This coming Thursday we'll see world ranked Japanese Flyweight Ryota Yamauchi (7-1, 6) look to make his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title as he takes on domestic challenger Yuta Nakayama (8-3-1, 5), in what is a step up in class for Nakayama. On paper this looks a bit of a mismatch, but on the other hand it is good to see Yamauchi staying busy, after a rather frustrating 2019 and 2020 and it does give his second shot at a professional title.
Of the two men the star here is the champion. The Kadoebi promoted 26 year old is among the most exciting young fighters in Japan, with an aggressive mentality, heavy hands and flawed defense. Those things together make him a must watch fighter and unlike many youngsters in the sport he hasn't tried to pad out his record. In fact in his first 8 bouts he has faced 6 fighters with winning records, and has fought on foreign soil, and has picked up several very, very good wins. They include victories over Lester Abutan, Yota Hori, Alphoe Dagayloan and Satoru Todaka. Sadly he does have a loss on his record, but it was a controversial one in China to Chinese fighter Wulan Tuolehazi, in a bout that saw both men hit the canvas.
In the ring Yamauchi is aggressive, he has some brilliant body shots in his arsenal, but sadly he's some defensively naive, and Wulan landed big straight head shots on him time and time again. Also he has been cut in bouts, notable against Alphoe Dagayloan, and it's fair to say that there is a lot of work he can do defensively. Despite that he's big, he's strong, he's powerful and he comes to fight. He might take a shot, but he'll look to land some himself in return, and applies consistent, calculated pressure coming forward, which means his fights will, typically, be fun to watch.
Nakayama on the other hand has been a professional since 2016 and hasn't really managed to shine. He began his career going 1-1-1 before reeling off 5 straigth wins, building some moment against some some poor opposition. Since then however he has gone 2-2, before stopped twice, and hasn't looked like he belongs at title level. His most notable bouts so far are losses to Ryuto Oho, who beat him in a JBC Youth title fight, and Yuto Takahashi, who stopped him in a round before going on to win the Japanese Light Flyweight title. Although Oho and Takahashi are, or in Takahashi's case was, decent neither man is a big puncher, and neither man is a naturally strong and powerful fighter yet both stopped him. In regards to his best win, it's probably his TKO win over MJ Bo, a man that Yamauchi has also beaten.
Although not a bad fighter, by any stretch, Nakayama is also not a great fighter. He lacks fight changing power, his defensive is open and when he throws shots they are often very wide, leaving him even more open. He has a nice jab, his best punch, but it's hard enough to get respect from opponents and he seems to struggle with pressure, as we saw against Oho. There's a good boxer there, or at least the potential for him to be a good boxer, but in reality, he's very, very much a work in progress and it's a shame in many ways that he's so early in his development. With some polish he has got the potential to make a mark on the domestic scene, but as he is he's the sort of fighter who is made to order for Yamauchi.
We expect to see the champion pressing from the opening bell, getting inside and breaking down Nakayama with body shots. They will take the legs away from the challenger, who will struggle to get his own shows off. After 2 or 3 rounds Nakayama will be feeling the pressure and will either be broken down to the point of the referee stopping it after a knockdown or his corner pulling him out accepting the bout is a lost cause.
Prediction - TKO3 Yamauchi.
In 2020 we saw very, very few fighters have years that will define their careers. One of the few exceptions was Japanese Super Flyweight Ryoji Fukunaga (13-4, 13) who had a career defining as he went 2-0 (2) and went from having never held a title as a professional to being the unified Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight champion. He did that by scoring two legitimately solid wins as well, defeating Froilan Saludar and Kenta Nakagawa, and came in to 2021 with some real momentum. As we write this he is also holding world rankings with 3 of the 4 major title bodies. At 34 however he can ill afford a slip up, and he'll be well aware of that going into his first bout of 2021,against Takahiro Fujii (12-6-1, 3) on June 21st. That bout will see Fukunaga defending two of the titles he unified last year, and look to continue moving towards a potential world title fight. On the other hand the bout will also be a huge, and somewhat unexpected, title shot for Fujii.
Aged 34 Fukunaga is a heavy handed southpaw who turned professional in 2013 aged 26, and struggled early in his career. He lost on debut, and was 4-2 (4) after 6 bouts. Since then however he has turned things around, going 9-2 (9) winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year, as well as becoming a triple crown champion.
In the ring Fukunaga has a lot of technical flaws. He's easy to hit, he's not particularly quick and a lot of what he does looks forced. Despite that he's not an easy man to beat. He's got rocks for hands, and what he hits he hurts. He's got a great will to win, and excellent stamina, and even in rounds 9 and 10 he can still be found throwing a lot of bombs. He's also learned how to use his experience well, and when he needs to he can "old man" his opponents, go for a walk, catch his breath and then come forward again. At 34 we do wonder how much he has left in the tank, especially after wars with Saludar and Nakagawa last year, with both of those bouts being incredibly punishing, but we also get the feeling he and his team have picked a bit of a patsy here, to keep him ticking over in a stay defense, rather than a genuine challenge.
Fujii is a fellow southpaw, and is slightly younger than the Fukunaga, aged 32, but he's also much less accomplished and is taking a massive step up in class. He began his career back in 2010, with a draw against Satoshi Obata, and was 6-3-1 (2) after 10 bouts. Sadly it wasn't just early on that he had mixed results and he's actually 6-3 (1) in his last 9 bouts. What hasn't helped him is that he been very inconsistent with results, and every time he gets a win, he then slips up soon afterwards. At least he did until very recently, and he's currently riding a rare winning streak, having won his last 3 bouts with a decent win over Sonin Nihei. Sadly though that 3 win streak dates back to 2018, showing a lack of activity to go with his lack of consistency.
