Every so often a match up comes around where the first impression isn’t a guess at who’s going to win, or how, but is instead a feeling that “that’s gonna be awesome”, and that was the case in December 2019 when Kosuke Saka (20-5, 17) won the Japanese Super Featherweight title knowing that Takuya Watanabe (37-9-1, 21) was waiting in the wings as the mandatory challenger. Following Saka’s win the bout was supposed to take place in April 2020, as part of the Champion Carnival, though was sadly postponed due to the ongoing pandemic, which ended up postponing almost all of the Champion Carnival bouts from last year.
Despite the delay to the fight it is still a bout that seems almost certain to be something special. Really, really special. And really brutal.
For those who don’t follow the Japanese scene, the easiest way to sum this up is “aggressive monster with brutal power, up against insanely tough blood and guts warrior”. That sort of combination always makes for spine tingling action, thrilling back and forth exchanges and the sort of fight that reminds you why you love this sport. And that’s exactly what we are expecting here. Neither man is world class. Neither man will be expected to use the Japanese title and leapfrog into a world title bout. But that doesn’t really matter, this is going to be an hellacious fight deserving of your time, attention, and eyes.
The 28 year old Kosuke Saka doesn’t have a record of a champion, with 5 losses in 25 bouts. He is however much better than his record suggests and his losses have, for the most part, not been embarrassing ones. His first loss was in 2012, in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final against Masayuki Ito. That was quickly followed by him losing 2 of his next 4, including a TKO loss to Hiroshige Osawa. The loss to Osawa was followed up by Saka reeling off 8 T/KO wins, including victories over Ryuto Kyoguchi - Hiroto Kyoguchi’s older brother, Takafumi Nakajima and Shota Hayashi. Winning the Japanese the Japanese Featherweight title with his win over Hayashi. Sadly though his reign was an embarrassing one, losing the title in his first defense, against Takenori Ohashi, when he misheard the 10 second clacker and confused it for the bell, giving Ohashi a free shot, which he took, knocking Saka out cold.
Saka bounced back from his title loss by moving up in weight, stopping touted prospect Masanori Rikiishi in 2 rounds and then taking out the limited Gusti Elnino, before being brutalised by under-rated Filipino Joe Noynay in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title. That looked like a bad loss, until Noynay followed it up and battered Olympic bronze medal winner Satoshi Shimizu a few months later. Since the loss to Noynay we’ve seen Saka fight twice, a nothing win against Isack Junior and then a sensational win against Masaru Sueyoshi last December to win the Japanese Super Featherweight title. That win over Sueyoshi was Saka at his best. He was marauding throughout, bullying Sueyoshi, taking the space away from the technically well schooled Teiken man, and breaking him down round by round, until Sueyoshi was left a ruined man midway through round 6.
In the ring Saka is a monstrously hard hitting bully. He has brutal power, in both hands, he presses forward with one thing in mind, destruction, and he fights like every punch he throws is designed to break bones. He loves coming forward, applying pressure behind a stiff jab, pushing opponents on to the ropes and going to work. He’s all about heavy shots, coming forward and not taking a backwards step. His mentality is to break his opponents. Offensively he is a brutal monster. Where he is flawed however is defensively. He can be countered, he can be caught clean, and he can regularly over-commit. His footwork isn’t the sharpest out there, crossing his feet much more often than he should, and when hurt he can be slow to recover, as we saw against Noynay where he never regained his composure after the first of several knockdowns.
Saka’s biggest issue however is his mental state. It was a mental lapse against Ohashi that cost him and it was his lack of composure after being hurt that was his downfall against Noynay. If he can be locked in, as he was against the likes of Hayashi and Sueyoshi, he is very hard to beat. But his two recent stoppage losses does leave us wondering about how consistent he is, and where his mind is focused coming into this bout with Watanabe.
