Earlier this year we saw Junto Nakatani win, and then vacate, the Japanese Flyweight title. On October 27th we'll see that vacancy filled as, two former Nakatani foes battle for the belt.
In one corner is the heavy handed Seigo Yuri Akui (13-2-1, 9), who has proven to be very dangerous early on, whilst the other corner will have in tough guy Shun Kosaka (16-5, 4). On paper it's not the most amazing of fights, but in reality it is an interesting looking one.
Of the two fighters it's Akui who has been the much more fun to watch fighter. The 24 year old from Okayama first made his mark in 2015, when he won Rookie of the Year at Light Flyweight. At the time Akui was just 20 years old and following his win he was 6-0-1 (2). He didn't seem like much of a puncher. Since then however he has gone 7-2 (7) with his only losses coming to Nakatani and the criminally under-rated Jaysever Abcede. The Nakatani bout saw Akui just beaten down in an action packed fight whilst the Abcede fight was a very competitive one that saw him being stopped in the final round.
Rather than focusing on Akui's losses it's more interesting to look at his success, and since the Rookie of the Year he has scored 7 T/KO wins, with 6 of them coming in the first round. Not only has he been destructive but he's been scoring them against decent opponents, like Kenji Ono, Ryuto Oho, Masamichi Yabuki and Yoshiki Minato. Although a flawed fighter he is a quick starter, pressing the fight early and looking to land big right hands and huge left hooks. He has got question marks about his chin, defense and toughness, but it's his own fire power and aggression that has made him a must watch fighter in Okayama. Everything is thrown with bad intentions from a very wide and open stance. Technically he's very flawed, but so much damn fun to watch!
Kosaka, who is also 24, began his career in 2012 and reached the Rookie of the Year final in 2014, losing to Kenya Yamashita over the 5 round distance. In his very next bout Kosaka was stopped by Tetsuya Hisada, who of course fought for a world title just a few weeks ago. He went from 9-0 to 9-2 in the space of 6 months but rebuilt with 4 straight wins. Those wins lead him to a bout with Akinori Hoshino, which he lost. Since then he is 3-2, including a loss in an OPBF title fight against Jayr Raquinel and a loss in a Japanese title eliminator to Junto Nakatani.
Kosaka looks a well skilled fighter, but seems a bit lightweight, lacking power and physical strength. He was unable to ever enforce his game plan against Raquinel, and was given a beating by Nakatani, though lasted the distance with the unbeaten Japanese fighter. He's tough but lacks the ability to compete at that level and doesn't have the fire power in his arsenal to get the respect of title level fighters. What doesn't help is the fact he has taken a lot of punishment in some fights, particularly the Nakatani fight, and punishing losses do add up.
Given the fast start of Akui there is a risk he will take Kosaka out early. His aggression is dangerous. In reality however we expect Akui to pay for his aggression and feel the toughness of Kosaka could prove a real issue. We're expecting a fast start for Akui, but counters from Kosaka will land clean and we wouldn't be surprised at all if Kosaka sees off the early storm and drops Akui at some point with a counter. We think as the bout goes on Kosaka will build in confidence, and come on strong as Akui tires. That could make this very close, and very competitive.
Prediction SD10 Kosaka
In August we were supposed to see Kenichi Horikawa (40-15-1, 13) defending his Japanese Light Flyweight title against Ryuto Oho, who sadly was unable to compete due to issues making weight. Coincidentally Horikawa's stablemate Norihito Tanaka, the Japanese Minimumweight champion, was supposed to defend title in October against Yuto Takahashi (10-4, 5), but Tanaka was injured.
Rather than Horikawa and Takahashi remaining out of the ring due to circumstance Takahashi has moved up 3lbs and will meet Horikawa in a bout for Horikawa's title. It's a bout born out of circumstance, but a bout worth being really excited about.
Horikawa is a real stalwart of the Japanese boxing scene, having debuted back in April 2000 and having more than 55 professional bouts. Whilst fighting a lot says one thing what is more telling is the fact Horikawa has faced a who's who of the lower weights. During his long career he has fought Akira Yaegashi, Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa, Tetsuya Hisada, Noknoi Sitthiprasert, Yu Kimura, Shin Ono and current world champion Kenshiro, among others. Whilst he has lost to many of the bigger names he has faced he has rarely been an easy out for anyone, and has regularly pushed them all the way.
