In 2020 the boxing calendar got completely screwed up with Covid19 forcing bouts to be postponed and cancelled on a regular basis. One of the bouts that was postponed was a mandatory title fight for the Japanese Super Bantamweight title. That bout has now been rearranged for January 22nd and will see defending champion Yusaku Kuga (19-4-1, 13) taking on mandatory challenger Gakuya Furuhashi (26-8-1, 14), in what could be something a little bit special and very brutal.
Those who have been following the Japanese scene over the last few years will know all about the 30 year old Kuga who is now enjoying his second reign as the Japanese Super Bantamweight champion. For those who haven’t been following the scene Kuga is a very fan friendly fighter, who’s a puncher first, with an aggressive style and warmonger mentality in the ring. He came up short in his first title fight, back in 2015 when he lost a razor thin decision to Yasutaka Ishimoto but has gone 8-2 (6) since then, and managed to avenge his loss to Ishimoto in 2017 to claim the title, for the first time. In his first reign he made 2 defenses of the title before losing in 2018 to Shingo Wake, in what was really an undressing for Kuga, who had no answer to Wake’s movement and jab.
Despite losing to Wake it wasn’t long until Kuga reclaimed the title, winning it back from Ryoichi Tamura in 2019, in what was the second bout between the men and an all out war, one of the genuine hidden gems of 2019. After reclaiming the title he made a single defense before taking on Jhunriel Ramonal at the end of 2019, and being brutally taken out after just 84 seconds, in a genuine upset.
At his best Kuga is a really brutal fighter to go up against. For much of his career he has been a heavy handed, teak tough warrior, with a great engine and a really physical style. He can box, though often seems happier to have a war, and his two battles with Ryoichi Tamura were both brutal, punishing affairs for both men. Sadly though his toughness has been questioned in recent losses, with Shingo Wake breaking him down in 10 rounds and the loss to Ramonal being a clean KO. As well as those losses we do wonder what he’s like mentally coming into this bout. Had he been able to get a confidence easy win after his loss to Ramonal we’d feel better about his chance, but we do wonder if that loss is still playing on his mind more than a year after it. We also wonder if the wars with Tamura have taken something from him.
At his best Kuga is a nightmare. His power is destructive at this level, he’s very physical, his right cross is a concussion maker and his pressure and work rate is incessant. He’s not the quickest, the sharpest, and his jab is somewhat limited, but he’s a real bully in the ring. The most obvious way to beat him is to out box him, out maneuver him and refuse to have a tear up with him. Saying that however we do, genuinely, wonder what the Ramonal loss has done to him, and what shape his chin is going to be in, and what his confidence is going to be like.
Furuhashi is a 33 year old who fights out of the Nitta Gym in Kawasaki, and has been one of their most notable fighters for years. Sadly though he has had a long career and this will be his third, and potentially last, shot at a Japanese title. His desire is to become the first fighter born, raised and from a gym in Kawasaki, and it’s really been a driving force for him in recent months. He was supposed to get this shot, as previously mentioned, in 2020 but has had to wait a long time to get it, and will now know that this could be now or never for him.
Furuhashi, unlike Kuga, isn’t really a name we expect too many fight fans outside of Japan to be familiar with, even those that follow the Japanese scene from around the globe. Despite that he is a really fun fighter to watch and has been in and around the title scene since 2014, when he was supposed to fight Hidenori Otake who pulled out of the bout due to a rib injury. Following that he got a show at Yukinori Oguni in 2015, fighting to a draw with the future IBF world champion and then lost 3 of his following 4 bouts, including a title bout in 2016 to Yasutaka Ishimoto. That run, which saw him going 1-3-1 including the draw with Oguni, seemed to spell the end for him as he slipped to 18-8-1 (8). Surprisingly however he has rebuilt brilliantly, going 8-0 (6) since then, including wins against Yuta Horiika and Ryoichi Tamura, with the win over Tamura in September 2019 earning him this belated third title fight.
In the ring Furuhashi’s strength is his tenacity, work rate, energy and willingness to press forward. Technically he’s nothing special, he’s not quick, he’s not got massive amounts of power, but he’s got an abundance of energy, he’s physically strong and is sneaky on the inside, with some excellent hooks and uppercuts. When backed up he responds with solid combinations and makes an opponent walk through a lot of leather to get to him, and he knows how to make things scrappy. Like Kuga he’s tough, but he’s more of a gritty tough than an iron chinned tough guy. Sadly for him however he has taken a lot of punishment during his long career, and his willingness to have a war with anyone has almost certainly taken something of a toll on his body.
As mentioned, to beat Kuga a fighter needs to use their brain and out box him. Getting into a war with him is a painful gameplan, for anyone unless they have lights out power, like Ramonal. Furuhashi doesn’t have that, and if Kuga is half the fighter he was before the Ramonal loss he should be able to force his will against Furuhashi. If that happens the heavier shots of Kuga will be the difference maker, and will, sooner or later, break down the gutsy and determined Furuhashi.
