On this coming Wednesday Japanese fans will be treat to a world title double header with both fights featuring big name Japanese fighters taking on European rivals. The fights, which are getting attention from hardcore fans around the world, are both major contests and could help define the legacies of both fighters both domestically and internationally.
The card, televised by NTV from 19:00 local time marks the return to free-to-air TV for Shinsuke Yamanaka (20-0-2, 15), the WBC Bantamweight champion who will be hoping to impress fans who may have been forced to miss his fight with Pedro Guevara, and will also see the return to world title level for the "Ace of Japan" Hozumi Hasegawa (33-4, 15) who has been out of major fights since 2011.
With the major significance of these fights and this show in general we've decided to do our first ever show specific feature where we will break down the fights, the fighters and what the bouts mean to their legacies and future.
The first of the two world title fights will be that of Hasegawa who will be challenging Spain's hard charging Kiko Martinez (30-4, 22) for the IBF Super Bantamweight title. For some this is a suicide mission from Hasegawa whilst for others it's a fight that could define him as one of the Japanese greats.
Having already claimed world titles at both Bantamweight and Featherweight Hasegawa is hoping to become just the second ever 3-weight world champion from Japan. At 33 years old this will likely be his only chance and unfortunately for him he's in a tough divisions where even another chance wouldn't guarantee him an easy fight for a title.
Hasegawa first made his name as one of the great Bantamweight champions. He won the WBC title at 118lbs way back in 2005 when he dethroned legendary Thai Veeraphol Sahaprom who had been a champion for more than 6 years and a thorn in the side of Japanese boxing. Sahaprom, who had defeated Joichiro Tatsuyoshi for the title, had run together 15 defences before Hasegawa managed to defeat him and end an impressive 44 fight unbeaten streak that dated back to 1996.
As the Bantamweight champion Hasegawa himself had a legendary reign from 2005 to 2010 that saw him defending the belt against the likes of Veeraphol Sahaprom, the then unbeaten Simpiwe Vetyeka, Simone Maludrottu and Vusi Malinga. His challenger's combined record read a remarkable 248-20-7.
Unfortunately for Hasegawa his reign came to an unfortunate end when he fought giant Mexican puncher Fernando Montiel who stopped Hasegawa in 4 rounds to end the first championship reign of the Japanese fight.
Hasegawa would quickly climb back to the top of the mountain as he moved up to Featherweight and over-came Juan Carlos Burgos to claim the WBC Featherweight title. This reign was short lived though and Hasegawa was dethroned for the second time in just 3 fights as the huge punching Jhonny Gonzalez stopped him in, also in round 4.
For many the loss to Gonzalez signalled the end of Hasegawa and many suggested he had been exposed, twice, by solid punchers and it was obvious he couldn't take a shot. It was as if the fans had forgotten, or simply not seen, the shots he had take from Veeraphol and wrote him off on that alone.
Since the loss to Gonzalez back in 2011 Hasegawa has taken his time to rebuild his confidence and interest in boxing which waned dramatically at one point and he actually spent a year out of the ring. Since returning, in April 2012, Hasegawa has run up 4 straight wins including an eye catching KO over Genaro Camargo last time out. They have been at a lower level though helped show that Hasegawa has still got his speed, timing, skills and criminally under-rated power
In Martinez we do have a hard puncher going up against Hasegawa. Martinez is genuinely rock fisted though unlike Montiel and Gonzalez he's not the most intelligent of boxers. What you see is what you get and what you see with Martinez is a thuggish brute who is all about non-stop pressure, solid shots upstairs and downstairs and a terrier like mentality in the ring.
The Spaniard can be out boxed, as we saw against Carl Frampton not too long ago, but he's not there to be brawled with and to beat him you need to be intelligent, capable of boxing on the back foot and have the power to hurt him to make him think twice about throwing shots. All traits that Hasegawa has in his locker though will need to hope he can access before he's ground down.
For Hasegawa this is his toughest bout since his loss to Gonzalez 3 years ago and he knows it, he's been training for it, he's bee doing all he can to prepare and he's going in knowing full well that this is do or die. A loss really would be the end of his career whilst a victory would have him an even bigger fan favourite than he already is. His name would go down in the annals of Japanese boxing history as a modern day great if not one of the all time greats.
Whilst Hasegawa's legacy is on the line for Martinez it's about the money the opportunity to earn big money as a champion. He was seen as a huge under-dog when he won his title, defeating Jhonatan Romero last August, and has made a single defence against South Africa's Jeffrey Mathebula. Boxing in Spain is about dead and unfortunately the Mathebula fight was fought as a low paying mandatory defence. He has taken this fight due to the money on offer from Hasegawa's team and will know that if he wins this more opportunities will arise for people wanting to take the world title from him. Bouts with the likes of Scott Quigg, Leo Santa Cruz, Cristian Mijares or Jamie McDonnell could make him good money whilst bouts with Shingo Wake or Genesis Servania could also interest the Spaniard.
