Every so often a match up comes around where the first impression isn’t a guess at who’s going to win, or how, but is instead a feeling that “that’s gonna be awesome”, and that was the case in December 2019 when Kosuke Saka (20-5, 17) won the Japanese Super Featherweight title knowing that Takuya Watanabe (37-9-1, 21) was waiting in the wings as the mandatory challenger. Following Saka’s win the bout was supposed to take place in April 2020, as part of the Champion Carnival, though was sadly postponed due to the ongoing pandemic, which ended up postponing almost all of the Champion Carnival bouts from last year.
Despite the delay to the fight it is still a bout that seems almost certain to be something special. Really, really special. And really brutal.
For those who don’t follow the Japanese scene, the easiest way to sum this up is “aggressive monster with brutal power, up against insanely tough blood and guts warrior”. That sort of combination always makes for spine tingling action, thrilling back and forth exchanges and the sort of fight that reminds you why you love this sport. And that’s exactly what we are expecting here. Neither man is world class. Neither man will be expected to use the Japanese title and leapfrog into a world title bout. But that doesn’t really matter, this is going to be an hellacious fight deserving of your time, attention, and eyes.
The 28 year old Kosuke Saka doesn’t have a record of a champion, with 5 losses in 25 bouts. He is however much better than his record suggests and his losses have, for the most part, not been embarrassing ones. His first loss was in 2012, in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final against Masayuki Ito. That was quickly followed by him losing 2 of his next 4, including a TKO loss to Hiroshige Osawa. The loss to Osawa was followed up by Saka reeling off 8 T/KO wins, including victories over Ryuto Kyoguchi - Hiroto Kyoguchi’s older brother, Takafumi Nakajima and Shota Hayashi. Winning the Japanese the Japanese Featherweight title with his win over Hayashi. Sadly though his reign was an embarrassing one, losing the title in his first defense, against Takenori Ohashi, when he misheard the 10 second clacker and confused it for the bell, giving Ohashi a free shot, which he took, knocking Saka out cold.
Saka bounced back from his title loss by moving up in weight, stopping touted prospect Masanori Rikiishi in 2 rounds and then taking out the limited Gusti Elnino, before being brutalised by under-rated Filipino Joe Noynay in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title. That looked like a bad loss, until Noynay followed it up and battered Olympic bronze medal winner Satoshi Shimizu a few months later. Since the loss to Noynay we’ve seen Saka fight twice, a nothing win against Isack Junior and then a sensational win against Masaru Sueyoshi last December to win the Japanese Super Featherweight title. That win over Sueyoshi was Saka at his best. He was marauding throughout, bullying Sueyoshi, taking the space away from the technically well schooled Teiken man, and breaking him down round by round, until Sueyoshi was left a ruined man midway through round 6.
In the ring Saka is a monstrously hard hitting bully. He has brutal power, in both hands, he presses forward with one thing in mind, destruction, and he fights like every punch he throws is designed to break bones. He loves coming forward, applying pressure behind a stiff jab, pushing opponents on to the ropes and going to work. He’s all about heavy shots, coming forward and not taking a backwards step. His mentality is to break his opponents. Offensively he is a brutal monster. Where he is flawed however is defensively. He can be countered, he can be caught clean, and he can regularly over-commit. His footwork isn’t the sharpest out there, crossing his feet much more often than he should, and when hurt he can be slow to recover, as we saw against Noynay where he never regained his composure after the first of several knockdowns.
Saka’s biggest issue however is his mental state. It was a mental lapse against Ohashi that cost him and it was his lack of composure after being hurt that was his downfall against Noynay. If he can be locked in, as he was against the likes of Hayashi and Sueyoshi, he is very hard to beat. But his two recent stoppage losses does leave us wondering about how consistent he is, and where his mind is focused coming into this bout with Watanabe.
The 31 year old Takuya Watanabe is a true veteran of the ring, having debuted almost 14 years ago to the day. He is one of the most experienced men currently fighting in Japan, with 47 bouts and 289 rounds to his name, and he is also a surprisingly well travelled fighter with bouts in Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, China and Taipei. In fact 14 of his 47 bouts have been fought outside of Japan, including his infamous 2014 blood bath with Jae Sung Lee in South Korea. A bout that really did see Watanabe leaving his blood all over the Gwanakgu Hall, in Seoul.
Of course there is much more to Watanabe than just being a road warrior, in fact there’s a teak tough competitor, with a hugely under-rated skill set, an amazing will to win, and a real hunger to win a Japanese title before he hangs them up. A title he wants to add to a collection that includes a WBC Youth world title, an IBF Asia title, a WBO Asia Pacific title, a WBO Oriental title and an OPBF “silver” title. Despite his collection of silverware he has been eluded by a Japanese title, losing in previous bouts for the title against Hisashi Amagasa and Satoshi Hosono.
Through Watanabe’s career he has really built his reputation and has had nothing handed to him. He turned in 2007, as a teenager and won his first 6 before losing to the mysterious Saengachit Kiatkamthorngym, in what appears to have been Saengachit only professional bout. He quickly fell from 6-0 to 10-3-1 (3) and struggled to find his identity in the ring. By 2012, when he fought Hisashi Amagasa, he had advanced his record to 15-3-1 (4) but had no idea how to deal with Amagasa and the “Slimming Assassin’s” unique physical features. Rather than biting down and fighting hard, like he would now, he looked lost and confused. But then Watanabe started to find himself, and built a reputation as a legitimate warrior on the back of his 2014 bout with Jae Sung Lee, where he spent much of the bout painting the canvas red, but refused to back down, and ran Lee close. By then he was a 25 year old fighter boasting a 20-5-1 (8), but also a man building a reputation as a warrior.
In 2015 Wayanabe got his second Japanese title fight and ran Satoshi all the way in a loss that helped solidify him as a solid, upper domestic level boxer. He wasn’t a fighter, he was a boxer. A tough as nails boxer, with a busy work rate and the ability to hold his own in exchanges with Hosono. In fact he was unlucky not to get the nod in a bit of a forgotten classic. Since then he has been really busy, facing a mix of lower level talent, to tick over and get experience on the road, and upper level talent, with losses to Masayuki Ito and Hironori Mishiro, where they simply out boxed him. In 2019 however he earned another Japanese title fight, this one, on the back of winning a brutal 8 round decision against Taiki Minamoto in a Japanese title eliminator. That was supposed to secure Watanabe in 2020 but due to Covid19 the bout, as mentioned, got postponed and will not be taking place this coming Friday.
