Last weekend we saw Jong Seon Kang (12-0-2, 6) kick off the boxing year for Asia with a sensational 12 round decision win over Nam Jun Lee in an early runner for the 2021 Fight of the Year. For fans who missed it, we really recommend giving it a watch, especially given the general lack of action taking place in the ring at the moment, as it was 12 rounds of totally brutal, thrilling action.
The win saw Kang claim the WBO Oriental Featherweight title and push his career forward, whilst notching the 19 year old hopeful his 12th professional win and extending his unbeaten record to 14. He was also, at least for a few days, a man that fans were genuinely quite interested in seeing more of, and wanting to know about him, as well as his ceiling in the sport. Despite thinking his ceiling isn’t that high, we certainly want to see more of him and he is easily among the most exciting fighters out there to watch, with his flawed defense, incredible stamina, his toughness and his incessant work rate.
With that in mind we thought we’d look at 5 potential bouts for Kang for the rest of this year as we give Jong Seon Kang our Five For treatment.
1-Jae Woo Lee (7-3, 6)
The obvious fighter to start this with is a bout between Kang and fellow Korean warrior Jae Woo Lee, who famously took part in the Hajime No Ippo 30th Anniversary Featherweight tournament and beat Tsuyoshi Tameda in an upset win before losing to Shingo Kusano. Lee, like Kang, has that Korean in ring mentality that sees him showing no quit at all in the ring, and happy to always have a war, even if they have the skills and tools to avoid it. The edge in power goes to Lee here, but the energy and incessant pressure from Kang may end up being enough for him to take the victory over 12 non stop rounds of action. Either way this would be brutal, thrilling, and seems like the best possible fight for Korean fans wanting to get their teeth into some Featherweight action.
2-Renji Ichimura (8-5, 7)
Having seen Kang in some gruelling wars in recent years the youngster deserves an easy one, and not one that’s easy due to a late replacement opponent. He also deserves a chance to shine on foreign soil and begin working his way towards bigger and better fights. With that in mind an “easy” bout in Japan at some point in late 2021 would be a great career move, and we don’t see many better opponents for Kang in Japan than Renji Ichimura. The 27 year old Ichimura has enough to look threatening but with 3 stoppage losses in his last 5 bouts he is certainly not a world beater. Instead what he should be is a showcase opponent for Kang, who would get a chance to break down an opponent over a few rounds on a Boxing Raise or A-Sign show. This wouldn’t be a big name win for Kang, but would help open doors for him.
3-Qiang Ma (6-2-2, 4)
Jae Woo Lee wasn’t the only international fighter involved in the Hajime No Ippo 30th Anniversary Featherweight tournament, as Chinese fighter Qiang Ma also featured in the competition. And thinking about it for a few minutes a bout between Kang and Ma would have all the ingredients of a thrilling war. Ma, like Kang, is a very flawed fighter, but Ma’s biggest issue isn’t just his defence but also his stamina and pacing. We suspect Ma would be competitive, and maybe even dangerous for 3 or 4 rounds, but as the bout went on the pressure and none stop punching from Kang would get too much for Ma. If this one happens, in either China or South Korea, it would be a thrill ride, but one that Kang should finish on top of.
4-Inthanon Sithchamuang (31-14-1, 19)
Thai veteran Inthanon Sithchamuang, also known as Tanawat Phonnaku, is a long, long way from his best. The 34 year old, who was once a credible Super Flyweight contender, is not a natural Featherweight, but he is someone who has spent the last few years competing up at 126lbs and would be a solid enough name, with former world level experience, to make a bout with Kang sellable. The reality is that this would be very, very cynical matchmaking from Kang’s team, but also very smart matchmaking to get Kang in with someone who has fought for a world title. At just 19 Kang deserves an easy fight or two, and a chance to get some ring time based about building his experience, and Inthanon should ask him questions for a few rounds, before the volume of Kang breaks him down. This might not be the best bout out there, but would be a shrewd bit of business from Kang’s team.
5-Shun Kubo (14-2, 9)
We finish this by heading back to Japan for what could be a very left of field choice, but one that Kang and his team may genuinely be thinking about, if he and his team can travel to Japan this year. That would be a fight with former WBA Super Bantamweight champion Shun Kubo. On paper it might seem ludicrous to put the 19 year old Korean in with a former world champion, at this early stage, though Kang and his team may well be looking at Kubo and licking their lips. But both of Kubo’s losses have come against aggressive fighters, who throw a lot of leather and apply almost constant pressure. Neither of the men who have stopped Kubo have been massive punchers but have instead broken down the Japanese fighter through repeatedly tagging him. Kubo is certainly the more skilled and more experienced but Kang’s style is something that has been shown to give Kubo fits. Maybe, just maybe, Kang and his team should be giving Masato Yamashita a call to get this one sorted and get their man a relatively huge win for the all action teenager!
On New Year's Eve we saw WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (26-2, 15) put in one of his career defining performances as he stopped Kosei Tanaka in 8 rounds to record his second defense of his title. The 4-weight Japanese world champion went into the bout as the under-dog with the bookies, though pulled out an excellent win over the younger man who was looking to etch his name in the history books. The bout saw Ioka drop Tanaka twice and force referee Michiaki Someya to save Tanaka midway through round 8.
With the win now under his belt and with Ioka able to look forward, towards the future, we thought there was no better person to look at for one of our regular Five For articles.
For those new to this series this is where we look at five potential bouts for a fighter to take next, looking at who’s available and who would make the most sense for the fighter at hand, in this case Ioka.
For the sake of this, and given what is expected in 2021, we will not be including Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman Gonzalez or Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. They are obviously 3 men we would love to see Ioka take on next, but the reality is that their calendar for the next 9 months are so will make them unavailable, with Gonzalez Vs Estrada II booked for March and Srisaket expected to take on the winner. Ideally however Ioka Vs the winner of that trio would certainly be the bout we want at the end of 2021 in the now traditional New Year’s Eve show from Japan.
