A year ago Japan's Takeshi Inoue (15-1-1, 9) was on the verge of the biggest fight of his career, a bout with WBO Light Middleweight champion Jaime Munguia. Although he lost to Munguia he impressed with his heart and determination and this coming Saturday he's back in the ring seeking the first defense of his second reign as the WBO Asia Pacific Light Middleweight title, as he takes on China's Cheng Su (14-2-1, 8). The situation couldn't be much more different to the one he found himself in last January, but a win here keeps him in the mix for another world title fight, whilst a loss is unthinkable for the 30 year from Tokyo.
Inoue, for those who missed the Munguia bout, is a rugged, aggressive fighter who comes in pretty square on and looks to make a fight of things. Early in his career he did seem to be more of a boxer-fighter but as his career has progressed he has become more and more of a pressure fighter, often abandoning his jab to ply forward behind his guard and get things up close. This sort of change seemed to happen in 2016 or 2017, and was particularly notable when he beat Akinori Watanabe. That was a clear win for Inoue but seemed like he could have made it far easier for himself had he made the most of his jab. Whatever the reason for the change it's not been bad for his career and since beating Watanabe we've seen Inoue unify the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, fight for a world title and then recapture the WBO Asia Pacific belt.
Although the bull strong Inoue lost to Munguia his record is actually solid, at least in regards to the regional scene. Wins over Akinori Watanabe, Koshinmaru Saito, Riku Nagahama, Ratchasi Sithsaithong, Yuji Nonaka and Patomsuk Pathompothong give him wins almost every notable fighter on the regional scene at 154lbs, barring current Japanese champion Hironobu Matsunaga. Though of course there is a gulf between the regional scene at the weight and the world level, which he'll be hoping to mix with once again later in the year.
As for Cheng Su the Chinese challenger, who is also 30, is much less well-known and well established. The southpaw from Shenyang stands at 5'11 and will be fighting outside of China for the first time in his career. Going through his record it's hard to pick out anything noteworthy, other than a win last May over Filipino Junjesie Ibgos, who used to be a Featherweight and is 0-4 outside of the Philippines. Footage of him however is more worrying than his competition.
Watching Su we see a rather slow, lumbering fighter who technically looks "alright" but lacks the tools needed to even make a legitimate mark on the regional scene. He seems to understand the basics doesn't always put them into practice. He's slow, lacks real snap on his punches, and when he throws his straight left hand his defenses completely fall apart. He follows opponents around the ring and looks like he's fortunate to be fighting at such a low level that his mistakes have rarely been punished, except in his 2017 loss to Nikolozi Gviniashvili.
On paper this might look like an interesting match up, but we weren't joking when we said Inoue can't afford to lose here. His entire career would be discredited with a loss to someone as limited as Su, who he really should be dealing with inside the distance. We expect to see Inoue closing the gap between the two men, working away on the inside and stopping Su relatively early on.
Anything but a stoppage for Inoue should be viewed as a disappointment.
Prediction - TKO5 Inoue
Over the last few years Kadoebi have been putting on some fantastic shows under their Slugfest banner, and having their fighters take risks. They have regularly shown a belief in their fighters and have pushed them to be tested, delivering some excellent bouts in the process. On December 16th however we see a blip in that form, as OPBF Light Middleweight champion Akinori Watanabe (38-7-1, 32) gets an ultra-rare gimmie, and defends his belt against Thai foe Sitthidet Banti (12-5, 6).
We're not fans of easy bouts for anyone, but if someone deserves it probably is the 34 year old Watanabe, who has had more wars than most and taken real punishment in bouts against the likes of Toshio Arikawa, Takeshi Inoue, Magomed Kurbanov and Nobuyuki Shindo in the last few years. The hard exciting Watanabe had to travel to Korea to win the title, stopping Jung Kyoung Lee in August, and appears to be having what is very much a straight forward homecoming defense.
