Tokunaga and Sugizaki, not the biggest names in Japan but one will become a champion on April 30th...
Although April ends with a trio of Japanese title title fights one really sticks out like a sore thumb. That's the Lightweight title bout between Kota Tokunaga (14-2, 9) and Yuya Sugizaki (20-9-1, 6), for a title that was vacated earlier this year by Yoshitaka Kato. This is, unfortunately, the one bout of the 3 that lacks any major interest and is one that is clearly between fighters who aren't the best in Japan. In fact it's hard to even describe them as being #3 and #4 in the country.
Saying that however it is a contest that will mean the world to both men who know that this is their chance to become a champion, their chance to make a name for themselves and their chance to get some attention.
Of the two men involved in the bout it's Tokunaga who enters as the JBC #1 ranked contender. It's a ranking that is hard to explain considering his competition which has been poor for much of his career. The one notable opponent that he has faced, Ronald Pontillas, has actually stopped him in just 154 seconds.
Admittedly part of the reason for Tokunaga's ranking is that a number of other fighters in Japan have decided to look elsewhere for bouts. That includes former champion Kato, who is said to be looking for a world title fight, Takahiro Ao, who has just signed for a world title fight, and Masayoshi Nakatani, the current OPBF champion. On the other hand however he is a very weak #1 ranked fighter based on his record.
What Tokunaga has going for him is “form”. He has won his last 6, following the loss to Pontillas, and 9 of his last 10. That sort of form has been helped by the level of his competition but it's something that few others in Japan at 135lbs can actually claim. Unfortunately for them a lot have come up short against former champion Kato in recent years. It's also worth noting that he's not 25 years old and coming into his prime and at 5'10” he's a giant for the weight.
Sadly footage of Tokunaga is scarce, other than his loss to Pontillas. In the little bit of footage we do have of Tokunaga he's a fighter who looks like he has promise. He seems to be able to use his reach and height and does show a nice jab and a good right hand. Sadly however he also shows his inexperience and a number of defensive issues that eventually forced his demise. If he can tighten up defensively he could well go on to win titles, though even there will always be questions hanging over him about his punch resistance.
Sugizaki is the #2 ranked contender for the title, and unlike his opponent he has been in with several notable fighters. The most notable of those was Jomthong Chuwatana who stopped him in 3 rounds back in 2011, prior to then he had also been stopped by Daiki Kaneko and had also lost to Koji Kawamura, who later went on to claim the OPBF Super Featherweight title. In more recent times we've seen Sugizaki come up short against Kentaro Yamada, Hiroyasu Matsuzaki and Keiichi Izumi, good but not outstanding fighters.
Whilst Sugizaki has, mostly, lost to the biggest names that he has fought he does have a couple of interesting wins on his ledger, the biggest of which came almost 3 years ago when he stopped Mitsuya Omura. This wins have come at a lower level than title level but we suspect that there some real talent there. Unfortunately footage of him is limited with the best being just a round of his bout with Keiichi Izumi. From that footage Sugizaki looked very poor and was out hustled and out fought with relative ease.
At 28 years old Sugizaki is experienced and mature though he's going to be much smaller than Tokunaga when the men get in the ring together. In fact Sugizaki is going to be giving away close to 5” in height and unless he cut the distance that is going to be very notable, especially given that Tokunaga is a very rangy and long fighter. Of course he has got experience against fighters with good jabs, such as Jomthong, but Tokunaga's is especially long and poses a host of different questions to Jomgthong's thudding and accurate one.
Looking at the little footage of both that we managed to get we have to go with Tokunaga to win. We don't think either “should” be fighting for a Japanese title on merit but given the size and style of Tokunaga he could well become a very difficult fighter to beat. If he uses his size and speed here he should be able to take a decision over Sugizaki. The one fear for the lanky youngster will be his defence though thankfully for him Sugizaki isn't likely to have the power to really bother him here.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
The Super Flyweight division may not be one of the most attractive division's in boxing but it is one that looks like it is heating up and becoming interesting after a few barren years. Much of that excitement has come from the emerging generation of fighters such as world champion Naoya Inoue, the fast rising Takuma Inoue and Hong Kong star Rex Tso.
