This coming Sunday a lot of attention will be focused on Osaka, as we get the long awaited WBC Light Flyweight world title bout between Kenshiro Teraji (17-0, 10) and Tetsuya Hisada (34-10-2, 20), around 4 years after they were first supposed to fight. That however isn't the only bout of note in Japan this weekend, in fact over in Okinawa around the same time we get the chance to see a very notable WBO Asia Pacific title fight between a former world champion and youngster looking to secure a a massive win, in just his 4th professional bout.
That bout is the one between former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (17-1-1, 17), the current WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight champion, and highly touted prospect Ryosuke Nishida (3-0, 1), who is looking to build on a huge win from late 2020. The bout lacks the allure of the world title fight in Osaka, but is certainly not a bout that should be ignored, and could end up actually being the more compelling bout when all is said and done.
It's needless to say that Diago Higa is the more well known fighter. In fact there was a time, not too long ago, that he was among the most spoken about Japanese fighters in the sport. He was a steam train early in his career, blowing away fighters in quick fashion and winning his first 15 bouts by stoppage. Along the way he took notable scalps, including Kongfah CP Freshmart, who he beat in Thailand for the WBC Youth title, Ardin Diale, who he beat for the OPF title, Juan Hernandez Navarrete, who he beat for the WBC title and Moises Fuentes. In many ways he looked like the Japanese Roman Gonzalez, with the Japanese press dubbing him "The Romagon of Okinawa" after Gonzalez.
Sadly Higa's stoppage run came to an end in 2018 when he lost in 9 rounds to Cristofer Rosales after coming in overweight for a defense of the WBC Flyweight title. That loss, and the subsequent suspension for missing weight from the JBC, saw Higa stay away from the ring for almost 2 years, before returning in early 2020 and beating Jason Buenabora in 6 rounds. That bout was followed by Higa soon leaving the Shirai Gushiken Sports Gym, who had guided his entire career, and signing up with the newly established Ambition gym. It was thought a new gym would reinvigorate Higa, who had admitted his motivation for the sport was waning. Sadly for him his first bout as an Ambition gym fighter didn't end well, with Higa only managing a draw as he met former amateur rival, and close personal friend, Seiya Tsutsumi. It seemed that a forced move from Flyweight to Bantamweight was going to be a problem for Higa, with the new weight not playing well with his style. At least that's what we though until the very end of 2020 when he demolished Yuki Strong Kobayashi in 5 rounds to claim the WBO Asia Pacific title and looked like the Higa of old.
At the moment it's still unclear how the forced move up in weight for Higa will work longer term. He looked brilliant against Kobayashi, not quite his best but still a brilliant and destructive performance, but he looked poor against Buenaobra and certainly didn't look his best against Tsutsumi. He also didn't look great when he took part in an exhibition against Naoya Inoue, when Inoue seemed to want to teach Higa a bit of a lesson at times. It's going to be interesting to see how he develops at the weight, and whether he has the tools, and size, needed to be a success here. If he does he'll be a brilliant addition to an already fantastic weight class.
Whilst Higa is a big name, a well established fighter and someone who fans will have heard of if they follow the lower weights, the same cannot be said of Ryosuke Nishida. In fact Nishida is one that only hardcore fans of the Japanese scene will know anything about. Though they will likely tell you, as we will, that's a hidden gem of a fighter who has already been hugely impressive in his 3 fight, 15 round, professional career.
Nishida turned professional in 2019, following a strong amateur career, and his team did the usual big talk, claiming that no one in Japan wanted to fight him and he had to debut in Thailand as a result, where he blew out Sakol Ketkul. Around 10 weeks after his professional debut he made his Japanese debut and dominated Filipino journeyman Pablito Canada, taking a very wide decision win over 6 rounds. Sadly his rise through the ranks was slowed in 2020 due to Covid19, which decimated the Japanese boxing calendar for the year, but in December he squeezed in a fight and put on a brilliant performance against former world title challenger Shohei Omori. He entered that bout as a big under-dog but put in a performance not befitting a then 2-0 (1) prospect. In fact if anything he looked every bit as good as his team had told us he was.
In the ring Nishida couldn't be much different to Higa if he tried. Whilst Higa is a short, powerful, pressure fighter, with a major offensive mindset, who has had to move from 112lbs to 118lbs Nishida really is the opposite. He is a tall, southpaw, who is moving in down in weight, and focuses on boxing and moving, using his educated feet, his amateur pedigree being clear every time he steps in the ring. He has quick hands, good movement and he boxes with his brain, not his brawn.
