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.
It’s fair to say that we got very, very few dream fights in 2020. We know that we got some really good fights, but we got very, very few of the big blockbuster fighters. There was no Anthony Joshua Vs Tyson Fury, Errol Spence Vs Terence Crawford or Gennady Golovkin Vs Saul Alvarez III. Going in to 2021 the sport needs a big bounce back year, and good fights aren’t enough, we need some great fights.
With that in mind we’ve come up with a list of 10 fights we want to see in 2021 as the sport looks to rebuild following a frustrating year affected by Covid19, budget cut, a lack of crowds and viewers less willing to shell out for PPV.
Naoya Inoue (20-0, 17) Vs John Riel Casimero (30-4, 21)
The obvious one to start with is one….we thought we had! Back in early 2020 Bob Arum managed to sort a deal to have WBA “Super” and IBF Bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue face off with WBO champion John Riel Casimero. The bout looked set to be a massive Bantamweight unification bout, putting 3 of the major titles together. And then it had to be delayed due to Covid, and was then scrapped all together with Casimero going off to face Duke Micah and Inoue facing Jason Moloney. What seemed like a dream bout at Bantamweight heading into 2020 is still a highly anticipated clash in 2021, though we might be waiting a whilst as Bob Arum has stated the won’t be taking place unless they can have fans in attendance. Still, maybe late 2021 is a possibility for this hugely attractive all-Asian unification bout!
Hiroto Kyoguchi (14-0, 9) Vs Kenshiro Teraji (17-0, 10)
One bout that has made this type of list for a few years now is the all-Japan Light Flyweight unification bout between WBA “super” champion Hiroto Kyoguchi and WBC champion Kenshiro Teraji. Both of whom had 2020’s to forget. Kyoguchi was scheduled to defend his title in November, before testing positive for Covid19 on the day of the fight, forcing the entire event to be cancelled at short notice in what was one of the most disappointing moments of the year, and one of the most heart breaking given that Thanongsak Simsri had had to go through a lengthy quarantine before fight night. As for Kenshiro he was supposed to fight in December before his bout was cancelled due to legal issues resulting from some drunken misbehaviour. With neither man fighting in 2020 both will know that 2021 needs to be a big year for them. We suspect both will start the year by facing the men they were scheduled to fight at the end of 2020, but then maybe, just maybe, we can have this one to close the year and finally give us the chance to know who is the better man from the two.
Knockout CP Freshmart (21-0, 7) Vs Ginjiro Shigeoka (5-0, 4)
Going into 2020 we had hoped to see Ginjiro Shigeoka fight for a world title before the year was over. Instead the Japanese youngster was out of the ring for the entire year, killing the momentum he had built in 2019. Despite that he has remained a highly ranked contender and is still someone we’d love to see get a world title fight in the near future. Currently the man many regard as the best in the division is WBA “super” champion Knockout CP Freshmart, and stylistically we actually see him making for an interesting fight with Shigeoka. Knockout is talented, he’s solid, but there are question marks about his desire, he lacks power and he’s not the quickest out there. The champion’s technical ability would ask real questions of Shigeoka, whilst Shigeoka’s explosive power and lightning speed would see him getting chances to land against the champion. Together they would make for a compelling bout. Maybe not the most fan friendly, or exciting, but certainly a compelling and intriguing bout. Before this would like to see both men get the chance to shake some ring rust, so maybe a bout for the summer, it not the fall after both have managed an easy win early in the year.
