When it comes to notable emerging talents at Flyweight the division is rather crazy. It has a lot of contenders, though very few of them have really been tested at world level. In fact only 2 of our 6 to watch have actually challenged for a world title, and one of those is a former world champion, though it seems likely that at least 3 of them will fight for a belt in the next 12 months.
Angel Acosta (21-2, 21)
The most notable of the contenders here is hard hitting Puerto Rican Angel Acosta. "Tito" is a former WBO Light Flyweight champion who now appears set to make his mark at Flyweight, where he currently holds the IBO title. Acosta was rather unlucky to lose the WBO Light Flyweight title last year, with Thomas Taylor seeming a bit too eager to stop his bout with Elwin Soto, but a move up to Flyweight will likely serve him well and suspect he'll be a handful at 112lbs. The heavy handed and talented Acosta has unfinished business with WBO champion Kosei Tanaka, and a bout between him and Martinez would absolutely sensational.
Muhammad Waseem (10-1, 7)
The only other contender making our list who has previously fought at world level is Pakistani fighter Muhammad Waseem. The talented Waseem came close to beating Moruti Mthalane in 2018 but hasn't done enough to earn a second shot at a title yet. He spent 14 months out after the Mthlane fight before disposing of the hapless Conrado Tanamor in 62 seconds. Last time out Waseem looked poor as he took a decision over Ganigan Lopez, and it seems clear that someone needs to light a fire under his ass to get the best from him. He has the ability, he has the amateur experience, he has the financial backing and he has the tools to make an impact at world level. No the question is whether he has the desire to do so. If he has that hunger still, after what has been a frustrating career, he could still go on to become a world champion. At 32 however time is ticking on his career.
Junto Nakatani (20-0, 15)
Japanese hopeful Junto Nakatani is just 22 years old, but the 5'7" southpaw looks ready for a world title fight, and we suspect that he will get a shot during 2020, likely for either than the WBA or WBC title. He's impressed through his career and has already won the All Japan Rookie of the Year, the Japanese Youth and Japanese national titles. Our view is that he should try and get 1 more solid win in before getting a world title fight, so he can get a solid 10 rounder in, but the reality is that he and his team will feel they are ready for the top guys and that this could be a huge year for the popular, lanky southpaw puncher.
Giemel Magramo (24-1, 20)
Often overlooked Filipino fighter Giemel Magramo is on the verge of a world title fight, and has really built his reputation rather quietly. In fact if you don't follow boxing in Asia there's a good chance you've never seen or heard of Magramo, despite the fact he is legitimately one of the top Flyweight contenders out there. The 25 year suffered his only loss back in 2016, a close loss to Muhammad Waseem, and since then has gone 7-0 (7) with notable wins over Petchchorhae Kokietgym, Wenfeng Ge and former world title challenger Richard Claveras and John Mark Apolinario. Magramo seems to be on the verge of a WBO title shot, and is a very exciting hopeful.
Jayr Raquinel (12-1-1, 9)
One of the many emerging youngster in the division is OPBF champion Jary Raquinel, another young Filipino puncher. Raquinel has been a frustrating fighter since bursting on to the since in 2018, when he knocked out Keisuke Nakayama for the OPBF title, but he has proven to be a devastating puncher with notable KO's against Shun Kosaka and Takuya Kogawa. When Raquinel is on point he a brutal fighter and has the power to be a nightmare for anyone. Sadly however a 2018 loss to Wulan Tuolehazi slowed his momentum, and a win over Jack Amisa in November 2019 did little to boost his stamina. Hopefully 2020 is a year where he just gets it right and begins knocking on the door!
Jay Harris (17-0, 9)
One man who does now seem to have secured himself a world title fight is Welshman Jay Harris, a 29 year old who had a sensational 12 months, from November 2018. In that that 12 months he claimed the Commonwealth title, stopping Ross Murray, the European title, stopping Angel Moreno, and the IBF Inter-Continental title, stopping Paddy Barnes. Although not a big name he has been really impressive recently and will be fighting WBC champion Julio Cesar Martinez on February 29th in a bout that really promises a lot of violence!
