After doing a few really interesting divisions in this series we then come to a jumbled mess at Super Featherweight. The division is almost entirely dominated by the mess of Japanese fighters, who have sort of proven themselves capable, and probably would make for a brilliant round robin. The top few guys stand out, but the rest sort of match each other out, a bit too well
1-Masayuki Ito (26-2-1, 14)
Former WBO Super Featherweight world champion Masayuki Ito had a 2019 to forget, losing the WBO title in May, to Jamel Herring, and then taking a TKO over Ruben Manakane but suffering a nasty looking injury in the bout. His lack of fortune seemed o continue this year, when he had to pull out of a bout in China, before other issues saw the card he was supposed to be on being cancelled all together. Ito is a talented boxer who proved his ability in 2018, with wins over Christopher Diaz and Evgeny Chuprakov, but did look very limited against Herring. It's going to be interesting to see how he bounces back, and we suspect he'll be looking to face some southpaws in the near future, as he didn't appear to ever understand Herring's stance and movement when they fought.
2-Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (15-0, 12)
Russian based Tajik Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov is currently in the running for an IBF title fight, after beating Azinga Fuzile back in September 2019. That win was marred with some controversy, in regards to some drug issues, but stands. Although it'd be hard to see him beating Jo Jo Diaz that bout is an interesting one and would be a very, very exciting one if it took place. Aggressive, heavy handed, tough and with an impressive will to win Rakhimov is a nightmare to fight, despite some technical flaws. He's not the quickest or the smoothest, but he's probably the deadliest in this top 10, as wins over Fuzile, Robinson Castellanos and Malcolm Klassen have shown. Very much the under-rated dangerman of the division.
3-Kenichi Ogawa (24-1-1-1, 18)
Former Japanese national champion Kenichi Ogawa is best known his controversial bout against Tevin Farmer in 2017. That bout ended with Ogawa being crowned the IBF Super Featherweight champion then being stripped for a failed drug test. Whilst there are still unanswered question about the test he served a year ban and was actually out of the ring for almost 14 months before finally returning last year. After two low key wins he had a technical draw with Joe Noynay, in a messy bout for the WBO Asia Pacific title. We expect to see Ogawa back in big bouts in the near future and the 32 year old from the Teiken gym certainly still has time left in his career, but will need to move fast when boxing returns later in the year.
4-Joe Noynay (18-2-2, 7)
Filipino fighter Joe Noynay Had a fantastic few months in 2019, stopping both Kosuke Saka and Satoshi Shimizu, before ending the year with the aforementioned technical draw against Kenichi Ogawa, in what really was a messy, dirty accidental foul filled war. Although not a puncher, as such, he looked really destructive against Saka and Shimizu and has been impressive since losing to Reiya Abe more than 3 years ago. At 24 years old the talented southpaw is one to keep an eye on, and is only behind Ogawa on the basis the depth of the two men's records. We would favour Ogawa, marginally, in a rematch but given the mess of their first bout we're not in a rush to see them face off again.
5-Hironori Mishiro (9-0-1, 3)
Rushing through the rankings has been 25 year old boxer Hiironori Mishiro, who has proven he can box and brawl, when he needs to. Mishiro won the OPBF title in his 6th professional bout and has since made 4 defenses of the title, including a draw against Masaru Sueyoshi and victories over Takuya Watanabe and Yoshimitsu Kimura. Although not the most powerful Mishiro is well schooled, a very smooth boxer with excellent movement and skills. He's proven he can turn things around and brawl, as he did against Sueyoshi. Sadly Mishiro does look like he lacks some real killer instinct, and that could be a major problem when he moves from regional level to world class. As well as his lack of killer instincts there is also question marks about his punching power, but so far his achievements have been impressive.
6-Kosuke Saka (20-5, 17)
Few fighters had the rollercoaster year that Kosuke Saka had in 2019. He was stopped in 2 rounds in April, by Joe Noynay, in what was considered a real set back, scored a low key nothing win against Indonesian journeyman Isack Junior in September and then ended the year by smashing Masaru Sueyoshi to claim the Japanese Super Featherweight title with his best win to date. Saka, at his best, is a nightmare to face and he looked at his absolute best when he beat Sueyoshi. That was the sort of performance that put the division on notice and was his most impressive win since he stopped Shota Hayashi, back in April 2017. Saka is dangerous, but a flawed glass cannon. He'll be in some great fights, win or lose.
