This coming Saturday we'll see Japanese Youth Featherweight champion Hiroki Hanabusa (9-2-3, 3) attempt to make his first defense of the title, which he won last November when he upset Kyonosuke Kameda, as he takes on fellow youngster Toshiyuki Takahashi (7-4, 4).
The 23 year old Hanabusa, from Ishikawa, made his debut in 2017 and had good success early on, and even won the 2018 All Japan Rookie of the Year at Super Bantamweight. At that point the then 20 year old was 5-0-2 and looking like a genuine one to keep an eye in the always competitive Japanese Super Bantamweight scene. Sadly since that solid start he has had some mixed results, going 4-2-1, with a notable 2020 loss in a Japanese Super Bantamweight title fight against the slippery and skilled Toshiki Shimomachi, and a 2021 loss to fast rising Teiken hopeful Katsuya Fukui. More telling than his post-Rookie of the Year results however was his struggle to get a notable win, with his first 3 post Rookie of the Year wins coming against limited foreign opponents. It wasn't until late last year that things changed, with his notable win over Kameda for the title.
In the ring Hanabusa is something of an aggressive technical fighter. He comes forward a lot, throws a lot of busy, sharp jabs and keeps opponents working to either create space and keep him away, or to respect to his jabs. He's not a powerful fighter, or a physically imposing one, but he's busy, sharp, busy and awkward, with an educated lead hand. He can jab just as well to the body as he can to the had, and he comes out like a man who feels he can win on his jab alone. Despite the jab lead offense Hanabusa is also a pretty smart fighter, who can counter well when he needs to and to beat him you need to genuinely be a good fighter. Losses to Fukui and Shimomachi are not bad losses to have and both have come to top domestic prospects. One thing that is working against him however, is that he does look someone what lightweight, and when a fighter puts it on him, as we saw in the later rounds against Kameda.
As for Takahashi, the 22 year old from Kanagawa also debuted in 2017, but unlike Hanabusa he never really had much early career momentum. He lost in his debut and would later go on to lose 3 in a row, as he fell to 3-4. From then however he has really found his groove, winning his last 4 bouts. Sadly however his competition during that 4 fight run doesn't tell us much at all, and all of the opponents were limited, with none of them having wins in more than 50% of their bouts. Despite that he will have confidence coming in to this. Notably however he has been having his best success at Super Bantamweight and not Featherweight.
Footage of Takahashi isn't widely available, unfortunately, but there is enough out there to get a read on him. In the ring he looks quick, uses some nice footwork to get just out of range and also apply intelligent pressure. He's not a big puncher but he does look very quick and sharp. Sadly his punches aren't as crisp as his movement and footwork, though with some time to polish off we suspect that can be changed, and there is certainly a good prospect in him, though he's also very much a work in progress. Sadly he's defensively lacking in polish and looks like he doesn't enjoy being the one getting bullied, instead he wants to be on the front foot, exerting pressure with his footwork and not being backed up unless he wants to be.
Although footage of Takahashi is hard to come bye, from what there is out there, it's hard to see what he brings to the table to really test Hanabusa. Hanabusa looks sharper offensively, smarter, more accurate and busier. Takahashi doesn't belong alongside the likes of Fukui and Shimonachi, at least for now, and we can't help but feel he's been hand picked to help make Hanabusa look good, especially with his long, piercing jab.
The question, we feel, is not whether Hanabusa will win, but more whether or not he can break down his foe. We're not sure he can, but we are pretty sure he will retain his title here.
Prediction - UD8 Hanabusa
This coming weekend we'll see WBO Asia Pacific Middleweight champion Yuki Nonaka (35-10-3, 10) make his 3rd defense as he takes on the relatively unknown Hiroya Nojima (9-1, 4). The bout, on paper, looks like a massive mismatch in favour of the talented veteran, however Nonaka is now 44, has fought just once in 3 years, and is a man coming to the end of a long, and successful, career, whilst Nojima is just 26 and hungry to make an impact on the sport as he heads into his prime years.
