Earlier today Japanese fighter Kohei Kono (33-12-1, 14) took part in his retirement ceremony, ending his boxing career. The "Tough Boy" who made his debut just a day before his 20th birthday, was a remarkable action fighter who gave us some of the best action bouts of recent times. Win or lose Kono was always worth watching, with his aggressive style, incredible durability and fantastic work rate.
With his retirement ceremony behind us, we felt it was the perfect time to look at 3 of his most action packed bouts.
May 2013 Vs Liborio Solis
In May 2013 Japanese fight fans got an all out treat as a then 28-7 (11) Kono took on Venezuelan Liborio Solis, then 14-3-1 (7). Coming in to the bout Kono was the WBA Super Flyweight champion, having won the title from Tepparith Kokietgym about 5 months earlier whilst Solis was the interim champion, having held the interim title since December 2011. With the unified WBA crown up for grabs fight fans got a treat, and saw the two trade knockdowns in a competitive and compelling match up.
Although Kono had been in numerous good bouts before this one it really put him on the map internationally as a must watch warrior, and laid down the marker for the type of fights we would get to see him compete in on a regular basis. Just for this bout he came up against someone with a similar mentality, and that really helped elevate this contest.
September 2015 Vs Koki Kameda
In March 2014 Kono became a 2-time champion, stopping Denkaosan Kaovichit in 8 rounds to claim the WBA title for the second time. His second defense of the that title saw the then 30-8-1 (13) Kono make his US debut, and take on fellow Japanese fighter Koki Kameda, then 33-1 (18). Kameda was looking to become a 4-weight champion and was the mandatory for Kono's crown.
This bout was the first ever all-Japanese world title fight held on US soil and saw Kono create an even bigger international fan base than he had had previously, and show what happens when two Japanese fighters face off in a world title bout. The best thing about this bout is it got widespread coverage in the US due to it being shown as part of a PBC broadcast.
October 2017 Vs Rex Tso
In 2017 we saw Kono travel to Hong Kong to take on local star Rex Tso. By this point Kono was 36 years old, his record was 33-10-1 (14), and he was less than a year removed from his first stoppage loss, to Naoya Inoue. On the other hand Tso, the biggest name in the Hong Kong boxing scene, was unbeaten with a record of 21-0 (13), he was a rising contender and seemed on the verge of a world title fight. Given the styles of the two fighters we knew we were going to be in for something special, and they delivered in a big way.
Sadly this bout saw Tso suffer and eye injury, that essentially put him him on the shelf for a year before he announced that he was going to the amateur ranks in pursuit of Olympic glory, whilst Kono would only fight once more, losing to Jason Moloney in 2018.
Fans of “the little guys” have had a wonderful few weeks with a load of notable bouts across 108lbs, 112lbs and 115lbs but maybe what the future holds is even better than what we've just had, and what we've just had is a huge shake up at both Flyweight and Super Flyweight.
For those who are perhaps just dipping your toes into the lower weight class lets go back a few weeks.
On August 31st Ryoichi Taguchi (25-2-1, 11) successfully defended the WBA Light Flyweight title defeating mandatory challenger Ryo Miyazaki (24-2-3, 15) with a 12 round decision. This now leaves Taguchi open to defend his title on December 31st on a yet to be announced show in Tokyo in a voluntary defense of the title.
On the same day the WBA Super Flyweight title changed hands, with Taguchi's stablemate Kohie Kono (32-9-1, 13) losing the title to Nicaraguan slugger Luis Concepcion (35-4, 24) in a 12 round decision. The future for Kono now looks unclear, with some suggesting he may be heading for retirement, or an easy bout at the end of the year. For Concepcion the rumour is that a world title unification may be around the corner with the WBO champion, but more about that later.
On September 3rd we saw a second Super Flyweight title change hands with Filipino Jerwin Ancajas (25-1-1, 16) announcing himself to the international boxing world by claiming the IBF title. The unheralded Filipino took a miniscule payday to face the unbeaten McJoe Arroyo (17-1, 8) but made the most of his chance and clearly beat the Puerto Rican.
