The Middleweight division in Japan is potentially as it's most interesting. Not only does the country have a rare star at 160lbs, in the form of WBA “regular” champion Ryota Murata, but also an all action fan friendly national champion in Hikaru Nishida, the exciting domestic contender Kazuto Takesako and the huge punching OPBF champion Koki Tyson (13-2-2, 11)
This coming Sunday Tyson looks to further strengthen his claim over the regional scene as he attempts to add the WBO Asia Pacific title to his collection, as he takes on fellow Japanese fighter Yasuyuki Akiyama (11-7-1, 8). On paper the bout isn't incredible, but the reality is that the bout could help open the door to Tyson getting a bigger and better fight down the line, and should help him move into the world rankings, potentially closing in on a bout with Murata down the line.
Tyson's climb through the ranks has been an interesting one. He drew on his debut and suffered a stoppage loss in just his 4th bout, falling to 2-1-1 (2), but then went on to claim the 2013 Rookie of the Year crown and begin his climb towards a title fight. That first title fight came in 2015, when his inexperience was exposed by Akio Shibata, who stopped the then 22 year old in the 7th round. In 2016 Tyson claimed his first title, the WBC Youth Middleweight title, then added the OPBF title with an upset win over the then unbeaten Dwight Ritchie, who had actually claimed the title in Japan with a win over the previously mentioned Nishida.
Since winning the title last year Tyson has made two defenses, stopping Korean challenger Sung Jae Ahn in 4 rounds and beating Brandon Lockhart Shane with a 12 round decision. In those bouts Tyson has proven he can bang, which wasn't really questioned given his record, but can also box and move when he needs to. He's a tall, long and rangy fighter at Middleweight and uses his frame well, though does at times look a little under-developed and certainly looks like a young man filling into his frame. It's that under-development that potentially explains why the Osakan southpaw has questionable durability and toughness, and is going to need to take time “beef up” before really chasing a world title fight.
Aged 38 Akiyama is a man at the end of his career and he'll know it's now or never if he's to become a champion. He came up short in his only other title fight, losing to Shibata for the OPBF and JBC titles back in 2015, and struggled to get his career going again with 2 subsequent defeats. His career has however had a small shot in the arm earlier this year, with a win over Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa.
In the ring Akiyama is a heavy handed fighter, but one who has long struggled in really landing with his power, and given his age landing his biggest shots isn't going to be getting any easier for him. Also with his age is another problem, durability. In the last few years he has suffered 2 stoppage losses, and going in with Tyson will likely cause another, with the veteran being too slow to react to the speed and strength of the defending champion.
We suspect Akiyama can cause some early problems for Tyson, but as soon as the champion is settled into his fight the end will only be a matter of time.
This coming Sunday we get the chance to see a host of title fights in Osaka. One of those is an OPBF Bantamweight title bout between under-rated champion Mark John Yap (27-12, 13), a Japanese based Filipino, and the win-some-lose-some Seizo Kono (19-8-1, 12). On paper the bout may not look the best but given the fighters in question we could be in for a genuine treat, much like Yap's previous defense against Kentaro Masuda.
With a dozen losses on his record Yap look like a journeyman on paper. Like many Filipino's however his record is very deceiving and in reality he's a fringe world level fighter, in great form and really showing his value as a contender. Especially now that he's been able to get some notice for fights and is fighting at his natural weight class of Bantamweight. That's worth noting because his last 3 losses have come outside of the division, and his record at 118lbs is very impressive. It's also worth noting that Yap's last loss at Bantamweight came more than 4 years ago, to current world champion Ryosuke Iwasa.
In the ring Yap is a well developed fighter who has built well off his experience. His 39 fights have seen him rack up 265 professional rounds and he has consistently been regarded as a top sparring partner by local fighters. Technically he's the not the best, but he's a solid technician who can have win a shoot out, and proved that by pulling himself off the canvas 3 times to defeat Masuda in a 4 round thriller. Although his record doesn't show it he can bang, and is riding a 3 fight stoppage run and an 8 fight winning run, and is very much a fighter showing his form with recent wins over Tatsuya Ikemiu, Hiroyuki Kudaka, Takahiro Yamamoto and the aforementioned Masuda.
Having won the title late last year, when he stopped Yamamoto, Yap has made it clear he's eyeing up a potential world title fight, and will know that he cannot afford a slip up here.
