It’s fair to say that we got very, very few dream fights in 2020. We know that we got some really good fights, but we got very, very few of the big blockbuster fighters. There was no Anthony Joshua Vs Tyson Fury, Errol Spence Vs Terence Crawford or Gennady Golovkin Vs Saul Alvarez III. Going in to 2021 the sport needs a big bounce back year, and good fights aren’t enough, we need some great fights.
With that in mind we’ve come up with a list of 10 fights we want to see in 2021 as the sport looks to rebuild following a frustrating year affected by Covid19, budget cut, a lack of crowds and viewers less willing to shell out for PPV.
Naoya Inoue (20-0, 17) Vs John Riel Casimero (30-4, 21)
The obvious one to start with is one….we thought we had! Back in early 2020 Bob Arum managed to sort a deal to have WBA “Super” and IBF Bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue face off with WBO champion John Riel Casimero. The bout looked set to be a massive Bantamweight unification bout, putting 3 of the major titles together. And then it had to be delayed due to Covid, and was then scrapped all together with Casimero going off to face Duke Micah and Inoue facing Jason Moloney. What seemed like a dream bout at Bantamweight heading into 2020 is still a highly anticipated clash in 2021, though we might be waiting a whilst as Bob Arum has stated the won’t be taking place unless they can have fans in attendance. Still, maybe late 2021 is a possibility for this hugely attractive all-Asian unification bout!
Hiroto Kyoguchi (14-0, 9) Vs Kenshiro Teraji (17-0, 10)
One bout that has made this type of list for a few years now is the all-Japan Light Flyweight unification bout between WBA “super” champion Hiroto Kyoguchi and WBC champion Kenshiro Teraji. Both of whom had 2020’s to forget. Kyoguchi was scheduled to defend his title in November, before testing positive for Covid19 on the day of the fight, forcing the entire event to be cancelled at short notice in what was one of the most disappointing moments of the year, and one of the most heart breaking given that Thanongsak Simsri had had to go through a lengthy quarantine before fight night. As for Kenshiro he was supposed to fight in December before his bout was cancelled due to legal issues resulting from some drunken misbehaviour. With neither man fighting in 2020 both will know that 2021 needs to be a big year for them. We suspect both will start the year by facing the men they were scheduled to fight at the end of 2020, but then maybe, just maybe, we can have this one to close the year and finally give us the chance to know who is the better man from the two.
Knockout CP Freshmart (21-0, 7) Vs Ginjiro Shigeoka (5-0, 4)
Going into 2020 we had hoped to see Ginjiro Shigeoka fight for a world title before the year was over. Instead the Japanese youngster was out of the ring for the entire year, killing the momentum he had built in 2019. Despite that he has remained a highly ranked contender and is still someone we’d love to see get a world title fight in the near future. Currently the man many regard as the best in the division is WBA “super” champion Knockout CP Freshmart, and stylistically we actually see him making for an interesting fight with Shigeoka. Knockout is talented, he’s solid, but there are question marks about his desire, he lacks power and he’s not the quickest out there. The champion’s technical ability would ask real questions of Shigeoka, whilst Shigeoka’s explosive power and lightning speed would see him getting chances to land against the champion. Together they would make for a compelling bout. Maybe not the most fan friendly, or exciting, but certainly a compelling and intriguing bout. Before this would like to see both men get the chance to shake some ring rust, so maybe a bout for the summer, it not the fall after both have managed an easy win early in the year.
