This coming Saturday we'll see a triple crown champion being crowned at Light Flyweight as fast rising youngster Shokichi Iwata (8-0, 6) puts his Japanese title on the line and takes on OPBF champion Kenichi Horikawa (41-16-1, 14), with the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title also up for grabs for the winner. The bout is very much the future of Japanese boxing facing off with a man who is a true ring veteran. There is a staggering 16 years age difference between the two men, with Iwata being just 26 and Horikawa being 42, with a career that stretches back a staggering 22 years!
Iwata was a stand out amateur before he kicked off his professional career in 2018, doing so in the US with his debut coming in Carson, California. He impressed on debut and since then has climbed rapidly though the domestic ranks. In his 6th bout he beat veteran Toshimasa Ouchi, with an 8 round decision, and just 5 months later he would claim the Japanese Light Flyweight title, stopping Rikito Shiba in 9 rounds to take the legendary national title in just his 7th professional bout. Since then he has made a single defense, stopping Ouchi in a rematch earlier this year, inside a round. It's clear, from the fact he's now looking to become a triple crown champion, that he's trying to rapidly climb up the world rankings and will be looking to use the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles to keep his options open for a world title fight, potentially later this year.
In the ring Iwata is a smart boxer-puncher who seems like he can do everything to a very, very, very high level. He's quick, sharp, light on his feet and can genuinely tailor his gameplan to take advantage of his opponents flaws. We've seen him fight at a high tempo as a pressure fighter, we've seen him box, we've seen him move and we've seen him showing his counter punching skills. As a fighter Iwata seems capable of doing everything, and whilst we wouldn't say he's elite in any single category, he does seem to be incredibly good at everything, which makes a very hard man to beat. The problem for opponents is that Iwata has plans A, B, C and D and that versatility will allow him to race through the domestic and regional ranks. Despite that there are still questions for him to answer, and we've not yet seem him get a real chin check, or prove himself above Japanese level, though he certainly looks like he has the tools to become the next Japanese force at 108lbs, following in the steps of Hiroto Kyoguchi and Kenshiro Teraji.
Horikawa is a true servant of Japanese boxing, with 58 fights over 22 years. He has proven himself as a genuine credit to boxing, a rugged fighter and someone willing to face anyone and everyone. During his long career he has faced Akira Yaegashi, Michael Landero, Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa, Tetsuya Hisada, Ryuji Hara, Yu Kimura, Shin Ono and Kenshiro Teraji, to just name a few notables. During his career he has proven himself to be a tough guy, with his only stoppages coming to Landero, Condes and Sosa. He has also shown himself to be a hard working, and he has turned around a 3-4 start to his career to become a 2-time Japanese Light Flyweight champion, as well as a former WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight champion and the current OPBF Light Flyweight champion. Unlike most fighters Horikawa's most notable success have come late in his career, and he had never won a title until he was 35, when he stopped Shin Ono for the Japanese title. He has aged like fine wine, and used his experience wonderfully well to improve, fight by fight.
In the ring Horikawa isn't pretty, he's not flash, and he's not explosive. Instead he's a rugged, hard working, who can get messy and physical when he needs to, as we saw in his third and final bout with Tetsuya Hisada. He's physical strong, comes forward and looks for mistakes. He has good timing, a smart boxing brain and looks to make the most of the flaws his opponents have. For a man who has had biggest results the wrong side of 35 it'll be little surprise to learn that he has great stamina, but he rarely needs to really show it, fighting at a relaxed tempo rather than an electric one. What he does really well is gradually break opponents down, physically and mentally. He's consistent, he's accurate, he's hard to get to and he dictates a lot of the action. He knows how to make things messy, he knows how to make opponents look bad and he knows how to win rounds. He know how to control the action and he knows that his counters can be a major difference maker, as we saw in his 2020 bout with Daiki Tomita. Sadly though there is a major issue with him coming into this bout, and that is the fact he's been out of the ring for around 2 years now, and it's really hard to know what he has left in the tank.
Sadly one thing that Horikawa has struggled with has been foot speed, and where fighters have moved he has struggled to force his fight on them. This was seen against Kenshiro and against Yuto Takahashi, and if Iwata wants to make life easy for himself he will to use his footwork to control the range of the bout and rack up rounds. Interestingly we actually believe that Iwata isn't just going to look to win, but instead impress. We expect to see him have Horikawa chasing him early on, but as the rounds go on, the 42 year old body of Horikawa begins to show it's age, cracks begin to appear, and Iwata will look to close the show in the second half of the bout, to give Horikawa only his 4th career stoppage loss.
Horikawa will have isolated moments in the first 3 or 4 rounds, whilst losing them, but as we head into rounds 8 and 9, Iwata will begin to hunt a finish and finally get it when the referee steps in to save Horikawa, who we expect will announce his retirement soon afterwards.
