In 2020 the boxing calendar got completely screwed up with Covid19 forcing bouts to be postponed and cancelled on a regular basis. One of the bouts that was postponed was a mandatory title fight for the Japanese Super Bantamweight title. That bout has now been rearranged for January 22nd and will see defending champion Yusaku Kuga (19-4-1, 13) taking on mandatory challenger Gakuya Furuhashi (26-8-1, 14), in what could be something a little bit special and very brutal.
Those who have been following the Japanese scene over the last few years will know all about the 30 year old Kuga who is now enjoying his second reign as the Japanese Super Bantamweight champion. For those who haven’t been following the scene Kuga is a very fan friendly fighter, who’s a puncher first, with an aggressive style and warmonger mentality in the ring. He came up short in his first title fight, back in 2015 when he lost a razor thin decision to Yasutaka Ishimoto but has gone 8-2 (6) since then, and managed to avenge his loss to Ishimoto in 2017 to claim the title, for the first time. In his first reign he made 2 defenses of the title before losing in 2018 to Shingo Wake, in what was really an undressing for Kuga, who had no answer to Wake’s movement and jab.
Despite losing to Wake it wasn’t long until Kuga reclaimed the title, winning it back from Ryoichi Tamura in 2019, in what was the second bout between the men and an all out war, one of the genuine hidden gems of 2019. After reclaiming the title he made a single defense before taking on Jhunriel Ramonal at the end of 2019, and being brutally taken out after just 84 seconds, in a genuine upset.
At his best Kuga is a really brutal fighter to go up against. For much of his career he has been a heavy handed, teak tough warrior, with a great engine and a really physical style. He can box, though often seems happier to have a war, and his two battles with Ryoichi Tamura were both brutal, punishing affairs for both men. Sadly though his toughness has been questioned in recent losses, with Shingo Wake breaking him down in 10 rounds and the loss to Ramonal being a clean KO. As well as those losses we do wonder what he’s like mentally coming into this bout. Had he been able to get a confidence easy win after his loss to Ramonal we’d feel better about his chance, but we do wonder if that loss is still playing on his mind more than a year after it. We also wonder if the wars with Tamura have taken something from him.
At his best Kuga is a nightmare. His power is destructive at this level, he’s very physical, his right cross is a concussion maker and his pressure and work rate is incessant. He’s not the quickest, the sharpest, and his jab is somewhat limited, but he’s a real bully in the ring. The most obvious way to beat him is to out box him, out maneuver him and refuse to have a tear up with him. Saying that however we do, genuinely, wonder what the Ramonal loss has done to him, and what shape his chin is going to be in, and what his confidence is going to be like.
Furuhashi is a 33 year old who fights out of the Nitta Gym in Kawasaki, and has been one of their most notable fighters for years. Sadly though he has had a long career and this will be his third, and potentially last, shot at a Japanese title. His desire is to become the first fighter born, raised and from a gym in Kawasaki, and it’s really been a driving force for him in recent months. He was supposed to get this shot, as previously mentioned, in 2020 but has had to wait a long time to get it, and will now know that this could be now or never for him.
Furuhashi, unlike Kuga, isn’t really a name we expect too many fight fans outside of Japan to be familiar with, even those that follow the Japanese scene from around the globe. Despite that he is a really fun fighter to watch and has been in and around the title scene since 2014, when he was supposed to fight Hidenori Otake who pulled out of the bout due to a rib injury. Following that he got a show at Yukinori Oguni in 2015, fighting to a draw with the future IBF world champion and then lost 3 of his following 4 bouts, including a title bout in 2016 to Yasutaka Ishimoto. That run, which saw him going 1-3-1 including the draw with Oguni, seemed to spell the end for him as he slipped to 18-8-1 (8). Surprisingly however he has rebuilt brilliantly, going 8-0 (6) since then, including wins against Yuta Horiika and Ryoichi Tamura, with the win over Tamura in September 2019 earning him this belated third title fight.
In the ring Furuhashi’s strength is his tenacity, work rate, energy and willingness to press forward. Technically he’s nothing special, he’s not quick, he’s not got massive amounts of power, but he’s got an abundance of energy, he’s physically strong and is sneaky on the inside, with some excellent hooks and uppercuts. When backed up he responds with solid combinations and makes an opponent walk through a lot of leather to get to him, and he knows how to make things scrappy. Like Kuga he’s tough, but he’s more of a gritty tough than an iron chinned tough guy. Sadly for him however he has taken a lot of punishment during his long career, and his willingness to have a war with anyone has almost certainly taken something of a toll on his body.
