Over the last few years no Japanese title has been treat quite as strangely as the national Bantamweight title, which would be well within it's rights to have some sort of complex after what it's been through. Since Ryo Akaho won it in August 2017 it has been fought for just 3 times, successfully defended once, vacated twice, and had a host of bouts for it cancelled due to health issues, such as illness and a fighters missing weight. It must get the feeling that no one really wants it. Despite a lineage that includes legends of the sport, such as Yoshio Shirai, Naoto Takahashi, Joichiro Tatsuyoshi, Yasuei Yakushiji, Toshiaki Nishioka and Shinsuke Yamanaka.
That lineage will have another name added to it this coming Monday as Kyosuke Sawada (14-2-1, 6) takes on Ikuro Sadatsune (11-4-3, 4) for the currently vacant belt. Whilst the title may have been treated badly in recent years, it's clear, coming in to this, that both of these men are desperate to call themselves a Japanese champion and both are looking for the biggest win of their career, so far.
Of the two men it's Sawada who has earned this shot more. He actually earned a shot at the title back in 2019, when he beat Kazuki Tanaka in a Japanese title eliminator. That was meant to set up a bout with the then champion Yusuke Suzuki, who defeated Sawada back in 2013, but sadly Suzuki was forced into retirement following his bout with Yuta Saito. As a result Sawada was sat waiting for a shot at the vacant title when Covid19 destroyed the Japanese boxing schedule. That wait went on, and on, until Sadatsune stepped up to the challenge and and we ended up getting this bout arranged for a date in May. A date that would be postponed it's self due to Covid19 forcing a number of shows in Japan to be scrapped.
Despite all the issues around the title and bout we're expecting a good one here between a former amateur standout, Sawada, and someone who turned professional young and has learned the sport on the job, becoming a very good fighter in the process.
The 33 year old Sawada has been a professional since 2013, following an amateur career that had more than 80 bouts and around 60 wins. He turned professional with high expectations on his shoulders, but was matched hard from the off, and suffered back to back losses to Yusuke Suzuki, in Sawada's debut, and Hiroaki Teshigawara to start his career 0-2. Since then however he has turned things around, going 14-0-1 (6) and scoring notable wins over the likes of Kinshiro Usui, Yosuke Fujihara, Keita Nakano and Kazuki Tanaka. Those wins had lead him to becoming one of the main players on the Japanese domestic scene at 118lbs and one of the more under-rated domestic fighters.
In the ring Sawada really does rely on his amateur background. A lot. He's a pure boxer with good movement, good technical boxing skills and the sort of fighter who likes to do things at range on his jab and his straight shots. When dragged inside he can handle himself, but is very much happier at range where his shots seem to flow effortlessly. At his best he's a joy to watch, with fluid combinations and sort, though not destructive, power. At the age of 33 however, and with 21 months of ring rust coming in to this, we do wonder what he's going to look like here.
Aged 23 Sadatsune is a boxing baby, however he's been a professional since he was 17 and debuted way back in September 2015. He began his career with a 6 fight unbeaten record, going 5-0-1, before a loss in 2016, at the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, ended that run. Sadly he then struggled to get going again and fell from 5-0-1 to 6-2-2 in less than a year. It seemed like his career was going nowhere before he rediscovered some form winning 3 in a row before two razor thin losses in 2019, losing to Kenshin Oshima and Sho Ishida in bouts that he had a very valid claim to have won. Those setbacks could have been big but Sadatsune just kept ploughing on and picked two wins to get his career back on track before the pandemic struck, and slowed his ascent and he's now been out of action for around 18 months.
In the ring Sadatsune isn't as well schooled or as natural a boxer as Sawada, but he is a fighter who is improving with every fight, is criminally under-rated. He's strong, tough, has very over-looked technical skills and has more than held his own with the likes of Sho Ishida. He's also a southpaw, which further adds problems to facing him, and although he's not a big puncher he will hit harder as he matures physically, and now at 23 we suspect he will begin to show more and more pop. Since his 2017 loss to Kai Chiba, his second loss, he has never looked a clear second best in the ring, and has instead looked like a really hungry fighter who wants to prove something every time he fights. Whilst it is worth nothing that he's been inactive he does actually work at the boxing he fights out of, and we suspect with that in mind he will have stayed fit over the last 18 months or so and we think that could pay dividends here.
