It's fair to say that February will be a very, very quiet month with only a handful of shows taking place during the month, and sadly that means there are a very small number of bouts to talk about for the month. Despite that we are, of course, bringing you our regular "What's to come" for the month.
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
Ryu Horikawa (3-0-1, 1) vs Yudai Shigeoka (2-0, 1)
The first notable bout in February featuring Asian fighters will come at Japanese Youth title level as Light Flyweight Ryu Horikawa and Yudai Shigeoka clash in a mouth watering match up. The two youngsters are both tipped for big things during their careers and it's great to see them clashing here, rather than protecting their records like we'd see in other countries. Horikawa is the younger man and is the natural Light Flyweight, however Shigeoka has arguably been more impressive was very impressive in beat Lito Dante in just his second bout. Although not a massive fight this is a very, very interesting one.
Ryo Sagawa (10-1, 5) vs Hinata Maruta (10-1-1, 8)
On the same show as the Japanese Youth title fight we'll also get a mandatory bout for the Japanese Featherweight title as talented champion Ryo Segawa looks for his third defense, and takes on the touted Hinata Maruta in a mouth watering clash. The talented Sagawa has been on a great run of results since an early career loss and looks like a man who could certainly get into the world title mix over the coming years. Although not the most durable, he has been stopped and has been dropped in other bouts, Sagawa is a very talented fighter who can box or fight. As for Maruta the once super-hot prospects has failed to meet the lofty expecations that were on his shoulders when he turned professional, but there is no denying his talent and a win here would put him back on track to bigger and better things.
Fantasy Springs Casino, Indio, California, USA
Joseph Diaz (31-1, 15) vs Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (15-0, 12)
In the first world title fight to feature an Asian fighter this month we'll see Russian based Tajik fighter Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov take on IBF Super Featherweight champion Joseph Diaz in California. For Rakhimov this is a mandatory title fight he has waited well over a year for, earning the shot in 2019 when he stopped Azinga Fuzile. As for Diaz this will be his first defense of the title that he won in early 2020, when he beat Tevin Farmer. In terms of the match up this one should be an all out action fight between two men who like to come forward. Diaz will be the favourite, but Rakhimov is very much a live under-dog here.
The Flash Grand Ballroom of the Elorde Sports Complex, Paranaque City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Bienvenido Ligas (12-1-1, 9) Vs Alphoe Dagayloan (14-3-6-1, 5)
The first major Filipino bout of the new year takes place on the 13th as the once beaten Bienvenido Ligas takes on the criminally under-rated Alphoe Dagayloan in an excellent Flyweight match up. Coming in Ligas will likely be the slight favourite, given his better reord, but in reality Dagayloan is the more proven and has been impressing in recent years, following a stuttering start to his professional career. This should be a genuinely excellent match up, something we, sadly, don't say often enough about All-Filipiuno bouts.
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
All Japan Rookie of the Year
Not a specific bout here, but something that is worth noting is that February 21st will bring us the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, ending what has been a delayed and belated tournament. Despite the hiccups along the way, caused by Covid19, we are really looking forward to this show, which will be shown live on G+ in Japan and will almost certainly help launch one or two prospects towards bigger and better things.
Bula Gym, General Santos City, Philippines
Pedro Taduran (14-2-1, 11) Vs Rene Mark Cuarto (18-2-2, 11)
In another very interesting all-Filipino bout IBF Minimumweight champion Pedro Taduran will defend his title, for the second time, as he takes on IBF #3 ranked challenger Rene Mark Cuarto in a really mouth watering match up. Taduran, who won the title in 2019 with a thrilling performance against Samuel Salva, has sadly been out of the ring for a year since making his first defense. As for Cuarto he's unbeaten in his last 3 but has been out of the ring since December 2019. On paper this is, by far, the toughest bout of Cuarto's career and it'll be very interesting to see what he has to offer at world level against an aggressive and heavy handed champion.
Tynyshpayev Academy of Transport and Communications, Almaty, Kazakhstan
Kamshybek Kunkabayev (2-0, 2) Vs Steven Ward (13-1, 4)
In a really nice step up bout unbeaten Kazakh Cruiserweight hopeful Kamshybek Kunkabayev will be battling against Northern Irish fighter Steven Ward in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific title. Kunkabayev, a former Kazakh amateur standout has impressed since turning professional but there are a lot of questions for him to still answer. Sadly we don't actually expect Ward to be able to ask him those questions and if anything we see Kunkabayev having a pretty easy time of things here.
Nurtas Azhbenov (10-0, 4) Vs Evgeny Smirnov (13-1-3, 3)
Unbeaten Kazakh prospect Nurtas Azhbenov takes his next step forward as he takes on the once beaten Evgeny Smirnov, form Russia, in a very credible step up. Azhbenov has frustrated at times, and despite being a very talented fighter seems to lack power and killer instinct with a lot of his bouts meandering to a rather drama free decision. He certainly has skills but he is not the finished article. Smirnov on the other hand has failed to win his last 3, but has been fighting at pretty decent level in recent bouts.
