One of the biggest upsets in 2020 was the huge surprise win that saw Daishi Nagata (15-2-2, 6) take the Japanese title 140lbs from Koki Inoue, the cousin of Naoya and Takuma Inoue, in one of the first shows back in Japan after boxing was put on the back burner due to the pandemic. Since that win Nagata has defended the title once, thanks to a technical draw against Akihiro Kondo, and this coming Thursday he'll be looking for his second defense as he takes on the unbeaten Masahiro Suzuki (5-0, 3). On paper Nagata is the big favourite, but will he manage to avoid an upset like the one he inflicted on Suzuki? Or will Suzuki be able to become the latest Japanese champion at 140lbs? Lets take a look at the fighters, how they match up and who we think will come out on top.
Of the two men Nagata is the clear favourite coming in to this bout. The 31 year old southpaw has been a professional since 2014, is the current Japanese champion and has faced a genuine who's who of the domestic scene. He fought Takeshi Inoue in his debut, fighting to a draw, and since then has shared the ring with Quaye Peter, Vladimir Baez, Takashi Inagaki, Rikki Naito, Cristiano Aoqui, Koki Inoue and Akihiro Kondo. Not only that but he has also shown he belongs in title level fights, giving Naito hell in a razor close 2018 bout and beating Koki Inoue.
In the ring Nagata is a well skilled boxer-fighter. He's at his best when he's applying intelligent pressure. Getting in and out and using his surprisingly quick feet. He's not that polished, but he's quick, strong, physically powerful, fights at a good tempo with under-rated punching power and really good stamina. In fact it was his stamina against Naito which made the fight so close, with Naito tiring and Nagata really coming on strong late on. Sadly though he's not the smartest of fighters and like many newly crowned champions he wanted his first defense to be a fan friendly one, and ended up holding his feet too long against Kondo, leading to that fight being a very close and competitive one. Not the showcase first defense he would have wanted. Given how bad that performance was we're expecting a much better one here against a very lively challenger.
Whilst Nagata is a strong, tough, lump of a fighter the exact opposite is true of Suzuki who is a much more rounded boxer, with good movement and a solid boxing brain. He was one of the few fighters over the last few years who really impressed on debut, when he beat Antonio Siesmundo, but sadly we've never seen that same level of performance from him since. In fact his performance have been rather mixed following his very impressive debut, though in fairness his competition has been pretty solid. In just 5 bouts he beaten Siesmundo, the heavy handed Kosuke Arioka, the solid domestic level Hokuto Matsumoto and former OPBF title challenger Takahiro Oda. And whilst he hasn't shown the same incredible potential he showcased on his debut but has shown a good boxing brain and he seems to be a fighter who is, slowly, finding his identity in the ring. He looks like he can do it all, box, move, punch and fight, but probably does need to find what he likes to do and focus on that more than he has at times.
Whilst we have been genuine impressed by Suzuki, it needs noting that he was hurt by Arioka, and seemed to struggle against Matsumoto. He has got questions to answer, and most notably one of those is his stamina. He looked good for 6 rounds against Siesmundo in his debut, and 6 rounds against Kelvin Tenorio, but we've never seen him go beyond 6 rounds, and this title fight will be a 6 rounder. We've also never seen him in with a southpaw, with Nagata set to be his first lefty, which is a second potential issue for Suzuki. Given Nagata's pressure and aggression Suzuki will need to be on his P's and Q's from the opening bell, he need to stay focused and be fully aware of what Nagata can bring, and we're not 100% sure Suzuki has that level of focus... yet.
In terms of pure skills Suzuki is, for our money, a level above Nagata. He's a smoother, not natural boxer. Skills however aren't the only thing important in a fight and we suspect the experience, physicality and the fact Nagata is comfortable fighting 8, 10 and even 12 rounds, will prove vital here.
We're expecting Suzuki to start well, out boxing Nagata, moving around the ring, landing shots against the slower man. But unfortunately winning the early rounds won't be enough and as the bout goes on Nagata's pressure will build, and he will begin to break down Suzuki, both physically and mentally. The early success of Suzuki will be used to fire up Nagata who will come on strong in the second half of the fight and will break down Suzuki in the later stages.
