By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
A week ago Satoshi Shimizu extended his perfect record to 8-0 8 Kos as he defended his OPBF featherweight crown against the undefeated Takuya Uehara. Uehara proved no match for Shimizu who scored multiple knockdowns on his way to a third round stoppage.
The intention from Shimizu’s team at the Ohashi Gym is to get him a world title tilt in 2019. We’ve heard that talk for a while now and it’s clear that the unorthodox southpaw is well beyond the regional level.
Looking at the featherweight landscape it’s difficult to see where Shimizu’s shot will come unless he can win some sort of eliminator and become a mandatory challenger. WBO titlist Oscar Valdez looks to be set for a January return after suffering a broken jaw in his March clash with Scott Quigg and a unification with the victor of the Josh Warrington Carl Frampton clash looks to be in the offing for possibly next summer. Leo Santa Cruz is involved in yet another pointless matchup and Gary Russell Jr will probably make his annual single appearance sometime in 2019.
There are numerous opportunities 4 pounds south but given Shinizu’s significant frame possibly draining him would make no sense at all and a rematch from the Olympics with Isaac Dogboe is dead for now as the Ghanaian lost his WBO title at the weekend. One bout that hasn’t been mentioned for Shimizu and seems feasible is actually 4 pounds north against WBO champion Masayuki Ito.
Ito impressed on his voyage to the US where he proved too good for Christopher Diaz in their vacant world title tussle in July. Before any thoughts of a potential domestic dust up with Shimizu, Ito makes a mandatory defense against Evgeny Chuprakov on December 30 in Tokyo. The fight is being broadcast on Fuji TV, where the Ohashi Gym have aligned themselves so any stumbling block regarding who would show the contest between Shimizu and Ito shouldn’t be an issue.
From Ito’s point of view a win over a 2012 Olympic Bronze medallist would greatly enhance his profile at home and enhance his stock with a victory over someone as dangerous as Shimizu and then he could try and pursue unifications in the US. At 32 Shimizu really doesn’t have any more time to waste and cannot afford another year of bouts at the regional level where he’d be heavily favoured and as previously stated his options at 126 lb look slim and a contest against Ito would be the most realistic.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
A hectic weekend of fistic action turned out to be a fruitful one for Japan with a new world champion crowned, the consummation of a tasty looking all Japanese dustup and an anticipated super bantamweight clash that produced a world title contender.
We begin at the Civic Center in Kissimmee, Florida as Masayuki Ito took on Christopher Diaz for the vacant WBO super featherweight strap. Ito had started slow in some of his recent fights but the visitor was out of the gate quickly, landing with solid body shots and right hands. Diaz was often standing in mid-range without letting his hands go and was a sitting duck for the right hand and it was this punch that dropped him in round 4 and a knockout win for Ito looked a strong possibility.
To his credit the Puerto Rican not only rallied in the 4th but arguably had his best round in the 5th. Ito controlled the majority of the rest of the contest, repeatedly tagging Diaz with right hands, causing his left eye to shut. Whilst the home man never stopped trying there was no doubting the result at the final bell and Ito deservedly got the unanimous decision.
The narrative throughout the ESPN+ broadcast that Diaz was the more seasoned fighter was baffling considering that Diaz had never gone passed 8 rounds and had never fought anyone of any real quality whilst Ito had had a number of 10 and 12 round bouts with solid domestic and regional foes. This seasoning which is pretty much the norm in Japanese boxing certainly prepares them properly for the step up to world level and although certainly not every boxer from the land of the rising sun is victorious, very rarely are they embarrassed or blown out in a few rounds.
As for where Ito goes next then unless Top Rank were suitably impressed enough to sign him the most logical move appears to be a spot on one of the high profile cards at home until a big often comes in from abroad. The division at the moment is pretty thin in terms of depth but things can change very quickly below lightweight.