When it comes to what Fujiii can do in the ring, one thing that needs mentioning is that he lacks power. Of any kind. He has only scored a single stoppage win since 2015. That sort of power will leave him needing to rely on his boxing skills against a guy like Fukunaga, who is a monstrous puncher who can really hurt people. Fujii has only been stopped once, very early in his career, but we suspect that he'll struggle with the power, work rate and aggression of Fukunaga, especially over 12 rounds. The guy can fight, but he's been fighting fringe domestic level fighters, and he's now leaping up to regional title level, with nothing to prepare him for what he's getting himself into here.
Fukunaga has had punishing bouts. He has taken a lot in his last two bouts, but this is a smart match up from his team. Matching him easily for his return to the ring, and we suspect he'll shake a bit of ring rust through the early part of the fight, before taking out Fujii in the middle rounds. The champion might lose a few rounds early on, but he'll be far too much for the challenger and will take him out sooner or later.
Prediction - TKO7 Fukunaga
One of the biggest upsets in 2020 was the huge surprise win that saw Daishi Nagata (15-2-2, 6) take the Japanese title 140lbs from Koki Inoue, the cousin of Naoya and Takuma Inoue, in one of the first shows back in Japan after boxing was put on the back burner due to the pandemic. Since that win Nagata has defended the title once, thanks to a technical draw against Akihiro Kondo, and this coming Thursday he'll be looking for his second defense as he takes on the unbeaten Masahiro Suzuki (5-0, 3). On paper Nagata is the big favourite, but will he manage to avoid an upset like the one he inflicted on Suzuki? Or will Suzuki be able to become the latest Japanese champion at 140lbs? Lets take a look at the fighters, how they match up and who we think will come out on top.
Of the two men Nagata is the clear favourite coming in to this bout. The 31 year old southpaw has been a professional since 2014, is the current Japanese champion and has faced a genuine who's who of the domestic scene. He fought Takeshi Inoue in his debut, fighting to a draw, and since then has shared the ring with Quaye Peter, Vladimir Baez, Takashi Inagaki, Rikki Naito, Cristiano Aoqui, Koki Inoue and Akihiro Kondo. Not only that but he has also shown he belongs in title level fights, giving Naito hell in a razor close 2018 bout and beating Koki Inoue.
In the ring Nagata is a well skilled boxer-fighter. He's at his best when he's applying intelligent pressure. Getting in and out and using his surprisingly quick feet. He's not that polished, but he's quick, strong, physically powerful, fights at a good tempo with under-rated punching power and really good stamina. In fact it was his stamina against Naito which made the fight so close, with Naito tiring and Nagata really coming on strong late on. Sadly though he's not the smartest of fighters and like many newly crowned champions he wanted his first defense to be a fan friendly one, and ended up holding his feet too long against Kondo, leading to that fight being a very close and competitive one. Not the showcase first defense he would have wanted. Given how bad that performance was we're expecting a much better one here against a very lively challenger.
Whilst Nagata is a strong, tough, lump of a fighter the exact opposite is true of Suzuki who is a much more rounded boxer, with good movement and a solid boxing brain. He was one of the few fighters over the last few years who really impressed on debut, when he beat Antonio Siesmundo, but sadly we've never seen that same level of performance from him since. In fact his performance have been rather mixed following his very impressive debut, though in fairness his competition has been pretty solid. In just 5 bouts he beaten Siesmundo, the heavy handed Kosuke Arioka, the solid domestic level Hokuto Matsumoto and former OPBF title challenger Takahiro Oda. And whilst he hasn't shown the same incredible potential he showcased on his debut but has shown a good boxing brain and he seems to be a fighter who is, slowly, finding his identity in the ring. He looks like he can do it all, box, move, punch and fight, but probably does need to find what he likes to do and focus on that more than he has at times.
Whilst we have been genuine impressed by Suzuki, it needs noting that he was hurt by Arioka, and seemed to struggle against Matsumoto. He has got questions to answer, and most notably one of those is his stamina. He looked good for 6 rounds against Siesmundo in his debut, and 6 rounds against Kelvin Tenorio, but we've never seen him go beyond 6 rounds, and this title fight will be a 6 rounder. We've also never seen him in with a southpaw, with Nagata set to be his first lefty, which is a second potential issue for Suzuki. Given Nagata's pressure and aggression Suzuki will need to be on his P's and Q's from the opening bell, he need to stay focused and be fully aware of what Nagata can bring, and we're not 100% sure Suzuki has that level of focus... yet.
In terms of pure skills Suzuki is, for our money, a level above Nagata. He's a smoother, not natural boxer. Skills however aren't the only thing important in a fight and we suspect the experience, physicality and the fact Nagata is comfortable fighting 8, 10 and even 12 rounds, will prove vital here.
We're expecting Suzuki to start well, out boxing Nagata, moving around the ring, landing shots against the slower man. But unfortunately winning the early rounds won't be enough and as the bout goes on Nagata's pressure will build, and he will begin to break down Suzuki, both physically and mentally. The early success of Suzuki will be used to fire up Nagata who will come on strong in the second half of the fight and will break down Suzuki in the later stages.
If Suzuki can stay focused, can rely on his boxing, and can keep the bout at range, using his footwork, and can keep it up for 10 rounds he could take a decision. But that's a massive if, and one we're not expecting from him. He's got the technical ability, but we don't think he's got the other tools needed to take home the victory.
