This coming Saturday we'll see Japanese Youth Featherweight champion Hiroki Hanabusa (9-2-3, 3) attempt to make his first defense of the title, which he won last November when he upset Kyonosuke Kameda, as he takes on fellow youngster Toshiyuki Takahashi (7-4, 4).
The 23 year old Hanabusa, from Ishikawa, made his debut in 2017 and had good success early on, and even won the 2018 All Japan Rookie of the Year at Super Bantamweight. At that point the then 20 year old was 5-0-2 and looking like a genuine one to keep an eye in the always competitive Japanese Super Bantamweight scene. Sadly since that solid start he has had some mixed results, going 4-2-1, with a notable 2020 loss in a Japanese Super Bantamweight title fight against the slippery and skilled Toshiki Shimomachi, and a 2021 loss to fast rising Teiken hopeful Katsuya Fukui. More telling than his post-Rookie of the Year results however was his struggle to get a notable win, with his first 3 post Rookie of the Year wins coming against limited foreign opponents. It wasn't until late last year that things changed, with his notable win over Kameda for the title.
In the ring Hanabusa is something of an aggressive technical fighter. He comes forward a lot, throws a lot of busy, sharp jabs and keeps opponents working to either create space and keep him away, or to respect to his jabs. He's not a powerful fighter, or a physically imposing one, but he's busy, sharp, busy and awkward, with an educated lead hand. He can jab just as well to the body as he can to the had, and he comes out like a man who feels he can win on his jab alone. Despite the jab lead offense Hanabusa is also a pretty smart fighter, who can counter well when he needs to and to beat him you need to genuinely be a good fighter. Losses to Fukui and Shimomachi are not bad losses to have and both have come to top domestic prospects. One thing that is working against him however, is that he does look someone what lightweight, and when a fighter puts it on him, as we saw in the later rounds against Kameda.
As for Takahashi, the 22 year old from Kanagawa also debuted in 2017, but unlike Hanabusa he never really had much early career momentum. He lost in his debut and would later go on to lose 3 in a row, as he fell to 3-4. From then however he has really found his groove, winning his last 4 bouts. Sadly however his competition during that 4 fight run doesn't tell us much at all, and all of the opponents were limited, with none of them having wins in more than 50% of their bouts. Despite that he will have confidence coming in to this. Notably however he has been having his best success at Super Bantamweight and not Featherweight.
Footage of Takahashi isn't widely available, unfortunately, but there is enough out there to get a read on him. In the ring he looks quick, uses some nice footwork to get just out of range and also apply intelligent pressure. He's not a big puncher but he does look very quick and sharp. Sadly his punches aren't as crisp as his movement and footwork, though with some time to polish off we suspect that can be changed, and there is certainly a good prospect in him, though he's also very much a work in progress. Sadly he's defensively lacking in polish and looks like he doesn't enjoy being the one getting bullied, instead he wants to be on the front foot, exerting pressure with his footwork and not being backed up unless he wants to be.
Although footage of Takahashi is hard to come bye, from what there is out there, it's hard to see what he brings to the table to really test Hanabusa. Hanabusa looks sharper offensively, smarter, more accurate and busier. Takahashi doesn't belong alongside the likes of Fukui and Shimonachi, at least for now, and we can't help but feel he's been hand picked to help make Hanabusa look good, especially with his long, piercing jab.
The question, we feel, is not whether Hanabusa will win, but more whether or not he can break down his foe. We're not sure he can, but we are pretty sure he will retain his title here.
Prediction - UD8 Hanabusa
Every so often we get a bout at domestic or regional level that looks a little bit special, and like it could be something rather amazing. This Sunday we get one such bout as Japanese Featherweight champion Hinata Maruta (12-1-1, 9) takes on mandatory challenger Reiya Abe (22-3-1, 10), for both the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific Featherweight titles. The bout screams high level, intense, high speed chess match, and looks likely to be one of the very best Japanese domestic bouts of the year, as the two men look to prove that not only are they the best in Japan, and arguably the best in Asia along with Satoshi Shimizu and Can Xu, but also suitable for a world title bout later in the year, something both men are known to want sooner rather than later.
Of the two men, the more highly regarded is Maruta, who turned professional in 2015 with a lot of fanfare from those at the Morioka Gym. His debut saw him defeat hard hitting Filipino Jason Canoy, and he soon won the WBC Youth Bantamweight title, beating Wilbert Berondo to win the belt. After 2 defense he stepped up massively and lost a clear, but competitive, decision to the then OPBF Super Bantamweight champion Hidenori Otake. The loss served as a wake up call in some ways, and made Maruta that he needed to do more than just have exceptional skills, but also needed to apply them. After the loss his team looked to get him some international experience, with bouts in Thailand and the Philippines, though the bout in the Philippines ended with a terrible draw marking his record for second time. Since that draw however he has been in the form of his career, scoring 5 straight wins including notable domestic victories over Tsuyoshi Tameda, Coach Hiroto, Takenori Ohashi, Ryo Sagawa and Ryo Hino. Of those victories the one over Sagawa won Maruta the Japanese title, whilst his win over Hino served as his first defense.
