On November 7th we'll see the next mandatory challenger for the Japanese Middleweight title being decided, as former champion Hikaru Nishida (17-9-1, 8) battles against 2017 Middleweight Rookie of the Year Shuji Kato (9-1-1, 6) at the Korakuen Hall. The winner will get their shot at the title in 2019 at the Champion Carnival, taking on either Kazuto Takesako or Sanosuke Sasaki who clash at the start of the month. In many ways this is a much better match up that the recent title bout, which was always seen as a mismatch between a rampant and destructive champion and an under-whelming challenger.
Of the two fighters it's Nishida who is the more recognisable by far, having been a former unified Japanese and OPBF champion. The 31 year old has mixed with the best domestically over the last few years and is a fighter who proves that hard work can achieve results. He began his career in 2008 and was 6-6-1 (1) after 13 fights, with his only early career win of note coming against the aforementioned Sasaki who would win a rematch just a few months later. He has however battled back and gone 11-3 since then, notching up wins against Fukutaro Ujiie, Kazuhiko Hidaka, Makoto Fuchigami, Ratchasai Sithsaithong, Akio Shibata and Tomohiro Ebisu.
In the ring Nishida is known as a basic but effective pressure fighter, coming forward behind a high guard and pressing his opponents before breaking them down up close. He has often shown that he can be out boxed, losing the OPBF title to Dwight Ritchie via a wide decision in 2016, and he's had to come from behind to break opponents down in the past. One of his biggest strengths has been his physicality, and he is an imposing fighter on the domestic scene. Another strong point for Nishida is his durability, but was blasted out in his title loss to Takesako earlier this year and we do wonder what that has taken out of him.
Kato is the younger, less known man who at 28 years old has real promise but hasn't really shown what he can do against notable domestic competition. He debuted way back in December 2014 but had a pretty inactive start to his career, ending 2016 with a record of 3-1-1 (2). In 2017 however he had a break out year, going 4-0 (3) to become the All-Japan Rookie of the Year at Middleweight. As with all Rookie tournaments his opponents were novices, so it's hard to say how impressive the Rookie win was, but it was certainly something and immediately put him on the right path. Since that rookie win he has scored a couple of wins this year, both against low level domestic foes.
From the footage we've seen of Kato he looks like a talented southpaw boxer with an educated lead right hand. He has an active style, applying pressure behind his jab and can move through the gears surprisingly quickly. Sadly he is a touch on the crude side, and whilst he can step up the tempo he can also be made to look slow and clumsy, with his shots typically having a lethargic appearance. Despite looking like he pushes his punches he must hit hard, at least at the level he's been fighting at, as he's managed to hurt pretty much everyone he's fought, and his straight left hand is clearly a heavy shot.
Whilst Kato has been on a good run, it's hard to imagine him stepping up this much in class and over-coming the flawed but rugged Nishida, who we suspect will walk down Kato and stop him in the later rounds of this scheduled 8 round contest. We know that Nishida was demolished by Takesako but Takesako appears to be several levels above Kato, and we think that Nishida will still have more than enough to deal with Kato.
The first major Japanese fight of November takes place this coming Saturday as Japanese Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako (9-0, 9) defends his belt against Sanosuke Sasaki (12-6, 6) at the Korakuen Hall, live on G+.
The champion, defending the belt for the first time, has been tipped for success since making the decision to turn professional back in 2015. He had been a solid amateur on the domestic scene, running up a 30-11 record whilst having a pro-ready style, and was put on the fast track to the top by World Sports Boxing gym, with fights against good domestic opponents Tomoyuki Yokota and Elfelos Vega to begin his career, neither of whom could take Takesako's power. His team began to look outside of Japan for tough foes, but the likes of Kyung Joon Ahn and Singdet Sithsaithong also succumbed to the heavy hands of the powerful hopeful.
In last 2017 Takesako would stamp his mark on the Japanese domestic scene by blasting away Shoma Fukumoto to secure his place as the mandatory challenger for the Japanese Middleweight title. Takesako would make the most of that opportunity earlier this year, when he ripped the belt from Hikaru Nishida inside a round in March. Sadly his first defense was pushed backwards due to a lack of suitable challengers, and his only bout aside from his title win was a victory over Chaiwat Mueanphong, who surprisingly lasted 7 rounds with the Japanese puncher.
In the ring Takesako is an educated fighter who applies intelligent pressure on his opponents, gets close and breaks them down with his heavy artillery. There is a slightly raw edge to him in the ring, though that appears to be more based on his confidence than a desire to take extra risks, and his belief in his own toughness and power, at this level, is good to see. Hopefully, if he fights against notable international foes he tidies up his work defensively but at the moment the need to do that is minimal, and his aggression is making his fights very fun to watch and we're hoping to see him involved in bigger and better fights in the near future, if he over-comes Sasaki as expected. A bout with Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa, the current OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific champion, seems the most attractive though we suspect that Takesako will look to keep his national title beyond the 2019 Champion Carnival and that would mean that he'd have t make a mandatory defense in the new year.
