By - George Delis (@Delisketo )
One of the most anticipated fights within the Asian boxing community will take place on July 27, as Yusaku Kuga defends his Japanese Super Bantamweight championship against Shingo Wake.
Yusaku Kuga (16-2 / 11 KOs) is a star on the rise. Burst into the scene in 2010, while still 19 years old, he started massing up victories one after the other. In just 3 years, he was already facing much more experienced boxers than himself, like Yuki Iwasaki (11-4*), Koji Aoki (16-7*), Kojiro Takada (13-8*), knocking out every single one of them. With a record of 11-1-1 he entered his first major championship bout on December of 2015, facing former WBO International champion Yasutaka Ishimoto (26-8*) for the vacant Japanese Super Bantamweight title. Both men went to war and in the end, Ishimoto got a very close decision to win the match and the belt. That loss, only motivated Kuga even more to try and capture the gold. In 2016 he dispatched Thai fighter Sukpraserd Ponpitak (13-5*) and Philippino standout Jonathan Baat (32-7*) to earn another shot at the Japanese crown. The rematch between Kuga and Ishimoto was set on February of 2017. Most fans expected this to be another back and forth affair, but that wasn’t the case this time around. Kuga blasted the champion early in the first round, knocking him down, to the surprise of everyone in attendance. In the second, Ishimoto endured a heavy beating which led to the referee stopping the fight and declaring Kuga the 39th Japanese Super Bantamweight champion. Just 5 months later, he earned his first successful title defense over Ryoichi Tamura (8-2*) and his second on March of 2018 when he KOed Ryo Kosaka (16-3*) within 2 minutes into the match. Kuga is currently ranked amongst the top of the division by the WBA, the WBC and the WBO.
Shingo Wake (24-5 / 16 KOs), not to be outdone by his upcoming opponent, has had quite a career thus far. Fighting close to 12 years, he has come face to face with some of the toughest boxers the Asian scene has to offer. In 2013, he locked horns with future IBF World champion Yukinori Oguni for the OPBF Super Bantamweight title. Oguni, undefeated at 10-0 at the time, was considered the massive favorite to win the scramble, having already defended the OPBF belt thrice against Hiromasa Ohashi (24-10*), Masaaki Serie (21-4*) and Roli Gasca (19-3*). Wake came determined and put on a clinic for 10 rounds, even knocking the champ down in the second. Oguni was rendered unable to continue and Wake won his first major title in the process. After earning 5 title defenses from 2013 to 2015, all finishes, he decisioned former IBF Asian champion Pipat Chaiporn (35-7*) in a World title eliminator bout. When the time came, Wake was overwhelmed by Jonathan Guzman’s (21-0*) power and got dropped numerous times throughout the match, suffering his only KO loss today. Despite coming short on his big opportunity, he displayed his fighting spirit by never surrendering and even giving Guzman some trouble, which made him more popular with the Japanese fans. Since then, he has been on a 4 fight winning streak, all KOs, including victories over Mikihito Seto (34-14) as well as former WBC International Silver champion and World title contender Boonsom Yamsiri (50-3).
Both fighters are looking to take that next step in their careers. For Kuga, it’s a chance to finally break in the World title picture whereas for Wake it’s time to step back up and regain his place amongst the top contenders.
Prediction: This is a pretty even fight. Kuga is 27 years old with a 58% KO ratio, while Wake is 31 with a 52% KO ratio. However, with 31 bouts under his belt, the experience factor definitely lies with Wake. At the same time, Kuga has never been stopped in his 19 fights, unlike Wake. Comparing recent performances, Kuga has faced better competition overall. Moreover, under the notion of “you are as good as your last fight”, Kuga finished Ryo Kosaka within the first round while Wake needed 4 rounds to put down a relatively inferior opponent in Roman Canto. All in all, Kuga maybe winning this on paper but you can never count out a veteran the caliber of Wake.
One of the most interesting divisions right now is the Super Bantamweight division. It's not red hot in terms of big names or money making stars but in terms of quality and interesting match up it's a fantastic division. We recently saw both Daniel Roman and Ryosuke Iwasa retain the WBA and IBF title respectively and with contenders like Tomoki Kameda, Hidenori Otake, Diego De la Hoya, Shingo Wake and Marlon Tapales all chasing world title fights the division really is bubbling over nicely.
One other notable contender in the division is current Japanese national champion Yusaku Kuga (15-2-1, 10) who returns to the ring this coming Tuesday to defend his title against mandatory challenger Ryo Kosaka (16-3-1, 8). For the champion this bout will be his second defense, following his title win in February 2017, whilst Kosaka will be getting his first title shot.
The champion is one of the many exciting Japanese fighters who has been quietly making waves over the last few years. He debuted in 2010 and in 2012 he competed in the Rookie of he year, losing to Nobuhiro Hisano in June of that year. That could have been a major set back but Kuga saw the loss as inspiration and went unbeaten in his next 8 bouts, defeating Yusuke Suzuki, Koji Aoki and Yuki Iwasaki, whilst fighting the then touted Naoto Uebayashi to a draw. It was clear that he had major potential back then and worked his way towards his first Japanese title fight. Sadly for Kuga he would lose in his first shot, coming up just short against Yasutaka Ishimoto. In 2016 Kuga would stop Jonathan Baat to earn his second shot at the title, and he would gain revenge over Ishimoto in 2 rounds to claim the title.
