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.
One of the things we love about boxing is being able to see the new generation of fighters come through the ranks, building their names and their profiles in front of our eyes. Going from prospects, and sometimes even children, to being contenders, champions, and stars. With that in mind we’ve decided, with next year being 2021, to look at 10 young Asian fighters, under the age of 21, that we think are worthy of your attention, as you too can join us in watching fighter mature from being youngsters to being stars.
As is typical for these articles, we’ll only be looking at Asian fighters, but we will be looking across the scope of boxing in Asia to bring you the 10 fighters of note, including some fighters who fight are weights we don’t always associate with boxing in Asia. We’ll also only be talking about active professionals, and not covering anyone who is still an amateur.
Musashi Mori (12-0, 7) - 21 years old
We would be amiss to not begin this list with Japanese 21 year old Musashi Mori, a brilliant Featherweight who currently holds the WBO Asia Pacific title and has already worked his way into the world rankings, in just 12 fights. The talented southpaw has already notched notable wins over Zirolian Riku, in what was the Rookie of the Year in 2017, Richard Pumicpic, Takuya Mizuno and Tsuyoshi Tameda. In May 2021 we’ll see him face Satoshi Shimizu, and if he wins that he’ll likely be on the verge of a world title fight. Talented, young, a solid boxer, with respectable power, a maturing body and with Ismael Salas and Yasuei Yakushiji behind him, the future is very bright for Mori.
Ginjiro Shigeoka (5-0, 4) - 21 years old
Another WBO Asia Pacific champion worthy of note is Minimumweight hopeful Ginjiro Shigeoka, who had a really disappointing 2020, which saw him out of the ring for the entire year, but he is certainly not someone to write off. The heavy handed youngster burst on to the scene in 2019, going 4-0 (3) during the year and defeating the likes of Joel Lino, Clyde Azarcon and Rey Loreto. He seemed poised for a monstrous 2020 before Covid19 derailed his entire year, which wasn’t helped by issues at the Watanabe gym. The heavy handed southpaw has been put on a fast track since he turned professional and we suspect that when he’s back in the ring he’ll be in with a very notable name, likely a solid world title contender.
Carl Jammes Martin (16-0, 14) - 21 year old
The most experienced man on this list is all action Filipino fighter Carl Jammes Martin, who has been a professional since 2016 and yet is still just 21 years old! The Wonder Boy is a talented Bantamweight with a naturally exciting style, but a style his team will want to mould and sharpen this year, before potentially unleashing him at a higher level in 2022. The youngster has been blasting out fighters since very early in his career, but recently showed there was more to him than raw power and aggression, going 10 rounds for the first time in December. The hope for Martin is that they will look to turn him into a boxer-puncher before he faces a big international test, rather than trying a new style in a big bout...as we saw recently with Reymart Gaballo.
April Jay Abne (5-0, 2) - 21 years old
One of the true hidden gems of the Filipino fight scene is 21 year old April Jay Abne, one of the most naturally gifted fighters in the country and one of the men who has had almost no attention, despite winning the Ultimate Boxing Series in 2019. Abne was a solid amateur, who has been thrown in tough since turning professional in 2019, and has sadly missed out on a year of his career in 2020. He’s incredibly skilled, composed and very rounded as a fighter, though will certainly need international opportunities to develop. Within just 5 fights he is already among the best Filipino fighters at Flyweight and we suspect he’ll be on the hunt for international titles in 2021 or 2022 at the latest.
Yeveniy Pavlov (3-0, 2) - 21 years old
A relative newbie to professional boxing is Kazakh Yeveniy Pavlov who only made his debut in July but is already making waves thanks to the tough match making of Suleimen Promotions. The talented Featherweight hopeful made a low key debut in July before notching a win over the experienced Goodluck Mrema in October and then beating live Filipino fighter Alie Laurel in December. Although not a big name in Kazakh boxing, yet, the 21 year old appears to have a lot going for him, including a notable promoter noteworthy amateur experience, and he’s very well schooled with nice hand speed, a nice style, great size for the weight, and a willingness to mix it at mid range. Although clearly not a fully developed fighter the youngster ticks a lot of boxes already and we suspect that a good 2021 could see him develop into a fringe contender.
