The Minimumweight division right now is quite a frustrating one with the title picture being a fractured one where unification doesn't look like any time soon and where the top contenders really are struggling to break out from the crowd. It's not a bad division as such, but one that is certainly not as exciting as it was a few years ago, and that's despite having 3 unbeaten world champions with fan friendly and hugely different styles.
This coming Sunday we see another unbeaten fighter look to put themselves into the mix for a world title fight as they take on a veteran, who has challenged for world titles on multiple occasions. For the unbeaten Reiya Konishi (13-0, 5) the bout serves not only as a bout against a recognisable challenger, and a chance to put his name into the mix, but also as his first defense of the Japanese title, and a way to legitimise his standing domestically. For his foe, Shin Ono (28-8-3, 4), the bout essentially a chance for him to prove that he deserves another chance and that at the age of 34 there is still life in the old dog.
Of the two men it is the challenger that is the more well known. He's a former OPBF Light Flyweight champion and is a 16 year veteran of the ring who has been in there with a string of notable foes. They have included Yu Kimura, Masayuki Kuroda, Yuki Sano, Xiong Zhao Zhong, Katsunari Takayama, Kenichi Horikawa, Tatsuya Fukuhara and Knockout CP Freshmart. Unfortunately for Ono his best wins are over Kimura, back in 2008, and Zhong, back in 2012, with most of his other recent bouts against notable foes being losses.
At his best Ono was a tough, skilled but very light punching fighting who could fight and move for for distance with a lot of energy. At the age of 34 however he's not going to have that same level of incredible fitness and he has been given some serious punishment in recent years, with Takayama, Horikawa and Knockout all giving him some real miles on the clock. It also needs to be noted that Ono's last 3 wins have been over limited Thai's and have been spread out over the last 3 years!
Aged 24 Konishi is one of the rising breed of young Japanese fighters looking to make a mark at 105lbs, along with IBF champion Hiroto Kyoguchi and OPBF champion Tsubasa Koura. Unlike those two Konishi doesn't have fight changing power, but with Shinsei gym behind him he has the support of Hyogo and a great team, who are currently having a small boom period thanks to Shun Kubo and Ryuya Yamanaka. Like many youngsters in Japan Konishi first made his mark on the Rookie of the Year scene, claiming the 2014 Minimumweight crown with wins over the likes of Jun Takigawa and Yuki Kubo, before spending 2015 and 2016 gaining valuable in ring experience. That experience paid off earlier this year when he took a razor thin win over former amateur stand out Masataka Taniguchi to claim the Japanese title.
In the ring Konishi has shown a lack of power, with only one stoppage since he won the Rookie of the year, and that came against a very poor Thai foe, but he's shown a gritty toughness, an impressive work rate and a refusal to lose, which was shown against Taniguchi.
With Ono having so many miles on the clock, and with Konishi looking at this bout as a chance to make himself a world title contender it's hard to see anything but a stirring performance from the champion. He may not stop Ono, who is tough, but with his energy and work rate Konishi should be too young and too hungry for the challenger, who will likely be considering retirement in the near future.
The Lightweight division in Asia is relatively frustrating at the moment, despite a lot of depth just a few pounds lighter at Super Featherweight. That frustration has been highlighted in some ways by the long OPBF title reign of Ioka gym's Masayoshi Nakatani (14-0, 8), who won the title back in January 2014 and has racked up 7 defenses already. Despite making so many defenses he hasn't really been able to prove himself as a credible future world title challenger and his last few defenses have felt like he's a fighter who's been going through the motions.
This coming Sunday we see Nakatani return to the ring for his next defense, as he takes on 29 year old Filipino challenger Ryan Sermona (20-8-1, 13), another under-whelming foe for Nakatani.
The champion won the title by defeating Yoshitaka Kato, and made his first defense against Ricky Sismundo. Two solid wins, which actually followed a stoppage victory against Shuhei Tsuchiya, and at the time it looked like Nakatani was going to be fast tracked to a world title fight. In those bouts he good speed, power and ring IQ, to keep opponents at range and box to his strengths. Since then however he beaten lesser quality foes like Kazuya Murata, Allan Tanada and Tosho Makoto Aoki.
At his best, and when he's really on it, Nakatani looks like someone who can step up to fight pretty well at world level. He's heavy handed, moves well, has solid stamina, fights to his strengths and is huge for a Light, standing at just shy of 6'. Unfortunately if Ioka can't break the bank to get him a major fight there is a real risk that Nakatani will stagnate, if not regress, and fail to reach the heights once expected of him.
Sadly Sermona won't be expected to provide any sort of a test for Nakatani. The Filipino has been a professional since 2008 and has had very mixed success. His best wins to date have been over Roberto Gonzalez, Balweg Bangoyan, Matt Gartlett and Taek Min Kim. Sadly those wins have been over-shadowed by losses to the likes of Masayuki Ito, Corey McConnell, Viorel Simion and Jose Ocampo, among others. The mixed results have come with 4 stoppage defeats and given how hard Nakatani hits, it's hard to see anything but another stoppage loss for the Filipino here.
