On April 8th we'll see a really interesting Japanese Welterweight title bout between a huge punching champion and a teak tough challenger, who should be able to put on a genuine show!
The bout in question will see Keita Obara (23-4-1, 21) making his first defense of the title, as he takes on "reimported boxer" Shoki Sakai (25-11-2, 13), who has fought much of his career in Mexico and the US. The two men have had very, very, very different careers, but together they should make for something of a special fighter.
Of the two men Obara is the well proven and more established fighter. Aged 34 he's at the back end of his career but hasn't actually taken all that much punishment during his 28 fight career. In fact he's only fought 146 professional rounds since his 2010 debut. That is in part due to his style, which is built around his out-side boxing and power. He hurts fighters when he lands and has 21 stoppages in 23 wins, and at Japanese and Oriental level he tends to not need to land too many shots to finish bouts. Sadly though he has also shown a questionable chin and has been stopped in 3 of his 4 losses, including a loss on his 2010 debut to Kazuyoshi Kumano and in a 2016 world title fight against Eduard Troyanovsky.
At his best Obara is a very, very good boxer-puncher. Not world class as such, but a good "top 30" type of guy. He has very good power, decent stamina, good size, but he lacks in terms of his durability and his speed. He's not slow as such, but he's quite deliberate and technical, which makes him look slower than he really is. At Japanese level he has looked almost untouchable since losing on debut, and since then he has never lost against a fellow Japanese fighter. In fact his record against Japanese fighters is 15-1 (14), and he has genuine dominated the scene at 140lbs and 147lbs.
During his long career Obara has won Japanese and OPBF titles at Light Welterweight and the WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese titles at Welterweight. The last of those titles was the Japanese Welterweight title which he won in February 2020, when he stopped Yuki Nagano. That win is, notably, his most recent bout and is now well over a year ago. It's going to be very interesting to see what the 34 year old Obara, with more than a year of ring rust, is going to be like here.
Although somewhat new to Japanese fans Shoki Sakai is no spring chicken himself. He's 30 years old and has been a professional since 2010. Unlike most Japanese boxers however he really made his name outside of his homeland, and carved out the first few years fighting only in Mexico, in fact his first 15 bouts were all in Mexico and 24of his first 25 were in the country. From 2016 however he began to frequent rings in the US, where he was matched against some fairly notable names such as Ashley Theophane, Cameron Krael, Eddie Gomez, Alexis Rocha and Gor Yeritsyan. He was used as a bit of a gatekeeper, testing highly regarded prospects, and often being a very credible test due to his toughness and desire. He lacked the skills to beat the top prospects, but gave them all a tough time and lasted the distance with them all, making them all work incredibly hard.
In 2020, after 36 bouts as a professional, Sakai made his Japanese debut and has now won 2 bouts in Japan, beating 2017 Rookie of the Year winner Hironori Shigeta and current Japanese Youth champion Takeru Kobata. Two very decent domestic wins and two wins that showed what Sakai could do in the sport.
As a fighter Sakai is a pretty basic pressure fighter, who can box a bit but really relies on his pressure. Given his skillset however that's a tactics that works for him. He's technically limited, but strong, tough and has a good work rate. With that in mind he uses what he has. He comes forward, looks to get inside and works up close. He's not the quickest, sharpest, or particularly light on his feet, but he's a tough lump who gets in the ring and looks to have a fight. Sadly for him he does take a lot of punishment, and in his 38 bouts he has already had 241 professional rounds and some of those have been tough rounds, such as the 8 spent with Gor Yeritsyan.
When it comes to this bout there are a lot of interesting questions. For example what is the lengthy lay off going to do to Obara? He may have aged over night, he may have been caught by father time, or he may just be a bit rusty. In fact at the age of 34 is Obara now at the end of his career? Can he even get up for a fight like this? At On the other hand can Sakai take the power of Obara? Can Sakai get past the very good jab of Obara? In fact can Sakai's style even have success against Obara given his somewhat flat footed approach in the ring?
Sadly for Sakai we suspect he'll be in trouble here. We don't see him getting close with the regularity he needs to really be a test for Obara. In fact we expect the power and straight shots of Obara too get Sakai's respect early and as the bout goes on Sakai will be taking more and more punishment, as he tries over and over to cut the distance. Up close Sakai will have some success, but Obara will hold, spoil and force the referee to split them, allowing him to get back behind his jab.
We expect to see Sakai being well behind going into the second half of the bout and taking more risks, before finally being stopped. Potentially by his corner.
Prediction - TKO9 Obara
One of the most exciting things about Japanese boxing right now is the Japanese Youth title scene, which has provided so many great fights over the last few years. The title might not be a sign that someone is, or isn't, destined for greatness but it is a title that is giving us some fantastic action bouts between two youngsters who are happily putting it on the line to claim a belt. We saw this in February, with a great bout between Yudai Shigeoka and Ryu Horikawa, and in December, when Jin Sasaki stopped Aso Ishiwaki.
This coming Sunday we'll see another new Japanese Youth Champion being crowned as Tom Mizokoshi (7-2-1, 4) and Satoru Hoshiba (7-4, 2) clash for the vacant Japanese Youth Super Bantamweight title. Interestingly this will not be the first time the men will have clashed, with the two having fought in a short but thrilling clash in 2019, which we'll talk about in more detail a little later on.
The title might not have the longest of lines so far, with the first champion being Takuya Mizuno in 2017, but it's a title that helped people sit up and take note of it's second champion, the highly skilled Toshiki Shimomachi, who we suspect to see big things from the future. Despite that it's certainly a title that can be used as a launch pad, and right now Hoshiba and Mizokoshi will both be wanting to launch their careers forward by winning the belt.
Of the two men the 21 year old Mizokoshi is the more highly regarded and he's seen as one of the brightest hopes at the Midori gym. As an amateur he went 9-5 though didn't wait around in the unpaid ranks long and made his professional debut in 2017, as an 18 year old, winning his debut inside a round. A draw to the then unheralded Hiroki Hanabusa in 2018 slowed his rise and a loss later that same year to Kyonosuke Kamaeda saw him fall to 2-1-1. Despite those set backs Mizokoshi found his groove and won 4 in a row, from late 2018 to the end of 2019, and was building a lot of momentum before Covid19 put a stop on boxing in Japan for most of 2020.
Sadly for Mizokoshi when he returned to the ring in August 2020 he was upset by Hiroyuki Takahara, who stopped Mizokoshi in 3 rounds and left the youngster requiring a break from the ring due to fractured jaw. Sadly that injury forced him to cancel a scheduled bout with Mugicha Nakagawa, as well as giving him his second loss.
