The Welterweight scene in Japan is one of the country's weakest in terms of depth, yet it does give us some strangely compelling match ups due to the flaws, and strengths, of the fighters at the top. That includes the flawed but hard hitting champion Ryota Yada, and the explosive but shaky chinned pairing of Keita Obara and Toshio Arikawa.
On October 21st we'll see two of the best Welterweights on the Japanese domestic scene face off, with the two men fighting for a place at the 2019 Champion Carnival, and a shot at the Japanese title. The men involved in that eliminator are the heavy handed Yuki Beppu (18-0-1, 18) and the in form Yuki Nagano (14-2, 11), who are expected to put on an explosive clash in Fukuoka to get a shot at the national title.
Of the two men it's clearly Beppu who has the better looking record. He's unbeaten in 19 fights with 18 wins, all by stoppage. The 27 year old has been dubbed the “Tyson of Kyushu”, in relation to his stoppages the region where he's based. His power is legitimate and would lead him to begin his career 14-0 (14), before fighting to a draw with Charles Bellamy in early 2017. Those first 4 wins included Beppu taking the All Japan Rookie of the Year title in 2014, scoring a notable win in the final against Hironobu Matsunaga. Sadly the results against Matsunaga and Beppu aside there is very little of note on Beppu's record. The numbers hide the distinct lack of competition that he's faced with a record padded with poor Thai and Indonesian imports who rarely lasted more than 2 rounds.
Although Beppu's competition is poor his power does look to be legitimate. He's really hurting fighters when he lands, and the win over Matsunaga certainly backs up the idea he's a solid puncher. His ability to go 8 rounds against Bellamy showed he has stamina and can take a shot, and he seemed to be the one finishing that bout by looking like the stronger man.
Nagano is a 29 year old fighter from the Teiken gym who is based in Tokyo, and this will be his first fight outside of the Korakuen Hall. He debuted in 2012 and despite losing 2 of his first 4 bouts he has now rebuilt with 12 straight wins, 9 of those by stoppage. Included in his successes is the 2015 Rookie of the Year crown, which saw him defeat Masaharu Kaito and Giraffa Kirin Kanda,and notable wins over Dai Taoka and Riku Nagahama since then. Notably coming in to this he is riding a 5 fight stoppage run.
In the ring Nagano is an accurate fighter who boxes well on either the front foot or the back foot. He's a southpaw with a sharp left hand, who finds holes and has good timing. He's not particularly quick and in his biggest fights he's not been amazingly offensive, but does look like a man who understand how to box smartly and lure opponents in. His win over Nagahama saw him really unloading the left hand, bursting the eye of Nagahama and forcing the referee in. The finish however showed that he's no a big 1-punch hitter and whilst he has got finishing instincts he does leave himself open.
The edge in power and home advantage are both with Beppu and we suspect that will be the difference here in what will be a shoot out. Nagano has got the better boxing brain, but we suspect he'll be dragged into a free swinging battle, with Beppu's power landing being the difference. It's worth noting that Nagano's southpaw stance my trouble Beppu, but even then we favour the “Kyushu Tyson” to land the big right hand and take his man out.
The Japanese eliminators for the 2019 Champion Carnival continue this coming Sunday with two more bouts to decide the mandatory challengers for the new year. One of those challenges will be in the Minimumweight division, where Takumi Sakae (19-2-1, 13) and Norihito Tanaka (16-7, 9) will battle for mandatory status. In theory they will be challenging Shin Ono, though rumours persist that Ono will vacate before the end of 2018 to fight for a world title.
Of the two men there isn't really a standout favourite. Sakae was a young prodigy who won the Rookie of the Year in 2013 as a 20 year old, but has failed to kick on since then. Tanaka on the other hand is a grizzled veteran who debuted in 2005 and has shared the ring with Kenichi Horikara, Ryoichi Taguchi, Akira Yaegashi, Takashi Kunishige and Tsubasa Koura. They are very different fighters but neither is to be strongly favoured over the other.
