The contenders, and hopefuls, at Featherweight do make for an interesting mix from all over the globe. It's a division that perhaps lacks in terms of depth, but makes up for it in just how varied the division's hopefuls are. This isn't a division based around one country, but has contenders from every corner of the planet.
Tugstsogt Nyambayar (11-0, 9)
Mongolian fighter Tugstsogt Nyambayar is set for a WBC title fight in February, against Gary Russell Jr, and if he wins he would become the second ever world champion from Mongolia. "King Tug" is a skilled, heavy handed boxer-puncher but has got some real question marks over his head. He has been down a number of times, and it's hard to know, for sure, if that's a chin issue, or a problem with his balance. He often seems to be completely fine when he gets up, and it doesn't appear he's got any durability issues, but he has been down a few times so the question does remain. If he can dethrone Russell Jr we are likely to see the WBC title being a lot more active than it has been, so fingers crossed Nyambayar does take home the win in February.
Mark Magsayo (20-0, 14)
Filipino fighter Mark Magsayo has been banging on the door of a world title fight for a while and it would be a surprise if he get a shot sooner, rather than later. The talented Pinoy has managed to move out of the shadows of ALA and scored a couple of wins last year. Another win or two, letting him shake whatever rust is left, would help prepare him for a world shot, and an eliminator later in the year would certainly be over-due. It's time now that his backers put some money up for top opponents and let us find out just how good Magsayo really is.
Ryo Sagawa (9-1, 4)
Japanese champion Ryo Sagawa has been on a great run after an early career loss in 2017. He's won his last 8 in a row and has beaten the likes of Ryo Matsumoto, Al Toyogon and Reiya Abe, and has raced up the rankings. The talented boxer-puncher is 25 years old and is expected to defend his Japanese title against mandatory challenger Hinata Maruta later this year, after that's out the way don't be surprised to see Sagawa being linked to world title eliminators, if not world title fights themselves. He's a former amateur standout and he's quickly proving to be a versatile professional fighter who can box, punch and if needed, brawl. The only real worry is a concern about his chin, which has been shown to be less than solid already.
Michael Conlan (13-0, 7)
Talented former amateur standout Michael Conlan turned professional after a controversial 2016 Olympics, and did so after famously giving the bird to the judges. He turned professional with a lot of hype and expectations and the popular view was that he was going to be raced to a world title, potentially facing Shakur Stevenson somewhere down the line. Sadly Conlan has proven to be a rather frustrating fighter to get behind. The 28 year old is talented but appears to lack real power, and has a style that certainly isn't going to attract huge volumes of fans. He has strong Irish backing, and that will certainly help him get big fights and big crowds, but it would take some real changes for Conlan to go all the way to the top.
Musashi Mori (11-0, 6)
Another Japanese fighter than deserves a mention is 20 year old prospect Musashi Mori. The youngster, who is trained by Ismael Salas and managed by former world champion Yasuei Yakushiji, is already a regional champion and ended 2019 by stating that he was intending to fight for a world title in 2020. Don't be surprised at all if we hear a lot about Mori this year, and potentially even see him making a US debut at some point, to try and raise his profile. At the moment it's hard to see his route to a world title, though a potential bout with Can Xu, in China, would be possible, but a very tough ask for the youngster.
Miguel Marriaga (29-3, 25)
Hard hitting Colombian Miguel Marriaga is in an interesting position as his career seemed to be winding down after a loss to Vasyl Lomachenko, but now rumours are that he will get a world title fight with WBO champion Shakur Stevenson. Marriaga is certain on the wrong side of 30, aged 33, but is powerful, tough and dangerous. We wouldn't say he's the best possible opponent for Stevenson, but he is arguably the toughest opponent Stevenson will have faced so far, so it's hard to complain too much. Marriaga is a good test for a youngster and that's essentially the role he'll be playing against Stevenson.
