With just a few days to go until the anticipated Japanese Super Bantamweight title fight between Yusaku Kuga (19-4-1, 13) and Gakuya Furuhashi (26-8-1, 14) we've decided to share 5 of the very best bouts for the title, and it is a title with a long history, date back to the 1960's, well before the WBC and WBA crowned their first champions.
Sadly a lot of the pre-1980's fights aren't ones we currently have access too, however we feel the 5 we're going to share today are really great fights an should help get you in the mood for the violence we're set to get this coming Friday.
(Note - These are listed in DATE order)
Takuya Muguruma (20-1-1, 14) vs Kazuo Osamu (17-4-2, 11) 
Although sadly a forgotten man among Western fight fans Takuya Muguruma was a man who was rarely in a dull fight. Dubbed the "Endless Fighter" Muguruma came to fight and fight hard every time he stepped in the ring. He wasn't the most polished but was a man who threw a lot of leather and later went on to win the WBA Bantamweight title. In his 7th defense of the title he took on Kazu Osamu who had been stopped in 3 of his 4 losses, but came into the ring here with a point to prove, knowing this was likely to be his one and only shot at the title. Together they brought us a pretty damn brutal fight, with round 3 in particularly being thrilling back and forth round. This is high octane stuff from the off, though that was typical of Muguruma fights from the time.
Mark Horikoshi (17-1, 13) vs Naoto Takahashi (15-2, 10) 
When we first thought about doing this article there was one bout immediately put down on the list and that was the sensational 1989 war between defending champion Mark Horikoshi and popular challenger Naoto Takahashi. This bout, still regarded as one of the very best fights in Japanese boxing history, was really something special and managed to thrill everyone at the Korakuen Hall. This one started technically, with the two men finding their range, but picked up rapidly and rounds 3 and were amazing, before the bout found a whole new gear. Sadly neither man would go on to achieve much after this. Takahashi was essentially ruined by wars catching up with him just a few years later whilst Horikoshi would return to the USA, where he born, and go 3-5. Like Takahashi he too was a ruined fighter after this war.
Manabu Saijo (10-1, 7) vs Susumu Toyosato (9-0, 7)
A rarely spoken about fight from 1990 saw the once beaten Manabu Saijo clash with the unbeaten Susumu Toyosato for the vacant Japanese title, which had been given up by the winner of the previous bout. This one was over-shadowed by the previous contest, but the two men fought like a pair of men each looking to leave their man on the sport. It had everything we could hope to see, including a lot of action, a lot of drama and both being men hitting the canvas, in fact both were dropped in round 2. Whilst this isn't the Horikoshi Vs Takahashi bout it is a genuinely sensational fight that at times is uncomfortable to watch, but is thoroughly jaw dropping.
Rikiya Fukuhara (18-1-1, 14) vs Daisuke Yamanaka (18-2, 13)
Another often overlooked bout was the 2006 war between defending champion Rikiya Fukuhara and determined challenger Daisuke Yamanaka who gave us something that was truly spectacular. Coming in to this one Fukuhara was seeming his second defense and he had won his last 9 in a row, with 7 of those wins coming by stoppage. He had been a brutally destructive puncher on the domestic scene and had been one of the men expected to go on to have a lengthy reign and a successful career. Yamanaka on the other hand was riding a 6 fight winning run, with 5 of his wins by stoppage. Both men were known to be heavy handed, both had strong domestic followings and together they had the crowd in a frenzy almost from the off. The in ring mentality of the two men, and their styles gelled perfectly giving us a brutal battle where huge shots were landed time and time again. This was a damn brutal bout that deserves to be seen.
Note - The sound for this video is oddly in mono, so those watching with headphones will sadly only hear sound in one ear.
Ryoichi Tamura (12-3-1, 6) vs Yusaku Kuga (17-3-1, 12) II
To end this we're looking at a super recent fight from 2019, but a super brutal bout between two men who had already shared the ring in an hellacious struggle a few years earlier. Coming in to this the champion was the all action Ryoichi Tamura, a tough nut who threw a lot of leather and despite not being a big puncher always came into the ring looking to have a fight. In the opposite corner was former champion Yusaku Kuga, who had previously beaten Tamura when he held the title. Given their first bout was a brutal war we knew we expected something similar here in their rematch. The two men didn't disappoint in a bout that had intense action, drama and jaw dropping determination. This was brilliant, and for those tuning in on Friday this is well worth a watch.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
-Ryota Murata (16-2): WBA World champion
The 2012 Olympic champion could be going up against Chris Eubank Jr. in the coming months.
-Takeshi Inoue (17-1): WBO #8 / WBC #15
Inoue ended 2020 with 1 defense of his WBO Asia Pacific title.
-Keita Obara (23-4): IBF #5
Obara defeated Yuki Nagano last February, winning the Japanese strap once more.
-Yuki Beppu (21-1): WBO #12
Beppu hasn’t fought since his slugfest with Ryota Yada in 2019.
-Andy Hiraoka (16-0): IBF #12
Hiraoka will return to action on March 11th (Opponent TBA).
-Shuichiro Yoshino (13-0): WBO #7 / WBA #11 / WBC #13 / IBF #15
Yoshino defended his Japanese, OBPF & WBO Asia Pacific belts against Valentine Hosokawa this past September. His next fight will most likely be in spring. The unbeaten Hironori Mishiro is said to be the challenger.
-Masayoshi Nakatani (19-1): IBF #10 / WBO #14
Nakatani shocked everyone when he knocked out Felix Verdejo, after being dropped himself twice, to become the WBO Intercontinental champion.
-Kenichi Ogawa (25-1): IBF #3 / WBA #5 / WBO #8 / WBC #15
Ogawa bested Kazuhiro Nishitani 4 months ago.
-Kosuke Saka (20-5): WBO #15
Saka will be defending his Japanese title against former WBO Asia Pacific champion Takuya Watanabe on January 22nd.
-Tomoki Kameda (36-3): WBA #12
The former WBO Bantamweight & interim WBC Super Bantamweight champion is planning his Featherweight debut.
-Musashi Mori (12-0): WBO #4
Mori will put his WBO Asia Pacific crown on the line, in a double title fight, against Olympic medalist and OPBF champion Satoshi Shimizu on May 13th.
-Hiroshige Osawa (36-5): WBA #2 / IBF #8
Osawa has been inactive since 2019.
-Ryo Sagawa (10-1): WBC #8 / IBF #11 / WBO #15
Sagawa will mark the 3rd defense of his Japanese title against Hinata Maruta on February 11th.
-Ryo Matsumoto (24-3): IBF #15
The former world title challenger takes on Takashi Igarashi on March 11th.
-Reiya Abe (20-3): IBF #12
Abe beat the unbeaten Ren Sasaki (10-1) this past October.
-Ryosuke Iwasa (27-3): interim IBF World champion
Iwasa secured the interim IBF title, after stopping Marlon Tapales in 2019. He will unify with the WBA/IBF champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev on March 13th.
-Hiroaki Teshigawara (22-2): IBF #3 / WBC #4
Teshigawara has defended his OPBF championship 4 times overall, all knockouts.
-Ryo Akaho (36-2): IBF #12 / WBO #13
The former 2x world title challenger closed 2020 in spectacular fashion, obliterating Yuto Nakamura with a devastating uppercut.
-Naoya Inoue (20-0): WBA (Super) & IBF World champion
The Monster dispatched Jason Moloney last October. His next title defense could be against longtime mandatory IBF contender Michael Dasmarinas.
-Daigo Higa (17-1): WBA #8 / WBC #15
Higa knocked out Yuki Strong Kobayashi on NYE, capturing the WBO Asia Pacific title in the process.
-Takuma Inoue (14-1): WBC #7 / WBO #7
The former interim WBC champion managed to defeat Keita Kurihara, on January 14th, for the OPBF title.
-Kazuto Ioka (26-2): WBO World champion
Ioka gave the 3 division world champion Kosei Tanaka his first professional loss on New Year’s Eve, knocking him down twice before the referee stopped the match in the 8th round.
-Ryoji Fukunaga (13-4): IBF #9
Fukunaga scored his 13th KO in his recent encounter with Kenta Nakagawa to unify the Japanese, OPBF & WBO Asia Pacific titles.
-Sho Ishida (29-2): IBF #12 / WBA #13
Ishida beat Toshiya Ishii in November.
-Kosei Tanaka (15-1): WBO #1
Tanaka tasted defeat for the 1st time, at the hands of Kazuto Ioka.
-Junto Nakatani (21-0): WBO World champion.
After a masterful performance, Nakatani stopped Giemel Magramo to win the vacant WBO championship.
-Ryota Yamauchi (7-1): WBA #2 / IBF #10 / WBO #10
Yamauchi became the WBO Asia Pacific champion this past August.
