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
The month of May promised a lot for Japanese fighters, with a staggering 8 world title fights featuring Japanese fighters during the first month of the new Reiwa period of Japanese history. Sadly what could have been a huge month for Japanese fighters was a nightmare, with their fighters going 1-7 for the month at the top level. Whilst history was made in Europe, Japanese fighters suffered losses on Japanese, Chinese and American soil, and some defeats were horribly one sided.
The first of the Japanese fighters to fall short was Ryuichi Funai (31-8, 22) who was stopped in the 7th round by Jerwin Ancajas (31-1-2, 21) on May 4th, in an IBF Super Flyweight title bout. Ancajas was a big under-dog, but his performance saw him being totally out classed, and used as a punch bag by Ancajas, who had one of his best performances. Whilst Fuani showed his toughness his lack of defense, speed and movement really cost him hard here and allowed Ancajas one of his best performances so far.
Just over a week later, on May 13th, we saw Masayuki Kuroda (30-8-3, 16) put up a brave effort as he lost to Moruti Mthalane (38-2, 25), in an IBF Flyweight title bout. To credit Kuroda he was always seen as the under-dog and was really competitive in the first half, though ended the bout as the clear loser, suffering awful facial swelling in the process. Kuroda's effort deserves so many plaudits, but at the end of the day Mthalane was too good, too sharp and too skilled.
The third man to lose again put up a brave effort, with Reiya Konishi (17-2, 7) coming up short in an IBF Light Flyweight title fight with Felix Alvarado (35-2, 30) on May 19th. Again the Japanese challenger put up a great effort, and was competitive at times, but was unable to match the champion overall, and was rocked hard late on as Alvarado came close to dropping the Shinsei man. All credit to Konishi for his effort, but he was clearly second best here to the excellent champion
The weekend of May 25th and 26th was a nightmare for Japanese fighters, a real nightmare, with a 0-3 run over the weekend. The first of those to lose was Masayuki Ito (25-2-1, 13), who lost the WBO Super Featherweight title to Jamel Herring (20-2, 10), in what was regarded as a 50-50 bout. Herring really boxed to a fantastic gameplan to out point Ito, who failed to ever get a read on the southpaw stance of Herring.
Just a day later we saw back to back losses for Shun Kubo (13-2, 9) and Sho Kimura (18-3-2, 11).
Kubo put in a fan friendly performance, though was stopped by Chinese fighter Can Xu (17-2, 3) in a WBA "regular" Featherweight title fight. Kubo came to win, and gave a good account of himself, but was worn down by Xu, who made his first defense.
Kimura on the other hand was lacklustre, and very disappointed in himself, as he lost to WBA "regular" Light Flyweight champion Carlos Canizales (22-0-1, 17). Kimura, who dropped down in weight, looked like he had lost 25% of his usual hunger, desire and energy and was rarely a threat to Canizales.
The final set back came on May 31st when former WBO Minimumweight champion Tatsuya Fukuhara (21-7-6, 7) lost a technical decision to WBC champion Wanheng Menayothin (53-0, 18). This rematch was expected to be hotly contested, but Fukuhara was just doing enough to lose competitive rounds to Wanheng, who extended his unbeaten record.
The only shining light for Japanese boxing at the world level this past month was the sensational Naoya Inoue (18-0, 16), who created history in Glasgow by stopping Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-1,12) in 2 rounds to add the IBF Bantamweight title to his WBA regular belt. This bout, on May 18th, saw a Japanese fighter win a world title bout on European soil for the first time, after 20 losses, and proved to be their only success at world level this past May.
Whilst many of those who lost were clear under-dogs, such as Funai, Mthalane and Kubo, others weren't. Kimura was the betting favourite and Ito was a 50-50 shot. To see such a band month is a real worry and one that will linger in the mind of Japanese fans for the foreseeable future, as all the countries other top fighters, several of which have big fights in June and July.
Whilst the month promised a lot, it was a disaster for Japanese fighters, and hopefully not a sign that the Reiwa era will be a bad one for the Land of the Rising Sun.
This coming weekend we'll see Takeshi Inoue attempt to dethrone Jamie Munguia, the WBO Light Middleweight champion, in Texas. The Japanese fighter is regarded as a huge under-dog and few are giving him much of a chance.
With the bout just days away we thought it would be an interesting time to look at 5 occasions where a Japanese fighter has taken a world title whilst fighting on US soil. Given that it's only happened 5 times, in history, it shows how rare it really is. Even more telling is that we've only seen 3 occasions where a Japanese fighter has dethrone a reigning champion on US soil, and Inoue, if successful, would be the first since 1980!
Raul Rojas v Shozo Saijo II - September 27th 1968
The first Japanese fighter to win a world title on foreign soil was Shozo Siajo, back in September 1968. The Cinderella Boy had a less than remarkable start to his professional career, beginning his career 3-1-2, and being 13-4-2 (2) when he made his debut in January 1968. Amazingly Shozo would defeat the then WBA Featherweight champion Raul Rojas in a non-title bout in June of that year, over 10 rounds. That bout then resulted in a rematch 3 months later for the WBA title.
