The “least significant” title bout on New Year's Eve sees Japanese Super Flyweight champion Sho Ishida (20-0, 10) defending his title against former title challenger Ryuta Otsuka (15-8-2, 5). For Otsuka this is his second shot at a Japanese title whilst Ishida will be hunting his 4th defense of the belt and looking to continue his climb towards a world title fight in 2016.
The champion won the title back in August 2014 when he defeated Yohei Tobe and although he has looked impressive against Masato Morisaki and Hayato Kimura he did appear to struggle against Taiki Eto, in what was his second defense. That struggle was a wake up call for Ishida who found that his stamina needed work and has been a key of his development since.
Prior to winning the title Ishida looked like one of Japan's brightest prospects. He had shown great variety in punches, an ability to keep the action at long range, which suited his style, and ability to really hurt opponents with both head shots and body shots, with the body shots showing their effectiveness against Petchbarngborn Kokietgym.
Since winning the title Ishida has had some questions raised about how far he'll go and how much power he has, but it's clear that with his 5'8” frame he's going to be very difficult to beat given his speed, sharp punching and accuracy.
When it comes to Otsuka it's fair to say he's not expected to reach the top of the sport but he is better than his record indicates and, at 30 years old, he knows it's now or never. It is fair to question his record however many of his losses have come to solid fighters, such as Toyoto Shiraishi, Go Onaga, Yuki Nasu, Teiru Kinoshita, Malcolm Tunacao and Ryuichi Funai, with the loss to Kinoshita coming in a Japanese title fight. He has also fought to a draw with Konosuke Tomiyama. Whilst his losses have come to his notable opponents he does also have some credible wins, including recent victories over Takaaki Ishikawa, Yosuke Fujihara and, going back a little further, Shota Kawaguchi.
In the ring Otsuka is an aggressive fight, he comes to fight and doesn't like to back away too much. He is however a fighter with defensive holes, a guard that lowers too far and a lack of head movement, which has allowed opponents to land their jabs at will and set up their offense. Unfortunately him it's likely to be a case of all or nothing and if he tries to hold back he will make for a very easy target for someone with Ishida's ability.
Notably Otsuka was stopped just 9 months ago by Funai who landed a devastating right hand. We suspect that will foretell the result of this bout with Ishida scoring a knockout in the middle rounds to retain his title. Prior to the knockout Ishida will have dominated with his speed, range and jab.
Fans in Osaka on New Year's Eve really are in for a treat, on paper at least, with 4 title bouts. Sadly whilst the card sounds deep it is somewhat a false economy with only one of those bouts really looking like a stand out contest, that being the WBA Flyweight title bout between Kazuto Ioka and Juan Carlos Reveco.
Of the title match ups on the card the weakest looks to be an OPBF Bantamweight title bout between exciting, and heavy handed, champion Takahiro Yamamoto (16-4, 13) and little known challenger Yuki Strong Kobayashi (9-4, 5).
The champion claimed the title earlier this year, winning a thriller against Yu Kawaguchi, avenging a defeat to Kawaguchi in the process. That win saw Yamamoto and Kawaguchi go to war from the off with Yamamoto leaving Kawaguchi a bloody mess, forcing the referee to stop the bout.
In the ring the champion is tough, busy, heavy handed and a real nightmare. Defensively he can be found open and there is still a lot for him to improve, but he's a real handful for anyone and appears to be a man making his way, albeit slowly, to a world title fight in the future. Not only is he talented but he is also improving and his work at the Ioka gym is really helping him to develop into a genuinely good fighter young fighter.
Whilst the champion is a really talented boxer-puncher the challenger really doesn't seem to have much going for him. Last year he was beaten up by Hinata Maruta, in what was Maruta's protest bout, and was beaten in a bout last December by Satoshi Niwa, in fact that loss to Niwa was Kobayahi's third loss in just 5 bouts, and he enters this one 3-3 in his last 5. Somewhat worrying for Kobayashi is that he has been decision by three relatively limited foes and was stopped in 2013 by Kiron Omura. A stoppage loss to Omura is a worry given Yamamoto's power.
