It's rare for the JBC to feel the need to create an "interim" national title, but that's what they did at Light Middleweight earlier this year, when Nobuyuki Shindo (20-4-1, 8) suffered a hand injury when being crowned the full champion. In the wake of Shindo's injury Akinori Watanabe (37-7, 31) became the interim champion, putting on a fantastic performance to defeat Ryosuke Maruki inside a round this past August.
Now we'll see Shindo and Watanabe face off to unify the interim and regular titles, in what could be a very good pre-Christmas treat for fight fans in Tokyo and those who subscribe to Boxingraise.
Shindo is enjoying his second reign as a Japanese champion, having held the domestic Welterweight title from January 2016, when he claimed the vacant belt with a win over Yasuhiro Okawa, to April 2016, when he was stopped in 10 rounds by Toshio Arikawa. His reign was a thoroughly disappointing one, and had come less than a year after he had lost to Suyon Takayama in a bout for the same title. Following the loss to Arikawa he moved up in weight and has scored 3 wins, stopping Sanosuke Sasaki and Cobra Suwa before taking a very competitive decision over Ryosuke Maruki. It was in his title win against Maruki, back in May, that he suffered a damaged hand and he has been in action since.
Shindo is a tall awkward boxer, with a frustrating style, but one that works for him. He's very gangly and rangy, and makes fights tricky for his opponents. Although he has a good engine he certainly doesn't have an incredibly high work rate and he does lack power. However his flaws are covered relatively well by his awkward size. His biggest issue however is that he's coming back from injury and has shown in durability, losing the title to Arikawa and being dropped by Sanosuke Sasaki, something that could be an issue here.
Watanabe is a veteran on the domestic scene and has been a successful one with reigns as the Japanese and OPBF champion at Welterweight and the PABA champion at Light Middleweight. The 33 year old has long had a reputation as a glass cannon, and if he tags you it can be the start of the end, but he can also be left flat if he gets caught clean. In his 44 fight career he has only heard the final bell 7 times, 6 times in victory and once in defeat. As he's matured however he has developed the skills to go with his power, and his ability to survive, and box has improved. During his long career he has Takayuki Hosokawa, Yasuhiro Okawa, Tadashi Yuba, Yo Inoue, Koshinmaru Saito, Toshio Arikawa and Takeshi Inoue, among others.
In the ring Watanabe is an aggressive fighter, who takes risks and comes forward. His fighting style, at least domestically, seems to be focused on the idea that he's more powerful than his opponents, hard hitting than them and tough. Sometimes this works out well for him, other times he ends up being caught by a bomb and being finished off. As mentioned he does seem to have become less vulnerable recently, going the distance with Takeshi Inoue and lasting into round 8 with Magomed Kurbanov.
We suspect Shindo has the tools to make life very difficult for Watanabe, but we can't feeling like Watanabe's power, aggression and experience at title level will be the difference. Shindo will try to keep the fight long, but we suspect that at some point Watanabe will catch him, and leap all over him, forcing a stoppage. Shindo will likely start well, but be broken down in the second half of the fight.
The Japanese Light Middleweight scene is, arguably, the strongest it's ever been. At the top of the table is Takeshi Inoue, a talented and rising hopeful looking to move towards an IBF title fight, and Yoshihiro Kamegai. Below those two is an interesting array of veterans, and hopefuls, including the likes of Yuki Nonaka, Akinori Watanabe, Hironobu Matsunaga and two men who will be fighting for the national title this Tuesday.
That title bout will pit the hungry and hard hitting Ryosuke Maruki (15-4-1, 10) against former Welterweight champion Nobuyuki Shindo (19-4-1, 8) in a very well matched and potentially thrilling bout.
Of the two fighters Shindo is the more well known, having competed in a number of Japanese title fights. The elongated 31 year old picked up a couple of early career defeats before getting his first title fight in 2015. In that bout he came up short against Suyon Takayama, but would win the title the following year with a decision victory over Yasuhiro Okawa for the vacant title. His reign Japanese Welterweight champion would be short however as Toshio Arikawa stopped him in 10 rounds to rip the title from his waist.
Since losing the Welterweight title in 2016 to Arikawa Shindo has moved up in weight and allowed his 6'1" frame to fill out to that of a Light Middleweight. Since moving up in weight he has gone 2-0 (2), stopping both Sanosuke Sasaki and Cobra Suwa to earn a shot at the Japanese title at 154lbs.
