On December 21st fight fans will see former Japanese Heavyweight champion Kyotaro Fujimoto (21-1, 13) take part in his first bout on international soil, as he travels over to London, England, to take on the unbeaten 22 year old hopeful Daniel Dubois (13-0, 12). It is the biggest bout in history for a Japanese Heavyweight fighter, and it features a man who has essentially held together the Japanese and regional title scenes in the last few years, acting as a lynch pin the local scene.
Despite how significant Kyotaro has been for the Japanese, Oriental and Asian Heavyweight scene he is a bit of an unknown to a wider audience, such as the British one he will be fighting in front of later in the month. With that in mind he seems a perfect fighter to put under a microscope and look at in more detail.
The 33 year old boxer has certainly had a weird journey to get to where he is, and although he's far too obscure to deserve some kind of biopic, he's had a professional sporting career that could make an interesting movie all the same.
Born in Osaka in 1986 Kyotaro Fujimoto's first sporting career wasn't actually in boxing. Instead he was a professional kick boxer, competing in minor kick boxing leagues from the age of 19 as "Kyotaro Ranger". His kick boxing career went on to bloom and as a professional boxer he ran up a reported 18-5 (9) record.
Whilst Kyotaro didn't stay kick boxing for long he did achieve quite a lot, winning the K1 Heavyweight championship in 2009 and scored notable wins over the likes of Mighty Mo, Melvin Manhoef, Gokhan Seki, Pater Aerts and Jerome Le Banner. Despite his success fans didn't always enjoy his style, which was negative, and did little to interest the viewing public. He was charismatic, but unenjoyable to watch and certainly not a fan favourite that you'd expect from someone who was quite flamboyant outside of the ring.
With 2 losses in 2009, including one to Tyrone Spong who has also turned to professional boxing, and two more in 2010, including one to Semmy Schilt, Kyotaro closed out his career at a point where it seemed he had lost his ambition for the sport. He then began to look for a new avenue for his career and found professional wrestling.
In 2011, Kyotaro announced his intention was to leave the world of kick boxing behind him and move on to professional wrestling, and he was given an offer to join All Japan Pro Wrestling, the historic rival to New Japan Professional Wrestling. He would wrestling in an event that summer and seemed like that was going to be the route for him. On paper it allowed him to use his size and combat sport experience, along with his personality and flair, to become a star, without taking significant punishment.
It's here that we should mention professional wrestling in Japan is less "safe" than in the USA. High risk moves are done in major Japanese promotions, and whilst injuries are still rare wrestlers do tend to get banged up a bit more often, though they do have less intensive schedules than their WWE counterparts.
Kyotaro then decided that wrestling wasn't going to be for him, and instead he signed papers with the Kadoebi gym to become a professional boxer, and seemed to suggest that he would be able to fight as either a Heavyweight, albeit a small one, or a Cruiserweight.
Despite only deciding to go the boxing route in the second half on 2011 his combat sport experience allowed Kyotaro's team to put him on a relatively tough schedule of fights. He debuted at the very end of 2011 and within a year he was 5-0 (3) with a notable 10 round win over Chauncy Welliver, who was fighting in his 55th professional bout.
Sadly ambition got too much too soon and on December 31st 2012 Kyotaro fought for the OPBF Heavyweight title against the limited, but heavy handed Solomon Haumono. The hard hitting "Solo" managed to do what no other Kyotaro opponent had done up to this stage. Haumono had come to the ring in decent shape, full of hunger and pressured Kyotaro with some intensity. It was a style that meant Kyotaro was on his bike even more than usual, and in round 5 the visitor did what he needed to, catching up Kyotaro and battering him against the ropes. Kyotaro was dropped about 35 seconds into round 5 and then again about 25 seconds later before the referee waved off the bout, crowning Haumono the new OPBF champion.
The loss put the brakes on Kyotaro's and saw him change focus from regional titles to more local success, and in 2013 the Japanese Boxing Commission finally re-activated the Japanese Heavyweight title, which hadn't been seen since the 1950's. Kyotaro fought Japanese based Ugandan Okello Peter for the belt, whilst the same had Kotatsu Takehara take on Rio Hidaka in an eliminator.