Since winning the belt Kuga has defended it just once, narrowly over-coming the aggressive and hard hitting Ryoichi Tamura, in a bout that saw both men forced eat some huge bombs. In that bout Kuga showed he had a chin to go with his power, though left question marks about his stamina and how well he can fight when backed up. On the front foot he's devastating, with nasty power, but on the back foot that power is much less potent.
Whilst we've followed Kuga with interest since early in his career the same can't be said of Kosaka, sadly. That is something that tends to happen when fighters don't fight much in Tokyo, and with Kosaka being based with the Shinsei Gym on Kobe he really has gone somewhat under the radar, despite climbing up both the JBC and OPBF rankings.
The challenger debuted in 2011 and despite 3 stoppage wins to begin his career he began to falter, losing a pair of technical decisions then having a draw to slide to 3-2-1 (3). His third, and most recent, loss came in December 2013 when he was stopped in 7 rounds by Yuta Yasumoto. Since that loss we've seen Kosaka go 9-0 (5) defeating a combination of poor Thai imports and low key domestic foes, such as Satoshi Niwa and Morihisa Iju. Whilst he is the mandatory for the title show there is a feeling that he lacks a really good domestic win, and did actually only get this shot after Yasutaka Ishimoto announced his retirement. The reality is that there are much proven domestic contenders out there than Kosaka, despite his relatively nice run.
Although Talented Kosaka isn't looking like a fighter ready for a title shot, especially not against a danger man like Kuga. Whilst Kuga did look like he was beatable last time out he is unlikely to struggle here. Kosaka may have the edge in technical boxing ability, but Kuga has the power, the aggression and the strength to walk through the challenger's best shots and take him out, likely in the second half, when Kosaka begins to feel the pace. We suspect the challenger will start well, but Kuga will turn it around and record his second defense, and begin his advance towards a world title fight, which he may well get later this year.
The Super Bantamweight division is one of the most interesting around Asia, with Japan in particular having a very strong base for fighters. At the moment the country boasts two world champions, Shun Kubo and Yukinori Oguni, along with a host of contenders, like Ryosuke Iwasa, Tomoki Kameda, Hidenori Otake and Shingo Wake. Below those men are a number of rising fighters, looking to make their mark and move themselves into global contention.
Among those rising fighters is heavy handed Japanese champion Yusaku Kuga (14-2-1, 10) who looks to make his first defense of the title this coming Saturday, as he takes on the under-rated Ryoichi Tamura (8-2-1, 5). On paper the bout is “just” a Japanese title defense for Kuga, but an impressive win could see him jumping into the fringes of the world rankings, whilst Tamura will be looking to score a career best win and get his career rolling with a big win.
Earlier this year Kuga won the Japanese title stopping the popular Yasutaka Ishimoto in 2 rounds, announcing himself as a real dangerman. Prior to that he had been on the radar for a while. For most that was due to a loss to Ishimoto in 2015, though for others it was back in 2013 that he started to capture the imagination with a good win over former amateur standout Yusuke Suzuki and an unfortunate draw against Naoto Uebayashi. Those bouts began a run of solid performances that lead to Kuga getting his first bout with Ishimoto, which he lost narrowly.
The rematch with Ishimoto came after an impressive stoppage win over Jonathan Baat in 2016 and saw a more mature and more aggressive Kuga fight with the intention of taking Ishimoto out early, and he did drop him very quickly. With that aggression and power Kuga is a handful for many, and although he's flawed, with rough edges, he's a really dangerous fighter and not someone to have a war with.
Tamura made his debut back in May 2013 and lost to Wataru Miyasaka in a very competitive debut bout. That loss could have been it but instead Tamura's team showed their belief in him and kept putting him in hard fights. That resulted in a few early set backs, with Tamura being 3-2-1 (1) after 6 bouts, but developing massively into a solid professional during those early set backs. The tough love and hard development paid off and in 2015 Tamura beat Yusuke Suzuki, before following it up with stoppages against domestic foes like Yuki Matsuda, Ryoji Okahata, and Renji Ichimura. Those wins saw Tamura shoot up the rankings, and earn a shot at the title.
Although not the smoothest fighter Tamura is a strong and powerful fighter, with a very heavy right hand which he constantly looks to set up. Like Kuga he's more on the “crude” side of the spectrum, more so than Kuga in fact, and he can certainly be out boxed, but he does have some nice boxing skills and knows how to use his jab well, even if he under utilises it. Although he can jab and move he does seem to prefer fighting at close to mid range, and often looks like a fighter looking for a war.
With both fighters being crude, heavy handed sluggers this really could be a fire fight, and we'll admit that's what we're hoping for. If it is a fire fight we do suspect that Kuga will come out on top, making the most of his edge in speed and better accuracy and timing, , but with Tamura's power there is danger there that Kuga himself will be hurt. We don't see anyway this one can go the scheduled 10 rounds, but we also have no idea how this one can be anything but explosive given the two men involved.
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.
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.
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.