Junto Nakatani (21-0, 16) Vs Artem Dalakian (20-0, 14)
There is something about unification bouts that is that little more endearing to fans and the boxing media, and even two relatively low key champions unifying is pretty important, and can catch the attention of global fight fans. With that in mind we would love to see anyone of the Flyweight champions unifying their titles. On paper the most attractive bouts would include WBC champion Julio Cesar Martinez however we’re actually prefer to see WBO champion Junto Nakatani take on WBA champion Artem Dalakian in what would be a very intriguing, and potentially very technical match up. Nakatani has come of age in recent years, and the 23 year old is slowly making a name for himself, both at home and internationally among the hardcore fans. Dalakian on the other hand is frustrating hardcore fans with his run of C tier defenses. A unification between these two men, the only two unbeaten champions at the weigh, in summer would be a very interesting bout and see the winner prove themselves as being one of the divisional elite. Potentially even leading the winner to a US bout with Martinez in 2022
Gennadiy Golovkin (41-1-1, 36) Vs Ryota Murata (16-2, 13)
Staying with unification bouts a Middleweight clash between IBF champion Gennadiy Golovkin and WBA champion Ryota Murata is a really compelling match up that ticks a lot of boxes, and would make for a huge spectacle at a Japanese dome. Golovkin is expected to face Jaime Munguia in May giving Murata the chance to fight in a tune up defence in the early part of 2021, after being inactive for the entire of 2020, and then we could have the two clash in September in a huge Middleweight bout. In terms of styles these two should gel perfectly, and although Golovkin would be a clear favourite it would still be a major boxing event for Japan, and the sort of attention grabbing super show that could follow the Olympics. The loser of this would likely be heading to retirement, but the payday for both would be huge, and for fans this would be a spectacular bout with genuine international attention.
Can Xu (18-2, 3) Vs Josh Warrington (30-0, 7)
At the start of 2020 there was a Featherweight bout that we wanted, and we were taunted with, and that was a bout between WBA champion Can Xu and IBF champion Josh Warrington. Promoter Eddie Hearn has stated he’s planning to put this one on, however we had heard that right through 2020, and it seems unclear if, or when, this could actually be made. The plan, for this one is that fans would likely need to be in attendance but that seems almost impossible to imagine in the UK right now. Interestingly China does allow fans into venues, but would cause it’s own issues in terms of travel, transport, and time of day, which may not work for a UK TV audience. Regardless of the logistics behind this one, the fight itself would be something special, and would be a high tempo war between two men who love to torture the compubox operators. Expect to see compubox records shattered if, or when, this one is made!
Masayoshi Nakatani (19-1, 13) Vs Shuichiro Yoshino (13-0, 10)
It’s rare that we can get genuinely excited about an all-Japanese Lightweight bout but we need to admit that we would absolutely love to see Masayoshi Nakatani clash with Shuichiro Yoshino in 2021. The bout would likely be the biggest all-Japanese bout at 135lbs in a generation, and would be for the OPBF, WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese Lightweight titles, domestic bradding as well as doubling up as world title eliminator for the two men, who have various world rankings between them. In terms of match up it’s one that we suspect Yoshino would want more than Nakatani, with Nakatani expected to land a big fight on the back of his huge win over Felix Verdejo, but Nakatani may well see it as a great chance to build on his 2020 success. In terms of the in ring styles, we suspect the two men would gel well, with Nakatani looking to use his size and toughness and Yoshino looking to use his explosive power and speed, making for a very interesting in ring dynamic.
Zhanibek Alimkhanuly (9-0, 5) Vs Liam Willaims (23-2-1, 18)
In 2021 we expect some major changes in the Middleweight division, among those we expect to see Demetrius Andrade leave the division, to compete at 168lbs, and vacate the WBO title. If that happens then two top contenders will fight for the belt, and at the moment two of the top 3 ranked WBO contenders are Zhanibek Alimkhanuly, from Kazakhstan, and Liam Williams, from Wales, leaving the door wide open for this bout in the new year. Although it’s not a super fight, by any stretch, it is a fighter that should be something a little bit special, with William’s aggression and power going up against the skills and timing of Alimkhanuly. It’d be a hard one to call and have interest from Central Asia, Europe and the US. Not only would it be a fantastic match and an intriguing clash, but the winner would instantly find themselves in the mix for some big fights at 160lbs.
Tugstsogt Nyambayar (12-1, 9) vs Mark Magsayo (21-0, 14)
At Featherweight we have a lot of interesting potential match ups, and one we would really love to see would be a clash between once beaten Mongolian fighter Tugstsogt Nyambayar and unbeaten Filipino Mark Magsayo. The two men will both be looking to make a name for themselves in 2021, and a bout between the two would be a great chance for them to do just that. Not only that but with talk of Gary Russell Jr potentially leaving the division to make a mark 130lbs it could leave the WBC title vacant. A bout between these two for the potentially vacant WBC title would be fantastic, and could, potentially be made. Alternatively the two could clash in a world title eliminator to get a shot at the belt at the end of 2021. In terms of styles we’d have the more destructive and powerful “King Tug” trying to neutralise the speed and movement of Magsayo, which should give us some thrilling back and forth.
