As we header into 2021 we decided to make 2 lists for fighters under a “21 for 2021” banner. One of those will include the big names, the contenders and the champions, the ones you might be a little bit familiar with. The ones that are either already stars, or are on the verge of it.
This one however will see us looking at prospects and novices who we expect will leave a mark on 2021, and be on the verge of something big by the end of the year.
Due to this being a prospects list we’ve put two rules on the list. One is that a fighter cannot have more than 10 professional bouts, and the other is that a fighter cannot be world ranked, as they are, by definition, a contender.
With that second rule in mind we will not include fighters such as Ginjiro Shigeoka, Bektemir Melikuziev, Israil Madrimov, Shakhram Giyasov and Rustam Tulaganov in this list. After all, they are all, already, world ranked and should be regarded as contenders.
Jin Sasaki (10-0, 9)
One of the real emerging stars of 2020 was Japanese Light Welterweight Jin Sasaki, who went 3-0 (3) in this year, and announced himself in a big way with a dominating win over Aso Ishiwaki for the Japanese Youth title. We expect him to be fighting for a Japanese or regional title in the near future, and 2021 will be based around taking huge strides to such a fight.
Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (10-0, 5)
Another youngster at 140lbs, in fact the youngest man on this list by far, is Phoobadin Yoohanngoh who is just 16 and already making waves in a very impressive fashion. In 2020 he claimed, and defended, a regional WBA belt and really made a mark with his biggest wins to date. We suspect 2021 might see him facing a step up in class, but he’s likely to be a long term project.
Bakhodir Jalolov (7-0, 7)
Uzbek Heavyweight giant Bakhodir Jalolov has had a weird year. As a profession he fought just once, in December, but he mixed that with some amateur fights at the start of the year and booked his place at the Tokyo Olympics, winning the Asia/Oceania qualifying event. We suspect he’ll be a major threat at the Olympics, and then, finally be let off the leash to chase big professional bouts later in the year.
Taku Kuwahara (7-0, 4)
If there is one Japanese youngster who will feel that 2020 was a year where lost momentum, that would probably be Flyweight hopeful Taku Kuwahara. In 2019 he picked up 4 wins but in 2019 he was out of the ring for the entire year, barring a small exhibition, and then suffered an injury late in the year. We expect him to try and make up for lost time in 2021 and move towards a Japanese title fight by the end of the year.
Elnur Abduraimov (6-0, 6)
Jalolov wasn’t the only Uzbek who lacked activity in the professional ranks this year, in fact many top Uzbek’s were sadly inactive, with another being Elnur Abduraimov. The 26 year old southpaw fought just a single professional bout and a handful of amateur bouts, but like Jalolov has qualified for the Olympics and we expect really big things from him when the Tokyo games comes around. After Tokyo we’d hope he gets the chance to rip through the Lightweight division, something he has the ability to do.
Jinki Maeda (6-0, 4)
The Featherweight division in Japan is one of the most interesting domestic divisions in the sport right now, anywhere on the planet. The division is stacked to the nines. With that said however we shouldn’t overlook the possibility that 24 year old Jinki Maeda ends up in the mix in 2021. The talented boxer-mover won Rookie of the Year in 2019 and impressed with 2 fantastic domestic wins in 2020. He’s one to watch, and could be a future contender at 126lbs or 130lbs.
Seiya Tsutsumi (5-0-2, 4)
The most unlucky man in Japan in 2020, by far, was Seiya Tsutsumi who was twice denied victory by somewhat questionable score-cards, resulting in his two draws. The first of those came against Kazuki Nakajima in the God’s Left Bantamweight tournament and the second came against Daigo Higa. Had he got either of those wins we suspect he could have been fighting for a title very early in 2021. Instead 2021 will be a year of pursuit for him, and we suspect he’ll eventually get a big fight, and get the nod. Do not write him off for those draws!
Mikito Nakano (5-0, 4)
Teiken hopeful Mikito Nakano will enter 2021 with the hope of landing a big domestic bout, and in reality there’s a genuine chance he ends the year world ranked and with a regional title. The talented youngster appears to have it all. He’s skilled, he’s quick, sharp, powerful with a good boxing brain. There are areas to work on, but he looks like he could be just a few fights away from something big. With that in mind 2021 could well be his big break out year, if he can 2 or even 3 solid wins during the year.