Had this bout taken place in 2020, we would have favoured Sawada, who at 32 would have been at the back end of his prime and would have been coming in on the back of the win over Kazuki Tanaka. With the long lay off however a lot of small things have changed against him. He's been inactive, he's aged, he's got ring rust, the momentum of his win over Tanaka, Nakano, Fujihara and Usui are now history and in that same time Sadatsune has matured and at 23, heading to 24, he's coming into his physical prime, he's developing as a man and is moving from a fresh faced boy to a fully fledged man.
We think the delay will actually swing this one from a Sawada win to a Sadatsune win, albeit in a very, very close decision. We see his youth, energy and the time Sawada has been out of the ring being the keys in a close, well fought, technical bout. We expect to see Sadatsune have that extra little bit of hunger and energy when he needs it, and to just bite down that bit harder than Sawada. It'll be close, it'll be amazingly competitive, but we see Sadatsune just, narrowly, coming away with the victory.
Prediction - SD10 Sadatsune
On May 21st we're expecting to see the Ohashi Gym return to Korakuen Hall, for their next show. The show will see several interesting bouts on it, including a really good one for the OPBF Bantamweight title, between two men with a point to prove.
That match up will see the unbeaten Kazuki Nakajima (9-0-1, 8) battle the once beaten Kai Chiba (13-1, 8), with the two fighting for the title that was recently vacated by Takuma Inoue, a stable of Nakajima's.
On paper this isn't a bout that will get too much attention. Although both men are very good fighters, neither man has really connected with a wider audience yet, and that's despite the fact both are explosive fighters who could make for some really good fights. In fact this one should be really good it's self, and has the potential to turn into an explosive shoot out.
If pushed, the more well known fighter is probably Nakajima, albeit not by a huge amount. The 27 year old Ohashi promoted fighter was a stellar amateur who debuted in 2017 and has, for the most part, been destructive puncher. He is naturally heavy handed southpaw, with dynamite in his straight left hand. In just 10 bouts he has 5 opening rounds wins, including stoppages against good domestic fighters Kenichi Watanabe and Jin Minamide. He has also shown an ability to keep his power late, stopping Yoshihiro Utsumi in round 7 and breaking down Takuya Fujioka over 6 rounds.
Although very heavy handed, and we do legitimately mean heavy handed. Nakajima is also a very rigid, stiff fighter. His footwork is predictable to say the least, his output isn't the best, he struggles to cut the range, and can be outboxed by a smart fighter, as he was in 2020 when he fought Seiya Tsutsumi in the God's Left Bantamweight title final, in a bout we thought he was lucky yo get a draw in. If a fighter looks to take him on head to head they will be punished, but if a fighter boxes, they can confuse him and out point him. The game plan has been shown by Tsutsumi, who really was very unlucky, and it just takes someone to build on that.
Whilst we suspect Nakajima is more well known, that's not to say that Chiba is an obscure fighter, at least not to those who follow Japanese boxing. He's a 28 year old who debuted in 2015 and was getting some real momentum in his career in 2017, following back to back wins over Ikuro Sadatsune and Ryo Matsubara. He headed in 2018 as one to watch, and was then shocking upset by Brian Lobetania of the Philippines. That loss really was a huge one for Chiba who struggled to re-discover his footing, narrowly getting past Keisuke Tabuchi on his return and not quite looking like the force he once seemed to be. That was until last December when he schooled the usually exciting Haruki Ishikawa and put his hat in the ring for a title of some kind.
