The 2020 edition of the Japanese boxing Champion Carnival is slowly coming together with Gakuya Furuhashi and Masataka Taniguchi already booking themselves Japanese title shots in the new year. This coming Saturday we'll see 4 more fighters claiming mandatory positions for Japanese title fights, with a host of eliminators taking place at the Korakuen Hall. One of those eliminators will be at Bantamweight and will see an interesting match up between Kyosuke Sawada (13-2-1, 6) and Kazuki Tanaka (11-2, 8).
On paper this isn't one of the most appealing bouts, given that both have already suffered a couple of losses and neither is a "big" name in regards to being an emerging force on the Japanese scene. The reality however is that the bout is set to be an excellent, hotly contested and very exciting one between two well matched, yet flawed, fighters with good amateur backgrounds.
Of the two Sawada is there more experienced professional, with 16 bouts since his 2013 debut, he is also the one who has had the bigger turn around with his career and the more peculiar record. He debuted in 2013 and lost to Yusuke Suzuki, the current Japanese Bantamweight champion, and lost in his second professional bout to Hiroaki Teshigawara, who currently holds the OPBF Super Bantamweight title. Since then he has gone 13-0-1 and beaten everyone he has faced, beating Keita Nakano in their second clash. Not only has he been on a good run after a very rocky start but he's picking up wins against solid domestic opponents, such as Kenta Okumura, Yuta Horiike, Kinshiro Usui and recent Japanese title challenger Yosuke Fujihara.
In the ring Sawada is a usually a technically sound fighter, with nice speed, clever footwork and a good jab who looks to fight at mid range. He's not usually the most exciting of fighters to watch, but he does gauge distance well and, with the right dance partner, he can be in some very fun bouts. Although Sawada does lack power he does land clean shots, and does so regularly, with an excellent work rate. It's also worth noting that while he is usually an outside fighter Sawada can hold his own on the inside, as we saw against Usui, with sharp clean punching and intelligent upper body movement. It's not something we often see from him, but it is something that's in his arsenal.
Tanaka is a 26 year old who made his debut in late 2014 and was tipped as a major star for the Green Tsuda gym, following a 63-14 amateur record. Sadly he has failed to live up to the early expectations, but has shown enough to remain a contender on the domestic scene. His career began with 7 straight wins, though alarm bells did ring a little bit when he struggled to get past Sukkasem Kietyongyuth. Since then he has gone 5-2, suffering stoppage losses to Ryohei Takahashi and Keita Kurihara with both losses showing he's not someone who can cope with being put under genuine pressure and isn't particularly durable.
Although not the toughest fighter out there Tanaka isn't actually a bad fighter. Technically he's solid, his amateur background shows when he's in the ring with a nice sharp jab, light feet and heavy hands. His right hand is a damaging and has got good understanding of distance. If you let him dictate the tempo he can look very good, and very strong with good balance. Sadly for Tanaka his competition in recent bouts has been poor, and since losing to Keita Kurihara in 2018 he has only scored 2 low level wins as he's looked to rebuild his confidence.
We believe that Tanaka has got the power to cause Sawada issues, but given recent form and how the fighters have bounced back from their setbacks it's hard not to imagine Sawada being the favourite. Sawada's all-round game seems better, his speed and ring craft are just a touch better. Tanaka certainly has the edge in power, but Sawada had the edge in tougness and we suspect that'll get him through some rough patches on route to a clear, but competitive, decision win.
Prediction - UD8 Sawada
Over the next few weeks we get a lot of Japanese title eliminators, as we find out who will be challenging for Japanese titles at the Champion Carnival in 2020. Whilst some of those are more attractive match ups than others one that looks like it could be a lot of fun is the Light Welterweight bout between Cristiano Aoqui (14-7-2, 10) and Daishi Nagata (13-2-1, 5). On paper this might not look like a great bout, but in reality we are expecting this to be one of the best eliminators this year, with the styles of the two men expected to gel perfectly.
Of the two men it's the Aoqui who is the more experienced professional. He turned professional back in 2006 and with 23 pro bouts under his belt the 30 year old puncher is a bit of a veteran. His record is certainly not great on paper, but losses to the likes of Valentine Hosokawa (SD8), Hiroki Okada (TD9) and Koki Inoue (RTD 2) are certainly nothing particularly shameful. Instead that show the level he has been competing at the last few years and there's certainly one or two of his career defeats that could easily have gone his way.
