On October 10th we'll see a new regional unified champion being crowned, as unbeaten Japanese fighter Shuichiro Yoshino (10-0, 8) and twice beaten Filipino Harmonito Dela Torre (20-2, 12) battle for the vacant OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Lightweight titles. If Yoshino wins he will not only hold the titles he's fighting for here, but will actually become a triple title holder, adding them to the Japanese title he already holds, whilst the Filipino will be looking to get his career back on track after some recent set backs.
The unbeaten Yoshino has been on a fast track since he began his professional career. As an amateur he was a stand out, though took his time to begin his professional. When he turned pro, in 2015, he wasted no time in rising through the ranks, and in just his 4th bout he defeated former Japanese and OPBF champion Yoshitaka Kato. Just 6 months after that Yoshino stopped Spicy Matsushita in 7 rounds to become the Japanese Lightweight champion, just 20 months after his debut. Since then he has defended the title 4 times, all by stoppage, and scored some frightening KO's, such as his 3rd round win over Kazumasa Kobayashi.
In the ring Yoshino is a confident boxer-puncher. He's aggressive but also defensively smart, with a good tight guard, he applies pressure but does so intelligently, and he can fight on both the inside and outside. He's not untouchable, but for an aggressive fighter he is much smarter than he is given credit for. Whilst technically he's solid it's power that is scary and every shot he lands is thrown with the intention of hurting an opponent. He is a very, very solid puncher, and this has been shown time and time again recently, with 6 straight stoppages, but does still have some question marks to answer going forward. The big question mark for Yoshino is his chin, and how he manages to cope with a 12 round bout, things we may find out here.
At 25 years old Harmonito Dela Torre should be hitting his stride now, especially given that he debuted more than 7 years ago. Sadly however his once promising career has began faltering. He began with 19 straight wins, getting those victories in the Philippines, Macau and the US. He looked on route for major success, and looking like someone to get excited about. In 2017 he suffered his first loss, but he was competitive through out an 8 round contest with Tugstsogt Nyambayar, dropping the Mongolian before losing a clear decision. That was his first loss but there no issue. Sadly though he would suffered his second loss in his very next bout, being stopped in 2 rounds by China's Yongqiang Yang. Since he he has only fought once, scoring a domestic win against Richard Betos.
In the ring Dela Torre is a pretty solid but basic fighter. There's nothing that jumps out as being spectacular about him, but lots of areas where he can improve. He applies pressure, but often throws shots from out of range, comes forward in relatively straight lines, and paws his jab from his hip. Given he's not amazingly quick or sharp his style really isn't great. He gave Nyambayar issues, but that was more down to the fact he is naturally 2 division's bigger than the Mongolian.
Dela Torre once promised so much, but really failed to develop. Had he developed as many had assumed he'd have made for an solid OPBF level fighter. Sadly however he's too open, too limited and too slow. Against Yoshino he will be made to pay for his flaws, with the his chin there to be hit. Given Yoshino's power and the limitations of Dela Torre we expect this one will finish early, and will be another brutal finish for the Japanese fighter.
Prediction KO4 Yoshino
In August we were supposed to see Kenichi Horikawa (40-15-1, 13) defending his Japanese Light Flyweight title against Ryuto Oho, who sadly was unable to compete due to issues making weight. Coincidentally Horikawa's stablemate Norihito Tanaka, the Japanese Minimumweight champion, was supposed to defend title in October against Yuto Takahashi (10-4, 5), but Tanaka was injured.
Rather than Horikawa and Takahashi remaining out of the ring due to circumstance Takahashi has moved up 3lbs and will meet Horikawa in a bout for Horikawa's title. It's a bout born out of circumstance, but a bout worth being really excited about.
Horikawa is a real stalwart of the Japanese boxing scene, having debuted back in April 2000 and having more than 55 professional bouts. Whilst fighting a lot says one thing what is more telling is the fact Horikawa has faced a who's who of the lower weights. During his long career he has fought Akira Yaegashi, Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa, Tetsuya Hisada, Noknoi Sitthiprasert, Yu Kimura, Shin Ono and current world champion Kenshiro, among others. Whilst he has lost to many of the bigger names he has faced he has rarely been an easy out for anyone, and has regularly pushed them all the way.
