On February 5th we'll, hopefully, see a new Japanese Bantamweight champion being crowned as Kyosuke Sawada (14-2-2, 6) and Kenshin Oshima (7-1-1, 3) battle for the title which has been vacant since Yusuke Suzuki retired in January 2021 due to injuries. Since then we have seen one fight take place for the title, with Sawada having a technical draw with Ikuro Sadatsune, before a scheduled rematch was cancelled with Sadatsune unable to compete, continuing what has been a rather cursed run for the title over the last few years, with cancellations, injuries and weight issues cancelling a surprising number of bouts for the belt. Despite the "curse" the belt still has real meaning, it's been held by some Japanese legends and is a title both men will be desperate to win. For Sawada the bout is, as mentioned, his second crack at the belt whilst Oshima will be getting his first title bout, and his first real chance to show just how good he is, after something of an underwhelming start to his professional career, so far.
Sawada is a very well schooled pure boxer, with lovely hand speed, textbook skills and a lot of amateur experience, having scored over 60 wins in the unpaid ranks. That amateur experience was supposed to help him race through the ranks, though unfortunately he came up against Yusuke Suzuki and Hiroaki Teshigawara in his first two bouts, and a lot of the expectations that were on his shoulders were quickly forgotten, with some then wondering whether he was going to ever make a mark on the sport. As it turned out however his losses weren't actually bad ones and both Suzuki and Teshigawara went on to achieve plenty themselves, with both winning titles, it was just unfortunate that Sawada had come up against them so early in his career, and theirs.
Since his bad start to the pro ranks Sawada has gone unbeaten and managed to show genuine improvement along the way. He has adapted his amateur style without throwing all the amateurs away. As a result he's a wonderfully skilled boxer, who sticks to the text for the most part, but can switch things up when he needs to. He's most comfortable range, his punches are very crisp and he's light on his feet with excellent shot selection. Sadly he can be made to look a little bit lost up close, but in fairness to him he has the tools, typically, to avoid an inside battle, and the composure to see things out, tie up when he needs to, and create space. Notably he also has solid power, much more so than his record suggests, and he gets opponents respect due to how cleanly he lands, especially with his counter shots as we saw against Sadatsune. His speed, timing and placement are all excellent, and make him a very tough opponent, no matter who he's against, and helps explain how he's turned his career around in such an impressive fashion after back-to-back losses to start his days as a professional.
Oshima turned professional with some buzz, and was regarded by some as a potential face of the future of the Teiken Gym. Prior to turning professional he had gone 27-13 in the unpaid ranks and seemed to have the potential to make a mark in the professional ranks, especially given his style was rather "pro-ready". Sadly however he would lose his second professional bout, to Yuki Iriguchi. he would then suffer another set back when he fought to a draw with the then win-less Nobuaki Kanazawa. With a 3-1-1 record after 5 fights it seemed like Oshima's amateur promise wasn't going to be realised in the professional ranks, but just like Sawada he has turned things around, winning his last 4 bouts. Not only has he won 4 in a row but they have included some solid wins too, including decision victories over Joe Tanooka, Ikuro Sadatsune and Wilbert Berondo. Sadly though the most win on his record did come more than 2 years ago, way back in November 2019.
Whilst it has been a while since we last saw Oshima in the ring, and by a while we really mean "too long!", one thing is undeniable. He's a talented boxer. He's very much a boxer-come counter puncher, with a nice array of punches, a very impressive sense of composure and good timing and distance control. He's never going to make for the most fun of bouts, and he does rely on his movement and jab a little too much at times rather than using the rest of his arsenal, but there is clearly a lot of skill there. He times fighters well, he picks good counter shots, and creates distance forcing opponents into errors. His style is awkward, he's a nightmare to fight and although he lacks the speed, power and explosiveness of top prospects, there is no denying his boxing brain and his ring IQ, he's just a little big unlucky to lack the physical traits to go with his brain.
