On December 27th we get the penultimate show in this years Rookie of the Year tournament, as we find out who will represent West Japan in the All Japan final in 2020. With that in mind we've decided to look at that show to pick the fighter who we want to introduce this week, and with that in mind we've decided to focus 23 year old Super Bantamweight hopeful Sora Fukunaga (7-0, 3).
Like many fighters from West Japan Fukunaga isn't really a name we expect many to be familiar with. The reality when it comes to Japanese boxing is that those outside of East Japan struggle to get much much attention, and coming from Kochi Prefecture Fukunaga is certainly not a man from a boxing hotbed. In fact Kochi is very much a boxing black hole, with almost no impact on the sport at all, meaning Fukunaga could be the man to kick start the local scene. Which seems to be something he is hoping to do.
Originally boxing wasn't even the sport of choice for Fukunaga who originally played baseball in junior high school, then took up Judo at high school. He was 20 when he entered the Kuroshio Boxing gym and just months after entering the gym he had ambitions to turn professional. He did just that in September 2018 when he passed a C license test, still aged 20 at the time.
Just over a month after getting his boxing license Fukunaga made his professional debut, fighting up at Featherweight. He would go on to get a winning start, as he took a 4 round decision against Akihiro Nakata. Just weeks later he celebrated his 21st birthday.
Sadly it took some time for Fukunaga to return to the ring and he didn't fight until almost 6 months after his professional debut. In his second bout Fukunaga took another decision victory, as he out pointed Keisuke Iwasaki, in a razor thin bout scored 39-38 in his favour by all 3 judges. This was a great fight for fans in attendance, with round 3 in particular being something very special. This win became particularly notable as Iwasaki would, just 8 months later, compete in the 2019 All Japan Rookie of the Year, losing a split decision to Seiya Meguro, and more recently out-pointed the big punching Mammoth Kazunori.
Despite a lengthy break between his first two fights Fukunaga was through the second half of 2019 beating Yuto Nonoguchi just 2 months after the win over Iwasaki, and then stopping Nonoguchi in a rematch 4 months later to secure his first stoppage win and end the year 4-0 (1).
Sadly for Fukunaga the momentum he had been building in 2019, boosted by Iwasaki's showing in the Rookie of the Year, was slowed in 2020 when he, like many boxers, were put on the side line due to the on going global situation. This meant that Fukunaga was out of the ring for more than 10 months before continuing his career in August 2020. On his return to the ring he scored a 4th round TKO win over novice Kairi Suetsugu in the first round of this years West Japan Rookie of the Year tournament.
Just weeks later Fukunaga was back in the ring and stopped Shuta Kuwabuchi inside a round in the West Japan Rookie of the Year semi-final. This was an impressive win, dropping Kuwabachi twice in the opening round to progress to the final where he faced Ren Nishimura. This was a much, much tougher bout, and a hotly contested one, with Fukunaga doing just enough to take home the victory, and become the West Japan Rookie of the Year.
We mentioned that Fukunaga wanted to kick start boxing in the local scene and he's gone as far as to admit his goal is to become the first All Japan Rookie of the Year champion from Shikoku, one of the smaller main islands that make up Japan. To do that he still needs to win two bouts. The first of those is his December 27th bout against 20 year old foe Ren Anzai from Aichi. If he does that he will then compete in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, which is scheduled to take place in the new year.
In regards to his style Fukunaga is a fun fighter to watch. He's aggressive, he comes forward, he stalks his opponents and presses the action. He's not yet experienced enough to know how to cut off a fighter whe's moving but he's strong, powerful and lets his hands go on the inside. The way to beat him, at least for now, is to jab and move, and make him follow you, but given the level of opponents that he's up against not many are going to have the tool kit to beat him. He's not a pure puncher, but he's heavy handed, has good balance, looks physically imposing and has a lot to like. He is however someone who looks like a diamond in the rough and needs a lot of polishing. If he wins the Rookie of the Year we suspect that polishing will be done in 2021 and 2022 and he will begin to move towards a Japanese title fight after that.
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