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.
The Japanese Light Middleweight scene is, arguably, the strongest it's ever been. At the top of the table is Takeshi Inoue, a talented and rising hopeful looking to move towards an IBF title fight, and Yoshihiro Kamegai. Below those two is an interesting array of veterans, and hopefuls, including the likes of Yuki Nonaka, Akinori Watanabe, Hironobu Matsunaga and two men who will be fighting for the national title this Tuesday.
That title bout will pit the hungry and hard hitting Ryosuke Maruki (15-4-1, 10) against former Welterweight champion Nobuyuki Shindo (19-4-1, 8) in a very well matched and potentially thrilling bout.
Of the two fighters Shindo is the more well known, having competed in a number of Japanese title fights. The elongated 31 year old picked up a couple of early career defeats before getting his first title fight in 2015. In that bout he came up short against Suyon Takayama, but would win the title the following year with a decision victory over Yasuhiro Okawa for the vacant title. His reign Japanese Welterweight champion would be short however as Toshio Arikawa stopped him in 10 rounds to rip the title from his waist.
Since losing the Welterweight title in 2016 to Arikawa Shindo has moved up in weight and allowed his 6'1" frame to fill out to that of a Light Middleweight. Since moving up in weight he has gone 2-0 (2), stopping both Sanosuke Sasaki and Cobra Suwa to earn a shot at the Japanese title at 154lbs.
In the ring Shindo is a physically imposing fighter, who is very tall and rangy, and a south paw. He has shown solid power since moving up in weight and has a solid work rate. Despite his physical traits he can be dragged into a battle on the inside, can be out worked, out boxed and hurt, having been dropped by Sasaku just 3 fights ago. We've yet to see him in with a hungry and primed Light Middleweight, and whilst the division should be better for him it's hard to really know what he has in his arsenal for top domestic competition at 154lbs.
Aged 27 Maruki is getting his second shot at a title, following a narrow 2016 loss to Nonaka. In that bout Maruki looked like a champion in waiting, and were it not for for the rise of Inoue would probably have won some sort of title since the Nonaka bout. He's aggressive, exciting and hard hitting and despite losing to Nonaka didn't really lose much career momentum, scoring 3 wins since that set back. Maruki turned professional in 2010 and reached the All Japanese Rookie of the Year final in 2012. A pair of losses in 2014 slowed his rise but he has since improved a lot, and is 8-1 (5) in his last 9.
Although a bit crude around the edges Maruki is a real danger man at this level and will be getting in the ring with a point to prove. We expect to see him start fast, and look to jump on Shindo, cut the distance and work on the inside. He's a not a monster puncher, but is a very solid hitter and that will be something he'll be looking to prove here as he looks to neutralise Shindo's southpaw straight.
Interestingly Maruki is 0-2 outside of Aichi, having lost to Ryota Itoyama at the Korakuen Hall in the 2012 Rookie of the Year and losing to Nonaka at the EDION Arena in Osaka. He'll have to show he can perform away from home if he's to come out on top here. He has the tools to win, physically, but the big mental question is whether he can do it when the audience isn't all his friends, family and essentially those there to support him.
We think that the youth and aggression will be the key here and Maruki will wear down Shindo, shake the shackles of being an away fighter and make an impact. We know that Shindo can be a nightmare to fight with the unique angles and size he brings to the ring, but can't say Maruki allowing the former Welterweight champion to dictate the pace or fight at a comfortable range here. Instead we think Maruki stops Shindo somewhere in the middle rounds.
It's fair to say that the Light Middleweight division is one of the more notable in the West right now, with interesting possible match ups involving the likes of Erislandy Lara, Jermell Charlo, Jarrett Hurd, Brian Castano, Vanes Martirosyan and even Kell Brook. In Asia there is also an interesting scene developing, even if it is on a much lower level.
This coming Friday we get the chance to see the scene in Asia really tidy it's self up with the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles being unified, potentially with the Japanese title also becoming unified. Not only is there a lot of silver ware up for grabs but also a lot of career momentum for both men, who have both had sensational 2017's already and will want to end the year on a big time high.
