Next Sunday we'll see a new Japanese champion being crowned as Ryoki Hirai (10-4-1, 4) takes on Shin Ono (21-9-3, 5) in a bout for the vacant Japanese Minimumweight crown, which was vacated earlier this year by Reiya Konishi. The bout is a make or break bout for the relatively unknown Hirai whilst Ono is essentially fighting to keep his career after recent set backs in 4 other title bouts.
Of the two men it's Ono who is the more well known. He's a former OPBF Light Flyweight champion, having won that title back in 2013, he has twice fought for world titles, losing to Katsunari Takayama and Knockout CP Freshmart, and come up short in 3 Japanese title bouts, losing to Kenichi Horikawa and Reiya Konishi and fighting to a draw with Tatsuya Fukuhara.
At his best Ono was a skilled boxer-mover, and he holds notable wins over Yu Kimura, Xiong Zhao Zhong and Omari Kimweri. Sadly however he is now 35 years old, ancient for a Minimumweight, and with 203 rounds under his belt he has taken a lot of punishment. That has included 3 stoppage losses, with the most recent coming in 2015 to Kenichi Horikawa, and a lot of other accumulative damage from tough fights with Konishi, Knockout and Takayama. What hasn't helped has been his lack of power and despite scoring stoppages in his last 3 wins they have come against frankly terrible opposition.
We know Ono will be hungry, with this almost certainly being his final chance to claim a Japanese title but he has a lot of things going against him here, including his age, wear and tear and generally lacking the power he'd need to get the respect of any decent domestic opponent.
Whilst Ono has been fighting at title level for years the same can't be said of Hirai, who will be fighting in his first title fight here. The 27 year old from Kobe made his professional debut in late 2011 and struggled to find his groove, going 3-3-1 in his first 7 bouts as he bounced from Minimumweight to Super Flyweight. Following 3 successive losses he returned to Minimumweight and rebuilt his career by winning 7 of 8 bout. Those wins have shot Hirai up the Japanese rankings and have included recent victories over Takimi Sakae and Ryoya Ikema, which have helped him break into the WBO top 15 and earn this title fight.
Although relatively unknown we have been impressed by what we've managed to see of Hirai. That included his win over Ikema in which Hirai showed good composure when Ikema looked to him out early, smart movement, a good judgement of distance, lovely speed and some very sharp punching, especially to the body. Those are tools that he will be looking to use against Ono, who like Ikema is a southpaw.
Whilst this is a slight step up in class for Hirai, following his wins over Sakae and Ikema, it's hard to imagine his current 5 fight winning streak coming to and end to Ono, who has looked like a man on his way down for a while. Ono won't be there to lose, but we suspect Hirai will have a bit too much of everything for the veteran, and will score a late stoppage of Ono to send the Watanabe man into retirement.
On April 17th fight fans at the Korakuen Hall will see OPBF Minimumweight champion Tsubasa Koura (12-0, 8) return to the ring the make the second defense of his title, as he goes up against veteran Norihito Tanaka (16-6, 9). For Koura the bout will act as his next step towards a potential world title fight, a chance to shine on the global stage, whilst Tanaka will be looking to claim his first professional title more than 13 years after his debut!
Aged 23 Koura is one of the rising stars of Japanese boxing. He made his debut in August 2014 in a low key 4 rounder but the following year he announced himself as a key prospect in Japanese boxing by being crowned the Minimumweight Rookie of the Year. That Rookie of the year win, which saw him defeat Ryusei Kitamura in the final, saw Koura catch the attention of a number of fans going into 2016.
In 2016 we saw the youngster go from strength to strength, adding 3 more wins to his record including an excellent 2nd round TKO win over former world title challenger Jeffrey Galero, who had gone the championship distance with Wanheng Menayothin. In 2017 he further enhanced his reputation by stopping Jaysever Abcede in 4 rounds for the OPBF title, which he defended with a razor thin win against the talented Masataka Taniguchi.
In the ring Koura is an aggressive, hard hitting youngster who has impressed fight after fight. He's only got 48 rounds under his belt though has already gone 12 rounds at a high pace and shown his grit and determination to over-come Taniguchi. Despite being a puncher he does have under-rated skills, and those skills will have been kept in check by the Taniguchi fight, which will have done Koura the world of good, especially given that he had stopped his previous 6 opponents in a combined 14 rounds. He's far from flawless, and certainly has some rough edges, particularly defensively, but he's young, talented and improving fight on fight.
