On May 26th we'll see former world title challenger Masahiro Sakamoto (13-2, 9) return to the ring following his 2018 loss to IBF Flyweight king Moruti Mthalane. The 28 year old Osakan will be dropping down from world level, but will look to remain a title level fighter, and will be up against fellow Japanese fighter Yusuke Sakashita (17-8-3, 12) in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title. A win for either man should secure them a WBO world ranking and potentially move them into the mix for a potential world title fight down the line.
The bout, as mentioned, will be Sakamoto's first since losing to Mthalane in an IBF title fight at the very end of 2018 That bout was Sakamoto's first shot at the big time, though he had had a decent career prior to fighting for a world title. He had won the Rookie of the Year in 2015, had given Sho Kimura problems in 2016 and won the WBO Asia Pacific title in 2017, stopping Kwanthai Sithmoreseng for the title. Sadly whilst he did win the regional title in 2017 he only defended it once, stopping veteran Pigmy Kokietgym in a less than taxing bout. He gave up the regional title to challenge Mthalane and will be looking to recapture it here, in what is set to be one of his toughest bouts.
Although Sakashita has more bouts to his name he is less notable than Sakamoto. He would struggle badly early in his career, falling to 2-2-1 after 5 bouts, though rebuilt by winning the 2011 Rookie of the Year. Some mixed success at domestic level eventually saw him getting a shot at Suguru Muranaka for the Japanese Flyweight title in 2014, and being knocked out by Muranaka, who landed a thunderbolt right hand to take out Sakashita in round 8. Since the loss to Muranaka Sakashita has been inconsistent to say the least, going 5-3-1, though is riding a 4 fight unbeaten rung including a TKO win last time out against former OPBF champion Keisuke Nakayama.
Whilst we did see Sakamoto look really limited against Mthalane one that we couldn't fault was his effort, his hunger and his drive. Technically he was poor, though in fairness Mthalane makes very good fighters look poor, but his work rate was impressive and his toughness also shone through. That will often be enough to win at this level, and we wouldn't be surprised to see him mixing at regional level for the rest of his career. It is worth noting however that Sakamoto is a smart guy and is, or at least was, studying at a high level suggesting he has an exit for the sport. Another damaging loss and it could well be the end of his career, walking away to participate in a safer occupation.
Sakamoto is open, aggressive, exciting and hard working. He's not got masses of power, he's not slick or particularly sharp, but at this type of level being able to bring a fight for 12 rounds is often enough.
Sakashita is also quite limited, but also makes for good fights. He's very much a a puncher, and in recent years has shown more and more belief in his power. He's never going to have the power to take him up to world level, but at domestic and regional level he hits hard enough really ask questions of opponents. Defensively he is open and he will take shots. He drops his guard a lot and is open to a good straight right hand, a solid left cross due to his defensive flaws. However he will also look to take opponents out and does have fun domestic fighters, win or lose.
When we have technically flawed but aggressive fighters facing off we do tend to expect fun action and we're expecting these two to put on a low key thriller. Both guys have edges they will look to make the most of, Sakamoto has the work rate and engine whilst Sakashita has the power. With that in mind we expect to see Sakamoto press the action, and eat counters as a result, but eventually break down Sakashita in the later rounds of a nail biting contest.
Peduction - Sakamoto TKO11
On Sunday 26th May Filipino skillster Ben Mananquil (17-1-3, 4) returns to Japan as he looks to make his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title, and takes on recent OPBF title challenger Yuki Strong Kobayashi (14-8, 8). The bout isn't likely to get much attention outside of Asia, but could move the winner into the higher reaches of the WBO Bantamweight rankings.
Of the two men the champion certainly enters the bout as the favourite. Just looking at his record he looks like he's on a different level to the challenger, and that's ignoring the level he's been fighting at. When we consider what Mananquil has actually done it seems even clearer that he should be regarded as the favourite. The 4 marks on his record have come to Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym, Jing Xiang, a loss and a draw, and Hinata Maruta. Those aren't bad marks to have against you, but he has also picked up good wins too, including victories against Glenn Porras, Jess Rhey Waminal and Tenta Kiyose, who he beat for this title back in February.