In the ring Horikawa is a nightmare to fight against. He's tough, rugged, aggressive, throws a lot of leather up close and is really hard to dissuade. He's technically rough edges at time, he's not the quickest or the most powerful, but he is like a little terrier who won't stop coming at opponents and won't stop trying to break them down. Even at the age of 39 he's still proving there is life in his legs and that he has one of the best engines in Japan.
Whilst Horikawa is a well established veteran Takahashi is much, much less well known. The 26 year old, who live in Yokohama, has been a professional since 2014 but made his first mark in 2015 when he fought Tsubasa Koura in the East Japan Rookie of the Year semi-final, losing a decision but ending Koura's early stoppage run. After starting 4-0 Takahashi would fall to 6-3, thanks in part to a 2017 loss to Norhito Tanaka, the man he had been scheduled to this October. Since then however he has gone 4-1, with his only loss coming in a competitive bout to Tatsuya Fukuhara and wins coming over the likes of Ryoki Hirai and Yuta Nakayama.
In the ring Takahashi is a solid boxer. He uses his jab well, he's good on his feet but does drop his hands when throwing his right hand. He looks like a rising hopeful with plenty to like, but his defense has needed work for a while. It should be noted that his stoppage loss, which came to Tanaka came following a huge, clean right hand that legitimately hurt him. Prior to that he was certainly well in the fight. Typically he's not shown much power himself but last time out he did stop Nakayama in a round, and showed great finishing instincts when he had his man hurt.
Although on paper it doesn't look like a great fight, the reality is that it should be a fantastic fight. We suspect Takahashi will look to establish his jab, move and use his feet whilst Horikawa will attempt to put the pressure on. Stylistically this could be a really tough one to watch at times, but as it goes on we're expecting to see more and more action up close, and by the end, as Takahashi tires, we're expecting a war.
At range Takahashi will rack up the rounds, but as the bout begins to become more and more of a trench war that will favour Horikawa, who we feel will do just enough to retain his title with a 10 round decision.
Prediction UD10 Horikawa
The Light Welterweight scene in and around Asia isn't all that strong right now, despite some interesting fighters and fights that could take place in the division. One of the more notable fighters in the division is current OPBF champion Rikki Naito (21-2,7), who will be defending his title for the third time as he travels to Korea and takes on Gyu Beom Jeon (9-3-1, 4).
On paper this doesn't look like a great bout, but there's a lot of underlying sub stories here which are worth being aware of.
Firstly the bout has been rescheduled a number of times this year. The rescheduling has meant that Naito has been out of the ring for close to a year, with his last bout coming last October, when he struggled past Daishi Nagata in a barn burner. Not only has he been out of the ring for a while, but his last 2 bouts both saw him being dropped late, and left a lot of questions about his stamina. More tellingly however is the story about Naito's father and his bouts in Korea.
Cassius Naito, Rikki's father, fought in Korea 5 times, and lost all 5 bouts. Notably 4 of those losses came to Jae-Doo Yuh and the other one to Chong Pal Park. For Rikki this is personal and this is for his father, just as much as being for himself.
In the ring Rikki is a solid boxer, with nice speed and movement, good ring craft and he fights to his strengths. Sadly however he has always felt like an under-sized Light Welterweight, he's not got much stopping power at the weight, he's run on fumes in the final rounds of his last 2 bouts and as mentioned he's been dropped in his last 2 matches. There is a feeling that whilst he's talented, he's not going to go far at 140lbs due to his own failings. If he could make 135lbs safely he would likely fair better than he will at Light Welterweight.
Whilst Naito is an experienced fighter and is well known in the region, having won the Japanese Super Featherweight title before moving up to Light Welterweight, a lot less is known about Jeon. The Korean 27 year old debuted in 2016 losing on debut. He was 2-2-1 after 5 bouts and 4-3-1 after 8, but he has rebuilt well with 5 straight wins, including 3 by stoppage. On paper he hasn't been fighting at a high level, but a 2018 win against Dong Hee Kim was solid and saw him claim the South Korean title.
Like many Korean fighters Jeon is aggressive, a bit raw defensively but he has a fan friendly style. He puts some pepper on his right hand, likes to fight at mid to close range and fires in body shots. Sadly for Jeon he doesn't set a typically high work rate, and although he does seem to have some promise this is a huge step up in class for him.
We have seen Naito struggle in recent bouts, he has been inactive and his father did fail to win in any of his Korean bouts. Despite that he should have the skills in his locker to take home a clear win against Jeon who isn't ready for a bout at this level. Jeon will come to win, but be out worked, out sped and out thought, before being broken down and stopped.
