Many division's out there are really interesting, and have a lot of brilliant match ups that could be made at any moment. One of the most interesting is the Featherweight division, which isn't the "deepest" but is among the most "interesting", not just in Asia but globally. Despite not being as deep as the Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight division's it's still a very, very good weight class.
Again we're only considering Asian fighters for these rankings.
1-Can Xu (18-2, 3)
The stand out Asian fighter in the division is Chinese "Monster" Can Xu. Unlike another monster, who is known for his power and being a physical freak, Xu is a monster in terms of stamina, chin and output. The 26 year old is the current WBA "regular" Featherweight champion and really came along wonderfully in 2019, when he beat Jesus M Rojas, Shun Kubo and Manny Robles III. Although not a technically perfect boxer, or a big puncher Xu is a nightmare to fight with a swarming busy style and an ability to take a punch whilst letting his shots go. A total nightmare to take on.
2-Tugstsogt Nyambayar (11-1, 9)
Earlier this year we saw Tugstsogt Nyambayar come up short in a competitive, but clear, loss against Gary Russell Jr. That may have ended Nyambayar's unbeaten record but with wins over Harmonito Dela Torre, Oscar Escandon and Claudio Marrero it's hard to question his #2 ranking. Yes he's not scored a world level win yet, but in reality he's done more than anyone on this list, other than Xu. The heavy handed boxer-puncher was a former amateur standout and is a quality professional, but needs to be much more active and he has fought only 4 times in the last 36 months, completely wasting some of his prime years. Incidentally enough that's the same accusation that has been sent Gary Russell Jr's way over the years as well.
3-Ryo Sagawa (9-1, 4)
The Japanese domestic scene at Featherweight is legitimately crazy with 6 very good and interesting fighters in and around the top top. The best of those is, probably, Ryo Sagawa, who holds wins over 2 of the other top Japanese guys at the weight. Sagawa is the current Japanese national champion, an excellent boxer, who controls distance well and looks like a true natural in the ring with a really eye pleasing and smooth style. When he needs to brawl and fight he can, though at his best he is an excellent boxer. Despite being a genuine talent Sagawa also has some questions still hanging over him, and his chin is certainly still suspect, meaning that whilst he's talented, there is always a risk he'll be stopped, making his fights the type that will have you on the edge of your seat.
4-Reiya Abe (19-3-1, 9)
The man Sagawa beat for the Japanese title was Reiya Abe, another of the excellent Japanese fighters at Featherweight. Abe is a brilliant technical boxer, an intelligent southpaw with a very good jab and he controls distance fantastically well. He was unfortunate in 2019 to fight to a draw with Taiki Minamoto and then lose a very close one against Ryo Sagawa. Abe is clearly below Sagawa in the rankings, but there was much that separated the men when they fought and in reality there's still not much between them. In fact whilst Sagawa does have the head to head win, Abe has solid wins himself over the likes of Daisuke Watanabe and Satoshi Hosono, among others. With a tough 2019 behind him we're really looking forward to seeing what the future brings for the skilled Abe.
5-Mark Magsayo (20-0, 14)
As well as a bunch of fantastic Japanese fighters at Featherweight we also have a number of talented Filipino's. The best among the Pinoy's is Mark Magsayo, who has been banging on the door of a world title fight for a while now, but not managed to get the shot at the big time yet. Despite not getting a fight at world title level yet Magsayo already has wins over Chris Avalos, Shota Hayashi and Pungluang Sor Singyu. He made a smart move a few years ago, in leaving ALA Promotions but hasn't yet managed to secure a big fight with his new promoter. Magsayo is an excellent boxer puncher, and like many fighters we feel he will look better when he steps up faces tough competition.