Oscar Escandon (26-5, 18)
It's hard to know what to make of 35 year old Colombian Oscar Escandon. He's lost 3 of his last 4 but gave his career a massive, almost career saving, shot in the arm in December when he took out Jhack Tepora. Although no world beater Escandon does seem to be a very legitimate gate keeper and it'll be interesting to see whether or not he can land another big win this year. If he can it wouldn't be a surprise at all if Escandon managed to another world title fight before his career comes to an end.
One of the best things about Asian boxing right now is the rising wave of prospects making a name for themselves, many of whom are incredibly young fighters. Here we take a look at 10 teenage hopefuls all looking to build on bright starts to their career's. Some are fighters that we covered in some depth already, whilst others are rising youngster who have so far under-the-radar, but are worthy of some attention as they grow, mature and develop.
Thanongsak Simsri (11-0, 11)
Japanese based Thai puncher Thanongsak Simsri is one of the most notable youngsters out there. The Light Fly from Si Sa Ket in Thailand has been hailed as "Srisaket II" in his homeland and has been impressive against a variety of foes. Most of his competition so far has been limited, but earlier this year he scored an impressive win against Filipino Ricardo Sueno and since then he has picked up the Thai Light Flyweight title.
Simsri is naturally very heavy handed, and whilst he's not the most rounded or polished of fighters the 19 year old has strong teams in both Thailand and Japan behind him, with the long term plan seemingly being for the Green Tsuda gym in Japan to help develop him. There is talk about him fighting for a regional title before the end of 2019 and if he does that there's a chance he could be ready for a huge 2020.
Musashi Mori (10-0, 6)
Talking about winning a regional title at a young age it's hard not to be impressed by WBO Asia Pacific Featherweight champion Musashi Mori, who at 19 is a genuinely accomplished young professional. The Japanese youngster turned professional in 2016 before winning the 2017 Rookie of the Year at Super Featherweight. He dropped down in weight in 2018 and claimed the WBO Asia Pacific title, and has defended it once.
Unblike many on this list Mori does have wins over some noteworthy names, including Richard Pumicpic, twice, and Allan Vallespin. Those wins have however made it clear that he has areas to work on, and fingers crossed work will be done to tidy up his defensive flaws before he begins to pursue world ranked opposition. Given the regional depth at 126lbs there's a lot of competition out there for him, so hopefully there will be real development fights for the talented youngster in 2020.
Lienard Sarcon (7-0, 2)
Filipino southpaw Lienard Sarcon is one of the lesser raved about fighters on this list, and that's a shame as he has had a huge 2019. The young Bantamweight debuted back in October 2017 and was 4-0 going into 2019, though this year has seen him win the inaugural Ultimate Boxing Series Bantamweight crown on ESPN5. The youngster did struggle through some of his tournament bouts, but that's what happens when well matched fighters face off, and his competition through the tournament had gone 18-1-1 when he faced them.
Sarcon is one of the fighters on this list who hasn't yet grown into his man strength and power, but at 19 that's not a worry and the "UBS" win will do his career the world of good. We expect to see ESPN in the Philippines push his career forward over the next year or two and by the time he's a fully mature fighter he could well find himself in the regional title picture. Unfortunately for him he's in one of the most talent packed weight ranges, and even a move back to Super Flyweight won't give him many easy options to a regional title.
Ginjiro Shigeoka (4-0, 3)
If anyone on this list is being fast tracked to the top it seems like that is Ginjiro Shigeoka, the 19 year old has only been a professional since September 2018 but is already the WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight champion and has proven to be a total a total monster in the ring. The aggressively minded Watanabe gym fighter turned professional after a 56-1 amateur record and after a straight forward first 2 bouts was taken the distance by Joel Lino before blasting out Clyde Azarcon to claim his first belt, It's unclear when he will be back in the ring, though it's assumed that he'll fit in one more bout this year.
