On October 12th we get 6 Japanese title eliminators, one of which will take place at Light Middleweight and see veteran Koshinmaru Saito (24-9-2, 13) take on Hironobu Matsunaga (13-1, 7), with the winner becoming the mandatory for the Japanese title in 2019. For Saito that would be his 7th Japanese title fight, and his 8th title fight all together whilst Matsunaga would be getting his second title fight, following a successful bout in a WBO Asia Pacific title bout in 2016.
Aged 39 Saito is pretty much in last chance saloon, though it does feel like we've said that before, several times in-fact. He has been a professional since 2001 and went 5-2 through his first 7 bouts, with both losses coming to Keiichi Arai. Since then however he has gone 19-7-2 with 6 of his losses and one of his draws coming in title bouts. Those set backs have seen him coming up short to the likes of Akinori Watanabe, Suyon Takayama, Yuki Nonaka, Takayuki Hosokawa and Takeshi Inoue. Whilst those results have been major set backs it is worth noting that Saito has scored notable wins over the likes of Yasuhiro Okawa, Shusaku Fujinaka, Yuichi Ideta, , Koki Koshikawa, Takehiro Shimokawara and Ratchasi Sithsaithong.
Saito is a true veteran but has found himself as the perennial bridesmaid on the Japanese domestic scene. A win here would open up another title fight but it would see him potentially falling short again. He has proven to be tough, solid, have a good work rate and despite not being a big puncher he does hit hard enough to get the respect of his opponents. He even put up a good fight against Inoue last year, before being stopped by the younger man. He can box, but he can also be hurt, and his one recent loss in a none-title fight was a blow out loss to Arnel Tinampay, who has regularly enjoyed success against Japanese foes.
At 31 years old Matsunaga is no spring chicken, but the Southpaw looks like he will have more in the tank than Saito. Not only is he younger and has had fewer fights but he has also taken less damage than his foe. His only loss came back in December 2014, when he was stopped in the Welterweight Rookie of the Year final by Yuki Beppu. Since then he has reeled off 8 straight wins including notable victories over Sansosuke Sasaku, Je Ni Ma and Patomsuk Pathompothong. Not only is he in good form but he's scored the wins over Ma and Pathompothong on the road.
Matsunaga is a solid boxer puncher, who knows how to turn up the pace and how to hurt opponents. He's not a world beater, and never will be, but he's a very competent fighter at Japanese level and has enough solid wins to make a name for himself, at least regionally. The one big issues about him is his inactivity, and he has only fought 7 rounds in the 24 months prior to this bout.
Saito is the more proven man overall, but we can't help feeling he's physically on the slide and we have to favour Matsunaga, who has the edge in power, youth and skills. Saito will bring pressure be feel Matsunaga will handle it early before turning the tables in the second half of the fight.
The Light Middleweight division in Asia has been a bit of a confusing scene in recent years. There's been talent there but the match ups have typically lacked in terms of competitiveness, excitement and pre-fight expectation. That's not to say it's been a shambles, but it does feel like it has been underwhelming at times and that we've not had a lot to really be excited about.
Thankfully this coming Tuesday we do get something really interesting to look forward to, as the unbeaten Takeshi Inoue (9-0-1, 4) takes on Koshinmaru Saito (23-8-2, 13) for the now vacant Japanese title, which was recently vacated by Yuki Nonaka.
The experienced Saito is a 38 year old professional who has been around the professional scene since 2001, racking up more than 30 fights and 200 rounds. His career however has been and up and down one. He has fought on 7 title bouts during his career and gone a disappointing 0-6-1 in those bouts. The first of those came back in 2009, against Daisuke Nakagawa for the Japanese Welterweight crown, and since then he has fought for the OPBF Welterweight and Light Middleweight titles, the Japanese light Middleweight title and has had repeated shots at the Japanese Welterweight title. Sadly for him the closest he has come to winning a belt was last year's draw against Takayuki Hosokawa for the Oriental Light Middleweight belt.
Although he has come up short regularly Saito has proven to be a top contender on the national and regional scenes. He has beaten most of the other top Japanese contenders, such as Shusaku Fujinaka, Yuichi Ideta and Takehiro Shimokawara, and has improved with age. He's not a special fighter but he's a solid fighter with under-rated stamina, solid power, having twice dropped Hosokawa and a gritty determinedness, hence why he is still fighting today. Sadly at his age he's not got long left in the legs and although he pushed Hosokawa hard last year that was 9 months ago and he has been inactive since then.
