On April 21st fight fans in Osaka will get a Japanese title double header. One of the bouts headlining that show will see Japanese Super Flyweight champion Takayuki Okumoto (21-8-4, 10) make his second defense, and take on mandatory challenger Yuta Matsuo (15-3-1, 8).
The 27 year old champion is a 12 year veteran of the sport. If that sounds mathematically strange it is, and that's because Okumoto started his career as a 15 year old, fighting in Thailand. He had mixed success, going 1-1 with the loss coming to former world champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin, before waiting to mature and fight on Japanese soil, where he has fought all but 1 of his subsequent 31 bouts. Whilst he's no world beater Okumoto has proven to be a gutsy fighter, who is improving, has a good work rate and is certainly not a typical 21-8-4 fighter. His long career has seen him beat the likes of Shota Kawaguchi, Yuta Saito and Hiroyuki Kudaka, come up short against the likes of Ratanapol, Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking and Ryuichi Funai.
Okumoto is a southpaw with credible speed and power, a wealth of experience and under-rated skills. He's not heavy handed or lightening quick, but he is all round pretty solid with a good boxing brain a relative toughness and good patience. He can come forward, boxing on the back foot and fight as the counter puncher. Sadly whilst Okumoto is a good all rounder he isn't likely to make a mark above domestic level. He's not got any elite level quality, and that's typically needed for fighters to reach the top, but he will be a hard man to dethrone at this level and it will take a special domestic fighter to beat him.
The challenger, 29 year old Matsuo, is relatively unknown though has been in an around the title mix for a few years now. He did earn this shot last year, stopping veteran Rey Orais in 5 rounds to become the mandatory challenger, and this will be his second title fight. Matsuo has been a professional since 2012 and his most notable contests to date have been losses to Ardin Diale, in 2015, and Masayuki Kuroda, in 2017. Despite those losses it is worth noting that he has scored noteworthy wins over Yota Hori, Ryuto Oho and Ryoji Fukunaga, all of which are good domestic wins but there's little to suggest he will have much success above the domestic level.
Watching Matsuo we see a relatively active boxer with an aggressive mentality. He's not the quickest or the sharpest, but he does have a rather unique rhythm, bouncing at mid-distance with and getting in and our. he's quite quick, with both hands and feet, and has a slight jerkiness to his style. It's a more aggressive style than that of Okumoto, but also a less rounded style, and a much more energy intensive one, with a lot of excess movement.
This isn't the biggest title bout we'll see in Japan this year, but could end up being one of the most competitive, with two well matched, flawed, but promising fighters. Both are true domestic level fighters and both will put it all on the line here.
Being at home, and being the champion, Okumoto will have the crowd behind him and we think that could be a key factor here. The bout is a 50-50 one, though we suspect that the home advantage will be enough to help earn Okumoto the decision victory, in a very hotly contest bout.
Despite the fact there is still a lot of boxing left in 2018 we are heading to the end of the year. That means that we get to see the Japanese boxing scene decide it's title contenders for the next Champion Carnival. The Super Flyweight bout at the next Champion Carnival will feature either Yuta Matsuo (14-3-1, 7) or Rey Orais (20-17-2, 5) challenging for the title, with the two men meeting on October 12th decide who will be getting a shot at the gold.
Of the two men Matsuo is the one who has been active and mixing at Japanese domestic domestic level for a while. In fact the 29 year old from the World Sport Boxing gym fought for the interim Japanese Flyweight title last year, and pushed Masayuki Kuroda hard in tough 10 round loss. Since then he has bounced back with 2 notable domestic wins, over-coming Kazuto Nakane and Ryoji Fukunaga, whilst moving up in weight. Notably the loss to Kuroda is Matsuo's only defeat since a split decision loss to Ardian Diale in May 2015.
Entering the bout Matsuo is #1 ranked JBC fighter and although the ranking is high, given how stiff the division is. Despite that he is a capable fighter. He's defensively solid, technically sound and is an intelligent fighter who applies pressure behind his guard and smart footwork. Sadly he's not that most active in the ring or the hardest hitter, but he is consistent through the fight. He's a bit 1-paced and 1 dimensional but at this level have a good single dimension can be enough to be a domestic contender.