As mentioned, to beat Kuga a fighter needs to use their brain and out box him. Getting into a war with him is a painful gameplan, for anyone unless they have lights out power, like Ramonal. Furuhashi doesn’t have that, and if Kuga is half the fighter he was before the Ramonal loss he should be able to force his will against Furuhashi. If that happens the heavier shots of Kuga will be the difference maker, and will, sooner or later, break down the gutsy and determined Furuhashi.
For Furuhashi to win he needs to totally change his gameplan. He can’t try to go to war with Kuga. He can’t hold his feet and try to out-battle Kuga. Instead he needs to move, lure Kuga in, reel off some shoe shining combinations and get out of dodge. He has the energy for that, and his legs can certainly do it, but we’re not sure he has the mentality to do it. He’s one of those fighters who takes a shot and wants to respond immediately, rather than thinking “I’ll get you next time”.
Whilst Kuga’s confidence could be shot, and a quick start from Furuhashi would give Kuga a lot of questions to answer, we suspect his chin hasn’t become cracked from the losses to Wake and Ramonal. Instead we suspect he’ll be back to his usual rampaging self. We expect Furuhashi to try and respond, punch for punch, with Kuga, giving us a thrill a minute war, until Furuhashi comes undone from the repeated heavy shots of Kuga and the referee is forced to step in and save stop in the second half of a sensational fight.
Expect blood, bombs, thrilling exchanges and incredible action here!
Prediction - TKO8 Kuga
For fans wanting to watch this one, it will be shown live on streaming service Boxing Raise.
The Super Bantamweight division in Japan has given us some brilliant fights already this year. Two of which have featured JB Sport's Ryoichi Tamura (12-4-1, 6), who won the Japanese title in January with a great performance against Mugicha Nakawagawa before losing the belt in May to Yusaku Kuga. This coming Friday we see Tamura fighting for the third time in 2019 as he takes on the always fun to watch Gakuya Furuhashi (25-8-1, 14) in a Japanese title eliminator. The winner will get a shot at either Kuga or Yosuke Fujihara, who clash on September 21st.
Of the two men it's Tamura who has really impressed us more, at least in recent years. The hard nosed warrior, who has been dubbed a "zombie" due to his ability to soak up punishment, is a truly thrilling fighter to watch. He began his career in 2013, losing on debut to Wataru Miyasaka, and would actually fall to 3-2-1 after 6 bouts, though was fighting as a Bantamweight. Since then he has risen in weight, to Super Bantamweight, and become a nightmare to face going 9-2 in his last 11, with both losses coming to Kuga.
Tamura's form only tells us half the story, of course, but with wins over the likes of Yusuke Suzuki, Yuki Matsuda, Robert Udtohan and Mugicha Nakagawa he's not been padding his record to look good. Instead he's been mixing in good competition and has been beating people down by sheer determination, work rate and desire. He's not particularly heavy handed, but fights as a swarming and throws a lot. He comes forward with a high out put and really refuses to back off. Through his career he has been hurt, and was hurt badly by Kuga in May, but has recovered brilliantly and reset himself before turning up the heat again, making him a total nightmare to fight. The one big flaw is that he's a bit of a slow starter at times, and can find himself in a hole before his engine gets up and running and this could give opponents chance to get in the lead. Once he hits top gear however he simply can't be discouraged, and having him in your face, win or lose, will not do your career any favours.
Furuhashi has been on the pro-scene for well over a decade, debuting in 2007, but is still only 31 and is a proper veteran of the sport. His 33 fight career has been a rollercoaster of sorts but he has proven, more than once, that he belongs in the domestic title mix. He would first make his name in 2008, winning the Rookie of the Year, and moving to 8-0 (1) though his career would take a stumble as he quickly dropped to 10-3 (2) and then 13-5 (4). By the age of 25 his career looked to be in the skids and his early promise didn't seem like it would be fulfilled, however since then he has gone 12-3-1 with the black marks coming at a pretty good level. Of his last 3 defeats 2 have come to Yasutaka Ishimoto, with the other coming to Daisuke Watanabe, and the draw has come against Yukinori Oguni. They have seen him twice come up short in Japanese title fights, and once in a Japanese title eliminator, and bar the second loss to Ishimoto they were razor thin defeats. It's also worth noting that he was scheduled to get a shot, at Hidenori Otake in 2014, before Otake got the call to fight Scott Quigg and Furuhashi missed out.
