Right now Japan has a lot of good amateurs turning professional and hunting professional titles as quickly as they can. They also have a second type of prospect, the ones who have come through the ranks in a way that's similar to how a prospect is developed in the West. One man who falls in to that secondary category is Junto Nakatani (19-0, 14), who has won the Rookie of the Year, the Japanese Youth title and the Japanese title on his rise through the ranks. As with many prospects who take the slower approach to the top they do need to take a step up, and on October 5th Nakatani has a big step up as he takes on former world champion Milan Melindo (37-4, 13).
For Nakatani this will be the first time he has faced an opponent that international fan will be aware of. This isn't a regional level opponent or a domestic opponent, but a former world champion. On the other hand it also serves as a must win for Melindo, who is 2 years removed from his last win and has lost his last 2 bouts, both in Japan. For both this is a serious match up.
Nakatani has been on the radar, for those who follow the Japanese scene at least, for a few years now. He won the Rookie of the Year in 2016 and since then has moved up slowly, winning the Japanese Youth title in 2017 and the main Japanese title this past February. Whilst he's yet to score a win over a big name, he has beaten the likes of Masamichi Yabuki, Shun Kosaka, Seigo Yuri Akui and Naoki Mochizuki. He has looked a real talent. he's a boxer-puncher who is huge at Flyweight, maturing into his body, a vicious body puncher and someone who is very much developing his craft. Notably he's likely to have out grown the Flyweight division before he gets a big bout, but Nakatani at Super Flyweight will certainly not be under-sized.
Whilst we have been impressed by Nakatani we do wonder what happens when he takes on someone who really knows their way around the ring. His best opponents so far have either been under-sized or technically limited, or both. We still feel Melindo will be clearly under-sized against Nakatani, but Nakatani will be up against someone who can box, move and knows his way around the ring. For the first time he will be tested in terms of his skills, and will be punished for his errors and mistakes.
The 31 year old Melindo is a true veteran, with a 14 year and 41 fight career behind him. That career has taken him all over the world with bouts in the Philippines, Dubai, Macao, Mexico and Japan and seen him share the ring with the likes of Muhammad Rachman, Juan Francisco Estrada, Javier Mendoza, Akira Yaegashi, Hekkie Budler, Ryoichi Taguchi and Kenshiro. The level of experience Melindo has is incredible, but has come at a cost and he has taken a lot of punishment through his career. He is also a natural Light Flyweight, and has spent much of his career at 108lbs, which will be a major issue against Nakatani.
Although Melindo's experience is his key advantage here he does have more to him than just a long career. He's technically an excellent fighter, with fantastic understanding of range, timing and counter punching. He's not the quickest, or the most heavy handed, but he can punch, as we saw in his opening round win against Yaegashi, but technically he's very good and with his experience that technical ability has been polished over the years.
If the men were the same weight this would be a really interesting match up, but in reality Melindo is a decent sized Light Flyweight taking on a huge Flyweight. Likewise if this was earlier in Melindo's career this would be a great fight, but the last 3 fights have been really damaging ones for the Filipino, who was stopped last time out for the first time in his career.
With the accumulative damage and size disadvantage we see what looks like a step up for Nakatani as being more of a showcase than it should be. Melindo has the skills to test Nakatani, but lacks the size, power, speed and youth to test the youngster. We suspect that within 4 or 5 rounds Melindo will be getting broken down, and will be stopped soon afterwards from accumulation.
Prediction- TKO6 Nakatani
The Super Featherweight division is an interesting state right now. It lacks a real star, especially with Gervonta Davis leaving the division, but has a lot of interesting contenders chasing world title bouts. Among those contenders are Tajik born Russian based Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (14-0, 11) and South African Azinga Fuzile (14-0, 8), who will face off in an IBF world title eliminator on September 29th in South Africa. Although both men are risking their unbeaten records the reward is big, as the winner will get a shot at the IBF title, currently held by Tevin Farmer.
Originally Fuzile had been scheduled to face Kenichi Ogawa earlier in the year, though visa issues derailed that fight and the IBF then ordered Fuzile to face Rakhimov, whilst Ogawa went a different route. On paper Fuzile Vs Ogawa was a really good fight, however we actually prefer the look of this one, which looks more even on paper, and should be a more intriguing bout in terms of styles.