Although there is only limited footage of Nishida to get a read on him as a fighter, with his debut not surfacing and being pretty pointless to scout him off regardless, it's hard to say how good he really is, but it's clear that he is, at the least, very good. He's patient, has good timing, he's composed, smart and a sharp fighter. His jab and footwork are really good and in the bout with Omori he looked like a man with much, much more to offer. In fact in the later rounds, when he already had a comfortable lead, he seemed to want to put the cherry on the top of his performance and stop Omori. With that in mind we suspect his stamina is going to be good, he had energy to burn late on. One worry about him however, is how his body reacts to moving down to 118lbs, having fought all of his bouts at, or around, 122lbs so far. If he can make the weight with no issues he could be a real handful. Not just for Higa, but for a lot of very good fighters.
If Nishida makes the 118lb limit without taking much out of himself, and there's a good chance he can, then this is going to be a real test of character for Higa. Nishida is the type of fighter who we feel has the footwork, jab and timing to frustrate Higa, round after round. We've not seen his chin really being tested, though he was caught a few times by Omori and took them well, but if he can take a good shot from Higa he has a real chance off scoring an upset. That will be an even bigger chance if Hishida, moving down, has some more pop on his shots.
Higa will, obviously, be strongly favoured, and many who haven't seen Nishida will feel he's being thrown to the wolves. In reality however he's the latest Japanese fighter to show a willingness to take risks early and want to advance his career quickly. He will come into this bout as a very live underdog. It's a huge step up for him, but it's certainly one he has a chance in.
In regards to how the bout will be. We see Higa barrelling forward, it's how Nishida deals with that that will decide the bout. Higa is what he is. A strong, pressure fighter with lovely combinations, but a poor defense, and a significant size disadvantage at Bantamweight. If Nishida can cope with the pressure he'll win here however that's a huge if, and many will suspect he'll fold under the Higa pressure.
We are believers that a good big guys beats a good little guy, and with that in mind we're going with the surprise upset here. We feel Nishida will struggle at times, but manage to, just, do enough to take the win, using his size as a major tool.
Prediction - UD12 Nishida
When we think of Japanese boxing we tend to think about the men at the lightest end of the scales, the Minimumweights through to Bantamweights. Rather unfortunately however we, as fight fans, tend to forget that Japanese title bouts from Welterweight to Middleweight are often some of the most entertaining contests we get to see. Surely a lot of the Japanese fighters in those weights fail to make a mark at the highest level but they do, often, match up really, really well and give us some thrilling action bouts.
This coming Wednesday we're expecting another brilliant Japanese title match up in those weight ranges as Japanese Light Middleweight champion Hironobu Matsunaga (17-1, 11) takes on unbeaten challenger Rei Nakajima (4-0). On paper the bout doesn't scream anything special, but beneath the records are two men who should make for an excellent match up, and styles that should gel brilliantly to give us a compelling contest.
Of the two men it's clearly the champion who is the more well known. The 33 year old Matsunaga has been a professional since 2012, and first began to make waves in 2014, when he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year, losing in the final at Welterweight to Yuki Beppu. Since then he has really built his name and reputation. He has gone 12-0 (8), scored wins in Thailand and Korea, won the WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese titles at 154lbs and become one of the leading faces of the Japanese scene at 154lbs, along with Takeshi Inoue. More than any of his achievements however he has also become a fan favourite thanks to his aggressive style, which is built around a lot of pressure, combinations and using under-rated speed and movement. He's not the best boxer out there but he's a fantastic fighter with a real tenacity to his boxing.
Since winning the Japanese Light Middleweight title in 2019, when he stopped Nobuyuki Shindo, Matsunaga has made two very credible defenses, stopping both Koki Koshikawa and Yuto Shimizu. Those wins have seen him extend his current winning streak to 12 and his current T/KO run to 6. They have also helped him prove his tenacious hunger and desire to be the best in Japan, and there's a genuine shout that his recent form has seen him over take the likes of Takeshi Inoue, whose last impressive domestic win came almost 3 years ago.
Whilst Matsunaga is well known, and has been on the radar of Japanese fans for the better part of a decade the same cannot be said of 22 year old Rei Nakajima, who only turned professional in 2019. Despite that Nakajima did manage to prove he was a legit prospect in his last two bouts, putting on a virtuoso performance against Thai veteran Komsan Polsan before scoring a break out win in 2020 against former OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Middleweight champion Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa. In just 4 bouts the 22 year old has proven he belongs at title level, and could well have the potential to be the best in divisional domestically.
Whilst Matsunaga is very much a come forward pressure fighter the challenger is pretty much the opposite. In fact Nakajima is one of the true pure boxers of the Japanese scene. He's a diminutive Light Middleweight, standing at around 5'5", but uses his lack of stature in his favour, making himself smaller and being elusive, even whilst standing right in front of an opponent. He's quick, sharp with an excellent boxing brain, often drawing mistakes to counter. We've seen him show no fear against the dangerous Hosokawa and he has proven to be as slippery as an eel, both on the inside and the outside.
