With Coronavirus still running rampant and putting boxing on hold we've made the decision to continue doing our "Introducing..." series, looking forward towards fighters we will, hopefully, see fighting later this year. With that in mind we're hoping to look forward, beyond the current issues that are almost putting the world on pause, and try to shine a light on fighters who will be ones to watch when sport resumes. With that in mind let us introduce Ryutaro Nakagaki!
The 20 year old Nakagaki recently signed with the Ohashi gym, with whom he will be debuting later in the years if things in Japan improve. Prior to signing with the Ohashi gym and deciding to go professional he had been a stellar amateur, running up an excellent 82-15 (19) record.
Of course it's not just his amateur record that makes Nakagaki a notable hopeful but his actual amateur achievements. He was a multi-time domestic champion, winning the Japanese National Sport Festival, at the under 18 level, in 2016 and 2017, and the 2017 2017 Japanese Interschool Athletic Meeting. He was also successful on the international stage, winning the 2015 Asian Junior Championships, the 2017 Asian Youth Championship and the 2017 Beket Makhmutov Youth Tournament. He also reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World University Championships. In total we've been told that he won 8 notable tournaments whilst making a legitimate name for himself as an amateur to make a genuine note of.
Unlike many young Japanese amateurs there is actually a lot of footage of Nakagaki out there. From this footage, uploaded by the brilliant sakana 1976, we can see that Nakagaki is a brilliantly talented smooth boxing southpaw. The youngster looks to control range, box off a very sharp lead right hand and controls distance will with a combination of his footwork and jab. He's an extremely talented youngster, who is well on the way to becoming a brilliant technical boxer.
Back in February Nakagaki announce he would be turning professional, holding a press conference at the Ohashi gym. The plan had been for him to take part in his pro-test at the Korakuen Hall as part of an Ohashi show, along with Keisuke Matsumoto, but unfortunately coronavirus put a stop to that and instead Nakagaki had to take part in his pro-test behind closed doors at Korakuen Hall, passing his B test license.
As we write this the plan is still for Nakagaki to debut on May 28th, at Korakuen Hall as part of an Ohashi show, and he is hoping to be raced through the ranks in a manner similar to stablemate Naoya Inoue. The hope is for him to be a world champion within 2 years of his debut, showing his ambition to race away and make the most of his talent.
Heading into his debut the one doubt for Nakagaki is his power. We know he's skilled, quick and has a smart boxing brain, but if he can add power now he's fighting as a professional, the future will be incredibly bright for the youngster.
With Akira Yaegashi (28-7, 16) now expected to hang up his gloves in the 2020 it's clear we're going to miss the all action warrior. Rather than getting sad over the man we'll miss we have decided to instead look back over his career to look at 5 of his most notable wins, celebrating the fighter we have all enjoyed over the years.
Yaegashi, arguably more than any other Japanese fighter, became a cult icon in the west despite piling up losses and the reason for that was his style, his heart, his desire and his ability to always make things exciting for fans. Despite only fighting 35 professional bouts he managed to deliver more thrills, spills and action than almost any other fighter from the east. He deserved his cult following, and having fans around the globe hunting down streams of his fights, and he repaid every one of those fans.
One thing to note before we get any further, is that whilst aren't necessarily his best wins, but his most notable, and the ones that stand out for their significance. They are also put in time order, not order of significance.
1- Weerasak Chuwatana (April 3rd 2006)
Yaegashi's 2006 win over the little known Weerasak Chuwatana is a bit of a forgotten win but is one of the most significant. At the time it was Yaegashi not only claim his first title, the OPBF Minimumweight title, but tying the record of Tadashi Mihara and Eiji Kojima in winning an OPBF title in just his 5th bout. Whilst that record has now been broken it was still a genuine accomplishment for Yaegashi.
2- Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (March 17th 2009)
The significance of a win is hard to determine. A title win is obvious worth a lot of attention, so to is a title defense, but is beating a debutant? Maybe not, but when we look back over Yaegashi's career him having a win over the debuting Srisaket Sor Rungvisai is a win that will go down as a win with a lot of meaning. Given what Srisaket has done, becoming a 2-time WBC Super Flyweight champion, this is a really outstanding win when we look back over Yaegashi's career. At the time it didn't mean much, but on reflection this is, for us, a bigger win that his Japanese title win over Kenichi Horikawa, just 3 months later.
3-Pornsawan Porpramook (October 24th 2011)
Yaegashi's 2011 win over Pornsawan was the win that really put him on the map, in so many ways. The win saw him claim the WBA Minimumweight title but also take part in a legitimate Fight of the Year, brawling with the Thai is a sensational back and forth war that every fan should have seen by now. Yaegashi eventually broke down the Thai tank, but had to go through hell to do. Whilst the title win was a real achievement the fact the fight was regarded by many international sites and publications as a FOTY candidate helped get Yaegashi some fan attention in the west among tape traders and online fans. This bout did so much more to launch Yaegashi to cult hero than pretty much any of his other bouts. This also set up Yaegashi's historic bout with Kazuto Ioka.