In the ring Aoqui isn't the most skilled, or the smoothest, but he is an entertaining fighter, with explosive power, an exciting and aggressive style. When he gets opponents hurt he goes for the kill with quick, heavy hitting combinations looking to take them out without giving them a chance to recover. Whilst it is the exciting combinations from Aoqui that catch the eye he does box well, using a good jab to open the door for his power shots, moving well and setting a solid tempo from start to end. He's always looking to get on the front foot and set the pace of the bout. As well as being aggressive Aoqui is quite flawed, he can be hit, and he can also been caught coming forward. Those defensive flaws, alongside his aggression, is why he makes for such good fights, and is a very TV friendly fighter.
Although less experienced as a professional Nagata was a solid amateur, running up a solid 41-21 (11) record, and he won the 2012 All Japan champion. He turned professional with pretty loft expectations on his shoulders, and those expectations didn't fade despite a draw on his debut, to Takeshi Inoue no less. Since then Nagata has been consistently matched tough, struggling with some opponents that he perhaps faced a little bit too early in his career. Those tough bouts have however toughened him up and last year we saw him give Rikki Naito all he could handle in an excellent bout for the OPBF Light Welterweight title, losing a split decision to Naito. In the bout with Naito we saw Nagata answer a lot of questions and prove what a good boxer he was, and show his will to win.
In the ring Nagata is a smart pressure fighter, he brings the pressure behind intelligent footwork and good jabs, pressing for openings, looking for gaps to strike in and mentally challenging his opponents. It's not the all action pressure of some other fighters, but it's a very clear style that is based around making opponents work hard for their space and their opportunities. Defensively he's relatively tight with his guard, but he can be hit through it and around it, and he is open to over hand rights, as we saw against Naito. He seems to be able to take a decent shot, but there are question marks about his overall durability given how he was essentially bullied and battered by Vladimir Baez in his first defeat.
Given that Aoqui likes to box at a high tempo, and unleash combinations, and Nagata applies a lot of forward movement, we're expecting to see the two men in range a lot, and trading blows in some thrilling sequences. If the power of Aoqui can trouble Nagata then this could be a short but thrilling action bout, but we're not expecting Aoqui to blow through his foe. Instead we suspect the jab of Nagata will offset Aoqui's power early on and we'll end up with a very exciting back and forth, in a bout that is very, very hard to call.
Prediction SD8 Nagata
The 2020 Champion Carnival is slowly starting to come together and at the end of August we saw the Japanese title challenger decision bouts being announced. Before that announcement there was several already on the docket, including a Minimumweight eliminator between former world title challenger Masataka Taniguchi (11-3, 7) and hard hitting youngster Kai Ishizawa (6-0, 6), with the winner to get a shot in early 2020.
Of the two fighters Taniguchi is the much more proven and established. He's a former Japanese, OPBF and world title challenger and a former WBO Asia Pacific champion and has mixed with the likes of Reiya Konishi, Vic Saludar, Tsubasa Koura and Joel Lino. Before turning professional he was a solid amateur and was tipped for major success, but that success hasn't yet come. Notably he is still only 25, and despite the set backs through his career he still has time on his side, if he's still hungry enough to make the most of his talent. That hunger is however a big question and there is a chance that his losses have killed some of that desire to be a champion.
In terms of skill and style Taniguchi is an highly skilled boxer-puncher. Fighting out of southpaw stance Taniguchi is an aggressive fighter who judges distance well, fights behind a sharp jab and has under-rated speed and movement. His work rate isn't the highest and he's not a KO puncher but he is a solid puncher with a decent work rate. In fact when we think about Taniguchi, he's solid in every area, without being excellent in any, which is what was shown when he faced off with Saludar earlier this year. He's never going to be one of the truly top fighters in the division, but will remain a constant threat in and around the regional title scene.
Ishizawa is a 22 year old who turned professional in 2017 without too much fan fare, following a rather uninspired 28-14 amateur record. Since turning professional however he has impressed, thanks to his heavy hands, aggressive styles and pressure fighting mentality. Early in his career there was questions about how he'd look when he stepped up, but he answered those questions with stoppage wins over Tatsuro Nakashima and Yuga Inoue in 2018. Those bouts both saw Ishizawa needing to answer questions about what happens when a fighter can take his power, and the Inoue bout in particular was a huge test against a stylistic nightmare, that he eventually broke down.
