On October 28th we saw Accel Sumiyoshi and Tatsuya Yanagi, fight to a draw in a Japanese title eliminator at Lightweight. Despite being held to a draw Sumiyoshi became the mandatory, and now the next question is who will he be up against at the 2019 Champion Carnival, when he gets his shot at the belt.
We'll find out who Sumiyoshi's opponent will be on December 13th, when current Japanese Lightweight champion Shuichiro Yoshino (8-0, 6) makes his third defense and takes on the challenge of Kazumasa Kobayashi (10-7-1, 6). On paper this looks like a very straight forward defense for the talented champion, but sees him keeping a very good level of activity with a 4th bout in just 14 months.
Yoshino is a really classy fighter who was former amateur standout before making his professional debut in 2015. Ever since debuting Yoshino has been earmarked for success and has been matched hard as he and his team chase titles and accomplishments. In just his 4th professional bout he beat Yoshitaka Kato and he would claim the Japanese title in just his 6th bout, stopping veteran Spicy Matsushita. Since then he defended the belt with stoppage wins over Masaski Saito, in the 2018 Champion Carnival, and Genki Maeda. Not only has he been stopping opponents but he has been doing it early, and late, proving he has stamina to go with his power and skills.
Although Yoshino hasn't yet gone beyond Japanese level, we believe he's the best Japanese Lightweight out there. We feel he'd beat OPBF champion Masayoshi Nakatani and WBO Asia Pacific champion Nihito Arakawa. Hopefully in 2019 he gets those chances, as he is far too good to waste time on the domestic title scene.
The 35 year old challenger has had a relatively weird career, . He debuted almost 13 years ago, as a 22 year old, and has had a stop start career. He fought 4 times within 11 months to begin his career but suffered his first loss and spent over 30 months away from the ring. He would go on to have several more breaks over the years, including taking the entire of 2016 out of the ring. As well as the inactivity he has also had inconsistent results, though he has gone up against notable fighters, such as Takashi Inagaki, Masanobu Nakazawa, and Kota Tokunaga.
From his last performance Kobayashi looked like a huge Lightweight, who appeared to be tough, surprisingly fit for a 35 year old with a decent work rate and his knockout blow against Noriyoshi Taki looked really impressive. He's a weird looking fighter, who lacks a lot of technical ability, but is unorthodox, awkward and can clearly hit hard, if he can connect with a thunderbolt.
We suspect that Kobayashi will be dangerous and unpredictable, but will struggle to cope with the variety, speed and slickness of Yoshino, who we expect to continue his reign and do so in style. The challenger has only been stopped once, in 7 rounds by Tomoya Yamada, but we expect him to be stopped again here by the smart, talented and strong Yoshino.
Sadly in 2019 we suspect that Yoshino will deal with Accel Sumiyoshi as well, and prove that he really is a class above the Japanese domestic level fighters who will be challenging him whilst he continues to hold this title.
Earlier this year we saw Takayuki Okumoto (21-8-3, 10) claim the Japanese Super Flyweight title, ending a short reign of Hiroyuki Kudaka. This coming Sunday he will make his first defense of the title, facing off with the unbeaten Masayoshi Hashizume (16-0-1, 10) in a bout between two Osaka based fighters each looking to end the year as a national champion and begin 2019 looking forward to a mandatory defense at the Champion Carnival.
The 26 year old champion won the title in his second shot at the belt, having come up short in his Japanese title challenge against Ryuichi Funai, via a 7th round technical decision. Despite losing to Funai he had been competitive and was certainly not embarrassing himself. In fact in many ways Okumoto's career is built up with solid efforts and peculiar match ups. They include taking on former world champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin as a 15 year old in Thailand, something that just seems crazy now, and then returning to Thailand 6 years later and losing to Rusalee Samor. In recent years Okumoto has proven to be a very capable having scored wins over the likes of Yuta Saito, Sonin Nihei and the aforementioned Kudaka. In fact since losing to Samor in October 2013 Okumoto has gone 11-2-1 with the loses coming to Funai and Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking.
Okumoto is a southpaw fighter who brings the pressure straight away. He's relatively quick on his feet, and although he doesn't set a mega work rate he does seem to look for a higher tempo than perhaps would like. He has under-rated footwork, and can regularly be seen turning on his opponents, in a similar but much less effective way to Vasyl Lomachenko. Watching him you can see he's a student of the sport and does know how to do things. Sadly why he shows touches of brilliance he is still a very flawed fighter who lacks real power, doesn't have real crispness to his work and can get involved in messy bouts far too easily, something that happened against Kudaka with the two men falling in on each other regularly.
