This coming Friday Japanese fight fans are set for a treat as former Japanese Flyweight champion Suguru Muranaka (26-3-1, 8) takes on Yuta Saito (10-9-3, 7) in a bout for the vacant Japanese Bantamweight title. On paper the bout may not look particularly special, but the reality is that this could turn out to be one of the sleeper bouts of the year, and, given the styles of the two men, really could be an action packed war or attrition. On paper we can all see it looks like a mismatch, but for Muranaka it's his first real bout as a fully fledged Bantamweight, whilst Saito is a natural Bantamweight who has dipped his toes at Super Bantamweight in recent years.
Muranaka is by far the more well known. He challenged for the WBA Super Flyweight title last year, when he came up short against Kal Yafai, and prior to that had been the Japanese Flyweight champion, holding that title from December 2013 to April 2014, when he was stripped of the belt for failing to make weight. As a Flyweight Muranaka was a really good domestic level fighter, and could well have made a mark at Oriental or even world level. It was at that weight that he scored really good wins over Takuya Kogawa and Masayuki Kuroda, and scored a sensational 1-punch KO of Yusuke Sakashita.
At Flyweight Muranaka was an all action fighter, able to walk forward, use his physicality and fight at an incredibly high tempo. As he's gone up in weight he's found it harder to have the same success, opponents haven't been hurt by his shots, they've been able to take his pressure easier and have more success up close. This has been seen in narrow wins against Hiroyuki Kudaka and Ken Achiwa, as well as his loss to Khalid Yafai. Muranaka is still tough and has a great engine, but hs can no longer back fighters up in the same way, and fighters he's been fighting at Super Flyweight are now his physical equals.
On paper Saito doesn't look like he's fit to be fighting for a title, especially not one as highly regarded as the Japanese Bantamweight title which has been held by fighters like Shinsuke Yamanaka, Toshiaki Nishioka, Ryosuke Iwasa, Yasuei Yakushiji, Joichiro Tatsuyoshi and Yoshio Shirai. Despite that he's ranked #4 by the JBC and is a genuine contender on the domestic scene and also has one of the most misleading records in Japan. His 22 fight career saw him begin 2-3 before winning the 2012 Rookie of the Year, whilst fighting as a Super Flyweight. In the years since he has filled out his frame, been matched hard, and become a notable fighter on the fringes of the Japanese title scene whilst moving between Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight.
As mentioned Saito lost 2 of his first 3 bouts, since then he has gone 9-7-3 with losses coming to very good domestic fighters, such as Mugicha Nakagawa, Takayuki Okumoto, Yushi Tanaka, Naoya Okamoto and Ryo Akaho, in what was also a Japanese Bantamweight title fight. His team have matched him hard, and even in those losses he has been competitive, with Nakagawa the only one to take a clear decision over him and even against Akaho he was very competitive being being stopped in round 9. With that in mind it's fair to say he deserves to be in the mix, especially given that the top fighters in the country have progressed beyond domestic level already.
Coming in to this Saito will be the under-dog, but we genuinely think he'll be a handful, and although he should be regarded as the under-dog he is a very live under-dog, and we wouldn't be surprised by the naturally bigger man picking up a narrow decision win.
Unfortunately the Japanese Bantamweight division, at least domestically, is a big lacking right now, but with the likes of Kai Chiba, Fumiya Fuse, Ryuto Owan and Kazuki Nakajima, among others the division is maybe only a year or two away from being red hot, like it usually is.
This coming Wednesday fight fan at the Korakuen Hall will see OPBF Super Featherweight champion Carlo Magali (23-9-3, 12) defending his title against against fast rising Japanese youngster Hironori Mishiro (5-0, 2). On paper this looks likely to either be a mismatch in favour of the veteran or a coming out party for Mishiro, who would suddenly find himself as one of the hottest prospects at 130lbs if he were to win. A win for Magali would however help him vent some frustrations after two other bouts have fallen through in recent months, and he has clearly had a few months which have seen him messed about and forced to miss out on some big opportunities.
The 31 year old Magali has been a professional for 12 years and had really mixed fortunes in the professional ranks. He began by scoring 5 straight wins, all back in 2016, though his career began to falter as he dropped to 9-4. Since then he has gone 14-5-3 and scored notable wins, including two against Mark John Yap as well as victories over the tragic David Browne Jr, Mark Gil Melligen and, most recently, Masatoshi Kotani. With those wins he claimed a number of minor titles before becoming the OPBF Super Featherweight champion last year, with his first defense coming this past January against Kotani.
After the win against Kotani on January 13th this year Magali was offered a fight with WBC champion Miguel Berchelt, he would accept that fight before the GAB refused to let him fight so soon after the Kotani bout. He would then later have a bout against Yoon Sung Kim being announced, before that too was cancelled, this time due to Kim suffering health issues. Those bouts falling through have prevented Magali from building on the Kotani win, but he may well have used those set backs to further his desire to make a point when he fights here.
