This coming Thursday we'll see world ranked Japanese Flyweight Ryota Yamauchi (7-1, 6) look to make his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title as he takes on domestic challenger Yuta Nakayama (8-3-1, 5), in what is a step up in class for Nakayama. On paper this looks a bit of a mismatch, but on the other hand it is good to see Yamauchi staying busy, after a rather frustrating 2019 and 2020 and it does give his second shot at a professional title.
Of the two men the star here is the champion. The Kadoebi promoted 26 year old is among the most exciting young fighters in Japan, with an aggressive mentality, heavy hands and flawed defense. Those things together make him a must watch fighter and unlike many youngsters in the sport he hasn't tried to pad out his record. In fact in his first 8 bouts he has faced 6 fighters with winning records, and has fought on foreign soil, and has picked up several very, very good wins. They include victories over Lester Abutan, Yota Hori, Alphoe Dagayloan and Satoru Todaka. Sadly he does have a loss on his record, but it was a controversial one in China to Chinese fighter Wulan Tuolehazi, in a bout that saw both men hit the canvas.
In the ring Yamauchi is aggressive, he has some brilliant body shots in his arsenal, but sadly he's some defensively naive, and Wulan landed big straight head shots on him time and time again. Also he has been cut in bouts, notable against Alphoe Dagayloan, and it's fair to say that there is a lot of work he can do defensively. Despite that he's big, he's strong, he's powerful and he comes to fight. He might take a shot, but he'll look to land some himself in return, and applies consistent, calculated pressure coming forward, which means his fights will, typically, be fun to watch.
Nakayama on the other hand has been a professional since 2016 and hasn't really managed to shine. He began his career going 1-1-1 before reeling off 5 straigth wins, building some moment against some some poor opposition. Since then however he has gone 2-2, before stopped twice, and hasn't looked like he belongs at title level. His most notable bouts so far are losses to Ryuto Oho, who beat him in a JBC Youth title fight, and Yuto Takahashi, who stopped him in a round before going on to win the Japanese Light Flyweight title. Although Oho and Takahashi are, or in Takahashi's case was, decent neither man is a big puncher, and neither man is a naturally strong and powerful fighter yet both stopped him. In regards to his best win, it's probably his TKO win over MJ Bo, a man that Yamauchi has also beaten.
Although not a bad fighter, by any stretch, Nakayama is also not a great fighter. He lacks fight changing power, his defensive is open and when he throws shots they are often very wide, leaving him even more open. He has a nice jab, his best punch, but it's hard enough to get respect from opponents and he seems to struggle with pressure, as we saw against Oho. There's a good boxer there, or at least the potential for him to be a good boxer, but in reality, he's very, very much a work in progress and it's a shame in many ways that he's so early in his development. With some polish he has got the potential to make a mark on the domestic scene, but as he is he's the sort of fighter who is made to order for Yamauchi.
We expect to see the champion pressing from the opening bell, getting inside and breaking down Nakayama with body shots. They will take the legs away from the challenger, who will struggle to get his own shows off. After 2 or 3 rounds Nakayama will be feeling the pressure and will either be broken down to the point of the referee stopping it after a knockdown or his corner pulling him out accepting the bout is a lost cause.
Prediction - TKO3 Yamauchi.
In 2020 we saw very, very few fighters have years that will define their careers. One of the few exceptions was Japanese Super Flyweight Ryoji Fukunaga (13-4, 13) who had a career defining as he went 2-0 (2) and went from having never held a title as a professional to being the unified Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight champion. He did that by scoring two legitimately solid wins as well, defeating Froilan Saludar and Kenta Nakagawa, and came in to 2021 with some real momentum. As we write this he is also holding world rankings with 3 of the 4 major title bodies. At 34 however he can ill afford a slip up, and he'll be well aware of that going into his first bout of 2021,against Takahiro Fujii (12-6-1, 3) on June 21st. That bout will see Fukunaga defending two of the titles he unified last year, and look to continue moving towards a potential world title fight. On the other hand the bout will also be a huge, and somewhat unexpected, title shot for Fujii.
Aged 34 Fukunaga is a heavy handed southpaw who turned professional in 2013 aged 26, and struggled early in his career. He lost on debut, and was 4-2 (4) after 6 bouts. Since then however he has turned things around, going 9-2 (9) winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year, as well as becoming a triple crown champion.
In the ring Fukunaga has a lot of technical flaws. He's easy to hit, he's not particularly quick and a lot of what he does looks forced. Despite that he's not an easy man to beat. He's got rocks for hands, and what he hits he hurts. He's got a great will to win, and excellent stamina, and even in rounds 9 and 10 he can still be found throwing a lot of bombs. He's also learned how to use his experience well, and when he needs to he can "old man" his opponents, go for a walk, catch his breath and then come forward again. At 34 we do wonder how much he has left in the tank, especially after wars with Saludar and Nakagawa last year, with both of those bouts being incredibly punishing, but we also get the feeling he and his team have picked a bit of a patsy here, to keep him ticking over in a stay defense, rather than a genuine challenge.