At 25 years old Sakae is likely edging towards his physical peak and if we're being honest he's had a genuine interesting career. As mentioned he won the Rookie of the Year back in 2013, just over 2 years after his debut, but failed to really use that as a launch pad. His 2014 was a relative waste of a year and in 2015 he claimed his first title, the IBF Youth Light Flyweight title, whilst also making his international debut. In 2016 he would lose a Japanese title fight to Tatsuya Fukuhara, before fighting to a technical draw with Lito Dante and ending the year with a loss to Ryoki Hirai in a Japanese title eliminator. In the space of just 12 months Sakae's record had gone from 13-0 (8) to 14-2-1 (9) and he had rebuilding to do.
Sadly Sakae's rebuilding has seen him stopping 4 very limited opponents and then taking a decision win, last time out, against Akihiro Toya. The only win of note is the one over Toya, which was a close decision, and strangely Toya's next fight will be a Japanese title fight in November.
In the ring Sakae is a pretty decent fighter. He's got nice speed, nice straight shots and respectable power. Sadly however he often finds himself in brawls as opposed to really using his skills. He's a pretty exciting fighter but tactically a naïve one who will always struggle against fighters who are strong enough to push him back and drag him into a war.
When we talk about an interesting career Tanaka has certainly had one of those. The 33 year olf from Tokyo debuted in 2005 and won his first 9 bouts before going 1-3 in his next 4, including a DQ loss to Ryoichi Taguchi and a decision loss to Kenichi Horikawa. A 3 fight winning run was snapped by a loss to Akira Yaegashi in a Japanese title fight in 2011 and after going 1-1 following that bout he took a 5 year break from the ring before returning last year. Since returning he has gone 2-2, suffering a stoppage loss last time out to Tsubasa Koura in an OPBF title fight.
Through his career Tanaka has proven to be tough, strong and a nightmare for fighters we would deem as being better. He was clearly beaten by Yaegashi but was actually in front against Koura prior to the stoppage, and had dropped the young Oriental champion prior to being finished himself. He's rugged, a bit clumsy but knows his way around the ring, and is very good inside the pocket. He can often find the sneaky shots up close that novices don't see coming and he counters very well, as we saw when he put Koura down. Sadly though at 33 he's very old for a Minimumweight and he has taken a fair bit of punishment through his career.
We see Sakae as the more technically solid fighter, but Tanaka is the smarter man, the man with the better ring IQ and the fighter who will be able to dictate things a touch better. We think the ring IQ of Tanaka could will see him landing solid counters when Sakae gets over excited and attacks up close. Those clever counters will be enough to hurt Sakae, but the younger man does have home advantage and that could well end up helping him on the cards. We see that home advantage as being the difference maker here, with Sakae likely to take a narrow decision win.
This coming Thursday we get the chance to see the always fun to watch Hiroaki Teshigawara (17-2-2, 10) move up in weight to take on Filipino Glenn Suminguit (21-3, 11) in a bout for the vacant OPBF Super Bantamweight title. On paper this is expected to be a very exciting and tough bout which could open the door for the winner to move onto a potential world title fight, in one of the more over-looked and under-rated divisions.
The 28 year old Teshigawara has really impressed us over the last 2 years. In October 2016 he came up narrowly short in a thriller against Ryo Akaho but since then he has gone 5-0 (4) with notable wins over Keita Kurihara, Jetro Pabustan, Jason Canoy and Teiru Kinoshita. In those wins he has proven he's tough, taking bombs from Kurihara and Canoy, aggressive and exciting. He has also proven that he can compete at title level, having won and defended the WBO Asia Pacific Super Bantamweight title. He's very much a flawed fighter, and he can certainly be outboxed, but with his relentless pressure, heavy hands and solid chin he is a real handful to fight.