1-Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22)
The obvious #1 choice for Ioka’s next bout, all things considered, is IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas with the bout seeing the two men unifying the WBO and IBF titles around the Summer or Autumn time. The two men are the two champions sitting outside of the Gonzalez Vs Estrada situation and the only chance either will get to unify before the very end of 2020. The match up would be a compelling one between a technically excellent Ioka and a very sharp and naturally bigger Ancajas, who would also bring his southpaw stance to the fight. For Ioka this really is a chance to unify, to return to a US ring and a brilliant opportunity to showcase what he can do against a man who is somewhat known to an American fan base. As for Ancajas it would help silence some of his critics who have condemned his long, but incredibly poor, IBF world title reign. For both men it would be a big bout, and given the situation with Gonzalez, Estrada and Srisaket, there really aren't that many big bouts out there at Super Flyweight.
2-Francisco Rodriguez Jr (33-4-1, 24)
If Ioka can’t secure a big unification bout with Ancajas he’ll likely want to face someone who can make him look good, can bring the action and make for an exciting fight. With that in mind Mexican warrior Francisco Rodriguez Jr seems to tick a lot of boxes, and could, potentially, be lured over to Japan for a Summer fight. Rodriguez is a former unified Minimumweight champion, like Ioka, he’s also well respected in Japan thanks to his 2014 FOTY bout with Katsunari Takayama, and he makes for fun battles. He would be the very clear under-dog against Ioka, where natural size and boxing skills would play a big factor, but he would make for very fun action. It’s also worth noting that Rodriguez is expected to become the #1 contender when the WBO re-issue their rankings, and this would be a great chance to request an early mandatory, get it out of the way and have Ioka free for New Year’s Eve with no obligations to defend against anyone in particular.
3-Charlie Edwards (16-1-0-1, 6)
We’re thinking a little bit outside of the box here, but bear with us a moment as we try to explain why Ioka should consider Charlie Edwards. Throughout the history of boxing only one Japanese world champion has ever won a world title bout in Europe, and that was Naoya Inoue when he stopped Emanuel Rodriguez in Scotland. Notably Inoue’s WBA “regular” Bantamweight title wasn’t on the line for that bout, meaning no Japanese fighter has ever defended a world title in Europe. For Ioka there’s a great chance here to travel over to England and take on former WBC Flyweight champion Charlie Edwards, create another little bit of history and improve his global profile. With Edwards being promoted by Frank Warren the bout would get UK TV exposure on BT Sport and ESPN+ in the US would likely pick the bout up, building Ioka’s profile on both sides of the Atlantic. It would also open the door wider for the Ancajas fight, with Ancajas being promoted by Bor Arum and having his fights aired on ESPN+. Admittedly we suspect Ioka would prefer to fight in either Japan or the US, but he has been a man who has chased his place in history, and becoming the first Japanese fighter to successfully defend in Europe would be another big historical moment in his legacy.
4-John Riel Casimero (30-4, 21)
As mentioned a moment ago Ioka has chased history. He won the first unification bout between Japanese world champions from two world title bodies, when he beat Akira Yaegashi, he was the first male Japanese 4 weight world champion and he was involved in the first world title fight between 2-Japanese multi-weight world champions. With that in mind a move up to Bantamweight wouldn’t be the biggest surprise for Ioka before his career is over. At Bantamweight there is a very logical option there for him, and that would be WBO champion John Riel Casimero. Physically the two men are about the same size, they are very similar in age and in terms of legacy they are both multiple weight world champions, with Casimero being a 3 weight champion himself. If Ioka wants to make a splash at 118lbs this is a very logical bout to make, and a relatively simple one to make.
Now before we get into our fifth choice we really need to explain why we’ve ignored the proverbial elephant in the room at Bantamweight, the Ioka Vs Naoya Inoue bout. This is a fight we’ve seen mentioned for years though is one that might as well be forgotten about now as there is no way TBS would allow Ioka to fight on Fuji TV, and Fuji won’t allow Inoue to go the other way. The only way this bout could happen is if it was in the US, with WOWOW broadcasting it live whilst TBS and Fuji make do with some form of tape delay. It’s possible, but highly unlikely.
5-Khalid Yafai (26-1, 15)
Former WBA Super Flyweight champion Khalid Yafai hasn’t fought since losing the WBA title to Roman Gonzalez in February 2020. Despite that loss Yafai could be a very interesting opponent for Ioka for a potential US bout, as he looks to establish himself as premier fighter in the division. The trio of Gonzalez, Estrada and Srisaket are all aligned with DAZN, and so too is Yafai, via Matchroom Sports, so for Ioka to try and make a super fight more appealing he may also need to affiliate himself with DAZN in the West. To do that a bout with Yafai on the service in mid 2020, potentially on the same card as Srisaket Vs the Gonzalez/Estrada winner, would really help build up the Super Flyweight super fight, and help showcase Ioka to a US audience, many of whom missed his bout with Tanaka. Yafai wouldn’t be the toughest test out there, and Gonzalez really did give him a beating, but it may well be the smartest move form Ioka and team if they are wanting to grow his profile in the US. A bout in the US looks to be a smart move for Ioka, especially given how US broadcasters turned their nose up at his bout with Tanaka, and Yafai gives him that option here.
On New Year's Eve we were able to watch two notable bouts to close the year, with the first of those being the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title bout between Daigo Higa (17-1-1, 17) and Yuki Strong Kobayashi. The bout saw Higa look the best he has in years as he dominated and then went on to stop Kobayashi in a performance that, for the first time, suggested Higa could, potentially, make it as a top Bantamweight
The former WBC Flyweight champion had looked less than spectacular since returning to the ring in early 2020, but against Kobayashi he looked sharp, accurate, heavy handed and incredibly crisp. With that in mind we’ve decided to begin 2020 by taking a look at 5 possible bouts for Higa as we enter 2021 and give him the “Five For” treatment.
