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 #19 in our list of the top 20 Ones to watch in 2020.
Ye Joon Kim (18-1-2, 10)
South Korea desperately needs a fighter that the country can get behind, and the only one who seems to have the skills to really make a mark is Ye Joon Kim, who is a real natural talent. Kim can be frustrating at times, cruising through portions of bouts, but when he moves through the gears he looks like a genuinely fantastic talent. If his team can keep him on the right track, which is a challenge in it's self, and he can avoid another big injury, an issue that forced him to cancel a 2019 bout, then Kim is very much one to watch in 2020.
The problem with Korean boxing is that it feels really badly structured, with bouts falling through, and a lot of political issues, further adding to the frustrations fans can have with a fighter as frustrating as Kim. Despite that he's an enigma, a character, and boxing fans do enjoy characters. That is especially true when the fighter in question is talented, and can appeal to fan who want to see them beat as well as fans who want to enjoy their skills. Kim probably isn't known well enough to have genuine haters yet, but his personality could well make him a fighter you want to see
What do we expect?
If Kim can get his act sorted then we genuinely see 2020 being a career year for the Korean who should be in the mix for either the OPBF or WBO Asia Pacific title. Korea has lacked a genuine Oriental level fighter, but Kim has the ability to do just that! And more. We don't see Kim winning a world title in 2020, but by the end of the year he should be in the mix, even in the stacked Super Bantamweight division. Sadly, though, it all depends on whether his team can keep him active and get him the bouts he needs.
In Korea the political mess can really hamper a fighter, with the KBC, KBF and KBM all having their own little games, but it does seem like better bouts are being made in Korea and 2019 has seen some good fighters travel to the peninsula for fights. If that continues in 2020 then Kim is likely to be one of the fighters who does get to face notable opponents and there really is no excuse for him to not be mixing at top regional level.
We won't dwell on the issue of Korean boxing too much here, as it does appear to be going in the right direction and we suspect that all of the political machinations would be wanting a Korean world champion to spearhead the sports revival in the country. The bigger worry with Kim is Kim himself.
The talented enigma has lacked consistency, both in terms of when he fights and how he fights. One fight he can look like the talent Korean boxing has been wishing for, and in his next fight he looks like a lazy, wild fighter, full of arrogance and lacking a boxing brain. We don't have a problem with Kim having fun in the ring and putting on a show for the fans, but he does need to put on more intelligent performances. Winning in style is great, but willing and looking a bit like you don't care is a less great and Kim, at times, has looked like he doesn't care.
As well as the arrogance and underwhelming performance we also have concerns about Kim's longer term ambitions and every time he seems to have built some momentum something has stopped it dead. Be it a lay off, an injury, or something else we've never seem Kim manage to snowball success into more success. In 2020 we hope that changes, but we will always suspect something, just lurking out of sight, will be an issue for Kim.
The Super Bantamweight division is one of the most interesting at the moment in terms of the fighters in it, though has sadly been lacking in good match ups. Hopefully that will change in the near future as some of the notable fighters, finally, face off against each other.
Here we have looked at some of the best in the division with short profiles on 9 of the best in Asia as well mentions of other top Asian's in the division and the other top names in the division world wide.
Other Asian fighters at Super Bantamweight worth making a note of are-
Yukinori Oguni (14-1-1, 4)-Oguni is a technically well schooled boxer-mover who is the current Japanese champion and a former OPBF title holder, who lost the belt by stoppage to Wake. Although talented he is a light puncher and will likely struggle to get beyond Japanese level again. Despite that he will be in interesting fights, especially at domestic Japanese level.
Yasutaka Ishimoto (26-8, 7)-Another Japanese level fighter who is often in entertaining bouts is Ishimoto, who is best known for out pointing Wilfredo Vazauez Jr. Ishimoto has come up short in a couple of Japanese title fights but is expected to get a third shot shortly and it could well be his last. If he manages to claim a domestic title then that will be a perfect way to close out his career.
Yusaku Kuga (11-1-1, 7)-One beaten Japanese prospect Kuga is a talented and capable fighter who is expected to reach OPBF level in his career. Aged 24 he's not viewed as a sensational prospect but certainly as a man with real promise. Promoted by Watanabe his future is bright but it's hard to see his route to the top considering his domestic competition. Saying that however we do like a lot.