Moving up in weight can be an issue but Teshigawara is a big Bantamweight and may well find that a move up to Super Bantamweight will just ease some of the issues of boiling down and could well make him a little bit more spiteful, stronger and give his gas tank a bit of a boost. Sadly for him the move up in weight may delay a potential world title fight, given the other top Japanese names at 122lbs including Shingo Wake, Tomoki Kameda, Yusaku Kuga and the returning Yukinori Oguni. At Bantamweight there may be issues getting a world title shot due to the WBSS, but he could well have himself in a leading position come the end of the World Boxing Super Series next year, whilst the Super Bantamweight division is just stacked with men jostling for a shot.
Filipino fighter Suminguit is a 29 year old southpaw who has fought as high as Super Featherweight, despite only being listed at 5'4”. Whilst he has fought up at 130lbs in the past he does seem to be more of a natural Bantamweight. It's been at Bantamweight that he's scored some of his best wins, including a 2017 victory over Renoel Pael and Alvin Bais. Notably he has only been beaten once in the last 6 years, a close decision loss to Jason Egara last year. If you scroll through his record there is a stoppage loss to Rodel Quilaton almost 7 years ago, and a decision to Fernando Lumacad. Give that those losses were so long ago it's hard to read too much into them, especially given he has since gone 9-1 (3) since then.
In terms of his style Suminguit is a tricky speed fighter who counters well, moves smartly, and shows a variety of angles. He's not a powerful fighter or a hard hitting one, but technically he is sharp, accurate and pretty well schooled. There's a lot of movement with him, though he how does with a strong aggressive and naturally imposing fighter is yet to be seen. We mentioned Teshigawara moving up in weight though Suminguit is still very small as a Super Bantamweight, and is likely to be the smaller man, despite having fought at a higher weight to the Japanese.
We're expecting to see Teshigawara press the action early on, and despite some early problems with the movement and skills of Suminguit, we expect to see the pressure get too much and or him to break down the Filipino in the mid to late rounds to claim a stoppage win, and the title.
On October 12th we get 6 Japanese title eliminators, one of which will take place at Light Middleweight and see veteran Koshinmaru Saito (24-9-2, 13) take on Hironobu Matsunaga (13-1, 7), with the winner becoming the mandatory for the Japanese title in 2019. For Saito that would be his 7th Japanese title fight, and his 8th title fight all together whilst Matsunaga would be getting his second title fight, following a successful bout in a WBO Asia Pacific title bout in 2016.
Aged 39 Saito is pretty much in last chance saloon, though it does feel like we've said that before, several times in-fact. He has been a professional since 2001 and went 5-2 through his first 7 bouts, with both losses coming to Keiichi Arai. Since then however he has gone 19-7-2 with 6 of his losses and one of his draws coming in title bouts. Those set backs have seen him coming up short to the likes of Akinori Watanabe, Suyon Takayama, Yuki Nonaka, Takayuki Hosokawa and Takeshi Inoue. Whilst those results have been major set backs it is worth noting that Saito has scored notable wins over the likes of Yasuhiro Okawa, Shusaku Fujinaka, Yuichi Ideta, , Koki Koshikawa, Takehiro Shimokawara and Ratchasi Sithsaithong.
Saito is a true veteran but has found himself as the perennial bridesmaid on the Japanese domestic scene. A win here would open up another title fight but it would see him potentially falling short again. He has proven to be tough, solid, have a good work rate and despite not being a big puncher he does hit hard enough to get the respect of his opponents. He even put up a good fight against Inoue last year, before being stopped by the younger man. He can box, but he can also be hurt, and his one recent loss in a none-title fight was a blow out loss to Arnel Tinampay, who has regularly enjoyed success against Japanese foes.
At 31 years old Matsunaga is no spring chicken, but the Southpaw looks like he will have more in the tank than Saito. Not only is he younger and has had fewer fights but he has also taken less damage than his foe. His only loss came back in December 2014, when he was stopped in the Welterweight Rookie of the Year final by Yuki Beppu. Since then he has reeled off 8 straight wins including notable victories over Sansosuke Sasaku, Je Ni Ma and Patomsuk Pathompothong. Not only is he in good form but he's scored the wins over Ma and Pathompothong on the road.
