On July 27th Japanese fight fans at Korakuen Hall hey a stacked card that really is worth getting excited about. The main event of the card is an excellent match up for the OPBF Super Featherweight title, as unbeaten champion Hironori Mishiro (7-0-1, 2) looks to make his third defense, and over-come veteran Ryo Takenaka (18-5-1, 11), who is himself looking to become a 2-weight OPBF champion.
The 24 year old Mishiro debuted in early 2017, after a notable stint in the amateur ranks, and raced quickly into good bouts. In just his 5th bout he faced off with the then 9-0 Shuya Masaki, taking a competitive decision, before defeating Carlo Magali for the OPBF title, after just 15 months in the pro-ranks. He failed to take home a win in a unification bout with Japanese champion Masaru Sueyoshi, though retained his title with a draw and has since notched a win over veteran tough guy Takuya Watanabe.
In the ring Mishiro has shown himself to be an excellent boxer, with sharp punching, a good boxing brain and smart movement. He has also shown an ability to adapt, turning into a pressure fighter against Sueyoshi when he was behind and needed to drag the bout out. There are issues that Mishiro has shown, a lack of power for example and suspect defense, but he's only had 7 bouts and already looks to be a real hopeful for the 130lbs division. He's a hopeful, but one who clearly needs seasoning, and developing, and that's obviously part of why he's facing Takenaka here.
At the age of 34 Takenaka has seen better days. His early career promises a lot, and he turned professional in 2008 with pretty big expectations on his shoulders. In just his third bout he was fighting in 8 rounders. Sadly for all his early promise he didn't get a chance to fight for a title until 2014, when he challenged Hisashi Amagasa for the OPBF Featherweight title. Takenaka would box out of his skin to be in the lead going in to the final round, but was stopped with less than 2 minutes left to suffer his 3rd loss in 15 bouts. The following year however Takenaka won the OPBF title in his second shot, stopping Vinvin Rufino.
Sadly for Takenaka his reign wasn't a hugely memorable one, until his loss in 2017 against Sa Myung Noh, which was most memorable due to the fact Takenaka's lip was a bloody mess. Since then he has gone 2-1 (2) but his competition has most been poor, with a loss to Heorhii Lashko earlier this year being his most notable result since losing the title.
In the ring Takenaka is a solid boxer-puncher but at 34, fighting above his natural and with real question marks about his durability it's hard to see him coming out on top here. At Featherweight he had good stopping power, to go with his skills. At 130lbs however we haven't seen that power carry up
In recent year's we've seen more and more Japanese fighters being put on the fast track to the top. The latest man to join the ever growing line of Japanese fighters to race to titles is highly regarded Watanabe prospect Ginjiro Shigeoka (3-0, 2), who returns to the ring this coming Saturday in an attempt to claim his first professional title, in just his 4th professional bout. The talented Japanese teenager won't be gifted a title, and instead will need to get through Filipino foe Clyde Azarcon (15-2-1, 5) as the two men battle for the currently vacant WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight title.
Shigeoka is seen as the next star from the Watanabe Gym, which has given us a number of world champions in recent years like Takashi Uchiyama and Hiroto Kyoguchi. He was an excellent amateur, winning 5 high school crowns and losing just once in over 50 bouts, and even that loss was one that deserves an asterisks next to it. His amateur pedigree saw his debut becoming quite highly anticipated, and he lived up to the hype with an excellent win over Sanchai Yotboon last September. Since then he has added to his victories by beating Gerttipong Kumsahwat, who was really poor, and Joel Lino, a very decent Filipino.
Since turning professional Shigeoka really has had things almost all his own way. He's not had to work really hard, he's not been under any pressure from his opponents and instead he has been able to dictate everything. Whilst that does say something about his competition so far, it's worth noting that a win over Lino is genuinely impressive. His style, which is an aggressive one, is a calculated pressure style, he's strong, sharp, accurate, heavy handed and yet has a great boxing brain. He applies smart boxing, to an exciting style, and with Hiroto Kyoguchi in the same gym, he has an obvious mentor to try and replicate. On the subject of Kyoguchi, it's probably fair to say that Shigeoka is a better natural talent, and the key will be how he applies that natural ability. If he applies himself well, Shigeoka has the potential to be a major star of the future for Japan.