Prediction - TKO9 Iwata
On June 29th we'll see WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight champion Masayoshi Hashizume (19-0-2, 11) look to make his first defense, though unlike many champions he's not cherry picked and easy opponent. Instead the unbeaten Hashizume will be taking on former 3-weight world champion Kosei Tanaka (16-1, 9) in a brilliant bout to headline an Ohashi promoted card at Korakuen Hall. For Hashizume the bout marks his first major step up in class, and lets him take a huge stride towards a world title fight, if he can win here, whilst Tanaka will be looking to establish himself as a top contender in the talent heavy Super Flyweight division, and move towards a second world title fight at the weight.
Unlike most bouts the challenger is the more well and the betting favourite here. The once beaten Tanaka, 27, has long been one of the faces of Japanese boxing and someone widely regarded as a truly special fighter. The Hatanaka promoted fighter was destined for success the moment he turned professional and within a year of his debut he had claimed the OPBF Minimumweight title, doing so on an Ohashi promoted card at Korakuen Hall when he stopped the then unbeaten Ryuji Hara. Just a fight later, in just his 5th professional bout, Tanaka claimed his first world title, the WBO Minimumweight belt, just 19 months later he added the WBO Light Flyweight title and in 2018 added the WBO Flyweight title to his collection, needing just 12 fights to become a 3-weight champion. Sadly however his winning run came to an end in late 2020, when he was stopped in 8 rounds by WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka. In just 17 fights Tanaka has a genuine legacy for taking on top fighters, taking on challenges, and for have a resume many fighters will never be able to match. In just 17 bouts he has beaten the aforementioned Hara along with Yulian Yedras, Vic Saludar, Moises Fuentes, Angel Acosta, Sho Kimura, Ryoichi Taguchi, Jonathan Gonzalez and Sho Ishida.
Whilst Tanaka has been matched insanely hard he has had the talent to back up that ambition. He is lightning quick, with both his hands and his feet, he has some of the best combinations in the sport, great body shots, an amazing will to win, and an ability to fight through genuine adversity. As he's gotten older, and bigger, he has had tougher and tougher nights and it does feel like Super Flyweight is the highest he will have success at, but with his skills, his heart and his speed there is no reason he can't reach the top in the division in the coming years. Even in a division as tough and as stacked as the current Super Flyweight.
Whilst Tanaka is known, in has had fights shown globally including his 2018 Fight of the Year contender Vs Sho Kimura, the same can't be said of Hashizume. In fact Hashizume is something of a forgotten fighter even in his Japanese homeland. He turned professional in 2013, debuting 2 months before Tanaka, and he would win the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014. That should have set him up for big things, but sadly he spent the following few years being matched incredibly softly against very poor Thai imports. Those low level Thai bouts did little for his development and in 2017, when he finally faced a domestic opponent again, he was lucky to escape with a draw against the out of form Kota Fujimoto. Thankfully that draw seemed to make Hashizume and his team sit up and get serious, and he would step up the following year, beating Takahiro Murai and Marjun Pantilgan before getting a shot at Japanese Super Flyweight champion in December 2018. Sadly for Hashizume he would be denied by Okumoto, with that bout ending a draw that seemed harsh on Hashizume. Since then he has scored 3 wins, with his latest coming this past February when he beat Akio Furutani for the WBO Asia Pacific and OPBF titles.
In the ring Hashizume is a big, strong looking Super Flyweight. He's also a smooth boxer, with nice speed, good combinations, a nice jab and impressive composure. Sadly he does a bit passive at times, and whilst he is solid all round, there is nothing that stands out as being sensational about him. He stalks, he comes forward and he looks to get to opponents, using a mix of boxing skills, pressure and physicality. There's a lot to like about him, including his willingness to march forward, and his commitment to his right hand. Sadly though he is defensively pretty basic, with a high guard that drops as bouts go on, and leave him easy to tag up top. He also gets sloppy in the later stages of bouts, especially if he's chasing things.
Hashizume has the physical traits to make life hard for Tanaka. He has the size, the strength and the power to ask questions of Tanaka up close. Sadly however for Hashizume that's really all he does have going for him. Technically Tanaka is better, the huge difference in speeds favours Tanaka, as does the level he's been fighting and the proven ability to find ways to win. We suspect that Hashizume will have moments, especially early on as he comes in behind a high guard and looks to force Tanaka where he wants. As the bout goes on however the speed difference, and the ability of Tanaka's to mix things up, draw mistakes and punish them, will show through and we suspect by the mid point Hashizume's face will be swelling up, before Tanaka begins to go to the body, where he will take out Hashizume with a body shot, or a series of them.
Prediction - TKO9 Tanaka
On June 29th we'll see a new Japanese Youth Super Flyweight champion being crowned as Yoshiki Minato (10-5, 5) and Yasuhiro Kanzaki (7-2-1, 2) face off for the vacant title, which was last held by Suzumi Takayama who won the belt in 2019 but vacated it before making his first defense.