As you can tell from those names, much of the excitement has come from Japan. Another young Japanese fighter receiving rave reviews is current Japanese champion Sho Ishida (18-0, 10), an Ioka gym prospect who looks set to progress on to the world title scene soon. Aged just 23 he's wonderfully talented, young and part of the excellent Ioka stable which boats a number of world class fighters, such as Kazuto Ioka, Ryo Miyazaki and Masayoshi Nakatani, with Nakatani himself fighting in a similar way to Ishida.
Although still just a prospect Ishida is a young fighter who has shown all the tools for major success. Physically he's a perfect fighter with a long and lean frame. He's managed to use that frame to his advantage and fights to his strentghs. This sees him boxing on the move, using his long and sharp jab and his powerful straight to establish the pace and distance of the fight. On the inside he can hold his own though looks a lot more comfortable on the outside.
On paper Ishida's record a little bit thin for a fast rising Japanese prospect. Saying that however he already holds notable wins over Yasuto Aritomi, Petchbarngborn Kokietgym and Yohei Tobe, with the win over Tobe being the best of the bunch and also the fight that resulted in Ishida beginning his title reign last August. Although the best win is the one over Tobe it was the win over Petchbarngborn that really caught the eye with the Japanese youngster stopping the world ranked Thai.
So far Ishida has defended the title just once, stopping the horrible over-matched Masato Morisaki at the end of 2014 in a predictably one-sided affair. On April 22nd Ishida will face his first real challenge since winning the title as he defends his belt against the heavy handed but flawed Taiki Eto (14-3, 10), who is hoping to claim a title at the third time of asking.
Eto, the twin brother of the all-action Flyweight Koki Eto, suffered his first professional loss less than a year after his debut, being surprisingly stopped in 148 seconds by Takeo Kuranaga, that loss saw Eto fall to 5-1 (3). Following that loss things were a bit stop-start. He returned to the ring 3 months after the loss and blew away Yutaka Kato and quickly followed that up with a stoppage against Shota Hashimoto before spending more than 2 years out of the ring.
Upon Eto's return to action following his long break he went on to recors 3 wins, including a notable stoppage victory against Konosuke Tomiyama and an 8 round decision against Isack Junior. Those two wins moved Eto towards his first title fight though he came up short against Arthur Villanueva in a bout for the OPBF Super Flyweight title, a bout that saw Villanueva being dropped twice and Eto himself being dropped once in an up-and-down affair. Just 3 fights later Eto was out boxed and subsequently stopped by Yohei Tobe in a bout for the Japanese Super Flyweight title.
Eto, like his twin brother, often looks crude, he's slightly more polished than Koki but lacks the chin of the former WBA interim Flyweight champion. As seen in his bout with Tobe, he can be out boxed, relatively easily by a fighter who uses their jab and can be made to look silly by a boxer-mover. He does however possess that nasty power which can bail him out when he connects. If an opponent can avoid the spiteful power of Eto they tend to be able to over-come the Japanese youngster, if they taste the power however bouts can swing in his favour.
Having seen how Tobe beat Eto and how Ishida beat Tobe there is only really one logical outcome here. Ishida will win. The real question however is whether Ishida takes a decision or goes for the early win. It's a hard there and depends on whether or not Ishida is intent on doing more than hist retain his title. If Ishida just wants to retain his belt the odds are that he will be happy to cruise to a clear decision win, if he wishes to make a statement then he will likely turn the screw and hunt a late round stoppage victory.
It's not too often that we can get excited about a Japanese title clash at Light Middleweight but on April 19th we have a genuinely significant clash between two Japanese fighters who are both eyeing up potential world title clashes later in the year. One of those is current Japanese national champion Yuki Nonaka (27-8-2, 8) whilst the other, Takayuki Hosokawa (26-10-3, 9), is a man who held the title a year ago but vacated it when he was ill. Together they are both world ranked by the IBF and both are likely eyeing up this fight as being not just a Japanese title bout but a potential world title eliminator.
Coming into the bout Nonaka is really riding the crest of wave. Aged 37 he is on an 8 fight winning run dating back more than 5 years and includes wins over Dmytro Nikulin, Lee Oti, Ryo Okayama, Kengo Nagashima and Charlie Ota. We won't say he's looked sensational in all of those wins, with the Ota fight in particular being close, but he has shown glimpses of being a wonderfully talented boxer. He has shown a lovely variety of punches, sharp and accurate shots, and impressive speed though at for the most part is a very basic but polished boxer.
