Whilst we're all looking forward to the host of world title bouts taking place at the end of 2016 there is perhaps a hidden gem among the bouts and it's not at world level, though it has fighters who will likely compete at the world level in the near future. That bout comes from the December 31st card in Tokyo and sees OPBF Super Featherweight champion Masayuki Ito (19-1-1, 9) take on WBO Asia Pacific champion Takuya Watanabe (30-6-1, 16) to unify the titles and crown a true Oriental champion. The bout might not have the name appeal of the world title bouts but is close to a 50-50 bout and should have fans on the edges of their seat with both fighters being very talented and very under-rated.
Of the two men the one with the most upside, potentially at least, is Ito who is one of our favourites here at Asian Boxing. The often-overlooked 25 year old wasn't tipped for big things at the start of his career and debuted at the age of 18 in a 4 rounder. In December 2012 he was crowned the All Japan Featherweight Rookie of the year, beating Masaru Sueyoshi and Kosuke Saka on route to the crown. A year later he claimed a WBC Youth crown, up at Lightweight, and a year after that he scored a massive win over Masao Nakamura.
Heading in to 2015 Ito was one of the rising hopes of Japanese boxing, though suffered a loss early in the year to Rikki Naito, albeit a very close and hotly disputed loss. He quickly bounced back from that set back by beating Dai Iwai for the OPBF title, which he has defended twice, against Shingo Eto and Ernie Sanchez.
In the ring Ito is a talented pure boxer with developing power. He's a mover-boxer who is very intelligent in the ring and has shown good stamina through his career as well as impressive speed and a very under-rated ability to judge distance and control the tempo of bouts. Although still not a huge puncher his shots carry enough weight on them to make opponents think twice and to mess up their face, as Iwai found out last year.
Although Ito is a rising hopeful the same can also be said of Watanabe, despite the fact he is a bit older at 27 and already looks like a veteran with a 37 fight record. He debuted almost a decade ago and like Ito he has built himself up from early 4 rounders to being where he is today. His success was a slow burner, and after 14 fights he was 10-3-1 (3) but since then he has developed into a very solid fighter who has under-rated skills, insane toughness and a real will to win. Like Ito has he been the WBC Youth Lightweight champion and despite falling short in two Japanese title bouts, losing to Hisashi Amagasa and Satoshi Hosono, he has never embarrassed himself.
Many who have seen Watanabe will best remember him for his insane 2014 blood bath with Jae Sung Lee, a bout in which Watanabe gave the fans in Seoul a shower of blood, from a combination of a damaged nose and a bad gash on his head. Despite covering everything in claret Watanabe was always in the fight and ran Lee very close on the score cards. That loss is one of only 2 from Watanabe in his last 17, with the other being the loss to Hosono. Those 15 wins might not be against a who's who but they do include a recent win over Amin Sor Wangmoo for the Asia Pacific title which he will be defending here.
Skill wise Watanabe is a level below Ito, however he's proven his toughness, work ethic and desire and is also a bigger puncher than Ito. Whilst he is a level below Ito in terms of skills he's still a very solid boxer who has progressively gotten better, and better, and was very unlucky in a number of his losses, including the defeat to Hosono. At times he has looked disappointing but when facing his biggest tests he has stepped it up and given his all.
Coming in to this we're expecting a really high tempo, high skilled chess match, with touches of a war. It won't be a slugfest, neither man is a brawler, but it will be all action and it will be very fun with Watanabe likely getting the better of the exchanges and Ito getting the better of the work at range. It'll be close, it'll be competitive and it'll be a great fight, and we think Ito will just do enough to claim the win in what we think could be a genuine dark horse for fight of the day.
With some many world title bouts taking place on December 31st in Japan it can be easy to over-look the domestic action also taking place on the same day, that's despite a brilliant Japanese Featherweight title bout between reigning champion Shota Hayashi (28-5-1, 17) and former WBA Super Bantamweight champion Akifumi Shimoda (31-5-2, 14). On a typical day in the boxing calendar this would be an attention grabbing domestic headliner but here it's a bout relegated to being just a supporting bout.
For Hayashi the bout serves as his first defense of the title, a title he won back in September when he defeated Noriyuki Ueno for the then vacant title. The performance against Ueno was one of Hayashi's best so far and showed the Hatanaka man had developed into a very strong fighter capable of moving into the world rankings in the future and it seems now, in his late 20's, he's coming into his own.
