In 2020 we saw very, very few fighters have years that will define their careers. One of the few exceptions was Japanese Super Flyweight Ryoji Fukunaga (13-4, 13) who had a career defining as he went 2-0 (2) and went from having never held a title as a professional to being the unified Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight champion. He did that by scoring two legitimately solid wins as well, defeating Froilan Saludar and Kenta Nakagawa, and came in to 2021 with some real momentum. As we write this he is also holding world rankings with 3 of the 4 major title bodies. At 34 however he can ill afford a slip up, and he'll be well aware of that going into his first bout of 2021,against Takahiro Fujii (12-6-1, 3) on June 21st. That bout will see Fukunaga defending two of the titles he unified last year, and look to continue moving towards a potential world title fight. On the other hand the bout will also be a huge, and somewhat unexpected, title shot for Fujii.
Aged 34 Fukunaga is a heavy handed southpaw who turned professional in 2013 aged 26, and struggled early in his career. He lost on debut, and was 4-2 (4) after 6 bouts. Since then however he has turned things around, going 9-2 (9) winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year, as well as becoming a triple crown champion.
In the ring Fukunaga has a lot of technical flaws. He's easy to hit, he's not particularly quick and a lot of what he does looks forced. Despite that he's not an easy man to beat. He's got rocks for hands, and what he hits he hurts. He's got a great will to win, and excellent stamina, and even in rounds 9 and 10 he can still be found throwing a lot of bombs. He's also learned how to use his experience well, and when he needs to he can "old man" his opponents, go for a walk, catch his breath and then come forward again. At 34 we do wonder how much he has left in the tank, especially after wars with Saludar and Nakagawa last year, with both of those bouts being incredibly punishing, but we also get the feeling he and his team have picked a bit of a patsy here, to keep him ticking over in a stay defense, rather than a genuine challenge.
Fujii is a fellow southpaw, and is slightly younger than the Fukunaga, aged 32, but he's also much less accomplished and is taking a massive step up in class. He began his career back in 2010, with a draw against Satoshi Obata, and was 6-3-1 (2) after 10 bouts. Sadly it wasn't just early on that he had mixed results and he's actually 6-3 (1) in his last 9 bouts. What hasn't helped him is that he been very inconsistent with results, and every time he gets a win, he then slips up soon afterwards. At least he did until very recently, and he's currently riding a rare winning streak, having won his last 3 bouts with a decent win over Sonin Nihei. Sadly though that 3 win streak dates back to 2018, showing a lack of activity to go with his lack of consistency.
When it comes to what Fujiii can do in the ring, one thing that needs mentioning is that he lacks power. Of any kind. He has only scored a single stoppage win since 2015. That sort of power will leave him needing to rely on his boxing skills against a guy like Fukunaga, who is a monstrous puncher who can really hurt people. Fujii has only been stopped once, very early in his career, but we suspect that he'll struggle with the power, work rate and aggression of Fukunaga, especially over 12 rounds. The guy can fight, but he's been fighting fringe domestic level fighters, and he's now leaping up to regional title level, with nothing to prepare him for what he's getting himself into here.
Fukunaga has had punishing bouts. He has taken a lot in his last two bouts, but this is a smart match up from his team. Matching him easily for his return to the ring, and we suspect he'll shake a bit of ring rust through the early part of the fight, before taking out Fujii in the middle rounds. The champion might lose a few rounds early on, but he'll be far too much for the challenger and will take him out sooner or later.
Prediction - TKO7 Fukunaga
One thing that's clear in the world of boxing is that there are too many titles, and too many of them are meaningless titles with no clear qualifiers as to who can win them and what their purpose is in the sport. For example can anyone tell the difference between the WBA Continental, Intercontinental and International titles?
Thankfully does have some titles that are worth something, even in this weird world where the WBA and WBC want to hand out belts like a fashion accessory. And on December 13 we'll see 3 titles unified in Tokyo as WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight champion Ryoji Fukunaga (12-4, 12) takes on Japanese champion Kenta Nakagawa (19-3-1, 12), with the winner not only defending their title, and taking the title from their opponent, but also the currently vacant OPBF title, to become a triple crown champion.
