In a number of boxing's lower weights we look at OPBF champions as future world champions. It's a regular stepping stone title that sees a title progressing from national champion to Asian champion and then on to fight for world titles.
As we go through the divisions however we tend to find fewer and fewer OPBF champions managing to progress on to the world stage. The cut off, if we can use such a term, appears to be the Lightweight division from there up the best in Asia simply can't compete with the best in the world.
Whilst the significance of the OPBF belt above Lightweight does seem to fade on the world scene it is still a title that coveted through out Asia as it allows a fighter to declare that they are the best in Asia, the Asian champion if you will.
It's that honour that will drive Japanese Koji Numata (21-7-1, 16) and Takehiro Shimokawara (19-8-2, 6) when they meet on March 11th in a battle for the OPBF Light Middleweight title, a title recently vacated by Charlie Ota.
Of the two men it's Shimokawara who is venturing into new territory. Although he's had 29 fights, just like Numata, he has never before fought for a title, of any type. Unfortunately for him his lack of title fights has seen him never take part in a 10 rounder and he's only been scheduled to go 10 rounds twice, reaching the final bell in just one of those bouts.
With the same amount of fights Numata has become a fixture on the title scene. He has already been involved in 5 title fights, winning the Japanese Welterweight title in he process and has featured in 11 bouts scheduled for 10 or more rounds. Although Numata did lose his sole 12 rounder, being stopped by former OPBF Light Middleweight champion Ota, he has fought at that level.
This level of experience is arguably the key for Numata. He has shared the ring not only with Ota but also Tadashi Yuba and Daisuke Nakagawa and actually managed to stop Yuba almost 6 years ago. When comparing like for like Shimokawara's most notable opponents have been Akio Shibata, twice early in his career, Akinori Watanabe and Daisuke Nakagawa, with Shimokawara losing all 4 of those bouts.
As well as having an edge in quality of experience Numata also holds the edge in power having stopped significantly more opponents than Shimokawara and he's also younger.
As for Shimokawara he does himself have some notable advantages in his favour. He's notable taller than Numata, in fact he has a 4" height advantage, and he's also tougher. The only stoppage on Shimokawara's record was against the monstrously hard hitting Akinori Watanabe. He may have lost 8 bouts but he has 2 less stoppage losses than Numata who was stopped by Ota was also stopped by both Dan Nazareno Jr and Tomoyuki Shiotani in what must go down as major blips.
We're happy to put Numata's stoppages to both Nazareno and Shiotani down to his struggles with weight and with that in mind we do favour Numata to win. He has the experience at going 10 rounds and he has the experience of winning championship fight. We don't imagine Numata will manage to stop Shimokawara but we expect him to do enough to take home the OPBF title and to call himself the best Light Middleweight in Asia.
In the sport of boxing it's usually the main event that looks like the best and most interesting contest on a show. On March 8th however we think the best fight on offer is actually buried well down the card yet gives us everything we could possibly want in a fight, despite their being no title, of any type, on the line.
Whilst the main event is an interesting contest and sees Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (42-1-1, 30) fighting Alfredo Angulo (22-3, 18) in an all Mexican affair their is a sense of of inevitability about it. It just feels like a bout set up to get Canelo another win on his record and put his sole loss, a decision at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, behind him. This feeling is shown in the betting with Canelo priced as a 1/7 favourite in a bout many feel is a mismatch, albeit it one with potential fireworks.
For us the better bout is the one that features the wonderfully skilled Jorge Linares (35-3, 23) taking on the teak tough and ridiculously brave Nihito Arakawa (24-3-1, 16). Whilst some have commented that this is a mismatch we have to admit that we view this as very close to a 50-50 match up and potentially a fight of the year.
Talking about fight of the year, it wouldn't be the first time either man has been on the losing side in bout of that quality. In 2011 Linares was on the losing end of a sensational come from behind stoppage against Antonio DeMarco in a bout he had dominated for the vast part. Last year it was Arakawa's turn to be involved in a barn burner as he took on the massive punching Omar Figueroa and although he lost widely on the cards he put up a great effort and pushed Figueroa harder than any other fighter.