In the ring Mizokoshi is a fun fighter to watch. At times he can look a bit timid, staying on the outside, and moving a lot, but he's looking to draw and error to counter. When he spots those errors he often explodes with a huge flurry of shots. When those errors are less forth coming he makes sure to land good, solid, single shot counters, landing the eye catching blows and then getting away in and attempt to draw another mistake. He's quikc, he's sharp and yet he also look like he can be hit, in part due to his rather low guard. It's a style that we suspect will have limitations when he steps up in class, but is certainly a fun one to watch and it's clear he is trying to entertain and fight to his strengths, which are his speed and movement. Whilst there is a lot to like about him there are major worries about his defense and his chin, and they were both shown up against Takahara last August, when a single right hand crumpled him. We also worry about his single punch power, and he negative he can look at times.
The 23 year old Satoshi Hoshiba made his professional debut way back in 2015, in fact he did so on the same show that featured Kosei Tanaka Vs Vic Saludar. Sadly for Hoshiba he was stopped in the first round in his debut, and was then stopped again in his second bout. Impressively he rebuilt his career following his 0-2 start, winning 4 in a row to reach the West representative final of the 2017 Rookie of the Year, losing a razor thin decision to Toshiki Shimomachi. Since that loss he has gone 3-1, including a good win last year against Takayoshi Suzuki. Interestingly he was supposed to face Shimomachi in a rematch late last year, for the Japanese Youth title, but sadly that bout was cancelled due to Shimomachi being ill.
In the ring Hoshiba is very different to Mizokoshi, in terms of styles and mentalities. Instead of boxing and moving he comes to fight. He looks to out work, out battle, out fight and out hustle opponents. He comes into the ring to fight, to press the action and to make opponents work every minute of every round. This saw him really impress against Shimomachi, who was unable to dictate the pacing and distance of the bout, and has seen Hoshiba give real problems to naturally better fighters. Sadly however his chin has let him down several times and walking into the fire has seen him getting burned multiple times in the past. He's exciting, but with a lack of power he really does need to rely on work rate, a lot, and it's a style that will limit his longer term potential.
We mentioned earlier that these two have fought before. They did that in 2019 when Mizokoshi managed to stop Hoshiba in 2 rounds. It is worth noting, however, that Mizokoshi was in all sorts of problems before catching Hoshiba with a perfect counter that bailed him out, and left Hoshiba wobbling whilst Mizokoshi unloaded. It was proof that Mizokoshi had heart, but also warning signs that he could be hurt.
Coming in to this it's easy to suggest that Mizokoshi should get the job done again. He's beaten Hoshiba once, and should do it again, right? Whilst we would typically agree we don't think it's all that straight forward here. Mizokoshi was hurt by Hoshiba when the men first fought and since then Mizokoshi has been stopped, in brutal and dramatic fashion. We need to wonder how his jaw is, and how much he's recovered since that loss. We're going to assume he hasn't fully recovered, at least not mentally, and with that in mind we suspect Hoshiba, if he starts fast, can leave Mizokoshi asking questions of himself. If Hoshiba keeps that up, and avoid the big counters, there's a real chance he could end up stopping his man here.
Whilst Mizokoshi is going to come in to the bout as the favourite, we're predicting an upset here. The pressure and work rate of Hoshiba, added to the damaging loss for Mizokoshi last time out, resulting in a second stoppage loss for the exciting Mizokoshi.
Prediction - Hoshiba TKO6
On March 11th we'll see the next Japanese Youth title fight, as Rikuto Adachi (14-2, 11) and Takeru Kobata (8-5-1, 3) clash for the Japanese Youth Welterweight title at Korakuen Hall. On paper this isn't close to being one of the best Japanese Youth title bouts, but it's still an interesting one between two 22 year old fighters each looking to win their first professional titles and move their careers forward.
Of the two fighters it's Adachi who is more well known, has faced stiffer competition and is regarded as the more promising fighter. At 5'11" he's a tall Welterweight and having debuted as a 17 year old in 2015 he's also someone who has been training as a professional for years. In fact there was a lot of buzz about him in 2017, when he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final as a 19 year old. Although he lost in the Rookie of the Year final the loss was regarded as a learning experience and with Hiroki Ioka guiding his career he was expected to go on to bigger and better things. Sadly those bigger and better things haven't yet come for Adachi, who lost in a Japanese Youth title fight in 2019 against Kudura Kaneko and then really struggled to get going again.
In 2020 Adachi moved from the Hiroki Ioka Boxing gym to the Ohashi boxing gym, moving from Osaka to Kanagawa in the process, and it was assumed Ohashi would guide the talented youngster to success. Sadly however Adachi has had several bouts cancelled since signing with the Ohashi gym, and as a result he's now been out of the ring since December 2019.
In the ring Adachi has shown himself to be a rangy, tall, long boxer. He towers over many of his opponents and presses forward behind his jab, which he uses to try and create chances to land a big right hand. He's defensively quite open, appears to lack genuine crispness in his work, but is young, strong and big. Notably however the move to the Ohashi gym, and more than a year out of the ring, is likely to have polished off a lot of issues with Adachi and the key question coming into this is "how much has he improved since his last bout?" We suspect he will always be a flawed, but aggressive boxer-puncher, however we also know that his team will be working on those flaws.
Whilst Adachi has long been regarded as a genuine prospect the same can't be said for Kobata, who also debuted in 2015, as a 17 year old. In fact Kobata debuted as a Featherweight back in late 2015, and suffered a TKO loss on debut. Amazingly Kobata began his career 0-2-1 after 3 bouts and it was fair to assume his career was going no where. Credit however has to go to Adachi who buckled down hard and went on to reach the 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year final, losing in the final at Lightweight to Kosuke Arioka. Since then his body has filled out and he has moved to Light Welterweight and more recently Welterweight.
Early in his career Kobata looked very basic. He came to fight, but that was about as polite as we could be. He was a come forward southpaw, who marched in straight lights, let his hooks go and had very limited defensive skills or boxing intelligence. It made him fun to watch, but also saw him lose 3 of his first 9 bouts. Since then however he has matured, he has developed and despite still being limited he certainly appears to be more durable in recent years. Now-a-days he neutralises pressure better, he uses his southpaw jab and he knows what he's doing in the ring. In is most recent bout, against Shoki Sakai, he proved to be a crafty fighter, and a tough one and showed enough to genuinely run Sakai close. Although he has lost 2 of his last 4, it needs to be noted that he's not as bad as his record suggests.
On paper Adachi should be the favourite. He's the bigger man, the more highly regarded fighter and the man with the better record. We have no issue with Adachi being regarded as the favourite, and we suspect that if he can use his jab and reach well here he should be able to take a clear decision with a safety first gameplan.
