The Minimumweight division in Japan is really interesting right now, with great fighters across every level, from domestic Youth right up to world level. At the moment the domestic champion is Shin Ono (23-9-3, 6) and on January 12th he'll make a mandatory title defense, as he takes on veteran Norihito Tanaka (17-7, 9) in a very good match up that could well launch the winner into a world title fight later in the year.
Aged 36 Ono doesn't have long left in his career, in fact the Southpaw from the Watanabe gym has already had a career that is almost 18 years long. During his career he has faced a who's who including Xiong Zhao Zhong, Tatsuya Fukuhara, Masayuki Kuroda, Yu Kimura, Katsunari Takuyama, Knockout CP Freshmart, Reiya Konishi and Riku Kano, with wins against a number of those men. Through his career he has proven to be a gutsy fighter, with a good work rate, a real hunger and, even in his mid 30's, he's pulling out good results.
This is set to be Ono's second defense of the title, following his title win last year against Ryoki Hirai and his maiden defense against Riku Kano. Whilst he has proven to be a fantastic servant to Japanese boxing he has had a very hard career, his lack of power has made things even tougher and he has already had over 221 rounds of professional boxing. Those rounds have often been tough, with Ono getting embroiled in battles of attrition, rather than battles of skill, and that's despite being a pretty skilled fighter.
Tanaka is the slightly younger man at 33, though he turned 34 in February, but has also had a long career that began in 2005. Notable though Tanaka's career hasn't been as active as that of Ono, in fact Tanaka took a break of more than 5 years, between 2011 and 2017, and that gave his body time to rest. Since beginning his comeback he has gone 3-2 (2) and earned this shot on merit with an upset win over Takumi Sakae in late 2018, earning a mandatory title shot. Whiilst that's his biggest win of the comeback he did manage to give the touted Tsubasa Koura real problems in an OPBF title fight, before being stopped.
Through his career Tanaka has proven to be tough, smart and tricky. He has given problems to the likes of Koura, Takashi Kunishige and managed to go 10 rounds with Akira Yaegashi in a Japanese title fight, way back in 2011. Tanaka has under-rated power, a veteran's patience and a good ring IQ. Sadly he's not the quickest, his work rate isn't amazing and despite being skilled there are holes in his work that a quicker fighter can take advantage of.
We expect to see Ono being the one who comes forward, bringing the pressure and forcing Tanaka to respond. Strangely that'll actually be something that works in favour of Tanaka, who will be hoping to be able to counter Ono, bring his under-rated straight right hand into play. Despite Tanaka having the edge in power we suspect that Ono's work rate and toughness will see him over the line, albeit narrowly, in a very competitive contest. We do see Ono being rocked, at least once, but gutting it out for the win.
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.
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.
This coming Monday fight fans in Kumamoto get the chance to see burgeoning local star Tatsuya Fukuhara (17-4-5, 6) return to the ring to seek the second defense of his Japanese Minimumweight title. In his ring return he will also be looking to secure his career best win as he shares the ring with former OPBF champion Shin Ono (19-7-2, 3), a former world title challenger.
Despite being the Japanese champion and a genuine emerging fighter at 105lbs, not many people will know much about Fukuhara. The 27 year old from Kumamoto first made a mark in 2009 when he came runner up in the All Japan Rookie of the Year, losing to future Japanese champion Takuya Mitamura. In 2012 he scored a notable win over Koki Ono though suffered back to back losses in 2013, losing to future world champion Yu Kimura and a then debuting Takuma Inoue.
Since the losses to Kimura and Inoue we've seen Fukuhara really make a name for himself with a 5-0-2 run. That run has seen him hold Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr to a draw in Thailand and score notable wins over Hiroya Yamamoto, to claim the title last November, and a then unbeaten Takumi Sakae, to record his first defense.
In the ring Fukuhara is a hard working fighter. He's not the quickest or the most powerful but he's tough, comes to fight and knows when to bite down on the gum shield. That attitude helped him earn the draw with Fahlan and saw him defeat a spirited Yamamoto. He can however be out boxed, as Inoue and Kimura did so with relative ease, and if a fighter can avoid trading with him the odds are they will be able to have real success against him.
Whilst Fukuhara is a relatively little known fighter, outside of Kumamoto, Ono is much more well known. The 33 year old Watanabe gym fighter has really been around the block and then some. He suffered a couple of losses early in his career before stringing together a number of wins and over-coming the likes of Toshimasa Ouchi and Yu Kimura, inflicting the first to the future world champion. He has also scored notable wins over the likes of Xiong Chao Zhong and Omari Kimweri. Despite those wins he suffered notable losses losing to Masayuki Kuroda, Myung Ho Lee, Katsunari Takayama and, most recently, Kenichi Horikawa.
