We wouldn't be stretching things to suggest that February 2021 was one of the quietest months since boxing restarted following the start of the Covid19 pandemic. Thankfully it appears normality resumes in March as we have a lot to get excited about, and better yet it comes from all over the globe as Asian fighters look to make a name for themselves both internationally and at home.
With that in mind lets take a look at what's to come in the first part of the month.
Municipal Boxing Gym Felix Pagan Pintor, Guaynabo, Puerto Rico
Ruslan Madiyev (13-1, 5) Vs Danielito Zorrilla (14-0, 11)
The first notable bout to feature an Asian will see once beaten Kazakh Ruslan Madiyev return to the ring for the first time in well over a year as he takes on unbeaten Puerto Rican Danielito Zorrilla as part of the "Ring City USA" series. On paper this looks like a really well matched bout, and Madiyev will know that a win here can get his career back on track, though in reality we suspect Zorrilla will be too good and too strong for the US based Kazakh fighter.
Miami, Florida, USA
Kozimbek Mardonov (1-0, 1) vs Abel Nicolas Adriel (23-20-3, 5)
Former Uzbek amateur standout Kozimbek Mardonov will be another Central Asian fighter to keep an eye out for early in the month. The talented 23 year old made a quick impact on his debut, at the end of January and will be looking to impress against as he takes on 31 year old Argentinian Abel Nicolas Adriel. Stood at 6' and fighting at Super Middleweight Mardonov has the potential to be a star of the future and we suspect he'll impress against the experienced, but limited, Adriel. Despite having 20 losses to his name Adriel has only been stopped 4 times, though we suspect another stoppage is on the cards for him here.
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
Andy Hiraoka (16-0, 11) Vs Fumisuke Kimura (9-6-1, 6)
Unbeaten Japanese Light Welterweight Andy Hiraoka returns to a Japanese ring for the first time since July 2019 as he takes on limited domestic foe Fumisuke Kimura. Hiraoka's last 2 bouts were both in the US, as he linked up with Top Rank, but there is clearly a desire to show what he can do at home as well, and we suspect he'll look to make a statement here. Sadly Kimura is 0-2-1 in his last 3, and we suspect Hiraoka will take him out relatively early on.
Yoshiki Takei (0-0) v Kazunori Takai (6-7-3, 3)
Former K-1 champion Yoshiki Takei makes his professional boxing debut as he takes on Kazunori Takai in a 6 rounder. Despite making his name in kickboxing Takei looks like he has excellent hands, and has impressed not just in K-1 but also in his pro-test with Tsuyoshi Tameda and an exhibition bout with Sho Kimura. There is genuine a lot of buzz around Takei in Japanese boxing circles. As for Takai he's a 34 year old who is 0-5-1 in his last 6, and hasn't scored a victory since September 2017. This should be little more than a show case for Takei.
Taku Kuwahara (7-0, 4) vs Yoshiki Minato (9-3, 4)
In a mouth watering clash between youngsters we'll see the unbeaten Taku Kuwahara take on Yoshiki Minato, a former Rookie of the Year winner. The talented Kuwahara has been tipped for major success since turning professional, but his career stalled massively in 2020, due to Covid19, and he'll feel he needs to make up for lost time this year. Aged just 22 Minato has time on his side, but is 1-2 since winning the 2018 All Japan Rookie of the Year and his sole win came against the returning Kohei Oba, who looked shot to pieces.
Rikuto Adachi (14-2, 11) Vs Takeru Kobata (8-5-1, 3)
The first Japanese Youth title fight of the month takes place at Welterweight as the once touted Rikuto Adachi takes on Takeru Kobata. The bout will be Adachi's second shot at the title, and his first bout since signing with the Ohashi Gym in 2020, and he'll know that he needs a win to get his career back on track after an injury plagued 2020. Kobata on the other hand will be looking to build on a solid performance, albeit in a loss, against Shoki Sakai. Stylistically this could end up being a very exciting match up, and it's a real chance of being a banana skin for Adachi.
