One of the best looking bouts in February is set for February 16th and will see former world champion Ryosuke Iwasa (25-3, 16) take on Mexican brawler Cesar Juarez (23-6, 17) in what is a must win for both men. The bout, an IBF Super Bantamweight world title eliminator, will be Iwasa's first bout since losing the IBF title last year to TJ Doheny whilst Juarez will be looking to score his 4th win since losing to Isaac Dogboe in January 2018.
The 29 year old Iwasa was tipped as one to watch from the moment he turned professional, back in August 2008. He raced towards a title fight and less than 3 after his debut he fought for the Japanese Bantamweight title, losing in the 10th round to Shinsuke Yamanaka. He would win the title 8 months later, beating Jerope Mercado for the then vacant title. He would defend that belt until winning the OPFB Bantamweight title and moving onto a world fight. Sadly for Iwasa he would lose in his first world title fight, being stopped in 6 rounds by Lee Haskins. That loss saw Iwasa move up in weight and in 2017 he claimed the IBF Super Bantamweight title in impressive fashion, stopping Yukinori Oguni in 6 rounds.
Holding a title usually brings out the best in a fighter, but that wasn't the case for Iwasa, who defended the belt once, in a poor performance against Ernesto Saulong, before losing the title to Doheny in August 2018.
At his best Iwasa is a hard hitting boxer-puncher, with a venomous straight left hand. Sadly however he is one paced, inconsistent and really struggles with fellow southpaws, with all 3 of his losses coming against other lefties. We've rarely seen Iwasa at his best, and that's a shame. He's also lacking in terms of speed and rarely shows full intensity in the ring. Whe things click however he is fantastic and we'd love to see more of Iwasa at his best.
Aged 27 Juarez is a Mexican warrior who should be in his physical prime. Sadly however he has had a very hard career and he may well be on the slide just a touch earlier than he should be. He won 12 of his first 13, 11 by stoppage, with his sole early defeat being a disqualification to Edgar Lozano. A close loss to Hugo Partida hardly slowed him down and in 2015 he would score back to back wins over Cesar Seda and Juan Carlos Sanchez to earn a shot at the vacant WBO Super Bantamweight title. At the time only in Mexico knew who Juarez was but his title fight, against Nonito Donaire, opened the boxing world to the stubborn, aggressive, tough and rugged Juarez. The Mexican was dropped twice in round 4, but went on to push Donaire all the way in what ended up being a really tough test for the Filipino.
The loss to Donaire was followed by a surprise decision loss to Giovanni Delgado before he strung together 3 notable wins over Filipino fighters, including an 8th round KO over Albert Pagara and a thrilling decision win over Richard Pumicpic. That winning run lead to a fight with Isaac Dogboe, who stopped Juarez in 5 rounds, and since then he has scored 3 wins.
In the ring Juarez is a rugged, heavy handed, come forward fighter. He's not the most highly skilled, or physically imposing, but he is an exciting and aggressive fighter, who really does take a great shot and has real grit. He also seems to get stronger in the later rounds of the fight, which is a worry for most fighters, as Donaire found out.
If Iwasa can put it on, fight to his best, and make the most of his damaging left hand, he can win this, and make a success US debut. He is however 0-1 outside of Japan, and 1-1 outside of Tokyo, and will be coming into this after 6 months away and with question marks about whether he even wants to box any more. Juarez's style is a nightmare for a puncher, unless they can really take him out. Sadly for Iwasa we actually see Juarez being in his face, crushing the distance and breaking him down up close.
We'd love to see Iwasa win and earn another world title fight, but we see this as an horrific style match up for Iwasa, who will need to land, and land hard, when Juarez comes in. It's not impossible for Iwasa to take the victory, but it will be a very big ask of the Japanese fighter, who should be considered the under-dog here.
On February 14th we'll get the chance to see OPBF Super Bantamweight champion Hiroaki Teshigawara (18-2-2, 11) battle against Yuki Iriguchi (10-2-1, 4), in what will be Teshigawara's first defense of the title that he won in October 2018. The bout could, potentially, push Teshigawara into a world title shot, following the likes of Ryohei Takahashi who lost recently to TJ Doheny, or could put Iriguchi on the boxing map. Incidentally Iriguchi does actually hold a win over the aforementioned Takahashi.