Most fight fans won't be familiar at all with Norihito Tanaka, despite the 33 year old being a genuine veteran of the Japanese scene. As previously mentioned he debuted back in 2005 and had a good winning run to begin his career, winning his first 9 fights and being crowned the East Japan Rookie of the Year in 2006. Sadly though that great start was followed by 3 losses in 4 fights, including defeats to Kenichi Horikawa and Ryoichi Taguchi, which seriously slowed his rise. A short winning run saw him claim the Strongest Korakuen in 2010 before losing in a Japanese title fight to Akira Yaegashi back in 2011, a loss that was then followed by defeat to Takashi Kunishige.
With a record of 14-5 (7) Tanaka stepped away from the ring for over 5 years, before returning in 2017, and since then he has gone 2-1 (2), with the only loss being a razor thin one to Naoya Hariguchi. It's worth noting that given his long break from the ring Tanaka is a very young 33, and his only loss not to have gone the distance was a DQ loss to Taguchi, who he hit on the break. He has never been stopped, and went the distance with two future world champions and a former world title challenger. His toughness really can't be questioned.
Whilst it's clear that Tanaka is tough he does lack experience against real punchers, like Koura, and at 33 the question really is whether or not his body can handle not only the power but the high energy offense of Koura. When Koura has a man hurt he doesn't really let off and instead lets the punches fly, which will be a major problem if Tanaka can't get his respect. Taniguchi could get Koura's respect, and had the skills to really push Koura, we don't think that'll be the case here with Tanaka who we see being stopped in the middle rounds as Koura takes a huge step towards getting a shot at a world title.
The Japanese Welterweight scene has never been the most exciting or the deepest. Despite that it can be an interesting one at times, and right now with heavy handed, but some some what fragile, Toshio Arikawa (15-4, 13) it really interesting to follow. With Arikawa as the champion you assume there's a stoppage coming, you're just unsure if it'll be the champion scoring it, or being stopped himself. This coming Monday Arikawa will make his third defense of that title, and take on fellow puncher Ryota Yada (15-4, 12).
The 33 year old champion struggled early in his career, suffering an opening round loss on his debut, and then another 2 years later for have a record of 3-2 (3) after 5 bouts, amazing only one of those 5 bouts actually lasted more than a round. Since then he has gone 12-2 (9), suffering a third opening round loss along the way. With 3 opening round losses Arikawa certainly isn't the toughest fighter out there, but he is currently riding an impressive 7 fight winning run, with 6 straight stoppages. That current 7 fight run includes notable victories over Akinori Watanabe, Nobuyuki Shindo, Yasuhiro Okawa and Daisuke Sakamoto, avenging 2 of his career losses with those wins.
Arikawa really is a brutal puncher. His last 6 fights have all ended early and come a combined 30 rounds, with Shindo last 10 of those. His punches don't to score clean knockouts, but they do destroy opponents. That was seen last time out when he left Sakamoto a bloodied mess, with a huge cut around his left eye, and has been seen numerous other times where his heavy hands have simply broken opponents down. His hands are just that pure heaviness that hurt when any shot connects and at this level that is incredibly dangerous for his opponents.
Aged 28 Yada is the younger man, and is the less known of the two fighters taking part in this bout. Like Arikawa his early career was less than spectacular, losing 3 of his first 6 whilst bulking up from a Featherweight to a Light Welterweight. Despite that 3-3 start to his professional career Yada has since gone 12-1 (10). Sadly however his most notable win was a razor thin one last time out against Moon Hyon Yun, which sort of shows the level that Yada is fighting out. That win over Yun was Yada's third straight victory following his 2016 loss to Jayar Inson, who genuinely hammered Yada in a bout for a WBO Asia Pacific title bout.
In the ring Yada is a decent fighter at domestic level, but much of his record is padded with Thai visitors who have fallen over in the first 3 rounds. In fact 4 of his 12 stoppages have come against Thai's and a total of 6 wins have come against fighters with losing records, including 2 of his last 3. Yada can clearly punch at domestic level, as wins over Ryota Itoyama and Makoto Kawasaki show, but fighting against Arikawa is a huge step up in class.
We're expecting a fun fight here. Arikawa can obviously be hurt, and Yada has got power, but unless Yada can jump on his man and take him out early on we suspect Arikawa's power and consistency will be too much, breaking down the challenger toe secure his third successful defense.
The depth at Light Flyweight is really impressive right now, with so many world class fighters plying their trade at 108lbs. The depth is so extreme that a number of very good fighters get totally over-looked, one of whom is Japanese national champion Tetsuya Hisada (30-9-2, 19) who is having a great few years and really proving at the age of 33 that he deserves to be in the mix for a world title fight. To keep his dreams of getting that shot a reality however he will have to extend his domestic reign and on April 14th he'll be defending his title in a mandatory title fight against Koji Itagaki (18-11-3, 7).
