The Japanese eliminators for the 2019 Champion Carnival continue this coming Sunday with two more bouts to decide the mandatory challengers for the new year. One of those challenges will be in the Minimumweight division, where Takumi Sakae (19-2-1, 13) and Norihito Tanaka (16-7, 9) will battle for mandatory status. In theory they will be challenging Shin Ono, though rumours persist that Ono will vacate before the end of 2018 to fight for a world title.
Of the two men there isn't really a standout favourite. Sakae was a young prodigy who won the Rookie of the Year in 2013 as a 20 year old, but has failed to kick on since then. Tanaka on the other hand is a grizzled veteran who debuted in 2005 and has shared the ring with Kenichi Horikara, Ryoichi Taguchi, Akira Yaegashi, Takashi Kunishige and Tsubasa Koura. They are very different fighters but neither is to be strongly favoured over the other.
At 25 years old Sakae is likely edging towards his physical peak and if we're being honest he's had a genuine interesting career. As mentioned he won the Rookie of the Year back in 2013, just over 2 years after his debut, but failed to really use that as a launch pad. His 2014 was a relative waste of a year and in 2015 he claimed his first title, the IBF Youth Light Flyweight title, whilst also making his international debut. In 2016 he would lose a Japanese title fight to Tatsuya Fukuhara, before fighting to a technical draw with Lito Dante and ending the year with a loss to Ryoki Hirai in a Japanese title eliminator. In the space of just 12 months Sakae's record had gone from 13-0 (8) to 14-2-1 (9) and he had rebuilding to do.
Sadly Sakae's rebuilding has seen him stopping 4 very limited opponents and then taking a decision win, last time out, against Akihiro Toya. The only win of note is the one over Toya, which was a close decision, and strangely Toya's next fight will be a Japanese title fight in November.
In the ring Sakae is a pretty decent fighter. He's got nice speed, nice straight shots and respectable power. Sadly however he often finds himself in brawls as opposed to really using his skills. He's a pretty exciting fighter but tactically a naïve one who will always struggle against fighters who are strong enough to push him back and drag him into a war.
When we talk about an interesting career Tanaka has certainly had one of those. The 33 year olf from Tokyo debuted in 2005 and won his first 9 bouts before going 1-3 in his next 4, including a DQ loss to Ryoichi Taguchi and a decision loss to Kenichi Horikawa. A 3 fight winning run was snapped by a loss to Akira Yaegashi in a Japanese title fight in 2011 and after going 1-1 following that bout he took a 5 year break from the ring before returning last year. Since returning he has gone 2-2, suffering a stoppage loss last time out to Tsubasa Koura in an OPBF title fight.
Through his career Tanaka has proven to be tough, strong and a nightmare for fighters we would deem as being better. He was clearly beaten by Yaegashi but was actually in front against Koura prior to the stoppage, and had dropped the young Oriental champion prior to being finished himself. He's rugged, a bit clumsy but knows his way around the ring, and is very good inside the pocket. He can often find the sneaky shots up close that novices don't see coming and he counters very well, as we saw when he put Koura down. Sadly though at 33 he's very old for a Minimumweight and he has taken a fair bit of punishment through his career.
We see Sakae as the more technically solid fighter, but Tanaka is the smarter man, the man with the better ring IQ and the fighter who will be able to dictate things a touch better. We think the ring IQ of Tanaka could will see him landing solid counters when Sakae gets over excited and attacks up close. Those clever counters will be enough to hurt Sakae, but the younger man does have home advantage and that could well end up helping him on the cards. We see that home advantage as being the difference maker here, with Sakae likely to take a narrow decision win.
This coming Saturday we'll see a really looking OPBF Minimumweight title bout, as the hard hitting Tsubasa Koura (13-0, 9) takes on Daiki Tomita (12-0, 4), with Koura looking to make his third defense of the title and Tomita fighting for his first title. Of the two fighters it's the champion who is the more well and more touted, but the challenger is a touted 20 year old with a point to prove and opportunity to make a name for himself against a very highly regarded fighter.
Aged 23 Koura is a real wild card in the Minmumweight division, and someone who has eyes on world title fighters. He debuted at the age of 19 in August 2014 and the following year he was crowned the All-Japan Rookie of the Year. The following year he showed his explosiveness and scored a notable win against Jeffrey Galero before defeating Jaysevera Abcede in 2017 for the OPBF title. Since winning the belt Koura has been tested, narrowly over-coming Masataka Taniguchi in his first defense then pulling himself off the canvas to defeat Norihito Tanaka in his second defense.
