Over the last few days we've worked our way through the top 10 rankings for the Asian scene at Minimumweight through to Super Flyweight and today we add the Bantamweight rankings, and this is one of the divisions with incredible depth. We feel the #1 is a consensus pick, #2 and #3 are interchangeable and then the other 7 are a mix of really talented fighters in one of the most packed top 10's that we'll be covering. There could be some debate about the placements, but in reality there's not a lot separating some of these guys. However, that's not a bad thing, and it helps show the competitive nature of the division right now.
1-Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16)
The current WBA "Super" and IBF unified champion champion is arguably the face of Asian boxing right now, Naoya Inoue. The heavy handed 27 year old from Kanagawa is already a 3 weight world champion and within just 19 fights is one of the sports genuine stars. After winning world titles at Light Flyweight and Super Flyweight Inoue moved to Bantamweight and decimated Jamie McDonnell, Juan Carlos Payano and Emmanuel Rodriguez, before working hard to defeat Nonito Donaire in the WBSS Finale last November. The bout against Donaire saw Inoue needing to prove his toughness, chin and will to win and proving them in the way he did really boosted his standing in our eyes, and he answered some real questions. Having now shown he can fight through adversity we know Inoue is much, much more than just an offensive "Monster".
2-Nonito Donaire (40-6, 26)
Having given Inoue such a tough bout in the WBSS final it's fair to suggest that Nonito Donaire is #2, or at worst #3, in division in regards to Asian fighters. The 37 year old Filipino veteran is a physical monster at the weight, with huge size advantages over almost everyone else at 118lbs. He's not just big but he's also strong, very powerful, incredibly tough and a nightmare to fight. He's not as quick as he once was, though as he's lost speed he has adapted and certainly throws fewer wild shots than he once did. There is a case of father time being on his back, but the "Filipino Flash", is experienced, skilled, strong, and has become a more intelligent fighter as the years have gone on. We don't imagine he'll have a Bernard Hopkins-esque career, but he did show there is more than just a bit of life left in his career.
3-John Riel Casimero (29-4, 20)
We mentioned that Donaire was either #2 or #3, the man he is potentially interchangeable with is WBO champion John Riel Casimero. Casimero is a 3-weight world champion, and is someone who has long been over-looked by fans of the sport. He's won titles at at 108lbs, 112lbs and now Bantameight. Blessed with confidence, speed and power Casimero is nightmare to face when he's on song. He is however rather unpredictable and he can look both amazing and terrible in the same fight. He won the WBO title last year, stopping Zolani Tete, and seems to be enjoying a good run of form, though that could change at any moment. Originally the plan had been for Casimero to face off with Inoue in April though that bout was cancelled by on going global situation. Now it appears the two men could end up going in different directions with Casimero now looking likely to face Joshua Greer Jr, in a mandatory title defense instead.
4-Keita Kurihara (15-5, 13)
After the top 3 we end up with 4 or 5 guys who are very tricky to split, and matching any of them would give some compelling bouts. Among those "chasing group" is OPBF champion Keita Kurihara, a hard hitting 27 year from Japan. On paper Kurihara shouldn't be here, with 5 losses from his 20 bouts, however those losses don't tell the full story of where Kurihara is now. In fact 4 of his losses came in his first 7 bouts and he has only been beaten once in his last 13, with that coming to Hiroaki Teshigawara. In that time he has beaten Ryan Lumacad, Yuki Strong Kobayashi, Warlito Parrenas and Sukkasem Kietyongyuth. He's not the most talented of the ones in this area of the rankings, through he is very much among the most dangerous.
5-Reymart Gaballo (23-0, 20)
The most overlooked man in the division, by some margin, is 23 year old Filipino Reymart Gaballo. Gaballo is a joy to watch, but also a freakishly good fighter with some absolutely terrifying traits. He's lightning quick, tall and rangy, with frightening power, very confident and despite look a bit raw around the edges appears to take a good shot, and throw and even better one. His best win to date is probably over Stephon Young, more than 2 years ago, and since then has been supposedly decent opponents. We're really looking forward to seeing the leash being off Gaballo and allowing him to back up our high ranking of him as he looks like the sort of fighter who really could stamp his authority on the division.
