By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On February 1st, the world ranked Keita Obara challenges Yuki Nagano for the Japanese championship, at the legendary Korakuen Hall.
Keita Obara (22-4 / 20 KOs) began his amateur boxing career back in high school, before joining Tokyo University. During that time, he won the National Sports Festival, which is considered to be Japan’s premier sporting event, twice. Despite losing on his pro debut, to the 9 year veteran Kazuyoshi Kumano (26-12), Obara went on to win 16 fights in a row, 15 of them being finishes.
Specifically, after capturing the Japanese Super Lightweight title, he squared off with former WBO Asia Pacific champion Jay Solmiano (19-3) for the vacant OPBF crown. Obara scored a knockdown, courtesy of a counter left, and finished him off seconds later with a right straight to the chin. He then defended his new belt against heavy hitter Shinya Iwabuchi (26-6), in an exciting affair, where he ended things in the very last round, after connecting with the powerful overhand left hook.
In a clash of top world title contenders, Obara took Walter Castillo (26-5) to the limit, delivering the punishment for 12 rounds, while leaving the Nicaraguan bloodied and bruised. Even though the contest was unfairly declared a draw, since Castillo refused the rematch, Obara eventually challenged the unified IBF & IBO World champion Eduard Troyanovsky (28-2), but was completely dominated in less than 5 minutes.
The Japanese star decided to move up to Welterweight and almost a year removed from this crashing defeat, he faced former WBC International champion Narong Bunchan (28-7) for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title. Obara put together an excellent combination, dropping his Thai rival in the 2nd round and kept throwing big shots until the referee stepped in and stopped the fight. He made a successful defense against Shusaku Fujinaka (16-12), whom he knocked out with a thunderous right hook.
In a surprising turn of event, Obara lost to the unheralded Alvin Lagumbay (11-5) in April of 2018, after a double knockdown occurred, from which only the Filipino managed to answer the 10 count, thus earning the biggest win of his young career. Obara would exact his revenge that summer, beating Lagumbay with ease and regaining the strap.
His second trip to America last year proved to be unfruitful, as he fought Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (17-0), for one more chance at the big one, in yet again another losing effort. Obara bounced back, when he scored his 20th knockout this past October over Toshiro Tarumi (12-4), showcasing his superiority in the ring, and becoming the number 1 contender for the Japanese Welterweight title.
Yuki Nagano (17-2 / 13 KOs) had also faced a few shortcomings early on his career but has been unstoppable since then, currently riding an impressive 15 fight winning streak for the past 6 years.
His first big match was against the then undefeated Yuki Beppu (21-1). Nagano displayed incredible power and hand speed from the get go, even dropping Beppu with a left straight in just the 2nd round, wining a clear unanimous decision. This victory gave him the opportunity to challenge the Japanese champion Ryota Yada (19-6) on April of 2019. It was a wild brawl that saw both men exchange punches nonstop as well as knockdowns. Finally in the 7th, Nagano overwhelmed Yada with a plethora of hooks in order to capture his first ever professional title. After demolishing Makoto Kawasaki (11-8) in his inaugural title defense, he will now be involved in the most important fight of his career.
Obara and Nagano are very similar, in the sense that they are quite relentless in the ring. Defense isn’t their strongest suit as they rather take a punch just so they can give one back. This strategy is always a recipe for an action packed match but has resulted in both men getting dropped on multiple occasions throughout their careers. Nagano’s favorite weapon is the left straight punch, which he uses in every single one of his outings, clubbing his opponents repeatedly like a caveman, until they go down. Obara also possesses KO power in his left hand, despite being an orthodox, as well as in his right, making him even more dangerous.
This will be a test of endurance and strength. Who can take the most and inflict the maximum damage at the same time. For Obara, who’s already at the top 5 of the IBF rankings, could be the win he needs to put himself closer to another world title opportunity, whereas for Nagano is the chance to finally burst into the world scene. So will Obara’s experience prove to be the difference maker or will Nagano’s unbeaten streak continue? One thing’s for sure. With 33 KOs between these 2 warriors, someone’s going down….hard!