In the ring Maruta is genuinely fantastic. He's a tall, rangy, long fighter who we've seen grow from a very slender and slim looking kid at Bantamweight, where he debuted aged 18, into a young man at the age of 25. He has gone from looking like someone who really needed to fill out their frame to someone who is slowly maturing into a bit of a beast in the ring. He's ultra sharp, incredibly quick, and fights to his strengths, keeping range behind his quick and clean jab, and uses good footwork to keep space, and draw mistakes. His early career saw him going through the motions a lot, and not really putting his foot on the gas as much as we'd like, but in recent years he has shown that third gear, whilst still looking like he has a lot still to give. He's a fighter who manages to exert pressure, despite fighting at range, due to his physical features, but he also has exceptional awareness, and is incredibly slippery, with very smooth defensive moves, which allows him to fight as counter puncher, whilst pressing behind his long jab. Unlike some Japanese fighters he's also willing to tie opponents up when they get too close, something that seems to have been developed from American training camps, as we really don't see it from many Japanese fighters. Notably Maruta might, still, look like he's not fully developed his frame, but he has solid power, to go with his accuracy, timing and speed and looks like he is always comfortable in the ring. Like many exceptional fighters he seems to have that amazing calm, confident composure, that separates brilliant fighters from the very good ones, and that makes he so relaxed in the ring as if he sees everything before it happens. The scariest thing about him however is that he seems to be light years ahead, in terms of skills, than many other fighters, and as a result only seems to need to show glimpses of what he can do. Fingers crossed when he steps up to facing global names we really see what he's been keeping in the locker.
Whilst we talking glowing of Maruta we also need to mention the challenger, who is certainly not a bad fighter himself. In fact Abe has been dubbed a boxing genius in Japan, and is a very high level, intelligent fighter himself, and sadly for him he also suffers with a similar issue to Maruta, a difficulty in showing everything he's capable of. He turned professional in 2013 aged 20 and lost his second professional bout, to Koki Kobayashi, before bouncing back and winning the 2014 All Japan Rookie of the Year. In 2015 he lost for the second time, to Shingo Kusano, before reeling off a brilliant 11 fight winning run. That winning run saw him over-come the likes of Ryo Hino, Hikaru Marugame, avenge the loss to Shingo Kusano, Tsuyoshi Tameda, Joe Noynay, Satoshi Hosono an Daisuke Sugita. A brilliant run that saw him fight for the Japanese title in 2019, and fight to a draw with Japanese Featherweight champion Taiki Minamoto. He would also come up short 4 months later when he lost a razor close decision to Ryo Sagawa for the vacant title, which Minamoto gave up when he moved up in weigh. Since that draw he has rebuilt well with wins against Ren Sasaki, Koshin Takeshima and Daisuke Watanabe to earn a third shot at the Japanese throne.
In the ring Abe is a very, very intelligent fighter. He fights out of the southpaw stance and love to control the range and tempo behind his his footwork, creating space to land counter left hands. At times he neglects his jab, which is an excellent weapon, but does let opponents be their own downfall a lot of the time. He's a fighter who loves to feint, get a read on opponents, and condition them to expect one thing before changing things up. His footwork is a job to watch and his ability to dictate the range of a bout is brilliant, especially as he often does it without really letting his hands go. For people wanting to study footwork, Abe's is some of the best in the sport. Sadly his lack of actual output is frustrating at times, and has been one of his major downfalls in his losses, as he is too patient at times, and tries too hard to draw a mistake rather than reverting to Plan B and becoming more offensive, though credit to him he has had notable success fighting his way. Whilst it's his footwork and distance control that shines, he does do a lot of things "wrong" in an attempt to draw leads. His hands are very low and whilst he's not an easy target, he can be dropped when caught clean, as Minamoto did twice. His style is also unlikely to win friends in the west, if he ever ends up challenging a top American or British fighter.
Whilst we are big fans of both men, we can't help but feel that Abe, in some ways, is made to order for Maruta. The boxing brain of Abe is incredible, and if you could put his brain in to almost any other fighter it would improve them. But his style, and his laziness at times, won't serve well against a fighter with the speed, timing, and reach of Maruta. Maruta will take a few rounds to work out the distance, but then we suspect he will use his own feints to draw bites from Abe, and counter those, whilst also controlling behind his own jab. The question marks about Abe's chin, raised by the Minamoto fight, will also rear their head here and we wouldn't be surprised to see Abe on the canvas at some point due to the power and speed of Maruta.
As the bout goes into the later rounds we expect to see Abe try to turn it around, and look to let his hands go more, but that will result in him taking more and we wouldn't be surprised at all by a late stoppage by Maruta, due to accumulation of shots.
Prediction - TKO11 Maruta
This coming Saturday we'll see Japanese Featherweight champion Hinata Maruta (11-1-1, 9) take on Ryo Hino (14-2-2, 9) at Korakuen Hall in a really good looking match up, which will be streamed live on PPV in Japan.
For Maruta this will be his first defense, and follows an excellent title winning performance back in February against Ryo Sagawa, whilst Hino will be getting his second shot at the Japanese title, having previously come up short against Sagawa back in 2019. For fans it'll be a chance to see whether the 24 year old Maruta is still developing into the star we all expected him to become when he turned professional, whilst the 31 year old Hino is likely to not get a third shot, if he comes up short here.