Over the last 2 years we've seen Teshigawara become one of the must watch Japanese fighters at 122lbs. In late 2016 he gave Ryo Akaho a really close bout, putting himself on the map, and since then he has gone 6-0 (5), claiming the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title and the OPBF Super Bantamweight title. On paper that's pretty impressive, but when you consider that his wins have come against the likes of Keita Kurihara, Jason Canoy and Teiru Kinoshita you see it's more than just record padding from Teshigawara. In fact he has been facing top domestic and regional talent and showing that he's an excellent, exciting and aggressive fighter.
In the ring Teshigawara is more a brawler than a boxer. There are boxing fundamentals there but he does seem to enjoy a war, believing in his power and toughness to break opponents down. That has been working, against power puncher, speedy fighters and tough fighters, though it didn't against Canoy who managed to survive Teshigawara's power to give us a brilliant 12 round war. He's tough, strong and powerful, a real nightmare for most at this level, though he will need to develop his boxing skills if he's to beat top 10 competition.
At 21 years old Iriguchi is a relative boxing baby, and is 7 years younger than the champion, though debuted just weeks after his 17th birthday. He would win his first 6 bouts before suffering back to back setbacks with a loss to Hibiki Jogo and a draw against Noboru Osato. Since then he has proven to be a thorn in the side of more highly regarded domestic opponents. He would be the touted Kenshin Oshima in 2016, add Takahashi's scalp in 2017 and defeat Takafumi Nakajima in 2018. His only loss, other than the one to Jogo, was a razor thin split decision to the big hitting Takuya Mizuno in late 2017 in what was a Japanese Youth title fight in Mizuno's backyard.
Iriguchi is much less of a puncher than Teshigawara and is much more a boxer, with a volume punching style. He's got a solid right hand, a good work rate and applies good pressure. Sadly though he is defensively very open, not the quickest fighter out there and he looks pretty 1-handed, often launching right hands without setting things up with a jab.
Watching what is available of Iriguchi shows him to be almost the sort of fighter that a fan would want to see Teshigawara to face off with. He's aggressive, flawed and comes forward. Against Teshigawara that should make for a very exciting, back and forth brawl. Sadly for Iriguchi however it seems like the significant edge in power will be the difference and Teshigawara will eventually break down the challenger, likely in the later rounds of an all out thriller!
The Super Bantamweight division is one of the most top heavy division's in Japan, with a number of world class fighters, such as Tomoki Kameda, Ryosuke Iwasa, Yukinori Oguni and Shingo Wake all looking to make their mark at the very top level. Sadly with such a top heavy division is leaves the domestic level looking a little bit thin, and with Wake vacating the Japanese title late in 2018 it leaves us without a clear domestic divisional #1. On January 12th we'll see Mugicha Nakagawa (24-5-1, 14) and Ryoichi Tamura (11-3-1, 6) battle for the vacant title, and to fill the hole left by Wake.
Nakagawa earned his shot at the title back in Otober, when he defeated Naoya Okamoto in a Japanese title challenger decision bout. That was a close win but a well earned one for Nakagawa who had narrowly missed out on a mandatory title shot in 2018, when he lost in a Japanese title decider bout to Yasutaka Ishimoto in later 2017. His record looks a good one on paper, even more so when you consider he is 14-1-1 (8) in his last 16 bouts, but his competition hasn't been sensational during that run, sadly.
In the ring the 29 year old Nakagawa is good boxer, with good basic skills, a long winding jab and nice movement. There's nothing spectacular about him, but he does a lot of things really well, boxing off the jab, moving calmly around the ring and showing patience when he needs to. When he needs to pick up the pace he has shown that he can, and that he can also take a good shot when he needs to, as he did against Ishimoto. One thing that is perhaps under-rated about Nakagawa is his ability to find unusual angles for his shots, and he can can't people from unusual places due to his long reach, but again for the most part he pretty straight forward.
For Tamura this will be a second title fight, after having come up short against Yusaku Kuga last year. Since that loss Tamura has scored 3 wins, shown an improvement in his technical boxing but remains a crude, strong, forward foot fighter. In fact much of Tamura's success is based on his physicality. He began his career 3-2-1 (1) but has since gone 8-1 (5), with the sole being to Kuga last year. On paper his record doesn't look amazing but he does hold notable wins against the likes of Yusuke Suzuki, Renji Ichimura, Robert Udtohan and Jestoni Autida.
Tamura is defensively flawed, he's particularly quick or elusive. He is however a very heavy handed, his jab is incredibly hurtful, his right hand is dynamite and his willingness to take one to land one makes him very dangerous. He's one of the very few fighters who has made the aforementioned Kuga back up, and he managed to apply pretty effective pressure on Kuga in fact. Sadly for Tamura a lot of what he does is pretty predictable, pretty basic and there's little thought really put behind his pressure. He's powerful but doesn't really know how to use his power properly.