With just 10 fights under his belt Inoue has been fast tracked, which seems to be a thing today in Japan with fighters having that surname. Although he is an “Inoue” he isn't a relation to Naoya Inoue or the clan of fighters trained by Shingo Inoue, and isn't part of the popular Ohashi gym. Instead he's from the less well known World Sports gym,where he is seen as one of the gym's top hopefuls. Part of that fast tracking is due to his amateur experience, where he ran up a 39-16 (21) record and competed on the university, whilst the other part has been his performances since turning professional, an he has already notched up solid wins against the likes of Hisao Narita, Elfelos Vega, Chan Ho Lee and Akinori Watanabe, with that win being a particularly impressive one.
In the ring Inoue can box, he has under-rated power and solid stamina, with a real ability to hold his own in a brawl. It was that brawling ability that impress so much last time out when he beat Watanabe in impressive fashion. At just 27 he's coming into his prime and looks to be a fighter who is still improving in many ways, though this is a big step up against a man hungry to end his career as a champion. If Inoue can show his own desire and out work and out battle Saito then he'll announce himself on the domestic scene in a huge way perhaps open the doors to potential Oriental title fights, and much more.
Coming in to this Saito certainly has the edge in experience, however Inoue is almost 11 years youngster than his foe and is just as hungry. Sometimes experience is the key, but here we have to side with youth and back Inoue to out work and out battle Saito over 10 rounds, in a thrilling back and forth contest.
On July 31st Japanese fans will have a pair of title bouts in Osaka, at the Sumiyoshi Ward Center. The more notable of those bouts takes place up at Light Middleweight where OPBF champion Takayuki Hosokawa (28-10-4, 9) defends his title against Koshinmaru Saito (23-8-1, 13). For the champion it will be the first defense of the title, that he won last November from Dennis Laurente in a Split Decision, whilst the challenger will be having his 6th shot at a title belt, having gone 0-6 so far.
Aged 31 Hosokawa is having the run of his career with a 6-0-1 (2) streak against some solid names, like Patomsuk Pathompothong, Tadashi Yuba, Laurente and a draw with Yuki Nonaka. Given that he was, once, 11-6-3 (2) Hoskawa really has forged a solid career for himself and has claimed both the Japanese and the OPBF title at 154lbs.
The champion debuted back in 2002 and although he won his debut he quickly racked up losses falling to 2-3 within 18 months of his debut. Despite those setbacks, and others that left him with a record of 9-6 and later the 11-6-3 record mentioned above, he kept ploughing on, refusing to give up on his dreams. In 2011 he eventually got his first title bout, but was stopped by Makoto Fuchigami in a Japanese Middleweight title bout, before dropping back down to find his natural weight. Since losing to Fuchigami we've seen Hosokawa lose just once, and winning 10 of his 12 bouts. That loss, for those wondering, came to Akio Shibata who wasn't a bad fighter himself.
In the ring Hosokawa isn't anything special. We don't mean that in a harsh way either. He's not the fastest, the most powerful, the best mover or the strongest. What he is however is true worker and he will always give his all. It's that hard work that has seen him become the fighter he is today and it's that same hard work that sees him being such a frustrating fighter to face. He moves a lot, he throws a far bit, he stands up to opponents who want to try and impose themselves on him and given his southpaw stance he's also a bit extra awkward.
Whilst Hosokawa has built his resume following an awful start the same cannot be said for Saito. The worst the challenger's record has ever been was 5-2 (3) and whilst his record was never bad he has never been able to “get over the line” in a big one, with a 0-5 record in title bouts. The first of those title bout defeats came in 2009, when he was stopped by Daisuke Nakagawa whilst other defeats at that level have come to Akinori Watanabe, Suyon Takayama, twice, and Yuki Nonaka. He has also been stopped by the ever dangerous Arnel Tinampay back in December 2014.
Due to those losses Saito will be entering this bout 3-3 in his last 6, with defeats to Takayama, Tinampay and Nonaka and wins over Koki Koshikawa, Takehiro Shimokawara and a visiting Thai novice in what was just a stay busy bout.