When he turned professional, back in 2015, everyone who followed Japanese boxing had high hopes for the then 18 year old Maruta. He quickly backed up those high hopes by beating the then world ranked Jason Canoy in his debut, and quickly raced away to his first title, the WBC Youth Bantamweight title which he won in his third bout. After moving to 5-0 (4), in less than 18 months, Maruta then took a leap up in class to challenge OPBF Super Bantamweight champion Hidenori Otake, and came up short against the tough and experienced Otake. The loss was a set back for the then 20 year old, but it was also a learning experience. He would have another set back 10 months later, as he was held to a very controversial draw in the Philippines against Ben Mananquil, but those losses seem to have made Maruta into a better fighter. At times he had been lazy in his career, happy to shows his slippery defensive skills but not show the output he needed. Since the Mannaquil bout however he has gone 4-0 (3) with notable domestic wins against Tsuyoshi Tameda, Coach Hiroto, Takenori Ohashi and most recently Sagawa.
In the ring it has always been obvious that Maruta is an incredible talent, and a man with a frame made to be a boxer, with a tall, long frame. Early on however he was immature, he seemed to fight like a man happy to show case his skills, rather than make a statement. In recent bouts however there has been a new found spite in his work, and he has looked like a fighter who wants to hurt his opponents. That was clear when he stopped Tameda, Ohashi and Sagawa, all of who are good fighters in their own rights. He is blessed with incredible speed and balance, a frightening jab, fantastic movement, both upper body and foot, and genuinely nasty power. He has matured physically from his early days, and his body has filled out from a scrawny looking Bantamweight to a strong looking Featherweight and he really is getting better with every fight. As a fighter he is a boxer-puncher, but he can also play the role of counter puncher when he needs to, and we have seen him show some traits of a pressure fighter, when he's had to. One thing that is very clear however, is that he has a very special boxing brain, and that, added to his speed and power, could make him a real nightmare for the division in years to come.
As for Ryo Hino he's a 31 year old who's been a professional since 2013. His career started with 4 wins against domestic novices, before being held to a draw by Yoshifumi Tamaki, and not long after that he suffered his first loss, losing to Reiya Abe. Following that defeat Hino would record a string of low level wins before upsetting the then touted Sho Nakazawa, in one of the best wins of his career. Sadly momentum from that win was killed off quickly, as he was held to a draw by Coach Hiroto in his very next fight. Sadly it seemed the draw scared his team, who didn't want to risk a high domestic ranking and he picked up two low level domestic wins before challenging Sagawa in 2019, and losing a wide decision to the then Japanese champion. Since that loss he has fought just once, stopping Ryukyu Oho in 7 rounds this past April.
In the ring Hino is a very solid boxer-mover. He has a nice jab, which he uses to control range and dictate the tempo of action, he's light on his feet, and can make fighters miss by using his speed and movement. He's not the most exciting fighter to watch, and his competition hasn't been great, but it's clear he has talent and skills. He fights to a game plan well, and when he finds his groove he begins to fire in the left hand behind the jab, closing the distance when he wants and letting shots go with more flow. Sadly though he typically seems to lack fire, and even a bit of the stereo-typical Japanese fighting spirit. He's happier to box and move, and does what he can to avoid an actual fight. He's incredibly relaxed in the ring, and looks composed and calm, but that can be easy against opponents levels below you.
Sadly for Hino it feels very much like he's a poor man's Maruta. Like Maruta he's slippery, has a nice long jab and looks calm in the ring, but he lacks the power, the spite, and work rate of the current version of Maruta. Maruta will likely win the early portions of the bout by out boxing Hino, before taking it up a gear and taking out Hino in the middle rounds. We expect to see the stoppage coming from a body shot, after Maruta has broke his man up up with stiff, hard, head shots.
Prediction - TKO7 Maruta
For a third day in a row we get title action in Japan as Japanese Youth Featherweight champion Kyonosuke Kameda (7-2-1, 6) defends his title, for the first time, and takes on Hiroki Hanabusa (8-2-3, 3) in an interesting looking match up.
Kameda won the title back in July, when he stopped the previously unbeaten Tsubasa Narai in 2 rounds to claim his first professional title. During that bout we saw a very polished performance from Kameda, who looked relaxed, calm, confident and heavy handed. He took the first round to see what Narai had in the longer, and then hurt, and stopped Narai with some huge head shots in the second round. That was the biggest win of his career, so far, and showed the improvements Kameda has made since signing with the Harada gym.
In the ring Kameda is an awkward fighter to go up again. He's long, he's rangy, heavy handed and although he's still raw around the edges, he's dangerous and tough to get to. He's improved significantly since his debut, which he lost, and although we doubt he'll ever go on to win world titles, he certainly has the potential to mix it up at domestic and regional level, and certainly has the power to be a nightmare at this Youth title level, especially against naturally smaller fighters, such as Hanabusa. Worryingly for the Japanese domestic scene, Kameda is only 23 and could have a few years to develop his skills at the Harada gym before needing to face the top dogs.
The 22 year old Hanabusa has been a professional since 2017, and began his career as a Super Flyweight, though went on to most of his notable success at Super Bantamweight, where he won the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2018. Heading in to 2019 it seemed Hanabusa was heading places, but a loss in 2020 to Toshiki Shimomachi and one in 2021 to Katsuya Fukui have really left him in desperate need of a good performance. Sadly those two losses have come in his last two bouts, and he has no momentum at all coming into this bout. Also he's moving up in weight, from Super Bantamweight to Featherweight, and isn't a naturally big, strong or powerful fighter.
