Earlier today it was announced that former triple crown champion and world title challenger Ryoji Fukunaga (15-5, 14) [福永亮次] was calling time on his career, and retiring as a professional fighter at the age of 35.
The hard hitting southpaw has had a genuinely impressive career since making his debut in 2013. He lost in his professional debut before scoring his first win just 4 months later. Then he was out of the ring for over a year, before returning in 2015. That year he competed in the Rookie of the Year, but lost in the East Japan semi-final being stopped inside a round by Ryo Matsubara, as his record fell to 4-2 (4). He bounced back remarkable well, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2016 and advanced his record to 10-2 (10) before l0sing to Yuta Matsuo in 2018.
With a record of 10-3 (10), and soon to be 10-4 (10), following a loss in Thailand in late 2018 to Jakrawut Majungoen (aka Kongfah CP Freshmart), it would have been fair to have suggested that Fukunaga just didn't have it. He then however went on a 5 fight winning streak which included stopping Froilan Saludar and Kenta Nakagawa in 2020, a stellar year for him, along with Takahiro Fuji and Hayate Kaji. The win over Saludar had earned him the WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight title whilst the win over Nakagawa saw him adding the Japanese and OPBF titles to his collection.
In late 2021 he had the biggest bout of his career, and really ran WBO Super Flyweight world champion Kazuto Ioka all the way in a surprisingly competitive contest. That bout will be his last, with Fukunaga having decided after that bout that it was the end. He did however admit that he's been too busy since then with work, to actually let everyone close to him know that he was retiring. Talking about his work, he is going to continue his current job in retirement, and continue to be a carpenter, something he's done since he was 15.
Fukunaga's retirement ceremony is planned for August 30th at Korakuen Hall, which is also his 36th birthday.
Tomorrow fight fans in Japan will be able to see Japanese Super Flyweight champion Kenta Nakagawa (21-4-1, 12) [中川健太] defending his title against Hayate Kaji (15-1, 9) [梶颯] at Korakuen Hall.
Today the two men took part in their weigh in for the contest, with both men making the 115lb limit with no issues.
On the scales the champion, defending the title for the first time since capturing it in April to begin his third reign, was114.75lbs and looked in great shape. He explained that the sparring for the bout had been great and that his weight loss was the best of his career, explaining that he had put more physical training into his preparation than before.
As for Kaji he was bang on the limit and explained that he was really happy about getting a title shot so soon after his controversial 2021 loss to Ryoji Fukunaga, a bout that many viewers felt Kaji had done enough to win. Despite losing to Fukunaga it seems the result has instilled new belief in Kaji, who explained that he was stronger after that loss. He was also encouraged by the recent win by stablemate Ryota Toyoshima (16-2-1, 10) [豊嶋亮太].
The Nakagawa Vs Kaji bout isn't the only title bout on the show, with Japanese female Minimumweight champion Nanako Suzuki (6-2, 1) [鈴木なな子] defending her title, for the first time, as she takes on Sarasa Ichimura (4-10-1) [一村更紗]. On the scales Suzuki was 104.6lbs, and explained that she was able to concentrate more on boxing for this bout than usual, as she graduated from college back in Spring. As for Ichimura she was under the limit, at 104lbs, for what is the most important bout of her career, by far.
Related - Kaji gets second shot at title as he takes on Japanese champion Nakagawa
Japanese champion Suzuki defends against Ichimura
With so few major international bouts taking place this year it's hard to think of too many robberies taking place in Asia this year. There have been some, but they are few and far between, thankfully.
There was however one that stood out, and still does. In fact it's one that left a genuinely sour taste in our mouths, and that taste got worse as the year ended, as the lucky recipient of the gift win ended up landing an undeserved world title fight. In fact they ended up landing a place in one of the highest profile Asian bouts of the year, making it feel even worse.