For Furuhashi to win he needs to totally change his gameplan. He can’t try to go to war with Kuga. He can’t hold his feet and try to out-battle Kuga. Instead he needs to move, lure Kuga in, reel off some shoe shining combinations and get out of dodge. He has the energy for that, and his legs can certainly do it, but we’re not sure he has the mentality to do it. He’s one of those fighters who takes a shot and wants to respond immediately, rather than thinking “I’ll get you next time”.
Whilst Kuga’s confidence could be shot, and a quick start from Furuhashi would give Kuga a lot of questions to answer, we suspect his chin hasn’t become cracked from the losses to Wake and Ramonal. Instead we suspect he’ll be back to his usual rampaging self. We expect Furuhashi to try and respond, punch for punch, with Kuga, giving us a thrill a minute war, until Furuhashi comes undone from the repeated heavy shots of Kuga and the referee is forced to step in and save stop in the second half of a sensational fight.
Expect blood, bombs, thrilling exchanges and incredible action here!
Prediction - TKO8 Kuga
For fans wanting to watch this one, it will be shown live on streaming service Boxing Raise.
The past year or two we've seen the Super Bantamweight division in Japan being one of the highlights delivering great fighter after great fight. Those great fights included May's rematch between Ryoichi Tamura and Yusaku Kuga (18-3-1, 12), which saw Kuga become a 2-time Japanese Super Bantamweight champion thanks to an all 10 round war.
Kuga returns to the ring on September 21st to defend his title against 32 year old veteran Yosuke Fujihara (18-6, 5), who gets his second Japanese title fight just over 12 years after his professional debut. On paper this looks like an easy defense for Kuga, though in fairness he does deserve an easy one after May's war with Tamura, which really was a damaging bout for both men.
For those who haven't seen Kuga he is a nasty, nasty fighter in the ring. He's heavy handed, aggressive, incredibly strong and tough. Offensively he's a monster but he's also technically quite crude, defensively flawed and can be out boxed. We saw Shingo Wake really pick him apart last year, when he stopped Kuga in the 10th round, but it took a fighter of Wake's high skill level to clearly beat Kuga. Kuga's only other losses were a 2012 loss to Nobuhiro Hisano and a razor thin 2015 loss to Yasutaka Ishimoto, a loss that was avenged in 2018. Since his 2015 loss to Ishimoto Wake has gone 7-1 (5), with both of the decision wins coming in close fights with Tamura and the loss being the one to Wake.
At 28 years old Kuga is still improving, developing and adding to his experience. Though the tough bouts will catch up with him soon or later and wars against the likes of Tamura, Wake and Ishimoto, and we hope he gets a big bout before those wars take the best out of him. His aggressive style makes for wars, and his power, strength and toughness, means he tends to win them, but it's still not a style which will lead to a long and fruitful career.
The 32 year old Fujihara showed a lot of promise early in his career, following his 2007 debut. He won his first 13 bouts, and notable won the 2008 Rookie of the Year. He was unbeaten for more than 3 years before losing in May 2011 to Kentaro Masuda. He quickly went from 13-0 to 14-3 as his career began to fall apart, including stoppage losses to Mugicha Nakagawa and Ryuta Otsuka. In 2016 he got his first Japanese title fight, losing a wide decision to Yasutaka Ishimoto, and since then he has gone 2-2. To suggest that Fujihara is a limited challenger really doesn't say as much as stating he is 5-6 in the last 6 years.
At his best Fujihara was a legitimate domestic title challenger. Problem is that his best really didn't last very long, and is very much in the past. Even recent wins over Naoya Okamoto and Keita Nakano really don't suggest things are turning around for Fujihara. The biggest problem for Fujihara is the fact that he lacks anything that makes him really stand out as a threat. He lacks lighting speed, thunderous power, he's not physically imposing or able to set a high work rate.
Given that Kuga will impose himself, will set a high pace and will look to take Fujihara out early on, it's hard to see anything but an early win for the champion. Fujihara will have to rely on his toughness early on, and sooner or later that toughness will way and Kuga will break him down.
On May 18th the boxing world goes a little bit crazy, with a huge card in the UK, for the WBSS, as well as a big card in New York, which will feature WBC Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, a second notable UK card, this time in Stevenage, a decent card in Russia and a very good looking domestic card in Japan.
Although the Japanese show will, clearly, be overshadowed by the international action the card does promise fire works, and the main event could end up being one of the best bouts of the day. That bout is a Japanese Super Bantamweight title bout, pitting newly crowned champion Ryoichi Tamura (12-3-1, 6) against former champion Yusaku Kuga (17-3-1, 12), in a rematch of a great bout from 2017.
In their first bout Kuga entered as the champion, making his first defense. He would narrowly win a tough battle with Tamura but lost the belt a year later to Shingo Wake. Wake vacated the belt, with Tamura winning it this past January, with a clear decision against Mugicha Nakagawa. The rematch seemed to be something both men wanted and something that fans were also clamouring for.