In the ring Magali is a short Super Featherweight, though like many Filipino fighters he's a strong, powerful guy in the ring. He's not a huge puncher but he's got solid and consistent power, and carries that power later, with his last 2 wins both being 10th round TKO's. Added to that he is tough, with only 3 stoppages losses against his name, and the only recent ones have come at Lightweight against Emmanuel Tagoe and Pavel Malikov.
Aged 23 Mishiro is another in the ever growing production line of Japanese prospects tipped for success following a successful amateur career. As an amateur he went 41-16 (4), notched up a number of honours and was tipped for big things when he signed with Watanabe Gym. As a professional he's not blown us away, yet, but has impressed with notable wins over Shuma Nakazato and Shuya Masaki in his last 2 bouts. Those wins saw him take the unbeaten records of both men and progressing from 6 rounders to 8 rounders. There is however a big gap between a domestic level win over 8 rounds and OPBF title fight over 12 rounds, as Mishiro is going into here.
In the ring Mishiro is a talented boxer, who looks a little bit raw as a professional, but is developing very quickly, in part due to being at the Watanabe gym and training alongside world class fighters like Hiroto Kyoguchi, Ryoichi Taguchi and Kohei Kono. He has good fundamentals, though they still need work, very good size for a Super Featherweight and nice speed. It's worth noting that he has been hurt, and dropped, but showed good composure to get off the canvas and go on to beat his foe. Sadly for all the good there is a real worry they are rushing him slightly here. It can work, as it did with Kyoguchi, but it does feel like this is a bigger risk than it needs to be for the youngster, at this point in his career.
We think that Mishiro has got the skills to beat Magali, but the question is really whether he has the physical maturity, the experience or the know how. He has fought just 24 professional rounds, he has had just 5 professional bouts and has never gone beyond 8 rounds. He's stepping up massively here against an experienced, tough and strong fighter who is used to being the smaller man. It''s a huge ask for Mishiro to come out on top, and coming in we do consider him the under-dog, but if he pulls it off it will be very impressive. For Magali this is a chance to move to 4-0 (4) in Japan and become a bit of a Japanese Killer, which would certainly open the door to bigger fights in the Land of the Rising Sun.
This coming Thursday fight fan sin Japan will be able to see national Lightweight champion Shuichiro Yoshino (7-0, 5) make his second defense, as he takes on fellow professional novice Genki Maeda (6-2-1, 2), who will be fighting in his first professional title fight. For the champion the bout looks to be another chance to get some more experience before moving up another level, whilst the challenger will be looking to make the most of an opportunity that he doesn't really deserve, given he's gone 2-1-1 in his last 4 bouts.
Yoshino had been a former amateur standout before making his professional debut back in December 2015. Given his amateur pedigree he was ear marked for success almost immediately and in just his second bout he took on highly experienced Thai Chaiyong Sithsaithong, showing he could out box the tough Thai. After a frustrating 2016 Yoshino showed his skills as he over-came Yoshitaka Kato in early 2017 and then stopped Spicy Matsuhsita in a bout for the vacant Japanese Lightweight title last October. Since then he has defended the title once, stopping Masaki Saito inside a round this past February.
In the ring Yoshino is a talented boxer, who can can punch hard enough to get the respect of anyone at domestic level. He's not someone who looks like he's going to have KO power at world level, but with stoppage wins against Kenta Onjo, Matsushita and Saito he can certainly punch at this level. He can also box, with wins over the teak the tough Chaiyong and Kato proving he can go rounds when he needs to, and rely on his skills. He is a fighter who lacks professional experience, which is arguably why he is facing a fighter like Maeda, but looks like a fighter with the potential to go a very long way, if his team manage him right, and develop him properly. That likely means keeping him away from the very best in Japan, such as OPBF champion Masayoshi Nakatani or WBO Asia Pacific king Nihito Arakawa, for now but maybe not for too much longer.
On paper it's easy to look at 25 year old Maeda and write him off for his record, which is far from flattering. He has however faced some stiff domestic competition so far, including Yoshimichi Matsumoto, Mitsuyoshi Fujita and Shogo Yamaguchi. Sadly the fact he has come up short against the level of competition that he has faced really says it all, and whilst talented Maeda is not ready for a title bout. He's solid at domestic level, but a good step down from the domestic elite. With his best win being a majority decision against Yamaguchi or a unanimous decision over Areji Kato, both of which are good wins, but neither should suggest he's ready for a title bout.
Whilst Maeda is a good fighter he does lack power, with his only stoppages coming against very limited Thai visitors. As an amateur he was a credible fighter, but was a long way from matching the achievements of Yoshino and it's not only a case of Maeda lacking the power of the champion but also the skills. We suspect he will have moments, certainly more so than Saito, and we think Maeda is tough enough to see out some rounds. But in the end we don't see how he will live with Yoshino when the champion picks up the pace. Instead we suspect the champion will retain his title, with a mid-to-late round stoppage.
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.