The Middleweight scene is not one that we tend to think of too much when we discuss Japanese fighters, even with the recent success of Ryota Murata. Strangely however the Japanese scene at 160lbs is probably as good as it's ever been, with several exciting fighters making their mark. Those include Japanese Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako as well as the unified OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific champion Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa (11-3, 10).
Hosokawa won the unified title last year in a Japanese Fight of the Year candidate against Yasuyuki Akiyama, avenging one of his losses in the process, and will be making his first defense this coming Sunday against skilled veteran Yuki Nonaka (32-10-3, 10), on February 24th. The bout will be pitting Hosokawa's aggression, power and tenacity, against Nonaka's skills, experience and toughness, in what could be the surprise bout of the week.
Aged 34 the hard hitting Hosokawa, who is the brother of Japanese Light Welterweight champion Valentine Hosokawa, made his debut in 2014, at the age of 29. He would lose on his debut and would actually lose 2 of his first 4 bout, both by razor thin decisions. Following those set backs he reeled off 4 straight stoppage wins before losing another close contest, that time to Yasuyuki Akiyama, the man he would later rip the two regional titles from. Following the loss to Akiyama we saw Hosokawa improve, showing his stamina with an 8th round TKO over Kazuyuki Fukuyama and a 7th round TKO over Hisao Narita, and earn a second bout with Akiyama last September.
After beating Hososkawa, by majority decision, Akiyama had shocked the regional scene with a TKO win over Koki Tyson for the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles. Hosokawa would end that reign by winning a war with Akiyama last year, stopping Akiyama in the 11th round. The fight started slowly but warmed into a real action packed contest, as Hosokawa began to march Akiyama down and broke him down with powerful shots. The performance showed the good, and the bad, of Hosokawa. He's aggressive, heavy handed, has a high work rate and is a very powerful and strong fighter. Defensively however he is open, he is predictable and he's not quick. He often marches forward looking to cut the distance usually comes forward in straight lines, something that someone with the skills and experience of Nonaka may be able to expose. Despite being predictable he doesn't seem to know how to take a backwards step and has proven to be almost impossible to dissuade from coming forward.
The 41 year old Nonaka is an old school veteran, having made his debut way back in 1999 as a Welterweight. He would fight as low as Light Welterweight before really settling on Light Middleweight. Early in his career he struggled to find his place and his style in the sport, losing 2 of his first 3, 3 of his first 5 and 4 of his first 9, including a KO loss to Masahiro Muroya. Amazingly after that stoppage loss, back in 2002, Nonaka has never been stopped in 36 subsequent contests!
Despite settling at Light Middleweight Nonaka would struggle to have major success, losing in his first title fight in 20078, when he was out pointed by Kazuhiko Hidaka in an OPBF Light Middleweight title fight. The following year he would take the Japanese Light Middleweight title with a win over Akihiro Furukawa. He would later go on to unify the Japanese and OPBF titles before losing both belts to Akio Shibata in 2009. That loss was a temporary set back and in 2014 he would become a 2-time Japanese champion, schooling Kengo Nagashima for the national title, which he held until 2017 and made 6 defenses of. Sadly since vacating the belt Nonaka has gone 1-2, with losses to Dennis Hogan and Takeshi Inoue in world title eliminators.
Despite his age Nonaka is a criminally under-rated fighter. He lacks power but is surprisingly quick, an ultra sharp fighter who uses his jab to spear fighters, at range, lays traps with intelligent footwork and varies his shots amazingly well. His uppercut seems to find the target far too easily at times and he always looks so comfortable and relaxed in the ring. He's the sort of fighter that any young kid picking up the sport should take a look at. Sadly, for him, his lack of work rate, and his counter punching tendencies can see him fail to get the respect of fighters and being out worked by hungrier fighters. Also, notably for this fight, he will be in with a dangerous and natural Middleweight, something he hasn't typically faced, having fought mostly at Light Middleweight. He has dipped his toe at Middleweight, but not against someone with the power and physicality of Hosokawa.
