A few days ago we announced The 2020 Asian Boxing Awards - Comeback of the Year (Fighter) award winner. Today we look at the other side of the comeback of the year, and that is where a fighter has fought in a bout, mounting a comeback when a loss looked like a foregone conclusion, as opposed to a fighter returning to the ring after years of inactivity.
For this award there was only going to be one winner, and that is, of course, Masayoshi Nakatani whose sensational performance against Felix Verdejo earned him this award.
After well over a year out of the ring, and a retirement, we suspect Nakatani had been offered a relatively hefty payday to fight Verdejo and become a victim of the once touted Puerto Rican. A good win for Verdejo against Nakatani was going to make an all Top Rank bout between Verdejo and Teofimo Lopez, who was severely tested by Nakatani in 2019, incredibly interesting and enticing. And that’s what was expected, Nakatani was supposed to be there to make Verdejo look good, and boost his standing in the sport.
The belief that Verdejo was going to win looked even more secure in round 1 of their bout, when Nakatani was dropped, hard, from a huge right hand. The first knockdown of his career. Verdejo continually landed big right hands through the early rounds as Nakatani’s chin got checked time and time again, and the commentators seemed to feel confident that a stoppage was going to come for Verdejo, simply seemed unable to miss in rounds 2 and 3.
In round 4 Nakatani was down for the second time in the bout, suffering the second knockdown of his career. It was a flash knockdown, but secured Verdejo a 10-8 round on all 3 cards. By that point it seemed that all Verdejo needed to do was stay on his feet for the final 6 rounds. Two of the judges had him leading 40-34 and the third judge had the bout 40-35, with that judge giving the opening round 10-9.
The success of Verdejo continued in round 5, though he was shaken late in the round as Nakatani began his fight back. By the point it was clear he was going to need something big. Really big. And that was where things started to change, with Verdejo seemingly having his confidence beginning to be questioned in rounds 6, 7 and 8. It was clear that Nakatani, despite being a huge hole, was the man coming on strong. Despite that he was still in a massive hole as we entered round 9. Two of the judges had the bout 78-72 in favour of Verdejo, the other 77-74. For him to win Nakatani needed to not just win the final two rounds, but to win them big. Essentially he was going to need either a knockout in the final 2 rounds, or repeated knockdowns.
Then Nakatani came out roaring for round 9 and within seconds of the round beginning he had hurt Verdejo. The commentary was slow to react, talking about the potential Anthony Joshua Vs Tyson Fury fight. They didn’t seem aware of the trouble Verdejo was in, and then moments later Verdejo was down. There was light at the end of the tunnel for Nakatani, and Verdejo looked like a man who had had his fighting spirit broken. To his credit Verdejo got to his feet. Likely the instincts of a man who has boxed for most of his life, but he was barely conscious of where he was. A follow up for Nakatani when the bout resumed saw Verdejo hit the canvas again. This time he wasn’t getting up.
From the verge of defeat Nakatani had snatched victory in a dramatic and thrilling manner, taking the biggest win of his career.
This win and performance was very, very worthy of our 2020 Asian Boxing Awards - Comeback of the Year (Fight), and fingers crossed we see Nakatani getting another big fight in 2021 on the back of this amazing comeback.
One of the great things about boxing is the unexpected comeback, and this even we had one of those. In fact we had one of the comebacks of the year!
The comeback in question was a rare two fold comeback. Firstly it saw former OPBF Lightweight champion Masayoshi Nakatani (19-1, 13) [中谷正義] return from retirement, a retirement he called in September 2019 after suffering his first professional loss. Second it concerned his comeback in the actual fighter which was nothing short of spectacular.
The elongated Japanese Lightweight was up against talented Puerto Rican hopeful Felix Verdejo (27-2, 17), who has long been tipped as the next Puerto Rican star. And Nakatani really didn't start well.
The first round saw the Osaka dropped for the first time in is career, following a huge right hand from Verdejo. The shot would have stopped most Lightweights, but not Nakatani and his bansai mentality. After all, if you're ending your retirement, you might as well give it a real go! Some how Nakatani got up from the knockdown and took the fight to Verdejo through much of the rest of the round.
Sadly for Nakatani he was on the receiving end of clean shots through much of the rest of the opening round. He was unable to land his excellent jab, and struggled to get anything of not off against the speedier, crisper, sharper Verdejo.
Surprisingly however Verdejo seemed full of doubt. Despite dropping Nakatani he was unwilling to commit to closing the show. The same occurred when the Puerto Rican dropped Nakatani to a knee in round 4. That really should have been the point where Verdejo jumped on his man, but instead he didn't. Instead it seemed that Verdejo had given as good as he could.
In round 5 the tide began to turn and Nakatani landed a great right hand, getting Verdejo's respect. The Puerto Rican was still in the fight, landing a great right hand of his own late in the round, but for the first he began to show cracks. Cracks that would become much bigger as the rounds went on.
