We'll admit we love doing our weekly "Introducing..." series, and taking a chance to shine a light on a fighter that fans probably aren't that aware of. Sometimes the fighter in question will lead to nothing and disappear without a trace, other times however they will be moved quickly and engage in some meaningful bouts, sometimes very soon after we write about them.
In June 2019 we covered Yuri Takemoto (then 6-1-1 (3), now 8-2-1 (3)) who was preparing for his 9th bout as a professional, a contest against Indonesian foe Kiki Marciano lined up. Back then we would not have been able to predict the journey Takemoto has been on and how he managed to get a major domestic fight just 14 months later.
To begin with lets look at Takemoto's bout with Kiki Marciano, which came in Wakayama back in June 2019. That was Takemoto's second bout since winning the Rookie of the Year in December 2018 and saw him return to a ring in Wakayama, to give local fans a show. Sadly for fans it didn't last long, though they were left happy with Takemoto dropping Marciano twice to take a TKO in the opening round.
Because there isn't a lot of boxing in Wakayama that was only Takamoto's third bout in his home prefecture, and his first one there in over a year. Instead of being able to box at home he's had travel a lot and his return to the ring, 4 months later, saw him travelling from Wakayama to Kochi, around 100 miles away as the crow flies.
In that that bout in Kochi we saw Takemoto take on the experienced Yoshiyuki Takabayashi. Although not a major fighter Takabayashi is a true servant to Japanese boxing and he has been a good test for some very notable fighters. He played that role against Takemoto in testing the youngster and giving him a real fight, rocking him in round 2. Thankfully for Takemoto he recovered from the scare and went on to take a 6 round technical decision over Takabayashi, who had been cut in round 4 from a clash of heads.
Despite ending 2019 with a record of 8-1-1 (4) and being well inside the Japanese rankings Takemoto was still well and truly under-the-radar. Being in Wakayama his opportunities were certainly limited, but in 2020 fortune struck and he managed to be one of the very, very few winners, in terms of boxing, from the on going global situation.
Early in 2020 Japanese Featherweight champion Ryo Sagawa was supposed to defend his title against Hinata Maruta in a Champion Carnival bout. That contest, like many, fell through due to issues that put boxing on hiatus in Japan and when boxing resumed in Japan Maruta was unable to take an August date with Sagawa. As a result Takemoto got the call and jumped at the opportunity to fight for the title.
Sadly for Takemoto the champion turned out to be a bit too good for him, though in fairness the youngster made Sagawa work from the off before being stopped at the very end of round 6 by a brutal body shot. Prior to being stopped Takemoto proved his hunger, his chin and his determination, but his lack of higher level experience was shown up against the world ranked Japanese national champion.
Despite losing to Sagawa, like most fighters would in fairness, we actually feel move confident than we had previously that Takemoto has got the potential win titles down the line. We don't see him having world class potential but he will certainly come again at domestic level.
At the moment it's unclear when Takemoto will be back in the ring, but we're looking forward to it and to following his career, even if he was stopped last time out.
For those who missed it we've included the bout with Sagawa below.
Back in May 2019 we spoke in depth about the talented Kai Ishizawa (then 5-0, 5 now 6-1, 6) as he featured in one of our "Introducing" articles. At the time Ishizawa was preparing for his 6th professional bout, a contest against Indonesian visitor Silem Serang, and was hoping to build on his impressive 2018 win over Yuga Inoue.
Then aged just 22 Ishizawa was making waves. He was the Japanese Youth Minimumweight Champion, he was showing himself to be a very exciting, hard hitting, though somewhat unpolished, fighter. He was teak tough, had rocks in his hands and kept coming forward, with belief that his aggression and power would be too much for anyone. That had been proven against Inoue and against Tatsuro Nakashima, in his two best wins
Unsurprisingly Ishizawa had no issues at all with Serang, who was stopped in the 4th round by Ishizawa in June 2019, on a card that was televised in G+ and headlined by Junto Nakatani. From the opening round Ishizawa pressed forward, showed a stiff jab, cut the distance behind a high guard and went about breaking down the Indonesian. Serang was in survival mode from pretty much the first minute, but eventually he was broken down, dropped and stopped.
