This coming Thursday fight fans at Korakuen Hall will get the chance to see unbeaten Japanese Bantamweight champion Seiya Tsutsumi (6-0-2, 5) make his first defense, as he takes on Kenshin Oshima (7-2-1, 3), who will be getting his second shot at the title. The bout is a great chance to see Tsutusmi build on his title win, earlier this year against Kyosuke Sawada, whilst Oshima will be looking to rebuild from a loss to the aforementioned Sawada, in what was a bout for the vacant title at the start of the year.
Of the two men it's the reigning champion who has the higher profile, but has also had no luck at all. The heavy handed Tsutusmi, who is now 26, debuted in March 2018 and quickly caught the eye following a solid amateur career. Unlike most Japanese fighters he got some international experience under his belt early, with 2 of his first 4 bouts taking place away from home before scoring an eye catching and destructive win over tough Filipino journeyman Ryan Rey Ponteras just 13 months after his debut. He seemed to be racing to big things, but unfortunate draws in 2020 against Kazuki Nakajima and Daigo Higa, in bouts that many felt he should have won, slowed his rise through the ranks and cost him. In fact within 6 months of those draws both Higa and Nakajima had gone on to win regional titles, regional titles that he probably felt he should have fought for. Despite those draws, and being out of the ring for the entire of 2021, Tsutusmi put in a career best performance back in June, when he stopped Kyosuke Sawada in 8 rounds to claim the Japanese title, and show the Japanese boxing world that he could get over the winning line in big fights.
In the ring Tsutumi combines a solid boxing brain, under-rated movement and very solid power, with an aggressive mindset and a calm, confident in ring demeanour. He is well schooled, dating back to his days as an amateur, but has developed a style that is very much that of a professional boxer, who has spiteful powerful. Despite being heavy handed he's also not an idiot or a glass cannon. He showed he was smart when he faced Nakajima, choosing not to fight fire with fight but instead boxing and moving, and making the most of his advantage in foot speed, but also showed he was tough and determined in his 10 round bout with Higa, showing he had the stamina to go 10 rounds with the hard hitting former WBC Flyweight champion. He's small, at Bantamweight, and could likely drop 3lbs to become an extremely dangerous fighter at Super Flyweight, but is a ball of educated power punching that few will enjoy facing off against.
Whilst Tsutsumi has been in with a string of notable names the same can't be said of Oshima. The 28 year old Teiken fighter began his career in 2016, and there was expectation on his shoulders following a good amateur career. Sadly though a loss in his second bout, to Yuki Iriguchi, and a draw in 2018 against Nobuaki Kanazawa left him with a 3-1-1 (3) record. Whilst those early results were mixed, who's more notable is the fact that as he's build his record since then, he has shown a distinct lack of power, going 4-1 with out a stoppage since his first 3 wins. Whilst that has seen him face better opponents than his early foes, he's only really been beating capable domestic and regional level fighters, such as Ikuro Sadatsune and Wilbert Berondo, whilst the loss came against Sawada via technical decision. Not having a stoppage to his name since 2017 is a worry here, though there is no doubting his technical ability, there is a worry that he's not got the power or self belief to to be aggressive and turn bout around when they aren't going his way.
In the ring Oshima has a nice variety of shots, and does throw some of those shots with a sense of sharp crispness. Sadly though he is defensively poor, and whilst some of his shots are crisp and tights, especially his body shot, he does leave himself open when he throws, which did cost him against Sawada who scored a knockdown against him in round 2. Against a talented but light handed fighter, like Sawada, that wasn't too bad, but against an explosive heavy handed fighter like those defensive flaws are going to be a massive issue. Worse for Oshima is the fact he seems to have the Japanese fighting fire, and often takes one to land one. Again that's not too much of an issue against someone like Sawada, but against Tsutusmi that's not a good idea. Notably that Sawada bout is his only one since the start of 2020, and ring rust could be a major issue for him here
Whilst there is no doubting that Oshima has plenty of tool, we see him missing an important one here. Power. His lack of power will lead to Tsutsumi having little respect for him, and instead of the fight being a tough first defense we suspect Tsutusmi will press, and force Oshima into the wrong fight, there his heavier and hard shots will be the difference maker. Oshima's willingness to stand and trade against Sawada, and relative inactivity over the last few years, will not help him in what was always going to be a very, very, very tough bout for him.
Prediction - TKO5 Tsutsumi
This coming Tuesday we'll see two become one, as the Japanese Welterweight champion Keita Obara (25-4-1, 22) faces interim champion Takeru Kobata (12-5-1, 5), to unify the two titles and leave us with just a single Welterweight king pin.
The title became "split" earlier this year, when Obara was forced to pull out of a planned defense against former champion Yuki Nagano, with Kobata beating Nagano for the interim belt whilst Obara was given time to recover from his injury. As a result of the Nagano Vs Kobata bout we not only saw Kobata claim the interim title, but also send Nagano into retirement, ending his career before he got a chance to avenge his 2020 loss to Obara.
Of the two men Obara is the much, much, much more well known. He isn't just the Japanese champion, but is also a man known outside of Japan. He famously got knocked out of the ring in a world title fight against Eduard Troyanovsky, as well as suffering a KO2 at the hands of Alvin Lagumbay, following a highlight reel worthy double knockdown, and he has also fought in the US, losing to Kudratillo Abdukakhorov in 2019 and fighting to a draw with Walter Castillo in 2015. Although he's come up short on the road he has proven to be an excellent fighter on the domestic and regional scene, and is a fighter who has the size, power and technical skills to essentially control the domestic scene. Since turning professional in in 2010 he has gone 25-2 (22) at home, avenging one of his losses, with the other having come on his debut.
