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 #3 in our list of Ones to watch in 2020
Junto Nakatani (20-0, 15)
The Flyweight division is probably as it's weakest in recent memory, and although there is some excellent talent at the top, it's not very deep with only a handful of fighters actually being world class. Yes the likes of Kosei Tanaka, Moruti Mthalane and Julio Cesar Martinez Aguilar are sensational but fighters, but below them, there's a clear lack of really recognisable contenders, as we see from the level of challengers Artem Dalakian has been defending the WBA belt against.
That opens to door to rising contenders, prospects and hopefuls all making their mark in the new year. There is a lot of rising Flyweights all jostling to make it to the top, and we've already mention Giemel Magramo as one such fighter in this series. Another of those is unbeaten Japanese youngster Junto Nakatani.
The unbeaten 22 year old Nakatani had a really solid 2019, winning the Japanese national title before stopping Milan Melindo later in the year, in a bout that was clearly made to get people talking about Nakatani, rather than truly advancing him as a Flyweight contender. Having done all that's needed on the domestic scene, and by that we mean he has not only won the title but he also holds a win over the champion that followed him, it's almost certain that 2020 will be the year he moves into world title mix and we suspect that we'll see that happen early in the new year. With a freakish size, good skills, heavy hands and sharp punching he is a fantastic talent, he already proven domestically and he is on the verge of some big fights in the lower weights. He also combines his physicals and traits with a charming personality and seems to have connected well with fans in Japan, something that he'll need if he's to get the TV backing to get the big fights at home.
What do we expect?
Obviously the least we expect from Nakatani in 2020 is a world title fight. Whether he wins it or not is a tougher question to answer. Whilst the division is currently lacking in top names, despite Kosei Tanaka and Moruti Mthalane being champions, it does have some talent in it's ranks and Nakatani will need to pick his next move carefully. That however shouldn't be too much of a problem as he is ranked #1 by the WBA, for Artem Dalakian, and #3 by the WBC, lining him up as a leading contender for their champion Julio Cesar Martinez. Options are there for the youngster, and it really is a case of his team picking the right route to his first title fight, and whether they go a mandatory route, haggle to try and get home advantage or say sod it and travel to the lions den.
Nakatani is in a position where he can rush, and given his frame it may be smart to move quickly than wait, fill out and move up. But he doesn't need to rush. He is, again, just 22 years old, and if he and his team want to hold him back a little bit they can do that. We don't expect them to hold him back long, if at all, but they are in they are in the position where they can do that. If they do hold him back whilst building up a war chest of sponsors to bring a world title bout to Japan then that would certainly be a smart idea for the MT Gym and their young fighter.
If, and it's a big if, Nakatani doesn't fight for a world title in 2020 we would be massively disappointed in how he's been handled during the year.
There really isn't too many concerns about Nakatani in the ring, though he has hit downed opponents a couple of times and will clearly need to sort that out before landing a big fight. There is however plenty of other concerns about Nakatani and his career.
We wonder how well the MT Gym can really back him financially, or whether they have the backing of someone bigger, for example are they happy to work alongside Teiken to secure the big fights? Are MT Gym experienced enough to get the best from Nakatani and develop his skills, ability and experience full?
Also the sheer size of Nakatani does leave us with some concerns. He's young and can make 112lbs at the moment, but how long before his body simply out grows the division? On the same subject, how much success will he had at Super Flyweight where his physical advantages are potentially less significant than they are at Flyweight?
A final concern is that he will have to travel for the biggest fights. Fights in Mexico, Vs Martinez, or in Ukraine, Vs Dalakian, are not places that a fighter would be rushing to go to. Needing to travel for those bouts could be a step too far, at this point, for the youngster.
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)
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)
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