The win over Ueno wasn't just a bout that saw Hayashi claim the title but also saw him extending an unbeaten run that now sits are 14 fights unbeaten, dating back more than 5 years, and features 13 wins and a draw. That has included victories not only over Ueno but also over the likes of good Japanese contenders like Ryosei Arai, Zuri Kannan, Yoshiyuki Takabayashi and Koji Umetsu and has given real legitimacy to his status as one of the rising men on the Japanese scene.
Although on the rise Hayashi is still a flawed fighter who has a lot to improve on and he can be out worked and out boxed. It's not happened recently but it has happened before and he will know that he needs to keep improve if he's to make the cross over from Japanese champion to world title contender. His out put needs to improve and he needs to start sitting more on his shots, though every bout has seen an improvement recently.
Aged 32 Shimoda is a man probably best known for suffering two KO of the year type defeats. One of those happened back in 2011 to Rico Ramos, in a bout he was comfortably winning, and the other in 2014 to Marvin Sonsona. Despite those losses Shimoda is a talented fighter who has won Japanese, OPBF and world titles at 122lbs with wins against the likes of Daisuke Yamanaka, Hidenori Kobayashi, Hiromasa Ohashi, Ryol Li Lee, Alejandro Gonzalez and Gosuke Seki.
In the ring Shimoda is a talented boxer from the southpaw stance who has under-rated power, lovely counter punching and can force the fight when he needs to. He judges distance well, has under-rated movement and really solid technical ability. Sadly though his KO losses will forever haunt him and give any opponent belief that they too can catch him and render him unconscious.
Given his age and the wear on his body Shimoda will know that this could be his last chance to fight in a title bout. A win could, potentially, put him in the world rankings and get him one more chance at the top but a loss will almost certainly be the end of his career,
With the bout being a real must win for both men, for Shimoda to have much of a career and for Hayashi to establish his reign as a genuine one, we're expecting a very good, but yet tense bout. Hayashi will look for the KO and will try to break down and out work Shimoda, who has fought only 12 rounds in the last 14 months, Shimoda however will believe his more rounded skills and power will be the key. Sadly for the former world champion we think his age will be a problem here and Hayashi will just do enough to claim a decision win and retain his title, before potentially moving on to bigger things next year.
So we've all had a bit of a break for Christmas but this coming Thursday sees title action return to Japan as Light Middleweight champion Yuki Nonaka (30-8-3, 9) defend his title against veteran challenger Yosuke Kirima (23-6-2, 16). For the champion this will be a 6th defense of the title he won around 30 months ago whilst Kirima will be hoping it's third time lucky having come up short in two previous title bouts, back in 2012 and 2013.
The world ranked Nonaka is a lovely boxer to watch, who uses skills at mid-range to get his shots off, block shots thrown in his direction and get away when he needs to. He's not the fighter he once was, but at 39 he's a very capable fighter. During his career he has twice been the Japanese champion and has scored notable wins over the likes of Kazuhiko Hidaka, Dmytro Nikulin, Charles Bellamy, Koshinmaru Saito, Yuto Shimizu and Ryosuke Maruki. Despite those wins he has shown his years recent and was fortunate against both Saito and Maruki, with both having legitimate claims to feel aggrieved.
At his best Nonaka was a really solid fighter but given age, and a career that goes back 17 years as a professional, he is slowing, his out put has lessened and his reactions aren't what they were. His career, although not over, seems to be getting progressively tougher and it's clear that he hasn't got long left in the sport.
Whilst Nonaka is a 2-time champion Kirima's career has been one of failure at title level. He has twice challenged for the Japanese title, being stopped in both of those bouts, and has also come up short in a regional title fight losing in an IBF Pan Pacific Middleweight title fight to Michael Zerafa earlier this year. Whilst he has come up short in his major bouts he has bounced around the rankings and had consistent wins to keep him in the domestic mix. Unfortunately whilst he has done enough to remain in the title picture through his career has shown durability issues and been stopped by Daisuke Nakagawa and Tadashi Yuba as well being dropped hard by Arnel Tinampay in a 2012 loss.
At 32 years old the challenger is pretty much in last chance saloon with 2 losses in his last 4 bouts. He's still a capable fighter on the lower end of the Japanese domestic scene but he's certainly not someone who can turn any domestic success into something international. In fact it's probably fair to say that he's one loss away from having his career written off.
We think Nonaka has slowed down, a lot, from his prime, but it's still hard to see the limited and fragile Kirima being too much for him. Father time might have taken the best from Nonaka, but unless Nonaka has slipped a lot he should still be too good for Kirima.