On paper this is a match up between the skills of Nakagawa and the power of Tamura. If Nakagawa can keep things basic, box and move and use his brains he should be able to rack up plenty of rounds. However, Tamura will be dangerous through the full fight and if Nakagawa slows down we could see the pressure and power of Tamura undo all Nakagawa's good work.
We're expecting Nakagawa to win, by decision, though it's far from a foregone conclusion, and Tamura only needs to land one or two clean shots to turn the bout on it's head.
This coming Thursday we get the chance to see the always fun to watch Hiroaki Teshigawara (17-2-2, 10) move up in weight to take on Filipino Glenn Suminguit (21-3, 11) in a bout for the vacant OPBF Super Bantamweight title. On paper this is expected to be a very exciting and tough bout which could open the door for the winner to move onto a potential world title fight, in one of the more over-looked and under-rated divisions.
The 28 year old Teshigawara has really impressed us over the last 2 years. In October 2016 he came up narrowly short in a thriller against Ryo Akaho but since then he has gone 5-0 (4) with notable wins over Keita Kurihara, Jetro Pabustan, Jason Canoy and Teiru Kinoshita. In those wins he has proven he's tough, taking bombs from Kurihara and Canoy, aggressive and exciting. He has also proven that he can compete at title level, having won and defended the WBO Asia Pacific Super Bantamweight title. He's very much a flawed fighter, and he can certainly be outboxed, but with his relentless pressure, heavy hands and solid chin he is a real handful to fight.
Moving up in weight can be an issue but Teshigawara is a big Bantamweight and may well find that a move up to Super Bantamweight will just ease some of the issues of boiling down and could well make him a little bit more spiteful, stronger and give his gas tank a bit of a boost. Sadly for him the move up in weight may delay a potential world title fight, given the other top Japanese names at 122lbs including Shingo Wake, Tomoki Kameda, Yusaku Kuga and the returning Yukinori Oguni. At Bantamweight there may be issues getting a world title shot due to the WBSS, but he could well have himself in a leading position come the end of the World Boxing Super Series next year, whilst the Super Bantamweight division is just stacked with men jostling for a shot.
Filipino fighter Suminguit is a 29 year old southpaw who has fought as high as Super Featherweight, despite only being listed at 5'4”. Whilst he has fought up at 130lbs in the past he does seem to be more of a natural Bantamweight. It's been at Bantamweight that he's scored some of his best wins, including a 2017 victory over Renoel Pael and Alvin Bais. Notably he has only been beaten once in the last 6 years, a close decision loss to Jason Egara last year. If you scroll through his record there is a stoppage loss to Rodel Quilaton almost 7 years ago, and a decision to Fernando Lumacad. Give that those losses were so long ago it's hard to read too much into them, especially given he has since gone 9-1 (3) since then.
In terms of his style Suminguit is a tricky speed fighter who counters well, moves smartly, and shows a variety of angles. He's not a powerful fighter or a hard hitting one, but technically he is sharp, accurate and pretty well schooled. There's a lot of movement with him, though he how does with a strong aggressive and naturally imposing fighter is yet to be seen. We mentioned Teshigawara moving up in weight though Suminguit is still very small as a Super Bantamweight, and is likely to be the smaller man, despite having fought at a higher weight to the Japanese.
We're expecting to see Teshigawara press the action early on, and despite some early problems with the movement and skills of Suminguit, we expect to see the pressure get too much and or him to break down the Filipino in the mid to late rounds to claim a stoppage win, and the title.
The Super Bantamweight division is one of the more interesting ones in Japan, with a host of talented fighters from prospect level all the way up to the world level. With so much talent in the division it leads to some great possible match ups, such as the Japanese title fight earlier this year between Shingo Wake and Yusaku Kuga.
On October 12th we get a bout to decide the next Japanese title challenger as Mugicha Nakagawa (23-5-1, 14) takes on Naoya Okamoto (13-6-1, 6) at the Korakuen Hall. On paper this looks like a mismatch in favour of Nakagawa, but the two men are ranked #1 and #2 by the Japanese Boxing Commission and they should be better matched than their records suggest.
