If we're being honest the Middleweight scene in Japan is a bit of a strange one. Ryota Murata is the standout, by a long way, with Kazuto Takesako a distant second. Below Takesako however the division is actually quite interesting with several fighters all around the same level, two of whom are set to fight this coming Wednesday in a double title bout.
The bout in question will see OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Middleweight champion Yasuyuki Akiyama (12-7-1, 9) defending his titles against the hard hitting Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa (10-3, 9), in what will be the second bout between the two men.
These two fought in early 2017, with Akiyama narrowly taking a decision. Since then Akiyama has fought just once, scoring a massive upset win against Koki Tyson to claim the two unified titles, whilst Hosokawa has gone on a tear, stopping 4 domestic foes to get into the title mix.
At 38, soon to be 39, Akiyama is certainly coming to the end of his career. His win over Tyson was, by far, the biggest of his career, and the back-to-back wins over Tyson and Hosokawa came after Akiyama suffered a trio of losses, to Akio Shibata, Shoma Fukumoto and Tomohiro Ebisu. Those losses seemed to end his career but he's bounced back well with his recent wins and seems to be fighting like a man who simply can't afford another set back. He knows his career is hanging by a thread and won't want to suffer a loss.
In saying that it does seem Akiyama has had a bit of luck in recent fights. His win over Hosokawa was a razor thin decision whilst the win over Tyson was shrouded in controversy due to a shot after the bell in round 2, which Tyson never seemed to recover from. It wasn't a KO shot but was something that seemed to play on his mind, and he never looked as sharp afterwards. Despite the luck he's had he has shown a real desire to win. Ploughing forward, throwing bombs and looking to land big power shots, even when his face is a swollen mess.
Hosokawa isn't a spring chicken either, at the age of 34, though he's only been a professional for about 4 years. He would lose 2 of his first 4, by razor thin decision, before finding his groove with 4 straight wins. That run would only come to an end when he suffered the close loss to Akiyama last year. Since then he has developed a lot, working on his stamina and skills to add to his power. That has seen him scoring 7th and 8th round stoppages in his last 2 bouts. There is still a crude, diamond in the rough look to him, but with his power, ability to take a shot and relentless aggression he's now a genuine danger man at this type of level. We suspect Takesako would blow him away, and Murata obviously would, but pretty much anyone else on the domestic scene would have a very hard time with him.
Whilst Akiyama has had some good luck the same can't be said for Hosokawa who's losses have all been in razor thin decisions. He seems to fight like a man who doesn't trust the judges, and with losses in 3 of his 4 distance bouts who can blame him. We suspect that mentality to be on show here given his history with Akiyama. He will have to take some shots from the heavy hands of Akiyama but he will likely fight like a man who refuses to back off.
We're expecting a war here. Early on we expect to see both fighters try to get center ring, but Hosokawa will likely win that battle. Then we'll see Akiyama fighting off the back foot, where he's less effective in what will be a drawn out battle of wills. Sadly for Akiyama his age, and inactivity, will be a problem for him here and we expect to see him getting stopped in the middle to late rounds.
This coming Tuesday we'll see Japanese Heavyweight Kyotaro Fujimoto (19-1, 11) defending his two regional titles. He'll be making the 4th defense of the OPBF Heavyweight title and the third defense of the WBO Asia Pacific title, as he takes on limited Thai puncher Suthat Kalalek (12-9, 11). For the Japanese fighter it's another opportunity to advance his career and to rack up an extra defense of his two titles, whilst the Thai gets a second OPBF title fight, after having come up short in a Super Middleweight title bout back in 2015.
Of the two men it's Kyotaro who is the more well known, by a long way. The Japanese Heavyweight is a former K1 fighter who has shaken up the Japanese boxing scene by being a notable Heavyweight, the first notable Japanese born fighter in the division's history. His success has seen him become only the second ever Japanese Heavyweight champion, resurrecting a title which had been dead for more than 50 years, and going on to defend the belt 3 times before unifying it with the OPBF and the WBO Asia Pacific titles.