Having turned professional back in late 1990's few would have expected Nonaka to have had the career he's had. Born in Hyogo, a place that isn't really a hot bed for Japanese boxing talent, and debuting in 1999, at the wonderfully Chicken George in Kobe, there was no real expectation on Nonaka to have a successful career. What little expectations were on his shoulders were pretty much destroyed from the off, as he lost 2 of his first 3 bouts, 3 of his first 5, and 4 of his first 9, leaving him with a 5-4 (2) record. That poor start has however been put behind him and since then he has gone a very impressive 30-6-3 (9). That stat looks pretty impressive, but is even more impressive when put into some context, with Nonaka becoming a 2-time Japanese champion at 154lbs, claiming the OPBF title at 154lbs, and winning both the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles at 160lbs. He has also notched notable wins against the likes of Akihiro Furukawa, Kazuhiko Kudaka, Charles Bellamy and Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa, and has done so without having any exceptional physical trait. He has done it by simply under-standing boxing, and being good at it.
In the ring Nonaka is a very, very well schooled boxer who really under-stands the sport. Watching him we see a fighter who isn't fast, powerful, explosive or physically imposing. He's also not someone who sets a high work rate. Instead he simply lands clean, makes opponents miss, and dictates the action behind intelligent boxing, clean accurate sharp punches, and really good footwork. He is very much the sort of boxer who every fighter in the sport needs to watch. He lands clean shots at range, ties up up close, and simply dictates the action behind constant, steady, basic boxing. He has really gotten a lot from just simply understanding how to box, and not relying on physical tools. As a result of being a good boxer, he has had great success into his 40's, and continues to be one of the leading Japanese fighters in and around the Middleweight division.
The 26 year old Nojima is a baby in comparison to Nonaka, and only made his debut in 2019. He would start his career at Welterweigth and would score 3 straight wins before suffering his sole lose in November 2019, in a Rookie of the Year bout. Since then he has reeled off 6 straight wins and won Rookie of the Year himself, in the delayed 2020 Rookie of the Year. Sadly since his Rookie of the Year triumph he has not really shone, despite facing progressively better opponents, including a win over Masatery Hatagami in April, in an 8 round bout at 154lbs. Notably this bout will be his first as a Middleweight and his first over 10 rounds, both of which will be challenges for him, though not as much of a challenge as stepping up to face someone as talented, accomplished and experienced as Nonaka.
In the ring Nojima is a rather slow, awkward looking fighter who is defensively open, lacks snap, power and crispness, and he doesn't appear to have too much going for him. He is young, and he can certainly improve, but in many ways he looks like a novice, who needs a lot of work, in every area of his game. At Welterweight he had some size advantages over opponents, but at Middleweight that size advantage will not be there and although he might technically be quicker than a 44 year old Nonaka, there isn't the snap and crispness to him that there is with the veteran.
Coming in to this bout the feeling is that this is very much a stay busy and easy defense of Nonaka, who still hopes to land a major international fight before ending his career. From watching Nojima footage this really should little more than a showcase from Nonaka, who's crisp counter punching, accurate jab, and smart footwork should see him winning round, after round, after round to take either a clear decision, or a late stoppage, depending on whether Nonaka wants to score a somewhat rare, for him, stoppage. We suspect the constant, steady, stream of shots will eventually break down the challenger.
Prediction - TKO10 Nonaka
This coming Tuesday we'll see the next Japanese title fight as Japanese 154lb champion Makoto Kawasaki (13-8-1, 2) looks to record his first defense of the title, as he takes on former contender Ryosuke Maruki (18-7-1, 13). The bout is, in many ways, an indictment of how poor the Japanese domestic scene is at 154lbs, with the better fighters in the division having no real interest in the Japanese title right now, with the likes of Takeshi Inoue and Hironobu Matsunaga both looking for bigger and better things.
The 38 year old Kawasaki won the title earlier this year, in a hotly contested decision win over Koki Koshikawa. The win was a career defining one for Kawasaki, who had previously come up short in bouts for the interim and regular Japanese Welterweight titles. It was a moment which will live with him for the rest of his life, though is also a win that seemed to partly luck, with the decision it's self, and partially good fortune to be facing Koshikawa, rather than a fighter like Matsunaga or Inoue. Given his age, it's hard to imagine him having a long reign, though he has got the skills, work rate and toughness to maybe record a defense or two before he hangs up his glove.
In the ring Kawasaki is a good technical boxer, with a decent work rate, a gritty determination, but a lack of power, and a lack of anything that really stands out. He's solid enough, but in no area at all is he spectacular, even for a domestic level fighter. Notably he isn't just old, at 38, but he is also a man who has had just 18 rounds of action since the start of 2020, and that level of inactivity is a major issue for a fighter who lacks power and physicality.