Heading into their rematch Rojas was 35-2-1 (22), he had only lost in the first bout with Shozo and to the legendary Vicente Saldivar, having gone 12-1 since that loss. Saijo was 16-5-2 (3), and other than the win over Rojas there was little of note on his record.
Surprisingly Saijo repeated his win over Rojas, defeating him over 15 rounds to win the WBA Featherweight title. The bout was a clear win for Saijo, who dropped Rojas on route to a unanimous decision. Sadly for Rojas his career would never truly recover and he would retire in 1970 with a record of 38-7-2 (24). Saijo on the other hand, who was Japan's 7th world champion, would hold the title until 1971 and make 5 defenses, losing to Antonio Gomez in 3 rounds. He would retire after that loss with a 29-7-2 (8) record.
Samuel Serrano vs. Yasutsune Uehara - August 2nd 1980
Having just mentioned Samuel Serrano, as being the man who ended Villaflor's second reign, it's worth noting that he was actually the third champion to be dethroned by a Japanese fighter on US soil. The talented Puerto Rican had defended the belt 10 times since the win over Villaflor, and was going in with Japan's Yatsusune Uehara.
Although relatively forgotten now Uhara was a former standout in Japan. He had gone 117-8 (87) in the amateurs, had claimed medals on the international stage and had turned professional with a then Japanese record signing fee, going with the Kyoei Boxing gym. Despite being highly touted he would lose his second professional bout, and come up short in a world title bout with Villaflor in 1974. Heading into this bout the allure that Uehara once had, had faded. He was 25-4 (20), aged 30 this was seen as him getting a shot that he wouldn't win. Serrano on the other had was 27 years old, 42-4-1 (14), and unbeaten in 26 bouts!
Uehara was the big under-dog and the reasons for that showed early on, with Serrano winning the rounds using his boxing skills. Uehara however believed in his power and pressure and managed to land an occasional bomb. Although being outboxed Uehara was dangerous and he showed just how dangerous in the final seconds of round 6, when he landed a dynamite right hand when Serrano was on the ropes. The dropped Uehara who failed to beat the count. The result was the Ring Magazine Upset of the year for 1980. Sadly though Uehara would lose in a rematch the following year, having recorded just 1 defense. Uehara would retire after their rematch with a record of 27-5 (21), Serrano on the other hand would make 3 defenses before losing to Roger Mayweather in 1983. He would retire the following year, before making a strange comeback in the 1990's, eventually hanging them up with a record of 50-6-1 (17).
Ben Villaflor vs Kuniaki Shibata I - Mach 12th 1973
It would take 4 years until a Japanese fighter following in Saijo's footsteps and claim a world title on American soil, with Kuniaki Shibata being the man to achieve the feat. The "Genius Puncher" was one of the protege's of the great Eddie Townsend and had distinguished himself as a top fighter in 1970, when he became the first Japanese fighter to win a world title in Mexico, dethroning Vicente Saldivar in December 1970.
Despite winning the WBC Featherweight title from Saldivar we wouldn't see Shibata have a long reign, losing in his third defense to Clemente Sanchez in 1972. The following year he would move up in weight challenge WBA Super Featherweight champion Ben Villaflor, a Filipino born fighter who had held the WBA belt since April 1972. Villaflor had recorded 1 defenses, and had amassed an excellent record of 48-4-3 (25), whilst Shibata was 37-4-3 (23).
In the ring the two were amazingly well matched, though Shibata would take a narrow decision, winning by a point on 1 card and 2 points on the others, to take the title and become a 2-time world champion. Sadly for Shibata his reign was again a short one, losing inside a round 7 months later in a rematch with Villaflor. Villaflor's second reign would continue until 1976, when he lost to Samuel Serrano, then retired with a record of 56-6-6 (31). Shibata on the other hand would bounce back from his title loss to win the WBC title, which he would defend 3 times before losing to Alfredo Escalera in 1975. He would continue on but retire in the late 1970's with a record 47-6-3 (25).
Tadashi Mihara v Rocky Fratto - November 7th 1981
Amazingly we've not seen a Japanese fighter dethrone someone on American soil since Uehara's win over Serrano. We have however seen two Japanese fighters pick up vacant titles on US soil. The first of those was Tadashi Mihara, who had a very short reign ,but a notable one all the same.
Mihara was 14-0 (11) when he faced fellow unbeaten fighter Rocky Fratto, then 24-0 (9) for the WBA Light Middleweight title. Mihara was looking to become the third Japanese champion 154lbs, following Koichi Wajima and Masashi Kudo, and managed to achieve the feat by narrowly outpointing Fratto over 15 rounds. Notably this is at the same weight that Inoue will be challenging the unbeaten Munguia at, and like Mihara was at the time Inoue is also unbeaten after 14 fights
Sadly for Mihara his reign was a very short one, losing in his first defense against Davey Moore, less than 3 months after his big win. The loss to Moore would be Mihara's sole defeat however and he would fight on until 1985 before retiring with a record of 24-1, 15). Fratto on the other hand would never win a big one, and retire following a loss to Harry Daniels, with a record of 28-4 (9).
