Earlier this year Korean fighter Jung Kyoung Lee (7-2-1, 3) scored a career best win, stopping Samuel Colomban to claim the OPBF Light Middleweight title. He returns to the ring later this month to make his first defense of that title, as he takes on Japanese veteran slugger Akinori Watanabe (37-7-1, 31) in what could be a really fan friendly contest, and the next step on the rebuilding process of Korean boxing.
Lee was a former martial artist who turned to boxing in 2017 and despite suffering a couple of early career setbacks, stumbling to 3-2-1 after 6 bouts, he has really come into his own with a 4 fight winning run. That winning run hasn't just had 1 good win over Colomban, but also includes a notable decision win over Tonghui Li, in what was a very oddly scored bout. Those two wins are two of the best of any active Korean boxer and shows that the man from Seoul is getting better.
Although improving Lee does still have a lot of areas that he needs to iron out. He's not the quickest, the biggest hitter or a particularly smooth fighter. He is improving, and rounding off, but there is a lot of work left for him to do. What he does have is a good tank, good physical strength and a gritty toughness. He'll never been a naturally smooth fighter, but he appears to be a hard worker, and as far as the Korean scene is concerned he actually comes across as a bit more intelligent than many Korean fighters, countering and using a bit of lateral movement. Whilst he does have some intelligent aspects he is very much a left hand happy type of fighter, who doesn't make the most of his southpaw stance.
Whilst Lee is on the way up it's hard to really know where Watanabe's career currently stands. The heavy handed Japanese fighters was long regarded as a glass cannon, but in recent years has shored up his defense and began to show some more durability, to go along with his attacking prowess. The 34 year old southpaw has been a professional for over 15 years and has gone on to achieve notable success. He has not only won the Japanese, OPBF and PABA titles at Welterweight but also claimed the Japanese "interim" title at Light Middleweight, a title he vacated to pursue this title bout.
Watanabe is a somewhat crude, but powerful, hard hitting and exciting fighter, willing to take one to land one. That mentality saw him suffering 3 straight stoppage losses in 2007-2008, but since then and another stoppage loss in 2010. Since then he has only really been stopped in wars, losing to Toshio Arikawa and Magomed Kurbanov, with that stoppage coming from facial swelling. His biggest issue is still his defense,
and in recent years his face has had a reputation for swelling badly, but seems to feel his offense is his best defense. Not always an effective tactic, as we saw when Takehi Inoue bullied him around the ring, but something that does see him playing to his strengths.
The experience and power edges both sit firmly with Watanabe, though he is the older man and is certainly the more damaged fighter. He's also on the road, fighting in Korea and the naturally smaller man. Although Watanabe is a live under-dog we do see him coming up short against the younger and hungrier Korean hopeful.
One thing to add is that this bout is taking place a rescheduled date. Originally it was supposed to take place much earlier in the year but Lee suffered a training injury forcing it be rescheduled for August 11th. This has seen Watanabe age a bit more, though we suspect there is still plenty of life in the veteran.
Prediction - UD12 Lee
It's rare for the JBC to feel the need to create an "interim" national title, but that's what they did at Light Middleweight earlier this year, when Nobuyuki Shindo (20-4-1, 8) suffered a hand injury when being crowned the full champion. In the wake of Shindo's injury Akinori Watanabe (37-7, 31) became the interim champion, putting on a fantastic performance to defeat Ryosuke Maruki inside a round this past August.
Now we'll see Shindo and Watanabe face off to unify the interim and regular titles, in what could be a very good pre-Christmas treat for fight fans in Tokyo and those who subscribe to Boxingraise.
Shindo is enjoying his second reign as a Japanese champion, having held the domestic Welterweight title from January 2016, when he claimed the vacant belt with a win over Yasuhiro Okawa, to April 2016, when he was stopped in 10 rounds by Toshio Arikawa. His reign was a thoroughly disappointing one, and had come less than a year after he had lost to Suyon Takayama in a bout for the same title. Following the loss to Arikawa he moved up in weight and has scored 3 wins, stopping Sanosuke Sasaki and Cobra Suwa before taking a very competitive decision over Ryosuke Maruki. It was in his title win against Maruki, back in May, that he suffered a damaged hand and he has been in action since.
Shindo is a tall awkward boxer, with a frustrating style, but one that works for him. He's very gangly and rangy, and makes fights tricky for his opponents. Although he has a good engine he certainly doesn't have an incredibly high work rate and he does lack power. However his flaws are covered relatively well by his awkward size. His biggest issue however is that he's coming back from injury and has shown in durability, losing the title to Arikawa and being dropped by Sanosuke Sasaki, something that could be an issue here.