In the ring Kyotaro doesn't really fight like a typical Heavyweight. He's a small fighter for the division, standing at just 6'0 and weighing around 228lbs. Instead of being someone who will bring the fight to an opponent he's often a fighter who uses his speed and movement to out box and counter punch bigger, stronger, slower fighters. Early on in his career that saw him having mixed success, with a notable loss in his 6th professional bout against Solomon Haumono. In more recent times however it's been a tactic which has worked well and allowed him to keep his suspect chin safe whilst tiring out, and then stopping, lesser foes.
The Thai on the other hand isn't really anyone of any major note. He's better known as Kajornsak Sithsaithong or Kajornsak Saikaew Boxing Camp, and the 23 year old is one of the few men who will make Kyotaro look big. Stood at 5'7” Suthat is a blown up Middleweight who has lost to every notable name he has faced. That include Shintaro Matsumoto, Yuzo Kiyota and Vikas Singh. In fact his only win of any note came against the over-weight and out of shape Yamata Fujinaka, who came in at a career high 248.5lbs for his bout with the Thai.
Although limited the visitor can bang, and did drop Kiyota, but that power isn't going to carry up to Heavyweight. Instead it's going to be clear he's not suited to Heavyweight. In a way he could give Kyotaro fits by using his own speed and using his lack of natural lack of size to his advantage. The reality however is that he's unlikely to have the power, strength or style to test the champion. Instead we suspect that Kyotaro will look to make a statement and see off the Thai fighter within 6 or 7 rounds, maximum, in what is a very clear mismatch.
Fingers crossed that if Kyotaro wins his next defense will be against a more compelling foe, such as Zhang Zhilei or Zhang Junlong.
On September 21st Japan's Shintaro Matsumoto (14-6, 10) will get a chance to become am 2-weight OPBF champion, as he takes on hard hitting Australian Aaron Lai (10-4, 9), the current OPBF Light Heavyweight champion. On paper the bout looks very competitive, with neither man being a world beater, but how do we see the bout?
Of the two men the one we know best is Matsumoto. The 33 year old, currently fighting out of the Watanabe Gym though previously of the Yonekura Gym, is one of the few Japanese fighters to have made a bit of a name at Super Middleweight. Sadly though his career at 168lbs was over-shadowed by hard hitting contemporary Yuzo Kiyota, who would defend he OPBF title against Matsumoto in 2012 then claim the vacant title with a second win over Matsumoto in 2013. It wasn't until 2016 that Matsumoto got some revenge by taking the regional title off his shop worn nemesis with a technical decision. By then Kiyota was looking very much a washed up fighter. Sadly for Matsumoto his reign was short, losing the title to Jayde Mitchell in his first defense.
Since losing to Mitchell Matsumoto has fought twice. Defeating a limited Thai and losing to Reagan Dessaix. At his best Matsumoto wasn't really the best in Japan. He had respectable power, and was accurate enough, but lacked durability, lacked vicious power and lacked speed. With 4 stoppage losses from his 20 career bouts we know he doesn't take a show well, and with his lack of speed that is a double problem. He can be hurt, and usually can't escape from the follow up attacks.
At 35 years old Lai is likely coming to the end of his career, a career that only started in 2011. He would win his first 6 bouts, 5 by stoppage, before suffering a drop in form, losing 3 in a row and 4 out of 5. Those losses weren't the most humiliating, losing to Jayde Mitchell and Peng Qu among others, but they did show up his flaws and saw him being dropped a number of times. It seemed that whilst he could hurt opponents he could also be hurt himself. Since those losses he has bounced back with 3 wins, all by stoppage, including his OPBF title win last year and his first victory.
Although a puncher Lai has been down in a number of fights. He's yet to be stopped, but with all the times he's been knockdown it's obvious that he's not that durable and a stoppage loss is just around the corner. He's very much a flawed fighter, and it's going to take a very good match maker on his side to let him have a lengthy reign as the champion.
We know both guys are limited. Both are very flawed. When that happens it's hard not to favour the one with the more bang. As a result we fancy Lai to come out on top and score a stoppage, though we wouldn't be surprised to see him needing to pull himself off the canvas to stop Matsumoto in what could be an entertaining, if low skilled, contest.
