We get the first of this year's Japanese title decider bouts on October 6th as Flyweight prospect Junto Nakatani (16-0, 12) takes on recent OPBF title challenger Shun Kosaka (15-4, 4), with the winner receiving a shot at the Japanese title next year, in the Champion Carnival.
Of the two fighters it's Nakatani who is the more promising and the one viewed as the favourite. He is unbeaten, big for the weight and has been very impressive through his career so far. Despite only making his professional debut in April 2015 he has already won the Rookie of the Year, in 2016, and the Japanese Youth Flyweight title, in 2017. He won both of those by scoring notable wins, defeating Masamichi Yabuki in the Rookie of the Year final and Seigo Yuri Akui in the Japanese Youth title fight. Nakatani hasn't just beaten notable domestic fighters but also some international fighters, beating Mario Andrade and Dexter Alimento in his last two bouts.
In the ring Nakatani is a busy, aggressive and heavy handed fighter. The 20 year, who is huge for a Flyweight, gets in the ring with the intention of beating up his opponents. He's a pressure fighter at heart but has shown the ability to box his way in, rather than charging at his opponents he uses his reach well to control the tempo then dominates on the inside, using his powerful hands and explosive shots.
The 23 year old Kosaka is the slightly older man and debuted back in December 2012. Notably he reached the 2014 Rookie of the Year final, where he lost to Kenya Yamashita. The following year he would suffer his second loss, to Tetsuya Hisada. Since then he has gone 6-2 (4), losing a close decision to to Akinori Hoshino last year and Jayr Raquinel back in May. In both of those bouts Kosaka had different flaws picked out, with Hoshino out boxing him and Raquinel out moving and out punching him. Given his record it's fair to say he has lost against his 4 most notable opponents but the man from the Shinsei gym will know that a win will give his career a sudden impetus.
In the ring Kosaka is a pretty basic fighter. He's doesn't do anything spectacularly well, he's got a nice jab, and knows his way around the ring but doesn't have much power in his shots, backs off a lot and despite having good timing in regards to his shots he often reaches when he punches, taking the snap of his punches. He won his first 9 bouts by decision, relying on his skills and jab, but as he's gone up in class and faced opponents who can box back he has struggled.
We suspect that Kosaka's jab and movement could give Nakatani some early problems, but before long Nakatani will have his own jab in the face of Kosaka, and will be following it up with body shots, which will break down Kosaka. The real question for Nakatani is whether he can stop Kosaka quicker than Raquinel did, which was mid way through round 4.
Interestingly we suspect that Nakatani may also have a secret weapon here, with Nakatani fighting out of the MT Gym, which also manage the same Akinori Hoshino who beat Kosaka last year.
This coming Saturday we'll see titles being unified as OPBF Super Featherweight champion Hironori Mishiro (6-0, 2) takes on Japanese champion Masaru Sueyoshi (18-1, 11), with the winner becoming the de facto #2 in Japan behind WBO champion Masayuki Ito, and moving towards a world title fight of their own.
Although the less experienced of the two men Mishiro is the holder of the high level title, a title he won back in June when he out pointed Filipino Carlo Magali in a very close bout. Prior to that win he had scored notable domestic victories over Shuya Masaki and Shuma Nakazato, and was a former amateur standout. Despite his success he often been a frustrating fighter, showing little killer instinct and being dragged into longer and tough bouts than he probably wanted to have. At his best he is a wonderful fighter to watch, boxing at range and dictating the tempo is something he looks brilliant at. Up close however he can be made to look defensively flawed, open and easy to tag, and we do have questions about his chin and durability as well as his stamina.
If Mishiro can dictate the tempo and range of a fight he's going to be a very hard man to beat, but when he slows down he does look beatable, and this something he will have to work hard to improve as his career develops. After just 6 fights, and aged just 23, we don't expect him to be a complete fighter and in fact his flaws being so numerous make it clear just how much he has to work with already. He's quick, smart, rangy and very promising.
With 19 bouts under his belt Sueyoshi is far more experienced than Mishiro and at 27 he is more mature as a fighter. Not only that but he has been a professional for more than 7 years, and has faced several notable foes, including Masayuki Ito, Shingo Eto, Allan Vallespin and Ribo Takahata. He actually won the title by beating Takahata last October and has made two defenses, beating Ken Osato and Tsuyoshi Tojo.