6-Hinata Maruta (10-1-1, 8)
Back to Japan for our #6 entry in the form of 23 year old Hinata Maruta. The talented Maruta has promised a lot since making his professional debut way back in 2015 and whilst he's yet to accomplish what was expected of him there is no doubting his ability. The one thing we need to see from Maruta is his chin being tested and his ability to move through the gears. It's often felt like he's only had 3 gears and that really did cost him against Hidenori Otake, in his sole loss. Thankfully since his defeat to Otake he has shown a lot to be excited about and wins over Tsuyoshi Tameda and Takenori Ohashi have been excellent. If Maruta can continue to improve as he has done recently he'll be finding himself with some big wins soon. Interestingly he is mandated to fight Abe in a Japanese title bout, though it now seems likely that that bout could slip to 2021 due to the ongoing situation. That may actually be a good thing for Maruta, give him extra time to grow into his man strength.
7-Jhack Tepora (23-1, 17)
It's really hard to know what is going on with Jhack Tepora. At times he looks fantastic hi KO of Lusanda Komanisi in 2017 was brutal, and his win in Malaysia against Edivaldo Ortega should have helped launch him to some huge fights. They didn't and instead he fought a meaningless bout to Jose Luis Gallegos last June before being upset by Oscar Escandon in December 2019. That loss was among the bigger upsets of 2019, and completely killed what moment he had. Rumour from the Philippines circulated suggesting he had fallen out with his team, and that they had gotten fed up with some of his out of the ring habits. Whether their is truth to those rumours or not is unclear, but what is clear is a lack of activity has been a major issue for Tepora, who has fought just 3 times since the start of 20918. He needs to sort his career out before it's too late.
8-Musashi Mori (11-0, 6)
Talented youngster Musashi Mori is the current WBO Asia Pacific champion and is very much "one of the future". At the time of writing he's just 20 years old but has already accomplished a hell of a lot, winning the 2017 Rookie of the Year and winning his regional title, taking it from Richard Pumicpic, which he has defended twice. Although still a work in progress two wins over Pumicpic and one over Takuya Mizuno pretty much show that he's already incredibly talented. For recent bout he has been training under the guidance of Ismael Salas so we're expecting to see significant improvements form the youngster in his next few fights. He's a talented southpaw, though does lack his man strength and power, and it will be interesting to see if he can develop that side of his game as he matures.
9-Richard Pumicpic (21-11-2, 6)
With two close losses to Musashi Mori and a close loss to Ryosuke Iwasa it's easy to understand why Richard Pumicpic had double digit defeats. He has been matched hard, had to travel for bouts, and still run good fighters very close. He has now lost 3 in a row, but in reality he's deserved better from the judges. He's not the most powerful, or the quickest, or the biggest, but he's a nightmare. He's tough, rough, knows his way around the ring and really makes life difficult for anyone in the division. On his day he could beat men ranked well above him on this list, but has certainly lacked any form of luck and good fortune during his career. Fingers crossed we see the now 29 year old getting another opportunity to show what he can do in the near future. He's one of those fighters where you need to ignore his record, and just watch what he can do.
10-Ryo Matsumoto (23-3, 21)
Arguably the most over-looked man in the division is former world title challenger Ryo Matsumoto, who moved up to Featherweight in 2018 following his loss to Daniel Roman. Matsumoto has all the things needed to be a star. He's good looking, powerful, quick, skilled, has great size for the division and is someone with an amazing story, fighting through a nasty illness. He also has a sense of vulnerability, with 2 stoppage losses against him. He has the things needed to be a feel good story in boxing, but needs to be given time to adapt to the division, which he has naturally grown into. A rematch with Ryo Sagawa would be interesting and is potentially something he and his team are viewing for the future.
On the bubble:
Satoshi Shimizu, Jhon Gemino, Genesis Servania, Shohei Omori and Shun Kubo
It's widely accepted that Japan is the 10th most populated country on the planet. It's got around 128,000,000 people living on it and this places it between Russia with around 144,000,000 and Mexico 118,000,000.
