This coming Thursday fight fans at Korakuen Hall are set for a treat as the hard hitting OPBF Bantamweight champion Keita Kurihara (16-6-1, 14) defends his title against the once touted, though now somewhat forgotten, Kai Chiba (13-3, 8). The bout might not be getting much attention outside of Japan, but the bout has the potential to be something of a thrilling fire fight between two flawed, but typically fun to watch fighters.
For fans who have followed the Japanese scene at Bantamweight over the last 6 or 7 years Kurihara is a name they should be somewhat familiar with. He began his career by losing 4 of his first 7 bouts, but has since turned things aground, going 14-2-1 (11) since his sketchy start to professional boxing. Whilst the numbers alone don't tell us the story of a fighter Kurihara has scored notable domestic and regional level wins against the likes of Kazuki Tanaka, Yuki Strong Kobayashi, Warlito Parenas, Sukkasem Kietyongyuth and Kazuki Nakajima, whilst his 2 most recent losses have been to Hiroaki Teshigawara and Takuma Inoue.
In the ring Kurihara is crude. He's unpolished. He's defensively poor, slow, cumbersome and limited. He is however a man who has brutish power, an incredible will to win, and a real mean streak in the ring. He can be out boxed, he can be out-sped, out thought and out fought, but in a war he's a hard man to beat he can take a good shot and has the belief that he will come out on top in a fire fight. He has developed over the years, and isn't anywhere near as raw as he once was, but he is very much reliant on his heavy hands and brutish physicality. Notably he is only 29, he's big at Bantamweight and has matured significantly from the early losses in his career. Even if he will never be a technical marvel he is always someone who is dangerous and if a fighter makes a mistake against him, his power can, and often does, make them pay for it.
Also 29 years old is Kai Chiba, who began his career in 2015 and won his first 7 bouts, 6 by T/KO, to create some early buzz. His most notable wins were a 6 round decision over Ikuro Sadtsune and a 5th round TKO win over Ryo Matsubara, with those wins expected to move him onwards to big things. He was already being eyed as, at very least, a future Japanese champion. And then he was shocked by Filipino Brian Lobetania. Since then he has gone 7-2 but never quite looked like the fighter he looked set to be and he's only scored 2 KO's since that loss, both over very limited international fighters. Sadly for him his most noteworthy wins since his impressive early run have been decisions over Matcha Nakagawa and Haruki Ishikawa, solid domestic fighters, but not title level fighters. In his bouts against top domestic foes, he has lost to Kazuki Nakajima and Suzumi Takayama, who's unfortunate not to have landed a big fight following his 2021 win over Chiba.
In the ring Chiba is a solid boxer, though originally he seemed more like a boxer-puncher. As his career has progressed he has shown that his power can't carry up, and at times he has also looked apprehensive, worried and like the loss to Lobetania is still on his mind. He's technically well schooled, and is a very solid boxer, but there does appear to be something missing with him, and we dare say he's a bit too tense and worried now a days. He has good timing, and understands the theory behind boxing, and creating space, but there does seem to be something of a boxer fighting by numbers, rather than things coming naturally too him. Almost like he's looking to hide his deficiencies and is constantly thinking about them.
Technically Chiba is the better boxer. He might have his issues but he's the better boxer. Sadly for him however in ring results don't always favour the better boxer and this is likely to be shown here. The power of Nakajima seemed to scare Chiba at times, and Kurihara is much more dangerous than Nakajima, in our eyes. If Nakajima makes someone worry, Kurihara will do the same. With Chiba looking to avoid a fire fight we expect him to fall behind on the scorecards, with Kurihara pressing the action later on and closing the show in the second half of the fight, his power simply being too much for the challenger.
Prediction - TKO8 Kurihara
On May 21st we're expecting to see the Ohashi Gym return to Korakuen Hall, for their next show. The show will see several interesting bouts on it, including a really good one for the OPBF Bantamweight title, between two men with a point to prove.
