The Middleweight division isn't one that we immediately think of when we think of Asian boxers, but it's a surprisingly interesting one right now, thanks in a big part due to the recent surge of Central Asian fighters making their mark on the sport. With that in mind this is actually a really interesting top 10 mixed with some nice match ups as well as some solid fighters of notes.
1-Gennady Golovkin (40-1-1, 35)
Like many we believe the 38 year old Gennady Golovkin might be heading towards the end of his days as an active fighter, but the reality is that he is, still, one of the very best Middleweights on the planet. The iron chinned and rock fisted Kazakh was given a hell of a test last October, against Sergey Derevyanchenko, and is expected to make a mandatory of his IBF title later in the year. Although not the force he once was there's not many fighters in the division that would be expected to give "GGG" a real test. Time is ticking on Golovkin's career, but with wins against some of the best Middleweights from the last decade it's hard to argue anyone should
2-Ryota Murata (16-2, 13)
Another fighter with rocks for hands and an iron jaw is Ryota Murata, the WBA "regular" champion. The 34 year old from Japan is a legitimate star in the Land of the Rising sun and draws huge audiences to see him in action. Since winning a Gold medal at the 2012 Olympics Murata has been one of the most marketable stars in the sport, and the hope of him headlining a major Dome show in Japan seemed to be on the verge of happening. Sadly however with global situation that now looks to be little more than a pipe dream. Murata, like Golovkin, is probably on the back end of his career, but he's not had the long damaging career that Golovkin has had and may well have another few years left in the sport, if he wants them.
3-Janibek Alimkhanuly (8-0, 4)
Confident, skilled and still only 27 years old Janibek Alimkhanuly looks like the natural successor to Gennady Golovkin for Kazakh fans wanting a Middleweight to get behind. The talented Alimkhanuly has called out the likes of Demetrius Andrade and has made it clear he wants to be facing the best in the world. Although not a destructive puncher Alimkhanuly has looked to be sitting on his punches more in recent bouts and has started to polish off his style which was once looking a bit too amateurish. He's a long way behind the two men ranked above him, but has shown a lot of promise already.
4-Meiirim Nursultanov (13-0, 8)
Another Kazakh fighter worthy of some attention is Meiirim Nursultanov, a 26 year old who has been quietly making a name for himself without too much fuss. The US based Kazakh is managed by Egis Klimas and was busy in 2019, with 4 bouts. Given his competition seems to be improving fight by fight he's certainly someone we expected to be tested properly in the near future. Sadly though he appears to lack championship level power and will need to rely on his boxing skills more than his power.
5-Kazuto Takesako (12-0-1, 11)
It might seem hard to believe that there's two Japanese Middleweights in the top 5 for Asia but it's a surprising time in boxing and Kazuto Takesako is certainly in in and around the middle of the top 10. So far the hard hitting Takesako has has looked devastating on the domestic scene, and has unified the Japanese and OPBF titles. Although not the most polished fighter out there he's strong, aggressive, takes a shot and has very heavy, thudding shots. Wins over the likes of Shuji Kato, Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa, Sanosuke Sasaki and Hikaru Nishida has made him the clear #2 in Japan behind Murata
6-Kanat Islam (27-0, 21)
One tipped as a big hopeful for Kazakh boxing Kanat Islam's career has really come to a screeching halt in recent years. In September 2017 he looked on the verge of something big after stopping the then 18-0 Brandon Cook but since then injuries and inactivity have been a major problem for "Qazaq". Islam was a really talented boxer-puncher at Light Middleweight but at Middleweight last time out against Walter Kautondokwa he looked poor, and like he really wasn't suitable for the 160lb weight class. That bout was full of controversy, with Islam being injured and hurt multiple times layer on. At 35 we don't see Islam getting any more suited to the weight and suspect the move up will turn out to be a bad one.
7-Yuki Nonaka (34-10-3, 10)
At the age of 42 Japanese Southpaw may end up being the oldest man on any of these ranking lists, but the WBO Asia Pacific champion is certainly here on merit. Nonaka, a talented Osakan, first made his name at Light Middleweight, where he won the Japanese and OPBF titles, then made a mark at Middleweight, winning the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles. Nonaka is very much a throwback type of fighter, who has done things the hard way, faced a true regional who's who, and has managed to some of his best performances the wrong side of 40. His time is clearly coming to an end, and he didn't look good last time out against Hyun Min Yang, but there's still very few Asian fighters we would back against him.