Kyotaro would defeat the 41 year old Peter, in 6 rounds, to claim the newly active title, and then take a narrow decision win over Takehara in a mandatory defense of the belt.
Surprisingly it was around this time that Nobuhiro Ishida announced he wanted a shot at the Japanese Heavyweight title, and he began to bulk up for a shot. The JBC were pretty much against a title fight, given the natural size difference between the two men, though allowed them to fight in an 8 round bout. Essentially allowing Ishida to prove himself as a Heavyweight in a lower risk fight than a 10 round title bout. Surprisingly Ishida give Kyotaro all he could handle in their 8 round bout, and was unlucky not to take the decision, with Kyotaro taking a narrow decision win in April 2014.
Following Kyotaro's win over Ishida he would defend his title for a second time against Takehara, stopping the veteran this time around, then take a decision over Frenchman David Radeff, before a rematch with Ishida. This time the belt was on the line, but like their first bout there was little to split the men, with Kyotaro taking a razor thin split decision over Ishida to record his third, and final, defense of the title.
Having made 3 defenses of the Japanese belt, and running out of suitable challenger Kyotaro before to look back to the regional scene. After picking up 3 easy wins in 8 rounders he then took on the slow, out shape, but heavy handed, Willie Nasiio for the OPBF title. This time Kyotaro would have the speed needed to avoid his opponent, rack up rounds and take the Oriental belt, becoming the first Japanese born OPBF Heavyweight champion.
Kyotaro would then stop Herman Ene Purcell to add the WBO Asia Pacific title to his collection, becoming the first Japanese Heavyweight triple crown winner, unifying the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific belts. The regional titles would be defended together 3 times, all by stoppage before Kyotaro seemed to vanish off the map, spending almost 13 months out of the ring.
When Kyotaro returned to action, this past October, it was in disappointing fashion, stopping Thai Suthat Kalalek, aka Kajornsak Saikaew Boxing Camp, the same man he had beaten in his previous bout. He revealed around this same time that he had considered retirement, and was wanting big fights to keep him interested in the sport. It was strange to think that he had failed to secure a big bout with the likes of Joseph Parker, especially given the two had come incredibly close to signing for a bout, but for whatever reason Kyotaro was unable to get into the ring with a notable name.
Thankfully just a few weeks ago Frank Warren announced that his rising star, Daniel Dubois, would be facing Kyotaro next. For Dubois this will be his 5th bout of the year whilst Kyotaro lands his the big fight he has wanted, and fights outside of Japan for the first time.
For those who haven't seen Kyotaro we have included a video below, though we'll go on to describe his style anyway. He's regarded as a small Heavyweight with a style similar to a Cruiserweight who has moved up. It'd be unfair to describe him as a poor man's Oleksandr Usyk, as he's more like a bankrupt version. His style has had success regionally, due to the limitations of his opposition, but taking on someone with the aggression and power of Dubois will see Kyotaro's style have limited, if any, success.
Although we don't see Kyotaro putting up any sort of a challenge to Dubois, it's still great to see a Japanese Heavyweight fighting in a high profile bout, just a shame it won't end well for the man from the land of the rising sun.
On July 19th we'll see unbeaten Japanese fighter Masayoshi Nakatani (18-0, 12) make his US debut, as he takes on the fast rising Teofimo Lopez (13-0, 11) in an IBF Lightweight world title eliminator. Since the bout was announced we've been asked a lot about Nakatani, making him an ideal candidate for a "Fighter Focus", and a chance for us to talk about Nakatani, and try to educate though who aren't as well versed on the unbeaten Osakan fight.
As is our usual format for the "Fighter Focus" we'll give give some simple details and then work our way through Nakatani's career, experienced and successes in more detail trying to give as much information on him as possible. Though please note we will not talk about the upcoming bout in too much detail, as we'll be previewing the contest separately.
Now lets dig deeper into the career of Masayoshi Nakatani, the Osakan Lightweight hopeful.
