Yesterday evening in the US fight fans had the chance to see an IBF Welterweight world title eliminator, between unbeaten Uzbek Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (16-0, 6) [Қудратилло Абдуқаҳҳоровдан] and Japanese puncher Keita Obara (20-4-1, 18) [小原 佳太].
The bout was relatively competitive, at times, but there was no doubting the winner with the Uzbek racking up the early rounds, to cruise in the final stages.
For the most part Abdukakhorov just did that bit more, was the bit smoother, sharper and smarter. He was caught by some solid counters, but Obara struggled to follow up his success as the Uzbek got out of range and reset.
After 12 rounds the judges all favoured the unbeaten Uzbek, who took the decision with scores of 118-110, 117-111 and 115-113. The 118-110 card seemed a rather harsh score but the other two were pretty spot on.
For "The Punisher" this win moves him towards a bout with IBF world champion Errol Spence, though on this showing he would be given no real chance against the American champion. For Obara the loss leaves his career hanging by a thread.
It's fair to say that 2019 has been a year of upsets, and just moments ago we got another, as highly touted Japanese hopeful Tsubasa Koura (14-1, 9) [小浦 翼] was dethroned of the OPBF Minimumweight title by determined and rugged Filipino challenger Lito Dante (16-10-4, 8).
On paper this looked like a stay busy defense for Koura, who was ranked #3 by the WBC, and was likely expected to be an easy work out for a man many, including ourselves, had tipped as a future world champion. Instead however the bout was a rough, hard, war from the opening moments.
The fight started with Dante applying pressure. In the opening round Koura countered that pressure well, relying on his movement, speed and skills. After that opening round however Dante began to force his fight, forcing Koura into exchanges on the inside and creating a war. Koura had moments, using his more rounded boxing skills, but all too often it felt like Dante was the man forcing the style of fight, making Koura fight his fight.
Through 4 rounds there was little to split the men on the scores cards, with scores of 38-38, 38-38 and 37-39, in favour of the challenger. Knowing he was behind it seemed like Koura decided to try and hurt his man, a tactic that seemed foolish given Dante's reputation as a granite chinned warrior. It was a tactic that proved to be futile when Dante began to land an ever increasing number of shots to the head of Koura. What also didn't help the champion was a couple of cuts caused by head clashes. He tried to fight back, rather than box, and it was the wrong gameplan.
By the end of the 8th round the momentum seemed to be firmly with the challenger, who was leading on all 3 cards, 75-77, 75-77 and 74-78. It was Koura who needed to make big changes, but he was tiring, getting caught by bigger shots and his own moments were few and far between, and becoming less regular. Instead of being able to fight back Koura was seemingly caught in two minds, whether he was going to counter Dante or press the Filipino. Neither tactic seemed to work, he was too tired and damaged to use either gameplan effectively and took eye catching combinations from Dante.
Going into the final round it was clear that Koura was going to need a knockout to win, but he was looking a weary man and Dante was hungry. That hunger showed when the challenger hurt the unbeaten Japanese fighter, following up with a series of unanswered shots in Koura's own corner until the referee called a halt to the action at the 1:18 mark of round 12.
With the win Dante, despite his record, puts himself in the mix for a world title fight, and potentially a third shown down with Vic Saludar, whilst Koura will have to go back to the drawing board. Figure out what he is as a boxer and maybe even move up in weight. This wasn't the flowing Koura we'd seen in recent bouts. Maybe he had over-looked Dante, not trained properly, struggled to make weight or something else. Whatever the reason this was poor from Koura and Dante took his opportunity to score one of the biggest upsets of 2019!
Earlier today the Nikkan Sports reported that Naoya Inoue (17-0, 15) [井上 尚弥], the WBA "regular" Bantamweight champion, had been sparring earlier in the day with amateur standout Hayato Tsutsumi [堤駿斗], a 19 year old wunderkind.
The sparring was the help Inoue prepare for his May bout with IBF champion Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-0, 12), in what will be a WBSS semi-final bout.
