July 12th is set to be a huge day for Japanese boxing with two notable shows, one in Osaka with a pair of major world title fights, and one in Tokyo with a female world title fight. The main supporting bout of the Tokyo show will see Japanese veteran Akihiro Kondo (31-8-1, 18) take on young countryman Andy Hiraoka (13-0, 9), in what is a real crossroads fight for the two men. For Kondo it's a must win, following a stoppage loss earlier in this year to Downua Ruawaiking whilst it's the big step up that Hiraoka has been calling for after some struggles to secure a solid opponent.
Of the two men it's Kondo who is the much more well known fighter. He a true grizzled veteran who debuted back in 2006 and, at the age of 34, is though to be moving towards the last chapter of his career. He made his first mark on boxing at Lightweight, winning the 2007 Rookie of the Year at 135lbs and then adding the Japanese Lightweight title to accomplishments in 2009. He would remain in the Japanese title mix at 135lbs until 2012 before he moved up in weight and began to campaign at Light Welterweight, winning the WBO Asia Pacific title at 140lbs and then fighting for the IBF world title in 2017, losing a hotly contested bout with Sergey Lipinets. Sadly for Kondo his career his a big low point when he lost to Downua in an IBF eliminator back in February.
In the ring Kondo has long been regarded as a technically sound boxer, who uses a tight defenses, is durable and a solid all rounder. He lacks in speed and isn't a huge banger, but he's a clean puncher, with under-rated combinations, can counter well and can also apply solid pressure. He's at his best with a style that combines his front foot pressure with his counter punching, but really lacked the 1-punch power to get respect of most at 140lbs, instead needing to break down opponents with consistency. Sadly against Downua we saw that Kondo's speed is becoming slower as he ages and although he still has good timing he doesn't have the speed to get out of the way, and there are now also question marks about whether his iron chin is going to have a crack through it.
At the age of 22 Hiraoka is one of the rising Japanese hopes at 140lbs and is a fighter who has already impressed, winning the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, though missing out on the All Japan final due to illness, and winning the Japanese Youth title. He has impressed the likes of Hideyuki Ohashi, trained at the Mayweather Jr and beaten solid young domestic foes like Shogo Yamaguchi, Takahiko Kobayashi and Fumisuki Kimura. Despite those wins there has been a real frustration in getting better opposition, and facing Japanese ranked foes, or regionally ranked opposition. He's proven himself to be too good for the domestic Youth level, but been unable to compete with the senior level opposition.
Hiraoka is pretty much an athletic diamond in the rough. He's quick, strong and physically imposing, but technically he has limitations in terms of his boxing, he's not the sharpest fighter, or the most accurate, or the most skilled. So far he's gotten away with a lot of his technical flaws due to his physicals traits, and he really is a natural athlete who boxes. If he can ever add the needed technique to what he already has he will be an excellent prospect, and in fairness he has spent time at the Mayweather gym to try and round out his technical skills, though he is still a flawed fighter.
Coming in to this we have a lot of questions about both men. Is Kondo's chin cracked? Can Hiraoka really cope with a smart veteran like Kondo? Can Kondo still go to the well if he needs to? Can Hiraoka cope with the pressure that Kondo will bring? And many, many more.
One thing we know is that this bout will answer a lot of questions for both men, and it will be something well worthy of attention. A win for Hiraoka will likely push him to a Japanese title fight, whilst a win for Kondo keeps his career alive, and potentially lets him have one more run to a world title fight.
Prediction - TKO10 Kondo
On February 18th we'll see an IBF Light Welterweight world title eliminator, as Japan's insanely tough Akihiro Kondo (31-7-1, 18) takes on rising Thai hopeful Downua Ruawaiking (14-0, 11), also known as Apinun Khongsong. The bout, will take place at the Korakuen Hall as the headline bout of an "A-Sign Bee" show, and promises a lot.
Kondo is best known outside of Japan for one bout, his 2017 contest with Sergey Lipinets for the IBF title. That bout saw Kondo take Lipinets the distance, and surprisingly actually fight pretty evenly with the Kazakh born American based Russian. What fans perhaps weren't aware of is that before that bout Kondo was a notable name on the Japanese scene, having debuted back in 2006. He had won the 2007 Rookie of the Year at Lightweight, claimed the Japanese Lightweight in 2009 and had been a featuring in the national title scene until 2013. He then had a short retirement before bouncing back and rebuilding his career to the point where he won the WBO Asia Pacific Light Welterweight title and earned an IBF title fight.
Against Lipinets we saw Kondo prove his was tough, had good stamina and under-rated boxing skills. He took solid blows from Lipinets and never looked hurt, whilst managing to put pressure on to the highly fancied Lipinets. That toughness is something we've seen right through his career, a career that has had ups and downs but certainly appears to have contributed to a solid fighter. In the ring Kondo is consistent, he's someone who will typically fight at a good pace, and will pressure through out, mixing up the pressure with intelligent punching. Although not a puncher he's gone 7-1 (7) in his last 8, and has certainly developed more belief in his power in recent years.
At the age of 22 Downua looks like he is one of the next rising stars of the Thai scene. He made his debut in June 2016 and moved his way up the regional scene, beating Heri Andriyanto in December 2016 Adam Diu Abdulhamid in August 2017 and most recently Sonny Katiandagho in December 2018. Although still a relative novice in professional boxing it's clear he's a very talented fighter, with heavy hands and impressive composure, having taken almost invited pressure from Katiandagho so that he could counter. He looks a more natural fighter than someone like Teerachai Kratingdaenggym, but this is by far his biggest test.
Although fighting at 140lbs Downua looks a big fight. He's not far off being 6' tall and has a long reach, which likely helps him generate his power. He's a blunt puncher with heavy hands, but a sharp puncher, with scything shots that catch opponents clean. He's also a relaxed looking fighter, with nice movement, under-rated speed and real accuracy. He's the sort of fighter you would see typically Thai team padding the record of, letting him develop slowly and building a good record, but for some reason he's being taken a different direction, potentially from a team that has learned that fighters can regress with too many mismatches. Saying that there are mistakes, especially when it comes to his defense and the way he drops his hands, but it seems likely that as he takes on better competition those mistakes will be tidied up, and against Kondo we expect him to be fighting smartly.
The big question here is whether the bout is coming too soon for Downua. At the age of 22 he is still a boxing baby and has only had 14 fights, accounting for 55 rounds. If Downua has got the stamina for 12 rounds, can keep his fluidity and speed through out then he has a real chance to upset the Japanese veteran. The reality however isn't that simple and we suspect the experience and determination of Kondo will prove to be too much, at this early stage, for the Thai.
We're predicting a late stoppage win for Kondo, perhaps even whilst he's down on the cards.
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.