8-Hurshidbek Normatov (10-0, 3)
The unbeaten Hurshidbek Normatov is a 28 year old Uzbek who hasn't had the attention many of his countrymen have had. Instead he's been quietly going about things and has notched noteworthy wins against Nicklaus Flaz, Walter Wright and Uriel Hernandez. There is still very much a "jury's out" feeling to Normatov, who clearly needs to be matched tougher than he has been, but there is real potential there and he has some freakish intangibles. Stood at 6'2" and fighting out of the southpaw stance he has two things that can make him a very awkward man to beat, though a lack of power may be a downfall when he steps up in class.
9-Ainiwaer Yilixiati (17-1, 12)
Chinese warrior Ainiwaer Yilixiati is an interesting fighter who perhaps could be much higher up this list, if he and his team pushed better match making. The aggressive and fun to watch 27 year old looked exciting on his climb through the ranks, was much more competitive with Jayde Mitchell than the scorecards said in 2017, and has slowly moved on since that loss. Wins against Ryosuke Maruke and Betuel Ushona in 2019 seemed to suggest that there was progress with his career but we need to see that continue when boxing resumes in China later in the year. He's talented, young-ish at 27, but needs to be allowed to test himself.
10-Riku Kunimoto (4-0, 2)
The final place in these rankings was a hard one, with several names all in the running. We've gone with potential rather than anything else here, with Riku Kunimoto. The Japanese novice is just 23 but already looks like the countries next major Middleweight player. His first two bouts were relatively straight forward wins but last year he stopped Shoma Fukumoto in a big step up and is clearly a very capable youngster, able to make a mark. He was supposed to face Kazuto Takesako this year, though speculation is that that bout may end up slipping to 2021 due to the on going situation, and in reality that is probably a good thing for Kunimoto and his career.
On the bubble:
Abay Tolesh, Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa, Shuji Kato, Ulugbek Khakberdiev and Odiljon Aslonov
We've yet to see the giant of China really make its mark on professional boxing in the way that some had anticipated, but there has been a few notable fighters from the country, and it does look like we're set to see rise in competition from the country over the coming years. So let's look at where we stand today with Chinese boxing.
We'll start by looking at Can Xu (15-2, 2), the biggest hope of the country now, and the next Chinese fighter set to fight for a world title. The 24 year old Featherweight will be getting a WBA "regular" world title fight on January 26th. Xu has genuinely impressed at times, and is a better fighter than many would expect. Wins over the likes of Neomar Cermeno, Jelbirt Gomera, Hurricane Futa, Spicy Matsushita and Corey McConnell show he's, at worst, Oriental level. Sadly though he does seem to be getting a world title fight a little bit too early in his career. He's an exciting, high output guy with a good pressure style, but his lack of power is an issue, and will certainly be a problem with bouts at world level. Notably he's one of about 60 Chinese Featherweights, with the next best, arguably, being Yiran Li (4-0, 3), a 22 year old who has shown early promise, but needs real work to develop to being close to Oriental level.
Of course whilst Xu is looking to become a world champion China does still have Xiong Zhao Zhong (27-8-1, 14) as an active fighter, or at least he was active last year, losing to Knockout CP Freshmart in a WBA title fight, and has been linked to another fight later this year. The 36 year old is the first ever Chinese man to win a world title and should be regarded as the aging veteran of the Chinese scene. Whether he fights again or not is unclear but he will continue to be involved in the sport following various investments and developments in the wider Chinese scene. To many he will be one of the figure heads of the next wave if Chinese boxing, and will be regarded as a key figure.
From the little guy to the big guys, the country has a couple of notable Heavyweight punchers who seem to get attention internationally. The more notable of the two is Zhilei Zhang (20-0, 16), who has shown a willingness to travel for fights, was a stellar amateur and has been linked to a potential future bout with Anthony Joshua. "Big Bang" is a 35 year could southpaw with surprising speed and movement, a solid straight left hand and nice combinations for such a big guy. There are however fears of his durability, and he turns 36 this coming May, so time is not on his side. The other Chinese Heavyweight of some note is 37 year old Zhang Junlong (20-0, 20), though his career appears to be meandering towards an anti-climatic end with nothing other than a pretty looking record.