In the ring Furushashi isn't a big puncher, or the strongest fighter but he's a battler, who makes for fun fights and he throws a lot of leather. Although he some times to take the boxer-fighter role he often happily gets dragged into a fight, and we get absolute barn burners as a result. He has got a really good jab when he uses it, but all to often uses the jab to get close before fighting on the inside, rather than keeping the bout at range and controlling the tempo of the fight. Against Tamura coming inside will likely be an issues.
When it comes to looking at the result of this bout it really depends on what recent wars have taken out of both men. The Tamura who beat Nakagawa, and ran Kuga close, will be favoured over Furuhashi. The aggression, pressure and incessant punching will rack up the points against Furuhashi who will be all happy to have a high tempo fight. If however those wars have taken something from the former champion and if Furuhashi can maintain some distance between the two men he should be able to eke out a close win. It really does depend on Furuhashi keeping the distance, which he can do, but often chooses not to.
We're expecting this to be a slow starter, but by round 3 it'll become a war, and we'll end up having a thrilling 8 rounder with Tamura's pressure and higher work rate being the difference in the end. We imagine Furuhashi will take the early lead but end up being over-taken just before the finish line in a bout we'll wish was a 10 rounder.
Prediction- MD8 Tamura
The first title fight of a new month takes place as the month kicks off and as we suspect fight fans will be in for a major treat. The bout in question sees Japanese Super Bantamweight champion Yasutaka Ishimoto (28-8, 7) looking to defend his belt against the limited but exciting Gakuya Furuhashi (18-7-1, 8), in a second bout between the two men.
These two fought last year, fighting in an 8 rounder, with Ishimoto winning a close but thrilling decision in a bout that was a bit of a hidden gem from 2015. Despite being under-watched it was streamed online for free and has got a cult following with hard-core Japanese fans who saw a really engaging and high tempo domestic level contest.
Since their first meeting we've seen Ishimoto go 2-0, winning the Japanese title in Decemeber 2015, out pointing Yusaku Kuga,and defending the belt once, with a wide decision against Yosuke Fujihara. Both of those bouts were tough bouts for the Teiken fighter but both were enjoyable for fans, and it's clear that whilst Ishimoto isn't a “star” he is very popular for a domestic level fighter.
As for Furuhashi he has gone 1-1 since losing to Ishimoto almost 14 months ago. He lost to the under-rated Daisuke Watanabe and defeated Rokuhei Suzuki. Neither of those bouts were at the top of the domestic level, and neither really saw Furuhashi impress, but Furuhashi has proven himself in the past fighting to a draw with Yukinori Oguni.
Of the two men the men the champion is the better known. Not only is he the champion but he has also fought on a pair of the Top Rank Macau cards, where he scored a career defining victory over Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. In those Macau bouts we saw Ishimoto prove to be a technically solid guy, and he has proven since that he has a high tempo in the ring. Sadly against Chris Avalos, in a bout Ishimoto was stopped in, we also saw that Ishimoto lacks the power and physical strength to cut it at the world level, though of course that's nothing to be hugely ashamed of.
In the ring Ishimoto's style is very fan friendly. He's a high tempo boxer who uses movement well, has a high output and is a tough guy who enjoys a fight. Yes he lacks power but makes up for it in terms out output and that makes him so much fun to watch in action. Aged 34 there is a chance that his energetic style will desert him, but he's looked great in recent wins and has a very strong and vocal support base willing him on every time he's in a Japanese ring.
Whilst Ishimoto has fought a few bouts against international names of note the same cannot be said of Furuhashi,who is really an unknown outside of Japan. Even in Japan he's relatively unknown, despite his title fight, though those who do follow the domestic scene know that with Furuhashi they get action and excitement. Like Ishimoto he lacks big power but fights with a high tempo, albeit not quite as high as the champion, and gets in the ring for a fight. Technically he's limited but he has the determination and style to be very exciting.
Sadly for Furuhashi he has gone 1-2-1 in his last 4 and is more than 3 years removed from his last notable win, a victory over veteran Toru Suzuki. That's not to say he's bad but he's not quite been able to get over the line in his biggest bouts, including the Oguni bout or a 2011 clash with Ryuichi Funai. He will however come in to this one with the mentality that a loss could be the end of his career, despite the fact he's only 28. He can't avoid another set back and is perhaps already looking like an old fighter.