-Hiroto Kyoguchi (14-0): WBA (Super) World champion.
Kyoguchi recently signed with Matchroom.
-Kenshiro Teraji (17-0): WBC World champion.
The JBC suspended Kenshiro’s license for 3 months, after he drunkenly damaged someones vehicle.
-Katsunari Takayama (32-8): WBA #4
The former king of the Strawweights made a successful Light Flyweight debut against 2x world title challenger Reiya Konishi on December 27th.
-Kenichi Horikawa (41-16): WBC #5 / IBF #7 / WBA #13
The 20 year veteran scored an upset stoppage win over rising star Daiki Tomita.
-Masamichi Yabuki (12-3): WBC #3 / WBA #7 / IBF #9 / WBO #13
Yabuki defended his Japanese title for the first time against Toshimasa Ouchi.
-Riku Kano (17-4): WBO #7 / IBF #12
Kano became the WBO Asia Pacific champion last November.
-Ginjiro Shigeoka (5-0): WBA #10 / WBC #10 / WBO #11 / IBF #12
The WBO Asia Pacific champion’s comeback fight is expected to take place soon.
-Masataka Taniguchi (13-3): WBO #3
Taniguchi recently captured the Japanese title.
-Tsubasa Koura (15-1): IBF #7 / WBC #9 / WBO #12
Koura hasn’t competed since last February.
-Norihito Tanaka (20-8): WBC #11 / WBA #15
Tanaka beat Yuni Takada this past November.
(Image credit - Celes Gym)
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
-Zhilei Zhang (22-0): WBO #9 / IBF #15
The 2008 Olympic Silver medalist knocked out Devin Vargas (22-7) in his most recent fight.
-Muhamad Farkhan (11-0): WBA #13
Malaysian KO artist Muhamad Farkhan stopped Pascal Abel Ndomba (25-10), back in 2019, to capture the WBA & WBC Asia championships.
-Meng Fanlong (16-0): IBF #1 / WBC #15
No news yet on Meng’s return.
-Ainiwaer Yilixiati (17-1): WBO #14
Much like most Chinese fighters, Yilixiati hasn’t fought since 2019.
-Manny Pacquiao (62-7): WBA (Super) World champion
By the looks of it, Pacquiao may end up fighting former 2 division UFC champion Conor McGregor in 2021.
-Apinun Khongsong (16-1): IBF #13
Apinun suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of Josh Taylor (17-0).
-Daud Yordan (40-4): WBO #9
Yordan has had troubles getting a fight in his native country of Indonesia.
-Joe Noynay (18-2): WBO #6 / IBF #14
Noynay earned the biggest win of his career in 2019 when he dominated Olympic Bronze medalist Satoshi Shimizu (9-1) to retain his WBO Asia Pacific title..
-Can Xu (18-2): WBA (Regular) World champion
The fight with Josh Warrington (30-0) has been delayed again.
-Mark Magsayo (21-0): IBF #4 / WBC #5 / WBA #9 / WBO #9
Magsayo is already back in camp, training for his next match. (Opponent TBA)
-Thattana Luangphon (13-0): WBC #6
Luangphon had an impressive 2020, winning 4 fights, all via knockout.
-Albert Pagara (33-1): IBF #13
The former WBO & IBF Intercontinental champion defeated Filipino journeyman Virgil Puton (18-15) last month.
-Mike Plania (24-1): WBA #6 / IBF #8 / WBC #14
Plania scored a big victory last June over Joshua Greer Jr. (22-2), dropping him twice in their 10 round encounter.
-Marlon Tapales (34-3): IBF #4
The former world champion won his comeback fight against Eden Sonsona (36-12) this past November.
-Jhunriel Ramonal (17-8): WBC #9 / IBF #15 / WBO #15
Ramonal stopped Yusaku Kuga (19-4) in 2019 and captured the WBO Asia Pacific title.
-Jeo Santisima (20-3): WBO #8
Santisima beat Marjon Piencenaves (6-2) a few weeks ago.
-John Riel Casimero (30-4): WBO World champion
A unification match with 2x Olympic gold medalist and the WBA (Regular) champion Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-1) is potentially next for Casimero.
-Reymart Gaballo (24-0): Interim WBC World champion
Gaballo earned a split decision over the former IBF champion Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-2) this past December to capture the interim WBC title.
-Nawaphon Kaikanha (50-1): WBC #2
Nawaphon has been undefeated in his last 14 bouts, including KO victories over former world champions Sonny Boy Jaro (45-15) and Amnat Ruenroeng (21-4).
-Nonito Donaire (40-6): WBC #1
The 4 division world champion could finally meet Nordine Oubaali (17-0) in the ring this year for the WBC title.
-Tasana Salapat (58-1): WBA #4 / WBC #10
Salapat has been on a 10 fight winning streak, since his loss to Takuma Inoue (14-1), all knockouts.
-Michael Dasmarinas (30-2): IBF #1 / WBO #3 / WBC #13
Dasmarinas will finally challenge Naoya Inoue (20-0) for the IBF championship.
-Aston Palicte (27-4): WBO #10 / IBF #13
The former world title challenger has been 2-1 since losing to Kazuto Ioka (26-2).
-Jun Zhao (13-2): WBA #13
Zhao defended his WBA Asia title twice in 2020.
-Vincent Astrolabio (15-3): WBO #9
Astrolabio will face Genisis Libranza (19-1) on February 27th.
-Jerwin Ancajas (32-1): IBF World champion
Ancajas will mark his 9th title defense this April against Jonathan Javier Rodriguez (22-1).
-Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (49-5): WBC #1 / WBO #7
The former 2 time WBC champion will face the winner of Juan Francisco Estrada (41-3) vs. Roman Gonzalez (50-2).
-Sirichai Thaiyen (58-4): WBA #1
The former interim WBA titlist has been 8-0 since losing to Artem Dalakian (20-0).
-Nattapong Jankaew (7-0): WBA #11
Thai rising star Jankaew scored the biggest win of his young career last November when he defeated former world title challenger Karoon Jarupianlerd (44-10).
-KJ Cataraja (12-0): WBO #11
Cataraja dispatched former world title challenger John Mark Apolinario (20-14) last month, with a nasty body shot in the first round.
-Komgrich Nantapech (29-5): IBF #13
Nantapech has won his last 7 fights, mostly against minor opponents.
-Jade Bornea (15-0): IBF #8 / WBC #15
Bornea captured the NABF title early last year.
-Thananchai Charunphak (11-1): WBC #8
2020 was a breakout year for Thananchai, picking up wins over veteran fighter Wicha Phulaikhao (61-15) as well as former world champion Suriyan Satorn (60-11), both stoppages.
-Jayr Raquinel (12-1): IBF #6 / WBC #9
Raquinel is aiming at the newly crowned WBO champion Junto Nakatani (21-0).
-Genisis Libranza (19-1): WBC #12
Libranza will go up against the WBO Oriental Bantamweight champion Vincent Astrolabio (15-3) on February 27th.
-Jayson Mama (15-0): IBF #3
Mama’s IBF title fight with Moruti Mthalane (39-2) was cancelled.
-Dave Apolinario (14-0): WBA #12 / IBF #14
Apolinario kept his perfect record intact in 2020.
-Giemel Magramo (24-2): WBC #10 / WBO #11
Magramo failed to become the WBO champion when he fought Junto Nakatani.
-Wenfeng Ge (12-1): WBO #6
Wenfeng hasn’t competed since October of 2019.
-Christian Araneta (19-1): IBF #5
Araneta added 2 more wins to his record in 2020.
-Tibo Monabesa (20-1): WBC #6
The IBO champion hasn’t been in the ring since he won the belt on July of 2019.
-Mark Vicelles (12-0): WBC #9 / WBO #12 / IBF #13
Vicelles defeated Junuel Lacar (8-6) 2 months ago.
-Edward Heno (14-1): WBC #7
Heno unsuccessfully challenged the WBO World champion Elwin Soto (18-1).
-Andika Fredikson Ha'e (17-0): WBO #10
“D’Golden Boy” much like Monabesa, hasn’t seen action since the summer of 2019.
-Panya Pradabsri (35-1): WBC World champion
Pradabsri became the first man to defeat the unstoppable Chayaphon Moonsri (54-1) and become the new WBC champion.
-Thammanoon Niyomtrong (21-0): WBA (Super) World champion
The undefeated Thai champion is expected to make his 9th title defense in the coming months.
-Pedro Taduran (14-2): IBF World champion
Taduran will take on the challenge of Rene Mark Cuarto (18-2) on February 27th.
-Victorio Saludar (20-4): WBO #2 / WBA #4
The former WBO champion will clash with Robert Paradero (18-0) on February 20th for the vacant WBA (Regular) World title.
