Every so often a match up comes around where the first impression isn’t a guess at who’s going to win, or how, but is instead a feeling that “that’s gonna be awesome”, and that was the case in December 2019 when Kosuke Saka (20-5, 17) won the Japanese Super Featherweight title knowing that Takuya Watanabe (37-9-1, 21) was waiting in the wings as the mandatory challenger. Following Saka’s win the bout was supposed to take place in April 2020, as part of the Champion Carnival, though was sadly postponed due to the ongoing pandemic, which ended up postponing almost all of the Champion Carnival bouts from last year.
Despite the delay to the fight it is still a bout that seems almost certain to be something special. Really, really special. And really brutal.
For those who don’t follow the Japanese scene, the easiest way to sum this up is “aggressive monster with brutal power, up against insanely tough blood and guts warrior”. That sort of combination always makes for spine tingling action, thrilling back and forth exchanges and the sort of fight that reminds you why you love this sport. And that’s exactly what we are expecting here. Neither man is world class. Neither man will be expected to use the Japanese title and leapfrog into a world title bout. But that doesn’t really matter, this is going to be an hellacious fight deserving of your time, attention, and eyes.
The 28 year old Kosuke Saka doesn’t have a record of a champion, with 5 losses in 25 bouts. He is however much better than his record suggests and his losses have, for the most part, not been embarrassing ones. His first loss was in 2012, in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final against Masayuki Ito. That was quickly followed by him losing 2 of his next 4, including a TKO loss to Hiroshige Osawa. The loss to Osawa was followed up by Saka reeling off 8 T/KO wins, including victories over Ryuto Kyoguchi - Hiroto Kyoguchi’s older brother, Takafumi Nakajima and Shota Hayashi. Winning the Japanese the Japanese Featherweight title with his win over Hayashi. Sadly though his reign was an embarrassing one, losing the title in his first defense, against Takenori Ohashi, when he misheard the 10 second clacker and confused it for the bell, giving Ohashi a free shot, which he took, knocking Saka out cold.
Saka bounced back from his title loss by moving up in weight, stopping touted prospect Masanori Rikiishi in 2 rounds and then taking out the limited Gusti Elnino, before being brutalised by under-rated Filipino Joe Noynay in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title. That looked like a bad loss, until Noynay followed it up and battered Olympic bronze medal winner Satoshi Shimizu a few months later. Since the loss to Noynay we’ve seen Saka fight twice, a nothing win against Isack Junior and then a sensational win against Masaru Sueyoshi last December to win the Japanese Super Featherweight title. That win over Sueyoshi was Saka at his best. He was marauding throughout, bullying Sueyoshi, taking the space away from the technically well schooled Teiken man, and breaking him down round by round, until Sueyoshi was left a ruined man midway through round 6.
In the ring Saka is a monstrously hard hitting bully. He has brutal power, in both hands, he presses forward with one thing in mind, destruction, and he fights like every punch he throws is designed to break bones. He loves coming forward, applying pressure behind a stiff jab, pushing opponents on to the ropes and going to work. He’s all about heavy shots, coming forward and not taking a backwards step. His mentality is to break his opponents. Offensively he is a brutal monster. Where he is flawed however is defensively. He can be countered, he can be caught clean, and he can regularly over-commit. His footwork isn’t the sharpest out there, crossing his feet much more often than he should, and when hurt he can be slow to recover, as we saw against Noynay where he never regained his composure after the first of several knockdowns.
Saka’s biggest issue however is his mental state. It was a mental lapse against Ohashi that cost him and it was his lack of composure after being hurt that was his downfall against Noynay. If he can be locked in, as he was against the likes of Hayashi and Sueyoshi, he is very hard to beat. But his two recent stoppage losses does leave us wondering about how consistent he is, and where his mind is focused coming into this bout with Watanabe.
The 31 year old Takuya Watanabe is a true veteran of the ring, having debuted almost 14 years ago to the day. He is one of the most experienced men currently fighting in Japan, with 47 bouts and 289 rounds to his name, and he is also a surprisingly well travelled fighter with bouts in Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, China and Taipei. In fact 14 of his 47 bouts have been fought outside of Japan, including his infamous 2014 blood bath with Jae Sung Lee in South Korea. A bout that really did see Watanabe leaving his blood all over the Gwanakgu Hall, in Seoul.
