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.
On May 18th the boxing world goes a little bit crazy, with a huge card in the UK, for the WBSS, as well as a big card in New York, which will feature WBC Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, a second notable UK card, this time in Stevenage, a decent card in Russia and a very good looking domestic card in Japan.
Although the Japanese show will, clearly, be overshadowed by the international action the card does promise fire works, and the main event could end up being one of the best bouts of the day. That bout is a Japanese Super Bantamweight title bout, pitting newly crowned champion Ryoichi Tamura (12-3-1, 6) against former champion Yusaku Kuga (17-3-1, 12), in a rematch of a great bout from 2017.
In their first bout Kuga entered as the champion, making his first defense. He would narrowly win a tough battle with Tamura but lost the belt a year later to Shingo Wake. Wake vacated the belt, with Tamura winning it this past January, with a clear decision against Mugicha Nakagawa. The rematch seemed to be something both men wanted and something that fans were also clamouring for.
The reason that fans, and us, are looking forward to this fight so much is the styles and mentality of the two men. They are both very, very similar. They are both aggressive, strong, powerful men. They have difference, which we'll get on to in a minute, but they have enough similarities to knew they are going to give us some insane action. The best thing is that their aggressive mindsets are shown every time they are in the ring, neither likes to back off, or back up. Both come to meet in the centre of the ring and both look to unload with shots.
The big difference between the two is their offensive work. For Kuga his offensive work is power based. His shots are heavy and hard, they are a touch slow, and he doesn't fight with 10 rounds of intensity, but every shot he lands is thrown with bad intentions. He's a puncher-brawler if you will, and as a result he knows he needs some distance to work with, trying to get full extension on his shots.
Tamura on the other hand is more a volume guy, with intense pressure. His shots are hard, but not thundering, instead he throws a lot of leather, and is a bit of a perpetual punching man. He has an incredible gas tank and refuses to slow down, knowing he has the toughness to take shots whilst throwing his own. If he had Kuga's power he would be a truly frightening fighter, combining power with work rate and toughness, but as it is he's still a nightmare even if he can't take fighters out with a single shot.
What both men really rely on is their toughness, and both take a great shot. Or at least they did. Kuga's yet to show any decline, but Kuga has currently got some question marks over his chin following his stoppage loss to Wake. Kuga was dropped from a huge left hand in that bout, then took some serious punishment late on, with Wake tagging Kuga with clean left hands until the towel came in. Although it's not proven, there is a chance that loss has done damage to his durability.
Although Kuga won the first fight between these two, we feel like the men have headed in a different direction since then. Kuga's loss suggests he might be on the slide, whilst Tamura's last performance was his best to date and showed that he's adding more wrinkles and more intensity. With that in mind we see this as being a likely case of revenge, and not repeat. We're expecting the fire of Tamura, seeking to avenge his loss, and the boost in confidence a fighter gets when they are champion, to be the difference maker.
Prediction UD10 Tamura
The Super Bantamweight division is one of the most top heavy division's in Japan, with a number of world class fighters, such as Tomoki Kameda, Ryosuke Iwasa, Yukinori Oguni and Shingo Wake all looking to make their mark at the very top level. Sadly with such a top heavy division is leaves the domestic level looking a little bit thin, and with Wake vacating the Japanese title late in 2018 it leaves us without a clear domestic divisional #1. On January 12th we'll see Mugicha Nakagawa (24-5-1, 14) and Ryoichi Tamura (11-3-1, 6) battle for the vacant title, and to fill the hole left by Wake.
Nakagawa earned his shot at the title back in Otober, when he defeated Naoya Okamoto in a Japanese title challenger decision bout. That was a close win but a well earned one for Nakagawa who had narrowly missed out on a mandatory title shot in 2018, when he lost in a Japanese title decider bout to Yasutaka Ishimoto in later 2017. His record looks a good one on paper, even more so when you consider he is 14-1-1 (8) in his last 16 bouts, but his competition hasn't been sensational during that run, sadly.
In the ring the 29 year old Nakagawa is good boxer, with good basic skills, a long winding jab and nice movement. There's nothing spectacular about him, but he does a lot of things really well, boxing off the jab, moving calmly around the ring and showing patience when he needs to. When he needs to pick up the pace he has shown that he can, and that he can also take a good shot when he needs to, as he did against Ishimoto. One thing that is perhaps under-rated about Nakagawa is his ability to find unusual angles for his shots, and he can can't people from unusual places due to his long reach, but again for the most part he pretty straight forward.
For Tamura this will be a second title fight, after having come up short against Yusaku Kuga last year. Since that loss Tamura has scored 3 wins, shown an improvement in his technical boxing but remains a crude, strong, forward foot fighter. In fact much of Tamura's success is based on his physicality. He began his career 3-2-1 (1) but has since gone 8-1 (5), with the sole being to Kuga last year. On paper his record doesn't look amazing but he does hold notable wins against the likes of Yusuke Suzuki, Renji Ichimura, Robert Udtohan and Jestoni Autida.
Tamura is defensively flawed, he's particularly quick or elusive. He is however a very heavy handed, his jab is incredibly hurtful, his right hand is dynamite and his willingness to take one to land one makes him very dangerous. He's one of the very few fighters who has made the aforementioned Kuga back up, and he managed to apply pretty effective pressure on Kuga in fact. Sadly for Tamura a lot of what he does is pretty predictable, pretty basic and there's little thought really put behind his pressure. He's powerful but doesn't really know how to use his power properly.
On paper this is a match up between the skills of Nakagawa and the power of Tamura. If Nakagawa can keep things basic, box and move and use his brains he should be able to rack up plenty of rounds. However, Tamura will be dangerous through the full fight and if Nakagawa slows down we could see the pressure and power of Tamura undo all Nakagawa's good work.
We're expecting Nakagawa to win, by decision, though it's far from a foregone conclusion, and Tamura only needs to land one or two clean shots to turn the bout on it's head.
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.