This coming Tuesday fight fans at Korakuen Hall could be in for something of a hidden gem, as Koichi Aso (25-9-1, 16) defends his OPBF Light Welterweight title against Akihiro Kondo (33-10-2, 18), in what will be Aso's first defense of the title that he won in a major upset against Rikki Naito. The bout might not be pitting two prime stars against each other, but it does pit two men who's styles should gel to give us something a little bit special. In fact the styles of the two men could, genuinely, give us a Japanese fight of the Year contender.
The champion is a 36 year old who really is an unknown outside of Asia, in fact you could make a good argument that he's unknown out side of Japan's main island of Honshu. All 35 of his bouts have taken place in Japan, with 32 taking place in Korakuen Hall, where he has built a reputation as someone to watch. Fans who have followed the Japanese scene, and Aso's career in particular, will know that he's not only been a servant to the local boxing scene, but has also been one of the region's most fun and exciting fighters to watch over the last 16 years. Win or lose his bouts have typically been thrilling battles, even as he's gotten older and began to slow, notably.
Aso debuted in 2006 and first began to make some buzz in 2008, when he reached the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, fighting to a draw with Valentine Hosokawa. Over the years that followed he became a must watch fighter with his aggressive pressure style, all out aggression and physically imposing, high risk-high reward style being amazing to watch. It was a risky style, as we saw against the likes of Shinya Iwabuchi, but it was also one that made him a main stay at the top of the domestic scene. Sadly he did come up short in two Japanese title fights against Hiroki Okada, in 2014 and 2016, but in 2017 he made the most of his third shot at the title, stopping Kazuki Matsuyama for the title. His reign was a short one, but was an exciting one with a single successful defense coming against Yusuke Konno before he lost to Valentine Hoskawa for the second time. By 2019 it seemed his career was coming to a close, but last December he stopped Rikki Naito in arguably his best win to date. Aso is all about aggression, coming forward and looking to make every fight into a war. He's not the biggest puncher, or the quickest fighter, but his aggression, pressure and work rate make him great to watch.
Whilst Aso is unknown outside of Japan the same can't be said of Akihiro Kondo who is somewhat known internationally for his 2017 battle with Sergey Lipinets, when the two fought for the IBF 140lb title. He's also somewhat well known for his brutal KO at the hands of Apinun Khongsong. Aside from those two bouts he is, like Aso, very much a Korakuen Hall icon with 43 of his professional bouts taking place at the venue. Like Aso we've seen Kondo making his name on the Japanese since 2006, and he's very much a stalwart of the Japanese scene. Like Aso he began making a name for himself in the Rookie of the Year, winning it in 2007, an he would win the Japanese Lightweight title in 2009, though lost it in his second defense against Nihito Arakawa. He failed in an attempt to recapture the Japanese title in 2012 but had something of a resurgence in the years that followed. After beating Komsan Polsan in 2015 we saw Kondo reel off a run of wins that saw him win the WBO Asia Pacific title and fight in that aforementioned bout with Lipinets, which saw Kondo giving the hard hitting Russian a very competitive and tough bout. Sadly though since facing Lipinets he has gone 4-3-1 and has career has been heading to the end, despite a notable win last time out against Aso Ishiwaki.
At the age of 37 Kondo isn't the fighter he once was, but he's still an incredibly tough guy, who tries to serve the role as the immoveable object. He's got a tough defense, he's rugged, and he presses forward behind his tight guard, whilst looking to land great counter shots. Sadly for Kondo he has never been particularly quick, and as he's aged he has lost pretty much all his foot speed, which has allowed younger fighters like Andy Hiraoka to out box him and by simply using their feet and moving around the ring. For fighters wanting to go to war with him however, Kondo is a nightmare, thanks to his timing, his accuracy and his ability to press the action, as we saw in 2020 when he faced Daishi Nagata. He's smart and his career has seen him develop a lot of experience ring IQ.
