The Welterweight division in Asia hasn't been the most amazing to follow, despite some entertaining bouts such as 2019's fantastic bout between Yuki Beppu and Ryota Yada. Despite not being the best it does give us some interesting match ups on paper, such as the one at the start of between Keita Obara and Yuki Nagano, and the one we're going to focus on in this preview. That's the February 27th bout for the the OPBF title between Riku Nagahama (11-2-1, 4) and Kudura Kaneko (11-0, 8). On paper this looks good and in the ring we expect it to be even better than it looks.
Ranked #3 by the OPBF Kaneko is getting his first shot a major title, having previously won the Japanese Youth Welterweight title. The Japanese based Afghan born 22 year old is someone who has quietly been making a name for himself without too much attention on him. Since debuting in 2015, as a teenager, Kaneko has developed himself a reputation as a very talented boxer-puncher. He claimed the Youth title in 2018, when he beat Change Hamashima in their second bout, then scored a trio of solid domestic wins over Toshio Arikawa, Rikuto Adachi and Moon Hyun Yun. Those 3 wins have helped secure him this title fight, and have seen him get a title on merit, something we don't always see.
Although not well known outside of Japan Kaneko is a very physically strong fighter. He's not the quickest or the sharpest, but he's certainly not slow and sloppy and is instead more of a deliberate fighter, with heavy hands. There's power in both hands and for a fighter who isn't lighting quick with his hands he does move well, especially with his upper body. One other thing to note about Kaneko is that he finds the target well and varies his shots smartly. Defensively there is work to do for Kaneko going forward but at the moment no ones really been able to make him pay for the little flaws with see. Instead he tends to be the one making opponents pay, and make them pay rather quickly with 7 of his wins coming within 3 rounds.
Aged 28 Nagahama is a man who is now starting to fight for his career. He's not shot, or past his best, but he is in desperate need for a notable win, following stoppage losses in 2017, to Takeshi Inoue, and 2018, to Yuki Nagano. This will be his second title fight, following a loss in a Japanese title fight at 154lbs to Inoue, but isn't an easy one. In fact on paper this is his third toughest bout on paper, and he has lost his two toughest bouts to date. Looking through his record his biggest wins so far were 2015 Rookie of the Year win, at Middleweight, against Brandon Lockhart Shane and his 2019 win over Masaya Tamayama. The win over Tamayama was good, but that wasn't a win that really showed Nagahama was ready to mix it at regional title level.
Watching Nagahama we see a solid fighter, but one who doesn't blow us away, in any area. He's technically decent, but lacks speed, lacks power, and doesn't appear physically imposing. He lets good combinations go, but the never appears to have any sort of fight ending power on them. If you let him dictate the pace it'll be a slow, controlled fight and a win for him. To beat him, you need to dictate the pace, and for most fighters at regional title level that won't be a problem.
We expect this to start pretty slowly, with the two men looking to stand off and box against each other. It won't take long however until Kaneko puts his foot on the gas and lands something heavy, and begin to break down Nagahama, who will feel the need to respond and that will only speed up his demise.
Prediction - TKO5 Kaneko
On February 14th we'll see Filipino slugger Froilan Saludar (31-3-1, 22) make his first defense of WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight title as he takes on fellow puncher Ryoji Fukunaga (11-4, 11) at the Korakuen Hall. On paper this isn't a bout that we expect to see a lot of international attention, but with both men possessing serious power there is a real chance this could end up being a bit of a sleeper classic.
Saludar's career has been an odd one. He was once tipped as a future star of the Filipino scene, before suffering a loss in his 21st bout, when he was taken out by McWilliams Arroyo in a world title eliminator. He would later come up short against Takuma Inoue and then lose in a world title fight in 2018 against Sho Kimura. Those losses essentially saw him being written off, and he'd gone from 19-0-1 (12) to 28-3-1 (19). Since then however he has quietly rebuilt, with 3 T/KO wins, including a spectacular one of unbeaten Japanese hopeful Tsubasa Murachi last September to win the WBO Asia Pacific title.