Thanongsak Simsri (14-0, 12) - 20 years old
It’s fair to say that 2020 will be a year that could have been so much bigger for Thanongsak Simsri, however as we leave the year the 20 year old Thai is still very much a bright hopeful and someone who will have a sympathy story for a promoter to play off. The hard hitting youngster was scheduled to face Hiroto Kyoguchi in a world title fight in November and sat through 2 weeks of quarantine before hand. His chance was then taken away when the bout got cancelled, on the day, due to a positive covid19 test for Kyoguchi. As a result Simsri spent several weeks in Japan, taking in the Japanese culture and sparring with top fighters at the Green Tsuda gym, whilst also featuring on an NHK documentary. Although he missed out on the Kyoguchi fight this year he does, supposedly, have a contractual agreement to face the WBA Light Flyweight champion next year, so 2021 could end up being his break out year!
Talgat Shayken (3-0, 2) - 20 years old
Our second Kazakh on this list is the very exciting 20 year old Talgat Shayken, a Welterweight who has a very solid amateur background, and is already making his mark on the professional ranks. The exciting Shayken turned professional with Tukeshov Promotions and MTK Kazakhstan, and they’ve matched him well since his October 2020 debut. As an amateur he had always looked a bit rough around the edges, and that same roughness showed on his debut, against the then 5-0 Berikbay Nurymbetov, but since then he has looked like he has been developing well and picked up a couple of stoppages. Unlike some Kazakh fighters we’ve seen recently Shayken is a natural fighter, not a boxer, and despite only being 20 years old he is a very strong, powerful, and aggressive kid. We suspect he’ll become a staple of MTK Kazakhstan shows and could quickly become a fan friendly fighter at 147lbs or 154lbs over the coming years. He won’t be fast tracked like some fighters on this list, but he will certainly be a man to follow.
Jin Sasaki (10-0, 9) - 19 years old
One of the big success stories of 2020 in Japan has been 19 year old Light Welterweight Jin Sasaki, who went from unheralded prospect to rising domestic contender in the space of just a few months. Sasaki turned professional in 2018, following a lacklustre amateur run, and immediately showed impressive power in stopping his first 5 opponents. Sadly he was unable to compete in the business end of the 2019 East Japan Rookie of the Year but that’s already a distant memory. In August 2020 he blitzed Shun Akaiwa and since then he has notched 2 more wins, including a terrifying and dominant battering or Aso Ishiwaki to claim the Japanese Youth title at 140lbs. He’s powerful, big, strong and oozes charisma. Whilst Japanese fighters don’t tend to make a mark at 140lbs Sasaki might well be one to watch. He’s already ticking a lot of boxes and is still, just, 19. Certainly one to follow in 2021, when we suspect he’ll begin the pursuit of a senior title, to go along with his Youth belt.
Toshiya Ishii (3-1, 2) - 19 year old
Talented 19 year old Bantamweight Toshiya Ishii did not have a great 2020,in fact during the year he fought once and lost, however don’t let that suggest you should write him off. Firstly he impressed, mightily, in his first 3 bouts, which all came in 2019. Secondly his loss this year came in a huge step up against former world title challenger Sho Ishida, and thirdly he ran Ishida very close. The heavy handed Ishii would have learned a lot from his loss and at just 19 the future is still very bright for him. Notably he is still the JBC Youth Bantamweight champion and he will be returning to the ring in March to defend that title, for the first time, as he takes on Kaito Takeshima. We expect to see some improvements from him defensively here, and suspect 2021 will be a year where he rebuilds, moves forward and perhaps begins the hunt for revenge against Ishida. He might have a loss, but he should still have your attention.
Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (10-0, 5) - 16 years old
Last, but certainly not least, is 16 year old Thai Light Welterweight Phoobadin Yoohanngoh who managed to make big waves in 2020. The talented Thai youngster debuted as a 14 year old in 2018 before he won a small tournament in 2019, as part of TL Promotion’s “The Fighter” series. In 2020 he claimed his first professional title, a WBA regional title, and he ended 2020 with a stunning win over the once touted Atchariya Wirojanasunobol. Despite being 16 Phoobadin looks like a fully grown man, he has a very good boxing brain, he knows how to move around the ring, and when he has his man hurt he knows how to finish them off, as we saw against Atchariya. Given his age we don’t imagine he’ll be getting big international fights any time soon, but when those opportunities arrive he’ll be very much prepared for them. This youngster is one of absolute gems of boxing, and looks like a man who could have a very, very bright future, if he and his team can focus on the long term, and the development of the super talented youngster.
Just missing out:
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