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
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.
On Sunday we finished our Fighter of the Decade countdown, and now we look towards the future with out prediction of who will be the top 10 at the end of this coming decade. Before we start however we'll just reflect slightly.
For the decade we've just seen finish 2 of the top 10, including the winner, actually debuted after the decade began. The other 8 fighters had all debuted before the decade began, with 7 fighters debuting between 2000 and 2009 and 1, Manny Pacquiao, debuting in the 1990's. It's worth noting that two of those in our top 10 debuted in 2009, so essentially 40% of those making it into the top 10 debuted in either the final year of the decade, or in the decade it's self.
Only 3 of the top 10 went unbeaten during the decade, so an unbeaten record isn't necessary to claim a top 10 spot. Also there was 4 men who didn't move weight, showing that good enough competition and dominance in 1 weight class is enough to claim a place on the list. It does however help to have the ability to move through the weights, with that clearly being a big factor for several fighters.
Despite debuting in 2018 we don't expect many fight fans to be aware of Phoobadin Yoohanngoh, but the Thai teenager is someone well and truly worth attention, and is a long term one to watch. He's still only a teenager, and will be for a chunk of the decade, but the 130lb youngster is someone with a lot of potential and he showed that potential in 2019 when he won "The Fighter" tournament. He's still very young, and very much a work in progress, but he has time on his side a lot of room for development and the backing of a notable Thai promoter, with TL Promotion behind him. This is very much a left of center choice, but when looking at this coming decade we are looking at young fighters looking to make their mark over the coming years, and Phoobadin is just that type of fighter.
Having debuted in 2018 Ginjiro Shigeoka has got himself into a great position as we enter the decade. He is already a regional champion and looks likely to fight for a world title in the first year of the decade. At just 20 years old he has time on his side, and we mean a lot of time on his side, and we wouldn't be surprised to see him fight right through the decade, giving him 20 or so fights to build up his record. He has spoken about wanting to run up 20 defenses and given his frame there's a real possibility that he will only really fight in 1 weight class. We rate Shigeoka highly in terms of skills and potential, but his diminutive size will limit his potential to climb up the rankings.
Few Filipino prospects have shown that they have the tools to fly the flag over the next decade or so, but one that has is Dave Apolinario, who has skills, youth, speed and a boxing brain. The youngster was 20 when the decade began, giving him a full decade in the sport to come, and he has all the tools to develop a very credible career off of. So far he is pretty untested, but in reality that's expected to chance in 2020 and 2021 before he climbs through the ranks and begins to mix at a much higher level. In recent years he's been fighting at Flyweight, though could likely move up a couple of divisions before his career is over. He won't be fast tracked like some, but will certainly be worthy of attention when he hits his prime.
For the last decade Naoya Inoue took the #1 place for this decade however we see him sliding down the rankings a lot. Part of that is to do with his age, and what we see him achieving over the next decade. Entering the decade the "Monster" is 26 years old, so if he complete the full decade he'll be 36 by the end of it. We suspect that he'll probably finish his career a year or two before that, and he has mentioned retiring at the age of 35. Of course that is pretty much the full decade, so he has the potential to do a lot but with age and accumulated damage there's a chance he won't be mega active right through the decade. There's also the fact we suspect his maximum effective weight is going to be Featherwieght, which gives him only another 2 weight classes to conqueror. What he did last decade is impressive but has little bearing on what he'll do this decade, other than starting him at Bantamweight. We expect a big decade for Inoue, but not something that matches up with what he did in the 10's.
As mentioned previously 2 of the fighters who made it into the top 10 of the previous decade hadn't debuted by the start of the debut. With that in mind we should look at the fighters who haven't turned professional yet, but could do in the next couple of years. One such fighter is Hayato Tsutsumi, who currently 20 years old, still an amateur and at 5'7" has the size to move through a few divisions. He'll not turn professional until late this year, at the earliest, and could well have the backing of some very significant players in the Japanese when he does turn professional. We see Tsutsumi as being the Japanese ace of the future. Whilst we acknowledge it's a big call putting him this high up the list all signs point towards him being able to make a huge impact in the next decade.