Aged 35 Obara is coming to the end of his career. He's getting on in terms of age but also in terms of his body. He's not had long, hard fighters, and his 30 fight career has only consisted of 161 rounds, but he has started to suffer regular injuries and whilst his body hasn't been beaten up in the ring he is certainly feeling the effects of a long career, as both a professional and an amateur. Despite that he is still a hard man to beat, at least domestically. He has brutal power, he can box pretty solidly and when he can dictate the tempo of a fight he's very hard to beat. Sadly for him fighters above domestic level have got the speed, and skills to neutralise him, but typically domestic Japanese fighters lack those. The international fighters make the most of Obara's slow feet, predictable in ring style, and the fact that he doesn't like to throw until he's set. He can box well, but struggles to change things around if they aren't going his way. He also struggles with durability, and 3 of his 4 losses have come by stoppage.
Whilst Obara is well known among Japanese fans and has had some international attention the same can't be said of Kobata. The 24 year old from Oita is something of an unknown, even within his homeland. He debuted back in 2015 and went 0-2-1 in his first 3, before finally stringing together some wins to reach the 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year, losing in 2 rounds to Kosuke Arioka at Lightweight. That loss saw the then 19 year old fall to 5-3-1 (1) and there was no expectations at all on his shoulders. Over the following few years he matured, and his body filled out, taking him from Lightweight, to Light Welterweight and then Welterweight, which has now become his weight. Since moving through the weights we have seen Kobata have genuine success, and score notable domestic wins over Change Hamashima, Rikuto Adachi, Tetsuya Kondo, Fumisuke Kimura and, most recently, Yuki Nagano. That good run has caught the eye domestically, most notably the wins over Adachi and Nagano.
In the ring Kobta is a stubborn fighter, with under rated power, an awkward southpaw stance, and a busy work rate. He has a busy jab, throws nasty body shots, and has been breaking fighters down. For many fans, even those in Japan, the bout with Nagano was the first time they had been able to watch Kobata and they would have been impressed. He fought largely in the pocket against the dangerous Nagano, slipping and sliding shots well, whilst tagging Nagano over and over with his jab, straight right hand up top, hooks to the body and uppercuts, eventually breaking down Nagano. That performance was excellent, but maybe showed Nagano's lack of boxing IQ rather than just rounded Kobata is.
Whilst Kobata has skills, we can't help but feel that this bout will be the exact opposite of the Nagano fight. Whilst Nagano was happy to close the distance and walk into Kobata's range we suspect that Obara will be happy to create space, fight at distance and use his his straight shots to keep Kobata at range and off balance. The skills of Kobata could see him catching Obara with counter shots, but sadly we don't think he'll land enough of those to beat Obara. Instead we suspect Obara's power will take it's toll and he will, eventually, breakdown the interim champion.
Prediction - TKO 7 Obara
This coming Saturday fight fans in Osaka are set for an explosive encounter as Japanese Super Featherweight champion Kosuke Saka (21-6, 18) takes on Tsubasa Narai (8-1, 7), with both men being known as flawed but very heavy handed fighters each looking to prove a point.
Of the two men Saka is the much, much more well known and established. The 30 year old Osaka native has been a professional since 2012 and has really made a great name for himself in Japan, whilst proving to be one of the most fun to watch and exciting fighters in the country. He began his career with 6 straight wins before losing to future world champion Masayuki Ito in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2012. He would then lose 2 of his next 4, falling to 8-3 before reeling off 8 straight wins, which included a 3rd round TKO over Shota Hayashi for the Japanese Featherweight title. Sadly in his first defense Saka really didn't look there, and was stopped in bizarre fashion by Takenori Ohashi, with Saka mis-hearing the 10 second clacker as the bell. Saka would lose again just 3 fights later, being stopped in 2 rounds by Joe Noynay in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title, before claiming the Japanese title at 130lbs with a dominant TKO win over Masaru Sueyoshi, who retired soon afterwards. In his sole defenses of the title he scored a brutal TKO over Takuya Watanabe, but was stopped in 3 rounds last time out, as he ran into the criminally under-rated Yoshimitsu Kimura in a bout for the OPBF title.
During his 27 fight career Saka has looked both, amazing, and terrible. When his head is one he is a brutal swarming fighter, with rocks for hands, a great engine and a terrifying mix of tenacity and intensity. It's those tools which saw him beat the likes of Ryuto Kyoguchi, Shota Hayahasi, Masanori Rikiishi, Masaru Sueyoshi and Takuya Watanabe. He is a nightmare to fight, with incredibly heavy hands, a high work rate, and the type of energy that forces opponents to fight his fight. At other times however he's open, he's clumsy and he can look like he just doesn't want to be in the ring. He's open to counters, and whilst he is dangerous he is also very vulnerable, with 4 stoppage losses to his name. In fact his last 4 losses have all been inside the distance. It really can be hard to predict what Saka will turn up.
Aged 22 Narai is a talented youngster, who is getting this shot very, very early in his career. He debuted in 2019 and won his first 7 bouts, picking up the 2020 All Japan Rookie of the Year along the way. His power was evident, as he won 6 of those 7 bouts inside the distance, and only went beyond the 3 round twice, a 4th round TKO witn over Tomohiro Igarashi and a decision win over the awkward Yuki Yazan. Sadly for Narai his winning record came to an end in 2021, when he was stopped in 2 rounds by Kyonosuke Kameda, the cousin of Koki, Daiki and Tomoki Kameda, in a bout for the Japanese Youth Featherweight. That loss was expected to be a major set back, but just 9 months later Narai scored the biggest win of his career, stopping Shinnosuke Hasegawa in 2 rounds to climb towards a Japanese title fight. In the months that followed that bout Narai was announced as the next challenger for Japanese Super Featherweight title, thanks to the big win over Hasegawa.
