Right now the Super Flyweight division is widely regarded as one of the most interesting, most talent laden and most exciting, with a list of great fighters like Naoya Inoue, Jerwin Ancajas, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Kal Yafai, Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman Gonzalez, Carlos Cuadras and Rex Tso, just to name a few. Understandably with so much talent in the division it's easy to overlook some of the fighters looking to become contenders, one of whom is Japanese domestic champion Ryuichi Funai (28-7, 19), who will be looking for his second defense this coming Monday. In the opposite corner to Funai will be 33 year old Shota Kawaguchi (21-8-1, 9), who will know that this bout could be his final title bout of note, if he loses again.
The 32 year old Funai is one of a number of fighters looking for a shot at a big bout at 115lbs. Despite his record he is a very credible fighter and well deserving of the world rankings he has, but at 32 time is running out on the Watanabe man, who only won the Japanese title earlier this year after more than 12 years as a professional. Funai began his career in February 2005, and lost 2 of his first 4. He managed to find some form, and even fought future world champion Shinsuke Yamanaka way back in 2009, suffering a 7th round TKO loss.
Early stumbles were put behind Funai who has gone 15-2 in recent years, losing only to Rolly Lunas and Sho Ishida, both in title fights. That 17 fight run has seen Funai really show his worth and score notable wins over talented fighters, like Gakuya Furuhashi, Akinori Hoshino, Ryuta Otsuka, Ryan Bito and most notably Kenta Nakagawa, who he stopped in 7 rounds for the Japanese title back in March.
In the ring Funai is a pretty solid boxer puncher. He's not got any “outstanding” attributes, but he's a solid all rounder, with much better skills than his record suggests, a steely determinedness, good stamina and under-rated power, which has seen him score stoppages in 9 of his last 15 wins. He's a front foot fighter, though one who is best at mid-range, who believes in his toughness and isn't scared of taking a shot if he feels he's going to land one of his own. It's also worth noting that when he has his man hurt, he doesn't mind taking a gamble to try and finish them off.
Kawaguchi is some way outside of the world rankings, though is aware a win here could push him into them, but has actually mixed with a number of notable names. Sadly during his 11 year career we've seen Kawaguchi suffer defeats to the likes of Sonny Boy Jaro and Rene Dacquel, and his best win are over the likes of Yodgoen Tor Chalermchai, Jonathan Francisco and Rakniran Muadransarakam.
Kawaguchi is a respectable domestic level, and possibly even continental level, fighter at best, but with a questionable chin and less than great power he really is dependent on his skills and a bit of luck, and luck doesn't tend to strike your career when you're 33 and are 4-4 in your last 8. In all honest it's that sort of form which is damning to Kawaguchi's hopes. He's not a bad fighter, but can be bullied, can be out boxed, out fought and hurt and he's yet to really prove that he much for Funai to be afraid of.
We think Kawaguchi will actually start quite well, as the champion takes a couple of rounds to work his way into the bout. As soon as he does he will likely take over, and we're expecting Funai to stop his man in the middle to late rounds, and secure his second defense. He could then begin trying to lure a world champion into the ring for a fight, but the reality is that he's really going to have to earn a shot, and that's unlikely to be easy given his age, and the depth in the division. Instead we suspect he'll hang around at domestic level and try and rack up a few more defenses before being dethroned by a younger, fresher and hungrier man.
The Super Flyweight division is one of, if not the, best in the sport right now with so many top fighters making waves whilst fighting at 115lbs. That's top talent fighters like Naoya Inoue and Roman Gonzalez, as well as top entertainment fighters, like Rex Tso and Jamie Conlan.
This coming Sunday we get the chance to see a huge show in Japan with two world title bouts, one at Minimumweight and one at Light Flyweight. In the chief supporting to those to world title fights we'll see Japanese Super Flyweight champion Ryuichi Funai (27-7,19) look to make his first defense as he takes on Takayuki Okumoto (18-7-3, 8), in yet another really interesting bout at 115lbs.
Funai won the title earlier this year, when he beat old friend Kenta Nakagawa with a 7th round KO. That win has been the defining one of his career, which had seen him come up short in previous title bouts to Sho Ishida and Rolly Lunas, as well in a notable bout against Shinsuke Yamanaka. An early career dogged by set backs, with Funai being 2-2 and later 8-4, could have spelled the end but he has gritted it out, been determined and forged a notable career whilst scoring wins over Hiroki Shiino, Gakiya Furuhashi, Ryuta Otsuka and course Nakagawa.