After moving to 6-0 (6) Ishizawa then got a big step up fight as he took on former world title challenger Masataka Taniguchi in a Japanese Minimumweight title eliminator. The winner of that bout would then be set to get a shot at the belt in early 2020 as part of the Champion Carnival. As we all now know the Champion Carnival has been delayed due to on going global crisis, but the rewards were big for the winner of this.
Sadly for Ishizawa the bout with Taniguchi was too much too soon. The gutsy youngster had some moments, in fact he dropped Taniguchi, but was made to look too inexperienced, too raw and too much of a crude novice against the talented Taniguchi, who took a clear decision over the previously unbeaten man. This meant that Taniguchi was then in line for a Japanese title fight whilst Ishizawa had to go back to the drawing board and learn from the setback.
Sadly we've not seen Ishizawa return to the ring following his first loss, but the hard hitting youngster seems like the type of young fighter who will learn from a loss like this, much like Taniguchi has from his defeats.
At the time of writing Ishizawa's next bout hasn't yet been set, though the hope is that he will be back in the ring sooner rather than later, even if it is just a simple and straight forward comeback win after his loss to Taniguchi.
Aged just 23 we really we see Ishizawa having a lot of potential, and hopefully he, and his team, can develop that potential over the next few years, and have him in the mix for domestic titles by 2022, and potentially regional titles the following year. He's young, promising, exciting, aggressive and strong. He just needs to physically mature and develop his defense and ring IQ if he's to make the most of what still promises to be a very, very exciting career.
At the end of April 2019 we covered the promising Tsubasa Murachi (4-1, 3) in our "Introducing" piece. At the time the 22 year old old was 3-0 (3) and looked like someone with good long term potential, but was still a work in progress, who didn't need to be rushed, and should have been given time to progress and develop. Following our previous piece on Murachi however we saw him moved, quickly, through the levels of the sport, and sadly his career may never recover. He went from being a promising young prospect to someone who reached for the sun and got burned, badly.
So before we look at what Murachi has done since we first looked at him we just need to remember where he was. Back in April 2019 Murachi was preparing for a May bout with Filipino veteran Raymond Tabugon. Up to that point Murachi had fought a total of 7 professional rounds, and had done little to suggest he would be fighting for a title by the end of the year. That however is exactly what would happen.
In May 2019 Murachi showed his class by out boxing, out speed and out thinking Raymond Tabugon to take a wide 8 round decision. The Filipino veteran was game, and never looked hurt, but was made to look slow and clumsy through out by the talented 22 year old Japanese fighter.
The win over Tabugon should have been a clear step in the right direction for Murachi, who gone 8 rounds for the first time, and had shown a lot promise, but also areas to work on. It seemed clear that whilst Murachi was skilled, a good mover, a smart boxer and knew he couldn't just blast through Tabugan, as he had his previous opponents. It was also clear that Murachi wasn't fully mature, he needed time, he needed bouts, he needed rounds and ring time.
Sadly ambition was one thing Tabugon didn't need and rather than fighting in a few more 8 rounders, or even a 10 rounds, against some lower level regional opponents, or even a domestic rival he was match much harder. Just 4 months after beating Tabugon Murachi was matched with former world title challenger Froilan Saludar in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight title.
On paper Maruchi Vs Saludar was a risky bout, but a winnable one. It was a huge step up but one that he and his team seemed to feel confident he could win. That confidence looked to be in the right place early on, when Maruchi dropped Saludar inside the opening round. It seemed like the gamble of Maruchi and his team was perfectly done...until Saludar recovered from the knockdown and showed his class as he broke down Murachi, stopping him, in brutal fashion, in round 8.
The ambition to chase a regional title so early in his career was commendable, but it came at a cost and with Saludar's power taking taking him out in such a nasty manner there will be questions over last damage to Murachi.
We had hoped to see what Murachi had learned from the loss to Saludar in May, but sadly the bout he was scheduled for has been cancelled. The hope is now for him to return in September, though full details of who against and when have yet to be disclosed.
We're looking forward to seeing what Murachi looks like on his return. The loss to Saludar was a very nasty one, but it'd be foolish to write off the youngster after just a single defeat. Instead we want to see what he has learned and what he looks like on his return. He's a talent, but that ambition just needs cooling, he needs to get experience, he needs to develop and physically mature. When that happens we suspect we'll see Murachi back in title fights, and likely winning silverware of his own. He'll have to wait, but he really does have the potential to go a long way.