For those who haven't seen Mananquil he's a really talented boxer. Defensively he is smart, a good mover and knows his way around the ring. He's not a very handed puncher, but he does find home for shots very easily. He's a smart counter puncher, who's accurate with his shots on the back, making miss and tagging them in return. Notably he's a really small Bantamweight, and stands at just 5'4" but fighting out of the southpaw stance and using a good boxing brain he makes his diminutive height work for him, and and uses it to become a smaller target, drawing opponents in and making them make a mistake. It's rarely fun to watch Mananquil, but he is effective at what he does, and does make more natural Bantamweights give away their advantages.
On paper Yuki Strong Kobayashi isn't a great fighter. He has lost 8 of 22 pro bouts, in fact he has lost the same amount of bouts that he has won by stoppage. Unlike some fighters who have suffered early losses and built a career afterwards he has actually suffered consistent losses through his career, he was 8-4 after 12 bouts and has gone 6-4 since. What's notable however is that he is 1 4-1 in his last 5 and through his career he has mixed with great company. His last 4 defeats have come to regional title level fighters, in the form of Takahiro Yamamoto, Ye Joon Kim, Rey Megrino and Keita Kurihara. Those bouts have seen his chin being a major issue, with Yamamoto and Megrino both stopping him and Kurihara sending him down 4 times, but wins over Noboru Osato and Vincent Astrolabio are really notable and show there is quality there.
This is a bout where Kobayashi's chin is less likely to be an issue than it has been. Instead he'll be able to stick to his boxing without too much fear of what is coming back in his direction. In fairness he is a better boxer than this record suggests. He's aggressive, he comes forward and he tried to make life difficult for opponents with volume and body shots. There's very much a "I have to attack a lot to have a chance" look to him, but he's a fun go to watch in action, throwing lots of lead hooks to try and cramp the distance and let him work on the inside.
Stylistically this should be fun. The pressure of Kobayashi against the sweet boxing skills of Mananquil, the aggression of the challenger versus the defensive know how of the champion. It should be really fan friendly, though we expect the local fans in Osaka will be disappointed when their man loses a clear, but competitive, decision to the Filipino.
We're expecting the cleaner shots to come from Mananquil, who we think will run away with the bout in the final rounds. Kobayashi will be close through 8, but come up short after 12 rounds.
Prediction - Mananquil UD12
The Super Flyweight division is a really interesting one at the moment, with the division full of talent and interesting match ups. We, of course, have a WBO world title fight later in the year between Kazuto Ioka and Aston Palicte, but before that we'll actually see a WBO world title eliminator, as unbeaten Puerto Rican Jeyvier Cintron (10-0, 5) takes on Japan's Koki Eto (24-4-1, 19), with the winner assured a world title fight against the Ioka Vs Palicte winner.
Those who have followed the Asian scene over the last few years will likely have seen Eto in action, and will likely be aware that he is incredibly entertaining. He's not the best boxer out there, he's not the most technically skilled, or the most naturally talented, but he is a true warrior with a style that really does lead to exciting fights. Early in his career he was one of 3 fighting brothers, along with Taiki and Shingo Eto. Despite their being 3 brothers Koki was the only one to really have success, with Shingo and Taiki both losing in OPBF and JBC title bouts.
Koki's biggest claim to fame was his memorable WBA "interim" Flyweight title win in Thailand, beating Kompayak Porpramook in 2013 in a FOTY candidate. He would lose the belt in his first defense, being stopped by Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep, but bounce back by winning the OPBF Flyweight title in a war with Ardin Diale. The following year he moved up in weight and was relatively competitive with Carlos Cuadras in a WBC Super Flyweight title bout. Since that loss Eto has gone 7-0 (6), albeit at a low level with his best wins coming against Filipino domestic level fighters.
Although Eto isn't the most skilled he does have great energy, an incredible will to win, under-rated power and real desire. Sadly he is flawed, he is open, he does lack in terms of skills, and has questionable concentration levels. Also he's had an incredibly tough career and taken a lot of damage. Whilst we have joked in the past that Eto would trade knockdowns with himself whilst shadow boxing, there is air of truth to it, as he really is that wild at times and could be dropped any time, despite having a decent chin.
Whilst Eto is relatively well known for his exciting fights Cintron is probably better known for amateur exploits than his professional career. He is a 2-time Olympian, competing at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and a former standout of the Puerto Rican boxing scene. Although he failed to medal at the Olympics he did win a Silver medal at the 2012 Youth World Championships and a bronze at the 2014 Central American and Caribbean Games. He would also compete in the WSB before eventually signing with Top Rank and turning professional in 2017. His early bouts were, as we typically see in the west, nothing to talk about, but in his 7th bout he took a WBO Youth title, then quickly added the WBO Latino title to his collection. Cintron has since defended the Latino title twice, and raced up the WBO world rankings, leading to this bout.