In the ring Narai is a big puncher, but he's also a rather crude fighter who hasn't really had time to develop from his Rookie of the Year triumph. In the ring he tries to box, looking for openings and then lower the boom on his right hand. He's cautious and doesn't take many risks, instead waiting for an opponent to make a mistake before committing to his own power shots. When he's feeling like he's got his opponent hurt things change completely and he often over-commits when they are hurt. It's a tactic that has worked, but does see him make mistakes, and the type that good domestic fighters will make him pay for, and we saw that happen when he faced Kameda. His major issues in the ring is that he's not razor sharp, and his style of trying to draw a mistake before going for the kill needs him to either be ultra quick, or be willing to take a risk to draw a lead and he's simply not got the tools to do that, at the moment.
Going in to this fight the feeling is that the first man to land a clean bomb could end up winning. Saka is certainly the more proven and the man who has answered more questions, but is also worryingly inconsistent, and when tagged clean we have seen him fall apart, numerous times. As for Narai, it's hard to know what he's learned since losing to Kameda. When it comes to a shoot out, like this is expected to be, the man who's more proven and more experienced tends to take home the win, and that's what we expect to see here, with Saka perhaps getting dropped, but recovering to stop the challenger. This could last just a few rounds, but every round will be tense and could see chaos in the ring, but we do favour Saka to emerge from that chaos with the title.
Prediction - TKO3 Saka
This coming Sunday Japanese Heavyweight hopeful Brandon Mitsuro Tajima (1-0, 1) will attempt to etch his name into the history books by setting a new record for the fewest fights needed to win a Japanese title, as he faces Sung Min Lee (7-2-1, 2) for the vacant Japanese Heavyweight title, in just his 2nd professional bout. The bout, which is to crown only the 4th ever Japanese Heavyweight champion, will be headlining at the EDION Arena Osaka with Tajima looking to become the new face of the Japanese Heavyweight scene, following on from former champion Kyotaro Fujimoto.
Before we talk about the specific bout we really do need to look at what Tajima is looking to achieve. So far the record for fewest fights to win a Japanese title, at least for men, is set at 4 fights and has been achieved by some legitimate legends, such as Naoya Inoue, Akinobu Hiranaka and Joichiro Tasuyoshi, with international fighters who fought out of Japan, with James Callaghan and Modesty Napunyi having achieved the feat. To see Tajima not just trying to beat that record, but essentially half it, really is a statement of belief and trust in him from his team, including promoter Koki Kameda.
Prior to beginning his professional carer Tajima was a very notable amateur on the Japanese scene, winning a number of domestic titles whilst running up a very solid 42-9 (20) record in the unpaid ranks, whilst fighting 81KG’s, 178.574lbs. Stood at just shy of 6' he's a small Heavyweight, and if he was fighting in the West he would likely be making his name at Light Heavyweight if not Super Middleweight, but in Japan he is a legitimately big guy, albeit one carrying some extra pounds of body weight. He's a Brazilian-Japanese fighter who is strong, skilled, powerful and quick, and whilst his tools likely won't take him to major international success he does like he has what's needed to make a massive mark on the domestic scene, and the regional scene.
In the ring it's hard to say too much about Tajima, at least as a professional fighter. His debut lasted less than a minute, and whilst he looked incredible powerful it's fair to say that his opponent, Sang Ho Kim, offered absolutely nothing. Tajima could have done anything he wished and won here, and we can only assume he wished to get this over with quickly, taking just 56 seconds to take out Kim. The bout was a cameo, but showed Tajima had solid guard, hand speed and heavy body shots in his arsenal. Tools he'll be looking to show off again here.
Aged 31 Sung Min Lee, who gets the chance to fight for a Japanese title due to very specific rules regarding fighters from OPBF regions being able to win national titles that aren't their own, has been a professional since 2017 and has previously won the Korean title, though has fallen out of form recently. He debuted in 2017 with a win, but lost his second professional bout. From his 1-1 start he turned things around well, stringing together 6 straight wins before going 0-1-1 in his last two bouts, with a draw against Hyun Tae Bae in 2020 and a loss last time out to Ja Sung Jo, back in December 2020. With those results it is now more than 3 years since Lee last won a bout, and he is 1-1-1 in his last 3, in bouts that could well have all gone against him.
Unlike most Heavyweights out there Lee doesn't have much power and his 5'11" frame looks podgy rather than of an athlete. Quite often he has clear fat rolls on his belt line and he looks like someone who could boil down to Cruiserweight if he tried. He not only lacks power but also work rate, and he doesn't set a high tempo. He is however tough, he takes a good shot and he responds in kind with shots of his own. He's gritty, he's determined and as fights go on his will to win shines as he looks to take fights to his opponent. It was that will to win that saw him play his part in a thrilling 10 round war with Hyun Tae Bae in 2020. Sadly though his will doesn't make up for his relative lack of skill, and he's open to counter shots, he slaps a lot and his footwork is trudging. He's very much a Korean tough guy who can box a bit in a paper thing division, than a true heavyweight boxer.
