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.
Many of the 2018 Japanese title decider bouts are ones where there is a clear favourite and a clear under-dog. One of the exceptions to that is the Super Featherweight contest where Ken Osato (14-2-1, 4) will face Satoru Sugita (14-5-1, 9) in a second meeting between the two men. In fact it's not only their second bout, but also their second bout to decide who gets a domestic title fight. Last time out it was Osato who narrowly over-come Sugita, claiming a split decision last December but Sugita will certainly be looking for revenge. If Sugita does manage to get revenge he will secure his third title shot, whilst Osato will be looking to get his second.
Aged 24 Osato is younger fighter and he's had mixed success since his 2012 debut. He would begin his career 4-0 (3) before losing in a round to Shohei Fujimoto, suggesting that he wasn't the toughest out there. Since that loss however he has gone 10-1-1 (1) with his only defeat coming to Masaru Sueyoshi earlier this year in a Japanese title fight. That bout saw Osato losing in 8 rounds to the champion after dropping Sueyoshi earlier in the bout. In terms of notable results he has not only got the win over Sugita but also victories over Retsu Kosaka, Sho Nagata, and a draw with veteran Kento Matsushita.
Osato has impressed in his performances against the most notable names he's faced. He's technically good, accurate, fast and sharp. His lack of power is an issue, but he's never going to be a puncher and has developed a style that is based around his jab, controlling distance with smart footwork and creating angles to land both his jab and his right hand. He's very much an outside fighter who plays safety first, but does manage to come in well when he doubles up the jab. He's solid, and go on to win a title down the line, but he really does need to develop some extra bang in his shots. If, or when, he does that he could be very hard to beat at Japanese domestic level.
Although unknown outside of Japan Sugita is pretty well known in the country and has genuinely faced a number of notable fighters. His first loss was in 2011, when he was stopped by Ryuto Kyoguchi the older brother of Hiroto Kyoguchi, his second loss was in 2013 to future Japanese champion Kosuke Saka, with his following two losses both coming to the then Japanese king Kenichi Ogawa. His most recent defeat was the loss to Osato. As for wins he holds notable victories over Ryota Kajiki and Tsuyoshi Tojo. In the ring Sugita is a technically solid boxer-puncher. He's got a sharp jab, follows it up with a good straight and applies pressure behind his jab. He also hits hard enough to get respect from his opponents, which Osato can't do.
At his best Sugita is a match for pretty much any current Japanese Super Featherweight. He gave Ogawa fits in both of their bouts. His jab is a nightmare to defend against and his timing on the right hand is brilliant, especially when he throws it as a counter. Given his loss last year to Osato we expect him to be busier than he was, to start faster and not let Osato get a foothold to build off. He has the power and the better competition and will be determined to get revenge over Osato.
This has the potential to be a frustrating bout though we suspect both men will want to put on a show, and will do so in a high speed chess match. There's unlikely to be much inside fighter, neither seem to be that willing to fight on the inside in general, but we could well see a lot of jabs with both looking to follow the jab with a right hand. Sugita has the edge in power but Osato has the faster feet and it could be that foot work will be the differenc. We however suspect that Sugita's heavier hands will help him land the more eye catching shots as he takes a close decision over Osato and secures a shot at the Japanese belt during the 2019 Champion Carnival.
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.
Despite the fact there is still a lot of boxing left in 2018 we are heading to the end of the year. That means that we get to see the Japanese boxing scene decide it's title contenders for the next Champion Carnival. The Super Flyweight bout at the next Champion Carnival will feature either Yuta Matsuo (14-3-1, 7) or Rey Orais (20-17-2, 5) challenging for the title, with the two men meeting on October 12th decide who will be getting a shot at the gold.
Of the two men Matsuo is the one who has been active and mixing at Japanese domestic domestic level for a while. In fact the 29 year old from the World Sport Boxing gym fought for the interim Japanese Flyweight title last year, and pushed Masayuki Kuroda hard in tough 10 round loss. Since then he has bounced back with 2 notable domestic wins, over-coming Kazuto Nakane and Ryoji Fukunaga, whilst moving up in weight. Notably the loss to Kuroda is Matsuo's only defeat since a split decision loss to Ardian Diale in May 2015.
Entering the bout Matsuo is #1 ranked JBC fighter and although the ranking is high, given how stiff the division is. Despite that he is a capable fighter. He's defensively solid, technically sound and is an intelligent fighter who applies pressure behind his guard and smart footwork. Sadly he's not that most active in the ring or the hardest hitter, but he is consistent through the fight. He's a bit 1-paced and 1 dimensional but at this level have a good single dimension can be enough to be a domestic contender.