With what we saw in those fight of the year candidates we can safely say that these two men are completely different. Linares was a gorgeous silky combination puncher who was in and out with sharp shots, though unfortunately for him his face seemed to damage very easily and he eventually ran out of steam before being stopped in round 11. As for Arakawa he was crude, limited in terms of his boxing though refused to ever take a step backwards and walked through an torrent of abuse in an attempt to grind down Figueroa. Both men found themselves coming up short but both had impressed for different reasons.
Of course it wasn't just their fight of the year candidates that showed how different they were, it's actually been their whole careers.
Linares, born in Venezuela though fighting out of the Teiken Gym in Japan, was tipped for the top from an early age. This was due to his excellent success in the amateurs where he ran up a reported record of 151-5 (100)* and won various national titles.
The amateur success of Linares's was followed by success early in his professional career. He made his debut when he was just 17 and by the age of 21 he had already won the WBC Featherweight title by stopping Oscar Larios.
Just 16 months after winning his first world title Linares added a second, claiming the WBA Super Featherweight title with a stoppage over Whyber Garcia. This victory had moved Linares's to 26-0 (17), he was just 23 years old and deserved the nickname "El Niño de Oro" or "The Golden Boy". Unfortunately though Linares's career would quickly come tumbling down and just 2 fights later he suffered his first loss, being stopped in a round by Juan Carlos Salgado. The loss, a major upset, really told us a lot more about Linares than we really expected. It was suppose to be an easy win though he was stopped in just 73 seconds and the loss provoked some to ask questions about just how tough, both physically and mentally, Linares was.
Since the loss to Salgado we've seen Linares's career resemble a roller coaster with some notable ups and some major downs. Unfortunately for Linares, who has won 8 of 10 bouts since the Salgado contest, it's the lows that stand out with stoppages coming to both DeMarco, as mentioned above, and Sergio Thompson. He's still as talented in terms of pure boxing as anyone else on the planet but his lack of durability has been a major downfall and prevented him from having the Hall of Fame career it seemed he was destined for.
Whilst Linares was always expected to have success the same couldn't quite be said for Arakawa who really struggled to make much of a name as an amateur and went professional without much expectation on his shoulders. Amazingly Arakawa managed to quickly become an over-achiever in the professional ranks and within 9 fights he had become the All-Japan Rookie of the year in the Lightweight division.
Arakawa early career success had a minor blip as he dropped a close decision to Yoshitaka Kato in his 11th bout. It really was a blip and just 2 years later Arakawa would come close to claiming the OPBF title, scoring a majority draw with Randy Suico.
It wasn't until 2010 that Arakawa would claim his first title, the Japanese title, as he narrowly over-came Akihiro Kondo. After defending it thrice he would vacate to instead fight for, and win, the OPBF title with a victory over Jay Solmiano. After several defenses of that title Arakawa again stepped up and travelled to Mexico to fight the very highly ranked Daniel Estrada. Unfortunately Arakawa found himself on the wrong of a technical decision against Estrada after Estrada's eye was swollen shut. Although Arakawa lost the bout was shrouded in controversy with many feeling the swelling had come from punches and not the accidental fouls which were blamed for the damage. A rematch was ordered though Estrada decided not to fight Arakawa who instead got to fight Figueroa in their memorable contest.
Although Arakawa wasn't expected to have major success he has done incredibly well for himself and become a staple in the world rankings. In fact going in to this bout he is higher ranked by the WBC than Linares, though he is unranked by any of the other organisations.
Of course what makes this so interesting isn't the history of the two men, it's the styles and mentality of the men involved. Linares is a pure stylist who relies on speed, skills and movement to win bouts. He does have respectable power when he sits on punches though seems happier to box and move which he does in a wonderful and very pleasing manner. As for Arakawa he's a bullish fighter who lacks the well refined skills of Linares though makes up for that with a true "never say die" attitude. Arakawa could be 11 rounds down though would still believe he could win and will not stop trying until the final bell.
It's that that really makes this bout so great. On paper it should be a shut out to Linares, his skills are that much better than those of Arakawa that it should be a mismatch though the frailties of Linares and the desire of Arakawa means that this bout isn't clear cut at all and infact it could swing at any moment.