6-Takuma Inoue (13-1, 3)
Naoya Inoue's little brother, Takuma Inoue, is pretty much the opposite of Keita Kurihara. Whilst Kurihara is all about power Inoue at the cost of skills Takuma Inoue is very much about skills and movement, at the expense of his power. He's a smart boxer-mover, with under-defense, very good movement and sharp punches, but a lack of punching power a strange lack of physical strength, despite visibly looking strong. His 2019 loss to Nordine Oubaali saw him being bullied for much of the fight, though his will to win shined through late on and he pushed Oubaali hard late on, answer questions about his heart and his stamina. We do wonder whether he could drop back down to Super Flyweight, where he fought earlier in his career. If he could he would a great addition there, but instead might find his success being a bit limited at Bantamweight. Saying that however he's only 24 and is still a boxing baby, despite being a pro since 2013. He might not be the generational talent that his older brother is, but don't write him off at after just a single loss.
7-Nawaphon Por Chokchai (48-1-1, 38)
Former Flyweight world title challenger Nawaphon Por Chokchai, also known by various other names, has reeled off 12 wins since being stopped by Juan Hernandez back in 2017. Whilst his competition hasn't been the best he has scored notable victories over Amnat Ruenrroeng, Richard Claveras, Sonny Boy Jaro and Ryan Lumacad since his sole defeat, putting him back among the contenders looking for a shot. His record is padded, but watching him, you know he can step it up and would be a nightmare for many of the divisional elite. Some how he's only 28 at the moment, and right bang in his prime, despite already having 50 bouts to his name. Another fighter we can't right off for just having a loss against his name.
8-Michael Dasmarinas (30-2-1, 20)
There's an argument that 27 year Filipino Michael Dasmarinas should be much higher up this list, and we do appreciate those arguments. Wins over Karim Guerfi and Kenny Demecillo are very good wins. Sadly however we can't the gift he got against Manyo Plange out of our head, and his win over Demecillo was certainly not the clear cut win that many would have expected for a supposed top divisional talent. He's skilled and talented, but we do wonder if he has maybe hit an early peak and is now, perhaps, heading the wrong way. He's been a sparring partner for both of the Inoue brothers, and is technically a mandatory for the IBF title, but we do wonder whether he'd last long with the Monster if, or when, they fight.
9-Yusuke Suzuki (11-3, 7)
Japanese national champion Yusuke Suzuki is another fighter with a record looks out of place in this top 10, but he certainly belongs here. He would also be an absolute nightmare for many in the rankings. The 31 year old southpaw is a solid puncher, teak tough, with an insane work rate and excellent will to win. He can be out boxed, and he cant be out manoeuvred, but but he's a dark horse in the division and certainly deserves a mention. Last time out he over-came some awful facial swelling to out point Yuta Saito. To date he has only lost once at the weight, and that was a split decision in the Philippines to the touted Jeffrey Francisco. Since then he has reeled off 5 wins and come back from a nasty injury. He's not in the mix for the higher positions but is pretty much interchangeable with the man ranked #9.
10-Yuki Strong Kobayashi (16-8, 9)
Another fight who's record doesn't scream "top 10" is Yuki Strong Kobayashi, who is in the list due to his recent results. In the last 60 months he had gone 6-1 (3) with his only loss being a close one to Keita Kurihara. In that same time he has beaten Satoshi Ozawa, Vicent Astrolabio and Ben Mananquil. The win over Mananquil saw him net the WBO Asia Pacific title and score a recent big surprise last year over the talented Filipino. Kobayashi has improved from the fighter he once was, and when he was 10-7 (5) his career very much seemed like it was going nowhere but the 28 year old is now an experienced regional champion and with Muto gym well and truly behind him his future is bright. He's not near the top of this list, but certainly belongs on it. A rematch between him and Kurihara would be good, as would a bout with Suzuki.
On the Bubble:
Ben Mananquil, Kenny Demecillo, Renz Rosia, Yelshat Nikhemttolla, Petch Sor Chitpatttana, and Carl Jammes Martin
Right now the Thai boxing scene is a bit of a strange one. It has 3 standout fighters at the top of the proverbial tree, with a trio of world champions that are head and shoulders above everyone else in the country. You then have a a rag tag bunch of challengers, who are a mix of emerging talent and veterans still in and around the world title scene. The prospects are an even more varied bunch, from former amateur stands to a 15 year old prodigy.
Sadly though there is a feeling that the Thai scene has faded just a touch over the last few years to give us a rather weak looking domestic picture, though one that could easily see a break out star emerge.
The World Class Trio
The most notable names in Thai boxing right now are clearly Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (47-4-1, 41), Knockout CP Freshmart (19-0, 7) and Wanheng Menayothin (52-0, 18). They are the 3 world champions from the country and the 3 names that really are head and shoulders above anything else the country has to offer.
