Every so often a match up comes around where the first impression isn’t a guess at who’s going to win, or how, but is instead a feeling that “that’s gonna be awesome”, and that was the case in December 2019 when Kosuke Saka (20-5, 17) won the Japanese Super Featherweight title knowing that Takuya Watanabe (37-9-1, 21) was waiting in the wings as the mandatory challenger. Following Saka’s win the bout was supposed to take place in April 2020, as part of the Champion Carnival, though was sadly postponed due to the ongoing pandemic, which ended up postponing almost all of the Champion Carnival bouts from last year.
Despite the delay to the fight it is still a bout that seems almost certain to be something special. Really, really special. And really brutal.
For those who don’t follow the Japanese scene, the easiest way to sum this up is “aggressive monster with brutal power, up against insanely tough blood and guts warrior”. That sort of combination always makes for spine tingling action, thrilling back and forth exchanges and the sort of fight that reminds you why you love this sport. And that’s exactly what we are expecting here. Neither man is world class. Neither man will be expected to use the Japanese title and leapfrog into a world title bout. But that doesn’t really matter, this is going to be an hellacious fight deserving of your time, attention, and eyes.
The 28 year old Kosuke Saka doesn’t have a record of a champion, with 5 losses in 25 bouts. He is however much better than his record suggests and his losses have, for the most part, not been embarrassing ones. His first loss was in 2012, in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final against Masayuki Ito. That was quickly followed by him losing 2 of his next 4, including a TKO loss to Hiroshige Osawa. The loss to Osawa was followed up by Saka reeling off 8 T/KO wins, including victories over Ryuto Kyoguchi - Hiroto Kyoguchi’s older brother, Takafumi Nakajima and Shota Hayashi. Winning the Japanese the Japanese Featherweight title with his win over Hayashi. Sadly though his reign was an embarrassing one, losing the title in his first defense, against Takenori Ohashi, when he misheard the 10 second clacker and confused it for the bell, giving Ohashi a free shot, which he took, knocking Saka out cold.
Saka bounced back from his title loss by moving up in weight, stopping touted prospect Masanori Rikiishi in 2 rounds and then taking out the limited Gusti Elnino, before being brutalised by under-rated Filipino Joe Noynay in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title. That looked like a bad loss, until Noynay followed it up and battered Olympic bronze medal winner Satoshi Shimizu a few months later. Since the loss to Noynay we’ve seen Saka fight twice, a nothing win against Isack Junior and then a sensational win against Masaru Sueyoshi last December to win the Japanese Super Featherweight title. That win over Sueyoshi was Saka at his best. He was marauding throughout, bullying Sueyoshi, taking the space away from the technically well schooled Teiken man, and breaking him down round by round, until Sueyoshi was left a ruined man midway through round 6.
In the ring Saka is a monstrously hard hitting bully. He has brutal power, in both hands, he presses forward with one thing in mind, destruction, and he fights like every punch he throws is designed to break bones. He loves coming forward, applying pressure behind a stiff jab, pushing opponents on to the ropes and going to work. He’s all about heavy shots, coming forward and not taking a backwards step. His mentality is to break his opponents. Offensively he is a brutal monster. Where he is flawed however is defensively. He can be countered, he can be caught clean, and he can regularly over-commit. His footwork isn’t the sharpest out there, crossing his feet much more often than he should, and when hurt he can be slow to recover, as we saw against Noynay where he never regained his composure after the first of several knockdowns.
Saka’s biggest issue however is his mental state. It was a mental lapse against Ohashi that cost him and it was his lack of composure after being hurt that was his downfall against Noynay. If he can be locked in, as he was against the likes of Hayashi and Sueyoshi, he is very hard to beat. But his two recent stoppage losses does leave us wondering about how consistent he is, and where his mind is focused coming into this bout with Watanabe.
The 31 year old Takuya Watanabe is a true veteran of the ring, having debuted almost 14 years ago to the day. He is one of the most experienced men currently fighting in Japan, with 47 bouts and 289 rounds to his name, and he is also a surprisingly well travelled fighter with bouts in Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, China and Taipei. In fact 14 of his 47 bouts have been fought outside of Japan, including his infamous 2014 blood bath with Jae Sung Lee in South Korea. A bout that really did see Watanabe leaving his blood all over the Gwanakgu Hall, in Seoul.
Of course there is much more to Watanabe than just being a road warrior, in fact there’s a teak tough competitor, with a hugely under-rated skill set, an amazing will to win, and a real hunger to win a Japanese title before he hangs them up. A title he wants to add to a collection that includes a WBC Youth world title, an IBF Asia title, a WBO Asia Pacific title, a WBO Oriental title and an OPBF “silver” title. Despite his collection of silverware he has been eluded by a Japanese title, losing in previous bouts for the title against Hisashi Amagasa and Satoshi Hosono.
