The Japanese Middleweight scene isn't known as something too exciting, but right now it's probably as interesting as it's ever been. There's a relative lack of depth, and very few really interesting bouts to be made, but those top domestic level bouts are really interesting match ups.
One of the fighters that really does standout as a must watch fighter on the domestic scene is national Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako (10-0, 10), who will be looking to make his second defense on March 2nd, when he takes on mandatory challenger Shuji Kato (10-1-1, 6). For Kato this will be his first title fight, but also a huge step up in class for him.
Takesako is from the World of Sport Boxing Gym, the same gym as the recent world title challenger Takeshi Inoue. He turned professional back in 2015 and rose through the ranks quickly, whilst leaving destruction behind him. His first 6 bouts took place over 21 months and saw him need just 12 rounds to stop all 6 foes. Those wins lead to him getting a Japanese title eliminator in late 2017, and he made the most of his opportunity as he blasted out Shoma Fukumoto in the opening round. That win lead to him facing Japanese champion Hikaru Nishida in early 2018, and Nishida was also blasted out inside a round.
Since the winning Takesako has fought twice. His first opponent following his title win was tough Thai Chaiwat Mueanphong, who managed to survive into the 7th round with Takesako before eventually succumbing to his power. He then defended his title against a game and aggressive Sanosuke Sasaki, who came to win but was stopped in the second round.
Takesako is, as he record suggests, a big puncher. His power is legitimate and when he lands clean he hurts fighters. He has devastating blows to both head and body and surprising hand speed for such a puncher. Where he perhaps looks limited is in terms of his naturally size, he's only about 5'10" which is tiny for a Middleweight, and in his recklessness. When he feels he has his man hurt he can leave himself a little bit too open. Another issue is his defense is quite basic. He's essentially a puncher-boxer, who appears to be able to take a shot as well as landing his own dynamite leather.
Whilst Takesako has been on our radar for a while the same can't really be said of the 28 year old challenger. Kato, a southpaw from Tokyo, made his debut in December 2014 fighting just above the Super Middleweight limit, stopping his foe inside a round. He would drop down in weight for his second bout, in July 2015, and take a decision win. After having won his first 2 bouts Kato would suffer his first loss, being taken out by Altin Pepa in September 2015. His return to the ring would also end in disappointment as he was held to a draw by Agoo Masaru. Since that draw however, Kato has built himself a decent record, winning his last 8 bouts. Those 8 bouts have sene him being crowed the 2017 Middleweight Rookie of the Year, and becoming the mandatory for the Japanese title, following a split decision win over Hikaru Nishida last November, in what is by far and away his best win to date.
Watching footage of Kato we see a rangy fighter, who uses his lead hand to control distance, pawing at his opponent, moving backwards and trying to lure opponents in. It's not a pretty style, but it is an effective one at the lower levels. When he comes forward he doesn't appear to have much power on his shots, but they are thrown from some awkward angles. His technique often looks really poor, bug his size seems to allow him to get a real amount of weight behind his blows, which do do damage.
Whilst Kato has been having success, and will tower over Takesako, we really don't see what he has to offer when he goes up against Takesako. We suspect that Kato will manage to frustrate and annoy the champion, but won't be able to get Takesako's respect. We expect to see the champion begin to slip the lead hand of Kato and then pound away on the inside, stopping the challenger in the first 3 or 4 rounds, depending on how tough Kato is, and how well he can survive the power of the champion.
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.
Through out history the Japanese Middleweight division has really lacked in terms of quality fighters,interesting match ups and real history. There have been a few talented fighters make their mark, and some really entertaining fights, but on the whole those have been few and far between. Thankfully however they have become more frequent in recent years, and we seem to be having a generation of exciting Japanese Middleweights, lead by Ryota Murata on the world stage.
On the domestic level the last decade has had thrillers like Tadashi Yuba's war with Carlos Linares, Makoto Fuchigami's win over Koji Sato, Fuchigami's loss to Tomohiro Ebisu, Ebisu's loss to current Japanese champion Hikaru Nishida (17-8-1, 8). We believe we're set for another thriller this coming Saturday as Nishida defends his title against hard hitting Kazuto Takesako (7-0, 7), who's 1-round win over Shoma Fukumoto last year was another all-action Japanese Middleweight bout.
Of the two men it's the 30 year old Nishida who is the more established fighter. He made his almost a decade ago, and certainly struggled to find his footing in the sport, in fact he was 4-5-1 (1) after his first 10 bouts. Since that poor start he has gone 13-3 (7), and avenged one of those losses. That 16 bout run has seen him defeat the likes of Kazuhiro Hidaka, Makoto Fuchigami, Ratchasi Sithsaithong, Akio Shibata and Tomohiro Ebisu. He might not be anywhere close to a world title fight, but in the last 3 years he has beaten 3 fighters who have held Oriental honours, and 3 who have held Japanese titles. A solid set of wins that really does show how much his career has turned around and why he was once the unified Japanese and OPBF champion.
In the ring Nishida has a style that makes for good fights. He trusts his toughness, his chin and his work rate. He brings a lot of pressure, using his high guard to cut the distance, before going to work big time up close. He's not the smoothest, the most powerful or the quickest, but he's an absolute handful with his constant pressure and his refusal to back off. At domestic level he is a handful and he hits harder than his record suggests, with solid hands, as opposed to explosive ones. Every shot he lands is solid, hurtful and chips away at a fighter, whilst his style is mentally draining on every opponent as he comes forward relentlessly.
The challenger is a 26 year old who only turned professional in the summer of 2015, following a 41 fight amateur career. He was ear marked for success from the off, and impressed with quick blow outs against domestic fighters like Tomoyuki Yokota and Elfelos Vega. In 2016 Takesako fought 3 times, for a combined 7 rounds as he blasted out Thai Tiendaen Chaiyonggym, Japanese fighter Hiroshi Ohashi and Korean visitor Kyung Joon Ahn. He was impressing, but doing so in way that seemed to be expected of him. It wasn't until last November that he really showed what he was capable of, as he stopped Fukumoto in a Japanese title eliminator.
Defensively Takesako has been shown to be less than fantastic, but offensively he is a machine. He's naturally heavy handed, not needing to put significant wind up into his shots, his footwork enables him to get into position excellently, and he switches between head and body brilliantly. Despite being an ultra offensive fighter he has great composure in the pocket,seems able to find holes in opponents defenses and measures distance really well. It should be noted that we have seen him rocked, with Ahn almost dropping him in their 2016 bout, but other than that he has looked physically solid.
Given that both men bring pressure, look to have a fight and have aggressive styles we can't see how this bout can be anything but thrilling. We favour Takesako's power and youth over Nishida's tight guard and more proven stamina, but the only thing that is clear about this contest is that the action will be intense, hard hitting and fought up close, with both men letting their hands go at will. Nishida is tough, but we see him cracking against the power and relentlessness of the challenger in an all action war.
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.