This coming Saturday we'll see Japanese Featherweight champion Hinata Maruta (11-1-1, 9) take on Ryo Hino (14-2-2, 9) at Korakuen Hall in a really good looking match up, which will be streamed live on PPV in Japan.
For Maruta this will be his first defense, and follows an excellent title winning performance back in February against Ryo Sagawa, whilst Hino will be getting his second shot at the Japanese title, having previously come up short against Sagawa back in 2019. For fans it'll be a chance to see whether the 24 year old Maruta is still developing into the star we all expected him to become when he turned professional, whilst the 31 year old Hino is likely to not get a third shot, if he comes up short here.
When he turned professional, back in 2015, everyone who followed Japanese boxing had high hopes for the then 18 year old Maruta. He quickly backed up those high hopes by beating the then world ranked Jason Canoy in his debut, and quickly raced away to his first title, the WBC Youth Bantamweight title which he won in his third bout. After moving to 5-0 (4), in less than 18 months, Maruta then took a leap up in class to challenge OPBF Super Bantamweight champion Hidenori Otake, and came up short against the tough and experienced Otake. The loss was a set back for the then 20 year old, but it was also a learning experience. He would have another set back 10 months later, as he was held to a very controversial draw in the Philippines against Ben Mananquil, but those losses seem to have made Maruta into a better fighter. At times he had been lazy in his career, happy to shows his slippery defensive skills but not show the output he needed. Since the Mannaquil bout however he has gone 4-0 (3) with notable domestic wins against Tsuyoshi Tameda, Coach Hiroto, Takenori Ohashi and most recently Sagawa.
In the ring it has always been obvious that Maruta is an incredible talent, and a man with a frame made to be a boxer, with a tall, long frame. Early on however he was immature, he seemed to fight like a man happy to show case his skills, rather than make a statement. In recent bouts however there has been a new found spite in his work, and he has looked like a fighter who wants to hurt his opponents. That was clear when he stopped Tameda, Ohashi and Sagawa, all of who are good fighters in their own rights. He is blessed with incredible speed and balance, a frightening jab, fantastic movement, both upper body and foot, and genuinely nasty power. He has matured physically from his early days, and his body has filled out from a scrawny looking Bantamweight to a strong looking Featherweight and he really is getting better with every fight. As a fighter he is a boxer-puncher, but he can also play the role of counter puncher when he needs to, and we have seen him show some traits of a pressure fighter, when he's had to. One thing that is very clear however, is that he has a very special boxing brain, and that, added to his speed and power, could make him a real nightmare for the division in years to come.
As for Ryo Hino he's a 31 year old who's been a professional since 2013. His career started with 4 wins against domestic novices, before being held to a draw by Yoshifumi Tamaki, and not long after that he suffered his first loss, losing to Reiya Abe. Following that defeat Hino would record a string of low level wins before upsetting the then touted Sho Nakazawa, in one of the best wins of his career. Sadly momentum from that win was killed off quickly, as he was held to a draw by Coach Hiroto in his very next fight. Sadly it seemed the draw scared his team, who didn't want to risk a high domestic ranking and he picked up two low level domestic wins before challenging Sagawa in 2019, and losing a wide decision to the then Japanese champion. Since that loss he has fought just once, stopping Ryukyu Oho in 7 rounds this past April.
In the ring Hino is a very solid boxer-mover. He has a nice jab, which he uses to control range and dictate the tempo of action, he's light on his feet, and can make fighters miss by using his speed and movement. He's not the most exciting fighter to watch, and his competition hasn't been great, but it's clear he has talent and skills. He fights to a game plan well, and when he finds his groove he begins to fire in the left hand behind the jab, closing the distance when he wants and letting shots go with more flow. Sadly though he typically seems to lack fire, and even a bit of the stereo-typical Japanese fighting spirit. He's happier to box and move, and does what he can to avoid an actual fight. He's incredibly relaxed in the ring, and looks composed and calm, but that can be easy against opponents levels below you.
Sadly for Hino it feels very much like he's a poor man's Maruta. Like Maruta he's slippery, has a nice long jab and looks calm in the ring, but he lacks the power, the spite, and work rate of the current version of Maruta. Maruta will likely win the early portions of the bout by out boxing Hino, before taking it up a gear and taking out Hino in the middle rounds. We expect to see the stoppage coming from a body shot, after Maruta has broke his man up up with stiff, hard, head shots.
Prediction - TKO7 Maruta
Back in July we saw a scheduled Japanese Bantamweight title fight between Kyosuke Sawada (14-2-2, 6) and Ikuro Sadatsune (11-4-4, 4) end in an inconclusive manner, as a head clash early in round 2 left both men bloodied, and saw the bout being waved off as a technical draw. It was a disappointing conclusion to the bout for both men and the fans, and it also left the title vacant. Prior to the early ending we had seen a lot of things happen in the opening round, including a knockdown and some really telling moments.
