Typically the 140lb division in Japan has never been a glamour division in the country. There's rarely been notable Japanese fighters at the weight, though there has been notable exceptions like Keita Obara and Hiroki Okada in recent years and prior to that Akio Kameda was a notable exception. Right now however Japan does have a genuine hopeful for the division in the form of unbeaten 25 year old Andy Hiraoka (19-0, 14), from the Ohashi Gym. This coming Tuesday Hiraoka will be looking to record his second defense of the Japanese national title, as part of a stacked card headline by Naoya Inoue Vs Nonito Donaire II, as he takes on Shun Akaiwa (7-3-1, 5), in what could be one of Hiraoka's final bouts on the domestic stage before ploughing into bigger and better bouts in the near future.
Fans of the Japanese scene will know that Hiraoka has been around for years, and it's genuinely hard to believe he is still only 25. The talented southpaw kicked off his professional career way back in 2013, and the following year he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, though had to pull out due to illness. At that point in time it was unclear whether he was going to actively pursue boxing as a serious career, and he was a very talented long distance runner. He ended up taking almost 2 years out of the sport, before returning in late 2016 and rising through the ranks over the years that followed. That rise saw him winning the Japanese Youth title in 2017, which he defended once, beat former world title challenger Akihiro Kondo, score two wins in Las Vegas, and then win the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific titles in 2021 with a career best win over Jin Sasaki, which has been followed by him defending both of those titles. As we write this he appears to have the tools to compete at, if not win at, world level, though those tools do still need some work, and some honing.
Stood at 5'11" and fighting out of the southpaw stance, Hiraoka is a natural athlete and is very much a fighter who could have taken up numerous other sports, but his dad has been responsible for developing Hiraoka as a fighter, something that has been really helped since he joined the Ohashi gym a few years ago and been able to train along side the likes of Naoya Inoue. In the ring he's very much an outside fighter, who uses his reach, height, speed and athletic ability to his advantage. Early in his career he was a rather crude boxer, who got by on just his athletic ability. Now a days however he's become a lot more polished, learning how to box and move, neutralising fighters, using the experience he's built up and wins over Kondo and Sasaki have proven that he does have more in his tool kit than just athletic ability. He's started to understand timing, distance and how to really set traps and counter, as well as using his jab to control fights and neutralise aggressive opponents. Whether he wins a world title or not is hard to say, but he is, genuinely, the brightest Japanese hope at 140lbs, and the only Japanese fighter at the weight with any chance of winning a world title in the next few years.
As for his opponent, Shun Akaiwa is someone who has never really shown the potential to conquer even the domestic scene. The 29 year old from Fukuoka fights out of the relatively obscure Manabe Boxing Gym and has been a professional since 2014. He won his debut in just over 2 minutes, but then took more than 2 years out of the ring, before fighting to a draw and was 2-1-1 after 4 bouts. Despite that poor start he left a mark in 2020, just before the pandemic shut down boxing in Japan, with a notable upset win over Kenta Endo in a bout aired by G+. That win seemed like it ould set Akaiwa up for bigger bouts, but sadly for him he was then stopped inside a minute by Jin Sasaki, and then beaten again by the hard hitting Yasutaka Fujita in 2021, losing whatever momentum the win over Endo should have given his career. Thankfully for him he has bounced back with back to back wins over Akira Morita and Hokuto Matsumoto.
In the ring Akaiwa is an a rather crude looking fighter with something of a unique style. He leans a lot from the waist, has flat feet he likes to set, and doesn't have a very busy jab, though it does find the target a lot when he throws it. His guard is high when he's under pressure but he tends to be the one coming forward, albeit in a rather awkward and gangly fashion. Sadly for him he lacks offensive crispness, and often slaps with his wide shots. He does have a style that should make for fun fights, with the right opponents, but he also looks incredibly limited a lot of the time. One thing he has going for him is decent power at the domestic level, but against top domestic fighters his power isn't enough to get their respect, as we saw when Jin Sasaki battered him in double quick fashion.
