year old South African hasn't looked great in recent performances, even before being stopped by John Riel Casimero, and it's unclear what has happened to the skilled southpaw boxer-puncher. With his 5'9" frame we wouldn't be surprised by a move up in weight, which would likely be his best option right now. His loss to Casimero was seen as a major upset, but his performances going in, and the injury that forced him out of the WBSS, may suggest that he's close to being a spent force.
Guillermo Rigondeaux (19-1, 13)
It's hard to know quite what the 39 year old Rigondeaux has in the locker. The talented, yet horrifically frustrating, Cuban should have done so much more with his career. Sadly however he was his own worst enemy. He looked chinny, but talented through much of his early career, impressively beat Nonito Donaire, then began to stink out the joint, fight after fight. His unexciting performances saw him being castigated by Bob Arum and American TV but then he failed to really ever manage to work with anyone. A relationship with Gary Hyde, that could have lead to a nice run in Asia, was ended in acrimonious fashion and Rigondeaux toiled until losing to Vasily Lomachenko in 2017. Two wins later Rigondeaux finds himself at the door of the "Last Chance Saloon" and will get a WBA "regular" title fight on February 8th. A fight he must win to remain relevant.
Liborio Solis (30-5-1-1, 14)
Rugged and under-rated Venezuelan fighter Liborio Solis is very much the leader of the "who needs him?" Club. The former WBA Super Flyweight champion is a proper veteran, at the age of 37, and has given fits to the likes of Shinsuke Yamanaka and Jamie McDonnell, being robbed against McDonnell in their first fight in 2017. Sadly we've not seen much if Solis recent and it's unclear what he has in the tank. If he's half the fighter he once was he gives Rigondeaux hell in February, though there's a genuine chance that father time, and a punishing career may have taken the best out of the Solis.
Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-1, 12)
Once beaten former world champion Emmanuel Rodriguez made the mistake of angering "The Monster" ahead of their WBSS semi-final in 2019, losing by stoppage in round 2 to Inoue in Scotland. Prior to that Rodriguez had been on a good run including wins over Jason Moloney, more about him in a moment, Paul Butler and Alberto Guevara. The talented Puerto Rican was set for a world title eliminator in late 2019 against Luis Nery, but the Mexican failed to make weight, and the WBC used their infinite wisdom to not give Rodriguez a shot, instead nominating Donaire. Even with the oversight by the WBC we still expect to see Rodriguez in the mix later in the year.
Jason Moloney (20-1, 17)
Australian boxer-puncher Jason Moloney is a 29 year old who actually impressed us more in his sole loss than his 20 wins. Moloeny's loss came in the WBSS to Emmanuel Rodriguez, in an IBF world title fight, by split decision and we're looking forward to seeing Moloney getting a second shot at a world title. He's already beaten former world champions Immanuel Naidjala and Kohei Kono and looks to be one of the division's best kept secrets. With 3 wins under his belt since the Rodriguez loss we're looking forward to a fruitful 2020 for the 29 year old.
Joshua Greer Jr (22-1-1, 12)
Once beaten American fighter Joshua Greer Jr built himself a nice little gimmick in the last couple of years, bringing a pillow to the ring for opponents, before knocking them out. He stepped up in class last year and found out that opponents at a higher level weren't that easy to take down, and he ended up really struggling with Nikolai Potapov and Antonio Nieves, both of whom could have the decision go their way against Greer. With lady luck shining on him in 2019 he's now on the verge of a world title fight. Sadly for him pillows are unlikely to help when he goes in with a world class opponent, and we genuinely see the 25 year old being stepped when he does face a top 10 type fighter. Still, it'll be fun to see!
Takuma Inoue (13-1, 3)
Former WBC "interim" champion Takuma Inoue, the younger brother of Naoya Inoue, suffered his first loss last year as he came up short to Nordine Oubaali. Despite the loss Inoue showed he belonged in and around world level, despite the appalling scorecard of Alejandro Rochin. We suspect Inoue will come again, though it could be 2021 before he gets another chance. The one thing missing from Inoue is power, it appears his brother has taken the family's share, despite that he's skilled, talented and did hurt Oubaali late. Don't write off Inoue despite the loss last year.
Reymart Gaballo (23-0, 20)
One of the lesser seen faces in the division is 23 year old Filipino puncher Reymart Gaballo. The "Assassin" is one of the best kept secrets in world boxing right now and combines frightening power, speed and aggression with a real flair for entertainment. He's raw around the edges, he's got a lot of work to do to tidy up, but the natural tools to be a threat to anyone in the weight class. Despite being relatively unknown outside of the Philippines Gaballo has actually got international experience, scoring 4 wins in North America including a victory over Stephon Young, and looks to be on the verge of a really big year. He is one to get very excited about as we begin 2020.
3 bouts we want in 2020:
Naoya Inoue Vs John Riel Casimero
Nonito Donaire Vs Joshua Greer Jr
Michael Dasmarinas Vs Jason Moloney
In 2019 we saw the Bantamweight division go through a lot of changes. We saw titles change hands, one old veteran look resurgent, and one contender essentially prove, again, that they can't make the weight any more. It was a division that benefited from the occasional surprise, and saw the WBSS add real prestige to the divisional kingpin. It's a division that is one of the strongest in the sport right now, and one of the most interesting, with so many match ups that could end up amazing us this coming year.
WBA "super" and IBF - Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16)
The division's kingpin right now is Japanese "Monster" Naoya Inoue, the man who unified the WBA "super" and IBF titles and won the WBSS late last year. The Ohashi gym fighter, who recently inked a deal with Top Rank, has the star power, the destructive punching, the skills and mentality to prove himself that we should be wanting to see from more fighters. At the time of writing he's pencilled in to fight in the US on April 25th, and is expected to have a huge year, working alongside Top Rank to increase his profile. Expect a big year from Inoue.
WBC - Nordine Oubaali (17-0, 12)
French-Moroccan Nordine Oubaali cemented his place among the divisional elite with an under-rated 2019 campaign. He began the year beating Rau'shee Warren for the vacant WBC title, and then travelled to defend it against Arthur Villanueva and Takuma Inoue. The powerfully built champion is now 33 and will be looking for big money fights in 2020, if he can get past WBC mandatory challenger Nonito Donaire. Although talented, strong and heavy handed there were question marks asked of him late against Takuma Inoue, and we do wonder about his stamina and punch resistance. Those two issues aside, he looks fantastic, and it will take a special fighter to beat him.
WBO - John Riel Casimero (29-4, 20)
Multi-weight world champion John Riel Casimero put the cat among the pigeons in the division last year when he stopped Zolani Tete in 3 rounds to claim the WBO title. He then made it clear that he wanted Inoue next, in a bout that could well be confirmed by the time this gets published. The explosive, yet inconsistent, Filipino is both a genius and a rotter depending on how he feels on any given day. At his best he is a talented, heavy handed and unpredictable thunder-puncher. On other days he's the sort of fighter who sleep walks through bouts he should win. If he's on form he could be real trouble for Inoue with his unconventional shots and spiteful power.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.