Our final "Introducing" of 2019 isn't going to be one of our usual articles looking at a specific fighter but instead a look back at some of the fighters we've mentioned during the last 12 months, ahead of the changes we'll be making to these articles in the coming year.
Since we started this way back on January 8th we've looked at some winners, some losers and some fighters who's future isn't as clear as we'd have hoped. We won't go through all 50 fighters here, but we will talk about those who have have shined the most, and those who have disappointed the most.
The first Introducing saw us talk about Mikito Nakano, who was 1-0 (1) at the time and has since added 3 wins, all inside the distance. He has gone from a good novice into a fine prospect and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him fighting for a title in 2020.
Just a week later we spoke about Ginjiro Shigeoka, who was also 1-0 (1) and his rise has been legitimately meteoric. In just his fourth bout he claimed the WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight title and if he picks up a win on New Year's Eve, against Rey Loreto, there is no doubt that he will be in the world title mix in 2020.
We spoke about Shokichi Iwata in week 25 and since then he has scored back to back TKO5 wins, with both of those victories coming on massive Japanese cards. The 23 year old Teiken prospect looks like he has the potential to go all the way to the top, and to do so quickly. He has shown he can box, or brawl, and whilst he may not quite have figured out his style in the ring he already looks like a special talent.
What a year Andy Hiraoka has had! We featured him in week 26, when he was then 13-0 (9) and since then he has scored the biggest win of his career, signed with Top Rank and made his US debut. The talented 140lb'der showed he could go 10, as he did in victory over Akihiro Kondo, and looked very good in his American show case in November.
Another man who has had a great year is Toshiya Ishii, who was covered in week 33. He made his debut in April, took the unbeaten record of Fumiya Fuse in August then took the Japanese Youth Bantamweight title in December. His win Fuse, who we covered in an introducing article in week 4 was impressive but his war with Ishikawa was something special and we advise all fans to give that a watch.
In week 34 we looked at Yudai Shigeoka and although he didn't debut for a few weeks after that he has shone since some much. His debut was an easy win over a Thai, but despite the ease of the win he showed so much ability, brilliant crisp punching, fantastic movement and ring IQ. He then followed that up with a win over Lito Dante and looks set to have a monstrous 2020, following in his brother's footsteps.
In week 9 we looked at Yoji Saito, who entered the year 1-1 (1) and looked like a huge punching monster. He fought twice in 2019, and went 0-0-2. Notably his first bout of the year, a draw with Aso Ishiwaki, looks very good on reflection and Ishiwaki used that bout as a great opportunity to shine, and was the focus of his own "Introducing" in week 38!
In week 17 we discussed Tsubasa Murachi and his year is a really tricky one to try and dissect. On one hand he impressed, in his win over Raymong Tabugon, and there was clearly skill and ambition with the youngster. But on the other hand he ended the year in September, following a brutal KO loss to Froilan Saludar, and the road back up to that level is going to be a rough journey for the 22 year old. Don't write him off, but he's going to have to go back to the drawing board.
Another man who is hard to get a good read on was Kai Ishizawa who may take more credit from his loss to Masataka Taniguchi in September, than most fighters take from a win. He was fantastic in defeat, he showed his toughness, his braveness, his power and his will to win. Sadly he lacked in technical areas, and Taniguchi was too good for him, but the reality is that both men came out with enhanced reputations. Sadly it was still a loss, and his one other bout this year was a blow out against an over-matched Indonesian
We love watching Christiano Aoqui, who we introduced in week 40, and despite a loss to Daishi Nagata following our article it's hard to write off the hard hitting Japanese-Brazilian, who has lost in the past and bounced back. He's never going to be a world beater but we expect him to remain in the domestic title mix next year.
Well we got that one wrong
In week 35 we spoke about the return of Teppei Kayanuma, who was supposed to fight in September. Though didn't. And we're not totally sure why. We are hoping that changes, and that he does return to the ring, but with more than 3 years since his last bout it now seems unlikely.
For week 46 we spoke about Dominique Kenshin, by this point we were trying to tweak the formula slightly and pick fighters who were in action during the week of the article, and as a result felt Kenshin was the man to cover. That was the wrong choice and he was was stopped in a round by Hiro Ichimichi. He's not fought since, and being honest he has a lot of work to do, in every part of his boxing.