4-Toshiyuki Igarashi (April 8th 2013)
Yaegashi became a 2-weight champion in 2013 when he defeated WBC Flyweight champion Toshiyuki Igarashi. This bout not only saw Yaegashi claiming a second weight title but also avenging a number of amateur defeats to Igarashi in what was very much a rough and ugly bout. This isn't pretty, this isn't tidy, but it was engaging, bloody and once again saw Yaegashi trying to make a war of things in what was a rare ugly Yaegashi fight. Despite how ugly it was, as many Igarashi fights were, this was still action packed in a rare "fun but ugly" contest. The bout also lead to Yaegashi's memorable bout with Roman Gonzalez.
5-Javier Mendoza (December 29th 2015)
Whilst December 29th 2015 saw the long awaited return of Naoya Inoue, who had spent almost a year out of the ring after damaging his hand against Omar Andres Narvaez, it also saw Yaegashi getting one of his most important and impressive wins. The stalwart managed to over-come heavy handed Mexican Javier Mendoza to claim the IBF Light Flyweight title, becoming a 3-weight world champion in the process. On paper this was a really tough bout for Yaegashi, who had been stopped twice in 2014 and had only picked up two very low key wins following a defeat to Pedro Guevara in December 2014. What he did against Mendoza however was sensational, using his speed and skills to easily defeat the Mexican, who was lucky to see out the final rounds. The win was genuinely one of the most rounded performances from Yaegashi, and showed he still had it, despite being the wrong side of 30.
Despite Coronavirus essentially cancelling the sport of boxing right now, globally, we have to face facts and admit the sport will be back. We don't know when but it will be back. With that in mind it makes sense for us to take this downtime to continue our "Introducing" series. Obviously the articles won't be talking about someone ahead of an upcoming bout, but upcoming bouts were always secondary for the "Introducing" behind what were essentially a chance to shine a torch on a fighter that deserved some attention.
So, with that out of the way, lets return to the "Introducing" series with someone we've been looking forward to writing about for years. Like legitimately years. That is Keisuke Matsumoto, a second generation hopeful who will be hoping to make his professional debut in 2020, if the coronavirus pandemic can be gotten under-control and if boxing can resume in Japan this year.
When we mentioned that we've been wanting to write about Matsumoto for years we really are serious. Our very first mentioned of him was way back in August 2014, when the then 14 year old Matsumoto was making headlines in Japan for winning 5 consecutive Under 15 titles. Whilst the under 15 titles doesn't guarantee success the fact he was essentially dominating the field at such a young age was getting the Japanese media excited about his potential for the 2020 Olympics.
Not only was Matsumoto showing great talented at a very, very, young age, but he was also a second generation fighter. He was following in the footsteps of his father Koji Matsumoto, himself a former 2-time world title challenger, who was making a name for himself as a trainer at the Ohashi gym. It was the Ohashi gym that had essentially been a second home for the younger Matsumoto who was able to rub shoulders with world class fighter like of Naoya Inoue and Akira Yaegahsi, who he could consider training buddies and gym mates.
As the years went on, from 2014, the younger Matsumoto would continue his amateur career, running up an impressive 80-15 (30) record in the unpaid ranks. He couldn't quite replicate the dominant success he had had in the under 15's but the tall and lanky frame of the youngster still found success, both nationally and internationally. We won't go through all his amateur achievements but just a few notables. He reached the semi-finals of the 2015 Asian Junior Championships, won the 2016 Japanese High School National Championships, a tournament that also saw Ginjiro Shigeoka picking up a winners medal, lost in the final of the 2018 Japanese National Championships and won the Taipei City Cup, also in 2018.
Sadly for Matsumoto he found himself a nemesis in the amateur ranks, the exceptionally talented Hayato Tsutsumi. Had it not been for Tsutsumi it's fair to say that Matsumoto would have taken more senior honours in the amateur ranks. Sadly though Tsutsumi was around and Matsumoto failed to secure a place in the Japanese set up for the Asia Oceania qualfiers for the 2020 Olympics. As a result he had a hard choice to make and decided that, instead of waiting for the 2024 Olympics, he would turn professional.
Matsumoto announced his decision to turn professional at the start of 2020 over social media, before taking part in a press conference in February to announce he had signed with the Ohashi gym and would be taking part in his pro-test in March before debuting in May. Sadly his original pro-test plans went awry due to coronavirus, though he still managed to pass his test in a very different environment, taking the test at the Ohashi Gym rather than Korakuen Hall as planned.