Staying with the heavier weights China has a notable fighter at both Crusierweight and Light Heavyweight. The Cruiseweight of note is Peng Qu (14-2-1, 10), the current OPBF "Silver" Cruiserweight champion. Qu was fighting at Light Heavyweight until recently, and has since scored 2 opening round wins at 200lbs, including a freak 62 win over Joey Vegas who injured his knee. At Light Heavyweight they have the very talented, though somewhat chinny, Meng Fanlong (14-0, 9). The unbeaten Fanlong is a 30 year old who appears to be on the verge of something big after stopping Frank Buglioni last November in Monaco. Fanlong does have a serious question mark over his chin, having twice been dropped by Zura Mekereshvili, but is a sharp punching, smart boxer-mover and has the potential to fight for a world title this year.
There's an interesting Chinese trio at 168lbs, who aren't likely to fight at world level but are all very interesting names on the regional scene, and could one day face off to decide who the best Chinese Super Middleweight is. The fighters in question are Ainiwaer Yilixiati (14-1, 11), Wuzhati Nuerlang (11-2, 9) and Ahatelike Muerzhabieke (8-1-1, 5). All are pretty young, aged between 20 and 25, all are in China and all are going to be looking for things like the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, which could make for a very interesting dynamic.All 3 are aggressive, exciting and well worth following, even if they aren't going to be fighting against the divisional elite.
The exciting, but flawed, Baishanbo Nasiyiwula (15-2-1, 6) has shown a willingness to fight at either Welterweight or Light Welterweight. There's no one else of note at Welterweight but there is the promising Lei Wang (2-0, 1) competing at 140lbs, and could be either a rival for Baishanbo down the line, or could China a 2-pronged attack in the division. Wang was a top amateur and a WSB participant who made his debut last year, and looked really good on debut, but did struggle against Ricky Sismundo on his second outing and there will need to be time given for his professional development before stepping in too deep.
One of the most interesting divisions in China is the Lightweight division, where there are a number of different unbeaten and promising fighters all coming through at the same time. One of the most interesting is Xiangxiang Sun (15-0, 10), who is unbeaten and has notable wins over Nelson Tinampay, Roldan Aldea and Roy Mukhlis among others. There is also Yongqiang Yang (11-0, 8), who has a huge 2018 with wins against Takuya Watanabe and Harmonito Dela Torre, and hard hitting prospect Xiang Li (4-0, 3), who kicked off the year with a good win over Arvin Yurong. As well as the unbeaten fighters there is also Wang Zhimin (11-3, 3), a 33 year old fighter who is teak tough and although unlikely to fight for a world title, he is good gatekeeper to the stars and a solid test for any emerging prospect.
A forgotten man in the Chinese boxing world is Qiu Xiao Jun (23-4, 11), a former world title challenger. Jun is a talented and exciting, yet flawed, fighter who could well climb the rankings again and find himself fighting for titles once more. However having lost twice to Nehomar Cermeno, and having fallen out with his old promoter it does feel like Jun's career is in limbo at the moment, and his last fight was in Thailand, whilst the one before that saw him failing to make weight.
At Super Bantamweight, the division that Jun first made his name out, we have the unbeaten Zhong Liu (13-0, 5) making his mark. The 27 year old Southpaw is a former WBO Greater China Super Bantamweight champions and has scored wins over experienced Indonesian foes in recent fights, picking up a regional title last time out. Hopefully 2019 will see him stepping up.
The lower weights have not only the aforementioned Zhong but also several other notable fighters. At Flyweight there is Wulan Tuolehazi (9-3-1, 4), who scored a huge 2018 win over Jayr Raquinel, and is unbeaten in 8 bouts. Also at Flyweight is Wenfeng Ge (11-1, 6), who was recently stopped by Giemel Magramo but proved his toughness in that loss and could certainly rebuild following his defeat, though is never likely to be a threat at world level. Whilst Magramo is unlikely to fight for world titles it's hard to imagine Jing Xiang (16-4-2, 3) not getting to that level, following some excellent recent performances against former world champions Merlito Sabillo and Kompayak Porpramook. There is also Lu Bin (1-1, 1), though his future is very unclear following his 2018 loss to Carlos Canizales.
The Chinese boxing might not be setting things on fire right now, but there is clearly a wave of fighters making a name for themselves, and it's not going to be long until the country does provide us a constant stream of contenders, challengers, prospects and, eventually, champions. One thing those involved in Chinese will need to do however, is sort out their internal politics and work together to push Chinese boxing forward, rather than to hold it back.
(Images courtesy of Max Power Boxing)
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).