Sunday December 21st [Tokyo]
The first of the days that we're looking forward to from Japan is more of an event than a single fight. That's because we get the All Japan Rookie of the Year on December 21st with 12 major domestic bouts involving some of the sports possible future stars.
We won't go through all 12 bouts here, we have a special feature coming later in the month regarding that, though it's hard not to get excited about some of those bouts, including a Welterweight clash between the heavy handed Yuki Beppu (7-0, 7) and fellow unbeaten fighter Hironobu Matsunaga (6-0, 3) and a Flyweight contest between Kenya Yamashita (6-0, 4) and Shun Kosaka (9-0).
The show is one of those traditional shows that Japanese boxing holds annually and although the fighters aren't big names they tend to have the ability to progress and numerous Rookie of the Year winners of the past have gone on to win world titles. We'd be shocked if we didn't get at least one world champion from this years batch of winners.
Sunday December 28th [Osaka]
The run in to the new year really kicks off after Christmas and the first of 4 notable cards comes on December 28th as we get 2 very interesting bouts.
The most notable of the bouts is a Japanese Light Middleweight title contest between the talented boxer Yuki Nonaka (26-8-2, 9), the current champion, and former title holder Charlie Ota (24-2-1, 16), who is best known by western fans for putting Jermell Charlo on his backside. The bout might only be a Japanese national title fight but it's an intriguing contest all the same and both men are expected to carry a low world ranking into this bout come fight night giving the bout extra significance.
The chief under-card bout here looks like a genuine thriller as Japan's “KO King” Masao Nakamura (18-2, 18) battles against Filipino tough guy Rey Labao (26-6, 17). Nakamura will be hoping to bounce back from a decision loss to Masayuki Ito and although Labao is tough he should make for a better opponent, stylistically at least, for Nakamura who will be happy to have a war with Labao, who was himself out pointed last time out by Roman Andreev. Don't be surprised if this ends up being an all out war.
The first, of 3, genuinely huge shows left this year comes on December 30th as Ohashi gym put on what may well be the best show this year. It features another potential FOTY contender and possibly a fight involving a young man who could be the 2014 Fighter of the Year.
The weakest bout on the card, at least in our eyes, is a Middleweight contest between Ryota Murata (5-0, 4) and Jessie Nicklow (24-4-3, 8). When you consider that's probably the worst bout then it really does dawn on you how good this card is. The Murata/Nicklow bout is one of just 2 non-title bouts with the other being a huge step up in class for Takuma Inoue (3-0, 1) who will be fighting former world title challenger Nestor Daniel Narvaes (20-2-2, 9).
In an OPBF title bout the much touted Ryo Matsumoto (12-0, 10) will be fighting against Thailand's world ranked Rusalee Samor (25-5-2, 11) in a bout for the recently vacant OPBF Super Flyweight title. For Matsumoto a win here will likely push him towards a world title bout in 2014 whilst for Samor we suspect he'll defend the belt several times before even thinking about a world title fight.
Talking about world title bouts we get a trio on this show. The lesser of the 3 will see Jorge Linares (37-3, 24) attempting to become a 3-weight world champion as he battles Javier Prieto (24-7-2, 18) for the vacant WBC Lightweight title. This bout is rather weak over-all though should move the winner, we suspect Linares, onto a bout with WBC Emeritus champion Omar Figueroa in what could be a really exciting fight.
What is certain to be an exciting fight is the contest between Akira Yaegashi (20-4, 10) and Pedro Guevara (23-1-1, 15) for the vacant WBC Light Flyweight title. For Yaegashi this is a chance to become a 3-weight world champion though he'll have to go through hell to defeat his Mexican opponent who gave Johnriel Casimero a tough bout in an IBF title fight back in 2012. This has all the ingredients to be a FOTY type of fight and is, in terms of the styles, the most exciting bout in the final days of the year.
Whilst we are massively excited about the contest between Yaegashi and Guevara we're even more excited about this show's main event which will see Japanese wunderkind Naoya Inoue (7-0, 6) battling against WBO Super Flyweight champion Omar Andres Narvaez (43-1-2, 23). This bout will see Inoue moving from Light Flyweight to Super Flyweight and if he wins we suspect he should be the 2014 Fighter of the Year and be a man breaking into the top 10 pound for pound fighters. In Narvaez wins then this will be a genuinely huge win for the Argentinian veteran who has been criticised in recent times for the level of his opposition.