1-Zolani Tete (28-4, 21)
We generally feel that Higa, although powerful, is a small Bantamweight. He’s fast, heavy handed and strong, but still small at the weight. Despite that we feel his lack of stature may be an advantage against certain fighters in the division and one such fighter we would like to see him in with is former 2-weight world champion Zolani Tete. The elongated South African is a former IBF champion at 115lbs and a former WBO champion at 118lbs, though he’s not actually a big, strong, powerful fighter. Instead he’s a boxer-puncher, who can be lulled into rather dull bouts and against Higa the lack of aggression from Tete may be his downfall. Given that Tete hasn’t fought since losing the WBO Bantamweight title to John Riel Casimero we suspect he’d jump at the chance of a big bout in Japan, and this would, in theory be an easy one to make. Especially given that Tete has got history with Japan, having won his IBF Super Flyweight title there in 2014.
2-John Riel Casimero (30-4, 21)
Higa’s bout with Kobayashi on December 31st was not only a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific title but was also sold, by the Japanese media, as a “WBO World Title outpost bout”, essentially a tune up for a WBO world title bout. If that is indeed the plan then Higa’s target will be WBO world champion John Riel Casimero, an explosive and exciting Filipino world champion who has been chasing big fights at Bantamweight. Casimero was lined up to fight Naoya Inoue in April 2020 before Covid19 derailed the bout and has been chasing Guillermo Rigondeaux in the last few months. If those bouts fail to materialise a bout between Casimero and Higa would have all the hallmarks of being something very exciting and genuinely explosive. It’s also worth noting that unlike many at Bantamweight Casimero wouldn’t have significant size advantages over Higa, with the two men being very similar in terms of height and reach. This would be a genuinely brilliant bout, and a great chance for Higa to make his international debut, or even serve as a part of a Kazuto Ioka lead double header.
3-Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-1-0-1, 13)
Of course if Higa can’t get Casimero he may well fancy his chances with WBA regular champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, a man that Casimero himself has been strongly linked to since late last year. The 40 year old Cuban has rarely done what’s best for his career, though did famously travel over to Japan to face Hisashi Amagasa in a surprisingly entertaining bout way back in 2014. Now an older, slightly more hittable fighter, and fighting down at 118lbs, Rigondeaux may well be a target for a number of Bantamweights. We know Casimero is wanting him, but Higa may also feel the Cuban is one he’d like to have a shot at. Physically Rigondeaux is slightly taller and has got a longer reach than Higa, but their size difference isn’t as much as one would imagine when thinking about a former Flyweight champion taking on a former Super Bantamweight champion. Although much maligned for the lack of drama in a number of his bouts by Western fans, fans in Japan do hold Rigondeaux in high regard and this would do very, very good numbers on TBS.
4-Liborio Solis (30-6-1-1, 14)
Another man who is known to Japanese audiences, and is himself a former Rigondeaux opponent, is Venezuelan veteran Liborio Solis. The 38 year old has fought in Japan three times, beating both Kohei Kono and Daiki Kameda and losing to Shinsuke Yamanaka, and is very much a fighter that Japanese fans will remember well for his aggression, style and excitement. Now a long way removed from the man who twice dropped Shinsuke Yamanaka Solis would make the perfect opponent for Higa from a style perspective. These two are both small Bantamweights, both like to fight on the inside, and with Solis being on the slide we suspect Higa may actually be able to stop the former WBA Super Flyweight champion. This would, in some ways, be a cynical match up against a former champion, but it would be a thrilling contest for as long as it lasts. Notably Solis isn’t likely to demand a huge purse making this a very viable bout.
5-Seiya Tsutsumi (5-0-2, 4) II
In his second bout as a Bantamweight Higa fought to a draw with former amateur rival Seiya Tsutsumi, back in October 2020, in a bout that left many, including ourselves, feeling like Higa wouldn’t be able to cut it as a Bantamweight. His result against Yuki Strong Kobayashi made us eat our words though with that performance now fresh in our minds we would love to see him re-run his bout with Tsutsumi, with the WBO Asia Pacific title on the line. For Tsutsumi it would be a chance to claim a regional title, and a chance to take a third win over Higa, who he beat twice in the amateurs, and it would feel like a reward for a man who had a torrid 2020, with two highly debatable draws. For Higa it would be a chance to avenge his draw and get revenge for the amateur defeats. For fight fans this would just be a joy, and hopefully not one TBS would sit on for weeks before airing it, like they did with their first bout.
Last Saturday we saw Japanese Lightweight Masayoshi Nakatani (19-1, 13) put in a career defining performance to stop the highly touted Felix Verdejo in one of the best comes of 2020. Nakatani, who was down twice, managed to break down and stop Verdejo late on, whilst a mile down on the scorecard, and had the performance of the weekend, by some margin.
Sadly he did suffer a nasty injury in that bout, which will keep him out of the ring for a while, but when Nakatani returns we suspect he'll be looking to build on that win and get his career moving forward towards an eventual world title fight. With that in mind we've decided to give Nakatani the "Five For" treatment this week, and look at 5 potential bouts that the elongated, Japanese Lightweight contender could be looking at for 2021.
1-Teofimo Lopez (16-0, 12) II
The obvious one that will bring up a lot of interest for Nakatani would be a rematch with current WBA, WBO, IBF and WBC "Franchise" champion Teofimo Lopez. The two men fought in 2019 with Lopez taking a very hard fought decision over Nakatani, a decision that was much closer than the score-cards state. After that bout people raved about Nakatani, who soon retired before coming back to the sport this year, and really began to doubt Lopez. A rematch would give Nakatani a chance to avenge his sole loss, and fight for world titles, and would give Lopez a chance to put his first Nakatani bout down to "bad night at the office". There are, of course, more interesting, and some much easier, options for Lopez but this seems to be one that could well sell it's self.
