On October 19th we're set to see a new double champion being crowned in Japan at 140lbs as the unbeaten pairing of Andy Hiraoka (17-0, 12) and Jin Sasaki (11-0, 10) clash for both the Japanese national and WBO Asia Pacific titles. Notably however this is a match that genuinely doesn't need titles to be a must watch match up as we get two unbeaten youngsters risking their records in a bout that promises genuine fireworks, excitement, thrills and danger. In fact this among the very best bouts that we could make in Asia at 140lbs, and seems destined to be something very, very special for fans at the legendary Korakuen Hall this coming Tuesday.
Of the two men it's the 24 year old Hiraoka who is more well known internationally. The Ohashi promoted fighter has been showcased in the US on Top Rank shows a couple of times, and has shown some potential in his wins over Rogelio Casarez and Rickey Edwards. Prior to his US excursions though he was coming along nicely as a prospect in Japan winning his first 14 bouts before making his US debut. In those early bouts he had reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, though was unable to compete due to health reasons, won the Japanese Youth title, and scored a very notable 10 round win over Akihiro Kondo. He had proven himself as a domestic prospect, but still had a lot to work on, and we've seen he still has areas to improve in his US bouts as well.
Whilst Hiraoka is the more well known of the two fighters, he's not someone who has looked the most polished. He's a tall, rangy, young kid, who started his athletic career as a runner before developing into a very promising boxer. He has a lot of enviable tools in his kit, such as his height, reach, wide shoulders, speed, stamina power and atheltic ability, but is very much a fighter who is still developing as a boxer, and his lack of amateur experience does show in his performances. He's also a man who hasn't always looked comfortable in the ring, and we've seen him hurt before, with Hiraoka battling through adversity to take home wins more than once. He has answered plenty of questions, but still has a lot of question marks hanging over his chin, his heart and what he does when he's taking big shots or under intense pressure.
Aged just 20 Jin Sasaki is very much the type of fighter who is looking to break out, and has really created a lot of buzz in the last 18 months or so thanks to some impressive, destructive, exciting, flawed and heavy handed displays. He's, at times, very raw, very flawed, and almost looks unskilled at times, but he's also a truly brutal puncher, with a must watch style, and a willingness to bet on himself every time he's in the ring. Unlike many Japanese fighters there is an aura of cockiness and arrogance surrounding Sasaki. That confidence gives him an air of being a man "you want to see lose", but his power, and excitement factor leave him being someone you want to follow, see more of, and be entertained by. In many ways he's a breath of fresh air for Japanese boxing, and was very much one of the few winners from the Pandemic era of boxing in Japan, with A-Sign boxing showcasing him on their YouTube events.
Watching Sasaki is like watching a wrecking ball. He's very, very heavy handed and wins over the likes of Shun Akaiwa, Tatsuya Miyazaki and Aso Ishiwaki in 2020 really helped put him on the map. Earlier this year however he really struggled in a 2-round fire fight with Kaiki Yuba. That bout saw Sasaki coming close to being stopped, more than once, before being bailed out by his power, when he seemed close to done. That performance against Yuba showed that Sasaki has balls of steel, and that stereotypical Japanese will to win. That will to win makes him almost as dangerous as his lights out power and ultra-aggressive in ring style. He comes to fight, he comes to pressure, and he comes to land big shots. From the off. He can be out boxed, he can be made to miss, and he gives opponents chances to punish him, but if he lands we know he can turn bouts on their head in an instant.
We certainly feel Hiraoka, for all his flaws, his the much better boxer. He's the more polished, the technical, and whilst not an in ring genius, he has a much better boxing brain. However as we saw when Sasaki fought Yuba, another much better boxer, he only needs to land one good shot to turn a fight around. That what we expect to see again here. We suspect Hiraoka will look to control the fight behind his long reach, catching Sasaki numerous times in the first few rounds, but won't be able to keep Sasaki at bay and sooner or later the younger man will get in a good, clean, hurtful shot. We then suspect that Hiraoka will not be given a chance to recover, with Sasaki unloading on him and forcing a stoppage.
Prediction - Sasaki TKO4
On July 17th we'll get the next Japanese Youth title fight, and it's a mouth watering on as teenage sensation Jin Sasaki (10-0, 9) attempts to defend his Japanese Youth Light Welterweight title against second generation fighter Kaiki Yuba (7-0-2, 5), himself the Japanese Youth Lightweight champion.