As we write this Matsumoto is still technically pencilled in for a May debut, though the reality is that his debut will likely be pushed back and it could be much, much later in the year before we see the wonderfully talented youngster kick off his professional career.
We return for an "Revisiting" this week, and this time around we look at Hiroshi Kawashima protege Ryusei Kawaura (7-0, 4) who we covered on the February 18th 2019 version of "Introducing..."
When we looked at Kawaura last year he was 5-0 (4), and had come in to 2019 on the back of good wins over Marjun Pantilgan and Yuki Yoshimura back in 2018. He hadn't blown the world away but there was growing excitement over him, and his potential to follow in Kawashima's footsteps was seen as really exciting. He was being dubbed "Kawashima II" , and like his mentor was becoming a smart fighter with very good defensive IQ.
His first bout of 2019 saw fighting around 3 months after we looked at him, and he easily out pointed the experienced Renoel Pael over 8 rounds in May. In fact not only did Kawaura out point Pael but he dropped him in a near shut out of the Filipino. Pael had no answer for the speed, movement and boxing brain of the Japanese hopeful, though did manage to ask some questions of Kawaura. There was a a few moments in round 3 where Pael seemed to land clean, and later on in the bout Pael brought some pressure. That pressure was good for Kawaura's development and certainly did no harm for the talented youngster, who had to use his brain to make Pael miss.
The win over Pael shot Kawaura up the WBO Asia Pacific rankings. He entered that bout with a #14 ranking and by his next fight he was #6.
The next bout, his most recent to date, saw Kawaura take on Joy Joy Formentera 6 months after Kawaura had beaten Pael. It was a real shame that Kawaura was out of the ring for half a year, and for a fourth straight year he fought in November.
Despite the lay off Kawaura managed to clearly beat Formentera over 8 rounds. This was a real tactical all southpaw bout, and saw Kawaura go up against a talented and high skilled fighter. The Japanese fighter always looked in charge, based on his ring craft and IQ, but was against someone who asked boxing questions, and actually left Kawaura bloodied from the nose. This was the perfect type of test for the talented fighter who needed someone to challenge him as a boxer, rather than try to attack him as a fighter.
Kawaura was the clear winner against Formentera but for a second fight in a row he had to prove what he could do, against a fighter with a similar, but less polished, style to his own.
At the moment it's unclear when Kawaura will kick off his 2020, but if he only fights twice again this year it would be a travesty for his career unless he manages to secure a title fight of some kinda, then at least he would have a launchpad to be busier in 2021. He's still young at the age of 25, but he turns 26 at the end of March and will really need to kick on soon. He was 22 when he made his debut, and can no longer go on with this 2 fight a year schedule if he's to come close to reaching the level that his mentor did.
One thing we expected was that Kawaura would have had a televised or streamed bout in 2019. That still hasn't happened but really needs to happen in 2020. We understand Kawashima and Kawaura wanting to control their own destiny but for him to be hidden away from fans who aren't in the venue for his bouts is a major issue in building his profile and name. Fingers crossed that will change this year, and he will have a televised bout before the end of 2020!
The next few weeks are busy ones for Japanese boxing a lot of notable bouts taking place in not much time. These include a number for rising prospects, with one of the most promising being today's subject of our "Introducing..." series, Suzumi Takayama (3-0, 3).
The talented Takayama made his professional debut in February 2019, but before then he had been a very solid amateur on the Japanese domestic scene.
In the unpaid ranks Takayama had gone 35-16 (10) after beginning boxing at High School. He was inspired to box by his uncle, former 2-time world challenger Yuji Watanabe who was a notable fighter in the 1990's right through to 2000. Although his uncle failed to win a world title he had been the Japanese Super Featherweight and OPBF Lightweight champion, and was a very clear inspiration to his talented nephew.
On debut Takayama was scheduled for 6 rounds against Thai visitor Nirun Baonok, aka Rungniran Korat Sport School. The Thai had previously fought a number of times in Japan, going 4 rounds with Teiru Kinoshita, 3 rounds with Kenji Oba and the 8 round schedule with Takashi Kunishige. Takayama took out the visitor in 3 rounds on the under-card of Vic Saludar's world title defense against Masataka Taniguchi.
Despite winning his debut Takayama's performance was overshadowed by that of two other Watanabe Gym prospects. Ginjiro Shigeoka, who stopped Gerttipong Kumsahwat inside a round, and Shut Utsuki, who stopped Jerry Castroverde in the 8th round.
Takayama would return to the ring 4 months later, when he took on Korean foe In Soo Jang as part of a Japan Vs Korea card at Korakuen Hall. On paper this was a tough test for Takayama, but he made it look easy. He wobbled Jang several times in the opening minute or so, before dropping him with a hard left hand. The bout continued after the first knockdown, but not for long, with the referee stepping in when Jang was rocked only a few moments later.
