By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On February 10, undefeated Japanese star Hiroki Okada faces former World champion Raymundo Beltran in a WBC Eliminator.
Hiroki Okada (19-0/13 KOs), one of the brightest Japanese boxing stars of this generation, is currently ranked at the top 10 of the Super Lightweight division. Competing in the sport since his high school days, as an amateur, he won the National Sports Festival Tournament (Japan’s premier sporting event) twice, before turning pro.
Going 7-0 (all stoppages) prior to winning the Japanese title, Okada defended this legendary championship 6 times, from 2014 to 2016, against Koichi Aso (23-8) twice, Hayato Hokazono (18-5), Masanobu Nakazawa (18-2), Cristiano Aoqui (13-7) and Valentine Hosokawa (24-6), which proved to be his toughest at the time, as Hosokawa was a much stronger fighter than him. Despite taking a beating, he still managed to come out on top.
As Okada was moving up in the rankings, he began facing international competition and on December of 2017, he faced Jason Pagara (41-3) for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title. A long-time WBO International champion, the Filipino fighter was undefeated since 2011 and with only two decision losses in his entire career. Okada kept peppering him with left jabs (a key weapon to his arsenal) and eventually connected with an uppercut in the sixth round, which left him unable to respond to the referee’s count, giving Pagara his first stoppage loss and himself the strap.
After dispatching world title contender Ciso Morales (19-8) in just the first round (same strategy as in the Pagara bout, only this time he dropped him with a counter right hook) Okada signed with Top Rank and made his US debut this past September against Cristian Rafael Coria (28-7).
It’s worth mentioning that Okada has been training at the Kadoebi Houseki Boxing Gym, a gym that has produced many champions like WBC Strawweight World champion Eagle Kyowa, WBC & Lineal Flyweight World champion Koji Kobayashi, IBF Super Bantamweight World champion Yukinori Oguni, WBA Lightweight World champion Yusuke Kobori and unified Japanese, OPBF & WBO Asia Pacific Heavyweight champion, as well as K-1 champion, Kyotaro Fujimoto. Okada will need to be at his best when he takes on “Sugar” Ray Beltran, for a chance at the WBC World title.
The 20 year veteran Raymundo Beltran (35-8/21 KOs) finally won the World championship last year, at 36 years of age. The road to the gold wasn’t an easy one though.
His journey began in 2013 when he fought Ricky Burns (43-7) for the WBO Lightweight title, at the Englishman’s home turf. Sugar Ray brought his A game that night, dominating the fight and even dropping Burns with his patented left hook and also breaking his jaw. As the fight went the distance, it was almost certain that a new champion was going to be crowned but the judges declared the match a draw, a result that was deemed controversial by many.
Beltran failed to win the big one once again, this time against Terence Crawford (34-0) in 2014. The third time was supposed to be the charm, after he knocked out 2 division World champion Takahiro Ao (28-3), with an overhand right in the second round. However, due to missing weight and testing positive for illegal substances, the WBO title remained vacant.
The Mexican fighter made his return in 2016, after a 1 year suspension, winning 5 fights in a row, including a win over 2 time WBA interim Super Featherweight World champion Bryan Vasquez (37-3) to earn another opportunity at the strap. Beltran finally became the WBO Lightweight World champion by defeating former WBA title holder Paulus Moses (40-5) in February of 2018. Unfortunately, the celebration was short lived, as he lost in his first defense. Now, almost 6 months later, Beltran will make his Super Lightweight debut against an undefeated opponent, in Hiroki Okada.