For those who have seen Rakhimov they will know what to expect. He's a technically solid, heavy handed and aggressive boxer-puncher. In some way's he's comparable to Sergey Kovalev, with naturally heavy hands and a very solid boxing mentality, though he's more willing to work on the inside than Kovalev and obviously smaller and quicker. There's nothing amazingly flashy with Rakhimov, but he's very solid, finds gaps and uses his straight power shots to back opponents up. When he has his man hurt he goes for the finish, and has very combinations and upper body movement.
Although very promising so far Rakhimov has fought his entire career his entire career in Russia and this could prove to be his biggest issues here. He's having to enter enemy territory for the first time, with the bout taking place in East London, South Africa. Of course there's a worry that being the away fighter will be an issue here, however if he can put the location and fans to the back of his mind, it would a big positive for him.
Watching Fuzile we see a talented and big looking Super Featherweight with really nice handspeed sharp punching and impressive composure. He's a defensively smart fighter, but also a very sharp punching one, and his jab is a great table setter, backing up opponents and allowing him to apply his pressure. He's the type of fighter who looks like he has fun in the ring, and enjoys fighting, showing off his skills and out thinking opponents. Despite the obvious talent we do wonder how his style will hold up when he's under real pressure from a puncher.
We see a real talent in Fuzile, be we also see a young man who needs time to develop the experience needed to get the most from his skills. His competition so far hasn't been the best, and wins over Macolm Klassen and Romulo Koasicha really are his most notable wins. Maybe this fight is coming a touch too soon for him, and he could have done with another couple of decent tests before facing a guy like Rakhimov.
We always worry when a fighter travels to South Africa, it's a really hard country to get a decision in. Saying that however we don't see Rakhimov leaving this in the hands of the judges. Fuzile needs to keep the bout in the center of the ring, he needs to avoid being backed up by Rakhimov's jab and needs to move, a lot. If Fuzile can keep range, dictate behind his jab and avoid being backed up, he should win. Sadly for him however Rakhimov isn't going to be a willing dancer partner, and instead the Tajik visitor will be applying pressure, and sooner or later he will trap Fuzile, bang him to the body and begin to take his wheels away.
We see Fuzile posing Rakhimov real questions, but we suspect the power difference will prove to be too much.
Prediction - TKO9 Rakhimov
Over the last few years we've seen more and more Japanese fighters being fast tracked to their first professional titles. The likes of Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka have obviously gained a lot of attention due to the way they've become multi-weight world champions in very few fights, but other fighters like Ginjiro Shigeoka have also gone on to quickly win regional titles as they look to make a mark and take a huge step, very early on.
The next Japanese fighter looking to make their mark within just a handful of fights is Tsubasa Murachi (4-0, 3), who will look to become the WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight champion this coming Saturday, when he takes on former world title challenger Froilan Saludar (30-3-1, 21). For Murachi the bout is a huge chance to make a massive statement at the age of 22 whilst the 30 year old Saludar will get the chance to remain relevant, though will know a loss here likely ends his hopes of getting a second world title fight.
Of the two men it's Saludar who is, by far, the more well known. The Filipino debuted in 2009 and began his career with a 19-0-1 (12) record. By that point he was being tipped as a future world champion and looked like he had all the tools to go a long, long way. Sadly however a 2nd round TKO loss to McWilliams ended his unbeaten record and since then he has gone 11-2 (9). On paper that looks good, but in reality he has struggled when he's fought above Filipino domestic level with losses to Arroyo, Takuma Inoue and most recently Sho Kimura.
Despite his high profile losses Saludar is a fighter who generally passes the eye test. He moves around the ring well, fights confidently and has got decent power. He gave Inoue a decent fight through 7 rounds, though was dropped in rounds 8 and 9 as the Japanese fighter ran away with the win in the end, and also gave Kimura a decent fight before Kimura's pressure broke him in the middle rounds. There is flashes of real talent, but all too often that talent hasn't shown it's self for more than a few moments in his biggest fights.
Murachi on the other hand is unknown outside of the hardcore Japanese viewing fans, and even those may not have seen much of him. The 22 year old debuted in May 2018 following a 32 fight amateur career. In the amateurs he never really looked like a major star of the future, but when he turned professional it was pretty notable news for the gym he was turning over with, who seemed to know he had the potential to be moved aggressively. Although they spotted his potential they matched him relatively easily over his first 3 bouts, before stepping him up earlier this year against Raymond Tabugon, an experienced Filipino that he nearly shut out over 8 rounds.