The expectation is that Shigeoka will be mixing in more title bouts in 2020 and could well be moved aggressively to a world title bout by the end of next year. He turns 20 in October, but already appears a very mature, strong and powerful fighter, with a very polished, aggressive pressure style. Shigeoka is a youngster who is tipped to go a long way, and if you mark down just 1 name on this list this is the one we would flag as the one you "must follow".
Ryu Horikawa (2-0, 1)
Another Japanese 19 year old who hasn't been a professional long is Ryu Horikawa. The talented Horikawa turned professional earlier this year, and although he showed recklessness in his debut his second bout was near flawless as he out boxed, out punched, out fought and out thought the talented Yuki Nakajima. He'll be back in the ring in mid-October, fighting China for the WBO Youth Light Flyweight title, taking on Xiang Li in Shanghai. That's a tough ask, especially this early in his career, but a win in that bout will flag him as a clear one to watch.
Horikawa had been a talented young amateur before turning professional, and debuting in June. Despite only being a professional for a few months he already looks like a real talent, who can box and fight in equal measure. There is still polishing to do, as you'd expect from such a professional novice, but there is so much upside for the Misako gym fighter, and with Misako gym being behind him he's in a gym that is red hot right now.
Toshiya Ishii (2-0, 1)
It can be a bit too easy to get over-excited about Japanese youngsters and maybe that's the case with REBOOT's 18 year old Toshiya Ishii, but so far he's hardly put a step wrong he debut in April with an early win over Indonesian Adam Wijaya before stepping up massively and schooling 2017 Rookie of the Year Fumiya Fuse in a Japanese youth title eliminator. Next up for Ishii should be Haruki Ishikawa, in a bout for the Japanese Youth Bantamweight title, and that should be a real test of his chin and what he's like under pressure.
As an amateur Ishii went 30-14 (7) but achieved a number of notable results in domestic tournaments and certainly looks like he has the basis to build a very good career on. There is, obviously, work to do and he will need to physically mature into his frame but the future is so bright for the 18 year old, and the REBOOT team certainly view as a very special talent.
Issei Ochiai (1-0)
As an amateur Issei Ochiai ran up an impressive 23-7 amateur record and made his professional debut this past August as a Celes gym fighter. The 18 year old, who is a gym headed by former world champion Celes Kobayashi, will be getting gym time with top fighters and it's clear that Mr Kobayashi things incredibly of him. The evident of how highly he's thought of is the fact he debuted against Lerdchai Chaiyawed in a 6 rounder. On paper that doesn't sound impressive, but Lerdchai had given very good tests to domestic level Japanese guys Ryoki Hirai and Seita Ogido and holds a win over former world title challenger Samartlek Kokietgym.
In his debut we weren't blown away by Ochiai, but he handled Lerdchai with ease, taking a dominant decision win over the Thai and showed good understanding of the ring, nice movement and clever foot work. There is clearly work to do with the youngster, but with the Celes gym having fighters like Ryosuke Iwasa there we suspect that Ochiai will improve, and will improve quickly as he matures into his wiry body.
Nan He (1-0)
The Chinese boxing scene isn't known for it's prospects but Nan He is worthy of some attention, despite having only made his debut a few weeks ago, and did so without any notable amateur pedigree. The youngster debuted against the then 5-0 Haiyun Duan and was expected to lose to the more experienced foe. Instead He really impressed, he boxed well, moved well, gauged distance well and used the ring fantastically for such a novice. It's rare to see someone show a natural aptitude to the sport without any amateur pedigree but He seemed to.
Given He's only 18, and even then he's a baby faced and scrawny 18 year old, he will need to physically mature before stepping up too much, but the skills are there to work with if he can get a good team behind him. Obvious a lot of work is needed here but given how he looked in his debut we're really excited to see how far He can go.
