We return to out look at the best Japanese fight of 2018 ahead of this coming weekend, a weekend that promises to deliver a lot of action in the country.
This is part three of a multi-part article and will look at 5 bouts that took place from July 27th to August 16th. More parts to this will be posted in the coming weeks, so please keep your eye on for those!
If you missed part 1 than can be read here The best Japanese Fights of 2018 (Part 1)
And part 2 can be read here The best Japanese Fights of 2018 (Part 2)
July 27th – Korakuen Hall
Yusaku Kuga (16-2-1, 11) Vs Shingo Wake (24-5-2, 16)
One of the most anticipated Japanese title fights of 2018 was a Super Bantamweight bout between Yusaku Kuga and former world title challenger Shingo Wake. The bout pitted two of the best domestic fighters at 122lbs against each other and it promised so much. At domestic level Kuga was vicious and had made 2 defenses of the title leading into this bout. Wake was a sharp shooter who had battered into a pulp against Jonathan Guzman in 2016 but had bounced back with 4 stoppage wins leading into this bout.
August 9th – Korakuen Hall
Taiki Minamoto (15-5, 12) vs Tatsuya Otsubo (12-8-1, 4)
It's fair to say that August was the month where things really picked up for Japanese fights, with a lot of great fights. The first one that really caught fire was the Japanese Featherweight title fight between defending champion Taiki Minamoto and Tatsuya Otsubo. On paper this looked like a mismatch but turned out to be a real thriller as both men unloaded on the other in what was a bit of a dark horse fight. For Minamoto it was his first defense of the title, following a very impressive performance against Takenori Ohashi whilst Otsubo was having his second Japanese title shot, and this turned out to be a real treat.
August 11th-City Sogo Gym
Ryota Yada (16-4, 13) vs Kazuyasu Okamoto (14-5, 4)
The action from August went from strength to strength and on August 11th we saw Japanese Welterweight champion Ryota Yada make his first defense, as he took on the unheralded Kazuyasu Okamoto. Much like the Minamoto/Otsubo bout this wasn't expected to be too exciting but certainly exceeded expectation and was one of the many treats asign boxing has given us this year. Notably it wasn't the best fight on the card, but was still a high tempo, hard hitting and worth while watch.
August 11th-City Sogo Gym
Keita Kurihara (11-5, 10) Vs Kazuki Tanaka (9-1, 6)
Records don't tell us what to expect when we get a fight, instead the styles of the fighters involved should tell us whether we should be excited or not. When Keita Kurihara and Kazuki Tanaka were matched we knew to expect something special. Tanaka had been a former amateur standout who was tipped for big things as a professional whilst Kurihara was best known as a heavy handed slugger, who was always worth watching due to aggressive style and defensive flaws. When the two got in the ring, with a very hot crowd, they delivered a short but thrilling action bout.
August 16th-Korakuen Hall
Daisuke Sudo (4-6-3) vs Jun Ishimoto (5-5-1, 3)
Not all exciting fights are high profile or expected to be great fights and the clash between Daisuke Sudo and Jun Ishimoto proved just that. The two men entered the contest as total unknowns and were fighting in front of only a smattering of a crowd on the under-card of a world title bout. Despite the relatively small crowd watching the two men put on a show, fighting a high tempo and exciting 6 round contest. What made this really good was that both men fought as if they had a point to prove, like they could pick up a relatively rare win and really take a chance to shine. If you like high tempo wars this is well worth your time.
Earlier today I was informed that Shingo Wake (17-4-2, 10) had "pulled out" of a world title fight with Scott Quigg (29-0-2, 22). At the time it was slightly surprising as no one had actually announced the bout as being signed. It seems scarcely believable that a fighter can pull out of something that hasn't been announced. It was then brought to my attention that several sources had reported that Eddie Hearn was in talks with former Japanese national champion Hidenori Otake (22-1-3, 9). After a little thought and consideration I've decided that I would throw out 2 pence into the conversation.