WBC Super Flyweight champion Srisaket is clearly the most recognisable name the country has to offer in boxing, and with good reason. He is widely regarded as a top 10 pound for pound fighter and holds notable wins against Roman Gonzalez, twice, Juan Francisco Estrada, Yota Sato and Jose Salgado. To many he came out of nowhere to beat Roman Gonzalez in March 2017, and again 6 months later, but he had previously held the WBC Super Flyweight title and the win over Gonzalez saw him reclaim the title he had lost via technical decision to Carlos Cuadras. He's big, strong and extremely powerful, with under boxing skills.
Wanheng set the boxing world talking last year when he matched Floyd Mayweather's 50-0, getting coverage on things like Sky Sports, and since then he has notched 2 more wins. He is the WBC Minimumweight champion, having held that title since November 2014, and has racked up 10 defense. His current reign is the longest of any active world champion, coming in at 2 months longer than Deontay Wilder's. Although not an amazingly destructive fighter Wanheng is a defensively smart fighter who can change the tempo of a fight, neutralise pressure well and has under-rated speed and combinations. He doesn't look like he's unbeatable, but very few have really pushed him close. The one big issue however is that he's had just a touch of luck from officials at times, deducting points, or giving him the benefit of the doubt in close rounds.
The other champion is Knockout CP Freshmart, the WBA Minimumweight champion. He won the WBA interim title in 2014, before taking the main title in 2016. Since winning the WBA's top title he has made 6 defenses. Looking through his record things look impressive, with wins against Carlos Buitrago, Byron Rojas, Shin Ono, Rey Loreto, Toto Landero and Xing Zhao Zhong. Sadly however, his performances have been less than great and there has been a real lack of action at times in his bouts. He's very talented, but can be very dull. It also seems unlikely that we'll see him and Wanheng unify, despite how intriguing that bout is on an international basis.
As mentioned, the contenders in Thai, and are a varied bunch of fighters. Some are well on their way to their first world title fight whilst others are looking to get a second, or even third, shot at a belt.
We'll start with Flyweight Dennapa Kiatniwat (20-1, 15), who has been ordered to negotiate a bout with WBA Flyweight champion Artem Dalakian, which is expected to take place in the Spring. Dennapa, also known as Sarawut Thawornkham, is a 27 year old puncher who lost on debut in 2014 but has rebuilt on the regional level. Despite being the #1 WBA Flyweight contender is competition has, mostly, been pathetic, which has helped him stop his last 11 foes.
Whilst Dennapa has a shot being negotiated Downua Ruawaiking (14-0, 11) will be getting a world title eliminator, which is set to take place in February. The Light Welterweight is a talented boxer-puncher, who has shown a lot more than many Thai contenders do. He will however need to show a lot more to over-come Akihiro Kondo when the two men meet next month. Downua is a heavy handed fighter with good timing, a good jab, and the basis to build a very promising career, though may be getting his shot just a little too early.
Possibly the best of the Thai contenders is Palangpol CP Freshmart (16-2, 9), who is lacking an outstanding record, but has shown what he can do on the world stage, and what he can do isn't too shabby. The hard hitting Palangpol is best known for his 2017 bout with Kosei Tanaka, when he dropped Tanaka and fractured both of the Japanese fighter's orbital bones, before being stopped in the 9th round. Although the rest of his record is poor his performance against Tanaka showed he belonged in the world title mix. Unfortunately however he is 33 and in the deepest division in the sport, so may well miss out on another shot, if his team can't open up the purse strings.
Another standout contender is Panya Pradabsri (26-1, 15), aka Petchmanee Kokietgym, who is in the mix between Minimumweight and Flyweight. His sole loss was a controversial one against Xiong Zhao Zhong, in a WBA world title eliminator, and since then he has been handing out beatings, including an impressive KO win against Dexter Alimento in a Flyweight bout. It's not 100% clear where he sees his future, as he fought at Minimumweight as recently as last September, but he's ultra active, highly talented and a real threat to the top guys, at least at 105lbs.
Having started his career with an incredible looking 36-0-1 big things were expected from Nawaphon Por Chokchai (44-1-1, 34). Sadly a loss to Juan Hernandez Navarrete in 2007 was a huge set back and since then he has very much failed to really become a threat at world level again. Currently on a 8 fight winning run Nawaphon has only really scored 1 big win since his loss to Hernandez, stopping veteran Amnat Ruenroeng last year. If he's serious about getting a second world title fight it does feel like he needs to have investment in his development and hope his team are willing to open the purse strings to get him better opponents. He's talented, physically imposing and from a good team, but the jury is still out on whether he can make it to the top.