At his best he's an outside fighter and can look a little bit skittish with a lot of movement. He makes the most of his southpaw stance and avoided a tear up. In recent bouts however his legs have started to show their age and Horikawa managed to drag him into a war and drown him in a tempo war that eventually saw Ono being stopped. At 33 he can't use his legs like he used to and may not be able to avoid a tear up with Fukuhara.
Although Ono is a former OPBF Light Flyweight champion he has seemed more suited to the Minimumweight class, where he returns here. Sadly even with this bout at his better weight he's facing a guy who always seems bigger than he is and we suspect that Ono will be broken down, likely after making a good start.
With Ono turning 34 later this year we can under-stand him putting it all on the line here but we suspect he'll come up short against a hungry Fukuhara who will be wanting to leave an impression and move himself towards a world title fight in 2017
Sometimes it's great to have a long term national champion sorting the division out and taking on all comers whilst extending a reign to prove they really are the best in the country. On the other hand it can also be great when a champion vacates to focus on bigger and better challenges, whilst leaving an opening for a potentially brilliant match up.
That second scenario has been seen recently in Japan at Light Flyweight, where Yu Kimura, a world ranked and potential world champion, has vacated the national title and left us with a title showdown between the two top domestic contenders.
Those contenders are former OPBF champion Shin Ono (18-6-2, 2) and former multi-time title challenger Kenichi Horikawa (29-13-1, 6). Neither is a genuinely big name in the sport but both have styles that should gel well to give us an exciting war on September 17th.
Of the two men Ono is probably the better known of the two and is, on paper at least, the more distinguished of the two men. In his 24 fight career he holds notable wins over Xiong Zhao Zhong, Yu Kimura, Toshimasa Ouchi and Omari Kimweri. On paper they are solid wins, though in reality they do generally come with small notes, such as Kimura being a 5 fight novice when Ono beat him, whilst the fights with Ouchi, Kimweri and Zhong were all paper thin.
The most notable fight of Ono's is actually a loss, in an IBF Minimumweight title fight back in May 2014 to Katsunari Takayama. That bout saw Ono give Takayama some problems before Takayama came on strong to take a clear win, with the help of two late knock-downs. Since then however Ono has fought just once, more than 12 months ago, and has suffered an injury that ruled him out of a rematch with Kimura that was supposed to happen earlier this year.
As a fighter Kimura is a talented and fast southpaw who moves a lot and lets his hands go a fair bit. On the hand he's also a jab busy fighter who rarely sets his feet and as a result lacks real power on his shots. This is why he's only scored 2 stoppages in 24 fights and why he hasn't had the success that his career has perhaps deserved given his in ring ability. Another issue is actually his southpaw stance and he has already been involved a trio of technical decisions. His biggest problem however will be inactivity, given he's not fought in a year and at 33, heading towards 34, he can scarcely afford time out of the ring.
At 35 years old Horikawa is the older man in terms of physical age, however with 43 bouts, and 287 rounds on the clock, he's much older than his physical age. Not only has he got a lot of miles on the clock but a lot of them have come against talented fighters with losses to Akira Yaegashi, Michael Landero, Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa, Ryuji Hara and Yu Kimura, among others. Sadly for Horikawa 3 of those losses have come in Japanese title fights, which another has come in OPBF title contenst. In fact he is currently 0-6 in title contests.
Whilst going through Horikawa's losses looks impressive it needs to be noted that he also has a number of solid wins on the domestic scene, including wins against Masayoshi Segawa, Norihito Tanaka, Hiroshi Matsumoto, Yusuke Sakashita, Tetsuya Hisada and Toshimasa Ouchi.
In the ring Horikawa is a busy and tough fighter who combines those traits with a solid jab, impressive speed and under-rated technical ability, though he does have a knack of getting a bit wild at times. Looking at his record you may suspect he's a “bum” but the reality couldn't be further from the truth and in all honesty he's a real handful on the domestic stage. Unfortunately his biggest may well a combination of his lack of fire power and a mental problem in regards to winning a “big one”. If the pressure has got to him in the past then the same could strike here given that it will almost certainly be his last big fight.
Coming in both men know what is up for grabs and both will fight like they mean it. That should give us a lot of action and a lot of exchanges. Given that both men are relatively tough, just a combined 5 stoppage losses between, and neither can punch with authority we're really unlikely to see a stoppage, we are however certain to get action. The question is who will impress the judges? It's a hard one to answer and one we suspect will be answered in a very competitive 10 round battle between two very well matched veterans.
Interestingly it seems that youngster Ken Shiro is eyeing up the winner of this one for a show down in the near future. Whilst the two veterans are excellent fighters we suspect the youngster would have to be favoured over the winner, which ever way this one ends.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
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