-Jing Xiang (17-4): WBO #1 / WBC #7 / WBA #12 / IBF #14
Xiang won the WBO International title on his Strawweight debut.
-Rene Mark Cuarto (18-2): IBF #3 / WBO #8
Cuarto will go for the gold against the IBF champion Pedro Taduran (14-2).
-Chayaphon Moonsri (54-1): WBC #1
Moonsri could be rematching Pradabsri at some point in 2021.
-Lito Dante (17-11): IBF #6 / WBC #14
The OPBF champion hasn’t fought in almost 1 year.
-Robert Paradero (18-0): WBA #5
As mentioned above, Paradero will face Saludar for the WBA (Regular) belt.
-Melvin Jerusalem (16-2): WBC #2 / IBF #4
Jerusalem scored his 10th knockout recently in the Philippines.
-Samuel Salva (18-1): WBO #14
Salva suffered an injury in his match with Taduran, costing him the opportunity to become the IBF champion. He bounced back with a win over Donny Mabao (23-43) last January.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
-Alexander Povetkin (36-2): interim WBC World champion.
The 2004 Olympic Gold medalist viciously knocked out Dillian Whyte (27-2) this past August to become the interim WBC Heavyweight champion.
-Evgeny Romanov (15-0): WBO #10
Romanov defended his WBO Global title against former world champion Siarhei Liakhovich (27-9) a few months ago.
-Aleksei Egorov (11-0): WBA Gold champion
Egorov bested combat sports veteran Vasil Ducar (8-3) in his last fight.
-Evgeny Tishchenko (8-0): WBO #4 / IBF #6
The 2016 Olympic champion successfully defended his WBO Intercontinental title, for the third time, against John McCallum (12-2) in November.
-Aleksei Papin (12-1): WBC #2 / WBO #10
Papin stopped Ruslan Fayfer (25-3) last summer in a WBC final eliminator.
-Yury Kashinsky (19-1): IBF #4 / WBA #10 / WBC #12
Kashinsky will challenge the WBA champion Arsen Goulamirian (26-0) probably in spring.
-Artur Beterbiev (15-0): IBF & WBC World champion
Beterbiev tested positive for COVID-19, thus his fight with Adam Deines (19-1) was postponed.
-Dmitry Bivol (17-0): WBA (Super) World champion
Bivol’s 7th defense could be against the former WBO Super Middleweight champion Gilberto Ramirez (41-0).
-Maksim Vlasov (46-3): WBO #3
Vlasov will clash with Joe Smith Jr. (26-3) for the vacant WBO Light Heavyweight title on February 13th.
-Sergey Kovalev (34-4): WBO #5 / WBC #6
The former World champion is set to meet 2016 Olympic Silver medalist Bektemir Melikuziev (6-0) at the end of the month.
Update: The fight was cancelled due to Kovalev testing positive for synthetic testosterone.
-Igor Mikhalkin (23-2): WBC #7
Mikhalkin will have the opportunity to become a 2 time European champion, when he meets Callum Johnson (18-1) in Manchester, for the vacant EBU title.
-Rustam Tulaganov (3-0): WBA #14
The 2016 Olympic Bronze medalist defeated Norbert Dabrowski (23-9) last year to win his 1st professional title.
-Ali Izmailov (5-0): IBF #15
Izmailov enters the world rankings after dispatching former IBF International champion Ruslan Fayfer (25-3) this past November.
-Umar Salamov (25-1): WBO #2
Salamov was meant to fight Vlasov for the vacant WBO title, before he got tested positive for the coronavirus.
-Fedor Chudinov (23-2): WBA Gold champion
Fedor successfully defended his Gold belt for the 1st time over Umar Sadiq (10-2).
-Bektemir Melikuziev (6-0): WBA #14
The 2016 Olympic Silver medalist will face his best opponent yet, when he meets the former Light Heavyweight World champion Sergey Kovalev (34-4) on January 30th in Russia.
Update: The fight was cancelled due to Kovalev testing positive for synthetic testosterone.
-Aidos Yerbossynuly (15-0): WBA #2 / WBO #4 / IBF #6
Aidos defended his WBA International & WBO Global belts twice in 2020, against Issah Samir (19-1) and Nuhu Lawal (27-8).
-Azizbek Abdugofurov (13-0): WBC #6
The WBC Silver champion will be fighting on February 28th. (Opponent TBA)
-Aslambek Idigov (19-0): WBO #6 / IBF #14
Rising star Idigov picked up 2 major wins last year over Ryan Ford (17-6) and former interim WBA titlist Stanislav Kashtanov (36-6).
-Evgeny Shvedenko (15-0): IBF #5
Shvedenko defeated Artur Osipov (16-3) last month to win the vacant WBC International title.
-Vladimir Shishkin (11-0): WBC #7 / WBA #11 / IBF #12
Shishkin will be in action on February 10th. (Opponent TBA)
-Gennady Golovkin (41-1): IBF World champion
Triple G destroyed Kamil Szeremeta (21-1) in his inaugural defense of the IBF title.
-Kanat Islam (27-0): WBO #4 / IBF #14
The 2008 Olympic Bronze medalist was scheduled to make his US in ring return 4 months ago against Jesus Gurrola (27-15) but the fight was cancelled due to visa issues.
-Magomed Madiev (15-0): WBA #2
Madiev defeated Konstantin Mishechkin (16-10) 2 weeks ago.
-Janibek Alimkhanuly (9-0): WBO # 3 / WBC #5 / IBF #11 / WBA #15
The 2013 AIBA World champion knocked out Gonzalo Gaston Coria (16-4) with a crushing left hook to retain his WBO Global crown. Janibek now has his eyes set on Ryota Murata’s WBA Super title.
-Andrey Sirotkin (19-1): WBC #15
Sirotkin won 3 fights in 2020 and also captured the WBC Asia Continental title.
-Meiirim Nursultanov (14-0): IBF #9
Nursultanov only fought once in 2020.
-Magomed Kurbanov (21-0): WBA #5 / WBO #6 / WBC #14
Kurbanov ended 2020 still undefeated. His most recent victory being against former WBC Silver champion Dmitry Mikhaylenko (23-8). A fight with Tim Tszyu (17-0) is in the works.
-Israil Madrimov (6-0): WBA #1
Madrimov dominated Charlie Navarro (29-10) as well as Eric Walker (20-3) last year and is now even closer to a world title opportunity.
-Bakhram Murtazaliev (18-0): WBC #1 / WBO #5
Murtazaliev has knocked out 14 out of his 18 opponents.
-Sergey Lipinets (16-1): IBF #3 / WBO #9
Lipinets fought Custio Clayton (18-0) for the interim IBF title, to a draw.
-David Avanesyan (26-3): WBC#7 / WBA #9 / WBO #10
Avanesyan’s 3rd defense of his European title, against Josh Kelly (10-0), was postponed. A new date will be decided soon.
-Daniyar Yeleussinov (10-0): IBF #9
The 2016 Olympic Gold medalist earned the biggest victory of his pro career last November, when he stopped former IBF & WBA champion Julius Indongo (23-3) with 2 rounds.
-Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (17-0): IBF #1 / WBC #8 / WBO #13
Kudratillo aims to challenge the WBC & IBF champion Errol Spence Jr. in 2021.
-Radzhab Butaev (13-0): WBA #3
Butaev ruined Terry Chatwood’s (9-1) perfect record with a 3rd round KO on December 26th.
-Shakhram Giyasov (10-0): WBA #6
The 2016 Olympic Silver medalist stopped Wiston Campos (31-8) this past August with a nasty body shot.
-Shohjahon Ergashev (19-0): IBF #4 / WBA #8 / WBO #13
Ergashev could be next in line to challenge Josh Taylor (17-0) for the WBA & IBF titles.
-Batyrzhan Jukembayev (18-0): IBF #8 / WBA #13
Jukembayev knocked out Ricardo Lara (22-9) last January.
-Batyr Akhmedov (8-1): WBA #5
After suffering his first loss at the hands of Mario Barrios (26-0), Akhmedov came back last September and finished Rey Perez (24-12) in less than 3 minutes.
-Petros Ananyan (15-2): IBF #14
Ananyan ended the undefeated streak of Subriel Matias (16-1) back in February of last year.
-Zapir Rasulov (35-1): WBA #15
Rasulov scored his 31st knockout last October. He is scheduled to compete again in April. (Opponent TBA)
-Elnur Samedov (11-1): IBF #14
Despite suffering an early flash knockdown, Samedov came back to dominate Alexander Podolsky (11-2), successfully retaining his WBA Continental title.
-Zaur Abdullaev (12-1): IBF #8 / WBC #9
Zaur dropped Pavel Malikov (16-3) multiple times in his comeback fight.