Matsunaga is a solid boxer puncher, who knows how to turn up the pace and how to hurt opponents. He's not a world beater, and never will be, but he's a very competent fighter at Japanese level and has enough solid wins to make a name for himself, at least regionally. The one big issues about him is his inactivity, and he has only fought 7 rounds in the 24 months prior to this bout.
Saito is the more proven man overall, but we can't help feeling he's physically on the slide and we have to favour Matsunaga, who has the edge in power, youth and skills. Saito will bring pressure be feel Matsunaga will handle it early before turning the tables in the second half of the fight.
On October 11th fight fans at the Korakuen Hall will get the chance to see OPBF Light Welterweight champion Rikki Naito (20-2, 7) make his second defense, as he faces off with Daishi Nagata (11-1-1, 5). On paper this looks really competitive, though some in Japan have downplayed the bout feeling that Nagata has next to no chance. We however like the bout, a lot, and feel it could be a hotly contested tactical bout between two men in need of a big performance and two men who will be looking to shine.
The 27 year old champion has long been in the eye of the press due to being the son of Cassius Naito, a former OPBF and Japanese champion. Sadly that pressure, and his father's name, has over-shadowed the man from Yokohama who has already had an accomplished career on the domestic and regional scene. He debuted a little over 7 years ago and would win his first 13 bouts whilst fighting primarily as a Super Featherweight. That unbeaten start would see him claim the Japanese Super Featherweight title in 2014, when he stopped Hiroyasu Matsuzaki, and make 3 defenses, including a notable win over Masayuki Ito. It would also include a win over Nihito Arakawa. Sadly for Naito his unbeaten run would come to an end in 2015, when he lost the title to Kenichi Ogawa and in 2016 he would lose again to Ogawa. Since then Naito has moved up in weight and settled at Light Welterweight, where he has won and defended the OPBF title.
At 140lbs Naito has already scored noteworthy wins over Baishanbo Nasiyiwula, Jeffrey Arienza and Jhertiz Chavez. On paper that's pretty solid, but the reality is that he got pushed all the way by both Baishanbo and Chavez, with Naito lucky to make it to the final bell against Chavez. He has proven that whilst talented and swift at 140lbs he's not much of a puncher, he's not physically imposing and he'll struggle to get fighters to back off. He can out box people, but will struggle to out fight them. Despite being OPBF champion there's a good argument to make that he might only be the fourth or fifth best fighter at the weight in Japan right now.
At 28 years old Nagata is 18 months older than Naito, and is also a natural Light Welterweight, having fought at the weight through much of his career. Like Naito he did have some attention when he turned professional, though that was from hardcore fans who knew that Nagata was an accomplished amateur, who went 41-21 (11) and won a major national title in 2012. On debut he was matched hard, fighting to a draw with Takeshi Inoue, and has hardly had an easy fight since. In fact he has already shared the ring with the likes of Jeffrey Arienza, Kazuki Matsuyama, Vladimir Baez and Takashi Inagaki. He's not gone through murderers row, but he hasn't had an easy career either. Sadly he has come undone in one of those bouts, losing in 7 rounds to Baez last year, but since then has strung together 3 wins to secure this fight.
In the ring Nagata is a well schooled fighter, he's a rather quick and accurate boxer who fights out of the southpaw stance, knows his way around the ring and manages to lure opponents to lung at him before he counters. He's a technically solid, smart fighter. Unfortunately he's a small Light Welterweight and that was shown when he was beaten by the crude but powerful Baez. He couldn't get Baez's respect and the Japanese based Dominican ended up walking him down and forcing his corner to save him in 7 rounds. The fear of being stopped by Naito is less than it was against Baez and instead we'd expected both men to put their skills to the test, and not their physicality.