However with the ring rust and the change in gyms we do wonder just how good Adachi will look here, and if Kobata gets off to a good start, makes the most of his southpaw stance and continues to show the improvements he has in recent years, we suspect he could be a genuine banana skin here.
Although we do think Adachi should be the favourite, we don't think he'll actually win here, and instead we're calling the upset. We suspect the work rate of Kobata, as well as his recent activity will play a major factor here and he will manage to squeak a razor thin decision.
Prediction - Kobata SD8
On February 27th we'll see fast rising Kazakh hopeful Kamshybek Kunkabayev (2-0, 2) take part in his first title bout as he battles Northern Irish fighter Steven Ward (13-1, 4) in a contest for the WBO Asia Pacific Cruiserweight title, in Kazakhstan. On paper this looks like the next step en route to making Kunkabayev a star, and will see him take on a decent fighter, but someone he should beat. On the other hand it gives Ward a high profile bout against a top former amateur, a chance to get his career back in track after a 2019 loss to the under-rated, and wonderfully charming, Ricards Bolotniks.
To begin with, we don't know how Ward qualifies for a WBO Asia Pacific title bout. It appears that every so often a title and its rules and regulations go out of the window and this appears to be one of those cases. Despite that we are, genuinely, looking forward to this bout and suspect it will be a coming out party, of sorts, for the fantastically promising Kunkabayev, who may well be on the fast track to major success.
The 29 year old Kazakh made his professional debut last August, with the intention of using the professional scene to stay busy and stay finely tuned ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. An Olympics that had already been delayed and, even as we write this, isn't a sure thing due to Covid19. Unlike many fighters who take stay busy fights Kunkabayev didn't want easy bouts to stay busy and instead took on Issa Akberbayev, who seemingly didn't want to be there. He then returned to the ring in December and took on the usually solid Serhiy Radchenko, and scored a 4th round RTD win. After just 2 wins it seemed that Kunkabayev was already showing the tools of being a fantastic professional and with the Olympics looking less and less likely we do wonder whether his mind set has changed to focusing on the professional scene, rather than the amateur one.
Despite impressing as a professional it is worth noting that Kunkabayev really is a top notch amateur. He was a 2-time World Championship silver medal winner and 2-time Asian Championship silver medal winner. His amateur credentials speak for themselves, and unsurprisingly he is a very, very well polished boxer. At 6'3" he's got good size for a Cruiserweight and he knows how to use his frame well. He has a sharp jab, moves surprisingly lightly on his feet, has an excellent southpaw left hand, and is technically very good. Despite being impressive it is worth noting that his first two opponents have shown almost no ambition against him and not asked any questions, and he's really looked like a man who hasn't got out of first gear yet. It'll be interesting to see what happens when an opponent takes the fight to him, and doesn't show him far, far, far, too much respect.
In Steven Ward we have a 30 year old who began his career in 2016 as a Light Heavyweight. His career went swimmingly early on and he won his first 12 bouts, including a notable win in 2018 against Steve Collins Jr and a good 2019 win over Liam Conroy. Sadly however his winning run came to an end in late 2019 when he was stopped inside a round by Ricards Bolotniks in WBO European Light Heavyweight title bout. Against Sadly for Ward the loss to Bolotniks, and the win over Conroy, saw him being dropped and there are real question marks as to whether that was due to a poor chin, or weight issues, with Ward being a big Light Heavyweight at 6'2". Since the loss to Bolotniks he has moved up in weight and we dare say that the increase in weight will be better for his body, though we do still wonder about his durability.
In the ring Ward is a fighter who likes to use his jab, and likes to keep things at a safe range. Sadly however that tactic failed against Bolotniks, who managed to drop him with a left hook mid way through the round and then got all over him and dropped him twice more. That was against a much smaller man. Kunkabayev on the other hand is bigger than Ward and won't be backed off by the jab of the Northern Irishman. In fact if anything Ward trying to jab at Kunkabayev could end up speeding up his downfall. Sadly it's hard to really see what Ward brings to this bout to make him a test. He is, on paper, a step up for Kunkabeyv, but in reality offers very, very little.
On paper Ward looks like a good match up. He's more experienced than Kunkabayev, at least in the professional ranks, but that's pretty much the only advantage he has. He's the naturally smaller man, the less polished, the chinnier, the lesser puncher and the less talented. Ward might have the professional experience but that won't help when Kunkabayev catched him, hurts him, and finishes him.
If we're being honest we suspect Kunkabayev to feel out his man for a round or two, then put his foot on the gas and finish this within 4 rounds to take home his first professional title, and take a huge stride towards a potential world title fight by the end of 2021.
Prediction - Kunkabayev TKO4
By Troy Parslow
Try as I might to enjoy other factions, in my distractions as a boxing fan there are few ecosystems more challenging and rewarding to keep pace with than those of the Asian flyweight.
Between the three ‘flyweight’ classes of 108, 112 and 115 lbs, the Philippines, as I’m sure you’ve come to expect, offers much of the depth. And, accordingly, they deliver styles and characters manifold. Understanding where they all fit in amongst the domestic abundance is esoteric in the time and deviations it requires of you, and it can be easy to lose fighters in the shuffle. Above all though, this depth binds new prospects to a standard and spawns rivals to prove their worth.
True to form, on the 13th February, at Paniqui Mega Mart, the contrasting identities of Bienvenido(Ben) Ligas, 12-1-1 (9) and Alphoe Dagayloan, 14-3-6 (5), meet to contest the vacant Philippine Flyweight Championship.
Under the Elorde and Fairtex banners, training in their satellite gyms, ‘Sniper’ Ben ‘Fairtex’ Ligas, 22, of Caloocan City, looks to have the talent and resources to transcend this domestic pile up and move his career through the levels.
Following his suffering of a technical draw to Joseph Ambo and his losing an all-action bantamweight rematch in 2018, aged 19, Ligas has been streaking to the tune of six wins and five knockouts; shaking up JC Francisco(misrepresented by his 8-15 losing record) and cruising to a decision, as well as toppling Jesel Guardario in one, Cristoval Furog in three and Joan Imperial also in three.
Big and strong at the weight in his 5’7” frame and with an exciting, if relatively untested, skillset, at his core Ligas is an aggressive counter puncher. Feinting and agitating with his lead hand and jab, shuffling with deceptive footwork and movement at the upper body; he looks to create opportunities to explode into his offence with fierce counters to body and counter in combination. Comfortable setting traps and punching as he moves in any direction, composed up close and unflustered fighting off of the ropes, it’s always encouraging when you can trust a young prospect has the versatility to draw on.
