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.
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!
When we look back at 2020 we will all, pretty much, admit it was a shit year. It was a year we would all like to pretend didn’t exist and didn’t happen, and one of the worst years we’ll live through, as a collective society. It was a year with a lot more crap than positives, and it was a year that was just genuinely horrific for us all. Of course Covid19 has been the big story of the year, but we’ve also had fires in the US and Australia, floods in the UK, Indonesia, Vietnam and Brazil among other places, and the tragic explosion in Lebanon.
We won’t wallow on the the horrors of 2020 however, but instead look at the positives from the boxing world, and we have plenty of positives to take away. In fact the year has given us a lot more positives than we perhaps realise. It’s been a bad year in general, but for boxing there has been plenty of good!
1-All Thai bouts
One of the best things, genuine, about 2020 when it’s come to boxing has been the increase in All-Thai bouts this year. And by that we’re not just talking about squash matches, where a name slices through a domestic novice, but genuinely intriguing match ups. These have included some absolute barn burners, like Amnat Ruenroeng Vs Pungluang Sor Singyu, some compelling match ups, like Phoobadin Yoohanngoh Vs Atchariya Wirojanasunobol, and some baptisms of fire, such as Nonthasith Petchnamthong Vs Kompayak Porpramook.
With TL Promotions, Tan Telecom Promotions, and NKL promotions all putting on great shows in 2020 Thai boxing has been a true highlight for the year and one of the positives. Better yet most of them have been available to watch worldwide directly through the promoters social media accounts. The only improvement would be for Tan Telecom to copy their “rivals” and upload full fight videos to YouTube in the future, rather than post fights by the round, but that’s a minor complaint.
2-Online Streaming from Japan
Talking about online streaming the big thing from Japan this year was the growth of their online boxing streaming, with A-Sign Boxing and Boxing Real providing amazing, professional level streams of events several times during the last half of the year. Added to that was the one off shows by Seki-chan and Suruga Boys. We have always had the occasional free show from Japan, but this year we had consistent free streams from the country and it seems like Boxing Real and A-Sign will continue to deliver free video delivery of their shows in the new year.
With a limit on the number of fans in venues the free streams have really helped allow fans in Japan to feel like they aren’t missing out, and have also allowed international fans to enjoy the shows, and get excited about the fighters on the events. This has really helped fighters like Jin Sasaki and Rentaro Kimura catch the eye and have given an outlet to Japanese promoters without big TV deals. It has also been brilliant to see Yokohama Hikari, Ichiriki and Hachioji Nakaya work together on these shows, showing that promoters working together for the greater good is better than the antagonistic manner that Western promoters work.
3-An increase in interest for Asian Boxing
After running this site for years it’s always been a battle to get people from the West to watch boxing from the East. The really big fights get some attention, but even that’s rather limited and small, and it’s been a niche, within a niche, within a niche. In 2020 however we have seen a natural groundswell of fans interested in what’s going on in Asia, specifically Japan but Thailand is also worth mentioning.
The amount of people tuning in to watch Masayuki Ito Vs Hironori Mishiro was solid, and other shows earlier in the year also ended up getting plenty of fan interest for Japan. The solid international interest for Junto Nakatani Vs Giemel Magramo was brilliant, the on going online discourse about Kazuto Ioka Vs Kosei Tanaka is brilliant to see, and something that warms us inside thanks to the small part we’ve played in helping Tanaka become more well known in the West. There was also genuine international intrigue in the Wanheng Menayothin Vs Panya Pradabsri fight...a Minimumweight title fight between two Thai’s got people chasing us for streams!
Not only have we seen more interest from the West, but it appears that that interest is still growing, and if this continues through 2021 we can perhaps get rid of this idea that “no one cares”, we know people care, and it seems more and more of your guys care!
4-Nakatani and Nakatani!
Although unrelated Junto Nakantani and Masayoshi Nakatani both deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve done in 2020.
