The Rookie of the Year is one of the very best proving grounds to Japanese novices wanting to make their mark on the sport, and the winners regularly, though don't always, go on to achieve big things in the sport. Here we're going to look at the winners of the 2014 All Japan Rookie of the Year tournament, and look at where their careers are now, what they've done since winning.
For many of the fighters here their careers have continued on to this day, but with some mixed success.
Note - The "then" records are the records following the Rookie of the Year finals.
Middleweight-Hisao Narita (then 8-1, 4)
Poor Hisao Narita was one of the winners from the 2014 Rookie of the Year who really didn't have a good time after the competition. Narito would win his first bout in 2015, narrowly defeating Yusuke Konno, but then 4 in a row, including losses Hironobu Matsunaga and Takeshi Inoue. A small winning run was then followed by back to back defeats, to Sanosuke Sasaki and Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa. Narita hasn't fought since losing to Hosokawa in June 2018 and it seems likely that Narita is now down with the sport, though he is only 28.
At the time of writing Narita has a professional record of 12-7 (6)
Welterweight-Yuki Beppu (then 8-0, 8)
Aged 23 when he won the Welterweight tournament Yuki Beppu was hailed as one of the ones to watch. His career since then hasn't totally lived up to expectations but he has proven to be a better fighter than just purely being a puncher. He would fight some very limited opposition to run his record to 14-0 (14) before fighting to a draw with Charles Bellamy, in what was a huge step up and a very credible performance. A loss to Yuki Nagano in 2018 saw Beppu lose his unbeaten record, which was then 18-0-1 (18) but he has bounced back with 2 wins, including his first decision win over Jasen Egera. His next bout is expected to come in December for the WBO Asia Pacific Welterweight title against Ryota Yada.
Beppu's current record is 20-1-1 (19)
Light Welterweight-Tetsuya Morisada (then 4-3, 4)
The forgotten man of the 2014 Rookie of the year is Tetsuya Morisada, who didn't get his moment in the sun. Morisada won the title by default Naoharu Kida abstained from the final. Kida wouldn't fight against until late 2016, coming back for what appears to have been a one off. Sadly for Morisada the limited but hard hitting would lose 3 of his following 5 fights. Although a puncher he is very much a glass cannon, and only 1 of his bouts ever went the distance, and it now seems like his career is over on the back of 3 straight stoppage losses and more than 12 months away from the ring.
His record if 6-6 (6) and despite only being 24 we doubt we'll see Morisada fight again.
Lightweight-Shogo Yamaguchi (then 6-0-1, 3)
Another fighter who won the All Japan Rookie of the Year without fighting in the final was Lightweight Shogo Yamaguchi, who had a walk over and Andy Hiraoka who fell ill before the final. Yamaguchi was a promising and unbeaten 21 year old who picked up 3 wins in 2015 before seeing his career stumble with a loss to Akihiro Kondo and then one to Genki Maeda. Sadly since then Yamaguchi has really struggled to get going and has only picked up 2 wins in 7 bouts. Despite that poor run of results it's worth noting he and Andy Hiraoka did finally face off, fighting in May 2017 with Hiraoki stopping Yamaguchi in 6 rounds.
With a record of 11-5-3 (6) the 25, soon to be 26, year old Yamaguchi is in a really tough point in his career, though he was active as recently as July, when he lost to Masanori Rikiishi.
Super Featherweight-Yuichiro Kasuya (then 6-0, 1)
Teenager Yuichiro Kasuya looked like a real one to watch when he won the Super Featherweight Rookie of the Year within a year of his professional debut. The youngster looked highly skilled, a natural in the ring and like a fighter with a lot of potential. His lack of power wasn't expected to be a major issue and as he matured it was assumed he'd fill into his body and add some physicality to his game. Sadly his career hasn't really gond the way that was expected following 3 successive set backs. The first of those saw him fight to a draw with Masaki Saito, before back to back losses to Spicy Matsushita and Izuki Tomioka. In 2018 he moved over to the Kadoebi Gym and has shown signs of reaching his early promise.
At 22, soon to be 23, the jury is out on what Kasuya will do with his career but he's now 13-2-1 (4) and has run off 4 straight wins, so we certainly wouldn't rule Kasuya out of becoming a player on the national scene at Lightweight in the years to come.
Featherweight-Reiya Abe (then 8-1, 4)
One of the most notable names from the 2014 Rookie of the Year was the then 21 year old Reiya Abe, who took the Featherweight crown and has become a fixture in the Japanese title picture over the last year or two. The talented southpaw sharp shooter surprisingly lost in his first bout after winning the Rookie of the Year, losing a decision to Shingo Kusano, but avenged that loss in 2016. Abe ran up an excellent 11 fight winning run following the loss to Kusano, but narrowly failed to take home the Japanese title in 2 title fights earlier this year.