The 31 year old Sasaki is a former champion himself, having win the title in 2012 when he upset popular puncher Tadashi Yuba at the Korakuen Hall. Sadly his reign would last just 4 months until he was stopped himself by Tomohiro Ebisu. His win over Yuba saw him notch his record to 11-1 (5), and saw him adding the Japanese title to his 2011 Rookie of the Year crown, which he got by defeating Yutaka Oishi. In fact by the time he had won the Rookie of the Year crown Sasaki had scored wins over Hikaru Nishida, Yasuyuki Akiyama and Yutaka Oishi, all of whom managed to win titles of their own in the years that followed. Sadly since his title win Sasaki has gone 1-5 (1) as his career has fallen apart, with his only win coming last time out over Hisao Narita. Those 5 losses have seen him mixing with good company, losing to Ebisu, Takehiro Shimokawara, Koki Tyson, Hironobu Matsunaga and Nobuyuki Shindo, but it's clear that he hasn't shown anything to suggest he will be any sort of a threat for Takesako.
Despite his poor recent form Sasaki isn't actually a bad fighter. He's technical pretty decent, with good movement and nice variety to his shots. Sadly though he's a bit too open, he lacks durability, isn't particularly quick and despite having some thudding power on his shots isn't a banger, more a respectable puncher.
We're expecting to see Takesako steam roll through Sasaki within 3 rounds. Sasaki is a former champion but his recent form says it all and Takesako is a monster at domestic level. We suspect the champion will press early on and just beat Sasaki into submission very early on. The only chance Sasaki has is to land a bomb as Takesako comes in for the finish, but we'd be hugely surprised if that happens.
Interestingly the winner of this will be expected to defend the title against either Hikaru Nishida or Shuji Kato, who fight in an eliminator on November 7th.
Between now and the end of this year we'll see a number of Japanese title eliminators. Among those bouts are a number of rematches, including the recent bouts between Kenichi Horikawa and Koji Itagaki, and Ken Osato and Satoru Sugita. We get another rematch this coming Sunday when Accel Sumiyoshi (11-4-2, 3) and Tatsuya Yanagi (15-5-1, 6) meet in a Japanese Lightweight title eliminator. The bout will be the third between the two men and will clearly be the most significant between the two men.
The two men first fought back in December 2015 when a then 5-4-1 (1) Sumiyoshi held a then 11-3 (4) Yanagi to a 10 round draw. The following year the two men would have an immediate rematch and Sumiyoshi would stop Yanagi in 3 rounds, in what was a short but exciting encounter.
Since their second bout Sumiyoshi has won his last 5, scoring notable wins over Allan Tanada, Naotoshi Nakatani and Motoki Sasaki. Yanagi on the other hand has gone 4-1, winning his last 4 bouts following a razor thin loss to former Japanese champion Seiichi Okada. The success of both men since their back to back bouts has lead to both being highly ranked by the JBC and their bout will decide who challenges either Shuichiro Yoshino (8-0, 6) or Kazumasa Kobayashi (10-7-1, 6), who fight in December.
Given he is leading the series with a win it's clear that Sumiyoshi will be the favouring coming into this bout. The 33 year old hasn't got an excellent record though he has actually turned things around well following a bizarre 4-4-1 start to professional boxing. In his first 9 bouts he was matched insanely hard, taking on the likes of Kento Matsushita, Yuhei Suzuki, Kota Tokunaga and Masayoshi Nakatani. Since that baptism of fire however he has found his groove and gone 7-0-1, avenging the draw with the win over Yanagi in their second bout. He has done that whilst not getting much attention due to his bouts being mostly in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi, one of Japanese boxing's smaller markets. Had he been fighting regularly in Tokyo there is a good chance he'd have been a staple on the Dangan cards.
In the ring Sumiyoshi is a pretty sharp fighter and you can see by watching him that he was a pretty experienced amateur. He's comfortable in the ring, with a very good jab, nice variety and confidence in his skills. Defensively he's open, and fights with his lead hand rather low, and does lack power, but we know he can hurt Yanagi as we saw in the second bout, where he actually got backed up a lot. In that second fight Sumiyoshi allowed Yanagi to come at him, countered wonderfully and then made the most of Yanagi's tiring arms as he crashed some gorgeous headshots on to his man who was dropped 3 times in round 3.
At 28 years old Yanagi is the younger man though technically he's the more experienced man, with 21 fights under his belt compared to the 17 of Sumiyoshi. He hasn't however got the amateur background of Sumiyoshi, and instead came through the Japanese rookie service, taking the Rookie of the Year crown in 2012. His record would advance to 10-0 before he went through a real rough patch and slid to 11-5-1, with his sole win during that run being a narrow decision over Toru Suzuki who retired afterwards. Now however he has turned his career around and won his last 4, including 2 wins over Masashi Noguchi.
In the ring Yanagi doesn't really do anything amazingly, but has has a solid jab, can move around the ring well and appears to hit harder than his record suggests. He's loose and relaxed in the ring and does seem to avoid plenty of shots thrown in his direction. Sadly though for Yanagi his chin does seem suspect and he gets wild and wide when he looks for the finish.
We're expecting Yanagi to be more cautious than he was in the second bout with Sumiyoshi, but we don't expect to see him get revenge here. Instead we're expecting a another stoppage for Sumiyoshi, albeit much later in the fight than round 3. Sadly neither Sumiyoshi or Yanagi will be expected to put up a serious challenge against Yoshino in the new year.
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.
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.