Earlier today there was two shows in Japan and whilst a lot of attention was focused on one of those cards, the other went somewhat over-looked despite having two OPBF title bouts on it, and both of those ended in genuine surprises, with two very genuine upsets.
The first of the bouts saw Rikki Naito (25-3, 8) [内藤 律樹] being dethroned of the OPBF Light Welterweight title, whilst looking to record his 5th defense. The talented champion had was expected to be too young, too fresh and too fast for 35 year old veteran Koichi Aso (25-9-1, 16) [麻生 興一], who has looked like a man on the verge of retirement for a few years now. Shockingly however Aso was too determined, too hungry and too ferocious for Naito, who ended up suffering a hugely shocking loss.
From the off it was obvious Aso was determined to make his chance here count, and to use the gameplan that he, and trainer Hiroki Shiino, had concocted to pressure Naito. From the opening moments he was on the front foot, crushing the distance that Naito had to work with, and trying to take the wheels from the champion. Not only was Aso applying constant, heavy, pressure but he was also putting money in the bank with body shots, especially with Naito on the ropes. To his credit however Naito fought back bravely in the first 4 rounds and and was up 39-37 on one judges scorecard, whilst the others had it 38-38 and 39-37 to Aso.
In round 5 Aso was cut from an accidental headclash, but fought as if the blood was driving him on, and was pressing even harder on Naito, who was taking more and more left hands to the body, and getting forced on to the ropes regularly. Naito simply couldn't back him up, or get his respect, and this was like the Aso of old, rather than an old Aso. In round 6 things began get worse for Naito, who was himself cut from a clash of heads, and then in round 7 he was given a standing count as the pressure began to get to much for him to handle. The count was an odd one, and both Aso and Shiino thought the bout was over before realisation of what was happening struck. After 8 rounds we again had open scoring, with Aso leading on all 3 cards.
In round 9 Aso's pressure broke Naito who was taking a pounding on the ropes, and forced the referee to jump in to save Naito.
It should be noted that whilst Aso's performance was brilliant, the bout was supposed to take place earlier in the year, before Naito pulled out due to Covid19, and he becomes yet another fighter who has contracted the virus and then looked a shadow of himself in his first fight after recovering.
The other title bout saw Yoshimitsu Kimura (13-2-1, 8) [木村吉光] score a career best win, as he stopped Kosuke Saka (21-6, 18) [坂晃典] to become the OPBF Super Featherweight champion, and did so in 3 rounds.
This one was expected to be a barn burner, and it lived up to expectations with Saka pressing the action early on. Sadly for him however his usual pressure style didn't have the success it's been having in recent bouts, and instead it was the power of Kimura that proved to be the difference. In round 2 Kimura dropped his man with a left hook and the dropped him with a straight right hand early in round 3, to force the referee to wave the bout off and give Kimura the bigger win of his career so far, by far.
Tomorrow at Korakuen Hall we'll get an OPBF title double header, with a new champion being crowned at 130lbs, and the 140lb champion looking to continue his reign that dated back to 2018.
Before tomorrow's show however the 4 men involved in those title bouts took part in their weigh in.
One of those title bouts will see OPBF Light Welterweight champion Rikki Naito (25-2, 8) [内藤 律樹] look to make his 5th defense of the title as he takes on Japanese veteran Koichi Aso (24-9-1, 15) [麻生 興一] in an interesting looking match up. At his best Aso was a handful at domestic level, though he is, clearly, the under-dog here again against a talented, young, hungry and fast champion.
At the weigh in Naito, who looked in the best shape of his career, was bang on the 140lb weight limit. He seemed confident, and really self assured, and it seems clear that he is looking to extend his reign and move towards bigger and better fights next year. He also explained that he wanted to replicate some of the things Vasyl Lomachneko did against Richard Commey.
