One of the very best fights of 2021 was the Japanese Super Bantamweight title fight between Gakuya Furuhashi (28-8-1, 16) and Yusaku Kuga (20-5-1, 13), which saw Furuhashi claim the Japanese title, in his third attempt, by breaking down Kuga in the 9th round of a total barn burner. This coming Tuesday we're in for another treat as, around a year after their first bout, the two men face off again in a brilliant rematch, with Furuhashi going into this one as the champion, and Kuga looking to reclaim the title to become a 3-time champion.
Sadly, unlike their first bout, we're not expecting a fight of the year contender. Or anything even close to that if we're honest. Instead we're expecting to see a rather dominant win by one of the men involved, with father time, a hard career and accumulated punishment being responsible for what will be a bit of a let down, compared to their first bout.
In their first contest Kuga got off to a good start, out boxing Furuhashi, who like a man possess. Furuhashi wasn't going to be denied last year, and despite being behind going into the final rounds he broke down Kuga who took a lot of damage late in the bout. Following that bout both men have fought once. Furuhashi retained his title, with a TKO win over the gutsy but over-matched Seigo Hanamori whilst Kuga won a Japanese title eliminator, defeating Ryoichi Tamura in the third meeting.
Sadly Kuga's win over showed something that's rather unfortunate. Both men were shot. They had fought two twice, in two all out wars, but this third bout seemed to show that their battles had taken a lot out of each other. Kuga was still a tough, heavy handed fighter, but he looked like he had lost two steps since their 2019 bout. Losses to Furuhashi and Jhunriel Ramonal have been punishing ones, and Kuga's toughness has, potentially, been his downfall with the former 2-time Japanese champion having taken a lot of damage in recent years.
At his best Kuga was a terminator like fighter. He was a decent boxer, with very heavy hands, a great chin, and an impressive will to win. Sadly that style does take a toll on fighters, and it has certainly taken it's toll on Kuga who is still heavy handed, but no longer has the intensity he once had, or the toughness he had. He's only 31 but he's a very, very old 31.
As for Furuhashi he has always been a high intensity fighter, but someone who hasn't regularly relied on his chin and power to win fights. Instead he has relied on a high work rate, a lot of energy, and setting a pace that others can't typically match. He has taken punishment, and bouts against the likes of Yasutaka Ishimoto, Ryoichi Tamura and Kuga have been punishing, but he hasn't typically taken the huge amount of shots that Kuga has had. This means, at 34, he's probably in better physical shape than the challenger. We don't expect to see quite ferocity he had last year, but we also do expect he'll need to be that aggressive.
We expect Furuhashi to do what he does. Setting a high tempo, taking the fight up close and again getting in the face of Kuga. Kuga likes to fight at mid range, getting extension of his shots and landing straight shots. Furuhashi on the other hand, wants to get up close, work the body and land on the inside, smothering Kuga's power at the same time. That is exactly what we're expecting to see again from him. The body work and intensity took the fight out of Kuga last time and we expect to see it do the same here.
We suspect that this time around it will take Furuhashi a few rounds less to take the fight out of Kuga, and instead of stopping his man in 9 rounds, whilst down on all 3 cards, we suspect Furuhashi will stop Kuga in 6 rounds, whilst leading on the cards. After the bout we wouldn't be surprised at all by Kuga either moving up in weight, for one final run, or retire saving his body from further punishment.
Prediction - TKO6 Furuhashi
On January 11th we'll see the first Japanese title fight of 2022, as Kai Ishizawa (9-1, 8) and Katsuki Mori (9-0, 2) clash for the vacant Japanese Minimumweight title, which was given up last year by Masataka Taniguchi ahead of his WBO world title fight with Wilfredo Mendez. The match up will see two genuinely bright and promising young Minimumweights clashing, in what looks like a brilliant match up in paper, and one that is genuinely hard to call, with the two men involved having very, very different styles to each other. In one corner is a hard hitting pressure fighter, with heavy hands, flat feet, and who enjoys pressing forward, whilst the other contains a slick boxer, who lacks power but has very good foot work, movement and hand speed.
Of the two men the more proven is the 25 year old Ishizawa. He debuted in 2017 and won his first 6 bouts, all inside the distance, whilst claiming the Japanese Youth title. Sadly after running to 6-0 he then suffered sole defeat, losing in a Japanese title eliminator to Masataka Taniguchi. Thankfully for him however he bounced back quickly, and has won 3 in a row since then, including a Japanese Youth title defense, against Yuni Takada, and a win against Naoya Haruguchi in what was, essentially, a Japanese title eliminator. On paper his record doesn't scream quality, but wins against Tatsuro Nakashima, Yuga Inoue, Masashi Tada, Yuni Takada and Naoya Haruguchi are good domestic level wins.