We can't deny that Linares will be expected to to open up a big lead on the cards. He will almost certainly take the first 7 or 8 rounds without any problems at all, though the final rounds are where we expect to see things get very interesting. The pressure and toughness of Arakawa could well grind down Linares as DeMarco did in 2011, it may not be the "expected" result by many experts but it's certainly a big possibility and it's the outcome we're going for.
We think that Linares, after winning the first 8 or 9 rounds will slow, tire and eventually be stopped either in round 11 or 12 by Arakawa who will likely book himself a rematch with Omar Figueroa in the process.
*Record taken from Teiken's website, boxrec however report an 89-5 amateur record for Linares
(Image courtesy of http://boxingnews.jp)
When we discuss the most promising fighters in the Philippines it's hard ignore "King" Arthur Villanueva (24-0, 14), a fighter who appears capable of doing everything in the ring. He can box when he wants or he can fight depending on the occasion.
At his best Villanueva controls fights amazingly well. He thinks about what he's doing, he shows excellent poise and patience and takes advantage of any mistakes he makes. Unlike many Filipino fighters Villanueva is thinking man's boxer though with his power, skill and speed he can also turn the heat up early, as he did last time out against Edgar Martinez who was stopped in just 109 seconds.
The patience of Villanueva is great though can see him having some issues including 3 very close victories over Mark Anthony Geraldo, Jeffrey Cerna and Taiki Eto. Thankfully though he has taken those narrow victories on board and developed the way he fights as a result.
With an educated jab, solid power, good speed and improving skills Villanueva is widely regarded as the most complete fighter at the ALA gym. There is still improvement to be made but the WBO International Super Flyweight champion is on the verges of a world title fight and is ranked by every one of the big 4 title bodies.
Villanueva will be hoping to keep those rankings, score his 25th straight victory and make the first defense of his WBO International title on March 1st as he takes on Mexico's former world title challenger Juan "Churritos" Hernandez (23-3, 16).
In Hernandez we have a fighter that Japanese fans will likely recognise as he did challenger Kazuto Ioka a few years back, in a Minimumweight title fight. Since then though Hernandez has filled his body out and rather than boiling down to 105lbs he now fights closer to the Flyweight division. He will still be smaller than Villanueva but shouldn't be dwarfed like one may expect.
Although Hernandez is the naturally smaller fighter we're more worried about his relative lack of durability. He has been stopped twice in his 3 losses and one of those came just 2 bouts back with Ramon Garcia Hirales knocking him out in 8 rounds. Hirales isn't a big puncher and if he can knock out Hernandez then it's logical that Villanueva can as well.
At his best Hernandez is decent fighter and he holds a legitimate, though very narrow, victory over Moises Fuentes and a highly controversial disqualification over Denver Cuello. They are however the only notable victories on his record.
Going in to this fight we can't see anything but a Villanueva victory. He can either jab and box himself to a clear decision using his reach and pin point jab or, if he feels brave, he can go in there and swat around the smaller man in search of an impressive and early KO. It really is his choice and we really can't see Hernandez beating the very talented Filipino who seems to have his eyes primed at WBO world champion Omar Andres Narvaez.
We don't think that Villanueva is quite ready for a world title fight but the 25 year old certainly has the makings of a future world champion as long as he keeps racking victories.
Most fighters, when they are 22, dream of fighting for a world title. For Genesis "Azukal" Servania (23-0, 9) that dream may only be around the corner. The young and talented Filipino is already the WBO #3 ranked Super Bantamweight and already seems nailed on to fight for a world title in the next year or two.
Before Servania gets a world title fight however he will need to prove his worth once again and on March 1st he takes on the experienced and big punching Alexander Munoz (36-5, 28) of Venezuela in a defense of his WBO Inter-Continental Super Bantamweight title. This bout looks like being one of, if not the, toughest fight in the career of Servania so far.
Servania is wonderfully talented with great speed, a solid understanding of the ring and a maturing body with developing power. He's a much bigger puncher than his record suggest, he has a belief in his speed and he has a belief in his skills. Sometimes that belief has got him into trouble, as it did when he fought a memorable contest with Konosuke Tomiyama in Macau. In that contest Servania was dropped twice in the opening round before finally taking a technical decision in a very tough contest.
