With all the Japanese talent in the smaller divisions, both established and emerging, it can sometimes be easy to over-look some fighters. It may sound even stranger but some of those over-looked fighters are actually national champions, such as Suguru Muranaka at Flyweight and Light Flyweight Yu Kimura (14-2-1, 2).
For Kimura to be over-looked seems astounding given that he is a world ranked fighter who is promoted by the biggest promotional outfit in Asia and has really come of age this year winning, and defending the Japanese crown. How ever he has been sharing a division with Naoya Inoue, Ryo Miyazaki, Ryoichi Taguchi and, more recently, Kenshiro Teraji. It's an unfortunate position for Kimura though one that allows him to avoid the attention of fans asking for him to fight in more demanding contests and instead allows him to fight opponents that he wants to fight with little or not pressure on him.
The next fight for Kimura will see him taking on the little known challenge of Atsushi Aburada (9-6, 5) in a bout that will see Kimura defending his title for the second time, but taking what feels like a huge step backwards from his previous outing. Whilst it seems to be a step back some have suggest that a win here for the champion will move him onto OPBF title bouts, suggesting the intention is to use this bout as a stay busy defense before bigger and better assignments next year.
The reason this feels like a step back is because Kimura's last 2 bouts have all been very good ones. Last time out he easy defeated Yuki Chinen, a gangly puncher, prior to that he had over-come the experienced nearly man Kenichi Horikawa in a very close one. In both of those Kimura showed his fighting spirit and fought hard even when he himself was tagged hard and in both he showed his speed, movement and although there was a lack of power there was real desire to win.
Kimura's lack of power is his downfall and it's what will prevent him from making a mark at the highest level in the sport. His will to win, speed and movement however are enough to make him a problem for most fighters in the division.
As for Aburada he's a harder one to read. The 24 year old is inconsistent to say the least and has gone 5-5 in his last 10. Whilst it's fair to say that many of his losses are close he does seem to have decent power having scored 3 stoppages in those 5 wins, notably one over Toshimasa Ouchi. Sadly many of those bouts have come at a very low level and this leads us to wonder if he's even more inconsistent than his record would suggest.
With Aburada being complete unproven at the level we need to go with the champion. We don't think he'll do it with out some problems at times but we can't see Kimura coming undone at the point, especially not when he is nearing a major international bout like he is. We're guess Aburada has his moments though loses a very clear decision.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Domestic fights can sometimes mean more than some world title fights. British fans for example recently saw Billy Joe Saunders agree to fight Chris Eubank Jr rather than take a shot at the WBO Middleweight title. There is just something special sometimes when domestic fighters collide. For Japanese fans, and of course fans of Japanese boxing, we see one such fight at the end of this month and in fact this is being fought between two world ranked fighter both of whom could have taken easier fighters had it not been for fact they want to challenge themselves and they want to make a statement to their fans at home.
In one corner you have the OPBF Minimumweight champion Ryuji Hara (18-0, 10), a man who really is on the verge of a world title fight. Hara is ranked in the top 5 by all 4 world title bodies and could easily have got a shot with any of the champions had he been willing to just wait for his opportunity. Instead of doing that he has chosen to defend his OPBF title against the fastest rising young fighter in the division, if not in the whole of boxing, Kosei Tanaka (3-0, 1).
We'll get on to Tanaka in a few moments, and we have a lot to say about him, but for now Hara.
Hara has been a professional since 2010 and since then he has gone through the the ranks the "traditional way". Firstly he won the Rookie of the Year, in 2010, in 2012 he went on to claim the Japanese title before winning the OPBF title earlier this year. As well as the climbing up the ranks he has also scored a number of notable wins including perennial national title challenger Kenichi Horikawa, former world title challenger Takashi Kunishige, and the tough and testing Donny Mabao. It was the win over Mabao that won Hara the OPBF title and although he was pushed hard it does need to be noted that Mabao was essentially a Flyweight.
As a boxer Hara is a technically solid fighter with respectable power and nice speed. He has a nice variety of shots though does have real weaknesses in defense, which is often open, his movement is very bouncey at times and energy consuming, and most worryingly he's been down numerous times in his career leading some to question his durability, especially considering he has yet to fight an actual puncher.
