Internationally we don't tend to see many Japanese Lightweights make a name for themselves, however one man has done just that, Nihito Arakawa (26-6-1, 16) [荒川 仁人]. Arakawa did so by putting on an incredibly gutsy display against the then touted Omar Figueroa. Since that bout however he has faded somewhat from the attention of boxing fans and gone 2-3 in subsequent bouts, whilst also returning to Japan. Despite his current form he is still regarded as a top Japanese Lightweight and he will be looking to reclaim his seat atop the domestic table on April 16th when he faces incumbent Japanese champion Kota Tokunaga (17-2, 11) [徳永 幸大].
When it comes to Arakawa we all remember his performance against Figueroa. It was gutsy, brave and exciting. He wasn't technically the most sound fighter, the quickest, the most defensively intelligent or the biggest puncher but his heart was incredible and his toughness was off the charts. Even the bout was, in all honesty, a lost cause he refused to back down and continued to bring the fight in the later rounds, trying to secure a remarkable turn around.
Arakawa will be hoping to use that energy and toughness later this week against Tokunaga, as he attempts to become a 2-time Japanese champion, at the age of 34. He first held the national title in 2010 and vacated it in 2011 as he chased a world title.
As we all know Arakawa can be out boxed. It happened against Figueroa, it happened against Jorge Linares and more recently it happened against Rikki Naito. He does however seem like the sort of fighter who will only be beaten against men capable of going to the final bell and have the energy to stay out of a fire fight. Going to war with Arakawa is often a mistake.
The 26 year old champion comes in to the bout as on of the more questionable Japanese domestic title holders. He won the belt a year ago, stopping Yuya Sugizaki in 8 rounds, and subsequently defended it twice, scoring a come from behind stoppage win over Yuhei Suzuki and a thin decision win over Kazuhiro Nishitani, both relatively limited challengers.
The champion is a fun to watch fighter. He has very respectable power at the domestic level, throws some lovely combinations and can use his height, 5'10”, very well. Sadly for all that goes in his favour he is a seriously flawed fighter and has been stopped twice, suggesting a poor chin, and has been rather fortunate in some ways that his challengers have been poor so far. They have worn themselves out whilst Tokunaga has been patient and used his energy reserves in the second half of bouts.
With questionable toughness, a low work rate and a lack of higher level experience Tokunaga has a lot of question marks over him. He is a much improved fighter to what he once was, but he has yet to prove he's anything like the best Lightweight in Japan.
We suspect that Tokunaga will start the bout cautiously, boxing on the back foot and using his reach. Arakawa however will have the know how to slip the jab, get in Tokunaga's face and make life very difficult for the champion. As the rounds go on Arakawa's will to win will over-come Tokunaga who we think will be stopped in the second half of the bout. Tokunaga will likely show signs of being a good fighter, but simply won't be able to handle Arakawa's pressure or toughness.
This year has been a great one for boxing fans form Kyoto who have seen a number of fighters from their prefecture claim Japanese titles. One of those is Japanese Lightweight champion Kota Tokunaga (16-2, 11) who seeks the second defense of his title on December 16th when he faces first time challenger Kazuhiro Nishitani (15-3-1, 7). For Tokunaga it's a perfect way to cap off a career defining year whilst Nishitani could complete a remarkable 12 months of his own and announce himself a genuine name on the domestic scene.
Of the two men it's Tokunaga who impressed us the most. He first made a mark by stopping Yuki Miyoshi in 2 rounds back in 2012 and then, sadly, was stopped in a round by Ronald Pontillas in a result that saw Tokunaga really need to re-invent himself. Prior to the Pontillas fight Tokunaga was an aggressively minded boxer-puncher who looked for wins and looked for them early. Since then however he has been happy to go rounds whilst still being a boxer-puncher, and as a result has gone unbeaten running up 8 wins, with 4 stoppage.
Having started 8-2 (7) it would have been easy for Tokunaga to never develop his skills beyond being a puncher. Sadly for him the loss to Pontillas was his second opening round stoppage loss and whilst he could have remained a wild swinger he seemed to realise that he had to change if he was going to really progress to becoming a title holder. By developing he has become one of the stars of the WOZ gym and the Kyoto boxing scene.
Whilst he can be hurt Tokunaga has developed a style that tends to protect his weaknesses. He uses his long and lanky frame to fight at range, uses his jab excellently and allows himself to ease into bouts. He's not a quick starter but has made a habit, in recent bouts at least, of coming on strong, this has resulted in late stoppages in his last two bouts. Notably however he's not world class and was relatively lucky to retain his title last time out, when he scored a stoppage with just 70 seconds left whilst behind on the cards. On one hard he was lucky, on the other hand he showed a real will to win no matter how far behind he was.