We're not anticipating a classic brawl here. Instead we're suspect high speed chess, from the opening round to the final bell. Both men will take a round or two to try and figure the other out, and from then on we're going to see speed, skills and traps a plenty, with each man looking to lure the other in to range, slip and counter. This could be a complex, yet dull affair between well matched fighters, or it could be action packed with both pitching their ring IQ's against each other.
We're expecting action, counters, speed and we're going to actually pick against the grain and go with Nagata, albeit in a razor thin 12 round decision. There won't be much to pick between them, but we favour Nagata's extra physical strength to take him over the finishing line.
When we look at the 2018 Japanese Title Challenger Bouts there's one that looks particularly explosive, and that's the Light Welterweight bout. That bout will see the unbeaten pairing of Koki Inoue (11-0, 10) and Marcus Smith (6-0-1, 6) battle for the right to fight for the national title at the 2019 Champion Carnival. Sadly whilst this is a potentially explosive clash between two unbeaten men it is also likely to be one of the most one-sided of Japanese title eliminator bouts, with one man being very heavily favoured over the other.
The clear favourite here is Koki Inoue, the cousin of Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue and world ranked Takuma Inoue. Like his cousins he was a top amateur and has looked a level above his competition since turning professional at the end of 2015. Proof of how outclassed his competition has been is the fact that only 1 of his 11 opponents has managed to last more than 5 rounds, and that was Hyun Woo Yuh who took a 6 round beating to Inoue more than 2 years ago. Inoue has been taking out notable domestic fighters, such as Futoshi Usami and Cristiano Aoqui, and looking close to untouchable at domestic level. He has been calling for a title fight for a while and seems to be an avoided fighter, something that makes a lot of sense given the trail of beaten men he has left in his wake.
In the ring Inoue is an offensive monster, much like Naoya. He cuts the distance behind a strong and powerful jab, throws sensational combinations on the inside and beats people into submission. So far fighters have really struggled to stand up to his power. Whilst it's easy to rave about how hurtful his shots are it's actually the variation and technique behind them that's so impressive. Inoue has every shot in the book, with some particularly brutal body shots in his arsenal. The one perhaps clear flaw is that he can leave himself open when throwing his combinations and his hands do drop occasionally when he comes forward behind jab. The reality however is that a fighter like him can get away with that at this level.
Japanese based American born fighter Smith is a 33 year old who has been a professional for less than 3 years but was crowned the Rookie of the Year last year and and stopped 6 of his 7 opponents in 4 rounds, in fact he's stopped men in the first 2 rounds. He is aggressive, heavy handed and like many Japanese based American fighters, has a real physicality about him that a lot of Japanese national don't quite have at 140lbs or higher. Physically he's a very strong looking fighter and given his age it really is now or never.
Whilst Smnith is strong and heavy handed on the lower level of the domestic level this is a massive step up in class and whilst he's a puncher lacks the fluidity that we tend to see in Inoue. He looks more ponderous, crude and clumsy, and that could be a major problem against Inoue. He also won't find that his southpaw stance will be much of a help here, given that Inoue is also a southpaw. Instead he's going to have to put on a career best performance to just fight on an even keel with the unbeaten man from Kanagawa.
It should be no surprise that we're predicting an Inoue win, in fact a win for Smith would be one of the biggest on the Japanese domestic scene this year. Smith isn't ready for a fight against one of the best in the country, whether that's Inoue, Valentine Hosokawa, Akihiro Kondo or Hiroki Okada. Inoue on the other hand is ready to face anyone on the domestic scene, and we see him viciously stopping Smith as he takes a huge step towards getting an over-due Japanese title fight.