The 3 bouts we want in 2020:
Julio Cesar Martinez Vs Angel Acosta
Kosei Tanaka Vs Moruti Mthalane
Artem Dalakian Vs Junto Nakatani
In 2018 the Flyweight division has had a rather weird year in which all the titles have ended in the hands of new champions, as we mentioned in The state of the Division - Flyweight - The Champions, and for the most part the top contenders really haven't made their mark. Instead of the top contenders fighting each other for a shot we've seen them essentially queue up, suffer from frustrating management and not compete in the great fighters that made the Flyweight division so great just a few years ago.
Thankfully there is a lot of interesting fighters looking to get a shot at a Flyweight title in 2019, so without any further stalling lets look at some of the divisions top contenders, two of which will get a shot before the end of 2018.
Masahiro Sakamoto (13-1, 9)
Japanese 27 year old Masahiro Sakamoto is a bit of an unknown, though will be challenging Moruti Mthalane for the IBF title on New Year's Eve in what is a major step up in class for the Osaka. Despite being a step up in class Sakamoto's only loss was a close decision to Sho Kimura and since then he has claimed the WBO Asia Pacific title and scored wins over a pair of Thai veterans. He's an intelligent man outside of the ring and the a smart inside it, but if we're being honest a win over Moruti Mthalane would be considered a massive upset if he achieves it on December 31st.
Masayuki Kuroda (30-7-3, 16)
Japanese veteran Masayuki Kuroda is set to fight for the IBF title in 2019, against either Masahiro Sakamoto or Moruti Mthalane, and is one of the more experienced contenders in the division. His career has been a strange one, with the 32 year old looking like his career was coming to an end a few years ago before going into a surprisingly run of form which has sene him become a 2-weight Japanese champion and climb up the world rankings. Kuroda has fought for a world title before, losing to Juan Carlos Reveco back in 2013, and has shown a real hunger for a second shot at a title.
Andrew Selby (11-0, 6)
Talented Welshman Andrew Selby, the brother of former world champion Lee Selby, is arguably the most gifted fighter at 112lbs, though also one of the most frustrating. Selby is a real talent, but appears to have no love for boxing, or a desire to really make the most of his talent and fought just once in 2018. He holds notable wins over Cristofer Rosales and Jake Bornea but there is a real question mark about his hunger and desire, and his team don't appear to have the financial power to get him the challenges that will light the fire in his belly. An excellent fighter, but one we suspect will never live up to his undeniable potential.
Sho Kimura (17-2-2, 10)
Japan's Sho Kimura came out of nowhere in 2017 to stop Zou Shiming, in China, to claim the WBO Flyweight title. Prior to the win only the most ardent of Japanese fans knew anything about him and he had gone into the bout with Shiming as a 9/1 under-dog. Despite travelling for that bout he would stop Shiming, in China, to claim the title that he would successfully defended against Toshiyuki Igarashi and Froilan Saludar, before being dethroned this past September in a FOTY contender by Kosei Tanaka. In the ring Kimura is tough, heavy handed and has great stamina, though is technically flawed. He's a handful for anyone in the weight class, and a rematch with Tanaka would deserve a lot of attention.
Wenfeng Ge (11-0, 6)
Scoring a win over a former world champion in your 10th professional bout is typically a good achievement, and is exactly what China's Wenfeng Ge did to put himself on the map, beating Amnat Ruenroeng in 2017. Sadly the Ruenroeng victory is one of just 2 notable wins that Ge has, along with a win over Ivan Soriano, though he will be looking to change that in January when he faces Giemel Magramo in a major clash, that could put the winner of the verge of a WBO title fight. Ge looks to be an incredibly strong fighter, but a technically raw one, who may struggle to win at the highest levels, but is likely to be a physical nightmare for anyone at 112lbs.