Way back in early May 2019 we covered the then unbeaten Tetsuro Ohashi (7-1-1, 2) as part of our "Introducing" series. At the time Ohashi was 6-0-1 (1) and the 20 year old was showing real potential whilst preparing to take on Thai visitor Kathawut Saikaew Boxing Camp.
When we "Introduced" Ohashi he had won the 2018 Rookie of the Year, at Super Flyweight, with a decision win over Shinobu Wakagi in the final. He had shown a lack of power, but some lovely skills and it was clear he had the potential to go far, but still had work to do. What he had was skills, speed, timing, footwork and size. He is also a southpaw, giving him yet another thing to like. For a Super Flyweight he was a long, tall, rangy guy, and fought to his physical strengths.
Whilst Ohashi is a big guy at Super Flyweight he is still very young, lacking physical maturity. That lack of maturity was obvious in 2019, he still looked like a kid, a scrawny looking kid. Questions were always going to be asked when a fighter could get past his jab, cut the ring, and begin to physically bully him. It wasn't going to be an easy task for opponents, but was a clear area where Ohashi was probably going to struggle.
Following our introduction of Ohashi he blew out Kathawut Saikaew Boxing Camp inside a round as part of the Reiya Konishi Vs Felix Alvarado under-card. The win was Ohashi's first stoppage since he defeated Akihiro Imai back in June 2017 in Ohashi's debut, almost 2 years earlier. The bout said more about the totally hapless Thai than Ohashi, though the Japanese youngster did show some nice touches and his left hands to the body were particularly potent against the Thai.
After stopping Kathawut Saikaew Boxing Camp we then saw Ohashi move into his first title bout. That came in October 2019 when he took on fellow Japanese youngster Suzumi Takayama in a bout for the Japanese Youth Super Flyweight title. This was one of those bouts that is rather unique to the Japanese scene, with two talented young prospects both facing in their first 10 bouts. It was a notable amateur in Takayama taking on a Rookie of the Year winner, in Ohashi.
The bout between Ohashi and Takayama turned out to be a genuine hidden gem. Ohashi was dropped in the first round but then got revenge in round 2 when he dropped Takayama, and managed to build a lead through the first half of the fight. Going into the final round Ohashi was in a lead on all 3 cards, albeit a narrow one. With the bout slipping away from Takayama dropped a tired Ohashi twice in round 8, with Ohashi's team throwing in the towel to save their man.
The loss is a clear set back for Ohashi, a stoppage loss can certainly be hard to bounce back from. However this is not a loss that Ohashi should feel ashamed by. In fact if anything it showed he could fight through adversity, getting up in the first round. He could recompose himself when hurt, and he belonged at that level. The loss also showed that he needed time, he needed a chance to develop and mature physically and get used to the 8 round distance.
Whilst Ohashi hasn't fought since October 2019 in part due to the global situation, we're really looking forward to seeing more of him. Unlike many fighters the lengthy break from the ring may serve him well. It's allowed him a lengthy break after a stoppage loss, and it's given him plenty of time to naturally mature. Of course gym time would have helped, but we suspect the time out of the ring will be a blessing in disguise for the 21 year old from the Shinsei Gym.
(Please note - Ohashi may have had his next bout announced by the time this goes live, it was written in May)
In May 2019 one of the fighters we looked at in our introducing series was Tulio Kuwabata (then 2-0, 2). Since we looked at the Osakan last year things haven't got amazingly well for him, fighting twice and going 1-1 to see his current record stand at 3-1 (2). He's gone from being regarded as a prospect of note to someone who many are doubting has the ability to go to the highest those at the Muto gym expected and showed real issues in his most recent bout, which came in December 2019. Sadly Kuwabata failed to get back on the horse and pick up a win before the world was plunged into chaos, and as a result has been out of the ring for more than 8 months and is more than a year removed from his last win, in May 2019.
When we spoke about Kuwabata last year he was days away from his third professional bout. That was originally planned to be a bout against the highly experienced John Mark Apolinario in what was scheduled to be a 6 rounder. Sadly Apolinario had to pull out of the bout and Kuwabata ended up taking on the previously unbeaten Eric Pulgo, in what looked like a genuinely decent test.
