Asian Scene special: ones to watch

Marcus Bellinger
23/01/2017 9:22am

Marcus Bellinger talks us through five fighters from the Asian continent to look out for in 2017...

1. Muhammad Waseem (Pakistan)
When it comes to sport it's fair to say that Pakistan is famous for producing outstanding cricketers such as Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Inzamam-ul-Haq but flyweight Muhammad Waseem is presently more than doing the country proud.

The Quetta-born boxer enjoyed a fruitful amateur career, claiming silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Bronze at the Asian Games the same year but, due to lack of support from his homeland, Waseem elected to turn professional.

The 29-year-old signed with Korean based promoter Andy Kim and in October 2015 won the Korean bantamweight strap, stopping Min Wook Lee in nine rounds on his pro debut. It was clear that Waseem would be fast tracked due to his amateur pedigree and in July 2016 he took on Jether Oliva for the WBC Silver flyweight belt in just his fourth outing. Waseem dealt with the step up in class with aplomb and used his skills to score a wide unanimous decision victory over 12 rounds, proving his American link-up with trainer Jeff Mayweather is proving highly beneficial.

Four months later Waseem faced his toughest test in hitherto unbeaten Giemel Magramo. The Filippino pushed him all the way and Waseem had to dig in and show plenty of grit and determination to earn a very close decision victory. Waseem will have gained plenty from this tough encounter and as the 112lb division has massively evolved in tjhe last year, the Pakistani will be right in the mix for a world title shot in 2017.

Despite promises and rumours, Waseem is still to fight in his homeland in the pro ranks, so let’s just hope that this cricket crazy nation soon wakes up and realises that they have a real talent on their hands who is more than capable of leaving his opponents in a spin.

Click here to view Waseem’s July 2016 bout vs Jether Oliva

2. Masataka Taniguchi (Japan)
The year 2016 was a grim one for the Watanabe Gym with Takashi Uchiyama and Kohei Kono both losing their world titles and then coming up short in subsequent attempts to regain world honours. However, the future for the Japanese outfit still looks bright, with two of the country’s brightest boxing stars under its wing.

Taniguchi extended his perfect record to 6-0 with 4 KOs after scoring a six-round shut-out over Vincent Bautista on the Tokyo New Year’s Eve show. Two months earlier the young southpaw faced a real litmus test against the criminally underrated Dexter Alimento in an eight-round contest at the Korakuen hall.

Although he scored an early knockdown Taniguchi was really made to think by the skilful Filipino and had to work incredibly hard to take a split decision at the final bell. The rest of his opposition has been modest but fighting away from home in Thailand and the Philippines has been a valuable experience. Taniguchi's first title opportunity comes on 10 April when he squares off against fellow unbeaten prospect Reiya Konishi for the vacant Japanese minimumweight crown in Kobe, Hyogo.

Click here to watch Taniguchi vs Alimento

3. Hiroto Kyoguchi (Japan)
On the same Tokyo bill that Taniguchi defeated Bautista, Hiroto Kyoguchi made it five wins from five by knocking out his first southpaw opponent Junuel Lacar in three rounds.

Kyoguchi is yet to be taken the distance in his career and the 23-year-old possesses a devastating uppercut that not only took care of Lacar but also saw off Michael Camelion inside a round in October 2016. Kyoguchi is yet to share the ring with anyone near the ability of Alimento but these sort of tests should come in 2017 and, like his stablemate Taniguchi, opportunities to vie for domestic or regional straps should come this year at either minimumweight or light flyweight.

Click here to watch Kyoguchi vs Junuel Lacar

4. Reymart Gaballo (Philippines)
Despite underlying issues with boxing in the Philippines, the country continues to produce prodigiously talented pugilists, with Reymart Gaballo being one of the most exciting young Pinoys coming through the ranks.

Gaballo fought five times in 2016, winning all five by knockout and picking up a minor super bantamweight belt in the process. The 20-year-old’s record currently stands at 16-0 with 14 KOs and whilst his opposition has been moderate he has showed he has genuine power and a finishing instinct to match.

Gaballo is still pretty raw and six rounds is still the furthest distance he has gone thus far in his career. The year 2017 should be about learning fights and finding durable foes who can take him rounds as there is absolutely no need to rush him.

Manager Jim Claude Manangquil has informed Rappler.com’s Ryan Songalia that the plan is to take Gaballo to the US this year where he should benefit from the available sparring and greater exposure.

Click here to watch Gaballo vs Yodpichai Sithsaithong

5. Meirim Nursultanov (Kazakhstan)
In recent times we’ve seen an explosion of talent from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan ruling the roost in the amateur ranks and, slowly but surely, we’re now seeing fighters from both nations making their way in the professional game.

In November 2016, Kazakh middleweight Meirim Nursultanov made his professional debut, winning all six rounds versus Henry Beckford on the Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward undercard in Los Vegas.

Nursultanov’s amateur highlights included a gold medal at the 2010 Asian Youth World Championships in Tehran and, after reaching the semi-finals at welterweight in 2012, he also became national champion at middleweight in 2014.

The 23-year-old was an integral part of the Astana Arlans WSB team in 2015 and 2016 and ran up a WSB record of 12-1. His biggest victory in the five-round format came in the 2015 final against outstanding Cuban and Rio gold medallist Arlen Lopez. Nursultanov was in constant competition with fellow middleweight Zhanibek Alimkhanuly and, although many viewers and amateur insiders felt he should have been given more of a chance, Alimkhanuly always seemed to get the nod for the big tournaments.

At times Nursultanov can coast and drift through bouts but when in full flow his talent is undeniable. With canny manager Egis Klimas steering the ship, Nursultanov couldn’t be in better hands and will be moved quickly if necessary.

Click here to watch Nursultanov’s 2016 WSB contest vs Troy Williamson