In regards to footage of Murachi all 4 of his professional bouts are available on the Boxing Raise service, and they all show slightly different traits to the fighter. Despite none of the performances being identical they all show a naturally talented boxer-puncher, who loves to attack the body, has a cocky confidence and throws crisp combinations. He's a fighter who likes to fight at mid-range, likes to bring pressure and likes to throw short but sharp combinations. Offensively he's talented but defensively there are flaws, and he does just step back in straight lines a little too often for our liking and his guard does drop a little low at times.
This bout could see Murachi being punished for his defensive flaws for the first time, and Saludar certainly has the power to sting him when he lands, however we suspect the clean combinations of Murachi and natural size advantage will be the key. Saludar is a natural Flyweight whilst Murachi a big Super Flyweight and that, we suspect, will be the key.
We're expecting that the pressure and clean punching of Murachi will eventually wear down the Filipino for a late round stoppage.
Prediction - TKO10 Murachi
The past year or two we've seen the Super Bantamweight division in Japan being one of the highlights delivering great fighter after great fight. Those great fights included May's rematch between Ryoichi Tamura and Yusaku Kuga (18-3-1, 12), which saw Kuga become a 2-time Japanese Super Bantamweight champion thanks to an all 10 round war.
Kuga returns to the ring on September 21st to defend his title against 32 year old veteran Yosuke Fujihara (18-6, 5), who gets his second Japanese title fight just over 12 years after his professional debut. On paper this looks like an easy defense for Kuga, though in fairness he does deserve an easy one after May's war with Tamura, which really was a damaging bout for both men.
For those who haven't seen Kuga he is a nasty, nasty fighter in the ring. He's heavy handed, aggressive, incredibly strong and tough. Offensively he's a monster but he's also technically quite crude, defensively flawed and can be out boxed. We saw Shingo Wake really pick him apart last year, when he stopped Kuga in the 10th round, but it took a fighter of Wake's high skill level to clearly beat Kuga. Kuga's only other losses were a 2012 loss to Nobuhiro Hisano and a razor thin 2015 loss to Yasutaka Ishimoto, a loss that was avenged in 2018. Since his 2015 loss to Ishimoto Wake has gone 7-1 (5), with both of the decision wins coming in close fights with Tamura and the loss being the one to Wake.
At 28 years old Kuga is still improving, developing and adding to his experience. Though the tough bouts will catch up with him soon or later and wars against the likes of Tamura, Wake and Ishimoto, and we hope he gets a big bout before those wars take the best out of him. His aggressive style makes for wars, and his power, strength and toughness, means he tends to win them, but it's still not a style which will lead to a long and fruitful career.
The 32 year old Fujihara showed a lot of promise early in his career, following his 2007 debut. He won his first 13 bouts, and notable won the 2008 Rookie of the Year. He was unbeaten for more than 3 years before losing in May 2011 to Kentaro Masuda. He quickly went from 13-0 to 14-3 as his career began to fall apart, including stoppage losses to Mugicha Nakagawa and Ryuta Otsuka. In 2016 he got his first Japanese title fight, losing a wide decision to Yasutaka Ishimoto, and since then he has gone 2-2. To suggest that Fujihara is a limited challenger really doesn't say as much as stating he is 5-6 in the last 6 years.
At his best Fujihara was a legitimate domestic title challenger. Problem is that his best really didn't last very long, and is very much in the past. Even recent wins over Naoya Okamoto and Keita Nakano really don't suggest things are turning around for Fujihara. The biggest problem for Fujihara is the fact that he lacks anything that makes him really stand out as a threat. He lacks lighting speed, thunderous power, he's not physically imposing or able to set a high work rate.
Given that Kuga will impose himself, will set a high pace and will look to take Fujihara out early on, it's hard to see anything but an early win for the champion. Fujihara will have to rely on his toughness early on, and sooner or later that toughness will way and Kuga will break him down.
The 2020 Champion Carnival is slowly starting to come together and at the end of August we saw the Japanese title challenger decision bouts being announced. Before that announcement there was several already on the docket, including a Minimumweight eliminator between former world title challenger Masataka Taniguchi (11-3, 7) and hard hitting youngster Kai Ishizawa (6-0, 6), with the winner to get a shot in early 2020.