It was another 4 months before Takayama would return to the ring again, where he took on 2018 Super Flyweight Rookie of the Year Tetsuro Ohashi in a bout for the Japanese Youth Super Flyweight title. Before the bout Takayama stated that he felt this was his real debut, it was the first time he had faced a Japanese fighter and his first 8 round. On paper this was a brilliant match up, and it lived up to expectations.
In the first round Takayama dropped Ohashi, with a short left hand. In round 2 Takayama found himself on the canvas from a sensation straight left hand from Ohashi. The bout was a real high skilled, war, with both men knowing they hard the power to put the other down. In the end however it was Takayama's power that proved vital, stopping Ohashi in the 8th round, whilst narrowly down on all 3 cards. Takayama would drop Ohashi twice in the 8th round, with the corner throwing in the towel, and realising their man, who had put in an amazing effort, was simply done.
Having claimed the youth title in just his third bout Takayama is expected to be fast tracked over the next year or two. He was scheduled to return to the ring on March 17th, when he was expected to face Sophon Klachun, however that bout is now in limbo following the JBC's announcement that boxing would be suspended during the month of March. On paper it's a step backwards, following the win over Ohashi, but a stay busy fight followed by a step up in summer and then moving towards senior titles in 2021 wouldn't be a bad plan at all for Takayama, who isn't ready for top domestic guys, but can move his way there over the next year, or year and a bit.
Sadly for fans who haven't seen him, the only quality footage of him is on Boxing Raise, who have his second and third professional bouts on their service.
One of the great things about this "Who are you?" Series, at least for us writing them, is that there really isn't a limit on who we can cover, and whether we think they can win or lose their upcoming. The reality is that this is a chance to just shine a light on someone who isn't a prospect, look at their career, their style, their records and their achievements, without really being limited by how big of a name they are, or that they will become.
This week we look at someone who is a great example of hard work, dedication, and crafting a style that works for him. He's never going to be a world champion, but will always be a really good gate keeper, and someone who can test anyone over 12 rounds. Today we look at Lito Dante (17-11-4, 9), the man with one of the most misleading records in the entire sport.
The 20 year old Lito Dante is pretty much a 10 year veteran as we write this, and with 32 on his ledger he's a genuine young veteran. On paper he may look like a typical journeyman. A "win some, lose some" type of fighter, but the reality is he is so much more than that. He is a world level journeyman, he is one of the most rugged and mentally challenging fighters in the sport. He's technically not the best, but everyone will have problems with his toughness and tenacity.
Lets rewind! Dante made his professional debut in 2010 as a 20 year old. He would go unbeaten in his first 6 bouts, running up a 3-0-3 record before back to back losses to Louie Arlos and Raymond Tabugon in 2012 saw him fall to 3-2-3 after 8 bouts. Although Dante stopped the rot, with a TKO win over Gilbert Magos, he struggled to build momentum due to another loss, this time to Michael Enriquez.
After his unbeaten 6 fight start Dante had quickly dropped to 4-3-3 (1) and seemed unlikely to make any sort of a mark on the sport. Even when he managed to build some moment, though 2013, with a trio of wins the momentum was killed the following year, with a loss to Richard Barrios.
The loss to Barrios was followed by 11 months out of the ring for Dante, who returned to stop Dexter Dimaculangan and then beat Oliver Gregorio just weeks later, taking his first 10 round decision win. Once again just as he started to build momentum he would suffer another loss, losing in South Africa to Siyabonga Siyo, in what was not only Dante's first 12 round fight but also his first bout outside of the Phlippines.
The loss to Siyo saw Dante fall to 9-5-3 (5), and it was the fourth time he had lost a decision to an unbeaten fighter. Despite the loss Dante's hunger didn't fade, and 4 months later he won the LuzProBA Minimumweight title by taking a decision over Lester Abutan. That was Dante's first title win and the perfect way for him to end 2015.
To kick off a very busy 2016, in which Dante fought 5 times, he stopped Junel Lacar in 4 rounds before facing future world champion Vic Saludar for the WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight title. Dante came up short to Saludar, who was fighting for the first time since losing to Kosei Tanaka in a WBO world title fight, but became the first fighter to survive 10 rounds with Saludar, something he would beat in 2017. In his third bout of 2016 Dante travelled to Japan and gave the then touted Takumi Sake fits, before the bout was curtailed in round 4, resulting in a technical draw. Just weeks later Dante would be in the ring and would stop Jaysever Abcede, becoming the first fighter to stop the gutsy "Lion Hearted". The year would however end with another loss, as Dante lost a close technical decision to Jesse Espinas.
