The Welterweight division in Asia hasn't been the most amazing to follow, despite some entertaining bouts such as 2019's fantastic bout between Yuki Beppu and Ryota Yada. Despite not being the best it does give us some interesting match ups on paper, such as the one at the start of between Keita Obara and Yuki Nagano, and the one we're going to focus on in this preview. That's the February 27th bout for the the OPBF title between Riku Nagahama (11-2-1, 4) and Kudura Kaneko (11-0, 8). On paper this looks good and in the ring we expect it to be even better than it looks.
Ranked #3 by the OPBF Kaneko is getting his first shot a major title, having previously won the Japanese Youth Welterweight title. The Japanese based Afghan born 22 year old is someone who has quietly been making a name for himself without too much attention on him. Since debuting in 2015, as a teenager, Kaneko has developed himself a reputation as a very talented boxer-puncher. He claimed the Youth title in 2018, when he beat Change Hamashima in their second bout, then scored a trio of solid domestic wins over Toshio Arikawa, Rikuto Adachi and Moon Hyun Yun. Those 3 wins have helped secure him this title fight, and have seen him get a title on merit, something we don't always see.
Although not well known outside of Japan Kaneko is a very physically strong fighter. He's not the quickest or the sharpest, but he's certainly not slow and sloppy and is instead more of a deliberate fighter, with heavy hands. There's power in both hands and for a fighter who isn't lighting quick with his hands he does move well, especially with his upper body. One other thing to note about Kaneko is that he finds the target well and varies his shots smartly. Defensively there is work to do for Kaneko going forward but at the moment no ones really been able to make him pay for the little flaws with see. Instead he tends to be the one making opponents pay, and make them pay rather quickly with 7 of his wins coming within 3 rounds.
Aged 28 Nagahama is a man who is now starting to fight for his career. He's not shot, or past his best, but he is in desperate need for a notable win, following stoppage losses in 2017, to Takeshi Inoue, and 2018, to Yuki Nagano. This will be his second title fight, following a loss in a Japanese title fight at 154lbs to Inoue, but isn't an easy one. In fact on paper this is his third toughest bout on paper, and he has lost his two toughest bouts to date. Looking through his record his biggest wins so far were 2015 Rookie of the Year win, at Middleweight, against Brandon Lockhart Shane and his 2019 win over Masaya Tamayama. The win over Tamayama was good, but that wasn't a win that really showed Nagahama was ready to mix it at regional title level.
Watching Nagahama we see a solid fighter, but one who doesn't blow us away, in any area. He's technically decent, but lacks speed, lacks power, and doesn't appear physically imposing. He lets good combinations go, but the never appears to have any sort of fight ending power on them. If you let him dictate the pace it'll be a slow, controlled fight and a win for him. To beat him, you need to dictate the pace, and for most fighters at regional title level that won't be a problem.
We expect this to start pretty slowly, with the two men looking to stand off and box against each other. It won't take long however until Kaneko puts his foot on the gas and lands something heavy, and begin to break down Nagahama, who will feel the need to respond and that will only speed up his demise.
Prediction - TKO5 Kaneko
On February 14th we'll see Filipino slugger Froilan Saludar (31-3-1, 22) make his first defense of WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight title as he takes on fellow puncher Ryoji Fukunaga (11-4, 11) at the Korakuen Hall. On paper this isn't a bout that we expect to see a lot of international attention, but with both men possessing serious power there is a real chance this could end up being a bit of a sleeper classic.
Saludar's career has been an odd one. He was once tipped as a future star of the Filipino scene, before suffering a loss in his 21st bout, when he was taken out by McWilliams Arroyo in a world title eliminator. He would later come up short against Takuma Inoue and then lose in a world title fight in 2018 against Sho Kimura. Those losses essentially saw him being written off, and he'd gone from 19-0-1 (12) to 28-3-1 (19). Since then however he has quietly rebuilt, with 3 T/KO wins, including a spectacular one of unbeaten Japanese hopeful Tsubasa Murachi last September to win the WBO Asia Pacific title.