Of course there is much more to Watanabe than just being a road warrior, in fact there’s a teak tough competitor, with a hugely under-rated skill set, an amazing will to win, and a real hunger to win a Japanese title before he hangs them up. A title he wants to add to a collection that includes a WBC Youth world title, an IBF Asia title, a WBO Asia Pacific title, a WBO Oriental title and an OPBF “silver” title. Despite his collection of silverware he has been eluded by a Japanese title, losing in previous bouts for the title against Hisashi Amagasa and Satoshi Hosono.
Through Watanabe’s career he has really built his reputation and has had nothing handed to him. He turned in 2007, as a teenager and won his first 6 before losing to the mysterious Saengachit Kiatkamthorngym, in what appears to have been Saengachit only professional bout. He quickly fell from 6-0 to 10-3-1 (3) and struggled to find his identity in the ring. By 2012, when he fought Hisashi Amagasa, he had advanced his record to 15-3-1 (4) but had no idea how to deal with Amagasa and the “Slimming Assassin’s” unique physical features. Rather than biting down and fighting hard, like he would now, he looked lost and confused. But then Watanabe started to find himself, and built a reputation as a legitimate warrior on the back of his 2014 bout with Jae Sung Lee, where he spent much of the bout painting the canvas red, but refused to back down, and ran Lee close. By then he was a 25 year old fighter boasting a 20-5-1 (8), but also a man building a reputation as a warrior.
In 2015 Wayanabe got his second Japanese title fight and ran Satoshi all the way in a loss that helped solidify him as a solid, upper domestic level boxer. He wasn’t a fighter, he was a boxer. A tough as nails boxer, with a busy work rate and the ability to hold his own in exchanges with Hosono. In fact he was unlucky not to get the nod in a bit of a forgotten classic. Since then he has been really busy, facing a mix of lower level talent, to tick over and get experience on the road, and upper level talent, with losses to Masayuki Ito and Hironori Mishiro, where they simply out boxed him. In 2019 however he earned another Japanese title fight, this one, on the back of winning a brutal 8 round decision against Taiki Minamoto in a Japanese title eliminator. That was supposed to secure Watanabe in 2020 but due to Covid19 the bout, as mentioned, got postponed and will not be taking place this coming Friday.
In terms of his style Watanabe is probably quite fairly described as a fighter-boxer. He can box, and is a solid boxer, with a solid and busy jab, and he likes to use his footwork, setting shots up at midrange and using some very underrated skills. However he’s at his best when he turns into a fighter, taking a fight into the trenches with his educated uppercuts, hooks, crosses and lovely flowing combinations. When he gets the fight at mid to close range he covers up a lot of his flaws, such as his slow feet and his almost trudging pressure. At range he can be out boxed, as Amagasa, Ito and Mishiro showed. In the trenches however he will hold his own with anyone at domestic level. What helps there is his incredible chin, his amazing hunger and his willingness to take a bomb to land his own shots. If a fighter wants to go to war, Watanabe will go to war.
It’s the willingness of Watanabe to go to war, and his eagerness to fight fire with fire that makes us so excited here. It’s Saka’s power, pressure and aggression, against Watanabe’s toughness, sneaky combinations and inclination to respond when he’s hit that should make for something special here.
Saka is certainly the heavier puncher, the more destructive fighter, and the man who, if he lands clean, can genuinely do damage. But what happens when the irresistible force hits the immovable object? Watanabe is certainly the better boxer, but can he withstand the tenacity of Saka? Likewise can Saka mentally stay strong when shots that have been forcing men to crumble have no effect on Watanabe?
Predicting this one is tough, though predicting any Saka fight is tough, with the only sure thing being that this will be something truly captivating.
If pushed to select a winner, we’ll be going with Watanabe to weather out the storm from Saka, make him question himself and crumble late. Despite that the reality is that any outcome here is possible and that the journey to the final result is going to be thoroughly engrossing, beautifully brutal and fantastically physical.
