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.
Over the last year or two we've seen a real down turn in boxing in Thailand. The country had a thriving boxing scene only a few years ago, but now a days the regular shows have slowed down and we've gone from a televised show almost every week, to a show every few weeks. Sadly it doesn't appear like the country is set to turn things around in the next year or two however there is some exciting and emerging talent in the country that fans should be aware of.
Here we take a look at 5 of the most promising prospects in Thailand.
Thanongsak Simsri (11-0, 11)
Right now it seems like the pick of the emerging Thai hopefuls is young puncher Thanongsak Simsri. The 19 year old is promoted by Kiatkreerin along side Green Tsuda in Japan, who appear to have been impressed enough by the youngster to have agreed to help train and develop him. At the moment he does have the hall marks of a flawed fighter, but is developing and is a long way from the raw fighter he was just a year ago. When he first started he was raw and rough around the edges, but a naturally strong and powerful teenager. Today however he is quickly understanding more about balance and defense. There is still work to do, but his improvement has been rapid and noticeable.
Dubbed "Srisaket II" in the Thai press Thanongsak is the most exciting young fighter in Thailand right now, and although it's far, far, too earlier to get compared to Srisaket it's something we expect to see the Thai media continue to push. Notably that comparison isn't just due to the youngster's power though, but also the fact that he is from the same area as Srisaket, Si Sa Ket.
Theeraphan Polsongkarm (2-0, 1)
The 22 year Theeraphan Polsongkarm, also known Oscar Mastertoddygym, may not have much experience as a professional but is already showing what he can do and developing a reputation as one to watch. Apparently his record on boxrec is wrong, with the TV showing a graphic suggesting he was 11-0 (8) entering his last contest, but whatever his record what can't be denied is his talent, potential and understanding in the ring. The youngster already boasts a win over former world title challenger Inthanon Sithchamuang and holds a minor WBA title.
In the ring Theeraphan appears to have good balance, good timing, a solid understanding of how to control a bout and is looking to learn about his opponent. He took a while to get a reed on Inthanon, and his southpaw stance, but got there in the end and ended up really beating him up in the stages of the fight. Defensively there is issues, though he appears able to take a good shot, and when he moves through the gears there is a lot to like about his offense. Tweaks need to be made before he steps, especially defensively, but there is so much to like about the youngster who looks like he could be one of the main faces of the Thai scene in the coming years.
Thattana Luangphon (7-0-1, 7)
Thattana Luangphon, who fights as Chainoi Worawut, is only 22 years old but very much an impressive fighter with scary power and a lot of potential. He made his pro debut in 2018 and has been moved aggressively, with Work Point getting behind him and his career. Defensively the youngster has areas to work on, and technically he's far from perfect, but he has impressive composure in the ring and the scary power can really change the game. He fires off power shots to head and body and is an offensive monster.
To date Chainoi's competition has been rather mixed, but wins over Yuya Nakamura, Muhammad Ashiq and Matthew Arcillas aren't bad for a guy with only 8 pro bouts to his name. He's young, heavy handed, exciting and very promising, certainly one to keep an eye on going forward, and on October 19th he'll be back in the ring as he takes on Filipino foe Alvin Medura.
Songsaeng Phoyaem (9-2, 4)
It's can look weird to consider a guy with 2 losses in their first 10 bouts as a top prospect, but Songsaeng Phoyaem has proven more in those 2 losses than many fighters prove in 10 wins. In those losses he showed he could bite down, fight at a high pace, and give as good as he got. His first loss was in just his second bout, against Dynamic Kenji up at Bantamweight, whilst his second came in a fantastic performance against Kento Hatanaka earlier this year. He's not going to be marked out for a world title, especially not this early in his career, but with his youth, toughness, energy and skills he's got the potential to go far.
Since losing to Kenta Hatanaka in March this year Songsaeng has reeled off 3 wins on the Thai scene, and recently won the Thai Flyweight title with a 3rd round TKO Wisitsak Saiwaew, who was down 3 times in 3 rounds. If he can get some better seasoning he could be one of those fighters who really builds on the tools he has. One to keep in mind for the long term, and hopefully his team do know what they have on their hands here.