The "one hole" in Nonaka's game is his lack of power which has been an issue in finishing opponents off. That lack of power however hasn't stopped him from having success and it's clear that his skills and sharpness are a level above many Asian rivals in the division.
In the ring Nonaka likes to box off his southpaw jab, uses straight punches wonderful and has found ways to neutralise a number of opponents with those sharp straight shots and his movement. Those skills neutralised the aggressive Charlie Ota, who had success of his own but not enough to break down Nonaka over the 10 round distance. Watching him we tend to notice that he is basic, but that is the beauty of Nonaka, he's got fundamentals down to a tee.
Unbeaten since suffering a narrow decision loss to Akio Shibata in November 2009 it takes a genuinely good fighter to beat Nonaka. These have included Shibata, Kazuhiko Hidaka, Nobuhiro Ishida and Taisei Marumoto.
At 30 years old Hosokawa is the significantly younger man coming into this bout and is in solid form himself with 4 straight wins, including victories over Patomsuk Pathompothong and Tadashi Yuba, which he have helped him claim the Japanese and IBF Asia titles at Light Middleweight. In turn those titles have helped him move into the world rankings and focus on getting a world title shot, somewhere down the line.
In the ring Hosokawa is a flawed fighter but is riding high on confidence and stacking up notable wins which have helped to to more success. In fact with 8 wins in his last 9 bouts he has genuinely turned his career around following a 2011 stoppage loss to Makoto Fuchigami in a Japanese Middleweight title bout. Those wins have seen him develop more belief in his ability and power and also make a permanent move to Light Middleweight which really does suit him a lot more than 160lbs.
As with Nonaka we've seen Hosokawa come up short against many of his most notable opponents. That has seen him suffer losses to the likes of Akinori Watanabe, Charlie Ota, Tadashi Yuba, Fuchigami and, most recently, Shibata in a Japanese title fight and he was also fortunate to over-come Patomsuk. He is however a much improved fighter to the one who was blasted out in the second round by Watanabe back in 2005 in fact he's nothing like the fighter who began his career 11-6-3.
Coming into this bout it's a real must win for both men. Neither can afford a loss at this moment in time. The pressure to perform couldn't be much higher. Of the two however it's Nonaka who has shown a more complete ability to perform under-pressure, as seen in his bout with Ota. Nonaka may be 37 but he's a fighter who has matured and is arguably at his best now. For Hosokawa it's hard to say how good he really is under-pressure, the win over Patomsuk was close, likewise the win over a very faded Yuba and his 2012 win over Randy Suico was razor thin to say the least. The challenger hasn't had that stand out performance despite taking a number of solid scalps.
With that said we need to favour Nonaka who appears to be a much better, more rounded and more intelligent fighter. His boxing, which is genuinely eye pleasing, is basic but very effective and we suspect that he'll use that to over-come Hosokawa. The southpaw jab, the simple movement and technical proficiency will be his keys to victory.
Unfortunately for the winner, which we suspect will be Nonaka, they are several levels from a real world champion. They do however have a chance at picking up a paper strap, if they are lucky.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
When the 2015 Champion Carnival bouts were announced one bout really stood out to us despite the fact it didn't feature a big name. The champion in question had numerous loses on his record and the challenger was little more than and advanced prospect. There was, however, something especially intriguing about the bout with the division being a major one in Japan.
The bout in question is the Bantamweight title bout which will pit the massively under-rated champion Kentaro Masuda (21-6, 11) against fast rising prospect Shohei Omori (13-0, 8). Unless you actively follow the Japanese scene the odds are you won't know much about either man, if you follow the scene however you will know just how good these two are what a brilliant match up this is.
On first glance international fans will write off Masuda. They'll state the obvious, “he's got 6 losses in 27 fights”. What they won't realise is how many of those losses are some what misleading. He was 3-3 (2) after his first 6 bouts, with 2 of those losses being razor thin decisions and the third being very competitive. Since that start Masuda has gone 18-3 (9) with his two of his losses coming to highly established fighters in the form of Hidenori Otake and Ryosuke Iwasa.
Whilst it'd be wrong to write off Masuda for his record it'd also be neigh on criminal to over-look his current form which has been sensational since his 7th round TKO loss to Iwasa back in July 2012. What we've seen is a 7-0 run from Masuda which has included his title winning bout, a 10th round technical decision win over Yu Kawaguchi last April, a sensational first defence which saw him destroy Konosuke Tomiyama in the 3rd round of their bout, and an enthralling 10 round war with “Zombie” Tatsuya Takahashi.