Sadly this bout is less about being a competitive contest and much, much more about Hiraoka looking good before moving on to bigger and better fights. We suspect he'll take a round or two to get a look, then get to work, slowly breaking down Akaiwa, before letting heavy shots go in the middle rounds and stopping the challenger in 5 or 6 rounds, without taking much punishment along the way. This is not about testing or really challenging the champion, but instead giving him a chance to shine on a global broadcast, and we expect him to really shine. Showing his polish, poise and finishing ability along the way.
Prediction - TKO6 Hiraoka
This coming Monday we'll see one of the brightest young hopes in Japanese boxing look to continue his rise through the ranks whilst an often over-looked fighter gets what could be his final shot at some silverware in a very looking contest at Korakuen Hall. That bout will see WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese Light Welterweight champion Andy Hiraoka (18-0, 13) take on the aggressive and fun to watch Cristiano Aoqui (16-8-2, 11) in what looks like a very, very interesting match up, something that we're getting a surprising amount of in Japan at 140lbs in the last few years.
Of the two men Hiraoka is more well known, especially with international audiences thanks to his wins in the US over Rogelio Casarez and Rickey Edwards. In US bouts, which took place on Top Rank shows, he looked like a really promising and athletic fighter, who was a work in progress but had enough tools to get the attention of fans, especially those who don't realise Japan has got talented fighters above Super Featherweight. Hiraoka looked big, tall, rangy, fast, athletic and powerful, showing he had the tools to go places in the sport, despite some technical flaws and limitations that clearly needed work, and a relative lack of experience. Prior to his US exploits the most notable thing on his record was a 10 round win over veteran Akihiro Kondo, where Hiraoka's speed and youth were keys against the older, slower, battle worn Kondo. Since his two bouts in the US however he has moved his career forward, and last year he scored the biggest win of his career, stopping the heavy handed Jin Sasaki in a dominant performance to claim the WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese titles, and stake his case as the best Japanese fighter at 140lbs, something that was strengthened when Koichi Aso scored a shock upset win over Rikki Naito just a few weeks after Hiraoka's win over Sasaki.
As mentioned earlier Hiraoka is a big, athletic, fighter who lacks polish. He has however been developing well over the last few years. He is very much an athlete who boxes, and that's not an insult to someone who was a very good distance runner in his youth, and that means he has a lot of tools going for him, including power, speed, reflexes, co-ordination and balance. All of which shine in his boxing performances. As for his boxing skills, he is an outside fighter, who knows he has physical tools others in Japan could only dream of. He is long, rangy, has a great jab, with power and speed, and really brutal straight shots. He can also keep up a good work rate over the long distances and showed, last time out, that his power carries late, stopping Jin Sasaki late in their bout. We do worry about him when he's under pressure, and he does seem to lack natural composure when under pressure, but with experience that should change and we dare say that's partly what this bout is about, against a fighter like Aoqui, and something he'd also have to prove against the likes of Koichi Aso or Daishi Nagata, who both also love to pressure and bully opponents.
Whilst Hiraoka has been seen outside of Japan, Aoqui hasn't been, though he does have something of a Brazilian following due to being a Japanese-Brazilian. His in ring style is something that few fans outside of Japan, and Brazil, will be aware of, but it is typically a fun one, with aggression at the forefront of his mind. He has been a professional since 2006 and has had to develop that style, finding what works for him over time. Unlike Hiraoka success wasn't easy to come by and he was stopped in 2 of his first 5 bouts, and was 4-2-1 after 7 bouts. Since then however he has bulked up from a young Lightweight into a solid an experienced 140lb fighter, who has developed a reputation as something of a tough guy, despite his 2 early stoppage losses. During his career he has fought something of a who's who of the Japanese scene, taking on the likes of Valentine Hosokawa, Hiroki Okada, Koki Inoue, Daishi Nagata and Akihiro Kondo. Whilst he has typically lost his most meaningful fights, he doesn't tend to be an easy opponent, giving the likes of Nagata, Okada and Hosokawa really tough battles.
In the ring Aoqui is aggressive, exciting, he comes forward and tries to draw mistakes, before exploding with a combination of heavy artillery. If he can't do that he seems happy to force a war and fight fire with fire against opponents. Notably however he can also box, even if that's not something he's too well known for, and when he needs to sit back and use his brain he can. And here we suspect his boxing brain and experience will be called on to over-come Hiraoka. Trying to come forward against Hiraoka seeking mistakes, we suspect, would be an error, and allow Hiraoka a chance to use his legs and his jab. Instead Aoqui will need to apply intelligent pressure, box his way in, and get to the body when on the inside. That however is easier said than done.
