Turning pro after capturing Olympic Gold brings with it a heavy burden and a high level of expectations and this was no different for Ryota Murata who claimed top honours at middleweight in the 2012 London games. So far his professional career has been mixed with impressive stoppage wins over Akio Shibata and Douglas Damiao Ataide coupled with laboured uninspiring 10 round decision victories over Jessie Nicklow and Gunnar Jackson in his US debut. The 30-year-old was in action on Jan 30th in Shanghai stopping Gaston Alejandro Vega in 2 rounds in a bout that really taught us nothing. The plan is for Murata to attend a US training camp in the coming months, take 2 more fights before a possible world title attempt. With Gennady Golovkin aiming to hoover up all of the belts at 160 lb options are few and far between. Mr. Honda, head of Teiken Boxing, a co-promoter of the man from Japan along with Top Rank recently stated that WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders would be the target but unless there are dramatic improvements the Englishman’s slick southpaw skills would cause Murata fits and I honestly wouldn’t give him a chance in that fight if they fought at the end of this year.
The Inoue name is a growing force around the world with Naoya and Takuma doing damage at super flyweight and cousin of the 2 brothers Koki, is aiming to follow in their footsteps. The 23-year-old light welterweight made his debut last December stopping Jackson Koel Lapie in a round and given the philosophy of the Ohashi Gym don’t expect too many easy layups for the young southpaw.
Teiken has many established stars such as Roman Gonzalez, Jorge Linares, Shinsuke Yamanaka and Takashi Miura to name a few but of course every successful company needs to look to the future and one of the Gym’s younger brigade is lightweight prospect Shuya Masaki 3-0 2 KOs. An excellent amateur Masaki turned pro last year and has notched up 3 solid wins against opposition with positive records. Hopefully the 21-year-old will fight at least 4 times in 2016 and he should be in 8 round contests by year’s end. [Ed's Note-Masaki will be in action March 4th]
It was a very quiet 2015 for OPBF lightweight champion Masayoshi Nakatani who only won a 12 round decision against Accel Sumiyoshi in April and forced Kazuya Murata to retire after 5 rounds 4 months later. In a 135 lb division devoid of any elite talent on the world stage the tall southpaw really needs to make a move and face some world ranked opponents if he has any ambition of challenging and winning a world title. Whilst a clash with domestic belt holder Kota Tokunaga would be an intriguing clash of styles it really does nothing for Nakatani’s career progression having already defeated Ricky Sismundo and Yoshitaka Kato.
Besides 130 lb without doubt the most exciting weight class in Japan is at super bantamweight with a plethora of really exciting talents ready to shake up the 122 lb world scene.
Shun Kubo claimed the vacant OPBF strap on boxing day knocking out Lloyd Jardeliza in 5 rounds to take his record up to 9-0 7 KOs. The southpaw is highly thought of and there is an expectation from the Shinsei Gym for Kubo to take over the mantel of 2 weight world champion Hozumi Hasegawa. And the 25-year-old hasn’t put a foot wrong so far. A bout with Japanese champion Yasutaka Ishimoto makes a whole lot of sense especially with Ishimoto’s experience on the international circuit. I see no reason to push Kubo above regional level this year and solid tests with fighters who can take him more than 8 rounds should be the order of the day.
With a record of 8-0 4 KOs Sho Nakazawa is now in line for some sort of title opportunity having gained valuable rounds last year against Silvester Lopez and Alexander Cazares. The 23-year-old also showed he was able to survive an early knockdown to still prevail, a quality that should serve him well later on in his career. Given his alignment with Osaka Teiken a bout with domestic titlist Ishimoto isn’t likely so it will be interesting to see where his handlers steer him in regards to a title shot. The WBC Youth strap, one of the only fringe belts that is recognise by the JBC would seem a sensible option.
Debuts rarely raise any eyebrows unless it is an Olympian or that of a highly touted amateur or a relative of a famous past fighter but Hinata Maruta’s bow in to the professional ranks gained plenty of traction within Japanese boxing circles. Given the ambitious matchup against Jason Canoy the risk could have easily backfired but Maruta won the 6 round contest and even scored a knockdown to justify the belief his handlers had shown in him. The 18-year-old returns to the ring on March 20th against Thailand's Krungsing Kaolamlekgym [Ed's note-Krungsing was announed after Marcus sent us this article]
Hikaru Marugame was a highly touted prospect with an excellent amateur background but his pro career had come to a crawl at the end of 2014. Thankfully the 26-year-old gained some momentum scoring wins over Wataru Miyasaka and Non Sithsaithong to take his record up to 5-0 3 KOs. In October 2015 Marugame faced his toughest test versus the much underrated Jonathan Baat over 10 rounds. The pair fought to a split draw and whilst Marugame will have been disappointed Baat is far better than his record suggests and is an excellent gatekeeper for any young fighter. A March 17th return to the ring against Reiya Abe over 8 rounds has been pencilled in for Marugame.
