Although still a novice Naito dominated veteran Hiroyasu Matsuzaki in February to win the national title and really come of age with a performance that demonstrated why he is so highly regarded by the Japanese boxing press. It was this performance that caused fans to sit up and take not and accept that Naito was more than just the son of Cassius Naito, a former champion himself.
Naito will be making the first defence of that title this coming Monday as he battled one of the nearly men of the Japanese title scene, Kyohei Tamakoshi (32-8-6, 12).
With 46 fights on his ledger Tamakoshi has fought in more than 5 times as many professional bouts as Naito, he has more than 6 times as many rounds as the champion and has fallen short in 5 previous Japanese of OPBF title fights. Yet the 33 year old challenger knows that this could be not only his last chance at a major title but also his hardest with many tipping Naito as not just a future world champion but a future dominant force at 130lbs.
What makes Naito so highly regarded is his overall package. He's not a dynamite fisted fighter like compatriot Takashi Uchiyama, he's not an out-and-out aggressive machine like Takashi Miura and he's also not a physical monster like Daiki Kaneko. Instead he's a man who combines speed, stinging power and skills. He's never going to just through fighters but he's going to box them, use fast but powerful counters and break them both physically and mentally. Most worryingly for the boxing world isn't how good Naito is, but how quickly he's improving and we'd not be shocked by him continuing to get better for another few years whilst also maturing physically. To be bluntly honest he's only going to get better.
For Tamakoshi this really is his last chance and amazingly it falls almost 10 years to the day of his first title fight, a draw with the then Japanese Super Bantamweight champion Yoshikane Nakajima. Since then Tamakoshi has lost to a handful of of very good fighters, including the aforementioned Daiki Kaneko as well as Masaaki Serie and Mikihito Seto. Despite the losses he has proven to be tough with only Kaneko stopping him in recent years. Interestingly whilst Tamakoshi is best known for his losses he does actually hold a huge win over Dante Jardon in a fight that proved not only Tamakoshi's toughness but also his power as he dropped Jardon 4 times. Tamakoshi may not have the record of a banger but he certainly can hurt fighters when he lands solidly.
What Tamakoshi has is not just experience and toughness but he is also rather awkward. A lot of what he does doesn't look all that great but he makes life difficult for fighters who come at him. For this fight however we don't expect to see Naito going after Tamakoshi, instead we're expecting to see Naito the counter puncher in action, forcing Tamakoshi to lead off then using the speed to counter the challenger. It was a tactic that worked excellently when Naito won the title and we expect it to work again here.
Whilst we view Naito as the 4th best Super Featherweight in Japan we have no doubts that he's a future world champion and for us Tamakoshi is merely step on the journey of one of Japanese boxing's most exciting young talents. Depending on how much of a show Naito wants to put on we actually can see him looking for a stoppage late on if he intends to prove a point. Other wise this will be a clear decision for the champion.
At the moment the only men in Japan that Naito needs to avoid are the two Takashi's and Kaneko, they would all be too much for the youngster at this point. By the time Naito reaches his peak however Uchiyama will have retired and Kaneko will likely have moved to pastures new at Lightweight giving a huge opening to Naito to become a real national star. Thankfully for the youngster he combines talent with charisma, a natural story due to his father's success and a unique look that helps to make him very memorable. Those will all help him become one of the top names of the next 10 years in Japanese boxing.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)