Earlier this year we saw Takayuki Okumoto (21-8-3, 10) claim the Japanese Super Flyweight title, ending a short reign of Hiroyuki Kudaka. This coming Sunday he will make his first defense of the title, facing off with the unbeaten Masayoshi Hashizume (16-0-1, 10) in a bout between two Osaka based fighters each looking to end the year as a national champion and begin 2019 looking forward to a mandatory defense at the Champion Carnival.
The 26 year old champion won the title in his second shot at the belt, having come up short in his Japanese title challenge against Ryuichi Funai, via a 7th round technical decision. Despite losing to Funai he had been competitive and was certainly not embarrassing himself. In fact in many ways Okumoto's career is built up with solid efforts and peculiar match ups. They include taking on former world champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin as a 15 year old in Thailand, something that just seems crazy now, and then returning to Thailand 6 years later and losing to Rusalee Samor. In recent years Okumoto has proven to be a very capable having scored wins over the likes of Yuta Saito, Sonin Nihei and the aforementioned Kudaka. In fact since losing to Samor in October 2013 Okumoto has gone 11-2-1 with the loses coming to Funai and Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking.
Okumoto is a southpaw fighter who brings the pressure straight away. He's relatively quick on his feet, and although he doesn't set a mega work rate he does seem to look for a higher tempo than perhaps would like. He has under-rated footwork, and can regularly be seen turning on his opponents, in a similar but much less effective way to Vasyl Lomachenko. Watching him you can see he's a student of the sport and does know how to do things. Sadly why he shows touches of brilliance he is still a very flawed fighter who lacks real power, doesn't have real crispness to his work and can get involved in messy bouts far too easily, something that happened against Kudaka with the two men falling in on each other regularly.
Hashizume is getting his first title shot at the age of 24 though the Ioka gym fighter has long been tipped for success, with fans and fighter himself likely frustrated at the progress of his career. He turned professional in 2013 and went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014. It was then assumed he would be moved aggressively towards a title fight, and build on his 7-0 record with solid competition. Sadly however Hashizume's rise through the ranks stalled massively as he faced off with 7 inept Thai imports who were all stopped in a combined 21 rounds He had gone from a hot property to someone who was frustrating fans. Fans were further frustrated late last year when he did step up and could only just manage a draw with Kota Fujimoto. Thankfully since that draw the youngster has scored two decent wins over Takahiro Murai and Marjun Pantilgan.
We've been impressed by Hashizume on the most part. He looks the part, he's sharp, crisp, aggressive and looks like the short of fighter who is doing things instinctively. His southpaw jab is a huge weapon, his straight left hand is excellent and his movement is very confident. Sadly though he does look like a fighter who is very used to having things his own way and has all sorts of poor habits which have been allowed to build from his low level of competition. If he shows those flaws here, he could come up short against a less gifted but more skilled champion.
We think Hashizume is the more natural talent, but sometimes natural ability isn't the key and instead the will to win is. We suspect that that will be the case here, with Okumoto grinding out a messy decision win, likely having been behind in the early part of the fight.
The Super Flyweight division is one of the most talent laden division's in the sport today with fighters like Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Jerwin Ancajas, Juan Francisco Estrada, Donnie Nietes and Kazuto Ioka all being among the notable names competing at 115lbs. Sadly the division is a bit of a top heavy one right now, with a lot of world level talent and not much really making their mark on the Japanese domestic scene. At the moment the Japanese national champion is veteran Hiroyuki Kudaka (26-17-2, 11), who claimed the title earlier this year when he over-came Go Onaga to claim his second professional title almost 8 years after he claimed the WBC International Silver Flyweight title.
This coming Friday Kudaka looks to make his first defense of the Japanese Super Flyweight title as he takes on 26 year old southpaw challenger Takayuki Okumoto (20-8-3, 10) at the EDION Arena Osaka.
Although Kudaka is a relatively limited champion he has long been a must watch fighter. Win or lose Kudaka is a fun to watch fighter and despite being 33 years old he is still a fighter gets involved in wars, is durable enough to go the distance and has the stamina to lets his hands go in every round. At his very best, around a decade ago, he was a very good fighter who gave hell to the likes of Denkaosan Kaovichit, Takefumi Sakata, Panomroonglek Kaiyanghadaogym, Tetsuya Hisada, Oleydong Sithsamerchai and Sonny Boy Jaro, taking several wins from the fighters in that group. Over the last few years however he has picked up more losses than wins, coming up short against the likes of Ryo Matsumoto, Omar Andres Narvaez, Takuya Kogawa, Mark John Yap and Takuma Inoue.
The Osakan champion began his career back in 2002 when he was stopped inside a round. Since then however he has proven a tough nut with only Narvaez stopping him in the subsequent 44 bouts. He can be dropped, he can be hurt but his fighting heart is hard to break and he will always look to come forward and break down opponents, especially at this domestic level. He lacks the power to take them out with one shot, but will look to grind them down and secure the wins on the scorecards. He can do that at domestic level, but above Japanese level he does seem to lack the skills to match his desire.
The challenger made his debut in 2007, as a 15 year old in Thailand. Despite winning his debut he would be stopped in his second bout, also in Thailand. He would then be out of the ring for close to 2 years before making his Japanese debut and would lose his first bout in Japan. Following that loss he would go on an 8 fight unbeaten run, going 7-0-1 whilst defeating novice Japanese and Thai opponents. That winning run would come to an end when Okumoto stepped up in class, losing back to back bouts to Myung Ho Lee and Kohei Kubo, then being held to a draw by Akiyoshi Kanazawa, who would go on to beat Okumuto in a rematch between the two men. Even a return to Thailand failed to help Okumoto rebuild his career momentum as Rusalee Samor stopped him in 2 rounds.
Despite the struggles Okumoto continued his career and actually managed to reel off 6 straight wins, including victories over Shota Kawaguchi and Yuta Saito, before losing a close decision to Thailand's Komgrich Nantapetch, aka Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking. That loss to the Thai was a set back but it was one that Okumoto bounced back from with a pair of stoppage wins before a technical draw with Eranio Semillano slowed his rise once again. It was only a temporary slowdown however as his next fight would see him getting a Japanese title fight with Ryuichi Funai, who took a technical decision over Okumoto.
In the ring Okumoto really doesn't do anything special. He's gritty and can make fights ugly, but really isn't that powerful, that strong or that quick. His flaws however should lead to a fun fight here with Kudaka pressing the action and forcing both men to unload shots up close. We suspect the flaws of Okumoto will be his downfall, and Kudaka will be too be experienced, too tough and too busy for the challenger, in what will be a fun and entertaining contest, but one that Kudaka comes out on top of.
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.
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.