In terms of comparing it with some other boxing countries, the US is the 3rd most populated country with around 317,000,000, the Philippines is the 11th most populated with 99,000,000, Germany is the 16th most populated with around 81,000,000, the UK is the 22nd most populated with around 64,000,000 and Argentina is 32nd with 40,000,000.
This means that Japan has less than half as many people as the US, marginally more than Mexico, 50% more than Germany, twice as many as the UK and thrice as many as Argentina. Despite the population being what it is, there seems to be so many more top youngsters coming from Japan than anywhere else.
The big question then, is how come so many Japanese youngsters look so talented, so young?
At the moment Japan has a wealth of young talent under the age of 25. This includes world champions such as Tomoki Kameda, 22 and Kazuto Ioka, 24, OPBF champions Ryosuke Iwasa, 24 and Masayoshi Nakatani, also 24, up coming world title challenger Naoya Inoue, 20 and more outstanding prospects than I can possibly list such as Kosei Tanaka, 18, Takuma Inoue, 18, Sho Ishida, 22 and Ryo Matsumoto, 20.
Maybe, as we've said in the past, Japanese boxing is on the verge of a Golden Age of young talent, a once in a life time boom of youngsters who are all breaking through at the same time. Something tells me this isn't really the case though as 6 is years is a notably long time between the oldest of these guys and the youngest. Personally I think the the real answer lies in the amateur boxing system of Japan and the match making of Japanese fighters .
It may be a surprising to mentioned the amateur scene considering that Japanese amateur boxers haven't been a key fixture at world meets. We rarely see Japanese fighters taking home medals from either the World Amateur Championships or the Olympics, however what we do tend to see is that the top Japanese amateurs don't tend to remain amateur for much longer than they need to. There are, of course, counter examples such as Satoshi Shimizu who has announced plans to compete at the 2016 Olympics, though these are rare.
What we have instead are youngsters who have come through the Japanese amateur ranks by fighting regularly in high school and then turning professional at a young age before bad habits and amateur traits are engrained in their style.
As well as turning professional at a young age these youngsters also seem to have adapted more professional styles than fighters from around the world. In many countries top amateurs take a number of bouts to learn to adapt. They are basically retrained in how to walk again against a much lower calibre of opponent than they were beating in the amateurs. In Japan however their styles are often fairly professional and they aren't taking huge steps back in their early professional outings.
What is the point in going from fighting the elite, either domestically or on the world stage, as an amateur to then fighting domestic level journeymen as a professional? Are we really suggesting that top amateurs, such as Luke Campbell in the UK or Rau'shee Warren in the US need to learn by taking 10 steps backwards?
If we look, for example, at Ryo Matsumoto. He did start like a typical "western" prospect fighting a string of weak opponents though by fight #5 he was facing a decent opponent in the form of John Bajawa and in fight #10 Matsumoto will be fighting a multi-time title challenger. As for Luke Campbell's 5th fight he's fighting Scott Moises, a guy who holds an 8-8-1 record. Still Campbell did do better than Warren who faced Jiovany Fuentes, a blown up Flyweight who had been inactive for 2 years.
Warren, who now sports a record of 10-0, fought his 10th professional contest earlier this year and faced the very experienced German Meraz who at the time sported a decent looking 46-28-1 record. Unfortunately Meraz hadn't beaten a fighter with a winning record since late 2009 and had only beaten a handful in total. Meraz was the proverbial can crusher with a boosted record that allowed other fighters to look impressive though in reality served as little more than a record padder himself.
So as well as having more professional styles the Japanese youngsters are also matched better. They are matched progressively on the whole and take steps up. There is no point in wasting time in this sport as one good shot could finish your career and if you're good enough you're good enough.
Possibly the biggest reason for the boom in Japanese youngsters however is that promoters are willing to take a risk or two. They aren't hiding their talented youngsters in the shallow end of a swimming pool with water wings but are willing to let them swim with sharks. If they get bitten early then it's a rebuilding process and they can cycle things down a gear, as seen in the career of Keita Obara who lost on debut though is now fighting for an OPBF title just a few years later.