Whilst it can often be easy to think Japanese fighters rely on their toughness and determination that isn't something we've ever seen from Nakajima. Instead he relies on his technical ability, his boxing brain and his high level understanding of the ring. It's what makes him so different to many Japanese fighters, particularly at 154lbs where toughness and physicality often play a major role.
Given the styles of the two men involved this is actually a really hard one to call.
There is every chance that Matsunaga will manage to get up close, using his experience, bullying Nakajima around and breaking down the challenger. We've seen him do it to bigger men than himself and this is a rare fight where he will be the naturally bigger man. In fact he'll have around 3" height advantage whilst usually he's giving away 3", if not more, himself. He'll be in there looking to land body shots, take Nakajima's legs away and grind him down in the later rounds.
Likewise there is also a chance that the speed, movement, ring crafty and skills of Nakajima will neutralise the pressure of Matsunaga, and he'll walk him on to shots. It's unlikely that Nakajima has the power to take the champion out, but he has the movement to frustrate him, and rack up rounds. If he does that for 7 or 8 rounds there's a chance that he'll have mentally beaten Matsunaga to the point of no return, and the champion will simply not have the energy needed to turn things around.
Whilst we have really, really, enjoyed Matsunaga's rise through the ranks, and it really has been brilliant to watch. We do see him up against a stylistic nightmare here, and someone who will use his pressure against him really well. We suspect the sharp shooting, counter punching brilliance of Nakajima will see him racking up the points, winning the rounds, and doing more than enough to convince the judges he deserves the decision and the title. He'll have to work for it, and work hard, but we see Nakajima doing enough to take home the W.
Prediction - UD10 Nakajima
On April 21st we'll see Japanese Youth Minimumweight champion Kai Ishizawa (7-1, 7) returning to the ring for his first bout of 2021, and his first defense of that Youth title, that he has now held for well over 2 years. In the opposite corner to the exciting champion will be unheralded challenger Yuni Takada (8-6-2, 3), who really is a massive under-dog coming in to this.
For those who haven't seen Ishizawa you have been missing out on one of the most exciting and destructive Minimumweights on the planet. The 24 year old from Kanagawa is an all pressure fighter with seriously spiteful power, which will easily carry up to Flyweight without any issues. He's a come forward fighter, with under-rated defense, real hunger and a style that is developing fight by fight and he gets moulded by the folk at the MT Gym in Japan, who also guide the career of Junto Nakatani.
As an amateur Ishizawa went a rather under-whelming 28-14 but turned professional aged 20 and quickly caught the eye, winning his first 4 bouts in a combined 10 rounds, including a very good win over Tatsuro Nakashima. In November 2018 he showed his desire and toughness to break down Yuga Inoue in the 6th round, despite being out boxed for swathes of the fight, to claim the Japanese Youth title, though sadly really just sat on the title whilst chasing bigger things. He was on the verge of bigger things in 2019 when he competed in a Japanese eliminator against Masataka Taniguchi, and even dropped Taniguchi, but he was unable to defeat his countryman who took a clear decision over the youngster. Sadly Covid19 then delayed his ring return and he was inactive for 13 months as a result, before bouncing back last October with a win over veteran Masashi Tada.
Aged 24 Ishizawa is at the age where Youth champions are essentially forced to vacate the title and this will likely be his one and only defense before restarting his pursuit of the senior title later in the year. With a bit more maturity under his win and a few more bouts we suspect he will be ready for a rematch with Taniguchi sooner rather than later.
As for Takada he's had a very mixed career. The 22 year old debuted in 2015, winning his first 2 bouts before going 3-2-1 after 6 bouts. From there on he seemed to come undone every time he had any momentum going, in what has been a very blotchy 10 fight run. At his best he can be a very capable fighter and his win against Shunsuke Isa was good proof of that, as was his draw with Hizuki Saso. Sadly though his best is only that of a "capable" fighter, and at times he has been a lot less impressive than that. He has also never really tested any of his better opponents, including Toshiki Kawamitsu, who stopped him in 2019, and Norihito Tanaka, who took a decision over him last year.
Takada has got the tools to ask some questions. He has hunger, he has decent movement, under-rated toughness, and a very decent hand speed. Though the problem is he doesn't have anything that really stands out about him. He uses a lot of energy, lacks power and has been stopped in 3 of his 4 losses. Against Ishizawa they are major issues for a fighter.
Early on we expect to see Takada trying to establish his jab, and his jab is the quicker jab of the two men. Sadly though we suspect he'll struggle to really establish himself, and will instead find himself under pressure form Ishizawa. Ishizawa will back up Takada with his own stiff jab, eventually working his way inside and then breaking down the challenger, who will have no answer. Sadly for Takada we saw what Toshiki Kawamitsu's pressure and work rate did to him in 2019, where Takada had a good start but was broken down and saved by the referee. We expect something similar here. But quicker.