With 10 bouts to his name it's fair to assume that Cintron hasn't faced many fighters of note, but his last 4 foes have a combined record of 70-13-3 and he has looked good in those bouts. Cintron has a style that clearly has good amateur foundations. His movement is light and looks natural, his punching is crisp, and his combinations look hurtful. He has a very nasty looking straight left hand, and gauges distances really with it.
We're expecting t0 see Eto be his usual aggressive self. He has a chance of catching Cintron early on and causing the Puerto Rican some issues in the first round or two. Sadly for Eto he's going to struggle as soon as Cintron gets his timing down, and from then on the Puerto Rican will land at will, really testing the bravery and resilience of Eto. Sadly we suspect the long and hard career of Eto will come back to bite him here.
Prediction TKO7 Cintron
This coming weekend is a crazy one, with 4 notable bouts involving Asian fighters taking place in the space of about 24 hours. The least interesting of those is a Japanese Light Flyweight title fight, which will pit defending champion Kenichi Horikawa (39-15-1, 13) against challenger Masashi Tada (13-5-3, 8), in what will be Horikawa's first defense, of his second reign, of the title.
The 39 year old Horikawa is an oddity in Japanese boxing. He's not only a true veteran at 39 years old but also has 55 bouts, an insane amount for a fighter in Japan, and 39 wins. He's been a professional for 19 years and despite a number of ups and downs his career really has been quite remarkable. When you think of 39 year old fighters, especially in the lower weights, you tend to think of them slowing down, having less success, and doing less, but Horikawa has bloomed in his 30's, twice claiming a national title after his 35th birthday and also claiming the WBO Asia Pacific title in the later stages of his career. It's also interesting to note the competition that Horikawa has faced during his career, sharing the ring with Akira Yaegashi, Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa, Tetsuya Hisada, 3 times in fact, Ryuji Hara, Noknoi Sitthiprasert, Yu Kimura, Shin Ono and Kenshiro. He's a veteran, but he's a veteran who has shared the ring with a true who's who.
Horikawa is a true battler. He's not the most skilled or smooth fighter, but he's aggressive, exciting, full of energy and really does know how to fight. He's crude, and could even be described as having a style that's a bit agricultural, but he does have some under-rated technical ability and speed. Horikawa looks to box his way inside, he looks to use his jab and footwork to get close, and that's usually where he works best with his hooks. He's crafty as well, and although he's had points deducted for it in the past, he knows how to use his head and how to wrestle on the inside.
Tada is no spring chicken himself, and turns 30 just days before the fight, but he doesn't have the miles that Horikawa has. In fact he only has 21 bouts to his name, with 101 rounds. He's been a professional for just over 10 years, and unlike Horikawa hasn't really made a name for himself. He's only had 1 previous title fight, losing in a Japanese Minimumweight title fight to Go Odaira way back in 2014. He followed that loss with a 3 year break, before going 2-1-2 since returning, including an opening round blow out loss to Masamichi Yabuki in late 2017. Not exactly the form of a title challenger.
Footage of Tada is relatively hard to come by, though thankfully we have his full bout with Kenji Ono from just over a year ago. The bout ended in a draw and, if we're being honest, neither man really shone. Ono seemed to still be feeling the effects from tough bouts with Jun Takigawa, Seigo Yuri Akui and Hanto Tsukada, and would lose his next bout after facing Tada. Tadda on the other hand seemed cautious, fighting with a reserved style, not wanting to take damage or risks. Tada was dragged into a war up close later in the bout, as Ono began to close the distance, and Tada struggled to really respond. It was those later rounds against Ono that probably give us the best sign of his this fight with Horikwa will go.
Horikawa will press, he will get close, he will work the hooks in the pocket, he will wrestle and he will throw a lot of leather. That leather will be thrown with bad intent and Horikawa will be giving Tada a real challenge, throwing down the gauntlet to fight. We think Tada will try to fight fire with fire, but will come up short, and will be out worked through out, with his toughness being relied up in the later stage, before he finally wilts.
Prediction TKO9 Horikawa
On May 18th the boxing world goes a little bit crazy, with a huge card in the UK, for the WBSS, as well as a big card in New York, which will feature WBC Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, a second notable UK card, this time in Stevenage, a decent card in Russia and a very good looking domestic card in Japan.
