Back in the summer of 2019 we looked at Japanese hopeful Masanori Rikiishi (then 5-1 (3), now 9-1 (5)) as part of our Introducing series. Back then Rikiishi had just scored a then career best win over Kei Iwahara and seemed to be positioning himself as a contender on the Japanese domestic scene at 135lbs. Since then however Rikiishi has gone from strength to strength and has seemingly set his eyes on other things, whilst quickly becoming one of the most under-rated fighters in Japan. So let's take a look at where Rikiishi is now, where he was, and how he's gotten to where he is since we first looked at him.
Before we look at where he is now let's go back around 18 months and look at where Rikiishi was when we first looked at him.
As mentioned when we introduced Rikiishi he was 5-1 (3) and has just recently scored a win over Kei Iwahara. He had been rebuilding well after a 2018 loss to Kosuke Saka and had been rebuilding his confidence with wins against progressive better fighters. He had bounced back from his loss with a win over the poor Egy Rotzen, he then beat Genki Maeda in a good step up before beating Kei Iwahara to continue the forward progress with his career. By that point he was starting to create some buzz and was back on the right track with his career.
Just weeks after we "introduced" Rikiishi he took the next step forward with his career and battled against Shogo Yamamguchi. On paper this was another step up in class for Rikiishi and a potential test for the young Japanese fighter. He passed the test with ease and ended up forcing Yamaguchi's team to pull him out of the bout after 5 rounds, with Yamaguchi suffering a nasty injury over his left eye which forced an early conclusion to the contest.
Less than 2 months after his win over Yamaguchi we saw Rikiishi return to the ring and take another step up in class, as he took an 8 round decision over Nicaraguan visitor Freddy Fonseca, who is best known for his bout with Joseph Diaz. Rikiishi took a clear and dominant decision over Fonseca as he proved he could do 8 rounds at a good pace, and that he could control a pretty good fighter. It was a very impressive win in just his 8th professional bout, and also saw Rikiishi begin a move down in weight, coming in just over the Super Featherweight limit.
In 2020 Rikiishi continued to take on decent tests, and float between Lightweight and Super Featherweight. His first bout of the year took place 11 months after his win over Yamaguchi, due to the pandemic, and saw him take a very good domestic win over Yuichiro Kasuya. The bout was a genuinely intriguing one on paper, with Kasuya being a talented but often frustrating fighter, but ended up being a relatively straightforward win for Rikiishi who ran out the clear winner on all 3 cards. The win was a particularly notable one as Kasuya was regarded as a contender for the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, and he had top 10 rankings with all 3 bodies, pushing him to the verge of a title fight.
Less than 3 months after defeating Kasuya we saw Rikiiishi return to the ring for his second bout of 2020, which saw him battle against Soreiki Taichi. Coming in to this one it seemed like Rikiishi was heading towards a Japanese Lightweight title bout, and he was ranked #2 by the JBC at the time. During the fight Rikiishi would drop Taichi twice, and record a 3rd round TKO win, whilst looking like a man who was really developing his power and counter punching. In fact he looked like a brutal puncher here, and hurt Taichi pretty much every time he landed clean, and drew mistakes from Taichi, which he punished in style.
Following his win over Taichi we were expecting to see Rikiishi call for a Japanese Lightweight title fight. Instead however he stated his intention was to drop to Super Featherweight and chase a rematch with Japanese champion Kosuke Saka, the man who stopped him earlier in his career. It seems like that will be the target for Rikiiishi this year.
Despite looking impressive and destructive in his win against Taichi it is worth noting that Rikiishi did suffer in that win, with his hand being damaged. We really do hope it was just a minor blip for for his career, and not something that will be a longer term problem for the talented man from the Midori Gym.
As a fighter Rikiishi is a real talent and a man with many tools in his arsenal. We have seen him boxing and moving in the past, we have seen him take the role of a counter puncher, and we have seen him showing solid power. There are questions still for him to answer, but over the last 18 months he has come a very, very long way. He has shown solid fundamentals, been facing progressively better tests and appears to have someone in his sights that he wants to face. Although he is still a work in progress he seems to be the sort of fighter who is developing in the perfect way.
We'll be honest, we do hope Rikiishi gets another test before a rematch with Saka, but we also repsect the fact that he's already wanting to get revenge over a man who bullied and battered him early in his career. There is no fear from Saka and that is something that deserves genuine credit in a boxing world where too many fighters are scared of losing, rather than wanting to see how good they really are.
