Before the new year we were asked by our good friend @PollitoDiablo2 to do a "22 for 2022" which is not something I had any intention of doing. Not this year. Sadly 2021 has taken away a lot of the love of the sport I once had. It's drained me like no other year. Both the sport it's self and the year in general. It was, for lack of a better term, a year to forget, and a year that really saw the output on this site die down, from regular daily features, along with the news, to basically just the news. The cancellations, the politics, the frustration of Covid continuing to ravage the sport, and my own personal frustrations all made me want to hide in a corner and not touch a keyboard over Christmas, and into the new year.
Despite that it's clear for this site to even be worth continuing, we do need to let people become aware of fighters! And with that in mind a 22 for 2022 seems like a great starting, so take a look at 22 fighters who will have something meaningful, hopefully, in 2022.
To be included on this list a fighter can't have won, or fought for, a world title. They can, however, have a world title lined up as we head into the new year. They are either contenders, prospects, or fighters that have the potential to make some sort of mark in 2022.
22-Garen Diagan (8-1, 4)
Dubbed the "Hellboy" Garen Diagan is someone who has quietly been making a name for himself on the Filipino domestic scene over the last few years. Unlike most hopefuls he's not been matched easily, at all, and from his 9 professional bouts 6 have been against unbeaten opponents. Notably he has ended the unbeaten records of Arvin Magramo (8-0-1), Jerry Francisco (7-0) and April Jay Abne (7-0) in his last 4 bouts. Aged 25 Diagan is coming into his prime, his results speak for themselves and this coming year should be one where he begins to target a regional title. The Light Flyweight and Flyweight divisions are incredibly interesting divisions, but a guy like Diagan would be a welcome addition in either and we expect that's what we'll see in 2022.
21-Jong Seong Kang (14-0-2, 7)
South Korean boxing has been in a mire since the very early 00's and the country, which was once a major force in the sport, is now one which lacks any notable name outside of Hyun Mi Choi. Thankfully that could be set to change thanks to the rise of Jong Seong Kang, who looks like he might end up carrying the sport in South Korea over the coming years. The 20 year old Featherweight is everything we love about Korean boxing. He brings the in ring Korean mentality to life, he is all about aggression, work rate, desire and the fighters mindset. Technically he is limited and can be caught, but his offense is his best form of defense and his exciting style will capture fans and attention. Notably he is also scoring good, solid, wins with victories over Tomjune Mangubat and Pete Apolinar in his last 5 wins. He is set to become the face of Korean boxing, and we would expect his team to move him towards more regional honours, to add to the WBO Oriental Featherweight title that he won in January.
20-Bek Nurmaganbet (6-0, 4)
When we talk about Asian fighters there's not many Super Middleweights that stand out, but that could all change over the next few years with the rise of the Central Asian fighters. One of the leading hopefuls for the division is unbeaten Kazakh Bek Nurmaganbet, who was a sensational amateur before beginning his professional campaign in 2020. Aged just 23 time is certainly on his side, but so to is ability, and we would be very surprised if his handlers didn't let him loose on better and better opponents this year. In just 6 fights he has beaten opponents with a combined 150 wins and his team have seemingly got a lot of confidence in him, which leads us to believe that his team will look to match him with a former world champion or a former world title challenger this year. Hopefully his team will also get him a run out in the US to help build his international profile ahead of a potential world title eliminator in 2023 or 2024.
19-Talgat Shayken (7-0, 4)
Aged 21 Talgat Shayken is one of the most exciting young Welterweight prospects in the sport. He has a good amateur pedigree, he has good skills, he has a strong backer, with MTK Kazakhstan behind him, and he's incredibly young yet incredibly strong. Watching him since he turned professional we've seen Shayken develop from a rather clumsy but effective and aggressive teen, into a very talented and composed young fighter who brings effective pressure to the ring. He's not the polished fighter yet, and that's probably a couple of years away still, but he's proving himself to be an excellent prospect and has already won the WBC Youth title. In 2022 we expect to see his competition step up, and whilst we're not expecting him to face anyone world ranked, we wouldn't be surprised to see him break into the fringes of the world rankings by the end of the year and score at least one notable win before we see the start of 2023
18-Nutlai Lalbiakkima (3-0, 3)
Heading into we haven't got too many wild cards in this list, most of the names on the list are probably somewhat familiar to fans, even if one or two are surprises in the list they are names that we think most fans who follow Asian Boxing will be familiar with. One of the few wildcards however is Indian Minimumweight Nutlai Lalbiakkima, who is the IBA Intercontinental Minimumweight champion and the potential Indian star of tomorrow. India has never really embraced professional boxing, yet, but a country as big as India certainly has the potential to create stars and Lalbiakkima looks to be the best bet, for now. With Marine Boxing backing him he has a powerful backer, an exciting style, a good amateur pedigree and he's an aggressive and hard hitting Minimumweight. Given how big an Indian contender, or even a world champion, could be for the sport, Lalbiakkima is definitely one to keep an eye on, and someone who could make a big splash in 2022. He might be one of our wild card entries here, but that's more down to 2022 maybe being a year too early for him, but time will tell.