In the early stages of his career Koura showed his explosiveness. It was a exciting yet dangerous and sometimes crude. Since then however he has shown he can box, holding his own in a boxing contest with Taniguchi. He's still showed he was heavy handed, but also that he wasn't a one-trick pony, instead being more of a boxer-puncher. The boxing skills were on show again when he defeated Tanaka, showing lovely speed, nice movement and a good jab and some lovely counter shots. There was however a moment in the opening round when he went for the finish and was dropped from a big counter shot. That didn't really leave question marks about his chin, but more about the risks he takes, and he did bounce up almost immediately. If he takes too many risks there is a chance it will come back to bite him. Though we suspect as he matures he'll become less risky and know when to unload and when to be patient.
At 20 years old Tomita is a bit of a boxing baby though has also won the Rookie of the Year, claiming the crown in 2016. Sadly since claiming the Rookie of the Year his career hasn't really developed significantly, and his best win was a decision over the tough but limited Desierto Nagaike. Despite Nagaike being limited the bout did serve as a chance for Tomita to prove his stamina, and he did so by winning 10 round decision. Through his career he has proven to be technically solid, with smart movement, quick on his feet and sharp with his punches. Notably he also looks big for the weight and looks like he will probably out grow the division sooner rather than later.
Although not as well known as the champion Tomita does look like a real prospect with a lot of potential. His body shots are particularly good and although there is a long way for him to go he looks like someone who will step up in terms of his performances when he faces stiffer competition. His style could well give Koura real problems, and it seems like if he can establish his jab, and control the distance. If he can manage that he really could see more questions being asked of Koura than ever before.
We're expecting to see Koura look to use his speed and power and Tomita boxing smartly on the back foot. The style of Tomita could give Koura problems, but we fancy Koura's power to be the difference and to bail him out in the middle rounds of the contest. Possibly with Tomita leading on the score cards. Hopefully a win here will lead to Koura getting a world title fight, though it does feel like we've been talking about that for a while and yet he is still defending the OPBF title against domestic challengers, no the regional elite.
This coming Friday fight fans at the Korakuen Hall will get a pretty interesting domestic title fight at 105lbs in a bout that neither man can really afford to lose. In one corner we will have 35 year old Japanese champion Shin Ono (22-9-3, 5), making his first defense of the title and looking to move towards one more world title shot. In the other corner will be 20 year old Riku Kano (13-3-1, 7), a once highly touted prospect who appears to be struggling no and has lost 2 of his last 5 bouts.
Ono, from the esteemed Watanabe gym, has been a professional since 2001. His early career was pretty low key, with a couple of early career losses whilst moving to 8-2 (2). Sadly though after those first 10 bouts Ono took a 3 year break from the ring, not fighting between January 2005 and February 2008. In 2008 however he returned, picking up a notable win over a then unbeaten Yu Kimura before being stopped by Masayuki Kuroda. The loss Kuroda began a real dip in form for Ono who went 1-2-2 in his following 5 fights. He quickly fell from 8-2 to 11-5-2 (2).
It was then that Ono had one of the best runs of his career, defeating Xiong Zhao Zhong in an 8 round bout, taking a very controversial win over Omari Kimweri to gain the OPBF Light Flyweight title and working his way up to an IBF title fight with Katsunari Takayama. He lost to Takayama, but didn't shame himself, losing 115-111 on two cards and 117-109 on the other, with two knockdowns late costing him hard. He would then suffer a number of set backs, coming up short in Japanese title fights to Kenichi Horikawa, Tatsuya Fukuhara and Reiya Konishi as well as a world title fight with Wanheng Menayothin.
With his career on the line Ono claimed the Japanese title earlier this year at the champion carnival, defeating Ryoki Hirai with a close unanimous decision. The win saw Ono really grit his teeth, fall back on his experience and fight like a man who knew couldn't afford a loss. He used a busy southpaw jab, managed to get in and work when he needed to and exposed all sorts of flaws with Hirai.
