The Super Bantamweight isn't overly reliant on just the top guys, as there are some excellent fighters coming through the ranks and forcing themselves into the mix as legitimate contenders. It's here that the division really does it's self some massive favours. Not only is there a lot of contenders, but they are very varied in how they fight, and their experience.
Murodjon Akhmadaliev (7-0, 6)
Former Uzbek amateur standout Murodjon Akhmadaliev is leading the charge for contenders and will be getting his shot, at unified champion Danny Roman no less, at the end of January. The talented "MJ" is a heavy handed boxer-puncher who really was an exceptional amateur before turning professional and being fast tracked through the ranks, to a mandatory title fight. Despite the amateur pedigree Akhmadaliev hasn't fought like an amateur, and is instead a very aggressive fighter who is very fun to watch. A real emerging gem, who could be on the verge of something very big this year.
Hiroaki Teshigawara (21-2-2, 14)
Heavy handed Japanese boxer-puncher Hiroaki Teshigawara has really made himself into a legitimate contender in the last few years, after almost an unknown in 2016. Prior to his loss to Ryo Akaho in October 2016 few would have paid much attention to Teshigawara but since then he has gone 9-0 (8) and picked up notable wins against Keita Kurihara, Jason Canoy, Teiru Kinoshita and Shohei Omori. Those wins have helped put "Crush Boy" on the verge of a world title fight. Although gifted with heavy hands Teshigawara is more than just a puncher and utilises feints and peculiar angles and timing much better than most Japanese fighters.
Tramaine Williams (19-0-0-1, 6)
Unbeaten "Mighty Midget" Tramaine Williams has promised a lot since his 2012 debut, and it's really time the 27 year old broke through. The talented southpaw is lightning quick, hits much harder than his record suggests and is a real natural talent. Sadly his progress hasn't been anywhere near as quick as it should have been, but with 4 fights in 2019 he now has the momentum to have a big 2020. If Williams can be focused on the sport and get the support from promoters that he needs he could become a genuine contender this year, and he appears to be a genuine a genuine nightmare to fight.
Angelo Leo (19-0, 9)
Few men made the moves that Angelo Leo made in 2019 to move from prospect to contender. "El Chinito" went 4-0 during the year and scored notable wins over Mark John Yap and Cesar Juarez, stopping Juarez in 11 rounds, to put himself on the map. The 25 year old hits harder than his record suggests, is highly skilled, quick, exciting and looks a natural in the ring. Although he's maybe a year away from a title fight we would expect a big 2020 for Leo who will almost certainly end the year on the verge of a world title fight. Do not sleep on this very talented youngster.
Ronnie Rios (32-3, 16)
It seems hard to believe that Ronny Rios has only just turned 30! The upset minded veteran has been a professional for over a decade and despite some mixed results he has repeatedly shown that he can pull it out the big wins and be involved in the upper levels of the division. With wins over Rico Ramos, Andrew Cancio, Jayson Velez and Deigo De La Hoya it's hard to write Rios off against anyone. He'll almost certainly get a another shot at a world title and he could, on his day, upset any of the champions.
Carlos Castro (24-0, 10)
The 25 year old Carlos Castro isn't a big name but he's someone who has started to knock on the door of the division. The skilled boxer-mover scored a notable upset last year, over Genesis Servania, where he made the Filipino look very slow and clumsy, and is maybe only 3 or 4 fights away from becoming a legitimate contender. We'd like to see Castro face a couple of opponents of some note this year and really earn his shot. He's a legitimate hopeful, who has remained under the radar, some how.
Mike Plania (23-1, 12)
Unheralded Filipino Mike Plania is one of the many hidden gems from the Philippines, and one who should be on the radar of fight fans. If he's not he will be. The 22 year old "Magic" has notched 8 wins since his 2018 loss to Juan Carlos Payano and looks to be edging his way to another big fight in the US. From his last 5 bouts 4 have been in the US, and it'll only be a matter of time before his handlers let him off the leash and put him in there with a fellow contender. Although not a huge puncher Plania hits hard enough to get respect from opponents, is well schooled and is certainly someone who will begin to get a lot of eyes on him in the near future.
