Seeing unbeaten fighters clash, with similar records, is something we don't see often enough, and it's a shame as it's quite exciting to see similarly matched fighters going up against each other in bouts that look like 50-50 contests. Both where both men having something to lose and both are taking a risk are always great.
On April 8th we get one such bout as Japan's Andy Hiraoka (13-0, 9), the Japanese Youth Light Welterweight champion, takes on Thai foe Atchariya Wirojanasunobol (12-0, 5). On paper this is a mouth watering bout, a real test for both men, and the winner could end up using their victory to move towards a regional title fight, and move onwards and upwards.
The 22 year old Hiraoka first made a mark back in 2014, as an 18 year old. The tall and rangy southpaw went on to make his way to the 2014 Rookie of the Year final at Lightweight, before needing to pull out due to illness. He would then take almost 2 years away from the ring before returning in late 2016 to score a couple of wins over Thai foes. That was followed by a sensational 2017 for the youngster, who would win the Japanese Light Welterweight title in November that year. Since then has had two more wins, scoring a single defense of the title in one of those bouts.
Hiraoka is a tall and rangy fighter, standing at 5'11". He's a southpaw with good speed, really solid power, and good boxing fundamentals. He's still a maturing young man, rather than a fully grown man, and there is a sense that he could certainly mature into a strong Welterweight in the future, adding muscle and meat to his bones as he develops physically. At the moment he does struggle when he's under pressure, and isn't a great inside fighter, but at range he is very good and if he can use jab and straight shots he does look very hard to beat.
Atchariya is a 29 year old Thai who debuted in late 2014 and has slowly gone about making a name for himself. A number of his early opponents were novices, though he did score some decent early wins over Heri Andriyanto and Stevie Ongen Ferdinandus. Despite the slow start to his career it was really in 2018 that he came into his own, scoring really solid wins over Kaewfah Tor Buamas and Taisho Ozawa, his two best wins by far and both came on WP Boxing shows in Bang Phun.
Atchariya is a pretty solid fighter himself. He's not a big puncher, but he does have nice variety to his shots, moves around the ring well and fights very confidently, with a lot of belief in ring IQ and how he controls distance. Despite his skills he doesn't have a great work rate, he's not hugely power or quick. He's certainly very confident in the ring, but he's not the most spectacular in any way. More a solid all rounder than a fighter who does anything amazingly well.
We suspect that the Ohashi team, who manage Hiraoka, will have selected the Thai for a reason and it's likely his work rather and lack of power. Despite that this isn't a given win for their guy and Atchariya has the ability to sneak the rounds, make Hiraoka miss and counter him. We favour Hiraoka to win, in what will perhaps be an ugly fight at times, but this is a very clear step up in class and by far his toughest bout to date.
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.
On February 18th we'll see an IBF Light Welterweight world title eliminator, as Japan's insanely tough Akihiro Kondo (31-7-1, 18) takes on rising Thai hopeful Downua Ruawaiking (14-0, 11), also known as Apinun Khongsong. The bout, will take place at the Korakuen Hall as the headline bout of an "A-Sign Bee" show, and promises a lot.
Kondo is best known outside of Japan for one bout, his 2017 contest with Sergey Lipinets for the IBF title. That bout saw Kondo take Lipinets the distance, and surprisingly actually fight pretty evenly with the Kazakh born American based Russian. What fans perhaps weren't aware of is that before that bout Kondo was a notable name on the Japanese scene, having debuted back in 2006. He had won the 2007 Rookie of the Year at Lightweight, claimed the Japanese Lightweight in 2009 and had been a featuring in the national title scene until 2013. He then had a short retirement before bouncing back and rebuilding his career to the point where he won the WBO Asia Pacific Light Welterweight title and earned an IBF title fight.
