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
Whilst Christmas is fast approaching the action doesn't really end for Asian fight fans with Japanese and Filipino fighters being in a number of notable before the year is out. Here we look at those big upcoming bouts.
Shun Kubo Vs Lloyd Jardeliza
The first of the “post Christmas” bouts comes just a day after the festivities and sees one of Japan's most promising prospects, Shun Kubo (8-0, 6), battle against a Filipino puncher, Lloyd Jardeliza (7-2-3, 6), for the OPBF Super Bantamweight title. The bout looks to be, on paper, a late Christmas present, and one that could well be a cracker. Kubo is seen as the next fighter of note from the Shinsei Gym, the gym that has managed Hozumi Hasegawa, and Kubo is supposed to the fighter who follows in Hasegawa's footsteps. Jardeliza has lost 2 of his last 4 but is regarded as a serious puncher and could well follow in the footsteps of Marlon Tapalese, who recently upset Shohei Omori in Japan. This could be a shoot out, an exposure or a break out win.
Kenichi Horikawa Vs Ken Shiro
Just a day after the Kubo/Jardeliza fight we get two Japanese title fights. In our eyes the more interesting of the two comes down at 108lbs where veteran Kenichi Horikawa (30-13-1, 7) defends his title, for the first time, against the fast rising Ken Shiro (5-0, 3). The men have a good friendship but have a local rivalry, with both being Kyoto fighters, and are likely to have that rivalry over-rule their friendship in what could be a real coming out party for the talented Ken Shiro, or a statement win for Horikawa, who looked better than ever last time out when he stopped Shin Ono.
Yuki Nonaka Vs Koshinmaru Saito
The other Japanese title fight on December 27th sees Light Middleweight champion Yuki Nonaka (27-8-3, 9) defending his title against Koshinmaru Saito (22-7-1, 12). Nonaka, now in his second reign as champion, will be hoping to secure his third successive defense of the title whilst also making his ring return for the first time since his controversial draw against Takayuki Hosokawa back in April. Saito is an experienced title level fighter though has gone 0-4 in title bouts so far, and isn't really being given much of a chance to end that run.
Riku Kano Vs Pigmy Kokiegym
Whilst the two title bouts on December 27th are worthy or attention there is another bout which perhaps deserves to be more than just a foot note. That bout will see teenage hopeful Riku Kano (7-1-1, 4) go up against former world title challenger Pigmy Kokietgym (58-8-2, 23). For Kano, 18, this is a monstrous step up in class however it's one his team will believe he's capable of making, especially considering they are talking about Kano challenging the record for the youngest Japanese world champion. Notably Pigmy is just 4 months removed from his upset loss to Jaysever Abcede.
Naoya Inoue Vs Warlito Parrenas
Whilst December 26th and 27th are notable days it's fair to say that December 29th over-shadows the earlier action. That is mostly due to the ring return of wunderkind Naoya Inoue (8-0, 7) who defends his WBO Super Flyweight title against Filipino slugger Warlito Parrenas (24-6-1, 21). On paper this shouwl be a win for Inoue, especially if he's as good as we believe, however Parrenas is a huge puncher and Inoue's inactivity and injuries could well take their toll and he might not be the fighter he once was, or become he fighter we all wish he would become.
Akira Yaegashi Vs Javier Mendoza
The Inoue/Parrenas bout isn't the only world title fight on December 29th as Inoue's stablemate and close friend Akira Yaegashi (22-5, 12) attempts to become a 3-weight world champion. The popular Yaegashi will be up against aggressive Mexican fighter Javier Mendoza (24-2-1, 19), who will be defending his IBF Light Flyweight title. Yaegashi, a former champion at 105lbs and 112lbs, lost twice last year and will likely know that a loss here will be the end of his career at the top level. He has however got the experience and skills to give Mendoza a tough one, if his body can hold up at 108lbs.
Takuma Inoue Vs Rene Dacquel
Takuma Inoue (5-0, 1), Naoya's younger brother, is also on the card defending a title as he risks his OPBF Super Flyweight title against talented, yet under-rated, Filipino Rene Dacquel (15-5-1, 5). This will be the first defense by Inoue of a title he won earlier this year, when he out pointed Mark Anthony Geraldo, and an impressive showing could see his team push him towards a world title fight in 2016. For Dacquel, a former GAB champion, this is a chnce to really make a name for himself, and add another belt to his collection, as well as improving his 1-1-1 record in Japan. This really could be a tough ask for Inoue.