Hikaru Marugame (5-0, 3)-Marugame is another Japanese prospect and one who is tipped to go a long way. The 25 year old turned professional last year and has looked fantastic at times though has yet to have a serious test. That comes on October 19th when he takes on Jonathan Baat in a really testing 8 round bout at the Korakuen Hall. A win there would be a big statement for the youngster.
Kongthara KKP (7-0, 5)-We'll admit we don't know enough about Kongthara to really make a comment about how good he will be, but so far he has been really impressive and already holds wins over Shingo Kawamura and Nouldy Manakane. The talent he has shown has already impressed and he's already proved his stamina and ability over 12 rounds. One to keep an eye on.
As well as the Asian fighters there are also copious non-Asian fighters in the division worth noting.
Guillermo Rigondeaux (15-0, 10)-The best of the division, by some margin, is Cuban sensation Rigondeaux. Unfortunately Rigondeaux is a fighter who has proven to be hard to match, had to advertise and almost impossible to keep onside. Plenty of fans will accuse fighters of ducking him though comments from his own manager make it seem like he's actually as tricky outside of the ring as he is on the inside. An on song Rigondeaux is a pure boxer, but sadly his time may be running down.
Carl Frampton (21-0, 14)-Northern Irishman Frampton is regarded by many as the clear #2 in the division. He's a boxer-puncher with a lot of talent, a growing fan base and a combination of skills, speed and power. In a recent bout fans saw Frampton being dropped twice, in what was his US debut, those knockdowns saw some question his chin, and ability, but he did win the bout and has continued his unbeaten run. It's now thought that Frampton will be fighting Wake before the year is out in what really looks like one of the best bouts the division could give us.
Leo Santa Cruz (30-0-1, 17)-Mexican warrior Santa Cruz once looked like one of the sports emerging stars. A 2-weight world champion with an exciting style he was supposed to be a throw to the Mexican fighters of old. Unfortunately a lot of the shine and good will he had built in his career has been damaged in the last couple of years as he's gone through a number of WBC defenses against weak opponents. Although he's tough and does throw a lot of punches the belief seems to be growing that he's a divisional cash cow but one with out the ability to face the other top fighters.
Scott Quigg (31-0-2, 23)-WBA “regular” champion Quigg was often seen as the weakest of the champions. In recent times however he has looked impressive and his recent blow out of Kiko Martinez was one of the most impressive wins of 2015. He's looking for a showdown with Frampton though it does seem unlikely that we'll see that one as mandatory obligations and promotional spats are standing in the way. Hopefully we'll see Quigg fight another top name in the near future, and Donaire is said to be the man his team are targeting in what would be an intriguing contest.
(Images courtesy of www.boxrec.com apart from the images of Kubo, courtesy of Shinsei Gym, and Kim, courtesy of the KBF)
With 2015 quickly approaching we've decided to do out look at the 15 prospects to watch in 2015. Here we bring you the first selection of those prospects, ranked from 10 to 6. Hopefully you'll put them on your radar for the test of the year.
For people who missed part 1 of this list, it can be found here.
10-Ye Joon Kim
South Korean boxing is certainly on a low point right now though it does have a very promising and exciting youngster making his name in the sport. That is Ye Joon Kim (10-1-2, 5) who appears to be the sole shining light in South Korean boxing. Kim combines charisma with arrogance, excitement with skill and, perhaps most tellingly, power with inexperience. There is a lot of improvements for the youngster to make however he has a lot of traits we like.
Aged 22 there is a lot of time for Kim to improve however we understand that there is a lot of pressure on the Seoul based fighter to pve himself and quickly, especially considering he is the shining light of Korean boxing. Thankfully he is as important as he is appealing and it's almost impossible not to enjoy watching this kid, despite some clear limitations.
Kim is the WBC Youth Super Bantamweight champion and although we don't think he will be ready for a world title bout by the end of 2015 we do suspect he will climb up through the WBC's world ranking, possibly moving into the top 10 by the end of the year. Prior to then however he will need a big win to boost him through the ranks and we think that'll come against a notable
Japanese based Filipino fighter Johnriel Maligro (12-0, 9) hasn't been getting a lot of attention but has been genuinely deserving of some after a brilliant 2014 that should have caught the attention of almost every boxing fan out there. Sadly for Maligro he is a 20 year old Super Featherweight competing in Japan where the division is red hot and he's been easy to ignore, despite wins over an 11-0 and a 10-0 opponent this last year.