With Lee being tough we suspect he will last longer than Kim did against Tajima, but we can't see Lee posing much of a test for the Japanese hopeful. We see the lack of foot work, the open defense and the poor stamina and speed as all playing into Tajima's strengths. We expect Tajima to press forward behind a high guard, get a look at what Lee is offering, and then pick him apart with single heavy shots before raising the tempo when Lee is hurt to close the show.
Tajima is no body beautiful. He looks like a man carrying 20-30lbs too much weight, but a bit like Andy Ruiz it's clear that he is a much better boxer than his body would have one to believe and Tajima could well end up being a notable name on the regional scene. Sadly though that seems to be the best he can become unless he intends to leave Japan, drop the excess weight and fight in a weight class better suited to his body. At this level however, carrying the excess weight isn't going to do him any harm at all,
Prediction - TKO2 Tajima
Over the last decade or so the Super Flyweight division has been one of the hottest, most interesting, exciting and compelling division's in the sport. We've really had everything at 115lbs in that time, with Fights of the Year contenders, brutal knockouts, huge upsets, all action wars, star making performances and recent the emergence of Jesse Bam Rodriguez, arguably the hottest young talent in professional boxing. At the global scene the division has been delivering year after year, though what most probably aren't too aware of, is that the division has also been delivering great fights on the lower levels, such as the Japanese and Oriental scenes, with some absolute thrillers in recent years. We could well be in for another of those thrillers this coming Tuesday, when Japanese champion Kenta Nakagawa (21-4-1, 12) defends his title against Hayate Kaji (15-1, 9) at Korakuen Hall.
Of the two men Nakagawa is the more established and the more well known. The 36 year fighter is currently enjoying his third reign as the Japanese champion, and has really established himself as one of the top domestic level fighters in the division over the last few years. He first won the title in 2016, won it again in 2019 and reclaimed it earlier this year. Sadly however his first two reigns have been short, losing in his first defense of his first reign and his second defense in his second reign, and at 36 it's hard to imagine him now having a lengthy run with the belt. Despite his short reigns Nakagawa has had a genuinely solid career, albeit one that maybe could have been better. He began as a professional in 2004 and went 2-1 before taking a 6 year break from the ring, losing 6 years of his developmental years. Since then he has gone 19-3-1 with notable wins against the likes of Joe Tanooka, Hayato Kimura, Takayuki Okumoto, Yuta Matsuo, Ayato Hiromoto and Hiroyuki Kudaka.
As a fighter Nakagawa is a technical, intelligent southpaw, with a gritty determination and a good variety of shots. Early in his career he was known for having solid speed, but as time has gone on, and he's aged, he has slowed down and relied more on his technical skills rather than his speed. He uses his technical ability to create space, landing straight shots, and he boxes well whether he's going forward or backwards. He's a crisp, clean puncher who doesn't take unnecessary risks, and instead boxes smartly. looking for holes to land big straight left hands, and gets his jab out there to remain busy. Sadly when he is dragged into a war, he doesn't have the power to turn things around, and he has been stopped in his two most recent losses, including one in a sensational fire fight to Ryoji Fukunaga. He's tough and brave, but he has been stopped, he struggles under intense pressure, and when fighters don't let him control space he really struggles to dictate things.
Whilst Nakagawa is a 3-time champion and a veteran Kaji really is the opposite. The 24 year old has been on the scene since he was a teenage, and he made a lot of buzz in Japan early on, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2015. Sadly Teiken spent years after that success slowly bringing him along, too slowly. There were reports that he was getting frustrated, and other reports suggesting he was playing up and being unprofessional. The reality is likely a mix of the two. He was a teenager looking like he could be fast-tracked and instead moved at a snails pace whilst being matched against opponents who did little to develop his skills over the following 4 or 5 years. Last year he got his first real chance to prove himself, and he did just that, in a thrilling bout with Ryoji Fukunaga for the triple crown. A bout that many felt Kaji had deserved to win, though was denied on the scorecards, losing a highly controversial majority decision. A decision that would later be questioned when Fukunaga subsequently landed a dream fight with Kazuto Ioka just a few weeks later.
Despite the frustrations of Kaji's development he has shown that he is a legitimate prospect at 115lbs. Early on he was something of a raw puncher. He was blasting out opponents, and did so earlier on stopping 6 of his first 8 opponents in the first 2 rounds. In more recent bouts however he has become a smarter fighter, accepting his power won't take everyone out and instead of being a pure banger, he has become an intelligent boxer-puncher. His last 5 bouts have all gone the distance, and he has developed the tools to become a genuine force on the regional scene. In the ring Kaji moves around the ring well, picks his spots well, and controls range really nicely whilst firing off crisp, clean, sharp combinations, with every shot having decent pop behind it. At times he has been accused of being lazy and pedestrian, but against Fukunaga he raised to the occasion and was out boxing, out punching and out fighting the dangerous and tough Fukunaga. If looking for a complaint with Kaji he still fights like a man who has more to offer than we see from him, but we suspect that as he mature we'll see more and more from him. Like many Teiken fighters over recent years, he doesn't like to waste energy, and is too apprehensive at times, but that is something we expect to see change as he gets used to fighting longer distances and becomes more comfortable with his stamina.
In his prime we feel Nakagawa would have the tools to deal with a 24 year old Kaji. We think he would be too mature and too mentally switched on. This however isn't a prime Nakagawa and given how Kaji dealt with the southpaw stance of Fukunaga, we really don't see him having any problems at all with the 36 year old champion. We expect to see Kaji pressing forward, and being too quick, too sharp and simply too young for Nakagawa, who will have success, but will be out worked by the younger man, when Kaji puts his foot on the gas. We don't see Kaji stopping Nakagawa necessarily, but we do see him hurting Nakagawa and securing a clear, yet hard fought decision. We expect to see Nakagawa down going into the late rounds, and trying to up the tempo, and potentially being caught by a bomb, but seeing out the storm to survive the distance.
