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.
The good Japanese fights through 2018 really haven't stopped coming, the main issue perhaps is less about the consistency of great fights but where they were shown. During August and September we had a huge number of great fights, sadly some of those are tucked away behind a paywall on boxingraise.com. They include the all action Middleweight bout between Yasayuki Akiyama and Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa and the third meeting between Saemi Hanagata and Yuki Kuroki.
Even with those bouts "out of sight", so to speak, there was still 5 other great bouts during those two months that were televised.
If you missed part 1 than can be read here The best Japanese Fights of 2018 (Part 1)
Part 2 can be read here The best Japanese Fights of 2018 (Part 2)
And part 3 can be read here The best Japanese Fights of 2018 (Part 3)
August 17th - Korakuen Hall
Satoshi Shimizu (6-0, 6) vs Shingo Kawamura (16-3-1, 8)
On paper the OPBF Featherweight title bout between defending champion Satoshi Shimizu and domestic challenger Shingo Kawamura looked like a mismatch. It was hard to imagine the 2012 Olympic bronze medal winner and current OPBF champion losing to a fighter like Kawamura. Someone obviously hadn't told Kawamura he was there to lose, and instead he set off like the confident, cocksure fighter who had been the betting favourite. With Kawamura pressing the fight and Shimizu forced to respond we got something truly hellacious! It's just a little bit unfortunately that is shared a card with an even better bout.
August 17th - Korakuen Hall
Akira Yaegashi (26-6, 14) vs Hirofumi Mukai (16-5-3, 6)
As mentioned Shimizu Vs Kawamura was good, it was however over-shadowed by the insane war between Akira Yaegashi and Hirofumi Mukai, a fight that may well be the best Japanese fight of the year, and one that had everything. Both Yaegadhi and Mukai have seen better days, both are beyond their best and both have shown clear signs of sliding. Despite the wear and tear both are warriors and that was seen when they got in the ring together and featured in a truly amazing back forth brawl that saw both men rely on their heart, just as much as their skills. This had one of the best rounds of the year, worldwide, as well as being one of the true standout Japanese fights of 2018.
September 1st - Korakuen Hall
Yuta Saito (10-9-3, 7) vs Eita Kikuchi (21-5-4, 8)
We had to wait most of the year to finally see a Japanese Bantamweight title bout, after a number of bouts fell through this year, but when we finally did see the title being fought for we got a really fun bout to crown a new champion. On paper the match up between Yuta Saito and Eita Kikuchi didn't promise a lot, but it really did over deliver in what was a short but thrilling war, as both men seemed to put it all on the line, knowing this could be their final shot at a title. It wasn't just the desire of the two fighters that shone, but their styles also jelled amazingly well and made for something action packed.
September 11th - Korakuen Hall
Takuma Inoue (11-0, 3) Vs Mark John Yap (29-12, 14)
In mid-September we saw a WBC world title eliminator at Bantamweight, when the unbeaten Takuma Inoue faced off with OPBF Bantamweight champion Mark John Yap. On paper this promised a lot, with both men knowing that a win would secure them a world title fight, and although it wasn't a FOTY contender it was a very good contest and a very well fought one between two talented fighters each desperate for a shot at a world title. This wasn't explosive but did nicely combine skills, styles and wills to win, in a very competitive contest. Sadly though, for both men, it did show they were some way below the divisional elite and they will have to improve before making that final step up.
September 24th - Takeda Teva Ocean Arena
Sho Kimura (17-1-2, 10) Vs Kosei Tanaka (11-0, 7)
When we did The best Japanese Fights of 2018 (Part 1) we were inspired to due to the brilliance of WBO Flyweight title bout between Sho Kimura and Kosei Tanaka, a bout that we still consider the leading FOTY candidate, not just for Asia but for the world this year. We had high expectations for the bout, and it over-delivered, massively. Both fighters came to win, Kimura came looking for his third defense whilst Tanaka came chasing his third world title, the styles gels, the mentality of both fighters worked perfectly, and the bout ended up being something extra special. The sort of bout that every fight fan should watch, and if you've already seen it it's worth watching again!
The month of August is now coming to an end, and I've decided to look over the fights Japanese fans have been able to see during the month, picking out the most exciting bouts to have either been television or have been made available online. For the sake of this I've not included things that have only been made available on Boxingraise, so that I can share the videos with you, the readers, and not push you to an online paid service to watch things, though I would certainly advise all readers to look into subscribing to Boxingraise if they do wish to watch more action from the Japanese domestic scene.
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.