Masayuki Ito v Christopher Diaz - July 28th 2018
The second vacant title to be won by a Japanese fighter on US soil came almost 37 years after Mihara's win and saw Masayuki Ito announce himself on the world stage with an excellent performance to claim the WBO Super Featherweight title, defeating Christopher Diaz. Going into this bout it was supposed to be a coming out party for Diaz, the unbeaten Puerto Rican who was promoted by Top Rank. Ito however ripped up the script and out boxed the betting favourite.
Entering the bout Ito was 23-1-1 (12), he had unified the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, and had been on the verge of a world title fight for a while. Diaz on the other hand was 23-0 (15), touted as a rising star from Puerto Rico and had scored notable wins over Bryant Cruz and Braulio Rodriguez on route to his shot. Sadly for Diaz he was unable to cope with Ito's size, range and variation, being dropped in round 8 and never really managing to get a foot hold in the bout.
Since this contest, which was just last summer, both men have fought once, with both scoring a stoppage win. Ito over-came mandatory challenge Evgeny Chuprakov and is expected to be back in the ring in the US later this year, to defend against Jamel Herring.
Over the Christmas period we saw an interesting match up being speculated on featuring English Light Heavyweight Anthony Yarde (17-0, 16) and American based Cuban veteran Sullivan Barrera (22-2, 14). That bout didn't get much further than speculation, started by Barrera, but was an interesting match up all the same.
Sadly it was turned down with Yarde's defenders suggesting he wasn't ready, he needed more experience, he needed seasoning take on someone like Barrera.
The Englishman's lack of an amateur career was also put forward as to why taking the bout at this stage would be foolish, with Yarde's amateur career only lasting for about 12 fights.
That got me into thinking about other fighters who lack much in terms of amateur credentials, and how they have been developed. The one that stood out the most was Japan's Masayuki Ito (24-1-1, 12), the current WBO Super Featherweight champion. Ito had 0 amateur fights, and was developed through a very different professional system to the one that has brought Yarde to the point where he is. In fact Yarde, as the WBO's #1 contender, is technically next in line for a WBO world title fight, but supposedly isn't ready for a grizzled veteran like Barrera.
As mentioned Yarde had 12 amateur fights before beginning his professional career in 2015, at the age of 23, and he scored 4 wins during that year, going 4-0 (3). All of those wins came against fighters with losing records, little ambition and who were there to pick up losses and supposedly teach Yarde a few things before losing. They included the then 0-11 Curtis Gargano, who is now 0-51-1, and the then 3-10-2 Tamas Danko, who is now 3-22-2.
Ito on the other hand debuted in 2009, aged 18, and only fought once that year. It wasn't until November 2010 that he would be 4-0. By that point he had most faced domestic novices, who didn't have much of a career afterwards, there was one who had a winning record when Ito faced him but on the whole those opponents were hard to make any sort of note about.
Ito's 5th bout however was a draw with the then 4-0 Tsuyoshi Tameda, in a Rookie of the Year bout, that was a big step up and we've since seen Tameda carve out a name for himself as a big puncher on the Japanese domestic scene. That compares very favourably with Yarde's 5th opponent, David Sipos, an Hungarian who tends to lose whenever he fights outside of Nyíregyhaza, Hungary.
The Rookie of the Year competition is really the building ground for a lot of Japanese fighters. It's a domestic tournament that pits novices against each other, developing the talent of fighters. It's lead to over 20 world champions, with Ito being the most recent, and is a great proving ground for fighters to fight opponents at a similar experience level. In 2012 Ito would win the tournament whilst advancing his record to 9-0-1, 3. Within 10 fights Ito had become Rookie of the Year, had fought to a draw with Tameda and would actually beat Masaru Sueyoshi and Kosuke Saka. Sueyoshi, then 3-0, is the current Japanese Super Featherweigth champion whilst Saka, then 6-0, is a now former Japanese Featherweight champion.
By his 10th fight Yarde had beaten just 1 opponent with a winning record, stopping the then 22-10 Ferenc Albert inside a round. His other 9 opponents all had either losing records, or 50-50 records at best. There was no unbeaten fighters on his ledger, no hungry youngsters looking to build themselves up, just domestic journeymen or very limited visitors.
Interestingly Yarde would claim his first title in his 11th bout, winning the British Area Light Heavyweight title by stopping Chris Hobbs. Hobbs was 6-1-1 and was an obvious step up for Yarde. Yarde would then begin collecting minor WBO titles, beating Richard Baranyi for the WBO European title and Norbery Nemesapati for the WBO Inter-Continental title. Those titles have since been defended against Nikola Sjekloca, Tony Averlant, Dariusz Sek and Walter Gabriel Sequeira as he's climbed up the WBO rankings use those belts as a launch pad for his #1 ranking.
On paper wins over the likes of Baranyi, then 18-1, Nemesapati, then 25-6, and Sjekloca, then 32-4-1, were really good wins. Since then however none have done anything. Baranyi has lost 2 of his 3 bouts, Nemespati hasn't fought, and had lost 4 of his previous 8 suggesting his best days were behind him, and Sjekloca has picked up 3 low key wins. They were all credible wins, but the reality is that none of them have shown any ambition since. It could be that Yarde beat it out of them, or it could be that they were all just starting to slide.
