The third fighter we looked at last year in our "Introducing..." feature was Taku Kuwahara (then 3-0, 2), at the time he was relatively unknown except by those who really followed the Japanese amateur scene. He had shown some early promise, enough to get our attention, but lets have a look at what he has done since as we continue our "Revisiting" series.
As mentioned when we looked at Kuwahara in January he was 3-0 (2) during 2019 he moved his record along quickly, going 4-0 (2) and ended the year with a 7-0 (4) record, whilst scoring two notable wins late in the year. He also moved from testing the water at Light Flyweight to being a committed fighter at Flyweight, where we see his career being long term.
To begin 2019 Kuwahara was out of the ring until April, when he took out Indonesian fighter Aprilianto Rumahpasal. That was followed up with a win over domestic novice Kyomu Hamagami. On paper that bout with Hamagami was a step up, but in reality it was just a passing point before Kuwahara finally stepped up in class in September 2019 when he outpointed Jonathan Refugio.
The win over Refugio was a masterclass from Kuwahara who shut out the Filipino veteran over 8 rounds. He dropped Refugio once, and despite being unable to stop the Filipino he dominated thoroughly, taking his first win against a world ranked opponent. That win was followed by another 8 round decision against a rugged Filipino as Kuwahara took a wide decision over Ricardo Sueno. Those wins helped to show what a talent Kuwahara was and saw him getting more and more press time in Japan, where he was being dubbed "Ioka II" due to his affiliation to the same educational facility of Ioka, and just like Ioka he was gaining a serious reputation as a brutal body puncher.
With Kuwahara winning 4 bouts in 2019 it should be little surprise to hear that he managed to earn his first rankings. He first broke into the JBC rankings, following the win over Refugion, and then the OPBF rankings, following the win over Sueno. In 2020 we would expect Kuwahara to look towards racing through the rankings towards a title fight, and in reality he's likely to have any of the doors open to him, whether he wants to pursue a Japanese or Oriental title. We would expect Kuwahara, by the end of the year, to be ready to face either champion.
Unlike the first two men we "revisited" Kuwahara's first bout of 2020 has been announced at the time of writing. On March 16th Kuwahara will take on under-rated Filipino Jaysever Abcede, who is not only ranked #13 by the WBC at Light Flyweight but also has a top 10 OPBF ranking at Flyweight and a WBO Asia Pacific ranking. Essentially making this not only a step up in class for Kuwahara but also a chance to take serious strides towards getting a world ranking and moving towards his first title bout.
At the moment it's still relatively early in Kuwahara's career but given how he stepped up in late 2019, and how he now has his upcoming bout with Abcede, it's clear that Hideyuki Ohashi and the folks at the Ohashi gym are recognising his potential and looking to push him fast, potentially as the replacement for veteran Akira Yaegashi. He might not be that Elite level super talent that they have in Naoya Inoue, but he's still a fantastic fighter and at 24 years old they have a real prodigy on their hands.
We would expect Kuwahara to win his first title before the end of 2020 and then begin to climb the world rankings in 2021, perhaps even landing a shot by the end of the year. The one thing he needs to get now, is eyes on him. So far he's only really had televised highlights, but hopefully he'll be given more TV time when he gets his first title fight, and from there we can see his skills develop along with his in ring experience.
Although not yet a big name we expect to see 2020 being the year where Kuwahara goes from the periphery of the domestic scene right into the title mix, and sets out his stool for big things over the coming few years.
The second fighter we featured in our "Introducing..." series was the then 19 year old Ginjiro Shigeoka (then 1-0, 1) he had made his debut in September 2018, and looked sensational in stopping Sanchai Yotboon in 3 rounds. Now, more than a year on, we'll "Revisit" Shigeoka and see how his career has gone since we introduced him in January 2019.
Following his debut expectations were high for Shigeoka heading in 20219 and he exceeded those expectations with a sensational year that saw him move from novice professional to world ranked fighter. Watanabe Gym, clearly aware of the talent they had on their hands, strapped a rocket to him and he, more than any other fighter in the Introducing series last year, moved through the rankings in a way that got a lot of attention. In fact he got to much attention that towards the end of 2019 he was featured in Anson Wainwright's excellent "New Faces" series on Ring's website, with that being available to read here.
So since we first looked at Shigeoka was has he done? Well the youngster has gone from 1-0 (1) to 5-0 (4), taken his first professional world title, stopped a former world title challenger, turned 20 and announced himself in the world rankings. Not a year at all for the former amateur standout.
Shigeoka's 2019 kicked off with an opening round win over Gerttipong Kumsahwat, in what was an easy second pro bout for the youngster. That was followed up quickly with a decision win over the tough Joel Lino. Although Lino is no world beater he has been proving himself as a capable fringe regional level fighter and gave Masataka Taniguchi 12 good rounds in 2018 and later went on to give Toto Landero a really good test before stopping Arar Andales. A win over Lino in just his third bout was excellent and a clear sign of how good Shigeoka was, despite failing to secure the stoppage. In fact by taking a decision over Lino we saw Shigeoka answer some questions, such as proving he can fight over 8 rounds and had a back up for when his power wasn't too much for an opponent.
In July 2019 Shigeoka got his first title fight, taking on Clyde Azarcon for the WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight title. Up to this point Azarcon was 15-2-1, he had never been stopped and had mixed it with good competition, losing a close decision to Rene Mark Cuarto less than a year earlier. He was expected to be a test for Shigeoka, but instead the Japanese wunderkind just blitzed in 72 seconds, closing the show with a truly brutal body shot. This win was just 10 months after Shigeoka had made his debut, and saw him becoming one of the very few Japanese fighters to win their first title in 4 fights and in less than 12 months from their debut.