If a youngster doesn't get bitten however then let them swim with more sharks. Kazuto Ioka is probably the best example right now. In fight #6 he faced an experienced domestic level campaigner, then in fight #7 he faced a highly experienced and unbeaten world champion then in fight #10 he faced a fellow world champion in a world title unification. These were risky fights but Ioka believed in himself, his team believed in him and he showed his worth.
In so many places keeping a fighters unbeaten record is actually more important than developing their skills and legacy. You develop by fighting better fighters, you develop by fighting in competitive matches and you develop by needing to prove yourself. Taking a loss along the way is just part of a fighters development.
In the US fans are already starting to turn on Gary Russell Jr who has had 24 fights but no risks, Deontay Wilder is similar though has 33 wins with no risk and Sean Monaghan is 20-0 though has again had no risks. Between them these three fighters have had 77 fights yet we have no idea how good they are. Between Ioka, Tomoki, and Naoya Inoue there is a combined 48 fights and already there 2 world champions and a future title contender.
US promoters might want to protect their investment and that makes sense, but do you really think Japanese promoters aren't doing the same? The difference is Japanese promoters don't tell you they have a wonder talent then protect him, instead they tell you they have a super talent and they prove it. They don't use smoke and mirrors to sell us a prospect they let the prospect talk with their actions.
So why does Japan have so many good, talented youngsters?
Well their amateur system seems to promote a more professional style to boxing at a young age, they don't waste time staying in the unpaid ranks for too long, they are developed quickly as professionals and they are allowed to prove their talent rather than merely defeat over-matched foes for years. This is a combination of "ignoring" the amateur scoring system that has plagued amateur boxing for so long, great training, great desire of the individual fighters to prove themselves and brave promoting.
This isn't a golden age of Japanese boxing, but the start of a revolution which I feel will continue for a long time.
(Pictures-Top is courtesy of Boxrec.com and is Tomoki Kameda, middle is from Ohashi Gym and features Naoya Ioue and bottom is from Kosei Tanaka courtesy of Boxingnews.jp)
Earlier this year Fuji TV ran a show featuring Naoya Inoue and dubbed it "Exciting Time". The show, which featured not only Inoue but also the public exhibition of Ryota Murata, really did suggest that we were at the beginning of a very exciting time in Japanese boxing.
When you recall that actual card, on April 16th this year, you'll also remember that it saw the 7th straight stoppage victory for the highly touted Ryo Matsumoto further adding to the idea of "Exciting Time".
Since then however things have just become a little more exciting, in fact we'd go as far as to suggest Japanese boxing is on the verge of a Golden Age thanks to all the young talent coming through. There are so many good youngsters that we felt the need to talk about them, though unfortunately we're bound to over-look some just due to how many there are right now.
The most obvious of the promising Japanese youngsters is clearly Naoya Inoue (4-0, 3). The youngster has already claimed the Japanese national title and will be looking to add the OPBF title next time out as he takes on Jerson Mancio of the Philippines.
Whilst there is still a lot development to be done with Inoue, who's been fast tracked so far, there is so much to like about the kid that it's easy to see why so many are excited about him. He has wonderful shot selection, great movement, very hurtful power and one of the best boxing brains of any youngster in the sport. In fact it's fair to say that he's just a flat out natural in the ring and there is no doubt that he'll be a world champion sooner rather than later.
Whilst we all know about the talent of Naoya Inoue it's also worth noting that his 17 year old brother has just turned professional himself.
Takuma Inoue (0-0) has followed in his brother's footsteps by signing up with the Ohashi stable of fighters and although he's yet to fight as a professional there is a lot of expectation surrounding him. In fact the rumour is that Takuma will be trying to claim a Japanese national title in just 3 fights, beating his older brother by a fight.