Giemel Magramo (22-1, 18)
Having just mentioned Ge it's worth noting that his opponent in January, Giemel Magramo, is himself a top contender who's only loss has been a razor thin one to Muhammad Waseem in Korea. The 24 year old boxer-puncher is a frighteningly good fighter who looks like he could be one of the next big stars of the Filipino fight scene, especially if he can upset Ge. "Pistolero" is sharp, accurate, quick and powerful with a wonderful array of punches, fantastic combination work and a real air of confidence. The sort of fighter who every fight fan should be getting excited by, and given his age he still has a long time to reach the top.
Muhammad Waseem (8-1, 6)
Once regarded as a true top prospect Muhammad Waseem's career has been a frustration of massive proportions. The Korean based Pakistani fighter looked like he could be something very special but a lack of financial backing from the Pakistani government, a lack of a promotional power house, has really seen him fail to hit the heights expected of him. In terms of talent he's an exceptional boxer-puncher, and ran Moruti Mthalane close in an IBF title bout in July, and holds a win over Giemel Magramo, but at 31 time is ticking on the career of the very talented "Falcon". Sadly for Waseem his performance against Mthalane may well have seen him put in the "Who needs him?" club and cost him a second shot. Like Andrew Selby we think Waseem will be a man who will fall short of what he could do, albeit for very different reasons.
Vincent Legrand (29-0, 17)
Unbeaten French southpaw Vincent Legrand is a huge Flyweight, at over 5'8", and has been one of the few real successes in Europe having won the European title twice, and the European Union title once. He has been ordered to face Andrew Selby in the past, only to see the bout fall through, though has racked up a few decent names on his record. Those include Andrea Sarritzu and Valery Yanchy. Sadly for the 27 year old Legrand there is a huge gulf between European class and World class, and he will have to take that step before stagnating, something that looks likely to happen given his recent competition. Hopefully Legrand's team break open the purse and get him the match ups he needs to develop, rather than just padding his record.
Penya Pradabsri (25-1, 14)
Once beaten Thai hopeful Panya Pradabsri, also known as Petchmanee Kokietgym, is a 27 year old Thai contender who has proven to have more about him than the typical Thai's we see racking up wins at home. He's been a professional since 2014 and although, mostly, his opponents have been the same typical Indonesian journeymen we see Thai contenders battle against he does hold a very good regional level wins over Jaysever Abcede and Dexter Alimento and was very unlucky in his 2017 loss to Xiong Zhao Zhong. Since his loss he has moved up to the more natural Flyweight division and reeled off 7 straight wins to move into being a contender. He's also the current OPBF silver champion and in line for a big fight due to that title alone.
Dennapa Kiatniwat (20-1, 15)
Another once beaten Thai is Dennapa Kiatniwat, who is also known as Sarawut Thawornkham. He lost on his 2014 debut but has reeled off 20 straight wins since then. Sadly Kiatniwat lacks a win of any real note, with his competition being a mix of limited Indonesian foes and Thai novices, though has climbed up in the rankings and is a leading contender with the WBA right now, in part due to his reign as the WBA Asia champion. With 20 straight wins, 15 of which have come by T/KO he can certainly punch at the lower level, though it will be interesting to see if he can take the big step up and keep his power at the higher levels. If he can punch at true regional level he could end up being a genuine threat, sadly however it seems like we might need to wait a while to find out, if he can't get a shot at Artem Dalakian in the new year.
Charlie Edwards (13-1, 6)
Englishman Charlie Edwards has been touted as one to watch by those in the UK and is a very confident young fighter who managed to get an IBF title fight back in 2016, losing to John Riel Casimero. Against Casimero we saw Edwards show something to like, including plenty of grit and determination, but it seemed like the bout came far too early for him. Since then he has scored 5 more wins and will be getting a second world title fight this coming weekend, when he faces WBC champion Cristofer Rosales. A win over Rosales will be a major shock, however one can't fault the young man for his confidence. Sadly another loss, which is likely against Rosales, would leave his career in tatters even at this early stage.
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.