The Middleweight scene in Japan hasn't been the most exciting in recent years, but we have had some under-rated excitement with the rise of Hikaru Nishida and his aggressive pressure fighting. Sadly Nishida suffered an injury out of the ring earlier this year, when he fell down some stairs at a gym, and due to that injury the JBC has set an interim title bout which will take place on December 24th at the Korakuen Hall. That will see former champions facing off in what could a very exciting pre-Christmas treat.
The bout in question will see the huge punching Tomohiro Ebisu (16-4, 16) battle against former world title challenger Makoto Fuchigami (23-11, 14) in a bout we're genuinely looking forward to, a lot.
Ebisu, for those unaware, is a glass cannon. He has never been the distance in his 20 fight career and has stopped his foes or been stopped himself. Often those results have come quickly with his 20 fight career consisting of just 69 combined rounds and he has only been beyond 5 times 4 times in his career, winning 3 of those bouts and losing one. Despite being such a glass cannon he has proven himself with wins over the likes of Go Nakahori, Sanosuke Sasaki and Hidenori Tajima and has been the Japanese champion and the 2009 Rookie of the Year.
Ebisu is a fast starter, he has stopped 6 of his opponents in the first 3 rounds, he is also a man who has sought new challenges by fighting as high at Light Heavyweight, in a bout he lost to Frenchman Kevin Thomas Cojean in 2 rounds. Despite trying the higher weights he is certainly more suited to Middleweight, though has suffered stoppage losses at the weight to Fukutaro Ujiie, Tadashi Yuba and Daisuke Nakagawa. Whilst those stoppages at Middleweight have come to punchers he has shown real cracks in other bouts and there is a worry that he really can't take a solid shot.
At 33 years Fuchigami is a true veteran with more than a decade of experience behind him and more than 30 fights, consisting of over 200 rounds. Those fights have come at every level from 4 rounders, early in his career, to facing Gennady Golovkin in a world title fight. He has also struggled at every level before finding his groove. He lost 3 of his first 5 before having a run of success and getting a Japanese title fight in his 12th bout, back in 2007. Another run of success saw Fuchigami earn a second title fight and came up just short against Tetsuya Suzuki, though a rematch with Suzuki in 2010 saw Fuchigami claim the Japanese title. After several defenses Fuchigami added the OPBF title to his collection winning an amazing unification war with Koji Sato, in what was really one of 2011's best bouts.
Sadly since unifying the titles in 2011, and going on a 9-0 (8) run, Fuchigami's career has repeatedly faltered and he has gone 4-5 in recent bouts. Whilst one of those losses, to Golovkin, can be excused he has suffered two losses to both Akio Shibata and Nishida, whilst also struggling past Brandon Lockhart Shane.
At his best Fuchigami was a resilient, tricky and rangy southpaw who used his size well, had under-rated power and speed and although never going to be a threat on the world stage was actually rather dangerous on the regional level. In recent years how ever his resiliency has shown signs of fading, his toughness is showing cracks and the speed is slowing, along with his reactions. Saying that however he could still prove to be a tough assignment for someone as wild as Ebisu.
Whilst we're unsure on who to favour as the winner we don't expect this to go the distance and wouldn't be surprised at all if this was a thrilling 4 round war with both men hitting the canvas at some point.
The Japanese Lightweight scene has never been the most interesting, or exciting, of the domestic divisions in the country but it has long been an under-rated one. That's certainly the case now with the likes of OPBF champion Masayoshi Nakatani, former world title challenger Nihito Arakawa, the under-rated Hurricane Futa the fast rising Shuichiro Yoshino, and the promising Masaru Sueyoshi. Despite a rising number of interesting fighters of names it does seem like we aren't getting the best of bouts, however we do still get some interesting bouts.
The next bout of note comes this coming Monday as the heavy handed Shuhei Tsuchiya (21-4, 17) faces off off with the under-rated, but in form, Masashi Noguchi (12-5-1, 6) for the currently vacant Japanese Lightweight title, a title that was recently vacated by Arakawa.
Of the two men it's certainly Tsuchiya who is more well known and in fact he has been on the radar of fight fans since way back in 2010, when he won the Lightweight Rookie of the Year and moved his record to a very impressive looking 8-0 (8). Not only had he won the Rookie of the year, but he had beaten 7 unbeaten fighters in his first 8 bouts and needed just 12 rounds to rack up those wins, including a win over future Japanese interim Light Welterweight champion Masanobu Nakazawa. Tsuchiya's KO run would end up moving to 12-0 (12) before he was taken 8 rounds by Heri Andriyanto and then 10 rounds by Stevie Ongen Ferdinandus, with some of his momentum being lost, but others seeing the positive from those wins.
