For this weeks one to watch we're actually going to cover a bout that will take place this coming Sunday, but won't be shown live until a week later. Given the Christmas period however that might actually work out to be a good thing for the bout, meaning we can all rest watch it after stuffing our faces a few days earlier. The bout in question is an East Japan Rookie of the Year bout, and features someone we are very very high on going up against what should be his toughest test to date.
The One to Watch?
Kosuke Tomioka (4-0, 3) vs Shunpei Kubo (5-1-1, 3)
December 20th (Sunday)
Rookie of the Year action is always worth of attention, but this bout in particular promises a lot, with two young talented punchers both looking to do more than just win, both will be looking to make a statement. In one corner is one of biggest favourites to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year whilst the other corner will house a 23 year old with a point to prove and a chance to make a name for himself on the Japanese domestic scene.
The 18 year old Kosuke Tomioka is regarded by many in Japan as one of the best teenagers in the sport. He's a slippery, skilled southpaw with under-rated power, a confident and cocky air to him and a very fan friendly approach to the ring. His made his professional debut in July 2019, following a solid amateur career, and since then has looked nigh on untouchable. He has blown out opponents early, stopping Shinobu Wakagi and Yota Sato inside a round, shown he can go deeper in bouts when he needs to, stopping Asato Mori in the final second of a 4 rounder, and go the distance against an awkward and negative opponent, which he did against Shota Hara.
We've yet to see Tomioka in any real trouble at any point so far. He has been too quick, too sharp, too good and too heavy handed for any of his first 4 opponents. Sadly this has mean he's not really answered any key questions, such as how he takes a shot, what he's like under intense and prolonged pressure, and how he enjoys an opponent being able to take his power, or match him for speed. Sadly we don't think we'll see him answer those questions for a very long time, just due to how good he is, however they are things we do need to see him prove before getting too excited.
Shunpei Kubo is 23 years old and, like Tomioka, made his debut last year. He began his career with 3 straight wins before being stopped in 4 rounds by Rui Ikari. That could have caused his career to his the skids, but just 4 months later he was back in the ring and beat Shota Hara to get back to winning ways. He then picked up another win this past September, in the Rookie of the Year to progress to East Japan semi-final, where he fought to a draw with Aito Abe. Despite the draw he qualified for the East Japan final due to the rules regarding draws. That draw has earned this shot at Tomioka, and a potential place in the All Japan final next year.
Despite not being as well known as Tomioka there is actually a lot of footage of Kubo out there and he's a really exciting fighter to watch. He has a stiff jab, that looks a good weapon, but is more at home throwing heavy leather, notably his solid left hook and right cross. He looks very relaxed in the ring, and very confident, with a lot of self belief and trust in his power. Sadly however he is very open and when he lets his hands go does over-commit, a lot. So far he's been able to get away with it, with opponents not punishing him, but that day will come if he doesn't tighten up. He puts a lot into what he does, and he does seem like the sort of fighter who is going to struggle with a smart boxer-mover, but thankfully for him there isn't many of those around at this level.
What to expect?
We expect to see Kubo looking to make a fast start, pressing forward, letting his shots go. Sadly for him we do see him flailing at the air a lot, as he tries to pin down Tomioka, but fails to connect with any regularity on the faster, sharper, smarter southpaw. The misses from Kubo will take the gas out of his tires, but he will always look dangerous and if he can connect Tomioka could be in trouble. The left hook of Kubo's will be his big weapon against his southpaw foe.
Whilst Kubo is out there swinging and missing we see Tomioka getting a read on his man, using his legs, moving around Kubo whilst landing single shot counters. Eventually hurting a tired Kubo and then going in for the finish in round 3 or 4. He will, however, need to be cautious as one shot from Kubo might be enough to begin the unravelling process.
We do see this being entertaining, and we do expect to see Tomioka have to work for a victory, but we do see Tomioka, fighting off the pressure and taking a late stoppage victory here.
The bad news?
