When it comes to looking back over the 2020 Rookie of the Year there are lot of things that will stand out, such as how delayed the final was due to Covid19 and how the tournament final was fought in an empty Korakuen Hall. It will also, however, be remembered as the launch pad for several careers. Maybe the most promising of those is that of Super Featherweight winner Tsubasa Narai (7-0, 6), who dominated the tournament with 4 KO wins in his 4 bouts. Not only was he dominant through out the tournament, but he also showed genuine star power in a division that has been one of the most popular in Japan over the last 30 years or so.
The unbeaten 21 year old was born in Osaka City in August 1999 and would pick up the sport of boxing as a teenager. Although not a stand out amateur Narai was certainly a fighter with potential and after 26 amateur bouts he had amassed a 17-9 (6) amateur record, and had competed in a high school tournament. He had shown some potential, but he was certainly not a distinguished amateur when he decided to turn professional.
When Narai turned professional he did so as a Super Bantamweight with the RK Kamata Gym, and debuted aged 19, in the 2019 East Japan Rookie of the Year qualifying round. Despite only being in his debut he quickly made a mark, stopping Kento Nakano in 3 rounds to progress in the tournament. Whilst his debut was impressive he was even more destructive in his second bout, stopping Taison Mukaiyama in just 100 seconds to progress further in the tournament.
In Narai's third bout we saw him having the toughest bout of his career as he took on Yuki Yazan, in the East Japan Rookie of the Year quarter finals. Yazan, who would reach the All Japan finals in the 2020 Rookie of the Year, proved to be tough, and durable and survived the power of Narai, but couldn't do enough to take the decision as Narai took his first, and so far only, decision win. Sadly for Narai however he was unable to compete in the semi-final a few weeks later, which would have seen him face Takeshi Takehara.
Have gone so far in the 2019 Rookie of the Year Narai returned in 2020 for that year's edition of the tournament, which was delayed massively due to the Covid19 pandemic. This time he was at Super Featherweight, his young body filling out to that of a good sized 130lb fighter. On his debut at the new weight Narai would get back to scoring stoppages as he stopped the previously unbeaten Tomohiro igarashi in round 4 to progress in the tournament. That was quickly followed by a TKO2 win over the more experienced Hiromichi Komatsu in the East Japan semi final and then another TKO2 win over American born Japanese fighter Dominique Kenshin in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final.
Having done so well in 2019 Narai's success in 2020 saw him go further than he had a year earlier. But there was still the All-Japan final left for him, and that was going to come against West Japan representative Seika Fukuda, a then 5-0 fighter who was taller than Narai and was also looking to move their career forward. On paper this was an excellent looking match ups and one of the standouts of the 2020 All Japan Rookie of the Year finals. In the end however it ended up being a showcase of power and aggression from Narai. After taking a few seconds to get a read on Fukuda we saw Narai rock his man with a big left hook, and within a minute Fukuda was looking like a man who very uncomfortable with Narai's power. He tried to fight back, but Narai was far too strong, and Fukuda would be rocked later in the round and then dropped. He got back to his feet but was dropped again moments later forcing the referee to wave off the bout, despite the fact Fukuda quickly recovered to his feet.
Sadly since the All Japan final, in February, we've not see Narai have his next bout being scheduled, though we're looking forward to it, whoever he faces.
At the moment Narai is very much an unpolished fighter, but he has an exciting style, genuine power, and he likes to fight. He's shown a willingness to stand and trade shots when he needs to, and he's shown to his hard enough to really shake people up when he lands. At just 21 we're not expecting him to be the complete article, but with the RK Gym behind him, they can certainly help him polish some of wilder traits of his. He's someone who perhaps won't be fighting for titles in the next year or two, but someone who certainly has the natural tools to be a major player on the Japanese scene over the next decade or so.
If you like fighters with power Narai is certainly one to keep a close eye on as he develops from crude puncher to future Japanese title contender, and potentially even further.
One of the things we, as boxing fans, all want to do is spot the talent before they make it big, and follow their journey from obscurity to the top. Of course to follow them, they need to be on the radar of fans, and with that in mind the guys at Asian Boxing have decided to share some of their picks for the future.