Junto Nakatani (21-0, 16) Vs Artem Dalakian (20-0, 14)
There is something about unification bouts that is that little more endearing to fans and the boxing media, and even two relatively low key champions unifying is pretty important, and can catch the attention of global fight fans. With that in mind we would love to see anyone of the Flyweight champions unifying their titles. On paper the most attractive bouts would include WBC champion Julio Cesar Martinez however we’re actually prefer to see WBO champion Junto Nakatani take on WBA champion Artem Dalakian in what would be a very intriguing, and potentially very technical match up. Nakatani has come of age in recent years, and the 23 year old is slowly making a name for himself, both at home and internationally among the hardcore fans. Dalakian on the other hand is frustrating hardcore fans with his run of C tier defenses. A unification between these two men, the only two unbeaten champions at the weigh, in summer would be a very interesting bout and see the winner prove themselves as being one of the divisional elite. Potentially even leading the winner to a US bout with Martinez in 2022
Gennadiy Golovkin (41-1-1, 36) Vs Ryota Murata (16-2, 13)
Staying with unification bouts a Middleweight clash between IBF champion Gennadiy Golovkin and WBA champion Ryota Murata is a really compelling match up that ticks a lot of boxes, and would make for a huge spectacle at a Japanese dome. Golovkin is expected to face Jaime Munguia in May giving Murata the chance to fight in a tune up defence in the early part of 2021, after being inactive for the entire of 2020, and then we could have the two clash in September in a huge Middleweight bout. In terms of styles these two should gel perfectly, and although Golovkin would be a clear favourite it would still be a major boxing event for Japan, and the sort of attention grabbing super show that could follow the Olympics. The loser of this would likely be heading to retirement, but the payday for both would be huge, and for fans this would be a spectacular bout with genuine international attention.
Can Xu (18-2, 3) Vs Josh Warrington (30-0, 7)
At the start of 2020 there was a Featherweight bout that we wanted, and we were taunted with, and that was a bout between WBA champion Can Xu and IBF champion Josh Warrington. Promoter Eddie Hearn has stated he’s planning to put this one on, however we had heard that right through 2020, and it seems unclear if, or when, this could actually be made. The plan, for this one is that fans would likely need to be in attendance but that seems almost impossible to imagine in the UK right now. Interestingly China does allow fans into venues, but would cause it’s own issues in terms of travel, transport, and time of day, which may not work for a UK TV audience. Regardless of the logistics behind this one, the fight itself would be something special, and would be a high tempo war between two men who love to torture the compubox operators. Expect to see compubox records shattered if, or when, this one is made!
Masayoshi Nakatani (19-1, 13) Vs Shuichiro Yoshino (13-0, 10)
It’s rare that we can get genuinely excited about an all-Japanese Lightweight bout but we need to admit that we would absolutely love to see Masayoshi Nakatani clash with Shuichiro Yoshino in 2021. The bout would likely be the biggest all-Japanese bout at 135lbs in a generation, and would be for the OPBF, WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese Lightweight titles, domestic bradding as well as doubling up as world title eliminator for the two men, who have various world rankings between them. In terms of match up it’s one that we suspect Yoshino would want more than Nakatani, with Nakatani expected to land a big fight on the back of his huge win over Felix Verdejo, but Nakatani may well see it as a great chance to build on his 2020 success. In terms of the in ring styles, we suspect the two men would gel well, with Nakatani looking to use his size and toughness and Yoshino looking to use his explosive power and speed, making for a very interesting in ring dynamic.
Zhanibek Alimkhanuly (9-0, 5) Vs Liam Willaims (23-2-1, 18)
In 2021 we expect some major changes in the Middleweight division, among those we expect to see Demetrius Andrade leave the division, to compete at 168lbs, and vacate the WBO title. If that happens then two top contenders will fight for the belt, and at the moment two of the top 3 ranked WBO contenders are Zhanibek Alimkhanuly, from Kazakhstan, and Liam Williams, from Wales, leaving the door wide open for this bout in the new year. Although it’s not a super fight, by any stretch, it is a fighter that should be something a little bit special, with William’s aggression and power going up against the skills and timing of Alimkhanuly. It’d be a hard one to call and have interest from Central Asia, Europe and the US. Not only would it be a fantastic match and an intriguing clash, but the winner would instantly find themselves in the mix for some big fights at 160lbs.
Tugstsogt Nyambayar (12-1, 9) vs Mark Magsayo (21-0, 14)
At Featherweight we have a lot of interesting potential match ups, and one we would really love to see would be a clash between once beaten Mongolian fighter Tugstsogt Nyambayar and unbeaten Filipino Mark Magsayo. The two men will both be looking to make a name for themselves in 2021, and a bout between the two would be a great chance for them to do just that. Not only that but with talk of Gary Russell Jr potentially leaving the division to make a mark 130lbs it could leave the WBC title vacant. A bout between these two for the potentially vacant WBC title would be fantastic, and could, potentially be made. Alternatively the two could clash in a world title eliminator to get a shot at the belt at the end of 2021. In terms of styles we’d have the more destructive and powerful “King Tug” trying to neutralise the speed and movement of Magsayo, which should give us some thrilling back and forth.