Through Watanabe’s career he has really built his reputation and has had nothing handed to him. He turned in 2007, as a teenager and won his first 6 before losing to the mysterious Saengachit Kiatkamthorngym, in what appears to have been Saengachit only professional bout. He quickly fell from 6-0 to 10-3-1 (3) and struggled to find his identity in the ring. By 2012, when he fought Hisashi Amagasa, he had advanced his record to 15-3-1 (4) but had no idea how to deal with Amagasa and the “Slimming Assassin’s” unique physical features. Rather than biting down and fighting hard, like he would now, he looked lost and confused. But then Watanabe started to find himself, and built a reputation as a legitimate warrior on the back of his 2014 bout with Jae Sung Lee, where he spent much of the bout painting the canvas red, but refused to back down, and ran Lee close. By then he was a 25 year old fighter boasting a 20-5-1 (8), but also a man building a reputation as a warrior.
In 2015 Wayanabe got his second Japanese title fight and ran Satoshi all the way in a loss that helped solidify him as a solid, upper domestic level boxer. He wasn’t a fighter, he was a boxer. A tough as nails boxer, with a busy work rate and the ability to hold his own in exchanges with Hosono. In fact he was unlucky not to get the nod in a bit of a forgotten classic. Since then he has been really busy, facing a mix of lower level talent, to tick over and get experience on the road, and upper level talent, with losses to Masayuki Ito and Hironori Mishiro, where they simply out boxed him. In 2019 however he earned another Japanese title fight, this one, on the back of winning a brutal 8 round decision against Taiki Minamoto in a Japanese title eliminator. That was supposed to secure Watanabe in 2020 but due to Covid19 the bout, as mentioned, got postponed and will not be taking place this coming Friday.
In terms of his style Watanabe is probably quite fairly described as a fighter-boxer. He can box, and is a solid boxer, with a solid and busy jab, and he likes to use his footwork, setting shots up at midrange and using some very underrated skills. However he’s at his best when he turns into a fighter, taking a fight into the trenches with his educated uppercuts, hooks, crosses and lovely flowing combinations. When he gets the fight at mid to close range he covers up a lot of his flaws, such as his slow feet and his almost trudging pressure. At range he can be out boxed, as Amagasa, Ito and Mishiro showed. In the trenches however he will hold his own with anyone at domestic level. What helps there is his incredible chin, his amazing hunger and his willingness to take a bomb to land his own shots. If a fighter wants to go to war, Watanabe will go to war.
It’s the willingness of Watanabe to go to war, and his eagerness to fight fire with fire that makes us so excited here. It’s Saka’s power, pressure and aggression, against Watanabe’s toughness, sneaky combinations and inclination to respond when he’s hit that should make for something special here.
Saka is certainly the heavier puncher, the more destructive fighter, and the man who, if he lands clean, can genuinely do damage. But what happens when the irresistible force hits the immovable object? Watanabe is certainly the better boxer, but can he withstand the tenacity of Saka? Likewise can Saka mentally stay strong when shots that have been forcing men to crumble have no effect on Watanabe?
Predicting this one is tough, though predicting any Saka fight is tough, with the only sure thing being that this will be something truly captivating.
If pushed to select a winner, we’ll be going with Watanabe to weather out the storm from Saka, make him question himself and crumble late. Despite that the reality is that any outcome here is possible and that the journey to the final result is going to be thoroughly engrossing, beautifully brutal and fantastically physical.
If you’re a Boxing Raise subscriber you will not want to miss this one. And if you don’t subscribe to Boxing Raise, you should, even if it’s just to watch this bout! It may have taken over a year of waiting for this one, but we are just as excited as we were when we went into 2020
Prediction - TKO9 Watanabe
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.
On December 27th we'll see Japanese Youth Super Bantamweight champion Toshiki Shimomachi (12-1-2, 8) make his final defense of the title, win or lose, as he takes on Satoru Hoshiba (7-4, 2), a man he previously faced over 3 years ago. On paper this is an intriguing match up, with out being a big one, and a great chance for the two men to end the year on a high, after what has been a frustrating 12 months for both the talented youngsters.
Of the two men it's Shimomachi that has really impressed us over the last few years and has quickly become one of the most under-rated prospects in all of Japan. He's also someone who has developed a style we don't see too much of in Japan, but is bringing him great success, and could, very easily, take him all the way in the coming years.
