Having spent the last couple of days looking at the Featherweight division, and more precisely its champions and contenders, we now get on to some of the prospects in the division, which are a real mixed bag with many of them having had inactivity plague their careers so far.
If you missed the previous articles on the division they are available here:
The state of the Division - Featherweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Featherweight - The Contenders
Ryo Sagawa (6-1, 4)
Arguably the most improved fighter in 2018 is Ryo Sagawa, who began the year 2-1 (2) and went on to score 4 good wins, over opponents with a combined 61-10-2, during the year. He was a former accomplished amateur who suffered a surprise loss in his second professional bout, but has bounced back well and scored notable domestic wins over Junki Sasaki, Ryo Matsumoto and Shingo Kawamura in his last 3 bouts. He's a skilled boxer-puncher who has shown real improvements since his loss and now looks like being one of the big rising stars of the Featherweight division. A real one to watch in 2019, a year that he's stated he'll be looking to fight for titles in.
Jordan Gill (22-0, 6)
With 22 fights to his name 24 year old Englishman should perhaps be a bit further along with his career than he is, however "the Thrill" hasn't been the most active in recent years with only a single fight in 2016 and just 2 fights in 2017 so has struggled to build momentum. The Englishman is a light puncher, but a talented one and scored good wins in 2018 against the likes of Jason Cunningham and Ryan Doyle. Hopefully he continues to be busy in 2019 and move his way on to the European title picture. Unfortunately, Europe is packed with very good Featherweights and it could be tough for Gill to impress at the level at the moment.
Hinata Maruta (8-1-1, 7)
The very highly regarded Hinata Maruta made his debut in 2015 and was destined for greatness. Sadly his journey hasn't been smooth sailing, as anticipated, with a loss to Hidenori Otake in late 2017 and an unfortunately draw with Ben Mananquil earlier this year. Despite those set backs we have seen touches of genius from Murata who now looks to be fighting at his best weight, and his recent TKO win over Tsuyoshi Tameda was as impressive as anything else he's done since turning professional. If Maruta can get it all together and perform to his best then his ceiling is incredibly high, but the boxer-puncher really needs everything to click sooner rather than later so he can build some momentum and move into title contention.
Joet Gonzalez (21-0, 12)
At 25 years old Joet Gonzalez is similar in some ways to the aforementioned Jordan Gill, in that we would typically expect a guy in his mid 20's with over 20 fights to really have progressed beyond being a prospect. He had a good 2018, with wins over Rafael Rivera and Rolando Magbanua, to go along with a solid 2017 win over Deivi Julio Bassa, but we're still waiting for a big break out from him, and we suspect that's what we'll see from him in 2019 as he looks to move from prospect to contender.
Hector Luis Garcia (10-0-0-1, 8)
Dominicant Puncher Hector Luis Garcia is a 27 year old who debuted in late 2016 and has quickly raced out to 10-0. He's heavy-handed has already won a regional title and now heads into 2019 with some momentum. Given his advanced age we're expecting to see Garcia matched with better regional talent in 2019 and could potentially find himself in the world rankings by the end of the year, if he can do that then maybe he'll be given more exposure. Whilst he's not a bit name he was a notable amateur, competing at the 2016 Olympics and being a 3-time silver medal winner in regional competitions, losing to top Cubans in his final bouts
Tremaine Williams (15-0, 5)
Unbeaten American Tramaine Williams, aka "The Might Midget" is a 26 year old who has long been tipped as a future world champion, following a solid amateur career. Sadly for all the expectations on his shoulders he's yet to really show what he can do, and he's already been a professional for well over 6 years. Sadly his career has been slowed by serious bouts of inactivity, with no fights in 2014 or 2016, and only 1 fight in 2018. Despite the inactivity he has beaten the likes of Christopher Martin, German Meraz and William Gonzalez, showing that he has been able to perform well against good competition. He's promising but certainly needs to "get on with it" so to speak.