When we see these to in the ring we expect to see both men wanting to establish themselves as the boss in the centre of the ring. With that in mind we're expecting to see both men standing toe to toe with Aso looking to set the tempo, with the higher work rate, and Kondo catching and countering shots up close, in a bout that could well be fought in a phone booth. The bout, for the most part, will be a case of intense action, with shots going back and forth up close. We suspect the energy of Aso will be the difference maker over 10 rounds, but we wouldn't be surprised at all by Kondo rocking Aso at least once, in what should be a sensational 10 rounds.
We think this will be close, thrilling, exciting, with Aso narrowly taking home the victory on the scorecards, in what could be the final bout for both men.
Prediction - MD10 Aso
This coming Tuesday is a massive day for Japanese boxing, thanks to the return to a Japanese ring of Monster Naoya Inoue. Inoue's show however isn't the only one in Japan, and a second show, set to take place at Korakuen Hall, will also be an interesting one with a pair of regional title bouts.
One of those bouts will see OPBF Light Welterweight champion Rikki Naito (23-2, 8) defending his title against Koichi Aso (24-9-1, 15), in a bout that was supposed to take place earlier this year before Naito contracted Covid19 and has to pull out of the original date. For Naito this will be his 5th defense, following his title win in early 2018 against Jeffrey Arienza, whilst Aso will be fighting in his first OPBF title bout, though he has fought for and won a Japanese title earlier in his career.
Of the two men the more natural talent is Naito. He's a second generation fighter, following in the footsteps of the success Cassius Naito, and a very pure boxer. The 30 year old southpaw is fast, fluid and a naturally athletic fighter who has had a very solid career since turning professional in 2011. He won the Japanese Featherweight title early in his career, and and made 3 successful defenses, including one over Masayuki Ito, before losing the title in 2015 to Kenichi Ogawa, who also beat him in a rematch a year later. His only two losses as those to Ogawa, and we all know how good Ogawa is now given his recent world title win. Following the losses to Ogawa he moved up in weight and has settled at Light Welterweight, winning the OPBF title in his in his third bout at the weight. Since winning that title he has defended it against Jheritz Chavez, Daishi Nagata, Gyu Beom Jeon and Yusuke Konno, with the Konno bout being his most recent, coming in November 2020.
In the ring there is no doubting Naito's ability as a boxer. He is an excellent talent, with a great array of punches, eye catching speed, natural footwork, good heart and desire and a very good boxing brain. There really is a lot to like with Naito. Sadly however there are also some real issues for him. Like many "fast" fighters he lacks power, and his shots don't really shift fighters. Since winning the title he has only scored a single stoppage, and that was when Yusuke Konno injured his arm and had to pull out of their bout after 9 rounds. He has had to go the distance with Chavez, Nagata and Jeon, and worryingly in the later rounds of all 3 fights he has been in trouble as his speeds has dropped off and his stamina has let opponents into the bouts. Chavez and Nagata both dropped him and we do wonder whether he can really shine against the other top 140lb fighters in Asia.
Aso on the other hand is a true stalwart of Japanese boxing, and a legitimate veteran of the domestic scene, even if he is an unknown outside of his homeland. The 35 year old made his debut all the way back in 2006 and quickly made a name for himself domestically as a very fan friendly fighter, who came out fighting at a high tempo, applying pressure, and letting shots go. Early on he had plenty of good results, reaching the 2008 East Japan Rookie of the Year final, being eliminated on the tie breaker rule against Valentine Hosokawa but his style would come up short against the bigger punchers, and he was stopped inside a round by Shinya Iwabuchi in 2011. After 21 fights he was 15-5-1 (9) and his career looked like it was going to be a fun to watch one, but one that never really went anywhere, but in the years that followed he would distinguish himself as a legitimate contender on the Japanese scene, battling twice with Hiroki Okada, in 2014 and 2016. When Okada vacated the national title he was there to pick up the pieces and finally won the title in 2017, and made a single defense of the belt, in a Japanese Fight of the Year contender against Yusuke Konno. Sadly since that win he has gone 2-2 and looked like an old, fighter.
At his best Aso was a bull in the ring. He was all energy, all aggression and all action. His style made him must watch, and although he was always crude, and lacked single punch power, he was made for TV. His output was high, his risk taking was obvious and overall he was incredibly fun to watch. Sadly his style does not age well, and at the age of 35 he isn't the fighter he was in his late 20's and early 30's. He can't keep up a high tempo, and his energy is lacking. He can no longer march forward for 10 rounds and throw a huge number of punches and instead fights in selective bursts.
In his prime Aso would have been absolute hell for a fighter like Naito. Naito's skills would have won him rounds, but Aso's pressure, output and volume would have helped sap the tank of Naito, and left Naito in hell in the later rounds, perhaps even being dropped late on for Aso to take a close decision, or a potential stoppage.
Sadly this isn't a prime Aso, but is a near prime Naito. Aso's inability to keep a high work rate will be a major issue here, and although he'll try to bully Naito early on, he'll not be able to keep up the output, allowing Naito to get in and out, get his shots off, create space and dictate the tempo. In the later rounds Naito won't be under too much pressure as Aso simply doesn't have the legs or energy more and will instead follow Naito as opposed to hunting him. After 12 rounds Naito will be running near empty but will end up easily surviving and taking home the victory.
Prediction - UD12 Nait
This coming Thursday Japanese fight fans get an early Christmas present with a potentially thrilling bout at Light Welterweight, as domestic champion Koichi Aso (22-7-1, 15) makes his second defense of the title, and takes on the exciting Valentine Hosokawa (21-6-3, 9). The bout combines two aggressive and exciting fighters with both looking to make a statement, and both going in to the ring with a point to prove. It may not make marks on the international stage, but domestically this bout is sure to be an all-out fire-fight and comes between men with some history.
The history between the two men is now 9 years old, with the two men having fought to a split decision draw back in 2008. That draw was in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, and saw Hosokawa advance to the final on the “Dominant Point” rule. That result was followed by Hosokawa winning in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, claiming the crown as the Lightweight Rookie of the Year. It's fair to say that Aso will be seeking revenge here.
Aged 31 Aso won the title in his third shot at it, following two losses in title fights against Hiroki Okada. Those losses to Okada are the most recent ones Aso has suffered, but he has also come up short against the likes of Shinya Iwabuchi and Jung Hoon Yang. Along with those losses are wins over the likes of Kazuyoshi Kumano, Moon Hyun Yun, Kazuki Matsuyama and Yusuke Konno. Through his career he has proven to be an ultra-aggressive and exciting pressure fighter fighter, who brings the action behind a tight guard and looks for a fight. Although Aso can be out fought, and out boxed, he does tend to make fights exciting and his title defense against Konno is a front runner for the best Japanese fight of 2017.
Aso's style has taken atoll on his body, and with 4 stoppage losses against his name he isn't the most durable. Despite that he seems to fight like a man who believes he can take bombs and that's part of what makes him dangerous. He heavy handed, aggressive and willing to take risks to stop opponents. He's not going to just back off because he gets caught and will instead fight fire with fire, and can be very hard to time when he's hurt.
Whilst Aso is a fighter with a tight guard and hurtful power the same cannot be said of Hosokawa, despite the fact he too is an aggressive fighter who enjoys fighting off the front foot. Hosokawa will instead march forward and let his hands fly, with a very high work rate, a great energy and a belief in simply out working and swarming his opponents. He can certainly be out boxed, and and he has been stopped in previous title bouts by the heavy handed pairing of Shinya Iwabuchi and Min Wook Kim, but even in his losses he has given opponents absolute hell. In recent years he has notched up notable wins against the likes of Jumbo Oda Nobunaga Shoten Petagine, Cristiano Aoqui and Quaye Peter and no one will begrudge him his 4th title bout here.
Aged 36 Hosokawa's huge energy reserves don't last much longer and he is certainly in the latter stages of his career. Having come up short in previous title bouts he probably knows that this will be his final shot, and it's hard to imagine him leaving anything in the tank. He may not have the power to hurt Aso, but he has the work rate to defeat him and the will to win to really give Aso hell.