The 31 year old Takuya Watanabe is a true veteran of the ring, having debuted almost 14 years ago to the day. He is one of the most experienced men currently fighting in Japan, with 47 bouts and 289 rounds to his name, and he is also a surprisingly well travelled fighter with bouts in Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, China and Taipei. In fact 14 of his 47 bouts have been fought outside of Japan, including his infamous 2014 blood bath with Jae Sung Lee in South Korea. A bout that really did see Watanabe leaving his blood all over the Gwanakgu Hall, in Seoul.
Of course there is much more to Watanabe than just being a road warrior, in fact there’s a teak tough competitor, with a hugely under-rated skill set, an amazing will to win, and a real hunger to win a Japanese title before he hangs them up. A title he wants to add to a collection that includes a WBC Youth world title, an IBF Asia title, a WBO Asia Pacific title, a WBO Oriental title and an OPBF “silver” title. Despite his collection of silverware he has been eluded by a Japanese title, losing in previous bouts for the title against Hisashi Amagasa and Satoshi Hosono.
Through Watanabe’s career he has really built his reputation and has had nothing handed to him. He turned in 2007, as a teenager and won his first 6 before losing to the mysterious Saengachit Kiatkamthorngym, in what appears to have been Saengachit only professional bout. He quickly fell from 6-0 to 10-3-1 (3) and struggled to find his identity in the ring. By 2012, when he fought Hisashi Amagasa, he had advanced his record to 15-3-1 (4) but had no idea how to deal with Amagasa and the “Slimming Assassin’s” unique physical features. Rather than biting down and fighting hard, like he would now, he looked lost and confused. But then Watanabe started to find himself, and built a reputation as a legitimate warrior on the back of his 2014 bout with Jae Sung Lee, where he spent much of the bout painting the canvas red, but refused to back down, and ran Lee close. By then he was a 25 year old fighter boasting a 20-5-1 (8), but also a man building a reputation as a warrior.
In 2015 Wayanabe got his second Japanese title fight and ran Satoshi all the way in a loss that helped solidify him as a solid, upper domestic level boxer. He wasn’t a fighter, he was a boxer. A tough as nails boxer, with a busy work rate and the ability to hold his own in exchanges with Hosono. In fact he was unlucky not to get the nod in a bit of a forgotten classic. Since then he has been really busy, facing a mix of lower level talent, to tick over and get experience on the road, and upper level talent, with losses to Masayuki Ito and Hironori Mishiro, where they simply out boxed him. In 2019 however he earned another Japanese title fight, this one, on the back of winning a brutal 8 round decision against Taiki Minamoto in a Japanese title eliminator. That was supposed to secure Watanabe in 2020 but due to Covid19 the bout, as mentioned, got postponed and will not be taking place this coming Friday.
In terms of his style Watanabe is probably quite fairly described as a fighter-boxer. He can box, and is a solid boxer, with a solid and busy jab, and he likes to use his footwork, setting shots up at midrange and using some very underrated skills. However he’s at his best when he turns into a fighter, taking a fight into the trenches with his educated uppercuts, hooks, crosses and lovely flowing combinations. When he gets the fight at mid to close range he covers up a lot of his flaws, such as his slow feet and his almost trudging pressure. At range he can be out boxed, as Amagasa, Ito and Mishiro showed. In the trenches however he will hold his own with anyone at domestic level. What helps there is his incredible chin, his amazing hunger and his willingness to take a bomb to land his own shots. If a fighter wants to go to war, Watanabe will go to war.
It’s the willingness of Watanabe to go to war, and his eagerness to fight fire with fire that makes us so excited here. It’s Saka’s power, pressure and aggression, against Watanabe’s toughness, sneaky combinations and inclination to respond when he’s hit that should make for something special here.
Saka is certainly the heavier puncher, the more destructive fighter, and the man who, if he lands clean, can genuinely do damage. But what happens when the irresistible force hits the immovable object? Watanabe is certainly the better boxer, but can he withstand the tenacity of Saka? Likewise can Saka mentally stay strong when shots that have been forcing men to crumble have no effect on Watanabe?