In the ring Horikawa is a nightmare to fight against. He's tough, rugged, aggressive, throws a lot of leather up close and is really hard to dissuade. He's technically rough edges at time, he's not the quickest or the most powerful, but he is like a little terrier who won't stop coming at opponents and won't stop trying to break them down. Even at the age of 39 he's still proving there is life in his legs and that he has one of the best engines in Japan.
Whilst Horikawa is a well established veteran Takahashi is much, much less well known. The 26 year old, who live in Yokohama, has been a professional since 2014 but made his first mark in 2015 when he fought Tsubasa Koura in the East Japan Rookie of the Year semi-final, losing a decision but ending Koura's early stoppage run. After starting 4-0 Takahashi would fall to 6-3, thanks in part to a 2017 loss to Norhito Tanaka, the man he had been scheduled to this October. Since then however he has gone 4-1, with his only loss coming in a competitive bout to Tatsuya Fukuhara and wins coming over the likes of Ryoki Hirai and Yuta Nakayama.
In the ring Takahashi is a solid boxer. He uses his jab well, he's good on his feet but does drop his hands when throwing his right hand. He looks like a rising hopeful with plenty to like, but his defense has needed work for a while. It should be noted that his stoppage loss, which came to Tanaka came following a huge, clean right hand that legitimately hurt him. Prior to that he was certainly well in the fight. Typically he's not shown much power himself but last time out he did stop Nakayama in a round, and showed great finishing instincts when he had his man hurt.
Although on paper it doesn't look like a great fight, the reality is that it should be a fantastic fight. We suspect Takahashi will look to establish his jab, move and use his feet whilst Horikawa will attempt to put the pressure on. Stylistically this could be a really tough one to watch at times, but as it goes on we're expecting to see more and more action up close, and by the end, as Takahashi tires, we're expecting a war.
At range Takahashi will rack up the rounds, but as the bout begins to become more and more of a trench war that will favour Horikawa, who we feel will do just enough to retain his title with a 10 round decision.
Prediction UD10 Horikawa
The past year or two we've seen the Super Bantamweight division in Japan being one of the highlights delivering great fighter after great fight. Those great fights included May's rematch between Ryoichi Tamura and Yusaku Kuga (18-3-1, 12), which saw Kuga become a 2-time Japanese Super Bantamweight champion thanks to an all 10 round war.
Kuga returns to the ring on September 21st to defend his title against 32 year old veteran Yosuke Fujihara (18-6, 5), who gets his second Japanese title fight just over 12 years after his professional debut. On paper this looks like an easy defense for Kuga, though in fairness he does deserve an easy one after May's war with Tamura, which really was a damaging bout for both men.
For those who haven't seen Kuga he is a nasty, nasty fighter in the ring. He's heavy handed, aggressive, incredibly strong and tough. Offensively he's a monster but he's also technically quite crude, defensively flawed and can be out boxed. We saw Shingo Wake really pick him apart last year, when he stopped Kuga in the 10th round, but it took a fighter of Wake's high skill level to clearly beat Kuga. Kuga's only other losses were a 2012 loss to Nobuhiro Hisano and a razor thin 2015 loss to Yasutaka Ishimoto, a loss that was avenged in 2018. Since his 2015 loss to Ishimoto Wake has gone 7-1 (5), with both of the decision wins coming in close fights with Tamura and the loss being the one to Wake.
At 28 years old Kuga is still improving, developing and adding to his experience. Though the tough bouts will catch up with him soon or later and wars against the likes of Tamura, Wake and Ishimoto, and we hope he gets a big bout before those wars take the best out of him. His aggressive style makes for wars, and his power, strength and toughness, means he tends to win them, but it's still not a style which will lead to a long and fruitful career.
The 32 year old Fujihara showed a lot of promise early in his career, following his 2007 debut. He won his first 13 bouts, and notable won the 2008 Rookie of the Year. He was unbeaten for more than 3 years before losing in May 2011 to Kentaro Masuda. He quickly went from 13-0 to 14-3 as his career began to fall apart, including stoppage losses to Mugicha Nakagawa and Ryuta Otsuka. In 2016 he got his first Japanese title fight, losing a wide decision to Yasutaka Ishimoto, and since then he has gone 2-2. To suggest that Fujihara is a limited challenger really doesn't say as much as stating he is 5-6 in the last 6 years.