In terms of his style Watanabe is probably quite fairly described as a fighter-boxer. He can box, and is a solid boxer, with a solid and busy jab, and he likes to use his footwork, setting shots up at midrange and using some very underrated skills. However he’s at his best when he turns into a fighter, taking a fight into the trenches with his educated uppercuts, hooks, crosses and lovely flowing combinations. When he gets the fight at mid to close range he covers up a lot of his flaws, such as his slow feet and his almost trudging pressure. At range he can be out boxed, as Amagasa, Ito and Mishiro showed. In the trenches however he will hold his own with anyone at domestic level. What helps there is his incredible chin, his amazing hunger and his willingness to take a bomb to land his own shots. If a fighter wants to go to war, Watanabe will go to war.
It’s the willingness of Watanabe to go to war, and his eagerness to fight fire with fire that makes us so excited here. It’s Saka’s power, pressure and aggression, against Watanabe’s toughness, sneaky combinations and inclination to respond when he’s hit that should make for something special here.
Saka is certainly the heavier puncher, the more destructive fighter, and the man who, if he lands clean, can genuinely do damage. But what happens when the irresistible force hits the immovable object? Watanabe is certainly the better boxer, but can he withstand the tenacity of Saka? Likewise can Saka mentally stay strong when shots that have been forcing men to crumble have no effect on Watanabe?
Predicting this one is tough, though predicting any Saka fight is tough, with the only sure thing being that this will be something truly captivating.
If pushed to select a winner, we’ll be going with Watanabe to weather out the storm from Saka, make him question himself and crumble late. Despite that the reality is that any outcome here is possible and that the journey to the final result is going to be thoroughly engrossing, beautifully brutal and fantastically physical.
If you’re a Boxing Raise subscriber you will not want to miss this one. And if you don’t subscribe to Boxing Raise, you should, even if it’s just to watch this bout! It may have taken over a year of waiting for this one, but we are just as excited as we were when we went into 2020
Prediction - TKO9 Watanabe
In 2020 the boxing calendar got completely screwed up with Covid19 forcing bouts to be postponed and cancelled on a regular basis. One of the bouts that was postponed was a mandatory title fight for the Japanese Super Bantamweight title. That bout has now been rearranged for January 22nd and will see defending champion Yusaku Kuga (19-4-1, 13) taking on mandatory challenger Gakuya Furuhashi (26-8-1, 14), in what could be something a little bit special and very brutal.
Those who have been following the Japanese scene over the last few years will know all about the 30 year old Kuga who is now enjoying his second reign as the Japanese Super Bantamweight champion. For those who haven’t been following the scene Kuga is a very fan friendly fighter, who’s a puncher first, with an aggressive style and warmonger mentality in the ring. He came up short in his first title fight, back in 2015 when he lost a razor thin decision to Yasutaka Ishimoto but has gone 8-2 (6) since then, and managed to avenge his loss to Ishimoto in 2017 to claim the title, for the first time. In his first reign he made 2 defenses of the title before losing in 2018 to Shingo Wake, in what was really an undressing for Kuga, who had no answer to Wake’s movement and jab.
Despite losing to Wake it wasn’t long until Kuga reclaimed the title, winning it back from Ryoichi Tamura in 2019, in what was the second bout between the men and an all out war, one of the genuine hidden gems of 2019. After reclaiming the title he made a single defense before taking on Jhunriel Ramonal at the end of 2019, and being brutally taken out after just 84 seconds, in a genuine upset.
At his best Kuga is a really brutal fighter to go up against. For much of his career he has been a heavy handed, teak tough warrior, with a great engine and a really physical style. He can box, though often seems happier to have a war, and his two battles with Ryoichi Tamura were both brutal, punishing affairs for both men. Sadly though his toughness has been questioned in recent losses, with Shingo Wake breaking him down in 10 rounds and the loss to Ramonal being a clean KO. As well as those losses we do wonder what he’s like mentally coming into this bout. Had he been able to get a confidence easy win after his loss to Ramonal we’d feel better about his chance, but we do wonder if that loss is still playing on his mind more than a year after it. We also wonder if the wars with Tamura have taken something from him.
At his best Kuga is a nightmare. His power is destructive at this level, he’s very physical, his right cross is a concussion maker and his pressure and work rate is incessant. He’s not the quickest, the sharpest, and his jab is somewhat limited, but he’s a real bully in the ring. The most obvious way to beat him is to out box him, out maneuver him and refuse to have a tear up with him. Saying that however we do, genuinely, wonder what the Ramonal loss has done to him, and what shape his chin is going to be in, and what his confidence is going to be like.
Furuhashi is a 33 year old who fights out of the Nitta Gym in Kawasaki, and has been one of their most notable fighters for years. Sadly though he has had a long career and this will be his third, and potentially last, shot at a Japanese title. His desire is to become the first fighter born, raised and from a gym in Kawasaki, and it’s really been a driving force for him in recent months. He was supposed to get this shot, as previously mentioned, in 2020 but has had to wait a long time to get it, and will now know that this could be now or never for him.
Furuhashi, unlike Kuga, isn’t really a name we expect too many fight fans outside of Japan to be familiar with, even those that follow the Japanese scene from around the globe. Despite that he is a really fun fighter to watch and has been in and around the title scene since 2014, when he was supposed to fight Hidenori Otake who pulled out of the bout due to a rib injury. Following that he got a show at Yukinori Oguni in 2015, fighting to a draw with the future IBF world champion and then lost 3 of his following 4 bouts, including a title bout in 2016 to Yasutaka Ishimoto. That run, which saw him going 1-3-1 including the draw with Oguni, seemed to spell the end for him as he slipped to 18-8-1 (8). Surprisingly however he has rebuilt brilliantly, going 8-0 (6) since then, including wins against Yuta Horiika and Ryoichi Tamura, with the win over Tamura in September 2019 earning him this belated third title fight.
In the ring Furuhashi’s strength is his tenacity, work rate, energy and willingness to press forward. Technically he’s nothing special, he’s not quick, he’s not got massive amounts of power, but he’s got an abundance of energy, he’s physically strong and is sneaky on the inside, with some excellent hooks and uppercuts. When backed up he responds with solid combinations and makes an opponent walk through a lot of leather to get to him, and he knows how to make things scrappy. Like Kuga he’s tough, but he’s more of a gritty tough than an iron chinned tough guy. Sadly for him however he has taken a lot of punishment during his long career, and his willingness to have a war with anyone has almost certainly taken something of a toll on his body.
As mentioned, to beat Kuga a fighter needs to use their brain and out box him. Getting into a war with him is a painful gameplan, for anyone unless they have lights out power, like Ramonal. Furuhashi doesn’t have that, and if Kuga is half the fighter he was before the Ramonal loss he should be able to force his will against Furuhashi. If that happens the heavier shots of Kuga will be the difference maker, and will, sooner or later, break down the gutsy and determined Furuhashi.