In the ring Kobayashi has scored some semi notable wins, including a decision over Bunta Mitaka and a stoppage against Hikaru Matsuoka but they are certainly no better than Japanese domestic level wins in a division that is stacked. Sadly for him that is a problem, as he jumps from facing Japanese ranked contenders in 8 rounders to facing an OPBF champion, with a serious punch, over 12 rounds.
Whilst it's fair to say that Kobayashi has a chance, we need to also say it's a very slim chance and we can't see him surviving 12 rounds with a fighter as talented or as heavy handed as Yamamoto who will likely make his first defense of the OPBF title inside 8 rounds.
Japanese fight fans have it really lucky this year with so many great bouts to end the year. The most under-rated of those fights however is domestic title clash that sees former 3-time world title challenger Satoshi Hosono (29-2-1, 20) defends his Featherweight title against former WBA Super Bantamweight champion Akifumi Shimoda (30-4-2, 13). The bout, which is regarded by their promoters as an unofficial world title eliminator, is regarded as an under-card bout on a show that is genuinely stacked.
For the 32 year old Hosono this will be the 5th defense of the title that he won in April 2014, when he defeated Yuki Ogata with a 10th round TKO. Whilst his reign has seen him go unbeaten since winning the title he has, arguable, under-performed whilst claiming wins over Gosuke Seki, Rikiya Fukuhara, Tatsuya Otsubo and Takuya Watanabe, with the Watanabe fight being a particularly competitive bout.
Although he is the current Japanese champion Hosono is probably best known internationally for his title shots. They have seen him come up against 3 very talented fighters with the first being a narrow loss to Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, almost 6 years ago, the second was a very wide loss to Celestino Caballero, who had the sort of style that Hosono was never going to look against, whilst the third saw Hosono fight to a technical draw against Chris John, in what would be John's final successful defense.
In the ring Hosono is the sort of guy who has the traits to make exciting fights. He also has the traits to be out boxed. He's very strong, physically very tough, heavy handed, hence his nickname “Bazooka”, and is an out and out pressure fighter who looks to make the most of his toughness and power. Sadly for him his footwork is slow, he's very deliberate and can be made to look very limited by opponents with some speed and movement. It's also fair to say that Hosono has slowed his output in recent years and is a notoriously slow starter which can often see him losing the first 3 rounds without mounting much offense. The longer bouts go the better he becomes, but giving away early rounds can be a genuine issue.
Whilst Hosono has failed in his attempts to become a world champion the same cannot be said for Shimoda who shocked the world slightly when he took the WBA Super Bantamweight title from Ryol Li Lee back in January 2011. That was an up-and-down affair with Lee being dropped 3 times and Shiomoda himself being dropped once. Sadly however Shimoda's reign lasted just over 5 months before he was the victim of a KO of the Year contender against Rico Ramos, in a bout that Shimoda was winning with ease. That loss was to be Shimoda's third as a professional, but his first stoppage defeat.
Following the loss to Ramos in 2011 Shimoda has gone 7-1-1 (3) with the most notable win coming against Bantamweight contender Alejandro Hernandez, who struggled to win more than a couple of rounds against Shimoda. Whilst the win over Hernandez is a solid one the most notable result from those 9 bouts was actually a staggering KO loss to Marvin Sonsona, who iced Shimoda with a single breath taking uppercutt. That KO by Sonsona, arguably the KO of the year for 2014, was followed by 16 months of inactivity but Shimods has since notched up back-to-back wins over Gosuke Seki and Jerry Nardo.
At his best Shimoda is a fast boxer with accurate shots, good movement and intelligent southpaw straight. In terms of pure boxing ability he is very solid and can really show up many other, more well known fighters. Sadly however he lacks real fire power to make good opponents respect him and, worryingly, lacks the chin to seemingly take a real shot. His KO losses have both been spectacular and it does seem that a move to Featherweight may not be a good move for him.