The 24 year old champion debuted all the way back in December 2015 and started his career 2-1-1 (1). That was his record at the end of 2016 before he kicked on and won the 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year, beating Ryosei Hamaguchi, Satoru Hoshiba, yes the man he'll be facing again here, and Arashi Iimi en route to the All Japan crown. He then followed that up in 2018 with wins against Kiyohei Endo and Renan Portes before ending the year with a draw against Daisuke Watanabe, a draw that has aged very well.
It was in 2019 that Shimomachi won his title, stopping Kenta Nomura in August, but sadly it took more than a year for him to defend the belt, doing so this August against Hiroki Hanabusa in a very impressive performance.
Unlike most in Japan Shimomachi's style is much more like that of an American counter-puncher than a typical Japanese fighter. He dictates range and distance with smart, well educated feet, he uses the ring well, lines up his counters, and when an opponent makes a mistake he punishes them with sharp, powerful straight left hands. Not only is his straight left a potent weapon but so too is his right hook, and his control of distance, which really is brilliant, makes him an incredibly awkward opponent. Unlike many counter punchers Shimomachi actually tries to lure mistakes, his fighters with his hands low, and uses slippery movements to make opponents miss. He wants opponents to try to hit him, and this makes him an exciting fighter to watch, rather than someone who is overly negative.
Aged 23 Satoru Hoshiba is a bit of an unknown, and he hasn't had the same level of bouts or publicity as Shimomachi since they fought in 2017. In fact footage of Hoshiba is hard to find and, as a result, it's somewhat tricky to get a read on his style, however we do know plenty about his career.
He debuted in 2015 and was stopped in the opening round, he then returned to the ring 4 months later and was again stopped early, making it to round 2. Then he managed find something of a groove, winning 4 in a row to reach the penultimate stage of the 2017 Rookie of the Year, where he lost a majority decision to Shimomachi. That bout, one of the very few we have got footage of involving Hoshiba, saw him applying real pressure and taking the fight on the inside, where he managed to have genuine success.
Despite losing to Shimomachi we have seen Hoshiba bouncing back well winning 3 of his 4 subsequent bouts. The one loss during that stretch was another bout we've been lucky to get footage of, and saw Hoshiba being stopped in 2 rounds by Tom Mizokoshi. In that bout Hoshiba again showed a willingness to come forward, marching down Mizokoshi with intense pressure and even seemed to have rocked him at one point. That was until he was rocked himself, and Mizokoshi fired off bombs until the referee stepped in.
Given what we have seen of Hoshiba we suspect this to be a fun bout, with the challenging show casing his intense, pressure, pushing forward incessantly and showing no fear of Shimomachi's power and defensively skills. Sadly for Hoshiba however his lack of power, and the heavier hands of Shimomachi, are likely to be the difference here. We suspect that Hoshiba will come forward, and will make mistakes that Shimomachi will capitalise on, breaking down Hoshiba and stopping a tiring challenger in the later rounds.
Prediction - Shimomachi TKO7
The final Japanese title fight for 2020 comes on December 26th when Light Flyweight champion Masamichi Yabuki (11-3, 11) makes his first defense, taking on veteran Toshimasa Ouchi (22-9-3, 8) at the Aioi Hall in Kariya. The bout is likely to be over-shadowed by other action during the run in to the end of the year, though is still a very interesting bout, and a real test of Yabuki's power against a sturdy and highly experienced veteran.
For those who don't follow the Japanese domestic scene the Light Flyweight division is one of the most interesting in the country right now. Not only does the country have two of the biggest names in the division, in WBA champion Hiroto Kyoguchi and WBC champion Kenshiro Teraji, but it also has depth and intrigue. Veterans like Tetsuya Hisada and Kenichi Horikawa are still hanging with the youngsters, Reiya Konishi is banging on the door of a third world title fight, Shokichi Iwata, Yudai Shigeoka and Ryu Horikawa are all looking to have a big break out in the next year or two.
Yabuki is someone who wants to see his name in the mix at the top level, alongside Kenshiro, Kyoguchi and even Hisada, who is expected to get a second world title fight next year. With that in mind he knows the Japanese title is vital for him right now, and he needs to look impressive with it. And impressive he has been in recent bouts.
The 28 year old champion, from the Midori Gym, began his career in 2016 and he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final at Flyweight, where he lost a competitive decision to Junto Nakatani. Prior to reaching the final Yabuki had already racked up a 3-0 (3) record with all of is wins coming in the opening round. Following his first loss he reeled off 3 more quick wins, including a blow out over Masashi Tada in 2017, to move to 6-1 (6) before suffering his second loss, a blow out at the hands of Seigo Yuri Akui in early 2018. That loss seemed to suggest that Yabuki perhaps didn't have the power, size or strength to compete at Flyweight and he began to dip his toes into moving down in weight, losing later that same yeah to Cuban Daniel Mattellon, who has since won the WBA "interim" title.
