The sport of boxing is back in Japan, and has been for a few days now, following the hiatus we had due to the ongoing global situation. On July 16th we had our first Japanese title bout and now we return with another from Korakuen Hall. Like the bout from last week this is another Champion Carnival bout, pitting a defending champion against their mandatory challenger, though unlike that bout neither of these two men are all that well known. Despite that this may end up one of the month's better bouts.
In one corner wee will have Japanese Super Flyweight champion Kenta Nakagawa (18-3-1, 12), looking to make his first defense of his second reign, whilst the other corner will play host to mandatory challenger Yuta Matsuo (15-4-2, 8), who is hoping to make it third time lucky after previous losses in title bouts.
Of the two men it's Kenta Nakagawa who will be entering as the favourite. The Southpaw from the Misako gym is part of a gym having great success in recent years, and we know success breeds success in boxing. He's the champion going in, he's riding a 5 fight unbeaten run and claimed the title in a bit of an upset last December, dethroning Takayuki Okumoto in Osaka. He has proven that he's a solid boxer-puncher and the win over Okumoto just added to his reputation.
At the age of 34, and turning 35 in August, Nakagawa is an old fighter for the division, but hasn't taken too much punishment. His 22 bouts have combined for 102 professional rounds and he has only suffered a single stoppage loss so far, when he lost the Japanese title the first time in a 2017 clash with Ryuichi Funai. Sure he's old, but he's a young 34 at the weight, without too many hard miles on his body and has scored plenty of quick wins to keep the miles off the clock.
The challenger has gotten this bout despite failing to secure a single win last year, going 0-1-1. His loss came to Okumoto in last year's Champion Carnival, when he challenged Okumoto for the title Nakagawa now holds, and he then went on to fight to a draw with Hiroyuki Kudaka in what was a title eliminator. Despite the draw he gets this shot due to being ranked #1 going into that bout. Not only is he without a win in the last year but he's also come up short in 2 title bouts, the one with Okumoto and one with Masayuki Kuroda in 2017. Added to those set backs is the fact he's also the naturally smaller man, fighting mostly at Flyweight.
Although the under-dog Matsuo is a live challenger coming in to this bout. His form might not be great but wins over the likes of Ryoji Fukunaga, Ryuto Oho, Seiya Fujikita and Yota Hori show he can beat good fighters. Also he's stylistically a nightmare at this level. He's strong, comes forward, tough, throws solid shots, even if they aren't destructive, and can keep a good work rate. He's not the most intense, and he can be found walking in without letting shots go, but he will make people fight for every minute of every round, pressing them and trying to break their heart.
We expect to see Matsuo pressuring, getting on the front foot and making Nakagawa work hard, from the opening round the champion will need to be on his toes, picking his shots. Thankfully for the champion he does appear to be a solid, hard hitter who lands clean, and he may well manage to get Matsuo's respect with his heavy straight shots. We don't think Nakagawa will stop Matsuo, but we do think he'll land the better blows, create the space he needs to work from and keep Matsuo at bay and take a clear, but hard fought, decision to retain his title.
Prediction - UD10 Nakagawa
Whilst the most notable member of the Inoue family, Naoya Inoue, won't be in action until later in the year he's not the only member of the clan with a belt at the moment. The other is his cousin Koki Inoue (15-0, 12), who returns to the ring on July 16th to make a mandatory defense of the Japanese Light Welterweight title. The unbeaten champion will be taking on Daishi Nagata (14-2-1, 5) as part of the Champion Carnival, in what looks like a genuinely fantastic looking match up, though one the champion will enter as the clear favourite in.
Originally this bout was scheduled for a March date, which was originally delayed due to Inoue being injured in training. It was then rescheduled for May before being delayed again due to the out break of the on going issues that have had global impacts. As a result this bout will actually be the first Japanese title fight in months, after boxing was put on a hiatus in Japan.