Stylistically this is a really compelling bout. Hosono's weakness is movement and Shimoda can certainly move Shimoda's weakness is, clearly his chin and Hosono can punch. Over 10 rounds the bout is a question of whether Shimoda can avoid being caught by one of Hosono's bombs. If he can then it's likely the title will change hands with Shimoda fighting a safety first bout to take home a decision. The odds are, however, that Hosono's pressure catches up with the challenger in the second half and he finally lands one on the button to down Shimoda for the 10 count.
It's fair to say that Naoya Inoue has been a revelation in his short career, and has managed to increase interest in both Asian boxing and the lower weights. Whilst Naoya is clearly a phenom he's not the only champion in the family as his younger brother, Takuma Inoue (5-0, 1) is also champion, holding the OPBF Super Flyweight title. December 29th Takuma looks to make the first defense of that title as he takes on Filipino Rene Dacquel (15-5-1, 5).
The 20 year old Inoue is trained by his father, like his brother and cousin Koki Inoue, and whilst he has got the same name and trainer as Naoya he has a very different style and very different attributes. He doesn't have Naoya's insane strength or power but he does have a sharp boxing brain, great movement and really knows how to use his speed to fight on the outside and neutralise opponents on the inside.
It's been his outside boxing that has seen Inoue quickly rise through the ranks whilst being matched very aggressively. Already in his career he has beaten two fighters who have fought for world titles, Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr and Nestor Daniel Narvaes, and the then world ranked Mark Anthony Geraldo. Whilst he has stopped any of those good fighters he has also scarcely lost more than a round or two in those bouts combined. If anything his major “issue” has been an ability to stop his foes, though he has never really looked trouble by anything they've thrown at him, despite a “knockdown” call against him when he fought Geraldo.
Physically Inoue looks like a very solid and strong Super Flyweight. At the moment though he doesn't seem to be a puncher, at all. He seems to acknowledge that himself and seems happier to use his skills rather than go into a brawl. It's a tactic that may not make him fans but will get him success and will help him refrain from taking unnecessary shots at this stage of his career.
Whilst Takuma is a man expected to move up to world level the same cannot be said of Dacquel, a Filipino fighter who has had success of his own, but isn't viewed as a super prospect or anything similar. In fact in fairness to Dacquel he'll likely be a man expected to become a stable on the Oriental title scene over the coming years.
The Filipino has been a professional since 2011. Early on he fought some limited opponents but in 2013, in his first visit to Japan, he stopped Yuki Nasu in a genuinely notable victory. Sadly any momentum of that win was killed almost immediately as he went 1-2-1 in his following 4 bouts. Recently however he has rebuilt with some wins, it's true that he's 3-2 in his last 5 but wins against Melvin Gumban, for the GAB title, Thembelani Nxoshe, in South Africa for the IBO International title, are outstanding results.
Footage of Dacquel is somewhat difficult to find though he's certainly an under-rated puncher, as seen in his stoppage of Nasu, and he's also a man who travels with confidence, as seen in his wins on the rode. He's defensively solid and smart, though he has been dropped a number of times through his career including a knockdown 2 fights ago against Jonas Sultan, who has since incidentally lost to Inoue's stablemate Go Onaga. The fact he has scored good wins, by decision, shows that there is plenty of skill there.
Whilst Dacquel is certainly coming into this bout as an under-rated fighter, and he is a very live under-dog, we do suspect that he will be left chasing shadows by Inoue's movement and speed. Dacquel isn't slow himself but we suspect that Inoue will have a speed advantage and will go on to claim a clear, but well fought, decision. Dacquel might show some frustration late but we don't see him really getting punished for those mistakes. As a result we're going with a wide decision win to the defending champion.