Prediction - TKO9 Naito
Right now Japan has a lot of good amateurs turning professional and hunting professional titles as quickly as they can. They also have a second type of prospect, the ones who have come through the ranks in a way that's similar to how a prospect is developed in the West. One man who falls in to that secondary category is Junto Nakatani (19-0, 14), who has won the Rookie of the Year, the Japanese Youth title and the Japanese title on his rise through the ranks. As with many prospects who take the slower approach to the top they do need to take a step up, and on October 5th Nakatani has a big step up as he takes on former world champion Milan Melindo (37-4, 13).
For Nakatani this will be the first time he has faced an opponent that international fan will be aware of. This isn't a regional level opponent or a domestic opponent, but a former world champion. On the other hand it also serves as a must win for Melindo, who is 2 years removed from his last win and has lost his last 2 bouts, both in Japan. For both this is a serious match up.
Nakatani has been on the radar, for those who follow the Japanese scene at least, for a few years now. He won the Rookie of the Year in 2016 and since then has moved up slowly, winning the Japanese Youth title in 2017 and the main Japanese title this past February. Whilst he's yet to score a win over a big name, he has beaten the likes of Masamichi Yabuki, Shun Kosaka, Seigo Yuri Akui and Naoki Mochizuki. He has looked a real talent. he's a boxer-puncher who is huge at Flyweight, maturing into his body, a vicious body puncher and someone who is very much developing his craft. Notably he's likely to have out grown the Flyweight division before he gets a big bout, but Nakatani at Super Flyweight will certainly not be under-sized.
Whilst we have been impressed by Nakatani we do wonder what happens when he takes on someone who really knows their way around the ring. His best opponents so far have either been under-sized or technically limited, or both. We still feel Melindo will be clearly under-sized against Nakatani, but Nakatani will be up against someone who can box, move and knows his way around the ring. For the first time he will be tested in terms of his skills, and will be punished for his errors and mistakes.
The 31 year old Melindo is a true veteran, with a 14 year and 41 fight career behind him. That career has taken him all over the world with bouts in the Philippines, Dubai, Macao, Mexico and Japan and seen him share the ring with the likes of Muhammad Rachman, Juan Francisco Estrada, Javier Mendoza, Akira Yaegashi, Hekkie Budler, Ryoichi Taguchi and Kenshiro. The level of experience Melindo has is incredible, but has come at a cost and he has taken a lot of punishment through his career. He is also a natural Light Flyweight, and has spent much of his career at 108lbs, which will be a major issue against Nakatani.
Although Melindo's experience is his key advantage here he does have more to him than just a long career. He's technically an excellent fighter, with fantastic understanding of range, timing and counter punching. He's not the quickest, or the most heavy handed, but he can punch, as we saw in his opening round win against Yaegashi, but technically he's very good and with his experience that technical ability has been polished over the years.
If the men were the same weight this would be a really interesting match up, but in reality Melindo is a decent sized Light Flyweight taking on a huge Flyweight. Likewise if this was earlier in Melindo's career this would be a great fight, but the last 3 fights have been really damaging ones for the Filipino, who was stopped last time out for the first time in his career.
With the accumulative damage and size disadvantage we see what looks like a step up for Nakatani as being more of a showcase than it should be. Melindo has the skills to test Nakatani, but lacks the size, power, speed and youth to test the youngster. We suspect that within 4 or 5 rounds Melindo will be getting broken down, and will be stopped soon afterwards from accumulation.
Prediction- TKO6 Nakatani
The Super Featherweight division is an interesting state right now. It lacks a real star, especially with Gervonta Davis leaving the division, but has a lot of interesting contenders chasing world title bouts. Among those contenders are Tajik born Russian based Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (14-0, 11) and South African Azinga Fuzile (14-0, 8), who will face off in an IBF world title eliminator on September 29th in South Africa. Although both men are risking their unbeaten records the reward is big, as the winner will get a shot at the IBF title, currently held by Tevin Farmer.
Originally Fuzile had been scheduled to face Kenichi Ogawa earlier in the year, though visa issues derailed that fight and the IBF then ordered Fuzile to face Rakhimov, whilst Ogawa went a different route. On paper Fuzile Vs Ogawa was a really good fight, however we actually prefer the look of this one, which looks more even on paper, and should be a more intriguing bout in terms of styles.
