Of all the bouts still to come in 2020 the one that has us the most excited to watch isn't a fight with big names. It's not even a world title bout. Instead it's a bout between two youngsters we've been following for a little while, and think could make for something very special when they get into the ring together on December 26th for a Japanese Youth title bout. It's not a bout we expect people worldwide to care too much about, but it's one that those who follow the Japanese scene in depth will be anticipating like Christmas day its self.
The bout in question is the 8 round Japanese Youth Light Welterweight title bout between the unbeaten and power punching Jin Sasaki (9-0, 8) and all action tough guy Aso Ishiwaki (8-2-1, 6). This is a bout that has the potential to be something that outshines the main event, its self a very good bout between Masayuki Ito and Hironori Mishiro, and in fact could be the Christmas Cracker that we all deserved this year.
It's a bout that has so many small sub-stories all playing a factor as well. Not only do we have two youngsters taking a major risk, but we also have the also great East Japan Vs West Japan rivalry, a Youth title on the line, and two men each wanting to take a huge stride down the path to stardom in 2020. That completely ignores the key reason to be excited however, the styles of the two men in the bout. Styles that should make for something amazing.
Of course with these not being the most well known of fighters we do need to explain why we're so excited about this bout. To begin with lets look at the unbeaten Jin Sasaki.
The 19 year old Sasaki is one of the best teenagers in boxing right now, and amazing he only turned 19 in July, by which point he was already 7-0 (6). The youngster is the star of the Hachioji Nakaya Gym and is a genuine revelation after going 1-3 in the amateurs. He turned professional in 2018 and debuted just weeks after his 17th birthday. Even at that young age his prodigious power was obvious and he stopped his first 4 opponents in a combined 8 rounds, whilst also making his international debut over in Bangkok. He would later enter the 2019 Rookie of the Year, at Lightweight, though had to pull out of the tournament at the East Japan final stage. Despite the disappointment of the Rookie of the Year in 2019 Sasaki has made himself a must watch fighter in 2020 with blow out wins over Shun Akaiwa and Tatsuya Miyazaki, and has been a star on the A-sign live Stream shows.
Unlike many Japanese fighters who are respectful, almost to a fault, Sasaki carries himself with an air of cocky confidence. His walk to the ring, his celebrations and his general attitude scream that he know he's a star and that he wants fans to pay attention to him. Whilst some of that is likely youthful exuberance a lot of it is stems from a very positive attitude and he seems to bask in the attention he has been receiving. He's blessed with that aura of a star, as well as brutally heavy hands, a finishers instinct and under-rated boxing skills to go with it. As with most Japanese fighters at 140lbs, we don't think he'll make a mark on the global stage, but on the domestic and regional picture he could be a real star for the next 10 to 15 years, if he wants to be.
As for Aso Ishiwaki he's a 21 year old fighting out of Nobuhiro Ishida's gym in Neyagawa, Osaka. Like Sasaki he didn't have much of an amateur pedigree and turned professional aged just 17. Sadly Ishiwaki lost on debut within a round, being stopped by Kanta Takenaka in a Lightweight bout. Sadly the inexperience of Ishiwaki showed here but just 4 months later he was back in the ring and started a 5 fight winning streak. That winning streak took him to the 2018 All Japan Rookie of the Year final, where he suffered a razor thin split decision loss to George Tachibana. It would have been easy to write him off after that bout, with a 5-2 (3) record, however he gritted his teeth, worked hard and had a break out 2019. That year began with a thrilling 6 round draw against Yoji Saito, and ended with a trio of stoppage wins, including one against former Japanese title challenger Ryuji Ikeda. By the end of the year we were desperate to see more of him.
In the ring Ishiwaki's style really reminds us of former world title challenger Daiki Kaneko. He's not the most technically well schooled or the biggest single punch puncher in the sport, though his power is certainly solid. But what he is, is a very tough, strong, physically powerful fighter, who comes forward, seems to have excellent stamina and grinds opponents down with aggression and work rate. Unlike Sasaki we don't see the cockiness or the aura of incredibly self belief with Ishiwaki, but we do see a self assured tough guy who has the mentality of a silent destroyer. He won't tell you he's good and he's not flamboyant, but he will show you he's good, and you will sit up and take note. In some ways that's a lot more intimidating than the outward confidence of a fighter like Sasaki.
When it comes to the actual fight it's a really hard one to call.
We expect to see Sasaki show a lot more care than he has in recent bouts, he's quick and heavy handed, but he will be respectful of Ishiwaki's toughness and strength, and his solid power. Sasaki will know that if this becomes a war he'll struggle to keep the pace with Ishiwaki. On the other hand he'll also need to land solidly enough to get Ishiwaki's respect early. If he can't this is going to be a long night for the teenage sensation.
As for Ishiwaki he has, at times, been a slow starter and he'll need to avoid that here. He'll need to apply pressure quickly, and look to break down Sasaki, asking him mental and physical questions round after round. The longer it goes the more he'll ramp up the pressure trying to break down Sasaki.
If Sasaki can hurt Ishiwaki, and it's a big if as the man from Osaka looked like a granite chinned monster against the hard hitting Yoji Saito, then there is a chance this could be over all. If he can't we suspect the higher level of competition will play a major role in the outcome.
We're feel that Ishiwaki will see out some real rocky storms early on, Sasaki will land some massive shots, wobbling Ishiwaki, hurting him, and maybe even dropping him. But won't be able to finish him off, and eventually the pressure and back and forth will break down Sasaki in a thrilling shoot out for the title. But we do not expect this to be a 1 and done rivalry and we wouldn't be surprised to see the two men clash again down the line.