As with all triple crown bouts in Japan this is a really interesting match up and one that be excited about. Style wise the men should match up wonderfully, and given that both men are in their mid-30's neither man can accord a set back if they want to move their career forward. With that in mind, how do we expect this bout to go? And who are the fiughters?
The 34 year old Fukunaga is a hard hitting southpaw who turned professional in 2013 and lost to Seita Mochizuki. He then reeled off 4 straight wins before losing again, in a blow out loss to Ryo Matsubara in 2015. That could have been it for him, but instead he gritted his teeth and rebuilt, surprisingly winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year, thanks to a solid win against Kota Fujimoto in the final. By the end of 2017 he was 10-2 (10) before suffering back to back decision losses to Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart. With a 10-4 his career looked like it was going nowhere, and he was out of the ring for 10 months before picking up a low key win in May 2019. He then got a big chance, taking on Froilan Saludar earlier this year for the WBO Asia Pacific title.
In the ring Fukunaga is a bit of a slow fighter in terms of his hand speed, he's a little bit clumsy when he throws punches, bounces on his feet a lot and does a lot of things wrong. When he throws his left he often complete drops his right and has very, very poor defense. Thankfully for him however he a decent chin, good reactions and a real awkwardness to how he fights. He's also blessed with brutal power. Although his punches are technically poor they are thrown with bad intent and are of the "nasty thudding" variety. His jab, when it lands, is hurtful and his left hand is like a wrecking ball, slow but damaging, however he needs to land and that is not a given due to his wide arching punches and lack of speed.
Aged 35 Kenta Nakagawa actually turned professional way back in 2004 and began his career with 2 wins in his first 3 bouts. Then he vanished from boxing for me than 6 before returning in 2011. His return to boxing saw him lose to Teppei Tsutano but since then he has gone a very impressive 17-1-1 (12). During that 19 fight run he's had since he returned to the score he has scored notable wins over the likes of Joe Tanooka, Hayato Kimura, Ryosuke Nasu, Takayuki Okumoto and Yuta Matsuo, and become a 2-time Japanese champion. It's worth noting that his first title reign was a show one, lasting just 5 months, and saw him suffer a 7th round TKO loss to Ryuichi Funai, but he has reeled off 6 straight wins since then.
In the ring Nakagawa is a smart boxer puncher. Like Fukunaga he's a southpaw, but unlike Fukunaga he's actually a pretty polished fighter with deliberate and quick movement, accurate straight punches a powerful left hand, and good timing. He's a much better on the back foot than Nakagawa, and knows how to create, and use distance, landing accurate shots and making opponents make mistakes. He's not the quickest out there, or the biggest puncher, but he has respectable power, and his accuracy and timing make up for his lack of single punch power. What's also rather impressive is his composure under pressure, and he showed this well under the aggression and pressure of Yuta Matsuo back in July.
If a bout was decided on skills alone this would be an easy win for Nakagawa. He is by far, the more polished, rounded and knowledgable fighter in the ring. The issue here however is the power of Fukunaga. If he lands a clean one on Nakagawa he certainly has the power to get Nakagawa's attention, and potentially get him to unwind. We suspect Nakagawa's movement will limit there, but there is always a chance he could land, and it may only take one clean, wild left hand to turn the bout around.
We suspect that Nakagawa will manage to rack up rounds, box smartly, and get a big lead through the bout. However there will always be danger, whilst he'll look in control there will be a sense of tension through out the contest. Fukunaga might miss a lot, might look clumsy, but he will be dangerous to the end and it will take a very good performance from Nakagawa to see this out, secure the win and finish the night as a triple crown champion.
Prediction - UD12 Nakagawa
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
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
Earlier this year we saw Osakan boxing star Kazuto Ioka become the first Japanese man to win world titles in 4 weight classes, picking up the WBO Super Flyweight title. This weekend attention in the Super Flyweight division against turns to an Osakan, in fact two Osakans as Japanese national champion Takayuki Okumoto (22-8-4, 10) defends against Dynamic Kenji (11-3, 7), in a battle between two men based in Osaka.
For the 27 year old champion this bout will be his third defense of the title he won just a year ago, when he narrowly squeaked by Hiroyuki Kudaka to take the belt. Since becoming the champion Okumoto hasn't yet looked the part as a champion, squeaking out two razor thin defenses, a draw with Masayoshi Hashizume and a narrow win over Yuta Matsuo. Sadly for Okumoto he doesn't appear to be a man who has won a title and become a champion, he is instead, to use a wrestling term, transitional champion until some rising star comes through. He's a man who has made the most of an opportunity and is likely to do enough to retain the title without ever shining.