Jin Sasaki (10-0, 9) Vs Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (10-0, 5)
The finish this off we look at the 140lb weight class for a really interesting potential bout between teenagers. In one corner we would have Japanese teenage sensation Jin Sasaki, the currently Japanese Youth champion, and in the other would be WBA Asia South champion Phoobadin Yoohanngoh. Although it’s a huge long shot to imagine this one taking place we can’t help but feel this would be a thrilling bout between two youngsters who both stepped up to challenges in 2020. On paper this would see Sasaki taking on the best boxer he has faced, with Phoobadin would be taking on his most dangerous puncher, and the winner would certainly be edging towards an OPBF title after this one. Sadly whilst we want this bout in 2021 we suspect it’ll be one we have to wait several years for!
Over this past weekend we saw boxing return to the ring in both Nicaragua and South Korea. Neither of the shows was a big one, but it was something to get excited about. What they both summed up however was something that was clear. With limited flights, and international quarantines taking place in a number of countries, we won't be seeing many, if any, bouts featuring international match ups. Barring cases where a fighter is essentially "stranded" on foreign soil, we're almost certainly just looking at fights between fighters from the same nation.
Whilst there are a host of issues to over-come before we can have big fights, we've decided to look at 10 of the best possible bouts we could have between fighters in the same countries right now.
The reality is we'd be surprised if any of these took place before boxing was back up and running in a more normal manner, but in terms of match ups we do have some interesting possibilities and some pretty obvious ones.
Wanehng Menayothin (54-0, 18) Vs Knockout CP Freshmart (21-0, 7)
We start this with a bout that is highly unlikely, but still possible, and that would be the all-Thai showdown between Wanheng Menayothin, the WBC Minimumweight champion, and WBA counter-part Knockout CP Freshmart. Of course we've had this as a "possible" match up for years, but both men have been able to be kept apart, defending their titles against imported opponents. With no imports it really limits their options, and a bout between the two, in late summer, in Thailand, might finally be something that the money men behind them decide to give us. With Wanheng turning 35 this October the bout may well make sense, if the two aren't able to leave the Land of Smiles.
Go on guys, lets have a unified champion at 105lbs!
Kenshiro Teraji (17-0, 10) Vs Hiroto Kyoguchi (14-0, 9)
Another potential unification bout and one that actually has been spoken about by both fighters over the last 18 months or so. This one would again see WBA and WBC titles being unified, albeit at Light Flyweight as the unbeaten Japanese pairing of Kenshiro Teraji and Hiroto Kyoguchi clash. The two men fought as amateurs, and took part in a public exhibition in 2018 but went different ways in 2019. Right now their are other solid Light Flyweights in Japan, but the reality is that this is the bout fans want, and the bout the division needs. Given that Kenshiro has stated, repeatedly, that he wants to unify titles then this is likely to be his only option for 2020...but what an option it is!
Junto Nakatani (20-0, 15) Vs Sho Kimura (19-3-2, 12)
Before the current situation forced boxing to be put on the back burner we were expecting to see Junto Nakatani face Giemel Magramo for the WBO Flyweight title. With that bout now on pause for the foreseeable future we could see it replaced by a brilliant bout between Nakatani and former champion Sho Kimura. Whilst this wouldn't automatically be for the WBO title, though potentially it could be with the winner to face Magramo, it's the sort of bout that doesn't need a title to be an appealing match up. It pits one of the rising faces of Japanese boxing against a former champion who has proven his worth in recent years. The bout would see the rangy youngster being given his toughest test to date, and would see Kimura potentially opening the door to take him back to the top. In regards to style and meaning this is something we'd love to see.
