One of our biggest loves in this sport is the journey of a fighter, following them from very early in their careers right through to the point where they win titles, or in some cases don't. Of course we can usually spot the mega prospects a mile off, the fighters who were top amateurs, and went on to win medals in international competition before moving on to fight in the professional ranks as high experienced and accomplished fighters. One of the harder things to judge is which prospects can go all the way without that sort of amateur foundation.
With that in mind we've decided to take a look at 4 Japanese prospects who are currently making a mark in the sport without an extensive amateur career and are still pretty much under the radar. In fact we've gone one step further and gone with a sub rule that they must have competed in the Rookie of the Year tournament in recent years. This literally rules out top amateurs but leaves us with a lot of promising talent to talk about, and a nice mix of styles, weights and strengths,
Toshiki Shimomachi (12-1-2, 8) - Rookie of the Year winner in 2017
Of all the fighters we're featuring here we dare say that slippery Super Bantamweight fighter Toshiki Shimomachi is the further along in terms of development and where his career stands right now. He's already got 15 fights to his name his Rookie triumph was the better part of 3 years ago, and he is the current Japanese Youth Super Bantamweight champion. Despite all that he is still only 23 years old and is still adding new wrinkles to his game, which really is improving all the time.
Shimomachi turned professional in 2015, debuting at the age of 19, and despite a 2-1-1 (1) start his career has blossomed with the youngster going 10-0-1 (7) in his last 11. That's not perfect, but the recent draw did come to Daisuke Watanabe, who later went on to win the Hajime No Ippo 30th Anniversary tournament.
If you like slippery fighters, who rely on a good boxing brain and setting up counters Shimomachi is that type of guy. He's got a high level boxing brain, good reflexes and very under-rated power.
Jinki Maeda (5-0, 3) - Rookie of the Year Winner in 2019
Shimomachi isn't the only boxer-type on this list, another is Featherweight standout Jinki Maeda. From what we could find Maeda had next to no amateur experience, and instead he moved into boxing having been a stellar Nippon Kempo competitor. The quick speed and reflexes needed in Nippon Kempo seemed to have translated over to boxing well and Maeda is quickly proving himself to be a force to be reckoned with.
Maeda, like Shimmomachi, is 23 but only made his debut in April 2019 and his rise through the sport has been wonderfully quick. Already in his career we've seen him win Rookie of the Year, doing so with a win against Kyonosuke Kameda, but also score a sensational win in 2019 against Arashi Iimi.
Whilst still a long way from a title fight, of any kind, Maeda appears to be one of those rare natural talents who just under-stands what he's doing in the ring and has an innate under-standing of what he's supposed to be doing. He likes to lure opponents into mistakes, strikes quickly, and makes a quick impact. A tremendous young fighter.
Katsuki Mori - (7-0, 1) - Rookie of the Year winner in 2019
Another talented youngster is Ohashi gym's brilliant skilled Katsuki Mori, who is an aggressive but well schooled technical fighter. His game plan is based around his speed, reflexes and movement and he looks sensational at times. As with everyone else in this list he lacks in terms of amateur experience but that certainly doesn't show, and it's to suggest he's one of the best natural talents in Japan.
Although he's a bit feather fisted Mori is very much a fighter who seems to fight to his strengths. Rather than trying to bomb opponents out he will counter them, out land them, make them miss, and land flashy combinations. During his 7 fight career he has only lost a small number of rounds, and has managed to win the 2019 Rookie of the Year with very, very few issues at all.
At the moment it's a little bit unclear whether Mori's immediate future is at. It could be Minimumweight, where he won the 2019 Rookie of the Year, or Light Flyweight, where he fought his last bout, but longer term it seems like he will fill out his frame end up at Flyweight somewhere down the line. By then we'd hope he has a bit more spite on his shots, but for now he's a growing kid and not the complete fighter that he will become. There is work to do, as we see in the video below, but it's clear he's an excellent prospect, who is just lacking that bit of man strength at the moment.
