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.
When it comes to notable emerging talents at Flyweight the division is rather crazy. It has a lot of contenders, though very few of them have really been tested at world level. In fact only 2 of our 6 to watch have actually challenged for a world title, and one of those is a former world champion, though it seems likely that at least 3 of them will fight for a belt in the next 12 months.
Angel Acosta (21-2, 21)
The most notable of the contenders here is hard hitting Puerto Rican Angel Acosta. "Tito" is a former WBO Light Flyweight champion who now appears set to make his mark at Flyweight, where he currently holds the IBO title. Acosta was rather unlucky to lose the WBO Light Flyweight title last year, with Thomas Taylor seeming a bit too eager to stop his bout with Elwin Soto, but a move up to Flyweight will likely serve him well and suspect he'll be a handful at 112lbs. The heavy handed and talented Acosta has unfinished business with WBO champion Kosei Tanaka, and a bout between him and Martinez would absolutely sensational.
Muhammad Waseem (10-1, 7)
The only other contender making our list who has previously fought at world level is Pakistani fighter Muhammad Waseem. The talented Waseem came close to beating Moruti Mthalane in 2018 but hasn't done enough to earn a second shot at a title yet. He spent 14 months out after the Mthlane fight before disposing of the hapless Conrado Tanamor in 62 seconds. Last time out Waseem looked poor as he took a decision over Ganigan Lopez, and it seems clear that someone needs to light a fire under his ass to get the best from him. He has the ability, he has the amateur experience, he has the financial backing and he has the tools to make an impact at world level. No the question is whether he has the desire to do so. If he has that hunger still, after what has been a frustrating career, he could still go on to become a world champion. At 32 however time is ticking on his career.
Junto Nakatani (20-0, 15)
Japanese hopeful Junto Nakatani is just 22 years old, but the 5'7" southpaw looks ready for a world title fight, and we suspect that he will get a shot during 2020, likely for either than the WBA or WBC title. He's impressed through his career and has already won the All Japan Rookie of the Year, the Japanese Youth and Japanese national titles. Our view is that he should try and get 1 more solid win in before getting a world title fight, so he can get a solid 10 rounder in, but the reality is that he and his team will feel they are ready for the top guys and that this could be a huge year for the popular, lanky southpaw puncher.
Giemel Magramo (24-1, 20)
Often overlooked Filipino fighter Giemel Magramo is on the verge of a world title fight, and has really built his reputation rather quietly. In fact if you don't follow boxing in Asia there's a good chance you've never seen or heard of Magramo, despite the fact he is legitimately one of the top Flyweight contenders out there. The 25 year suffered his only loss back in 2016, a close loss to Muhammad Waseem, and since then has gone 7-0 (7) with notable wins over Petchchorhae Kokietgym, Wenfeng Ge and former world title challenger Richard Claveras and John Mark Apolinario. Magramo seems to be on the verge of a WBO title shot, and is a very exciting hopeful.
Jayr Raquinel (12-1-1, 9)
One of the many emerging youngster in the division is OPBF champion Jary Raquinel, another young Filipino puncher. Raquinel has been a frustrating fighter since bursting on to the since in 2018, when he knocked out Keisuke Nakayama for the OPBF title, but he has proven to be a devastating puncher with notable KO's against Shun Kosaka and Takuya Kogawa. When Raquinel is on point he a brutal fighter and has the power to be a nightmare for anyone. Sadly however a 2018 loss to Wulan Tuolehazi slowed his momentum, and a win over Jack Amisa in November 2019 did little to boost his stamina. Hopefully 2020 is a year where he just gets it right and begins knocking on the door!
Jay Harris (17-0, 9)
One man who does now seem to have secured himself a world title fight is Welshman Jay Harris, a 29 year old who had a sensational 12 months, from November 2018. In that that 12 months he claimed the Commonwealth title, stopping Ross Murray, the European title, stopping Angel Moreno, and the IBF Inter-Continental title, stopping Paddy Barnes. Although not a big name he has been really impressive recently and will be fighting WBC champion Julio Cesar Martinez on February 29th in a bout that really promises a lot of violence!