Prediction - UD10 Kaji
This coming Tuesday we'll see the next Japanese title fight as Japanese 154lb champion Makoto Kawasaki (13-8-1, 2) looks to record his first defense of the title, as he takes on former contender Ryosuke Maruki (18-7-1, 13). The bout is, in many ways, an indictment of how poor the Japanese domestic scene is at 154lbs, with the better fighters in the division having no real interest in the Japanese title right now, with the likes of Takeshi Inoue and Hironobu Matsunaga both looking for bigger and better things.
The 38 year old Kawasaki won the title earlier this year, in a hotly contested decision win over Koki Koshikawa. The win was a career defining one for Kawasaki, who had previously come up short in bouts for the interim and regular Japanese Welterweight titles. It was a moment which will live with him for the rest of his life, though is also a win that seemed to partly luck, with the decision it's self, and partially good fortune to be facing Koshikawa, rather than a fighter like Matsunaga or Inoue. Given his age, it's hard to imagine him having a long reign, though he has got the skills, work rate and toughness to maybe record a defense or two before he hangs up his glove.
In the ring Kawasaki is a good technical boxer, with a decent work rate, a gritty determination, but a lack of power, and a lack of anything that really stands out. He's solid enough, but in no area at all is he spectacular, even for a domestic level fighter. Notably he isn't just old, at 38, but he is also a man who has had just 18 rounds of action since the start of 2020, and that level of inactivity is a major issue for a fighter who lacks power and physicality.
Maruki on the other hand is a 31 year old who turned professional in 2010 and quickly made a buzz for himself, before losing in the 2012 All Japan Rookie of the Year final. He began his career 4-0-1 (3) but quickly saw his record fall apart, going 7-3-1 (5) before winning the WBC Youth 154lb title in 2015. Maruki would establish himself as a top domestic contender in 2016, but sadly for him he would come up short in 3 Japanese title fights, losing to Yuki Nonaka in 2016, Nobuyuki Shindo in 2018 and Akinori Watanabe, in a Japanese interim title fight, also in 2018. By the end of 2019 it seemed his career was about over, but he has scored two recent wins, both by stoppage, and is now set for one more crack at a national title.
In the ring Maruki was, for years, a very, very aggressive fighter. In recent bouts however he has become a smarter fighter, using his movement more, letting opponents come to him. Despite changing his style one thing has remained, and that's been his heavy hands. Below the top tier of the domestic scene his shots have been punishing, and when he lands he does shake opponents up. He's also shown a willingness to take a shot to land one, and only the extremely heavy handed Akinori Watanabe has ever managed to stop him, despite his 7 losses to date. Sadly he's not particularly polished, and does rely more on his power and strength, rather than skills, but he's still managed success, and we suspect that his power will be a key factor here.
At his best Kawasaki would have the skills, the work rate and the tools to over-come the best version of Maruki. Sadly for Kawasaki however he's now 38, heading into retirement, and not the fighter he once was. Whilst neither he, nor Maruki, is a world beater, we do feel that Maruki simply has too much left for this version of Kawasaki. We expect Kawasaki to have success early on, but as the bout goes on the strength of Maruki and his willingness to take one to land one, will prove to be the difference as he eventually breaks down the veteran, to finally win the big one.
Prediction - TKO9 Maruki
The Minimumweight division is often the most over-looked in the sport, but that doesn't mean the division isn't an exciting one, or has good fighters, or that it doesn't deliver great action. In fact the opposite is true and over the last few years the division has certainly delivered some great fights and we certainly have some great talent emerging in the division at the moment.
One of the most promising of the young talents in the division is 22 year old southpaw Ginjiro Shigeoka (7-0, 5), who will look to show what he's made of this coming Wednesday when he defends the Japanese Minimumweight title against veteran Naoya Haruguchi (18-12, 7), with the two men clashing in Kumamoto.
The excellent and explosive Shigeoka made a name for himself in the amateur ranks before turning professional in 2018, and from the off he looked like an exceptional talent, decimating Sanchai Yotboon and Gerttipong Kumsahwat in his first 2 bouts. He then stepped up and proved he his stamina as he took an 8 round decision over Joel Lino before claiming his first title just a few months layer, as he almost gutted Clyde Azarcon in just 72 seconds for the WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight title. As the WBO regional champion he recorded 2 defenses, stopping Rey Loreto at the end of 2019, in a career bets win, before stopping Toshiki Kawamitsu 19 months later. He then vacated the title before winning the Japanese title this past March, with a 10 round win over Tatsuro Nakashima.
Since making his professional debut Shigeoka has looked incredible though sadly his rise through the ranks was curtailed, massively, by the pandemic, and he has only fought twice since the start of 2020, losing a lot of the momentum he had created in his first few bouts. That is a shame, but it doesn't take away from what an excellent young fighter he is.
In the ring Shigeoka is tiny, standing at just 5'0", but he's aggressive, powerful, quick, sharp and scary. He's diminutive but like Mike Tyson did in his prime, he makes opponents fear him. He takes the center of the ring, he makes himself the boss, and he forces opponents backwards. He cuts off the ring well, he works the body well, and he has a wonderfully stiff jab, brutal combinations and really good footwork. Unlike many smaller fighters it seems Shigeoka is happy to use his lack of size as an advantage and can often be seen fighting out of a crouch, making himself a smaller target. He also has excellent balance, composure and timing which means when he's up close, he is very happy to fight toe to toe, ans often sees shots coming. Just to add to the woes of his opponents not only is he quick, strong, sharp, powerful and technically well school, but he's also a southpaw, making him an absolute nightmare to go up against.
