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.
We've decided to look at these two men in our first ever “A Vs B”, where we look at the two and try to predict who will have the better future.
Given that Yeleussinov [Данияр Маратұлы Елеусінов] won the Olympic gold medal we'll start by looking at him first.
The Kazakh was an outstanding amateur fighter who had essentially been the best at 69KG's for several years.
Between 2008 and 2016 he had claimed major international medals on a consistent basis. These included a silver at the Youth World Championships in 2008, Asian Games gold medals in 2010 and 2014, gold medals at the 2013 and 2015 Asian Championships, a gold at the 2013 World championships, and a silver at 2015 World Championships as well as the 2016 Olympic gold medal.
Following his sensational amateur career Yeleussinov's signature was one that many promoters were chasing, with Matchroom Sports managing to edge out others and sign the Kazakh. Since then here has hardly put a foot wrong, winning his first 3 professional bouts. Despite the good start there are many suggesting his style is still very amateurish and he's not yet learned to really sit on his shots yet. He's very much showing signs of being an overly patient and skilled counter puncher, who unfortunately hasn't been matched with aggressive opponents and instead of being given show cases around his strengths he has almost struggled to shine.
Whilst not yet impressive in terms of his professional performances Yeleussinov has shown some glimpses of genius. His hand speed is fantastic, his timing is brilliant and his understanding of distance is unquestionable. It's not his skills that are underwhelming, just his style in the ring which needs a lot of tweaking is he's to become a star.
Although Giyasov did come up short against Yeleussinov in the Olympics he didn't have a particularly bad amateur career himself. In fact not only did he claim an Olympic silver medal but he then went on to claim the gold medal at both the Asian Championships and the World Championships in 2017. By the time he was done with the amateurs he was seen as one of the hottest properties, but did remain outside of the professional ranks whilst he finished his time in the WSB, preparing him as a pro-ready fighter before his debut.
Given he was a sensational amateur and had been through the WSB experience there was no wonder that several promoters chased his signature, before he signed with World of Boxing, the promotional power house run by Andrey Ryabinsky, with Giyasov signing along fellow Uzbek amateur standout Murodjon Akhmadaliev. Although he's a Uzbek promoted by a Russian he's actually based in the US, where he will be able to get fantastic sparring and training.
Having had a stellar 2017 as an amateur Giyasov made his professional debut this past March with a lot of expectations on his shoulders. It amazingly took just 15 seconds for him to get his debut over and done with, stopping Nicolas Atilio Velazquez with pretty much the first combination of the bout. Since then he has looked fantastic, exciting, aggressive, offensive and a touch arrogant. Not only has he looked great since turning professional but he has also been stepping up his competition and in August he scored an excellent win over Albert Mensah.
In our eyes the more polished professional skills, and the style of Giyasov is more likely to see him having a stronger professional career. He is already a step ahead of Yeleussinov in terms of competition and we think he may be more aggressively matched. We wouldn't be surprised to see both men win world titles, but we expect Giyasov's reign to be a better, longer and more impressive one. But feel free to vote in the poll below.
(Image courtesy of Sky Sports and World Boxing Series)
The past few days have been interesting ones for fight fans excited about the rise of Central Asian fighters with a number of very good prospects being in action in a very short amount of time. Not only was there a lot but there was also some excellent performances by fighters from the "Stans" with those fighters all looking like they are wlel on their way to doing something special in the professional ranks.
Also on Sunday we had very impressive performances from Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov (12-0, 7), who took out Mexican Victor Alejandro Gonzalez (18-2, 9) with a brutal body shot inside the opening round and Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (13-0, 10), who destroyed the upset minded Robinson Castellanos (24-14, 14) in 2 rounds with Castellanos being dropped 4 times.
It's also worth noting that Uzbek Ravshanbek Umurzakov (5-0, 4) scored a big win over Eden Sonsona (36-9-2, 13) on Sunday, stopping Sonsona in the opening round. Sadly whilst it's a great result the performance wasn't really anything special with Sonsona going down after 58 seconds and taking the 10 count, robbing Umurzakov of any chance to shine.
Whilst we don't think any of the fighters mentioned here are ready for a world title fight, yet, all the Central Asian fighters who picked up a win took a huge step towards getting a shot at a world title, and all will be chasing gold in the very near future.
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).