The Welterweight division in Japan isn't the best, and sadly at the moment the one genuine stand out in the division, Keita Obara, is injured and was forced to pull out of a Japanese title defense earlier this year against Yuki Nagano (19-3, 15). Rather than letting the title scene sit until Obara returns the JBC have allowed Nagano to fight for the interim title this coming Monday, where he will face Takeru Kobata (11-5-1, 4) at Korakuen Hall in the main event of the latest Dynamic Glove show.
Of the two fighters Nagano is the very clear favourite. The 32 year old is a former Japanese national champion, who holds wins over a number of notable domestic fighters, such as Riku Nagahama, Yuki Beppu, Ryota Yada, Makoto Kawasaki and Yuki Beppu. In fairness he possibly has the best resume in the division of any Japanese fighter, even better than Obara's, with only fellow Teiken stable mate Ryota Toyoshima giving him a run for his money. Sadly though at the age of 32 and having taken a fair bit of punish through his career, it's hard to know just how much he has left to offer the sport, though.
In the ring Nagano is heavy handed southpaw boxer-puncher. He's got a stiff jab, a very heavy straight left hand and like many Teiken fighters in recent years, likes to box at mid-range whilst drawing mistakes and hammering with straight shots. He has a nice array of of short punches, but does tend to only use them to close the show against opponents who are hurt. He's clearly talented but he's not flawless, and he's certainly not the quickest, the sharpest or the toughest, having been stopped in 2 of his 3 losses. Sadly for Nagano his defensive skills are lacking and against Obara in 2020 he was simply made to look second best in every dimension. Obara simply did what Nagano wanted to do, far better than Nagano could.
Kobata on the other hand is something of an unknown, even for those who actively follow the Japanese scene. The 23 year old is a southpaw from Oita who has typically fought outside of the main Japanese boxing markets, of Toyko, Osaka, Kobe and Hyogo, and he's not yet found something of a boxing home. Instead his career has sene him fight across Japan, travelling for fights and being willing to take on fights in their home towns regularly. Thankfully that has began to pay off for him, and recently he has been getting more and more fights in Tokyo against notable names, and scoring some solid domestic wins along the way. In fact his last 5 bouts have come against Change Hamashima, Shoki Sakai, Rikuto Adachi, Tetsuya Kondo and Fumisake Kimura. Not only that but he's also been picking up wins, stopping Adachi in a round and beating both Kondo and Kimura to climb up the Japanese rankings.
Rather sadly footage of Kobata is rather had to come by, but there some of his recent fights available. What is freely available show Kobata to be a pressure fighter, who comes forward looking to draw his opponents into a fight, without taking too many risks. He comes forward behind a somewhat cautious stands, edging towards an opponent looking to draw a mistake which he can counter with his crisp left hand. Up close he's physical, aggressive, and likes to impose himself, pushing opponents around. His style is somewhat frustrating to watch, and it feels like he could do much more with it, but it's getting results for him, and making him a very hard man to beat. He also had the advantage of being genuinely tough, despite having 2 stoppage losses to his name. He has shown he's rugged, and he can stand and fight when he needs to. He also has sneaky power, as Adachi found out.
For Nagano the key here is to fight his fight. He needs to keep it at range. He needs to box and move, create space, and use his reach. If he lets Kobata back him up and dictate the tempo and range here, he will be dragged into something tough and testing. Instead if he can establish a busy jab, keep Kobata at range and land huge left hands of his own he should have the tools to break down Kobata.Nagano does need to be wary of Kobata getting close and turning this into a rougher and tougher bout than he wants, but Nagano should have the tools to win break down his younger foe.
Prediction - TKO8 Nagano
From all the postponements and other issues there hasn't been many bouts officially cancelled, with many of them being either postponed or delayed indefinitely. One bout that has been cancelled however was a planned Japanese Light Flyweight title bout which would have seen Yuto Takahashi defending the title against Masamichi Yabuki. This bout was totally cancelled when Takahashi decided to vacate the belt and retire from professional boxing at the age of 27, citing issues with motivation and training. The bout, which had been scheduled for much earlier in the year, was a Champion Carnival bout that left the Japan Boxing Commission with a vacancy to fill. That vacancy will be filled this coming Friday as we see a mouth watering clash the big punching Yabuki take on a very exciting youngster with an all action style.
Instead of the originally planned what we'll have instead is a match up between Masamichi Yabuki (10-3, 10) and Tsuyoshi Sato (10-1-1, 5), in what looks likely to be a real thriller.
Those who haven't seen Yabuki have been missing out on a really exciting boxer-puncher, who has recently moved down in weight from Flyweight to Light Flyweight. At 112lbs he was a heavy hitting, with under-rated boxer skills, and used those skills to set up his power. Despite being a good boxer puncher at Flyweight he wasn't a world class one, or someone showing traits of being world class. He had he has looked impressive in his wins but had lost his 3 most meaningful bouts at the weight, with those losses coming to Junto Nakatani, Seigo Yuri Akui and Daniel Matellon.
Last year Yabuki dropped down in weight and the power on his shots told, as he stopped Rikito Shiba in 4 rounds to become the number #1 contender for the Japanese Light Flyweight title. He looked a bully at the new weight, and although he wasn't charging forward wildly it was clear the extra 4lbs of lost weight wasn't going to do him any harm. Instead it seemed, at last, as it he was at the weight that suited him and his arsenal of heavy straight shots and ability to box on the move.