Although the Japanese show will, clearly, be overshadowed by the international action the card does promise fire works, and the main event could end up being one of the best bouts of the day. That bout is a Japanese Super Bantamweight title bout, pitting newly crowned champion Ryoichi Tamura (12-3-1, 6) against former champion Yusaku Kuga (17-3-1, 12), in a rematch of a great bout from 2017.
In their first bout Kuga entered as the champion, making his first defense. He would narrowly win a tough battle with Tamura but lost the belt a year later to Shingo Wake. Wake vacated the belt, with Tamura winning it this past January, with a clear decision against Mugicha Nakagawa. The rematch seemed to be something both men wanted and something that fans were also clamouring for.
The reason that fans, and us, are looking forward to this fight so much is the styles and mentality of the two men. They are both very, very similar. They are both aggressive, strong, powerful men. They have difference, which we'll get on to in a minute, but they have enough similarities to knew they are going to give us some insane action. The best thing is that their aggressive mindsets are shown every time they are in the ring, neither likes to back off, or back up. Both come to meet in the centre of the ring and both look to unload with shots.
The big difference between the two is their offensive work. For Kuga his offensive work is power based. His shots are heavy and hard, they are a touch slow, and he doesn't fight with 10 rounds of intensity, but every shot he lands is thrown with bad intentions. He's a puncher-brawler if you will, and as a result he knows he needs some distance to work with, trying to get full extension on his shots.
Tamura on the other hand is more a volume guy, with intense pressure. His shots are hard, but not thundering, instead he throws a lot of leather, and is a bit of a perpetual punching man. He has an incredible gas tank and refuses to slow down, knowing he has the toughness to take shots whilst throwing his own. If he had Kuga's power he would be a truly frightening fighter, combining power with work rate and toughness, but as it is he's still a nightmare even if he can't take fighters out with a single shot.
What both men really rely on is their toughness, and both take a great shot. Or at least they did. Kuga's yet to show any decline, but Kuga has currently got some question marks over his chin following his stoppage loss to Wake. Kuga was dropped from a huge left hand in that bout, then took some serious punishment late on, with Wake tagging Kuga with clean left hands until the towel came in. Although it's not proven, there is a chance that loss has done damage to his durability.
Although Kuga won the first fight between these two, we feel like the men have headed in a different direction since then. Kuga's loss suggests he might be on the slide, whilst Tamura's last performance was his best to date and showed that he's adding more wrinkles and more intensity. With that in mind we see this as being a likely case of revenge, and not repeat. We're expecting the fire of Tamura, seeking to avenge his loss, and the boost in confidence a fighter gets when they are champion, to be the difference maker.
Prediction UD10 Tamura
This coming Friday fight fans in Tokyo will get the chance to see hard hitting OPBF Bantamweight champion Keita Kurihara (13-5, 11) make his first defense, and go against hard hitting Filipino puncher Warlito Parrenas (26-9-1, 23). The bout, at Korakuen Hall, is expected to be a really explosive encounter, and could end up being one of the bouts of the month, given the styles and mentalities of the two men involved.
Aged 26 Kurihara is just coming into his prime and has really built well from a faltering start to his professional career. He won his first two bouts, back in 2011, but fell from 2-0 (2) to 3-4 (3) and it would have been easy to have written him at that point. Instead however he built himself up, filling his frame from a frail Flyweight up to that a powerful and strong Bantamweight. Since his poor start he has gone 10-1 (8), with his only loss coming to the now world ranked Hiroaki Teshigawara. In terms of notable wins Kurihara has beaten the likes of Sonin Nihei, Ryan Lumacad, Kazuki Tanaka and most recently Yuki Strong Kobayashi, in what was a controversial bout due to numerous officiating errors.
Although Kurihara began his career as a Flyweight, even making Light Flyweight a couple of times, he is now a fully fledged Bantamweight. He's a very confident fighter, who is incredibly heavy handed and looks to make every fight a bit of a shoot out. He can box, and has a solid if sometimes under-used jab, but he's mentality isn't to box, it's to break opponents down. His jab is used to help him get close, it's used to hurt people. and earn their respect, back them up and set up the distance for his devastating hooks and straight right. Last time out, against Kobayashi, Kurihara wasn't at his best but still managed to drop Kobayashi 4 times, on route to a unanimous decision. It was revealed that he wasn't 100% going into the bout, but still managed to have the power to drop a very decent regional level foe.