The sixth was a bit of a nothing round though very early in round 7 Verdejo showed another crack as a 1-2 from Nakatani got to him and forced him to hold. The tempo wasn't high, in fact large swathes of the round saw almost nothing happen, but it was clear that Verdejo was the more tired fighter and the one who was starting to feel the pressure. That pressure grew in round 8 as Verdejo became more negative, and looked like a fighter desperate to just survive to the bell. He knew he was up on the scorecards and had to hear out the final bell.
Nakatani however knew he didn't have a chance on the scorecards and hurt Verdejo again in round 8, forcing a response from the Puerto Rican, who was rocked again late in the round. By now the tide had turned, the momentum was firmly with Nakatani, but he still only had 2 rounds to see off the Puerto Rican, and he was in such a big hole that it seemed like he needed a KO.
In round 9 Nakatani wobbled Verdejo almost immediately before dropping him with a long rangy jab. Verdejo beat the count, but was in all sorts of trouble and it was clear he was about done. Nakatani knew it, we knew it, every knew it, and just moments later Verdejo was on the canvas again. This time he was done. He was spent. He wasn't beating the count.
Despite being dropped twice in the first 4 rounds Nakatani had pulled it out, stopping Verdejo in round 9, and leaving the Puerto Rican's career in tatters. It's hard to know what exactly it next for him.
As for Nakatani, well, it's fair to say he's back, and he's hungry for a rematch with Teofimo Lopez, the only man to have beaten him in the professional ranks.
Our doubt, and our cynicism about Nakatani being there for a pay day are proven to be wrong, so very wrong, and instead Nakatani was there to prove a point. And he did just that!
On Saturday night in the US we'll see former OPBF Lightweight champion Masayoshi Nakatani (18-1, 12) [中谷正義] take on Puerto Rican hopeful Felix Verdejo (27-1, 17) at the Bubble in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Yesterday the two men took part in their weigh in and both men hit the scales at 135lbs for the bout, coming in dead on the Lightweight limit, and both looked in good shape. In fact the condition that Nakatani was in helped alleviate some of the worries that he had ended his retirement, which he announced in 2019, just for a pay day. He seemed very much up for this opportunity and a chance to get his career back on track.
In regards to his retirement Nakatani has spoke about it, revealing "I realized how important boxing is to me because I retired once. I think it will be a good match because it will be a more emotional match than ever before. Please look forward to it." [Translated]
The bout, which will be shown live on ESPN+ and FITE TV and on delay on WOWOW, will see the two men battling for the WBO Intercontinental Lightweight title, a title that should help the winner take huge strides to a WBO world title fight.
(Photo credit - Teiken)
This coming Saturday former OPBF Lightweight champion Masayoshi Nakatani (18-1, 12) [中谷正義] will take part in his second bout on US soil, as he faces touted Puerto Rican Felix Verdejo (27-1, 17). The bout will be Nakatani's first in well over a year, and see him attempt to build on his very competitive 2019 loss to Teofimo Lopez.
When the markets first opened, earlier this week, Nakatani was a huge 6/1 under-dog, though notably he has had strong backing and is now down to 10/3 with some bookies, and an even lower price with others. Despite money coming in on him he is still the clear under-dog and Verdejo is best priced at 1/3 to pick up the win, and continue his move towards a world title fight in 2021.
Interestingly the draw is priced at 25/1.
As well as the "To Win" market on this fight, the bout also has other markets available. Included in those are the "Method of Victory" market. The favoured result here is a Verdejo decision, which is 4/6, whilst a stoppage for Verdejo is 10/3. A decision for the elongated Japanese fighter is 5/1 whilst a stoppage for Nakatani is a rather attractive 10/1, a very attractive price given that Verdejo has been stopped in his only loss, with that loss actually coming to a tall fighter, like Nakatani.
In regards to the bout going the distance, the fight is expect to go the schedule. The fight is 3/10 to go the complete distance and 12/5 to finish before the end of round 10.
This coming weekend we'll see former OPBF Lightweight champion Masayoshi Nakatani (18-1, 12) [中谷正義] return to the ring to battle on touted Puerto Rican Felix Verdejo (27-1, 17) at the Bubble at the MGM Grand.
Earlier today Teiken reported that Nakatani had arrived in Las Vegas, yesterday, and plans to go through some fairly light exercises.
Nakatani, who is fighting in the US for the second time, send comments to the Japanese media, explaining "I ran immediately after arriving, and I feel good. It is still difficult for Japanese boxers to play an active role in the world at the middle weight-classes, but I want to play a match that can prove that the Japanese are also strong. I think so please look forward to it. "
Nakatani will be looking to become the third Japanese fighter to pick up a win in "the Bubble" following wins at the end of October for Naoya Inoue and Andy Hiraoka, he is however, a notable under-dog, whilst his compatriots were both clear betting favourites.
*Note middle weight classes means the middle range of the weight classes, not just the Middleweight division.
(Image credit of Teiken)
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