Bolton Whites Hotel (formerly De Vere Whites), Bolton, Lancashire, United Kingdom
Viktor Kotochigov (12-1, 5) Vs Gary Cully (11-0, 5)
Staying with title action we'll see once beaten Kazakh fighter Viktor Kotochigov look to get his career back on track, and bounce back from an upset loss to Maxi Hughes, as he takes on Gary Cully for the WBO European Lightweight title. The talented Kotochigov looked lost and confused at times against Hughes, who turned in one of the best performances of his career, and it's clear that Kotochigov cannot afford another loss here. The unbeaten 25 year old Cully is regarded as one of the most promising Irish fighters and will be looking to build on a successful 2020, which saw him beat Joe Fitzpatrick and Craig Woodruff. Although not a huge bout, this is very much an interesting match up to end this portion of the month with.
It’s fair to say that January is usually a quiet month but this January is particularly quiet, with bouts really not being lined up for much of the month, we’ve already seen two scheduled bouts being cancelled due to Covid19 related issues. Despite that we do still have some stuff to be excited about, so let's take a look at what we’ve got coming up this month, and it is very much a prospect heavy month.
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
Keita Kurihara (15-5, 13) vs Takuma Inoue (13-1, 3)
The first genuinely big bout set to take place in Asia will be on January 14th as OPBF Bantamweight champion Keita Kurihara looks to defend his title against Takuma Inoue. The bout is a genuinely good looking one and will see Kurihara’s power and aggression against the toughness and skills of Inoue. With both men entering the bout world ranked the winner of this will be banging on the door of a world title fight, and we wouldn't be surprised at all by them landing a really big, international level, fight at the end of the year.
Katsuki Mori (7-0, 1) vs Sora Takeda (6-1, 1)
Highly skilled prospect Katsuki Mori looks to continue building his reputation as he takes on Sora takeda, in a battle between two former Rookie of the Year winners. Mori has received a lot of praise since breaking through in 2019, though with only a single bout in 2020 his career needs a big shot in the arm in 2021. Takeda on the other hand won Rookie of the Year in 2018, and has sadly seen his momentum slow with just 2 bouts since then. The winner of this will begin a move towards a potential Japanese Youth title bout, but could take a year or two for either man to land their first title fight.
Keisuke Matsumoto (1-0, 1) Vs Bejita Ishikawa (3-12-2, 1)
Touted Japanese third generation fighter Keisuke Matsumoto will be looking to record his second win as a professional as he takes on Dragonball Z inspired fighter Bejita Ishikawa, who is well known for his Vegeta styled entrance attire. Matsumoto is very highly regarded and his father was a multi time world title challenger, though he’ll want a better performance than his debut, which saw him being dropped before he stopped Hironori Miyake. Ishikawa shouldn’t provide much of a test here, but he is a unique fighter and certainly has popularity that exceeds his ability.
Ryutaro Nakagaki (1-0, 1) vs Yuji Okinori (10-5-2, 3)
Another prospect looking for their second win is former amateur stand out Ryutaro Nakagaki, who will be looking to build on a successful debut in a notable step up in class, as he takes on the experienced Yuji Okinori. Although perhaps not a big internationally there is very high expectations on Nakagaki in Japanese, after an excellent amateur career, and given how he looked on debut the 21 year old Super Flyweight hopeful really does seem to have the potential to go a very, very long way in the sport. Okinori is a very credible opponent for Nakagaki this early in his career, but it’s hard to see anything but a Nakagaki win.