The champion, who not only holds the Japanese title but also the WBO Asia Pacific title, turned professional with a lot of expectations on his shoulders. By the time he made his debut in late 2015 Naoya had already become a 2-weight world champion whilst Naoya's brother Takuma was the OPBF champion, winning that title in just his 4th professional bout. Sadly it did take Koki a bit longer to make an impact than either of his cousins, as domestic fighters seemed to give him a pretty wide berth at times. Despite some frustrations Inoue managed to secure himself a mandatory title in 2019, which he won by out boxing Valentine Hosokawa, to win his first title in his 13th professional bout.
Since winning the Japanese title in April 2019 Inoue has defended it once, beating Ryuji Ikeda in 5 rounds, and unified it with the WBO Asia Pacific title, by stopping Jheritz Chavez in 7 rounds.
In the ring Inoue is a southpaw boxer puncher. He's not quite as heavy handed, relative to his weight class, as Naoya, but he holds plenty of pop. He likes to move, use the ring and lure opponents into his shots, whilst calmly boxing on the back foot. It's not always the most exciting to watch him do his thing, but when he goes through the gears and lets his hands go he looks sensational, with quick, hard, free flowing combinations. Sadly he does often seem too cautious, which is a shame given that he's such a great fighter to watch when he does turn up the tempo.
Aged 30 this is Daishi Nagata's second shot at a title, following a very close loss in an OPBF title fight against Rikki Naito. The challenger is a very fun fighter to see in action, pressing fighter and looking to force opponents to break, mentally and physically. He's not unbeatable, and was taken out in 7 rounds back in 2017 by Vladimir Baez, but he's a real tough out at this level with his pressure and aggression. He used that pressure to out work and out point Cristiano Aoqui last October, to earn his title fight, and build on previous wins over Yusuka Tsukada and Min Ho Jung. He's not the biggest puncher, but he's physically strong and does enough power on his shots to get the results of opponents.
Nagata, like Inoue, is a southpaw and stylistically he very different to the champion. Whilst the champion likes to uses his legs, establish range and chip away before moving through the gears Nagata would prefer a tear up, and will press from the off. That pressure is a tactic that could beat Inoue, but will need to be amped up and sped up from Nagata, who will need to find a bit more zip in his footwork compared to what we've seen from him in the past.
Although we think Nagata has the style to cause problems at domestic level we do see Inoue as being too quick, too sharp, and too good. The pressure Nagata brings will, like Chavez's, be used against him and he will walk into shots, with Inoue chipping away against someone who appears to be a willing participant in their own beating. Nagata will be looking to try and walk down Inoue but it will not a successful idea and by the middle rounds Inoue will begin to come forward more and take out the gutsy, but over-matched, challenger.
Prediction - TKO8 Inoue
The Japanese Lightweight scene is a frustrating one at times. On paper it should be interesting, there's plenty of talent there, and lot of interesting match ups that could be made there in the coming years, but sadly we seem to be between waves of fighters. At the moment Japanese national champion Shuichiro Yoshino (11-0, 9) looks to be head and shoulders above the rest, having unified the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles. Despite the fact Yoshino looks to be well ahead of the others he hasn't yet vacated, and will instead defend the national title on February 13th against mandatory challenger Izuki Tomioka (7-2-1, 2) as part of the 2020 Champion Carnival.
The 28 year old Yoshino has really been on a relative fast track right from the start of his professional career. The talented boxer-puncher had been an excellent amateur on the Japanese scene, going 104-20 (55), before beginning his professional career in late 2015. In just his 4th professional bout Yoshino had beaten Yoshitaka Kato. Just 6 months after that he had won the Japanese title, which he has now defended 4 times, and last year Yoshino unified the national title with the 2 regional thrones.
In the ring Yoshino is a real talent. He can box, he can brawl and boy can he punch, with his last 7 wins all coming inside the distance. We actually need to go all the way back to his Japanese title win to see the last time someone was even semi-competitive with him, and even then Yoshino stopped Spicy Matsushita in 7 rounds. The power of Yoshino really is brutal and his KO's against Kazumasa Kobayashi and Harmonito Dela Torre have shown that it takes only a single left hook for Yoshino to finish someone off. The fact he has scored 2 awesome KO's whilst on the back foot shows how dangerous he is and how brutal his left hook is.
