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.
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.
Akio Shibata looks to continue his reign as unified champion, but needs to get past Yasuyuki Akiyama
The Middleweight division in Japan is, bizarrely in many ways, a really interesting one. The best fighter in the division is the world ranked Ryota Murata but he's on a completely different level to everyone else in the division. Talking about him fighting for the national title is laughable and it's frankly not going to happen. Below Murata is the man he made his debut against, Akio Shibata (25-8-1, 11). Shibata is the Japanese and OPBF champion and although his record doesn't show it he's a very talented boxer who knows how to look after himself in the ring and looks like a handful for many fighters below the world level.
Behind Shibata is a wave of promising young fighters with heavy hands and the dream of proving themselves. Fighters such as Koki Tyson Maebara and Shoma Fukumoto. Sadly for those 3 they are still some way from being ready to fight Shibata.
Later this month we see a veteran try and upset Shibata when the champion battles against the little known Yasuyuki Akiyama (10-4-1, 8) who we have struggled to get any footage of, and in fact we know very little about.
Although we know little about Akiyama we know plenty about Shibata so we'll start with the fighter we know.
Shibata is a 33 year old veteran who has been a professional since 2003. It was during his early years as a professional that his record became muddied and by the end of 2008 his record read 11-5-1 (6). Since then he has gone 14-3 (5) whilst unifying Japan and Oriental titles at both 154lbs and 160lbs. Not only has his form been good but his results have as well and he has score a number of genuinely good wins, such as decisions over Yuki Nonaka, Daisuke Nakagawa-twice, Yoshihisa Tonimura, Makoto Fuchugami and Hikaru Nishida as well as stoppages against Takayuki Hosokawa and Fuchigami.
Whilst Shibata's record doesn't look good to the neutral observer it's hard to argue about his resume on the Japanese domestic scene and with his growing confidence in his ability and power. That confidence will have taken a huge boost after his most recent bout which saw him stopping former world title challenger Makoto Fuchigami.
In the ring Shibata is a nightmare. He has a busy and accurate, moves excellently and fights wonderfully on the outside. He sometimes fails to follow up his jab with a right hand but the way he fights is crafty and allows him to use his size and speed excellently to neutralise opponents whilst getting his own shots off.
The last 2 men to beat Shibata have been tough and aggressive fighters who have simply been too fast and too strong. One of those was Ryota Murata, a tough and powerful Olympic champion who has his sights set on a world title. The other was Japanese based American Charlie Ota, who stopped Shibata twice down at Light Middleweight. Unless you have power and the ability to walk through Shibata's jab as well as the footwork to be able to cut him off he's a really tricky opponent.
So now on to Akiyama who really is a bit of a mystery man. What we know about him is that he's a 35 year old who is set to fight the most significant bout of his career, by far. On paper he's a puncher but in reality his power looks to be artificial with with his first 6 wins all coming by stoppage over weak opposition. In fact many of Akiyama's wins have come against poor opponents with his only wins over note being over Shuhei Ito and Ryota Ityama, both in 2013.
Whilst Akiyama's biggest wins haven't been at a high level there is one result that genuinely stands out coming into this bout. That's a loss to Hikaru Nishida from July 2012. Nishida is a genuinely under-rated fighter however he did lose to Shibata last year and so his win over Akiyama does stand out a fair bit here.
Again we need to say we've not seen Akiyama however we have seen enough of Shibata to know what to expect here. We're going to see Shibata doing what he does so well, boxing on the back foot, keeping a busy jab and making Akiyama chase him. Akiyama's chasing will work against him and see him eating copious jabs, an occasional straight and losing round after round as the bout slips away from him and his title shot essentially comes to nothing.
For those wondering, this bout was originally announced for March 26th, though was rescheduled after Akiyama suffered an injury. That injury has given the division a few months to develop and from what we understand Maebara will be immediately in talks with the winner for a fight in December.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.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.