The bout in question was the October clash between the then triple crown Super Flyweight champion Ryoji Fukunaga and the then unbeaten Hayate Kaji. The bout looked like a really good one on paper, but ended up being a very, very one sided one, with Kaji out classing, out boxing, out fighting, out speeding, out punching, out skilling and generally dominating Fukunaga. Round after round Kaji landed at will, landed combinations and hurt his man, who looked second rate through out the bout.
Sadly however not one of the judges found a way to give the bout to the 24 year old Kaji, who really couldn't have done much more to win a decision. The closest we got was one judge having the bout even, in it's self a travesty given the performance of Kaji who put on a showing of a career only to be denied against someone who he used as a human punch bag.
This bout should have resulted in Kaji becoming a triple crown champion, and an emerging face of the Super Flyweight division. Sadly however Fukunaga got the decision and subsequently landed a career defining bout at the end of the year against Kazuto Ioka.
It's rare to see Japanese fans call out their judging and say that a decision was poor but that's what we saw here, and we know what we saw, with Kaji being robbed. This was a genuine black eye for Japanese boxing, and one of the worst decisions we saw all year.
Thankfully still in his mid 20's Kaji has time on his side, and he can easily bounce back from this disappointment, but it's a still a decision that has set his career back, taken his unbeaten record and denied him a chance of being a triple crown winner.
Tomorrow we'll see WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (27-2, 15) [井岡一翔] defending his title against fellow Japanese fighter Ryoji Fukunaga (15-4, 14) [福永亮次] in the final major bout of 2021. Today, ahead of their bout, the two men took part in a number of formalities.
One of the most notable of those formalities was the weigh in, which saw both men make weight with no issues at all.
Ioka was bang on the limit, at 115lbs whilst Fukunaga was under the limit, with a little bit of room to spare, coming in at 114.8lbs. Interestingly both men looked in good shape, but not sensational shape. Ioka looked like he was carrying just a touch of extra weight whilst Fukunaga looked like he may have drained down a little bit more than he needed to. Neither looked bad, but we've certainly seen both men look better.
There was also a press conference that saw both men talk about the bout, with Ioka explaining that he wanted to deliver an exciting match and that he was nervous, though he seemed alarmingly calm through out the entire event. As for Fukunaga he seemed amazed to be getting a shot at Ioka, who explained that it was "amazing" to fight such a person.
We also saw the two fighters pick their gloves. Both men will be wearing black, with Ioka wearing Everlast and Fukunaga wearing Reyes.
One other thing they both did was go through a number of medical checks. Interestingly these shows Fukunaga having all the physical advantages.
According to the numbers from the physical, the challenger is 5.2cm taller, has a 0.2cm reach advantage, a thicker chest and a thicker neck. Oddly Ioka's pulse rate was 120 BPM which was twice as quick as Fukunaga's, at 57BPM, both had similar body temperatures, though Ioka's was slightly highly higher.
For fans wanting to watch the bout, it will be aired from 18:30 local time on TBS.
Related - Ioka faces Fukunaga to end 2021
Fukunaga takes part in media work out
On New Year's Eve we'll see WBO champion Kazuto Ioka (27-2, 15) [井岡一翔] defending his title against former triple crown champion, Ryoji Fukunaga (15-4, 14) [福永亮次], who has taken the bout at short notice to save the TBS year ending event after Japan changed it's rules on international travel.
Yesterday, ahead of their bout, Fukunaga took part in a public work out and press conference to talk about the contest.
At the event Fukunaga revealed that he is both excited and nervous about about the bout, and that there was official events for the bout almost daily due to how short notice the bout was put together. Despite that he seemed confident, and explained that he would impress and that at the end of the bout his hand would be raised.
In regards to his shape he still has about 3KG (6.6lbs) but that shouldn't be an issue to lose by the December 30th, when the weigh will take place, and that everything was top notch with trainer Kenta Okumura working on counter measures for Ioka.
The work out it's self was quite a short one with Fukunaga hitting the mitts and shadow boxing. Through the session he looked heavy handed and determined, but this is a huge step up in class for him.
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