On January 11th we'll see the first Japanese title fight of 2022, as Kai Ishizawa (9-1, 8) and Katsuki Mori (9-0, 2) clash for the vacant Japanese Minimumweight title, which was given up last year by Masataka Taniguchi ahead of his WBO world title fight with Wilfredo Mendez. The match up will see two genuinely bright and promising young Minimumweights clashing, in what looks like a brilliant match up in paper, and one that is genuinely hard to call, with the two men involved having very, very different styles to each other. In one corner is a hard hitting pressure fighter, with heavy hands, flat feet, and who enjoys pressing forward, whilst the other contains a slick boxer, who lacks power but has very good foot work, movement and hand speed.
Of the two men the more proven is the 25 year old Ishizawa. He debuted in 2017 and won his first 6 bouts, all inside the distance, whilst claiming the Japanese Youth title. Sadly after running to 6-0 he then suffered sole defeat, losing in a Japanese title eliminator to Masataka Taniguchi. Thankfully for him however he bounced back quickly, and has won 3 in a row since then, including a Japanese Youth title defense, against Yuni Takada, and a win against Naoya Haruguchi in what was, essentially, a Japanese title eliminator. On paper his record doesn't scream quality, but wins against Tatsuro Nakashima, Yuga Inoue, Masashi Tada, Yuni Takada and Naoya Haruguchi are good domestic level wins.
In the ring Ishizawa is a freakishly heavy handed fighter who presses forward behind a high guard, has a stiff and hard jab, and brutal body shots on the inside. He's not the busiest of fighters, and a lot of what he does looks deliberate, even predictable, but with his heavy hands, physical strength and aggression, he makes fighters fight his fight. He applies constant pressure, and that, combined with his power, draws mistakes, which he often punishes. Notably his power has shown it's self to be completely genuine, as he dropped Taniguchi, who recently won the WBO title, and it's clear that if he wins here he will be hunting a rematch with Taniguchi.
Aged just 21 Mori is a youngster who debuted in 2018 and quickly made a name for himself, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year just 16 months after his debut. Aged 19 at the time of his Rookie of the Year triumph he looked really promising, with lovely speed, movement and an excellent boxing brain. He looked very much like a future star of the Ohashi gym, but he also looked really young, physically immature and feather fisted. Those issues continued to show through into 2021, and after 8 bouts he was 8-0 (1). His lack of power was an issue, but he did manage to score a second stoppage last year, when he defeated Ren Kojima in 6 rounds, that was his first stoppage win since his debut win over Akira Ichihara.
In the ring Mori is a really aggressive fighter. He's not the strongest, the biggest, or the most powerful, but he's aggressive, exciting and likes to stand in front of opponents, finding gaps and letting shots go up close. He attacks the body really well, with both hands, he switches between head and body well, and has real belief in his work rate, hooks, and uppercuts. Despite being aggressive he's also a smart fighter, and he does find gaps with ease. One thing that he doesn't use very well, oddly, is his jab which is a shame as his jab is a very nice shot, but he often seems happy to use one or two whilst looking to get close, smothering opponents whilst somehow finding space for his own shots.
Interestingly the two men will both be looking to fight up close, both will be looking to let body shots go and both will be looking to break down the other. Usually when it comes to fights like this, the heavy puncher, and the more imposing gets the better of things. We suspect that will be the case again here. Ishizawa is just so much stronger and so much heavier with his shots. However we can see a route to victory for Mori, especially if he can use his under-rated defense up close, smothering the power of Ishizawa, preventing him from getting full leverage on his shots, whilst breaking down the body of the once beaten puncher.
We see Mori having success early on, and perhaps even being in the lead by round 5, but we also see him getting broken down by Ishizawa in the second half of the fight and being stopped late in the bout. He'll put in a great effort, but sadly for him we suspect Ishizawa's power will prove to be too much.
If we're wrong and Mori comes out on top here, put his name on your watch list, as he will be moved incredibly quickly if he becomes the second man to beat Ishizawa.
Prediction - TKO8 Ishizawa
On April 21st we'll see Japanese Youth Minimumweight champion Kai Ishizawa (7-1, 7) returning to the ring for his first bout of 2021, and his first defense of that Youth title, that he has now held for well over 2 years. In the opposite corner to the exciting champion will be unheralded challenger Yuni Takada (8-6-2, 3), who really is a massive under-dog coming in to this.