In the ring Ishizawa is a freakishly heavy handed fighter who presses forward behind a high guard, has a stiff and hard jab, and brutal body shots on the inside. He's not the busiest of fighters, and a lot of what he does looks deliberate, even predictable, but with his heavy hands, physical strength and aggression, he makes fighters fight his fight. He applies constant pressure, and that, combined with his power, draws mistakes, which he often punishes. Notably his power has shown it's self to be completely genuine, as he dropped Taniguchi, who recently won the WBO title, and it's clear that if he wins here he will be hunting a rematch with Taniguchi.
Aged just 21 Mori is a youngster who debuted in 2018 and quickly made a name for himself, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year just 16 months after his debut. Aged 19 at the time of his Rookie of the Year triumph he looked really promising, with lovely speed, movement and an excellent boxing brain. He looked very much like a future star of the Ohashi gym, but he also looked really young, physically immature and feather fisted. Those issues continued to show through into 2021, and after 8 bouts he was 8-0 (1). His lack of power was an issue, but he did manage to score a second stoppage last year, when he defeated Ren Kojima in 6 rounds, that was his first stoppage win since his debut win over Akira Ichihara.
In the ring Mori is a really aggressive fighter. He's not the strongest, the biggest, or the most powerful, but he's aggressive, exciting and likes to stand in front of opponents, finding gaps and letting shots go up close. He attacks the body really well, with both hands, he switches between head and body well, and has real belief in his work rate, hooks, and uppercuts. Despite being aggressive he's also a smart fighter, and he does find gaps with ease. One thing that he doesn't use very well, oddly, is his jab which is a shame as his jab is a very nice shot, but he often seems happy to use one or two whilst looking to get close, smothering opponents whilst somehow finding space for his own shots.
Interestingly the two men will both be looking to fight up close, both will be looking to let body shots go and both will be looking to break down the other. Usually when it comes to fights like this, the heavy puncher, and the more imposing gets the better of things. We suspect that will be the case again here. Ishizawa is just so much stronger and so much heavier with his shots. However we can see a route to victory for Mori, especially if he can use his under-rated defense up close, smothering the power of Ishizawa, preventing him from getting full leverage on his shots, whilst breaking down the body of the once beaten puncher.
We see Mori having success early on, and perhaps even being in the lead by round 5, but we also see him getting broken down by Ishizawa in the second half of the fight and being stopped late in the bout. He'll put in a great effort, but sadly for him we suspect Ishizawa's power will prove to be too much.
If we're wrong and Mori comes out on top here, put his name on your watch list, as he will be moved incredibly quickly if he becomes the second man to beat Ishizawa.
Prediction - TKO8 Ishizawa
On December 19th we'll get the last title fight to take place in Japan this year, as Ryosuke Nishida (4-0, 1) makes his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title, as he takes on Tetsuro Ohashi (8-2-1, 2) [大橋哲朗] at the Sumiyoshi Ward Center in Osaka. On paper this isn't a big bout, in fact the contest actually seems like a notable backwards step for the champion, but it is good to see the champion return to the ring before 2021 is over, and before all the momentum of his last two wins has been lost. As for the challenger, the bout is a big chance for him to claim a title and to put his name on the boxing map.
Aged 25 Nishida is one of the many rising young prospects in Japan that has been making waves over the last few years. Like many of the top Japanese youngsters he has been moved incredibly quickly, beating former world title challenger Shohei Omori in his third bout and then upsetting Daigo Higa earlier this year, in a career defining best performance, to take the WBO Asia Pacific title. That win over Higa took Nishida from Japanese prospect to regional champion and fringe world title contender, and shows he was very much a legitimate talent, with a lot of potential, skills, and boxing IQ.
In the ring Nishida is a brilliant boxer-mover, he uses angles well, has excellent footwork and puts his shots together really well. Technically he is an excellent boxer, and does everything really well. Within just 4 bouts he has two very good wins, he has managed to prove his stamina, going 12 rounds with Higa and getting stronger in the later rounds, shown his boxing skills, and looked every bit a future world champion in the making. There is however a few areas where improvements could be made. Notably he's not a physically imposing fighter, and whilst he hits hard enough to get respect from the likes of Omori and Higa, he's not got concussive power. We know he can hurt fighters, but he doesn't seem to have the belief to finish them off, yet. We also wonder what his chin is like, with Higa having been an excellent Flyweight but not really showing the same power at Bantamweight, and we do wonder what he can do against naturally strong really Bantamweight physical fighters. Thankfully we think he can answer all the questions left for him to answer, and only merely needs the competition to prove it, rather than lacking the tools to answer them questions.
Sadly Ohashi won't be the type of opponent to get the best from Nishida. In fact it's hard to see what Ohashi really brings to the ring to test the champion.
