By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On February 1st, the world ranked Keita Obara challenges Yuki Nagano for the Japanese championship, at the legendary Korakuen Hall.
Keita Obara (22-4 / 20 KOs) began his amateur boxing career back in high school, before joining Tokyo University. During that time, he won the National Sports Festival, which is considered to be Japan’s premier sporting event, twice. Despite losing on his pro debut, to the 9 year veteran Kazuyoshi Kumano (26-12), Obara went on to win 16 fights in a row, 15 of them being finishes.
Specifically, after capturing the Japanese Super Lightweight title, he squared off with former WBO Asia Pacific champion Jay Solmiano (19-3) for the vacant OPBF crown. Obara scored a knockdown, courtesy of a counter left, and finished him off seconds later with a right straight to the chin. He then defended his new belt against heavy hitter Shinya Iwabuchi (26-6), in an exciting affair, where he ended things in the very last round, after connecting with the powerful overhand left hook.
In a clash of top world title contenders, Obara took Walter Castillo (26-5) to the limit, delivering the punishment for 12 rounds, while leaving the Nicaraguan bloodied and bruised. Even though the contest was unfairly declared a draw, since Castillo refused the rematch, Obara eventually challenged the unified IBF & IBO World champion Eduard Troyanovsky (28-2), but was completely dominated in less than 5 minutes.
The Japanese star decided to move up to Welterweight and almost a year removed from this crashing defeat, he faced former WBC International champion Narong Bunchan (28-7) for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title. Obara put together an excellent combination, dropping his Thai rival in the 2nd round and kept throwing big shots until the referee stepped in and stopped the fight. He made a successful defense against Shusaku Fujinaka (16-12), whom he knocked out with a thunderous right hook.
In a surprising turn of event, Obara lost to the unheralded Alvin Lagumbay (11-5) in April of 2018, after a double knockdown occurred, from which only the Filipino managed to answer the 10 count, thus earning the biggest win of his young career. Obara would exact his revenge that summer, beating Lagumbay with ease and regaining the strap.
His second trip to America last year proved to be unfruitful, as he fought Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (17-0), for one more chance at the big one, in yet again another losing effort. Obara bounced back, when he scored his 20th knockout this past October over Toshiro Tarumi (12-4), showcasing his superiority in the ring, and becoming the number 1 contender for the Japanese Welterweight title.
Yuki Nagano (17-2 / 13 KOs) had also faced a few shortcomings early on his career but has been unstoppable since then, currently riding an impressive 15 fight winning streak for the past 6 years.
His first big match was against the then undefeated Yuki Beppu (21-1). Nagano displayed incredible power and hand speed from the get go, even dropping Beppu with a left straight in just the 2nd round, wining a clear unanimous decision. This victory gave him the opportunity to challenge the Japanese champion Ryota Yada (19-6) on April of 2019. It was a wild brawl that saw both men exchange punches nonstop as well as knockdowns. Finally in the 7th, Nagano overwhelmed Yada with a plethora of hooks in order to capture his first ever professional title. After demolishing Makoto Kawasaki (11-8) in his inaugural title defense, he will now be involved in the most important fight of his career.
Obara and Nagano are very similar, in the sense that they are quite relentless in the ring. Defense isn’t their strongest suit as they rather take a punch just so they can give one back. This strategy is always a recipe for an action packed match but has resulted in both men getting dropped on multiple occasions throughout their careers. Nagano’s favorite weapon is the left straight punch, which he uses in every single one of his outings, clubbing his opponents repeatedly like a caveman, until they go down. Obara also possesses KO power in his left hand, despite being an orthodox, as well as in his right, making him even more dangerous.
This will be a test of endurance and strength. Who can take the most and inflict the maximum damage at the same time. For Obara, who’s already at the top 5 of the IBF rankings, could be the win he needs to put himself closer to another world title opportunity, whereas for Nagano is the chance to finally burst into the world scene. So will Obara’s experience prove to be the difference maker or will Nagano’s unbeaten streak continue? One thing’s for sure. With 33 KOs between these 2 warriors, someone’s going down….hard!