When Servania chooses to box everything flows excellently and he looks like a champion in the making. When he throws all that away to just entertain he can look reckless, rash and rather foolish. Unfortunately though Servania, for all his talent and skill, doe still seem to be defensively weak and although he has tightened up at times he does still get tagged more than he'd like. The weak defensive work of Servania is an issue but he often makes it work for him by trying to time and counter opponents. Against light hitting opponents this has been idea though one does wonder how he will cope if tagged by a legitimately big puncher.
Whilst we've yet to really see Servania tagged by a big puncher that could change here. Munoz, dubbed "El Explosivo", is a real banger.
The Venezuelan is several years removed from his prime at 35 years old but they do say that the last thing a fighter loses is his punch. The power of Monuz is legitimate though was mostly proved at Super Flyweight where he was the WBA world champion. It was at 115 that he stopped both Celes Kobayashi and Eiji Kojima and although his power hasn't really carried up he is still amongst the most hurtful punchers Servania will have shared a ring with.
Over the past few years Munoz's career has stalled a bit. He has lost 3 of his last 8, suffered his first stoppage, to Leo Santa Cruz, and dropped a long way from looking like a man who can recapture a world title. He may still have that "one last" performance in him though we think that with his ageing he will have slowed and in fact he may not even be able to pull the trigger like he once could.
We'd expect to see Servania starting this fight cautiously as he gets a chance to feel out Munoz's speed and power. After a round or two of sussing out the Venezuelan we expect to see Servania stepping on the gas and landing his counters and trying to become just the second man to stop Munoz. If he feels he can't hurt the former world champion then we'd expect him to cruise to a clear decision whilst being cautious enough not to be tagged by one on Munoz's desperation shots.
As long as Servania avoids being caught by a bomb he should comfortably retain his unbeaten record and his WBO Inter-Continental Super Bantamweight title.
It's rare that we preview non-title fights but we think sometimes an exception can be made, and one such case is this weekend's bout between Japanese superstar Ryota Murata (2-0, 2), pictured, and former world title challenger Carlos Nascimento (29-3, 23). The bout, which takes place on "Ring of Gold", is a contest that will give Murata his first chance to impress an international audience and will be an opportunity that he will want to take in impressive fashion.
When it comes to Murata we have an exception to almost every rule about eastern boxing. The guy is an Olympic champion at Middleweight, he's an Amateur Championship runner up at Middleweight and whilst he's not the most refined he has a pro-ready style right off the bat. He does everything a professional does and does it like someone with a lot more professional experience than a typical novice.
That's not to say Murata doesn't make mistakes, every novice makes mistakes, but he seems to know that he needs to adapt when mistakes are made and build on his own strengths. This has seen him work hard on keep his hands up between punches, tightening up his defenses and most recently working on head movement. He'll never be a defensive genius but he will be a fighter who shows drastic improvement fight after fight as he adapts to the professional scene.
In Carlos Nascimento we're going to see Murata in with his first real puncher. So far he has faced two relatively light hitters and managed to walk through their best shots with out blinking. In Nascimento however he is facing a guy with genuine venom and the type of guy who can hurt you when he lands.
Whilst Nascimento is a puncher he's never proven his power above the Brazilian domestic level and when he has stepped up he's shown an inability to really take punishment. His lack of toughness has seen him being stopped by Serhiy Dzinziruk, in a WBO Light Middleweight title fight, Pawel Wolak, and Martin Murray. Whilst Murray has got an array of hurtful shots there is little excuse for being stopped by Dzinziruk or Wolak, neither of whom could be described as a "puncher".
For the few issues that we do spot of Murata's one of them is not his power. The guy is strong, powerful, tough and even his jab seems to be jolting. Against the 40 year old Nascimento it's hard not see Murata doing what he did to Dave Peterson in his most recent bout. Murata will likely start slowly applying constant intelligent pressure before picking up his pace and breaking down the Brazilian.