Hashizume is getting his first title shot at the age of 24 though the Ioka gym fighter has long been tipped for success, with fans and fighter himself likely frustrated at the progress of his career. He turned professional in 2013 and went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014. It was then assumed he would be moved aggressively towards a title fight, and build on his 7-0 record with solid competition. Sadly however Hashizume's rise through the ranks stalled massively as he faced off with 7 inept Thai imports who were all stopped in a combined 21 rounds He had gone from a hot property to someone who was frustrating fans. Fans were further frustrated late last year when he did step up and could only just manage a draw with Kota Fujimoto. Thankfully since that draw the youngster has scored two decent wins over Takahiro Murai and Marjun Pantilgan.
We've been impressed by Hashizume on the most part. He looks the part, he's sharp, crisp, aggressive and looks like the short of fighter who is doing things instinctively. His southpaw jab is a huge weapon, his straight left hand is excellent and his movement is very confident. Sadly though he does look like a fighter who is very used to having things his own way and has all sorts of poor habits which have been allowed to build from his low level of competition. If he shows those flaws here, he could come up short against a less gifted but more skilled champion.
We think Hashizume is the more natural talent, but sometimes natural ability isn't the key and instead the will to win is. We suspect that that will be the case here, with Okumoto grinding out a messy decision win, likely having been behind in the early part of the fight.
On December 9th fight fans in Osaka will see Japanese Welterweight champion Ryota Yada (17-4, 14) make his second defense as he takes on Shusaku Fujinaka (16-9-2, 10) in what looks set to be a really fun and exciting contest.
Yada won the title this past April, when he stopped Toshio Arikawa in a war at the Champion Carnival. Yada's win was a really excellent performance against a dangerous and feared champion, who he neutralised well for the most part and broke down. The bout was his second at title level, following a loss to Jayar Inson in a WBO Asia Pacific title bout, and he really did look like a totally different fighter against Arikawa. Between those bouts he learned a lot, especially from an hellacious Japanese title eliminator against Moon Hyun Yun in 2017. That win over Yun seemed to change how Yada fought and committed himself, and that was again seen in Yada's recent defense against Kazuyasu Okamoto, who was stopped in the 7th round.
Yada is a boxer-puncher, blessed with genuinely nasty power at this level. He seems to struggle with fighters who use distance well, and make him over-commit and also against southpaws, like Inson. Despite the struggles he is an improving fighter and certainly has added a lot more polish to his boxing in recent bouts. He's still not a razor sharp fighter, but is a lot more accurate and crisp than he once was. It's going to take a very good domestic fighter to dethrone him, and we're not sure really is there's anyone, Keita Obara aside, we'd favour over him in Japan right now.
For Fujinaka this will be his third shot at a title, having been stopped by Randall Bailey and Keita Obara in bouts for the WBO Asia Pacific Welterweight title. Sadly for Fujinaka those losses been among the bout that have shown his limitations and he is 7-7 in his last 14 bouts, dating back more than 5 years. Not only has he lost at title level, but also domestic level, losing to the likes of Koshinmaru Saito, Kengo Nagashima, Moon Hyon Yun and Toshio Tarumi. He tends to put in a good effort in his losses, but still comes up short and now, at the age of 32 and with a hard career behind him we do wonder what his body has left ot give.
Fujinaka's style is that of a high tempo, grinding fighter, who comes to fight. He can struggle to judge the distance, and can rush in wildly at times, but on the inside he loves letting his shots go in volume. It makes him an exciting fighter to watch, but he's a man who is open to eating counter shots, something we saw in spectacular fashion in his bout with Randall Bailey. His openess will be a major issue here against Yada, who is a very solid puncher and will eventually land a clean show as Fujinaka rushes in.
We love watching Fujinaka, who does fight like someone who wants to give fans value for money. Sadly that style will take a toll on a fighter, and we suspect that toll has already been taken and that Yada will catch him, and finish him at some point here.
Next year we'll see Koki Inoue look to increase the Inoue clan's hoard of titles, following his recent win over Marcus Smith in a Japanese title eliminator.