Aged 32 now Masuda knows another loss will derail any hopes he has of getting his hands on OPBF title or even getting a world title fight. In fact a world title fight, as amazing as it might seem, really isn't out of the question considering Masuda is #14 with the WBC and #12 with the IBF.
In the ring the champion is an aggressive fighter who hits significantly harder than his record suggests, can fight well behind his jab and is really tough. In regards to his footwork it is smarter than it looks and he can get in and out relatively well though it's not sensational and later in fights he can become very basic in his movements. Technically there is still some places to polish, especially when he's throwing his right hand, and he's short for the weight at just 5'5”, though he does appear to be able to use his feet to negate that relatively well. Also he does manage to use his lack of size well and has a tight guard that protects his head whilst his body is typically out of reach behind his elbows as he makes himself appear smaller than he is.
One thing that is a little bit questionable is Masuda's stamina. It's looked really good at times though he did seem to be running on fumes at times against Takahashi. That wasn't particularly shocking, given that Takahashi took more clean shots than a fighter is expected to take, though it could be an issue in future bouts.
Now on to the challenger. Omori is a fighter we are huge fans of and we see a very, very bright future for, either at Bantamweight or at Super Bantamweight. Like the premier Bantamweight on the planet, Shinsuke Yamanaka, the youngster is a Southpaw though he looks a lot more polished than “The God of Left”. In fact Omori looks incredibly polished and looks a much more rounded fighter than Yamanaka, despite the fact he's only 22 and has only fought in 13 bouts, consisting of just 42 rounds.
Omori came to the attention of many in Japan back in 2012 when he was crowned the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Bantamweight. The following year he scored notable wins over Kiron Omura and Albert Alcoy, both opening round KO's, and then built further on his reputation with a punch perfect performance against Christian Esquivel last year. It was really the fight against Esquivel that put him on the radar of some fans and it really was a sensational performance that saw the youngster using his speed, accuracy, power, timing, movement and boxing brain to beat the experienced Mexican. It was that win that put Omori in to the world rankings and it's because of that win that he is currently the WBC #13 ranked fighter.
Watching Omori is like watching a very, very good prospect who is only a few fights away from being world class. There is still improvements he can make, there are still tweaks that need to be done, there are still little things he can do a bit better than he already does. For a fighter with so little experience however those faults will of course still be there. That brings us to the big question marks however, what is Omori's stamina like? What is his heart like? Is he experienced enough? At the moment we've never seen Omori go beyond 8 rounds, though he did score a clear 8 round decision victory over Yubon Kaneyama last year. We also know that he has been in with Esquivel and he's sparred with Iwasa, among others, suggesting he's got a good level of experience even if the quantity is lacking.
We're expecting to see a lot of answers about Omori and how good he actually is. We're expecting to see him being given a “chin check” for the first time. If Omori can take the right hand bombs of Masuda then we're expecting to see Omori given a gut check. If he can pass both of those checks and come out with flying colours then he should end the bout as the new champion and as the biggest revelation of the year, so far.
If Omori can't take the power of the champion and can't cope with Masuda's pressure than Masuda will retain and will do so by stoppage. Our suspicion however is that Omori will take this opportunity and shine with an outstanding performance and gets a win that will help him get bigger fights later in the year.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Boxing has a number of fearsome punchers across all levels of the sport. At the elite level we of course have Gennady Golovkin and Servey Kovalev, as well as Shinsuke Yamanaka and Keith Thurman. At the Oriental level we have the thunderously heavy handed Keita Obara (13-1, 12) who seems to destroy what he hits time and time again.
On March 13th fans get the next chance to see Obara in action as he looks to make the second defence of his OPBF Light Welterweight title and over-come the relatively unknown Yuya Okazaki (11-7-1, 4), who is looking for the biggest win of his career.
Obara certainly isn't the biggest name at 140lbs though he is among the biggest punchers in the division and he certainly has vicious lights out power. As well as that power he has impressive skills, movement and speed. We're not going to try and make out that Obara is a slippery and wonderful counter puncher but he's a solid boxer-puncher with a lot of variety in his shots.