For those who have seen Rakhimov they will know what to expect. He's a technically solid, heavy handed and aggressive boxer-puncher. In some way's he's comparable to Sergey Kovalev, with naturally heavy hands and a very solid boxing mentality, though he's more willing to work on the inside than Kovalev and obviously smaller and quicker. There's nothing amazingly flashy with Rakhimov, but he's very solid, finds gaps and uses his straight power shots to back opponents up. When he has his man hurt he goes for the finish, and has very combinations and upper body movement.
Although very promising so far Rakhimov has fought his entire career his entire career in Russia and this could prove to be his biggest issues here. He's having to enter enemy territory for the first time, with the bout taking place in East London, South Africa. Of course there's a worry that being the away fighter will be an issue here, however if he can put the location and fans to the back of his mind, it would a big positive for him.
Watching Fuzile we see a talented and big looking Super Featherweight with really nice handspeed sharp punching and impressive composure. He's a defensively smart fighter, but also a very sharp punching one, and his jab is a great table setter, backing up opponents and allowing him to apply his pressure. He's the type of fighter who looks like he has fun in the ring, and enjoys fighting, showing off his skills and out thinking opponents. Despite the obvious talent we do wonder how his style will hold up when he's under real pressure from a puncher.
We see a real talent in Fuzile, be we also see a young man who needs time to develop the experience needed to get the most from his skills. His competition so far hasn't been the best, and wins over Macolm Klassen and Romulo Koasicha really are his most notable wins. Maybe this fight is coming a touch too soon for him, and he could have done with another couple of decent tests before facing a guy like Rakhimov.
We always worry when a fighter travels to South Africa, it's a really hard country to get a decision in. Saying that however we don't see Rakhimov leaving this in the hands of the judges. Fuzile needs to keep the bout in the center of the ring, he needs to avoid being backed up by Rakhimov's jab and needs to move, a lot. If Fuzile can keep range, dictate behind his jab and avoid being backed up, he should win. Sadly for him however Rakhimov isn't going to be a willing dancer partner, and instead the Tajik visitor will be applying pressure, and sooner or later he will trap Fuzile, bang him to the body and begin to take his wheels away.
We see Fuzile posing Rakhimov real questions, but we suspect the power difference will prove to be too much.
Prediction - TKO9 Rakhimov
Over the last few years we've seen more and more Japanese fighters being fast tracked to their first professional titles. The likes of Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka have obviously gained a lot of attention due to the way they've become multi-weight world champions in very few fights, but other fighters like Ginjiro Shigeoka have also gone on to quickly win regional titles as they look to make a mark and take a huge step, very early on.
The next Japanese fighter looking to make their mark within just a handful of fights is Tsubasa Murachi (4-0, 3), who will look to become the WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight champion this coming Saturday, when he takes on former world title challenger Froilan Saludar (30-3-1, 21). For Murachi the bout is a huge chance to make a massive statement at the age of 22 whilst the 30 year old Saludar will get the chance to remain relevant, though will know a loss here likely ends his hopes of getting a second world title fight.
Of the two men it's Saludar who is, by far, the more well known. The Filipino debuted in 2009 and began his career with a 19-0-1 (12) record. By that point he was being tipped as a future world champion and looked like he had all the tools to go a long, long way. Sadly however a 2nd round TKO loss to McWilliams ended his unbeaten record and since then he has gone 11-2 (9). On paper that looks good, but in reality he has struggled when he's fought above Filipino domestic level with losses to Arroyo, Takuma Inoue and most recently Sho Kimura.
Despite his high profile losses Saludar is a fighter who generally passes the eye test. He moves around the ring well, fights confidently and has got decent power. He gave Inoue a decent fight through 7 rounds, though was dropped in rounds 8 and 9 as the Japanese fighter ran away with the win in the end, and also gave Kimura a decent fight before Kimura's pressure broke him in the middle rounds. There is flashes of real talent, but all too often that talent hasn't shown it's self for more than a few moments in his biggest fights.
Murachi on the other hand is unknown outside of the hardcore Japanese viewing fans, and even those may not have seen much of him. The 22 year old debuted in May 2018 following a 32 fight amateur career. In the amateurs he never really looked like a major star of the future, but when he turned professional it was pretty notable news for the gym he was turning over with, who seemed to know he had the potential to be moved aggressively. Although they spotted his potential they matched him relatively easily over his first 3 bouts, before stepping him up earlier this year against Raymond Tabugon, an experienced Filipino that he nearly shut out over 8 rounds.