Of the two fighters Taniguchi is the much more proven and established. He's a former Japanese, OPBF and world title challenger and a former WBO Asia Pacific champion and has mixed with the likes of Reiya Konishi, Vic Saludar, Tsubasa Koura and Joel Lino. Before turning professional he was a solid amateur and was tipped for major success, but that success hasn't yet come. Notably he is still only 25, and despite the set backs through his career he still has time on his side, if he's still hungry enough to make the most of his talent. That hunger is however a big question and there is a chance that his losses have killed some of that desire to be a champion.
In terms of skill and style Taniguchi is an highly skilled boxer-puncher. Fighting out of southpaw stance Taniguchi is an aggressive fighter who judges distance well, fights behind a sharp jab and has under-rated speed and movement. His work rate isn't the highest and he's not a KO puncher but he is a solid puncher with a decent work rate. In fact when we think about Taniguchi, he's solid in every area, without being excellent in any, which is what was shown when he faced off with Saludar earlier this year. He's never going to be one of the truly top fighters in the division, but will remain a constant threat in and around the regional title scene.
Ishizawa is a 22 year old who turned professional in 2017 without too much fan fare, following a rather uninspired 28-14 amateur record. Since turning professional however he has impressed, thanks to his heavy hands, aggressive styles and pressure fighting mentality. Early in his career there was questions about how he'd look when he stepped up, but he answered those questions with stoppage wins over Tatsuro Nakashima and Yuga Inoue in 2018. Those bouts both saw Ishizawa needing to answer questions about what happens when a fighter can take his power, and the Inoue bout in particular was a huge test against a stylistic nightmare, that he eventually broke down.
Despite impressive performances against the likes of Nakashima and Inoue this is still a massive step up for Ishizawa. He's a hard puncher with an exciting pressure style, but he's up against someone who is more experienced, has more to his game, hits hard himself and moves well. The key for Ishizawa is to get close and work inside, but against someone who controls distance like Taniguchi that is much easier said than done and he will have to take punishment to get inside.
We'd love to see Ishizawa win, due to loving his style and youth, but in reality we feel this bout may be coming a touch too early for him and his inexperience will be exposed. Taniguchi may have come up short in his biggest bouts but he is talented, and even in defeat he has shown a real gritty toughness and determination. We suspect that grit will see him through some tough moments against Ishizawa, before taking a clear win, possibly even a late stoppage.
Prediction - TKO8 Taniguchi
One of the big rising stars of the Japanese scenes right now is the Ohashi promoted Taku Kuwahara (5-0, 4), who was an amateur stand out before turning professional in 2018. Since turning to the pros Kuwahara hasn't put a foot wrong, stopping 4 of his 5 opponents and proving he can fight 8 rounds at a good pace, as he did against Takamori Kiyama. Although impressing in terms of his performances his competition has lacked. That changes this coming Tuesday when he takes on experienced Filipino Jonathan Refugio (21-6-5, 7), who was ranked #15 by the WBC when the bout was announced. For Kuwahara this is a legitimate step up in class and a genuine test whilst Refugio gets a 5th shot to pick up his first win on the road.
Despite being very highly regarded Kuwahara hasn't had the television exposure that some prospects have. He's been dubbed "Ioka II" in the Japan press but has been hidden away on Ohashi under-cards. Despite not having more than highlights of his fights out there there has been plenty of take aways from the footage. He's a born body puncher, like Kazuto Ioka. He sets things up behind his quick foot work, intelligent defense and excellent combinations, though for us it's his brutal hooks to the to the body that really catch the eye.
Aged 24 Kuwahara looks like he's going to be a mainstay in the Flyweight and Super Flyweight divisions for the coming years, and a win over Refugio will be his ticket to mix in regional title fights very soon. With his style, power and skills we wouldn't imagine he'd stay at regional level for long, especially with the relative lack of talent at Flyweight right now, and it could be that at the end of 2020 or early 2021 he'll be in the world title mix.
Aged 26 Refugio is someone who has had a long career, despite being so young. He made his debut in 2010, at the age of 17, and has already amassed over 235 rounds in the pro ranks and 32 bouts. Like many Filipino fighters he's not been particularly protected either with his team having him in there with some solid fighters. They have included the then 20-0 Wanheng Menayothin, the then 18-0 Merlito Sabillo, the then 5-0 Knockout CP Freshmart and the then 6-0 Hiroto Kyoguchi.