This coming Thursday Japanese fight fans at the Korakuen Hall will see 2012 Olympic Bronze medal winner Satoshi Shimizu (6-0, 6) make his third defense of the OPBF Featherweight title, as he takes on fellow Japanese southpaw Shingo Kawamura (16-3-1, 8). Interestingly this will be Shimizu's second professional bout against a domestic foe, with his last being a 109 second blow out win against Takuya Yamamoto in May 2017.
Coming in to this there is a lot of expectation on the champion who not only rides high as an Olympic medal winner or as the OPBF champion but also as a man tipped for huge success and a fighter with a perfect record. He's also entering the bout as a world ranked fighter and someone who is on the fast track to a world title fight, and given he's now 32 he can ill afford a set back if he wishes to fight at the top level of the professional ranks.
Despite being a top level amateur fighter Shimizu has a rather unique and unorthodox fighting style which sees him really rely on his freakish amateur traits. He's a 5'10” southpaw fighting at Featherweight, not many fighters at 126lbs have ever been his size and he uses his height and reach to get away with a pretty free swinging fighting style. Although he has got a jab he does seem much happier to go bombs away and look to head hunt with wide arching hooks at range. It's a style that doesn't look like it should be effective but it is, and he's looked totally dominant so far, having barely if ever lost a round since he made his professional debut in September 2016.
Blessed with not only size but also freakish power, impressive stamina and the team at the Ohashi gym behind him Shimizyu is a real nightmare to fight against.
Kawamura on the other hand has got the amateur pedigree, the world ranking, the regional title or the hype of Shimizu. Instead the 28 year old Osakan has got 6 years of professional experience behind him, the development of a hard career and the experience of needing to build himself up from the ground. He actually lost by stoppage on his debut in side the opening round, much like current world champion Sho Kimura, but has bounced back from that loss. He bounced hack so impressively that the following year he was the Rookie of the Year at Featherweight sadly for Kawamura his rise through the ranks was slowed in 2014 when he suffered a surprise loss to Thai visitor Attanon Kunlawong / Kongthara KKP.
Despite a loss on the road in 2016, to Mike Tawatchai, we've seen a real surge of success from Kawamura over the last 24 months with 5 straight wins including a massive one over Tae Il Atsumi last December, slowing the Japanese based Korean's ascent to a title fight. With his experience and confidence it's clear that he will be coming into this bout riding a bit of a high and he appears to be wary of Shimizu's low guard and his own advantages. Saying that however this is a massive step up in class for the challenger who will be looking to negate the reach and size advantages of Shimizu to land his straight left hand.
We know Shimizu is flawed, very flawed, but there is something about his awkward style that seems to leave opponents both dumb founded and on the canvas. We expect the same unorthodox approach to work well here and for him to stop Kawamura, who has been taken out inside the distance in 2 of his 3 losses. Kawamura might be confident going into the bout, and see it as a fun experience, but the reality is that this is a very different test to what he's used to.
The Light Flyweight division is arguable the best in the sport right now, with so much fantastic talent and so much depth. It may not have the allure of the Welterweight division, the Lightweight division, the Middleweight division or the Heavyweight division, but for hardcore fans it's a division with a lot of intrigue and interest right now. Below the world level there are a number of rising contenders, hopefuls and prospects. One of those is OPBF champion Edward Heno (12-0-5, 5) who looks to make his second defense this coming weekend. Heno's challenger will be fellow rising contender Jesse Espinas (19-2, 11), in what looks like another in a growing line of brilliant all-Filipino match ups.
The champion won the title last September, stopping Seita Ogido in their second meeting, though he was very unlucky not to have won the belt May that year when he was judges to have been held to a draw against Ogido after a tabulation error originally had him announced as the winner. Prior to winning the title Heno's best win had been a stoppage over Chris Ganoza. Since winning the belt he successfully defended the belt once, defeating former world champion Merlito Sabillo.
In the ring Heno is speedy yet hard hitting fight, who certainly hits a lot harder than his record suggests. At the age of 25 he's moving into his physical prime, and has filled out his frame into that of a powerful Light Flyweight, rather than a small one. His career began with 3 straight draws and he was 6-0-4 (1) but has really turned that around with 4 stoppages in his last 6 wins. That sort of form is impressive and he has shown he can step up to the plate, as he did in his win over Sabillo, and can perform on the road, as he did twice against Ogido. This however will be one more solid test for Heno, and if he wins he really will be deserving of a world title fight.