Nagakawa is the more proven fighter and the 29 year old really has impressed in the last few years. Going into July 2013 Nakagawa, then 24, was 10-4 (6) but since then he has gone 13-1-1 and scored notable wins over Yusuke Fujihara, Yuta Saito, Dado Cabintoy, and Markquil Salvana, with his only loss in that run of 15 fights being against Yasutaka Ishimoto last November, in another Japanese title challenger decider bout, or an eliminator for those in the west.
In the ring Nakagawa is an exciting fighter with under-rated power, which has seen him stop 8 of his last 15, and a good work rate. He started brilliantly against Ishimoto in their bout last year but seemed to tire in the later rounds and it does look like he's worked on that in recent bouts by becoming less aggressive and boxing more within himself, keeping some energy in reserve for when he has his man hurt. Technically he's flawed, open and often fights with his hands down, but tends to get away with it and finds ways to lure opponents in to counter. It's also worth noting that he is a very rangy fighter who can land shots from unusual angles and sometimes further away than opponents expect.
At 30 Okamoto is the slightly older man, but the less experienced and the less impressive looking on paper. However he's a man in good form, with 3 impressive wins coming into this and other good showings through his career, including a razor thin loss to Ryoichi Tamura in 2014. Coming into this he has scored wins over Gaku Aikawa, Daisuke Watanabe and current Japanese Bantamweight champion Yuta Saito. Those wins have helped him turn around a record that was once 8-5 and put him on the verge of a title shot.
Of his recent wins it was the one over Watanabe that really boosted his reputation. Watanabe was dangerous fighter but a brutal right hand left him flat on his face in the opening round. Despite that being the best win on his record he's not a puncher. Instead he's a pretty basic fighter, with a good stiff jab, a solid right hand, good movement and consistent output. He never looks like a fighter who's going to win a world title but with his consistency and accuracy he's someone who will stick around at domestic level, picking up the occasional win of note along the way.
We're expecting a pretty interesting tactical bout here though we suspect that Nakagawa will just do enough to over-come Okamoto. We suspect that the counters and extra little bit of zip in Nakagawa's shots will be the difference, but Okamoto will certainly have his moments and his jab could be a problem for Nakagawa, though we think he's a little one paced and under-powered to pick up the victory here.
Muhamad Ridhwan 11-0 (8 KOs) vs Paulus Ambunda 26-2 (11 KOs)
29 September, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
“The Chosen Wan” vs “The Rock”
By Gerald Hartup Jnr
The iconic Marina Bay Sands in Singapore will play host to a bout between local fighter Muhamad Ridhwan and Namibia’s Paulus Ambunda for the IBO Super Bantamweight World title. Last month when the fighters met face to face in Singapore for their media work there were some colourful verbal exchanges between the two men and both were brimming with confidence on their chances of getting the win. 30 year old Ridhwan has youth and home advantage on his side but the 38 year old former world champion Ambunda is confident that his experience will make the difference.
Rock, paper, scissors. How do the styles match up?
Stylistically Ambunda is a fan-friendly and fun boxer to watch. He really brings the action, forces a quick pace and comes to fight. He is a come forward, maximum pressure, high volume fighter who likes to walk his opponent down and get to work on the inside. He brings intensity through constant aggression and has a huge cardio engine. He works behind a solid defence utilising a high guard and is hard to hit cleanly. His work rate is impressive and he has gone the full 12 round championship distance a staggering 13 times. A style like his almost guarantees action in a bout.
The Namibian is a former WBO and IBO world champion and will not be fazed by a big event like this. He had a very successful amateur career and was an Olympian in 2004. He calls himself a warrior and frankly that’s a fair description, he is as tough as they come and has not been stopped in 28 professional fights.
Ridhwan is much more of a skilled and traditional technician. He is a boxer puncher whose best work is when he is operating behind his slick jab. He uses the jab effectively to score, damage, disrupt, control distance, distract and set up attacks. He is a very thoughtful fighter who boxes to a game plan and is often looking to lead his opponent into traps or to counter them. He too was a very successful amateur and has the fundamental skills to show for it. He is more than capable of mixing it on the inside as well, displaying a commitment to working the body throughout his career. His last outing was a win by uppercut KO and he throws a vicious liver shot.
This will be the Yishun boxers first outing at the 122lb Super bantamweight limit. He has fought most of his pro career at 130lb with his last bout at 126lbs. It will be interesting to see how his power and stamina transfer down to this weight category.
Ambunda is not known for his knockout power having only stopped one opponent in the past seven years. Ridhwan is much more of a banger having stopped eight of his eleven opponents and should be the heavier handed man on fight night.