Few Thai's in the sport today have had chances that Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking (25-5, 16) have had. Eaktwan, also known as Komgrich Nantapech, lost in a 2017 world title fight to Donnie Nietes, then lost to Juan Carlos Reveco later that same year, in an eliminator. He was supposed to have another eliminator in 2018 but suffered an injury forcing him out of a bout with Masayuki Kuroda. Whilst he has had chances shouldn't write off the 29 year old, who is a big, strong, powerful and talented fighter. He asked real questions of Nietes and has got good wins on the regional scene, but it very much feels like he's one of those unfortunate fighters who is stuck between regional class and world class.
In December we saw Petch Sor Chitpattana (48-1, 33) suffer his first loss, coming up second best against Takuma Inoue in a WBC "interim" Bantamweight title fight. Despite losing that bout, widely, he showed he belonged on the fringes of world class, with his determination, toughness and stamina. Prior to facing Inoue he had gone 48-0 but his record lacked any sort of quality, and it showed as he lacked the skills needed to really push Inoue, but had the tools that could be built on. If Petch can get good training, work on his flawed technical skills then there is huge potential for him to become a fixture on the world stage. He's only 25 now and really shouldn't be written after the Inoue bout, even if it was a pretty wide loss for the Thai.
Another fight who showed their toughness in a world title bout, and has remained a fringe contender, is WBA #2 ranked Flyweight Noknoi Sitthiprasert (69-5, 42), aka Nare Yianleang. He began his career 1-4 but has since gone 68-1 and scored wins over the likes of Rey Loreto, Kenichi Horikara, Renoel Pael and Donny Mabao. His sole in his last 69 fights was a decision loss to Kazuto Ioka in a WBA Flyweight title bout, and he has reeled off 7 low key wins since then, whilst doing enough to remain in the title mix with the WBA. He's proven himself as a very tough fighter, but does lack in terms of big wins, and at 32 years old he is battling against time for another big fight.
The pick of the Thai prospects making waves at the moment is 29 year old, former amateur standout Apichet Petchmanee (2-0, 2), who should be regarded as one of the best prospects in boxing, even if he is older than a typical prospect. Apichet made his professional debut last year, beating Attanon Kunlawong in 2 rounds, then defeated Sadudee Tor Bumas just 2 months later, claiming the OPBF Silver Light Welterweight with that second win. Given his advanced age it's clear Apichet hasn't got time to waste, and he's showing he's aware of that having fought 13-0 and 8-0 opponents in his first 2 bouts, and looking brilliant against both. He's skilled, strong, has a good varied attack and will almost certainly be in the world rankings by the end of 2019. Sadly though he may have left the start of his professional career a little bit too late
Another 29 year old hopeful is Atchariya Tor Chantaroj (12-0, 5), also known as Atchariya Wirojanasunobol. He has been a professional since 2014 and looked promising early on, with wins against Heri Andriyanto and Stevie Ongen Ferdinandus in his first 4 bouts. Since that impressive start he has built with wins against the likes of Kaewfah Tor Buamas and Taisho Ozawa. There is plenty of promise with Atchariya but it seems more likely he will actually end up being fed to Apichet rather than advancing to major fights of his own.
At the age of 15 Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (3-0, 2) looks to be a prodigy and was mixing boxing with Muay Thai in 2018, notably winning a silver medal at the Muay Thai 2018 Youth World Championships. Sadly his boxing bouts haven't yet surfaced on to the net, but it is well know that Thailand are looking more and more at kids to become their stars, with the likes of Stamp Kiatniwat being groomed from a young age. Sadly these experiments with teenagers rare develop the stars in boxing that the Thai boxing promoters will be looking for, but it's hard to ignore anyone who debuted at the age of 14 and has reeled off 3 before their 15th birthday.
Another teenager worthy of note is 18 year old Thanongsak Simsri (5-0, 5), who debuted in June, just 3 days after his 18th birthday, and fought regularly in the second half of 2018 to move to 5-0 (5). His competition so far has mostly been debutants, as we do often see with Thai fighters,. As with Phoobadin it's hard to know what Thanongsak really has in his locker, but the Thai promoters are clearly looking to develop young talent, and with a handful of fights already under his belt Thanongsak is someone to make a note of.
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).