Essentially leads us to where we are now with Yarde. 17-0 (16) with no wins over notable domestic opponents, a string of wins over fringe European level fighters on the slide, and a lack of real substance. A fighter with power and talent, but no real experience and no real desire to change that.
Ito's 12th bout would be a win against Taiki Minimoto, the now reigning Japanese Featherweight champion and his following bout would be his first title bout, a win over Jeffrey Arienza for the WBC Youth Lightweight title. Ito wouldn't defend the belt and would instead go on to face domestic foes. Those domestic foes included the big punching Masao Nakamura in what was Ito's 16th fight. He was the under-dog going into that bout but pulled off an upset win over the former OPBF champion to make fans really sit up, that was his 17th bout and he was still just 23. In his 18th bout he challenged Japanese champion Rikki Naito, and lost a razor thin decision to Naito.
Since losing to Naito we've seen almost every fight from Ito being a step forward. He would win the OPBF title just 6 months after losing to Naito, and would unify it with the WBO Asia Pacific title 16 months later by beating Takuya Watanabe. He would notch up wins a variety of opponents, such as the skilled Shingo Eto, the hard hitting Lorenzo Villanueva and the teak tough Vergil Puton. Every bout served a purpose, other than to add to the number in the win column. Those bouts prepared him for this summer's win over Christopher Diaz for the WBO world title, which it's self was an upset.
It's far to say that after 4 bouts both were similar. Neither had done anything. Ito would then take the lead, winning the Rookie of the Year crown. Ito would continue to face stiff competition but Yarde arguably went above him, winning his first title and his first international before Ito had. Ito however faced challengers who wanted to take the belt from him, unified against a live opponent and took on fighters who fought with ambition, rather than the desire to survive. Whilst Yarde had over-taken Ito in terms of where they were he hadn't developed like Ito had.
There is, of course, time for Yarde to catch up. He's fit his first 18 fights into the same amount of time that it took Ito to fight 9 fights. The difference there however is that Ito debuted as a teenager, he had time on his side, Yarde was in his mid 20's, and hasn't got that huge amount of time to waste treading water.
We would love to see Yarde take a big step up in February, when he returns to the ring, but the feeling is that if Barrera is too seasoned then Yarde won't be in with a top fighter. Instead we may need to wait until he is 28, 29 or even 30 before he fights a top name. It's a shame given that the UK scene at 175lbs has had fighters like Hosea Burton, Frank Buglioni, Callum Johnson, Ricky Summers, Bob Ajisafe and Charlie Schofield all in it in recent years, and now has Joshua Buatsi rising incredibly quickly though the ranks. The fact Yarde failed to face any top domestic fighters is a massive shame, yet it was facing top domestic competition, at the same point in their careers, that has helped make Ito the fighter he is today.
We're not saying Yarde should jump in with Barrera, but it would certainly do his career the world of good to have opponents who have 3 months to prepare, who are ambitious and come to win. Whether that's a top domestic foe, a top European fighter or a fringe world class fighter, he needs someone to give him a fight, and to do it before fans turn away.
We might get proven wrong, Yarde might be able to deliver at the top, but the Light Heavyweight division is expected to become red hot in the coming years, and with the likes of Dmitry Bivol, Marcus Browne and the aforementioned Buatsi all in or around the top there's not going to be a generational shift to open the door to Yarde. In fact if anything the division could be overcrowded with top Super Middleweights like Callum Smith, Gilberto Ramirez Sanchez and David Ramirez all expected to move up sooner rather than later.
(Images courtesy of Frank Warren.com, Boxmob.jp)
Over the last few years Japan has gained a reputation for ending the boxing year in style, with major shows in the final few days of the year. Typically those bouts get announced through November, as promoters officially announce the bouts and put their shows together along with major domestic television companies.
As we enter November we thought it would be fun to look at some of those rumours for the month, and some of the confirmed bouts, as well as those that have been mentioned as possible, and those on the verge of being officially announced.
We'll start by looking at what we know, with the confirmed notable bouts from the month.
December 1st is set to be a crazy day with several major shows.
In Tokyo we'll get a card televised by G+ which will be headlined by Valentine Hosokawa (23-6-3, 10) defending his Japanese Light Welterweight title against Takashi Inagaki (20-17-2, 9). The card will also feature a brilliant match up between Seiya Tsutsumi (4-0, 3) and Matcha Nakagawa (13-1-1, 5) as well as the ring return of former IBF Super Bantamweight champion Yukinori Oguni (19-2-1, 7)
On the same day in Osaka we get two Shinsei Gym cards, featuring a combined 6 title bouts. The shows will be Real Spirits vol 60 and Real Spirits vol 61, with the first card featuring 4 female title bouts, including a WBO female Minimumweight title bout between Kayoko Ebata (12-7, 6) and Etsuko Tada (17-3-2, 5) and an OPBF Atomweight title bout between Eri Matsuda (1-0) and Minayo Kei (6-3, 1).
The second card will see former world title challenger Reiya Konishi (16-1, 6) defending the WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight title against Richard Rosales (13-7-2, 7) and a potentially thrilling contest between Masao Nakamura (24-3, 23) and Carlo Magali (23-10-3, 12) for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title.