Watanabe is a veteran on the domestic scene and has been a successful one with reigns as the Japanese and OPBF champion at Welterweight and the PABA champion at Light Middleweight. The 33 year old has long had a reputation as a glass cannon, and if he tags you it can be the start of the end, but he can also be left flat if he gets caught clean. In his 44 fight career he has only heard the final bell 7 times, 6 times in victory and once in defeat. As he's matured however he has developed the skills to go with his power, and his ability to survive, and box has improved. During his long career he has Takayuki Hosokawa, Yasuhiro Okawa, Tadashi Yuba, Yo Inoue, Koshinmaru Saito, Toshio Arikawa and Takeshi Inoue, among others.
In the ring Watanabe is an aggressive fighter, who takes risks and comes forward. His fighting style, at least domestically, seems to be focused on the idea that he's more powerful than his opponents, hard hitting than them and tough. Sometimes this works out well for him, other times he ends up being caught by a bomb and being finished off. As mentioned he does seem to have become less vulnerable recently, going the distance with Takeshi Inoue and lasting into round 8 with Magomed Kurbanov.
We suspect Shindo has the tools to make life very difficult for Watanabe, but we can't feeling like Watanabe's power, aggression and experience at title level will be the difference. Shindo will try to keep the fight long, but we suspect that at some point Watanabe will catch him, and leap all over him, forcing a stoppage. Shindo will likely start well, but be broken down in the second half of the fight.
In Japan “Interim” national title fights aren't very common and are only really brought in when the champion is injured. This coming Friday we get one such a case, with Akinori Watanabe (36-7, 30) battling against Ryosuke Maruki (15-5-1, 10) due to an injury suffered by Nobuyuki Shindo, the Japanese Light Middleweight champion. In fact interestingly Shindo suffered the injury when he won the vacant title with a close decision win over Maruki at the Champion Carnival in May.
For Watanabe this is a chance to add to his excellent career which has seen him claim Japanese and OPBF titles at Welterweight and a PABA title at Light Welterweight. It's also a chance to prove, at the age of 33, that the old dog still has plenty up his sleeve, despite recent losses to Magomed Kurbanov, Takeshi Inoue and Toshio Arikawa.
For Maruki on the other hand the bout is a third shot a Japanese belt at 154lbs, having come up short in close bouts to Shindo and Yuki Nonaka. Sadly for Maruki he has got a reputation as a nearly man having also lost in the 2012 Rookie of the Year final, losing to Ryota Itoyama, and needing two cracks to win the WBC Youth Light Middleweight title.
Watanabe has had a thrilling career. He would win his debut by decision before going on an incredible “stop or be stopped” run, that saw him going 17-3 (17). All 3 of those losses came in the first 3 rounds, including a 90 second loss to Tadashi Yuba in a Japanese Welterweight title fight, whilst 9 wins came in the opening round and all 17 in the first 8 rounds. Since then he has developed more than just his power, and has climbed a number of good wins, both by stoppage and by decision. Those have included a huge 2011 win over Yo Inoue for the Japanese and OPBF Welterweight titles, as well victories over Koshinmaru Saito, Prawet Singwancha and Kyung Suk Kwak .
Watanabe had gone from 18-3 (17) to 33-4 (28) before losing in a Japanese title eliminator to Toshio Arikawa. That started a bit of a rot for Watanabe though a win this past April over Ratchasi Sithsaithong showed there was still some hunger there for Watanabe who will be wanting to make the most of this opportunity.
Maruki's career has been explosive and exciting than Watanabe's but has been an interesting one with the 27 year old showing a lot of promise but just unable to get over the line when he needs to. He made his debut in 2010 and reached the Rookie of the Year final in 2012 before losing a close decision. He would suffer his second and third defeats in 2014, both of which were razor thin decisions. He would then lose Yuki Nonaka in 2016 and Shindo earlier this year, both in shots for the Japanese title.
Despite losing his biggest bouts Maruki is an absolute handful. He's tough, strong, heavy handed and aggressive. His issues has often been pacing and tempo, starting too slowly and needing to do too much too late, and struggling to set the distance of the bout, with his best opponents often keeping him at range and preventing him from using his body shots up close. If he can set the pace early, get inside and work away he can cross the line and get the big, much needed career wins.
We're expecting this, due to the styles of the two men, to be something very special. We're expecting both men to look for a fight, and throw power shots on the inside, there won't be a huge amount of feinting or technically impressive skills on show, but there will be a toe-to-toe war. For Maruki we think will be ideal, he's younger, naturally bigger and hungrier. Watanabe's power could be the difference, but we're thinking that Maruki will get it right, at least, and he'll finally pick up the big 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.