For those who haven't seen Ishizawa you have been missing out on one of the most exciting and destructive Minimumweights on the planet. The 24 year old from Kanagawa is an all pressure fighter with seriously spiteful power, which will easily carry up to Flyweight without any issues. He's a come forward fighter, with under-rated defense, real hunger and a style that is developing fight by fight and he gets moulded by the folk at the MT Gym in Japan, who also guide the career of Junto Nakatani.
As an amateur Ishizawa went a rather under-whelming 28-14 but turned professional aged 20 and quickly caught the eye, winning his first 4 bouts in a combined 10 rounds, including a very good win over Tatsuro Nakashima. In November 2018 he showed his desire and toughness to break down Yuga Inoue in the 6th round, despite being out boxed for swathes of the fight, to claim the Japanese Youth title, though sadly really just sat on the title whilst chasing bigger things. He was on the verge of bigger things in 2019 when he competed in a Japanese eliminator against Masataka Taniguchi, and even dropped Taniguchi, but he was unable to defeat his countryman who took a clear decision over the youngster. Sadly Covid19 then delayed his ring return and he was inactive for 13 months as a result, before bouncing back last October with a win over veteran Masashi Tada.
Aged 24 Ishizawa is at the age where Youth champions are essentially forced to vacate the title and this will likely be his one and only defense before restarting his pursuit of the senior title later in the year. With a bit more maturity under his win and a few more bouts we suspect he will be ready for a rematch with Taniguchi sooner rather than later.
As for Takada he's had a very mixed career. The 22 year old debuted in 2015, winning his first 2 bouts before going 3-2-1 after 6 bouts. From there on he seemed to come undone every time he had any momentum going, in what has been a very blotchy 10 fight run. At his best he can be a very capable fighter and his win against Shunsuke Isa was good proof of that, as was his draw with Hizuki Saso. Sadly though his best is only that of a "capable" fighter, and at times he has been a lot less impressive than that. He has also never really tested any of his better opponents, including Toshiki Kawamitsu, who stopped him in 2019, and Norihito Tanaka, who took a decision over him last year.
Takada has got the tools to ask some questions. He has hunger, he has decent movement, under-rated toughness, and a very decent hand speed. Though the problem is he doesn't have anything that really stands out about him. He uses a lot of energy, lacks power and has been stopped in 3 of his 4 losses. Against Ishizawa they are major issues for a fighter.
Early on we expect to see Takada trying to establish his jab, and his jab is the quicker jab of the two men. Sadly though we suspect he'll struggle to really establish himself, and will instead find himself under pressure form Ishizawa. Ishizawa will back up Takada with his own stiff jab, eventually working his way inside and then breaking down the challenger, who will have no answer. Sadly for Takada we saw what Toshiki Kawamitsu's pressure and work rate did to him in 2019, where Takada had a good start but was broken down and saved by the referee. We expect something similar here. But quicker.
If Takada survives 4 rounds it'll be a moral victory for him.
Prediction - TKO4 Ishizawa
The 2020 Champion Carnival is slowly starting to come together and at the end of August we saw the Japanese title challenger decision bouts being announced. Before that announcement there was several already on the docket, including a Minimumweight eliminator between former world title challenger Masataka Taniguchi (11-3, 7) and hard hitting youngster Kai Ishizawa (6-0, 6), with the winner to get a shot in early 2020.
Of the two fighters Taniguchi is the much more proven and established. He's a former Japanese, OPBF and world title challenger and a former WBO Asia Pacific champion and has mixed with the likes of Reiya Konishi, Vic Saludar, Tsubasa Koura and Joel Lino. Before turning professional he was a solid amateur and was tipped for major success, but that success hasn't yet come. Notably he is still only 25, and despite the set backs through his career he still has time on his side, if he's still hungry enough to make the most of his talent. That hunger is however a big question and there is a chance that his losses have killed some of that desire to be a champion.
In terms of skill and style Taniguchi is an highly skilled boxer-puncher. Fighting out of southpaw stance Taniguchi is an aggressive fighter who judges distance well, fights behind a sharp jab and has under-rated speed and movement. His work rate isn't the highest and he's not a KO puncher but he is a solid puncher with a decent work rate. In fact when we think about Taniguchi, he's solid in every area, without being excellent in any, which is what was shown when he faced off with Saludar earlier this year. He's never going to be one of the truly top fighters in the division, but will remain a constant threat in and around the regional title scene.