The 3 bouts we want in 2020:
Julio Cesar Martinez Vs Angel Acosta
Kosei Tanaka Vs Moruti Mthalane
Artem Dalakian Vs Junto Nakatani
One thing we're really excited about for 2020 is Korea. The country over delivered, massively, in 2019 and if it does the same again this year it's going to be hard to not be raving about it by the end of the year. With the country able to provide great action, interesting low key match ups and some solid tournaments it's the place where we turn for this weeks "One to Watch".
The One to Watch?
Han Bin Suh (5-0-3, 4) Vs Shin Dong Myung (2-0)
January 18th (Saturday)
We genuinely love watching Korean fighters and here we have two Koreans with very different styles. In one corner is a technically well schooled fighter whilst the other fighter involved is a guy who fights with the intensity set to 11. Stylistically we're interested but it also puts two unbeaten men and it's a great fight for a Korean title!
Although not a star, by any stretch of the imagination, 19 year old Korean Han Bin Suh is the KBM Super Bantamweight champion and one of the most legitimately fun to watch fighters on the planet. The teenager is technically rudimentary but is everything we love about Korean boxing. He sets an incredibly high pace and throws so much leather that every fight of his is a fight worth watching. Although limited he swarms people to the point where they need to match him and few can do that, especially over 10 rounds, as Suh has shown he can do. He doesn't slow down, and worryingly for his opponents they do. Suh doesn't hit particularly hard, but hits that often, and takes a shot so well, that every single one of his bouts end up being amazing to watch and gruelling wars.
Shin Dong Myung is a former amateur standout who made his professional debut in September 2018 though failed to really build on impressive debut win over Hiroyuki Sagehashi by only fighting once in 2019. Prior to turning professional he had been a very successful Korean amateur with a reported 175-25 (50) record, including multiple national championships. Despite not being busy as a professional his talented has been obvious from his two professional bouts. He looks super relaxed in the ring, controls distance well and is one of the very few Korean fighters who could be described as being very technical. He's not very busy, but he is very accurate, very efficient and very clean punching. He is, however, also a bit of a slow starter, and we wonder whether he has the gas tank to go 10 rounds.
What to expect?
We expect to see Suh set a Suh like pace from the opening round, and force Myung to fight his fight. If you stand off Myung he will outbox most fighters at this level, he's simply too good. But against a little terrier like Suh, who marches forward, throws a lot and dictates the tempo so well, we think Myung will be the man forced to change his style. Early on Myung may be able to fight his fight, though given he's already looked like a slow starter we wouldn't back that idea too strongly, but as the rounds pass Suh will get more and more success and make this into a thriller. This will end up being an incredible fight by the end.
The bad news?
The live stream for the bout is on SPOTV, which isn't easy to get access to. Thankfully however BoxingM and SPOTV do tend to make things widely available on youtube in the weeks following tjhe contest. So keep your eyes out for this one!
One of the most interesting divisions right now is the Flyweight division, which features 4 world champions with a combined record of 88-3 (62) and mixed youth and experience well. It also mixes styles really well, with a hyper aggressive champion, a skilled multi-weight champion, a counter punching genius and a talented, yet incredibly frustrating, champion. It's also a division with some really interesting contenders, which again mixes styles, experiences and skills.
WBO - Kosei Tanaka (15-0, 10)
Unbeaten Japanese star Kosei Tanaka is enjoying success in his third division, having won world titles at Minimumweight and Light Flyweight before beginning his charge at Flyweight in 2018. He's a fighter who's inconsistent at times, but when he's on he looks sensational. Blessed with incredible speed, in both his hands and feet, under-rated power and a smart boxing brain Tanaka can do it all, but is regularly dragged into the wrong type of fight.