This year three young and unbeaten Japanese prospects have left us wanting more and more. One of those is Flyweight destroyer Diago Higa, who has arguably ended the year looking like a star in the making, another is Bantamweight hopeful Hinata Maruta, who we cannot wait to see again, and the third is Ken Shiro (5-0, 3) who faces his most meaningful test on December 27th.
The test in question will see the unbeaten 23 year old go up against Japanese Light Flyweight champion Kenichi Horikawa (30-13-1, 7), in what will be Horikawa's first defense of the Japanese title, and a major bout for Kyoto, the home for both men. It's a bout that, on paper, has everything. The local rivalry, a friendship between the two fighters and youth vs experience.
The 35 year old Horikawa is expected to retire in the very near future. Despite his age however he is in arguably the form of his career. Last time out he scored his most significant win to date, stopping Shin Ono to claim the Japanese national title. That bout saw Horikawa, finally, claiming a title of note after having regularly come up short in “the big ones”.
Through his long career Horikawa has mixed with some of the best in Asia. He has come up short against the likes of Akira Yaegashi, Florante Condes, Ryuji Hara and Yu Kimura. Despite those set backs, and more, he has never looked like a fighter who was going to give up and instead has shown his character, toughness, both mental and physical, and his desire, time and time again. That desire however has been couple with under-rated skills and in another era he could well have been a real world title contender, rather than “merely” a Japanese champion.
Technically nothing stands out about Horikawa, but yet nothing is glaringly bad. He's a solid all rounder, with good skills, speed and toughness, and although his record doesn't show it, he also had and power to keep opponents honest and, as seen last time out, the work rate to simply grind down fighters who over-look him.
Whilst Horikawa is certainly coming to the end of his career the same cannot be said for Ken Shiro who debuted back in 2014 and has quickly made a name for himself. On debut he scored an impressive win against Heri Amol and has since racked up a series of more and more impressive wins, including a 7th round TKO against Katsunori Nagamine and, last time out, a win over Rolly Sumalpong.
So far in his career Ken Shiro has shown us he can do a bit of everything. At his core he's a boxer-mover, and it's that that mentality which is probably the one that suits him best, and is certainly the one he used to great effect against Nagamine. Despite being a boxer-puncher the youngster has shown the ability to be a counter puncher, an out boxer, a puncher and at times a brawler.
So far Ken Shiro has had almost everything his own way. The one scare was a flash, and we really do mean flash, knockdown against Sumalpong. Following that that knockdown, which came from a peach of a punch, the youngster was back within a 3 count and looked more embarrassed than hurt, before going off to win the bout with a clear decision. That bout showed that Ken Shiro could do 10 rounds, knew how to ride out a storm and knew how to adjust during a fight
For the youngster this is a huge step up but one that he will feel confident of making, in fact the way he's looked so far it seems almost certain that he will go on to win a world title down the line. That level of confidence could bite him in the backside, as it recently did with Shohei Omori, it could however help him buckle down and put in the work needed to continue his rise.
Coming in to this one we do need to admit we are very excited about the match up. We do however think it's a case of Ken Shiro being too young, smart and fast for the more worn champion. Our prediction is Ken Shiro to take a decision, albeit a very hard fought and competitive one.
Nonaka returns against Saito, but will he continue his reign, or will the challenger finally win the big one?
On December 27th Japanese fans get two national title fights. In our eyes the lesser of the two comes at 154lbs where Yuki Nonaka (27-8-3, 9) defends his title, for the 3rd time, an takes on multi-time title challenger Koshinmaru Saito (22-7-1, 12), who has regularly challenged at Welterweight.
The talented Nonaka is one of Japan's rare fighters of note above 130lbs. He's a talented pure boxer who uses a lovely selection of punches, movement, timing and skills to win bouts. Watching him is actually a joy, despite his lack of power, and although he is just a stereotypical boxer he is a very solid boxer. Or rather, he was.
The champion is now an old fighter, he's a 38 year old who has been showing signs of ageing recently. His work rate and speed have started to show slight decline and his last bout, a draw against Takayuki Hosokawa, could easily have gone against him, whilst a win last December Charlie Ota was very close.
