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.
Over this past weekend we saw boxing return to the ring in both Nicaragua and South Korea. Neither of the shows was a big one, but it was something to get excited about. What they both summed up however was something that was clear. With limited flights, and international quarantines taking place in a number of countries, we won't be seeing many, if any, bouts featuring international match ups. Barring cases where a fighter is essentially "stranded" on foreign soil, we're almost certainly just looking at fights between fighters from the same nation.
Whilst there are a host of issues to over-come before we can have big fights, we've decided to look at 10 of the best possible bouts we could have between fighters in the same countries right now.
The reality is we'd be surprised if any of these took place before boxing was back up and running in a more normal manner, but in terms of match ups we do have some interesting possibilities and some pretty obvious ones.
Wanehng Menayothin (54-0, 18) Vs Knockout CP Freshmart (21-0, 7)
We start this with a bout that is highly unlikely, but still possible, and that would be the all-Thai showdown between Wanheng Menayothin, the WBC Minimumweight champion, and WBA counter-part Knockout CP Freshmart. Of course we've had this as a "possible" match up for years, but both men have been able to be kept apart, defending their titles against imported opponents. With no imports it really limits their options, and a bout between the two, in late summer, in Thailand, might finally be something that the money men behind them decide to give us. With Wanheng turning 35 this October the bout may well make sense, if the two aren't able to leave the Land of Smiles.
Go on guys, lets have a unified champion at 105lbs!
Kenshiro Teraji (17-0, 10) Vs Hiroto Kyoguchi (14-0, 9)
Another potential unification bout and one that actually has been spoken about by both fighters over the last 18 months or so. This one would again see WBA and WBC titles being unified, albeit at Light Flyweight as the unbeaten Japanese pairing of Kenshiro Teraji and Hiroto Kyoguchi clash. The two men fought as amateurs, and took part in a public exhibition in 2018 but went different ways in 2019. Right now their are other solid Light Flyweights in Japan, but the reality is that this is the bout fans want, and the bout the division needs. Given that Kenshiro has stated, repeatedly, that he wants to unify titles then this is likely to be his only option for 2020...but what an option it is!
Junto Nakatani (20-0, 15) Vs Sho Kimura (19-3-2, 12)
Before the current situation forced boxing to be put on the back burner we were expecting to see Junto Nakatani face Giemel Magramo for the WBO Flyweight title. With that bout now on pause for the foreseeable future we could see it replaced by a brilliant bout between Nakatani and former champion Sho Kimura. Whilst this wouldn't automatically be for the WBO title, though potentially it could be with the winner to face Magramo, it's the sort of bout that doesn't need a title to be an appealing match up. It pits one of the rising faces of Japanese boxing against a former champion who has proven his worth in recent years. The bout would see the rangy youngster being given his toughest test to date, and would see Kimura potentially opening the door to take him back to the top. In regards to style and meaning this is something we'd love to see.
Kazuto Ioka (25-2, 14) Vs Kosei Tanaka (15-0, 9)
One bout that was actually ordered by the WBO before we got the "new normal" was a Super Flyweight world title out between defending champion Kazuto Ioka and mandatory Kosei Tanaka. The teams were told to negotiate for a mandatory title fight, though in reality it seemed likely the teams would both push back and try to arrange it for the end of the year. When ever it takes place it will be a highly anticipated bout, and there really is no reason this can't take place later in the year when things like lockdowns are lifted. It's a brilliant match up between two multi-weight world champions. Ioka is currently a world champion in his 4th weight class and Tanaka is looking to match that feat, if he can beat Ioka. Two prodigious, hungry and talented fighters looking to further define their legacies, what's not to love?
Michael Dasmarinas (30-2-1, 20) Vs Reymart Gaballo (23-0, 20)
We ideally wanted to select Johnriel Casimero Vs Nonito Donaire for this bout, but we under-stand the two men are in different countries right now. With that in mind we'd love to see Michael Dasmarinas risk his IBF mandatory title fight, against Naoya Inoue, against unbeaten countryman Reymart Gaballo. This would be something excellent and a chance to see what both men have in their lockers. Dasmarinas was in great form but there are question marks over his head following his bout with Manyo Plange whilst Gaballo needs a break out win, and this would be a chance for that. Sadly it seems this isn't a bout we should expect this year, but it's one we would absolutely love.
