On December 20th Japanese fans in Tokyo get the chance to see the All-Japan Rookie of the Year finals. The competition, one of the biggest in professional boxing, is a staple of the Japanese boxing calendar and is a key event with the winner typically moving onto title bouts over the years that follow.
Here we take a look at the men who will be in action in the finals.
Tsubasa Koura (5-0, 3) v Ryusei Kitamura (6-1, 1)
The first bout of the card will be at Minimumweight where the unbeaten Koura battles the once beaten Kitamura in a match up that looks very good on paper, and features two very young fighters.
On paper it's easy to favour Koura, the unbeaten fighter from the E & J Cassius gym is a 21 year old who is very tall for a Minimumweight, at 5'4”, and from from an emerging hotbed of Japanese boxing, Yokohama. He's only been a professional for 16 months but has looked very good and has never faced a fighter with a losing record. Last time out he beat Hizuki Saso, then 6-1, to claim the East Japan Rookie crown and will be coming in to this one with a lot of confidence given that he's unbeaten and that his last two foes had a combined 10-1 record.
The once beaten Kitamura is also a youngster, at just 20 years old, and is a southpaw from the Mutoh gym, a gym that is packed with talent. He's been a professional since April 2014 and although he suffered a loss in his third bout he has been able to find some solid form, winning his last 4 bouts. Notably some of his opposition has been limited but he's done enough to win regularly. His last bout was a thriller with Yuta Ando, back in November for the West Japan Rookie crown, and whilst that was thrilling it did show that Kitamura could be hurt.
Seigo Yuri Akui (5-0-1, 2) Vs Hiroki Hosoya (3-1-1)
The second bout of the show will come at Light Flyweight and looks to be another well matched bout between two young men each looking to score a break out win to end the year.
Of the two fighters it's Akui who is the more experienced, with 6 bouts. He's 20 years old and is from the Moriyasu gym, a relatively small and unknown gym who don't have any real stars. Akui debuted in April 2014 and has amazingly scored all of his wins against unbeaten opponents, who had a combined 12-0-7 record. The mark on Akui's record came in November 2014 when he fought to a split draw with the more experienced Seita Ogido, but he has since rolled of 3 wins .
Hosoya, like Akui, is a 20 year old however he comes from a very respectable gym, the Kadoebi Hoseki gym. The gym has had numerous Japanese champions and will be hoping to develop Hosoya into another. Notably Hosota was stopped, in 103 seconds, on his debut against Fumiya Akao and he was held to a draw last time out against Naoyuki Tsukada, in the West Japan Rookie of the Year final. It's hard to back Hosoya, but given his testing battle last time out we refuse to write him off.
Hiroyasu Shiga (6-0, 3) Vs Masahiro Sakamoto (5-0, 3)
The first of the bouts to pit unbeaten fighters against each other comes at Flyweight in what is a genuinely fantastic match up and will see yet another man emerge in the packed 112lb division.
The older of the two fighters is the 24 year old Sakamoto, who hails from the Mutoh gym. Sakamoto debuted back in December 2014 and has scored 4 wins this year, with 3 of those by stoppage, however his last was a very hard fought split decision win against the then 4-0 Katsuteru Yoshifusa. That was a hard fought 5 round bout, but gave him experience over the 5 round distance, which could be key here, and has allowed him to answer his first gut check ahead of this bout.
Shiga, a 23 year old from the Shakuji Sports Boxing Gym, may not have the level of sparring available to Sakamoto but with 6 bouts under his belt he is the more experienced fighter. Shiga's career started more than 2 years ago, with a debut in April 2013, and has seen him face just a single fighter with a winning record. He is much less proven than Sakamoto though may well view this as a proverbial coming out party. Sadly for Shiga this will be his first 5 round bout and comes after 2 close decision.
Hayate Kaji (3-0, 2) Vs Taiyo Inoue (4-1, 3)
At Super Flyweight we see a teenager attempt to continue his rise through the ranks as he takes on a man who is showing some good form in recent bouts.
The teenager is the exciting Hayate Kaji, an 18 year old Teiken hopeful who began his professional career this past February. Kaji's first two bouts saw him scoring very quick KO's against debutants but last time out proved his ability by out pointing Takunari Yokoyama, then 5-1, over 4 rounds. Despite having fought just 6 rounds as a professional Kaji is tipped to be a star of the future and has the best team in Japan behind him. That team could well be the difference between winning and losing here.
Inoue is a 23 year old fighter from the low profile Hiroshima Sanei gym, and isn't another member of the brilliant Inoue fighting family. Inoue lost a close decision on his debut, back in May 2013, though has since racked up 4 straight wins, with the most recent of those being a 4th round TKO against Takuma Matsushita, then 3-0. Notably Matsushita was the only opponent that Inoue has faced with a winning record, however his winning run is likely to be more important to him than who he has beaten.