If Suzuki can stay focused, can rely on his boxing, and can keep the bout at range, using his footwork, and can keep it up for 10 rounds he could take a decision. But that's a massive if, and one we're not expecting from him. He's got the technical ability, but we don't think he's got the other tools needed to take home the victory.
Prediction - TKO8 Nagata
Way back in July we got a genuine upset in Japan as Daishi Nagata (15-2-1, 6) stopped Koki Inoue to claim the Japanese Light Welterweight title. That result was really unexpected with Inoue a clear favourite to win and to retain his title, before heading on to bigger and better things. Inoue however didn't get a chance to find his groove before being cut, and the referee was later forced to step in and stop the bout due to the damage on Inoue, who then announced his retirement from the sport.
On December 10th we'll see Nagata back in the ring as he goes for his first title defense and takes on tough veteran Akihiro Kondo (32-9-1, 18) at the Korakuen Hall. On paper this looks a really good match up, a tough first defense and a chance for Nagata to legitimise his title reign, whilst also looking like a chance for Kondo to claim another title and continue his long career. In reality however we don't expect this to be as competitive as it looks. In fact we have a feeling that this will actually be quite an easy defense for the newly crowned champion.
The 30 year old champion was a solid amateur before turning professional in 2014, facing a then debuting Takeshi Inoue in a really weird match up between two touted, former amateurs. That bout resulted in a draw before Nagata went on a decent run of results to boast an 8-0-1 (4) record by the end of 2016. In early 2017 he suffered his first loss, being stopped in 7 by the bigger, stronger and more powerful Vladimir Baez before rebuilding and putting on a great performance, in a loss, to Rikki Naito in 2018. Despite losing to Naito it was clear that Nagata had the tools to win domestic and regional titles, and since then he has reeled off 4 wins, including the one against Koki Inoue.
In the ring Nagata is a little battler. He can box, he can fight and he can brawl, but at his best he's a grinder, getting in an opponents face, working a high tempo, and bullying them around the ring. He's got really good stamina, with his best success against Naito coming late in the bout, and a very under-rated boxing brain. Whilst his win over Inoue was a genuine surprise, that was more due to how highly regarded Inoue was, and not the lack of skills we'd seen from Nagata. He's strong, he's relatively tough, he's energetic and he's a real handful. He's unlikely to make a mark at the higher levels due to a lack of size, and lacking fight changing power, but on the domestic and regional scene he's going to be a tough man to beat, especially now with his confidence riding sky high.
Aged 35 Akihiro Kondo is a genuine veteran of the sport. He made his professional debut in 2006, just weeks after his 21st birthday, and has gone through the ranks the hard way. He lost in his second professional bout before bouncing back to win Rookie of the Year in 2007 and the Japanese Lightweight title in 2009, beating Yoshitaka Kato, and moved to 13-1. Sadly though his reign was short, losing in his first defense against Nihito Arakawa, but his career continued on and he attempted to reclaim the title in 2012, losing a close decision to Kato in their second clash. He took 15 months away from the ring, from April 2013 to July 2014, before losing to Arakawa for a second time. Despite that set back he continued in his comeback, winning the WBO Asia Pacific Light Welterweight title in September 2016 and working his way to an IBF world title fight in 2017, losing Sergey Lipinets in 2017. He lost that bout, but gave Lipinets genuine resistance and one of his toughest bouts up to that point.
Sadly since the Lipinets bout Kondo has looked on the slide, going 3-2 with a KO loss to Downua Ruawaiking and a wide decision loss to Andy Hiraoka, both in 2019. It seems very much like father time is catching up with the tough, rugged veteran.
At his best Kondo was a solid, tough, fighter with under-rated defense, clean accurate punching, and a real will to win. He was a really hard man to beat, with good energy, hurtful power, solid skills, a really good jab and solid timing. On the back end of that he was never a big puncher, he was never particularly quick and he could be made to chase shadows. He was never impossible to beat, and he could be out pointed, as Kato and Arakawa did, but he looked so damn tough and hard to hurt, that the real game plan to beat him was to box him and night fight him. Sadly however those days appear to be behind him and he's become even slower than he used to be. He's still tough, despite the KO loss, but he's also very basic, and with what speed he did have now being gone he's a much easier man to beat in 2020 than he was in 2010.