In 2017 we not only had Dante go 10 rounds with Vic Saludar again, something he did in December, but also notch one of his better wins, defeating Jay Loto over 12 rounds for the WBC International title. Sadly though he couldn't build on the win over Loto as that was followed, just 3 months later, by a loss in South Africa to Simpiwe Konkco, in an IBO world title fight.
Dante came into 2018 on the back of his second loss to Vic Saludar and didn't have the start to the year he would have wanted, losing a technical decision to Tibo Monabesa, when Monabesa was cut from a clash of head. Despite the back to back losses Dante would go on to beat Naoya Haruguchi in Japan, taking his first win on international soil in his fifth bout outside of the Philippines.
Following on from the win over Haruguchi we would see Dante return to Japan and score his biggest to date on March 31st 2019. He had travelled over to Yokohama to take on OPBF Minimumweight champion Tsubasa Koura. Koura, then 14-0, was expected to move on to a world title fight later in the year but Dante ripped up the script completely and pressed Koura, out boxing him, out fighting him, and then, mid way through round 12, stopped him. Dante had not only gone over to Japan, but had battered their rising star to claim the Oriental title, and put himself in the world rankings.
More than 8 months after his massive win over Koura we saw Dante return to Japan, looking to make it a hat-trick of wins in the country, but lose a clear 6 round decision to talented youngster Yudai Shigeoka. The highly skilled Shigeoka, fighting for the second time as a professional, used his speed and movement to out box, out think, out speed and out skill Dante, and made the most of the shorter distance of the bout. It was a brilliant bit of match making from Shigeoka's team, who knew that the win over the OPBF champion would massively enhance his standing, but also be a good test.
To begin 2020 Dante took on Indonesian Sulis Barrera, and battered Barrera into submission in 2 rounds, dropping him from a barrage of body shots.
Next for the Filipino, we suspect, is a return to Japan to take on Masataka Taniguchi. The bout will not only be Dante's first defense of the OPBF title he won last year, but also be for the vacant Japanese Minimumweight title, giving the bout really big stakes. The bout was announced for the middle of March, but is expected to be postponed until the JBC lift's their suspension on professional boxing activity in Japan.
In the ring Dante isn't the best, he's not the most skilled, he's not the biggest puncher, or the quickest, or the most accurate. What he is, however, is a nightmare. He's really physically strong, scarily so for a Minimumweight, he's insanely tough, and he's mentally durable. If he doesn't have early success that's not a major problem to him, he just keeps coming. He's defensively smart, though knows he can get away with errors due to his toughness, offensively smart, delivers wicked body shots and is a physical monster. To beat him you need to either have excellent speed or stamina, or hope your fighting over a short distance.
Dante's fights can be ugly, real ugly, and he has 3 technical decisions on his record but ugly or not he will always be a handful, for anyone.
The Minimumweight scene might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's an interesting division right now, especially for young prospects looking to make their make their mark on the sport. We have of super prospects, with the Shigeoka brothers and Hasanboy Dusmatov, but we also have a host of other rising youngsters all looking to make their mark in the coming years. One of those is 21 year old Takumi Chono (5-1, 3), who reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2019, and is now looking to bounce back from a loss to the fantastic Katsuki Mori.
Despite the loss to Mori we'd certainly advise fans to keep an eye on the potential of Chono, who looks like a real prospect, despite an early loss. And he is very much worthy of being this week's focus of our "Introducing..." series.
Chono is based in Nagoya, one of the smaller Japanese boxing markets but one that is certainly alive, thanks to the rise of Kosei Tanaka and the exciting Kento Hatanaka. Sadly for Chono he's not actually affiliated with the established Hatanaka Gym, but instead the much, much smaller Chunichi Gym, a tiny little gym that really doesn't have many fighters of note. In fact the most notable fighter there is probably the hard hitting Mammoth Kazunori and Chono is probably the #2 fighter there.
Despite fighting for a relatively unknown gym, in one of Japan's smaller markets, Chono has already ticked off quite a few boxes since making his debut in April 2018. He has fought on TV, he has fought abroad, and he has taken the unbeaten records of some opponents.
As mentioned Chono made his debut in April 2018, aged 19, and stopped fellow debutant Katsumi Ichimasu inside a round. Interestingly this all debutant bout is available to watch by Boxing Raise subscribers, who will quickly see that Chono looked like a crude puncher at this early stage in his career. He started the bout rather hyper-actively, but when he began to settle it was clear he could punch, shaking Ichimasu several times before dropping his opponent, and then knocking him clean out. Despite the aggression and power, there was clearly a lot of work to do, especially defensively.
In just his second bout Chono fought on foreign soil for the first time, travelling over to Vietnam where he took a 4 round decision over local hopeful Van Thanh Nguyen. Although he was taken the distance the experience of fighting 4 rounds on foreign soil would have helped his develop and prepared for future road trips, potentially in places like Korea, Thailand and the Philippines, where he may end up fighting in the coming years.