Aged 23 Ohashi, like Nishida, is a skilled southpaw. He turned professional in 2017, won Rookie of the Year in 2018, but is 2-2 since his Rookie of the Year win, with a KO8 loss to Suzumi Tkayama in a Japanese Youth title bout and a 2020 decision loss to Hiroyuki Kudaka. What makes this worse is that his only notable win since his Rookie of the Year triumph was a decision win over Isao Aoyama this past July. Whilst his competition hasn't been great it's hard to deny his skill, and Ohashi is genuinely a very talented fighter. Like Nishida however he lacks power, physicality and with 2 losses in his last 3 we do wonder about his confidence and ambition.
In the ring Ohashi is a very solid boxer. He has nice movement, good boxing skills, and nice quick hands. Sadly though he is very negative in a lot of what he does, and whilst he does do a lot of things really well, he's not very aggressive, physical or demanding. Despite only 2 KO's he does have enough pop to keep fighters honest, but he's not going to really hurt them, and we saw that against Suzumi Takayama when he landed the best shot of his career and put Takayama down without really hurting his man.
In many ways Ohashi is the perfect foil for Nishida. He's like a smaller, weaker, but similar, fighter to Nishida. A B grade Nishida if you will. With that in mind it's hard to imagine Nishida losing, but the focus will be on honing his skills in the fight, answering new questions, and showing how he deals with a fellow boxer-mover, and how he neutralises a man with good speed.
We expect this to be a very technical bout early on, both men getting their jabs into play, a lot of movement, and looking to set up and range. As the bout goes on however Nishida's size, strength and more rounded abilities should prove to be the difference makers.
We don't see Nishida going for the finish, but if he does he should get it, but instead we see him getting good, competitive rounds under his belt here, en route to a wide decision win.
Prediction - UD12 Nishida
This coming Tuesday is a massive day for Japanese boxing, thanks to the return to a Japanese ring of Monster Naoya Inoue. Inoue's show however isn't the only one in Japan, and a second show, set to take place at Korakuen Hall, will also be an interesting one with a pair of regional title bouts.
One of those bouts will see OPBF Light Welterweight champion Rikki Naito (23-2, 8) defending his title against Koichi Aso (24-9-1, 15), in a bout that was supposed to take place earlier this year before Naito contracted Covid19 and has to pull out of the original date. For Naito this will be his 5th defense, following his title win in early 2018 against Jeffrey Arienza, whilst Aso will be fighting in his first OPBF title bout, though he has fought for and won a Japanese title earlier in his career.
Of the two men the more natural talent is Naito. He's a second generation fighter, following in the footsteps of the success Cassius Naito, and a very pure boxer. The 30 year old southpaw is fast, fluid and a naturally athletic fighter who has had a very solid career since turning professional in 2011. He won the Japanese Featherweight title early in his career, and and made 3 successful defenses, including one over Masayuki Ito, before losing the title in 2015 to Kenichi Ogawa, who also beat him in a rematch a year later. His only two losses as those to Ogawa, and we all know how good Ogawa is now given his recent world title win. Following the losses to Ogawa he moved up in weight and has settled at Light Welterweight, winning the OPBF title in his in his third bout at the weight. Since winning that title he has defended it against Jheritz Chavez, Daishi Nagata, Gyu Beom Jeon and Yusuke Konno, with the Konno bout being his most recent, coming in November 2020.
In the ring there is no doubting Naito's ability as a boxer. He is an excellent talent, with a great array of punches, eye catching speed, natural footwork, good heart and desire and a very good boxing brain. There really is a lot to like with Naito. Sadly however there are also some real issues for him. Like many "fast" fighters he lacks power, and his shots don't really shift fighters. Since winning the title he has only scored a single stoppage, and that was when Yusuke Konno injured his arm and had to pull out of their bout after 9 rounds. He has had to go the distance with Chavez, Nagata and Jeon, and worryingly in the later rounds of all 3 fights he has been in trouble as his speeds has dropped off and his stamina has let opponents into the bouts. Chavez and Nagata both dropped him and we do wonder whether he can really shine against the other top 140lb fighters in Asia.
Aso on the other hand is a true stalwart of Japanese boxing, and a legitimate veteran of the domestic scene, even if he is an unknown outside of his homeland. The 35 year old made his debut all the way back in 2006 and quickly made a name for himself domestically as a very fan friendly fighter, who came out fighting at a high tempo, applying pressure, and letting shots go. Early on he had plenty of good results, reaching the 2008 East Japan Rookie of the Year final, being eliminated on the tie breaker rule against Valentine Hosokawa but his style would come up short against the bigger punchers, and he was stopped inside a round by Shinya Iwabuchi in 2011. After 21 fights he was 15-5-1 (9) and his career looked like it was going to be a fun to watch one, but one that never really went anywhere, but in the years that followed he would distinguish himself as a legitimate contender on the Japanese scene, battling twice with Hiroki Okada, in 2014 and 2016. When Okada vacated the national title he was there to pick up the pieces and finally won the title in 2017, and made a single defense of the belt, in a Japanese Fight of the Year contender against Yusuke Konno. Sadly since that win he has gone 2-2 and looked like an old, fighter.
