Crowds were healthy throughout the year and TV ratings were among the best in the world however, high profile all Japanese bouts have been at a premium with the June 2012 unification between Kazuto Ioka and Akira Yaegashi and the December 30th Naoya Inoue Kohei Kono contest for the WBO super flyweight strap standing out in recent times.
In this guest article we look at 10 all Japanese dust ups that would be a ratings winner on TV and would put plenty of bums on seats. The 10 fights are split in to 2 categories with the first 5 involving at least 1 world title and the other 5 for either domestic, regional or world title eliminator status.
In part 1 we feature the 5 potential world title scraps.
Katsunari Takayama 31-8 12 KOs v Tatsuya Fukuhara 18-4-6 7 KOs
Despite double digit losses between them and neither being a big puncher you would do well to come up with a more fan friendly fight than this one and the chances of it happening are strong if Fukuhara can overcome Moises Calleros on February 26.
After back to back losses to Yu Kimura and a debuting Takuma Inoue in 2013 the career renaissance of Fukuhara has been remarkable with the first signs coming on the road in Thailand with an 8 round majority draw against Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr in September 2014. The upward curve continued for the 27-year-old in November 2015 as he picked up the vacant domestic 105 lb crown outpointing Hiroya Yamamoto. The Kumamoto man enjoyed a quite brilliant 2016 taking the unbeaten records of both Takumi Sakae and Genki Hanai and a win over Calleros in his back yard will make him mandatory challenger for Takayama’s WBO strawweight belt.
Takayama needs no introduction for readers of this site and fans of the lower weights having shared the ring with the likes of Roman Gonzalez, Nkosinathi Joyi twice, Eagle Den Junlaphan and Utaka Niida. Few will also forget his epic 12 round battle with Francisco Rodriguez in August 2014 which saw both the WBO and IBF minimumweight titles on the line in a rare unification bout in boxing’s’ lightest division. After losing his IBF strap to Jose Argumedo on the last day of 2015 in another gruelling encounter some may have wondered about the Osakan’s future at world level but as he has done on a number of occasions Takayama bounced back to earn a technical decision over talented teenager Riku Kano to grab the vacant WBO 105 lb belt in August 2016. Due to injuries suffered in the bout with Kano, Takayama has been side lined since with a May returned being targeted and if it is indeed Fukuhara in the other corner the 33-year-old will again need all of his resolve and warrior traits to prevail but write off Takayama at your own peril.
Kosei Tanaka 8-0 5 KOs v Ken Shiro 9-0 5 KOs.
This clash would pit 2 of Japan’s outstanding young phenomes against each other and would be one of the best fights in a congested light flyweight division.
Tanaka snatched the vacant WBO 108 lb strap on New Year’s Eve in Gifu taking Moises Fuentes apart in 5 rounds sending out a message to the rest of the division in the process. The forma WBO strawweight champion seem to really benefit from the extra 3 pounds of replenishment as he retained his blistering speed and carried plenty of power up with him as was seen against Fuentes. There were more than a few sceptics after the 21-year-old had to climb off the floor to eventually overcome Vic Saludar in their December 2015 meeting with Tanaka fighting with his heart rather than his head but his supreme display this past New Year’s Eve should quell any of those doubters. Having already become a 2 weight world champion in just 8 fights Tanaka has stated his desire to win world titles at 5 weights and if he is intent on expanding his fan base outside of Gifu and Nagoya then a first defence against a hungry unbeaten challenger like Shiro would easily fit the bill.
Shiro has been matched brilliantly during his short career facing a variety of styles and showing all the necessary ingredients to succeed at the world class level. His power was on full display with early stoppages of Lester Abutan and Atsushi Kakutani and his beat down in 7 rounds of the naturally much bigger Katsunori Nagamine was highly impressive. The 25-year-old survived an early flash knockdown to prevail on points against the then unbeaten Rolly Sumalpong in his first 10 rounder and also was victorious on points in a local derby versus Kenichi Horikawa to win the Japanese title. The Kyoto born man showed an improved gas tank in the later stages against Toshimasa Ouchi with the BMB Gym fighter pressing for the stoppage in the championship rounds of the pairs OPBF contest. Shiro defends his national title on April 12th in Osaka versus Tetsuya Hisada before hopefully moving on to the world stage.
Akira Yaegashi 25-5 13 KOs v Ryoichi Taguchi 25-2-2 11 KOs.