For those who haven't followed Watanabe's career it has long been a case of ups and downs. He has been stopped in 6 of his 7 losses, and with 32 wins inside the distance it's often been a case of someone being taken out. In fact only 1 of Watanabe's first 21 bouts required the judges, and that was his debut! He's fun, exciting, aggressive and although he has tempered that aggression as he's matured, but is still very much a front foot fighter who doesn't want to let opponents off the hook when he hurts them. The tempering of his aggressive tendencies have helped him make up for a questionable chin, but even now, almost 16 years after his debut, he's not a hard man to catch, he has just learned to ride shots better.
The 28 year old challenger, who turns 29 less than a week after this bout, made his pro debut back in 2014, losing a decision to the talented Atchariya Tor Chantaroj and since then has lost to every notable opponent he's faced, other than a shot Saddam Kietyongyuth who he squeaked a 4 round decision against last year. Notably those losses have included a 10 round shut out, at Lightweight, to Xiangxiang Sun and more recently a KO loss in Japan to Takuma Takahashi, who was 3-0 at the time.
It's the loss to Takahashi that really stands out, as it came in Sitthidet's only previous bout in Japan and was on a few months ago. Technically Takahashi is a better boxer than Watanabe, he's more patient, sets things up properly and applies his pressure in a more text book manner than the marauding Watanabe. The reality however is that the slow and careful style of Takahashi allowed that fight to go 6 rounds despite the Thai offering little, and looking to just shoot back counters. When Takahashi put his foot on the gas the Thai had no answers.
We expect this to be a short and brutally quick win for Watanabe, who shouldn't need more than 3 rounds to see Sitthidet and retain his belt.
It Watanabe loses this will genuinely go down as one of the biggest upsets in a Japanese ring this year, and that's despite Watanabe being known as a big of a glass cannon.
Prediction- TKO2 Watanabe
The 154lb division in Japan hasn't really been a particularly strong one, but it can still be a very interesting one, and the rare times it is relatively strong we do get some great fights. In 2018 we had an amazing example of that as Akinori Watanabe and Nobuyuki Shindo knocked lumps out of each other in a brilliant 10 round draw. Not all fights for the title are that good but when they are good, they tend to really be sensational.
On November 2nd we'll see bout between once beaten fighters, in what could be another instant classic for the title.
In one corner we will have new champion Hironobu Matsunaga (15-1, 9), who won the title in May when he stopped Shindo, and in the other corner will be the once touted Koki Koshikawa (9-1, 6), who is getting his first shot at the title.
Aged 32 Matsunaga is an example of what hard work, determination and a refusal to buckle after your first loss can do. In 2014 he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, losing to Yuki Beppu in 2 rounds. That was at Welterweight. He then moved up in weight and has gone 9-0 (6) whilst notching notable victories over the likes of Hisao Narita, Sanosuke Sasaku, Je Ni Ma, Koshinmaru Saito and most recently Shindo. Despite the loss to Beppu in 2014 Matsunaga's career has easily over-shadowed the "Kyushu Tyson's" so far.
Matsunaga's success is impressive but he's had that success is telling. He's developed into a very good fighter, and gone about his work without too much fuss. He typically keeps things simple, and makes the most of his southpaw jab. There's nothing complicated about him, but he's persistent, has under-rated power and comes to fight. His left hand is solid and he always looks to get on the front foot and make opponents work to create their space. His head movement is smart and when he puts his foot on the gas he can go through the gears very quickly. The telling thing about him going through the gears is his style doesn't really change, he just does more and speeds things up, rather than taking significantly more risks.
Matsunaga's persistent front foot pressure, constant search for gaps and accurate output is a nightmare to go up against, and to beat him you really need to get his respect. He's not faced many punchers, and it will be interesting to see him in with one, but against opponents unable to hurt him he is a nasty fighter and is often all over his opponents.