Early in his career many in the Philippines touted Saludar as a future star. So far his career has fallen short, a long way short, but at 30 years old his career is certainly not over. He's now more mature than he was younger, a little less bouncy and less wasteful in terms of energy, though there does still seem to be a bit too much wasteful movement in his work. He's never had the greatest of engine, but seems to use his experience more to hide that, moving more intelligently and occasionally "old manning" his way through rounds. It's not the most exciting thing to see, but given how exciting he is when he lets his hands go it's certainly not a bad game plan for the "Sniper", who has shown he can strike at any moment. It's that experience that also helps Saludar defensively and he's certainly looking like a man who rides shot better now than he did just a few years ago.
The 33 year old Fukunaga is a bit of an unknown if we're being honest. His record suggests he's a monster puncher with 11T/KO's from 11 wins but the quality of those wins is relatively low. His best win to date came in the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year, against Kota Fujimoto, and since then he has really not done anything of note. In fact since his triumph in the All Japan Rookie of the Year Fujimoto is 3-2 (2), though the two losses have come to good competition in the form of Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart, both in competitive bouts.
Despite his relatively weak wins Fukunaga does actually look to be a pretty solid boxer-puncher, albeit one with questionable defense. He moves forward looking to fire off his stiff jab and uncork his thunderbolt of a southpaw left hand. Defensively his hands are lower than they should be, but he seems to be trying to draw mistakes out of his opponents, and opening them up for counter shots with his head movement. Against the low level opponents he's been taking out it's a tactic that has worked, but against the better fights, such as the ones that have beaten him in recent years, it's not been as effective.
We certainly believe that Fukunaga has the power to hurt Saludar if he lands clean. Sadly for Fukunaga we don't see him landing too much clean, and would expect Sauldar to have the tools to out box him. In fact we wouldn't be surprised if Saludar saw how 1-dimensional Fukunaga was and started lining him up for big counters of his own by the middle rounds, and stopping the challenger.
Fukunaga has a puncher's chance, of course he does, but that is pretty much all he has, from what we've seen. Our prediction is a Saludar win, inside the distance, likely from a big overhand right in the middle rounds.
Prediction - TKO6 Saludar
The Japanese Lightweight scene is a frustrating one at times. On paper it should be interesting, there's plenty of talent there, and lot of interesting match ups that could be made there in the coming years, but sadly we seem to be between waves of fighters. At the moment Japanese national champion Shuichiro Yoshino (11-0, 9) looks to be head and shoulders above the rest, having unified the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles. Despite the fact Yoshino looks to be well ahead of the others he hasn't yet vacated, and will instead defend the national title on February 13th against mandatory challenger Izuki Tomioka (7-2-1, 2) as part of the 2020 Champion Carnival.
The 28 year old Yoshino has really been on a relative fast track right from the start of his professional career. The talented boxer-puncher had been an excellent amateur on the Japanese scene, going 104-20 (55), before beginning his professional career in late 2015. In just his 4th professional bout Yoshino had beaten Yoshitaka Kato. Just 6 months after that he had won the Japanese title, which he has now defended 4 times, and last year Yoshino unified the national title with the 2 regional thrones.
In the ring Yoshino is a real talent. He can box, he can brawl and boy can he punch, with his last 7 wins all coming inside the distance. We actually need to go all the way back to his Japanese title win to see the last time someone was even semi-competitive with him, and even then Yoshino stopped Spicy Matsushita in 7 rounds. The power of Yoshino really is brutal and his KO's against Kazumasa Kobayashi and Harmonito Dela Torre have shown that it takes only a single left hook for Yoshino to finish someone off. The fact he has scored 2 awesome KO's whilst on the back foot shows how dangerous he is and how brutal his left hook is.