At his best Fujihara was a legitimate domestic title challenger. Problem is that his best really didn't last very long, and is very much in the past. Even recent wins over Naoya Okamoto and Keita Nakano really don't suggest things are turning around for Fujihara. The biggest problem for Fujihara is the fact that he lacks anything that makes him really stand out as a threat. He lacks lighting speed, thunderous power, he's not physically imposing or able to set a high work rate.
Given that Kuga will impose himself, will set a high pace and will look to take Fujihara out early on, it's hard to see anything but an early win for the champion. Fujihara will have to rely on his toughness early on, and sooner or later that toughness will way and Kuga will break him down.
The Japanese scene at Featherweight is a really interesting one, despite the hard hitting Taiki Minamoto has abandoned the division due to struggles making weight. this coming Friday we see just how interesting the division is as we get a mouth watering bout to crown a new Japanese champion. The match up question sees former Minamoto foe Reiya Abe (19-2-1, 9) and the criminally under-rated Ryo Sagawa (7-1, 4). Whilst fans who don't follow the Japanese scene won't be hugely impressed by the fighters on paper, this is one of the most interesting match ups currently on schedule, and it to be something very interesting.
Of the two men it's Abe who is probably the more well known, though it's certainly not clear cut. He's world ranked by the IBF and WBC and is a 26 year old who has gone through things the hard way, learning on the job and doing so without any substantial amateur background. He debuted at the age of 20 and was narrowly beaten in his second bout, back in 2013, before rebuilding to take the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014. A loss in 2015 to Shingo Kusano could have been a major set back but instead appeared to be little more than a blip as he has since gone 11-0-1. That 12 fight unbeaten run really has been credible to say the least with victories over Ryo Hino, Hikaru Marugame, Tsuyoshi Tameda, Joe Noynay, Satoshi Hosono and Daisuke Sugita, as well as revenge over Kusano. The only mark on his record since that second loss was a majority draw with Minamoto back in May, in what was a thrilling contest for the title.
Although less well known Sagawa has really made a name for himself, at least regionally, in the last 18 months or so. He turned professional with pretty expectations on his shoulders following an impressive 62-22 record in the unpaid ranks. He looked really good on his debut, stopping Ho Ya Kim, but then suffered a stoppage loss to Retsu Kosaka just 5 months later. The loss to Kosaka left many wondering whether Sagawa could take a shot, and whilst clearly very skilled the issues with his durability were expected to hold him back. It wasn't like he had been taken out with one shot, but had been hurt and instead of holding he just fell apart, lost his shape and was eventually stopped. Since then however he has gone 6-0 (3) and scored noteworthy wins over the likes of Junki Saski, Ryo Matsumoto, Shingo Kawamura and, most recently, Al Toyogon.
Whilst both have some clear similarities, being under-rated in good form, holding wins over a former world title challenger and losing their second bout, the two men are stylistically quite different. Yet both would be described as technically solid boxers.
Abe is a tricky countering punching southpaw, who uses his jab well, sits back, controls range and fires in booming left hands. He has often been perhaps a touch on the safe side, but he knows how to turn up the tempo and go for the finish. He's not the most exciting of fighters, not even close, but is one of the smartest boxers in Japan and has a an excellent ring IQ. Last time out, against Minamoto, he was dropped twice, but seemed to win to take the vast majority of rounds. The trouble for Abe isn't his chin but is his work rate, and there are times when he simply doesn't do enough, and waits for his opponent to make the first move, rather than drawing a mistake.
Sagawa on the other hand is more of offensively mined boxer, who can box on the back foot when he needs to. He has the typical crispness we've seen time and time again from fighters who have come from the Japanese amateur scene, and he is a lovely puncher, with crisp combinations and great accuracy. When he needs to press forward he can turn into a pressure fighter, as we saw against Toyogon when he had to be more aggressive to get the judges on side. The big worry for him is his chin, and not only was he down against Kosaka but also Sasaki and he's been shaken in several bouts, leaving us to really wonder about his durability going forward.