For Junto he put on a fantastic performance to take the WBO Flyweight title, defeat Giemel Magramo, and appears on the verge of becoming a new Japanese star. He appears to have the full backing not just of the MT Gym but also Teiken Promotions, and he will, if he notches a defense or two, become the new boxing face of NTV. That’s a channel that needs a boxer to get behind it, and Nakatani fits the mould perfectly. Given his age, his ability, his size, his style and his personality, we could end up with Nakatani being the man to rebuild NTV’s boxing content, and that would be fantastic!
As for Masayoshi Nakatani what a return he had! After being out of the ring for over a year, retiring at one point, we didn’t expect much from him when he was linked to a fight to Felix Verdejo. He was then down in round 1 and our fears grew. Down again in round 4. And then he turned it all around and stopped Verdejo late in the bout. He gave us one of the most dramatic, action packed and thrilling bouts we’ve seen all year. His performance has seen him put himself in the mix for a world title, and it seems hard to believe he retired in September 2019! Hell of a comeback and another highlight for Asian boxing fans!
5-Professional boxing in Kazakhstan picking up big time!
Professional boxing in Kazakhstan has never been a big thing. Top Kazakh fighters move away to turn professional, with many heading off to the US in recent years. In 2020 however we’ve seen Tukeshov and Suleimen signing up top amateurs from Kazakhstan, working alongside MTK Kazakhstan and building their profiles at home. Fighters like Bek Nurmaganbet, Bekzad Nurdauletov, Talgat Shayken and Kamshybek Kunkabayev have made their debuts in Kazakhstan in 2020 and all have been pushed hard in tough looking match ups. Not only are we getting bouts in Kazakhstan on a regular basis, but they aren’t, at least on paper, mismatches and instead they are tough looking tests for novices. This has been another highlight for the year, and a sign of what to expect when the Tokyo Olympics has been and gone. We are going to see a flurry of Kazakh fighters being raced to big fights and the top talent is going to be allowed to swim with sharks. Not only was it exciting to see novice professionals pushed in 2020 but it’s also laying the groundwork for some big stuff in 2021 and beyond.
6-Fuji have increased the number of shows they televise!
In 2020 Fuji TV showed no live boxing at all. A sad, damning and ugly fact. They did however shows a decent amount of tape delay shows. In fact most months they televised 2 shows on delay, with one being the Diamond Glove cards, that they have long been linked with and the other being a Phoenix Battle show from Ohashi Gym. This was easy to overlook but very much an important facet to the way Fuji are now covering boxing and opens up the entire Ohashi stable to get more TV exposure and TV time. In the short term is meant 3 or 4 extra shows on Fuji towards the end of the year, but they included some very notable hopefuls, and could, potentially, act as a door to showcasing fighters like Taku Kuwahara, Keisuke Matsumoto, Katsuki Mori, Ryutaro Nakagaki, Yoshiki Takei. The talent at the Ohashi is growing, and if they have an outlet deal with Fuji TV then those fighters will become household names in Tokyo very quickly!
7-Hyun Mi Choi got a chance to shine!
One fighter we’ve been really happy to see this year was Hyun Mi Choi, who signed with Matchroom Sport and made her international debut. The 2-weight Korean world champion might not have had a great opponent in front of her when she fought this year, but that hardly mattered, what was key was seeing Choi in front of a larger audience and letting more people learn about her truly unique boxing story. We often hear really boring stories about fighters, and have them hammered home until an already dull story becomes even less interesting, but Choi really does have a remarkable story, defecting from North Korea as child, winning a world title at the age of 17, in her debut, and fighting to avoid the politics of her truly unique situation. We dare say DAZN under-sold her story, but regardless it’s amazing to see Choi fighting in front of a much, much bigger audience, and hopefully that continues to happen going forward!
8-Crowdfunding a success for A-Sign Boxing
Crowdfunding in boxing is not a new idea. It’s not something that has just been done in 2020, with numerous fighters and promoters running crowdfunding projects and things for several years. What A-Sign boxing did however was take it to a whole new level and have massive levels of success with it. That success was most notable when it came to Takuya Yamaguchi, the unexpected star of A-Sign boxing’s fighter documentary series of videos. Yamaguchi, an unassuming fighter with a less than stellar record, no social media presence, and almost no mention of him online, managed to charm an audience with his simple life, his wonderful personality, and his down to earth decency. As a result he ended up making an insane amount through the crowd funding service, and decided to spend it on fixing the toilets at the gym he went to, and not himself. Yes crowdfunding isn’t new in boxing, but a guy like Yamaguchi being a success due to it, that was a surprise and a real feel good story!