The following day we saw a champion actually retain a title at Super Flyweight as WBO kingpin Naoya Inoue (11-0, 9) over-came the gutsy but outclassed Petchbarngborn Kokietgym (38-8-1, 18), scoring a 10th round win. After the win it reported that Inoue was seeking a unification bout and it now seems like terms are set for him to face Concepcion in December, with December 30th looking the most likely. The bout would see two of the titles unified and should see us move into 2017 with 3 title holders.
On September 10th we saw Filipino road warrior Johnriel Casimero (22-3, 14) travel to the UK where he notched the first defense of his title, with a 10th round TKO win against the previously unbeaten Englishman Charlie Edwards (8-1,3). The win saw Casimero being too good and too powerful for the novice and since the win he has called pretty much everyone else at the weight claiming that he now wants to unify the titles.
The very same night we saw Roman Gonzalez (46-0, 38) become the third new champion at Super Flyweight in the space of 2 weeks as he defeated Mexican Carlos Cuadras (35-1-1, 27) in a 12 round war. The win netted Gonzalez the WBC title and saw him become a genuine 4 weight world champion.
Since Gonzalez's win we've seen the team of his mandatory challenger, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (41-4-1, 38), state they would be happy to travel to the US to face the Nicaraguan. We've also seen Gonzalez's promoter suggest late 2017 would be the ideal time for their man to face Naoya Inoue.
Earlier today, September 14th, we saw further developments in the ever changing picture of the lower weights with former Gonzalez foe Juan Francisco Estrada (33-2, 24) vacating the WBA “super” and WBO Flyweight titles as he joins the fray at Super Flyweight, in pursuit of a rematch with Estrada. Gonzalez's WBC title is also expected to be made vacant in the coming days.
With all the title changes, vacating, weight changes and the such we have seen a real shake up at both 115lbs and 112lbs. Essentially we have seen Super Flyweight become, arguably, the hottest division in the sport and we've seen Flyweight suddenly become one of the most open with a title dash expected over the next 12 months.
At Super Flyweight we have a division with a leading list of Inoue, Gonzalez, Ancajas, Concepcion, Cuadras, Srisaket and Estrada. Below those we have fighters looking for opportunities like Sho Ishida, Khalid Yafai, Aston Palicte, Rex Tso, Norasing Kokietgym and Jose Martinez
At Flyweight we could end the weekend with only two recognised champions, Kazuto Ioka and Johnriel Casimero. However the division will be blown wide open with fighters like Donnie Nietes, Brian Viloria, Pedro Guevara, Moruti Mthalane, Takuya Kogawa, Juan Carlos Reveco, Daigo Higa, Zou Shiming, McWilliams Arroyo, Nawaphon Por Chokchai, Giemel Magramo, Muhammad Waseem, Andrew Selby, Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep, Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym and Kompayak Porpramook all likely looking at joining the mad dash for title fights.
At the moment the rumours are that the WBO title will be fought for in November between Zou Shiming and Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym and that the WBC title will be on the line between Nawaphon Por Chokchai and Juan Hernandez, also in November, though there is a good chance both the IBF and WBA titles will be defended before the year is out.
Despite Estrada and Gonzalez both moving up in weight they have arguably made Flyweight more interesting, with the mad dash for world glory almost certain to give us some great fights, and have strengthened the already brilliant Super Flyweight division. At 108lbs it seems like we could see Taguchi, Akira Yaegashi and Kosei Tanaka all in action in December, with potential unification bouts coming in 2017.
For most boxing fans in the west the year effectively comes to an end in mid-December with December 19th and 20th being the final couple of days with notable fights. Whilst we'll admit we're looking forward to a number of those contests, including the bout between Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar and Ruben Tamayo and the contest between Bryan Vasquez and Sergio Thompson, we've got to say they pale in comparison to what comes from the east in the days following.
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.
Tuesday December 30th [Tokyo] (Fuji TV)
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.
Wednesday December 31st [Tokyo] (TV Tokyo)
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.
Wednesday December 31st [Osaka] (TBS)
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)
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