Whilst we're all looking forward to the host of world title bouts taking place at the end of 2016 there is perhaps a hidden gem among the bouts and it's not at world level, though it has fighters who will likely compete at the world level in the near future. That bout comes from the December 31st card in Tokyo and sees OPBF Super Featherweight champion Masayuki Ito (19-1-1, 9) take on WBO Asia Pacific champion Takuya Watanabe (30-6-1, 16) to unify the titles and crown a true Oriental champion. The bout might not have the name appeal of the world title bouts but is close to a 50-50 bout and should have fans on the edges of their seat with both fighters being very talented and very under-rated.
Of the two men the one with the most upside, potentially at least, is Ito who is one of our favourites here at Asian Boxing. The often-overlooked 25 year old wasn't tipped for big things at the start of his career and debuted at the age of 18 in a 4 rounder. In December 2012 he was crowned the All Japan Featherweight Rookie of the year, beating Masaru Sueyoshi and Kosuke Saka on route to the crown. A year later he claimed a WBC Youth crown, up at Lightweight, and a year after that he scored a massive win over Masao Nakamura.
Heading in to 2015 Ito was one of the rising hopes of Japanese boxing, though suffered a loss early in the year to Rikki Naito, albeit a very close and hotly disputed loss. He quickly bounced back from that set back by beating Dai Iwai for the OPBF title, which he has defended twice, against Shingo Eto and Ernie Sanchez.
In the ring Ito is a talented pure boxer with developing power. He's a mover-boxer who is very intelligent in the ring and has shown good stamina through his career as well as impressive speed and a very under-rated ability to judge distance and control the tempo of bouts. Although still not a huge puncher his shots carry enough weight on them to make opponents think twice and to mess up their face, as Iwai found out last year.
Although Ito is a rising hopeful the same can also be said of Watanabe, despite the fact he is a bit older at 27 and already looks like a veteran with a 37 fight record. He debuted almost a decade ago and like Ito he has built himself up from early 4 rounders to being where he is today. His success was a slow burner, and after 14 fights he was 10-3-1 (3) but since then he has developed into a very solid fighter who has under-rated skills, insane toughness and a real will to win. Like Ito has he been the WBC Youth Lightweight champion and despite falling short in two Japanese title bouts, losing to Hisashi Amagasa and Satoshi Hosono, he has never embarrassed himself.
Many who have seen Watanabe will best remember him for his insane 2014 blood bath with Jae Sung Lee, a bout in which Watanabe gave the fans in Seoul a shower of blood, from a combination of a damaged nose and a bad gash on his head. Despite covering everything in claret Watanabe was always in the fight and ran Lee very close on the score cards. That loss is one of only 2 from Watanabe in his last 17, with the other being the loss to Hosono. Those 15 wins might not be against a who's who but they do include a recent win over Amin Sor Wangmoo for the Asia Pacific title which he will be defending here.
Skill wise Watanabe is a level below Ito, however he's proven his toughness, work ethic and desire and is also a bigger puncher than Ito. Whilst he is a level below Ito in terms of skills he's still a very solid boxer who has progressively gotten better, and better, and was very unlucky in a number of his losses, including the defeat to Hosono. At times he has looked disappointing but when facing his biggest tests he has stepped it up and given his all.
Coming in to this we're expecting a really high tempo, high skilled chess match, with touches of a war. It won't be a slugfest, neither man is a brawler, but it will be all action and it will be very fun with Watanabe likely getting the better of the exchanges and Ito getting the better of the work at range. It'll be close, it'll be competitive and it'll be a great fight, and we think Ito will just do enough to claim the win in what we think could be a genuine dark horse for fight of the day.
The Super Featherweight division has, over the last few years, provided come of the best bouts and some of the most notable upsets. It has also provided some brilliant lesser known bouts and developed some great contenders who are starting to break through the ranks. One of those is OPBF champion Masayuki Ito (18-1-1, 8), a 25 year old Japanese boxer who has developed into one of the divisions top prospects.
This coming Thursday Ito returns to the ring for his first bout of the year as he defends his OPBF title against Filipino fighter Ernie Sanchez (15-7-1, 6). The bout will be Ito's Second defense of the title and see him return to the ring for the first time since his impressive win against Shingo Eto last December. On the other hand it will be Sanchez's first bout since he was stopped by Oscar Valdez, also last December.
At his best Ito is an out-side fighter using great straight punches, movement and speed to out box opponents and occasionally break them down, as seen in recent wins against Dai Iwai, Jeffrey Arienza and Kazuya Nakano. Although he is showing an increase in power, after scoring just 3 stoppages in his first 12 bouts, he is still a pure boxer at heart and an incredibly talented one at that.
Ito may not be as recognisable as some of the other divisional prospects, like Valdez, Mario Barrios or Liam Walsh but he does hold notable wins over the likes of Arienza, Iwai, Eto and most notably Masao Nakamura. He does have a loss, unlike some of the other prospects in the division, but it was an incredibly close and controversial one to the then unbeaten Japanese champion Rikki Naito, with many feeling Naito got rather lucky on the score cards.