Despite the change of opponent Kuwabata dealt with Pulgo without too many issues. In fact the Japanese youngster looked sharp, accurate, light on his feet and had a very nice jab. There were areas to work on, but for a man in his third professional bout there was a lot to like, and a lot of areas where his team could see mistakes and work on them. For all the nice work he showed with his jab there there was defensive issues in his performance, though he got away with them as Pulgo lacked the experience to punish him and make him pay for them. In the end Kuwabata won every round against Pulgo in what turned out to be little more than a public sparring session for the Japanese youngster.
In December Kuwabata took another step up, going from willing opponent there to lose, in Pulgo, to the hard hitting Ken Jordan, who boasted an 8-1-2 (7) record. The Filipino hadn't beaten anyone of note, but was entering the bout as a hungry fighter. Jordan had previously won a minor title and looked like was a genuine prospect from the Philippines, despite an early career loss to the under-rated Jimboy Haya.
Despite Jordan being regarded as a decent prospect few would have expected him to do what he did to Kuwabata. That was stop him, in a round. From the off Jordon looked relaxed and calm, and like he knew of Kuwabata's defensive lapses, throwing his left hook regularly. Kuwabata managed to have moments but it was clear that Jordan wasn't the willing sparring partner that Pulgo had been. He had ambitions of his own and rocked Kuwabata with a sweeping left hook, before sending him down what appeared to be a glancing shot. Kuwabata got to his feet but couldn't the follow up onslaught from Jordan, who dropped him again. The bout was stopped, despite Jordan getting to his feet.
The loss to Jordan is a major setback for Kuwabata however it's certainly not the end. He was caught, his defensive flaws were punished, and the hype around him was burst, big time. That is far, far from the end however and given what he now knows about himself, there are areas he and his team can work on, go back to the drawing board, tidy up that defense, tighten up, get that back hand up and get it tighter. Jordan spotted the hole for the left hook quickly and repeatedly threw it, knowing it was there for him.
Also the hype about Kuwabata needed to be scaled back. He seemed too bothered about getting a gimmicky name, going with "Dekanarudo Torio", when his focus should have been more on the in ring action.
We don't think Kuwabata should be written off, but we do see him struggling above domestic level. Sadly for him however he's not going to get an easy one when he returns to the ring. Instead he will be returning on August 9th to take on former Japanese Super Flyweight champion Takayuki Okumoto, in what appears to a very, very hard match up for the youngster.
Whilst we do see him having a ceiling of domestic class, we think Kuwabata's potential could fall short of that if he's not matched softly after the Okumoto bout. We see him losing that and then having a lot of rebuilding to do. That's not what we expected to be saying 12 months ago, which is a shame. Don't ignore Kuwabata, but his stablemates like Yuske Mine, appear to have more long term potential than him.
Last year in our "Introducing" series we spoke about a lot of promising fighters, among those was Ren Sasaki (10-0, 6) who was at the time, 8-0 (5). As a follow up to our "Introducing" articles we're taking a dive back into the fighters we looked at last year and revisiting them, looking at how their careers have progressed and where they stand now.
When we spoke about Sasaki last year he had been out of the ring for 8 months. His previous bout had been a narrow win over Kanehiro Nakagawa and he had real questions to answer to see whether or not he really was a prospect, or just a pretender.
Around 2 weeks after we spoke about Sasaki last year he returned to the ring and fought his international bout, travelling to Hong Kong to face unbeaten Chinese fighter Ge An Ma. Ma was 6-0-0-1 (1) but had a very weak record, with his only win of any note being a decision over experienced Filipino Diarh Gabutan.
Despite travelling away from Japan to take on Ma we actually saw Sasaki put on a very, very, good performance. Sasaki countered the aggressive Ma, regularly. He covered up when he needed to, and picked holes in Ma's defenses time and time again. Although Ma was there to win, he was genuinely the perfect foil for the talented Sasaki, who showed great composure under some pretty intense pressure and scored a 6th round TKO of the previously unbeaten Chinese fighter.
Sadly Sasaki took 5 months to return to the ring, but did so as part of the Knock Out DynamitePrize Match tournament in October. The 4 man tournament saw Sasaki fighting in the 56KG weight class, where he faced Morihisa Iju in the first round, with the other side of the bracket seeing Yuki Yamauchi defeat Ryuta Wakamatsu.