Dave Penalosa (14-0, 10)
Hard hitting Filipino Dave Penalosa carries one of the biggest names in Filipino boxing, with his father, uncles, grandfather and brother all being notable fighters. He, like several others on this list, has been a really frustrating fighter. He's been a professional since 2011, but failed to fight in 2015 and 2017, essentially losing more 24 months of his career. If he can remain active, build on a couple of wins in 2018 he could become a contender by the end of 2019, especially given his surname, strong backing from ESPN5 in the Philippines and an exciting style. He will however need to be kept busy and be given the match ups to build on, rather than have any more time away from the ring.
Michael Conlan (10-0, 6)
Northern Irishman Michael Conlan is a very highly regarded prospect in the division and was a standout amateur, winning the 2015 World Amateur Championships with a victory over Murodjon Akhmadaliev as well as competing at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. We feel he hasn't quite shown the same skills in the professional ranks as he did in the amateurs, but with Top Rank behind him, along with a huge Irish support and so much amateur experience it's hard to see imagine any but success for Conlan, who is a lot more technically rounded than his brother Jamie, who was one of the most exciting fighters in recent memory. A lot of pressure is on Conlan's shoulders but we're expecting him to shine in the next year or two.
Musashi Mori (8-0, 5)
Whilst some fighters on this list have been tipped as a success since before making their professional debut, the same cannot be said of 19 year old Musashi Mori, who turned professional in 2016 without any fanfare. Mori would impress in 2017, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Super Featherweight before moving down in weight earlier this year to claim the WBO Asia Pacific title from Richard Pumicpic. There are areas for Mori to work on, but he looks like a fantastic prospect with good speed, underrated power, good composure and he is improving his defense as well. A really promising and young talent as we head into the new year.
Ren Sasaki (8-0, 5)
Another Japanese fighter making it on to this list is Ren Sasaki, a 23 year old who really made his mark in 2017 when he won the Japanese Rookie of the Year last year, winning it at Featherweight whilst the aforementioned Mori won at Super Featherweight before dropping down in weight. Sasaki didn't have a mega busy 2018 but did win a B class tournament final, over-coming Kanehiro Nakagawa and has shown a lot to be excited about, though he obviously is less far along than Mori who has already claimed an international title. We expect Sasaki will look to climb up the domestic rankings n 2019 and could well be looking at a national title fight in 2020.
The Featherweight division is a really frustrating one, with inactive champions and a long queue of contenders. Thankfully whilst it is a frustrating division it is one with a lot of depth to it, and a lot of interesting contenders, from former champions to unknown youngsters making their mark. Here we'll have a look at some of those contenders.
For those who misses it we also had a recent look at the divisional champions The state of the Division - Featherweight - The Champions
Can Xu (15-2, 2)
Little known Chinese fighter Can Xu made his debut in 2013, and lost 2 of his first 5 bouts, but has since reeled off 12 wins and climbed up the rankings thanks to wins over the likes of Hurricane Futa, Chris George, Corey McConnell and Nehomar Cermeno. He made his US debut last year, and looked really poor in beating Enrique Bernache but clearly has got the skills to beat good competition. He's a light punching fighter who throws a lot, looks pretty tough and has sparred with the likes of Naoya Inoue. Sadly for Xu his lack of power and world level experience is going to be a problem for him when he faces the top fighters in the division. He will be back in action on January 26th in his biggest bout to date, challenging WBA "regular" champion Jesus M Rojas in what is an incredibly tough looking test for the Chinese fighter.
Joseph Diaz (27-1, 14)
American 26 year old Joseph "Jo Jo" Diaz was a stand out amateur, fighting at the 2012 Olympics and the 2011 World Amateur Championships, before making his professional debut in later 2012. Since turning professional he has been an active fighter and has score notable wins over the likes of Rene Alvarado, Jayson Velez, Horacio Garcia, Victor Terrazas and Jesus M Rojas. Sadly he failed to make weight against Rojas., in a bout for the WBA "regular" title, and was beaten by Gary Russell Jr, in a WBC title fight. Diaz is talented but lacks power and will be forced to fight hard in every top-level fight he has.