The 22 year Tomioka has been a professional since late 2016, and has shown some promise and also been in some frustrating fights. He's a talent, but a frustrating one who is perhaps getting this shot a little too early in his career. He won his first 5 bouts, winning the Japanese Youth Lightweight title in just his 4th bout way back in August 2017. He would defend the belt twice, beating Taiju Shiratori and fighting to a technical draw against Kaiki Yuba. He then faced the then OPBF Lightweight champion Masayoshi Nakatani and was stopped in 11 rounds by Naktani, following a very close bout. Another loss to Shuya Masaki followed up and really frustrated as Tomioka refused to really let his hands go. Since then however he has picked up 2 straight wins and earned this title fight, thanks to a win over Kazuki Saito.
At his worst Tomioka is a frustrating mover who looks unconvinced by himself, moving more than puncher and ultra-negative, as we saw against Masaki. At his best however he is brilliant boxer, with a sharp jab, excellent speed, great ring IQ and a fantastic judge of distance and timing. He's tall and rangy, and dictates things really well whilst picking great shots. It was these traits that were all on show last time out, when he schooled Kazuki Saito in a career best win. Despite schooling Saito the youngster still showed touched of negativity, and also a lack of physical strength and punching power. He's skilled, but we do wonder about his physical maturity.
We think Tomioka has future national champion written all over him. He's such a natural talent and a pure outside boxer. A truly fantastic young boxer. Sadly for him however he's up against a strong, powerful, heavy handed fighter who can hold his own when boxing, and bang. We see Tomioka having success, but Yoshino's pressure will build and he will begin to find a home for his left hook and straight right hand. Sooner or later we see Tomioka being stopped, and having his good early work being undone.
If Yoshino is successful here, fingers crossed he moves on and begin to face fringe world class guys and move towards a world title fight. There is, after all, no point wasting time at domestic level. As for Tomioka he will come again, and will find himself in an interesting era of Japanese Lightweight fighters, along with Shu Utsuki, Masahiro Suzuki and Katsuya Yasuda.
Prediction - TKO8 Yoshino
After almost 2 years out of the ring we finally see the return of former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (15-1, 15), as he competes in an 8 round bout at 119lbs against Filipino Jason Buenaobra (7-4-3, 3). On paper this is a very, very, easy bout for Higa but given his long lay off, 22 months, and the move up in weight it's still a very interesting fight and a great chance to see how Higa looks as he begins a new chapter of his career with a new trainer. It also gives Buenaobra a great chance to make a name for himself.
For those who haven't seen Higa you've missed out! The Yoko Gushiken protege is one of the most exciting fighters on the planet. He's very much a fighter who has taken clear influence from Roman Gonzalez. Like Gonzalez the once beaten Higa is a heavy handed, exciting pressure fighter, who cuts the ring off well, lets combinations go on the inside and has under-rated defense. He is all action, and a thrill a minute fighter to watch who is now being trained by former world champion Tadashi Tomori.
Sadly Higa's career was curtailed in 2018 when he failed to make weight for a WBC Flyweight title defense, losing the belt on the scales, losing his unbeaten record the following day and later having his Japanese license. That almost lead to him retiring from the sport. Thankfully last year he decided to return to the Shirai Gushiken Gym and since then has decided to return to the ring, which gets us to where we are now.
At his best Higa was a steam roller. His first 15 bouts all ended with Higa stopping his opponents, and taking out the likes of Kongfah CP Freshmart, Ardin Diale, Juan Hernandez Navarrete, Thomas Masson and Moises Fuentes. In his last bout however he looked a shadow of his usual self before his team threw in the towel ending his effort against Cristofer Rosales. Aged just 24 he has a lot of time to rebuild his reputation and with Gushiken and Tomori behind him the plan is for him to be back in the title mix by the end of the year.
Aged 25 Buenaobra is a relative unknown, even among the typical Filipino fans. Despite that the southpaw has faced some fighters of note, and had somewhat mixed results. He's the only fighter to have taken the all action Carl Jammes Martin the distance, lasting 8 rounds with Martin 2017, he also beat the then unbeaten Jerry Pabila and upset Robin Langres, before losing last time out to Joseph Ambo. Although he's a "win some, lose some, draw some" fighter he's not yet suffered a stoppage loss.