With both men knowing their days are numbered, Ishimoto due to age and Furuhashi due to recent performances, we suspect we'll see both put it on the line here in an absolute tear up for the ages. The bout will be action packed but unfortunately it'll be career shortening and we don't think either will be the same man afterwards. We do however think the champion will retain his title, and move on to face the winner of the Strongest Korakuen next year, showing the lingering effects of this bout, and other tough ones, in that one.
The Super Bantamweight division is a hugely frustrating one in recent years. The bouts the fans want aren't being made and the bout we're getting are typically mismatches with little to really offer in terms of competitive action. In 2014 we failed to see any of the champions face each other, we also failed to see fighters like Genesis Servania, Kid Galahad, Shingo Wake, Hugo Ruiz, Rey Vargas or Albert Pagara get a shot at the the champions.
Even at the Japanese domestic level the division frustrated us in 2014. The most notable part of that frustration came when Hidenori Otake injured a rib prior to a scheduled title defence. Soon afterwards Otake vacated title and, subsequently, got himself a world title shot at WBA “regular” champion Scott Quigg. Whilst the injury “benefited” Otake in some ways it did leave one man out in the cold, Gakuya Furuhashi (17-5, 7).
It was Furuhashi who was supposed to be get the shot at Otake prior to Otake's injury but unfortunately he was forced to wait for a shot.
Whilst Furuhashi was waiting the JBC did put up the vacant title for a fight last December. The understanding was that Furuhashi would get the first shot at the winner.
The fight in December saw Yukinori Oguni (14-1, 4) claim the title with a very, very close decision over Yasutaka Ishimoto in a very good match up. As a result of that win Oguni knew he would be fighting Furuhashi in what looks likely to be another very good fight involving Oguni.
Of the two men involved it's Oguni who is the most well known. Not only is he the defending champion here but he is also a former OPBF champion, who lost that title to Wake in his only loss to date. In the ring Oguni is a very talented boxer mover who has lovely fast hands, nice movement and a lot of ability. He does however lack power and still seems to have the strength of a boy and not a man. To his credit however he does hold notable wins over the likes of Roli Gasca-twice, Hiromasa Ohashi, Masaaki Serie and Ishimoto and they all been due to his skills as opposed to his power.
What Oguni does so well is use his speed, both with his feet and his hands. His combinations are sharp, even if they lack power, his movement is intelligent and it takes a very good fighter to beat him.
As for Furuhashi, who really has waited for his shot, this will be his first title fight and the challenger really has had some mixed fortunes. In 2008 he was the All-Japan Bantamweight Rookie of the year but followed that up by losing his first bout in 2009, dropping a split decision to Masayoshi Tachiki. Losses to Ryuichi Funai and Coach Hiroto aren't too damning however they've been joined by losses to Yuji Ota and Hajime Nagai, both of which are disappointing defeats.
Whilst Furuhashi does have a number of losses he also has a couple of stand out wins. The first of those was an opening round blow out over Nobuhisa Coronita Doi in 2011 whilst more recently a 7th round TKO against Toru Suzuki. The win over Suzuki has been followed by a trio of lesser level wins, including one over a Thai debut as he's continued to prepare for his shot at a title bout.
Whilst getting footage of Oguni is no problem it has been difficult to get “real” footage of Furuhasi with the most notable film of him coming from a public sparring session with Akihiko Katagiri last year. Of course sparring isn't a real fight but it did show that Furuhashi had nice speed, a sharp jab and could find holes against a talented and naturally bigger fighter. The spar also showed that he was a talented boxer-puncher with a lot of skill.
Given what we know about the two men we expect that this will be a very interesting bout and could be hard to score. With neither man having a big punch it will almost certainly go the distance and will inevitably go down to the judges. From the footage Oguni is the better boxer and the fast fighter. Furuhashi however does look like the type of fighter who will begin to time Oguni and land counter right hands frequently. The question is whether he will land enough enough the notably taller Oguni who think will have a significant reach advantage. If Furuhashi can't time him then Oguni should be able to do enough to take a comfortable win, if Furuhashi can however slip the leads of the champion and fire back then this could be one that goes down to the wire.
(Image courtesy of http://www.kadoebi.com)
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.