Despite impressive performances against the likes of Nakashima and Inoue this is still a massive step up for Ishizawa. He's a hard puncher with an exciting pressure style, but he's up against someone who is more experienced, has more to his game, hits hard himself and moves well. The key for Ishizawa is to get close and work inside, but against someone who controls distance like Taniguchi that is much easier said than done and he will have to take punishment to get inside.
We'd love to see Ishizawa win, due to loving his style and youth, but in reality we feel this bout may be coming a touch too early for him and his inexperience will be exposed. Taniguchi may have come up short in his biggest bouts but he is talented, and even in defeat he has shown a real gritty toughness and determination. We suspect that grit will see him through some tough moments against Ishizawa, before taking a clear win, possibly even a late stoppage.
Prediction - TKO8 Taniguchi
The Super Bantamweight division in Japan has given us some brilliant fights already this year. Two of which have featured JB Sport's Ryoichi Tamura (12-4-1, 6), who won the Japanese title in January with a great performance against Mugicha Nakawagawa before losing the belt in May to Yusaku Kuga. This coming Friday we see Tamura fighting for the third time in 2019 as he takes on the always fun to watch Gakuya Furuhashi (25-8-1, 14) in a Japanese title eliminator. The winner will get a shot at either Kuga or Yosuke Fujihara, who clash on September 21st.
Of the two men it's Tamura who has really impressed us more, at least in recent years. The hard nosed warrior, who has been dubbed a "zombie" due to his ability to soak up punishment, is a truly thrilling fighter to watch. He began his career in 2013, losing on debut to Wataru Miyasaka, and would actually fall to 3-2-1 after 6 bouts, though was fighting as a Bantamweight. Since then he has risen in weight, to Super Bantamweight, and become a nightmare to face going 9-2 in his last 11, with both losses coming to Kuga.
Tamura's form only tells us half the story, of course, but with wins over the likes of Yusuke Suzuki, Yuki Matsuda, Robert Udtohan and Mugicha Nakagawa he's not been padding his record to look good. Instead he's been mixing in good competition and has been beating people down by sheer determination, work rate and desire. He's not particularly heavy handed, but fights as a swarming and throws a lot. He comes forward with a high out put and really refuses to back off. Through his career he has been hurt, and was hurt badly by Kuga in May, but has recovered brilliantly and reset himself before turning up the heat again, making him a total nightmare to fight. The one big flaw is that he's a bit of a slow starter at times, and can find himself in a hole before his engine gets up and running and this could give opponents chance to get in the lead. Once he hits top gear however he simply can't be discouraged, and having him in your face, win or lose, will not do your career any favours.
Furuhashi has been on the pro-scene for well over a decade, debuting in 2007, but is still only 31 and is a proper veteran of the sport. His 33 fight career has been a rollercoaster of sorts but he has proven, more than once, that he belongs in the domestic title mix. He would first make his name in 2008, winning the Rookie of the Year, and moving to 8-0 (1) though his career would take a stumble as he quickly dropped to 10-3 (2) and then 13-5 (4). By the age of 25 his career looked to be in the skids and his early promise didn't seem like it would be fulfilled, however since then he has gone 12-3-1 with the black marks coming at a pretty good level. Of his last 3 defeats 2 have come to Yasutaka Ishimoto, with the other coming to Daisuke Watanabe, and the draw has come against Yukinori Oguni. They have seen him twice come up short in Japanese title fights, and once in a Japanese title eliminator, and bar the second loss to Ishimoto they were razor thin defeats. It's also worth noting that he was scheduled to get a shot, at Hidenori Otake in 2014, before Otake got the call to fight Scott Quigg and Furuhashi missed out.
In the ring Furushashi isn't a big puncher, or the strongest fighter but he's a battler, who makes for fun fights and he throws a lot of leather. Although he some times to take the boxer-fighter role he often happily gets dragged into a fight, and we get absolute barn burners as a result. He has got a really good jab when he uses it, but all to often uses the jab to get close before fighting on the inside, rather than keeping the bout at range and controlling the tempo of the fight. Against Tamura coming inside will likely be an issues.