Sadly there is very, very little footage of Buenaobra available, so we can't say too much about his style. He is however a southpaw and he'll have a clear height, and likely reach, advantage of Higa. Notably his last 2 bouts both ended early due to headclashes, and 3 of his last 5 have been technical decisions. With that in mind we wouldn't be surprised to see Buenaobra being a tough clumsy when he comes in. Also his suggests a genuine lack of power, and you need to go back to his 5th bout for his last win inside the distance.
Although it's always hard to predict a bout where footage of only 1 man is available it's hard to see anything but a win for Higa. The real question is just how long can Buenaobra last when Higa goes through the gears. We expect Higa to start slowly, take a round or two to ease his way into the bout then increase his pace. Breaking down and stopping the Filipino in the middle of the 8 round contest.
Prediction - TKO5 Higa
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On February 1st, the world ranked Keita Obara challenges Yuki Nagano for the Japanese championship, at the legendary Korakuen Hall.
Keita Obara (22-4 / 20 KOs) began his amateur boxing career back in high school, before joining Tokyo University. During that time, he won the National Sports Festival, which is considered to be Japan’s premier sporting event, twice. Despite losing on his pro debut, to the 9 year veteran Kazuyoshi Kumano (26-12), Obara went on to win 16 fights in a row, 15 of them being finishes.
Specifically, after capturing the Japanese Super Lightweight title, he squared off with former WBO Asia Pacific champion Jay Solmiano (19-3) for the vacant OPBF crown. Obara scored a knockdown, courtesy of a counter left, and finished him off seconds later with a right straight to the chin. He then defended his new belt against heavy hitter Shinya Iwabuchi (26-6), in an exciting affair, where he ended things in the very last round, after connecting with the powerful overhand left hook.
In a clash of top world title contenders, Obara took Walter Castillo (26-5) to the limit, delivering the punishment for 12 rounds, while leaving the Nicaraguan bloodied and bruised. Even though the contest was unfairly declared a draw, since Castillo refused the rematch, Obara eventually challenged the unified IBF & IBO World champion Eduard Troyanovsky (28-2), but was completely dominated in less than 5 minutes.
The Japanese star decided to move up to Welterweight and almost a year removed from this crashing defeat, he faced former WBC International champion Narong Bunchan (28-7) for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title. Obara put together an excellent combination, dropping his Thai rival in the 2nd round and kept throwing big shots until the referee stepped in and stopped the fight. He made a successful defense against Shusaku Fujinaka (16-12), whom he knocked out with a thunderous right hook.
In a surprising turn of event, Obara lost to the unheralded Alvin Lagumbay (11-5) in April of 2018, after a double knockdown occurred, from which only the Filipino managed to answer the 10 count, thus earning the biggest win of his young career. Obara would exact his revenge that summer, beating Lagumbay with ease and regaining the strap.
His second trip to America last year proved to be unfruitful, as he fought Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (17-0), for one more chance at the big one, in yet again another losing effort. Obara bounced back, when he scored his 20th knockout this past October over Toshiro Tarumi (12-4), showcasing his superiority in the ring, and becoming the number 1 contender for the Japanese Welterweight title.
Yuki Nagano (17-2 / 13 KOs) had also faced a few shortcomings early on his career but has been unstoppable since then, currently riding an impressive 15 fight winning streak for the past 6 years.
His first big match was against the then undefeated Yuki Beppu (21-1). Nagano displayed incredible power and hand speed from the get go, even dropping Beppu with a left straight in just the 2nd round, wining a clear unanimous decision. This victory gave him the opportunity to challenge the Japanese champion Ryota Yada (19-6) on April of 2019. It was a wild brawl that saw both men exchange punches nonstop as well as knockdowns. Finally in the 7th, Nagano overwhelmed Yada with a plethora of hooks in order to capture his first ever professional title. After demolishing Makoto Kawasaki (11-8) in his inaugural title defense, he will now be involved in the most important fight of his career.