At his best Aso was a bull in the ring. He was all energy, all aggression and all action. His style made him must watch, and although he was always crude, and lacked single punch power, he was made for TV. His output was high, his risk taking was obvious and overall he was incredibly fun to watch. Sadly his style does not age well, and at the age of 35 he isn't the fighter he was in his late 20's and early 30's. He can't keep up a high tempo, and his energy is lacking. He can no longer march forward for 10 rounds and throw a huge number of punches and instead fights in selective bursts.
In his prime Aso would have been absolute hell for a fighter like Naito. Naito's skills would have won him rounds, but Aso's pressure, output and volume would have helped sap the tank of Naito, and left Naito in hell in the later rounds, perhaps even being dropped late on for Aso to take a close decision, or a potential stoppage.
Sadly this isn't a prime Aso, but is a near prime Naito. Aso's inability to keep a high work rate will be a major issue here, and although he'll try to bully Naito early on, he'll not be able to keep up the output, allowing Naito to get in and out, get his shots off, create space and dictate the tempo. In the later rounds Naito won't be under too much pressure as Aso simply doesn't have the legs or energy more and will instead follow Naito as opposed to hunting him. After 12 rounds Naito will be running near empty but will end up easily surviving and taking home the victory.
Prediction - UD12 Nait
On December 14th fight fans will have their attention on Japan, with a major show at the with Western fans focus in on Kokugikan, in Tokyo. That show however, with two world title bouts, isn't the only Japanese show show this coming Tuesdays, with a smaller card set to take place at Korakuen Hall. That Korakuen Hall show is much smaller, but it promises to deliver so amazing action with two OPBF title bouts.
For us one of the OPBF title bouts looks like a potential hidden for the month, and that is the OPBF Super Featherweight title bout between Kosuke Saka (21-5, 18) and Yoshimitsu Kimura (12-2-1, 7), who battle for the currently vacant title, which was vacated by Hironori Mishiro. The bout certainly doesn't have the star power of the bouts at the Kokugikan, but may well end up being the most explosive bout of the day.
Of the two men the much more proven is Saka. The heavy handed fighter from Osaka is a bit of an unknown outside of Japan, but has already won both the Japanese Feather and Super Featherweight title, and came runner up in the All Japan Rookie of the Year, all the way back in 2012 where he lost to Masayuki Ito in the final. He is a very aggressive, heavy handed monster who often goes over-looked when we talk about exciting Japanese fighters, in part due to having 5 losses. The first of those was to Ito in 2012 and by the summer of 2014 he was 8-3 (5). Since then however he has gone 13-2 with his only losses in that run coming in a freak ending against Takenori Ohashi and to the criminally under-rated Joe Noynay. As for his wins during that 15 fight run, he has beaten the likes of Ryuto Kyoguchi, Takafumi Nakajima, Shoita Hayashi, Masaru Sueyoshi and Takuya Watanabe. (For those curious, Ryuto Kyoguchi is indeed Hiroto Kyoguchi's brother).
In the ring Saka, when he's on song, is a nightmare. He's very heavy handed, his shots hurt every time they land, and he combines his break like fist with a style that bring constant, intelligent pressure. In just a few years he has developed from a crude, but powerful puncher, into an intelligent, heavy handed pressure-puncher, who comes forward, puts opponents on the back foot and hurts them, time and time again, breaking them down physically and mentally. That was seen to great effect against Masaru Sueyoshi, who he beat for the title, and against the incredibly tough Takuya Watanabe, who had his incredible resistance broken. His current run has seen him climb into the WBO world rankings, and a win here would help him earn a place into the WBC rankings, and help him move towards a world title fight.
Whilst Saka is a proven force on the domestic scene Kimura isn't, at least not quite. The 25 has come close to making a mark a couple of times, but hasn't yet managed to win the big fights that he needs to win to put down a mark on the scene. Despite that he has shown he has the skills, the desire and the ability to mix it on domestic and regional level, though perhaps lacks the experience and maturity at the moment. He turned professional in 2015, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2016 and was 9-0 when he faced off with the always tricky Richard Pumicpic, suffering a competitive loss to the Filipino. He bounced back from that loss with 3 wins, before losing a razor close bout to Hironori Mishiro in late 2019, in a legitimately fantastic 12 round battle for the OPBF title Super Featherweight title. Sadly since that loss he's only fought once, fighting to a thrilling draw with Shuma Nakazato late last year.
In the ring Kimura is a technically well schooled fighter who can either fight as a pressure fighter or a boxer, but does tend to prefer a high tempo bout up close, with shots being thrown on the inside. He's shown fantastic determination, getting up in his last two bouts, impressive stamina, having already been 12 rounds twice, a great work rate and smart movement. He has decent power, but it's not destructive, and will get respect of fighters, but it's not fight changing at the high levels, and the likes of Mishiro and Pumicpic weren't too affected by it. Sadly he does, at times, look just a touch fragile, and whilst there's no doubting his heart and determination, we do have to wonder whether he'll be able to with stand the power and physicality of Saka.