Sasaki, along with Yamauchi, would have been the favourite and was expected to easily over-come Iju. Surprisingly however Sasaki was outboxed at times by the over-looked Iju, who put on one of the best performances of his career. After 5 rounds Sasaki took a a highly dubios split decision over Iju to progress to the final. The bout was much like Sasaki's win over Nakagawa, where he was expected to win, but seemed to over-look his opponent and really struggled to find his rhythm as a result.
Having taken the win over Iju, albeit controversially, Sasaki was then meant to face off with Yamauchi, who had stopped Wakamatsu in the other semi-final. Sadly that bout, which was to take place in January, ended up being cancelled when Yamauchi was unable to compete. This resulted in Sasaki winning the tournament by default, in what was a real disappointment. Not only was it disappointing to see Sasaki win the tournament after his controversial win over Iju but to then see the mouth watering match up between Sasaki and Yamauchi fall apart as well left the tournament feeling very underwhelming.
Although Sasaki is clearly a talented fighter, and has already won the All Japan Rookie of the Year, Dangan B Class Tournament and Knockout Out Dynamite tournaments he has looked less than spectacular at times. We suspect he over-looks opponents, and that is something that will need to be addressed. He has genuine skill, solid power, nice movement and timing, and speed, but needs to maintain a level of consistency, no matter who he is up against.
If Sasaki can fight to his best every time he should still be regarded as a top prospect, but we're not sure if that's really something he can do. So far questionable wins against Kanehiro Nakagawa and Morihisa Iju have left us unconvinced on his ability to reach the top. Thankfully however he is just 25 and has time on his side. If he uses that time wisely there's a real chance he will develop and be a contender on the regional title in the future. He will however really need to buck up his performances and show us what he can do, before he suffers a shock loss to someone he has the skills to beat.
In mid-April 2019 we covered Takuma Takahashi (5-0, 5) in our introducing feature. At the time the promising Japanese Welterweight was 3-0 (3) and looking like the next face of the World Sport Boxing Gym, following the likes of Takeshi Inoue and Kazuto Takesako. As we sit now however it's really hard to envisage Takahashi becoming the star we had hoped for him to be. In fact on his last performance it's hard to imagine him being any sort of a serious threat, even at domestic level.
When we spoke about Takahashi last year he had just scored an excellent 85 second blow out win over Jonel Dapidran. It was his third win in just 5 rounds of in ring action and he looked like he was a destructive puncher, albeit one with a relatively crude and open style. He wasn't pretty to watch, but he was destructive, eye catching and fun.
In August 2019 Takahashi continued his perfect start to the professional ranks as he stopped tough Thai Sitthidet Banti in 6 rounds. Takahashi was in control through out the bout but was, for the first time, forced to answer some questions. The bout saw Takahashi prove he could fight for 6 rounds if he needed to, it proved he could box as well as bang, and that he had some polished skills, even if we only managed to see glimpses of them.
Despite the better performance from Takahashi against Banti the unbeaten fighter left a lot of questions that needed answering. Takahashi was in control, but Banti was doing little more than not falling over. The Thai didn't put together much offense of his own and the rare shots he did throw were slapping, and cuffing, with little conviction on them. It made for a poor match up and Takahashi would have had much tougher sparring sessions.
This past January Takahashi was finally given a test, and boy did it turn out to be a test. On paper it wasn't a big step up as he went in with established Filipino journeyman Leonardo Doronio. At this point Doronio had as many losses as wins and was not expected to ask questions of the rising Japanese fighter. What ended up happening was very different to what was expected.
In the opening round Takahashi was dropped, twice, by Doronio. The first knockdown wasn't too bad but the second seemed like it taken his legs away and Takahashi was very lucky the bell rang when it did. Takahashi showed his heart to get back into the fight but would end up cut in round 3, before he finished off Doronio. The finish it's self wasn't without controversy with Takahashi hitting Doronio when he was down, from two different knockdowns.
Although Takahashi had managed to come out on top of a total dog fight with Doronio he had left us with more questions than answers. He proved he had dog in him, digging deep and stopping the Filipino, but left questions about his chin, his defense and his honesty in the ring. A less forgiving referee would certainly have taken points from him, if not disqualified him all together.
