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 past few days have been interesting ones for fight fans excited about the rise of Central Asian fighters with a number of very good prospects being in action in a very short amount of time. Not only was there a lot but there was also some excellent performances by fighters from the "Stans" with those fighters all looking like they are wlel on their way to doing something special in the professional ranks.
Also on Sunday we had very impressive performances from Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov (12-0, 7), who took out Mexican Victor Alejandro Gonzalez (18-2, 9) with a brutal body shot inside the opening round and Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (13-0, 10), who destroyed the upset minded Robinson Castellanos (24-14, 14) in 2 rounds with Castellanos being dropped 4 times.
It's also worth noting that Uzbek Ravshanbek Umurzakov (5-0, 4) scored a big win over Eden Sonsona (36-9-2, 13) on Sunday, stopping Sonsona in the opening round. Sadly whilst it's a great result the performance wasn't really anything special with Sonsona going down after 58 seconds and taking the 10 count, robbing Umurzakov of any chance to shine.
Whilst we don't think any of the fighters mentioned here are ready for a world title fight, yet, all the Central Asian fighters who picked up a win took a huge step towards getting a shot at a world title, and all will be chasing gold in the very near future.
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).