If you’re a Boxing Raise subscriber you will not want to miss this one. And if you don’t subscribe to Boxing Raise, you should, even if it’s just to watch this bout! It may have taken over a year of waiting for this one, but we are just as excited as we were when we went into 2020
Prediction - TKO9 Watanabe
On December 7th we'll see a really interesting Japanese Super Featherweight title fight, as the defending champion Masaru Sueyoshi (19-1-1, 11) takes on former Japanese Featherweight champion Kosuke Saka (19-5, 16). On paper this is a bout that, if Sueyoshi wins, will likely see him begin an ascent towards a world title fight, whilst Saka will know that a win brings him a second Japanese divisional title, and set up a very interesting first defense at the 2020 Champion Carnival against Takuya Watanabe.
The once beaten champion is on a 17 unbeaten run, going 16-0-1 (8) with 4 defenses already under his belt. Whilst he hasn't always shone as the champion, and certainly doesn't appear to have found that new level that title holders often find, he has shown enough to suggest that he can get beyond this level, though may well need to see the stakes rise to get the best out of him. He is a smart boxer-moved, with a very odd and unique sense of distance and range. He looks talented, is a sharp puncher, but often a bit too negative to really enjoy watching, no matter how skilled he is.
At his best Sueyoshi is a brilliant counter puncher. His 2017 KO win over Allan Vallespin is one of the best KO's we've seen in years, but at his worst he struggles to make opponents make mistakes and can't always force the fight himself. We've seen him twice fail to shine against Ken Osato, winning the first in 8 rounds against a tired Osato and struggling to a majority decision in a rematch. He very much needs the right type of dance partner to look great against, but is a genuine talent and if given an aggressive foe he can look sensational.
In Kosuke Saka we'll Sueyoshi take on a legitimate puncher, but a flawed puncher and someone who hasn't looked great in recent performances. Saka has been a professional since 2012 and suffered his first loss to Masayuki Ito in the 2012 Rookie of the Year, incidentally Sueyoshi suffered loss to Ito in the same tournament, and his career really struggled afterwards with Saka losing 2 of his 4 bouts following the Ito bout. Those losses were however followed by a strong run of results as Saka beat the likes of Ryuto Kyoguchi, Takafumi Nakajima and Shota Hayashi, to become the Japanese Featherweight champion. As the time it seemed his career was going places, and he had stopped 8 in a row, but then he lost the title when he mentally switched off and lost to Takenori Ohashi. Since the loss to Ohashi we've seen Saka going 3-1 but a loss in 2 rounds to Joe Noynay certainly suggested that he'd become a bit of a glass cannon.
Saka, at his best, is a wrecking machine, but we've not really seen that in recent bouts, with losses to Ohashi and Noynay leaving us with more questions about Saka, his concentration levels and his willingness to dig deep.
Given how Saka is a naturally smaller, aggressive, slugger, he has the style that Sueyoshi should be very happy facing. Yes Saka is dangerous, he's a legitimate brute of a puncher, but Sueyoshi should get a lot of chances to counter him, and catch him with some very clean shots as Saka comes forward. There's a chance Sueyoshi gets caught, and we do have doubts over Sueyoshi's chin, but we suspect this will end up being a bit of a showcase performance from the champion who will take out Saka with a perfect counter right hand in the middle rounds.
Predictions - TKO7 Sueyoshi
This coming Saturday we'll see a new WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight champion being crowned as hard hitting Japanese fighter Kosuke Saka (18-4, 15) takes on talented Filipino southpaw Joe Noynay (16-2-1, 5), with the two men battling for a belt recently vacated by Masao Nakamura. For Saka it will be his first title bout at 130lbs, as he looks to claim his second professional title, whilst Noynay looks to claim the full version of the Asia Pacific title, following a reign as Youth champion.