Nakatani was born in Osaka and whilst his amateur career isn't the most well reported he did run up an impressive looking 45-15 (30) amateur record whilst competing on both the domestic and international scene. He was boxing as an amateur out of the Apollo Gym, when he began boxing in primary school, and made a mark thanks to being part of 5 notable hopefuls from the Kiyokuni High School, along with Kazuto Ioka, Ryo Miyazaki Yuta Uetani and Ryo Okayama.
Specific results have been hard to find, though we did find that he'd reached the last 8 of the Tammer Tournament in 2008, winning a preliminary bout before losing to the eventual runner up Georgian Popescu of Romania.
It would be a few years after the Tammer Tournament that Nakatani would turn professional signing with the Ioka gym, which was run by Kazunori Ioka. The gym's focus at the time was Kazunori's son, Kazuto Ioka, who had claimed the WBC Minimumweight title at the start of 2011 and had been part of the Kyokuni High School 5 along with Nakatani.
Nakatani's debut came on the under-card of Ryo Miyazaki's OPBF Light Flyweight title defense against Donny Mabao at the IMP Hall in Osaka in June 2011. At the time Miyazaki was the second most notable name at the Ioka gym, and this was a good opportunity for Nakatani. The debuting Nakatani would stop Katsuhisa Shiokawa in the 4th round, of a scheduled 4 rounder, and send Shiokawa into retirement.
Nakatani would return to the IMP Hall for another Miyazaki under-card in November 2011, and go the 6 round distance to take a unanimous decision over the durable Tetsuto Sebiyo Tonomura. He would actually fight his third at the same venue, stopping his first international opponent, Filipino Roel Laguna, in the 5th round, in March 2012.
It was the win over Laguna that first seemed to suggest that Nakatani had some spite on his punches, in March 2012. It was the win over Laguna that first seemed to suggest that Nakatani had some spite on his punches, and that was shown again 5 months later when he stopped Ronnel Esparas inside a round, at the Central Gym in Kobe, on a Shinsei promoted card.
In April 2013 Nakatani took his third straight stoppage, taking out Thai foe Nampol Sor Chantasith in 2 rounds, whilst against fighting at the Central gym in Kobe. This served a bit of a stay busy fight for Nakatani before a major step up bout in July 2013, as he travelled to Tokyo to fight and the legendary Korakuen Hall. His Korakuen Hall debut saw him take on the hard hitting Shuhsei Tsuchiya, who had won the 2010 All Japan Rookie of the Year at Lightweight and boasted a record of 14-1 (12). Coming into this bout Nakatani was 5-0 (4) as a professional, and wasn't just the less experienced man but was also fighting in enemy territory, with Tsuchiya being based on Tokyo at the time.
Despite stepping up Nakatani made this look easy, using his hight, reach and speed to neutralise Tsuchiya, who was surprisingly broken down by body shots from Nakatani. It was the body shots of Nakatani that left Tsuchiya in agony, and sent him to the canvas several times. Tsuchiya, a true warrior, tried to get to battle on but was counted out whilst rising to his feet, giving Nakatani a huge win.
Nakatani would return to the Korakuen Hall for his seventh professional bout, and his next step up in class, taking on the JBC and OPBF unifed Lightweight champion Yoshitaka Kato. This was a massive step up, and was a huge risk, though Nakatani would do enough to take a decision win over the tough Kato, who tested Nakatani hard over 12 rounds. Despite Kato being a double champion Nakatani was only challenging for the OPBF title, claiming the belt with a majority decision over Kato.
The win over Kato was a mixed bag. It showed how good Nakatani was, but also saw him getting rocked, and showed that whilst he had an excellent jab his defense was poor and he was easy to hit.
Nakatani would build on his wins over Tsuchiya and Kato by defending the OPBF title against the very testing Filipino Ricky Simsundo. This was a great first defense and saw Nakatani out box, out speed and out jab the aggressive Sismundo to record a third solid win. Sadly though since then we've not seen Nakatani's team really risk him against top regional contenders. Instead of facing the best the region has Nakatani has defended the belt against the likes of Accel Sumiyoshi, a solid but unspectacular Japanese fighter, Tosho Makoto Aoki, a chinny but hard hitting local veteran, Allan Tanada, an under-sized Filipino, and Hurricane Futa, a tough but crude Japanese puncher.