Since suffering an opening round TKO loss in 2013 we've seen Yuki Nagano (16-2, 12) go on a fantastic run of 14 straight wins, against some of the most notable Welterweights in Japan. the latest of those wins as in April when he travelled to Osaka and defeated Ryota Yada to become the Japanese Welterweight champion. This coming Saturday he returns to the ring seeking his first defense of the title, as he takes on veteran foe Makoto Kawasaki (11-7-1, 2).
The talented Nagano really has turned his career around after a 2-2 start to life in the professional ring and wins over the likes of Giraffe Kirin Kanda, in the 2015 Rookie of the Year final, Riku Nagahama, Yuki Beppu and most recently Ryota Yada really have been impressive. Now aged 30 he has a great combination of experience, skill, power and is still young enough to have not really lost any of the physical traits. He's also helped out by being a southpaw, and being backed by one of the most notable Japanese promoters, Teiken.
Although on a great domestic run it's hard to imagine Nagano mixing on the world level. There's a fair argument to suggest he's one of the best fighters at Welterweight in the Asia Pacific region, but he's a long, long way behind the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford. He's pretty basic, but heavy handed, patient, accurate and has good time. He has also shown a real will to win, though of course he has question marks about his chin and after winning the title does he still have the desire that lead him there?
Kawasaki is a proper veteran, he's 35 years old and has been a professional for over 7 years, yet hasn't really managed to have consistency in his biggest fights, despite facing several notable names. His debut came against Koki Tyson, and ended in a draw, and since then he has been a win some lose some fighter through his career, losing to the likes of Hironobu Matsunaga, Ryota Yada, Daisuke Sakamoto and Xingxin Yang. Although he has picked up losses he has shown an ability to score upsets, beating the likes of Kazuya Murata and Yuichi Ideta. During his 19 fight career he has only been stopped once, being taken out in 7 rounds by Yada back in 2016.
In the ring Kawasaki is a pretty tough fighter, but lacks real power, and boxes mostly off the jab. He has struggled to get respect of fighters in the past and, when he's been backed up, he has been unable to force opponents to respect him. His first 3 losses, all in 4 or 5 round bouts, were close, but his last 4 have all been much clearer defeats and it really does seem like he's struggled as he's stepped up in levels and has had his jab neutralised.
We're struggling to see how Kawasaki can pull it off here. He's the big under-dog and although a veteran appears to have been selected as an easy first defense for Nagano, who we see taking a dominant and clear win. The winner isn't in much doubt, here, and it would be a huge surprise to see Kawasaki upset the in form, younger, stronger, hard hitting champion.
Prediction - TKO9 Nagano
The Japanese Welterweight scene is a pretty interesting one right now, without being one that gets much attention. The domestic scene features not only Keita Obara, who has progressed beyond Japanese title level, but up and comers like Kudura Kaneko and Rikuto Adachi as well as established fighters like Giraffe Kirin Kanda and Toshiro Tarumi. It's not a scene bustling with world class talent, but enough talent to make things interesting.
We get a great example of how interesting the division is this coming Sunday when Japanese national champion Ryota Yada (18-4, 15) defends his belt against mandatory challenger Yuki Nagano (15-2, 11). On paper this looks pretty evenly matched, pretty explosive and very exciting.
Yada won the title just over a year ago, stopping Toshio Arikawa in 8 rounds. Since then he has defended the belt twice, stopping Kazuyasu Okamoto and Shusaku Fujinaka. Those wins have seen Yada create a 6 fight winning run, since he was stopped in December 2016 by Jayar Inson and the 29 year old Osakan certainly seems to have developed since his last loss. He has not only developed his skills, but also his mentality, and he's seemingly become a lot more driven since that loss, with his win over Arikawa being an excellent performance based on desire, fitness and will to win.
Blessed with power Yada is a real dangerman on the domestic scene and it will take a tough fighter to see out the distance with him. He has good energy to go with his power, and as mentioned a real will to win. He does fall short in technical aspects but seems to be fully aware that his offense is his best defense and that he is much better off taking the fight to his opponents, or fighting as a controlled counter puncher at range, and chipping away at opponents. He's not going to out box many in a pure boxing sense, but he can hurt people and that is his key.
