By now any boxing fan worth their salt has heard of Naoya Inoue (8-0, 7), they should also be aware of Kosei Tanaka (4-0, 2) and Naoya's little brother Takuma Inoue (4-0, 1). Aside from those 3 fighters however it's easy to be unaware of the numerous Japanese fighters breaking through the ranks, often at an incredible speed.
We have a lot of second generation fighters out there and they've certainly had mixed fortunes. One who hasn't had much of a mention in the west is Ken Shiro (2-0, 1), AKA Kenshiro Teraji. Ken Shiro is the 23 year old son of former Japanese and Oriental champion Hisashi Teraji and is tipped by many to exceed his father's achievements, with relative ease. The Japanese youngster made his debut last August when he dominated Indonesian veteran Heri Amol and then saw off a Thai opponent to move to 2-0. He'll look to continue his impressive streak on March 26th when he fights former Rookie of the Year winner Katsunari Nagamine (10-0, 6) in a massive bout between unbeaten fighters. If Ken Shiro is as good as he looks he'll see off Nagamine and then begin his hunt for titles.
The Ioka gym has been a conveyor belt of talent recently with a number of notable of names including former world champions Kazuto Ioka and Ryo Miyazaki. The gym also boasts one of the best selection of prospects out there with the most over-looked of those being 18 year old hopeful Takeru Kamikubo (8-0, 5). Kamimubo hasn't stepped up like some of the fighters on the list and in fact his best opponent so far was a domestic journeyman, however at just 18 years old he has a lot of time on his hands. Not only is he incredibly young but he also seems to have replicated a style that has worked for a number of his gym mates, including OPBF Lightweight champion Masayoshi Nakatani and Japanese Super Flyweight champion Sho Ishida, and sees him boxing on the move behind a clever and busy jab. Keep a serious eye out for this youngster over the coming 5 or 6 years.
Many fans likely haven't heard of the “Woz Boxing” gym in Kyoto but they may well have developed one of the sports most promising prospects in the shape of 22 year old Shohei Omori (13-0, 8). The eagled eyed may have seen Omori's name pop up in the world rankings recently, in fact at the time of writing he is ranked #14 by Boxrec.com and #12 by the WBC, but yet you're unlikely to have seen much about him unless you're a really hardcore fan. If you are a hardcore fan you may have seen him announce himself as one to watch when he dominated Christian Esquivel last May if you didn't then I need to advise you to keep your eye out for his upcoming bout against Japanese Bantamweight champion Kentaro Masuda (21-6, 11) on April 13th as that is a brilliant test and should launch Omori towards a world title bout in the next 18 months or so. Poised, talented, intelligent and a southpaw this kid has a really bright future ahead of him.
The Super Bantamweight division has had it's detractors and it's issues recently though all those issues have really done is lead to a bottle neck at the top with more notable contenders now than there have been in years. I wouldn't quite call Shun Kubo (6-0, 4) a contender as of yet, though it's clear he's heading that way and quickly. In his 6 fight professional career he has faced opponents with a combined record of 44-22-2 and has already beaten an OPBF ranked Filipino and a world ranked Mexican, or at least they were before Kubo got to them. He has also gone 8 rounds twice and is being readily tipped as the best Shinsei Gym fighter since Hozumi Hasegawa. Fighting out of the southpaw stance and stood at 5'7” Kubo will almost certainly be a nightmare for the 122lb division in the coming years, though footage of his is unfortunately scarce.
Another notable fighter to keep an eye on at Super Bantamweight is 25 year old hopeful Hikaru Marugame (3-0, 2) who some are tipping as one of the dark horse prospects, despite the fact he was a very good amateur fighter and has an excellent team behind him. He made his debut in July 2013 and although he's not been hugely active he has looked better in every subsequent fight. He was supposed to be “the other prospect” to the touted Naoto Uebayshi though from what I've seen Marugame is the better of the two prospects at the gym run by former world champions Shinji Takehara and Takanori Hatakeyama.
Super Featherweight, much like Super Bantamweight, appears to be on the verge of a brilliant few years. Among those expected to make an impact in the division is 25 year old Kenta Onjo (4-0, 3). Onjo isn't a big name, nor is he with a big promoter in Tokashiki, but he is among the fast rising prospects in world boxing and is expected to “come good” in 2015 as he moves up a level. To date his best win is over Kazuya Soma though he has already shown he can do 8 rounds, has spiteful power and appears to have all the skills needed to go a very long way. On March 16th we will see Onjo face his stiffest test so far as he goes up against Filipino veteran Jonathan Baat (27-6-3, 13) in what should tell us a lot about Onjo.
It's well known that there aren't many Japanese fighters who look capable of competing at the world level above the typical “lower weights” but one man who looks like he has the potential to buck that trend is Celes prospect Koki Koshikawa (4-0, 2). Koshikawa made his debut in a 6 rounder, where he defeated current OPBF ranked fighter Quaye Peter and he has since gone on to defeat 3 more opponents while scarcely losing a round. Not only has Koshikawa been winning fights but he has been showing a real spitefulness in his punching which saw him blow away Sandi Korga inside a round last time out, in a bout scheduled for 8. Aged 24 it's likely that Koshikawa will be fast tracked to a Japanese title at the very least.
One more notable fighter to mention here is a man who hasn't yet made his domestic debut despite having won his first professional title. That is Riku Kanou (5-1-1, 3) who is a 17 year old youngster who has been making his name in Thailand. Kanou, who is known as Riku Kano on boxrec.com, made his debut in the Philippines in 2013 soon after his 16th birthday and lost to a local fighter. Since then he has gone 6 fights unbeaten and claimed the WBA Asian Minimumweight title. It may only be a regional title but it's the first step towards something major. The way Kanou's team is talking is as if they have a real target on their mind, taking their man to become the youngest Japanese world champion in history. At the moment that record is held by Hiroki Ioka, the uncle of Kazuto Ioka, and Kanou certainly has time to break the record, the question is whether or not he has the ability to do it.
For those wondering why many other fighters, such as Masayoshi Nakatani or Ryo Matsumoto weren't included, there has been a conscious effort to ignore current notable title holders here.
Images courtesy of-
http://www.Boxingnews.jp (Ken Shiro)
http://www.wozboxing.com (Shohei Omori)
http://box-fitness-gym.com (Hikaru Marugame)
http://www.tokashikigym.com (Kenta Onjo)
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).