The new year is fast approaching and I'll be honest I'm really excited about the coming year. It's fair to say that 2018 has been a great year for boxing, despite being a pretty poor year on a personal level, but I'm expecting 2019 to be even better as the sport continues to develop, and be reshaped into something more and more spectacular. If I'm being honest I suspect 2019 may well be one of the best year's the sport has had in a very long time, building on the momentum of a great 2018.
With that in mind I've put together 5 predictions for the new year, and how I think they will effect the boxing world in general
Naoya Inoue wins the WBSS
An obvious one to start with. Japan's Naoya Inoue is strongly favoured to win the WBSS Bantamweight series and for good reason. "The Monster" is one of the few fighters who really lives up to his reputation every time he steps in the ring, and in 2018 he quickly despatched recognisable foes Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano without breaking a sweat. I suspect that his current impressive run takes him to the Muhammad Ali Trophy in the coming year, beating Emmanuel Rodriguez in the Spring before winning the final in the Summer. After that it's unclear whether he'll immediately look for bigger challenges at Super Bantamweight or will look to clean up at Bantamweight, with a potential fight against Luis Nery certainly a possibility.
Fast Tracking continues
If we've seen anything really come to the fore these past few years it's been that fast tracking has really exploded. No longer is it just a Japanese and Thai thing but we're seeing Europeans, and Central Asian's fighters all stepping up incredibly quickly. I suspect that actually intensifies in the coming year, with more and more fighters shrugging off the usual preliminary stages of their professional careers and being moved aggressively. Lu Bin was too aggressively matched, but I expect others, like Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Apichet Petchmanee, Ginjiro Shigeoka and Israil Madrimov, to be competing for world titles within 7 fights. Top amateur fighters making their debuts next year will also be pushed hard early on.
A big year for India
Top Rank have made a very conscious effort in signing two of the most notable Indian fighters, Vijender Singh and Vikas Krishan, and I suspect that will only be the start for what could be a massive year for Indian boxing. The market is ripe for surge, and top young amateur fighters like Amit Panghal and Gaurav Solanki could well have professional promoters trying to snap them up as key figures for the long term growth of Indian boxing. The sport isn't huge in India, yet, but with over 1,000,000,000 people living there the potential is massive, if a promoter can sign the right fighters and work well with the local media. It will be a risky market to jump into but given the right promoter it could end up being a game changer. I also expect to see aforementioned Vijender Singh challenge for a world title before the end of 2019.
Boxing Grows in non-Boxing Countries
It's not just India that I expect to see boxing grow in but also Vietnam, Teipai, Malaysia and Singapore. We've certainly seen Singapore and Malaysia develop their scenes recently, but Vietnam and Teipai will likely follow suit, albeit for different reasons. Malaysia and Singapore are key hubs for the area, and money in those countries towards boxing has grown due to the promoters wanting to build the scenes. For Vietnam and Teipai however it seems likely that the OPBF will be the fulcrum behind their growth, and the development of the OPBF Silver titles, specifically in those two countries, will be key. In fact we could see that extending into other locations like Mongolia as the OPBF become more than just a title body but also, in association with the JBC, an overseer of several, non-boxing countries as they plant seeds of potential growth.
An Uzbek Take Over
It's hard to believe that only two Uzbek fighters have ever won world titles, Artur Grigorian and Ruslan Chagaev. This coming year I'm expecting that to change and wouldn't be massively surprised to see that number double in 2019, with the likes of the aforementioned Akhmadaliev along with Shakhram Giyasov, Elnur Abduraimov and Kudratillo Abdukakhorov all likely to be fighting for world titles by the end of the year. The Uzbek take over will be a hostile one, as the fighters look to put not only themselves on the boxing map, but also their country and we suspect the number of Uzbek amateurs turning professional will grow substantially in not only 2019, but also 2020. Uzbek fighters who miss out on the 2020 Olympics will likely jump at the chance to turn professional, and I expect them to do so with a lot of ambition to climbing the rankings as quickly as possible.
With the end of 2013 now racing towards us and with less than 2 weeks of the year left it's fair to say that we, like all boxing fans, are now looking forward to 2014. It already appears that 2014 is full of promise and with so many fighters emerging, or re-emerging in 2013 it's fair to say that we expect a number of fighters to get major chances over the next 12 months. Sure not.
For this article we've broken our predictions into 5 key areas. Firstly the Kameda's. Arguably the most controversial family in boxing today we expect to see several interesting bouts them involved in 2013 despite rumours by some that they may be on the verge of retiring.