In one corner will be current OPBF champion Ratchasi Sithsaithong (9-3, 7) who has already travelled to Japan twice this year. In his first bout of the year he scored an amazing come from behind victory over Yutaka Oishi to claim the OPBF title, with the win coming in round 12 when the Thai was 3 points, 5 points and 11 down on the cards. He then followed up with an 11th round TKO over Jumbo Oda Nobunaga Shoten Petagine to retain his title. In the other corner will be unbeaten Japanese champion Takeshi Inoue (11-0-1, 6) who has gone 3-0 (2) already this year with wins over Akinori Watanabe, Konshinmaru Saito, for the Japanese title, and Riku Nagahama, in his first defense of the title. Inoue, no relation to the Inoue clan lead by Naoya Inoue, has shown an ability to box, brawl or fight and has a good claim to being Japan's domestic break out fighter of 2017.
The Thai began his career in 2011 and faltered early, losing his 4th bout and then losing again just 2 fights later, to current Japanese Middleweight champion Hikaru Nishida. Since then however he has gone 5-1 (4), avenging his sole loss during that run to Cobra Suwa, and scoring the aforementioned wins in the OPBF title bouts. It's unclear what has really began his improvements but he now looks like a solid, heavy handed fighter, with a steely determination and great energy. He is technically flawed, hence why he was so far behind Oishi in their bout, but his will to win is incredible and his power really does appear to last in to the championship rounds.
Inoue was a former amateur stand out with a 39-16 (21) record, and he had captained his University due to his amateur talent. He turned professional in 2014 and fought to a draw with Daishi Nagata on debut. Since then however he has developed significantly and this year he has really broken away from the domestic pack with the wins over Watanabe and Saito. His amateur pedigree is obvious but he has been shown to be happy to have a fight, as he did against the big hitting Watanabe where he essentially out worked and brawled through Watanabe.
Given the styles of the two men we're expecting a hard hitting, exciting and action packed fight. We're expecting to see both men prove their toughness, but we're expecting the youth and hungry of Inoue to be too much. There's going to be a risk if the Japanese fighter goes to war straight away, especially if Ratchasi can see out the early storm and come on strong, but we favour Inoue to become a triple crown winner with a very hard fought decision over the under-rated Thai.
The name “Inoue” obviously makes fans think of Naoya Inoue, the WBO Super Flyweight champion and one of the most notable fighters in Japanese boxing. Naoya however is one of many with the surname, including his brother Takuma Inoue and cousin Koki Inoue. Outside of that particular clan there is one other Inoue making a name for himself, and that's Japanese Light Middleweight champion Takeshi Inoue (10-0-1, 5), who returns to the ring this coming Thursday for his first defense of the title. That will see the unbeaten champion take on fellow unbeaten Riku Nagahama (7-0-1, 3).
The champion was a solid amateur, running up a 39-16 record and captaining a University team, which saw him mixing with solid amateurs on a regular basis. He turned professional in 2014, fighting to a 6 round draw with Daishi Nagata on debut, and since then has found his grove, settled into the sport and become a really talented hopeful.
In the ring Inoue has shown a bit of everything. He can box, and is pretty solid behind his jab, he can fight on the back foot and he can bring the action with a pressure style, a style that helped him score a brilliant win earlier this year against Akinori Watanabe and really break away from the other domestic contenders. Last time out he again impressed as he stopped the usually tough and highly experienced Koshinmaru Saito.
Although not a puncher Inoue has enough power to keep opponents honest, he has a great engine, a good work rate and can either box or fight. His problem, going forward, is that he might look to fight with the wrong type of opponent, being dragged into wars when he doesn't need to be, he's also not really proven his ability to go 10 rounds or his ability to take a really good shot. We suspect he can, at least at domestic level, but we've not got proof he can.