With both men being excellent boxers, though having contrasting styles, we're expecting a really tactical and smart fight between the two men. Abe will try to draw Sagawa in, countering with the left and picking his moments to up the tempo in the hope of rocking, and then stopping, Sagawa. Sagawa on the other hand will look to avoid the left, but still be pretty aggressive, and we're expecting to see him switching between head and body with raiding attacks then smothering any return fire.
We feel the difference between the two men is the durability, and even when Abe was down against Minamoto he was up and didn't look like he was going to be stopped. Sagawa certainly has the power, especially with body shots, to questions of his durability but we suspect the under-rated power of Abe, and his countering punching skills, will eventually crack Sagawa. When that happens we'll see Abe go for the finish and take out Sagawa.
Prediction - Abe TKO9
Since suffering an opening round TKO loss in 2013 we've seen Yuki Nagano (16-2, 12) go on a fantastic run of 14 straight wins, against some of the most notable Welterweights in Japan. the latest of those wins as in April when he travelled to Osaka and defeated Ryota Yada to become the Japanese Welterweight champion. This coming Saturday he returns to the ring seeking his first defense of the title, as he takes on veteran foe Makoto Kawasaki (11-7-1, 2).
The talented Nagano really has turned his career around after a 2-2 start to life in the professional ring and wins over the likes of Giraffe Kirin Kanda, in the 2015 Rookie of the Year final, Riku Nagahama, Yuki Beppu and most recently Ryota Yada really have been impressive. Now aged 30 he has a great combination of experience, skill, power and is still young enough to have not really lost any of the physical traits. He's also helped out by being a southpaw, and being backed by one of the most notable Japanese promoters, Teiken.
Although on a great domestic run it's hard to imagine Nagano mixing on the world level. There's a fair argument to suggest he's one of the best fighters at Welterweight in the Asia Pacific region, but he's a long, long way behind the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford. He's pretty basic, but heavy handed, patient, accurate and has good time. He has also shown a real will to win, though of course he has question marks about his chin and after winning the title does he still have the desire that lead him there?
Kawasaki is a proper veteran, he's 35 years old and has been a professional for over 7 years, yet hasn't really managed to have consistency in his biggest fights, despite facing several notable names. His debut came against Koki Tyson, and ended in a draw, and since then he has been a win some lose some fighter through his career, losing to the likes of Hironobu Matsunaga, Ryota Yada, Daisuke Sakamoto and Xingxin Yang. Although he has picked up losses he has shown an ability to score upsets, beating the likes of Kazuya Murata and Yuichi Ideta. During his 19 fight career he has only been stopped once, being taken out in 7 rounds by Yada back in 2016.
In the ring Kawasaki is a pretty tough fighter, but lacks real power, and boxes mostly off the jab. He has struggled to get respect of fighters in the past and, when he's been backed up, he has been unable to force opponents to respect him. His first 3 losses, all in 4 or 5 round bouts, were close, but his last 4 have all been much clearer defeats and it really does seem like he's struggled as he's stepped up in levels and has had his jab neutralised.
We're struggling to see how Kawasaki can pull it off here. He's the big under-dog and although a veteran appears to have been selected as an easy first defense for Nagano, who we see taking a dominant and clear win. The winner isn't in much doubt, here, and it would be a huge surprise to see Kawasaki upset the in form, younger, stronger, hard hitting champion.
Prediction - TKO9 Nagano
Internationally the Light Flyweight division is one of the very best, with a very stacked top 8 or so and a brilliant mix of champions and challengers. In recent weeks we've had the pleasure of watching Hiroto Kyoguchi, Felix Alvarado, Kenshiro, Carlos Canizales and Edwin Soto showing what they can do, in a mix of impressive performances and exciting battles.
Below the world level the division continues to give compelling match ups at regional level and the rising crop of Japanese hopefuls in the division is amazing, with a handful of youngsters looking like future world champions. One of the few real veterans hanging around is Kenichi Horikawa (40-15-1, 13), the current Japanese Light Flyweight champion. The 56 fight veteran, now aged 39, has been a professional for more than 19 years, and is enjoying his second reign as the Japanese champion, having won the belt back in February. This coming Thursday he looks to make his third defense, as he takes on the much younger Ryuto Oho (12-5-1, 4), in what will be his first senior title fight.