Ryosuke Iwasa (27-3, 17) Vs Hiroaki Teshigawara (21-12-2, 14)
A Super Bantamweight bout that could be made very, very easily could see IBF "interim" champion Ryosuke Iwasa defending his title against fellow Japanese fight Hiroaki Teshigawara, who is ranked #6 by the IBF. Iwasa is the mandatory for Murodjon Akhmadaliev but given the global situation right now we don't imagine that bout happening this year. As a result a clash with Teshigawara would be something really brilliant. For Iwasa it would be the sort of test he should have to stay sharp and on point before getting a shot at Akhmadaliev, as it's likely to be 2021 by the time that fight can be made. As for Teshigawara it might as close as he gets to a proper world title fight fight. Whilst the bout is unlikely to get much attention outside of Japan it would be a fantastic bout for fans who do follow the Japanese scene.
Jhack Tepora (23-1, 17) Vs Mark Magsayo (20-0, 14)
Back to the Philippines now for a Featherweight bout that would pit the once beaten Jhack Tepora against the unbeaten Mark Magsayo, in what could act as world title eliminator of sorts. Tepora was looking like he was on the way to big things until last year, when he was upset inside a round by Oscar Escandon. That loss was, in some quarters, put down to out of the ring issues, but he now needs to get back into the swing of things and hopefully a domestic showdown will help there. As for Magsayo he needs a big bout himself, and it's now more than 4 years since he beat Chris Avalos, in what should have been a break out fight. The bout would pit two talented, young Filipino fighters, who can both bang. It would be a mouth watering clash and give the Filipino fight fans something to get very excited about, in a year that may not see many big fights taking place on their soil.
Koki Inoue (15-0, 12) Vs Rikki Naito (22-2, 7)
At 140lbs there's a few bouts of not that could take place, but for us the one that stands out is an all-Japanese clash between Koki Inoue and Rikki Naito in a bout for all the marbles. Inoue is the current Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific champion whilst Naito is the OPBF champion. This bout is probably we could get at 140lbs, though is a stumbling block. Inoue is mandated to defend the Japanese title against former Naito foe Daishi Nagata, so for this bout he might need to give up the Japanese belt, but I don't think fans will complain too much if that happens. If does maybe we could get Nagata against Hiroki Okada or Andy Hiraoka for the domestic title, and Inoue Vs Naito for regional belts. This bout is particularly interesting as the two men have history from the amateurs.
Hironobu Matsunaga (16-1, 10) Vs Takeshi Inoue (16-1-1, 10)
We were supposed to see Hironobu Matsunaga defend his Japanese title against Yuto Shimizu in a mandatory title defense this year. The way the world now is however we would rather see Matsunaga vacate that title when the sport resumes in Japan and step up to regional title level to face Takeshi Inoue, in what would be a much more interesting match up. Matsunaga is a strong, small, aggressive and exciting fighter, who's flawed but has momentum, and has been genuinely impressing in recent years. Inoue, best known for his brilliant effort in a loss against Jaime Munguia. If we got them together we could end up with a brilliant war between two men with a point to prove. Whilst Shimizu has earned a shot at the Japanese title we would rather he faced someone else for it, and we get this bout instead... but maybe we're just being selfish now!
Kazuto Takesako (12-0-1, 11) Vs Yuki Nonaka (34-10-3, 10)
We remain in Japan for our final fight, which would pit Japanese and OPBF Middleweight champion against WBO Asia Pacific champion Yuki Nonaka. Whilst this would be another bout for all the marbles, unless Takesako is forced to vacate his Japanese title for not facing his mandatory, it would probably be the most stylistically interestingly bout on the list. On one hand you have heavy handed and aggressive Takesako, who is strong, powerful aggressive but technically quite crude. On the other hand you have the old experienced and educated head of Yuki Nonaka. A very polished and smart fighter with an upright style that focuses on his hand speed and movement. Boxer against puncher, rising hopeful, against veteran. This would be a joy. Takesako is supposed to defend the Japanese title against Riku Kunimoto, but once again, if he vacates the national belt to give us this instead, we won't be complaining!
So there you have it! 10 bouts we could get this year with out the need for fighters to cross any borders or sit in quarantine...of course, for any of these to take place, we do need boxing to return to the ring!
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
-Kyotaro Fujimoto (19-1): WBO #7 / WBC #20
A heavyweight Japanese fighter is something very rare, let along being ranked in the top 10. The former K-1 champion debuted in 2011 and has had a successful run in the regional scene, currently holding the OPBF & WBO Asia Pacific Heavyweight belts while riding on a 14 fight winning streak. Even though we may never see him challenging for a world title, it’s fun knowing he is there.