When it comes to looking at the result of this bout it really depends on what recent wars have taken out of both men. The Tamura who beat Nakagawa, and ran Kuga close, will be favoured over Furuhashi. The aggression, pressure and incessant punching will rack up the points against Furuhashi who will be all happy to have a high tempo fight. If however those wars have taken something from the former champion and if Furuhashi can maintain some distance between the two men he should be able to eke out a close win. It really does depend on Furuhashi keeping the distance, which he can do, but often chooses not to.
We're expecting this to be a slow starter, but by round 3 it'll become a war, and we'll end up having a thrilling 8 rounder with Tamura's pressure and higher work rate being the difference in the end. We imagine Furuhashi will take the early lead but end up being over-taken just before the finish line in a bout we'll wish was a 10 rounder.
Prediction- MD8 Tamura
On November 7th we'll see the next mandatory challenger for the Japanese Middleweight title being decided, as former champion Hikaru Nishida (17-9-1, 8) battles against 2017 Middleweight Rookie of the Year Shuji Kato (9-1-1, 6) at the Korakuen Hall. The winner will get their shot at the title in 2019 at the Champion Carnival, taking on either Kazuto Takesako or Sanosuke Sasaki who clash at the start of the month. In many ways this is a much better match up that the recent title bout, which was always seen as a mismatch between a rampant and destructive champion and an under-whelming challenger.
Of the two fighters it's Nishida who is the more recognisable by far, having been a former unified Japanese and OPBF champion. The 31 year old has mixed with the best domestically over the last few years and is a fighter who proves that hard work can achieve results. He began his career in 2008 and was 6-6-1 (1) after 13 fights, with his only early career win of note coming against the aforementioned Sasaki who would win a rematch just a few months later. He has however battled back and gone 11-3 since then, notching up wins against Fukutaro Ujiie, Kazuhiko Hidaka, Makoto Fuchigami, Ratchasai Sithsaithong, Akio Shibata and Tomohiro Ebisu.
In the ring Nishida is known as a basic but effective pressure fighter, coming forward behind a high guard and pressing his opponents before breaking them down up close. He has often shown that he can be out boxed, losing the OPBF title to Dwight Ritchie via a wide decision in 2016, and he's had to come from behind to break opponents down in the past. One of his biggest strengths has been his physicality, and he is an imposing fighter on the domestic scene. Another strong point for Nishida is his durability, but was blasted out in his title loss to Takesako earlier this year and we do wonder what that has taken out of him.
Kato is the younger, less known man who at 28 years old has real promise but hasn't really shown what he can do against notable domestic competition. He debuted way back in December 2014 but had a pretty inactive start to his career, ending 2016 with a record of 3-1-1 (2). In 2017 however he had a break out year, going 4-0 (3) to become the All-Japan Rookie of the Year at Middleweight. As with all Rookie tournaments his opponents were novices, so it's hard to say how impressive the Rookie win was, but it was certainly something and immediately put him on the right path. Since that rookie win he has scored a couple of wins this year, both against low level domestic foes.
From the footage we've seen of Kato he looks like a talented southpaw boxer with an educated lead right hand. He has an active style, applying pressure behind his jab and can move through the gears surprisingly quickly. Sadly he is a touch on the crude side, and whilst he can step up the tempo he can also be made to look slow and clumsy, with his shots typically having a lethargic appearance. Despite looking like he pushes his punches he must hit hard, at least at the level he's been fighting at, as he's managed to hurt pretty much everyone he's fought, and his straight left hand is clearly a heavy shot.
Whilst Kato has been on a good run, it's hard to imagine him stepping up this much in class and over-coming the flawed but rugged Nishida, who we suspect will walk down Kato and stop him in the later rounds of this scheduled 8 round contest. We know that Nishida was demolished by Takesako but Takesako appears to be several levels above Kato, and we think that Nishida will still have more than enough to deal with Kato.
Between now and the end of this year we'll see a number of Japanese title eliminators. Among those bouts are a number of rematches, including the recent bouts between Kenichi Horikawa and Koji Itagaki, and Ken Osato and Satoru Sugita. We get another rematch this coming Sunday when Accel Sumiyoshi (11-4-2, 3) and Tatsuya Yanagi (15-5-1, 6) meet in a Japanese Lightweight title eliminator. The bout will be the third between the two men and will clearly be the most significant between the two men.