Against Lipinets we saw Kondo prove his was tough, had good stamina and under-rated boxing skills. He took solid blows from Lipinets and never looked hurt, whilst managing to put pressure on to the highly fancied Lipinets. That toughness is something we've seen right through his career, a career that has had ups and downs but certainly appears to have contributed to a solid fighter. In the ring Kondo is consistent, he's someone who will typically fight at a good pace, and will pressure through out, mixing up the pressure with intelligent punching. Although not a puncher he's gone 7-1 (7) in his last 8, and has certainly developed more belief in his power in recent years.
At the age of 22 Downua looks like he is one of the next rising stars of the Thai scene. He made his debut in June 2016 and moved his way up the regional scene, beating Heri Andriyanto in December 2016 Adam Diu Abdulhamid in August 2017 and most recently Sonny Katiandagho in December 2018. Although still a relative novice in professional boxing it's clear he's a very talented fighter, with heavy hands and impressive composure, having taken almost invited pressure from Katiandagho so that he could counter. He looks a more natural fighter than someone like Teerachai Kratingdaenggym, but this is by far his biggest test.
Although fighting at 140lbs Downua looks a big fight. He's not far off being 6' tall and has a long reach, which likely helps him generate his power. He's a blunt puncher with heavy hands, but a sharp puncher, with scything shots that catch opponents clean. He's also a relaxed looking fighter, with nice movement, under-rated speed and real accuracy. He's the sort of fighter you would see typically Thai team padding the record of, letting him develop slowly and building a good record, but for some reason he's being taken a different direction, potentially from a team that has learned that fighters can regress with too many mismatches. Saying that there are mistakes, especially when it comes to his defense and the way he drops his hands, but it seems likely that as he takes on better competition those mistakes will be tidied up, and against Kondo we expect him to be fighting smartly.
The big question here is whether the bout is coming too soon for Downua. At the age of 22 he is still a boxing baby and has only had 14 fights, accounting for 55 rounds. If Downua has got the stamina for 12 rounds, can keep his fluidity and speed through out then he has a real chance to upset the Japanese veteran. The reality however isn't that simple and we suspect the experience and determination of Kondo will prove to be too much, at this early stage, for the Thai.
We're predicting a late stoppage win for Kondo, perhaps even whilst he's down on the cards.
The Uzbeks are well and truly coming. Last year we saw so many Uzbek fighters leave a mark on the sport and it seems almost certain that 2019 will be an even bigger year for Uzbek boxers. One of those who impressed last year was heavy handed Light Welterweight hopeful Shohjahon Ergashev (15-0, 14), who went 5-0 (4) during a huge year for his career. He will be looking to build on his growing reputation this year, and will be returning to the ring on February 15th to take on fellow unbeaten Mykal Fox (19-0, 5), in what looks like a mouth watering match up.
Ergashev really made his mark at the start of 2018, when his bout with Sonny Fredrickson was televised. Not only was it televised but it ended with Ergashev scoring a 3rd round TKO win over Fredrickson in what turned out to be a show case for the exciting Uzbek, who quickly got compared to Naseem Hamed. That win saw Ergashev move to 11-0 (11), however his perfect stoppage run would come to an end 3 months later, when Wang Zhimin survived 10 rounds with Ergashev, who took a wide decision win. Following that bout Ergashev would go on to score 3 wins, the final of which saw him taking out Nazareno Gaston Ruiz in 18 seconds in December.
Ergashev, like many of the top Uzbeks breaking through the ranks right now, is extremely heavy handed, aggressive, exciting and has a rawness to him. Technically he can be good, but he's more of an unorthodox southpaw than a text book fighter, and is someone who clearly knows he hits hard. There is a lot more to him than just his power, and the comparisons to Naseem Hamed seem to be based around his unorthodox boxing, but we dare say we've not seen how good Ergashev really is. When he gets pushed we're likely to see a lot more form him and it might even be fair to suggest we've not seen him move beyond third gear yet.
