A new year is here, and we get a chance, again, to show how little we know about the sport with more wild and outlandish predictions about boxing. Sadly for 2022 we're not expecting things to go amazingly well for the sport, though we do anticipate a big improvement from the year we've just had, and we do expect far more big bouts to take place, and for the sport to move forward after 2 years of relatively frustrating action.
So lets take a look at 10 predictions for this year.
The last couple of years has seen a staggering amount of upsets and shocks, and whilst they do add to the enjoyment of the sport, and show the sport really is the theatre of the unexpected, we don't think we're going to see as many in 2022. We've put a lot of the shocks down to inactivity and covid related issues. Fighters who were struggling for activity not looking great when they fought, and in some cases losing bouts that they really shouldn't have lost. Whilst inactivity is one reason for losses another is the fact that training camps were different, and fighters tried to rush back from Covid infections. We think in 2022 a fighter who suffers Covid will take their time to recover and training camps will focus on making sure a fighter is sharp, mentally and physically. We'll still get upsets, of course we will, but not the regular massive shockers we had in 2021.
2-PPV becomes a major factor in Japan
One of the best things about Japan was that, traditionally, big fights were on free TV, allowing fans across the country to see the biggest domestic names in action. Sadly 2021 saw a move to PPV, with more and more major bouts being put behind paywalls, including bouts featuring major stars like Naoya Inoue and Kenshiro Teraji. Sadly we suspect that Japan, like the UK, the US and Australia, will begin to rely more and more on PPV, and subscription services, to the detriment of the sport, the fans and the fan base. Whilst some see PPV as a necessary part of the sport we also need to see PPV as the way of cutting fans out. There is a fine balance, but we worry Japan, like other countries, will fail to find the balance.
3-The Bantamweight division will fail to deliver
Going in to 2021 the Bantamweight division looked like it had so many obvious match ups that we were going to get at least one major unification and the division was going to give us some super fights. Sadly 2021 saw the division whimper out, with Nonito Donaire winning the WBC title then facing a mandatory, John Riel Casimero defeating Guillermo Ringodeaux then talk the talk before pulling out of a mandatory title fight, and Naoya Inoue retaining in a mandatory before failing to secure an opponent of note for his year ending bout. For a year that promised so much this was underwhelming and we see something similar happening next year, with Inoue abandoning the division in frustration and chasing Super Bantamweight glory. It's a shame the top guys in the division couldn't get together, but we're certainly not surprised that boxing has failed to sort out what seemed so obvious.
4-Bouts get re-arranged
One thing that really hurt 2021 was the big cancellations at the end of the year. Among those that were cancelled were the John Riel Casimero Vs Paul Butler bout, the Kazuto Ioka Vs Jerwin Ancajas bout, the Ryota Murata Vs Gennady Golovkin bout, the Masayuki Ito Vs Shuichiro Yoshino, and the Junto Nakatani Vs Cristian Gonzalez bout. Thankfully we expect all of those to be re-arranged for 2022. The bouts all make sense to re-arrange and fingers crossed we get all of them this year. Sadly boxing does have a way to tease us before ripping things away from us, but we think in these particular examples we'll end up getting pretty much all the bouts in question. Especially the two big unification bouts, at Super Flyweight and Middleweight.
5-A super slow start to the year
Whilst there are bouts scheduled for the first few months of the year, we get the feeling that 2022 will be a year where things are very, very, very slow to get going. This isn't just an Asia issue, but something we suspect will affect boxing globally, as Omicron forces various countries to do different things to slow it's spread. The UK is set to have no boxing in January, and we suspect some other countries will follow suit. Although there is boxing scheduled for most of Asia for early in the year we expect to see February and March have threadbare schedules, and things take until, potentially, May to get going. This is going to be another year where opportunities are few and far between for some fighters, and where some fighters will struggle to stay active. Fingers crossed by the back end of the year however things are heading back to normality.
6-Hiroto Kyoguchi to miss out on unification... again
Over the last few years Hiroto Kyoguchi has been linked, time and time again, to unification bouts. Originally it was with Kenshiro Teraji, in a bout that made incredible sense and seemed set to be something huge for Japanese boxing, and then it was Elwin Soto, with both Soto and Kyoguchi being promoted by Eddie Hearn, and then Soto lost. To begin 2022 Kyoguchi will have to make a mandatory against Esteban Bermudez and whilst unification bouts will be possible later in the year it does seem like they are destined to pass Kyoguchi by, and he really needs to ask his team why he hasn't been able to secure the huge divisional bouts he has been chasing. Watanabe failed to get him them and now Matchroom are failing, and it's a real shame as he deserves to prove he is the best in the division, before he out grows it.