Kano made his his professional debut as a boxing baby in 2013, as a fresh faced 16 year old. Due to Japanese licensing rules his first 7 fights all took place in Thailand and the Philippines, with teenager going 5-1-1 (3) in those bouts and claiming the WBA Asia Minimumweight title, with a win over Madit Sada. It wasn't until June 2015 that Kano would make his Japanese debut, and the following year he claimed the OPBF “interim” Minimumweight title, defeating Merlito Sabillo. Just months later Kano would get his biggest fight, facing off with Katsunari Takayama for the WBO world title. Sadly for Kano he wasn't strong enough, busier enough, experienced enough or powerful enough to over-come Takayama, who took a clear technical decision, and destroyed Kano's hopes of becoming the youngest ever Japanese world champion.
Since the loss Takayama we've not really seen Kano look all that good. He's stopped a couple of limited Thai visitors, suffered a stoppage loss to Jerry Tomogdan in a regional title fight and struggled past domestic foe Naoya Hariguchi.
In the ring Kano is a skilled boxer, he has nice speed and good movement. Sadly though he really does lack power, he's somewhat physically immature, being more of a boy than a man, has a pretty weak work rate and as shown in the bout with Tomogdan he really dislikes taking body shots. His lack of work rate and issues with tempo could be a major problem here.
We'd love to see Kano click and put it all together, live up to the early potential he showed and become a world champion. Sadly though we don't see that happening any time soon and we don't see him really holding his own with Ono. Ono's activity and ability to create a fight up close and personal will be the key. The champion will cut the distance and work away at the body of Kano. We don't think will stop Kano, but we do think he'll out work him to a clear decision victory.
Next Sunday we'll see a new Japanese champion being crowned as Ryoki Hirai (10-4-1, 4) takes on Shin Ono (21-9-3, 5) in a bout for the vacant Japanese Minimumweight crown, which was vacated earlier this year by Reiya Konishi. The bout is a make or break bout for the relatively unknown Hirai whilst Ono is essentially fighting to keep his career after recent set backs in 4 other title bouts.
Of the two men it's Ono who is the more well known. He's a former OPBF Light Flyweight champion, having won that title back in 2013, he has twice fought for world titles, losing to Katsunari Takayama and Knockout CP Freshmart, and come up short in 3 Japanese title bouts, losing to Kenichi Horikawa and Reiya Konishi and fighting to a draw with Tatsuya Fukuhara.
At his best Ono was a skilled boxer-mover, and he holds notable wins over Yu Kimura, Xiong Zhao Zhong and Omari Kimweri. Sadly however he is now 35 years old, ancient for a Minimumweight, and with 203 rounds under his belt he has taken a lot of punishment. That has included 3 stoppage losses, with the most recent coming in 2015 to Kenichi Horikawa, and a lot of other accumulative damage from tough fights with Konishi, Knockout and Takayama. What hasn't helped has been his lack of power and despite scoring stoppages in his last 3 wins they have come against frankly terrible opposition.
We know Ono will be hungry, with this almost certainly being his final chance to claim a Japanese title but he has a lot of things going against him here, including his age, wear and tear and generally lacking the power he'd need to get the respect of any decent domestic opponent.
Whilst Ono has been fighting at title level for years the same can't be said of Hirai, who will be fighting in his first title fight here. The 27 year old from Kobe made his professional debut in late 2011 and struggled to find his groove, going 3-3-1 in his first 7 bouts as he bounced from Minimumweight to Super Flyweight. Following 3 successive losses he returned to Minimumweight and rebuilt his career by winning 7 of 8 bout. Those wins have shot Hirai up the Japanese rankings and have included recent victories over Takimi Sakae and Ryoya Ikema, which have helped him break into the WBO top 15 and earn this title fight.
Although relatively unknown we have been impressed by what we've managed to see of Hirai. That included his win over Ikema in which Hirai showed good composure when Ikema looked to him out early, smart movement, a good judgement of distance, lovely speed and some very sharp punching, especially to the body. Those are tools that he will be looking to use against Ono, who like Ikema is a southpaw.
Whilst this is a slight step up in class for Hirai, following his wins over Sakae and Ikema, it's hard to imagine his current 5 fight winning streak coming to and end to Ono, who has looked like a man on his way down for a while. Ono won't be there to lose, but we suspect Hirai will have a bit too much of everything for the veteran, and will score a late stoppage of Ono to send the Watanabe man into retirement.
On April 17th fight fans at the Korakuen Hall will see OPBF Minimumweight champion Tsubasa Koura (12-0, 8) return to the ring the make the second defense of his title, as he goes up against veteran Norihito Tanaka (16-6, 9). For Koura the bout will act as his next step towards a potential world title fight, a chance to shine on the global stage, whilst Tanaka will be looking to claim his first professional title more than 13 years after his debut!