That match up will see the unbeaten Kazuki Nakajima (9-0-1, 8) battle the once beaten Kai Chiba (13-1, 8), with the two fighting for the title that was recently vacated by Takuma Inoue, a stable of Nakajima's.
On paper this isn't a bout that will get too much attention. Although both men are very good fighters, neither man has really connected with a wider audience yet, and that's despite the fact both are explosive fighters who could make for some really good fights. In fact this one should be really good it's self, and has the potential to turn into an explosive shoot out.
If pushed, the more well known fighter is probably Nakajima, albeit not by a huge amount. The 27 year old Ohashi promoted fighter was a stellar amateur who debuted in 2017 and has, for the most part, been destructive puncher. He is naturally heavy handed southpaw, with dynamite in his straight left hand. In just 10 bouts he has 5 opening rounds wins, including stoppages against good domestic fighters Kenichi Watanabe and Jin Minamide. He has also shown an ability to keep his power late, stopping Yoshihiro Utsumi in round 7 and breaking down Takuya Fujioka over 6 rounds.
Although very heavy handed, and we do legitimately mean heavy handed. Nakajima is also a very rigid, stiff fighter. His footwork is predictable to say the least, his output isn't the best, he struggles to cut the range, and can be outboxed by a smart fighter, as he was in 2020 when he fought Seiya Tsutsumi in the God's Left Bantamweight title final, in a bout we thought he was lucky yo get a draw in. If a fighter looks to take him on head to head they will be punished, but if a fighter boxes, they can confuse him and out point him. The game plan has been shown by Tsutsumi, who really was very unlucky, and it just takes someone to build on that.
Whilst we suspect Nakajima is more well known, that's not to say that Chiba is an obscure fighter, at least not to those who follow Japanese boxing. He's a 28 year old who debuted in 2015 and was getting some real momentum in his career in 2017, following back to back wins over Ikuro Sadatsune and Ryo Matsubara. He headed in 2018 as one to watch, and was then shocking upset by Brian Lobetania of the Philippines. That loss really was a huge one for Chiba who struggled to re-discover his footing, narrowly getting past Keisuke Tabuchi on his return and not quite looking like the force he once seemed to be. That was until last December when he schooled the usually exciting Haruki Ishikawa and put his hat in the ring for a title of some kind.
Early in his career Chiba looked like an offensive monster, and really was aggressive, heavy handed and came forward a lot. He wasn't a brawler, but was a very offensively minded fighter. An aggressive boxer-puncher. The loss to Lobetania seemed to change him though and now he focuses more on his boxing, more on his defense and uses his footwork and jab a lot more effectively to set up his power punches. It's one of those cases where a loss has actually improved a fighter technically. He's less exciting than he used to be, a lot less reckless, but still boxes to his strengths, and the loss was a blessing ins disguise.
In terms of boxing ability we would go as far as to say Chiba is the better boxer. He moves around the ring with a lot more fluidity than Nakajima, he uses his feet better and looks a more natural boxer. Sadly however boxing ability by it's self isn't the be all and end all. Sometimes the key to winning are the other facets a fighter has, and in this case we believe the power of Nakajima will be the difference maker.
At some point in the 12 rounds we can't help but think Nakajima will land clean, and when that happens we expect to see Chiba really feel it, and get shaken, as he did against Lobetania. Chiba might have improved, significantly, from that bout but Nakajima is also a much better fighter than Lobetania will ever be.
We expect to see Chiba winning the early rounds, but sooner or later he would hold his feet for a moment too long, and Nakajima will land one of his missile like left hands. That will shake Chiba, who we suspect will respond with bombs of his own, catching Nakajima but not having the effects he would hope to have. When that happens the end will be nigh and we suspect Nakajima will get the better of it, and will force a stoppage of Chiba. Likely whilst Chiba is up on the scorecards. Perhaps comfortably so.
Prediction - TKO7 Nakajima
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.