Wataru Takeda (7-0-1, 2) Vs Tenta Kiyose (7-1-1, 1)
The Japanese Bantamweight scene is red hot with the likes of Shinsuke Yamanaka, Tomoki Kameda and Shohei Omori. The Rookie bout at the weight however isn't the most mouth watering, despite having two of the most experienced men on the show.
Takeda, the unbeaten fighter, is a 21 year old fighter from the Kadoebi Hoseki gym. At a little over 5'8” he's a tall Bantamweight and fights from a southpaw stance, making him a headache for most opponents. Sadly he does lack power, though it may come when he matures into a man. He debuted back in October 2013, fighting to a draw and has since racked up 7 straight wins, with the most recent being a 5 round decision win over Yoshinobu Kakinaga. Whilst unlikely to be fast tracked if he wins, he has got plenty of promise.
At just 19 years old Kiyose is a relative boxing baby, though has already got 9 bouts under his belt, and a staggering 38 rounds. He debuted back in December 2013 and lost a close decision to fellow debutant Kensei Hirano, two fights later he fought to a draw with Noboru Osato. Since then however he has compiled 6 straight wins. Notably his last 2 wins have both come against unbeaten fighters, with the most recent of those being a 5 round decision against the then 7-0-1 Takuya Mizuno.
Takaaki Kanai (6-4, 3) Vs Renji Ichimura (5-2, 4)
On paper the least exciting match up on the show is at Super Bantamweight, where both fighters have suffered multiple losses. Despite those losses the match up does seem likely to be competitive.
The 29 year old Kanai is the more experienced man and the much older man. He debuted back in April 2013 and after winning his first two bouts went through a bad run, losing 3 successive bouts. Since then he has gone 4-1, winning last time out against Masatsugu Ito. The Ito bout as Kanai's second 5 round bout, something that will likely help him going in to this one, however those losses do show that he's beatable and it's questionable as to how much he has truly improved in recent fights.
The heavy handed Ichimura is a 22 year old puncher from the RK Kamata gym who debuted in September 2013 and has looked like a genuine puncher from the off. On his debut he needed just 28 seconds to see off Shinsuke Hoda and has since added two other opening round KO's, including one last time out over the then 6-0 Jin Miura in the East Japan Rookie final. Whilst he can punch he can also be out boxed, with both of his losses coming by decision, and his sole decision win was a razor thin one, over Ryusei Ishii.
Teppei Kayunuma (6-0, 4) Vs Shuma Nakazato (5-0, 4)
A second all unbeaten match up comes at Featherweight in a bout that many view as potentially the most exciting and explosive bout of the show.
Kayunuma is a 21 year old Teiken hopeful who has been a professional for a little more than 2 years. He fought just once in each of 2013 and 2014 though has looked impressive this year, a year in which he has gone 4-0 (2). Among those wins was a 2nd round TKO, last time out, against Ryota Ishida, then 5-0. Whilst he has looked impressive he was run close in both of his decision wins and there is some question marks about his ability, though it's clear that he does hit hard and isn't one to get in a fire fight with.
Nakazato is a fighter who is under the guidance of his father at the Nakazato gym and has only been a professional for 8 months, despite his short career he has looked very impressive, very heavy handed and very exciting. Although inexperienced he has looked like someone worth keeping an eye on and his last two wins came against unbeaten foes, with the most recent being a 5th round TKO against Yuto Nagano, then 5-0. With serious power, impressive physical strength and developing skills, he could be a real handful.
Genki Ishikawa (7-0, 5) Vs Naotoshi Nakatani (7-0, 5)
On paper the most perfectly matched bout is at Super Featherweight where both men are the same age, 22, same height, 5'9½”, and have the same record. On paper this is as 50-50 as a fight gets.
The American born Ishikawa is from the MT gym and is perhaps the fighter with the minor advantage, given that he's a southpaw. The well built Ishikawa debuted back in April 2014 and has gone on to face 4 fighters who had never tasted defeat, interestingly he has stopped 3 of those including his last opponent Fumiaki Kishi, then 5-0-1. Dangerous early Ishikawa has scored all of his stoppages in the first 2 rounds and has perhaps struggled slightly when an opponent has seen off that early storm.
Greentsuda fighter Nakatani, like Ishikawa, debuted in April 2014 and has been very dangerous early, with 4 of his wins being scored before the second round has started, with the other stopped coming 89 seconds into round 2. Last time out he did get a bit of fortune, claiming a split decision win over Fine Arai, though will use that experience as a guide in how to gut out a win in a very close bout. Interestingly Nakatani has fought at around 140lbs in the past and is possibly draining to make 130lbs.