7-The Year of Rematches!
It's fair to say that 2021 was a weird year, especially with all the upsets and we expect to see them re-done in the new. Amazingly however we also expect to see a lot of other rematch, not just from last year, but from the last few years. Some of these are already schedule, including Panya Pradabsri Vs Wanheng Menayothin II and Gakuya Furuhashi Vs Yusaku Kuga, whilst others are said to be in the works, such as Masamichi Yabuki Vs Kenshiro Teraji II, Israil Madrimov Vs Michel Soro II and Donnie Nietes Vs Norbelto Jimenez II. We might even see bouts like Masataka Taniguchi Vs Kai Ishizawa II, a rematch of their 2017 clash. We won't complain about rematches, though we do think there's going to be a lot of them. And not just in Asia. Given Matchroom's propensity for rematches we're also expecting to see quite a few rematches from Eddie Hearn's stable, including the obvious rematches Oleksandr Usyk Vs Anthony Joshua, and Kiko Martinez Vs Josh Warrington.
8-Amazon Prime will become a major player
In late 2021 Amazon announced that they would be the Japanese broadcaster for Ryota Murata Vs Gennady Golovkin. Whilst those plans were delayed it does seem obvious that Amazon are very interested in getting their claws into more and more professional sport to go with their rights on things like Tennis and the English Premier League. Due to the often weird way that boxing works, our great sport could well be a great target for Amazon to get involved in, and to try and secure global rights to fights, rather than merely picking up regional rights. With that in mind we wouldn't be surprised by a promoter working alongside Amazon in a similar, although less frequent, manner to how DAZN and Matchroom work. There is talk of Amazon doing a deal with Teiken in Japan, but we again think there will be some sort of global movement from Amazon, adding value to the Amazon Prime platform.
9-Central Asian fighters finally crack it
The last few years has seen a lot of talk about Central Asian fighters, with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan being two countries that look like they have a lot of promising talent. Sadly that talent, on the whole, hasn't yet cracked the big time as expected. In 2022 we think that will, finally, change with the likes of Hasanboy Dusmatov, Israil Madrimov, Shakhram Giyasov and Zanibek Alimkhanuly finally breaking through and winning world titles. It seems inevitable that this crop of Central Asian fighters will be the ones to break through and we suspect 2022 will be the year that they finally give up waiting and do it. Alimkhanuly and Madrimov are right on the verge of world title bouts as we enter the year, and we suspect others will end the year fighting for top honours in a huge year for the two countries.
10-Japanese fighters to travel more!
On trend we think will continue from the last few years is Japanese fighters travelling for major fights, something that we think the on going Pandemic makes even more likely, especially with it being so hard to travel in to Japan. We already know that Kenichi Ogawa is planning a defense of the IBF Super Featherweight title in the UK, and we also expect to see Junto Nakatani, Hiroto Kyoguchi, Kazuto Ioka and Naoya Inoue all travel for major bouts at some point in 2022. We wouldn't be surprised by Japanese fighters travelling to challenge for titles as well, with the success on the road of fighters like Inoue in recent years opening the door for them to fight more and more on the road. We've seen more Japanese fighters travelling in the last 3 or 4 years but we expect to see that number genuinely exploding this year. And with that in mind we also wouldn't be surprised if a Japanese fighter finally won a world title over in Thailand, something they've not yet done.
Every year we do a number of predictions and sadly, like we suspect everyone, our predictions for 2020 were way off. Come on, who had really had “Pandemic”, “Brexit deal done” and “large salt water lakes found on Mars”. Despite our predictions for 2020 being very, very off the mark, we’ve decided to roll the dice and make 10 predictions for 2021.
1-DAZN Japan to finally get into the domestic boxing business
Boxing in Japan is weird at times. We have a lot of live shows being shown in Japan through one source or another, be it G+, TBS, Fuji TV, A-Sign Boxing, Boxing Real and even Suruga Boys and the one show covered by Seki-chan. In 2020 we have probably had more live Japanese boxing streamed online than actually being televised. However there has been a notable lack of Japanese shows on DAZN, a service that has still never shown a Japanese boxing show. In 2021 we suspect that will change, especially given the recent signing of Hiroto Kyoguchi by Matchroom Sports. The potential is there for Kyoguchi, and maybe even the Watanabe Gym in general, to work with DAZN.