Kazuto Ioka (25-2, 14) Vs Kosei Tanaka (15-0, 9)
One bout that was actually ordered by the WBO before we got the "new normal" was a Super Flyweight world title out between defending champion Kazuto Ioka and mandatory Kosei Tanaka. The teams were told to negotiate for a mandatory title fight, though in reality it seemed likely the teams would both push back and try to arrange it for the end of the year. When ever it takes place it will be a highly anticipated bout, and there really is no reason this can't take place later in the year when things like lockdowns are lifted. It's a brilliant match up between two multi-weight world champions. Ioka is currently a world champion in his 4th weight class and Tanaka is looking to match that feat, if he can beat Ioka. Two prodigious, hungry and talented fighters looking to further define their legacies, what's not to love?
Michael Dasmarinas (30-2-1, 20) Vs Reymart Gaballo (23-0, 20)
We ideally wanted to select Johnriel Casimero Vs Nonito Donaire for this bout, but we under-stand the two men are in different countries right now. With that in mind we'd love to see Michael Dasmarinas risk his IBF mandatory title fight, against Naoya Inoue, against unbeaten countryman Reymart Gaballo. This would be something excellent and a chance to see what both men have in their lockers. Dasmarinas was in great form but there are question marks over his head following his bout with Manyo Plange whilst Gaballo needs a break out win, and this would be a chance for that. Sadly it seems this isn't a bout we should expect this year, but it's one we would absolutely love.
Ryosuke Iwasa (27-3, 17) Vs Hiroaki Teshigawara (21-12-2, 14)
A Super Bantamweight bout that could be made very, very easily could see IBF "interim" champion Ryosuke Iwasa defending his title against fellow Japanese fight Hiroaki Teshigawara, who is ranked #6 by the IBF. Iwasa is the mandatory for Murodjon Akhmadaliev but given the global situation right now we don't imagine that bout happening this year. As a result a clash with Teshigawara would be something really brilliant. For Iwasa it would be the sort of test he should have to stay sharp and on point before getting a shot at Akhmadaliev, as it's likely to be 2021 by the time that fight can be made. As for Teshigawara it might as close as he gets to a proper world title fight fight. Whilst the bout is unlikely to get much attention outside of Japan it would be a fantastic bout for fans who do follow the Japanese scene.
Jhack Tepora (23-1, 17) Vs Mark Magsayo (20-0, 14)
Back to the Philippines now for a Featherweight bout that would pit the once beaten Jhack Tepora against the unbeaten Mark Magsayo, in what could act as world title eliminator of sorts. Tepora was looking like he was on the way to big things until last year, when he was upset inside a round by Oscar Escandon. That loss was, in some quarters, put down to out of the ring issues, but he now needs to get back into the swing of things and hopefully a domestic showdown will help there. As for Magsayo he needs a big bout himself, and it's now more than 4 years since he beat Chris Avalos, in what should have been a break out fight. The bout would pit two talented, young Filipino fighters, who can both bang. It would be a mouth watering clash and give the Filipino fight fans something to get very excited about, in a year that may not see many big fights taking place on their soil.
Koki Inoue (15-0, 12) Vs Rikki Naito (22-2, 7)
At 140lbs there's a few bouts of not that could take place, but for us the one that stands out is an all-Japanese clash between Koki Inoue and Rikki Naito in a bout for all the marbles. Inoue is the current Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific champion whilst Naito is the OPBF champion. This bout is probably we could get at 140lbs, though is a stumbling block. Inoue is mandated to defend the Japanese title against former Naito foe Daishi Nagata, so for this bout he might need to give up the Japanese belt, but I don't think fans will complain too much if that happens. If does maybe we could get Nagata against Hiroki Okada or Andy Hiraoka for the domestic title, and Inoue Vs Naito for regional belts. This bout is particularly interesting as the two men have history from the amateurs.
Hironobu Matsunaga (16-1, 10) Vs Takeshi Inoue (16-1-1, 10)
We were supposed to see Hironobu Matsunaga defend his Japanese title against Yuto Shimizu in a mandatory title defense this year. The way the world now is however we would rather see Matsunaga vacate that title when the sport resumes in Japan and step up to regional title level to face Takeshi Inoue, in what would be a much more interesting match up. Matsunaga is a strong, small, aggressive and exciting fighter, who's flawed but has momentum, and has been genuinely impressing in recent years. Inoue, best known for his brilliant effort in a loss against Jaime Munguia. If we got them together we could end up with a brilliant war between two men with a point to prove. Whilst Shimizu has earned a shot at the Japanese title we would rather he faced someone else for it, and we get this bout instead... but maybe we're just being selfish now!