Ayumu Hanada (5-0, 3)
At the moment it's unclear when, or even if, Ayumu Hanada will fight in his native Japan, however the youngster is still well worthy of attention. The 17 year old has been carving out his career in a similar way to Devin Haney in his early years, fighting in Mexico. The young Hanada, only has 4 bouts recorded on boxrec though has apparently had a 5th at some point, and from the footage we've seen of him he may be the best kept secret from Japan.
He's technically solid for such a youngster, he has nice speed and combinations, throws heavy shots and has fantastic balance. There are technical areas to work on, but he's not relying on his laurels and earlier this year sparred with Kento Hatanaka, in what was a surprisingly competitive spar. The youngster looks like he is learning new things with every fight and in a year or 2, when he matures, he could be rushed into the title mix. Given his age there is no rush at the moment, but there is a lot get excited about, even if there is still a clear need to polish up
Dastan Saduuly (3-0, 3)
A second 17 year old who looks to be making a mark is Kazakh fighter Dastan Saduuly, who has fought solely in Kazakhstan. The youngster debuted only months after his 16th birthday and looked like a very talented fighter immediately, and also like a youngster who seemed much more mature than his years suggested. Watching him in action we see a really serious, aggressive pressure fighter who gets in the ring to beat up his opponents, who have been limited so far. He has good balance, though is a bit wild with his punches times. Despite the wildness he is powerful, quick and very confident in the ring.
After fighting 3 times in a little over 6 months, from September 2018 to March 2019, to begin his career Saduuly hasn't actually fought in the last 6 months, and it's a shame. The talented youngster was last seen stopping veteran Alexander Saltykov and hopefully it won't be too long until the the teenager returns to the ring for his next bout.
Having spent the last couple of days looking at the Featherweight division, and more precisely its champions and contenders, we now get on to some of the prospects in the division, which are a real mixed bag with many of them having had inactivity plague their careers so far.
If you missed the previous articles on the division they are available here:
The state of the Division - Featherweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Featherweight - The Contenders
Ryo Sagawa (6-1, 4)
Arguably the most improved fighter in 2018 is Ryo Sagawa, who began the year 2-1 (2) and went on to score 4 good wins, over opponents with a combined 61-10-2, during the year. He was a former accomplished amateur who suffered a surprise loss in his second professional bout, but has bounced back well and scored notable domestic wins over Junki Sasaki, Ryo Matsumoto and Shingo Kawamura in his last 3 bouts. He's a skilled boxer-puncher who has shown real improvements since his loss and now looks like being one of the big rising stars of the Featherweight division. A real one to watch in 2019, a year that he's stated he'll be looking to fight for titles in.
Jordan Gill (22-0, 6)
With 22 fights to his name 24 year old Englishman should perhaps be a bit further along with his career than he is, however "the Thrill" hasn't been the most active in recent years with only a single fight in 2016 and just 2 fights in 2017 so has struggled to build momentum. The Englishman is a light puncher, but a talented one and scored good wins in 2018 against the likes of Jason Cunningham and Ryan Doyle. Hopefully he continues to be busy in 2019 and move his way on to the European title picture. Unfortunately, Europe is packed with very good Featherweights and it could be tough for Gill to impress at the level at the moment.
Hinata Maruta (8-1-1, 7)
The very highly regarded Hinata Maruta made his debut in 2015 and was destined for greatness. Sadly his journey hasn't been smooth sailing, as anticipated, with a loss to Hidenori Otake in late 2017 and an unfortunately draw with Ben Mananquil earlier this year. Despite those set backs we have seen touches of genius from Murata who now looks to be fighting at his best weight, and his recent TKO win over Tsuyoshi Tameda was as impressive as anything else he's done since turning professional. If Maruta can get it all together and perform to his best then his ceiling is incredibly high, but the boxer-puncher really needs everything to click sooner rather than later so he can build some momentum and move into title contention.
