The 154lb Light Middleweight division is one of the most interesting in the sport, both globally and in regards to Asian fighters. The division has no standout on the global scene, and whilst that can be bad for a division it actually helps to make the division really intriguing with a feeling that the top 5 or 6 guys, if not more, can all beat each other. The division could hold some brilliant tournaments and it'd be very hard to pick the eventual winner.
Saying that however we're not here right now to discuss the division at large rank the top Asian fighters in the division. And boy is this a trickier one than we imagined with a huge drop off towards the bottom end of the top 10.
1-Israil Madrimov (5-0, 5)
The 25 year old Israil Madrimov is one of the most promising fighters on the planet, and in just 5 fights has proven to be an exceptional talent with all the tools to be a superstar in boxing. The talented Uzbek, dubbed "The Dream", can box, bang, brawl, fighter, punch, entertain and looks to have all the tools to be something very, very special. With wins over solid fringe contenders, like Alejandro Barrera and Charlie Navarro we've seen Madrimov facing very advanced competition for someone with so few fights and he has been impressive every time we've seen him. Madrimov is one of the surest "future world champions" in the sport today.
2-Sadriddin Akhmedov (11-0, 10)
Another man we're tipping for the top is Kazakh youngster Sadriddin Akhmedov, but like Madrimov he's not just one for the future but a fantastic fighter right now. Akhmedov, a Kazakh based Canadian, is a boxer-puncher who is an absolute joy to watch. He's not as destructive as Madrimov but at just 22 years old he is still looking like a very, very special fighter. His record isn't the best among the Asian fighters, but his skill-set, and talent is incredible and in regards to the eye he's passing with flying colours. His best wins are over the likes of John Ruba and Jose Antonio Villalobos but he can clearly beat better than he's been facing. Akhmedov is one of the best hidden gems in world boxing today.
3-Takeshi Inoue (16-1-1, 10)
The most proven of the Asian fighters at the weight is former world title challenger Takeshi Inoue. The 30 year old Japanese mauler is best known for his 2019 loss to Jaime Munguia, in which he took Munguia 12 rounds and managed to back up the Mexican youngster. Inoue has scored wins against the likes of Akinori Watanabe, Yuki Nonaka and Riku Nagahama, he's also a former unified Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific champion and the current WBO Asia Pacific king. In terms of professional accolades he's top, but it really feels like Akhmedov and Madrimov both have significantly better skills and potential.
4-Hironobu Matsunaga (16-1, 10)
Japanese national champion Hironobu Matsunaga is someone in a very rich vein of form and has won his last 10 in a row, following a loss in the 2014 All Japan Rookie of the Year final at Welterweight. The pint size fighter from the Yokohama gym is one of the shortest men in the division but also an absolute nightmare to fight. Matsunaga is a physically strong pressure fighter who breaks opponents down with volume and pressure. He doesn't have a big international performance under his belt but wins over the likes of Je Ni Ma, Koshinmaru Saito and Nobuyuki Shindo he has proven his ability on the domestic and fringe regional scene and is, for us at least, the #2 in Japan.
5-Madiyar Ashkeyev (14-0, 7)
We return to Western based Kazakh's now with 31 year old fringe contender Madiyar Ashkeyev, who is based in Oxnard, California. The unbeaten Ashkeyev turned pro in 2015 and has slowly been making a name for himself, with decent wins against the likes of Luis Hernandez, Cecil McCalla and Rodolfo Ezequiel Martinez. The hope is that Ashkeyev will jump in with a higher level of opponent later in the year, though his career has been rather frustrating at times and it has felt like he could have stepped up a level much earlier. A talent, but some one with questions still to answer and at 31 time is ticking down on his prime years.
6-Teerachai Kratingdaenggym (43-1, 31)
Once beaten Thai Teerachai Kratingdaenggym, also known as Tewa Kiram, is best known for his loss to Lucas Matthysse at Welterweight. Since then he rebounded well with 5 wins and a move up in weight. We'd love to see him in with a regional level test soon, but the WBA Asia champion is a man who is hard to get a read on. We know he's better than many Thai's with padded records, and we thought he was giving Matthysse fits. He does however have a questionable chin, as we saw against Matthysse, and we do wonder if he can dig deep when the going gets tough. A solid boxer-puncher, but we wouldn't be surprised if his level was fringe regional, and we certainly wouldn't fancy him against any of the guys above him.
7-Akinori Watanabe (39-7-1, 33)
Japanese veteran Akinori Watanabe has had a truly compelling career since he turned professional in 2004. He was a crude puncher early on, suffering a number of stoppage losses as a result, but has become a more rounded boxer-puncher in recent years, and looks much sturdier at 154lbs than he did at Welterweight. During his long career he won Japanese, OPBF and PABA Welterweight titles and since moving up he has held the Japanese "interim" title and the OPBF title. Although not a world class fighter, by any stretch, the 34 year old is a good, solid, regional level fighter, and someone who would put up a fight, win or lose, against anyone else on this list. The top guys would beat him, but they'd be forced to work for their wins.