7-Takuya Watanabe (37-9-1, 21)
With 9 losses in 47 bouts Takuya Watanabe doesn't look like a fantastic fighter, but boy is his record misleading. He's certainly not a world beater, but on the regional scene not many fighters will beat him without needing to answer serious questions. He's technically a very solid fighter, despite not being the quickest, most powerful or sharpest punching. What he is, is very physically strong and powerful, incredibly tough and has a solid gas tank. Despite his 9 losses he has never been stopped, and that was despite his blood bath in South Korea with Jaesung Lee which saw Watanabe give the Gwanakgu Hall in Seoul a serious donation of claret. Watanabe has lost to some men on this list, notably Masayuki Ito and Hironori Mishiro, but he made both men work for their wins. Most recently he was seen beating Taiki Minamoto to set up a mouth watering showdown with Kosuke Saka, though we may need to wait until 2021 for that bout given the current climate.
8-Yoshimitsu Kimura (12-2, 7)
Having previously lost to Hironori Mishiro and Richard Pumicpic, who is in our Featherweight rankings, the case may be that Yoshimitsu Kimura is too highly ranked here, but in reality he pushed Mishiro all the way in December and is very much a fighter developing rapidly. Aged just 23 he had matured fantastically into a Super Featherweight, after winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year at Featherweight. In the coming year we expect to see Kimura really climb up these rankings, and he may well be among the best kept secrets in the division. Don't be fooled by his two losses, they were very competitive, and great learning experiences for the youngster who is going to be a key player in the next few years.
9-Masaru Sueyoshi (19-2-1, 11)
Former Japanese national champion Maasaru Sueyoshi rounds out the Japanese fighters in these rankings, though the reality is that he could probably beat some of the ones above him, and did draw with Mishiro. Despite being, head to head, better than some of the guys above we really can't put him higher than Saka, due to Saka's victory over him, and Watanabe and Kimura both looked better than he did last time out. Sueyoshi is a very good technical fighter, he controls distance, tempo and timing well, but lacks real power and struggles with the physical side of the sport. Saka really bullied him, showing no respect to Sueyoshi's power, and we suspect many of those ranked higher up this list would now do the same with that tactic being shown to work against the 29 year old Teiken fighter.
10-Stanislav Kalitskiy (10-0, 3)
As well as all the Japanese talent "clogging" up the division there are some interesting fighters emerging from Central Europe. Among those is the unbeaten 22 year old Stanislav Kalitskiy, who is based in Russia. The talented Kalitskiy lacks power, with only 3 stoppages in his 10 bouts, but has stepped up his competition well and a January win over Alan Isaias Luques Castillo is worthy of note. It'll be interesting to see what RCC have planned for him, but we suspect it's going to be a long, hard slog for him going forward. He is simply too early in his career, and lacks the power, to let him off the leash any time soon.
On the bubble:
Taiki Minamoto, Akzhol Sulaimanbek Uulu, Sultan Zaurbek, Nurtas Azhbenov and Xiang Li
Over the last few years Teiken's dominance of the Japanese scene has really under threat and as we right this they currently have no world champions at the gym and only a pair of domestic champions. It wasn't that long ago that fighters like Shinsuke Yamanaka, Roman Gonzalez, Jorge Linares, Takashi Miura, and Carlos Cuadras all holding, or in the mix for, world titles. Now their hopes at the top level essentially lie with Ryota Murata, who will know a loss in July ends his career, the beyond their best trio of Gonzalez, Linares and Cuadras, who are all still in the mix, but not the fighters they once were, and Kenichi Ogawa.
Worryingly all of the names so far mentioned are 30 or above, and most of them are seen as being on the slide.
It would be easy to suggest the Teiken gym is now longer a leading gym in Japan. The likes of the Watanabe Gym and the Ohashi Gym seem to have over-taken it in recent years, and the gym hasn't replaced their faded stars. That however would be partially wrong. The gym isn't done as a top gym, what has happened however is that their transitional stage to the next generation of top fighters, has been delayed some what.
What we mean by that is that instead of having ready made replacements for their faded stars the gym really missed out on a generation of talent. They failed to secure the youngsters who were part of the current generation of stars. The likes of Naoya Inoue and Kenshiro and Hiroto Kyoguchi and Kosei Tanaka took other options, and didn't ink deals with the Teiken gym. Sometimes the reason was obvious, such as location or gym owner, and other times it wasn't, but what is clear is that the top Japanese fighters of today saw other avenues, and went their own way.
That left Teiken needing to chase the next wave of fighters, and that's exactly what they've done, signing 3 top Japanese amateurs in the last 18 or so months, and developing some lesser talents as well. They have essentially had to play catch up with the rival gyms since Yamanaka retired, and they have done so in a manner that could end up having them back on top of the Japanese scene in the coming years.
Before we look at their top prospects it's worth looking at both of their current national champions. They are Super Featherweight Masaru Sueyoshi (19-1-1, 11) and Welterweight Yuki Nagano (16-2, 12). Interestingly neither of these were amateur standouts, Sueyoshi managed to go 21-8 in the amateurs before competing in the 2012 Rookie of the Year, losing to Masayuki Ito. Nagano on the other hand won the 2015 Rookie of the Year. Both have developed from Rookies to national champions, and that leads us to one of the top Teiken prospects, one who doesn't have a strong amateur backing but has excited fans.