Ishizawa is a 22 year old who turned professional in 2017 without too much fan fare, following a rather uninspired 28-14 amateur record. Since turning professional however he has impressed, thanks to his heavy hands, aggressive styles and pressure fighting mentality. Early in his career there was questions about how he'd look when he stepped up, but he answered those questions with stoppage wins over Tatsuro Nakashima and Yuga Inoue in 2018. Those bouts both saw Ishizawa needing to answer questions about what happens when a fighter can take his power, and the Inoue bout in particular was a huge test against a stylistic nightmare, that he eventually broke down.
Despite impressive performances against the likes of Nakashima and Inoue this is still a massive step up for Ishizawa. He's a hard puncher with an exciting pressure style, but he's up against someone who is more experienced, has more to his game, hits hard himself and moves well. The key for Ishizawa is to get close and work inside, but against someone who controls distance like Taniguchi that is much easier said than done and he will have to take punishment to get inside.
We'd love to see Ishizawa win, due to loving his style and youth, but in reality we feel this bout may be coming a touch too early for him and his inexperience will be exposed. Taniguchi may have come up short in his biggest bouts but he is talented, and even in defeat he has shown a real gritty toughness and determination. We suspect that grit will see him through some tough moments against Ishizawa, before taking a clear win, possibly even a late stoppage.
Prediction - TKO8 Taniguchi
One of the most exciting things to come out of Japan over the last couple of years has been the Japanese Youth titles. The titles were brought in to give young prospects a chance to gain a title before progressing onto senior titles, and as a domestic alternative to the WBC Youth titles. The belts haven't really got much attention since they were brought in, on what was essentially a trial period. Recently the JBC began to recognise them, and their potential positives effects on the domestic scene, and we'll be honest we genuinely do like them. They don't thin the talent pool like some of the other titles, as their market is so niche, but they do provide some very interesting match ups.
One such bout is a Japanese Youth Minimumweight title bout between 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year Yuga Inoue (7-0-1, 1) and the big punching Kai Ishizawa (4-0, 4), set for November 10th. Had their been no Japanese youth title we don't think we'd be getting this bout, as both fighters would likely prefer to build towards a national or regional title bout, but with the Youth title up for grabs we're expecting a genuine treat.
Inoue, no relation to Naoya Inoue, made his debut in August 2016 as a 17 year old, scraping a decision over Kisei Takada. He would secure another win before the year, over Riki Kakazu before coming into his own in 2017. In November 2017 he won the West Japan Rookie of the Year, despite only earning a draw with the then 6-0 Tatsuro Nakashima in the final before winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in December with a victory over fellow teenager Retsu Akbane. The win over Akbane was the one that really caught the eye with Inoue genuinely impressing through the bout. Since his big Rookie of the Year victory he has fought just once, scoring a stoppage win over Daisuke Sudo this past May, sadly failing to build on the Rookie triumph though would make up for lost time if he was to claim the Youth title.
In the ring Inoue is a very sharp puncher and educated fighter who can fight either on the front foot or the back foot. At his best he seems to be a very sharp counter puncher, and finds gaps where we wouldn't typically expect such a novice to see them. His body punching is crisp, and he looks to be a fighter who enjoys countering inside the pocket, showing real composure. The one major issue is his lack of power, having only scored a single stoppage, and he has been cut before, making us wonder about how his skin will hold up against a puncher.
Ishizawa on the other hand made his debut in June 2017, as a 20 year old, and was put into a 6 round bout straight away, beating an over-match Thai foe in the second round. He would follow that up with another second win over Yoshimitsu Kushibe and then an opening round win over another visiting Thai. It was however in his 4th bout that he really impressed, stopping the aforementioned Tatsuro Nakashima who had held Inoue to a draw last year. Sadly he was unable to build on that win when he had to pull out of a Japanese Youth title bout against Daiki Tomita due to a nose injury. That was a set back, but something he has recovered from, and like Inoue he will be wanting to make up for lost time as he looks to win his first title.
It was clear from the first minute of Ishizawa's debut that he was a very exciting fighter, who loved to bring the heat and put opponents under intense pressure straight away. He's a very powerfully built fighter and has serious belief in his power and physicality. There is a little bit of a crudeness to him, as we tend to expect in such a novice, but he looks calm, throws really spiteful body shots and looks to behead opponents. Given his physicality he's going to be a monster in the years to come, as he develops the know how to go with his power.
We believe that Inoue is the better boxer, he's technically better, sharper and more accurate. Sadly for him however his lack of power won't discourage Ishizawa who will apply his pressure and look to break down his foe. We suspect that pressure will pay off, and Ishizawa will grind down Inoue in 4 or 5 rounds of a great action fight. Inoue will certainly have moments, but the physical traits of Ishizawa will simply be too much for him to deal with.
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.