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 #10 in our list of Ones to watch in 2020
Reymart Gaballo (23-0, 20)
The Bantamweight division got a huge shot in the arm in November, when Naoya Inoue beat Nonito Donaire in the WBSS final and then again at the end of the month when John Riel Casimero showed what he could do in stopping Zolani Tete. One of the best things about the division, alongside the brilliant fighters at the top, are the emerging talents in the division. Few of those look as exciting as unbeaten 23 year old Reymart Gaballo.
The "Assassin" is a fighter who does everything in a way that screams "star", and has been quietly building his reputation without too much fanfare or attention. We suspect that could change, in a big way, in 2020 when he's expected to get his first proper world title fight, and his first chance to shine on a bigger stage.
The talented Gaballo has already made his US debut, doing so back in 2017, and has now fought 3 times on US soil whilst recently linking up with PBC in the West, opening the door to some huge fights.
Not only does Gaballo have some powerful people paying attention to him, but he also has a style that will quickly win over fans and help catch the eye of those who may not typically give the lower weights the time of day.
What do we expect?
The expectation for 2020 is that Gaballo, who held the WBA "interim" Bantamweight title back in 2017 and 2018, is that he will get some notable TV exposure in the US. Given the fact PBC work with a number of world class Bantamweights he's in a great position to get a chance to impress, make his mark and prove what he can do whilst moving towards a proper world title fight.
At the 23 years old it's not too much of an issue if Gaballo doesn't get a world title fight next year, especially given the talent in the Bantamweight division, but we would expect him to move towards a shot at the top. A former title challenger, or even a former world champion, should be in his sites for the new year and someone like Rau'shee Warren or McWilliams Arroyo or Carlos Cuadras could well be a good match up for Gaballo late in 2020.
Outside of the ring we would expect Gaballo to be getting top work as a sparring partner and wouldn't be surprised if someone like Naoya Inoue sparred with him before the end of the year to prepare for a bout. We also expect that he will become a man that fight fans will fall in love with very quickly.
There are a quite lot of concerns about Gaballo, the most notable of which is that he can be a bit too reckless at times, and will need to tighten up defensively before fighting at the top level. There is also a case that his career could be a tricky one to manage. He's dangerous and a threat to the the bigger names but there it little to entice fighters to face him. He brings power, speed and aggression, but little in terms of reward.
A similar possible concern is that Gaballo becomes too focused on exciting fans that he may lose focus on winning. We haven't seen this yet, but it does seem that he fights in a style that is about making his fights fun to watch and impressing viewers. This entertainment first style is something he will need to temper before moving to world class.
The bigger issue, at least for now, is that Gaballo is, unfortunately, in a division packed with top talent. The Filipino is incredibly talented, but there is a gulf between him and fighters like Naoya Inoue, and he may well find himself being forced to wait for the division to empty out at the top before putting him in with an top divisional fighter.
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.
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