The one real test Nakatani has had since beating Sismundo was the then unbeaten Izuki Tomioka, who was similar in stature to Nakatani, but much quicker, and the speed of Tomioka gave Nakatani fits over 8 rounds, before the difference in experienced played a part. It was Tomioka's 7th bout and he was stopped in the 11th round, whilst running Nakatani incredibly close on the scorecards. This showed that Nakatani could be out jabbed, out moved, out sped, as well as hit clean and really was a worry, despite him pulling the win out of the bag late on.
When we watch Nakatani we see a talented, tall, rangy fighter with a nice jab, surprisingly good body shots, a hurtful straight right hand over the top and solid hooks when he unloads. We also however see a defensively open fighter who can get over-excited when he has his man hurt. Given his jab is such a key weapon it's no surprise that he looks to create space to work from, often preferring to work from range, until he has his man hurt. His footwork to create space is decent, but not amazing and he can look negative at times when creating space, though he has been effective with it so far.
What's pretty notable is the lack of TV footage of Nakatani, with many of his bouts only having fan cam footage. Whilst this is better than nothing we are disappointed by the lack of multiple-camera angles and we do wonder whether he has intentionally been kept away from TV to minimise the flaws opponents can pick out, other than the fact he is very open when he goes for a finish.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
This coming Saturday we see two Japanese fighters in action in Florida. One of those is WBO Super Featherweight world champion Masayuki Ito, a man who really came of age in 2018 with a huge win over Christopher Diaz to become a world champion. The other is Koki Eto (24-4-1, 19) a less well known, but arguably more interesting fighter than Ito, despite being significantly less talented.
Ito is a world class fighter, but is a technically well schooled fighter who came through the hard way, developed skills and reached the pinaccle, Eto on the other hand is a 1-man action man, a wildly entertaining fighter who's flaws have made him a must watch fighter. Despite being hugely entertaining Eto is somewhat an unknown outside of Asia, and this weekend's bout, against 2-time Olympian Jeyvier Cintron (10-0, 5), will be his second outside of Asia. Ahead of Eto's bout in the US we've decided to make the latest fighter to get our "Fighter Focus" treatment, following Ryuichi Funai who also made his US debut earlier this month.
So to begin with lets go through some cliff notes, and some factoids about Eto and his career so far:
So now to look at Koki Eto in more depth, understand him as a fighter and add some meat to the interesting notes from above, and try to understand why we once refered to Eto as the "One man Highlight reel".
He was born in Okinawa along side twin brother Taiki Eto, and the two of the, along with older brother Shingo Eto, were quickly compared to the Kameda brothers, who were also a fighting threesome. Little really is reported about the Eto clan's amateur careers, though Koki clearly didn't have a strong one debuting in a 4 round bout against a fellow novice in August 2008. The following year he would enter the Rookie of the Year but was sadly eliminated by a majority decision loss to Naoki Shiosawa. Whilst that was a notable set back for Eto he would get revenge the following year, stopping Shiosawa in the 5th round a rematch just 8 months later.
The win over Shiosawa was part of a great run of form for Eto, who strung 8 wins together including a win on his international debut, in Mexico in early 2011, and a win over Shota Hashimoto, who had also been stopped by Koki's twin brother. That winning lead to him travelling to Thailand, for his first of 3 bouts in the country, and challenger WBC International Silver Flyweight champion Panomroonglek Kaiyanghadaogym. The bout looked like a straight forward win for the local, on paper, but in actuality Eto went over determined to take the victory and ran the Thai incredibly close on the cards of all 3 Thai judges.
Sadly after the set back against Panomroonglek Eto struggled on his return to the ring, fighting to a 6 round draw with Yota Hori. Eto's career would then be put on ice for a while, before he returned 11 months later and beat the then world ranked Denchailek Kratingdaenggym in 2 rounds. At the time Denchailek was ranked #10 by the WBA and this loss derailed his career completed, with the Thai never returning to the boxing ring afterwards.
