Sadly it's been hard to find many Filipino bouts from 2019 that we've been to include in this series. It's a shame and something that we expect to see become even more difficult if we continue this series for 2020. That's not because the Philippines hasn't got good fights, but because so few of them are internationally available in good quality. Thankfully however we do have one really interesting bout, that we advise people to watch, from February 2019 and better yet, it sees a young unbeaten hopeful being given his first real test.
Dave Apolinario (9-0, 6) vs Romshane Sarguilla (7-1-2, 4)
In one corner was rising prospect Dave Apolinario, a really talented and unbeaten Filipino fighter who was following in the footsteps of his brother, John Mark Apolinario. At just 20 years old the talented southpaw hopeful needed to be tested, and needed to be in the ring with someone who was going to ask questions of him. He needed to fight someone wanting to beat him, someone who came to win.
Thankfully we saw Apolinario finally facing a fighter trying to beat him when he stepped in the ring with Romshane Sarguilla in a scheduled 8 rounder at the Midas Hotel and Casino in Pasay City. Sarguilla was not a special fighter but he was a hungry fighter, who's only loss up to this point was a close decision to Powell Balaba at Super Flyweight, not his more natural Flyweight. He was tough, hungry, young and wanting make a name for himself, rather than a fighter happy to roll over for the touted prospect.
From the opening round you could see Sarguilla was there to win, pressing forward against the more skilled and talented Apolinario. The under-dog was pressing behind his solid jab, moving when he needed to showing enough respect to Apolinario to not leave himself open, but enough ambition to make it clear he was here to win. Sadly the ambition and belief alone weren't going to be enough against the more rounded, and very skilled, Apolinario. He knew he had to take some risks and did so towards the end of the first round, making Apolinario look uncomfortable as the pace picked up.
The unbeaten man, who was in against his first opponent who had come to upset him, had the clear edge in skills but had to do more than just rely on the skills he had, and had to try and get respect from Sarguilla, landing his own big shots to close out the opening round and open the second round.
The fight continued to be an intriguing test throughout, with Apolinario being forced to answer questions by a fighter there to win. It wasn't an all out war, as a number in this series are, but was instead a brilliant test for a youngster who was forced to show what he was about against an opponent looking to make the most of a big opportunity.
If you like seeing prospects being given a test then this is well worthy of your time.
Interestingly this wasn't the only hidden gem featuring Sarguilla from the year, with the Filipino travelling over to Thailand to play his part in a cracking little bout with Siridech Deebook in August as well.
Due to the Flyweight division being in a state of change in 2018, what may go down as one of the division's most transitional years in living memory, it's been awkward in really recognising the divisional contenders. It seems like so many of the highest ranked fighters haven't had the management or mentality to fight fellow contenders and prove they deserve a shot.
Thankfully the division has delivered in terms of prospects, with a host of youngsters making their charge and looking to climb through the rankings.
If you missed out look at the champions in the division you can catch up here The state of the Division - Flyweight - The Champions whilst out look at the contenders is here The state of the Division - Flyweight - The Contenders
Junto Nakatani (17-0, 12)
Japanese 20 year old boxer-puncher Junto Nakatani might have 17 bouts to his name and not yet have had a world title fight but the youngster has already won the All Japan Rookie of the Year, the Japanese title and will fight for the main Japanese title in the new year, battling Naoki Mochizuki in February for the vacant title. He's been one to watch for a few years now and wins against the likes of Masamichi Yabuki, Mario Andrade, Seigo Yuri Akui and Dexter Alimento have all put him in a place where a world title fight looks inevitable. The biggest question when it comes to Nakatani is "when" and not "if" he'll fight at the very top level in the division.
Ryota Yamauchi (4-0, 4)
Top Japanese prospects are well known for being fast tracked and so far Ryota Yamauchi looks like he is on the fact track, having already beaten two notable names in just 4 bouts. The talented 23 year old has already stopped Lester Abutan and Yota Hori and looks like a very talented boxer puncher. Despite the obvious talent and belief of his team it does seem like we'll be seeing him held back just a touch, and wouldn't be surprised if he only competes for his first title towards the end of 2019. Over the coming years however he will likely find himself well and truly in the mix at world level.
Mekhdi Abdurashedov (5-0, 2)
The Russian boxing scene is set to have a new wave of great talent, following the old guard of fighters like Denis Lebedev and Alexander Povetkin. One of the new wave is the unbeaten Mekhdi Abdurashedov, who turns 20 before the end of the year. At such a young age it's hard to know just how good he really is, but he looked like a sensation when he stopped Prince Andrew Laurio in 3 rounds and has also impressed in wins over Iwan Zoda and Hugo Hernandez Aguilar. It might be a long wait to see Abdurashedov fighting for a world title, but after just 5 fights he already looks like he will, eventually, end up fighting at world level.
Kento Hatanaka (7-0, 7)
WBC Youth World champion Kento Hatanaka is a second generation fighter, following in the footsteps of his father Kiyoshi Hatanaka, a world champion back in the 1990's. Kento is aged 20 and already appears to have the tools needed to go a long way, with vicious power, great speed, exciting combination punching and a real desire to make an impression. There is still a lot of improving for Hatanaka to do before he moves onto senior titles, but with the tools he has been blessed with, as well as the training he'll get along side current WBO world champion Kosei Tanaka there is real potential for Hatanaka to not only improve but to go on and become a world champion of the future.
Dave Apolinario (9-0, 6)
Filipino teenager Dave Apolinario doesn't turn 20 until January 2019 but is already getting rave reviews in the Philippines due to his combination of skills, power and ring craft. The youngster hasn't really fought anyone of real note yet, but has looked incredible at the early stages of his career and already shown an ability to go 8 rounds, as well as the ability to blow opponents away early on. He's perhaps a few years away from reaching his physical prime, but when he develops his man strength he will become a very hard man to beat. At the moment we expect to see Apolinario being given baby steps, but that's certainly not a problem.
Alphoe Dagayloan (11-2-5-1, 5)
We see quite a lot of Filipino's with really misleading records, and Alphoe Dagayloan is another in that mould. The Southpaw has a less than stellar record but a lot of that has to do with baffling 4-2-4-1 start to his professional career. He is now riding a 5 fight winning run and has scored notable wins over Madiyar Zhanuzak and Rongguo Wu in his last 2 bouts. He can be our boxed, but he's a nightmare as he comes forward, throws a lot of hard shots and breaks opponents down. His record may put some off believing him to be a prospect but we've been impressed and suspect he could go on to challenge for a world title in the future, if he continues his current run of form.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.