The second will look at the Japanese "super prospects", including the Inoue brothers. We believe the Japanese super prospects will really make a mark in 2014 and we'd not be shocked if, come the end of the year these men will be on every hardcore fans "Watch List".
Our third topic is the topic of rematches. To be more precise we'll be looking at the major rematches that we expect to see in 2014 and how we expect them to go. For the vast part these bouts haven't been confirmed but are strongly rumoured and on the whole they are all bouts that we would love to see.
The fourth topic is Macau and the Chinese scene which has begun to take off in 2013 but not yet got the recognition that we we think will eventually come. There is simply too much potential there for it not to be a major player next year and with several Chinese fighters now making a name for themselves it seems only a matter of time before the country is a big player.
On a related note to the Macau one is our final topic, the international fight scene. This is where we will look at the various fighters who we expect to either make their name on the international scene or will be continuing to make their name on it. For some of our readers this is possibly the topic that will most interest them, though on the whole we think all the subjects are worth a read.
The Kameda family have had a truly historic 2013. There is no argument against the fact that Koki, Daiki and Tomoki had an amazing summer. In the space of just a few weeks we saw Koki defend his WBA Bantamweight title against John Mark Apolinario, Tomoki claim the WBO Bantamweight title with a victory over Paulus Ambunda and Daiki claim the IBF Super Flyweight title with a victory over Rodrigo Guerrero. The 3 fights were just weeks apart and it saw the brothers becoming the first trio in boxing history to hold titles. Not only that but Tomoki had become the first Japanese fighter to win a WBO title and Daiki was just the third to claim an IBF title. It appeared that 2013 was going to be "The Year Of Kameda"
Sadly though the year ended on a series of low points for the Kameda's. This began when Koki controversially retained his title in South Korea, soon afterwards Daiki controversially retained his IBF title and then Koki clearly ducked Anselmo Moreno. It was as if the brothers had tried to screw their great summer.
Our prediction for 2014, regarding the Kameda's, is one that we actually made back at the start of this month.
We think that Daiki, at some point in 2014, will defend his IBF title against mandatory challenger Zolani Tete of South Africa, we predict that Koki Kameda will be fighting for the currently vacant WBA Super Flyweight title and that Tomoki Kameda will fight Liborio Solis in a WBO Bantamweight title defense. It may seem like they are obvious predictions but that's partially why we're making them, they look so likely to happen that it's pointless to ignore them.
If our predictions are right they would allow several things to happen. They would allow the Kameda's "revenge" over Solis who of course beat Daiki, it would allow Koki to become the first ever 4-weight world champion from Japan and it would allow Daiki a chance to beat a high ranking opponent. Of course the fans won't forgive Daiki or Koki any time soon but the fans will still tune in in the hope they lose and get embarrassed in the process.
The Japanese Super Prospects
It can be easy to get carried away in hype. We imagine every fan has, on at least one occasion, been caught up in the hype of at least one fighter if not several. Despite this it appears Japan has 3 truly amazing "Super Prospects", men who should not be regarded as simply prospects but as fighters set to be fast tracked to a world title fight.
Of the 3 super prospects the most known is Naoya Inoue. Naoya, dubbed "Monster", has only had 5 professional bouts but has already claimed both the Japanese and OPBF titles at Light Flyweight. If rumours are true he's set to fight in a world title fight next time out in an attempt to set a Japanese national record for fights to win a world title. Some may not like the idea of fighting for a world title so early in a fighters career but "Monster" has already proven capable enough to beat most Light Flyweights, if not all.
As well as Naoya another highly touted super prospect is his younger brother Takuma Inoue, pictured with Naoya above. Takuma only turned professional recently though did score a notable victory on the domestic scene against Tatsuya Fukuhara. Aged 17 some view Takuma's potential as actually being better than Noaya's. Whilst we don't agree with that it's hard to argue that Takuma isn't a super prospect. He's only a kid but already he's pushing the top 100 on Boxrec and seemed to talk about winning a Japanese national title in his third professional bout. That might have been bravado on Takuma's behalf but there is something to be said for even thinking about that.
The third super prospect is the 18 year old Kosei Tanaka. Like Takuma Inoue, Tanaka has just a single bout on his record but that bout was one of the most impressive debuts we've seen. Rather than fight an easy opponent Tanaka fought Indonesia's tough and strong Oscar Raknafa, who was ranked #6 by the WBO going in to that bout, and Tanaka did as he wished with him. Although Raknafa did vanish from the WBO's ranking's following Tanaka's victory over him unfortunately it didn't see Tanaka himself given a ranking.