In 2019 Yabuki finally committed to the move down in weight, and dominated Rikito Shiba in a Japanese title eliminator, stopping him in 4 rounds, to earn a shot at the title. That shot came this past July when he brushed aside Tsuyoshi Sato inside a round to become the latest Japanese Light Flyweight champion.
Blessed with heavy, heavy hands, Yabuki is a real dangerman. He's a boxer-puncher at heart, with decent counter punching skills, though he often seems to be happier fighting as a counter puncher rather than as a fighter. When he comes forward he's terrifying, and with his power, size and strength he would potentially have more success than he has so far. Especially at 108lbs where his punches really are destructive.
In Ouchi we have a 35 year old challenger who began his career all the way back in 2003, and has had some real mixed success. After 6 fights he was 3-2-1 and it took him a really long time to get going, as he ran into other fighters on their way up, such as Shin Ono, Ryoichi Taguchi, Yasutaka Kuroki, Masayuki Kuroda and Kenichi Horikawa. Despite all the slips up he managed to get a shot at the Japanese title back in 2012, fighting to a draw with Kuroda, and again in 2016, losing to Kenshiro.
After his 2016 loss to Kenshiro it seemed that was the end for Ouchi, who was out of the ring for almost 3 years before picking up 2 wins last year. Those wins helped him into the Japanese rankings and with no one able to take the fight with Yabuki here he has found himself being advanced quickly up the rankings to essentially being the mandatory challenger for Yabuki.
In the ring Ouchi is a tough fighter who struggled with his power early on, in fact in in his first 28 bouts he had just 4 stoppages to his name. As he's aged however he has began to hold his feet more, put more on his shots, and shown more self belief, as a result he has score 4 KO's in his last 5 wins, and some against decent domestic fighters, like Takeru Kamikubo and Akiyoshi Kanazawa. He has also been showing that power later in bouts, with 3 of his last 4 stoppages coming in round 7. Impressively he has only been stopped 3 times in his long career with the last of those coming way back in 2014, by Atsushi Aburada, and with that in mind we suspect he could be a genuine test of Yabuki's power.
Coming in to this we've not seen what Yabuki's stamina is like at Light Flyweight, though we have seen him look like a terrifying puncher and we expect to see that again here. Ouchi might be tough but at 35 and with slowing reactions we wonder if he has the reflexes to avoid the power shots of Yabuki for long. If not Yabuki will get to him sooner or later.
We expect Ouchi to survive a few rounds, but eventually Yabuki's heavy hands will chip away at him, break him down, and go on to stop him in the middle rounds, after a brave and valiant effort from the challenger.
If he gets the win as expected, don't be surprised to hear Yabuki call out the world champions at 108lbs in a post fight interview for a bout in 2021.
Prediction - Yabuki TKO6
One thing that's clear in the world of boxing is that there are too many titles, and too many of them are meaningless titles with no clear qualifiers as to who can win them and what their purpose is in the sport. For example can anyone tell the difference between the WBA Continental, Intercontinental and International titles?
Thankfully does have some titles that are worth something, even in this weird world where the WBA and WBC want to hand out belts like a fashion accessory. And on December 13 we'll see 3 titles unified in Tokyo as WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight champion Ryoji Fukunaga (12-4, 12) takes on Japanese champion Kenta Nakagawa (19-3-1, 12), with the winner not only defending their title, and taking the title from their opponent, but also the currently vacant OPBF title, to become a triple crown champion.
As with all triple crown bouts in Japan this is a really interesting match up and one that be excited about. Style wise the men should match up wonderfully, and given that both men are in their mid-30's neither man can accord a set back if they want to move their career forward. With that in mind, how do we expect this bout to go? And who are the fiughters?
The 34 year old Fukunaga is a hard hitting southpaw who turned professional in 2013 and lost to Seita Mochizuki. He then reeled off 4 straight wins before losing again, in a blow out loss to Ryo Matsubara in 2015. That could have been it for him, but instead he gritted his teeth and rebuilt, surprisingly winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year, thanks to a solid win against Kota Fujimoto in the final. By the end of 2017 he was 10-2 (10) before suffering back to back decision losses to Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart. With a 10-4 his career looked like it was going nowhere, and he was out of the ring for 10 months before picking up a low key win in May 2019. He then got a big chance, taking on Froilan Saludar earlier this year for the WBO Asia Pacific title.
