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 #9 in our list of Ones to watch in 2020
KJ Cataraja (11-0, 9)
Not for the first time we've started one of these by suggesting that the Philippines needs a new star, and suggesting that one of the 20 for 20 may be the man to become a that new star. Maybe the pick of the bunch is the focus of today's article, as we look at the super talented Super Flyweight hopeful KJ Cataraja, who is only 24 years old but has shown enough in just 11 fights to really get the juices flowing.
The youngster was a top amateur fighter in the Philippines, racking up a reported 271-16 record, with numerous tournament wins and was generally regarded as one of the countries best young talents, with so much potential in either the pros or amateurs ranks. In 2015 he went professional and quickly impressed on the domestic scene before stepping up in 2018. It was last year that he took the WBO Youth Super Flyweight title with an excellent win over Victor Hugo Reyes. That win, a 10 rounder, should have been followed up with some good fights in 2019 but ALA have struggled to remain relevant this year and have certainly slowed Cataraja's career as a result.
At 24 years old, blessed with incredible natural talent, and a great amateur background the future is bright for Cataraja, especially if ALA can get themselves back into gear in 2020. If they can't then we suspect someone else will chase Cataraja's signature and will work alongside ALA to make the most of the sensationally talented young fighter who really should be on the a world title fight by the end of the year, if his team can buck up their ideas.
What do we expect?
We're expecting a year that could be huge for Cataraja who will be hoping to make up for lost time as we head into 2020.
We don't see him mixing at world level during the year, but given ALA's long standing success and their ability to create stars they were never going to rush him head first into a loss anyway. What seems more likely is that 2020 will see him fighting against a string of decent international opponents, climbing up the rankings and getting experience abroad. The smart option is for him and his team to get him on the road, take him over to Japan to spar with some of their champions and try to slide him onto a card in either Japan, Mexico or even the US.
Given that Cataraja didn't fight at all in the first half of 2019 we do not expect the same to happen in 2020, he's now at the point of his career where he needs to be active, if he's fit, and ideally they'll get him 3, if not 4, bouts during the year. Those bouts should all be a step up from the domestic level fighters he's been facing in 2019, such as Crison Omayao and Delfin de Asis, as he needs to be tested. His bouts in 2019 have all been a big step backwards from the win over Reyes in 2018, and that's a huge disappointment, and not something that can be repeated next year.
Whilst we rate Cataraja extremely highly, and genuinely could rave about his potential all day long, we have more concerns regarding him than many in this series.
Firstly there is the quite fair concern that he will have another year where he is simply too inactive and his match making is too regressive. We saw it in 2019 and there's a chance we'll see it again in 2020. It would be a huge shame if it were to happen, but there's a very real chance of it.
With ALA not really looking like they are set to do some sort of phoenix like comeback we could again see more frustration for Cataraja. His former amateur rival Mark Magsayo left ALA a few years ago and their may be some temptations for Cataraja to follow suit if the one time promotional power house can't secure Cataraja the bouts he needs to press forward with his career in the way he should be. Unfortunately when Magsayo left it took several years for him to get back on track, and he still isn't where he should be.
Cataraja has all the potential in the world but there's a risk, albeit a small one, that the best years of his career could be wasted whilst waiting for his team to sort things out. This is a genuine long term concern and one we really wish we didn't have for someone this talented.
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