It's widely accepted that Japan is the 10th most populated country on the planet. It's got around 128,000,000 people living on it and this places it between Russia with around 144,000,000 and Mexico 118,000,000.
In terms of comparing it with some other boxing countries, the US is the 3rd most populated country with around 317,000,000, the Philippines is the 11th most populated with 99,000,000, Germany is the 16th most populated with around 81,000,000, the UK is the 22nd most populated with around 64,000,000 and Argentina is 32nd with 40,000,000.
This means that Japan has less than half as many people as the US, marginally more than Mexico, 50% more than Germany, twice as many as the UK and thrice as many as Argentina. Despite the population being what it is, there seems to be so many more top youngsters coming from Japan than anywhere else.
The big question then, is how come so many Japanese youngsters look so talented, so young?
At the moment Japan has a wealth of young talent under the age of 25. This includes world champions such as Tomoki Kameda, 22 and Kazuto Ioka, 24, OPBF champions Ryosuke Iwasa, 24 and Masayoshi Nakatani, also 24, up coming world title challenger Naoya Inoue, 20 and more outstanding prospects than I can possibly list such as Kosei Tanaka, 18, Takuma Inoue, 18, Sho Ishida, 22 and Ryo Matsumoto, 20.
Maybe, as we've said in the past, Japanese boxing is on the verge of a Golden Age of young talent, a once in a life time boom of youngsters who are all breaking through at the same time. Something tells me this isn't really the case though as 6 is years is a notably long time between the oldest of these guys and the youngest. Personally I think the the real answer lies in the amateur boxing system of Japan and the match making of Japanese fighters .
It may be a surprising to mentioned the amateur scene considering that Japanese amateur boxers haven't been a key fixture at world meets. We rarely see Japanese fighters taking home medals from either the World Amateur Championships or the Olympics, however what we do tend to see is that the top Japanese amateurs don't tend to remain amateur for much longer than they need to. There are, of course, counter examples such as Satoshi Shimizu who has announced plans to compete at the 2016 Olympics, though these are rare.
What we have instead are youngsters who have come through the Japanese amateur ranks by fighting regularly in high school and then turning professional at a young age before bad habits and amateur traits are engrained in their style.
As well as turning professional at a young age these youngsters also seem to have adapted more professional styles than fighters from around the world. In many countries top amateurs take a number of bouts to learn to adapt. They are basically retrained in how to walk again against a much lower calibre of opponent than they were beating in the amateurs. In Japan however their styles are often fairly professional and they aren't taking huge steps back in their early professional outings.
What is the point in going from fighting the elite, either domestically or on the world stage, as an amateur to then fighting domestic level journeymen as a professional? Are we really suggesting that top amateurs, such as Luke Campbell in the UK or Rau'shee Warren in the US need to learn by taking 10 steps backwards?
If we look, for example, at Ryo Matsumoto. He did start like a typical "western" prospect fighting a string of weak opponents though by fight #5 he was facing a decent opponent in the form of John Bajawa and in fight #10 Matsumoto will be fighting a multi-time title challenger. As for Luke Campbell's 5th fight he's fighting Scott Moises, a guy who holds an 8-8-1 record. Still Campbell did do better than Warren who faced Jiovany Fuentes, a blown up Flyweight who had been inactive for 2 years.
Warren, who now sports a record of 10-0, fought his 10th professional contest earlier this year and faced the very experienced German Meraz who at the time sported a decent looking 46-28-1 record. Unfortunately Meraz hadn't beaten a fighter with a winning record since late 2009 and had only beaten a handful in total. Meraz was the proverbial can crusher with a boosted record that allowed other fighters to look impressive though in reality served as little more than a record padder himself.
So as well as having more professional styles the Japanese youngsters are also matched better. They are matched progressively on the whole and take steps up. There is no point in wasting time in this sport as one good shot could finish your career and if you're good enough you're good enough.
Possibly the biggest reason for the boom in Japanese youngsters however is that promoters are willing to take a risk or two. They aren't hiding their talented youngsters in the shallow end of a swimming pool with water wings but are willing to let them swim with sharks. If they get bitten early then it's a rebuilding process and they can cycle things down a gear, as seen in the career of Keita Obara who lost on debut though is now fighting for an OPBF title just a few years later.
If a youngster doesn't get bitten however then let them swim with more sharks. Kazuto Ioka is probably the best example right now. In fight #6 he faced an experienced domestic level campaigner, then in fight #7 he faced a highly experienced and unbeaten world champion then in fight #10 he faced a fellow world champion in a world title unification. These were risky fights but Ioka believed in himself, his team believed in him and he showed his worth.
In so many places keeping a fighters unbeaten record is actually more important than developing their skills and legacy. You develop by fighting better fighters, you develop by fighting in competitive matches and you develop by needing to prove yourself. Taking a loss along the way is just part of a fighters development.
In the US fans are already starting to turn on Gary Russell Jr who has had 24 fights but no risks, Deontay Wilder is similar though has 33 wins with no risk and Sean Monaghan is 20-0 though has again had no risks. Between them these three fighters have had 77 fights yet we have no idea how good they are. Between Ioka, Tomoki, and Naoya Inoue there is a combined 48 fights and already there 2 world champions and a future title contender.
US promoters might want to protect their investment and that makes sense, but do you really think Japanese promoters aren't doing the same? The difference is Japanese promoters don't tell you they have a wonder talent then protect him, instead they tell you they have a super talent and they prove it. They don't use smoke and mirrors to sell us a prospect they let the prospect talk with their actions.
So why does Japan have so many good, talented youngsters?
Well their amateur system seems to promote a more professional style to boxing at a young age, they don't waste time staying in the unpaid ranks for too long, they are developed quickly as professionals and they are allowed to prove their talent rather than merely defeat over-matched foes for years. This is a combination of "ignoring" the amateur scoring system that has plagued amateur boxing for so long, great training, great desire of the individual fighters to prove themselves and brave promoting.
This isn't a golden age of Japanese boxing, but the start of a revolution which I feel will continue for a long time.
(Pictures-Top is courtesy of Boxrec.com and is Tomoki Kameda, middle is from Ohashi Gym and features Naoya Ioue and bottom is from Kosei Tanaka courtesy of Boxingnews.jp)
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).