Super Flyweight hopeful Hayate Kaji (12-0, 9), like Sueyoshi and Nagano, came through the Rookie of the Year. In fact Kaji won the Super Flyweight competition on the same day that Nagano won the Welterweight competition, in 2015, winning the final in just his 4th professional bout. Sadly since that Rookie triumph Kaji hasn't shone like many suspected, and despite maintaining his unbeaten record the 21 year old has shown signs of ill discipline, and disappointing performances, especially his 2017 clash with Jun Blazo. Those poor performances, added to blow outs against some horribly over-matched competition, has seen Kaji essentially put on the back burner, with his team clearly focused on getting him experience before getting him a title fight. That's a risky approach for the youngster, who needs to be tested, but he is a big hope for the gym, with an exciting style and vicious power, and time well and truly on his side.
Whilst Kaji is clearly a prospect to keep an eye on the more interesting thing about the Teiken gym is a trio of former amateur standouts, who are just beginning their professional careers but all 3 are marked, already, for something huge.
They are Mikito Nakano (2-0, 2), Kuntae Lee (1-0, 1) and Shokichi Iwata (2-0, 1) who only 5 pro fights between but can already be regarded as 3 of the brightest hopes in Japanese boxing, and at the time of writing all 3 are 23 years old.
The oldest of the 3, by a few months, is Nakano a southpaw competing in the Featherweight division. He ran up a tremendous 68-9 (48) record in the amateur ranks before turning professional last year and debuting in October. Despite being a fantastic talent his first two bouts were little more than show cases against Thai novices however we now know that his third bout, scheduled for July 6th, will come against Filipino Arvin Yurong (12-2, 3).
Yurong is a really test for Nakano, and he showed a lot of desire and hunger in his January loss to Xiang Li. If Yurong can show that same hunger here he could give Nakano real issues and ask very serious questions of the Teiken man. If Nakano slices through him we can already mark Nakano as someone who should be mixing for titles by the end of 2020.
On the same card as Nakano's bout with Yurong we'll see Lee have his second bout. Like Nakano Lee is a southpaw, and had a stellar amateur career, running up a reported 102-10 amateur record. He fights at 140lbs, a division which Japan hasn't had much international success at in recent years, and looks like a real natural. On his debut he hardly broke sweat, beating a Thai novice inside a round, but looked like every punch he threw was crisp, natural and sharp. He's someone with a lot of potential, strong amateur background, and a rather rare backstory, with North Korean blood in his veins. As an amateur he competed for North Korea in international competitions and clear has the ability to make a mark well above domestic level.
At the moment Lee's opponent for his July 6th bout hasn't been announced, though the bout will be scheduled for 6 rounds and we'd expected a limited opponent, before a stiffer test at the end of the year.
Nakano and Lee are both fighting on the same card leaving Iwata as the odd one out, however he will actually be in the ring on July 12th, as part of the under-card for Ryota Murata rematch with Rob Brant. Iwata made his professional debut in the US last year, after running up a 59-12 (16) amateur record, and then made his Japanese debut earlier this year against Rookie of the Year winner Daiki Kameyama. Unlike the other two he does spend plenty of time in the west and clearly is happy to fight on international soil early in his career, despite the fact he's a Light Flyweight and the best competition there is in Asia right now. On paper the's the least experienced in terms of amateur bouts, but his win over Kameyama is the best that the trio have and he seems the ost likley to be fast tracked.
We've not yet been told who Iwata will be debuting against but we're expecting it to be an international opponent, hopefully some one who will ask Iwata something new, and allow the speedy youngster to show more of what he can do.
Whilst the Teiken gym hasn't got any world champions, it appears they have 3, or 4 if we include Kaji, top prospects and the foundation is there for the next wave of Teiken success. It might be a few years away, and we may see Watanabe and Ohashi move further ahead in that time, but Teiken is not dead, it's merely transitioning to the next generation of fighters, and they are very exciting.
One more thing to add is the fact Teiken will be scouting the 2020 Olympics and will be expecting to pick up several of the top prospects from those games, so the next wave of Teiken fighters won't just be Kaji, Nakano, Lee and Iwata, but also some of the fighters who may well medal at Tokyo games. The gym has the money, the connections and the know how to secure big signatures, and we're really excited to see where those Olympians end up at the end of next year, along with those top amateurs who fail to qualify for the games. They are likely to have promoters, including Teiken, trying to get their signatures, and strengthen the stables for the future.
Teiken isn't dead, it's just a sleeping giant.
(All Images courtesy of Teiken.com)
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).