IBF - Moruti Mthalane (39-2, 26)
The most experienced champion in the division is 37 year old South African Moruti Mthalane, who has got 2 losses on his record but has gone unbeaten in over 11 years. The 2-time IBF champion has the best resume in the division, with notable wins against the likes of Zolani Tete, John Riel Casimero and most recently Akira Yaegashi. Despite his age he's looked after his body well, avoided wars and looks like he could have another year or two at the top. It's just a shame that Mthalane gave up the IBF title way back in 2013 or he'd likely have been a much more well regarded fighter.
WBA - Artem Dalakian (19-0, 14)
Azeri born Ukrainian fighter Artem Dalakian seemed like a breath of fresh air in 2018, when he travelled to the US and beat Brian Viloria for the WBA title. Sadly since then his reign has been dire, despite going 3-0 (3). He has made 2 mandatory defenses against poor Thai challengers and made a voluntary against the hapless Gregorio Lebron. Next up for Dalakian, in February, is Josber Perez, and it's clear that Dalakian and his team are happy to avoid decent challengers if they can. Sooner or later the WBA will force him to face a solid challenger, but until then expect fighters like Perez to be the norm for the talented, yet frustrating, 32 year old.
WBC - Julio Cesar Martinez (15-1-0-1, 12)
All action Mexican puncher Julio Cesar Martinez had a sensational 2019, going 3-0-0-1 (3). Notably he stopped the once touted Andrew Selby and former champion Cristofer Rosales. The only blot on his record for the year was his stupid late shot on Charlie Edwards, that gave the Englishman an excuse to seek a DQ win, though the result did only end up being changed to a No Contest. Had it not been for the late shot Martinez would have been the champion in August, rather than waiting until December. He's now planning his first defense for February and a win there is likely to open the door to much bigger fights down the line.
A couple of days ago we looked the champions currently holding world titles at 108lbs and now it's time to pick some of the notable contenders looking to get themselves into the title mix for the coming year. As with our Minimumweight list this isn't an extensive list, but we have tried to look at 7 fighters with difference styles and different backgrounds.
Daniel Matellon (10-0-2, 6)
One of the most interesting of the contenders in the division is Cuban born Panama based slickster Daniel Matellon, who returns to the ring on February 7th to fight for the WBA "interim" title. The unbeaten 31 year old, who turns 32 days before his next fight, is a very highly skilled boxer-mover who has stopped 4 of his last 5. Although not a big name he's awkward, very skilled and incredibly sharp. The hidden gem among the contender.
Edward Heno (14-1-5, 5)
Filipino fighter Edward Heno came up short in 2019, when he ran Elwin Soto close in a WBO title fight, and will be hoping to get a second shot in 2020. He's skilled, rugged and comes to fight, though likely needs to get some more experience over 12 rounds to have any chance against the best in the division. If his team can get him a couple of tough opponents in 2020 before a world title fight towards the end of the year he could give any of the champions problems. Not as skilled as Matellon but at just 27 time is certainly on his side and there is no reason for him to be rushed into a bout he's not ready for.
Hekkie Budler (32-4, 10)
It's hard to know what to make of South African veteran Hekkie Budler, who hasn't fought since losing to Hiroto Kyoguchi at the end of 2018. He was supposed to be on a Kazakh show back in December 2019 but that bout appears to have not taken place and the 31 year old really is in no-mans-land. If, or when, he fights again he will have a point to make though it's so unclear what the future currently holds for the Hexecutioner. At his best Budler was a hard working, aggressive and skilled handful, though with ring rust and his first stoppage loss, it's unclear what is left in the tank for the popular fighter form Gauteng.
Petchmanee Kokietgym (30-1, 19)
Thai fighter Petchmanee Kokietgym, also known as Panya Pradabsri, is a talented fighter who has his eyes on a world title fight in 2020. The 28 year old had a busy 2019, winning his 5 fights, all by stoppage, and has claimed two OPBF silver titles. Although not a big name he has been on a tear on the regional scene since a controversial 2017 loss in China to Xiong Zhao Zhong, going 12-0 (10) since then. He's knocking on the door and has told the Thai press he wants Kenshiro Teraji. Although the Thai would be the under-dog against the Japanese champion he would make for an interesting assignment and would enter as a man with dangerous reputation.