Shokichi Iwata (5-0, 4)
Japanese Light Flyweight hopeful Shokichi Iwata is another fighter from Teiken that we expect big things from in 2021. The talented youngster made his debut in the US but has since been building his record back in Japan and is slowly closing in on a title bout of some kind. During this coming year the exciting boxer-puncher will likely fight for the Japanese title or one of the regional belts, and then look to kick on properly towards world level in 2022.
Rentaro Kimura (3-0, 3)
The sensationally talented Rentaro Kimura only debut in July 2020 but has quickly become one to watch, and has shown a lot in just 3 fights. He’s insanely skilled, has every punch in the book, and has some of the best footwork in Japan. However in 3 bouts he has looked like a man focused on entertaining rather than really showing what he can do and we suspect 2021 will see him stepping up to Japanese title level, and needing to prove that he has the tools when the going gets tough. He looks sensational at times, but has faced very over-matched opponents who haven’t yet been able to get the best from him.
Talgat Shayken (3-0, 2)
Kazakh youngster Talgat Shayken is an exciting, physically strong, aggressive fighter who looks like he’s going to be a longer term project than some on this list, but will be very much a fan man to follow. Aged just 20 he’s a long term prospect who looks likely to be built in Kazakhstan, by Tukeshov Promotions, but we suspect US bouts will come down the line. Although he started his career at Light Middleweight it seems he’s going to be competing at Welterweight going forward, which could be a very smart move for the next few years.
Theeraphan Polsongkarm (3-0, 2)
Thai 23 year old Theeraphan Polsongkarm, also known by the much more memorable Oscar Mastertoddygym, made his professional debut in March 2019 and in just his second fight he impressed, stopping former world title challenger Inthanon Sithchamuang in 7 rounds. Sadly after his third win in December 2019 he was unable to fight in 2020, just as it seemed momentum was building for him. Fingers crossed he’ll be in action in 2021 as he looked like a Thai who was being fast tracked to the top and fighting in 12 rounders in just his third bout!
Bek Nurmaganbet (3-0, 2)
Sensational Kazakh Bek Nurmaganbet has impressed in the amateurs, impressed in World Series Boxing and is now impressing in the professional ranks. The 22 year old Light Heavyweight looks like he has almost everything needed to be a star, the one doubt, perhaps, is his power, but he has the skills to make up for that. He’s a very efficient, accurate fighter who has been matched well and has a couple of 6 rounders under his belt already. Fingers crossed Suleimen promotions continue to test him and in 2021 moves into 8 and even 10 rounders. He’s good enough and has the experience to be in longer bouts already.
Ryosuke Nishida (3-0, 1)
Lots of prospects scored good wins in 2020 but probably the best win scored by a Japanese prospect last year was Ryosuke Nishida’s excellent win over Shohei Omori. The talented Nishida, who has been hyped since before his 2019 debut, stepped up massively and out boxed Omori through out, hurting him late and came close to stopping the former Japanese Bantamweight champion. The young Bantamweight appears to have it all and we suspect 2021 will be a year where he races through the domestic rankings towards a title fight.
Hasanboy Dusmatov (2-0, 2)
Incredibly Uzbek amateur standout Hasanboy Dusmatov is in a weird position. Technically he’s among the very best fighters at 105lbs or 108lbs, but isn’t currently world ranked and had a 2020 to forget, fighting just once against a short notice replacement opponent. The 2016 Olympic gold medal winner is an incredible fighter, with the tools to go a very long way, very quickly. Sadly though he is 28 this year and needs to make big moves before it’s too late. With that in mind mark him down as one too keep a very close eye on this year!
Kamshybek Kunkabayev (2-0, 2)
Talented Kazakh Cruiserweight Kamshybek Kunkabayev is 29, so like Dusmatov needs to make a big mark this year. Unlike Dusmatov however Kunkabayev is already notable opponents in the professional ranks, with his debut coming against the then 20-1 Issa Akberbayev and his second bout coming against a very solid journeyman. Sadly 2021 might not be the year where Kunkabayev ends up fighting for a world title, but we do expect him to earn some silverware as he is focusing on the Tokyo Olympics. After the Olympics expect his team to chase professional world titles in 2022 or 2023.
Tursynbay Kulakhmet (2-0, 1)
Another top Kazakh prospect with strong amateur pedigree is Tursynbay Kulakhmet, who looked amazing on debut, but did have some questions raised over his ability in his second bout, a decision in the UK against Macaulay McGowan. The 26 year old 154lb’der has proven to have impressive stamina, movement and power, but needs to add more variety to his work before stepping up too much. He looks like he has the tools in his arsenal to go a very long way, but getting experience will be a key for him in 2021. Expect him to face some noteworthy names to get rounds, and to get some solid seasoning in 2021 in a series of 10 round bouts against very decent competition.