At his best Kondo would have been a really tough first defense for Nagata. His toughness, physicality, strength and will to win would have given the champion real issues. In 2020 however we see Nagata being too quick, too sharp, too hungry and too good for Kondo. We suspect Nagata will look to get inside and will outwork Kondo up close and look to beat Kondo at his own game. If Nagata struggles with that we suspect he'll get on his toes and move, which would be a safer option but not the option we think he'll go with first. He'll want to make a statement and to do that he'll want to come forward, not give Kondo room to breathe and take the tires out of the 35 year old challenger.
We suspect Kondo will be too tough to be stopped but we do imagine he'll end up losing a very clear decision to the champion.
Prediction - UD10 Nagata
Whilst the most notable member of the Inoue family, Naoya Inoue, won't be in action until later in the year he's not the only member of the clan with a belt at the moment. The other is his cousin Koki Inoue (15-0, 12), who returns to the ring on July 16th to make a mandatory defense of the Japanese Light Welterweight title. The unbeaten champion will be taking on Daishi Nagata (14-2-1, 5) as part of the Champion Carnival, in what looks like a genuinely fantastic looking match up, though one the champion will enter as the clear favourite in.
Originally this bout was scheduled for a March date, which was originally delayed due to Inoue being injured in training. It was then rescheduled for May before being delayed again due to the out break of the on going issues that have had global impacts. As a result this bout will actually be the first Japanese title fight in months, after boxing was put on a hiatus in Japan.
The champion, who not only holds the Japanese title but also the WBO Asia Pacific title, turned professional with a lot of expectations on his shoulders. By the time he made his debut in late 2015 Naoya had already become a 2-weight world champion whilst Naoya's brother Takuma was the OPBF champion, winning that title in just his 4th professional bout. Sadly it did take Koki a bit longer to make an impact than either of his cousins, as domestic fighters seemed to give him a pretty wide berth at times. Despite some frustrations Inoue managed to secure himself a mandatory title in 2019, which he won by out boxing Valentine Hosokawa, to win his first title in his 13th professional bout.
Since winning the Japanese title in April 2019 Inoue has defended it once, beating Ryuji Ikeda in 5 rounds, and unified it with the WBO Asia Pacific title, by stopping Jheritz Chavez in 7 rounds.
In the ring Inoue is a southpaw boxer puncher. He's not quite as heavy handed, relative to his weight class, as Naoya, but he holds plenty of pop. He likes to move, use the ring and lure opponents into his shots, whilst calmly boxing on the back foot. It's not always the most exciting to watch him do his thing, but when he goes through the gears and lets his hands go he looks sensational, with quick, hard, free flowing combinations. Sadly he does often seem too cautious, which is a shame given that he's such a great fighter to watch when he does turn up the tempo.
Aged 30 this is Daishi Nagata's second shot at a title, following a very close loss in an OPBF title fight against Rikki Naito. The challenger is a very fun fighter to see in action, pressing fighter and looking to force opponents to break, mentally and physically. He's not unbeatable, and was taken out in 7 rounds back in 2017 by Vladimir Baez, but he's a real tough out at this level with his pressure and aggression. He used that pressure to out work and out point Cristiano Aoqui last October, to earn his title fight, and build on previous wins over Yusuka Tsukada and Min Ho Jung. He's not the biggest puncher, but he's physically strong and does enough power on his shots to get the results of opponents.
Nagata, like Inoue, is a southpaw and stylistically he very different to the champion. Whilst the champion likes to uses his legs, establish range and chip away before moving through the gears Nagata would prefer a tear up, and will press from the off. That pressure is a tactic that could beat Inoue, but will need to be amped up and sped up from Nagata, who will need to find a bit more zip in his footwork compared to what we've seen from him in the past.