2-Devin Haney (25-0, 15)
If a bout with Lopez can't be made there isn't many options out there for Nakatani to get a world title fight, though the one existing option is a bout with WBC champion Devin Haney. This is a bout that we wouldn't be surprised to see getting rumoured a lot in 2021. Nakatani wants a world title fight, as mentioned already, and Haney needs a good dance partner after struggling to get notable names in the ring with him. With Nakatani coming in hot after the win over Verdejo, and with his performance against Lopez in 2019 he makes for the perfect opponent for Haney, and an opponent who lets Haney measure up against Lopez. The bout would also be one that could allow Haney to actually look exciting, taking on a man who is there to be hit, and will let his own shots go, something we haven't seen much of from Haney's last two opponents. If we were the ones advising Haney right now, this is the bout we would pursue for him.
3-Shuichiro Yoshino (13-0, 10)
Nakatani is, right now, the hottest Japanese Lightweight, but yet he isn't the only Japanese fighter of note at 135lbs. Another is the OPBF, WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese champion Shuichiro Yoshino, who is currently ranked by all 4 world title bodies. This is perhaps the most obscure option out there, but to be the clear #1 in Japan, and to boost his world title opportunities this should certainly have some appeal to Nakatani. Likewise if you're Yoshino a win over Nakatani in Tokyo in 2021 would be huge for his career, and put him to a world title fight. It's really unlikely we'll see this one, but we'd be lying if we didn't say we'd love to see it headlining on a G+ card in the middle of next year, in a de facto world title eliminator, likely with the WBO.
4-Richard Commey (29-3, 26)
We suspect Nakatani may become an avoided man at 135lbs given his win over Verdejo and how he ruined the opportunity of a Lopez Vs Verdejo bout. With that in mind it might make sense to match him with another avoided man, such as Ghana's Richard Commey, the former IBF champion. Commey, like Nakatani, is an awkward assignment for anyone in the division, and as a former champion he has some name value and a win over him means something. The bout should be relatively easy to make, for either the US or Japan, and could serve as a world title eliminator. For Nakatani the bout would be a real dangerous fighter, with Commey being a dynamite puncher, but the younger, fresher, less battle worn, and much taller, Nakatani should feel he has the tools to over-come Commey.
5-Denys Berinchyk (14-0, 8)
Staying with the idea of Nakatani being an unwanted opponent, and perhaos needing to find another avoided man, a bout between the Teiken Lightweight and Ukrainian Denys Berinchyk could make a lot of sense, and would be a highly interesting fight. Not only would this be two men who are very much avoided, but it would also be a clash between two of the leading WBO contenders, potentially even a final eliminator, and a bout between two men who's styles are different but should gel. Nakatani, as we all know, is a relatively basic fighter, with awkward dimensions, a good jab and freakish size, whilst Berinchyk is an aggression, combination punching greinder. Put these in the ring together and we could end up with something spectacular, and see the winner put right up in line for a WBO title fight in late 2021.
Back on December 3rd we saw talented Japanese fighter Masataka Taniguchi (13-3, 8) claim the Japanese Minimumweight title, stopping the over-matched Hizuki Saso in the 10th round of their bout.
The win, although not a massive in terms of the division, was a major one for Taniguchi who's career had promised a lot when he turned professional but had been hit by several setbacks, including narrow losses to Reiya Konishi and Tsubasa Koura as well as a 2019 defeat to the then WBO champion Vic Saludar. Now however he has had back to back notable wins and his career appears to be heading in the right direction.
With that win in mind we've decided to take a look at 5 potential bouts for Taniguchi in this week's Five For.
1-Melvin Jerusalem (15-2, 9)
When we look at these match ups we tried to look at ones that make the most sense and promise the most action. With that in mind we'd love to see Taniguchi take on Filipino Melvin Jerusalem in a WBC world title eliminator. Both men are highly ranked, and it would make sense in 2021 if neither man could secure a world title fight. On paper it's a very even looking contest, and in terms of styles they should make for a thriller with their styles and in ring mentalities almost guaranteeing a fun, technical, high tempo battle. From a logistical point of view, given the world is the world right now, the bout might not be the easiest to make, but man what a fight this would be.
2-Kai Ishizawa (7-1, 7) II
In 2019 we had a legitimately brilliant Japanese title eliminator between Taniguchi and Japanese youngster Kai Ishizawa, with Taniguchi taking a clear but hard fought decision over the hard hitting youngster. Since then Ishizawa has remained a top domestic contender and Taniguchi has gone on to win the title. Given their brilliant first bout, the way both have picked up wins since and the fact Ishizawa is set to be the top ranked Japanese contender by the end of the year this is the bout that makes the most sense domestically. We'd expect another tear up here, and despite Taniguchi winning their first bout we wouldn't be surprised at all if a more mature and experience Ishizawa proved to be too much for him in a rematch. Genuinely the best that can be made in Japan at 105lbs.
3-Lito Dante (17-11-4, 9)
Before the global situation became what is it Taniguchi was originally supposed to face OPBF champion Lito Dante in a rather odd JBC/OPBF title unification bout, due to the way the local rules work. This would have been a brutally entertaining, tough and exciting bout. Taniguchi has all the technical advantages, the speed and the skills, however Dante is one of the toughest, must rugged fighters out there and his pressure over 10 or 12 rounds is a nightmare for anyone. This would have been great in the first half of 2020 and now makes just as much sense for 2021. As with the potential Jerusalem bout the key issue is the "on going global situation", but if they can work around that this is a bout we would love to see in the new year!
4-Norohito Tanaka (20-8, 10)
Going back to Taniguchi's Japanese title it's fair to say Ishizawa won't be the only fighter with eyes for the belt, and former champion Norihito Tanaka is also likely to be in the conversation for a shot. Tanaka gave up the title at the start of 2020, as he began to prepare to face WBA champion Knockout CP Freshmart, and would likely see a bout with Taniguchi as the best fight out there for him in 2021. Tanaka, now in his mid 30's, is unlikely to get another really big fight with out taking risks and beating fellow contenders, such as Taniguchi, so this makes sense from him. For Taniguchi it would be a chance to beat a former world title challenger, and prove he's the best in Japan by beating the previous champion. This wouldn't be as good as a bout with Ishizawa, but it's not a bad second choice.