Like Mishiro we see Sueyoshi as a frustrating fighter. He creates awkward distance and angles, and fighters very well off the back foot, in a rather unusual manner. He's not a puncher by any means, but when he lands clean he can score spectacular KO's, as he did against Vallespin. Instead he chips away at people, breaks them down mentally as well as physically and draws mistakes out of them. He's technically very good, and makes people pay for their mistakes, but has been dropped and hurt before and it's clear that whilst talented he may struggle against the bigger punchers if, or when, he mixes at world level.
We're expecting a bit of an awkward bout here. Both fighters set unusual distances and tempos. Of the two Mishiro is the more aggressive and Sueyoshi the more defensively minded, and given that polarity we do expect this to be a pretty fun bout. We favour Sueyoshi's experience over 10 rounds to get him to victory, but we wouldn't be surprised by a close decision either way in what could be a bout that frustrates at times but is very competitive through out.
This coming Saturday we'll see a really looking OPBF Minimumweight title bout, as the hard hitting Tsubasa Koura (13-0, 9) takes on Daiki Tomita (12-0, 4), with Koura looking to make his third defense of the title and Tomita fighting for his first title. Of the two fighters it's the champion who is the more well and more touted, but the challenger is a touted 20 year old with a point to prove and opportunity to make a name for himself against a very highly regarded fighter.
Aged 23 Koura is a real wild card in the Minmumweight division, and someone who has eyes on world title fighters. He debuted at the age of 19 in August 2014 and the following year he was crowned the All-Japan Rookie of the Year. The following year he showed his explosiveness and scored a notable win against Jeffrey Galero before defeating Jaysevera Abcede in 2017 for the OPBF title. Since winning the belt Koura has been tested, narrowly over-coming Masataka Taniguchi in his first defense then pulling himself off the canvas to defeat Norihito Tanaka in his second defense.
In the early stages of his career Koura showed his explosiveness. It was a exciting yet dangerous and sometimes crude. Since then however he has shown he can box, holding his own in a boxing contest with Taniguchi. He's still showed he was heavy handed, but also that he wasn't a one-trick pony, instead being more of a boxer-puncher. The boxing skills were on show again when he defeated Tanaka, showing lovely speed, nice movement and a good jab and some lovely counter shots. There was however a moment in the opening round when he went for the finish and was dropped from a big counter shot. That didn't really leave question marks about his chin, but more about the risks he takes, and he did bounce up almost immediately. If he takes too many risks there is a chance it will come back to bite him. Though we suspect as he matures he'll become less risky and know when to unload and when to be patient.
At 20 years old Tomita is a bit of a boxing baby though has also won the Rookie of the Year, claiming the crown in 2016. Sadly since claiming the Rookie of the Year his career hasn't really developed significantly, and his best win was a decision over the tough but limited Desierto Nagaike. Despite Nagaike being limited the bout did serve as a chance for Tomita to prove his stamina, and he did so by winning 10 round decision. Through his career he has proven to be technically solid, with smart movement, quick on his feet and sharp with his punches. Notably he also looks big for the weight and looks like he will probably out grow the division sooner rather than later.
Although not as well known as the champion Tomita does look like a real prospect with a lot of potential. His body shots are particularly good and although there is a long way for him to go he looks like someone who will step up in terms of his performances when he faces stiffer competition. His style could well give Koura real problems, and it seems like if he can establish his jab, and control the distance. If he can manage that he really could see more questions being asked of Koura than ever before.
We're expecting to see Koura look to use his speed and power and Tomita boxing smartly on the back foot. The style of Tomita could give Koura problems, but we fancy Koura's power to be the difference and to bail him out in the middle rounds of the contest. Possibly with Tomita leading on the score cards. Hopefully a win here will lead to Koura getting a world title fight, though it does feel like we've been talking about that for a while and yet he is still defending the OPBF title against domestic challengers, no the regional elite.
If we're being honest the Middleweight scene in Japan is a bit of a strange one. Ryota Murata is the standout, by a long way, with Kazuto Takesako a distant second. Below Takesako however the division is actually quite interesting with several fighters all around the same level, two of whom are set to fight this coming Wednesday in a double title bout.
The bout in question will see OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Middleweight champion Yasuyuki Akiyama (12-7-1, 9) defending his titles against the hard hitting Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa (10-3, 9), in what will be the second bout between the two men.
These two fought in early 2017, with Akiyama narrowly taking a decision. Since then Akiyama has fought just once, scoring a massive upset win against Koki Tyson to claim the two unified titles, whilst Hosokawa has gone on a tear, stopping 4 domestic foes to get into the title mix.