In the ring Fukunaga is a bit of a slow fighter in terms of his hand speed, he's a little bit clumsy when he throws punches, bounces on his feet a lot and does a lot of things wrong. When he throws his left he often complete drops his right and has very, very poor defense. Thankfully for him however he a decent chin, good reactions and a real awkwardness to how he fights. He's also blessed with brutal power. Although his punches are technically poor they are thrown with bad intent and are of the "nasty thudding" variety. His jab, when it lands, is hurtful and his left hand is like a wrecking ball, slow but damaging, however he needs to land and that is not a given due to his wide arching punches and lack of speed.
Aged 35 Kenta Nakagawa actually turned professional way back in 2004 and began his career with 2 wins in his first 3 bouts. Then he vanished from boxing for me than 6 before returning in 2011. His return to boxing saw him lose to Teppei Tsutano but since then he has gone a very impressive 17-1-1 (12). During that 19 fight run he's had since he returned to the score he has scored notable wins over the likes of Joe Tanooka, Hayato Kimura, Ryosuke Nasu, Takayuki Okumoto and Yuta Matsuo, and become a 2-time Japanese champion. It's worth noting that his first title reign was a show one, lasting just 5 months, and saw him suffer a 7th round TKO loss to Ryuichi Funai, but he has reeled off 6 straight wins since then.
In the ring Nakagawa is a smart boxer puncher. Like Fukunaga he's a southpaw, but unlike Fukunaga he's actually a pretty polished fighter with deliberate and quick movement, accurate straight punches a powerful left hand, and good timing. He's a much better on the back foot than Nakagawa, and knows how to create, and use distance, landing accurate shots and making opponents make mistakes. He's not the quickest out there, or the biggest puncher, but he has respectable power, and his accuracy and timing make up for his lack of single punch power. What's also rather impressive is his composure under pressure, and he showed this well under the aggression and pressure of Yuta Matsuo back in July.
If a bout was decided on skills alone this would be an easy win for Nakagawa. He is by far, the more polished, rounded and knowledgable fighter in the ring. The issue here however is the power of Fukunaga. If he lands a clean one on Nakagawa he certainly has the power to get Nakagawa's attention, and potentially get him to unwind. We suspect Nakagawa's movement will limit there, but there is always a chance he could land, and it may only take one clean, wild left hand to turn the bout around.
We suspect that Nakagawa will manage to rack up rounds, box smartly, and get a big lead through the bout. However there will always be danger, whilst he'll look in control there will be a sense of tension through out the contest. Fukunaga might miss a lot, might look clumsy, but he will be dangerous to the end and it will take a very good performance from Nakagawa to see this out, secure the win and finish the night as a triple crown champion.
Prediction - UD12 Nakagawa
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
On December 3rd we'll see a new Japanese Minimumweight champion being crowned as Masataka Taniguchi (12-3, 7) gets his second shot at the domestic title, and faces the unheralded Hizuki Saso (12-6-2, 4), in what will be his first title bout of any kind. Amazingly the bout comes almost 11 months to the day since Norihito Tanaka vacated the belt, ahead of his world title bout with Knockout CP Freshmart, and more than 8 months after Taniguchi was supposed to face Lito Dante for the belt, back in March.
Despite the lengthy gap between bouts for the title we can't help but be excited about this one, as it really does look set to be much, much better than the record of the two men suggest.
Of the two fighters it's fair to see Taniguchi will be the clear favourite, and with good reason. The Watanabe gym fighter is a former amateur standout who seemed destined for success when he turned professional in 2016. In his early professional bouts he looked fantastic, with speed, power, skills and a good ring IQ, and in 2017 he got his first title bout, losing a razor thin majority decision to Reiya Konishi for the Japanese Minimumweight title. Due to how close that loss was, in Konishi backyard as well, Taniguchi's career didn't really suffer and just 7 months later he got his second title bout, facing Tsuabasa Koura for the OPBF Minimumweight title. Once against Taniguchi came up narrowly close, losing a majority decision to Koura.
Thankfully for Taniguchi things did fall in place for him in 2018 when he claimed the WBO Asia Pacific Miunimumweight title, with a unanimous decision win over Filipino Joel Lino in Thailand. That win was followed by some wrangling over Japanese rules before Taniguchi fought Vic Saludar for the WBO world title, losing a clear decision to the big punching Filipino. Since that loss we've only seen Taniguchi fighting once, though that was a notable win in a Japanese title eliminator against the big punching Kai Ishizawa, in what was a legitimate barn burner.