With 28 bouts on his ledger Kono has had a frustrating career, and although he's never had long absences from the ring he always seems to see any momentum come to a stop relatively quickly. He began his career 2-1-1 (1) before running out to 10-1-1 (7). Since then however he has gone 9-8 (5) losing to a mix of fighters from Rey Vargas to Yuki Murai, Satoshi Niwa, and Benjie Suganob. Despite the mixed form in recent bouts Kono is actually enjoying some good form, at last, and has won his last 5 including a decision win over Hideo Sakamoto.
In the ring Kono is a solid fighter, but the reality is that solid isn't usually good enough to claim an OPBF title. He's got nice skills, but in recent years his form has been poor, he's not been able to put full performances together and he lacks both lights out power and the stamina to fight at a good pace for 8 rounds, never mind a potential 12. With 2 stoppage losses against him he's not rock solid, even if one of those losses was to the world class Rey Vargas, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him come undone later in the bout.
Kono could prove a test for Yap, but we suspect Yap's extra experience, toughness and ability will be too much, and the champion will manage to retain his title with a stoppage in the second half of the bout.
It's fair to suggest that December is set to be an incredibly busy and action packed month for Japanese fight fans, with a huge amount of notable fights right across the month. The month is littered with title fights, right through to the end of the year, the first of which is a domestic title bout takes place this coming Friday at the Korakuen Hall and sees Featherweight champion Kosuke Saka (16-3, 13) make his first defense of the title, as he takes on first time challenger Takenori Ohashi (14-4-2, 9).
The heavy handed champion won the title earlier this year, when he blasted through Shota Hayashi in 3 rounds. Sadly though he has been inactive since that win, which came all the way back in April, he has been out of the ring and not managed to really build on that win. Although the momentum has cooled a little it should be noted that the win over Hayashi was Saka's 8th straight stoppage and continued a run that also included wins over Ryuto Kyoguchi, Burning Ishii and Takafumi Nakajima. That run has seen Saka go from 8-3 (5) to 16-3 (13) and break into the world rankings as well as become the Japanese champion.
Technically Saka is a bit “rough around the edges” as much pure punchers are, but his brute power is a real threat to everyone on the domestic scene, as his win over Hayashi showed. He's aggressive from the word go and looks to take opponents out early, with 10 stoppage in the first 3 rounds. In bouts that have gone beyond 3 he is 6-3 (3) and arguably the biggest question mark about him is his stamina, thanks in part to a 9th round TKO loss to Hiroshige Osawa.
Whilst Saka has been in great form and genuinely impressed with recent results the same can't really be said of Ohashi, who is a bit of an unknown with mixed results and no out and out standout win. He stated his career with 5 straight wins before being blown out in a round by Coach Hiroto in 2010 A second short winning run was ended by another stoppage, as Tatsuya Takahashi stopped him in 3 rounds in 2012. Since the start of 2013 Ohashi has gone 5-1-2 (3) but suffered his third stoppage loss, to Tsuyoshi Tameda, and draws with Yosuke Kawano and Mikihito Seto, two fights some distance removed from a domestic title fight.
In the ring Ohashi is a rather basic fighter, he's slow and clumsy and looks like a fighter who lacks any form of snap. He must have naturally heavy hands, but there is little to really be impressed by. Despite 3 stoppages he can take a decent shot, at least at the lower domestic level, and there is a bit of an awkwardness about him, but the reality is that he's a weak challenger for Saka.
Given Saka's break from the ring it was clear he wasn't going to be tossed in with a really good fighter, but the reality is that this should be little more than another blow out win for one of Japanese boxing most exciting domestic champions.
Earlier this year we saw Japanese veteran Tetsuya Hisada (29-9-2, 18) score a career defining win, as he took a decision over Kenichi Horikawa, and claimed the Japanese Light Flyweight title. The win for Hisada saw him score a 7th straight win, avenge a couple of his losses and claim his first professional title, more than 13 years after his debut. It was the crowning effort of a long and hard career that had had plenty of ups and downs, but nothing of this magnitude. Hisada would record his first defense just over 3 months later, stopping Atsushi Kakutani in 8 rounds. He's now set to return to the ring for his second defense, as he takes on Japanese youngster Takeru Kamikubo (13-2, 8), who once looked like one to watch before seeing his career stumble.