This week they share those picks as they answer the questions:
"Who... should be on the radars of fans but aren't?"
The guys were told to make two choices, with each choice coming from a different country and to pick fighters who really weren't on the radar of fans. Essentially if they were world ranked, they were too well known.
Lee: "I'll be honest and state the obvious. There is probably no Korean boxer right now on the radar of your average boxing fan. It's a sad shame and a real downer for us Korean fans of the sport. Thankfully however the country does some talent coming through the ranks. The most notable of those is a real talent, called Sung Min Yuh. Who I am a huge fan of!
The 20 year old Light Middleweight has been a professional since 2019 and has already won the Battle Royale tournament, the KBM version of "Rookie of the Year", and the KBM Light Middleweight title.
Watching Yuh I see a fighter who has IT. He's talented, he's big, he's growing, he's skilled, he's defensively smart, he can fight inside, he oozes charisma and charm and he knows how to entertain. There is work to do, but at 20 years old and without much amateur experience that's to be expected.
Given the local lack of talent, and his young, young age, I think we'll see Yuh travel outside of Korea before his career is over, and he could well well find himself mixing at a very high level. Get him on your radar now fans!
Outside of Korea, I would also advise taking a look at Ikboljon Kholdarov, who recently turned professional and made his debut in April. He is a super talented young fighter out of Uzbekistan. He was a very highly regarded amateur and someone who has the tools to go a very, very, very long way in the professional ranks. And he has the ability to climb the rankings very quickly."
Takahiro: "I think most Japanese prospects are on the radar of fight fans who read this website. Fighters like Ginjiro Shigeoka, Yudai Shigeoka, Jinki Maeda, Rentaro Kimura, Shokichi Iwata, Shu Utsuki and so many other fighters who have been featured in our "Introducing" series. One man who hasn't been in that series, yet, is Tsubasa Narai.
The 21 year old Narai turned professional in 2019, scoring 3 wins in the year, but really came alive during covid19 delayed Rookie of the Year, winning 4 bouts in the tournament, in 5 months, all by TKO (in fact it took just 9 rounds for him to win those 4 bouts). During his 7 fight career he has barely lost a round, he has been thrilling to watch and he has proven himself as one of the ones to watch going forward. Do not sleep on this unheralded Super Featherweight hopeful.
Kazakhstan is another country that we have spoken about a lot in our "Introducing" series and done numerous articles on some of the nations most promising talent. One fighter who hasn't had much attention is Mikhail Kokhanchik, who made his professional debut last November. The 22 year old Cruiserweight made his debut last year and he looked like a man who every fan should have on their radar. He's not a big guy at Cruiserweight, but he's aggressive, lets his hands go and likes to come forward. He was a good amateur who sadly struggled to fight on the international stage due to the depth that Kazakhstan had, but now I see him being one to watch going forward. He's not the most polished fighter, but he looks like a lot of fun and very impressive on debut."
Scott: "My first pick this week Thai professional novice Thitisak Hoitong, who made his professional debut last year, beating Wittawas Basapean (aka Samartlek Kokietgym) in a 6 rounder. He looked fantastic on his debut, showed cased a brilliant boxing brain, a lot of variation in what he could do in the ring and really looked like the sort of fighter who could be moved very quickly. He was a good amateur, but given how good he looked in his professional debut I get the feeling his moved to the paid ranks will be an excellent one.
Of course saying that I'm assuming other top Thai hopefuls, like Phoobadin Yoohanngoh, Chainoi Worawut, Thanongsak Simsri, Phongsaphon Panyakum and Thananchai Charunphak are all already on your radar.
Another fighter who should be on the radar of every fight fan, is Filipino fighter April Jay Abne, a very young Flyweight who looks like he has all the tools to reach the higher levels in the sport. He is talented, sharp, very young and very promising. He's in his early 20's and has a lot of time to develop. Sadly however he's not been particularly active in recent years and has lost the momentum he seemed to be building in 2019, when he won the Ultimate Boxing Series. Fingers crossed he'll be more active soon and get his career back on track."
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