In the ring Shindo is a physically imposing fighter, who is very tall and rangy, and a south paw. He has shown solid power since moving up in weight and has a solid work rate. Despite his physical traits he can be dragged into a battle on the inside, can be out worked, out boxed and hurt, having been dropped by Sasaku just 3 fights ago. We've yet to see him in with a hungry and primed Light Middleweight, and whilst the division should be better for him it's hard to really know what he has in his arsenal for top domestic competition at 154lbs.
Aged 27 Maruki is getting his second shot at a title, following a narrow 2016 loss to Nonaka. In that bout Maruki looked like a champion in waiting, and were it not for for the rise of Inoue would probably have won some sort of title since the Nonaka bout. He's aggressive, exciting and hard hitting and despite losing to Nonaka didn't really lose much career momentum, scoring 3 wins since that set back. Maruki turned professional in 2010 and reached the All Japanese Rookie of the Year final in 2012. A pair of losses in 2014 slowed his rise but he has since improved a lot, and is 8-1 (5) in his last 9.
Although a bit crude around the edges Maruki is a real danger man at this level and will be getting in the ring with a point to prove. We expect to see him start fast, and look to jump on Shindo, cut the distance and work on the inside. He's a not a monster puncher, but is a very solid hitter and that will be something he'll be looking to prove here as he looks to neutralise Shindo's southpaw straight.
Interestingly Maruki is 0-2 outside of Aichi, having lost to Ryota Itoyama at the Korakuen Hall in the 2012 Rookie of the Year and losing to Nonaka at the EDION Arena in Osaka. He'll have to show he can perform away from home if he's to come out on top here. He has the tools to win, physically, but the big mental question is whether he can do it when the audience isn't all his friends, family and essentially those there to support him.
We think that the youth and aggression will be the key here and Maruki will wear down Shindo, shake the shackles of being an away fighter and make an impact. We know that Shindo can be a nightmare to fight with the unique angles and size he brings to the ring, but can't say Maruki allowing the former Welterweight champion to dictate the pace or fight at a comfortable range here. Instead we think Maruki stops Shindo somewhere in the middle rounds.
This year we've seen a number of Japanese national titles end up in new hands. The first of those new champions to be crowned in 2016 was elongated Welterweight Nobuyuki Shindo (17-3-1, 6) [新藤 寛之], who won the tile on January 12th when he out pointed Yasuhiro Okawa, in what was Shindo's second shot at the title. This coming Thursday Shindo makes the first defense of that title, against mandatory challenger Toshio Arikawa (12-4, 10) [有川 稔男], a big punching dangerman.
On paper the champion doesn't look dangerous. He's scored just 6 stoppages in 21 bouts and has come up short of winning in 4 of his contests. He is however a tricky fighter with a freakish height for a Welterweight, at 6'1”, and a southpaw stance. He also hits harder than his record suggests, as seen when he dropped the then champion Suyon Takayama last year.
Although freakishly tall Shindo is actually a very credible fighter and boxes on the outside very well. He has a sharp jab, a stinging straight, good movement and a good, though not incredible, engine. He is flawed, and can be beaten up close, but will do his best to keep the fight at range and use his long levers as his key weapons.
Whilst the champion is somewhat well known, considering bouts with Takayama and Moon Hyun Yun, the same can't really be said of the challenger, who scored his first win of note late last year, when he shocked former champion Akinori Watanabe in 6 rounds. The win saw Arikawa become the mandatory challenger.
Other than the win over Watanabe there is little to really be excited on his record, though he does hold a win over Shusaku Fujinaka. In the ring he is crude, he has been stopped, 3 times, but he can bang and that power is a genuine issue for anyone in the division on the domestic scene, as we suspect Shindo will find out about.
Whilst Arikawa is a puncher he needs to land clean to really do damage and for this he needs to be close. Given that Shindo has the reach and height advantage we can see Arikawa struggling to get close. If he manages to cut the distance he will give the champion real issues, but we suspect that those issues will be few and far between with Shindo moving and staying away from a fight, rather than going up against Arikawa in a full on fight.
On January 16th we saw the first Japanese title fight of the year, with that bout seeing a regular and interim title being unified. On January 20th we see, barring a draw, a new champion being crowed as the vacant Welterweight title is on the line for a bout between the top two ranked Japanese fighters, the #1 ranked Yasuhiro Okawa (14-11-3, 5) [大川 泰弘] and the #2 ranked Nobuyuki Shindo (16-3-1, 6) [新藤 寛之].
