On November 7th we'll see the next mandatory challenger for the Japanese Middleweight title being decided, as former champion Hikaru Nishida (17-9-1, 8) battles against 2017 Middleweight Rookie of the Year Shuji Kato (9-1-1, 6) at the Korakuen Hall. The winner will get their shot at the title in 2019 at the Champion Carnival, taking on either Kazuto Takesako or Sanosuke Sasaki who clash at the start of the month. In many ways this is a much better match up that the recent title bout, which was always seen as a mismatch between a rampant and destructive champion and an under-whelming challenger.
Of the two fighters it's Nishida who is the more recognisable by far, having been a former unified Japanese and OPBF champion. The 31 year old has mixed with the best domestically over the last few years and is a fighter who proves that hard work can achieve results. He began his career in 2008 and was 6-6-1 (1) after 13 fights, with his only early career win of note coming against the aforementioned Sasaki who would win a rematch just a few months later. He has however battled back and gone 11-3 since then, notching up wins against Fukutaro Ujiie, Kazuhiko Hidaka, Makoto Fuchigami, Ratchasai Sithsaithong, Akio Shibata and Tomohiro Ebisu.
In the ring Nishida is known as a basic but effective pressure fighter, coming forward behind a high guard and pressing his opponents before breaking them down up close. He has often shown that he can be out boxed, losing the OPBF title to Dwight Ritchie via a wide decision in 2016, and he's had to come from behind to break opponents down in the past. One of his biggest strengths has been his physicality, and he is an imposing fighter on the domestic scene. Another strong point for Nishida is his durability, but was blasted out in his title loss to Takesako earlier this year and we do wonder what that has taken out of him.
Kato is the younger, less known man who at 28 years old has real promise but hasn't really shown what he can do against notable domestic competition. He debuted way back in December 2014 but had a pretty inactive start to his career, ending 2016 with a record of 3-1-1 (2). In 2017 however he had a break out year, going 4-0 (3) to become the All-Japan Rookie of the Year at Middleweight. As with all Rookie tournaments his opponents were novices, so it's hard to say how impressive the Rookie win was, but it was certainly something and immediately put him on the right path. Since that rookie win he has scored a couple of wins this year, both against low level domestic foes.
From the footage we've seen of Kato he looks like a talented southpaw boxer with an educated lead right hand. He has an active style, applying pressure behind his jab and can move through the gears surprisingly quickly. Sadly he is a touch on the crude side, and whilst he can step up the tempo he can also be made to look slow and clumsy, with his shots typically having a lethargic appearance. Despite looking like he pushes his punches he must hit hard, at least at the level he's been fighting at, as he's managed to hurt pretty much everyone he's fought, and his straight left hand is clearly a heavy shot.
Whilst Kato has been on a good run, it's hard to imagine him stepping up this much in class and over-coming the flawed but rugged Nishida, who we suspect will walk down Kato and stop him in the later rounds of this scheduled 8 round contest. We know that Nishida was demolished by Takesako but Takesako appears to be several levels above Kato, and we think that Nishida will still have more than enough to deal with Kato.
Through out history the Japanese Middleweight division has really lacked in terms of quality fighters,interesting match ups and real history. There have been a few talented fighters make their mark, and some really entertaining fights, but on the whole those have been few and far between. Thankfully however they have become more frequent in recent years, and we seem to be having a generation of exciting Japanese Middleweights, lead by Ryota Murata on the world stage.
On the domestic level the last decade has had thrillers like Tadashi Yuba's war with Carlos Linares, Makoto Fuchigami's win over Koji Sato, Fuchigami's loss to Tomohiro Ebisu, Ebisu's loss to current Japanese champion Hikaru Nishida (17-8-1, 8). We believe we're set for another thriller this coming Saturday as Nishida defends his title against hard hitting Kazuto Takesako (7-0, 7), who's 1-round win over Shoma Fukumoto last year was another all-action Japanese Middleweight bout.