The 22 year Tomioka has been a professional since late 2016, and has shown some promise and also been in some frustrating fights. He's a talent, but a frustrating one who is perhaps getting this shot a little too early in his career. He won his first 5 bouts, winning the Japanese Youth Lightweight title in just his 4th bout way back in August 2017. He would defend the belt twice, beating Taiju Shiratori and fighting to a technical draw against Kaiki Yuba. He then faced the then OPBF Lightweight champion Masayoshi Nakatani and was stopped in 11 rounds by Naktani, following a very close bout. Another loss to Shuya Masaki followed up and really frustrated as Tomioka refused to really let his hands go. Since then however he has picked up 2 straight wins and earned this title fight, thanks to a win over Kazuki Saito.
At his worst Tomioka is a frustrating mover who looks unconvinced by himself, moving more than puncher and ultra-negative, as we saw against Masaki. At his best however he is brilliant boxer, with a sharp jab, excellent speed, great ring IQ and a fantastic judge of distance and timing. He's tall and rangy, and dictates things really well whilst picking great shots. It was these traits that were all on show last time out, when he schooled Kazuki Saito in a career best win. Despite schooling Saito the youngster still showed touched of negativity, and also a lack of physical strength and punching power. He's skilled, but we do wonder about his physical maturity.
We think Tomioka has future national champion written all over him. He's such a natural talent and a pure outside boxer. A truly fantastic young boxer. Sadly for him however he's up against a strong, powerful, heavy handed fighter who can hold his own when boxing, and bang. We see Tomioka having success, but Yoshino's pressure will build and he will begin to find a home for his left hook and straight right hand. Sooner or later we see Tomioka being stopped, and having his good early work being undone.
If Yoshino is successful here, fingers crossed he moves on and begin to face fringe world class guys and move towards a world title fight. There is, after all, no point wasting time at domestic level. As for Tomioka he will come again, and will find himself in an interesting era of Japanese Lightweight fighters, along with Shu Utsuki, Masahiro Suzuki and Katsuya Yasuda.
Prediction - TKO8 Yoshino
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On February 1st, the world ranked Keita Obara challenges Yuki Nagano for the Japanese championship, at the legendary Korakuen Hall.
Keita Obara (22-4 / 20 KOs) began his amateur boxing career back in high school, before joining Tokyo University. During that time, he won the National Sports Festival, which is considered to be Japan’s premier sporting event, twice. Despite losing on his pro debut, to the 9 year veteran Kazuyoshi Kumano (26-12), Obara went on to win 16 fights in a row, 15 of them being finishes.
Specifically, after capturing the Japanese Super Lightweight title, he squared off with former WBO Asia Pacific champion Jay Solmiano (19-3) for the vacant OPBF crown. Obara scored a knockdown, courtesy of a counter left, and finished him off seconds later with a right straight to the chin. He then defended his new belt against heavy hitter Shinya Iwabuchi (26-6), in an exciting affair, where he ended things in the very last round, after connecting with the powerful overhand left hook.
In a clash of top world title contenders, Obara took Walter Castillo (26-5) to the limit, delivering the punishment for 12 rounds, while leaving the Nicaraguan bloodied and bruised. Even though the contest was unfairly declared a draw, since Castillo refused the rematch, Obara eventually challenged the unified IBF & IBO World champion Eduard Troyanovsky (28-2), but was completely dominated in less than 5 minutes.
The Japanese star decided to move up to Welterweight and almost a year removed from this crashing defeat, he faced former WBC International champion Narong Bunchan (28-7) for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title. Obara put together an excellent combination, dropping his Thai rival in the 2nd round and kept throwing big shots until the referee stepped in and stopped the fight. He made a successful defense against Shusaku Fujinaka (16-12), whom he knocked out with a thunderous right hook.
In a surprising turn of event, Obara lost to the unheralded Alvin Lagumbay (11-5) in April of 2018, after a double knockdown occurred, from which only the Filipino managed to answer the 10 count, thus earning the biggest win of his young career. Obara would exact his revenge that summer, beating Lagumbay with ease and regaining the strap.