Early in his career Chiba looked like an offensive monster, and really was aggressive, heavy handed and came forward a lot. He wasn't a brawler, but was a very offensively minded fighter. An aggressive boxer-puncher. The loss to Lobetania seemed to change him though and now he focuses more on his boxing, more on his defense and uses his footwork and jab a lot more effectively to set up his power punches. It's one of those cases where a loss has actually improved a fighter technically. He's less exciting than he used to be, a lot less reckless, but still boxes to his strengths, and the loss was a blessing ins disguise.
In terms of boxing ability we would go as far as to say Chiba is the better boxer. He moves around the ring with a lot more fluidity than Nakajima, he uses his feet better and looks a more natural boxer. Sadly however boxing ability by it's self isn't the be all and end all. Sometimes the key to winning are the other facets a fighter has, and in this case we believe the power of Nakajima will be the difference maker.
At some point in the 12 rounds we can't help but think Nakajima will land clean, and when that happens we expect to see Chiba really feel it, and get shaken, as he did against Lobetania. Chiba might have improved, significantly, from that bout but Nakajima is also a much better fighter than Lobetania will ever be.
We expect to see Chiba winning the early rounds, but sooner or later he would hold his feet for a moment too long, and Nakajima will land one of his missile like left hands. That will shake Chiba, who we suspect will respond with bombs of his own, catching Nakajima but not having the effects he would hope to have. When that happens the end will be nigh and we suspect Nakajima will get the better of it, and will force a stoppage of Chiba. Likely whilst Chiba is up on the scorecards. Perhaps comfortably so.
Prediction - TKO7 Nakajima
This coming Sunday a lot of attention will be focused on Osaka, as we get the long awaited WBC Light Flyweight world title bout between Kenshiro Teraji (17-0, 10) and Tetsuya Hisada (34-10-2, 20), around 4 years after they were first supposed to fight. That however isn't the only bout of note in Japan this weekend, in fact over in Okinawa around the same time we get the chance to see a very notable WBO Asia Pacific title fight between a former world champion and youngster looking to secure a a massive win, in just his 4th professional bout.
That bout is the one between former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (17-1-1, 17), the current WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight champion, and highly touted prospect Ryosuke Nishida (3-0, 1), who is looking to build on a huge win from late 2020. The bout lacks the allure of the world title fight in Osaka, but is certainly not a bout that should be ignored, and could end up actually being the more compelling bout when all is said and done.
It's needless to say that Diago Higa is the more well known fighter. In fact there was a time, not too long ago, that he was among the most spoken about Japanese fighters in the sport. He was a steam train early in his career, blowing away fighters in quick fashion and winning his first 15 bouts by stoppage. Along the way he took notable scalps, including Kongfah CP Freshmart, who he beat in Thailand for the WBC Youth title, Ardin Diale, who he beat for the OPF title, Juan Hernandez Navarrete, who he beat for the WBC title and Moises Fuentes. In many ways he looked like the Japanese Roman Gonzalez, with the Japanese press dubbing him "The Romagon of Okinawa" after Gonzalez.
Sadly Higa's stoppage run came to an end in 2018 when he lost in 9 rounds to Cristofer Rosales after coming in overweight for a defense of the WBC Flyweight title. That loss, and the subsequent suspension for missing weight from the JBC, saw Higa stay away from the ring for almost 2 years, before returning in early 2020 and beating Jason Buenabora in 6 rounds. That bout was followed by Higa soon leaving the Shirai Gushiken Sports Gym, who had guided his entire career, and signing up with the newly established Ambition gym. It was thought a new gym would reinvigorate Higa, who had admitted his motivation for the sport was waning. Sadly for him his first bout as an Ambition gym fighter didn't end well, with Higa only managing a draw as he met former amateur rival, and close personal friend, Seiya Tsutsumi. It seemed that a forced move from Flyweight to Bantamweight was going to be a problem for Higa, with the new weight not playing well with his style. At least that's what we though until the very end of 2020 when he demolished Yuki Strong Kobayashi in 5 rounds to claim the WBO Asia Pacific title and looked like the Higa of old.