In Naoya Haruguchi we have a 32 year old veteran of the Japanese scene, who debuted in April 2012 and has had 30 bouts since then. He has, obviously, got a lot of losses with 12 defeats, but a lot of those have come to solid domestic fighters, such as Takumi Sakae, Keisuke Nakayama, Reiya Konishi, Seita Ogido, Riku Kano, Tatsuya Fukuhara, Norihito Tanaka and Kai Ishizawa. Whilst losses against top domestic competition, including a former world champion and several world title challengers, can be forgiven, sadly Haruguchi doesn't have many top domestic level victories. In fact his best wins to date have come against Norihito Tanaka, in the first of two bouts between the men, Jeffrey Galero and Shin Tomita. Despite those wins not being the best there is no doubting that Haruguchi is a battle hardened veteran, fighting in what will likely be his final title bout, following 2019 shot at the same title.
In the ring Haruguchi is a tall looking Minimumweight, with long arms, a busy jab and a fun style. He lacks single punch power, and despite having 7 stoppage wins he really is rather feather fisted, but does set a decent work rate and can break opponents down over time. He likes to pressure behind his busy jab, and can let nice looking combinations go, but he often comes over his front foot, lacks real balance in his footwork and as a result it takes a lot of sting off his shots. Defensively he's not very tight, and opponents can pick him apart with clean accurate shots. Despite being relatively easy to hit he is tough and has only been stopped twice in his 30 bout career, with those stoppages coming to the hands of Takumi Sakae in 2013 and Kai Ishizawa in 2021.
Whilst Haruguchi is tough, and has the size to give Shigeoka some awkward questions we expect to see Shigeoka really shine. The bout is taking place in Kuamamoto, the place he was born and raised, and he'll be fighting in front of school friends and family, who he will be wanting to impress, and sell himself to, especially if it could secure a world title bout there in the future. Also Shigeoka has a nice, big, long body to aim at here, and as we saw against Azarcon, he likes to bust the gut of opponents.
We suspect Haruguchi will have some success very early on with his jab, reach and size. But as soon as Shigeoka begins to go through the gears, things will change rapidly and he will begin to break down the challenger. Haruguchi's toughness will see him tough at some ugly moments, but sooner or later the pressure, tenacity and power of Shigeoka will break him down, and finish him off. Likely somewhere in the middle of the bout, from an accumulation of shots, particularly body shots.
Prediction - TKO6 Shigeoka
This coming Saturday we'll see a triple crown champion being crowned at Light Flyweight as fast rising youngster Shokichi Iwata (8-0, 6) puts his Japanese title on the line and takes on OPBF champion Kenichi Horikawa (41-16-1, 14), with the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title also up for grabs for the winner. The bout is very much the future of Japanese boxing facing off with a man who is a true ring veteran. There is a staggering 16 years age difference between the two men, with Iwata being just 26 and Horikawa being 42, with a career that stretches back a staggering 22 years!
Iwata was a stand out amateur before he kicked off his professional career in 2018, doing so in the US with his debut coming in Carson, California. He impressed on debut and since then has climbed rapidly though the domestic ranks. In his 6th bout he beat veteran Toshimasa Ouchi, with an 8 round decision, and just 5 months later he would claim the Japanese Light Flyweight title, stopping Rikito Shiba in 9 rounds to take the legendary national title in just his 7th professional bout. Since then he has made a single defense, stopping Ouchi in a rematch earlier this year, inside a round. It's clear, from the fact he's now looking to become a triple crown champion, that he's trying to rapidly climb up the world rankings and will be looking to use the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles to keep his options open for a world title fight, potentially later this year.
In the ring Iwata is a smart boxer-puncher who seems like he can do everything to a very, very, very high level. He's quick, sharp, light on his feet and can genuinely tailor his gameplan to take advantage of his opponents flaws. We've seen him fight at a high tempo as a pressure fighter, we've seen him box, we've seen him move and we've seen him showing his counter punching skills. As a fighter Iwata seems capable of doing everything, and whilst we wouldn't say he's elite in any single category, he does seem to be incredibly good at everything, which makes a very hard man to beat. The problem for opponents is that Iwata has plans A, B, C and D and that versatility will allow him to race through the domestic and regional ranks. Despite that there are still questions for him to answer, and we've not yet seem him get a real chin check, or prove himself above Japanese level, though he certainly looks like he has the tools to become the next Japanese force at 108lbs, following in the steps of Hiroto Kyoguchi and Kenshiro Teraji.
Horikawa is a true servant of Japanese boxing, with 58 fights over 22 years. He has proven himself as a genuine credit to boxing, a rugged fighter and someone willing to face anyone and everyone. During his long career he has faced Akira Yaegashi, Michael Landero, Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa, Tetsuya Hisada, Ryuji Hara, Yu Kimura, Shin Ono and Kenshiro Teraji, to just name a few notables. During his career he has proven himself to be a tough guy, with his only stoppages coming to Landero, Condes and Sosa. He has also shown himself to be a hard working, and he has turned around a 3-4 start to his career to become a 2-time Japanese Light Flyweight champion, as well as a former WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight champion and the current OPBF Light Flyweight champion. Unlike most fighters Horikawa's most notable success have come late in his career, and he had never won a title until he was 35, when he stopped Shin Ono for the Japanese title. He has aged like fine wine, and used his experience wonderfully well to improve, fight by fight.