(Image credits - WP Boxing, A Sign Boxing and Suleimen Promotions)
On July 19th we'll see unbeaten Japanese fighter Masayoshi Nakatani (18-0, 12) make his US debut, as he takes on the fast rising Teofimo Lopez (13-0, 11) in an IBF Lightweight world title eliminator. Since the bout was announced we've been asked a lot about Nakatani, making him an ideal candidate for a "Fighter Focus", and a chance for us to talk about Nakatani, and try to educate though who aren't as well versed on the unbeaten Osakan fight.
As is our usual format for the "Fighter Focus" we'll give give some simple details and then work our way through Nakatani's career, experienced and successes in more detail trying to give as much information on him as possible. Though please note we will not talk about the upcoming bout in too much detail, as we'll be previewing the contest separately.
Now lets dig deeper into the career of Masayoshi Nakatani, the Osakan Lightweight hopeful.
Nakatani was born in Osaka and whilst his amateur career isn't the most well reported he did run up an impressive looking 45-15 (30) amateur record whilst competing on both the domestic and international scene. He was boxing as an amateur out of the Apollo Gym, when he began boxing in primary school, and made a mark thanks to being part of 5 notable hopefuls from the Kiyokuni High School, along with Kazuto Ioka, Ryo Miyazaki Yuta Uetani and Ryo Okayama.
Specific results have been hard to find, though we did find that he'd reached the last 8 of the Tammer Tournament in 2008, winning a preliminary bout before losing to the eventual runner up Georgian Popescu of Romania.
It would be a few years after the Tammer Tournament that Nakatani would turn professional signing with the Ioka gym, which was run by Kazunori Ioka. The gym's focus at the time was Kazunori's son, Kazuto Ioka, who had claimed the WBC Minimumweight title at the start of 2011 and had been part of the Kyokuni High School 5 along with Nakatani.
Nakatani's debut came on the under-card of Ryo Miyazaki's OPBF Light Flyweight title defense against Donny Mabao at the IMP Hall in Osaka in June 2011. At the time Miyazaki was the second most notable name at the Ioka gym, and this was a good opportunity for Nakatani. The debuting Nakatani would stop Katsuhisa Shiokawa in the 4th round, of a scheduled 4 rounder, and send Shiokawa into retirement.
Nakatani would return to the IMP Hall for another Miyazaki under-card in November 2011, and go the 6 round distance to take a unanimous decision over the durable Tetsuto Sebiyo Tonomura. He would actually fight his third at the same venue, stopping his first international opponent, Filipino Roel Laguna, in the 5th round, in March 2012.
It was the win over Laguna that first seemed to suggest that Nakatani had some spite on his punches, in March 2012. It was the win over Laguna that first seemed to suggest that Nakatani had some spite on his punches, and that was shown again 5 months later when he stopped Ronnel Esparas inside a round, at the Central Gym in Kobe, on a Shinsei promoted card.
In April 2013 Nakatani took his third straight stoppage, taking out Thai foe Nampol Sor Chantasith in 2 rounds, whilst against fighting at the Central gym in Kobe. This served a bit of a stay busy fight for Nakatani before a major step up bout in July 2013, as he travelled to Tokyo to fight and the legendary Korakuen Hall. His Korakuen Hall debut saw him take on the hard hitting Shuhsei Tsuchiya, who had won the 2010 All Japan Rookie of the Year at Lightweight and boasted a record of 14-1 (12). Coming into this bout Nakatani was 5-0 (4) as a professional, and wasn't just the less experienced man but was also fighting in enemy territory, with Tsuchiya being based on Tokyo at the time.