As part of a world title doubleheader in China, Sho Kimura successfully defended his WBO flyweight crown against Froilan Saludar. The challenger actually began pretty well, countering effectively over the first 2 rounds leaving the champion slightly confused. Kimura’s pressure then began to tell and the Filipino struggled under the weight of the body shots and it was a blow to the mid-section which saw proceedings come to an end in round 6.
Kimura now takes on former 105 and 108 lb champion Kosei Tanaka in Nagoya on September 24 in a fascinating matchup of boxer puncher versus all out pressure fighter. The rise of Kimura has been a remarkable one, from 10/1 underdog against Zou Shiming to now a world champion who’s made 2 successful defenses and is now in a far better financial position.
Tanaka looked impressive on his flyweight debut against Ronnie Baldonado in March but having been dropped more than once during his career and having suffered fairly serious injuries against Palangpol CP Freshmart it will be intriguing to see how he copes with the brute strength of Kimura. Tanaka’s huge edge in speed should be telling early on but things could get very interesting in the second half of the bout as Kimura’s non-stop pressure and size could come into play.
The less said about the other world title fight on the show the better as Knockout CP Freshmart and Xiong Zhao Zhong served up a dire 12 round shit fest that wasn’t befitting of some of the truly great fights at strawweight over the last decade. Knockout came away with the unanimous decision but a listless display with stretches of laziness that have been evident in recent bouts didn’t enhance his reputation at all. There was talk of an offer being made to Tatsuya Fukuhara but it now seems that mandatory challenger Byron Rojas will be next. The likes of Fukuhara, Tsubasa Koura and Masataka Taniguchi should be queuing up to take on the Thai who looks to be a champion ready to be taken.
Over at a jam packed Korakuen Hall Yusaku Kuga and Shingo Wake squared off for the Japanese super bantamweight title. The fight was built as a potential world title eliminator so there was a lot on the line for both men.
Wake proved to be too sharp and too skilful for Kuga who was dropped early on and never really got to grips with the sharpshooting southpaw. As the defending champion tried to turn the tide this only left more openings for Wake and eventually the towel came in during the 10th and final stanza. Kuga is definitely young enough to come again and as for Wake, he stated afterwards his desire for a world title tilt on New Year’s Eve.
With champions Ray Vargas and Daniel Roman having deals in the US these seem out of the question but if Ryosuke Iwasa comes through his mandatory defense against TJ Doheny in August then that maybe plausible. Also Isaac Dogboe who faces Hidenori Otake in August has shown a willingness to travel so maybe tempted by a trip to Japan.
As a huge advocate of more all Japanese bouts of significance at all levels it was great to see Kuga and Wake face each other as both could have gone in different directions and given the electric atmosphere that was created hopefully we see more of these type of clashes. At super bantamweight alone there’s the likes of Hinata Maruta of the Morioka Gym, Ryo Matsumoto from the Ohashi and Woz Boxing's Shohei Omori attempting to progress their careers. Speaking of Omori, the hard hitting southpaw returned with an excellent second round stoppage of Brian Lobetania which should give him a real confidence boost.
On the same card in Osaka, Masayoshi Nakatani made the 10th defense of his OPBF lightweight strap, eventually stopping Izuki Tomioka in 11 rounds and again a world title fight was mentioned but frankly seeing will be believing given how he has remained at regional level. Sho Ishida scored a 4th round knockout of Richard Claveras but in a crowded 115 lb weight class, opportunities at world level are few and far between. Finally Tatsuya Fukuhara won a 10 round decision over Naoya Haruguchi to keep himself in the minimumweight mix and is capable of giving anyone in the division a hard nights work.
(Image courtesy of Sumio Yamada)
By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
On a busy week for Asian fighters with a world title doubleheader from China and a fabulous all Japanese super bantamweight dustup at the Korakuen Hall, Masayuki Ito has the chance to become a world champion when he takes on Christopher Diaz at the Kissimmee Civic Center this Saturday for the vacant WBO super featherweight strap.