At the moment it's still unclear how the forced move up in weight for Higa will work longer term. He looked brilliant against Kobayashi, not quite his best but still a brilliant and destructive performance, but he looked poor against Buenaobra and certainly didn't look his best against Tsutsumi. He also didn't look great when he took part in an exhibition against Naoya Inoue, when Inoue seemed to want to teach Higa a bit of a lesson at times. It's going to be interesting to see how he develops at the weight, and whether he has the tools, and size, needed to be a success here. If he does he'll be a brilliant addition to an already fantastic weight class.
Whilst Higa is a big name, a well established fighter and someone who fans will have heard of if they follow the lower weights, the same cannot be said of Ryosuke Nishida. In fact Nishida is one that only hardcore fans of the Japanese scene will know anything about. Though they will likely tell you, as we will, that's a hidden gem of a fighter who has already been hugely impressive in his 3 fight, 15 round, professional career.
Nishida turned professional in 2019, following a strong amateur career, and his team did the usual big talk, claiming that no one in Japan wanted to fight him and he had to debut in Thailand as a result, where he blew out Sakol Ketkul. Around 10 weeks after his professional debut he made his Japanese debut and dominated Filipino journeyman Pablito Canada, taking a very wide decision win over 6 rounds. Sadly his rise through the ranks was slowed in 2020 due to Covid19, which decimated the Japanese boxing calendar for the year, but in December he squeezed in a fight and put on a brilliant performance against former world title challenger Shohei Omori. He entered that bout as a big under-dog but put in a performance not befitting a then 2-0 (1) prospect. In fact if anything he looked every bit as good as his team had told us he was.
In the ring Nishida couldn't be much different to Higa if he tried. Whilst Higa is a short, powerful, pressure fighter, with a major offensive mindset, who has had to move from 112lbs to 118lbs Nishida really is the opposite. He is a tall, southpaw, who is moving in down in weight, and focuses on boxing and moving, using his educated feet, his amateur pedigree being clear every time he steps in the ring. He has quick hands, good movement and he boxes with his brain, not his brawn.
Although there is only limited footage of Nishida to get a read on him as a fighter, with his debut not surfacing and being pretty pointless to scout him off regardless, it's hard to say how good he really is, but it's clear that he is, at the least, very good. He's patient, has good timing, he's composed, smart and a sharp fighter. His jab and footwork are really good and in the bout with Omori he looked like a man with much, much more to offer. In fact in the later rounds, when he already had a comfortable lead, he seemed to want to put the cherry on the top of his performance and stop Omori. With that in mind we suspect his stamina is going to be good, he had energy to burn late on. One worry about him however, is how his body reacts to moving down to 118lbs, having fought all of his bouts at, or around, 122lbs so far. If he can make the weight with no issues he could be a real handful. Not just for Higa, but for a lot of very good fighters.
If Nishida makes the 118lb limit without taking much out of himself, and there's a good chance he can, then this is going to be a real test of character for Higa. Nishida is the type of fighter who we feel has the footwork, jab and timing to frustrate Higa, round after round. We've not seen his chin really being tested, though he was caught a few times by Omori and took them well, but if he can take a good shot from Higa he has a real chance off scoring an upset. That will be an even bigger chance if Hishida, moving down, has some more pop on his shots.
Higa will, obviously, be strongly favoured, and many who haven't seen Nishida will feel he's being thrown to the wolves. In reality however he's the latest Japanese fighter to show a willingness to take risks early and want to advance his career quickly. He will come into this bout as a very live underdog. It's a huge step up for him, but it's certainly one he has a chance in.
In regards to how the bout will be. We see Higa barrelling forward, it's how Nishida deals with that that will decide the bout. Higa is what he is. A strong, pressure fighter with lovely combinations, but a poor defense, and a significant size disadvantage at Bantamweight. If Nishida can cope with the pressure he'll win here however that's a huge if, and many will suspect he'll fold under the Higa pressure.
