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.
It's fair to say that the bouts we expected to see taking places in September have shifted and swapped around a lot since the start of August. We had Misako announce a Diamond Glove card for the first week of the month, we saw Teiken postpone their Dynamic glove card for the first Saturday of the month and Fanlong Meng being forced out of his scheduled world title bout due to visa issues. With that said take a look at what will be coming in the first part of September!
Shuichiro Yoshino (12-0, 10) vs Valentine Hosokawa (25-7-3, 12)
The first major bout of the month for Asian boxing sees the Korakuen Hall place host to a triple title bout, as Lightweight triple crown winner Shuichiro Yoshino defends his Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles against exciting veteran Valentine Hosokawa. We expected this to be a genuine test for Yoshino, who's looked good, but never been up against someone quite like Hosokawa. This should be a gut check of what Yoshino has in the tank, and we genuinely looking forward to this one.
Bang Phun, Thailand
Chainoi Worawut (11-0-1, 10) vs Joel Kwong (5-9, 5)
At the Work Point Studio we'll see unbeaten Super Bantamweight hopeful Chainoi Worawut look to continue his unbeaten run, and his rise to a world title fight, as he defends his WBC Asian Boxing Council title against Thai based Filipino Joel Kwong. On paper this is a huge mismatch, though Kwong will be there to win, and has won his last 4, all by stoppage. See an easy win for the Thai, but hopefully Kwong does come out firing.
Phongsaphon Panyakum (9-1, 4) vs Arthit Kaewbantid (3-0, 2)
The once beaten Phongsaphon Panyakum will be looking to continue his winning run, which sits at 9 straight, as he takes on Arthit Kaewbantid. The 20 year old Phongsaphon is starting to look like a very good prospect and has really grown since being stopped on debut, in 2017 by Kai Ishizawa. He'll be the big favourite here and will know that his team will try to get him a regional title fight soon, if he wins. Arthit on the other hand is a big of an unknown, and this is a clear step up in class for the him.
Blue Arena, Thailand
Campee Phayom (20-4-2, 12) Vs Pungluang Sor Singyu (53-8, 35)
In a really interestin looking all-Thai bout we'll see WBA Asia Super Featherweight champion Campee Phayom defending his belt against former WBO Bantamweight champion Pungluang Sor Singyu. We suspect the younger, fresher, naturally bigger Campee will come out on top here, and if he does it would certainly be his biggest win to date. Although not a natural 130lb fighter Pungluang has shown enough in his recent bouts, in and around the weight, to suggest he could be a handful. To us this is much more interesting than we first imagined when we saw the two men being matched up.
Nattapong Jankaew (5-0, 3) vs Samartlek Kokietgym (34-12-1, 12)
In another interesting all Thai bout former amateur stand out Nattapong Jankaew will be seeking his biggest win to date as he takes on former world title challenger Samartlek Kokitgym, aka Wittawas Basapean. We've been really impressed by Nattapong, who has shown some exceptional skills for someone so early in their professional journey, and this is a logical step forward for him in a bout that should be a real chance for him to shine. Samartlek might be on the slide, but he should have enough about him to ask questions of Nattapong, but they should all be answered with ease by the youngster.
Kazuki Nakajima (8-0-1, 7) vs Kenta Nomura (7-3, 3)
Hard hitting Japanese hopeful Kazuki Nakajima looks to build on his unbeaten run as he dips his toes at Super Bantamweight to take on Kenta Nomura. On paper this looks like a really good bout, but we don't see the hard hitting Nakajima struggling to get past Nomura, who has been stopped before. Despite seeing this as an easy win for Nakajima his bouts are typically worth watching, with his power and aggression typically making things exciting, and short. This could be a very fun mismatch.