17-Yudai Shigeoka (4-0, 2)
The older of the two Shigeoka brothers Yudai Shigeoka had a stellar 2021, after the covid19 pandemic kept him out of the ring for over a year. Heading in to 2020 he seemed on the verge of something big, following a great win over Lito Dante, but 2020 was a total write off. In 2021 he thankfully made up for lost time pretty well, winning the Japanese Youth Light Flyweight title in February before winning the WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight title in November, with a hard fought win over Tsubasa Koura. Those wins showed that Shigeoka was a very, very promising prospect, but there is still a lot of work to do for him, and we expect to see him defending his regional title a couple of times this year, whilst climbing up the world rankings and moving towards a world title shot in 2023 or 2024. The biggest for him might well be that he's probably the #3 guy at the weight in his own stable, and that could slow his ascent to the top, though it seems like a case of "when" and not "if", Yudai Shigeoka will win a world title.
16-Ryosuke Nishida (5-0, 1)
One of the big revelations of 2021 was Japanese Super Bantamweight-come-Bantamweight Ryosuke Nishida, who had impressed in 2020, with a win over Shohei Omori, then went better in 2021 with a big win over Daigo Higa to claim the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title. That win over Higa made fans sit up an take note, especially given how dominant he was, but it's fair to say there is still work to do for Nishida, who's only defense of the regional title came against Tetsuro Ohashi. Nishida has shown what a great boxer he is, and there is a lot to like about him. Sadly we don't see him getting a world title fight in 2022, but we do see him moving towards one, and the WBO regional title will certainly help him there. The one issue we see holding him back, for now, is his lack of power, but we suspect experience and confidence will help him there. Whilst we don't see him getting a world title fight this year, we wouldn't be surprised at all if he's one of the men sniffing around titles when Naoya Inoue eventually moves up in weight.
15-Carl Jammes Martin (18-0, 15)
Dubbed the "Wonder Boy" Carl Jammes Martin is someone who has been on the radar for a few years now, and is widely seen as one of the next stars of Filipino boxing. The youngster has had plenty of exposure in the Philippines, but the attention so far has been very firmly based at home and he's yet to travel for a bout, something we hope might change this year. Early in his career Martin was an aggressive monster, all about offense, combinations and aggression. In recent years however we have seen him tone that down a little bit, whilst getting valuable rounds against the likes of Mark Anthony Geraldo and Richard Rosales, which will have served him really well and proven he can't take everyone out. An important lesson at this stage of his career. In recent bouts we've seen more boxing from him, less fighting, and it seems he is mentally maturing into a very good young fighter. In 2022 we're expecting to see him continue to get good rounds, continue to get some seasoning fights and potentially take on a former world title challenger towards the end of the year, to add some quality to his record and moves towards a world ranking. He's not ready for a top guy, and won't be by the end of 2022, but we certainly anticipate him moving towards a big bout and possibly landing one in 2024.
14-Sadriddin Akhmedov (12-0, 10)
The Light Middleweight division is one of the most interesting in the sport right now, with not just recognisable names on top but a lot of emerging hopefuls chasing through the ranks and looking to make a name for themselves. One such fighter is Canadian based Kazakh prospect Sadriddin Akhmedov, who has managed to fly well under the radar of fans who don't follow the Canadian fight scene. The 23 year old has been a professional since 2018, and although he's yet to have a break through win he has shown a lot to like with a wide variety of tools in his arsenal, good stamina, great shot selection and a very good style that should allow him to go a very way in the sport. We don't see him getting a world title fight in 2022, but we certainly wouldn't be surprised by him making his US debut and moving towards a world title eliminator.
13-Hironori Mishiro (11-0-1, 4)
The idea of Japanese fighters being moved quickly is something we're all well aware of, and was certainly the plan for Hironori Mishiro, who won the OPBF Super Featherweight title in just his 6th bout, 15 months after his debut. He would defend that title 4 times before leaving the division and beating former world champion Masayuki Ito at the end of 2020, and then score an excellent stoppage in 2021 over Kazuhiro Nishitani. Those two wins, as well as his OPBF title reign, have shown what he's capable of in just 12 bouts, and the win over Nishitani seemed to show more belief in his power than we've seen from him previously. Despite his good form he hasn't yet received much recognition by the world title bodies, but we expect that to change in 2022 and we're anticipating a big year for Mishiro who will likely look to make a climb up the rankings this year. We doubt he'll get a world title shot, but expect to see him climb up the rankings rather notably at Lightweight this year.