Many of the 2018 Japanese title decider bouts are ones where there is a clear favourite and a clear under-dog. One of the exceptions to that is the Super Featherweight contest where Ken Osato (14-2-1, 4) will face Satoru Sugita (14-5-1, 9) in a second meeting between the two men. In fact it's not only their second bout, but also their second bout to decide who gets a domestic title fight. Last time out it was Osato who narrowly over-come Sugita, claiming a split decision last December but Sugita will certainly be looking for revenge. If Sugita does manage to get revenge he will secure his third title shot, whilst Osato will be looking to get his second.
Aged 24 Osato is younger fighter and he's had mixed success since his 2012 debut. He would begin his career 4-0 (3) before losing in a round to Shohei Fujimoto, suggesting that he wasn't the toughest out there. Since that loss however he has gone 10-1-1 (1) with his only defeat coming to Masaru Sueyoshi earlier this year in a Japanese title fight. That bout saw Osato losing in 8 rounds to the champion after dropping Sueyoshi earlier in the bout. In terms of notable results he has not only got the win over Sugita but also victories over Retsu Kosaka, Sho Nagata, and a draw with veteran Kento Matsushita.
Osato has impressed in his performances against the most notable names he's faced. He's technically good, accurate, fast and sharp. His lack of power is an issue, but he's never going to be a puncher and has developed a style that is based around his jab, controlling distance with smart footwork and creating angles to land both his jab and his right hand. He's very much an outside fighter who plays safety first, but does manage to come in well when he doubles up the jab. He's solid, and go on to win a title down the line, but he really does need to develop some extra bang in his shots. If, or when, he does that he could be very hard to beat at Japanese domestic level.
Although unknown outside of Japan Sugita is pretty well known in the country and has genuinely faced a number of notable fighters. His first loss was in 2011, when he was stopped by Ryuto Kyoguchi the older brother of Hiroto Kyoguchi, his second loss was in 2013 to future Japanese champion Kosuke Saka, with his following two losses both coming to the then Japanese king Kenichi Ogawa. His most recent defeat was the loss to Osato. As for wins he holds notable victories over Ryota Kajiki and Tsuyoshi Tojo. In the ring Sugita is a technically solid boxer-puncher. He's got a sharp jab, follows it up with a good straight and applies pressure behind his jab. He also hits hard enough to get respect from his opponents, which Osato can't do.
At his best Sugita is a match for pretty much any current Japanese Super Featherweight. He gave Ogawa fits in both of their bouts. His jab is a nightmare to defend against and his timing on the right hand is brilliant, especially when he throws it as a counter. Given his loss last year to Osato we expect him to be busier than he was, to start faster and not let Osato get a foothold to build off. He has the power and the better competition and will be determined to get revenge over Osato.
This has the potential to be a frustrating bout though we suspect both men will want to put on a show, and will do so in a high speed chess match. There's unlikely to be much inside fighter, neither seem to be that willing to fight on the inside in general, but we could well see a lot of jabs with both looking to follow the jab with a right hand. Sugita has the edge in power but Osato has the faster feet and it could be that foot work will be the differenc. We however suspect that Sugita's heavier hands will help him land the more eye catching shots as he takes a close decision over Osato and secures a shot at the Japanese belt during the 2019 Champion Carnival.
The Super Bantamweight division is one of the more interesting ones in Japan, with a host of talented fighters from prospect level all the way up to the world level. With so much talent in the division it leads to some great possible match ups, such as the Japanese title fight earlier this year between Shingo Wake and Yusaku Kuga.
On October 12th we get a bout to decide the next Japanese title challenger as Mugicha Nakagawa (23-5-1, 14) takes on Naoya Okamoto (13-6-1, 6) at the Korakuen Hall. On paper this looks like a mismatch in favour of Nakagawa, but the two men are ranked #1 and #2 by the Japanese Boxing Commission and they should be better matched than their records suggest.
Nagakawa is the more proven fighter and the 29 year old really has impressed in the last few years. Going into July 2013 Nakagawa, then 24, was 10-4 (6) but since then he has gone 13-1-1 and scored notable wins over Yusuke Fujihara, Yuta Saito, Dado Cabintoy, and Markquil Salvana, with his only loss in that run of 15 fights being against Yasutaka Ishimoto last November, in another Japanese title challenger decider bout, or an eliminator for those in the west.