Of the two men it's the 30 year old Nishida who is the more established fighter. He made his almost a decade ago, and certainly struggled to find his footing in the sport, in fact he was 4-5-1 (1) after his first 10 bouts. Since that poor start he has gone 13-3 (7), and avenged one of those losses. That 16 bout run has seen him defeat the likes of Kazuhiro Hidaka, Makoto Fuchigami, Ratchasi Sithsaithong, Akio Shibata and Tomohiro Ebisu. He might not be anywhere close to a world title fight, but in the last 3 years he has beaten 3 fighters who have held Oriental honours, and 3 who have held Japanese titles. A solid set of wins that really does show how much his career has turned around and why he was once the unified Japanese and OPBF champion.
In the ring Nishida has a style that makes for good fights. He trusts his toughness, his chin and his work rate. He brings a lot of pressure, using his high guard to cut the distance, before going to work big time up close. He's not the smoothest, the most powerful or the quickest, but he's an absolute handful with his constant pressure and his refusal to back off. At domestic level he is a handful and he hits harder than his record suggests, with solid hands, as opposed to explosive ones. Every shot he lands is solid, hurtful and chips away at a fighter, whilst his style is mentally draining on every opponent as he comes forward relentlessly.
The challenger is a 26 year old who only turned professional in the summer of 2015, following a 41 fight amateur career. He was ear marked for success from the off, and impressed with quick blow outs against domestic fighters like Tomoyuki Yokota and Elfelos Vega. In 2016 Takesako fought 3 times, for a combined 7 rounds as he blasted out Thai Tiendaen Chaiyonggym, Japanese fighter Hiroshi Ohashi and Korean visitor Kyung Joon Ahn. He was impressing, but doing so in way that seemed to be expected of him. It wasn't until last November that he really showed what he was capable of, as he stopped Fukumoto in a Japanese title eliminator.
Defensively Takesako has been shown to be less than fantastic, but offensively he is a machine. He's naturally heavy handed, not needing to put significant wind up into his shots, his footwork enables him to get into position excellently, and he switches between head and body brilliantly. Despite being an ultra offensive fighter he has great composure in the pocket,seems able to find holes in opponents defenses and measures distance really well. It should be noted that we have seen him rocked, with Ahn almost dropping him in their 2016 bout, but other than that he has looked physically solid.
Given that both men bring pressure, look to have a fight and have aggressive styles we can't see how this bout can be anything but thrilling. We favour Takesako's power and youth over Nishida's tight guard and more proven stamina, but the only thing that is clear about this contest is that the action will be intense, hard hitting and fought up close, with both men letting their hands go at will. Nishida is tough, but we see him cracking against the power and relentlessness of the challenger in an all action war.
The Japanese Middleweight picture has been an interesting one in some ways over the last few years. It's been fair to say that Ryoto Murata is the single shining star of the division domestically, and in all frank honesty no one else in Japan comes close to matching him in terms of ability or attention. Below him however we've had some interesting fighters mix it up in some really good fights.
On May 1st two of those fighters face off as we see the Japanese title and Japanese interim title getting unified in what could be a real classic for Japanese fight fans. We're not saying that to try and build up the bout, but more because we're excited about the styles of the two men involved. In one corner is Japanese “regular” champion Hikaru Nishida (15-8-1, 7), a rough and tough in your face pressure fighter, whilst the other corner has interim champion Tomohiro Ebisu (17-4, 17), a glass cannon who has never been beyond 8 rounds.
Going in to the bout we should explain why there are two Japanese champions at the moment. The situation has come about following an injury that Nishida suffered out of the ring last year. He was supposed to defend his title against Makoto Fuchigami, before fell down some stairs just days before the fight, forcing it to be cancelled with Nishida needing to receive medical attention for a head injury. As a result Fuchigami fought Ebisu last December in a late contender for Japanese FOTY, with Ebisu stopping Fuchigami in the 8th round of a real thriller.
Since Ebisu won the title Nishida has been given clearance to fight, with this being his comeback bout, ending a 10 month break from the ring, with his last bout being a loss to Dwight Ritchie in a bout for the OPBF title. We now need to go back more than a year to find Nishida's last win, a 3rd round TKO victory over Akio Shibata for the then unified Japanese and OPBF titles.