In the ring Saito is another worker, but one who has shown durability issues in recent times. He has shown a perhaps questionable ability when he gets his big chances and we suspect we'll see that issue arise here,especially given that he's now 37. At his best he was a good title contender, but we suspect his best has been and gone, and whilst he could pose Hosokawa some problems we can't see him winning, even though this will almost certainly be his last big opportunity.
We suspect Hosokawa's relative freshness will be the difference and the champion will retain with a clear, but hard earned, decision in an engaging but not thrilling contest.
Nonaka returns against Saito, but will he continue his reign, or will the challenger finally win the big one?
On December 27th Japanese fans get two national title fights. In our eyes the lesser of the two comes at 154lbs where Yuki Nonaka (27-8-3, 9) defends his title, for the 3rd time, an takes on multi-time title challenger Koshinmaru Saito (22-7-1, 12), who has regularly challenged at Welterweight.
The talented Nonaka is one of Japan's rare fighters of note above 130lbs. He's a talented pure boxer who uses a lovely selection of punches, movement, timing and skills to win bouts. Watching him is actually a joy, despite his lack of power, and although he is just a stereotypical boxer he is a very solid boxer. Or rather, he was.
The champion is now an old fighter, he's a 38 year old who has been showing signs of ageing recently. His work rate and speed have started to show slight decline and his last bout, a draw against Takayuki Hosokawa, could easily have gone against him, whilst a win last December Charlie Ota was very close.
Well liked in Osaka the champion, a 16 year veteran southpaw, has had a career to remember. He turned pro 1999 and lost 3 of his first 5 bouts, before going 24-4-3. Among those early losses was a defeat by future OPBF Welterweight champion Taisei Marumoto and a loss that was avenge to Tsunamasa Hagari. When he finally found his stride however he did rack up some notable wins, including victories against Akihiro Furukawa, for the Japanese title in 2008 to begin his first as national champion, and Kazuhiko Hidaka, in 2009 to claim the OPBF title. His current reign however began last year, when he beat Kengo Nagashima by wide decision in what may turn out to be his final impressive performance.
Old and inactive in recent times, this is just his second bout of the year, Nonaka may find himself unable to rely on the skills and, movement and energy that has brought him his success so far.
Whilst Nonaka is certainly showing some signs of ageing it's fair to say that his opponent, Saito, is no Spring chicken himself at 36, and is actually just a few weeks away from being 37. It's is a “youth advantage” but only a minor one and that is likely to be neutralised by the fact he's a natural Welterweight and is some 4” shorter than Nonaka.
Like the champion, the challenger has had a long career. He debuted back in 2001 and lost to just one fighter in his first 14 bouts, running up an 11-2-1 (6) record with both losses coming to Keiichi Arai. He got his first tit,e bout in 2009, at 147lbs, and was stopped in 7 rounds by Daisuke Nakagawa. Since that loss he has come up short in 3 subsequent title bouts, being stopped by Akinori Watanabe in a JBC/OPBF title fight and twice being out pointed by Suyon Takayama. His only other recent loss was a surprising 2nd round TKO defeat to the criminally under-rated Arnel Tinampay, who dominated Saito for 195 seconds.
Although a beatable fighter Saito has actually had a very solid time over the last 3 years. He has scored wins over Shusake Fujinaka, Yuichi Ideta, Koki Koshikawa and Takehiro Shimokawara, whilst his only losses were to Takayama and Tinampay. Though of course the loss to Tinampay was by far the most “blip” like result on his record.
In good form, full of confidence and with an aggressive mentality Saito could well be on his way to topping his career with a title, at long last, or alternatively becoming one of the nearly on the Japanese domestic scene.
Given recent results it's easy to favour Nonaka. He's taller and has gone on a 8-0-1 run in the last 6 years, and is actually 13-1-1 in the last 8 years, whilst Saito is 2-2 in his last 4. However we sort of think that Saito is finally going to win a big one. We suspect he gets inside Nonaka and simply out works him, with the champion looking just a tiny bit lethargic in the second half of the fight as Saito's desire to get a major title shines through, leading to a very close but fair win for the challenger.
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.