Coming in to this one we have the makings of something very special. We not only have two unbeaten fighters risking their "0", we also have two men who have real power facing off, and two youngsters who are each looking to move on to bigger and better things than the youth title. In fact the bout also doubles as an eliminator for the Japanese senior title, with the winner in line to face Andy Hiraoka for the vacant Japanese 140lb title. The bout has explosive fighters, fighting for something meaningful and we really can't ask for more than that!
Coming in to this bout all the momentum is with the 19 year old Jin Sasaki, who won the title in December when he battered Aso Ishiwaki in 3 rounds. That was Sasaki's 3rd stoppage win of 2020, his fourth successive stoppage, and his 10th straight win. Not only that but was, in many ways, a fight that saw Sasaki prove a lot more than we'd seen from him in the past. Prior to that win Sasaki had been blitzing fighters, with his power and aggression being the key to his wins, and he hadn't really had to show much in terms of boxing skills. Against Sasaki however we saw him relax more and show there was more to him that brutally heavy hands in what was a career best win.
Despite being just 19 Sasaki is a special talent. He has genuinely nasty power, very under-rated boxing skills, but also a real understanding of what being a star is all about. He brings showmanship to the ring, he oozes charisma and has that must watch quality that stars have. Whether he can reach the top is unclear, but at 19 he ticks pretty much every box a fighter can tick, and he looks like someone who just "gets" it. He is someone who understands what boxing is, what he is doing in the ring, and how he needs to act to build his reputation. He is however still a boxing baby with just 21 professional rounds to his name, since his debut in 2018, and he has only been beyond 3 rounds once in his career. He's very inexperienced, and we do have question marks about his chin and his stamina, but from what we have seen he looks every bit a star of the future.
At the age of 22 Yuba is the older, more mature fighter, and standing at 5'10 he's also the taller man, but he's actually moving up in weight here having won the Japanese Youth Lightweight title in early 2020, in his most recent bout. Moving up and down the weights does however, run in the Yuba blood line with his father being the legendary Tadashi Yuba who won Japanese titles in 5 weight classes during his long and storied career. Like his father Yuba is a tall, rangy fighter, with heavy hands, but flawed defense and sadly a frustrating history of head clashes, which have resulted in both of his professional draws. Sadly for him he's not fought since January 2020, and as a result he enters this bout on the back of a long period of inactivity, but that win was the biggest of his career.
In the ring Yuba is a talented boxer-puncher who fights out of the southpaw stance. He's a patient fighter, who likes to control behind his long lead hand and line opponents up for his heavy straight left hand. At times he does seem over-eager to land his left, with his poise going as he over-extends and at other times throws the left when well out of range, but most of the time he does show good composure, timing and very good counter punching skills. Like his father he does love his own power, and in fairness to him it is nasty when he lands, but he is much more polished than his father ever was, and is a better boxer than his dad, even if he's not quite the same puncher his father became.
On paper we really like this fight. Sasaki's aggression and power against Yuba's counter punching and power. Sadly though fights aren't won and lost on paper, and we can't help but feel things are stacked against Yuba. His inactivity feels like it could be an issue, moving up in weight seems like it could be a problem, and fighting in Sasaki's home of Hachioji could also be an issue. With out the ring rust we suspect Yuba would have a real chance here with his patience, his timing and his counter shots. But with such a long lay off, we think it'll take him 3 or maybe 4 rounds to get a read on Sasaki, and that's 3 or 4 rounds he doesn't have.
We expect Sasaki to jump on Yuba, apply a lot of pressure, and take the fight to the taller man from the off. Yuba might catch him with a counter or two, but will have to take some heavy leather in the process, and we suspect that Sasaki will hurt Yuba when he lands. Yuba will try to fight back, but we suspect the added weight and strength of Sasaki will play a major role in breaking him down, and this could be over in 4 rounds with Sasaki picking up his latest win.
Don't get us wrong, Yuba has a chance. He has the power and skills to catch Sasaki, and if he does we could see our prediction turn out to be very wrong, but we're backing the teenage terror here.
Prediction - TKO4 Sasaki
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
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.