12-Chainoi Worawut (14-0-1, 12)
The Super Bantamweight division is one of the best in the sport right now, and has been providing so much great action over the last few years, right across the various levels of the sport. One man looking to move into the mix for big fights, at least regionally, in the division will be hard hitting Thai fighter Chainoi Worawut, who is one of the key faces on the WP Boxing series of shows. The unbeaten puncher, like many Thai's, had a frustrating 2021 as the on-going pandemic limited his in ring activity, with him only fighting once in the year. Whilst that is disappointing it did give him another year to physically mature, and now aged 24 he's slowly coming into his prime. We suspect 2022 will be a year where he looks to build some new momentum, and whilst a world title fight this year is highly unlikely, he will certainly find himself climbing up the WBC rankings by the end of the year.
11-Thanongsak Simsri (20-0, 18)
The pandemic era of boxing has effected numerous fighters and fights over the last two years, and 21 year old Thai fighter Thanongsak Simsri is certainly one such fight. He was set to get a world title fight against Hiroto Kyoguchi in last 2020, before Kyoguchi contracted Covid19, forcing the bout to be cancelled. The hope was for Simsri to then get a shot at the Japanese champion the following year, but that never happened and Simsri has gone from a man literally on the verge of a world title fight, to the forgotten man at 108lbs. Notably however he has been staying busy, and amazingly fit in 6 bouts in 2021 and got some valuable ring time whilst also maturing, and allowing his body to fill out a bit more. Whilst we're still not sure he'd have much of a chance with Kyoguchi, the fact he's not sulked and been inactive is great, his high level of activity will help him, and if Covid restrictions can be scaled back in Asia this year then we suspect he'll be right in the mix for a major regional title. Whilst 2020 was the year of disappoint and 2021 was the year of activity for Simsri, 2022 should be the year where his competition toughens up again and he begins to move towards a world title shot, yet again.
10-Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (12-0, 7)
Thai teenage sensation Phoobadin Yoohanngoh had a break out in 2020, when he won a regional title and defended it in style against Atchariya Wirojanasunobol. Sadly we didn't see much of him in 2021, fitting just two professional boxing bouts into the year Covid19 forced Thailand to essentially lock down sports events for a large portion of the year. Now aged 18 Phoobadin and his team will likely be looking to make an impression this year, and we wouldn't be surprised at all to see him chase a more notable regional title, perhaps even and OPBF title. It's hard to imagine any domestic opponents facing him in 2022, and instead they'll have to import opponents, likely from Japan and the Philippines, so we wouldn't be surprised to see him taking on some of the top regional competition at 140lbs and maybe even make his international debut. His talent is undeniable, his potential is incredible, and fingers crossed 2022 will be the year where he shows his skills against some noteworthy opponents and begins to move into the fringes of a world ranking.
9-Joe Noynay (19-2-2, 8)
Over the last few years Filipino fighter Joe Noynay has slowly, but surely, been proving his ability and the 26 year old jaw breaker has been slept on time and time and time again. With 2 losses and just 8 stoppages from 23 bouts it can be easy to over-look Noynay, but the Filipino has notched wins on the road against the likes of Jinxiang Pan, Kosuke Saka, Satoshi Shimizu and most recently Liam Wilson. He is also someone who has a technical draw with Kenichi Ogawa and has 2 defenses of the WBO Asia Pacific title to his name. One thing we've learned in recent years is that Filipino fighters have a scary reputation for coming out of nowhere and scoring wins, for Noynay that happened when he beat Saka and Shimizu and we wouldn't be surprised at all if he ends up travelling West for a fight and upsetting a notable US or British name. He's easy to over-look, but dangerous, confident in the ring, very calm and self assured, and far more dangerous than his record suggests. Do not be surprised at all if he ends up landing a world title eliminator, or a world title fight this coming year.
8-Mark Magsayo (23-0, 16)
There is only one man on this list with a scheduled world title fight and that is unbeaten Filipino Featherweight Mark Magsayo, who faces Gary Russell Jr on January 22nd. Sadly for Magsayo that bout is a good reason why he's so low on this list. He's going to make a mark, of course he is, by getting a world title fight in the US against a long reigning champion. Sadly however he will go into that bout as a massive under-dog, especially given his performances in recent bouts, which included a very poor performance against Rigobero Hermosillo in 2020 and huge come from behind win against Julio Ceja in August. Those two bouts may have resulted in wins, but they showed the talented Magsayo was still missing things he will need at world level. Whilst we're expecting him to come up short against Russell Jr, we hope to see him put in a good performance and bounce back later in the year.