As mentioned Nishida is a pressure fighter. At 5'9” he's tiny for a Middleweight but he's built like a freak and is as strong as an ox. He uses that physical strength to bull more technically sound fighters around, before breaking them down. He's done to great effect in the last 5 years, turning around a 4-5-1 (1) record to his current 15-8-1 (7) record. On paper that might not seem amazing but he has scored notable wins over the likes of Yasuyuki Akiyama, Fukutaro Ujiie, Kazuhiko Hidaka, Makoto Fuchigami and the aforementioned Shibata. He has shown real grit and toughness and under-rated skills, whilst making the most of what he's been blessed with.
Ebisu has been inactive since his win over Fuchigami, a good thing given how damaging it was for both men, and is now seeking to become a 2-time Japanese champion. Having said that it's worth noting that Ebisu's first reign was a short one. He the title in February 2013, stopping Sanosuke Sasaki in 6 rounds, and lost it less than 6 months later to Daisuke Nakagawa in 7 rounds. That was Ebisu's 3rd stoppage loss and saw his record fall to 11-3 (11), it wasn't long for him to be 12-3 (12) with a loss and a draw in 2014.
In the ring Ebisu is a monster puncher, a real spiteful banger, but unfortunately he can't take a great deal in return and has either scored a stoppage or been stopped in every bout of his 21 fight career. The combination of power and suspect chin has made him great fun to watch over the years, not knowing what will happen at any moment. In recent times he has started to show more savvy in his boxing but at heart he's still a puncher, and brutish one at that.
One of the big questions coming into this bout is whether Nishida will have any knock on effects following his injury. If he's the fighter he was before his fall this bout has the potential to be something very special, as he looks to walk through Ebisu's rocket fire in an attempt to drag him into a war and break him down. If Nishida has lost some of his punch resistance as a result of a very nasty fall then he could well find himself being broken down by the power of Ebisu, and quickly as his shots are thunderous.
We think Ebisu has to be favoured here, given the possible issues with Nishida and the fact he's been inactive recently, but we're hoping that this bout delivers on action and that Nishida is fighting fit for it.
This coming Wednesday Japanese fans get the chance to see the third meeting between Japanese Middleweight champion Hikaru Nishida (15-8-1,7) and former world title challenger Makoto Fuchigami (23-11, 14). Not only with the Japanese title be on he line but so too will be the WBO Asia Pacific title, making it the third bout for the WBO's regional title to be fought for in Japan. The bout sees Nishida looking to over-come the more experienced man for the third time whilst Fuchigami is looking to avenge his losses and become relevant once again.
These two first met in March 2014. At the point Nishida was a struggling fighter with a record of 9-6-1 (3) and was looking to build on notable wins over Fukutaro Ujiie, Kazuhika Hidaka and Go Nakahori. Fuchigami on the other hand looked like a man coming to the end of his career with losses to Gennady Golovkin and Akio Shibata. That bout ended with Nishida taking a decision win. A rematch last year saw the then 12-7-1 (4) Nishida force a 5th round TKO against the then 21-10 (12) Fuchigami, in what was Fuchigami's 4th loss in 5 bouts. Really that have been the end of the rivalry.
Now we're heading into a third bout with the champion clearly being favoured over the challenger.
Aged 29 Nishida is a man coming into his prime and he's tough, rough and has a great engine allowing him to bring the pressure and break down his opponents. He'
slow, rather predictable and can be out boxed, as we saw earlier this year against Dwight Ritchie, but against fighters who can't keep on their toes for 12 rounds he's a nightmare, as seen when he stopped Akio Shibata back in March.
Nishida does nothing special. He's a flat footed and relatively slow. What he does though is effective, especially against older fighters who lack the energy to bounce about for 12 rounds.
At his best Fuchigami was a very solid fighter. Yes he was stopped by Golovkin but he was a good, solid and gutsy fighter. In fact his bout in 2011 with Koji Sato was phenomenal with Fuchigami proving his heart and slowly breaking down the feared Sato despite taking some nasty shots of his own. That bout was Fuchigami at his best, and was part of a 9-0 (8) run that also included wins against Tetsuya Suzuki, Takayuki Hosokawa and Fukutaro Ujiie.
Sadly since fighting Golovkin we've seen Fuchigami really struggle and he has subsequently gone 4-4 (4) with two losses to both Akio Shibata and Nishida. He has shown some lovely skills, and was out boxing Nishida in their second bout, but his punch resistance seems to be completely gone and he can't fight hard for 12 rounds any more at the age of 33.