Two things that really are key in how we can rank someone is their age as we enter the decade, and their ability to move through weight classes. Few fighters have the upside in those two categories as Junto Nakatani. He was 21 when the decade began, turning 22 on January 2nd, and standing at 5'7" he has the natural size to fill out his frame and move through the weight as he ages and matures. Just to put into some perspective just how big Nakatani the young southpaw he's more than 1" taller than Nonito Donaire, who managed to have success at Bantamweight. Whilst we're not expecting Nakatani to be the next Donaire we do expect him to be a major star in the next decade and a multi-weight world champion. He has all the tools to be one of the biggest names in Japanese boxing and fit in excess of 20 fights into the decade.
As with Hayato Tsutsumi we're picking outside the box again and looking towards amateur standouts with this pick as Thai teenager Atichai Phoemsap deserves a serious mention for the future. The 19 year old is a standout amateur, a truly brilliant little youngster who has already won gold at the Youth Olympics, World Youth Championships and Asian Youth championships in 2018. Of course amateur success on the Youth scene doesn't guarantee anyone success in the professional ranks, but from what we've seen of Atichai he has the potential to be a star in the professional ranks. Don't be surprised if he turns pro in a year or two and is raced through the ranks, backed by a strong promoter in Thailand and moved in a very aggressive manner. Entering the decade as a teenager and with serious potential Atichai is the dark horse to be a major player in the 20's.
If Uzbek fighter Israil Madrimov was just 2 years younger we would have placed him better on this list, but with his 25th birthday coming in February he'll be in his mid 30's by the end of the decade, and given his style is a very athletic based one we suspect he will be sliding by the end of the decade. Madrimov is a true athletic freak. He's quick, has great stamina, speed, timing, balance and power. Scarily he keeps those traits whether he's fighting orthodox or southpaw and he's going to be a very, very hard man to beat. Along with his age we are also concerned about his lack of stature, and at 5′ 8½″ his ability to move up the scales is limited. We suspect he has the natural tools to make a mark all the way up to Light Heavyweight, late in his career, but he'll likely struggle up there at 175lbs against naturally bigger, stronger men.
At 23 year old when we enter the decade we suspect that Uzbek Bektemir Melikuziev will have a better decade than his slightly older compatriot Israil Madrimov, though we suspect the two men will have very similar careers overall. The big punching, body snatching Melikuziev broke into the pros in June 2019 and ended the decade 4-0 (3) having proven that he can box, move, bang, brawl and fight. Oh and he can pretty much send an opponents stomach out of their body with a shot to the midsection. Although not quite the athletic freak that Madrimov is we see more technical polish with Melikuziev and with the slight age difference and slight height difference he just has those little advantages that we suspect could split the two men at the end of 2029.
Aged just 21 as we started the decade Sadriddin Akhmedov has the world at at his finger tips. He's entered the decade 11-0 (10) and appears to be the all-round star that Kazakhstan needs to replace the ageing Gennady Golovkin. He's heavy handed, technically very good, aggressive, exciting and knows how to box safely when he needs to. We do wonder whether Eye of the Tiger Management have the power to push him to the very, very top, but we suspect they will work with a bigger promoter, if needed, to net Akhmedov the top fights he needs to make the decade his. Given his youth he will fill out his frame and move quite easily from 154lbs to 160lbs and potentially all the way up to 175lbs. This young man is a very, very special fighter and someone we advise every fight to be following very closely going forward.
In November we counted down a number of honourable mentions for our 20 for 20. Now it's time to look at the 20 fighters who have managed to make it into the list properly, and they come from all over Asia and all over the weight classes. Some of these you may already be aware of, some are perhaps less well known, but either way these 20 men are going to be well worth following in the new year as they look to push forward in their career and move towards major success.