Aged 31 Funai is a real ring veteran, having debuted back in 2005, despite that he is still a quick fighter and combines ring experience with natural ability, a gritty determination and under-rated toughness, with his only stoppages in the last decade coming at Bantamweight. In fact his loss in his last 11 bouts has been a razor thin one to Sho Ishida in a Japanese title fight back in 2016.
Funai isn't going to be looking to mix with Inoue, Gonzalez and the truly top fighter at the pinnacle of the division, but he's got the ability to be a challenger of a world title in the future, and has a team who can push for that opportunity in the future. He's a good all rounder, but has nothing that stand out as being truly world class, at the moment, about him.
Aged 25 Okumoto is the much younger fighter here, yet is himself a bit of a veteran having debuted back in 2007 as a 15 year old in Thailand. He had mixed success, going 1-1, before maturing out of the ring for a bit and resurfacing in 2009 in Japan. Like Funai we saw Okumoto struggle early in his career, going 1-2 in his first 3 and 3-2-1 in his first 6 bouts. Despite those early struggles he kept going, and started to show clear signs of improvement, running his record up to 8-2-1 (4) before coming up just short against Myung Ho Lee in late 2011.
Okumoto's good run was then following by a bad one, and from 8-2-1 he slipped to 10-6-2 (5) and it seemed like his career was coming to a screaming halt. Amazingly though he has turned things around, scoring notable domestic wins over Yuki Yonaha, Shota Kawaguchi, Yuta Saito and Sonin Nihei, as well as a good win over Filipino Romel Oliveros. He hasn't been perfect in his recent run, but he has looked like a young fighter finding his groove, with his only loss being a split decision to Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking and his only other set back being a technical draw with Eranio Semillano.
Okumoto has under-rated power and is tougher than you'd expect, given he has a couple of stoppage losses but hasn't shown that he belongs in the same company as the likes of Funai. With that in mind we do see him losing this one, but in the long term another loss won't be a big problem for the youngster, who will be able to take positives from another defeat and develop further.
We see a close start here, before Funai takes over and stops the challenger in the later rounds, following a good effort from Okumoto, who is stepping up too much too fast here.
Last year we saw Sho Ishida vacate the Japanese Super Flyweight title, resulting in a bout that saw Kenta Nakagawa (13-2-1, 9) over-come Hayato Kimura to become the new champion. The bout was a really good one that helped put the 31 year old Nakagawa on the boxing map, and build on wins over Joe Tanooka and Shuji Hamada. This coming Wednesday Nakagawa returns to the ring to defend the title for the first time, as he takes on veteran Ryuichi Funai (26-7, 18). For Funai the bout gives him a third title shot, and a chance to continue a brilliant run for the Watanabe gym.
Entering as the champion Nakagawa has a lot more to lose than to gain here, however the 31 year old won't be thinking about losing, but instead he'll be focused on defending his crown.
In the ring the champion is a bit of a crude slugger, he's not out and out wild, but he does have rough edges in terms of his boxing ability. Those rough edges will probably holding him back from becoming an OPBF champion, but they are are the typical edges you see at domestic level. They are, however, coupled with spiteful power which can shut down fighters offensively, or at least make them cautious enough to think twice about opening up.
Not only is Nakagawa a heavy handed fighter but he's also a tough fighter, who can take a solid shot to land his own. That was shown against Kimura, who landed a fair bit of his own leather but was put on the back foot frequently, and has been shown against other decent foes. It's also worth noting that since progressing beyond 4 rounders Nakagawa is unbeaten, going 9-0-1 (7) in bouts scheduled longer than 4 rounds. It is, however, worth noting he has only been beyond 4 rounds twice, going 2-0 in those bouts, with his power being particularly potent in the first 4 rounds.
Entering as the mandatory challenger Funai will be seeking his biggest win to date, though it will be his third shot at a title having previously fallen short in an OPBF title fight against Rolly Lunas and a Japanese title fight to Sho Ishida last year. One other notable loss on his record was a 7th round loss in 2009 to Shinsuke Yamanaka. It's also worth noting that 2 of Funai's other losses were in his first 4 bouts, when he was a real novice.