Since winning the WBO Asia Pacific title Shigeoka has defended it once, stopping former world title challenger Rey Loreto in 5 rounds at the end of December. The Japanese youngster dropped Loreto in the first round, and again in round 5, before Katsuhiko Nakamura stopped the bout. Loreto was on his feet at the time of the stoppage, but the decision was made by Nakamura to save the Filipino from any further punishment.
After the win over Loreto we saw Shigeoka break into the top 10 with the WBA and the top 15 with the WBC and WBO.
At the time of writing it's unclear when Shigeoka will be fighting again, through it's expected to be in late Spring 2020, potentially against a fellow world ranked fighter as he begins his climb towards a world title fight. The youngster seems confident he could handle himself against a world champion, though his team have apparently suggested he gets a bit more experience first. With that in mind we would expect Watanabe to match him with world ranked fighters to prepare him for a shot in late 2020, potentially at the very end of the year.
In the ring Shigeoka is proving to be an explosive fighter who can box or bang. He looks much better on the front foot than the back foot, giving him an area where improvements can be made before getting a world title fight. The most impressive thing about him is his power, which is incredible for such a youngster in the Minimumweight division.
We do have worries, still, about Shigeoka moving up in weight, but he looks a star in the making at 105lbs and is talking like a fighter who wants to dominate a single weight class, rather than moving up the scales. To us that's a good sign, and shows that the youngster knows his frame isn't suited to a move up in weight, where he would be up against taller and longer fighters, rather than being over confident and pushing himself in a direction that isn't suited to him and his career.
Just over a year ago we began our "Introducing" series, looking at a fighter that we thought needed a light shining on them, generally at the start of their career. Now, more than a year on, it makes sense to have a look back over some of those fighters, in what we're terming out "revisiting" feature. This gives us a chance to look at the progress the fighters have made since we first looked at them, and whether we are to re-evaluate their hopes in the sport.
Given we started the "Introducing" series with with Mikito Nakano (who was 1-0, 1 at the time) it makes sense to begin this new series by looking back over Mikito Nakano's 2019 and looking at where he is now.
In 2019 Nakano moved from 1-0 (1) to 4-0 (4) with a trio of stoppage wins. They weren't against sensational fighters, with his February win over Ekkalak Ratprakhon being particularly poor, but he did step up in class and stopped Filipino pair Arvin Yurong and KJ Natuplag, in what were very solid wins for this stage of his career.
At the time of writing Nakano has broken into the OPBF Featherweight rankings, and has a #8 ranking with the regional title body. That is based primarily on his 3rd round TKO win over KJ Natuplag last November, with Natuplag entering with an OPBF ranking himself. That ranking suggests that Nakano and Teiken will be taking him the Oriental title route rather than the Japanese title route, and in all honest it seems a more open title picture for him to attack.
As we write this the Japanese Featherweight title scene is an insanely tough one. The champion, Ryo Sagawa is a fringe world level fighter, his next defense will come in April against the very highly regarded Hinata Maruta, as part of the Champion Carnival. Below Maruta in the late rankings are Reiya Abe and Genesis Servania, with others ranked including Ryo Hino and Tsuyoshi Tameda. Whilst the OPF title scene isn't an easy one, one it's title is likely to become vacant sooner rather than later and it does give Nakano a way to move towards a belt. Another title option would be the WBO Asia Pacific title which we wouldn't be surprised by see Nakano look at as an option. This may be very tempting as some of the fighters ranked there are ones that Nakano would strongly favour himself against, even this early in his career.
So how has he actually looked? Well after being not too impressed by Nakano on his debut we really have been won over by his showings in 2019. His win over Yurong showed him applying smart pressure through out, fantastic punch variety, crisp punching and the ability to move through the gears. There was still areas for him to work on but there was a lot of improvements from his debut and he was neutralising a pretty solid fighter with genuine else.
It's worth noting that Nakano was apparently under pressure against Natuplag, in a bout that wasn't televised, but that isn't a bad thing and seemed to tell those in the venue that he could fight on the back foot when he needed to. That's a good sign, showing that he can be versatile and soak up the aggression of a dangerous fighter when he needs to.
Nakano's first bout of 2020 hasn't been announced yet though it would seem likely he'd be fighting in the Spring, the Summer and then again towards the end of the year. Although we would plot his route for a title to one of the regional belts, it would be a surprise to see him fighting for a belt this year. Instead of fighting for gold in 2020 we would imagine Nakano and his team putting down a marker in the rankings and putting things in place for a shot in early 2021.
Although impressing, and looking like a fighter who is improving with every fight Nakano only has 8 rounds to his name, and the 24 year old certainly needs more ring time this year. We would imagine his team are going to look at getting him in with a solid guy to take him rounds, and a bout with someone like Ryo Hino, Nathaniel May or Eugene Lagos would do him the world of good.
We see Nakano as a future world champion, but only if he can get the tests he needs in the coming year or two. We'd like to see 2020 to be a year of development, 2021 to be the year in which he begins to make moves for his first titles, then potential world title fights in 2022 or 2023. We'd be surprised to see him being put on the super fast track, but we'd be equally surprised to see him fail to reach the top in the coming years.
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