In the ring Hanabusa is a talented boxer-mover. He lacks fight changing power, but uses the ring well, throws plenty of leather and comes to fight, but does so in a technical, efficient manner. Sadly for him he hasn't the natural size to compete at Featherweight, and although he has had solid results at Super Bantamweight, he's not really a naturally 122lb'der either. In fact he'd probably have more success at Bantamweight, though the 118lb weight class is stacked in Japan at the moment. He's a talented, aggressive, comes to win and should make for a fun dancer partner, but one without much threat.
Given Hanabusa likes to fight, he likes to throw punches and comes to fight, we expect him to bring pressure early on, try and force Kameda into a high tempo fight. Kameda on the other hand will be patient, look to create some space, relax, and then use his power, taking out Hanabusa in the first half of the fight. The size, power, and strength of the two men will be the difference maker here.
Prediction - TKO4 Kameda
One of the best things about Japanese boxing right now is the Featherweight division, which is red hot with talent, and has a brilliant variety of styles among it's top fighters. You have pure boxers, like Reiya Abe and Ryo Sagawa, you have warriors like Tsuyoshi Tameda and Daisuke Watanabe, you have boxer-punchers, like Hinata Maruta, and emerging prospects, like Jinki Maeda and Ryuto Owan. The division in Japan is bursting at the seams, even if international fans aren't really paying it much attention. Yet. It's inevitable that at least one of the top Japanese Featherweights will make a mark at the top level in the coming years, and it's a case of when, and not if, we see one of them fighting for, and potentially winning, a world title.
The division is set for another huge bout in Japan on May 21st as OPBF champion Satoshi Shimizu (9-1, 9) takes on WBO Asia Pacific champion Musashi Mori (12-0, 7), in a bout to unify the two regional titles in the division.
As with so many Featherweight bouts in Japan recently, the bout is not just a really good one, between two very solid fighters, but also a match up between two men who are very talented, and have very different styles. It's the mix of styles that makes such a compelling match up, and will see both men being forced to prove what they can do against a fighter who will ask them very serious questions.
Of the two men the more well known is Satoshi Shimizu, 2-time Olympian who won bronze at the 2012 London games, losing in the semi final to Luke Campbell. He had hoped to compete at the 2016 Olympics, but after failing to qualify turned professional, at the advanced age of 30. The idea, originally, was to fast track him. After all he had been a stellar amateur with 150 amateur wins, and an Olympic gold medal. The fast tracking worked well early on, and he won the OPBF Featherweight title in his 4th professional bout, just just 13 months after his debut and raced out to 8-0 (8) whilst beginning to edge towards a world ranking. And then he flirted with the Super Featherweight division and got badly beaten by Joe Noynay in 2019, with Shimizu then requiring a long break from the ring and staying out of action for a year, in part to his injuries and in part due to Covid19. When he finally got back in action last year, he was already 34 and the clock was ticking on his career.
Since turning profession in 2016 there have been some really obvious things about Shimizu that can't be denied. Firstly he's not actually a very good boxer. He's clumsy, he's slow, he's wide with his punches and he does almost everything wrong. There is nothing about him that screams "former amateur stand out". Secondly he punches like a mule. Shimizu is a horrible boxer, but a brutal puncher, and when he lands clean fighters feel it. In fact when he lands just glancing blows opponents feel it. Thirdly, he's awkward as all hell. He's rangy a 5'11", southpaw at Featherweight. Add that to his power and he is just a nightmare to fight, even with all his technical flaws. Sadly at 35 it's now or never for Shimizu, and it's hard to imagine him ever making good on the promise he had when he turned professional.
Aged just 21 Musashi Mori is at the opponent end of his career, though is already an established young fighter who is rapidly rising through the ranks, and moving towards a world title fight. Like Shimizu he debuted in 2016, though did so as a 17 year old, in a 4 rounder, without any hype or noise around him. The following year he went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year, beating Zirolian Riku in the All Japan final in what was Mori's Korakuen Hall debut, at Super Featherweight. Following that win big things were predicted of the youngster but a genuine scare against Allan Vallespin saw some doubt creep in about the youngster. Rather than question his potential he did something smart, and realised he wasn't a natural Super Featherweight, and dropped to Featherweight instead. Since moving down in weight he has really found himself scoring 2 wins against Richard Pumicpic, winning the WBO Asia Pacific title in the first of those, as well as notching notable defenses against Takuya Mizuno and Tsuyoshi Tameda. As well as his impressive resume for such a young novice he has also been working with the amazing Ismael Salas, who has really helped develop Mori's boxing ability, brain and style, developing him into an excellent young fighter.
In regards to how Mori fights, he's an intelligent boxer, with some snap on his shots. Over the last few years he has toned down his aggression, used his jab a lot more, and really developed in to one of the best counter punchers in Japan. He's accurate, has quick hands, very good footwork and seems comfortable on the inside as well as at mid-range. Defensively there is still work to do, but that has been the area where has really improved so much from his early days, and it's clear that Salas has taught him a lot about defense, and how to control range. Sadly for him he does lack in terms of 1-shot power and physicality, and it's clear that a lot of fighters at Featherweight could bully him around, but he has enough sting on his shots to get respect from opponents, and lands his shots very clean, often as counters with opponents walking on to them.
