On February 21st we’ll get the All Japan Rookie of the Year finals, ending a tournament that was delayed due to Covid19. The competition is a platform for talented youngster in Japan to launch themselves into the public consciousness and has been used to help kick start the careers of numerous world champions, including the likes of Fighting Harada, Junto Nakatani, Jiro Watanabe, Takuya Muguruma, Daisuke Naito, Masayuki Ito, Ryoichi Taguchi and Kiyoshi Hatanaka. The tournament, which has the finals televised live on G+, is a fantastic proving ground for youngsters and this year will be no different.
With that in mind we turned our attention to the Rookie of the Year final’s to find someone to speak about for this week’s “Introducing...” and came across Light Flyweight hopeful Ryota Karimata (5-0, 3) who ticks a lot of boxes as a future contender and has some real ambition to make it in the sport, and catch up with the achievements of someone he trained with when he was in high school.
The 25 year old Karimata, originally from Okinawa, was involved in boxing way back in his high school days, when he was at the Miyako Comprehensive Business High School. Due to the lack of youngsters participating in boxing at the school he trained at the Miyako Technical High School Boxing Club, that was also where Daigo Higa was training as a youngster, and the two trained together back when they were young.
Despite training alongside a future star Karimata never really made much of a mark on the amateur scene in Japan. That was despite fighting in the Ashiya University team, and even sharing the ring with some other notable likes Rikito Shiba. Following his time at university he left the sport, and he got a job at a hotel when he graduated. At the time it seemed he was leaving the sport behind for good.
Thankfully that turned out not to be the end of Karimata and he turned professional with the well established Misako gym in Tokyo.
On June 9th 2019 Karimata made his professional debut, taking on Keiichiro Kusumoto in Hiroshima in a Light Flyweight bout. Despite going up against an opponent with 6 fights to his name Karimata Karimara showed no fear and pressed confidently from the early going, showing some nice footwork, a sharp jab and aggressive in ring mentality. The aggression paid off and late in the round a 1-2 from Karimata dropped Kusumoto, who also ended the round with a cut around his left eye. Karimata began to go through the gears after the knockdown and had Kusumoto in trouble as the bell went. With their man cut and having been dropped in round 1, Kusumoto’s corner withdrew him from the bout before the start of round 2.
Despite making his debut in the bout Karimata, and needing just 3 minutes to secure his first win, Karimata looked like a solid prospect there and then.
Just 4 months later Karimata returned to the ring for his second bout, taking on the debuting Shoma Tada at Flyweight. This time things were much, much tougher for Karimata. The 26 year old Tada used a busy jab, seemed to be quicker and lighter on his feet than Karimata, and almost dropped Karimata in the opening round. Karimata had to dig deep against a hungry debutant, who was bigger and stronger, and in the end did just enough to edge out a razor thin 4 round majority decision. The bout seemed to serve as a warning to Karimata, avoid the Flyweight division. After this bout he headed back to Light Flyweight, where he has remained ever since.
In his third professional bout Karimata fought in Okinawa for the first time and over-came Hidetoshi Takane, taking a 4 round decision. This bout, sadly the only Karimata bout not available on Boxing Raise at the time of writing, is a bit of a mystery to us. Thankfully reports from the venue state that Karimata was the boss throughout, dropping Takane and took a very clear decision, in an exciting bout. Notably Takane had reached the East Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2019, and a win over Takane here was a genuinely impressive one for Karimata.
Before he had his 4th professional bout Karimata got the chance to travel, going over to Thailand weeks after his win over Takane, as he was part of the team helping Norihito Tanaka prepare for his bout with Knockout CP Freshmart. Although he didn’t fight on international soil he did travel with Tanaka and trainer Keita Suzuki and the experience of being abroad and soaking in the vibes of major fight week may well come in handy in the future.
Sadly Karimata, like so many other fighters last year, saw their career being put on ice due to the Covid19 pandemic. As a result it was almost 7 months between his win over Takane and his follow up bout, which came in a qualifying bout for the East Japan Rookie of the Year in September 2020. That bout saw him share the ring with Chinami Tanaka and from the off Karimata was walking down his man, pressing. Tanaka tried to fight him off, but it failed and Karimata continued pressing, rocking Tanaka with a right hand and then breaking him down through much of what was left of the round. With around 20 seconds of the round left Karimata cornered his man, hammering him until he dropped to the canvas and was counted out.
Around 2 months after his win over Tanaka we saw Karimata return to the ring, and take on Kengo Hatsushika in the East Japan Rookie of the Year semi-final. The bout started with Hatsushika trying to jump on Karimata before he could settle. It was a high risk gameplan from Hatsushika and one that backfired when Karimata decided to fight fire with fire, and dropped his man with a huge right hand. Hatsushika tried to beat the count but the fight was waved off after just 50 seconds.
Karimata was supposed to return in December, at the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, but the bout was cancelled when Hayato Aoki was forced out of the contest, crowning Karimata the winner by forfeit. Karimata will now fight in the All Japan final against Hyogo Kimura, with the two men battling to be crowned the All Japan Light Flyweight Rookie of the Year.
For Karimata the All Japan crown is just the next step as he attempts to catch up to Higa and his in ring achievements. It’s a lot of catching up to do, but it seems to be his goal, and it’ll be exciting to see him go about it over the coming weeks, months and years.
For fans wanting to watch Karimata 4 of his 5 bouts are available on the Boxing Raise service. Whilst his upcoming bout will be shown on G+.
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