What we expect to see from Murata is not just a stoppage but a more responsible performance. He'll hopefully be less willing to take a shot to land one and his intelligent pressure become more intelligent. We think that is the next step for Murata, the improvement in his boxing IQ. That'll come as he spends time with Ismael Salas but hopefully we'll see signs of it here against the first man who may be able to hurt him.
There is no title on the line here but there is a lot at stake and if Murata can't win in the style expected of him his career will certainly take a hit. Anything but a stoppage victory will see Murata come in for some criticism.
There is something about heavy handed fighters that we just love. Maybe it's the way they can end a bout with a single punch, maybe it's their aggression or maybe the the anticipation of the big blow, we're not 100% sure but we're always attracted to fighters with those dynamite hands.
It's that sort of power that has seen the likes of Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, Adonis Stevenson and Takashi Uchiyama becoming must watch fighters. These are all men who have enough power to freeze opponents in fear and to leave opponents out cold when they connect clean.
The next Japanese fighter who will be hoping to become a "must watch" is Hiroki Okada (7-0, 7), pictured, who has a perfect record, a lot of expectation, an ever growing fan base and a big reputation as a man who refuses to let opponents hear the final bell.
Okada gets the chance to record win #8 on March 4th as he battles fellow Japanese fighter Masayoshi Kotake (9-7-1, 5) in a hugely interesting bout for the vacant Japanese Light Welterweight title. What makes the bout even more interesting is the fact Kotake has never been stopped in his 17 professional contests.
Unlike the men mentioned earlier in this preview Okada isn't given a huge amount of global hype, he's too young in his career for that and he knows it. The key for him is to keep scoring victories and keep slowly getting fans interested. If he keeps winning and keeps stopping opponents then naturally fans will start to talk about him. The best thing about Okada however isn't his power, despite what his record says, but is actually his style of fighting. He may have a perfect 7-0 (7) but his KO's haven't come from concussive single shots but from boxing and landing proper boxing shots. He has lovely hand speed, intelligent movement and seems capable of fighting just as well on the outside as the inside.
The one problem that people do spot with Okada is his defense. He does seem to get hit more than he should but his belief in his own chin and his own power perhaps lets him use it to his advantage. He's happy to take one when he has to, to land one of his own sharp shots. For some this is a flaw, for others a tactic, especially if he's fighting guys who actually can't hurt him.
With a guy who stops people it can be easy to question their gas tank. Okada answered those questions last time when he stopped tough Filipino Jaypee Ignacio in 8 rounds and had the energy left in his legs to have a dance afterwards. We dare say his legs and tank are good enough for 10 rounds if need and probably 12 at this moment in time. When you consider that he's only 24 he will have extra energy reserves just from youthful exuberance.
Whilst Okada seems to be a man on a fast rise it's fair to say that Kotake could well be the sort of fighter who could ruin Okada's coronation.
When you look at Kotake's record you don't see a record of a championship level fighter. He has only just won more than 50% of his bouts. Though records only tell us part of a story and Kotake has never been dominated by anyone. All 7 of his losses have come by decision and 6 of them were close to say the least with Kotake very unfortunate to have lost several of them. In many fights it was merely a case of Kotake losing a bout by a single round, that is genuinely how close he has been from having a very good looking record.
As well as having a deceptive record Otake is also a southpaw, and a tricky one at that. He knows how to use his right hand to unsettle fighters coming towards him and he also understands that a right handed fighter is looking for their straight right against him. He has speed, experience, skills and solid power of his own which is something that some may be over-looking going in to this fight.
As with Okada one of the big issues with Kotake is his defense. At times he can be very sloppy fighting with his hands down, moving back in straight lines and over-reaching for punches. These mistakes aren't regular ones but they are ones that he makes and can be capitalised on by a good fighter.
Another thing to note about Kotake, and possibly the most telling, is that he started his career back at Super Flyweight. Whilst he has been a professional for just over 7 years it's questionable as to whether he's really a natural Light Welterweight. If he's not then Okada's shots will hurt when they land.