Prediction - TKO8 Nagata
Over the last year or so the Minimumweight division has been almost frozen in the wake of the pandemic. The world champions have been worryingly inactive, the regional champions have sat and twiddled their thumbs and even the Japanese domestic scene has been a victim of the time, with only a single Japanese title fight at the weight in the entire of 2020. That single title fight saw Masataka Taniguchi (13-3, 8) claiming the previously vacant title in December, when he stopped Hizuki Saso. This coming Monday he'll defend that title for the first time as he defends against the once beaten Tatsuro Nakashima (11-1-1, 7) at Korakuen Hall.
When Taniguchi turned professional there was huge expectation on his shoulders inside of Japan. Him, and close friend Hiroto Kyoguchi, were expected to be the leading forces at the Watanabe Gym and were supposed to be the stars to carry the gym's legacy after Takashi Uchiyama and Kohei Kono retired. Whilst we have seen Kyoguchi scale the highest heights in the sport, Taniguchi hasn't quite managed the same, though the belief is that he still has the tools to do that.
The 27 year old champion was moved aggressive in the early part of his career, and fought in his first title fight, a Japanese title fight, just a year after his debut, losing a razor thin decision to Reiya Konishi. He would also lose a razor thin decision to Tsubasa Koura in an OPBF title fight just 7 months later. Despite those setbacks he has rebuilt well, won the WBO Asia Pacific title, challenged the then WBO champion Vic Saludar and won the Japanese title. He has notched notable wins over Joel Lino, Kai Ishizawa and Hizuki Saso. Maybe they aren't world class names, but all three are solid fighters, with Lino and Ishizawa both being very good fighters.
In the ring Taniguchi is an undeniable talent. He's a highly skilled boxer, who knows his way around the ring, has solid work rate, spiteful power, good movement and good handspeed. He's a really solid all rounder, and when his combinations flow he's a joy to watch. He's not the most physically imposing fighter, and he's more a fighter who's "very good" at everything rather than "great" in any particular area. The one area he's genuinely lacked through his career has been luck, and 2 of his losses could very easily have gone his way. In fact there's a very strong argument that both should have gone his way, and both of those losses came very early in his career. He's the sort of fighter who can compete at world level, will likely win a world title, and has a record that is thoroughly misleading.
Nakashima on the other hand is a 26 year old set to get his biggest bout to date. His biggest bout, by far. He's been a professional since 2015 and despite a slow start to his career did manage to show some real promise in 2017, only just missing out on a place in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, with a draw against Yuga Inoue. The following year he would end up losing to the aforementioned Ishizawa, but has since bounced back with 4 straight wins including a solid one last time out against Ariston Aton. On paper his record looks solid, but in reality there is a lot of weak opposition on his record, with his most notable wins being over Mammoth Kazunori, very early in their respective career's, and Ariston Aton. Hardly the fighters to prepare you for a Japanese title fight .
Although his competition has been poor Nakashima is a solid boxer. He has light feet, moves around the ring easy, a nice jab, and good composure. He looks well schooled, but like a fighter who still has work to do. He's schooled but not polished. His jab lacks the spitefulness he really needs and as we saw against Ishizawa, he can be broken down, and he can end up fighting the wrong fight. He's not the biggest puncher out there, and whilst he is composed under pressure, his defensive flaws are clear to see when fighters put shots together, as Ishizawa did. He can also get dragged into exchanges more often than he needs to, as his lack of experience shows.
Whilst Nakashima is a good boxer, we see the issues that cost him against Ishizawa coming in to play again here. He's a good boxer, but he still makes mistakes, he holds his feet too long, and he struggles to get respect from his better opponents. Taniguchi might be asked questions, especially early on when the light feet of Nakashima will create some space, but as the fight goes on the challenger will be broken down, the body shots of Taniguchi proving to be especially potent here.
Nakashima will put up a good fight, he won't be there to make up the numbers, and he will come into the fight as a very live challenger. However the edge in class, the more rounded and polished skills, and the firepower of Taniguchi will prove to be a series difference maker here.
Prediction - TKO8 Taniguchi
One of the best things about Japanese boxing right now is the Featherweight division, which is red hot with talent, and has a brilliant variety of styles among it's top fighters. You have pure boxers, like Reiya Abe and Ryo Sagawa, you have warriors like Tsuyoshi Tameda and Daisuke Watanabe, you have boxer-punchers, like Hinata Maruta, and emerging prospects, like Jinki Maeda and Ryuto Owan. The division in Japan is bursting at the seams, even if international fans aren't really paying it much attention. Yet. It's inevitable that at least one of the top Japanese Featherweights will make a mark at the top level in the coming years, and it's a case of when, and not if, we see one of them fighting for, and potentially winning, a world title.
The division is set for another huge bout in Japan on May 21st as OPBF champion Satoshi Shimizu (9-1, 9) takes on WBO Asia Pacific champion Musashi Mori (12-0, 7), in a bout to unify the two regional titles in the division.
As with so many Featherweight bouts in Japan recently, the bout is not just a really good one, between two very solid fighters, but also a match up between two men who are very talented, and have very different styles. It's the mix of styles that makes such a compelling match up, and will see both men being forced to prove what they can do against a fighter who will ask them very serious questions.
Of the two men the more well known is Satoshi Shimizu, 2-time Olympian who won bronze at the 2012 London games, losing in the semi final to Luke Campbell. He had hoped to compete at the 2016 Olympics, but after failing to qualify turned professional, at the advanced age of 30. The idea, originally, was to fast track him. After all he had been a stellar amateur with 150 amateur wins, and an Olympic gold medal. The fast tracking worked well early on, and he won the OPBF Featherweight title in his 4th professional bout, just just 13 months after his debut and raced out to 8-0 (8) whilst beginning to edge towards a world ranking. And then he flirted with the Super Featherweight division and got badly beaten by Joe Noynay in 2019, with Shimizu then requiring a long break from the ring and staying out of action for a year, in part to his injuries and in part due to Covid19. When he finally got back in action last year, he was already 34 and the clock was ticking on his career.