Miguel Flores (23-2, 11)
American fighter Miguel Flores is a 26 year old who is set for a WBC title fight on February 16th, taking on Leo Santa Cruz. Were he not set for a title fight, which is an undeserved one, he wouldn't be listed here. He has been stopped in 2 of his last 3 bouts and we now need to go back to August 2016 to see his last win of note, a close decision win over Ryan Kielczweski. Although a decent fighter we really don't see him as a legitimate contender, as stoppages to Dat Nguyen and Christ Avalos have shown, and instead another poor challenger for the frustrating Leo Santa Cruz.
Carl Frampton (26-2, 15)
Northern Irishman Carl "The Jackal" Frampton is one of the division's more proven and more popular fighters with fantastic ring IQ and a good mix of skills, speed and power. Sadly at the age of 31 and with a tough career behind him we do wonder how much longer he will remain as an active fighter, and there is a chance we won't actually see him fight again. He was last seen fighting a few days ago, losing a decision to IBF champion Josh Warrington, and despite having moments in that fight he did look his age against the younger, fresher man.
Abner Mares (31-3-1, 15)
It's hard to know exactly what to make of the 33 year old Abner Mares, a talented multi-weight champion from Mexico. We suspect he'd be best suited at Bantamweight, where his 5'4" frame will still him from being outsized, but his next bout is set to take place at 130lbs, against Gervonta Davis. His last few fights have mostly been at Featherweight, where he's had a mixed record, losing to Jhonny Gonzalez and twice losing to Leo Santa Cruz whilst beating the likes of Andres Gutierrerz and Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar. At his best he was a skilled punching machine, but now he seems to be faded fighter looking for a big pay day. Still a skilled fighter, but one past his best.
Tugstsogt Nyamabayar (10-0, 9)
Mongolian hopeful, and former amateur standout Tugstsogt Nyamabayar is a hotly tipped 26 year old who turned professional in early 2015 and has been very impressive through his short yet destructive career. He stopped his first 8 opponents, including the tough Jhon Gemino, before being taken the distance by the then 19-0 Harmonito Dela Torre. Sadly his 2018 was a bit of a write off, with only a 3 round win over Oscar Escandon, but he's set for a bit 2019 with a contest against Claudio Marrero set for January 26th. A win over Marrero will open the doors for a huge fight later in the year for the heavy-handed Mongolian.
Marlon Tapales (31-2, 14)
Former WBO Bantamweight champion Marlon Tapales is a 26 year old Filipino fighter who skipped the Super Bantamweight division to attempt to make a mark at Featherweight. He's a short southpaw, but someone who has really underrated power and a gritty toughness. With only a 42% stoppage rate Tapales would be easy to write off an easy opponent but he has stopped his last 5 bouts early and scored of those wins on the road, twice stopping Shohei Omori and also stopping Pungluang Sor Singyu. He's very tough, very hard hitting and manages to use his lack of size very well. He's going to be a very, very hard man to beat at Featherweight.
Satsoshi Shimizu (8-0, 8)
2012 Olympic bronze medal winner Satoshi Shimizu is the leading Japanese contender, and the current OPBF champion. He's a former amateur standout who is being guided by the Ohashi gym and has so far looked thoroughly destructive since making his debut in September 2016. Although a very heavy handed fighter there are question marks about Shimizu's actual skillset, and since making his debut he has looked technically flawed, with wide swings and flat footed. Ohashi are expected to secure him a world title fight in 2019, though we don't see an easy title being out there for the 32 year old puncher.
Claudio Marrero (23-2, 17)
Dominican fighter Claudio Marrero will be the next opponent for the aforementioned Tugstsogt Nyamabayar and is a proven quantity in and around world-class. He made his debut way back in 2010 and took gradual steps up in class until losing to Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar in 2013, he would bounce back with some explosive performances before a 2017 loss to Jesus M Rojas, which slowed his climb. In 2018 he fought just once, stopping Jorge Lara. Marrero is technically raw, but explosive, exciting and unpredictable. He's able to hurt fighters but also be hurt and is one of the most must watch fighters in the division.