The veteran has fought fought a who's who and has really managed to build a career by battling through set backs. After a career of ups and downs he won his first title in 2015, stopping Shin Ono for the belt. He lost it in his first defense, to Kenshiro, but bounced back winning the WBO Asia Pacific title in 2017 and then becoming a 2-time Japanese champion earlier this year. This will be his 13th title bout and his experience, at least at this level, cannot be doubted.
With so much experience under his belt Horikawa knows his way around the ring and inside it he's a very under-rated fighter. At heart he's a boxer-brawler, able to do either but wanting to turn bouts into brawls. A lot of his work comes from behind a good jab, he looks to back opponents up and force them into a fight. Even at 39 he has solid handspeed, good movement and an aggressive mentality with a high work rate. Technically he's not the sharpest, he's not the quickest and he lacks lights out power, but he does break fighters down and his will to win is very impressive.
Aged just 24 Oho is a relative novice. He was just 5 when Horikawa made his debut, despite his youth he has actually been around for quite a while, , debuting in late 2012. The following year he went on to win the Japanese Rookie of the Year crown, at Flyweight. His Rookie triumph was supposed to be a starting point to some solid success, but instead he went 0-2-1 in 2014 as he rise hit brick wall. He would then go 3-2 over his following 5 fights, falling from 6-0 when he won the Rookie crown to 9-4-1 (2) by the summer of 2017. Thankfully for Oho he has managed to rebuild a bit from all his set backs, winning 3 of his last 4, including the Japanese Youth Light Flyweight title last year and is actually unbeaten at 108lbs.
In the ring Oho is a smart, quick boxer-mover. He lacks in terms of power, despite scoring stoppages in 2 of his last 3, but does look very tidy in the ring and does a lot of pleasing things. Sadly Oho's lack of power isn't his only downfall and he also lacks in terms of durability and has been stopped twice in his 5 losses, albeit to heavy handed fighters like Seigo Yuri Akui and Masamichi Yabuki. He also has has a bit of a fragile, lightweight look to him, a look that doesn't bode well for a man fighting someone like Horikawa.
With Oho being the younger man, and the faster man, there will be opportunities for him, to stick and move and make Horikawa chase shadows. Sooner or later though the experience of the champion will kick in, and he will begin to grind down the challenger. When that happens we'll really see what Oho is made of. Our guess is that he comes undone under the pressure of Horikawa in the later stages, though he certainly won't go down without giving his all. He will look to do all he can to survive, before finally succumbing to the pressure of the grizzled veteran.
Prediction - Horikawa TKO10
Earlier this year we saw Osakan boxing star Kazuto Ioka become the first Japanese man to win world titles in 4 weight classes, picking up the WBO Super Flyweight title. This weekend attention in the Super Flyweight division against turns to an Osakan, in fact two Osakans as Japanese national champion Takayuki Okumoto (22-8-4, 10) defends against Dynamic Kenji (11-3, 7), in a battle between two men based in Osaka.
For the 27 year old champion this bout will be his third defense of the title he won just a year ago, when he narrowly squeaked by Hiroyuki Kudaka to take the belt. Since becoming the champion Okumoto hasn't yet looked the part as a champion, squeaking out two razor thin defenses, a draw with Masayoshi Hashizume and a narrow win over Yuta Matsuo. Sadly for Okumoto he doesn't appear to be a man who has won a title and become a champion, he is instead, to use a wrestling term, transitional champion until some rising star comes through. He's a man who has made the most of an opportunity and is likely to do enough to retain the title without ever shining.
Despite only being 27 Okumoto has been a professional since he was 15, fighting in Thailand. In just his second bout he faced former world champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin. He would lose 2 of his first 3, though gritted his teeth, and has slowly made a career for himself, rebuilding from numerous setbacks along the way, including a KO loss in Thailand to Rusalee Samor in 2013 and a technical decision loss to Ryuichi Funaiin 2017. His record doesn't look greta overall, but he's gone 12-2-2 (5) in his last 16 and really has shown a lot of improvement, without becoming anything great.