Well liked in Osaka the champion, a 16 year veteran southpaw, has had a career to remember. He turned pro 1999 and lost 3 of his first 5 bouts, before going 24-4-3. Among those early losses was a defeat by future OPBF Welterweight champion Taisei Marumoto and a loss that was avenge to Tsunamasa Hagari. When he finally found his stride however he did rack up some notable wins, including victories against Akihiro Furukawa, for the Japanese title in 2008 to begin his first as national champion, and Kazuhiko Hidaka, in 2009 to claim the OPBF title. His current reign however began last year, when he beat Kengo Nagashima by wide decision in what may turn out to be his final impressive performance.
Old and inactive in recent times, this is just his second bout of the year, Nonaka may find himself unable to rely on the skills and, movement and energy that has brought him his success so far.
Whilst Nonaka is certainly showing some signs of ageing it's fair to say that his opponent, Saito, is no Spring chicken himself at 36, and is actually just a few weeks away from being 37. It's is a “youth advantage” but only a minor one and that is likely to be neutralised by the fact he's a natural Welterweight and is some 4” shorter than Nonaka.
Like the champion, the challenger has had a long career. He debuted back in 2001 and lost to just one fighter in his first 14 bouts, running up an 11-2-1 (6) record with both losses coming to Keiichi Arai. He got his first tit,e bout in 2009, at 147lbs, and was stopped in 7 rounds by Daisuke Nakagawa. Since that loss he has come up short in 3 subsequent title bouts, being stopped by Akinori Watanabe in a JBC/OPBF title fight and twice being out pointed by Suyon Takayama. His only other recent loss was a surprising 2nd round TKO defeat to the criminally under-rated Arnel Tinampay, who dominated Saito for 195 seconds.
Although a beatable fighter Saito has actually had a very solid time over the last 3 years. He has scored wins over Shusake Fujinaka, Yuichi Ideta, Koki Koshikawa and Takehiro Shimokawara, whilst his only losses were to Takayama and Tinampay. Though of course the loss to Tinampay was by far the most “blip” like result on his record.
In good form, full of confidence and with an aggressive mentality Saito could well be on his way to topping his career with a title, at long last, or alternatively becoming one of the nearly on the Japanese domestic scene.
Given recent results it's easy to favour Nonaka. He's taller and has gone on a 8-0-1 run in the last 6 years, and is actually 13-1-1 in the last 8 years, whilst Saito is 2-2 in his last 4. However we sort of think that Saito is finally going to win a big one. We suspect he gets inside Nonaka and simply out works him, with the champion looking just a tiny bit lethargic in the second half of the fight as Saito's desire to get a major title shines through, leading to a very close but fair win for the challenger.
Recently Japanese fans saw Hozumi Hasegawa look like an old man as he struggled past Carlos Andres Ruiz Machuca. The talented Hasegawa, a staple of the Japanese scene for the last decade, was the star of Kobe and one of the leading figures in Japanese boxing. Thankfully for local fans, and for Hasegawa's promoter Shinsei, it seems like they have another star in the making, Shun Kubo (8-0, 6).
On December 26th, just a day after Christmas, Kobe fans get to see Kubo in his most notable bout to date, a contest against Filipino puncher Lloyd Jardeliza (7-2-3, 6) for the vacant OPBF Super Bantamweight title.
Despite Christmas coming just a day earlier it's fair to say that the fighters will be focused on this bout, which really will allow the winner to burst out and take a huge step towards much more notable bouts.
Kubo, as mentioned, is meant to be the next Kobe star and the next mane from the Shinsei Gym to be worth follow. He really came on to our radar in late 2013, when he beaten Monico Laurente in an 8 round decision and has since scored a very notable win over Mexico's Luis May.