Changes Will be Made
So as for 2020, "Introducing..." is changing. We are taking it more international, and instead of being exclusively Japanese fighters, as it was in 2019, we will be looking around Asia for fighters to cover. Whilst the key focus will, again, be prospects, we aren't going to be too rigid in that and we'll look at covering other fighters we find interesting as the year goes on. This could mean anyone from novice, to journeyman, fringe contender to prospects. The only fighters we'll not cover in this section are clear world level fighters. We want to shine a light on a fighter without much attention, and the hope is that we help a bring a fans attention to a fighter they aren't aware of. In 2019 we generally had good success picking our prospects, and we hope that continues in 2020.
See you in the new year for the next "Introducing...", and the next chance to see a light shined on a fighter you may not have even knew existed!
(Image credits - Kadoebi and Teiken)
One of the fighters who truly won us over this year was Aso Ishiwaki, who bounced back from a loss in the 2018 All Japan Rookie of the Year final to go 3-0-1 in 2019. His first bout of the year saw him go up against the touted former amateur stand out Yoji Saito. On paper this was supposed to be a win for Saito, who had been a very solid amateur whilst Ishiwaki was just a 19 year old novice, but Ishiwaki had no intent in taking a second straight loss. Instead he was there for a win.
What we ended up with was a genuinely fantastic 6 round bout between two men who wanted to throw short, crisp, sharp bombs through out. The referee was barely needed in the 6 rounds, that saw both men show a real willingness to try and hurt the other. The bout was a bit of under-ground hit with a very solid level of back and forth action, and although it was slower than a true fight of the year contender, it's deliberate pace meant the bout was always highly engaging and let both men let big shots do up close.
For us the pick of the rounds here was round 2, with both men really going for it, with some fantastic back and forth action, right in the middle of the round. From the off both men proved they were willing to dig their toes into the canvas and let their punches flow, but it was really the middle minute of the round that shone, as Ishiwaki got close and Saito unloaded on him, forcing and immediate response giving us a brilliant bit of 2-way action, and made Saito realise he was in with a genuinely talented young fighter.
Sadly after this round the pace did drop a little, with Saito seeming to tire, though every round remained was a well fought 3 minutes of hard shots and 2-way action.
It's fair to say that April has been an up and down month, rather than a spectacular month. It's given us some really good highlights, but those highlights were spread through the month and often at a relatively lower level. It's not been a bad month, but it instantly looks disappointing given that two of the months biggest bouts were underwhelming, and we have an incredible May just around the corner.
Fighter of the Month
John Riel Casimero (27-4, 18)
The month didn't have a major standout for the Fighter of the Month award, there were a number of contenders, but no one took the month by the scruff of the neck quite like John Riel Casimero. The inconsistent, though hugely talented, Filipino claimed the WBO "interim" Bantamweight title when he score a final round KO win ocer Ricardo Espinoza Franco, in an off TV bout. The bout was level on the cards going into the 12th round, and it really was all to play for, with Casimero turning it on, and taking out the Mexican in the first minute of the round. A great victory and one that instantly puts him in the Bantamweight mix. Potentially Casimero could face Zolani Tete next, in what would be a really good match up between two world class, though often frustrating, fighters.
Fight of the Month
Yoji Saito vs Aso Ishiwaki
Whilst some categories were stacked this month, it's hard to think of a bout that stood out for all the right reasons and was a genuinely good, 50-50 type bout, that didn't end in the opening round, more about that in a minute. Looking back over the month the best of the bunch, for us, was the 6 round thriller between Yoji Saito and Aso Ishiwaki, who really went to war and tried to take each other out. The fight was expected to go Saito's way to begin with, given his amateur pedigree, but Ishiwaki saw off the early storm and was perhaps unfortunate to not take a notable win in what was a thriller. A really good bout, in a month lacking sensational contests.
As we mentioned there was really good 1-round fights, or rather 1 round shoot outs. These included the brilliant Boxing Raise exclusive between Seigo Yuri Akui and Yoshiki Minato, and the similarly entertaining contest between Yuki Yazawa and Kazuki Nakamura.
KO of the Month
Nonito Donaire KO6 Stephon Young
We had a lot of competition in this category, with great KO's scored in Asia by Cristiano Aoqui, Koiki Tyson and Chainoi Worawut, among others. The pick of the KO's however came on a higher level as Nonito Donaire's much famed left hook left Stephon Young looking up at the lights, but with no idea where he was. Donaire, even at the age of 36, may well have the most powerful left hook, pound for pound at least, in the sport and Young just became another victim to the shot. Not only was it a beauty to look at, in it's gorgeous and sudden violence, but it was also incredibly significant, as it put Donaire into the WBSS final later in the year.