In the ten rounds against southpaw veteran JC Francisco, we got to see a lot of what Ligas does best. Shifting his weight over his front foot as he shuffled forwards or back, baiting with his jab, feinting with his right shoulder or countering with his right hand; Ligas likes to establish the threat of his rear hand and load his left hip to lead unexpectedly with his left hand or follow up on the right. Channelling Canelo, almost, in the fifth, he shifted his weight onto his front foot, twitched his lead hand, flared a right hand feint and dropped Francisco with a lead left uppercut. As he shifts his weight over the front foot, he’s able to manipulate the distance by leaning over his base and giving the impression of being in range. When he does this as he shuffles back, he’s able to draw leads and counter off of half-steps, making his opponent fall short. Also impressive was his keen use of hand traps to pull down the right side of his Francisco’s guard and land the left hook.
Fighting out of the lesser-known, talented Quibors gym, if we’ve come to expect anything of ten year professional Alphoe Dagayloan, 29, and his upstart career revival, it’s his rising to the role of opponent.
Debuting in 2010, it would take eight years and 16 fights for Dagayloan, Bacoor, Cavite, to find form, tallying a messy 8-2-5. He’s since gone 6-1-1; dropping Kazakh Madiyar Zhanuzak five times to an eighth round stoppage win; decisioning domestic prospects Danrick Sumabong and Esneth Domingo; losing narrowly on points to Kadoebi Gym-trained Ryota Yamauchi and taking Carlo Penalosa to a draw.
Watching Dagayloan, we see a fighter struggling to keep their shape on just about everything he throws and yet, as much as he isn’t a correct puncher, when it comes to landing off-beat out of his southpaw stance, he’s perfectly awkward for it. He doesn’t really pressure with his feet or cut off the ring, so much as he reacts and moves towards his opponent’s centre, punching into the clinch and hooking to both sides of the body(or anything in the way), before switching upstairs when he notices either side of the guard slipping. Forgoing his balance, falling in and then squaring up, he simply allows for no transfer of weight and looks less like he’s punching to hurt the longer his combinations continue. So long as it doesn’t stop him coming forward, though, or throwing off of both hands, he’s content to lead and keep a high output—to push his pace.
As disagreeable as his brand of brawling can come off, you can only imagine the frustration his opponents have finding separation and a pocket of air to breathe. Uncomfortably effective and constant, not since a loss in his third fight has Dagayloan allowed anyone the space to separate themselves from him unanimously—or otherwise enough to beat him. That’s not to say better fighters wouldn’t have done so, but whenever he’s needed to find a new gear, that next level of craft or skulduggery, he’s always had enough to impose his pace and physicality. To beat him clearly(and cleanly) would be a statement, but fall short of that and you’re surely wrestling every second of the fight to return to the comfort of the fundamentals.
Sharpening both edges of his blade with every close run decision, there are few opponents less fashionable and more significant for a Pinoy prospect than Alphoe.
Can he spoil?
As with any of his fights, of course, is the risk of the fight looking ugly in the moments Dagayloan leads with his head. And it wouldn’t be the first time—or the fourth—a clash of heads ended a Dagayloan or Ligas fight prematurely.
That said, we know the value of Dagayloan being himself and when he’s consistent in hiding his left hand entries behind a short jab and raiding whenever his opponent is trying to take stock, standing in range or backing up straight, at this level it has proven a nightmare to manage. When he punches into the clinch or finds himself on the inside, it’s important he’s as rough and crafty as we know he can be. He needs to lean on Ligas’ right shoulder like he did Penalosa’s, holding his head with his right hand and throwing left uppercuts across his body. As well as using his own head to stand Ligas up and prevent him from tying up or using his strength to create separation with a forearm.
Dagayloan plays fast and loose with southpaw-orthodox lead dynamics, stepping either side of an orthodox lead foot to land his jab and, again, it works for him entering range and landing off-beat. If he steps inside Ligas’ lead foot recklessly he might find himself walking into that rear hand, but he will always give up opportunities to counter and if he’s to push a pace on Ligas, he might need to take these risks to get to his body early. Being that this is Ligas’ first fight scheduled for 12 rounds, and that he has only ever gone as far as 10 rounds once, there’s no telling how he’ll handle the pace if Dagayloan can regularly get to his chest and work the body.
Winning for Dagayloan—being recognised with the Filipino title—would mark a quite admirable comeback from a turbulent rise at the journeyman level.
A significant step for Ligas, if he can handle the Dagayloan problem suitably, it could rubberstamp his credentials as one of the foremost prospects in the country.
And he’s equipped to beat Dagayloan well. Particularly using his feet to manipulate distance and counter off of half-steps. Dagayloan moves in straight lines and doesn’t like to punch with his opponent: hiding behind a rigid high guard and waiting his turn to punch. As I’ve mentioned, Dagayloan’s imbalance makes him readily available to counter if you can time him, but if Ligas can’t bait him into leading and counter as he falls in, he can have success occupying him in a high guard, stepping around his southpaw lead foot to change the attack and turn him, guiding Dagayloan past him with his (check) left hook.
Dagayloan is consistent on the inside if he has the freedom to stand square on and work the body, and he throws tight uppercuts well off of both hands, but considering how often finds himself in the clinch, it shouldn’t be so easy to control him and walk him back to the ropes. It’s not something we’ve seen all that much from Ligas and, late on in their fight, Francisco made him look slightly uncomfortable working under him and preventing him from tying up, but if he employs basic grappling technique here he’ll be able to dictate terms on the inside and walk Dagayloan back when he wants to break up his offense. Despite his willingness to fight off the ropes in recent fights, it makes more sense for Ligas to keep the fight at a range his cleaner footwork can make the difference and help create opportunities to counter or exacerbate Dagayloan’s shortcomings. At the very least, here Dagayloan should serve as a fascinating test of Ligas’ ability to control distance with his feet and manage a fight.
On a date heaving with exciting fights, when a young prospect tries to balance aggression and control against a marauding vet, the Philippines looks like a great place to start.
After getting two great Japanese title fights in January, including a FOTY contender between Yusaku Kuga and Gakuya Furuhashi, we’ve come into February with high expectations of what to expect in bouts for the Japanese national title. With that said the next one we’re going to get looks like it could, potentially, be a special high level chess match as Japanese Featherweight champion Ryo Sagawa (10-1, 5) defends against mandatory challenger Hinata Maruta (10-1-1, 8), this coming Thursday.
Unlike the two Japanese title fights we got in Tokyo in January the view coming into this one isn’t that we’ll see a war but instead a sensationally high level contest, and one that will be more suited to the purists, rather than fans baying for blood. Despite that it’s one we’ve waited well over a year for!
The bout was originally announced to take place in early 2020, as part of the Champion Carnival. Sadly however Covid19 ruined those plans, and put the bout on hiatus, pushing it to 2021. In the interim Maruta sat out the year whilst Sagawa managed to make a voluntary defense against the gutsy Yuri Takemoto, who put up a game effort before being stopped in the 6th round. Despite the lengthy delay this is a bout that we suspect will be worth every day of the delay and should provide us something special.