Sadly for Aoqui we suspect his toughness, and 33 year old legs, will be a problem for him here. Hiraoka might not be a global star in the making but he has plenty about him and we can't help but feel he's probably a level, if not two, above Aoqui who will need the fight of a lifetime to be competitive.
We suspect Aoqui will try to come forward, and find out the speed difference and size difference are a major issue for him. He will have moments, due to Hiraoka's lack of experience, but in the end athletic ability, speed, size and timing will become too much for Aoqui who we suspect will be stopped late on, in something of a slow, methodical beat down by Hiraoka.
Prediction - Hiraoka TKO10
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
One of the biggest upsets in 2020 was the huge surprise win that saw Daishi Nagata (15-2-2, 6) take the Japanese title 140lbs from Koki Inoue, the cousin of Naoya and Takuma Inoue, in one of the first shows back in Japan after boxing was put on the back burner due to the pandemic. Since that win Nagata has defended the title once, thanks to a technical draw against Akihiro Kondo, and this coming Thursday he'll be looking for his second defense as he takes on the unbeaten Masahiro Suzuki (5-0, 3). On paper Nagata is the big favourite, but will he manage to avoid an upset like the one he inflicted on Suzuki? Or will Suzuki be able to become the latest Japanese champion at 140lbs? Lets take a look at the fighters, how they match up and who we think will come out on top.
Of the two men Nagata is the clear favourite coming in to this bout. The 31 year old southpaw has been a professional since 2014, is the current Japanese champion and has faced a genuine who's who of the domestic scene. He fought Takeshi Inoue in his debut, fighting to a draw, and since then has shared the ring with Quaye Peter, Vladimir Baez, Takashi Inagaki, Rikki Naito, Cristiano Aoqui, Koki Inoue and Akihiro Kondo. Not only that but he has also shown he belongs in title level fights, giving Naito hell in a razor close 2018 bout and beating Koki Inoue.
In the ring Nagata is a well skilled boxer-fighter. He's at his best when he's applying intelligent pressure. Getting in and out and using his surprisingly quick feet. He's not that polished, but he's quick, strong, physically powerful, fights at a good tempo with under-rated punching power and really good stamina. In fact it was his stamina against Naito which made the fight so close, with Naito tiring and Nagata really coming on strong late on. Sadly though he's not the smartest of fighters and like many newly crowned champions he wanted his first defense to be a fan friendly one, and ended up holding his feet too long against Kondo, leading to that fight being a very close and competitive one. Not the showcase first defense he would have wanted. Given how bad that performance was we're expecting a much better one here against a very lively challenger.
Whilst Nagata is a strong, tough, lump of a fighter the exact opposite is true of Suzuki who is a much more rounded boxer, with good movement and a solid boxing brain. He was one of the few fighters over the last few years who really impressed on debut, when he beat Antonio Siesmundo, but sadly we've never seen that same level of performance from him since. In fact his performance have been rather mixed following his very impressive debut, though in fairness his competition has been pretty solid. In just 5 bouts he beaten Siesmundo, the heavy handed Kosuke Arioka, the solid domestic level Hokuto Matsumoto and former OPBF title challenger Takahiro Oda. And whilst he hasn't shown the same incredible potential he showcased on his debut but has shown a good boxing brain and he seems to be a fighter who is, slowly, finding his identity in the ring. He looks like he can do it all, box, move, punch and fight, but probably does need to find what he likes to do and focus on that more than he has at times.
Whilst we have been genuine impressed by Suzuki, it needs noting that he was hurt by Arioka, and seemed to struggle against Matsumoto. He has got questions to answer, and most notably one of those is his stamina. He looked good for 6 rounds against Siesmundo in his debut, and 6 rounds against Kelvin Tenorio, but we've never seen him go beyond 6 rounds, and this title fight will be a 6 rounder. We've also never seen him in with a southpaw, with Nagata set to be his first lefty, which is a second potential issue for Suzuki. Given Nagata's pressure and aggression Suzuki will need to be on his P's and Q's from the opening bell, he need to stay focused and be fully aware of what Nagata can bring, and we're not 100% sure Suzuki has that level of focus... yet.
