If we're being honest the Middleweight scene in Japan is a bit of a strange one. Ryota Murata is the standout, by a long way, with Kazuto Takesako a distant second. Below Takesako however the division is actually quite interesting with several fighters all around the same level, two of whom are set to fight this coming Wednesday in a double title bout.
The bout in question will see OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Middleweight champion Yasuyuki Akiyama (12-7-1, 9) defending his titles against the hard hitting Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa (10-3, 9), in what will be the second bout between the two men.
These two fought in early 2017, with Akiyama narrowly taking a decision. Since then Akiyama has fought just once, scoring a massive upset win against Koki Tyson to claim the two unified titles, whilst Hosokawa has gone on a tear, stopping 4 domestic foes to get into the title mix.
At 38, soon to be 39, Akiyama is certainly coming to the end of his career. His win over Tyson was, by far, the biggest of his career, and the back-to-back wins over Tyson and Hosokawa came after Akiyama suffered a trio of losses, to Akio Shibata, Shoma Fukumoto and Tomohiro Ebisu. Those losses seemed to end his career but he's bounced back well with his recent wins and seems to be fighting like a man who simply can't afford another set back. He knows his career is hanging by a thread and won't want to suffer a loss.
In saying that it does seem Akiyama has had a bit of luck in recent fights. His win over Hosokawa was a razor thin decision whilst the win over Tyson was shrouded in controversy due to a shot after the bell in round 2, which Tyson never seemed to recover from. It wasn't a KO shot but was something that seemed to play on his mind, and he never looked as sharp afterwards. Despite the luck he's had he has shown a real desire to win. Ploughing forward, throwing bombs and looking to land big power shots, even when his face is a swollen mess.
Hosokawa isn't a spring chicken either, at the age of 34, though he's only been a professional for about 4 years. He would lose 2 of his first 4, by razor thin decision, before finding his groove with 4 straight wins. That run would only come to an end when he suffered the close loss to Akiyama last year. Since then he has developed a lot, working on his stamina and skills to add to his power. That has seen him scoring 7th and 8th round stoppages in his last 2 bouts. There is still a crude, diamond in the rough look to him, but with his power, ability to take a shot and relentless aggression he's now a genuine danger man at this type of level. We suspect Takesako would blow him away, and Murata obviously would, but pretty much anyone else on the domestic scene would have a very hard time with him.
Whilst Akiyama has had some good luck the same can't be said for Hosokawa who's losses have all been in razor thin decisions. He seems to fight like a man who doesn't trust the judges, and with losses in 3 of his 4 distance bouts who can blame him. We suspect that mentality to be on show here given his history with Akiyama. He will have to take some shots from the heavy hands of Akiyama but he will likely fight like a man who refuses to back off.
We're expecting a war here. Early on we expect to see both fighters try to get center ring, but Hosokawa will likely win that battle. Then we'll see Akiyama fighting off the back foot, where he's less effective in what will be a drawn out battle of wills. Sadly for Akiyama his age, and inactivity, will be a problem for him here and we expect to see him getting stopped in the middle to late rounds.
This coming Tuesday we'll see Japanese Heavyweight Kyotaro Fujimoto (19-1, 11) defending his two regional titles. He'll be making the 4th defense of the OPBF Heavyweight title and the third defense of the WBO Asia Pacific title, as he takes on limited Thai puncher Suthat Kalalek (12-9, 11). For the Japanese fighter it's another opportunity to advance his career and to rack up an extra defense of his two titles, whilst the Thai gets a second OPBF title fight, after having come up short in a Super Middleweight title bout back in 2015.
Of the two men it's Kyotaro who is the more well known, by a long way. The Japanese Heavyweight is a former K1 fighter who has shaken up the Japanese boxing scene by being a notable Heavyweight, the first notable Japanese born fighter in the division's history. His success has seen him become only the second ever Japanese Heavyweight champion, resurrecting a title which had been dead for more than 50 years, and going on to defend the belt 3 times before unifying it with the OPBF and the WBO Asia Pacific titles.
In the ring Kyotaro doesn't really fight like a typical Heavyweight. He's a small fighter for the division, standing at just 6'0 and weighing around 228lbs. Instead of being someone who will bring the fight to an opponent he's often a fighter who uses his speed and movement to out box and counter punch bigger, stronger, slower fighters. Early on in his career that saw him having mixed success, with a notable loss in his 6th professional bout against Solomon Haumono. In more recent times however it's been a tactic which has worked well and allowed him to keep his suspect chin safe whilst tiring out, and then stopping, lesser foes.
The Thai on the other hand isn't really anyone of any major note. He's better known as Kajornsak Sithsaithong or Kajornsak Saikaew Boxing Camp, and the 23 year old is one of the few men who will make Kyotaro look big. Stood at 5'7” Suthat is a blown up Middleweight who has lost to every notable name he has faced. That include Shintaro Matsumoto, Yuzo Kiyota and Vikas Singh. In fact his only win of any note came against the over-weight and out of shape Yamata Fujinaka, who came in at a career high 248.5lbs for his bout with the Thai.
Although limited the visitor can bang, and did drop Kiyota, but that power isn't going to carry up to Heavyweight. Instead it's going to be clear he's not suited to Heavyweight. In a way he could give Kyotaro fits by using his own speed and using his lack of natural lack of size to his advantage. The reality however is that he's unlikely to have the power, strength or style to test the champion. Instead we suspect that Kyotaro will look to make a statement and see off the Thai fighter within 6 or 7 rounds, maximum, in what is a very clear mismatch.