Aged 23 Koura is one of the rising stars of Japanese boxing. He made his debut in August 2014 in a low key 4 rounder but the following year he announced himself as a key prospect in Japanese boxing by being crowned the Minimumweight Rookie of the Year. That Rookie of the year win, which saw him defeat Ryusei Kitamura in the final, saw Koura catch the attention of a number of fans going into 2016.
In 2016 we saw the youngster go from strength to strength, adding 3 more wins to his record including an excellent 2nd round TKO win over former world title challenger Jeffrey Galero, who had gone the championship distance with Wanheng Menayothin. In 2017 he further enhanced his reputation by stopping Jaysever Abcede in 4 rounds for the OPBF title, which he defended with a razor thin win against the talented Masataka Taniguchi.
In the ring Koura is an aggressive, hard hitting youngster who has impressed fight after fight. He's only got 48 rounds under his belt though has already gone 12 rounds at a high pace and shown his grit and determination to over-come Taniguchi. Despite being a puncher he does have under-rated skills, and those skills will have been kept in check by the Taniguchi fight, which will have done Koura the world of good, especially given that he had stopped his previous 6 opponents in a combined 14 rounds. He's far from flawless, and certainly has some rough edges, particularly defensively, but he's young, talented and improving fight on fight.
Most fight fans won't be familiar at all with Norihito Tanaka, despite the 33 year old being a genuine veteran of the Japanese scene. As previously mentioned he debuted back in 2005 and had a good winning run to begin his career, winning his first 9 fights and being crowned the East Japan Rookie of the Year in 2006. Sadly though that great start was followed by 3 losses in 4 fights, including defeats to Kenichi Horikawa and Ryoichi Taguchi, which seriously slowed his rise. A short winning run saw him claim the Strongest Korakuen in 2010 before losing in a Japanese title fight to Akira Yaegashi back in 2011, a loss that was then followed by defeat to Takashi Kunishige.
With a record of 14-5 (7) Tanaka stepped away from the ring for over 5 years, before returning in 2017, and since then he has gone 2-1 (2), with the only loss being a razor thin one to Naoya Hariguchi. It's worth noting that given his long break from the ring Tanaka is a very young 33, and his only loss not to have gone the distance was a DQ loss to Taguchi, who he hit on the break. He has never been stopped, and went the distance with two future world champions and a former world title challenger. His toughness really can't be questioned.
Whilst it's clear that Tanaka is tough he does lack experience against real punchers, like Koura, and at 33 the question really is whether or not his body can handle not only the power but the high energy offense of Koura. When Koura has a man hurt he doesn't really let off and instead lets the punches fly, which will be a major problem if Tanaka can't get his respect. Taniguchi could get Koura's respect, and had the skills to really push Koura, we don't think that'll be the case here with Tanaka who we see being stopped in the middle rounds as Koura takes a huge step towards getting a shot at a world title.
On Monday we get Christmas, and it's fair to say we're in for some treats away from the world of boxing. Just a day later however action returns to the ring and our attention turns to Kobe for a Japanese Minimumweight title fight. On paper the match up, between defending champion Reiya Konishi (14-0, 5) and challenger Kenta Matsui (8-6, 1), looks likes a mismatch but the reality is that it could very well be an incredibly competitive contest between two men looking to prove themselves.
The unbeaten champion won the belt in April, with a razor thin decision win over Masataka Taniguchi, and made his only defense in September, when he took a majority decision over Shin Ono. Together those two wins are less than amazing and suggest that Konishi, whilst unbeaten, isn't an elite fighter in the making. Instead the 24 year old looks like a talented fighter who could mix at world level, but is unlikely to become a long term champion.
In the ring Konishi is a decent boxer-fighter who has a good engine, nice technique but really lacks power, even at this domestic level. He doesn't mind having a war but no one is going to be afraid of his power, and he has scored just 1 stoppage in his last 9 bouts, and that came against a very limited Thai. Whilst going the distance with Ono and Taniguchi isn't a bad thing there is just a general feeling that he doesn't have the physicality to go to the top, or the power to make domestic type of fighters really respect him.