Back on September 23rd 2019 we took a look at exciting Japanese Light Welterweight Aso Ishiwaki (then 6-2-1 (4), now 8-3-1 (6)) as part of our “Introducing” series. Since then Ishiwaki has had an up and down run, where he scored his best win, but also took a high profile beating on a major show and lost the momentum he had been building through 2019.
Before we take a look at what Ishiwaki has been upto recently we probably need to go back a little bit and look at what the now 21 year old hopeful had done earlier in his career.
Ishiwaki had turned professional as a teenager and was stopped on his debut, inside a round in 2017. He rebuilt well from that setback however and was unlucky not to win the 2018 All Japan Rookie of the Year, losing a split decision over 5 rounds against George Tachbibana, falling to 5-2 (3) with that loss. Despite losing in the Rookie of the Year final he had shown real promise, an aggressive mentality and a fan friendly fun style. In 2019 he really impressed in a 6 round war with Yoji Saito before making his international debut and stopping Sudtay Daungmala in Thailand.
That was pretty much where we were when we spoke about Ishiwaki in 2019, just days before he was set for his 10th professional bout, against Takuya Matsusaka in Toyonaka.
The bout with Matsusaka saw Ishiwaki do a number on his man, stopping Matsusaka in the 3rd round of a scheduled 6 rounder. Ishiwaki was one of the main draws for that card and his win kept the momentum going from his draw with Saito and his win in Thailand. It was, however, an expected win against a man who had already been stopped 7 times and had been blown out inside a round in a number of his fights. It was an easy win against someone who he was expected to defeat.
Less than 2 months later Ishiwaki returned to the ring in a genuine step up as he took on former Japanese title challenger Ryuji Ikeda. The 24 year old Ikeda had recently challenged Koki Inoue, losing in 5 rounds to Inoue, and had also managed to go 8 rounds with Darragh Foley before a cut caused a technical decision to be rendered. Although no world beater Ikeda was expected to give Ishiwaki a lot to think about and a genuine test. In the end however the power and physicality of Ishiwaki was too much and he stopped Ikeda in just 2 rounds, making what seemed like a statement to close out 2019.
Sadly 2020 struck and the momentum and buzz Ishiwaki had begun to create slowled, like that of many fighters, and he was unable to fight through much of the year. Part way through the year however an idea was floated online for Ishiwaki to clash with rising young stud Jin Sasaki. Originally the bout wasn’t announced, with Sasaki’s team keeping their man active. On November 23rd 2020 however the bout was officially announced, with the two men going face to face after Sasaki had stopped Tatsuya Miyazaki. Soon afterwards it was confirmed that Ishiwaki and Sasaki would clash for the Japanese Youth 140lb title on December 26th, as one of the main supporting bouts to the brilliant match up between Masayuki Ito and Hironori Mishiro.
On paper the bout between Ishiwaki and Sasaki looked like an amazing one, between two young fighters who could both punch and both enjoyed a fight. Sadly however Sasaki’s power turned out to be too much for Ishiwaki, who was dropped twice in the opening round before being taken out in round 3 in a truly impressive performance from Sasaki.
At the age of 21 the loss to Sasaki, who looks to be a special fighter, isn’t the end for Ishiwaki, though it is a very clear set back. The youngster, who wasn’t helped at all by inactivity, had a lot to like and he shouldn’t feel that he can’t rebuild from the loss. Thankfully the Japanese scene at 140lbs is one where he can be involved in a lot of fun bouts over the next few years and hopefully the loss doesn’t see him losing his confidence and will to fight good competition. If the Neyagawa Ishida Boxing Club, who manage Ishiwaki's career, do right by him in 2021 we could see him in fun bouts against the likes of Kentaro Endo, Yasutaka Fujita, Kodai Honda, Ukyo Yoshigai or Shogo Yamaguchi. If that happens he could well be on the verge of another Youth title fight in 2022.
Ishiwaki isn’t going to be a world champion, but he does have the potential and style to be a very, very fan friendly and TV friendly fighter and to us that is not something to be ashamed by. We want to enjoy watching boxing, and we always enjoy watching Ishiwaki. We will always tune in when Ishiwaki fights, and we hope he and his team can continue to get him televised and streamed opportunities as he is far too much fun to miss out on. Sadly though 2021 could end up being another tough year for the youngster given how Covid19 continues to limit the opportunities for fighters all over the world.