The 25 year old Kubo is a strange fighter to watch. He's a fast and hard hitting Southpaw with a lot of natural talent but a very wide stance, as he showed against May. Despite the stand he really does look like a diamond in the rough. There is great speed and power to Kubo when he attacks, and like Hasegawa he has often found a way to draw mistakes from opponents and then punish them with accurate punches. Unfortunately he does still look very much like a fighter he needs some more work, however there is a lot to like already.
With just 8 bouts, and 35 rounds under his belt Kubo obvious lacks experience. He can seen reaching and making simple mistakes. So far he hasn't been punished too much for those mistakes but with experience those mistakes will be sorted. It's just a question of whether this bout has come a little bit too soon for Kubo who probably needs another 4 or 5 fights before really correcting some of those simple issues.
Whilst we have seen a few of Kubo's fights, we have yet to see Jardeliza in action, however we have seen some training footage of the 20 year old, and he already looks very promising, with fast hands and nice movement, whilst his record suggests he's a serious puncher. The footage however did suggest another fighter who made novice like mistakes, especially with his footwork and defense.
Jardeliza debuted back in June 2012 and has slowly climbed through the ranks, despite suffering losses to Jimmy Aducal, an 8th round TKO loss, and Nathaniel May, a 10 round decision losses. Those losses were, clearly, set backs but he has bounced back from both and certainly didn't embarrass himself in either of the losses, in fact he pushed May very close.
The Filipino, who has shared the ring with Denver Cuello among others during training, is heavy handed. He has scored 6 KO's in his 7 wins. Sadly though those wins have come against relatively limited Filipino level opponents, none of whom have really shown the ability to go further themselves. Notable of course he also has 3 draws on his record, including two against Felipe Cagubcob Jr..
On paper it looks really interesting, two young fighters facing off in the hope of becoming an Oriental champion. Sadly however it does look like we have a semi-proven man, Kubo, up against a totally unproven, yet still promising, fighter. We always need to side with the proven man and as a result we suspect Kubo takes home the win here.
Every so often a fight comes along that really excites us. Sometimes they are the obvious world level fights between two established fighters whilst other times they come at a much lower level. One such bout is coming up on December 21st when we see the exciting Yusaku Kuga (11-1, 7) battle against the under-rated Yasutaka Ishimoto (26-8, 7) in what looks to be a brilliant match up for the Japanese Super Bantamweight title.
Of the two men involved it's Ishimoto who is the better known man. For many fight fans he is known for two in Macau, the first being a huge upset of Wilfredo Vazquez Jr back in April 2013 whilst the second was a loss to Chris Avalos in an IBF world title eliminator. For Japanese fans Ishimoto is also known for coming up short in two other Japanese fights, losing decisions to Masaaki Serie in 2012 and Yukinori Oguni, last December.
Aged 34 Ishimoto is one of the elder statesmen of the Japanese Super Bantamweight scene which has really began to get very exciting in recent years. Of course we have Shingo Wake, Oguni, Ishimoto and the rising prospects like Hinata Maruta, Kazuki Tanaka, Sho Nakazawa and Hikaru Marugame. Despite being 34 he is however a fighter who appears to still have his speed and stamina. Those were both shown in his most recent bout, a decision win over Gakuya Furuhashi in what was a pulsating bout back in August.
In the ring Ishimoto is a technical fighter. He uses his jab and straight shots well and can hold his own on the inside. He has also shown his toughness, despite being stopped by Avalos. As for weaknesses, he does lack power and perhaps isn't as physically strong as some of the others in and around the domestic scene, never mind the world scene. Despite the lack of strength he is a capable enough fight to fight to his strengths and not be bullied by too many fighters out there.
Whilst Ishimoto is some what known by fans outside of Japan it's fair to say that Kuga isn't, and in fact only the really hard core fans really know much about Kuga. Despite that we have been fans of his and have been very impressed by him in the past. He's not as technically solid as Ishimoto, or even as proven, but he's one of the many fighters in the division who is breaking through on the back of some solid but over-looked performances.