Obara and Nagano are very similar, in the sense that they are quite relentless in the ring. Defense isn’t their strongest suit as they rather take a punch just so they can give one back. This strategy is always a recipe for an action packed match but has resulted in both men getting dropped on multiple occasions throughout their careers. Nagano’s favorite weapon is the left straight punch, which he uses in every single one of his outings, clubbing his opponents repeatedly like a caveman, until they go down. Obara also possesses KO power in his left hand, despite being an orthodox, as well as in his right, making him even more dangerous.
This will be a test of endurance and strength. Who can take the most and inflict the maximum damage at the same time. For Obara, who’s already at the top 5 of the IBF rankings, could be the win he needs to put himself closer to another world title opportunity, whereas for Nagano is the chance to finally burst into the world scene. So will Obara’s experience prove to be the difference maker or will Nagano’s unbeaten streak continue? One thing’s for sure. With 33 KOs between these 2 warriors, someone’s going down….hard!
The second Dynamic Glove card of 2020 takes place on February 1st and features two title bouts. The lesser of those is a very interesting Japanese Youth Super Featherweight title bout between Ryusei Ishii (8-5-1, 5) and the hard hitting Yamato Hata (9-1, 9). Neither of these men are big names, but both are looking to make a mark in 2020, and a win here would be a great chance to claim their first title and build momentum before the year really kicks off.
Of the two men it's the 22 year old Hata who is the more exciting and promising fighter. The man from the Teiken Gym has been a professional since 2015, and prior to that he had been a solid amateur, running up a 39-9 record. His power was obvious early on, as he stopped his first 3 opponents, but in bout #4 the then 20 year old was upset by Takuya Hashimoto, who stopped him in round 4. Hata was dropped and although he fought on he couldn't clear his head and his team threw in the towel soon afterwards. Since that loss he has gone 6-0 (6), and scored decent wins over Shingo Kusano and Ryuku Oho, with the win over Oho netting Hata his shot at the Japanese Youth title.
In the ring Hata is a talented and heavy handed boxer-puncher, who fights out of the southpaw stance. His jab is sharp, hard and hurtful, he moves around the ring well and looks to create openings with his movement. His variety of shots is a delight to see and when he lets his shots fly he looks a natural, capable of striking fight ending shots to head or body. Defensively he's a touch open when he lets his shots go, but it's so exciting to see him in full flow offensively, and every shot seems to be very, very hard. If you can't catch him when he's firing off shots it's going to be very tough to beat Hata.
Ishii is someone has had some very mixed success during his 14 fight career. He's managed to score some upsets, notably a 2017 win over Sho Nagata, but also lose a lot of his bouts, in fact coming in to this he has gone 3-4-1 in his last 8 bouts. His win last time out, against Masashi Wakita saw him earn this title fight, his second Japanese Youth title fight. In his first shot at a Japanese Youth title he was narrowly out pointed by Kazuma Sanpei in 2017, but since then he has gained valuable experience, even if he's not really shined in his last few bouts.
In the ring Ishii is a boxer-mover but one with very low hands, who fires in wild and wide shots and looks like the sort of fighter who could find themselves in all sorts of problems against an aggressive fighter. Given he drops his hands a lot Ishii is, understandably, a slick mover, he uses upper body movement well, and does have a sharp jab, and long reach. Sadly though his does seem to struggle with pressure and doesn't have the sort of power to scare opponents away from coming forward.
Ishii has the skills to make Hata look poor at times, but we suspect Hata's aggression, heavy hands, and fierce in ring mentality will break down Ishii in the middle rounds. It'll be an exciting fight until then but sooner or later Hata's power will be the difference maker.
Prediction - TKO6 Hata
We expect 2020 to he a year where young fighters really shine, as they look to kick off the decade and make their mark in a big way. One of the many young fighters who will be looking to shine through 2020 is is the unbeaten Kaiki Yuba (6-0-2, 4) who kicks off his year in late January as he battles Kanta Takenaka (7-4-1, 2) for the Japanese Youth Lightweight title, on January 28th. For Yuba this is a second at the title whilst Takenaka will be getting his most meaningful bout to date.
