July 12th is set to be a huge day for Japanese boxing with two notable shows, one in Osaka with a pair of major world title fights, and one in Tokyo with a female world title fight. The main supporting bout of the Tokyo show will see Japanese veteran Akihiro Kondo (31-8-1, 18) take on young countryman Andy Hiraoka (13-0, 9), in what is a real crossroads fight for the two men. For Kondo it's a must win, following a stoppage loss earlier in this year to Downua Ruawaiking whilst it's the big step up that Hiraoka has been calling for after some struggles to secure a solid opponent.
Of the two men it's Kondo who is the much more well known fighter. He a true grizzled veteran who debuted back in 2006 and, at the age of 34, is though to be moving towards the last chapter of his career. He made his first mark on boxing at Lightweight, winning the 2007 Rookie of the Year at 135lbs and then adding the Japanese Lightweight title to accomplishments in 2009. He would remain in the Japanese title mix at 135lbs until 2012 before he moved up in weight and began to campaign at Light Welterweight, winning the WBO Asia Pacific title at 140lbs and then fighting for the IBF world title in 2017, losing a hotly contested bout with Sergey Lipinets. Sadly for Kondo his career his a big low point when he lost to Downua in an IBF eliminator back in February.
In the ring Kondo has long been regarded as a technically sound boxer, who uses a tight defenses, is durable and a solid all rounder. He lacks in speed and isn't a huge banger, but he's a clean puncher, with under-rated combinations, can counter well and can also apply solid pressure. He's at his best with a style that combines his front foot pressure with his counter punching, but really lacked the 1-punch power to get respect of most at 140lbs, instead needing to break down opponents with consistency. Sadly against Downua we saw that Kondo's speed is becoming slower as he ages and although he still has good timing he doesn't have the speed to get out of the way, and there are now also question marks about whether his iron chin is going to have a crack through it.
At the age of 22 Hiraoka is one of the rising Japanese hopes at 140lbs and is a fighter who has already impressed, winning the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, though missing out on the All Japan final due to illness, and winning the Japanese Youth title. He has impressed the likes of Hideyuki Ohashi, trained at the Mayweather Jr and beaten solid young domestic foes like Shogo Yamaguchi, Takahiko Kobayashi and Fumisuki Kimura. Despite those wins there has been a real frustration in getting better opposition, and facing Japanese ranked foes, or regionally ranked opposition. He's proven himself to be too good for the domestic Youth level, but been unable to compete with the senior level opposition.
Hiraoka is pretty much an athletic diamond in the rough. He's quick, strong and physically imposing, but technically he has limitations in terms of his boxing, he's not the sharpest fighter, or the most accurate, or the most skilled. So far he's gotten away with a lot of his technical flaws due to his physicals traits, and he really is a natural athlete who boxes. If he can ever add the needed technique to what he already has he will be an excellent prospect, and in fairness he has spent time at the Mayweather gym to try and round out his technical skills, though he is still a flawed fighter.
Coming in to this we have a lot of questions about both men. Is Kondo's chin cracked? Can Hiraoka really cope with a smart veteran like Kondo? Can Kondo still go to the well if he needs to? Can Hiraoka cope with the pressure that Kondo will bring? And many, many more.
One thing we know is that this bout will answer a lot of questions for both men, and it will be something well worthy of attention. A win for Hiraoka will likely push him to a Japanese title fight, whilst a win for Kondo keeps his career alive, and potentially lets him have one more run to a world title fight.
Prediction - TKO10 Kondo
Seeing unbeaten fighters clash, with similar records, is something we don't see often enough, and it's a shame as it's quite exciting to see similarly matched fighters going up against each other in bouts that look like 50-50 contests. Both where both men having something to lose and both are taking a risk are always great.
On April 8th we get one such bout as Japan's Andy Hiraoka (13-0, 9), the Japanese Youth Light Welterweight champion, takes on Thai foe Atchariya Wirojanasunobol (12-0, 5). On paper this is a mouth watering bout, a real test for both men, and the winner could end up using their victory to move towards a regional title fight, and move onwards and upwards.
The 22 year old Hiraoka first made a mark back in 2014, as an 18 year old. The tall and rangy southpaw went on to make his way to the 2014 Rookie of the Year final at Lightweight, before needing to pull out due to illness. He would then take almost 2 years away from the ring before returning in late 2016 to score a couple of wins over Thai foes. That was followed by a sensational 2017 for the youngster, who would win the Japanese Light Welterweight title in November that year. Since then has had two more wins, scoring a single defense of the title in one of those bouts.
Hiraoka is a tall and rangy fighter, standing at 5'11". He's a southpaw with good speed, really solid power, and good boxing fundamentals. He's still a maturing young man, rather than a fully grown man, and there is a sense that he could certainly mature into a strong Welterweight in the future, adding muscle and meat to his bones as he develops physically. At the moment he does struggle when he's under pressure, and isn't a great inside fighter, but at range he is very good and if he can use jab and straight shots he does look very hard to beat.
Atchariya is a 29 year old Thai who debuted in late 2014 and has slowly gone about making a name for himself. A number of his early opponents were novices, though he did score some decent early wins over Heri Andriyanto and Stevie Ongen Ferdinandus. Despite the slow start to his career it was really in 2018 that he came into his own, scoring really solid wins over Kaewfah Tor Buamas and Taisho Ozawa, his two best wins by far and both came on WP Boxing shows in Bang Phun.
Atchariya is a pretty solid fighter himself. He's not a big puncher, but he does have nice variety to his shots, moves around the ring well and fights very confidently, with a lot of belief in ring IQ and how he controls distance. Despite his skills he doesn't have a great work rate, he's not hugely power or quick. He's certainly very confident in the ring, but he's not the most spectacular in any way. More a solid all rounder than a fighter who does anything amazingly well.
We suspect that the Ohashi team, who manage Hiraoka, will have selected the Thai for a reason and it's likely his work rather and lack of power. Despite that this isn't a given win for their guy and Atchariya has the ability to sneak the rounds, make Hiraoka miss and counter him. We favour Hiraoka to win, in what will perhaps be an ugly fight at times, but this is a very clear step up in class and by far his toughest bout to date.
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.