In terms of pure skills Suzuki is, for our money, a level above Nagata. He's a smoother, not natural boxer. Skills however aren't the only thing important in a fight and we suspect the experience, physicality and the fact Nagata is comfortable fighting 8, 10 and even 12 rounds, will prove vital here.
We're expecting Suzuki to start well, out boxing Nagata, moving around the ring, landing shots against the slower man. But unfortunately winning the early rounds won't be enough and as the bout goes on Nagata's pressure will build, and he will begin to break down Suzuki, both physically and mentally. The early success of Suzuki will be used to fire up Nagata who will come on strong in the second half of the fight and will break down Suzuki in the later stages.
If Suzuki can stay focused, can rely on his boxing, and can keep the bout at range, using his footwork, and can keep it up for 10 rounds he could take a decision. But that's a massive if, and one we're not expecting from him. He's got the technical ability, but we don't think he's got the other tools needed to take home the victory.
Prediction - TKO8 Nagata
Way back in July we got a genuine upset in Japan as Daishi Nagata (15-2-1, 6) stopped Koki Inoue to claim the Japanese Light Welterweight title. That result was really unexpected with Inoue a clear favourite to win and to retain his title, before heading on to bigger and better things. Inoue however didn't get a chance to find his groove before being cut, and the referee was later forced to step in and stop the bout due to the damage on Inoue, who then announced his retirement from the sport.
On December 10th we'll see Nagata back in the ring as he goes for his first title defense and takes on tough veteran Akihiro Kondo (32-9-1, 18) at the Korakuen Hall. On paper this looks a really good match up, a tough first defense and a chance for Nagata to legitimise his title reign, whilst also looking like a chance for Kondo to claim another title and continue his long career. In reality however we don't expect this to be as competitive as it looks. In fact we have a feeling that this will actually be quite an easy defense for the newly crowned champion.
The 30 year old champion was a solid amateur before turning professional in 2014, facing a then debuting Takeshi Inoue in a really weird match up between two touted, former amateurs. That bout resulted in a draw before Nagata went on a decent run of results to boast an 8-0-1 (4) record by the end of 2016. In early 2017 he suffered his first loss, being stopped in 7 by the bigger, stronger and more powerful Vladimir Baez before rebuilding and putting on a great performance, in a loss, to Rikki Naito in 2018. Despite losing to Naito it was clear that Nagata had the tools to win domestic and regional titles, and since then he has reeled off 4 wins, including the one against Koki Inoue.
In the ring Nagata is a little battler. He can box, he can fight and he can brawl, but at his best he's a grinder, getting in an opponents face, working a high tempo, and bullying them around the ring. He's got really good stamina, with his best success against Naito coming late in the bout, and a very under-rated boxing brain. Whilst his win over Inoue was a genuine surprise, that was more due to how highly regarded Inoue was, and not the lack of skills we'd seen from Nagata. He's strong, he's relatively tough, he's energetic and he's a real handful. He's unlikely to make a mark at the higher levels due to a lack of size, and lacking fight changing power, but on the domestic and regional scene he's going to be a tough man to beat, especially now with his confidence riding sky high.
Aged 35 Akihiro Kondo is a genuine veteran of the sport. He made his professional debut in 2006, just weeks after his 21st birthday, and has gone through the ranks the hard way. He lost in his second professional bout before bouncing back to win Rookie of the Year in 2007 and the Japanese Lightweight title in 2009, beating Yoshitaka Kato, and moved to 13-1. Sadly though his reign was short, losing in his first defense against Nihito Arakawa, but his career continued on and he attempted to reclaim the title in 2012, losing a close decision to Kato in their second clash. He took 15 months away from the ring, from April 2013 to July 2014, before losing to Arakawa for a second time. Despite that set back he continued in his comeback, winning the WBO Asia Pacific Light Welterweight title in September 2016 and working his way to an IBF world title fight in 2017, losing Sergey Lipinets in 2017. He lost that bout, but gave Lipinets genuine resistance and one of his toughest bouts up to that point.