Since losing to Kyoguchi, back in 2017, Refugio has gone 5-0 (3), though all 5 of those wins have been on the Filipino domestic scene. Outside of the Philipines he is 0-4-1, with the draw coming against the fairly limit Seita Ogido in 2017, just 3 months before he took on Kyoguchi, and lost a decision. In the ring he's tough, knows his way around the ring and is pretty crafty, with a good southpaw jab, good ring craft and he knows how to neutralise opponents, something he's gained with over 30 fights of experience. Sadly he lacks real power, and struggles to keep opponents away. That issue will make a fight against a strong, powerful, young Flyweight incredible hard for Refugio.
Interestingly Refugio's bout with Kyoguchi, in many ways, is the one we'd look at at the most comparable to this one. In that bout Refugio put up a good effort, lasted 12 rounds, but was put in his shell in the second half of the bout. He started well against Kyoguchi but was eventually put into survival mode. Given that Kuwahara is bigger, stronger and naturally more powerful than Kyoguchi, though stylistically rather similar, this doesn't bode well for Refugio. We suspect, again, he will be in the fight early but be broken down through by Kuwahara in the middle rounds and stopped late on by a body shot.
Prediction TKO8 Kuwahara
This coming Monday we'll see the ageless Yuki Nonaka (33-10-3, 10) hunt his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Middleweight title, as he goes up against Korean puncher Yang Hyun Min (8-2, 7). At first glance this is a highly skilled veteran taking on a young and hungry fighter, but how do we see this one going? Does Min have a chance or will Nonaka continue picking up wins his 40's?
Of the two fighters the lesser known is Min, a 26 year old Korean who has fought his entire career in Korea so far. He made his debut in 2016 and won his first 3 bouts, all by stoppage. Following the promising start Min was out boxed by Jae Hyuk Shin in early 2017 and just 2 months later Min was stopped by Heuk San Lee, down at Welterweight. Since losing to Lee, a Korean based Cameroonian fighter, Min has gone 4-0 (3) and won both the Korean and WBA Asia Middleweight titles.
Whilst Min is a double champion his competition has been incredibly poor with his best win, on paper at least, coming against China's Yihao Wang back in June. That competition explains he looks like a puncher on paper, though in reality it's almost impossible to take anything from the numbers on his record. His loss to Lee shows that Lee can punch a bit, and that Min didn't take a good shot at Welterweight, but tells us nothing about Min or his potential. Sometimes, when it comes to Koreans and Thai's, that can be a bit misleading and they can turn out to be better than their records suggest. From the footage available of him he's aggressive and powerful looking, but clumsy, not particularly quick or sharp and throws wide hooks. He's fun to watch, but very much what an American fan would describe as a club fighter.
Nonaka on the other hand is very well respected in Japan, and even the wider Asian boxing regions. The 41 year old southpaw has been a professional for close to 20 years, debuting in November 1999, and despite losing 3 of his first 5 he has carved out an excellent career. He managed to unify the Japanese and OPBF Light Middleweight titles in 2009, reclaimed the Japanese title in 2014 and won the unified OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Middleweights titles earlier this year. Although he has lost 2 of his last 4 they both came to fighter who went on to fight in world title fights, Dennis Hogan and Takeshi Inoue, with those losses being his only 2 losses since 2010!
In the ring Nonaka is a pure boxer and the sort of fighter that every emerging fighter should watch. He's incredibly smart, and at the age of 41 he has the ring craft to beat younger and stronger fighters. His style is relaxed, he fights behind his jab, moves when he needs to and doesn't waste much of anything, as he limits his movement and punch out put. Despite being conservative in his approach he can step it up as, and when, he needs to and is very tricky to beat. for those looking to beat him they need to use speed and output, which Hogan used well, and out land him at range, but those trying to pressure him really need to consider a different gameplan.
Given the styles of the two men, as well as their experience, it's really, really hard to see how Min wins. He'll be pressing the fight, looking to land bombs, but eating a steady stream of counter shots. Barring a freak shot from Min we really don't give him any chance at all. Instead we see either a very wide decision win for Nonaka, or a stoppage from accumulation in the middle to late rounds.
Prediction - TKO8 Nonaka
The Japanese Youth Flyweight title has so much promise to help establish what the Japanese Youth titles are all about, but sadly neither of it's first two champions have really established the belt. Junto Nakatani gave it up after winning it to fight for the main Japanese title whilst Arata Matsuoka made one defense before giving it up earlier this year.