Whilst many of the Japanese title eliminator bouts this year look like good bouts, even if few look great, the odd one does look like a mismatch, where we feel confident who know who will be the challenger for the Champion Carnival next year. One bout that looks like a mismatch is the Welterweight bout, which will see former world title challenger Keita Obara (21-4-1, 19) taking on Toshiro Tarumi (12-3-3, 6).
Obara is, of course, the more well known fighter. He is a former Japanese Light Welterweight champion, a former OPBF Light Welterweight champion and a former WBO Asia Pacific Welterweight champion. He has fought outside of Japan 3 times, fighting to a controversial draw in 2015 with Walter Castillo, being knocked out of the ring in a world title fight against Eduard Troyanovsky and being beaten by Kudratillo Abdukakhorov earlier this year. He also went somewhat viral thanks to his first bout with Alvin Lagumbay, which featured a dramatic double knockdown.
In the ring Obara is a talented fighter. He's a good boxer puncher, and although he's not world class he is a very capable fighter. He's really solid in terms of his boxing and his power is nasty at the regional level. Sadly his issue is his chin, and 3 of his 4 losses have seen him being stopped, including dramatic and very visual losses to Troyanovsky and Lagumbay. He's also not the quickest, which allowed Abdukakhorov to out box him relatively easily back in March. Despite his flaws it does take a good fighter to over-come him, and the general feeling is that he's still the best Welterweight in Japan, despite the recent rise of domestic champion Yuki Nagano.
At 25 years old Tarumi is someone who is relatively unknown outside of those who actively follow the Japanese scene, and even then he's still got a relatively limited profile. He debuted in 2014 and fought to 3 draws in his first 4 bouts. Worse yet he was 3-2-3 after 8 fights, an odd record to say the least. Since then however he has gone 9-1, with his only loss coming to the current national champion Yuki Nagano, as part of Nagano's current 15 fight winning run. In those 9 wins he has scored some solid domestic victories, with wins over the likes of Noriaki Sato, Takashi Inagaki and Shusaku Fujinaka, twice.
From the footage of Tarumi that's out there he looks a genuinely capable fighter, who has has plenty to like about him. He moves well around the ring, has a decent jab and throws some solid combinations. Where he lacks though is in terms of that extra something. He's not the most aggressive, he's not razor sharp with his punches and he's not got serious power. He's good, and he's likely to be a future fixture on the domestic title picture, but there's little there to really challenge someone like Obara.
We expect to see Tarumi coming out to fight, but lacking the tools needed to really test Obara who will get behind his jab, dial in his straights and slowly, but surely, break down Tarumi. Tarumi will be there to win, but will be broken down and stopped in the later rounds from the heavy hands of Obara.
Prediction - TKO7 Obara
On March 30th we'll see an IBF Welterweight title eliminator take place in the US featuring two Asian fighters, with unbeaten Uzbek Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (15-0, 9) taking on Japanese puncher Keita Obara (20-3-1, 18). On paper this is a mouth watering match up, and we're genuinely excited to see the two men clashing.
Of the two men the more naturally talented boxer, by far, is the 25 year old Abdukakhorov. He's a fantastic boxer with good clean punching, a good work rate, lovely accuracy and ring craft. There is a lack of real power, despite a very notable stoppage win over Charles Manyuchi, but he hits solidly with every punch and fighters will certainly his shots even if they aren't concussive blows.
The Uzbek was a solid amateur before turning professional in 2015. His first few fights were at home in Uzbekistan but before long he had began fighting through Asia with bouts in Malaysia and Singapore. It was those bouts that really saw him building his reputation, scoring solid wins over Larry Siwu, Adones Cabalquinto and the aforementioned Manyuchi. As well as those wins he has also travelled to Russia, where he clearly out pointed Dmitry Mikhaylenko, in what is arguably his most impressive win to date. For the most part it's been his sharp technical boxing which has won him fights, and allowed him to become a top, if often over-looked, contender.