The only bad news here is that the bout will not be broadcast live. Instead it will be shown on G+ on tape delay. Thankfully though that's not actually too bad, and it'll be shown about 7 days after taking place, with a broadcast set for December 27th.
Around a year ago we took a look at 10 teenage prospects from around Asia, and now seemed a perfect time to re-run that article by taking a look at 10 prospects who are currently teenagers and that we're really excited by.
As with last year's article we are genuinely exciting about how bright the future is looking for Asian fighters and Asia in general has a lot of young talent breaking through the ranks. Not just the teenagers we mention here, who are very much the youngest of the emerging talent, but the 20, 21, 22 and 23 year old's who are all looking to make their mark. Thankfully one thing we know about Asian talent is that the top prospects don't tend to want to waste time and in a year or two we may be talking about some of these fighters are regional champions or world contenders.
In fact with that in mind, and before we go in to the 10 for this list we'll just note that two of the men featured last year, Musashi Mori and Ginjiro Shigeoka, are currently world ranked and regional title holders, whilst several others from last year's list reappear again this year, showing just how young they actually are!
For those wondering, the ordering is by age, starting at the youngest. There is no ranking system used.
Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (9-0, 4) [16 years old]
The youngest of the prospects we've been really impressed by is 16 year old Thai hopeful Phoobadin Yoohanngoh, who fights at Light Welterweight and has already ticked off more boxes than many much older fighters. The youngster, who debated at the frankly ridiculous age of just 14, has been a professional since 2018 and actually ended the year 3-0 (2). In 2019 he really built on his momentum by winning TL Promotion's "The Fighter" tournament, and going 5-0 (2) during the year. All that was impressive but nothing compared to what we saw him do this past July when he claimed the WBA Asia Light Welterweight title with a 10 round decision win over Kulabdam Sor Jor Piekuthai.
Although he's only 16 Phoobadin is a very mature youngster and with a good 10 rounder under his belt it's hard to not be very, very impressed by what he's shown us, and potential that he has to show. He's proven he can box, move, and fight, and has battled through some adversity already. Definitely one to keep an eye on!
Dastan Saduuly (3-0, 3) 
Aged 18 Dastan Saduuly is one of the youngest Kazakh fighters out there, and is one who has shown a lot to be excited about, though we actually think it's what we've not seen from him that is more interesting. Through his first 3 fights he has pretty much had everything all his own way, and hasn't had to break a sweat. Despite that we have seen nice quick punches, good movement, a good temperament and really good aggressive instincts. There is some work to do on his technique, and it certainly feels like he's not as physically mature as Phoobadin, despite being older, but he looks like a brilliant prospect who simply needs time to develop and mature.
Saduuly debuted at the age of 16, back in September 2018, and fit 6 fights into 7 months. Sadly he's not fought since March 2019, though part of that is understandable given the current global situation. As we write this he is pencilled in for a fight in Russia later this month and that should be a credible step up for the Kazakh wonder kid.
Kosuke Tomioka (3-0, 2) 
Another 3-0 fighter worthy of real attention is Japan's Kosuke Tomioka, who is just 2 days older than Dastan Saduuly. The Japanese youngster comes from a boxing family, with 2 of his brothers and his cousin all being professionals, and was a notable omission last year. That was, in part, due to the fact he was just 1-0 (1). Since then Tomioka has become one of the must watch prospects, thanks in part to a flashy performance against Asato Mori, in October 2019.
In the ring Tomioka is a speedy fighter with a flashy style. He throws great counter punches, has fast feet, very fast hands and is confident in his reflexes and speed. Sadly last time out we saw him put on a rather dull win over Shota Hara, though that was partly down to the fact Hara had come to survive and not win, making for an awful clash. Aged 18 and fighting at Super Flyweight Tomioka is in a great division domestically, and getting attention among hardcore, both in and out of Japan, for his style, his flair and his charisma. Thankfully he blends that flash with a lot of skill and really does understand the sport, and his strengths. We suspect he's going to shine as he matures and he looks like a very, very exciting and talented youngster, with the potential to go all the way, even if it will be a long journey there.