Of the two men the one is better known is Shindo, despite his lower ranking with the JBC. The Miyata gym fighter is a former Japanese title challenger, losing a close decision to former champion Suyon Takayama, who vacated the title recently after 6 defenses. In that bout Shindo dropped Takayama before being out worked in the second half for Takayama to retain the title.
Although not a bit name Shindo is a huge Welterweight, stood at 6'1”. He will tower over most other fighters in the division, as will be seen when he fights the 5'8” Okawa, and of course he knows how to use that height, and reach advantages, to great effect. He has also shown a grit and determination as well as solid work rate and the ability to go 10 rounds.
Whilst clearly the favourite it does need to be noted that Shindo has has come up short in his most notable bouts. That has included two very competitive losses to Takayama and a loss and draw against Moon Hyun Yun. Whilst he has failed in his 4 bouts with Takayama and Yun he has scored notable wins over the likes of Tetsuya Suzuki, Toru Chiba and Yuichi Ideta, all solid wins on the Japanese domestic scene.
Aged 31 Okawa is a 13 year pro but has never fought at title level before, in fact this will be the first time that he's been scheduled in a bout longer than 8 rounds. His career has seen him going 8 rounds on 6 occasions, as well going into round 8 in two other bouts. On the whole he has been fighting on the fringes of the Japanese scene during his 28 fight career though has managed to face Hayato Hokazono, Takehiro Shimokawara, Hidekazu Matsunobu, Koshinmaru Saito and Toshio Arikawa, with a win over Arikawa being very notable now given that Arikawa will now be tha mandatory for the winner of this one.
Whilst we've never been that impressed by Okawa he is riding a 5 fight winning streak, including the win over Arikawa. That run is, by far, the best of Okawa's career and sees him coming into this one full of confidence. For us however the worry is really about him fighting over the 10 round distance and about his step back up in class.
Although Okawa is clearly in good form we can't see him claiming the win here, instead we see Shindo's extra experience over 10 rounds, and at a higher level, just being enough to take him the win, via a decision.
If we're being honest the Welterweight division is in Japan is relatively pathetic. One man is head and shoulders above everyone else in the country and that man, Yoshihiro Kamegai, is unlikely to ever think about going back to fighting domestic foes. That leaves the division with out a big name and without a really exciting fighter, unless Keita Obara decides to make a permanent move to the division.
Sadly the lack of talent leaves the country with a weak champion in the form of Suyon Takayama (21-1, 7). On paper Takayama looks good but in reality he's a poor champion and his reign, which dates back to December 2012, has seen him record 4 decision wins with 3 of them being razor thin.
This week Takayama returns to the ring as he looks to record his 5th defense and record his second win over Nobuyuki Shindo (16-2, 6), the mandatory challenger for the title.
These two men first met back in 2008 East Japan Rookie of the Year final. In that bout Takayama took a razor thin decision over Shindo and later went on to win the Welterweight Rookie of the Year just a few weeks later. Going into their first meeting both men were unbeaten fighters looking to make a name for themselves.
Since the first meeting between the two men both have lost just once. Takayama's loss came in 2011 when he lost a split decision to Yuichi Ideta. Since then he has racked up 9 straight wins, including 5 in title bouts. Sadly for Takayama he has only notched 2 stoppages in those 9 wins. As for Shindo his loss came in December 2012 when he was narrowly beaten by Moon Hyun Yun. Since that loss Shindo has recorded 4 wins, with 3 stoppages.
Although not a great fighter Takayama has proven to be difficult to beat. He is defensively sound, works hard and often manages to “just do enough” to win rounds. His key strength has been work rate which is solid though a lack of power, especially at Welterweight is a problem and will prevent him from ever reaching a level beyond Japanese domestic level.
We've got to admit we've not managed to see much of Shindo though from what we do know he is a tall, lanky southpaw who is starting to grow into into strength. Early in his career he really struggled with his power and stopped only 2 of his first 11 opponents. Since then he has racked up 4 stoppages in 6 bouts and developed his skills.
What we're expecting to see is an interesting fight though not the most exciting. We suspect Shindo will try to make the most of his size and his south stance though flaws in his skillset will allow Takayama to get inside and make things competitive. The question is how often can Takayama get inside given that he will be giving around 6” in height and notable reach.
If Takayama can get inside and make the most of his opportunities then there is a really good chance he can grind out another razor thin decision. If Shindo can make the most of his his size then we can see the title changing hands.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
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