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.
Earlier today we got the latest “Dangan” show, live on the excellent Boxing Raise service. It was a card that promised a lot and despite not quite delivering what was expected of it, it was still a very, very enjoyable show, thanks to a sensational main event. But more about that a little bit later.
The show kicked off with a B-Class tournament final between youngsters Koki Mioya (8-2-2, 2) [三尾谷 昂希] and Tentaro Kimura (6-0-2) [木村 天汰郎], the cousin of the touted Rentaro Kimura. This one started off with both men struggling to find their range a little bit, and despite both letting shots go neither managed to land too frequently. What was landed in the opening round however did seem to favour Mioya, who seemed to be a touch crisper out of the blocks.
Mioya also seemed to take the advantage early in round 2, though it was a better round for Kimura who managed to land several clean right hands. Despite the success for Kimura he struggled to build on his success and due to the speed, reach and southpaw stance of Mioya, who looked just that bit sharper throughout. Kimura however refused to come second and kept landing solid counters, luring Mioya in and landing clean right hands as Mioya came forward, through the middle portion of the fight. It wasn’t a counter punching masterclass, but it was a great example of what timing, and accuracy can do. In round 6 Mioya looked to put his foot on the gas, but failed to turn the tide.
After 6 rounds Kimura did just enough to edge a split decision, with scores of 58-56, twice, in his favour, against a score of 58-57 to Mioya.
Although both men were clearly talented youngsters, it did feel, at times, like they were almost too similar. Things were also not helped by the stances, with Mioya being a southpaw and Kimura being orthodox, which resulted in some messy coming togethers. Despite that it’s clear that both men have a lot of untapped potential, and hopefully we will see that being developed over the next few years.
The second bout was an A-Class tournament final at Lightweight, as Shu Utsuki (8-0, 7) [宇津木 秀] took on Masashi Wakita (10-11-2, 5) [脇田 将士]. On paper this was a total mismatch, though those who had seen a bit of Wakita before were expecting him to at least ask some questions of the talented and touted Utsuki.
From the off Utsuki came forward, applying intelligent pressure, but struggled to get around the long southpaw jab of Wakita, who used his height, reach and stance well to avoid Utsuki from getting too close. Utsuki became more aggressive in round 2, as he put his foot on the gas and began to land some more telling leather. Credit however to Wakita who took the shots well and tried to cope with the increasing pressure of the unbeaten man, who landed a big body shot and a big headshot just before the bell. In round 3 we saw Wakita trying to fight fire with fire, and letting his hands go more often, landing the occasional solid shot of his own in the most competitive round of the fight. The same ambition was shown from Wakita early in round 4 as well, before he got dumped on the seat of his pants part way through the round. From there on Utsuki went into seek and destroy mode. With Wakita hurt and not really doing much in terms of firing back, the referee stepped in and saved Wakita from further punishment.
On paper this is “another stoppage loss for Wakita” but we really need to give him credit here. He gave Utsuki a decent test, he asked plenty of the unbeaten puncher, and really exceeded expectations whilst also showing he is genuinely a decent boxer, who is being matched too tough at times. As for Utsuki bigger and better fights will come, and this 4 rounds he had here will do him no harm at all and we are expecting to see him fight in a title bout either later this year or at some point in 2022.
Talking about title bouts, this show had two of them. The first of was was a Japanese Super Featherweight title bout, pitting champion Kosuke Saka (21-5, 18) [坂晃典] against his mandatory challenger Takuya Watanabe (37-10-1, 21) [渡邉卓也].
From the off Saka looked the bigger, stronger and more powerful fighter, pressing forward and landing the more telling blows through much of rounds 1 and 2, with Watanabe struggling to get much going other than his jab. Despite being limited in what he was landing Watanabe’s jab was landing very clean and in rounds 3 and 4 he did well in getting Saka’s respect and cutting Saka around the left eye as it seemed he was perhaps on the verge of getting a toe hold in the bout.
Sadly for Watanabe a doctor’s inspection, in round 5, on the cut seemed to make Saka put his foot on the gas and soon after the doctor allowed the bout to continue Saka began to unload his heavier artillery. Watanabe managed to connect with one or two counters, getting Saka’s respect, but not doing anything close to hurt Saka who was beginning to chip away at the challenger.
After 5 rounds we got the open scoring, as is normal for Japanese title fights, and all 3 judges favoured Saka with scores of 49-46 from all 3 judges.
Knowing he was behind was perhaps not an advantage for Watanabe who looked to try and turn the tables in round 6 as he began to come forward. Saka remained composed and landed a monstrous right hand that shook Watanabe and then unloaded on the challenger who finally hit the canvas. The referee instantly waved this off with Watanabe on his hands and knees.
With this loss Watanabe suffers his first stoppage in 48 bouts, and given his hard career the end may be nigh for the 31 year old warhorse. As for Saka this was a statement finish, and a great way to record his first defense in a talent heavy Japanese Super Featherweight division. There are a lot of interesting bouts out there for him at 130lbs and fingers crossed we see him in some of those match ups, against the likes of Kenichi Ogawa, Yoshimitsu Kimura and Kanehiro Nakegawa.
We then moved on to the second title bout and the show's main event. This was a Japanese Super Bantamweight title bout pitting hard hitting champion Yusaku Kuga (19-5-1, 13) [久我勇作] against his mandatory challenger Gakuya Furuhashi (27-8-1, 15) [古橋大輔] in what turned out to be a sensational war.
