We continue to through the Asian rankings today as we look at the Lightweight division. The division is a relative weak one in Asia however and really is in a transitional state which we expect to see changing over the coming years. Thankfully it appears likely that the division will become a stronger one in the years to come.
1-Shuichiro Yoshino (12-0, 10)
With no world champion, or even former world champion, in the Lightweight division the #1 pick for the Asian scene is an easy one, Shuichiro Yoshino. The unbeaten Japanese fighter is a flawed but talented boxer puncher who has unified the JBC, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific and is the #1 pretty much with out question here. Although Yoshino isn't the best pure boxer he is a real threat in the division and no one should take too many risks against. We have seen him score some sensational KO's already, including the brilliant one against Harmonito Dela Torre last year, and we expect big things form him. Although talented we have seen him being out boxed and there is a risk that he will run into someone who can take his power and will defeat him. So far, however, we've not seen anyone do that to him.
2-Valentine Hosokawa (25-7-3, 12)
A potentially controversial choice at #2 is Japanese veteran Valentine Hosokawa. The 39 year old is a former Japanese Light Welterweight champion who has moved down in weight and looks stronger than ever. Although he has 7 losses to his name they include defeats to the likes of Koki Inoue, Shinya Iwabuchi and Min Wook Kim. Hosokawa has aged like fine wine in recent years and despite being 39 he may be at best. Powerful, with great stamina, an aggressive mentality and with more bang on his punch than his record suggests he's a very hard fighter to beat and we suspect he has the potential to really shine now that he's not giving away natural size at 140lbs.
3-Yongqiang Yang (13-0, 10)
Unbeaten Chinese hopeful Yongqiang Yang has quickly risen through the ranks without getting much attention. He was supposed to face Masayuki Ito in China earlier this year, before the situation in China forced the show to be cancelled. Although certainly not a big name or a high profile fighter Yang has notched a string of respectable wins recently, beating Takuya Watanabe, Harmonito Dela Torre, Ernie Sanchez and JR Magboo in his last 4. Yang is a solid boxer-puncher, he's very strong and powerful, and at just 27 he's still getting better and getting stronger. Yang has only been a professional since 2016 but he is certainly already on the fringes of a legitimate world ranking.
4-Romero Duno (22-2, 17)
Hard hitting Filipino Romero Duno is a pretty well known 24 year old who has been fighting in the US frequently in the last few years. Duno made a big impact on his US debut in 2017, when he stopped the touted Christian Gonzalez, and since then score some decent wins over the likes of Juan Antonio Rodriguez. Sadly for Duno his rise through the ranks took a huge hit last year when he was stopped inside a round by Ryan Garcia. Duno can box, he can punch and he is a dangerman, though the loss to Garcia certainly showed him to be a clear level below world class, and he did look very slow in the bout. We suspect he'll be a gatekeeper going forward, but with his power he'll always be a risky opponent and someone who prospects will see as a solid test. A beatable. but solid test.
5-Ravshanbek Umurzakov (10-1, 7)
It's really hard to know where Uzbek hopeful Ravshanbek Umurzakov stands right now. The 26 year old looked like he was going to be moved quickly towards big things after early career wins over Eden Sonsona, Rimar Metuda and Roldan Aldea. Sadly however back in January we saw Umurzakov being stopped in 7 rounds by Esneiker Correa. That loss to Correa was a bad one for Umurzakov who took a lot of punishment and had his defensive flaws shown up time and time again. Although talented he really does have a lot of work to do before moving onwards and upwards. He's more proven than many fighters on this list, but the loss to Correa is going to loom his head for quite some time.
6-Elnur Abduraimov (5-0, 5)
Staying with Uzbek fighters Elnur Abduraimov is certainly worthy of some attention. The 25 year old would rank above his compatriot had it not been for the stop-start nature of his career so far. Abduraimov made his debut in September 2018 and fought 3 times by the end of the year. Sadly he only fought twice in 2019, with his last fight coming in May, when he stopped Issa Nampepeche in 4 rounds. Talented, explosive, heavy handed and very promising we're really hoping to see more of Abduraimov, but it seems like he'll not fully commit to the professional ranks until after the Olympics, so it could be a while before we really see what he can do.
7-Viktor Kotochigov (11-0, 4)
Another hard fighter to place is 26 year old Kazakh Viktor Kotochigov. The well travelled Kazakh, who has been a professional since December 2015, has shown some real promise, with wins over Piotr Gudel, Jairo Lopez and Javier Jose Clavero. Whilst clearly a talented fighter Kotochigov does have a knack of fighting within himself and there is a worry he'll never be able to find that extra gear that he'll need to make a mark on the world stage. He's a talented boxer but also has question marks remaining over his power, and we've yet to see him go in against someone with hunger and power. It would be nice to see him tested when the sport resumes, but in reality we suspect we'll see him being given some easy bouts when the sport continues.