At 24 years old Hara should be a physically mature fighter, especially for someone in the lower weights, however stood at just 5'1" he's small, even for a Minimumweight and doesn't appear to be a strong looking fighter like some other smaller fighters in the division. He looks weak in some ways and even with his skills it's hard to see him surviving an onslaught of someone like Francisco Rodriguez Jr or Oswaldo Novoa. He's good with out a doubt, but should be matched with similar fighters if he hopes to become a champion and right now the only similar champion is Hekkie Budler, another skilled but small and light hitting guy in the division.
Another notable thing to consider with Hara is his stoppage rate. On paper he scores a KO every other fight. In reality however he's gone the distance in his last 6 bouts and is without a stoppage in over 2 years. That has seen him go from 12-0 (10) to 18-0 (10) and we suspect it will drop lower over the coming years as more fighters fall to topple over at his power and he needs to revert to winning bouts with his boxing skills as opposed to his power. Those skills are good, but he has to use them if he's ever going to fulfill his early potential.
So now Tanaka, a man who looks like a novice on paper but in reality is more talented them other fighters with a lot more experience. In fact in many ways Tanaka looks as close to the real deal as anyone at 105lbs, and we include Francisco Rodriguez Jr in that assessment. Blessed with lightning speed, an innate sense of timing, freakish maturity for a teenager, very light and educated movement and the confidence to go in against anyone. As well all those gifts you see when he steps in the ring he also has under-rated power and his 1 stoppage from 3 bouts really doesn't tell you the whole story about how hard Tanaka hits. The proof of that is the way he dismantled Crison Omayao in his most recent bout needing less than a round to see off the Filipino.
A former amateur standout the Japanese domestic circuit there is little doubt that, with fair judging, Tanaka could have been an Olympic hopeful for either 2016 in Rio or 2020 in Tokyo. Instead however he turned professional in his teens under the guidance of former WBA Flyweight champion Susumu Hanagata. If you think we've been complimentary about Tanaka then Hanagata has been flattering his young charge and seemed to indicate that Tanaka had the ability to match the achievement of Saensak Muangsurin in winning a world title in just his 3rd bout. The last time we heard something like that about a Japanese youngster it was Hideyuki Ohashi talking about Naoya Inoue, who set a Japanese record by winning a world title in fight #6. Inoue's record may well be under some serious threat if Tanaka can show off his ability here against Hara.
The big question about Tanaka going into this bout, and the one he will need to answer, is how does he cope with a 12 round fight. He managed to do 8 rounds easily against Ronelle Ferreras, even spending the final round blowing off energy and fighting toe-to-toe out of choice to try and excite the fans rather than stop Ferreras, who hadn't been stopped in over 5 years. If Tanaka decides to box for 12 rounds, which we suspect he can, and takes a decision it will be impressive and proof that he is ready for a world title fight. If instead he tries to make a statement and stop Hara we think fans will be even more excited and the youngster may well find himself with fans getting behind him in a big way, in fact a stoppage win could see even western fans sit up and take note.
At just 19 years old and stood at 5'4" Tanaka has the young to develop and the size to go up the weights. We don't think he has any issues at 105lbs for now but we'd be shocked if he didn't make a mark at 108lbs, 112lbs and even 115lbs at some point when he matures. He may not be Naoya Inoue, but to us Kosei Tanaka is just as good as Inoue.
We can't say that this is a forgone conclusion. Hara is the more proven fighter, he has shown his skills and toughness and managed to 12 rounds but he is, in our eyes, a very big under-dog against a man set to be one of the stars of the boxing world over the next decade.
(Image courtesy of Kadoebi.com)
Masayoshi Nakatani defends OPBF title against Futoshi Usami on October 28th but can the Ioka prospect retain his belt?
At the beginning of this year the unbeaten Masayoshi Nakatani (8-0, 5) made a statement as he won the OPBF Lightweight title and out pointed the much more experienced Yoshitaka Kato. The performance wasn't a dominating one, in fact it was a serious struggle for Nakatani, though it was impressive considering the youngster was fighting in just his 7th professional contest and was fighting in a title fight for the first time and it was against a world ranked fighter.
Since winning the title Nakatani has defended the belt once, winning a hard fought bout with the tough Filipino Ricky Sismundo. That was Nakatani's second successive 12 round bout and it saw him completing the full distance for the second time.
This coming week will see Nakatani defending his belt for the second time as he takes on fellow Japanese fighter Futoshi Usami (12-1-1, 9) a man whose record indicates has serious power.