The Nikkan reports that the two men sparred for 4 rounds with Tsutsumi playing as a virtual Rodriguez due to his speed and sharp counter right hand. For Tsutsumi the sparring was of course a chance to share the ring and polish his skills as he prepares for a huge year in the amateur ranks, and begins his preparation for the 2020 Olympics.
Interestingly this was one of two Inoue stories to break today, with the other being being a potential showdown with WBA Super Bantamweight champion Danny Roman (26-2-1, 10), who has, according to one Japanese paper, shown an interest in moving down to Bantamweight in the future to take on Inoue. That bout likely won't be this year, but would be a very interesting test if Roman is able to make 118lbs safely.
(Image courtesy of the Nikkan Sports)
Over the last 12 months or so things have really began to change in Chinese boxing. The Major League Boxing cards have become less a fixture and instead we've been having more and more good, solid, all round cards with tough match ups between locals and visitors.
Today we got one such card with a China Vs Japan theme, that ended with two amazing bouts to close the show.
The first of those saw world ranked local Wulan Tuolehazi (11-3-1, 5) record a narrow win over highly regarded Japanese prospect Ryota Yamauchi (4-1, 4) [山内涼太] in what may end up being one of the best bouts on Chinese soil in the entire of 2019. The bout was thrilling from the off, and got even more explosive when Tuolehazi dropped Yamauchi in round 3 with a huge right hand. The power of Tuolehazi seemed to shake Yamauchi again later in the round as the Chinese fighter, who had started well, needed to show a lot more respect to the Chinese fighter.
Yamauchi would himself score a knockdown, from a gorgeous left hook to the body, later in the right and it seemed like he had done enough to just edge a razor thin decision after 12 rounds. The judges however gave it to the local, in what appeared to have been a split decision, given the crowd reactions to the scores as they were read out. Despite the loss Yamauchi showed a lot here to like, whilst Tuolehazi scored his 6th straight win, and extended his current unbeaten run to 10, including other notable wins over Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym and Jayr Rquinel. The win nets Tuolehazi a WBA regional title at Flyweight.
The second bout went Japan's way, as the often over-looked Yusuke Konno (15-4, 8) [今野裕介] surprisingly stopped Chinese fighter Baishanbo Nasiyiwula (15-3-1, 6) [拜山波] in the 11th round. Konno managed to make his power pay early on, dropping Baishanbo in the opening round, but the Chinese fighter fought back well, and was likely in the lead as we entered the championship rounds. The good effort from Baishanbo always came with a risk and in round 11 he was dropped, hard, by a Konno right hand. The Chinese fight would get up, but do so just after the 10 count, to give Konno a huge win.
For Baishanbo this is his first stoppage loss, but his third loss in 6 bouts. For Konno it sees him extending his current winning run to 4 fights and claim the WBA Asia Light Welterweight title.
Earlier today in China fans were able to see former WBO Flyweight champion Sho Kimura (18-2-2, 11) [木村翔] return to the ring for the first time since losing the world title to Kosei Tanaka last year.
The exciting Japanese fighter was up against Thai veteran Pigmy Kokietgym (60-11-2, 24), aka Wicha Phulaikhao, and really did as he pleased from the opening round.
Kimura managed to show a crisp jab in the opening round, showing that he had worked on correcting some of the technical flaws that have held him back at times, before moving through the gears in rounds 2 and 3 to stop the Thai, who was dropped 3 times in round 3.
With the win Kimura becomes the new OPBF Flyweight Silver champion. Had the Thai won the title would have remained vacant following his failure to make weight yesterday.
Also on the card was was an exciting brawl between Fangyong Zhang (12-4-1, 3) and Ryuto Maekawa (11-2-1, 7), which saw the Chinese fighter taking a technical decision following a head clash. There was also an excellent performance by Shichao Gao (3-0-1, 1) who impressed and stopped Koji Igarashi (4-4, 3) in the second round.
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