Of the two fighters it is Yuba who has the bigger expectations on his shoulders. Kaiki is the son of former Japanese domestic legend Tadashi Yuba, a 5-weight national champion, and has been earmarked for professional success from when he made the decision to turn pro. He looked good early in his career, following his 2017 debut, but his ascent was slowed in 2018 when he had a Youth title bout with Izuki Tomioka end in a technical draw. A second technical draw, just 14 months later, again slowed Yuba's rise but since then he has blown out two opponents and rebuilt momentum ahead of his second shot at a Japanese youth title.
In the ring Yuba is a talented boxer-puncher. The 21 year old Southpaw can box really well behind his jab, and knows that when he has his man hurt he can take them out. He lacks his father's truly frightening power, but when he puts his weight into a shot they are hurtful blows, and he's proven he can fire them off on the back and front foot. In reality he's better going forward, but when he is under pressure he has shown good composure and a sharp ability to counter.
The 23 year old Takenaka is much less well known than Yuba. He has been a professional since 2015 and had very mixed results, with the best of them being an opening round win over a then debuting Aso Ishiwaki who has since really impressed us. Despite mostly mixed results he has gone 4-1 (1) in his last 5 and seems to be finding his feet after once being 3-3-1 (1), despite that however there isn't really much buzz about him, and he did suffer his sole stoppage loss just under a year ago.
Watching Takenaka in action he doesn't really impress us. He's rather straight up, defensively quite open and wild with his offensive work. Worryingly he leaves his chin in the air and doesn't appear to be able to cope with southpaw very well, as seen when he was beaten last year by Masashi Wakita. Although technically flawed Takenaka does appear to a trier, and looks like he takes a good shot and gives a effort every time. Sadly though his stamina is questionable and whilst he does give a solid effort that doesn't make up for the defensive issues that we think will be a big problem here.
We expect to see Takenaka come to win, but the power, skills and speed of Yuba will be too much. Yuba will look to pick him apart with his jab, and have success with it, until he hurts Takenaka. When that happens we expect to see Yuba finish off Takenaka, forcing the referee to jump in and save the limited, but tough, Takenaka.
Prediction - TKO5 Yuba
The first big bout in Japan this year will be a mouth watering Middleweight bout as OPBF champion Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa (12-4-1, 11) takes on Japanese national champion Kazuto Takesako (11-0-1, 11). On paper this should be a unification bout, but politics has seen the Japanese title not being on the line, and instead only Hosokawa's OPBF title will be up for grabs.
Despite the title situation this is still a mouth watering clash between two heavy handed fighters who get into the ring with the intention of stopping their opponents, every time they fight. Neither is the most technically accomplished, but both are destructive, hard hitters who throw with bad intentions.
Aged 35 Hosokawa is a man who has had a strange career. He debuted at the age of 29, losing a decision and was 2-2 (1) after 4 bouts. He then began to build a reputation as a fearsome fighter, scoring 4 straight stoppages before losing a close decision to Yasuyuki Akiyama, and falling to 6-3 (5) From there he has gone 6-1-1 (6), gained revenge over Akiyama, to become the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific champion, lost to Yuki Nonaka than gone 1-0-1 (1) with Koki Tyson, becoming a 2-time OPBF champion in the process.
In the ring Hosokawa is an aggressive volume puncher. He's very much the type of fighter who comes forward and throws a lot, often happy to take one to land one. He sets a high pace and although he's heavy handed he's very much a fighter who grinds down opponents, rather than blasts them out. His last 4 stoppages have all come after the 6th round, and he's the sort of fighter who could find himself down on the cards before a strong finish. Technically he's crude and he can be outboxed, especially early on, but he's rugged, and his incredible output is a nightmare to fight against and does break opponents down.