We think all 3 will become world champions at some point unfortunately the main stumbling block appears to be the fact they are all in the same weight division though we imagine Naoya will have moved up by the time Takuma and Tanaka end up fighting on the world stage. By the end of 2014 though we'll predict that Naoya is a world champion and both Tanaka and Takuma will be world ranked.
We all love great fights, it's of course why we watch boxing. What's better than a good fight is 2 good fights and that's what we can get with rematches. Over the past few years some of the very best fighters have been rematches, or lead to rematches and rivalries that elevate both fighters. We've of course had Manny Pacquiao's 4 fight series with Juan Manuel Marquez, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam's 4 fight series with Daisuke Naito and, Toshiaki Nishioka's 4 fight series with Veeraphol Sahaprom.
For 2014 we're not predicting any 4 fight series but we are predicting 5 notable rematches.
The most likely is Donnie Nietes/Moises Fuentes II. This bout, apparently set for a Spring date in Singapore, seems to be a done deal. The men first met in early 2013 with Nietes getting a very controversial draw in a bout that saw him getting out worked and broken down with body shots in a robbery of the year contender. If this does get finalised we'd be hoping that Nietes has learned massively from their first fight and actually lets his hands go freely rather than trying to win rounds with counters.
If Fuentes/Moises II looks a done deal then we guess the second most likely is Takashi Uchiyama/Takashi Miura II. The men, who both fight on new years eve, will need to win their up coming bouts but if they do then we almost certainly have one of the most demanded rematches in boxing and a true unification bout between 2 real world champions. The first fight, which was for Uchiyama's WBA title, was one of the toughest bouts of Uchiyama's career with "KO Dynamite" dropped hard before going on to force a retirement of Miura. Since then Miura has become a genuine force himself and a rematch has the potential to be a FOTY contender. What's helped this fight is the fact both men have been openly calling for it and it would seem almost inevitable if both are champions come January 1st.
It's not only Uchiyama and Miura that are in action on new years eve as Kazuto Ioka is also in action on the same day. If Ioka wins we'd not be shocked at him moving up to Flyweight for a second fight with current WBC Flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi. When the men first met, in summer 2012, they put a memorable war with Ioka taking a very narrow and controversial decision over Yaegashi as he unified the WBC and WBA Minimumweight titles. A rematch would give Yaegashi a chance at revenge whilst Ioka would get a chance to become just the second ever 3-weight world champion from Japan. It's a fight that both men seem to have a genuine desire to have and a fight that makes real sense for all involved.
All of the bouts so far have been rematches of world title fights. One fight we're predicting that wasn't originally a world title fight is a rematch between current WBC Bantamweight champion Shinsuke Yamanaka and #1 ranked WBC fighter Ryosuke Iwasa. These men first met back in March 2011, pictured above, as Yamanaka successfully defended his Japanese national title by stopping Iwasa in a FOTY contender. Since then Yamanaka has proven to be a special fighter and is arguably the #1 guy in the Bantamweight division. Iwasa however hasn't faded away since his loss and has instead rebuilt himself winning the Japanese and OPBF Bantamweight titles. It appeared that the men, barring a major defeat, were on always likely to have a rematch and we can really see it happening in 2014. We'd still favour Yamanaka but Iwasa would certainly give him hell if the men were to meet this coming year.
The final rematch we're predicting is one that every boxing fan would likely tune in for, Manny Pacquiao against Juan Manuel Marquez V. We know there's already been 3 rematches between these two but yet fans are calling for fight #5 and from the fighters point of view it's a bout that makes sense. For Marquez he hasn't got a lot of choices, he looked his age against Timothy Bradley last time out and barring a very dangerous Ruslan Provodnikov bout his options seem very limited and none pay as well as another Pacquiao bout. For Pacquiao it gives him a chance to avenge the demons of a knockout loss to Marquez from 2012 and it gives him one more chance to try and score a decisive victory over Marquez. Don't be shocked at all if we end up with this one in late 2014 after both men have an "easier" fight to stay sharp.
Macau and China
We know not everyone is a fan of Top Rank's recent Macau shows but we have no doubt they'll continue through out 2014 and we'd not be shocked if Arum started to have more shows there as he attempts to expand his empire into Asia. Our prediction for Macau is that we'll 4 or possibly 5 shows over there in 2014. We've been told the first of those will be on February 22nd and it's possible there will be one in the summer, one in the fall and one in winter.
Whether you like them or not the shows have their place in boxing and not just for Zou Shiming, pictured. The cards have also allowed fighters like Yasutaka Ishimoto, IK Yang, Genesis Servania, Dodie Boy Penalosa Jr, Rex Tso and Kuok Kun Ng to get some exposure. Sure none of these fighters are big names in the states but they all have potential to either be involved in notable contests some where down the line.