December 3rd will give us a single big show, headlined by OPBF Featherweight champion Satoshi Shimizu (7-0, 7) and Takuya Uehara (16-0, 10), with a brilliant supporting bout between Hinata Maruta (7-1-1, 6) and Tsuyoshi Tameda (18-3-2, 16), which is one of the bouts we're most looking forward to!
On December 9th things get a bit crazy again. We will get a Japanese Welterweight title fight, as Ryota Yada (17-4, 14) defends his belt against Shusaku Fujinaka (16-9-2, 10), and a Japanese Super Flyweight title bout, with Takayuki Okumoto (21-8-3, 10) making his first defense against Masayoshi Hashizume (16-0-1, 10). These bouts have been officially announced and confirmed.
The same day we're set to see to see Shohei Omori (19-2, 14) taking on Takahiro Yamamoto (21-5, 17) and Sho Ishida (26-1, 15) taking on Warlito Parrenas (26-8-1, 23). These bouts haven't been formally announced, though teams from both have confirmed they are taking place, and will be at the EDION Arena Osaka. It's unclear if they will share the same card as the other bouts or if the EDION will host another double dose of boxing with two shows. There is also some speculation that if this is a second show there will be one more big bout to add to the card.
On December 13th we'll see Japanese Lightweight champion Shuichiro Yoshino (8-0, 6) defending his belt against Kazumasa Kobayashi (10-7-1, 6) at the Korakuen Hall and a week later we'll see Nobuyuki Shindo (20-4-1, 8) and Akinori Watanabe (37-7, 31) fight to unify the Japanese Light Middleweight title.
The only other show of real significant that has been confirmed is the Japanese Rookie of the Year final on December 23rd. Nothing after Christmas, but before the start of 2019, has really been announced. But we have had a lot of rumours, speculation for December!
One bout that is supposed to be, finally, made is the long awaited IBF Light Middleweight world title eliminator between Takeshi Inoue (13-0-1, 7) and Julian Williams (25-1-1-1, 15), a bout that has seemingly been delayed, rescheduled and redelayed several times already this year. Fingers crossed this is actually made before the year is over, as it seems both fighters have wasted a lot of this year waiting for this bout to take place. Interestingly this could be the only bout to actually take place outside of Japan.
Another IBF eliminator which is rumoured to take place in December is a Super Bantamweight title eliminator between Ryosuke Iwasa (25-3, 16) and Cesar Juarez (23-6, 17). This bout is supposedly set to take place in Tokyo, though no date has been made public. If this is confirmed then we are in for a treat as these two, together, should be an amazing contest, with both being heavy handed and flawed. Fingers crossed we get this one announced shortly!
Staying on the subject of IBF title fights there has been speculation in Japan that Masayuki Kuroda (30-7-3, 16) may get an unexpected shot at Flyweight champion Moruti Mthalane (36-2, 24). This rumour has come about after a scheduled eliminator with Kuroda and Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking fell through after the Thai suffered an injury. Kuroda's seemed to suggest this would be a long shot, but they are chasing the bout and it could, potentially, be on.
The first of the rumoured big cards to end the year is expected to be on December 30th and is expected to be the Fuji TV card. The strongest rumour for this show is a WBO Super Featherweight title defense for Masayuki Ito (24-1-1, 12), with the named linked to him being Evgeny Chuprakov (20-0, 10). This bout is expected to be confirmed in the coming days, or at the very least Ito's part of it is, with Chuprakov perhaps not being the opponent. The same date is also pencilled in as a potential date for Kenshiro (14-0, 8) to make his next defense of the WBC Light Flyweight title, though no opponent has been linked to him.
The December 30th Fuji card has also been set as the potential date for a WBC Bantamweight title bout between Petch Sor Chitpattana (48-0, 33) and Takuma Inoue (12-0, 3). This bout depends on another bout not taking place, as per an order at the WBC convention in early October, so we should see this bout being either confirmed or not very quickly. There is also a rumour that Takuma's stable mate at the Ohashi gym, Akira Yaegashi (27-6, 15) may also be involved on the same show.
If the rumours for December 30th are a bit of an exciting mess things get even crazier for New Year's Eve. For weeks we've been hearing that WBC Minimumweight champion Wanheng Menayothin (51-0, 18) would be defending his title against Shin Ono (23-9-3, 6). This was rumoured to be part of a triple header, which has changed a few times but new seems most likely to feature a rematch between Ryoichi Taguchi (27-3-2, 12) and Hekkie Budler (32-3, 10), with Taguchi looking to reclaim the WBA Light Flyweight title from the South African. Along with that rematch is rumoured WBO Light Flyweight title bout between Angel Acosta (19-1, 19) and Hiroto Kyoguchi (11-0, 8). If this triple header is done, then TBS would be expected to show at least 2 bouts live on their Kyoguken show.
Things get more complicated when we consider the other rumours, which include a potential WBO Flyweight world title defense by Kosei Tanaka (12-0, 7). His could be squeezed on TBS as an early bout, or could be used to stack the show to a quadruple header or could end up being only CBC live, with TBS showing it on tape delay. It's really unclear how he fits in, but he will almost certainly be wanting to fight on a year ending show, after missing out on the chance last year due to injury.
