Whilst we're all looking forward to the host of world title bouts taking place at the end of 2016 there is perhaps a hidden gem among the bouts and it's not at world level, though it has fighters who will likely compete at the world level in the near future. That bout comes from the December 31st card in Tokyo and sees OPBF Super Featherweight champion Masayuki Ito (19-1-1, 9) take on WBO Asia Pacific champion Takuya Watanabe (30-6-1, 16) to unify the titles and crown a true Oriental champion. The bout might not have the name appeal of the world title bouts but is close to a 50-50 bout and should have fans on the edges of their seat with both fighters being very talented and very under-rated.
Of the two men the one with the most upside, potentially at least, is Ito who is one of our favourites here at Asian Boxing. The often-overlooked 25 year old wasn't tipped for big things at the start of his career and debuted at the age of 18 in a 4 rounder. In December 2012 he was crowned the All Japan Featherweight Rookie of the year, beating Masaru Sueyoshi and Kosuke Saka on route to the crown. A year later he claimed a WBC Youth crown, up at Lightweight, and a year after that he scored a massive win over Masao Nakamura.
Heading in to 2015 Ito was one of the rising hopes of Japanese boxing, though suffered a loss early in the year to Rikki Naito, albeit a very close and hotly disputed loss. He quickly bounced back from that set back by beating Dai Iwai for the OPBF title, which he has defended twice, against Shingo Eto and Ernie Sanchez.
In the ring Ito is a talented pure boxer with developing power. He's a mover-boxer who is very intelligent in the ring and has shown good stamina through his career as well as impressive speed and a very under-rated ability to judge distance and control the tempo of bouts. Although still not a huge puncher his shots carry enough weight on them to make opponents think twice and to mess up their face, as Iwai found out last year.
Although Ito is a rising hopeful the same can also be said of Watanabe, despite the fact he is a bit older at 27 and already looks like a veteran with a 37 fight record. He debuted almost a decade ago and like Ito he has built himself up from early 4 rounders to being where he is today. His success was a slow burner, and after 14 fights he was 10-3-1 (3) but since then he has developed into a very solid fighter who has under-rated skills, insane toughness and a real will to win. Like Ito has he been the WBC Youth Lightweight champion and despite falling short in two Japanese title bouts, losing to Hisashi Amagasa and Satoshi Hosono, he has never embarrassed himself.
Many who have seen Watanabe will best remember him for his insane 2014 blood bath with Jae Sung Lee, a bout in which Watanabe gave the fans in Seoul a shower of blood, from a combination of a damaged nose and a bad gash on his head. Despite covering everything in claret Watanabe was always in the fight and ran Lee very close on the score cards. That loss is one of only 2 from Watanabe in his last 17, with the other being the loss to Hosono. Those 15 wins might not be against a who's who but they do include a recent win over Amin Sor Wangmoo for the Asia Pacific title which he will be defending here.
Skill wise Watanabe is a level below Ito, however he's proven his toughness, work ethic and desire and is also a bigger puncher than Ito. Whilst he is a level below Ito in terms of skills he's still a very solid boxer who has progressively gotten better, and better, and was very unlucky in a number of his losses, including the defeat to Hosono. At times he has looked disappointing but when facing his biggest tests he has stepped it up and given his all.
Coming in to this we're expecting a really high tempo, high skilled chess match, with touches of a war. It won't be a slugfest, neither man is a brawler, but it will be all action and it will be very fun with Watanabe likely getting the better of the exchanges and Ito getting the better of the work at range. It'll be close, it'll be competitive and it'll be a great fight, and we think Ito will just do enough to claim the win in what we think could be a genuine dark horse for fight of the day.
On October 22nd Japanese fans have a potential treat as the heavy handed “Bazooka” Satoshi Hosono (28-2-1, 20) defends his Japanese Featherweight title against the teak tough and incredibly gutsy Takuya Watanabe (26-5-1, 12). The bout really pits a banger against a gutsy guy in a fight that could, potentially, be a thriller.
Of the two men it's Hosono who is more well known and he has been on the radar for quite a while. In fact many of Hosono's early fights were on TV and in 2008 he claimed his first title, the OPBF Featherweight title. Since then he has fought in 15 title fights. They have included wins, and defenses of the OPBF and Japanese Featherweight titles, and 3 world title challenges. Although he has yet to win a world title he certainly hasn't shamed himself, losing a close one to Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, being widely out pointed by Celestino Caballero and suffering a technical draw with Chris John.
Although known, on the world stage, for those 3 major set backs Hosono is one of those perennial contenders looking for another shot at a world title. From what we understand he needs a good performance before promoter Hideyuki Ohashi will do the leg work to get Hosono another shot, and it's hoped that an impressive win here will convince Ohashi to splash the cash and bring a champion over to Japan for their man.
In the ring Hosono is a fun to watch fighter. He's very aggressive, powerful, tough and strong. Technically he is a bit limited and he is relatively slow but more often than not his pressure takes an effect on his opponents and his power breaks them down.
Whilst we've had plenty of time to become Hosono fans over the last few years the same cannot be said of Watanabe who really came to our attention just last year when he suffered a loss to Jaesung Lee, albeit in a blood bath in Korea. Prior to that bout he had fought in just two title bouts, winning the WBC Youth Lightweight title and coming up short in a Japanese Featherweight title fight with Hisashi Amagasa, losing clearly in that one.
It was the Lee fight that showed just how tough and gutsy Watanabe was. In that bout he suffered a nasty cut that bled, and bled and bled, through out much of the fight covering the shorts of Lee in claret, which also left the canvas sodden and was over the referee. It was one of the most recent “blood baths” in boxing and yet never once did it look like Watanabe would quit, instead fighting out to the bitter end.
In the ring Watanabe isn't just gutsy but is a solid fighter. Sadly however his competition, on the whole, has been very poor. That's been seen in 5 of his last 6 bouts which have seen him facing very poor Thais. The one exception during that run saw him face Shun Shimazaki and that was a very competitive bout.
What we know of the two men suggests they are on totally different levels and we suspect this will be shown with Hosono recording an easy, but exciting, defense against a man who will look out of his depth despite being game.
(Image courtesy of Ohashi gym)
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.