It's fair to say that Nishitani is a much less well known fighter, despite having fought more times than the champion. The challenger, who debuted back in 2009, ran off a 7 fight winning streak before losing bouts to Tetsuya Nishinaga and Yuhei Suzuki, who was incidentally the last challenge to Tokunaga's throne. Since those losses Nishitani has gone 8-1-1 (5) whilst mixing in solid, but unspectacular domestic competition. Those bouts have seen fail to shine, despite being on a good run on paper.
Sadly for Nishitani his most recent set backs have come in recent bouts. Last December he was held to a draw by the limited Yushi Fujita whilst this past June he was beaten by Yusuke Tsukada. Since those set backs he has won once, claiming a narrow win over Junki Oura. Those results don't bode well for Nishitani given that they have all come against opponents much worse than Tokunaga, though the bouts will certainly have helped him develop as a fighter.
Whilst not a spectacular fighter Nishitani has shown an ability to go 10 rounds, he is tough and could well be a handful for Tokunaga, if the champion isn't completely on his game. Saying that however we do favour the champion to retain his title, despite some sticky moments.
The Lightweight scene in Japan isn't one of the hottest at the moment. Sadly the top domestic fighters in the country have no interest in mixing with domestic level competition and as a result the likes of Masayoshi Nakatani, Yoshitako Kato and Takahiro Ao will not be chasing the Japanese national title. That has left us with a relatively poor list of contenders domestically.
Despite the relative lack of talent, both coming through and established, we do still have some intriguing domestic match ups. One of which will take place on September 16th in Kyoto as national champion Kota Tokunaga (15-2, 10) defends his belt against fellow puncher Yuhei Suzuki (16-4, 12). Between the two of them hey have seen the final bell in 11 of 37 bouts and proven that whilst they can bang both can also be hurt. Not only can they be hurt, but they can also be hurt early with 3 of their 4 combined stoppage loses coming in the first 4 rounds.
On paper the bout is an intriguing one, though it's made even better by the fact that not only is a title on the line but there is also local bragging rights up for grabs with both men living on the island of Honshu.
As mentioned above, Tokunaga is the champion. He won the title earlier this year when he stopped Yuya Sugizaki in the 8th round for the previously vacant title. Prior to the stoppage Tokunaga was in a narrow lead though had really began to surge after taking his time to settle into the bout. It was his first title bout and he showed enough to get excited about as he showed he could box at range and deliver on the inside, with some lovely uppercuts.
The win over Sugizaki was, by far, the most meaningful of Tokunaga's career and continued a winning streak that now stands at 7 fights, with 3 by KO, following an opening round loss to upset minded Filipino Ronald Pontillas. The loss to Pontillas has been a major turning point in Tokunaga's career and since then he has developed significantly whilst starting to show signs of being more than just a heavy handed fighter.
Aged 26 and stood at 5'10” Tokunaga is a young fighter who tends to have notable size advantages over most opponents. He can use that size very well with his sharp jab and, as mentioned, he does have a lovely uppercut. Sadly however he has been blown out inside a round in both of his losses and has got serious question marks, still, over his chin. It does seem that he now boxes a bit to protect himself, though that has lead to him looking like a slow starter at times and 6 of his last 7 have gone 7 rounds or more.
Aged 25 Suzuki will be hoping it's third time lucky after two title fight defeats to former champion Yoshitaka Kato. Whilst those losses aren't shameful by any means, given that Kato is a really good fighter, they have joined by defeats to Daiki Koide and domestic journeyman Kosuke Iwashita. The loss to Iwashita really being one that stands out like a sore thumb.
With 4 losses against his name Suzuki maybe doesn't look that great on paper though he does hold a number of notable victories. These include a 2nd round KO win against Hiroshi Nakamori and a 5th round TKO win against Accel Sumiyoshi. He, like Tokunaga, is a puncher however he certainly has the edge in experience and has also had the chance to spar with OPBF champion Nakatani, a man who is very similar in terms of build to Tokunaga, albeit on a totally different level in terms of skill.
Dubbed the “Wonder Boy” Suzuki is described as a boxer-fighter on the Shinsei gym website, though we'd describe him more of a fighter. He'll come forward and look to drag Tokunaga into a fight. That would be a smart tactic given that the challenger will be giving about around 3” in height. He will have to neutralise the jab, reach and movement of Tokunaga to have any chance, though if he can land his power on the inside he could well stop the champion.