Young, heavy handed, promising and slowly proving himself as a prospect to watch Maligro is certainly a talent to keep an eye on. His problems might be that his opposition, especially in Japan, will be tough however he's managed to beate tough foes so far and there is a chance he'll manage to continue that run of form a little bit longer as he begins to move beyond the Japanese domestic scene.
We're not expecting Maligro to fight for a major title this coming year but we're hoping to see him up against a world ranked foe at some point in 2015. He has the youth to take his time though something makes us think he'll continue on his fast track and be matched with solid foes from the start of the year to the end of it, hopefully he'll continue to win and moved towards a very successful 2016.
The unbeaten Shohei Omori (13-0, 8) has become a bit of a break out prospect this year in the eyes of many fans though the hardcore fans out there likely saw it coming and the southpaw hopeful hasn't been as a much a hidden secret as a gem in the making. Aged 21 he has already shown all the signs of a man reaching the top though was clear in 2012 when he won the Bantamweight Rookie of the year. In 2013 Omori added 3 stoppages with the most notable of those being his win over Christian Esquivel, which was a real coming of age performance.
Sharp punching, accurate, surprisingly heavy handed and very calm in the ring it seems like Omori has everything needed in terms of skills. Add those skills to his southpaw stance, his larger than average size and his ability to impress at either 118lbs or 122lbs and you have a really exciting young prospect ready to stamp his mark on the boxing scene in 2015, and lets not forget he is already world ranked.
Omori's future likely hands on what Woz Boxing can do for him. He'll know Woz aren't a big or powerful outfit but if they can link up with a Japanese power player then he could be in the title mix as soon as the year begins. There is no reason why Omori can't be in the mix for a title at either 118lbs or 122lbs and the chances he could over-come the Japanese champion in either division. As for the OPBF champions, they are out of his league, for now, though both titles are expected to be vacated early in the year. We don't see Omori fighting for a world title next year but a regional or national title has to be in his plans for 2015.
It seems that the promising Sho Ishida (17-0, 9) has been around for ages but the 23 year old is still several years from hitting his prime. Despite that he looked sensational last time out when he won the Japanese Super Flyweight title in what is his most notable win so far. Incidentally that win came 11 months after his previous best win, a stoppage against Petchbarngborn Kokietgym. With that same idea we suspect that next summer will be Ishida big step up and that he'll then begin to focus on the world scene.
Next time out, on December 31st, Ishida will be defending his Japanese title against Masato Morisaki, we'd not be shocked to see him defending that belt once more before stepping up a level, and we know former world title contender Teiru Kinoshita has said he would like to fight Ishida in 2015, that would be a perfect test for the Ioka gym prospect.
Ishida appears to have the tools to go to the top. He has the speed, the backing, the support and style to go a long way behind his razor like jab. He however needs some seasoning fights before he looks at a world title bout and whilst we suspect a bout with Kinoshita would help him develop that seasoning we think he'll still need another fight or two. As mentioned we think that a big step up will occur in summer and that could well be against a former champion. We'd be very shocked if 2015 did see Ishida fighting for a world title but we'd be even more shocked if he did end the year looking ready for a big break.
One choice that won't surprise many fans is that of Ryota Murata (5-0, 4), an Olympic champion who has been tipped for success since his debut in 2013. The powerful, good looking, charismatic and promising fighter was ear marked as one of the 2012 Olympians with the potential to become an almost immediate sensation in the professional ranks. He's not quite done that as of yet though within just 5 fights he already has a top 10 WBC ranking and a win over OPBF and Japanese champion Akio Shibata.
Murata did have a few questions asked of him last time out, as he struggled with stamina issues against Adrian Luna Flores, though we suspect those questions will help Murata focus on his weaknesses and that he will begin to work on his stamina ahead of a charge up the rankings in 2015 or 2016.
We know Murata will be going to the top in a different way to his compatriots. Unlike many he won't be focusing on winning Japanese or OPBF titles, instead he'll likely be basing his future in the US or fighting out of Macau. If that's the case he could get around the JBC's rules of needing to win a stepping stone title before fighting for a world title. If Murata does that then we suspect we'll see him in with world ranked foes in 2015 before a possible world title fight towards the end of the year, if the stars align. It may however be a case of waiting until 2016 for him to get an opportunity to fight for a world title.
(Image of Ryota Murata courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
Following a somewhat quiet but interesting January we moved on to a more action pack February which featured several notable upsets, the return to the ring of one of the sports most popular fighters and some massive knockouts. For those who haven't forgotten what happened here is our review of the month.