A family affair
In an interesting twist to the fights narrative it has emerged that Ambunda is the cousin of previous Ridhwan opponent Nataneal Sebastian. Sebastian went the full twelve rounds and lost his unbeaten record to TCW on points last year. Ambunda is promising to exact revenge for his younger cousin.
Between a rock and a hard place
As a professional, Ambunda has been there, done it and got the T shirt. A WBO world title win being the peak of his impressive achievements. His two losses were against very respectable high level opponents Moises Flores and Tomoki Kameda both in world championship bouts. He is a boxer who has seen it all.
Ridhwans career is on an upwards trajectory and he is starting to hit his stride in the paid ranks. He has been a professional for less than three years progressing from an exciting prospect to now establishing himself as a serious world contender.
It’s the time of the season
If a boxing career were measured by Seasons in a year, Ridhwan is in early Summer and Ambunda is in late Autumn. Ambunda is a fantastic athlete and a very youthful 38 year old but he is undoubtedly near the end of his career and Father Time will catch up to him at some point. There will not be many more big nights fighting under the bright lights for him and this could be the final chance at glory.
Cebu style. The ALA connection
Ridhwan has been training hard in camp for this bout and along with his coach Rey Caitom Jnr they have been working with some high level sparring partners. The dangerous knockout artist Michael Romarate 11-1-1 (8 KOs) has been working as chief sparring partner and the elite world level contender Arthur Villanueva 32-3 (18 KOs) joined the final part of camp to provide some further tough preparation work.
What do all these men have in common? It is the famed ALA boxing gym in Cebu, Philippines. Cebu isn’t just famous for its beautiful beaches and diving, boxing fans know it for ALA which is an institution that has produced numerous world champions. Ridhwan trained and stayed there when he turned professional. Rey Caitom Jnr was a multi time national amateur champion and undefeated professional boxing out of there. Romarate and Villanueva are also both products of ALA.
High stakes at the Marina Bay Sands
The IBO world title is on the line. This is already a major belt to be competing for but beyond that the implications of this fight are very different for both men.
A win for Ridhwan would propel him into the top 15 in the world and put him in a real position to work towards challenging the best Super bantamweights on the planet. A loss would be a setback and he would have to get on a potentially long and slow road of rebuilding to get back to this level.
A win for Ambunda would mean he gets to extend his story a bit longer at the highest level. Perhaps he could have a couple more glory fights to finish a decorated career. Realistically though, this could be his last chance to have a big fight for a belt. A loss could even mean it is the end of the line on his impressive career as a prizefighter.
And my crystal ball says...
How do I see this fight panning out? The battle will be won and lost by who can dictate the terms of the fight. Ambunda will work to turn it into a real scrap, ideally turning it into a war trading shots on the inside. Ridhwan will want to control the distance and box from the outside getting in and out and inflicting damage from middle distance. Ambunda will take some rounds by virtue of volumetric output, aggression and high workrate while Ridhwan will get off the cleaner, crisper and more damaging shots. I see it going the full twelve rounds. Ambunda with his excellent endurance will be most dangerous in the final third of the fight. Ridhwans stamina will need to be good as he will not be given any time to get a breather. It could well be tricky to score with a classic subjective boxing scoring situation - do the judges reward aggression or finesse? My final call - an entertaining bout where Ridhwan takes it on points, something like 117-111.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo )
One of the most anticipated fights within the Asian boxing community will take place on July 27, as Yusaku Kuga defends his Japanese Super Bantamweight championship against Shingo Wake.
Yusaku Kuga (16-2 / 11 KOs) is a star on the rise. Burst into the scene in 2010, while still 19 years old, he started massing up victories one after the other. In just 3 years, he was already facing much more experienced boxers than himself, like Yuki Iwasaki (11-4*), Koji Aoki (16-7*), Kojiro Takada (13-8*), knocking out every single one of them. With a record of 11-1-1 he entered his first major championship bout on December of 2015, facing former WBO International champion Yasutaka Ishimoto (26-8*) for the vacant Japanese Super Bantamweight title. Both men went to war and in the end, Ishimoto got a very close decision to win the match and the belt. That loss, only motivated Kuga even more to try and capture the gold. In 2016 he dispatched Thai fighter Sukpraserd Ponpitak (13-5*) and Philippino standout Jonathan Baat (32-7*) to earn another shot at the Japanese crown. The rematch between Kuga and Ishimoto was set on February of 2017. Most fans expected this to be another back and forth affair, but that wasn’t the case this time around. Kuga blasted the champion early in the first round, knocking him down, to the surprise of everyone in attendance. In the second, Ishimoto endured a heavy beating which led to the referee stopping the fight and declaring Kuga the 39th Japanese Super Bantamweight champion. Just 5 months later, he earned his first successful title defense over Ryoichi Tamura (8-2*) and his second on March of 2018 when he KOed Ryo Kosaka (16-3*) within 2 minutes into the match. Kuga is currently ranked amongst the top of the division by the WBA, the WBC and the WBO.