Early in his career many in the Philippines touted Saludar as a future star. So far his career has fallen short, a long way short, but at 30 years old his career is certainly not over. He's now more mature than he was younger, a little less bouncy and less wasteful in terms of energy, though there does still seem to be a bit too much wasteful movement in his work. He's never had the greatest of engine, but seems to use his experience more to hide that, moving more intelligently and occasionally "old manning" his way through rounds. It's not the most exciting thing to see, but given how exciting he is when he lets his hands go it's certainly not a bad game plan for the "Sniper", who has shown he can strike at any moment. It's that experience that also helps Saludar defensively and he's certainly looking like a man who rides shot better now than he did just a few years ago.
The 33 year old Fukunaga is a bit of an unknown if we're being honest. His record suggests he's a monster puncher with 11T/KO's from 11 wins but the quality of those wins is relatively low. His best win to date came in the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year, against Kota Fujimoto, and since then he has really not done anything of note. In fact since his triumph in the All Japan Rookie of the Year Fujimoto is 3-2 (2), though the two losses have come to good competition in the form of Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart, both in competitive bouts.
Despite his relatively weak wins Fukunaga does actually look to be a pretty solid boxer-puncher, albeit one with questionable defense. He moves forward looking to fire off his stiff jab and uncork his thunderbolt of a southpaw left hand. Defensively his hands are lower than they should be, but he seems to be trying to draw mistakes out of his opponents, and opening them up for counter shots with his head movement. Against the low level opponents he's been taking out it's a tactic that has worked, but against the better fights, such as the ones that have beaten him in recent years, it's not been as effective.
We certainly believe that Fukunaga has the power to hurt Saludar if he lands clean. Sadly for Fukunaga we don't see him landing too much clean, and would expect Sauldar to have the tools to out box him. In fact we wouldn't be surprised if Saludar saw how 1-dimensional Fukunaga was and started lining him up for big counters of his own by the middle rounds, and stopping the challenger.
Fukunaga has a puncher's chance, of course he does, but that is pretty much all he has, from what we've seen. Our prediction is a Saludar win, inside the distance, likely from a big overhand right in the middle rounds.
Prediction - TKO6 Saludar
The Japanese Lightweight scene is a frustrating one at times. On paper it should be interesting, there's plenty of talent there, and lot of interesting match ups that could be made there in the coming years, but sadly we seem to be between waves of fighters. At the moment Japanese national champion Shuichiro Yoshino (11-0, 9) looks to be head and shoulders above the rest, having unified the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles. Despite the fact Yoshino looks to be well ahead of the others he hasn't yet vacated, and will instead defend the national title on February 13th against mandatory challenger Izuki Tomioka (7-2-1, 2) as part of the 2020 Champion Carnival.
The 28 year old Yoshino has really been on a relative fast track right from the start of his professional career. The talented boxer-puncher had been an excellent amateur on the Japanese scene, going 104-20 (55), before beginning his professional career in late 2015. In just his 4th professional bout Yoshino had beaten Yoshitaka Kato. Just 6 months after that he had won the Japanese title, which he has now defended 4 times, and last year Yoshino unified the national title with the 2 regional thrones.
In the ring Yoshino is a real talent. He can box, he can brawl and boy can he punch, with his last 7 wins all coming inside the distance. We actually need to go all the way back to his Japanese title win to see the last time someone was even semi-competitive with him, and even then Yoshino stopped Spicy Matsushita in 7 rounds. The power of Yoshino really is brutal and his KO's against Kazumasa Kobayashi and Harmonito Dela Torre have shown that it takes only a single left hook for Yoshino to finish someone off. The fact he has scored 2 awesome KO's whilst on the back foot shows how dangerous he is and how brutal his left hook is.
The 22 year Tomioka has been a professional since late 2016, and has shown some promise and also been in some frustrating fights. He's a talent, but a frustrating one who is perhaps getting this shot a little too early in his career. He won his first 5 bouts, winning the Japanese Youth Lightweight title in just his 4th bout way back in August 2017. He would defend the belt twice, beating Taiju Shiratori and fighting to a technical draw against Kaiki Yuba. He then faced the then OPBF Lightweight champion Masayoshi Nakatani and was stopped in 11 rounds by Naktani, following a very close bout. Another loss to Shuya Masaki followed up and really frustrated as Tomioka refused to really let his hands go. Since then however he has picked up 2 straight wins and earned this title fight, thanks to a win over Kazuki Saito.
