In recent years we've been able to get some real gems coming out of China, which is building up it's boxing base from having a lot of it's local hopefuls take on visitors from around Asia, and Tanzania. This can give us some really poor fights every so often, but we have also had some absolute barn burners, and it's quickly making the Chinese scene one of the most over-looked in the sport. Thankfully it's also a country that gives us this week's "One to Watch".
The One to Watch?
Xiang Li (7-2-1, 2) vs Ryu Horikawa (2-0, 1)
October 17th (Thursday)
We absolutely love seeing young fighters facing tests before they get too old, and this fits that to a tee, in fact here we're seeing to young fighters facing tests in what is a genuinely mouth watering match up. As the WBO Youth Light Flyweight champion Xiang Li has already proven himself, and actually did so in Hong Kong when he beat local hopeful Raymond Poon KaiChing. For Ryu Horikawa however this is a big step forward in his career, with it being his first 10 round bout, his first title bout and his first bout on the road. This is a huge step up for the visitor, and a tough first defense for the champion. A very interesting match up.
Li is a Chinese fighter who isn't particularly well known, but has impressed, and showed a lot to be excited about last time out, when he out pointed Raymond Poon in Hong Kong. Despite being put on the back foot early on Li showed good composure, good hand speed and figured out Poon. When they went down the stretch, Li really seemed to have the better engine, landed the better shots and really turned the tables whilst landing some very crisp body shots and head hooks up top. It wasn't a flawless performance, but still an impressive one in what was clearly a bout geared against him.
Horikawa, at just 19, is a real natural talent and in his first 2 bouts he has shown he can fight or box and he appears to be one of the next of Japanese Light Flyweights, along with the likes of Rikito Shiba, Shokichi Iwata and Tsuyoshi Sato. There are flaws with Horikawa's skills, and he certainly lacks experience with only 11 rounds to his name, but he does look incredibly promising. Last time out he impressed over 6 rounds, against Yuki Nakajima, and although this is a 10 round bout we don't see Li as being more talented than Nakajima, however we do question Horikawa's stamina over the longer distance.
What to expect?
Early on we're expecting both men to be relatively cagey, getting a feel of the other. This is something we expect will be better for Horikawa than for Li, with Horikawa's more rounded boxing, movement and speed being a key difference between the two men. As the fight goes on the two will both begin to take more risks, holding their feet more, and letting combinations go. This is where we expect to see Horikawa answering a lot of questions about his stamina, durability and mental toughness. If he can can handle the increase in pace we see him really shining, despite some tough patches.
From what we've seen of both Li is the more wild fighter, but fighting out of the southpaw stance that could give him and advantage, especially with the home crowd. Horikawa will be fully aware that to get the win he needs to put it beyond any doubt, and we see that showing in the final few rounds as he tried to force the bout to be fought at a chaotic pace.
The bad news?
China doesn't have the greatest of reputations when it comes to scoring, and it would be a shame to see dodgy score-cards rear their heads so early in the careers of either man. The bout it's self is great, but we really need to hope for fairness.
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.
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.