Rather than looking back of the career of the two men so far, as we usually do in their previews, we're going to focus on that first fight as the basis of how we expect to see the second bout go.
The first bout, or rather the first round of it, was controlled by Sawada, a former Japanese amateur standout who used two really effective tools through the first round of their first bout. One of those was his boxing brain and the other was his movement. Through out that first round he out thought Sawada, made him make mistakes and used his quick hands and understanding of range and distance to counter, land cleanly and dropped Sadatsune with a gorgeous combination. Through out the round, not just on the knockdown, Sawada seemed too quick, too sharp and too smart for the more bull like Sadatsune, who trudged into shots at times.
Although Sadatsune is a southpaw, that didn't really help him, and in fact Sawada seemed more than comfortable with the lefty stance of Sadatsune, and it helps him landing his straight right hand damaging left hook.
Whilst the first didn't lead to a conclusive ending, it was clear, just from the first 3 minutes, that Sawada is a much, much better boxer than Sadatsune.
Despite feeling like Sawada is the better boxer, and the man who looked likely to win the first bout, had it not ended the way it did, it is worth noting that that was only round 1 and Sadatsune was likely to find his way into the bout. We think that'll be the case again here, and he will begin to get a read on Sawada's speed and timing, will begin to close the distance, and make it a rough fight in the later rounds. By then however we feel it will be too little too late for Sadatsune, who will be in a deep hole by the time he begins to have success against a tiring Sawada, who will finish the bout on cruise control.
Prediction - UD10 Sawada
On October 19th we're set to see a new double champion being crowned in Japan at 140lbs as the unbeaten pairing of Andy Hiraoka (17-0, 12) and Jin Sasaki (11-0, 10) clash for both the Japanese national and WBO Asia Pacific titles. Notably however this is a match that genuinely doesn't need titles to be a must watch match up as we get two unbeaten youngsters risking their records in a bout that promises genuine fireworks, excitement, thrills and danger. In fact this among the very best bouts that we could make in Asia at 140lbs, and seems destined to be something very, very special for fans at the legendary Korakuen Hall this coming Tuesday.
Of the two men it's the 24 year old Hiraoka who is more well known internationally. The Ohashi promoted fighter has been showcased in the US on Top Rank shows a couple of times, and has shown some potential in his wins over Rogelio Casarez and Rickey Edwards. Prior to his US excursions though he was coming along nicely as a prospect in Japan winning his first 14 bouts before making his US debut. In those early bouts he had reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, though was unable to compete due to health reasons, won the Japanese Youth title, and scored a very notable 10 round win over Akihiro Kondo. He had proven himself as a domestic prospect, but still had a lot to work on, and we've seen he still has areas to improve in his US bouts as well.
Whilst Hiraoka is the more well known of the two fighters, he's not someone who has looked the most polished. He's a tall, rangy, young kid, who started his athletic career as a runner before developing into a very promising boxer. He has a lot of enviable tools in his kit, such as his height, reach, wide shoulders, speed, stamina power and atheltic ability, but is very much a fighter who is still developing as a boxer, and his lack of amateur experience does show in his performances. He's also a man who hasn't always looked comfortable in the ring, and we've seen him hurt before, with Hiraoka battling through adversity to take home wins more than once. He has answered plenty of questions, but still has a lot of question marks hanging over his chin, his heart and what he does when he's taking big shots or under intense pressure.
Aged just 20 Jin Sasaki is very much the type of fighter who is looking to break out, and has really created a lot of buzz in the last 18 months or so thanks to some impressive, destructive, exciting, flawed and heavy handed displays. He's, at times, very raw, very flawed, and almost looks unskilled at times, but he's also a truly brutal puncher, with a must watch style, and a willingness to bet on himself every time he's in the ring. Unlike many Japanese fighters there is an aura of cockiness and arrogance surrounding Sasaki. That confidence gives him an air of being a man "you want to see lose", but his power, and excitement factor leave him being someone you want to follow, see more of, and be entertained by. In many ways he's a breath of fresh air for Japanese boxing, and was very much one of the few winners from the Pandemic era of boxing in Japan, with A-Sign boxing showcasing him on their YouTube events.
Watching Sasaki is like watching a wrecking ball. He's very, very heavy handed and wins over the likes of Shun Akaiwa, Tatsuya Miyazaki and Aso Ishiwaki in 2020 really helped put him on the map. Earlier this year however he really struggled in a 2-round fire fight with Kaiki Yuba. That bout saw Sasaki coming close to being stopped, more than once, before being bailed out by his power, when he seemed close to done. That performance against Yuba showed that Sasaki has balls of steel, and that stereotypical Japanese will to win. That will to win makes him almost as dangerous as his lights out power and ultra-aggressive in ring style. He comes to fight, he comes to pressure, and he comes to land big shots. From the off. He can be out boxed, he can be made to miss, and he gives opponents chances to punish him, but if he lands we know he can turn bouts on their head in an instant.