Ayumu Hanada (5-0, 3)* 
We stay in Japan for a very, very interesting fighter who has gone the road less travelled, in many ways. Ayumu Hanada is an 18 year old old Flyweight who debuted in Mexico more than 2 years ago. He won his first 4 bouts in Mexico, and these are the 4 bouts that show up on his boxrec record, all of which were scheduled for 4 rounds. Last year he then turned up in Osaka fighting on a non-JBC show where he won a 10 round decision to claim a WBF title. That result isn't on his boxrec record, despite it taking place, and being his Japanese debut, essentially because without the JBC sanctioning it the bout isn't recognised, despite the minor title.
Back in August Hanada announced that he would stop fighting as a free-lancer and would be joining the JBC, with his pro-test taking place later this month. When that happens he will be a JBC licensed fighter and begin his climb towards becoming a star at home. We expect the 18 year old to squeeze in his JBC debut later this year and move quickly through the domestic and regional rankings, though given his career so far we wouldn't be surprised at all if he ends up doing something else a bit unusual.
In regards to ability Hanada is a genuinely talented boxer puncher with quick hands, quick feet, real power for a youngster and an aggressive mean streak. There is, as with many fighters here, some real polishing that needs to be done, but we suspect sparring in Japan will help there and should help him again sort out his somewhat flawed technique.
Jong Seon Kang (11-0-2, 6) 
The Korean boxing scene has been underwhelming for years, but it does appear that the country has got some quality talent emerging through the ranks. One of their most interesting young prospects is 18 year old Featherweight Jong Seon Kang, who is a hell of a fun fighter to watch, despite being a very flawed fighter, who needs a lot of work if he's to reach the top.
Since debuting in 2017, aged 16, Kang has done a lot, without making too much noise. He scored a number of upsets in 2019, beating Ravshanbek Shermatov, Qixiu Zhanf and Tomjune Manguabet, claimed a couple of minor titles, went 10 rounds and picked fought on foreign soil. In terms of achievements in the professional ranks he has done more than anyone else on this list, but like the others he's a work in progress, and he needs to work on his defense, which is questionable at best.
Despite Kang being easy to hit he appears to take a shot well, have a great engine and a real desire to put on thrilling action fights. He is one of the most fan friendly fighters in Asia, but that may come to his detriment down the line. Win or lose he's the sort of prospect who will leave fans happy after seeing him in action, and he's bout to have a damn fun rollercoaster of a career.
Chaiyapong Phongwankittikun (3-0, 3) 
Thai youngster Chaiyapong Phongwankittikun isn't a name we suspect many will be familiar with, however his father is someone who we suspect fans will known, as Chaiyapong is the son of former world champion Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai, who held the WBA Super Featherweight title in the early 00's. The hope is for Chaiyapong to follow in his father's footsteps and allow the family to become the first father-son world champions in Thai boxing history.
The youngster made his debut in August 2019, aged 17, and sadly looked a bit raw, clumsy and over-awed by the occasion, as his opponent gave him a legitimate chin checking in the opening round. Despite being under pressure the youngster made his way through the round, even dropping his man, before calming down. He would later go on to stop his man in the 4th round, proving his resolve, guts, determination and heart along the way.
Chaiyapong didn't have the debut performance he had hoped for, and he was chastised by some for it, but it was a great learning experience, and since then he has scored 2 more wins and looked like he's improving with every fight. Given the fame of his father and the backing of Tantelecom Boxing Promotion the hope is they can take him and mould him into a success. Given his age, his toughness, and his power he's one of the ones we're going to be interested in following, and one the potential wild cards here. They know he needs time, and the talk is that they want him to have 3, if not more, years of learning the craft, and that really does seem the smart idea. There's plenty to like about him, but he's very much someone who needs a lot of time and development.