Whilst we know that Inoue has a Japanese title shot set for the 2019 Champion Carnival, we're not yet sure who he will be facing for that title in the new year. We will however find out on December 1st, when current champion Valentine Hosokawa (23-6-3, 10) defends his title for the second time, and faces off with fellow veteran Takashi Inagaki (20-17-2, 9). The winner of that will be the man that Inoue challenges.
At 37 Hosokawa's career has been like a fine wine, and he's really become an excellent fighter following a less than spectacular start to his career. He began fighting professionally in 2006, fighting to a draw with fellow debutant Yoshinori Kanazaki, and would suffer his first defeat the following year to Akihiro Kondo. After 10 bouts he was 6-1-3 (3) but would go on to win the 2008 Rookie of the Year at Lightweight, showing his potential. That potential would drive him to getting a shot at the Japanese Light Welterweight title in 2013, losing to Shinya Iwabuchi, and an OPBF title shot, losing to Min Wook Kim. Those losses were damaging, painful beatings, but they showed Hosokawa's drive, determination, heart and toughness. Those traits kep him in the sport, and saw him give Hiroki Okada problems in 2016, when Hosokawa got his third title fight. He came up short again there, but would go on to claim the Japanese title in 2017, winning a brilliant war with Koichi Aso. His only defense since then saw him pulling himself off the canvas to stop Vladimir Baez, in another thrilling contest.
In the ring Hosokawa is a man who defies all logic. He's a 37 year old with an insane engine, he seems to throw more punches as a fight goes on. He's not a huge puncher, by any stretch, but his output is grinding, both physically and mentally, and he will look to break opponents down through sheer attrition. Not only does he have an incredible work rate but he's also incredible tough, taking real beatings to Iwabuchi and Kim before being stopped. His determination and will to win are probably his key traits and are certainly responsible for him going as far and having a career that has peaked in his mid 30's.
Inagaki is a veteran himself, at 33 years old, and is getting his third Japanese title fight, after coming up short to Takashi Miura in a Super Featherweight shot in 2010 and Yoshitaka Kato in a Lightweight title fight 2011. As you can assume from that he's hs been a around a while, and debuted way back in July 2003, losing in the first round of his debut to fellow debutant Tatsuya Ishii. Inagaki's career has been a patchwork of wins and losses, though there are very few real highs from his career, other than his losses in title fights. Hios best wins are over the likes of Kazunori Fujita back in 2008, Joel Dela Cruz in 2009, Kazuma Kobayashi in 2012 and Yuya Okazaki last year and he does hold a notable draw with Daisuke Sakamoto. Sadly those results are easily outweighed by notable losses to the likes of Miura, Kato, Koichi Aso, Shusaku Fujinaka, Daishi Nagata and Yusuke Konno, with the losses to Nagata and Konno coming earlier this year.
The veteran challenger is a relatively slow fighter. He looks at his best when he's the man applying pressure, through much of his work is slow, and he looks like he's moving, and punching, through treacle. He looks strong and powerful, but isn't a puncher, doesn't have high output, and isn't swift.
Given the style of Hosokawa is to make everything into an intense, and massively entertaining, war we can't help but feel that he will simply out work and break down the challenger. Inagaki has been stopped 6 times during his career, and we suspect there will be another stoppage loss here for the challenger. If we're right and he is stopped he may well think about hanging up the gloves and retiring from the sport, ending his long career.
On November 16th we'll see Japanese Light Flyweight champion Tetsuya Hisada (32-9-2, 19) return to the ring for his next defense, as he takes on the unheralded Akihiro Toya (8-4, 1). On paper this is a mismatch, but the pressure is on the 34 year old champion to continue his reign and make a successful 5th defense as he hunts a world title fight in 2019. For Toya on the other hand the bout is an unexpected at a belt, and a great chance to him to instantly gain notoriety after a career that has faltered, despite Rookie of the Year success in 2016.
The champion is rightfully the favourite. He is a world class fighter, with top 4 world rankings from the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO, and is in great forum with 11 straight wins following a 2015 loss at Flyweight to Kenta Sugimoto. At the age of 34 however he will know that he cannot afford any sort of slip up, and he will also know that father time is against him, after all a 34 year old Light Flyweight who has been a professional since 2003 is ancient in boxing terms. Despite the age he is an experienced fighter with a very misleading record and has really aged like a fine win, with recent wins against the likes of Kenichi Horikawa, Atsushi Kakutani and Koki Ono.
