Due to the Flyweight division being in a state of change in 2018, what may go down as one of the division's most transitional years in living memory, it's been awkward in really recognising the divisional contenders. It seems like so many of the highest ranked fighters haven't had the management or mentality to fight fellow contenders and prove they deserve a shot.
Thankfully the division has delivered in terms of prospects, with a host of youngsters making their charge and looking to climb through the rankings.
If you missed out look at the champions in the division you can catch up here The state of the Division - Flyweight - The Champions whilst out look at the contenders is here The state of the Division - Flyweight - The Contenders
Junto Nakatani (17-0, 12)
Japanese 20 year old boxer-puncher Junto Nakatani might have 17 bouts to his name and not yet have had a world title fight but the youngster has already won the All Japan Rookie of the Year, the Japanese title and will fight for the main Japanese title in the new year, battling Naoki Mochizuki in February for the vacant title. He's been one to watch for a few years now and wins against the likes of Masamichi Yabuki, Mario Andrade, Seigo Yuri Akui and Dexter Alimento have all put him in a place where a world title fight looks inevitable. The biggest question when it comes to Nakatani is "when" and not "if" he'll fight at the very top level in the division.
Ryota Yamauchi (4-0, 4)
Top Japanese prospects are well known for being fast tracked and so far Ryota Yamauchi looks like he is on the fact track, having already beaten two notable names in just 4 bouts. The talented 23 year old has already stopped Lester Abutan and Yota Hori and looks like a very talented boxer puncher. Despite the obvious talent and belief of his team it does seem like we'll be seeing him held back just a touch, and wouldn't be surprised if he only competes for his first title towards the end of 2019. Over the coming years however he will likely find himself well and truly in the mix at world level.
Mekhdi Abdurashedov (5-0, 2)
The Russian boxing scene is set to have a new wave of great talent, following the old guard of fighters like Denis Lebedev and Alexander Povetkin. One of the new wave is the unbeaten Mekhdi Abdurashedov, who turns 20 before the end of the year. At such a young age it's hard to know just how good he really is, but he looked like a sensation when he stopped Prince Andrew Laurio in 3 rounds and has also impressed in wins over Iwan Zoda and Hugo Hernandez Aguilar. It might be a long wait to see Abdurashedov fighting for a world title, but after just 5 fights he already looks like he will, eventually, end up fighting at world level.
Kento Hatanaka (7-0, 7)
WBC Youth World champion Kento Hatanaka is a second generation fighter, following in the footsteps of his father Kiyoshi Hatanaka, a world champion back in the 1990's. Kento is aged 20 and already appears to have the tools needed to go a long way, with vicious power, great speed, exciting combination punching and a real desire to make an impression. There is still a lot of improving for Hatanaka to do before he moves onto senior titles, but with the tools he has been blessed with, as well as the training he'll get along side current WBO world champion Kosei Tanaka there is real potential for Hatanaka to not only improve but to go on and become a world champion of the future.
Dave Apolinario (9-0, 6)
Filipino teenager Dave Apolinario doesn't turn 20 until January 2019 but is already getting rave reviews in the Philippines due to his combination of skills, power and ring craft. The youngster hasn't really fought anyone of real note yet, but has looked incredible at the early stages of his career and already shown an ability to go 8 rounds, as well as the ability to blow opponents away early on. He's perhaps a few years away from reaching his physical prime, but when he develops his man strength he will become a very hard man to beat. At the moment we expect to see Apolinario being given baby steps, but that's certainly not a problem.
Alphoe Dagayloan (11-2-5-1, 5)
We see quite a lot of Filipino's with really misleading records, and Alphoe Dagayloan is another in that mould. The Southpaw has a less than stellar record but a lot of that has to do with baffling 4-2-4-1 start to his professional career. He is now riding a 5 fight winning run and has scored notable wins over Madiyar Zhanuzak and Rongguo Wu in his last 2 bouts. He can be our boxed, but he's a nightmare as he comes forward, throws a lot of hard shots and breaks opponents down. His record may put some off believing him to be a prospect but we've been impressed and suspect he could go on to challenge for a world title in the future, if he continues his current run of form.
In 2018 the Flyweight division has had a rather weird year in which all the titles have ended in the hands of new champions, as we mentioned in The state of the Division - Flyweight - The Champions, and for the most part the top contenders really haven't made their mark. Instead of the top contenders fighting each other for a shot we've seen them essentially queue up, suffer from frustrating management and not compete in the great fighters that made the Flyweight division so great just a few years ago.
Thankfully there is a lot of interesting fighters looking to get a shot at a Flyweight title in 2019, so without any further stalling lets look at some of the divisions top contenders, two of which will get a shot before the end of 2018.
