We all know Gennady Golovkin is the most feared Middleweight on the planet and that Ryota Murata is destined to to go places. There is little point in Murata staying around at Japanese or even Asian level and he knows it. He may not have ever won the Japanese or OPBF titles but in all honesty he has bigger fish to fry. On March 1st however we get to see the next two best Middleweights in Japan in action.
In one corner we have the Japanese champion Daisuke Nakagawa (22-3-2, 17), a hard hitting 36 year old who was formerly a Japanese champion at Welterweight and Light Middleweight. In the other corner we have OPBF champion Akio Shibata (21-8-1, 9), a former unified champion at Light Middleweight who seeks to unify titles in a second division.
Not only titles on the line here, but so to is personal pride an honour. The men, who are fighting for the second time, know that this will likely be their last fight together and with Shibata winning their first encounter it's certainly a personal battle for Nakagawa.
Aged 36 Nakagawa is the older man and having had his career start way back in 1997 he is the man with the more miles on the clock in terms of time. Thankfully though, for him, he has had the power to keep the mileage down and with an impressive 17 stoppages in his 22 wins he certainly possess a killer instinct. Those 17 stoppage victories have seen him keeping his career rounds down and despite being a professional for well over a decade he has only fought in 140 professional rounds.
Stood at 5'11" Nakagawa is the slightly smaller man though that's unlikely to be an issue. The bigger issue is whether or not his body can go to the well once again at his relatively advanced age. Saying that though he did do very well against the hard hitting Tomohiro Ebisu last year in the bout that saw Nakagawa claiming the title.
Since losing to Shibata in their first meeting, back in Summer 2012, Nakagawa has gone on a 3 fight winning streak and stopped his last 2 opponents, including the aforementioned Ebisu.
Whilst things have been good since their first meeting for Nakagawa things haven't been so rosy for the 32 year old Shibata. Although he is the younger man man Shibata has both competed in more fights and more rounds. He has been in 30 bouts for 164 rounds, that's only 3 bouts more and 24 rounds but he has squished it into a shorter career that began in 2003.
Like Nakagawa, Shibata actually began his career at Welterweight before his body naturally filled out to that of a Middleweight. Unfortunately as he's gone through the weights his power has completely gone and from stopping 4 of his first 6 opponents he has ran up just 5 stoppages in 24 subsequent contests including just 1 in his last 7 bouts. This has been an issue that has certainly not helped him and when he fought Murata last year he simply couldn't get the Olympic champion to respect him despite landing some clean looking shots.
Skillwise and speed wise Shibata is talented and brave. Though unfortunately for him he hasn't been able to show the greatest of durability with 5 stoppages losses on his record, including the stoppage last time out to Murata and two stoppages to Charlie Ota. Despite those notable losses he does have some notable victories including his decision over Shibata, and decisions over Makoto Fuchigami and Takehiro Shimokawara.
When it comes to this fight there are a lot of questions. Can Shibata take the power of Nakagawa again? This is a key when you consider just how much the Murata fight will have taken out of him. If he can, has Nakagawa got a plan B? We know that Shibata is a good boxer despite his lack of durability and if he pumps that jab out and uses his movement he can really out box plenty of fighters. Has father time caught up with Nakagawa? At 36, going on 37, just how much life is there left in Nakagawa's legs?
As well as the questions there is also the manner of incentives. Nakagawa was recently given a world ranking from the WBO and will know that if he keeps winning he could get a world title shot before his career is over. Likewise Shibata may see a win here as a chance to get a second Murata bout or put himself on to the world stage, albeit the fringes of the world stage.
With everything considered it's a hard fight to call. We are, however, leaning towards a Nakagawa stoppage in the middle rounds. We think Shibata will be cautious early on and try to use his speed and jab though it won't be long before Nakagawa starts to land his own shots and eventually those heavy hands of his will take their toll. We believe that Shibata will be stopped after having a small lead on the cards in what will really be a great fight as both men try to force they style on to the fight.