We are believers that a good big guys beats a good little guy, and with that in mind we're going with the surprise upset here. We feel Nishida will struggle at times, but manage to, just, do enough to take the win, using his size as a major tool.
Prediction - UD12 Nishida
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
Among the many bouts in the pre-Christmas period we'll see WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight champion Yuki Strong Kobayashi (15-8, 9) make his first defense, as he takes on unheralded Korean challenger Ki Chang Go (8-3, 4) at the Sumiyoshi Ward Center.
For Kobayashi this is a great chance to not only defend his title, but to also put memories of his loss to Keita Kurihara behind him, with that loss coming in the same venue almost a year to the day of this fight. On the other hand it gives Go a chance to pick up a win in Japan, a country where he lost last year to Masahiro Sakamoto, a former stablemate of Kobayashi's at the Muto Gym. Sadly it's that bout between Go and Sakamoto that make us pretty confident in feeling that this will be little more than a mismatch in favour of the champion.
Kobayashi is no world beater, don't get us wrong, but he's a fighter who has developed from his losses and is much, much, better than his record suggests. Since his 2011 debut he has been inconsistent, but has turned things around well in recent years, following a 6-3 (4) start, and in fact he was once 10-7 (5). His recent winning form hasn't seen him blitzing over-matched foes, instead he has been performing well against the likes of Vincent Astrolabio and Ben Mananquil, with the win over Mananquil being his title winning bout.
Kobayashi's 23 fight career has seen him suffer 3 stoppage losses, but last December he showed his heart and toughness, pulling himself off the canvas 4 times to lose a razor thin decision to Keita Kurihara. That loss seems to have solidified Kobayashi who looked better than ever last time out. He showed an aggressive boxing mentality, pushing and physically imposing himself against Mananquil, dragging the Filipino into a fight before breaking him down. He looked strong, exciting and kept coming, breaking down Mananquil in an overlooked war. There was real desire in the way he fought, and whilst it wasn't the most skilled and technical of showings, it was exciting and aggressive.
Go made his debut in 2016 and despite losing his first 2 bouts has since gone 7-1, though all of those wins have come in Korea, and pretty much of the wins have come to either novices, or fighters with less than 50% wins. His best win, on paper, is a narrow decision over the then 3-0-1 Joo Ho Lee, and sort of says it all. He has shown he belongs in this level. In fact he hasn't shown he even belongs even close to this level.
In his most notable bout to date Go was stopped by Masahiro Sakamoto in 2018. Sakamoto out boxed Go, out fought Go and broke Go down, behind his calculated jab. As we've seen Sakamoto isn't much of a puncher, he's not a naturally big man, and yet he managed to beat down Go. With Kobayashi being a bigger man we expect Go to be taken out again here. Not only that but we expect it to be rather quick as well.
Prediction - TKO2 Kobayashi
On December 12th fight fans at the Korakuen Hall will see a new Japanese Youth Bantamweight champion being crowned as youngsters Toshiya Ishii (2-0, 1) and Haruki Ishikawa (8-1, 6) battle for the vacant title in a very interesting looking bout. In one corner is a former youth amateur standout, who is being fast tracked to the top, whilst the other corner houses a Rookie of the Year finalist, having his 10th professional bout. Notably both had to earn their right to fight for the title by winning bouts as part of a 4 man tournament held back in August at Korakuen Hall.
Of the two men it's the 18 year old Ishii who is probably the more interesting fighter. He went 30-14 (17) in the amateurs, coming runner up in the 2018 Interscholastic tournament and signed with the REBOOT IBA with a lot of expectation on his shoulders. His debut was standard, easy win over a limited foe, in Adam Wijayta, but in just his second bout he beat the then Japanese ranked Fumiya Fuse, a very skilled but light punching fighter. Although Fuse is quick and skilled Ishii out did him in both areas and although he wasn't flawless he looked a real natural talent.