In the ring Horikawa isn't pretty, he's not flash, and he's not explosive. Instead he's a rugged, hard working, who can get messy and physical when he needs to, as we saw in his third and final bout with Tetsuya Hisada. He's physical strong, comes forward and looks for mistakes. He has good timing, a smart boxing brain and looks to make the most of the flaws his opponents have. For a man who has had biggest results the wrong side of 35 it'll be little surprise to learn that he has great stamina, but he rarely needs to really show it, fighting at a relaxed tempo rather than an electric one. What he does really well is gradually break opponents down, physically and mentally. He's consistent, he's accurate, he's hard to get to and he dictates a lot of the action. He knows how to make things messy, he knows how to make opponents look bad and he knows how to win rounds. He know how to control the action and he knows that his counters can be a major difference maker, as we saw in his 2020 bout with Daiki Tomita. Sadly though there is a major issue with him coming into this bout, and that is the fact he's been out of the ring for around 2 years now, and it's really hard to know what he has left in the tank.
Sadly one thing that Horikawa has struggled with has been foot speed, and where fighters have moved he has struggled to force his fight on them. This was seen against Kenshiro and against Yuto Takahashi, and if Iwata wants to make life easy for himself he will to use his footwork to control the range of the bout and rack up rounds. Interestingly we actually believe that Iwata isn't just going to look to win, but instead impress. We expect to see him have Horikawa chasing him early on, but as the rounds go on, the 42 year old body of Horikawa begins to show it's age, cracks begin to appear, and Iwata will look to close the show in the second half of the bout, to give Horikawa only his 4th career stoppage loss.
Horikawa will have isolated moments in the first 3 or 4 rounds, whilst losing them, but as we head into rounds 8 and 9, Iwata will begin to hunt a finish and finally get it when the referee steps in to save Horikawa, who we expect will announce his retirement soon afterwards.
Prediction - TKO9 Iwata
Over the last few years the Japanese Bantamweight title has been something of a cursed title. Ryo Akaho was forced to give it up due to issues making weight, Yuta Saito, we then saw injuries ill and weight issues force the cancellation of several fighters with Yuta Saito and Yusuke Suzuki amassing just a single successful defense between them, before men retired, following a war together in 2019. We then saw the title remain vacant after Suzuki gave it up, due to a technical decision and then a planned bout fall apart when a fighter failed to make weight.
Between January 2018 and today we've had only 5 bouts for the title, along with a single interim title fight. We've seen 3 champions crowned but none managing to establish themselves as the king of the division, and this is in a brilliant division in terms of Japanese talent. A division that could, and should, have given us a string of great bouts in recent years.
This coming Thursday we hope to see the curse finally broken as defending champion Kyosuke Sawada (15-2-2, 6) seeks his first defense and takes on the criminally under-rated Seiya Tsutsumi (5-0-2, 4). The bout is not just one that we hope breaks the curse, but also ends up delivering something of a special bout between two highly skilled, intelligent fighters with different styles, but very polished styles.
As the reigning champion Sawada comes into the bout with a lot to lose, especially given this is his first defense of the title he waited so long to fight for. He was supposed to get a shot in 2020, before Covid and Suzuki's retirement thwarted plans. He had to wait until July 2021 to finally get a shot, only to see his bout with Ikuro Sadatsune end in a technical draw. A rematch against Sadatsune was then cancelled when Sadatsune failed to make weight. He finally won the belt in February, when he took a split technical decision over Kenshin Oshima, but aged 33 when he won that bout it's clear his time at the top is limited.
Now aged 34 Sawada is a fighter who is easy to over-look, especially with 2 losses on his record, however those losses really can be ignored. They came in his first two bouts to Yusuke Suzuki, who later won the Japanese Bantamweight title, and Hiroaki Teshigawara, who later won the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight and OPBF Super Bantamweight titles. Since those losses he has gradually built a very, very respectable career for himself with wins over the likes of Gaku Aikawa, Kinshiro Usui, Yosuke Fujihara, Kazuki Tanaka and Kenshin Oshima.
In the ring Sawada is a gorgeous fighter to watch. He is text book through and through with a brilliant boxing brain, wonderful speed, timing, and understanding of the ring. His downfall really is a lack of power, though even that isn't the major issue it seems as he can hurt and drop people due to his ability to land clean and consistently. He is very much a pure boxer. He keeps range well, he lands clean, and he lands a lot whilst getting full extension on his shots. Sadly at age of 34 it's fair to say he will begin to slow down soon, and will need to rely even more on his skills than his, but he does look like he's been aging well and looks to be, arguably, be better than ever in recent bouts.
Although he's never held a title Seiya Tsutsumi is one of the most unfortunate fighters in the sport. He had a solid amateur career, though Sawada's was better, before turning professional in 2018 and quickly made a split winning 4 bouts in the space of 7 months and getting international ring time in Thailand and China. It seemed obvious, almost immediately, that he was going to be moved aggressively and that was shown in his first bout of 2019, when he splattered the tough Ryan Rey Ponteras inside a round. He was then part of the God Of Left Bantamweight tournament, where he reached the final by default. Sadly in the final the judges weren't on his side, as he was forced to accept a draw with the dangerous Kazuki Nakajima, in a bout that it seemed Tsutsumi deserved the win in. His only bout since then was another draw, that time against former world champion Daigo Higam in a bout that he again should have got the W in. As a result of those draws it's now more than 3 years since Tsutsumi scored a win, and more than 1.5 years since his last bout.