Fujii is a fellow southpaw, and is slightly younger than the Fukunaga, aged 32, but he's also much less accomplished and is taking a massive step up in class. He began his career back in 2010, with a draw against Satoshi Obata, and was 6-3-1 (2) after 10 bouts. Sadly it wasn't just early on that he had mixed results and he's actually 6-3 (1) in his last 9 bouts. What hasn't helped him is that he been very inconsistent with results, and every time he gets a win, he then slips up soon afterwards. At least he did until very recently, and he's currently riding a rare winning streak, having won his last 3 bouts with a decent win over Sonin Nihei. Sadly though that 3 win streak dates back to 2018, showing a lack of activity to go with his lack of consistency.
When it comes to what Fujiii can do in the ring, one thing that needs mentioning is that he lacks power. Of any kind. He has only scored a single stoppage win since 2015. That sort of power will leave him needing to rely on his boxing skills against a guy like Fukunaga, who is a monstrous puncher who can really hurt people. Fujii has only been stopped once, very early in his career, but we suspect that he'll struggle with the power, work rate and aggression of Fukunaga, especially over 12 rounds. The guy can fight, but he's been fighting fringe domestic level fighters, and he's now leaping up to regional title level, with nothing to prepare him for what he's getting himself into here.
Fukunaga has had punishing bouts. He has taken a lot in his last two bouts, but this is a smart match up from his team. Matching him easily for his return to the ring, and we suspect he'll shake a bit of ring rust through the early part of the fight, before taking out Fujii in the middle rounds. The champion might lose a few rounds early on, but he'll be far too much for the challenger and will take him out sooner or later.
Prediction - TKO7 Fukunaga
One of the biggest upsets in 2020 was the huge surprise win that saw Daishi Nagata (15-2-2, 6) take the Japanese title 140lbs from Koki Inoue, the cousin of Naoya and Takuma Inoue, in one of the first shows back in Japan after boxing was put on the back burner due to the pandemic. Since that win Nagata has defended the title once, thanks to a technical draw against Akihiro Kondo, and this coming Thursday he'll be looking for his second defense as he takes on the unbeaten Masahiro Suzuki (5-0, 3). On paper Nagata is the big favourite, but will he manage to avoid an upset like the one he inflicted on Suzuki? Or will Suzuki be able to become the latest Japanese champion at 140lbs? Lets take a look at the fighters, how they match up and who we think will come out on top.
Of the two men Nagata is the clear favourite coming in to this bout. The 31 year old southpaw has been a professional since 2014, is the current Japanese champion and has faced a genuine who's who of the domestic scene. He fought Takeshi Inoue in his debut, fighting to a draw, and since then has shared the ring with Quaye Peter, Vladimir Baez, Takashi Inagaki, Rikki Naito, Cristiano Aoqui, Koki Inoue and Akihiro Kondo. Not only that but he has also shown he belongs in title level fights, giving Naito hell in a razor close 2018 bout and beating Koki Inoue.
In the ring Nagata is a well skilled boxer-fighter. He's at his best when he's applying intelligent pressure. Getting in and out and using his surprisingly quick feet. He's not that polished, but he's quick, strong, physically powerful, fights at a good tempo with under-rated punching power and really good stamina. In fact it was his stamina against Naito which made the fight so close, with Naito tiring and Nagata really coming on strong late on. Sadly though he's not the smartest of fighters and like many newly crowned champions he wanted his first defense to be a fan friendly one, and ended up holding his feet too long against Kondo, leading to that fight being a very close and competitive one. Not the showcase first defense he would have wanted. Given how bad that performance was we're expecting a much better one here against a very lively challenger.
Whilst Nagata is a strong, tough, lump of a fighter the exact opposite is true of Suzuki who is a much more rounded boxer, with good movement and a solid boxing brain. He was one of the few fighters over the last few years who really impressed on debut, when he beat Antonio Siesmundo, but sadly we've never seen that same level of performance from him since. In fact his performance have been rather mixed following his very impressive debut, though in fairness his competition has been pretty solid. In just 5 bouts he beaten Siesmundo, the heavy handed Kosuke Arioka, the solid domestic level Hokuto Matsumoto and former OPBF title challenger Takahiro Oda. And whilst he hasn't shown the same incredible potential he showcased on his debut but has shown a good boxing brain and he seems to be a fighter who is, slowly, finding his identity in the ring. He looks like he can do it all, box, move, punch and fight, but probably does need to find what he likes to do and focus on that more than he has at times.
Whilst we have been genuine impressed by Suzuki, it needs noting that he was hurt by Arioka, and seemed to struggle against Matsumoto. He has got questions to answer, and most notably one of those is his stamina. He looked good for 6 rounds against Siesmundo in his debut, and 6 rounds against Kelvin Tenorio, but we've never seen him go beyond 6 rounds, and this title fight will be a 6 rounder. We've also never seen him in with a southpaw, with Nagata set to be his first lefty, which is a second potential issue for Suzuki. Given Nagata's pressure and aggression Suzuki will need to be on his P's and Q's from the opening bell, he need to stay focused and be fully aware of what Nagata can bring, and we're not 100% sure Suzuki has that level of focus... yet.