Around 9 months after Eto stopped Denchailek he got to make the WBA ranking he had taken from the Thai, fighting against Kompayak Porpramook for the WBA Flyweight title in Bangkok. This turned out to be the bout that put Eto on the proverbial map, as he travelled as the under-dog and came out on top of a 12 round fight that was truly amazing. Eto looked to set a fast pace from the opening round, showing no fear of the harsh Thai conditions and he took the fight to Porpramook from the off. The Thai was fighting back hard, but a 12th round knockdown by Eto proved vital with the Japanese fighter winning a razor thin decision
Sadly for Eto his reign would last less than 4 months, with the fighter losing the title to Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep in his first defense. Eto was stopped in round 6 and despite putting up a good effort he was eventually stopped in the 12th round, whilst down on all 3 cards. Despite losing to the Thai he had again put in a thrilling effort, showing guts and determination whilst being slowly beaten up by the Thai.
Given his tough bouts against Porpramook and Yodmongkol, in the space of just a few months, Eto was given a bit of a break before returning to face Filipino foe Ardin Diale for the OPBF Flyweight title. This was another insane bout, with Eto being dropped in rounds 3 and 7 before battling back and stopping Diale in the 8th round. By the stoppage he was 5 points down in all 3 cards, with 5 rounds left. This was widely proclaimed as one of the best bouts in Asia in 2014 and again saw Eto show his heart and willingness to have a war.
Despite having 3 incredible bouts in a row Eto would actually revert to boxing for his next two, defending the OPBF title against Cris Paulino and Yuki Fukumoto. These were both competitive bouts, but neither was particularly exciting, with Eto pulling out stoppages in the second half of both bouts.
After making his second defense of the OPBF Flyweight title Eto moved up to Super Flyweight and challenged the then WBC world champion Carlos Cuadras. Entering as a huge under-dog Eto was completely out boxed in the first half, though had success in the second half of the fight, closing up the scores slightly and making things respectable. Although he lost 117-111, twice, and 116-112 Eto showed he could compete on the fringes of world class, and probably should have been kept at that level.
Sadly instead of building on the loss to Cuadras Eto has been consistently facing limited opposition and not really looking good in the process. He struggled to beat Filipino domestic level fighter Michael Escobia, was dropped by Jun Blazo before scoring a stoppage, and has really just faced a string of over-matched opposition. That string of bad opposition has allowed Eto to go 7-0 (6) but he's looked very poor in some of those bouts, and at times it has appeared he has regressed from the man who managed to take rounds off Cuadras. He's always looked exciting, but so technically flawed that he could end up being taken out by anyone he faces.
Although a truly exciting fighter at his best, and arguably the closest we have to a current day Naoto Takahashi, the 31 year old Eto has had a damaging career and with his technical flaws and incredible toughness that damage will add up. It's hard to know how much longer Eto has left in his body, but it's clear that win or lose his bout with Cintron will be wonderfully enjoyable for as long as it lasts.
At his best Eto was, for a time, one of the must watch Asian fighters, but the last few years of fighting relative nobodies has seen Eto losing his appeal and becoming less and less interesting. His fight with Cintron will give his career another boost, but we're expecting him to come up short and to end his career in the near future.
(Image courtesy of SGS Gym)
This coming Saturday we'll be focusing on the action in Glasgow, Scotland, where Naoya Inoue and Emanuel Rodriguez battle in their WBSS Bantamweight semi-final. It's worth noting that Inoue isn't the only unbeaten Asian fighter on the card however, with Thailand's Downua Ruawaiking (15-0, 12), aka Apinun Khongsong, also on the card as a reserve for the WBSS tournament at 140lbs.
The 22 year old Thai was announced for the show last week, and at the time of writing his opponent for the show still hasn't been announced, and his appearance will be his first bout in Europe following 15 straight bouts in Asia. The travel, however, shouldn't be an issue with Downua having scored his best win on the road, and secured himself a future world title fight whilst outside of his native Thailand. Despite that we're probably right in assuming most fans, especially those focusing on the main WBSS bouts in Glasgow, don't know anything at all about the unbeaten Thai, making him an ideal subject for one of our "Fighter Focus" articles, and as usual we'll begin with some factoids
As with many Thai fighters there isn't a lot public about Downua's early live other than that he was born in the summer of 1996 in Trang. He was born Apinun Khongsong, though like many Thai's he adopted a fighting name, Downua, and took a name of a sponsor. For those unaware this is how most Thai's get their unique names, and why their "surnames" seem to change, with sponsors and gyms changing. Downua has reportedly had 2 notable sponsor names, originally "Sakkreerin", like that of stablemate Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, and now Rauwaiking, like many others in the Kiatkreerin stable.