In some ways Kuga first came to the attention of some fans back in 2013 when he fought the touted Naoto Uebayshi. Back then Uebayashi was 3-0 (2) and expected to become a star following a successful amateur career. Kuga however showed Uebayashi's flaws and dropped him before being held to a very controversial majority draw. For many the bout was a win that Kuga had stolen from him, for others however it was the revealing of a diamond in the rough. Since the draw he has gone 5-0 (3) whilst stepping up in terms of rounds, with his last 4 bouts all being 8 rounders. Saying that it does need to be noted that he has never been in a 10 rounder ahead of this title bout.
For Kuga this is a step up but at 25 it's coming at the right time and the Watanabe gym fighter certainly isn't being thrown to the wolves in facing the talented but light hitting Ishimoto. Talking about hitting, Kuga has as many stoppages in 13 fights as Ishimoto has in 34. That's one of Kuga's keys coming in to this one. Kuga is a solid puncher, his jab is heavy and his hooks are thrown with nasty intentions, he also moved well to set them up and has the look of a physically maturing fighter. He's not as sharp as Ishimoto but certainly seems to be the stronger man with under-rated speed and movement and a real desire to make a statement and join the growing number of Japanese fighters making a mark in the division.
Although Ishimoto is the more proven man we're expecting to see Kuga use his youth and power to make life very tough for Ishimoto from the early going. The veteran will hold his own but we suspect he will slow down as the fight goes on with Kuga claiming the title courtesy of a clear, but hard fought, decision. The fight might not be as exciting as Ishimoto Vs Furuhashi was, but will still be a brilliant bout.
If you follow the Japanese boxing scene it's hard to not be at least a little bit excited about the Super Featherweight division. The country boasts current world champion Takashi Uchiyama, former champion Takashi Miura, rising contenders like Masayuki Ito and action fighters like Masao Nakamura. It also features some great match ups.
On December 14th we get two such match ups. One of those sees Ito defending his OPBF title against Shingo Eto whilst another sees Japanese national champion Rikki Naito (13-0, 5) defending his belt against the big punching Kenichi Ogawa (16-1, 14). The bout will help shape the domestic scene for 2016 with the winner expected to face either Nakamura or the winner of the Ito/Eto bout.
On paper the favourite will be the champion. He's an unbeaten fighter who has risen quickly through the ranks under the guidance of his father, Cassius Naito. Cassius, a former champion himself, has helped developed the ability of his son and draw attention to Rikki's ability as the youngster has forged a solid career of his own. Not only is Naito the unbeaten Japanese champion but he's a man who has compiled a genuinely impressive list of names on his record, including Shingo Eto, Masayuki Ito and Nihito Arakawa, who has he beaten in back-to-back fights.
Despite the good string of wins Naito has looked somewhat fortunate with the win over Ito being razor thin and the decisions against Arakawa and Eto being closer than the cards suggested. Saying that however he has proven he can do enough in a close fight to impress the judges and get the win.
At his best Naito is a talented and technically sound boxer with great speed, both foot and hand, a sharp hook and a good understanding of the ring. Whilst those are positive traits he has shown issues with stamina in longer bouts and has got a clear lack of power, with his last stoppage coming in his Japanese title victory against Hiroyasu Matsuzaki, 5 fights back. That wasn't a hugely impressive stoppage given that Matsuzaki had been stopped in 3 previous losses. Although his power won't stop many his movement, timing and speed will trouble many fighters and will need to be neutralised by anyone looking to beat him.
Ogawa, the challenger, is the older man at 27 years old and although he's more experienced in terms of fights he hasn't actually got a lot of experienced with his bouts rarely lasting more than 4 rounds. That has been due to his biggest weapon, his striking and hurtful power. That power has stopped 14 opponents in total with 11 stoppages coming in 4 or fewer rounds. Notable however he has proven that his power does stay later in fights as well, scoring a 7th round stoppage of Ribo Takahata late last year and a 10th round stoppage of Deivi Julio Bassa back in September.