Like Okumoto Kenji suffered set backs early his career, falling to 2-2 after 4 fights including a loss to Okumoto's former challenger Masayoshi Hashizume. In fact through 8 fights Kenji was 5-3 (2) and looked like his career was going nowhere. Since then however he has gond on a bit of a roll, with a 6-0 (5) record and notable wins over Futa Akizuki and Shota Kawaguchi. He has become a regular face at the L-Theatre in Osaka, and has rapidly rising from "no one" to "domestic contender". The only real issues with his 6 fight winning run actually came last time out, when he looked terrible in taking a razor thin win over Sophon Klachun, albeit well above the Super Flyweight limit.
Kenji is 28, and turns 29 in December. Although he's not old, by any stretch, there is a feeling that a loss here and he could become part of the who needs him club. He's heavy handed and dangerous, he's tough and comes to fight. Technically he's not the most polished but he is certainly a handful and his wins over Akizuki and Kawaguchi showed that.Being frozen out of the title picture for 18 months to 2 years, if he loses, would leave him in a very frustrating position, especially given he doesn't have a big promoter back him. In his eyes this might be his only big shot.
For all his limitations Okumoto is tough. Both of his stoppages losses came in Thailand to much more experienced fighters. For Kenji his only real way to take the title will be to stop Okumoto, who will have the crowd behind him despite both being based in Osaka. We genuinely believe Kenji has the power to rock, hurt and stop Okumoto, however Okumoto has the skills to outbox Kenji. Yes, Okumoto isn't some super slick sensation, but he's a solid enoiugh boxer, which is sometimes enough to hold a title at this level. We're expecting Okumoto's movement and jab to be a real issue for Kenji early with Kenji needing to preserve his energy and try to force a fight down the stretch. Sadly however we don't think Kenji will manage to catch him man cleanly enough to take him out, and take the title.
Prediction - Okumoto UD10
Despite the Japanese Middleweight scene not making much waves on the global scene, except for Ryota Murata and Shinji Takehara, it has been brilliant as a fight fans wanting to watch some great fights. There's been something the Japanese Middleweight title that has just delivered thrillers, such as Makoto Fuchigami Vs Koji Sato and Tadashi Yuba Vs Carlos Linares and Makoto Fuchigami Vs Tomohiro Ebisu.
The latest thriller for the title was earlier this year, when Kazuto Takesako (10-0-1, 10) saw his stoppage run come to an end in a thrilling draw against mandatory challenger Shuji Kato (10-1-2, 6). On August 3rd they run it back, in a very highly anticipated rematch, with both men looking to make a point, and walk away as the better man and the champion.
In their first bout Takesako had entered as a steam roller. He had scored his first 10 wins in just 23 rounds, with only 1 bout going beyond 3 rounds. He had won the title in just 92 seconds, smashing through the durable Hikaru Nishida, and had recorded his first defense by stopping former champion Sanosuke Sasaki in 2 rounds. He was seen as the unstoppable force on the Japanese scene.
Kato on the other hand wasn't really much of a name, though had won the Rookie of the Year in 2017 and had earned his shot at the title with a decision win against Hikaru Nishida in late 2018. He had momentum coming in to the bout, but looked like he was taking a massive step up, with his best win being a narrow victory win over the man Takesako had blitzed for the belt.
When they got in the ring we saw Takesako being made to look human, with Kato neutralising the power of Takesako with smart defense, good movement and a really accurate jab. It was the smart work of Kato that actually saw him taking a very clear early lead and instead of Takesako blowing him out it was the champion forced to dig incredibly deeply late on to to pull out the draw. It saw both men proving so much about themselves. We learned that Kato can take a shot, knew how to ride punches and could pick up his game to fight at title level. We also learned that Takesako could go 10 rounds, could dig deep and could fight hard in the later stages of a bout, proving that whilst he was a puncher, it wasn't only his power that made him dangerous but also his desire to win.
After their first bout both men spoke about a rematch, and now we get that rematch with both hungry to prove a point. For Kato it's a case of proving his first performance against Takesako wasn't a fluke, whilst Takesako will be desperate to get back to his destructive best.
Given how Kato neutralised Takesako we feel he'll be the more confident man here, but that confidence may be misplaced and with Takesako knowing he needs to step it up, shorten his punches e see the champion making a statement. Kato can be a nightmare, especially with his long southpaw jab, but we expect Takesako will have trained to combat that southpaw stance and will find himself landing his right hand much more often than in the first bout.
Prediction - Takesako TKO7
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
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
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.