Orais is a Japanese based Filipino fighter who, at the age of 34, is in the twilight of his in ring career and is currently a trainer at the Flare Yamagami gym. He fought regularly between 2000 and 2008, facing the likes of Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Bert Batawang and Denkaosan Kaovichit before taking a 10 year break from fighting that ended this year, with a win over Ken Achiwa. That win helped secure Orais a #2 ranking with the JBC, but is does mean that he has fought just 6 rounds in the 10 years coming into this bout. In his prime he certainly had mixed results, with a less than stellar record. Despite his record he did mix at a good level, and his win over Achiwa showed their was still life in the old dog.
Despite Orais being inactive for a decade prior to the bout with Achiwa he really impressed, showing no signs of ring rust and instead looking sharp, quick and confident. He wasn't particularly accurate but out worked, out fought and out boxed Achiwa whilst showing good movement and intelligent boxing, as well as a sense of flare and charisma. That flare can be seen in some of his more wild shots, but it's obvious that Orais can still fight, and do so at a good pace.
In some ways this is the textbook boxing of Matsuo against the wild and exciting Orais. We expect those styles to be a mess together, but an interesting mess. Matsuo should have the youth, size and hunger to out box Orais, but he will almost certainly be caught by some of the unpredictable shots of Orais.
Although Orais will have moments it's hard to see anything but a decision win for Matsuo, who's intelligent and consistency will be enough to secure the win and his place in the 2019 Champion Carnival.
The Japanese scene today is very much one focused on young fighters and prospects, with many of the old guard having retired. The are however some of the old guard continuing their careers, two of whom are set to face off on October 12th in a Japanese Light Flyweight title eliminator, with the winner to get a shot at the title next year.
The fighters in question are 38 year old Kenichi Horikawa (37-15-1, 11) and 35 year old Koji Itagaki (18-12-3, 7). Between them they are 73 years old with a combined record of 55-27-4 (18) and 566 career rounds, and both know that this really could be their last notable bout if they lose. If they win however they open up the door to another big fight in the first half of 2019. Not only are they experienced but they know each other, having had a great battle against each other in early 2017.
Of the two men Horikawa is the older, more experienced man and the one who has hit the higher highs. He is a former Japanese Light Flyweight champion, having won the title in September 2015 when he beat Shin Ono, and actually beat Itagaki in February 2017 to claim the WBO Asia Pacific title. As well those wins he has mixed against great competition, losing to the likes of Akira Yaegashi, Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa, Kenshiro, Noknoi Sitthiprasert and Tetsuya Hisada, who he is 2-1 against.
In the ring Horikawa is a rough around the edge fighter who can box but often elects to fight, biting down on the gum shield and going toe-to-toe. This can make his bouts exciting, but they can also become sloppy and messy, and his third bout with Hisada became a bit of a bloody mess after several hard head clashes.
Itagaki's record looks dire, he has won just over 50% of his bouts and at 35 is getting no better. The reality however is that he too has been matched hard. He would fight to a draw with future world champions Yu Kimura and Tatsuya Fukuhara and suffer losses to Suguru Muranaka, Warlito Parrenas, Rey Loreto, Horikawa and the aforementioned Hisada, in a Japanese title fight earlier this year. It's worth noting that he has also scored some notable wins, including a stoppage over a then debuting Rangsan Chayanram, aka Palangpol CP Freshmart, and wins over Benezer Alolod and Koki Ono.
Like Horikawa we tend to see Itagaki getting dragged into brawls. He's a better boxer than Horikawa, has good foot work and speed, even at his age, and uses a busy jab whilst on the move. He showed against Hisada that even in his mid-30's he's a bundle of energy. However he can be made to stand his ground and fight fire with fire. It makes for great action but his lack of power is an issue when that happens.
When these two get in the ring on Thursday we suspect we'll see an energetic display from Itagaki, who will use his movement and try to avoid getting involved up close with Horikawa. Eventually however the fresh feet of Itagaki will slow and allow Horikawa his inside fight. When that happens the crowd will be given some thrilling action. The real question however is how long can Itagaki bounce around the ring. If he can do it for more than 4 rounds he should take the decision, but if Horikawa can cause a fire fight early on then he has a real chance of doing enough to take decision.
We suspect Itagaki should be able to take the decision, and avenge his previous defeat to Horikawa, but he will have to work incredibly hard for it.
*Please note this super early preview is due to the fact that the October 12th card has a staggering 6 different Japanese title eliminators so we are posting them a little earlier than usual.
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.