One of our biggest loves in this sport is the journey of a fighter, following them from very early in their careers right through to the point where they win titles, or in some cases don't. Of course we can usually spot the mega prospects a mile off, the fighters who were top amateurs, and went on to win medals in international competition before moving on to fight in the professional ranks as high experienced and accomplished fighters. One of the harder things to judge is which prospects can go all the way without that sort of amateur foundation.
With that in mind we've decided to take a look at 4 Japanese prospects who are currently making a mark in the sport without an extensive amateur career and are still pretty much under the radar. In fact we've gone one step further and gone with a sub rule that they must have competed in the Rookie of the Year tournament in recent years. This literally rules out top amateurs but leaves us with a lot of promising talent to talk about, and a nice mix of styles, weights and strengths,
Toshiki Shimomachi (12-1-2, 8) - Rookie of the Year winner in 2017
Of all the fighters we're featuring here we dare say that slippery Super Bantamweight fighter Toshiki Shimomachi is the further along in terms of development and where his career stands right now. He's already got 15 fights to his name his Rookie triumph was the better part of 3 years ago, and he is the current Japanese Youth Super Bantamweight champion. Despite all that he is still only 23 years old and is still adding new wrinkles to his game, which really is improving all the time.
Shimomachi turned professional in 2015, debuting at the age of 19, and despite a 2-1-1 (1) start his career has blossomed with the youngster going 10-0-1 (7) in his last 11. That's not perfect, but the recent draw did come to Daisuke Watanabe, who later went on to win the Hajime No Ippo 30th Anniversary tournament.
If you like slippery fighters, who rely on a good boxing brain and setting up counters Shimomachi is that type of guy. He's got a high level boxing brain, good reflexes and very under-rated power.
Jinki Maeda (5-0, 3) - Rookie of the Year Winner in 2019
Shimomachi isn't the only boxer-type on this list, another is Featherweight standout Jinki Maeda. From what we could find Maeda had next to no amateur experience, and instead he moved into boxing having been a stellar Nippon Kempo competitor. The quick speed and reflexes needed in Nippon Kempo seemed to have translated over to boxing well and Maeda is quickly proving himself to be a force to be reckoned with.
Maeda, like Shimmomachi, is 23 but only made his debut in April 2019 and his rise through the sport has been wonderfully quick. Already in his career we've seen him win Rookie of the Year, doing so with a win against Kyonosuke Kameda, but also score a sensational win in 2019 against Arashi Iimi.
Whilst still a long way from a title fight, of any kind, Maeda appears to be one of those rare natural talents who just under-stands what he's doing in the ring and has an innate under-standing of what he's supposed to be doing. He likes to lure opponents into mistakes, strikes quickly, and makes a quick impact. A tremendous young fighter.
Katsuki Mori - (7-0, 1) - Rookie of the Year winner in 2019
Another talented youngster is Ohashi gym's brilliant skilled Katsuki Mori, who is an aggressive but well schooled technical fighter. His game plan is based around his speed, reflexes and movement and he looks sensational at times. As with everyone else in this list he lacks in terms of amateur experience but that certainly doesn't show, and it's to suggest he's one of the best natural talents in Japan.
Although he's a bit feather fisted Mori is very much a fighter who seems to fight to his strengths. Rather than trying to bomb opponents out he will counter them, out land them, make them miss, and land flashy combinations. During his 7 fight career he has only lost a small number of rounds, and has managed to win the 2019 Rookie of the Year with very, very few issues at all.
At the moment it's a little bit unclear whether Mori's immediate future is at. It could be Minimumweight, where he won the 2019 Rookie of the Year, or Light Flyweight, where he fought his last bout, but longer term it seems like he will fill out his frame end up at Flyweight somewhere down the line. By then we'd hope he has a bit more spite on his shots, but for now he's a growing kid and not the complete fighter that he will become. There is work to do, as we see in the video below, but it's clear he's an excellent prospect, who is just lacking that bit of man strength at the moment.
Aso Ishiwaki (8-2-1, 6) - Rookie of the Year losing finalist 2018
We've mentioned some boxers and now we'd like to talk about a true fighter, as we add Aso Ishiwaki into the mix. Ishiwaki is an educated pressure fighter who really reminds us of Daiki Kaneko in many ways. Although not as technically polished as Kaneko was Ishiwaki is an aggressive fighter with incredible physical strength, under-rated power and skills that are developing fight by fight. Like Kaneko it's his presence in the ring that seems to be his biggest strength and early losses haven't hindered his progress.