Masahiro Sakamoto (13-1, 9)
Japanese 27 year old Masahiro Sakamoto is a bit of an unknown, though will be challenging Moruti Mthalane for the IBF title on New Year's Eve in what is a major step up in class for the Osaka. Despite being a step up in class Sakamoto's only loss was a close decision to Sho Kimura and since then he has claimed the WBO Asia Pacific title and scored wins over a pair of Thai veterans. He's an intelligent man outside of the ring and the a smart inside it, but if we're being honest a win over Moruti Mthalane would be considered a massive upset if he achieves it on December 31st.
Masayuki Kuroda (30-7-3, 16)
Japanese veteran Masayuki Kuroda is set to fight for the IBF title in 2019, against either Masahiro Sakamoto or Moruti Mthalane, and is one of the more experienced contenders in the division. His career has been a strange one, with the 32 year old looking like his career was coming to an end a few years ago before going into a surprisingly run of form which has sene him become a 2-weight Japanese champion and climb up the world rankings. Kuroda has fought for a world title before, losing to Juan Carlos Reveco back in 2013, and has shown a real hunger for a second shot at a title.
Andrew Selby (11-0, 6)
Talented Welshman Andrew Selby, the brother of former world champion Lee Selby, is arguably the most gifted fighter at 112lbs, though also one of the most frustrating. Selby is a real talent, but appears to have no love for boxing, or a desire to really make the most of his talent and fought just once in 2018. He holds notable wins over Cristofer Rosales and Jake Bornea but there is a real question mark about his hunger and desire, and his team don't appear to have the financial power to get him the challenges that will light the fire in his belly. An excellent fighter, but one we suspect will never live up to his undeniable potential.
Sho Kimura (17-2-2, 10)
Japan's Sho Kimura came out of nowhere in 2017 to stop Zou Shiming, in China, to claim the WBO Flyweight title. Prior to the win only the most ardent of Japanese fans knew anything about him and he had gone into the bout with Shiming as a 9/1 under-dog. Despite travelling for that bout he would stop Shiming, in China, to claim the title that he would successfully defended against Toshiyuki Igarashi and Froilan Saludar, before being dethroned this past September in a FOTY contender by Kosei Tanaka. In the ring Kimura is tough, heavy handed and has great stamina, though is technically flawed. He's a handful for anyone in the weight class, and a rematch with Tanaka would deserve a lot of attention.
Wenfeng Ge (11-0, 6)
Scoring a win over a former world champion in your 10th professional bout is typically a good achievement, and is exactly what China's Wenfeng Ge did to put himself on the map, beating Amnat Ruenroeng in 2017. Sadly the Ruenroeng victory is one of just 2 notable wins that Ge has, along with a win over Ivan Soriano, though he will be looking to change that in January when he faces Giemel Magramo in a major clash, that could put the winner of the verge of a WBO title fight. Ge looks to be an incredibly strong fighter, but a technically raw one, who may struggle to win at the highest levels, but is likely to be a physical nightmare for anyone at 112lbs.
Giemel Magramo (22-1, 18)
Having just mentioned Ge it's worth noting that his opponent in January, Giemel Magramo, is himself a top contender who's only loss has been a razor thin one to Muhammad Waseem in Korea. The 24 year old boxer-puncher is a frighteningly good fighter who looks like he could be one of the next big stars of the Filipino fight scene, especially if he can upset Ge. "Pistolero" is sharp, accurate, quick and powerful with a wonderful array of punches, fantastic combination work and a real air of confidence. The sort of fighter who every fight fan should be getting excited by, and given his age he still has a long time to reach the top.
Muhammad Waseem (8-1, 6)
Once regarded as a true top prospect Muhammad Waseem's career has been a frustration of massive proportions. The Korean based Pakistani fighter looked like he could be something very special but a lack of financial backing from the Pakistani government, a lack of a promotional power house, has really seen him fail to hit the heights expected of him. In terms of talent he's an exceptional boxer-puncher, and ran Moruti Mthalane close in an IBF title bout in July, and holds a win over Giemel Magramo, but at 31 time is ticking on the career of the very talented "Falcon". Sadly for Waseem his performance against Mthalane may well have seen him put in the "Who needs him?" club and cost him a second shot. Like Andrew Selby we think Waseem will be a man who will fall short of what he could do, albeit for very different reasons.
Vincent Legrand (29-0, 17)
Unbeaten French southpaw Vincent Legrand is a huge Flyweight, at over 5'8", and has been one of the few real successes in Europe having won the European title twice, and the European Union title once. He has been ordered to face Andrew Selby in the past, only to see the bout fall through, though has racked up a few decent names on his record. Those include Andrea Sarritzu and Valery Yanchy. Sadly for the 27 year old Legrand there is a huge gulf between European class and World class, and he will have to take that step before stagnating, something that looks likely to happen given his recent competition. Hopefully Legrand's team break open the purse and get him the match ups he needs to develop, rather than just padding his record.