Despite recent set backs against Taiki Minamoto, who held Abe to a draw, and Ryo Sagawa, who he lost a narrow decision to, there is absolutely no reason at all to write off the 26 year old Abe, who is now 19-3-1 (9) as a professional. We'd be hugely surprised if he doesn't pick up a title in the coming years, when he adapts his style just a little. He's a genuine talent.
Super Bantamweight-Shohei Kawashima (then 9-0-2, 2)
The then 23 year old Shohei Kawashima seemed like one to watch following the Rookie of the Year, given his age, unbeaten record and and his style. He proved he wasn't just a flash in the pan and in 2016 gave Cristian Mijares a very close bout in Mexico. Sadly a loss to Gaku Aikawa in 2017 left questions over Kawashima but he has since answered them with some solid performances, including one in March in the Philippines against Juan Miguel Elorde. Sadly he hasn't had much luck, and at times his match making has been too soft, but he is a real talent and hopefully he will get some bigger bouts in the near future.
With a record of 17-3-2 (4) Kawashima is still very much active and fights for the 23rd time as a professional on October 19th, sadly though it's against a less than inspiring opponent in the form of Masajiro Honda. Given his ability, and the way he seems to step up against stiffer competition, we'd love to see Kawashima given more bouts on the road against fringe contender types.
Bantamweight-Ryohei Takahashi (then 5-1-1)
Of all the fighters on this list the reality is that Ryohei Takahashi has had the highest profile single bout of any fighter, with Takahashi having fought for the IBF Super Bantamweight title earlier this year, when he put up a brave effort against TJ Doheny. Takahashi's is a tough, rugged fun fighter to watch but his limitations were shown against Doheny. Through his career he has come up short in his 2 most notable bouts, the loss to Doheny and a loss to Andrew Moloney, but he's a solid domestic and regional level fighter. With wins against the likes of Matcha Nakagawa, Kazuki Tanaka and Mike Tawatchai he belongs in the regional title picture and we suspect he will get a title fight of some kind in 2020.
With a record of 17-4-1 (7) Takahashi is far from done, and the 29 year old picked up his last win in June, stopping Jin Wook Lim, in what is his only bout since the loss to Doheny.
Super Flyweight-Masayoshi Hashizume (7-0, 4)
The then 21 year old took the Rookie of the Year crown with a technical decision over Shogo Yonenaga and is still unbeaten almost 5 years later. At the time of his Rookie win he was seen as being one of the future faces of the Ioka gym, along with the likes of Sho Ishida and Masayoshi Nakatani, but sadly the gym has never managed to guide any of those 3 to the achievements expected of them. In the years that followed his Rookie win Hashizume was matched incredibly softly until taking on Kota Fujimoto, and struggling to a draw in 2017. A second draw in 2018 saw him come up just short in a Japanese Super Flyweight title fight against Takayuki Okumoto.
Sadly Hashizume has only fought once since his draw last year with Okumoto, picking up a win over Filipino journeyman Jayar Estremos. Now with a record of 17-0-2 (10) we do wonder where the talented southpaw is going with his career. He has the skills, but there is doubt about his team and his desire, though at 25 there is still plenty of time to buckle down and kick on.
Flyweight-Kenya Yamashita (7-0, 4)
When the then 18 year old Kenya Yamashita beat Shun Kosaka, who was 9-0 himself, in the Rookie of the Year final the expectations were that Yamashita would go on to be a star. At the time he was a stablemate of Shingo Wake, had a really exciting style and ticked all the boxed as one to watch. Sadly however within just a few fights of his Rookie triumph the shine had been taken off his rise, with 3 losses in 5 fights, including a thrilling 3rd round KO loss to Katsunori Nagamine. Despite those losses he has remained a tenacious, fan friendly fighter and has been a "stop or be stopped" fighter, only going the distance in 1 of his post Rookie of the Year bouts.
With a record of 14-5 (11) Yamashita's early promise is clearly not being realised, but on the other hand he is giving his so much action and excitement it's hard to complain about the 23 year old, who is very much a fan favourite. He last fought in July, in the quarter finals of God's Left Bantamweight tournament, stopping Gaku Aikawa, and will face Seiya Tsutsumi in the semi final on November 9th. Win or lost Yamashita is always worth watching.
Light Flyweight-Kenji Ono (then 7-1, 3)
Ono won the Rookie of the Year by beating Seita Ogido in the final and the then 26 year old seemed to have plenty of promise. He would reel off 4 straight wins following his Rookie triumph, including winning an incredibly bout with Jun Takigawa in 2016, but is win-less in his last 4, which have included an opening round blow out to Seigo Yuri Akui. Although there is time for him to do something with his career, we're not really sure what he can do before his career slips away.