In terms of abilities, Mori is the much, much better boxer. He's more polished, he's smoother, he's lighter on his feet, he moves better, and his jab is significantly better. If this was all about boxing ability, and just boxing ability, Mori wouldn't have any problems winning. Of course boxing is so much more than just skills and when you carry dynamite in your hands, as Shimizu does, this care never going to be easy. Especially given the awkwardness, reach and size of Shimizu, and the way he throws from some truly angles that fighters can't really prepare for.
We expect to see Mori showing a lot of respect to Shimizu early on. And we mean a lot of respect, but do so whilst picking and poking at Shimizu. Trying to rack up rounds without taking risks. As for Shimizu the key isn't to try and box, but to time Mori coming in, and tagging him before he can get to close. To have success Mori needs to work quickly, use his speed, and if he gets inside he needs to work up close, smothering the power of Shimizu in the process. If he can do that we'll see him chipping away at Shimizu round by round and establishing a clear lead on the scorecards.
Shimizu will always be dangerous, right through to the final bell, and he could turn the bout around at any moment, with a wild looping left hand, or wide right hook. That's a real danger that Mori will need to be wary of, even if he feels in control. If Mori can, however, avoid eating eating too many shots clean we see him taking a clear, and wide, decision over the 35 year old, unifying the two regional titles and establishing himself as one of the leading Japanese contenders at Featherweight, along with Hinata Maruta.
Prediction - UD12 Mori
After getting two great Japanese title fights in January, including a FOTY contender between Yusaku Kuga and Gakuya Furuhashi, we’ve come into February with high expectations of what to expect in bouts for the Japanese national title. With that said the next one we’re going to get looks like it could, potentially, be a special high level chess match as Japanese Featherweight champion Ryo Sagawa (10-1, 5) defends against mandatory challenger Hinata Maruta (10-1-1, 8), this coming Thursday.
Unlike the two Japanese title fights we got in Tokyo in January the view coming into this one isn’t that we’ll see a war but instead a sensationally high level contest, and one that will be more suited to the purists, rather than fans baying for blood. Despite that it’s one we’ve waited well over a year for!
The bout was originally announced to take place in early 2020, as part of the Champion Carnival. Sadly however Covid19 ruined those plans, and put the bout on hiatus, pushing it to 2021. In the interim Maruta sat out the year whilst Sagawa managed to make a voluntary defense against the gutsy Yuri Takemoto, who put up a game effort before being stopped in the 6th round. Despite the lengthy delay this is a bout that we suspect will be worth every day of the delay and should provide us something special.
For those who haven’t seen the men in action, they actually have quite a lot in common. Firstly both men are genuinely handsome young fighters, who don’t look like typical boxers, in fact both genuinely look like pretty boys. Despite that both are incredibly talented boxers, with excellent technical ability, great speed and under-rated power. They are also both flawed fighters, who appear to be improving from some early career hiccups.
The 26 year old Sagawa turned professional in 2016 after a very solid amateur career. He looked good in his debut, scoring a TKO win over Korean Ho Ya Kim, before suffering a TKO loss to Retsu Kosaka. The loss saw Sagawa being hurt as Kosaka made the most of Sagawa’s inexperience, and went on to force a stoppage soon afterwards. The bout exposed two issues with Sagawa. One was his chin, which was shaky but not glass, the other was his inexperience, and he looked very confused about how to react to being hurt. Thankfully since then he has improved so much, and has won 9 in a row. They have included a fight where he had to pull himself off the canvas to win, against Junki Sasaki, an excellent TKO win over former world title challenger Ryo Matsumoto, his international debut against Al Toyogon, his title winning performance against Reiya Abe and two subsequent title defenses.
In the ring Sagawa is a very, very tidy boxer. Offensively he’s very sharp and despite not being a puncher he has more than enough power to get respect from opponents, and he can hurt and stop fighters, as he did against Ryo Matsumoto and Yuri Takemoto. There’s no doubting his ability, and his adaptability, showing himself to not only be an excellent boxing, with textbooks skills, but also a very capable fighter when he needs to, as he did in the second half of his bout with Toyogon. Despite being incredibly talented, and very smooth, there are still worries about Sagawa’s chin and he has been stopped and dropped before. He’s not the easiest man to catch clean, but we do worry about what happens when he is caught. He has matured from his loss to Kosaka, but there will always be a worry about how well he takes a shot and whether he can pull it back together to take a victory, as he did against Sasaki.
Hinata Maruta turned professional in 2015, as a baby faced 18 year old, and looked set for huge things. As soon as he turned professional there was a lot of buzz and fuss about him, and it was proven to be warranted when he beat the then world ranked Jason Canoy on debut. He had been a stand out amateur and that amateur experience had seen him get rave reviews from those in Japan. Following his impressive debut he ran his record out to 5-0 (5), winning and defending the WBC Youth Bantamweight title and looking like a brilliant talent. He looked like a man with sensational skills, a crispness rarely seen of such a novice, speed, size, reach and incredible reactions. Sadly, though he stepped up too much too soon and in his 6th bout he lost a competitive decision to Hidenori Otake, in an OPBF title fight. Despite the loss Maruta’s stock remained high, given the huge step up and his performance. After a couple of wins he was held to a very debatable draw in the Philippines, against Ben Mananquil, before scoring a trio of solid Japanese domestic level wins.