Super Welterweight/Jr Middleweight:
-Takeshi Inoue (13-0): WBO #5 / WBA #13 / WBC #19
The undefeated 4-year veteran is climbing the Super Welterweight rankings very fast, managing to place himself as the #5 in the WBO. A former Japanese title holder and now the unified OPBF & WBO Asia Pacific champion, may very well be one or two fights away from his first world title opportunity.
Super Lightweight/Jr Welterweight:
-Hiroki Okada (18-0): WBO #3 / WBA #4 / WBC #9
One of brightest prospects in Japan right now, Okada has never lost a single bout in his entire career. A bona fide knock out artist (13 KOs), he held the Japanese crown for 32 months and defended it 6 times, before winning the WBO Asia Pacific championship from Jason Pagara (41-3) this past December. Since the WBO world champion Maurice Hooker will not participate in the WBSS, this title will probably be his main focus as of now. Okada’s next confirmed appearance is on September 14th in the US (opponent TBA).
-Masayoshi Nakatani (17-0): WBC #7, WBO #13
Much like Okada and Takuma, Nakatani is also another undefeated fighter, who just recently made a record 10th title defense of the OPBF Lightweight championship. Despite the fact that he is ranked “only” #7 by the WBC, it’s worth pointing out that his last bout took place on July 29, so that win wasn’t taken into consideration at the latest ranking updates.
-Nihito Arakawa (31-6): WBO #3
Former Japanese, OPBF and reigning WBO Asia Pacific Lightweight champion, Arakawa has been in many big fights through out his 14-year career. At 36, he is still looking for his second world title opportunity.
Super Featherweight/Jr Lightweight:
-Masaru Sueyoshi (18-1): WBO #7
The 27 year old is steadily making his mark in Japan, suffering only one loss in his 4th pro bout, Sueyoshi has been victorious in his last 15 outings and even won the Japanese title on October of 2017. Another successful year and we might see him challenge for a world title by the end of 2019/beginning of 2020.
-Satoshi Shimizu (6-0): WBC #6
The Bronze Medalist at the 2012 Olympics, made his pro debut on September of 2016 and he has KOed/TKOed every single one of his opponents since then, claiming the OPBF Featherweight crown in just his 4th fight. He will defend that belt against Shingo Kawamura (16-3) later this month. If he can pass that test too, a fight with Gary Russell Jr. for the WBC title could be up for debate.
-Shun Kubo (13-1): WBA #7
The former WBA Super Bantamweight world champion returned this April, after his TKO loss to Daniel Roman in 2017, and won his comeback fight against former OPBF Featherweight champion & world title challenger Hiroshige Osawa (33-5) making a huge impact on his Featherweight debut.
Super Bantamweight/r Featherweight:
-Tomoki Kameda (35-2): WBA #2 / WBC #4 / WBO #9
El Mexicanito, has been on a 4-fight winning streak since moving up a weight class and has already broke the top 5 in both the WBA & the WBC. A fight with Emanuel Navarrete (WBA #1) could potentially set up a world title fight in 2019 with the winner of Daniel Roman/ Gavin McDonnell, which takes place this October.
-Hidenori Otake (31-2): WBO #6 / WBC #8
The reigning OPBF champion is scheduled to take on Isaac Dogboe (19-0) for the WBO World Super Bantamweight title on August 25.
-Takuma Inoue (11-0): WBO #8 / WBC #9
The undefeated former OPBF Super Flyweight champion is set to face reigning OPBF Bantamweight champion Mark John Yap (29-12), in a WBC World title eliminator fight on September 11.
-Hiroaki Teshigawara (17-2): WBO #6
Teshigawara recently stopped former world title contender Teiru Kinoshita (26-3) to defend his WBO Asia Pacific crown, bringing him one step closer to a WBO world championship match.
-Ryo Akaho (32-2): WBO #13
This is more of an honorable mention as Akaho made his return to the ring this past July, since his forced retirement last year, and knocked out Robert Udtohan, thus making it in the WBO world rankings once more.
Super Flyweight/Jr Bantamweight:
-Kazuto Ioka (22-1): WBA #2
In what must be considered the most bizarre ranking of this list, the former 3 division world champion, who’s return to the ring was announced just a couple of weeks ago, is already ranked #2 by the WBA ! Ioka is scheduled to fight WBC Silver champion and 2-time world title contender McWilliams Arroyo (17-3) on September 8, in the States.