Jin Sasaki (8-0, 7) 
Japanese Light Welterweight Jin Sasaki may, potentially, be the best teenager in Asia, and the one with the biggest upside. The 19 year old puncher appears to have it, and understands what it is. He's charismatic, confident, a tough cocky even, but backs it up with aggression, speed and power. He's a brutish puncher who is growing into his frame and he looks like a genuine top tier prospect, with the potential to make huge strides over the next year or two.
At the end of August Sasaki scored his biggest win to date, flattening Shun Akaiwa in just 45 seconds, and we suspect by the time the next time the JBC rankings are updated his name will appears. With that in mind it's hard to imagine his team waiting too long before angling him into a Japanese or regional title fight.
With an international bout under his belt, and 5 wins in the first 2 rounds the things Sasaki needs now is rounds, some adversity, and a chance to prove his chin and gas tank. If his team are confident, like they appear to be, we suspect he will get a real test in the next 12 months as they push onwards and upwards with their rising star.
Sung Min Yuh (5-0, 1) 
We mentioned a little bit earlier about emerging talent in South Korea and with that in mind we want to bring your attention to arguably their best young prospect, Light Middleweight Sung Min Yuh. In terms of natural ability Yuh might be the best teenager in Asian boxing. He's a natural in the ring, with fantastic handspeed, shot selection, and slippery defense, not things we always associate with Korean boxing. He is however a fighter who seems to need to be tested to get the best from him, and he has, at times, been seen fighting well within himself, and fighting down to his opponents level.
Yuh is a really brilliant talent, who stands at 5'11", is fighting at 154lbs, is already the KBM champion and at just 19 years old is getting better and better. Amazingly Yuh only made his debut in March 2019, 12 days after his 18 birthday. He didn't look great on his debut, but since then has developed into a real talent. We just now need to hope that the desire, and mental side of the sport is with Yuh, and he can make the most of his skills. If he can this kid has the potential to be the biggest thing in Korean boxing in decades. If he can develop that potential we could see South Korea have another world champion in a few years time.
Toshiya Ishii (3-0, 2)
We head back off to Japan for the penultimate name on this list as we look at JBC Youth Bantamweight champion Toshiya Ishii, an outstanding young talent, who made his professional debut in April 2019 and has rapidly risen through the rankings. His debut came against a relatively poor opponent, Adam Wijaya, but since then he has taken on two very good domestic opponents, beating the then 8-0 Fumiya Fuse and the then 8-1 Haruki Ishikawa.
Despite only having 3 professional bouts to his name, as well as a solid amateur background, Ishii has already shown the ability to box, the ability to fight and the ability to punch. He has taken his opportunities to shine and his bout with Ishikawa was one of the most exciting bouts of 2019. In that one bout he showed his heart, determination, power, ability to recuperate, and skills. We think Ishii might need a year or two to really be ready to move on to the main Japanese title scene, but given he's still only 19 that's not going to be an issue at all.
Ishii is, interestingly, one of the teenagers, along with Yuh, who is technically very good, but for Ishii the big thing he needs is experience, and of course the only way he gets that is by fighting. The technical ability and physical traits are there for him, and he has a very, very bright future ahead of him.
Talgat Shayken (1-0) 
We finish this with 19 year old Kazakh hopeful Talgat Shayken, who debuted recently following a strong amateur career. On debut he didn't look flawless, but he did look exciting and like a man full of potential. He showed a fun to watch style, a really impressive physical maturity and a solid gas tank, going 6 complete rounds on his debut. Unlike many debutant teenagers he was almost matched hard, going up against the then 5-0 Berikbay Nurymbetov, who did come to win, rather than roll over.
As an amateur Shayken always a bit rough, and relied on his physicality and physical strength. Now in the professional ranks that will have to change, and he will certainly have to polish off some technical issues, but he's only 19, there is a lot of time for him to make those changes, and given that MTK are managing him there is going to be the chance for him to get top sparring, and time to develop. Although MTK are big, and powerful, they have allowed their prospects a lot of time to develop when they have needed it, sometimes too much time. With that in mind we don't imagine Shayken will be rushed, but we do expect to see him being tested early, and often.