Whilst it would be a massive shame to see DAZN pick up shows that would be on some other service, or available for free, it would be great to see DAZN get into the boxing game in Japan, rather than just broadcasting international shows. It would also, in theory, give a bigger global audience the chance to see Japanese bouts and some international marketing for them.
2-More fast tracking of Central Asian prospects
We’ve seen a lot of Uzbek fighters landing big fights early in their careers, and in January we’ll see Bektemir Melikuziev fight Sergey Kovalev, and we suspect that will be turned up a gear in 2021 with the top Kazakh amateurs likely to be moved incredibly quickly. We’ve started to see it with the signings made by Suleimen and Tukeshov, and in next year we suspect we’ll see a lot more of it. The ones to watch out for here will be those that miss out on the Tokyo Olympics and look to race ahead of their contemporaries.
Of course it won’t just be Kazakh’s but also the Uzbek’s and we even guess that the Tajik and Azetri fighters will do the same. Professional boxing has only just scratched the surface on Central Asia, and we can’t help but feel that we’ll begin to see what the countries can deliver over the next few years.
3-A lot of same-nation world title bouts
One thing we see in Japan fairly often is a Japan Vs Japan world title fight, but in other countries through Asia that’s a lot less common. In fact in Thailand there has only been 13 cases of it happening, and in the Philippines it’s even less common. We suspect that will change significantly in 2021. The signs are already there, with several all-Filipino world title bouts already in the works, but we suspect what we’ve already seen scheduled is only the tip of the iceberg and there could well be a steady stream of them through the year.
In part the reason for the increase is the world as we know it. Whilst fighters can travel, and some will, for a world title fight in a place like Thailand or the Philippines, the money isn’t there to bring an international challenger over and keep them housed during a quarantine period.
4-The Thai scene to heat up
In 2018 we were worried about boxing in Thailand, with the country putting on less shows, and seemingly lacking someone to get behind for the future. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Knockout CP Freshmart and Wanheng Menayothin were all there, or there abouts, but there was a lack of young, rising talent. Boy has that changed in 2019 and 2020 with the emergence of lighters like Phoobadin Yoohanngoh, Thananchai Charunphak, Nonthasith Petchnamthong, Theeraphan Polsongkarm, Boonrueang Phayom, Thattana Luangphon, Thitisak Hoitong and Nattapong Jankaew, to name just a few. We really are very, very excited about boxing in Thailand going forward, and the development of the WP Boxing series, along with the work from TL Promotions, NKL and Tan Telecom Promotions has revitalised boxing in the country. There is now a very real feeling that we might just be a few years from a golden age for Thailand in the sport.
5-Big bouts will be made!
Not so much an Asian specific prediction this time, but we have real belief that we will see a lot of the big “mega fights” in 2021. Following the reality of 2020 we suspect a lot of fighters will come to the realisation that their career’s are short, and that a year like 2020, where many have only fought once, has left them without an expected pay day, or two. As a result we think fighters will take the risk in 2021, take the big bouts, and try to make back some of the money they missed out on in 2020. With that in mind we expect to see fighters like Johnriel Casimero, Ryota Murata, Knockout CP Freshmart, Kenshiro Teraji and Donnie Neites, all land a big fight at some point in the next year. Don’t be surprised if we end up seeing Murata Vs Gennady Golovkin at the Tokyo Dome, or Donnie Neites Vs Roman Gonzalez.
In the wider world we expect this will, finally, give us Errol Spence Vs Terence Crawford, Tyson Fury Vs Anthony Joshua and Josh Taylor Vs Jose Carlos Ramirez.
We might need to wait for fans to return to venues on mass, but big fights will come in 2021!
6-Bridgerweight will be adopted by the other title bodies
One of the many black eyes boxing has had in 2020 has been the WBC’s creation of Bridgerweight, a farcical division made from a cynical marketing standpoint to earn more sanctioning fees. Sadly we suspect that by the end of 2021 the WBC won’t be alone in recognising the division. In fact we suspect the WBA, IBF and WBO will all announce their world rankings by the summer and each will have, at least, a world champion in the weight class. We also suspect the name won’t stick for too long, and the “r” will be dropped making it “Bridgeweight”, which makes a hell of a lot more sense as it bridges the Cruiserweight to Heavyweight gap.