Last, but certainly not least, is the rumoured WBO Super Flyweight title bout between Kazuto Ioka (23-1, 13) and Donnie Nietes (41-1-5, 23), a bout so big that TBS have seemingly given Ioka the option to take the date and broadcast if he wants it. This was rumoured strongly in September, and Japanese sources were suggesting that it could take place in the Philippines with TBS still airing it live, however the rumours did quieten quickly. It should be noted that Ioka's not been one for leaking news in the past, this could be well in the works. Given how silent things have gone however we may well see this bout being delayed into 2019, potentially as part of the next Superfly card.
(Bottom image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
The month of December is massive in Asian boxing with the end of year run in being crazy. As a result we've had to split our “things to look forward to...” for December article into two pieces, a pre-Christmas and a post-Christmas article, which is to be posted around Christmas time.
When we say December is busy, we really aren't kidding.
The new month gets off to an almost immediate start with an OPBF title fight coming on just the second day of the month. The bout in question is all Filipino bout for the OPBF title, recently vacated by Koki Eto, and will see Eto's former foe Ardin Diale (26-9-3, 15) take on the once beaten Renoel Pael (19-1-1, 9). It was of course Diale Vs Eto that saw Eto win the title, claiming an amazing 8th round win over Diale in a FOTY contender, but since then Diale has gone 6-0 (5) ans really rebuilt his career. For Pael this is his biggest bout to date, though he did fight to a very controversial loss to the world ranked Noknoi Sitthiprasert back in 2014 in what his only loss to date. This really could be something special for Filipino fans.
Fast rising Japanese prospects seem to be the “in thing” at the moment with numerous youngsters racing through the ranks. One of those is Kazuki Tanaka (3-0, 3) who takes a huge step up in class to face Monico Laurente (27-12, 6) in what should be regarded as a genuine test for the unbeaten 22 year old. Tanaka is regarded very highly, and some view him as a potential star of the Green Tsuda gym, however Laurente is no push over and should test the youngster in ways that he has never been tested before.
Last year we saw several Asian fighters emerge and go from being relatively unknown to being names that were on the tip of the tongue for fight fans. Obviously the biggest example was Naoya Inoue, who really became an internationally recognised name, another was Amnat Ruenroeng (16-0, 5) who claimed the IBF Flyweight title and defended it twice, including a shock win over Kazuto Ioka. He looks to secure his third defense of 2015 as he takes on Japanese challenger Myung Ho Lee (19-4-1, 6) in what looks like a stay busy fight for the Thai before a big fight in 2016, possibly against Roman Gonzalez or a rematch with Ioka.
The first of two “WBA Flyweight title” rematches this month sees Thailand's unbeaten Stamp Kiatniwat (14-0, 6) defending his interim title against Dominican slugger Gregorio Lebron (13-3, 11). Their first bout saw Stamp claim a majority decision to win the title though a petition by Lebron's team has helped their fighter get a rematch for the title. Their first bout was decent and we're expecting another good contest, though we suspect we'll see a better Stamp than we saw the first time around.
The second of the OPBF title fights this month is a farcical one Super Middleweight champion Yuzo Kiyota (28-4-1, 26) battles Indonesian challenger Michael Speed Sigarlaki (16-15-2, 14). Kiyota, who is best known for losing in a WBO Super Middleweight world title fight against Robert Stieglitz, might not be world class but is a solid puncher who really should be defending his title against the best OPBF challengers out there., In Sigarlaki however we have a challenger who is 4-6 (3), according to boxrec, in his last 10. It's worth noting that the challenger was in Japan back in March, losing to OPBF/JBC Middleweight champion Akio Shibata and we can't see anything but a repeat of that journey for Sigarlaki.
Whilst Kiyota's OPBF title defense is the most significant “male” bout of the day it's not the highest level bout in Japan. Instead that's an IBF female Minimumweight world title bout between two former champions. The home fighter is Etsuko Tada (14-2-2, 4) who is looking to become a 2-time world champion as she battles former title holder Victoria Argueta (13-2, 4) in what appears to be a very matched bout. Both fighters have suffered recent losses, with Argueta losing 2 of her last 6 and Tada losing 2 of her last 4, but all of those loses have come to fellow world class fighters. This really could be a fantastic fight for fans in Kobe
On the same show as the Tada/Argueta bout fans will also get a chance to see the fantastic Hozumi Hasegawa (34-5, 15) continue his career, a career we thought was over last year. The former 2-weight world champion will be dipping his toes into the Super Featherweight division as he goes up against the world ranked Carlos Andres Ruiz Machuca (14-1, 5). On paper Machuca looks to be a young, fresh and promising fighter, coming into this on the back of his best win however there is some thinking that Hasegawa's team have hand picked the Mexican to help further Hasegawa's career.
Arguably the most famous Asian in action on December 11th is Filipino star Nonito Donaire (35-3, 23) who faces off against Puerto Rican Cesar Juarez (17-3, 13). The bout, which takes place in Puerto Rico is rumoured to be a potential WBO Super Bantamweight title clash, though that's unconfirmed at the moment. For Donaire this is a great chance to make a statement and move towards potentially big bouts with Carl Frampton, Scott Quigg and Julio Ceja whilst for Juarez it's a chance to notch up a third notable win in a row.