At 28 years old Koshikawa is in the middle of his physical prime. Sadly though many had expected much more of him, much earlier in his career due to a solid reputation from his days in the amateur ranks. He turned pro more than 5 years ago and the hope was that Celes Kobayashi would guide him quickly through the ranks. Instead Koshikawa took more than 24 months out of the ring following a 2015 loss to Koshinmaru Saito, in what was Koshikawa's 5th bout and came just 15 months after his debut. Since his return to the ring he has scored notable wins over Daisuke Sakamoto and former OPBF champion Ratchasai Sithsaithong, whilst stringing together 5 wins, 4 by stoppage.
Sadly not a lot of Koshikawa footage is out there, though his win over Sakamoto was a good example of what he can do. Like Matsunaga he keeps things simple. He looks at his best when he's on the back foot, luring opponents in and setting the distance with his jab, however he can come forward and pressure pretty well when he feels in control. His right hand is a solid weapon and although he's not a 1-punch KO artist, he does chip away with his big shots and wears opponents down. He's still a bit reckless and rough around the edges, but physically strong and not an easy out at this level.
Given the fact that both men like to come forward we're expecting this to be a very fan friendly bout. Both are confident fighters, both are aggressive and both are pretty basic, which should give us a lot of trading and exchanges. The key issue is a question over who is the stronger man physically. If that's Matsunaga, which we suspect, then the fight could be a very close quarters war, and we wouldn't be surprised to see Koshikawa fighting off the ropes in a real under-rated war. If Koshikawa can force Matsunaga back, the fight really does change and we suspect his longer reach will come into play, and he will take a hard fought decision with his right hand really being used as a barge pole on the southpaw champion.
Prediction - UD10 Matsunaga
The main event of November's Dynamic Glove will be a Japanese Light Middleweight title bout as Hironobu Matsunaga defends his belt against Koki Koshikawa, interesting the winner of that bout will know their next opponent before their own fight. That's because the show's chief support bout is a Japanese Light Middleweight title eliminator pitting former champion Nobuyuki Shindo (20-5-2, 8) against Yuto Shimizu (13-4-2, 5), and the winners will be expected to face off at the Champion Carnival next year.
On paper this doesn't scream excitement or a great fight, but in reality both fighters are under-rated and, with the right dance partners, they can make for some sensational fights due to their flaws. This is seen most notable with Shindo who has been in his share of fantastic over the last few years.
The 33 year old Shindo is a physical freak at 6'1" and has the added benefit of being a southpaw, a very gangly and long southpaw. He's not a particularly big puncher, but he lands from really unusual angles and is a very relaxed fighter who can take punishment, and can dish it out. His 2018 bouts with Ryosuke Maruki and Akinori Watanabe, particularly the Watanabe one, were fantastic and showed what can happen when he's forced into a fight. Sadly his effort last time out, when he lost the Japanese Light Middleweight title to Matsunaga, was disappointing and looked like he was on the way out, but this fight will make it clear what he has left in the tank.
At his best Shindo looks to use his size and box behind a busy jab, using his legs and keeping distance between him an dhis opponent. Although not a powerful fighter he does throw crisp shots, and his straight left hand is a genuinely damaging punch whilst his jab is a shot that can control fights. Sadly though he can struggle on the inside and if fighters get at him they can legitimately get to him and break him down.
The 31 year old Yuto Shimizu will be viewing this bout as a opportunity to secure his second title fight, following a loss in a Japanese title fight in 2016 to Yuki Nonaka. Since his loss to Nonaka we've not seen Shimizu being active, with only 3 bouts, but he has proven his value with 2 excellent bouts, a win and a loss, against Charles Bellamy. Prior to facing Nonaka we had also been impressive by Shimizu thanks to wins over the likes of Hikaru Nishida, a win that has aged wonderfully, Toru Chiba, Takehiro Shimokawara and Yosuke Kirima. Those may not be big wins outside of Japan but in Japan they are very good domestic level wins.