Yudai Shigeoka (2-0, 1)
Yudai Shigeoka, the older brother of the world ranked Ginjiro Shigeoka, has had a frustrating 2020, sitting out of the ring for the entire year, but will be looking to come back with a splash in February when he fights for the Japanese Youth Light Flyweight title. He made his debut in a low key affair, but showed his ability in December 2019 when he outpointed OPBF Minimumweight champion Lito Dante with no issues at all. He has the ability, the amateur background and the team to take him all the way, and we suspect he’ll pick up a lot of silverware in the next 24 months or so. A really special talent.
Nonthasith Petchnamthong (2-0)
Nonthasith Petchnamthong, also known as Prachanchay PK Saenchaimuaythai, only made his debut in August 2020 but is already one of the Thai hopefuls who we suspect people will be raving about in a year or two. Unlike many prospects he was thrown straight into title action and 10 rounders, winning the WBA Asia South Featherweight title on debut and then later beating former world champion Kompayak Porpramook in his second bout, both wins coming by 10 round decision. Although not a big puncher Nonthasith is a very talented fighter who already has 20 rounds of professional experience and the 26 year old, who has moved down to Bantamweight, could end up being a bit of a hidden gem.
Thitisak Hoitong (1-0)
Last, but certainly not least, is professional novice Thitisak Hoitong. The 24 year old Hoitong made his debut in November, on a Tan Telecom Promotions show, and was matched with former 2-time world title challenger Samartlek Kokietgym. Despite being thrown in at the relatively deep end Hoitong dominated Samartlek, winning pretty much every minute of the fight against his tough and stubborn foe. Fighting at Flyweight we suspect Hoitong will be moved towards regional title bouts in 2021 and potentially a world title bout in the next 3 years. A genuine talent with real swagger and confidence, he could be a major player at 112lbs very quickly.
In December we are going to be sharing our "20 for 20", a list of 20 fighters to keep an eye on for the new year. Ahead of that we will be looking at a number of fighters who just missed out on that list.
These are the fighters who perhaps won't be ready for a world title by the end of next year, but we feel will make a mark in the year, and go on to do big things in the following year or two. Typically they are the prospects who perhaps need a little more time to develop, or who are still a bit too young for the big fights, or maybe just don't seem like they are quite there yet. These are our "Honourable mentions - 20 for 20" fighters and these will be posted daily until the start of December!
Mikito Nakano (4-0, 4)
The Featherweight division in Japan is red hot right now, with the likes of Japanese champion Ryo Sagawa, WBO Asia Pacific champion Musashi Mori, the wonderfully skilled Reiya Abe, and the very highly regarded Hinata Maruta all at the top of the table. This means that it will be hard for a novice to break into the title mix. That however should world well for a fighter who doesn't need to be rushed into a position they might not be ready for by the end of the year. One such fighter is Mikito Nakano, who looks like he could be a massive star in the future, but doesn't need to be fast tracked, and is instead better served getting to serve something of an apprenticeship in the professional ranks before fighting for titles, despite being an excellent amateur, and running up a 68-9 (48) record in the unpaid ranks. The 24 year old southpaw is one of the brightest talents at the Teiken gym and has already been hugely impressive with quick wins against the likes of Arvin Yurong and KJ Natuplag. If the division was lacking domestically it would be hard to hold Nakano back, but given the talent there he can spend 2020 developing his skills then look to make a mark in 2021, with another few fights under his belt.
Expectations for 2020?
We expect to see Nakano continue to impress. He not only has the biggest promotional team in Japan behind him, but also a very good amateur career, a smart brain, dynamite power, and a real fluidity to his boxing. He will know there is no need to rush and take risks, but by the end of 2020 there will be no reason for him not to be in the title hunt and potentially even challenging for a Japanese title at the 2021 Champion Carnival.
The issue for Nakano, more than anything, will be finding suitable competition. He will need to face domestically and regionally ranked fighters sooner rather than late and for 2020 we expect to see him sharing the ring with at least one fighter ranked in the top 10 by the OPBF. We'd love to see someone really testing him, and with his first 4 bouts going just 8 rounds combined we expect to see him in with a tough foe capable of going rounds with the the youngster. Fingers crossed he gets to show he has the stamina to go with his power and skills in 2020.
For fans who haven't seen Nakano in action, we've included his third bout below, whee he faces Arvin Yurong.
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