-Mark Urvanov (18-2): WBA Gold champion
Urvanov delivered a stunning KO last year, ending the undefeated streak of Akzhol Sulaimanbek Uulu (15-1) and became the inaugural WBA Gold champion. He was meant to challenge Rene Alvarado (32-9) for the World title, before the Nicaraguan lost his belt to Roger Gutierrez (25-3) at the beginning of the year.
-Shavkat Rakhimov (15-0): IBF #1
The unstoppable Rakhimov was meant to fight Joseph Diaz (31-1) for the IBF championship on February 13th but he recently tested positive for COVID-19 so the match is off.
-Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov (16-0): WBC #6 / IBF #15
Yaqubov earned the biggest win of his career in 2020 when he outclassed former World champion Tomas Rojas (52-19) in Ekaterinburg.
-Tugstsogt Nyambayar (12-1): WBC #3 / WBA #8
The 2012 Olympic Silver medalist unsuccessfully challenged Gary Russell Jr. (31-1) for the WBC World championship in 2020.
-Andranik Grigoryan (12-0): WBA #10
Grigoryan defeated former IBF Intercontinental champion Andrei Isayeu (30-19) half a year ago.
-Murodjon Akhmadaliev (8-0): WBA & IBF World champion.
The 2016 Olympic Bronze medalist will mark his inaugural defense against the interim IBF champion Ryosuke Iwasa (27-3) on March 13th.
-Nikolai Potapov (22-2): IBF #6 / WBO #8
Potapov earned a unanimous decision win over former WBA Intercontinental champion Oleksandr Hryshchuk (16-3) a few weeks ago.
-Mikhail Aloyan (5-1): WBA Gold champion
The 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist will defend his WBA Gold belt against Pablo Carrillo (25-7) this coming spring.
-Olimjon Nazarov (25-5): WBO #5
Nazarov has been on an impressive 12 fight winning streak since 2018.
Back in August 2020 we did one of our weekly "10 facts you probably didn't know about..." articles about former Japanese Flyweight Seisaku Saito. The former fighter, turned actor, comedian and entertainer, was an enigmatic individual who ended up featuring in a series of adverts after his boxing career. We've decided to put a bunch of those together in this edition of "5 times Asian boxers have appeared in commercials!"
One thing to note before we go any further is that after Seisaku Saito retired from boxing he did go by the stage name Tako Hachiro, and became a full time actor. We really don't know how many adverts he was in, but we've included just 5 below, if we stumble on more in the future we will include them in a future article in this series.
Seisaku Saito - Ace Cook Ramen Noodles
We begin this with a really basic Yaki Soba noodle advert for a company called Ace Cook. The advert looks very much late 1970's/early 1980's. Saito is wearing an awful salmon coloured blazer and is in front of a very dull background. Not really sure about this advert at all, but it did make us hungry the first time we watched it, then again we're usually hungry when we see noodles!... Which has actually made this entire article very hunger inducing
Seisaku Saito - Suntory Canned Gin
Ok so what do we want with our noodles? Well how about some canned Gin. The advert sees Saito pulling a woman in a Rickshaw before the two enjoy some Suntory Canned Gin. This is again a rather basic advert, but we do wonder who though giving Saito the attire he's in was funny....because we kinda thing Saito's attire here is more memorable than the product they are drinking!
Seisaku Saito - Kintori Mosquito Repellent
So if we take our noodles and gin outside, and yes drinking in public is allowed in Japan for those wondering, we might have ourselves some flying buggers bothering us. Those damn Mosquito's need keeping away, and to do that we're going to use this! The Kintori Mosquito Repellent! In regards to adverts this is the weirdest one that Saito is in, with Saito playing one of two...crabs. This is short, surreal and weird to say the least!
Seisaku Saito - Kishifort Camera Store
Whilst we're enjoying our day out, and have rid ourselves of those damn Mosquito's, we should take some photographs of our day! Well that's great as Saito was in an advert for a camera store in, or around 1985. This is another rather weird one with Saito playing a musical instrument on the beach. The advert does little to sell the cameras or camera store and sadly turned rather weird when we move from the advert to real life. For those unaware Saito actually drowned in 1985, making this a rather weird one to watch back.
Seisaku Saito - Matsuda Foods Baby Star Cup Ramen
We started this with a food advert and we'll end it with a food one as Saito also advertised a cup Ramen product. The advert here really is one we simply don't get, though in fairness it could be lost in translation. We feel it would have made more sense to see someone eating the product, than sitting in a car with dehydrated noodle cups, similar to Pot Noodles for our UK viewers.
For today's closet classic we roll the clock back to an historic bout from back in 1987, and it's a bout that, sadly, doesn't get the attention it deserves. That's despite the bout being a genuine major one for the division it was in. In fact it was a bout that saw an inaugural champion being crowned and a record being set, that still stands more than 30 years on.
Hiroki Ioka (8-0, 5) vs Mai Thomburifarm (11-1, 4)
The bout in question was the first ever WBC Minimumweight title bout, which took place in October 1987 in Osaka, just 4 months after the inaugural IBF title fight. The division wasn't well-established at this point, but this was a very much a major fight at 105lbs, and pitted an 18 year old Japanese hopeful against a Thai riding an 11 fight unbeaten run.
Hiroki Ioka, the uncle of Kazuto Ioka, had turned professional in 1986 under the guidance of the legendary Eddie Townsend. Ioka had debuted at the age of 17 and debuted in January '86, and had run up 5 straight wins by the end of the year. In 1987 he had beaten Kenji Ono for the Japanese Minimumweight title, setting the record as the youngest Jappanese national champion, before moving on to this WBC title fight. The youngster had been nurtured by Townsend to be an outside fighter, using his long and rangy body to fight off the jab, and with his Japanese title win there was a lot of momentum behind him. Despite the momentum he was still only 18 years and 9 months old. He was looking to set the Japanese record as the youngest world champion, and this was seen as a major step up.
Thai fighter Mai Thomburifarm had lost on his debut, in 1986, but then reeled off 11 straight wins. His competition hadn't been great, though as is always the case with Thai's from that era the records of his opponents are very much questionable and may well be incomplete. What is known is that prior to this fight with Ioka Mai had won the Thai Light Flyweight title. Coming in to this fight he was in his mid 20's but had never previously fought outside of Thailand.
From the off Ioka looked to make the most of size and speed. He got behind his jab, kept it pumped out and tried to neutralise the pressure of the Thai visitor. Ioka's big flaw, through his career, was his relative lack of power and he struggled early on to get the respect of Mai, who continued to come forward. The Thai's hunger and fire kept him coming forward but he continually struggled to get close enough, early on, to get his shots off with much success.
As the bout went on the pace of the bout increased, with Ioka occasionally pushing back Mai and letting his shots go. Mai responded, at times, but generally got the worst of things, as Ioka's clean and accurate punches took their toll on the Thai.
Whilst certainly not an all out war, and very much a show case of boxing, moving and jabbing, this was more exciting than most technical match ups and certainly had it's share of flash points and exciting moments, especially late on as both men started to wear the wounds of their bout.
For those looking for excitement and action this isn't a thrill a minute bout, despite having it's moments. It won't even be remembered as one of the greatest Minimumweight bouts ever. It is however a bout that deserves it's place in the Closet Classic series. It's a bout that helped build the division, and showed that technical and tactical bouts can still be very fun to watch!
In the 1980's and early 1990's we had some legendary Super Flyweights including Jiro Watanabe, Gilberto Roman, Khaosai Galaxy and Sung Kil Moon. Sadly when Galaxy retired the WBA title was left vacant and a new champion needed to be crowned. To find a new champion the WBA matched up two of the best fighters in the division in what turned out to be a hugely controversial bout on April 1992. It was controversial but a truly fantastic bout, that now, almost 30 years later, is often forgotten.
Katsuya Onizuka (18-0, 16) vs Thanomsak Sithbaobay (37-2, 21) I
To crown the new champion, the man to replace the legendary Khaosai Galaxy, the WBA matched up experienced Thai Thanomsak Sithbaobay, the then #2 ranked WBA fighter, with Japan's Katsuya Onizuka, the then #1 ranked fighter. The bout made sense, it looked great on paper and was another chapter in the long running Japan Vs Thailand rivalry.
Although not well remembered now Thanomsak was a legitimately brilliant Super Flyweight. Heading into this bout he had lost only twice, a split decision in Japan to Kenji Matsumura, in 1987, in an OPBF Flyweight title bout and a thin decision in a WBA Bantamweight title bout to Luisito Espinosa in 1990. He had been a former OPBF Flyweight champion, and had beaten the likes of Soon Jung Kang, Frank Cedeno, Torsak Pongsupa and Choo Woon Park. He was a talented all rounder, who could box, bang, fight and brawl, and a man who had earned Onizuka's respect when Onizuka had gone to Thailand and seen him training. He was regarded as the Thai successor to Khaosai Galaxy, and their next champion.
