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 all heard of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and we've decided to put our spin on things with "Six degrees of separation" looking to connect Asian fighters you may never have assumed were connected! Today we connect third generation Filipino fighter Carlo Caesar Penalosa...and...Kanat Islam
1-Filipino fighter Carlo Caesar Penalosa has one of the most famous surnames in all of Filipino boxing. It might not quite be the royalty of "Elorde" but it's not far off and the third generation fighter is both blessed and cursed with his surname. Another fighter from the family is the legendary Gerry Penalosa, the uncle of Carlo Caesar Penalosa.
2-Although never a global mega star Gerry Penalosa really was a fantastic boxer, with one of the most technically sound styles and boxing brains out there. He wasn't blessed with freakish power, insane speed or massive size, but he was a perfectly rounded boxer who had the skill set that allowed him to fight for more than 20 years as a professional. On the same card as Penalosa's debut was a then 1-0 Andy Tabanas.
3-Almost forgotten now a days Andy Tabanas was actually a 4 time world title challenger during his career. The Filipino, who ran up a solid looking 40-5-2 (24) record was a very solid contender through much of the 1990's and actually saw almost a decade split his first world title fight and his final one. One of his world title losses came to Mexican legend Ricardo Lopez.
4-Regarded as one of the greatest fighters of all time Ricardo Lopez went unbeaten in his 52 fight career. Not only did he go unbeaten but he did saw whilst picking up 3 world title fights at Minimumweight and a Light Flyweight title. In fact by the time his career ended he had claimed a WBC, WBO, WBA and IBF title. He also ended up scoring 10 wins over fighters who, at some point, held a world title. Notably his first world title win came at Korakuen Hall on October 25th 1990, when he beat Hideyuki Ohashi with a 5th round TKO.
5-"TKO5" has been the result in 9 WBC Minimumweight title bouts. Lopez scored 3 of those, and became the first man to win the title with that result. Since then it has changed hands twice more by that method. The first man to do it after Lopez was Japan's Kazuto Ioka, incidentally Ioka's uncle was Hiroki Ioka who had long been seen as Hideyuki Ohashi's main rival despite the fact the two men never fought. This was Kazuto Ioka's first title, just like it had been Lopez's first title, in what is a rather odd extra coincidence.
6-Kazuto Ioka won a bronze medal at the 2008 King's Cup, losing in the semi final to Amnat Ruenroeng. Another medal winner at the same tournament was Hanati Silamu, who competed for China. Silamu is also known as Kanat Islam, who is currently a fringe contender at 154lbs.
After small break the action returns this week and we have a packed few weeks left in October.
Ryo Takenaka (14-3-1, 8) vs Randy Braga (19-1-1, 5)
Attention turns back to Tokyo this week as we get the chance to see Ryo Takenaka defend the OPBF Featherweight title against once beaten Filipino Randy Braga. On paper this is a step up for Braga, but the Filipino has been impressive and is unlucky to have a loss against his name, with that coming by controversial decision on foreign soil. For the champion this is a second defense and whilst he will be favoured he is returning from a hand injury and may be suffering the effects of the damage, as well as a bit of ring rust.
Masataka Taniguchi (4-0, 4) vs Dexter Alimento (11-0, 7)
On the same card in Tokyo we get a bout that has us more than justa little bit excited as the unbeaten pairing of Masataka Taniguchi and Dexter Alimento face off. Taniguchi has impressed since his debut and looks like an exciting, aggressive and powerful young fighter racing through the ranks but is stepping up massively here. Alimento scored his break out win earlier this year, when he defeated Chanachai CP Freshmart for the WBC Youth Minimumweight title and really impressed with his skills, defense and counter punching, which could all be a nightmare for someone as aggressive as Taniguchi. This really is mouth watering.
Shintaro Matsumoto (13-4, 9) Vs Jayde Michell (9-1, 4)
For the second time in less than a week we get OPBF title action as Super Middleweight champion Shintaro Matsumoto looks to make the first defense of his title and over-come Australian Jayde Mitchell in what should be a really intriguing match up. Matsumoto is a rather weak champion but shocked the Oriental scene earlier this year by over-coming Yuzo Kiyota and will be looking to prove he deserves the title. For Mitchell the bout is a great chance to claim a major regional title, but does seem him needing to make his international debut.
On October 22nd we see the “Strongest Korakuen” with 4 bouts to decide 4 of the mandatory challengers for Japanese titles. Whilst each of the bouts are significant one of them, a Super Bantamweight bout between veteran Jonathan Baat (32-7-5, 14) and heavy handed new comer Yusaku Kuga (12-2-1, 8). The show is a significant one and will see mandatory challengers at Light Flyweight, Super Bantamweight, Super Featherweight and Light Welterweight all being decided in what should be a thrilling and important show for Japanese fans.
Takuya Kogawa (27-4, 13) Vs Yudai Arai (8-3-3, 4)
Japanese Flyweight champion Takuya Kogawa returns in the final week of the month to defend his title, for the fourth time, as he takes on the little known Yudai Arai. We love Kogawa, he's one of the most exciting fighters on the planet, but he always makes life difficult and always gets involved in a war, even when he doesn't need to. We think that'll be the case again here and although we don't think he'll struggle to beat Arai we'd be surprised if the fight didn't end up being a typical Kogawa tear up. And who doesn't like watching a tear up?
Kanat Islam (21-0, 18) vs Patrick Allotey (34-2, 28)
In a bout for multiple titles we'll see Kazakh hopeful Kanat Islam battle against Ghana's Patrick Allotey. Originally this bout was pencilled to be for the WBA interim title at 154lbs but instead it'll just be for 3 secondary titles, form the WBA, WBO and IBO. The bout will see Islam face one of his most notable foes to date and should see him being given a chance to answer some questions about his ability, whilst also making his Kazakh debut. Allotey is ona 4 fight winnign streak coming into this, but Islam will be strongly backed.
Zhankhozh Turarov (19-0, 13) vs Isaac Aryee (24-8, 22)
Promising Kazakh Zhankhozh Turarov looks to continue his winning run as he takes on heavy handed slugger Isaac Aryee. This is going to be Turarov's toughest bout, at least on paper, but Ayree is 0-3 away from Ghana and has shown little to show he can travel without struggling. Despite lacking a win on the road Aryee is a puncher and could well be a threat if Turarov is lacking in terms of a chin.
Zhanibek Alimkhanuly (0-0) Vs Milton Nunez (33-16-1, 29)
Also in Kazakhstan we'll see the professional debut of Zhanibek Alimkhanuly as he begins his campaign as a professional fighter. The 2016 Olympian is diving in at the deep end here against the hugely experienced and heavy handed Nunez, who has faced the likes of Gennady Golovkin, Daniel Jacobs, Sergio Mora and Matt Korobov. Sadly for Nunez he has been beaten by every recognisable opponent that he's faced so far.
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).