Whilst the Uzbek is the better boxer Obara is the bigger puncher, by far. In fact the Tokyo based 32 year old is one of the best pure punchers in Asia. Sadly he's a bit of a glass cannon and all 3 of his losses have come by stoppage. Whilst his first loss, on debut against Kazuyoshi Kumano, was down to stamina and pacing, subsequent losses to Eduard Troyanovsky and Alvin Lagumbay were KO losses and spectacular ones at that. We're not going to suggest he has no chin, but it does seem like he doesn't react well when caught cleanly.
Whilst Obara does have a questionable chin he is a solid boxer-puncher and clearly will know that another loss will be the end of his world title dreams. He can't afford another set back, he will be fully focused and sometimes that's not the best thing. That can cause extra tension and take a fighter out of their natural gameplan. We don't think that'll be the case here, it's a still possible.
What we're expecting here is a tactical contest, with Abdukakhorov looking to get in and out, controlling the tempo and distance, making the most of his footwork, his jab and his boxing brain. He'll be wanting to set the higher pace and stop Obara from getting behind his jab. Although not as good a boxer, Obara's skills shouldn't be under-rated and he can box to a high level, so the Uzbek will want to be the one setting the pace, and not let Obara get relaxed.
We suspect that Abdukakhorov will set a high pace and will outbox Obara, but will have some hairy moments along the way, when he does get caught, does feel the power of Obara and does get forced to retreat and recover. The Uzbek might get staggered, or even dropped, but we does feel he'll do more than enough to take home the win, by decision and move onto a world title fight later in the year.
Boxing has a number of fearsome punchers across all levels of the sport. At the elite level we of course have Gennady Golovkin and Servey Kovalev, as well as Shinsuke Yamanaka and Keith Thurman. At the Oriental level we have the thunderously heavy handed Keita Obara (13-1, 12) who seems to destroy what he hits time and time again.
On March 13th fans get the next chance to see Obara in action as he looks to make the second defence of his OPBF Light Welterweight title and over-come the relatively unknown Yuya Okazaki (11-7-1, 4), who is looking for the biggest win of his career.
Obara certainly isn't the biggest name at 140lbs though he is among the biggest punchers in the division and he certainly has vicious lights out power. As well as that power he has impressive skills, movement and speed. We're not going to try and make out that Obara is a slippery and wonderful counter puncher but he's a solid boxer-puncher with a lot of variety in his shots.
One thing Obara has that many of the other promising fighters in the division don't have is a loss. This was suffered on his debut when he came up short against Kazuyoshi Kumano. In that bout Obara showed his inexperience and appeared over-confident before blowing his wad and being stopped out on his feet. Since that bout however the Japanese fighter has developed significantly with his pacing and stamina.
There are still flaws in what Obara does. His right hand can be rather wide at times and he does drop his left hand more than he should. With his power, movement and counter-punching ability he does punish opponents if they fail to make him pay for his mistakes. And when we say makes them pay we really mean it, as seen when he iced Shinya Iwabuchi last year with a thundering combination in the 12th round of their bout last year. Incidentally it was the bout with Iwabuchi that answered a number of questions regarding Obara's stamina.
Unfortunately we don't know much about Okazaki who is, genuinely, one of the most obscure OPBF title challengers we've seen recently. His record suggests he's nothing special with 7 losses in 19 fights and unfortunately for him it's not just the numbers that suggest his limitations but also his opposition. In fact with losses to Shoji Kawase, a debuting Accel Sumiyoshi, Kazuya Maruki and, more recently a stoppage loss to Hayato Hokazono it's hard to see what Okazaki has in his locker. In fact having gone 3-5 in his last 8 we really do wonder what “qualifies” him as a challenger.
Notably the 3-5 run of Okazaki in his last 8 does included his best win to date, a very close decision win over Daiki Koide. That, on paper, is a solid win though we can't imagine Koide being any threat at all to Obara so a narrow win over him tells us little about how Okazaki would cope with Obara.
Even though we view him as a major under-dog there are a few interesting little details about Okazaki which are worth making a note of. Firstly he's one of the few fighters that will be taller than Obara Light Welterweight, stood at 5'11” Okazaki is a tall fighter and boasts a ½″ height advantage over Obara. He is also a southpaw which could give Obara some issues, however he won't the first southpaw to face Obara who has already faced 4 southpaws, including Iwabuchi and Jay Solmiano.