Satoshi Hosono Vs Akifumi Shimoda
One other title bout here sees a former world champion take on a former world title challenger in a bout that could, very easily have, have headlined a lesser show. That bout will see former 3-time world title challenger Satoshi Hosono (29-2-1, 20) defending his Japanese Featherweight title against former WBA Super Bantamweight champion Akifumi Shimoda (30-4-2, 12).. The loser of this really can kiss their dreams of another top level fight good bye, however the winner will be regarded as a genuine world title challenger for 2016. This bout will be over-shadowed but is incredibly significant.
Takashi Uchiyama Vs Oliver Flores
We get a host of title bouts on New Years Eve, in fact there are 5 world title bouts on the day. Of the bouts in action the biggest mismatch is in Tokyo where long term WBA Super Featherweight champion Takashi Uchiyama (23-0-1, 19) defends his belt against limited Nicaraguan challenger Oliver Flores (21-1-2, 17). On paper this looks like an interesting match up for the unbeaten 36 year old champion though footage of Flores really doesn't impress and we suspect Uchiyama finishes off the challenger quickly before moving towards a major bout in early 2016.
Ryoichi Taguchi Vs Luis De la Rose
Staying in Tokyo fans get the chance to see Uchiyama's stablemate Ryoichi Taguchi (22-2-1, 9) defending his WBA Light Flyweight title against the horribly limited Luis de la Rosa (24-5-1, 14). The talented champion is looking for his second defense and shouldn't have to look too hard given the Colombian challenger has lost every time he has faced a notable opponent, and is 3-4 in his last 7. Sadly for Taguchi's fans this is a farce and they will know it, especially given the talent that is in the division and hopefully Taguchi will be facing a much better opponent in early 2016.
Kazuto Ioka Vs Juan Carlos Reveco II
Although both the title bouts in Tokyo are poor we have to admit that Osaka has got a great title fight to end the year as Kazuto Ioka (18-1, 10) defends the WBA Flyweight title against Juan Carlos Reveco (36-2, 19). Ioka beat Reveco, by majority decision, to win the title earlier this year in a really good bout. This rematch was ordered by the WBA but it really is almost certainly going to be one of the most exciting bout to end the year. Both men have a lot on the line here and both will bring the action in what should be something very special.
Katsunari Takayama Vs Jose Argumedo
Staying in Osaka it's also the venue for an IBF Minimumweight world title bout between defending champion Katsunari Takayama (30-7-0-1, 12) and little known challenger Jose Argumedo (15-3-1, 9). This will be Takayama's 3rd defense of the year but seems like a significant step backwards following a win last time out against Ryuji Hara. For Argumedo this is his first bout in 13 months and he enters the bout 1-1 in the last 2 years, leading to real questions as to why he's managed to get a world title fight.
Kosei Tanaka Vs Vic Saludar
Takayama isn't the only Minimumweight champion defending his title as WBO champion Kosei Tanaka (5-0, 2) makes the first defense of his title, in Aichi. The talented 20 year old will be up against Filipino puncher Vic Saludar (11-1, 9) in what looks like a solid first defense on paper. The talented Tanaka has been frustratingly inactive since winning his title in May but is likely to get a chin check here against a man who has serious power and will be looking to continue a 9 fight unbeaten run.
Takahiro Yamamoto Vs Yuki Strong Kobayashi
Going back to the Osaka card, the same show also has two lower level title fights on it, with an OPBF and a JBC title up for grabs. In the OPBF title fight we see Bantamweight kingpin Takahiro Yamamoto (16-4, 13) defending his crown against Yuki Strong Kobayashi (9-4, 5). For Yamamoto this will be his first defense since winning the title, with a TKO victory against Yu Kawaguchi, sadly however it is a bit of a “gimme” against a man we don't see posing any threat to the champion.
Sho Ishida Vs Ryuta Otsuka
As for the Japanese title fight, that comes at Super Flyweight where unbeaten champion Sho Ishida (20-0, 10) defends his belt against Ryuta Otsuka (15-8-2, 5). The talented Ishida will be looking for his 4th title defense whilst Otsuka will be hoping to claim a title in his shot. It's hard to see what Otsuka really offers, given he has lost 3 of his last 5, though it's clear that Ishida still needs a little bit more experience and seasoning before he moves onto the next level.
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).