It's a tough bout and it is really a lightning fast boxer against marauding brawler, the stylistic match up that we dream of.
Having twice beaten Veeraphol whilst also holding wins over Vetyeka, Burgos and Malinga a win against Martinez may not actually fit in to Hasegawa's top 5 wins. On the other hand a victory for Martinez would certainly be amongst he top 2 wins for the Spaniard, comparable with his victory over then unbeaten Romero.
It may not seem like much of a big deal but Hasegawa has won the big ones repeatedly through his career, for Martinez he has had mixed fortunes in the big ones losing to Frampton, Takalani Ndlovu and Rendall Munroe, twice, whilst beating Romero and Ireland's Bernard Dunne. Saying that however Martinez will have no fear of travelling to Japan having already fought in Ireland, England, South Africa, France, Northern Ireland, Argentina and the USA as well as his native Spain where he is the only real star boxing in the country.
For us this is the more competitive match up than the other title fight but it's also the one we worry about. Hasegawa isn't the fighter he once was and Martinez, for his technical flaws, is an animal in the ring and will view Hasegawa as his next meal. It's tough, it's even matched and it's a bout that should have fans genuinely excited.
Following Hasegawa's contest with Martinez we then get to see "The God of Left" Shinsuke Yamanaka defending his WBC Bantamweight crown against former European champion Stephane Jamoye (25-4, 15) of Belgium.
This will be the 6th defence for Yamanaka who will be seeking his 5th straight stoppage and his 14th in 15 fights. It's that level of power which has seen some referee to Yamanaka's left hand as one of boxing hardest punches in the sport right now though worryingly for his rivals he has been working hard on his right hook as well to try and make him into a more complete 2 handed fighter.
Last year Yamanaka was crowned the MVP of Japanese boxing by the JBC and with his 3 defences, all ending in KO, it was hard to argue with that status.
What's so great about the 31 year old Japanese southpaw isn't his power but the fact he can, when he chooses do anything he wants in the ring. He can box when he wants, he can brawl when he wants, he has the power to knock people clean out and he can almost do them all on the fly. There is really nothing that can phase him and he seems to know that one way or another he will either beat up and break down his opponents or he'll clean their clock.
Yamanaka came to the attention of hardcore fans and Japanese fans back in March 2011 when he stopped Ryosuke Iwasa in one of the best fights of recent years. It was Yamanaka's first defence of the Japanese Bantamweight title though managed to make him, and Iwasa in fairness, a name to follow.
Yamanaka's next fight after beating Iwasa saw him jumping from Japanese champion to world champion as he put on a fun to watch contest with Mexico's Christian Esquivel for the then vacant WBC Bantamweight title. The bout saw Yamanaka beat up Esquivel who was stopped in round 11 as Yamanaka claim the title. Despite being the world champion it wasn't until he defeat Vic Darchinyan in his first defence, winning a 12 round decision, that fans really began to take Yamanaka seriously.
In many recent bouts Yamanaka has looked devastating and eye catching stoppages over Tomas Rojas, Jose Nieves and Alberto Guevara have seen some putting Yamanaka in their top 10 pound-for-pound lists.
Whilst Yamanaka is seen as one of the jewels in Japanese boxing it's fair to say that Jamoye is seen as the jewel of Belgian boxing, unless we include the queen of Belgium boxing Delfine Persoon. Jamoye is really fun to watch and if you've not seen him we recommend you catch his fights with British pair Jamie McDonnell and Lee Haskins, with the Haskins fight being a true FOTY leve bout.
Jamoye is a 2-time European champion though did, unfortunately, lose last time out to tricky Frenchman Karim Guerfi in a bout that saw Jamoye's usually persistent pressure and busy work both vanish. It was truly a disappointing effort from Jamoye but still ended up being a really good fight. Some did question whether the Belgian had struggled to make weight, others asked if he had overlooked Guerfi whilst others suggested it was just an off night. Whatever it was it was poor from Jamoye who has usually been great fun.
In regards to Jamoye against Asian fighters he does hold a notable, albeit controversial, victory over Pungluang Sor Singyu and a split decision loss to Tomoki Kameda. Incidentally Pungluang will challenge Tomoki for the WBO Bantamweight title next month.
This bout isn't about Jamoye's fights with Asian's however and is instead about Jamoye against Leo Santa Cruz. As we all know Yamanaka wants to fight Santa Cruz and Jamoye himself lasted just 6 rounds with the Mexican back in 2011. Sure that fight was 3 years ago but Yamanaka will be hoping to beat that marker, just as he did when he stopped Guevara who had taken Santa Cruz the distance. In turn a good victory over Jamoye would also see him getting 1 up on Tomoki who really struggled with the Belgian.