As for Onizuka he was a former Japanese champion who had ended the lengthy domestic reign of Shunichi Nakajima but was stepping up beyond domestic class for the first time. He had impressed, mightily, on the Japanese scene, whilst building a huge fan following. He was fun to watch, a very heavy handed boxer-puncher, with charisma and good looks, able to attract more than just the boxing fans to his fights. He was an anointed one, who was regarded as Japan's next big thing, and their first champion at the weight since the legendary Jiro Watanabe back in the mid-1980's. Onizuka was to Watanabe what Thanomsak was to Khaosai Galaxy, making this a proxy version of the bout we never got.
For those in South East Asia this was something to get excited about. Really excited about.
From the opening seconds it was clear that both men felt confident of their abilities and both began behind their jabs, looking for control of center ring and the ability to guide their opponents where they wanted them. The winner of the battle of the jabs was Thanomsak who's jab seemed stiffer than Onizuka's and it seemed he was also landing it cleaner, backing Onizuka on to the ropes mid way through the round. To his credit Onizuka fought well off the ropes, but he took some solid body shots from the Thai whilst there. The second round was much like the first, with both men battling for center ring, and the Thai getting the advantage, despite some good moments from Onizuka. By the mid way point of round 2 it was clear we were getting something a little bit special, with each guy responding to being hit with combinations of their own. Despite some amazing back and forth action it seemed, once again, like the Thai did more than enough to take it, especially with his stellar combinations and more consistent offensive work.
Realising that Thanomsak was stronger than her was Onizuka seemed to change tactics in round 3. He had given up trying to take center ring and was instead going to use the outside of the ring, fighting off the ropes. He did need to change things but it wasn't a tactic that had immediate success, instead it seemed to allow the Thai to walk in and unleash with him on the ropes. Although the success for Onizuka wasn't immediate he did have some great moments fighting off the ropes, and tucked up well when the Thai was unloading. By the end of the round Onizuka was bloodied from the nose and, seemingly, down on all 3 cards. He had had moments but was being out worked.
The pace and tempo continued to be red hot in round 4 as Thanomsak continued pressing the pace and forcing Onizuka on to the ropes. This time around however Onizuka began to have consistent success off the ropes, moving well, and landing clean. Thanomsak on the other hand seemed to slow, he still had moments of great success, but they were less consistent than they had been in the first 3 rounds. The Thai was certainly slowing down, though it was unclear if it was due to his work rate or a choice, as he still seemed to be controlling things and stepping up the pace in exciting bursts.
In round 5 we again saw Thanomsak slowing slightly. He continued to pick moments to strike, and when he let his hands go he looked sensational, but the tempo was dropping from him. Then again we weren't seeing Onizuka make him pay, instead we were seeing the Japanese local have his face smeared with his own blood, backing off, and moving without letting his hands go. It was hard, if not impossible, to have given Onizuka any of the first 5 rounds, putting him in a hole, bloodied and looking like a man who had to turn things around, and quickly.
Sadly for Onizuka things didn't really seem to improve much in round 6, at least not early in the round. He did however have some good success in the middle of the round, when he began to get off the ropes and work with some space. It wasn't a clear round for him, or anything like that, but it seemed, at last, that he was starting to put some moments together, landing some solid shots and getting Thanomsak's respect. That continued in round 7, as the Thai continued to slow, feeling the pace of his brilliant start, and Onizuka began to back him up. The tables were beginning to turn and Onizuka was on the charge at last, though he was still in a deep, deep hole.
After a very good round for Onizuka he seemed to fail to build his success, and round 8 was a much closer one. Thanomsak didn't seem to suddenly have a second wind, but it seemed like Onizuka just failed to keep his foot on the gas. The local may have done enough to take the round, but it certainly wasn't a clear cut one, and it was far too close for comfort, given how clearly he had lost the first half of the bout. Round 9 was another where it seemed like Onizuka should have put his foot hard on the gas, but he couldn't and Thanomsak managed to have enough moments to keep things very close through the round. The aggression, pressure and combinations were gone from the Thai's work, but he was boxing smartly, jabbing, moving, making Onizuka miss and relying on the basics of the sport. It was a round that the Thai seemed to win, but simply keeping things simple, and re-opening a cut on Onizuka's left eye.
By now it seemed like Onizuka had 3 rounds to at least drop the Thai. Sadly for him he was looking too tired to press forward, and despite some fantastic flashes he was consistently out boxed through the round by an exhausted looking Thanomsak, who again kept things very simply, using his jab and his footwork to keep Onizuka at range.
After a few quieter rounds we saw Onizuka rush off his stool to begin round 11. The penny seemed to drop, at last, that he had to turn it on, put his foot on the gas and go for it. This lead to a truly brilliant round as both men sucked it up, dug deep and let their shots go. This was much more like the action from the early rounds, though it was Onizuka who was beginning to hammer away at his foe. Thanomsak came back but overall it was a round for the local, a clear round for him, and one he seriously needed.
With Onizuka having had a very good round 11 it seemed like he was going to end the bout hot, coming out hot for round 12. That however didn't really happen, and it was Thanomsak out worked his man in the final round, letting his shots go, catching Onizuka clean with head shots, unleashing flashy combinations. Onizuka certainly had moments, but nowhere near the amount we had expected from him, or the amount he needed. Going in to the round it seemed he was quite some distance behind, winning the round wouldn't have changed things, he needed to go out and try to stop the Thai.
After the bell Thanomsak celebrated, raising his hands. It seemed he was going to reclaim the title for Thailand, and take back the belt Khaosai Galaxy had vacated, Onizuka on the other hand walked back to his corner looking dejected. Like a beaten man. He seemed resigned to knowing his unbeaten record was gone, his title shot had ended with disappointment and that he had a lot of work to do to become a champion.
Then the result came in, and to everyone's surprise Onizuka was announced as the winner. Whilst his team, and the crowd celebrated he looked unhappy, as if he knew he hadn't won. The Thai looked genuinely disgusted at the result.
Whilst many of the fans had cheered the result, and Onizuka, there was a solid number who were angry about the outcome, describing it as a "Kyoei decision", blaming Onizuka's promoter. With scores of 115-114, twice, and 116-114 all in his favour the Japanese fighter had gotten the win courtesy of a 10-10 round on two cards, and two of them on the third.
Some of those in the venue told Thanomsak what they had thought, telling him that he should have been the champion. That he should have got the decision.
Around 19 months later the two men rematched, and once against Onizuka got a close decision. He would go unbeaten until September 1994, when he was finally dethroned by Hyung Chul Lee, and then retired due to an eye issue. As for Thanomsak he became a member of the "who needs him club?" after the second bout with Onizuka. He fought through to 1996, losing to Sirimongkol Singwancha, before a 1 fight return to the ring in 1998, which he lost. In the end Thanomsak would retire having never won a world title, and is regarded as one of the best Thai's to have never claimed a belt at the very highest level of the sport.
Recently we posted the first of two “21 for 2021” articles, with that one being focused on prospects, those with less than 10 fights and currently not yet world ranked. This second one focuses on fighters who are currently world ranked, or have more than 10 bouts, and are again ones to keep an eye on in 2021. For this list we will not be including any world champions, former world champions or previous world title challengers, but more the up and comers and rising contenders.
We suspect fans will recognise more names from this list than the previous list but we still think there might be one or two names that even the most hardcore of fans might not be too familiar with at this point in time.
Some of these fighters will be challenging for world titles in 2021, others will have to wait longer. Regardless the 21 men featured here are all worth paying a close eye on heading in the new year, and all are expected to move their careers onwards. For some that will be a world title fight, for others a world title eliminator and for others a regional title bout and move up the rankings.
1-Bektemir Melikuziev (6-0, 5)
Hard hitting Uzbek amateur standout Bektemir Melikuziev has had a loud buzz around him since turning professional in 2019, following a very good amateur career. Like many top Uzbek amateurs he’s not been moved with kid gloves and has, instead, been matched to climb the rankings and move towards big bouts very quickly. On January 30th he’ll face Sergey Kovalev, in what will be the “Bully’s” 7th professional bout. A win against Kovalev and the 24 year old Golden Boy Promotions prospect will be right on the verge of a world title fight. Heavy handed, with a good boxing brain and brutal body punching Melikuziev looks like someone who could be a world champion by the end of 2021.
2-Israil Madrimov (6-0, 5)
We stay with Uzbek’s for our #2 choice, with Israil Madrimov well deserving of a place, despite a 2020 which had him looking somewhat human. After turning professional in 2018 we were all quick to rave about him, and by early 2020 he looked on the verge of something big. Sadly Covid19 hit and boxing was put on ice. When Madrimov returned to the ring in August 2020 he looked really ordinary in his bout Eric Walker, which had some bizarre officiating from Gary Ritter. We suspect that bout will serve as a wake up call to Madrimov, who is much better than he showed there. Currently very highly ranked by the WBA Madrimov will likely find himself in a title fight at some point next year.