Whilst little of Downua's amateur career can be found he told journalists in Japan, earlier this year, that he had had over 100 amateur bouts becoming part of the national team in his teenage years. Those claims were also reported in the Thai press back in 2017 from his promoter, Ekkarat Chaichotchuang
Those amateur claims seem to be backed up by his style, which is similar to that of a Western professional, rather than a former Muay Thai fighter who has converted to boxing. He is quick on his feet, has good technical skills and makes the most size. Those skills were clear early on. In his second recorded bout, a meeting with Matthis Bernot, he showed an aggressive but technical style boxing behind his jab, looking to counter his man and controlling the range behind his straight shots and footwork.
As is typically the case with Thai's Downua was busy early in his career, fighting monthly between June 2017 and December of that year. On the whole his opponents were novices, though he did end the year with a semi-notable victory against Indonesian veteran Heri Andriyanto. Sadly this was a bout with Andriyanto after the Indonesian started to put in poor performances, and was 8 years removed from him going the distance with Yoshihiro Kamegai and more than 5 years after he'd gone the dirstance with Shuhei Tsuchiya.
Downua would stop Andriyanto in 2 rounds, to move to 6-0 (4), stopping the Indonesian in the same round as Koki Inoue had done 3 months earlier. That was followed up 2 months later by a big step up in class, as he faced Yuta Maruoka for the IBF Pan Pacific title. This title meant something to the Kiatkreerin stable, with Patomsuk Pathompothong, also known as Komsan Polsan having previously held the belt before losing it in Macau to Ik Yang. Downua would have no problem with Maruoka, taking him out in the first round to claim the title. He dropped Maruoka with a huge right hand in the early moments and whilst Maruoka would get back to his feet he was set straight back down by another right hand, and then again soon afterwards forcing the referee to stop the action.
Like many Thai's Downua fought in a stay busy bout after winning a belt, taking out Indonesian journeyman Eddy Comaro in the third of a scheduled 6 rounds. This was followed by a straight forward defense against Filipino visitor Junar Adante. This was a very uninspiring first defense against a man who had been stopped in 4 of his previous 5, and had fought much of his career at Super Bantamweight. The over-matched Adante was dropped from a right hand up top and decided enough was enough, making it clear he didn't want to continue.
Thankfully Downua was stepped up after the farcial bouts with Comaro and Adante, taking on former Filipino amateur talent Adam Diu Abdulhamid, in a bout for the IBF Asia title. The under-rated Abdulhamid had not read the script and had come to upset the Thai pressing Downua backwards and showing good defense to avoid the shots of Downua whilst cutting the distance. For the first time the Thai was tested, and only narrowly pasted the test, taking a very close unanimous decision.
Unsurprisingly, after the close call, Downua was given a lengthy rest before being allowed to get some more seasoning. After an 8 month break he swiftly took out Rusmin Kia Raha, Jasen Egera and Ray Rahardjo, in a combined 12 rounds over 7 months. Those wins lead to another step back up in class, and he shined as he beat down Sonny Katiandagho in 3 rounds. This was the first time that Downua really impressed, showing great timing, handspeed, movement and skills to take out the under-rated Katiandagho.
In a way the win over Katiandagho opened the eyes of those who had followed him, including our selves, and seemed to build the belief in the youngster again, following the worries that Abdulhamid had put into the mind of his team. That rebuilt belief lead him to travel to Japan to face Kondo this past February in an IBF world title eliminator. At the time Downua was ranked #7 by the IBF, Kondo was #4. Not only was Kondo higher ranked, more experienced and more proven, but Kondo was also fighting at home, fighting his 39th bout at the Korakuen Hall. Despite being the under-dog Downua impressed, boxing well behind his jab before taking Kondo out with a brutal uppercut, and planting himself as top contender for the IBF crown.