The champion won the belt last year, defeating fellow veteran Kenichi Horikawa for the title which had been vacated by Ken Shiro. He went on to defend the title twice last year, beating former world title challenger Atsushi and youngster Takeru Kamikubo. In all 3 of his title victories Hisada has shown an amazing engine, getting better as the fights get one, consistent power and a real desire to prove himself. That desire has also seen him totally turn his career around, and just 3 years ago he was 21-9-2 and floundering as a professional.
The reason for a lot of Hisada's problems, before his current 9 fight winning run, was the fact he kept fighting at different weights. He regularly fought at Flyweight and even fought a few times at Super Flyweight. At those higher weights he has really struggled but at Light Flyweight his record is genuinely impressive at 8-2 (7), with those losses coming to Ryoichi Taguchi and Kenichi Horikawa, with the loss to Horikawa being avenged. Above Light Flyweight he is 22-7-2 (12). Even if the winning %'s aren't starkly different, 80% and 71%, the difference in his power at the lower weight is telling.
On paper Itagaki has the record of a journeyman, losing in 11 of 32 bouts. He has however been matched incredibly hard on the domestic and regional scene facing the likes of Yu Kimura, Suguru Muranaka, Palangpol CP Freshmart, Warlito Parrenas, Tatsuya Fukuhara, Rey Loreto and Kenichi Horikawa among others. Given that level of competition there is little surprise to see him having losses pile up, though unfortunately he has also come up short against weaker opponents, and at 34 it's unlikely he'll manage to turn things around and score a career best victory.
In the ring Itagaki is a tough battler. He's not much of a puncher, he's not quick and he's not a defensive master. He is however a gutsy fighter. He will take the fight to Hisada and refuse to give anything but his all. Sadly for him that won't be enough here and despite his determination and effort we can't see past a late stoppage for Hisada, who will make Itagaki look his 34 years.
It is worth noting Itagaki comes into this on the back of one of his best wins, a decision over Koki Ono, but he won't have enough to over-come Hisada here.
The 2017 Champion Carnival had a number of rematches, across the weight classes. This year however was a bit different and there hasn't been the same feeling of “seen this one before”. The one real exception is the 2018 Champion Carnival bout fort Super Flyweight title, with the bout pitting Go Onaga (28-3-4, 19) and Hiroyuki Kudaka (25-17-2,11) in their second bout, in the space of just over 4 months.
The two men battled last December in a bout to decide who would be facing Ryoichi Funai for the Japanese Super Flyweight title. That bout resulted in a very disappointing and frustrating 3rd round technical draw, due to a nasty headclash, with Kudaka being assured a shot at the title. Funai would then vacate the title, and turn his attention to fighting for a world title, and as a result we not get this rematch between the two veterans.
Of the two men it's Kudaka, who previously fought as Hiroyuki Hisataka, who is the more well known. He is a 4-time world title challenger, who has challenged Takefumi Sakata, Denkaosan Kaovichit, Hugo Fidel Cazares and Omar Andres Narvaez. As well as that world title experience he has also shared the ring with a genuine who's who of the lower weights, including Tomonobu Shimizu, Hussein Hussein, Panomroonglek Kaiyanghadaogym, Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Sonny Boy Jaro, Ryo Matsumoto, Takuya Kogawa, Keisuke Nakayama, Tetsuya Hisada, Mark John Yap, and Takuma Inoue.
Kudaka hasn't just mixed who's a who's who but often held his own thanks to his under-rated skill set, which is something his record really doesn't reflect. Kudaka's record suggests he's a bum, if we're being honest, but he has suffered losses due to the very tough competition he has been up against. Even against the best of that competition he has shown impressive toughness, stamina, work rate and aggression. He marches forward, sometimes quite crudely, throws a lot of leather and looks to make for exciting, fan friendly bouts. He's not the biggest puncher, mostly due to his flawed technique, but he is an imposing Super Flyweight who will take a lot of damage in in the hope of wearing down his opponent, or out working them, which makes him so tricky fighter.
At 32, and given his style, Kudaka doesn't have long left in his career. He already has over 300 rounds since debuting in 2002, but he will know this will probably be his final title fight, if he loses. Through his career so far he has come up short in bouts for the Interim Japanese title, WBC Youth title, WBA and WBO world titles, and WBC International title. In fact from his 8 previous title bouts, he has gone 1-7 winning only the WBC International Silver Flyweight Title.