Shimizu, like Shindo, is a freak at the weight with a very wiry frame. His punching isn't as crisp as Shindo's, and in fact his hands look really slow, but he's tough, has more power on his shots than Shindo and seems more consistent, with his overall output. He has more to him than his jabs and straights and has a capable, if not incredible inside game. Where he struggles however is that he looks to be a slow starter and in both of his bouts with Charles Bellamy he looked really slow to get going. When he got up to speed he never looked sensation, but looked consistent and was willing to go war.
To us this feels like one of those bouts where Shindo has the type of opponent to look fun with. Shimizu is flawed, very flawed, but comes forward and will be looking to force the fight to be fought on the inside. Early on that won't work and Shindo will make the most of his edge in speed, though as the bout goes on we see Shimizu getting more success, getting closer and out working Shimizu with heavier shots. It's just a case of whether he can start that charge early enough and whether he can keep up with Shimdo's movement. Out guess is it will be too little too late from Shimizu, and Shindo will be the one getting a chance to reclaim the Japanese title next year.
Prediction - SD8 Shindo
Earlier this year Korean fighter Jung Kyoung Lee (7-2-1, 3) scored a career best win, stopping Samuel Colomban to claim the OPBF Light Middleweight title. He returns to the ring later this month to make his first defense of that title, as he takes on Japanese veteran slugger Akinori Watanabe (37-7-1, 31) in what could be a really fan friendly contest, and the next step on the rebuilding process of Korean boxing.
Lee was a former martial artist who turned to boxing in 2017 and despite suffering a couple of early career setbacks, stumbling to 3-2-1 after 6 bouts, he has really come into his own with a 4 fight winning run. That winning run hasn't just had 1 good win over Colomban, but also includes a notable decision win over Tonghui Li, in what was a very oddly scored bout. Those two wins are two of the best of any active Korean boxer and shows that the man from Seoul is getting better.
Although improving Lee does still have a lot of areas that he needs to iron out. He's not the quickest, the biggest hitter or a particularly smooth fighter. He is improving, and rounding off, but there is a lot of work left for him to do. What he does have is a good tank, good physical strength and a gritty toughness. He'll never been a naturally smooth fighter, but he appears to be a hard worker, and as far as the Korean scene is concerned he actually comes across as a bit more intelligent than many Korean fighters, countering and using a bit of lateral movement. Whilst he does have some intelligent aspects he is very much a left hand happy type of fighter, who doesn't make the most of his southpaw stance.
Whilst Lee is on the way up it's hard to really know where Watanabe's career currently stands. The heavy handed Japanese fighters was long regarded as a glass cannon, but in recent years has shored up his defense and began to show some more durability, to go along with his attacking prowess. The 34 year old southpaw has been a professional for over 15 years and has gone on to achieve notable success. He has not only won the Japanese, OPBF and PABA titles at Welterweight but also claimed the Japanese "interim" title at Light Middleweight, a title he vacated to pursue this title bout.
Watanabe is a somewhat crude, but powerful, hard hitting and exciting fighter, willing to take one to land one. That mentality saw him suffering 3 straight stoppage losses in 2007-2008, but since then and another stoppage loss in 2010. Since then he has only really been stopped in wars, losing to Toshio Arikawa and Magomed Kurbanov, with that stoppage coming from facial swelling. His biggest issue is still his defense,
and in recent years his face has had a reputation for swelling badly, but seems to feel his offense is his best defense. Not always an effective tactic, as we saw when Takehi Inoue bullied him around the ring, but something that does see him playing to his strengths.
The experience and power edges both sit firmly with Watanabe, though he is the older man and is certainly the more damaged fighter. He's also on the road, fighting in Korea and the naturally smaller man. Although Watanabe is a live under-dog we do see him coming up short against the younger and hungrier Korean hopeful.
One thing to add is that this bout is taking place a rescheduled date. Originally it was supposed to take place much earlier in the year but Lee suffered a training injury forcing it be rescheduled for August 11th. This has seen Watanabe age a bit more, though we suspect there is still plenty of life in the veteran.
