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.
The Super Flyweight division not only has 4 excellent champions but also has wonderful depth in terms of contenders, with several former world champions knocking on the door, and a former world title challenger now mandated for another world title. What's notable is not just the sheer depth in the division but also how varied it is, with a lot of different countries being represented. Due to how deep the Super Flyweight division is we've decided to not just look at contenders here, but two prospects who we expect to cross over into contenders in 2020, showing just how interesting the division is right now.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (47-5-1, 41)
Hard hitting Thai Srisaket Sor Rungvisai announced himself to a global audience during an 11 month run that saw him score 2 wins Vs Roman Gonzalez and one over Juan Francisco Estrada. Sadly since then it's been a weird time for Srisaket, who hasn't looked the same. A loss in April 2019 to Estrada killed his moment and we've not seen the Thai in action again. Despite the fact he's promoted by Eddie Hearn talk of a Srisaket Vs Yafai bout has never really been heard and it seems like the English promoter has forgotten all about his destructive Thai. If Srisaket's not able to get a meaningful fight in 2020 it could well be that he ends up being remembered as a flash in the pan by international fans.
Roman Gonzalez (48-2, 40)
Nicaraguan legend Roman Gonzalez might not be what he once was but he is still arguably the biggest name in the division and now with his wear and tear and age, he's got a target on his back. Both Kazuto Ioka and Kal Yafai have began to circle like vultures. We hope Gonzalez has more in the tank than his detractors realise, but the reality is that his 50 fight career has been a long and hard one, and Super Flyweight was never the best for his career. If he can land a big fight this year, he has a chance, but if he's forced to wait until 2021 it could be too late for "Chocolatito" to reclaim a title. Given how little he's fought in recent years he is, oddly, a bit of a dark horse in the division right now, and that might serve him better than being the rampaging monster he once was.
Francisco Rodriguez Jr (33-4-1, 24)
The criminally under-rated Francisco Rodriguez Jr is best remembered for his incredibly fight with Katsunari Takayama down at 105lbs but has quietly become a force at 115lbs. Notably he's likely to have been written off for a run of bouts that saw him going 1-2-1 in 2014/2015 but he's now riding a 14 fight winning run. That run has included notable wins over Yohei Tobe, Hernan Marquez, Oswaldo Novoa, Ramon Garcia Hirales. He does still need a win over a top contemporary contender to earn a shot, but he's certainly having a resurgent run and deserves a mention.
Donnie Nietes (42-1-5, 23)
If any fighter "done fucked up" in 2019 it was Filipino Donnie Nietes. He entered the year the WBO Super Flyweight champion and ended the year on milk cartoons with the word "missing" above his head. The 4 weight champion looked set for a tremendous end to a brilliant decade but instead wasted the whole year on the outside looking in. At 37, he turned 38 in May, it's hard to know what Neites has left, but the crafty "Ahas" is as skilled as they come and if he lands a big fight this year it's hard to rule him out, even against the very best in the division. Fingers crossed ALA Promotions in the Philippines can secure Nietes a career defining opponent this year, or else he might as well retire, having had a truly legendary career.
Andrew Moloney (21-0, 14)
Unbeaten Australian Andrew Moloney is one of the hidden talents in the division, and like many top contenders in the division appears to be getting frozen out. He's the current "interim" champion and in theory lined up to fight Kal Yafai, though it seems likely that Yafai and his team will do what they can to avoid the high risk-low reward Australian. Moloney isn't unbeatable, but he is a very hard man to look good against, and he combines power, skills and speed very well. He has future world champion written all over, but of course, needs a shot at the top. We suspect he finally gets his crack at the back end of 2020, though with the WBA and their games we wouldn't be surprised if Yafai is promoted to "Super" champion and Moloney is only able to fight for the regular title.
Jeyvier Cintron (11-1-0-1, 5)
Puerto Rican fighter Jeyvier Cintron lost on New Year's Eve in a WBO title bout against Kazuto Ioka, but he impressed through out and certainly shouldn't be written off on the back of that loss. If anything the loss to Ioka should be seen as more of a learning experience for Cintron, who learned the real value of body shots through the bout. With a little more professional seasoning the 2-time Olympian is likely to win a world title, and at 24 years old his handsome mush is likely to be one of the key faces in the lower weights.
