By now any boxing fan worth their salt has heard of Naoya Inoue (8-0, 7), they should also be aware of Kosei Tanaka (4-0, 2) and Naoya's little brother Takuma Inoue (4-0, 1). Aside from those 3 fighters however it's easy to be unaware of the numerous Japanese fighters breaking through the ranks, often at an incredible speed.
We have a lot of second generation fighters out there and they've certainly had mixed fortunes. One who hasn't had much of a mention in the west is Ken Shiro (2-0, 1), AKA Kenshiro Teraji. Ken Shiro is the 23 year old son of former Japanese and Oriental champion Hisashi Teraji and is tipped by many to exceed his father's achievements, with relative ease. The Japanese youngster made his debut last August when he dominated Indonesian veteran Heri Amol and then saw off a Thai opponent to move to 2-0. He'll look to continue his impressive streak on March 26th when he fights former Rookie of the Year winner Katsunari Nagamine (10-0, 6) in a massive bout between unbeaten fighters. If Ken Shiro is as good as he looks he'll see off Nagamine and then begin his hunt for titles.
The Ioka gym has been a conveyor belt of talent recently with a number of notable of names including former world champions Kazuto Ioka and Ryo Miyazaki. The gym also boasts one of the best selection of prospects out there with the most over-looked of those being 18 year old hopeful Takeru Kamikubo (8-0, 5). Kamimubo hasn't stepped up like some of the fighters on the list and in fact his best opponent so far was a domestic journeyman, however at just 18 years old he has a lot of time on his hands. Not only is he incredibly young but he also seems to have replicated a style that has worked for a number of his gym mates, including OPBF Lightweight champion Masayoshi Nakatani and Japanese Super Flyweight champion Sho Ishida, and sees him boxing on the move behind a clever and busy jab. Keep a serious eye out for this youngster over the coming 5 or 6 years.
Many fans likely haven't heard of the “Woz Boxing” gym in Kyoto but they may well have developed one of the sports most promising prospects in the shape of 22 year old Shohei Omori (13-0, 8). The eagled eyed may have seen Omori's name pop up in the world rankings recently, in fact at the time of writing he is ranked #14 by Boxrec.com and #12 by the WBC, but yet you're unlikely to have seen much about him unless you're a really hardcore fan. If you are a hardcore fan you may have seen him announce himself as one to watch when he dominated Christian Esquivel last May if you didn't then I need to advise you to keep your eye out for his upcoming bout against Japanese Bantamweight champion Kentaro Masuda (21-6, 11) on April 13th as that is a brilliant test and should launch Omori towards a world title bout in the next 18 months or so. Poised, talented, intelligent and a southpaw this kid has a really bright future ahead of him.
The Super Bantamweight division has had it's detractors and it's issues recently though all those issues have really done is lead to a bottle neck at the top with more notable contenders now than there have been in years. I wouldn't quite call Shun Kubo (6-0, 4) a contender as of yet, though it's clear he's heading that way and quickly. In his 6 fight professional career he has faced opponents with a combined record of 44-22-2 and has already beaten an OPBF ranked Filipino and a world ranked Mexican, or at least they were before Kubo got to them. He has also gone 8 rounds twice and is being readily tipped as the best Shinsei Gym fighter since Hozumi Hasegawa. Fighting out of the southpaw stance and stood at 5'7” Kubo will almost certainly be a nightmare for the 122lb division in the coming years, though footage of his is unfortunately scarce.
Another notable fighter to keep an eye on at Super Bantamweight is 25 year old hopeful Hikaru Marugame (3-0, 2) who some are tipping as one of the dark horse prospects, despite the fact he was a very good amateur fighter and has an excellent team behind him. He made his debut in July 2013 and although he's not been hugely active he has looked better in every subsequent fight. He was supposed to be “the other prospect” to the touted Naoto Uebayshi though from what I've seen Marugame is the better of the two prospects at the gym run by former world champions Shinji Takehara and Takanori Hatakeyama.