Despite only being 27 Okumoto has been a professional since he was 15, fighting in Thailand. In just his second bout he faced former world champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin. He would lose 2 of his first 3, though gritted his teeth, and has slowly made a career for himself, rebuilding from numerous setbacks along the way, including a KO loss in Thailand to Rusalee Samor in 2013 and a technical decision loss to Ryuichi Funaiin 2017. His record doesn't look greta overall, but he's gone 12-2-2 (5) in his last 16 and really has shown a lot of improvement, without becoming anything great.
Like Okumoto Kenji suffered set backs early his career, falling to 2-2 after 4 fights including a loss to Okumoto's former challenger Masayoshi Hashizume. In fact through 8 fights Kenji was 5-3 (2) and looked like his career was going nowhere. Since then however he has gond on a bit of a roll, with a 6-0 (5) record and notable wins over Futa Akizuki and Shota Kawaguchi. He has become a regular face at the L-Theatre in Osaka, and has rapidly rising from "no one" to "domestic contender". The only real issues with his 6 fight winning run actually came last time out, when he looked terrible in taking a razor thin win over Sophon Klachun, albeit well above the Super Flyweight limit.
Kenji is 28, and turns 29 in December. Although he's not old, by any stretch, there is a feeling that a loss here and he could become part of the who needs him club. He's heavy handed and dangerous, he's tough and comes to fight. Technically he's not the most polished but he is certainly a handful and his wins over Akizuki and Kawaguchi showed that.Being frozen out of the title picture for 18 months to 2 years, if he loses, would leave him in a very frustrating position, especially given he doesn't have a big promoter back him. In his eyes this might be his only big shot.
For all his limitations Okumoto is tough. Both of his stoppages losses came in Thailand to much more experienced fighters. For Kenji his only real way to take the title will be to stop Okumoto, who will have the crowd behind him despite both being based in Osaka. We genuinely believe Kenji has the power to rock, hurt and stop Okumoto, however Okumoto has the skills to outbox Kenji. Yes, Okumoto isn't some super slick sensation, but he's a solid enoiugh boxer, which is sometimes enough to hold a title at this level. We're expecting Okumoto's movement and jab to be a real issue for Kenji early with Kenji needing to preserve his energy and try to force a fight down the stretch. Sadly however we don't think Kenji will manage to catch him man cleanly enough to take him out, and take the title.
Prediction - Okumoto UD10
On April 21st fight fans in Osaka will get a Japanese title double header. One of the bouts headlining that show will see Japanese Super Flyweight champion Takayuki Okumoto (21-8-4, 10) make his second defense, and take on mandatory challenger Yuta Matsuo (15-3-1, 8).
The 27 year old champion is a 12 year veteran of the sport. If that sounds mathematically strange it is, and that's because Okumoto started his career as a 15 year old, fighting in Thailand. He had mixed success, going 1-1 with the loss coming to former world champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin, before waiting to mature and fight on Japanese soil, where he has fought all but 1 of his subsequent 31 bouts. Whilst he's no world beater Okumoto has proven to be a gutsy fighter, who is improving, has a good work rate and is certainly not a typical 21-8-4 fighter. His long career has seen him beat the likes of Shota Kawaguchi, Yuta Saito and Hiroyuki Kudaka, come up short against the likes of Ratanapol, Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking and Ryuichi Funai.
Okumoto is a southpaw with credible speed and power, a wealth of experience and under-rated skills. He's not heavy handed or lightening quick, but he is all round pretty solid with a good boxing brain a relative toughness and good patience. He can come forward, boxing on the back foot and fight as the counter puncher. Sadly whilst Okumoto is a good all rounder he isn't likely to make a mark above domestic level. He's not got any elite level quality, and that's typically needed for fighters to reach the top, but he will be a hard man to dethrone at this level and it will take a special domestic fighter to beat him.