We certainly feel Hiraoka, for all his flaws, his the much better boxer. He's the more polished, the technical, and whilst not an in ring genius, he has a much better boxing brain. However as we saw when Sasaki fought Yuba, another much better boxer, he only needs to land one good shot to turn a fight around. That what we expect to see again here. We suspect Hiraoka will look to control the fight behind his long reach, catching Sasaki numerous times in the first few rounds, but won't be able to keep Sasaki at bay and sooner or later the younger man will get in a good, clean, hurtful shot. We then suspect that Hiraoka will not be given a chance to recover, with Sasaki unloading on him and forcing a stoppage.
Prediction - Sasaki TKO4
This coming Saturday we'll get a bit of a treat in Japan as Super Flyweight triple crown champion Ryoji Fukunaga (14-4, 14) returns to the ring to defend his WBO Asia Pacific, OPBF and Japanese titles against unbeaten challenger Hayate Kaji (15-0, 9), in a bout that promises to be explosive, exciting and action packed. Whilst the bout won't get much international attention, it is a bout in a hotly competitive division, the winner could find themselves on the verge of a world title bout and it's one that should be something a little bit special given the styles and mentalities of the two men involved.
Of the two fighters it's clearly the champion who will go in as the favourite. The 35 year old has really impressed in recent years and has managed to unify his three titles thanks to big wins over Froilan Saludar and Kenta Nakagawa. In those bouts we saw Fukunaga being hurt, being forced to grit out some tough moments, but also fight like a man full of determination, getting through the rough patches and fighting like a man possessed. Sadly for Saludar and Nakagawa the hard hitting Fukunaga is a brutally heavy handed guy, with a high work rate, and steely determination, and he managed to stop both. With 14 stoppages in 14 wins, it's obvious he's a dangerous fighter, but he's also a fighter who is improving, even in his mid 30's, showing more maturity, a better boxing brain, and a growing under-standing of the sport.
Early in his career Fukunaga looked poor. He lost on his debut, in 2013, and lost again 2 years later, in an opening round TKO loss to Ryo Matsubara. Since then however he has really come a long way and both of his more recent losses were in competitive bouts to decent fighters, Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart. He has built from those losses and now looks like someone who could land a world title fight before ending his career. Like many fighters in Japan he has learned from tough set backs, he has had to learn the hard way, and even with 4 losses on his record we can't write him off.
Whilst Fukunaga has improved following some early set backs the same can't really be said of Kaji. The 24 year old Kaji burst on to the pro scene back in 2015, as a teenager, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year with an opening round KO win against Taiyo Inoue. He seemed destined to be a star at that point, and over the following couple of years his career continued to develop, and he would score decent wins over Jun Blazo and Kichang Kim. Sadly though things started to change, and there were rumours from those at Teiken that Kaji wasn't listening to trainers, and soon afterwards his performances start to suffer, with poor performances against the likes of Arnold Garde, Rey Orais and Diomel Diocos in 2019. He quickly went from a man people wanted to see getting a big fight into someone who no longer looked ready and seemed to be regressing. His power wasn't carrying up, and his performances seemed to show him just going through the motions, rather than trying to impress. It was as if his motivation was waning.
At his best Kaji is a hard hitting, aggressive fighter, who gets in to the ring with the intention of throwing a lot of hard leather. Sadly though that's not been the Kaji we've been seeing in recent bouts. Instead we've started to see Kaji become tamer, more timid, and whilst he is certainly more technical than he used to be there is a sense that he's very much a fighter trying to change styles, and is losing his identity as a result. He still looks like someone who could become someone special, but he's not looked good, at all, in recent bouts. His intensity has dropped, his power doesn't look vicious and he looks like someone who is boxing to orders, rather than fighting in a style that is natural to him.
We suspect that Fukunaga will look to bully the younger man early on, march forward and try to break down the challenger. Kaji will try to box, but we suspect after 4 or 5 rounds he'll elect to change styles, feeling that he needs to fight Fukunaga's aggression with more aggression of his own, and in the middle rounds we're expecting a war to break out. Sadly for Kaji we don't expect this to go well for him and by round 9 he'll be under intense pressure and the corner will need to think about saving him.
Kaji has got the skills and tools to win rounds, but we really don't see him having what is needed to win a fight with Fukunaga, and sadly for the challenger we're expecting this to become a true fire fight sooner rather than later. If Kaji can keep a busy jab, and move well, he has a chance, but we struggle to see him keeping that up for 12 rounds against the pressure, power and determination of the champion.
