In August 2013 we saw Japanese Olympic champion Ryota Murata make his professional debut, stopping OPBF Middleweight champion Akio Shibata (now 27-8-1, 13) [柴田 明雄] in 2 rounds. At the time Murata made Shibata look incredibly poor though since that bout Shibata has gone 6-0 (4) and unified the OPBF and Japanese titles whilst sitting on fringes of the world rankings, in fact the IBF currently ranked him #10 in the world.
Since the loss to Murata we have seen only two fighters go the distance with Shibata. The first of those was Daisuke Nakagawa, who retired following the loss to Shibata, and the other is the under-rated Hikaru Nishida (now 14-7-1, 6) [西田 光]. This coming Saturday Shibata and Nishida meet for the second time with Shibata trying to continue a 4 fight run whilst Nishida looks to avenge his only loss in the last 3 years, and one of only two defeats in his last 12 bouts.
Of the two men it's is Shibata who is the most well known. Much of his international recognition is from the loss to Murata but the 34 year old does have some genuinely solid wins of his own and has been one of the more notable “bigger” fighters in Japan for a number of years. Those wins including claiming the unified OPBF and JBC crown at 154lbs, beating Yuki Nonaka in 2009, beating Daisuke Nakagawa twice, in 2012 and 2014, beating Takatyuki Hosokawa in 2013, beating Makoto Fuchigami twice, in 2013 and 2015 and most recently beating Koki Tyson Maebara.
In the ring Shibata is a very clever boxer-mover, though one who has changed his style as he's gotten older. Originally he was very light on his feet, and some what defensively flawed, seemingly thinking his speed was his biggest asset. Not a days he's a more controlled fighter, he still uses his speed but has tightened up his defense and is happier to stand his ground, hence scoring 4 success stoppages in the last few years, compared to just 9 stoppages in his previous 32 bouts.
Although getting on in age Shibata does seem to still be getting better and is a very talented fighter who looks to have a number of years left in his career.
Whilst Shibata is well known the same cannot be said of Nishida, who is incredibly over-looked and under-rated. Part of the reason he's so over-looked is his record, which features less than 66% wins. The truth however is that he's better than his record, and has improved markedly since the early part of his career. He is no longer the fighter who was 4-5-1 (1) whilst fighting over 4 rounds, but is instead a fighter who has gone 10-2 and progressed into a very good fighter.
Part of why Nishida did so badly early as a professional is because he's a slow starter. He's a pressure fighter who needs time to make his physical advantages matter, and instead of starting fights fast he grinds down opponents as the fight goes on. That has seen him score very domestic level wins over the likes of Kazuhiko Hidaka, Makoto Fuchigami, twice, and Hideo Mikan.
Aged 28 Nishida is physical, tough, youthful and a real handful. He also managed to give Shibata a very tough time in their first bout, back in 2014, and has improved since then.
We think stylistically Shibata should be favoured, however we see this one being a very tough one for the champion, who will have to dig deep in the later stages against a very determined challenger.
Bouts that pit boxer vs puncher are among the most interesting stylistically. The questions that arise from having a skilled fighter up against someone who lacks the finesse but has fight changing power are some of the most intriguing questions. Can the boxer neutralise the power-puncher? Can the puncher find a way to land their bombs? Will the fight be a game of cat and mouse or will it represent a steamroller flattening a piece of grass with ease?
We get one such bout on November 9th as OPBF and Japanese Middleweight champion Akio Shibata (26-8-1, 12) defends his titles against Koki Tyson Maebara (9-1-1, 9).
Shibata goes into the bout as the boxer, a jab first and move fighter who is in great form with a 10-1 (4) record over the last 4 years. His sole loss during that run was to 2012 Olympic champion Ryota Murata whilst wins have come against the likes of Daisuke Nakagawa, Takayuki Hosokawa, Makoto Fuchigami and Hikaru Nishida.
In the ring Shibata is a pretty pure boxer who likes to use his speed, jab, movement and the ring. He has shown an improvement in power, stopping his last 3 foes, though he has remained a boxer who likes to control the distance and tempo of the fight, using his jab to establish his rhythm.