This fight will be a significant turning point for both Okada as well as Beltran. For Okada, this is without a doubt his biggest test yet, a match against a former World champion. Despite being a top ranked fighter (WBO #2 / WBA #3 / IBF #5 / WBC #9) he has never faced someone, the caliber of Beltran. Considering how poor his last performance was against Coria, a loss here is not an option for the Japanese star. Okada will need to keep him at bay with his left jabs, while trying to score some big shots with the right. A knock out victory will probably not be on the cards for him in this match. On the other hand, Sugar Ray has a killer left hook. Most of his KO wins have come due it. That’s his money maker and he will definitely look to land it again. His weakness though, is his defense. He usually leaves his head exposed and because of that he has been knocked down on numerous occasions throughout his career. Granted that, this is his gameplan most of the time, to take punishment in order to dish it back, but this might get him in more trouble than usual against a much younger and faster rival here. Plus, there’s the unknown factor of how Beltran will fair in this new weight class. To conclude with, this can be described as a “do or die” situation, as a loss for either man could be the end of their push (Okada) or even their career (Beltran) at this point. So who will leave California as the number 1 contender for the WBC World championship ? We will find out this Sunday.
Although not one of Japan's deepest divisions the Light Welterweight division is slowly warming up, with a domestic scene being lead by current champion Hiroki Okada (13-0, 10), given that Keita Obara has out done the domestic picture with an OPBF reign and a world title fight. As the champion Okada has already notched 5 defenses and scored notable wins over the likes of Hayato Hokazono, Masanobu Nakazawa and Koichi Aso. On November 1st he looks to extend that reign and secure his 6th defense, as he battled veteran Valentine Hosokawa (20-5-3, 9), in what will impressively be the champion's 4th defense of 2016.
Okada won the Japanese title back in March 2014, when he took a wide and clear decision win over Masayoshi Kotake. Since then his career has really been on an upward trajectory, despite a lay off in 2015 when he broke his hand in sparring Yoshitaka Kato. That rise has seen him not only record 5 defenses of the Japanese title but also break into the world rankings, with the WBO listing him in their top 15, and receive some genuine international interest.
In the ring Okada isn't a hugely frightening proposition and he won't attempt to steam roll opponents, however that certainly doesn't mean he's not a good fighter. Unlike many fighters with real power Okada doesn't chase a stoppage, in fact quite often he fights as a counter puncher, with devastating shots off the backfoot, as fighters like Nakazawa and Aso can attest to. On the backfoot his uppercutt is something special. Although naturally a counter-puncher he can also fight going forward, but is very much a basic fighter going forward, using his straight punches to break down fighters.
Blessed with heavy hands, a good boxing brain and nice hand speed Okada is a handful, despite being flawed and not the quickest mover in the ring. On the Japanese domestic scene he is the king but now has fighters chasing him, like Daishi Nagata, and we could be on the verge of a really exciting period at 140lbs in Japan, something we've not really had in recent years.
At 35 years old the challenger will be coming into his third, and potentially final, title bout. His previous two both came back in 2013 when he was stopped in a Japanese title fight by Shinya Iwabuchi and then in OPBF title fight by Min Wook Kim, with both fights being damaging contests for Hosokawa. Since those defeats he has gone 4- (1) with a win over recent title challenger Cristiano Aoqui and a narrow loss to Noriaki Sato.
At his very best Hosokawa was a really tough, solid and game fighter. He however wasn't a top fighter and lacked any really outstanding quality. He wasn't a big puncher, he wasn't the quickest and he didn't have exceptional skills. He was though a grinder, with a good engine, a fantastic will to win and a never say die attitude. His two losses in title bouts showed his flaws, and took some of his prime, but also showed that he wasn't going to ever just lie down in the ring, even when a bout looked like a lost caused.
Sadly Hosokawa is several years removed from his best, he's a 10 year professional with serious mileage on the clock and we think that mileage will be added to here before he suffers his third career stoppage, likely quicker than his previous two given that he's now 3 years older than he was back then. Hopefully for Okada a win here will actually end with him dropping the title and hunting OPBF title bouts in 2017, rather than face a third bout with Aso.
The Japanese Light Welterweight scene is one that doesn't get a lot of attention, but is interesting at the moment with several fighters starting to break through the ranks, such as Daishi Nagata Noriaki Sato and Shuichiro Yoshino whilst at the top of the tree is future world title challenger Keita Obara.
One man looking to move in the same direction as Obara is current Japanese national champion Hiroki Okada (12-0, 10), who returns to the ring this coming Monday to seek the 5th defense of his title as he takes on Japanese-Brazilian Cristiano Aoqui (11-4-2, 7).
