This coming Tuesday fight fans at Korakuen Hall could be in for something of a hidden gem, as Koichi Aso (25-9-1, 16) defends his OPBF Light Welterweight title against Akihiro Kondo (33-10-2, 18), in what will be Aso's first defense of the title that he won in a major upset against Rikki Naito. The bout might not be pitting two prime stars against each other, but it does pit two men who's styles should gel to give us something a little bit special. In fact the styles of the two men could, genuinely, give us a Japanese fight of the Year contender.
The champion is a 36 year old who really is an unknown outside of Asia, in fact you could make a good argument that he's unknown out side of Japan's main island of Honshu. All 35 of his bouts have taken place in Japan, with 32 taking place in Korakuen Hall, where he has built a reputation as someone to watch. Fans who have followed the Japanese scene, and Aso's career in particular, will know that he's not only been a servant to the local boxing scene, but has also been one of the region's most fun and exciting fighters to watch over the last 16 years. Win or lose his bouts have typically been thrilling battles, even as he's gotten older and began to slow, notably.
Aso debuted in 2006 and first began to make some buzz in 2008, when he reached the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, fighting to a draw with Valentine Hosokawa. Over the years that followed he became a must watch fighter with his aggressive pressure style, all out aggression and physically imposing, high risk-high reward style being amazing to watch. It was a risky style, as we saw against the likes of Shinya Iwabuchi, but it was also one that made him a main stay at the top of the domestic scene. Sadly he did come up short in two Japanese title fights against Hiroki Okada, in 2014 and 2016, but in 2017 he made the most of his third shot at the title, stopping Kazuki Matsuyama for the title. His reign was a short one, but was an exciting one with a single successful defense coming against Yusuke Konno before he lost to Valentine Hoskawa for the second time. By 2019 it seemed his career was coming to a close, but last December he stopped Rikki Naito in arguably his best win to date. Aso is all about aggression, coming forward and looking to make every fight into a war. He's not the biggest puncher, or the quickest fighter, but his aggression, pressure and work rate make him great to watch.
Whilst Aso is unknown outside of Japan the same can't be said of Akihiro Kondo who is somewhat known internationally for his 2017 battle with Sergey Lipinets, when the two fought for the IBF 140lb title. He's also somewhat well known for his brutal KO at the hands of Apinun Khongsong. Aside from those two bouts he is, like Aso, very much a Korakuen Hall icon with 43 of his professional bouts taking place at the venue. Like Aso we've seen Kondo making his name on the Japanese since 2006, and he's very much a stalwart of the Japanese scene. Like Aso he began making a name for himself in the Rookie of the Year, winning it in 2007, an he would win the Japanese Lightweight title in 2009, though lost it in his second defense against Nihito Arakawa. He failed in an attempt to recapture the Japanese title in 2012 but had something of a resurgence in the years that followed. After beating Komsan Polsan in 2015 we saw Kondo reel off a run of wins that saw him win the WBO Asia Pacific title and fight in that aforementioned bout with Lipinets, which saw Kondo giving the hard hitting Russian a very competitive and tough bout. Sadly though since facing Lipinets he has gone 4-3-1 and has career has been heading to the end, despite a notable win last time out against Aso Ishiwaki.
At the age of 37 Kondo isn't the fighter he once was, but he's still an incredibly tough guy, who tries to serve the role as the immoveable object. He's got a tough defense, he's rugged, and he presses forward behind his tight guard, whilst looking to land great counter shots. Sadly for Kondo he has never been particularly quick, and as he's aged he has lost pretty much all his foot speed, which has allowed younger fighters like Andy Hiraoka to out box him and by simply using their feet and moving around the ring. For fighters wanting to go to war with him however, Kondo is a nightmare, thanks to his timing, his accuracy and his ability to press the action, as we saw in 2020 when he faced Daishi Nagata. He's smart and his career has seen him develop a lot of experience ring IQ.
