The Japanese Middleweight scene isn't known as something too exciting, but right now it's probably as interesting as it's ever been. There's a relative lack of depth, and very few really interesting bouts to be made, but those top domestic level bouts are really interesting match ups.
One of the fighters that really does standout as a must watch fighter on the domestic scene is national Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako (10-0, 10), who will be looking to make his second defense on March 2nd, when he takes on mandatory challenger Shuji Kato (10-1-1, 6). For Kato this will be his first title fight, but also a huge step up in class for him.
Takesako is from the World of Sport Boxing Gym, the same gym as the recent world title challenger Takeshi Inoue. He turned professional back in 2015 and rose through the ranks quickly, whilst leaving destruction behind him. His first 6 bouts took place over 21 months and saw him need just 12 rounds to stop all 6 foes. Those wins lead to him getting a Japanese title eliminator in late 2017, and he made the most of his opportunity as he blasted out Shoma Fukumoto in the opening round. That win lead to him facing Japanese champion Hikaru Nishida in early 2018, and Nishida was also blasted out inside a round.
Since the winning Takesako has fought twice. His first opponent following his title win was tough Thai Chaiwat Mueanphong, who managed to survive into the 7th round with Takesako before eventually succumbing to his power. He then defended his title against a game and aggressive Sanosuke Sasaki, who came to win but was stopped in the second round.
Takesako is, as he record suggests, a big puncher. His power is legitimate and when he lands clean he hurts fighters. He has devastating blows to both head and body and surprising hand speed for such a puncher. Where he perhaps looks limited is in terms of his naturally size, he's only about 5'10" which is tiny for a Middleweight, and in his recklessness. When he feels he has his man hurt he can leave himself a little bit too open. Another issue is his defense is quite basic. He's essentially a puncher-boxer, who appears to be able to take a shot as well as landing his own dynamite leather.
Whilst Takesako has been on our radar for a while the same can't really be said of the 28 year old challenger. Kato, a southpaw from Tokyo, made his debut in December 2014 fighting just above the Super Middleweight limit, stopping his foe inside a round. He would drop down in weight for his second bout, in July 2015, and take a decision win. After having won his first 2 bouts Kato would suffer his first loss, being taken out by Altin Pepa in September 2015. His return to the ring would also end in disappointment as he was held to a draw by Agoo Masaru. Since that draw however, Kato has built himself a decent record, winning his last 8 bouts. Those 8 bouts have sene him being crowed the 2017 Middleweight Rookie of the Year, and becoming the mandatory for the Japanese title, following a split decision win over Hikaru Nishida last November, in what is by far and away his best win to date.
Watching footage of Kato we see a rangy fighter, who uses his lead hand to control distance, pawing at his opponent, moving backwards and trying to lure opponents in. It's not a pretty style, but it is an effective one at the lower levels. When he comes forward he doesn't appear to have much power on his shots, but they are thrown from some awkward angles. His technique often looks really poor, bug his size seems to allow him to get a real amount of weight behind his blows, which do do damage.
Whilst Kato has been having success, and will tower over Takesako, we really don't see what he has to offer when he goes up against Takesako. We suspect that Kato will manage to frustrate and annoy the champion, but won't be able to get Takesako's respect. We expect to see the champion begin to slip the lead hand of Kato and then pound away on the inside, stopping the challenger in the first 3 or 4 rounds, depending on how tough Kato is, and how well he can survive the power of the champion.
On November 7th we'll see the next mandatory challenger for the Japanese Middleweight title being decided, as former champion Hikaru Nishida (17-9-1, 8) battles against 2017 Middleweight Rookie of the Year Shuji Kato (9-1-1, 6) at the Korakuen Hall. The winner will get their shot at the title in 2019 at the Champion Carnival, taking on either Kazuto Takesako or Sanosuke Sasaki who clash at the start of the month. In many ways this is a much better match up that the recent title bout, which was always seen as a mismatch between a rampant and destructive champion and an under-whelming challenger.
Of the two fighters it's Nishida who is the more recognisable by far, having been a former unified Japanese and OPBF champion. The 31 year old has mixed with the best domestically over the last few years and is a fighter who proves that hard work can achieve results. He began his career in 2008 and was 6-6-1 (1) after 13 fights, with his only early career win of note coming against the aforementioned Sasaki who would win a rematch just a few months later. He has however battled back and gone 11-3 since then, notching up wins against Fukutaro Ujiie, Kazuhiko Hidaka, Makoto Fuchigami, Ratchasai Sithsaithong, Akio Shibata and Tomohiro Ebisu.
In the ring Nishida is known as a basic but effective pressure fighter, coming forward behind a high guard and pressing his opponents before breaking them down up close. He has often shown that he can be out boxed, losing the OPBF title to Dwight Ritchie via a wide decision in 2016, and he's had to come from behind to break opponents down in the past. One of his biggest strengths has been his physicality, and he is an imposing fighter on the domestic scene. Another strong point for Nishida is his durability, but was blasted out in his title loss to Takesako earlier this year and we do wonder what that has taken out of him.
Kato is the younger, less known man who at 28 years old has real promise but hasn't really shown what he can do against notable domestic competition. He debuted way back in December 2014 but had a pretty inactive start to his career, ending 2016 with a record of 3-1-1 (2). In 2017 however he had a break out year, going 4-0 (3) to become the All-Japan Rookie of the Year at Middleweight. As with all Rookie tournaments his opponents were novices, so it's hard to say how impressive the Rookie win was, but it was certainly something and immediately put him on the right path. Since that rookie win he has scored a couple of wins this year, both against low level domestic foes.
From the footage we've seen of Kato he looks like a talented southpaw boxer with an educated lead right hand. He has an active style, applying pressure behind his jab and can move through the gears surprisingly quickly. Sadly he is a touch on the crude side, and whilst he can step up the tempo he can also be made to look slow and clumsy, with his shots typically having a lethargic appearance. Despite looking like he pushes his punches he must hit hard, at least at the level he's been fighting at, as he's managed to hurt pretty much everyone he's fought, and his straight left hand is clearly a heavy shot.
Whilst Kato has been on a good run, it's hard to imagine him stepping up this much in class and over-coming the flawed but rugged Nishida, who we suspect will walk down Kato and stop him in the later rounds of this scheduled 8 round contest. We know that Nishida was demolished by Takesako but Takesako appears to be several levels above Kato, and we think that Nishida will still have more than enough to deal with Kato.
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.