Takesako is the younger man, at 28, and is the more powerful single punch hitter. In many ways he's the opposite of Hosokawa. He turned professional following an a notable amateur career and raced through to a title fight, winning the Japanese Middleweight title in his 8th bout when he almost gutted Hikaru Nishida. None of his first 8 bouts went beyond 3 rounds as he destroyed fighters like Nishida, Shoma Fukumoto and Elfelos Vega in impressive fashion. More recently however we have learned that Takesako can box, and can go longer in bouts. He took 7 rounds to stop Chaiwat Mueanphong, went 10 in a bout against the slippery Shuji Kato, in a bout that ended in a draw, before adapting for a rematch and forcing Kato to retire in the corner after 8 rounds.
Technically Takesako is the better boxer, and the bigger puncher, but he lacks the volume of Hosokawa and we have more question marks about Takesako's chin, which hasn't looked the best, than we do with Hosokawa's, which has looked solid. Although Takesako is unbeaten he has been shaken by Kato and seemed to really dislike being put under pressure by Sanonsuke Sasaki in their 2018 bout. He looks destructive, but like he could have a questionable chin of his own.
This has the hall marks of a special fight. Two guys who can punch, two guys who are aggressive and two guys with differing mentalities. Hosokawa tends to impose himself behind his bullish strength and high work rate. If he can land clean there's a genuine chance he could break down Takesako, and do so early if Takesako's chin is as suspect as it looks. On the other hand Takesako could just as easily land a counter as Hosokawa presses forward and shake him, before stopping him with a follow up.
This is a hard one to call, the only thing we're sure about is it will not go the distance!
With Takesako being more dangerous early we'll be going with him, but could just as easily see Hosokawa breaking him down.
Prediction - TKO7 Takesako
A year ago Japan's Takeshi Inoue (15-1-1, 9) was on the verge of the biggest fight of his career, a bout with WBO Light Middleweight champion Jaime Munguia. Although he lost to Munguia he impressed with his heart and determination and this coming Saturday he's back in the ring seeking the first defense of his second reign as the WBO Asia Pacific Light Middleweight title, as he takes on China's Cheng Su (14-2-1, 8). The situation couldn't be much more different to the one he found himself in last January, but a win here keeps him in the mix for another world title fight, whilst a loss is unthinkable for the 30 year from Tokyo.
Inoue, for those who missed the Munguia bout, is a rugged, aggressive fighter who comes in pretty square on and looks to make a fight of things. Early in his career he did seem to be more of a boxer-fighter but as his career has progressed he has become more and more of a pressure fighter, often abandoning his jab to ply forward behind his guard and get things up close. This sort of change seemed to happen in 2016 or 2017, and was particularly notable when he beat Akinori Watanabe. That was a clear win for Inoue but seemed like he could have made it far easier for himself had he made the most of his jab. Whatever the reason for the change it's not been bad for his career and since beating Watanabe we've seen Inoue unify the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, fight for a world title and then recapture the WBO Asia Pacific belt.
Although the bull strong Inoue lost to Munguia his record is actually solid, at least in regards to the regional scene. Wins over Akinori Watanabe, Koshinmaru Saito, Riku Nagahama, Ratchasi Sithsaithong, Yuji Nonaka and Patomsuk Pathompothong give him wins almost every notable fighter on the regional scene at 154lbs, barring current Japanese champion Hironobu Matsunaga. Though of course there is a gulf between the regional scene at the weight and the world level, which he'll be hoping to mix with once again later in the year.
As for Cheng Su the Chinese challenger, who is also 30, is much less well-known and well established. The southpaw from Shenyang stands at 5'11 and will be fighting outside of China for the first time in his career. Going through his record it's hard to pick out anything noteworthy, other than a win last May over Filipino Junjesie Ibgos, who used to be a Featherweight and is 0-4 outside of the Philippines. Footage of him however is more worrying than his competition.
Watching Su we see a rather slow, lumbering fighter who technically looks "alright" but lacks the tools needed to even make a legitimate mark on the regional scene. He seems to understand the basics doesn't always put them into practice. He's slow, lacks real snap on his punches, and when he throws his straight left hand his defenses completely fall apart. He follows opponents around the ring and looks like he's fortunate to be fighting at such a low level that his mistakes have rarely been punished, except in his 2017 loss to Nikolozi Gviniashvili.