His second trip to America last year proved to be unfruitful, as he fought Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (17-0), for one more chance at the big one, in yet again another losing effort. Obara bounced back, when he scored his 20th knockout this past October over Toshiro Tarumi (12-4), showcasing his superiority in the ring, and becoming the number 1 contender for the Japanese Welterweight title.
Yuki Nagano (17-2 / 13 KOs) had also faced a few shortcomings early on his career but has been unstoppable since then, currently riding an impressive 15 fight winning streak for the past 6 years.
His first big match was against the then undefeated Yuki Beppu (21-1). Nagano displayed incredible power and hand speed from the get go, even dropping Beppu with a left straight in just the 2nd round, wining a clear unanimous decision. This victory gave him the opportunity to challenge the Japanese champion Ryota Yada (19-6) on April of 2019. It was a wild brawl that saw both men exchange punches nonstop as well as knockdowns. Finally in the 7th, Nagano overwhelmed Yada with a plethora of hooks in order to capture his first ever professional title. After demolishing Makoto Kawasaki (11-8) in his inaugural title defense, he will now be involved in the most important fight of his career.
Obara and Nagano are very similar, in the sense that they are quite relentless in the ring. Defense isn’t their strongest suit as they rather take a punch just so they can give one back. This strategy is always a recipe for an action packed match but has resulted in both men getting dropped on multiple occasions throughout their careers. Nagano’s favorite weapon is the left straight punch, which he uses in every single one of his outings, clubbing his opponents repeatedly like a caveman, until they go down. Obara also possesses KO power in his left hand, despite being an orthodox, as well as in his right, making him even more dangerous.
This will be a test of endurance and strength. Who can take the most and inflict the maximum damage at the same time. For Obara, who’s already at the top 5 of the IBF rankings, could be the win he needs to put himself closer to another world title opportunity, whereas for Nagano is the chance to finally burst into the world scene. So will Obara’s experience prove to be the difference maker or will Nagano’s unbeaten streak continue? One thing’s for sure. With 33 KOs between these 2 warriors, someone’s going down….hard!
Earlier this year Kyotaro Fujimoto vacated the Japanese Heavyweight title, to pursue bigger and better fighters, including the upcoming bout with Daniel Dubois. As a result of Kyotaro's decision we now have no Japanese Heavyweight champion, though that will change on December 15th when Kotatsu Takehara (15-12-3, 8) and Ryu Ueda (8-1-1, 5) battle for the vacant title, in what will be a second bout between the two men.
The 41 year old Takehara twice came up short against Fujimoto in shots at the Japanese title, and also lost in 2014 to Nobuhiro Ishida in what was essentially an eliminator for the title. Since then he has gone 5-1 (4) and made the most of a JBC rule change regarding the age of a fighter. Although no world beater he is a rare Japanese Heavyweight who is a natural Heavyweight, and hasn't been under the Heavyweight limit since 2005, when he managed to fighter as a Cruiserweight. He's also, notably, had international experience with fights in Australia, USA and China, and has shared the ring with genuinely notable names. Among those to have fought Takehara are Alex Leapai, Magomed Abdusalamov, Johann Duhaupas and Lucas Browne.
Although Takehara has never been the quickest, the strongest or the most powerful he is certainly slower and clumsier than he once was and at 41 years old he is unable to fight at a high pace. His 2018 bout with China's Zhiyu Wu was certainly not a Heavyweight classic, with both looking exhausted, out of shape and very limited. What he is however is an experienced fighter, he picks his shots well and seems to realise his limitations. Rather than setting a high pace he'll fight conservatively, waiting for his moments to strike. It's a tactic that suits him, but one that can cost him against busier or younger fighters.
The 27 year old Ueda is more of a Light Heavyweight, come Cruiserweight, come Heavyweight than a natural Heavyweight. He began his career weighing 180lbs back in 2014 and has blown up the high 220's. Despite the weight increase he has actually got the height to be a natural Heavyweight, standing at around 6'4". Notably Ueda's one professional loss came in to Takehara back in 2016, but since then he has gone 3-0-1 (3) with wins against a pair of Korean fighters and once against domestic foe Yamato Fujinaka back in April this year.