In the ring Hisada really is a grizzled veteran. He's a almost a 14 year professional and at 33 he's certainly no spring chicken. He is however a fighter who has developed into a better fighter as he's aged and he's currently on an 8 fight winning streak, following a 21-9-2 start to his career. There has certainly been stumbles early in his career, but he has been fighting at a good level, sharing the ring with the likes of Kakutani, Horikawa, Hiroyuki Kudaka, Junichi Ebisuoka and current world champion Ryoichi Taguchi.
Not only has Hisada gone 8-0 but he's done so with 7 stoppages, showing an improvement in how he goes about business, and his willingness to turn the screw later in bouts, making the most of his high work rate and his consistent offense. He has also been getting more fights a his natural Light Flyweight, as opposed to Flyweight where he has suffered most of his losses.
In 2014 Kamikubo made his debut, and by the end of the year he had raced out to an impressive 8-0 (5), fitting in 8 bouts in just over 10 months of super activity. Sadly in 2015 the youngster would suffer back to back stoppage losses as he came up short against Atsushi Aburada and Toshimasa Ouchi, ending his rise and hype in just his second year as a professional. Thankfully Kamikubo he has started to rebuild his career and has won his last 5, all against Japanese domestic opponents including Takahiro Murai and Masashi Odaira.
Early in his career Kamikubo looked like a great prospect. He was boxing at range and had a style similar to other Ioka gym fighters, like Sho Shida and Masayoshi Nakatani, since that early start however fighters have been more willing to take a shot from him to come forward, and have given the youngster issues. Those issues have been worsened by the fact the youngster appears to be relatively fragile, even at domestic level, and going in there with someone like Hisada will really expose any cracks that Kamikubo may have.
With Hisada having stopped so many opponents recently and Kamikubo being questionable in terms of his durability, we can't see anything but a stoppage for Hisada. We are however expecting some fun action before the champion stops the challenger, likely in the middle rounds.
Although widely over-looked in the West the Minimumweight division is one of the more interesting right now, with a lot of good looking match ups that could be made, and could be made very easily given the promotional situation of many of the divisions top fighters. It's funny that the division has been so over-looked despite 3 unbeaten world champions, including the 48-0 Wanheng Menayothin. Not does it have unbeaten champions but also a number of unbeaten contenders, including OPBF champion Tsubasa Koura (11-0, 8), who looks to make his first defense of the title this coming Saturday. In the opposite corner to the unbeaten champion will be once beaten challenger Masataka Taniguchi (8-1, 6), with both men looking to secure a world title in 2018.
Of the two men it's been Koura who has been the most impressive. He turned professional in 2014, as a 19 year old, following a 29 fight amateur career that saw him going 19-10 (6). Given his lack of amateur success Koura turned professional with a C class licence and entered the 2015 Rookie of the Year, which he would win with a decision victory over Ryusei Kitamura in the final.
Since winning the Rookie of the Year we've seen Koura go 5-0 (5) with wins over the likes of former world title challenger Jeffrey Galero and the upset minded Jaysever Abcede. He has shown raw power, good boxing and an aggressive mentality that makes for fan friendly bouts. There are flaws with Koura, who can be reckless and open at times, but he has that type of power which is rarely seen at 105lbs. That power of Koura's has caused one or two problems, and although an OPBF champion, and Rookie of the Year winner, he has only had 35 combined career rounds and has never been beyond round 5. That may well be hiding issues with stamina or pacing, though at the moment it's not yet been a problem.
The challenger turned professional in early 2016, passing his B grade test on the same day as current IBF world champion and fellow Watanabe gym fighter Hiroto Kyoguchi. He took that exam following a notable amateur career in which he went 55-19 (16) and had captained his University team whilst fighting at a consistently high level. In the professional ranks he took 4 quick blow out victories before battling hard to over-come the talented Dexter Alimento with a split decision. In 2017 we've seen him come up just short against Reiya Konishi, in a bout for the Japanese title, and follow that loss up with two blow out wins.
In the ring Taniguchi is a technical but aggressive fighter. His power is probably not as good as his record suggests, but is still very good, with issues regarding potential stamina problems also possible. Taniguchi has done 10 rounds once, in his loss and perhaps needs a little bit more seasoning before a potential world title fight, if he over-comes Koura. The problem with the youngster is that too many of his bouts have come against hapless foes's and he already has 4 opening round stoppages, and has scored no wins over fellow Japanese fighters. That's not to say he can't, but he really should have faced some domestic opponents rather than so many limited Thai's and Filipino's.
