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
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).