This coming Saturday fight fans in Osaka are set for an explosive encounter as Japanese Super Featherweight champion Kosuke Saka (21-6, 18) takes on Tsubasa Narai (8-1, 7), with both men being known as flawed but very heavy handed fighters each looking to prove a point.
Of the two men Saka is the much, much more well known and established. The 30 year old Osaka native has been a professional since 2012 and has really made a great name for himself in Japan, whilst proving to be one of the most fun to watch and exciting fighters in the country. He began his career with 6 straight wins before losing to future world champion Masayuki Ito in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2012. He would then lose 2 of his next 4, falling to 8-3 before reeling off 8 straight wins, which included a 3rd round TKO over Shota Hayashi for the Japanese Featherweight title. Sadly in his first defense Saka really didn't look there, and was stopped in bizarre fashion by Takenori Ohashi, with Saka mis-hearing the 10 second clacker as the bell. Saka would lose again just 3 fights later, being stopped in 2 rounds by Joe Noynay in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title, before claiming the Japanese title at 130lbs with a dominant TKO win over Masaru Sueyoshi, who retired soon afterwards. In his sole defenses of the title he scored a brutal TKO over Takuya Watanabe, but was stopped in 3 rounds last time out, as he ran into the criminally under-rated Yoshimitsu Kimura in a bout for the OPBF title.
During his 27 fight career Saka has looked both, amazing, and terrible. When his head is one he is a brutal swarming fighter, with rocks for hands, a great engine and a terrifying mix of tenacity and intensity. It's those tools which saw him beat the likes of Ryuto Kyoguchi, Shota Hayahasi, Masanori Rikiishi, Masaru Sueyoshi and Takuya Watanabe. He is a nightmare to fight, with incredibly heavy hands, a high work rate, and the type of energy that forces opponents to fight his fight. At other times however he's open, he's clumsy and he can look like he just doesn't want to be in the ring. He's open to counters, and whilst he is dangerous he is also very vulnerable, with 4 stoppage losses to his name. In fact his last 4 losses have all been inside the distance. It really can be hard to predict what Saka will turn up.
Aged 22 Narai is a talented youngster, who is getting this shot very, very early in his career. He debuted in 2019 and won his first 7 bouts, picking up the 2020 All Japan Rookie of the Year along the way. His power was evident, as he won 6 of those 7 bouts inside the distance, and only went beyond the 3 round twice, a 4th round TKO witn over Tomohiro Igarashi and a decision win over the awkward Yuki Yazan. Sadly for Narai his winning record came to an end in 2021, when he was stopped in 2 rounds by Kyonosuke Kameda, the cousin of Koki, Daiki and Tomoki Kameda, in a bout for the Japanese Youth Featherweight. That loss was expected to be a major set back, but just 9 months later Narai scored the biggest win of his career, stopping Shinnosuke Hasegawa in 2 rounds to climb towards a Japanese title fight. In the months that followed that bout Narai was announced as the next challenger for Japanese Super Featherweight title, thanks to the big win over Hasegawa.
In the ring Narai is a big puncher, but he's also a rather crude fighter who hasn't really had time to develop from his Rookie of the Year triumph. In the ring he tries to box, looking for openings and then lower the boom on his right hand. He's cautious and doesn't take many risks, instead waiting for an opponent to make a mistake before committing to his own power shots. When he's feeling like he's got his opponent hurt things change completely and he often over-commits when they are hurt. It's a tactic that has worked, but does see him make mistakes, and the type that good domestic fighters will make him pay for, and we saw that happen when he faced Kameda. His major issues in the ring is that he's not razor sharp, and his style of trying to draw a mistake before going for the kill needs him to either be ultra quick, or be willing to take a risk to draw a lead and he's simply not got the tools to do that, at the moment.
Going in to this fight the feeling is that the first man to land a clean bomb could end up winning. Saka is certainly the more proven and the man who has answered more questions, but is also worryingly inconsistent, and when tagged clean we have seen him fall apart, numerous times. As for Narai, it's hard to know what he's learned since losing to Kameda. When it comes to a shoot out, like this is expected to be, the man who's more proven and more experienced tends to take home the win, and that's what we expect to see here, with Saka perhaps getting dropped, but recovering to stop the challenger. This could last just a few rounds, but every round will be tense and could see chaos in the ring, but we do favour Saka to emerge from that chaos with the title.
Prediction - TKO3 Saka
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