After an incredibly busy Saturday of action globally for fight fans, the action continued into Sunday as we turned our attention to Japan and the Korakuen Hall for the 2020 All Japan Rookie of the Year.
The tournament, now in it's 67th edition, was delayed due to Covid19 and was, sadly, held without an audience at Korakuen Hall, though was thankfully aired live on G+ and provided a lot of fantastic, thrilling, 2-way action as fighters battled to be crowned the All Japan Rookie of the Year.
In the show opener we saw teenager Ren Kojima (6-1-2) [小島 蓮] etch his name into the history books as he took the Minimumweight crown, out pointing Ryo Sasaki (5-3, 2) [佐々木 凌] over 5 rounds. Through out the bout Kojima simply out worked, out boxed, out sped and out manoeuvred Sasaki, who was often chasing but rarely cutting off the ring. Real credit needs to go to Kojima for his energy, and his movement, which were impressive through out. After 5 rounds the judges had this one 50-45, twice, and 49-47 all to Kojima who becomes the first fighter from the Emi Gym to win Rookie of the Year.
The second bout was something truly special as we saw Ryota Karimata (6-0, 3) [狩俣 綾汰] narrowly outpoint Hyogo Kimura (6-2-1, 1) [木村 彪吾] to be crowned the Light Flyweight Rookie of the Year. This was just an amazing bout, fought at a high pace from the off, with neither man letting the other get their nose in front. It was toe to toe action from the first round to the final bell and really hard to split the two men, who gave everything they had. After 5 rounds the judges had this 48-47, twice, and 48-48 to give Karimata a razor thin decision. This is one that fans need to go back and give a watch to as soon as they can as it was tremendous action and the perfectly balanced, 50/50 type bout that we always hope to see in Rookie of Year finals.
In the Flyweight bout Akira Hoshuyama (5-0, 2) [宝珠山 晃] narrowly over-came Yasuhiro Kanzaki (6-2, 2) [神崎 靖浩] . The early going saw Hoshuyama look to box at range, fighting off his southpaw jab though Kanzaki managed to counter him, and shook him with about 2 minutes of the opening round gone. Hoshuyama managed to regroup well and found his range in round 2 before being dropped by a left hook late in the round. Rather interestingly Hoshuyama got to his feet quickly, whilst the ref was out of range, and ate a huge uppercut straight afterwards, and was sent back down. It was only 1 knockdown, officially, but it was still an interesting moment and not something we see often. Sadly for Kanzaki it did result in him being deducted a point, which ended up being vital on the cards. Hoshuyama recovered well from the knockdown and hurt Kanzaki in round 3, as he began to land some huge straight left hands. The success of Hoshuyama's from round 3 continued into round 4 as he began to break down Kanzaki who ended up with a bloodied nose in round 5.
We went to the scorecards at the end of this one, and the scores were 47-46 from all 3 judges, sadly for Kanzaki two of those judges went with Hoshuyama. The point deduction essentially costing Kanzaki the draw.
At Super Flyweight we got the hugely anticipated clash between Shunpei Kubo (7-1-1, 5) [久保 春平], who had upset Kosuke Tomioka in the East Japan final, and the unbeaten Taichi Sugimoto (6-1-1, 1) [杉本 太一]. The opening round saw Sugimoto rocked to his core late in the round, though to his credit he gutted it out and fought back well in round 2 as regrouped and cleared his head. Sadly however Sugimoto was hurt again in round 3, and was rocked repeatedly in round 4 as Kubo began to use his head head for target practice, finally forcing a stoppage with just over 30 seconds of the round remaining. With the win Kubo scored the first stoppage of the day, and took the Super Flyweight crown, with a very impressive performance.