Jin Sasaki (10-0, 9) Vs Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (10-0, 5)
The finish this off we look at the 140lb weight class for a really interesting potential bout between teenagers. In one corner we would have Japanese teenage sensation Jin Sasaki, the currently Japanese Youth champion, and in the other would be WBA Asia South champion Phoobadin Yoohanngoh. Although it’s a huge long shot to imagine this one taking place we can’t help but feel this would be a thrilling bout between two youngsters who both stepped up to challenges in 2020. On paper this would see Sasaki taking on the best boxer he has faced, with Phoobadin would be taking on his most dangerous puncher, and the winner would certainly be edging towards an OPBF title after this one. Sadly whilst we want this bout in 2021 we suspect it’ll be one we have to wait several years for!
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:
On Sunday we finished our Fighter of the Decade countdown, and now we look towards the future with out prediction of who will be the top 10 at the end of this coming decade. Before we start however we'll just reflect slightly.
For the decade we've just seen finish 2 of the top 10, including the winner, actually debuted after the decade began. The other 8 fighters had all debuted before the decade began, with 7 fighters debuting between 2000 and 2009 and 1, Manny Pacquiao, debuting in the 1990's. It's worth noting that two of those in our top 10 debuted in 2009, so essentially 40% of those making it into the top 10 debuted in either the final year of the decade, or in the decade it's self.
Only 3 of the top 10 went unbeaten during the decade, so an unbeaten record isn't necessary to claim a top 10 spot. Also there was 4 men who didn't move weight, showing that good enough competition and dominance in 1 weight class is enough to claim a place on the list. It does however help to have the ability to move through the weights, with that clearly being a big factor for several fighters.
Despite debuting in 2018 we don't expect many fight fans to be aware of Phoobadin Yoohanngoh, but the Thai teenager is someone well and truly worth attention, and is a long term one to watch. He's still only a teenager, and will be for a chunk of the decade, but the 130lb youngster is someone with a lot of potential and he showed that potential in 2019 when he won "The Fighter" tournament. He's still very young, and very much a work in progress, but he has time on his side a lot of room for development and the backing of a notable Thai promoter, with TL Promotion behind him. This is very much a left of center choice, but when looking at this coming decade we are looking at young fighters looking to make their mark over the coming years, and Phoobadin is just that type of fighter.
Having debuted in 2018 Ginjiro Shigeoka has got himself into a great position as we enter the decade. He is already a regional champion and looks likely to fight for a world title in the first year of the decade. At just 20 years old he has time on his side, and we mean a lot of time on his side, and we wouldn't be surprised to see him fight right through the decade, giving him 20 or so fights to build up his record. He has spoken about wanting to run up 20 defenses and given his frame there's a real possibility that he will only really fight in 1 weight class. We rate Shigeoka highly in terms of skills and potential, but his diminutive size will limit his potential to climb up the rankings.
Few Filipino prospects have shown that they have the tools to fly the flag over the next decade or so, but one that has is Dave Apolinario, who has skills, youth, speed and a boxing brain. The youngster was 20 when the decade began, giving him a full decade in the sport to come, and he has all the tools to develop a very credible career off of. So far he is pretty untested, but in reality that's expected to chance in 2020 and 2021 before he climbs through the ranks and begins to mix at a much higher level. In recent years he's been fighting at Flyweight, though could likely move up a couple of divisions before his career is over. He won't be fast tracked like some, but will certainly be worthy of attention when he hits his prime.
For the last decade Naoya Inoue took the #1 place for this decade however we see him sliding down the rankings a lot. Part of that is to do with his age, and what we see him achieving over the next decade. Entering the decade the "Monster" is 26 years old, so if he complete the full decade he'll be 36 by the end of it. We suspect that he'll probably finish his career a year or two before that, and he has mentioned retiring at the age of 35. Of course that is pretty much the full decade, so he has the potential to do a lot but with age and accumulated damage there's a chance he won't be mega active right through the decade. There's also the fact we suspect his maximum effective weight is going to be Featherwieght, which gives him only another 2 weight classes to conqueror. What he did last decade is impressive but has little bearing on what he'll do this decade, other than starting him at Bantamweight. We expect a big decade for Inoue, but not something that matches up with what he did in the 10's.