Sadly since the Lipinets bout Kondo has looked on the slide, going 3-2 with a KO loss to Downua Ruawaiking and a wide decision loss to Andy Hiraoka, both in 2019. It seems very much like father time is catching up with the tough, rugged veteran.
At his best Kondo was a solid, tough, fighter with under-rated defense, clean accurate punching, and a real will to win. He was a really hard man to beat, with good energy, hurtful power, solid skills, a really good jab and solid timing. On the back end of that he was never a big puncher, he was never particularly quick and he could be made to chase shadows. He was never impossible to beat, and he could be out pointed, as Kato and Arakawa did, but he looked so damn tough and hard to hurt, that the real game plan to beat him was to box him and night fight him. Sadly however those days appear to be behind him and he's become even slower than he used to be. He's still tough, despite the KO loss, but he's also very basic, and with what speed he did have now being gone he's a much easier man to beat in 2020 than he was in 2010.
At his best Kondo would have been a really tough first defense for Nagata. His toughness, physicality, strength and will to win would have given the champion real issues. In 2020 however we see Nagata being too quick, too sharp, too hungry and too good for Kondo. We suspect Nagata will look to get inside and will outwork Kondo up close and look to beat Kondo at his own game. If Nagata struggles with that we suspect he'll get on his toes and move, which would be a safer option but not the option we think he'll go with first. He'll want to make a statement and to do that he'll want to come forward, not give Kondo room to breathe and take the tires out of the 35 year old challenger.
We suspect Kondo will be too tough to be stopped but we do imagine he'll end up losing a very clear decision to the champion.
Prediction - UD10 Nagata
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
To begin a busy July we'll see Japanese Light Welterweight champion Koki Inoue (13-0, 10) make his first defense, as he takes on domestic foe Ryuji Ikeda (14-5-4, 9) at the legendary Korakuen Hall. For Inoue this looks to the next step forward on his rise to a potential world title shot, whilst Ikeda gets a chance to gate crash, and make his name against a member of the Inoue clan.
The unbeaten champion has been on the radar since making his professional debut back in late 2015. A lot of the early attention his career got was due to the fact he was the older cousin of the Inoue brothers, Naoya Inoue and Takuma Inoue. He was also trained by their dad, his uncle, Shingo Inoue, and like Naoy and Takuma he was a stellar amateur on the Japanese domestic scene. For those who followed the Japanese scene he was an exciting addition to the Ohashi gym, and given he fights at 140lbs he was someone who could make his mark on the international stage, fighting in a weight class that gets more attention than the lower classes.
Early in his career Inoue's competition was poor, though in 2016 he stepped up, beating Futoshi Usami, and then added fighters like Mitsuyoshi Fujita, Cristiano Aoqui and Dong Hee Kim to his list of victims, as he gradually moved to a Japanese title fight. Unlike his cousins he had a slow climb, which result in him getting his first title fight last time out. In that title fight Inoue out boxed veteran Valentine Hosokawa, putting on a boxing display against the aggressive Hosokawa, who really struggled to cut the distance and use his trademark volume. It wasn't an exciting bout, by any stretch, but was a comfortable and relaxed performance by the talented southpaw boxer-puncher. He admitted it wasn't the most exciting, but it was controlled and given he how changed tempo late in the bout it was clear he had a lot more in the tank than he showed.
The challenger is much, much less well known than the champion, despite having significantly more professional bouts. Ikeda hasn't got the Inoue name, or the Ohashi Gym backing, instead being managed by Shinji Takehara and Takanori Hatakeyama, but he is ranked by the JBC and is pretty fun fighter to follow. He's 24 years old and has been a professional for close to 7 years, developing from a small Lightweight into a fully fledged Light Welterweight. Despite starting his career 2-1-1 Ikeda woud shine in 2013, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year, at Lightweight and score notable wins over Cristiano Aoqui and Ryosuke Takami on route to that crown. Since his rookie triumph he has gone 8-4-3 (7), showing himself to have power in his shots, but not quite ability to beat his better opponents, such as Kazuyasu Okamoto and Darragh Foley.