7-Kamshybek Kunkabayev (4-0, 3)
Unbeaten Kazakh Cruiserweight Kamshybek Kunkabayev is a man who appears to make the sport look really, really easy. The big man from Kyzylorda is a former amateur standout who has been moved through the ranks like a special fighter, he has already picked up the WBO Asia Pacific and WBA Gold titles, and is already towards the world rankings. Although not the most flashy or exciting fighter, he's a big, talented, relaxed and heavy handed southpaw who has yet to be forced out of second hear since debuting in 2020. We really wouldn't be surprised at all if he picked up 2 or 3 wins in 2022 and ended the year banging on the door of a world title fight. Interestingly the Cruiserweight division does look like one that is ready for some new faces and Kunkabayev is potentially the right guy, in the right place at the right time, to make a lot of noise in the division.
6-Seigo Yuri Akui (16-2-1, 11)
One of the very few men on this list without an unbeaten record on this list is Japanese Flyweight Seigo Yuri Akui, who had a frustrating 2021, but is already set to kick off his 2022 campaign, and move towards a world title fight towards the end of the year. The hard hitting Japanese Flyweight champion impressed in July, when he stopped Taku Kuwahara in the 10th round, and will be back in the ring in February to defend his title again against Takuya Kogawa. If he gets past Kogawa, as expected, we expect to see him actively pursue a rematch with WBO world champion Junto Nakatani, one of only two men to beat Akui. He's dangerous, heavy handed, and very much under-the-radar, despite having a very notable win over current world champion Masamichi Yabuki.
5-Hinata Maruta (12-1-1, 9)
Long tipped as a special talent Japanese Featherweight Hinata Maruta has long flattered to deceive. It's always been clear he has incredible ability but struggled to get things to click. That has has changed in the last few years however and 2021 was a huge year for him, as he scored a very impressive stoppage over Ryo Sagawa, to claim the Japanese title, which he defended in December against Ryo Hino. Those two performances showed the progression of Maruta, who is world ranked by the IBF and WBC, and who could well be on the verge of a world title fight by the end of the year. He's slippery, he's sharp, he's heavy handed and whilst we don't think he'll get a world title fight this year, we do expect big things from him. Fingers crossed the year will begin with either a Japanese title defense or a bout for a regional title, before a potential US or UK bout as he looks to increase his international profile. This should be the year where the Morioka Gym allow him to make a statement, and 2023 should be the year where he gets a shot at the big time. His loss to Hidenori Otake in 2017 was a set back but he has developed so much since then and looks like one of the best emerging Featherweight contenders on the planet right now.
4-Hasanboy Dusmatov (4-0, 4)
There are are very, very, very few fighters ready to be unleashed on the divisional elite in their first 5 or 6 fights. One such fighter is Hasanboy Dusmatov, the former Uzbek amateur sensation who was talking about fighting for world titles from almost the day he made his debut. Sadly he's not yet landed a major fight, of any note, and his biggest wins as a professional are at a very low level, but he's showed he is head and shoulders above the 4 guys he has already beaten and now needs to move onwards and upwards. At the age of 28 there is no point in him wasting more time, and with that in mind we are expecting huge things of him in 2022. Sadly the Light Flyweight division does appear to be one with a lot of champions being tied up, at least early in the year, but if Dusmatov and his team are smart they could end up being primed for a world title fight towards the end of the year. If not they need to end the year with a big win and put pressure on the champions for a 2023 world title fight. He's already ranked very highly with the WBA, his team should look to push forward and chase the winner of the planned, though yet to be scheduled, Hiroto Kyoguchi Vs Esteban Bermudez bout.
3-Israil Madrimov (8-0, 6)
When he made his professional debut in 2018 Israil Madrimov looked like someone special, and his first 4 bouts showed what could do, as he showed everything a prospect could want to show, against solid competition. Sadly however disappointing performances against Eric Walker and Emmany Kalombo saw some of the shine being taken off Madrimov's rise. Thankfully for him however he managed to notched a notable win at the end of 2021, stopping Michel Soro, albeit in very controversial fashion, to essentially book himself a WBA world title fight in 2022. There is talk of a rematch against Soro, which we think would be a good move for Madrimov, but regardless he is now knocking on the door of a world title fight, and we would be very surprised if he didn't get a world title fight by the end of the year.
2-Ginjiro Shigeoka (6-0, 5)
We honestly believe that were it not for the pandemic and the issues to the boxing calendar and travel situations we've seen over the past 2 years Ginjiro Shigeoka would be a world champion today. The talented, hard hitting, exciting, explosive, young Minimumweight looked primed for a huge 2020, following an excellent win over Rey Loreto at the end of 2019, to retain the WBO Asia Pacific title. Sadly the pandemic stopped his career in it's tracks. He had very, very, very few options domestically, and with travel limited over the last 2 years his career essentially stalled out, big time. The only saving grace was the emergence of Toshiki Kawamitsu, who Shigeoka fought this past July, and stopped without too many issues. Ranked by all 4 world title bodies now, we suspect Watanabe Gym will be pushing hard for him to get either a world title crack or a world title eliminator by the end of the year. He won't chase the WBO title, held by stablemate Masataka Taniguchi, but any of the other 3 titles are well within his reach for the year.