At his worst Tomioka is a frustrating mover who looks unconvinced by himself, moving more than puncher and ultra-negative, as we saw against Masaki. At his best however he is brilliant boxer, with a sharp jab, excellent speed, great ring IQ and a fantastic judge of distance and timing. He's tall and rangy, and dictates things really well whilst picking great shots. It was these traits that were all on show last time out, when he schooled Kazuki Saito in a career best win. Despite schooling Saito the youngster still showed touched of negativity, and also a lack of physical strength and punching power. He's skilled, but we do wonder about his physical maturity.
We think Tomioka has future national champion written all over him. He's such a natural talent and a pure outside boxer. A truly fantastic young boxer. Sadly for him however he's up against a strong, powerful, heavy handed fighter who can hold his own when boxing, and bang. We see Tomioka having success, but Yoshino's pressure will build and he will begin to find a home for his left hook and straight right hand. Sooner or later we see Tomioka being stopped, and having his good early work being undone.
If Yoshino is successful here, fingers crossed he moves on and begin to face fringe world class guys and move towards a world title fight. There is, after all, no point wasting time at domestic level. As for Tomioka he will come again, and will find himself in an interesting era of Japanese Lightweight fighters, along with Shu Utsuki, Masahiro Suzuki and Katsuya Yasuda.
Prediction - TKO8 Yoshino
After almost 2 years out of the ring we finally see the return of former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (15-1, 15), as he competes in an 8 round bout at 119lbs against Filipino Jason Buenaobra (7-4-3, 3). On paper this is a very, very, easy bout for Higa but given his long lay off, 22 months, and the move up in weight it's still a very interesting fight and a great chance to see how Higa looks as he begins a new chapter of his career with a new trainer. It also gives Buenaobra a great chance to make a name for himself.
For those who haven't seen Higa you've missed out! The Yoko Gushiken protege is one of the most exciting fighters on the planet. He's very much a fighter who has taken clear influence from Roman Gonzalez. Like Gonzalez the once beaten Higa is a heavy handed, exciting pressure fighter, who cuts the ring off well, lets combinations go on the inside and has under-rated defense. He is all action, and a thrill a minute fighter to watch who is now being trained by former world champion Tadashi Tomori.
Sadly Higa's career was curtailed in 2018 when he failed to make weight for a WBC Flyweight title defense, losing the belt on the scales, losing his unbeaten record the following day and later having his Japanese license. That almost lead to him retiring from the sport. Thankfully last year he decided to return to the Shirai Gushiken Gym and since then has decided to return to the ring, which gets us to where we are now.
At his best Higa was a steam roller. His first 15 bouts all ended with Higa stopping his opponents, and taking out the likes of Kongfah CP Freshmart, Ardin Diale, Juan Hernandez Navarrete, Thomas Masson and Moises Fuentes. In his last bout however he looked a shadow of his usual self before his team threw in the towel ending his effort against Cristofer Rosales. Aged just 24 he has a lot of time to rebuild his reputation and with Gushiken and Tomori behind him the plan is for him to be back in the title mix by the end of the year.
Aged 25 Buenaobra is a relative unknown, even among the typical Filipino fans. Despite that the southpaw has faced some fighters of note, and had somewhat mixed results. He's the only fighter to have taken the all action Carl Jammes Martin the distance, lasting 8 rounds with Martin 2017, he also beat the then unbeaten Jerry Pabila and upset Robin Langres, before losing last time out to Joseph Ambo. Although he's a "win some, lose some, draw some" fighter he's not yet suffered a stoppage loss.
Sadly there is very, very little footage of Buenaobra available, so we can't say too much about his style. He is however a southpaw and he'll have a clear height, and likely reach, advantage of Higa. Notably his last 2 bouts both ended early due to headclashes, and 3 of his last 5 have been technical decisions. With that in mind we wouldn't be surprised to see Buenaobra being a tough clumsy when he comes in. Also his suggests a genuine lack of power, and you need to go back to his 5th bout for his last win inside the distance.
Although it's always hard to predict a bout where footage of only 1 man is available it's hard to see anything but a win for Higa. The real question is just how long can Buenaobra last when Higa goes through the gears. We expect Higa to start slowly, take a round or two to ease his way into the bout then increase his pace. Breaking down and stopping the Filipino in the middle of the 8 round contest.
Prediction - TKO5 Higa
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.