Shingo Wake (24-5 / 16 KOs), not to be outdone by his upcoming opponent, has had quite a career thus far. Fighting close to 12 years, he has come face to face with some of the toughest boxers the Asian scene has to offer. In 2013, he locked horns with future IBF World champion Yukinori Oguni for the OPBF Super Bantamweight title. Oguni, undefeated at 10-0 at the time, was considered the massive favorite to win the scramble, having already defended the OPBF belt thrice against Hiromasa Ohashi (24-10*), Masaaki Serie (21-4*) and Roli Gasca (19-3*). Wake came determined and put on a clinic for 10 rounds, even knocking the champ down in the second. Oguni was rendered unable to continue and Wake won his first major title in the process. After earning 5 title defenses from 2013 to 2015, all finishes, he decisioned former IBF Asian champion Pipat Chaiporn (35-7*) in a World title eliminator bout. When the time came, Wake was overwhelmed by Jonathan Guzman’s (21-0*) power and got dropped numerous times throughout the match, suffering his only KO loss today. Despite coming short on his big opportunity, he displayed his fighting spirit by never surrendering and even giving Guzman some trouble, which made him more popular with the Japanese fans. Since then, he has been on a 4 fight winning streak, all KOs, including victories over Mikihito Seto (34-14) as well as former WBC International Silver champion and World title contender Boonsom Yamsiri (50-3).
Both fighters are looking to take that next step in their careers. For Kuga, it’s a chance to finally break in the World title picture whereas for Wake it’s time to step back up and regain his place amongst the top contenders.
Prediction: This is a pretty even fight. Kuga is 27 years old with a 58% KO ratio, while Wake is 31 with a 52% KO ratio. However, with 31 bouts under his belt, the experience factor definitely lies with Wake. At the same time, Kuga has never been stopped in his 19 fights, unlike Wake. Comparing recent performances, Kuga has faced better competition overall. Moreover, under the notion of “you are as good as your last fight”, Kuga finished Ryo Kosaka within the first round while Wake needed 4 rounds to put down a relatively inferior opponent in Roman Canto. All in all, Kuga maybe winning this on paper but you can never count out a veteran the caliber of Wake.
One of the most interesting divisions right now is the Super Bantamweight division. It's not red hot in terms of big names or money making stars but in terms of quality and interesting match up it's a fantastic division. We recently saw both Daniel Roman and Ryosuke Iwasa retain the WBA and IBF title respectively and with contenders like Tomoki Kameda, Hidenori Otake, Diego De la Hoya, Shingo Wake and Marlon Tapales all chasing world title fights the division really is bubbling over nicely.
One other notable contender in the division is current Japanese national champion Yusaku Kuga (15-2-1, 10) who returns to the ring this coming Tuesday to defend his title against mandatory challenger Ryo Kosaka (16-3-1, 8). For the champion this bout will be his second defense, following his title win in February 2017, whilst Kosaka will be getting his first title shot.
The champion is one of the many exciting Japanese fighters who has been quietly making waves over the last few years. He debuted in 2010 and in 2012 he competed in the Rookie of he year, losing to Nobuhiro Hisano in June of that year. That could have been a major set back but Kuga saw the loss as inspiration and went unbeaten in his next 8 bouts, defeating Yusuke Suzuki, Koji Aoki and Yuki Iwasaki, whilst fighting the then touted Naoto Uebayashi to a draw. It was clear that he had major potential back then and worked his way towards his first Japanese title fight. Sadly for Kuga he would lose in his first shot, coming up just short against Yasutaka Ishimoto. In 2016 Kuga would stop Jonathan Baat to earn his second shot at the title, and he would gain revenge over Ishimoto in 2 rounds to claim the title.
Since winning the belt Kuga has defended it just once, narrowly over-coming the aggressive and hard hitting Ryoichi Tamura, in a bout that saw both men forced eat some huge bombs. In that bout Kuga showed he had a chin to go with his power, though left question marks about his stamina and how well he can fight when backed up. On the front foot he's devastating, with nasty power, but on the back foot that power is much less potent.