Aged 22 Matsui is a proverbial boxing baby but is also a man who has had more than 5 years professional experience and has also mixed with good company. His early career saw him having very mixed results, including a close loss to Jun Takigawa in November 2013 and a loss in a rematch in 2015. That mixed form would later lead to Matsui fighting Riku Kano in 2015, losing to the then fast rising Kano. In his last 3 bouts he has gone 2-1, with his only loss coming to current Japanese Light Flyweight champion Tetsuya Hisada and scoring wins over Rikito Hattori and Genki Hanai.
Having scored big upsets over Hattori and Hanai we've seen that Matsui is a very upset minded fighter, who fights with the intention of beating better fighters. It's a nice mentality and one that needs to be applauded, rather than seeing him come in to pick up more losses. He'll be fully aware that no one is giving him a chance, given his record, but he'll know that he has the ability to shock opponents, and will also know that Konishi isn't as good as his record suggests.
On paper it's easy to feel like Konishi will win, with little problems. The reality however is that whilst we do believe that Konishi will win, we think he'll be forced to work very hard for the victory. Matsui will be there to win, he's tough enough to take the shots of Konishi and will be in his face. Matsui's ability will make things very tough for Konishi, but we think Konishi will again retain his title.
Although widely over-looked in the West the Minimumweight division is one of the more interesting right now, with a lot of good looking match ups that could be made, and could be made very easily given the promotional situation of many of the divisions top fighters. It's funny that the division has been so over-looked despite 3 unbeaten world champions, including the 48-0 Wanheng Menayothin. Not does it have unbeaten champions but also a number of unbeaten contenders, including OPBF champion Tsubasa Koura (11-0, 8), who looks to make his first defense of the title this coming Saturday. In the opposite corner to the unbeaten champion will be once beaten challenger Masataka Taniguchi (8-1, 6), with both men looking to secure a world title in 2018.
Of the two men it's been Koura who has been the most impressive. He turned professional in 2014, as a 19 year old, following a 29 fight amateur career that saw him going 19-10 (6). Given his lack of amateur success Koura turned professional with a C class licence and entered the 2015 Rookie of the Year, which he would win with a decision victory over Ryusei Kitamura in the final.
Since winning the Rookie of the Year we've seen Koura go 5-0 (5) with wins over the likes of former world title challenger Jeffrey Galero and the upset minded Jaysever Abcede. He has shown raw power, good boxing and an aggressive mentality that makes for fan friendly bouts. There are flaws with Koura, who can be reckless and open at times, but he has that type of power which is rarely seen at 105lbs. That power of Koura's has caused one or two problems, and although an OPBF champion, and Rookie of the Year winner, he has only had 35 combined career rounds and has never been beyond round 5. That may well be hiding issues with stamina or pacing, though at the moment it's not yet been a problem.
The challenger turned professional in early 2016, passing his B grade test on the same day as current IBF world champion and fellow Watanabe gym fighter Hiroto Kyoguchi. He took that exam following a notable amateur career in which he went 55-19 (16) and had captained his University team whilst fighting at a consistently high level. In the professional ranks he took 4 quick blow out victories before battling hard to over-come the talented Dexter Alimento with a split decision. In 2017 we've seen him come up just short against Reiya Konishi, in a bout for the Japanese title, and follow that loss up with two blow out wins.
In the ring Taniguchi is a technical but aggressive fighter. His power is probably not as good as his record suggests, but is still very good, with issues regarding potential stamina problems also possible. Taniguchi has done 10 rounds once, in his loss and perhaps needs a little bit more seasoning before a potential world title fight, if he over-comes Koura. The problem with the youngster is that too many of his bouts have come against hapless foes's and he already has 4 opening round stoppages, and has scored no wins over fellow Japanese fighters. That's not to say he can't, but he really should have faced some domestic opponents rather than so many limited Thai's and Filipino's.
Although both men are aggressive, heavy handed, flawed and both are 23, there is a lot of differences. Taniguchi is the more well schooled from an amateur perspective and is a southpaw, whilst Koura is arguably the more impressive with his wins over Galero and Abcede over shadowing Taniguchi's wins, and Koura is also the man with the confidence of being a champion.
It's a 50-50 type of fight, and at the time of writing that is a view shared by a members poll on boxmob who have Taniguchi narrowly ahead 51-49. We do favour Koura, but it's likely to be either a very close decision, or a bout decided on a single moment of genius. We feel that Koura's power makes him the more likely to do something magical, but really there is very little to split the guys here.
The Minimumweight division right now is quite a frustrating one with the title picture being a fractured one where unification doesn't look like any time soon and where the top contenders really are struggling to break out from the crowd. It's not a bad division as such, but one that is certainly not as exciting as it was a few years ago, and that's despite having 3 unbeaten world champions with fan friendly and hugely different styles.