Janibek Alimkhanuly (9-0, 5) vs TBA
Unbeaten Kazakh hopeful Zhanibek Alimkhanuly will look to stay busy as he takes on a yet to be named opponent late in the month. The talented Middleweight is looking to secure a world title fight later this year, and although this will likely just be a stay busy bout it's great to see him staying active after a frustrating 2020 that saw him unable to build on a solid KO win against Gonzalo Gaston Coria. It's clear that Alimkhanuly is a talent and although we want to see him prove that talent against good fighters we would prefer him staying busy rather than sitting on the side lines waiting for a bout. With that in mind we can't complain too much at the TBA status of his opponent,
Talgat Shayken (3-0, 2) Vs Evgeny Pavko (18-3-1, 13)
Another unbeaten Kazakh prospect in action here is Talgat Shayken, who battles against the much more experienced Evgeny Pavko. The talented Shayken turned professional last year, and despite a rather crude performance on his debut he has impressed in his last 2 bouts and he appears to be a fighter heading places in the coming years. Despite bot being the most polished fighter Shayken is aggressive, strong and very fun to watch. Pavko on the other hand is an experienced Russian, who has lost 3 of his last 6. Despite his faltering form Pavko should, potentially, be a decent test for Shayken over 8 rounds.
Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, Florida, USA
Zhang Zhilei (22-0, 17) v Jerry Forrest (26-4, 20)
Chinese Heavyweight giant Zhang Zhilei continues to waste his career as he takes on American foe Jerry Forret. The 37 year old Zhang has been linked to an Anthony Joshua fight for the last few years, but in reality is trudging along with rather meaningless bouts, and this is another for "Big Bang", who really should have been in with a notable name by now. The 32 year old Jerry Forrest is actually a decent opponent, and gave good tests to Jermaine Franklin and Carlos Takam, but isn't the type of name opponent Zhilei needs to push forward with his career. In fact Forrest is the type of high risk-low reward opponent that doesn't make sense for Zhilei at this point in his career.
The wave of notable amateur fighters turning professional continues this week, with a trio of Kazakh fighters all making their professional debuts on Sunday. We have already covered two of those fighters in this series, Tursynbay Kulakhmet (0-0) and Talgat Shaiken (0-0), who were both meant to debut earlier in the year but their debuts got delayed due to the on going global situation The third however wasn't supposed to be on that previous card and has actually just recently turned professional and is Heavyweight hopeful Kamshybek Kunkabayev (0-0).
Kunkabayev, like Shaiken and Kulakhment, was a true amateur stand out, or more specifically still is. In the unpaid ranks he had been picking up major medals for years before heading to the professional ranks earlier this year and signing with MTK Kazakhstan.
Born in Kyzylorda in the south-central region of Kazakhstan back in 1991 Kunkabayev began to make a name for himself in the amateurs in his early 20's. This was enough to see him battling in an international team tournament in 2012, where he battled Tony Yoka of all people, and took a win on count back over the future Olympic Gold medal winner. That same year he also came runner up in the Akhmat-Khadzhi Kadyrov Memorial, in Russia
Just a year later Kunkabayev had become a staple on the International stage, losing in the semi final of the 2013 Great Silk Way Tournament where he lost in the semi final to to Azeri great Mahammadrasul Majidov. In 2014 he again showed progress, winning the Gold medal at the CISM Championships, took a Bronze medal from the President's Cup. Interestingly in that year's domestic championships in Kazakhstan he managed to reach the semi-final, where he lost to Ruslan Myrsatayev
In 2015 Kunkabayev's success continue to build and won the notable and highly regarded Strandja Memorial, scoring a very notable TKO1 win over Bakhodir Jalolov in the final. That same year he also picked up a tournament win at the Vllaznia Memorial was was the runner up in the World Military Games in South Korea.
Having proven himself as a very good fighter in the international tournaments Kunkabayev was then able to move on to the bigger and more notable amateur competitions. In 2016 he competed in the WSB, fighting for the Astana Arlans, where he lost in the semi-finals to Englishman Frazer Campbell, who was part of the British Lionhearts.
In 2017 he showed what Kunkabayev could do against the very best and won Silver medals at both the World Amateur Championships in Hamburg and the Asian Championships in Tashkent. In the Asian Championships he lost in the final to Bakhodir Jalolov, though got revenge of the Uzbek in the World Championships a few months later, before losing to Azeri nemesis Mahammadrasul Majidov.
It's worth noting that Kunkabayev also beat Bakhodir Jalolov in the WSB in another chapter to their long amateur rivalry that crossed from amateurs to WSB and now looks likely to continue in the professional ranks.