1-Zhanibek Alimkanuly (11-0, 7)
Unbeaten Kazakh Middleweight Zhanibek Alimkhanuly, aka "Qazaq Style", looks set to get his first world title fight in 2022 and is a man coming in to the year with a lot of momentum. Unlike many fighters he set his eyes on someone, calling out Demetrius Andrade in late 2019, and then took steps to try and secure a fight with the man he was calling out, winning the WBO "Global" title and defending it, to push his case with the WBO to let him fight for their world title. He not only did what the WBO wanted, but also notched good wins in 2021 over Rob Brant and Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam. The only real questions going into the new year is whether Andrade, the supposed "most avoided man in boxing" will be defending his title against Alimkhanuly or whether the Kazakh will be fighting for a vacant title, either way it seems almost a given that 2022 will be a huge year for him.
Honourable mentions (yes there's another 22, albeit in no order!):
Sung Min Yuh
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 #7 in our list of Ones to watch in 2020
Hinata Maruta (10-1-1, 8)
Japanese youngster Hinata Maruta has long been tipped as a star in the making and whilst his career hasn't been bad it's certainly not lived up to the expectations we, and others, had had for him. In the space of just 11 months however he has beaten Tsuyoshi Tameda, Coach Hiroto and Takenori Ohashi, earning himself a Japanese title fight in 2020 and has began to work on the flaws that did show themselves early in his career. He's worked on things like his urgency and now appears to be putting together everything he needs to be the star that many thought he would become.
He's incredibly talented, heavy handed, slick, and fast, with freakish dimensions and a lot of natural ability. If he can make the few adjustments needed to make everything click, and build on his talent by adding to the mental side of his game, he could be a genuine elite level fighter by the end of 2020.
When you watch Maruta in action it's clear is an exceptional young fighter, that was clear from his days as an amateur and is just as clear now, though he's still very much a work in progress, and he needs to add to the tools he has. If can he tweak things just a little then next year will be huge for him, and we wouldn't be surprised if he manages to over-come the brilliant Ryo Sagawa for the Japanese Featherweight title.
With a title fight lined up, buckets of natural ability, a really good look, which could be incredibly marketable to the relatively untapped female market, Maruta has everything needed to be a huge star. He is, even with a loss and draw on his record, someone to be very excited about.
What do we expect?
We already know that Maruta will fight for the Japanese Featherweight title during the 2020 Champion Carnival, where he'll likely face Ryo Sagawa. It won't be an easy bout for Maruta but he certainly has the ability to not only win, but to look good winning, and announce himself as the special talent we know he is.
Whilst the 2020 Champion Carnival, and the Japanese Featherweight title, will clearly be his #1 focus for the year we don't think that'll be the only thing he's looking to accomplish in the new year.
In an ideal world we'd see him a card in the US, picking up some valuable Stateside experience as part of a longer term plan. We know the Featherweight division has top fighters in the US, like Shakur Stevenson and Gary Russell Jr, and other top Featherweights are looking to make their mark on the US. For Maruta to get a taste of the US scene in 2020 would be ideal for him, even if it's a year or two before he launches any sort of real attack on the US market.
Not so much an expectation but more of a hope, is that we see Maruta fighting 3 times next year. He's had 2 fights in 2019 and it feels like a frustrating year, given he really should be more active as he looks to get some experience under his belt. Finger crossed he gets 3 fights makes his US debut and wins the Japanese title next year.
Although we do fancy Maruta to win the Japanese title in the Champion Carnival it's certainly not a foregone conclusion, and he will need to be at his very best. It is a genuine concern that he will come up short in his title effort, though we would be surprised if he didn't capture the title sooner rather than later.
Another concern is his team. He's been a long term member of the Morioka Gym, and his relationship to the team there is very well reported. We don't think a change would be a good idea, at least not yet, but we do wonder what money they have behind them, and what money they can put behind their star man. It may be that the Morioka Gym need to work with someone else, like Teiken perhaps, to get their man to the top of the sport. That shouldn't be a major issue, but we always worry about fighters with out the big financial backing and the opportunities they can end up getting.
A similar issue is that Maruta is based in Hyogo, not exactly a Japanese hotbed for boxing. Thankfully he had shown a willingness to travel to Tokyo and Osaka for fights, but there is a potential problem getting him a big home coming fight. Again not a major issue, but something worth considering.
One final minor issue is TV, and it's unclear which TV channel will back Maruta going forward. This will be something his team will want sorting out sooner rather than later.