Espinas made his debut at 19 years old and he won his first 3 bouts before being upset by Ronelle Ferreras. A second winning run saw Espinas reel off 8 wins before losing by stoppage in a very tough match up against the unbeaten and hard hitting Christian Araneta, also a rising Filipino prospect at Light Flyweight. Since that loss Espinas has gone 8-0 (4) scoring notable wins over the likes of Joey Canoy, Paipharob Kokietgym, Elias Joaquino and Lester Abutan. Those wins have have made Espinas a fixture in the world rankings, and he is moving his way towards a world title fight.
Although somewhat unknown outside of Asia Espinas is an accurate straight punching fighter who is sharp with his shots, defensively aware and fights like a confident fighter with a lot of self belief. There is a bit of a “strong but basic” look to him at times but that's getting results and there is tools in his arsenal that he doesn't always show, because of how accurate and heavy handed he is. It also helps that he has a solid chin and good work rate, able to turn up the pace when he has his man hurt.
We're expecting to see Espinas try and keep Heno at the end of his straight shots, sadly for Espinas we suspect the power, self belief and speed of Heno will be the difference and the champion will out box the challenger en route to a decision win. Espinas will certainly have moments, but we think the quality of Heno will be too much over the 12 round distance, and the champion will take up a close, but clear, decision win.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo )
Masayoshi Nakatani (16-0), along with Nihito Arakawa (31-6) and Kazuhiro Nishitani (19-4), is currently one of Japan’s top Lightweights.
While studying at the Kindai University, he participated in 60 amateur bouts. Turned pro on June of 2011, at the age of 21, winning 6 fights in a row (5 KOs), including a victory over future Japanese champion Shuhei Tsuchiya (14-1*).
Nakatani, on January of 2014, went face to face with former Japanese and the then reigning OPBF champion Yoshitaka Kato (26-4*) for the OPBF belt. Despite being the less experienced of the two, he took the champion to his limit for 12 rounds, earning the majority decision, thus the championship and the East Japan Boxing Association Monthly MVP Award.
Nakatani, since then, has defended his title 9 times, including wins over Ricky Sismundo (26-7*), Futoshi Usami (12-1*), Krai Setthaphon (23-1*), Ryan Sermona (20-8*), Amphol Suriyo (22-2*). A bonafide knock artist, having finished 10 out of his 16 bouts, most within the first five rounds, he has placed himself at the top of the division, as he is ranked #7 by the WBC, #13 by the WBO and #5 by the IBF.
His next opponent is Izuki Tomioka (5-0) an up comer, who’s building his name in the regional scene, having scored wins over Yuichiro Kasuya (9-1*) as well as Taiju Shiratori (8-2*) and has claimed the Japanese Youth Lightweight title.
Despite the fact that Nakatani is the clear favorite in this outing, on July 29th, we can’t dismiss the young lion, who in less than 2 years has made quite an impact in the Japanese scene (ranked #15).
It will be interesting to see how both these athletes will match each other. Nakatani needs just a few more significant victories before he can challenge for a world title, so it’s imperative he succeeds here, as a loss to a rookie will not look that good on his record.
*Fighter’s record prior to the fight.
This coming Wednesday fight fan at the Korakuen Hall will see OPBF Super Featherweight champion Carlo Magali (23-9-3, 12) defending his title against against fast rising Japanese youngster Hironori Mishiro (5-0, 2). On paper this looks likely to either be a mismatch in favour of the veteran or a coming out party for Mishiro, who would suddenly find himself as one of the hottest prospects at 130lbs if he were to win. A win for Magali would however help him vent some frustrations after two other bouts have fallen through in recent months, and he has clearly had a few months which have seen him messed about and forced to miss out on some big opportunities.
