Although the Super Bantamweight division isn't that attractive internationally at the moment, with the division's best fighter being the much avoided Guillermo Rigondeaux, the division is actually really interesting in Asia, particularly in Japan. The country boasts current IBF champion Yukinori Oguni as well as notable world level contenders like Ryosuke Iwasa, the returning Tomoki Kameda and Shingo Wake.
Domestically the division is also red hot with fighters like Shun Kubo, Kazuki Tanaka, Daisuke Watanabe, Sho Nakazawa and Shohei Kawashima all breaking through the ranks. At the top of the domestic table is veteran Yasutaka Ishimoto (29-8, 8), who won the title in late 2015 and has recorded two defenses of the title so far. On February 4th he will take on the man he originally beat to claim that title, Yusaku Kuga (13-2-1, 9), in a highly anticipated rematch.
Of the two men Ishimoto is the better known fighter, both domestically and internationally. On the international scene he is best known for defeating Wilfredo Vazquez Jr in Macao in 2013 and then losing, in the same venue, to Chris Avalos in 2014. In Japan however he is long serving veteran of the sport, who debuted back in 2002 and fought a number of top domestic fighters. His career on the domestic scene saw him fight for the Japanese title in 2012 and 2014, losing to Masaaki Serie and Yukinori Oguni, before finally winning the title against Kuga in 2014.
Promoted by Teiken Ishimoto has long been a staple of the Tokyo scene, with 34 fights at the Korakuen Hall. Those fans have been given some real treats thanks to Ishimoto, with his two bouts against Gakuya Furuhashi being particularly fun to watch. In the ring Ishimoto is technically well schooled, has a great engine, a gritty determination and a very fun style. He's not a big punch, as is clear from his record, but he's a consistently active fighter who fighters well both at range and up close.
At his best Ishimoto is a handful, and a fringe world class fighter. He has notable victories over the likes of Shingo Wake, Yu Kawaguchi, the aforementioned Vazquez and Furuhashi, He has also suffered razor thin losses to current world champion Oguni and a then rising Yota Sato, who would claim his title around 4 years after beating Ishimoto. At 35 years old and with 37 bouts, 237 rounds, under his belt Ishimoto is likely on the slide, and given his style he's certainly taken punishment through his career. Despite being on the slide he is still a fantastic fighter and is on a good run having won his last 5.
The challenger, the 26 year old Kuga, has been a professional since late 2010 and impressed early. In 2012 he took part in the Rookie of the Year, though was defeated early in the competition by Nobuhiro Hisano. Despite the set back against Hisano it was clear that Kuga's team didn't feel they had to protect him and he was quickly put in against decent opponents, beating both Takumi Takahashi and former amateur stand out Yusuke Suzuki. Kuga was unfortunate not to follow up the win over Suzuki with another win over an amateur standout as he was controversially held to a draw against Naoto Uebayashi.
Following the draw over Uebayashi we saw Kuga score a series of good domestic wins,beating the likes of Taishio Torimoto, Yuki Iwasaki and Koji Aoki as he moved towards his first title bout. Sadly for Kuga that title bout would come against Ishimoto and he would come up narrowly short, losing 96-94 and 96-95, twice. That loss was a heart breaking one for the youngster but one that seemed to fire him up, and since then he has been a wrecking ball smashing Sukkasem Kietyongyuth in 5 rounds and flattening Jonathan Baat in 4 rounds, in a Strongest Korakuen contest. The win over Baat saw the Filipino veteran suffer just his third loss and put Kuga's name along side Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym and Rodrigo Guerrero.
In the ring Kuga is a “rough around the edges” puncher. He is flawed, a bit open and a bit defensively naive, but he's also a nasty puncher with a physical style. His punches all hurt and although not the most naturally smooth fighter his boxing ability can't be over-looked. At 26 he is coming into his prime and is still clearly improving fight after fight. With his power he's a huge danger man at the domestic level, and potentially has the power to go much further.
Although Ishimoto won the first clash we actually favour Kuga here. Since the first fight Ishimoto has had 20 really hard rounds and turned 35 whilst Kuga has developed into an even hungrier fighter and the win over Baat was incredibly impressive. We wouldn't be massively surprised if Ishimoto scored a repeat, but we do favour Kuga to win here in a genuinely thrilling contest.