For us this bout is a lot more competitive than it looks. Saying that however we do need to go with the obvious and state that we believe Okada will win. As mentioned above Kotake is tough and hasn't been stopped and we'd not be shocked if he took Okada the schedule though we believe that Okada's busyness will be the difference maker. He's much more aggressively minded than Kotake and the power advantage will show on the shots he lands. Kotake may fade late and suffer a stoppage but it won't be a surprise to see Okada taking the decision and the Japanese Light Welterweight title.
For those wondering, this bout with be the chief support contest on Dangan 94 and will be followed by Tadashi Yuba's Japanese Light Middleweight title defence against Takayuki Hosokawa.
When we talk about the Japanese domestic scene it's almost impossible no to mention Tadashi Yuba (45-8-2, 32) the current Japanese Light Middleweight champion.
Yuba's Light Middleweight title reign began in the middle of 2013 when he stopped Yosuke Kirima inside a round. Whilst on paper that was relatively small domestic title victory it was actually a record setting victory that saw Yuba becoming the first ever Japanese fighter to win national titles in 5 divisions.
Yuba's domination of the domestic title scene began back in 2000 when he claimed the interim Japanese Lightweight title. The following year Yuba was upgraded to the regular Japanese Lightweight champion. In 2002 he moved and claimed the Japanese Light Welterweight title before adding the Welterweight title in 2005. Although his original reign as Welterweight champion was short lived he did reclaim the title in 2007.
After several years without a title Yuba would claim the Japanese Middleweight title in 2012, stopping Carlos Linares. His reign as Middleweight champion, like many of his reigns, was short lived and after he lost that title he dropped down to 154lbs to claim that title.
Since winning the Light Middleweight title Yuba has already defended it once, taking a razor thin split decision over Yoshihisa Tonimura. He now looks for the second defense of that title as he takes on mandatory challenger Takayuki Hosokawa (24-10-3, 8). This bout will be the second meeting between the two men, who first fought back in 2011 with Yuba narrowly over-coming Hosokawa in a an 8 round contest.
Whilst Yuba has been able to move the weights with real success Hosokawa hasn't been able to do the same. Hosokawa has, like Yuba, been able to fight across a variety of weights though, unfortunately, has failed to find any real success in any of them. Despite that he has been willing and able to fight between Welterweight and Middleweight and amazingly started his career as a Lightweight.
Hosokawa's willingness to move between divisions has helped open up opportunities for him including a Middleweight title bout with Makoto Fuchigami and a Light Middleweight title bout with Akio Shibata. Unfortunately for Hosokawa however he was stopped in both of those bouts and was shown not to have the durability of a fighter who was genuinely made to be in either of those divisions. In fact, with 6 stoppage losses on his record Hosokawa isn't the most durable full stop and his lack of fire power can be a real issue. Against Yuba he's facing a tough but crude puncher and it would be no shock at all if Yuba could take the best shots from Hosokawa whilst Hosokawa wouldn't be able to take the best of Yuba's shots.
Although the punchers edge is certainly with Yuba his age could be an issue and the champion is now 37, notably older than his challenger who is only in his 20's. If we accept Yuba as the puncher then it's fair to suggest that Hosokawa is probably the faster man and the most able to use his feet to get in and out, something he will have to use to his advantage here to claim the title.
Since the first meeting between the two men Hosokawa has gone 7-2 (4). He has been stopped in both of his losses and struggled to narrow decisions in 2 of his distance wins. Rather surprisingly Yuba has also gone 7-2 (4) since the first meeting. Like Hosokawa both of Yuba's losses have come by stoppage and 2 of his distance wins were narrow decisions. We've got to admit that is a remarkable statistical oddity though Yuba has been fighting at a higher level over-all.
Although we can see reasons for favouring each man. We do tend to think that this is Yuba's bout to lose. The champion is far more experienced, won their first meeting, is the much bigger puncher and is also the taller and rangier fighter than the challenger. Sure Yuba is getting old and may be considering retirement, but for now it's hard to see him losing to Hosokawa who is limited and lacks the fire power to see off Yuba.
Although Yuba has been stopped 5 times in his 8 losses he's a very tough guy who took bombs from Carlos Linares in their bout and refused to be stopped. He's crude to say the least but has real venom in his shots, especially his straight left hand, and we think sooner or later that power will see off Hosokawa who may actually be winning the fight until he's stopped.