Prediction - TKO9 Fukunaga
This coming Saturday the Korakuen Hall plays host to the next Japanese title fight, and will see Rikito Shiba (5-1, 3) clash with Shokichi Iwata (6-0, 4) for the now vacant Japanese Light Flyweight title. For Shiba this will be a chance to claim a second belt, having previously held the Japanese Youth title, whilst Iwata, who has been touted as a future world champion, will be getting his first at title level. Despite both men only having 6 fights each the bout is a perfect example of the match making in Japan, that doesn't protect high regarded hopefuls, and instead matches them hard early on, and lets them shine with out waiting for an opportunity at domestic level.
The 25 year old Shiba was a solid amateur before turning professional, in 2018, scoring a very good win over Hiroki Inamine on debut. He then added good wins over Yasuhiro Tanaka, Hizuki Saso and Shisui Kawabata, to claim the Japanese Youth throne in 2019. Sadly for Shiba his winning run came to an end in December 2019 when he faced off with Masamichi Yabuki in a Japanese title eliminator, succumbing to the power of Yabuki in 4 rounds. Since that loss Shiba has fought just once, taking a 7th round TKO win over Hideyuki Watanabe, in a bout that really saw him under a lot of pressure, and take more punishment than expected.
In the ring Shiba is a solid boxer-puncher. He's not a massive hitter, but he gets respect, and his stoppage over Watanabe was an impressive one, but he is a very talented boxer, with a good amateur back ground, a good understanding of the ring and lovely speed. His real issue however is that he often looks under-sized, a bit on the lighter side, and we saw against Yabuki, he's not the biggest, strongest or toughest. Whilst Yabuki is a monstrous puncher, and not many in the division hit like he does, it was still a worry to see Shiba hurt almost every time Yabuki connected with a clean shot. That sort of fight can damage a fighter mentally, and it's going to be a major test for him here, following his poor performance against Watanabe as well.
Whilst Shiba was a good amateur his success in the unpaid ranks was over-shadowed by that of fellow 25 year old Shokichi Iwata, who was regarded as one of the top amateur in Japan at one point, and holds notable amateur wins against the likes of Kosei Tanaka and Takuma Inoue. He made his professional debut in late 2018, doing so on a show in the US, and ended 2019 with a 4-0 record, without scoring a win of note. Thankfully he stepped up with wins over Ryo Narizuka and, most recently, Toshimasa Ouchi this past June. Sadly for him he hasn't yet kicked on in the way many had anticipated, but this opportunity against Shiba is a huge one, and a win would boost his career massively, moving him towards bigger and better fights.
In the ring Iwata is a very good boxer puncher, who can brawl when he needs to, has very respectable power, speed and movement and knows how to change the tempo of bouts. His jab is solid and his work on the inside is very much under-rated. Notably we don't think we've seen anything close to the best from Iwata, who feels like he's been fighting in 3rd gear a lot of the time and it would be really exciting to see what he can do when he's really being tested, again not something we've really seen since he turned professional.
Whilst we think Shiba has the potential to win this title in the future we are going in to this one feeling like the bout will instead be a show case for for Iwata who will look to set the tempo early on, and control the bout there after, breaking down Shiba as the rounds go on. Shiba will try to counter, as he did against Watanabe, but we feel the body shots of Iwata will take the fight out of him.
Prediction - Iwata TKO9
Over the last 4 years or so Japanese had two notable Lightweights, one travelling for overseas fights against some of the biggest names in the sport and one staying at home, unifying domestic and regional titles whilst developing a reputation as a dangerous boxer puncher.
Of course the fighter who has been fighting internationally is Masayoshi Nakatani, who has faced the likes of Teofimo Lopez, Felix Verdejo and Vasyl Lomachenko in recent years. The other is the unbeaten Shuichiro Yoshino (13-0, 10), who has unified the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles whilst remaining in the East and making a solid claim as the best Japanese Lightweight. This coming Thursday he'll be back in the ring, looking to defend his Japanese title as he takes on youngster Shuma Nakazato (10-1-3, 7). The focus for Yoshino is to win here and then advance into the types of bouts we've been seeing Nakatani enjoy, whilst Nakazato will be looking to claim his biggest win to date.
For those who haven't seen the two men Yoshino is someone who really should be on your radar. He was moved incredibly quickly through the Japanese domestic scene, winning the Japanese domestic title less than 2 years later his debut, with a TKO win against Spicy Matsushita. Since then he has really come into his own, making 6 defenses of the Japanese title and unifying it with the two regional titles to become a triple crown champion. Along the way he has shown a bit of every thing, with some brutal knockouts, including one against the once touted Harmonito Dela Torre, good boxing skills, as seen last year against Valentine Hosokawa, and desire to win, coming from behind against Izuki Tomioka in early 2020. He has however looked like someone who needs to face bigger, better, more testing opponents and is pretty in need of a major international test.