Kid Galahad (26-0, 15)
Unbeaten Englishman Kid Galahad is the current mandatory challenger for the IBF title, currently held by Josh Warrington, in what would be a big all-British title fight for 2019. The 28 year old from Yokshire, though originally from Qatar, is a skilled boxer-mover who has come through the British scene the hard way, winning British and European titles, before winning an eliminator on the road this past October. Despite being unbeaten there are question marks over him, and he has failed a drugs test in the past and put on some very dreary performances, which may make him a hard sell, outside of his eventual world title shot at Warrington. A talent, but a frustrating one.
Shun Kubo (13-1, 9)
Japanese fighter Shun Kubo is a former WBA Super Bantamweight champion who stopped Nehomar Cermeno for that title in 2017 following a short reign as the OPBF champion. Following his title loss he has moved up in weight and is looking to become a 2-weight champion. He's proven to be tough and gutsy, and has the frame to build into a big Featherweight, but is technically flawed and needs to work on technique before fighting for another world title. At 28 years old and with the powerful Shinsei gym backing him he does have a shot at getting a title fight in 2019, though will almost certainly need to travel and would be a clear under-dog. Despite not being a big name he is in the WBA's rankings and could well see himself fighting for one of the many WBA variations in the future.
Genesis Servania (32-1, 15)
Former WBO title challenger Genesis Servania really made his mark in 2017, when he gave Oscar Valdez a much tougher fight than anyone had expected. The Filipino dropped Valdez before being dropped himself in what was a very entertaining contest. Since then he's not been able to get a big break, though has scored 3 stoppage wins and took part in a high profile with Naoya Inoue. Servania is a technically strong boxer-puncher with under-rated power, tough defenses and he can be in some very entertaining scraps, as we saw in 2013 when he fought Konosuke Tomiyama and gave us a thrilling contest. We're expecting to see him busy in 2019, due to a link up with Top Rank, and he may well get another world title fight before the end of the year.
Reiya Abe (18-2, 9)
Japanese fighter Reiya Abe is one of the more unknown fighters on this list, despite the 25 year old being on an impressive 10 fight winning run. That run has seen him defeat the likes of Satoshi Hosono, Tsuyoshi Tameda and Shingo Kusano, and work his way towards a May date for a Japanese title fight. He's currently ranked by a couple of world title bodies, despite having never had a title bout, but he's not ranked without merit, having given Hosono his clearest defeat to date. He's a talented boxer puncher with a lot of potential, and we suspect we'll see that potential being allowed to shine in 2019, though don't imagine he'll be getting a world title fight any time soon.
Kiko Martinez (39-8-2, 28)
Spanish veteran Kiko Martinez has had an amazingly strange career which appears to just go on and on. He's 32 years old now and debuted in 2004 taking his first massive win in 2007, when he stopped Bernard Dunne in 86 seconds for the European Super Bantamweight title. Since then he has had a distinguished career, winning and losing the IBF Super Bantamweight title and mixing with top fighters around the world. Every time he's written off he seems to bounce back and recently won the European Featherweight title to remain in the mix for one more world title bout. Given his age, his hard career and the mounting number of losses the hard hitting "La Sensacion" may not get another shot, but until he retires we suspect he will be a perennial contender.
When we talk about how interesting a division is, we sort of want to see not only top fighters, but also mouth watering match ups and active champions. Sadly the Featherweight division is lacking in terms of activity, and also has a very messy title scene, with a WBA special of having 3 champions, a WBC champion that fights once a year and a WBO champion who has sadly been inactive for almost a year due to a nasty injury.
Gary Russell Jr (29-1, 17) - WBC (3 defenses)
When we mentioned the WBC champion fights once a year, we're not kidding. The insanely talented Gary Russell Jr is one of the fighters blessed amazing speed, good boxing IQ and an exciting style, but not the hunger and desire to prove himself on a consistent basis, with 1 fight a year since 2015, the year in which he won his title. His first 24 fights were his apprenticeship, if you will, before he fought in his first world title bout and lost to the then 1-1 Vasyl Lomachenko in 2014. The following year he stopped Jhonny Gonzalez, to win the WBC title, which he has defended against Patrick Hyland, Oscar Escandon and Joseph Diaz. If Russell Jr was active he could be one of the biggest names in US boxing, but instead he's inactive and very easily forgotten, a real shame for someone with so much ability.