As mentioned previously 2 of the fighters who made it into the top 10 of the previous decade hadn't debuted by the start of the debut. With that in mind we should look at the fighters who haven't turned professional yet, but could do in the next couple of years. One such fighter is Hayato Tsutsumi, who currently 20 years old, still an amateur and at 5'7" has the size to move through a few divisions. He'll not turn professional until late this year, at the earliest, and could well have the backing of some very significant players in the Japanese when he does turn professional. We see Tsutsumi as being the Japanese ace of the future. Whilst we acknowledge it's a big call putting him this high up the list all signs point towards him being able to make a huge impact in the next decade.
Two things that really are key in how we can rank someone is their age as we enter the decade, and their ability to move through weight classes. Few fighters have the upside in those two categories as Junto Nakatani. He was 21 when the decade began, turning 22 on January 2nd, and standing at 5'7" he has the natural size to fill out his frame and move through the weight as he ages and matures. Just to put into some perspective just how big Nakatani the young southpaw he's more than 1" taller than Nonito Donaire, who managed to have success at Bantamweight. Whilst we're not expecting Nakatani to be the next Donaire we do expect him to be a major star in the next decade and a multi-weight world champion. He has all the tools to be one of the biggest names in Japanese boxing and fit in excess of 20 fights into the decade.
As with Hayato Tsutsumi we're picking outside the box again and looking towards amateur standouts with this pick as Thai teenager Atichai Phoemsap deserves a serious mention for the future. The 19 year old is a standout amateur, a truly brilliant little youngster who has already won gold at the Youth Olympics, World Youth Championships and Asian Youth championships in 2018. Of course amateur success on the Youth scene doesn't guarantee anyone success in the professional ranks, but from what we've seen of Atichai he has the potential to be a star in the professional ranks. Don't be surprised if he turns pro in a year or two and is raced through the ranks, backed by a strong promoter in Thailand and moved in a very aggressive manner. Entering the decade as a teenager and with serious potential Atichai is the dark horse to be a major player in the 20's.
If Uzbek fighter Israil Madrimov was just 2 years younger we would have placed him better on this list, but with his 25th birthday coming in February he'll be in his mid 30's by the end of the decade, and given his style is a very athletic based one we suspect he will be sliding by the end of the decade. Madrimov is a true athletic freak. He's quick, has great stamina, speed, timing, balance and power. Scarily he keeps those traits whether he's fighting orthodox or southpaw and he's going to be a very, very hard man to beat. Along with his age we are also concerned about his lack of stature, and at 5′ 8½″ his ability to move up the scales is limited. We suspect he has the natural tools to make a mark all the way up to Light Heavyweight, late in his career, but he'll likely struggle up there at 175lbs against naturally bigger, stronger men.
At 23 year old when we enter the decade we suspect that Uzbek Bektemir Melikuziev will have a better decade than his slightly older compatriot Israil Madrimov, though we suspect the two men will have very similar careers overall. The big punching, body snatching Melikuziev broke into the pros in June 2019 and ended the decade 4-0 (3) having proven that he can box, move, bang, brawl and fight. Oh and he can pretty much send an opponents stomach out of their body with a shot to the midsection. Although not quite the athletic freak that Madrimov is we see more technical polish with Melikuziev and with the slight age difference and slight height difference he just has those little advantages that we suspect could split the two men at the end of 2029.
Aged just 21 as we started the decade Sadriddin Akhmedov has the world at at his finger tips. He's entered the decade 11-0 (10) and appears to be the all-round star that Kazakhstan needs to replace the ageing Gennady Golovkin. He's heavy handed, technically very good, aggressive, exciting and knows how to box safely when he needs to. We do wonder whether Eye of the Tiger Management have the power to push him to the very, very top, but we suspect they will work with a bigger promoter, if needed, to net Akhmedov the top fights he needs to make the decade his. Given his youth he will fill out his frame and move quite easily from 154lbs to 160lbs and potentially all the way up to 175lbs. This young man is a very, very special fighter and someone we advise every fight to be following very closely going forward.