Since turning profession in 2016 there have been some really obvious things about Shimizu that can't be denied. Firstly he's not actually a very good boxer. He's clumsy, he's slow, he's wide with his punches and he does almost everything wrong. There is nothing about him that screams "former amateur stand out". Secondly he punches like a mule. Shimizu is a horrible boxer, but a brutal puncher, and when he lands clean fighters feel it. In fact when he lands just glancing blows opponents feel it. Thirdly, he's awkward as all hell. He's rangy a 5'11", southpaw at Featherweight. Add that to his power and he is just a nightmare to fight, even with all his technical flaws. Sadly at 35 it's now or never for Shimizu, and it's hard to imagine him ever making good on the promise he had when he turned professional.
Aged just 21 Musashi Mori is at the opponent end of his career, though is already an established young fighter who is rapidly rising through the ranks, and moving towards a world title fight. Like Shimizu he debuted in 2016, though did so as a 17 year old, in a 4 rounder, without any hype or noise around him. The following year he went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year, beating Zirolian Riku in the All Japan final in what was Mori's Korakuen Hall debut, at Super Featherweight. Following that win big things were predicted of the youngster but a genuine scare against Allan Vallespin saw some doubt creep in about the youngster. Rather than question his potential he did something smart, and realised he wasn't a natural Super Featherweight, and dropped to Featherweight instead. Since moving down in weight he has really found himself scoring 2 wins against Richard Pumicpic, winning the WBO Asia Pacific title in the first of those, as well as notching notable defenses against Takuya Mizuno and Tsuyoshi Tameda. As well as his impressive resume for such a young novice he has also been working with the amazing Ismael Salas, who has really helped develop Mori's boxing ability, brain and style, developing him into an excellent young fighter.
In regards to how Mori fights, he's an intelligent boxer, with some snap on his shots. Over the last few years he has toned down his aggression, used his jab a lot more, and really developed in to one of the best counter punchers in Japan. He's accurate, has quick hands, very good footwork and seems comfortable on the inside as well as at mid-range. Defensively there is still work to do, but that has been the area where has really improved so much from his early days, and it's clear that Salas has taught him a lot about defense, and how to control range. Sadly for him he does lack in terms of 1-shot power and physicality, and it's clear that a lot of fighters at Featherweight could bully him around, but he has enough sting on his shots to get respect from opponents, and lands his shots very clean, often as counters with opponents walking on to them.
In terms of abilities, Mori is the much, much better boxer. He's more polished, he's smoother, he's lighter on his feet, he moves better, and his jab is significantly better. If this was all about boxing ability, and just boxing ability, Mori wouldn't have any problems winning. Of course boxing is so much more than just skills and when you carry dynamite in your hands, as Shimizu does, this care never going to be easy. Especially given the awkwardness, reach and size of Shimizu, and the way he throws from some truly angles that fighters can't really prepare for.
We expect to see Mori showing a lot of respect to Shimizu early on. And we mean a lot of respect, but do so whilst picking and poking at Shimizu. Trying to rack up rounds without taking risks. As for Shimizu the key isn't to try and box, but to time Mori coming in, and tagging him before he can get to close. To have success Mori needs to work quickly, use his speed, and if he gets inside he needs to work up close, smothering the power of Shimizu in the process. If he can do that we'll see him chipping away at Shimizu round by round and establishing a clear lead on the scorecards.
Shimizu will always be dangerous, right through to the final bell, and he could turn the bout around at any moment, with a wild looping left hand, or wide right hook. That's a real danger that Mori will need to be wary of, even if he feels in control. If Mori can, however, avoid eating eating too many shots clean we see him taking a clear, and wide, decision over the 35 year old, unifying the two regional titles and establishing himself as one of the leading Japanese contenders at Featherweight, along with Hinata Maruta.
Prediction - UD12 Mori
On May 21st we're expecting to see the Ohashi Gym return to Korakuen Hall, for their next show. The show will see several interesting bouts on it, including a really good one for the OPBF Bantamweight title, between two men with a point to prove.
That match up will see the unbeaten Kazuki Nakajima (9-0-1, 8) battle the once beaten Kai Chiba (13-1, 8), with the two fighting for the title that was recently vacated by Takuma Inoue, a stable of Nakajima's.
On paper this isn't a bout that will get too much attention. Although both men are very good fighters, neither man has really connected with a wider audience yet, and that's despite the fact both are explosive fighters who could make for some really good fights. In fact this one should be really good it's self, and has the potential to turn into an explosive shoot out.
If pushed, the more well known fighter is probably Nakajima, albeit not by a huge amount. The 27 year old Ohashi promoted fighter was a stellar amateur who debuted in 2017 and has, for the most part, been destructive puncher. He is naturally heavy handed southpaw, with dynamite in his straight left hand. In just 10 bouts he has 5 opening rounds wins, including stoppages against good domestic fighters Kenichi Watanabe and Jin Minamide. He has also shown an ability to keep his power late, stopping Yoshihiro Utsumi in round 7 and breaking down Takuya Fujioka over 6 rounds.