8-Ju Wu (9-0-2, 2)
Chinese boxer Ju Wu is another of those less known fighters who has quietly gone about things and made his name without too much of a fuss. The 20 year old southpaw drew 2 of his first 3 but has won his last 8 bouts including wins over Adones Aguelo, Rimar Metuds and Alain Chervet, with the win over Chervet coming last December in Switzerland. Although not a puncher Wu is a genuine talent, a very good boxer, a very smart fighter and a young man who is still some time from developing his man strength.
9-Shu Utsuki (6-0, 5)
Whilst Yoshino is the divisional king of Japan it's hard to not mention Shu Utsuki, who is 26 years old and looks like a star in the making. He's a former Japanese amateur standout who turned professional in 2018 and scored notable wins over Jerry Castroverde and Omrri Bolivar last year. He's not as polished as some of the man ranked above him, but with 24 rounds to his name, nasty past, good movement and tight defense it's hard not to get excited about him. We were expecting a big 2020 for him, but it seems unlikely that we'll see too much from him now, but 2021 could be a huge year for the man from the Watanabe gym.
10-Izuki Tomioka (7-3-1, 2)
With 3 losses to his name Izuki Tomioka looks a little out of place here, but the reality is that no one has had an easy time with him. His first loss came against Masayoshi Nakatani, in 11 rounds, his second was a razor thin split decision to Shuya Masaki and he was stopped earlier this year by Shuichiro Yoshino, whilst in the lead on the cards. Despite those losses Tomioka is only 23 years old, he's developing and he's maturing and as he matures we suspect he'll manage to toughen up and become a very good fighter. Head to head he could certainly hold his own, if not beat, men ranked well above him, but his results and set backs have really dragged him down the rankings here.
On the bubble:
Xiang Xiang Sun, Apichet Petchmanee, Abdurasul Ismoilov, Kaiki Yuba and Masanori Rikiishi
Through out this month we've been doing our "19 for 19" list of prospects. Here is part 4 in our series, and it looks at 4 men with perfect records, not just in terms of 100% winning rates, but also a 100% KO rate. This part of the list features an Indonesian fighter, a Japanese fighter and a couple of fighters from Uzbekistan.
If you missed the previous parts they are here. The first part 19 for 19: Part 1 - The Teenage Prospects, the second part is here 19 for 19: Part 2 - A Rookie, an Uzbek puncher, a Pinoy Prodigy and an Olympic champion and the third part 19 for 19: Part 3 - Unbeaten novices from China, Uzbekistan, Thailand and Japan!
Ari Agustian (7-0, 7)
Indonesian fight fans don't usually have much to get excited about, but Ari Agustian could be the fighter to change that, with an exceptionally fun style, a lot of power and no fear of going away from home. Agustian was a decent amateur before turning professional in 2017. In his first 12 months as a professional he was 6-0 (6) and has since added a big win over Baolin Kang, in China, to his record. Sadly he's not fought much this year, but there is talk of him facing Khunkiri Wor Wisaruth in the near future. He's exciting, hard hitting and very aggressive. The sort of fighter who will get the attention of fight fans.
Kai Ishizawa (5-0, 5)
Japanese Minimumweight Youth champion Kai Ishizawa is a flawed but thrilling fighter, who isn't the most technically apt, but is very heavy handed, with under-rated boxing skills and a good ring IQ. He lacks in terms of speed, but fights with an intense pressure that breaks down good fighters, as we saw earlier this year when he stopped Yuga Inoue in a thrilling fight. Ishizawa certainly needs to work on his technical skills if he's to progress to the top, but he's still one to watch in 2019, as he will be taking on better competition, staying busy and looking to retain his Youth title. Due to his aggression he's going to be a fighter who is always worth watching.
Bakhodir Jalolov (4-0, 4)
We don't get to talk about real Heavyweight prospects very often so it's always a good thing to bring attention to Uzbek Heavyweight giant Bakhodir Jalolov. Jalolov was a former amateur standout who turned professional earlier this year, debuting in May. Jalolov's amateur credentials are brilliant with an Asian Championships gold medal and a world championship bronze medal among others and he's adapted to the professional ranks really well. Sadly his competition hasn't been great but he has been doing what he's supposed to do and taking his opposition out quickly. With his size, amateur background and age, he's only 24, there is so much to like about Jalolov.