In the ring Hisada is a fighter with a great engine, he comes forward with a lot of activity, really lets his hands go and is surprisingly heavy handed. Despite only scoring 19 stoppages in 43 career bouts he has stopped 8 of his last 11 and has certainly developed more belief in his boxing, his power and his strength.
At just 23 years old Toya is a relative boxing baby compared to the champion. Despite his youth he hasn't had an easy career and actually lost 2 of his first 3 bouts, before finding his groove and reeling off 6 straight wins. Those wins saw him claim the All Japanese Rookie of the Year at Light Flyweight but he has since gone 2-2, with a notable loss last time out to Takumi Sakae.
The challenger is a long way from a puncher, having only scored 1 stoppage so far, but he is a quick with smart upper body movement, sharp footwork and good hand speed. Sadly whilst he's quicker he lacks the ability to get respect from his opponents, and lacks in terms of both power and physicality, with fighters not likely to back off from him. Rather worryingly for Toya is the fact he can often be seen with his hands down, and against a fighter like Hisada that is going to be a major problem, as is the fact that Hisada will be able to walk him down and go to work up close.
This is a huge chance for Toya, but we can't help feeling like he has nothing to offer against Hisada who will be too energetic, too sharp, too heavy handed, too good and too busy for the challenger. Toya might have moments, particularly early on, but he'll be very lucky to last the distance with the champion.
If Hisada wins, as expected, we wouldn't be surprised to see him dropping the title to fight for a world title in the new year.
The first major Japanese fight of November takes place this coming Saturday as Japanese Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako (9-0, 9) defends his belt against Sanosuke Sasaki (12-6, 6) at the Korakuen Hall, live on G+.
The champion, defending the belt for the first time, has been tipped for success since making the decision to turn professional back in 2015. He had been a solid amateur on the domestic scene, running up a 30-11 record whilst having a pro-ready style, and was put on the fast track to the top by World Sports Boxing gym, with fights against good domestic opponents Tomoyuki Yokota and Elfelos Vega to begin his career, neither of whom could take Takesako's power. His team began to look outside of Japan for tough foes, but the likes of Kyung Joon Ahn and Singdet Sithsaithong also succumbed to the heavy hands of the powerful hopeful.
In last 2017 Takesako would stamp his mark on the Japanese domestic scene by blasting away Shoma Fukumoto to secure his place as the mandatory challenger for the Japanese Middleweight title. Takesako would make the most of that opportunity earlier this year, when he ripped the belt from Hikaru Nishida inside a round in March. Sadly his first defense was pushed backwards due to a lack of suitable challengers, and his only bout aside from his title win was a victory over Chaiwat Mueanphong, who surprisingly lasted 7 rounds with the Japanese puncher.
In the ring Takesako is an educated fighter who applies intelligent pressure on his opponents, gets close and breaks them down with his heavy artillery. There is a slightly raw edge to him in the ring, though that appears to be more based on his confidence than a desire to take extra risks, and his belief in his own toughness and power, at this level, is good to see. Hopefully, if he fights against notable international foes he tidies up his work defensively but at the moment the need to do that is minimal, and his aggression is making his fights very fun to watch and we're hoping to see him involved in bigger and better fights in the near future, if he over-comes Sasaki as expected. A bout with Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa, the current OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific champion, seems the most attractive though we suspect that Takesako will look to keep his national title beyond the 2019 Champion Carnival and that would mean that he'd have t make a mandatory defense in the new year.
The 31 year old Sasaki is a former champion himself, having win the title in 2012 when he upset popular puncher Tadashi Yuba at the Korakuen Hall. Sadly his reign would last just 4 months until he was stopped himself by Tomohiro Ebisu. His win over Yuba saw him notch his record to 11-1 (5), and saw him adding the Japanese title to his 2011 Rookie of the Year crown, which he got by defeating Yutaka Oishi. In fact by the time he had won the Rookie of the Year crown Sasaki had scored wins over Hikaru Nishida, Yasuyuki Akiyama and Yutaka Oishi, all of whom managed to win titles of their own in the years that followed. Sadly since his title win Sasaki has gone 1-5 (1) as his career has fallen apart, with his only win coming last time out over Hisao Narita. Those 5 losses have seen him mixing with good company, losing to Ebisu, Takehiro Shimokawara, Koki Tyson, Hironobu Matsunaga and Nobuyuki Shindo, but it's clear that he hasn't shown anything to suggest he will be any sort of a threat for Takesako.