Prediction - UD12 Lee
This coming Saturday we'll see former world title challenger Takeshi Inoue (13-1-1, 7) return to the ring for the first time since his January fight with Jaime Munguia. In the opposite corner to the once beaten Inoue will be Thai visitor Patomsuk Pathompothong (38-10-1-1, 24), with the two men battling for the WBO Asia Pacific Light Middleweight title that Inoue had previously held.
Whilst it's great to see Inoue back in the ring, it is hard to imagine him really being tested here against a very limited Thai foe who has rarely managed to even put on a credible performance outside of his homeland.
As everyone who saw Inoue's fight against Munguia will be aware the Japanese fighter is a rugged, aggressive, tough come forward fighter. He's a bit of a stereotypical Japanese brawler, with a high out put, a big energy rate and a fairly basic come forward style, relying on his physical strength and toughness. Prior to facing Munguia we had seen Inoue unify the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles and he had clearly been the #1 in the region. The only real signs of doubt had come in his narrow win over Yuki Nonaka in April 2018. That bout showed Inoue had a huge will to win, but was able to be out boxed, out thought and was incredibly basic, with Nonaka tagging him at range with ease.
Stood at just 5'8" Inoue is a very short Light Middleweight, but he is built like a freak, with wide shoulders and a very powerful frame. His strength doesn't transfer to huge punching power, but he has been able to physically force opponents where he wants, including very good domestic fighters like Akinori Watanabe and Koshinmaru Saito.
The Thai on the other hand is a 35 year old who has gone from 26-1-1 (17) to 36-10-1-1 in the last 6 or so years, with losses coming in all 6 of his bouts away from home during that time. Whilst some of those were close, including a defeat to Takayuki Hosokawa in 2013 and Kuok Kun Ng in 2017, 4 were stoppages, including 2 to Akihiro Kondo and another to Ik Yang, not exactly killers row. He's also suffered losses at home to the likes of Japan's Hironobu Matsunaga and Uzbek prospect Dostonbek Turdiev.
At his best Patomsuk, also known as Komsan Polsan, was fighting at 140lbs and he wasn't a big guy at that weight. He's not a natural Light Middleweight and that is a major issue here, with Inoue being so strong and aggressive, Polsan won't have the power to back up the Japanese fighter or the technical ability to neutralise him. instead we're expecting him to be fighting in survival mode almost from the off.
This bout isn't really deserving of a title. It's a glorified home coming for Inoue and the only thing that takes it past a few rounds is his lack of 1-punch power. Despite that his constant mauling and aggression will mean that fans won't need to wait long for him break down the Thai, and secure a rather straight forward, and early, stoppage win.
Prediction- TKO4 Inoue
We get the first OPBF title fight of the year on January 19th with Korea playing host to an OPBF Light Middleweight title bout, fill the void left by Takeshi Inoue, who fights Jamie Mungia for the WBO title a week later. The match up will see little known Korean fighter Jung Kyoung Lee (6-2-1, 2) [이중경] battling against Australian based Cameroonian fighter Samuel Colomban (25-10-1, 11), in the first ever event held under the "Annihilation" banner.
The Korean fighter has been a professional since early 2017 and has risen through the ranks rather quickly, a surprise given he lost on debut and was 3-2 when he had his first bout of note. His first big bout came in December 2017 when he fought to a technical draw with In Duck Seo, in a bout for the Korean Light Middleweight title. Prior to the bout with Seo being stopped we did get a chance to see Lee as an aggressive, exciting southpaw, who was technically crude but looked confident and like a solid puncher. Sadly for Lee that bout was stopped following a pretty brutal clash of heads, but since then he has won the Korean title, thanks to a very late stoppage over Se Ho Joo in April 2014.