Sadly for the champion he is heading towards his 34th birthday, he has shown frailties with 5 stoppage losses and may well know that the next loss could be the end of his career. Also coming in to this bout he's 11 years older than his foe and, for once, the smaller man giving away around 2” in height.
The challenger is a pure puncher. He seems to like to view himself as a boxer but at the end of the day he's a true puncher, as shown by the fact that all 9 of his wins have come inside the distance and his 11 total bouts have added up to just 33 combined rounds. It is worth noting however that 19 of those 33 rounds have come in his last 4 bouts, including a 7th round TKO win against former Japanese title holder Sanosuke Sasaki, who was the test opponent for the aforementioned Murata, and Petchsuriya Singwancha, a former WBC Youth champion.
Aged 22 Maebara is a fighter who boasts youthful confidence. It was that confidence, or rather over-confidence, that saw him suffer his sole defeat, at the hands of the previously win-less Keisuke Kanazawa back in 2013. Since that loss however he has run off 7 win and claimed the All Japan Rookie of the Year, doing so with an opening round KO over Wataru Seino.
Whilst Maebara's power is legitimate and his skills are improving this is still a huge step up in class and for the first time he'll be facing a fighter who is confident that they can win. For the first time he is likely to be really asked questions when his first plan fails. If Maebara does have plan B and plan C in his locker however there is a good chance that the Osaka man may be able to over-come the huge gulf in experience.
This is a hard one to really predict. With power overcome skill? Will experience over-come youth? With the champion defeat the challenger? It's a 50-50 though we're leaning, slightly, to the challenger who we think may get lucky early on. The longer it goes however the more the bout favours Shibata who certainly has the experience over the longer distance
Akio Shibata looks to continue his reign as unified champion, but needs to get past Yasuyuki Akiyama
The Middleweight division in Japan is, bizarrely in many ways, a really interesting one. The best fighter in the division is the world ranked Ryota Murata but he's on a completely different level to everyone else in the division. Talking about him fighting for the national title is laughable and it's frankly not going to happen. Below Murata is the man he made his debut against, Akio Shibata (25-8-1, 11). Shibata is the Japanese and OPBF champion and although his record doesn't show it he's a very talented boxer who knows how to look after himself in the ring and looks like a handful for many fighters below the world level.
Behind Shibata is a wave of promising young fighters with heavy hands and the dream of proving themselves. Fighters such as Koki Tyson Maebara and Shoma Fukumoto. Sadly for those 3 they are still some way from being ready to fight Shibata.
Later this month we see a veteran try and upset Shibata when the champion battles against the little known Yasuyuki Akiyama (10-4-1, 8) who we have struggled to get any footage of, and in fact we know very little about.
Although we know little about Akiyama we know plenty about Shibata so we'll start with the fighter we know.
Shibata is a 33 year old veteran who has been a professional since 2003. It was during his early years as a professional that his record became muddied and by the end of 2008 his record read 11-5-1 (6). Since then he has gone 14-3 (5) whilst unifying Japan and Oriental titles at both 154lbs and 160lbs. Not only has his form been good but his results have as well and he has score a number of genuinely good wins, such as decisions over Yuki Nonaka, Daisuke Nakagawa-twice, Yoshihisa Tonimura, Makoto Fuchugami and Hikaru Nishida as well as stoppages against Takayuki Hosokawa and Fuchigami.
Whilst Shibata's record doesn't look good to the neutral observer it's hard to argue about his resume on the Japanese domestic scene and with his growing confidence in his ability and power. That confidence will have taken a huge boost after his most recent bout which saw him stopping former world title challenger Makoto Fuchigami.
In the ring Shibata is a nightmare. He has a busy and accurate, moves excellently and fights wonderfully on the outside. He sometimes fails to follow up his jab with a right hand but the way he fights is crafty and allows him to use his size and speed excellently to neutralise opponents whilst getting his own shots off.
The last 2 men to beat Shibata have been tough and aggressive fighters who have simply been too fast and too strong. One of those was Ryota Murata, a tough and powerful Olympic champion who has his sights set on a world title. The other was Japanese based American Charlie Ota, who stopped Shibata twice down at Light Middleweight. Unless you have power and the ability to walk through Shibata's jab as well as the footwork to be able to cut him off he's a really tricky opponent.