When we see these to in the ring we expect to see both men wanting to establish themselves as the boss in the centre of the ring. With that in mind we're expecting to see both men standing toe to toe with Aso looking to set the tempo, with the higher work rate, and Kondo catching and countering shots up close, in a bout that could well be fought in a phone booth. The bout, for the most part, will be a case of intense action, with shots going back and forth up close. We suspect the energy of Aso will be the difference maker over 10 rounds, but we wouldn't be surprised at all by Kondo rocking Aso at least once, in what should be a sensational 10 rounds.
We think this will be close, thrilling, exciting, with Aso narrowly taking home the victory on the scorecards, in what could be the final bout for both men.
Prediction - MD10 Aso
Way back in July we got a genuine upset in Japan as Daishi Nagata (15-2-1, 6) stopped Koki Inoue to claim the Japanese Light Welterweight title. That result was really unexpected with Inoue a clear favourite to win and to retain his title, before heading on to bigger and better things. Inoue however didn't get a chance to find his groove before being cut, and the referee was later forced to step in and stop the bout due to the damage on Inoue, who then announced his retirement from the sport.
On December 10th we'll see Nagata back in the ring as he goes for his first title defense and takes on tough veteran Akihiro Kondo (32-9-1, 18) at the Korakuen Hall. On paper this looks a really good match up, a tough first defense and a chance for Nagata to legitimise his title reign, whilst also looking like a chance for Kondo to claim another title and continue his long career. In reality however we don't expect this to be as competitive as it looks. In fact we have a feeling that this will actually be quite an easy defense for the newly crowned champion.
The 30 year old champion was a solid amateur before turning professional in 2014, facing a then debuting Takeshi Inoue in a really weird match up between two touted, former amateurs. That bout resulted in a draw before Nagata went on a decent run of results to boast an 8-0-1 (4) record by the end of 2016. In early 2017 he suffered his first loss, being stopped in 7 by the bigger, stronger and more powerful Vladimir Baez before rebuilding and putting on a great performance, in a loss, to Rikki Naito in 2018. Despite losing to Naito it was clear that Nagata had the tools to win domestic and regional titles, and since then he has reeled off 4 wins, including the one against Koki Inoue.
In the ring Nagata is a little battler. He can box, he can fight and he can brawl, but at his best he's a grinder, getting in an opponents face, working a high tempo, and bullying them around the ring. He's got really good stamina, with his best success against Naito coming late in the bout, and a very under-rated boxing brain. Whilst his win over Inoue was a genuine surprise, that was more due to how highly regarded Inoue was, and not the lack of skills we'd seen from Nagata. He's strong, he's relatively tough, he's energetic and he's a real handful. He's unlikely to make a mark at the higher levels due to a lack of size, and lacking fight changing power, but on the domestic and regional scene he's going to be a tough man to beat, especially now with his confidence riding sky high.
Aged 35 Akihiro Kondo is a genuine veteran of the sport. He made his professional debut in 2006, just weeks after his 21st birthday, and has gone through the ranks the hard way. He lost in his second professional bout before bouncing back to win Rookie of the Year in 2007 and the Japanese Lightweight title in 2009, beating Yoshitaka Kato, and moved to 13-1. Sadly though his reign was short, losing in his first defense against Nihito Arakawa, but his career continued on and he attempted to reclaim the title in 2012, losing a close decision to Kato in their second clash. He took 15 months away from the ring, from April 2013 to July 2014, before losing to Arakawa for a second time. Despite that set back he continued in his comeback, winning the WBO Asia Pacific Light Welterweight title in September 2016 and working his way to an IBF world title fight in 2017, losing Sergey Lipinets in 2017. He lost that bout, but gave Lipinets genuine resistance and one of his toughest bouts up to that point.
Sadly since the Lipinets bout Kondo has looked on the slide, going 3-2 with a KO loss to Downua Ruawaiking and a wide decision loss to Andy Hiraoka, both in 2019. It seems very much like father time is catching up with the tough, rugged veteran.