Although very heavy handed, and we do legitimately mean heavy handed. Nakajima is also a very rigid, stiff fighter. His footwork is predictable to say the least, his output isn't the best, he struggles to cut the range, and can be outboxed by a smart fighter, as he was in 2020 when he fought Seiya Tsutsumi in the God's Left Bantamweight title final, in a bout we thought he was lucky yo get a draw in. If a fighter looks to take him on head to head they will be punished, but if a fighter boxes, they can confuse him and out point him. The game plan has been shown by Tsutsumi, who really was very unlucky, and it just takes someone to build on that.
Whilst we suspect Nakajima is more well known, that's not to say that Chiba is an obscure fighter, at least not to those who follow Japanese boxing. He's a 28 year old who debuted in 2015 and was getting some real momentum in his career in 2017, following back to back wins over Ikuro Sadatsune and Ryo Matsubara. He headed in 2018 as one to watch, and was then shocking upset by Brian Lobetania of the Philippines. That loss really was a huge one for Chiba who struggled to re-discover his footing, narrowly getting past Keisuke Tabuchi on his return and not quite looking like the force he once seemed to be. That was until last December when he schooled the usually exciting Haruki Ishikawa and put his hat in the ring for a title of some kind.
Early in his career Chiba looked like an offensive monster, and really was aggressive, heavy handed and came forward a lot. He wasn't a brawler, but was a very offensively minded fighter. An aggressive boxer-puncher. The loss to Lobetania seemed to change him though and now he focuses more on his boxing, more on his defense and uses his footwork and jab a lot more effectively to set up his power punches. It's one of those cases where a loss has actually improved a fighter technically. He's less exciting than he used to be, a lot less reckless, but still boxes to his strengths, and the loss was a blessing ins disguise.
In terms of boxing ability we would go as far as to say Chiba is the better boxer. He moves around the ring with a lot more fluidity than Nakajima, he uses his feet better and looks a more natural boxer. Sadly however boxing ability by it's self isn't the be all and end all. Sometimes the key to winning are the other facets a fighter has, and in this case we believe the power of Nakajima will be the difference maker.
At some point in the 12 rounds we can't help but think Nakajima will land clean, and when that happens we expect to see Chiba really feel it, and get shaken, as he did against Lobetania. Chiba might have improved, significantly, from that bout but Nakajima is also a much better fighter than Lobetania will ever be.
We expect to see Chiba winning the early rounds, but sooner or later he would hold his feet for a moment too long, and Nakajima will land one of his missile like left hands. That will shake Chiba, who we suspect will respond with bombs of his own, catching Nakajima but not having the effects he would hope to have. When that happens the end will be nigh and we suspect Nakajima will get the better of it, and will force a stoppage of Chiba. Likely whilst Chiba is up on the scorecards. Perhaps comfortably so.
Prediction - TKO7 Nakajima
When we think about fights that get us excited there is a general rule of thumb. Do we have two guys with styles that should gel? If so are those styles aggressive and exciting? If the answer to both of those questions is "yes" then we get super excited about what we could end up seeing, knowing perfectly well that we may well get something a little bit special.
With that in mind we're expecting something special on May 19th when we get the chance to see OPBF Welterweight champion Ryota Toyoshima (13-2-1, 8) take on WBO Asia Pacific champion Yuki Beppu (21-1-1, 20) in a brilliant unification bout, which could a genuine FOTY contender. Even if neither man is particularly well known outside of Japan. In fact it wouldn't be the first FOTY contender for either man, with both well known for fan friendly bouts, their limitations and their aggressive in ring mentalities. It will also be a bout where both men are wound a little bit tighter than usual, following the fact this bout was delayed, having originally been planned for May 5th.
Aged 30 Beppu is the older man, though is certainly not an older fighter by any stretch. In fact his 23 combined bouts have only lasted 64 rounds, and his career, which started in 2012, has not been a punishing one. At all. Beppu debuted in late 2012 and began to build some traction in 2013, before winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014, stopping future Japanese Light Middleweight champion Hironobu Matsunaga in 2 rounds in the final, to record his 7th straight TKO victory. He would extend that stoppage run up to 14 straight wins before fighting to a draw, in 2017, with the tough Charles Bellamy. After a few more blow out wins he suffered his first loss, in a Japanese elimiator against Yuki Nagano and, and then scored his first decision win in 2019, when he out pointed Jason Egera. It was however his December 2019 bout that put him on the boxing map, as he defeated Ryota Yada in an instant classic. That bout saw Beppu being dropped 5 times, but stopping Yada in round 10 to claim the WBO Asia Pacific Welterweight title. Sadly he's not been in the ring since that title win.
At his best Beppu is a scarily heavy handed boxer-puncher. Defensively he's not the best, and given Yada dropped him 5 times his chin is very questionable, but his heart, determination and will to win is incredible. His footwork is under-rated, his movement is also better than people give him credit for and he is certainly a more rounded boxer than most realise. Given how many times he got up against Yada it's clear he's a very determined fighter, and a determined fighter, with fight changing power is never an easy out for anyone. Sadly however he is a man who is easy to hit and despite being a power puncher he is a naturally smaller Welterweight, which is likely to be a real issue for him here, but not something that he can't, potentially, over-come.
Aged 25 Ryota Toyoshima is a man who debuted in 2014 and didn't really managed to make much noise early on. He fought to a draw on debut and suffered his first loss in his 4th professional bout, losing to Masaharu Kaito. He rebounded well, winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year before losing against to Kaito in 2017. That loss left the then 21 year old sporting a 7-2-1 (5) record, but he has rebuilt really well since then scoring 6 wins in a row, including recent wins over Moon Hyon Yun, Woo Min Won, Masafumi Ando and, most notably, Riku Nagahama, with the win over Nagahama netting him the OPBF title.