Having debuted, and fought on foreign soil, in 2018 it was really 2019 that Chono began to make a name for himself. He began the year by blasting out Kiyoshi Nakamura inside a round, in March, then stopped Ryusei Ohata in 2 rounds, to win the Rookie of the Year for Central Japan. Those wins moved him to one step closer to the All Japan Rookie of the Year final.
On November 10th Chono took on Sho Hatsuda, with the winner moving on to the All Japan final. Come in both men were unbeaten, Chono was 4-0 (3) and Hatsuda was 2-0. This was the first time we'd been able to see Chono since his debut bout, and it was clear that he had improve, significantly. He was still a powerful and aggressively minded fighter, but he had tightened up his defense significantly, squared up less and controlled his aggression more. He still more open and crude than he'd like to be, but there had been clear improvements from his debut.
Chono narrowly over-came Hatsuda and moved on to the All Japan final where he faced off against the fantastic Katsuki Mori. Sadly for Chono he found himself against a much more skilled and sharper boxer, with Mori clearly winning, and punishing Chono for his mistakes. Despite being out boxed and out fought Chono's will to win never wilted and he tried to win through the entire 5 rounder, against someone we suspect will go all the way.
Having lost to Mori it's fair to say that Chono has got to bounce back in 2020, but given what we've seen of the youngster we're confident he will rebuild from the loss, learn lessons and comeback stronger. He's proven he has desire, he can take a shot, his will to win can't be questioned and he has power. Those are things that can't be taught. Where the work needs to go in is teaching him technical skills, and if his team can do that they could well have a future national champion on their hands.
The 21 year old Chono was scheduled to return on March 15th when he was pencilled in for his first 6 rounder. He was expected to face off against the light punching Takefumi Higashi (5-8, 1), however the bout has been postponed due to the JBC's recent announcement regarding professional boxing in March, to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. If the bout takes place, in the future, we expect Chono to win that, and hopefully continue to show gradual improvements. He has a lot of areas to work on, and we'd like to see see him getting better bout by bout. We don't think he'll ever be as good as Mori, but as an exciting and heavy handed Minimumweight we should giving Chono attention as he continues to develop his career.
Way back on February 11th 2019 we covered Masahiro Suzuki in our "Introducing..." series. At the time Suzuki was 1-0 (1) and had really blown us away with his showing against the dangerous Antonio Siesmundo, who had been stopped in the 6th round of a really good fight. At that point we had gotten really excited about the potential of Suzuki. Not a little over a year on, we're taking another look at Suzuki as we drag him into our new series "Revisting...".
Suzuki's debut really did make us feel like we were watching a special talent. He had taken time to get used to the dangers Siesmundo had, figured out how to beat the hard hitting Filipino and then broken him down in a performance that showed he could think, he could box and he could punch. It was about as impressive a debut as we saw in Japan in 2018 and got us really excited about his potential. Sadly though the jets have cooled despite a successful 2019 from the World Sports Boxing Gym hopeful
Just weeks after we looked at Suzuki last year he returned to the ring to take his second professional win, beating Kelvin Tenorio over 6 rounds. Although Tenorio had been stopped in 2 of his 4 previous losses this was actually a solid test for Suzuki who had a chance to show what he could do and like his debut this bout was shown on TV, albeit on tape delay. Tenorio asked different questions to Siesmundo and we saw a Suzuki having to force the issue, whilst remaining cautious of the wild shots that Tenorio threw in his direction. Although not a flawless performance it was a good win, especially for his second bout.
Suzuki's third bout, a scheduled 8 rounder against the dangerous Kosuke Arioka, was sadly not made available to watch, at all, though saw Suzuki stopping Arioka in the 2nd round. Arioka, who hadn't been beaten in 2 years, was dropped early but came roaring back. Suzuki was shaken in round 2 before dropping Arioka for the second time. This time Arioka failed to beat the count, and Suzuki claimed his biggest win to date. Although not well known Arioka had actually been ranked #6 by the JBC at Lightweight entering this bout, and the win put Suzuki into the Japanese rankings.
Although Suzuki's third bout wasn't viewable, except by being in the venue, his fourth bout was actually shown on Boxing Raise as part of the Hajime No Ippo 30th anniversary tournament quarter-final show. This bout saw Suzuki take on the unheralded Hokuto Matsumoto, who had been stopped 5 months earlier by Kenta Endo and was, on paper, not a tough a match up as Arioka or Siesmundo.