Having been in and around the top few spots in the WBO for a while now, Ito finally gets his shot against the undefeated Puerto Rican and the man from Japan has already travelled out to America earlier this month to acclimatise to conditions. Ito has also taken part in training camps in the US so the environment won’t be totally alien to him.
Having turned pro in May 2009 with the little known Banryu Boxing Gym, Ito was held to a 4 round split draw by Tsuyoshi Tameda in September 2011. After defeating Masaru Sueyoshi in July 2012 Ito went on to claim the all Japan Rookie of the year crown at featherweight, overcoming the unbeaten hard hitting Kosuke Saka in the final 5 months later.
A point’s win over Taiki Minamoto followed and given that Minamoto, Saka and Sueyoshi have gone on to win the national title and Tameda is close to a title bout and is part of the thriving Ohashi gym, these wins for Ito look even better in hindsight. An 8 round decision victory over the dangerous big punching Masao Nakamura in July 2014 further cemented Ito’s position as a future potential domestic champion.
Eventually his crack at the Japanese 130 lb crown came against unbeaten Rikki Naito in February 2015. There was barely anything to separate the pair over the 10 rounds but it was Naito who got the majority verdict to hand Ito his first career loss. 6 months later Ito returned and showed no ill effects from the Naito defeat as he confidently out boxed and then stopped Dai Iwai in 10 rounds for the vacant OPBF title. An assured performance saw him score a wide 12 round unanimous decision against Shingo Eto in December 2015.
An 11th round knockout of Ernie Sanchez came in July 2016 before Ito added the WBO Asia Pacific belt to his collection with a dominant points triumph over the rugged Takuya Watanabe on the last day of 2016. In his only defense of the WBO regional bauble Lorenzo Villanueva was stopped in 9 rounds in April 2017 and Glenn Enterina and Vergil Puton were seen off inside the distance in non-title contests.
Inside the ring Ito as a smart boxer with excellent movement and foot work. He relies on a solid jab to set up his attacks and whilst certainly not being a concussive hitter he’s a sharp puncher with the right hand being his main offensive weapon. He can be a slow starter which may cost him against the aggressive Diaz who will surely come out all guns blazing to try and make a statement.
At 27 Ito is probably nearing his prime and given his experience against solid domestic and regional operators he should be very confident of coming away with the belt even on away soil. Diaz has showed promise in recent fights but is untested at this level so we don’t know how good the 23-year-old is just yet. If Ito can get the win then the chance of appearing on big bills at home would become a distinct possibility and also future opportunities in the US could also come into play.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
By Marcus Bellinger
After a dry spell the last week or so has been a hectic one in Japanese boxing with significant bouts both at domestic and world level.
The only place to start is at the Kokugikan in Tokyo where Luis Nery rematched Shinsuke Yamanaka for the WBC bantamweight title on 1 March. There was already a cloud of suspicion hanging over Nery after he tested positive for Zilpaterol after dethroning Yamanaka last August.
Things then took a huge twist as Nery came in 5 pounds overweight on his first attempt and was only able to shed around 2 pounds a couple of hours later and was stripped of his belt without even making a defense. Coming in a few ounces or even a pound overweight is a real annoyance and has become a far too often occurrence nowadays but coming in a pound over the next weight division is simply unforgivable.
Despite the events from the previous day the fight went ahead with only Yamanaka eligible to win the now vacant belt. Whilst the home man was given a rapturous reception on the way to the ring, Nery was roundly booed which is highly unusual as visiting fighters are always given respect from the fans in the land of the rising sun.
Yamanaka actually began well, landing with the jab and some body shots but Nery soon took the play away from him and scored a knockdown in the opening round. Realising he was there for the taking Nery overwhelmed Yamanaka, scoring 3 more knockdowns in the second round before the contest came to a conclusion in what was actually pretty painful viewing given the circumstances that had occurred.