The name “Inoue” obviously makes fans think of Naoya Inoue, the WBO Super Flyweight champion and one of the most notable fighters in Japanese boxing. Naoya however is one of many with the surname, including his brother Takuma Inoue and cousin Koki Inoue. Outside of that particular clan there is one other Inoue making a name for himself, and that's Japanese Light Middleweight champion Takeshi Inoue (10-0-1, 5), who returns to the ring this coming Thursday for his first defense of the title. That will see the unbeaten champion take on fellow unbeaten Riku Nagahama (7-0-1, 3).
The champion was a solid amateur, running up a 39-16 record and captaining a University team, which saw him mixing with solid amateurs on a regular basis. He turned professional in 2014, fighting to a 6 round draw with Daishi Nagata on debut, and since then has found his grove, settled into the sport and become a really talented hopeful.
In the ring Inoue has shown a bit of everything. He can box, and is pretty solid behind his jab, he can fight on the back foot and he can bring the action with a pressure style, a style that helped him score a brilliant win earlier this year against Akinori Watanabe and really break away from the other domestic contenders. Last time out he again impressed as he stopped the usually tough and highly experienced Koshinmaru Saito.
Although not a puncher Inoue has enough power to keep opponents honest, he has a great engine, a good work rate and can either box or fight. His problem, going forward, is that he might look to fight with the wrong type of opponent, being dragged into wars when he doesn't need to be, he's also not really proven his ability to go 10 rounds or his ability to take a really good shot. We suspect he can, at least at domestic level, but we've not got proof he can.
Ranked #1 by the JBC Nagahama is a fighter getting a huge chance to claim his first title, despite having only been in one bout scheduled for 8 rounds or more. That leaves questions about his stamina, and with only 26 total bouts, including an 11-7 amateur record, to his name he also lacks experience.
Whilst it's easy to pick flaws with Nagahama there is a fair bit of positivity to take from his career so far. He debuted in June 2015 and by the end of the year he had claimed the Rookie of the Year crown at Middleweight. The following year he dropped down in weight and began to find his grove, stopping Tetsuya Kawabata in July 2016 and then Koji Kase in November. That win showed that Nagahama was an aggressive and exciting fighter, who liked to come forward and let his hands go, though he did so with mixed success and often missed the target all together.
For Nagahama the bout is a massive step up in class. He's now up against his first opponent with real proven ability. More worryingly for the challenger is that his style should gel with Inoue's too well, and they could be almost like mirror images in the middle of the ring, with Inoue have almost every advantage. If that's the case then there will only be one winner, Inoue, and that win will likely be by late stoppage from accumulation.
This coming Saturday we'll see Japanese Bantamweight champion Ryo Akaho (30-2-2, 19) defending his title against under-rated challenger Yuta Saito (10-7-3, 7). On paper the bout is a horrible mismatch, with the champion being a 2-time world title challenger, a former Oriental title holder and a current national champion whilst the challenger has only won 50% of his bouts, but the challenger will know this is likely to be his only shot at a title.
Akaho is relatively well known by fight fans across Asia, and may well be on the radar of some Western fans. His first shot at a title came way back in 2009, fighting to a draw with Daigo Nakahiro for the Japanese Super Flyweight title, before capturing an OPBF title 18 months later, stopping Fred Mundraby in 5 rounds. As the OPBF champion Akaho ran up 3 defenses before earning a shot at the then WBC champion Yota Sato, who took a clear win over the challenge who subsequently moved up in weight.
Less than 3 years after moving up Akaho earned his second world title fight, though was stopped in 2 rounds by Thai Pungluang Sor Singyu in Thailand. Since that loss he has gone 4-0 (1), with the highlights being a very fun bout with Hiroaki Teshigawara last October and a win over Yushi Tanaka this past March for the Japanese Bantamweight title.
In the ring Akaho is a rough and tumble fighter. He's heavy handed, but not a KO artist, a bit wild and a bit loopy, but a tough warrior who's only stoppage loss came from a brutal barrage by Pungluang. As with many crude fighters he's not very quick, and he can be countered and caught, but getting into a fire fight with him is rarely a smart idea, and it makes a lot more sense to outbox him, rather than try to out fight him.
With a 10-7-3 record Saito looks like a really low level challenger. It should however be noted that he is the #1 ranked Japanese contender and he could easily have had a very different looking record. Of his 7 defeats they have all been close, with only a round or two separating him and his opponent. He has never been stopped and seems to be a fighter who is easy to over-look, something Tatsuya Takahashi perhaps did back in January when the two fought to a majority decision draw.
Although not a naturally gifted fighter Saito is, like the champion, a rough and tumble fighter with an aggressive mindset, heavy hands and the willingness to have a fight. That has seem him go to war with decent domestic talents like Takayuki Okumoto, Yuta Nakagawa, Yushi Tanaka and the aforementioned Takahashi. Although he's yet to beat one of those men, they have all known that they had a real tough time with Saito.
Aged 29 perhaps the best is yet to come from the challenger though the reality is that this is a huge step up in class, and one we don't think he's ready for. We're expecting a lot of action, with the styles gelling well, but Akaho will have a bit too much of everything for the challenger, en route to either a very late stoppage or a wide decision win
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.