At 38, soon to be 39, Akiyama is certainly coming to the end of his career. His win over Tyson was, by far, the biggest of his career, and the back-to-back wins over Tyson and Hosokawa came after Akiyama suffered a trio of losses, to Akio Shibata, Shoma Fukumoto and Tomohiro Ebisu. Those losses seemed to end his career but he's bounced back well with his recent wins and seems to be fighting like a man who simply can't afford another set back. He knows his career is hanging by a thread and won't want to suffer a loss.
In saying that it does seem Akiyama has had a bit of luck in recent fights. His win over Hosokawa was a razor thin decision whilst the win over Tyson was shrouded in controversy due to a shot after the bell in round 2, which Tyson never seemed to recover from. It wasn't a KO shot but was something that seemed to play on his mind, and he never looked as sharp afterwards. Despite the luck he's had he has shown a real desire to win. Ploughing forward, throwing bombs and looking to land big power shots, even when his face is a swollen mess.
Hosokawa isn't a spring chicken either, at the age of 34, though he's only been a professional for about 4 years. He would lose 2 of his first 4, by razor thin decision, before finding his groove with 4 straight wins. That run would only come to an end when he suffered the close loss to Akiyama last year. Since then he has developed a lot, working on his stamina and skills to add to his power. That has seen him scoring 7th and 8th round stoppages in his last 2 bouts. There is still a crude, diamond in the rough look to him, but with his power, ability to take a shot and relentless aggression he's now a genuine danger man at this type of level. We suspect Takesako would blow him away, and Murata obviously would, but pretty much anyone else on the domestic scene would have a very hard time with him.
Whilst Akiyama has had some good luck the same can't be said for Hosokawa who's losses have all been in razor thin decisions. He seems to fight like a man who doesn't trust the judges, and with losses in 3 of his 4 distance bouts who can blame him. We suspect that mentality to be on show here given his history with Akiyama. He will have to take some shots from the heavy hands of Akiyama but he will likely fight like a man who refuses to back off.
We're expecting a war here. Early on we expect to see both fighters try to get center ring, but Hosokawa will likely win that battle. Then we'll see Akiyama fighting off the back foot, where he's less effective in what will be a drawn out battle of wills. Sadly for Akiyama his age, and inactivity, will be a problem for him here and we expect to see him getting stopped in the middle to late rounds.
This coming Tuesday we'll see Japanese Heavyweight Kyotaro Fujimoto (19-1, 11) defending his two regional titles. He'll be making the 4th defense of the OPBF Heavyweight title and the third defense of the WBO Asia Pacific title, as he takes on limited Thai puncher Suthat Kalalek (12-9, 11). For the Japanese fighter it's another opportunity to advance his career and to rack up an extra defense of his two titles, whilst the Thai gets a second OPBF title fight, after having come up short in a Super Middleweight title bout back in 2015.
Of the two men it's Kyotaro who is the more well known, by a long way. The Japanese Heavyweight is a former K1 fighter who has shaken up the Japanese boxing scene by being a notable Heavyweight, the first notable Japanese born fighter in the division's history. His success has seen him become only the second ever Japanese Heavyweight champion, resurrecting a title which had been dead for more than 50 years, and going on to defend the belt 3 times before unifying it with the OPBF and the WBO Asia Pacific titles.
In the ring Kyotaro doesn't really fight like a typical Heavyweight. He's a small fighter for the division, standing at just 6'0 and weighing around 228lbs. Instead of being someone who will bring the fight to an opponent he's often a fighter who uses his speed and movement to out box and counter punch bigger, stronger, slower fighters. Early on in his career that saw him having mixed success, with a notable loss in his 6th professional bout against Solomon Haumono. In more recent times however it's been a tactic which has worked well and allowed him to keep his suspect chin safe whilst tiring out, and then stopping, lesser foes.
The Thai on the other hand isn't really anyone of any major note. He's better known as Kajornsak Sithsaithong or Kajornsak Saikaew Boxing Camp, and the 23 year old is one of the few men who will make Kyotaro look big. Stood at 5'7” Suthat is a blown up Middleweight who has lost to every notable name he has faced. That include Shintaro Matsumoto, Yuzo Kiyota and Vikas Singh. In fact his only win of any note came against the over-weight and out of shape Yamata Fujinaka, who came in at a career high 248.5lbs for his bout with the Thai.
