This year we've seen a number of Japanese national titles end up in new hands. The first of those new champions to be crowned in 2016 was elongated Welterweight Nobuyuki Shindo (17-3-1, 6) [新藤 寛之], who won the tile on January 12th when he out pointed Yasuhiro Okawa, in what was Shindo's second shot at the title. This coming Thursday Shindo makes the first defense of that title, against mandatory challenger Toshio Arikawa (12-4, 10) [有川 稔男], a big punching dangerman.
On paper the champion doesn't look dangerous. He's scored just 6 stoppages in 21 bouts and has come up short of winning in 4 of his contests. He is however a tricky fighter with a freakish height for a Welterweight, at 6'1”, and a southpaw stance. He also hits harder than his record suggests, as seen when he dropped the then champion Suyon Takayama last year.
Although freakishly tall Shindo is actually a very credible fighter and boxes on the outside very well. He has a sharp jab, a stinging straight, good movement and a good, though not incredible, engine. He is flawed, and can be beaten up close, but will do his best to keep the fight at range and use his long levers as his key weapons.
Whilst the champion is somewhat well known, considering bouts with Takayama and Moon Hyun Yun, the same can't really be said of the challenger, who scored his first win of note late last year, when he shocked former champion Akinori Watanabe in 6 rounds. The win saw Arikawa become the mandatory challenger.
Other than the win over Watanabe there is little to really be excited on his record, though he does hold a win over Shusaku Fujinaka. In the ring he is crude, he has been stopped, 3 times, but he can bang and that power is a genuine issue for anyone in the division on the domestic scene, as we suspect Shindo will find out about.
Whilst Arikawa is a puncher he needs to land clean to really do damage and for this he needs to be close. Given that Shindo has the reach and height advantage we can see Arikawa struggling to get close. If he manages to cut the distance he will give the champion real issues, but we suspect that those issues will be few and far between with Shindo moving and staying away from a fight, rather than going up against Arikawa in a full on fight.
Over the last few years we have seen a lot of attention in Japanese boxing focus on the very lowest weights, and with good reason given their wealth of talent at the lower weights. The domestic scene has however been interesting in some of the heavier weights with the 140lb Light Welterweight division being a particularly interesting one.
The star is, of course, Keita Obara who looks set to fight for a world title this summer. Below him however is a really fascinating division with numerous notable, exciting, talented and promising fighters, such as the promising trio of Koki Inoue, Shuichiro Yoshino and Yuki Konami, the exciting but flawed contenders like Shinya Iwabuchi and Shuhei Tsuchiya and the heavy handed Yoshimichi Matsumoto.
On April 19th we see two of the most notable Japanese domestic fighters at the weight collide, for the second time, in a mandatory title defense that could, potentially, be the fight of the week.
The bout in question sees unbeaten champion Hiroki Okada (11-0, 9) [岡田 博喜] defend his belt against the ultra-aggressive Koichi Aso (20-6-1, 13) [麻生 興一], with the bout being Okada's 4th defense of the title and Aso's second shot at the belt.
In their first bout Okada narrowly over-came Aso, with a 10 round decision that saw all 3 judges score the bout 96-94 to the champion. Since then both fighters hack racked up a pair of stoppage wins, with Okada defending his title twice and looking like a fighter who is making great strides in his development.
Aged 26 the champion really is a fighter with a lot of potential. That potential has helped him gain a WBO world ranking and score several wins of note, including his first win over Aso and recent stoppages over Hayato Nakazano and Masanobu Nakazawa. He may not have major wins on the international stage but we suspect that that's where he will be heading later in the year with an OPBF title shot likely to come in the next 12-18 months. Sadly his development was slowed last year, due to a hand injury, but he looked better than ever when he stopped Nakazawa back in January.
Okada is heavy handed but appears to be a fighter who simply has heavy hands, rather than a fighter who throws with bad intentions. As a result he has shown he can box, he move and looks to be a natural counter puncher, making him even more dangerous than just his power.
In Aso we have a man who really is flawed but yet has a box office style with a lot of aggression, plenty of power and a somewhat questionable chin. He has been stopped in half of his losses, including an opening round defeat to Shinya Iwabuchi though strangely suffered all 3 of those stoppages in his first 3 defeats. Since then it appears his defense, as opposed to his chin, has improved yet he is still an “in your face” fighter with an aggressive, pressure style that is incredibly fun to watch.
Since the loss to Okada back in 2014 Aso hasn't been massively active, with 15 combined rounds, but at 30 years old, and with his style, the inactivity has likely helped him rather than hindered him coming in to this bout. He's not been taking damage, he's been giving his body time to relax and he's been able to plan for another big fight.