3-Sadriddin Akhmedov (11-0, 10)
Staying with Central Asian’s for a moment longer we need to mention 22 year old Kazakh prospect Sadriddin Akhmedov who is incredibly young but insanely talented. The 154lb youngster is one of the many Central Asian fighters making a name for himself in Canada, where he has built a reputation for himself as a fantastically talented boxer-puncher. He’s got solid power in both hands, fantastic movement boxing IQ and has started to score solid wins over the likes of Jhony Fredy Navarrete Montano and Jose Antonio Villalobos. Sadly, though like many fighters, his career was slowed in 2020, due to Covid19, but he has got a bout scheduled for later this month.
4-Ginjiro Shigeoka (5-0, 4)
Another fight who was out of the ring for the entirety of 2020 was Japanese Minimumweight Ginjiro Shigeoka, who sadly lost all the momentum of a huge 2019 which had seen him end the year with a TKO win over Rey Loreto. Aged just 21 Shigeoka could afford a year out and a year to physically mature, but now we’re in 2021 we expect really big things for the hard hitting southpaw. Hailing from Kumamoto, though fighting out of the Watanabe Gym in Tokyo, Shigeoka is a freak with insane speed and power for 105lb’der and we suspect those traits will be enough to take him to a world title, as long as his team can secure him a shot. Sadly though his long term potential is unlikely to see him flying through the weight classes, as he is just over 5’0” and unlikely to have the frame for some of the higher weights.
5-Masayoshi Nakatani (19-1, 13)
Once beaten Japanese Lightweight Masayoshi Nakatani ended the year on a high with a huge win over Felix Verdejo. The win came after well over a year away from the ring and saw Nakatani score one of the biggest comeback wins in recent years. That win has really put his name up there amongst the top contenders at 135lbs and following the win he’s going to be looking at a world title fight of some sort. Although not the most skilled Nakatani is a big, tough, awkward, powerful fighter, with good stamina, a real will to win and one of the most under-rated jabs in boxing. Few would give him a chance against the divisional elite, though he’s already proven to be competitive with Teofimo Lopez and his win over Verdejo again showed the level that he can operate at.
6-Hiroaki Teshigawara (22-2-2, 15)
Current OPBF Super Bantamweight champion Hiroaki Teshigawara is one of the many forgotten and overlooked fighters at 122lbs, with much of the focus now spinning around to the US. Despite that the talented Teshigawara is ranked by a number of world title bodies and, at the age of 30, his team are likely to be pushing hard for him to get a world title bout in 2021. He’s not the tidiest of fighters or the biggest puncher, but he’s an awkward boxer puncher, with a solid chin, under-rated power and some very subtle tricks in his arsenal. He looks a level below the best in the division, but in reality there’s a real chance he could have the tools to frustrate any of the top guys. A very under-rated fighter in a division that looks set for a small boom period.
7-Daniyar Yeleussinov (10-0, 6)
Unbeaten Kazakh Welterweight Daniyar Yeleussinov turned professional with a lot of hype following an Olympic gold medal from the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Sadly though the hype quickly died off after some underwhelming performances that seemed to suggest he was struggling to adapt to the professional ranks. In his last few fights however he has shown real development and now looks ready to make a mark on the upper echelons of the division. Although he only fought in 2020 Yeleussinov made a statement, battering Julius Indongo in 2 rounds and made Indongo say “no mas”. Now it’s time for Matchroom to secure Yeleussinov a world title eliminator and begin to move him towards a top Welterweight name. It’s a shame Yeleussinov is with Matchroom, who don’t have big Welterweights to match him with, however he can work his way to a mandatory position this year.
8- Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (17-0, 9)
Uzbek Welterweight Kudratillo Abdukakhorov looked set to have a big fight last year before a visa issue held him up and cost him a chance to fight for an IBF interim world title. Since then his manager bought out his Top Rank contract and he has signed with Sampson Boxing who will almost certainly secure him a big fight in 2021. The skilled but light punching Uzbek is a genuine talent, but he’s going to have to find some new gears if he’s to win a world title this year. Despite that it’s hard to imagine not getting a shot, and with that in mind he belongs high up this list. He will get a shot in 2021, or at least he’ll get some big fights this year, but we suspect the 27 year old won’t quite have the power or physicality to claim a world title.
9-Zhanibek Alimkhanuly (9-0, 5)
Kazakhstan Middleweight hopeful Zhanibek Alimkhanuly may end being in the right place at the right time for a world title fight in 2021 if things play out as we expect. The speculation is that Demetrius Andrade is heading up to 168lbs and as a top 3 ranked WBO fighter Alimkhanuly will certainly be in the mix for a title fight. Like Yeleussinov there was some early apprehension about Alimkhanuly, who seemed to take a few fights to really find his groove in the professional ranks. His 2020 calendar was somewhat bare, with just a single fight during the year, but it was an impressive performance against Gonzalo Gaston Coria which saw Alimkhanuly claim the WBO Global title and improve his world title chances. Don’t be surprised if we see Alimkhnauly take on Liam Williams for the vacant WBO world title later this year.
10-Shakhram Giyasov (10-0, 8)
We stay with Central Asian prospects as we look at talented Uzbek standout Shakhram Giyasov, a 140lb hopeful we could be in the title scramble if the belts become vacant in late 2021. The Matchroom and World Sport promoted boxer-puncher is unbeaten but has had some ups and downs in recent bouts and it seems he learned from those downs. Blessed with heavy hands, very nasty body shots and a good boxing brain Giyasov’s issues have been in over-looking opponents. In his last 2 bouts he has put things together well and we see him knocking on the door of a title fight this year. Sadly he is only currently ranked by the WBA, who have so many issues with multi-title holders, that he may he may need to look for another route, but with Matchroom guiding him that shouldn’t be much of an issue.
11-Musashi Mori (12-0, 7)
Japanese Featherweight Musashi Mori will almost certainly have a make or break 2021. The 21 year old southpaw is on a fast track to a title, and has been since relatively early in his career. Within 13 months of his debut he had won the Rookie of the Year, in just his 8th bout the then 18 year old won the WBO Asia Pacific title, and since then he has notched 3 defenses of that regional title and moved up the world rankings. In his last 2 bouts Mori has scored notable wins over Takuya Mizuno and Tsuyoshi Tameda and is now scheduled to face Satoshi Shimizu in May, in a regional unification bout. A win there and Mori will be banging on the door of a world title bout, and could well end up with one in late 2021 if his promoter can pull a few strings.
12-Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov (16-0, 9)
Unbeaten Russian based Tajik fighter Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov is not a name that we suspect many will be familiar with, but the 25 year old Super Featherweight has been amassing a solid record over in Russia, and has the backing of German Titov. In his last few fights he has beaten solid opponents, such as Emanuel Lopez, Mark Urvanov, Abraham Montoya and Tomas Rojas. The talented fighter might not have the power needed to stop the best, but he has strong promotional back, good skills and certainly has a lot of potential to make a mark during the next 12 months, especially given the fact that boxing has continued on in Russia during the ongoing crisis. Notably he is ranked in the top 10 by 3 of the world title bodies and 2021 will be focused on moving towards a title fight, rather than getting one out right.
13-Chainoi Worawut (13-0-1, 12)
Unbeaten Thai youngster Chainoi Worawut, also known as Thattana Luangphon, is one the many rising Thai hopeful who is starting to make waves and is getting plenty of exposure thanks to WP Boxing and NKL. The heavy handed 23 year old Super Bantamweight began his professional career in May 2018 and blew his first 3 opponents out before fighting to an unexpected draw. Since then however he has scored 10 straight wins, 9 by stoppage, including solid regional type wins over the likes of Alvin Medura and Jomar Fajardo. Despite never beating a top tier regional fighter he has worked his way up the WBC world rankings, and is already in the WBC top 10. He needs a big win in the near or two, and with the backing he has that wouldn’t be a surprise. Blessed with power, a relatively strong promoter, good connections with the WBC and exciting style Chainoi will get opportunities and we suspect by the end of 2021 he’ll be banging on the door of a title fight.
14-Jing Xiang (17-4-2, 3)
Talking about a man banging on the door for a title fight it’s hard to overlook Chinese fighter Jing Xiang, a very skilled boxer-mover who is a contender at both 105lbs and 108lbs. Currently ranked by all 4 world title bodies at Minimumweight he is very much in line for a shot, in fact he’s the WBO’s #1 ranked contender. Technically Xiang is one of the very best in China, and he’s already notched notable wins over former world champions Merlito Sabillo and Kompayak Porpramook and seemed on the verge of big things in 2020, before Covid19 essentially froze him out of notable fights. Aged 31 it’s now or never for Xiang, who is riding a 9 fight unbeaten run. He has the skills, but now the question is whether his team can secure him a shot at someone like Wilfredo Mendez or Knockout CP Freshmart.