This coming Sunday we see another unbeaten fighter look to put themselves into the mix for a world title fight as they take on a veteran, who has challenged for world titles on multiple occasions. For the unbeaten Reiya Konishi (13-0, 5) the bout serves not only as a bout against a recognisable challenger, and a chance to put his name into the mix, but also as his first defense of the Japanese title, and a way to legitimise his standing domestically. For his foe, Shin Ono (28-8-3, 4), the bout essentially a chance for him to prove that he deserves another chance and that at the age of 34 there is still life in the old dog.
Of the two men it is the challenger that is the more well known. He's a former OPBF Light Flyweight champion and is a 16 year veteran of the ring who has been in there with a string of notable foes. They have included Yu Kimura, Masayuki Kuroda, Yuki Sano, Xiong Zhao Zhong, Katsunari Takayama, Kenichi Horikawa, Tatsuya Fukuhara and Knockout CP Freshmart. Unfortunately for Ono his best wins are over Kimura, back in 2008, and Zhong, back in 2012, with most of his other recent bouts against notable foes being losses.
At his best Ono was a tough, skilled but very light punching fighting who could fight and move for for distance with a lot of energy. At the age of 34 however he's not going to have that same level of incredible fitness and he has been given some serious punishment in recent years, with Takayama, Horikawa and Knockout all giving him some real miles on the clock. It also needs to be noted that Ono's last 3 wins have been over limited Thai's and have been spread out over the last 3 years!
Aged 24 Konishi is one of the rising breed of young Japanese fighters looking to make a mark at 105lbs, along with IBF champion Hiroto Kyoguchi and OPBF champion Tsubasa Koura. Unlike those two Konishi doesn't have fight changing power, but with Shinsei gym behind him he has the support of Hyogo and a great team, who are currently having a small boom period thanks to Shun Kubo and Ryuya Yamanaka. Like many youngsters in Japan Konishi first made his mark on the Rookie of the Year scene, claiming the 2014 Minimumweight crown with wins over the likes of Jun Takigawa and Yuki Kubo, before spending 2015 and 2016 gaining valuable in ring experience. That experience paid off earlier this year when he took a razor thin win over former amateur stand out Masataka Taniguchi to claim the Japanese title.
In the ring Konishi has shown a lack of power, with only one stoppage since he won the Rookie of the year, and that came against a very poor Thai foe, but he's shown a gritty toughness, an impressive work rate and a refusal to lose, which was shown against Taniguchi.
With Ono having so many miles on the clock, and with Konishi looking at this bout as a chance to make himself a world title contender it's hard to see anything but a stirring performance from the champion. He may not stop Ono, who is tough, but with his energy and work rate Konishi should be too young and too hungry for the challenger, who will likely be considering retirement in the near future.
The Minimumweight division has long been one of the most over-looked in weight classes in the sport, and we suspect it will remain that way going forward despite the division having some of the most exciting fighters of the last decade, such as Katsunari Takayama and Akira Yaegashi both feature in some simply amazing fights at 105lbs.
This coming Saturday we see a bout to crown a new OPBF champion champion at the weight as Tsubasa Koura (10-0, 7) takes on unheralded Filipino Jaysever Abcede (14-6, 9) for the currently vacant title, which was vacated by current world champion Hiroto Kyoguchi prior to his bout with Jose Argumedo. The bout may not set pulses going around the boxing world, but for fans who have seen the two men in action, this really looks like something that could be very enjoyable, and a potential coming our party for Koura. That however isn't a given, as Abcede has the potential to spring the upset, which he's done in the past, notably against Pigmy Kokietgym.
Of the two fighters it's Koura with the most upside. He's unbeaten, good looking and developing a fan base which has grown since he won the 2015 Rookie of the Year tournament. Since then he had gone 4-0 (4) including a big stoppage win over former world title challenger Jeffrey Galero. That win over Galero is his best to date, and came less than 2 years after Galero had challenged WBC champion Wanheng Menayothin.
Blessed with natural power Koura looks like a puncher on the rise, and couples that with good development out of the ring, at the E&J Cassius Gym. In the ring he's blasting away opponents at a lightning quick speed, taking just 10 rounds to stop his last 4 opponents, but he has shown the stamina to go 5 rounds before and is likely able to go deep in to the bout. The question does remain in regards to “how far?” but so far he's not shown any issues with stamina, and at 22 years old we're not expecting him to have issues in regards to going 10 or 12 rounds.