Now aged 31 with a record of 11-3-2 (6) Ono is already on the older side for a Light Flyweight, and a loss in February to Hayato Yamaguchi, following back to back draws, doesn't bode well. Ono has fought just once a year in 2019, 2018 and 2017 and we wouldn't be surprised to see his career coming to an end sooner rather than later.
Minimumweight-Reiya Konishi (then 7-0, 4)
Whilst Ryohei Takahashi has had the biggest single fight we think it's very fair to say that Reiya Konishi has made more of his career than anyone else on this winners list. The then 21 year beat Yuki Kubo in the final then climbed through the domestic rankings before taking the Japanese Minimumweight title in 2017, with a win over Masataka Taniguchi. After defending the Japanese title twice he moved up in weight and challenged the WBA "regular" Light Flyweight champion Carlos Canizales in a really good bout in 2018. Despite losing to Canizales, by unanimous decision, Konishi would remain in the mix and got his second world title fight earlier this year, losing a clearer decision to Felix Alvarado.
At 26 years old Konishi is already a 2-time world title challenger and his 17-2 (7) record is very unlikely to be the end of his story. He's not fought in May but we wouldn't be surprised to see him back in the ring before the end of 2020 and potentially working his way to a third world title fight. With his style he's worthy of attention and with Shinsei gym needing a consistent draw Konishi could well be part of much bigger plans for his team.
The Lucky loser - Hironobu Matsunaga (then 6-1, 3)
Matsunaga lost in his final to Yuki Beppu as Welterweight but since then has had one of the more notable careers. In fact Mastunaga's career has been more successful than almost all the winners. He was 27 when he lost to Beppu but since then he has reeled off 9 wins, including one over Hisao Narita, and gone on to claim both the WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese titles at 154lbs. His recent wins have included stoppages over Koshinmaru Saito and Nobuyuki Shindo, and he has really made the most of his career.
Now aged 32 Matsunaga is the Japanese Light Middleweight champion and sports a 15-1 (9) record. Despite losing in the Rookie of the Year final he has shown not to write off fighters, and has done fantastically well with career. He's expected to defend his national title next year at the Champion Carnival, and, barring Konishi, is possibly the most successful of all the 2014 Rookie of the Year finalists.
The closet classics continue with our 4th bout, and we return to Japan for Light Flyweight action, and a bout that bucks the trend of many great fights. Many of the best bouts start hot, and slow down after a few rounds, this fight however doesn't start off as anything special, but when it gets good, it really becomes something very, very special. It shows how good Japanese domestic fights can be, and why we love the G+ shows, which continue such a depth of action that we always end up with at least 1 bout worth remembering. It's actually worth remembered that this particular bout was on a show headlined by Ryosuke Iwasa taking on Dennis Tubieron, a main event that was far from memorable.
Kenji Ono (9-1, 4) v Jun Takigawa (7-1-1, 4)
Neither Kenji Ono or Jun Takigawa will go down in the history books as any stars of the sport, but in February 2016 both men had big dreams and both were making their way towards a potential national title fight.
Ono was a Teiken promoted hopeful who had won 9 of his 10 bouts, including a notable 2014 win over Seita Ogido to be crowned the All Japanese Light Flyweight Rookie of the Year. He was on a roll, having won 7 successive bouts, and looked to be getting better and better. At the age of 27 he was coming into his prime, he was in good form and seemed like he was heading for big things, especially with Teiken guiding his career.
Takigawa on the other hand had lost in the 2014 West Japan Rookie of the Year final at Minimumweight, losing to Reiya Konishi, but had bounced back with 2 wins and a draw leading into this bout. He was moving up in weight, but it did seem like his 25 year old frame had out grown the smaller weight class and he was expected to settle well at 108lbs. A win here would have seen Takigawa getting into the mix for the Japanese title, and be on the way to making his name.
Whilst the bout looked compelling on paper it didn't look like a Japanese fight of the year contender. It did however take on a life of it's own quickly, with Takigawa taking the fight to Ono, showing no fear of his foe, in what was Takigawa's first bout at the Korakuen Hall. It was Takigawa who made the action exciting early on but Ono was answering back and growing in confidence. By round 3 we were starting to feel like we had something worthy of a rewatch however things got better, a lot better, in round 6.
Takigawa got cut in round 5, from a head clash, and that seemed to drive him to taking more risks and be more aggressive. In round 6 that aggression, at least partly, would be responsible for both men taking heavier leather. It wasn't pretty but was entertaining and it lead to the fight's first knockdown. It wouldn't be the last and round 7 is a must watch round for any self respecting fight fan.
This is Japanese domestic boxing, and round 7 is one of the all time great closet rounds, with 3 knockdowns...Make time for this one!
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