For those who haven’t seen the men in action, they actually have quite a lot in common. Firstly both men are genuinely handsome young fighters, who don’t look like typical boxers, in fact both genuinely look like pretty boys. Despite that both are incredibly talented boxers, with excellent technical ability, great speed and under-rated power. They are also both flawed fighters, who appear to be improving from some early career hiccups.
The 26 year old Sagawa turned professional in 2016 after a very solid amateur career. He looked good in his debut, scoring a TKO win over Korean Ho Ya Kim, before suffering a TKO loss to Retsu Kosaka. The loss saw Sagawa being hurt as Kosaka made the most of Sagawa’s inexperience, and went on to force a stoppage soon afterwards. The bout exposed two issues with Sagawa. One was his chin, which was shaky but not glass, the other was his inexperience, and he looked very confused about how to react to being hurt. Thankfully since then he has improved so much, and has won 9 in a row. They have included a fight where he had to pull himself off the canvas to win, against Junki Sasaki, an excellent TKO win over former world title challenger Ryo Matsumoto, his international debut against Al Toyogon, his title winning performance against Reiya Abe and two subsequent title defenses.
In the ring Sagawa is a very, very tidy boxer. Offensively he’s very sharp and despite not being a puncher he has more than enough power to get respect from opponents, and he can hurt and stop fighters, as he did against Ryo Matsumoto and Yuri Takemoto. There’s no doubting his ability, and his adaptability, showing himself to not only be an excellent boxing, with textbooks skills, but also a very capable fighter when he needs to, as he did in the second half of his bout with Toyogon. Despite being incredibly talented, and very smooth, there are still worries about Sagawa’s chin and he has been stopped and dropped before. He’s not the easiest man to catch clean, but we do worry about what happens when he is caught. He has matured from his loss to Kosaka, but there will always be a worry about how well he takes a shot and whether he can pull it back together to take a victory, as he did against Sasaki.
Hinata Maruta turned professional in 2015, as a baby faced 18 year old, and looked set for huge things. As soon as he turned professional there was a lot of buzz and fuss about him, and it was proven to be warranted when he beat the then world ranked Jason Canoy on debut. He had been a stand out amateur and that amateur experience had seen him get rave reviews from those in Japan. Following his impressive debut he ran his record out to 5-0 (5), winning and defending the WBC Youth Bantamweight title and looking like a brilliant talent. He looked like a man with sensational skills, a crispness rarely seen of such a novice, speed, size, reach and incredible reactions. Sadly, though he stepped up too much too soon and in his 6th bout he lost a competitive decision to Hidenori Otake, in an OPBF title fight. Despite the loss Maruta’s stock remained high, given the huge step up and his performance. After a couple of wins he was held to a very debatable draw in the Philippines, against Ben Mananquil, before scoring a trio of solid Japanese domestic level wins.
In the ring Maruta is one of the smoothest boxers in Japan, and unlike many Japanese fighters his style is very one inspired by the slick, slippery style that we see as being popular in the US. His defense is fantastic, as is his ability to box behind his jab, and his power is criminally under-rated. Sadly though for all the positives we can say about Maruta, and there is a lot we like about him, there is one major issue we have with him. That’s his work rate. Early in his career Maruta was happier to show what he could do, and showcase his skills, rather than let his hands go, and often seemed to stall in second and third gear. Thankfully that has been less frequent since his draw with Ben Mananquil, but there is always a risk that he will fall back into that pattern of simply “not doing enough”. If he can let his hands go more though he looks like a sure fire future world champion.
Coming into this one we really are expecting a very, very high level boxing contest, between two men who will be looking to out think each other, adapt to each other, and come back with plans A, B, C and D. This is one that we suspect will start as a boxing contest and we’ll see both men adapt as the bout goes on, moving from pure boxing to more of a fight. In theory that’s the type of bout which favour Sagawa, who has proven he can up the tempo and fight up close. Whilst it’s true that brawl could favour Sagawa we actually think that will be his undoing and his chin will get tagged by a counter from Maruta, who will then unload on a stunned Sagawa and force a stoppage to take the title.
Whilst we are predicting a stoppage for Maruta we really wouldn’t be surprised by any outcome here. It’s one of those bouts where anything is possible, and one of those bouts where both men will need to make continual changes to their tactics until the ending comes. It will be cerebral at times, exciting at others, and genuinely fantastic through out.
Prediction - TKO9 Maruta
As we entered 2021 one of the divisions that had us the most excited was the Light Flyweight division, which has an incredibly stacked top 10-15 on the global stage. As well as being one of the best divisions at the top it is also one of the best in terms of emerging youngsters looking to make their mark on the upper echelons of the sport.
This coming Thursday at Korakuen Hall we see two of the best prospects in the divisions clash, as Ryu Horikawa (3-0-1, 1) and Yudai Shigeoka (2-0, 1) battle for the vacant Japanese Youth title in a truly brilliant match up that will put the winner on the fast track to more senior titles and much bigger fights.
Of the two fighters the older man is Yudai Shigeoka, the older brother of the more well known Ginjiro Shigeoka. The 23 year old Shigeoka, who turns 24 in April, had a very successful amateur career before turning professional in 2019, following his brother to the professional ranks. He debuted in a low key bout, stopping Thai visitor Manop Audomphanawari in 2 rounds back in October 2019, before stepping up massively and out pointing OPBF champion Lito Dante over 6 rounds, in a much more polished performance. Sadly however he has been out of the ring since beating Dante, back in December 2019.
From his performances so far we know that Shigeoka is a talented southpaw, with good handspeed, fantastic accuracy and timing and a good judge of distance. Against Manop he showed some brutal body work, and looked very relaxed and natural against a man who really wasn't fit to face him. Against Dante however we saw Shigeoka show what he can do with an excellent boxing display, staying wary of Dante's strength and power. Rather than going to war with Dante he boxed, moved, and tied up when he needed to, showing fantastic maturity for a fighter in just his second professional bout.
In the eyes of many Yudai Shigeoka is just as promising as his younger brother, and potentially has more upside, being a little bit more of a boxer-puncher, rather than a puncher-pressure fighter, and being taller. A win here would certainly open the door for Watanabe to move him towards bigger fights later in the year.
At just 20 years old Ryu Horikawa is a boxing baby, but one who has shown a lot of potential already. Like Shigeoka he too debuted in 2019, albeit at the age of 19, and quickly caught the eye. His debut saw him score a 3rd round TKO win over Jun Ishimoto before he scored an excellent win over Yuki Nakajima, just weeks after his debut. He then squeezed in a third fight before the end of 2019, as he travelled to China and made his international debut, fighting to a much debated draw with Xiang Li in a 10 rounder for the WBO Oriental Light Flyweight title. That experience will serve him well here in a scheduled 8 rounder. In 2020 Horikawa managed to fight in a single fight, defeating Daiki Kameyama in a very close and competitive 6 rounder as he continued to build his record and experience.