Due to Matsuoka vacating we're now set to see a new champion being crowned, as Joe Shiraishi (8-0-1, 4) takes on Yoshiki Minato (8-2, 3) for the belt this coming Monday, at the EDION Arena Osaka. The bout is the chief support contest for a card headlined by Yuki Nonaka and although a much less high profile bout, the expectation is that this will be much, much more competitive than Nonaka's. Notably it is also the second time the two fighters will have met in their young career.
The unbeaten Shiraishi, 22, is an Ioka promoted youngster from Osaka who turned professional in 2016 but really made his mark in 2017 when he became the All Japan Rookie of the Year. Along the way to his Rookie triumph he beat Minato via unanimous decision, in the first bout between the two men, before winning the West Japan Rookie of the Year against Toma Kondo and the All Japan final against Kento Yabusaki. Since winning the Rookie of the Year we've seen Shiraishi score two wins, both stoppages over international opponents, as he's taken out Stevanus Nana Bau and Prince Andrew Laurio. That newly found power is an interesting new addition to Shiraishi's game and sign that he is physically maturing and developing his technique.
Minato also debuted in 2016 and he has rebuilt well following his loss to Joe Shiraishi in the Rookie of the Year. He reeled off 4 straight wins and won the 2018 Rookie of the Year before losing inside a round to Seigo Yuri Akui this past April, a loss that really isn't anything to be embarrassed by. After losing to Shiraishi we also saw Minato, who is now 21, develop his power scoring 3 stoppages in the 2018 Rookie of the Year. Of course the loss to Akui is his latest result, and whilst that's a bad result Akui is an incredibly dangerous on the Japan scene and is much further advanced in his career than either Minato or Shiraishi.
In their first bout, which was really competitive, Shiraishi just seemed to have that extra bit of snap on his punchers and was a bit more aggressive than Minato. For both men it was their 5th bout and since then both have developed, so whilst their first bout is certainly something to look at here, we suspect a very different fight here.
Shiraishi is a quick handed, technically solid boxer-puncher, who as mentioned is adding power to his game. He's not got venom in his fists but certainly hits cleanly and can hurt opponents. He combines the clean punching with crisp combinations and smart work on the back foot. Minato isn't quite as crisp or clean with his punching but his key to victory is power and when he connects with his straight right hand he seems to really hurt opponents.
If Shiraishi can avoid the hard right hand of Minato he should have the skills and the tools in the arsenal to take win the rounds needed to take a decision, or a late stoppage. We feel that Minato's only way to win here will be a KO, he's a touch less clean with his punching, which will see him losing rounds, but that right hand really could turn the tables if he can land it clean.
Prediction - UD8 Shiraishi
We have repeatedly waxed lyrical about the current Light Flyweight scene and the talent at the top, making it the deepest division in the sport right now. What we haven't gone into as much depth about is the rising talent, the young prospects and promising hopefuls looking to rise through the ranks and make a name for themselves. This coming Monday however we see one of the talented youngsters in title action as Daiki Tomita (13-1, 5) takes on Hayato Yamaguchi (15-7-1, 2) for the WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight title, which was vacated by Reiya Konishi earlier in the year.
For the once beaten Tomita this bout will be his second title fight, following a loss last year to the then OPBF Minimumweight champion Tsubasa Koura. The loss to Koura seems to have been made Tomita realise making that making the Minimumweight limit was getting tough for his growing body and he moved up to Light Flyweight properly in April this year. He flirted with the division a few times earlier in his career, with a couple of early career bouts there and a one off bout above the 108lbs limit against Mochamad Sholimin in 2017.
As a fight Tomita showed a lot of early promise. In 2016, as a 19 year old, he had won the All Japan Rookie of the Year and was lined up to fight for the Japanese Youth title in 2018, though had that bout fall through when Kai Ishizawa suffered a training injury. Due to Ishizawa's injury Tomita got the shot as Koura and it did feel like the bout had come just a little bit too early for him. Against Koura we saw Tomita prove he was a good boxer, with solid fundamentals, nice speed and real grit, but he was easily outclassed by Koura, who was too quick, too sharp, too experienced and too smart. His first bout following Koura was at Light Flyweight and saw Tomita stop former world title challenger Jeffrey Galero in 3 rounds, becoming only the third man to stop Galero, following Koura and Pedro Taduran, the newly crowned IBF Minimumweight.