5-Wilfredo Mendez (16-1, 6)
A bit of a wild card entry to finish with but a bout between Taniguchi and WBO world champion Wilfredo Mendez will be something on Taniguchi's mind. For this bout to be a reality two things need to be dealt with in a way that makes sense. Firstly the on going global situation needs to be dealt with in a way that would allow Mendez over to Japan in the new year, and secondly it's contingent on Mendez beating Alexis Diaz later this month. Of all the champions in the division Mendez is the one that would make the most sense to target if you were in Taniguchi's situation, with the Japanese fighter currently ranked #3, and is also stylistically the best for him. Maybe a long shot for his next bout but potentially a bout for late 2021, and a longer term target for Taniguchi and the Watanabe Gym.
Last Friday we saw Thailand's Panya Pradabsri (35-1, 22) score the most important win of his career, taking a unanimous decision over the previously unbeaten Wanheng Menayothin to take the WBC Minimumweight title. The win made Panya the 49th world champion from Thailand, and saw him emerge from the shadows of Wanheng and Knockout CP Freshmart, who had been the Thai faces atop the top at Minimumweight division over the last few years.
Following the win though we had to have a real think about what we wanted to see next for the new champion and who he could be lined up to face in 2021. The division isn't the best or biggest, but it is one where there are some very interesting options for the new champion, and we'll look at 5 of those in this week's Five For.
1-Wanheng Menayothin (54-1, 18)
At the moment it's unclear what the future will hold for the 35 year old Wanheng. Our assumption is that he will walk off into the sunset, with the torch now passed to his younger compatriot. If that doesn't happen however, and if Wanheng does fancy one more bout then a rematch with Panya would be an ideal send off, win or lose. It would give the legendary Thai a chance to retire on top, and a chance to reclaim his crown, and it would give Panya a chance to prove that his first win wasn't a fluke. It could also give us, the fans, another barn burner if it's anything like their first bout.
2-Nkosinathi Joyi (29-5-1-1, 19)
Typically a champion gets a relatively easy first defense and many look to do that against a faded name. With that in mind a bout between the 29 year old Panya and the 37 year old Nkosinathi Joyi would certainly be an interesting one to think about. Joyi, in his prime, was a tremendous fighter with speed, size and power and was one of the many under-rated fighters to come from South Africa. Now a days however he looks like a shadow of the fighter he was back in 2009-2011. For Panya a win over Joyi would still have value and would certainly be a solid name on his resume. A cynical match up, sure, but the sort of thing that the Panya likely needs during the early part of his reign.
3-Melvin Jerusalem (15-2, 9)
Ranked #1 by the WBC Melvin Jerusalem is potentially going to be a mandatory challenger for Panya and would make for a relatively tough first defense. The 26 year old Filipino is a hell for leather type of fighter who gave Wanheng absolute fighters in 2017, in one of the toughest bouts for the former champion, and would have the energy and tenacity to be a nightmare for the new champion. If Panya was looking to get his mandatory out of the way in early 2021 this is the logical bout, and then begin to look at more marketable and financially rewarding bouts. However this is legitimately a tough bout for the new champion in what should be a real barn burner for 12 rounds.
4-Lito Dante (17-11-4, 9)
A wild-card choice for Panya's first defense would be a bout against OPBF champion Lito Dante. The bout isn't one that screams an amazing bout on paper, but, as is typical, records don't tell half of the story of a fight. Dante might have numerous losses but he's as tough and strong as they come and over 12 rounds he will bring the fight, take the best Panya has to offer, and given him a real war right through the bout. Dante's record conceals a fantastic 12 round fighter and a total nightmare over the distance. Not only would this be a surprisingly good first defense, but due to Dante's style it would be a very fan friendly clash and the sort of bout that would have highlights aplenty to share. A fun and enjoyable tear up if it can be made!
5-Ginjiro Shigeoka (5-0, 4)
As we write this it seems almost certain that Japanese 21 year old Ginjiro Shigeoka will not fight at all in 2020 due to the on going global situation. With that in mind we suspect he, and the Watanabe team, will want to plan something huge for 2021. Maybe that could include Shigeoka's first world title fight in Japan against Panya, with money thrown at the Thai to bring him over to Tokyo for a stacked card. It seems unlikely but of all the bouts that could be out there for Panya this is the one that interests us the most, and it would be a great chance to see if Shigeoka is as good as touted. Sadly though we suspect Panya's first defense will be a straight forward one at home, likely against a less dangerous opponent than Shigeoka.
Note - We have never had an all-Thai world title unification and the reality is that Panya Vs Knockout CP Freshmart is also not likely to happen so hasn't been considered here. The bout isn't in there interest of the promoters and so it makes no real sense to discuss as an option. It would be a great bout, but not one worth wasting too much time considering.
Last week we saw the WBC Minimumweight title change hands as long term champion Wanheng Menayothin (54-1, 18) was dethroned by countryman Panya Pradabsri (35-1, 22) in one of the more notable upsets in Asia this year. The bout ended what was the then longest active reign in male boxing, and saw Panya become the 49th male world champion from Thailand. Not only was the bout a passing of the torch but it was also a great bout, with a high intensity from both and really thrilling action.
Today we've decided to look back on the bout and share some of our takes aways from the contest in the latest article in this on going Five Take Aways series.
1-Panya's body body shots were great early on
The challenger had a number of advantages, including a 6 year youth advantage, and advantages in terms of size and power. It was however his body shots, and not his inherent advantages, that really caught the eye. He hammered Wanheng with fantastic left hooks to the body early on, and tried to chip away at the veteran in the early rounds with rib bursting shots. They landed clean, they looked painful and they were really solid blows. Credit needs to go to Wanheng for taking them so well, but they were the key early on for Panya. It's a shame they vanished part way through the bout, as they were so effective early on.
