One of the big rising stars of the Japanese scenes right now is the Ohashi promoted Taku Kuwahara (5-0, 4), who was an amateur stand out before turning professional in 2018. Since turning to the pros Kuwahara hasn't put a foot wrong, stopping 4 of his 5 opponents and proving he can fight 8 rounds at a good pace, as he did against Takamori Kiyama. Although impressing in terms of his performances his competition has lacked. That changes this coming Tuesday when he takes on experienced Filipino Jonathan Refugio (21-6-5, 7), who was ranked #15 by the WBC when the bout was announced. For Kuwahara this is a legitimate step up in class and a genuine test whilst Refugio gets a 5th shot to pick up his first win on the road.
Despite being very highly regarded Kuwahara hasn't had the television exposure that some prospects have. He's been dubbed "Ioka II" in the Japan press but has been hidden away on Ohashi under-cards. Despite not having more than highlights of his fights out there there has been plenty of take aways from the footage. He's a born body puncher, like Kazuto Ioka. He sets things up behind his quick foot work, intelligent defense and excellent combinations, though for us it's his brutal hooks to the to the body that really catch the eye.
Aged 24 Kuwahara looks like he's going to be a mainstay in the Flyweight and Super Flyweight divisions for the coming years, and a win over Refugio will be his ticket to mix in regional title fights very soon. With his style, power and skills we wouldn't imagine he'd stay at regional level for long, especially with the relative lack of talent at Flyweight right now, and it could be that at the end of 2020 or early 2021 he'll be in the world title mix.
Aged 26 Refugio is someone who has had a long career, despite being so young. He made his debut in 2010, at the age of 17, and has already amassed over 235 rounds in the pro ranks and 32 bouts. Like many Filipino fighters he's not been particularly protected either with his team having him in there with some solid fighters. They have included the then 20-0 Wanheng Menayothin, the then 18-0 Merlito Sabillo, the then 5-0 Knockout CP Freshmart and the then 6-0 Hiroto Kyoguchi.
Since losing to Kyoguchi, back in 2017, Refugio has gone 5-0 (3), though all 5 of those wins have been on the Filipino domestic scene. Outside of the Philipines he is 0-4-1, with the draw coming against the fairly limit Seita Ogido in 2017, just 3 months before he took on Kyoguchi, and lost a decision. In the ring he's tough, knows his way around the ring and is pretty crafty, with a good southpaw jab, good ring craft and he knows how to neutralise opponents, something he's gained with over 30 fights of experience. Sadly he lacks real power, and struggles to keep opponents away. That issue will make a fight against a strong, powerful, young Flyweight incredible hard for Refugio.
Interestingly Refugio's bout with Kyoguchi, in many ways, is the one we'd look at at the most comparable to this one. In that bout Refugio put up a good effort, lasted 12 rounds, but was put in his shell in the second half of the bout. He started well against Kyoguchi but was eventually put into survival mode. Given that Kuwahara is bigger, stronger and naturally more powerful than Kyoguchi, though stylistically rather similar, this doesn't bode well for Refugio. We suspect, again, he will be in the fight early but be broken down through by Kuwahara in the middle rounds and stopped late on by a body shot.
Prediction TKO8 Kuwahara
The rise of Hiroto Kyoguchi (6-0, 6) has been something special to watch and this coming Tuesday we get the chance to see it continue as he looks to make his first defense of the OPBF Minimumweight title, a title he won in just his 13th professional round! In the opposite corner to the destructive Watanabe gym prospect will be Filipino southpaw Jonathan Refugio (16-5-5, 4), the third successive southpaw foe for Kyoguchi.
Kyoguchi turned professional last year to some notable fan fare and expectation with many in Japan tipping the youngster as a special talent. His first two bouts however were low key, and a little bit under-whelming as he despatched hapless Thai's in a combined 3 rounds. In his third bout however he shone, stopping the capable Kenichi Miyazaki in 3 rounds,then blowing away Michael Camelion in just 33 seconds before ending 2016 with a 3rd round KO win over Junuel Lacar. To begin 2017 he claimed the OPBF title by stopping veteran Armando De La Cruz in 3 rounds.
Despite being a novice professional Kyoguchi has been nothing less than sensational so far and looks like another top Japanese pressure fighter, like Daigo Higa. He uses a lot of educated pressure, under-rated defensive work, frightening combinations and some of the best body work in the sport. He's a pure offensive machine, and fans of Roman Gonzalez should be following Kyoguchi's rise through the ranks, with Kyoguchi's style being similar to that of the Nicaraguan star.
Whilst Kyoguchi has looked amazing so far he has still got a lot of questions to answer. He's not been hit cleanly much, with De la Cruz having tagged him clean once and then being given a battering in the moments that followed. He has also never proven his stamina, with his longest fight to date not lasting more than 3 rounds. That's likely to change in the future, but we really don't know how well his style and stamina hold out in the later rounds.
Filipino fighter Refugio has been a professional for close to 7 years and has mixed with a number of top class opponents. Those opponents include current world champions Wanheng Menayothin and Knockout CP Freshmart, as well as former world champion Merlito Sabillo and world title contender Melvin Jerusalem. He may have lost to those notable names but only Menayothin and Sabillo have managed to stop him so far, and he does hold a notable win over Richard Claveras.
In the ring Refugio is a well schooled fighter. He moves well, has good technical ability and plenty of heart, having pulled himself off the canvas to fight on in the past. He's show a good attitude and a will to work hard to avoid a loss, but he lacks power and will struggle to force his will on good regional level fighters, despite his solid skills and work rate. If he can't make top fighters then he's set for problems here when he's taking on the likes of Kyoguchi.
Although Refugio is a quality operator it's hard to see anything but a win for Kyoguchi. We think he will have to prove his stamina, but will eventually break down Refugio with body shots to retain his title and his 100% stoppage record, before looking towards a potential world title fight later in the year.
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.