Thanongsak Simsri (13-0, 11)
Thai teenager Thanongsak Simsri is not someone we expect many fans to be familiar with coming into the year, but by the end of 2020 we expect him to be knocking on the door of a big fight. The youngster debuted in June 2018 and has already squeezed 13 fights into his career, with the most recent being a solid win over the then world ranked Filipino Christian Bacolod. The youngster is heavy handed, rough, and tough. Although he clearly needs some work rounding off the rough edges this young kid has a very bright future and the Thai fight fans are very excited about someone who has been dubbed "Srisaket II".
Agustin Mauro Gauto (14-0, 9)
Argentinian boxing isn't what it was a few years ago, despite how good Brian Carlos Castano is, though it does appear things could be set to change with a number of emerging hopefuls. Among those hopefuls is Light Flyweight Agustin Mauro Gauto, who just recently turned 22. The youngster hasn't really been tested too much yet, but has shown a willingness to travel and has already picked up wins in Panama and Mexico, as well as his homeland. Although not tested his competition hasn't actually been bad, it's just he's been a level above them. Expect him to be banging on the door of a world title bout by the end of the year.
Shokichi Iwata (4-0, 3)
Another youngster expected to do big things is Japan's Shokichi Iwata. The Teiken man is a former amateur standout who turned professional in 2018, making his debut in the US. In 2019 he notched 3 wins in Japan and moved towards bigger and better fights. Whilst we don't expect him in world title fights this year we would be very surprised if he didn't pick up some form of a title before the year is over, and he must surely be eyeing up a regional or national title. He's proven he can box and brawl and now it's time to see him doing that against better competition as he begins his journey through the ranks.
The 3 bouts we want in 2020:
Kenshiro Teraji Vs Hiroto Kyoguchi
Felix Alvarado Vs Elwin Soto
Carlos Canizalez Vs Daniel Matellon
Whilst many fans, especially those in the West, openly over-look some of the lower weight classes, it's hard to deny the fact that the Light Flyweight division is one of, if not the, most interesting division in the sport right now. It has the best overall variety of champions, and although it has lacked unification bouts it has seen the champions facing top contenders on a regular basis. The style match ups, not just of possible bouts but of fights we've been getting in recent years, have been interesting and the division looks set to have another stellar year.
With that in mind lets take a look at the champions at 108lbs, including a fantastic "regular" champion.
WBC - Kenshiro Teraji (17-0, 10)
Quite possibly the face of the division right now is WBC champion Kenshiro Teraji, who has made 7 defenses of his title and done so against some genuine world class fighters. The talented Japanese fighter took the belt in May 2017 and since then has defended it against Pedro Guervara, Ganigan Lopez, Milan Melindo, Jonathan Taconing and Randy Petalcorin. He's an excellent little boxer-puncher and since winning the title has developed into a real talent, who judges distance well and has some of the most under-rated body punching in the sport. Unlike most fighters isn't looking to move weights any time soon, and instead wants to establish himself in the division, and has no issues making the weight.
WBA (Super) - Hiroto Kyoguchi (14-0, 9)
Another Japanese fighter is Hiroto Kyoguchi, who is now holding a world title in his second weight class. The talented Watanabe Gym fighter looked like a wrecking ball at Minimumweight but has looked a lot less destructive since moving to Light Flyweight, where he's had to depend more on his skills, than his physical strength. Although not as imposing as he was 3lb lower down the scales he did prove he can still break fighters down, as we saw at the end of 2018 when he stopped Hekkie Budler. Sadly he hasn't faced a big name since then, and perhaps needs a high profile bout after two tougher than expected defense against talented, but overlooked, opponents.