When it comes to Sanchez his record isn't particularly impressive. In fact he's gone 1-4-1 in his last 6. However he has mixed with a very high level of competition losing to the likes of Oscar Valdez, Sergey Lipinets, Rey Vargas and Andres Gutierrez, and has amazingly only been stopped by Valdez and Lipinets. Although limited he's tough and came and will feel like a win over Ito could help him kick start his career after 3 years of floundering against international hopefuls.
In his most recent bout Sanchez, dubbed the Rock, was cracked doubly quickly by Valdez who found his range quickly and seemed to have too much of everything for the Filipino who looked like a fighter that was too slow to really test the unbeaten man. Prior to that bout Sanchez had looked like a defensively tough fighter but it seems the tough fights have taken their toll on him. That's not to say he was especially talented but he was usually good value for rounds. Sadly his loss in 3 just made him look clumsy before by stopped by a monstrous left hook.
In this upcoming bout we're expecting to see the ultra-talented Ito take control quickly with his speed and movement before looking for a stoppage down the stretch. Given that Sanchez has been tough to crack in the past he may see out the distance but given the damage that his recent bouts have inflicted on him there is a genuine chance that Ito may well stop him in the final third of the bout through accumulation.
Sanchez might the distance, but if he does he's going to be losing a wide decision. We really don't see any way at all in which he over-comes the Japanese fighter
In 2015 the Super Featherweight division has been one of the most consistent giving us a number of FOTY contenders, including both of the Roman Martinez Vs Orlando Salido bouts, the Masao Nakamura Vs Daiki Kaneko bout and the more recent Takashi Miura Vs Francisco Vargas fight. We're expecting that great run of bouts continues on December 14th when fight fans get two notable title bouts on the same show.
On paper the more significant of those bouts is an OPBF title fight that sees defending champion Masayuki Ito (17-1-1, 8) making the first defense of his title as he takes on Shingo Eto (17-3-1, 9) in what looks like a genuinely brilliant match up between two fighters looking to establish themselves as a future world title challenger.
Ito, as mentioned, will be defending the title for the first time. He won the belt earlier this year when he really impressed on route to stopping Dai Iwai in 10 rounds, ending what was a very 1-sided bout. That bout was Ito's first since he suffered his sole loss, a controversial and close on to Rikki Naito back in February and he showed no ill effects of having lost his unbeaten record.
In the ring Ito is a very skilled boxer-mover, who, in recent fights, has started to show more spite with his punches. That spite has seen him score 5 of his 8 stoppages in his last 7 bouts. Those wins have included the victory over Iwai, a stoppage over Jeffrey Arienza, a stoppage over Ryan Semrona and a decision win against Masao Nakamura, in a bout that really helped establish Ito as one to keep an eye on.
Although Ito is talent he's had to come through “the hard way”. He debuted way back in May 2009 and wasn't really given any attention until December 2012, when he won the All Japan Rookie of the Year, at Featherweight. Since then however he has strong together some good wins, won a WBC Youth title and, more recently, the OPBF title. He has also shown remarkable improvements and developed into a man that we suspect will go on to fight for world honours, some where down the line.
Eto, the youngest of the 3 fighting Eto brothers, is a man who had attention from early in his career, with the expectation that the Eto's would be the next Kameda's. Sadly for Shingo however his career didn't get off to a hot start and after 7 professional bouts he was 5-1-1 (5), including an opening round KO loss to Kentaro Maimuangkorn Promotion. Despite the less than stellar start Eto has rebuilt well going 12-2 (4) since.
Whilst Eto's isn't yet making a mark on the world stage he has scored a couple of notable wins, beating Spice Matsushita, Ryan Sermona and Tomoyo Yamada. Sadly however he was thwarted in his only title bout to date, losing a Japanese title bout to Rikki Naito in a bout that was much closer than the cards suggested.
At his best Eto is a solid all rounder. His stoppage loss early in his career can be pretty much ignored as he's not been stopped since and in fact he's a solid unit with good stamina, and can seemingly come on stronger in the later parts of fights. He does however lack that top domestic level win, something that he perhaps needs before thinking that he's going to go to the top.
Coming in to this one we're expecting a technically sound but yet highly entertaining and exciting bout. Sadly for Eto however we don't think he quite has the skills to cope with Ito who we suspect will be too sharp and too smart over the distance. A stoppage for Ito would be a shock, but e don't imagine him struggling too much to score the all important W.
At the OPBF level we get a lot of really interesting match ups. They may not have the big names or the pizazz of a world title fight but, at least on paper, they often appear to be really matched and very competitive looking contests.
We get one such bout on August 10th when the once beaten Masayuki Ito (16-1-1, 7) battles against the under-rated Dai Iwai (17-3-1, 6) in a bout for the OPBF Super Featherweight title. Coming in to the bout neither fighter is really recognised by an international fan base yet both have serious ability, both are young and both will be looking to claim the title and really kick on with their career.