Of course a lot of the focus is on Shigeoka and his rise, but Azarcon is no push over. The 24 year old Filipino has been a professional for a little over 4 years and whilst he lost his second bout, losing a clear and wide decision to Junrel Jiemenz, he has since gone 14-1-1, with his only loss being a close one to the very talented Rene Mark Cuarto. Despite only suffering one loss in his last 16 there are a number of close bouts on his record, and it does seem very much like his lack of power is an issue at times, with Azarcon struggling to get opponents to respect him, despite often coming forward.
From the footage of Azarcon there he does look pretty aggressive and comes forward, but doesn't really have much sting on his shots or much crispness to his work. He's not bad, but seems to have a style that hasn't really been polished, and instead he looks rough around the edges, slapping his shots and not really fighting with a huge amount of intensity. It's likely his slapping style that has lead to his low stoppage rate, but there is possibly also a genuine lack of power, as well as the sloppy technique.
Although this is a step up for Shigeoka it's hard to imagine a fighter who lacks the pop to get Shigeoka's respect really testing him. Instead it seems more likely that Azarcon will start with some ambition, but it will be quickly beat out of him, and by the middle rounds the pressure and power of Shigeoka will begin to break him down. From there on it will be a case of "when" and not "if" Shigeoka can score an early win.
Prediction - Shigeoka TKO9
Boxing history is full off strange stories, strange careers and odd tales from it's long and brilliant history. The story of how we've managed to get to a Japanese Bantamweight title bout between Yuta Saito (12-9-3, 9) and Yusuke Suzuki (10-3, 7) in 2019 is one of those stories that has had twists, turns, injuries, illness and upsets to lead us to where we are, and to set up a potential under-the-radar war for July 27th.
We need to rewind almost 2 years to get to the start of this story. Backin August 2017 Saito was stopped in a Japanese title fight by Ryo Akaho. Akaho's next defense was planned for early 2018 against Yusuke Suzuki, the then mandatory challenger. Sadly Akaho would fail to face Suzuki due to issues making weight.Suzuki would then suffer an injury in the build up to a fight against Suguru Muranaka, with Muranaka then failing to make weight for a bout with Saito for the vacant belt.
From Saito's loss to Akaho in August 2017 the title wasn't fought for again until September 2018, when Saito beat up Eita Kikuchi to claim the belt, ending a supposed curse on the belt. That curse however still had one more twist with Sato suffering an illness that delayed his first defense until this past April, when he would stop Hayato Kimura, to unify the main title with Kimura's interim belt. On the same day as Saito's win over Kimura we saw Suzuki return to the ring, after 18 months out, due to the issues causing bouts with Akaho and Muranaka falling through. Now, 18 months after Suzuki was supposed to fight Akaho he gets his long awaited chance. Saito on the other hand gets the chance to notch his second defense.
With a record of 12-9-3 it's fair to say that Saito is no world beater, though he's better than those numbers suggest and has turned around a 2-3 start to his professional to develop a pretty notable career, that's despite once being 8-7-2. The problem for Saito, though much of his career, was that he could be out boxed. He quickly developed a reputation as a dangerman, thanks to his bludgeoning power and naturally heavy hands, but he was a crude puncher, and people used speed and movement to neutralise him. In recent bouts he has shown a real improvements and stoppage wins over Kikuchi and Kimura. In those wins he has proven himself to be a very good pressure fighter, bringing the action and breaking opponents down. He can still be out boxed, but it will take a very good domestic fighter to over-come his aggression and pressure.
Suzuki began his career in 2012 and their was quite a bit of expectation on his shoulders, so much so that he was put in a B class tournament in 2013, losing to future Japanese Super Bantamweight champion Yusaku Kuga in his third professional bout. He would rebuild from that early set back though suffered back to back losses in 2015 and 2016, to Ryoichi Tamura and Jeffrey Francisco. Since those losses Suzuki has reeled off 4 wins, including a good one against Eita Kikuchi. Sadly those 4 bouts have come over the last 3 years as injuries have really been derailed his rise. No, at the age of 30, it is now or never for Suzuki.