At his best Kondo was a solid, tough, fighter with under-rated defense, clean accurate punching, and a real will to win. He was a really hard man to beat, with good energy, hurtful power, solid skills, a really good jab and solid timing. On the back end of that he was never a big puncher, he was never particularly quick and he could be made to chase shadows. He was never impossible to beat, and he could be out pointed, as Kato and Arakawa did, but he looked so damn tough and hard to hurt, that the real game plan to beat him was to box him and night fight him. Sadly however those days appear to be behind him and he's become even slower than he used to be. He's still tough, despite the KO loss, but he's also very basic, and with what speed he did have now being gone he's a much easier man to beat in 2020 than he was in 2010.
At his best Kondo would have been a really tough first defense for Nagata. His toughness, physicality, strength and will to win would have given the champion real issues. In 2020 however we see Nagata being too quick, too sharp, too hungry and too good for Kondo. We suspect Nagata will look to get inside and will outwork Kondo up close and look to beat Kondo at his own game. If Nagata struggles with that we suspect he'll get on his toes and move, which would be a safer option but not the option we think he'll go with first. He'll want to make a statement and to do that he'll want to come forward, not give Kondo room to breathe and take the tires out of the 35 year old challenger.
We suspect Kondo will be too tough to be stopped but we do imagine he'll end up losing a very clear decision to the champion.
Prediction - UD10 Nagata
July 12th is set to be a huge day for Japanese boxing with two notable shows, one in Osaka with a pair of major world title fights, and one in Tokyo with a female world title fight. The main supporting bout of the Tokyo show will see Japanese veteran Akihiro Kondo (31-8-1, 18) take on young countryman Andy Hiraoka (13-0, 9), in what is a real crossroads fight for the two men. For Kondo it's a must win, following a stoppage loss earlier in this year to Downua Ruawaiking whilst it's the big step up that Hiraoka has been calling for after some struggles to secure a solid opponent.
Of the two men it's Kondo who is the much more well known fighter. He a true grizzled veteran who debuted back in 2006 and, at the age of 34, is though to be moving towards the last chapter of his career. He made his first mark on boxing at Lightweight, winning the 2007 Rookie of the Year at 135lbs and then adding the Japanese Lightweight title to accomplishments in 2009. He would remain in the Japanese title mix at 135lbs until 2012 before he moved up in weight and began to campaign at Light Welterweight, winning the WBO Asia Pacific title at 140lbs and then fighting for the IBF world title in 2017, losing a hotly contested bout with Sergey Lipinets. Sadly for Kondo his career his a big low point when he lost to Downua in an IBF eliminator back in February.
In the ring Kondo has long been regarded as a technically sound boxer, who uses a tight defenses, is durable and a solid all rounder. He lacks in speed and isn't a huge banger, but he's a clean puncher, with under-rated combinations, can counter well and can also apply solid pressure. He's at his best with a style that combines his front foot pressure with his counter punching, but really lacked the 1-punch power to get respect of most at 140lbs, instead needing to break down opponents with consistency. Sadly against Downua we saw that Kondo's speed is becoming slower as he ages and although he still has good timing he doesn't have the speed to get out of the way, and there are now also question marks about whether his iron chin is going to have a crack through it.
At the age of 22 Hiraoka is one of the rising Japanese hopes at 140lbs and is a fighter who has already impressed, winning the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, though missing out on the All Japan final due to illness, and winning the Japanese Youth title. He has impressed the likes of Hideyuki Ohashi, trained at the Mayweather Jr and beaten solid young domestic foes like Shogo Yamaguchi, Takahiko Kobayashi and Fumisuki Kimura. Despite those wins there has been a real frustration in getting better opposition, and facing Japanese ranked foes, or regionally ranked opposition. He's proven himself to be too good for the domestic Youth level, but been unable to compete with the senior level opposition.
Hiraoka is pretty much an athletic diamond in the rough. He's quick, strong and physically imposing, but technically he has limitations in terms of his boxing, he's not the sharpest fighter, or the most accurate, or the most skilled. So far he's gotten away with a lot of his technical flaws due to his physicals traits, and he really is a natural athlete who boxes. If he can ever add the needed technique to what he already has he will be an excellent prospect, and in fairness he has spent time at the Mayweather gym to try and round out his technical skills, though he is still a flawed fighter.