Of the two men the more well known is Minato, with the 23 year old having faced a number of notable fighters. He debuted in 2016, but made real noise in 2018, when he won the All Japan Rookie of the Year. During his Rookie of the Year triumph he beat Akiuo Furatani, Kenya Okada, Kyomu Hamagami and Ryohei Arakawa. Sadly though since his Rookie success, which had seen him move to 8-1, we have seen him struggling and he is 2-4 in his last 6. He has however been taking on top domestic fighters with his recent losses coming to Seigo Yuri Akui, Joe Shiraishi, Taku Kuwahara and Masayoshi Hashizume. Despite those losses he does hold some notable ones, with the most noteworthy, outside of his Rookie of the Year success, being an early KO win over Kohei Oba.
In the ring Minato is a nice, tidy boxer, with nice hand speed, most notable a lovely jab, good movement, and good timing. Sadly though he is pretty unpolished at times, and there is little real physicality to his work. He often looks like a boy against men and he can't really get the respect of opponents in the way he'd want to. He knows his way around the ring, and can certainly box, but there's a feeling he can't really fight and with stoppage losses to Seigo Yuri Akui and Masayoshi Hashizume there are also question marks about his chin, especially against senior title level fighters.
Aged 21 Kanzaki is the younger of the two fighters, though has risen quickly since making his debut in April 2019. He won his first 3 bouts before a narrow loss to Atsuki Nakamura, following that loss he bounced back well, reaching the All Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2020, losing a split decision to Akira Hoshuyama, notably both of his losses have been split decisions. Since the loss to Hoshuyama we've seen Kanzaki going 1-0-1, with a win over Yudai Yoneda last time out. Notably he has been 6 rounds twice, and gone into round 5 on two occasions, though this will be his first 8 rounder, and will also be only his second fight at Korakuen Hall.
In the ring Kanzaki is a tall, rangy fighter, who is quick, sharp, uses his height and reach well and wants to create space, often using the ring and his footwork to create range for himself. His jab is his key weapon and although he lacks power, he does seem to get full extension onto his shots a lot and looks composed. He's very much the sort of young man who looks like he will fill out in to a fighter a division or two higher than he's at, at the moment, and when his man strength comes in he will likely be a pretty nasty puncher due to his speed and reach. At the moment though fighters won't be too worried about taking one from him, though they may struggle to land consistently on him.
In many ways this has the hall marks of a very technical, yet high tempo bout, with both men looking to keep busy jab an land consistently, without much in terms of power. We suspect Kanzaki will look to make space, whilst Minato will look to come forward, which should make for some nice exchanges and some really nice moments of back and forth. Sadly for Minato however we suspect that Kanzaki is just a better version of Minato, and a taller, longer version. That will prove to be the difference with Kanzaki doing enough to win a competitive but clear decision.
Prediction - UD8 Kanzaki
Over the last few years the Japanese Bantamweight title has been something of a cursed title. Ryo Akaho was forced to give it up due to issues making weight, Yuta Saito, we then saw injuries ill and weight issues force the cancellation of several fighters with Yuta Saito and Yusuke Suzuki amassing just a single successful defense between them, before men retired, following a war together in 2019. We then saw the title remain vacant after Suzuki gave it up, due to a technical decision and then a planned bout fall apart when a fighter failed to make weight.
Between January 2018 and today we've had only 5 bouts for the title, along with a single interim title fight. We've seen 3 champions crowned but none managing to establish themselves as the king of the division, and this is in a brilliant division in terms of Japanese talent. A division that could, and should, have given us a string of great bouts in recent years.
This coming Thursday we hope to see the curse finally broken as defending champion Kyosuke Sawada (15-2-2, 6) seeks his first defense and takes on the criminally under-rated Seiya Tsutsumi (5-0-2, 4). The bout is not just one that we hope breaks the curse, but also ends up delivering something of a special bout between two highly skilled, intelligent fighters with different styles, but very polished styles.
As the reigning champion Sawada comes into the bout with a lot to lose, especially given this is his first defense of the title he waited so long to fight for. He was supposed to get a shot in 2020, before Covid and Suzuki's retirement thwarted plans. He had to wait until July 2021 to finally get a shot, only to see his bout with Ikuro Sadatsune end in a technical draw. A rematch against Sadatsune was then cancelled when Sadatsune failed to make weight. He finally won the belt in February, when he took a split technical decision over Kenshin Oshima, but aged 33 when he won that bout it's clear his time at the top is limited.
Now aged 34 Sawada is a fighter who is easy to over-look, especially with 2 losses on his record, however those losses really can be ignored. They came in his first two bouts to Yusuke Suzuki, who later won the Japanese Bantamweight title, and Hiroaki Teshigawara, who later won the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight and OPBF Super Bantamweight titles. Since those losses he has gradually built a very, very respectable career for himself with wins over the likes of Gaku Aikawa, Kinshiro Usui, Yosuke Fujihara, Kazuki Tanaka and Kenshin Oshima.