The first of two Super Featherweight title fights on December 14th sees OPBF champion Masayuki Ito (17-1-1, 8) battle against Shingo Eto (17-3-1, 9) in what seems like a brilliant fight on paper. Ito, who won the title last time out stopping Dai Iwai, will be looking to establish himself as another in the long like of brilliant Japanese Super Featherweights however Eto is a very capable fighter looking to claim his first title, after having previously come close to winning the Japanese title last year.
Talking about the Japanese Super Featherweight title we see that champion in action as well as Rikki Naito (13-0, 5) defends his title against the big punching Kenichi Ogawa (16-1, 14). Naito is tipped to go far though we've been less than impressed by his recent performances, which have seen him struggle past Eto, Ito and Nihito Arakawa. Ogawa on the other hand has impressed us and has racked up 8 straight stoppages, whilst also avenging his sole defeat. This is a boxer against a puncher and will almost certainly be a great contest with both men putting it all on the line.
Over the last 12 months we've seen the Bantamweight division change a lot with titles changes hands and new contenders breaking through. Arguably the most exciting of those contenders is the heavy handed Shohei Omori (15-0, 10) who looks to move towards a world title as he fights in a WBO world title eliminator against Filipino fighter Marlon Tapales (27-2, 10). The winner of this will get a shot at either Pungluang Sor Singyu or Jetro Pabustan in 2016 and is a key bout looking forward, and should be a final test for either man before being legitimately considered a threat at the top level.
On the same card as the good looking world title eliminator we will see a Japanese title fight as Omori's stablemate Kota Tokunaga (16-2, 11) defends his Japanese Lightweight title against the little known Kazuhiro Nishitani (15-3-1, 7). This will be the second defense from the heavy handed Tokunaga who will be favoured going into the bout though Nishitani will know there is no pressure on him to perform, in what is a huge, and somewhat undeserved, opportunity.
WBA “interim” Cruiserweight champion Beibut Shumenov (16-2, 10) looks to make the first defense of his title as he takes on former WBC champion Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (49-3-1, 35) in what is a really good match up. We know Shumenov, originally from Kazakhstan though now based in the US, is the favourite but Wlodarczyk will see this as a great chance to become a 3-time “world champion”. As a match up this is a good on and would legitimise Shumenov as a Cruiserweight,something his last win, against BJ Flores didn't really do.
History is made on December 19th as Sri Lankan fans in Colombo get the chance to see professional boxing for the first time since the country gained independence from the British in the late 1940's. The show will be headlined by a female world title fight as WBO Atomweight champion Nao Ikeyama (16-3-1, 4) looks to defend her title against Filipino Jujeath Nagaowa (13-15-1, 8). The bout is an historic one for the Sri Lankan people and great chance for the two fighters to help introduce the sport to a new audience.
WBC female Minimumweight champion Yuko Kuroki (14-4-1, 7) isn't one of the sports biggest names but she is a potential star if she keeps racking up the wins and retaining her title. On December 20th she'll look to do both of those as she battles against former IBF champion Nancy Franco (14-6-2, 4) in one of the best female bouts of the year. Kuroki, 24, has the looks of a movie star and if she can keep building her career momentum there is a chance that she will help become the star that some were hoping Tomomi Takano would be. Franco however is a tough test for anyone and could well derail the Kuroki climb.
All Japan Rookie of the Year Finals
On the same day we get the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year finals which will feature a number of bouts with fighters looking to take a huge step towards becoming a star. We won't pretend any of the men are sensational yet, but some of the bouts are great, such as a Light Flyweight bout between Hiroyasu Shiga (6-0, 3) and Masahiro Sakamoto (5-0, 3) as well as a Featherweight bout between Shuma Nakazato (5-0, 4) and Teppei Kayunuma (6-0, 4). This really will be a treat for fans in Tokyo.
The final Japanese title fight before Christmas comes on December 21st and is a genuinely brilliant match up between two men who are both looking to prove themselves, whilst also being at very different stages in their career's. In one corner will be relative newbie Yusaku Kuga (11-1-1, 7, a really promising Watanabe Gym fighter with solid power and a point to prove, in the other corner will be veteran Yasutaka Ishimoto (26-8, 7), a Teiken fighter who will be getting his third shot at a Japanese title and will be hoping that it is third time lucky given that he's now years old and may not get another opportunity like this.
For those who celebrate Christmas, we wish you a great one before the big action returns on December 26th with an OPBF title fight, and then things really go into over-drive as the year comes to a close in wonderful style!
We have to say that January 2015 was one of the least memorable starts to the year that we can remember, in a very long time. Thankfully however things get under-way properly in February and here are the bouts that we suspect will be the highlights.
WBC Minimumweight Title Fight [February 5th]
The month kicks off in style as Thai boxing get it's first world title fight of the year. That fight will see WBC Minimumweight champion Wanheng Menayothin (36-0, 12) defending against unbeaten Filipino fighter Jeffrey Galero (11-0, 5). This bout looks a bit like a mismatch, given the competition Galero has faced so far, though we did see Wanheng step up big time last year and Galero may well feel he can do the same in his first world title shot.
