It's fair to say that the Light Middleweight division is one of the more notable in the West right now, with interesting possible match ups involving the likes of Erislandy Lara, Jermell Charlo, Jarrett Hurd, Brian Castano, Vanes Martirosyan and even Kell Brook. In Asia there is also an interesting scene developing, even if it is on a much lower level.
This coming Friday we get the chance to see the scene in Asia really tidy it's self up with the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles being unified, potentially with the Japanese title also becoming unified. Not only is there a lot of silver ware up for grabs but also a lot of career momentum for both men, who have both had sensational 2017's already and will want to end the year on a big time high.
In one corner will be current OPBF champion Ratchasi Sithsaithong (9-3, 7) who has already travelled to Japan twice this year. In his first bout of the year he scored an amazing come from behind victory over Yutaka Oishi to claim the OPBF title, with the win coming in round 12 when the Thai was 3 points, 5 points and 11 down on the cards. He then followed up with an 11th round TKO over Jumbo Oda Nobunaga Shoten Petagine to retain his title. In the other corner will be unbeaten Japanese champion Takeshi Inoue (11-0-1, 6) who has gone 3-0 (2) already this year with wins over Akinori Watanabe, Konshinmaru Saito, for the Japanese title, and Riku Nagahama, in his first defense of the title. Inoue, no relation to the Inoue clan lead by Naoya Inoue, has shown an ability to box, brawl or fight and has a good claim to being Japan's domestic break out fighter of 2017.
The Thai began his career in 2011 and faltered early, losing his 4th bout and then losing again just 2 fights later, to current Japanese Middleweight champion Hikaru Nishida. Since then however he has gone 5-1 (4), avenging his sole loss during that run to Cobra Suwa, and scoring the aforementioned wins in the OPBF title bouts. It's unclear what has really began his improvements but he now looks like a solid, heavy handed fighter, with a steely determination and great energy. He is technically flawed, hence why he was so far behind Oishi in their bout, but his will to win is incredible and his power really does appear to last in to the championship rounds.
Inoue was a former amateur stand out with a 39-16 (21) record, and he had captained his University due to his amateur talent. He turned professional in 2014 and fought to a draw with Daishi Nagata on debut. Since then however he has developed significantly and this year he has really broken away from the domestic pack with the wins over Watanabe and Saito. His amateur pedigree is obvious but he has been shown to be happy to have a fight, as he did against the big hitting Watanabe where he essentially out worked and brawled through Watanabe.
Given the styles of the two men we're expecting a hard hitting, exciting and action packed fight. We're expecting to see both men prove their toughness, but we're expecting the youth and hungry of Inoue to be too much. There's going to be a risk if the Japanese fighter goes to war straight away, especially if Ratchasi can see out the early storm and come on strong, but we favour Inoue to become a triple crown winner with a very hard fought decision over the under-rated Thai.
The name “Inoue” obviously makes fans think of Naoya Inoue, the WBO Super Flyweight champion and one of the most notable fighters in Japanese boxing. Naoya however is one of many with the surname, including his brother Takuma Inoue and cousin Koki Inoue. Outside of that particular clan there is one other Inoue making a name for himself, and that's Japanese Light Middleweight champion Takeshi Inoue (10-0-1, 5), who returns to the ring this coming Thursday for his first defense of the title. That will see the unbeaten champion take on fellow unbeaten Riku Nagahama (7-0-1, 3).
The champion was a solid amateur, running up a 39-16 record and captaining a University team, which saw him mixing with solid amateurs on a regular basis. He turned professional in 2014, fighting to a 6 round draw with Daishi Nagata on debut, and since then has found his grove, settled into the sport and become a really talented hopeful.
In the ring Inoue has shown a bit of everything. He can box, and is pretty solid behind his jab, he can fight on the back foot and he can bring the action with a pressure style, a style that helped him score a brilliant win earlier this year against Akinori Watanabe and really break away from the other domestic contenders. Last time out he again impressed as he stopped the usually tough and highly experienced Koshinmaru Saito.
Although not a puncher Inoue has enough power to keep opponents honest, he has a great engine, a good work rate and can either box or fight. His problem, going forward, is that he might look to fight with the wrong type of opponent, being dragged into wars when he doesn't need to be, he's also not really proven his ability to go 10 rounds or his ability to take a really good shot. We suspect he can, at least at domestic level, but we've not got proof he can.