In the ring the 26 year old Tanigcuhi is a fantastic fighter. He's skilled, he knows how to keep things long, has solid power, he's tough and he has the amateur background to fall back on. Two of his 3 losses could easily have gone his way, and against Vic Saludar he found out he wasn't ready for world level, just yet. Sadly though he his record paints the picture of a limited fighter, with losses in 20% of his career bouts, not a number that's actually reflective of his talent and he's much better than his record suggests. He's probably the best 12-3 fighter in the sport, and could just as easily be 14-1 at this point. Despite being talented he's not someone who has responded well to power, and at times he seemed intimidated by Saludar, who's stiff shots made Taniguchi think twice, and he was dropped by Ishizawa in their amazing 2019 clash.
When it comes to Hizuki Saso it's fair to say a lot less is known about the 25 year old, despite the fact his professional career dates back to 2015 and he has more professional bouts than Taniguchi. The youngster from Kanagawa has been a professional since 2013 and suffered his first loss in 2014. Notably his second loss came in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final to Tsubasa Koura and that started a bad run for Saso who quickly fell from 6-1 to 6-4-1, going win-less for more than 2 years.
The bad run for Saso saw him struggle to find his place in the sport and dip his toes at Light Flyweight whilst rebuilding his career, winning 6 of his following 8 bouts to rebuild to 12-4-1, and open up the opportunity for a title fight.
In the ring Saso is a tidy little boxer with a speedy and sharp jab, nice light movement and good body shots. Sadly though he lacks power, his work rate leaves something to be desired. From a physical stand point he doesn't seem the strongest or the most powerful, and he seems like the type of guy that could be bullied around rather easily by a decent, strong fighter, like Taniguchi. He also has questionable defense and in his last bout, against Yuni Takada, took a lot of clean shots, often when bending at the waist. In fact if we're being honest Saso was incredibly lucky to take home the win in that bout. He has nice skills, but they seem very unpolished, and like they need a lot of work for him to be ready for a title bout.
From what we've seen of both men it's hard to see a route to victory for Saso. He lacks the power needed to get Taniguchi's respect, like Ishizawa and Saludar, he lacks the work rate to out work him, and he lacks the physicality to try and bull him. As for Taniguchi this really is his fight to lose. He has the skills to outbox Saso, he has the power to hurt him, and he has the physicality to boss him around.
What we're expecting to see is Saso to show a lot of respect to Taniguchi early on. By round 3 or 4 however Taniguchi will have gotten the motor going and will be lining Saso up regularly with powerful straight left hands. When that happens it'll become less a competitive contest and more a test of how tough Saso is, and how brave his corner is. Sooner or later however Saso will be stopped.
Prediction - Taniguchi TKO6
The next of the Champion Carnival bouts sees our attention turn to the Flyweight division, where heavy handed champion Seigo Yuri Akui (14-2-1, 10) defends against mandatory challenger Seiya Fujikita (13-4, 6). The bout, set to take place on October 18th in Okayama will be Akui's first defense of the title and will be Fujikita's first title bout. For Akui it serves as a chance to build on last October's title win, when he beat Shun Kosaka inside a round, whilst Fujikita will be getting his first title fight, and gets it almost by default.
For those who haven't seen Akui he is a very fast starter. From his 14 career wins 9 having come in the first round, and all 10 of his stoppages have come in the first 3 rounds. What's more notable than being a fast start is the type of competition he has been blasting away, with wins already over the likes of Kenji Ono, Ryuto Oho, Masamichi Yabuki, Yoshiki Minato and Shun Kosaka, all of those have come in the opening round. He does however seem to struggle when he can't blast though opponents, and he found himself unable to blow out Junto Nakatani and Jaysever Abcede, both of whom went on to stop Akui.
For those who haven't seen Akui he's someone who is incredibly fun to see go to work. He's aggressive, powerful and lets his hands fly early. Defensively he is open, he can be tagged, and against fighters who can take his power he does appear to struggle, though at domestic level not many can take his power. Notably his 4 decision wins came in his first 7 bouts, with the final one being his win over Hiroki Hosoya in the 2015 All Japan Rookie of the Year, and since then he hasn't heard the final bell.
Interesting Fujikita has gotten this bout, as the mandatory challenger, for essentially making weight last year. The original plan had been for him and Ryota Yamauchi to face off in an eliminator, but Yamauchi was forced out of the bout due to an injury, leaving the door open to Fujikita, as long as he could make weight on the day of the planned weigh in. Which he did. That allowed him to become mandatory for his first title bout, and make up for the disappointment of losing in a title eliminator in 2018, when he lost a narrow decision to Naoki Mochizuki.