Katsuya Yasuda (6-0, 4) Vs Omrri Bolivar (8-3, 3)
The talented Katsuya Yasuda looks to kick off his 2020 with a bout against Japanese based Venezuelan Omrri Bolivar. Yasuda has shown a lot to like, but has had a bit of a stop-start career and will be looking to kick on, especially after the time he's lost this year. Bolivar is a decent enough fighter to ask questions of someone like Yasuda, but in reality it's hard to see Bolivar scoring the upset over the Japanese national. Saying that, this should be competitive in spots and Yasuda won't have things all his own way.
Katsuki Mori (6-0, 1) vs Yuki Uchida (7-7, 1)
A third Japanese prospect to make a note off for September 16th is 2019 Rookie of the Year winner Katsuki Mori, who looked fantastic last year. The talented 20 year old is wise beyond his years, an excellent boxer with a brilliant boxing brain. He'll fighting for the first time since his Rookie triumph as he dips his toes at Light Flyweight and takes on Yuki Uchida. We suspect this will be little more than a show case for Mori who's got a very high ceiling and should be on the watch for all fans of the lower weights. This is kid is special and will be looking to show that against an experienced and naturally bigger foe here.
The Rookie of the Year tournament can be a risky competition to predict at the best of times, though for us one man has stood out so much this far into the tournament that we're already happy to introduce him just days before his All Japan final.
That man is Katsuki Mori (5-0, 1) the Ohashi gym prospect who scarcely lost a round since making his debut in August 2018. Since then the 19 year old has shown himself to be an incredible young talent, who will almost certainly use the Rookie of the Year as a lunch pad to bigger and better things in a career that truly promises so much.
Mori has really impressed since turning professional last year, though few would have expected that given his very short amateur career. In the unpaid ranks the youngster fought just 16 times, going 11-5. Despite that lack of experience he was a natural in the professional ranks, and was just 17 when he won his debut in just 136 second, stopping Akira Ichihara. That debut came on a card that featured fellow Ohashi gym fighters Akira Yaegashi, Sho Nakazawa, Satoshi Shimizu, Kazuki Nakajima and Tsuyoshi Tameda. Given those are the people he is looking up to, training alongside and learning from it's little wonder the youngster has developed a very relaxed in ring demeanour and looks incredibly calm where ever he is in the ring.
Less than 2 months after making his debut, at Korakuen Hall, Mori was back in the ring fighting against the debuting Shu Nawai on the under-card of Naoya Inoue's bout with Juan Carlos Payano. Inoue, the star of the Ohashi Gym, may have been the man everyone was raving about after the event, but the handful of fans who were through the entire event would have had the chance to see Mori take a 4 round over Nawai, and show what he could do. Those who missed Mori and Nawai here did however have a chance to see them fight again in 2019, but more about that later.
This year has seen Mori advancing through the Rookie of the Year, and building his reputation at the Korakuen Hall.
The youngster's first Rookie of the Year bout saw him shut out Ryo Sasaki in April, in what was a fantastic performance from the youngster. That moved him into the next round of the Rookie of the Year, which was supposed to see him take on Kaito Kakumu, though the bout never took place as Kakumu was unable to take part. Instead Mori got a bye to the East Japan semi-final. That was where he first caught our eye, with a brilliant win over Kengo Hatsushika. The bout saw Mori forcing boxing his way inside, then out landing and out fighting Hatsushika with some fantastic body shots, and sharp counters on the inside. This did not look like a performance of a typical 3-0 youngster, but a much more accomplished fighter who knew the value of body shots.
In Mori's East Japan Rookie of the Year final he again clashed with Shu Nawai, and once again picked up a clear win. He looked very much like a star in the making, with flashes of pure brilliance, very good ring IQ, a wonder jab and an ability to dictate the distance and tempo of the bout. This was, we suspect, a glimpse of a future world champion and a showing of what the youngster can already do.
It's obvious that training at the Ohashi gym, alongside some of the best fighters in Japan, has helped Mori become very comfortable in the ring, and a win on December 22nd in the Rookie of the Year final will certainly help establish him as one to follow over the coming years. This young man is a real talent, and we look forward to seeing just how far he can go, and how much he'll develop in the coming years.
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