As for the fight stylistically it's an extremely hard boxer-puncher in Yamanaka facing an aggressive pressure fighter who can be hurt, especially to the body, but tends to find a way past the pain to fight tooth and nail.
For Jamoye a victory over Yamanaka would be career defining. It would be a stand out win by such a margin that no other win on his record would even come close to. The victory over Pungluang, back in 2009, is his best so far but would really not be on the same planet as a victory over Yamanaka in 2014.
In regards to how this would look on Yamanaka's record it wouldn't compare to victories over Darchinyan, Malcolm Tunacao, Esquivel, Rojas or Iwasa. Genuinely it would be, at best, the 6th best win on his record though could very easily be 7th or 8th. It would, by all means, be a good win for the champion but not one of his best.
Fortunately for Yamanaka this isn't supposed to be about scoring a major win but is all about staying sharp and continue to apply mental pressure on Santa Cruz. It's also allows Yamanaka to show off how good his training in the US earlier this was. The training camp, which was spent with Ryota Murata's team in the US, was used to try and help Yamanaka get a feel for the US before a prospective fight over their next year. He worked a lot on his right hook and against a fighter like Jamoye that's a key punch to allow him to get into position to land his fearsome and deadly straight left.
We think Jamoye will come to fight and make for a fun contest but he'll be stopped by Yamanaka's devastating power in what will be a fun but relatively one sided contest.
Images courtesy of:
Top- NTV/Nippon TV
If you were to ask me what I think of 2014 so far, I'd say that the year has been very quiet. Whilst some fight fans will say that the first few weeks of any new year is quiet for boxing this one just seems quieter than usual.
I understand, that the lack of fights is, at least partially, down to the winter Olympics. I can appreciate that no promoter wants to go head-to-head with one of the biggest sporting events of the year. Though what I can't understand is the real lack of action in almost every country. Some weeks haven't just been quiet but have been pretty much silent in terms of notable fights (and I really stretch the definition of "notable fights" right here).
Thankfully though the lack of action in the ring hasn't stopped us from getting word of several major bouts which are either signed or strongly rumoured for this year. It appears that the battling in the ring might have been unexciting but the battle of the match makers, promoters and lawyers has been highly enticing.
I've decided that, instead of talking about the lack of bouts for once, I'd take a look at some of the best ones that have either been signed, are getting signed or seem likely to be made later this year.
Naoya Inoue v Adrian Hernandez (April 6th, Ota-City General Gymnasium, Tokyo)
The first big major bout that we've got coming up was announced just a few short days ago and features Japanese youngster Naoya Inoue (5-0, 4) taking on Mexican Adrian Hernandez (29-2-1, 18) for the WBC Light Flyweight title.
Aged 20 Inoue is still a boxing baby though his potential was clear from his days as an amateur and his desire to be one of the fastest moved fighters in the history of the sport has been a real breath of fresh air. For some however he is being rushed too fast and should have had a few more fights before fighting a dangerous for like Hernandez.
From where I am sat Inoue is more than ready for a world title fight. He is wonderfully gifted, exciting, and more advanced than almost anyone else his age. As well as that he has also been given top training by his father, Shingo Inoue, and has shared a ring with both Akira Yaegashi and Ryota Murata, both of whom have had nothing but glowing words about the youngster.
Hernandez is dangerous and experienced. He does however have numerous flaws and could well be the weakest of the champions at 108lbs. It's a huge ask for Inoue, of course it is, but this is the aggressive matchmaking which has made the Ohashi Gym so well liked by fans and fighters alike.
(Picture, left to right: Shingo Inoue, Naoya Inoue, Akira Yaegashi and Hideyuki Ohashi)
Hozumi Hasegawa v Kiko Martinez (April 23rd, Castle Hall, Osaka)
The second great looking match up takes place less than 3 weeks after the Inoue/Hernandez fight and will see former Bantamweight and Featherweight champion Hozumi Hasegawa (33-4, 15) attempting to become a 3-weight world champion. As with Inoue's bout Hasegawa will be taking on a dangerous world champion as he battles Spain's Kiko Martinez (30-4, 22), the current IBF Super Bantamweight champion.
Martinez was a man courted by a number of fighters, including Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg, though it seems that Hasegawa's team have done enough to convince him to travel for his first bout in Asia.
Whilst Hasegawa, at 33 years old, is a man coming to the end of his career he will feel like he has one more great performance left in him. He'll be hoping that that great performance happens here as Kiko is a very dangerous puncher with an all out pressure mind-set. The Spaniard isn't the most skilled but is very strong and has a brutal attitude in the ring.