In regards to footage of Murachi all 4 of his professional bouts are available on the Boxing Raise service, and they all show slightly different traits to the fighter. Despite none of the performances being identical they all show a naturally talented boxer-puncher, who loves to attack the body, has a cocky confidence and throws crisp combinations. He's a fighter who likes to fight at mid-range, likes to bring pressure and likes to throw short but sharp combinations. Offensively he's talented but defensively there are flaws, and he does just step back in straight lines a little too often for our liking and his guard does drop a little low at times.
This bout could see Murachi being punished for his defensive flaws for the first time, and Saludar certainly has the power to sting him when he lands, however we suspect the clean combinations of Murachi and natural size advantage will be the key. Saludar is a natural Flyweight whilst Murachi a big Super Flyweight and that, we suspect, will be the key.
We're expecting that the pressure and clean punching of Murachi will eventually wear down the Filipino for a late round stoppage.
Prediction - TKO10 Murachi
The past year or two we've seen the Super Bantamweight division in Japan being one of the highlights delivering great fighter after great fight. Those great fights included May's rematch between Ryoichi Tamura and Yusaku Kuga (18-3-1, 12), which saw Kuga become a 2-time Japanese Super Bantamweight champion thanks to an all 10 round war.
Kuga returns to the ring on September 21st to defend his title against 32 year old veteran Yosuke Fujihara (18-6, 5), who gets his second Japanese title fight just over 12 years after his professional debut. On paper this looks like an easy defense for Kuga, though in fairness he does deserve an easy one after May's war with Tamura, which really was a damaging bout for both men.
For those who haven't seen Kuga he is a nasty, nasty fighter in the ring. He's heavy handed, aggressive, incredibly strong and tough. Offensively he's a monster but he's also technically quite crude, defensively flawed and can be out boxed. We saw Shingo Wake really pick him apart last year, when he stopped Kuga in the 10th round, but it took a fighter of Wake's high skill level to clearly beat Kuga. Kuga's only other losses were a 2012 loss to Nobuhiro Hisano and a razor thin 2015 loss to Yasutaka Ishimoto, a loss that was avenged in 2018. Since his 2015 loss to Ishimoto Wake has gone 7-1 (5), with both of the decision wins coming in close fights with Tamura and the loss being the one to Wake.
At 28 years old Kuga is still improving, developing and adding to his experience. Though the tough bouts will catch up with him soon or later and wars against the likes of Tamura, Wake and Ishimoto, and we hope he gets a big bout before those wars take the best out of him. His aggressive style makes for wars, and his power, strength and toughness, means he tends to win them, but it's still not a style which will lead to a long and fruitful career.
The 32 year old Fujihara showed a lot of promise early in his career, following his 2007 debut. He won his first 13 bouts, and notable won the 2008 Rookie of the Year. He was unbeaten for more than 3 years before losing in May 2011 to Kentaro Masuda. He quickly went from 13-0 to 14-3 as his career began to fall apart, including stoppage losses to Mugicha Nakagawa and Ryuta Otsuka. In 2016 he got his first Japanese title fight, losing a wide decision to Yasutaka Ishimoto, and since then he has gone 2-2. To suggest that Fujihara is a limited challenger really doesn't say as much as stating he is 5-6 in the last 6 years.
At his best Fujihara was a legitimate domestic title challenger. Problem is that his best really didn't last very long, and is very much in the past. Even recent wins over Naoya Okamoto and Keita Nakano really don't suggest things are turning around for Fujihara. The biggest problem for Fujihara is the fact that he lacks anything that makes him really stand out as a threat. He lacks lighting speed, thunderous power, he's not physically imposing or able to set a high work rate.
Given that Kuga will impose himself, will set a high pace and will look to take Fujihara out early on, it's hard to see anything but an early win for the champion. Fujihara will have to rely on his toughness early on, and sooner or later that toughness will way and Kuga will break him down.
The 2020 Champion Carnival is slowly starting to come together and at the end of August we saw the Japanese title challenger decision bouts being announced. Before that announcement there was several already on the docket, including a Minimumweight eliminator between former world title challenger Masataka Taniguchi (11-3, 7) and hard hitting youngster Kai Ishizawa (6-0, 6), with the winner to get a shot in early 2020.