Everything about this fight points towards an easy, mid-round stoppage for Obara who is too powerful, too proven and too good for Okazaki. On the other hand there is one question about the champion, how easily does he make 140lbs? We suspect this could be his last fight at the weight before he makes a permanent move to 147lbs where he will be more comfortable than he is at 140lbs.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Sometimes we get over-excited about bouts and feel disappointed when they don't live up to our lofty expectations. This happens and we know we're to blame for expecting more of fighters and fights. Sometimes however we get a feeling that something special will happen, our expectations won't just be met but will be exceeded. What we expect will be a war will be something even more brutal and exciting that we could have dreamt of.
We think that on August 11th Japanese fans may get one of those super special bouts as two huge punching, aggressively minded young fighters collide in an opportunity to prove themselves as the best 140lb fighter in the Orient and even move into, or up the, world rankings.
Going in to the bout the current and defending champion will be Keita Obara (11-1, 10), a 27 year old fighter from the Misako Gym. Obara was a top amateur with 55 wins from 70 bouts and was tipped for success as soon as he turned pro. Unfortunately he was matched incredibly hard on his debut and suffered a 5th round stoppage loss to the very experienced Kazuyoshi Kumano. Since then however Obara has developed mentally to become one of the most destructive fighters on the Japanese fight scene.
Since his sole loss Obara has scythed through his opponents with 10 stoppages in 11 subsequent bouts. Those stoppages haven't just come against limited foes either and have included wins over the likes of the very heavy handed Kengo Nagashima, a very tough guy, and Tetsuya Hasunuma, the only man to survive beyond 8 rounds with Obara. Those string of wins have also seen him claim the Japanese title, which he defended twice, and the OPBF title which he will be hoping to defend for the first time.
Although not technically the most talented fighter, Obara's power is genuinely potent and he's a scary man to get in the ring with. He can box on the back, box on the move or take the fight straight to you and his sole loss was down to maturity as opposed to skills or a weak chin. He tired himself out against a man who brought a lot of pressure to him and crumbled. Since then he has improved remarkably.
Challenging for the belt is another big puncher, Shinya Iwabuchi (23-4, 19). Iwabuchi is a 29 year old who didn't have the notable amateur success that Obara did though like Obara he too lost on debut, in fact Iwabuchi lost his first 2 professional contests. Since then however he developed into a very talented fighter and only lost twice, once to Daiki Koide in a notable step up, and once to Min Wook Kim in an OPBF title fight.
Of his bouts so far it's the Kim fight that was most interesting. The two men traded shots in one of the most exciting battles of 2013. Both men, at times, looked tired but both bit down on their gum shields to take part in an amazing fight that really didn't deserve a loser. It proved both men could take shots as well as throw them and it proved what the OPBF title really meant to both men.
Iwabuchi is the slightly more cautious of the two men here, at least to begin with. Iwabuchi will happily move under pressure and then strike like a cobra to take his chance to unload when an opening appears, as shown in his brilliant opening round victory against Shamgar Koichi. It was in that fight in particular, a Strongest Korakuen Final, that Iwabuchi's handspeed and combinations really stood out as he drew Koichi in then unloaded a maelstrom of punches to send his foe down after hurting him. Soon afterwards the referee had to stop the action.
What we have is not just two powerful puncher but we also have contrasting styles behind their power. For Iwabuchi his power and speed in combinations is destructive though in parts of fights he can get lazy and possible draw an opponent in to him. For Obara we have a heavy handed fighter who appears to have better 1-punch power but does lack experience has question marks over his stamina due to the fact he's been blowing opponents out.
We also have 2 men looking for their biggest win. For Iwabuchi this is a chance to claim an OPBF title at the second time of asking whilst for Obara his reword is a probable top 15 world ranking with the WBO and possibly also the WBC. Both guys are hungry, but guys are young and both guys know what the other brings to the ring.