In the ring Tstusumi can genuinely do it all. He's a very heavy handed fighter, as he showed early in his career, against the likes of Ponteras, but he can also box, as we saw in his "draw" with Nakajima, where he moved, boxed and seemed to make Nakajima look really silly for large swathes of the bout. He has also shown he can do 10 rounds, as he did against Higa. He's not flawless, but as an all rounder he really can do it all, at a very, very high level. The major issue for him coming in to this bout is the lengthy lay off, and potentially his confidence. He's not fought since the end of 2020, when he fought Higa, and with such a long lay off, it'll be interesting to see if he has ring rust and is less sharp than usual. Notably, despite the recent lack of activity, Tsutsumi is still only 26 and we suspect his team will have kept him busy with good sparring perhaps limiting his rustiness.
Coming in to this, we expect to see Sawada starting fast, looking sharp out of the blocks and looking fantastic in the first few rounds. As time goes on however we expect to see Tsutsumi growing into the bout, and the rounds go on his power, aggression and in some ways his frustration, will show throw as he begins to get used to the speed and sharpness of Sawada and begins to turn. When that happens we suspect that the power and heavy hands of Tsutsumi will change the flow of the bout, with Sawada being hurt, and stopped later on.
Prediction - TKO9 Tsutusmi
This coming Tuesday we'll see Japanese Lightweight champion Shu Utsuki (10-0, 8) look to make his first defense, as he takes on the often under-rated Izuki Tomioka (7-5-1, 2), who will be getting his third shot at a title in just 14 bouts. On paper the bout is a total mismatch, pitting one of the few divisional standouts in Japan against a fighter who has come up short in two previous title bouts and is without a win in over 2 years, however we suspect the bout will be much more interesting than the numbers suggest.
For those who haven't seen much of Utsuki the Japanese champion is a feared boxer-puncher who has traits that are familiar with former Super Featherweight Takashi Uchiyama, who like Utsuki fought out of the Watanabe Gym. Prior to turning professional Utsuki had been a top Japanese amateur, and when he turned professional he was earmarked as one to watch immediately. Aged 23 when he debuted he looked impressive in his debut, before being pushed all the way in his second bout, by the unheralded Yoji Saito. Since then however he has typically had things mostly his own way, In fact he has gone 8-0 (7) since then, with the only fighter managing to see the final bell against him being the criminally under-rated Ryo Nakai, who really gave Utsuki a scare last year. Sadly his resume is lacking in terms of big wins, with the best of the bunch being a TKO9 win over Masahiro Suzuki this past February, but he's been beating decent fights in the form of Jerry Castroverde, Omrri Bolivar and Takayuki Sakai.
In the ring Utsuki is a boxer-puncher, who comes forward behind a stiff jab, with a slow and cautious approach. He press opponents backwards with his jab and takes the center of the ring. He looks to set up his right hand, which is dynamite and bully people when he needs to. Much like Uchiyama he is naturally heavy handed, imposing himself and his will with his power and the fear that power puts into opponents. Notably though he isn't flawless, he has been down already in his career, leaving question marks about his chin, and most notable he has slow feet. He can be out boxed, out manoeuvred and made to look slow and cumbersome at times. Also when hurt his defenses do fall apart, as we saw against Nakai. He does however recover quickly when hurt and every time he has gone down he has looked cleared headed by the time he's got to his feet.
The 25 year old Izuki Tomioka is someone who has promise a lot since turning professional, and someone who seems to have the tools to do a lot in the sport, but can't quite get over the line at times. He turned professional in 2016 and was matched well early in whilst winning his first 5 bouts. Sadly though he would see his winning run come to an end in 2018, when a clash of heads left him with a technical draw against Kaiki Yuba. That draw was then followed by an OPBF title fight with Masayoshi Nakatani, who he gave fits to for 10 rounds, before being stopped in round 11. His only other stoppage loss came in an other title fight, that time to Shuichiro Yoshino in 2020, when he was leading on two of the cards. His 3 other losses have all been by razor thin decisions, two split decisions, to Shuya Masaki and Yasutaka Fujita, a unanimous decision to Hiroki Okada, in a bout that saw all 3 judges score it 77-75 to Okada. Watching him shows us a fighter who is tricky, really tricky, sharp, and quick. He's an awkward fighter to look good against and one of the best natural boxers in Japan. Sadly though he lacks the power, strength and physicality to boss fights, and that has long been his major issue. He's talented and quick but lacks in other areas.
In the ring Tomioka likes to fight at range, picking and poking with his jab, using his feet and landing shots at range. He is quick, smart and an excellent outside fighter who's difficult to out box and really tough to catch clean in the early going. Sadly for him he does, as mentioned, lack power though his timing and control of range are excellent and his footwork is also really impressive. Defensively he's slippery, offensively he's smart, but physically he's just not particularly imposing and fighters can bully him up close. Getting close to him isn't easy, but when a fighter is close he does tend to feel the need to hold. Sadly for him he does appear to lack an inside game and against the top fighters you do need to be more than just be brilliant at a single style. He lacks a plan B and when fighters can cope with his plan A he does struggle to change things around.
For this bout we expect to see Tomioka's speed and movement cause Utsuki a lot of problems early on, using a tactic similar to the one Nakai used against Utsuki. That style will always give Utsuki problems, and will see Tomioka take an early lead. Sadly though as rounds go on and as Tomioka slows down he will begin to take heavy leather back. When that happens we expect to see Utsuki break him down, eventually stopping Tomioka, much like Yoshino did, somewhere in the middle rounds.
Prediction - TKO8 Utsuki
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.