Aso Ishiwaki (8-2-1, 6) - Rookie of the Year losing finalist 2018
We've mentioned some boxers and now we'd like to talk about a true fighter, as we add Aso Ishiwaki into the mix. Ishiwaki is an educated pressure fighter who really reminds us of Daiki Kaneko in many ways. Although not as technically polished as Kaneko was Ishiwaki is an aggressive fighter with incredible physical strength, under-rated power and skills that are developing fight by fight. Like Kaneko it's his presence in the ring that seems to be his biggest strength and early losses haven't hindered his progress.
Ishiwaki began his career in 2017 and loss inside a round on debut. The following year he marched his way to the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, taking several unbeaten records along the way until losing a split decision in the All Japan final to George Tachibana. That probably saw some write him off, but at that point he was just 19 and filling out his frame.
In 2019 Ishiwaki went on to fight 4 times, going 3-0-1 (3), and impressed in both his draw with Yoji Saito and his year ending win over Ryuji Ikeda and showed that he's developing his skills to go with his energy, work rate, toughness, strength and power. Very much a dark horse but someone we really do see making a mark on the regional title scene. He may never make a splash on the global scene, but he's the sort of fighter who will provide us with a lot of action and some real thrilling bouts at 135lbs and 140lbs.
One of the fighters who truly won us over this year was Aso Ishiwaki, who bounced back from a loss in the 2018 All Japan Rookie of the Year final to go 3-0-1 in 2019. His first bout of the year saw him go up against the touted former amateur stand out Yoji Saito. On paper this was supposed to be a win for Saito, who had been a very solid amateur whilst Ishiwaki was just a 19 year old novice, but Ishiwaki had no intent in taking a second straight loss. Instead he was there for a win.
What we ended up with was a genuinely fantastic 6 round bout between two men who wanted to throw short, crisp, sharp bombs through out. The referee was barely needed in the 6 rounds, that saw both men show a real willingness to try and hurt the other. The bout was a bit of under-ground hit with a very solid level of back and forth action, and although it was slower than a true fight of the year contender, it's deliberate pace meant the bout was always highly engaging and let both men let big shots do up close.
For us the pick of the rounds here was round 2, with both men really going for it, with some fantastic back and forth action, right in the middle of the round. From the off both men proved they were willing to dig their toes into the canvas and let their punches flow, but it was really the middle minute of the round that shone, as Ishiwaki got close and Saito unloaded on him, forcing and immediate response giving us a brilliant bit of 2-way action, and made Saito realise he was in with a genuinely talented young fighter.
Sadly after this round the pace did drop a little, with Saito seeming to tire, though every round remained was a well fought 3 minutes of hard shots and 2-way action.
As we head towards the new year we've had a big look at the current scene and come up with "20 fights we'd like to see in 2020", yeah another series ahead of the new decade!
As is always the case with what we do, these articles will have an Asian flavour, and every bout we mention in the series will have at least 1 fighter from Asia involved. So for those of you expecting us to talk about Deontay Wilder Vs Anthony Joshua, that won't be listed.
What we'll be looking at is well matched contests with either some form of back story, a great stylistic clash or bouts with some form of significant meaning. If they tick all the boxes then that is even better! Each fight will be given it's own article and each of these will come with an introduction to the fighters, and why the bout is being featured in the list.
Aso Ishiwaki (8-2-1, 6) vs Cristiano Aoqui (14-8-2, 10)
One of the keys behind this series is to open up about matches we want to see, across various levels of the sport. Not just to talk about world class fighters in super fights. Whilst super fights are great, they do tend to get the same things written about them time and time again, and we'd prefer not to just discuss the same things as everyone else. To us the lower end, domestic and regional title bouts are the more interesting ones to think about, the options are more varied, the and the reasons for the bouts to be made can be more interesting. Everyone wants a super fighter, but not everyone deserves them, what they deserve though is a good fight. Today we look at one example of what is really, a good potential fight.
On the Japanese domestic scene in 2019 Aso Ishiwaki was a break out success story, emerging from Nobuhiro Ishida's boxing gym in Neyegawa. He had reached the Rookie of the Year final in 2018, losing a razor close bout in the final, but really stunned us this year going 3-0-1 (3) and looking like a ridiculously strong, powerful, talented and hungry fighter along the way. There are areas, technically, for him to work on, but from a fan perspective his flaws make him a must watch action fighter and one of the most fun to watch Japanese Light Welterweights. His development in 2019 also sees him making great strides to a potential Japanese title fight in the new year.