At 6′ 3½″ the 23 year old Fox is a huge Light Welterweight, and will have size advantages over pretty much anyone he faces. He's around 5" taller than Ergashev and like the Uzbek he's also a southpaw, and lets be honest no one likes fight tall, rangy southpaws. Despite his young age he has been a professional for close to 5 years, having made his debut in April 2014. Since his debut he has faced a mixture of limited competition, fellow hopefuls and a veteran, name DeMarcus Corley. On paper the win over Corley, which came last year against a 44 year old Corley, is his best to date. Sadly it was also a close win, over a guy who is over a decade removed from his prime.
Fox usually towers over opponents and uses a nice crisp jab, making the most of his rach and speed to control fights. Whilst he does have an excellent jab his straight left hand does look slow and predictable, he seems to lack power in his power shots and that will be a problem in making a fighter like Ergashev give him any respect. He does have nice movement and good foot speed, to go with his jab, but there is a big difference between nice movement and the type of movement needed to last with someone like Ergashev.
We suspect that Fox will look to box behind his long levers, get the crisp jab in the face of Ergashev and box at range.Sadly for him Ergashev will have different plans and won't care too much about the jab of Fox, instead he will be looking to steam roll the American and we suspect that he'll find than easier than many will expect. We wouldn't be surprised, at all, if Ergashev stops Fox inside 5 rounds, and takes another step towards a potential world title fight.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On February 10, undefeated Japanese star Hiroki Okada faces former World champion Raymundo Beltran in a WBC Eliminator.
Hiroki Okada (19-0/13 KOs), one of the brightest Japanese boxing stars of this generation, is currently ranked at the top 10 of the Super Lightweight division. Competing in the sport since his high school days, as an amateur, he won the National Sports Festival Tournament (Japan’s premier sporting event) twice, before turning pro.
Going 7-0 (all stoppages) prior to winning the Japanese title, Okada defended this legendary championship 6 times, from 2014 to 2016, against Koichi Aso (23-8) twice, Hayato Hokazono (18-5), Masanobu Nakazawa (18-2), Cristiano Aoqui (13-7) and Valentine Hosokawa (24-6), which proved to be his toughest at the time, as Hosokawa was a much stronger fighter than him. Despite taking a beating, he still managed to come out on top.
As Okada was moving up in the rankings, he began facing international competition and on December of 2017, he faced Jason Pagara (41-3) for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title. A long-time WBO International champion, the Filipino fighter was undefeated since 2011 and with only two decision losses in his entire career. Okada kept peppering him with left jabs (a key weapon to his arsenal) and eventually connected with an uppercut in the sixth round, which left him unable to respond to the referee’s count, giving Pagara his first stoppage loss and himself the strap.
After dispatching world title contender Ciso Morales (19-8) in just the first round (same strategy as in the Pagara bout, only this time he dropped him with a counter right hook) Okada signed with Top Rank and made his US debut this past September against Cristian Rafael Coria (28-7).
It’s worth mentioning that Okada has been training at the Kadoebi Houseki Boxing Gym, a gym that has produced many champions like WBC Strawweight World champion Eagle Kyowa, WBC & Lineal Flyweight World champion Koji Kobayashi, IBF Super Bantamweight World champion Yukinori Oguni, WBA Lightweight World champion Yusuke Kobori and unified Japanese, OPBF & WBO Asia Pacific Heavyweight champion, as well as K-1 champion, Kyotaro Fujimoto. Okada will need to be at his best when he takes on “Sugar” Ray Beltran, for a chance at the WBC World title.
The 20 year veteran Raymundo Beltran (35-8/21 KOs) finally won the World championship last year, at 36 years of age. The road to the gold wasn’t an easy one though.
His journey began in 2013 when he fought Ricky Burns (43-7) for the WBO Lightweight title, at the Englishman’s home turf. Sugar Ray brought his A game that night, dominating the fight and even dropping Burns with his patented left hook and also breaking his jaw. As the fight went the distance, it was almost certain that a new champion was going to be crowned but the judges declared the match a draw, a result that was deemed controversial by many.