Ginjiro Shigeoka (3-0, 1)
One of the toughest categories this week was the Prospect of the Month, with a number of prospects in action, such as Olympic champion Shakhobidin Zoirov, Seiya Tsutsumi, Riku Kunimoto, and our eventual pick, Ginjiro Shigeoka. The Watanabe Wondrer Kid impressed as he beat Joel Lino in what was a huge step up in class, and it seems clear that he learrned more in the bout than many of the other prospects who were in action. He not only learned a lot, but also clearly beat a very talented fighter, and a title bout is surely just around the corner.
Kanehiro Nakagawa vs Seiichi Okada and Masayasu Nakamura vs Tatsuya Takahashi
A real rarity here, but we have a draw here with two genuinely notable upsets, both of which are impossible to split for which is the best or biggest.
On one hand we had Kanehiro Nakagawa (7-6, 4) out-point former Japanese Super Featherweight champion Seiichi Okada (22-7-1, 13) and on the other we had Masayasu Nakamura (7-3-1, 6) take a decision over former Japanese Bantamweight title challenger Tatsuya Takahashi (30-9-5, 21), in what was Nakamura's first bout in almost 3 years.
Whilst fingers can be pointed at both fights, both wins are huge for the under-dogs who should be able to use their victories as a launch pad.
Seigo Yuri Akui vs Yoshiki Minato - Round 1
One of the final shows of the Heisei Era gave us a full on shoot out, as Seigo Yuri Akui and Yoshiki Minato tore into each other, with neither showing any intention of going to the final bell. Within 20 seconds Akui had staggered his man, and Minato decided to fight fire with fire, dropping Akui with a huge left hand. When the bout resumed Minato went hunting Akui who took a few moments to regroup, turning the tables with some huge shots of his own. About 80 seconds into the round Akui had scored his own knockdown, then another 20 seconds later. Minato, who had picked the wrong fight, tried to gut it out but was stopped shortly afterwards. This may not have been technically solid, but was full on, non-stop entertainment.
After a few weeks of not having much of note we've had a week that has created a bit of an accidental star, seen a debutant shine, seen new title holders in Indonesia and a lot actually happening. Sadly, due to the time issues in watching everything, we have seen a pro-Japanese week again, but there was clearly a lot of action in Asia in what was a great week for Asian fight fans.
Fighter of the Week
Koki Inoue (13-0, 10)
Whilst Koki Inoue, the cousin of Naoya and Takuma Inoue, didn't blow us away it's hard to argue with the quality of what he did this past Saturday. The talented Light Welterweight intelligently shut down Valentine Hosokawa to take a wide, and clear, decision over the talented and often high tempo Hosokawa. On paper the bout was a big step up in class for Inoue but he sort of made it look easy in the end as he took a comfortable decision over the veteran champion. Hosokawa, who usually controls the pace and tempo, struggled to catch Inoue clean, and struggled even more to change the pattern of the fight, whilst Inoue looked like a man comfortably fighting within himself. This wasn't exciting, but it was the biggest win of the week for an Asian fighter.
Performance of the Week
Riku Kunimoto (4-0, 2)
Whilst Inoue failed to shine, winning Fighter of the week by virtue of getting the biggest win, there was real competition for Performance of the Week. We were really impressed by Tsuyoshi Sato, Aso Ishiwaki, Sultan Zaurbek and our winner for the week, Riku Kunimoto.
Sato, who was fighting for the 4th time as a professional, put on the complete performance in mid week as he stopped Shoma Fukumoto, and took a huge step towards a potential title fight. He out boxed Fukumoto, then stopped him later in the bout, in what was his Tokyo debut. On paper it was a leap up in class, but in the end he made it look easy and really announced himself as a Japanese Middleweight worthy of note. He's young, he's talented and he has the potential to go very, very far.
Yoji Saito (1-1, 1) vs Aso Ishiwaki (5-2, 3)
On paper the recent bout between Yoji Saito and Aso Ishiwaki didn't really promise a lot, though we genuinely over-looked the bout which proved to be a very exciting encounter. Saito set the early pace, pressing and pressuring Ishiwaki as he looked on route for his second win. Ishiwaki however refused to wilt, and instead came on strong, really strong, from round 3 giving us a huge momentum shift and an amazing fight. There wasn't any knockdowns but there was none stop action, and a really gritty determination from both. This is a great, great 6 round bout!