Given how the last bouts between these two went it's hard to imagine Fuchigami win this one, in fact it'd be one of the biggest shocks of the year if Fuchigami was to over-come Nishida. We suspect Fuchigami will start well but be broken down in the middle rounds with Nishida scoring a stoppage after 7 or 8 rounds.
Throughout the world of boxing we see fighters with “misleading” records. This could be world class fighters with a lot of losses, for example Rey Loreto, or domestic level fighters with records stacked with mismatch wins, for example Noknoi Sitthiprasert who is on a winning run of more than 50 bouts.
One fighter who is much better than his record suggests is OPBF and Japanese Middleweight champion Hikaru Nishida (15-7-1, 7) who returns to the ring this coming Tuesday, to defend his Oriental title against Australian challenger Dwight Ritchie (13-0-0-4, 1). On paper the champion should be the under-dog, if records were the only thing that mattered, but the reality is that this is a really, really, good match up.
Nishida's record belies the fact that he's a fighter who has totally turned his career around after a slow start, in fact he was once 6-6-1. Since the poor start Nishida has really developed and is a determined, tough, high intensity pressure fighter who has broken down fighters like Makoto Fuchigami, Akio Shibata, scoring stoppages over both, and scored other notable wins. Although not a big name he's a fighter who, at 28, looks like the type of fighter who will be a tough test for anyone outside of the top 20 or 30 in the world.
Whilst Nishida has picked up losses, early in his career, Ritchie has picked up No Contests, with his first 4 bouts all being listed as No Contest's due to a breach of licensing rules regarding his age. Were it not for those results being reversed Ritchie would be 17-0 (2) though his competition hasn't been great with his best wins coming over a semi-retired Ryan Waters and Dean Mikelj. Whilst he hasn't score really notable wins he has shown a good boxing brain, good speed and movement and knows how to fight to his advantages. Notably however this is his first bout outside of Australia.
On paper this is “unbeaten man Vs journeyman”, but the reality is that it's “proven pressure fighter Vs unproven speedster”. Given how unproven Ritchie is, having never fought outside of Australia and having never previous fought in a 12 rounder, it's clear the pressure is on him and with that in mind we have to favour the champion.
We suspect Ritchie will get off to a good start, and may well be 4-0 up after a few rounds, however as the bout progresses and as Nishida applies his pressure we see Ritchie wilting and losing a close but clear decision
In August 2013 we saw Japanese Olympic champion Ryota Murata make his professional debut, stopping OPBF Middleweight champion Akio Shibata (now 27-8-1, 13) [柴田 明雄] in 2 rounds. At the time Murata made Shibata look incredibly poor though since that bout Shibata has gone 6-0 (4) and unified the OPBF and Japanese titles whilst sitting on fringes of the world rankings, in fact the IBF currently ranked him #10 in the world.
Since the loss to Murata we have seen only two fighters go the distance with Shibata. The first of those was Daisuke Nakagawa, who retired following the loss to Shibata, and the other is the under-rated Hikaru Nishida (now 14-7-1, 6) [西田 光]. This coming Saturday Shibata and Nishida meet for the second time with Shibata trying to continue a 4 fight run whilst Nishida looks to avenge his only loss in the last 3 years, and one of only two defeats in his last 12 bouts.
Of the two men it's is Shibata who is the most well known. Much of his international recognition is from the loss to Murata but the 34 year old does have some genuinely solid wins of his own and has been one of the more notable “bigger” fighters in Japan for a number of years. Those wins including claiming the unified OPBF and JBC crown at 154lbs, beating Yuki Nonaka in 2009, beating Daisuke Nakagawa twice, in 2012 and 2014, beating Takatyuki Hosokawa in 2013, beating Makoto Fuchigami twice, in 2013 and 2015 and most recently beating Koki Tyson Maebara.
In the ring Shibata is a very clever boxer-mover, though one who has changed his style as he's gotten older. Originally he was very light on his feet, and some what defensively flawed, seemingly thinking his speed was his biggest asset. Not a days he's a more controlled fighter, he still uses his speed but has tightened up his defense and is happier to stand his ground, hence scoring 4 success stoppages in the last few years, compared to just 9 stoppages in his previous 32 bouts.