Beltran failed to win the big one once again, this time against Terence Crawford (34-0) in 2014. The third time was supposed to be the charm, after he knocked out 2 division World champion Takahiro Ao (28-3), with an overhand right in the second round. However, due to missing weight and testing positive for illegal substances, the WBO title remained vacant.
The Mexican fighter made his return in 2016, after a 1 year suspension, winning 5 fights in a row, including a win over 2 time WBA interim Super Featherweight World champion Bryan Vasquez (37-3) to earn another opportunity at the strap. Beltran finally became the WBO Lightweight World champion by defeating former WBA title holder Paulus Moses (40-5) in February of 2018. Unfortunately, the celebration was short lived, as he lost in his first defense. Now, almost 6 months later, Beltran will make his Super Lightweight debut against an undefeated opponent, in Hiroki Okada.
This fight will be a significant turning point for both Okada as well as Beltran. For Okada, this is without a doubt his biggest test yet, a match against a former World champion. Despite being a top ranked fighter (WBO #2 / WBA #3 / IBF #5 / WBC #9) he has never faced someone, the caliber of Beltran. Considering how poor his last performance was against Coria, a loss here is not an option for the Japanese star. Okada will need to keep him at bay with his left jabs, while trying to score some big shots with the right. A knock out victory will probably not be on the cards for him in this match. On the other hand, Sugar Ray has a killer left hook. Most of his KO wins have come due it. That’s his money maker and he will definitely look to land it again. His weakness though, is his defense. He usually leaves his head exposed and because of that he has been knocked down on numerous occasions throughout his career. Granted that, this is his gameplan most of the time, to take punishment in order to dish it back, but this might get him in more trouble than usual against a much younger and faster rival here. Plus, there’s the unknown factor of how Beltran will fair in this new weight class. To conclude with, this can be described as a “do or die” situation, as a loss for either man could be the end of their push (Okada) or even their career (Beltran) at this point. So who will leave California as the number 1 contender for the WBC World championship ? We will find out this Sunday.
Next year we'll see Koki Inoue look to increase the Inoue clan's hoard of titles, following his recent win over Marcus Smith in a Japanese title eliminator.
Whilst we know that Inoue has a Japanese title shot set for the 2019 Champion Carnival, we're not yet sure who he will be facing for that title in the new year. We will however find out on December 1st, when current champion Valentine Hosokawa (23-6-3, 10) defends his title for the second time, and faces off with fellow veteran Takashi Inagaki (20-17-2, 9). The winner of that will be the man that Inoue challenges.
At 37 Hosokawa's career has been like a fine wine, and he's really become an excellent fighter following a less than spectacular start to his career. He began fighting professionally in 2006, fighting to a draw with fellow debutant Yoshinori Kanazaki, and would suffer his first defeat the following year to Akihiro Kondo. After 10 bouts he was 6-1-3 (3) but would go on to win the 2008 Rookie of the Year at Lightweight, showing his potential. That potential would drive him to getting a shot at the Japanese Light Welterweight title in 2013, losing to Shinya Iwabuchi, and an OPBF title shot, losing to Min Wook Kim. Those losses were damaging, painful beatings, but they showed Hosokawa's drive, determination, heart and toughness. Those traits kep him in the sport, and saw him give Hiroki Okada problems in 2016, when Hosokawa got his third title fight. He came up short again there, but would go on to claim the Japanese title in 2017, winning a brilliant war with Koichi Aso. His only defense since then saw him pulling himself off the canvas to stop Vladimir Baez, in another thrilling contest.