Although not a star Japanese Brazilian fighter Cristiano Aoqui is a popular fighter, with a decent fan base and a very fun style, at least when matched right. The 30 year old, from the Kadoebi Gym, is a former Japanese title challenger, he's highly ranked with the JBC, and he's been in with a genuine who's who of the Japanese scene at 140. He's an explosive puncher, who is great fun to watch when he's in full flow, with spiteful combinations. But he's also slow footed, and when it comes to cutting off the ring he's not particularly strong at it. If a fighter comes to fight he makes for great bouts, and that is what a bout with Ishiwaki would comprise of. Two men wanting to fight.
Earlier this year Ishiwaki was on a Kadoebi show, fighting to a draw with Yoji Saito, and they seemed impressed by the youngster. Having him back in Tokyo on another of their shows is not something they'd have any problems with, and having him in with Aoqui would make for a very fan friendly match up. The winner would find themselves right in the domestic title picture, potentially with a shot later in the year, and their profile would be increased by being in a true barn burner.
For Aoqui and Kadoebi this would put give them a chance to avenge Saito's draw, which we felt was Saito was lucky to get, and for Ishiwaki it would give him a chance to significantly boost his Japanese ranking. For us, it would provide some incredible action.
Please good folk at Kadoebi, if you're reading this, lets have it sorted out for the new year!
This past week has certainly not been a massive week for Asian boxing, but has still been a pretty interesting one, with upsets, debuts and action. This wasn't a week that will go down as a major one but was still fairly entertaining.
Fighter of the Week
Keita Kurihara (15-5, 13)
Heavy handed Japanese fighter fighter Keita Kurihara took a huge step towards his first world title fight as he stopped fellow world ranked fighter Sukpraserd Ponpitak in 2 rounds. We all know that Kurihara isn't ready for a world title shot, and won't be for some time, but was another good win for the 26 year old who has now notched 6 straight wins since a 2017 loss to Hiroaki Teshigawara. Although not yet in the title mix, it seems like it'll only be a matter of time before he gets a shot at the big time.
Performance of the Week
Kenbati Haiyilao (6-2-1, 1)
Unheralded Chinese fighter Kenbati Haiyilao travelled to Thailand with a plan, and put that plan into effect perfectly as he ended the unbeaten run of Nick Frese. It's fair to say that Haiyilao was given little chance but put on an excellent performance to out box, out fight and out think Frese, who struggled to get into the bout. What makes Haiyilao's win even more impressive is that he was only a few weeks removed from his previous bout, a technical draw with Shaoheng Chang. An excellent performance for a fantastic, yet low key, upset win.
Aso Ishiwaki Vs Ryuji Ikeda
There wasn't many bouts that really stood out this week, though we genuinely enjoyed the exciting, though short, battle between 20 year old Aso Ishiwaki and former Japanese Light Welterweight title challenger Ryuji Ikeda. This was fought at a fun pace from the opening round, and saw both men unloading some big shots. The fight wasn't an all out war, it didn't last long enough to become such a thing, but it was very entertaining a lovely hidden gem in a very quiet week
Aso Ishiwaki Vs Ryuji Ikeda (Rd2)
Our Fight of the Week also provided the round of the week, with round 2 of the aforementioned contest between Aso Ishiwaki and Ryuji Ikeda. This was thrilling with Ikeda looking to set a fast pace and Ishiwaki boxing smartly, using his power and strength and eventually breaking down Ikeda in a very fan friendly round of action. In a different week this may not have got a mention, but as it is this is our recommendation for fans to give a view to this week!
No valid contender this week
Hasanboy Dusmatov (1-0, 1)
After winning an Olympic gold medal in 2016 Hasanboy Dusmatov was one of the fighters that so many fans wanted to see make his professional debut. It was assumed that he would be fast tracked and be moved aggressively and be in the title mix almost instantly. Instead though he flirted with the professional ranks, whilst remaining an amateur...until this week when he finally turned professional and looked sensational stopping an over-matched Mexican teenager. He looked, crisp, sharp and very confident in the ring, and fingers crossed he'll manage to move quickly through the next 12 months, like several other Uzbek fighters.
