We don't tend to see Japan as a hot bed of Middleweight talent, and that's because Japanese fighters typically don't have the frame for the weight. When Japanese fighters do make a name for themselves at the weight we usually see them being heavy handed fighters, like Ryota Murata, Shinji Takehara and Koji Sato. There is however a really skilled youngster making his mark in the division right now, and it looks like he could end up being some one who could go a long way based on his skills, speed, timing and boxing IQ.
That man is Riku Kunimoto (3-0, 1), who was a distinguished amateur before making his professional debut in August 2018.
The 21 year old from Osaka is based at the established Mutoh Gym and not only has a really good team behind him, headed by Takashi Edagawa, but also has the type of match making which will help him develop his skills at an advanced age. In fact through his first 3 bouts he has already gone 6 rounds twice, made his international debut and been in a scheduled 8 rounder, with his next 8 round bout set to come in April, but more about that a little later.
Kunimoto's debut came in a 6 round bout against Korean fighter Kyung Wook Kwon, a tough but light punching Korean who had never been stopped, but had also never scored a stoppage of his own. Kwon was, in many ways, the perfect opponent for the debuting youngster who could get away with some mistakes, but also had someone to test his stamina and concentration. Despite the bout being his debut Kunimoto shone, being taken 6 rounds by the Korean and showing a lot to be excited about. Kunimoto instantly looked like he was taking to professional boxing like a duck to water. He was accurate, calm, sharp and threw some brilliant combinations that switched from head to body. The only real issue was a lack of power, despite scoring a knockdown in the opening round, and an overall lack of physicality. He looked skilled but like a child and seemed to be smaller than Kwon.
Rather than staying at home and making the most of home comforts Kunimoto's second professional bout would take place in China, where he went 6 rounds again as he defeated Huwang Zhang, in a wide and clear decision. Although Zhang was nothing special he was an unbeaten Super Middleweight fighting at home and Kunimoto still easily out pointed him.
In his most recent bout Kunimoto faced his first domestic opponent, Toshihiro Kai, and scored an opening round win over Kai, showing more purpose to his shots and more power. He still wasn't boxing with a hugely physical style, relying on speed, timing and combinations, but was able to force a stoppage over the much more experienced Kai.
The 21 year old is set to fight on April 5th against the heavy handed and more experienced Shoma Fukumoto. This will be Kunimoto's first bout against a Japanese ranked opponent, and is a serious test of his chin, his guts, his desire and skills. If he passes this test then the future is incredibly bright, whilst a loss, at such a young age, will certainly not be the end.
The Japanese Middleweight scene might not be on fire, but it certainly has more depth to it than many assume, and Kunimoto might turn out to be the best of the bunch.
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