Despite not being given much of a chance Matsumoto was in the ring with Suzuki to spoil the party and derail the rise of Suzuki. From the opening moments it was clear that Matsumoto's quick, sharp jab was going to be a frustrating challenge for Suzuki. There wasn't much power on the shot, but it was razor sharp and kept being thrust into the face of Suzuki. Suzuki pressed, and had success with heavier shots, but the consistency of Matsumoto's jab proved to be a real frustration maker. As the bout went on Suzuki began to ramp up his aggression, and was clearly leaving Matsumoto with a swollen jaw. In round 5 a headclash cut a Suzuki around the left eye, and although the bout went on for a bit we went to the scorecards due to the cut, which was a nasty one. In the end the scorecards narrowly favoured Suzuki, who took a split decision, to claim his 4th pro win.
Despite being really impressed by Suzuki on debut we were a bit disappointed by his 2019, and the bout with Matsumoto particularly. He's clearly a talent but there is more work for him to do than we originally expected. There's power and skills there, but he needs time to develop and this year is likely to be similar to last year. In a decent world a rematch with Matsumoto would perhaps be the right thing to do, though there are a lot of other options out there on the domestic scene for him to develop against.
We would expect Suzuki and his team to be looking at 3 fights this year, against gradually better opponent, but it could be a while before the youngster is ready for a domestic title fight. When we covered him in "introducing..." we expected to see him in the title mix for sure this year, but we no suspect he could be up to 2 years away from those types of fights.
The Japanese domestic title scene is an interesting one, with a mix of fighters ranging from emerging hopefuls like Shuichiro Yoshino and Koki Inoue to a former world title challenger, such as in the case of Keita Obara. Others are less well known, and some are very unlikely to ever make their name on the international stage. One such fighter is today's subject of our "Who are you?" series.
The Japanese Light Middleweight champion Hironobu Matsunaga (16-1, 10), who defends his title this coming weekend, is not someone we expect many fans to know much about, but in fairness he is someone who deserves a lot more attention than he gets. During his 17 fight career he has proven to be fun to watch, aggressive, strong, powerful and a tough guy to beat. Sadly though he's now 32 and unlikely to reach a higher level, however we are going to enjoy every fight he has going forward.
Matsunaga debuted in July 2012 as a Welterweight fighting out of the Yokohama Hikari gym, the gym he has remained with right through his career. On debut he took an opening round win over Takumi Matsuda on a Dangan card. It would be almost 5 months until he returned to the ring and scored his second win, taking out Mamoru Takeuchi in 3 rounds.
Sadly Matsunaga's career during these early bouts was frustrating, and full of lengthy gaps. His third bout came 7 months after his second, and saw him defeat future Japanese Welterweight challenger Makoto Kawasaki. Then he was out for a year.
Thankfully in June 2014, when Matsunaga returned, he was put in the Rookie of the Year, and was able to be active, with 4 bouts in 6 months, the type of activity his career really needed. His first bout of the year was a blow out win against Kenichi Kamada, that was followed by a second decision win over Makoto Kawasaki before a decision over Masaya Tamayama in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final. That run of wins lead him to the All Japan final where he clashed with the destructive Yuki Beppu.
Sadly for Matsunaga the power and aggression of Beppu proved to be too much at that stage, and Beppu would stop Matsunaga in the second round, ending Matsunaga's 6 fight unbeaten run to begin his career. Given that Beppu has since gone on to win the WBO Asia Pacific title this is a really interesting bout from an historical stand point, with both Beppu and Matsunaga later going on to bigger and better things, and shows that even fighters who fail to win Rookie of the Year can go on be successes.
Around 5 month after losing to Beppu we saw Matsunaga move up to Light Middleweight for the first time, and defeat Middleweight Rookie of the Year winner Hisao Narita. That win was followed 7 months later with Matsunaga moving down in weight and scoring a stoppage win over Shiro Saito, in what was Matsunaga's last bout as a Welterweight.
After repeated lengthy breaks 2016 seemed to be a potential break out year for Matsunaga. He kicked the year off by moving back to Light Middleweight and beating Hiroshi Ohashi over 8 rounds in March. This was followed up just 2 months later with a win over former Japanese Middleweight champion Sanosuke Sasaki. Then came a huge fight for Matsunaga as he travelled over to South Korea and beat Je Ni Ma for the WBO Asia Pacific Light Middleweight title.
The bout with Ma was a notable one in a number of ways for Matsunaga. It was his first bout outside of Japan, it was his first bout scheduled for 12, his first title bout and the first time he fought in an outdoor ring. He dropped Ma in round 3, and seemed like the clear winner, though one judge some how had Ma winning 115-112.
Sadly with 3 wins in 2016, a title under around his waist and momentum building Matsunaga was then out of the ring for 13 months! Part of that was, sadly, a bout with Ryota Yada falling through in May 2017 when Matsunaga had to pull out of the scheduled bout. On his eventual return he faced Thai foe Suchat Chaiyaporn and made light work of the Thai, stopping him in 3 rounds, on a live televised Japanese show. Given the long break we understand the low level opponent, but this was frustrating, to see a fighter winning a regional title then being in a bout like this.