If you've never seen Nakatani you've been missing out. He's a lanky, lanky Lightweight who usually uses his reach well and delivers shots with real power to both the head and body of an opponent. He's not the most skilled but does have a nice variety of shots and his body uppercuts particularly stood out in his first break out win, a stoppage victory over Shuhei Tsuchiya. Unfortunately since the win over Tsuchiya, more than a year ago, we've not seen Nakatani record a stoppage and as a result there is the possibility that his power isn't as telling as his record indicates, however both Sismundo and Kato are very tough guys.
As well as his skills, power and size Nakatani also has a strong team behind him at the Ioka gym. This has lead to Nakatani getting a lot of opportunities to spend time in the gym with world class fighters like former 2-weight world champion Kazuto Ioka and former Minimumweight title holder Ryo Miyazaki as well as the very promising Sho Ishida. Although not a proven world class fighter yet Nakatani is going to improve just on the basis of having guys like that in the gym with him helping to push him with their experiences and skills rubbing off on him and he will learn a lot of things other fighters could only dream of.
We've got to admit that when it comes to Usami we don't know much about the challenger despite seeing one or two of his early fights, such as his win over Tetsuya Muraki from back in 2011. What we have seen does make it clear that Usami does have a bit of skill about him, a nice and relatively busy jab and solid defense that he applies good pressure behind. He also appears to have solid and hurtful power in his straight right hand and his left hook though early on in his career he did get over-excited when he had his man hurt and did throw some very wrong shots from out of range.
Usami's opponents so far haven't been the best and they have made it hard to gauge how good he is. His draw, with Masayuki Wakimoto, came 3 years ago however he sole loss came just 2 fights back, back in December 2013, when he was narrowly out pointed by Kazuya Murata in about made above the Lightweight limit. On paper they are bad results but in reality they aren't as bad as they look on paper and will have helped Usami improve despite not winning either of them.
What we suspect to see here, at least early on, is a jab fest between two men who do like to use their jab. Usami will likely be the one coming forward whilst Nakatani will be landing the heavier and sharper blows, and probably the more numerous given his edge in height and reach. As the fight goes on we suspect that Usami will become ragged, chasing Nakatani who will begin landing sharp clean counters, as he did so effectively against Tsuchiya. Those counters will take their toll on the challenger who we suspect will be stopped in the second half of the contest as Nakatani looks to reestablish himself as puncher to be feared.
If he does win, as expected, we'd assume Nakatani will remain at the OPBF level defending his belt for another year. He needs more experience before moving up a level and competing on, or near, the world stage. Given a year and another 3 defenses we suspect he'll be ready for a world ranked foe. For now though this is the sort of bout he needs. On the other hand for Usami a win here would be career changing and would certainly announce him as a man to watch but we tend to feel that his long term potential is much less than that of Nakatani and a win for Usami would likely be a flash in the pan rather than the emergence of a new future world champion.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
The 126lb Featherweight division is one of the sports deepest. Unfortunately due to it's depth it leaves a number of notable, talented and exciting fighters on it's periphery rather than really in the mix. One of those sat on the outside looking in is OPBF champion Hisashi Amagasa (27-4-2, 18) who holds world rankings with all 4 bodies though is very unlikely to get a world title shot, at least for now.
Amagasa has held the OPBF title for around a year, in fact when he returns to the ring this coming Wednesday he'll have held the title just over a year, and has already defended it twice. He now looks for the third defence of the belt as he takes on fellow Japanese fighter Ryo Takenaka (11-2-1, 6), a man written off as little more than an easy challenger for the interesting champion.
Whilst Amagasa is the champion he is also a fighter that really confuses us at times. He's a long and rangy fighter with solid power, great work rate and fantastic reach for a Featherweight. Yet he fights as if he's an untrained and under-skilled brawler giving up his height all too often whilst swinging some very loose and wild looking shots. This seems to work for him with some major wins though when he actually thinks about what he's doing he can land some of the most beautiful and thudding shots we've seen, such as the finishing uppercut in his bout with Koji Nagata, you'll be hard pushed to find a better uppercut KO. On the whole however his wins have have often been messy and down to grinding effect of his wild hooks as opposed to crisp and clean shots.
Although a flawed fighter Amagasa is a fighter who does show signs of improvement and has reeled off a 12 fight winning streak since losing a decision back in 2012 to Ryol Li Lee, a loss that was avenged in Amagasa's OPBF winning title bout last year.