Predicting this one is tough, though predicting any Saka fight is tough, with the only sure thing being that this will be something truly captivating.
If pushed to select a winner, we’ll be going with Watanabe to weather out the storm from Saka, make him question himself and crumble late. Despite that the reality is that any outcome here is possible and that the journey to the final result is going to be thoroughly engrossing, beautifully brutal and fantastically physical.
If you’re a Boxing Raise subscriber you will not want to miss this one. And if you don’t subscribe to Boxing Raise, you should, even if it’s just to watch this bout! It may have taken over a year of waiting for this one, but we are just as excited as we were when we went into 2020
Prediction - TKO9 Watanabe
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 Champion Carnival in 2020 is still having it's eliminators and title bouts being fought for through November and December. Among the bouts that are left are a Japanese title fighter, between Masaru Sueyoshi and Kosuke Saka, which is set to take place in December, and an eliminator between Taiki Minamoto (16-5-1, 13) and Takuya Watanabe (36-9-1, 21), with the winners fighting next year. Whilst the title bout is an excellent match up, we wouldn't be surprised by the eliminator actually being the better bout, pitting a true puncher against one of the most insanely tough guys in the sport.
The 28 year old Minamoto is a former Japanese Featherweight champion, and is someone who left his previous division due to issues making weight. Hisreign was a short one, beginning in April 2018 and ending after just 2 defenses, when he vacated following a draw with Reiya Abe. Despite the short reign reign he left an impression, winning the title in an excellent performance against Takenori Ohashi and pulling himself off the canvas to stop Tatsuya Otsubo and then twice dropping Abe to earn a draw. Prior to winning the Featherweight title he had challenged for the Super Bantamweight belt, but been beaten by Yukinori Oguni, before moving up.
As a fighter Minamoto is a very good boxer-puncher. He's got real venom in every shot he throws, he sets a good work rate and has under-rated speed. He's good at getting behind his jab and working at range, boxing and moving. Where he lacks, is just touches of polish, and if he had that polish there's a good chance he'd have taken the win over Abe. He's defensively a little bit open, though usually his offensive work keeps opponents from taking advantage of those flaws. To date his chin has proven to be generally good, and it's unlikely the extra 4lbs will be a major issue in how he takes a punch, but he has been down in the past, and can get dragged into a toe-to-toe brawl. Something that is not good for him.
Watanabe has been around or years, and it's genuinely hard to believe that he's only 30 years old. The teak tough Watanabe has been around, and around, and actually debuted way back in 2007. His career has been a road less travelled, and he has legitimately fought through much of Asia with bouts not only in Japan but also Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan. Given he such a road warrior it's worth noting he's actually had success on his travels, though is best known for his bloody and brave effort against Jae Sung Lee than any road win. His bout with Lee was a genuine blood bath with Watanabe bleeding profusely from very early on. Despite his long career he's never been stopped, and has gone the distance in all of his losses, including defeats to Satoshi Hosono, Masayuki Ito and most recently Hironori Mishiro.
Watanabe is a very capable boxer. He's got solid size, power, speed and very impressive toughness. Sadly though being solid in all areas doesn't make you great in them, and his toughness alone won't win all fights. He can be out boxed, as Ito and Mishiro did, and he can be out fought, though fighters will have to go through hell to outfight him. Like Watanabe he prefer to box than fight, though perhaps he would have had more career success if he had been a fighter and swarmed opponents bringing them into a war and testing his toughness against theirs. Sadly it does appear that Watnaabe is slowing down, and although he was competitive, at times, with Mishiro he lacked the foot speed to really push Mishiro all the way when the two men fought back in March.