We expect this to be a really fun, explosive fight. The styles should gel really, really well and we should see the two men getting close and exchanging heavy leather. Sadly for Kimura it does feel like his style will pay into the hands of Saka, who hits hard, is physically more imposing, and has that killer instinct. We see Kimura having moments in the first couple of rounds, before being backed up in rounds 3 and 4, and then finally being broken down in the middle rounds. The sheer power and of Saka will be the difference maker, and whilst this will be a great fight, we don't see Kimura have what he needs to take home the victory.
Prediction - TKO6 Saka
On December 9th Japanese fight fans at Korakuen Hall will see Japanese Welterweight champion Keita Obara (24-4-1, 21) make his second defense, as he takes on Masaya Tamayama (14-2, 8), who will be competing in his first title bout. On paper this is a huge step up for the challenger, whilst Obara will be looking to continue his domination of the domestic scene, and potentially move towards a triple crown fight in 2022.
Of the two men involved in the fight it's fair to say that Obara is the much, much more well known fighter. He is, after all, a former world title challenger, a 2-weight Japanese national champion and a fighter who has previously held both of the notable regional titles. He is also someone who was long viewed as one of the few Japanese Light Welterweights who could make a mark internationally, and in fairness to him he did with a world title bout and two bouts in the US. Aged 35 he is certainly getting towards the end of his career, but with just 29 fights to his name, and a total of 156 rounds, he's not taken much punishment and does take very good care of his body outside of the sport.
In the ring Obara is a relative basic boxer, but one who does what he does pretty well. He is a pretty typical boxer-puncher, who wants distance to work at, and wants to be able to get full extension on his shots. At domestic level, and regional level, his power is brutal and it's rare that opponents have been able to survive against him. His power has carried up at domestic level from 140lbs to 147lbs and in fact it's probably fair to say that his 5'11" frame was always more suited to Welterweight than 140lbs. Although heavy handed Obara isn't the quickest out there, and he can be made to look slow of foot, he also doesn't like being forced to reset, something we've seen in a number of his losses, and he does have question marks over his chin, with 3 of his 4 losses coming by stoppage. Whilst we'll forgive his first loss, on debut when he ran out of gas in a scheduled 6 rounder, his other two stoppages have been devastating KO's worthy of a highlight for each of his conquerors.
Aged 28 Tamayama is coming into his prime but there is still a lot of question marks over his head. He turned professional in 2013 and reached the East Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2014, losing in the final to Hironobu Matsunaga. Following that loss he went on a nice winning run, picking up 8 wins before losing in 2019 to Riku Nagahama in what was a very well contested bout. Sadly whilst his 8 win run did look good on paper it didn't really hold up to scrutiny and he lacked a win of any note, and several of his wins, including one over Toshiro Tarumi was incredibly close. None of those wins really aged well either. Since lose to Nagahama he has notched two wins, but again they lack in terms of quality, with the best of them coming against Hisashi Kato, a limited "win some, lose some" domestic fighter
In the ring Tamayama is an aggressive fighter, who likes to bring pressure and force a fight. He's not particularly polished, or a big puncher, but his style is certainly one that could make for fun action bouts with the right dance partner. Despite bringing pressure he is a patient fighter, and he doesn't like wasting shots. He'll bring the pressure with his feet and look to get a mistake from his opponent before firing off shots. It's worth noting that he fights out of the Teiken gym and in some ways his style is similar to what we recently saw from Kenichi Ogawa against Azinga Fuzile, albeit with out the "Crush Right" of Ogawa. Against certain opponents, such as Shoki Sakai, he would make for a great fight, but against other fighters he just lacks those touches needed to make a mark at a higher level. Sadly he also doesn't have the tightest of defences and we regularly see opponents landing clean shots on him as he comes in.
Sadly for Tamayama his limited defensive skills will cost him here. Against the likes Hisashi Kato he can afford to get hit, against Obara however he can't. Obara's power is devastating at Japanese level, and we suspect that we'll see that here. We expect to see Tamayama pressing forward, showing some good hunger, but getting tagged with hard right hands on his way in. Sooner or later those will be his undoing and he'll get rocked before Obara puts him away.
Prediction - TKO6 Obara
This coming Saturday Korakuen Hall plays host to a really good looking OPBF Welterweight title fight, as defending champion Ryota Toyoshima (14-2-1, 9) makes his second defense of the title and takes on the teak tough Shoki Sakai (26-12-2, 14) in what should be an exciting all action bout.