The first title fight of a new month takes place as the month kicks off and as we suspect fight fans will be in for a major treat. The bout in question sees Japanese Super Bantamweight champion Yasutaka Ishimoto (28-8, 7) looking to defend his belt against the limited but exciting Gakuya Furuhashi (18-7-1, 8), in a second bout between the two men.
These two fought last year, fighting in an 8 rounder, with Ishimoto winning a close but thrilling decision in a bout that was a bit of a hidden gem from 2015. Despite being under-watched it was streamed online for free and has got a cult following with hard-core Japanese fans who saw a really engaging and high tempo domestic level contest.
Since their first meeting we've seen Ishimoto go 2-0, winning the Japanese title in Decemeber 2015, out pointing Yusaku Kuga,and defending the belt once, with a wide decision against Yosuke Fujihara. Both of those bouts were tough bouts for the Teiken fighter but both were enjoyable for fans, and it's clear that whilst Ishimoto isn't a “star” he is very popular for a domestic level fighter.
As for Furuhashi he has gone 1-1 since losing to Ishimoto almost 14 months ago. He lost to the under-rated Daisuke Watanabe and defeated Rokuhei Suzuki. Neither of those bouts were at the top of the domestic level, and neither really saw Furuhashi impress, but Furuhashi has proven himself in the past fighting to a draw with Yukinori Oguni.
Of the two men the men the champion is the better known. Not only is he the champion but he has also fought on a pair of the Top Rank Macau cards, where he scored a career defining victory over Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. In those Macau bouts we saw Ishimoto prove to be a technically solid guy, and he has proven since that he has a high tempo in the ring. Sadly against Chris Avalos, in a bout Ishimoto was stopped in, we also saw that Ishimoto lacks the power and physical strength to cut it at the world level, though of course that's nothing to be hugely ashamed of.
In the ring Ishimoto's style is very fan friendly. He's a high tempo boxer who uses movement well, has a high output and is a tough guy who enjoys a fight. Yes he lacks power but makes up for it in terms out output and that makes him so much fun to watch in action. Aged 34 there is a chance that his energetic style will desert him, but he's looked great in recent wins and has a very strong and vocal support base willing him on every time he's in a Japanese ring.
Whilst Ishimoto has fought a few bouts against international names of note the same cannot be said of Furuhashi,who is really an unknown outside of Japan. Even in Japan he's relatively unknown, despite his title fight, though those who do follow the domestic scene know that with Furuhashi they get action and excitement. Like Ishimoto he lacks big power but fights with a high tempo, albeit not quite as high as the champion, and gets in the ring for a fight. Technically he's limited but he has the determination and style to be very exciting.
Sadly for Furuhashi he has gone 1-2-1 in his last 4 and is more than 3 years removed from his last notable win, a victory over veteran Toru Suzuki. That's not to say he's bad but he's not quite been able to get over the line in his biggest bouts, including the Oguni bout or a 2011 clash with Ryuichi Funai. He will however come in to this one with the mentality that a loss could be the end of his career, despite the fact he's only 28. He can't avoid another set back and is perhaps already looking like an old fighter.
With both men knowing their days are numbered, Ishimoto due to age and Furuhashi due to recent performances, we suspect we'll see both put it on the line here in an absolute tear up for the ages. The bout will be action packed but unfortunately it'll be career shortening and we don't think either will be the same man afterwards. We do however think the champion will retain his title, and move on to face the winner of the Strongest Korakuen next year, showing the lingering effects of this bout, and other tough ones, in that one.
One of the most interesting division right now, especially for Asian fight fans, is the 122lb Super Bantamweight division. At the world level fighters like Nonito Donaire rules the roost with the WBO, Shingo Wake looks set to get his long awaited shot at the IBF title whilst Albert Pagara and Ryo Matsumoto are both on the verge of getting world title fights before the year is over. Whilst the world scene is certainly interesting at 122lbs it's also a division that has really intriguing on the Asian regional and Japanese domestic scenes.
Part of that intrigue comes down to the prospects in and around the weight, like Kazuki Tanaka, Hinata Maruta and Daisuke Watanabe. Another part however is the great match ups that can be made at the top of the domestic scene.