For these fighters we will look at the the reason why you should follow them, our expectations for them in the coming year and the issues they may face going forward. The one rule with all of these fighters is that they can have fought for a world title at the time of writing, as the fighters who have are, essentially, already ones to watch having dabbled at world level. Some of these are world ranked, and some of these may well be set for world title fights in the near future, but so far they have not had that top level bout.
Without any further ado, lets take a look at the man we have ranked #1 in our list of Ones to watch in 2020
Israil Madrimov (4-0, 4)
Uzbekistan (but based in the US)
One of the hottest hopefuls in world boxing right now is Uzbek hopeful Israil Madrimov, who has really turned heads since making his debut in November 2018, and comes into 2020 as a man who is expected to do huge things in the year or two. He has already generated attention, built a real buzz and looks set to build a lot more, very quickly.
For those who have seen Madrimov, they'll know that he looks like the sort of fighter who could be put in to a world title fight in his next bout or two.
The heavy handed, boxer-puncher appears to have it all. He's very quick for a 154lb fighter, with power in both hands, the ability to switch stances with ease, an incredible fluidity to his work and some of the most insane natural athletic ability we've seen in a fighter. He's not just a an excellent boxer, but he's an incredible physical freak. Those physical tools go with an outstanding amateur pedigree, that has taught him the basics of the sport and leas him to being a 2-time Asian Games winner.
He's not yet a totally polished professional boxer, but the reality is that we don't think he ever will be. And that's not an insult. Instead we see Madrimov as being one of those unique fighters, a rule break by nature. Someone who sees the text books, gets the idea, then puts his own spin on things thanks to his athletic ability. Similar to how Roy Jones Jr and Naseem Hamed made their styles and their traits work for them. Sometimes the rules are there to be broken, and sometimes breaking them is better for certain fighters than others.
What do we expect?
Our expectation is that Madrimov will have a big 2020, and by big we really do mean big. Though it's not totally clear what that will actually involve.
The obvious answer would be a world title, and there's no reason why he can't win a world title this year. The Light Middleweight isn't a bad one, but it's almost not an unbreakable one at the top and Madrimov will almost certainly feel he has the tools to take a title. He's currently ranked #4 with the WBA and their multiple title set up does leave it's door open to someone snatching a belt.
The less obvious answer is that Madrimov puts the professional scene on the back burner in 2020 and decides to head back to the amateurs for the biggest tournament of the year. Rather than pursuing a title he may well pursue a medal and go to the Tokyo Olympics, as one of a number of Uzbeks who can easily do both codes. If he does that it would be a shame in some ways, but also a clear statement of national solidarity with other Uzbeks.
If Madrimov goes the Olympic it would slow his professional ascent, ruling him out of pro fights for several months, but an Olympic medal would likely help his marketability for the longer term. On the other hand if he fully commits to the professional ranks there's no reason why can't take a title before the summer.
It's funny to say but our #1 choice for this series gives us more concerns than many of the others lower down the list.
The biggest of those is boredom. Every time we watch Madrimov we get the feeling he's bored, and he's trying to amuse himself. He's like a genius doing high school maths and trying to make things more tricky for himself. He needs to be given serious tests, and stimulated by tough competition. That is when we will see how good he really is. Until then we suspect that we'll see him make a lot of mistakes, get away with them, and despite fans criticising him he won't care.
It's that boredom idea that makes us feel we'll never know how good Madrimov is, until he fights at world level.
Another issues is, as previously mentioned, whether Madrimov is fully committed to the professional ranks, or is open to the amateurs. This isn't a massive negative concern, but will obviously slow his climb to a world title fight.
Another is whether or not his team will put the money up for him to get a world title fight. He's got the talent, but his team need to put up the money, and will have to compensate a world class fighter well to get them to face Madrimov. That compensation won't be cheap.
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