One thing Obara has that many of the other promising fighters in the division don't have is a loss. This was suffered on his debut when he came up short against Kazuyoshi Kumano. In that bout Obara showed his inexperience and appeared over-confident before blowing his wad and being stopped out on his feet. Since that bout however the Japanese fighter has developed significantly with his pacing and stamina.
There are still flaws in what Obara does. His right hand can be rather wide at times and he does drop his left hand more than he should. With his power, movement and counter-punching ability he does punish opponents if they fail to make him pay for his mistakes. And when we say makes them pay we really mean it, as seen when he iced Shinya Iwabuchi last year with a thundering combination in the 12th round of their bout last year. Incidentally it was the bout with Iwabuchi that answered a number of questions regarding Obara's stamina.
Unfortunately we don't know much about Okazaki who is, genuinely, one of the most obscure OPBF title challengers we've seen recently. His record suggests he's nothing special with 7 losses in 19 fights and unfortunately for him it's not just the numbers that suggest his limitations but also his opposition. In fact with losses to Shoji Kawase, a debuting Accel Sumiyoshi, Kazuya Maruki and, more recently a stoppage loss to Hayato Hokazono it's hard to see what Okazaki has in his locker. In fact having gone 3-5 in his last 8 we really do wonder what “qualifies” him as a challenger.
Notably the 3-5 run of Okazaki in his last 8 does included his best win to date, a very close decision win over Daiki Koide. That, on paper, is a solid win though we can't imagine Koide being any threat at all to Obara so a narrow win over him tells us little about how Okazaki would cope with Obara.
Even though we view him as a major under-dog there are a few interesting little details about Okazaki which are worth making a note of. Firstly he's one of the few fighters that will be taller than Obara Light Welterweight, stood at 5'11” Okazaki is a tall fighter and boasts a ½″ height advantage over Obara. He is also a southpaw which could give Obara some issues, however he won't the first southpaw to face Obara who has already faced 4 southpaws, including Iwabuchi and Jay Solmiano.
Everything about this fight points towards an easy, mid-round stoppage for Obara who is too powerful, too proven and too good for Okazaki. On the other hand there is one question about the champion, how easily does he make 140lbs? We suspect this could be his last fight at the weight before he makes a permanent move to 147lbs where he will be more comfortable than he is at 140lbs.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
The Flyweight division is one of the sport's very best. What it lacks in big names it more than makes up for in action, excitement, high quality fighters, brilliant match ups and general all-round quality.
We know knowledgeable western fans are acquainted, at least somewhat, with Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada but below those two is a wealth of talent that they may not be aware of. It's that lesser known talent that often gives us some of the best fights as the fighters look to make their mark and make a statement to allow them to get a big fight.
One match up that features two lesser known fighters comes around on April 8th when Japanese champion Suguru Muranaka (21-2-1, 7), one of the few fighters to be world ranked by all 4 world bodies, defends his title against Tetsuma Hayashi (25-2-2, 9). The fighter may not have “knockout out” power, at least according to their records, but they both bring a lot of action, a lot of excitement and a lot of heart in battles that are so entertaining.
Muranaka won the title just a few short fights ago when he over-came former world title challenger Takuya Kogawa with a narrow split decision. That win over Kogawa has been followed by two successful defenses, both ending inside the distance with the most recent being an eye catching 1-punch finish against Yusuke Saksahita last October.
For many hardcore fight fans Muranaka is on the periphery. He's a name they might have seen in the rankings but probably haven't seen in action. He is however a pure work horse in the ring. He is happy to throw a lot of shots, use a high rate and although his power is limited he refuses to lose an exchange, always trying to throw the final punch in any back-and-forth.
In terms of his record Muranaka hasn't been beaten in more than 8 years. Both of his losses were close decisions and he has gone 14-0-1 (5) in his last 15 bouts. Those wins have seen him over-come the likes of Yuki Nasu, Along Denoy, Kogawa and Masayuki Kuroda and he has managed to establish himself as the top Flyweight on the Japanese domestic scene.
For many fans Hayashi isn't even on the periphery of their conversations about the Flyweight division. Despite that the 26 year old is #15 by the WBA and is getting his second shot at the Japanese title, almost 3 years after he came up short in a fight with Kogawa. That loss has since been followed with a run of 7-0-1 (3), including wins over Junichi Ebisuoka and Samransak Singmanasak.