15-Thanongsak Simsri (14-0, 12)
It seemed like 2020 was going to be the year where we found out whether or not Thai puncher Thanongsak Simsri was a super stud or not. His team had planned big things for him, and the hope was that he would claim a number of regional titles. Things obviously changed, and they seemed to change for the better when he signed up for a WBA Light Flyweight world title fight against Hiroto Kyoguchi, and then sat through 2 weeks in quarantine in Japan. Sadly his shot was taken away when Kyoguchi tested positive for Covid19 following the weight, forcing a late cancellation to the event. He remained in Japan after the bout was cancelled, in the hope of the bout being rescheduled, but returned to Thailand in December with the promise of a shot at Kyoguchi in 2021. Fingers crossed he gets that shot in the Spring and we see what the Thai youngster can really do.
16-Masamichi Yabuki (12-3, 11)
Another Light Flyweight on the verge of something big is Japanese national champion Masamichi Yabuki, who is ranked by 3 of the 4 title bodies and seemed to be heading towards a world title fight. Blessed with naturally heavy hands, impressive size for a Light Flyweight, and under-rated boxing ability the Japanese boxer-puncher is a man who could pose a threat to the champions at 108lbs. Despite having 3 losses on his record he is not a man to overlook and we suspect he and his team are going to be chasing a very big 2021. Sadly the Midori Gym, which he fights out of, don’t have the deepest of pockets, but the job his team are doing in getting his name out there is very impressive and we suspect they’ll be trying to improve his profile through the first part of 2021 and then hunt a title eliminator, or a world title fight, in the final few months of the year. A very dangerous and under-rated fighter in the talented heavy Light Flyweight division.
17-Ju Wu (10-0-2)
Light punching Chinese Lightweight Ju Wu is not a name you’re likely to hear much of, especially with the US Lightweights dominating the top of the division and the majority of the conversation regarding the division. Despite that the 21 year old southpaw from Jinan is impressive and looking like a future contender in the making. Although a total unknown outside of those who follow the Chinese scene Wu is a talented, speedy young boxer with freakish physical dimensions for a Lightweight, standing at almost 6’, he’s got a good jab and good movement and a lot of time on his side. In recent bouts he has beaten the likes of Adones Aguelo, Rimar Metuda, Alain Chervet and Xiao Tao Su, and appears to be a fighter who is very much developing his in ring identity. Although still a work in progress the 21 year old is someone making a note of now, and we expect big things from him in 2021.
18-Hironori Mishiro (10-0-1, 3)
One man who enters 2021 flying high is OPBF Super Featherweight champion Hironori Mishiro, who enters the year on the back of a huge win over Masayuki Ito. Mishiro has been on the verge of a world ranking for a while, and his win over Ito should assure him of a top 15 place. Although very much an under-dog against the top fighters in the division he does have the style and tools to give fits to some notable names fights, and a bout between Mishiro and Tevin Farmer would be a very interesting match up. Mishiro lacks power and killer instinct but has an excellent jab, fantastic size and movement and real hunger to make a mark on the sport. At 26 years old he’s coming into his own and might only be 3 or 4 good wins away from a really big international fight.
19-Azizbek Abdugofurov (13-0, 5)
Unbeaten Uzbek Super Middleweight Azizbek Abdugofurov rose through the ranks very quickly in 2017 and 2018 and looked to be on the verge of something very big in 2019. Sadly however Abdugofurov’s career has hit a wall in the last 2 years as he has become a card carrying member of the “Who needs him? Club”. Despite that he is world ranked by the WBC and is only really one or two wins away from a world title shot in the relatively talent lacking Super Middleweight division. The Uzbek was supposed to fight under Frank Warren last year, but that failed to happen and the 28 year old has completely lost all career momentum. Despite that he’s talented, he’s world ranked and there is still time left in his career. Fingers crossed his team manage to get him out 2 or 3 times in 2021 and get him back where he should have been last year.
20-Toshiki Shimomachi (12-1-2, 8)
The Super Bantamweight division is one of the most overlooked and most interesting right now, with a lot of talent from all over the planet. The division really could end up being one of the most stacked for the next few years. Despite that we really do like the chances of Toshiki Shimomachi, who could end up being a real player in the division in the next few years. The 24 year old southpaw is a physical freak at the weight, standing at close to 5’11”, and is very much a non-Japanese style fighter. His style in the ring is that of an outside counter puncher, with a loose and relaxed style in the ring that makes him very hard to hit and very slippery. Although a counter puncher by nature Shimomachi is heavy handed, he has stopped his last 3 and 5 of his last 7. It’s not his power that is key however but his timing and placement and we suspect that will see him to success at a much higher level than the Japanese Youth title, which he held in 2019 and 2020.
21-Dave Apolinario (14-0, 9)
We finish this list with 21 year old Filipino Flyweight Dave Apolinario, who is currently ranked by the WBA and IBF, and has been quietly going about his business without much song and dance. In fact he’s slowly becoming one of the best kept secrets in Filipino boxing. Unlike many top Filipino fighters Apolinario doesn’t have much in terms of fight changing power, or flash. He’s not a loud mouth and he’s not a fighter who immediately catches the eye. Instead however he’s a brilliant skilled fighter, who understands the sport and his style fantastically. He’s a super smart boxer who controls the ring action with intelligent movement, good counter punching and the ability to mix up the tempo. There is very little talk about Apolinario though to us he’s been really impressive and has already had a 10 rounder under his belt. He is certainly one to watch for the next 12 months.
Ususually in this series we get to look about legends of yore, putting on some thrillers. It's with that in mind that fighters like Yong Soo Choi, Takanori Hatakeyama, Lakva Sim, Myung Woo Yuh and Naoto Takahashi turn up so many times in this series. Thankfully we still have some great exciting action hero's in the sport, with the mentality of making sure fans are entertained. Today we look at a cracking bout from 2015 which featured a couple of typically entertaining fighters, in what was one of the final bouts of the year.
Kosei Tanaka (5-0, 2) Vs Vic Saludar (11-1, 9)
In one corner we hard WBO Minimumweight champion Kosei Tanaka, who had won the title 7 months earlier, when he had beaten Julian Yedras to take the previously vacant title. Tanaka, who was being managed by former world champion Kiyoshi Hatanaka, had raced to a world title in just his 5th bout, and had been regarded as a fighter on a similar career trajectory to Naoya Inoue. Despite having on only been a professional for 2 years he had gained a reputation as a special talent, and his 2014 clash with Ryuji Hara had been a sensationally high speed bout between two incredible hugely skilled youngsters. At the age of 20 he was being tipped for big things, but was seen as being a flawed genius, even at this stage of his career.
In his first defense of the title Tanaka took on Filipino puncher Vic Saludar. Saludar had suffered an early career loss, following a hand fracture against Powell Balaba, but hand bounced back from that loss and taken the WBA Asia Pacific title in September 2015. Whilst he was known as a big puncher he had also been a very solid amateur fighter and had competed on the international scene a number of times. At the age of 25 he was a full fledged man and had been tipped by those in the Philippines to be a future world champion. On paper he was stepping up as a professional here, in his first world title bout and his first pro bout outside of the Phillipines, but he was regarded as a very live under-dog, with dangerous power, especially early on. In his 12 bouts up to this point he had stopped 6 in the opening round, and all 9 of his stoppages, up to this point, had come in the first 4 rounds.
Despite entering the bout as the under-dog Saludar didn't look like a man who was worried about Tanaka's reputation and speed. Instead he pressed forward, though did so in a technically smart way, pecking away at Tanaka with jabs through the first round and applying smart pressure. For those who were thinking he was just a puncher he was proving otherwise, and was relying on his boxing fundamentals whilst finding holes in Tanaka's defense. Tanaka tried to use his speed and jab to box on the outside by the smart offensive work and patience of Saludar easily took him the first round.
We had seen Tanaka under pressure from Hara, and Yedras, and assumed he could turn it around. Here however Saludar's physical strength and pressure was making it trickier and trickier for Tanaka to settle. Instead the Japanese wonder kid was being made to look like an ordinary fighter by Saludar who pursued him, hammering him with heavy single shots, and some eye catching combinations. As we moved through the second round it clearly made the fans in Nagoya worry about their new star being exposed, and he looked to have no real answer for the pressure and strength of Saludar.
From there things got worse for the youngster, who moved to plan B. Rather than trying to stay on the outside and use his feet he tried pushing Saludar back, and walked into some big shots from the Filipino challenger, who seemed to hurt Tanaka in round 3.