In the ring Hosokawa is a man who defies all logic. He's a 37 year old with an insane engine, he seems to throw more punches as a fight goes on. He's not a huge puncher, by any stretch, but his output is grinding, both physically and mentally, and he will look to break opponents down through sheer attrition. Not only does he have an incredible work rate but he's also incredible tough, taking real beatings to Iwabuchi and Kim before being stopped. His determination and will to win are probably his key traits and are certainly responsible for him going as far and having a career that has peaked in his mid 30's.
Inagaki is a veteran himself, at 33 years old, and is getting his third Japanese title fight, after coming up short to Takashi Miura in a Super Featherweight shot in 2010 and Yoshitaka Kato in a Lightweight title fight 2011. As you can assume from that he's hs been a around a while, and debuted way back in July 2003, losing in the first round of his debut to fellow debutant Tatsuya Ishii. Inagaki's career has been a patchwork of wins and losses, though there are very few real highs from his career, other than his losses in title fights. Hios best wins are over the likes of Kazunori Fujita back in 2008, Joel Dela Cruz in 2009, Kazuma Kobayashi in 2012 and Yuya Okazaki last year and he does hold a notable draw with Daisuke Sakamoto. Sadly those results are easily outweighed by notable losses to the likes of Miura, Kato, Koichi Aso, Shusaku Fujinaka, Daishi Nagata and Yusuke Konno, with the losses to Nagata and Konno coming earlier this year.
The veteran challenger is a relatively slow fighter. He looks at his best when he's the man applying pressure, through much of his work is slow, and he looks like he's moving, and punching, through treacle. He looks strong and powerful, but isn't a puncher, doesn't have high output, and isn't swift.
Given the style of Hosokawa is to make everything into an intense, and massively entertaining, war we can't help but feel that he will simply out work and break down the challenger. Inagaki has been stopped 6 times during his career, and we suspect there will be another stoppage loss here for the challenger. If we're right and he is stopped he may well think about hanging up the gloves and retiring from the sport, ending his long career.
On October 11th fight fans at the Korakuen Hall will get the chance to see OPBF Light Welterweight champion Rikki Naito (20-2, 7) make his second defense, as he faces off with Daishi Nagata (11-1-1, 5). On paper this looks really competitive, though some in Japan have downplayed the bout feeling that Nagata has next to no chance. We however like the bout, a lot, and feel it could be a hotly contested tactical bout between two men in need of a big performance and two men who will be looking to shine.
The 27 year old champion has long been in the eye of the press due to being the son of Cassius Naito, a former OPBF and Japanese champion. Sadly that pressure, and his father's name, has over-shadowed the man from Yokohama who has already had an accomplished career on the domestic and regional scene. He debuted a little over 7 years ago and would win his first 13 bouts whilst fighting primarily as a Super Featherweight. That unbeaten start would see him claim the Japanese Super Featherweight title in 2014, when he stopped Hiroyasu Matsuzaki, and make 3 defenses, including a notable win over Masayuki Ito. It would also include a win over Nihito Arakawa. Sadly for Naito his unbeaten run would come to an end in 2015, when he lost the title to Kenichi Ogawa and in 2016 he would lose again to Ogawa. Since then Naito has moved up in weight and settled at Light Welterweight, where he has won and defended the OPBF title.
At 140lbs Naito has already scored noteworthy wins over Baishanbo Nasiyiwula, Jeffrey Arienza and Jhertiz Chavez. On paper that's pretty solid, but the reality is that he got pushed all the way by both Baishanbo and Chavez, with Naito lucky to make it to the final bell against Chavez. He has proven that whilst talented and swift at 140lbs he's not much of a puncher, he's not physically imposing and he'll struggle to get fighters to back off. He can out box people, but will struggle to out fight them. Despite being OPBF champion there's a good argument to make that he might only be the fourth or fifth best fighter at the weight in Japan right now.