One thing we're sure of, is that we expect this to be a brutal and hard fought contest that could well end up being one of the Japanese fight of the year contenders.
The fight will be the main event of "Dangan 94", a show that features a fantastic looking contest between Hiroki Okada and Masayoshi Kotake for the vacant Japanese Light Welterweight title.
It's not often that we get to have a serious conversation about the Asian Middleweight scene but it seems that we have one of very rare situations where we can talk about it, and in fact we can talk about it in some detail as the division headlines the 522nd Dynamic Glove.
We all know Gennady Golovkin is the most feared Middleweight on the planet and that Ryota Murata is destined to to go places. There is little point in Murata staying around at Japanese or even Asian level and he knows it. He may not have ever won the Japanese or OPBF titles but in all honesty he has bigger fish to fry. On March 1st however we get to see the next two best Middleweights in Japan in action.
In one corner we have the Japanese champion Daisuke Nakagawa (22-3-2, 17), a hard hitting 36 year old who was formerly a Japanese champion at Welterweight and Light Middleweight. In the other corner we have OPBF champion Akio Shibata (21-8-1, 9), a former unified champion at Light Middleweight who seeks to unify titles in a second division.
Not only titles on the line here, but so to is personal pride an honour. The men, who are fighting for the second time, know that this will likely be their last fight together and with Shibata winning their first encounter it's certainly a personal battle for Nakagawa.
Aged 36 Nakagawa is the older man and having had his career start way back in 1997 he is the man with the more miles on the clock in terms of time. Thankfully though, for him, he has had the power to keep the mileage down and with an impressive 17 stoppages in his 22 wins he certainly possess a killer instinct. Those 17 stoppage victories have seen him keeping his career rounds down and despite being a professional for well over a decade he has only fought in 140 professional rounds.
Stood at 5'11" Nakagawa is the slightly smaller man though that's unlikely to be an issue. The bigger issue is whether or not his body can go to the well once again at his relatively advanced age. Saying that though he did do very well against the hard hitting Tomohiro Ebisu last year in the bout that saw Nakagawa claiming the title.
Since losing to Shibata in their first meeting, back in Summer 2012, Nakagawa has gone on a 3 fight winning streak and stopped his last 2 opponents, including the aforementioned Ebisu.
Whilst things have been good since their first meeting for Nakagawa things haven't been so rosy for the 32 year old Shibata. Although he is the younger man man Shibata has both competed in more fights and more rounds. He has been in 30 bouts for 164 rounds, that's only 3 bouts more and 24 rounds but he has squished it into a shorter career that began in 2003.
Like Nakagawa, Shibata actually began his career at Welterweight before his body naturally filled out to that of a Middleweight. Unfortunately as he's gone through the weights his power has completely gone and from stopping 4 of his first 6 opponents he has ran up just 5 stoppages in 24 subsequent contests including just 1 in his last 7 bouts. This has been an issue that has certainly not helped him and when he fought Murata last year he simply couldn't get the Olympic champion to respect him despite landing some clean looking shots.
Skillwise and speed wise Shibata is talented and brave. Though unfortunately for him he hasn't been able to show the greatest of durability with 5 stoppages losses on his record, including the stoppage last time out to Murata and two stoppages to Charlie Ota. Despite those notable losses he does have some notable victories including his decision over Shibata, and decisions over Makoto Fuchigami and Takehiro Shimokawara.
When it comes to this fight there are a lot of questions. Can Shibata take the power of Nakagawa again? This is a key when you consider just how much the Murata fight will have taken out of him. If he can, has Nakagawa got a plan B? We know that Shibata is a good boxer despite his lack of durability and if he pumps that jab out and uses his movement he can really out box plenty of fighters. Has father time caught up with Nakagawa? At 36, going on 37, just how much life is there left in Nakagawa's legs?
As well as the questions there is also the manner of incentives. Nakagawa was recently given a world ranking from the WBO and will know that if he keeps winning he could get a world title shot before his career is over. Likewise Shibata may see a win here as a chance to get a second Murata bout or put himself on to the world stage, albeit the fringes of the world stage.