Thomas Patrick Ward (29-0, 4)
Englishman Thomas Patrick Ward is one of the fighters that belong the long list of fighters who should be better known than they are. The 25 year old is backed by MTK and is skilled enough to be in the world title mix. Sadly his team haven't yet backed him in the way they should and he's been unable to build on the momentum his 2019 win over Jesse Angel Hernandez. If MTK really believe in Ward they now need to put their money where their mouth is and pay for him for him to face fellow contenders and move him forward. His last 3 opponents were awful and he needs better. Ward lacks power but has a brilliant boxing brain, fantastic skills, great movement and understand of the ring. Now he just needs some suitable dance partners.
Luis Nery (30-0, 24)
Controversial Mexican fighter Luis Nery continued to drag his name through the mud in 2019 by missing weight for a WBC Bantamweight title eliminator. With that weight issue rearing it's head again it's clear he needs to move to Super Bantamweight, where he will actually be able to fight without expecting opponents to bend over to accommodate him. The exciting and heavy handed southpaw will make an interesting addition at 1222lbs, though we do wonder if his weight bullying tactics will have the same effect here as they did at Bantamweight. Nery, despite all his issues, is a talent and he can be involved in some thrilling contests down the line, but he really needs to sort his career out. This year he needs to put all the issues with weight behind him, leave the Bantamweight division, and go make his mark at Super Bantamweight.
3 bouts we want in 2020:
Emanuel Navarrete vs Hiroaki Teshigawara
Rey Vargas Vs Thomas Patrick Ward
Angelo Leo Vs Tramaine Williams
The Super Bantamweight division is a bit of a strange one when it comes to prospects, with very few fighters being fast tracked, and more of the prospects having records that, on paper at least, are similar to those of contenders. Despite that is does show the depth of talent in the division, and in many ways is actually notable for showing just how deep the division is today.
If you missed our previous articles from this mini series they can be read below:
The state of the Division - Super Bantamweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Super Bantamweight - The Contenders
Hiroaki Teshigawara (18-2-2, 11)
OPBF champion Hiroaki Teshigawara is a 28 year old verging on being a contender. His last loss came in October 2016, to Ryo Akaho, and since then he has gone 6-0 (5) and scored notable wins over the likes of Keita Kurihara, Jetro Pabustan, Jason Canoy and Teiru Kinoshita. Although not the most rounded fighter Teshigawara is an aggressive, hard hitting, tough and exciting fighter who will be a handful to anyone just below world level. He's a very exciting Japanese fighter.
Yusaku Kuga (17-3-1, 12)
Another exciting Japanese fighter is Yusaku Kuga, a former Japanese national champion who lost the Japanese title in 2018 to Shingo Wake. The loss to Wake is Kuga's only defeat since losing to Yasutaka Ishimoto in 2015, a loss that was later avenged. Kuga is a hard hitting and exciting fighter who has a rugged crudeness to him. He can certainly be out boxed, as Wake showed, but few fighters will look to have a war with him. As with Teshigawara there is an argument that Kuga is more of a fringe contender than a prospect, but we do feel that both would be highly unfancied against world-class opponents.
Jeo Santisima (17-2, 14)
With 19 fights under his belt, Filipino 22 year old Jeo Santisima is a very advanced prospect, who has managed to secure good wins over Rex Wao and Victor Uriel Lopez during his current 15 fight winning streak. With power, speed and stamina Santisima has the tools to go a long way. At the moment Santisima needs to work on his technical ability, but if he can sort out his technical flaws then there is a lot that the youngster can go on to achieve and he could end up being a very notable contender over the years to come. Before he reaches to the top however there is a fair bit of work to do.
Ye Joon Kim (16-1-2, 8)
Korean boxing has really lacked notable fighters in recent years, however they do have a real natural talent on their hands in the form of Ye Joon Kim, a gifted boxer-puncher. The 26 year old "Pacquiweather" was inactive for just over 2 years before returning this past November and stopping Waldo Sabu. Before his break he had beaten the likes of Vergil Puton, Yoshiro Utsumi and Yuki Strong Kobayashi. Kim had gone 4-1-2 in his first 7 bouts, losing to future OPBF champion Sa Myung Noh, but has since reeled off 12 straight wins and proven himself as the most promising Korean native.