Given the styles of the men we are expecting this one to be very fun. Aso will, as always, come forward and whilst we suspect he will have some success we can't help but think that Okada's clean counters, especially from his uppercutts, will take their toll on the challenger who will eventually succumb to the champion. We could see Aso grinding down Okada but we suspect Okada will retain his title in style and score a more impressive win over Aso than he did in their first meeting.
This coming Sunday is a hectic one for Japanese fans in Osaka, with 3 shows featuring a combined 4 title fights. One of those is for the Japanese Super Flyweight title as world title hopeful, and current national champion, Sho Ishida (21-0, 11) [石田 匠] defends his title against mandatory challenger Ryuichi Funai (24-6, 16) [船井 龍一]. For Ishida the bout will be his 5th defense, and possibly his last before being moved to a world title bout, whilst Funai will be getting his second shot at title honours, having previously come up short in an OPBF title bout.
Of the two men the one with the most upside is the 24 year old Ishida, an Ioka product from the same gym as Kazuto Ioka, Ryo Miyazaki and Masayoshi Nakatani, who will be defending his OPBF title on the same show. Like Nakatani we usually see Ishida boxing on the outside, using his reach, jab, movement and speed to beat opponents, though when called for he can dig in in the trenches and has shown the adaptability he'll need when he steps up to world class.
During his career there hasn't been many real issues with Ishida's performances. The one that does stand out however is his bout with Taiki Eto 12 months ago, when Ishida seemed to run on fumes for the later rounds and was somewhat fortunate to take a split decision. That bout did leave question marks about his stamina however he proved his toughness, his will to win and his warrior spirit, whilst a fight later he seemed to show he could do 10 rounds without any problems.
Although not a huge puncher Ishida is sharp with his shots and does carry the power to stop opponents, as seen with his 2nd round KO win against Petchbarngborn Kokietgym back in 2013. That stoppage also proved that he can be devastating to the body.
Aged 30 the challenger has had an up-and-down career and will be seeking another up, in fact he will be seeking his career best win when he faces Ishida. On paper however it's easy to rule him out, especially given the fact he has been stopped 3 times in his 6 losses though those losses include stoppages to Shinsuke Yamanaka and Rolly Lunas, both at Bantamweight. It's also worth noting that he began his career 2-2 and has lost just once in the last 5 years, going 11-1 (8) during that period. Whilst his wins might not be over top tier opponents he does hold notable victories over Gakuya Furuhashi, recent title challenger Ryuta Otsuka.
Whilst Funai is on a good run, and has won his last 7 bouts, they haven't been the most impressive of wins, with the most notable results being a stoppage against Ryuta Otsuka and a razor thin decision over Akinori Hoshino. Those wins are credible, but not the sort of wins that will prepare a fighter for someone like Ishida, who stopped Otsuka in 4 rounds himself.
In the ring Funai has proven to be a fighter who has improved with age, though at 30 years old there is a chance he may well be as good as he'll ever get. He's never going to be a genuine world beater but he's certainly a credible threat here and has the experience, power, skills and toughness to really give Ishida absolute hell. We suspect however that he will show flaws that Ishida will take advantage of, and the champion's jab and move approach will take him to a clear, but hard fought win.
On April 17th Japanese fans will get a real treat in Osaka with 4 title fights, one of which is an OPBF Lightweight title bout between unbeaten champion Masayoshi Nakatani (11-0, 6) [中谷 正義] and the heavy handed, but limited, Tosho Makoto Aoki (20-13-2, 17) [闘将 青木 誠]. On paper it's the “most significant” of the title bouts, with the OPBF title ranking above the Japanese and WBC Youth titles, but in reality it should be little more than a mismatch.
At 26 years old Nakatani is a man coming into his prime and at close to 6 foot he's a tall, rangy and clever boxer puncher who has matured well under the guidance of the Ioka gym. He's been a professional for around 5 years and actually won this OPBF title more than 2 years ago, with this being his 5th defense of the title.
For many Nakatani's first win of note came back in July 2013, when he stopped Shuhei Tsuchiya. Since then he has added the notable scalps of Yoshitaka Kato and Ricky Sismundo to his record whilst showing improvement in his boxing, stamina and ring IQ. That's not to say he's flawless, but he's becoming a very hard fighter to beat, and has scarcely lost a round since winning the OPBF title.
At range Nakatani is a nightmare, he's taller and longer than almost anyone else in the division and although not a huge puncher he has very respectable power which will keep any opponent honest, with even his jab being a stinging shot.