Aged 24 Ito is the younger man and although less experienced many consider him to have, by far, the more upside. That's despite losing last time out to Japanese champion Rikki Naito in a very hotly contested national title fight.
Like many Japanese fighters Ito began his professional career with out a big amateur background though his talent was evident early on and in 2012 he became the All Japan Featherweight Rookie of the Year. Since then he has raced through the ranks claiming the WBC Youth Lightweight title and scoring noteworthy wins over Masao Nakamura and Ryan Sermona.
Slippery, sharp and accurate Ito is a pure boxer. He lacks power but more than makes up for it in ability, and in fact in reasons years he has began sitting down on his shots, showing a belief in his own strength and toughness.
Whilst Ito is considered a really promising fighter it's fair to say that the same can also be said about Iwai who is only 26 himself and has, himself proven his ability, despite beginning his career with a struggling 4-2. Iwai, who debuted at just 17, has fought hard through his career and, like Ito, claimed a WBC Youth belt, albeit it “silver” title at Featherweight.
Talented, tough and gutsy Iwai enters this bout on an 8 fight winning streak dating back almost 3 years. Interesting only one fighter really seems to have had his number, Takaomi Abe, with Abe having inflicted 2 of Iwai's 3 defeats as well as his sole draw. That 8 fight winning streak has seen Iwai score little in terms of notable wins, though he did stop Noriyuki Ueno last time out.
Although not as technically capable as Ito it's fair to say that Iwai is a confident and talented fighter and his win over Ueno last time out showed an improvement in power and force.
Coming in to the bout both men will know that a win will boost their career significantly. We however suspect that Ito will have too much skill for his foe in what will be a competitive but clear decision win for the younger man.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
The Super Featherweight division in Japan is red hot right now. The country boasts two of the divisions best fighters in the former of WBA champion Takashi Uchiyama and WBC champion Takashi Miuira, as well as the highly regarded contender Daiki Kaneko. At the world level it's fair to say the country's talent is the best however the country also boasts a very strong domestic scene.
Currently at the top of the domestic ladder is the unbeaten Rikki Naito (11-0, 5) who really broke in Japan last year. It was in 2014 that Naito won the Japanese last year, when he stopped Hiroyasu Matsuzaki, and has since defended it twice, out pointing both Keno Matsushita and Shingo Eto. Naito looks for his third defence of his title later this week when he battles against fellow unbeaten fighter Masayuki Ito (16-0-1, 7). Like Naito we saw Ito break out last year with 3 wins, including a notable decision over Masao Nakamura and an opening round stoppage victory over Ryan Sermona.
The obvious thing, from looking at the records of both men, is that they are unbeaten and lack concussive power. It may seem harsh but it's true. What is also true is that both men are very highly skilled, both are very fast and both can box brilliantly on the move. Their ability and speed make up for their lack of power and although neither is tested at world level we suspect either of them, if not both, will eventually get to the top.
Where the fighters differ is in their experiences, the expectations on their shoulders and their development.
Naito turned professional aged 20 and although he was a child he was a man marked for success. His father, Cassius Naito, was a former OPBF and Japanese Middleweight champion and Rikki turned professional with the expectation of reaching a similar level of success. The expectation on Naito's shoulders saw him debut in 6 rounders and in just his 3rd bout he was already fighting in 8 round bouts. The fast tracking worked and in his 9th bout Naito completely outboxed Hiroyasu Matsuzaki, forcing his foe to retire after 8 rounds, to win the national title.
Whilst Naito was fast tracked the same cannot be said of Ito who turned professional with no expectation but has ground out a brilliant start to his career and become a man on the verges of genuine success. He turned professional at just 18 years old and began by fighting 4 rounders, in fact his first 8 bouts were all 4 rounders. Despite the slow start to his career he made a mark in 2012 by winning the Featherweight Rookie of the Year. Less than a year after winning the Rookie of the Year Ito would would claim the WBC Youth Lightweight title and began to make a small mark internationally. At the beginning of 2014, more than 5 years his debut, Ito was beginning to bubble and over the following year he really broke out with wins Kazuya Nakano, Masao Nakamura and Ryan Sermona. By the end of 2014 he had become a national contender and a man on he verges of a world ranking, a remarkable achievement considering where he was at the start of the year.
Although both men have got to where they are in very different ways the truth is that they are very similar in terms of style, total rounds, strengths, weaknesses and even size. What it'll come down to here which man can adapt to the other and which man can raise to the occasion better. So far both have risen when they have needed to, both have answered the questions which have been asked of them and both have managed to improve fight after fight.
What we're expecting to see is the best version of both men putting on a back-and-forth display of brilliant high speed boxing, the proverbial high speed chess with gloves. Due the the back and forth nature nobody will be able to call a winner until after the scores and even then we expect fans disputing the result. With that said we'd not be shocked if this one ended in a draw.
(Image courtesy of http://www.kadoebi.com)
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.