Though isn't most appealing title fight on paper but we're genuinely excited about it given the style, and flaws, of the two men involved. It's fair to say that both men can hit hard enough to stop the other and as a result we could have a shoot out. On the other hand both could be cautious knowing the other has the power to hurt them. We're hoping for a shoot out, and if that happens it could be a question of who lands first. If it ends up being boxing contest however, it's hard to see how the title changes hands here.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Tokunaga and Sugizaki, not the biggest names in Japan but one will become a champion on April 30th...
Although April ends with a trio of Japanese title title fights one really sticks out like a sore thumb. That's the Lightweight title bout between Kota Tokunaga (14-2, 9) and Yuya Sugizaki (20-9-1, 6), for a title that was vacated earlier this year by Yoshitaka Kato. This is, unfortunately, the one bout of the 3 that lacks any major interest and is one that is clearly between fighters who aren't the best in Japan. In fact it's hard to even describe them as being #3 and #4 in the country.
Saying that however it is a contest that will mean the world to both men who know that this is their chance to become a champion, their chance to make a name for themselves and their chance to get some attention.
Of the two men involved in the bout it's Tokunaga who enters as the JBC #1 ranked contender. It's a ranking that is hard to explain considering his competition which has been poor for much of his career. The one notable opponent that he has faced, Ronald Pontillas, has actually stopped him in just 154 seconds.
Admittedly part of the reason for Tokunaga's ranking is that a number of other fighters in Japan have decided to look elsewhere for bouts. That includes former champion Kato, who is said to be looking for a world title fight, Takahiro Ao, who has just signed for a world title fight, and Masayoshi Nakatani, the current OPBF champion. On the other hand however he is a very weak #1 ranked fighter based on his record.
What Tokunaga has going for him is “form”. He has won his last 6, following the loss to Pontillas, and 9 of his last 10. That sort of form has been helped by the level of his competition but it's something that few others in Japan at 135lbs can actually claim. Unfortunately for them a lot have come up short against former champion Kato in recent years. It's also worth noting that he's not 25 years old and coming into his prime and at 5'10” he's a giant for the weight.
Sadly footage of Tokunaga is scarce, other than his loss to Pontillas. In the little bit of footage we do have of Tokunaga he's a fighter who looks like he has promise. He seems to be able to use his reach and height and does show a nice jab and a good right hand. Sadly however he also shows his inexperience and a number of defensive issues that eventually forced his demise. If he can tighten up defensively he could well go on to win titles, though even there will always be questions hanging over him about his punch resistance.
Sugizaki is the #2 ranked contender for the title, and unlike his opponent he has been in with several notable fighters. The most notable of those was Jomthong Chuwatana who stopped him in 3 rounds back in 2011, prior to then he had also been stopped by Daiki Kaneko and had also lost to Koji Kawamura, who later went on to claim the OPBF Super Featherweight title. In more recent times we've seen Sugizaki come up short against Kentaro Yamada, Hiroyasu Matsuzaki and Keiichi Izumi, good but not outstanding fighters.
Whilst Sugizaki has, mostly, lost to the biggest names that he has fought he does have a couple of interesting wins on his ledger, the biggest of which came almost 3 years ago when he stopped Mitsuya Omura. This wins have come at a lower level than title level but we suspect that there some real talent there. Unfortunately footage of him is limited with the best being just a round of his bout with Keiichi Izumi. From that footage Sugizaki looked very poor and was out hustled and out fought with relative ease.
At 28 years old Sugizaki is experienced and mature though he's going to be much smaller than Tokunaga when the men get in the ring together. In fact Sugizaki is going to be giving away close to 5” in height and unless he cut the distance that is going to be very notable, especially given that Tokunaga is a very rangy and long fighter. Of course he has got experience against fighters with good jabs, such as Jomthong, but Tokunaga's is especially long and poses a host of different questions to Jomgthong's thudding and accurate one.
Looking at the little footage of both that we managed to get we have to go with Tokunaga to win. We don't think either “should” be fighting for a Japanese title on merit but given the size and style of Tokunaga he could well become a very difficult fighter to beat. If he uses his size and speed here he should be able to take a decision over Sugizaki. The one fear for the lanky youngster will be his defence though thankfully for him Sugizaki isn't likely to have the power to really bother him here.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
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.