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
Riku Nagahama (12-2-1, 4) Vs Ryota Toyoshima (12-2-1, 8) - OPBF Welterweight title
The second OPBF title fight of 2021 will see Riku Nagahama seek his first defense as he faces off with the heavy handed Ryota Toyoshima. Nagahama, who holds the OPBF Welterweight title, won the belt in 2020 but has had to wait almost a year to defend it. Although not the biggest puncher Nagahama does have a fan friendly style and does get involved in a tear, even if that’s not the best idea for him. Toyoshima is a more patient fighter than Nagahama, but he’s certainly a bigger puncher and he has very under-rated and sneaky body shots in his arsenal. This could, legitimately, turn out to be a genuine war for the OPBF title and could be a gem in a month where big bouts are few and far between.
Jukiya Iimura (0-0) Vs Daisuke Yamada (6-5, 1)
Whilst there is a lack of big bouts there are a lot of prospects in action over the coming days and one of those is Jukiya Iimura, who went 68-13 in the amateurs. He’ll be getting introduced to professional bout with a bout against the solid Daisuke Yamada, in what should be a solid test for the debuting Flyweight.
Jun Ikegawa (0-0) Vs Kakeru Yoshikawa (4-1-2)
Another debutant looking to make a mark in January is Jun Ikegawa, who went 51-15 in the unpaid ranks. The skilled Ikegawa looks to be in a very solid debut match up as he takes on Kakeru Yoshikawa. The 22 year old Ikegawa is tipped for success and will be looking to make his mark at 122lbs. Yoshikawa is a very credible opponent, and his only loss was a split decision back in July 22017. This is not a gimmie for Ikegawa!
Yugo Kon (0-0) Vs Koji Tsurumi (4-3-1, 1)
One other debutant on this show to make a note of is Yugo Kon. He went a less than spectacular 23-11 in the amateur ranks but is regarded as a long term prospect and we should see him being asked genuine questions by Koji Tsurumi, who is better than his record suggests.
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
Kosuke Saka (20-5, 17) Vs Takuya Watanabe (37-9-1, 21)
In another potential hidden gem Japanese Super Featherweight champion Kosuke Saka will take on Takuya Watanabe, and this may well end up being a genuinely brutal war. Saka is an aggressive, heavy handed and exciting fighter, but one who can also be super inconsistent. Despite being hot and cold Saka looked fantastic in his 2019 title winning performance, smashing Masaru Sueyoshi in 5 rounds. Watanabe on the other hand is a super tough, technical warrior who tends to box well, but is much more well known for his ability to genuinely fight. Watanabe’s bouts with Jaesung Lee and Taiki Minamoto showed his toughness and he will have to dip into that again here.
Yusaku Kuga (19-4-1, 13) Vs Gakuya Furuhashi (26-8-1, 14)
Another Japanese title fight will see Yusaku Kuga defending his JBC Super Bantamweight title against Gakuya Furuhashi. For Kuga this is a must win after being taken out in a regional title fight by Jhunriel Ramonal at the end of 2019. Although talented Kuga has been in a number of tough wars, and bouts against the likes of Ryoichi Tamura, Shingo Wake and Yasutaka Ishimoto may well have aged him. As for Furuhashi the 33 year old challenger will know it’s now or never after coming up short in two previous Japanese title fights. Style wise Furuhashi is a grinder, who throws a lot and lacks 1-punch fight changing power, again Kuga his style may be his undoing, or it could lead to an early FOTY contender.
Koki Mioya (8-1-2, 2) v Tentaro Kimura (5-0-2)
In a B class tournament final the once beaten Koki Mioya takes on Tentaro Kimura, in what should be a very evenly matched and exciting 5 rounder. This bout, unlike many, has gotten a lot of interest for what is, for all intents, a lower level Japanese bout, with neither fighter being regarded as a major prospect. Both as popular fighters and the bout is being regarded as one that could end up delivering a lot of action. Fans in the west may overlook this one, but it is genuinely generating plenty of buzz among the hardcore Japanese fans.