Super Featherweight, much like Super Bantamweight, appears to be on the verge of a brilliant few years. Among those expected to make an impact in the division is 25 year old Kenta Onjo (4-0, 3). Onjo isn't a big name, nor is he with a big promoter in Tokashiki, but he is among the fast rising prospects in world boxing and is expected to “come good” in 2015 as he moves up a level. To date his best win is over Kazuya Soma though he has already shown he can do 8 rounds, has spiteful power and appears to have all the skills needed to go a very long way. On March 16th we will see Onjo face his stiffest test so far as he goes up against Filipino veteran Jonathan Baat (27-6-3, 13) in what should tell us a lot about Onjo.
It's well known that there aren't many Japanese fighters who look capable of competing at the world level above the typical “lower weights” but one man who looks like he has the potential to buck that trend is Celes prospect Koki Koshikawa (4-0, 2). Koshikawa made his debut in a 6 rounder, where he defeated current OPBF ranked fighter Quaye Peter and he has since gone on to defeat 3 more opponents while scarcely losing a round. Not only has Koshikawa been winning fights but he has been showing a real spitefulness in his punching which saw him blow away Sandi Korga inside a round last time out, in a bout scheduled for 8. Aged 24 it's likely that Koshikawa will be fast tracked to a Japanese title at the very least.
One more notable fighter to mention here is a man who hasn't yet made his domestic debut despite having won his first professional title. That is Riku Kanou (5-1-1, 3) who is a 17 year old youngster who has been making his name in Thailand. Kanou, who is known as Riku Kano on boxrec.com, made his debut in the Philippines in 2013 soon after his 16th birthday and lost to a local fighter. Since then he has gone 6 fights unbeaten and claimed the WBA Asian Minimumweight title. It may only be a regional title but it's the first step towards something major. The way Kanou's team is talking is as if they have a real target on their mind, taking their man to become the youngest Japanese world champion in history. At the moment that record is held by Hiroki Ioka, the uncle of Kazuto Ioka, and Kanou certainly has time to break the record, the question is whether or not he has the ability to do it.
For those wondering why many other fighters, such as Masayoshi Nakatani or Ryo Matsumoto weren't included, there has been a conscious effort to ignore current notable title holders here.
Images courtesy of-
http://www.Boxingnews.jp (Ken Shiro)
http://www.wozboxing.com (Shohei Omori)
http://box-fitness-gym.com (Hikaru Marugame)
http://www.tokashikigym.com (Kenta Onjo)
We have to say that January 2015 was one of the least memorable starts to the year that we can remember, in a very long time. Thankfully however things get under-way properly in February and here are the bouts that we suspect will be the highlights.
WBC Minimumweight Title Fight [February 5th]
The month kicks off in style as Thai boxing get it's first world title fight of the year. That fight will see WBC Minimumweight champion Wanheng Menayothin (36-0, 12) defending against unbeaten Filipino fighter Jeffrey Galero (11-0, 5). This bout looks a bit like a mismatch, given the competition Galero has faced so far, though we did see Wanheng step up big time last year and Galero may well feel he can do the same in his first world title shot.
Pinoy Pride 29 [February 7th]
The first major Filipino show of the year closes out the first week of February and although there are no world title bouts on the card there are 3 highly ranked Filipinos, and a former world champion all in action.
The stand out fighter in action is Genesis Servania (25-0, 11) who is one of the most naturally talented Filipinos currently making his name on the boxing scene. Servania, who is very highly ranked in the Super Bantamweight division, is expecting to get a world title fight later this year though will have to get past Juan Luis Hernandez (17-3-1, 9) on this show first.
Another man who will need to record a win if he's to get a chance at a world title somewhere down the line is Jason Pagara (34-2, 21), the older brother of the monstrously talented Albert Pagara. Pagara will be taking on Cesar Chavez (24-7, 12) and a win here us likely to lead him to a big bout in the US, though a loss will set him back big time.
Talking about a man who cannot bare to take a loss right now it's fair to say that Arthur Villanueva (26-0, 14) cannot even think about losing. Ranked #3 by the WBO at Super Flyweight Villanueva has a lot to lose and little to gain as he takes on former WBO Flyweight champion Julio Cesar Miranda (38-11-2, 29). Miranda needs a win to keep his career alive and Villanueva needs a win to open up a chance at getting a world title fight later this year. It's fair to say that this is the most important bout of the day, by some margin.