Footage of Ueda has, at times, been hard to find though what is available shows a guy who looks like an athlete. He's in shape, he looks like he could have done other things and he looks really exciting. He's a southpaw boxer who looks the part. That until he starts actually fighting and we realise he's someone who is uncoordinated, clumsy and not the athlete he looks to be. He over balances, he swings around the house, fights with a low guard, fights in straight lines and over reaches. For someone who visually looks the part before he throws a punch, he really is worryingly bad.
Although Ueda is younger, taller, fresher we see him being stopped again here, with Takehara picking the better shots and breaking down the youngster, to claim the Japanese title and the biggest win of his career.
Prediction - TKO7 Takehara
On December 14th in the City Sogo Gym in Kishiwada fans will see Japanese Youth Featherweight champion Kyohei Tonomoto (9-2, 4) make his first defense, as he takes on Ryotaro Motohashi (9-1, 2) in a very interesting looking match up. The bout isn't one that will get headline treatment, but is an evenly matched contest between two men who are both still in the formative years of their career and both promise a lot going forward.
The champion won the belt back in May, when he defeated previous champion Hikaru Matsuoka in Hyogo, with a majority decision. The win was, by far, the biggest win of Tonomoto's career and saw him show the early potential we had seen in 2014, when he lost in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final to Reiya Abe. Sadly for Tonomoto his career lost a lot of steam in 2015, and despite his talent he didn't fight for over 3 years, before resurfacing in 2018 with a win over a Thai novice. Given his inactivity the win over Matsuoka was a huge surprise, though a very legit win at this level.
Although Tonomoto doesn't do anything amazingly eye catching he does the basics really well. He's a solid technical boxer who moves well, controls distance well and really does love doubling up his accurate jab, controlling the tempo well with it. He's busy, accurate and very relaxed in the ring, though does look like he perhaps lacks in the physical side of things and if someone tries to bully him it does appear that he might struggle to force them to back off.
The 23 year old Motohashi is a really obscure Japanese fighters, even for us, and the Kyoto based Osakan born youngster has managed to remain under the radar after his debut in September 2015. That was despite getting relatively far in the 2017 Rookie of the Year. He was sadly unable to compete in the West Japan final, which ended his tournament just a fight from the All Japan final. Sadly this is only his third bout since his Rookie tournament came to an end, and it's hard to be too confident in him given how little we've managed to see.
Despite all the footage of Japanese boxing being available Motohashi is a bit of an enigma with the only fan cam footage being available of him, and strangely Boxing Raise have seemingly mislabeled a fight that is supposed to feature him but is actually a Koki Tyson fight. From what little footage there is of him, which is admittedly from 2017, he looks rather slow and although more physical than Tonomoto he looks clumsier, and the sort of fighter who, at time, was happier to engage in close combat. The footage of him is so old that it's hard to read much into, but it was certainly fun to see and he did look like he could be in some very fun bouts if matched right.
Making a prediction on such little footage of one of the fighters can be tricky, but from what we have seen this does look like a stylistically straight forward bout for Tonomoto, who should be too sharp, too accurate and too busy. Motohashi will likely have moments when he does get up close, but overall we think those moments might be often enough for the challenger to bully the champion or rack up the rounds.
If Motohashi had scored a stoppage or two in his last 5 bouts we may have been convinced that his gruelling style would break down Tonomoto, but his lack of power suggests that won't be the case.
Prediction - UD8 Tonomoto
One of the contenders for Japanese domestic fighter of the year in 2019 is Japanese Featherweight champion Ryo Sagawa (8-1, 4), who has continued to build his reputation after a very good 2018. On December 12th Sagawa returns to the ring and looks to score his first defense, as he takes on mandatory challenger Ryo Hino (13-1-2, 8).