In the ring Nakagawa is an exciting fighter with under-rated power, which has seen him stop 8 of his last 15, and a good work rate. He started brilliantly against Ishimoto in their bout last year but seemed to tire in the later rounds and it does look like he's worked on that in recent bouts by becoming less aggressive and boxing more within himself, keeping some energy in reserve for when he has his man hurt. Technically he's flawed, open and often fights with his hands down, but tends to get away with it and finds ways to lure opponents in to counter. It's also worth noting that he is a very rangy fighter who can land shots from unusual angles and sometimes further away than opponents expect.
At 30 Okamoto is the slightly older man, but the less experienced and the less impressive looking on paper. However he's a man in good form, with 3 impressive wins coming into this and other good showings through his career, including a razor thin loss to Ryoichi Tamura in 2014. Coming into this he has scored wins over Gaku Aikawa, Daisuke Watanabe and current Japanese Bantamweight champion Yuta Saito. Those wins have helped him turn around a record that was once 8-5 and put him on the verge of a title shot.
Of his recent wins it was the one over Watanabe that really boosted his reputation. Watanabe was dangerous fighter but a brutal right hand left him flat on his face in the opening round. Despite that being the best win on his record he's not a puncher. Instead he's a pretty basic fighter, with a good stiff jab, a solid right hand, good movement and consistent output. He never looks like a fighter who's going to win a world title but with his consistency and accuracy he's someone who will stick around at domestic level, picking up the occasional win of note along the way.
We're expecting a pretty interesting tactical bout here though we suspect that Nakagawa will just do enough to over-come Okamoto. We suspect that the counters and extra little bit of zip in Nakagawa's shots will be the difference, but Okamoto will certainly have his moments and his jab could be a problem for Nakagawa, though we think he's a little one paced and under-powered to pick up the victory here.
Despite the fact there is still a lot of boxing left in 2018 we are heading to the end of the year. That means that we get to see the Japanese boxing scene decide it's title contenders for the next Champion Carnival. The Super Flyweight bout at the next Champion Carnival will feature either Yuta Matsuo (14-3-1, 7) or Rey Orais (20-17-2, 5) challenging for the title, with the two men meeting on October 12th decide who will be getting a shot at the gold.
Of the two men Matsuo is the one who has been active and mixing at Japanese domestic domestic level for a while. In fact the 29 year old from the World Sport Boxing gym fought for the interim Japanese Flyweight title last year, and pushed Masayuki Kuroda hard in tough 10 round loss. Since then he has bounced back with 2 notable domestic wins, over-coming Kazuto Nakane and Ryoji Fukunaga, whilst moving up in weight. Notably the loss to Kuroda is Matsuo's only defeat since a split decision loss to Ardian Diale in May 2015.
Entering the bout Matsuo is #1 ranked JBC fighter and although the ranking is high, given how stiff the division is. Despite that he is a capable fighter. He's defensively solid, technically sound and is an intelligent fighter who applies pressure behind his guard and smart footwork. Sadly he's not that most active in the ring or the hardest hitter, but he is consistent through the fight. He's a bit 1-paced and 1 dimensional but at this level have a good single dimension can be enough to be a domestic contender.
Orais is a Japanese based Filipino fighter who, at the age of 34, is in the twilight of his in ring career and is currently a trainer at the Flare Yamagami gym. He fought regularly between 2000 and 2008, facing the likes of Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Bert Batawang and Denkaosan Kaovichit before taking a 10 year break from fighting that ended this year, with a win over Ken Achiwa. That win helped secure Orais a #2 ranking with the JBC, but is does mean that he has fought just 6 rounds in the 10 years coming into this bout. In his prime he certainly had mixed results, with a less than stellar record. Despite his record he did mix at a good level, and his win over Achiwa showed their was still life in the old dog.