On the same day, albeit in Japan, we see the return to the ring of former WBC and Lineal Flyweight champion Toshiyuki Igarashi (19-2-1, 11) who fights against Mexico's Efrain Perez (17-5, 12) in what looks to be a must win bout for the Japanese fighter. On paper this looks like an easy win however Perez is a gutsy fighter who will almost certainly bring the best out of Igarashi in what could be a very tough 10 rounds for the Japanese southpaw who had only 9 rounds of action in the last 17 months.
DANGAN 121 [February 9th]
We get the first Japanese title fight of the year on February 9th as unbeaten men collide in a really enticing looking contest of speed and skills for the Japanese Super Featherweight title. Going into the bout the champion is the much touted Rikki Naito (11-0, 5) however his challenger is the equally as touted Masayuki Ito (16-0-1, 7) and the winner will almost certainly emerge as yet another Japanese Super Featherweight to keep an eye on. With both men being in their early 20's a loss isn't a major set back though neither will be wanting anything but a win in a contest that just looks a little bit special
Legend Fight Vol 3 [February 18th]
We've been fans of Ryosuke “Eagle Eye” Iwasa (18-1, 11) for a long time and finally he's getting his shot at the big time as he battles in an IBF Eliminator against American fighter Sergio Perales (24-2, 16). It's hard to see anything but a win for Iwasa here who will move towards a world title fight with Randy Caballero if he comes out on top here. Iwasa has been patiently waiting for a shot a world title and we suspect he'll be fully prepared for what is certainly the most important bout of his career so far.
Earnest Efforts 3 [February 19th]
Just a day after we get a world title eliminator we get a world title double.
The key bout here is an all-Japanese bout for the IBF Light Flyweight title as Naoko Shibata (13-3, 4) battles against Saemi Hanagata (9-5-2, 4) in what looks like to be a really intriguing battle of wills. Shibata, entering as the champion, will be looking to record her 3rd defence of the title whilst Hanagata will be hoping to claim her first world crown.
On the same show the legendary WBC Atomweight champion Momo Koseki (19-2-1, 6) will be hoping to keep her record setting run going as she hunts title defence #15. Rough, tough and a real handful it's hard to see anyone at 102lbs beating Koseki and we can't see Aisah Alico (5-4, 5) even coming close to beating her here.
Thunderbolt [February 21st]
The always exciting Gennady Golovkin (31-0, 28) returns to the ring for his first bout of 2015 and looks to defend his WBA “super”, IBO and WBC interim Middleweight titles against the touted Martin Murray (29-1-1, 12) of the UK. Murray is seen as being one of Golovkin's toughest tests so far and is expected to give him a tough bout however Golovkin does carry a sensational run of 18 straight stoppages and it's hard to see Murray ending that run which dates back more than 6 years!
Wake Vs Paypa-OPBF Title Fight [February 27th]
In Asia the last fight of note comes from Japan where the world ranked Shingo Wake (17-4-2, 10) attempts to defend his OPBF Super Bantamweight title for the 5th time. Wake will be battling against Filipino challenger Jimmy Paypa (16-2-1, 6) in a bout that was originally penciled in, though never formally announced, for December 30th 2014. It's thought that a win here for Wake will put him into a world title fight in Summer.
Loreto Vs Joyi II-The Rematch [February 28th]
In 2014 we saw a major shock as the then unheralded Rey Loreto (19-13, 11) knocked out the highly regarded South African Nkosinathi Joyi (24-3-0-1, 17). Not only did Loreto shock the boxing world with the win but he also claimed the IBO Light Flyweight title and left fans around the world talking about him. Sadly the momentum of that win faded however the memory hasn't and the two will get it on again to close out February 2015. We suspect Joyi will be more aware of the man he is up against whilst Loreto will know a win here could take him on to a “real” world title fight later in the year.
(Image courtesy of www.sportsviewlondon.com)
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).