(Image - Morioka Boxing Gym)
By Marcus Bellinger-
Boxers being moved at a rapid fire pace has become common place in Japan with Kazuto Ioka, Naoya Inoue, Kosei Tanaka, Hiroto Kyoguchi and Ken Shiro all capturing a world title in 10 fights or less and domestic and regional straps being claimed in a handful of bouts has also become a frequent occurrence.
The next fighter from the land of the rising sun aiming to continue this trend was Hinata Maruta who challenged OPBF super bantamweight champion Hidenori Otake at the Korakuen Hall on 13 October in just his 6th pro contest.
There has been a real buzz and excitement around Maruta for a while within Japanese boxing circles with many tipping the 20-year-old for huge things. The highlight of an excellent amateur career which saw him go 55-11 31 KOs came when he won a Bronze in the 2013 Asian Youth Championships.
Maruta’s anticipated professional debut came in November 2015 in a 6 rounder against Jason Canoy. The Filipino was world ranked at the time and this was a real gamble on behalf of Maruta’s handlers at the Morioka Gym. The risk proved to be worth taking as Maruta prevailed on points and dropped Canoy in the 4th round to make a real statement.
After a facile opening round win versus an overmatched Thai 4 months later, Maruta faced unbeaten Filipino Wilbert Berondo for the WBC Youth bantamweight crown in July 2016. Berondo was taken out in round 6 and the man from Japan had won his first title. His first defense came against the once beaten Joe Tejones 4 months later and after taking his time Maruta scored a 7th round KO. Before his OPBF contest undefeated Indonesian Hanson Tiger Lamandau was dispatched in 6 rounds in March.
Going in to the bout with Otake there was definite intrigue with the 36-year-old champion possessing a wealth of experience at national and regional level whilst the challenger had the youth and height and reach advantages. After 4 rounds it was all to play for but experience then proved to be the order of the day as Otake assumed command and triumphed with a unanimous point’s victory with scores of 116-112 twice and 117-111.
Maruta showed flashes of his class at times but couldn’t maintain distance for long enough and was dragged in to an inside tussle which suited Otake perfectly. The youngster’s career certainly isn’t over and he should gain a huge amount from going the 12 rounds for the first time and he now knows what he needs to work on to move on to the next level. Finally, a deserved word on Otake who is now in line for a major bout with numerous domestic options available for him.
(Image courtesy of Morioka Boxing Gym)
Over the last few weeks we've been doing divisional overviews as part of our features. Last week we made an exception to do a feature on Japanese boxing's fast risers. This week we're making another exception as the division we got up to in our over-view is the Bantamweight division. Rather than rush out a Bantamweight over-view we've decided to put that off for a few weeks due to the potential changes the division will see in the month or so. Instead of a divisional over-view we've decided to take a look at some of the divisions up coming bouts and what they may mean for future of the Bantamweight division.
This first major bout is this coming Saturday, March 28th, when Japan's Ryo Akaho (25-1-2, 17) steps foot in the ring against Prosper Ankrah (24-4, 15) in a bout for the WBO International title. Akaho is ranked in the top 15 by all 4 world title bodies, including a #1 ranking with the WBO, and seems to be on the verge of a world title fight. He'll need to over-come Ankrah to get that opportunity but it shouldn't be that difficult for the heavy handed Japanese fighter who has won his last 6 bouts since moving up from Super Flyweight in 2013. This will be Akaho's first bout since signing a 1-year promotional deal with ALA in the Philippines and is expected to be an impressive showing from the confident Japanese fighter.
Just 8 days later, April 5th, we see an OPBF title fight which will see the heavy handed Takahiro Yamamoto (15-3, 12) battle against Yu Kawaguchi (22-6, 10). Yamamoto is from the Ioka stable, which features world class talents like Kazuto Ioka, Ryo Miyazaki and Sho Ishida, and he'll be hoping to follow in their footsteps. Kawaguchi on this other hand comes from a less known stable though is the more experienced man and has previously fought in a Japanese title fight, coming up slightly short there. The match up isn't hugely attractive but it is significant and the winner will be involved in at least one more significant match up later in the year. The two should make for a very competitive match up and the winner will deserve another big bout in the near future, unfortunately however neither is the best Japan, never mind the best in Asia.
On the same show we will get the chance to see the very highly touted Kazuki Tanaka (1-0, 1) in action. Tanaka is regarded as one to watch and those in the know suggest he could be fast tracked at an electric pace. Tanaka should be able to claim a notable and impressive victory here as he takes on Kaname Tabei (10-8-2, 7), though this is a step up from his debut. If Tanaka looks as impressive as our sources say, he should then we suspect he will be moved into 8 rounders in his next bout.