The fifth bout on the show was the Bantamweight bout and saw Ryuki Sudo (2-1, 1) [須藤 龍揮] take a beating at the hands of southpaw Fuya Tomita (6-2, 2) [冨田 風弥]. This was explosive from the off with both men landing some big shots in the first 90 seconds, and both showcased some solid whiskers through out the first round. Sadly for Sudo he seemed to be on the receiving end a lot of the time and he was tagged early in round 2, before being dropped about a minute into the round. Sudo beat the count but took a beating through what was left of the round, and narrowly made it into round 3. Tomita was genuinely looking for a finish through the third, though Sudo did just enough to avoid the referee jumping in. Tomita's hunt for a finish continued through the final round, though to his credit Sudo managed to do enough to see out the round and hear the final bell.
After 4 rounds the judges had this 40-35 and 38-37, twice, with Tomita taking the unanimous decision. We really do wonder how the judges found 2 rounds to give to Sudo, though credit where it's due, he showed surprising durability.
At Super Bantamweight we saw Yuki Yazan (7-3, 4) [矢斬 佑季] suffer a clear decision loss to the unbeaten Sora Fukunaga (9-0, 4) [福永 宇宙]. This was an interesting match up, with Yazan looking the much bigger man, but the clean, hurtful, accurate shots were pretty much all from Fukunaga, who had Yazan in all sorts of trouble in round 5. Credit goes to Yazan for always trying to win here, but round after round he seemed to be on the wrong end of things. After 5 rounds the judges had this one 50-45 and 49-46, twice, all in favour of Fukunaga.
The first bout that was scheduled for the show but didn't take place was the Featherweight bout, which was scheduled to be between Kazunori Hirano (4-0, 4) [平野和憲] and Hikaru Fukunaga (8-1, 5) [福永輝]. Sadly this was cancelled when Fukunaga had a positive PCR test, giving Hirano the Rookie crown by default. Fukunaga was suffering from fever and was said to be genuinely quite unwell.
We returned to in ring action at Super Featherweight, as the hard hitting Tsubasa Narai (7-0, 6) [奈良井 翼] took on Seika Fukuda (5-1, 1) [福田 星河]. On paper this one looked really interesting, but Narai took all the interest away rather quickly. Within the first minute Marai made it clear he didn't want to drag it out, and landed some solid bombs. Fukuda showed some heart and desire but was dropped mid-way through the round. Narai, knowing his man was hurt, went on the hunt and dropped Fukuda for a second time with the referee quickly waving off the contest.
At Lightweight Hiromasa Urakawa (7-1, 4) [浦川 大将] managed to over-come the gutsy Eiji Togawa (6-4, 3) [戸川 叡二]. This one started slowly, with both men showing respect to the other, though the power of Urakawa showed and he left Togawa with a bloodied nose at the end of round 2. The bleeding was worsened in round 3, as Urakawa began to land with some lovely combinations up top. Knowing he was down Togawa looked to turn the bout around in the 4th round, as he increased the tempo of the fight. Sadly for Togawa it seemed like Urakawa had an answer for everything he did, and Togawa was rocked late in the round. Togawa managed to have his best round in round 5, and he managed to bloody Urakawa's nose, but it was too little too late to turn the bout around. After 5 rounds Urakawa took a clear, and well deserved, decision over the brave Togawa.
The planned Light Welterweight bout was the second bout to be cancelled, as Reiji Kodama (2-0, 1) [兒玉麗司] was forced out of his bout with Aito Takabatake (6-0-1, 1) [高畠愛大]. Kodama, like Hikaru Fukunaga, also had a positive result in his PCR test, though he was said to be asymptomatic. Sadly the positive test meant Kodama had to be pulled from the show, and as a result Takabatake won the Rookie title by default.
At Welterweight Kaichi Yamazaki (2-3, 2) [山﨑 海知] came up short against Hiroya Nojima (6-1, 2) [能嶋 宏弥]. Within a minute of the fight starting we had drama as Yamazaki was dropped from a short right hand. He popped up and got clobbered again by Nojima, who was then deducted a point for hitting a downed opponent. Sadly the early drama was about as good as it got, with Nojima happy to box and move for much of the rest of the bout as he walked his way to a clear decision win. Yamazaki came to fight, but he was second best for pretty every minute, of every round, as he lost a wide 4 round decision here. All 3 judges turned in identical cards of 39-35 to Nojima.