From the off this was fought at an exceptional pace with both men looking happy to go to war, and both showing just how much the Japanese title meant to them. It seemed clear that Furuhashi had the quicker feet but the first round really was more about Kuga’s power and aggression, with the champion landing the bigger shots and dictating the action. Kuga continued to control the fight in round, despite a very spirited effort from Furuhashi who began to find his range more often, but took shots to get inside. When he was inside Furuhashi looked to make it a war, but even then he seemed to take more punishment than he was dealing out. By round 4 however Furuhashi was starting to build his momentum, forcing exchanges at his range and backing Kuga up. Kuga still had some eye-catching moments of his own, but was starting to feel the tempo more and wasn’t having the same level of success as he had had earlier on. Furuhashi’s momentum continued to grow in round 5 and for the first time in the fight it seemed like he hurt Kuga with a combination up top. He was however taking some massive shots himself, and continuing to go to war seemed a very risky strategy against someone as heavy handed as Kuga.
After 5 rounds we got the open scoring, and all 3 judges had Kuga leading, with 2 scoring it 48-47, the same as us, and one having it 49-46.
Furuhashi’s stubbornness and determination continued to shine in rounds 6 and 7, despite Kuga having a bit of a second wind. Part way through round 7 Furuhashi almost had his head spun around from a huge bomb up top from Kuga. Somehow Furuhashi didn’t just stay up right but also returned fire almost immediately as he took the fight on the inside and continued trying to grind down Kuga’s resistance.
In round 8 Furuhashi started fast, somehow finding the energy to continue to press inside and forcing a toe to toe fight with Kuga. Kuga responded to the challenge with huge bombs up close, though the volume from Furuhashi was intensem forcing Kuga to back off. Kuga was looking to catch his breath but Furuhashi refused to let him, and right on the bell Kuga was staggered as Furuhashi continued to push and landed a nasty uppercut. Had the round been 20 seconds longer Kuga would have been down, at the very least.
Thankfully for Furuhashi the minute break between rounds 8 and 9 wasn’t enough for Kuga to clear his head and Furuhashi jumped on his man right at the start of the round, eventually dropping Kuga. Kuga got back to his feet, but had no idea where he was as he stumbled around the ring, forcing the referee to wave this off, crowning a new champion.
For Furuhashi this was a defining moment in his career, which had seen him fail in two previous Japanese title fights. He really gave his all, dug incredibly deep and, at 33, finally conquered the title that he had chased for years. He took a lot of punishment himself, and there’s a chance he will never quite be the same fighter after this, but he showed just how desperate he was for the belt.
As for the 30 year old Kuga this was a 3rd stoppage loss in 6 bouts. His wars and battles are clearly catching up with him. He was leading early on, but the determination of Furuhashi did eventually break him down and we wouldn’t be surprised if this perhaps was the start of the end for Kuga, who was knocked clean out in his previous bout against Jhunriel Ramonal. This was a punishing battle, a tough one, and one that will be hard to bounce back from.
For fans the show was perhaps a bit slow to get going. The first bout never really clicked, the second seemed like a formality, and the third under-delivered, though expectations were admittedly incredibly high and the bout was a solid one. The main event however over-delivered and gave us some of the best action we’ve had so far in 2021. The styles gelled perfectly and the mentalities of the two men delivered an all action war. This was brilliant from round 1 to the eventual stoppage, and made up for the somewhat pedestrian start to the event.
Tomorrow at Korakuen Hall we'll be getting a potentially sensation Japanese title bout at Super Featherweight defending champion Kosuke Saka (20-5, 17) [坂晃典] takes on mandatory challenger Takuya Watanabe (37-9-1, 21) [渡邉卓也].
The bout, a genuinely anticipated one, was supposed to take place in Osaka last April before Covid19 delayed it, forcing it to be pushed back by around 9 months. Despite the delay both men looked in great shape today as they took part in their weigh in.
On the scales both men weighed in bang on the 130lb weight limit and looked in fantastic condition. The one notably take away from the actual weigh in was that both men were very similar in stature, though Watanabe did look like the slightly taller and longer fighter.
Around the weigh in both men spoke to the media.
Saka mentioned how he has now been out of the ring for over a year, with his title win coming in December 2019 against Masaru Sueyoshi, though it seemed like he was taking positives from his inactivity. He spoke about how the lengthy break has allowed him a chance to recover from damage mentally and physically.
As for how he's going to fight, the champion spoke about how he had developed his boxing, and was now going to be focusing more on hitting without being hit. Not something he's had a reputation for so far, where his typical gameplan has been about beating the fight out of the opponent, rather than focusing on slippery defensive moves.
As for Watanabe he revealed that he feels Japanese titles have a special value, despite holding various other titles during his career. This will be his third shot at a national title, following losses to Hisashi Amagasa and Satoshi Hosono, and he seemed very driven by making the most of this shot, which could, potentially be his last Japanese title fight.
For fans who haven't seen these two in action before the expectation is high. Saka is a brutal puncher, and even with a tweak in his style we still expect brutal action. As for Watanabe he is a man well known for his incredible toughness and determination, as well as his under-rated skills. Together they are expected to put on a thrilling, action packed, war.
For fans wanting to watch this live it will be aired live on Boxing Raise as part of Dangan 238, which begins at 17:35 Japan time.
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