-Koki Eto (22-4): WBC #5 / WBO #7 / WBA #9
The former interim WBA World Flyweight champion is currently ranked in the top 10 of the WBA, the WBC and the WBO. He fights Delfin de Asis (9-5) on August 16.
-Ryuichi Funai (30-7): WBO #5 / WBC #10 / WBA #13
Funai knocked out Philippino standout and world title challenger Warlito Parrenas (26-8), in impressive fashion, this past June, and won the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title. A strong first title defense and Funai could be challenging for the world championship by 2019.
-Kosei Tanaka (11-0): WBO #1 / WBC #2
Arguably one of the best fighters that have come out of Japan, Tanaka has won 2 world titles in 2 different divisions within 5 years. Now he looks to add a 3rd one to his collection as he goes one on one with Sho Kimura (17-1) for the WBO World Flyweight championship on September 24.
-Masayuki Kuroda (30-7): WBA #1 / WBC #4 / WBO #5
The current Japanese Flyweight champion has been on a 6-fight winning streak and has defended his belt 5 times since 2017 and now is ranked amongst the top 5 in the world and most importantly #1 by the WBA. A world title match against Artem Dalakian (17-0) sounds very plausible at this point and since both men have already fought this summer and have come out with no injuries, a fight between the two could take place around December.
-Junto Nakatani (16-0): WBC #5 / WBO #13
Undefeated Japanese flyweight prospect Junto Nakatani scored another TKO win on July 7 and now is ranked at the WBC’s top 5.
-Takuya Kogawa (29-5): WBC #8
After a draw with Yusuke Sakashita, Kogawa has retained his spot at the WBC rankings.
-Masahiro Sakamoto (12-1): WBO #4
The former WBO Asia Pacific champion will probably be in line for a WBO World title match against the winner of Kimura/Tanaka in 2019. He is scheduled to face South Korea’s Flyweight champion Ki Chang Go (6-2) on August 11.
-Ryuji Hara (23-2): WBO #1
Much like Ioka’s, this is the second strangest ranking, especially considering that Hara hasn’t fought since October of 2017. Actually Hara has been the #1 ranked flyweight by the WBO since January, despite having only competed once in this division against the debuting Seneey Worachina. Hara was set to face Angel Acosta for the world title on April 7 but an injury prevented him from stepping into the ring.
-Tetsuya Hisada (32-9): WBA #1 / WBC #3 / WBC #6
The reigning Japanese Flyweight champion, since 2016, recorded a 4th successful defense against Koki Ono (12-5) on July 16, thus improving his streak to 11 consecutive victories. Now as the #1 ranked Light Flyweight by the WBA, he is rumored to face Hekkie Budler for the gold sooner or later.
-Hiroto Kyoguchi (10-0): WBA #2
The undefeated IBF World Minimumweight champion has recently decided to move up a weight class and has already reached the top of the WBA ranking. If Hisada doesn’t face Budler right away, then an eliminator between Kyoguchi and Hisada looks more likely to take place.
-Ryoichi Taguchi (27-3): WBC #4 / WBA #4
Despite losing his 2 world title to Budler, Taguchi is still ranked amongst the top Light Flyweights in the world and without a doubt he will gain another crack at the gold in no time.
-Reiya Konishi (16-1): WBO #6 / WBA #7
The former world title challenger and now new WBO Asia Pacific champion, is coming closer to once again fight for the world championship.
-Tsubasa Koura (13-0): WBC #3 / WBA #9 / WBO #11
At only 23 years of age, Koura has already amassed 13 career wins, including 9 KOs, as well as the OPBF Minimumweight championship. His 3rd title defense will take place on August 24 against an unnamed opponent as of yet. It’s safe to say that we will see him in a WBC world title match in early 2019.
-Ryuya Yamanaka (16-3): WBO #6
Yamanaka recently lost the WBO world title to Vic Saludar. Just like Taguchi, he is only a few fights away from competing again for the big one.
-Tatsuya Fukuhara (21-6): WBC #9
Fukuhara has been victorious in both of his 2018 fights but he will need a few more before he can challenge Chayaphon Moonsri again for the WBC world title.
-Shin Ono (22-9): WBO #9
Ono will make his first Japanese title defense against Riku Kano (13-3) on August 24. His last world title fight was in 2016.
(Image - of Fujimoto, courtesy of Kadoebi Gym)
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