2-Wanheng is no typical 35 year old Minimumweight
We've mentioned Panya's body shots but there was something more impressive than those. That was Wanheng in general. The 35 year old did not look his age at all. He was razor sharp through much of the bout, let combinations go, showed incredible desire and hand speed. Even through he's ancient by Minimumweight standards, and still by typical boxing standards, he did not look his age. He also didn't look like a man who was talking about retirement in the summer. He looked very hungry and very much like a man desperate to move to 55-0 and keep his title. A fantastic effort by the old man, who seemed to set the tempo and have significantly higher output than the challenger.
3-This was a big fight!
It's incredibly rare for us to be asked for streams of bouts from Thailand, we some times get them for big names in Japan but very rarely Thailand. We also rarely get asked for streams of Minimumweight bouts. This bout however had a lot of questions from people wanting to watch, and on social media it felt like a decent sized fight with much broader interest than we typically see. Sure this wasn't the interest of a Naoya Inoue bout or a Kazuto Ioka fight, but this was still much, much more than expected and it was great to see more fans actually being interested in the little men.
4-This was a great fight
With so many fans being interested in watching the bout there was a worry. This could stink. Like really stink and become a dire fight with no talking points. Instead the bout delivered, massively, and gave us one of the best fights of the year. It was back and forth, high tempo action, with both men landing solid shots through out, exchanging leather regularly and giving us something to remember. It wasn't just a war however, but was a high tempo aggressive and technical bout which went well beyond just a typical fight. For fans who aren't used to watching the little guys we hope this bout has convinced you to give them a chance. The Minimumweights might not have the fire power of the heavy guys, but their can often over-deliver in terms of action and excitement. This isn't a one off great bout for the division, and there are copious other fantastic contests at 105lbs, including recent great bouts such as Katsunari Takayama Vs Francisco Rodriguez Jr and Akira Yaegashi Vs Pornsawan Porpramook. The division regularly delivers as it did here!
5-Thailand has continued to deliver in 2020 thanks to All-Thai bouts
Typically Thailand serves us one or two great bouts a year, and a lot of garbage that simply isn't worth watching. Year after year the quality in Thailand has decreased as local hopefuls have beaten up smaller and less skilled international opponents. With international transport at close to a standstill we've seen promoters being forced to put on more and more all-Thai bouts, and this has seriously increased the level of fights we've been getting in the country. This was the latest in a long line of excellent all-Thai bouts in 2020. Fingers crossed that continues as there is something special about domestic rivalries and the the hunger to prove you're the best. We see it in Japan and the UK and now we're seeing it more in Thailand. Historically All-Thai world title bouts, dubbed "Bloodline Battles", have delivered amazing action fights, and this is was another great one. Fingers crossed this continues in 2021, and well beyond the current Covid19 epidemic.
Bonus Take Away
Thank you Wanheng
If this turns out to be Wanheng's final career bout we genuinely owe him a thank you. Whilst he may not have faced the best in the division, and there are a lot of bouts we'd have loved to see him in, there is no doubting that he has helped put a spot light on the Minimumweight division and Thailand, at least over the last year or two. His career has been a genuinely impressive on and he has been on of the few men in recent memory to create a legacy whilst fighting at just his weight. He didn't feel the need to move through the weights to make his name, and that is a credit to his professionalism. He never missed weight, he never out grew the division and instead he committed himself to the 105lb weight class. Genuinely an impressive facet of his career, and one that will often go over-looked.
This past Monday we saw Japanese youngster Riku Kano (17-4-1, 8) claim his latest victory and add the WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight title to his collection of belts, which also included a WBA Asia and OPBF title. His performance wasn't the best or the strongest but he did enough in the eyes of the judges to take a split decision over Ryoki Hirai in a very close bout in Hyogo, and it's clear that Kano and his team will want to build on that win.
Given how close the bout with Hirai was it seems unrealistic to imagine Kano fighting for a world title next time out, however there's no reason that we don't look at some interesting possible bouts for the 23 year old's first defense, which will likely take place in 2021.
We can't see him or promoter Taisei Marumoto pushing Kano into a world title bout, and with that in mind we'll look at 5 regional or domestic level bouts that could make sense for Kano as he looks to build his experience and maturity, in our latest Five for.
Note - For the sake of this we are assuming that international opponents, who would need a 2 week quarantine in Japan, are going to be unavailable. As a result all 5 opponents will be Japanese.
1-Tsuyoshi Sato (10-2-1, 5)
A potentially thrilling bout would see the speedy and boxing IQ of Kano pit against the aggression and pressure of Kadoebi Gym's Tsuyoshi Sato, in what would make for a much more interesting bout that the Kano Vs Hirai bout. On paper Sato doesn't look like a powerful fighter, but he brings intense pressure, throws a lot of leather and would be the type of mental test Kano needs, especially given we have seen him crumble under pressure in the past. This could take place in either Kansai or Kanto and would be a brilliant match of styles between two youngsters desperate to make a mark on the sport in 2021. For Kano it would be a dangerous first defense whilst Sato would be looking to bounce back from an opening loss in July to the big hitting Masamichi Yabuki.
2-Ryu Horikawa (3-0-1, 1)
It'll be rare that we get to suggest that Kano will be the older, more experienced head in a bout but a bout between Kano and 20 year old Ryu Horikawa would be one of those rare occasions. It would also be a bout of real intrigue between two talented, speedy, skilled fights. Kano would be the favourite, given his experience and the level he has fought at, but Horikawa would be a very, very live under-dog and has the amateur background to allow him to be fast tracked into a bout like this. Horikawa has impressed since turning professional, and has looked great since his June 2019 debut, and this would be a rather logical step up in class. Kano would likely secure home advantage, in Hyogo, and that might be enough him over the line but Horikawa would be there to win, and has already proven he has the willingness to face tough opposition.