Ishiwaki began his career in 2017 and loss inside a round on debut. The following year he marched his way to the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, taking several unbeaten records along the way until losing a split decision in the All Japan final to George Tachibana. That probably saw some write him off, but at that point he was just 19 and filling out his frame.
In 2019 Ishiwaki went on to fight 4 times, going 3-0-1 (3), and impressed in both his draw with Yoji Saito and his year ending win over Ryuji Ikeda and showed that he's developing his skills to go with his energy, work rate, toughness, strength and power. Very much a dark horse but someone we really do see making a mark on the regional title scene. He may never make a splash on the global scene, but he's the sort of fighter who will provide us with a lot of action and some real thrilling bouts at 135lbs and 140lbs.
The 2019 All Japan Rookie of the Year was an interesting tournament, and one where we were really impressed by a number of the fighters involved. Whilst Katsuki Mori was the one that really caught the eye there were others that impressed as well. One of those was Featherweight Jinki Maeda (4-0, 2), who deserves a mention this week ahead of his next professional bout, on August 9th.
Prior to turning to boxing the Maeda was a stellar Nippon Kempo competitor, winning the 32nd All Japan Student Kempo Championships as an individual. From the footage of Maeda competing in Nippon Kempo you could see he was quick, well balanced, with long reach, and very good with his hands.
Whilst there is overlap between Nippon Kempo and boxing the sports are very different. However from what we could find that was all the combat experience Maeda had before he turned professional with the Green Tsuda gym. From what we could find he essentially had no prior amateur boxing experience when he turned professional. Despite his lack of boxing experience he made his professional debut in the 2019 West Japan Rookie of the Year, competing as a Featherweight and shone.
On April 21st 2019 Maeda made his professional debut, taking on Genki Kakiuchi. The talented Maeda shined from the off, using his southpaw stance and height well, before dropping Kakiuchi with a brilliant 1-2 just over a minute into the bout. To his credit Kakiuchi got to his feet, a surprise given how he went down, but the referee waved off the bout with Kakiuchi looking unstable on his feet. The bout was waved off after just 83 seconds.
Whilst a blow out over Kakiuchi was impressive for the debuting Maeda it wasn't a fluke and just 3 months later he scored another quick win as he blasted out Shoya Yamashita in 80 seconds in another West Japan Rookie of the Year bout. Yamashita, just like Kakiuchi, was dropped quickly, and struggled to beat the count, looking unsteady and forcing the referee to halt the bout. This should have moved Maeda into the West Japan Rookie of the Year final in September, that however fell through when Konosuke Kirihigashi was unable to face Maeda, resulting in a bye.
With the bye Kakikuchi would progress to the next round, where he faced off with the then 4-0 (4) Hikaru Fukunaga in November, to decide the West Japan representative for the All Japan final in December. From the off Maeda looked respectful of Fukunaga, realising this was a much more testing bout than his first 2. He showed patience, a fantastic jab and a willingness to use the ring as he easily out boxed Fukunaga. There was nothing special about what Maeda did, it was all basic, straight forward boxing, but he neutralised his dangerous opponent and won the rounds with simple out-side boxing. That win then moved him on to the All Japan final.
The All Japan final saw Maeda face off with Kyonosuke Kameda, the cousin of the Kameda brothers. Going in to that bout much of the attention was on Kameda, with his family being a focus pre-fight. Despite Maeda being somewhat over-looked going into the final the talented southpaw simply out worked Kameda, proved he wanted it more and put his foot on the gas when it was needed. It was a close contest, but Maeda was showing that bit of extra hunger whilst Kameda was trying to be too cute. The result was a split decision for Maeda, who scored the biggest win of his career so far and claimed the Rookie of the Year crown.
On August 9th Maeda returns to the ring for the first time since his Rookie of the Year triumph, as he takes on the hard hitting Arashii Iimi (7-2, 7) in a 6 rounder. On paper this is a real step up for Maeda, who takes on not only the most experienced opponent of his career, but also the most dangerous. This should see real questions being asked Maeda, who will have to prove himself.
Although his next bout is a step up Maeda does look like the sort of fighter who can go places in the sport. He's a long, rangy southpaw, he's quick, accurate, very well balanced and although his boxing IQ needs developing his Nippon Kempo experience is something that is very useful to rely on when he needs to. It's not boxing experience, but it is combat sport experience, and he is developing his boxing brain fight by fight.
Don't expect Maeda to be in a title fight any time soon, but he is definitely one to keepo an eye on for the future.
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