Yuki Yazawa (0-0) vs Kazuki Nakamura (0-0-1) - Round 1
The round of the week was a clear and easy one to decide, with the opening round of the Yuki Yazawa Vs Kazuki Nakamura fight easily being the best round of the week from Asia. The round, which actually only lasted 126 seconds, contained 3 knockdowns, a brutal finish, a strong scent of karma, taunting and everything you could ask for. This really was something that every fan deserves to watch.
Cristiano Aoqui KO5 Anthony Marcial
We had some awesome KO's this week, Yuki Yazawa's was a beauty against Kazuki Nakamura, Koki Tyson scored a brutal one, Sultan Zaurbek got a gorgeous one in Dubai but our pick of the bunch was Brazilian-Japanese fighter Cristiano Aoqui's brutal hook against Filipino Anthony Marcial.The shot was a highlight, or an otherwise dull fight, and was perfectly timed. Whilst Marcial wasn't out cold, like some of the others on the wrong end of a great KO, his stumble through the ropes whilst trying to beat the count was great to watch.
Shakhobidin Zoirov (1-0, 1)
We want to start this by saying we have nothing positive to say of Indonesian journeyman Anthony Holt, and the reason we think so little of Holt was shown this past Friday when he was in the ring with Shakhobidin Zoirov. The debuting Zoirov is an Olympic champion and a huge hope for Uzbek boxing. He deserved a real test, but instead took almost no time to destroy Holt. Despite the bout being a relative waste of time it was hard to not be impressed by the cameo, and it's obvious that Zoirov is a very, very special fighter. One to mark down as a super prospect.
Alphoe Dagayloan (12-2-5, 5) vs Esneth Domingo (11-0, 6)
There's no special fight this coming week, but we do love the look of several fighters over the coming 7 days. Perhaps the pick of the bunch is the WBA Asia Flyweight title bout between the under-rated Alphoe Dagayloan and the unbeaten Esneth Domingo. This is a brilliant match up and something that is very, very exciting! Neither guy is a big name, but both are promising and both could see this as a chance to move into the WBA rankings. A great fight and something that both will be looking to win!
When a fighter loses on their debut we are often far too quick to write them off, suggest they aren't worth following and overlook them going forward. The one mark on their record can, at least in the eyes of Western fans, show that they aren't as good as others and even a few years down the line we can be seen holding that loss against them. That's possibly going to be the case with Yoji Saito (1-1) [齊藤陽ニ], though that would be a huge mistake of fans given that Saito is one to watch, and is a very promising young fighter.
The 23 year old Saito is part of the really well established Kadoebi Gym and prior to turning professional in 2018 he was an experienced amateur, running up a 28-26 record.
It's not an amazing record but showed Saito's experience and due to that experience he turned professional with a B Class license. Something that is typical of successful, or experienced fighters.
Unfortunately for Saito his debut came against another experienced amateur, Shu Utsuki. Utsuki had been an amateur standout, going 81-27 in the unpaid ranks and had captained his University team among other things. Utsuki's amateur pedigree helped him get over the line in what was a really exciting and action packed 6 round bout shown over the BoxingRaise service. Utsuki was dropped in round 1, from an ultra-aggressive Saito, but battled back hard to take a narrow win over the debutant. It was a loss on debut, but a very, very credible one for Saito given that Utsuki is himself regarded as one of the top prospects at the Watanabe Gym.
Less than 6 months after his debut Saito returned to the ring and took on Tameji Ito, who was fighting in his 10th professional bout. Saito showed the same aggressive, combination punching pressure style he had showed on debut. The style quickly forced Ito on to the back foot and Saito really went to work, closing the distance and unloading on his man with both hands. Ito was dropped mid way through the round and again later on in the same round as Saito's pressure dropped Ito hard.
Saito's next bout is set to take place on April 6th at the Korakuen Hall, with Saito facing Aso Ishiwaki on a Kadoebi promoted card to be shown on G+. That should give those who haven't yet seen Saito a chance to see what he can deliver, and why we have featured him here.
Although certainly not the most polished of fighters Saito is someone we're going to be really excited to follow. He's perhaps not the technically skilled type of fighter we have typically covered in these "Introducing" segments but he is someone who will certainly provide explosive action and a lot of fun for fans wanting to follow a fighter who delivers explosive action.
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