For those who missed them the previous parts are available below-
Part 1 is here
Part 2 is here
Part 3 is here
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Filipino sensation Albert Pagara (25-0, 18) is only 21 years old but already looks like a star with all the tools to reach the top and the star look that could help him become the next focal point of Filipino boxing. Despite his age he has been a professional for almost 5 years and managed to remain active through out those years. Not only has he been active but he has been stepping up his competition and recent wins against Raul Hirales, Jesus Rios and Rodolfo Hernandez are all good wins. Naturally a strong and mature fighter Pagara has developed some brilliant skills and appears to be a veteran already, despite being a proverbial baby. He's now only a few fights away from becoming a genuine contender in the Super Bantamweight division.
Whilst Pagara has been very impressive in the professional ranks he was also a very good amateur, with a reportedly unbeaten record, and has the mistakes of older brother Jason Pagara to learn from. If he can use both of those, along with his natural ability and scarily developing talent, then it really will take a very special fighter to stop Pagara going all the way.
In 2016 we're picking the Light Flyweight division as the one to shine and part of that is due to how many good fighters are plying their trade at the weight. Arguably the most under-rated fighter in the division is Filipino slugger Jonathan Taconing (22-2-1, 18). The Filipino is an aggressive, spiteful and heavy handed fighter who seems to be offended by hearing the final bell. With 25 fights on his record the 28 year old is now ready to get his second shot at a world title, and the thing is it's fair to say the champions aren't really in rush to face. He's a genuine nightmare with his toughness, power and southpaw stance and he's also shown a willingness to travel, having fought in hostile territory in Thailand and Mexico.
Supposedly in line for a world title eliminator Taconing is the type of unattractive fighter that bigger names will do their best to avoid. Hopefully the WBC show some integrity and give force an opponent to face Taconing, though it seems likely that the Mexican outfit will continue to mess Taconing about, as they have done since he was robbed in his only world title fight so far.
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Japanese fighters don't tend to have success in the West however sometimes even a loss can enhance a fighters reputation. That was case when Takashi Miura (29-3-2, 22) made his US debut and suffered a loss to Francisco Vargas. That loss cost the 31 year old Miura the WBC Super Featherweight title but saw him leaving the ring with a new found fan base that will welcome him back, likely in a rematch with Vargas in 2016. Heavy handed, a little bit wild and with intense aggression Miura provides explosive action in a style that will make fans tune in and it's hard to see fans forgetting about him, despite the fact he begins the year as just a contender on the back of a stoppage loss.
A rematch with Vargas looks like for 2016 though it's probably fair to say that both men will take an easy bout before then. Hopefully Miura's "easy" bout will come in the US to allow him to impress a US audience again before facing Vargas later in the year in a bout for revenge. If both men could feature on the same card then it's fair to say that fans will be forced to tune in and they will also realise just how good both are in their own right. Sadly however a rematch with Takashi Uchiyama now appears to be dead in the water.
The youngest man on this list is unbeaten Thai Stamp Kiatniwat (14-0, 6), who turns 18 on January 7th. The baby faced teenager turned professional at just 15 years old though began making a name for himself in 2014, with a very notable win over former champion Kwanthai Sithmorseng. Last year he build on the Kwanthai win by claiming the WBA “interim” Flyweight title with a controversial victory over Gregorio Lebron. Stamp will be facing Lebron for a second time in early 2016 and a win there would likely lead to Stamp facing a string of third tier fighters whilst developing his skills and maturing into a man. The Thai's see him as a big part of the future for the Thai scene and know that he can't be rushed too much, despite being very advanced for one so young.
Whilst currently an "interim" champion Stamp's team have backed him hard and whilst they know their change is a long way from being the complete article they will continue to pour money into his match making, his development and training. They will be hoping that investment pays off, however he will need to show major improvements to get as far as he team wish, despite his prodigious natural talent.
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The Thai fight scene might not be one of the best but it does have some real gems in it. One of those gems is the criminally under-rated WBC Minimumweight champion Wanehng Menayothin (40-0, 15), possibly the best of the bunch at 105lbs. The Thai, like many Thai's, has a very padded record but in recent times he has managed to show the ability to back up the record with wins that have showcased his talent. In the ring he's an intelligent, hard working and technically sound pressure fighter. He lacks a KO punch but is a real grinder who gets inside and breaks fighters mentally and physically. He's going to be a hard man to dethrone and we suspect that his reign will extend until 2017, at the very least.
At the moment Wanhenng lacks a big name win, though does have a handful of credible wins, including victories over Florante Condes and Oswaldo Novoa. But the reality is that he does still need some big wins in 2016 to solidify his claim as a real champion. He may be finding one of those tests in the form of Denver Cuello, and a win over the big punching Filipino would certainly doe Wanheng's reputation a lot of good.