If Takada survives 4 rounds it'll be a moral victory for him.
Prediction - TKO4 Ishizawa
On April 8th we'll see a really interesting Japanese Welterweight title bout between a huge punching champion and a teak tough challenger, who should be able to put on a genuine show!
The bout in question will see Keita Obara (23-4-1, 21) making his first defense of the title, as he takes on "reimported boxer" Shoki Sakai (25-11-2, 13), who has fought much of his career in Mexico and the US. The two men have had very, very, very different careers, but together they should make for something of a special fighter.
Of the two men Obara is the well proven and more established fighter. Aged 34 he's at the back end of his career but hasn't actually taken all that much punishment during his 28 fight career. In fact he's only fought 146 professional rounds since his 2010 debut. That is in part due to his style, which is built around his out-side boxing and power. He hurts fighters when he lands and has 21 stoppages in 23 wins, and at Japanese and Oriental level he tends to not need to land too many shots to finish bouts. Sadly though he has also shown a questionable chin and has been stopped in 3 of his 4 losses, including a loss on his 2010 debut to Kazuyoshi Kumano and in a 2016 world title fight against Eduard Troyanovsky.
At his best Obara is a very, very good boxer-puncher. Not world class as such, but a good "top 30" type of guy. He has very good power, decent stamina, good size, but he lacks in terms of his durability and his speed. He's not slow as such, but he's quite deliberate and technical, which makes him look slower than he really is. At Japanese level he has looked almost untouchable since losing on debut, and since then he has never lost against a fellow Japanese fighter. In fact his record against Japanese fighters is 15-1 (14), and he has genuine dominated the scene at 140lbs and 147lbs.
During his long career Obara has won Japanese and OPBF titles at Light Welterweight and the WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese titles at Welterweight. The last of those titles was the Japanese Welterweight title which he won in February 2020, when he stopped Yuki Nagano. That win is, notably, his most recent bout and is now well over a year ago. It's going to be very interesting to see what the 34 year old Obara, with more than a year of ring rust, is going to be like here.
Although somewhat new to Japanese fans Shoki Sakai is no spring chicken himself. He's 30 years old and has been a professional since 2010. Unlike most Japanese boxers however he really made his name outside of his homeland, and carved out the first few years fighting only in Mexico, in fact his first 15 bouts were all in Mexico and 24of his first 25 were in the country. From 2016 however he began to frequent rings in the US, where he was matched against some fairly notable names such as Ashley Theophane, Cameron Krael, Eddie Gomez, Alexis Rocha and Gor Yeritsyan. He was used as a bit of a gatekeeper, testing highly regarded prospects, and often being a very credible test due to his toughness and desire. He lacked the skills to beat the top prospects, but gave them all a tough time and lasted the distance with them all, making them all work incredibly hard.
In 2020, after 36 bouts as a professional, Sakai made his Japanese debut and has now won 2 bouts in Japan, beating 2017 Rookie of the Year winner Hironori Shigeta and current Japanese Youth champion Takeru Kobata. Two very decent domestic wins and two wins that showed what Sakai could do in the sport.
As a fighter Sakai is a pretty basic pressure fighter, who can box a bit but really relies on his pressure. Given his skillset however that's a tactics that works for him. He's technically limited, but strong, tough and has a good work rate. With that in mind he uses what he has. He comes forward, looks to get inside and works up close. He's not the quickest, sharpest, or particularly light on his feet, but he's a tough lump who gets in the ring and looks to have a fight. Sadly for him he does take a lot of punishment, and in his 38 bouts he has already had 241 professional rounds and some of those have been tough rounds, such as the 8 spent with Gor Yeritsyan.
When it comes to this bout there are a lot of interesting questions. For example what is the lengthy lay off going to do to Obara? He may have aged over night, he may have been caught by father time, or he may just be a bit rusty. In fact at the age of 34 is Obara now at the end of his career? Can he even get up for a fight like this? At On the other hand can Sakai take the power of Obara? Can Sakai get past the very good jab of Obara? In fact can Sakai's style even have success against Obara given his somewhat flat footed approach in the ring?
Sadly for Sakai we suspect he'll be in trouble here. We don't see him getting close with the regularity he needs to really be a test for Obara. In fact we expect the power and straight shots of Obara too get Sakai's respect early and as the bout goes on Sakai will be taking more and more punishment, as he tries over and over to cut the distance. Up close Sakai will have some success, but Obara will hold, spoil and force the referee to split them, allowing him to get back behind his jab.
We expect to see Sakai being well behind going into the second half of the bout and taking more risks, before finally being stopped. Potentially by his corner.
Prediction - TKO9 Obara
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.