The first bout from the 2018 All Japan Rookie of the Year final saw an all-southpaw match up as 32 year old Tomoki Shibanuma (8-4, 2) [柴沼智樹] battled against 18 year old Sora Takeda (4-1) [竹田宙].
The first started with Shibanuma coming forward and Takeda using his youthful energy and speed to try and box on the move. It was a tactic that worked at times for the youngster, who looked very crisp with his movement and very light on his feet, but Shibanuma looked strong and kept getting close, spoiling and wrestling when he could, to sap the energy of the youngster and try to take away his feet.
In round 2 the referee seemed to realise that Shibanuma was wrestling more than he should and got on his case about it. That allowed Takeda a chance to work more, and even saw him begin to freely work in the clinch, something that proved incredibly effective for him as Shibanuma began to look like an old man.
Shibanuma came out with an extra zip in his work for round 3, as if he was sent out knowing he needed a big round. Sadly for the older man this allowed Takeda more opportunities to counter him, and saw the referee tell Shibanuma off for pushing down on the head. It did however also lead to him rocking Takeda with a hard hard straight left. That left seemed to really hurt Takeda who took some time to recover, spoiling and wrestling as he looked to clear his head. In round 4 Takeda looked the fresher man, with Shibanuma resorting to the wrestling tactics. Despite both being tired, and a lot of work being spoiled, it was Takeda who landed the cleaner blows, bit down harder and let his hands go more freely, whilst Shibanuma bored in, head first, looking for the hard blows.
At the end of 4 rounds the fight hadn't been tidy, hadn't been clean and hadn't been the most technical, but it had been an exciting little battle to kick off one of the most important Japanese cards of the year. The competitiveness of the bout took us to a nervous wait for the scorecards to be read, with a split decision being rendered. The scores were read out as 39-37 to Shibanuma, 39-37 to Takeda and the final card, 39-38 to Takeda, who takes the biggest win of his young career.
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