Although both men are aggressive, heavy handed, flawed and both are 23, there is a lot of differences. Taniguchi is the more well schooled from an amateur perspective and is a southpaw, whilst Koura is arguably the more impressive with his wins over Galero and Abcede over shadowing Taniguchi's wins, and Koura is also the man with the confidence of being a champion.
It's a 50-50 type of fight, and at the time of writing that is a view shared by a members poll on boxmob who have Taniguchi narrowly ahead 51-49. We do favour Koura, but it's likely to be either a very close decision, or a bout decided on a single moment of genius. We feel that Koura's power makes him the more likely to do something magical, but really there is very little to split the guys here.
It's fair to say that the Light Middleweight division is one of the more notable in the West right now, with interesting possible match ups involving the likes of Erislandy Lara, Jermell Charlo, Jarrett Hurd, Brian Castano, Vanes Martirosyan and even Kell Brook. In Asia there is also an interesting scene developing, even if it is on a much lower level.
This coming Friday we get the chance to see the scene in Asia really tidy it's self up with the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles being unified, potentially with the Japanese title also becoming unified. Not only is there a lot of silver ware up for grabs but also a lot of career momentum for both men, who have both had sensational 2017's already and will want to end the year on a big time high.
In one corner will be current OPBF champion Ratchasi Sithsaithong (9-3, 7) who has already travelled to Japan twice this year. In his first bout of the year he scored an amazing come from behind victory over Yutaka Oishi to claim the OPBF title, with the win coming in round 12 when the Thai was 3 points, 5 points and 11 down on the cards. He then followed up with an 11th round TKO over Jumbo Oda Nobunaga Shoten Petagine to retain his title. In the other corner will be unbeaten Japanese champion Takeshi Inoue (11-0-1, 6) who has gone 3-0 (2) already this year with wins over Akinori Watanabe, Konshinmaru Saito, for the Japanese title, and Riku Nagahama, in his first defense of the title. Inoue, no relation to the Inoue clan lead by Naoya Inoue, has shown an ability to box, brawl or fight and has a good claim to being Japan's domestic break out fighter of 2017.
The Thai began his career in 2011 and faltered early, losing his 4th bout and then losing again just 2 fights later, to current Japanese Middleweight champion Hikaru Nishida. Since then however he has gone 5-1 (4), avenging his sole loss during that run to Cobra Suwa, and scoring the aforementioned wins in the OPBF title bouts. It's unclear what has really began his improvements but he now looks like a solid, heavy handed fighter, with a steely determination and great energy. He is technically flawed, hence why he was so far behind Oishi in their bout, but his will to win is incredible and his power really does appear to last in to the championship rounds.
Inoue was a former amateur stand out with a 39-16 (21) record, and he had captained his University due to his amateur talent. He turned professional in 2014 and fought to a draw with Daishi Nagata on debut. Since then however he has developed significantly and this year he has really broken away from the domestic pack with the wins over Watanabe and Saito. His amateur pedigree is obvious but he has been shown to be happy to have a fight, as he did against the big hitting Watanabe where he essentially out worked and brawled through Watanabe.
Given the styles of the two men we're expecting a hard hitting, exciting and action packed fight. We're expecting to see both men prove their toughness, but we're expecting the youth and hungry of Inoue to be too much. There's going to be a risk if the Japanese fighter goes to war straight away, especially if Ratchasi can see out the early storm and come on strong, but we favour Inoue to become a triple crown winner with a very hard fought decision over the under-rated Thai.
This coming Friday is an interesting day in Japan with several title fights. One of those is a Japanese Flyweight title fight which will see defending champion Masayuki Kuroda (27-7-3, 15) take on Mako Matsuyama (8-12-2, 3) in what looks like an easy first defense for Kuroda, and a chance for the fans to get a fan friendly, but likely one sided, bout.
Of the two men it's fair to say that Kuroda is significantly more established fighter. He is a former Japanese Light Flyweight champion and a former Flyweight world title challenger, who has fought the likes of Shin Ono, Ryoichi Taguchi, Juan Carlos Reveco, Suguru Muranaka and Takuya Kogawa, who is now enjoying his second reign as a Japanese champion. Although a long way behind the elite Japanese fighters at 112lbs, like Kazuto Ioka and Daigo Higa, he is still avery accomplished fighter, with good speed, good skills and under-rated power.