Arnold Khegai (14-0-1, 9)
Interestingly, having just mentioned Ye Joon Kim, it's worth noting that 26 year old fighter Arnold Khegai is a Ukrainian prospect born to Korean parents who is now based in the US. He's also one of the most promising fighters in the division and has recently beaten the likes of Jorge Diaz and Adam Lopez. There's a long way for Khegai to go, but he's a confident, experienced fighter with a lot of potential. Given he's now in his 20's we're expecting 2019 to be a huge year for him and perhaps a world title fight will follow in 2020 or 2021.
Joseph Landeros (15-0, 15)
At just 17 years old American fighter Joseph Landeros looks to be a prodigy. Amazingly, given his age, he has already crammed 15 fights into his career, which remarkably began when he was just 15. Despite that level of activity he has only had 31 rounds as a professional. Given his average length of bout and his young age it's clear he has yet to be tested really, but his competition has been stepping up, and his last 3 opponents have all had winning records. We suspect Landeros will be a long term "one to watch" but he is certainly one to keep an eye on.
Antonio Russell (12-0, 10)
The unbeaten Gary Antonio Russell is one of Gary Russell Jr's many boxing brothers and is rising prospect at Bantamweight/Super Bantamweight. At 25 years old he is just starting to reach hi physical peak and really that seems to have shown in recent results, stopping his last 5 opponents and 8 of his last 9. Despite his solid form he has lacked a big win, and a step is likely to come in 2019. Hopefully stiffer competition will draw the best from Russell, though given how his more famous brother has fought there is a worry that Russell will have bouts of inactivity when, or rather if, he reaches the top.
Wasiru Mohammed (10-0, 9)
Ghana's Wasiru Mohammed appears to be one of the division's hidden gems. He's a heavy-handed fighter who made his debut in April 2017 and is already the WBO Africa champion, and the Ghanaian champion. Mohammed came to the attention of many fans for his win over Isaac Sackey, a win that was followed by a riot at the Bukom Boxing Arena in Accra. The stoppage over Sackey was very questionable, however his KO win over Raymond Commey was very impressive. We'd love to see Mohammed fighting outside of Ghana and he looks like a handful, even if he is a bit of a wild slugger. With dynamite power and exciting style there is real potential for him to move on to the world scene in the years to come.
Carlos Caraballo (9-0, 9)
Unbeaten Puerto Rican puncher Carlos Caraballa is a 24 year old who made his debut back in 2016 and took make steps forward in 2018, with a notable win over Jesus Martinez, on his US debut. The footage available of him makes him look speedy, intelligent and heavy-handed, with a stiff jab and a calm demeanour in the ring. Although clearly confident in his power. Caraballo doesn't seem to rush his work and is instead a calm and calculated pressure fighter. With Golen Boy now involved in his career it's going to be fun seeing how far Caraballo goes in 2019.
Alberto Ezequiel Melian (3-0, 2)
Argentinian fighter Alberto Ezequiel Melian is a 28 year old prospect on the fast track to the top. He made his debut in December 2017, in an 8 rounder against former world title challenger Deigo Ricardo Santillan, and since then has fought back-to-back 10 round bouts whilst taking the Argentinian title, beating Julian Evaristo Aristule in just his second professional bout. Given his age it's clear that 2019 will be a big year for Melian who will be making his US debut on January 26th against Edgar Ortega, a win there will likely set up a potential world title eliminator later in the year.
Yuki Yamauchi (2-0, 1)
Japanese 23 year old Yuki Yamauchi made his debut this past July and is already being touted as a potential star. The southpaw stopped Jimboy Rosales on debut before taking a step up and out classing Alvin Medura in October. He's managed by the powerful Shinsei gym and is a former amateur standout, who will likely be pushed hard by a gym that has been signing up young talent in the Hyogo area. Given his age he probably won't be put on a similar fast track to Melian but will certainly be moved aggressively over the next few years, potentially in a similar fashion to stablemate Shun Kubo, who fought for an OPBF title in his 9th bout and a world title in his 12th bout.