Aso on the other hand was 139.5lbs for the bout. He also seemed confident, and seemed to feel he could fight his fight, pressing, pushing the action and making it an inside battle. If he can do that he has a genuine chance, though at 35, and with this being his first title bout in 4 years, we do wonder just how much energy he has in his legs, and whether he has the gas in the tank to be the intense fighter he was back in his prime.
The other title fight on this show will see Kosuke Saka (21-5, 18) [坂晃典] battle against Yoshimitsu Kimura (12-2-1, 7) [木村吉光] for the vacant OPBF Super Featherweight title.
On the scales Saka came in bang on the limit, and looked incredible. For him this is a chance to unify the Japanese and OPBF titles, and he seemed to be fully aware that this was a massive opportunity for his career. Interestingly, given he's from Osaka, this will be his third straight bout at Korakuen Hall, in his opponents backyard.
Kimura on the other hand hit the scales well under the limit, coming in at 129.5lbs, like Saka he looked in amazing shape and and he explained that he would be looking to straight hard from the off, whilst seeming confident in his stamina. The winner of this will enter 2022 with a lot of momentum, and would likely move towards some major bouts in the new year.
Related - OPBF champion Naito takes on Aso at Korakuen Hall
Saka and Kimura battle for OPBF Super Featherweight title!
Earlier today a special exhibition show, dubbed "LEGEND" was held at the Yoyogi 1st National Gymnasium in Tokyo, with 7 exhibition fights taking place on the event. Despite all 7 of the bouts being exhibitions the event had plenty of fan interest and was one of the very few Japanese boxing events to be shown on PPV, with ABEMA streaming the show,
The event had major interest going in and has seen a number of stories emerge from it afterwards as well. With that in mind we though we'd take a brief look at the 7 "bouts" and the news that has come out following them.
The first "contest" saw former world champion Sho Kimura (19-3-2, 12) [木村翔] share the ring with former K-1 champion Yoshiki Takei (0-0) [武居由樹]. Takei, a naturally bigger man, seemed the boss, though this was entertaining and it seemed obvious that the bout was a chance for Takei to get some ring time ahead of his debut in March.
The second bout saw WBA Light Flyweight "super" and Ring Magazine champion Hiroto Kyoguchi (14-0, 9) [京口 紘人] share the ring with former 3-weight world champion Akira Yaegashi (28-7, 16) [八重樫 東]. This was, unsurprisingly, a toe to toe action bout from the off with both men setting an incredible pace and giving the fans a show. A real fun 3 rounds that drew applause from the audience. Afterwards Kyoguchi thanks Yaegashi whilst the 37 year old former champion admitted that he was tired. No surprise there given the tempo of the action.
The first match up with a professional taking on an amateur saw former world title challenger Takeshi Inoue (17-1-1, 10) [井上 岳志] share the ring with Yuito Moriwaki [森脇唯人]. The two men, who who have known each other for years, looked like they belonged in different weight classes, with Moriwaki towering over Inoue and using his reach and jab really well. As the bout went on they began to fight more of Inoue's style, fighting up close, and ended with a thrilling finish to entertaining the fans. Afterwards both men revealed they were rusty, with Moriwaki not having fought in a year, though admitted it was an honour to get this opportunity. Notably Inoue did suffer a cut here, from his left eye, due to a clash of heads.
A last minute change effected one of the bouts and Andy Hiraoka (16-0, 11) [平岡アンディ] saw his originally scheduled opponent, Daisuke Narimatsu [成松大介], pull out due to illness. Despite Narimatsu being out he was replaced by the talented Yuta Akiyama [秋山佑汰], and the two men managed to put on a high level technical exhibition. This one started technical, but as the bout went on the pace picked up and it turned into a fun one. Afterwards Hiraoka seemed to call out the regional champions at 140lbs, saying that he wanted to fight for an Asian title. As for Akiyama he revealed that that it was a good experience, though it did seem clear that he notice for the show was very short, and he apparently only got the call this morning.