In the ring Maruta is one of the smoothest boxers in Japan, and unlike many Japanese fighters his style is very one inspired by the slick, slippery style that we see as being popular in the US. His defense is fantastic, as is his ability to box behind his jab, and his power is criminally under-rated. Sadly though for all the positives we can say about Maruta, and there is a lot we like about him, there is one major issue we have with him. That’s his work rate. Early in his career Maruta was happier to show what he could do, and showcase his skills, rather than let his hands go, and often seemed to stall in second and third gear. Thankfully that has been less frequent since his draw with Ben Mananquil, but there is always a risk that he will fall back into that pattern of simply “not doing enough”. If he can let his hands go more though he looks like a sure fire future world champion.
Coming into this one we really are expecting a very, very high level boxing contest, between two men who will be looking to out think each other, adapt to each other, and come back with plans A, B, C and D. This is one that we suspect will start as a boxing contest and we’ll see both men adapt as the bout goes on, moving from pure boxing to more of a fight. In theory that’s the type of bout which favour Sagawa, who has proven he can up the tempo and fight up close. Whilst it’s true that brawl could favour Sagawa we actually think that will be his undoing and his chin will get tagged by a counter from Maruta, who will then unload on a stunned Sagawa and force a stoppage to take the title.
Whilst we are predicting a stoppage for Maruta we really wouldn’t be surprised by any outcome here. It’s one of those bouts where anything is possible, and one of those bouts where both men will need to make continual changes to their tactics until the ending comes. It will be cerebral at times, exciting at others, and genuinely fantastic through out.
Prediction - TKO9 Maruta
If we're being honest it can be easy to hate on some weight divisions, and one of those that is an easy target is the Featherweight division, especially in 2020 when almost no big bouts took place in it. In a division that has the likes of Can Xu, Josh Warrington, Gary Russell Jr and Emanuel Navarrete there is the talent there for some phenomenal bouts but sadly we've not seem much at all worth being excited about. Fingers crossed 2021 will be a much, much better year for the division.
Thankfully whilst the division's biggest and brightest haven't given us much to talk about the division does still have some interesting action going on below the top level, and on November 23rd we get the chance to see one of the rising hopefuls of the division in action, as he takes on a serious puncher. The bout isn't set to get much international attention, but it should still deliver some action.
The bout in question will pit WBO Asia Pacific champion Musashi Mori (11-0, 6) against heavy handed challenger Tsuyoshi Tameda (21-5-2, 19), in one of the more interesting bouts the division has given us this year. On paper it might not look that interesting, but in reality the bout is a perfect mix of styles, and a serious test for a man who turns 21 the day before the fight.
The unbeaten champion is the big hope from the gym run by former WBC Bantamweight champion Yasuei Yakushiji, and has been guided brilliantly so far. He debuted aged 17 and won the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2017, the following year he won the WBO Asia Pacific title, narrowly over-coming Richard Pumicpic, and since then has been learning under the guidance of Ismael Salas. It's been under Salas' guidance that we've seen Mori build around his strength's and go from an aggressive fighter, to be a well balanced boxer, with a might better defense and understanding of the ring.
Under Salas we have seen Mori become a touch boring, dull and less exciting than he once was. On one hand that is disappointing, but it's clearly been a change that will increase Mori's in ring success and it's clear that he's not a much more polished boxer than he was. He's quick, sharp, moves around the ring well and has a razor like southpaw straight left hand. One thing we don't see from him often enough, for our liking, is a jab thrown with intent, but it is in his arsenal, as are short, crafty uppercuts to the body. Although he's technically very good we don't see the X-Factor with him at the moment. He's talented, but lacks that eye catching speed, good night power and we do query his physical maturity, with the youngster still looking like a body. In a year or two, when he build his man strength, that might change, but at the moment it very feels like he needs more time to develop and at 20 going on 21, talk of a world title fight is too soon in our eyes.
At one point Tsuyoshi Tameda looked like a star in the making, and was a stand-out, thrill a minute youngster. He turned professional in 2011, at the age of 17, and was one of the last students under the legendary eye of Kenji Yonekura. As a youngster he kicked off his career with 3 opening round KO's and looked like a destructive force. In just his 5th bout he fought to a draw with Masayuki Ito in the Rookie of the Year, before being beaten a fight later. Following his first loss Tameda went on a role and moved to 13-1-2 (11), including wins over future Japanese national champion Takenori Ohashi and Filipino fighter Mark Bernaldez. Then he lost to Simipiwe Vetyeka, losing a gruelling and 1-sided decision to the talent South African. Sadly Tameda has never really bounced back from that loss and has gone 8-3 since then with stoppage losses to the tricky Reiya Abe, the touted Hinata Maruta and the all action Jae Woo Lee. He's still shown rock hands, but those losses have shown that his chin is cracked, and that he can be stopped.