Sadly for Oshima whilst his run was nice, this is a notable step up especially after such a long break, and in many ways he's the type of fighter that Sawada would have loved to face. Oshima lacks fight changing power, something that Sawada would perhaps be wary of, and Oshima is also not a high tempo guy, allowing Sawada to out work him. Sawada is also the quicker, sharper, fighter and the more polished boxer.
We suspect that the early portion of this bout will be a good technical chess match, with Sawada getting the better of things. As it goes on however Sawada will begin to take total control, and the bigger question isn't going to be who wins, but rather whether or not Sawada will manage to stop Oshima late on. We don't think so, but we do think Oshima will be in trouble in the final few rounds.
Prediction - UD10 Sawada
One of the very best fights of 2021 was the Japanese Super Bantamweight title fight between Gakuya Furuhashi (28-8-1, 16) and Yusaku Kuga (20-5-1, 13), which saw Furuhashi claim the Japanese title, in his third attempt, by breaking down Kuga in the 9th round of a total barn burner. This coming Tuesday we're in for another treat as, around a year after their first bout, the two men face off again in a brilliant rematch, with Furuhashi going into this one as the champion, and Kuga looking to reclaim the title to become a 3-time champion.
Sadly, unlike their first bout, we're not expecting a fight of the year contender. Or anything even close to that if we're honest. Instead we're expecting to see a rather dominant win by one of the men involved, with father time, a hard career and accumulated punishment being responsible for what will be a bit of a let down, compared to their first bout.
In their first contest Kuga got off to a good start, out boxing Furuhashi, who like a man possess. Furuhashi wasn't going to be denied last year, and despite being behind going into the final rounds he broke down Kuga who took a lot of damage late in the bout. Following that bout both men have fought once. Furuhashi retained his title, with a TKO win over the gutsy but over-matched Seigo Hanamori whilst Kuga won a Japanese title eliminator, defeating Ryoichi Tamura in the third meeting.
Sadly Kuga's win over showed something that's rather unfortunate. Both men were shot. They had fought two twice, in two all out wars, but this third bout seemed to show that their battles had taken a lot out of each other. Kuga was still a tough, heavy handed fighter, but he looked like he had lost two steps since their 2019 bout. Losses to Furuhashi and Jhunriel Ramonal have been punishing ones, and Kuga's toughness has, potentially, been his downfall with the former 2-time Japanese champion having taken a lot of damage in recent years.
At his best Kuga was a terminator like fighter. He was a decent boxer, with very heavy hands, a great chin, and an impressive will to win. Sadly that style does take a toll on fighters, and it has certainly taken it's toll on Kuga who is still heavy handed, but no longer has the intensity he once had, or the toughness he had. He's only 31 but he's a very, very old 31.
As for Furuhashi he has always been a high intensity fighter, but someone who hasn't regularly relied on his chin and power to win fights. Instead he has relied on a high work rate, a lot of energy, and setting a pace that others can't typically match. He has taken punishment, and bouts against the likes of Yasutaka Ishimoto, Ryoichi Tamura and Kuga have been punishing, but he hasn't typically taken the huge amount of shots that Kuga has had. This means, at 34, he's probably in better physical shape than the challenger. We don't expect to see quite ferocity he had last year, but we also do expect he'll need to be that aggressive.
We expect Furuhashi to do what he does. Setting a high tempo, taking the fight up close and again getting in the face of Kuga. Kuga likes to fight at mid range, getting extension of his shots and landing straight shots. Furuhashi on the other hand, wants to get up close, work the body and land on the inside, smothering Kuga's power at the same time. That is exactly what we're expecting to see again from him. The body work and intensity took the fight out of Kuga last time and we expect to see it do the same here.
We suspect that this time around it will take Furuhashi a few rounds less to take the fight out of Kuga, and instead of stopping his man in 9 rounds, whilst down on all 3 cards, we suspect Furuhashi will stop Kuga in 6 rounds, whilst leading on the cards. After the bout we wouldn't be surprised at all by Kuga either moving up in weight, for one final run, or retire saving his body from further punishment.