For Furuhashi to win he needs to totally change his gameplan. He can’t try to go to war with Kuga. He can’t hold his feet and try to out-battle Kuga. Instead he needs to move, lure Kuga in, reel off some shoe shining combinations and get out of dodge. He has the energy for that, and his legs can certainly do it, but we’re not sure he has the mentality to do it. He’s one of those fighters who takes a shot and wants to respond immediately, rather than thinking “I’ll get you next time”.
Whilst Kuga’s confidence could be shot, and a quick start from Furuhashi would give Kuga a lot of questions to answer, we suspect his chin hasn’t become cracked from the losses to Wake and Ramonal. Instead we suspect he’ll be back to his usual rampaging self. We expect Furuhashi to try and respond, punch for punch, with Kuga, giving us a thrill a minute war, until Furuhashi comes undone from the repeated heavy shots of Kuga and the referee is forced to step in and save stop in the second half of a sensational fight.
Expect blood, bombs, thrilling exchanges and incredible action here!
Prediction - TKO8 Kuga
For fans wanting to watch this one, it will be shown live on streaming service Boxing Raise.
On January 16th we'll see the second OPBF title fight of the new year as Welterweight champion Riku Nagahama (12-2-1, 4) defends his belt against Ryota Toyoshima (12-2-1, 8), in what will be Nagahama's first defense of the belt. For both men it's a great opportunity to start the year with a win of note and whilst a loss would be a set back they would have the rest of 2021 to get back on track.
Coming into the bout it's the champion who is riding high after winning the title last February, in the final show before Japanese boxing locked down due to Covid19. Not only did Nagahama win the title last February but he did so in what was arguably his best win to date, ending the unbeaten run of the previously unbeaten Japanese based Afghan fighter Kudura Kaneko. Going into the bout Kaneko seemed to have a lot of steam behind him, but Nagahama boxed smartly to out point the then 11-0 Kaneko.
Boxing smartly really is the way forward for the 29 year old Nagahama who is a tidy boxer, but someone who has come up short when he's been dragged into a war or shoot out, with his chin letting him down against both Takeshi Inoue and Yuki Nagano. Sadly for him those bouts exposed his two biggest flaws. One is his relative lack of power, which meant he couldn't get respect from either man, and the other is his questionable durability. He's not china chinned, or an accident waiting to happen, but both Nagano and Inoue broke him down, with Nagano really breaking his face up with good straight right hands and left hooks. Inoue on the other hand forced the referee to jump in in round 8, when Nagahama was taking shots. In both cases Nagahama found himself being man handled and caught clean, a lot, at close range, forcing the referee to save him. Both stoppages came with Nagahama on his feet, but looking beaten, bruised and damaged when the referee stepped in.
Despite the two losses however he did have success and is certainly a very skilled boxer. We saw this when he won Rookie of the Year in 2015, we saw it in both of his losses and in his recent winning streak, which has seen him win 4 in a row.
Aged 25 and fighting out of the Teiken gym Ryota Toyoshima is regarded as a very hungry, and hard hitting, challenger looking for his chance to make a mark at title level, after having been overshadowed by the aforementioned Yuki Nagano. The heavy handed southpaw made his debut in 2014, as a teenager and ended up losing early in his career. After just 4 bouts he was 2-1-1 but rebuilt well, winning Rookie of the Year in 2016. He suffered his second career loss in 2017, coming up short to Masaharu Saito who had also given him his first loss, but since then has found his groove with 5 straight wins, 3 of which have been by stoppage.
It's fair to say that Toyoshima, unlike Nagahama, has got very respectable power. He's also a lot more comfortable at a slower pace than Nagahama, who always wants to be seen doing something. For Toyoshima little things are one of his strengths, lulling opponents slightly before countering, or changing the tempo of the action. Despite being a very capable boxer Toyoshima's real strength comes in his naturally heavy hands. When he lands clean he tends to hurt opponents, and chip away at their resilience. He's able to land hard to head or body and does throw some very sneak short left hooks, as we saw against Masafumi Ando in 2019. When he's in seek and destroy mode, as he was against Woo Min Won, he can make for very fan friendly tear ups, and that's what we expect to see from him here.
For Nagahama the key to victory is using his skills to keep control of the tempo and prevent Toyoshima from making this a war, and he does have those tools in his arsenal. He needs to work when he gets space, he needs to stick his jab in Toyoshima's face as often as he can and upset the puncher's rhythm.
As for Toyoshima the key is to out work, out power, and out muscle Nagahama. He will take shots in return, but his chin and the lack of pop on Nagahama's shots should prove to be the difference. The thing he needs to avoid is allowing Nagahama to dictate the tempo from the early going, if that happens Toyoshima will struggle to play catch up on the cards and his power might not be able to bail him out.
We're expecting the pressure and power of Toyoshima, along with his sneaky body shots, to be the difference. We expect him to slow down Nagahama and then, later on, force the stoppage with a spent Nagahama covering up on the ropes after feeling the relentless assault of the challenger.
Regardless of who wins however we are expecting a genuinely exciting little war here, the bout really could be a sensational way to top off the first Dynamic Glove card of 2021.
Prediction - Toyoshima TKO8
For those interested the bout will be televised live on G+, which is available via the Isakura service those outside of Japan.
On January 14th we get the first Japanese show of 2021 and it comes with the first notable fight of the year in regards to Japanese boxing as OPBF Bantamweight champion Keita Kurihara (15-5, 13) looks to defend his title against Takuma Inoue (13-1, 3) at Korakuen Hall. The bout, on an Ohashi promoted show, is a mouth watering one pitting a huge punching champion against a talented, but much lighter punching, challenger. It has the hallmarks of being something hugely entertaining and one that isn’t an easy call at all, especially given all the sub stories leading into the bout.
Before we get on to the bout we need to consider a few things including the fact that neither of the men involved in this one fought at all in 2020. In fact neither man has been in the ring since November 2019. How that plays a part in this bout will be interesting to see as it has certainly given one fighter a chance to reassess where his career is going whilst it has completely slowed down the momentum of the other. We also need to consider the style of the two men and whether a year out of the ring will have allowed them to improve or mature in a way that could prove vital to this fight. Also is there a chance that one fighter has overlooked the other, or lacks the hunger they may have once had.
Coming into this bout the more well known of the two fighters, especially internationally, will be the challenger. The 25 year old Takuma Inoue is the younger brother of Naoya Inoue and a man who seemed groomed for success. The Ohashi Gym hopeful began his professional career way back in 2013, following a solid amateur career, and seemed to be heading to big things after early career wins over Tatsuya Fukuhara, Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr and Nestor Daniel Narvaez. Sadly though he never managed to really kick on after those good wins, and rather than racing through the ranks he spent a long time competing at the upper echelons of the regional title scene. It was there he notched solid wins against Mark Anthony Geraldo, Rene Dacquel, Froilan Saludar, Kentaro Masuda and Mark John Yap. Solid wins, but they certainly did seem to keep him busy, rather than preparing him for world level. Sadly he was also hit by some injuries that slowed his rise, and cost him a 2016 bout with Marlon Tapales.