Kunkabayev's last major amateur success so him against doing the silver double in 2019, when he again took Silver at both the World Amateur and Asian Championships. Once again he clashed with his two great rivals, though sadly lost in the finals of the World Championships to Mahammadrasul Majidov and to Bakhodir Jalolov in the finals of the Asian Championships.
With 4 major silver medals to his name Kunkabayev will try and change that at the Tokyo Olympics, which he does still intend to compete in despite turning professional. Those 4 medals are a sign of what he can do, but also, potentially, that he falters when things get to the big stage. Losing in 4 finals is perhaps a sign that he can't get it done, but getting to 4 finals shows how good he is.
In regards to his style Kunkabayev is a rather slippery looking southpaw boxer-puncher. He's a big bloke, a real big bloke, but very light on his feet, with quick hands, lovely movement, a very sharp left hand and the ability to go to either head or body. Stylistically has has shown a willing to box on the back foot, move, and counter. It's not the most exciting style, but it has been a successful one for him. In fact when he has has changed things up and been more aggressive, as he was in the 2019 World Amateur Championships final last year, he has looked less polished. That however may have been more down to facing his old rivalry and bringing out the red mist rather than a real sign of what he can do coming forward.
Notably on his debut the talented Kunkabayev will be facing off with fellow Kazakh Issa Akberbayev (20-1, 15) on August 23rd in Almaty. A win there, despite the tough match making, is expected from Kunkabayev who is expected to fight another bout or two as a professional before the Olympics in Tokyo.
We're really excited about what Kunkabayev can do joining the professional ranks, even if his career will be truncated by the Tokyo games. He has the tools to go far, and with MTK behind him he has a backer who can open doors for him. We're not sure if he has "World Champion" written all over him, but he certainly has the skills and the long amateur pedigree to get into the title mix and should be no worse than a future world title challenger.
The month of August has already been pretty damn entertaining and we're about half way through it. Over the coming 2 weeks or so we see it get even better, with a host of notable fighters in action in varying level of match ups. Here we take the opportunity to highlight some of the best of what's still to come in August!
PLEASE Note - All bouts are subject to change, cancellations and postponements, something that is a lot more rife right now than usual due to the on going situation.
Israil Madrimov (5-0, 5) vs Eric Walker (20-2, 9)
In a WBA World title eliminator at Light Middleweight we'll see sensational Uzbek Israil Madrimov seek his 6th professional win as he takes on 37 year old Eric Walker. On paper this looks like a good step forward for Madrimov, despite Walker's advanced age. Unlike many older fighters Walker doesn't have a lot of miles on the clock, due to a very late start in boxing. Saying that however this is still likely to be more about Madrimov, and the Uzbek taking strides towards a world title fight, than it is about Walker and his redemption story.
Shakhram Giyasov (9-0, 7) vs Francisco Hernandez Rojo (22-3, 15)
Another Uzbek looking to move towards a world title fight is Olympic Silver medal winner Shakhram Giyasov. The talented Giyasov has shown some cracks in recent bouts and should be tested here as he takes on Francisco Hernandez Rojo. The Uzbek has shown some real potential but we do need to see him answering more questions and hopefully Rojo, who once lost a very close bout to Ryan Martin, will ask some of some of those questions. At his best Rojo could be the acid test needed for Giyasov, though it should be noted that it's well over 2 years since Rojo last fought, and this could be a genuine issue for the Mexican fighter.
Korakuen Hall, Japan
Ryota Yamauchi (6-1, 5) Vs Satoru Todaka (10-3-4, 4)
In a bout for the now vacant WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title we'll see the once beaten Ryota Yamauchi take on Satoru Todaka, with the winner pushing their claim for a WBO world title fight. Yamauchi has long been tipped for a world title and looks like a real talent, though one with plenty of areas to work on. As for Todaka this is likely to be seen as a must win, following a loss last year to Kenichi Horikawa in a Japanese title bout. We suspect this has been put together to make Yamauchi look like a star, and that's exactly what we expect of the Kadoebi gym youngster.
Masanori Rikiishi (7-1, 4) Vs Yuichiro Kasuya (13-2-2, 4)
In a real 50-50 match up we see former Rookie of the Year winner Yuichiro Kasuya take on the hard matched Masanori Rikiishi, in a mouth watering clash. This bout won't get the attention that many others will, but is, for us, one of the best match ups of the month. We favour the hard hitting Rikiishi, who comes into the bout on the back of a big win over Freddy Fonseca, but Kasuya is no push over and this could be a very intriguing match up, that could end super competitive on the cards
Korakuen Hall, Japan
Shingo Kusano (13-8-1, 5) Vs Daisuke Watanabe (10-4-2, 6)
In the Hajime No Ippo 30th Anniversary tournament final we'll see slippery southpaw Shingo Kusano take on the aggressive Daisuke Watanabe, in what could turn out to be a really, really intriguing match up. Neither of the two men were expected to make their way to the final but both have battled hard to get here, giving a very unexpected main event here. Of the two we think Watanabe has got the edge, but Kusano's performances in the tournament have been two of his very best and he is very much a man fighting for his career. We expect this one to gel very nicely and end up being a very nice match up from stylistic point of view.