In the ring Horikawa is a fantastic boxer-mover. He’s very quick, very sharp and almost glides around the ring. Although not the biggest or strongest fighter at 108lbs he has an excellent jab, understands range very well and can sneak inside very easily, before getting away. One of his biggest strengths is his reflexes, and he spots openings very quickly, both on the front foot and the back foot, often tagging opponents at the slightest of mistakes. Despite being very good, his inexperience does occasionally show and he is clearly not the strongest fighter, with Yuki Nakajima pushing him around up close in the later stages of their 2019 bout.
On paper this might not look like an amazing match up, but it is one we are expecting to be a fantastic high speed, chess bout between two quick, talented fighters, each looking to kick their career on to the next level. Sadly for Horikawa we think his physical immaturity will be an issue here. He is, arguably, the better pure boxer but sadly he’s in with a stronger, more powerful fighter and we suspect, over 8 rounds, that will grind him down. The key for Shigeoka is his potent body attack, and we suspect that will take the wheels form Horikawa in the middle rounds, and leave the younger man in real problems in the final stages.
We suspect Horikawa survives the 8 rounds, but does come up short in a competitive, but clear, decision.
Prediction - Shigeoka UD8
Every so often a match up comes around where the first impression isn’t a guess at who’s going to win, or how, but is instead a feeling that “that’s gonna be awesome”, and that was the case in December 2019 when Kosuke Saka (20-5, 17) won the Japanese Super Featherweight title knowing that Takuya Watanabe (37-9-1, 21) was waiting in the wings as the mandatory challenger. Following Saka’s win the bout was supposed to take place in April 2020, as part of the Champion Carnival, though was sadly postponed due to the ongoing pandemic, which ended up postponing almost all of the Champion Carnival bouts from last year.
Despite the delay to the fight it is still a bout that seems almost certain to be something special. Really, really special. And really brutal.
For those who don’t follow the Japanese scene, the easiest way to sum this up is “aggressive monster with brutal power, up against insanely tough blood and guts warrior”. That sort of combination always makes for spine tingling action, thrilling back and forth exchanges and the sort of fight that reminds you why you love this sport. And that’s exactly what we are expecting here. Neither man is world class. Neither man will be expected to use the Japanese title and leapfrog into a world title bout. But that doesn’t really matter, this is going to be an hellacious fight deserving of your time, attention, and eyes.
The 28 year old Kosuke Saka doesn’t have a record of a champion, with 5 losses in 25 bouts. He is however much better than his record suggests and his losses have, for the most part, not been embarrassing ones. His first loss was in 2012, in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final against Masayuki Ito. That was quickly followed by him losing 2 of his next 4, including a TKO loss to Hiroshige Osawa. The loss to Osawa was followed up by Saka reeling off 8 T/KO wins, including victories over Ryuto Kyoguchi - Hiroto Kyoguchi’s older brother, Takafumi Nakajima and Shota Hayashi. Winning the Japanese the Japanese Featherweight title with his win over Hayashi. Sadly though his reign was an embarrassing one, losing the title in his first defense, against Takenori Ohashi, when he misheard the 10 second clacker and confused it for the bell, giving Ohashi a free shot, which he took, knocking Saka out cold.
Saka bounced back from his title loss by moving up in weight, stopping touted prospect Masanori Rikiishi in 2 rounds and then taking out the limited Gusti Elnino, before being brutalised by under-rated Filipino Joe Noynay in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title. That looked like a bad loss, until Noynay followed it up and battered Olympic bronze medal winner Satoshi Shimizu a few months later. Since the loss to Noynay we’ve seen Saka fight twice, a nothing win against Isack Junior and then a sensational win against Masaru Sueyoshi last December to win the Japanese Super Featherweight title. That win over Sueyoshi was Saka at his best. He was marauding throughout, bullying Sueyoshi, taking the space away from the technically well schooled Teiken man, and breaking him down round by round, until Sueyoshi was left a ruined man midway through round 6.
In the ring Saka is a monstrously hard hitting bully. He has brutal power, in both hands, he presses forward with one thing in mind, destruction, and he fights like every punch he throws is designed to break bones. He loves coming forward, applying pressure behind a stiff jab, pushing opponents on to the ropes and going to work. He’s all about heavy shots, coming forward and not taking a backwards step. His mentality is to break his opponents. Offensively he is a brutal monster. Where he is flawed however is defensively. He can be countered, he can be caught clean, and he can regularly over-commit. His footwork isn’t the sharpest out there, crossing his feet much more often than he should, and when hurt he can be slow to recover, as we saw against Noynay where he never regained his composure after the first of several knockdowns.
Saka’s biggest issue however is his mental state. It was a mental lapse against Ohashi that cost him and it was his lack of composure after being hurt that was his downfall against Noynay. If he can be locked in, as he was against the likes of Hayashi and Sueyoshi, he is very hard to beat. But his two recent stoppage losses does leave us wondering about how consistent he is, and where his mind is focused coming into this bout with Watanabe.
The 31 year old Takuya Watanabe is a true veteran of the ring, having debuted almost 14 years ago to the day. He is one of the most experienced men currently fighting in Japan, with 47 bouts and 289 rounds to his name, and he is also a surprisingly well travelled fighter with bouts in Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, China and Taipei. In fact 14 of his 47 bouts have been fought outside of Japan, including his infamous 2014 blood bath with Jae Sung Lee in South Korea. A bout that really did see Watanabe leaving his blood all over the Gwanakgu Hall, in Seoul.
Of course there is much more to Watanabe than just being a road warrior, in fact there’s a teak tough competitor, with a hugely under-rated skill set, an amazing will to win, and a real hunger to win a Japanese title before he hangs them up. A title he wants to add to a collection that includes a WBC Youth world title, an IBF Asia title, a WBO Asia Pacific title, a WBO Oriental title and an OPBF “silver” title. Despite his collection of silverware he has been eluded by a Japanese title, losing in previous bouts for the title against Hisashi Amagasa and Satoshi Hosono.