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 have fought for a world title at the time of writing, as the fighters who have are, essentially, already ones to watch having dabbled at world level. 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 #4 in our list of Ones to watch in 2020
Ginjiro Shigeoka (5-0, 4)
We love fighters who are fast tracked, and it helps when those fighters tick a lot of other boxes. For Ginjiro Shigeoka being fast tracked has looked as natural as his power punching pressure style, and the former amateur standout has been nothing short of flawless in his impressively destructive professional career. Although he's fighting at Minimumweight the kid has power, with devastating body shots, and appears to have the style that could make even those who don't typically pay much attention to "the little guys" respect him. Having been raced to a regional title in just 4 fights the implication is clear, he'll be fighting at world level sooner rather than later, and as he matures he's only going to get stronger. This kid is someone who every fan should be making notes of now, and following his rise before he reaches the top.
At the time of writing Shigeoka is just a day removed from having stopped former world title challenger Rey Loreto in what was an expectedly solid test for the youngster, and it's hard to imagine anyone unstrapping the rocket from his rise now. Taking on Loreto so early in his career is a clear statement of intent from the Watanabe gym, and so was facing Joel Lino in his third pro bout and Clyde Azarcomn in his 4th professional contest, but Watanabe are seemingly for sure their their youngster is a very special talent.
Although a Minimumweight Shigeoka is someone every fan should be taking a note of. His team are taking risks, they are confident in their man, and they are not messing around with stay busy fights. Instead they are eyeing up statement after statement, and this is the type of thing we, as fans, should all be behind. No safe, easy match making, but prospects looking to back up their talent straight away.
What do we expect?
There is some feeling in Japan that there is no need to rush Shigeoka to a world title, and there may be some sincerity in that feeling. The reality though is that not many fighters below world level will actually test him. Some might show the sturdiness to see out the distance with him, as Joel Lino did, but very few have the ability to actually test him and take rounds off him. If he doesn't fight for a world title in 2020 we'd be surprised, but at the very least he'll be ending the year on the verge of a world title fight and will almost certainly be ranked in the top 15 by all 4 world title bodies. Along the way he'll also have left a mess of shattered opponents in his wake.
The Minimumweight division, as we all know, isn't the deepest out there. The champions are good fighters but none of them are elite level, and it's clear that they each have a target on their back for an elite prospect, like Shigeoka and Uzbek amateur standout Hasanboy Dusmatov. If Shigeoka is, as we suspect, going to be raced to the top the key is for his team to put up the money to get the champions in Japan. This is certainly not impossible, but will take them fully getting behind the kid. The win over Loreto on New Year's Eve should be all that was needed for that to happen in 2020.
Longer term expectations for Shigeoka are more questionable, and even for a Minimumweight he's small. He's unlikely to move through many weight classes, but at 105lbs and 108lbs he's going to be a force over the coming decade.
Despite being a stellar amateur and a fast tracked pro Shigeoka obviously has some real concerns. He was left marked up with a damaged hand against Rey Loreto in his 5th bout, and we need to wonder how the hands will hold up going forward? At just 20 years old, is it right to strap to the kid to a rocket, or does need more time to develop? How well does he take a shot? Is his style too aggressive? Can Watanabe easily get one of the world champions to head off to Tokyo?
Obviously there is a lot of questions about him. The reality is that Watanabe are happy for him to be moved quickly, and this is the gym that did something very similar for Hiroto Kyoguchi. They have guided several other world champions as well, including the likes of Ryoichi Taguchi, Takashi Uchiyama and Kohei Kono. They aren't some novice outfit, with a sensational talent, they are instead a top class gym. They have him in the gym with the likes of Kyoguchi and former world title challenger Masataka Taniguchi. They know what they are doing.
Longer term issues do leave us with questions that even Watanabe can't be sure about. Can Shigeoka move up the weights as he is lacking stature at Minimumweight? How long can he fight at Minimumweight? Will he be able to limit his body to 108lbs longer term? Has he got the speed, power and skills to compete at 112lbs in a few years time? Thankfully all these concerns are years away from needing an answer, but they will linger until he needs to answer them.
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