Yifan Wang (2-0-1, 2)  - Yes he 14!
Yoo Chan Lee (2-0, 2) 
Nan He (1-0) 
Bryan James Wild (5-0, 4) 
Issei Ochiai (2-0, 1) 
With so many bouts being cancelled, and vanishing from schedules, we have again had a problem with this series. Originally we had planned to cover Bektemir Melikuziev's bout on a DAZN. That bout, and card, was cancelled last week and as a result we turn out attention to Japan for a much smaller profile bout from Tokyo.
The One to Watch?
Kosuke Tomioka (2-0, 2) vs Shota Hara (2-2-1)
August 31st (Monday)
Firstly lets just begin by not talking explicitly about the fighters but about boxing in a more general sense. This is a bout which will be streamed for free on the A-Sign Boxing Youtube channel. With that in mind we have two reasons to tune in before we even talk about the fighters. This is free, and we all love free, and it helps support a small promoter, and that is something we should all be getting behind right now in these difficult times as boxing fans.
With those reasons out of the way this is a Rookie of the Year bout featuring one of the hottest young talents in Japan and someone who has started to get a lot of buzz, despite only being 2-0 and 18 years old. On paper it's another step forward for him, whilst his opponent has never been stopped and will be coming to win. This should be a great test, and will give fans a chance to dip their toes into the whole Rookie of the Year thing.
Aged 18 Kosuke Tomioka is regarded as one of the best teenagers in Japan. He's explosive, skilled, slick, exciting and, unlike many Japanese fighters, is happy to show boat and entertain. The talented youngster ticks boxes in terms of talent and entertainment and we expect to see him reaching the later stages of the tournament without too much bother.
Although Tomioka didn't manage to make a splash in the higher ranks of the amateurs, which is generally a sign of a real talent, it does need noting that he turned professional at 16 and made his professional debut just weeks after his 17th birthday. Just to add to that he was a very, very good amateur at the Under Junior and Under 15 levels, winning 6 titles in those age groups.
Aged 25 Shota Hara isn't tipped for anything big but is also no push over. Unlike Tomioka he's a man and he has seen his body fill up, and he's moved from Flyweight, tested the water at Bantamweight and is now competing in Rookie of the Year at Super Flyweight. Despite his record entering the bout he's certainly not an easy out at this level and is a capable fighter with a counter punching style and a very nice left hook.
Defensively Hara isn't the best, but he does land nice counters, can box and will look to make Tomioka pay for any mistakes he makes. He will not be there to make up the numbers.
What to expect?
We expect Tomioka to box and move, it's something he does and looks so natural doing. Despite his talent we suspect he'll need to stay sharp and keep his focus as Hara does like to soak up pressure and counter well.
We suspect that Hara knows he is the slower man, the less technically capable fighter, and the less flashy fighter. He is however the man, the more mature fighter, and the one who will look to hug, hold, push and pull Tomioka. If he can use his man strength in the clinch and counter Tomioka clean he does have a chance at scoring the upset here.
It is however a big "if" as we suspect that Hara will be struggling with the skills and speed of Tomioka, who will show what he can do, out boxing the older man at range, landing sneaky body shots up close, and keep things at a safe distance, for the most part.
Whilst we aren't expecting a war or a thrilling back and forth battle here, we are expecting fans to become aware of just how good the 18 year old Tomioka is.
The bad news?
We know some people aren't interested in Rookie bouts, and it's a shame as many of them are entertaining, well matched, exciting and lay down the early frame work for some excellent fighters. This is a Rookie bout, and one we really do think is a good chance for fans to get a feel for what they are about. This going to be fun, it's a chance to see a man that many in Japan are tipping as one of the country's future stars and it should feature plenty of exciting flashes of 2-way action.
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.