Stylistically Suzuki is an awkward looking southpaw. He's hard hitting, has a bit of a herky-jerky style and always looks a bit awkward, as if he's trying to draw a mistake with feints. When he actually goes on the offensive he looks really hard hitting and exciting, though we suspect his herky jerky style has been responsible for judges occasionally going against him. Had he shown a bit more aggression there's a chance, and a good one at that, that he would won all 3 bouts where he has come up short.
With this bout we're expecting Saito to bring intense pressure, forcing Suzuki into a fight. This should give us a real fire fight, and a potential thriller. Both men can hit hard, both are tough and both come to fight. Techncially Suzuki is the more rounded, though we feel like his inactivity and ring rust will work against him here, he has fought just 3 rounds since November 2017 and that will likely be a big problem in the later rounds.
Prediction - Saito UD10
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
Top lightweight contenders collide on July 19 as longtime OPBF champion Masayoshi Nakatani meets Honduran-American knockout artist Teofimo Lopez, in an IBF Lightweight World title eliminator.
Masayoshi Nakatani (18-0 / 12 KOs), after a successful amateur career, made his debut in 2011, at the age of 21, winning 6 fights in a row (5 stoppages), including a victory over future Japanese champion Shuhei Tsuchiya. Nakatani punished the veteran (Tsuchiya was 14-1 at the time) with left hooks and body blows to get the KO win, in just the third round.
In 2014, he went toe to toe with former Japanese and the then reigning OPBF champion, Yoshitaka Kato (30-8), for the strap. Despite again being the less experienced of the two, Nakatani took the champion to his limit for 12 rounds, earning a majority decision, thus winning the championship and the East Japan Boxing Association Monthly MVP Award.
Since then, Nakatani has defended his title 11 times, including wins over Ricky Sismundo (35-13), Thai heavy hitters Amphol Suriyo (23-4) and Krai Setthaphon (28-4) as well as former WBC Asia & IBF Pan Pacific champion Tosho Makoto Aoki (20-14), placing himself at the top of the division.
His most recent one was in December of 2018, against 15 year pro & the WBC International champion Hurricane Futa (25-8), who came out aggressively from the beginning of the match, dictating the pace early on. Eventually though, Nakatani utilized his reach advantage to pepper Futa with jabs, following them up with some fast hooks, which cut Futa’s left eyebrow, leading to the referee stoppage.
Nakatani is finally one breath away from competing for the World championship, but in order to do so, he has to go through a seriously tough opponent first.
Teofimo Lopez (13-0 / 11 KOs) has made quite an impact in the boxing scene rather fast, considering his young age. The 2015 Golden Gloves champion has finished 7 out of his 9 first pro fights, in impressive fashion.
He won his 1st championship last July when he faced William Silva (27-2) for the vacant WBC Continental Americas title. Lopez scored 3 knockdowns throughout the match, all courtesy of his powerful left hook. In December of the same year, he took out Mason Menard (35-4), stopping him in less than a minute, with a thunderous overhand right, to add the USBA, NABF & NABA titles to his collection.
2019 has already been a serious step up in competition for the undefeated prospect. On February 2nd, he defended his belts against 2 time world title challenger Diego Magdaleno (31-3). Lopez looked like the real veteran of the two, with his rival barely doing any damage, while he had him in trouble from the get go. By round 4, Magdaleno’s nose seemed to have been broken. El Brooklyn kept the pressure on, connecting with a few perfectly placed uppercuts as well. Lopez finally dropped him in the 6th with a nice right hook to the body/left to the face combination and sealed the deal in the next round, after landing two consecutive devastating left hooks.
Just 2 months later, Lopez fought again, this time against Edis Tatli (31-3). A former EBU European champion and also a world title contender, Tatli had never been stopped before in his entire career. That was about to change as Lopez “bullied” him around the ring, leaving him almost no room for an offense of his own. The end came in the 5th after a straight right to the body, which put the Finnish boxer down for the count.