Whilst we've followed Kuga with interest since early in his career the same can't be said of Kosaka, sadly. That is something that tends to happen when fighters don't fight much in Tokyo, and with Kosaka being based with the Shinsei Gym on Kobe he really has gone somewhat under the radar, despite climbing up both the JBC and OPBF rankings.
The challenger debuted in 2011 and despite 3 stoppage wins to begin his career he began to falter, losing a pair of technical decisions then having a draw to slide to 3-2-1 (3). His third, and most recent, loss came in December 2013 when he was stopped in 7 rounds by Yuta Yasumoto. Since that loss we've seen Kosaka go 9-0 (5) defeating a combination of poor Thai imports and low key domestic foes, such as Satoshi Niwa and Morihisa Iju. Whilst he is the mandatory for the title show there is a feeling that he lacks a really good domestic win, and did actually only get this shot after Yasutaka Ishimoto announced his retirement. The reality is that there are much proven domestic contenders out there than Kosaka, despite his relatively nice run.
Although Talented Kosaka isn't looking like a fighter ready for a title shot, especially not against a danger man like Kuga. Whilst Kuga did look like he was beatable last time out he is unlikely to struggle here. Kosaka may have the edge in technical boxing ability, but Kuga has the power, the aggression and the strength to walk through the challenger's best shots and take him out, likely in the second half, when Kosaka begins to feel the pace. We suspect the challenger will start well, but Kuga will turn it around and record his second defense, and begin his advance towards a world title fight, which he may well get later this year.
This coming Tuesday fight fans in Japan are in for a little bit of a treat, as the teak tough Hidenori Otake (30-2-3, 13) defends the OPBF Super Bantamweight title against the big punching Brian Lobetania (13-4-3, 11). The bout is likely to be one of the hidden gems of 2018 and could be one of those rare fights that really goes under the radar yet gives the hardcore fans something really memorable.
Otake is best known for his 2014 loss to the then WBA Super Bantamweight champion Scott Quigg. Since then however Otake has gone 8-0 (4) and claimed the OPBF title, as he's began a charge towards a second world title fight. He's not just gone unbeaten but has done so against good competition, beating the likes of Jelbirt Gomera, Kinshiro Usui and the very talented Hinata Maruta. Those bouts have all shown that Otake, at 36 years old now, has an amazing engine still and is just as teak tough as he showed against Quigg.
Although not the most technically gifted fighter out there Otake has so many things going for him. As mentioned he is incredibly tough, he was pounded by Scott Quigg but never took a backwards step and kept coming, even getting stronger the longer the bout went on. He has an incredible work ethic and can fight 12 rounds at a great tempo, often picking up the pace later in fights. He also has a lot of experience, with 231 rounds under his belt and 9 title bouts, in which he has gone 8-1 and has under-rated skills, with a nice jab, a solid right hand and great body work.
Looking at flaws with Otake he's not very quick, not a big puncher and pretty much a 1-trick pony, however it's a very good single trick. He will bring insane amounts of pressure, from round 1 to round 12 he will come forward, marching behind his jab, and look to out work opponents. It's not enough to win him a world title, against smarter, quicker opponents who move and take advantage of his slow feet, but against anyone below world level he's a nightmare.
Whilst fans in the west have seen Otake odds are they won't have seen the challenger, whilst fans in Japan have seen him, with his last bout being a mild upset win against the promising Kai Chiba. That bout showed that Lobetania is pretty limited, and like Otake is a one trick pony. Thankfully for Lobetania that one trick is pretty potent, and is a brutal overhand right hand. Against Chiba we saw Lobetania essentially spam his right hand, like a video game character, he missed with a lot of them, but every time it connected Chiba felt it, and wobbled hard in round 3 before being stopped the following round.
Aside from the win over Chiba it's easy to question Lobetania's record. He has 4 to his name, with only one of those coming against a really notable name, and that was against Jonas Sultan. Against Chiba however Lobetania proved not only that he has power, but also toughness, taking some bombs from the Japanese fighter. It should be noted he has only been stopped once, a surprise given his relatively open defense. Lobetania can punch, and take a shot, though interestingly he has got questions about his stamina, and he is 0-3 in bouts that have gone beyond 6 rounds.