It was good to see Takahashi getting tested but wasn't good that it had come against such a limited opponent. We're now very unsure on how far he can go but it's going to be fun following him over the coming years. He can certainly punch, but with question marks about his chin, his defense, his technical polish and ring IQ we don't suspect that Takahashi will go as far as we once expected. In fact we wouldn't be surprised to see Takahashi fail to win a Japanese title, but we expect him to be in a lot of dramatic fights before he hangs them up.
In April 2019 we did an introducing piece on a then 1-0 (1) unbeaten hopeful, Yuki Nakajima (4-1, 4). Since then Nakajima has been among the busier prospects in Japan, fighting 3 times in 2019 and once earlier this year as he has progressed his career, battled back from a loss, and moved things forward with some fantastic performance. Whilst he's perhaps not on the fast track to the top, as we had hoped, he is certainly someone to keep in mind as we continue our "Revisiting" series, and look again at Yuki Nakajima.
A month after we spoke about Nakajima he returned to the ring for his second professional bout and he scored his second win, taking out Thai novice Manop Audomphanawari in 4 rounds. At the time that result wasn't too notable, with Manop sporting a 1-1 record but it's worth noting that Manop's first loss was to Thanongsak Simsri, who is now regarded as a very promising Thai, and came in the 5th round of their bout. Manop has since gone 2-1, following the loss to Nakajima, and his most recent bout was a TKO2 loss to Yudai Shigeoka. So in reality Manop isn't good, but Nakajima beat him quicker than Simsri.
Sadly for Nakajima his winning run came to an end just 3 months later, when he lost a decision to the brilliant Ryu Horikawa. The bout was competitive but there no arguing after the final bell on who deserved it, with Horikawa running out the clear winning in a well fought 6 rounder.
The loss to Horikawa could have dampened Nakajima's rise but it really didn't and in December 2019 he made a successful return to the ring as he stopped Yasuhiro Tanaka in 3 rounds. The Tanaka bout notable for a number of reasons. Not only was it technically a step up in terms of opponent, with Tanaka having more experience in the pros than Nakajima's first 3 opponents combined, but it was also an 8 round bout, the first of Nakajima's career, and also a bout being fought at a higher weight than Nakajima's first 3. The few extra pounds seemed to work well for Nakajima who stopped Tanaka in 3 rounds.
To begin 2020 Nakajima clashed with fellow youngster Shisui Kawabata. Kawabata needed a win after losing to Rikito Shiba in September 2019, whilst Nakajima needed a win to keep his momentum going. What we got here was a brilliant high speed chess match early on, with high level skills from both. Nakajima was dropped in round 3 but battled back, made things rough and went on to stop Kawabata in round 6 of what was a truly fantastic fight, so good we've included it below.
Given that Nakajima was one of the few Japanese boxers to fight in a fight before the global climate became what it is he's not really lost much time this year. He might have missed a single fight so far, maybe, so the issues affecting boxing won't be too bad to his career. However like every fighter he'll be desperate to return and continue to move forward with his career. Kadoebi are big enough, as a company, to get him fights when boxing returns and fingers crossed they will help him establish his place in the exciting Japanese Flyweight rankings when the sport does finally return.
It seems the move from Light Flyweight to Flyweight will serve Nakajima's career well, and whilst he may not be a world champion in the making the 24 year old does have the potential to win titles in the coming years. He may have loss since we covered him last year, but his career still has a lot of promise and we are still very, very excited to see what the future holds for Nakajima.
We continue with our "Revisiting" series as we look at Riku Kunimoto (4-0, 2), who we looked at in April 2019 as part of our "Introducing" series. At the time Kunimoto was 3-0 (1) and had been showing promise following his August 20118 debut. Sadly however Kunimoto hasn't been massively busy since we covered him last year, and has actually been affected by the current global situation, which postponed a Japanese title fight which was set to take place earlier this month.
Just days after we spoke about Kunimoto last year he scored a career best win, stopping Shoma Fukumoto in 6 rounds. This should have been a break out win, followed by more success. Instead however it was the start of a long, long break from the ring for Kunimoto, who hasn't fought since that bout. A real shame.
Following the win over Fukumoto the logical thing would have been for Kunimoto to have fought in a Japanese title eliminator, but essentially left in the cold there was there was no suitable dancer partners for the unbeaten hopeful. He also didn't have a stay busy fight against a foreign opponent, which would have helped tick him over given how the world has gone since.
