Over the last decade or so the Light Flyweight division has been dominated by Japanese fighters at world level such as Naoya Inoue (WBC), Kazuto Ioka (WBA), Yu Kimura (WBC), Akira Yaegashi (IBF), Kosei Tanaka (WBO), Ryoichi Taguchi (IBF and WBA), and Kenshiro Teraji (WBC), along with current world champions Hiroto Kyoguchi (WBA) and Masamichi Yabuki (WBC). The conveyor belt of great Japanese fighters at 108lbs looks set to continue with the emergence of current Japanese national champion Shokichi Iwata (7-0, 5), who makes his first title defense, as he takes on veteran Toshimasa Ouchi (22-11-3, 8) this coming Saturday, in what is the second bout between the two men.
Whilst Iwata is still early in his career, he is a notable hopeful for Japanese boxing. He had a stellar amateur career, including notable wins over the likes of Kosei Tanaka, before beginning his professional boxing campaign in 2018 with a win, in the US, against Joel Bermudez. Since that win he has been moved quickly, and won the Japanese title last year when he stopped Rikito Shiba in 9 rounds. In just his 7th professional bout. On route to his title he showed progress every fight, he showed development between fights, and matured as both a fighter and as a man. That was show cased in 2021 when he out pointed Ouchi over 8 rounds, showing that he could do 8 rounds, and when he stopped Shiba for the title.
Early in his career Shiba appeared to have a lack of power, and his first 4 bouts all went a little bit longer than expected. Notably however it appears, on reflection, that he was being smart, getting ring time, and closing the show, when he could, late in the bout, testing things along the way. It's now clear that he's a solid puncher, not a KO artist, or a massive puncher, akin to Yabuki, but a solid, puncher, who's power carries late into bouts. Not that but he's also an aggressive, technical fighter, who sets a good work rate and tempo, and is well schooled, a given from his amateur background. He has all the tools to go a very, very long way, and the type of style to turn heads when he's in the ring. He also has the intention, for this fight, to not just beat Ouchi but to stop him, and continue his improvements with a man he previously went the distance with.
As for Ouchi he is a true veteran of the sport and is fighting in his 37th professional bout, in a career that stretches back all the way to 2003. Now aged 36 this is probably Ouchi's last chance to claim a Japanese title, having previously come up short in 3 other title bouts. With a record that consists of 11 losses it's easy to write Ouchi off as some sort of loser, but his competition, has typically been high with losses to the likes of Taguchi, Yabuki, Kenshiro, and Shin Ono. He has also proven his toughness, with just 3 stoppage losses during his 36 fight career, and the most recent of those came against Atsushi Aburada. Notably he is the only fighter to have ever lost a decision to current world champion Masamichi Yabuki, showing his toughness.
The most notable thing about Ouchi is he knows how to look after himself. You don't have a long career, like he has, without knowing how to protect yourself. He is defensively tight, uses a very high tight guard, and uses a pretty crafty jab. Sadly though he is now 36, and understandably he has slow feet, slow handspeed and doesn't have the quickest reflexes. Earlier in his career he did have enough speed, but in recent years that speed has gone and he often looks like he's pushing shots, which is an issue against quicker, younger, fresher guys. Not only is he somewhat slow, but he's also happy to have a low work rate, and whilst we might see bursts of activity from him, he's not going to set a high tempo, which is another issue against the younger guys.
Coming in to this bout there really isn't too much of a doubt over who should win, but more the method of victory. It's incredibly hard to see Ouchi beating Iwata, or even coming close. Instead the question really is whether Iwata can break down Ouchi or not. Sadly for Ouchi, we do actually see Iwata doing just that. Chipping away with body and combinations round by round to force the brave Ouchi to be stopped late, likely with his corner throwing in the towel after Ouchi gets dropped in one of the later rounds. He'll be brave, he'll be determined, but sadly for him, father time and Iwata will be too much here.
Prediction - Iwata TKO9
On February 28th we'll see a new unified regional Super Flyweight champion as the unbeaten Masayoshi Hashizume (18-0-2, 11) takes on Akio Furutani (9-4, 3) in a bout for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title and the vacant OPBF title. The match up might not look the most interesting on paper, but it promises to be a lot more interesting than it looks, and shouldn't be the mismatch the records suggest. In fact the records are hilariously misleading here.
