The Middleweight scene in Japan hasn't been the most exciting in recent years, but we have had some under-rated excitement with the rise of Hikaru Nishida and his aggressive pressure fighting. Sadly Nishida suffered an injury out of the ring earlier this year, when he fell down some stairs at a gym, and due to that injury the JBC has set an interim title bout which will take place on December 24th at the Korakuen Hall. That will see former champions facing off in what could a very exciting pre-Christmas treat.
The bout in question will see the huge punching Tomohiro Ebisu (16-4, 16) battle against former world title challenger Makoto Fuchigami (23-11, 14) in a bout we're genuinely looking forward to, a lot.
Ebisu, for those unaware, is a glass cannon. He has never been the distance in his 20 fight career and has stopped his foes or been stopped himself. Often those results have come quickly with his 20 fight career consisting of just 69 combined rounds and he has only been beyond 5 times 4 times in his career, winning 3 of those bouts and losing one. Despite being such a glass cannon he has proven himself with wins over the likes of Go Nakahori, Sanosuke Sasaki and Hidenori Tajima and has been the Japanese champion and the 2009 Rookie of the Year.
Ebisu is a fast starter, he has stopped 6 of his opponents in the first 3 rounds, he is also a man who has sought new challenges by fighting as high at Light Heavyweight, in a bout he lost to Frenchman Kevin Thomas Cojean in 2 rounds. Despite trying the higher weights he is certainly more suited to Middleweight, though has suffered stoppage losses at the weight to Fukutaro Ujiie, Tadashi Yuba and Daisuke Nakagawa. Whilst those stoppages at Middleweight have come to punchers he has shown real cracks in other bouts and there is a worry that he really can't take a solid shot.
At 33 years Fuchigami is a true veteran with more than a decade of experience behind him and more than 30 fights, consisting of over 200 rounds. Those fights have come at every level from 4 rounders, early in his career, to facing Gennady Golovkin in a world title fight. He has also struggled at every level before finding his groove. He lost 3 of his first 5 before having a run of success and getting a Japanese title fight in his 12th bout, back in 2007. Another run of success saw Fuchigami earn a second title fight and came up just short against Tetsuya Suzuki, though a rematch with Suzuki in 2010 saw Fuchigami claim the Japanese title. After several defenses Fuchigami added the OPBF title to his collection winning an amazing unification war with Koji Sato, in what was really one of 2011's best bouts.
Sadly since unifying the titles in 2011, and going on a 9-0 (8) run, Fuchigami's career has repeatedly faltered and he has gone 4-5 in recent bouts. Whilst one of those losses, to Golovkin, can be excused he has suffered two losses to both Akio Shibata and Nishida, whilst also struggling past Brandon Lockhart Shane.
At his best Fuchigami was a resilient, tricky and rangy southpaw who used his size well, had under-rated power and speed and although never going to be a threat on the world stage was actually rather dangerous on the regional level. In recent years how ever his resiliency has shown signs of fading, his toughness is showing cracks and the speed is slowing, along with his reactions. Saying that however he could still prove to be a tough assignment for someone as wild as Ebisu.
Whilst we're unsure on who to favour as the winner we don't expect this to go the distance and wouldn't be surprised at all if this was a thrilling 4 round war with both men hitting the canvas at some point.
This coming Wednesday Japanese fans get the chance to see the third meeting between Japanese Middleweight champion Hikaru Nishida (15-8-1,7) and former world title challenger Makoto Fuchigami (23-11, 14). Not only with the Japanese title be on he line but so too will be the WBO Asia Pacific title, making it the third bout for the WBO's regional title to be fought for in Japan. The bout sees Nishida looking to over-come the more experienced man for the third time whilst Fuchigami is looking to avenge his losses and become relevant once again.
These two first met in March 2014. At the point Nishida was a struggling fighter with a record of 9-6-1 (3) and was looking to build on notable wins over Fukutaro Ujiie, Kazuhika Hidaka and Go Nakahori. Fuchigami on the other hand looked like a man coming to the end of his career with losses to Gennady Golovkin and Akio Shibata. That bout ended with Nishida taking a decision win. A rematch last year saw the then 12-7-1 (4) Nishida force a 5th round TKO against the then 21-10 (12) Fuchigami, in what was Fuchigami's 4th loss in 5 bouts. Really that have been the end of the rivalry.
Now we're heading into a third bout with the champion clearly being favoured over the challenger.
Aged 29 Nishida is a man coming into his prime and he's tough, rough and has a great engine allowing him to bring the pressure and break down his opponents. He'
slow, rather predictable and can be out boxed, as we saw earlier this year against Dwight Ritchie, but against fighters who can't keep on their toes for 12 rounds he's a nightmare, as seen when he stopped Akio Shibata back in March.
Nishida does nothing special. He's a flat footed and relatively slow. What he does though is effective, especially against older fighters who lack the energy to bounce about for 12 rounds.
