The Light Middleweight division will never be one where Japan excels, the fighters don't typically have the frame for the division and whilst there will be the occassional success story there won't be the depth in numbers needed to create global success on any sort of regularity. More single ones off, and fleeting moments of success. Despite the lack of global success of Japanese fighters at 154lbs they do tend to have a competitive domestic scene, with a good mix of well matched fighters, who although under worls class do make for intriguing match ups against each other, and it's been this case for a while.
We get one of those interesting match ups this coming Friday, with defending champion Nobuyuki Shindo (20-4-2, 8) making his second defense, and taking on mandatory challenger Hironobu Matsunaga (14-1, 8) in a really good looking clash at Korakuen Hall.
The 32 year old champion, now enjoying his second as a title holder after having previously held the Japanese Welterweight title, is a true veteran of the Japanese scene having debuted over a decade ago. As with most veterans there has been a number of ups and downs in Shindo's career. Those downs have included his 2008 loss to Suyon Takayama, in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, another loss to Takayama in 2015, in a Japanese title fight and his 2016 stoppage loss to Toshio Arikawa. As for highs they have included winning the Japanese Welterweight title in 2016, when he beat Yasuhiro Okawa, and winning the Light Middleweight title last year, when he beat Ryosuke Maruki. No matter the result Shindo has typically been in fun to watch fights, with his 2018 draw against Akinori Watanabe being a late contender for the Japanese fight of the year.
As a fighter Shindo a very tall, rangey and awkward fighter. He's a 6'1" southpaw, with a sharp jab, a good solid straight and surprisingly good inside work for someone to gangly. Despite being capable on the inside he is very much a fighter who wants to box at range, and it's always going to be difficult to prevent him from establishing his jab. It's also worth noting that although not a heavy handed fighter he is a clean puncher, and his shots do do damage, as seen by incredibly swollen Watanabe's face last time out.
The challenger is no spring chicken himself, at the age of 31, but he only made his debut in 2012 and certainly doesn't have the hard miles on the clock that Shindo has. Whilst he hasn't been in many wars he has had a pretty solid, and criminally under-rated, career so far. In 2014 he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year, losing to Yuki Beppu in 2 rounds, and since then has reeled off 8 straight wins, including victories over Sanosuke Sasaki, Je Ni Ma, Patomsuk Pathompothong and Koshinmaru Saito, beating both Ma and Pathompothong on the road.
Matsunaga, like Shindo, is a southpaw, but is a short one at just 5'8". His style is based around boxing his way inside, using his jab to cut the distance and then landing his heavy left hand. He targets the body well, and does have solid, thudding power on his shots. Sadly for him his lack of size will be a major problem here and he will need to show something new to cut the distance against the talented and rangy champion. If he can slip the jab of Shindo and land his hands go up close then there is a great chance for him to break down the champion.
We've seen so many fun Japanese bouts at 154lbs that it's weird to think the division doesn't get more attention. Sadly this means many great bouts do get over-looked and over-shadowed, and we're expecting that to be the case against here, with Matsunaga's pressure getting the best from Shindo. We do however expect Shindo's experience at the top level and size to be the different and to take him to a narrow, and nail biting, victory.
Prediction - MD10 Shindo
On October 12th we get 6 Japanese title eliminators, one of which will take place at Light Middleweight and see veteran Koshinmaru Saito (24-9-2, 13) take on Hironobu Matsunaga (13-1, 7), with the winner becoming the mandatory for the Japanese title in 2019. For Saito that would be his 7th Japanese title fight, and his 8th title fight all together whilst Matsunaga would be getting his second title fight, following a successful bout in a WBO Asia Pacific title bout in 2016.
Aged 39 Saito is pretty much in last chance saloon, though it does feel like we've said that before, several times in-fact. He has been a professional since 2001 and went 5-2 through his first 7 bouts, with both losses coming to Keiichi Arai. Since then however he has gone 19-7-2 with 6 of his losses and one of his draws coming in title bouts. Those set backs have seen him coming up short to the likes of Akinori Watanabe, Suyon Takayama, Yuki Nonaka, Takayuki Hosokawa and Takeshi Inoue. Whilst those results have been major set backs it is worth noting that Saito has scored notable wins over the likes of Yasuhiro Okawa, Shusaku Fujinaka, Yuichi Ideta, , Koki Koshikawa, Takehiro Shimokawara and Ratchasi Sithsaithong.
Saito is a true veteran but has found himself as the perennial bridesmaid on the Japanese domestic scene. A win here would open up another title fight but it would see him potentially falling short again. He has proven to be tough, solid, have a good work rate and despite not being a big puncher he does hit hard enough to get the respect of his opponents. He even put up a good fight against Inoue last year, before being stopped by the younger man. He can box, but he can also be hurt, and his one recent loss in a none-title fight was a blow out loss to Arnel Tinampay, who has regularly enjoyed success against Japanese foes.
At 31 years old Matsunaga is no spring chicken, but the Southpaw looks like he will have more in the tank than Saito. Not only is he younger and has had fewer fights but he has also taken less damage than his foe. His only loss came back in December 2014, when he was stopped in the Welterweight Rookie of the Year final by Yuki Beppu. Since then he has reeled off 8 straight wins including notable victories over Sansosuke Sasaku, Je Ni Ma and Patomsuk Pathompothong. Not only is he in good form but he's scored the wins over Ma and Pathompothong on the road.
Matsunaga is a solid boxer puncher, who knows how to turn up the pace and how to hurt opponents. He's not a world beater, and never will be, but he's a very competent fighter at Japanese level and has enough solid wins to make a name for himself, at least regionally. The one big issues about him is his inactivity, and he has only fought 7 rounds in the 24 months prior to this bout.
Saito is the more proven man overall, but we can't help feeling he's physically on the slide and we have to favour Matsunaga, who has the edge in power, youth and skills. Saito will bring pressure be feel Matsunaga will handle it early before turning the tables in the second half of the fight.
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.