One of the things we love about boxing is being able to see the new generation of fighters come through the ranks, building their names and their profiles in front of our eyes. Going from prospects, and sometimes even children, to being contenders, champions, and stars. With that in mind we’ve decided, with next year being 2021, to look at 10 young Asian fighters, under the age of 21, that we think are worthy of your attention, as you too can join us in watching fighter mature from being youngsters to being stars.
As is typical for these articles, we’ll only be looking at Asian fighters, but we will be looking across the scope of boxing in Asia to bring you the 10 fighters of note, including some fighters who fight are weights we don’t always associate with boxing in Asia. We’ll also only be talking about active professionals, and not covering anyone who is still an amateur.
Musashi Mori (12-0, 7) - 21 years old
We would be amiss to not begin this list with Japanese 21 year old Musashi Mori, a brilliant Featherweight who currently holds the WBO Asia Pacific title and has already worked his way into the world rankings, in just 12 fights. The talented southpaw has already notched notable wins over Zirolian Riku, in what was the Rookie of the Year in 2017, Richard Pumicpic, Takuya Mizuno and Tsuyoshi Tameda. In May 2021 we’ll see him face Satoshi Shimizu, and if he wins that he’ll likely be on the verge of a world title fight. Talented, young, a solid boxer, with respectable power, a maturing body and with Ismael Salas and Yasuei Yakushiji behind him, the future is very bright for Mori.
Ginjiro Shigeoka (5-0, 4) - 21 years old
Another WBO Asia Pacific champion worthy of note is Minimumweight hopeful Ginjiro Shigeoka, who had a really disappointing 2020, which saw him out of the ring for the entire year, but he is certainly not someone to write off. The heavy handed youngster burst on to the scene in 2019, going 4-0 (3) during the year and defeating the likes of Joel Lino, Clyde Azarcon and Rey Loreto. He seemed poised for a monstrous 2020 before Covid19 derailed his entire year, which wasn’t helped by issues at the Watanabe gym. The heavy handed southpaw has been put on a fast track since he turned professional and we suspect that when he’s back in the ring he’ll be in with a very notable name, likely a solid world title contender.
Carl Jammes Martin (16-0, 14) - 21 year old
The most experienced man on this list is all action Filipino fighter Carl Jammes Martin, who has been a professional since 2016 and yet is still just 21 years old! The Wonder Boy is a talented Bantamweight with a naturally exciting style, but a style his team will want to mould and sharpen this year, before potentially unleashing him at a higher level in 2022. The youngster has been blasting out fighters since very early in his career, but recently showed there was more to him than raw power and aggression, going 10 rounds for the first time in December. The hope for Martin is that they will look to turn him into a boxer-puncher before he faces a big international test, rather than trying a new style in a big bout...as we saw recently with Reymart Gaballo.
April Jay Abne (5-0, 2) - 21 years old
One of the true hidden gems of the Filipino fight scene is 21 year old April Jay Abne, one of the most naturally gifted fighters in the country and one of the men who has had almost no attention, despite winning the Ultimate Boxing Series in 2019. Abne was a solid amateur, who has been thrown in tough since turning professional in 2019, and has sadly missed out on a year of his career in 2020. He’s incredibly skilled, composed and very rounded as a fighter, though will certainly need international opportunities to develop. Within just 5 fights he is already among the best Filipino fighters at Flyweight and we suspect he’ll be on the hunt for international titles in 2021 or 2022 at the latest.
Yeveniy Pavlov (3-0, 2) - 21 years old
A relative newbie to professional boxing is Kazakh Yeveniy Pavlov who only made his debut in July but is already making waves thanks to the tough match making of Suleimen Promotions. The talented Featherweight hopeful made a low key debut in July before notching a win over the experienced Goodluck Mrema in October and then beating live Filipino fighter Alie Laurel in December. Although not a big name in Kazakh boxing, yet, the 21 year old appears to have a lot going for him, including a notable promoter noteworthy amateur experience, and he’s very well schooled with nice hand speed, a nice style, great size for the weight, and a willingness to mix it at mid range. Although clearly not a fully developed fighter the youngster ticks a lot of boxes already and we suspect that a good 2021 could see him develop into a fringe contender.