Since beating Joo for the title Lee has fought twice, scoring a huge win over Chinese fighter Tonghui Li in October and Nakhon Muensa in November. In those bouts he did look more patient, less reckless and less open than he did against Seo. He was lucky to get the decision against the Chinese fighter, but showed his toughness and desire, taking the fight to Hui. He had developed his lead hand since the earlier fights, but was still pretty crude.
The 34 year old Colomban has been a professional since 2006 and has had a long and hard career, but has proven to be a genuinely tough fighter. He first made his mark in the amateurs, competing at the 2006 Commonwealth games, and would go on to face a who's who of the Australian scene, facing the likes of Ryan Waters, Wale Omotoso and Jeff Horn, who is the only man to have stopped him. His career has seen him travel to the UK, where he fought the then unbeaten Denton Vassell, and proved to be a handful at his very best. Sadly Colomban hasn't looked close to his best recently, and has gone 3-4-1 in his last 8 bouts.
Rugged, aggressive and powerful Colomban was a solid Welterweight and a decent regional Light Middleweight. With over a year-gone since his last bout however it's unclear what he has left in the tank. If he's half the fighter he once was it's hard to see anything but a win for Colomban, but he's clearly not the fighter he used to be, it's just unclear how much he has slipped.
We're guessing that the Korean and his team know that Colomban isn't the fighter he used to be, and that their man is the younger, fresher figfhter. They will assume that will be anough to take the win, and the OPBF title, and we think they are right...but Lee will certainly have to earn his victory and Colomban won't just give him it for free. This will be an interesting test of Lee's toughness, but a test we're expecting to see him pass en route to a wide decision win.
It's rare for the JBC to feel the need to create an "interim" national title, but that's what they did at Light Middleweight earlier this year, when Nobuyuki Shindo (20-4-1, 8) suffered a hand injury when being crowned the full champion. In the wake of Shindo's injury Akinori Watanabe (37-7, 31) became the interim champion, putting on a fantastic performance to defeat Ryosuke Maruki inside a round this past August.
Now we'll see Shindo and Watanabe face off to unify the interim and regular titles, in what could be a very good pre-Christmas treat for fight fans in Tokyo and those who subscribe to Boxingraise.
Shindo is enjoying his second reign as a Japanese champion, having held the domestic Welterweight title from January 2016, when he claimed the vacant belt with a win over Yasuhiro Okawa, to April 2016, when he was stopped in 10 rounds by Toshio Arikawa. His reign was a thoroughly disappointing one, and had come less than a year after he had lost to Suyon Takayama in a bout for the same title. Following the loss to Arikawa he moved up in weight and has scored 3 wins, stopping Sanosuke Sasaki and Cobra Suwa before taking a very competitive decision over Ryosuke Maruki. It was in his title win against Maruki, back in May, that he suffered a damaged hand and he has been in action since.
Shindo is a tall awkward boxer, with a frustrating style, but one that works for him. He's very gangly and rangy, and makes fights tricky for his opponents. Although he has a good engine he certainly doesn't have an incredibly high work rate and he does lack power. However his flaws are covered relatively well by his awkward size. His biggest issue however is that he's coming back from injury and has shown in durability, losing the title to Arikawa and being dropped by Sanosuke Sasaki, something that could be an issue here.
Watanabe is a veteran on the domestic scene and has been a successful one with reigns as the Japanese and OPBF champion at Welterweight and the PABA champion at Light Middleweight. The 33 year old has long had a reputation as a glass cannon, and if he tags you it can be the start of the end, but he can also be left flat if he gets caught clean. In his 44 fight career he has only heard the final bell 7 times, 6 times in victory and once in defeat. As he's matured however he has developed the skills to go with his power, and his ability to survive, and box has improved. During his long career he has Takayuki Hosokawa, Yasuhiro Okawa, Tadashi Yuba, Yo Inoue, Koshinmaru Saito, Toshio Arikawa and Takeshi Inoue, among others.