Shu Utsuki (7-0, 6) v Masashi Wakita (10-10-2, 5)
In an A Class tournament final the fast rising, and heavy handed, Japanese Lightweight hopeful Shu Utsuki will battle Masashi Wakita. This looks like a mismatch on paper and we suspect it will be, but it will still be great to see Utsuki back in the ring, and there’s a real chance of him getting involved in the Japanese title mix in the next 12 to 24 months. Utsuki is a very nasty and serious puncher, and that is likely to be too much for Wakita, who’s been a genuine servant to Japanese boxing over the years.
Yokasta Valle (20-2, 9) Vs Sana Hazuki (8-4-1, 2)
In a surprising world title fight we’ll see OPBF Minimumweight champion Sana Hazuki challenge IBF champion Yokasta Valle near the end of the month. This bout was only announced in January, after Valle had numerous issues securing a unification fight with WBC champion Tina Rupprecht. Valle will be the heavy, heavy favourite, though there is, maybe, a chance she has looked past Hazuki, who really shouldn’t be much of a taste for the Costa Rican world champion.
Manual Artime Community Center Theater, Miami, Florida, USA
Fazliddin Meliboev (0-0) vs Javonn Davis (3-0-1, 3)
Back to debutants we have talented Uzbek 24 year old Fazliddin Meliboev kicking off his career towards the end of January as he takes on unbeaten American Javonn Davis. Meliboev isn’t one of the elite level Uzbek amateurs we’ve seen making their name on the professional ranks in recent years but he was a very credible amateur and showed real potential in the WSB. He’ll come into this bout as an unknown, but we suspect he has the tools to overcome Davis, who has been fighting at a very, very low level so far.
Kozimbek Mardonov (0-0) vs Chown Sims (5-1, 2)
Another Uzbek making his debut is the touted 23 year old Kozimbek Mardonov, who won shone at the 2019 Military Games in Wuhan. On paper Mardonov looks to be in a serious test here as he goes up against 25 year old American Chown Sims. Sims is unbeaten in his last 3, and has taken a couple of cherry’s since beginning his professional career. He was, however, stopped in 2019 by Ty McLeod and we suspect Mardonov will have too much, in what could be a debut to remember for a very promising young Uzbek.
Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico
Sadriddin Akhmedov (11-0, 10) vs Stephen Danyo (17-3-3, 6)
Highly regarded Kazakh prospect Sadriddin Akhmedov will return to the ring after well over a year out as he takes on Dutch fighter Setephen Danya in a bout for 4 minor titles. The excellent Akhmedov has been one of the most promising Kazakh fighters in recent years and he seems to have it all, with skills, power, stamina, a solid boxing brain and a solid promoter behind him. Given what we’ve seen of Akhmedov the view is that he’s one of the men heading towards world titles. Danyo on the other hand has never been stopped, he’s proven himself as a tough nut and he does have the durability and experience to test the Kazakh youngster, especially given his length lay off. This should be a real good test for Akhmedov, but if he’s as good as we think he should take a very clear win.
Luzhniki, Moscow, Russia
Bektemir Melikuziev (6-0, 5) Vs Sergey Kovalev (34-4-1, 29)
Unbeaten Uzbek destroyer Bektemir Melikuziev is set to take a massive step up in class at the end of the month as he takes on former multi-time Light Heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev. With many tipping the “Bully” to be a future world champion this is the sort of test that will help fast track him to a title, and could be a shrewd bit of match making, or a case of biting off too much too soon. Kovalev has been on the slide for a while, and he no longer looks like the “Krusher” who dismantled the likes of Jean Pascal, but with his power and with a Russian crowd behind him he is very much a live under-dog here. On paper this is a real test for Melikuviez, but if he’s as good as we, and many others, think he could end up retiring Kovalev. Interestingly for Kovalev this will be his first bout since his 2019 loss to Saul Alvarez and at 37 father time may well be just as much of an enemy as Melikuziev. Potentially one of the smartest bits of matchmaking we’ll see in 2021, or a big mistake by Melikueziev’s team.
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