Pinoy Pride 29 [February 7th]
The first major Filipino show of the year closes out the first week of February and although there are no world title bouts on the card there are 3 highly ranked Filipinos, and a former world champion all in action.
The stand out fighter in action is Genesis Servania (25-0, 11) who is one of the most naturally talented Filipinos currently making his name on the boxing scene. Servania, who is very highly ranked in the Super Bantamweight division, is expecting to get a world title fight later this year though will have to get past Juan Luis Hernandez (17-3-1, 9) on this show first.
Another man who will need to record a win if he's to get a chance at a world title somewhere down the line is Jason Pagara (34-2, 21), the older brother of the monstrously talented Albert Pagara. Pagara will be taking on Cesar Chavez (24-7, 12) and a win here us likely to lead him to a big bout in the US, though a loss will set him back big time.
Talking about a man who cannot bare to take a loss right now it's fair to say that Arthur Villanueva (26-0, 14) cannot even think about losing. Ranked #3 by the WBO at Super Flyweight Villanueva has a lot to lose and little to gain as he takes on former WBO Flyweight champion Julio Cesar Miranda (38-11-2, 29). Miranda needs a win to keep his career alive and Villanueva needs a win to open up a chance at getting a world title fight later this year. It's fair to say that this is the most important bout of the day, by some margin.
On the same day, albeit in Japan, we see the return to the ring of former WBC and Lineal Flyweight champion Toshiyuki Igarashi (19-2-1, 11) who fights against Mexico's Efrain Perez (17-5, 12) in what looks to be a must win bout for the Japanese fighter. On paper this looks like an easy win however Perez is a gutsy fighter who will almost certainly bring the best out of Igarashi in what could be a very tough 10 rounds for the Japanese southpaw who had only 9 rounds of action in the last 17 months.
DANGAN 121 [February 9th]
We get the first Japanese title fight of the year on February 9th as unbeaten men collide in a really enticing looking contest of speed and skills for the Japanese Super Featherweight title. Going into the bout the champion is the much touted Rikki Naito (11-0, 5) however his challenger is the equally as touted Masayuki Ito (16-0-1, 7) and the winner will almost certainly emerge as yet another Japanese Super Featherweight to keep an eye on. With both men being in their early 20's a loss isn't a major set back though neither will be wanting anything but a win in a contest that just looks a little bit special
Legend Fight Vol 3 [February 18th]
We've been fans of Ryosuke “Eagle Eye” Iwasa (18-1, 11) for a long time and finally he's getting his shot at the big time as he battles in an IBF Eliminator against American fighter Sergio Perales (24-2, 16). It's hard to see anything but a win for Iwasa here who will move towards a world title fight with Randy Caballero if he comes out on top here. Iwasa has been patiently waiting for a shot a world title and we suspect he'll be fully prepared for what is certainly the most important bout of his career so far.
Earnest Efforts 3 [February 19th]
Just a day after we get a world title eliminator we get a world title double.
The key bout here is an all-Japanese bout for the IBF Light Flyweight title as Naoko Shibata (13-3, 4) battles against Saemi Hanagata (9-5-2, 4) in what looks like to be a really intriguing battle of wills. Shibata, entering as the champion, will be looking to record her 3rd defence of the title whilst Hanagata will be hoping to claim her first world crown.
On the same show the legendary WBC Atomweight champion Momo Koseki (19-2-1, 6) will be hoping to keep her record setting run going as she hunts title defence #15. Rough, tough and a real handful it's hard to see anyone at 102lbs beating Koseki and we can't see Aisah Alico (5-4, 5) even coming close to beating her here.
Thunderbolt [February 21st]
The always exciting Gennady Golovkin (31-0, 28) returns to the ring for his first bout of 2015 and looks to defend his WBA “super”, IBO and WBC interim Middleweight titles against the touted Martin Murray (29-1-1, 12) of the UK. Murray is seen as being one of Golovkin's toughest tests so far and is expected to give him a tough bout however Golovkin does carry a sensational run of 18 straight stoppages and it's hard to see Murray ending that run which dates back more than 6 years!
Wake Vs Paypa-OPBF Title Fight [February 27th]
In Asia the last fight of note comes from Japan where the world ranked Shingo Wake (17-4-2, 10) attempts to defend his OPBF Super Bantamweight title for the 5th time. Wake will be battling against Filipino challenger Jimmy Paypa (16-2-1, 6) in a bout that was originally penciled in, though never formally announced, for December 30th 2014. It's thought that a win here for Wake will put him into a world title fight in Summer.
Loreto Vs Joyi II-The Rematch [February 28th]
In 2014 we saw a major shock as the then unheralded Rey Loreto (19-13, 11) knocked out the highly regarded South African Nkosinathi Joyi (24-3-0-1, 17). Not only did Loreto shock the boxing world with the win but he also claimed the IBO Light Flyweight title and left fans around the world talking about him. Sadly the momentum of that win faded however the memory hasn't and the two will get it on again to close out February 2015. We suspect Joyi will be more aware of the man he is up against whilst Loreto will know a win here could take him on to a “real” world title fight later in the year.
(Image courtesy of www.sportsviewlondon.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).