The action kicked off on February 1st in what was a genuinely major day of action with notable shows in both Japan and Monaco, yes Monaco.
In Japan fans saw Yu Kimura become the new Japanese Light Flyweight as he narrowly defeated Kenichi Horikawa with a split decision. The title, which had been vacant, was the second Japanese national to find a new owner in 2014, following Go Odaira's victory in a Minimumweight title fight in January. Since this bout Horikawa has scored back-to-back wins, though both were majority decisions, Kimura has also managed 2 wins as he's defended the belt twice and is now expected to turn his attention to a world title.
In Monaco we saw the first bout of the year involving the always fun to watch Gennady Golovkin who beat up and eventually stopped Osumanu Adama to retain his WBA Middleweight title. Golovkin was fighting in Monaco for the second time and although he wasn't mega impressive the bout did two things. It allowed the Kazakh to remain active and it also showed that the US fans were wanting to see him with a near riot on twitter after this bout wasn't shown State side. On the same show fans also saw unheralded Filipino Rey Loreto iced South African Nkosinathi Joyi in a major upset. The win put Loreto on the boxing map for many though was really a continuation of his win in late 2013 against Pornsawan Porpramook. Loreto will rematch Joyi later this month, in South Africa, and if he can repeat the feat we suspect he'll find himself in a world title fight next year.
On February 2nd we saw Filipino prospect Johnreil Maligro score his first win of the year as he stopped Dondon Lapuz inside a round, since this win Maligro has gone on to score 2 big wins in Japan and the rise of the 20 year old hopeful really has been an astonishing one, even if he is still under-the-radar.
The busy start to February continued on February 5th as we saw a second major shock. This time it was in China where Xiong Zhao Zhong was shocked by the unheralded Oswaldo Novoa. Zhong, who could be backed a grossly mis-priced 1/100, was the WBC Minimumweight champion going into the bout but was battered, bullied and beaten up by Novoa. Despite the loss Zhong got back into action relatively quickly and has gone 2-1 in subsequent bouts, including a very competitive loss to WBA champion Hekkie Budler. As for Novoa he couldn't repeat his success on the road and was recently stopped in Thailand by Wanheng Menayothin.
We got another upset on February 9th when Japanese teenager Mako Yamada traveled to South Korea and dominated the then unbeaten Su Yun Hong to claim the WBO female Minimumweight title. Sadly however Yamada would retire without defending the belt to concentrate on other things in life. As for Hong she has since gone 1-0-1.
The same card in Korea also saw Ye-Joon Kim record an 8th round victory over Jong-Min Jung whilst Ja-Ik Goo defeated Taek-Min Kim. At the time Goo looked like the best prospect in Korean boxing though has vanished from the Korean boxing scene since this win whilst Kim has become the new face of Korean boxing and appears to be the one shining light in Korean boxing.
On February 10th we saw the months sole OPBF title fight as Shingo Wake defended the OPBF Super Bantamweight title against the thoroughly out classed and out sized Jovylito Aligarbes in what amounted to little more than a stay busy defence for the talented Wake. The more notable bout on this card was actually a Japanese title fight as the talented Rikki Naito claimed the Japanese Super Featherweight title with a sensational win over Hiroyasu Matsuzaki. Since these bouts Wake has recorded one further defenses whilst Naito has defended his belt twice.
Although the month started amazingly it did slow down and it wasn't until February 22nd that we had something else to really get excited about as Top Rank returned to Macau for the first show in the country for the year. The card featured 3 Olympic champions in the form of Ryota Murata, Egor Mekhontsev and Zou Shiming, who scored his first career stoppage. Although the show was sold on the 3 Olympians they didn't actually feature in any of the highlights that came on the show.
The big highlight was an 8 round war between Rex Tso and Mako Matsuyama in what was a much tougher fight for Rex than it should have been. The bout, from the opening round to the 8th, was a real war which you couldn't take your eyes off despite it being relatively one sided with Tso battering the gutsy and brave Matsuyama who showed incredible heart until eventually running out of steam and being stopped.
Although the bout between Tso and Matsuyama was brilliant it was over-shadowed in some ways by a KO of the Year contender as Filipino puncher Marvin Sonsona almost beheaded former world champion Akifumi Shimoda. Sonsona had made a very slow start to the bout but showed off his speed, skill and power as he landed a gorgeous short left uppercut that dropped Shimoda hard. The Japanese fighter was out cold when he got caught and stayed down whilst Sonsona celebrated one of the most outstanding KO's of the year.
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