Coming in to this we have a lot of questions about both men. Is Kondo's chin cracked? Can Hiraoka really cope with a smart veteran like Kondo? Can Kondo still go to the well if he needs to? Can Hiraoka cope with the pressure that Kondo will bring? And many, many more.
One thing we know is that this bout will answer a lot of questions for both men, and it will be something well worthy of attention. A win for Hiraoka will likely push him to a Japanese title fight, whilst a win for Kondo keeps his career alive, and potentially lets him have one more run to a world title fight.
Prediction - TKO10 Kondo
On February 18th we'll see an IBF Light Welterweight world title eliminator, as Japan's insanely tough Akihiro Kondo (31-7-1, 18) takes on rising Thai hopeful Downua Ruawaiking (14-0, 11), also known as Apinun Khongsong. The bout, will take place at the Korakuen Hall as the headline bout of an "A-Sign Bee" show, and promises a lot.
Kondo is best known outside of Japan for one bout, his 2017 contest with Sergey Lipinets for the IBF title. That bout saw Kondo take Lipinets the distance, and surprisingly actually fight pretty evenly with the Kazakh born American based Russian. What fans perhaps weren't aware of is that before that bout Kondo was a notable name on the Japanese scene, having debuted back in 2006. He had won the 2007 Rookie of the Year at Lightweight, claimed the Japanese Lightweight in 2009 and had been a featuring in the national title scene until 2013. He then had a short retirement before bouncing back and rebuilding his career to the point where he won the WBO Asia Pacific Light Welterweight title and earned an IBF title fight.
Against Lipinets we saw Kondo prove his was tough, had good stamina and under-rated boxing skills. He took solid blows from Lipinets and never looked hurt, whilst managing to put pressure on to the highly fancied Lipinets. That toughness is something we've seen right through his career, a career that has had ups and downs but certainly appears to have contributed to a solid fighter. In the ring Kondo is consistent, he's someone who will typically fight at a good pace, and will pressure through out, mixing up the pressure with intelligent punching. Although not a puncher he's gone 7-1 (7) in his last 8, and has certainly developed more belief in his power in recent years.
At the age of 22 Downua looks like he is one of the next rising stars of the Thai scene. He made his debut in June 2016 and moved his way up the regional scene, beating Heri Andriyanto in December 2016 Adam Diu Abdulhamid in August 2017 and most recently Sonny Katiandagho in December 2018. Although still a relative novice in professional boxing it's clear he's a very talented fighter, with heavy hands and impressive composure, having taken almost invited pressure from Katiandagho so that he could counter. He looks a more natural fighter than someone like Teerachai Kratingdaenggym, but this is by far his biggest test.
Although fighting at 140lbs Downua looks a big fight. He's not far off being 6' tall and has a long reach, which likely helps him generate his power. He's a blunt puncher with heavy hands, but a sharp puncher, with scything shots that catch opponents clean. He's also a relaxed looking fighter, with nice movement, under-rated speed and real accuracy. He's the sort of fighter you would see typically Thai team padding the record of, letting him develop slowly and building a good record, but for some reason he's being taken a different direction, potentially from a team that has learned that fighters can regress with too many mismatches. Saying that there are mistakes, especially when it comes to his defense and the way he drops his hands, but it seems likely that as he takes on better competition those mistakes will be tidied up, and against Kondo we expect him to be fighting smartly.
The big question here is whether the bout is coming too soon for Downua. At the age of 22 he is still a boxing baby and has only had 14 fights, accounting for 55 rounds. If Downua has got the stamina for 12 rounds, can keep his fluidity and speed through out then he has a real chance to upset the Japanese veteran. The reality however isn't that simple and we suspect the experience and determination of Kondo will prove to be too much, at this early stage, for the Thai.
We're predicting a late stoppage win for Kondo, perhaps even whilst he's down on the cards.
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.