Filipino road warrior Abcede is also 22 and is a talented southpaw with an upset based mentality. That mentality was seen most notably against Pigmy Kokietgym, who Abecede stopped in 11 rounds back in 2015 in Thailand. That win is Abecede's only win on the road, but he has shared the ring with Petchmanee Kokietgym and Wanheng Menayothin, and didn't look dire against either of those unbeaten men. His record looks marked up, but he did begin 3-3, including a loss to the talented Dexter Alimento, since then there was the losses to Petchmanee and Wanheng as well as a surprise stoppage loss to Lito Dante. They aren't bad losses to have on your record, and really show that he has just been matched hard, rather than carefully developed.
Whilst Abecede has been matched hard he has proven a number of things. He has shown he can fight well on international soil, with his win over Pigmy essentially costing Pigmy a world title fight, he can go the distance, stopping Pigmy in round 11 and going 12 with Petchmanee just 2 months later. Those could be significant coming into this 12 round bout with Koura, and will leave him feeling that if he can see out Koura's early surge he can come on strong and take the Japanese fighter into deep water late on.
This bout really could be a very interesting one. It'll test Koura's power for sure,and potentially check his stamina and heart, and if he goes on to win late he could end up answering a lot of questions fan have of him. However it's not a foregone conclusion and Abecede will not turn up to just roll over. Instead he will look to see out the early power of Koura and take the fight to him late, likely making for a fun fight, especially in the middle and later rounds.
We suspect Koura will win, but he will be forced to really prove himself to come out on top here, in a really good match up.
The rise of Hiroto Kyoguchi (6-0, 6) has been something special to watch and this coming Tuesday we get the chance to see it continue as he looks to make his first defense of the OPBF Minimumweight title, a title he won in just his 13th professional round! In the opposite corner to the destructive Watanabe gym prospect will be Filipino southpaw Jonathan Refugio (16-5-5, 4), the third successive southpaw foe for Kyoguchi.
Kyoguchi turned professional last year to some notable fan fare and expectation with many in Japan tipping the youngster as a special talent. His first two bouts however were low key, and a little bit under-whelming as he despatched hapless Thai's in a combined 3 rounds. In his third bout however he shone, stopping the capable Kenichi Miyazaki in 3 rounds,then blowing away Michael Camelion in just 33 seconds before ending 2016 with a 3rd round KO win over Junuel Lacar. To begin 2017 he claimed the OPBF title by stopping veteran Armando De La Cruz in 3 rounds.
Despite being a novice professional Kyoguchi has been nothing less than sensational so far and looks like another top Japanese pressure fighter, like Daigo Higa. He uses a lot of educated pressure, under-rated defensive work, frightening combinations and some of the best body work in the sport. He's a pure offensive machine, and fans of Roman Gonzalez should be following Kyoguchi's rise through the ranks, with Kyoguchi's style being similar to that of the Nicaraguan star.
Whilst Kyoguchi has looked amazing so far he has still got a lot of questions to answer. He's not been hit cleanly much, with De la Cruz having tagged him clean once and then being given a battering in the moments that followed. He has also never proven his stamina, with his longest fight to date not lasting more than 3 rounds. That's likely to change in the future, but we really don't know how well his style and stamina hold out in the later rounds.
Filipino fighter Refugio has been a professional for close to 7 years and has mixed with a number of top class opponents. Those opponents include current world champions Wanheng Menayothin and Knockout CP Freshmart, as well as former world champion Merlito Sabillo and world title contender Melvin Jerusalem. He may have lost to those notable names but only Menayothin and Sabillo have managed to stop him so far, and he does hold a notable win over Richard Claveras.
In the ring Refugio is a well schooled fighter. He moves well, has good technical ability and plenty of heart, having pulled himself off the canvas to fight on in the past. He's show a good attitude and a will to work hard to avoid a loss, but he lacks power and will struggle to force his will on good regional level fighters, despite his solid skills and work rate. If he can't make top fighters then he's set for problems here when he's taking on the likes of Kyoguchi.
Although Refugio is a quality operator it's hard to see anything but a win for Kyoguchi. We think he will have to prove his stamina, but will eventually break down Refugio with body shots to retain his title and his 100% stoppage record, before looking towards a potential world title fight later in the year.
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.