At his best Watanabe is a nightmare for anyone at domestic level, and we would love to see him to go up against either Sueyoshi or Saka, though unfortunately we do think he's slipped a little. Against a fighter like Minamoto, who can box at range and land sharp shots, we see Watanabe struggling for sustained success. We do see Watanabe having moments, but not enough of them to convince the judges that he's doing enough to win. Up close Watanabe has the ability to out work and slow Minamoto's foot work down, but we don't imagine that happening early enough for Watanabe to ever be in control of the bout. Instead we see Minamoto as a little bit too good, too light on his feet and too quick.
Prediction - UD8 Minamoto
The Super Featherweight division in Japan is a really interesting one. Not only is there Masayuki Ito, who defends the WBO world title later this month against Jamel Herring, but also the likes of Hironori Mishiro, Kosuke Saka, Takuya Watanabe and, of course, Japanese national champion Masaru Sueyoshi (18-1-1, 11).
This coming weekend Sueyoshi looks returns to the ring to defend his title against mandatory challenger Ken Osato (15-2-1, 4). This will be a rematch from a 2018 clash that saw Sueyoshi being dropped before battling back to stop Osato in the 8th round of a very interesting match up. That first bout, despite being a win for Sueyoshi, did leave enough doubt that a rematch, down the line, would remain intriguing. If they fought again could Osato finish off Sueyoshi? Or would Sueyoshi manage to control the bout better if they fought a second time and avoid the trouble he was in first time around?
For those who haven't seen Sueyoshi before he's a talented, though frustrating, boxer. He's an excellent judge of distance with good movement, sharp punching and good ring control. He's often seen on the back foot, dictating the tempo of the bout with smart half steps. He doesn't have amazing power, but that's slightly misleading, as he does hit hard when he sits on his shots, something that he rarely does. If he sat on shots more he could do real damage, but instead he relies on his foot work, and is regularly shifting his weight backwards, relying more on speed than power.
At 28 years old we're not expecting Sueyoshi to reinvent himself. He can tweak his style but will never reinvent the wheel. He will always be a fighter with a good technical brain, but a fighter who relies on his speed, accuracy and counter punching, rather than his power and aggression. It can make his bouts frustrating to watch at times, but has seen him going unbeaten for well over 6 years, since losing a split decision to Masayuki Ito back in his 4th bout.
If we're being honest Osato isn't a fighter who looks like he will progress beyond Japanese level, however at just 24 he is likely to have a long and credible career in the domestic title scene. He's proven to be a more aggressive fighter than Sueyoshi, with some a style that has plenty of aggression to it. Despite that he's not the crispest of punchers often firing shots with a slappy style, and although he does have a solid hook it does look like it could be tightened up significantly, and would be much more potent if hee did shorten it. He's a lot more rigid than Sueyoshi, and not only suffers in terms of general movement but also in stamina, often fighting with a tense style, rather than relaxing in the ring. That was certainly shown the first time he fought Sueyoshi, where the tension seemed to sap his energy, and he really struggled in the second half of the fight, if he can change that he does have a chance.
Although we don't imagine Osato moving beyond domestic level that isn't an insult and he could well surprise Sueytoshi. He does hit hard enough to hurt the champion, he's talented enough to land, and to land regularly on Sueyoshi, but it's hard to imagine him winning against someone like Sueyoshi on a regular basis. He's too tense, too likely to drain himself and not the type of fighter who has shown that he can clearly put on 10 good rounds. A lot of his bouts have been close and it's to imagine him putting on 8 or 10 really good rounds one after the other.
We know Osato can hurt Sueyoshi, and can be dangerous, but we can't imagine Sueysohi will be too good, too smart and too tricky for Osato. We suspect Osato will have success early, as he did the first time around, but we expect to see the same winner as last time. We'd be very surprised if Osato scored the win here. The real question is whether he does better than last time, and we suspect he probably will. We're still expecting him to lose, but we're not expecting him to get stopped.
Prediction UD10 Sueyoshi
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.