Kazuki Tanaka scored his biggest win late last year overcoming the experience Monico Laurente on points over 8 rounds and the 23-year-old 4-0 3 KOs prospect is definitely worth making a note of.
Despite being undefeated with a record of 16-0-3 10 KOs Yushi Tanaka is still a bit of an unknown quantity however, the stablemate of current WBO strawweight champion Kosei Tanaka has the chance to change all that when he challenges Kentaro Masuda for the vacant Japanese bantamweight belt on March 18th at the Korakuen Hall.
Being the sun of a famous fighting father brings with it obvious comparisons and a huge weight to carry and the situation is no different for Juiki Tatsuyoshi, son of the exceedingly popular Joichiro. Juiki turned pro last year amongst a mountain of curiosity and hysteria and so far he has won his first 3 bouts with 2 wins coming inside the distance. At just 19 and with little if any amateur pedigree it will be a case of learning on the job in a career that will be closely followed across the land of the rising sun.
Sho Ishida seems to have been around for ever and surely 2016 will be the year the rangy super flyweight makes a move towards a crack at a world title. Being part of the camp of Kazuto Ioka he has a perfect role model to aspire to. The 24-year-old fought thrice in 2015 picking up 10 round decision wins over Taiki Eto and Hayato Kimura before stopping Ryuta Otsuka in 4 rounds on New Year’s Eve. Ishida has had some stamina issues in the second half of fights and this was evident in the encounter with Eto which ended up being a split decision and these problems will need to be properly addressed if he is to move up the ladder. On April 17th Ishida makes the 5th defence of his national crown against Ryuichi Funai at the EDION Arena in Osaka.
Sticking with the Ioka Gym Masayoshi Hashizume is another exciting talent worth keeping an eye on and the 22-year-old seems to possess plenty of dynamite in his fists. Now at 10-0 7 KOs a step up in quality is required and some defensive deficiencies will need to be ironed out as he moves up in class.
One of Asia’s, even the world’s most exciting and destructive young fighters is flyweight assassin Daigo Higa who has vanquished all 8 opponents inside the schedule distance in his career so far. Under the guidance of the legendary Yoko Gushiken the 20-year-old travelled to Thailand last July and took the unbeaten record of Kongfah CP Freshmart Koing the home town man in 7 rounds to grab the WBC Youth strap. In the first defence 4 months later he stopped Renren Tesorio in the 10th and final stanza showing he had the necessary engine and stamina going in to the later rounds. Higa is back in action on March 5th against Romel Oliveros and apologies for repeating the same rhetoric as I have written in other articles but if both Higa and OPBF champion Ardin Diale are victorious in their next contests a showdown between the pair would be something oh so special.
National light flyweight champion Ken Shiro 6-0 3 KOs is one of the brightest young talents in Japan and should be a cornerstone of the country’s boxing scene for possibly the next decade. After scoring highly impressive stoppage wins over Katsunori Nagamine and Takashi Omnae the 24-year-old was lined up for his first title shot against Rolly Sumalpong for the WBC Youth 108 lb strap in October 2015. After surviving an early minor flash knockdown Shiro boxed intelligently to take a unanimous 10 round decision. Just 2 months later he took on Kenichi Horikawa for the Japanese crown in an all Kyoto clash. Despite slowing in the last couple of rounds Shiro again displayed his immense boxing ability to win on points. Whilst the temptation to push him towards a shot and WBC champion Yu Kimura will be strong the heavy-handed Jonathan Taconing may finally get his long awaited shot at the green belt and the big punching Filipino would be too much for Shiro at this present time. Former world title challenge Atsushi Kakutani presents a really good solid test when the pair meet on April 14th and similar opposition to this should be the way to go for him in 2016. If he continues to show real improvement Jomar Fajardo would be a fantastic yardstick to gage whether Shiro is ready for world level fighters.
Genki Hanai will surely contest for some sort of belt this year having stopped 4 of his 5 opponents so far. The only man to take the Gifu native the distance was the usually durable Crison Omayao who went 8 rounds with the 25-year-old in October 2014. Hanai squares off against Il Che on March 6th and a title opportunity at either strawweight or light flyweight needs to come next.
The 105 lb division is in a state of flux right now and some replenishment is required. Takumi Sakae has realistic aims of winning a world title with the 22-year-old already having a number 1 ranking with the WBO and with current champion Kosei Tanaka strongly hinting at a move up in weight a vacant title shot is a distinct possibility. Sakae is so far untested but a March 26th bout with Tatsuya Fukuhara for the Japanese bauble should give us answers to any lingering questions.
Finally Reiya Konishi 10-0 6 KOs is another 22-year-old minimumweight who should be in the mix for domestic and regional honours this year.
Article thanks to Marcus Bellinger who can be found on twitter @marcusknockout and if you missed the previous two pieces they can be found here-
Guest Article-What 2016 may hold for Japanese boxing - Part 1
Guest Article-What 2016 may hold for Japanese boxing - Part 2
(Image of Higa courtesy of boxingnews.jp)