At the age of 28 Yabuki is coming into his physical prime, and given his average bout length is 3.7 rounds he's not taken punishment. Instead he has typically blasted opponents out early, with 5 wins in the opening round and only 4 of his 13 career bouts going beyond 4 rounds. He's a dangerous fighter.
At just 23 years old Tsuyoshi Sato is quickly becoming a fan favourite with an aggressive pressure style that has made his bouts must watch. He debuted at the age of 18 and was 1-1-1 after 3 bouts, but since then has reeled off 9 wins, won the 2017 Rookie of the Year, and has stopped 3 of his last 4. Whilst his competition hasn't been great, and can't be compared to that of Yabuki's, he has got good wins already over the likes of Daiki Kameyama, Yoshiki Abe and Masashi Tada, the only man to take Sato 8 rounds.
Watching Sato in action we really do have a fun little fighter. He comes forward, he pressures and presses and looks to back up his opponents before going to work on the inside. Physically not as imposing as Yabuki, which could be an issue here, but he always looks to make a fight his fight, and what we could find is that his pressure can give Yabuki issues. At least up close. Yabuki likes to fight at mid-range and if Sato can close the distance and work inside he could give Yabuki fits.
Sadly whilst we do love watching Sato we do feel this fight might be coming a little too soon for him. At 23 he's still a boxing baby and given what Yabuki did to Rikito Shiba we worry about something similar happening here. We see Sato pressing but the power of Yabuki simply being too much, with Yabuki landing clean hurtful shots as as the younger man comes in.
We suspect Yabuki wins, but Sato will bounce back in the coming years.
Prediction - TKO6 Yabuki
The 2018 curse of the Japanese Bantamweight title has really been a massive problem this year. First we saw Ryo Akaho vacate the title after falling ill from weight, cancelling a January fight with Yuhei Suzuki, then we saw Suzuki suffer an injury ahead of a scheduled bout for the vacant and then we saw Suguru Muranaka fail to make weight. In the end we had to wait until September to see a champion being crowned, with Yuta Saito defeating Eita Kikuchi for the vacant title.
Even with a champion being crowned things haven't been plain sailing, with Saito then being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. This has caused a number of issues, including the JBC taking the rare step of organising a JBC "interim" title bout, with Hayato Kimura (27-10, 18) facing off with Seizo Kono (19-10-1, 12) for the JBC Interim Bantamweight title on December 20th.
Sadly the bout doesn't capture the imagination in the way a title bout should, though we expect the contest to be a good one all the same. The two men are both flawed, on paper they are similarly matched, and both are hungry fighters looking to make the most of their chance. A chance that perhaps neither has really earned.
The 29 year old Kimura began his career as a teenager in Thailand, debuting on his 16th birthday. Over the last 5 years however he fought solely in Japan where he has mixed success. To begin his career he was 19-5 (14), fighting in Thailand, Korea, Japan and the Philippines. Since fighting exclusively in Japan Kimura has gone 8-5 (4) That has included losses in two Japanese title fights, losing decisions to Sho Ishida and Kenta Nakagawa, as well as a loss in a OPBF title fight against Rene Dacquel, all at Super Flyweight. He has been matched hard, with other losses coming to Marlon Tapales and Michael Dasmarinas, both at Bantamweight, but his best wins have come against the likes of Toyoto Shiraishi and Kenya Yamashita, and those wins were 2 years apart.
Although Kimura is lacking results, and has scored his most notable wins at Super Flyweight, he is a very capable fighter and he is still developing, both technically and physically. He'd a quick boxer puncher, with a sharp jab and nice offensive work. Sadly for him his foot work and balance questionable and he does lack real thunder in his shots. Although tough he is defensively flawed can be tagged, often relying too much on his reactions.
The 29 year old Kono has been a professional for a little over 11 years and has had an interesting career, but like Kimura it's not all rosy and successful. In fact his career has seen him fighting for the WBC Youth Intercontinental Super Bantamweight and OPBF Bantamweight title, losing by stoppage to Rey Vargas and Mark John Yap respectively. Other losses on his record to notable names include a TKO loss to Taki Minamoto, a decision loss to Yu Kawaguchi and a decision loss to Kazuki Tanaka. Worryingly he is now 18 months from a win, following back to back losses to Yap and Tanaka. Not only is he ona 2 fight losing run but he is 6-7 over his last 13 fights dating back over 6 years! Not the sort of form a fighter should be getting a title shot from, even if some of those losses have been at Super Bantamweight.
Although out of form Kono is a decent fight, with a good work rate, a fun enough style and someone who brings a decent amount of aggression and excitement. He's at his best on the front foot, however his foot work is a touch slow, his punches don't appear to be crisp and snappy, and he can often be seen with his hands down when on the edge of range, sometimes inside it. His lack of real speed or power is a major issue, and although technically pretty solid he is clearly missing a standout out trait.
Given the recent losses for Kono it's hard to see him bringing any momentum into this bout, or much confidence. Kimura however is coming into the bout on the back of a win over Kenya Yamashita and we suspect that that sort of boost will really help Kimura. Kono is the naturally bigger man, but he's not a man who fights with his size usually, and we suspect that the size advantage will actually be neutralised by the speed and movement of Kimura anyway.
Although we don't think these are the best in the division in Japan this should still be a very interesting match up, and leave us going into 2019 with some interesting things going on at 118lbs in Japan. Hopefully next year will be a much better one than this year for the Japanese Bantamweight title, which has really been cursed through the whole year.
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.