The two men first fought back in December 2015 when a then 5-4-1 (1) Sumiyoshi held a then 11-3 (4) Yanagi to a 10 round draw. The following year the two men would have an immediate rematch and Sumiyoshi would stop Yanagi in 3 rounds, in what was a short but exciting encounter.
Since their second bout Sumiyoshi has won his last 5, scoring notable wins over Allan Tanada, Naotoshi Nakatani and Motoki Sasaki. Yanagi on the other hand has gone 4-1, winning his last 4 bouts following a razor thin loss to former Japanese champion Seiichi Okada. The success of both men since their back to back bouts has lead to both being highly ranked by the JBC and their bout will decide who challenges either Shuichiro Yoshino (8-0, 6) or Kazumasa Kobayashi (10-7-1, 6), who fight in December.
Given he is leading the series with a win it's clear that Sumiyoshi will be the favouring coming into this bout. The 33 year old hasn't got an excellent record though he has actually turned things around well following a bizarre 4-4-1 start to professional boxing. In his first 9 bouts he was matched insanely hard, taking on the likes of Kento Matsushita, Yuhei Suzuki, Kota Tokunaga and Masayoshi Nakatani. Since that baptism of fire however he has found his groove and gone 7-0-1, avenging the draw with the win over Yanagi in their second bout. He has done that whilst not getting much attention due to his bouts being mostly in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi, one of Japanese boxing's smaller markets. Had he been fighting regularly in Tokyo there is a good chance he'd have been a staple on the Dangan cards.
In the ring Sumiyoshi is a pretty sharp fighter and you can see by watching him that he was a pretty experienced amateur. He's comfortable in the ring, with a very good jab, nice variety and confidence in his skills. Defensively he's open, and fights with his lead hand rather low, and does lack power, but we know he can hurt Yanagi as we saw in the second bout, where he actually got backed up a lot. In that second fight Sumiyoshi allowed Yanagi to come at him, countered wonderfully and then made the most of Yanagi's tiring arms as he crashed some gorgeous headshots on to his man who was dropped 3 times in round 3.
At 28 years old Yanagi is the younger man though technically he's the more experienced man, with 21 fights under his belt compared to the 17 of Sumiyoshi. He hasn't however got the amateur background of Sumiyoshi, and instead came through the Japanese rookie service, taking the Rookie of the Year crown in 2012. His record would advance to 10-0 before he went through a real rough patch and slid to 11-5-1, with his sole win during that run being a narrow decision over Toru Suzuki who retired afterwards. Now however he has turned his career around and won his last 4, including 2 wins over Masashi Noguchi.
In the ring Yanagi doesn't really do anything amazingly, but has has a solid jab, can move around the ring well and appears to hit harder than his record suggests. He's loose and relaxed in the ring and does seem to avoid plenty of shots thrown in his direction. Sadly though for Yanagi his chin does seem suspect and he gets wild and wide when he looks for the finish.
We're expecting Yanagi to be more cautious than he was in the second bout with Sumiyoshi, but we don't expect to see him get revenge here. Instead we're expecting a another stoppage for Sumiyoshi, albeit much later in the fight than round 3. Sadly neither Sumiyoshi or Yanagi will be expected to put up a serious challenge against Yoshino in the new year.
The Welterweight scene in Japan is one of the country's weakest in terms of depth, yet it does give us some strangely compelling match ups due to the flaws, and strengths, of the fighters at the top. That includes the flawed but hard hitting champion Ryota Yada, and the explosive but shaky chinned pairing of Keita Obara and Toshio Arikawa.
On October 21st we'll see two of the best Welterweights on the Japanese domestic scene face off, with the two men fighting for a place at the 2019 Champion Carnival, and a shot at the Japanese title. The men involved in that eliminator are the heavy handed Yuki Beppu (18-0-1, 18) and the in form Yuki Nagano (14-2, 11), who are expected to put on an explosive clash in Fukuoka to get a shot at the national title.
Of the two men it's clearly Beppu who has the better looking record. He's unbeaten in 19 fights with 18 wins, all by stoppage. The 27 year old has been dubbed the “Tyson of Kyushu”, in relation to his stoppages the region where he's based. His power is legitimate and would lead him to begin his career 14-0 (14), before fighting to a draw with Charles Bellamy in early 2017. Those first 4 wins included Beppu taking the All Japan Rookie of the Year title in 2014, scoring a notable win in the final against Hironobu Matsunaga. Sadly the results against Matsunaga and Beppu aside there is very little of note on Beppu's record. The numbers hide the distinct lack of competition that he's faced with a record padded with poor Thai and Indonesian imports who rarely lasted more than 2 rounds.