Although he's not well known outside of Asia the unbeaten Thai will look at this weekend to announce himself as one to watch, and despite "only" being a reserve for the WBSS this is a great chance for Downua to make an impression on a whole new audience, and continue his march towards an eventual world title bout. His style is one that should appeal to Western fans, he's heavy handed, a good boxer-puncher and although still a baby in terms of his place in the sport, is clearly a fighter looking to build on a career best win only a few months ago. He's one to keep a very close eye on.
This coming Saturday fight fans around the globe will get the chance to see IBF Super Flyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas (20-1-2, 20) defend his title against little known Japanese challenger Ryuichi Funai (31-7, 22). Ahead of that bout we though we'd try to to let fans become more aware of the challenger, who many won't have seen, and won't really know much about. In fact we suspect that most of the fans watching the bout on Saturday will never have even heard of Funai prior to him being confirmed as Ancajas's 7th world title challenger.
For those wanting to know a lot about Funai we'll go through his career in detail below, though for those just wanting a few quick factoids we'll begin with some cliff notes about Funai.
Now with those out the way, lets deep dive into Ryuichi Funai, and we're sorry for repeating some of the above facts in what is a pretty deep look into the upcoming world title challenger.
Despite being unknown in the West Funai is a 14 year veteran, having debuted in August 2005 and is currently 33 years old, which is ancient for a first time world title challenger at the lower weights.
The Tokyoite wasn't much of an amateur fighter, going 4-4 (2) in the unpaid ranks, and really did take a long time to develop into the fighter he is today. That development has come under the guidance of the fantastic Watanabe gym.
Whilst Funai was always overshadowed by his more notable stablemates, such as Takashi Uchiyama, Ryoichi Taguchi and Kohei Kono, those stablemates and their success certainly helped inspire Funai, and as we all know success drives success.
We are, of course, still seeing that success at the Watanabe gym continue to build today with the likes of Hiroto Kyoguchi, Hironori Mishiro and prospects like Ginjiro Shigeoka being part of the gym's newest wave of talent. Funai is one of the gym's veterans, like Nihito Arakawa and Shin Ono, aad seeing the youngsters rising through the ranks will continue to inspire the older fighters there.
Early in his career Funai struggled. He was 2-2 (1) after his first 4 bouts and despite having a good run in the 2007 Rookie of the Year he still failed to reach the All Japan final, losing to Takahiro Furukawa in the East Japan final. He would bounced back well from that loss, with two blow out wins in 2008, before suffering a 7th round TKO loss to a then unheralded Shinsuke Yamanaka, yes the future WBC Bantamweight king. Funai put in a good effort against Yamanaka, who was then ranked #5 by the JBC, but was eventually broken down by Yamanaka's power, the power that would take Yamanaka to the Japanese Bantamweight title in 2010. Funai was dropped in round 4 of that bout, but went on to give Yamanaka some issues, despite looking very clumsy at this point in his career.
The loss to Yamanaka saw Funai needing to rebuild, and he did that by stringing together a 5 fight winning run. Those wins weren't against particularly notable opponents, though a win over Hiroki Shiino was notable. Shiino, who was 3-0 before facing Funai, had been touted as a real hopeful and although Funai scraped the win he didn't really shine against the novice, and in many ways it was a bout where the loser enhanced their reputation more than the winner.
The win over Shiino saw Funai advance his record to 13-4 (8) and at the age of 24 his career didn't look like it was going anywhere. Things became worse just 6 months later when he would lose again, this time to Masahiro Ishida. That loss, as we'd seen many times during Funai's early years, was followed by a good winning run, with 4 straight wins. This run was argubaly the best of Funai's up to this point, defeating Gakuya Furuhashi, the then unbeaten Yuki Tsuge, who had won the Rookie of the Year in 2010 and former world title challenger Teppei Kikui.
That short, but notable, winning run lead Funai to his first title fight, a 2012 clash with OPBF Bantamweight Rolly Lunas, then fighting as Rolly Matsushita. As with the Yamanaka bout, Funai put up a decent effort, but was stopped in the 9th round by the then OPBF champion and WBC #7 ranked world contender.
