In 2019 we've tried some new things on this site, and have done a number of regular weekly features, with the "Introducing...", "Closet Classic", "Weekly Awards" and Podcast, which has been on hiatus due to some technological issues which should be sorted shortly, all being done on a weekly basis.
The key idea behind each of those, other than the podcast, was to shine a little beam of light on something, be it a fight from the past or an emerging young fighter, that fans may not have been aware of. We'd like to continue to add to this site, and begin our latest weekly feature, the "Hidden Gem of the Week".
The idea of this feature is to shine the light on an upcoming bout that we see as the hidden gem. These won't be bouts we'd typically preview, but instead a bout that interests us for some other reason. Whether it's a notable debutant, a low key bout which we believe could deliver fireworks, or just a bout that has something else about it, worthy of your attention. We're hoping these can be done every Tuesday, but they may flex a little bit, where we need to work around the scheduling of fights.
So without me rabbiting on any further, lets having a look at our first "Hidden Gem of the Week"
The Hidden Gem?
Masahiro Suzuki (2-0, 1) Vs Kosuke Arioka (9-3-1, 8)
August 8th (Thursday)
Because Masahiro Suzuki is a really promising former amateur standout who faces a JBC and OPBF ranked opponent in just his third bout.
Masahiro Suzuki is a former amateur standout with a 64-26 (21) record from the unpaid ranks. He fights out of the World Sports Boxing Gym, which also boasts Takeshi Inoue among others, and he is tipped to go on to do huge things in the sport. His team have shown no fear of throwing him in hard and after a debut win in November he is already jumping into 8 round bouts.
Kosuke Arioka is the 2017 Lightweight Rookie of the Year. He's a big puncher, with a nasty streak and is riding a 7 fight unbeaten run, including 6 wins and 5 stoppages. His wins over Mirai Naito, Yui Oikawa and Leonardo Doronio have been impressive and he is a legitimate puncher on the lower end of the Japanese domestic scene.
What to expect?
Arioka is, as we expect from a puncher, a very aggressive fighter who comes out looking for bombs to both head and body. He's not a particularly rounded fighter, and can be put under pressure, but he is a very strong one with real killer instinct. His Rookie of the Year final win, over Takeru Kobata, ended when Arioka hurt his man and unloaded on him, turning around a fight that had not been going his way. His power is real and his opponents cannot risk getting into a slugfest with him.
Suzuki on the other hand is the accomplished amateur star who looks the business and looks like he is already a polished, well rounded fighter with excellent ring craft, wonderful variety and surprising adaptability. He's one of the most rounded novices we've seen and has shown good boxing, fantastic body punching and impressive defensive awareness. Although it's still early days he does look like he's going to go a very long way, if he has a chin.
We're expecting Arioka to come out aggressively and Suzuki to answer the pressure with back foot boxing early on, before turning the fight around after Arioka has lost some of his fire and sting. Smart body punching from Suzuki will be used to slow down Arioka and eventually close the show. Arioka will be game, have some success early, but ultimately come undone against a real dynamite talent.
The bad news?
Sadly the bout isn't likely to be shown in full on TV, due to the quality of the card it's on and the fact that the show has two title bouts which will likely take up the TV time. There is hope Fuji TV will show highlights, which may be the best we get. Despite the bad news being aware of the bout, and the result afterwards, is worth your time as we find out whether Suzuki is the rising star we think he is, or another fighter who has bitten off more than he can chew this early in his career.
Having looked at the Champions and the Contenders at 140lbs we now move onto the interesting prospects rising through the ranks at 140lbs, and we really get a lovely look across the boxing world in a weight class that has a really metropolitan feel to it.
If you missed our looks at the champions that can be found here The state of the Division - Light Welterweight - The Champions whilst the review of the challengers can be found here The state of the Division - Light Welterweight - The Contenders
Batyr Akhmedov (5-0, 4)
If we were asked to mention just 1 prospect in the division it would have been Uzbek born Russian based Batyr Akhmedov, who confuses things even more having fought at the 2016 Olympics for Turkey under the name Batuhan Gozgec. Akhmedov debuted in early 2017 and hasn't been particularly active, yet has already notched big wins over Ricky Sismundo and Ismael Barroso. He's highly skilled, heavy hand, exciting and wanting to prove himself quickly. We're expecting 2019 to be a massive year for Akhmedov, who will almost certainly be ending the year in the world rankings, even if he does only squeeze 2 or 3 fights into the year.
Fabian Andres Maidana (16-0, 12)
The younger brother of Marcos Rene Maidana is Fabian Andres Maidana, a rising prospect, former amateur standout and one of the future stars of Argentinian boxing. Like his older brother he is a brutal puncher, and his 16 bouts have averaged less than 4 rounds. Notably he has been getting tested, with bouts against the tricky Johan Perez in 2017 and Andrey Klimov in 2018, with wins against those two men helping building his image and profile. There is a lot work for him to do, but with a good team behind him, his brother's advice and a willingness to travel, the expectation is that Maidana will go far. He's Scheduled to fight in January, against Jaider Parra, and could end up having a huge year ahead.
Akeem Ennis Brown (12-0, 1)
One of the lighter hitting prospects in the division is Englishman Akeem Ennis Brown, a tricky, smart, boxer who shone in 2018 with notable wins over Chris Jenkins and Darragh Foley. Those wins saw him build on good victories over Freddy Kiwitt in 2016 and Glenn Foot in 2017. At the age of 23 "Riiddy" looks like being a nightmare to face off, and is perhaps only going to be held back by his lack of power. Despite not having much sting in his shots he is an awfully good fighter, a nightmare to come against and a truly frustrating proposition for anyone in the division.
Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (6-0, 3)
A third notable Uzbek at 140lbs is 27 year old Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, who despite being a gold medal winner looks a lot less of a threat to the champions than compatriots Shakhram Giyasov and Shohjahon Ergashev. Whilst Giyasov and Ergashev turned professional with pro-ready styles the same can't be said of Gaibnazarov, who has had to adapt his style since making his debut in 2017. He has began to show touches of brilliance but unfortunately the jury is still out on him as we enter 2019. Despite not standing out it is worth noting that Gaibnazarov is promoted by Top Rank and will be expecting a huge 2019, beginning with his January 18th bout against Ricardo Garcia.
Yazid Amghar (21-0, 9)
Over the last few years the French boxing scene has come alive, with a number of interesting and talented fighters breaking through the ranks. One of those is 29 year French Light Welterweight champion Yazid Amghar. Having debuted in 2012 it took a while for Amghar to gain much traction with his career, but that has started to happen recently thanks to good wins over Douda Sow, Jarkko Putkonen and Berman Sanchez, as well as a total gutcheck against Renald Garrido, a favourite of everyone here! Amghar is perhaps not a world class prospect, but will certainly be mixing in the European title scene in the years to come and will be a good addition to those ranks.
Alexander Duran (17-0, 4)
Duran is the most iconic of names in Panamanian boxing, and 26 year old southpaw Alexander Duran has been unfortunate enough to share the same surname as the legendary Roberto Duran. Despite the same surname the two won't every be fairly compared, however the unbeaten hopeful is worth talking about following some good recent results. These have included wins over Patrick Lopez, Luis Ronaldo Castillo and once touted Mexican Adrian Estrella. There is still a long way for Duran to go, but he's had a good 24 months and should be breaking on to the radar of more fight fans in 2019.
Genaro Gamez (8-0, 5)
American 23 year old Genaro Gamez came to our attention last year when he beat Shoki Sakai, in what was a really good step up for the youngster. Gamez looks to build on that win in February when he takes on Ivan Delgado and despite being a big of a hidden gem we would be very surprised if more fans weren't talking about him towards the end of the year. He has been featured on Golden Boy on ESPN cards, the Golden Boy team and has looked like a sharp puncher with nice movement and quick hands. There is clearly a lot of work to do with Gamez, but after just 8 fights he looks really promising and just needs his team to put him in the right tests in 2019.
Juan Pablo Romero (9-0, 6)
We don't see too many Mexican fighters making a mark on the international amateur scene before beginning their career but Juan Pablo Romero, or "Pivi", did just that, making his way to the 2016 Olympics. Sadly Romero's Olympic dream was ended by Italian Vincenzo Mangiacapre but he's now on a professional journey and is rising quickly. He debuted in April 2017 and was 5-0 (3) by the end of the year, before stepping up his competition in 2018, going 4-0 (3) including a very nice win over Jose Luis Prieto. Mexican TV are behind him, he looks a very clean puncher, very sharp and defensively smart with some lovely body shots in his arsenal. At 28 he's going to be moved quickly this year and we'd suspect his US debut is just around the corner.
Mykquan Williams (13-0, 7)
American youngster Mykquan Williams has been a pro for close to 3 years, but is still only 20 years old. He's not had the spotlight shined on him in the way some American prospects have, but has impressed, especially in 2018 when he went 4-0 and hardly lost a round. He's a boxing baby but took his first professional title last year and will look to continue building momentum. He has a pretty aggressive style, a likable personality and a recognisable promoter in DiBella. He comes across as someone who has his head on his shoulders and a strong team guiding his career at this early stage. It could be a few years before we see what he's able to do, but we do like what we've seen of him.
Lei Wang (2-0, 1)
Whilst Batyr Akhmedov might be the 1st name we'd put on a prospect list at 140lbs China's Lei Wang isn't far behind. The former Chinese amateur star made his professional debut in September 2018, stopping Anthony Sabalde, and went on to beat Ricky Sismundo in December. Although he's only done 11 rounds as a professional Wang has shown a lot to be excited about. Although he was given a really tough time by Sismundo that shouldn't be a negative for Wang, who would have learned more in that bout than 10 at a lower level. There's a lot to like about Wang, but also a lot that he and his team need to work on now he's in the professional ranks.
Koki Inoue (12-0, 10)
The third member of the Kanagawa Inoue clan is Koki Inoue, the cousin of Naoya Inoue and Takuma Inoue. The Shingo Inoue trained southpaw boxer-puncher will be getting a Japanese title fight later this year and looks to add to his impressive start to professional boxing. There's a lot to like about Inoue, even if he isn't comparable to his cousins, and he's an aggressive, exciting, hard hitting fighter who is expected to move well beyond domestic level. He didn't look close to his best last time out, against Marcus Smith, though it was later revealed he was carrying several injuries into that bout. If he can defeat Valentine Hosokawa in their title showdown he will instantly be getting a lot more attention.
Masahiro Suzuki (1-0, 1)
Another fighter who made their debut in 2018 is Masahiro Suzuki, who debuted in November against the hard hitting Antonio Siesmundo. We were incredibly impressed by Suzuki who showed a real calmness in the face of a hard hitting pressure fighter, and we were instantly looking forward to what he's going to do in the future. He looked talented, sharp, intelligent, exciting and incredibly promising on debut, and was clearly looking to use his amateur background as a starting point for what he's doing in the professional scene. He's expected to be back in the ring in Spring and it's going to be a very exciting journey to follow him on.
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.