At his best Fuchigami was a very solid fighter. Yes he was stopped by Golovkin but he was a good, solid and gutsy fighter. In fact his bout in 2011 with Koji Sato was phenomenal with Fuchigami proving his heart and slowly breaking down the feared Sato despite taking some nasty shots of his own. That bout was Fuchigami at his best, and was part of a 9-0 (8) run that also included wins against Tetsuya Suzuki, Takayuki Hosokawa and Fukutaro Ujiie.
Sadly since fighting Golovkin we've seen Fuchigami really struggle and he has subsequently gone 4-4 (4) with two losses to both Akio Shibata and Nishida. He has shown some lovely skills, and was out boxing Nishida in their second bout, but his punch resistance seems to be completely gone and he can't fight hard for 12 rounds any more at the age of 33.
Given how the last bouts between these two went it's hard to imagine Fuchigami win this one, in fact it'd be one of the biggest shocks of the year if Fuchigami was to over-come Nishida. We suspect Fuchigami will start well but be broken down in the middle rounds with Nishida scoring a stoppage after 7 or 8 rounds.
The Middleweight division in Japan isn't the greatest. Aside from Olympic champion Ryota Murata we doubt any other active Japanese Middleweight will make any sort of a mark on the world scene. Despite that we can't help but enjoy some of the fights and fighters, and even though the current fighters aren't going to be seriously challenging Gennady Golovkin they are still interesting to watch on the domestic scene with the occasional gem of a fight.
One of those Japanese Middleweight gems came back in 2011 and saw Makoto Fuchigami (21-9, 12) claim both the Japanese and OPBF titles with a stunning 9th round TKO win over the heavy handed Koji Sato. Since then however Fuchigami has gone 3-3, including losing a world title bout to the aforementioned Golovkin, those losses have left his career hanging on a thread and he now needs another big win to stay relevant. He gets a chance on December 6th to get that big win as he attempts to recapture the Japanese and OPBF belts.
In the opposite corner to Fuchigami this coming weekend is unified OPBF and Japanese champion, and former Murata opponent, Akio Shibata (23-8-1, 9). Whilst Fuchigami is known for his bouts with Golvokin and Sato it's a shame that Shibata is only known, internationally anyway, for his loss to a then debuting Murata. The loss actually over-shadows what is an excellent career domestically which has seen Shibata become a 2-weight unified champion having claimed both the Japanese and OPBF belts at Light Middleweight and Middleweight.
Of the two men it's certainly Shibata who is riding on a high. The loss to Murata was his sole loss in his last 8 bouts, spanning more than 3 years. In that time Shibata has had 6 titles bouts including a win over Fuchigami last year for the OPBF Middleweight title and a win this year over Daisuke Nakagawa to unify the Japanese belt with the Oriental one. Some of the other wins Shibata has scored recently have included victories over Takayuki Hosokawa and Yoshihisa Tonimura, both title level fighters. One of the other wins Shibata has recorded recently has come over Hikaru Nishida who had himself been one of the recent men to defeat Fuchigami.
Not only is Shibata riding a high due to his recent form but he also appears to have developed his strengths to have made him a very hard man to beat. He's fast on feet, fast with his hands and, although he lacks power, his jab is one of the most controlling punches on the Japanese domestic scene as he throws it excellently whilst boxing on the move. Shibata's flaws are well covered by his jab and movement, though there are question marks about his over-all toughness and his power is certainly a weak point, even domestically. Of course when a fighter doesn't sit on their shots the power issue isn't usually a big one with a fighter happier to win a decision than go for the KO and we've seen that Shibata more than happy to take decisions with only 1 KO win in his last 9 bouts.
Fuchigami confidence has got to be low courtesy of his less than stellar form. He has however developed into a a fighter who has shown solid power in recent years and since October 2010 Fuchigami has scored 8 stoppage wins from 11 bouts, he had only scored 4 in his previous 19. Prior to his run of stoppages he was known as a stylist with a sharp southpaw jab and a relaxed fighting style, that style that saw him ride out the storm against Sato before stopping a tired looking Sato in his best win to date.
In the ring Fuchigami appears to struggle against opponents with good work rate and stamina. In recent years he has been he has been out worked by both Hikaru Nishida and Akio Shibata, though of course his loss to Golovkin is nothing to be ashamed by. Hikaru and Shibata are both busy fighters and both manage to keep most fighters off balance and stop them from setting too much.
We suspect that will be the key here with Shibata being too busy, too sharp and too smart for Fuchigami who will be left looking for the home run shot and hitting air for the most part. Shibata won't have the power to discourage Fuchigami but will have the tools to clearly beat him over the distance. If however Fuchigami can connect with his power shots this could become an interesting fight. We suspect that Fuchigami has to strike early however, before Shibata finds his rhythm and gets his jab into play. If Fuchigami can't win this early we think he'll lose a very clear decision.
(Image courtesy of 8nakaya.co.jp)
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.