At the age of 27 Saka is the much older man, and the much bigger puncher. The fighter from the Nakazato gym has been a professional since 2012 and he has had a really intriguing career. He was the runner up in the 2012 All Japan Rookie of the Year, losing in the final to Masayuki Ito. He would bounce back, scoring wins over Satoru Sugita and Katsuya Sato, before losing twice in a row, with the second of those losses coming to Hiroshige Osawa. Since then he has gone 10-1 (10), with notable wins over Ryuto Kyoguchi, Takafumi Nakajima, Shota Hayashi and Masanori Rikiishi. During that stretch he would win the Japanese Featherweight title. The sole loss was a weird one, losing the Japanese title to Takenori Ohashi when he mistook the 10 second clacker for the bell, and was subsequently knocked out.
Saka is a huge puncher, he has serious power, a nasty aggressive streak and seems to have actually become more devastating since losing the title, proving his power at Lightweight. He's crude, but offensive, heavy handed and very dangerous. There is also no real stamina questions as he has scored stoppages in the later rounds, though was stopped in 9 rounds by Osawa back in May 2014.
Filipino fighter Noynay is a 23 is a talented boxer, with good movement, good skills and a much, much smarter boxing brain than Saka. Despite being a better pure boxer he does have a relative lack of power, and he isn't likely to get Saka's respect with single shots. Instead, he will have to work hard, rely on his boxing skills and if we're being totally honest they are impressive skills, with Noynay having held his own with the excellent Reiya Abe back in early 2017. In fact both of Noynay's losses have been razor close decision defeats to notable regional fighters, Abe and Richard Pumicpic.
Although not well known outside of the Philippines Noynay is genuinely a brilliant prospect, and the losses on his record look worse than they are, losing close decisions to regional level fighters is nothing to be ashamed by. He's not the most exciting, and he's not got much power, but he is very talented, very smart, quick and sharp. He's defensively smart, has an educated jab and a very long straight left hand with quick body shots in his arsenal. Although a boxer by nature he can pick up the pressure and fight as an aggressive boxer, rather than relying on jack back foot work.
The result of this bout depends on a few really interesting questions. Can Saka cut the distance and get his power shots off? Can Noynay maintain the distance and use his southpaw jab to make space?
If Saka can get close, and if his power can affect Noynay, this could be over inside 3 or 4 rounds. If, however, Noynay boxes smart, stays on the move and stops Saka from unloading, then he can make this look easy, though he will have to work incredibly hard through out and have an incredible level of concentration. We expect Saka to come out on top, and for him to break down Noynay, though a decision win for the Filipino wouldn't be a huge surprise by any stretch.
It's fair to suggest that December is set to be an incredibly busy and action packed month for Japanese fight fans, with a huge amount of notable fights right across the month. The month is littered with title fights, right through to the end of the year, the first of which is a domestic title bout takes place this coming Friday at the Korakuen Hall and sees Featherweight champion Kosuke Saka (16-3, 13) make his first defense of the title, as he takes on first time challenger Takenori Ohashi (14-4-2, 9).
The heavy handed champion won the title earlier this year, when he blasted through Shota Hayashi in 3 rounds. Sadly though he has been inactive since that win, which came all the way back in April, he has been out of the ring and not managed to really build on that win. Although the momentum has cooled a little it should be noted that the win over Hayashi was Saka's 8th straight stoppage and continued a run that also included wins over Ryuto Kyoguchi, Burning Ishii and Takafumi Nakajima. That run has seen Saka go from 8-3 (5) to 16-3 (13) and break into the world rankings as well as become the Japanese champion.
Technically Saka is a bit “rough around the edges” as much pure punchers are, but his brute power is a real threat to everyone on the domestic scene, as his win over Hayashi showed. He's aggressive from the word go and looks to take opponents out early, with 10 stoppage in the first 3 rounds. In bouts that have gone beyond 3 he is 6-3 (3) and arguably the biggest question mark about him is his stamina, thanks in part to a 9th round TKO loss to Hiroshige Osawa.
Whilst Saka has been in great form and genuinely impressed with recent results the same can't really be said of Ohashi, who is a bit of an unknown with mixed results and no out and out standout win. He stated his career with 5 straight wins before being blown out in a round by Coach Hiroto in 2010 A second short winning run was ended by another stoppage, as Tatsuya Takahashi stopped him in 3 rounds in 2012. Since the start of 2013 Ohashi has gone 5-1-2 (3) but suffered his third stoppage loss, to Tsuyoshi Tameda, and draws with Yosuke Kawano and Mikihito Seto, two fights some distance removed from a domestic title fight.
In the ring Ohashi is a rather basic fighter, he's slow and clumsy and looks like a fighter who lacks any form of snap. He must have naturally heavy hands, but there is little to really be impressed by. Despite 3 stoppages he can take a decent shot, at least at the lower domestic level, and there is a bit of an awkwardness about him, but the reality is that he's a weak challenger for Saka.
Given Saka's break from the ring it was clear he wasn't going to be tossed in with a really good fighter, but the reality is that this should be little more than another blow out win for one of Japanese boxing most exciting domestic champions.
Every so often the Japanese domestic scene throws us a real corker of a match up. The bouts might not get much global attention but they are bouts to be genuinely excited about if you follow the Japanese scene, or even the Asian scene at large.
One such bout comes this Sunday as Japanese Featherweight champion Shota Hayashi (29-5-1, 17) defends his title against mandatory challenger Kosuke Saka (15-3, 12), and without trying to sound to hyperbolic this could be one of the best domestic bouts in 2017.
Hayashi won the title last year, when he out worked Noriyuki Ueno for the belt that had been vacated by Satoshi Hosono. The title win was a clear victory for Hayashi and one that saw him notch his most notable result to date, whilst attracting more attention to the Hatanaka Gym. In his first defense, back on New Year's Eve, Hayashi over-came Akifumi Shimoda with a narrow and hard fought decision win, which was streamed world wide courtesy of CBC, who were showing Kosei Tanaka's bout as well.
Aged 29 Hayashi has found his groove in recent years and gone on a 15 fight unbeaten run since a loss in July 2011. That run has seen him go 14-0-1, with the wins over Ueno and Shimoda being joined by other notable domestic level wins over Koji Umetsu and Ryosei Arai.
In the ring Hayashi is a bit crude, a bit open, but he has a great engine, refuses to stop and has under-rated power, having dropped Shimoda on route to a unanimous decision last time out. He's not a KO artist but he really lets his hands fly and comes to fight every time he's in the ring.
For Saka this will be his first title fight and see him looking to announce himself as more than just a rising contender on the way up through the ranks. For some Saka is one of the most exciting and promising punchers in Japan, and that's been shown during his current 7-0 (7) run, which has included wins over Ryuto Kyoguchi, Burning Ishii and Takafumi Nakajima.
In the ring Saka is a bit of a monster who comes to fight, and comes to take his opponents head clean off their shoulders. That hasn't always worked, but he has improved a lot from early career defeats. It's worth noting that the lost of those losses, 3 years ago, came to Hiroshige Osawa, whilst others have come to Jun Hamana, at 130lbs, and Masayuki Ito, a world class fighter in his own right.
Whilst Saka has never been beyond 9 rounds he has shown that his power carries in to the later stages, with stoppages in rounds 7 and 8 so far. He is however a real danger man early, with his stoppage against Nakajima coming in 88 seconds and the win over Kyoguchi coming in 3 rounds. He is however a man who has a lot of question marks, still to answer, but looks like a monster rising through the ranks.
With Hayashi's high work rate and Saka's solid power this looks likely to be a barn burner from the opening bell to the end, when ever that comes. If Hayashi can take Saka's power, and there is a good he can, then this will likely be a second successful defense for the champion. Like wise if Hayashi can back up Saka then the challenger will struggle to land his bombs. However, if Saka can land his power shots on Hayashi and use his physicality he could wear Hayashi down, as he has done in the past. It's also worth noting that Hayashi has faced adversity in the past and had to pull himself off the canvas to beat Kyoguchi, showing that he can bounce up to win fights.
We're going to go out on a limb and pick Saka for the upset, but no result should be a real surprise with the bout set to be something very exciting!
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.