On April 13th we see a brilliant Japanese title fight as the world ranked Kentaro Masuda (21-6, 11) attempts to defend the title against the unbeaten and fast rising Shohei Omori (13-0, 8). Masuda has been in sensational form in recent years winning the title, with a victory Kawaguchi, and defending it impressive fashion against Konosuke Tomiyama and Tatsuya Takahashi. On the other hand Omori is just breaking through though looks to be a very special fighter who understands everything involved in being a top level boxer. The unbeaten youngster will be getting a gut check here but a win will see him moved onwards and upwards fast over the next 12 months.
April 16th sees another title bout as unbeaten WBC champion Shinsuke Yamanaka (22-0-2, 16) defends his title against unbeaten Argentinian challenger Diego Ricardo Santillan (23-0, 15). For us, and many others, Yamanaka is the division's clear #1 fighter and although he didn't look sensational last time out, against Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, his record speaks for it's self. Blessed with a missile of a left hand Yamanka has skills and power and will be expected to see off Santillan without too many problems in this one. Santillan does seem to be confident and a upset win would really shake up the division though a win for Yamanaka is widely expected.
April 22nd will see another unbeaten Japanese fighter, Naoto Uebayashi (7-0-1, 4) put his unbeaten record on the line as he takes on Filipino fighter Giovanni Escaner (12-3, 8) in a really fantastic match up that will give the winner a massive boost towards an OPBF title fight. Uebayashi was a very touted fighter when he turned professional though has failed to really shine in the professional ranks, having been down twice already. Escaner is on the verge of an OPBF title fight and will be hoping to score a career boosting win on foreign soil. Although this bout will go under the radar it is incredibly significant on the Asian scene.
Possibly the best match up comes on May 9th when Tomoki Kameda (31-0, 19) takes on Jamie McDonnell (25-2-1, 12) in a really intriguing contest between two top 15 fighters. Originally it was hoped that this would be a unification of the WBO and WBA “regular” title but the WBO have made the decision not to allow their title to be on the line, and have actually threatened to strip Tomoki. As controversial as the WBO's move is we have to agree with them in principle that the WBA have created too many paper titles. In regards to the fighters Tomoki is a beautiful to watch boxer who throws eye catching combinations, can switch between head and body and can hit a lot harder than his record suggests. McDonnell is a solid all round fighter with great volume punching, though of the two he's the one with more to prove despite being a “2-time world champion”. The winner here will probably be seen as the "#2 champion" behind Yamanaka though will remain a clear second.
Another bout in the pipeline, though one with out a date at the moment, will see Ryosuke Iwasa (19-1, 12) battle against Lee Haskins (31-3, 13) in a contest for the IBF interim title. This is another match up that will pit a pair of top fighters each other and could against set the tone for the division over the remainder of the year. Iwasa is a talented boxer-puncher though is relatively unknown outside of Japan despite being in a nail biting clash with Yamanaka and being a very solid amateur on the Japanese domestic scene. Haskins is a talented but frustrating fighter who has perfected a style that gets him wins but has turned fans away from him. The winner here will be expected to fight Randy Caballero later in the year to unify the IBF and IBF interim titles and then a possible high profile bout may be scheduled for the winter.
With all these bouts either signed and sealed, or in the pipeline, it's clear that the division is going to under-go a lot of changes in the next few weeks. It's also worth noting that later in the year we're expecting to see the debut of Hinata Maruta, who is likely to make a name for himself at Bantamweight.
Also we're expecting big things from the Thai trio of Suriyan Sor Rungvisai (40-6-1, 18), Panomroonglek Kaiyanghadaogym (44-2, 26) and Petch Sor Chitpattana (29-0, 19) who have all been linked to world title fights later in the year just like Kazakh puncher Zhanat Zhakiyanov (24-1, 17). Though these title bouts aren't expected until much later in 2015.
(Images courtesy of boxmob.jp and WBO Boxing)
With 2015 quickly approaching we've decided to do out look at the 15 prospects to watch in 2015. Here we bring you the first selection of those prospects, ranked from 15 to 11. Hopefully you'll put them on your radar for the test of the year.
15-Eaktawan Mor Krungthepthonburi
Although WBA Asia Flyweight champion Eaktawan Mor Krungthepthonburi (7-0, 6) has just began to be seen on the WBA world rankings we really wouldn't be surprised to see him race through those rankings throughout the next year. Talented, powerful, fast and with a lovely variety of punches Eaktawan has the ability to be fast tracked and he also hase a powerful Thai team behind him, the type of team that could open up “interim” world title doors for the youngster.
We've liked Eaktawan since we first managed to see him and although we know there is a lot of improvements to be made we also acknowledge that he is young and that improvements will be made over time. We don't see any point in rushing him and instead his development will be key, especially if he comes up against opponents who try to beat him, as Ichal Tobida tried to do. There is a lot to like about him and we suspect more will come with time, even if he is a bit of a “sleeper prospect” for now.
