One of the best things about Japanese boxing right now is the Featherweight division, which is red hot with talent, and has a brilliant variety of styles among it's top fighters. You have pure boxers, like Reiya Abe and Ryo Sagawa, you have warriors like Tsuyoshi Tameda and Daisuke Watanabe, you have boxer-punchers, like Hinata Maruta, and emerging prospects, like Jinki Maeda and Ryuto Owan. The division in Japan is bursting at the seams, even if international fans aren't really paying it much attention. Yet. It's inevitable that at least one of the top Japanese Featherweights will make a mark at the top level in the coming years, and it's a case of when, and not if, we see one of them fighting for, and potentially winning, a world title.
The division is set for another huge bout in Japan on May 21st as OPBF champion Satoshi Shimizu (9-1, 9) takes on WBO Asia Pacific champion Musashi Mori (12-0, 7), in a bout to unify the two regional titles in the division.
As with so many Featherweight bouts in Japan recently, the bout is not just a really good one, between two very solid fighters, but also a match up between two men who are very talented, and have very different styles. It's the mix of styles that makes such a compelling match up, and will see both men being forced to prove what they can do against a fighter who will ask them very serious questions.
Of the two men the more well known is Satoshi Shimizu, 2-time Olympian who won bronze at the 2012 London games, losing in the semi final to Luke Campbell. He had hoped to compete at the 2016 Olympics, but after failing to qualify turned professional, at the advanced age of 30. The idea, originally, was to fast track him. After all he had been a stellar amateur with 150 amateur wins, and an Olympic gold medal. The fast tracking worked well early on, and he won the OPBF Featherweight title in his 4th professional bout, just just 13 months after his debut and raced out to 8-0 (8) whilst beginning to edge towards a world ranking. And then he flirted with the Super Featherweight division and got badly beaten by Joe Noynay in 2019, with Shimizu then requiring a long break from the ring and staying out of action for a year, in part to his injuries and in part due to Covid19. When he finally got back in action last year, he was already 34 and the clock was ticking on his career.
Since turning profession in 2016 there have been some really obvious things about Shimizu that can't be denied. Firstly he's not actually a very good boxer. He's clumsy, he's slow, he's wide with his punches and he does almost everything wrong. There is nothing about him that screams "former amateur stand out". Secondly he punches like a mule. Shimizu is a horrible boxer, but a brutal puncher, and when he lands clean fighters feel it. In fact when he lands just glancing blows opponents feel it. Thirdly, he's awkward as all hell. He's rangy a 5'11", southpaw at Featherweight. Add that to his power and he is just a nightmare to fight, even with all his technical flaws. Sadly at 35 it's now or never for Shimizu, and it's hard to imagine him ever making good on the promise he had when he turned professional.
Aged just 21 Musashi Mori is at the opponent end of his career, though is already an established young fighter who is rapidly rising through the ranks, and moving towards a world title fight. Like Shimizu he debuted in 2016, though did so as a 17 year old, in a 4 rounder, without any hype or noise around him. The following year he went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year, beating Zirolian Riku in the All Japan final in what was Mori's Korakuen Hall debut, at Super Featherweight. Following that win big things were predicted of the youngster but a genuine scare against Allan Vallespin saw some doubt creep in about the youngster. Rather than question his potential he did something smart, and realised he wasn't a natural Super Featherweight, and dropped to Featherweight instead. Since moving down in weight he has really found himself scoring 2 wins against Richard Pumicpic, winning the WBO Asia Pacific title in the first of those, as well as notching notable defenses against Takuya Mizuno and Tsuyoshi Tameda. As well as his impressive resume for such a young novice he has also been working with the amazing Ismael Salas, who has really helped develop Mori's boxing ability, brain and style, developing him into an excellent young fighter.
In regards to how Mori fights, he's an intelligent boxer, with some snap on his shots. Over the last few years he has toned down his aggression, used his jab a lot more, and really developed in to one of the best counter punchers in Japan. He's accurate, has quick hands, very good footwork and seems comfortable on the inside as well as at mid-range. Defensively there is still work to do, but that has been the area where has really improved so much from his early days, and it's clear that Salas has taught him a lot about defense, and how to control range. Sadly for him he does lack in terms of 1-shot power and physicality, and it's clear that a lot of fighters at Featherweight could bully him around, but he has enough sting on his shots to get respect from opponents, and lands his shots very clean, often as counters with opponents walking on to them.
In terms of abilities, Mori is the much, much better boxer. He's more polished, he's smoother, he's lighter on his feet, he moves better, and his jab is significantly better. If this was all about boxing ability, and just boxing ability, Mori wouldn't have any problems winning. Of course boxing is so much more than just skills and when you carry dynamite in your hands, as Shimizu does, this care never going to be easy. Especially given the awkwardness, reach and size of Shimizu, and the way he throws from some truly angles that fighters can't really prepare for.