Despite his poor recent form Sasaki isn't actually a bad fighter. He's technical pretty decent, with good movement and nice variety to his shots. Sadly though he's a bit too open, he lacks durability, isn't particularly quick and despite having some thudding power on his shots isn't a banger, more a respectable puncher.
We're expecting to see Takesako steam roll through Sasaki within 3 rounds. Sasaki is a former champion but his recent form says it all and Takesako is a monster at domestic level. We suspect the champion will press early on and just beat Sasaki into submission very early on. The only chance Sasaki has is to land a bomb as Takesako comes in for the finish, but we'd be hugely surprised if that happens.
Interestingly the winner of this will be expected to defend the title against either Hikaru Nishida or Shuji Kato, who fight in an eliminator on November 7th.
The Super Bantamweight division is one of the more interesting ones in Japan, with a host of talented fighters from prospect level all the way up to the world level. With so much talent in the division it leads to some great possible match ups, such as the Japanese title fight earlier this year between Shingo Wake and Yusaku Kuga.
On October 12th we get a bout to decide the next Japanese title challenger as Mugicha Nakagawa (23-5-1, 14) takes on Naoya Okamoto (13-6-1, 6) at the Korakuen Hall. On paper this looks like a mismatch in favour of Nakagawa, but the two men are ranked #1 and #2 by the Japanese Boxing Commission and they should be better matched than their records suggest.
Nagakawa is the more proven fighter and the 29 year old really has impressed in the last few years. Going into July 2013 Nakagawa, then 24, was 10-4 (6) but since then he has gone 13-1-1 and scored notable wins over Yusuke Fujihara, Yuta Saito, Dado Cabintoy, and Markquil Salvana, with his only loss in that run of 15 fights being against Yasutaka Ishimoto last November, in another Japanese title challenger decider bout, or an eliminator for those in the west.
In the ring Nakagawa is an exciting fighter with under-rated power, which has seen him stop 8 of his last 15, and a good work rate. He started brilliantly against Ishimoto in their bout last year but seemed to tire in the later rounds and it does look like he's worked on that in recent bouts by becoming less aggressive and boxing more within himself, keeping some energy in reserve for when he has his man hurt. Technically he's flawed, open and often fights with his hands down, but tends to get away with it and finds ways to lure opponents in to counter. It's also worth noting that he is a very rangy fighter who can land shots from unusual angles and sometimes further away than opponents expect.
At 30 Okamoto is the slightly older man, but the less experienced and the less impressive looking on paper. However he's a man in good form, with 3 impressive wins coming into this and other good showings through his career, including a razor thin loss to Ryoichi Tamura in 2014. Coming into this he has scored wins over Gaku Aikawa, Daisuke Watanabe and current Japanese Bantamweight champion Yuta Saito. Those wins have helped him turn around a record that was once 8-5 and put him on the verge of a title shot.
Of his recent wins it was the one over Watanabe that really boosted his reputation. Watanabe was dangerous fighter but a brutal right hand left him flat on his face in the opening round. Despite that being the best win on his record he's not a puncher. Instead he's a pretty basic fighter, with a good stiff jab, a solid right hand, good movement and consistent output. He never looks like a fighter who's going to win a world title but with his consistency and accuracy he's someone who will stick around at domestic level, picking up the occasional win of note along the way.
We're expecting a pretty interesting tactical bout here though we suspect that Nakagawa will just do enough to over-come Okamoto. We suspect that the counters and extra little bit of zip in Nakagawa's shots will be the difference, but Okamoto will certainly have his moments and his jab could be a problem for Nakagawa, though we think he's a little one paced and under-powered to pick up the victory here.
This coming Saturday we'll see titles being unified as OPBF Super Featherweight champion Hironori Mishiro (6-0, 2) takes on Japanese champion Masaru Sueyoshi (18-1, 11), with the winner becoming the de facto #2 in Japan behind WBO champion Masayuki Ito, and moving towards a world title fight of their own.