Firstly the deal regarding Wake struck me as a little bit. On October 2nd Wake said he was "on standby" for a world title bout, this was after some in the British press made the fight sound like a done deal. No one in the Japanese press seemed to think of it was worth news and no one, from Nikkan Sports to Boxingnews.jp seemed to say much, if anything about the contest. A Japanese fighter signing up for a world title fight would have made a few ripples in the local press, right? Well apparently not and what ripples there were died down almost as quickly as they originated with British press being given as the source.
Maybe I'm a cynic but I'm not sure the Wake fight was ever really on. Wake, who I know likes to blog a lot, hardly mentioned it when one would have assumed it would have been all over his blog. Likewise had he suffered an injury in training that too would have been on his blog, instead he was talking about the fact he was at yesterday's OPBF Featherweight title bout between Hisashi Amagasa and Ryo Takenaka. No mention of an injury just that he enjoyed the fight yesterday.
That, to me anyway, doesn't sound like a guy who has just hurt his leg and had to miss out on the opportunity of a life time. It sounds like a guy enjoying life, enjoying watching fights and watching his friends in action.
In regards to Otake, who is now apparently in talks regarding a Quigg fight, I again have issues with believing the fight is actually being spoken about in good faith.
Firstly Otake would have to receive a WBA ranking in the next update, an unlikely outcome given he's been inactive for most of the year following a rib injury that he suffered prior to a scheduled bout with Gakuya Furuhashi (16-5, 6). That rib injury forced Otake out of a scheduled defense of the Japanese title on July 18 and he has now been out of the ring for around 7 months. Not a huge amount of time but considering the injury it would make sense for Otake to look else where than jump straight in to a world title bout and since he has had a bout arranged for November 18th it would seem likely that he has an easy bout planned.
Otake's last blog entry followed him vacating the title at the end of September. Does anyone not find it odd that Otake hasn't updated his own blog to suggest he's in talks about a world title bout? I know Otake doesn't blog as much as Wake but again I'd have expected such a huge opportunity to have been mentioned on there, or at least in the Japanese press.
So is Otake likely? Not really, without a WBA ranking, with a bout scheduled and coming back from an injury I can't see him fighting Scott Quigg in 5 weeks time. To suggest otherwise is a bit foolish in my eyes and instead I'd suspect Otake will be in a "world title prelude" or a tune up next time out. What is possible however is tat either Otake or Wake get a fight with Quigg in 2015 if Quigg continues to hold a title into next year.
We suspect Hearn has linked Wake's name to Quigg due to the high rankings Wake has though in reality there was no real negotiations with the Japanese fighter. Hearn does, after all, have a very controversial PPV to sell fans. Even if there was no intention of having Quigg fight Wake there was still bluster behind linking a top contender to Quigg and now selling a late replacement as a bout where the original opponent "had to pull out".
In some ways I'm becoming very doubtful when Hearn, or someone from his stable or television backers, mentions a Japanese fighter as it's becoming a bit like a broken record. The number if times Stephen Smith has been linked to Takashi Miura does help back me up here. Sorry "Fast Car" but talk's cheap.
Earlier today, July 21st, Shingo Wake (17-4-2, 10) recorded the 4th defence of his OPBF Super Bantamweight title by stopping South Korea's Jaesung Lee (17-4-2, 9). Lee, who entered as the #1 ranked OPBF challenger, was the 5th successive stoppage victim of Wake who has been on a real roll in the last 2 years with 7 successive wins.
Following the victory over Lee we heard Wake announce his intentions to fight for a world title. He mentioned it in the ring immediately after the fight and then mentioned it again on his blog a few hours after the fight re-affirming his intention to chase a world title and prove himself as not just the best in Asia but one of the best in the world.
Wake's focus on a world title made us wonder who would be next for the sharp shooting Wake? Which champion did he have his eyes on? And who would we like to see him fight the most.
The man widely regarded as the best in the 122lb division is unbeaten Cuban sensation Guillermo Rigondeaux (14-0, 9) who currently holds the WBO and WBA "super" titles in the division. Like Wake Rigondeaux is a sharp shooting southpaw though he's a man many are avoiding as the risks outweigh the rewards for fighting him. The Cuban is an exceptionally well schooled and gifted fighter and although many fans will complain about the ending of his recent fight with Sod Kokietgym it's likely that Rigondeaux would have eventually seen off the Thai.