In the ring Sawada is a gorgeous fighter to watch. He is text book through and through with a brilliant boxing brain, wonderful speed, timing, and understanding of the ring. His downfall really is a lack of power, though even that isn't the major issue it seems as he can hurt and drop people due to his ability to land clean and consistently. He is very much a pure boxer. He keeps range well, he lands clean, and he lands a lot whilst getting full extension on his shots. Sadly at age of 34 it's fair to say he will begin to slow down soon, and will need to rely even more on his skills than his, but he does look like he's been aging well and looks to be, arguably, be better than ever in recent bouts.
Although he's never held a title Seiya Tsutsumi is one of the most unfortunate fighters in the sport. He had a solid amateur career, though Sawada's was better, before turning professional in 2018 and quickly made a split winning 4 bouts in the space of 7 months and getting international ring time in Thailand and China. It seemed obvious, almost immediately, that he was going to be moved aggressively and that was shown in his first bout of 2019, when he splattered the tough Ryan Rey Ponteras inside a round. He was then part of the God Of Left Bantamweight tournament, where he reached the final by default. Sadly in the final the judges weren't on his side, as he was forced to accept a draw with the dangerous Kazuki Nakajima, in a bout that it seemed Tsutsumi deserved the win in. His only bout since then was another draw, that time against former world champion Daigo Higam in a bout that he again should have got the W in. As a result of those draws it's now more than 3 years since Tsutsumi scored a win, and more than 1.5 years since his last bout.
In the ring Tstusumi can genuinely do it all. He's a very heavy handed fighter, as he showed early in his career, against the likes of Ponteras, but he can also box, as we saw in his "draw" with Nakajima, where he moved, boxed and seemed to make Nakajima look really silly for large swathes of the bout. He has also shown he can do 10 rounds, as he did against Higa. He's not flawless, but as an all rounder he really can do it all, at a very, very high level. The major issue for him coming in to this bout is the lengthy lay off, and potentially his confidence. He's not fought since the end of 2020, when he fought Higa, and with such a long lay off, it'll be interesting to see if he has ring rust and is less sharp than usual. Notably, despite the recent lack of activity, Tsutsumi is still only 26 and we suspect his team will have kept him busy with good sparring perhaps limiting his rustiness.
Coming in to this, we expect to see Sawada starting fast, looking sharp out of the blocks and looking fantastic in the first few rounds. As time goes on however we expect to see Tsutsumi growing into the bout, and the rounds go on his power, aggression and in some ways his frustration, will show throw as he begins to get used to the speed and sharpness of Sawada and begins to turn. When that happens we suspect that the power and heavy hands of Tsutsumi will change the flow of the bout, with Sawada being hurt, and stopped later on.
Prediction - TKO9 Tsutusmi
This coming Tuesday fight fans at Korakuen Hall could be in for something of a hidden gem, as Koichi Aso (25-9-1, 16) defends his OPBF Light Welterweight title against Akihiro Kondo (33-10-2, 18), in what will be Aso's first defense of the title that he won in a major upset against Rikki Naito. The bout might not be pitting two prime stars against each other, but it does pit two men who's styles should gel to give us something a little bit special. In fact the styles of the two men could, genuinely, give us a Japanese fight of the Year contender.
The champion is a 36 year old who really is an unknown outside of Asia, in fact you could make a good argument that he's unknown out side of Japan's main island of Honshu. All 35 of his bouts have taken place in Japan, with 32 taking place in Korakuen Hall, where he has built a reputation as someone to watch. Fans who have followed the Japanese scene, and Aso's career in particular, will know that he's not only been a servant to the local boxing scene, but has also been one of the region's most fun and exciting fighters to watch over the last 16 years. Win or lose his bouts have typically been thrilling battles, even as he's gotten older and began to slow, notably.
Aso debuted in 2006 and first began to make some buzz in 2008, when he reached the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, fighting to a draw with Valentine Hosokawa. Over the years that followed he became a must watch fighter with his aggressive pressure style, all out aggression and physically imposing, high risk-high reward style being amazing to watch. It was a risky style, as we saw against the likes of Shinya Iwabuchi, but it was also one that made him a main stay at the top of the domestic scene. Sadly he did come up short in two Japanese title fights against Hiroki Okada, in 2014 and 2016, but in 2017 he made the most of his third shot at the title, stopping Kazuki Matsuyama for the title. His reign was a short one, but was an exciting one with a single successful defense coming against Yusuke Konno before he lost to Valentine Hoskawa for the second time. By 2019 it seemed his career was coming to a close, but last December he stopped Rikki Naito in arguably his best win to date. Aso is all about aggression, coming forward and looking to make every fight into a war. He's not the biggest puncher, or the quickest fighter, but his aggression, pressure and work rate make him great to watch.
