The Rookie of the Year tournament can be a risky competition to predict at the best of times, though for us one man has stood out so much this far into the tournament that we're already happy to introduce him just days before his All Japan final.
That man is Katsuki Mori (5-0, 1) the Ohashi gym prospect who scarcely lost a round since making his debut in August 2018. Since then the 19 year old has shown himself to be an incredible young talent, who will almost certainly use the Rookie of the Year as a lunch pad to bigger and better things in a career that truly promises so much.
Mori has really impressed since turning professional last year, though few would have expected that given his very short amateur career. In the unpaid ranks the youngster fought just 16 times, going 11-5. Despite that lack of experience he was a natural in the professional ranks, and was just 17 when he won his debut in just 136 second, stopping Akira Ichihara. That debut came on a card that featured fellow Ohashi gym fighters Akira Yaegashi, Sho Nakazawa, Satoshi Shimizu, Kazuki Nakajima and Tsuyoshi Tameda. Given those are the people he is looking up to, training alongside and learning from it's little wonder the youngster has developed a very relaxed in ring demeanour and looks incredibly calm where ever he is in the ring.
Less than 2 months after making his debut, at Korakuen Hall, Mori was back in the ring fighting against the debuting Shu Nawai on the under-card of Naoya Inoue's bout with Juan Carlos Payano. Inoue, the star of the Ohashi Gym, may have been the man everyone was raving about after the event, but the handful of fans who were through the entire event would have had the chance to see Mori take a 4 round over Nawai, and show what he could do. Those who missed Mori and Nawai here did however have a chance to see them fight again in 2019, but more about that later.
This year has seen Mori advancing through the Rookie of the Year, and building his reputation at the Korakuen Hall.
The youngster's first Rookie of the Year bout saw him shut out Ryo Sasaki in April, in what was a fantastic performance from the youngster. That moved him into the next round of the Rookie of the Year, which was supposed to see him take on Kaito Kakumu, though the bout never took place as Kakumu was unable to take part. Instead Mori got a bye to the East Japan semi-final. That was where he first caught our eye, with a brilliant win over Kengo Hatsushika. The bout saw Mori forcing boxing his way inside, then out landing and out fighting Hatsushika with some fantastic body shots, and sharp counters on the inside. This did not look like a performance of a typical 3-0 youngster, but a much more accomplished fighter who knew the value of body shots.
In Mori's East Japan Rookie of the Year final he again clashed with Shu Nawai, and once again picked up a clear win. He looked very much like a star in the making, with flashes of pure brilliance, very good ring IQ, a wonder jab and an ability to dictate the distance and tempo of the bout. This was, we suspect, a glimpse of a future world champion and a showing of what the youngster can already do.
It's obvious that training at the Ohashi gym, alongside some of the best fighters in Japan, has helped Mori become very comfortable in the ring, and a win on December 22nd in the Rookie of the Year final will certainly help establish him as one to follow over the coming years. This young man is a real talent, and we look forward to seeing just how far he can go, and how much he'll develop in the coming years.
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