Despite Orais being inactive for a decade prior to the bout with Achiwa he really impressed, showing no signs of ring rust and instead looking sharp, quick and confident. He wasn't particularly accurate but out worked, out fought and out boxed Achiwa whilst showing good movement and intelligent boxing, as well as a sense of flare and charisma. That flare can be seen in some of his more wild shots, but it's obvious that Orais can still fight, and do so at a good pace.
In some ways this is the textbook boxing of Matsuo against the wild and exciting Orais. We expect those styles to be a mess together, but an interesting mess. Matsuo should have the youth, size and hunger to out box Orais, but he will almost certainly be caught by some of the unpredictable shots of Orais.
Although Orais will have moments it's hard to see anything but a decision win for Matsuo, who's intelligent and consistency will be enough to secure the win and his place in the 2019 Champion Carnival.
The Japanese scene today is very much one focused on young fighters and prospects, with many of the old guard having retired. The are however some of the old guard continuing their careers, two of whom are set to face off on October 12th in a Japanese Light Flyweight title eliminator, with the winner to get a shot at the title next year.
The fighters in question are 38 year old Kenichi Horikawa (37-15-1, 11) and 35 year old Koji Itagaki (18-12-3, 7). Between them they are 73 years old with a combined record of 55-27-4 (18) and 566 career rounds, and both know that this really could be their last notable bout if they lose. If they win however they open up the door to another big fight in the first half of 2019. Not only are they experienced but they know each other, having had a great battle against each other in early 2017.
Of the two men Horikawa is the older, more experienced man and the one who has hit the higher highs. He is a former Japanese Light Flyweight champion, having won the title in September 2015 when he beat Shin Ono, and actually beat Itagaki in February 2017 to claim the WBO Asia Pacific title. As well those wins he has mixed against great competition, losing to the likes of Akira Yaegashi, Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa, Kenshiro, Noknoi Sitthiprasert and Tetsuya Hisada, who he is 2-1 against.
In the ring Horikawa is a rough around the edge fighter who can box but often elects to fight, biting down on the gum shield and going toe-to-toe. This can make his bouts exciting, but they can also become sloppy and messy, and his third bout with Hisada became a bit of a bloody mess after several hard head clashes.
Itagaki's record looks dire, he has won just over 50% of his bouts and at 35 is getting no better. The reality however is that he too has been matched hard. He would fight to a draw with future world champions Yu Kimura and Tatsuya Fukuhara and suffer losses to Suguru Muranaka, Warlito Parrenas, Rey Loreto, Horikawa and the aforementioned Hisada, in a Japanese title fight earlier this year. It's worth noting that he has also scored some notable wins, including a stoppage over a then debuting Rangsan Chayanram, aka Palangpol CP Freshmart, and wins over Benezer Alolod and Koki Ono.
Like Horikawa we tend to see Itagaki getting dragged into brawls. He's a better boxer than Horikawa, has good foot work and speed, even at his age, and uses a busy jab whilst on the move. He showed against Hisada that even in his mid-30's he's a bundle of energy. However he can be made to stand his ground and fight fire with fire. It makes for great action but his lack of power is an issue when that happens.
When these two get in the ring on Thursday we suspect we'll see an energetic display from Itagaki, who will use his movement and try to avoid getting involved up close with Horikawa. Eventually however the fresh feet of Itagaki will slow and allow Horikawa his inside fight. When that happens the crowd will be given some thrilling action. The real question however is how long can Itagaki bounce around the ring. If he can do it for more than 4 rounds he should take the decision, but if Horikawa can cause a fire fight early on then he has a real chance of doing enough to take decision.
We suspect Itagaki should be able to take the decision, and avenge his previous defeat to Horikawa, but he will have to work incredibly hard for it.
*Please note this super early preview is due to the fact that the October 12th card has a staggering 6 different Japanese title eliminators so we are posting them a little earlier than usual.
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.