Although we think Nagata has the style to cause problems at domestic level we do see Inoue as being too quick, too sharp, and too good. The pressure Nagata brings will, like Chavez's, be used against him and he will walk into shots, with Inoue chipping away against someone who appears to be a willing participant in their own beating. Nagata will be looking to try and walk down Inoue but it will not a successful idea and by the middle rounds Inoue will begin to come forward more and take out the gutsy, but over-matched, challenger.
Prediction - TKO8 Inoue
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
On October 11th fight fans at the Korakuen Hall will get the chance to see OPBF Light Welterweight champion Rikki Naito (20-2, 7) make his second defense, as he faces off with Daishi Nagata (11-1-1, 5). On paper this looks really competitive, though some in Japan have downplayed the bout feeling that Nagata has next to no chance. We however like the bout, a lot, and feel it could be a hotly contested tactical bout between two men in need of a big performance and two men who will be looking to shine.
The 27 year old champion has long been in the eye of the press due to being the son of Cassius Naito, a former OPBF and Japanese champion. Sadly that pressure, and his father's name, has over-shadowed the man from Yokohama who has already had an accomplished career on the domestic and regional scene. He debuted a little over 7 years ago and would win his first 13 bouts whilst fighting primarily as a Super Featherweight. That unbeaten start would see him claim the Japanese Super Featherweight title in 2014, when he stopped Hiroyasu Matsuzaki, and make 3 defenses, including a notable win over Masayuki Ito. It would also include a win over Nihito Arakawa. Sadly for Naito his unbeaten run would come to an end in 2015, when he lost the title to Kenichi Ogawa and in 2016 he would lose again to Ogawa. Since then Naito has moved up in weight and settled at Light Welterweight, where he has won and defended the OPBF title.
At 140lbs Naito has already scored noteworthy wins over Baishanbo Nasiyiwula, Jeffrey Arienza and Jhertiz Chavez. On paper that's pretty solid, but the reality is that he got pushed all the way by both Baishanbo and Chavez, with Naito lucky to make it to the final bell against Chavez. He has proven that whilst talented and swift at 140lbs he's not much of a puncher, he's not physically imposing and he'll struggle to get fighters to back off. He can out box people, but will struggle to out fight them. Despite being OPBF champion there's a good argument to make that he might only be the fourth or fifth best fighter at the weight in Japan right now.
At 28 years old Nagata is 18 months older than Naito, and is also a natural Light Welterweight, having fought at the weight through much of his career. Like Naito he did have some attention when he turned professional, though that was from hardcore fans who knew that Nagata was an accomplished amateur, who went 41-21 (11) and won a major national title in 2012. On debut he was matched hard, fighting to a draw with Takeshi Inoue, and has hardly had an easy fight since. In fact he has already shared the ring with the likes of Jeffrey Arienza, Kazuki Matsuyama, Vladimir Baez and Takashi Inagaki. He's not gone through murderers row, but he hasn't had an easy career either. Sadly he has come undone in one of those bouts, losing in 7 rounds to Baez last year, but since then has strung together 3 wins to secure this fight.
In the ring Nagata is a well schooled fighter, he's a rather quick and accurate boxer who fights out of the southpaw stance, knows his way around the ring and manages to lure opponents to lung at him before he counters. He's a technically solid, smart fighter. Unfortunately he's a small Light Welterweight and that was shown when he was beaten by the crude but powerful Baez. He couldn't get Baez's respect and the Japanese based Dominican ended up walking him down and forcing his corner to save him in 7 rounds. The fear of being stopped by Naito is less than it was against Baez and instead we'd expected both men to put their skills to the test, and not their physicality.
We're not anticipating a classic brawl here. Instead we're suspect high speed chess, from the opening round to the final bell. Both men will take a round or two to try and figure the other out, and from then on we're going to see speed, skills and traps a plenty, with each man looking to lure the other in to range, slip and counter. This could be a complex, yet dull affair between well matched fighters, or it could be action packed with both pitching their ring IQ's against each other.
We're expecting action, counters, speed and we're going to actually pick against the grain and go with Nagata, albeit in a razor thin 12 round decision. There won't be much to pick between them, but we favour Nagata's extra physical strength to take him over the finishing line.
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.