Okada has slowly but surely been making a name for himself among Japanese domestic fans, and with good reason. He's an exciting, talented and heavy handed fighter who seems like he could, potentially, go a very long way. Unlike many punchers Okada isn't at his best coming forward but, instead, fighting as a counter puncher with his boxing on the back foot being his strength. Saying that however he can fight on the front foot when he needs to.
The 26 year old from Tokyo has started to string together some genuinely notable wins including victories over Masayoshi Kotake, Koichi Aso, twice, Hayato Hokazono and Masanobu Nakazawa. Not only has he been putting together really good domestic wins but he has been scoring stoppages over good domestic fighters too, with Aso being stopped in 7 rounds earlier this and Nakazano lasting less than 3. At the moment he's the top guy domestically, though of course he's behind Obara who has progressed well beyond the Japanese domestic scene, however we suspect he'll be looking to move beyond the domestic scene and hunt an OPBF title in the near future and take on the top guys from the region.
Whilst we have seen plenty of Okada the same cannot be said of Aoqui who has most fought at the lower levels of the Japanese scene since making his debut almost a decade ago. On paper his record isn't great however he back his career 4-2-1 (3), with both of those losses coming by stoppage, however he has since gone 7-2-1 (4) with both of those recent losses being very narrow decision defeats. Whilst he has suffered defeats, in fact losing as recently as last December, Aoqui has been scored notable wins beating Koicho Ogawa, Quaye Peter and Ryosuke Takami in the last 2 years.
Although on on paper Aoqui doesn't look like a puncher the footage of him out there certainly shows a man who can whack, particularly with the uppercut which he used to devastating effect against Takafumi Yamada in a 58 second blow out win 3 years ago. The uppercut really is his danger punch though he does have heavy looking hooks and seems to be the aggressive sort of fighter than can make for an exciting type of fight. Saying that however he is flawed, technically his punches leave him open and his footwork is sloppy, and even slow at times
Given the aggressive and front foot nature of Aoqui we suspect he'll play right into the hands of Okada who we think will stop him in the middle rounds with a devastating counter punch.
Notably this bout will be streamed over the BoxingRaise website and for fans interested in watching that appears to be the only way of seeing the bout, unless you have a ticket to the Korakuen Hall for the show
Over the last few years we have seen a lot of attention in Japanese boxing focus on the very lowest weights, and with good reason given their wealth of talent at the lower weights. The domestic scene has however been interesting in some of the heavier weights with the 140lb Light Welterweight division being a particularly interesting one.
The star is, of course, Keita Obara who looks set to fight for a world title this summer. Below him however is a really fascinating division with numerous notable, exciting, talented and promising fighters, such as the promising trio of Koki Inoue, Shuichiro Yoshino and Yuki Konami, the exciting but flawed contenders like Shinya Iwabuchi and Shuhei Tsuchiya and the heavy handed Yoshimichi Matsumoto.
On April 19th we see two of the most notable Japanese domestic fighters at the weight collide, for the second time, in a mandatory title defense that could, potentially, be the fight of the week.
The bout in question sees unbeaten champion Hiroki Okada (11-0, 9) [岡田 博喜] defend his belt against the ultra-aggressive Koichi Aso (20-6-1, 13) [麻生 興一], with the bout being Okada's 4th defense of the title and Aso's second shot at the belt.
In their first bout Okada narrowly over-came Aso, with a 10 round decision that saw all 3 judges score the bout 96-94 to the champion. Since then both fighters hack racked up a pair of stoppage wins, with Okada defending his title twice and looking like a fighter who is making great strides in his development.
Aged 26 the champion really is a fighter with a lot of potential. That potential has helped him gain a WBO world ranking and score several wins of note, including his first win over Aso and recent stoppages over Hayato Nakazano and Masanobu Nakazawa. He may not have major wins on the international stage but we suspect that that's where he will be heading later in the year with an OPBF title shot likely to come in the next 12-18 months. Sadly his development was slowed last year, due to a hand injury, but he looked better than ever when he stopped Nakazawa back in January.