Although Beppu's competition is poor his power does look to be legitimate. He's really hurting fighters when he lands, and the win over Matsunaga certainly backs up the idea he's a solid puncher. His ability to go 8 rounds against Bellamy showed he has stamina and can take a shot, and he seemed to be the one finishing that bout by looking like the stronger man.
Nagano is a 29 year old fighter from the Teiken gym who is based in Tokyo, and this will be his first fight outside of the Korakuen Hall. He debuted in 2012 and despite losing 2 of his first 4 bouts he has now rebuilt with 12 straight wins, 9 of those by stoppage. Included in his successes is the 2015 Rookie of the Year crown, which saw him defeat Masaharu Kaito and Giraffa Kirin Kanda,and notable wins over Dai Taoka and Riku Nagahama since then. Notably coming in to this he is riding a 5 fight stoppage run.
In the ring Nagano is an accurate fighter who boxes well on either the front foot or the back foot. He's a southpaw with a sharp left hand, who finds holes and has good timing. He's not particularly quick and in his biggest fights he's not been amazingly offensive, but does look like a man who understand how to box smartly and lure opponents in. His win over Nagahama saw him really unloading the left hand, bursting the eye of Nagahama and forcing the referee in. The finish however showed that he's no a big 1-punch hitter and whilst he has got finishing instincts he does leave himself open.
The edge in power and home advantage are both with Beppu and we suspect that will be the difference here in what will be a shoot out. Nagano has got the better boxing brain, but we suspect he'll be dragged into a free swinging battle, with Beppu's power landing being the difference. It's worth noting that Nagano's southpaw stance my trouble Beppu, but even then we favour the “Kyushu Tyson” to land the big right hand and take his man out.
The Japanese eliminators for the 2019 Champion Carnival continue this coming Sunday with two more bouts to decide the mandatory challengers for the new year. One of those challenges will be in the Minimumweight division, where Takumi Sakae (19-2-1, 13) and Norihito Tanaka (16-7, 9) will battle for mandatory status. In theory they will be challenging Shin Ono, though rumours persist that Ono will vacate before the end of 2018 to fight for a world title.
Of the two men there isn't really a standout favourite. Sakae was a young prodigy who won the Rookie of the Year in 2013 as a 20 year old, but has failed to kick on since then. Tanaka on the other hand is a grizzled veteran who debuted in 2005 and has shared the ring with Kenichi Horikara, Ryoichi Taguchi, Akira Yaegashi, Takashi Kunishige and Tsubasa Koura. They are very different fighters but neither is to be strongly favoured over the other.
At 25 years old Sakae is likely edging towards his physical peak and if we're being honest he's had a genuine interesting career. As mentioned he won the Rookie of the Year back in 2013, just over 2 years after his debut, but failed to really use that as a launch pad. His 2014 was a relative waste of a year and in 2015 he claimed his first title, the IBF Youth Light Flyweight title, whilst also making his international debut. In 2016 he would lose a Japanese title fight to Tatsuya Fukuhara, before fighting to a technical draw with Lito Dante and ending the year with a loss to Ryoki Hirai in a Japanese title eliminator. In the space of just 12 months Sakae's record had gone from 13-0 (8) to 14-2-1 (9) and he had rebuilding to do.
Sadly Sakae's rebuilding has seen him stopping 4 very limited opponents and then taking a decision win, last time out, against Akihiro Toya. The only win of note is the one over Toya, which was a close decision, and strangely Toya's next fight will be a Japanese title fight in November.
In the ring Sakae is a pretty decent fighter. He's got nice speed, nice straight shots and respectable power. Sadly however he often finds himself in brawls as opposed to really using his skills. He's a pretty exciting fighter but tactically a naïve one who will always struggle against fighters who are strong enough to push him back and drag him into a war.