In the ring Ishii is a composed, yet aggressive, fighter. He's skilful but aggressive, and confident and comes forward with very educated pressure, and you can see why REBOOT IBA aren't afraid of letting him in their with more established professionals.Of course there is work to be done, a lot of work, but for a fighter at this novice stage of his career he looks very talented and, if he wins, we see the Youth title being one of many belts he collects as his career develops.
Aged 20 Ishikawa is no old man either, and he only debuted in May 2017, though unlike Ishii he hasn't got the amateur pedigree, instead developing in the professional ranks. He began his career with 5 stoppages before claiming the 2018 East Japan Rookie of the Year crown with a decision win against Beverly Tsukada. That win saw him advance to the All Japan final where he lost a majority decision to Yusei Fujikawa. Since the 2018 Rookie of the Year we've seen him score 2 including his a win over Atsushi Takada, which netted him this title shot.
Watching Ishikawa we see a man who is very confident in not only his power but also his ability to take a shot. He comes forward, he launches bombs and he takes shots on his way in. He's certainly "crude" but he looks so strong and powerful that he seems like the fighter who, at least at this level, can get away with the "take one to land one" gameplan. Heck it's worked this much right? Sadly though we don't see that gameplan carrying up to the domestic level, and he certainly needs to tidy up his style before mounting a series challenge to Japanese ranked opponents.
Whilst we love seeing fighters with Ishikawa's mentality we don't think that is going to work against someone with the skills, movement and boxing brain of Ishii. Yes, there is a chance an Ishikawa bomb lands clean and takes out the youngster, but in reality we suspect that the gulf in skills will be the difference here. We don't think Ishii has the power to take Ishikawa out, but we do see him taking a clear decision, and the title.
Prediction UD8 - Ishii
The 2020 edition of the Japanese boxing Champion Carnival is slowly coming together with Gakuya Furuhashi and Masataka Taniguchi already booking themselves Japanese title shots in the new year. This coming Saturday we'll see 4 more fighters claiming mandatory positions for Japanese title fights, with a host of eliminators taking place at the Korakuen Hall. One of those eliminators will be at Bantamweight and will see an interesting match up between Kyosuke Sawada (13-2-1, 6) and Kazuki Tanaka (11-2, 8).
On paper this isn't one of the most appealing bouts, given that both have already suffered a couple of losses and neither is a "big" name in regards to being an emerging force on the Japanese scene. The reality however is that the bout is set to be an excellent, hotly contested and very exciting one between two well matched, yet flawed, fighters with good amateur backgrounds.
Of the two Sawada is there more experienced professional, with 16 bouts since his 2013 debut, he is also the one who has had the bigger turn around with his career and the more peculiar record. He debuted in 2013 and lost to Yusuke Suzuki, the current Japanese Bantamweight champion, and lost in his second professional bout to Hiroaki Teshigawara, who currently holds the OPBF Super Bantamweight title. Since then he has gone 13-0-1 and beaten everyone he has faced, beating Keita Nakano in their second clash. Not only has he been on a good run after a very rocky start but he's picking up wins against solid domestic opponents, such as Kenta Okumura, Yuta Horiike, Kinshiro Usui and recent Japanese title challenger Yosuke Fujihara.
In the ring Sawada is a usually a technically sound fighter, with nice speed, clever footwork and a good jab who looks to fight at mid range. He's not usually the most exciting of fighters to watch, but he does gauge distance well and, with the right dance partner, he can be in some very fun bouts. Although Sawada does lack power he does land clean shots, and does so regularly, with an excellent work rate. It's also worth noting that while he is usually an outside fighter Sawada can hold his own on the inside, as we saw against Usui, with sharp clean punching and intelligent upper body movement. It's not something we often see from him, but it is something that's in his arsenal.
Tanaka is a 26 year old who made his debut in late 2014 and was tipped as a major star for the Green Tsuda gym, following a 63-14 amateur record. Sadly he has failed to live up to the early expectations, but has shown enough to remain a contender on the domestic scene. His career began with 7 straight wins, though alarm bells did ring a little bit when he struggled to get past Sukkasem Kietyongyuth. Since then he has gone 5-2, suffering stoppage losses to Ryohei Takahashi and Keita Kurihara with both losses showing he's not someone who can cope with being put under genuine pressure and isn't particularly durable.