Although limited the visitor can bang, and did drop Kiyota, but that power isn't going to carry up to Heavyweight. Instead it's going to be clear he's not suited to Heavyweight. In a way he could give Kyotaro fits by using his own speed and using his lack of natural lack of size to his advantage. The reality however is that he's unlikely to have the power, strength or style to test the champion. Instead we suspect that Kyotaro will look to make a statement and see off the Thai fighter within 6 or 7 rounds, maximum, in what is a very clear mismatch.
Fingers crossed that if Kyotaro wins his next defense will be against a more compelling foe, such as Zhang Zhilei or Zhang Junlong.
On September 21st Japan's Shintaro Matsumoto (14-6, 10) will get a chance to become am 2-weight OPBF champion, as he takes on hard hitting Australian Aaron Lai (10-4, 9), the current OPBF Light Heavyweight champion. On paper the bout looks very competitive, with neither man being a world beater, but how do we see the bout?
Of the two men the one we know best is Matsumoto. The 33 year old, currently fighting out of the Watanabe Gym though previously of the Yonekura Gym, is one of the few Japanese fighters to have made a bit of a name at Super Middleweight. Sadly though his career at 168lbs was over-shadowed by hard hitting contemporary Yuzo Kiyota, who would defend he OPBF title against Matsumoto in 2012 then claim the vacant title with a second win over Matsumoto in 2013. It wasn't until 2016 that Matsumoto got some revenge by taking the regional title off his shop worn nemesis with a technical decision. By then Kiyota was looking very much a washed up fighter. Sadly for Matsumoto his reign was short, losing the title to Jayde Mitchell in his first defense.
Since losing to Mitchell Matsumoto has fought twice. Defeating a limited Thai and losing to Reagan Dessaix. At his best Matsumoto wasn't really the best in Japan. He had respectable power, and was accurate enough, but lacked durability, lacked vicious power and lacked speed. With 4 stoppage losses from his 20 career bouts we know he doesn't take a show well, and with his lack of speed that is a double problem. He can be hurt, and usually can't escape from the follow up attacks.
At 35 years old Lai is likely coming to the end of his career, a career that only started in 2011. He would win his first 6 bouts, 5 by stoppage, before suffering a drop in form, losing 3 in a row and 4 out of 5. Those losses weren't the most humiliating, losing to Jayde Mitchell and Peng Qu among others, but they did show up his flaws and saw him being dropped a number of times. It seemed that whilst he could hurt opponents he could also be hurt himself. Since those losses he has bounced back with 3 wins, all by stoppage, including his OPBF title win last year and his first victory.
Although a puncher Lai has been down in a number of fights. He's yet to be stopped, but with all the times he's been knockdown it's obvious that he's not that durable and a stoppage loss is just around the corner. He's very much a flawed fighter, and it's going to take a very good match maker on his side to let him have a lengthy reign as the champion.
We know both guys are limited. Both are very flawed. When that happens it's hard not to favour the one with the more bang. As a result we fancy Lai to come out on top and score a stoppage, though we wouldn't be surprised to see him needing to pull himself off the canvas to stop Matsumoto in what could be an entertaining, if low skilled, contest.
Muhamad Ridhwan 11-0 (8 KOs) vs Paulus Ambunda 26-2 (11 KOs)
29 September, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
“The Chosen Wan” vs “The Rock”
By Gerald Hartup Jnr
The iconic Marina Bay Sands in Singapore will play host to a bout between local fighter Muhamad Ridhwan and Namibia’s Paulus Ambunda for the IBO Super Bantamweight World title. Last month when the fighters met face to face in Singapore for their media work there were some colourful verbal exchanges between the two men and both were brimming with confidence on their chances of getting the win. 30 year old Ridhwan has youth and home advantage on his side but the 38 year old former world champion Ambunda is confident that his experience will make the difference.
Rock, paper, scissors. How do the styles match up?
Stylistically Ambunda is a fan-friendly and fun boxer to watch. He really brings the action, forces a quick pace and comes to fight. He is a come forward, maximum pressure, high volume fighter who likes to walk his opponent down and get to work on the inside. He brings intensity through constant aggression and has a huge cardio engine. He works behind a solid defence utilising a high guard and is hard to hit cleanly. His work rate is impressive and he has gone the full 12 round championship distance a staggering 13 times. A style like his almost guarantees action in a bout.