At 28 years old Nagata is 18 months older than Naito, and is also a natural Light Welterweight, having fought at the weight through much of his career. Like Naito he did have some attention when he turned professional, though that was from hardcore fans who knew that Nagata was an accomplished amateur, who went 41-21 (11) and won a major national title in 2012. On debut he was matched hard, fighting to a draw with Takeshi Inoue, and has hardly had an easy fight since. In fact he has already shared the ring with the likes of Jeffrey Arienza, Kazuki Matsuyama, Vladimir Baez and Takashi Inagaki. He's not gone through murderers row, but he hasn't had an easy career either. Sadly he has come undone in one of those bouts, losing in 7 rounds to Baez last year, but since then has strung together 3 wins to secure this fight.
In the ring Nagata is a well schooled fighter, he's a rather quick and accurate boxer who fights out of the southpaw stance, knows his way around the ring and manages to lure opponents to lung at him before he counters. He's a technically solid, smart fighter. Unfortunately he's a small Light Welterweight and that was shown when he was beaten by the crude but powerful Baez. He couldn't get Baez's respect and the Japanese based Dominican ended up walking him down and forcing his corner to save him in 7 rounds. The fear of being stopped by Naito is less than it was against Baez and instead we'd expected both men to put their skills to the test, and not their physicality.
We're not anticipating a classic brawl here. Instead we're suspect high speed chess, from the opening round to the final bell. Both men will take a round or two to try and figure the other out, and from then on we're going to see speed, skills and traps a plenty, with each man looking to lure the other in to range, slip and counter. This could be a complex, yet dull affair between well matched fighters, or it could be action packed with both pitching their ring IQ's against each other.
We're expecting action, counters, speed and we're going to actually pick against the grain and go with Nagata, albeit in a razor thin 12 round decision. There won't be much to pick between them, but we favour Nagata's extra physical strength to take him over the finishing line.
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.
Earlier this year Japan's Rikki Naito (19-2, 7) became a 2-weight champion, adding the OPBF Light Welterweight title to a previous reign as the Japanese Super Featherweight king courtesy of a 9th round TKO win against Jeffrey Arienza. This coming Tuesday Naito looks to make his first defense of that title as he faces off with the tough and hard hitting Jheritz Chavez (8-2-2, 6). It's a tough first defense for Naito and a great chance for Chavez to pick up a major regional title, to add to some minor title reigns and a GAB title.
For those who haven't seen Naito the Japanese fighter began his career as a somewhat hyped hopeful, courtesy of being the son of Cassius Naito. The potential was quickly shown and in just 29 months Naito had gone from debutant to Japanese Super Featherweight champion. At that point he was just 22, tipped for huge things and looking like a real one to watch, despite only being 9-0 (5). Sadly since then things have never really come together like Naito would have wanted, despite scoring 3 defenses of the title and notching wins against Masayuki Ito and Nihito Arakawa.
In December 2015 Naito lost the Japanese Super Featherweight title, via technical decision, to Kenichi Ogawa, and would lose a rematch a year later before deciding to abandon the division and has since grown into a solid Light Welterweight and gone 3-0 (2) with a notable win over Baishanbo Nasiyiwula.
In the ring Naito is a speedy fighter, though has began to slow down more in the ring as he's gone up in weight and become more physical. He's not a brawler but certainly holds his feet more at 140lbs than he typically did at 130lbs. On paper that sounds like it could be a problem, however in his case it really does simply seem like a case of maturing into a bigger and stronger fighter. Rather than peaking early he has developed into a strong young man, and become a potential fixture in the fringes of the world rankings.
Aged 27 Chavez has been a man who has made marks domestically but failed to come out on top when he's gone outside of the Philippines, losing to Vage Sarukhanyan in Russia and Hiroki Okada in Japan. Despite those losses he has looked very comfortable in and around the Filipino domestic following a 2-0-2 start to his professional career. That faltering start has been followed by notable wins over Tatsuya Yanagi, Al Sabaupan and Reymond Yanong. Not only has he been notching up wins but also been flipping between divisions, picking up regional titles at Lightweight and Welterweight and a domestic title at Light Welterweight.