Can Xu (17-2, 3) vs Manny Robles III (18-0, 8)
The coming week is another that isn't packed with with huge fights, but it's hard to not get excited about the WBA Featherweight title fight between Can Xu and Manny Robles III. This has the makings of an all out war, and we're really excited about this. Neither man is a big puncher, but both let leather fly and both are tough so we suspect this will be less abotu boxing, and more about trying to out man the other in what could end up being a legitimate fight of the year contender.
The best thing about the Japan scene is the fact we get to see so many fighters in action, be it on TV, Boxing Raise, fan cams, internet feeds or other there is simply so many opportunities to see different Japanese fighters in action. In places like the UK or US there are really only a handful of promoters capable of show casing their fighters, though due to rules preventing fighters from the same gym to face off in Japan promoters need to work together. There's also the Rookie of the Year that show cases fighters from across the country and gives them a window to make a name for themselves early in their careers.
One Japanese fighter that caught our eye in recent years, without having a major promoter or a strong amateur pedigree is Aso Ishiwaki (6-2-1, 4). On paper his record might not look amazing, but the reality he's one of the most entertaining young fighters in Japan and combines toughness, a high work rate, power and a real steely determination, that makes a perfect fighter for this "Introducing..." series.
Unlike many fighters we cover in this segment Ishiwaki doesn't appear to have had any sort of notable background in the amateur ranks. Instead he turned professional young, debuting at the age of 17. On debut Ishiwaki was stopped in the first round, losing to Kanta Takenaka in 2 minutes and 42 seconds. Given that result in isolation one could easily have written off the youngster but it really seems like an oddity given how his career has gone since. In his debut Ishiwaki looked like a man who was hurt, dropped, rocked and looked totally out of his element. How he has developed since then however has been very impressive.
Just 4 months after his debut Ishiwaki scored his first win, blowing away Mitsuki Morita in 57 seconds, and he didn't take much longer to defeat Yudai Tokumaru in his first fight of 2018. That win over Tokumaru began a great year for the youngster who reach the All Japan Rookie of the Year final in the Lightweight division. Sadly for Ishiwaki he would lose in the final to George Tachibana, in a razor thin 5 round split decision.
Aged 19 when he lost to Tachibana, in what was a really good bout, it was clear Ishiwaki had developed from the fighter who was stopped in his first professional round, to a genuine low key prospect. He had already matured to a strong, powerful youngster and he had began to look like someone who, despite being technically flawed, was full of potential.
Entering 2019 Ishiwaki had a record of 5-2 and was then matched with the 1-1 Yoji Sato. On paper this was an interesting one, and we had been really impressed by Saito who had been a solid amateur before turning professional. Being totally honest we expected Saito to blow out the youngster but instead it was Ishiwaki who seemed to deserve the win in a thrilling 6 round war that saw both men prove their toughness. Sadly for Ishiwaki he could only score a draw here, but it felt he deserved the win, and got rather unfortunate. This, more than his Rookie of the Year performance, saw us really sit up and take notice of the youngster who looked like he was beginning to mature into a very good fighter.
Since the Saito bout he scored a lot key win in Thailand, but will be back in action on September 29th against Takuya Matsusaka, who is a bit of a glass cannon.
We mentioned that Ishiwaki hasn't got a big gym behind him, he does however have Nobuhiro Ishida behind him, as his promoter. He also has a really impressive level of determination, a rugged toughness a great tank and at just 20 years old he has so much more to learn. From what we've seen however he is certainly someone who deserves a lot of attention. He's a busy, front foot fighter, who loves fighting on the inside and will make for very TV friendly fights, win or lose.
It's fair to say that April has been an up and down month, rather than a spectacular month. It's given us some really good highlights, but those highlights were spread through the month and often at a relatively lower level. It's not been a bad month, but it instantly looks disappointing given that two of the months biggest bouts were underwhelming, and we have an incredible May just around the corner.
