This coming Monday we'll see one of the brightest young hopes in Japanese boxing look to continue his rise through the ranks whilst an often over-looked fighter gets what could be his final shot at some silverware in a very looking contest at Korakuen Hall. That bout will see WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese Light Welterweight champion Andy Hiraoka (18-0, 13) take on the aggressive and fun to watch Cristiano Aoqui (16-8-2, 11) in what looks like a very, very interesting match up, something that we're getting a surprising amount of in Japan at 140lbs in the last few years.
Of the two men Hiraoka is more well known, especially with international audiences thanks to his wins in the US over Rogelio Casarez and Rickey Edwards. In US bouts, which took place on Top Rank shows, he looked like a really promising and athletic fighter, who was a work in progress but had enough tools to get the attention of fans, especially those who don't realise Japan has got talented fighters above Super Featherweight. Hiraoka looked big, tall, rangy, fast, athletic and powerful, showing he had the tools to go places in the sport, despite some technical flaws and limitations that clearly needed work, and a relative lack of experience. Prior to his US exploits the most notable thing on his record was a 10 round win over veteran Akihiro Kondo, where Hiraoka's speed and youth were keys against the older, slower, battle worn Kondo. Since his two bouts in the US however he has moved his career forward, and last year he scored the biggest win of his career, stopping the heavy handed Jin Sasaki in a dominant performance to claim the WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese titles, and stake his case as the best Japanese fighter at 140lbs, something that was strengthened when Koichi Aso scored a shock upset win over Rikki Naito just a few weeks after Hiraoka's win over Sasaki.
As mentioned earlier Hiraoka is a big, athletic, fighter who lacks polish. He has however been developing well over the last few years. He is very much an athlete who boxes, and that's not an insult to someone who was a very good distance runner in his youth, and that means he has a lot of tools going for him, including power, speed, reflexes, co-ordination and balance. All of which shine in his boxing performances. As for his boxing skills, he is an outside fighter, who knows he has physical tools others in Japan could only dream of. He is long, rangy, has a great jab, with power and speed, and really brutal straight shots. He can also keep up a good work rate over the long distances and showed, last time out, that his power carries late, stopping Jin Sasaki late in their bout. We do worry about him when he's under pressure, and he does seem to lack natural composure when under pressure, but with experience that should change and we dare say that's partly what this bout is about, against a fighter like Aoqui, and something he'd also have to prove against the likes of Koichi Aso or Daishi Nagata, who both also love to pressure and bully opponents.
Whilst Hiraoka has been seen outside of Japan, Aoqui hasn't been, though he does have something of a Brazilian following due to being a Japanese-Brazilian. His in ring style is something that few fans outside of Japan, and Brazil, will be aware of, but it is typically a fun one, with aggression at the forefront of his mind. He has been a professional since 2006 and has had to develop that style, finding what works for him over time. Unlike Hiraoka success wasn't easy to come by and he was stopped in 2 of his first 5 bouts, and was 4-2-1 after 7 bouts. Since then however he has bulked up from a young Lightweight into a solid an experienced 140lb fighter, who has developed a reputation as something of a tough guy, despite his 2 early stoppage losses. During his career he has fought something of a who's who of the Japanese scene, taking on the likes of Valentine Hosokawa, Hiroki Okada, Koki Inoue, Daishi Nagata and Akihiro Kondo. Whilst he has typically lost his most meaningful fights, he doesn't tend to be an easy opponent, giving the likes of Nagata, Okada and Hosokawa really tough battles.
In the ring Aoqui is aggressive, exciting, he comes forward and tries to draw mistakes, before exploding with a combination of heavy artillery. If he can't do that he seems happy to force a war and fight fire with fire against opponents. Notably however he can also box, even if that's not something he's too well known for, and when he needs to sit back and use his brain he can. And here we suspect his boxing brain and experience will be called on to over-come Hiraoka. Trying to come forward against Hiraoka seeking mistakes, we suspect, would be an error, and allow Hiraoka a chance to use his legs and his jab. Instead Aoqui will need to apply intelligent pressure, box his way in, and get to the body when on the inside. That however is easier said than done.
Sadly for Aoqui we suspect his toughness, and 33 year old legs, will be a problem for him here. Hiraoka might not be a global star in the making but he has plenty about him and we can't help but feel he's probably a level, if not two, above Aoqui who will need the fight of a lifetime to be competitive.
We suspect Aoqui will try to come forward, and find out the speed difference and size difference are a major issue for him. He will have moments, due to Hiraoka's lack of experience, but in the end athletic ability, speed, size and timing will become too much for Aoqui who we suspect will be stopped late on, in something of a slow, methodical beat down by Hiraoka.
Prediction - Hiraoka TKO10
Over the next few weeks we get a lot of Japanese title eliminators, as we find out who will be challenging for Japanese titles at the Champion Carnival in 2020. Whilst some of those are more attractive match ups than others one that looks like it could be a lot of fun is the Light Welterweight bout between Cristiano Aoqui (14-7-2, 10) and Daishi Nagata (13-2-1, 5). On paper this might not look like a great bout, but in reality we are expecting this to be one of the best eliminators this year, with the styles of the two men expected to gel perfectly.