Whilst Aso is unknown outside of Japan the same can't be said of Akihiro Kondo who is somewhat known internationally for his 2017 battle with Sergey Lipinets, when the two fought for the IBF 140lb title. He's also somewhat well known for his brutal KO at the hands of Apinun Khongsong. Aside from those two bouts he is, like Aso, very much a Korakuen Hall icon with 43 of his professional bouts taking place at the venue. Like Aso we've seen Kondo making his name on the Japanese since 2006, and he's very much a stalwart of the Japanese scene. Like Aso he began making a name for himself in the Rookie of the Year, winning it in 2007, an he would win the Japanese Lightweight title in 2009, though lost it in his second defense against Nihito Arakawa. He failed in an attempt to recapture the Japanese title in 2012 but had something of a resurgence in the years that followed. After beating Komsan Polsan in 2015 we saw Kondo reel off a run of wins that saw him win the WBO Asia Pacific title and fight in that aforementioned bout with Lipinets, which saw Kondo giving the hard hitting Russian a very competitive and tough bout. Sadly though since facing Lipinets he has gone 4-3-1 and has career has been heading to the end, despite a notable win last time out against Aso Ishiwaki.
At the age of 37 Kondo isn't the fighter he once was, but he's still an incredibly tough guy, who tries to serve the role as the immoveable object. He's got a tough defense, he's rugged, and he presses forward behind his tight guard, whilst looking to land great counter shots. Sadly for Kondo he has never been particularly quick, and as he's aged he has lost pretty much all his foot speed, which has allowed younger fighters like Andy Hiraoka to out box him and by simply using their feet and moving around the ring. For fighters wanting to go to war with him however, Kondo is a nightmare, thanks to his timing, his accuracy and his ability to press the action, as we saw in 2020 when he faced Daishi Nagata. He's smart and his career has seen him develop a lot of experience ring IQ.
When we see these to in the ring we expect to see both men wanting to establish themselves as the boss in the centre of the ring. With that in mind we're expecting to see both men standing toe to toe with Aso looking to set the tempo, with the higher work rate, and Kondo catching and countering shots up close, in a bout that could well be fought in a phone booth. The bout, for the most part, will be a case of intense action, with shots going back and forth up close. We suspect the energy of Aso will be the difference maker over 10 rounds, but we wouldn't be surprised at all by Kondo rocking Aso at least once, in what should be a sensational 10 rounds.
We think this will be close, thrilling, exciting, with Aso narrowly taking home the victory on the scorecards, in what could be the final bout for both men.
Prediction - MD10 Aso
This coming Tuesday we'll see Japanese Lightweight champion Shu Utsuki (10-0, 8) look to make his first defense, as he takes on the often under-rated Izuki Tomioka (7-5-1, 2), who will be getting his third shot at a title in just 14 bouts. On paper the bout is a total mismatch, pitting one of the few divisional standouts in Japan against a fighter who has come up short in two previous title bouts and is without a win in over 2 years, however we suspect the bout will be much more interesting than the numbers suggest.
For those who haven't seen much of Utsuki the Japanese champion is a feared boxer-puncher who has traits that are familiar with former Super Featherweight Takashi Uchiyama, who like Utsuki fought out of the Watanabe Gym. Prior to turning professional Utsuki had been a top Japanese amateur, and when he turned professional he was earmarked as one to watch immediately. Aged 23 when he debuted he looked impressive in his debut, before being pushed all the way in his second bout, by the unheralded Yoji Saito. Since then however he has typically had things mostly his own way, In fact he has gone 8-0 (7) since then, with the only fighter managing to see the final bell against him being the criminally under-rated Ryo Nakai, who really gave Utsuki a scare last year. Sadly his resume is lacking in terms of big wins, with the best of the bunch being a TKO9 win over Masahiro Suzuki this past February, but he's been beating decent fights in the form of Jerry Castroverde, Omrri Bolivar and Takayuki Sakai.
In the ring Utsuki is a boxer-puncher, who comes forward behind a stiff jab, with a slow and cautious approach. He press opponents backwards with his jab and takes the center of the ring. He looks to set up his right hand, which is dynamite and bully people when he needs to. Much like Uchiyama he is naturally heavy handed, imposing himself and his will with his power and the fear that power puts into opponents. Notably though he isn't flawless, he has been down already in his career, leaving question marks about his chin, and most notable he has slow feet. He can be out boxed, out manoeuvred and made to look slow and cumbersome at times. Also when hurt his defenses do fall apart, as we saw against Nakai. He does however recover quickly when hurt and every time he has gone down he has looked cleared headed by the time he's got to his feet.
The 25 year old Izuki Tomioka is someone who has promise a lot since turning professional, and someone who seems to have the tools to do a lot in the sport, but can't quite get over the line at times. He turned professional in 2016 and was matched well early in whilst winning his first 5 bouts. Sadly though he would see his winning run come to an end in 2018, when a clash of heads left him with a technical draw against Kaiki Yuba. That draw was then followed by an OPBF title fight with Masayoshi Nakatani, who he gave fits to for 10 rounds, before being stopped in round 11. His only other stoppage loss came in an other title fight, that time to Shuichiro Yoshino in 2020, when he was leading on two of the cards. His 3 other losses have all been by razor thin decisions, two split decisions, to Shuya Masaki and Yasutaka Fujita, a unanimous decision to Hiroki Okada, in a bout that saw all 3 judges score it 77-75 to Okada. Watching him shows us a fighter who is tricky, really tricky, sharp, and quick. He's an awkward fighter to look good against and one of the best natural boxers in Japan. Sadly though he lacks the power, strength and physicality to boss fights, and that has long been his major issue. He's talented and quick but lacks in other areas.
