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.
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!
One of the highlights of the boxing year is the series of shows we get at the end of the year,often featuring a number of big names from the Japanese boxing world with some massive fights. It now seems like the Watanabe Gym are starting to piece together their end of year card, which will be expected to take place on December 31st on TBS. That will be part of “Kyokugen”, a huge event on TBS, which is not just boxing, but a special broadcast that combines various sporting activities.
In recent years the boxing part of Kyokugen has featured a number of world title fights. These have included shows like the 2014 extravaganza that included Hisashi Amagasa challenging Guillermo Rigondeaux, the 2015 card that saw Kazuto Ioka have his rematch with Juan Carlos Reveco and the fantastic 2017 clash between Ryoichi Taguchi and Milan Melindo.
Given how big the previous shows have been and how they have gotten progressively bigger and more significant we're expecting the 2018 card to be something massive.
We already seem to know one of the bouts on the card, a WBA Light Flyweight “super” title bout between reigning champion Hekkie Budler (32-3, 10) and former IBF Minimumweight champion Hiroto Kyoguchi (10-0, 7) [京口 紘人]. This bout has been on the cards for a while and looks to have been agreed in principle, with the only caveat being that Kyoguchi successfully defeats Tibo Monabesa on September 25th.
The bout between Budler and Kyoguchi will give Kyoguchi a chance to avenge Budler's win over his Watanabe stablemate Ryoichi Taguchi (27-3-2, 12) [田口良一], more about him later, and will reward Budler well after he gave up the IBF title, rather than fulfil their mandatory obligations to face the feared Felix Alvarado. The bout would be a tough first defense for Budler and it would give Kyoguchi a chance to become a 2-weight champion.
A second bout has been mooted with Thai sources reporting WBC Minimumweight champion Wanheng Menayothin (51-0, 18) [วันเฮง ไก่ย่างห้าดาวยิม] is in talks to face Japanese Minimumweight champion Shin Ono (23-9-3, 6) [小野 心] on the card. The bout would be huge for Wanheng, as it would see him risking his unbeaten record and fight for the first time outside of Thailand, and it would give Ono a third shot a world title. Wanheng's team had reportedly been in talks for this bout before he beat Pedro Taduran and it does look like something they have actively wanted.
Last time out Ono suffered a pretty nasty cut in his win over Riku Kano. That cut should however be heeled with more than enough time for him to go through a training camp and prepare for Wanheng, in what would be his third world title fight. Ono has come up short against Katsunari Takayama and Knockout CP Freshmart, and will know that at the age of 35 this will be his final shot whilst Wanheng will see this as a chance to make his mark outside of Thailand.
The third bout could well be the most interesting on paper. It's almost a given that Watanabe will want to feature the aforementioned Ryoichi Taguchi, who has announced his intention to move up in weight. There isn't a Flyweight champion that Taguchi wouldn't make for a great opponent against, but there's possibly a match up that makes more sense than any other. That would be a bout between Taguchi and the winner of the upcoming WBO world title fight between Sho Kimura (17-1-2, 10) [木村翔] and Kosei Tanaka (11-0, 7) [田中恒成].
Tanaka has fought his entire career on TBS affiliate CBC, and has been featured on TBS in recent years as part of their December 31st show, except for last year when he was injured. When he and Taguchi were both fighting at Light Flyweight the two had been continually linked to a fighter, but injuries and mandatories stood in the way. Now however there wouldn't be any issue.
Of course Tanaka beating Kimura isn't a given, and it's worth noting that Kimura also had a working relationship with TBS, with the Aoki man having made his first defense on the channel last year, on the New Year's Eve card, against Toshiyuki Igarashi. His style against Taguchi's would be really interesting and something that would certainly appeal to fans, though maybe not quite as much as Taguchi Vs Tanaka fight.
There's actually one other option that Taguchi may have and that's WBC champion Cristofer Rosales (28-3, 19), who won his title in Japan earlier this year against Daigo Higa. Although not as attractive on paper as the two Japanese fighters Rosales has inked some sort of deal with Teiken promotions, and they may well feel that having Rosales face off with Taguchi would be an excellent way to end the year, and get Rosales his second defense. It would be an excellent match up, it would allow Rosales build on the big win over Higa and give Taguchi a chance to face one of the best fighters in the division.
Interestingly the Taguchi Vs Rosales option would, in theory, allowed for a split site show with 4 title bouts, if Tanaka beat Kimura and wanted to defend his belt live on CBC, in Nagaoya, with a potential showdown between those winners. Though we suspect TBS would pusher harder for the Kimura/Tanaka winner to defend against Taguchi instead.
(Images courtesy of SiamSports and Sho Kimura)
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.