Toyoshima made his professional debut in 2014, as an 18 year old, and despite struggling early in his career he has developed into a very solid boxer-puncher. He drew on debut and was 7-2-1 (5) after 10 bouts, with two losses to Masaharu Kaito, and despite winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year the expectations on him were quite low at that point. Since the start of 2018 however he has gone 7-0 (4) and been on a solid run with wins against the likes of Moon Hyun Yun, Woo Min Won, Riku Nagahama and Yuki Beppu. He won the OPBF title with a 12 round decision win over Nagahama and unified it a fighter later with a dominant 10th round KO win against Beppu.
In the ring Toyoshima has proven himself to be aggressive, heavy handed, exciting and yet patient. He comes forward, applying educated pressure, looks to keep busy with his hard right hands and uses his jab well to set the tempo. He's not the most polished, or rounded fighter out there, and he's also not quick, but he is strong, heavy handed, has good stamina and does a lot of things well. He's never going to be a threat to the top guys internationally, but there's not too many regional level fighters that would be fancied above him, and with a few more wins he could end up moving up the world rankings towards a more significant international fight. Sadly his flaws would limit him at that level, but at this level he's going to be a hard man to dethrone.
With 40 bouts to his name Shoki Sakai is not a typical Japanese fighters. In fact "EL PV" has had one of the most unique careers of any active Japanese fighters. He started his career in 2010, in Mexico, and his first 36 bouts were all outside of Japan as he picked up fights in Mexico, Nicaragua and the USA. He also managed to fight some pretty notable fighters during those years of his career such as Ashley Theophan, Eddie Gomez, Alexis Rocha and Gor Yeritsyan, and was often matched with promising prospects. In 2020 he finally fought in Japan beating Hironori Shigeta, and since then has fought twice more in the Land of the Rising Sung, including a great fight with Japanese Welterweight champion Keita Obara this past April.
Whilst Sakai's career is unique for a Japanese fighter, he does have a lot of stereotypical Japanese traits. He's strong, rugged, tough, and comes forward, applying pressure. His toughness made him so valuable over in the West, where he would always come to fight and take the fight to prospects, but it's also quickly endeared him to local fans back in Japan, who were awed by his will to win against Keita Obara, who was pushed all the way. His style lends it's self to fan friendly fights, and given his under-rated skills and work rate, it also means he has a chance against very solid regional and domestic fighters. Such as a Toyoshima. He's predictable, and has slow feet, but his pressure is incessant, and he will be looking to press Toyoshima, using his high guard to put Toyoshima on the back foot and look to break him down with body shots.
Coming in to this we feel Sakai is the perfect opponent to test Toyoshima, like he was for prospects in the west. He will come forward, he will pressure, and he will march towards Toyoshima like a man possessed. Sadly for him however the difference in foot speed will be the key, with Toyoshima lighter on his feet, a better mover and the man who wants to fight at a longer range. Sakai will certainly have moments, and a lot of them, but we feel the cleaner, more eye catching shots will be from Toyoshima, who will just about manage to do enough and take the decision. He'll have to work hard for it, but the youth, speed and the fact he has fewer miles on the clock should help him over the line in a potentially thrilling battle.
Prediction - UD12 Toyoshima
This coming Saturday we'll see Japanese Featherweight champion Hinata Maruta (11-1-1, 9) take on Ryo Hino (14-2-2, 9) at Korakuen Hall in a really good looking match up, which will be streamed live on PPV in Japan.
For Maruta this will be his first defense, and follows an excellent title winning performance back in February against Ryo Sagawa, whilst Hino will be getting his second shot at the Japanese title, having previously come up short against Sagawa back in 2019. For fans it'll be a chance to see whether the 24 year old Maruta is still developing into the star we all expected him to become when he turned professional, whilst the 31 year old Hino is likely to not get a third shot, if he comes up short here.
When he turned professional, back in 2015, everyone who followed Japanese boxing had high hopes for the then 18 year old Maruta. He quickly backed up those high hopes by beating the then world ranked Jason Canoy in his debut, and quickly raced away to his first title, the WBC Youth Bantamweight title which he won in his third bout. After moving to 5-0 (4), in less than 18 months, Maruta then took a leap up in class to challenge OPBF Super Bantamweight champion Hidenori Otake, and came up short against the tough and experienced Otake. The loss was a set back for the then 20 year old, but it was also a learning experience. He would have another set back 10 months later, as he was held to a very controversial draw in the Philippines against Ben Mananquil, but those losses seem to have made Maruta into a better fighter. At times he had been lazy in his career, happy to shows his slippery defensive skills but not show the output he needed. Since the Mannaquil bout however he has gone 4-0 (3) with notable domestic wins against Tsuyoshi Tameda, Coach Hiroto, Takenori Ohashi and most recently Sagawa.