Despite only being 21, Lopez has proven that he deserves to be considered amongst the most dangerous guys of the division. With dynamite in both of his hands and an 85% KO ratio, it’s no secret that he’s always looking for that knockout. Needless to say that Nakatani will need to dig deep into his bag of tricks, if he is to emerge victorious. The Japanese star’s agility and fast combinations have been the key factors to his success. Nakatani likes to use body shots and jabs in order to create openings and then strike with the hook. His long reach might have given him the edge in all of his previous encounters, but it will be a non issue here, since Magdaleno had the same reach and still got manhandled by Lopez. With a 9 year age difference, El Brooklyn is undoubtedly the younger, faster, stronger boxer and it’s almost guaranteed to give Nakatani his first loss as a pro.
On July 12th Asian fight fans have a packed day with several notable cards, including 2 big ones in Japan. With so many notable fights taking place it's easy for some to get forgotten in the shuffle, and one possible bout that could get lost is a very interesting match up between Joe Noynay (17-2-1, 6) and Satoshi Shimizu (8-0, 8). The bout will see Noynay attempting to make his first defense WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title whilst Shimizu will be flirting with the Super Featherweight division for his first bout at 130lbs.
Noynay won the belt last time out, when he surprisingly stopped Kosuke Saka in 2 rounds, to record his 6th straight win. That win was his first in Japan, following a 2017 loss in Tokyo to Reiya Abe, and his second win on foreign soil, coming after a decision win against Jinxiang Pan in December 2017. Other than the win over Saka last time out Noynay holds no other wins of major note, but the 23 year old has shown great skills, pushing Abe close and losing a razor thin technical decision to Richard Pumicpic.
The talented Filipino is improving fight on fight and is maturing into a really good fighter. As we saw against Saka he can punch, much harder than his record suggests, and he combines that with a very good boxing brain, good movement and good rounded skills, picking the right punches at the right time. Sadly his competition hasn't really allowed him to show what he can do, but it's clear that he is a very good hopeful, and one of the many hidden gems of the Filipino boxing scene. There is still work he needs to do, but in his biggest fights to date he has shown a lot of potential and the foundation to develop into a fantastic young fighter.
The unbeaten Shimizu is the OPBF Featherweight champion and is a former amateur standout, who famously won a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics in London. As a professional Shimizu hasn't really shown much of the skills he developed in the amateur ranks, but has proven himself to be a very heavy handed southpaw slugger. During his short career he has already won a regional title and recorded 4 defenses, scoring stoppages over the likes of Shingo Kawamura and Takuya Uehara, but at the age of 33 he can't waste any more time with meaningless bouts.
Shimizu's move to Super Featherweight for this bout is seen as being a one off, with the fighter expected to drop back to Featherweight for a world title shot next time out. Despite that their are questions for him to answer here, like whether his power holds up at 130lbs, or whether eh can take a shot, whether he's physically imposing or whether he still has the size advantages he's enjoyed at Featherweight .At 126lbs he's a physical freak, with a huge frame and a massive wingspan. Add those physical traits to his bludgeoning power and he's an awkward yet effective fighter and now we can see whether he's as effective at the new weight.
Technically Noynay is the better boxer, but he hasn't shown the power to turn many fights around, despite his blow out of Saka. If Noynay can box, use his technical ability, and his boxing brain he could well upset the Japanese fighter, and make Shimizu pay for his wild and open style. On the other hand Shimizu certainly has the power to hurt regional level guys, and if he tags Noynay clean he will look to go for the finish, and undo any early success that Noynay may have had.
This is a compelling match up, and a hard on to call, though we believe that sooner of later Shimizu's "Diamond Left" will land, and that he will get to, and stop, Noynay.
Prediction - TKO9 Shimizu
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
The Middleweight scene in Asia isn't a hugely impressive one, and we would be surprised by anyone rising through the ranks right now to make a mark on the world title scene any time soon. However, it is a very interesting scene with a lot of well matched fighters who could all mix with each other in some brilliant and very entertaining match ups. We've seen this time and time against over the last few years, especially with all Japanese bouts.
On July 9th we get the chance to see another all-Japanese Middleweight bout, as the hard hitting pair of Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa (11-4, 10) and Koki Tyson (14-3-2, 12) battle for the vacant OPBF Middleweight title. On paper this has all the hall marks of a thriller, and could well end up being little more than an all action shoot out between two former champions.