Aged 37 Onaga is a man who has had a very frustrating career, and has become one of the forgotten fighters of the now top level Ohashi gym. He, like Kudaka, debuted back in 2003 and he was unbeaten in his first 16 bouts. That unbeaten run came to an end in a bout for a Japanese interim title, as he was stopped by future world champion Yota Sato. A second loss would come less than 2 years later, when he was beaten by Teiru Kinoshita in a bout for the Japanese Super Flyweight title. Interestingly that loss came following a technical draw with Kinoshita in a bout at the Strongest Korakuen, before the title was vacated by Sato for a world title fight. A little bit of history repeating here for Onaga.
The loss to Kinoshita was followed by a 10 fight winning run from Onaga, with wins over Reyan Rey Ponteras, Breilor Teran, Masafumi Otake, Jonas Sultan and Renoel Pael. Sadly for Onaga that run came to an end in 2016, when he was beaten by Rene Dacquel, and since then he has gone 1-0-2, though could well have lost a 2017 bout to Ryan Lumacad. In recent bouts Onaga hasn't good, and despite having a very good win over Jonas Sultan less than 3 years ago, there was a feeling that Onaga got a bit of luck from the judges.
We know Onaga wants to win a title before he retires. He has never managed to hide that desire, but we feel this shot has come several years too late. He has a chance, but we feel that his 37 year old legs won't be ale to keep up with the aggression or pressure of Kudaka. Both will be cautious not to have another head clash early in the bout, but Kudaka will still be the busier, more aggressive amn and the one who impresses the judges to take the win and the title.
One of the most bizarre endings to a bout last year saw Takenori Ohashi (15-4-2, 10) score a 5th round KO against Kosuke Saka to claim the Japanese Featherweight title. The finish to that bout came as Saka misheard the 10 second clacker, dropped his hands and turned away, giving Ohashi the chance to finish his man off, which he took. This coming Saturday Ohashi returns to the ring to make his first defense of the title, as he takes on mandatory challenger Taiki Minamoto (15-4, 11) in a really good bout on paper, between evenly matched but flawed fighters who can both bang and can both be hurt.
Like many fighters in Japan Ohashi began his career in 4 rounds and would move into competing in the Rookie of the Year, fighting in the East Japan Rookie of the year in 2010. It was in the Rookie competition that he suffered his first loss, being stopped in the East Japan semi-final by Coach Hiroto inside a round. The loss slowed Ohashi's rise but he bounced back and scored 3 straight wins before suffering back to back losses, including a defeat to Tatsuya Takahashi. Since then however he has gone 7-1-2 (4), with his only loss during that 10 fight run coming to the big punching Tsuyoshi Tameda.
In the ring Ohashi is pretty crude, but is very heavy handed, and he has stopped 3 of his last 4 foes. He can certainly be out boxed, out moved and blown away, as Tameda did just over 3 years ago, but if you let him get going he's a nightmare who will bring heavy hard hitting pressure, and be pretty unrelenting unless you can some how get his respect. Which isn't as easy as it sounds, and even the hard hitting Saka failed to get much respect from Ohashi before his mental lapse and subsequent stoppage loss.
The 27 year old challenger will be getting his second Japanese title fight, having previously challenged for the Japanese Super Bantamweight title where he came up short against Yukinori Oguni. His career has been very frustrating as he's really struggled to generate any career moment. He won his first 4 bouts, before losing inside a round to Yuki Iwasaki, a 3 fight winning run was then stopped by a pair of losses and he then struggled to string together any wins. That was until 2016, and he's now riding a 4 fight winning streak, the equal longest of his career.
Not only is Minamoto enjoying a winning run but he's also notched his 2 biggest wins recent, out pointing both Ryota Kajiki and Dai Iwai, with the win over Iwai earning him this title fight. Those wins showed he can do 8 rounds and win a decision, something he had never previously done. He's certainly showing signs of development, turning from a pure puncher to a more rounded boxer-puncher and adapting well. He will still have question marks over his chin, but recent results are really promising for the challenger..
Coming in to this both men are beatable, both men have questionable chins but both men are in good form. We're expecting a really explosive contest here and we can't imagine it going the distance, both men hit too hard and too questionable to last 10 rounds together. The edge in power and experience sides with Ohashi,but Minamoto looks to be the better boxer and the man with the slightly better durability. In bouts like this it's not always about who hits harder, but who sets their shots up better, and with that in mind we're going with Minamoto, who we suspect will create the distance counter more effectively than Ohashi,eventually stopping the champion to claim the title, and continue his good run of recent results.
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.