On December 14th we get two such match ups. One of those sees Ito defending his OPBF title against Shingo Eto whilst another sees Japanese national champion Rikki Naito (13-0, 5) defending his belt against the big punching Kenichi Ogawa (16-1, 14). The bout will help shape the domestic scene for 2016 with the winner expected to face either Nakamura or the winner of the Ito/Eto bout.
On paper the favourite will be the champion. He's an unbeaten fighter who has risen quickly through the ranks under the guidance of his father, Cassius Naito. Cassius, a former champion himself, has helped developed the ability of his son and draw attention to Rikki's ability as the youngster has forged a solid career of his own. Not only is Naito the unbeaten Japanese champion but he's a man who has compiled a genuinely impressive list of names on his record, including Shingo Eto, Masayuki Ito and Nihito Arakawa, who has he beaten in back-to-back fights.
Despite the good string of wins Naito has looked somewhat fortunate with the win over Ito being razor thin and the decisions against Arakawa and Eto being closer than the cards suggested. Saying that however he has proven he can do enough in a close fight to impress the judges and get the win.
At his best Naito is a talented and technically sound boxer with great speed, both foot and hand, a sharp hook and a good understanding of the ring. Whilst those are positive traits he has shown issues with stamina in longer bouts and has got a clear lack of power, with his last stoppage coming in his Japanese title victory against Hiroyasu Matsuzaki, 5 fights back. That wasn't a hugely impressive stoppage given that Matsuzaki had been stopped in 3 previous losses. Although his power won't stop many his movement, timing and speed will trouble many fighters and will need to be neutralised by anyone looking to beat him.
Ogawa, the challenger, is the older man at 27 years old and although he's more experienced in terms of fights he hasn't actually got a lot of experienced with his bouts rarely lasting more than 4 rounds. That has been due to his biggest weapon, his striking and hurtful power. That power has stopped 14 opponents in total with 11 stoppages coming in 4 or fewer rounds. Notable however he has proven that his power does stay later in fights as well, scoring a 7th round stoppage of Ribo Takahata late last year and a 10th round stoppage of Deivi Julio Bassa back in September.
Although Ogawa has a loss, a 5th round TKO loss to Yuki Miyoshi, he has since avenged iut, taking out Miyoshi in a rematch in just 134 seconds. Since the loss he has gone 8-0 (8) and taken just a combined 35 rounds. It's fair to say that his competition hasn't been incredible but wins over Takahata, Raymond Sermona and Bassa are solid wins and will have prepared him well for a title bout.
In the ring Ogawa's power is his key, though like a number of more notable power punchers he's actually got some skills to go with his power and can boxer as well punch. That was shown to good effect against Bassa, who he boxed and broke down, and it seems clear that every punch he throws is solid in terms of his power, even his jabs. He has also shown a development in terms of how he fights and seems to understand how to use the ring to his advantage.
On paper it is hard to go against Naito however we're actually picking the upset here with Ogawa having the power to really trouble Naito and having the over-looked traits to make the most of his power. We don't think the challenger will have things all his own way, but will take home the title with a late stoppage of the unbeaten man.