Whilst the champion is a fighter about to hit his prime the challenger is a veteran at 36 and is a man who knows that this bout will potentially be his last, though it's fair to say he has had a relatively remarkable career which has seemingly gotten better as he's aged. In fact back in 2011 it seemed Aoki's career was done, following a 2nd round TKO loss to Ryo Nakajima, a loss that saw Aoki's record fall to 13-12-2 (10). Since then however he has gone 8-1 (7), claimed several regional titles and genuinely managed to make a name for himself.
Whilst Aoki was a good run he did actually lose last time out, suffering a first round loss to Thailand's Chaiyong Sithsaithong, who was subsequently schooled by novice Shuichiro Yoshino. Sadly that loss was probably the result that sums up his chances against Nakatani. There is a chance that the heavy handed power of Aoki could catch Nakatani, but the reality is that the champion should be too smart, too good, too powerful, too quick, too big, too long and too young.
Although Aoki does have power, he's a crude puncher and we suspect Nakatani will pick him apart, before forcing a stoppage, likely in the middle rounds. Hopefully a win for the youngster will be followed by a serious test later in the year, perhaps against Daud Yordan for example, however should we see an upset it really would shake up the Lightweight scene in Asia
When we think of the most exciting weights on the Japanese scene we typically think of the lower weights, the weights where the top Japanese fighters rise through the ranks quickly and move towards world title fights in the space of just a few years. Strangely though the weights around Middleweight have started to become fascinating domestically with a wave of young fighters looking to make a name for themselves. We saw that earlier this year with Hikaru Nishida upsetting Akio Shibata to claim the JBC and OPBF Middleweight titles, and we may well see it again on April 17th, when the little known Yuto Shimizu (11-2-2, 4) [清水 優人] challenges Japanese 154lb champion Yuki Nonaka (28-8-3, 9) [野中 悠樹].
Of the two Nonaka is the more well known. Of course he's the current champion, but he's also a man who has edged his way into the world rankings, been a 2-time Japanese champion, an OPBF champion and has scored notable wins over the likes of Charlie Ota, Kazuhiko Hidaka and Koshinmaru Saito.
In the ring Nonaka is a joy to watch. He's not the quickest, or the more powerful but he's a joyful boxer to see in action, as he throws wonderful combinations, judges distance and timing excellently and uses the southpaw stance very well. At 38 however his career is coming to an end and any fight could be his last. That's not to say he's had a hard career, but he is physically on the slide, much like Shibata was in his loss to Nishida.
In Shimizu we have a relatively obscure fighter who has only really been making a name for himself the last 2 or 3 years, despite debuting way back in 2007. In all honesty we doubt anyone thought Shimizu was going to become a contender when he began his career, and quickly slipped to 3-2-2 (1) after 7 fights, all at the 4 round stage. Since then however he has racked up 8 wins, defeating the likes of Hikaru Nishida, Toru Chiba, Takehiro Shimokawara and Yosuke Kirima.
Footage of Shimizu has been hard to come by though from we can see he has began to show more power in recent bouts, stopping 3 of his last 4 opponents, including Shomokawara who was proven to be tough at this level. We're not going to suggest he's a big puncher, but he's certainly got power to trouble fighters and could well be the type of fighter who holds his power late into a fight. What's key however is that at 28 he's not only much younger than the champion, but he's also a fighter coming into his prime.
It can seem odd to pick the challenger, who haven't seen much of, over the recongised champion but here we will be picking Shimizu to upset Nonaka, and maybe even force a late stoppage. We suspect that youth will play a big part in this but the key will be hunger and Shimizu's string of very good domestic wins have shown that hunger, which will continue to grow. For Nonaka however we think this could well be the end of his career, win or lose.
Internationally we don't tend to see many Japanese Lightweights make a name for themselves, however one man has done just that, Nihito Arakawa (26-6-1, 16) [荒川 仁人]. Arakawa did so by putting on an incredibly gutsy display against the then touted Omar Figueroa. Since that bout however he has faded somewhat from the attention of boxing fans and gone 2-3 in subsequent bouts, whilst also returning to Japan. Despite his current form he is still regarded as a top Japanese Lightweight and he will be looking to reclaim his seat atop the domestic table on April 16th when he faces incumbent Japanese champion Kota Tokunaga (17-2, 11) [徳永 幸大].
When it comes to Arakawa we all remember his performance against Figueroa. It was gutsy, brave and exciting. He wasn't technically the most sound fighter, the quickest, the most defensively intelligent or the biggest puncher but his heart was incredible and his toughness was off the charts. Even the bout was, in all honesty, a lost cause he refused to back down and continued to bring the fight in the later rounds, trying to secure a remarkable turn around.