We expect to see Mori showing a lot of respect to Shimizu early on. And we mean a lot of respect, but do so whilst picking and poking at Shimizu. Trying to rack up rounds without taking risks. As for Shimizu the key isn't to try and box, but to time Mori coming in, and tagging him before he can get to close. To have success Mori needs to work quickly, use his speed, and if he gets inside he needs to work up close, smothering the power of Shimizu in the process. If he can do that we'll see him chipping away at Shimizu round by round and establishing a clear lead on the scorecards.
Shimizu will always be dangerous, right through to the final bell, and he could turn the bout around at any moment, with a wild looping left hand, or wide right hook. That's a real danger that Mori will need to be wary of, even if he feels in control. If Mori can, however, avoid eating eating too many shots clean we see him taking a clear, and wide, decision over the 35 year old, unifying the two regional titles and establishing himself as one of the leading Japanese contenders at Featherweight, along with Hinata Maruta.
Prediction - UD12 Mori
On May 21st we're expecting to see the Ohashi Gym return to Korakuen Hall, for their next show. The show will see several interesting bouts on it, including a really good one for the OPBF Bantamweight title, between two men with a point to prove.
That match up will see the unbeaten Kazuki Nakajima (9-0-1, 8) battle the once beaten Kai Chiba (13-1, 8), with the two fighting for the title that was recently vacated by Takuma Inoue, a stable of Nakajima's.
On paper this isn't a bout that will get too much attention. Although both men are very good fighters, neither man has really connected with a wider audience yet, and that's despite the fact both are explosive fighters who could make for some really good fights. In fact this one should be really good it's self, and has the potential to turn into an explosive shoot out.
If pushed, the more well known fighter is probably Nakajima, albeit not by a huge amount. The 27 year old Ohashi promoted fighter was a stellar amateur who debuted in 2017 and has, for the most part, been destructive puncher. He is naturally heavy handed southpaw, with dynamite in his straight left hand. In just 10 bouts he has 5 opening rounds wins, including stoppages against good domestic fighters Kenichi Watanabe and Jin Minamide. He has also shown an ability to keep his power late, stopping Yoshihiro Utsumi in round 7 and breaking down Takuya Fujioka over 6 rounds.
Although very heavy handed, and we do legitimately mean heavy handed. Nakajima is also a very rigid, stiff fighter. His footwork is predictable to say the least, his output isn't the best, he struggles to cut the range, and can be outboxed by a smart fighter, as he was in 2020 when he fought Seiya Tsutsumi in the God's Left Bantamweight title final, in a bout we thought he was lucky yo get a draw in. If a fighter looks to take him on head to head they will be punished, but if a fighter boxes, they can confuse him and out point him. The game plan has been shown by Tsutsumi, who really was very unlucky, and it just takes someone to build on that.
Whilst we suspect Nakajima is more well known, that's not to say that Chiba is an obscure fighter, at least not to those who follow Japanese boxing. He's a 28 year old who debuted in 2015 and was getting some real momentum in his career in 2017, following back to back wins over Ikuro Sadatsune and Ryo Matsubara. He headed in 2018 as one to watch, and was then shocking upset by Brian Lobetania of the Philippines. That loss really was a huge one for Chiba who struggled to re-discover his footing, narrowly getting past Keisuke Tabuchi on his return and not quite looking like the force he once seemed to be. That was until last December when he schooled the usually exciting Haruki Ishikawa and put his hat in the ring for a title of some kind.
Early in his career Chiba looked like an offensive monster, and really was aggressive, heavy handed and came forward a lot. He wasn't a brawler, but was a very offensively minded fighter. An aggressive boxer-puncher. The loss to Lobetania seemed to change him though and now he focuses more on his boxing, more on his defense and uses his footwork and jab a lot more effectively to set up his power punches. It's one of those cases where a loss has actually improved a fighter technically. He's less exciting than he used to be, a lot less reckless, but still boxes to his strengths, and the loss was a blessing ins disguise.
In terms of boxing ability we would go as far as to say Chiba is the better boxer. He moves around the ring with a lot more fluidity than Nakajima, he uses his feet better and looks a more natural boxer. Sadly however boxing ability by it's self isn't the be all and end all. Sometimes the key to winning are the other facets a fighter has, and in this case we believe the power of Nakajima will be the difference maker.
At some point in the 12 rounds we can't help but think Nakajima will land clean, and when that happens we expect to see Chiba really feel it, and get shaken, as he did against Lobetania. Chiba might have improved, significantly, from that bout but Nakajima is also a much better fighter than Lobetania will ever be.