The final bout on the show was the Middleweight bout, between teenager Eiki Kani (3-1-2, 1) [可兒 栄樹] and the hard hitting Katsuhiro Nakata (6-0, 4) [中田 勝浩]. From the off it was hard to ignore the clear size difference between the two men, with Nakata towering over Kani. Despite being the much, much taller man Nakata rarely used his size and instead allowed Kani to fight on the inside, giving us a brilliant action war pretty much from the off. With Nakata willing to standing his ground, and Kani marching forward, we ended up with a bout packed uppercuts, which left both men bloody messes by the mid-way point of round 3, though there was no quit with either man. Despite both men wearing claret across their faces as we entered round 4, neither man showed any intention to change their tactics and the round was another brutal one with both taking a lot of leather, and at various points both men seemed to be hurt during a sensational 3 minutes of violence. That was then followed by an equally punishing fifth round as we ended up getting a genuine treat to close the show.
After 5 rounds this was an incredibly tough one to score and that showed on the scorecards with the first judge giving it 48-47 to Kani. He was over-ruled however by the other two judges who both had it 48-47 to Nakata. It was hard to argue either way, and hopefully, one day down the line, we see these two re-run the bout over a longer distance. It was brutal, it was exciting, competitive and a fantastic way to end the show.
Earlier today at Korakuen Hall we had the East Japan Rookie of the Year finals, which decide not just the East Japan Rookie of the Year winner but also the East Japan participant in the All Japan final, which will take place next year. In total there was supposed to be 12 bouts, though in the end two of the ended up cancelled giving us a total of 10 bouts in total.
Sadly the bouts haven't yet been televised, with G+ set to air them on December 27th, so for fans wanting to watch them, you want to look away now. Incidentally we will also have the West Japanese representatives decided on December 27th at a show in Osaka.
Before we talk about the bouts we got we'll quickly talk about the two we didn't get.
One of those was at Light Flyweight, where 35 year old Hayato Aoki (4-0, 3) [青木 勇人] abstained, giving 25 year old Ryota Karimata (5-0, 3) [狩俣 綾汰] a bye to the All Japan final. This bout was cancelled weeks ago, and had been listed as off since early January. The second was the Lightweight bout, which seemed to be cancelled this week and saw Ryan Joshua Yamamoto (4-3, 1) [山本ライアン ジュシュア] pull out of a bout against Hiromasa Urakawa (6-1, 4) [浦川 大将], with Urakawa getting a bye to the All Japan final.
The first bout of the show came at Minimumweight and saw Ryo Sasaki (5-2, 2) [佐々木 凌] score a 4th round TKO win over Yuji Hirai (4-1-1, 2) [平井 雄士]. The tall, rangy Sasaki towered over Hirai who struggled to get close and was dropped in round 2. A gutsy Hirai tried to fight back but was stopped on the bell to end round 4. Interestingly this was the third time Sasaki had entered Rookie of the Year, losing in qualifying bouts in 2018 and 2019, and will feel like a real relief for him after the last 2 years.
At Flyweight we saw a minor upset as Akira Hoshuyama (4-0, 2) [宝珠山 晃] defeated the hard hitting Shugo Namura (4-1, 4) [苗村 修悟]. The hard hitting Namura, who is managed by Hiroyuki Sakamoto, had endeared himself to fight fans with his story, which was very similar to that of his boxing mentor, but sadly it wasn't to be for him as Hoshuyama dropped him in the first round and went on to win the following 3, en route to a clear decision. After 4 rounds all 3 judges had this 40-35 to Hoshuyama.
We got a big surprised at Super Flyweight as the much fancied Kosuke Tomioka (4-1, 3) [富岡 浩介] came up short against Shunpei Kubo (6-1-1, 4) [久保 春平]. Tomioka got off to a good start, and dropped Kubo with a hard straight left hand, and looked to be on the verge of a win in round 2. Kubo however gritted it out and landed a huge right hand in round 3, sending Tomioka down. Tomioka beat the count but was unsteady on his legs, and the referee waved the bout off. This is a big set back for Tomioka, but at just 18 years old we suspect he will bounce back, as for Kubo this was a great win and he will be buoyed big time going into the All-Japan final.