What we're expecting is a thriller and, unsurprisingly, we don't expect this to go the distance. It will be violent, explosive and we expect both guys will be hurt at some point. We're not sure who will win but we know the fans will enjoy this one for as long as it goes on. It really will be something very special and in fact it's likely to be one of those FOTY contenders that only the lucky few who get to see it live will really appreciate.
The bout will headline Dangan 110 and we expect that it will be worth the ticket price by it's self, amazingly however it has been coupled with a brilliant Japanese Super Flyweight title fight as well.
(Image courtesy of Dangan boxing)
OPBF title fights seem to come in two varieties. They tend to either be total mismatches where one fighter, usually the champion, is an unbackable favourite or they are genuinely brilliant match ups with fighters on the verge of world rankings if not a world title a fighter. Whilst the mismatches, such as the recent bout between Yoshihiro Kamegai and Jung-Hoon Yang, are very much bouts to be missed and not thought too much off we get other bouts, like the recent contest between Jonathan Taconing and Vergilio Silvano, that are genuine FOTY contenders.
We get another potentially brilliant match on this coming Monday as former Japanese Light Welterweight champion Keita Obara (10-1, 9), one of the most fearsome punchets in Asia, battles Filipino Jay Solmiano (17-2-1, 13), a former OPBF Lightweight title challenger, for the vacant OPBF Light Welterweight title.
Of the two men it's fair to say that Obara has to be the favourite. He's not only fighting at home in Japan but he's also the naturally bigger man having fought his whole professional career at 140lbs or above and he's also the bigger puncher. Although he has lost that was back in August 2010, on his more than ambitious debut against the experienced Kazuyoshi Kumano, and since then he has been on a tear defeating opponents in double quick speed. Of his 10 victims so far they have survived a total of 50 rounds and none of them have really come close to beating him.
With vicious power Obara isn't someone you want to get hit cleanly by. He can sometimes be a slow starter though he knows he only needs to tag an opponent once to lay them out and he does tend to land the big, powerful, hurtful shot that either finishes and opponent or opens them up for the finish.
In Solmiano we have a fighter with a misleading record. Looking at it you see two losses though one of those came in Japan via split decision to Nihito Arakawa, a bout many felt Solmiano deserved to win, the other loss came inside a round to Rey Labao in a bout that Solmiano destroyed himself trying to make weight for. Since moving up from Lightweight, where he suffered both of those losses, Solmiano has gone 6-0 (6) and taken just 16 rounds to beat those 6 opponents. Although his record might not show it directly Solmiano is a big puncher himself.
Unfortunately for the 27 year old Solmiano he hasn't scored any win of real note and he has has lost both of his bouts with "name" fighters. Of course that doesn't mean he's bad but he's not proven himself to be at Obara's level. It's also worth noting that he wasn't the original opponent and instead he's a replacement for fellow Filipino Adones Cabalquinto. Sure he's been given plenty of time to prepare for the contest but Obara did get a few weeks preparation time. On the flip side of that point Obara was preparing for a different opponent.
As to the actual fight we're a very slow fight fought at a deliberate pace from both men early on. They both know they possess power and can almost certainly hurt the other man though can be badly hurt themselves. It'd be foolish for either man to get tagged in the opening round or two and be stopped. Instead they will ease themselves into the bout, maybe an occasional early exchange but only an occasional one. By round 4 or 5 however the pace will begin to quicken and this will leave us to eciting round or two before one man, we believe Obara, lands a bomb at some point. We're envisioning Obara tagging Solmiano hard and a follow up attack sends him down. We imagine the Filipino probably will get up but will be saved soon afterwards.
With both men capable of landing bombs it's not out of the question that Solmiano is the one who connects bit and that's why this one gets our pulses racing a little bit. Don't be surprised if this one starts pretty forgettably but ends up being something a little special before the end.
Interesting this title was vacated a while back by Korean Min Wook Kim. We'll be honest we would love to have seen a fight between Kim and the winner, it'd a very special fight between heavy handed fighters and it would be one of those fights where you couldn't take your eye off the action just in case one of them were to land a bomb. Hopefully the winner will get the chance to defend again Kim though it's looking very unlikely with the Korean having almost vanished off the face of the planet in recent months.
(Poster courtesy of boxmob.jp)
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.