Although less well known Keita Kurihara is a legit threat himself and the 28 year old slugger is a man who might have losses on his record but can’t be overlooked. He faltered early in his career, losing 4 of his first 7 bouts, against some relatively poor opposition, as he struggled to find his in ring identity and his ideal weight. Since then however he has gone 12-1 (10) with his loss coming to world ranked fighter Hiroaki Teshigawara, in what was a thrilling battle. Although his career started slowly he has notched recent wins against the likes of Ryan Lumacad, Kazuki Tanaka, Yuki Strong Kobayashi, Warliot Parrenas and Sukkasem Kietyongyuth, smashing his way into the world rankings. His competition might not have been on the same level as Inoue’s but he has faced progressively better fighters in recent years, rather than essentially biding time at one level in the sport.
Of course the last time we saw Inoue was on the under-card of the WBSS Bantamweight final, between Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire, where Takuma put in a solid effort but lost a decision to WBC Bantamweight champion Nordine Oubaali. For much of that fight Inoue looked out gunned, over-powered, and out-muscled. Late on however the Japanese fighter mounted an excellent comeback and had Oubaali in all sorts of trouble in the championship rounds. Sadly we’ve not seen him in action at all since then, and that bout took place way back on November 7th 2019. Whilst that lengthy break could be an issue for a fighter, especially after a loss, we dare say the break could serve Inoue well. When he lost to Oubaali he was 23 and still to really find his man strength. Now however he’s 25, he’s coming into his physical prime, and potentially he’ll have naturally bulked up, becoming strong, more naturally powerful and more physically imposing. Had he been 25 when facing Oubaali there’s a feeling he may have had the physical maturity to handle Oubaali’s man strength just a bit better than he did. Also the lengthy break from the ring has given him time to heal up all the niggles and injuries he’s had whilst also working on his flaws, something he likely did in 2020 when sparring with Kosei Tanaka.
Of course Inoue wasn’t the only fighter out of the ring last year and Kurihara’s most recent bout came around 1 week after Inoue’s last bout. That was a 6th straight win for the hard hitting Kurihara, who put away Sukkasem in 2 rounds, whilst fighting just above the Bantamweight limit. That was an impressive performance and had followed on from a 35 second destruction of Warlito Parrenas. Coming in to 2020 Kurihara had real momentum, he won 6 bouts in a row, including 3 in 2018 and 2 in 2019, he seemed to be chugging along, climbing up the world rankings and really finding his stride with some very impressive performances. We do however need to wonder if the break will have a negative effect on him, slowing his rise, killing off the snowball like momentum he had been building. By the time the fight comes along he’ll be 28, still in his prime years, but he’ll feel like he wasted a year of his prime. This was a chance for him to mature, but instead a missed opportunity to build on his success.
In terms of styles Inoue is a boxer. He has a nice jab, nice movement and nice skills, though he can often find himself getting involved in a tougher than expected bout. He lacks real power, or rather he seems to lack the belief in his power, and can often find opponents walking him down when he struggles to get their respect. Despite that he has a good boxing brain, smart defensive skills and a very good team behind him. Sadly though he isn’t his brother. He’s not got Naoya’s fight changing power, or insane quickness. He can fight and he can box, but often he looks rather unsure of himself, and at times it even seems like he lacks the self belief needed to be a star. He has a lot of tools to like. He’s tough, he’s brave and he’s got very impressive stamina, but can be found backing up too easily at times, and that can see him losing rounds that he could win.
As for Kurihara he’s a lot less technical than Inoue. He’s more like a bulldozer than a boxer. He comes forward, has real belief in his power and knows that what he hits he can hurt. He’s not just heavy handed but he’s also big at the weight, standing at around 5’7”, with long levers, a wiry frame and naturally heavy hands. At times he can look a bit wild, a bit open, and a bit crude, though he has certainly worked on this in recent years, and he’s not the quickest fighter out there. However a fighter looking to take advantage of his flaws will need to be aware that if Kurihara catches you he’s going to hurt you, and he really is a serious puncher. He’s not impossible to hit, but trying to hit him and make him pay is a risk. A real, genuine, risk. When he has his man hurt he is also a very good finisher.
Coming into this we suspect Inoue will be the favourite, and we suspect many of those who haven’t seen Kurihara won’t be giving him a chance. In reality however Kurihara is a very, very live underdog. He has the size and power to really give Inoue nightmares and if Inoue hasn’t built his confidence, and can’t get Kurihara’s respect here then there is a very, very real chance that Kurihara takes either a very clear decision or even stops Inoue in the later rounds. If Inoue can get Kurihara’s respect, and if the 14 months out of the ring has helped him physically mature as expected, he should be able to outspeed, out box, and move Kurihara to a decision win.
We see this as a very competitive match up and we really wouldn’t be surprised at all by either man winning.
Prediction - Kurihara TKO9
New Year's Eve is always a big day for boxing in Japan, and this year is no exception with a brilliant WBO Super Flyweight world title bout between Kazuto Ioka and Kosei Tanaka set to headline the end of year festivities. It is worth noting however that the brilliant main event for the day is set to be one of two title bouts on this year's final Japanese show. The other will WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight champion Yuki Strong Kobayashi (16-8, 9) seek his second defense, and his biggest win to date, as he faces former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (16-1-1, 16).
The bout, which will be aired in the Kanto region of Japan, is one that looks poor on paper and we suspect many will see it as a mismatch in favour of the challenger. In reality however we suspect this could be an absolutely brilliant bout, between two well matched fighters, who's styles should gel and make for a very hotly contested and action packed battle.
Of the two fighters it's certainly Higa who is the more well known. The former WBC Flyweight champion began his career with a brilliant and thrilling run of 15 straight stoppage victories. He looked like he was set to be one of the major stars of Japanese boxing over the coming years, and looked, in some whats, like a Japanese Roman Gonzalez, with a style that saw him being dubbed the "Romagon of Okinawa". He connected quickly with fans, and seemed like a quiet guy out of the ring and a destructive one between the ropes, whilst also having the legendary Yoko Gushiken as his mentor.