Yamanaka announced his retirement soon afterwards and the Teiken southpaw can leave with his head held high and will definitely go down as one of Japans greatest world champions. The 35-year-old was a huge draw, pulling in TV audiences of 7 and 8 million more than once and he made 12 successful defences of the WBC 118 lb strap scoring wins over the likes of Vic Darchinyan, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, Malcolm Tunacao and Liborio Solis. Although unification alluded him his defining victory came in one of the best bantamweight title bouts seen in recent times against Anselmo Moreno in their thrilling up and down rematch in September 2016.
As for Nery despite the 2 wins over Yamanaka he leaves Japan with his reputation in tatters and he has since subsequently been put on the Japan Boxing Commissions banned list and been suspended indefinitely by the WBC. Going forward it will be extremely difficult to route for the Mexican and Cliff Rold summed it up perfectly in his Boxing Scene column late last week, “Yamanaka deserved better”.
The other world title contest on the show saw Ryosuke Iwasa score a wide unanimous decision against Ernesto Saulong in his first defense of the IBF super bantamweight trinket. The fight was a forgettable one and Iwasa failed to build on the momentum of his terrific 6th round stoppage of Yukinori Oguni last September. Next up for the Japanese southpaw is a mandatory defense against TJ Doheny who should provide a more willing opponent and make for a far more entertaining encounter.
The last day of February saw Ohashi protégé Ryo Matsumoto step up for his first world title tilt when he faced super bantamweight titlist Daniel Roman at the Korakuen Hall. The fans in attendance were treated to 12 rounds of absorbing action as the pair went back and forth throughout. At the final bell it was Romans hand who was raise with cards of 119-109 twice and 118-108 although these didn’t tell the full story of what was a competitive scrap where with many close rounds.
Matsumoto in spots had real success but the champion’s methodical and more consistent pressure saw him get the nod and going forward the American will be a tough out for any super bantamweight especially if you aren’t able to dissuade him from coming forward. Matsumoto can certainly come again and after avenging his only previous loss to Victor Uriel Lopez then having an operation for hyperthyroidism this experience for the 24-year-old will be invaluable and bouts against the many countrymen at the domestic and regional level would be the wise next step.
On 3 March at the Korakuen Hall Masayuki Ito was aiming to maintain his world title dreams and avoid any banana skins when he squared off against Vergil Puton. The super featherweight controlled proceedings throughout, eventually securing a 9th round stoppage and with Vasyl Lomachenko almost certain to vacate Ito's number 1 spot with the WBO should secure him a shot at the vacant belt.
Since losing a razor thin split decision to Rikki Naito back in February 2015 the 27-year-old has strung together 7 straight wins capturing the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific trinkets in the process. He has more than served his apprenticeship at the domestic and regional level with victories over the likes of Shingo Eto, Ernie Sanchez, Takuya Watanabe and Lorenzo Villanueva and he is as ready as he’ll ever be for a world title crack.
On the same day over in Kanagawa Masayuki Kuroda defended his Japanese flyweight crown against mandatory challenger Katsunori Nagamine. This was expected to be one not to miss and it proved to be the case with Kuroda keeping Nagamine at bay early on with a busy jab before the challengers incessant pressure began to tell as he put the champion on the floor in round 8. Kuroda managed to survive the storm and took the decision with judge’s tallies of 96-93, 96-94 and 95-94.
Given his high ranking a world title shot is a solid possibility for Kuroda in the near future. Nagamine has gained a reputation as a real crowd pleasing operator and despite the loss this should remain intact and he can be in many more enjoyable fights going forward. On the same bill Kazuto Takesako blitzed Hikaru Nishida inside a round to claim domestic honours at middleweight, extending his record to 8-0 8 KOs and could be one worth keeping an eye on.
Finally on 26 February back at the Korakuen Hall in what looked a tasty matchup on paper for the Japanese Youth lightweight title unfortunately didn’t live up to those expectations as Izuki Tomioka fought to a second round technical decision versus Kaiki Yuba. It has since been revealed that Tomioka will be moving down to 130 pounds in search of a shot at the national super featherweight title.
To read more from Marcus follow him on twitter @marcusknockout
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
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