8-Tonghui Li (12-2, 6)
Chinese 30 year old Tonghui Li is a bit of a wild card. He's a former OPBF "silver" and IBF Asia champion and has some notable wins against the likes of Romeo Jakosalem, Larry Siwu and Arnel Tinampay. Sadly though he's also picked up a couple of losses, including a 2018 defeat to Jung Kyoung Lee. Li is one of those fighters who we don't expect to see much from, but a win over Tinampay means a lot and we wouldn't be that shocked if we saw him fighting for a regional title when boxing resumes. Li against Watanabe or Teerachai would be very interesting, and maybe the sort of bout we could end up with in December if travel restrictions allow.
9-Rei Nakajima (3-0)
Another wild card selection is 21 year old Rei Nakajima, a Japanese fighter promoted by Nobuhiro Ishida. At 5'5" he's a very short Light Middleweight but also a very, very talented fighter in the division. Having debuted last July it's still really early to get too excited about him, but he's proven he can do 6 rounds, something he's now down 3 times, and with a win over Patomsuk Pathompothong this early in his career it seems like he and his team have got eyes on making a mark at title level sooner rather than later. Yes it's early, yes he's unproven, but boy does this kid look good!
10-Arnel Tinampay (26-25-1, 12)
The dark sheep of the division is tried and tested Filipino journeyman Arnel Tinampay, who has one of the sports most confusing and misleading records. With just 26 wins from 52 bouts it's easy to suggest that Tinampay isn't good, but the reality is that his record could, and should, be very different. The 35 year old has scored notable upsets against the likes of Yosuke Kirima, Shoma Fukumoto and Koshinmaru Saito and had a number of losses that should have been wins, including a 2019 bout against Hassan Mwakinyo. If you're preparing to face Tinampay and look at his record rather than look at footage of him you're in trouble.
On the bubble:
Jugn Kyoung Lee, Nobuyuki Shindo, Nath Nwachukwu, Sung Miun Yuh and Vikas Krishan
The final part of our 19 for 19 series focuses on 3 more prospects, all of whom are exciting and aggressive fighters with fantastic power and eye catching skills.
If you missed the first 4 parts of this series you catch up here:
19 for 19: Part 1 - The Teenage Prospects,
19 for 19: Part 2 - A Rookie, an Uzbek puncher, a Pinoy Prodigy and an Olympic champion
19 for 19: Part 3 - Unbeaten novices from China, Uzbekistan, Thailand and Japan!
19 for 19: Part 4 - Heavy handed fighters from Uzbekistan, Indonesia and Japan!
Sadriddin Akhmedov (6-0, 6)
Rising Kazakh prospect Sadriddin Akhmedov is one of the best pure prospects in the sport, with great amateur pedigree, an exciting and aggressive style, serious power, a good promotional back, in Eye of the Tiger Management, and a great level of activity. He also has the advantage of fighting in a heavier weight than some other prospects on this list, as he's fighting between Light Middleweight and Middleweight. So far he has scored 6 wins since April this year, and looks likely to be kept active against in 2019, with a bout already pencilled in for January. It's clear his team are wanting to keep him busy and develop him with activity, though we really are hoping to see him take a step up in the new year.
Shawn Oda (10-0, 8)
Japanese Lightweight Shawn Oda has been a professional for just over 2 and a half years but has already accomplished a lot. He came to our attention in 2017, when he claimed the Rookie of the Year and has since gone on to claim the Japanese Youth Lightweight title. At the age of 20 his future is incredibly bright, and he has already shown the ability to box, brawl and bang. For a Japanese fighter at 135lbs he is someone to make a note of, though is still rough around the edges, and perhaps still depends on athleticism when he could be using his skills. Still he should be seen as a genuine top prospect.
Seiya Tsutsumi (4-0, 3)
Someone who really caught our eye in 2018 has bene Seiya Tsutsumi, an aggressive, pressure fighter who fights out of the Watanabe gym and won a B Class tournament this year. The hard hitting youngster had been a very impressive amateur on the Japanese domestic scene before turning professional and at just 22 years old he looks like being one of the most exciting Japanese prospects, in terms of both in ring style and long term potential. Sadly Tsutsumi did have to pull out of a bout earlier in December, though we are hoping to see him make a return in early 2019.
As well as the 19 fighters featured over the 5 parts we've also included a small list below of extra prospects to make a note of. For many of these they were missing from the main series due to a lack of available footage to share, but are all worth adding on to any sort of a prospect list.
Kudura Kaneko (9-0, 6)
Taku Kuwahara (3-0, 2)
Ginjiro Tsutsumimoto (2-0, 2)
Kanan Huseyinaliyev (4-0, 4)
Sultan Zaurbek (3-0, 2)
Makhmud Gaipov (2-0, 1)
Ryusei Kawaura (5-0, 4)
Andika D'Golden Boy (15-0, 8)
Sanjar Tursunov (1-0, 1)
Tran Van Thao (11-0, 8)
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).