In some ways it's hard to know how good Hayashi is. His world ranking doesn't seem very accurate, especially given the depth of the division, and his two losses have come to the only title level fighters he has fought in Kogawa and Takayasu Kobayashi, who came up short in two title bouts himself. He does look good in regards to “the eye test” and appears to have nice movement, lovely hand speed and explosive combinations, though defensively he can look a bit suspect and can be seen to rush his work.
At times Hayashi can seem apprehensive whilst at other times he can look reckless. Unfortunately for him those are his major flaws. He can't seem to ever find the middle line in terms of committing too much and not committing enough. Against a fighter like Kogawa that was unltimately his downfall.
We suspect the Kogawa bouts for both men to tell us a lot about this fight. Hayashi was relatively apprehensive against Kogawa, it was a big step up and although he was very competitive he never managed to enforce himself on Kogawa for long, it was more an occasional and short burst of success. On the other hand Muranaka managed to boss the bout at times and really forced Kogawa backwards, essentially winning a brawl and forcing Kogawa on the the retreat. We see Kogawa forcing Hayashi on to the retreat. Hayashi will fire back, he will try to force Muranaka back at times but overall there will just bee too much from the champion for the challenger to cope with in a fighter that sees a lot of action but a clear winner.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Last year we saw Japanese Lightweight Masayoshi Nakatani (9-0, 5) break through in a big way. He began the year with a win over Yoshitaka Kato to claim the OPBF Lightweight title and later went on to climb into the world rankings whilst defending his belt twice. We won't pretend that Nakatani set the world on fire but he did impress as he easily out pointed Ricky Sismundo in his first defence and then almost shut out Futoshi Usami in his second defense.
The 3 wins for Nakatani last year took him from “Ioka prospect” to “world ranked contender” it was as good a break through year as the Osaka native could have wished for. Whilst he hasn't stopped an opponent in his 3 bouts he had earned 36 rounds of valuable experience, matured as a fighter and developed his skills massively.
When we first saw Nakatani he looked like a tall, rangy Lightweight who gave up his height to beat people up. Despite being almost 6' he was a fighter who loved tagging the body and completely destroyed Shuhei Tsuchiya with body shots alone. Since then he has developed his skills become a more pure boxer-puncher who now uses his reach and uses his height to fight on the outside where he can establish his jab and move around the ring. In many his style has helped set the groundwork for other Ioka fighters such as Sho Ishida and Takeru Kamikubo who fight in a similar manner to Nakatani, using their height and speed.
Although not yet a big name in regards to where he stands at the Ioka gym we suspect Nakatani will have the ability to become a world champion and follow in the footsteps of Kazuto Ioka and Ryo Miyazaki. It may not be soon but his intentions are to reach that level. His next to world title fights will be his 3rd defence of the OPBF title and will see him battle against the little known Accel Sumiyoshi (4-3-1, 1) on April 5th
Sumiyoshi isn't a big name fighter, his record isn't flawless and he isn't a sensational Lightweight. He is however a fighter who has been matched incredibly hard since his debut back in 2012. To date his opponents have had a combined record of 95-43-9 and it's little wonder he has lost a few bouts considering he has gone up against fighters like Kento Matsushita, a former multi-time Japanese and former OPBF title challenger, Yuhei Suzuki, a 2-time Japanese title challenger, and Kota Tokunaga, who battles for the Japanese title later this month.
Footage of Sumiyoshi is certainly not easy to come by but ringside reports of his bout with Leonardo Doronio, who he fought to a draw last December, suggest the bout was a slugfest with both showing fantastic work rate. Also in his past he has gone up against tall fighters, notably Kota Tokunaga who managed to take a split decision win over Sumiyoshi last year. That experience will help Sumiyoshi however we have Tokunaga being a level, if not two, below Nakatani.
Coming into this fight the pressure is on the champion not to just win but to shine and that's what we're expecting with Nakatani easing himself into the fight behind his jab before making a statement later in the fight with a stoppage. If he can do that then we expect to see him move on to a world ranked foe later in the year and then work his way towards a world title fight in either late 2015 or early 2016.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
At the turn of the year we saw Ryosuke Iwasa vacate the OPBF Bantamweight title as he turned his attention on to claiming a world title belt. As a result of Iwasa vacating the belt we've seen a bout set up to find his successor and on March 5th we'll see the vacant title end up in the hands of either Takahiro Yamamoto (15-3, 12) or Yu Kawaguchi (22-6, 10). The bout may not pit the best Bantamweights in Asia against each other, in fact those involved aren't even the best Bantamweights in Japan, but as a stand alone bout this is an immensely interesting contest.