The reason that fans, and us, are looking forward to this fight so much is the styles and mentality of the two men. They are both very, very similar. They are both aggressive, strong, powerful men. They have difference, which we'll get on to in a minute, but they have enough similarities to knew they are going to give us some insane action. The best thing is that their aggressive mindsets are shown every time they are in the ring, neither likes to back off, or back up. Both come to meet in the centre of the ring and both look to unload with shots.
The big difference between the two is their offensive work. For Kuga his offensive work is power based. His shots are heavy and hard, they are a touch slow, and he doesn't fight with 10 rounds of intensity, but every shot he lands is thrown with bad intentions. He's a puncher-brawler if you will, and as a result he knows he needs some distance to work with, trying to get full extension on his shots.
Tamura on the other hand is more a volume guy, with intense pressure. His shots are hard, but not thundering, instead he throws a lot of leather, and is a bit of a perpetual punching man. He has an incredible gas tank and refuses to slow down, knowing he has the toughness to take shots whilst throwing his own. If he had Kuga's power he would be a truly frightening fighter, combining power with work rate and toughness, but as it is he's still a nightmare even if he can't take fighters out with a single shot.
What both men really rely on is their toughness, and both take a great shot. Or at least they did. Kuga's yet to show any decline, but Kuga has currently got some question marks over his chin following his stoppage loss to Wake. Kuga was dropped from a huge left hand in that bout, then took some serious punishment late on, with Wake tagging Kuga with clean left hands until the towel came in. Although it's not proven, there is a chance that loss has done damage to his durability.
Although Kuga won the first fight between these two, we feel like the men have headed in a different direction since then. Kuga's loss suggests he might be on the slide, whilst Tamura's last performance was his best to date and showed that he's adding more wrinkles and more intensity. With that in mind we see this as being a likely case of revenge, and not repeat. We're expecting the fire of Tamura, seeking to avenge his loss, and the boost in confidence a fighter gets when they are champion, to be the difference maker.
Prediction UD10 Tamura
The Super Bantamweight division is one of the most top heavy division's in Japan, with a number of world class fighters, such as Tomoki Kameda, Ryosuke Iwasa, Yukinori Oguni and Shingo Wake all looking to make their mark at the very top level. Sadly with such a top heavy division is leaves the domestic level looking a little bit thin, and with Wake vacating the Japanese title late in 2018 it leaves us without a clear domestic divisional #1. On January 12th we'll see Mugicha Nakagawa (24-5-1, 14) and Ryoichi Tamura (11-3-1, 6) battle for the vacant title, and to fill the hole left by Wake.
Nakagawa earned his shot at the title back in Otober, when he defeated Naoya Okamoto in a Japanese title challenger decision bout. That was a close win but a well earned one for Nakagawa who had narrowly missed out on a mandatory title shot in 2018, when he lost in a Japanese title decider bout to Yasutaka Ishimoto in later 2017. His record looks a good one on paper, even more so when you consider he is 14-1-1 (8) in his last 16 bouts, but his competition hasn't been sensational during that run, sadly.
In the ring the 29 year old Nakagawa is good boxer, with good basic skills, a long winding jab and nice movement. There's nothing spectacular about him, but he does a lot of things really well, boxing off the jab, moving calmly around the ring and showing patience when he needs to. When he needs to pick up the pace he has shown that he can, and that he can also take a good shot when he needs to, as he did against Ishimoto. One thing that is perhaps under-rated about Nakagawa is his ability to find unusual angles for his shots, and he can can't people from unusual places due to his long reach, but again for the most part he pretty straight forward.
For Tamura this will be a second title fight, after having come up short against Yusaku Kuga last year. Since that loss Tamura has scored 3 wins, shown an improvement in his technical boxing but remains a crude, strong, forward foot fighter. In fact much of Tamura's success is based on his physicality. He began his career 3-2-1 (1) but has since gone 8-1 (5), with the sole being to Kuga last year. On paper his record doesn't look amazing but he does hold notable wins against the likes of Yusuke Suzuki, Renji Ichimura, Robert Udtohan and Jestoni Autida.
Tamura is defensively flawed, he's particularly quick or elusive. He is however a very heavy handed, his jab is incredibly hurtful, his right hand is dynamite and his willingness to take one to land one makes him very dangerous. He's one of the very few fighters who has made the aforementioned Kuga back up, and he managed to apply pretty effective pressure on Kuga in fact. Sadly for Tamura a lot of what he does is pretty predictable, pretty basic and there's little thought really put behind his pressure. He's powerful but doesn't really know how to use his power properly.
On paper this is a match up between the skills of Nakagawa and the power of Tamura. If Nakagawa can keep things basic, box and move and use his brains he should be able to rack up plenty of rounds. However, Tamura will be dangerous through the full fight and if Nakagawa slows down we could see the pressure and power of Tamura undo all Nakagawa's good work.
We're expecting Nakagawa to win, by decision, though it's far from a foregone conclusion, and Tamura only needs to land one or two clean shots to turn the bout on it's head.
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.