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.
By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
It was another busy weekend of fight action as 3 of the continents best talents took to the ring and neither of them disappointed.
We begin at the Yokohama Arena where Naoya Inoue squared off against Juan Carlos Payano in the quarter-finals of the bantamweight World Boxing Super Series. Some had the opinion that Payano might go a few rounds but a single left right combination 70 seconds into the contest and the Dominican was laid out on the canvas giving Inoue his second first round win of 2018. It’s hard to know what other superlatives and adjectives that haven’t already been used to describe the 25-year-old, who continues to wreak havoc in the lower weights.
Unfortunately we won’t see Inoue again until 2019 where he will meet the winner of the bout between Emanuel Rodriguez and Jason Moloney in the semi-final but few would bet against the Japanese wrecking machine from picking up the WBSS trophy. The card was shown on Fuji TV in Japan, DAZN in the US and free on the WBSS platforms in other territories including the UK and generated a massive buzz online with Inoue amongst the top trends worldwide on twitter, showing how his stardom continues to increase.
The co-main event on this show saw WBC light flyweight titlist Kenshiro make the 4th defense of his belt against forma world champion Milan Melindo in what looked another stern examination for the home man. The first 2 rounds saw Kenshiro used his jab to great effect whilst Melindo had some success with the looping right hand. The champion began to up the pace in round 3 and his quick feet and darting in and out raids were causing the Filipino issues. Kenshiro poured on the pressure, reigning in right hands and body shots and a cut to the challenger only added to his woes.
Any further success Melindo did have was quickly snuffed out as Kenshiro toyed with his opponent and the contest was stopped in round 7 due to the cut with Melindo looking like an old fighter by the conclusion. Coupled with his wins over Ganigan Lopez, Pedro Guevara and going back to his victories over Katsunori Nagamine and Kenichi Horikawa, Kenshiro really has built himself a very strong resume and in most people’s eyes is the number 1 light flyweight in the world which is no mean feat given the insane strength in depth at 108 lb. A December 30th return looks likely and it would be great to see the 26-year-old being given a world title defense in Kyoto and there are numerous fabulous fights for him for the foreseeable future.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai made the 3rd defense of his WBC super flyweight crown against Iran Diaz in Thailand. The bout headlined a One Championship card at the Impact Arena giving Srisaket major exposure at home. Not being a fan of MMA or never having viewed a One Championship show before, the whole event feel/crowd reaction was a real eye opener and nothing I’ve ever experienced before whilst watching boxing from Thailand.
With the atmosphere at fever pitch and the crowd almost baying for blood Srisaket flew out of the blocks in the opening stanza, ripping home crunching body shots and it looked like we could have a short fight on our hands. To his immense credit Diaz showed a superb chin and the ability to keep taking the numerous punches to the torso from the champion. The Thai got sloppy and neglected his defense and was lucky not to have 2 knockdowns awarded against him in rounds 8 and 9.
Having repeatedly hammered away at the body Srisaket tried to target the head in the last few rounds but he had to be content with a wide unanimous point’s verdict against the gritty Mexican challenger. It’s unclear what the next move of the hard hitting southpaw is but a rematch with Juan Francisco Estrada should happen sometime next year and there is also talk of a unification with IBF belt holder Jerwin Ancajas. It would also be great to see Srisaket fight in front of a raucous packed crowd at home once again as it could do wonders for future Thai boxers.
Finally we had an unexpected brawl at the hall as Masaru Sueyoshi and Hirinori Mishiro battled to a 12 round split draw with both the Japanese and OPBF super featherweight straps on the line. Given Sueyoshi’s awkward style and Mishiro’s preference to fight at range this had the potential to be a bit of a stinker but after Sueyoshi began brightly Mishiro turned the tables, forcing Sueyoshi into a toe-to-toe scrap leading to a fantastic contest which hopefully will take place again in early 2019. Rising flyweight youngster Junto Nakatani dominated Shun Kosaka over 8 rounds to book himself a shot at the Japanese title next year and he’s certainly someone to keep an eye on going forward.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.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