On August 26th 2019 we focused on Yudai Shigeoka for our “Introducing” series, ahead of Shigeoka’s professional debut, which was set for October 2019. Despite having not made his debut by the time we covered him in “Introducing” there was a lot of buzz in Japan about the then 22 year old. In part that was due to his excellent amateur credentials, with Shigeoka going 81-10 (20) in the unpaid ranks, and partly because we’d already seen his younger brother in action, and we had been very impressed by the then 3-0 Ginjiro Shigeoka.
On October 30th 2019 Shigeoka made his long awaited professional debut and genuinely toyed with Thai foe Manop Audomphanawari, in a bout that was made available on Boxing Raise. The bout saw Shigeoka looking really relaxed and comfortable in the ring, and really showcasing some solid body punching as he dominated, broke down and battered Manop in 2 rounds. The Japanese youngster didn’t look flawless, not at all. He looked a touch overly relaxed and too calm, maybe even a touch cocky, but that was hardly an issue on his debut and he left an impression of a natural boxer with the tools to do great things.
Unlike his brother Yudai didn’t look like a destructive monster. Instead he looked like a calm operator, wanting to draw mistakes from his opponent, and get them to leave gaps open for him to pounce on, rather than pressing forward and continually pressing like Ginjiro.
Just weeks after making his debut Yudai returned to the ring and took a massive step up in class as he faced off with OPBF Minimumweight champion Lito Dante in a 6 rounder. On paper Dante didn’t look anything special but the 30 fight veteran is much, much better than his record suggests and was coming into this bout on the back of a career defining win over Tsubasa Koura for the OPBF title. In fact he had not only beaten Koura, who was 14-0 at the time, but also Naoya Haruguchi, and he was unbeaten in 3 bouts in Japan.
Against Dante the talented Shigeoka fought smartly, he boxed his fight and took a very clear 6 round decision over the hard nosed Filipino. Rather than standing and fighting with Dante, which is never a good idea, Shigeoka boxed and moved, and looked incredibly comfortable through the entire bout, taking a very valuable decision over the strong, tough and powerful Dante. To his credit Dante pressed through the entire bout, refusing to accept his loss, but could never force the Japanese fighter to change tactics or to fight his fight.
Unfortunately footage of Shigeoka’s win over Dante has never been made public, though we do know TV cameras were at the event. We’re hoping, one day, that TBS or Watanabe Gym will release footage from the contest, but alas that hasn’t happened yet.
Sadly, though like many other fights, 2020 was a write off for Shigeoka who failed to fight at all during the year. The win over Dante became a distant memory, and his career, which looked like it was going to be fast tracked like that of his brother, was forced to be slowed, massively.
Thankfully Shigeoka won’t need to wait much longer for his next bout, as he will battle Ryu Horikawa in a mouth watering bout on February 11th at Korakuen Hall for the Japanese Youth Light Flyweight title. That is a brilliant match up, and the type of bout we keep getting thanks to the Japanese Youth title. It’s two unbeaten youngsters, both tipped for big success, facing off in a meaningful bout very early in their careers. Both men know a win will be huge for their career, and move them towards a senior title fight sooner rather than later. A loss however will not be the end and the loser has a lot of time to bounce back, rebuild and go on to achieve success down the line.
For those wanting to watch the Shigeoka Vs Horikawa bout it’s expected to be shown, at least in part, on Fuji TV as part of their regular Diamond Glove series of shows.
Back in August 2019 we were really excited to talk about an emerging Japanese hopeful by the name of Toshiya Ishii (then 1-0 (1), now 3-1 (2)). Now, more than a year later we’re going to take a look back at what he’s been up to since we last spoke about him, where his career now and where heading in the near future. Of course with a loss against his name things haven’t been perfect for him, but is still certainly regarded as a top prospect and as a man heading towards big things in the future.
When we spoke about Ishii in 2019 he had scored a debut win over Adam Wijaya in April 2019 and was days away from his second bout, against the then 8-0 Fumiya Fuse, who had won the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2017. When that bout with Fuse came along we saw Ishii take his second win, claiming a technical decision over Fuse to move his record forward and advance his career onto bigger and better things.
The win over Fuse saw Ishii getting some attention, but it was a mild buzz. That buzz grew massively in December when Ishii battled against Haruki Ishikawa for the Japanese Youth Bantamweight title at Korakuen Hall. Ishii, fighting for just the third time as a professional, went to war with the then 8-1 Ishikawa, and the two men ended up giving a legitimate thriller. In the opening round Ishikawa was dropped, before battling back and rocking Ishii, who was then dropped himself later in the round. In round 4 Ishii managed to see Ishikawa, scoring a sensational finish to what was a brilliant fight.