Aged 30 Yamaguchi is a bit of a veteran, having made his debut way back in 2008. During his long career he has real mixed success. He lost 2 of his first 3 bouts before rebuilding and winning the 2010 All Japan Rookie of the Year. His run of form lead to a Japanese title fight in 2011, losing a close decision to Masayuki Kuroda. Another loss, to Cris Paulino, followed the Kuroda bout and at the end of 2012 Yamaguchi was 8-4-1, a short winning run followed before back to back defeats to Renan Trongco and Yu Kimura, in 2014 and 2015. Those losses saw Yamaguchi fall to 12-6-1 (2) and although he began to get his career back on track a loss in 2016 to Tetsuya Hisada, in a Japanese title eliminator, again killed any momentum he had. It then seemed like he'd retired but returned after more than 4 years away from the ring to upset Kenji Ono.
In the ring Yamaguchi is feather fisted but gutsy and brave. With 3 stoppages against him he will always have question marks over his durability, but few will question his desire. Sadly his desire doesn't match up to his ability and his biggest wins have all come against lower domestic level lighters, like Kneji Ono, Hiroya Yamamoto and Seiya Fujikita. A win over Tomita wouldn't be the biggest shock, given those wins, but we would consider it an upset all the same.
Prediction - UD12 Tomita
One of the very best things about the Japanese boxing scene right now is the rise of young fighters wanting to be tested early in their career. Some times this does back fire, but on the whole it gives the scene, and those fighters, an extra edge. A risk factor that just captures the imagination a bit more than some of the Western match making, where keeping the "0" in tact is more important than proving yourself early.
One of the next rising fighters wanting to make a statement is the once beaten Masanori Rikiishi (6-1, 4), who has paid for his exciting match making, but also bounced back from a loss. The Japanese fighter will be up against the much more experienced Freddy Fonseca (27-3-1-1, 18), with the two men clashing on September 15th in Kariya. On paper this is an excellent test for both, who will both be hunting bigger fights if they pick up a win here.
The 25 year old Rikiishi didn't have a hugely successful amateur career though turned professional like a man who had done serious things in the unpaid ranks. His first fight was against a 6-3 Korean, his second bout against a 4-1 domestic foe. He was intent on proving himself quickly, though as mentioned, he paid the price for his tough match making suffering a 2nd round TKO loss in his third bout when he was stopped by former Japanese Featherweight champion Kosuke Saka. That loss left some questioning Rikiishi's match making, toughness and chin, though he has since bounced back with 4 straight wins. The only "gimme" among those was a confidence builder following his loss, against Egy Rozten. Since then he faced 3 solid domestic fighters.
In the ring Rikiishi is a tall out boxer, with solid power. Although he can mix it on the inside, and do rather well, it's certainly not the best for him and he's best off setting things up from the outside before moving in. His body shots are wicked and his boxing brain is alarming sharp for someone so early in their career. Defensively he does have some issues, hence why fighting at range is certainly playing to his strengths, but his accurate southpaw jab and good counter punching does make opponents pay for taking risks.
Fonseca is a 27 year old Nicaraguan who has been a professional for close to 7 years. During his 32 fight career he has mostly fought in Latin America, but did actually make his US debut earlier this year, losing to Jo Jo Diaz in 7 rounds. As with many fighters who fight on the Latin American scene his competition has been poor, and sadly he has has lost to the most notable fighters he has shared the ring with, Diaz and Juan Huertas. He's experienced, with out really scoring a notable win and does have a very padded record.
Despite having a record that's padded thicker than it should be Fonseca does pass the eye test, and a loss to Diaz is certainly nothing to be ashamed by. He does look quick, sharp, moves well and has a nice jab. Sadly though passing the eye test says a lot about the level of competition he's been fighting at and that has, for the most part, helped him look good and against Diaz we saw his limitations being on show, big time. He's not terrible, but he does seem to be someone who is very much a front runner and someone who will struggle when it's put on him.
On paper Fonseca is a huge step up in class for Rikiishi. In reality however the one big advantage Fonseca has is experience, and not skills, power or competition, Diaz aside. Yes this is a step up for Rikiishi, but one that he should be the favourite in. He's the more impressive on the eye, the one who has looked better in recent bouts and the man at home.
We expect to see Rikiishi take control behind his jab, find out what Fonseca has then chip away at him before finally scoring a stoppage in the second half of the fight.
Prediction TKO7 Rikiishi
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.