The challenger, 29 year old Matsuo, is relatively unknown though has been in an around the title mix for a few years now. He did earn this shot last year, stopping veteran Rey Orais in 5 rounds to become the mandatory challenger, and this will be his second title fight. Matsuo has been a professional since 2012 and his most notable contests to date have been losses to Ardin Diale, in 2015, and Masayuki Kuroda, in 2017. Despite those losses it is worth noting that he has scored noteworthy wins over Yota Hori, Ryuto Oho and Ryoji Fukunaga, all of which are good domestic wins but there's little to suggest he will have much success above the domestic level.
Watching Matsuo we see a relatively active boxer with an aggressive mentality. He's not the quickest or the sharpest, but he does have a rather unique rhythm, bouncing at mid-distance with and getting in and our. he's quite quick, with both hands and feet, and has a slight jerkiness to his style. It's a more aggressive style than that of Okumoto, but also a less rounded style, and a much more energy intensive one, with a lot of excess movement.
This isn't the biggest title bout we'll see in Japan this year, but could end up being one of the most competitive, with two well matched, flawed, but promising fighters. Both are true domestic level fighters and both will put it all on the line here.
Being at home, and being the champion, Okumoto will have the crowd behind him and we think that could be a key factor here. The bout is a 50-50 one, though we suspect that the home advantage will be enough to help earn Okumoto the decision victory, in a very hotly contest bout.
Earlier this year we saw Takayuki Okumoto (21-8-3, 10) claim the Japanese Super Flyweight title, ending a short reign of Hiroyuki Kudaka. This coming Sunday he will make his first defense of the title, facing off with the unbeaten Masayoshi Hashizume (16-0-1, 10) in a bout between two Osaka based fighters each looking to end the year as a national champion and begin 2019 looking forward to a mandatory defense at the Champion Carnival.
The 26 year old champion won the title in his second shot at the belt, having come up short in his Japanese title challenge against Ryuichi Funai, via a 7th round technical decision. Despite losing to Funai he had been competitive and was certainly not embarrassing himself. In fact in many ways Okumoto's career is built up with solid efforts and peculiar match ups. They include taking on former world champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin as a 15 year old in Thailand, something that just seems crazy now, and then returning to Thailand 6 years later and losing to Rusalee Samor. In recent years Okumoto has proven to be a very capable having scored wins over the likes of Yuta Saito, Sonin Nihei and the aforementioned Kudaka. In fact since losing to Samor in October 2013 Okumoto has gone 11-2-1 with the loses coming to Funai and Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking.
Okumoto is a southpaw fighter who brings the pressure straight away. He's relatively quick on his feet, and although he doesn't set a mega work rate he does seem to look for a higher tempo than perhaps would like. He has under-rated footwork, and can regularly be seen turning on his opponents, in a similar but much less effective way to Vasyl Lomachenko. Watching him you can see he's a student of the sport and does know how to do things. Sadly why he shows touches of brilliance he is still a very flawed fighter who lacks real power, doesn't have real crispness to his work and can get involved in messy bouts far too easily, something that happened against Kudaka with the two men falling in on each other regularly.
Hashizume is getting his first title shot at the age of 24 though the Ioka gym fighter has long been tipped for success, with fans and fighter himself likely frustrated at the progress of his career. He turned professional in 2013 and went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014. It was then assumed he would be moved aggressively towards a title fight, and build on his 7-0 record with solid competition. Sadly however Hashizume's rise through the ranks stalled massively as he faced off with 7 inept Thai imports who were all stopped in a combined 21 rounds He had gone from a hot property to someone who was frustrating fans. Fans were further frustrated late last year when he did step up and could only just manage a draw with Kota Fujimoto. Thankfully since that draw the youngster has scored two decent wins over Takahiro Murai and Marjun Pantilgan.
We've been impressed by Hashizume on the most part. He looks the part, he's sharp, crisp, aggressive and looks like the short of fighter who is doing things instinctively. His southpaw jab is a huge weapon, his straight left hand is excellent and his movement is very confident. Sadly though he does look like a fighter who is very used to having things his own way and has all sorts of poor habits which have been allowed to build from his low level of competition. If he shows those flaws here, he could come up short against a less gifted but more skilled champion.
We think Hashizume is the more natural talent, but sometimes natural ability isn't the key and instead the will to win is. We suspect that that will be the case here, with Okumoto grinding out a messy decision win, likely having been behind in the early part of the fight.
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.