Despite stepping up Nakatani made this look easy, using his hight, reach and speed to neutralise Tsuchiya, who was surprisingly broken down by body shots from Nakatani. It was the body shots of Nakatani that left Tsuchiya in agony, and sent him to the canvas several times. Tsuchiya, a true warrior, tried to get to battle on but was counted out whilst rising to his feet, giving Nakatani a huge win.
Nakatani would return to the Korakuen Hall for his seventh professional bout, and his next step up in class, taking on the JBC and OPBF unifed Lightweight champion Yoshitaka Kato. This was a massive step up, and was a huge risk, though Nakatani would do enough to take a decision win over the tough Kato, who tested Nakatani hard over 12 rounds. Despite Kato being a double champion Nakatani was only challenging for the OPBF title, claiming the belt with a majority decision over Kato.
The win over Kato was a mixed bag. It showed how good Nakatani was, but also saw him getting rocked, and showed that whilst he had an excellent jab his defense was poor and he was easy to hit.
Nakatani would build on his wins over Tsuchiya and Kato by defending the OPBF title against the very testing Filipino Ricky Simsundo. This was a great first defense and saw Nakatani out box, out speed and out jab the aggressive Sismundo to record a third solid win. Sadly though since then we've not seen Nakatani's team really risk him against top regional contenders. Instead of facing the best the region has Nakatani has defended the belt against the likes of Accel Sumiyoshi, a solid but unspectacular Japanese fighter, Tosho Makoto Aoki, a chinny but hard hitting local veteran, Allan Tanada, an under-sized Filipino, and Hurricane Futa, a tough but crude Japanese puncher.
The one real test Nakatani has had since beating Sismundo was the then unbeaten Izuki Tomioka, who was similar in stature to Nakatani, but much quicker, and the speed of Tomioka gave Nakatani fits over 8 rounds, before the difference in experienced played a part. It was Tomioka's 7th bout and he was stopped in the 11th round, whilst running Nakatani incredibly close on the scorecards. This showed that Nakatani could be out jabbed, out moved, out sped, as well as hit clean and really was a worry, despite him pulling the win out of the bag late on.
When we watch Nakatani we see a talented, tall, rangy fighter with a nice jab, surprisingly good body shots, a hurtful straight right hand over the top and solid hooks when he unloads. We also however see a defensively open fighter who can get over-excited when he has his man hurt. Given his jab is such a key weapon it's no surprise that he looks to create space to work from, often preferring to work from range, until he has his man hurt. His footwork to create space is decent, but not amazing and he can look negative at times when creating space, though he has been effective with it so far.
What's pretty notable is the lack of TV footage of Nakatani, with many of his bouts only having fan cam footage. Whilst this is better than nothing we are disappointed by the lack of multiple-camera angles and we do wonder whether he has intentionally been kept away from TV to minimise the flaws opponents can pick out, other than the fact he is very open when he goes for a finish.
(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)
By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
A hectic weekend of fistic action turned out to be a fruitful one for Japan with a new world champion crowned, the consummation of a tasty looking all Japanese dustup and an anticipated super bantamweight clash that produced a world title contender.
We begin at the Civic Center in Kissimmee, Florida as Masayuki Ito took on Christopher Diaz for the vacant WBO super featherweight strap. Ito had started slow in some of his recent fights but the visitor was out of the gate quickly, landing with solid body shots and right hands. Diaz was often standing in mid-range without letting his hands go and was a sitting duck for the right hand and it was this punch that dropped him in round 4 and a knockout win for Ito looked a strong possibility.
To his credit the Puerto Rican not only rallied in the 4th but arguably had his best round in the 5th. Ito controlled the majority of the rest of the contest, repeatedly tagging Diaz with right hands, causing his left eye to shut. Whilst the home man never stopped trying there was no doubting the result at the final bell and Ito deservedly got the unanimous decision.
The narrative throughout the ESPN+ broadcast that Diaz was the more seasoned fighter was baffling considering that Diaz had never gone passed 8 rounds and had never fought anyone of any real quality whilst Ito had had a number of 10 and 12 round bouts with solid domestic and regional foes. This seasoning which is pretty much the norm in Japanese boxing certainly prepares them properly for the step up to world level and although certainly not every boxer from the land of the rising sun is victorious, very rarely are they embarrassed or blown out in a few rounds.