In the ring Toyoshima is an aggressive fighter who comes forward behind a tight high guard, he presses, and pressures and when in range he lets shots fly. He's not the most technical or the most defensively, especially when he lets his hands go, but he can take a good shot and has very respectable power himself. In fact he's willing to take one to land one, due to his power and chin. Whilst he does have a solid, stiff, jab, he doesn't use it as much as he should, and instead plods forward trying to get angles for his hooks and straight right hand. It's a tactic that can look sluggish and slow at times, but as bouts go on his pressure builds and he starts to have more and more success against fighters who are sapped from his constant forward march.
Given Toyoshima's love of marching forward, and the power of Beppu it's hard to not expect this to be an absolute tear up. Toyoshima is the less classically "skilled" of the two men, and the less powerful puncher, but he's the naturally bigger man, the stronger man and the more imposing man. Given Toyoshima has plenty of bang in his own shots there's a real chance he'll be able to put Beppu down, like Yada did, and maybe even drop him a few times. On the other hand Beppu is a determined terrier with a big bite. He will jump in an out, use his very under-rated jab and make the most of his speed.
We expect to see both men damaged here, we expect to see at least one knockdown each way, and by the end we expect to see both men looking a mess. Expect to see both men marked up, bloodied, and feeling the effects of some huge head shots.
As for picking a winner, we're going with Beppu, in a late stoppage, in what could well be the Japanese fight of the year. We think his long lay off, since late 2019, will serve him well here, especially given how Toyoshima was in a war just a few months ago. Saying that however we wouldn't be surprised at all if the referee ends up needing to wave this off, in favour of either man.
Prediction - SD12 Beppu
This coming Wednesday we see the Champion Carnival resume as Japanese Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako (12-0-1, 11) defends his title against mandatory challenger Riku Kunimoto (4-0, 2). For the champion this will be his fourth defense, and his sixth bout since winning the title in impressive fashion back in March 2018, when he blasted Hikaru Nishida in 92 seconds. As for the challenger this is a huge step up in class and his bout at title level. Despite the difference in professional experience the bout was one of the most interesting bouts scheduled for the 2020 Champion Carnival, when it was originally announced.
Like many bouts from the 2020 Champion Carnival this bout was delayed. It was originally pencilled in for May 2020, before Covid19 forced it to be rescheduled to July. Kunimoto requested a delay from the July date, due to issues training, which saw the bout being rescheduled before Takesako suffered a training injury, scuppering the November date and forcing a delay until 2021.
As his record suggests Kazuto Takesako is a puncher. A real big puncher. The 29 year old started his career with 10 straight T/KO wins, only once going beyond round 3. He was blasting through competition with surprising ease, including the likes of Shoma Fukumoto and Hikaru Nishida. It wasn't until 2019 that he was taken the distance, as he was held to a 10 round draw by the tricky and awkward Shuji Kato. Despite Kato seeing out the 10 rounds we saw Takesako write the wrong and stop Kato in a rematch just 5 months late. We also saw him prove his stamina this year when he won a wide 12 round decision over Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa.
Through his 13 bout career we've seen Takesako fight just 53 professional rounds, but he has impressed thanks to his destructive power and aggression. He has faced decent domestic level competition and, below Ryota Murata, he is probably the best in Japan.
Despite looking impressive there are questions about Takesako that we still haven't seen answers for, or where the answers are unclear. The most notable of those regards his chin, and we have seen him hurt a number of times during his career, and we do wonder if, maybe, he's a bit of a glass cannon. We also don't know how he will with a busy, taller, rangy boxer-puncher. The only fighter similar to that that he's faced was Shuji Kato, but Kato wasn't as busy as we'd have liked, and he also didn't keep things on the move as much as he perhaps needed to, opting to counter Takesako rather than keep things at range. We also wonder what the injury in 2020 will do to him, and whether he has real motivation for this bout.
Whilst we have seen a lot of Takesako, with a lot of his bouts being featured on G+, we haven't seen all that much of Kunimoto, sadly. On one hand that's bad, but on the other it shows how quickly he has been moved along. He debuted in August 2018 and is already getting a title fight. The 23 year old has been matched well from the off, getting some experience in his first couple of bouts, before being stepped up in 2019 and showing there was something pop on his shots with a win over Shoma Fukumoto.
Although footage of his recent bouts isn't available there is some old footage of Kunimoto on Boxing Raise and from that we can see a really talented young fighter. He appears full of self belief, confident in his defenses, and willing to press forward behind a tight guard before letting his shots fly. He's fairly crisp and clean with his shots, but can be seen over-reaching when he throws his straight right hand. His body work appears pretty solid and he does seem to take a shot well, when he needs to.
Sadly for Kunimoto whilst he does look a talented 23 year old he also looks like a work in progress. We know that's obvious, given his inexperience and the fact we were watching some very early fights of his, but it seems almost impossible to imagine he's improved enough from those fights to really be competitive here with someone like Takesako. Sadly the biggest issue with Kunimoto isn't his ability, or skills, or even his experience but instead his inactivity. He's now not been in the ring for over 2 years, and even at the age of 23 ring rust can be a major issue.
We're expecting Kunimoto to show glimpses of real promise here, but those glimpses won't be enough. The power, pressure, aggression and physical strength of Takesako will be too much. Sooner or later the champion will grind down the challenger, and break him up. Kunimoto, sadly, doesn't appear to have style needed to cope with the physicality and heavy hands of Takesako, at least at this point in his career. He'll try, and have some success, but we suspect he'll be found wanting and will be stopped somewhere in the middle rounds.
Prediction - TKO7 Takesako
NOTE - Due to a new state of emergency in several regions of Japan, this bout has been postponed from May 1st to May 19th.