3-Rikito Shiba (4-1, 2)
Tsuyoshi Sato isn't the only man to have been stopped by Masamichi Yabuki in recent times, another is 25 year old Rikito Shiba, who lost to Yabuki in a Japanese eliminator in 2019. The talented Shiba had looked fantastic until running into the big punching Yabuki and would now make for an interesting opponent for Kano. Shiba, much like Sato, isn't a huge puncher, but is a talented fighter capable of boxing and punching. He would likely not make for as fun a bout as Sato, bout would arguably make for a more interesting test, as he seems to be more rounded than Sato. Having been out of the ring since December 2019 it's clear he'll be hungry to fight as soon as possible and would likely be available for a bout in early 2021. Like many on this list Shiba is less experienced as a professional than Kano, but has good amateur pedigree and would be a more than capable challenger for the regional champion.
4-Takumi Sakae (22-3-1, 16)
Once tipped as one to watch Takumi Sakae has failed to live up to the potential he showed early in his career and now the 27 year old is somewhat a forgotten man. Despite that the fighter from Fukuoka will be looking at any chance to get back on track and we wouldn't be surprised at all if he was to get a shot at Kano in 2021. Sakae won Rookie of the Year way back in 2013 and was once 13-0 (8) but since then has struggled and gone 9-3-1 (8), with his wins typically coming against limited opposition, and his losses coming every time he takes a step up. For Kano a bout against Sakae would be one he'd be favoured to win, and would strengthen his claim for a bigger bout, but for Sakae the bout would certainly be one he'd see as a winnable. Although certainly not a massive bout it would be a very interesting one, between two men who were both hyped early on but have, so far, fallen short of expectations.
5-Kai Ishizawa (7-1, 7)
A big outside shot, though by far and away the most interesting possibility, would be for Kano to clash with destructive pressure fighter Kai Ishizawa in what would be a serious test for both men. Ishizawa is a natural Minimumweight, though we have seen him dip his toes at Light Flyweight, and he'd be rearing to get a title fight, in an attempt to add to his short lived reign as the Japanese Youth Champion. For Kano the bout would mark a seriously tricky test against the sort of fighter we suspect he'll be looking to avoid, a strong power puncher. It's fair to say that we don't see Kano in a rush to share the ring with Ishizawa, but as a fan viewing Kano's bouts this would be a very interesting one and one that we would be genuinely looking forward to, not something we can typically say about Kano fights, which sadly don't tend to be particularly exciting bouts. This would be a chance for Kano to prove he can withstand pressure and would be a chance for Ishizawa to take a huge step forward in his career.
Back on Monday we saw Shohjahon Ergashev (19-0, 17) pick up his latest win, as he scored a stoppage win over Belorussian foe Dzmitry Miliusha in Russia. It now seems likely that Ergashev will have some serious questions to answer the next time he speaks with his promoter, Salita Promotions, but if that can be ironed out he's in a great position to have some very interesting fights in 2021. Something he genuinely needs, and seriously deserves at this point in his career.
Assuming there isn't a major hold up in Ergashev's career due to legal issues we're going to take a look at some potential match ups for Ergashev in our weekly "Five For" series.
1-Batyrzhan Jukembayev (18-0-0-2, 14)
The number one bout that we want to see Ergashev in is an all Asian clash with unbeaten Kazakh Batyrzhan Jukembayev, which was a bout that was in talks for 2020 before Jukembayev turned to the bout down. Whilst the reason the bout didn't get signed off is debated, with Jukembayev's promoter and his manager stating different things, it was a bout that looked brilliant we wished had been a done deal. Hopefully there is still interest enough in this bout to get it made and give us a fantastic all Asian 140lb war between two men each seeking a big win in the new year.
2-Shakhram Giyasov (10-0, 8)
We know we don't live in a perfect world but, in a perfect world, Ergashev's future would involve an all-Uzbek bout with fellow Uzbek Shakhram Giyasov. This bout has been spoke about on Uzbek websites as a potential future bout, and it is one both men have spoke about as well, showing their is interest there from the fighters. As for the actual match up, what a bout this would be between two talented, heavy handed boxer-punchers. Ergahsev is the more experienced professional, and appears to be slightly further along but Giyasov was an excellent amateur, winning an Olympic silver medal, and has been matched harder than Ergashev. In a perfect world this would be next for both men, though it does seem unlikely to happen any time soon.
3-Miguel Vazquez (42-10, 16)
If Ergashev can't get in to the ring with Jukembayev then getting into the ring with someone who has previously faced Jukembayev would be a good move. With that in mind a bout between the hard hitting Uzbek and the skilled, awkward, frustrating and accurate Miguel Vazquez would certainly make for an interesting match up. Although Vazquez is certainly not the most dangerous out there or the must aggressive he's very among the most talented fighters at 140lbs and is very capable of giving a fighter like Ergashev a real test. Ergashev should be too good, too strong and too powerful, though Vazquez's counter punching, timing and movement would mean Ergashev would have to work for his win.
4-Anthony Yigit (24-1-1, 8)
One thing Ergashev needs is a real test. Someone who is tough, talented, know his way around the ring and won't be there to lose. With that in mind talented and tough Swede Anthony Yigit would make for a solid test. It's one where Ergashev's power, aggression and physicality would be expected to be too much, however Yigiti can certainly fight, he can box and he's rebuilt well since a 2018 loss to Ivan Baranchyk, in a IBF world title bout. It's one of those bouts where there will be a very clear favourite, but we do expect that to get a real work out and a very serious test, two things we want to see from Ergashev sooner rather than later.