Sadly after making 2 defenses of the WBC Flyweight title Higa's career came to a startling halt, after he lost the title on the scales ahead of his bout with Cristofer Rosales. He was the first Japanese fighter to ever lose a world title in that fashion and it seemed like he was mentally done going into that fight, being stopped in the 9th round. The weight issue saw the JBC suspending him, and it was almost 2 years later before he returned to the ring, with the JBC not allowing him to fight at a weight below Bantamweight. On his return to the ring that wasn't an issue, as he took out Jason Buenaobra, with no issues at all. Sadly though for Higa and his fans, his second bout back was an issue as he struggled against fellow Japanese fighter Seiya Tsutsumi in October, with the two men fighting to a draw. A draw that many felt Tsutsumi should have won.
At Flyweight Higa a lot of things going for him. He was physically intimidating, with really impressive core strength and power. He was quick on his fight, pressured fantastically well and threw brutal combinations to head and body. His shots at 112lbs were damaging, and he was able to rip opponents apart with combinations, and force them to back off with single, clean jabs. He had it all at 112lbs. At 118lbs however it does seem like his physicality is less dominant, he looks small at Bantamweight, and his style hasn't had the same effect as we saw at Flyweight. He looks somewhat average at the weight. As well as the move up in weight Higa has also left long term mentor Yoko Gushiken and is now fighting out of Tokyo, whilst sparring at fitness gyms, something that has gotten the AMBITION Gym in trouble recently. There is very much a feeling that things are not what they once were for Higa.
When it comes to Yuki Strong Kobayashi we have a fighter with a record that looks unimpressive, and in some ways very limited. With 8 losses from 24 fights we're not even going to pretend he's close to world class. However his numbers don't really reflect the fighter he is today, but more the journey he has taken to get where he is. The 29 year old has had a hard career since beginning his journey way back in 2011 and the man from Osaka has not had the chance to build his record, and pad out his experience with easy fights. He began his career with some success, winning his first 4, but soon began slipping and was 6-3 (4) after 9 bouts, and 10-7 (5) after 17 bouts. His career was going nowhere in early 2017, after losses to Takahiro Yamamoto, Ye Joon Kim and Rey Megrino. But then things changed, and he has gone 8-1 since then, with the one loss being a controversial one against Keita Kurihara, which saw Kobayashi out boxing Kurihara long stretches of the bout, but hitting the canvas numerous times, costing him the win. That same Keita Kurihara is now a world ranked contender just a few fights off a potential world title fight. And the fact Kobayashi went 12 rounds with Kurihara is a testament to his toughness and determination.
Since his loss to Kurihara we've seen Kobayashi score a career best win over Ben Mananquil, defeating him for the WBO Asia Pacific title, and make his first defense, surprisingly going 12 rounds with Ki Chang Go en route to a wide decision win.
In the ring Kobayashi is a pretty basic come forward boxer. Watching him you don't see anything that stands out as spectacular, there's no eye blurring speed, or dynamite power, there's now intense work rate and super high output, and there's flash. Despite all that he's actually a solid boxer, he understands what he's doing and why, he gets the fact he needs to use a jab to set the table, he throws a good solid straight right hand behind it and his defense has improved no end from the early days. He's unfortunate not to have been blessed with any of those traits that a top fighter needs, but he's strong and he always comes to fight. He's also a very natural Bantamweight, which could play a major part in this fight.
Coming in to this the obvious prediction is for Higa to steam roll Kobayashi, applying intense pressure early and breaking down the champion. That however seems far fetched given how Higa has looked at Bantamweight, and the fact Kobayashi, whilst not the most intimidating of fighters, is a strong, well schooled guy, with a tight defense and a good jab. After all if Kurihara, a big puncher at Bantamweight, can't put Kobayashi down and out, we don't think Higa can either.
Instead we expect the smaller Higa to be cautious and instead of trying to break down Kobayashi with pressure and power, he'll use his brain, be quick, get in and out, landing combinations before getting away. Despite that tactic we still expect the power, strength and jab of Kobayashi to be a problem for Higa, who will eat a lot of punches on his way in, and his way out. The jab and right hand of Kobayashi will be enough to get Higa's respect, and we suspect enough for him to pick up rounds, giving us a very close fight.
As the fight goes on, we expect Higa to tire, and the bout to slowly become a war of attrition in the later rounds. We suspect neither man will manage to finish the other off, taking us to the scorecards, in a very hotly contest bout. Just, narrowly, won by Higa, in what would be his first decision win.
Prediction - MD12 Higa
On December 27th we'll see Japanese Youth Super Bantamweight champion Toshiki Shimomachi (12-1-2, 8) make his final defense of the title, win or lose, as he takes on Satoru Hoshiba (7-4, 2), a man he previously faced over 3 years ago. On paper this is an intriguing match up, with out being a big one, and a great chance for the two men to end the year on a high, after what has been a frustrating 12 months for both the talented youngsters.
Of the two men it's Shimomachi that has really impressed us over the last few years and has quickly become one of the most under-rated prospects in all of Japan. He's also someone who has developed a style we don't see too much of in Japan, but is bringing him great success, and could, very easily, take him all the way in the coming years.
The 24 year old champion debuted all the way back in December 2015 and started his career 2-1-1 (1). That was his record at the end of 2016 before he kicked on and won the 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year, beating Ryosei Hamaguchi, Satoru Hoshiba, yes the man he'll be facing again here, and Arashi Iimi en route to the All Japan crown. He then followed that up in 2018 with wins against Kiyohei Endo and Renan Portes before ending the year with a draw against Daisuke Watanabe, a draw that has aged very well.
It was in 2019 that Shimomachi won his title, stopping Kenta Nomura in August, but sadly it took more than a year for him to defend the belt, doing so this August against Hiroki Hanabusa in a very impressive performance.
Unlike most in Japan Shimomachi's style is much more like that of an American counter-puncher than a typical Japanese fighter. He dictates range and distance with smart, well educated feet, he uses the ring well, lines up his counters, and when an opponent makes a mistake he punishes them with sharp, powerful straight left hands. Not only is his straight left a potent weapon but so too is his right hook, and his control of distance, which really is brilliant, makes him an incredibly awkward opponent. Unlike many counter punchers Shimomachi actually tries to lure mistakes, his fighters with his hands low, and uses slippery movements to make opponents miss. He wants opponents to try to hit him, and this makes him an exciting fighter to watch, rather than someone who is overly negative.
Aged 23 Satoru Hoshiba is a bit of an unknown, and he hasn't had the same level of bouts or publicity as Shimomachi since they fought in 2017. In fact footage of Hoshiba is hard to find and, as a result, it's somewhat tricky to get a read on his style, however we do know plenty about his career.
He debuted in 2015 and was stopped in the opening round, he then returned to the ring 4 months later and was again stopped early, making it to round 2. Then he managed find something of a groove, winning 4 in a row to reach the penultimate stage of the 2017 Rookie of the Year, where he lost a majority decision to Shimomachi. That bout, one of the very few we have got footage of involving Hoshiba, saw him applying real pressure and taking the fight on the inside, where he managed to have genuine success.