A visit to Thailand 5 months later saw Matsunaga stop Patomsuk Pathompothong, aka Komsan Polsan, in 4 rounds to take his second win on foreign soil. This was a much better test than the one over Chaiyaporn, which was clearly done to shake some ring rust from the Japanese fighter after the inactivity. To end the year we saw Matsunaga finally get the big break out win he needed, stopping perennial Japanese title challenger Koshinmaru Saito to earn a Japanese title fight at the 2019 version of the Champion Carnival. This loss sent Saito into retirement and put Matsunaga in position for a Japanese title fight in 2019.
On July 10th 2019, almost 7 months after earning his Japanese title shot, Matsunaga finally got a crack at the title as he took on Japanese Light Middleweight champion Nobuyuki Shindo. Shindo, a tall, rangy and awkward southpaw, was under pressure from Matsunaga almost from the off, and retired in his corner after the 6th round, as he had began to take a bit of a battering from the challenger. Matsunaga had had trouble at times with the size difference, but when he started to cut the distance Shindo had no answer to his aggression, his pressure and his strength.
Aroudn 6 months after winning the belt Matsunaga made his first defense, stopping Koki Koshikawa in an exciting 4 rounder. Koshikawa, a former amateur standout, had moments but was broken down and then battered in rounds 3 and 4 before being saved by the referee.
Matsunaga was pencilled in to defend his title on March 7th against mandatory challenger Yuto Shimizu, though that bout has now been postponed indefinitely due to the JBC's suspension on boxing in regards to Coronavirus. Despite the postponement, we do expect the bout to take place later in the year.
As is usually the case Matsunaga will be giving away height, but the aggressive little southpaw warrior will be the favourite against the tough and awkward Shimizu. A win there will potentially open up a unification bout with regional title holds Takeshi Inoue and Akinori Watanabe, both of which would be really exciting match ups.
Although not a big name Matsunaga is an exciting fighter, and someone who deserves a lot more attention than he gets. His reign isn't likely to be a long one, given he's 33 in September, but it will certainly be an exciting one.
This past week has been a really odd one for Asian boxing, with the biggest take away being the announcement that we wouldn't be getting any boxing in Japan during the month of March. Thankfully Japan isn't the only country in Asia, and we have had other Asian fighters in action from through the continent.
1-Roman Gonzalez is back!
The reports of Roman Gonzalez's demise have been well and truly over-stated! We wouldn't suggest that Roman is near his prime, but this past weekend he rolled back the clock and broke down the previously unbeaten Kal Yafai in very, very impressive fashion. The Nicaraguan magician may not be a natural Super Flyweight but he is a natural wrecking ball and the way he broke down Yafai was a delight to watch! Even more impressively this was his second fight in just over 2 months, and hopefully the long break he had before resurfacing in Japan in December will do him the world of good.
2-Madrimov takes strides
We know Israil Madrimov should have been on everyone's radar after his impressive debut, but now it's impossible to ignore the exciting, charismatic and incredibly gifted Uzbek Light Middleweight. This weekend he scored his biggest win to date and moved to within touching distance of a WBA world title fight. Whilst Charlie Navarro offered little in terms of being a test, it was still marvellous to see Madrimov pick him apart, beat him up and force the stoppage. Madrimov might be "The Dream" but for the rest of the division he is a rising Uzbek monster.
3-Yunlong Shi impresses
In recent years Chinese Heavyweight debuts have been farces. Taishan Dong looked completely clueless in his 2014 debut whilst Zhang Zhilei saw his opponent happy to get out of there as soon as possible. Thankfully Yunlong Shi's debut this past Saturday was genuinely impressive. The talented professional novice, who made his debut in Poland, looked sharp, powerful and highly skilled, and maybe end up developing into a very serious contender. Certainly one to keep an eye on.
1-Coronavirus sees Japanese boxing put on hold
A pretty clear Bad one, but one that's completely understandable, is the JBC suspending boxing through out the country as a response to Coronavirus. The Japanese were slow to react in some ways but they have taken wise steps here in stopping boxing, and other sport. We suspect other countries will follow suit in the coming days, and we're genuinely shocked other countries haven't began taking steps to stop events where there will be large gatherings of people.
1-Deontay Wilder's excuses
Dude, you got beat, stopping looking for excuses, stopping looking for answers in the wrong place, and take a look inside. You've got the power, the charisma and the athletic ability to recapture a portion of the world title, but need to stop the excuses. The blaming of Mark Breland, the gloves, the ring walk outfit. ZZZZ Take the loss and learn. Don't try to cover over and make excuses, or the same will happen next time as well.
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces