The sport of boxing is back in Japan, and has been for a few days now, following the hiatus we had due to the ongoing global situation. On July 16th we had our first Japanese title bout and now we return with another from Korakuen Hall. Like the bout from last week this is another Champion Carnival bout, pitting a defending champion against their mandatory challenger, though unlike that bout neither of these two men are all that well known. Despite that this may end up one of the month's better bouts.
In one corner wee will have Japanese Super Flyweight champion Kenta Nakagawa (18-3-1, 12), looking to make his first defense of his second reign, whilst the other corner will play host to mandatory challenger Yuta Matsuo (15-4-2, 8), who is hoping to make it third time lucky after previous losses in title bouts.
Of the two men it's Kenta Nakagawa who will be entering as the favourite. The Southpaw from the Misako gym is part of a gym having great success in recent years, and we know success breeds success in boxing. He's the champion going in, he's riding a 5 fight unbeaten run and claimed the title in a bit of an upset last December, dethroning Takayuki Okumoto in Osaka. He has proven that he's a solid boxer-puncher and the win over Okumoto just added to his reputation.
At the age of 34, and turning 35 in August, Nakagawa is an old fighter for the division, but hasn't taken too much punishment. His 22 bouts have combined for 102 professional rounds and he has only suffered a single stoppage loss so far, when he lost the Japanese title the first time in a 2017 clash with Ryuichi Funai. Sure he's old, but he's a young 34 at the weight, without too many hard miles on his body and has scored plenty of quick wins to keep the miles off the clock.
The challenger has gotten this bout despite failing to secure a single win last year, going 0-1-1. His loss came to Okumoto in last year's Champion Carnival, when he challenged Okumoto for the title Nakagawa now holds, and he then went on to fight to a draw with Hiroyuki Kudaka in what was a title eliminator. Despite the draw he gets this shot due to being ranked #1 going into that bout. Not only is he without a win in the last year but he's also come up short in 2 title bouts, the one with Okumoto and one with Masayuki Kuroda in 2017. Added to those set backs is the fact he's also the naturally smaller man, fighting mostly at Flyweight.
Although the under-dog Matsuo is a live challenger coming in to this bout. His form might not be great but wins over the likes of Ryoji Fukunaga, Ryuto Oho, Seiya Fujikita and Yota Hori show he can beat good fighters. Also he's stylistically a nightmare at this level. He's strong, comes forward, tough, throws solid shots, even if they aren't destructive, and can keep a good work rate. He's not the most intense, and he can be found walking in without letting shots go, but he will make people fight for every minute of every round, pressing them and trying to break their heart.
We expect to see Matsuo pressuring, getting on the front foot and making Nakagawa work hard, from the opening round the champion will need to be on his toes, picking his shots. Thankfully for the champion he does appear to be a solid, hard hitter who lands clean, and he may well manage to get Matsuo's respect with his heavy straight shots. We don't think Nakagawa will stop Matsuo, but we do think he'll land the better blows, create the space he needs to work from and keep Matsuo at bay and take a clear, but hard fought, decision to retain his title.
Prediction - UD10 Nakagawa
The Super Flyweight division has been on fire internationally the last few years, with the likes of Roman Gonzalez, Naoya Inoue, Juan Francisco Estrada, Donnie Nietes, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Jerwin Ancajas and Kazuto Ioka all making a mark at 115lbs. Sadly however the Japanese domestic scene has been awfully lacking in terms of quality, in what seems like a genuine oddity. Since Sho Ishida vacated the title more than 3 years ago we've not seen a champion hold the title who seemed like they had the ability to go all the way to the top. Instead we've had Kenta Nakagawa, Ryuichi Funai, Hiroyuki Kudaka, and now Takayuki Okumoto (23-8-4, 11) holding the belt.
On December 8th Okumoto returns to the ring in search of his 4th defense, as he takes on former champion Kenta Nakagawa (17-3-1, 12).
Okumoto is a strange one. We can never criticise a fighter for being a trier and he is certainly a trier. He was a young prodigy who failed to have things immediately click, and bizarrely fought former world champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin in just his second pro-fight. After 18 bouts he was 10-6-2 (5) but since then he has gone 13-2-2 (7) with both losses coming to fighters who have fought for world titles, Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking and Ryuichi Funai.
In 2018 Okumoto finally scored a big win, narrowly over-coming Hiroyuki Kudaka to become the Japanese Flyweight champion, and since then has defended the belt against Masayoshi Hashizume, Yuta Matsuo and Dynamic Kenji. Sadly he's only looked genuinely good in one bout, the one against Kenji, and he's typically been rather lucky and had to battle hard for the wins. He's not got any massively impressive traits, but he's tough, has a lot of desire and is a hard man to beat, without being a huge puncher, or particularly fast. He's just a tough, solid, all rounder.
Aged 34 Nakagawa is very much coming to the end of his career, but the southpaw boxer-puncher is another who has turned around a faltering start. He began his career 2-2 but has since gone 15-1-1 (10), with his only loss during that 17 fight run coming to Ryuichi Funai. Sadly his run isn't as impressive as it sounds however and his best wins have been against Joe Tanooka, Ken Achiwa and Hayato Kimura, the man he beat for the Japanese Super Flyweight title. His recent wins have been, mostly, low key with 3 wins coming against novice Thai's.
At his best Nakagawa likely had the skills, the power and the tools to give Okumoto absolute fits. Sadly though it's hard to really know what he has left in the tank. He has fought just 7 rounds in the last 20 months, is 34 and whilst he hasn't taken too much damage he is certainly an ageing and worn out fighter.
We suspect that Okumoto's team have again got him a fighter who he can scrape a win against with out impressing. We suspect he will see out the storm that Nakagawa will bring and will do enough to rack up the rounds needed to take the victory, even if he doesn't look sensational doing it. He will out work, out battle and out box the older man just enough to take home the victory.
Prediction - U10 Okumoto
Last year we saw Sho Ishida vacate the Japanese Super Flyweight title, resulting in a bout that saw Kenta Nakagawa (13-2-1, 9) over-come Hayato Kimura to become the new champion. The bout was a really good one that helped put the 31 year old Nakagawa on the boxing map, and build on wins over Joe Tanooka and Shuji Hamada. This coming Wednesday Nakagawa returns to the ring to defend the title for the first time, as he takes on veteran Ryuichi Funai (26-7, 18). For Funai the bout gives him a third title shot, and a chance to continue a brilliant run for the Watanabe gym.
Entering as the champion Nakagawa has a lot more to lose than to gain here, however the 31 year old won't be thinking about losing, but instead he'll be focused on defending his crown.
In the ring the champion is a bit of a crude slugger, he's not out and out wild, but he does have rough edges in terms of his boxing ability. Those rough edges will probably holding him back from becoming an OPBF champion, but they are are the typical edges you see at domestic level. They are, however, coupled with spiteful power which can shut down fighters offensively, or at least make them cautious enough to think twice about opening up.
Not only is Nakagawa a heavy handed fighter but he's also a tough fighter, who can take a solid shot to land his own. That was shown against Kimura, who landed a fair bit of his own leather but was put on the back foot frequently, and has been shown against other decent foes. It's also worth noting that since progressing beyond 4 rounders Nakagawa is unbeaten, going 9-0-1 (7) in bouts scheduled longer than 4 rounds. It is, however, worth noting he has only been beyond 4 rounds twice, going 2-0 in those bouts, with his power being particularly potent in the first 4 rounds.
Entering as the mandatory challenger Funai will be seeking his biggest win to date, though it will be his third shot at a title having previously fallen short in an OPBF title fight against Rolly Lunas and a Japanese title fight to Sho Ishida last year. One other notable loss on his record was a 7th round loss in 2009 to Shinsuke Yamanaka. It's also worth noting that 2 of Funai's other losses were in his first 4 bouts, when he was a real novice.
In the ring Funai is tougher than you'd expect, given he has been stopped 3 times, he's technically sound and has a good engine, in fact he gave Sho Ishida absolute fits late in their bout. With 18 stoppages in 26 wins he's a solid puncher, but isn't a massive puncher, and although he can hurt fighters his most notable stoppages have been against the likes of Ryuta Otsuka, Masafumi Otake and Teppei Kikui, though decisions over Gakuya Furuhashi and Akinori Hoshino are good decision wins.
It's also worth noting that the Watanabe gym, who manage Funai, are having a year to remember. They have seen Nihito Arakawa, Yusaku Kuga and Hiroto Kyoguchi win titles already this year and that type of success and bred more success, driving on the likes of Funai on to perform better.
Both men are over-looked domestically, but both are very solid domestic type fighters, and both will be fighting with a point to prove. For Nakagawa the point to prove is that he deserves the title whilst, and that he should be viewed as the best on the domestic scene. For Funai it's that he deserves to win a title before his career is over, it's that he deserved a third shot and that he is worthy of becoming a champion, rather than another also ran.
Sadly for Funai we don't think this will be his night. We think the power and aggression of the champion will be too much and that he will, eventually, wear down Funai in what will be an exciting, and action packed bout with plenty of exchanges, but with those exchanges ending in favour of Nakagawa, who we think will stop Funai in round 9 or 10.
The Super Flyweight scene is arguably the hottest in the sport today with both great fighters and great match ups. Unlike many divisions the best seem happy to fight each each other and fighters like Naoya Inoue, Roman Gonzalez, Carlos Cuadras and Juan Francisco Estrada seem more focused on their legacies than on picking up easy win after easy win. Whilst the guys flying the flag for the division at the top are now becoming names known around the world the lower level guys are also not avoiding each other and when Sho Ishida vacated the Japanese title several fighters made it clear they wanted that gold and black title.
As a result of Ishida vacating we'll now the Japanese #1 and #2 face off with Kenta Nakagawa (12-2-1, 9) taking on Hayato Kimura (25-8, 16) for the vacant title. The two men are certainly very different, and have had incredibly different careers, but their hunger for the title is the same and both will come in to this looking to prove they are the better fighter.
The #1 ranked fighter coming in to this is the 31 year old Nakagawa, who made his professional debut in December 2004 but had a very frustrating start to the sport. After winning his debut he would lose to Yasutaka Ishimoto, yes the current Japanese Super Bantamweight champion, he would then fight once more in 2005 before spending more 6 years away from the ring. He returned to the ring with a loss, to fall to 2-2 but has since gone 10-0-1 (9) scoring notable wins over Jo Tanooka and Shuji Hamada as well as having technical draw with Toyoto Shiraishi.
Sadly footage of Nakagawa has been very hard to come by come into this one, however fans who have seen him have described him as a venomous puncher with his straight left and as he's a southpaw he's a nightmare to fight anyway. Although a puncher the fact he has a win over Tanooka suggests he can box as well as bang. Reports suggest that he is an exciting fighter and his win over Hamada was an eye catching KO.
Although very little footage of Nakagawa is out there the same cannot be said of Kimura who has had much of his career documented on film. He began his career in 2005 as a 16 year old fighting in Thailand before making a name for himself in Korea where he claimed the Korean national title in 2007. By the start of 2013 Kimura was 19-5 (14) having fought in Japan 7 times, Thailand 5 times, Korea 9 times and the Philippines, once. It was however from 2013 that he began to fight full time in Japan and he has since gone 6-3 in the land of his birth .
On paper that 6-3 record in Japan sounds pretty poor but he hasn't been matched easily with bouts against the likes of Marlon Tapales, Michael Dasmarinas, Jomar Fajardo, Sho Ishida and Toyoto Shiraishi. Given that level of competition his record is less poor, and given his “pre-Japan” record includes losses to AJ Banal and Oleydong Sithsamerchai it's again to say his record has suffered because he's tried to prove himself.
In the ring Kimura is a fast fighter with lovely hand speed and combinations, however he really lacks power at this level and struggles to get the respect of opponents. He's well schooled and tougher than one would assume, given he's got 3 stoppage losses but can still be hurt, though he now knows how to react to getting hit. His biggest flaw, at times, is actually knowing when to strike though he has proven to be capable late in fights and that could be a key here given that Nakagawa has only gone beyond 4 rounds once.
For Nakagawa the gameplan is obvious. Jump on Ishida, give him a shell shock early and don't let him off the hook, go for the finish and chase it before Ishida can take the bout in to the middle rounds. For Ishida the key is to avoid a tear up early on. If he can see off the early storm then he will grow into the fight whilst Nakagawa fades, and that could open the doors for the Watanabe man.
We think Nakagawa's power will be the difference, but we know that is Kimura can see off the early storm he really could take this in a potentially brilliant match u
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.