Sagawa turned pro in 2016, following a good amateur career, and despite losing in his second bout has really come along at an alarming pace. In 2018 he scored notable wins over Junki Sasaki, Ryo Matsumoto and Shingo Kawamura before travelling to the Philippines earlier this year and beating Toyogon before winning the Japanese title with a win over Reiya Abe. Given the quality of his last 4 wins it's clear he has incredible momentum and potential, and at only 25 years old the future is very, very bright for Sagawa.
For those who haven't seen him Sagawa can can box and brawl. At his best he's an excellent outside boxer with a sharp jab, great combinations and some lovely footwork. When he needs to get inside he can, and we saw that to great effect in his win over Toyogon, where he put his foot on the gas, got inside and out fought Toyogon when the judges made it clear they weren't going to credit his boxing. It was a smart change in tactic from a smart fighter. For all his talent Sagawa does have some issues, and his chin doesn't match his talent. He doesn't go down every time he's touched, even though he has been down a few times already, but tries to fight back when hurt and that has got him in trouble. He's similar to Amir Khan in that way, and it's obvious when he's hurt. That is something that can be a big problem for him as he steps up through the levels.
Whilst Sagawa had been in great form with very solid wins it's felt like Hino has been treading water since a 2017 win over Sho Nakazawa, and essentially wasting some of his best years. Now aged 29 Hino really hasn't put his name in the mix through level of competition but more from how the division it's self has been sorted out. We've seen Taiki Minamoto move up in weight, Sagawa beat Abe, Musashi Mori go the WBO Asia Pacific route, Takenori Ohashi lose in an eliminator, and Hinata Maruta is now waiting in the wings for a title fight at the 2020 Champion Carnival. The division has been tidying it's self up whilst Hino has been biding his time.
Although Hino's competition hasn't been impressing us, with his last 2 wins coming against Tasuku Suwa and Toshizane Kinoda, he is a genuinely skilled fighter and he's shown he's got very good tools in his kit. He's a tall rangy southpaw with a busy jab and good control of distance. He upset Nakazawa by simply keeping Nakazawa at the end of his jab, and stopping Nakazawa from setting himself, boxing on the back foot and picking his spots whilst luring Nakazawa in. It wasn't an exciting tactic, but it was an effective one, and saw him out boxing a then promising young hopeful.
Whilst Hino is better than his competition suggests this is a massive step up in class and Sagawa really is a very, very good fighter. Hino's southpaw jab might have success early on, but as he bout wears on it'll leave him open to Sagawa's straight right hand, and more notably if Sagawa does fall behind we see the champion speeding up his feet and applying more intense pressure, the same pressure he used against Toyogon. Although Hino's record suggests he's a big of a puncher the reality is that he doesn't hit all that hard, and we don't see Sagawa's chin having many questions asked of it here.
Prediction - UD10 Sagawa
The Super Flyweight division has been on fire internationally the last few years, with the likes of Roman Gonzalez, Naoya Inoue, Juan Francisco Estrada, Donnie Nietes, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Jerwin Ancajas and Kazuto Ioka all making a mark at 115lbs. Sadly however the Japanese domestic scene has been awfully lacking in terms of quality, in what seems like a genuine oddity. Since Sho Ishida vacated the title more than 3 years ago we've not seen a champion hold the title who seemed like they had the ability to go all the way to the top. Instead we've had Kenta Nakagawa, Ryuichi Funai, Hiroyuki Kudaka, and now Takayuki Okumoto (23-8-4, 11) holding the belt.
On December 8th Okumoto returns to the ring in search of his 4th defense, as he takes on former champion Kenta Nakagawa (17-3-1, 12).
Okumoto is a strange one. We can never criticise a fighter for being a trier and he is certainly a trier. He was a young prodigy who failed to have things immediately click, and bizarrely fought former world champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin in just his second pro-fight. After 18 bouts he was 10-6-2 (5) but since then he has gone 13-2-2 (7) with both losses coming to fighters who have fought for world titles, Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking and Ryuichi Funai.
In 2018 Okumoto finally scored a big win, narrowly over-coming Hiroyuki Kudaka to become the Japanese Flyweight champion, and since then has defended the belt against Masayoshi Hashizume, Yuta Matsuo and Dynamic Kenji. Sadly he's only looked genuinely good in one bout, the one against Kenji, and he's typically been rather lucky and had to battle hard for the wins. He's not got any massively impressive traits, but he's tough, has a lot of desire and is a hard man to beat, without being a huge puncher, or particularly fast. He's just a tough, solid, all rounder.
