Back in the summer of 2019 we looked at Japanese hopeful Masanori Rikiishi (then 5-1 (3), now 9-1 (5)) as part of our Introducing series. Back then Rikiishi had just scored a then career best win over Kei Iwahara and seemed to be positioning himself as a contender on the Japanese domestic scene at 135lbs. Since then however Rikiishi has gone from strength to strength and has seemingly set his eyes on other things, whilst quickly becoming one of the most under-rated fighters in Japan. So let's take a look at where Rikiishi is now, where he was, and how he's gotten to where he is since we first looked at him.
Before we look at where he is now let's go back around 18 months and look at where Rikiishi was when we first looked at him.
As mentioned when we introduced Rikiishi he was 5-1 (3) and has just recently scored a win over Kei Iwahara. He had been rebuilding well after a 2018 loss to Kosuke Saka and had been rebuilding his confidence with wins against progressive better fighters. He had bounced back from his loss with a win over the poor Egy Rotzen, he then beat Genki Maeda in a good step up before beating Kei Iwahara to continue the forward progress with his career. By that point he was starting to create some buzz and was back on the right track with his career.
Just weeks after we "introduced" Rikiishi he took the next step forward with his career and battled against Shogo Yamamguchi. On paper this was another step up in class for Rikiishi and a potential test for the young Japanese fighter. He passed the test with ease and ended up forcing Yamaguchi's team to pull him out of the bout after 5 rounds, with Yamaguchi suffering a nasty injury over his left eye which forced an early conclusion to the contest.
Less than 2 months after his win over Yamaguchi we saw Rikiishi return to the ring and take another step up in class, as he took an 8 round decision over Nicaraguan visitor Freddy Fonseca, who is best known for his bout with Joseph Diaz. Rikiishi took a clear and dominant decision over Fonseca as he proved he could do 8 rounds at a good pace, and that he could control a pretty good fighter. It was a very impressive win in just his 8th professional bout, and also saw Rikiishi begin a move down in weight, coming in just over the Super Featherweight limit.
In 2020 Rikiishi continued to take on decent tests, and float between Lightweight and Super Featherweight. His first bout of the year took place 11 months after his win over Yamaguchi, due to the pandemic, and saw him take a very good domestic win over Yuichiro Kasuya. The bout was a genuinely intriguing one on paper, with Kasuya being a talented but often frustrating fighter, but ended up being a relatively straightforward win for Rikiishi who ran out the clear winner on all 3 cards. The win was a particularly notable one as Kasuya was regarded as a contender for the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, and he had top 10 rankings with all 3 bodies, pushing him to the verge of a title fight.
Less than 3 months after defeating Kasuya we saw Rikiiishi return to the ring for his second bout of 2020, which saw him battle against Soreiki Taichi. Coming in to this one it seemed like Rikiishi was heading towards a Japanese Lightweight title bout, and he was ranked #2 by the JBC at the time. During the fight Rikiishi would drop Taichi twice, and record a 3rd round TKO win, whilst looking like a man who was really developing his power and counter punching. In fact he looked like a brutal puncher here, and hurt Taichi pretty much every time he landed clean, and drew mistakes from Taichi, which he punished in style.
Following his win over Taichi we were expecting to see Rikiishi call for a Japanese Lightweight title fight. Instead however he stated his intention was to drop to Super Featherweight and chase a rematch with Japanese champion Kosuke Saka, the man who stopped him earlier in his career. It seems like that will be the target for Rikiiishi this year.
Despite looking impressive and destructive in his win against Taichi it is worth noting that Rikiishi did suffer in that win, with his hand being damaged. We really do hope it was just a minor blip for for his career, and not something that will be a longer term problem for the talented man from the Midori Gym.
As a fighter Rikiishi is a real talent and a man with many tools in his arsenal. We have seen him boxing and moving in the past, we have seen him take the role of a counter puncher, and we have seen him showing solid power. There are questions still for him to answer, but over the last 18 months he has come a very, very long way. He has shown solid fundamentals, been facing progressively better tests and appears to have someone in his sights that he wants to face. Although he is still a work in progress he seems to be the sort of fighter who is developing in the perfect way.
We'll be honest, we do hope Rikiishi gets another test before a rematch with Saka, but we also repsect the fact that he's already wanting to get revenge over a man who bullied and battered him early in his career. There is no fear from Saka and that is something that deserves genuine credit in a boxing world where too many fighters are scared of losing, rather than wanting to see how good they really are.
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