Of the two fighters Taniguchi is the much more proven and established. He's a former Japanese, OPBF and world title challenger and a former WBO Asia Pacific champion and has mixed with the likes of Reiya Konishi, Vic Saludar, Tsubasa Koura and Joel Lino. Before turning professional he was a solid amateur and was tipped for major success, but that success hasn't yet come. Notably he is still only 25, and despite the set backs through his career he still has time on his side, if he's still hungry enough to make the most of his talent. That hunger is however a big question and there is a chance that his losses have killed some of that desire to be a champion.
In terms of skill and style Taniguchi is an highly skilled boxer-puncher. Fighting out of southpaw stance Taniguchi is an aggressive fighter who judges distance well, fights behind a sharp jab and has under-rated speed and movement. His work rate isn't the highest and he's not a KO puncher but he is a solid puncher with a decent work rate. In fact when we think about Taniguchi, he's solid in every area, without being excellent in any, which is what was shown when he faced off with Saludar earlier this year. He's never going to be one of the truly top fighters in the division, but will remain a constant threat in and around the regional title scene.
Ishizawa is a 22 year old who turned professional in 2017 without too much fan fare, following a rather uninspired 28-14 amateur record. Since turning professional however he has impressed, thanks to his heavy hands, aggressive styles and pressure fighting mentality. Early in his career there was questions about how he'd look when he stepped up, but he answered those questions with stoppage wins over Tatsuro Nakashima and Yuga Inoue in 2018. Those bouts both saw Ishizawa needing to answer questions about what happens when a fighter can take his power, and the Inoue bout in particular was a huge test against a stylistic nightmare, that he eventually broke down.
Despite impressive performances against the likes of Nakashima and Inoue this is still a massive step up for Ishizawa. He's a hard puncher with an exciting pressure style, but he's up against someone who is more experienced, has more to his game, hits hard himself and moves well. The key for Ishizawa is to get close and work inside, but against someone who controls distance like Taniguchi that is much easier said than done and he will have to take punishment to get inside.
We'd love to see Ishizawa win, due to loving his style and youth, but in reality we feel this bout may be coming a touch too early for him and his inexperience will be exposed. Taniguchi may have come up short in his biggest bouts but he is talented, and even in defeat he has shown a real gritty toughness and determination. We suspect that grit will see him through some tough moments against Ishizawa, before taking a clear win, possibly even a late stoppage.
Prediction - TKO8 Taniguchi
One of the big rising stars of the Japanese scenes right now is the Ohashi promoted Taku Kuwahara (5-0, 4), who was an amateur stand out before turning professional in 2018. Since turning to the pros Kuwahara hasn't put a foot wrong, stopping 4 of his 5 opponents and proving he can fight 8 rounds at a good pace, as he did against Takamori Kiyama. Although impressing in terms of his performances his competition has lacked. That changes this coming Tuesday when he takes on experienced Filipino Jonathan Refugio (21-6-5, 7), who was ranked #15 by the WBC when the bout was announced. For Kuwahara this is a legitimate step up in class and a genuine test whilst Refugio gets a 5th shot to pick up his first win on the road.
Despite being very highly regarded Kuwahara hasn't had the television exposure that some prospects have. He's been dubbed "Ioka II" in the Japan press but has been hidden away on Ohashi under-cards. Despite not having more than highlights of his fights out there there has been plenty of take aways from the footage. He's a born body puncher, like Kazuto Ioka. He sets things up behind his quick foot work, intelligent defense and excellent combinations, though for us it's his brutal hooks to the to the body that really catch the eye.
Aged 24 Kuwahara looks like he's going to be a mainstay in the Flyweight and Super Flyweight divisions for the coming years, and a win over Refugio will be his ticket to mix in regional title fights very soon. With his style, power and skills we wouldn't imagine he'd stay at regional level for long, especially with the relative lack of talent at Flyweight right now, and it could be that at the end of 2020 or early 2021 he'll be in the world title mix.
Aged 26 Refugio is someone who has had a long career, despite being so young. He made his debut in 2010, at the age of 17, and has already amassed over 235 rounds in the pro ranks and 32 bouts. Like many Filipino fighters he's not been particularly protected either with his team having him in there with some solid fighters. They have included the then 20-0 Wanheng Menayothin, the then 18-0 Merlito Sabillo, the then 5-0 Knockout CP Freshmart and the then 6-0 Hiroto Kyoguchi.