Of the two men Hashizume will, obviously, be the favourite. The unbeaten 28 year old is a talented and smooth looking southpaw, who debuted in 2013 and quickly made a name for himself, winning the All Japan Rookie and taking the unbeaten records of Ryusuke Tanaka, Dynamic Kenji, Takeshi Kajikawa and Eita Sakurai along the way. Aged 21 at the time he seemed destined for big things under the guidance of Kazunori Ioka. Sadly however the years that followed his Rookie of the Year triumph saw him facing over-matched opponents from Thailand, rather than developing his skills and experience. It wasn't until late 2017 that he would face another domestic opponent, and then he was surprisingly held to a draw by Kato Fujimoto. Despite that setback he would have some testing bouts in 2018 before facing the then Japanese champion Takayuki Okumoto and earning an unfortunate draw with Okumoto. That result showed he belonged at title level, but he had wasted a lot of time and sadly his career would again see him "waste" time as he only fought once in 2019 and has only fought once since the start of the pandemic.
Hashizume is a wonderful talent. He has sharp punching, lovely combinations, good movement and eye catching speed. He's also technically well polished. Sadly however he has wasted years of his development, he might have 20 bouts to his name, but only about half of them were legitimately meaningful, and his development wasn't really what it should have been under Ioka. He's now fighting out of the Kadoebi Boxing Gym, and did look really good last time out against Yoshiki Minato, but we do wonder if he's a case of "what could have been?" As for his actual talent, he's wonderfully gifted, but does lack genuine power, and his 55% KO ratio is very misleading. A total of 6 stoppages, from his 11, have come against horribly over-matched Thai's, and he only has one stoppage in his last 7 bouts, which is a worry at the level he's now fighting at.
On paper Furutani shouldn't be considered a real challenger at regional level. He's lost 4 of his first 13 bouts and that record can make it seem like he's simply not very good. Aged 24 however Furutani has had to develop the hard way, and learn from his losses. In fact he would lose 3 of his first 6 bouts, including one to recent Hashizume foe Yoshiki Minato. Since then however he had gone 6-1, with his sole loss during that run coming in a very hard fought and competitive rematch with Minato, and has recent scored back to back wins over Keisuke Nakayama and Takayuki Okumoto, both of whom have won titles. In fact that's the same Okumoto who has held Hashizume to a draw, and the same Keisuke Nakayama who held the OPBF Flyweight title. Those two wins are better than any wins Hashizume has, and going 5 fights unbeaten, dating back to December 2018, is a great sign of just how misleading his record is and the sort of form he is now is.
In the ring Furutani is a patient fighter, who looks create space, fight behind a slippery and accurate jab, and neutralise opponents with his good timing, accurate punches and frustrating counter style. He's not the most fun to watch or the biggest puncher, but he finds gaps, lands clean shots and doesn't take too much himself, making him something of a nightmare for fighters who let him dictate the pace. He won't take risks, he rarely needs to, but he will rely on basic boxing skills to have success. When things get messy he can hold his own, and he's not against spoiling up close when he needs to and holding when he has to. He's very much the type of boxer who wants to dictate the tempo, via any means necessary, making him a very hard opponent to beat. Despite his record suggesting he's not a puncher, he hits cleanly enough to get opponents respect and that is something that he'll need to do here.
Coming in to this fight it's hard to look at the record and not feel Hashizume will win. In fact we feel Hashizume will take home the victory, however we expect this to be a very, very, very tough bout for him. Hashizume will look to set a higher tempo than Furutani wants, he will use his crisp, clean punches to get in and out and although Furutani will land plenty of shots of his own, we suspect Hashizume will out work him, especially in the later rounds.
Expect this to be ugly at times, and not one to remember, but it will be compelling, with Hashizume doing enough to take home a close and hotly contest decision.
Prediction - UD12 Hashizume
This coming Monday we'll see one of the brightest young hopes in Japanese boxing look to continue his rise through the ranks whilst an often over-looked fighter gets what could be his final shot at some silverware in a very looking contest at Korakuen Hall. That bout will see WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese Light Welterweight champion Andy Hiraoka (18-0, 13) take on the aggressive and fun to watch Cristiano Aoqui (16-8-2, 11) in what looks like a very, very interesting match up, something that we're getting a surprising amount of in Japan at 140lbs in the last few years.