With Plan A and Plan B both failing for Tanaka things went from bad to worse, with Tanaka being dropped in round 5, from a right hand by Saludar who went for the finish. We leave you here to enjoy the fight, with Saludar looking like he was about claim the WBO Minimumweight title and crush the "KO Dream Boy".
As we’ve come into 2021 we’ve decided to make some wishes for what we want to see this coming year in Boxing.
These are a mix of what we want to see in the ring, on the TV, and in the venues!
1-More US and UK TV picking up bouts from the East
At the very end of 2020 we saw Boxnation pick up what we believe to be their first Japanese show ever and the result was that one of the fighters' names started trending in the UK. We’ve previously seen ESPN+ in the US pick up bouts from Japan, we’ve seen DAZN pick up shows from Thailand, and Boxnation also pick up cards from the Philippines. We’ve seen them do it, we know they can do it. So let's see a lot more of it being made available! Especially if 2021 is going to be like 2020, with a lack of shows taking place around the globe. We already know there will be no boxing in the UK in January, but there will be live televised cards in Japan and Thailand, and perhaps a service like Boxnation or DAZN could make an effort to pick those up .
2-DAZN make serious changes to their commentary team
This isn’t a wish when it comes to Asian boxing, at least not directly, but it is a general wish to improve our enjoyment of boxing, and that’s for DAZN to clean our their dire broadcast team. The three muppets they currently have calling most of their fights are genuinely unbearable and ruin fights with their cheerleading and bickering, with the voices becoming less and less analysis and more promoting a fighter. Whilst we have seen the suggestion to turn the volume down that really doesn’t work for those of us who want to hear the corner work, and hearing shots connect. If DAZN can’t make major changes to their commentary then the least they can do is offer a no commentary option, allowing those of us who want to hear the fight take place to enjoy the action, without the need to be in silence.
3-5-NTV, TBS, Fuji TV all show live broadcasts, and we get a continuation of Japanese streams
Sticking with broadcasts and TV we really hope to see a lot more from major Japanese TV channels in 2021. Between the three main terrestrial channels we got only a single live show, and that was the New Year’s Eve card. There was no live boxing on Fuji TV and there was no live boxing on NTV. We really hope that changes, especially with the likes of Junto Nakatani and Ryosuke Iwasa (potentially NTV fighters), Kazuto Ioka and Daigo Higa (TBS fighters) and Kenshiro Teraji and Ryota Murata (Fuji TV) all wanting big fights this year.
Along with that we also want to see more live streams provided by Boxing Raise, who should really be doing 1 a month, A-Sign Boxing, Boxing Real and TV Osaka and YTV. There is enough talent to go around, there’s far more than enough shows to go around, so lets see more of it! Especially if shows are still going to have limits on how many fans are allowed in the venues.
4-Fans being allowed to fill venues by the end of the year
Having just mentioned fans in venues one of our really serious wishes is that we will begin to see fans fill venues again by the end of 2021. Not only that but be allowed to do so without masks and with the ability to cheer, chant and really enjoy the fights they get to see. We understand why restrictions are on fans, but by the end of the year we would absolutely love those restrictions to be lifted and normality in boxing venues being allowed to resume. This isn’t just in Japan, where fans have been wearing masks and not allowed to cheer, but globally. We want large crowds back in boxing by the end of 2021. But only if it can be done safely. It’s obvious that this will not be something that happens in the early part of the year, but with vaccines and general understanding of the world at large, it certainly something that could happen by December 31st.
5-More unification bouts
The first of our in the ring wishes for 2021 is more unification bouts. There were plans a lot of them in 2020, with Can Xu Vs Josh Warrington and Naoya Inoue Vs John Riel Casimero both looking like they would occur last year. Thankfully we did have some unification bouts, but the reality is that we should have had more, and we still should. We think more unification bouts is a universal wish, and that includes the obvious ones, such as Hiroto Kyoguchi Vs Kenshiro Teraji, Josh Taylor Vs Jose Ramirez, Errol Spence Vs Terence Crawford and Tyson Fury Vs Anthony Joshua, as well as some less obvious ones, like Moruti Mthalne Vs Julio Cesar Martinez. Lets see a lot of titles unified in 2021 please!
6-More All-Thai fights!
One of the few great things about 2020 was the number of really interesting All-Thai bouts. The year saw fewer Thai’s padding their records against over-matched visitors from Indonesia and the Philippines and instead we saw a lot of really interesting All-Thai bouts. This has meant that shows have a much higher anticipation factor going into them, and they have consistently been delivering excellent bouts. After years of declining quality control in Thailand we’ve seen TL Promotions, Tan Telecom Promotions, Petchyindee and NKL all put on some excellent bouts in 2020 and we really hope that continues in 2021. If it does then there could be a legitimate Thai title scene, which would be amazing to see, rather than the over-reliance on meaningless regional titles. Having a good Thai title would be much better for the sport than a weak regional title scene for the WBA Asia and WBC Asian Boxing Council titles.
7-More even-looking Filipino bouts
Boxing in the Philippines was hibernating throughout much of 2020 due to the ongoing pandemic. Sadly when boxing in the country woke up there was pretty nothing competitive taking place at all. That is set to change in 2021, with several good looking bouts on the docket, but we’re wishing that we get competitive looking bouts taking place in the country week after week. There has long been a lack of real good All-Filipino bouts but hopefully, with the pandemic limiting travel to the country, we’ll begin to see promoters work together to match their fighters in competitive bouts. If they don’t then we could end up seeing some fighters wasting 2 years of their careers with no real competition.
8-The Tokyo Olympics to go ahead without issues
We don’t often discuss amateur boxing, unless the fantastic Marcus Bellinger sends us an amateur boxing review or unless someone turns professional, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care about the amateur boxing scene. We genuinely do. With that in mind we are really wishing the Tokyo Olympics, which were supposed to take place in 2020 before being pushed back to summer 2021, takes place with no issues. Issues in Olympic boxing are something that happens at every Olympics, with home fighters getting numerous dodgy decisions in their favour, various accusations of bribes, match fixing and other countries accusing each other of getting dodgy decisions. We really hope the Tokyo games, as an Olympics in general, goes ahead without any issues, but we are particularly hoping for controversy free Boxing during the Olympics.
9-Fans to continue to get behind the sport globally
Towards the end of 2020 we began to see more and more Western fans get behind boxing in the west, with a lot of fans wanting to watch things like Wanheng Menayothin Vs Penya Pradabsri, Masayuki Ito Vs Hironori Mishiro and Kazuto Ioka Vs Kosei Tanaka. This was really great to see, and something we genuinely hope continues through 2021 as more casual boxing fans begin to realise that the sport is a global sport. A truly global sport. In fact it’s arguably the most global sport out there. No other sport has world champions spread across the globe like boxing. Yes Soccer might have more participants and more viewers, but the reality is that Soccer has a handful of very dominant countries. Boxing has current world champions from Thailand, Japan, Philippines, Nicaragua, South Africa, Ukraine, Mexico, France, Uzbekistan, the USA, Mexico, the UK, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Russia, Latvia and the Dominican Republic of the Congo.
Boxing is a truly universal sport, and we hope fans continue to note that. Yes, we push Asian boxing strongly, but we fully acknowledge the sport is a global one with great fights taking place all over the world on a regular basis. Fingers crossed fans around the world get the chance to see more boxing from countries that usually don’t get international TV deals. This is how we grow the sport, and this is how the sport becomes more inclusive. It’s also how fans become more educated, and how discussion grows. Please fans, realise there’s a big world out there, and great boxers come from almost every part of it!
10-Rankings to begin to make sense!
Our final wish for 2021 is for world rankings that make sense. All too often in 2020 we had mandatory world title fights that were mismatches, particularly from the IBF. What we need is for all rankings bodies to clear out their top 15, where possible and rank on merit, rather than preference. If a fighter beats someone higher than them they should be ranked higher. There is no reason for Ryo Sagawa to be ranked behind Reiya Abe, but for most of 2020 Sagawa was ranked behind the man he beat in 2019. Likewise there is no logical reason why Hiroshige Osawa should be ranked #1 by the WBA at Featherweight. Sadly through the 17 (or 18) weight classes there are hundreds of questionable rankings. Just a quick glance and we see things like the retired Yuto Takahashi taking up a place in the top 5 with the IBF at 108lbs, Takayuki Okumoto being ranked above Kenta Nakagawa, neither of whom should be in the rankings when they are next updated. Or Sirichai Thaiyen taking a #1 ranking. In 2021 we should see rankings make sense. From every title body.
Don’t confuse that for us wanting rankings to all be the same, they shouldn’t be, but they should at least make sense. We can all argue over who are the top 15 in a weight class, and where they should be, we can’t however pretend the current rankings make any sense.
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features