The Lightweight scene in Japan isn't one of the hottest at the moment. Sadly the top domestic fighters in the country have no interest in mixing with domestic level competition and as a result the likes of Masayoshi Nakatani, Yoshitako Kato and Takahiro Ao will not be chasing the Japanese national title. That has left us with a relatively poor list of contenders domestically.
Despite the relative lack of talent, both coming through and established, we do still have some intriguing domestic match ups. One of which will take place on September 16th in Kyoto as national champion Kota Tokunaga (15-2, 10) defends his belt against fellow puncher Yuhei Suzuki (16-4, 12). Between the two of them hey have seen the final bell in 11 of 37 bouts and proven that whilst they can bang both can also be hurt. Not only can they be hurt, but they can also be hurt early with 3 of their 4 combined stoppage loses coming in the first 4 rounds.
On paper the bout is an intriguing one, though it's made even better by the fact that not only is a title on the line but there is also local bragging rights up for grabs with both men living on the island of Honshu.
As mentioned above, Tokunaga is the champion. He won the title earlier this year when he stopped Yuya Sugizaki in the 8th round for the previously vacant title. Prior to the stoppage Tokunaga was in a narrow lead though had really began to surge after taking his time to settle into the bout. It was his first title bout and he showed enough to get excited about as he showed he could box at range and deliver on the inside, with some lovely uppercuts.
The win over Sugizaki was, by far, the most meaningful of Tokunaga's career and continued a winning streak that now stands at 7 fights, with 3 by KO, following an opening round loss to upset minded Filipino Ronald Pontillas. The loss to Pontillas has been a major turning point in Tokunaga's career and since then he has developed significantly whilst starting to show signs of being more than just a heavy handed fighter.
Aged 26 and stood at 5'10” Tokunaga is a young fighter who tends to have notable size advantages over most opponents. He can use that size very well with his sharp jab and, as mentioned, he does have a lovely uppercut. Sadly however he has been blown out inside a round in both of his losses and has got serious question marks, still, over his chin. It does seem that he now boxes a bit to protect himself, though that has lead to him looking like a slow starter at times and 6 of his last 7 have gone 7 rounds or more.
Aged 25 Suzuki will be hoping it's third time lucky after two title fight defeats to former champion Yoshitaka Kato. Whilst those losses aren't shameful by any means, given that Kato is a really good fighter, they have joined by defeats to Daiki Koide and domestic journeyman Kosuke Iwashita. The loss to Iwashita really being one that stands out like a sore thumb.
With 4 losses against his name Suzuki maybe doesn't look that great on paper though he does hold a number of notable victories. These include a 2nd round KO win against Hiroshi Nakamori and a 5th round TKO win against Accel Sumiyoshi. He, like Tokunaga, is a puncher however he certainly has the edge in experience and has also had the chance to spar with OPBF champion Nakatani, a man who is very similar in terms of build to Tokunaga, albeit on a totally different level in terms of skill.
Dubbed the “Wonder Boy” Suzuki is described as a boxer-fighter on the Shinsei gym website, though we'd describe him more of a fighter. He'll come forward and look to drag Tokunaga into a fight. That would be a smart tactic given that the challenger will be giving about around 3” in height. He will have to neutralise the jab, reach and movement of Tokunaga to have any chance, though if he can land his power on the inside he could well stop the champion.
Though isn't most appealing title fight on paper but we're genuinely excited about it given the style, and flaws, of the two men involved. It's fair to say that both men can hit hard enough to stop the other and as a result we could have a shoot out. On the other hand both could be cautious knowing the other has the power to hurt them. We're hoping for a shoot out, and if that happens it could be a question of who lands first. If it ends up being boxing contest however, it's hard to see how the title changes hands here.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
At the beginning of 2014 Yoshitaka Kato (26-5-1, 7) was the unified Japanese and OPBF Lightweight champion. He went in to the year on an unbeaten run of 9 fights over the previous 3 years, a run that saw him not just unifying the titles but beating the likes of Akihiro Kondo-avenging an old defeat, Motoki Sasai and Rey Labao. He was in the form of his life.
Kato's solid run came to an end in January when he lost the OPBF title the very highly regarded Masayoshi Nakatani who really came of age in that bout. Although Kato lost his OPBF belt he managed to keep a hold of the Japanese title which wasn't on the line for the contest, though it will be on April 30th as he defends the nation title against former rival Yuhei Suzuki (14-3, 11).
The men first fought just over a year ago with Kato taking a very hard fought decision to defend the Japanese title. Since then the champion has gone 2-1 with the loss to Nakatani being the most recent. For Suzuki things have been a little bit better with the challenger going 3-0 (3), albeit against limited opposition.
On paper Kato holds a lot of advantages. He is more experienced than Suzuki, he has fought almost twice as many bouts, three times as many rounds and has mixed it in OPBF title bouts. For Suzuki, who lost to Kato in his only previous title fight of any kinda, this is a step back up from what he has been fighting in recent bouts.
Although Kato has the obvious edge in experience the power certainly lies with Suzuki who has stopped 4 of his last 5, the only man to see out the distance in that time is the defending champion. At 24 Suzuki is also younger than the 29 year old champion and is just beginning to mature fully, of course Kato isn't an old man but he is arguably getting to the point where a hard career can catch up with him.
Just as interestingly for Suzuki is the fact that, the loss to Kato aside, he hasn't been beaten since his was 21. His career since then has been 7-1 and he's certainly become a better fighter than he was.
Although an improved fighter Suzuki is still flawed and depends a lot on his power. If Kato, as he did last time, can take it then we see the champion taking another very tough decision victory. If however the miles on his clock are catching up with him, and he has plenty of miles having been in with Nakatani, Nihito Arakawa and Suzuki in the past, then Suzuki's punches might just have that bit of an extra effect and take their toll.
From where we're sat we think Kato retains, though has to dig very deep to keep his title on a bout that effectively serves as the co-feature to the very interest Heavyweight fight between Nobuhiro Ishida and Kyotaro Fujimoto, a bout that we think is a much more interesting contest. The Heavyweight bout may not have a title on the line but it certainly seems to have attracted the attention of fans around the world, something we can't imagine this national title fight managing to do despite it being a very interesting contest in it's own right.
(Image courtesy of www.kadoebi.com/boxing/)
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.