Japanese Youth Light Welterweight champion Jin Sasaki (10-0, 9) [佐々木尽] shared the ring with Japanese amateur standout Seon Okazawa [岡澤セオン]. This was, as most of the "bouts", fun for the fans and afterwards both men spoke about their futures. For Sasaki the aim is to face Japanese Youth Lightweight champion Kaiki Yuba (7-0-2, 5) [湯場海樹], with the bout being eyed for a May date.
Okazawa stated he was impressed by Sasaki's physical strength, before revealing that he will become a "professional amateur", essentially being able to box as an amateur full time, from April thanks to sponsorship. This could well become vital to his amateur success ahead of the scheduled Tokyo Olympics.
Former world champion Takashi Uchiyama (24-2-1, 20) [内山 高志] was in action against current Japanese national champion Kosuke Saka (21-5, 18) [坂晃典] in the chief support bout. Uchiyama looked good early on, but as the contest went on it was clear he wasn't really ring fit and 4 years of inactivity did show as the rounds went on. Despite that he did look strong and powerful and Saka had to give him respect, even if Saka did seem to be in charge late on.
Afterwards Uchiyama stated that he's been retired for 4 years and that to prepare for this he had trained for around 20 days and avoided alcohol since the start of the month. He did look in good shape, but he wasn't fighting fit. As for Saka he was hugely respectful and spoke about how he was honoured to be in the ring with Uchiyama, and the respect was obvious for a man he clearly regards very highly.
The main event was really the main focus for many and that pit WBA "super", IBF and Ring Magazine Bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue (20-0, 17) [井上 尚弥] against former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (17-1-1, 17) [比嘉 大吾], who is now competing in the Bantamweight division. This was the bout that really got the juices flowing and had international fans interested. This saw both men fighting with headgear to begin with as Inoue looked to fight at range and Higa looked to press the action. As the bout went on however Inoue seemed to want to make a statement and showed his class, both inside and at range. In round 3 the headgear came off and Inoue really did show that he was a level or two above Higa, despite fighting with his back on the ropes.
After the bout Inoue suggested that a bout with Higa has no merit to his right now, though seemed open to change that if Higa could win a title. Although it was only an exhibition he was openly admitting that he was taking it 100% seriously and that showed at times as he almost tried to make Higa look a little bit silly. Higa, to his credit, admitted that much of the spar suited Inoue. Although he came off looking second best we suspect that Higa will have preferred this type of exhibition to something where Inoue took it too easy on him, and this could serve as a wake up call, if Higa wants to go and win a world title at Bantamweight.
Over the last couple of weeks we've been reporting on "LEGEND", an event set to take place on February 11th at the Yoyogi 1st National Gymnasium in Tokyo. The event, which is being held for charity with the aim of raising money for Japanese medical workers, had 6 of the bouts on the show announced at the start of the week. It also left 1 man, who was confirmed for the show, with out an opponent for the event.
The man left without an opponent was WBA "super" and IBF Bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue (20-0, 17) [井上 尚弥], who just so happened to be the biggest name on the show, and the man most fans are expected to want to see.
Despite Inoue not having an opponent confirmed earlier in the week there were some excellent exhibitions set for the show. These included a mouth watering match up between Hiroto Kyoguchi (14-0, 9) [京口 紘人] and Akira Yaegashi (28-7, 16) [八重樫 東], as well as the ring return of Takashi Uchiyama (24-2-1, 20) [内山 高志], who will be in the ring with current Japanese national champion Kosuke Saka (21-5, 18) [坂晃典]. The bouts announced for the card would, by themselves, be enough to have a decent fan base and in reality the organisers could have selected anyone for Inoue's opponent. In fact rumours suggested that it could have been amateur star Hayato Tsutsumi [堤駿斗].
Just a few hours ago however Inoue's opponent for the event was announced, and it was much, much better than we suspect many suspected. In fact it was, as the title of this article suggests, former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (17-1-1, 17) [比嘉 大吾].