In the ring Funai is tougher than you'd expect, given he has been stopped 3 times, he's technically sound and has a good engine, in fact he gave Sho Ishida absolute fits late in their bout. With 18 stoppages in 26 wins he's a solid puncher, but isn't a massive puncher, and although he can hurt fighters his most notable stoppages have been against the likes of Ryuta Otsuka, Masafumi Otake and Teppei Kikui, though decisions over Gakuya Furuhashi and Akinori Hoshino are good decision wins.
It's also worth noting that the Watanabe gym, who manage Funai, are having a year to remember. They have seen Nihito Arakawa, Yusaku Kuga and Hiroto Kyoguchi win titles already this year and that type of success and bred more success, driving on the likes of Funai on to perform better.
Both men are over-looked domestically, but both are very solid domestic type fighters, and both will be fighting with a point to prove. For Nakagawa the point to prove is that he deserves the title whilst, and that he should be viewed as the best on the domestic scene. For Funai it's that he deserves to win a title before his career is over, it's that he deserved a third shot and that he is worthy of becoming a champion, rather than another also ran.
Sadly for Funai we don't think this will be his night. We think the power and aggression of the champion will be too much and that he will, eventually, wear down Funai in what will be an exciting, and action packed bout with plenty of exchanges, but with those exchanges ending in favour of Nakagawa, who we think will stop Funai in round 9 or 10.
This coming Sunday is a hectic one for Japanese fans in Osaka, with 3 shows featuring a combined 4 title fights. One of those is for the Japanese Super Flyweight title as world title hopeful, and current national champion, Sho Ishida (21-0, 11) [石田 匠] defends his title against mandatory challenger Ryuichi Funai (24-6, 16) [船井 龍一]. For Ishida the bout will be his 5th defense, and possibly his last before being moved to a world title bout, whilst Funai will be getting his second shot at title honours, having previously come up short in an OPBF title bout.
Of the two men the one with the most upside is the 24 year old Ishida, an Ioka product from the same gym as Kazuto Ioka, Ryo Miyazaki and Masayoshi Nakatani, who will be defending his OPBF title on the same show. Like Nakatani we usually see Ishida boxing on the outside, using his reach, jab, movement and speed to beat opponents, though when called for he can dig in in the trenches and has shown the adaptability he'll need when he steps up to world class.
During his career there hasn't been many real issues with Ishida's performances. The one that does stand out however is his bout with Taiki Eto 12 months ago, when Ishida seemed to run on fumes for the later rounds and was somewhat fortunate to take a split decision. That bout did leave question marks about his stamina however he proved his toughness, his will to win and his warrior spirit, whilst a fight later he seemed to show he could do 10 rounds without any problems.
Although not a huge puncher Ishida is sharp with his shots and does carry the power to stop opponents, as seen with his 2nd round KO win against Petchbarngborn Kokietgym back in 2013. That stoppage also proved that he can be devastating to the body.
Aged 30 the challenger has had an up-and-down career and will be seeking another up, in fact he will be seeking his career best win when he faces Ishida. On paper however it's easy to rule him out, especially given the fact he has been stopped 3 times in his 6 losses though those losses include stoppages to Shinsuke Yamanaka and Rolly Lunas, both at Bantamweight. It's also worth noting that he began his career 2-2 and has lost just once in the last 5 years, going 11-1 (8) during that period. Whilst his wins might not be over top tier opponents he does hold notable victories over Gakuya Furuhashi, recent title challenger Ryuta Otsuka.
Whilst Funai is on a good run, and has won his last 7 bouts, they haven't been the most impressive of wins, with the most notable results being a stoppage against Ryuta Otsuka and a razor thin decision over Akinori Hoshino. Those wins are credible, but not the sort of wins that will prepare a fighter for someone like Ishida, who stopped Otsuka in 4 rounds himself.
In the ring Funai has proven to be a fighter who has improved with age, though at 30 years old there is a chance he may well be as good as he'll ever get. He's never going to be a genuine world beater but he's certainly a credible threat here and has the experience, power, skills and toughness to really give Ishida absolute hell. We suspect however that he will show flaws that Ishida will take advantage of, and the champion's jab and move approach will take him to a clear, but hard fought win.
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.