Sadly since being 14-0 (12) things have been a struggle for Tsuchiya who has since gone 7-4 (3) suffering stoppage defeats to Shoji Kawase, Masayoshi Nakatani and Leonardo Zappavigna as well as a decision loss to Ricky Sismundo. Whilst none of those losses are embarrassing there is certainly a lack of a major win recent bouts, with wins over Kazuya Soma and Kazuki Matsuyama being the most noteworthy wins in the last 4 years for Tsuchiya. Despite the less than great form Tsuchiya is regarded as a very decent fighter with nice skills, nasty power and a developing skill set that has been helped by experience.
Whilst Tsuchiya is relatively well known the same cannot be said of Noguchi, however Noguchi cannot be over-looked coming into this bout. The 27 year old lost 3 of his first 4 and was 2-4 after 6 bouts but has buit his career amazingly well over the last 5 years and built a 4-5 (3) record into a 12-5-1 (6) one. That has seen him going 9 fights unbeaten and generate some real confidence and momentum. That's included going 2-0-1 with Masaki Saito, scoring a decent win over Kazuya Soma and a notable victory over Tomoya Yamada.
Whilst Noguchi is in good form we'll be honest and admit that his competition hasn't been the most testing and that this is a huge step up for him. It is however one he will come into with the knowledge that he might not get another shot at a belt if this one doesn't go his way. He'll also be aware that he's not the fighter who struggled to get going early in his career, those losses aren't a negative but instead part of his development.
Although it's clear that Noguchi is an improved fighter we don't think he will have the power to keep Tsuchiya honest and as a result we suspect he'll be broken down in the second half of the fight with Tsuchiya coming out on top courtesy of his more developed skills and his more destructive power
The OPBF Welterweight title has been a bit of an outlier in recent years with no one really making it “theirs” in years. The most notable reign of the last decade was that of Akinori Watanabe and even that only consisted of 5 defenses over the space of 2 years, and since then we've seen Yoshiro Kamegai and Jack Brubaker hold the title but never really establish themselves as the King of the Orient and Pacific region. In fact you probably need to go back to the 1990's to find the last man who was truly the dominant force in Asia at 140lbs, as that was Jung Oh Park who defended the belt 13 times from 1989 to 1994.
A new champion will be crowned on December 9th when the vacant title is put up for grabs and will be the star prize for a bout between British born Australian Ben Savva (4-1) and Filipino journeyman Dennis Padua (10-11-2, 5). And if we're being honest bouts like this do little to raise the title's standing, which is a shame as the recent Jack Brubaker Vs Suyon Takayama fight was brilliant and saw the title and interim belt being unified in fantastic fashion.
Savva, as mentioned, was born in the UK but has fought his whole career in Australia. He debuted back in April 2015 and lost on debut to Richard Smith but has reeled off 4 straight wins since, including a win over Indonesian journeyman Roy Tua Manihuruk and Australian veteran Alex Ah Tong, with that win seeing Savva claim an Australian State title. Although he has had a 4 fight winning streak all of those have been decision wins and all have been against fighters with less than great records over 8 rounds or less.
Whilst Savaa is a novice, with just a combined 28 rounds, the same cannot be said of Padua, who has had 23 fights during his now 9 year long career. Sadly though, many of those fights have ended with Padua coming up short. In fact he has been stopped in 8 of his 23 career bouts and despite having 23 fights he has only notched up 103 career rounds. Whilst he has mixed with good company, and does hold a notable draw with Jay Solmiano from back in 2008, he has typically come up short suffering stoppages to the likes of Teerachai Kratingdaenggym, Hayato Hokazono, Sirimongkol Singwancha, Yosuke Kirima, and Baishanbo Nasiyiwula.
Although Savva isn't a puncher we'd be shocked to see he need the 12 rounds to over-come Padua. This bout does little to help the OPBF title, and with Padua only winning 1 of his last 10 bouts questions need to be asked as to why he has got a shot, but it will see a champion crowned and hopefully lead to some interesting bouts for the winner in 2017.
One of the more notable Japanese youngsters climbing through the ranks at the moment is the exciting Ken Shiro (8-0, 4), who in just 8 fights has claimed the WBC Youth, Japanese and OPBF Light Flyweight titles. Ken Shiro will make his first defense of the Oriental title this coming Thursday as he takes on Filipino challenger Lester Abutan (11-5-3, 5), who has mixed with good company but has come up short against the likes of Giemel Magramo and Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr.