Shingo Wake (26-6-2, 18) vs Shohei Kawashima (18-4-2, 4)
Former world title challenger Shingo Wake was shocked last year in his rematch with Jhunriel Ramonal. Now his career hangs by a thread and he can't afford another set back if he's to remain in the mix for a second shot at world honours. He'll be giving his all to not just win, but to shine when he takes on the talented but light punching Shohei Kawashima. On paper this looks a really even match up, but we expect it to be a mismatch, with Wake making an example of his fellow Japanese fighter, and making a statement. At the age of 33 Wake doesn't have long left and will be desperate to shine. Kawashima can play spoiler, but we don't think he has the ability to do it against a talented southpaw like Wake.
Tursynbay Kulakhmet (0-0) Vs TBA, Talgat Shaiken (0-0) Vs TBA, Kamshybek Kunkabayev (0-0) Vs TBA
Due to the fact none of the above have had their opponents announced at the time of writing we're going to roll this into one and say it's time to take note of the Kazakh talent coming through the ranks under the guidance of MTK Kazakhstan. Although maybe unfair we dare say this trio are the most talented and interesting. For us Kulakhmet is the most talented, Shaiken the most exciting and as a Heavyweight Kunkabayev is the one most likely to make waves on the casual fan. Take note, all 3 of these men are looking to make an impact in the pros and all 3 have got barrels of potential. None of the trio need to be handled softly and all 3 could be let off the leash very quickly, given their incredible talent and amateur backgrounds.
Korakuen Hall, Japan
Ryo Matsumoto (23-3, 21) vs Takuya Mizuno (17-2-1, 14)
Former world title challenger Ryo Matsumoto is in an awkward position in that cannot afford another loss any time soon, after 2 defeats in 2018. Saying that he is still a sensational talent, and one of the most amazing young boxers to watch, with speed, power, precision and skills. He has all the tools to go far, but now needs to make them work. In Takuya Mizuno we see a solid puncher, but someone who hasn't looked technically astute recently. If Mizuno can't blast Matsumoto out early on we expect to see Matsumoto take a very clear win. Still this is a real test of what both men have and is a very well matched but between very capable young fighters.
Ryutaro Nakagaki (0-0) vs Shohei Horii (3-5-2, 2)
Former multi-time Japanese amateur champion Ryutaro Nakagaki begins his professional career with a 6 round bout against Shohei Horii. The confident Nakagaki was a sensationally talented amateur who boxed with a pure boxing style, and the big question mark with him, going into the professional ranks, is whether he can add some spite to his shots. If so he's expected to be moved very quickly. Aged just 20 he is one to keep a real eye on, though the speed of his progression will depend on his early performances. Horii on the other hand has been stopped in 4 of his 5 losses and will not be expected to last the schedule with Nakagaki. If this goes 6 the hype will cool massively on Nakagaki, and he'll know that coming in so we expect this one to end early with Nakagaki making a statement.
Keisuke Matsumoto (0-0) vs Hironori Miyake (9-9-2, 1)
Another talented debutant on this show will be "Mirai Monster" Keisuke Matsumoto. Keisuke, no relation to Ryo, is a third generation fighter following in the foot steps of his father and grandfather. Given his father is Ohashi gym trainer Koji Matsumoto there is real pedigree here with Matsumoto, who has long been tipped as a star of the future. In the opposite corner will be Hironori Miyake. On paper this is a genuinely good test, despite the losses on Miyake's record. Miyake has never been stopped and has given the likes of Kyosuke Sawada and Yoshihiro Utsumi good tests. This should Matsumoto being asked questions, and needing to show what he got in the locker.
Shinjuku FACE, Tokyo, Japan
Shoki Sakai (23-11-2, 13) vs Hironori Shigeta (6-1-1, 3)
To end the month we get a card from Hachioji Nakaya. The show is actually a really interesting one, with a number of intriguing domestic level bouts, but it's the main event that is the pick of the bunch. It will see Shoki Sakai make his Japanese debut, after 36 fights in the West, and will see him up against 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year winner Hironori Shigeta. Both men are 29 and yet both are at very different stages of their career's. Sakai is slowly becoming the rugged journeyman that gets matched hard against prospects, and has gone 0-4-1 in his last 5. Shigeta on the other hand is a man who will be looking at a potential national title fight if he wins here. Both guys will be coming to win, and this will be a very compelling bout, to top off a very, very good card.
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