Whilst boxing in the West pretty much comes to a halt in the next few days, Japan is slowly gearing up for its annual end of year bonanza.
A recent phenomenon, the end of year cards are now a regular feature of the boxing calendar with Kazuko Ioka and Takashi Uchiyama being the focal points of separate cards on New Year’s Eve since 2011 however, neither are in action this year with Uchiyama retiring and Ioka taking a hiatus from the ring due to lack of motivation and a disagreement with his father.
Whilst certainly not as stacked as previous years there is still plenty of notable names and solid fights to look forward to from the land of the rising sun before 2017 draws to a close.
The world title action commences on 30 December in Yokohama as Naoya Inoue and Ken Shiro defend their respective WBO super flyweight and WBC light flyweight straps. Both look to have relatively straight forward assignments with Inoue facing Yoan Boyeaux and Shiro taking on Gilberto Pedroza.
With the persistent and niggling hand injuries seemingly behind him, this will be Inoue’s 3rd fight of 2017 but KOs of Ricardo Rodriguez and Antonio Nieves haven’t taught us anything we already didn’t know about the outstanding 24-year-old and Boyeaux is unlikely to change that. Inoue had his first bout in the US in September against Nieves on the very successful Superfly card and could compete on the second edition in February but securing a quality opponent has become exceedingly difficult with fellow belt holder Kal Yafai turning down an offer and Jerwin Ancajas signing a deal with Top Rank. This has led to the distinct possibility of Inoue moving up to bantamweight in search of quality opposition. Boyeaux is well travelled but is taking a giant leap up in class and the Frenchman goes in a heavy underdog with Karim Guerfi and Anthony Settoul being the best names on his record along with a point’s loss to a fledgling Carl Frampton.
Having captured WBC Youth, Japanese and OPBF titles 2017 was the year where we found out whether Shiro could take the step up to world level and the 25-year-old proved his worth with 2 hard-fought victories over Ganigan Lopez and Pedro Guevara. A rematch with Lopez awaits in 2018 if he overcomes Pedroza. The Panamanian has been very active in 2017 fighting 5 times and won a split decision over forma world title challenger Saul Juarez but the 25-year-old was stopped by forma Ryoichi Taguchi victim Robert Barrera back in October 2014.
Also featuring is OPBF featherweight champion Satoshi Shimizu who squares off against Eduardo Mancito in his first defense. Mancito has gone the distance with Ray Vargas and Alberto Guevara but was stopped by Tomas Rojas and by the way Shimizu has ploughed through his 4 opponents so far it’s unlikely that the Filipino will be able to hang with him for the duration of the contest. Takuma Inoue goes up against veteran Kentaro Masuda in what should be a pretty entertainment scrap. Masuda has been in some terrific bouts on the domestic and regional scene including his up and down thriller against Mark John Yap in July which he lost but if the younger Inoue sibling has ambitions of winning world titles then he should prevail. Finally Koki Inoue takes on Dong Hee Kim who’s never been stopped and prospects Kazuki Nakajima and Katsuya Yasuda also see action on the bill.
We then get a fistic New Year’s Eve treat from the Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo as a light flyweight unification between Ryoichi Taguchi and Milan Melindo headlines an excellent triple header. This is a genuine 50-50 fight and it’s difficult to pick a winner as both have flattened to deceive at times whilst looking fantastic on other occasions.
Taguchi looked really impressive in stopping mandatory challenger Robert Barrera in 9 rounds in July but Carlos Canizales gave him fits on the last day of 2016 and inconsistency has plague the 29-year-old throughout his world championship reign. Before the bout with Melindo was finalised only the second ever all Japanese unification with then WBO champion Kosei Tanaka was close before unfortunately Tanaka sustained facial injuries against Palangpol CP Freshmart then subsequently moved up in weight.
Melindo’s career was in real danger of going nowhere before he won a unanimous decision versus Fahlan Sakreerin Jr to capture the interim IBF 108 lb trinket and position himself for a crack at then full champion Akira Yaegashi. The Filipino produced a phenomenal performance to take out Yaegashi in a round in May and announce himself as a serious threat in the division. He then narrowly retained his title in an absorbing 12 round affair with Hekkie Budler in September and now stands on the cusp of being a unified champion if he can defeat Taguchi.
Also on the Tokyo card Show Kimura makes the first defense of his WBO flyweight belt against countrymen Toshiyuki Igarashi. Kimura was a complete unknown to most boxing fans before he ripped the title away from Zou Shiming via 11th round stoppage in July in one of the year’s biggest upsets and he’ll be aiming to continue that momentum and prove that the win over the man from China wasn’t a fluke. Igarashi won’t be on anyone’s list of must watch fighters and 4 of his last 8 contests have ended up being technical decisions. In the build-up he has been receiving advice from his wife who works in cosmetics and has been applying various creams and lotions to try and improve his fragile skin which has been prone to cuts. Igarashi briefly held the WBC flyweight crown before being dethroned by Akira Yaegashi in April 2013.
The final world title tussle sees Hiroto Kyoguchi tangle with mandatory challenger Carlos Buitrago for the IBF strawweight strap. Like many boxers from Japan in recent times Kyoguchi was fast tracked and won his world title defeating Jose Argumedo via unanimous decision in just his 8th pro outing. Kyoguchi possesses power and proved he could cope with a rough and rugged customer such as Argumedo but will need to show a bit more nous against the talented Nicaraguan.
Buitrago has excellent boxing skills but has failed to get over the line in his most notable bouts against Merlito Sabillo and his 2 encounters with Knockout CP Freshmart and over a year’s inactivity might not prove to be an advantage either. Finally Shingo Wake and Masataka Taniguchi have stay busy fights against Thai foes as both men look to try and set up more meaningful contests in 2018.