Sadly Ishii’s rise, like that of so many youngsters in 2020, hit a brick wall in a year where Covid19 essentially closed down boxing for long stretches. The momentum of the win over Ishikawa was soon forgotten, and Ishii sadly began to have his shining career dim a little, despite getting rave reviews from world class fighters that he had been sparring with.
After more than 11 months away we saw Ishii return to the ring in November 2020 when he stepped up massively and took on former world title challenger Sho Ishida in Hyogo. The bout, streamed live by TV Osaka, was a fantastic 8 round bout that saw Ishii acting as the aggressor and the puncher, and Ishida showcasing his excellent jab, his sharp movement and top level experience. In the end it was the jab and experience of Ishida that proved to be key, as he took a very competitive decision win over Ishii.
The loss for Ishii is one of those rare “good losses”, where Ishii’s reputation wasn’t hindered at all. He managed to impress those that saw the bout, but also had some flaws shown up, such as the way he marched without using his jab, and how he failed to cut off the ring when he needed to. It was a loss, and a “1” on his record, but it was a fantastic learning experience for a man who was still just 19 at the time.
Despite the loss to Ishida only coming in November we’ve already seen Ishii’s next bout being scheduled, and that will be on March 11th as he takes on Kaito Takeshima. The bout will be Ishii’s first defense of the Japanese Youth Bantamweight title, and we suspect to see footage of this one shown on Fuji TV, with the bout taking place on Ohashi promoted event.
With a record of 3-1 (2) it would be easy to write off Ishii, but the reality is that we really shouldn’t be writing him off. He ran a former world title challenger close in his only loss, in his fourth bout, he impressed in that loss, and he had already impressed, both in bouts and in terms of top level sparring. He will come again and in 2021 he and his team should concentrate on letting the youngster get a few more bouts under his belt, running up 3 or 4 wins during the year, and then look to chase senior titles in 2022. He’s a brilliant young fighter, and there is no need at all to look down on him for his one loss.
For those that haven’t seen him in action we’ve included his 2019 thriller with Ishikawa below. If you’ve never seen it before you should make time to enjoy this brilliant Youth title bout.
In December 2019 we "introduced" Japanese Middleweight hopeful Mikio Sakai (then 1-0, now 3-0), who was preparing for his second professional bout as he was just days away from a contest against the hard hitting Ran Tomomatsu. Since then we have followed Sakai's career with interest and, as we write this on the run up to Christmas, Sakai's career really has progressed, despite questions still needing to be answered from him.
Before we have a look at where Sakai stands now, lets quickly remind ourselves why we were excited about Sakai in the first place.
Sakai had been a very solid amateur, running up a 44-22 (19) amateur record and winning a number of titles, whilst also featuring in the well regarded university competitions. Fighting as Middleweight as a professional he was a bigger man, for Japan, and had the excellent Kadoebi team behind him. Essentially he ticked a lot of boxes and had us very intrigued before his professional debut.
On debut Sakai easily beat the heavy handed Elfelos Vega with a 6 record decision. The performance wasn't the most exciting, but it was calculated, smart, intelligent and showed what Sakai could do in the ring. He moved well, had nice hand speed, and knew how to box. He seemed to lack power, and aggression, but certainly showed a lot to like on his debut.
In his second bout Sakai showed ambition, being matched with Tonomatsu, and once again showed off great skills, a fantastic boxing brain, good speed and movement. Though did lack power, and struggled to get Tonomatsu's respect. Due to his lack of power he never seemed to be able to hurt Tonomatsu, but used his movement well to keep Tonomatsu off balance and unable to set off his big shots. It was smart, and it was enough for Sakai to secure a majority decision.
Sakai returned for his third professional bout earlier this month, taking on limited veteran Toshihiro Kai on December 14th, in a bout that was streamed live on Boxing Raise. That bout was Sakai's first 8 rounder and he once again showed the same tools in his arsenal that we had seen from him in his first two bouts. He once again showed lovely hand speed, great foot work, nice movement and a lot of skills that were impressive, especially for a 2-0 prospect. Sadly though he could finish off Kai, who was hurt in a number of rounds, and had to settle for another decision win, this time an 8 round decision. The performance was a solid one, and actually saw Sakai being more aggressive than usual, but the result wasn't what he would have wanted, and we kept help but feel he went out expecting a stoppage.