Joet Gonzalez (21-0, 12)
At 25 years old Joet Gonzalez is similar in some ways to the aforementioned Jordan Gill, in that we would typically expect a guy in his mid 20's with over 20 fights to really have progressed beyond being a prospect. He had a good 2018, with wins over Rafael Rivera and Rolando Magbanua, to go along with a solid 2017 win over Deivi Julio Bassa, but we're still waiting for a big break out from him, and we suspect that's what we'll see from him in 2019 as he looks to move from prospect to contender.
Hector Luis Garcia (10-0-0-1, 8)
Dominicant Puncher Hector Luis Garcia is a 27 year old who debuted in late 2016 and has quickly raced out to 10-0. He's heavy-handed has already won a regional title and now heads into 2019 with some momentum. Given his advanced age we're expecting to see Garcia matched with better regional talent in 2019 and could potentially find himself in the world rankings by the end of the year, if he can do that then maybe he'll be given more exposure. Whilst he's not a bit name he was a notable amateur, competing at the 2016 Olympics and being a 3-time silver medal winner in regional competitions, losing to top Cubans in his final bouts
Tremaine Williams (15-0, 5)
Unbeaten American Tramaine Williams, aka "The Might Midget" is a 26 year old who has long been tipped as a future world champion, following a solid amateur career. Sadly for all the expectations on his shoulders he's yet to really show what he can do, and he's already been a professional for well over 6 years. Sadly his career has been slowed by serious bouts of inactivity, with no fights in 2014 or 2016, and only 1 fight in 2018. Despite the inactivity he has beaten the likes of Christopher Martin, German Meraz and William Gonzalez, showing that he has been able to perform well against good competition. He's promising but certainly needs to "get on with it" so to speak.
Dave Penalosa (14-0, 10)
Hard hitting Filipino Dave Penalosa carries one of the biggest names in Filipino boxing, with his father, uncles, grandfather and brother all being notable fighters. He, like several others on this list, has been a really frustrating fighter. He's been a professional since 2011, but failed to fight in 2015 and 2017, essentially losing more 24 months of his career. If he can remain active, build on a couple of wins in 2018 he could become a contender by the end of 2019, especially given his surname, strong backing from ESPN5 in the Philippines and an exciting style. He will however need to be kept busy and be given the match ups to build on, rather than have any more time away from the ring.
Michael Conlan (10-0, 6)
Northern Irishman Michael Conlan is a very highly regarded prospect in the division and was a standout amateur, winning the 2015 World Amateur Championships with a victory over Murodjon Akhmadaliev as well as competing at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. We feel he hasn't quite shown the same skills in the professional ranks as he did in the amateurs, but with Top Rank behind him, along with a huge Irish support and so much amateur experience it's hard to see imagine any but success for Conlan, who is a lot more technically rounded than his brother Jamie, who was one of the most exciting fighters in recent memory. A lot of pressure is on Conlan's shoulders but we're expecting him to shine in the next year or two.
Musashi Mori (8-0, 5)
Whilst some fighters on this list have been tipped as a success since before making their professional debut, the same cannot be said of 19 year old Musashi Mori, who turned professional in 2016 without any fanfare. Mori would impress in 2017, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Super Featherweight before moving down in weight earlier this year to claim the WBO Asia Pacific title from Richard Pumicpic. There are areas for Mori to work on, but he looks like a fantastic prospect with good speed, underrated power, good composure and he is improving his defense as well. A really promising and young talent as we head into the new year.
Ren Sasaki (8-0, 5)
Another Japanese fighter making it on to this list is Ren Sasaki, a 23 year old who really made his mark in 2017 when he won the Japanese Rookie of the Year last year, winning it at Featherweight whilst the aforementioned Mori won at Super Featherweight before dropping down in weight. Sasaki didn't have a mega busy 2018 but did win a B class tournament final, over-coming Kanehiro Nakagawa and has shown a lot to be excited about, though he obviously is less far along than Mori who has already claimed an international title. We expect Sasaki will look to climb up the domestic rankings n 2019 and could well be looking at a national title fight in 2020.
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.