Thanongsak Simsri (14-0, 12) - 20 years old
It’s fair to say that 2020 will be a year that could have been so much bigger for Thanongsak Simsri, however as we leave the year the 20 year old Thai is still very much a bright hopeful and someone who will have a sympathy story for a promoter to play off. The hard hitting youngster was scheduled to face Hiroto Kyoguchi in a world title fight in November and sat through 2 weeks of quarantine before hand. His chance was then taken away when the bout got cancelled, on the day, due to a positive covid19 test for Kyoguchi. As a result Simsri spent several weeks in Japan, taking in the Japanese culture and sparring with top fighters at the Green Tsuda gym, whilst also featuring on an NHK documentary. Although he missed out on the Kyoguchi fight this year he does, supposedly, have a contractual agreement to face the WBA Light Flyweight champion next year, so 2021 could end up being his break out year!
Talgat Shayken (3-0, 2) - 20 years old
Our second Kazakh on this list is the very exciting 20 year old Talgat Shayken, a Welterweight who has a very solid amateur background, and is already making his mark on the professional ranks. The exciting Shayken turned professional with Tukeshov Promotions and MTK Kazakhstan, and they’ve matched him well since his October 2020 debut. As an amateur he had always looked a bit rough around the edges, and that same roughness showed on his debut, against the then 5-0 Berikbay Nurymbetov, but since then he has looked like he has been developing well and picked up a couple of stoppages. Unlike some Kazakh fighters we’ve seen recently Shayken is a natural fighter, not a boxer, and despite only being 20 years old he is a very strong, powerful, and aggressive kid. We suspect he’ll become a staple of MTK Kazakhstan shows and could quickly become a fan friendly fighter at 147lbs or 154lbs over the coming years. He won’t be fast tracked like some fighters on this list, but he will certainly be a man to follow.
Jin Sasaki (10-0, 9) - 19 years old
One of the big success stories of 2020 in Japan has been 19 year old Light Welterweight Jin Sasaki, who went from unheralded prospect to rising domestic contender in the space of just a few months. Sasaki turned professional in 2018, following a lacklustre amateur run, and immediately showed impressive power in stopping his first 5 opponents. Sadly he was unable to compete in the business end of the 2019 East Japan Rookie of the Year but that’s already a distant memory. In August 2020 he blitzed Shun Akaiwa and since then he has notched 2 more wins, including a terrifying and dominant battering or Aso Ishiwaki to claim the Japanese Youth title at 140lbs. He’s powerful, big, strong and oozes charisma. Whilst Japanese fighters don’t tend to make a mark at 140lbs Sasaki might well be one to watch. He’s already ticking a lot of boxes and is still, just, 19. Certainly one to follow in 2021, when we suspect he’ll begin the pursuit of a senior title, to go along with his Youth belt.
Toshiya Ishii (3-1, 2) - 19 year old
Talented 19 year old Bantamweight Toshiya Ishii did not have a great 2020,in fact during the year he fought once and lost, however don’t let that suggest you should write him off. Firstly he impressed, mightily, in his first 3 bouts, which all came in 2019. Secondly his loss this year came in a huge step up against former world title challenger Sho Ishida, and thirdly he ran Ishida very close. The heavy handed Ishii would have learned a lot from his loss and at just 19 the future is still very bright for him. Notably he is still the JBC Youth Bantamweight champion and he will be returning to the ring in March to defend that title, for the first time, as he takes on Kaito Takeshima. We expect to see some improvements from him defensively here, and suspect 2021 will be a year where he rebuilds, moves forward and perhaps begins the hunt for revenge against Ishida. He might have a loss, but he should still have your attention.
Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (10-0, 5) - 16 years old
Last, but certainly not least, is 16 year old Thai Light Welterweight Phoobadin Yoohanngoh who managed to make big waves in 2020. The talented Thai youngster debuted as a 14 year old in 2018 before he won a small tournament in 2019, as part of TL Promotion’s “The Fighter” series. In 2020 he claimed his first professional title, a WBA regional title, and he ended 2020 with a stunning win over the once touted Atchariya Wirojanasunobol. Despite being 16 Phoobadin looks like a fully grown man, he has a very good boxing brain, he knows how to move around the ring, and when he has his man hurt he knows how to finish them off, as we saw against Atchariya. Given his age we don’t imagine he’ll be getting big international fights any time soon, but when those opportunities arrive he’ll be very much prepared for them. This youngster is one of absolute gems of boxing, and looks like a man who could have a very, very bright future, if he and his team can focus on the long term, and the development of the super talented youngster.
Just missing out:
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 #20 in our list of Ones to watch in 2020, and began our count down to the man we rank #1
Carl Jammes Martin (14-0, 13)
With Manny Pacquiao, Donnie Nietes and Nonito Donaire all looking like their best years are behind them the Philippines needs a new star and although he's on the raw side there are few fighters in the Philippines as magnetic and TV friendly as Carls Jammes Martin. The all action youngster is a thrill a minute joy ride to watch and with such an exciting style he is the sort of fighter that a channel like ESPN5 can really get behind. Of course he needs to be given development fights in 2020, but that alone is a reason to watch him and see him make the improvements needed to become a legitimate contender at the higher levels.
Sadly at the moment it's unclear what ESPN5's plans ate for 2020 and although Martin looks like the type of fighter who can help any TV channel in the Philippines it really does take a channel to actually show boxing for someone like Martin to attract a fan base. If ESPN5 are out of the fan base it would be a major issue for Martin and whilst he'll still be worth tracking down streams of, even dodgy facebook streams put on by the GAB, it would be a massive kick in the teeth to treat a fighter with such potential star power like Martin in such a way, but his style really is amazing to watch and he is worth jumping through hoops to see.
What do we expect?
It would be downright foolish to rush Martin into a world title fight over the next couple of years, however seeing him mix on the oriental title picture wouldn't be a bad idea at all, and that's where we expect him to be by the end of 2020. The OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles might be out of reach for him by the end of the year but the WBA Oceania title, or the WBO Oriental title would be great stepping stones for the youngster. We also expect to see him taken rounds this year as he gets the right developmental fights to build on his natural skills.
If ESPN5 can push Martin then there is a real chance he could end 2020 as one of the key faces of Filipino boxing, and the brightest rising star.
On the other hand if ESPN5, the channel that looked like it was going to be a huge positive for Filipino boxing, is withdrawing from the sport the expectations we have for for Martin really do come down, and rather than being on the verge of big fights there's a chance that his 2020 will see him toil, and almost fade away. If that happens then it would be a massive shame, and slow the momentum he has been building over the last couple of years.
As we're alluded to through this entire article the big concern for Martin is exposure and ESPN5's dwindling interest in boxing. If they don't re-emerge in 2020 as a serious broadcaster then Martin's rise really will have had the handbrake shoved on it. His bouts will still get attention among hardcore fans but that attention will only be a fraction of what it should be, or rather would be, if ESPN5 continued to back him. As well as the limitations in exposure the lack of ESPN5 backing could also be a major financial problem for the fighter, who may lack the ability to lure over interesting opponents, or develop his skills in the way he needs to.
If ESPN5 do drop boxing, as seems likely, there is also a horrible risk of Martin being taken from his homeland and needing to be the opponent for other fighters. If this happens then any chance of Martin becoming a star will be significantly reduced. We have seen Filipino fighters go on the road and make a name for themselves, but we suspect that Martin needs more time, more fights and more experience before he follows that route. What he needs is developmental fights, not opportunities to try and upset the applecart, at not quite yet.
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