The final day of the year really sends us off in brilliant style with 2 separate Japanese shows that deserve a lot of attention.
In Tokyo we get another world title triple header headlined by Super Featherweight kingpin Takashi Uchiyama (21-0-1, 17) who will be defending his WBA world title against Argentinian challenger Israel Hector Enrique Perez (27-2-1, 16). Although the challenger is relatively unknown outside of Argentina he is unbeaten since 2003 and is on a 19 fight unbeaten run. For Uchiyama it will be his return to the ring after a year of inactivity following his hard fought win over Daiki Kaneko. On paper this is a genuine banana skin and a measuring to see just what Uchiyama has left.
The second world title will see 2-time Super Flyweight champion Kohei Kono (30-8, 13) defending his WBA world title against Norberto Jimenez (20-8-3, 10) for the first time. Kono, who won the belt earlier this year stopping Denkaosan Kaovichit, has had a frustrating year due to issues regarding Koki Kameda and will be hoping to take those frustrations out on his 23 year old Dominican foe who is stepping up massively for this fight. Whilst Jimenez is stepping up he is active and this will be his 11th fight in less than 24 months. Like Perez we also see Jimenez coming into the ring on the back of an impressive undefeated streak running back 20 bouts!
The third world title bout in Tokyo is easily the most interesting of the show as former Japanese Light Flyweight national champion Ryoichi Taguchi (20-2-1, 8) steps up to the world level to fight WBA Light Flyweight champion Alberto Rossel (32-8-0-1, 13). This is Taguchi's chance to follow in the footsteps of Kono and Uchiyama, stable mates of his at the Watanabe gym, and to move away from just being “the man Naoya Inoue beat”. For Rossel this will be his toughest bout since he was stopped in 9 rounds by Hugo Fidel Cazares back in October 2010. This is a brilliant match up and should tell us a lot about both men.
On the same day in Osaka we get another 2 world title fights, a Japanese title fight and a world title “prelude”.
The “prelude” will see former 2-weight world champion Kazuto Ioka (15-1, 9) battling against former WBA interim Flyweight champion Jean Piero Perez (20-7-1, 14) in a bout expected to prepare Ioka for a WBA Flyweight world title bout next year. Ioka moved to Flyweight earlier this year though has yet to shine at the weight and will be hoping to have filled into the weight this time around. Perez on the other hand needs a win just to remain relevant in the world of professional boxing given that he has lost his last 2 bouts, both by stoppage. And has won just twice in the last 6 bouts.
The Japanese title fight on this show will see Japanese Super Flyweight champion Sho Ishida (17-0, 9) defending his belt for the first time. The talented Ishida, one of the top prospects at the Ioka gym, will be battling against the relatively unknown Masato Morisaki (9-3-1, 5) in what should be a straight forward defense for the touted champion who has shown some touches of sheer brilliance so far in his career. We suspect that if Ishida wins here, as he should, he'll be moved towards a world title bout in 2015 with opponents like Kono and Inoue both being possibilities, if they both win.
In a bout for the vacant IBF Minimumweight title fans will see the always exciting Katsunari Takayama (27-7-0-1, 10) battle against Japanese compatriot Go Odaira (11-3-3, 1) in what looks likely to be an all-action bout between two men who lack power but have amazing engines and activity. This is unlikely to end in a knock out but should be like watching a boxing equivalent to “Rock em Sock em robots”.
Whilst Takayama and Ioka are both solid names it's fair to say that the attention here will be focused on a Super Bantamweight world title bout between Cuban boxing sensation Guillermo Rigondeaux (14-0, 9) and Japan's relatively unknown Hisashi Amagasa (28-4-2, 19). The bout as has been a major talking point since the story was first mentioned and although Rigondeaux will be expected to do a number on his Japanese foe it's still great to see such an internationally regarded fighter travelling to Japan. For Amagasa this is a great chance to make a name for himself and will know it only takes 1 punch to become a star whilst Rigondeaux may be hoping to impress the local fans enough for them to want to bring him back and have him fight the likes of Shingo Wake in what would be an interesting contest.
(Images courtesy of boxmob.jp)