Although getting on in age Shibata does seem to still be getting better and is a very talented fighter who looks to have a number of years left in his career.
Whilst Shibata is well known the same cannot be said of Nishida, who is incredibly over-looked and under-rated. Part of the reason he's so over-looked is his record, which features less than 66% wins. The truth however is that he's better than his record, and has improved markedly since the early part of his career. He is no longer the fighter who was 4-5-1 (1) whilst fighting over 4 rounds, but is instead a fighter who has gone 10-2 and progressed into a very good fighter.
Part of why Nishida did so badly early as a professional is because he's a slow starter. He's a pressure fighter who needs time to make his physical advantages matter, and instead of starting fights fast he grinds down opponents as the fight goes on. That has seen him score very domestic level wins over the likes of Kazuhiko Hidaka, Makoto Fuchigami, twice, and Hideo Mikan.
Aged 28 Nishida is physical, tough, youthful and a real handful. He also managed to give Shibata a very tough time in their first bout, back in 2014, and has improved since then.
We think stylistically Shibata should be favoured, however we see this one being a very tough one for the champion, who will have to dig deep in the later stages against a very determined challenger.
When we discuss the best Middleweight in Japan there is only one man who comes to mind, Ryota Murata. The Olympic champion isn't just the best Middleweight in Japan but probably the second best Middleweight from Asia right now behind Kazakhstan's Gennady Golvokin.
The general view is that Murata is so far more advanced than anyone in his homeland that his next fight in Japan, at the end of the year, is likely to be his last before he sets off to the US to move towards a world title fight.
Sadly the fact Murata is so much better than the others in his weight at home has perhaps hurt the domestic title scene but in fairness to the JBC and the OPBF they have both of their titles around the waist of the next best Middleweight in Japan, Akio Shibata (22-8-1, 9), one of the stars of the Watanabe Gym.
Shibata was the debut opponent of Murata back in August 2013 and was stopped in the second round by the Olympic champion. He bounced back well from that loss however and dominated the big punching Daisuke Nakagawa to unify the OPBF and Japanese titles whilst also expelling any lingering demons following the loss to Murata.
It's unfortunate in many ways that Shibata will be remembered by international fans as "the guy Murata beat on his debut" because he's actually a fantastically talented boxer-mover. He combines an intelligence in the ring with great hand speed and clever footwork. He may not be the most durable with 5 stoppage losses but he's worked on staying away from a tear up well and with reigns as unified champion at both 154lbs and 160lbs it's hard to discredit him.
Whilst Shibata is much better than many fans realise, especially those who only know of him for the Murata bout, his opponent in his up coming title defence is a lot better than his record indicates. His challenger Hikaru Nishida (10-6-1, 3) has the record of an extremely limited fighter, someone who is miles away from being being a potential threat to one of the best Middleweights in Asia. Nishida however posses a record that is nothing short of misleading.
The challenger lost 5 of his first 10 bouts beginning his career 4-5-1. Those losses were all close and, although on paper, it was an awful start to his career he did seem better than the records suggest and he also went 1-1 Sanosuke Sasaki, who later became the Japanese Middleweight champion.
Since his first 10 bouts Nishida has gone 6-1 scoring a string of notable wins including a stoppage over former multi-time title challenger Fukutaro Ujiie, a decision over former 2-weight OPBF champion Kazuhiko Hidaka and most recently a decision over former world title challenger Makoto Fuchigami. Whilst those wins may have been a little bit down to luck and timing on Nishida's part they are all very solid wins and the sort of wins that deserve to get someone a domestic title fighter.
At 26 years old Nishida is coming into his prime, he's battled hardened and, although not fully developed as a fighter or a man, he is a very credible challenger in the form of his life. Unfortunately him some would argue he's a small Middleweight, stood at 5'9, and should be competing at 154lbs if he can make that weight.
We are fans of fighters who battle through early career adversity like Nishida has. It's things like that that make us get behind fighters like Gerpaul Valero and Rey Loreto. Unfortunately for Nishida however we think Shibata's talent and speed will be too much to overcome and in the end Nishida will put up a brave effort but lose a clear cut decision to a talented and often over-looked fighter who deserves more respect than he seem to get.
(Image courtesy of Watanabe gym)
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.