The 31 year old Magali has been a professional for 12 years and had really mixed fortunes in the professional ranks. He began by scoring 5 straight wins, all back in 2016, though his career began to falter as he dropped to 9-4. Since then he has gone 14-5-3 and scored notable wins, including two against Mark John Yap as well as victories over the tragic David Browne Jr, Mark Gil Melligen and, most recently, Masatoshi Kotani. With those wins he claimed a number of minor titles before becoming the OPBF Super Featherweight champion last year, with his first defense coming this past January against Kotani.
After the win against Kotani on January 13th this year Magali was offered a fight with WBC champion Miguel Berchelt, he would accept that fight before the GAB refused to let him fight so soon after the Kotani bout. He would then later have a bout against Yoon Sung Kim being announced, before that too was cancelled, this time due to Kim suffering health issues. Those bouts falling through have prevented Magali from building on the Kotani win, but he may well have used those set backs to further his desire to make a point when he fights here.
In the ring Magali is a short Super Featherweight, though like many Filipino fighters he's a strong, powerful guy in the ring. He's not a huge puncher but he's got solid and consistent power, and carries that power later, with his last 2 wins both being 10th round TKO's. Added to that he is tough, with only 3 stoppages losses against his name, and the only recent ones have come at Lightweight against Emmanuel Tagoe and Pavel Malikov.
Aged 23 Mishiro is another in the ever growing production line of Japanese prospects tipped for success following a successful amateur career. As an amateur he went 41-16 (4), notched up a number of honours and was tipped for big things when he signed with Watanabe Gym. As a professional he's not blown us away, yet, but has impressed with notable wins over Shuma Nakazato and Shuya Masaki in his last 2 bouts. Those wins saw him take the unbeaten records of both men and progressing from 6 rounders to 8 rounders. There is however a big gap between a domestic level win over 8 rounds and OPBF title fight over 12 rounds, as Mishiro is going into here.
In the ring Mishiro is a talented boxer, who looks a little bit raw as a professional, but is developing very quickly, in part due to being at the Watanabe gym and training alongside world class fighters like Hiroto Kyoguchi, Ryoichi Taguchi and Kohei Kono. He has good fundamentals, though they still need work, very good size for a Super Featherweight and nice speed. It's worth noting that he has been hurt, and dropped, but showed good composure to get off the canvas and go on to beat his foe. Sadly for all the good there is a real worry they are rushing him slightly here. It can work, as it did with Kyoguchi, but it does feel like this is a bigger risk than it needs to be for the youngster, at this point in his career.
We think that Mishiro has got the skills to beat Magali, but the question is really whether he has the physical maturity, the experience or the know how. He has fought just 24 professional rounds, he has had just 5 professional bouts and has never gone beyond 8 rounds. He's stepping up massively here against an experienced, tough and strong fighter who is used to being the smaller man. It''s a huge ask for Mishiro to come out on top, and coming in we do consider him the under-dog, but if he pulls it off it will be very impressive. For Magali this is a chance to move to 4-0 (4) in Japan and become a bit of a Japanese Killer, which would certainly open the door to bigger fights in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Earlier this year Filipino youngster Jayr Raquinel (9-0-1, 6) announced himself as one to watch, ripping the OPBF Flyweight title from Keisuke Nakayama at the Korakuen Hall. This week the 21 year old southpaw returns to Japan to defend that title against Shun Kosaka (15-3, 4) in another bout that could help Raquinel enhance his reputation as Filipino prospect with the potential to go all the way.
In his title win Raquinel showed no fear of Nakayama, or of fighting in Tokyo. Instead he went about his business with the intention of scoring the biggest win of his career, stopping Nakayama in the 9th round of their bout, whilst up on all 3 cards. Other than his win over Nakayama there wasn't too much else on his record, a DQ win over Jimboy Haya, a split decision draw with Glenne Calacar and a majority decision win over Richard Rosales being the only things were even mentioning. Despite his thin record he has impressed, and he has risen to the challenges put in front of him and for such a youngster he looks like he has the ability to go a very long way.
As with many Filipino youngsters, though obviously not all with Mark Anthony Barriga being a notable exception, Rqauinel is a bit crude, a rough around the edges fighter who has heavy hands, a good engine and a second of toughness. He looks like he's a fighter who really could be moulded into an excellent fighter if he got the right training. There is a lot of natural gifts that he appears to have, and really just needs the right training to develop the skills to go with those gifts.