In the ring Ikeda is an aggressive fighter, looking to come forward, launch big right hands and look for a finish. He's crude, predictable and uncultured, but with his aggression he does have the potential to be in some exciting bouts. Sadly that excitement is dependent on him facing someone with a style to fight back and sometimes fighters will better fight to their strengths, move and simply out box him.
It's hard to see what Ikeda has to really test Inoue. He has a hard right hand but it's a thudding powershot, rather than a snappy concussive blow, he's wide open, defensively flawed and very basic. Ikeda has been hand slected by Inoue, and promoter Hideyuki Ohashi, to help make the champion shine and that's exactly what we're expecting to see here. Ikeda's flaws will see Inoue ripping him apart, and we would be surprised if Ikeda lasted more than 6 rounds with the champion, who will be looking to leave an impression here.
Pediction Inoue TKO5
The Japanese Light Welterweight scene has slowly developed into something quite interesting recently, with not only a handful of established fighters at the weight, but also a good crop of rising hopefuls. This coming Saturday we see a clash of established fighter and rising hopeful colliding for the Japanese national title.
The bout in question will see 37 year old champion Valentine Hosokawa (24-6-3, 11) attempt to make his third defense of the title as he takes on mandatory challenger Koki Inoue (12-0, 10), the cousin of Naoya and Takuma Inoue. For Hosokawa this will be his 34th career bout, in a career that began back in 2006, and his 7th bout at title level. For Inoue this will be his first title bout, and comes less than 42 months after his professional debut. Not only that but is a very clear step up for the challenger against a very experienced and talented champion.
Hosokawa, for those who haven't seen him or followed him through his career, is a real physical freak. At the age of 37 he has an insane work rate and engine, his style is that of an aggressive swarmer, who doesn't hit hard but hits often and typically our works opponents. Although he's had sme pretty decent unbeaten runs he is currently in the best form of his career, with wins over Quaye Peter, Koichi Aso, Vladimir Baez and Takashi Inagaki. Even his most recent losses, to Noriaki Sato and Hiroki Okada, were very competitive decisions, and he showed he was still a damn good fighter in both of those set backs.
Hosokawa has come through the ranks the hard way. Built his success on experience and not seen losses as a reason to give in. He's come a really long way since winning the 2008 Rookie of the Year, at Lightweight, and bounced back well from two stoppage losses in OPBF title bouts, to Shinya Iwabuchi and Min Wook Kim. Even in his stoppage losses he showed incredible toughness and determination, before eventually being ground down by heavier handed fighters. Sadly though, we do wonder what his body has left, and he turns 38 just days after this fight. It could be that Hosokawa will be the next victim of father time.
Inoue, like his cousins, is a product of Shingo Inoue's training and like Naoya he's a strong, powerful fighter with skills. His performances at times have been excellent, but at others he has not really shined, and sometimes that's not been his fault. For example his fight with Cristiano Aoqui ended due to an injury suffered by Aoqui. When he's looked good however he has looked sensational with great combinations, movement, and sharp punching. Sadly his last performance showed little of that, as he put in a tame effort in a Japanese title challenger decider bout against Marcus Smith. Inoue would beat Smith, but looked poor doing so, before revealing he had taken several injuries into the bout. Injuries that likely played a part in his poor performance.
At 26 years old Inoue is coming into his physical prime. He's a clear talent, despite not being on the same level as his better known cousins, but this is a huge step up in class. He's gone from fighting the likes of Aoqui and Smith to fighting the Japanese champion, a former OPBF title contender and a man who is a nightmare to fight with his experience and work rate. If he's still carrying niggling injuries as well this could be too much, at the wrong time.
Whilst he is stepping up, we do favour Inoue to win. We think he's the stronger and faster man, he's certainly not had the miles on the clock Hosokawa's had. However he will have to work harder for this bout than for anything other since he turned professional, he needs to focus on controlling the ring, landing body shots and tiring Hosokawa with smart boxing. If he gets into a war that will not bode well for the challenger, even if he does hit harder, as Hosokawa will rely on his experience of a war, and come out on top.
This is a major test for both men, and should tell us a lot about Inoue's potential and what Hosokawa has left in his legs. It's an interesting bout, and a real test for the third member of the Inoue clan. But a test that he has the ability to pass, with the right game plan.
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.