Kazuto Takesako (12-0-1, 11) Vs Yuki Nonaka (34-10-3, 10)
We remain in Japan for our final fight, which would pit Japanese and OPBF Middleweight champion against WBO Asia Pacific champion Yuki Nonaka. Whilst this would be another bout for all the marbles, unless Takesako is forced to vacate his Japanese title for not facing his mandatory, it would probably be the most stylistically interestingly bout on the list. On one hand you have heavy handed and aggressive Takesako, who is strong, powerful aggressive but technically quite crude. On the other hand you have the old experienced and educated head of Yuki Nonaka. A very polished and smart fighter with an upright style that focuses on his hand speed and movement. Boxer against puncher, rising hopeful, against veteran. This would be a joy. Takesako is supposed to defend the Japanese title against Riku Kunimoto, but once again, if he vacates the national belt to give us this instead, we won't be complaining!
So there you have it! 10 bouts we could get this year with out the need for fighters to cross any borders or sit in quarantine...of course, for any of these to take place, we do need boxing to return to the ring!
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 #5 in our list of Ones to watch in 2020
Mark Magsayo (24-0, 14)
It feels like Mark Magsayo has been only a fight or two from a big fight for over 3 years now, and we really do wonder how a fighter who stopped Chris Avalos in April 2016 then made his US debut just a few months later, lost so much momentum. Thankfully he's managed to squeeze in 2 fights in 2019, including a dominant win over former world champion Pungluang Sor Singyu and appears to be heading back in the right direction. He is still a few fights away from a world title fight, disappointingly, but he now has the experience, the maturity and the hunger to go with his skills. If he has a team that will meet his ambition then "Magnifico" will be a major name at Featherweight by the end of 2020.
For those who haven't seen Magsayo, he is an extremely skilled, offensively minded fighter, who had a strong amateur pedigree before turning professional. He's got solid power, lovely combinations and a at 24 years old is just starting to his his physical peak. He's not the complete package, but there's only tweaks to be made and improvements will be made by fighting consistently decent competition, the one thing that has been missing from his career.
Magsayo has long promised to be a star, he was however unable to secure the big fights under the ALA banner, and left them on the back a protracted case that slowed his ascent and seemed to really be the catalyst for ALA's recent down turn. Thankfully, at least for him, he's out of ALA and now appears to be back in control of his career, and able to show the skills that he has in his arsenal.
Fighting at Featherweight he's in a division that has got US and UK interest, and with a WBC world ranking to his name there is really no excuse to not see him in a major bout against a notable sooner rather than later. Thing is we don't just see him being in with a notable name, but actually beating them in a performance that would put him on the map, before a potential world title fight towards the end of the year.
What do we expect?
As suggested in the "Why?" part of this article, we expect to see Magsayo fighting against at least 1 notable fighter, making the most of his world ranking and moving towards, if not getting, a world title fight. We expect him to demand his team help him make up for lost time, with the youngster not fighting at all in 2018, and with that in mind we would expect him to fight 3 times in 2019, though in a perfect world he would be out 4 times.
Magsayo's skill set is such that we wouldn't be surprised by him beating top, top contenders and a bout against the likes of Kid Galahad, Jesus M Rojas, Michael Conlan, James Dickens or Joet Gonzalez would be winnable fights, and fights that boost his reputation on both sides of the Pacific.
Of course Magsayo is relatively unknown outside of the hardcore fans and the Filipino scene, and would be seen as a high risk low reward fighter by many. However his WBC world ranking does give future foes something to try and claim and that might be enough to entice a recent title challenger or fellow contender into the ring with him.
As well as activity and a big name we also expect to see Magsayo on the road, and a fight in the West surely has to be in his plans for the year, potentially making a fight with bigger names more likely.