Okada is heavy handed but appears to be a fighter who simply has heavy hands, rather than a fighter who throws with bad intentions. As a result he has shown he can box, he move and looks to be a natural counter puncher, making him even more dangerous than just his power.
In Aso we have a man who really is flawed but yet has a box office style with a lot of aggression, plenty of power and a somewhat questionable chin. He has been stopped in half of his losses, including an opening round defeat to Shinya Iwabuchi though strangely suffered all 3 of those stoppages in his first 3 defeats. Since then it appears his defense, as opposed to his chin, has improved yet he is still an “in your face” fighter with an aggressive, pressure style that is incredibly fun to watch.
Since the loss to Okada back in 2014 Aso hasn't been massively active, with 15 combined rounds, but at 30 years old, and with his style, the inactivity has likely helped him rather than hindered him coming in to this bout. He's not been taking damage, he's been giving his body time to relax and he's been able to plan for another big fight.
Given the styles of the men we are expecting this one to be very fun. Aso will, as always, come forward and whilst we suspect he will have some success we can't help but think that Okada's clean counters, especially from his uppercutts, will take their toll on the challenger who will eventually succumb to the champion. We could see Aso grinding down Okada but we suspect Okada will retain his title in style and score a more impressive win over Aso than he did in their first meeting.
We're now a couple of weeks into the new year and it's only now we're looking at the first Japanese title fight of 2016, a fight that sees titles being unified with an interim title being unified with a real title, and only one man being able to claim they are the champion.
Unlike the WBA the JBC only use interim titles where necessary. Last year saw one such occasion as Japanese 140lb champion Hiroki Okada (10-0, 8) suffered a serious injury in training and instead of leaving the title scene on ice the JBC put together an interim title bout between Masanobu Nakazawa and Masayoshi Kotake, with Kotake having been lined up to fight Okada before the champion's injury. Sadly for Kotake he came up short against Nakazawa (18-1-1, 7) who will be hoping to turn his interim reign into a true reign as champion.
Coming in to this it will Nakazawa who is full of confidence. The 33 year old Teiken fighter has won his last 15 bouts and is unbeaten in more than 5 years, with his sole defeat being in his 5th professional bout to Shuhei Tsuchiya. Not only is he on a good run but he'll also feel that the win over Kotake, last September, has helped make him as a fighter and proven that he belongs in title bouts.
In the ring Nakazawa is a tall boxer who has shown respectable power, good skills, nice movement and he seems to know how to use his 5'11” frame to great effect. He does however have question marks about his chin, due to his defeat being a 2nd round KO loss, and about how he fares against good opponents, with the win over Kotake being easily his most notable victory.
At 26 years old Okada is seen as one of the more promising Japanese fighters in and around the Welterweight division. He began his career with 7 straight stoppage wins before going the distance against Kotake in a bout that saw Okada win the Japanese title. Since then he has defended the belt twice taking a hard fought decision over Koichi Aso, aka Shamgar Koichi, and a 3rd round TKO over Hayato Hokazono. That win over Hokazono was an impressive performance but came back in March 2015 and he has been out of the ring since, and has only had 23 rounds of boxing in the last 24 months.
At his best Okada is really exciting, aggressive and heavy handed fighter. He takes risks and makes a fight a fight. At his best we really don't see him losing to a fighter like Nakazawa, however questions regarding his inactivity and mental state following the hand injury will be hanging over his head here, will he through the power shots or will he be afraid of re-injuring his hand, which was damaged on the head of stablemate Yoshitaka Kato.
If Okada is the fighter he looked like being against Hokazono we see him taking out Nakazawa in the middle rounds. If however he lacks that little bit of sharpness and has a bit of weariness about his hand then Nakazawa could find himself extending his current winning run to 16 bouts.
The Japanese domestic scene in Light Welterweight division isn't the strongest. In fact it's pretty weak except for a small number of notable fighters. One of those is Keita Obara, a brilliantly hard puncher with world class potential whilst another is the exciting but flawed Shinya Iwabuchi. Below those two men the division is mostly prospects and hopefuls such as current Japanese champion Hiroki Okada (9-0, 7).