Fighter of the Month
John Riel Casimero (27-4, 18)
The month didn't have a major standout for the Fighter of the Month award, there were a number of contenders, but no one took the month by the scruff of the neck quite like John Riel Casimero. The inconsistent, though hugely talented, Filipino claimed the WBO "interim" Bantamweight title when he score a final round KO win ocer Ricardo Espinoza Franco, in an off TV bout. The bout was level on the cards going into the 12th round, and it really was all to play for, with Casimero turning it on, and taking out the Mexican in the first minute of the round. A great victory and one that instantly puts him in the Bantamweight mix. Potentially Casimero could face Zolani Tete next, in what would be a really good match up between two world class, though often frustrating, fighters.
Fight of the Month
Yoji Saito vs Aso Ishiwaki
Whilst some categories were stacked this month, it's hard to think of a bout that stood out for all the right reasons and was a genuinely good, 50-50 type bout, that didn't end in the opening round, more about that in a minute. Looking back over the month the best of the bunch, for us, was the 6 round thriller between Yoji Saito and Aso Ishiwaki, who really went to war and tried to take each other out. The fight was expected to go Saito's way to begin with, given his amateur pedigree, but Ishiwaki saw off the early storm and was perhaps unfortunate to not take a notable win in what was a thriller. A really good bout, in a month lacking sensational contests.
As we mentioned there was really good 1-round fights, or rather 1 round shoot outs. These included the brilliant Boxing Raise exclusive between Seigo Yuri Akui and Yoshiki Minato, and the similarly entertaining contest between Yuki Yazawa and Kazuki Nakamura.
KO of the Month
Nonito Donaire KO6 Stephon Young
We had a lot of competition in this category, with great KO's scored in Asia by Cristiano Aoqui, Koiki Tyson and Chainoi Worawut, among others. The pick of the KO's however came on a higher level as Nonito Donaire's much famed left hook left Stephon Young looking up at the lights, but with no idea where he was. Donaire, even at the age of 36, may well have the most powerful left hook, pound for pound at least, in the sport and Young just became another victim to the shot. Not only was it a beauty to look at, in it's gorgeous and sudden violence, but it was also incredibly significant, as it put Donaire into the WBSS final later in the year.
Ginjiro Shigeoka (3-0, 1)
One of the toughest categories this week was the Prospect of the Month, with a number of prospects in action, such as Olympic champion Shakhobidin Zoirov, Seiya Tsutsumi, Riku Kunimoto, and our eventual pick, Ginjiro Shigeoka. The Watanabe Wondrer Kid impressed as he beat Joel Lino in what was a huge step up in class, and it seems clear that he learrned more in the bout than many of the other prospects who were in action. He not only learned a lot, but also clearly beat a very talented fighter, and a title bout is surely just around the corner.
Kanehiro Nakagawa vs Seiichi Okada and Masayasu Nakamura vs Tatsuya Takahashi
A real rarity here, but we have a draw here with two genuinely notable upsets, both of which are impossible to split for which is the best or biggest.
On one hand we had Kanehiro Nakagawa (7-6, 4) out-point former Japanese Super Featherweight champion Seiichi Okada (22-7-1, 13) and on the other we had Masayasu Nakamura (7-3-1, 6) take a decision over former Japanese Bantamweight title challenger Tatsuya Takahashi (30-9-5, 21), in what was Nakamura's first bout in almost 3 years.
Whilst fingers can be pointed at both fights, both wins are huge for the under-dogs who should be able to use their victories as a launch pad.
Seigo Yuri Akui vs Yoshiki Minato - Round 1
One of the final shows of the Heisei Era gave us a full on shoot out, as Seigo Yuri Akui and Yoshiki Minato tore into each other, with neither showing any intention of going to the final bell. Within 20 seconds Akui had staggered his man, and Minato decided to fight fire with fire, dropping Akui with a huge left hand. When the bout resumed Minato went hunting Akui who took a few moments to regroup, turning the tables with some huge shots of his own. About 80 seconds into the round Akui had scored his own knockdown, then another 20 seconds later. Minato, who had picked the wrong fight, tried to gut it out but was stopped shortly afterwards. This may not have been technically solid, but was full on, non-stop entertainment.
After a few weeks of not having much of note we've had a week that has created a bit of an accidental star, seen a debutant shine, seen new title holders in Indonesia and a lot actually happening. Sadly, due to the time issues in watching everything, we have seen a pro-Japanese week again, but there was clearly a lot of action in Asia in what was a great week for Asian fight fans.