This coming Sunday a lot of attention will be focused on Osaka, as we get the long awaited WBC Light Flyweight world title bout between Kenshiro Teraji (17-0, 10) and Tetsuya Hisada (34-10-2, 20), around 4 years after they were first supposed to fight. That however isn't the only bout of note in Japan this weekend, in fact over in Okinawa around the same time we get the chance to see a very notable WBO Asia Pacific title fight between a former world champion and youngster looking to secure a a massive win, in just his 4th professional bout.
That bout is the one between former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (17-1-1, 17), the current WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight champion, and highly touted prospect Ryosuke Nishida (3-0, 1), who is looking to build on a huge win from late 2020. The bout lacks the allure of the world title fight in Osaka, but is certainly not a bout that should be ignored, and could end up actually being the more compelling bout when all is said and done.
It's needless to say that Diago Higa is the more well known fighter. In fact there was a time, not too long ago, that he was among the most spoken about Japanese fighters in the sport. He was a steam train early in his career, blowing away fighters in quick fashion and winning his first 15 bouts by stoppage. Along the way he took notable scalps, including Kongfah CP Freshmart, who he beat in Thailand for the WBC Youth title, Ardin Diale, who he beat for the OPF title, Juan Hernandez Navarrete, who he beat for the WBC title and Moises Fuentes. In many ways he looked like the Japanese Roman Gonzalez, with the Japanese press dubbing him "The Romagon of Okinawa" after Gonzalez.
Sadly Higa's stoppage run came to an end in 2018 when he lost in 9 rounds to Cristofer Rosales after coming in overweight for a defense of the WBC Flyweight title. That loss, and the subsequent suspension for missing weight from the JBC, saw Higa stay away from the ring for almost 2 years, before returning in early 2020 and beating Jason Buenabora in 6 rounds. That bout was followed by Higa soon leaving the Shirai Gushiken Sports Gym, who had guided his entire career, and signing up with the newly established Ambition gym. It was thought a new gym would reinvigorate Higa, who had admitted his motivation for the sport was waning. Sadly for him his first bout as an Ambition gym fighter didn't end well, with Higa only managing a draw as he met former amateur rival, and close personal friend, Seiya Tsutsumi. It seemed that a forced move from Flyweight to Bantamweight was going to be a problem for Higa, with the new weight not playing well with his style. At least that's what we though until the very end of 2020 when he demolished Yuki Strong Kobayashi in 5 rounds to claim the WBO Asia Pacific title and looked like the Higa of old.
At the moment it's still unclear how the forced move up in weight for Higa will work longer term. He looked brilliant against Kobayashi, not quite his best but still a brilliant and destructive performance, but he looked poor against Buenaobra and certainly didn't look his best against Tsutsumi. He also didn't look great when he took part in an exhibition against Naoya Inoue, when Inoue seemed to want to teach Higa a bit of a lesson at times. It's going to be interesting to see how he develops at the weight, and whether he has the tools, and size, needed to be a success here. If he does he'll be a brilliant addition to an already fantastic weight class.
Whilst Higa is a big name, a well established fighter and someone who fans will have heard of if they follow the lower weights, the same cannot be said of Ryosuke Nishida. In fact Nishida is one that only hardcore fans of the Japanese scene will know anything about. Though they will likely tell you, as we will, that's a hidden gem of a fighter who has already been hugely impressive in his 3 fight, 15 round, professional career.
Nishida turned professional in 2019, following a strong amateur career, and his team did the usual big talk, claiming that no one in Japan wanted to fight him and he had to debut in Thailand as a result, where he blew out Sakol Ketkul. Around 10 weeks after his professional debut he made his Japanese debut and dominated Filipino journeyman Pablito Canada, taking a very wide decision win over 6 rounds. Sadly his rise through the ranks was slowed in 2020 due to Covid19, which decimated the Japanese boxing calendar for the year, but in December he squeezed in a fight and put on a brilliant performance against former world title challenger Shohei Omori. He entered that bout as a big under-dog but put in a performance not befitting a then 2-0 (1) prospect. In fact if anything he looked every bit as good as his team had told us he was.
In the ring Nishida couldn't be much different to Higa if he tried. Whilst Higa is a short, powerful, pressure fighter, with a major offensive mindset, who has had to move from 112lbs to 118lbs Nishida really is the opposite. He is a tall, southpaw, who is moving in down in weight, and focuses on boxing and moving, using his educated feet, his amateur pedigree being clear every time he steps in the ring. He has quick hands, good movement and he boxes with his brain, not his brawn.
Although there is only limited footage of Nishida to get a read on him as a fighter, with his debut not surfacing and being pretty pointless to scout him off regardless, it's hard to say how good he really is, but it's clear that he is, at the least, very good. He's patient, has good timing, he's composed, smart and a sharp fighter. His jab and footwork are really good and in the bout with Omori he looked like a man with much, much more to offer. In fact in the later rounds, when he already had a comfortable lead, he seemed to want to put the cherry on the top of his performance and stop Omori. With that in mind we suspect his stamina is going to be good, he had energy to burn late on. One worry about him however, is how his body reacts to moving down to 118lbs, having fought all of his bouts at, or around, 122lbs so far. If he can make the weight with no issues he could be a real handful. Not just for Higa, but for a lot of very good fighters.
If Nishida makes the 118lb limit without taking much out of himself, and there's a good chance he can, then this is going to be a real test of character for Higa. Nishida is the type of fighter who we feel has the footwork, jab and timing to frustrate Higa, round after round. We've not seen his chin really being tested, though he was caught a few times by Omori and took them well, but if he can take a good shot from Higa he has a real chance off scoring an upset. That will be an even bigger chance if Hishida, moving down, has some more pop on his shots.