The challenger made his debut back in 2012 and reached the Flyweight Rookie of the Year final in 2014, losing a decision to the then unbeaten Kenya Yamashita. In 2015 he would suffer his second loss, being stopped by Tetsuya Hisada, who has since gone on the claim the Japanese Light Flyweight title. Since losing to Hisada we've seen Kosaka rebuild his career, going 6-1 (4) with a notable win against Yota Hori last time out, and a very close loss to Akinori Hoshino. Sadly the other wins were against most limited opponents, and it's hard to know how good he really is. A win over Hori is decent, but given that Hori had lost 3 of his previous 4, and was stopped last time out by Ryota Yamauchi, it's hard to put too much value on the win.
At 23 years old there is potential for Kosaka to become a really good fighter. He has got some skills and appears to be developing in terms of his power and physical strength. Sadly, though similarly to Raquinel, he really needs to be taken under the guidance of a top trainer if he's to reach his potential, which is likely to be below that of Raquinel. He doesn't seem to hard, have the speed or the experience to cope at title level, and has yet to go beyond 8 rounds. He might see this bout as a chance to prove himself, but it would take a career best performance to even test the challenger.
Given that Kosaka looks to lack in terms of power and top tier experience we are expecting to see him being stopped by the champion. Kosaka has got a chance of springing the upset, but needs to put everything together to defeat the impressive Filipino, and we'd be very surprised to see Kosaka see the final bell, never mind spring the upset win.
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.
This coming Monday fights fans in Japan will get the chance to unified Heavyweight champion Kyotaro Fujimoto (18-1, 10) defending both of his regional titles, the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, against Australian challenger Aaron Russell (11-4, 4). For the champion, who also holds the Japanese national title, the bout will be his third defense of the OPBF title and the second of the WBO regional belt, whilst Russell will be fighting at this level for the first time in his career.
The Japanese 31 year old turned professional following a career in K1 and has had more success than many would have expected. He turned professional back in late 2011 and after winning his first 5 bouts was stopped by Solomon Haumono in a bout for the OPBF title, on the 1 year anniversary of Fujimoto's debut. At the point many fans wrote him off for a negative style, being under-sized and a perceived weak chin. Since then however he has reeled off 13 straight wins, 7 by stoppage, claimed the triple crown of domestic and regional titles and put himself in the world rankings.
As a fighter Fujimoto doesn't fight like a typical Heavyweight. He's not in there using his power and strength and instead fights in a pretty none-physical manner, relying on his speed, movement and timing. It's a small Heavyweight and uses that to his advantage by using his legs, making opponents look slow and tagging them with counters as well as speedy single shots when he leads. Rarely will we see him look to exchange blows of throw combinations, but what he does do works for him.
Despite not being a puncher Fujimoto does enough bang to keep opponents at this level wary. His speed on the counter has dropped opponents in the past and it will be something he'll look to make the most of again here.
In Russell we have a pretty underwhelming challenger. In fact it's hard to see what Russell has done to earn a shot at an OPBF title. He debuted in 2010 and after winning his first 3 bouts would fall to 4-3, losing a trio of bouts by stoppage. He's done well to rebuild since then, but his durability has always remained an issue, and he was stopped last year by Lancy Bryan after being dropped several times in the second round of their bout.
Whilst Russell clearly lacks in terms of durability he is also lacking in natural fighting size, having made his debut at Light Heavyweight and having never fought above 20llbs before. This will be one of the few times that Kyotaro is the naturally bigger man and that could again be a problem for the challenger, who is moving up in weight have not shown much punch resistance at Light Heavyweight or Cruiserweight.
Footage of Russell is mostly old but it doesn't show a very good fighter. We know he will have improved with experience but in the footage we've managed to get out hands on he looks slow, clumsy and unsure of himself. He looked like a fighter who really looked like he wasn't sure why he was in the ring. Again we accept that was old footage, but we don't suspect he's become a fringe world class fighter since that footage was shot.
We expect Russell to be stopped by Fujimoto in the middle rounds of their bout. He'll lack any tools needed to deal with the champion and his inability to take a shot will be a major issue here.
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.