Takuma Inoue is expected to make his professional debut on December 6th on the same show as Naoya attempts to claim the OPBF title and we'd be very shocked if he was given an easy opponent looking at how Naoya has done so far.
Whilst the Inoue brothers are youngsters with as much time as they want to build a career it's fair to say that Ryota Murata (1-0, 1) has a bit less time to reach his potential.
Aged 27 Murata has huge expectation on his shoulders though has the talent to go as far in the sport as he wishes. In fact in the case if Murata it's not just talent but the personality, the looks and the natural charisma to be a genuine star in either the west or the east.
Murata is a former amateur standout who claimed both an Olympic Gold and World Amateur Champion silver and that appears to have served him well. He made his professional debut back in August and dominated OPBF champion Akio Shibata and looked like he was made.
Incidentally Murata will also return on December 6th on the same show as the two Inoue brothers.
It's easy to fall in love with a puncher and we hope that's not what we're doing here but Masayoshi Nakatani (6-0, 5) looks like a monster.
Stood at 5'11" the Ioka trained Nakatani is a Lightweight with serious power, lovely body punches and a great jab, when he uses it. Although still fairly raw he looks like someone who has the potential to be very special.
Nakatani came to our attention earlier this year when he stopped fellow puncher Shuhei Tsuchiya in 3 rounds and we'll admit we're very excited about his future, which will hopefully see him fighting for either a Japanese of OPBF title in the next 12 months.
It's not just the debut of Takuma Inoue that is getting Japanese boxing fans excited but also the debut of Kosei Tanaka (0-0) who debuts on November 10th against the world ranked Oscar Raknafa of Indonesia.
Tanaka is just 18 but is seen as one of the future stars of Japanese boxing thanks to his excellent amateur career which saw him picking up 4 High School titles before turning to the professional ranks.
Tanaka is viewed as a "super prospect" like Naoya Inoue and Kazuto Ioka before him and on the showing of his test bout against Yuji Shimizu there really is no limit to what this youngster could produce in the ring.
As well as the five names mentioned above we'd also advise keeping an eye on the following fighters:
Sho Ishida (14-0, 7) is a Super Flyweight who at just 21 is starting to make a name for himself. Although more experienced than the names above he is still young and has already started to move up in terms of the quality of his opponents. We'd like to see him take another step up but he certainly doesn't need rushing at his age.
Shohei Omori (9-0, 5) is a southpaw currently campaigning in the Bantamweight division. Aged 20 he's slowly making a name for himself and really made an impact last time out stopping Kiron Omura in 92 seconds in by far his most notable victory to date. Stood at 5'8" he certainly could fill out in to a solid looking Featherweight at full maturity and is looking likely to move up the domestic Bantamweight rankings in the near future.
Hiroki Okada (6-0, 6) is another puncher much like Nakatani though one not likely to go as far as the Lightweight hopeful. Stood at 5'9 Okada is a sightly shorter than average Light Welterweight though he really impressed us by stopping Heri Andriyanto in 2 rounds earlier this year. Although it was the fifth stoppage of Andriyanto it's worth noting he had taken both Shuhei Tsuchiya and Yoshihiro Kamegai the distance in his two previous bouts in Japan.
Ryo Matsumoto (8-0, 7) is another Bantamweight prospect who is worth keeping a close eye on. The Ohashi fighter is 19 years old though already showing his man strength with a quick victory over the likes of John Bajawa. As well as his power he has also shown the ability to pace himself as he did out pointing Takuya Miyamori over 8 rounds last time out. Being in the Ohashi gym will see him maturing quickly and the rub of fellow stablemate will help him develop into a very good young fighter
With the likes of the fighters we've mentioned here, and of course the top youngsters who are already established like Kazuto Ioka and Tomoki Kameda, it really is a very exciting time for Japanese boxing. The next decade or so could give us a truly golden age in Japanese boxing.
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).