Israel Gonzalez (25-3, 11)
Although Israel Gonzalez has come up short twice, losing by stoppage to Jerwin Ancajas and losing a very debatable decision to Kal Yafai, the Mexican has booked himself a third world title fight. Gonzalez recently won an IBF eliminator in Japan to force a second shot at the IBF title. Sadly he was so easily beaten by Ancajas in their clash we don't imagine he'll have much success in their inevitable rematch, but we do need to applaud Gonzalez. Unlike many in the division he has been chasing fights and going in as the under-dog. The 23 year old has, excuse our language, "given no shits" about facing good fighters and we really want to applaud him for that. Maybe, though, he does need another bout or two against a good southpaw to prepare for Ancajas. Given his age we genuinely do see him winning a world title down the line, but it might well be a few years down the line.
Ryusei Kawaura (7-0, 4)
Ryusei Kawaura is one of the two prospects we want to speak about here. The 25 year old is a protege of former world champion Hiroshi Kawashima, and although certainly not a big name international Kawashima was one of the smartest boxing in Japan. With Kawashima passing knowledge down to his young charge, expect to see big things of Kawaura, who will likely look for a national or regional title in 2020. He's a long way from a world title fight, but as we've seen from Japanese prospects in the past, it only takes 1 big year and they suddenly end up in the mix.
Sunny Edwards (14-0, 4)
Englishman Sunny Edwards, the brother of former WBC Flyweight champion Charlie Edwards, is a long way from a world title fight but is certainly one to keep an eye on in terms of the British and European scene. A flashy and skilled boxer Edwards will get a lot of attention in 2020. Sadly for the 24 year old he is in arguably the toughest division in the sport today and although many in the UK may see him as a future world champion he will need to be matched very carefully to get there. Despite that he's charismatic, an interesting character and well worthy of some attention. A very skilled youngster who Frank Warren will likely look to use a lot in 2020.
3 bouts we want in 2020:
Kazuto Ioka Vs Juan Francisco Estrada
Donnie Neites Vs Roman Gonzalez
Kal Yafai Vs Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
One of the best division's in the sport right now is the Super Flyweight division, which has been delivering some great fights over the last few years, some frustrations and plenty of twists. It's a division that has probably under-delivered in recent years, yet has still managed to give us things like Srisaket Sor Rungvisai Vs Roman Gonzalez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai Vs Juan Francisco Estrada, Donnie Neites Vs Kazuto Ioka. Give the make up of the division right now we expect big things from it in 2020, especially with the talk of certain champions who appear to be hunting the other top guys.
WBC - Juan Francisco Estrada (40-3, 27)
Mexican fighter Juan Francisco Estrada is quite probably the best fighter in the division, and certainly has the strongest claim as the #1. He is a wonderfully talented boxer-puncher who has had notable success at Flyweight, where he held unified titles, and Super Flyweight, where he beat Srisaket Sor Rungvisai to claim the WBC title last year. Although not a huge puncher he's a clean accurate hitter and gets respect from everyone he faces due to his effectiveness. It'll take a special fighter to dethrone Estrada who is still maturing, and is only 29 years old.
WBO - Kazuto Ioka (25-2, 14)
Although Estrada is probably the #1 in the division he's probably not actually the most distinguished fighter holding a title at Super Flyweight. That is, arguably, Kazuto Ioka who is now a 4 weight world champion, having won titles from 105lbs all the way up to 115lbs. The talented Ioka is a Japanese star who attracts multi-million viewing numbers for his bouts and has proven to be a smart boxer-puncher himself. He's not quite as fluid or versatile as Estrada but is quite possibly the sport's most under-rated body puncher, and with Ismael Salas behind him he's continually adding to his box of tricks.