So now on to Akiyama who really is a bit of a mystery man. What we know about him is that he's a 35 year old who is set to fight the most significant bout of his career, by far. On paper he's a puncher but in reality his power looks to be artificial with with his first 6 wins all coming by stoppage over weak opposition. In fact many of Akiyama's wins have come against poor opponents with his only wins over note being over Shuhei Ito and Ryota Ityama, both in 2013.
Whilst Akiyama's biggest wins haven't been at a high level there is one result that genuinely stands out coming into this bout. That's a loss to Hikaru Nishida from July 2012. Nishida is a genuinely under-rated fighter however he did lose to Shibata last year and so his win over Akiyama does stand out a fair bit here.
Again we need to say we've not seen Akiyama however we have seen enough of Shibata to know what to expect here. We're going to see Shibata doing what he does so well, boxing on the back foot, keeping a busy jab and making Akiyama chase him. Akiyama's chasing will work against him and see him eating copious jabs, an occasional straight and losing round after round as the bout slips away from him and his title shot essentially comes to nothing.
For those wondering, this bout was originally announced for March 26th, though was rescheduled after Akiyama suffered an injury. That injury has given the division a few months to develop and from what we understand Maebara will be immediately in talks with the winner for a fight in December.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
The Middleweight division in Japan isn't the greatest. Aside from Olympic champion Ryota Murata we doubt any other active Japanese Middleweight will make any sort of a mark on the world scene. Despite that we can't help but enjoy some of the fights and fighters, and even though the current fighters aren't going to be seriously challenging Gennady Golovkin they are still interesting to watch on the domestic scene with the occasional gem of a fight.
One of those Japanese Middleweight gems came back in 2011 and saw Makoto Fuchigami (21-9, 12) claim both the Japanese and OPBF titles with a stunning 9th round TKO win over the heavy handed Koji Sato. Since then however Fuchigami has gone 3-3, including losing a world title bout to the aforementioned Golovkin, those losses have left his career hanging on a thread and he now needs another big win to stay relevant. He gets a chance on December 6th to get that big win as he attempts to recapture the Japanese and OPBF belts.
In the opposite corner to Fuchigami this coming weekend is unified OPBF and Japanese champion, and former Murata opponent, Akio Shibata (23-8-1, 9). Whilst Fuchigami is known for his bouts with Golvokin and Sato it's a shame that Shibata is only known, internationally anyway, for his loss to a then debuting Murata. The loss actually over-shadows what is an excellent career domestically which has seen Shibata become a 2-weight unified champion having claimed both the Japanese and OPBF belts at Light Middleweight and Middleweight.
Of the two men it's certainly Shibata who is riding on a high. The loss to Murata was his sole loss in his last 8 bouts, spanning more than 3 years. In that time Shibata has had 6 titles bouts including a win over Fuchigami last year for the OPBF Middleweight title and a win this year over Daisuke Nakagawa to unify the Japanese belt with the Oriental one. Some of the other wins Shibata has scored recently have included victories over Takayuki Hosokawa and Yoshihisa Tonimura, both title level fighters. One of the other wins Shibata has recorded recently has come over Hikaru Nishida who had himself been one of the recent men to defeat Fuchigami.
Not only is Shibata riding a high due to his recent form but he also appears to have developed his strengths to have made him a very hard man to beat. He's fast on feet, fast with his hands and, although he lacks power, his jab is one of the most controlling punches on the Japanese domestic scene as he throws it excellently whilst boxing on the move. Shibata's flaws are well covered by his jab and movement, though there are question marks about his over-all toughness and his power is certainly a weak point, even domestically. Of course when a fighter doesn't sit on their shots the power issue isn't usually a big one with a fighter happier to win a decision than go for the KO and we've seen that Shibata more than happy to take decisions with only 1 KO win in his last 9 bouts.
Fuchigami confidence has got to be low courtesy of his less than stellar form. He has however developed into a a fighter who has shown solid power in recent years and since October 2010 Fuchigami has scored 8 stoppage wins from 11 bouts, he had only scored 4 in his previous 19. Prior to his run of stoppages he was known as a stylist with a sharp southpaw jab and a relaxed fighting style, that style that saw him ride out the storm against Sato before stopping a tired looking Sato in his best win to date.