Although not the toughest fighter out there Tanaka isn't actually a bad fighter. Technically he's solid, his amateur background shows when he's in the ring with a nice sharp jab, light feet and heavy hands. His right hand is a damaging and has got good understanding of distance. If you let him dictate the tempo he can look very good, and very strong with good balance. Sadly for Tanaka his competition in recent bouts has been poor, and since losing to Keita Kurihara in 2018 he has only scored 2 low level wins as he's looked to rebuild his confidence.
We believe that Tanaka has got the power to cause Sawada issues, but given recent form and how the fighters have bounced back from their setbacks it's hard not to imagine Sawada being the favourite. Sawada's all-round game seems better, his speed and ring craft are just a touch better. Tanaka certainly has the edge in power, but Sawada had the edge in tougness and we suspect that'll get him through some rough patches on route to a clear, but competitive, decision win.
Prediction - UD8 Sawada
Boxing history is full off strange stories, strange careers and odd tales from it's long and brilliant history. The story of how we've managed to get to a Japanese Bantamweight title bout between Yuta Saito (12-9-3, 9) and Yusuke Suzuki (10-3, 7) in 2019 is one of those stories that has had twists, turns, injuries, illness and upsets to lead us to where we are, and to set up a potential under-the-radar war for July 27th.
We need to rewind almost 2 years to get to the start of this story. Backin August 2017 Saito was stopped in a Japanese title fight by Ryo Akaho. Akaho's next defense was planned for early 2018 against Yusuke Suzuki, the then mandatory challenger. Sadly Akaho would fail to face Suzuki due to issues making weight.Suzuki would then suffer an injury in the build up to a fight against Suguru Muranaka, with Muranaka then failing to make weight for a bout with Saito for the vacant belt.
From Saito's loss to Akaho in August 2017 the title wasn't fought for again until September 2018, when Saito beat up Eita Kikuchi to claim the belt, ending a supposed curse on the belt. That curse however still had one more twist with Sato suffering an illness that delayed his first defense until this past April, when he would stop Hayato Kimura, to unify the main title with Kimura's interim belt. On the same day as Saito's win over Kimura we saw Suzuki return to the ring, after 18 months out, due to the issues causing bouts with Akaho and Muranaka falling through. Now, 18 months after Suzuki was supposed to fight Akaho he gets his long awaited chance. Saito on the other hand gets the chance to notch his second defense.
With a record of 12-9-3 it's fair to say that Saito is no world beater, though he's better than those numbers suggest and has turned around a 2-3 start to his professional to develop a pretty notable career, that's despite once being 8-7-2. The problem for Saito, though much of his career, was that he could be out boxed. He quickly developed a reputation as a dangerman, thanks to his bludgeoning power and naturally heavy hands, but he was a crude puncher, and people used speed and movement to neutralise him. In recent bouts he has shown a real improvements and stoppage wins over Kikuchi and Kimura. In those wins he has proven himself to be a very good pressure fighter, bringing the action and breaking opponents down. He can still be out boxed, but it will take a very good domestic fighter to over-come his aggression and pressure.
Suzuki began his career in 2012 and their was quite a bit of expectation on his shoulders, so much so that he was put in a B class tournament in 2013, losing to future Japanese Super Bantamweight champion Yusaku Kuga in his third professional bout. He would rebuild from that early set back though suffered back to back losses in 2015 and 2016, to Ryoichi Tamura and Jeffrey Francisco. Since those losses Suzuki has reeled off 4 wins, including a good one against Eita Kikuchi. Sadly those 4 bouts have come over the last 3 years as injuries have really been derailed his rise. No, at the age of 30, it is now or never for Suzuki.