What we're expecting here is for Otake to look to control the bout fighting at mid range early on and letting Lobetania tire himself out with the wild swings, before returning fire with busy combinations. In the second half of the fight, as the challenger slows down, Otake will be coming on strong and potentially even breaking down Lobetania in the second half for a TKO. If Otake can't stop the Filipino, we still expect him to take a clear and wide decision, in what will be an exciting war, until Lobetania starts to slow and fade.
In recent years Japanese prospects have been fast tracked with alarming regularity. It's become almost the done thing in Japan, with promoters knowing that if a fighter can fight against good fighter's there no point in keep them busy and padding their records for years. The latest Japanese youngster to be headed on the fast track to the top is Hinata Maruta (5-0, 4), who was long tipped to be a star for the Morioka gym. This coming Friday Maruta will take a huge step up in class and look to prove that he belongs to be regarded as the next in the line of super talents, like Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka, as he takes on OPBF Super Bantamweight champion Hidenori Otake (29-2-3, 13).
Of the two men it's probably Otake who is better known. He is a former Japanese national champion, the current OPBF champion and a former world title challenger, who showed his toughness in a wide loss to the then WBA champion Scott Quigg in the UK. Aged 36 he is in the twilight of his career, but has looked good recently whilst running up a 7 fight winning run, following the loss to Quigg. Those wins have included his OPBF title victory over Jelbirt Gomera and a stoppage win over Kinshiro Usui in his first defense.
At his best Otake was a teak tough fighter who was insanely tough and had incredible energy. He's now likely on the slide, but still appears to be incredibly tough, and know how to bring the relentless assault that can cause fighters to mentally crumble. Over 12 rounds very few fighters will look to have a toe-to-toe war with him. On the other hand Otake is technically flawed, crude around the edges. He's not a very accurate fighter, or a very heavy handed one, but he's very physically strong and fighters to his strengths, making fights a trench war and simply breaking down opponents with his relentlessness.
It should be noted that some cracks have appeared in Otake's toughness recently. He was cut a few fights back by the little known Alexander Espinoza, and he also struggled with Gomera, who has subsequently lost two more bouts. The Japanese warrior does like to set his feet before throwing, and against a mover, or a fighter with high ring IQ he can have his flaws taken advantage of.
Whilst Otake is probably the better known it's fair to say that fans in Japan do see Maruta as a star of the future. He's a handsome and fresh faced youngster, who has the looks to become a crossover star, he has the frame to move through a number of weights and more importantly he has the skills to go to the top. Aged 20 he is a prodigious talent, but one who has been known about long before his professional debut, with a solid amateur background and a team who regularly take him over to the US for training camps, building on his skills and experiences. Although still a boxing baby he won the WBC Youth Bantamweight title, and defended it twice, whilst also making a statement on debut by beating the then world ranked Jason Canoy.
In the ring Maruta is a slick, boxer-mover who has solid power, enough so to drop the teak tough Jason Canoy, one of the best jabs in the sport, a lovely ability to switch between head and body, good footwork and a very high ring IQ. He has been shown to turn off at time, but it often seems like he's doing so to get more experience and learn more about the sport and his opponents, rather than truly switching off. As a result he has lost a few rounds, but never come close to losing a fight.
One place where Maruta is perhaps a little “weak” is his experience. He has only had 26 professional rounds, compared to Otake's 219, but as mentioned he has held a number of training camps in the US, and that has seen him take part in long sessions, and share the ring with a number of other styles. Those training camps will help him fight over the longer distance, but we're still interested in how he will fair in the later rounds, especially with Otake's relentless forward march. Interestingly he has already been chin checked, taking some bombs from Canoy, and appears to have a very sturdy chin, but hasn't been tagged when he's tired yet.
We have seen Murata answer more questions in his first 5 bouts than most fighters, but it's clear that this bout has been made to allow him to prove even more. It's a chance for him to prove his stamina, and to prove his power, if he stops Otake it would be a huge statement, whilst a decision win would “just” be a big statement. This is certainly dangerous match making, but that seems to be the way they go with the top young talents in Japan, and it's part of what is making the Japanese scene so exciting right now. Young fighters are told to prove themselves, almost straight away.
We can see how Otake could win. We can see him just refusing to go away, taking Maruta in the deep water and drowning him, with either a late stoppage or a close decision. But our view is that Maruta's speed, skills and movement will be too much for Otake, and we even go as far as to say that a stoppage for Maruta isn't out of the question. The old adage “speed kills” is likely to play a factor here, and Maruta will be too quick and too sharp for the veteran, who will be made to look his 36 years of age, and will be finished off late into the bout.
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.