Of the two men Hiraoka is more well known, especially with international audiences thanks to his wins in the US over Rogelio Casarez and Rickey Edwards. In US bouts, which took place on Top Rank shows, he looked like a really promising and athletic fighter, who was a work in progress but had enough tools to get the attention of fans, especially those who don't realise Japan has got talented fighters above Super Featherweight. Hiraoka looked big, tall, rangy, fast, athletic and powerful, showing he had the tools to go places in the sport, despite some technical flaws and limitations that clearly needed work, and a relative lack of experience. Prior to his US exploits the most notable thing on his record was a 10 round win over veteran Akihiro Kondo, where Hiraoka's speed and youth were keys against the older, slower, battle worn Kondo. Since his two bouts in the US however he has moved his career forward, and last year he scored the biggest win of his career, stopping the heavy handed Jin Sasaki in a dominant performance to claim the WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese titles, and stake his case as the best Japanese fighter at 140lbs, something that was strengthened when Koichi Aso scored a shock upset win over Rikki Naito just a few weeks after Hiraoka's win over Sasaki.
As mentioned earlier Hiraoka is a big, athletic, fighter who lacks polish. He has however been developing well over the last few years. He is very much an athlete who boxes, and that's not an insult to someone who was a very good distance runner in his youth, and that means he has a lot of tools going for him, including power, speed, reflexes, co-ordination and balance. All of which shine in his boxing performances. As for his boxing skills, he is an outside fighter, who knows he has physical tools others in Japan could only dream of. He is long, rangy, has a great jab, with power and speed, and really brutal straight shots. He can also keep up a good work rate over the long distances and showed, last time out, that his power carries late, stopping Jin Sasaki late in their bout. We do worry about him when he's under pressure, and he does seem to lack natural composure when under pressure, but with experience that should change and we dare say that's partly what this bout is about, against a fighter like Aoqui, and something he'd also have to prove against the likes of Koichi Aso or Daishi Nagata, who both also love to pressure and bully opponents.
Whilst Hiraoka has been seen outside of Japan, Aoqui hasn't been, though he does have something of a Brazilian following due to being a Japanese-Brazilian. His in ring style is something that few fans outside of Japan, and Brazil, will be aware of, but it is typically a fun one, with aggression at the forefront of his mind. He has been a professional since 2006 and has had to develop that style, finding what works for him over time. Unlike Hiraoka success wasn't easy to come by and he was stopped in 2 of his first 5 bouts, and was 4-2-1 after 7 bouts. Since then however he has bulked up from a young Lightweight into a solid an experienced 140lb fighter, who has developed a reputation as something of a tough guy, despite his 2 early stoppage losses. During his career he has fought something of a who's who of the Japanese scene, taking on the likes of Valentine Hosokawa, Hiroki Okada, Koki Inoue, Daishi Nagata and Akihiro Kondo. Whilst he has typically lost his most meaningful fights, he doesn't tend to be an easy opponent, giving the likes of Nagata, Okada and Hosokawa really tough battles.
In the ring Aoqui is aggressive, exciting, he comes forward and tries to draw mistakes, before exploding with a combination of heavy artillery. If he can't do that he seems happy to force a war and fight fire with fire against opponents. Notably however he can also box, even if that's not something he's too well known for, and when he needs to sit back and use his brain he can. And here we suspect his boxing brain and experience will be called on to over-come Hiraoka. Trying to come forward against Hiraoka seeking mistakes, we suspect, would be an error, and allow Hiraoka a chance to use his legs and his jab. Instead Aoqui will need to apply intelligent pressure, box his way in, and get to the body when on the inside. That however is easier said than done.
Sadly for Aoqui we suspect his toughness, and 33 year old legs, will be a problem for him here. Hiraoka might not be a global star in the making but he has plenty about him and we can't help but feel he's probably a level, if not two, above Aoqui who will need the fight of a lifetime to be competitive.
We suspect Aoqui will try to come forward, and find out the speed difference and size difference are a major issue for him. He will have moments, due to Hiraoka's lack of experience, but in the end athletic ability, speed, size and timing will become too much for Aoqui who we suspect will be stopped late on, in something of a slow, methodical beat down by Hiraoka.
Prediction - Hiraoka TKO10
This coming Sunday we'll see Japanese Flyweight champion Seigo Yuri Akui (16-2-1, 11) look to score his third defense of that national title as he takes on popular veteran Takuya Kogawa (32-6-1, 14) at the Suntopia in Okayama. The bout will be headlining a rather small card, and although the show isn't a big one, this bout is an incredibly important one, for both men. Both will know that they can ill afford a loss at this point in time. If Akui loses his dreams of a world title fight would be delayed, if not killed all together, whilst Kogawa isn't just fighting for the title but also, potentially, his career.