Maruki on the other hand is a 31 year old who turned professional in 2010 and quickly made a buzz for himself, before losing in the 2012 All Japan Rookie of the Year final. He began his career 4-0-1 (3) but quickly saw his record fall apart, going 7-3-1 (5) before winning the WBC Youth 154lb title in 2015. Maruki would establish himself as a top domestic contender in 2016, but sadly for him he would come up short in 3 Japanese title fights, losing to Yuki Nonaka in 2016, Nobuyuki Shindo in 2018 and Akinori Watanabe, in a Japanese interim title fight, also in 2018. By the end of 2019 it seemed his career was about over, but he has scored two recent wins, both by stoppage, and is now set for one more crack at a national title.
In the ring Maruki was, for years, a very, very aggressive fighter. In recent bouts however he has become a smarter fighter, using his movement more, letting opponents come to him. Despite changing his style one thing has remained, and that's been his heavy hands. Below the top tier of the domestic scene his shots have been punishing, and when he lands he does shake opponents up. He's also shown a willingness to take a shot to land one, and only the extremely heavy handed Akinori Watanabe has ever managed to stop him, despite his 7 losses to date. Sadly he's not particularly polished, and does rely more on his power and strength, rather than skills, but he's still managed success, and we suspect that his power will be a key factor here.
At his best Kawasaki would have the skills, the work rate and the tools to over-come the best version of Maruki. Sadly for Kawasaki however he's now 38, heading into retirement, and not the fighter he once was. Whilst neither he, nor Maruki, is a world beater, we do feel that Maruki simply has too much left for this version of Kawasaki. We expect Kawasaki to have success early on, but as the bout goes on the strength of Maruki and his willingness to take one to land one, will prove to be the difference as he eventually breaks down the veteran, to finally win the big one.
Prediction - TKO9 Maruki
This coming Saturday we'll see a new Japanese Youth Super Featherweight champion being crowned as Hyoga Taniguchi (5-3-2, 1) and Seika Fukuda (6-3, 1) clash for the title. The bout pits two talented but flawed youngsters against each other, and although neither is likely to make a name above domestic level, both could well be major players on the domestic scene over the coming decade or saw.
Of the two men Taniguchi is the more well known. The 23 year old southpaw made his debut in 2018 and struggled early on, going 1-2-1 after 4 bouts. He then reeled off a nice run going 3-0-1, and winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2019, before suffering something of an upset loss last year to Hiro Ichimichi. Since that loss he has bounces back with a 6 round decision win over Caliente Koyasu, though it's really hard to know what he has to offer. Taniguchi is a work horse in the ring, but with a lack of power, a lack of physicality and desire to dig deep to win bouts, his future does seem to depend on whether or not he can grow into his man strength in the near future or not.
In the ring Taniguchi is an aggressive fighter who comes forward behind his jab, sets a nice tempo, and looks relaxed coming forward. Sadly for him he is very much a work in progress. Defensive he is open, especially to counters, and given his lack of power and physical strength fighters will be willing to take one to land one. It's clear, watching him, that he's a thinking fighter, but unfortunately for him it's not thoughts that are instinctive and instead he's thinking about things as we see them, and at times it looks like we can see the cogs turning when he's fighting. When found out of his comfort zone he really looks like he's really uncomfortable, though to his credit he is willing to hold when he needs to, and does have nice speed that he and his team can build on. Though there is so many areas where he will need to improve if he's to make a mark at the top of the domestic scene, rather than just becoming a bit player on the domestic level.
Aged 22 Fukuda is a tall and rangy fighter who debuted in 2019 and won his first 5 bouts, reaching the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, before losing inside a round in the final against Tsubasa Narai. That bout could have seen Fukuda being written off, but in reality it said more about Narai's power than it did about Fukuda. He bounced back with a win over Eiji Togawa but has lost his last two, losing 8 round decisions to Yuna Hara and Seira Kishida. With 3 losses in his last 4, it's hard to know what his mindset is, but this is a great chance for him to make a mark on the sport and to claim his first professional title.
In the ring Fukuda really is someone who looks like he has a nice under-standing of the ring. He uses quick footwork, changes leaves and comes forward. Sadly though he looks like a boy rather than a man and, like Taniguchi, lacks his man strength and power. As well as lacking in terms of physicality, he also seems to have questionable balance, and there's something of an awkwardness to his footwork at times, along with wide, looping slow punches. He's certainly not a bad fighter, but just like Haniguchi, he looks like a work in progress, and someone trainers need to spend a lot of time with to really develop and round off.
With neither man having much power we're not expecting an early finish here. Instead we're expecting something of a light punching war, with the styles gelling, and both men digging deep to try and dictate the tempo and work rate. Of the two men, Fukuda does look the better fighter, but he'll know he's the away fighter, travelling from Osaka for the bout, and will need to try harder to win over the fans and the judges. Sadly though we do get the feeling that home advantage will be the key here, and in a very, very hotly contested bout, fought at mid to close range, we'll see Taniguchi just do enough to edge the decision. Regardless of who wins, neither of these youngsters is the complete product yet, and hopefully in a few years time we'll see them clash again, after both have had time to work on some of their flaws and limitations.
Prediction - MD8 Taniguchi
The Minimumweight division is often the most over-looked in the sport, but that doesn't mean the division isn't an exciting one, or has good fighters, or that it doesn't deliver great action. In fact the opposite is true and over the last few years the division has certainly delivered some great fights and we certainly have some great talent emerging in the division at the moment.
One of the most promising of the young talents in the division is 22 year old southpaw Ginjiro Shigeoka (7-0, 5), who will look to show what he's made of this coming Wednesday when he defends the Japanese Minimumweight title against veteran Naoya Haruguchi (18-12, 7), with the two men clashing in Kumamoto.
The excellent and explosive Shigeoka made a name for himself in the amateur ranks before turning professional in 2018, and from the off he looked like an exceptional talent, decimating Sanchai Yotboon and Gerttipong Kumsahwat in his first 2 bouts. He then stepped up and proved he his stamina as he took an 8 round decision over Joel Lino before claiming his first title just a few months layer, as he almost gutted Clyde Azarcon in just 72 seconds for the WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight title. As the WBO regional champion he recorded 2 defenses, stopping Rey Loreto at the end of 2019, in a career bets win, before stopping Toshiki Kawamitsu 19 months later. He then vacated the title before winning the Japanese title this past March, with a 10 round win over Tatsuro Nakashima.
Since making his professional debut Shigeoka has looked incredible though sadly his rise through the ranks was curtailed, massively, by the pandemic, and he has only fought twice since the start of 2020, losing a lot of the momentum he had created in his first few bouts. That is a shame, but it doesn't take away from what an excellent young fighter he is.
In the ring Shigeoka is tiny, standing at just 5'0", but he's aggressive, powerful, quick, sharp and scary. He's diminutive but like Mike Tyson did in his prime, he makes opponents fear him. He takes the center of the ring, he makes himself the boss, and he forces opponents backwards. He cuts off the ring well, he works the body well, and he has a wonderfully stiff jab, brutal combinations and really good footwork. Unlike many smaller fighters it seems Shigeoka is happy to use his lack of size as an advantage and can often be seen fighting out of a crouch, making himself a smaller target. He also has excellent balance, composure and timing which means when he's up close, he is very happy to fight toe to toe, ans often sees shots coming. Just to add to the woes of his opponents not only is he quick, strong, sharp, powerful and technically well school, but he's also a southpaw, making him an absolute nightmare to go up against.
In Naoya Haruguchi we have a 32 year old veteran of the Japanese scene, who debuted in April 2012 and has had 30 bouts since then. He has, obviously, got a lot of losses with 12 defeats, but a lot of those have come to solid domestic fighters, such as Takumi Sakae, Keisuke Nakayama, Reiya Konishi, Seita Ogido, Riku Kano, Tatsuya Fukuhara, Norihito Tanaka and Kai Ishizawa. Whilst losses against top domestic competition, including a former world champion and several world title challengers, can be forgiven, sadly Haruguchi doesn't have many top domestic level victories. In fact his best wins to date have come against Norihito Tanaka, in the first of two bouts between the men, Jeffrey Galero and Shin Tomita. Despite those wins not being the best there is no doubting that Haruguchi is a battle hardened veteran, fighting in what will likely be his final title bout, following 2019 shot at the same title.
In the ring Haruguchi is a tall looking Minimumweight, with long arms, a busy jab and a fun style. He lacks single punch power, and despite having 7 stoppage wins he really is rather feather fisted, but does set a decent work rate and can break opponents down over time. He likes to pressure behind his busy jab, and can let nice looking combinations go, but he often comes over his front foot, lacks real balance in his footwork and as a result it takes a lot of sting off his shots. Defensively he's not very tight, and opponents can pick him apart with clean accurate shots. Despite being relatively easy to hit he is tough and has only been stopped twice in his 30 bout career, with those stoppages coming to the hands of Takumi Sakae in 2013 and Kai Ishizawa in 2021.