Of the two it's the champion who is better known with his entire career having been fought under a microscope following the success of his father Hisashi Teraji. He has however answered all the questions asked of him and has impressed from his debut, which saw him out boxing Heri Amol, right through to unifying the Japanese and Oriental titles earlier this year, when he took a wide decision over Toshimasa Ouchi. Along the way he has scored notable wins over Katsunori Nagamine, Kenichi Horikawa and Atsushi Kakutani and become a world ranked fighter, with 3 of the 4 world title bodies ranking him in the top 10.
In the ring Ken Shiro has all the tools to go a long way. He has developed impressive stamina, hits harder than his record suggests, has all the punches in the book and is impressively with quick with both hands and feet. He does have defensive lapses, with them appearing to be his biggest flaw, but but those lapses re slowly disappearing from his game and he is plugging holes whilst preparing for world title fights, and improving some of his deficiencies.
Abutan on the other hand is less well known but has slowly moved through the ranks since debuting in 2013. To begin his career things were a struggle as he fell to 2-1-1 (1) after 4 fights, drawing with the then unbeaten Nino Valenzuela and losing to the very talented Giemel Magramo. Despite those set backs he got his career back on track scoring 3 wins before suffering another draw and a second loss, falling to 5-2-2. His career continued to struggle over the fights that came and earlier this year his record was 9-5-3 (5) following a narrow loss to Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, thankfully though he has bounced back well with back-to-back wins over Renren Tesorio and Mateo Handig.
The Filipino has shown several things through his career so far. He has proven he's tough, and has never been stopped, although being dropped several times during his career he has always recovered to his feet and fought back hard, and he has shown real development in his skills since his early days. His loss to Fahlan was really unfortunate ans it was clear there that he had the talent to make a mark on the sport. He's aggressive,a bit of a terrier and although not the most skilled he's a real handful for fighters at 108lbs with his toughness and energy.
Although Abutan is a handful we see this as being a bout where Ken Shiro should be too good, too quick and too capable for the Filipino. Abutan will have his moments, especially early, but we think Ken Shiro will prove to be too sharp, and too smart for the marauding aggressiveness of the challenger, despite some success from Abutan through out the fight
Japanese Bantamweight champion Kentaro Masuda (25-7, 13) returns to the ring this coming Thursday to defend his title for the second time as he takes on first time title challenger Satoshi Ozawa (13-6-1, 2). Whilst this is Masuda's second defense of his current reign it is part of his second reign, with his first seeing him successfully defend the title twice before being blitzed by Shohei Omori in 2015.
Of the two men it's the 33 year old champion who will be the favourite. He's much more experienced with 32 fights under his belt, including 7 Japanese title bouts of which he has won 5. Whilst he's not been perfect in them he has only lost to fringe world class guys in the form of Omori and Ryosuke Iwasa, which scoring wins against the likes of Yu Kawaguchi, Konosuke Tomiyama, Yushi Tanaka and Tatsuya Takahashi.
In the ring Masuda is a fighter who has developed in front of our eyes. He began his career 1-2, and was 3-3 after 6 fights before falling to 14-6 in 2012 following his loss to Iwasa. Since then he has turned things around, going 11-1 in the last 4 years and really made him self a staple of the Japanese title scene. In the ring he's rugged, has solid stamina and comes to fight with an exciting aggressive style. Although not the biggest puncher he hits harder than his record suggests and his shots sting, with surprising effect, as Konosuke Tomiyama found out back in 2014. He is however 33 and has had a long hard career with some suggesting that he may be on the slide now following a number of tough wars.
Whilst plenty is known, and a lot of footage of Masuda is available, the same cannot be said of Ozawa who is an 8 year professional at the age of 29, but hasn't yet fought many fights of name value, and has next to no big name wins. Like Masuda he had an early career struggle, falling to 2-3 and later being 4-3-1. He has however rebuilt going 9-3 since the start of 2012. That might not sound great but it has included notable wins over Yuki Strong Kobayashi Yoshihiko Matsuo, twice, as he's emerged as a contender for the Japanese throne.
Ozawa is technically a decent fighter, he has nice skills and nice speed, but he has a clear lack of power having only scored 2 stoppages in 20 fights, and his toughness is also there to be questioned with the challenger having suffered 4 stoppage losses. His lack of durability will be a real issue against a fighter like Masuda who is marauding and aggressive, and although Ozawa is a decent fighter he will struggle to keep the champion off him.
Whilst Ozawa is a live under-dog here it's hard to see anything but a Masuda win, likely by stoppage in the middle section of the fight
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.