Although the less experienced of the two men Mishiro is the holder of the high level title, a title he won back in June when he out pointed Filipino Carlo Magali in a very close bout. Prior to that win he had scored notable domestic victories over Shuya Masaki and Shuma Nakazato, and was a former amateur standout. Despite his success he often been a frustrating fighter, showing little killer instinct and being dragged into longer and tough bouts than he probably wanted to have. At his best he is a wonderful fighter to watch, boxing at range and dictating the tempo is something he looks brilliant at. Up close however he can be made to look defensively flawed, open and easy to tag, and we do have questions about his chin and durability as well as his stamina.
If Mishiro can dictate the tempo and range of a fight he's going to be a very hard man to beat, but when he slows down he does look beatable, and this something he will have to work hard to improve as his career develops. After just 6 fights, and aged just 23, we don't expect him to be a complete fighter and in fact his flaws being so numerous make it clear just how much he has to work with already. He's quick, smart, rangy and very promising.
With 19 bouts under his belt Sueyoshi is far more experienced than Mishiro and at 27 he is more mature as a fighter. Not only that but he has been a professional for more than 7 years, and has faced several notable foes, including Masayuki Ito, Shingo Eto, Allan Vallespin and Ribo Takahata. He actually won the title by beating Takahata last October and has made two defenses, beating Ken Osato and Tsuyoshi Tojo.
Like Mishiro we see Sueyoshi as a frustrating fighter. He creates awkward distance and angles, and fighters very well off the back foot, in a rather unusual manner. He's not a puncher by any means, but when he lands clean he can score spectacular KO's, as he did against Vallespin. Instead he chips away at people, breaks them down mentally as well as physically and draws mistakes out of them. He's technically very good, and makes people pay for their mistakes, but has been dropped and hurt before and it's clear that whilst talented he may struggle against the bigger punchers if, or when, he mixes at world level.
We're expecting a bit of an awkward bout here. Both fighters set unusual distances and tempos. Of the two Mishiro is the more aggressive and Sueyoshi the more defensively minded, and given that polarity we do expect this to be a pretty fun bout. We favour Sueyoshi's experience over 10 rounds to get him to victory, but we wouldn't be surprised by a close decision either way in what could be a bout that frustrates at times but is very competitive through out.
The Japanese Bantamweight title has, in 2018, been a cursed trinket. It was vacated in January by Ryo Akaho, who fell ill days before a scheduled defense. Following Akaho we then saw Yusuke Suzuki pull out of the bout for the then vacant title, due to injury, and Suguru Muranaka was forced to cancel a bout due to weight issues.
Due to those issues we've gone with out a Japanese champion since Akaho vacated in January and over a year with out a Japanese title fight, with Akaho's August 2017 defense being the last time the title was on the line. Interestingly Akaho's that night was Yuta Saito (10-9-3, 7) who will be battling against Eita Kikuchi (21-5-4, 8) this coming Saturday for the vacant title.
Whilst the title not being fought for in over a year is bad we actually need to go back over 2 years to find Saito's last win, which came in April 2016 against Corrales Kawashima. Since the win over Kawashima we've seen Saito go 0-2-1, fighting to a draw with Tatsuya Takahashi and losing to Akaho and Naoya Okamoto.
On paper Saito has no right to be in a title fight, he has won less than half of his career bouts, is without a win in well over 2 years, and has only scored 3 wins since the the start of 2013. Whilst he's better than that sort of form suggests, and he has pushed fighters like Yushi Tanaka, Keita Nakano, and Naoya Okamoto incredibly close. Yes he has been losing, but he's been losing close bouts, often away from home, by close decision above the Bantamweight limit. And given the way Akaho, Suzuki and Muranaka have failed to come in on weight Saito will be regarded as a safe fighter to mane weight and get in the ring.
In the ring Saito has got nasty power at domestic level, but sometimes lacks the skills to make the most of it. With 7 of his 10 wins coming inside the distance it's clear he can hurt opponents. Sadly though he can be hurt himself, as Akaho showed, and he can be out boxed, as several have shown. Give a real chance to prepare he can be a nightmare, and he will know he needs to make a statement here, as this really could be his last chance.
At 32 years old Kikuchi probably wouldn't have expected his shot at the belt, especially given that he hasn't fought since losing in a Japanese title eliminator to Yusuke Suzuki last October. Like Saito however he is seen as a dependable fighter, who will be in the ring and won't be missing weight. In some ways that is possibly the key to this bout from the JBC's perspective, “lets make sure this bout takes place”. At his best Kikuchi was a solid fighter, and has scored career wins over the likes of Hideo Sakamoto, Noldi Manakane, and challenged for the OPBF Super Bantamweight title, losing to Shingo Wake in 2013.