So far for Sakai we have been impressed, he is clear a very skilled fighter and someone we expect will be fighting in Japanese Middleweight title bouts in the near future. Sadly however we do wonder whether he has the physical tools to match up with his skills. He's undeniably a talent, and few Japanese fighters at 160lbs are as skilled and talented as he it. But stood at less than 6' and without fighting changing power we do wonder if he's perhaps too small and too weak, physically, to impose himself on the best domestic fighters at 160lbs. If he is, then he will have to put in a lot of extra effort and energy to have success, and every bout against a stronger, tougher fighter will be a big ask for him.
We're going to look forward to seeing what Sakai can offer in 2021, and we suspect he will take huge strides towards a Japanese title fight, and hopefully will add a more physicality and power to his game. He's a talent, but we do still have very serious reservations about how far he can go.
In July 2019 we covered a young fighter from the Mutoh Gym in our "Introducing" series. That was Yusuke Mine (then 0-0, now 3-0 (1)), who was set to take part in his debut just a few days later. At the time he was being spoke about as the new star of the Osaka based Mutoh Gym and the biggest hope Takahashi Edagawa's gym had at time. He was being compared to former world champion Nobuo Nashiro, and even dubbed "Nashiro II" in the Japanese boxing press. He seemed like the type of youngster who ticked the boxes needed to be a star.
Mine was a former amateur standout. He had gone 51-12 (10) in the unpaid ranks, he had made a mark at every level of the domestic amateur scene and even made a mark in international competition, winning cold at a tournament in Taipei. He not only had good amateur results and foundations, but also had a well known boxing mentor to rely on, that being Nashiro. He was essentially being groomed as a star when he turned over to the professional ranks.
Sadly in his debut Mine didn't look like the star he was supposed to be. He didn't look bad, as he took a 4 round technical decision over Filipino Jesel Guardario, but he also didn't look like a super star in the making. Of course it was his debut, and way too soon to judge his full potential, but he didn't look outstanding. He looked very capable, a decent boxer, with nice movement and a nice jab, but not a sensation in the making. Given the talk about him before his debut we were left a little bit underwhelmed by how he looked against an opponent who really didn't off much of anything early on, and then had success when desperation sank in. What also took shine off the debut for Mine is that he ended up cut from the clash of heads that ended the fight, which strangely excited Guardario who celebrated as if he had scored a TKO win.
Around 9 weeks after his debut Mine returned to the ring and scored an easy 2nd round TKO win in Thailand against Kamon Singram, who fell to 0-30 following Mine's win over him. This was an easy win on the road to get Mine some extra ring time and it came on the same card as stable mate Ryosuke Nishida's professional debut, with Nishida stopping Sakol Keykul inside a round.
In his third professional bout Mine took a big step up, and got a really big scare as he took on Ardin Diale in December 2019. It was clear this was a major step up for Mine, with Diale being a former world title challenger, OPBF champion and a man with more than 50 bouts to his name and it showed. Mine was down, twice, against Diale who's experience, composure and shot selection gave Mine nightmares. After going into a big hole, due to being dropped twice, Mine changed tactics and went from boxer to fighter, out working and pressuring Diale, turning the action on it's head and doing just enough to pull victory from the jaw of defeat. After 8 rounds against Diale we saw Mine take home the decision victory and answer a lot of questions about his toughness, resilience, determination and will to win. It also saw him show that he could chance tactics when he needed to, and really dig deep, adapt and think on his feet.
To kick off 2020 Mine was supposed to fight former 2-time world title challenger Masayuki Kuroda, with that bout planned for March 30th. Sadly however 2020 happened and that bout, which was announced in February, was cancelled just weeks later due to Covid19.
As a result of the Kuroda bout falling through, and issues with the Mutoh Gym over summer, we've not actually seen Mine fight this year. Sadly he has lost the momentum from his 3 early career wins, and it's currently not clear when he'll be back in the ring. It's a shame that his career has hit the roadblocks hard in 2020 but it's certainly not the end for him. Thankfully at just 24 years old Mine does have time to get his career back on track next year, and we really hope that happens. It seems likely his team are hungry to put him on the map and we wouldn't be surprised at all for him to face a notable name in early 2021.
Back in July 2019 we featured a young Japanese Light Welterweight in our "Introducing" series. That was the then 13-0 (9) Andy Hiraoka, who has really impressed since then and now sits with a record of 16-0 (11), has a win over a former world title challenger and two wins on US soil. In fairness he is among the fighters who have done more than anyone else since we covered him in our "Introducing" series.