On paper the 32 year old Fujikita doesn't look much of a challenger. He has 4 losses in 17 bouts, and has got a single win of note of real note, a 2016 TKO over Yusuke Sakashita. His record is however one full of misfortune, with 3 split decisions and one technical majority decision. All of those close decisions have come to good domestic fighters, including Mochizuki, Yuta Matsuo and Hayato Yamaguchi.
Although he's without many wins of real significance Fujikita looks like one of those types of fighters who could score the upset over a decent guy. He looks solid, takes a shot well, applies smart pressure, and can fight on the back foot when he needs to. He's certainly more comfortable going forwards than backwards, and looks physically strong. When he is on the backfoot he moves very well and avoid shots really well, but seems to struggle to fire off counters.
Coming in to this we see Fujikita as the better boxer, the way he moves and the way he looks after himself in the ring makes it look like he could genuinely give Akui issues. If Akui fights the way he usually does, trying to steam roll Fujikita, things will be interesting. We suspect we'll either see Fujikita taken out early, in what would be a very impressive result for Akui, or we'll see Fujikita seeing out the storm, and then slowly picking Akui apart as the bout goes on. Fujikita looks like a tough guy, takes a shot really well when he needs to.
We expect Akui's aggression and power to be too much, and for Fujikita to be taken out early, maybe not the opening round but still early. Fujikita might be tough, but Akui is the most dangerous fighter he's faced so far. If Fujikita sees out the storm we could be in for a bit of a classic, but that's a huge "if".
Prediction - TKO3 Akui
Earlier in the year we were anticipating the Champion Carnival being well under-way and we were set to see another Champion Carnival bout on March 7th. That bout ended up being postponed due to the on going global situation and instead of taking place in March, as expected, it will now be taking place this coming Saturday. Despite the delay we're really looking forward to the next bout in the annual series of "Champion Vs Challenger" bouts, and that's because it's a great looking up on paper. The bout in question is up at 154lbs where Japanese domestic champion Hironobu Matsunaga (16-1, 10) takes on mandatory challenger Yuto Shimizu (15-3-2, 5) in what we suspect will be an excellent bout for the Japanese Light Middleweight title.
The under-rated champion has done things the hard way, without much fuss and without much acclaim, but now in his early 30's he's reaping the benefits of hard work. He made his debut way back in 2012, but began to get some attention in 2014, when he reached the all-Japan Rookie of the Year final, losing to Yuki Beppu. That loss saw Matsunaga fall to 6-1 (3) but since then he has gone 10-0 (7) and been on an excellent run. Whilst he is obviously the Japanese champion right now it's worth noting that he has scored notable wins over the likes of former Japanese Middleweight champion Sanosuke Sasaki, Korean foe Je Ni Ma and multi-time Japanese title challenger Koshinmaru Saito. Those wins lead him to his 2019 title shot against Nobuyuki Shindo, which he won in by breaking down Shindo.
Since winning the belt Matsunaga has defended it once, stopping former amateur star Koki Koshikawa in a thrilling match up last November. That was the 5th straight stoppage win for Matsunaga, who has really come on since that loss to Beppu way back in 2014.
In the ring Matsunaga may not be someone getting much attention, but he is quickly becoming a must watch fighter. He's small for a Light Middleweight but is aggressive, moves well, and after getting a read on his opponents comes forward with heavy shots from the southpaw stance. At range he can struggle to get close, but when he gets into range for his shots he grinds opponents down, both mentally and physically. It's the grinding and consistent power shots that take their toll on opponents rather than any single shots. When he has his man hurt he doesn't let off them and really makes them suffer, and feel sorry for themselves. At the higher levels we suspect he'd struggle to make a mark, but at Japanese domestic level he is a very, very hard man to beat.
We mentioned that Matsunaga quietly climbed the rankings to his title and it's fair to say the same is true of Shimizu. He was 3-3-2 after 8 bouts before going on a solid 8 fight winning run to earn his first title fight. That winning run had seen him defeat Hikaru Nishida, who later won the Japanese Middleweight title and former OPBF title challenger Takehiro Shimokawara to earn a shot at Yuki Nonaka. Although he lost to Nonaka he had earned the shot on merit. Since then he has gone 3-1, earning this shot with a win over Nobuyuki Shindo back in November 2019 which had followed another solid win over Charles Bellamy.
In the ring Shimizu is a rather weird looking fighter. He has a very herky-jerky style, long arms and an awkward rhythm. There's nothing pretty about him, but he's yet he's still effective, frustrating and uses his size well. For someone who's big at the weight he doesn't have the busiest of jabs, or the quickest of footwork, but has proven to be a hard man to hit, and someone who can land from very odd angles, as we saw when he beat Shindo last year. Also it's worth noting that whilst not a puncher he does hit hard enough to get the respect of opponents, time and time again, in fact he actually dropped Shindo last year on route to his win.