Although Ogawa has a loss, a 5th round TKO loss to Yuki Miyoshi, he has since avenged iut, taking out Miyoshi in a rematch in just 134 seconds. Since the loss he has gone 8-0 (8) and taken just a combined 35 rounds. It's fair to say that his competition hasn't been incredible but wins over Takahata, Raymond Sermona and Bassa are solid wins and will have prepared him well for a title bout.
In the ring Ogawa's power is his key, though like a number of more notable power punchers he's actually got some skills to go with his power and can boxer as well punch. That was shown to good effect against Bassa, who he boxed and broke down, and it seems clear that every punch he throws is solid in terms of his power, even his jabs. He has also shown a development in terms of how he fights and seems to understand how to use the ring to his advantage.
On paper it is hard to go against Naito however we're actually picking the upset here with Ogawa having the power to really trouble Naito and having the over-looked traits to make the most of his power. We don't think the challenger will have things all his own way, but will take home the title with a late stoppage of the unbeaten man.
This year has been a great one for boxing fans form Kyoto who have seen a number of fighters from their prefecture claim Japanese titles. One of those is Japanese Lightweight champion Kota Tokunaga (16-2, 11) who seeks the second defense of his title on December 16th when he faces first time challenger Kazuhiro Nishitani (15-3-1, 7). For Tokunaga it's a perfect way to cap off a career defining year whilst Nishitani could complete a remarkable 12 months of his own and announce himself a genuine name on the domestic scene.
Of the two men it's Tokunaga who impressed us the most. He first made a mark by stopping Yuki Miyoshi in 2 rounds back in 2012 and then, sadly, was stopped in a round by Ronald Pontillas in a result that saw Tokunaga really need to re-invent himself. Prior to the Pontillas fight Tokunaga was an aggressively minded boxer-puncher who looked for wins and looked for them early. Since then however he has been happy to go rounds whilst still being a boxer-puncher, and as a result has gone unbeaten running up 8 wins, with 4 stoppage.
Having started 8-2 (7) it would have been easy for Tokunaga to never develop his skills beyond being a puncher. Sadly for him the loss to Pontillas was his second opening round stoppage loss and whilst he could have remained a wild swinger he seemed to realise that he had to change if he was going to really progress to becoming a title holder. By developing he has become one of the stars of the WOZ gym and the Kyoto boxing scene.
Whilst he can be hurt Tokunaga has developed a style that tends to protect his weaknesses. He uses his long and lanky frame to fight at range, uses his jab excellently and allows himself to ease into bouts. He's not a quick starter but has made a habit, in recent bouts at least, of coming on strong, this has resulted in late stoppages in his last two bouts. Notably however he's not world class and was relatively lucky to retain his title last time out, when he scored a stoppage with just 70 seconds left whilst behind on the cards. On one hard he was lucky, on the other hand he showed a real will to win no matter how far behind he was.
It's fair to say that Nishitani is a much less well known fighter, despite having fought more times than the champion. The challenger, who debuted back in 2009, ran off a 7 fight winning streak before losing bouts to Tetsuya Nishinaga and Yuhei Suzuki, who was incidentally the last challenge to Tokunaga's throne. Since those losses Nishitani has gone 8-1-1 (5) whilst mixing in solid, but unspectacular domestic competition. Those bouts have seen fail to shine, despite being on a good run on paper.
Sadly for Nishitani his most recent set backs have come in recent bouts. Last December he was held to a draw by the limited Yushi Fujita whilst this past June he was beaten by Yusuke Tsukada. Since those set backs he has won once, claiming a narrow win over Junki Oura. Those results don't bode well for Nishitani given that they have all come against opponents much worse than Tokunaga, though the bouts will certainly have helped him develop as a fighter.
Whilst not a spectacular fighter Nishitani has shown an ability to go 10 rounds, he is tough and could well be a handful for Tokunaga, if the champion isn't completely on his game. Saying that however we do favour the champion to retain his title, despite some sticky moments.
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.