The next bout at the top of the Japanese scene scenes Japanese champion Yasutaka Ishimoto (27-8, 7) defending his Japanese title, for the first time, against mandatory challenger Yosuke Fujihara (16-3, 4). For Ishimoto this is first defense of a title that took him 3 shots to win and it's a chance to strengthen his claim as the king of the Japanese domestic scene. For Fujihara the bout is a chance to continue his development as a fighter and record a third successive win of note.
Of the two men it's Ishimoto who is the better known fight. He's been a professional since 2002 and has mixed with several notable names. That has included Masaaki Serie, twice, Yota Sato, Shingo Wake, Yu Kawaguchi, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr, Chris Avalos and Yukinori Oguni. Whilst no one will act like Ishimoto is a world beater he's got a number of very good wins on his record, including victories over Wake, Kawaguchi, Vazquez Jr, Gakuya Furuhashi and Yusaku Kuga.
In the ring Ishimoto is a busy, well schooled fighter with a sharp jab, solid work on the inside and although he lacks power he is a real handful combining speed, heart and work rate. So far he only has one stoppage loss, to Avalos, and could well have had wins in a number of his losses. In fact in another world he'd have about 4 less losses.
When it comes to Fujihara much less is known with footage being scarce, though he has faced some notable fighters of his own. Sadly for him he has suffered losses to many of those notable fighters, including Kentaro Masuda and Ryuta Otsuka. He has however scored wins over Teppei Kikui, Kenji Kubo and Yukunoi Hisanaga. Interestingly he is 3-3 in his last 6, but the 4 most notable wins have come in his last 7 bouts and he has also looked good since moving to 122lbs, in fact his only losses have come at Bantamweight as opposed to Super Bantamweight.
Notably Fujihara went 8 rounds with Kentaro Masuda, back in 2011, before taking 2 years off. In his second bout back he was stopped inside a round by Yuta Nakagawa and was then stopped against by Ryuta Otsuka, before taking a year out and returning to score back-to-back wins. Although clearly not the busiest of fighters it's plausible that the breaks have helped him develop significantly as a fighter, both mentally and physically.
Although Fujihara is in good form it does seem like he's stepping up, in a big way, for this bout and we suspect that whilst he'll be game against Ishimoto he won't be able to keep it up for the 10 rounds and will either be broken down for a late stoppage, or suffer a clear, but competitive, decision loss to the talented champion.
Every so often a fight comes along that really excites us. Sometimes they are the obvious world level fights between two established fighters whilst other times they come at a much lower level. One such bout is coming up on December 21st when we see the exciting Yusaku Kuga (11-1, 7) battle against the under-rated Yasutaka Ishimoto (26-8, 7) in what looks to be a brilliant match up for the Japanese Super Bantamweight title.
Of the two men involved it's Ishimoto who is the better known man. For many fight fans he is known for two in Macau, the first being a huge upset of Wilfredo Vazquez Jr back in April 2013 whilst the second was a loss to Chris Avalos in an IBF world title eliminator. For Japanese fans Ishimoto is also known for coming up short in two other Japanese fights, losing decisions to Masaaki Serie in 2012 and Yukinori Oguni, last December.
Aged 34 Ishimoto is one of the elder statesmen of the Japanese Super Bantamweight scene which has really began to get very exciting in recent years. Of course we have Shingo Wake, Oguni, Ishimoto and the rising prospects like Hinata Maruta, Kazuki Tanaka, Sho Nakazawa and Hikaru Marugame. Despite being 34 he is however a fighter who appears to still have his speed and stamina. Those were both shown in his most recent bout, a decision win over Gakuya Furuhashi in what was a pulsating bout back in August.
In the ring Ishimoto is a technical fighter. He uses his jab and straight shots well and can hold his own on the inside. He has also shown his toughness, despite being stopped by Avalos. As for weaknesses, he does lack power and perhaps isn't as physically strong as some of the others in and around the domestic scene, never mind the world scene. Despite the lack of strength he is a capable enough fight to fight to his strengths and not be bullied by too many fighters out there.
Whilst Ishimoto is some what known by fans outside of Japan it's fair to say that Kuga isn't, and in fact only the really hard core fans really know much about Kuga. Despite that we have been fans of his and have been very impressed by him in the past. He's not as technically solid as Ishimoto, or even as proven, but he's one of the many fighters in the division who is breaking through on the back of some solid but over-looked performances.