In the ring Tomioka likes to fight at range, picking and poking with his jab, using his feet and landing shots at range. He is quick, smart and an excellent outside fighter who's difficult to out box and really tough to catch clean in the early going. Sadly for him he does, as mentioned, lack power though his timing and control of range are excellent and his footwork is also really impressive. Defensively he's slippery, offensively he's smart, but physically he's just not particularly imposing and fighters can bully him up close. Getting close to him isn't easy, but when a fighter is close he does tend to feel the need to hold. Sadly for him he does appear to lack an inside game and against the top fighters you do need to be more than just be brilliant at a single style. He lacks a plan B and when fighters can cope with his plan A he does struggle to change things around.
For this bout we expect to see Tomioka's speed and movement cause Utsuki a lot of problems early on, using a tactic similar to the one Nakai used against Utsuki. That style will always give Utsuki problems, and will see Tomioka take an early lead. Sadly though as rounds go on and as Tomioka slows down he will begin to take heavy leather back. When that happens we expect to see Utsuki break him down, eventually stopping Tomioka, much like Yoshino did, somewhere in the middle rounds.
Prediction - TKO8 Utsuki
The Welterweight division in Japan isn't the best, and sadly at the moment the one genuine stand out in the division, Keita Obara, is injured and was forced to pull out of a Japanese title defense earlier this year against Yuki Nagano (19-3, 15). Rather than letting the title scene sit until Obara returns the JBC have allowed Nagano to fight for the interim title this coming Monday, where he will face Takeru Kobata (11-5-1, 4) at Korakuen Hall in the main event of the latest Dynamic Glove show.
Of the two fighters Nagano is the very clear favourite. The 32 year old is a former Japanese national champion, who holds wins over a number of notable domestic fighters, such as Riku Nagahama, Yuki Beppu, Ryota Yada, Makoto Kawasaki and Yuki Beppu. In fairness he possibly has the best resume in the division of any Japanese fighter, even better than Obara's, with only fellow Teiken stable mate Ryota Toyoshima giving him a run for his money. Sadly though at the age of 32 and having taken a fair bit of punish through his career, it's hard to know just how much he has left to offer the sport, though.
In the ring Nagano is heavy handed southpaw boxer-puncher. He's got a stiff jab, a very heavy straight left hand and like many Teiken fighters in recent years, likes to box at mid-range whilst drawing mistakes and hammering with straight shots. He has a nice array of of short punches, but does tend to only use them to close the show against opponents who are hurt. He's clearly talented but he's not flawless, and he's certainly not the quickest, the sharpest or the toughest, having been stopped in 2 of his 3 losses. Sadly for Nagano his defensive skills are lacking and against Obara in 2020 he was simply made to look second best in every dimension. Obara simply did what Nagano wanted to do, far better than Nagano could.
Kobata on the other hand is something of an unknown, even for those who actively follow the Japanese scene. The 23 year old is a southpaw from Oita who has typically fought outside of the main Japanese boxing markets, of Toyko, Osaka, Kobe and Hyogo, and he's not yet found something of a boxing home. Instead his career has sene him fight across Japan, travelling for fights and being willing to take on fights in their home towns regularly. Thankfully that has began to pay off for him, and recently he has been getting more and more fights in Tokyo against notable names, and scoring some solid domestic wins along the way. In fact his last 5 bouts have come against Change Hamashima, Shoki Sakai, Rikuto Adachi, Tetsuya Kondo and Fumisake Kimura. Not only that but he's also been picking up wins, stopping Adachi in a round and beating both Kondo and Kimura to climb up the Japanese rankings.
Rather sadly footage of Kobata is rather had to come by, but there some of his recent fights available. What is freely available show Kobata to be a pressure fighter, who comes forward looking to draw his opponents into a fight, without taking too many risks. He comes forward behind a somewhat cautious stands, edging towards an opponent looking to draw a mistake which he can counter with his crisp left hand. Up close he's physical, aggressive, and likes to impose himself, pushing opponents around. His style is somewhat frustrating to watch, and it feels like he could do much more with it, but it's getting results for him, and making him a very hard man to beat. He also had the advantage of being genuinely tough, despite having 2 stoppage losses to his name. He has shown he's rugged, and he can stand and fight when he needs to. He also has sneaky power, as Adachi found out.
For Nagano the key here is to fight his fight. He needs to keep it at range. He needs to box and move, create space, and use his reach. If he lets Kobata back him up and dictate the tempo and range here, he will be dragged into something tough and testing. Instead if he can establish a busy jab, keep Kobata at range and land huge left hands of his own he should have the tools to break down Kobata.Nagano does need to be wary of Kobata getting close and turning this into a rougher and tougher bout than he wants, but Nagano should have the tools to win break down his younger foe.