Parinya Khaikanha (4-0, 4)
The competition for Parinya Khaikanha has certainly not been impressive, and typically his level of competition wouldn't have got our attention, or earned him a place on this list. We do however make an exception here for Parinya due to the fact that boxing is in his blood, and his family have real pedigree. His pedigree is seen in the fact that his older brothers are world ranked Nawaphon and former world champion Suriyan Por Chokchai.
Parinya has been training with Suriyan, and footage of some of that training was released earlier this year. Although he didn't look like a star in the making he did show some clear promise. Sadly footage of him fighting as a pro is scarce but again being part of the Kaikanha family, and the training footage that was available suggests he has got promise. Fingers crossed we see a step up from the 24 year old next year.
It's worth noting that we had once viewed Apichet Petchmanee (5-0, 2) as a star in the making and whilst he is still unbeaten the 29 year old has had a less than outstanding 2019. He dropped down to Lightweight to face Shota Suito and looked like he had lost something before twice struggling to beat Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo. Whilst a win over Chonlatarn is noteworthy the veteran really showed some limitations with Apichet, who turns 30 later this month.
One of the areas of professional boxing that has started to get more and more attention in recent years has been Japan, thanks in a big part to Naoya Inoue's growing success, and the great work CBC have done in making Kosei Tanaka fights widely available. Whilst a lot of the emerging Japanese talent is competing in the lower weight classes it doesn't change the fact the country is over-flowing with talented youngsters all looking to make their name and become one of the countries next big stars.
With that in mind it seems the perfect time to try and predict who will be the next big Japanese star, and bring attention to 5 of Japan's brightest young prospects.
Although Shigeoka has only had 4 bouts it's impossible not to be impressed by what he has shown. He's an aggressive yet intelligent fighter, he presses well, has amazingly crisp punches, switches between head and body with ease and has nasty spiteful power, something we don't often see at 105lbs. Going forward the one issue will be a question of how much weight he can add to his frame, and at just over 5' he likely doesn't have the frame to hit the weights which get Western attention. Still he looks like a nailed future world champion, and we're really excited to see how his brother, Yudai Shigeoka goes with his career as well.
Kuwahara began his career as a Light Flyweight, but has now moved up to the Flyweight division and the reality is that he's grown into the 112lb weight class. It's fair to say Flyweight is currently a division that lacks in terms of depth, unlike Light Flyweight and Super Flyweight, and there's no reason why Kuwahara can't have a big 2020 and pick up a national or regional title as he climbs towards a potential world title fight in the next year or two.
Nakano looks to be a man with a real understanding of the ring, understands his advantages, and how to use them effectively. He's a very sharp puncher, a smart boxer and although he's certainly not untouchable he minimises the effect of shots when he has to take them. Fighting out of the Teiken gym it's clear he's getting top sparring, and with Kenichi Ogawa, Masaru Sueyoshi and Shuya Masaki there is real talent at the Featherweight and Super Featherweight divisions in the gym. Unlike many youngsters Nakano isn't in love with his power, but knows how to deliver it to head and body.
Although not a big puncher Iwata looks to have enough power in his shots to get the respect of his opponents, and combines that with brilliant footwork, handspeed, movement and a very smart boxing brain. There is obviously a feeling that he will be moved quickly, as most promising Japanese fighters are in the lower weights, and he's already in the JBC rankings, however we don't expect him to be fighting for a title for another year or two due to the depth at 108lbs.
Suzuki looked fantastic on debut, showing great composure, defense, stamina and clean punching to beat the dangerous Antonio Siesmundo last November. Since then he has notched 2 more wins, taking a decision over Filipino Kelvin Tenorio and stopping Kosuke Arioka. After just 3 fights he is already ranked by both the OPBF and the JBC and has proven to a be a strong fighter 140lb, never mind 135lbs.
Limiting this list to 5 was incredibly difficult, given the likes of Ryota Yamauchi, Yuki Yamauchi, Seiya Tsutsumi, Rikito Shiba, Shu Utsuki, Tomoya Ishii, Kuntae Lee, Ryu Horikawa and so many others. What this proves, more than anything, is the depth in Japan and the future is very, very bright for fight fans in the Land of the Rising Sun.
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