Prediction - TKO6 Furuhashi
On January 11th we'll see the first Japanese title fight of 2022, as Kai Ishizawa (9-1, 8) and Katsuki Mori (9-0, 2) clash for the vacant Japanese Minimumweight title, which was given up last year by Masataka Taniguchi ahead of his WBO world title fight with Wilfredo Mendez. The match up will see two genuinely bright and promising young Minimumweights clashing, in what looks like a brilliant match up in paper, and one that is genuinely hard to call, with the two men involved having very, very different styles to each other. In one corner is a hard hitting pressure fighter, with heavy hands, flat feet, and who enjoys pressing forward, whilst the other contains a slick boxer, who lacks power but has very good foot work, movement and hand speed.
Of the two men the more proven is the 25 year old Ishizawa. He debuted in 2017 and won his first 6 bouts, all inside the distance, whilst claiming the Japanese Youth title. Sadly after running to 6-0 he then suffered sole defeat, losing in a Japanese title eliminator to Masataka Taniguchi. Thankfully for him however he bounced back quickly, and has won 3 in a row since then, including a Japanese Youth title defense, against Yuni Takada, and a win against Naoya Haruguchi in what was, essentially, a Japanese title eliminator. On paper his record doesn't scream quality, but wins against Tatsuro Nakashima, Yuga Inoue, Masashi Tada, Yuni Takada and Naoya Haruguchi are good domestic level wins.
In the ring Ishizawa is a freakishly heavy handed fighter who presses forward behind a high guard, has a stiff and hard jab, and brutal body shots on the inside. He's not the busiest of fighters, and a lot of what he does looks deliberate, even predictable, but with his heavy hands, physical strength and aggression, he makes fighters fight his fight. He applies constant pressure, and that, combined with his power, draws mistakes, which he often punishes. Notably his power has shown it's self to be completely genuine, as he dropped Taniguchi, who recently won the WBO title, and it's clear that if he wins here he will be hunting a rematch with Taniguchi.
Aged just 21 Mori is a youngster who debuted in 2018 and quickly made a name for himself, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year just 16 months after his debut. Aged 19 at the time of his Rookie of the Year triumph he looked really promising, with lovely speed, movement and an excellent boxing brain. He looked very much like a future star of the Ohashi gym, but he also looked really young, physically immature and feather fisted. Those issues continued to show through into 2021, and after 8 bouts he was 8-0 (1). His lack of power was an issue, but he did manage to score a second stoppage last year, when he defeated Ren Kojima in 6 rounds, that was his first stoppage win since his debut win over Akira Ichihara.
In the ring Mori is a really aggressive fighter. He's not the strongest, the biggest, or the most powerful, but he's aggressive, exciting and likes to stand in front of opponents, finding gaps and letting shots go up close. He attacks the body really well, with both hands, he switches between head and body well, and has real belief in his work rate, hooks, and uppercuts. Despite being aggressive he's also a smart fighter, and he does find gaps with ease. One thing that he doesn't use very well, oddly, is his jab which is a shame as his jab is a very nice shot, but he often seems happy to use one or two whilst looking to get close, smothering opponents whilst somehow finding space for his own shots.
Interestingly the two men will both be looking to fight up close, both will be looking to let body shots go and both will be looking to break down the other. Usually when it comes to fights like this, the heavy puncher, and the more imposing gets the better of things. We suspect that will be the case again here. Ishizawa is just so much stronger and so much heavier with his shots. However we can see a route to victory for Mori, especially if he can use his under-rated defense up close, smothering the power of Ishizawa, preventing him from getting full leverage on his shots, whilst breaking down the body of the once beaten puncher.
We see Mori having success early on, and perhaps even being in the lead by round 5, but we also see him getting broken down by Ishizawa in the second half of the fight and being stopped late in the bout. He'll put in a great effort, but sadly for him we suspect Ishizawa's power will prove to be too much.
If we're wrong and Mori comes out on top here, put his name on your watch list, as he will be moved incredibly quickly if he becomes the second man to beat Ishizawa.
Prediction - TKO8 Ishizawa
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.