Tyson held the title from November 2016, when he out boxed Dwight Ritchie in an excellent performance, to December 2017, when he lost in controversial fashion to Yasuyuki Akiyama. Akiyama would himself lose the belt in his first defense, being stopped in an 11 round thriller by Hosokawa last September. Hosokawa's reign was, however, a short one, losing to Yuki Nonaka this past February who recently vacated the title, leading us to where we are now.
In the ring Tyson is a hard hitting boxer-puncher, he's shown issues with durability, having been stopped in all 3 of his losses, but he's a huge puncher and has under-rated boxing skills, which he showed really well against Dwight Ritchie in his title win. When he can use his size and reach to dictate a fight he's a very hard man to beat and at 26 years old he is getting better, stronger and more mature. It's also worth noting that since his last loss he has relocated, leaving Osaka and the Mutoh Gym to Tokyo and the Kadoebi Gym, where his level of sparring and training has increased.
Whilst Tyson is a talented boxer-puncher Hosokawa is a skilled pressure fighter, with a swarming style, based around intense aggression, a high work rate and heavy hands. He combines his power and pressure with a tough chin, and a real desire to win. There are no question marks about his durability, but he is crude, easy to hit and can be out boxed, out moved and out thought, as we saw when he fight Yuki Nonaka. If he can force his pressure on an opponent he tends to be able to grind them down with his heavy hand and relentless punching.
Given the styles of the men involved we should have something very special, and something that could end at any moment. The key to the bout will, however, be a case of who can dictate the distance. If Tyson can use his reach, speed and movement he could make life easy, picking off the shorter Hosokawa with his his straight punchers. That however is no easy feat and Hosokawa will be looking to crush the distance and go to work on the inside. If he can do that he'll break down Tyson.
For us the main different between the tough is the durability factor, and fighters have been able to hurt Tyson through his career. We expect Hosokawa will also be able to hurt him, and if he does he won't let him off the hook. At some point we see Hosokawa getting to, and stopping, Tyson. Though we wouldn't be hugely surprised by Tyson landing a bomb on Hosokawa, as he rushes in, and knocking him out.
The only result we can't see happening is a Hosokawa decision, the other results are all very, very possible here in a bout we're really excited about.
Prediction - TKO9 Hosokawa
To begin a busy July we'll see Japanese Light Welterweight champion Koki Inoue (13-0, 10) make his first defense, as he takes on domestic foe Ryuji Ikeda (14-5-4, 9) at the legendary Korakuen Hall. For Inoue this looks to the next step forward on his rise to a potential world title shot, whilst Ikeda gets a chance to gate crash, and make his name against a member of the Inoue clan.
The unbeaten champion has been on the radar since making his professional debut back in late 2015. A lot of the early attention his career got was due to the fact he was the older cousin of the Inoue brothers, Naoya Inoue and Takuma Inoue. He was also trained by their dad, his uncle, Shingo Inoue, and like Naoy and Takuma he was a stellar amateur on the Japanese domestic scene. For those who followed the Japanese scene he was an exciting addition to the Ohashi gym, and given he fights at 140lbs he was someone who could make his mark on the international stage, fighting in a weight class that gets more attention than the lower classes.
Early in his career Inoue's competition was poor, though in 2016 he stepped up, beating Futoshi Usami, and then added fighters like Mitsuyoshi Fujita, Cristiano Aoqui and Dong Hee Kim to his list of victims, as he gradually moved to a Japanese title fight. Unlike his cousins he had a slow climb, which result in him getting his first title fight last time out. In that title fight Inoue out boxed veteran Valentine Hosokawa, putting on a boxing display against the aggressive Hosokawa, who really struggled to cut the distance and use his trademark volume. It wasn't an exciting bout, by any stretch, but was a comfortable and relaxed performance by the talented southpaw boxer-puncher. He admitted it wasn't the most exciting, but it was controlled and given he how changed tempo late in the bout it was clear he had a lot more in the tank than he showed.