In terms of pure skills Suzuki is, for our money, a level above Nagata. He's a smoother, not natural boxer. Skills however aren't the only thing important in a fight and we suspect the experience, physicality and the fact Nagata is comfortable fighting 8, 10 and even 12 rounds, will prove vital here.
We're expecting Suzuki to start well, out boxing Nagata, moving around the ring, landing shots against the slower man. But unfortunately winning the early rounds won't be enough and as the bout goes on Nagata's pressure will build, and he will begin to break down Suzuki, both physically and mentally. The early success of Suzuki will be used to fire up Nagata who will come on strong in the second half of the fight and will break down Suzuki in the later stages.
If Suzuki can stay focused, can rely on his boxing, and can keep the bout at range, using his footwork, and can keep it up for 10 rounds he could take a decision. But that's a massive if, and one we're not expecting from him. He's got the technical ability, but we don't think he's got the other tools needed to take home the victory.
Prediction - TKO8 Nagata
Over the last year or so the Minimumweight division has been almost frozen in the wake of the pandemic. The world champions have been worryingly inactive, the regional champions have sat and twiddled their thumbs and even the Japanese domestic scene has been a victim of the time, with only a single Japanese title fight at the weight in the entire of 2020. That single title fight saw Masataka Taniguchi (13-3, 8) claiming the previously vacant title in December, when he stopped Hizuki Saso. This coming Monday he'll defend that title for the first time as he defends against the once beaten Tatsuro Nakashima (11-1-1, 7) at Korakuen Hall.
When Taniguchi turned professional there was huge expectation on his shoulders inside of Japan. Him, and close friend Hiroto Kyoguchi, were expected to be the leading forces at the Watanabe Gym and were supposed to be the stars to carry the gym's legacy after Takashi Uchiyama and Kohei Kono retired. Whilst we have seen Kyoguchi scale the highest heights in the sport, Taniguchi hasn't quite managed the same, though the belief is that he still has the tools to do that.
The 27 year old champion was moved aggressive in the early part of his career, and fought in his first title fight, a Japanese title fight, just a year after his debut, losing a razor thin decision to Reiya Konishi. He would also lose a razor thin decision to Tsubasa Koura in an OPBF title fight just 7 months later. Despite those setbacks he has rebuilt well, won the WBO Asia Pacific title, challenged the then WBO champion Vic Saludar and won the Japanese title. He has notched notable wins over Joel Lino, Kai Ishizawa and Hizuki Saso. Maybe they aren't world class names, but all three are solid fighters, with Lino and Ishizawa both being very good fighters.
In the ring Taniguchi is an undeniable talent. He's a highly skilled boxer, who knows his way around the ring, has solid work rate, spiteful power, good movement and good handspeed. He's a really solid all rounder, and when his combinations flow he's a joy to watch. He's not the most physically imposing fighter, and he's more a fighter who's "very good" at everything rather than "great" in any particular area. The one area he's genuinely lacked through his career has been luck, and 2 of his losses could very easily have gone his way. In fact there's a very strong argument that both should have gone his way, and both of those losses came very early in his career. He's the sort of fighter who can compete at world level, will likely win a world title, and has a record that is thoroughly misleading.
Nakashima on the other hand is a 26 year old set to get his biggest bout to date. His biggest bout, by far. He's been a professional since 2015 and despite a slow start to his career did manage to show some real promise in 2017, only just missing out on a place in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, with a draw against Yuga Inoue. The following year he would end up losing to the aforementioned Ishizawa, but has since bounced back with 4 straight wins including a solid one last time out against Ariston Aton. On paper his record looks solid, but in reality there is a lot of weak opposition on his record, with his most notable wins being over Mammoth Kazunori, very early in their respective career's, and Ariston Aton. Hardly the fighters to prepare you for a Japanese title fight .
Although his competition has been poor Nakashima is a solid boxer. He has light feet, moves around the ring easy, a nice jab, and good composure. He looks well schooled, but like a fighter who still has work to do. He's schooled but not polished. His jab lacks the spitefulness he really needs and as we saw against Ishizawa, he can be broken down, and he can end up fighting the wrong fight. He's not the biggest puncher out there, and whilst he is composed under pressure, his defensive flaws are clear to see when fighters put shots together, as Ishizawa did. He can also get dragged into exchanges more often than he needs to, as his lack of experience shows.
Whilst Nakashima is a good boxer, we see the issues that cost him against Ishizawa coming in to play again here. He's a good boxer, but he still makes mistakes, he holds his feet too long, and he struggles to get respect from his better opponents. Taniguchi might be asked questions, especially early on when the light feet of Nakashima will create some space, but as the fight goes on the challenger will be broken down, the body shots of Taniguchi proving to be especially potent here.
Nakashima will put up a good fight, he won't be there to make up the numbers, and he will come into the fight as a very live challenger. However the edge in class, the more rounded and polished skills, and the firepower of Taniguchi will prove to be a series difference maker here.
Prediction - TKO8 Taniguchi
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.