Although talented Kuroda's career has been a rocky road in the last few years. He claimed the Japanese title at 108lbs back in May 2011 and although he made 4 defenses 2 of them were draws, and the other two were split decision wins. They were followed by a 0-2-1 run, including lossese to Reveco and Muranaka and a further set backs in 2015 to Mario Andrade and 2016 to Kogawa. Recently though he has spun off 3 wins, including a revenge win over Kogawa, and he finally seems to be recovering the form that lead to his world title bout.
Although less well known and less established Matsuyama is actually a fighter who may have caught the eye of a number of international fans, thanks to his tremendous 2014 clash in Macau against Rex Tso. That is one of a number of action bouts Matsuyama has been involved in, with others including his 2015 bouts against Yushi Tanaka and Joe Tanooka and his amazing 2016 clash with Katsunori Nagamine. Those bouts have lead to Matsuyama building a reputation for thrilling performances in losses, but the fact he has failed to score a win of real note in his almost 11 year career suggests that his role is just to be an exciting loser.
Aged 28 Matsuyama is coming into his physical peak and is backed by the powerful Watanabe gym, who have had a great 2017. He will be riding the high that the gym have and will know that he has the style to force Kuroda into a high tempo war. He'll come out firing and will almost certainly have a fight. Sadly his lack of skills and reliance on his toughness, energy and heart will not be enough to over-come Kuroda.
We're are expecting a very fun contest, but sadly for Matsuyama he will again be the exciting loser, a role that he seems to fill regularly. He'll likely be stopped in the middle rounds by Kuroda who will likely be hoping to move towards a second world title fight in 2018.
The Japanese Welterweight title has been one of the most over-looked domestic titles in recent years. A lot of that is due to the relatively weak domestic scene. Whilst globally the Welterweight division has been among the best in recent years it hasn't shone in Japan, where the division really lacks name value and real stand out talents. Strangely however it's the lack of stand out talent the makes the division so interesting, and makes the November 7th Japanese Welterweight title unification bout so intriguing, with both fighters coming in as “champion” and both believing they will walk away the winner.
In one corner is “regular” champion Toshio Arikawa (14-4, 12), a huge puncher who claimed the title in April 2016 when he stopped Nobuyuki Shindo. He has recorded just one defence of the title, stopping Yasuhiro Okawa last November, though has sadly seen his reign put on ice this year with a nasty injury. That injury actually forced him to pull out of a Champion Carnival bout, which would have seen him face off with Daisuke Sakamoto (14-8-3, 8). Due to the injury to Arikawa fans saw Sakamoto battle against Makoto Kawasaki for the interim title, with Sakamoto claiming a decision win for the interim crown.
Now, almost 7 months after the original date for the bout we'll see the two fighters finally facing off, and just like the first time around there is a lot of back stories running though this bout. These include the unification status of the bout, the delaying of the bout and the fact that this is a rematch are all interesting threads to the contest.
We've already explained the delay and unification, of the interim and regular titles here, but it's worth mentioning the first fight between these two men before looking at either man in much detail. These two fought back in April 2014, and surprisingly Sakamoto blew away Arikawa in just 69 seconds. Since then however both men have been unbeaten, with Sakamoto going 7-0-2 (5) and Arikawa going 6-0 (5), and both showing real improvements from their first contest.
Of the two men it's Arikawa who enters in the more impressive form. His last 6 bouts have included stoppage wins over Akinori Watanabe, Shindo and Okawa as well as a technical decision win over the pretty decent, though now forgotten Yoshihisa Tonimura. He has really turned his career around after an 8-4 (7) start, which included 3 stoppage losses, and has not only kept his power but improved his overall boxing ability. The naturally heavy hands of Arikawa are sledgehammer like and every shot he lands looks damaging, especially at this level.
Whilst Arikawa has turned his career around brilliantly it should be noted that Sakamoto has done something similar himself. He was 7-8-1 (3) prior to beating Arikawa, having lost 4 of his previous 5, but has genuinely turned his career around and was a well deserving winner over Kawasaki for the interim title. Sadly aside from the win over Arikawa little really stands out for him in terms of quality wins, and it did sort of seem like he shook Arikawa and never let him off the hook until the referee had to stop the bout.
Given the result of their first bout it's obvious that Sakamoto will be full of confidence, and certainly has activity in his favour, having fought as recently as June. We however feel a determined and focused Arikawa will be too much for Sakamoto, and will break down Sakamoto late, though may need to pull himself off the canvas to score a victory here.
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.