Arakawa will be hoping to use that energy and toughness later this week against Tokunaga, as he attempts to become a 2-time Japanese champion, at the age of 34. He first held the national title in 2010 and vacated it in 2011 as he chased a world title.
As we all know Arakawa can be out boxed. It happened against Figueroa, it happened against Jorge Linares and more recently it happened against Rikki Naito. He does however seem like the sort of fighter who will only be beaten against men capable of going to the final bell and have the energy to stay out of a fire fight. Going to war with Arakawa is often a mistake.
The 26 year old champion comes in to the bout as on of the more questionable Japanese domestic title holders. He won the belt a year ago, stopping Yuya Sugizaki in 8 rounds, and subsequently defended it twice, scoring a come from behind stoppage win over Yuhei Suzuki and a thin decision win over Kazuhiro Nishitani, both relatively limited challengers.
The champion is a fun to watch fighter. He has very respectable power at the domestic level, throws some lovely combinations and can use his height, 5'10”, very well. Sadly for all that goes in his favour he is a seriously flawed fighter and has been stopped twice, suggesting a poor chin, and has been rather fortunate in some ways that his challengers have been poor so far. They have worn themselves out whilst Tokunaga has been patient and used his energy reserves in the second half of bouts.
With questionable toughness, a low work rate and a lack of higher level experience Tokunaga has a lot of question marks over him. He is a much improved fighter to what he once was, but he has yet to prove he's anything like the best Lightweight in Japan.
We suspect that Tokunaga will start the bout cautiously, boxing on the back foot and using his reach. Arakawa however will have the know how to slip the jab, get in Tokunaga's face and make life very difficult for the champion. As the rounds go on Arakawa's will to win will over-come Tokunaga who we think will be stopped in the second half of the bout. Tokunaga will likely show signs of being a good fighter, but simply won't be able to handle Arakawa's pressure or toughness.
In 2015 we saw Japan's Ryo Takenaka (13-3-1, 7) [竹中 良] claim the OPBF Featherweight title and score his most notable win so far, whilst also bouncing back from a 2014 that ended with disappointment. To begin 2016 he'll be looking to continue on the success that saw him score an eye catching KO over Vinvin Rufino and retain his title as he battles Akira Shono (9-7-2, 5) [正野 晃], a man looking to secure a defining win.
Aged 30 Takenaka has got a few years left in the sport and given how he fought last year it seems like he's a man who is still improving, despite having been a professional for more than 7 years, and having been a touted prospect when he began his professional journey. Like many prospects in Japan Takenaka began his career as a 6 round fighter, and quickly progressed to 8 round bouts.
Although touted as a novice Takenaka's career failed to go as expected and after 10 bouts he was 7-2-1 (4) with his career in the balance. Since then he has gone 6-1, losing only a 12th round TKO to Hisashi Amagasa in a bout he was winning prior to the stoppage. Those 6 wins have all come against opponents with winning records, and have included wins over Rufino, Rene Bestudio and Vergel Nebran.
In the ring Takenaka is a talented boxer-mover though, as seen against Rufino, he also has very solid power with perhaps his biggest issue being his relative lack of durability, with 2 of his losses being by stoppage. Notably though those losses came to Amagasa and former world Ryol Li Lee, two very good fighters.
When it comes to Shono there is very little footage available of him, though one thing that can't be denied is that at 35 years old Shono really is unlikely to get another opportunity if he fails to make the most of this one.
Shono debuted almost 9 years ago, and struggled at times to get going. He began his career 2-2 (2), and other times was 5-4-2 (3) and even 7-7-2 (4), he is however on a 2 fight winning streak and has shown his ability by mixing with good fighters, though he was beaten by the likes of Ryota Kajiki and Satoru Sugita.
With a 9-7-2 (5) record Shono certainly doesn't look like a great challenger, especially given that he has suffered a pair of stoppage losses, and has never gone beyond 8 rounds, with this bout being a 12 rounder. Whilst we don't know a lot about Shono we do know that he will be the major under-dog against Takenaka and we can't really see how the challenger will win, as a result we're predicting a stoppage win for the champion, likely inside 6 rounds.
A number of fighters spent 2015 impressing fight fans, one of whom was Japanese youngster Ken Shiro (6-0, 3) [拳 四朗], who claimed the WBC Youth and Japanese Light Flyweight titles in a year that saw him scoring 4 wins and really show serious development. He'll be looking to continue his progress through 2016, and begins the year by defending his Japanese title against former world title challenger Atsushi Kakutani (17-4-1, 10) [角谷 淳志], who is getting a long over due national title shot at his normal weight.