Whilst we know this bout will go under the radar, especially coming just days before the mouth watering WBO Minimumweight title bout between Vic Saludar and Masataka Taniguchi, this has the potentially to be brilliant. Hosokawa's head first aggression should play into Nonaka's hands, and give the veteran a lot of openings. Nonaka however won't have the power to get Hosokawa's respect and we'd expect him to be willing to take 3 to land 1 as a result. This should result in a brilliant, mid range war with Nonaka easily out landing his man but being tagged by the bigger shots. If Nonaka's chin can hold up he probably takes the win, but that is a huge if, and we wouldn't be surprised by Hosokawa getting to him late to force a stoppage. Either way we are in for a treat!
The first WBO Asia Pacific title bout to take place in Japan this year is an excellent match up between once beaten Filipino Ben Mananquil (16-1-3, 4) and local hopeful Tenta Kiyose (15-2-1, 7), who battle for the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title that was vacated in 2018 by Hiroaki Teshigawara when he moved up in weight to fight for the OPBF title. On paper the two men are well-matched, with neither being a huge puncher, and we suspect we'll have a really good contest. But let's have a look in more details.
Mananquil is a Filipino who has been criminally underrated during his career. The 26 year old "Nightmare" made his debut more than 8 years ago and fighting at Minimumweight as an 18 year old. He fought solely on the Filipino domestic scene for his first 9 bouts, running up a 9-0 (2) record, fighting at Minimumweight as an 18 year old. He fought solely on the Filipino domestic scene for his first 9 bouts, running up a 9-0 (2) record.
In 2013 Mananquil went on the road for the first time, and fought Kwanpichit OneSongchaigym, dropping Kwanpichit in the first round and coming close to a stoppage, before a clash of heads in round 2 saw the bout conclude with a Technical Draw. Another draw occurred in 2014, when he fought Jing Xiang, before losing a rematch to Xiang 5 months later. Since then he has stuck to fighting in the Philippines, and scored notable wins over Glenn Porras and Jess Rhey Waminal as well as getting a very fortunate draw against Hinata Maruta, who seemed to do more than enough to win an 8 round decision.
Against Maruta we saw a small looking Mananquil trying to protect himself, showing nice defense and trying to counter. He showed really nice defensive skills, but a lack of power, a lack of offense and really was depending on landing counter shots. That was a stark difference to the fighter who had fought Kwanpichit, and had come close to stopping the Thai. So what we know is that he can be aggressive, he has surprisingly speed and is defensively smart. We do however wonder how he'll fare on the road, with fans clearly backing his foe, whilst fighting at Bantamweight against a naturally bigger foe.
The 22 year old Kiyose hasn't yet made his international debut, though has fought through out Japan. He lost on debut, to Kensei Hirano, and fought to a draw in his third bout, against Noboru Osato. Following those set-backs Kiyose had some good success, reaching the 2015 Rookie of the Year final before losing to Matcha Nakagawa. Since that loss Kiyose has been in good form, going 8-0 (6) with notable wins against Ryuta Otsuka, Joe Tejones and Oleydong Sithsamerchai. Through those bouts he has won the WBC Youth Super Bantamweight title and broken into the WBA and IBF rankings.
Watching footage of Kiyose, quite a bit of which is available on Boxingraise, we see a pretty solid looking boxer with a sharp jab, good movement and quick hand speed. There's defensive flaws there, and he does drop his hands when punching which will be punished when he faces better opponents than he has been up against. Also he has looked over eager to finish opponents when he has them hurt, and has shown a lack of real intelligence when trying to close the show.
Kiyose will be strongly backed by local fans here, and will be the bigger, more aggressive, harder hitting fighter. Sadly for him however he also looks the more crude, less smooth, less intelligent fighter and that is probably going to be the difference. Mananquil isn't a big puncher, but he is a smart counter puncher and those counter shots are almost certainly going to be landing cleanly on Kiyose, due to his defensive flaws. Manaquil isn't unbeatable, far from it, but stylistically he's a fighter who will be a nightmare for Kiyose, unless the local shows more ring craft than he has in the past.
Saying all that, we wouldn't be surprised by a Kiyose win, though we suspect a win for the local would likely have some questionable scorecards.
There are some fighters we watch because they are world class fighters and have skills that few can match. There are also fighters we watch because we know they will provide an excite contest, no matter what. One fighter from that second group is in action on December 1st in what is supposedly a world title prelude, and his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight title.