In the ring Fuchigami appears to struggle against opponents with good work rate and stamina. In recent years he has been he has been out worked by both Hikaru Nishida and Akio Shibata, though of course his loss to Golovkin is nothing to be ashamed by. Hikaru and Shibata are both busy fighters and both manage to keep most fighters off balance and stop them from setting too much.
We suspect that will be the key here with Shibata being too busy, too sharp and too smart for Fuchigami who will be left looking for the home run shot and hitting air for the most part. Shibata won't have the power to discourage Fuchigami but will have the tools to clearly beat him over the distance. If however Fuchigami can connect with his power shots this could become an interesting fight. We suspect that Fuchigami has to strike early however, before Shibata finds his rhythm and gets his jab into play. If Fuchigami can't win this early we think he'll lose a very clear decision.
(Image courtesy of 8nakaya.co.jp)
When we discuss the best Middleweight in Japan there is only one man who comes to mind, Ryota Murata. The Olympic champion isn't just the best Middleweight in Japan but probably the second best Middleweight from Asia right now behind Kazakhstan's Gennady Golvokin.
The general view is that Murata is so far more advanced than anyone in his homeland that his next fight in Japan, at the end of the year, is likely to be his last before he sets off to the US to move towards a world title fight.
Sadly the fact Murata is so much better than the others in his weight at home has perhaps hurt the domestic title scene but in fairness to the JBC and the OPBF they have both of their titles around the waist of the next best Middleweight in Japan, Akio Shibata (22-8-1, 9), one of the stars of the Watanabe Gym.
Shibata was the debut opponent of Murata back in August 2013 and was stopped in the second round by the Olympic champion. He bounced back well from that loss however and dominated the big punching Daisuke Nakagawa to unify the OPBF and Japanese titles whilst also expelling any lingering demons following the loss to Murata.
It's unfortunate in many ways that Shibata will be remembered by international fans as "the guy Murata beat on his debut" because he's actually a fantastically talented boxer-mover. He combines an intelligence in the ring with great hand speed and clever footwork. He may not be the most durable with 5 stoppage losses but he's worked on staying away from a tear up well and with reigns as unified champion at both 154lbs and 160lbs it's hard to discredit him.
Whilst Shibata is much better than many fans realise, especially those who only know of him for the Murata bout, his opponent in his up coming title defence is a lot better than his record indicates. His challenger Hikaru Nishida (10-6-1, 3) has the record of an extremely limited fighter, someone who is miles away from being being a potential threat to one of the best Middleweights in Asia. Nishida however posses a record that is nothing short of misleading.
The challenger lost 5 of his first 10 bouts beginning his career 4-5-1. Those losses were all close and, although on paper, it was an awful start to his career he did seem better than the records suggest and he also went 1-1 Sanosuke Sasaki, who later became the Japanese Middleweight champion.
Since his first 10 bouts Nishida has gone 6-1 scoring a string of notable wins including a stoppage over former multi-time title challenger Fukutaro Ujiie, a decision over former 2-weight OPBF champion Kazuhiko Hidaka and most recently a decision over former world title challenger Makoto Fuchigami. Whilst those wins may have been a little bit down to luck and timing on Nishida's part they are all very solid wins and the sort of wins that deserve to get someone a domestic title fighter.
At 26 years old Nishida is coming into his prime, he's battled hardened and, although not fully developed as a fighter or a man, he is a very credible challenger in the form of his life. Unfortunately him some would argue he's a small Middleweight, stood at 5'9, and should be competing at 154lbs if he can make that weight.
We are fans of fighters who battle through early career adversity like Nishida has. It's things like that that make us get behind fighters like Gerpaul Valero and Rey Loreto. Unfortunately for Nishida however we think Shibata's talent and speed will be too much to overcome and in the end Nishida will put up a brave effort but lose a clear cut decision to a talented and often over-looked fighter who deserves more respect than he seem to get.