5-Liam Paro (19-0, 12)
One final possibility would be a bout between Ergashev and unbeaten Australian Liam Paro, who could, potentially, clash in an IBF or WBO world title eliminator. The heavy handed Ergashev would be the favourite here, but Paro can't be over-looked and the 24 year old from Queensland has been impressing in recent years, taking 3 unbeaten records in his last 6 bouts. Paro maybe lacks the power to keep Ergashev honest, but certainly has the skills to ask questions of the Uzbek. Interestingly Paro is ranked higher than Ergashev with both the IBF and WBO, but it's fair to say that Ergashev would be favoured.
Last Friday we saw 22 year old Japanese fighter Junto Nakatani (21-0, 16) announce himself on the world stage with a brilliant performance against Giemel Magramo in Tokyo to claim the WBO Flyweight title. The win took Nakatani from highly regarded young contender to world champion in brilliant fashion and showed that the youngster from the MT Gym really did have all the tools to be a star.
Admittedly Magramo didn't look great in the bout, though much of that was due to Nakatani neutralising him at range and proving himself to be surprisingly dominant on the inside, the range where Magramo was supposed to fare better. It was a performance that proved how talented the youngster was, and how good he can be. He shut down a legitimate contender, who had given Muhammad Waseem hell just a few years ago, the same Waseem that came close to stopping Moruti Mthalane, and launched himself into the mix for some great bouts over the coming years.
For this weeks Five For we're going to look at 5 potential bouts for Junto Nakatani
1-Angel Acosta (21-2, 21)
The first bout on this list is the most logical one, by far, and that's a defense of the WBO title between Nakatani and mandatory challenger Angel Acosta. It was known that Acosta was waiting in the wings for the winner of Nakatani Vs Magramo and he's first in line for a shot. On paper this is a really tough first defense for Nakatani, he's not being babied into a reign. Acosta is a dangerous, heavy handed, fighter who is known to Japanese audiences for his 2017 bout against Kosei Tanaka. Despite losing to Tanaka we saw Acosta's career continue to go forward and he quickly won the WBO Light Flyweight title before losing it in controversial fashion to Elwin Soto in 2019, and the deciding to move up. He's a legitimately dangerous contender and would be a baptism of fire for Nakatani, however Nakatani is the much bigger man and we suspect his size would be a huge advantage against Acosta. This is one we suspect we can really look forward to in the new year.
2-Julio Cesar Martinez (17-1-0-1, 13)
Lets be honest we all want unification bouts, and a contest between the WBO champion, Nakatani, and WBC champion, Julio Cesar Martinez, is a great match up and ticks a lot of boxes. Firstly and foremost it's a unification bout between two young champions, secondly it's between men who's styles should gel, and we should get a war on the inside, where Nakatani is surprisingly effective. Perhaps most importantly however it would give Nakatani the chance to fight on foreign soil, something he spoke about following his recent title win. Martinez has been making a name for himself with fans in the US, with 2 of his last 3 bouts being in US, and Nakatani has links in the US himself. Given that the bout shouldn't be a tricky one to make. It's one that makes sense, promises amazing action, would unify 2 titles and make the winner a genuine star on both sides of the Pacific. It's also a pretty damn close 50-50 match up, and a genuine argument could be made for either man to be the favourite.
3-Sho Kimura (19-3-2, 12)
Unlike some countries Japanese fighters do tend to fight world title fights against each other quite regularly, and for Nakatani that might be a great idea for next year. With that in mind we'd love to see the champion defending his title against former champion Sho Kimura, in what would be a potential war for the ages. Kimura, who turns 32 later this month, is known to be a tough, durable warrior and his bout with Kosei Tanaka in 2018 was a truly tremendous contest. He's aged a bit since then, and his 2019 bout with Carlos Canizales was certainly a damaging battle. For Nakatani a win over Kimura would legitimise is reign, and potentially earn him comparisons to Tanaka, who could be a 4 weight champion by the time Nakatani fights again. A win for Kimura would see him becoming a 2-time champion and getting one more run. For us, as fans, this would be an amazing war!
4-Sunny Edwards (15-0, 4)
One thing Nakatani will want to do is improve his international profile. One wat to do that would be to face unbeaten Englishman Sunny Edwards, the brother of former WBC Flyweight champion Charlie Edwards. Sunny is highly ranked with the WBO and is the sort of out spoken and brash fighter who would instantly generate attention for a bout with Nakatani through social media. This bout could take place in Japan, with the backing of G+ and NTV or could see Nakatani travel over to England and attempt to follow in the footsteps of Naoya Inoue, the only Japanese fighter so far to win a world title bout in Europe. A bout between these two would get attention on both sides of the globe and would be a great chance to help build Nakatani's profile in Europe. It would also help the 22 year old show the difference between European class and world class at 112lbs.
5-Artem Dalakian (20-0, 14)
We looked at one potential unification bout so we'll end this with another as a bout between Nakatani and WBA champion Artem Dalakian is also very interesting, though could be a hard one to make. For Nakatani we don't imagine he has any issues facing anyone in the division though don't think he, or any, top fighter will be rushing to Ukraine for a bout with Dalakian. Likewise we don't see Dalakian fighting on away soil unless there is a solid size purse for him. With that in mind we would love to see this bout on neutral soil, and Dalakian has fought in the US before. So maybe, just maybe, we could have this intriguing match up in the US! Dalakian is an awkward, tricky fighter who can be a thorn in the side of anyone in the division, but can also stink out the joint and his competition since winning the title, against Brian Viloria, has been disappointing. To say the least. Maybe if Dalakian was facign a top fighter he would have the ambition to show what he could do, and if Nakatani could get a fight in the US we'd expect him to look to impress. This would be a really interesting bout in terms of styles, and it would be one of the few times Dalakian would be up against someone with a better jab than himself. If a promoter is looking to put together a relatively cheap world title unification bout this would be ideal, and could fill out a good card. It's unlikely, but it is one we really would love to see.
Note - We haven't mentioned Moruti Mthalane as he has a bout set for December against Jayson Mama though the winner of that bout would also make for a very good opponent for Nakatani, as would Ryota Yamauchi.
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).