Prediction TKO6 Ishiwaki
On December 14th in the City Sogo Gym in Kishiwada fans will see Japanese Youth Featherweight champion Kyohei Tonomoto (9-2, 4) make his first defense, as he takes on Ryotaro Motohashi (9-1, 2) in a very interesting looking match up. The bout isn't one that will get headline treatment, but is an evenly matched contest between two men who are both still in the formative years of their career and both promise a lot going forward.
The champion won the belt back in May, when he defeated previous champion Hikaru Matsuoka in Hyogo, with a majority decision. The win was, by far, the biggest win of Tonomoto's career and saw him show the early potential we had seen in 2014, when he lost in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final to Reiya Abe. Sadly for Tonomoto his career lost a lot of steam in 2015, and despite his talent he didn't fight for over 3 years, before resurfacing in 2018 with a win over a Thai novice. Given his inactivity the win over Matsuoka was a huge surprise, though a very legit win at this level.
Although Tonomoto doesn't do anything amazingly eye catching he does the basics really well. He's a solid technical boxer who moves well, controls distance well and really does love doubling up his accurate jab, controlling the tempo well with it. He's busy, accurate and very relaxed in the ring, though does look like he perhaps lacks in the physical side of things and if someone tries to bully him it does appear that he might struggle to force them to back off.
The 23 year old Motohashi is a really obscure Japanese fighters, even for us, and the Kyoto based Osakan born youngster has managed to remain under the radar after his debut in September 2015. That was despite getting relatively far in the 2017 Rookie of the Year. He was sadly unable to compete in the West Japan final, which ended his tournament just a fight from the All Japan final. Sadly this is only his third bout since his Rookie tournament came to an end, and it's hard to be too confident in him given how little we've managed to see.
Despite all the footage of Japanese boxing being available Motohashi is a bit of an enigma with the only fan cam footage being available of him, and strangely Boxing Raise have seemingly mislabeled a fight that is supposed to feature him but is actually a Koki Tyson fight. From what little footage there is of him, which is admittedly from 2017, he looks rather slow and although more physical than Tonomoto he looks clumsier, and the sort of fighter who, at time, was happier to engage in close combat. The footage of him is so old that it's hard to read much into, but it was certainly fun to see and he did look like he could be in some very fun bouts if matched right.
Making a prediction on such little footage of one of the fighters can be tricky, but from what we have seen this does look like a stylistically straight forward bout for Tonomoto, who should be too sharp, too accurate and too busy. Motohashi will likely have moments when he does get up close, but overall we think those moments might be often enough for the challenger to bully the champion or rack up the rounds.
If Motohashi had scored a stoppage or two in his last 5 bouts we may have been convinced that his gruelling style would break down Tonomoto, but his lack of power suggests that won't be the case.
Prediction - UD8 Tonomoto
The Japanese Youth title scene is a genuinely intriguing one, even if it doesn't feature the huge names that compete in Japan. This coming Sunday we get the chance to see some Youth title bouts, and again the bouts are really interesting, without being huge news.
One of those bouts this weekend will see Japanese Youth Featherweight champion Hikaru Matsuoka (15-4-3, 2) make his first defense, as he takes on Kyohei Tonomoto (8-2, 4). Neither of these two are big names, but both will certainly see this bout as a chance to help make a name for themselves.
The 24 year old champion, a member of the Taisei Gym, win the title last year with a technical decision win over Noboru Osato. That was his third straight win and his 7th win in his last 8. Whilst that sounds impressive, his competition hasn't been the best, and more worryingly he has shown a real lack of durability, with 3 stoppage losses, including 2 stoppage losses in his last 9. Whilst he has shown a shaky chin he also has a lack of power, with only 1 stoppage in his last 7 wins and only 1 stoppage in th elast 6 years. Like some other fighters however his focus isn't on punching through the target or inflicting damage. He knows he 's not a puncher. Instead he looks to box behind a jab, fight at range and control the fight with his jab and movement.
Although no world beater it's clear that Matsuoka is a talented fighter. He's well schooled, a good mover and he fights to his strengths. Looking through his record he has fought plenty of notable opponents, scoring wins over Richard Pumicpic, Yu Konomura and of course Osato. On the other hand he has lost to the likes of Seizo Kono and Yuki Strong Kobayashi. From those losses it's clear if he needs to avoid punchers, and if he can do that he could have a pretty successful career. Luckily for him, Tonomoto is no huge puncher.
Aged 23 Tonomoto is someone who has been really over-looked and hasn't really had much attention at all. That's despite reaching the 2014 Rookie of the Year final, where he lost to the then unheralded Reiya Abe. Part of the reason why Tonomoto hasn't had much attention following his Rookie of the Year run is due to inactivity, and he took more than 3 years out, following a blow out win against Namchoke Meesri. Thankfully for the youngster he was young enough to have that 3 year break and still being a young kid when he returned to the ring last December, when he stopped Nanthipat Kesa inside a round.
Given his long break there isn't a lot of recent footage available of Tonomoto, though his last fight is available on Boxing Raise. That fight lasted just 164 seconds but it was clear Tonomoto was a pretty well schooled fighter, firing off hard and crisp jabs, flowing combinations, nice movement and although there was flaws he looked fun and exciting. He looked defensively questionable, but exciting, aggressive and like someone with the potential to go a very long way. That was however a bout against some one not fit to be in the ring with him, whilst his upcoming bout is a contest against a national youth champion.
Despite the inactivity we're actually backing Tonomoto here. We suspect that both will match each other well in terms of speed, though Matsuoka may have the slight edge, however Tonomoto appears to have the variation in his work, and the more aggressive mentality. Those, we suspect, will be his keys in a very close and competitive bout.
Prediction SD8 Tonomoto, in an bit of an over-looked and hotly contested 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.