IBF - Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22)
Filipino southpaw Jerwin Ancajas burst on to the scene with a big upset win against McJoe Arroyo in September 2016, making him the longest reigning current world champion in the division. Sadly he is also the most frustrating. He's been active, and defended the title in 4 continents, but his competition has generally been poor. There were big money offers on the table to unify with the then WBO champion Naoya Inoue early in his reign, and whilst that would have been a real beating for Ancajas, he's seemingly managed to avoid all the big fish in the division. Whether that's good management, taking the most money for the least pain, is up to debate but the reality is the once promising reign of Ancajas has meandered into meaningless. With 7 defenses under his belt the feeling is that he, and his team, are happy to keep the belt without truly testing their man. Frustratingly his next mandatory will likely come against a man who he dominated in 2018, meaning little is likely to change in terms of the quality of Ancajas's reign.
WBA - Kal Yafai (26-0, 15)
English Kal Yafai has also had a frustrating reign as the WBA champion. He's held the WBA title for over 3 years, made 5 defenses and still lacks a legitimate super fight. In fact he's yet to really prove himself as a champion. In 2018 he narrowly scraped by Israel Gonzalez, and despite lots of talk about big fights he's yet to land one. The talk now is a title defense against Roman Gonzalez, and whilst that would be big, it's a shame it's taken over 3 years for us to get to that point. Whilst not everything is Yafai's fault, and a proposed bout with Estrada falling through due to an injury to the Mexican isn't his fault, it very much feels like he has milked the title for all it's worth and only began seeking challenges when his back has been forced against the wall.
Some fighters in the sport just deliver great fights. It doesn't matter who they are facing off with they deliver the action, they force opponents to fight their fight and they give us thrillers time and time again. At the highest level we don't see them last long at the top, the wars take their toll, but at the lower levels they can have some really fun careers to follow. Today's Treasure Trove sees us fall back on an old friend for his second entry in this series, and like his first one, it was a thrilling, crude, wild, action packed fight against a Chinese opponent.
Seong Yeong Yang (7-2-5, 3) vs Fan Cai (5-3-1, 2)
The man we were talking about in the opening to this article was Korean warrior Seong Yeong Yang, Korean domestic answer in many ways to Brandon Rios or Mike Alvarado. His first entry in the series January's bout with Jian Wang, where he fought to a draw in Suzhou over 10 rounds, and that was an excellent war. This time he was on a much less notable card in Korea as he took on Fan Cai for the WBF Asia Pacific Super Bantamweight title.
Yang aged 23 at the time of this bout, is dubbed "Alpha Go" in Korea and our good friend David Seo explained to us that he's known as a fighter who will take throw try to simply out throw and out land his opponents. Despite being technically open, crude and static, he is very much a 100mph fighter who throws a lot of leather, to both head and body and looks to simply out work and out fight opponents. It would be crazy to suggest he's a good boxer, but he's a very, very entertaining fighter and someone every fan should watch, at least once this year.
Fan Cai on the other hand was a relatively unknown Chinese fighter. Aged 23 he wasn't tipped for any sort of major success, and his 9 bouts coming in were all against limited opposition, in either China or Thailand. There was nothing of note on his record, though he had gone 5-1 in his previous 6 to build some momentum. Coming in he and had never been stopped, despite going win-less in his first, 3 bouts, but had shown little to get excited about.
Right from the off Yang's all out aggression and sloppy defence saw him marking forward like a human version of the terminator. He was wild, he was open, he was eating clean counters, but he was refusing to back off or respect Fan. Yang's wild style made for excitement but the number of counters he was being forced to take left the bout in a rather fine balance and his face was showing signs of the punishment he was taking.
Although all the pressure was coming from Yang he's ultra open style and the sheer number of clean shots he was eating, especially the straight right hand down the pipe, was making this interesting and leaving us to question whether Yang would punch himself out or whether one of Cai's counters would have the desired effect of breaking through the Korean's chin and take him down.
This was level, all action fun, and the sort of bout that showed there is still the old school Korean mentality in boxing, even if the fighters with that mentality aren't anything like the fighters of yester year.
This is a very fun Treasure Trove, just don't expect much in terms of pure boxing skills and instead enjoy this for what it is, a low level, all action brawl.
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.