Of the two men it's Yamamoto who is the lower profile fighter but the more exciting of the two. He's an Ioka gym fighter who punches like a mule and despite being technically flawed is a must watch fighter when he's in the ring. Sadly for those wanting to watch him, much of the footage of him in action has been deleted from the internet, leaving us with only his bout against Kiron Omura, from very early in his career.
Yamamoto made his debut back in 2008 and in a little more than a year he had raced to 5-0 (5). Sadly when he hit the bricks, he hit them hard and quickly fell to 6-3 (5) as he came across opponents he couldn't just take out. Even though Yamamoto had lost his perfect record he hadn't been out classed and only suffered losses, all 3 of which were close, to decent fighters such as Hideo Sakamoto and Jerope Mercado.
Since those losses Yamamoto has been in great form running up 9 straight wins with the most notable of those being a decision over Danilo Pena and a 2nd round TKO against Ippei Aoki.
Blessed with power, a solid chin, an aggressive nature and exciting style Yamamoto is a real threat, especially when he hits opponents clean. As well as the power he has been improving his skills in recent years and although still a flawed fighter he had developed into a solid boxer-puncher.
As for Kawaguchi he's more notable of the two fighters given that he has fought for the Japanese Bantamweight title, coming up short against Kentaro Masuda last year. On paper that's his most notable bout though he has also been in with Yasutaka Ishimoto and Jerope Mercado, losing to both of those.
On paper Kawguchi does have a muddied record however he has gone 16-2 (8) in the last 6 years and has rebuilt his career in fantastic fashion. We won't pretend a sensational fighter but at 28 years old he is in his prime and he's seemingly in his groove as a professional. When you consider his last two losses are to Ishimoto and Masuda there is nothing to be disappointed by and considering he's never been stopped he does look to be a credible title contender.
In the ring Kawaguchi is slightly more refined than we've seen Yamamoto, but he is relatively flat footed, a little bit predictable and basic. At the level he's been fighting at that's typically been enough though it was also why he lost to Masuda and Ishimoto. He's just been a bit too basic to beat them. Despite being basic Kawaguchi can grit his teeth and have a fight, something that we suspect he'll have to do here.
Given the fighters involved in this fight aren't the most rounded we're expecting a really fun to watch contest between two men who come to fight and know how to fight. Yamamoto certainly has the edge in power however Kawaguchi has proven his toughness and show that he can hang with heavy hitters, such as Masuda. That makes us think we could see this go the distance. With that said it's clear that this will be exciting and see both men being forced to take some heavy blows.
Although we see feel Kawaguchi ts the more technically rounded he so slow that we feel Yamamoto will take the decision based on his power and his eye catching shots. It will however be a very competitive and exciting contest.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
The Light Flyweight division isn't one of the outstanding ones but on some levels it is an exciting one and one that appears set to go through a number of changes in coming years, with a number of emerging young talents who look set to make their name in the division over the coming year or two.
At the top of the Japanese domestic scene right now is Yu Kimura (15-2-1, 2), who looks to make the next defense of his title at the start of April when he battles against late replacement Hayato Yamaguchi (12-5-1, 2), who has got the bout after Shin Ono was forced to pull out due to a rib injury.
Kimura won the title last year when he narrowly out pointed the under-rated Kenichi Horikawa and has since defended it twice, including an impressive victory over Yuki Chinen. Those wins have helped put the 31 year old Teiken fighter on the verge of a world title fight with world rankings with all 4 world title world title bodies, including a #2 ranking with the IBF. Sadly however he has yet to really capture the attention of fans outside of Japan, many of whom haven't had the chance to see him. Even those who have been able to see him in footage have had a limited number of chances with very little footage being available, the most notable of which was his bout with Ryoichi Taguchi.
Speedy, talented and well school Kimura is one of the many fighters on the verges of a world title fight. Given his age however he will need to make that leap from domestic champion to world contender sooner rather than later. A win over Ono would have allowed him to make that leap, especially considering the fact Ono gave IBF Minimumweight champion Katsunari Takayama a really tough test. Sadly however a bout with Yamaguchi doesn't quite have the same lure to it as the originally scheduled contest.