We do have concerns about how long it will take Magsayo to get the big fights. His falling out with ALA left him in the boxing wilderness for over a year and his new team have yet to get him to the point where his career once was. Time is on his side, at 24 years old, but he's not been a professional for well over 6 years and has 20 bouts to his name, so it really is time to kick on, despite his youth.
We also wonder whether or not his new team can secure the bigger fights by themselves, or whether they will work with someone else to push Magsayo's career forward. It would seem ideal for them to work with someone like Top Rank, who have a plentiful supply of Featherweights and a history of building Filipino stars. On the other hand would Top Rank manage to make the most of a talent like Magsayo when they have more immediately marketable fighters in the division on their books already.
By Marcus Bellinger
Following on from last week’s Pinoy Problems article we namecheck 10 boxers who have the potential to shape the future of the sport in the Philippines.
All fighters listed are below the age of 25 and are in no particular order.
Mark Magsayo 17-0 13 KOs.
Almost certainly the most recognisable name of this list for the majority, Magsayo has been blazing a trail in the featherweight division and is one of the most exciting young pugilists in the sport. His last 2 opponents, Daniel Diaz and Issa Nanpepeche were both blasted out in a round and although his handlers at the ALA Gym want to hold him back, this is becoming increasingly difficult given the way he is dismantling the provided opposition. The 22-year-old was involved in an up and down thriller against Chris Avalos in April 2016 which showed Magsayo had a huge heart but also that he could be drawn in to an unnecessary war at times. Magsayo should return before the end of the year, hopefully against a solid contender at 126 lb.
Romero Duno 15-1 13 KOs.
This young man came to the attention of many when he drilled the then undefeated Christian Gonzalez in March on a Golden Boy card in Los Angeles. The 2 round demolition earned Duno a contract with the US outfit and this past Saturday he won a unanimous 8 round decision over Juan Pablo Sanchez on the undercard of Jorge Linares’ world lightweight title defense against Luke Campbell. His only loss came on the road in Russia to Mikhail Alexeev back in May 2015 via an 8 round unanimous decision but this hasn’t harmed the 21-year-old’s career prospects at all. Whilst still needing some polishing Duno is a genuine puncher and with a powerhouse promotional team like Golden Boy backing him the future looks bright for this Filipino.
Jack Tepora 21-0 16 KOs.
Tepora has been well thought of for a while but until his 21st contest he hadn’t really been tested. The vast majority of his first 20 bouts came in his home area of Cebu where his promoters, Omega Pro Sports International aimed to establish a solid fan base for the gifted southpaw. Like most Filipinos Tepora came from humble beginnings and had around 100 amateur contests winning 2 golds and a bronze in national tournaments. By far his biggest test came on September 22 when he travelled to East London, South Africa to face puncher Lusanda Komanisi. Tepora scored a 1-punch knockout in round 2 to claim the vacant WBO International featherweight strap in the process and announce himself as one to watch for the future.
Jeo Santisima 14-2 12 KOs.
After being outpointed by Marlon Arcilla and Roniel Parcon within his first 4 fights, Santisima has strung together 12 consecutive victories including an impressive 6th round KO of Marco Demecillo in February 2016. Having begun boxing at 16, Santisima followed his elder brother to the ALA Gym and whilst his sibling packed up the sport, the 21-year-old persisted and has sparred with the likes of Mark Magsayo, Albert Pagara and even Nonito Donaire. Santisima has worked his way up the pecking order on the Pinoy Pride series and won a lopsided 10 round decision versus Master Suro in April and blitzed Goodluck Mrema in a round as the co-main of Julys ALA offering. The young super bantamweight is now ready for a step up and if it could be arranged a clash between him and Jack Tepora could potentially be something special.
Mark Anthony Barriga 6-0 1 KOs.
Barriga is one of the best amateur fighters to come from the Philippines in recent times having competed at 2 world championships and the London 2012 Olympics. He captured gold at the 2013 South East Asian Games and Bronze at the 2014 Asian Games both in the light flyweight division. The talented southpaw also took part in the World Series of Boxing where contests are over 5 rounds instead of the usual 3 in AIBA tournaments. As his record suggest since turning pro, Barriga hasn’t shown a huge amount of power but in terms of talent, counter punching ability and boxing acumen the 24-year-old has all 3 in spades. Barriga goes for his first title on 29 September in Beijing when he faces Samartlek Kokietgym for the WBO International strawweight crown.