Stylistically Suzuki is an awkward looking southpaw. He's hard hitting, has a bit of a herky-jerky style and always looks a bit awkward, as if he's trying to draw a mistake with feints. When he actually goes on the offensive he looks really hard hitting and exciting, though we suspect his herky jerky style has been responsible for judges occasionally going against him. Had he shown a bit more aggression there's a chance, and a good one at that, that he would won all 3 bouts where he has come up short.
With this bout we're expecting Saito to bring intense pressure, forcing Suzuki into a fight. This should give us a real fire fight, and a potential thriller. Both men can hit hard, both are tough and both come to fight. Techncially Suzuki is the more rounded, though we feel like his inactivity and ring rust will work against him here, he has fought just 3 rounds since November 2017 and that will likely be a big problem in the later rounds.
Prediction - Saito UD10
On Sunday 26th May Filipino skillster Ben Mananquil (17-1-3, 4) returns to Japan as he looks to make his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title, and takes on recent OPBF title challenger Yuki Strong Kobayashi (14-8, 8). The bout isn't likely to get much attention outside of Asia, but could move the winner into the higher reaches of the WBO Bantamweight rankings.
Of the two men the champion certainly enters the bout as the favourite. Just looking at his record he looks like he's on a different level to the challenger, and that's ignoring the level he's been fighting at. When we consider what Mananquil has actually done it seems even clearer that he should be regarded as the favourite. The 4 marks on his record have come to Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym, Jing Xiang, a loss and a draw, and Hinata Maruta. Those aren't bad marks to have against you, but he has also picked up good wins too, including victories against Glenn Porras, Jess Rhey Waminal and Tenta Kiyose, who he beat for this title back in February.
For those who haven't seen Mananquil he's a really talented boxer. Defensively he is smart, a good mover and knows his way around the ring. He's not a very handed puncher, but he does find home for shots very easily. He's a smart counter puncher, who's accurate with his shots on the back, making miss and tagging them in return. Notably he's a really small Bantamweight, and stands at just 5'4" but fighting out of the southpaw stance and using a good boxing brain he makes his diminutive height work for him, and and uses it to become a smaller target, drawing opponents in and making them make a mistake. It's rarely fun to watch Mananquil, but he is effective at what he does, and does make more natural Bantamweights give away their advantages.
On paper Yuki Strong Kobayashi isn't a great fighter. He has lost 8 of 22 pro bouts, in fact he has lost the same amount of bouts that he has won by stoppage. Unlike some fighters who have suffered early losses and built a career afterwards he has actually suffered consistent losses through his career, he was 8-4 after 12 bouts and has gone 6-4 since. What's notable however is that he is 1 4-1 in his last 5 and through his career he has mixed with great company. His last 4 defeats have come to regional title level fighters, in the form of Takahiro Yamamoto, Ye Joon Kim, Rey Megrino and Keita Kurihara. Those bouts have seen his chin being a major issue, with Yamamoto and Megrino both stopping him and Kurihara sending him down 4 times, but wins over Noboru Osato and Vincent Astrolabio are really notable and show there is quality there.
This is a bout where Kobayashi's chin is less likely to be an issue than it has been. Instead he'll be able to stick to his boxing without too much fear of what is coming back in his direction. In fairness he is a better boxer than this record suggests. He's aggressive, he comes forward and he tried to make life difficult for opponents with volume and body shots. There's very much a "I have to attack a lot to have a chance" look to him, but he's a fun go to watch in action, throwing lots of lead hooks to try and cramp the distance and let him work on the inside.
Stylistically this should be fun. The pressure of Kobayashi against the sweet boxing skills of Mananquil, the aggression of the challenger versus the defensive know how of the champion. It should be really fan friendly, though we expect the local fans in Osaka will be disappointed when their man loses a clear, but competitive, decision to the Filipino.
We're expecting the cleaner shots to come from Mananquil, who we think will run away with the bout in the final rounds. Kobayashi will be close through 8, but come up short after 12 rounds.
Prediction - Mananquil UD12
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.