Tomoaki Mastumura (6-0, 4) Vs Ryusei Nakajima (7-1, 3)
At Lightweight we again get two young men fighting for the title of “Rookie of the Year” with both being 21 year old hopefuls who have shown real promise.
The unbeaten Matsumura is another Greentsuda fighter and one who appears to be very exciting. He debuted back in September 2014 and has scored 3 opening round KO's. The only stoppage win that has seen him go beyond a round came last time out, when he was taken in to round 3 by Daiki Ichikaa, then 6-0, who lasted just 15 seconds into round 3. With potent power he's certainly dangerous and appears to be growing more confident by the fight, with his last two wins coming over unbeaten opponents.
Nakajima is a southpaw from the Yamaryu Boxing Gym who debuted in April 2014, and won his first 2 bouts before being stopped on New Years Eve by Minoru Iizuka. Since his loss he has been busy, in fact he's squeezed in 5 fights in just over 8 months, and racked up 20 rounds in those bouts. Whilst that's a busy scheduled it's also a had one with the last 9 rounds being incredibly competitive and there is some questions as to whether or not he deserved to win both of those bouts. Those competitive may rounds may be a blessing in disguise, or a real problem.
Shinjiro Kawada (5-1-1, 5) Vs Mitsuyoshi Fujita (7-2, 3)
At 140lbs we get a bout between two men who have lost but bounced back, and know that a win here will give their career a big kick start.
Big punching Kawada is a 25 year old Miyata Gym hopeful who debuted in December 2013 and scored back-to-back 1st round wins to kick off his professional career. Following that early success he suffered a loss and a draw though had rebounded with 3 stoppages, taking a combined 4 rounds. Those recent wins have included two victories over then unbeaten fighters, both 3-0, and a win over Joji Tsuchiya, to claim the East Japan Rookie of the Year. He's very dangerous early and probably isn't one to slug it out with.
Fujita, also 25, is a product of the Kagoshima gym and debuted back in May 2013, with a 4 round decision win. After winning his first 2 bouts he suffered back-to-back defeat, one of which came via stoppage, though he has bounced back very well with 5 straight wins, including 3 stoppages. The most notable of those wins came last time out, when he claimed the East Japan Rookie title, with a split decision win over Kazuma Fukuyama Those losses are a big question mark, especially the stoppage, though he has really rebuilt well coming in to this one.
Giraffe Kirin Kanda (6-1, 3) Vs Yuki Nagano (6-2, 4)
The Welterweight division is the second highest division which will see action, and although it seems unlikely the winner will become a star, the bout does look to be a very good one.
In one corner will be the wonderfully named Giraffe Kirin Kanda, a 28 year old fighter form the Senrima Kobe gym. Stood at 6'1” Kanda will be boasting a huge height advantage over his foe and also boasts the slightly more impressive record. Interestingly his last 3 bouts have all been wins against then unbeaten fighters, however he did lose his 3rd pro bout, suffering a decision defeat to Shota Yamamoto. That loss came 9 months after his debut and he has improved since that loss.
The slightly more experienced Nagano is a Teiken fighter who fights of the Southpaw stance and, at 26, is just the slightly younger man. On paper his record is less impressive, with 2 losses, though the most recent of those losses came way back in September 2013, some 13 months after his previous loss. His debut, amazingly, came back in 2012 though his career has been stop start with his first 5 bouts coming over 27 months. Currently on a 4 fight winning run Nagano will be full of confidence.
Riku Nagahama (2-0-1) Vs Brandon Lockhart Shane (6-3, 5)
The bout with the biggest gulf in experienced sees an unbeaten novice take on a significantly older and more experienced fighter.
The novice is Nagahama, a 24 Shirai Gushiken Sports product who turned pro earlier this year. On his debut he fought to a draw with Kazytomo Oma, but has since recorded back to back victories with the most recent coming against Altin Pepa in the Rookie of the East final. Whilst he has really shone yet it's clear that he has a strong team behind him and at 5'10” he's the taller man, as well as the younger man. His lack of experience however could be an issue and with just 12 professional rounds his belt, he really is a boxing baby.
Shane is an American born Japanese based fighter who, at 34, is really is a “now or never” situation. He debuted way back in July 2011 and started 3-3 though really came into his own this year, racking up 3 straight KO wins and helping the Morioka Gym have a year to remember. At 5'6” Shane is very short for a Middleweight, in fact Bantamweight stablemate Hinata Maruta towers over him. Given his age he will be determined to pick a win here and with 5 stoppages it's clear he will come out swinging
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features