Ranked #1 by the JBC Nagahama is a fighter getting a huge chance to claim his first title, despite having only been in one bout scheduled for 8 rounds or more. That leaves questions about his stamina, and with only 26 total bouts, including an 11-7 amateur record, to his name he also lacks experience.
Whilst it's easy to pick flaws with Nagahama there is a fair bit of positivity to take from his career so far. He debuted in June 2015 and by the end of the year he had claimed the Rookie of the Year crown at Middleweight. The following year he dropped down in weight and began to find his grove, stopping Tetsuya Kawabata in July 2016 and then Koji Kase in November. That win showed that Nagahama was an aggressive and exciting fighter, who liked to come forward and let his hands go, though he did so with mixed success and often missed the target all together.
For Nagahama the bout is a massive step up in class. He's now up against his first opponent with real proven ability. More worryingly for the challenger is that his style should gel with Inoue's too well, and they could be almost like mirror images in the middle of the ring, with Inoue have almost every advantage. If that's the case then there will only be one winner, Inoue, and that win will likely be by late stoppage from accumulation.
The Light Middleweight division in Asia has been a bit of a confusing scene in recent years. There's been talent there but the match ups have typically lacked in terms of competitiveness, excitement and pre-fight expectation. That's not to say it's been a shambles, but it does feel like it has been underwhelming at times and that we've not had a lot to really be excited about.
Thankfully this coming Tuesday we do get something really interesting to look forward to, as the unbeaten Takeshi Inoue (9-0-1, 4) takes on Koshinmaru Saito (23-8-2, 13) for the now vacant Japanese title, which was recently vacated by Yuki Nonaka.
The experienced Saito is a 38 year old professional who has been around the professional scene since 2001, racking up more than 30 fights and 200 rounds. His career however has been and up and down one. He has fought on 7 title bouts during his career and gone a disappointing 0-6-1 in those bouts. The first of those came back in 2009, against Daisuke Nakagawa for the Japanese Welterweight crown, and since then he has fought for the OPBF Welterweight and Light Middleweight titles, the Japanese light Middleweight title and has had repeated shots at the Japanese Welterweight title. Sadly for him the closest he has come to winning a belt was last year's draw against Takayuki Hosokawa for the Oriental Light Middleweight belt.
Although he has come up short regularly Saito has proven to be a top contender on the national and regional scenes. He has beaten most of the other top Japanese contenders, such as Shusaku Fujinaka, Yuichi Ideta and Takehiro Shimokawara, and has improved with age. He's not a special fighter but he's a solid fighter with under-rated stamina, solid power, having twice dropped Hosokawa and a gritty determinedness, hence why he is still fighting today. Sadly at his age he's not got long left in the legs and although he pushed Hosokawa hard last year that was 9 months ago and he has been inactive since then.
With just 10 fights under his belt Inoue has been fast tracked, which seems to be a thing today in Japan with fighters having that surname. Although he is an “Inoue” he isn't a relation to Naoya Inoue or the clan of fighters trained by Shingo Inoue, and isn't part of the popular Ohashi gym. Instead he's from the less well known World Sports gym,where he is seen as one of the gym's top hopefuls. Part of that fast tracking is due to his amateur experience, where he ran up a 39-16 (21) record and competed on the university, whilst the other part has been his performances since turning professional, an he has already notched up solid wins against the likes of Hisao Narita, Elfelos Vega, Chan Ho Lee and Akinori Watanabe, with that win being a particularly impressive one.
In the ring Inoue can box, he has under-rated power and solid stamina, with a real ability to hold his own in a brawl. It was that brawling ability that impress so much last time out when he beat Watanabe in impressive fashion. At just 27 he's coming into his prime and looks to be a fighter who is still improving in many ways, though this is a big step up against a man hungry to end his career as a champion. If Inoue can show his own desire and out work and out battle Saito then he'll announce himself on the domestic scene in a huge way perhaps open the doors to potential Oriental title fights, and much more.
Coming in to this Saito certainly has the edge in experience, however Inoue is almost 11 years youngster than his foe and is just as hungry. Sometimes experience is the key, but here we have to side with youth and back Inoue to out work and out battle Saito over 10 rounds, in a thrilling back and forth contest.
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.