At the age of 27 Funai was 17-6 (11), he had notable losses to Yamanaka and Lunas but by then the Yamanaka loss had aged well, with Yamanaka later becoming the WBC Bantamweight champion and Lunas being in the mix for a shot himself. His record wasn't great, but he was showing signs of real improvement from the early struggles he'd had, and was developing into a solid fighter. At least domestically. His form following the loss showed a continued development as he went 7-0 (6) in the 3 years following the defeat to Lunas, scoring notable domestic wins over Masafumi Otake, Akinori Hoshino and Ryuto Otsuka, all of whom would mix at Japanese title level. More notable than the wins however was the fact he seemed to be showing signs of being able to make Super Flyweight, a division he'd abandoned following his 2007 loss in the Rookie of the Year competition. He would finally lose the weight to begin a fully fledged second run at 115lbs, starting in 2016.
After a 10 month break from the ring, missing out on almost half of 2015, a hungry Funai challenged Japanese Super Flyweight champion Sho Ishida, then 21-0. Funai didn't just challenge Ishida however and instead ran him ultra-close in a very, very hotly contested 10 round bout. It was clear the move down in weight was a good one for Funai, who looked stronger, more powerful and physically better at 115lbs, where he wasn't being bullied and hurt by the bigger guys. After 10 rounds with Ishida he was beaten by a majority decision, though it was a decision that could easily have gone his way. The eventual scorecards, which were 96-96, 96-96 and 97-95, showed how close Funai was, and had this not been in enemy territory, in Osaka, there's a good chance he'd have had the win.
Since losing to Ishida we've actually seen Funai go through the very best run of his career. In 2017, than a year after the loss to Ishida, he would stop his friend Kenta Nakagawa in 7 rounds to claim the Japanese Super Flyweight title, his first professional title. That win came when Funai was 31 and he didn't rest on the win, defending the belt against Takayuki Okumoto and Shota Kawaguchi before the year was over. Interestingly Okumoto currently holds the title, with Funai vacating after his second defense to focus on moving up a level. The move up saw Funai become the WBO Asia Pacific in 2018, when he beat former world title challenger Warlito Parrenas in 8 rounds. He was losing before he scored the stoppage, and had made a slow start in what was his first scheduled 12 round bout. The stoppage of Parrenas showed that whilst Funai wasn't the most skilled he could battle through adversity, fighting through bad facial damage to stop Parrenas with a huge flurry. It was a bloody war and the type of bout that showed how hungry both men were for a big win, and a potentially huge step towards a world title fight.
Although Funai wouldn't get a world title fight on the back of the Parrenas fight he did manage to get a world title eliminator, taking on Mexican foe Victor Emanuel Olivo last November in an IBF eliminator. This bout was available live on Boxing Raise and was a really strange bout. The opening round saw Funai do almost nothing. It was a huge opportunity and yet it appeared that he had frozen, and was set to throw away a massive opportunity. Thankfully in round 2 Funai finally let some shots go, and connected with a monstrous straight right hand that dropped Olivo hard. The little Mexican warrior got up but Funai could smell blood and quickly saw off Olivo when the bout resumed. The finish managed to mask over what had been a very odd opening round performance.
Watching Funai's early bouts we see a very clumsy fighter, but in more recent years he has developed a much cleaner style. Even with his cleaner style he's a strange fighter to watch. He's pretty one paced for the most part, but when he smells blood he quickly jumps on an opponent and shows there is a class offensive fighter there. He has solid body shots, a brutal straight right hand and a decent jab.
The biggest problem for Funai is his lack of speed, he's predictable, straight forward and a bit too methodical. His right hand is a beauty, but all too often he just looks basic. Thankfully he has shown a willingness to grit results out and he has shown glimpses of being really good, but they are only glimpses and it's very rare to see him put on a complete performance. If he does show what he can do, as he did against Nakagawa, he could upset an off form Ancajas this coming Saturday. But in reality we're expecting his lack of speed to be a major issue against Ancajas , who we suspect will be too sharp, too quick and too intelligent.
Funai does have a dangerous right hand, which is typically the "southpaw killer", but doesn't have the speed or boxing brain to land it with any major consistency, and shouldn't really worry Ancajas with it too much, if at all.
(Image of Funai courtesy of Watanabe Gym)
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features