(Image courtesy of Watanabe gym)
It's not often that we get to have a serious conversation about the Asian Middleweight scene but it seems that we have one of very rare situations where we can talk about it, and in fact we can talk about it in some detail as the division headlines the 522nd Dynamic Glove.
We all know Gennady Golovkin is the most feared Middleweight on the planet and that Ryota Murata is destined to to go places. There is little point in Murata staying around at Japanese or even Asian level and he knows it. He may not have ever won the Japanese or OPBF titles but in all honesty he has bigger fish to fry. On March 1st however we get to see the next two best Middleweights in Japan in action.
In one corner we have the Japanese champion Daisuke Nakagawa (22-3-2, 17), a hard hitting 36 year old who was formerly a Japanese champion at Welterweight and Light Middleweight. In the other corner we have OPBF champion Akio Shibata (21-8-1, 9), a former unified champion at Light Middleweight who seeks to unify titles in a second division.
Not only titles on the line here, but so to is personal pride an honour. The men, who are fighting for the second time, know that this will likely be their last fight together and with Shibata winning their first encounter it's certainly a personal battle for Nakagawa.
Aged 36 Nakagawa is the older man and having had his career start way back in 1997 he is the man with the more miles on the clock in terms of time. Thankfully though, for him, he has had the power to keep the mileage down and with an impressive 17 stoppages in his 22 wins he certainly possess a killer instinct. Those 17 stoppage victories have seen him keeping his career rounds down and despite being a professional for well over a decade he has only fought in 140 professional rounds.
Stood at 5'11" Nakagawa is the slightly smaller man though that's unlikely to be an issue. The bigger issue is whether or not his body can go to the well once again at his relatively advanced age. Saying that though he did do very well against the hard hitting Tomohiro Ebisu last year in the bout that saw Nakagawa claiming the title.
Since losing to Shibata in their first meeting, back in Summer 2012, Nakagawa has gone on a 3 fight winning streak and stopped his last 2 opponents, including the aforementioned Ebisu.
Whilst things have been good since their first meeting for Nakagawa things haven't been so rosy for the 32 year old Shibata. Although he is the younger man man Shibata has both competed in more fights and more rounds. He has been in 30 bouts for 164 rounds, that's only 3 bouts more and 24 rounds but he has squished it into a shorter career that began in 2003.
Like Nakagawa, Shibata actually began his career at Welterweight before his body naturally filled out to that of a Middleweight. Unfortunately as he's gone through the weights his power has completely gone and from stopping 4 of his first 6 opponents he has ran up just 5 stoppages in 24 subsequent contests including just 1 in his last 7 bouts. This has been an issue that has certainly not helped him and when he fought Murata last year he simply couldn't get the Olympic champion to respect him despite landing some clean looking shots.
Skillwise and speed wise Shibata is talented and brave. Though unfortunately for him he hasn't been able to show the greatest of durability with 5 stoppages losses on his record, including the stoppage last time out to Murata and two stoppages to Charlie Ota. Despite those notable losses he does have some notable victories including his decision over Shibata, and decisions over Makoto Fuchigami and Takehiro Shimokawara.
When it comes to this fight there are a lot of questions. Can Shibata take the power of Nakagawa again? This is a key when you consider just how much the Murata fight will have taken out of him. If he can, has Nakagawa got a plan B? We know that Shibata is a good boxer despite his lack of durability and if he pumps that jab out and uses his movement he can really out box plenty of fighters. Has father time caught up with Nakagawa? At 36, going on 37, just how much life is there left in Nakagawa's legs?
As well as the questions there is also the manner of incentives. Nakagawa was recently given a world ranking from the WBO and will know that if he keeps winning he could get a world title shot before his career is over. Likewise Shibata may see a win here as a chance to get a second Murata bout or put himself on to the world stage, albeit the fringes of the world stage.
With everything considered it's a hard fight to call. We are, however, leaning towards a Nakagawa stoppage in the middle rounds. We think Shibata will be cautious early on and try to use his speed and jab though it won't be long before Nakagawa starts to land his own shots and eventually those heavy hands of his will take their toll. We believe that Shibata will be stopped after having a small lead on the cards in what will really be a great fight as both men try to force they style on to 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.