As for where Ito goes next then unless Top Rank were suitably impressed enough to sign him the most logical move appears to be a spot on one of the high profile cards at home until a big often comes in from abroad. The division at the moment is pretty thin in terms of depth but things can change very quickly below lightweight.
As part of a world title doubleheader in China, Sho Kimura successfully defended his WBO flyweight crown against Froilan Saludar. The challenger actually began pretty well, countering effectively over the first 2 rounds leaving the champion slightly confused. Kimura’s pressure then began to tell and the Filipino struggled under the weight of the body shots and it was a blow to the mid-section which saw proceedings come to an end in round 6.
Kimura now takes on former 105 and 108 lb champion Kosei Tanaka in Nagoya on September 24 in a fascinating matchup of boxer puncher versus all out pressure fighter. The rise of Kimura has been a remarkable one, from 10/1 underdog against Zou Shiming to now a world champion who’s made 2 successful defenses and is now in a far better financial position.
Tanaka looked impressive on his flyweight debut against Ronnie Baldonado in March but having been dropped more than once during his career and having suffered fairly serious injuries against Palangpol CP Freshmart it will be intriguing to see how he copes with the brute strength of Kimura. Tanaka’s huge edge in speed should be telling early on but things could get very interesting in the second half of the bout as Kimura’s non-stop pressure and size could come into play.
The less said about the other world title fight on the show the better as Knockout CP Freshmart and Xiong Zhao Zhong served up a dire 12 round shit fest that wasn’t befitting of some of the truly great fights at strawweight over the last decade. Knockout came away with the unanimous decision but a listless display with stretches of laziness that have been evident in recent bouts didn’t enhance his reputation at all. There was talk of an offer being made to Tatsuya Fukuhara but it now seems that mandatory challenger Byron Rojas will be next. The likes of Fukuhara, Tsubasa Koura and Masataka Taniguchi should be queuing up to take on the Thai who looks to be a champion ready to be taken.
Over at a jam packed Korakuen Hall Yusaku Kuga and Shingo Wake squared off for the Japanese super bantamweight title. The fight was built as a potential world title eliminator so there was a lot on the line for both men.
Wake proved to be too sharp and too skilful for Kuga who was dropped early on and never really got to grips with the sharpshooting southpaw. As the defending champion tried to turn the tide this only left more openings for Wake and eventually the towel came in during the 10th and final stanza. Kuga is definitely young enough to come again and as for Wake, he stated afterwards his desire for a world title tilt on New Year’s Eve.
With champions Ray Vargas and Daniel Roman having deals in the US these seem out of the question but if Ryosuke Iwasa comes through his mandatory defense against TJ Doheny in August then that maybe plausible. Also Isaac Dogboe who faces Hidenori Otake in August has shown a willingness to travel so maybe tempted by a trip to Japan.
As a huge advocate of more all Japanese bouts of significance at all levels it was great to see Kuga and Wake face each other as both could have gone in different directions and given the electric atmosphere that was created hopefully we see more of these type of clashes. At super bantamweight alone there’s the likes of Hinata Maruta of the Morioka Gym, Ryo Matsumoto from the Ohashi and Woz Boxing's Shohei Omori attempting to progress their careers. Speaking of Omori, the hard hitting southpaw returned with an excellent second round stoppage of Brian Lobetania which should give him a real confidence boost.
On the same card in Osaka, Masayoshi Nakatani made the 10th defense of his OPBF lightweight strap, eventually stopping Izuki Tomioka in 11 rounds and again a world title fight was mentioned but frankly seeing will be believing given how he has remained at regional level. Sho Ishida scored a 4th round knockout of Richard Claveras but in a crowded 115 lb weight class, opportunities at world level are few and far between. Finally Tatsuya Fukuhara won a 10 round decision over Naoya Haruguchi to keep himself in the minimumweight mix and is capable of giving anyone in the division a hard nights work.