Now at the age of 27 there are real question marks about just what Tameda has left. Technically he's never been the best, despite being guided first by Yonekura and now by Hideyuki Ohashi. He has always been fun, a devastating puncher, and a real danger man, but has always struggled against fighters that can take his blows and those that can counter him. He makes a lot of mistakes, and gives opponents lots of chances to tag him, but if he lands he can take fighters out, as we saw in stunning fashion Takenori Ohashi.
For this bout we are really interested in several things. Firstly can Tameda land on Mori? And if so can Mori take the power of Tameda? We know Tameda can struggle to land on fighters but when he lands he does tend to chake them up and if Mori is caught clean by a right hand, even once, it will be very interesting to see how he responds. Secondly can Mori get Tameda's respect? If not is he capable of playing keep away for 12 rounds? Tameda does seem like he's somewhat damaged compared to the fighter he once was, but with Mori not having stand out power there's a chance his shots bounce off Tameda as the challenger comes forward.
We suspect the movement, skills, speed and timing of Mori will be the difference. We expect to see the youngster take a shot or two, but not cleanly and not solidly enough to really test his chin, and when he is tagged he'll tie up or get out of dodge. But there will always be that danger of him eating one and coming undone. Tameda will always try, and will always feel he had the power to turn things around, but we feel that after 7 or 8 rounds his steam will run out and Mori will ease over the finish line for a clear decision.
Prediction - UD12 Mori
Earlier this year the Champion Carnival bouts were announced and there was a number of those that really caught our eye and got us excited. One of those was a Featherweight title bout that would have seen talented youngster Hinata Maruta get his first shot at a domestic title. Sadly due to the on going situation the 2020 Champion Carnival has not gone the way many of us had hoped when the bouts were announced, and we've only had a few of those bouts actually take place, and it's unclear if, or when the others will happen.
With Maruta not having his shot at champion Ryo Sagawa (9-1, 4) this year, we have seen Sagawa turn his attention else where. Instead of being made to face his mandatory challenger he will actually be in the ring on August 13th to defend his title against Yuri Takemoto (8-1-1, 4). On paper this looks a decent bout, but in reality it's unlikely to live up the expectations we had for Sagawa Vs Maruta.
Saying that however, what do we really expect here?
Although not yet a name on an international level Sagawa is a highly skilled fighter who has been on a tear recently. Before turning professional he was a successful amateur who turned professional in 2016 and was tipped for success. Sadly however he was upset in his second professional bout, when he was stopped in 2 rounds by Retsu Kosaka. The loss was a major set back, but one that Sagawa quickly bounced back from and he has now won 8 in a row. Not only has he been scoring wins but he has been scoring notable ones, beating the likes of Junki Sasaki, Ryo Matsumoto, Shingo Kawamura, Reiya Abe and Ryo Hino.
Watching Sagawa we get the chance to see a fantastic boxer-puncher. He looks really well polished, with fluid movement, and makes boxing look easy. He makes the sport look effortless at times, and like a man who was born to be in the ring. He's light on his feet, quick with his hands and able to both box on the move, or apply pressure and fight. Sadly however there are real question marks over his chin. The loss to Kosaka to showed his chin was questionable and he was also dropped in his win over Junki Sasaki. It seems if there is a flaw to target as an opponent it is Sagawa's chin.
Whilst Sagawa has proven himself as one of the best in Japan in recent years the same can't be said of Takemoto, who is taking a huge step up in class.
The 24 year old challenger made his debut back in 2017 and, like Sagawa, lost his second bout. Unlike Sagawa however his loss was a close decision loss to Kensuke Nakamura. The youngster then fought to a draw with Tomoya Kishine, but has since reeled off 8 wins. The most notable of those was in December 2018 when he beat Hikari Mineta to be crowned the All Japan Rookie of the Year, in what was a huge win for him.
In his Rookie of the Year win Takemoto looked talented, promising and heavy handed, dropping Mineta 3 times in the opening round. Sadly however he seemed like a work in progress, and struggled to have success outside of that first round, with Mineta looking the more talented and rounded fighter. He seemed like he had some raw talent, but certainly needed a lot of work to reach the higher levels of the sport.
Sadly since winning Rookie of the Year Takemoto hasn't really impressed. He's picked up 3 wins but they included a against the hapless Kiki Marciano and a technical decision against Yoshiyuki Takabayashi. They have done little to prepare him for a title fight in a talent laden division in Japan. If anything this shot feels like it's coming far, far too early for him and whilst he may become a legitimate domestic contender one day he's not there yet.
What we're expecting to see here is Sagawa to out box, out punch and out think Takemoto. Takemoto is certainly dangerous if he lands, especially given what we know about Sagawa's chin, but it's hard to see him landing clean with any regularity. Instead we're expecting Sagawa will tag him at will, break him down and then stop him in the middle rounds. Afterwards it will like a mismatch, and in reality it's hard to see the bout being anything but an easy defense for the talented champion.
We do understand that the sport isn't running as freely in the country as we'd like but it's hard to get too excited here in a bout that we can't help but think is far too much, far too soon for Takemoto.
Prediction - Sagawa TKO 6
As part of an Ohashi card on July 16th we'll see OPBF Featherweight champion Satoshi Shimizu (8-1, 8) defending his title against former Japanese Youth champion Kyohei Tonomoto (9-2-1, 4). On paper this doesn't look the best of bouts, but there is a lot that makes this bout really interesting, and something that could be, potentially, a slippery match up for the defending champion.