In the ring Yoshino is a genuine talent. He's dangerous, he's talented, he's gutsy and he's a man with a decent boxing brain, when he needs to use it. He has been genuinely tested on the Japanese scene, with Tomioka, Matsishita and Yoshitaka Kato all asking questions of him, but he has always come out on top thanks to his strong amateur background, very heavy hands, good timing, and the versatility that makes him a real all round. He can boxing, he can brawl, he can come forward and he can box as a counter puncher. Given those tools in his arsenal he is more multi-faceted than Nakatani, though lakes the awkward size and toughness of his countryman.
Aged 24 Shuma Nakazato is an unknown outside of Japan, though is someone who shouldn't be over-looked or ignored. He began his career at Featherweight, as a teenager, but since then he has matured in a solid Super Featherweight. At 130lbs he has given Hironori Mishiro a real test in 2018, before notching up wins over Kanta Fukui and Yuji Awata, as well as fighting to a draw with Yoshimitsu Kimura in a sensational 8 round bout last year. In those bouts we've seen a gutsy, talented, but flawed young fighter showing improvements with every fight, but very much looking like an inexperienced youngster who is still developing as a fighter.
In the ring Nakazato is a solid boxer-puncher, but sadly he's very much an average Super Featherweight moving up in weight here, which will not serve him well. He's quicker than Yoshino, he's younger, but he we don't feel he has fight changing power at 135lbs, or the the experience needed to really test Yoshino. Instead we see Nakazato making a good start, boxing well, having success with his speed and movement early on, but coming undone when Yoshino decides to turn things around, and has a read om his man.
We expect Nakazato to bee very competitive through 4 rounds but and up being stopping the second half of the fight.
Predoction - TKO8 Yoshino
Back in January we saw Japanese veteran Gakuya Furuhashi (27-8-1, 15) put in a career defining performance to break down Yusaku Kuga and claim the Japanese Super Bantamweight title, and in doing so gave us one of the very best fights of 2021. On August 2nd we see Furuhashi return to the ring to make his first defense of the Japanese title as he takes on 23 year old youngster Seigo Hanamori (7-3, 5), in what look like an easy first defense for the talented and all action champion. Whilst this looks like a mismatch, we do need to take a closer look and see if Hanamori can actually be a banana skin for Furuhashi, and whether, maybe, Furuhashi has had a career that is at it's peak, before a very, very sharp come down.
For those who haven't followed Furuhashi the 33 year old is a genuine fan favourite in Kanagawa and nearby Tokyo. He turned professional way back in 2007 and won the 2008 All Japan Rookie of the Year, winning his first 8 professional bouts along the way. Sadly however he started to pile up losses soon afterwards and went from 8-0 to 10-3 in just over 2 years. Just a few fights later he had fallen to 13-5 and it seemed like his career was going to be spent trying to fight his way out of the domestic mix. Since then however he has gone 15-3-1, fought for the Japanese title 3 times, winning it last year in his third shot, and held future world champion Yukinori Oguni to a majority draw in 2015. He has also maturing perfectly with age, winning his last 9 fights, the longest run of his career, including really good wins against Ryoichi Tamura, in 2019, and Kuga, earlier this year.
In the ring Furuhashi is a true blood and guts warrior. He gets in the ring, he wears his heart on his sleeve, and he fights. He's not a boxer, he's a fighter. He sets a high tempo, walks through fire when he needs to, sets a high pace, and really lets his shots go. He can be out boxed, he can be hurt, he can be beat, but at domestic level he's a real handful due to his incredible hunger and desire, toughness, work rate and refuse to lose attitude. It's those traits, rather than his boxing skills, that have seen him beating Tamura and Kuga in his last two bouts, and it's those traits that have made him such a huge fan favourite among the Japanese domestic fan base.
Whilst Furuhashi is a genuine name on the Japanese domestic scene the same cannot be said of Seigo Hanamora, who is, in fairness, a pretty obscure youngster, even for those who follow the Japanese scene in depth. He began his career in 2016 and had mixed success from the off, going 2-2 and 3-3 early in his days as a professional. Notably however he has won his last 4, all by stoppage, and has built some momentum coming into this fight. Sadly however his competition in those bouts has been very, very poor, and the one notable name on his record is Haruki Ishikawa, who stopped him in 2 rounds in 2018, and recently won a Japanese Youth title. Ishikawa is a very good fighter, but losing to him in 2 rounds is not a sign that someone is ready for a Japanese title fight. Especially not against a fighter like Furuhashi.