IBF - Felix Alvarado (35-2, 30)
One of a number of destructive fighters in the division is brutish Nicaraguan puncher Felix Alvarado. The 30 year old won his IBF title in late 2018 and has defended the belt once, beating Reiya Konishi in Kobe in May 2019. Sadly a planned unification bout with Kenshiro Teraji fell through when Alvarado fell ill, and at the moment it's unclear when, and even if, he will return to the ring. The rumour from some circles is that he may be suffering dengue fever and if so he may never quite be the same fighter again. At his best he is a tough, rugged, hard hitting fighter who is crude, but very tough to beat. Not many will stand toe to toe with Alvarado and come out on.
WBO - Elwin Soto (16-1, 11)
Another man who is a destructive force in the division is WBO champion Elwin Soto, who announced himself as a world class fighter last year, at the age of 22. The Mexican youngster is a tough guy, with spiteful power, a solid engine and a will to win. He can be out boxed, but given his power few will last the distance with him. He won his title with a questionable stoppage against Angel Acosta, and a rematch of that bout would make sense, and was tested big time in his first defense, against Edward Heno. Despite not dominating since fighting at world level the two title bouts he's had will help him develop as a fighter and he could be the dark horse among the current champions.
WBA (regular) - Carlos Canizales (22-0-1, 17)
One of the few WBA "regular" champions actually worth talking about is Venezualan boxer-puncher Carlos Canizales, who is a man to avoid. He first proved himself on the world level in 2016, when he fought to a draw with Ryoichi Taguchi, and would go on to take the regular title in 2018, when he out pointed Reiya Konishi. Defenses of the regular title against Lu Bin and Sho Kimura have enhanced his reputation, but a lack of activity has hampered him and his career really needs a boost. He last fought in May, when he beat Kimura, and it's really time that a promoter with some backing gets behind him, and lets unleash what he can do.
One of the very best things about covering boxing in Asia is the huge scope of fights we get to see, and how we see bouts that very, very few fans will get the chance to see. That is what essentially what out "Treasure Trove" articles are all about, a chance to show off something that we've enjoyed that we feel many fans have missed out on in 2019. Today we get to delve deep in to the treasure trove and bring you a real hidden gem. A gem that few would have seen, that got little fanfare at the time, but was well worth 20 or so minutes of any fight fans time.
Hyeon Joon Lee (6-3-1, 4) vs Sheng Peng (4-6, 2)
This really didn't get much attention at all, coming on an obscure Korean card put on by the KPBF in Gyeongju, Korea. Despite the lack of attention the bout it's self was none stop action from the first round to the last.
In one corner here was Korean fighter Hyeon Joon Lee, a 20 year old who had fought for the Korean Super Flyweight title in April, coming up short to Min Jang. His record didn't show much of note, with 10 bouts to his name and a 3-3-1 record in his 7 fights leading into this, following a 3-0 start to his professional career. He debuted all the way back in 2016 and really had no momentum at all in his career coming into this bout.
In the other corner was diminutive Chinese battler Sheng Peng, a 30 year old who had lost 4 of his 5 bouts coming into this and had never scored a win of any note. Although he had been picking up losses he had been facing some good competition, with losses to the likes of Wulan Tuolehazi and Yuto Takahashi. Going back to the start of his career, in 2011, he had also for Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep. He was well travelled, but very limited.
Straight from the opening moments Peng came forward, applying pressure, backing up the Korean youngster and fighting with the gameplan of wearing down Lee. This was the perfect idea over 6 rounds against the taller, younger man who wanted space to work with. The lack of size allowed Peng to make himself a tricky target, avoiding shots to cramp the distance and work away on the inside. This forced Lee to fight back in kind, trading shots up close.
What we ended up getting from this bout was just a real, fun, back and forth tear up. A bout that, had it been held in the UK, would have been described as a small hall classic. It lacked polish, it and finesse but it delivered in action, excitement, violence, and heart. This 6 rounder was all entertainment, and the true definition of a hidden gem, one of the many hidden gems from our 2019 Treasure Trove!
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.