The challenger is much, much less well known than the champion, despite having significantly more professional bouts. Ikeda hasn't got the Inoue name, or the Ohashi Gym backing, instead being managed by Shinji Takehara and Takanori Hatakeyama, but he is ranked by the JBC and is pretty fun fighter to follow. He's 24 years old and has been a professional for close to 7 years, developing from a small Lightweight into a fully fledged Light Welterweight. Despite starting his career 2-1-1 Ikeda woud shine in 2013, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year, at Lightweight and score notable wins over Cristiano Aoqui and Ryosuke Takami on route to that crown. Since his rookie triumph he has gone 8-4-3 (7), showing himself to have power in his shots, but not quite ability to beat his better opponents, such as Kazuyasu Okamoto and Darragh Foley.
In the ring Ikeda is an aggressive fighter, looking to come forward, launch big right hands and look for a finish. He's crude, predictable and uncultured, but with his aggression he does have the potential to be in some exciting bouts. Sadly that excitement is dependent on him facing someone with a style to fight back and sometimes fighters will better fight to their strengths, move and simply out box him.
It's hard to see what Ikeda has to really test Inoue. He has a hard right hand but it's a thudding powershot, rather than a snappy concussive blow, he's wide open, defensively flawed and very basic. Ikeda has been hand slected by Inoue, and promoter Hideyuki Ohashi, to help make the champion shine and that's exactly what we're expecting to see here. Ikeda's flaws will see Inoue ripping him apart, and we would be surprised if Ikeda lasted more than 6 rounds with the champion, who will be looking to leave an impression here.
Pediction Inoue TKO5
After a really hectic and busy May, with big fights on a consistent basis, notable action drops off massively in June with the first Japanese title fight taking place on June 13th. That bout sees Japanese Minimumweight champion Norihito Tanaka (18-7, 10) make his first, following his title win in January, as he takes on Naoya Haruguchi (15-10, 6). On paper this isn't a hugely interesting fight, but does have history behind it, as we'll explain in a moment.
The 34 year old Tanaka is a true veteran of the Japanese ring. He debuted in 2005 and won his first 9 fights before suffering 3 defeats in 4 bouts. Whilst that sounds bout it is worth noting that those losses included a decision to Kenichi Horikawa, in 2007, and a DQ loss to Ryoichi Taguchi, two losses that on reflection are certainly aren't bad. He would bounce back with 3 wins before getting his first title fight, battling Akira Yaegashi for the Japanese Minimumweight title, and losing a wide decision. After that Tanaka fought twice, going 1-1, before taking a break of over 5 years. He resurfaced in 2017 and has since gone 4-2 (3) with notable wins against Takumi Sakai and Shin Ono in his last 2 bouts.
In the ring Tanaka had proven to be a smart, crafty, tough fighter with under-rated skills, a good boxing brain and respectable power. Tanaka isn't quick, by any stretch, but he has excellent time, lures opponents in and counters really well. Tanaka's smart boxing, accurate punching and experience makes him a very tricky fighter to look good against and beat. He's certainly not unbeatable, but is significantly better than his record suggests, and even in his 30's going to be hard to dethrone.
As mentioned Tanaka is 4-2 since his return in 2017. One of those losses was in an OPBF title fight to Tsubasa Koura in 2018, the other was in 2017 when he lost a majority decision to Naoya Hariguchi, the man he'll defend his title against. That loss came in the second bout of Tanaka's return and saw Tanaka losing a very close decision in Haruguchi's home city of Kagoshima City, this time the bout is Tanaka's home of Tokyo which could be a major factor.
Haruguchi is the younger man, at 29, but actually has just as many fights as Tanaka, with both having 25 contests to their name. His career began in 2012 and has been a rocky road. He lost on his debut, to Takumi Sakae, was 1--2 after 3 bouts and 3-4 after 7 contests. The inconsistent form of Haruguchi did look bad but it is worth noting that 2 of those losses came to Sakae, who would win the 2013 Rookie of the Year, and one was to Keisuke Nakayama, who later held the OPBF Flyweight title. As his career went on he would become a very clear "win some lose some" fighter, wiith his best run being a 6 fight winning streaking between 2016 and 2017. That winning run saw Haruguchi not only avenge one of his losses, to Jun Takigawa, but also score his win over Tanaka. Sadly however that run ended he has gone 1-3, with losses to Riku Kano, Tatsuya Fukuhara and Lito Dante, strange form for a man about to challenge for the Japanese title.