When we spoke about Hiraoka in 2019 he was preparing for a big step up in class against Akihiro Kondo. At that point in time the most notable win on Hiraoka's record with a 3rd TKO win over Ukyo Yoshigai, in what was his second bout against Yoshigai. That bout saw Hiraoka record his first, and only, defense of the Japanese Youth Light Welterweight title that he had won in November 2018 with a 5th round, come from behind, TKO win over Takahiko Kobayashi.
Despite stepping up massively to face Kondo we saw Hiraoka putting on an excellent performance to out speed, out box, and out think the veteran. Kondo's toughness was on show through out, but he was always a step or two behind Hiraoka who went 10 rounds for the first time and dominated the bout, taking a wide decision. The win really took Hiraoka from "Japanese youth Champion" to being in the conversation for a Japanese or regional title fight.
Despite the win over Kondo we didn't see Hiraoka race towards a title fight of any kind. Instead he signed with Top Rank promotions, who have promoted his last 2 fights along side Ohashi Gym.
In November 2019 Hiraoka made his Top Rank debut, doing so on US soil at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. The bout was a low key one, buried dee on an under-card of a show headlined by Patrick Teixeira Vs Carlos Adames. We suspect many watching that card won't even remember seeing Hiraoka on the show, but those who had signed him were watching carefully. And Hiraoka did exactly what he needed, in taking out the over-matched Rogelio Casarez in 2 rounds.
We all know Japanese fighters don't tend to travel well, and it had been quite some time since a Japanese fighter had scored a win in New York, but this was exactly what Hiraoka needed. A low profile, impressive win against an over-matched opponent to help him build his confidence and show Top Rank what they had signed. What they were working with, and how much of a work in progress Hiraoka was.
Although Hiraoka took the win over Casarez he proved to be very much a work in progress. He looked strong, powerful, athletic, but like a fighter lacking amateur experience. He looked like an athlete, turned boxer, fighting for the 15th time.
Sadly Hiraoka's return to the ring was slowed massively due to the on going global situation. Thankfully this past October he was back in the ring and was again in action in Las Vegas, where he stopped Rickey Edwards in 4 rounds, after dropping Edwards several times. On paper it didn't look the best win, and in reality Edwards looked like he offered nothing, but Edwards had taken unbeaten Americans Kent Cruz and Mykquan Williams the distance before Hiraoka battered him into submission.
Whilst Hiraoka's win over Edwards was an impressive one it was over-shadowed by fellow Top Rank-Ohashi co-promoted fighter Naoya Inoue, who retained his IBF, WBA "super" and Ring Magazine Bantamweight titles. Despite being over-shadowed Hiraoka did exactly what he needed to do, putting on a solid performance and moving his career forward with his second Las Vegas win.
At the moment it's unclear what's next for Hiraoka, though it would seem wise to get him in with a tough opponent in Japan, to get some rounds, before heading back off to the US for his next bout with Top Rank and then a potential title fight back in Japan. We would hope that Top Rank will continue to work with the youngster, and match him more competitively in the future, but for now he's still just a boxing baby. He needs rounds, and we hope Top Rank realise that. He also, still, needs polishing. He's a very strong, fit, fast and powerful youngster, but still a raw boxer who needs time, rounds, fights and tests.
Fingers crossed 2021 is a busy year for Hiraoka and that by the end of it he has fought for the Japanese, OPBF or WBO Asia Pacific title and taken the next big step forward with his career.
In June 2019 we featured talented Teiken youngster Shokichi Iwata (then 2-0 (1), now 5-0 (4)) in our "Introducing..." series. Since then his career has progressed nicely with 3 bouts, all wins by stoppage. He has moved from making his Japanese debut to taking strides towards a Japanese title fight, and although his rise has been slowed down by what's happened in 2020 the future is still incredibly bright for the 24 year Light Flyweight.
We when looked at Iwata in "Introducing..." his only professional bouts had been an underwhelming debut in the US, against Joel Bermudez, and an easy win over Japanese domestic foe Daiki Kameyama. Although it was clear he had some pop, he didn't seem all that destructive, and looked like the sort of fighter who was going to have to rely on his boxing to go places, rather than his power. Now however things seem a little bit different, despite the fact he's still not 1-shotting opponents.