Elnur Abduraimov (3-0, 3)
It's rare we see a fighter in action almost monthly but former amateur standout Elnur Abduraimov, from Uzbekistan, debuted in September and managed to fight in October and November. Whilst his competition hasn't been great, lasting a combined 4 rounds, it's hard not to be impressed by how good he's looked. He's aggressive, yet picks his shots amazingly well and has some frankly disgusting body shots. As he steps up in competition we expect activity to drop off massively, but at 24 he looks to be a Lightweight who wants to hit the ground running and get involved in big fights as quickly as he can.
The new year is fast approaching and I'll be honest I'm really excited about the coming year. It's fair to say that 2018 has been a great year for boxing, despite being a pretty poor year on a personal level, but I'm expecting 2019 to be even better as the sport continues to develop, and be reshaped into something more and more spectacular. If I'm being honest I suspect 2019 may well be one of the best year's the sport has had in a very long time, building on the momentum of a great 2018.
With that in mind I've put together 5 predictions for the new year, and how I think they will effect the boxing world in general
Naoya Inoue wins the WBSS
An obvious one to start with. Japan's Naoya Inoue is strongly favoured to win the WBSS Bantamweight series and for good reason. "The Monster" is one of the few fighters who really lives up to his reputation every time he steps in the ring, and in 2018 he quickly despatched recognisable foes Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano without breaking a sweat. I suspect that his current impressive run takes him to the Muhammad Ali Trophy in the coming year, beating Emmanuel Rodriguez in the Spring before winning the final in the Summer. After that it's unclear whether he'll immediately look for bigger challenges at Super Bantamweight or will look to clean up at Bantamweight, with a potential fight against Luis Nery certainly a possibility.
Fast Tracking continues
If we've seen anything really come to the fore these past few years it's been that fast tracking has really exploded. No longer is it just a Japanese and Thai thing but we're seeing Europeans, and Central Asian's fighters all stepping up incredibly quickly. I suspect that actually intensifies in the coming year, with more and more fighters shrugging off the usual preliminary stages of their professional careers and being moved aggressively. Lu Bin was too aggressively matched, but I expect others, like Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Apichet Petchmanee, Ginjiro Shigeoka and Israil Madrimov, to be competing for world titles within 7 fights. Top amateur fighters making their debuts next year will also be pushed hard early on.
A big year for India
Top Rank have made a very conscious effort in signing two of the most notable Indian fighters, Vijender Singh and Vikas Krishan, and I suspect that will only be the start for what could be a massive year for Indian boxing. The market is ripe for surge, and top young amateur fighters like Amit Panghal and Gaurav Solanki could well have professional promoters trying to snap them up as key figures for the long term growth of Indian boxing. The sport isn't huge in India, yet, but with over 1,000,000,000 people living there the potential is massive, if a promoter can sign the right fighters and work well with the local media. It will be a risky market to jump into but given the right promoter it could end up being a game changer. I also expect to see aforementioned Vijender Singh challenge for a world title before the end of 2019.
Boxing Grows in non-Boxing Countries
It's not just India that I expect to see boxing grow in but also Vietnam, Teipai, Malaysia and Singapore. We've certainly seen Singapore and Malaysia develop their scenes recently, but Vietnam and Teipai will likely follow suit, albeit for different reasons. Malaysia and Singapore are key hubs for the area, and money in those countries towards boxing has grown due to the promoters wanting to build the scenes. For Vietnam and Teipai however it seems likely that the OPBF will be the fulcrum behind their growth, and the development of the OPBF Silver titles, specifically in those two countries, will be key. In fact we could see that extending into other locations like Mongolia as the OPBF become more than just a title body but also, in association with the JBC, an overseer of several, non-boxing countries as they plant seeds of potential growth.
An Uzbek Take Over
It's hard to believe that only two Uzbek fighters have ever won world titles, Artur Grigorian and Ruslan Chagaev. This coming year I'm expecting that to change and wouldn't be massively surprised to see that number double in 2019, with the likes of the aforementioned Akhmadaliev along with Shakhram Giyasov, Elnur Abduraimov and Kudratillo Abdukakhorov all likely to be fighting for world titles by the end of the year. The Uzbek take over will be a hostile one, as the fighters look to put not only themselves on the boxing map, but also their country and we suspect the number of Uzbek amateurs turning professional will grow substantially in not only 2019, but also 2020. Uzbek fighters who miss out on the 2020 Olympics will likely jump at the chance to turn professional, and I expect them to do so with a lot of ambition to climbing the rankings as quickly as possible.
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).