Whilst this is, like the others on the show, just an exhibition it is a mouth watering proposition to see, and one that may end up turning in to a real fight somewhere down the line, with Higa known to be chasing a world title at Bantamweight. The same division Inoue holds two world titles in.
For fans wanting to watch the event it will be shown on the ABEMA system, as well as having fans in attendance. It will however be a pricey event to attend, with all fans in the venue getting Covid19 tests hence a higher than usual price, and the streaming for the show being on the pricey side, at ¥3300 (around $32 or £23). Despite the high prices the event really does have a good cause and has several mouth watering exhibitions on it and should be a lot of fun for fight fans, even if the fights don't go on the fighters' records.
For those curious, the other exhibitions set for the show are:
Sho Kimura (19-3-2, 12) [木村翔] Vs Yoshiki Takei (0-0) [武居由樹]
Takeshi Inoue (17-1-1, 10) [井上 岳志] Vs Yuito Moriwaki [森脇唯人]
Andy Hiraoka (16-0, 11) [平岡アンディ] Vs Daisuke Narimatsu [成松大介]
Jin Sasaki (10-0, 9) [佐々木尽] Vs Seon Okazawa [岡澤セオン]
Back in January news broke that Japanese boxing would be holding a special charity event on February 11th, dubbed "LEGEND".
The event, being held at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, will be a charity event held to raise money for medical workers in Japan. When the news broke the event had 5 fighters announced for the show, with speculation on who else would feature.
The only other things known at the time was that fans would be attending, with all fans being given PCR tests, and the fighters would be taking part in exhibition bouts, disregarding weight classes and obviously not being put on fighters records.
Today a press conference was held and the line up for much of the show was formally announced, with 6 bouts being set for the show.
One of the most attractive bouts confirmed for the event will see current world champion take on former world champion, with WBA "Super" and Ring Magazine Light Flyweight champion Hiroto Kyoguchi (14-0, 9) [京口 紘人] battling the retired Akira Yaegashi (28-7, 16) [八重樫 東]. On paper this is probably going to be one of the most fun bouts given the styles of the two men, and their fan pleasing mentalities.
Another former world champion involved is Takashi Uchiyama (24-2-1, 20) [内山 高志] who will be in the ring with current Japanese national champion Kosuke Saka (21-5, 18) [坂晃典]. Although he's been retired for a few years now Uchiyama is fantastic shape and we suspect he'll surprise people here in how he looks.
A third former world champion on the show is former WBO Flyweight champion Sho Kimura (19-3-2, 12) [木村翔], who is still active. He will be sharing the ring with Yoshiki Takei (0-0) [武居由樹], who will be making his professional debut in March following a successful run in Kickboxing outfit K-1.
In one of 3 bouts pitting professional fighters against amateurs we'll see former world title challenger Takeshi Inoue (17-1-1, 10) [井上 岳志] take on Yuito Moriwaki [森脇唯人], who is a Japanese Olympic representative fighting out of the Self Defense Forces.
Another professional Vs Amateur bout will see world ranked 140lb hopeful Andy Hiraoka (16-0, 11) [平岡アンディ] share the ring with Japanese Olympian Daisuke Narimatsu [成松大介], in what could be the over-looked contest. Narimatsu has always had a professional style and could make for some really fun action with Hiraoka.
The remaining bout announced for the event will see Japanese Youth Light Welterweight champion Jin Sasaki (10-0, 9) [佐々木尽] face off with the very highly regarded Seon Okazawa [岡澤セオン], another amateur who has been getting rave reviews in recent years.
Despite having 6 bouts announced there was one man left without an opponent. That was WBA "super" and IBF Bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue (20-0, 17) [井上 尚弥], who will have his opponent announced at a later date, with some rumours suggesting it will be someone very, very well known by combat sport fans.
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