When we talk about an interesting career Tanaka has certainly had one of those. The 33 year olf from Tokyo debuted in 2005 and won his first 9 bouts before going 1-3 in his next 4, including a DQ loss to Ryoichi Taguchi and a decision loss to Kenichi Horikawa. A 3 fight winning run was snapped by a loss to Akira Yaegashi in a Japanese title fight in 2011 and after going 1-1 following that bout he took a 5 year break from the ring before returning last year. Since returning he has gone 2-2, suffering a stoppage loss last time out to Tsubasa Koura in an OPBF title fight.
Through his career Tanaka has proven to be tough, strong and a nightmare for fighters we would deem as being better. He was clearly beaten by Yaegashi but was actually in front against Koura prior to the stoppage, and had dropped the young Oriental champion prior to being finished himself. He's rugged, a bit clumsy but knows his way around the ring, and is very good inside the pocket. He can often find the sneaky shots up close that novices don't see coming and he counters very well, as we saw when he put Koura down. Sadly though at 33 he's very old for a Minimumweight and he has taken a fair bit of punishment through his career.
We see Sakae as the more technically solid fighter, but Tanaka is the smarter man, the man with the better ring IQ and the fighter who will be able to dictate things a touch better. We think the ring IQ of Tanaka could will see him landing solid counters when Sakae gets over excited and attacks up close. Those clever counters will be enough to hurt Sakae, but the younger man does have home advantage and that could well end up helping him on the cards. We see that home advantage as being the difference maker here, with Sakae likely to take a narrow decision win.
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.
When we look at the 2018 Japanese Title Challenger Bouts there's one that looks particularly explosive, and that's the Light Welterweight bout. That bout will see the unbeaten pairing of Koki Inoue (11-0, 10) and Marcus Smith (6-0-1, 6) battle for the right to fight for the national title at the 2019 Champion Carnival. Sadly whilst this is a potentially explosive clash between two unbeaten men it is also likely to be one of the most one-sided of Japanese title eliminator bouts, with one man being very heavily favoured over the other.
The clear favourite here is Koki Inoue, the cousin of Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue and world ranked Takuma Inoue. Like his cousins he was a top amateur and has looked a level above his competition since turning professional at the end of 2015. Proof of how outclassed his competition has been is the fact that only 1 of his 11 opponents has managed to last more than 5 rounds, and that was Hyun Woo Yuh who took a 6 round beating to Inoue more than 2 years ago. Inoue has been taking out notable domestic fighters, such as Futoshi Usami and Cristiano Aoqui, and looking close to untouchable at domestic level. He has been calling for a title fight for a while and seems to be an avoided fighter, something that makes a lot of sense given the trail of beaten men he has left in his wake.
In the ring Inoue is an offensive monster, much like Naoya. He cuts the distance behind a strong and powerful jab, throws sensational combinations on the inside and beats people into submission. So far fighters have really struggled to stand up to his power. Whilst it's easy to rave about how hurtful his shots are it's actually the variation and technique behind them that's so impressive. Inoue has every shot in the book, with some particularly brutal body shots in his arsenal. The one perhaps clear flaw is that he can leave himself open when throwing his combinations and his hands do drop occasionally when he comes forward behind jab. The reality however is that a fighter like him can get away with that at this level.
Japanese based American born fighter Smith is a 33 year old who has been a professional for less than 3 years but was crowned the Rookie of the Year last year and and stopped 6 of his 7 opponents in 4 rounds, in fact he's stopped men in the first 2 rounds. He is aggressive, heavy handed and like many Japanese based American fighters, has a real physicality about him that a lot of Japanese national don't quite have at 140lbs or higher. Physically he's a very strong looking fighter and given his age it really is now or never.
Whilst Smnith is strong and heavy handed on the lower level of the domestic level this is a massive step up in class and whilst he's a puncher lacks the fluidity that we tend to see in Inoue. He looks more ponderous, crude and clumsy, and that could be a major problem against Inoue. He also won't find that his southpaw stance will be much of a help here, given that Inoue is also a southpaw. Instead he's going to have to put on a career best performance to just fight on an even keel with the unbeaten man from Kanagawa.
It should be no surprise that we're predicting an Inoue win, in fact a win for Smith would be one of the biggest on the Japanese domestic scene this year. Smith isn't ready for a fight against one of the best in the country, whether that's Inoue, Valentine Hosokawa, Akihiro Kondo or Hiroki Okada. Inoue on the other hand is ready to face anyone on the domestic scene, and we see him viciously stopping Smith as he takes a huge step towards getting an over-due Japanese title 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.