For Matsunaga the big issue is whether he can get inside the long reach of Shimizu. The straight right hand of the challenger will be a real issue for the champion. If he can slip it, get inside and fight up close, using his edge in speed and sharpness, this could look easy for Matsunaga, however that is a big if. What we're expecting is for Shimizu to make it real ugly. We expect the challenger to land at range and tie up up close, but to do that effectively against a grinder like Matsunaga, for 10 rounds, is certainly not easy.
We expect this to be ugly at times. Shimizu falling in and clinching and holding and making a mess of things. Saying that however we struggle to see Matsunaga losing, his energy, volume and tenacity will simply be too much and too regular for the challenger.
Prediction - TKO8 Matsunaga
After an increase in fights in July and August it does appears things in Japan are going to quieten down a little bit in September, sadly. Thankfully however we do kick the month off with a brilliant match up this coming Thursdays from Korakuen Hall, and it really does have the potential to be something very special.
That is the triple title bout between JBC, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Lightweight champion Shuichiro Yoshino (12-0, 10) and former Japanese Light Welterweight champion Valentine Hosokawa (25-7-3, 12). On paper it may not look like a sensational bout, but in reality this has the potential to be something truly brilliant, between men with styles that should gel brilliantly to give us something special.
The talented and heavy handed Yoshino has has been moved very quickly since turning professional back in 2015. After debuting at Welterweight he has cut his weight and become the face of Japanese boxing at Lightweight. In his 4th professional bout he beat veteran Yoshitaka Kato and just 2 fights later he became the Japanese Lightweight champion. He added regional titles to his collection last year and will be hoping to keep all 3 bits of silverware here.
In the ring Yoshino really is a boxer-puncher, with some of the heaviest hands in Japanese boxing. He's a clean puncher, has under-rated movement, good hand speed and solid footwork. If we're looking for flaws he can be a slow starter at times, his defense isn't the tightest and he can be out jabbed, out moved and out worked. So far his power had worked as a neutraliser when he has been in trouble, as we saw against Izuki Tomioka in February, but there are areas to work on. He's not a complete fighter, but he is a damn good one, and one who does have the potential to mix with some of the fighters in the upper echelons of the division.
Aged 39 and sporting 7 losses in 35 bouts Valentine Hosokawa is a fighter who loves to defy numbers. He should be too old, he should be too battle worn, he should be on the way on the way out. In fact he should have been on the way out years ago. Like a fine wine however the warrior from the Kadoebi Gym has aged wonderfully and has had the best form of his career at an age where most fighters are retired. He had been putting in great performances, win or lose. He has dropped in weight recently and now looks more dangerous at 135lbs than he ever did at 140lbs, where he was always a nightmare to fight.
Hosokawa made his debut in 2006, and won Rookie of the Year in 2008. He came up short in his first two title fights, both in 2013, but won the Japanese in 2017, beating rival and friend Koichi Aso. After twice defending the title he was dethroned last year by Koki Inoue and then dropped in weight and destroyed Kosuke Arioka last November. He had planned a fight against Jacob Ng in Australia, but that fell through due to the on-going global situation but he's now landed this fight.
For those who hasn't seen Hosokawa he's a physically strong, aggressive, tough, hard working pressure fighter. He comes to win, he presses and lets his hands go. Although not a huge puncher he is a serious volume puncher and makes for real action fights.
Given Hosokawa's aggression and willingness to go forward we see him pressing from the off, and actually copying a gameplan that Harmonito Dela Torre tried to use against Yoshino. That gameplan did see Dela Torre get to Yoshino, before eating an absolute part way through the opening round. For Hosokawa he needs to keep up the pressure, use his strength and try to grind down Yoshino without taking too many risks. Despite moving down in weight worth noting that even at Lightweight he's a small fighter, and will be dwarfed by Yoshino here.
For Yoshino the focus will be on creating space, catching Hosokawa coming forward, and landing his power shots. He'll have to use his feet, he'll have to land very hard clean shots, and have to try and stop the forward march of the challenger. Although Yoshino is a hard puncher it's worth noting Hosokawa hasn't been stopped since back to back TKO defeats in 2013 to Shinya Iwabuchi and Min Wook Kim, and those losses both came at 140lbs.
We do favour Yoshino to take home the win here, we feel his youth, power, height and reach will be the difference, but he will have to work very hard for the win and we do not expect this one to be an easy one for the champion.
Prediction - UD12 Yoshino
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.