In November we counted down a number of honourable mentions for our 20 for 20. Now it's time to look at the 20 fighters who have managed to make it into the list properly, and they come from all over Asia and all over the weight classes. Some of these you may already be aware of, some are perhaps less well known, but either way these 20 men are going to be well worth following in the new year as they look to push forward in their career and move towards major success.
For these fighters we will look at the the reason why you should follow them, our expectations for them in the coming year and the issues they may face going forward. The one rule with all of these fighters is that they can't have fought for a world title at the time of writing.
Some of these are world ranked, and some of these may well be set for world title fights in the near future, but so far they have not had that top level bout.
Without any further ado, lets take a look at the man we have ranked #13 in our list of Ones to watch in 2020, and began our count down to the man we rank #1
Apinun Khongsong/Downua Ruawaiking (16-0, 13)
When a fighter is on the verge of a world title fight they are really are one to take not of, almost by default, especially when that title fight would be in a division that has international appeal. That however isn't the only reason to take note of Downua Ruawaiking, aka Apinun Khongsong, who is the IBF mandatory challenger at 140lbs. In fact there is a lot more to the Thai than just his mandatory situation, he is a big, talented, smart, hard hitting fighter in a division that we rarely see Thai's making a mark in.
The unbeaten 23 year old is a talented boxer-puncher who had been making a name for himself in Thailand with wins against lower level regional fighters until 2019. It was this past February that he fought outside of Thailand for the first time, and he left a real impact by stopping Japanese veteran Akihiro Kondo in 6 rounds, scoring one of the most eye catching KO's of the year. That win set him up for a shot at the eventual WBSS winner at 140lbs, and left him in a situation where the key was to tick over and bide his time, rather than risk his ranking.
Although certainly not a big name outside of his homeland his win over Kondo showed he was a legitimate fighter, a real brutal puncher and someone who could perform on foreign soil It was the sort of win that instantly puts a fighter on the map, and stopping a man who had fought for a world title just 3 fights earlier, when Kondo went 12 rounds with Sergey Lipinets, was impressive.
What do we expect?
We're realists and we know the clamour internationally isn't for Downua to fight Josh Taylor. In fact the reality is that no one outside of Thailand is even thinking about that fight, especially given that other options on the table for Taylor, but we do expect to see the Thai get a title shot at some point during the next 12 months. He would be a big under-dog but we still see him getting a shot.
Prior to a title fight we expect the title scene at 140lbs to change quite dramatically, and wouldn't be surprised to see the Thai waiting until quite late in the year for his shot. Sadly that will mean stay busy fights whilst the IBF, and their champion, sort things out.
It seems likely that the champion's will look to take part in an undisputed unification bout at some point in the new year, with Jose Carlos Ramirez, and that really is the bout to make at 140lbs. Hopefully after that happens the Thai will get his shot, however he is very much a low reward opponent and has little value to a champion who may not be in a rush to risk anything against him.
Basically the division will move on before Downua gets a title fight, but he'll be linger waiting for the opportunity he earned in 2019.
He is truly part of the "who needs him?" club. The IBF won't want to shoot themselves in the foot or strip Taylor, to give Downua a shot, likewise Downua lacks the political backing to force the bout on his terms, and his team aren't going to be winning any sort of purse bids. The reality is that he's a mandatory without the finances needed to make the most of his shot, and is likely getting his shot as, and when, the IBF deem fit.
Adding to the awkward position he's in there is always, as we've seen numerous times with Thai's, also the chance he simply doesn't travel well. Yeah he good in Japan, but Thailand to Japan is much less of a trek than Thailand to the UK, where he will likely need to be to face Taylor.
At the age of 23 his team might also take the odd, though maybe understandable, decision to decline an immediate title shot, if offered, so that their man can get a bit more experience. He's only had 62 rounds as a professional and has only gone beyond 6 rounds once. If offered the right step aside money they may well take the money and try to develop Downua, rather than let him fight for the title.
At the moment it's really hard to understand what exactly the future holds for the young Thai, but he is in a great position and one we hope he can make the most of.
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