The Japanese Light Welterweight scene has slowly developed into something quite interesting recently, with not only a handful of established fighters at the weight, but also a good crop of rising hopefuls. This coming Saturday we see a clash of established fighter and rising hopeful colliding for the Japanese national title.
The bout in question will see 37 year old champion Valentine Hosokawa (24-6-3, 11) attempt to make his third defense of the title as he takes on mandatory challenger Koki Inoue (12-0, 10), the cousin of Naoya and Takuma Inoue. For Hosokawa this will be his 34th career bout, in a career that began back in 2006, and his 7th bout at title level. For Inoue this will be his first title bout, and comes less than 42 months after his professional debut. Not only that but is a very clear step up for the challenger against a very experienced and talented champion.
Hosokawa, for those who haven't seen him or followed him through his career, is a real physical freak. At the age of 37 he has an insane work rate and engine, his style is that of an aggressive swarmer, who doesn't hit hard but hits often and typically our works opponents. Although he's had sme pretty decent unbeaten runs he is currently in the best form of his career, with wins over Quaye Peter, Koichi Aso, Vladimir Baez and Takashi Inagaki. Even his most recent losses, to Noriaki Sato and Hiroki Okada, were very competitive decisions, and he showed he was still a damn good fighter in both of those set backs.
Hosokawa has come through the ranks the hard way. Built his success on experience and not seen losses as a reason to give in. He's come a really long way since winning the 2008 Rookie of the Year, at Lightweight, and bounced back well from two stoppage losses in OPBF title bouts, to Shinya Iwabuchi and Min Wook Kim. Even in his stoppage losses he showed incredible toughness and determination, before eventually being ground down by heavier handed fighters. Sadly though, we do wonder what his body has left, and he turns 38 just days after this fight. It could be that Hosokawa will be the next victim of father time.
Inoue, like his cousins, is a product of Shingo Inoue's training and like Naoya he's a strong, powerful fighter with skills. His performances at times have been excellent, but at others he has not really shined, and sometimes that's not been his fault. For example his fight with Cristiano Aoqui ended due to an injury suffered by Aoqui. When he's looked good however he has looked sensational with great combinations, movement, and sharp punching. Sadly his last performance showed little of that, as he put in a tame effort in a Japanese title challenger decider bout against Marcus Smith. Inoue would beat Smith, but looked poor doing so, before revealing he had taken several injuries into the bout. Injuries that likely played a part in his poor performance.
At 26 years old Inoue is coming into his physical prime. He's a clear talent, despite not being on the same level as his better known cousins, but this is a huge step up in class. He's gone from fighting the likes of Aoqui and Smith to fighting the Japanese champion, a former OPBF title contender and a man who is a nightmare to fight with his experience and work rate. If he's still carrying niggling injuries as well this could be too much, at the wrong time.
Whilst he is stepping up, we do favour Inoue to win. We think he's the stronger and faster man, he's certainly not had the miles on the clock Hosokawa's had. However he will have to work harder for this bout than for anything other since he turned professional, he needs to focus on controlling the ring, landing body shots and tiring Hosokawa with smart boxing. If he gets into a war that will not bode well for the challenger, even if he does hit harder, as Hosokawa will rely on his experience of a war, and come out on top.
This is a major test for both men, and should tell us a lot about Inoue's potential and what Hosokawa has left in his legs. It's an interesting bout, and a real test for the third member of the Inoue clan. But a test that he has the ability to pass, with the right game plan.
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.