This contest would draw extremely well both at the gate and on TV in the Tokyo area and would be a long overdue unification at 108 lbs.
Yaegashi was pushed all the way by Martin Tecuapetla in May 2016, eventually taking a split decision in his first defence of the IBF light flyweight crown. Having suffered injuries during the bout with the Mexican Yaegashi didn’t return until the end of the year where he stopped Samartlek Kokietgym in the 12th round of a routine defence. Next up is a tricky mandatory against Milan Melindo and if he can come through that the Ohashi fighter certainly won’t shy away from anyone. The 33-year-old is much respected and revered for his warrior mind set and the bouts with Kazuto Ioka and Porsawan Porpramook will live long in the memory for Japanese boxing fans.
Taguchi fought 3 times in 2016 with mixed results and clung on to his world title drawing with Carlos Canizales on New Year’s Eve. The champion was surprised by the Venezuelan’s insane work rate but remained composed and dominated the later stages. 4 months earlier Taguchi produced arguably his career best performance to earn a unanimous decision over Ryo Miyazaki in a mandatory defence. An 11th round stoppage over Juan Jose Landaeta in April 2016 was indicative of a disappointing run of opposition since the 30-year-old won his world title in December 2014. Since Yaegashi has a mandatory next this gives Taguchi the chance to fit in another contest before the possibility of this unification is even discussed but with him being the Gyms only world champion it’s doubtful that Watanabe would take a risk before their crop of young talent is ready to take over the mantel of Taguchi, Kohei Kono and Takashi Uchiyama.
Kazuto Ioka 21-1 13 KOs v Daigo Higa 11-0 11 KOs.
With Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada and John Riel Casimero all having moved a division north this is the most appetising flyweight dish on the menu and there’s no doubt it would fill any arena in the land of the rising sun especially in Osaka.
After being totally out foxed by Amnat Ruenroeng for the IBF flyweight strap in May 2014 Ioka managed to regroup and score a pair of wins over Juan Carlos Reveco in 2015 with the second being an impressive stoppage victory over the solid Argentinian on New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately the 27-year-old wasn’t able to build on that success with KO wins over the plucky Keyvin Lara and the very talented but inexperienced Stamp Kiatniwat being his ring appearances for 2016. With limited options at 112 lb and falling TV ratings in recent times a bout with a dangerous hard hitting foes such as Higa would surely regain the interest of the Japanese public.
Higa continued his rampage through the flyweight ranks in 2016 with a 4th round demolition of OPBF champion Ardin Diale being a stand out performance. In his last outing Filipino southpaw Felipe Cagubcob caused a few minor issues before being overwhelmed by the relentless youngster. The 21-year-old returns on February 4th in a non-title encounter against Jayar Estremos before awaiting the winner of the March 4th Nawaphon Por Chokchai Juan Hernandez clash for the vacant WBC belt. If Higa gets by the March 4th winner and he’d be a solid favourite against either then the Yoko Gushiken protégé would be in line for big fights and a victory over a leading light such as Ioka would propel him to super star status in Japanese boxing.
Yukinori Oguni 19-1-1 7 KOS v Ryosuke Iwasa 22-2 14 KOs.
This bout is already mandated by the IBF and should take place within the first half of the year.
Oguni suffered a few injuries in his amazing New Year’s Eve title winning effort so will be out of the gym for the next few months. Few if any gave Oguni a prayer against Jonathan Guzman but his all-round performance to relieve the hard hitting Dominican of his IBF super bantamweight belt was simply outstanding with the man from Japan proving everybody wrong. After being stopped in 11 rounds for the OPBF strap by Shingo Wake back in March 2013 the 28-year-old is proof that a loss isn’t the end of the world and that you can actually learn from the experience, rebuild and still enjoy a successful career and become a world champion.
After being knocked out in 6 rounds by Lee Haskins in June 2015 for the interim IBF trinket Iwasa has had to do some rebuilding himself. The southpaw has rebounded with 3 victories, 2 coming via stoppage over Dennis Tubieron and Patomsith Pathompothong and the move up from bantamweight has proved fruitful for now. Iwasa travelled to the US in November 2016 to compete in a final IBF 122 lb eliminator but saw his training camp come to nothing as Luis Rosa failed to make weight but thankfully Iwasa was made mandatory challenger for Oguni and when this contest does take place we should be in for a treat.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my 10 all Japanese fights I would like to see occur this year.