The 24 year old champion turned professional in August 2014 and was tipped for big things pretty much from the off. Now, less than 2 years after his debut, he has already impressed showing both a high level of ability and the skills to adapt if, and when, he needs to. His skills impressed on debut, when he out pointed the highly experienced Heri Amol, and again when he scored a 7th round TKO win over the then unbeaten Katsunori Nagamine, his ability to adapt saw him fight back from a poor start to take the unbeaten record of Rolly Sumalpong and his ability to step up saw him claim a win, in December, against Kenichi Horikawa to claim the Japanese title.
Although he's still a relative novice the young champion has impressed with independent rankings from the PBO, IBO and Boxrec all rating him in the top 25 Light Flyweights on the planet, in fact at the time of writing the IBO have the youngster #3 in the world!
Although not a KO artist the youngster is a sharp puncher, with great accuracy, surprising physical strength, impressive hand speed and very intelligent movement. His “inexperience” seems to be his one flaw at the moment, though it is worth noting that he had a very extensive amateur career and was a former standout Japanese amateur who is guided by his father, a former OPBF and Japanese title holder.
The challenging has been a professional for significantly longer than the champion, in fact Kakutani debuted more than 8 years ago, began his professional career with 3 straight KO wins. Sadly for him his winning run came to an end after 17 months, as he was stopped by Mamoru Honda. That was the first of 3 stoppage losses for Kakutani who has got question marks about his durability. The other stoppages suffered by Kakutani are an opening round loss to Warlito Parrenas, in 2011, and a 4th round loss to Adrian Hernandez in a WBC world title fight. Notably his only other loss was a split decision defeat in a Japanese Super Flyweight title fight against Teiru Kinoshita.
Whilst Kakutani has come up short in his most notable bouts to date he does hold some credible wins, including a narrow decision win over Rey Loreto, who at the time was an unknown though has since proven to be a very good fighter, a win over Katsuya Matsuura and a win over Yota Hori. Notably he also dropped both Parrenas and Hernandez before being stopped himself.
In the ring Kakutani is a talented boxer mover. In recent years he has been racking up stoppages, with his last 5 wins coming inside the distance, though the opposition in those 5 wins was questionable at best with all 5 stoppages coming against very poor imports. That's not to say he can't punch, given that he dropped both Parrenas and Hernandez, but he is certainly not a puncher, and is more of a speedy mover.
For Ken Shiro we see this being another solid test for the youngster, but another one that he will pass. We see Kakutani posing some real issues with his natural size, given that he is notably taller than Ken Shiro, but we think the youth and skills of Ken Shiro will be enough to see him to his first defense, possibly courtesy of a late stoppage.
The OPBF Super Middleweight title is one of the many titles in boxing that lacks credible fighters, well at least ones willing to fight for it. Sadly that has lead to some very matches in recent years, and it seems we're set to get another on April 12th when reigning champion Yuzo Kiyota (29-4-1, 27) [清田 祐三] faces Shintaro Matsumoto (12-4, 9) [松本 晋太郎], for the third time.
The two men first met back in in 2012, during Kiyota's first reign as the champion, when Kiyota won in 7 rounds. The men then rematched the following year, with Kiyota winning in 4 rounds to become a 2-time champion.
Since their second bout Kiyota has gone 5-0 (5), defending the title thrice against weak opponents and fighting twice about the limit in stay busy bouts. The champion hasn't looked great, and was dropped a couple of fights back by Kajornsak Sithsaithong, but has found a way to see off his limited opposition. Matsumoto on the other hand has gone 2-0 (1) though has been fighting at Light Heavyweight, and facing some dire Thai opponents.
It's fair to say, that like their first two bouts, Kiyota will be the favourite and should be much fancied to win.
In the ring the champion is a limited fighter, with spiteful power. He can box, a bit, but isn't a practitioner in the sweet science and is instead a puncher, as seen by his record. Whilst his skills aren't the best the biggest issue is his lack of speed which will hold him back from ever really moving to the top level, despite having fought for a world title in 2013 against Robert Stieglitz.
Whilst the champion is limited he does have that power and aggression to turn bouts around and see off opponents, as shown by an impressive 79% stoppage rate. That power isn't something the challenger has and he's also rather limited. In fact Matsumoto is very limited and lacks the toughness to go to the top, in fact he has been stopped in 3 of his 4 losses, and was exposed as being very fragile to the body in one of those losses.
Whilst Kiyota has shown some issues with over-looking opponents in recent times we can't see him over-looking Matsumoto here, and instead we suspect Kiyota will see off his foe inside 6 rounds to retain his title. Hopefully next time out Kiyota will face a more testing opponent than a man he has already stopped, twice.
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.