Of the two men it's actually the challenger who is more well known, and with good reason. The 36 year old Kogawa has been a stalwart of the Japanese scene since the 00's, and is a multi-time world title challenger who has, genuinely, faced a who's who of the lower weights. Not only that but he has also made for some brilliant fights over the years and has been one of the most fan friendly fighters out there. Reading through the opponents he's faced we see wins against the likes of Xiong Zhao Zhong, Shigetaka Ikehara, Hiroyuki Kudaka, Masayuki Kuroda, and losses to the likes of Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, Yodmongkol CP Freshmart, Suguru Muranaka, Masayuki Kuroda and most recently Jayr Raquinel.
In his prime Kogawa was a pure warrior. His bouts with Pongsaklek, Ikehara, Kuroda, Muranaka, Yodmongkol were wars. He was a man who could box, but often elected to fight, getting in to brawls far too regularly for his own good. It was his willingness to have a firefight that helped make him so popular in Japan, and why he has featured in more than 30 bouts at Korakuen Hall. Sadly though in recent years he has began to look his age. He has looked progressively worse since suffering an ear injury against Yudai Arai in 2016 and since then he's gone 4-2-1, and suffered his sole stoppage loss, which came in 2019 to Jay Raquinel. He has also struggled against opponents many, including ourselves, would have heavily favoured him in. At 36, and with the style he has, it's not a surprise that he's showing signs of aging, but sadly we do need to worry about him, as he's often been too tough for his own good.
Aged 26 Seigo Yuri Akui is just coming into his prime, and is already a scary fighter. He made his debut as an 18 year old, back in 2014, fighting at Light Flyweight. The following year he won the All Japan Rookie of the Year and would run off an 11-0-1 (7) record to open up his career before moving up in weight. Sadly though his move from Light Flyweight to Flyweight didn't go perfectly and after a few bouts at the new weight he came un-done against Junto Nakatani, who stopped him in 6 rounds. That was a huge win for Nakatani at the time, who has since gone on to win the WBO Flyweight title. Akui bounced back from that loss by stopping Masamichi Yabuki, who has also gone on to win a world title, before suffering a disappointing TKO loss to Jaysever Abcede, when he damaged his hand. Since that loss however he has gone 4-0 (3), winning the Japanese title in 2019, when he stopped Shun Kosaka, and has since defended it twice, beating Seiya Fujikita and Taku Kuwahara.
In the ring Akui is deadly. His hands are like rocks and worrying for many opponents he's also a quick starter who doesn't let opponents off the hook when he has them hurt. From his 11 stoppages a staggering 9 have come in the first round, including his wins over Kenji Ono, Ryuto Oho, Masamichi Yabuki, Yoshiki Minato and Shun Kosaka. Not only is he dangerous early however, but in recent bouts he has shown he can box as well, taking a 10 round decision over Seiya Fujikita and showing power late to stop Taku Kuwahara, with those two wins answering a lot of questions about his potential. Worryingly for opponents he's dangerous early, dangerous late, and bludgeons guys with power. Thankfully for some he can be out outboxed, he's not the quickest, the sharpest or the biggest at 112lbs, but he's not a guy many will want to take on in a fire fight.
In his prime Kogawa's work rate, toughness, grit and determination would have made him a real nightmare for Akui. He might have walked into a few too many, but his attitude was going to be to go to war and whilst smothering Akui and not letting him get full extension on his shots. It would have been a risky game plan, but one that has worked numerous times for Kogawa. Sadly this version of Kogawa isn't going to have the same work rate, energy or toughness as he had a decade ago, and rather than smothering Akui and winning a decision in a war, we, sadly, see him being on the receiving end of a brutal beating and eventual stoppage. He will struggle to cut the distance, he will take big shots on the way in and will be out worked, out fought and out punched. Expect Akui to have to dig deep here, but we can't see anything but a stoppage for the champion.
Prediction - Akui TKO6
The Lightweight division in Japan is an over-looked one, but right now it's as good as it's been in a really, really long time. The division might not be delivering all the match ups we want to see, but with the likes of Shuichiro Yoshino, Masayoshi Nakatani, Hironori Mishiro and Masayuki Ito it has a number of notable names, unbeaten fighters and promise. Below those top names there's also a really interesting scene developing at a lower level, with a number of fighters all looking to make their mark. Among those are two men set to fight for the vacant Japanese title this coming Tuesday, a title vacated by the aforementioned Yoshino who has his eyes on bigger things. The two men in question are former Japanese Light Welterweight champion Masahiro Suzuki (7-0, 4), who is moving back to his natural weight in search for a second national title, and the hard hitting Shu Utsuki (9-0, 7).