In some ways Kuga first came to the attention of some fans back in 2013 when he fought the touted Naoto Uebayshi. Back then Uebayashi was 3-0 (2) and expected to become a star following a successful amateur career. Kuga however showed Uebayashi's flaws and dropped him before being held to a very controversial majority draw. For many the bout was a win that Kuga had stolen from him, for others however it was the revealing of a diamond in the rough. Since the draw he has gone 5-0 (3) whilst stepping up in terms of rounds, with his last 4 bouts all being 8 rounders. Saying that it does need to be noted that he has never been in a 10 rounder ahead of this title bout.
For Kuga this is a step up but at 25 it's coming at the right time and the Watanabe gym fighter certainly isn't being thrown to the wolves in facing the talented but light hitting Ishimoto. Talking about hitting, Kuga has as many stoppages in 13 fights as Ishimoto has in 34. That's one of Kuga's keys coming in to this one. Kuga is a solid puncher, his jab is heavy and his hooks are thrown with nasty intentions, he also moved well to set them up and has the look of a physically maturing fighter. He's not as sharp as Ishimoto but certainly seems to be the stronger man with under-rated speed and movement and a real desire to make a statement and join the growing number of Japanese fighters making a mark in the division.
Although Ishimoto is the more proven man we're expecting to see Kuga use his youth and power to make life very tough for Ishimoto from the early going. The veteran will hold his own but we suspect he will slow down as the fight goes on with Kuga claiming the title courtesy of a clear, but hard fought, decision. The fight might not be as exciting as Ishimoto Vs Furuhashi was, but will still be a brilliant bout.
A little more than 3 years ago the hardcore boxing fans were becoming very excited about a young, and then unbeaten Japanese fighter known as Yukinori Oguni (13-1, 4). At the time Oguni was 7-0 (2), he had claimed the OPBF Super Bantamweight title and upset the highly regarded Roli Gasca in what was a real break out win. At that point we were hoping to see Oguni grow and grow and eventually become a force on the world boxing scene.
Sadly for Oguni he would go on to defend that title just 3 times before running into an inspired Shingo Wake who took his opportunity and dominated Oguni en route to stopping the defending champion in 10 rounds and supplanting himself on the fringes of a world title fight.
Prior to losing the title Oguni had managed to defend his belt against two notable Japanese foes. One of those was Hiromasa Ohashi, who was beaten via a 9th round technical decision, whilst the other was a clear decision over Masaaki Serie.
Whilst Oguni was making a name for himself on the Asian scene we were also seeing Yasutaka Ishimoto (24-7, 7) rising through the Japanese national scene. Though he did, unfortunately, came up short in his first title bout, losing a hard fought decision to Masaaki Serie.
Interestingly just a month after Oguni lost the OPBF title fans saw Ishimoto score his break out win as he traveled to Macau and defeated Wilfredo Vazquez Jr in a performance that left us all wondering whether Ishimoto could reach the top tier in the sport. Sadly however he fell short when he was destroyed by Chris Avalos in an IBF world title eliminator, also held in Macau.
The two men meet this coming weekend as they battle for the Japanese Super Bantamweight title, a belt recently vacated by Hidenori Otake prior to Otake's world title bout against Scott Quigg. The men are both hungry and both will know that a win here could help them on their way back toward a big international fight.
Whilst both have lost to the most notable opponents that they have faced both are talented guys and both are similar in many ways. Neither has real power though they both have nice hand speed and jabs and both have been stopped in their most recent losses. Saying that however both also have some clear differences.
Ishimoto is more willing to fight on the inside, as shown in recent wins over Zun Rindam of Indonesia and Charly Valenzuela of Mexico, both of whom were stopped by Ishimoto who proved he was more than just a tricky and light hitting fighter with solid timing. On the other hand Oguni is a pure outside fighter who uses his length and speed to great use on the outside, he never really sits on his shots but he does fight to his advantages which are size and speed.
With neither being a puncher we have to suspect this will go the distance though the question as to who will win is a tough one to answer. We can see Oguni boxing on the move to a wide decision as Ishimoto chases shadows and gets tagged by the Oguni jab. We can also see Ishimoto imposing his strength, cutting the ring down and grinding down Oguni with body shots late in the bout. The outcome is one we're unsure on though we are looking forward to finding out who will get the win here and who will become the new Japanese Super Bantamweight champion.
(Image courtesy of http://8nakaya.co.jp/)
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.