What we're expecting is for the men to meet in center ring and for a 10 round, balls to the wall war. The guard of Aso will be hard for Hosokawa to break through, but he could end up handcuffing the champion with his out put. Aso's power could be the difference, and he may be able to make Hosokawa think twice about wildly working up close. Either way this is going to be a nail biting, violent and brutal contest that will have fans captivated from start to end.
Earlier this year Japanese warrior Koichi Aso (21-7-1, 14) claimed the biggest win of his career, stopping Kazuki Matsuyama in a bout for the vacant Japanese Light Welterweight title. It was Aso's third shot the title, and saw him finally win a big one. He returns this coming Friday to make his first defense of the title, as he takes on little known challenger Yusuke Konno (11-3, 5), who will be fighting in his first title bout, and looking to end Aso's reign.
For those who haven't seen Aso his style is the typical Japanese warrior style. He comes to fight, presses the action and always looks to have a fight. Sometimes that costs him, such as in his 2011 bout with Shinya Iwabuchi, but other times it sees him out battling and breaking fighters down, as he did against Matsuyama. It's a style, and mentality, that makes for fun action fights but has taken it's toll on him and his body isn't as tough and durable as it perhaps needs to be if he's to have a long career.
Although not a huge puncher Aso can bang, but often finds himself being dragged into wars of attrition, which is partly why he has been such a popular fixture at the Korakuen Hall over the last 11 years or so. During that 11 year career he really has faced almost everyone of note at the domestic level, including Valentine Hosokawa, Taisho Ozawa, Shinya Iwabuchi, Jung Hoon Yang, Moon Hyun Yun and Hiroki Okada, twice. He's generally struggled against the best domestic level foes, but has shown he belongs in there, and he has developed with experience.
Although Aso is well known and experienced at the top of the domestic tree the same cannot be said of Konno. In fact Konno's most notable bouts to date have all resulted in losses, with defeats coming to the likes of Hisao Narita and Kazuyoshi Kumano. To date his best wins have been over the likes of Kazuya Soma and Shusaku Fujinaka, which are decent wins but nothing outstanding.
Footage of Konno as easy to get as it is for Aso, and as a result it's harder to get a read on his style, but he's yet to be stopped, and has shown an ability to fight over 8 rounds at a good rate. This will however be a marked step up in class, and be his first over 10 rounds. Those two things alone will be a huge challenge for the 32 year old Kanagawa born fighter.
It's likely going to be a fun fight, and one fought at a high pace, but we suspect that Aso's extra experience will be the difference, with the champion coming out on top with a late stoppage, in a very fun and competitive bout.
On February 9th Japanese fight fans get a title double at the Korakuen Hall, as part of a Diamond Glove card to be televised on delay on Fuji TV. The lesser of those two fights is a Japanese title fight at 140lbs, and it will see the top two ranked Japanese fighters trade blows for the currently vacant title.
The match up will see former 2-time title challenger Koichi Aso (20-7-1, 13), the #1 ranked contender, take on first time title challenger Kazuki Matsuyama (13-7-1, 7), the #2 ranked fighter.
Of the two men it's Aso who is more well known. He's been a professional since June 2006 and has shared the ring with a who's who of domestic talent. He has fought to a draw with Valentine Hosokawa, suffered loss to Taisho Ozawa, twice, Shinya Iwabuchi and Hiroki Okada, twice, and holds wins over Yusuke Kikuchi, Kazuyoshi Kumano, Yoshitaka Katabami and Moon Hyun Yun.
Although those names might not resonate globally they do feature almost every notable Japanese Light Welterweight of the last decade, barring Yoshihiro Kamegai and Aso's Misako gym stablemate mate Keita Obara.
In the ring Aso is a rough around the edges pressure fighter, who brings the heat from early on and always looks to engage in a fan friendly battle. Sometimes that has cost him, as it in the opening round against Iwabuchi, other times it's kept him competitive in fights against more talented fighters, such as in the first Okada fight. Although not the most skilled, or the biggest puncher, few will double Aso's fighting mentality and he always comes to win whilst having a style that will always excite fans.