We can't help but think this is a great match up on many levels, firstly the obvious, it's a bout between two young fighters risking their unbeaten records in an attempt to claim a national title, and move their careers onwards and upwards, something we always love to see. But also because the styles of the fighters are very, very different, yet both are highly talented and use their tools really well, despite being being very different types of fighters. It's also a chance for the winner to move towards mixing the names we mentioned earlier, the likes of Yoshino, Mishiro and Ito, whilst the loser will be able to rebuild and bounce back down the line. This isn't going to be the end for the man who comes up short, and instead is a chance for both men to prove themselves.
Of the two fighters Masahiro Suzuki is the more proven. The 26 year old from the Kadoebi Gym went 64-26 (21) in the unpaid ranks before making his professional debut in 2018, where he put on an excellent performance to stop Antonio Siesmundo. He then impressed in a win over Kelven Tenorio, before showing some heart against Kosuke Arioka and battling hard against Hokuto Matsumoto. Within just 4 fights he had shown he could box, fight, punch and had determination to come through some tough patches. He then build on that with a very solid win over Takahiro Oda in 2020. His most notable win however came in June 2021, when he stopped Daishi Nagata to claim the Japanese Light Welterweight title, out boxing Nagata before closing the show with less than a minute, Rather strangely it appeared he had won the title with no intention of defending it, instead looking to make the most of an obscure rule within Japanese boxing. Essentially using the title to fast track himself to a title at a lower weight, his natural Lightweight. In October he fought for the first time since vacating the title, and he narrowly beat Seiryu Toshikawa, to become the mandatory challenger for the Japanese Lightweight title. At the time Yoshino held the title, but chose to vacate the belt to focus his attention on bigger fights, leaving Suzuki in line for the vacant title.
In the ring Suzuki is a brilliant all rounder. He showed he can box, move and think his way through a fight in his debut, one of the most under-rated debuts in recent years, and since then has really shown a bit of everything, despite regularly fighting above his best weight. He is a natural Lightweight who has often been fighting at 140lbs. Despite being under-sized he has been effective, using simple boxing, movement, a good jab and a solid work rate. At 140lbs he has lacked in terms of power, strength and size, but made ups for it in terms of skills, a good boxing brain, very sharp punching, solid footwork, an excellent jab, brilliant shot selection and understanding range. He has made opponents fall short, he has slipped inside, landed accurate shots and has neutralised bigger men with his skills. He might not be the biggest, and won't be at Lightweight either, but he is a very talented fighter with a lot of ring craft and tools in his arsenal.
Shu Utsuki, much like Suzuki, was a very accomplished amateur, going 81-27 in the unpaid ranks and was actually the captain of his University Boxing Team. He was very accomplished and polished when he turned professional and looked the real deal in his debut. In his second professional bout he struggled past Yoji Saito, who was making his debut, but since then has found his groove, and has proven to be a heavy handed monster in the Lightweight division, stopping 7 of his last 8 opponents. Notably though when he has failed to stop men, as he did against Saito and more recently Ryo Nakai, he has been forced to work really hard for his wins. When his power has done the job, he has typically been taking guys out in 2 or 3 rounds, but when that's not happened he has had to rely on his boxing skills. As a boxer, rather than a puncher, he's solid, but does look like someone who would much prefer to be a bully than a boxer.
In the ring Utsuki is a heavy, heavy handed fighter. He's also someone with good balance, a nice stiff jab, and someone who looks relaxed. When he puts his shots together he looks like a man who really means business. In many ways he almost seems like a less quality Takashi Uchiyama. Like Uchiyama he stalks his man, softens them up with the jab and looks to land the hammering power of his back hand. Notably though he's got slow feet, he likes his feet to before letting shots go and as a result he can often look very flat foot, which is why Nakai has success against him last time out, using lateral movement to make Utsuki look limited and slow at times. He also has a questionable chin, having been down twice already, and a defense that seems to come undone when he gets tagged cleanly. He recovers well from a knockdown, but it is still a worry for him longer term. Especially if he intends to progress to regional honours or something bigger.
Sadly for Utsuki we suspect the footwork will be the difference maker here, and Suzuki's footwork is so much more fluid, natural and light. We see him getting in and out, having success in a similar to how Nakai did, but being more polished overall than Nakai we suspect he'll have more sustained success, and make Utsuki struggle to land his big shots time after time. Utsuki will always be dangerous, his power will always be a threat, and if he hands he can hurt Suzuki, but we suspect his moments of success will be few and far between. If he hurts Suzuki he needs to jump on him, he needs to finish him. We, however, feel he'll struggle to do that, and in the end will come up short on the cards.
Prediction - UD10 Suzuki
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.