On paper this might look like an interesting match up, but we weren't joking when we said Inoue can't afford to lose here. His entire career would be discredited with a loss to someone as limited as Su, who he really should be dealing with inside the distance. We expect to see Inoue closing the gap between the two men, working away on the inside and stopping Su relatively early on.
Anything but a stoppage for Inoue should be viewed as a disappointment.
Prediction - TKO5 Inoue
The Watanabe show to end 2019 is a huge stacked card, with 6 title bouts in total, including 2 regional title bouts. The most interesting of the two, will see WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight champion Ginjiro Shigeoka (4-0, 3) taking a huge step up in class to take on Filipino challenger Rey Loreto (25-14, 17). For Shigeoka this will be his first defense, and a win will almost certainly see him being fast tracked to a world title fight in the new year. A win for the champion however, is not a given and Loreto has proven time and time again that he is not someone we should ever write off, despite his less than stellar record.
The 20 year old Japanese fighter is, along with his older brother Yudai, regarded as one of the best talented in Japan. He went 56-1 as an amateur, and has been fast tracked since turning professional, defeating Joel Lino in his third bout and Clyde Azarcon in his 4th bout, for the WBO Asia Pacific title. In the ring he's an aggressive, super sharp pressure fighter. He's one of the most naturally gifted young fighters in the sport today, and combines very high ring IQ, with brilliant balance, powerful punching and sensational movement. More problematic for opponents is that Shigeoka is a southpaw, adding yet another problem for every opponent to solve.
Of course there are questions that still need to be asked of Shigeoka before anointing him the next star of Japanese boxing. We don't know what his chin is like, we don't know what happens when he's under pressure, whether he can fight 12 rounds, and we don't know how he copes with a fellow southpaw, though we'll see that answered here against Loreto. For the first in his career Shigeoka is going up against someone who has proven himself as a a tough, thunder punching fighter, and we expect to see him being forced to answer a lot of questions, win or lose.
On paper Loreto has a journeyman's record, but in reality his record only tells a fraction of the story. The 29 year old Filipino began his career in 2008, as a teenager, and suffered 4 straight losses. He managed to turn things around, but struggled for consistency, and was 7-7 by the time he turned 20. From 7-7 Loreto struggled to get going, 4 of his following 5 to fall to 8-11 (4), but since then has been impressive, going 17-4 (13). Of course it's not all about the number, and Loreto has been scoring notable wins in recent years, beating the likes of Wisanu Por Nobnum, Pornsawan Porpramook and Nkosinathi Joyi, twice. That winning run lead Loreto to a world title fight in 2017, against WBA Minimumweight champion Knockout CP Freshmart. Sadly for Loreto he lost to Knockout and has only fought twice since then, against very limited opposition.
Through his career Loreto has always proven to be tough, a massive puncher, and very dangerous. Technically he's fair crude, but strong and bull like, giving himself a chance to land counters when opponents open up. He can be out boxed, but he only needs to really land one shot to turn the fight around, as we saw in the first Joyi fight. At his best Loreto is a threat for anyone aside from the divisional elite, however with inactivity it's unclear what he'll offer.
If Loreto is 75% the fighter he once was he will be a threat through out the bout. Anything less than that and we suspect Shigeoka will make a huge statement and stop the Filipino, likely from body shots. If Loreto is at his best however, he stands a real chance of getting the upset. We suspect it'll be clear early as to what sort of mentality Loreto is in, and he has been given a lot of time to prepare for this, so he should be up for it.
We expect to see Shigeoka showing a bit more patience than usual, trying to figure out Loreto's southpaw stance, and being cautious early on. He'll keep the pressure on but do so with a higher guard than usual, keeping his defense tight and slowly chipping away at Loreto. He'll have to avoid the heavy return fire, but his reflexes so far have looked impressive and we suspect they will allow him to get in, an out, safely. It may only take one clean shot from Loreto to change the fight, but he still needs to land it clean, and that doesn't look like it will be easy to do against Shigeoka.
Prediction - UD12 Shigeoka
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.