It's fair to say the recent WBO Flyweight title fight between Sho Kimura and Kosei Tanaka created a lot of buzz with fans who perhaps haven't followed the Japanese scene too well. Thankfully this has been a brilliant year for Japanese fights, even if it's been a rather disappointing one for Japanese fighters on the global scene.
For those new fans, and for those who perhaps missed some of what has gone on this year, we've decided to look at some of the very best fights in Japan these year. For the sake of this particular piece we've only included fights that were either on Japanese TV or have been made freely available via online sources. This unfortunately means that anything on boxingraise won't be included, though I do suggest that fight fans do give Boxingraise a look, as it is a fantastic service well worthy of a subscription.
This is part one of a multi-part article and will look at 5 bouts that took place from February 8th to May 7th. More parts to this will be posted in the coming weeks, so please keep your eye on for those!
February 8th - Korakuen Hall
Hiroaki Teshigawara (15-2-2, 9) vs Jason Canoy (27-7-2, 19)
Back in February Japanese brawler Hiroaki Teshigawara looked to make his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title, as he took on tough Filipino Jason Canoy. The bout has all the ingredients of being some fun and thrilling but what we got was a bout that greatly exceeded expectations and turned out to be something exciting and very evenly matched. It wasn't the most skilled bout of the year, but it was certainly one of the most exciting, hard hitting and intense. Although both guys are very flawed they combined for an all action war that will sadly be forgetten by many when it comes to talking about the best Japanese bout of 2018.
March 18th – Portopia Hotel
Reiya Konishi (15-0, 5) vs Carlos Canizales (19-0-1, 16)
The first world title bout on this list is March's WBA Light Flyweight war between Japan's Reiya Konishi and Venezuelan Carlos Canizales. This bout was a higher level of skill than the Teshigawara Vs Canoy bout, but also combined Canizales's frightening power with Konishi's insane heart and work rate. Both men had unbeaten records going into the bout, the winner would remain unbeaten and take a world title, albeit the “regular” version. The loser would have to rebuild and it was obvious both men had a lot riding on it. This is another bout that we think could end up being forgotten by some, but with Canizales later picking up a big win over Lu Bin in China we hope fans give this a shot.
April 4th – Korakuen Hall
Mark John Yap (28-12, 14) vs Takafumi Nakajima (29-9-1, 13)
Not every great bout needs to be an all out war, and that was proven in the OPBF Bantamweight title bout between Mark John Yap, the defending champion, and Takafumi Nakajima. Although not a war it was a high skilled and intensely fought contest. This bout wasn't actually televised though A-sign boxing made it available and we're glad they did as it was a really good solid bout between two men who didn't have outstanding records but had a point to prove, and knew how valuable the OPBF title was.
April 12th – Korakuen Hall
Keita Obara (19-2-1, 17) Vs Alvin Lagumbay (9-2, 8) I
Punchers collided on April 12th to give us a shoot out. Going in Keita Obara was heavily favoured, he had previously fought for a world title and was expected to go on to another world title fight down the line. Lagumbay on the other hand had been defeated by a Japanese Lightweight just 2 fights earlier and was stepping up to Welterweight to challenge Obara for the WBO Asia Pacific title, which he had already defended once. What we got was a shot, but thrilling fight that ended in a bizarre yet eye catching fashion, that will likely end up being replayed for years to come.
May 7th – Korakuen Hall
Valentine Hosokawa (22-6-3, 9) vs Vladimir Baez (24-3-2, 22)
Another war on Asign saw Japanese Light Welterweight champion Valentine Hosokawa battle mandatory challenger Vladimir Baez, also known as Destino Japan. This bout looked even on paper though maybe was a little bit over-looked given that Hosokawa was in his mid 30's and Baez was a Japanese Dominican without much of a following in his homeland. What they delivered however was something special with both men being dropped and fans being given something to remember in what might end up being the best Japanese title fight of 2018.
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.