Kevin Jake Cataraja 7-0 6 KOs.
So far Cataraja has proved to be a smart cookie both in and out the ring, combining studies with his boxing career. The 22-year-old was driven to succeed in life after coming through genuine poverty during his childhood where the next meal on the table wasn’t guaranteed and his father didn’t always have enough money to provide for the family. Having had around 300 amateur fights and won 4 golds at national level, Cataraja elected to pursue his studies and was awarded a scholarship in Cebu City. Cataraja would do his hour long run, attend class and then head to the ALA Gym where he would receive an education of a different variety, sparring with the likes of long time world champion Donnie Nietes. Having graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminology in March, Cataraja now has the knowledge that an alternative career path is firmly in his back pocket should his boxing career not pan out the way he hopes. He has passed every test given to him so far as a pro and has gone 8 rounds once and also stopped Ellias Nggenggo, who knocked out former world champion Merlito Sabillo.
Jessie Espinas 16-2 11 KOs.
Espinas has shown the ability to bounce back from a knockout defeat and is now in a crowded light flyweight mix for a world title tilt. Espinas took on unbeaten Christian Araneta but was stopped in 8 rounds in their September 2015 meeting. In January 2016 Espinas returned to stop Joey Camoy in 5 rounds in a real confidence booster. Camoy has since gone on to face Hekkie Budler and claim a victory over Melvin Jerusalem. Espinas’ next assignment came just a month later when he travelled to Thailand to square off against Paitharob Kokietgym. Paitharob was unbeaten in 32 fights at the time and given the huge difficulties in winning in Thailand Espinas looked up against it but the 24-year-old dropped his opponent 3 times on the way to an 8th round knockout in a quite brilliant display. The slick southpaw has won 5 straight since his loss to Araneta and a rematch between the 2 Pinoys was scheduled for July but was unfortunately cancelled.
Christian Araneta 14-0 12 KOs.
Araneta began boxing at the age of 14 but didn’t have a long amateur career as providing money for his family was a bigger priority. He didn’t turn professional with any fan fair and was unknown for most for quite a while and fought in small venues away from the limelight. The 22-year-old possesses plenty of power and has a really exciting style. The hard hitting southpaw, who is under the Omega Pro Sports International banner stopped the hopelessly overmatched Demsi Manufoe in a round in his last ring appearance in March. No doubt the biggest win of Araneta’s career came against Jessie Espinas and hopefully their rematch can be rearranged as both men have certainly grown since their first contest.
Reymart Gaballo 16-0 14 KOs.
Gaballo fought 5 times in 2016 and although the opposition was nothing special he dealt with them with a roofless efficiency. Gaballo stopped Yodpichai Sithsaithong in a round to claim a minor WBC super bantamweight belt in September 2016. With only around 30 amateur bouts, Gaballo has been moved carefully by Jim Claude Manangquil to compensate for his lack of experience. In recent times the 21-year-old has sparred with Shinsuke Yamanaka, Naoya Inoue and Guillermo Rigondeaux giving him an invaluable ring education. Gaballo has dynamite in his fists especially in the right hand but he is still roar and rounds against durable foes is required for him to progress. Unfortunately for whatever reason he is still to fight in 2017 but there is no doubt that this young super bantamweight has all the roar ingredients of a very exciting prospect.
Eumir Marcial middleweight.
Last but certainly not least we delve in to the amateurs for our final pick. At just the tender age of 21 Marcial has already achieved a lot having won back to back golds at the 2015 and 2017 South East Asian Games along with a silver at the 2015 Asian championships. He also was at the top of the podium in the 2013 Asian Youth Championships and the 2011 world junior championships. In the ring Marcial isn’t shy in engaging in a toe-to-toe battle and has the firepower to back it up. He can also box when necessary and has adapted well to the move up in weight. Hand issues have unfortunately blighted his career but if he can stay injury free then there is no reason why he can’t win more medals with the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta being the next big tournament. Long term the 2020 Tokyo Olympics should be within his sites and the prospect of him grabbing a medal aren’t out of the question.
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