As for Matsuyama he's been a professional for a little over 7 years and has a very mixed record. He began with back-to-back losses before stringing together 6 wins to get his career off the ground. Sadly Matsuyama had another slide as he ended that run and suffered a trio of losses, including a notable set back to Masanobu Nakazawa in 2012. The streaky fighter bounced back again, winning 6 in a row, including a win over Masayoshi Kotake. That run ended in late 2015, when he was stopped by Shuhei Tsuchiya and he has since gone 1-1-1 with a loss to Daishi Nagata and a draw with Kentaro Endo.
At his best Matsuyama is quite limited. His poor recent form, with just 1 win in his last 4, would suggest he shouldn't be getting a title fight here, and although he can spring an upset it does seem like he's getting this fight more because no one else is seen as being quite ready for a title fight at the moment.
Aso might not be a huge puncher but with his style you'd have to favour him to over-whelm and break down Matsuyama. The style of Aso will give Matsuyama chances, but we don't think Matsuyama will be good enough to make the most of the openings he will be given, and will instead be stopped in the middle rounds.
Over the last few years we have seen a lot of attention in Japanese boxing focus on the very lowest weights, and with good reason given their wealth of talent at the lower weights. The domestic scene has however been interesting in some of the heavier weights with the 140lb Light Welterweight division being a particularly interesting one.
The star is, of course, Keita Obara who looks set to fight for a world title this summer. Below him however is a really fascinating division with numerous notable, exciting, talented and promising fighters, such as the promising trio of Koki Inoue, Shuichiro Yoshino and Yuki Konami, the exciting but flawed contenders like Shinya Iwabuchi and Shuhei Tsuchiya and the heavy handed Yoshimichi Matsumoto.
On April 19th we see two of the most notable Japanese domestic fighters at the weight collide, for the second time, in a mandatory title defense that could, potentially, be the fight of the week.
The bout in question sees unbeaten champion Hiroki Okada (11-0, 9) [岡田 博喜] defend his belt against the ultra-aggressive Koichi Aso (20-6-1, 13) [麻生 興一], with the bout being Okada's 4th defense of the title and Aso's second shot at the belt.
In their first bout Okada narrowly over-came Aso, with a 10 round decision that saw all 3 judges score the bout 96-94 to the champion. Since then both fighters hack racked up a pair of stoppage wins, with Okada defending his title twice and looking like a fighter who is making great strides in his development.
Aged 26 the champion really is a fighter with a lot of potential. That potential has helped him gain a WBO world ranking and score several wins of note, including his first win over Aso and recent stoppages over Hayato Nakazano and Masanobu Nakazawa. He may not have major wins on the international stage but we suspect that that's where he will be heading later in the year with an OPBF title shot likely to come in the next 12-18 months. Sadly his development was slowed last year, due to a hand injury, but he looked better than ever when he stopped Nakazawa back in January.
Okada is heavy handed but appears to be a fighter who simply has heavy hands, rather than a fighter who throws with bad intentions. As a result he has shown he can box, he move and looks to be a natural counter puncher, making him even more dangerous than just his power.
In Aso we have a man who really is flawed but yet has a box office style with a lot of aggression, plenty of power and a somewhat questionable chin. He has been stopped in half of his losses, including an opening round defeat to Shinya Iwabuchi though strangely suffered all 3 of those stoppages in his first 3 defeats. Since then it appears his defense, as opposed to his chin, has improved yet he is still an “in your face” fighter with an aggressive, pressure style that is incredibly fun to watch.
Since the loss to Okada back in 2014 Aso hasn't been massively active, with 15 combined rounds, but at 30 years old, and with his style, the inactivity has likely helped him rather than hindered him coming in to this bout. He's not been taking damage, he's been giving his body time to relax and he's been able to plan for another big fight.
Given the styles of the men we are expecting this one to be very fun. Aso will, as always, come forward and whilst we suspect he will have some success we can't help but think that Okada's clean counters, especially from his uppercutts, will take their toll on the challenger who will eventually succumb to the champion. We could see Aso grinding down Okada but we suspect Okada will retain his title in style and score a more impressive win over Aso than he did in their first meeting.
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.