Through Watanabe’s career he has really built his reputation and has had nothing handed to him. He turned in 2007, as a teenager and won his first 6 before losing to the mysterious Saengachit Kiatkamthorngym, in what appears to have been Saengachit only professional bout. He quickly fell from 6-0 to 10-3-1 (3) and struggled to find his identity in the ring. By 2012, when he fought Hisashi Amagasa, he had advanced his record to 15-3-1 (4) but had no idea how to deal with Amagasa and the “Slimming Assassin’s” unique physical features. Rather than biting down and fighting hard, like he would now, he looked lost and confused. But then Watanabe started to find himself, and built a reputation as a legitimate warrior on the back of his 2014 bout with Jae Sung Lee, where he spent much of the bout painting the canvas red, but refused to back down, and ran Lee close. By then he was a 25 year old fighter boasting a 20-5-1 (8), but also a man building a reputation as a warrior.
In 2015 Wayanabe got his second Japanese title fight and ran Satoshi all the way in a loss that helped solidify him as a solid, upper domestic level boxer. He wasn’t a fighter, he was a boxer. A tough as nails boxer, with a busy work rate and the ability to hold his own in exchanges with Hosono. In fact he was unlucky not to get the nod in a bit of a forgotten classic. Since then he has been really busy, facing a mix of lower level talent, to tick over and get experience on the road, and upper level talent, with losses to Masayuki Ito and Hironori Mishiro, where they simply out boxed him. In 2019 however he earned another Japanese title fight, this one, on the back of winning a brutal 8 round decision against Taiki Minamoto in a Japanese title eliminator. That was supposed to secure Watanabe in 2020 but due to Covid19 the bout, as mentioned, got postponed and will not be taking place this coming Friday.
In terms of his style Watanabe is probably quite fairly described as a fighter-boxer. He can box, and is a solid boxer, with a solid and busy jab, and he likes to use his footwork, setting shots up at midrange and using some very underrated skills. However he’s at his best when he turns into a fighter, taking a fight into the trenches with his educated uppercuts, hooks, crosses and lovely flowing combinations. When he gets the fight at mid to close range he covers up a lot of his flaws, such as his slow feet and his almost trudging pressure. At range he can be out boxed, as Amagasa, Ito and Mishiro showed. In the trenches however he will hold his own with anyone at domestic level. What helps there is his incredible chin, his amazing hunger and his willingness to take a bomb to land his own shots. If a fighter wants to go to war, Watanabe will go to war.
It’s the willingness of Watanabe to go to war, and his eagerness to fight fire with fire that makes us so excited here. It’s Saka’s power, pressure and aggression, against Watanabe’s toughness, sneaky combinations and inclination to respond when he’s hit that should make for something special here.
Saka is certainly the heavier puncher, the more destructive fighter, and the man who, if he lands clean, can genuinely do damage. But what happens when the irresistible force hits the immovable object? Watanabe is certainly the better boxer, but can he withstand the tenacity of Saka? Likewise can Saka mentally stay strong when shots that have been forcing men to crumble have no effect on Watanabe?
Predicting this one is tough, though predicting any Saka fight is tough, with the only sure thing being that this will be something truly captivating.
If pushed to select a winner, we’ll be going with Watanabe to weather out the storm from Saka, make him question himself and crumble late. Despite that the reality is that any outcome here is possible and that the journey to the final result is going to be thoroughly engrossing, beautifully brutal and fantastically physical.
If you’re a Boxing Raise subscriber you will not want to miss this one. And if you don’t subscribe to Boxing Raise, you should, even if it’s just to watch this bout! It may have taken over a year of waiting for this one, but we are just as excited as we were when we went into 2020
Prediction - TKO9 Watanabe
In 2020 the boxing calendar got completely screwed up with Covid19 forcing bouts to be postponed and cancelled on a regular basis. One of the bouts that was postponed was a mandatory title fight for the Japanese Super Bantamweight title. That bout has now been rearranged for January 22nd and will see defending champion Yusaku Kuga (19-4-1, 13) taking on mandatory challenger Gakuya Furuhashi (26-8-1, 14), in what could be something a little bit special and very brutal.
Those who have been following the Japanese scene over the last few years will know all about the 30 year old Kuga who is now enjoying his second reign as the Japanese Super Bantamweight champion. For those who haven’t been following the scene Kuga is a very fan friendly fighter, who’s a puncher first, with an aggressive style and warmonger mentality in the ring. He came up short in his first title fight, back in 2015 when he lost a razor thin decision to Yasutaka Ishimoto but has gone 8-2 (6) since then, and managed to avenge his loss to Ishimoto in 2017 to claim the title, for the first time. In his first reign he made 2 defenses of the title before losing in 2018 to Shingo Wake, in what was really an undressing for Kuga, who had no answer to Wake’s movement and jab.
Despite losing to Wake it wasn’t long until Kuga reclaimed the title, winning it back from Ryoichi Tamura in 2019, in what was the second bout between the men and an all out war, one of the genuine hidden gems of 2019. After reclaiming the title he made a single defense before taking on Jhunriel Ramonal at the end of 2019, and being brutally taken out after just 84 seconds, in a genuine upset.
At his best Kuga is a really brutal fighter to go up against. For much of his career he has been a heavy handed, teak tough warrior, with a great engine and a really physical style. He can box, though often seems happier to have a war, and his two battles with Ryoichi Tamura were both brutal, punishing affairs for both men. Sadly though his toughness has been questioned in recent losses, with Shingo Wake breaking him down in 10 rounds and the loss to Ramonal being a clean KO. As well as those losses we do wonder what he’s like mentally coming into this bout. Had he been able to get a confidence easy win after his loss to Ramonal we’d feel better about his chance, but we do wonder if that loss is still playing on his mind more than a year after it. We also wonder if the wars with Tamura have taken something from him.
At his best Kuga is a nightmare. His power is destructive at this level, he’s very physical, his right cross is a concussion maker and his pressure and work rate is incessant. He’s not the quickest, the sharpest, and his jab is somewhat limited, but he’s a real bully in the ring. The most obvious way to beat him is to out box him, out maneuver him and refuse to have a tear up with him. Saying that however we do, genuinely, wonder what the Ramonal loss has done to him, and what shape his chin is going to be in, and what his confidence is going to be like.
Furuhashi is a 33 year old who fights out of the Nitta Gym in Kawasaki, and has been one of their most notable fighters for years. Sadly though he has had a long career and this will be his third, and potentially last, shot at a Japanese title. His desire is to become the first fighter born, raised and from a gym in Kawasaki, and it’s really been a driving force for him in recent months. He was supposed to get this shot, as previously mentioned, in 2020 but has had to wait a long time to get it, and will now know that this could be now or never for him.