Macau may never be a place that US fight fans warm to though it acts as a middle ground and importantly allows global fans a chance to see new fighters in action. With the next show set to feature Ryota Murata it'll be the first chance many people have had to see Murata fighting as a professional, this sort of thing alone should see fans warming to them sooner rather than later.
In regards to the wider scope of Chinese boxing Macau might not directly help the cause but Boxing in China is slowly developing and taking off. It seems that it's not Shiming heading the charge however but instead it's the bull like Xiong Zhao Zhong. Zhong is not only the first Chinese man to win a world title but he's also the first male Chinese fighter to defend a world title in China.
If the rumours are true Zhong's next fight will be a WBC/IBF unification bout with Katsunari Takayama. We'll just say that that's a dream bout for us and should be a great clash of styles. Zhong, as we all know, is bull-like strong, powerful and appears impossible to discourage whilst Takayama is a non-stop punching machine who is always punching and always moving. Will Zhong manage to walk down Takayama or will Takayama put on a schooling? We don't know but we really want to find out.
Fighters making statements in the USA
This past year saw several fighters that we cover making a real name for themselves in the US. Of course the most talked about was Kazakhstan's Middleweight destroyer Gennady Golovkin who beat Gabrial Rosado, Matthew Macklin and Curtis Stevens in the US, whilst also stopping Nobuhiro Ishida in Monaco. Golovkin has proven that there is a serious market in the US for an offensive minded and highly skilled fighter and his fan base seems to be growing fight after fight.
It, of course, wasn't just Golovkin who enhanced his reputation this year and it's fair to say he was pushed very close by Ruslan Provodnikov who was involved in 2 thrilling bouts on US soil. The first of those saw him pushing Timothy Bradley all the way in a FOTY candidate whilst the second saw him stopping Mike Alvarado to claim the WBO Light Welterweight title. It's impossible not to enjoy watching Provodnikov and the US media and fans know it.
As well as those two there was also Sergey Kovalev, pictured, who left a lasting impression on fans both stateside and in Britain as he battered Gabriel Campillo, Cornelius White, the then WBO champion Nathan Cleverly and most recently Ismayl Sillakh. Those 4 men lasted just 12 rounds between them as Kovalev lived up to his nickname of "Krusher" and put the entire Light Heavyweight division on serious alert.
Surprisingly the end of the year saw the return of another Light Heavyweight, Beibut Shumenov, who stopped Tamas Kovacs in impressive fashion. Unlike Golovkin, Provodnikov and Kovalev who were all on HBO, Shumenov was on Showtime as Showtime and Golden Boy Promotions tried to line Shumenov up for a bout with Bernard Hopkins. We'd expect to see that fight next as Shumenov, finally, gets his long awaited unification contest.
We'd expect to see more of these type of fighters making their name in the US in 2014. Whether the US networks want to showcase an emerging fighter like Ryota Murata, or bring a top fighter like Shinsuke Yamanaka over it's going to be an interesting year.
After Nihito Arakawa's brave effort against Omar Figueroa we'd also love to see him over in the US again perhaps against Raymudo Beltran or even Ji Hoon Kim in bouts that would be nothing short of complete wars. Unfortunately though Arakawa is probably now about to be forgotten by the US audience which is a shame considering the entertainment he gave us all when he was given the chance to fight in the international limelight.
As well as those 5 key topics we've decided to make some other predictions, though in much less detail than the ones above.
Richard Abril v Jorge Linares WILL happen in 2014 and will happen in Japan. This bout was scheduled for late 2013 but Abril was forced to pull out we expect the bout to be rescheduled for Q2 2014.
Another Japanese super prospect will emerge in 2014. We're not sure who but there will be another one at least.
Thailand will re-emerge as a serious player in world boxing. Currently the country has just 1 world "regular" champion in Sriaket Sor Rungvisai, pictured, and 2 "interim" champions in Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep/Yodmongkol CP Freshmart and Denkaosen Kaovichit.
Having just mentioned Srisaket we predict his reign of destruction continues as he becomes one of, if not the clear, top dog at 115lbs. The guy is an absolute animal.
The IBF and WBO titles will slowly be accepted by Japanese fans who may resent the titles but will appreciate the fights that those titles bring with them.
Channel 7, in Thailand, will continue to provide near weekly broadcasts of live boxing.
Korean boxing will slowly begin a rebuilding process. This will take a long, long time to get to where it once was but it will start to recover this year.
And finally, we predict that 2014 will be nothing short of a great year in boxing.
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).