The Namibian is a former WBO and IBO world champion and will not be fazed by a big event like this. He had a very successful amateur career and was an Olympian in 2004. He calls himself a warrior and frankly that’s a fair description, he is as tough as they come and has not been stopped in 28 professional fights.
Ridhwan is much more of a skilled and traditional technician. He is a boxer puncher whose best work is when he is operating behind his slick jab. He uses the jab effectively to score, damage, disrupt, control distance, distract and set up attacks. He is a very thoughtful fighter who boxes to a game plan and is often looking to lead his opponent into traps or to counter them. He too was a very successful amateur and has the fundamental skills to show for it. He is more than capable of mixing it on the inside as well, displaying a commitment to working the body throughout his career. His last outing was a win by uppercut KO and he throws a vicious liver shot.
This will be the Yishun boxers first outing at the 122lb Super bantamweight limit. He has fought most of his pro career at 130lb with his last bout at 126lbs. It will be interesting to see how his power and stamina transfer down to this weight category.
Ambunda is not known for his knockout power having only stopped one opponent in the past seven years. Ridhwan is much more of a banger having stopped eight of his eleven opponents and should be the heavier handed man on fight night.
A family affair
In an interesting twist to the fights narrative it has emerged that Ambunda is the cousin of previous Ridhwan opponent Nataneal Sebastian. Sebastian went the full twelve rounds and lost his unbeaten record to TCW on points last year. Ambunda is promising to exact revenge for his younger cousin.
Between a rock and a hard place
As a professional, Ambunda has been there, done it and got the T shirt. A WBO world title win being the peak of his impressive achievements. His two losses were against very respectable high level opponents Moises Flores and Tomoki Kameda both in world championship bouts. He is a boxer who has seen it all.
Ridhwans career is on an upwards trajectory and he is starting to hit his stride in the paid ranks. He has been a professional for less than three years progressing from an exciting prospect to now establishing himself as a serious world contender.
It’s the time of the season
If a boxing career were measured by Seasons in a year, Ridhwan is in early Summer and Ambunda is in late Autumn. Ambunda is a fantastic athlete and a very youthful 38 year old but he is undoubtedly near the end of his career and Father Time will catch up to him at some point. There will not be many more big nights fighting under the bright lights for him and this could be the final chance at glory.
Cebu style. The ALA connection
Ridhwan has been training hard in camp for this bout and along with his coach Rey Caitom Jnr they have been working with some high level sparring partners. The dangerous knockout artist Michael Romarate 11-1-1 (8 KOs) has been working as chief sparring partner and the elite world level contender Arthur Villanueva 32-3 (18 KOs) joined the final part of camp to provide some further tough preparation work.
What do all these men have in common? It is the famed ALA boxing gym in Cebu, Philippines. Cebu isn’t just famous for its beautiful beaches and diving, boxing fans know it for ALA which is an institution that has produced numerous world champions. Ridhwan trained and stayed there when he turned professional. Rey Caitom Jnr was a multi time national amateur champion and undefeated professional boxing out of there. Romarate and Villanueva are also both products of ALA.
High stakes at the Marina Bay Sands
The IBO world title is on the line. This is already a major belt to be competing for but beyond that the implications of this fight are very different for both men.
A win for Ridhwan would propel him into the top 15 in the world and put him in a real position to work towards challenging the best Super bantamweights on the planet. A loss would be a setback and he would have to get on a potentially long and slow road of rebuilding to get back to this level.
A win for Ambunda would mean he gets to extend his story a bit longer at the highest level. Perhaps he could have a couple more glory fights to finish a decorated career. Realistically though, this could be his last chance to have a big fight for a belt. A loss could even mean it is the end of the line on his impressive career as a prizefighter.
And my crystal ball says...
How do I see this fight panning out? The battle will be won and lost by who can dictate the terms of the fight. Ambunda will work to turn it into a real scrap, ideally turning it into a war trading shots on the inside. Ridhwan will want to control the distance and box from the outside getting in and out and inflicting damage from middle distance. Ambunda will take some rounds by virtue of volumetric output, aggression and high workrate while Ridhwan will get off the cleaner, crisper and more damaging shots. I see it going the full twelve rounds. Ambunda with his excellent endurance will be most dangerous in the final third of the fight. Ridhwans stamina will need to be good as he will not be given any time to get a breather. It could well be tricky to score with a classic subjective boxing scoring situation - do the judges reward aggression or finesse? My final call - an entertaining bout where Ridhwan takes it on points, something like 117-111.
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.