Prediction - TKO8 Nagano
Typically the 140lb division in Japan has never been a glamour division in the country. There's rarely been notable Japanese fighters at the weight, though there has been notable exceptions like Keita Obara and Hiroki Okada in recent years and prior to that Akio Kameda was a notable exception. Right now however Japan does have a genuine hopeful for the division in the form of unbeaten 25 year old Andy Hiraoka (19-0, 14), from the Ohashi Gym. This coming Tuesday Hiraoka will be looking to record his second defense of the Japanese national title, as part of a stacked card headline by Naoya Inoue Vs Nonito Donaire II, as he takes on Shun Akaiwa (7-3-1, 5), in what could be one of Hiraoka's final bouts on the domestic stage before ploughing into bigger and better bouts in the near future.
Fans of the Japanese scene will know that Hiraoka has been around for years, and it's genuinely hard to believe he is still only 25. The talented southpaw kicked off his professional career way back in 2013, and the following year he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, though had to pull out due to illness. At that point in time it was unclear whether he was going to actively pursue boxing as a serious career, and he was a very talented long distance runner. He ended up taking almost 2 years out of the sport, before returning in late 2016 and rising through the ranks over the years that followed. That rise saw him winning the Japanese Youth title in 2017, which he defended once, beat former world title challenger Akihiro Kondo, score two wins in Las Vegas, and then win the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific titles in 2021 with a career best win over Jin Sasaki, which has been followed by him defending both of those titles. As we write this he appears to have the tools to compete at, if not win at, world level, though those tools do still need some work, and some honing.
Stood at 5'11" and fighting out of the southpaw stance, Hiraoka is a natural athlete and is very much a fighter who could have taken up numerous other sports, but his dad has been responsible for developing Hiraoka as a fighter, something that has been really helped since he joined the Ohashi gym a few years ago and been able to train along side the likes of Naoya Inoue. In the ring he's very much an outside fighter, who uses his reach, height, speed and athletic ability to his advantage. Early in his career he was a rather crude boxer, who got by on just his athletic ability. Now a days however he's become a lot more polished, learning how to box and move, neutralising fighters, using the experience he's built up and wins over Kondo and Sasaki have proven that he does have more in his tool kit than just athletic ability. He's started to understand timing, distance and how to really set traps and counter, as well as using his jab to control fights and neutralise aggressive opponents. Whether he wins a world title or not is hard to say, but he is, genuinely, the brightest Japanese hope at 140lbs, and the only Japanese fighter at the weight with any chance of winning a world title in the next few years.
As for his opponent, Shun Akaiwa is someone who has never really shown the potential to conquer even the domestic scene. The 29 year old from Fukuoka fights out of the relatively obscure Manabe Boxing Gym and has been a professional since 2014. He won his debut in just over 2 minutes, but then took more than 2 years out of the ring, before fighting to a draw and was 2-1-1 after 4 bouts. Despite that poor start he left a mark in 2020, just before the pandemic shut down boxing in Japan, with a notable upset win over Kenta Endo in a bout aired by G+. That win seemed like it ould set Akaiwa up for bigger bouts, but sadly for him he was then stopped inside a minute by Jin Sasaki, and then beaten again by the hard hitting Yasutaka Fujita in 2021, losing whatever momentum the win over Endo should have given his career. Thankfully for him he has bounced back with back to back wins over Akira Morita and Hokuto Matsumoto.
In the ring Akaiwa is an a rather crude looking fighter with something of a unique style. He leans a lot from the waist, has flat feet he likes to set, and doesn't have a very busy jab, though it does find the target a lot when he throws it. His guard is high when he's under pressure but he tends to be the one coming forward, albeit in a rather awkward and gangly fashion. Sadly for him he lacks offensive crispness, and often slaps with his wide shots. He does have a style that should make for fun fights, with the right opponents, but he also looks incredibly limited a lot of the time. One thing he has going for him is decent power at the domestic level, but against top domestic fighters his power isn't enough to get their respect, as we saw when Jin Sasaki battered him in double quick fashion.
Sadly this bout is less about being a competitive contest and much, much more about Hiraoka looking good before moving on to bigger and better fights. We suspect he'll take a round or two to get a look, then get to work, slowly breaking down Akaiwa, before letting heavy shots go in the middle rounds and stopping the challenger in 5 or 6 rounds, without taking much punishment along the way. This is not about testing or really challenging the champion, but instead giving him a chance to shine on a global broadcast, and we expect him to really shine. Showing his polish, poise and finishing ability along the way.
Prediction - TKO6 Hiraoka
Over the past few years the Super Bantamweight division has become one of the most interesting at elite level, with the likes of Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Stephen Fulton, Brandon Figueroa and Daniel Roman putting on some incredible performances in some great bouts. Outside of the elite level the division has also become a real hot bed of contenders all looking to break out and earn their shot at a world title. This has seen fighters like Marlon Tapales, Azat Hovhannisyan, Carlos Castro and Ra'eese Aleem all fight some of the other leading fighters in the division.