The 34 year old Shimizu turned professional in 2016, with many thinking he turned pro far too late to make the most of his ability. Prior to that he had been a very successful amateur, fighting at 2-Olympics and winning bronze at the 2012 Olympics in London. Had he turned professional then we would likely be talking about Shimizu having made an impact at world level. Sadly he wanted to battle for a place at the 2016 Olympics, falling short and turning professional afterwards.
In the ring Shimizu is a crude, but awkward, gangly southpaw puncher. Despite a very strong amateur background he's very unorthodox and throws shots from weird angles, often with his chin exposed. Typically he's gotten away with it in the professional ranks due to his freakish power and absolutely bizarre dimensions for a Featherweight. Last time out however he was punished with Joe Noynay stopping him in 6 rounds in a Super Featherweight bout. That loss not only scuppered Shimizu's unbeaten record but also left him injured and requiring a lengthy break from the ring to recover. As a result Shimizu is now 11 months removed from his last bout and 18 months removed from his last win, which was also his last defense of the OPBF Featherweight title.
With the inactivity, injuries, age, and potentially low confidence Shimizu may well be there for the taking.
In Tonomoto we have a challenger who is just starting to come into his physical prime. He turns 25 in July and appears to finally have some momentum in his career. He made his debut in 2013, reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2014, losing to Reiya Abe, and then vanished from the sport in late 2015 for over 3 years. Since returning to boxing in December 2018 Tonomoto has gone unbeaten in 3 fights, including winning the Japanese Youth Featherweight title in May 2019, and defending it 7 months later.
Sadly footage of Tonomoto is relatively scarce, though in his Japanese Youth title win he did show a lot to like. He moved around the ring well, was accurate and smartly neutralised Hikaru Matsuoka early on before finding his range and boxing well behind his clean and effective jab. It wasn't the most exciting or explosive of performances but it was a smart and efficient stuff from the youngster who was well deserving of the win. He looked like he had the ability to go further in the sport than the Japanese Youth title, but also looked like there was areas holding him back, including his lack of power and lack of intensity.
We do believe this is the perfect time to face Shimizu. If he was in with a dangerous fighter, someone with some bang, or a high work rate, he could be in a lot of trouble. In reality however he's in with a light puncher who he should, really, be able to walk through.
We suspect Shimizu will start slowly, ease his way into the bout, and then begin to step up on the gas in the middle rounds and break down the game challenger. Tonomoto will be there to win, but will, sadly, lack the ability, strength and power to cope with the champion.
Prediction - TKO6 Shimizu
On December 14th in the City Sogo Gym in Kishiwada fans will see Japanese Youth Featherweight champion Kyohei Tonomoto (9-2, 4) make his first defense, as he takes on Ryotaro Motohashi (9-1, 2) in a very interesting looking match up. The bout isn't one that will get headline treatment, but is an evenly matched contest between two men who are both still in the formative years of their career and both promise a lot going forward.
The champion won the belt back in May, when he defeated previous champion Hikaru Matsuoka in Hyogo, with a majority decision. The win was, by far, the biggest win of Tonomoto's career and saw him show the early potential we had seen in 2014, when he lost in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final to Reiya Abe. Sadly for Tonomoto his career lost a lot of steam in 2015, and despite his talent he didn't fight for over 3 years, before resurfacing in 2018 with a win over a Thai novice. Given his inactivity the win over Matsuoka was a huge surprise, though a very legit win at this level.
Although Tonomoto doesn't do anything amazingly eye catching he does the basics really well. He's a solid technical boxer who moves well, controls distance well and really does love doubling up his accurate jab, controlling the tempo well with it. He's busy, accurate and very relaxed in the ring, though does look like he perhaps lacks in the physical side of things and if someone tries to bully him it does appear that he might struggle to force them to back off.
The 23 year old Motohashi is a really obscure Japanese fighters, even for us, and the Kyoto based Osakan born youngster has managed to remain under the radar after his debut in September 2015. That was despite getting relatively far in the 2017 Rookie of the Year. He was sadly unable to compete in the West Japan final, which ended his tournament just a fight from the All Japan final. Sadly this is only his third bout since his Rookie tournament came to an end, and it's hard to be too confident in him given how little we've managed to see.
Despite all the footage of Japanese boxing being available Motohashi is a bit of an enigma with the only fan cam footage being available of him, and strangely Boxing Raise have seemingly mislabeled a fight that is supposed to feature him but is actually a Koki Tyson fight. From what little footage there is of him, which is admittedly from 2017, he looks rather slow and although more physical than Tonomoto he looks clumsier, and the sort of fighter who, at time, was happier to engage in close combat. The footage of him is so old that it's hard to read much into, but it was certainly fun to see and he did look like he could be in some very fun bouts if matched right.
Making a prediction on such little footage of one of the fighters can be tricky, but from what we have seen this does look like a stylistically straight forward bout for Tonomoto, who should be too sharp, too accurate and too busy. Motohashi will likely have moments when he does get up close, but overall we think those moments might be often enough for the challenger to bully the champion or rack up the rounds.
If Motohashi had scored a stoppage or two in his last 5 bouts we may have been convinced that his gruelling style would break down Tonomoto, but his lack of power suggests that won't be the case.
Prediction - UD8 Tonomoto
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.