At the end of this week Okada attempts to make his second defence since winning the title almost a year ago to the day and attempts to over-come the more experienced though some what limited Hayato Hokazono (18-4-1, 11), a man who was twice beaten by Obara.
Okada began his career in brilliant fashion stopping his first 7 opponents including the experienced Heri Andriyanto and the tough Jaypee Ignacio. His stoppage run only came to an end last year when he stepped up to title level and was take the distance by the tough Masayoshi Kotake. Although Kotake took Okada 10 rounds he couldn't over-come the unbeaten man. Okada was also taken the distance in his first defence, as he over-came Shamgar Koichi in a very competitive match up.
Although Okada has gone the distance in his last 2 bouts it's clear he can punch and that the 20 of championship quality action will have helped him mature and develop as a fighter. Those bouts will have boosted his confidence and made him realise he can do 10 rounds.
The 28 year old Hokazono will be fighting in his second title fight having been stopped in 4 rounds by Keita Obara in a bout for the vacant title a little less than 2 years ago. That was the second meeting between Hokazono and Obara and lasted just 4 rounds, half as long as their first meeting just 5 months earlier. The stoppages to Obara account for 2 of Hokazono's 3 stoppage losses, though the other came more than 8 years ago as he was stopped by Makoto Yoshida.
Hokazono isn't a great fighter but he also isn't terrible and his stand out win is over Kazuyoshi Kumano, a solid but unspectacular fighter himself, though like the champion he does hit hard enough to make opponents respect him.
What we're expecting to see is a promising champion over-coming some real adversity here to prove that he's on his way up. Hokazono isn't a fringe world class fighter, nor is he even really a contender on the oriental scene, however he is experienced enough to make life very difficult for an inexperienced young fighter like Okada, who has a lot to learn before he thinks about moving beyond the Japanese domestic scene.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
In boxing we sometimes have match ups that scream "exciting" and the upcoming Japanese Light Welterweight title fight between unbeaten champion Hiroki Okada (8-0, 7) and top ranked challenger Shamgar Koichi (18-5-1, 11) is certainly one such fight.
The champion, defending his title for the first time, is a heavy handed but crude fighter. There is a lot of work to do if Okada is ever going to get beyond the domestic level but whether he wins or loses he's going to be a lot of fun to follow as he attempts to behead his opponents.
Watching Okada early in his career he looked very flawed. He would often miss his opponents by a notable margin before eventually landing on them and staggering them or forcing the referee to step in mid-flurry, as was the case when he beat Jaypee Ignacio. He has managed to develop some skills to add to his power but at the moment his is still mainly a slugger though one who has gone 18 rounds in his last 2 fights.
As well as slugging and throwing wild shots Okada is a come forward fighter first and foremost. It may be harsh to say this but we don't think he was ever really taught how to box on the back foot or how to fight as a counter puncher.
Whilst Okada is an aggressive fighter so to is Koichi who always seems to be applying pressure, always tries to get on the inside and always tries to make the action exciting. Sometimes it works in his favour, as in his thrilling bout with Tomohiko Sakai back in 2012. Sometimes however it doesn't work and Koichi gets clipped then taken apart, as seen in his fight with Shinya Iwabuchi.
Koichi's pressure isn't the most controlled or intelligent but it is persistent and he comes comes at you from the first round to the last in the hope of beating you up or being stopped himself. Like Okada his flaws are clear and although he has a decent KO rate he lacks the power to really make the most of his in your face style. It's possibly however the "relative" lack of power that makes Koichi so much fun to watch, especially in the exchanges which can pretty relentless back-and-forth action.
When you get a crude but heavy handed guy and a pressure fighter in the ring together you tend to get excitement and fireworks and we're oing to be expecting both of those when the men get it on. As for a winner we need to go with the puncher. Koichi has been stopped in 3 of his 5 losses and with Okada's heavy hands we expect him to be stopped again though not before we get some really good action from both men.