Aged 34 Nakagawa is very much coming to the end of his career, but the southpaw boxer-puncher is another who has turned around a faltering start. He began his career 2-2 but has since gone 15-1-1 (10), with his only loss during that 17 fight run coming to Ryuichi Funai. Sadly his run isn't as impressive as it sounds however and his best wins have been against Joe Tanooka, Ken Achiwa and Hayato Kimura, the man he beat for the Japanese Super Flyweight title. His recent wins have been, mostly, low key with 3 wins coming against novice Thai's.
At his best Nakagawa likely had the skills, the power and the tools to give Okumoto absolute fits. Sadly though it's hard to really know what he has left in the tank. He has fought just 7 rounds in the last 20 months, is 34 and whilst he hasn't taken too much damage he is certainly an ageing and worn out fighter.
We suspect that Okumoto's team have again got him a fighter who he can scrape a win against with out impressing. We suspect he will see out the storm that Nakagawa will bring and will do enough to rack up the rounds needed to take the victory, even if he doesn't look sensational doing it. He will out work, out battle and out box the older man just enough to take home the victory.
Prediction - U10 Okumoto
On December 7th we'll see a really interesting Japanese Super Featherweight title fight, as the defending champion Masaru Sueyoshi (19-1-1, 11) takes on former Japanese Featherweight champion Kosuke Saka (19-5, 16). On paper this is a bout that, if Sueyoshi wins, will likely see him begin an ascent towards a world title fight, whilst Saka will know that a win brings him a second Japanese divisional title, and set up a very interesting first defense at the 2020 Champion Carnival against Takuya Watanabe.
The once beaten champion is on a 17 unbeaten run, going 16-0-1 (8) with 4 defenses already under his belt. Whilst he hasn't always shone as the champion, and certainly doesn't appear to have found that new level that title holders often find, he has shown enough to suggest that he can get beyond this level, though may well need to see the stakes rise to get the best out of him. He is a smart boxer-moved, with a very odd and unique sense of distance and range. He looks talented, is a sharp puncher, but often a bit too negative to really enjoy watching, no matter how skilled he is.
At his best Sueyoshi is a brilliant counter puncher. His 2017 KO win over Allan Vallespin is one of the best KO's we've seen in years, but at his worst he struggles to make opponents make mistakes and can't always force the fight himself. We've seen him twice fail to shine against Ken Osato, winning the first in 8 rounds against a tired Osato and struggling to a majority decision in a rematch. He very much needs the right type of dance partner to look great against, but is a genuine talent and if given an aggressive foe he can look sensational.
In Kosuke Saka we'll Sueyoshi take on a legitimate puncher, but a flawed puncher and someone who hasn't looked great in recent performances. Saka has been a professional since 2012 and suffered his first loss to Masayuki Ito in the 2012 Rookie of the Year, incidentally Sueyoshi suffered loss to Ito in the same tournament, and his career really struggled afterwards with Saka losing 2 of his 4 bouts following the Ito bout. Those losses were however followed by a strong run of results as Saka beat the likes of Ryuto Kyoguchi, Takafumi Nakajima and Shota Hayashi, to become the Japanese Featherweight champion. As the time it seemed his career was going places, and he had stopped 8 in a row, but then he lost the title when he mentally switched off and lost to Takenori Ohashi. Since the loss to Ohashi we've seen Saka going 3-1 but a loss in 2 rounds to Joe Noynay certainly suggested that he'd become a bit of a glass cannon.
Saka, at his best, is a wrecking machine, but we've not really seen that in recent bouts, with losses to Ohashi and Noynay leaving us with more questions about Saka, his concentration levels and his willingness to dig deep.