Despite losing to Shimomachi we have seen Hoshiba bouncing back well winning 3 of his 4 subsequent bouts. The one loss during that stretch was another bout we've been lucky to get footage of, and saw Hoshiba being stopped in 2 rounds by Tom Mizokoshi. In that bout Hoshiba again showed a willingness to come forward, marching down Mizokoshi with intense pressure and even seemed to have rocked him at one point. That was until he was rocked himself, and Mizokoshi fired off bombs until the referee stepped in.
Given what we have seen of Hoshiba we suspect this to be a fun bout, with the challenging show casing his intense, pressure, pushing forward incessantly and showing no fear of Shimomachi's power and defensively skills. Sadly for Hoshiba however his lack of power, and the heavier hands of Shimomachi, are likely to be the difference here. We suspect that Hoshiba will come forward, and will make mistakes that Shimomachi will capitalise on, breaking down Hoshiba and stopping a tiring challenger in the later rounds.
Prediction - Shimomachi TKO7
The final Japanese title fight for 2020 comes on December 26th when Light Flyweight champion Masamichi Yabuki (11-3, 11) makes his first defense, taking on veteran Toshimasa Ouchi (22-9-3, 8) at the Aioi Hall in Kariya. The bout is likely to be over-shadowed by other action during the run in to the end of the year, though is still a very interesting bout, and a real test of Yabuki's power against a sturdy and highly experienced veteran.
For those who don't follow the Japanese domestic scene the Light Flyweight division is one of the most interesting in the country right now. Not only does the country have two of the biggest names in the division, in WBA champion Hiroto Kyoguchi and WBC champion Kenshiro Teraji, but it also has depth and intrigue. Veterans like Tetsuya Hisada and Kenichi Horikawa are still hanging with the youngsters, Reiya Konishi is banging on the door of a third world title fight, Shokichi Iwata, Yudai Shigeoka and Ryu Horikawa are all looking to have a big break out in the next year or two.
Yabuki is someone who wants to see his name in the mix at the top level, alongside Kenshiro, Kyoguchi and even Hisada, who is expected to get a second world title fight next year. With that in mind he knows the Japanese title is vital for him right now, and he needs to look impressive with it. And impressive he has been in recent bouts.
The 28 year old champion, from the Midori Gym, began his career in 2016 and he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final at Flyweight, where he lost a competitive decision to Junto Nakatani. Prior to reaching the final Yabuki had already racked up a 3-0 (3) record with all of is wins coming in the opening round. Following his first loss he reeled off 3 more quick wins, including a blow out over Masashi Tada in 2017, to move to 6-1 (6) before suffering his second loss, a blow out at the hands of Seigo Yuri Akui in early 2018. That loss seemed to suggest that Yabuki perhaps didn't have the power, size or strength to compete at Flyweight and he began to dip his toes into moving down in weight, losing later that same yeah to Cuban Daniel Mattellon, who has since won the WBA "interim" title.
In 2019 Yabuki finally committed to the move down in weight, and dominated Rikito Shiba in a Japanese title eliminator, stopping him in 4 rounds, to earn a shot at the title. That shot came this past July when he brushed aside Tsuyoshi Sato inside a round to become the latest Japanese Light Flyweight champion.
Blessed with heavy, heavy hands, Yabuki is a real dangerman. He's a boxer-puncher at heart, with decent counter punching skills, though he often seems to be happier fighting as a counter puncher rather than as a fighter. When he comes forward he's terrifying, and with his power, size and strength he would potentially have more success than he has so far. Especially at 108lbs where his punches really are destructive.
In Ouchi we have a 35 year old challenger who began his career all the way back in 2003, and has had some real mixed success. After 6 fights he was 3-2-1 and it took him a really long time to get going, as he ran into other fighters on their way up, such as Shin Ono, Ryoichi Taguchi, Yasutaka Kuroki, Masayuki Kuroda and Kenichi Horikawa. Despite all the slips up he managed to get a shot at the Japanese title back in 2012, fighting to a draw with Kuroda, and again in 2016, losing to Kenshiro.
After his 2016 loss to Kenshiro it seemed that was the end for Ouchi, who was out of the ring for almost 3 years before picking up 2 wins last year. Those wins helped him into the Japanese rankings and with no one able to take the fight with Yabuki here he has found himself being advanced quickly up the rankings to essentially being the mandatory challenger for Yabuki.
In the ring Ouchi is a tough fighter who struggled with his power early on, in fact in in his first 28 bouts he had just 4 stoppages to his name. As he's aged however he has began to hold his feet more, put more on his shots, and shown more self belief, as a result he has score 4 KO's in his last 5 wins, and some against decent domestic fighters, like Takeru Kamikubo and Akiyoshi Kanazawa. He has also been showing that power later in bouts, with 3 of his last 4 stoppages coming in round 7. Impressively he has only been stopped 3 times in his long career with the last of those coming way back in 2014, by Atsushi Aburada, and with that in mind we suspect he could be a genuine test of Yabuki's power.
Coming in to this we've not seen what Yabuki's stamina is like at Light Flyweight, though we have seen him look like a terrifying puncher and we expect to see that again here. Ouchi might be tough but at 35 and with slowing reactions we wonder if he has the reflexes to avoid the power shots of Yabuki for long. If not Yabuki will get to him sooner or later.
We expect Ouchi to survive a few rounds, but eventually Yabuki's heavy hands will chip away at him, break him down, and go on to stop him in the middle rounds, after a brave and valiant effort from the challenger.
If he gets the win as expected, don't be surprised to hear Yabuki call out the world champions at 108lbs in a post fight interview for a bout in 2021.
Prediction - Yabuki TKO6
Of all the bouts still to come in 2020 the one that has us the most excited to watch isn't a fight with big names. It's not even a world title bout. Instead it's a bout between two youngsters we've been following for a little while, and think could make for something very special when they get into the ring together on December 26th for a Japanese Youth title bout. It's not a bout we expect people worldwide to care too much about, but it's one that those who follow the Japanese scene in depth will be anticipating like Christmas day its self.
The bout in question is the 8 round Japanese Youth Light Welterweight title bout between the unbeaten and power punching Jin Sasaki (9-0, 8) and all action tough guy Aso Ishiwaki (8-2-1, 6). This is a bout that has the potential to be something that outshines the main event, its self a very good bout between Masayuki Ito and Hironori Mishiro, and in fact could be the Christmas Cracker that we all deserved this year.
It's a bout that has so many small sub-stories all playing a factor as well. Not only do we have two youngsters taking a major risk, but we also have the also great East Japan Vs West Japan rivalry, a Youth title on the line, and two men each wanting to take a huge stride down the path to stardom in 2020. That completely ignores the key reason to be excited however, the styles of the two men in the bout. Styles that should make for something amazing.