(Image courtesy of Sumio Yamada)
With the year coming to a close we've decided to try and remind everyone of the key events of the year month by month, starting with January
On January 3rd, just days into the year we saw the first upset of the year as unheralded Filipino Alie Laurel went to Thailand and stopped the previously unbeaten, and world ranked, Tiger Tor Buamas in 5 rounds. The bout was for the WBO Oriental Bantamweight title that Tiger had won just a few months earlier when he stopped Alvian Bias, incidentally that was also in the 5th round, and it was expected that Tiger would secure another relatively straight forward win to defend the belt. Instead Laurel proved he wasn't just the typical Filipino who travels to Thailand to lose and instead he battered Tiger until the referee was forced to save the home fighter.
Interestingly the Filipino turned turned 22 the following day and would certainly have had a memorable birthday with his newly won title.
We had the first OPBF title bout of the year on January 11th and saw a new champion crowned as Lightweight prospect Masayoshi Nakatani came of age in a big way and out pointed Yoshitaka Kato. The bout was a huge step up in class for the Ioka gym prospect, who at time was fighting for just the 7th time as a professional, though it was a step he managed, despite a wobble or two. Since the win Nakatani has managed to defend the belt twice and has looked better with each defense. As for Kato he has since defended the Japanese title twice and will be looking to score his third win of the year this coming weekend when he fights against nemesis Nihito Arakawa in what will be a 3rd meeting between the two tough Lightweights.
Less than a week after Nakatani had won the first OPBF title fight of the year we saw the first Japanese title fight of the year. This came on January 17th and saw Go Odaira claim the Japanese Minimumweight title with an excellent decision win over Masashi Tada for the previously vacant belt. Since the winning the belt Odaira has defended it twice and will next been seen out on December 31st battling against Katsunari Takayama for the IBF Minimumweight title. If Odaira wins that he deserves to be given a lot of credit for a career defining year. Sadly we've not seen Tada return to the ring following this loss.
Whilst a Filipino had beaten a Thai in the first upset of the year we actually saw Thailand getting the last laugh of the month with Amnat Ruenroeng defeating Rocky Fuentes on January 22nd for the IBF Flyweight title. It was the first time either man had been in a world title bout and unfortunately for Fuentes he came up short in what was his 44th professional bout whilst Ruenroeng, fighting for the 12th time, became a world champion within 2 years of his debut. Since the bout the two men have certainly gone in different directions with Fuentes recently being stopped by Roman Gonzalez whilst Ruenroeng has defended his title twice defeating Kazuto Ioka in Japan and McWilliams Arroyo in Thailand in a mandatory defense.
Amnat's year has been so good that he is now being mentioned in the 2014 Fighter of the Year mix, a great achievement for someone unknown by most at the start of the year.
(Image, of Amnat landing a right hand on Fuentes, courtesy of Johnny Chaichotchuang)
One of the things we've started to see emerge from Asian boxing, at least at the world level, have been the body shots. For many fighters the target is the head. It's understandable that many do target the head of a fighter primarily but lets be honest it does seem many fighters do ignore the body of an opponent.
For some the body just doesn't come in to it. Muhammad Ali of course, was famous for not throwing body shots and he's not the only one.
This feature however hopes to bring you footage of some of the best body shot KO's of 2013 all from Asian fighters and all from people who either at the top, or in the case of Masayoshi Nakatani on the way to the top. It's a little strange how often these shots are ending fights when thrown from Asian fighters but it's something that does seem to be happening more and more and that's not a bad thing at all.
What a body shot does, when delivered as perfectly as some of these ones are, is take the fight out of the fighter and leaves them feeling very much "er". The shots can completely knock the wind out of a fighter, they can break the ribs and in some case pretty much paralyze a fighter in pain. A perfect head shot KO knocks a person unconscious and takes them out of their senses as their brain tries to reset, a perfect body shot however keeps them conscious whilst giving them severe agony and a huge amount of pain.
Although the shots we're looking at here are all fight ending, what body shots can also do is grind an opponent down softening them up for later in the fight and also cause a fighter to bring their guard down opening up more space for the headshots. Really good body shots are often the difference between a great fighter and just a very good one.
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