Despite being solid Kikuchi has been stopped in 3 of his 5 defeats and with just 8 stoppages in 30 career bouts he is not much of a puncher himself. With his 33rd birthday coming in December he will be physically less of a fighter than the one who challenged Wake, and went in the later stages with Taiki Minamoto, but can still hold his own against solid domestic competition.
We don't think anyone would claim these are the best Japanese fighters at Bantamweight, a division that has the likes of Naoya Inoue, his brother Takuma Inoue or the exciting Hiroaki Teshigawara but they are in a position to fight for the national title and both will do everything they can to win. With that in mind we're expecting a brilliant fight, and we expect to see both men put it on the line, With his edge in power we favour Saito, but we wouldn't be surprised no matter who won. What we would be surprised by is for the winner to really have a long reign, as they will have fighters like Keita Kurihara snapping at their ankles for a shot, and it's hard to see either man defeating the contenders who will be lining up for a shot at the title in 2019.
In Japan “Interim” national title fights aren't very common and are only really brought in when the champion is injured. This coming Friday we get one such a case, with Akinori Watanabe (36-7, 30) battling against Ryosuke Maruki (15-5-1, 10) due to an injury suffered by Nobuyuki Shindo, the Japanese Light Middleweight champion. In fact interestingly Shindo suffered the injury when he won the vacant title with a close decision win over Maruki at the Champion Carnival in May.
For Watanabe this is a chance to add to his excellent career which has seen him claim Japanese and OPBF titles at Welterweight and a PABA title at Light Welterweight. It's also a chance to prove, at the age of 33, that the old dog still has plenty up his sleeve, despite recent losses to Magomed Kurbanov, Takeshi Inoue and Toshio Arikawa.
For Maruki on the other hand the bout is a third shot a Japanese belt at 154lbs, having come up short in close bouts to Shindo and Yuki Nonaka. Sadly for Maruki he has got a reputation as a nearly man having also lost in the 2012 Rookie of the Year final, losing to Ryota Itoyama, and needing two cracks to win the WBC Youth Light Middleweight title.
Watanabe has had a thrilling career. He would win his debut by decision before going on an incredible “stop or be stopped” run, that saw him going 17-3 (17). All 3 of those losses came in the first 3 rounds, including a 90 second loss to Tadashi Yuba in a Japanese Welterweight title fight, whilst 9 wins came in the opening round and all 17 in the first 8 rounds. Since then he has developed more than just his power, and has climbed a number of good wins, both by stoppage and by decision. Those have included a huge 2011 win over Yo Inoue for the Japanese and OPBF Welterweight titles, as well victories over Koshinmaru Saito, Prawet Singwancha and Kyung Suk Kwak .
Watanabe had gone from 18-3 (17) to 33-4 (28) before losing in a Japanese title eliminator to Toshio Arikawa. That started a bit of a rot for Watanabe though a win this past April over Ratchasi Sithsaithong showed there was still some hunger there for Watanabe who will be wanting to make the most of this opportunity.
Maruki's career has been explosive and exciting than Watanabe's but has been an interesting one with the 27 year old showing a lot of promise but just unable to get over the line when he needs to. He made his debut in 2010 and reached the Rookie of the Year final in 2012 before losing a close decision. He would suffer his second and third defeats in 2014, both of which were razor thin decisions. He would then lose Yuki Nonaka in 2016 and Shindo earlier this year, both in shots for the Japanese title.
Despite losing his biggest bouts Maruki is an absolute handful. He's tough, strong, heavy handed and aggressive. His issues has often been pacing and tempo, starting too slowly and needing to do too much too late, and struggling to set the distance of the bout, with his best opponents often keeping him at range and preventing him from using his body shots up close. If he can set the pace early, get inside and work away he can cross the line and get the big, much needed career wins.
We're expecting this, due to the styles of the two men, to be something very special. We're expecting both men to look for a fight, and throw power shots on the inside, there won't be a huge amount of feinting or technically impressive skills on show, but there will be a toe-to-toe war. For Maruki we think will be ideal, he's younger, naturally bigger and hungrier. Watanabe's power could be the difference, but we're thinking that Maruki will get it right, at least, and he'll finally pick up the big win.
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.