As for Takenaka he's a challenger we don't know a lot about. 29 year old has been a professional since 2008 and although he showed early promise with some solid wins early on his career was derailed back-to-back set backs in 2012 as he lost a decision so Masayuki Wakimoto and was stopped in 5 by Ryol Li Lee.
Whilst those set backs were hurtful for Takenaka's rise he has since strung together 4 straight wins with those some of those wins coming over the likes of Vergel Nebran and Rene Bestudio and helped him climb into the OPBF rankings. Sadly however the leap from Bestudio and Nebran to OPBF level is huge, especially when you consider that Takenaka has never fought in a bout scheduled for more than 8 rounds. The step up from 8 rounders to OPBF title bouts is huge and that alone tells what we need to know here. Takenaka isn't ready for this fight.
Whilst we accept Amagasa is flawed he has the ability to challenge for a world title and make a good account of himself. Against someone like Takenaka it's hard to see anything but an easy win for the champion who probably scores a mid round stoppage with out too many problems. That's not to say it won't be fun to watch, we love watching Amagasa, but it will be relatively one-sided.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Boxing is one of the most individualistic sports going. No matter who you are it you versus an opponent. You can't ask a team mate for help, you can't rely on someone else to bail you out when you make a mistake and you certainly can't hope someone will cover for you on a bad day on the field.
Although boxing is a solo sport it's also a sport that has been a sport dominated by families such as the Mayweather's, the Kameda's, the Marquez's and the Klitschko's. Two other families worth noting are the Naito's and the Eto's.
The boxing name has been linked to the Naito family since the late 1960's when Cassius Naito began his climb through the ranks and later became a Japanese and OPBF Middleweight champion. Earlier this year Cassius son Rikki Naito (10-0, 5) followed in his father's footsteps and became a Japanese champion at Super Featherweight. In the eyes of many Rikki Naito has the potential to not only surpass his father but to also be one of the outstanding Japanese fighters for the next decade as long as he continues to improve as he has done recently
As for the Eto name it's shared by 3 brothers. There is Taiki Eto-a Japanese domestic contender at 115lbs, Koki Eto-the current OPBF Flyweight champion, and Shingo Eto (14-2-1, 9)-a Super Featherweight hopeful on the verge of his biggest bout to date. Of the three Eto's it's Koki who is best known thanks to his numerous all-action wars though some do feel that it's Shingo with the most potential and the most complete all round skill set.
On October 13th we will see the families collide as Rikki Naito makes the second defense of his national title and against battles Shingo Eto, the only Eto brother yet to fight in a title bout.
As a fighter Shingo Eto didn't look great early on. He scored a draw with Ribo Takahata and was blasted out inside a round just a fight later by Kentaro Maimuangkorn Promotion. Since then however he has found his form and gone 9-1 with a win over Ryan Sermona being particularly notable. He's looked good recently, shown nice punch selection and solid respectable skills. It's not that he's a world beater but he's certainly very competent and is still improving fight after fight.
Unlike Koki and Taiki, who are twins, Shingo does seem to exhibit some under-standing of defense. We wouldn't describe him as a defensive master but he does seem to know that taking a lot of shots won't prolong his career. He also knows the value of a good body shot. These are both traits his brother's seem to neglect much to their own detriment.
Whilst Shingo looks the more complete of the Eto's we dare say that Naito looks the most complete of the emerging Japanese guys at 130lbs. He may not have the power of Masao Nakamura, he may not have the speed of Masayuki Ito and he may not have the physical strength of Daiki Kaneko but he does look like he's the most rounded with very little to complain about considering the fact he's still only a novice professional and he's still improving drastically.
Although a long way from a world title fight Naito has started to show world class ability. His title victory over Hiroyasu Matsuzaki was a coming of age performance whilst his first defense, a dominant win over Kyohei Tamakoshi, was a performance that suggested Naito might be something a little bit special. He showed off very intelligent movement and handspeed and although he didn't get the stoppage he was in total control of the bout.
Going into this fight it's a good one on paper and one we are a little bit excited about. Sadly though we can only see a win for Naito who really just seems to have a bit too much of everything for Eto, who looks good but not good enough to over come Naito. Eto will attempt to stick to his boxing early on but finds that he lacks the speed to match Naito, he'll then try to make the bout a fight and find out that Naito packs a real punch himself. Sadly for Eto it'll be a case of nothing he does can really trouble Naito who we think will take either a clear decision or a late stoppage to retain his title.
If we're right this will be another big win for the Naito family and another serious set back for the Eto's.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
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.