In the ring Hanamori is an aggressive fighter who throws everything with bad intentions. He's fun to watch, due to his aggressive nature, but he does leave himself open, he's very much there to be hit and he doesn't seem to hit as hard as he seems to think he does. He hammered away on John Yano in 2019 and took 5 rounds to stop him, and he had to put a lot into those 5 rounds before Yano ultimately wilted. Against someone like Furuhashi, who won't be bothered by his power, he's on to a hiding.
Hanamori might, one day, develop into a Japanese champion. It took Furuhashi over a decade and we might see the same for Hanamori. Here however we can't see anything but a loss for Hanamori. He'll come in confident, but be broken down, beaten up, and eventually stopped by a fighter who simply has too much of everything for him. Furushashi will take the fight to him, and will simply grind him down, likely within 5 or 6 rounds.
Prediction - Furuhashi TKO6
Over the last few years no Japanese title has been treat quite as strangely as the national Bantamweight title, which would be well within it's rights to have some sort of complex after what it's been through. Since Ryo Akaho won it in August 2017 it has been fought for just 3 times, successfully defended once, vacated twice, and had a host of bouts for it cancelled due to health issues, such as illness and a fighters missing weight. It must get the feeling that no one really wants it. Despite a lineage that includes legends of the sport, such as Yoshio Shirai, Naoto Takahashi, Joichiro Tatsuyoshi, Yasuei Yakushiji, Toshiaki Nishioka and Shinsuke Yamanaka.
That lineage will have another name added to it this coming Monday as Kyosuke Sawada (14-2-1, 6) takes on Ikuro Sadatsune (11-4-3, 4) for the currently vacant belt. Whilst the title may have been treated badly in recent years, it's clear, coming in to this, that both of these men are desperate to call themselves a Japanese champion and both are looking for the biggest win of their career, so far.
Of the two men it's Sawada who has earned this shot more. He actually earned a shot at the title back in 2019, when he beat Kazuki Tanaka in a Japanese title eliminator. That was meant to set up a bout with the then champion Yusuke Suzuki, who defeated Sawada back in 2013, but sadly Suzuki was forced into retirement following his bout with Yuta Saito. As a result Sawada was sat waiting for a shot at the vacant title when Covid19 destroyed the Japanese boxing schedule. That wait went on, and on, until Sadatsune stepped up to the challenge and and we ended up getting this bout arranged for a date in May. A date that would be postponed it's self due to Covid19 forcing a number of shows in Japan to be scrapped.
Despite all the issues around the title and bout we're expecting a good one here between a former amateur standout, Sawada, and someone who turned professional young and has learned the sport on the job, becoming a very good fighter in the process.
The 33 year old Sawada has been a professional since 2013, following an amateur career that had more than 80 bouts and around 60 wins. He turned professional with high expectations on his shoulders, but was matched hard from the off, and suffered back to back losses to Yusuke Suzuki, in Sawada's debut, and Hiroaki Teshigawara to start his career 0-2. Since then however he has turned things around, going 14-0-1 (6) and scoring notable wins over the likes of Kinshiro Usui, Yosuke Fujihara, Keita Nakano and Kazuki Tanaka. Those wins had lead him to becoming one of the main players on the Japanese domestic scene at 118lbs and one of the more under-rated domestic fighters.
In the ring Sawada really does rely on his amateur background. A lot. He's a pure boxer with good movement, good technical boxing skills and the sort of fighter who likes to do things at range on his jab and his straight shots. When dragged inside he can handle himself, but is very much happier at range where his shots seem to flow effortlessly. At his best he's a joy to watch, with fluid combinations and sort, though not destructive, power. At the age of 33 however, and with 21 months of ring rust coming in to this, we do wonder what he's going to look like here.
Aged 23 Sadatsune is a boxing baby, however he's been a professional since he was 17 and debuted way back in September 2015. He began his career with a 6 fight unbeaten record, going 5-0-1, before a loss in 2016, at the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, ended that run. Sadly he then struggled to get going again and fell from 5-0-1 to 6-2-2 in less than a year. It seemed like his career was going nowhere before he rediscovered some form winning 3 in a row before two razor thin losses in 2019, losing to Kenshin Oshima and Sho Ishida in bouts that he had a very valid claim to have won. Those setbacks could have been big but Sadatsune just kept ploughing on and picked two wins to get his career back on track before the pandemic struck, and slowed his ascent and he's now been out of action for around 18 months.