In the ring it has always been obvious that Maruta is an incredible talent, and a man with a frame made to be a boxer, with a tall, long frame. Early on however he was immature, he seemed to fight like a man happy to show case his skills, rather than make a statement. In recent bouts however there has been a new found spite in his work, and he has looked like a fighter who wants to hurt his opponents. That was clear when he stopped Tameda, Ohashi and Sagawa, all of who are good fighters in their own rights. He is blessed with incredible speed and balance, a frightening jab, fantastic movement, both upper body and foot, and genuinely nasty power. He has matured physically from his early days, and his body has filled out from a scrawny looking Bantamweight to a strong looking Featherweight and he really is getting better with every fight. As a fighter he is a boxer-puncher, but he can also play the role of counter puncher when he needs to, and we have seen him show some traits of a pressure fighter, when he's had to. One thing that is very clear however, is that he has a very special boxing brain, and that, added to his speed and power, could make him a real nightmare for the division in years to come.
As for Ryo Hino he's a 31 year old who's been a professional since 2013. His career started with 4 wins against domestic novices, before being held to a draw by Yoshifumi Tamaki, and not long after that he suffered his first loss, losing to Reiya Abe. Following that defeat Hino would record a string of low level wins before upsetting the then touted Sho Nakazawa, in one of the best wins of his career. Sadly momentum from that win was killed off quickly, as he was held to a draw by Coach Hiroto in his very next fight. Sadly it seemed the draw scared his team, who didn't want to risk a high domestic ranking and he picked up two low level domestic wins before challenging Sagawa in 2019, and losing a wide decision to the then Japanese champion. Since that loss he has fought just once, stopping Ryukyu Oho in 7 rounds this past April.
In the ring Hino is a very solid boxer-mover. He has a nice jab, which he uses to control range and dictate the tempo of action, he's light on his feet, and can make fighters miss by using his speed and movement. He's not the most exciting fighter to watch, and his competition hasn't been great, but it's clear he has talent and skills. He fights to a game plan well, and when he finds his groove he begins to fire in the left hand behind the jab, closing the distance when he wants and letting shots go with more flow. Sadly though he typically seems to lack fire, and even a bit of the stereo-typical Japanese fighting spirit. He's happier to box and move, and does what he can to avoid an actual fight. He's incredibly relaxed in the ring, and looks composed and calm, but that can be easy against opponents levels below you.
Sadly for Hino it feels very much like he's a poor man's Maruta. Like Maruta he's slippery, has a nice long jab and looks calm in the ring, but he lacks the power, the spite, and work rate of the current version of Maruta. Maruta will likely win the early portions of the bout by out boxing Hino, before taking it up a gear and taking out Hino in the middle rounds. We expect to see the stoppage coming from a body shot, after Maruta has broke his man up up with stiff, hard, head shots.
Prediction - TKO7 Maruta
This coming Saturday fight fans in Kobe will get the chance to see a new Japanese Youth Light Flyweight champion being crowned, as Yuga Inoue (11-2-1, 2) and Aoba Mori (7-2-1, 1) face off for the currently vacant title, which was vacated earlier this year by Yudai Shigeoka.
For Inoue this will be his second shot at a title, following a loss to Kai Ishizawa back in a 2018 clash for the Youth Minimumweight title, whilst Mori will be getting his first shot at a belt. For both men however this will be regarded as a great chance to put their name on the map and potentially open doors to bigger and better fights down the line. Given they are both young, they will both know a loss isn't the end of the road, but a win would be a huge boost to their standing in the sport.
Of the two men it's the 22 year old Inoue who is the more known. Despite the surname, he's not related to "Monster" Naoya Inoue, or the always fun to watch Takeshi Inoue, and unlike those men he's also not from a massive area, fighting out of Hyogo rather than Tokyo. Despite that he has managed to carve out a solid career for himself since debuting as a teenager in 2016. He went unbeaten in his first 8 bouts, won the 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year and gave Kai Ishizawa fits back in 2018. Since the loss to Ishizawa Inoue has gone 4-1 with his sole loss being a competitive one to Daiki Tomita, whilst he has picked up good wins against Daiki Kameyama, Katsuya Murakami and Tetsuya Mimura.
In the ring Inoue is a very skilled boxer mover. He's light on his feet, has a very solid jab, uses upper body movement really well and despite not having much power he does put his shots together really well. Inoue's big problem is that he can't get respect of opponents, which is a real shame as he's an excellent boxer, with a lot of good technical skills, and an exciting style. At times he can look a bit deliberate with what he does, but he's certainly able to mix things up thanks to his fast, crisp shots, and lovely combinations.
Mori is 21 years old, and like Inoue debuted as a teenager, back in 2017. Unlike Inoue however his career didn't get off to a great start, losing in his debut against Kaito Takeshima. In fact Mori could easily have been 0-7 in his first 7 bouts, instead of 5-2, with all of his early wins being razor thin decisions that could easily have gone the other way. Since those early struggles however we have seen Mori begin to mature and last time out he scored his first stoppage win, taking out Keisuke Iwasaki. Now in his early 20's he seems to have matured from a young, light punching kid into a youngster with enough power to get the respect of his opponents, even if he will never be a KO artist.