Fingers crossed that if Kyotaro wins his next defense will be against a more compelling foe, such as Zhang Zhilei or Zhang Junlong.
The Middleweight division in Japan is potentially as it's most interesting. Not only does the country have a rare star at 160lbs, in the form of WBA “regular” champion Ryota Murata, but also an all action fan friendly national champion in Hikaru Nishida, the exciting domestic contender Kazuto Takesako and the huge punching OPBF champion Koki Tyson (13-2-2, 11)
This coming Sunday Tyson looks to further strengthen his claim over the regional scene as he attempts to add the WBO Asia Pacific title to his collection, as he takes on fellow Japanese fighter Yasuyuki Akiyama (11-7-1, 8). On paper the bout isn't incredible, but the reality is that the bout could help open the door to Tyson getting a bigger and better fight down the line, and should help him move into the world rankings, potentially closing in on a bout with Murata down the line.
Tyson's climb through the ranks has been an interesting one. He drew on his debut and suffered a stoppage loss in just his 4th bout, falling to 2-1-1 (2), but then went on to claim the 2013 Rookie of the Year crown and begin his climb towards a title fight. That first title fight came in 2015, when his inexperience was exposed by Akio Shibata, who stopped the then 22 year old in the 7th round. In 2016 Tyson claimed his first title, the WBC Youth Middleweight title, then added the OPBF title with an upset win over the then unbeaten Dwight Ritchie, who had actually claimed the title in Japan with a win over the previously mentioned Nishida.
Since winning the title last year Tyson has made two defenses, stopping Korean challenger Sung Jae Ahn in 4 rounds and beating Brandon Lockhart Shane with a 12 round decision. In those bouts Tyson has proven he can bang, which wasn't really questioned given his record, but can also box and move when he needs to. He's a tall, long and rangy fighter at Middleweight and uses his frame well, though does at times look a little under-developed and certainly looks like a young man filling into his frame. It's that under-development that potentially explains why the Osakan southpaw has questionable durability and toughness, and is going to need to take time “beef up” before really chasing a world title fight.
Aged 38 Akiyama is a man at the end of his career and he'll know it's now or never if he's to become a champion. He came up short in his only other title fight, losing to Shibata for the OPBF and JBC titles back in 2015, and struggled to get his career going again with 2 subsequent defeats. His career has however had a small shot in the arm earlier this year, with a win over Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa.
In the ring Akiyama is a heavy handed fighter, but one who has long struggled in really landing with his power, and given his age landing his biggest shots isn't going to be getting any easier for him. Also with his age is another problem, durability. In the last few years he has suffered 2 stoppage losses, and going in with Tyson will likely cause another, with the veteran being too slow to react to the speed and strength of the defending champion.
We suspect Akiyama can cause some early problems for Tyson, but as soon as the champion is settled into his fight the end will only be a matter of time.
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.
This coming Saturday Japanese fans will get the chance to see the countries best known Heavyweight attempt to continue his pursuit of a world title fight, as he defends a pair of regional titles against a challenger taking a huge step up in class.
The bout in question sees Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific champion Kyotaro Fujimoto (17-1, 9) battle against the relatively unknown Randall Rayment (8-3, 3). On paper the bout is a bit of a mismatch but as we're all too aware fights don't take place on paper.
Kyotaro is a former K1 kick boxer who took to boxing a few years ago and helped kick start a mini Japanese Heavyweight scene. Sadly the scene has died in the country in the last 2 or 3 years but Fujimoto did naturally out grow it, and beat almost all he worth while challengers whilst continuing his development. That development later lead to him claiming the OPBF title, with a win over the big punching Willie Nasio and then added the WBO Asia Pacific title with a stoppage win over Herman Ene Purcell.
In the ring Kyotaro fights differently to most Heavyweights. He doesn't go into the ring with the intention of blasting foes out, or going to war. Instead he's one of the divisions more notable boxer-movers, who fights on his toes, picks his spots and relies on speed as opposed to power. It's interesting to see him fight the way he does, especially in a Heavyweight scene that is often sold on it's exciting power punchers, but it works for Kyotaro. It needs to be noted that Kyotaro is very much an under-sized Heavyweight, which is why he uses the tactics he uses, and he also has question marks about his durability, but by moving like he does he can avoid the damaging blows and strike when an opponent is tiring.
Footage of Rayment as a boxer isn't too widely available but what is out there shows a fighter with a rather sloppy style. He he's a tall rangy guy but he struggles to create distance, he slaps when he punches and really doesn't look like he does much right at all. There is some good athletic fundamentals there but the reality is that he looks like someone who has converted to boxing and is very hittable and very limited looking. Up close he fights like a brawler, and gets dragged into wars very easily, on the outside he looks like someone who arm punches on a regular basis and there is no natural snap or power there.
Whilst not an offensive or defensive genius Rayment does appear to be hungry and tough. He has yet to be stopped and has won his last 6, after a 2-3 start. Those wins have include a victory over Herman Ene Purcell, in what was Purcell's first bout after the Kyotaro one. Aged 31 he's likely peaked and this is a huge step up, with it being Rayment's first 12 rounder and he has to go beyond 6 rounds.
Given the ability of the two men it's hard to imagine anything but a straight forward win for Fujimoto, who will likely look to out box the clumsy Rayment early on, before putting his foot on the gas in the middle rounds and stopping the challenger. Sadly though Fujimoto's journey to a world title does look like it will have to go on a bit longer, with Joseph Parker said to have abandon plans to take on Fujimoto in December.
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.
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.