We expect to see Chiba winning the early rounds, but sooner or later he would hold his feet for a moment too long, and Nakajima will land one of his missile like left hands. That will shake Chiba, who we suspect will respond with bombs of his own, catching Nakajima but not having the effects he would hope to have. When that happens the end will be nigh and we suspect Nakajima will get the better of it, and will force a stoppage of Chiba. Likely whilst Chiba is up on the scorecards. Perhaps comfortably so.
Prediction - TKO7 Nakajima
When we think about fights that get us excited there is a general rule of thumb. Do we have two guys with styles that should gel? If so are those styles aggressive and exciting? If the answer to both of those questions is "yes" then we get super excited about what we could end up seeing, knowing perfectly well that we may well get something a little bit special.
With that in mind we're expecting something special on May 19th when we get the chance to see OPBF Welterweight champion Ryota Toyoshima (13-2-1, 8) take on WBO Asia Pacific champion Yuki Beppu (21-1-1, 20) in a brilliant unification bout, which could a genuine FOTY contender. Even if neither man is particularly well known outside of Japan. In fact it wouldn't be the first FOTY contender for either man, with both well known for fan friendly bouts, their limitations and their aggressive in ring mentalities. It will also be a bout where both men are wound a little bit tighter than usual, following the fact this bout was delayed, having originally been planned for May 5th.
Aged 30 Beppu is the older man, though is certainly not an older fighter by any stretch. In fact his 23 combined bouts have only lasted 64 rounds, and his career, which started in 2012, has not been a punishing one. At all. Beppu debuted in late 2012 and began to build some traction in 2013, before winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014, stopping future Japanese Light Middleweight champion Hironobu Matsunaga in 2 rounds in the final, to record his 7th straight TKO victory. He would extend that stoppage run up to 14 straight wins before fighting to a draw, in 2017, with the tough Charles Bellamy. After a few more blow out wins he suffered his first loss, in a Japanese elimiator against Yuki Nagano and, and then scored his first decision win in 2019, when he out pointed Jason Egera. It was however his December 2019 bout that put him on the boxing map, as he defeated Ryota Yada in an instant classic. That bout saw Beppu being dropped 5 times, but stopping Yada in round 10 to claim the WBO Asia Pacific Welterweight title. Sadly he's not been in the ring since that title win.
At his best Beppu is a scarily heavy handed boxer-puncher. Defensively he's not the best, and given Yada dropped him 5 times his chin is very questionable, but his heart, determination and will to win is incredible. His footwork is under-rated, his movement is also better than people give him credit for and he is certainly a more rounded boxer than most realise. Given how many times he got up against Yada it's clear he's a very determined fighter, and a determined fighter, with fight changing power is never an easy out for anyone. Sadly however he is a man who is easy to hit and despite being a power puncher he is a naturally smaller Welterweight, which is likely to be a real issue for him here, but not something that he can't, potentially, over-come.
Aged 25 Ryota Toyoshima is a man who debuted in 2014 and didn't really managed to make much noise early on. He fought to a draw on debut and suffered his first loss in his 4th professional bout, losing to Masaharu Kaito. He rebounded well, winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year before losing against to Kaito in 2017. That loss left the then 21 year old sporting a 7-2-1 (5) record, but he has rebuilt really well since then scoring 6 wins in a row, including recent wins over Moon Hyon Yun, Woo Min Won, Masafumi Ando and, most notably, Riku Nagahama, with the win over Nagahama netting him the OPBF title.
In the ring Toyoshima is an aggressive fighter who comes forward behind a tight high guard, he presses, and pressures and when in range he lets shots fly. He's not the most technical or the most defensively, especially when he lets his hands go, but he can take a good shot and has very respectable power himself. In fact he's willing to take one to land one, due to his power and chin. Whilst he does have a solid, stiff, jab, he doesn't use it as much as he should, and instead plods forward trying to get angles for his hooks and straight right hand. It's a tactic that can look sluggish and slow at times, but as bouts go on his pressure builds and he starts to have more and more success against fighters who are sapped from his constant forward march.
Given Toyoshima's love of marching forward, and the power of Beppu it's hard to not expect this to be an absolute tear up. Toyoshima is the less classically "skilled" of the two men, and the less powerful puncher, but he's the naturally bigger man, the stronger man and the more imposing man. Given Toyoshima has plenty of bang in his own shots there's a real chance he'll be able to put Beppu down, like Yada did, and maybe even drop him a few times. On the other hand Beppu is a determined terrier with a big bite. He will jump in an out, use his very under-rated jab and make the most of his speed.