Of course with these not being the most well known of fighters we do need to explain why we're so excited about this bout. To begin with lets look at the unbeaten Jin Sasaki.
The 19 year old Sasaki is one of the best teenagers in boxing right now, and amazing he only turned 19 in July, by which point he was already 7-0 (6). The youngster is the star of the Hachioji Nakaya Gym and is a genuine revelation after going 1-3 in the amateurs. He turned professional in 2018 and debuted just weeks after his 17th birthday. Even at that young age his prodigious power was obvious and he stopped his first 4 opponents in a combined 8 rounds, whilst also making his international debut over in Bangkok. He would later enter the 2019 Rookie of the Year, at Lightweight, though had to pull out of the tournament at the East Japan final stage. Despite the disappointment of the Rookie of the Year in 2019 Sasaki has made himself a must watch fighter in 2020 with blow out wins over Shun Akaiwa and Tatsuya Miyazaki, and has been a star on the A-sign live Stream shows.
Unlike many Japanese fighters who are respectful, almost to a fault, Sasaki carries himself with an air of cocky confidence. His walk to the ring, his celebrations and his general attitude scream that he know he's a star and that he wants fans to pay attention to him. Whilst some of that is likely youthful exuberance a lot of it is stems from a very positive attitude and he seems to bask in the attention he has been receiving. He's blessed with that aura of a star, as well as brutally heavy hands, a finishers instinct and under-rated boxing skills to go with it. As with most Japanese fighters at 140lbs, we don't think he'll make a mark on the global stage, but on the domestic and regional picture he could be a real star for the next 10 to 15 years, if he wants to be.
As for Aso Ishiwaki he's a 21 year old fighting out of Nobuhiro Ishida's gym in Neyagawa, Osaka. Like Sasaki he didn't have much of an amateur pedigree and turned professional aged just 17. Sadly Ishiwaki lost on debut within a round, being stopped by Kanta Takenaka in a Lightweight bout. Sadly the inexperience of Ishiwaki showed here but just 4 months later he was back in the ring and started a 5 fight winning streak. That winning streak took him to the 2018 All Japan Rookie of the Year final, where he suffered a razor thin split decision loss to George Tachibana. It would have been easy to write him off after that bout, with a 5-2 (3) record, however he gritted his teeth, worked hard and had a break out 2019. That year began with a thrilling 6 round draw against Yoji Saito, and ended with a trio of stoppage wins, including one against former Japanese title challenger Ryuji Ikeda. By the end of the year we were desperate to see more of him.
In the ring Ishiwaki's style really reminds us of former world title challenger Daiki Kaneko. He's not the most technically well schooled or the biggest single punch puncher in the sport, though his power is certainly solid. But what he is, is a very tough, strong, physically powerful fighter, who comes forward, seems to have excellent stamina and grinds opponents down with aggression and work rate. Unlike Sasaki we don't see the cockiness or the aura of incredibly self belief with Ishiwaki, but we do see a self assured tough guy who has the mentality of a silent destroyer. He won't tell you he's good and he's not flamboyant, but he will show you he's good, and you will sit up and take note. In some ways that's a lot more intimidating than the outward confidence of a fighter like Sasaki.
When it comes to the actual fight it's a really hard one to call.
We expect to see Sasaki show a lot more care than he has in recent bouts, he's quick and heavy handed, but he will be respectful of Ishiwaki's toughness and strength, and his solid power. Sasaki will know that if this becomes a war he'll struggle to keep the pace with Ishiwaki. On the other hand he'll also need to land solidly enough to get Ishiwaki's respect early. If he can't this is going to be a long night for the teenage sensation.
As for Ishiwaki he has, at times, been a slow starter and he'll need to avoid that here. He'll need to apply pressure quickly, and look to break down Sasaki, asking him mental and physical questions round after round. The longer it goes the more he'll ramp up the pressure trying to break down Sasaki.
If Sasaki can hurt Ishiwaki, and it's a big if as the man from Osaka looked like a granite chinned monster against the hard hitting Yoji Saito, then there is a chance this could be over all. If he can't we suspect the higher level of competition will play a major role in the outcome.
We're feel that Ishiwaki will see out some real rocky storms early on, Sasaki will land some massive shots, wobbling Ishiwaki, hurting him, and maybe even dropping him. But won't be able to finish him off, and eventually the pressure and back and forth will break down Sasaki in a thrilling shoot out for the title. But we do not expect this to be a 1 and done rivalry and we wouldn't be surprised to see the two men clash again down the line.
Prediction TKO6 Ishiwaki
One thing that's clear in the world of boxing is that there are too many titles, and too many of them are meaningless titles with no clear qualifiers as to who can win them and what their purpose is in the sport. For example can anyone tell the difference between the WBA Continental, Intercontinental and International titles?
Thankfully does have some titles that are worth something, even in this weird world where the WBA and WBC want to hand out belts like a fashion accessory. And on December 13 we'll see 3 titles unified in Tokyo as WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight champion Ryoji Fukunaga (12-4, 12) takes on Japanese champion Kenta Nakagawa (19-3-1, 12), with the winner not only defending their title, and taking the title from their opponent, but also the currently vacant OPBF title, to become a triple crown champion.
As with all triple crown bouts in Japan this is a really interesting match up and one that be excited about. Style wise the men should match up wonderfully, and given that both men are in their mid-30's neither man can accord a set back if they want to move their career forward. With that in mind, how do we expect this bout to go? And who are the fiughters?
The 34 year old Fukunaga is a hard hitting southpaw who turned professional in 2013 and lost to Seita Mochizuki. He then reeled off 4 straight wins before losing again, in a blow out loss to Ryo Matsubara in 2015. That could have been it for him, but instead he gritted his teeth and rebuilt, surprisingly winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year, thanks to a solid win against Kota Fujimoto in the final. By the end of 2017 he was 10-2 (10) before suffering back to back decision losses to Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart. With a 10-4 his career looked like it was going nowhere, and he was out of the ring for 10 months before picking up a low key win in May 2019. He then got a big chance, taking on Froilan Saludar earlier this year for the WBO Asia Pacific title.
In the ring Fukunaga is a bit of a slow fighter in terms of his hand speed, he's a little bit clumsy when he throws punches, bounces on his feet a lot and does a lot of things wrong. When he throws his left he often complete drops his right and has very, very poor defense. Thankfully for him however he a decent chin, good reactions and a real awkwardness to how he fights. He's also blessed with brutal power. Although his punches are technically poor they are thrown with bad intent and are of the "nasty thudding" variety. His jab, when it lands, is hurtful and his left hand is like a wrecking ball, slow but damaging, however he needs to land and that is not a given due to his wide arching punches and lack of speed.