Still it’s a shit division and the WBC deserve to hang their heads in shame for coming up with it.
7-Boxing Day Boxing!
We could rave about what Ichitaro Ishii and A-Sign Boxing have done in 2020, and we probably will at some other time, but we suspect they realise they stumbled on something with their December 26th show this year. The show, headlined by Masayuki Ito Vs Hironori Mishiro, was a hit, not just in Japan but also in the West with fans from the UK and US being particularly excited and tuning in, even at stupid O’clock.
If Ishii is as smart as he seems, and he genuinely seems to be one of the smartest minds in boxing, he will pick up the date again in 2021, and the following years, to do something similar.
For good portions of the world Boxing Day is a day people spend with their family, and could be a date targeted for boxing fans and become a traditional date, like December 31st. With A-Sign going from strength to strength and slowly getting international recognition it seems to make a lot of sense for them to build on their success with the Ito/Mishiro show.
8-Women’s Boxing will continue to grow
Another more global prediction than an Asian specific one is the continued growth of women’s boxing, especially in the early part of the year. In 2020 female bouts were used by some promoters to make sure there was a world title on the show, and were a cheaper and more financially effective option than trying to put together some quality male fights. We expect that trend to continue in early 2021 as the female side of things continues to play catch up with the men.
Yes there will always be detractors for women’s boxing, and it will never come close to being as big as men’s boxing, but there is a solid amount of ground that it can grow into and we suspect that’ll be seen in the next 12 months.
With that in mind we are expecting an all-female card in Japan the new year, and potentially even an all-female card in the UK, if not a PPV headlined by a female fight. In regards to the UK, there is a market there, the market is growing, and 2021 is the year to capitalise on the momentum created this year with the fantastic work of Eddie Hearn.
9-Asian fighters continue to get over-looked by Western promoters
Over the last few years we have seen promoters like Bob Arum and Eddie Hearn sign up notable Asian fighters, with Arum promoting the likes of Naoya Inoue, Andy Hiraoka, Jerwin Ancajas and Ryota Murata, and Hearn promoting the likes of Zhang Zhilei, Mahammadrasul Majidov, Hyun Mi Choi and now Hiroto Kyoguchi. Sadly however, for the most part, the fighters have been over-looked and messed about by these promoters.
Hearn is having Heavyweights in their 30’s barely staying busy with opponents unfit to be in the ring with them, and Hyun Mi Choi’s latest opponent wasn’t fit to be a world title challenger. Arum has done better in some ways, but for Murata and Ancajas to be out of the ring for the entire of 2020 is disappointing. Hearn and Matchroom also did a big song and dance when streaming one of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai’s bouts this year, but left him in the cold outside of that fight.
We understand that fights need to make financial sense, and they need to be worth making, but we can’t help feeling that a number of Asian fighters have been let down by their Western promotional teams, who do little work to actually promote their fighters. Just signing them isn’t enough, they need to be moved properly, matched properly and in the case of guys like Majidov, they need to be treat like special talents, rather than be allowed to waste away.
And this is without even mentioning the relatively dead MTK Japan, which we believe hasn’t run a show at all in 2020, though that might be, in part, due to Takashi Edagawa’s legal issues.
Fingers crossed this changes, but we’re not holding our collective breath!
10-Boxnation to pick up live shows from Japan, the Philippines and Thailand
And another outside shot to end this, is that British TV channel Boxnation will begin to pick up more live shows from the East. In 2019 we saw them pick up a couple of shows from the Philippines and to end 2020 they have picked up a show from Japan. In 2021 we suspect that we’ll see Boxnation pick up more Asian cards, including more cards from Japan, the Philippines and Thailand. Given how the channel has lacked content in recent years, it seems clear they need cheap shows to keep an audience interested, and foreign shows from Asia offer that cheap, niche content that the channel really should have been picking up from the start. We’d like to see the channel run up deals with TBS and Fuji TV from Japan, Thairath and Work Point from Thailand and work directly with promoters from the Philippines… The content is there for a niche television channel, they just need to go for it, and prove that they are out there for the fans!
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