Two other fighters looking to move into title world title contention clash this coming Tuesday in Saitama as Takuma Inoue (15-1, 3) and Gakuya Furuhashi (28-8-2, 16) face off, not just to move a step closer to a world title bout, but to also unify the WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese titles at the weight, in what could be a genuinely thrilling 12 rounder.
Of the two fighters the more well known, especially internationally, is Takuma Inoue. The younger brother of Naoya Inoue who we have seen develop as a fighter since making his debut way back in 2013, aged 17. Although better known as the Monster's little brother, Takuma has had an impressive career of his own, winning the OPBF title at Super Flyweight, Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight, as well as the WBC "interim" title, and holding notable wins against the likes of Tatsuya Fukuhara, Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, Nestor Daniel Narvaes, Froilan Saludar, Hiroyuki Kudaka, Keita Kurihara and Shingo Wake. He might not be the Monster, but in regards to his own career, the 26 year old has had a genuinely very, very good one so far, and still has much of, if not all of, his prime years to come and we suspect he will become a fixture at world level as he continues to physically mature, and become a stronger, heavier handed fighter.
In the ring Takuma is very different to his brother, yet they both similarities. The key difference between them is that Takuma isn't blessed with Naoya's fighter changing power, he can't take opponents out with one shot and he rarely scores knockdowns. He is however, much like his brother, very technically schooled and an excellent boxer. He understands the sports, he gets the theory behind what he's supposed to do in the ring, and he fights to his own strengths. His timing is solid, his movement is impressive and his will to win is great. Despite lacking power he can take a shot, and he hits regularly enough and clean enough to get respect of fighters, with his recent wins over Kurihara and Wake both showing that his jab is heavy enough to keep fighters at bay, with his control of range and distance are excellent. His one loss, which came to Nordine Oubaali, showed he had grit, determination and real toughness, as he battered early on in that bout, but came close to stopping Oubaali in the later rounds, and that really showed his character and stamina, and that was despite the fact he was only 23 at the time. Despite losing that bout his reputation, in many ways, was actually enhanced.
Although Inoue is well known in the West the same can't be said for Gakuya Furuhashi, who has spent his entire career fighting on the Japanese domestic scene. In Japan however he is a popular fighter, with a sizable local following in Kanagawa and Tokyo. He began his career back in 2007, as a fresh faced 19 year old, and won the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2008 at Bantamweight. In the years that followed he had mixed success, sliding from 8-0 (1) to 13-5 (4), but kept improving and in 2015 got his first shot at a Japanese title, fighting to a draw with future world champion Yukinori Oguni. Sadly that set back was then followed by back to back losses as his career seemed to stumble before losing in a second title fight, this time to Yasutaka Ishimoto. Following that bout he was 28 and then had a 18-8-1 (8) record, had gone 1-3-1 in previous 5 and it seemed like his career was about over. Since then however he has put together the ring of his career, going 11-0-1, making his international debut in Vietnam and beating the likes of Ryoichi Tamura and Yusaku Kuga whilst winning, and twice defending, the Japanese Super Bantamweight title. Now, aged 34, he looks the best he has ever looked, and is fighting like a man who has promised himself that he'll retire when he loses again, and isn't in a rush to let that happen.
In the ring Furuhashi is very much a warrior type fighter, who wants to force the bout to be fought on the inside, setting a high tempo, and having a war. He's not the quickest, or the sharpest, or the most technically well schooled, but he's one of the most determined fighters out there and he sheer bloody minded a lot of the time. His work rate is amazing, his desire to come forward and have a fight is stunning and as we saw against Yusaku Kuga in their first bout, back in 2021 he can take some huge shots and shake them off to come forward. In a war he's a hard man to beat, and despite not being a massive puncher, his work rate and desire grinds opponents down. He is intense in the ring, and a nightmare to keep away from. Notably however he can also box, something he wanted to show last year when he faced Seigo Hanamori. Something that Hanamori didn't let Furuhashi show as he tried to out Furuhashi Furuhashi, and got stopped quickly for it in a thrilling 3 round war. Sadly at the age of 34, and with a lot of tough bouts on his ledger, it's hard to know what he has left in the tank, and whether winning the Japanese title last year is something that will mark the pinnacle of his career.
Style wise Furuhashi does have the tools to make life really tricky for Inoue, his aggression, work rate, desire and intense forward march is the style that can unsettle Inoue's ability to control range. Furuashi however doesn't have the quickest of feet, or the skills to cut the ring off against a mover. With that in mind we expect Inoue to use his feet a lot, box and move, make Furuhashi commit to coming forward and throwing, before sliding to the side, landing a counter and making Furuhashi reset his forward march. Style wise Furuhashi is a nightmare for Inoue, but sadly his own limitations in the style, are going to make Inoue shine. The only real question is whether Inoue can close the show on a tired, and likely bloodied, Furuhashi late on. We feel he could, but we're not sure he will.
Prediction - UD12 Inoue
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.