Whilst Kurihara is just coming into his prime the same can't be said of Parrenas, who is now 35 and has previously retired. The Filipino, best known for losing to Naoya Inoue in a WBO Super Flyweight world tile fight, is a 12 year veteran who has had a really fun career to follow. Win or lose he has delivered great action, and has proven to be a heavy handed, though someone what chinny, brawler. On paper it looks bad to see 9 losses against his name, but he has lost to the likes of Jonathan Taconing, Marlon Tapales, Naoya Inoue, Ryuichi Funai and Sho Ishida. That alone shows the level he's been competing at, at times. Sadly though he does typically come up short against the better opponents, and a lot of his wins against regional journeyman, Thai novices or Japanese domestic level fighters. He's dangerous, given his power, but is technically quite limited and flawed.
At his best Parrenas would be a nightmare for a fighter like Kurihara. A fighter who comes to have a shoot out with Parrenas, could always be in trouble. Now however Parrenas is on the slide, clearly, he's a long way removed from his best and is several years removed from a win of note. He's still a danger, but if he was to win here it would be just one last hurrah for an aging puncher.
We like both guys, but unfortunately we can't help but think this bout has come a few years too late for Parrenas, who we expect to see being stopped by the younger, fresher, hungrier Kurihara.
Prediction - Kurihara TKO6 in a thrilling fire fight
The Light Middleweight division will never be one where Japan excels, the fighters don't typically have the frame for the division and whilst there will be the occassional success story there won't be the depth in numbers needed to create global success on any sort of regularity. More single ones off, and fleeting moments of success. Despite the lack of global success of Japanese fighters at 154lbs they do tend to have a competitive domestic scene, with a good mix of well matched fighters, who although under worls class do make for intriguing match ups against each other, and it's been this case for a while.
We get one of those interesting match ups this coming Friday, with defending champion Nobuyuki Shindo (20-4-2, 8) making his second defense, and taking on mandatory challenger Hironobu Matsunaga (14-1, 8) in a really good looking clash at Korakuen Hall.
The 32 year old champion, now enjoying his second as a title holder after having previously held the Japanese Welterweight title, is a true veteran of the Japanese scene having debuted over a decade ago. As with most veterans there has been a number of ups and downs in Shindo's career. Those downs have included his 2008 loss to Suyon Takayama, in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, another loss to Takayama in 2015, in a Japanese title fight and his 2016 stoppage loss to Toshio Arikawa. As for highs they have included winning the Japanese Welterweight title in 2016, when he beat Yasuhiro Okawa, and winning the Light Middleweight title last year, when he beat Ryosuke Maruki. No matter the result Shindo has typically been in fun to watch fights, with his 2018 draw against Akinori Watanabe being a late contender for the Japanese fight of the year.
As a fighter Shindo a very tall, rangey and awkward fighter. He's a 6'1" southpaw, with a sharp jab, a good solid straight and surprisingly good inside work for someone to gangly. Despite being capable on the inside he is very much a fighter who wants to box at range, and it's always going to be difficult to prevent him from establishing his jab. It's also worth noting that although not a heavy handed fighter he is a clean puncher, and his shots do do damage, as seen by incredibly swollen Watanabe's face last time out.
The challenger is no spring chicken himself, at the age of 31, but he only made his debut in 2012 and certainly doesn't have the hard miles on the clock that Shindo has. Whilst he hasn't been in many wars he has had a pretty solid, and criminally under-rated, career so far. In 2014 he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year, losing to Yuki Beppu in 2 rounds, and since then has reeled off 8 straight wins, including victories over Sanosuke Sasaki, Je Ni Ma, Patomsuk Pathompothong and Koshinmaru Saito, beating both Ma and Pathompothong on the road.
Matsunaga, like Shindo, is a southpaw, but is a short one at just 5'8". His style is based around boxing his way inside, using his jab to cut the distance and then landing his heavy left hand. He targets the body well, and does have solid, thudding power on his shots. Sadly for him his lack of size will be a major problem here and he will need to show something new to cut the distance against the talented and rangy champion. If he can slip the jab of Shindo and land his hands go up close then there is a great chance for him to break down the champion.
We've seen so many fun Japanese bouts at 154lbs that it's weird to think the division doesn't get more attention. Sadly this means many great bouts do get over-looked and over-shadowed, and we're expecting that to be the case against here, with Matsunaga's pressure getting the best from Shindo. We do however expect Shindo's experience at the top level and size to be the different and to take him to a narrow, and nail biting, victory.
Prediction - MD10 Shindo
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.