That man is Reiya Konishi (16-1, 6), who faces off with Filipino foe Richard Rosales (13-7-2, 7) in a bout that we suspect will be a lot more interesting than the records of the men suggest. In fact we're expecting this to be a thrilling, fun and somewhat competitive bout between men who are likely to match each other well.
So far in 2018 Konishi has been involved in a couple of great bouts. The first saw him losing in a bout for the WBA "regular" Light Flyweight title against Carlos Canizales whilst the second saw him claim his WBO regional title, stopping Orlie Silvestre in the final round. For those who haven't seen Konishi before, those bouts are well worth a watch. They show Konishi's flaws, which are that he's easy to hit, doesn't hit particularly hard and gets involved in gruelling wars, along with his strengths, which are his great work rate, high levels of stamina, great heart, and fantastic body attack.
We don't see Konishi having a long career near the top, or even at the top if he can go all the way, but we do expect to always enjoy his bouts, which are fought at a thrilling intensity. They can get messy, due to head clashes and some mauling, but they are really dull and often both men know they have been in a fight, and fans know they've seen something a bit brutal.
Rosales on the other hand has had a year to forget, suffering losses to Vietnam's Tran Van Thao in January and to Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr in August, both in Thailand. Those losses have sandwiched a low key win against Delfin de Asis from May. Sadly for Roales his form on the road has been poor, going 0-3 in fights outside of the Philippines, and 13-4-2 (7) at home. Whether at home or away he lacks in terms of notable wins, and has suffered losses to every notable fighter he has faced, including Fahlan, Jayr Raquinel, Kwanpichit OngsongChaigym and Jake Bornea, likely explaining why Konishi's team have brought him to Japan for this bout.
At his best Rosales can be a nightmare, and he did legitimately make Fahlan and Raquinel earn their wins, but he's not a fighter who gets over the winning line against decent competition. We're expecting to see him come to fight, but lack the fire power to get Konishi's respect. Instead we think Konishi will drag Rosales into a war and come out with a clear win, likely a wide decision or late stoppage. Konishi will likely end up cut, he usually does, but will well deserving of the win.
All too often boxing gives us fights we don't want, we have little interest in and we don't really understand the point of them. Every so often however we get a fight we didn't really think we wanted, until it was made and then we think, "that's a really good match up". On December 1st we get one of those "really good match ups" as Japan's Masao Nakamura (24-3, 23) faces off with Filipino Carlo Magali (23-10-3, 12) for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight. It's a bout we hadn't really thought about, but as soon as it was announced it was hard not to be excited about, given the styles of the two men.
Japan's Nakamura is a 30 year old boxer-puncher, who has shown a sense of fragility through his career but also very heavy hands and explosive KO power. He debuted back in 2006 and reeled off 12 straight wins inside the distance to win the OPBF Super Featherweight title, pulling himself off the canvas to take the belt from Allan Tanada. Sadly his reign was a short one, losing the belt in his first defense against Ronald Pontillas. Another stoppage run saw him race away to 18-1 (18) before being upset by the then unheralded Masayuki Ito. The loss to Ito was followed by another upset loss to Rey Labao in late 2014. That seemed like the start of the end for Nakamura but he since battled back, and scored a career best win over Daiki Kaneko in a brilliant 2015 clash as he began to move towards a world title fight. Sadly however Nakamura would retire in 2016, citing a mental and physical decline. Thankfully however he ended his retirement earlier this year and looked rejuvenated with 2 stoppages since his ring return.
Nakamura is, as mentioned, a boxer-puncher. He's a very heavy handed fighter who has good boxing skills, surprising speed and movement and a good boxing brain. Sadly however he has questionable durability, with a chin that could let him down if he's caught cleanly on it. He can be out boxed, as we saw against Ito, and he's not great when fighters get inside and work him up close. If he can control the range, and get his thundering shots off, he's hard to beat, but up close and when he's smothered he will always struggle.
On paper Magali doesn't look like any thing special, however the 32 year old Filipino is a nightmare to fight, having learned from his defeats and really developing a style that is hard to look good against. He's not quick, he's not a massive puncher, and he's not the toughest fighter, but he's a short, aggressive type who looks to cut distance and wailing in shots up close, with heavy clubbing hands, and a good engine. Through his career he has been stopped 3 times, once early in his career and twice on the road against Lightweights, with those two losses coming late in the bout. During his long career he has scored wins over Mark John Yap, Mark Gil Melligen, Ryuta Miyagi, David Browne Jnr and Masatoshi Kotani.