(Image courtesy of http://www.kadoebi.com)
There is something about heavy handed fighters that we just love. Maybe it's the way they can end a bout with a single punch, maybe it's their aggression or maybe the the anticipation of the big blow, we're not 100% sure but we're always attracted to fighters with those dynamite hands.
It's that sort of power that has seen the likes of Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, Adonis Stevenson and Takashi Uchiyama becoming must watch fighters. These are all men who have enough power to freeze opponents in fear and to leave opponents out cold when they connect clean.
The next Japanese fighter who will be hoping to become a "must watch" is Hiroki Okada (7-0, 7), pictured, who has a perfect record, a lot of expectation, an ever growing fan base and a big reputation as a man who refuses to let opponents hear the final bell.
Okada gets the chance to record win #8 on March 4th as he battles fellow Japanese fighter Masayoshi Kotake (9-7-1, 5) in a hugely interesting bout for the vacant Japanese Light Welterweight title. What makes the bout even more interesting is the fact Kotake has never been stopped in his 17 professional contests.
Unlike the men mentioned earlier in this preview Okada isn't given a huge amount of global hype, he's too young in his career for that and he knows it. The key for him is to keep scoring victories and keep slowly getting fans interested. If he keeps winning and keeps stopping opponents then naturally fans will start to talk about him. The best thing about Okada however isn't his power, despite what his record says, but is actually his style of fighting. He may have a perfect 7-0 (7) but his KO's haven't come from concussive single shots but from boxing and landing proper boxing shots. He has lovely hand speed, intelligent movement and seems capable of fighting just as well on the outside as the inside.
The one problem that people do spot with Okada is his defense. He does seem to get hit more than he should but his belief in his own chin and his own power perhaps lets him use it to his advantage. He's happy to take one when he has to, to land one of his own sharp shots. For some this is a flaw, for others a tactic, especially if he's fighting guys who actually can't hurt him.
With a guy who stops people it can be easy to question their gas tank. Okada answered those questions last time when he stopped tough Filipino Jaypee Ignacio in 8 rounds and had the energy left in his legs to have a dance afterwards. We dare say his legs and tank are good enough for 10 rounds if need and probably 12 at this moment in time. When you consider that he's only 24 he will have extra energy reserves just from youthful exuberance.
Whilst Okada seems to be a man on a fast rise it's fair to say that Kotake could well be the sort of fighter who could ruin Okada's coronation.
When you look at Kotake's record you don't see a record of a championship level fighter. He has only just won more than 50% of his bouts. Though records only tell us part of a story and Kotake has never been dominated by anyone. All 7 of his losses have come by decision and 6 of them were close to say the least with Kotake very unfortunate to have lost several of them. In many fights it was merely a case of Kotake losing a bout by a single round, that is genuinely how close he has been from having a very good looking record.
As well as having a deceptive record Otake is also a southpaw, and a tricky one at that. He knows how to use his right hand to unsettle fighters coming towards him and he also understands that a right handed fighter is looking for their straight right against him. He has speed, experience, skills and solid power of his own which is something that some may be over-looking going in to this fight.
As with Okada one of the big issues with Kotake is his defense. At times he can be very sloppy fighting with his hands down, moving back in straight lines and over-reaching for punches. These mistakes aren't regular ones but they are ones that he makes and can be capitalised on by a good fighter.
Another thing to note about Kotake, and possibly the most telling, is that he started his career back at Super Flyweight. Whilst he has been a professional for just over 7 years it's questionable as to whether he's really a natural Light Welterweight. If he's not then Okada's shots will hurt when they land.
For us this bout is a lot more competitive than it looks. Saying that however we do need to go with the obvious and state that we believe Okada will win. As mentioned above Kotake is tough and hasn't been stopped and we'd not be shocked if he took Okada the schedule though we believe that Okada's busyness will be the difference maker. He's much more aggressively minded than Kotake and the power advantage will show on the shots he lands. Kotake may fade late and suffer a stoppage but it won't be a surprise to see Okada taking the decision and the Japanese Light Welterweight title.
For those wondering, this bout with be the chief support contest on Dangan 94 and will be followed by Tadashi Yuba's Japanese Light Middleweight title defence against Takayuki Hosokawa.
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.