Of the two men it's the Aoqui who is the more experienced professional. He turned professional back in 2006 and with 23 pro bouts under his belt the 30 year old puncher is a bit of a veteran. His record is certainly not great on paper, but losses to the likes of Valentine Hosokawa (SD8), Hiroki Okada (TD9) and Koki Inoue (RTD 2) are certainly nothing particularly shameful. Instead that show the level he has been competing at the last few years and there's certainly one or two of his career defeats that could easily have gone his way.
In the ring Aoqui isn't the most skilled, or the smoothest, but he is an entertaining fighter, with explosive power, an exciting and aggressive style. When he gets opponents hurt he goes for the kill with quick, heavy hitting combinations looking to take them out without giving them a chance to recover. Whilst it is the exciting combinations from Aoqui that catch the eye he does box well, using a good jab to open the door for his power shots, moving well and setting a solid tempo from start to end. He's always looking to get on the front foot and set the pace of the bout. As well as being aggressive Aoqui is quite flawed, he can be hit, and he can also been caught coming forward. Those defensive flaws, alongside his aggression, is why he makes for such good fights, and is a very TV friendly fighter.
Although less experienced as a professional Nagata was a solid amateur, running up a solid 41-21 (11) record, and he won the 2012 All Japan champion. He turned professional with pretty loft expectations on his shoulders, and those expectations didn't fade despite a draw on his debut, to Takeshi Inoue no less. Since then Nagata has been consistently matched tough, struggling with some opponents that he perhaps faced a little bit too early in his career. Those tough bouts have however toughened him up and last year we saw him give Rikki Naito all he could handle in an excellent bout for the OPBF Light Welterweight title, losing a split decision to Naito. In the bout with Naito we saw Nagata answer a lot of questions and prove what a good boxer he was, and show his will to win.
In the ring Nagata is a smart pressure fighter, he brings the pressure behind intelligent footwork and good jabs, pressing for openings, looking for gaps to strike in and mentally challenging his opponents. It's not the all action pressure of some other fighters, but it's a very clear style that is based around making opponents work hard for their space and their opportunities. Defensively he's relatively tight with his guard, but he can be hit through it and around it, and he is open to over hand rights, as we saw against Naito. He seems to be able to take a decent shot, but there are question marks about his overall durability given how he was essentially bullied and battered by Vladimir Baez in his first defeat.
Given that Aoqui likes to box at a high tempo, and unleash combinations, and Nagata applies a lot of forward movement, we're expecting to see the two men in range a lot, and trading blows in some thrilling sequences. If the power of Aoqui can trouble Nagata then this could be a short but thrilling action bout, but we're not expecting Aoqui to blow through his foe. Instead we suspect the jab of Nagata will offset Aoqui's power early on and we'll end up with a very exciting back and forth, in a bout that is very, very hard to call.
Prediction SD8 Nagata
The Japanese Light Welterweight scene is one that doesn't get a lot of attention, but is interesting at the moment with several fighters starting to break through the ranks, such as Daishi Nagata Noriaki Sato and Shuichiro Yoshino whilst at the top of the tree is future world title challenger Keita Obara.
One man looking to move in the same direction as Obara is current Japanese national champion Hiroki Okada (12-0, 10), who returns to the ring this coming Monday to seek the 5th defense of his title as he takes on Japanese-Brazilian Cristiano Aoqui (11-4-2, 7).
Okada has slowly but surely been making a name for himself among Japanese domestic fans, and with good reason. He's an exciting, talented and heavy handed fighter who seems like he could, potentially, go a very long way. Unlike many punchers Okada isn't at his best coming forward but, instead, fighting as a counter puncher with his boxing on the back foot being his strength. Saying that however he can fight on the front foot when he needs to.
The 26 year old from Tokyo has started to string together some genuinely notable wins including victories over Masayoshi Kotake, Koichi Aso, twice, Hayato Hokazono and Masanobu Nakazawa. Not only has he been putting together really good domestic wins but he has been scoring stoppages over good domestic fighters too, with Aso being stopped in 7 rounds earlier this and Nakazano lasting less than 3. At the moment he's the top guy domestically, though of course he's behind Obara who has progressed well beyond the Japanese domestic scene, however we suspect he'll be looking to move beyond the domestic scene and hunt an OPBF title in the near future and take on the top guys from the region.
Whilst we have seen plenty of Okada the same cannot be said of Aoqui who has most fought at the lower levels of the Japanese scene since making his debut almost a decade ago. On paper his record isn't great however he back his career 4-2-1 (3), with both of those losses coming by stoppage, however he has since gone 7-2-1 (4) with both of those recent losses being very narrow decision defeats. Whilst he has suffered defeats, in fact losing as recently as last December, Aoqui has been scored notable wins beating Koicho Ogawa, Quaye Peter and Ryosuke Takami in the last 2 years.
Although on on paper Aoqui doesn't look like a puncher the footage of him out there certainly shows a man who can whack, particularly with the uppercut which he used to devastating effect against Takafumi Yamada in a 58 second blow out win 3 years ago. The uppercut really is his danger punch though he does have heavy looking hooks and seems to be the aggressive sort of fighter than can make for an exciting type of fight. Saying that however he is flawed, technically his punches leave him open and his footwork is sloppy, and even slow at times
Given the aggressive and front foot nature of Aoqui we suspect he'll play right into the hands of Okada who we think will stop him in the middle rounds with a devastating counter punch.
Notably this bout will be streamed over the BoxingRaise website and for fans interested in watching that appears to be the only way of seeing the bout, unless you have a ticket to the Korakuen Hall for the show
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.