Aged 35 Kenta Nakagawa actually turned professional way back in 2004 and began his career with 2 wins in his first 3 bouts. Then he vanished from boxing for me than 6 before returning in 2011. His return to boxing saw him lose to Teppei Tsutano but since then he has gone a very impressive 17-1-1 (12). During that 19 fight run he's had since he returned to the score he has scored notable wins over the likes of Joe Tanooka, Hayato Kimura, Ryosuke Nasu, Takayuki Okumoto and Yuta Matsuo, and become a 2-time Japanese champion. It's worth noting that his first title reign was a show one, lasting just 5 months, and saw him suffer a 7th round TKO loss to Ryuichi Funai, but he has reeled off 6 straight wins since then.
In the ring Nakagawa is a smart boxer puncher. Like Fukunaga he's a southpaw, but unlike Fukunaga he's actually a pretty polished fighter with deliberate and quick movement, accurate straight punches a powerful left hand, and good timing. He's a much better on the back foot than Nakagawa, and knows how to create, and use distance, landing accurate shots and making opponents make mistakes. He's not the quickest out there, or the biggest puncher, but he has respectable power, and his accuracy and timing make up for his lack of single punch power. What's also rather impressive is his composure under pressure, and he showed this well under the aggression and pressure of Yuta Matsuo back in July.
If a bout was decided on skills alone this would be an easy win for Nakagawa. He is by far, the more polished, rounded and knowledgable fighter in the ring. The issue here however is the power of Fukunaga. If he lands a clean one on Nakagawa he certainly has the power to get Nakagawa's attention, and potentially get him to unwind. We suspect Nakagawa's movement will limit there, but there is always a chance he could land, and it may only take one clean, wild left hand to turn the bout around.
We suspect that Nakagawa will manage to rack up rounds, box smartly, and get a big lead through the bout. However there will always be danger, whilst he'll look in control there will be a sense of tension through out the contest. Fukunaga might miss a lot, might look clumsy, but he will be dangerous to the end and it will take a very good performance from Nakagawa to see this out, secure the win and finish the night as a triple crown champion.
Prediction - UD12 Nakagawa
Way back in July we got a genuine upset in Japan as Daishi Nagata (15-2-1, 6) stopped Koki Inoue to claim the Japanese Light Welterweight title. That result was really unexpected with Inoue a clear favourite to win and to retain his title, before heading on to bigger and better things. Inoue however didn't get a chance to find his groove before being cut, and the referee was later forced to step in and stop the bout due to the damage on Inoue, who then announced his retirement from the sport.
On December 10th we'll see Nagata back in the ring as he goes for his first title defense and takes on tough veteran Akihiro Kondo (32-9-1, 18) at the Korakuen Hall. On paper this looks a really good match up, a tough first defense and a chance for Nagata to legitimise his title reign, whilst also looking like a chance for Kondo to claim another title and continue his long career. In reality however we don't expect this to be as competitive as it looks. In fact we have a feeling that this will actually be quite an easy defense for the newly crowned champion.
The 30 year old champion was a solid amateur before turning professional in 2014, facing a then debuting Takeshi Inoue in a really weird match up between two touted, former amateurs. That bout resulted in a draw before Nagata went on a decent run of results to boast an 8-0-1 (4) record by the end of 2016. In early 2017 he suffered his first loss, being stopped in 7 by the bigger, stronger and more powerful Vladimir Baez before rebuilding and putting on a great performance, in a loss, to Rikki Naito in 2018. Despite losing to Naito it was clear that Nagata had the tools to win domestic and regional titles, and since then he has reeled off 4 wins, including the one against Koki Inoue.
In the ring Nagata is a little battler. He can box, he can fight and he can brawl, but at his best he's a grinder, getting in an opponents face, working a high tempo, and bullying them around the ring. He's got really good stamina, with his best success against Naito coming late in the bout, and a very under-rated boxing brain. Whilst his win over Inoue was a genuine surprise, that was more due to how highly regarded Inoue was, and not the lack of skills we'd seen from Nagata. He's strong, he's relatively tough, he's energetic and he's a real handful. He's unlikely to make a mark at the higher levels due to a lack of size, and lacking fight changing power, but on the domestic and regional scene he's going to be a tough man to beat, especially now with his confidence riding sky high.
Aged 35 Akihiro Kondo is a genuine veteran of the sport. He made his professional debut in 2006, just weeks after his 21st birthday, and has gone through the ranks the hard way. He lost in his second professional bout before bouncing back to win Rookie of the Year in 2007 and the Japanese Lightweight title in 2009, beating Yoshitaka Kato, and moved to 13-1. Sadly though his reign was short, losing in his first defense against Nihito Arakawa, but his career continued on and he attempted to reclaim the title in 2012, losing a close decision to Kato in their second clash. He took 15 months away from the ring, from April 2013 to July 2014, before losing to Arakawa for a second time. Despite that set back he continued in his comeback, winning the WBO Asia Pacific Light Welterweight title in September 2016 and working his way to an IBF world title fight in 2017, losing Sergey Lipinets in 2017. He lost that bout, but gave Lipinets genuine resistance and one of his toughest bouts up to that point.
Sadly since the Lipinets bout Kondo has looked on the slide, going 3-2 with a KO loss to Downua Ruawaiking and a wide decision loss to Andy Hiraoka, both in 2019. It seems very much like father time is catching up with the tough, rugged veteran.
At his best Kondo was a solid, tough, fighter with under-rated defense, clean accurate punching, and a real will to win. He was a really hard man to beat, with good energy, hurtful power, solid skills, a really good jab and solid timing. On the back end of that he was never a big puncher, he was never particularly quick and he could be made to chase shadows. He was never impossible to beat, and he could be out pointed, as Kato and Arakawa did, but he looked so damn tough and hard to hurt, that the real game plan to beat him was to box him and night fight him. Sadly however those days appear to be behind him and he's become even slower than he used to be. He's still tough, despite the KO loss, but he's also very basic, and with what speed he did have now being gone he's a much easier man to beat in 2020 than he was in 2010.
At his best Kondo would have been a really tough first defense for Nagata. His toughness, physicality, strength and will to win would have given the champion real issues. In 2020 however we see Nagata being too quick, too sharp, too hungry and too good for Kondo. We suspect Nagata will look to get inside and will outwork Kondo up close and look to beat Kondo at his own game. If Nagata struggles with that we suspect he'll get on his toes and move, which would be a safer option but not the option we think he'll go with first. He'll want to make a statement and to do that he'll want to come forward, not give Kondo room to breathe and take the tires out of the 35 year old challenger.
We suspect Kondo will be too tough to be stopped but we do imagine he'll end up losing a very clear decision to the champion.
Prediction - UD10 Nagata
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.