A few weeks after we introduced Iwata he scored his third professional win, stopping Filipino foe Paolo Sy in 5 rounds on the under-card of Ryota Murata's rematch with Rob Brant. It was a low key win, but one that gave Iwata some more ring time as he continued to develop his skills and get some experience of being on a big show.
Just 4 months after Iwata had beaten Sy he would again feature on a big show, featuring on the under-card of the WBSS Bantamweight final between Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire. In his bout on that card Iwata stopped Mexican fighter Alejandro Cruz Valladares, who sported a 5-1 record at the time. It was another chance to Iwata to get ring time, get experience on a big show, and go up against a fighter from a different nation. Despite the bout not being a big one it was actually televised in Latino regions, and Iwata looked really good. He was hammering Valladares with solid shots and finally broke him down.
Interestingly with the win over Valaldares we had seen Iwata getting rounds with fighters from 4 different countries, each with a unique style. He had shared the ring with an American, a fellow Japanese, a Filipino and a Mexican. He had racked up ring time against all 4 and had managed to learned a lot from all 4 men, before lowering the hammer and breaking them down for the stoppage.
The hope, going into 2020, had been for Iwata to race through another few opponents and then sit on the verge of his first title fight. Sadly that hasn't come. Like many fighters Iwata's 2020 has been close to a wash due to the on going global situation. That situation put boxing on the back burner for around 4 months in Japan. As a result we didn't see Iwata in the ring until October, 11 months after his win over Valladares, when he took part in an 8 round bout with Ryo Narizuka. The bout wasn't a particularly competitive one, but was another chance for Iwata to answer some questions, as we saw him go into round 7 for the first time, then close the show by stopping the rugged Narizuka.
On paper it seems like Iwata needs to break opponents down, with all of his wins going into either the final round or the penultimate round. In reality however we get the feeling that Iwata wants to answer questions before progressing. He's proven he has the stamina to go 8 rounds, he's been getting ring time, and he's getting a chance to test things out in the ring before facing stiffer tests. He's proven he can box, fight or brawl and although his competition will need to be stepped up sooner, rather than later, he's proven a lot in just 5 bouts.
At the moment it's unclear when Iwata be back in the ring, though we do expect him to be fighting regularly in 2021 with the aim being to pick up a regional or Japanese title, before bigger and better things in 2022. Like many prospects his 2020 has been a frustrating one, but it's unlikely we'll see him this active again any time soon.
Note - At the time of writing Boxrec lists the wrong Alejandro Valladares as Iwata's 4th opponent.
Back in June 2019 we spoke about Katsuya Yasuda (then 3-0 (2), now 7-0 (4)) in our introducing series. Now, around 17 months later, we take another look at Yasuda as part of our "Revisiting" series, and how his career has moved on since we first spoke about him. In all honesty we've become more and more impressed with him, despite the fact his career hasn't moved quite as quickly as we'd have hoped.
We had been excited about Yasuda from the moment he turned professional, back in 2017. He had signed with the Ohashi Gym, and had turned professional following a very decent amateur career. In the unpaid ranks he had gone 64-12 (30), won a Japanese amateur title and had turned professional with some in Japan tipping him as something of a hidden gem.
Yasuda's debut had gone well, blowing out an over-matched Filipino, but he had struggled in his second professional bout, against Korean Ki Soo Lee. When he returned, after 8 months out, he blew away an over-matched Indonesian.
When we spoke about Yasuda last year he was preparing to face a big step up in class, with a bout against Filipino Jerry Castroverde on the docket. On paper that was expected to be a real test for Yasuda, who hadn't fought since September 2018. Sadly however that wasn't the test we had expected and Yasuda took a clear 6 round technical decision decision over Castroverde. Unfortunately the bout had to end before it could really get going, with Castroverde suffering a cut in round 5, that forced a halt right at the start of round 6.
On paper alone, that was a good win for Yasuda, with Castroverde being a decent opponent. In reality it was an underwhelming one, thanks, in part, to the frustrating ending. Despite the under-whelming nature of the win Yasuda was himself able to fight again around 10 weeks later, which saw him stopping Indonesian foe Jack Dolu in just 2 rounds. He then jumped back into the ring for a third fight in the space of just a few months as he took out another Indonesian opponent, Rengga Rengg, in 2 rounds.
Heading into 2020 it seemed Yasuda's career was starting to build momentum. He seemed to be busy, going in the right direction and moving forward, towards bigger and better things. The hope was that he would be moving towards something big through the year. He had had a few lengthy breaks in the early stages of his career, with 2 years separating his first 4 bouts, but that was behind him and he had managed 3 fights in just over 5 months in 2019.