In the ring Sadatsune isn't as well schooled or as natural a boxer as Sawada, but he is a fighter who is improving with every fight, is criminally under-rated. He's strong, tough, has very over-looked technical skills and has more than held his own with the likes of Sho Ishida. He's also a southpaw, which further adds problems to facing him, and although he's not a big puncher he will hit harder as he matures physically, and now at 23 we suspect he will begin to show more and more pop. Since his 2017 loss to Kai Chiba, his second loss, he has never looked a clear second best in the ring, and has instead looked like a really hungry fighter who wants to prove something every time he fights. Whilst it is worth nothing that he's been inactive he does actually work at the boxing he fights out of, and we suspect with that in mind he will have stayed fit over the last 18 months or so and we think that could pay dividends here.
Had this bout taken place in 2020, we would have favoured Sawada, who at 32 would have been at the back end of his prime and would have been coming in on the back of the win over Kazuki Tanaka. With the long lay off however a lot of small things have changed against him. He's been inactive, he's aged, he's got ring rust, the momentum of his win over Tanaka, Nakano, Fujihara and Usui are now history and in that same time Sadatsune has matured and at 23, heading to 24, he's coming into his physical prime, he's developing as a man and is moving from a fresh faced boy to a fully fledged man.
We think the delay will actually swing this one from a Sawada win to a Sadatsune win, albeit in a very, very close decision. We see his youth, energy and the time Sawada has been out of the ring being the keys in a close, well fought, technical bout. We expect to see Sadatsune have that extra little bit of hunger and energy when he needs it, and to just bite down that bit harder than Sawada. It'll be close, it'll be amazingly competitive, but we see Sadatsune just, narrowly, coming away with the victory.
Prediction - SD10 Sadatsune
On July 21st we get the chance to see a fantastic main event at Korakuen Hall as Japanese Flyweight champion Seigo Yuri Akui (15-2-1, 10) takes on the unbeaten Taku Kuwahara (8-0, 4). The bout may not have feature some huge name, but it's a match up between two men who have often been over-looked, and are quietly moving towards bigger and better things than the Japanese national title.
Given that neither man is a big name it's worth learning a little bit about both men before we look at how we think the bout will go.
The champion is a 25 year old from Okayama, a place not known as a boxing hotspot. Despite not having a big team behind him Akui has managed to make quite a lot of noise in his 18 bout career. He turned profession in 2014 and the following year he won the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Light Flyweight, aged 20. At that point in time he was 6-0-1 (2) and someone who looked promising, but not too much fuss was made about him, even with his Rookie of the Year triumph. He then went on a destructive run, stopping his following 5 opponents in a combined 7 rounds before losing to Junto Nakatani in August 2017. That bout said more about Nakatani than Akui, with Nakatani being too big and too good, but soon afterwards Akui bounced back with a blow out win over Masamichi Yabuki, the man who will challenge world champion Kenshiro Teraji later in the year. That win was followed by an unfortunate TKO loss to Jaysever Abcede in late 2018, when Akui suffered an injury and fought on with it until being stopped with just over 40 seconds left.
Since suffering his second loss Akui has been on a tear again, blasting out Yoshiki Minato and Shun Kosaka, both within a round with the win over Kosaka netting Akui the Japanese Flyweight title. He has also made a single defense of that belt, beating Seiya Fujikita last October, via 10 round decision.
With a 10 stoppages in 18 bouts it's easy to assume that Akui isn't a dangerous fighter. In reality however he's a vicious puncher, and a fast starter. From 15 professional wins he has managed to score 9 opening round stoppages, 10 stoppages in the first 3 rounds and has one got one decision win since the start of 2016. He is a brute of a puncher, a fast starter and a very, very dangerous man in the ring. Sadly though when fighters do see out the early stages of bouts with Akui he can be out boxed, out fought and can give him real problems. In saying that however he did impress with his engine and boxing skills against the tough Fujikita and that win did show there was more to him than his early power.
The 26 year old Taku Kuwahara was a very good amateur, with international experience, and despite originally being from Osaka he is now based in Kanagawa, fighting out of the Ohashi Gym, where he gets top quality training and sparring. There was some excitement about his debut in 2018, and he quickly built some buzz, but sadly it wasn't until 2019 that he managed to notch a couple of wins of real note, beating Jonathan Refugio and Ricardo Sueno. Those wins saw him build some real momentum, but that momentum, like with many fighters, was stopped in 2020 and he didn't fight at all during the the year. Thankfully however he returned to the ring this past March with a solid win, in a very exciting fight, with Yoshiki Minato. Notably Kuwahara went 8 rounds with Minato, a man blown out in a round by Akui.
Early in his career Kuwahara looked like a man with plenty of pop, stopping 4 of his first 5 opponents, but he's gone the distance in his last 3 and there are question marks about his punching power. However he is a high skilled boxer, with some lovely tricks up his sleeve, he's quick, he's sharp, and we've seen him go 8 rounds on 4 occasions, answering plenty of questions about his stamina. He also fights at a good tempo and keeps a high work rate whilst looking very relaxed in the ring.