In the ring Watanabe is an aggressive fighter, who takes risks and comes forward. His fighting style, at least domestically, seems to be focused on the idea that he's more powerful than his opponents, hard hitting than them and tough. Sometimes this works out well for him, other times he ends up being caught by a bomb and being finished off. As mentioned he does seem to have become less vulnerable recently, going the distance with Takeshi Inoue and lasting into round 8 with Magomed Kurbanov.
We suspect Shindo has the tools to make life very difficult for Watanabe, but we can't feeling like Watanabe's power, aggression and experience at title level will be the difference. Shindo will try to keep the fight long, but we suspect that at some point Watanabe will catch him, and leap all over him, forcing a stoppage. Shindo will likely start well, but be broken down in the second half of the fight.
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.
In Japan “Interim” national title fights aren't very common and are only really brought in when the champion is injured. This coming Friday we get one such a case, with Akinori Watanabe (36-7, 30) battling against Ryosuke Maruki (15-5-1, 10) due to an injury suffered by Nobuyuki Shindo, the Japanese Light Middleweight champion. In fact interestingly Shindo suffered the injury when he won the vacant title with a close decision win over Maruki at the Champion Carnival in May.
For Watanabe this is a chance to add to his excellent career which has seen him claim Japanese and OPBF titles at Welterweight and a PABA title at Light Welterweight. It's also a chance to prove, at the age of 33, that the old dog still has plenty up his sleeve, despite recent losses to Magomed Kurbanov, Takeshi Inoue and Toshio Arikawa.
For Maruki on the other hand the bout is a third shot a Japanese belt at 154lbs, having come up short in close bouts to Shindo and Yuki Nonaka. Sadly for Maruki he has got a reputation as a nearly man having also lost in the 2012 Rookie of the Year final, losing to Ryota Itoyama, and needing two cracks to win the WBC Youth Light Middleweight title.
Watanabe has had a thrilling career. He would win his debut by decision before going on an incredible “stop or be stopped” run, that saw him going 17-3 (17). All 3 of those losses came in the first 3 rounds, including a 90 second loss to Tadashi Yuba in a Japanese Welterweight title fight, whilst 9 wins came in the opening round and all 17 in the first 8 rounds. Since then he has developed more than just his power, and has climbed a number of good wins, both by stoppage and by decision. Those have included a huge 2011 win over Yo Inoue for the Japanese and OPBF Welterweight titles, as well victories over Koshinmaru Saito, Prawet Singwancha and Kyung Suk Kwak .
Watanabe had gone from 18-3 (17) to 33-4 (28) before losing in a Japanese title eliminator to Toshio Arikawa. That started a bit of a rot for Watanabe though a win this past April over Ratchasi Sithsaithong showed there was still some hunger there for Watanabe who will be wanting to make the most of this opportunity.
Maruki's career has been explosive and exciting than Watanabe's but has been an interesting one with the 27 year old showing a lot of promise but just unable to get over the line when he needs to. He made his debut in 2010 and reached the Rookie of the Year final in 2012 before losing a close decision. He would suffer his second and third defeats in 2014, both of which were razor thin decisions. He would then lose Yuki Nonaka in 2016 and Shindo earlier this year, both in shots for the Japanese title.
Despite losing his biggest bouts Maruki is an absolute handful. He's tough, strong, heavy handed and aggressive. His issues has often been pacing and tempo, starting too slowly and needing to do too much too late, and struggling to set the distance of the bout, with his best opponents often keeping him at range and preventing him from using his body shots up close. If he can set the pace early, get inside and work away he can cross the line and get the big, much needed career wins.
We're expecting this, due to the styles of the two men, to be something very special. We're expecting both men to look for a fight, and throw power shots on the inside, there won't be a huge amount of feinting or technically impressive skills on show, but there will be a toe-to-toe war. For Maruki we think will be ideal, he's younger, naturally bigger and hungrier. Watanabe's power could be the difference, but we're thinking that Maruki will get it right, at least, and he'll finally pick up the big win.
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.