For those who missed them the previous parts are available below-
Part 1 is here
Part 2 is here
Part 3 is here
Part 4 is here
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In 2015 we saw Kazuto Ioka (19-1, 11) set the world “speed” record for fewest fights to become a 3-weight world champion. The talented Osakan however never looked like a real Flyweight until the very end of the year when he battered Juan Carlos Reveco into an 11th round TKO. Now with his frame filled out we're expect very big things form Ioka in 2016 and he's already talking about unification bouts. Popular, talented, intelligent and with a devastating body attack Ioka appears to finally be settling into being the fighter than many expected to become. He's no longer a scrawny fighter at 112lbs but instead he's a power young man who looks like he could be on his way to becoming a modern Japanese great.
Talented, fast, confident, conservative and with power that appears to be developing Ioka is one of the biggest stars in Japan, and a mega-star in Osaka. Saying that he is unlikely to crack the global scene unless he can score a genuinely massive win, which would mean facing, and beating, someone like Roman Gonzalez or Juan Francisco Estrada, neither of which is a particularly easy task. He does however have time on his side given that he is just 26 years old, and has already achieved so much since his debut back in 2009.
Japan has a lot of blood and guts fighters, in fact the warrior mentality does seem to historically sum up a lot of Japanese fighters. Arguably the best of those at the moment is 3-weight world champion Akira Yaegashi (23-5, 12) who has given fans more action on a lb-for-lb basis than almost any other fighter of the 20 years. The 32 year old Ohahsi gym fighter mounted a serious career comeback in 2015 and now looks to unify his IBF Light Flyweight title with another world title bout. He's unlikely to have a long reign but he will have a fun reign and will continue with his balls to the wall action fights. Sadly for Akira his body has taken a lot of punishment in his career but he knows that that punishment has helped him become a fan favourite and one of the most must watch fighters on the planet.
Expected back in the ring in May we're hoping to see a fully fit Yaegashi fight in his second unification bout, though given his hard career there is a case of knowing his body will probably never be 100%. Part of that damage is to his face which now swells up worryingly quickly.
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If there was one Japanese fighter who will be willing to get his passport out in 2016 it's Kohei Kono (31-8-1, 12) who saw his profile sky rocket in 2015, despite fighting only once. Kono's one bout of the year saw him make his US debut and over-come Koki Kameda in a thriller, a genuine FOTY contender. He's now expected to travel to Macau in early 2016 to face Rex Tso, in what is expected to be another all action war. The Watanabe gym fighter, currently reigning as the WBA Super Flyweight champion for the second time, is tough, gutsy, exciting and hard working and has the style to make very fan friendly bouts, even if his reign is likely to be over-shadowed by that of compatriot Naoya Inoue.
Tough, exciting and hard working Kono isn't a stare but has the traits of someone who can, and does, make TV friendly fights. Unfortunately for him he can be out boxed, can be made to look stationary and can be made to look second rate. His will to win will always make him dangerous to everyone except for the truly elite but at 35 and with years of punishment it's fair to say he may well only have one or two wars left in his body, with a Tso fight likely to be a war when it eventually happens.
The Filipino boxing scene is in a transition period at the moment with many of the stalwarts now looking like they are on the slide. The one exception is the often over-looked Donnie Nietes (27-1-4, 21) who, at 33, actually appears to be getting better. “Ahas” is the current WBO Light Flyweight champion and a man who is looking to finally get international recognition before his career is over. A 2-weight world champion with a 14-0-1 record in world title fights Nietes has a genuine claim to being a top 10 pound for pound for fighter and it seems likely that before 2016 is over he will make a long awaited move to Flyweight, adding to the insane depth in one of boxing's most exciting divisions.
The talented Filipino is a tough, skilled and intelligent fighter who has shown his ability to adapt in fights as well as between fights. He has been able to show that his skills to fight when he needs to fight, box when he wants top box and defeat much younger fighters, as he showed last year when he beat Francisco Rodriguez Jr in a thrilling encounter. He is perhaps showing some frailties at time,s but they are few and far between.
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With Manny Pacquiao on the verge of retiring there isn't many of the Filipino “old guard” still around. The most well known of the last generation of Filipino fighters is the popular, and exciting, Nonito Donaire (36-3, 23). The multi-weight champion ended 2015 with the WBO Super Bantamweight title and it's clear he'll be looking to defend the title in the early part of the year. Whether he ends 2016 as the champion is something yet to be seen, but the division is packed and he does have a big name, which arguably makes him a big target for some of the divisional upstarts looking to make a name for themselves. He could be a major player, win or lose, during the coming 12 months.
There is talk that Donaire may fight exciting Russian opponent Evgeny Gradovich in 2016, if that fight gets made then it will be a real crossroads bout with two men who need to shine. Despite that possible match up there are a lot of other options out there for Donaire who could well find himself a man to watch, even if it is the final year of him being a world level fighter.