When it comes to watching Haruguchi footage is limited, partly due to him fighting mostly outside of the main Japanese boxing markets. What little footage is available of Haruguchi is several years old and comes from his 2015 loss to Reiya Konishi, where he was out worked by the then unbeaten Konishi. The take away from that footage is that Haruguchi was a crude fighter, who was easy to force back, defensively open and lacked any sort of sharpness in his punches.
Whilst Haruguchi beat Tanaka when they fought a couple of years ago we really don't see him being competitive here this time around. It certainly feels like he got the benefit of the doubt in their first bout, especially given he was dropped twice and still got the win, and won't be getting that in Tokyo. His form, with 3 losses in his last 4, also don't bode well coming into this bout.
We're expecting to see Tanaka finish off what he started, and this time we're expecting him to finish off Haruguchi, and retain his title in style.
Prediction - Tanaka TKO9
On May 26th we'll see former world title challenger Masahiro Sakamoto (13-2, 9) return to the ring following his 2018 loss to IBF Flyweight king Moruti Mthalane. The 28 year old Osakan will be dropping down from world level, but will look to remain a title level fighter, and will be up against fellow Japanese fighter Yusuke Sakashita (17-8-3, 12) in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title. A win for either man should secure them a WBO world ranking and potentially move them into the mix for a potential world title fight down the line.
The bout, as mentioned, will be Sakamoto's first since losing to Mthalane in an IBF title fight at the very end of 2018 That bout was Sakamoto's first shot at the big time, though he had had a decent career prior to fighting for a world title. He had won the Rookie of the Year in 2015, had given Sho Kimura problems in 2016 and won the WBO Asia Pacific title in 2017, stopping Kwanthai Sithmoreseng for the title. Sadly whilst he did win the regional title in 2017 he only defended it once, stopping veteran Pigmy Kokietgym in a less than taxing bout. He gave up the regional title to challenge Mthalane and will be looking to recapture it here, in what is set to be one of his toughest bouts.
Although Sakashita has more bouts to his name he is less notable than Sakamoto. He would struggle badly early in his career, falling to 2-2-1 after 5 bouts, though rebuilt by winning the 2011 Rookie of the Year. Some mixed success at domestic level eventually saw him getting a shot at Suguru Muranaka for the Japanese Flyweight title in 2014, and being knocked out by Muranaka, who landed a thunderbolt right hand to take out Sakashita in round 8. Since the loss to Muranaka Sakashita has been inconsistent to say the least, going 5-3-1, though is riding a 4 fight unbeaten rung including a TKO win last time out against former OPBF champion Keisuke Nakayama.
Whilst we did see Sakamoto look really limited against Mthalane one that we couldn't fault was his effort, his hunger and his drive. Technically he was poor, though in fairness Mthalane makes very good fighters look poor, but his work rate was impressive and his toughness also shone through. That will often be enough to win at this level, and we wouldn't be surprised to see him mixing at regional level for the rest of his career. It is worth noting however that Sakamoto is a smart guy and is, or at least was, studying at a high level suggesting he has an exit for the sport. Another damaging loss and it could well be the end of his career, walking away to participate in a safer occupation.
Sakamoto is open, aggressive, exciting and hard working. He's not got masses of power, he's not slick or particularly sharp, but at this type of level being able to bring a fight for 12 rounds is often enough.
Sakashita is also quite limited, but also makes for good fights. He's very much a a puncher, and in recent years has shown more and more belief in his power. He's never going to have the power to take him up to world level, but at domestic and regional level he hits hard enough really ask questions of opponents. Defensively he is open and he will take shots. He drops his guard a lot and is open to a good straight right hand, a solid left cross due to his defensive flaws. However he will also look to take opponents out and does have fun domestic fighters, win or lose.
When we have technically flawed but aggressive fighters facing off we do tend to expect fun action and we're expecting these two to put on a low key thriller. Both guys have edges they will look to make the most of, Sakamoto has the work rate and engine whilst Sakashita has the power. With that in mind we expect to see Sakamoto press the action, and eat counters as a result, but eventually break down Sakashita in the later rounds of a nail biting contest.
Peduction - Sakamoto TKO11
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.