Furuhashi, unlike Kuga, isn’t really a name we expect too many fight fans outside of Japan to be familiar with, even those that follow the Japanese scene from around the globe. Despite that he is a really fun fighter to watch and has been in and around the title scene since 2014, when he was supposed to fight Hidenori Otake who pulled out of the bout due to a rib injury. Following that he got a show at Yukinori Oguni in 2015, fighting to a draw with the future IBF world champion and then lost 3 of his following 4 bouts, including a title bout in 2016 to Yasutaka Ishimoto. That run, which saw him going 1-3-1 including the draw with Oguni, seemed to spell the end for him as he slipped to 18-8-1 (8). Surprisingly however he has rebuilt brilliantly, going 8-0 (6) since then, including wins against Yuta Horiika and Ryoichi Tamura, with the win over Tamura in September 2019 earning him this belated third title fight.
In the ring Furuhashi’s strength is his tenacity, work rate, energy and willingness to press forward. Technically he’s nothing special, he’s not quick, he’s not got massive amounts of power, but he’s got an abundance of energy, he’s physically strong and is sneaky on the inside, with some excellent hooks and uppercuts. When backed up he responds with solid combinations and makes an opponent walk through a lot of leather to get to him, and he knows how to make things scrappy. Like Kuga he’s tough, but he’s more of a gritty tough than an iron chinned tough guy. Sadly for him however he has taken a lot of punishment during his long career, and his willingness to have a war with anyone has almost certainly taken something of a toll on his body.
As mentioned, to beat Kuga a fighter needs to use their brain and out box him. Getting into a war with him is a painful gameplan, for anyone unless they have lights out power, like Ramonal. Furuhashi doesn’t have that, and if Kuga is half the fighter he was before the Ramonal loss he should be able to force his will against Furuhashi. If that happens the heavier shots of Kuga will be the difference maker, and will, sooner or later, break down the gutsy and determined Furuhashi.
For Furuhashi to win he needs to totally change his gameplan. He can’t try to go to war with Kuga. He can’t hold his feet and try to out-battle Kuga. Instead he needs to move, lure Kuga in, reel off some shoe shining combinations and get out of dodge. He has the energy for that, and his legs can certainly do it, but we’re not sure he has the mentality to do it. He’s one of those fighters who takes a shot and wants to respond immediately, rather than thinking “I’ll get you next time”.
Whilst Kuga’s confidence could be shot, and a quick start from Furuhashi would give Kuga a lot of questions to answer, we suspect his chin hasn’t become cracked from the losses to Wake and Ramonal. Instead we suspect he’ll be back to his usual rampaging self. We expect Furuhashi to try and respond, punch for punch, with Kuga, giving us a thrill a minute war, until Furuhashi comes undone from the repeated heavy shots of Kuga and the referee is forced to step in and save stop in the second half of a sensational fight.
Expect blood, bombs, thrilling exchanges and incredible action here!
Prediction - TKO8 Kuga
For fans wanting to watch this one, it will be shown live on streaming service Boxing Raise.
On January 16th we'll see the second OPBF title fight of the new year as Welterweight champion Riku Nagahama (12-2-1, 4) defends his belt against Ryota Toyoshima (12-2-1, 8), in what will be Nagahama's first defense of the belt. For both men it's a great opportunity to start the year with a win of note and whilst a loss would be a set back they would have the rest of 2021 to get back on track.
Coming into the bout it's the champion who is riding high after winning the title last February, in the final show before Japanese boxing locked down due to Covid19. Not only did Nagahama win the title last February but he did so in what was arguably his best win to date, ending the unbeaten run of the previously unbeaten Japanese based Afghan fighter Kudura Kaneko. Going into the bout Kaneko seemed to have a lot of steam behind him, but Nagahama boxed smartly to out point the then 11-0 Kaneko.
Boxing smartly really is the way forward for the 29 year old Nagahama who is a tidy boxer, but someone who has come up short when he's been dragged into a war or shoot out, with his chin letting him down against both Takeshi Inoue and Yuki Nagano. Sadly for him those bouts exposed his two biggest flaws. One is his relative lack of power, which meant he couldn't get respect from either man, and the other is his questionable durability. He's not china chinned, or an accident waiting to happen, but both Nagano and Inoue broke him down, with Nagano really breaking his face up with good straight right hands and left hooks. Inoue on the other hand forced the referee to jump in in round 8, when Nagahama was taking shots. In both cases Nagahama found himself being man handled and caught clean, a lot, at close range, forcing the referee to save him. Both stoppages came with Nagahama on his feet, but looking beaten, bruised and damaged when the referee stepped in.
Despite the two losses however he did have success and is certainly a very skilled boxer. We saw this when he won Rookie of the Year in 2015, we saw it in both of his losses and in his recent winning streak, which has seen him win 4 in a row.
Aged 25 and fighting out of the Teiken gym Ryota Toyoshima is regarded as a very hungry, and hard hitting, challenger looking for his chance to make a mark at title level, after having been overshadowed by the aforementioned Yuki Nagano. The heavy handed southpaw made his debut in 2014, as a teenager and ended up losing early in his career. After just 4 bouts he was 2-1-1 but rebuilt well, winning Rookie of the Year in 2016. He suffered his second career loss in 2017, coming up short to Masaharu Saito who had also given him his first loss, but since then has found his groove with 5 straight wins, 3 of which have been by stoppage.
It's fair to say that Toyoshima, unlike Nagahama, has got very respectable power. He's also a lot more comfortable at a slower pace than Nagahama, who always wants to be seen doing something. For Toyoshima little things are one of his strengths, lulling opponents slightly before countering, or changing the tempo of the action. Despite being a very capable boxer Toyoshima's real strength comes in his naturally heavy hands. When he lands clean he tends to hurt opponents, and chip away at their resilience. He's able to land hard to head or body and does throw some very sneak short left hooks, as we saw against Masafumi Ando in 2019. When he's in seek and destroy mode, as he was against Woo Min Won, he can make for very fan friendly tear ups, and that's what we expect to see from him here.
For Nagahama the key to victory is using his skills to keep control of the tempo and prevent Toyoshima from making this a war, and he does have those tools in his arsenal. He needs to work when he gets space, he needs to stick his jab in Toyoshima's face as often as he can and upset the puncher's rhythm.
As for Toyoshima the key is to out work, out power, and out muscle Nagahama. He will take shots in return, but his chin and the lack of pop on Nagahama's shots should prove to be the difference. The thing he needs to avoid is allowing Nagahama to dictate the tempo from the early going, if that happens Toyoshima will struggle to play catch up on the cards and his power might not be able to bail him out.
We're expecting the pressure and power of Toyoshima, along with his sneaky body shots, to be the difference. We expect him to slow down Nagahama and then, later on, force the stoppage with a spent Nagahama covering up on the ropes after feeling the relentless assault of the challenger.
Regardless of who wins however we are expecting a genuinely exciting little war here, the bout really could be a sensational way to top off the first Dynamic Glove card of 2021.
Prediction - Toyoshima TKO8
For those interested the bout will be televised live on G+, which is available via the Isakura service those outside of Japan.
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.