Next big thing? Maybe. Ryota Murata has a promising future. Photo: Reuters/David Becker
Next big thing? Maybe. Ryota Murata has a promising future. Photo: Reuters/David Becker

Mark Butcher picks five rising Asian boxing stars on the verge of a big breakthrough in 2017 as we look ahead to the next big name to hit the ring.

Mark Magnifico Magasayo, 21
Bohol, Philippines

Is he the next Manny Pacquiao? Photo: Wikimedia Commons

An exciting boxer-puncher in the finest Filipino tradition, swashbuckling featherweight Mark “Magnifico” Magsayo was involved in a bonafide Fight Of The Year contender against former world title challenger Chris Avalos in April. Magsayo, who hails from Tagbilaran City, was dropped in the third round before roaring back to batter the Californian into submission in the sixth stanza of a violent slugfest. The 21-year-old gatecrashed the world rankings with that stirring victory and illustrated he has the heart and spirit to overcome adversity. Still a work-in-progress, the all-action Pinoy needs to tighten his defence, but may well be thrust into a title shot in 2017. Steered by ALA Promotions, Magsayo (15-0, 11 KOs) already has US fight experience and is angling for a clash with Mexico’s World Boxing Organisation (WBO) champion Oscar Valdez in what promises to be a pulsating war of wills.

Iwan ‘The Sniper’ Zoda, 20
West Borneo, Indonesia

World-class Indonesian boxers are a rarity, but there are high hopes for hard-punching flyweight Iwan Zoda and “The Sniper” is targeting a world title shot in the near future. One of seven children from the small island of Pula Maya Karimata off the coast of West Borneo, Zoda grew up in abject poverty with three of his siblings tragically dying young. At seven years old, he was working in a gold mine digging and handling explosives.

“Some people ask me if boxing hurts,” Zoda (11-1, 10 KOs) recently told Anson Wainwright of Ring TV. “I tell them that working as a child was much more painful.”

Zoda, 20, dropped a decision to more experienced Thai Petchchorhae Kokietgym in his second pro outing, but hasn’t looked back since. He travelled to Bangkok to avenge that loss, taking the Thai’s unbeaten record with a rousing 12th round stoppage. The Indonesian has one-punch KO power, impressive energy levels as well as a maturity and mental strength beyond his years. He’s certainly one to watch.

Daigo Higa, 21
Okinawa, Japan

Touted as Japanese boxing’s next big thing, Okinawa KO artist Daigo Higa has caught the eye after a succession of devastating performances. Mentored by the legendary Yoko Gushiken, Higa (11-0, 11 KOs) has destroyed all of his opponents in brutal fashion. Former World Boxing Association junior flyweight champion Gushiken even believes Higa is a stronger fighter than he was – rich praise indeed. Flyweight Higa, 21, sprung to prominence with a thrilling away victory over unbeaten Thai Kongfah CP Freshmart in 2015 and dissected former WBO title challenger Ardin Diale in four in July. Dubbed the “Romagon of Okinawa” – due to similarities in style with brilliant four-weight world champion Roman Gonzalez – Higa brings relentless pressure, chilling knockout power and destructive body punching. Next year should see him demonstrate those qualities at world championship level.

Ryoto Murata, 30
Nara, Nara Prefecture, Japan

Ryota Murata, the poster boy of Japanese boxing, is likely to be let off the leash in 2017. Japanese fighters don’t tend to touch world class beyond the 130lbs super-featherweight division so middleweight Murata (11-0, 8 KOs) is something of a novelty.

At 30, there is little time to waste for Murata, who has a rich amateur pedigree including a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics and silver at the 2011 World Championships in Baku. His good looks and charisma, allied with sharp boxing skills, have already made him a crossover star in his native land and US promoters Top Rank have skillfully positioned him in the top six rankings of all four major sanctioning bodies.

The fearsome Gennady Golovkin holds three of those world title belts and, with Murata not ready for that level, Britain’s WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders remains the most viable target. In the meantime, Murata meets Mexican Bruno Sandoval next on December 30 in Tokyo.

Takuma Inoue, 20
Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan

If boxing genes are any indication, Takuma Inoue is a world champion in waiting. Younger brother of majestic WBO super-flyweight king Naoya Inoue, Takuma is expected to follow suit in the bustling bantamweight division. Takuma (8-0, 2 KOs) has not been blessed with his brother’s fight-ending power and relies on speed, pure skills and a feverish work-rate.

The younger Inoue was, in true Japanese boxing fashion, thrown in at the deep end in his first five fights, decisioning world title challengers Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr and Nestor Daniel Narvaes as well as vastly experienced OPBF champion Mark Anthony Geraldo. In September, he overcame a first round knockdown to twice floor and outscore world-rated Froilan Saludar in a furious battle.

A WBO bantamweight shot against the Filipino title-holder Marlon Tapales, mooted for December 30, was postponed when the Japanese stylist fractured his hand in training, but the gifted Inoue, 20, will surely receive his chance in the New Year.

Mark Butcher is contributing writer for Boxing Monthly magazine