Sadly 2020 happened and that momentum was essentially ended when boxing was paused to help deal with the on going global situation. The forward charge that seemed to be propelling Yasuda towards something of note hit a wall. He would again spend months out of the ring, and he turned 28 in April with a record of 6-0 (4). Thankfully he managed to finally get back in the ring in September, where he put on a very solid performance against Omrri Bolivar, to take an 8 round decision win.
In Yasuda's bout against Bolivar the Japanese hopeful was defensively smart, boxed fantastically well, and neutralised Bolivar. The performance wasn't the most exciting, and only highlights were shown on TV, but promoter Hideyuki Ohashi stated that Yasuda was the MVP on the show, which also featured Katsuki Mori and Kazuki Nakajima. High praise indeed from one of the best promoters in Japan.
Now boasting a 7-0 (4) record and with an excellent 8 round bout under his belt the future is still bright for Yasuda, though we do feel that he needs to make a move in 2021. Lightweight and Light Welterweight aren't the deepest divisions in Japan but at 28 years old it's now time to get on with things and move his career forward.
Yoshinio is at least 2 or 3 fights from a title bout, but we suspect that 2021 will see him rapidly rising through the domestic and regional rankings, and we wouldn't be surprised to see him go after a title when Shuichiro Yoshino focuses on getting himself a world title fight.
Can Yasuda go all the way to a world title? We suspect not, but we certainly suspect to see him in the regional and domestic title pictures before his career comes to an end.
In the summer of 2019 we did an "Introducing..." on Japanese hopeful Shu Utsuki (then 4-0 (3), now 6-0, (5)). Since then he has has fought twice, as we'll go through in this week's "Revisiting".
Before we get on to what Utsuki's done recently it's worth noting what he had done previously. He had captained his University boxing Club and as an amateur had gone an excellent 81-27. As a professional he had shined in 2018 and within a year of his debut he had raced out to 4-0 (3), with decent low key wins against Da Xu and Jerry Castroverde. He had impressed but was still a rather obscure Japanese prospect, who was bouncing around the Super Featherweight and Lightweight divisions.
When we spoke about Utsuki last year he was just 9 days from his 5th professional bout, which was to be against Japanese based Venezuelan Omrri Bolivar. Going in to that bout he seemed to be stepping up in class and was arguably in the toughest match up of his professional career. At least that's how it looked.
Instead of being tested by Bolivar we saw the talented, and heavy handed, Utsuki blow out the Venezuelan in 3 rounds. This bout, which came on the under-card of Kazuto Ioka's bout with Aston Palicte, was a brutal KO by Utsuki at the start of round 3, showing his power was legit.
Utsuki would then build on that win a few months later when he defeated Thai foe Somphot Seesa in 2 rounds, finishing off Seesa with a third knockdown during the round.
Rather interestingly in early 2020 Japanese TV viewers got the chance to see Utsuki's 2019 bout with Castroverde, as it was, finally televised, almost a year after it took place. That performance was, by far, the most testing that Utsuki has had since entering the professional ranks. Although he managed to stop Castroverde in the 8th round he had been given a very, very serious test by the then Japanese based Filipino. That test was only passed after Utsuki landed some huge blows part way through the 8th round and forced the corner to throw in the towel and save Castroverde.
Like many of the recent Japanese prospects to turn from being solid amateurs to professional hopefuls Utsuki has a lot of things going for him. He has really solid balance, nice shot selection and imposing physical strength. Technically there is work for him to do, and he can be hit rather easily, which is disappointing for a man with over 100 amateur bouts to his name, but there is still a lot to get excited about.
Utsuki's power, strength and punching is all really impressive and we dare say that the hope, coming into 2020, was to have him knocking on the door of a domestic title fight before we got to 2021. Sadly 2020 has, for obvious reasons, not gone to plan for anyone but we will see Utsuki back in the ring before the year is over. In fact on October 30th we'll see Utsuki take on domestic foe Takayuki Sakai, in a decent looking 6 round Lightweight bout.
From when we first spoke about Utsuki his career has moved forward, but there is still a long, long way for him to go, and it's a shame that 2020 has slowed his momentum just as it seemed he was on the verge of something big. Fingers crossed 2021 does deliver something bigger for the talented fighter from the Watanabe Gym.
For those who haven't seen Utsuki before we have included his bout with Castroverde below.
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