Whilst Kimura is a man in the form of career, and has won his last 6, the same cannot quite be said for Yamaguchi who actually lost last time out to Renan Trongco in the Philippines. Prior to that loss Yamaguchi was on a roll with 5 straight wins, including notable victories over Hiroya Yamamoto and Hiroyuki Otsuka. That run of 5 wins had followed back-to-back losses to Masayuki Kuroda and Cris Paulino in title bouts.
Through his 18 fight career Yamaguchi's most impressive performance was actually the loss to Kuroda, a narrow loss to the then Japanese Light Flyweight champion. Kuroda, a solid domestic level fighter, was defending the national title for the second time and Yamguchi took him all the way a razor thin bout that actually saw Yamaguchi dropping the champion. Another of his stand out results his narrow win over Eiji Fujiwara win in the 2010 All-Japan Rookie of the year, unfortunately that was very close and came more than 4 years ago.
On paper this looks almost nailed on to go the distance. Neither fighter is a big puncher and both have shown good resiliency, despite each being stopped once. If it does we can't see past a Kimura win, despite the fact he has seen his opponent change less than a month before the bout. For Kimura we suspect his confidence, longer training camp and high level of sparring will help him retain his title, but he'll not have an easy time with his competent challenger. If Kimura makes the mistake of over-looking Yamaguchi then we may see the title change hands though we suspect he'll be a professional and get the win before looking towards a bigger bout later in the year as he looks to move onwards and upwards.
For Yamaguchi this is a great opportunity to make a name for himself, but unfortunately we see him coming just short against the very talented Kimura.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
On March 25th we get the Flash Elorde Awards ceremony to celebrate boxing in the Philippines and the same show we get some fantastic fights. One of those fights is an All Filipino bout for the vacant OPBF Featherweight title between the highly experienced Vinvin Rufino (36-16-3, 16) and the once touted Mark Gil Melligen (21-4-1, 12).
For southpaw fighter Rufino this will be a third shot at the title having previously come short twice, in Japan. And it may well be his last shot at an OPBF title given that he turns 34 later this year and has already had in excess of 50 fights with 7 stoppages losses in a career that goes back 12 busy years.
Rufino's career has seen him becoming a very well traveled fighter. He has fought an impressive 13 times in Indonesia, 4 times in Japan, twice in South Africa, twice in Thailand and once in Mexico. Sadly for him however it's not seen him enjoying the greatest of success. He has claimed the GAB and LuzProBA titles in the Philippines but fallen short in bouts for international level titles such as the OPBF, PABA, WBC International, WBC Silver and WBC Asian ABCO titles. Unfortunately he's been the best domestically but never quite capable of winning a big one, though he has come close several times on the road.
Rufino's biggest problem is his lack of power above domestic level. On the domestic scene he has scored stoppages, in fact 12 of his 16 stoppages have come in the Philippines. Away from home and against a higher level of competition his power hasn't had the effect he'd have hoped. That's not to say he's been bad on the road, in fact there have been fights away from home that he deserved to win, but the lack of power hasn't helped him.
Aged 27 Melligen is the younger fighter with less wear and tear. He hasn't the level of experience of his compatriot but he's also not got the miles on the road. Whilst there obvious differences there are also similarities between the two men with Melligen also having a less than stellar record, in fact he was 2-2-1 (1) after his first 5 fights. Since that start however he has gone 19-2 with a razor thin loss to Carlo Magali and a stoppage loss in Thailand to Sukkasem Kietyongyuth
On paper Melligen has fought at a much lower level of competition than his compatriot. He has however been in sensational form in recent times with 8 straight wins since his loss to Sukkasem back in 2010. Of those 8 wins 7 have come by stoppage including wins in China and Japan as he's developed into a genuinely promising power punching fighter.
From the little footage that exists of Melligen he does look relatively basic but powerfully built and his southpaw stance and powerful left hand doe appear to be solid weapons that he knows how to use. He's not the busiest or fastest fighter but he does look a confident one deliberate one with some hurtful body shots in his arsenal.
Whilst footage of Rufino is scarce it's clear that he “can” win this but he needs to live up to his nickname of the “hustler”. He needs to hustle, make Melligen fight hard, keep the pace of the bout up and stop Melligen from landing his hurtful body shots from range. If he can't do that then Melligen, with his edge in youth and power, will over-come Rufino
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.