We got another upset of sorts at Bantamweight, as Ryuki Sudo (2-0, 1) [須藤 龍揮], fighting for just the second time, stopped Norichika Kozu (6-2, 1) [神津 徳臣] in the opening round. The fight started with Kozu pressing forward and he seemed to have Sudo under plenty of pressure before Sudo landed a peach of a left hook, dropping Kozu hard. As with Tomioka we saw Sudo get to his feet but he was gone and the referee wisely stopped this from continuing.
At Super Bantamweight we saw Yuki Yazan (7-2, 4) [矢斬 佑季] take a 5 round decision win over Ryuya Nihei (5-1-1, 1) [二瓶 竜弥]. Yazan looked too set the pace early, and boxed well at range with his straight shots. Nihei, to his credit, looked to slowly build some momentum with his pressure and had moments, particularly in rounds 2 and 3, before Yazan used his speed and impressed in the final 2 rounds. This was never a result in doubt and Yazan won with scores of 49-46 from all 3 judges.
We got another short bout at Featherweight as Kazunori Hirano (4-0, 4) [平野 和憲] simply hit too hard for Ryo Yoshida (3-1, 1) [吉田 諒]. Yoshida was down early, left with a bloodied nose and repeatedly hurt until the referee stepped in and saved him from further punishment at just over 2 minutes into the opening round. This was basic stuff from Hirano, but his rock hands really were just too much for Yoshida.
Unbeaten 21 year old puncher Tsubasa Narai (6-0, 5) [奈良井 翼] extended his excellent start as he stopped American born Japanese based fighter Dominique Kenshin (5-2, 2) [ドミニク謙心] at Super Featherweight. Narai pressed this from the off and looked like a man with a point to prove as he dropped Keshin in the first round. Kenshin managed to be saved by the bell in the opening round but was still looking hurt as we entered round 2, and Narai wasn't going to let him off the hook again, dropping him after about a minute of the round. This time the referee waved off the bout, giving the impressive Narai his third straight early win.
At 140lbs 21 year old novice Reiji Kodama (2-0, 1) [兒玉 麗司] impressed, stopping Takuro Narumi (3-2, 2) [鳴海 拓郎] in 4 rounds. Just seconds into the bout Kodama dropped Narumi with a 1-2. Although Narumi beat the count he didn't look comfortable through the round. To his credit in round 2 Narumi did start to find some success of his own, but in round 4 Kodama began to hammer his body and forced the referee to save Narumi, who was pinned on the ropes and being broken up by body shots.
At Welterweight Kaichi Yamazaki (2-2, 2) [山﨑 海知] scored a 3rd round TKO win against Yudai Saito (0-2) [齊藤 裕大]. Saito started well, using his jab, but it wasn't long until Yamazaki got into the pocket and began working up close, scoring a knockdown with a right hand. The second round was a battle up close before Yamazaki scored a second knockdown right at the end of round 3, forcing the referee to stop the bout. After the bout images of Saito sat on his stool showed him with a badly swollen right eye, and potential fracture as a result of Yamazaki's power.
The final bout on the show was at Middleweight and saw Kenji Yoshino (1-2-1, 2) [吉野 健二] and Eiki Kani (2-1-2) [可兒 栄樹] face off for the second time in their career. In 2019 the two men clashed, with Yoshino stopping Kani, this time however we saw the two men going the distance in a very, close, competitive and punishing 4 round war that saw neither man get much of an upperhand over the other. This was a thrilling action bout and saw the two men match each other all the way, resulting in a 4 round majority draw. Due to the tie breaker rules however it was Kani who progressed to the All-Japan final, in a result which will go some way to avenge his 2019 loss.
After the even there was 3 award winners named. Kubo was the MVP, following his win over Tomioka at Super Flyweight, Sudo won the Skill award following his win over Kozu at Bantamweight and Hirano won the Fighting Spirit Award following his win over Yoshida at Featherweight.
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