Penya Pradabsri (25-1, 14)
Once beaten Thai hopeful Panya Pradabsri, also known as Petchmanee Kokietgym, is a 27 year old Thai contender who has proven to have more about him than the typical Thai's we see racking up wins at home. He's been a professional since 2014 and although, mostly, his opponents have been the same typical Indonesian journeymen we see Thai contenders battle against he does hold a very good regional level wins over Jaysever Abcede and Dexter Alimento and was very unlucky in his 2017 loss to Xiong Zhao Zhong. Since his loss he has moved up to the more natural Flyweight division and reeled off 7 straight wins to move into being a contender. He's also the current OPBF silver champion and in line for a big fight due to that title alone.
Dennapa Kiatniwat (20-1, 15)
Another once beaten Thai is Dennapa Kiatniwat, who is also known as Sarawut Thawornkham. He lost on his 2014 debut but has reeled off 20 straight wins since then. Sadly Kiatniwat lacks a win of any real note, with his competition being a mix of limited Indonesian foes and Thai novices, though has climbed up in the rankings and is a leading contender with the WBA right now, in part due to his reign as the WBA Asia champion. With 20 straight wins, 15 of which have come by T/KO he can certainly punch at the lower level, though it will be interesting to see if he can take the big step up and keep his power at the higher levels. If he can punch at true regional level he could end up being a genuine threat, sadly however it seems like we might need to wait a while to find out, if he can't get a shot at Artem Dalakian in the new year.
Charlie Edwards (13-1, 6)
Englishman Charlie Edwards has been touted as one to watch by those in the UK and is a very confident young fighter who managed to get an IBF title fight back in 2016, losing to John Riel Casimero. Against Casimero we saw Edwards show something to like, including plenty of grit and determination, but it seemed like the bout came far too early for him. Since then he has scored 5 more wins and will be getting a second world title fight this coming weekend, when he faces WBC champion Cristofer Rosales. A win over Rosales will be a major shock, however one can't fault the young man for his confidence. Sadly another loss, which is likely against Rosales, would leave his career in tatters even at this early stage.
In recent years we've seen the Flyweight division really shine with great talent, incredible depth and fantastic match making. Right now however it's a division that's a bit of a mess and between the 4 world champions we don't have anyone with a lengthy reign, in fact all of the champions won their title this year, and one of the current champions has spoke about leaving the division in the near future.
Artem Dalakian (18-0, 13) - WBA (2 defenses)
As mentioned none of the champions has held their title long, in fact the longest reign only began in February when Azeri born Ukrainina Artem Dalakian claimed the WBA title, with an upset win over Brian Viloria. Since then he has defended the title twice, beating Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep and Gregorio Lebron, both by stoppage. Dalakian is a big, strong, powerful fighter who is surprisingly tricky and combines his heavy hands with some unorthodox fighting. He's 31 already, but hasn't had a hard career and is a "young" 31, if we can say such a thing.
Cristofer Rosales (28-3, 19) - WBC (1 defense)
Nicaraguan fighter Cristofer Rosales shocked the boxing world back in April when he stopped the then unbeaten Daigo Higa, who had been stripped of the WBC title on the scales. Since beating Higa for the belt we've seen Rosales defend the title once, stopping Paddy Barnes in Northern Ireland with a brilliant body shot. He's now set to make his second defense later this month, as he takes on Charlie Edwards in London. Rosales is a brilliant boxer-puncher who has developed from losses earlier in his career, to forge a good standing as a world champion. Sadly though his reign is expected to end shortly, win or lose against Edwards, with Rosales stating he intends to move up to Super Flyweight in the near future.
Moruti Mthalane (36-2, 24) - IBF (0 defenses)
South African Moruti Mthalane is currently enjoying his second reign as the IBF Flyweight champion, having won the title back in July when he beaten Muhammad Waseem. At 36 years old he is the division's senior citizen, but is a young 36 and is someone with a lot of world class experience. Mthalane is going to be defending his title on New Year's Eve against little known challenge Masahiro Sakamoto. Mthalane is a wonderfully talented fighter with the best ring IQ of any champion in the division, he's surprisingly quick, has a good steady work rate and under-rated power.
Kosei Tanaka (12-0, 7) - WBO (0 defenses)
The newest if the champions in the division is Japan's Kosei Tanaka, who claimed the WBO title in September, to become a 3 weight champion in just his 12th professional bout. The talented Japanese youngster claimed the title in thrilling 12 round war against Sho Kimura and is expected to make his first defense of the title in Spring 2019 against Ryoichi Taguchi. Tanaka is a highly skilled, lighting quick boxer puncher who already has an incredible record, with wins against Ryuji Hara, Vic Saludar, Moises Cuentes, Angel Acosta, Palangpol CP Freshmart and Kimura. Sadly for Tanaka he often lets the warrior inside dictate how he fights, giving up his skills to have a fighter, something that has seen him being dropped in the past and suffering notable injuries. If he can use his brain more going forward he could be an incredibly tough fighter to dethrone, that however is a big if.
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.