Nagano secured his shot at the title when he beat Yuki Beppu in October, in a title eliminator. That was the 29 year old southpaw's first bout outside of Tokyo and he rose to the occasion in Kurume to score his 13th straight professional victory. It wasn't just his biggest win to date, but one that saw him build on the early potential that had guided him to the 2015 Rookie of the Year crown. As a fighter the win over Beppu stands out along with his wins in the Rookie tournament against Giraffe Kirin Kanda, Toshio Tarumi, Masaharu Kaito and his 2018 win over Riku Nagahama.
In the ring Nagano is a pretty patient fighter, who is a very heavyhanded southpaw left hand, which he fires out with a real sense of purpose. Despite it being a dangerous punch he is patient with it, timing opponents, countering with it and draw them on to it well. He also had a very frustrating lead hand, that keeps opponents guessing, without actually being a potent weapon, more a neutralising tool. It should be noted he doesn't have a high work rate, but does have power.
Coming into this we see the fight as likely to be a cagey affair early, with both trying to feel out the other. We then expect Yada, the more accomplished and heavy handed fighter, to come on stronger when both settle, and go on to force a stoppage in the second half of the fight to retain his title. It wouldn't be a massive surprise if Nagano scored the win, especially when you consider that 2 of Yada's 4 losses have come to Southpaws, but it would be an upset.
On December 9th fight fans in Osaka will see Japanese Welterweight champion Ryota Yada (17-4, 14) make his second defense as he takes on Shusaku Fujinaka (16-9-2, 10) in what looks set to be a really fun and exciting contest.
Yada won the title this past April, when he stopped Toshio Arikawa in a war at the Champion Carnival. Yada's win was a really excellent performance against a dangerous and feared champion, who he neutralised well for the most part and broke down. The bout was his second at title level, following a loss to Jayar Inson in a WBO Asia Pacific title bout, and he really did look like a totally different fighter against Arikawa. Between those bouts he learned a lot, especially from an hellacious Japanese title eliminator against Moon Hyun Yun in 2017. That win over Yun seemed to change how Yada fought and committed himself, and that was again seen in Yada's recent defense against Kazuyasu Okamoto, who was stopped in the 7th round.
Yada is a boxer-puncher, blessed with genuinely nasty power at this level. He seems to struggle with fighters who use distance well, and make him over-commit and also against southpaws, like Inson. Despite the struggles he is an improving fighter and certainly has added a lot more polish to his boxing in recent bouts. He's still not a razor sharp fighter, but is a lot more accurate and crisp than he once was. It's going to take a very good domestic fighter to dethrone him, and we're not sure really is there's anyone, Keita Obara aside, we'd favour over him in Japan right now.
For Fujinaka this will be his third shot at a title, having been stopped by Randall Bailey and Keita Obara in bouts for the WBO Asia Pacific Welterweight title. Sadly for Fujinaka those losses been among the bout that have shown his limitations and he is 7-7 in his last 14 bouts, dating back more than 5 years. Not only has he lost at title level, but also domestic level, losing to the likes of Koshinmaru Saito, Kengo Nagashima, Moon Hyon Yun and Toshio Tarumi. He tends to put in a good effort in his losses, but still comes up short and now, at the age of 32 and with a hard career behind him we do wonder what his body has left ot give.
Fujinaka's style is that of a high tempo, grinding fighter, who comes to fight. He can struggle to judge the distance, and can rush in wildly at times, but on the inside he loves letting his shots go in volume. It makes him an exciting fighter to watch, but he's a man who is open to eating counter shots, something we saw in spectacular fashion in his bout with Randall Bailey. His openess will be a major issue here against Yada, who is a very solid puncher and will eventually land a clean show as Fujinaka rushes in.
We love watching Fujinaka, who does fight like someone who wants to give fans value for money. Sadly that style will take a toll on a fighter, and we suspect that toll has already been taken and that Yada will catch him, and finish him at some point here.
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.