If Hasegawa, who some are already writing off, can beat Martinez he will become Japan's second ever 3-weight world champion and cap off a remarkable career. He may not have become the star of Japanese boxing like some had hoped but his name, win or lose, will be very fondly remembered by the boxing fans in his homeland. A win however would see him being put up amongst the genuinely great Japanese fighters.
Picture: Hozumi Hasegawa and Shinsuke Yamanaka
Tomoki Kameda v Pungluang Sor Singyu (Date and venue yet to be announced)
There is something about the Japanese/Thai rivalry that really adds an extra something to bouts. This will next be seen at the world level later this month as Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep defends his WBA interim Flyweight title against Takuya Kogawa. That fight however pales in comparison to the bout between WBO Bantamweight champion Tomoki Kameda (29-0, 18), pictured, and Pungluang Sor Singyu (46-2, 31).
Whilst no date has been set for Tomoki/Pungluang it's a bout that is very difficult not get very excited about. Tomoki looks to be the best fighter in Kameda family and can do it all. He can box wonderfully on the back foot or he can fight going forward. Pungluang on the other hand is an in your face fighter from Thailand who comes forward and tries to make every bout a real fight. If he can cut the ring off from Kameda this could be a potential fight of the year.
The few details that have been leaked about this contest is that it could take place in either Japan or the US. I'm personally hoping it's in the US so that every fan state side gets a chance to see these two men in action and gets to see a very even looking all-Asian bout that could well reignite the interest in watching these sorts of bouts in both the US and Europe.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai v Carlos Cuadras (Date and venue yet to be announced)
If I'm excited about the prospect of Tomoki Kameda fighting Pungluang Sor Singyu then I'm even more excited by the potential Super Flyweight clash between Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (24-3-1, 22) and Mexico's unbeaten Carlos Cuadras (29-0, 24).
This, a WBC mandatory for champion Srisaket, has all the ingredients of being a special contest between two big hitting fighters and aggressively minded fighters.
Srisaket was one of the break out stars of last year and scored an impressive 7 victories, 6 by KO, which included a shockingly destructive victory over Yota Sato and impressive beat down of the brave Hirofumi Mukai. Although he's relatively unknown outside of Thailand and Japan Srisaket is nothing short of terrifying.
Like Srisaket, Cuadras is also aggressively minded and with the bout rumoured to be in Mexico he may well have a notable advantage in terms of home field. Saying that though Srisaket is by far the best fighter that Cuadras will have ever stepped in to the ring with and may well have too much power, aggression, strength and toughness for the unbeaten Mexican.
The only things confirmed about this bout is that Teiken will be the promoters and this it will be a sure fire war for as long as it lasts.
Picture is from Srisaket's Sor Rungvisai's victory over Yota Sato
Shinsuke Yamanaka v Leo Santa Cruz (Speculative)
The first of two "speculative" bouts that I'm excited about sees WBC Bantamweight champion Shinsuke Yamanaka (20-0-2, 15) moving up to Super Bantamweight to challenger WBC champion Leo Santa Cruz (26-0-1, 15).
The bout is one that Yamanaka has been talking about a lot to the Japanese press and seems to be a contest he really wants even though he would have to step up in weight and travel to the US to get it, two things he has been very happy to accept.
Yamanaka has helped pressure the fight by doing a better job on former Santa Cruz opponent Alberto Guevara and seems set to do the same against Stephane Jamoye when the two meet on April 23rd. Whilst some may view this as Yamanaka fighting Santa Cruz's "cast off's" the fact he is looking to do a better job than Santa Cruz could well be enough to make fans question just how good Santa Cruz really is.
As for Santa Cruz, the all out Mexican fighting machine will need to get past slippery and skilful Cristian Mijares on March 8th for this bout to take place. We don't imagine Santa Cruz will have any problems with Mijares though we'd not be shocked if Santa Cruz tries to show more to his boxing than his pressure style, at least for a few rounds.
Akira Yaegashi v Roman Gonzalez (Speculative)
Last week saw Ohashi gym announcing a show for April 6th that included not only Naoya Inoue's bout with Adrian Hernandez, see above, but also a contest between WBC Flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi (19-3, 9) and Odilon Zaleta (15-3, 8) as well as an under-card contest involving Roman Gonalez (38-0, 32).
When that card was announced Yaegashi seemed to strongly suggest that his next defense, if he gets past Zaleta of course, will be against Gonzalez in what is a Flyweight contest to really be excited about.
Gonzalez, who fought this past weekend against Juan Kantun, is arguably the best offensive fighter on the planet. He is a destructive machine that combines speed, power, skill and an outstanding array of punches.
If the bout, as expected, gets signed for fall or winter then we have a bout that will see Yaegashi's toughness and experienced put against Gonzalez's intelligent aggression. One thing is certain, this one will have the potential to be a fight of the year.
Of course, no date has been set for this one and both men will need to win on April 6th but that shouldn't be a problem.
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