Given how Saka is a naturally smaller, aggressive, slugger, he has the style that Sueyoshi should be very happy facing. Yes Saka is dangerous, he's a legitimate brute of a puncher, but Sueyoshi should get a lot of chances to counter him, and catch him with some very clean shots as Saka comes forward. There's a chance Sueyoshi gets caught, and we do have doubts over Sueyoshi's chin, but we suspect this will end up being a bit of a showcase performance from the champion who will take out Saka with a perfect counter right hand in the middle rounds.
Predictions - TKO7 Sueyoshi
The 154lb division in Japan hasn't really been a particularly strong one, but it can still be a very interesting one, and the rare times it is relatively strong we do get some great fights. In 2018 we had an amazing example of that as Akinori Watanabe and Nobuyuki Shindo knocked lumps out of each other in a brilliant 10 round draw. Not all fights for the title are that good but when they are good, they tend to really be sensational.
On November 2nd we'll see bout between once beaten fighters, in what could be another instant classic for the title.
In one corner we will have new champion Hironobu Matsunaga (15-1, 9), who won the title in May when he stopped Shindo, and in the other corner will be the once touted Koki Koshikawa (9-1, 6), who is getting his first shot at the title.
Aged 32 Matsunaga is an example of what hard work, determination and a refusal to buckle after your first loss can do. In 2014 he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, losing to Yuki Beppu in 2 rounds. That was at Welterweight. He then moved up in weight and has gone 9-0 (6) whilst notching notable victories over the likes of Hisao Narita, Sanosuke Sasaku, Je Ni Ma, Koshinmaru Saito and most recently Shindo. Despite the loss to Beppu in 2014 Matsunaga's career has easily over-shadowed the "Kyushu Tyson's" so far.
Matsunaga's success is impressive but he's had that success is telling. He's developed into a very good fighter, and gone about his work without too much fuss. He typically keeps things simple, and makes the most of his southpaw jab. There's nothing complicated about him, but he's persistent, has under-rated power and comes to fight. His left hand is solid and he always looks to get on the front foot and make opponents work to create their space. His head movement is smart and when he puts his foot on the gas he can go through the gears very quickly. The telling thing about him going through the gears is his style doesn't really change, he just does more and speeds things up, rather than taking significantly more risks.
Matsunaga's persistent front foot pressure, constant search for gaps and accurate output is a nightmare to go up against, and to beat him you really need to get his respect. He's not faced many punchers, and it will be interesting to see him in with one, but against opponents unable to hurt him he is a nasty fighter and is often all over his opponents.
At 28 years old Koshikawa is in the middle of his physical prime. Sadly though many had expected much more of him, much earlier in his career due to a solid reputation from his days in the amateur ranks. He turned pro more than 5 years ago and the hope was that Celes Kobayashi would guide him quickly through the ranks. Instead Koshikawa took more than 24 months out of the ring following a 2015 loss to Koshinmaru Saito, in what was Koshikawa's 5th bout and came just 15 months after his debut. Since his return to the ring he has scored notable wins over Daisuke Sakamoto and former OPBF champion Ratchasai Sithsaithong, whilst stringing together 5 wins, 4 by stoppage.
Sadly not a lot of Koshikawa footage is out there, though his win over Sakamoto was a good example of what he can do. Like Matsunaga he keeps things simple. He looks at his best when he's on the back foot, luring opponents in and setting the distance with his jab, however he can come forward and pressure pretty well when he feels in control. His right hand is a solid weapon and although he's not a 1-punch KO artist, he does chip away with his big shots and wears opponents down. He's still a bit reckless and rough around the edges, but physically strong and not an easy out at this level.
Given the fact that both men like to come forward we're expecting this to be a very fan friendly bout. Both are confident fighters, both are aggressive and both are pretty basic, which should give us a lot of trading and exchanges. The key issue is a question over who is the stronger man physically. If that's Matsunaga, which we suspect, then the fight could be a very close quarters war, and we wouldn't be surprised to see Koshikawa fighting off the ropes in a real under-rated war. If Koshikawa can force Matsunaga back, the fight really does change and we suspect his longer reach will come into play, and he will take a hard fought decision with his right hand really being used as a barge pole on the southpaw champion.
Prediction - UD10 Matsunaga
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.