Since losing to Kyoguchi, back in 2017, Refugio has gone 5-0 (3), though all 5 of those wins have been on the Filipino domestic scene. Outside of the Philipines he is 0-4-1, with the draw coming against the fairly limit Seita Ogido in 2017, just 3 months before he took on Kyoguchi, and lost a decision. In the ring he's tough, knows his way around the ring and is pretty crafty, with a good southpaw jab, good ring craft and he knows how to neutralise opponents, something he's gained with over 30 fights of experience. Sadly he lacks real power, and struggles to keep opponents away. That issue will make a fight against a strong, powerful, young Flyweight incredible hard for Refugio.
Interestingly Refugio's bout with Kyoguchi, in many ways, is the one we'd look at at the most comparable to this one. In that bout Refugio put up a good effort, lasted 12 rounds, but was put in his shell in the second half of the bout. He started well against Kyoguchi but was eventually put into survival mode. Given that Kuwahara is bigger, stronger and naturally more powerful than Kyoguchi, though stylistically rather similar, this doesn't bode well for Refugio. We suspect, again, he will be in the fight early but be broken down through by Kuwahara in the middle rounds and stopped late on by a body shot.
Prediction TKO8 Kuwahara
This coming Monday we'll see the ageless Yuki Nonaka (33-10-3, 10) hunt his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Middleweight title, as he goes up against Korean puncher Yang Hyun Min (8-2, 7). At first glance this is a highly skilled veteran taking on a young and hungry fighter, but how do we see this one going? Does Min have a chance or will Nonaka continue picking up wins his 40's?
Of the two fighters the lesser known is Min, a 26 year old Korean who has fought his entire career in Korea so far. He made his debut in 2016 and won his first 3 bouts, all by stoppage. Following the promising start Min was out boxed by Jae Hyuk Shin in early 2017 and just 2 months later Min was stopped by Heuk San Lee, down at Welterweight. Since losing to Lee, a Korean based Cameroonian fighter, Min has gone 4-0 (3) and won both the Korean and WBA Asia Middleweight titles.
Whilst Min is a double champion his competition has been incredibly poor with his best win, on paper at least, coming against China's Yihao Wang back in June. That competition explains he looks like a puncher on paper, though in reality it's almost impossible to take anything from the numbers on his record. His loss to Lee shows that Lee can punch a bit, and that Min didn't take a good shot at Welterweight, but tells us nothing about Min or his potential. Sometimes, when it comes to Koreans and Thai's, that can be a bit misleading and they can turn out to be better than their records suggest. From the footage available of him he's aggressive and powerful looking, but clumsy, not particularly quick or sharp and throws wide hooks. He's fun to watch, but very much what an American fan would describe as a club fighter.
Nonaka on the other hand is very well respected in Japan, and even the wider Asian boxing regions. The 41 year old southpaw has been a professional for close to 20 years, debuting in November 1999, and despite losing 3 of his first 5 he has carved out an excellent career. He managed to unify the Japanese and OPBF Light Middleweight titles in 2009, reclaimed the Japanese title in 2014 and won the unified OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Middleweights titles earlier this year. Although he has lost 2 of his last 4 they both came to fighter who went on to fight in world title fights, Dennis Hogan and Takeshi Inoue, with those losses being his only 2 losses since 2010!
In the ring Nonaka is a pure boxer and the sort of fighter that every emerging fighter should watch. He's incredibly smart, and at the age of 41 he has the ring craft to beat younger and stronger fighters. His style is relaxed, he fights behind his jab, moves when he needs to and doesn't waste much of anything, as he limits his movement and punch out put. Despite being conservative in his approach he can step it up as, and when, he needs to and is very tricky to beat. for those looking to beat him they need to use speed and output, which Hogan used well, and out land him at range, but those trying to pressure him really need to consider a different gameplan.
Given the styles of the two men, as well as their experience, it's really, really hard to see how Min wins. He'll be pressing the fight, looking to land bombs, but eating a steady stream of counter shots. Barring a freak shot from Min we really don't give him any chance at all. Instead we see either a very wide decision win for Nonaka, or a stoppage from accumulation in the middle to late rounds.
Prediction - TKO8 Nonaka
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.