It would seem likely that Eaktawan's team will try to use the WBA Asia belt to move him towards a WBA “world”, or more likely “interim” title fight. He's not ready for that yet but the odds are that by the middle of 2016 he will be ready, as long as he is developed properly with rounds against varying opponents and fights that do, eventually, see him being pushed against foes looking to beat him.
Thai teenager Stamp Kiatniwat (11-0, 5) has gone 6-0 (3) in 2014 and scored a statement win with a decision over former world champion Kwanthai Sithmorseng. The win over Kwanthai was a major eye opener though he's not been pushed too hard since then and has not faced another notable foe. On paper that sounds bad though on the other side it's clear there is no need to rush Stamp, his team know he is a very good prospect and that giving him time to develop is the key. At the moment it's a development process for Stamp and that's the right attitude to take.
Although young Stamp has shown a real understanding in the ring, has shown real boxing ability, movement, speed and intelligence. We won't pretend he's the best pure boxer in Thailand but he's a man with the potential to be a star and with his age it's clear he's going to build up his power and strengthm, the two flaws in his game.
Stamp is the current PABA interim Flyweight champion, as per the PABA website, and although going for the full title is a possibility we suspect it's not an option he will be looking to follow through with, instead he'll be out there to develop. Development has to be the key word with Stamp for the next year and we suspect he'll be kept busy as part of that development. For Stamp that activity begins in January and we suspect will continue through the year with another 6 if not 7 fights before the year is over. All of those fights will be designed for Stamp to get some rounds under his belt not to move forward.
Aged 25 it may be hard to call Super Bantamweight prospect Hikaru Marugame (3-0, 2) one of the best prospects in Asia but, in all honesty, he is that good with all the tools anyone could wish in a prospect. Unlike many Japanese prospects he has high level amateur experience, competing at major international tournaments, and that is partly why he is so old yet so inexperienced as a professional. Sadly he has also only fought once this past year and has struggled in some ways to generate career momentum.
Fast, powerful, highly skilled and with a good team behind him we think Marugame has all the ingredients to be a major player on the world scene in the coming years. He does have some things sat in his way, for example he's competing in what looks likely to be a packed Super Bantamweight division domestically, however we can't see past the fact he's a sensational talent and his wins so far have been at a very solid level for such a novice.
If Marguame has another year like he's had he's going to be struggling through the domestic rankings, thankfully however we expect he'll be having a much better year in 2015 than he had in 2014 and by the end of next year we suspect he'll be banging on the door for an OPBF or Japanese title fight. We don't think he'll have a belt around his waste but we'd not be shocked to see him win the Strong Korakuen or be fighting an what amounts to an OPBF eliminator.
The highest Thai entry on this list is Kongputorn CPFreshmart (5-0, 4) who has looked special since he made his debut earlier this year. He's shown heavy and fast hands, lovely combinations, nice movement and a wonderful variety of shots through his first 5 bouts.
Yes, we said 5 bouts because, at the time of writing, boxrec doesn't recognise 2 of Kongputorn's 5 contests however footage we've managed to collect has shown him fighting 5 times and it's hard not to have been impressed by the footage which has made him look like one to watch despite a lack of experience in the boxing ring. We have however been told that he was a very good Muay Thai fighter and that may explain why he looks so natural so early in his career.
Thai's typically ignore the OPBF route to the top and we suspect Kongputorn will be no different there with the odds favouring him to go either the PABA route to a WBA title fight or follow in the footsteps of many other Thai's who have gone the WBC route via various WBC regional and lesser titles. Having already won the WBC Youth Flyweight title we suspect Kongputorn will progress to regional WBC titles in 2015 and maybe make an appearance on some world rankings by the end of the year.
One man who hasn't yet made his debut though we're expecting very big things of is Japanese teenager Hintata Maruta (0-0) who we have been told is the next on the production line of super talented Japanese kids set to rise quickly through the ranks. Unlike both Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka we're expecting to see Maruta competing at a more palatable division for western fans, either Bantamweight or Super Bantamweight, though like Inoue and Tanaka he is expected to rise just as quickly.
Maruta isn't set to debut until the second half of 2015 but the talented teenage is expected to spar with some notable fighters in the US as he looks to develop his teenage frame into that of a professional and, most amazingly, he is said to be eyeing up a world ranked foe for his debut. We're taking a punt on this kid but, if what we hear is true, Maruta will end 2015 as a world ranked fighter and may well end up winning titles in 2016 despite having not even made his debut at the time of writing.
It's clear he won't be winning world titles this coming year but if everything we read about him is true then 2016 will see him winning some sort of title, being world ranked and looking like a man on the extreme fast track to the top. Do not sleep on this fighter even if he is yet to debut.
We hope to get part 2 of this up short though hope that these 5 men will be added to your lists of fighters who names you will remember for the coming year.
(Image of Maruta courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
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