Fighter of the Week
Koki Inoue (13-0, 10)
Whilst Koki Inoue, the cousin of Naoya and Takuma Inoue, didn't blow us away it's hard to argue with the quality of what he did this past Saturday. The talented Light Welterweight intelligently shut down Valentine Hosokawa to take a wide, and clear, decision over the talented and often high tempo Hosokawa. On paper the bout was a big step up in class for Inoue but he sort of made it look easy in the end as he took a comfortable decision over the veteran champion. Hosokawa, who usually controls the pace and tempo, struggled to catch Inoue clean, and struggled even more to change the pattern of the fight, whilst Inoue looked like a man comfortably fighting within himself. This wasn't exciting, but it was the biggest win of the week for an Asian fighter.
Performance of the Week
Riku Kunimoto (4-0, 2)
Whilst Inoue failed to shine, winning Fighter of the week by virtue of getting the biggest win, there was real competition for Performance of the Week. We were really impressed by Tsuyoshi Sato, Aso Ishiwaki, Sultan Zaurbek and our winner for the week, Riku Kunimoto.
Sato, who was fighting for the 4th time as a professional, put on the complete performance in mid week as he stopped Shoma Fukumoto, and took a huge step towards a potential title fight. He out boxed Fukumoto, then stopped him later in the bout, in what was his Tokyo debut. On paper it was a leap up in class, but in the end he made it look easy and really announced himself as a Japanese Middleweight worthy of note. He's young, he's talented and he has the potential to go very, very far.
Yoji Saito (1-1, 1) vs Aso Ishiwaki (5-2, 3)
On paper the recent bout between Yoji Saito and Aso Ishiwaki didn't really promise a lot, though we genuinely over-looked the bout which proved to be a very exciting encounter. Saito set the early pace, pressing and pressuring Ishiwaki as he looked on route for his second win. Ishiwaki however refused to wilt, and instead came on strong, really strong, from round 3 giving us a huge momentum shift and an amazing fight. There wasn't any knockdowns but there was none stop action, and a really gritty determination from both. This is a great, great 6 round bout!
Yuki Yazawa (0-0) vs Kazuki Nakamura (0-0-1) - Round 1
The round of the week was a clear and easy one to decide, with the opening round of the Yuki Yazawa Vs Kazuki Nakamura fight easily being the best round of the week from Asia. The round, which actually only lasted 126 seconds, contained 3 knockdowns, a brutal finish, a strong scent of karma, taunting and everything you could ask for. This really was something that every fan deserves to watch.
Cristiano Aoqui KO5 Anthony Marcial
We had some awesome KO's this week, Yuki Yazawa's was a beauty against Kazuki Nakamura, Koki Tyson scored a brutal one, Sultan Zaurbek got a gorgeous one in Dubai but our pick of the bunch was Brazilian-Japanese fighter Cristiano Aoqui's brutal hook against Filipino Anthony Marcial.The shot was a highlight, or an otherwise dull fight, and was perfectly timed. Whilst Marcial wasn't out cold, like some of the others on the wrong end of a great KO, his stumble through the ropes whilst trying to beat the count was great to watch.
Shakhobidin Zoirov (1-0, 1)
We want to start this by saying we have nothing positive to say of Indonesian journeyman Anthony Holt, and the reason we think so little of Holt was shown this past Friday when he was in the ring with Shakhobidin Zoirov. The debuting Zoirov is an Olympic champion and a huge hope for Uzbek boxing. He deserved a real test, but instead took almost no time to destroy Holt. Despite the bout being a relative waste of time it was hard to not be impressed by the cameo, and it's obvious that Zoirov is a very, very special fighter. One to mark down as a super prospect.
Alphoe Dagayloan (12-2-5, 5) vs Esneth Domingo (11-0, 6)
There's no special fight this coming week, but we do love the look of several fighters over the coming 7 days. Perhaps the pick of the bunch is the WBA Asia Flyweight title bout between the under-rated Alphoe Dagayloan and the unbeaten Esneth Domingo. This is a brilliant match up and something that is very, very exciting! Neither guy is a big name, but both are promising and both could see this as a chance to move into the WBA rankings. A great fight and something that both will be looking to win!
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces