On September 3rd the EDION Arena Osaka, in Osaka will play host to a WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title fight, as the world ranked Riku Kano (19-4-1, 10) faces Yuga Inoue (13-2-1, 2) for the vacant belt. The bout will push the winner to the verges of a WBO world title fight, against fellow Japanese fighter Junto Nakatani, whilst the loser will begin the arduous climb back to where they are, a task that could be a rather tricky one in a division with the emerging talent that Flyweight currently has.
Of the two men the more well known is 24 year old Kano, who debuted way back in 2013,as a 16 year old, and quickly earned attention by winning the WBA Asia Minimumweight title in 2014. At that point Kano was just 17 and wasn't old enough to even debut in Japan despite having a 5-1-1 (3) record. He made his long awaited Japanese debut the following year, winning the OPBF "interim" title in 2016 before fighting for the WBO title in an attempt to become the youngest ever Japanese world champion, a dream ended by Katsunari Takayama. Since that loss to Takayama we've seen Kano go 9-2 and show real development. He looked like an immature youngster against Shin Ono in 2018, boxing well until being cut and then bullied into submission, but has developed into a brave, tough young man, showing real determination and guts to defeat Tetsuya Mimura, Ryoki Hirai and Takuma Sakae in recent bouts. He's not longer the frail child who looks like he could be broken mentally, but instead looks like a genuine fighter, who has learned from his set backs, and physically matured as he's moved from Minimumweight, to Light Flyweight and now to Flyweight.
In the ring Kano has always been a rather technical fighter, who has a lot of speed, with hand and feet. He's never been a big puncher, but he's a clean accurate puncher, who lands and gets in and out. In his Flyweight debut we so a more physical side to him, as he stopped Sanchai Yotboon in 2 rounds, but that bout really doesn't tell us what he's going to be like as a Flyweight, given Yotboon's limitations and the fact he's a natural Miniumweight himself. We expect a Flyweight Kano to focus on his speed, his accuracy and his skills and movement, and not massively change his style, especially not here as he takes on a legitimate test at the weight. Sadly at 5'4" he's not a physical match for the top guys at the weight, and will struggle with the heavier handed fighters at 112lbs, though to his credit he is a tricky southpaw and he is genuinely talented, even if he's yet to live up to the potential he clearly has.
As for Inoue, no relation to Naoya, the 23 year old debuted in 2016 and got a lot of attention in 2017 when he won the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Minmumweight. Sadly for Inoue his unbeaten record came to an end less than 11 months after his Rookie of the Year triumph as he was broken down in a 6 round thriller against Kai Ishizawa, in what was a brilliant bout for the Japanese Youth Minimumweight title. Since then Inoue's body has filled out as he's matured and gone 6-1 (1) winning the Japanese Youth title along the way. He has, notably, faced solid domestic foes, including the likes of Daiki Kameyama, Katsuya Murakami, Daiki Tomita and Aoba Mori, but unfortunately for him his form belies a man who has regularly struggled at this level. Whilst his 6-1 record since the Ishizawa fight looks good, it should be noted that it includes 4 controversial decision wins and there is a feeling that he has had the benefit of the doubt in a number of bouts.
In the ring Inoue is a technically well polished fighter, with a lovely jab, good balance and quick feet. He moves around the ring well, he looks poised and polished, and his jab really is the key to his work. There are other weapons in his arsenal, but there's no denying his best work is either the jab it's self, or comes off the jab. Sadly though the lack of variation in what he does is really against him, and whilst his jab is polished his other punches don't look very natural to him and they seem like they need real work. The lack of power is also something that's against him, and although he's still young, at 23, it does appear that he isn't going to develop much in terms of punching power. A double issue given how forced and pushed his shots in general are. It's due to his lack of power and lack of variation that many of his bouts end up being really close, as fighters figure him out, work out his jab and then begin to rack up points. Here that will be a massive issue against someone as well rounded as Kano.
To beat Kano the main tactic has been to bully him, either with physicality or work rate. Set a tempo he doesn't like, keep it up and watch him crumble. Sadly for Inoue he doesn't look to be the type of fighter who can either set a high output for 12 rounds, which he'd need to given his lack of power, or hurt him with any single shot and get his respect that way. Instead we expect the rather back approach of Inoue, and the lack of pop in his shots, in general, to work to Kano's advantage. Kano will show his speed early on, maybe losing a battle of jabs for the first few rounds, but then begin to show more variation, changing things up, and simply out work and out fight Inoue en route to a clear decision win over 12 rounds.
Prediction - UD Kano
The final Japanese show this month takes place at Korakuen Hall and has a really solid looking main event as Yoshimitsu Kimura (13-2-1, 8) faces former foe Kanehiro Nakagawa (11-6, 5), in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight, and a contest that has the potential to be something of a sleeper classic. One that is easy to over-look, but should deliver something a little special. The bout not only has two guys who are often over-looked, but two guys who have very fun styles, and also have a bit of history, with this being the second bout between the men.
Before we look at where we are today, we need to discuss the fact the two men faced off way back in 2017. That bout saw Kimura take a very hard fought decision over Nakagawa, who at the time didn't look like someone we'd be talking about 5 years later. The bout saw Kimura move to 8-0 and continue his ascent through the ranks, whilst Nakagawa fell to 4-5, and seemed to be heading towards total obscurity. Since then Kimura has gone 5-2-1, and proven to be one of the most fan friendly fighters in Japan, with notable bouts against the likes of Hironori Mishiro, Shuma Nakazato and Kosuke Saka, with his win over Saka landing him his regional title. As for Nakagawa he has totally turned his career around, going 8-1 and scoring notable domestic wins over Seiichi Okada, Ryuto Araya, Ken Osato, Taiki Minamoto and Shinnosuke Hasegawa.
With the short history lesson out of the way, lets talk about the two men, and who they are today, and how that could also play a major role in this bout.
The 25 year old Yoshimitsu Kimura is one of the most fun to watch fighters in Japan. He debuted in 2015 and would go on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2016, fighting as a Featherweight. He ran up a 9 fight unbeaten record, including the aforementioned win of Nakagawa, before challenging Richard Pumicpic for the WBO Asia Pacific Featherweight title and coming up short, in a really competitive bout. That fight, at the age of 21, showed there was real potential with Kimura. He bounced back from that loss by by moving up in weight and scoring 3 solid wins before challemging OPBF Super Featherweight champion Hironori Mishiro, and losing a very close, incredibly competitive bout by split decision, in what was one of the best fights of 2019. That loss was followed by another set back as he suffered a draw, in another thriller, with Shuma Nakazato. In his bout following that draw Kimura scored the biggest win of his career, stopping Kosuke Saka in 3 rounds to win the OPBF Super Featherweight title.
One this to note coming into this bout regarding Kimura is that earlier this year he was scheduled to face Samir Ziani. That bout was cancelled at short notice, and coming in to this bout it's going to be interesting to see if that cancelation effects Kimura or not, as he did admit he had lost motivation due to that fight falling through.
In the ring a driven Kimura is a nightmare to fight. He's gritty, determined and as we saw against Mishiro and Nakazato, he simply doesn't know when he's beaten. That has made him a fan favourite and a must watch fighter in Japan. He can be hurt, he can dropped, but it's going to take something very special to stop him and stop his desire. In terms of his style he's someone who can box and move, and is a very solid boxer, however what makes him so much fun to watch is that he has real dog inside him. When things are tough he often forgets his boxing skills and goes all out, setting a high tempo, applying a lot of pressure and simply try to grind down opponents. Although his best offense is his volume he is also a solid puncher, and that was shown in his bout with Saka, when big head shots from Kimura left Saka stumbling around the ring. At 130lbs, and now in his physical prime, Kimura looks like a nasty fighter, as he develops his power, his strength and his confidence, making him even tougher to beat. He can box, he can fight, he can punch, and although he's not world class in any area he is a very, very solid all round.
On paper Nakagawa is very limited, and his 11-6 (5) record includes not just 6 losses, but also 2 stoppage losses. Despite that the 27 year old is regarded as one of the top Super Featherweights in Japan and in Asia. He is highly regarded not due to a padded record, like some fighters out there, but due to his current form, and the way he has totally turned his career around. He debuted in 2014, losing in 2 rounds, and was 4-5 after 9 bouts with losses to the likes of Toru Kiyota, Kimihiro Nakagawa and, of course, Yoshimitsu Kimura. Since then however he has developed in so many ways, and taken those losses as a sign to improve, to develop and to grow as a fighter. He has gone 7-1 since that start, and really should have been 8-0 with the loss to Ren Sasaki in 2018 being a very debatable one. He now fights like a man determined to never lose again, and victories over the likes of Seiichi Okada, Ryuto Araya, Taiki Minamoto and Shinnosuke Hasegawa have certainly helped in still a real confidence in him.
Sadly it's not all been plain ailing for Nakagawa, despite his great form, and he, like Kimura, has had a bout cancelled this year. For him it was a planned bout against Kosuke Saka, that had to be scrapped when Nakagawa suffered an injury. That means he has been out of the ring since October 2021.
In the ring Nakagawa doesn't do anything amazingly well. He's not got lights out power, or lightning speed, or incredible movement. Much like Kimura however he's become a very, very hard man to beat, with a great sense of will and desire in his in ring work. He comes forward, is determined and sets and odd rhythm to things, which upsets fighters. He does a lot of things wrong, isn't technical, but is tough, has plenty of pop on his shots and throws from some really awkward and peculiar angles. His footwork is odd, his punches are weird and yet he still managed to use his really odd style to great success. Trying to prepare for Nakagawa and his really odd style, that looks amateurish as hell at times, must be a nightmare and few will be able to replicate it in sparring, making him even tough to fight.
Sadly for Nakagawa we do feel that Kimura is genuinely a special fighter. Maybe not a future world champion, but special enough to compete at that level even if he does fall short. As for Nakagawa he's awkward, clumsy and hard to beat, but we do feel that, over 12 rounds, his style will be tiring to himself, and after 4 or 5 rounds Kimura will begin to read him better, time him more consistently, and take over the fight. We see Nakagawa having some really good success early on, but as the rounds fly by Kimura will begin to take over, and do enough to win a clear decision.
Prediction - UD12 Kimura
Since turning his hand to professional boxing in 2021 former K-1 World Grand Prix Super Bantamweight Champion Yoshiki Takei (4-0, 4) has been a man ear marked as a stud in the ring. Some one put on the fast track and someone with huge expectations resting on his shoulders. This coming Friday we get the chance to see if he can live up to those expectations as he takes a major step up, and challenged the highly skilled Filipino Pete Apolinar (16-2, 10), in a bout for Apolinar's OPBF Super Bantamweight champion. A win for Takei would cement his place as the next anointed star of the Ohashi Gym, and potentially the gym's second biggest name, behind Naoya Inoue, whilst a win for Apolinar would top off a brilliant break out year for the unheralded Pinoy.
The 26 year old Japanese southpaw had been a legitimate star in K-1 before deciding to turn to professional boxing. In K-1, a kick boxing organisation, Takei had shown educated and heavy hands, those skills as a puncher have converted over to boxing perfectly well and he has quickly shown that he’s a devastating puncher, with brutal power, and solid technical boxing skills. He made his debut in March 2021 and needed just a round to off his first 3 opponents, including the then unbeaten pairing of Azusa Takeda and Kazuhiro Imamura, before stepping up this past April and taking out Shingo Kawamura in 2 rounds. What those bouts proved was that Takei was a natural puncher. He wasn’t setting a high tempo with a guns out, ultra-aggressive style, but instead was boxing and using his heavy shots to detach opponents from their senses. He was doing so responsibly, intelligently, and in truly devastating fashion.
Whilst we can’t doubt Takei as an intelligent fighter, or a hard hitting one, he does have a lot of questions to answer. The most notable of those is regarding his stamina. In his entire combat sport career, consisting of 25 professional kick boxing bouts along with his 4 professional boxing contests and numerous Muay Thai bouts, he has never had to fight for more than 9 minutes. He is an established talent as a fighter, but we really are interested in seeing what happens if a fighter can take his power and take him 6 rounds, or deeper. Does his power carry? Does he have a gas tank for 12 rounds? Does he question himself when his power isn’t having an impact on someone after 4 rounds? These questions are ones he will have to answer if he’s going to make it to the top in professional boxing, and ones we expect to see Apolinar asking him.
Despite entering as the challenger Apolinar is very much the under-dog here, and this is shown in a on Boxmob.jp where only 14% of correspondents have picked Apolinar* to win. Notably however he is much, much more proven as a professional boxer than Takei. The 27 year old Filipino has been a professional boxer since 2014, racked 109 rounds over 18 fights and has shared the ring with a number of notable fighters, including Jeo Santisima, Jetro Pabustan, Jong Seon Kang and Jhunriel Ramonal. And notably he’s had some success against those fighters, with his biggest win being his 10th round TKO win over Ramonal for the OPBF title back in April.
In the ring Apolinar is a crafty fighter. He fights with a shoulder roll defense, is accurate and sharp with his counters. He's not the most aggressive, or the biggest puncher, but he's patient, he waits for mistakes and he strikes when opponents leave themselves open. He's very quick with his hands, very accurate and a fighter who is clearly an intelligent young man. His jab is an excellent weapon, as is his right hand too the body, and his uppercuts. Despite being a good defensive fighter he can drop his hands at times, and become somewhat dependent on his reactions as opposed to his technical skills, but due to his speed this is rarely a real issue for him. One are where he is lacking is power, and despite stopping Ramonal last time out, in what looked like a very impressive win at the time, it's worth noting that Ramonal was blitzed in 2 rounds in his only fight since losing to Apolinar. That lack of power might be an issue if this becomes a fighter fight.
There is no doubting that Apolinar is the more rounded boxer, and the more skilled pure boxer. But the power Takei has is brutal and he has been taking opponents out in impressive fashion. Although his stamina hasn't been tested he has been working with Akira Yaegashi, who will have pushed him hard in training, and we think worries about his stamina are some what unnecessary given that training. More interesting will be what happens if Apolinar can frustrate and counter Takei, and making things tough. Sadly for Apolinaro however, we don't imagine that happening. Despite some good moments from the Filipino, we see him taking a hard left hook from a patient Takei, who will give few openings to Apolinar. That left hook, potentially in round 3 or 4, will stagger the Filipino and a follow up will force a stoppage.
Prediction - TKO4 Takei
*Poll data take on August 19th.
This coming weekend we'll see OPBF Super Featherweight champion Masanori Rikiishi (11-1, 6) look to record his first defense of the title, as he takes on exciting and aggressive Filipino challenger Tomjune Mangubat (15-3-1, 12). The bout doesn't feature a huge name in the sport, but does feature two men with the potential to compete at world level over the coming years, and the OPBF title could well be the key to either man unlocking a shot at world honours.
The 28 year old Rikiishi, the brother for former world champion Masamichi Yabuki, was put on the fast track from the moment he turned professional in 2007. His first two bouts came against fighters with a combined 10-4 record and he easily won both of those bouts before his team rushed him too quickly, and he ran into the hard hitting Kosuke Saka, with Saka stopping him in 2 rounds. Since then however he has bounced back excellently, and strung together good wins, beating the likes of Freddy Fonseca, Yuichiro Kasuya, Soreike Taichi and most recently Takuya Watanabe, with that win netting him the OPBF title. He has tested the water at Super Featherweight and Lightweight, and has seemingly decided that his future, for now, lies at 130lbs which suits his frame well.
Fighting out of the southpaw stance Rikiishi is a clever boxer, who uses the ring well, has something of a relaxed textbook style. He uses a stiff and accurate jab, to control the action, uses his footwork well to control range and chips away at fighters with his jabs early on. As rounds go by he looks to unleash heavier shots with his left hand, but is a very patient fighter, who bides his time, looks for the openings and makes the most of them. He's a frustrating fighter to watch, as he doesn't give many chances to his opponents, and takes the ones he gets, as we saw in impressive fashion against Taichi. By fighting in such a relaxed and calm manner he doesn't ever over exert himself, but when he wants to pick up the tempo he can. We saw last time out, against Watanabe, we saw him prove he can easily go 12 rounds when he needs to and mix more into his arsenal than we typically see from him. He's certainly not a 1-punch artist, or a slippery defensive genius, or someone with a titanium chin, but he is someone who understands the sport and knows what he's doing in the ring.
Aged 24 Tomjune Mungubat, aka the War Dog, is one of the many Filipino fighters who has gained a reputation for putting in sensational and exciting performances, regardless of results. He is a fighter who makes for fan friendly wars and will put on a show. He's not the most polished, or the most skilled, but he has very solid power, a good engine and the sorts of flaws that make for highly engaging battles with opponents, whether he's better than them or note. He first came to our attention in 2019, when he engaged in a 10 round thriller with Jong Seon Kang, losing a split decision to the Young Korean, and since then has gone 4-1 (3) with his only losing coming to the highly regarded Charly Suarez. Sadly his style does have its issues, especially against the more technically sound fighters, but given his power he will always be dangerous.
Mangubat is a tall, ranger fighter who doesn't have the most polished style, but he is aggressive, heavy handed, uses a lot energy, throws with bad intentions and loves coming forward. From the first bell to the final moments he will come forward, doing so behind a high guard and pressing the action. He can picked and prodded at, as we saw Charly Suarez do back in March, and he can be hurt, having been stopped in 2 of his 3 losses, but it takes a lot to stop him, and even Suarez had to unload barrage after barrage in the later rounds of their fight. Defensively he can look a bit rigid, especially when he's tired, but even then he is still dangerous and still throws enough to hurt fighters and keep them honest.
On paper this should a really good fight and a hard one to predict. Rikiishi is, easily, the more skilled of the two and the better pure boxer, but the tenacity, power, aggression and willingness to take risks will make Mangubat dangerous. Especially early on. Rikiishi will need to be cautious in the early going, following the gameplan set forth by Suarez of picking, poking, and neutralising the aggression of Mangubat. If he can do that early on and then start to press more himself, landing his spiteful left hand, then there is a real chance he stops Mangubat quicker than Suarez did. If he can't land those hard, well timed, left hands however he is in for a very, very tough night.
We feel Rikiishi has the tools to land his clean shots, hurting and stopping Mangubat, be he will have to take some punishment to see off the Filipino challenger.
Prediction - TKO7 Rikiishi
This coming Sunday Japanese Heavyweight hopeful Brandon Mitsuro Tajima (1-0, 1) will attempt to etch his name into the history books by setting a new record for the fewest fights needed to win a Japanese title, as he faces Sung Min Lee (7-2-1, 2) for the vacant Japanese Heavyweight title, in just his 2nd professional bout. The bout, which is to crown only the 4th ever Japanese Heavyweight champion, will be headlining at the EDION Arena Osaka with Tajima looking to become the new face of the Japanese Heavyweight scene, following on from former champion Kyotaro Fujimoto.
Before we talk about the specific bout we really do need to look at what Tajima is looking to achieve. So far the record for fewest fights to win a Japanese title, at least for men, is set at 4 fights and has been achieved by some legitimate legends, such as Naoya Inoue, Akinobu Hiranaka and Joichiro Tasuyoshi, with international fighters who fought out of Japan, with James Callaghan and Modesty Napunyi having achieved the feat. To see Tajima not just trying to beat that record, but essentially half it, really is a statement of belief and trust in him from his team, including promoter Koki Kameda.
Prior to beginning his professional carer Tajima was a very notable amateur on the Japanese scene, winning a number of domestic titles whilst running up a very solid 42-9 (20) record in the unpaid ranks, whilst fighting 81KG’s, 178.574lbs. Stood at just shy of 6' he's a small Heavyweight, and if he was fighting in the West he would likely be making his name at Light Heavyweight if not Super Middleweight, but in Japan he is a legitimately big guy, albeit one carrying some extra pounds of body weight. He's a Brazilian-Japanese fighter who is strong, skilled, powerful and quick, and whilst his tools likely won't take him to major international success he does like he has what's needed to make a massive mark on the domestic scene, and the regional scene.
In the ring it's hard to say too much about Tajima, at least as a professional fighter. His debut lasted less than a minute, and whilst he looked incredible powerful it's fair to say that his opponent, Sang Ho Kim, offered absolutely nothing. Tajima could have done anything he wished and won here, and we can only assume he wished to get this over with quickly, taking just 56 seconds to take out Kim. The bout was a cameo, but showed Tajima had solid guard, hand speed and heavy body shots in his arsenal. Tools he'll be looking to show off again here.
Aged 31 Sung Min Lee, who gets the chance to fight for a Japanese title due to very specific rules regarding fighters from OPBF regions being able to win national titles that aren't their own, has been a professional since 2017 and has previously won the Korean title, though has fallen out of form recently. He debuted in 2017 with a win, but lost his second professional bout. From his 1-1 start he turned things around well, stringing together 6 straight wins before going 0-1-1 in his last two bouts, with a draw against Hyun Tae Bae in 2020 and a loss last time out to Ja Sung Jo, back in December 2020. With those results it is now more than 3 years since Lee last won a bout, and he is 1-1-1 in his last 3, in bouts that could well have all gone against him.
Unlike most Heavyweights out there Lee doesn't have much power and his 5'11" frame looks podgy rather than of an athlete. Quite often he has clear fat rolls on his belt line and he looks like someone who could boil down to Cruiserweight if he tried. He not only lacks power but also work rate, and he doesn't set a high tempo. He is however tough, he takes a good shot and he responds in kind with shots of his own. He's gritty, he's determined and as fights go on his will to win shines as he looks to take fights to his opponent. It was that will to win that saw him play his part in a thrilling 10 round war with Hyun Tae Bae in 2020. Sadly though his will doesn't make up for his relative lack of skill, and he's open to counter shots, he slaps a lot and his footwork is trudging. He's very much a Korean tough guy who can box a bit in a paper thing division, than a true heavyweight boxer.
With Lee being tough we suspect he will last longer than Kim did against Tajima, but we can't see Lee posing much of a test for the Japanese hopeful. We see the lack of foot work, the open defense and the poor stamina and speed as all playing into Tajima's strengths. We expect Tajima to press forward behind a high guard, get a look at what Lee is offering, and then pick him apart with single heavy shots before raising the tempo when Lee is hurt to close the show.
Tajima is no body beautiful. He looks like a man carrying 20-30lbs too much weight, but a bit like Andy Ruiz it's clear that he is a much better boxer than his body would have one to believe and Tajima could well end up being a notable name on the regional scene. Sadly though that seems to be the best he can become unless he intends to leave Japan, drop the excess weight and fight in a weight class better suited to his body. At this level however, carrying the excess weight isn't going to do him any harm at all,
Prediction - TKO2 Tajima
Over the last decade or so the Super Flyweight division has been one of the hottest, most interesting, exciting and compelling division's in the sport. We've really had everything at 115lbs in that time, with Fights of the Year contenders, brutal knockouts, huge upsets, all action wars, star making performances and recent the emergence of Jesse Bam Rodriguez, arguably the hottest young talent in professional boxing. At the global scene the division has been delivering year after year, though what most probably aren't too aware of, is that the division has also been delivering great fights on the lower levels, such as the Japanese and Oriental scenes, with some absolute thrillers in recent years. We could well be in for another of those thrillers this coming Tuesday, when Japanese champion Kenta Nakagawa (21-4-1, 12) defends his title against Hayate Kaji (15-1, 9) at Korakuen Hall.
Of the two men Nakagawa is the more established and the more well known. The 36 year fighter is currently enjoying his third reign as the Japanese champion, and has really established himself as one of the top domestic level fighters in the division over the last few years. He first won the title in 2016, won it again in 2019 and reclaimed it earlier this year. Sadly however his first two reigns have been short, losing in his first defense of his first reign and his second defense in his second reign, and at 36 it's hard to imagine him now having a lengthy run with the belt. Despite his short reigns Nakagawa has had a genuinely solid career, albeit one that maybe could have been better. He began as a professional in 2004 and went 2-1 before taking a 6 year break from the ring, losing 6 years of his developmental years. Since then he has gone 19-3-1 with notable wins against the likes of Joe Tanooka, Hayato Kimura, Takayuki Okumoto, Yuta Matsuo, Ayato Hiromoto and Hiroyuki Kudaka.
As a fighter Nakagawa is a technical, intelligent southpaw, with a gritty determination and a good variety of shots. Early in his career he was known for having solid speed, but as time has gone on, and he's aged, he has slowed down and relied more on his technical skills rather than his speed. He uses his technical ability to create space, landing straight shots, and he boxes well whether he's going forward or backwards. He's a crisp, clean puncher who doesn't take unnecessary risks, and instead boxes smartly. looking for holes to land big straight left hands, and gets his jab out there to remain busy. Sadly when he is dragged into a war, he doesn't have the power to turn things around, and he has been stopped in his two most recent losses, including one in a sensational fire fight to Ryoji Fukunaga. He's tough and brave, but he has been stopped, he struggles under intense pressure, and when fighters don't let him control space he really struggles to dictate things.
Whilst Nakagawa is a 3-time champion and a veteran Kaji really is the opposite. The 24 year old has been on the scene since he was a teenage, and he made a lot of buzz in Japan early on, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2015. Sadly Teiken spent years after that success slowly bringing him along, too slowly. There were reports that he was getting frustrated, and other reports suggesting he was playing up and being unprofessional. The reality is likely a mix of the two. He was a teenager looking like he could be fast-tracked and instead moved at a snails pace whilst being matched against opponents who did little to develop his skills over the following 4 or 5 years. Last year he got his first real chance to prove himself, and he did just that, in a thrilling bout with Ryoji Fukunaga for the triple crown. A bout that many felt Kaji had deserved to win, though was denied on the scorecards, losing a highly controversial majority decision. A decision that would later be questioned when Fukunaga subsequently landed a dream fight with Kazuto Ioka just a few weeks later.
Despite the frustrations of Kaji's development he has shown that he is a legitimate prospect at 115lbs. Early on he was something of a raw puncher. He was blasting out opponents, and did so earlier on stopping 6 of his first 8 opponents in the first 2 rounds. In more recent bouts however he has become a smarter fighter, accepting his power won't take everyone out and instead of being a pure banger, he has become an intelligent boxer-puncher. His last 5 bouts have all gone the distance, and he has developed the tools to become a genuine force on the regional scene. In the ring Kaji moves around the ring well, picks his spots well, and controls range really nicely whilst firing off crisp, clean, sharp combinations, with every shot having decent pop behind it. At times he has been accused of being lazy and pedestrian, but against Fukunaga he raised to the occasion and was out boxing, out punching and out fighting the dangerous and tough Fukunaga. If looking for a complaint with Kaji he still fights like a man who has more to offer than we see from him, but we suspect that as he mature we'll see more and more from him. Like many Teiken fighters over recent years, he doesn't like to waste energy, and is too apprehensive at times, but that is something we expect to see change as he gets used to fighting longer distances and becomes more comfortable with his stamina.
In his prime we feel Nakagawa would have the tools to deal with a 24 year old Kaji. We think he would be too mature and too mentally switched on. This however isn't a prime Nakagawa and given how Kaji dealt with the southpaw stance of Fukunaga, we really don't see him having any problems at all with the 36 year old champion. We expect to see Kaji pressing forward, and being too quick, too sharp and simply too young for Nakagawa, who will have success, but will be out worked by the younger man, when Kaji puts his foot on the gas. We don't see Kaji stopping Nakagawa necessarily, but we do see him hurting Nakagawa and securing a clear, yet hard fought decision. We expect to see Nakagawa down going into the late rounds, and trying to up the tempo, and potentially being caught by a bomb, but seeing out the storm to survive the distance.
Prediction - UD10 Kaji
This coming weekend we'll see unified regional Welterweight champion Ryota Toyoshima (15-2-1, 9) look to make his second defense of the WBO Asia Pacific title, as he takes on Filipino challenger Adam Diu Abdulhamid (17-10, 9) at Korakuen Hall, in the headline bout of this month's Dynamic Glove show. The bout doesn't appear to be a step up for the champion, but it will see him tick over with his first bout since an impressive December defense against Shoki Sakai, whilst Abdulhamid will get the most notable bout of his career so far.
Of the two fighters it's the champion who will go in to this one with high expectations. He has been in great form recently, with 8 straight including notable ones against the likes of Moon Hyon Yun, Woo Min Won Riku Nagahama, Yuki Beppu and Shoki Sakai. Since his last loss, back in 2017, he has developed into a very solid boxer-puncher, who understands what he's doing in the ring, has solid enough power to get respect, and can move around the ring really well. He's unlikely to ever pose a threat at top of the global scene, and we suspect he knows that, however on the regional scene he has the tools to have excellent reign at the top. He has the skills, the power and the toughness to make a real mark at this level and have a lengthy reign.
Whilst Toyoshima is never going to become a world beater, the 26 year old from the Teiken Gym, has proven he is a very solid all rounder and notably only one man seems to have the answers to him, with that being Masaharu Kaito who gave him both of his defeats. When dragged into a war he can win those, as we saw against Yuki Beppu where his chin took the best Beppu had to offer, before he broke down and stopped Beppu. Sadly he's not a huge puncher, but more of a consistent puncher, who lands clean, regularly, and hurts fighters round by round. He had solid pop in every punch, and he really did show that in neutralising the pressure of Shoki Sakai, a notoriously tough man. If we are looking for areas he's weak he's not the quickest, he's not a fighter who has natural speed, but he makes up for that with decent timing and solid, dependable work rate, and a very nice variety of shots in his arsenal.
As for the challenger the 27 year old Filipino has been around since 2013 and had mixed success early in, going 3-2 in his first 5. Following that stumbling start he found his groove, and climbed to 9-2, before suffering a stoppage loss Georgii Chelokhsaev in Russia, where he suffered an injury in the opening round. That loss was a set back, but not the end end as he returned to the ring soon afterwards and picked up 2 wins on the domestic scene before a close loss in 2017 to Apinun Khongsong. That loss started a downfall, that saw him fall to 11-6, and he's never really rebuilt from there, strugglign for consistency. He's shown he can score upsets, as he did in 2018 against Youli Dong, but his results aren't consistent and worse yet he suffered his second inside the distance loss this past March, at the hands of Vitaly Petryakov.
In the ring it's fair to say that Abdulhamid is a very capable fighter. He moves like an aggressive fighter, he likes to press and pressure, coming forward to set the tempo of the bout. Early on he can be somewhat apprehensive of throwing shots, but as the rounds tick by he does fire more leather off. His aggressive footwork in ring style makes life hard for opponents, as we saw against Khongsong and Dong, but he's not a guy who will cut the ring down quickly. Instead he's a bit predictable and basic, allowing opponents with decent footwork to create space or make him pay for being wide with his shots.
Watching the two men one thing seems to be pretty clear, and that's the gulf between the two fighters, but instead the manner in which the Filipino fighter is essentially made to order for Toyoshima. The pressure from Abdulhamid should see him essentially walking into the firing zone of Toyoshima, who we suspect will pick him apart with the cleaner, crisper, more technically sound shots. Abdulhamid does have decent work rate when he decides to let his shots go, which typically comes after a slow start, but they are wide and will leave him open to counter shots from Toyoshima.
We suspect Abdulhamid will start slowly, losing a number of the early rounds, before trying to pick up the pace in the middle of the bout, and end up being caught time and time again by counter shots until he get stopped in the later rounds.
Prediction - TKO11 Toyoshima
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