If you can keep Magali at range you can have great success against him however Magali's desire and toughness will see him looking to cut the distance, march down his man and wear them out mentally as well as physically. That is his real threat to Nakamura, as he's not going to collapse when caught, instead he will march forward and get into Nakamura's head, whilst looking to land with his thudding power.
We suspect Nakamura will have the edge in speed, power and movement, and will likely control much of the bout, but Magali will always be a threat and if he lands clean he could, very easily, drop Nakamura. That'd be when things get interesting. Although Magali has a chance, we suspect that Nakamura will take the win, either by decision or a stoppage, if he can intelligent jump on Magali when he has him hurt. If he takes too many risks however Nakamura could find himself staring up at the lights, wonder what he go caught by, so he does need to box smartly and not get dragged into a war.
We love fighters misleading records, and we love fighters who want to be fast tracked and chase glory earlier in their career. This coming Sunday we see those two things clash, as Richard Pumicpic (21-8-2, 6) defends his WBO Asia Pacific Featherweight title against unbeaten 18 year old Musashi Mori (7-0, 5) at Aioi Hall in Kariya. Pumicpic boasts one of the most misleading records in the sport today whilst Mori is looking to punch himself into the fringes of the world rankings in a bout that looks nothing short of brilliant on paper.
The 28 year old champion seems like he's been around for an eternity, having debuted back in March 2008 as a fresh faced 17 year old. He would lose on his debut and would pick up quite a few early career set backs, falling to 9-5-1 (3) after 16 bouts on the Filipino domestic scene. Since then however he has gone 12-2-1 (3) and proven to be a total nightmare on the regional scene with a draw against Yohei Tobe, a razor thin loss to Ryosuke Iwasa, a win over Joe Noynay, a competitive loss to Cesar Juarez, and recent wins over Hisashi Amagasa and Yoshimitsu Kimura. The win over Amagasa, in 2017 saw Pumicpic claim the title and send Amagasa into retirement, whilst his win over Kimura saw him notch his first defense of the title.
In the ring Pumicpic has made a reputation for being a nightmare to fight. He's aggressive, tough, surprisingly intelligent in terms of his defense, brings a lot of smart pressure and although not a puncher he hits hard enough to get the respect of his opponents. He finds a way to make his lack of stature, he's 5'4", work for well for him and there's very few fighters who will enjoy getting in the ring with him, even if he's not likely to knock people out.
The exciting Mori began his career in late 2016, stopping Kazuya Fukai in just 41 seconds. The follow year he rose to prominence by winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Super Featherweight, stopping all of his opponents on route to the final, before taking a decision win over fellow puncher Zirolian Riku in the final in December. So far in 2018 he has faced two international opponents, stopping a Thai novice inside a round in April before stepping up in class and taking a narrow decision win over Filipino Allan Vallespin, back in July. The struggles with Vallespin seemed to show that Mori was a work in prospect, and perhaps also not a natural Super Featherweight, hence him dropping down in weight for this bout with Pumicpic.
When you watch Mori it's easy to forget he's an 18 year old who debuted back in late 2016. He looks composed, quick, sharp and really confident in the ring. Fighting out of the southpaw stance he's quick with his jab, gets in and out of range well and has a nice variety of shots. From his career so far however it does seem like he has questionable stamina, and against Vallespin he spend the last few rounds looking worn out and tired. He showed maturity, in spoiling, holding and making life difficult in the later rounds, whilst he tried to get his second wind.
We do think that Mori has a really bright future ahead of, sadly though we suspect this will be too much too soon and he'll come up short against Pumicpic. The Filipino will apply pressure through out and will prove to be too active, too aggressive and too experienced for the Japanese youngster. A loss at this point however is not the end of Mori and we'd expect to see the talented Southpaw comeback in the future. For Pumicpic a win here is expected and will continue his run in Japan, potentially leading to more good bouts on the road. For example a potential WBO Asia Pacific / OPBF unification bout with Satoshi Shimizu would certainly be a great bout and a world title eliminator, and we'd love to see that in the new year.
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.
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.