Orais is a Japanese based Filipino fighter who, at the age of 34, is in the twilight of his in ring career and is currently a trainer at the Flare Yamagami gym. He fought regularly between 2000 and 2008, facing the likes of Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Bert Batawang and Denkaosan Kaovichit before taking a 10 year break from fighting that ended this year, with a win over Ken Achiwa. That win helped secure Orais a #2 ranking with the JBC, but is does mean that he has fought just 6 rounds in the 10 years coming into this bout. In his prime he certainly had mixed results, with a less than stellar record. Despite his record he did mix at a good level, and his win over Achiwa showed their was still life in the old dog.
Despite Orais being inactive for a decade prior to the bout with Achiwa he really impressed, showing no signs of ring rust and instead looking sharp, quick and confident. He wasn't particularly accurate but out worked, out fought and out boxed Achiwa whilst showing good movement and intelligent boxing, as well as a sense of flare and charisma. That flare can be seen in some of his more wild shots, but it's obvious that Orais can still fight, and do so at a good pace.
In some ways this is the textbook boxing of Matsuo against the wild and exciting Orais. We expect those styles to be a mess together, but an interesting mess. Matsuo should have the youth, size and hunger to out box Orais, but he will almost certainly be caught by some of the unpredictable shots of Orais.
Although Orais will have moments it's hard to see anything but a decision win for Matsuo, who's intelligent and consistency will be enough to secure the win and his place in the 2019 Champion Carnival.
It's fair to say that the 2017 Champion Carnival was somewhat under-whelming, despite some really good looking bouts. There was a number of rematches and a number of bouts that just failed to spark the emotions. Not all bouts were bad, and the Super Bantamweight title bout between Yasutaka Ishimoto and Yusaku Kuga certainly proved rematches weren't a bad thing by default, but there was an under-whelming feeling over-all.
One of the divisions with that under-whelming feeling was the Flyweight division, where champion Takuya Kogawa is inactive, due to an injury, and as a result we have a bout between the top two ranked fighters, Yuta Matsuo (12-2-1, 6) and Masayuki Kuroda (27-5-3, 15). As an eliminator for a title fight this would be fine, but for a title fight it's self it's certainly a bit disappointing.
Unfortunately for fans in Japan the division is very top heavy and the likes of Kazuto Ioka and Diago Higa have gone well past Japanese domestic level and left a bit of a vacuum between the top in the country and the domestic level fighters. Although there are a number of rising contenders, such as Junto Nakatanii there is a lack at the domestic level.
Of the two men here Matsuo is the #1 contender, and on paper he is 7-1 (3) in his last 8, with his only loss in that run being a razor thin one to Ardin Diale. The reality however is that Matsuo has struggled to over-come a number of his opponents, including Yota Hori, Seiya Fujikita and Ryuto Oho, who was rather unlucky on the score-cards.
In the ring Matsuo is well skilled but, as we saw against Oho, he can be made to look lazy, isn't a big puncher and although he can hurt his opponents there is certainly not much too be too excited about. He seems happy to have a war, but hasn't yet proven that that's his type of fight, in fact it's fair to say he's probably best off avoiding them in future.
Although ranked #2 by the JBC Kuroda is the much better known fighter. He was the man Naoya Inoue shared the ring with in his test bout, he was the Japanese Light Flyweight champion in 2011 and 2012, defending the belt 4 times, and challenged the then WBA Flyweight champion Juan Carlos Reveco in 2013. In terms of his results he has wins over Shin Ono, Katsuhiko Iezumi, Hayato Yamaguchi and Yuki Sano as well as draws with Ryoichi Taguchi and Hayato Yamaguchi. Despite those notable results Kuroda has come up short in two recent Japanese Flyweight title bouts, losing to Suguru Muranaka and Takuya Kogawa in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
Whilst Kuroda was one a very good fighter he has gone 4-4-3 in his last 11, dating back almost 5 years and lacks in terms of notable recent wins. In fact over the last 24 months his only wins have been against Yusuke Sakashita and Masashi Odaira, hardly something to have earned Kuroda back-to-back Champion Carnival contests.
With Kuroda being a faded force and Matsuo failing to impress it's hard to be too excited for this one. We'll admit it should be fun, and both guys have been in entertaining fights in the past, but we can't help feel that this is less than title worthy. Both guys are flawed enough to be in a war, and we expect that will, happen with Kuroda doing enough to take the win, but it does feel like a bout that shows how badly the Japanese Flyweight scene needs some new blood rising through the rankings.
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.