By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
A hectic weekend of fistic action turned out to be a fruitful one for Japan with a new world champion crowned, the consummation of a tasty looking all Japanese dustup and an anticipated super bantamweight clash that produced a world title contender.
We begin at the Civic Center in Kissimmee, Florida as Masayuki Ito took on Christopher Diaz for the vacant WBO super featherweight strap. Ito had started slow in some of his recent fights but the visitor was out of the gate quickly, landing with solid body shots and right hands. Diaz was often standing in mid-range without letting his hands go and was a sitting duck for the right hand and it was this punch that dropped him in round 4 and a knockout win for Ito looked a strong possibility.
To his credit the Puerto Rican not only rallied in the 4th but arguably had his best round in the 5th. Ito controlled the majority of the rest of the contest, repeatedly tagging Diaz with right hands, causing his left eye to shut. Whilst the home man never stopped trying there was no doubting the result at the final bell and Ito deservedly got the unanimous decision.
The narrative throughout the ESPN+ broadcast that Diaz was the more seasoned fighter was baffling considering that Diaz had never gone passed 8 rounds and had never fought anyone of any real quality whilst Ito had had a number of 10 and 12 round bouts with solid domestic and regional foes. This seasoning which is pretty much the norm in Japanese boxing certainly prepares them properly for the step up to world level and although certainly not every boxer from the land of the rising sun is victorious, very rarely are they embarrassed or blown out in a few rounds.
As for where Ito goes next then unless Top Rank were suitably impressed enough to sign him the most logical move appears to be a spot on one of the high profile cards at home until a big often comes in from abroad. The division at the moment is pretty thin in terms of depth but things can change very quickly below lightweight.
As part of a world title doubleheader in China, Sho Kimura successfully defended his WBO flyweight crown against Froilan Saludar. The challenger actually began pretty well, countering effectively over the first 2 rounds leaving the champion slightly confused. Kimura’s pressure then began to tell and the Filipino struggled under the weight of the body shots and it was a blow to the mid-section which saw proceedings come to an end in round 6.
Kimura now takes on former 105 and 108 lb champion Kosei Tanaka in Nagoya on September 24 in a fascinating matchup of boxer puncher versus all out pressure fighter. The rise of Kimura has been a remarkable one, from 10/1 underdog against Zou Shiming to now a world champion who’s made 2 successful defenses and is now in a far better financial position.
Tanaka looked impressive on his flyweight debut against Ronnie Baldonado in March but having been dropped more than once during his career and having suffered fairly serious injuries against Palangpol CP Freshmart it will be intriguing to see how he copes with the brute strength of Kimura. Tanaka’s huge edge in speed should be telling early on but things could get very interesting in the second half of the bout as Kimura’s non-stop pressure and size could come into play.
The less said about the other world title fight on the show the better as Knockout CP Freshmart and Xiong Zhao Zhong served up a dire 12 round shit fest that wasn’t befitting of some of the truly great fights at strawweight over the last decade. Knockout came away with the unanimous decision but a listless display with stretches of laziness that have been evident in recent bouts didn’t enhance his reputation at all. There was talk of an offer being made to Tatsuya Fukuhara but it now seems that mandatory challenger Byron Rojas will be next. The likes of Fukuhara, Tsubasa Koura and Masataka Taniguchi should be queuing up to take on the Thai who looks to be a champion ready to be taken.
Over at a jam packed Korakuen Hall Yusaku Kuga and Shingo Wake squared off for the Japanese super bantamweight title. The fight was built as a potential world title eliminator so there was a lot on the line for both men.
Wake proved to be too sharp and too skilful for Kuga who was dropped early on and never really got to grips with the sharpshooting southpaw. As the defending champion tried to turn the tide this only left more openings for Wake and eventually the towel came in during the 10th and final stanza. Kuga is definitely young enough to come again and as for Wake, he stated afterwards his desire for a world title tilt on New Year’s Eve.
With champions Ray Vargas and Daniel Roman having deals in the US these seem out of the question but if Ryosuke Iwasa comes through his mandatory defense against TJ Doheny in August then that maybe plausible. Also Isaac Dogboe who faces Hidenori Otake in August has shown a willingness to travel so maybe tempted by a trip to Japan.
As a huge advocate of more all Japanese bouts of significance at all levels it was great to see Kuga and Wake face each other as both could have gone in different directions and given the electric atmosphere that was created hopefully we see more of these type of clashes. At super bantamweight alone there’s the likes of Hinata Maruta of the Morioka Gym, Ryo Matsumoto from the Ohashi and Woz Boxing's Shohei Omori attempting to progress their careers. Speaking of Omori, the hard hitting southpaw returned with an excellent second round stoppage of Brian Lobetania which should give him a real confidence boost.
On the same card in Osaka, Masayoshi Nakatani made the 10th defense of his OPBF lightweight strap, eventually stopping Izuki Tomioka in 11 rounds and again a world title fight was mentioned but frankly seeing will be believing given how he has remained at regional level. Sho Ishida scored a 4th round knockout of Richard Claveras but in a crowded 115 lb weight class, opportunities at world level are few and far between. Finally Tatsuya Fukuhara won a 10 round decision over Naoya Haruguchi to keep himself in the minimumweight mix and is capable of giving anyone in the division a hard nights work.
(Image courtesy of Sumio Yamada)
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