With everything considered it's a hard fight to call. We are, however, leaning towards a Nakagawa stoppage in the middle rounds. We think Shibata will be cautious early on and try to use his speed and jab though it won't be long before Nakagawa starts to land his own shots and eventually those heavy hands of his will take their toll. We believe that Shibata will be stopped after having a small lead on the cards in what will really be a great fight as both men try to force they style on to the fight.
When "Ring of Gold" was announced we had expected two world title fights. One of those was a WBA Featherweight super title fight between Simipiwe Vetyeka, the man who ended the legendary career of Chris John, and Japan's Akifumi Shimoda (28-3-2, 12). Unfortunately that bout got pulled by the WBA who demanded that Vetyeka took on WBA regular champion Nicholas Walters rather than Shimoda, who is a top contender.
It seemed at that point that Shimoda wouldn't be on the card and was unfortunately going to miss out a major opportunity.
Thankfully Bob Arum, of Top Rank, and Teiken have managed to do a great job and kept Shimoda on the card and in a title fight, albeit "just" a WBO international Featherweight title fight. Not only have they kept Shimoda on the card but also got him a fight with a former world champion as he meets once-beaten Filipino Marvin Sonsona (17-1-1, 14).
Shimoda, a former WBA Super Bantamweight champion, is currently on a 6 fight unbeaten run following his shocking KO loss at the hands of Rico Ramos. The loss to Ramos saw Shimoda losing his world title and soon afterwards he moved up in weight filling out to a Featherweight.
Although Shimoda's last 6 fights have come at a "sub-world" level he is still clearly a talented fighter. Not exceptional but still solid with good skills, good movement a decent engine and plenty of experience under his belt. The one thing he genuinely lacks is power and although he was stopped by Ramos that said more about Ramos's power than Shimoda's chin.
At his best Shimoda is a world level fighter, there is no debating that at all. The question about him going in to this bout and future Featherweight bouts is whether or not he's a Featherweight. He's been fighting there but comfortably making the weight and one would assume that if he was offered a Super Bantamweight world title fight he'd be able to make 122lbs with out any problem.
Whether Shimoda is a natural Featherweight or not is unlikely to make a huge difference here as he takes on former WBO Super Flyweight champion Sonsona.
As with Shimoda, Sonsona is a world level fighter when he's on song. He's fast, aggressive, powerful and genuinely fun to watch. He's not the most technically proficient of fighters but he does have enough about him to make life difficult for most fighters when his head is on boxing. Unfortunately Sonsona is a play boy outside of the ring and you can tell that boxing isn't always his focus which is a real shame considering his prodigious talent.
Aged 23 and fighting from the Southpaw stance the expectation on Sonsona is "IF" he can commit himself to boxing he can easily reclaim another world title somewhere down the line. On the other side of that is that if his out of the ring issues rear their head again his career could very easily be over.
In regards to this fight Shimoda seems to be the naturally bigger man, though there isn't much between them in all honesty, he's certainly the more experienced and older man. Unfortunately for Shimoda his relative lack of power and the fact he's "stepping" down after thinking he was fighting for a world title may work against him. We've seen it in the past where a fighter thinks he's fighting one guy, then it's gets changed to a lesser opponent and he just doesn't turn up.
Shimoda could try to use his natural skills to keep Sonsona off balance and neutralise his dynamite left hand. Unfortunately for Shimoda that could be a problem with Sonsona being very fast himself and being capable of throwing whilst taking one.
With aggression and power on his side Sonsona is a man who is hard to bet against here. Shimoda's the more complete fighter but something tells us that Sonsona will manage to land a huge left hand at some point. If Rico Ramos can knock you senseless then Sonsona can do the same.
Unfortunately for the winner of this fight, we don't think they will have much of a chance with the WBO world champion and may need to wait their turn for a title fight in the hope that a weaker champion comes around in 12-18 months. We suspect that Vasyl Lomachenko will beat Orlando Salido in the coming weeks and without trying to sound harsh Lomachenko would have an easy time with either Shimoda or Sonsona. Below Lomachenko though are plenty of beatable opponents and these two will favour their chances against a number of other top challengers.
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.