In the ring Mori is flawed but a fun to watch youngster who brings pressure, and an exciting style. Sadly he really does lack power, and while he is maturing he doesn't look a physically imposing kid, or someone who's ever going to have true fight changing power. Instead he seems like someone who's going to be in fun fights, but has a style which will lead to him losing bots and taking punishment when he faces better fighters. The key to Mori's pressure is his upper body movement, and he is a fighter who is hard to catch clean, lets his hands go and fighters like someone who trusts his chin, when he needs to.
We expect to see Mori coming forward, pressing and trying to make this into a war, forcing the tempo and letting shots go. Sadly for him we don't think he'll get Inoue's respect, and instead we're expecting to see Inoue land a lot of clean jabs, slowly chipping away at Mori. As the rounds go on, the shots of Inoue will begin to break down Mori, who'll show his toughness and see out the final bell, but will finish the bout with a swollen face and battered looking face.
Related - UD8 Inoue
This coming Wednesday fight fans will be in for something of a treat at 154lbs as teak tough Japanese fighter Takeshi Inoue (17-1-1, 10) takes on unbeaten Australian puncher Tim Tszyu (19-0, 15), in a bout with the potential to be an instant classic. The contest is mouth watering on paper, and a genuinely meaningful one in regards to the WBO, with Inoue looking to defend his WBO Asia Pacific title against WBO Global champion Tszyu. The winner will not just be a unified minor title holder, but will also be on the verge of a WBO world title fight as we head into 2022.
Of the two fighters it's fair to say all the buzz is around Tszyu, the son of former Light Welterweight great Kostya Tszyu. The second generation fighter has quickly been racking up wins against notable opponents, and impressing with his calculated style, heavy hands and brutal finishing mentality. The last few years have been huge for him, and he has essentially cleaned out the domestic scene with wins against the likes Wade Wyan, Dwight Ritchie, Jack Brubaker, Jeff Horn and Dennis Hogan. Early on he was promoted heavy on the fact that his father is a modern day great, but with his recent wins he has moved out of being the son of a legend, and became a legitimate contender in his own right, and someone who seems almost ready for a world title fight of his own.
In the ring Tszyu has real star potential. He's a very impressive boxer puncher, who applies intelligent pressure, lets his shots go when in range, counters well, and is incredibly heavy handed, seemingly inheriting the power of his father. He's not the quickest, and he's not the most active, but he's a very heavy handed fighter, who is very calculating, smart in the ring and physically incredibly strong. To date he has answered a lot of questions, though there is still some question marks hanging over him. He has proven his stamina, by going 10 rounds a number of times, but there is some question marks over his chin, and what happens when a fighter can take his power and keep coming forward. We've not seen a fighter really test him since Wade Ryan did, way back in October 2017, and since then Tszyu has racked up 12 straight wins and looked like a destructive force along the way.
Whilst Tszyu is waiting for a shot at the big time, Inoue has had a shot, which came in 2019 when he challenged the then WBO champion Jaime Munguia, and gave the unbeaten Mexican a legitimately tough nights work. The bout with Munguia showed how tough, rugged and strong Inoue was, but also showed his technical limitations as he pressured but had little overall success against Munguia. Since then Inoue has worked on technical things, and has been showing a much better jab in recent bouts, better defense and overall more to his boxing than just the pressure style that had made him a very fun fighter to watch in Japan. That slightly more rounded style has seen him scoring 4 wins since the loss to Munguia, though they have been at a regional to domestic level.
In the ring Inoue is a small, rugged fighter with incredible physical strength, fantastic power of recovery and a staggering will to win. He is slow, and like many Japanese fighters in the higher weights, he relies more on his physical tools rather than his skills to get by in the sport. He can be out boxed, as Munguia showed as Yuki Nonaka showed at times too, but over 12 rounds he will give fighters fits, and if a fighters tried to blow him out early on there's a real risk of them taking a lot out of themselves in the process. Here we expect to see him trying to rush and cramp Tszyu for space, and work up close, much like we saw Ricky Hatton do to Tszyu's father. Sadly for Inoue he doesn't have the foot speed and tenacity of Hatton, but we see that being the gameplan he'll be looking to apply here.
The reality is that Tszyu is the better boxer, the bigger puncher, the more natural athlete and the quicker man. Despite that we suspect Inoue will cause problems for Tszyu, just through he sheer bloody mindedness and determination. He will walk through some of Tszyu shots, the type of shots that have been taking out domestic competition, and smile. He will look to break Tszyu mentally, through his pressure. He will certainly have some moments, but in the end Tszyu will come out on top, either a late mercy stoppage from the referee or a clear, and wide decision victory.
Prediction - UD12 Tszyu
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.