On paper Wake would be a considerable under-dog against Rigondeaux though the queue to fight the Cuban is short and one would assume that if Wake's team from Koguchi and Kyoei made a decent offer to the Cuban then the fight could be made, in fact it could be made before the end of the year.
Whilst Rigondeaux is the toughest fight in the division the most exciting champion is probably the unbeaten Leo Santa Cruz (27-0-1, 15). Santa Cruz is the current WBC champion and is an exciting pressure fighter that Shinsuke Yamanaka had spoken about fighting though unfortunately a bout between the two never materialised.
Santa Cruz does seem to have several other suitors and is scheduled to fight on September 13th. That date, around 8 weeks away, would be far too soon for Wake to prepare for a world title bout though he could chase the winner of Santa Cruz Vs whoever he ends up fighting for early next year, especially when you consider that Santa Cruz has often fought regularly in the last few years.
A third option would be Britain's Scott Quigg (28-0-2, 21), the current WBA regular champion. Like Santa Cruz we will see Quigg in the ring on September 13th though, as with Santa Cruz, no opponent has yet been named and it's unlikely to be anyone too tough. The date, just like with Santa Cruz, is likely to be too soon for Wake to prepare but this is certainly an "easier" assignment if the Japanese fighter could possibly make the date. Odds are however that he can't.
As with with Santa Cruz the option of fighting Quigg in 2015 is certainly there and Quigg did struggle with the last boxer-mover he fought, Yoandris Salinas. With that in mind Wake may like the idea of fighting Quigg, especially as Salinas has just been beaten by a journeyman named Enrique Quevedo proving that Salinas really wasn't a world class foe.
As for getting the fight in Japan, Quigg isn't a bankable star in the UK despite a solid following and he may be lured easier than Santa Cruz who would be demanding a considerable payment to fight in Japan
The fourth option would be chasing the IBF title which at the moment is the longest route to a title by quite some margin .
The IBF champion Kiko Martinez (31-4, 23), known to Japanese fans for his fight with Hozumi Hasegawa earlier this year, is set to face the unbeaten Carl Frampton (18-0, 13) on September 6th. Following that fight the winner is expected to take on the hard hitting Chris Avalos (24-2, 18) in an IBF mandatory defence. That would put any possible IBF title challenge from Wake on ice for at least 6-8 months and clearly makes it an unattractive option.
As for those 3 men in the IBF picture Martinez would certainly travel if the money was right, he showed that against Hasegawa. Frampton, who has a huge fan base in Belfast, wouldn't travel unless the money on offer was ridiculous and Avalos would travel if the money on offer was acceptable, in fact Wake Vs Avalos could plausibly have been made on a Macau show with Avalos having fought Yasutaka Ishimoto in Macau earlier this year.
Depending on how quickly it'll take Wake to return to action could help decide his next opponent, as could knowing how much backing Kyoei are willing to give him financially to lure an opponent over. If he can return by September 13th and be 100% fit then he could step in to face either Quigg or Santa Cruz. The odds of him being 100% for that date however are slim and we probably should rule that out.
If Wake's wanting a title fight this year, barring blow outs for Quigg or Santa Cruz, that leaves only Rigondeaux as an option. It's a tough ask though could be made relatively easily if Kyoei are happy to put enough money at the Cuban especially given that Rigondeaux has no promoter at the moment and could be an easy man to deal with.
If a deal cannot be worked out with Rigondeaux we'd expect Wake's team to make offers to both Quigg and Santa Cruz, or if the men lose on September 13th who ever beats them. It's clear that whilst Wake would love to avenge Hasegawa's loss to Martinez that's going to be off the books for the better part of a year and it's not worth pursuing that avenue for now and if Martinez loses to Frampton then Martinez's value drops dramatically.
We'd suspect that over the next week or Wake's team are going to get in contact with Gary Hyde, the manager of Rigondeaux, as well as the teams at Golden Boy, the promotional outfit behind Santa Cruz, and Eddie Hearn, the promoter of Quigg. They will likely make offers to all 3 teams and see what comes back in regards to dates and purse demands. Hopefully the demands won't be ridiculous and a date can be later this year.
(Images courtesy of Koguchi Gym and Shingo Wake's own blog)
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.