Ranked #1 by the JBC Nagahama is a fighter getting a huge chance to claim his first title, despite having only been in one bout scheduled for 8 rounds or more. That leaves questions about his stamina, and with only 26 total bouts, including an 11-7 amateur record, to his name he also lacks experience.
Whilst it's easy to pick flaws with Nagahama there is a fair bit of positivity to take from his career so far. He debuted in June 2015 and by the end of the year he had claimed the Rookie of the Year crown at Middleweight. The following year he dropped down in weight and began to find his grove, stopping Tetsuya Kawabata in July 2016 and then Koji Kase in November. That win showed that Nagahama was an aggressive and exciting fighter, who liked to come forward and let his hands go, though he did so with mixed success and often missed the target all together.
For Nagahama the bout is a massive step up in class. He's now up against his first opponent with real proven ability. More worryingly for the challenger is that his style should gel with Inoue's too well, and they could be almost like mirror images in the middle of the ring, with Inoue have almost every advantage. If that's the case then there will only be one winner, Inoue, and that win will likely be by late stoppage from accumulation.
The Oriental Light Middleweight scene is a bit of a mess at the moment, with the Oriental title being passed around as it looks for a steady champion to take the belt forward. Since Charles Bellamy vacated the title more than 4 years ago it has had 5 champions, and only a single successful defense. It has been vacated by Koji Numata and lost by Dennis Laurente, Takayuki Hosokawa and Yutaka Oishi.
Now that's not to say there's no good Oriental fighters at 154lbs, but no one seems to be chasing the Oriental title, which is currently held by limited Thai Ratchasi Sithsaithong (8-3, 6). The Thai will be making his first defense this coming Sunday as he takes on the biggest name in Japanese boxing, well actually the longest, Jumbo Oda Nobunaga Shoten Petagine (10-4, 8). The bout will be Petagine's first title bout and could see the title change hands, once again.
The Thai won the title earlier this year, when completed one of the biggest comebacks in recent memory and stopped Oishi in the 12th round whilst 11, 5 and 3 points behind. That win was a second successive one for Ratchasi who beat Cobra Suwa last December, avenging his most recent loss. Interestingly the Thai's only other losses are a decision to the unbeaten Atchariya Virotesunobon and Japanese Middleweight champion Hikaru Nishida.
Ratchasi is limited, no one would suggest other wise. However he showed last time out that there is no quit in him and he's a long way removed from the fighter who was 4-2 (3). He can hit, he can take a shot, and he keeps coming, refusing to give up until the final bell. Oishi out boxed him with relative ease, but in the end the Thai's stamina and will to win were too much, and it's clear that if a fighter can't get him out of there early, he's going to be on the front foot in the later stages looking ti turn a bout around, and he hits hard enough to do just that.
Aged 29 Petagine is coming in to his prime though he's a real unknown in many ways. He claimed his most significant win almost 4 years ago, winning the 2013 “Rookie of the Year” crown at 140lbs. That win saw Petagine move to 8-1 (7) and look like he was set for an interesting career. Sadly however he has gone 2-3 (1) since then, split a series of close decisions with Shohei Kanemoto, losing to Valentine Hosokawa, being stopped by Jay Solmiano and beating a Thai novice. Hardly the form of an Oriental title contender.
Through his career Petagine has fought mostly at Light Welterweight, a genuine achievement given that he's more than 6'0” tall. His body shouldn't struggle to fill into a Light Middleweight, but his power is unlikely to carry up, and against Solmiano it was clear that he didn't like taking shots from a big punching Welterweight, though he did get stopped standing after taking some huge bombs. His body may have filled out a bit more, and he may be more physically developed than he was against Solmiano but it's still going to take a career best performance to win here.
With so many title changes in recent years it's almost like we'd expect Ratchasi to lose the belt here. The reality though is that he should be favoured here, and he should have the power to stop Petagine. Saying that Petagine does have power himself, and if he's got some self belief he may well score the upset.
Our prediction a stoppage for the Thai, but the bout is a hard one to call with neither man being hugely proven, or particularly consistent.
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.