Coming in to the bout it really is a compelling match up. Will Akui manage to launch himself to the next level with a big win in Tokyo? Will Kuwahara manage to make the most of his chance and take his first title? Will the power of Akui be too much for Kuwahara to handle? Will Kuwahara have the skills and experience to cope with the power and aggression of his foe?
The first thing we need to think about is whether Kuwahara can see out the early storm. We suspect that someone with the experience, amateur and professional, of Kuwahara should be able to fight smartly, being cautious early on, and then moving through the gears as the bout goes on. The second thing is whether or not Akui can change things when he's being out boxed, something we expect to see Kuwahara do. That's where we're less confident and we suspect that Akui will end up starting fast, being neutralised, and then really struggle to catch up with the quicker, sharper, smoother Kuwahara.
As the rounds go on we see Kuwahara getting more and more comfortable, and whilst he might end up eating a shot or two later in the bout, and we've seen him take some shots he's not needed to in the past, we don't see Akui managing to have any sustained success later in the bout. Instead we see Kuwahara having a scare or two, from single shots, but seeing them out and taking a clear unanimous decision over Akui, and becoming the new champion.
Prediction - UD10 Kuwahara
In 2020 we saw very, very few fighters have years that will define their careers. One of the few exceptions was Japanese Super Flyweight Ryoji Fukunaga (13-4, 13) who had a career defining as he went 2-0 (2) and went from having never held a title as a professional to being the unified Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight champion. He did that by scoring two legitimately solid wins as well, defeating Froilan Saludar and Kenta Nakagawa, and came in to 2021 with some real momentum. As we write this he is also holding world rankings with 3 of the 4 major title bodies. At 34 however he can ill afford a slip up, and he'll be well aware of that going into his first bout of 2021,against Takahiro Fujii (12-6-1, 3) on June 21st. That bout will see Fukunaga defending two of the titles he unified last year, and look to continue moving towards a potential world title fight. On the other hand the bout will also be a huge, and somewhat unexpected, title shot for Fujii.
Aged 34 Fukunaga is a heavy handed southpaw who turned professional in 2013 aged 26, and struggled early in his career. He lost on debut, and was 4-2 (4) after 6 bouts. Since then however he has turned things around, going 9-2 (9) winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year, as well as becoming a triple crown champion.
In the ring Fukunaga has a lot of technical flaws. He's easy to hit, he's not particularly quick and a lot of what he does looks forced. Despite that he's not an easy man to beat. He's got rocks for hands, and what he hits he hurts. He's got a great will to win, and excellent stamina, and even in rounds 9 and 10 he can still be found throwing a lot of bombs. He's also learned how to use his experience well, and when he needs to he can "old man" his opponents, go for a walk, catch his breath and then come forward again. At 34 we do wonder how much he has left in the tank, especially after wars with Saludar and Nakagawa last year, with both of those bouts being incredibly punishing, but we also get the feeling he and his team have picked a bit of a patsy here, to keep him ticking over in a stay defense, rather than a genuine challenge.
Fujii is a fellow southpaw, and is slightly younger than the Fukunaga, aged 32, but he's also much less accomplished and is taking a massive step up in class. He began his career back in 2010, with a draw against Satoshi Obata, and was 6-3-1 (2) after 10 bouts. Sadly it wasn't just early on that he had mixed results and he's actually 6-3 (1) in his last 9 bouts. What hasn't helped him is that he been very inconsistent with results, and every time he gets a win, he then slips up soon afterwards. At least he did until very recently, and he's currently riding a rare winning streak, having won his last 3 bouts with a decent win over Sonin Nihei. Sadly though that 3 win streak dates back to 2018, showing a lack of activity to go with his lack of consistency.
When it comes to what Fujiii can do in the ring, one thing that needs mentioning is that he lacks power. Of any kind. He has only scored a single stoppage win since 2015. That sort of power will leave him needing to rely on his boxing skills against a guy like Fukunaga, who is a monstrous puncher who can really hurt people. Fujii has only been stopped once, very early in his career, but we suspect that he'll struggle with the power, work rate and aggression of Fukunaga, especially over 12 rounds. The guy can fight, but he's been fighting fringe domestic level fighters, and he's now leaping up to regional title level, with nothing to prepare him for what he's getting himself into here.
Fukunaga has had punishing bouts. He has taken a lot in his last two bouts, but this is a smart match up from his team. Matching him easily for his return to the ring, and we suspect he'll shake a bit of ring rust through the early part of the fight, before taking out Fujii in the middle rounds. The champion might lose a few rounds early on, but he'll be far too much for the challenger and will take him out sooner or later.
Prediction - TKO7 Fukunaga
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.