We expect to see both men damaged here, we expect to see at least one knockdown each way, and by the end we expect to see both men looking a mess. Expect to see both men marked up, bloodied, and feeling the effects of some huge head shots.
As for picking a winner, we're going with Beppu, in a late stoppage, in what could well be the Japanese fight of the year. We think his long lay off, since late 2019, will serve him well here, especially given how Toyoshima was in a war just a few months ago. Saying that however we wouldn't be surprised at all if the referee ends up needing to wave this off, in favour of either man.
Prediction - SD12 Beppu
This coming Wednesday we see the Champion Carnival resume as Japanese Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako (12-0-1, 11) defends his title against mandatory challenger Riku Kunimoto (4-0, 2). For the champion this will be his fourth defense, and his sixth bout since winning the title in impressive fashion back in March 2018, when he blasted Hikaru Nishida in 92 seconds. As for the challenger this is a huge step up in class and his bout at title level. Despite the difference in professional experience the bout was one of the most interesting bouts scheduled for the 2020 Champion Carnival, when it was originally announced.
Like many bouts from the 2020 Champion Carnival this bout was delayed. It was originally pencilled in for May 2020, before Covid19 forced it to be rescheduled to July. Kunimoto requested a delay from the July date, due to issues training, which saw the bout being rescheduled before Takesako suffered a training injury, scuppering the November date and forcing a delay until 2021.
As his record suggests Kazuto Takesako is a puncher. A real big puncher. The 29 year old started his career with 10 straight T/KO wins, only once going beyond round 3. He was blasting through competition with surprising ease, including the likes of Shoma Fukumoto and Hikaru Nishida. It wasn't until 2019 that he was taken the distance, as he was held to a 10 round draw by the tricky and awkward Shuji Kato. Despite Kato seeing out the 10 rounds we saw Takesako write the wrong and stop Kato in a rematch just 5 months late. We also saw him prove his stamina this year when he won a wide 12 round decision over Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa.
Through his 13 bout career we've seen Takesako fight just 53 professional rounds, but he has impressed thanks to his destructive power and aggression. He has faced decent domestic level competition and, below Ryota Murata, he is probably the best in Japan.
Despite looking impressive there are questions about Takesako that we still haven't seen answers for, or where the answers are unclear. The most notable of those regards his chin, and we have seen him hurt a number of times during his career, and we do wonder if, maybe, he's a bit of a glass cannon. We also don't know how he will with a busy, taller, rangy boxer-puncher. The only fighter similar to that that he's faced was Shuji Kato, but Kato wasn't as busy as we'd have liked, and he also didn't keep things on the move as much as he perhaps needed to, opting to counter Takesako rather than keep things at range. We also wonder what the injury in 2020 will do to him, and whether he has real motivation for this bout.
Whilst we have seen a lot of Takesako, with a lot of his bouts being featured on G+, we haven't seen all that much of Kunimoto, sadly. On one hand that's bad, but on the other it shows how quickly he has been moved along. He debuted in August 2018 and is already getting a title fight. The 23 year old has been matched well from the off, getting some experience in his first couple of bouts, before being stepped up in 2019 and showing there was something pop on his shots with a win over Shoma Fukumoto.
Although footage of his recent bouts isn't available there is some old footage of Kunimoto on Boxing Raise and from that we can see a really talented young fighter. He appears full of self belief, confident in his defenses, and willing to press forward behind a tight guard before letting his shots fly. He's fairly crisp and clean with his shots, but can be seen over-reaching when he throws his straight right hand. His body work appears pretty solid and he does seem to take a shot well, when he needs to.
Sadly for Kunimoto whilst he does look a talented 23 year old he also looks like a work in progress. We know that's obvious, given his inexperience and the fact we were watching some very early fights of his, but it seems almost impossible to imagine he's improved enough from those fights to really be competitive here with someone like Takesako. Sadly the biggest issue with Kunimoto isn't his ability, or skills, or even his experience but instead his inactivity. He's now not been in the ring for over 2 years, and even at the age of 23 ring rust can be a major issue.
We're expecting Kunimoto to show glimpses of real promise here, but those glimpses won't be enough. The power, pressure, aggression and physical strength of Takesako will be too much. Sooner or later the champion will grind down the challenger, and break him up. Kunimoto, sadly, doesn't appear to have style needed to cope with the physicality and heavy hands of Takesako, at least at this point in his career. He'll try, and have some success, but we suspect he'll be found wanting and will be stopped somewhere in the middle rounds.
Prediction - TKO7 Takesako
NOTE - Due to a new state of emergency in several regions of Japan, this bout has been postponed from May 1st to May 19th.
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.