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!
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't have fought for a world title at the time of writing.
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 #15 in our list of Ones to watch in 2020, and began our count down to the man we rank #1
Shuichiro Yoshino (11-0, 9)
Seeing fighters unify titles is what we want to see, especially at the top level. World title unifications are, whether we admit it or not, usually the biggest bouts and the best vs the best. Whilst Shuichiro Yoshino isn't at world level we did see 2019 become a huge year for him as he unified the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Lightweight titles to become the undisputed champion of the Asian scene. Seeing a fighter do that really suggests they are ready to step up a level, and stepping up a level from Asian title level puts Yoshino into the mix for world level, or at least fringe world level.
In 2019 Masayoshi Nakatani, the previous OPBF Lightweight champion, surprised American fans by giving Teofimo Lopez a tough test. It's also worth noting that other Japanese fighters who have held the OPBF Lightweight title include Nihito Arakawa, Hiroyuki Sakamoto, Tsuyoshi Hamada and the legendary Guts Ishimatsu. All of whom have made a mark at the top level, win or lose, and we see Yoshino genuinely getting into the mix in 2020. He may not win at the highest level, but he will certainly be able to hold his own with other fringe world level fighters.
For those who haven't seen Yoshino he has a fan friendly style, and we wouldn't be surprised at all if an American promoted brought him to the US late in 2020 with the plan for something bigger in 2021.
What do we expect?
With a Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific title around his waist there's only really 2 options for Yoshino now. He can either look to settle at regional level, following Masayoshi Nakatani who wasted years of his career defending the OPBF title when he had the potential to do so much more, or he can look to move forward and chase bigger fights.
To begin we do hope to see him defending his regional titles, at least once. There are good options for him on the regional scene George Kambosos, Jr., Xiangxiang Sun and even Jorge Linares, who is still popular in Japan and would serve as a perfect stepping stone opponent towards world level. Even if Linares is a faded force.
After a defense or two of his title, or titles as the case may be, it would be great for him to face some more well known international names. Maybe some former contender type, like a Raymundo Beltran or Sharif Bogere, to boost his name on the international stage. Better yet would be an American debut, maybe even on the under-card of a Lightweight world title bout to try and build him as a possible future challenger.
The biggest problems with Yoshino are less things we've spotted, and more things have gone unanswered.
He has often looked too calm in the ring, too lazy at times, and been happy to rely on his power and skills to turn fights on when he wishes. It's a great trait to have in many ways, but something he needs to get out of his system before fighting against a world class opponent. The top guys won't fade and let him turn things around like some of his opponents have. It is however a little bit unfair to criticise Yoshino too much given that each bout is still a learning experience for a man with only 11 bouts and 50 rounds under his belt.
On a similar note we're unsure about Yoshino's stamina, and he has never seen round 10 before. He's looked comfortable going 7, 8 and 9 rounds, but will that carry up to 12 rounds? Likewise will he be comfortable fighting at a higher pace set by his opponent? Likewise we wonder what his chin really like?
Sadly the biggest concern for Yoshino isn't him, but the others in the division. The Lightweight division is strong, and that strength could be too much for Yoshino with the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko, Devin Haney, Richard Commey, Luke Campbell and Teofimo Lopez all in and around the top of the division.
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