Whilst Haruguchi is tough, and has the size to give Shigeoka some awkward questions we expect to see Shigeoka really shine. The bout is taking place in Kuamamoto, the place he was born and raised, and he'll be fighting in front of school friends and family, who he will be wanting to impress, and sell himself to, especially if it could secure a world title bout there in the future. Also Shigeoka has a nice, big, long body to aim at here, and as we saw against Azarcon, he likes to bust the gut of opponents.
We suspect Haruguchi will have some success very early on with his jab, reach and size. But as soon as Shigeoka begins to go through the gears, things will change rapidly and he will begin to break down the challenger. Haruguchi's toughness will see him tough at some ugly moments, but sooner or later the pressure, tenacity and power of Shigeoka will break him down, and finish him off. Likely somewhere in the middle of the bout, from an accumulation of shots, particularly body shots.
Prediction - TKO6 Shigeoka
This coming Wednesday fight fans in Kumamoto get the chance to see two of their local boxing children return home, having made Tokyo their boxing home for the last few years. One of those two fighters is Japanese Minimumweight champion Ginjiro Shigeoka, and the other is his older brother Yudai Shigeoka (4-0, 2), who will be making his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight title, as he takes on Cris Ganoza (19-3, 9).
Whilst less well known than his younger brother it's hard to deny that the 25 year old Yudai Shigeoka isn't an incredible talent, as we've seen since his professional debut in last 2019. Like his brother, Yudai was a stand out amateur, who proved himself in the unpaid ranks before following Ginjiro to the professional ranks. On his debut he looked calm, relaxed and composed whilst stopping Thai visitor Manop Audomphanawari, since then he has scored 3 genuinely notable wins, beating OPBF champion Lito Dante in just his second professional bout, then stopping Ryu Horikawa for the Japanese Ryu Horikawa and most recently Tsubasa Koura for the WBO Asia Pacific title. In just 4 bouts he has proven a lot, and quickly put himself in the mix for potential world title fights, and yet still has plenty of areas to improve on, with improvement likely to come with more ring time and experience.
In his most recent bout, his win over Koura, we saw that Shigeoka had a lot in his locker. He was, as we'd seen in the past, a talented, sharp, boxer puncher, but also someone who is defensively smart, incredibly quick, well schooled and good at finding holes in defenses. He isn't the most text book fighter out there, but he is a well schooled southpaw, who can box really well behind a jab and apply intelligent pressure. We also saw him being able to dig down and fight with Koura, digging deep when he needed to and taking the fight to Koura when he needed to. Notably he also show cased a good chin on the occasions that Koura caught him clean and the ability to counter. We do feel, at times, he was rushed by Koura, and didn't always look comfortable when that happened, but given he was stepping up massively in that bout and being pushed 12 rounds he did incredibly well and saw out the storms whilst also looking to get his own work off. Had that same fight come just a year or two later, with Shigeoka have 3 or 4 fights more, we suspect he would have won it quite easily, but still managed to see off a very, very good fighter, very early in his career.
As for Cris Ganoza, the Filipino is a 27 year old who made his debut in 2014 and has spent his entire career, so far, fighting in the Philippines. Despite never fighting outside of his homeland it should be noted he has shared the ring with some notable talent, including Edward Heno, who gave him his first loss back in 2017 unbeaten hopeful John Michael Zulueta, and former world title challenger ArAr Andales. Sadly he has lost to those 3 notable foes, and without trying to be too harsh he does lack in terms of notable wins, with the most notable coming against Donny Mabao back in 2018.
In the ring Ganoza looks like someone who could become a decent fighter, with the right training and mindset, but sadly as of his recent bouts, he looks very much like a work in progress and a very limited fighter, who makes a lot of mistakes. He has nice natural speed, but technically he's open, he's raw and he's worryingly reckless. He looks very much like a novice, who makes some very silly mistakes, and is seemingly trying to learn on the job. That's not to say he doesn't have nice handspeed and doesn't come to fight, more than he's very much a work in progress, and a bout at this level, against someone as skilled and polished as Shigeoka will not end well for him.
We know that Ganoza is fairly tough, but unfortunately he's also very open and we can't help but feel that his technical flaws and huge gaping defensive holes will be taken advantage of by Shigeoka, who will almost certainly see the gaps and punish Ganoza. The real question isn't who will win, but just how long can Ganoza survive against Shigeoka. We don't think it'll be all that long. We see the body shots taking the fight from Ganoza and breaking the Filipino down somewhere around the middle of the bout.
Prediction - TKO7 Shigeoka
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.