Higa will, obviously, be strongly favoured, and many who haven't seen Nishida will feel he's being thrown to the wolves. In reality however he's the latest Japanese fighter to show a willingness to take risks early and want to advance his career quickly. He will come into this bout as a very live underdog. It's a huge step up for him, but it's certainly one he has a chance in.
In regards to how the bout will be. We see Higa barrelling forward, it's how Nishida deals with that that will decide the bout. Higa is what he is. A strong, pressure fighter with lovely combinations, but a poor defense, and a significant size disadvantage at Bantamweight. If Nishida can cope with the pressure he'll win here however that's a huge if, and many will suspect he'll fold under the Higa pressure.
We are believers that a good big guys beats a good little guy, and with that in mind we're going with the surprise upset here. We feel Nishida will struggle at times, but manage to, just, do enough to take the win, using his size as a major tool.
Prediction - UD12 Nishida
When we think of Japanese boxing we tend to think about the men at the lightest end of the scales, the Minimumweights through to Bantamweights. Rather unfortunately however we, as fight fans, tend to forget that Japanese title bouts from Welterweight to Middleweight are often some of the most entertaining contests we get to see. Surely a lot of the Japanese fighters in those weights fail to make a mark at the highest level but they do, often, match up really, really well and give us some thrilling action bouts.
This coming Wednesday we're expecting another brilliant Japanese title match up in those weight ranges as Japanese Light Middleweight champion Hironobu Matsunaga (17-1, 11) takes on unbeaten challenger Rei Nakajima (4-0). On paper the bout doesn't scream anything special, but beneath the records are two men who should make for an excellent match up, and styles that should gel brilliantly to give us a compelling contest.
Of the two men it's clearly the champion who is the more well known. The 33 year old Matsunaga has been a professional since 2012, and first began to make waves in 2014, when he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year, losing in the final at Welterweight to Yuki Beppu. Since then he has really built his name and reputation. He has gone 12-0 (8), scored wins in Thailand and Korea, won the WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese titles at 154lbs and become one of the leading faces of the Japanese scene at 154lbs, along with Takeshi Inoue. More than any of his achievements however he has also become a fan favourite thanks to his aggressive style, which is built around a lot of pressure, combinations and using under-rated speed and movement. He's not the best boxer out there but he's a fantastic fighter with a real tenacity to his boxing.
Since winning the Japanese Light Middleweight title in 2019, when he stopped Nobuyuki Shindo, Matsunaga has made two very credible defenses, stopping both Koki Koshikawa and Yuto Shimizu. Those wins have seen him extend his current winning streak to 12 and his current T/KO run to 6. They have also helped him prove his tenacious hunger and desire to be the best in Japan, and there's a genuine shout that his recent form has seen him over take the likes of Takeshi Inoue, whose last impressive domestic win came almost 3 years ago.
Whilst Matsunaga is well known, and has been on the radar of Japanese fans for the better part of a decade the same cannot be said of 22 year old Rei Nakajima, who only turned professional in 2019. Despite that Nakajima did manage to prove he was a legit prospect in his last two bouts, putting on a virtuoso performance against Thai veteran Komsan Polsan before scoring a break out win in 2020 against former OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Middleweight champion Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa. In just 4 bouts the 22 year old has proven he belongs at title level, and could well have the potential to be the best in divisional domestically.
Whilst Matsunaga is very much a come forward pressure fighter the challenger is pretty much the opposite. In fact Nakajima is one of the true pure boxers of the Japanese scene. He's a diminutive Light Middleweight, standing at around 5'5", but uses his lack of stature in his favour, making himself smaller and being elusive, even whilst standing right in front of an opponent. He's quick, sharp with an excellent boxing brain, often drawing mistakes to counter. We've seen him show no fear against the dangerous Hosokawa and he has proven to be as slippery as an eel, both on the inside and the outside.
Whilst it can often be easy to think Japanese fighters rely on their toughness and determination that isn't something we've ever seen from Nakajima. Instead he relies on his technical ability, his boxing brain and his high level understanding of the ring. It's what makes him so different to many Japanese fighters, particularly at 154lbs where toughness and physicality often play a major role.
Given the styles of the two men involved this is actually a really hard one to call.
There is every chance that Matsunaga will manage to get up close, using his experience, bullying Nakajima around and breaking down the challenger. We've seen him do it to bigger men than himself and this is a rare fight where he will be the naturally bigger man. In fact he'll have around 3" height advantage whilst usually he's giving away 3", if not more, himself. He'll be in there looking to land body shots, take Nakajima's legs away and grind him down in the later rounds.
Likewise there is also a chance that the speed, movement, ring crafty and skills of Nakajima will neutralise the pressure of Matsunaga, and he'll walk him on to shots. It's unlikely that Nakajima has the power to take the champion out, but he has the movement to frustrate him, and rack up rounds. If he does that for 7 or 8 rounds there's a chance that he'll have mentally beaten Matsunaga to the point of no return, and the champion will simply not have the energy needed to turn things around.
Whilst we have really, really, enjoyed Matsunaga's rise through the ranks, and it really has been brilliant to watch. We do see him up against a stylistic nightmare here, and someone who will use his pressure against him really well. We suspect the sharp shooting, counter punching brilliance of Nakajima will see him racking up the points, winning the rounds, and doing more than enough to convince the judges he deserves the decision and the title. He'll have to work for it, and work hard, but we see Nakajima doing enough to take home the W.
Prediction - UD10 Nakajima
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.