Instead the plan was for Kunimoto to return to the ring in the first half of 2020 to clash with Japanese Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako, in what is still a mouth watering match up, as part of the Champion Carnival. That bout had been pencilled in for early May on a Dynamic Glove card. It was still coming after a long break for Kunimoto, but gave him something to train and prepare for. Something to focus on.
Sadly however with boxing in Japan being suspended from March the scheduled May date for Kunimoto's clash with Takesako has been, and gone.
At the moment it's really unclear on what will happen here. There's a chance that it will be rearranged, which seems the most likely, though it could end up taking place in 2021, rather than 2020, due to the JBC showing some potential flexibility on this year's Champion Carnival bouts being pushed into the new year. Alternatively we could also see either Kunimoto or Takesako taking another direction when boxing returns to Japan. We suspect Kunimoto will still pursue his title shot, but he may end up fighting for the vacant title if Takesako does decide to head towards bigger and better bouts.
Compared to where we were a year ago, Kunimoto's career really hasn't progressed in the way we would all have hoped. However at 23 years old the break from the ring may be a bit of a blessing in disguise. The youngster gets some extra time to mature, physically fill out his body and prepare a bit longer for the biggest and toughest bout of his career. It's a huge shame that he's been out of the ring, and we would have loved to have seen him fit in a bout in late 2019.
It'll be interesting to see how Kunimoto looks when he gets back in the ring, but the future is still very, very bright for the youngster from Osaka. He might not have been active, but with Muto gym behind him we know he has a smart team backing him, and they will get him back on track sooner rather than later.
In March 2019 we spoke glowingly about promising Light Flyweight Rikito Shiba (4-1, 2), who's name was being transcribed as "Rikuto Shiba". At the time we were really excited about Shiba, who looked a real talent on his way to big things. At the time he was 2-0 (1), he had looked highly talented, exciting, with good ring IQ and a lot of ambition. Sadly however things haven't gone amazingly well for him since we covered him in our "Introducing" feature. So lets take another look at Shiba as we revist Rikito Shiba.
When we spoke about Shiba last he was closing in on his April 11th bout against Hizuki Saso, in what was an eliminator the Japanese Youth Light Flyweight title. The talented Shiba would shine, stopping Saso in 2 rounds to book himself a bout with Tsuyoshi Sato for the title. Sadly that bout fell through when Sato had to pull out, though Shiba would later get his shot at the title.
When Shiba got his bout for the Japanese Youth title he took on the touted Shisui Kawabata, instead of Sato. It was a very different type of bout to what a contest with Sato would have been, but Shiba did enough to take home the victory. The key different between the two men was a knockdown that that Shiba scored in the opening round. The bout went 8 rounds, allowing Shiba to test his stamina, but was a real test and one that saw him having to answer some real questions.
After winning the Japanese Youth title Shiba got a chance to take a huge stride towards a bout for the senior Japanese title, as he took part in a Japanese title eliminator. In the opposite corner was the big punching Masamichi Yabuki, who sadly proved to be too strong and too powerful for Shiba, battering the youngster into submission in round 4. Shiba had proven to be game, but was really unable to cope with the power and size of Yabuki, with Shiba being dropped several times.
Following the loss Shiba seemed to talk about walking away from the sport. It was as if the loss to Yabuki, a really good fighter, had extinguished his desire to box. Thankfully however Shiba has spoken about wanting to fight again and admitted that he was toon busy blaming things for his loss rather than taking responsibility. It now seems, from his recent social media posts, that he's hungry to be back in the ring and we're really looking forward to that.
Although Shiba was bullied and battered by Yabuki the youngster still has a really bright future ahead of him. It's clear he needs to do a lot of work if he's to reach the heights we expected of him, but at just 24 years old he's not a fully matured young fighter. Yes he was beaten by Yabuki, but he has time on his side and has got plenty of time to develop. He's got a lot to like and if he's really able to accept that he is to blame for his loss, and he's responsible for working on things, he can still go a very long way. Yabuki isn't a bum and a loss to Yabuki isn't a reason to right off Shiba, who should come back stronger when he returns to the ring, later this year.
The loss, so early on, for Shiba may be a blessing in disguise for the very talented young southpaw who we are really looking forward to see again. Hopefully with a level had and a renewed hunger to impress.
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