Chavez looks like a fighter who is powerful, tough and strong, but fights like a man who wants to use his skills, his jab and his footwork to win bouts. Sadly that seems to leave him looking like he's a fighter who is just half a step behind the likes of Okada and Sarukhanyan, who took advantage of Chavez's slow feet and unwillingness to truly commit to an attack. Chavez does have a nice jab, but lacks the speed to really fight the way he does against a higher level of competition, who will stick their jab in his face as he trudges forward.
Given Naito's edge in speed we strongly favour him here on a stylistic basis. Chavez won't go away, and will follow Naito round after round, but Naito will always be a step or two ahead of the Filipino. Given that Okada couldn't stop Chavez we don't image Naito will, but we would be surprised if this was particularly competitive as a bout.
On May 7th Japanese fight fans are in for a treat, as Japanese Light Welterweight champion Valentine Hosokawa (22-6-3, 9) defends his title against the huge punching Vladimir Baez (24-3-2, 22), a Japanese based Dominican slugger. For the 37 year old old Hosokawa this will be his first defense, following a career defining victory over Koichi Aso last December, whilst Baez will be looking to record a 4th straight stoppage win and claim his second domestic title, following a previous reign as the Dominican Republic champion.
The champion is a 12 year veteran who debuted in May 2006 and despite some ups and downs has been a stalwart of the Japanese scene for much of that time. In fact he would get his first Japanese title fight more than 5 years ago, when he took on the hard hitting Shinya Iwabuchi, and despite a loss he remained very relevant. Just a fight later he took on the then OPBF champion Min Wook Kim in an incredible bout in Korea. Following those losses Hosokawa has been fighting on the domestic level and scored wins over Takeshi Goda, Jumbo Oda Nobunaga Shoten Petagine and Cristiano Aoqui en route to getting his second Japanese title fight in 2016. As with his first shot Hosokawa lost, though put up a fantastic effort against Hiroki Okada and seemed to have much of his work ignored by the judges.
Although Hosokawa is getting on for a fighter he has an incredible engine, he throws a lot of leather and whilst he's not a big puncher he does make for great fights on the domestic level. He tenacity and energy is brilliant and sees him over whelming opponents with aggression and work rate. Sadly it does mean that his fights are draining and damaging but they are thrilling, exciting and great to watch. His fight with Aso last year was a Japanese FOTY contender and his 2013 bout in Korea with Min Wook Kim was genuinely thrilling. Sadly those exciting fights will take a toll on Hosokawa and his career won't have a lot longer to go, even if he is successful here against Baez.
The challenger arrived in Japan a couple of years ago to be managed from the country. The change began with an easy win in Thailand before he suffered a loss to Teerachai Kratingdaenggym at Welterweight. Since then however he hasn't looked back scoring wins over Daishi Nagata, Ryusei Nakajima and Kazuyasu Okamoto all by stoppage last year. Those wins showed that Baez's power is legitimate, he's a brutally nasty power puncher, who swarms on opponents, and lets his shots fly. He might not be the most technically impressive but he is a strong, powerful, heavy handed and energetic monster at this level.
Aged 34 Baez is no spring chicken, but his 29 career bouts have averaged just 4 rounds a bout. They have been mostly short with his power being the key. He's not avoided damage all together but is a relatively young 34 year old and someone who can clearly have a few more years on the Japanese domestic scene. That's not to suggest he's the best in the country at 140lbs, but there's very few fighters in Japan who would be favoured over him, perhaps only Hiroki Okada and Koki Inoue.
Given his edge in power, aggression and sheer brutal physicality it's hard to bet against Baez here. We know Hosokawa is tough but unfortunately we suspect that will be his downfall. He will be there to fight against Baez but will take a lot of heavy shots, and we suspect he will be worn out in the middle to late rounds, as Beaz claims his biggest career and becomes a national champion in a second division.
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.