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