Oscar Valdez (24-0, 19) - WBO (4 defenses)
Hard hitting Mexican Oscar Valdez has been on the sideline since taking a 12 round unanimous decision win over Scott Quigg in March, in a bout saw him suffer a bad injury. Prior to that bout he had been active, and had been the man who looked like being the division's #1 star in the near future. A participant at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic's Valdez was groomed for stardom early on and he would win the WBO title in July 2016. Just 14 months after winning the title he had racked up 3 defenses, smashing Japan's Hiroshige Osawa, before winning FOTY contender's against Miguel Marriaga and Genesis Servania. Sadly much of 2018 has been written off due to the injuries suffered against Quigg. He was pencilled in for a January return against Andoni Gago, but that now looks to be off, with no plans yet being announced for his return.
Josh Warrington (28-0, 6) - IBF (1 defense)
The real revolution of the division in 2018 has been Englishman Josh Warrington, who went from being a local star in his home city of Leeds, England, to being recognised as one of the division's top fighters. He has done that thanks to 2 huge wins in 2018, first beating Lee Selby for the IBF title and then beating Carl Frampton to make his first defense of the title. Given his massive rise in 2018 he's going into the new year as a genuine star of the division and appears hungry to prove himself. Although not the best boxer, or the biggest puncher, Warrington has an incredible engine, a brilliant work rate and exciting style that should help grow his popularity when he does finally venture outside of the UK, something he doesn't need to do but sounds like he wants to do.
Leo Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19) - WBA "super" (2 defenses)
Exciting Mexican Leo Santa Cruz is one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, and really was something special at Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight, where he was a perpetual punching machine, who ground down opponents. Sadly "El Terremoto's" current reign as the WBA "super" champion has been a disappointing one. He won the belt in January 2017, avenging his loss to Carl Frampron and has only made 2 defenses, beating the less than great Chris Avalos in October 2017 and then beat Abner Mares in June 2018. Essentially in almost 2 years as champion Santa Cruz has beaten a man he had already beaten and a fighter who didn't deserve to be in the ring with him. He's talented, exciting, and we want to see a lot more of him, which we suspect we'll see in 2019 as he has a bout set for February 16th against Miguel Flores and has fighters snapping at his ankles for a world title fight.
Jesus M Rojas (26-2-2-1, 19) - WBA "regular" (0 defense)
Puerto Rican puncher Jesus M Rojas has had a long career, having debuted in 2006, but has gradually made his way up the sports ladder of success. He would suffer his first loss in 2008 suffer a draw against Jose Luis Araiza in 2012, and have a No Contest against Jorge Arce that same year, before going on to claim the WBA interim title in 2017, and later being upgraded to the "regular" champion. Although not a heralded fighter he has beaten the likes of Abraham Lopez and Claudio Marrero, shown himself to be a heavy-handed and tough fighter and a nightmare to fight. Sadly he was beaten last time out, but kept the title after his opponent, Joseph Diaz failed to make weight. He will be returning to the ring on January 26th to defend his title against Chinese challenger Can Xu.
Jhack Tepora (22-0, 17) - WBA "interim" (0 defenses)
The WBA mess in the division has seen the division have 3 champions, Santa Cruz, Rojas and Filipino slugger Jhack Tepora. The 25 year old Tepora is the least well-known of all the "world" champions in the division but is a rising force thanks to huge wins on the road over Lusanda Komanisi, in South Africa, and Edivaldo Ortega, in Malaysia, to claim the WBA interim title. Tepora is a crude boxer-puncher, who is very heavy-handed and despite being a bit on the slow side does have good timing and boxing skills. Fighting out of the southpaw stance Tepora looks like the sort of awkward fighter who will be a nightmare for more gifted opponents, but he also looks like he will need to improve technically before facing the best in the division. Tepora will be defending his title on January 19th on his US debut, with his opponent expected to be Mexican puncher Hugo Ruiz, in what should be an explosive clash.
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.