Over the last few years the Japanese Bantamweight title has been something of a cursed title. Ryo Akaho was forced to give it up due to issues making weight, Yuta Saito, we then saw injuries ill and weight issues force the cancellation of several fighters with Yuta Saito and Yusuke Suzuki amassing just a single successful defense between them, before men retired, following a war together in 2019. We then saw the title remain vacant after Suzuki gave it up, due to a technical decision and then a planned bout fall apart when a fighter failed to make weight.
Between January 2018 and today we've had only 5 bouts for the title, along with a single interim title fight. We've seen 3 champions crowned but none managing to establish themselves as the king of the division, and this is in a brilliant division in terms of Japanese talent. A division that could, and should, have given us a string of great bouts in recent years.
This coming Thursday we hope to see the curse finally broken as defending champion Kyosuke Sawada (15-2-2, 6) seeks his first defense and takes on the criminally under-rated Seiya Tsutsumi (5-0-2, 4). The bout is not just one that we hope breaks the curse, but also ends up delivering something of a special bout between two highly skilled, intelligent fighters with different styles, but very polished styles.
As the reigning champion Sawada comes into the bout with a lot to lose, especially given this is his first defense of the title he waited so long to fight for. He was supposed to get a shot in 2020, before Covid and Suzuki's retirement thwarted plans. He had to wait until July 2021 to finally get a shot, only to see his bout with Ikuro Sadatsune end in a technical draw. A rematch against Sadatsune was then cancelled when Sadatsune failed to make weight. He finally won the belt in February, when he took a split technical decision over Kenshin Oshima, but aged 33 when he won that bout it's clear his time at the top is limited.
Now aged 34 Sawada is a fighter who is easy to over-look, especially with 2 losses on his record, however those losses really can be ignored. They came in his first two bouts to Yusuke Suzuki, who later won the Japanese Bantamweight title, and Hiroaki Teshigawara, who later won the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight and OPBF Super Bantamweight titles. Since those losses he has gradually built a very, very respectable career for himself with wins over the likes of Gaku Aikawa, Kinshiro Usui, Yosuke Fujihara, Kazuki Tanaka and Kenshin Oshima.
In the ring Sawada is a gorgeous fighter to watch. He is text book through and through with a brilliant boxing brain, wonderful speed, timing, and understanding of the ring. His downfall really is a lack of power, though even that isn't the major issue it seems as he can hurt and drop people due to his ability to land clean and consistently. He is very much a pure boxer. He keeps range well, he lands clean, and he lands a lot whilst getting full extension on his shots. Sadly at age of 34 it's fair to say he will begin to slow down soon, and will need to rely even more on his skills than his, but he does look like he's been aging well and looks to be, arguably, be better than ever in recent bouts.
Although he's never held a title Seiya Tsutsumi is one of the most unfortunate fighters in the sport. He had a solid amateur career, though Sawada's was better, before turning professional in 2018 and quickly made a split winning 4 bouts in the space of 7 months and getting international ring time in Thailand and China. It seemed obvious, almost immediately, that he was going to be moved aggressively and that was shown in his first bout of 2019, when he splattered the tough Ryan Rey Ponteras inside a round. He was then part of the God Of Left Bantamweight tournament, where he reached the final by default. Sadly in the final the judges weren't on his side, as he was forced to accept a draw with the dangerous Kazuki Nakajima, in a bout that it seemed Tsutsumi deserved the win in. His only bout since then was another draw, that time against former world champion Daigo Higam in a bout that he again should have got the W in. As a result of those draws it's now more than 3 years since Tsutsumi scored a win, and more than 1.5 years since his last bout.
In the ring Tstusumi can genuinely do it all. He's a very heavy handed fighter, as he showed early in his career, against the likes of Ponteras, but he can also box, as we saw in his "draw" with Nakajima, where he moved, boxed and seemed to make Nakajima look really silly for large swathes of the bout. He has also shown he can do 10 rounds, as he did against Higa. He's not flawless, but as an all rounder he really can do it all, at a very, very high level. The major issue for him coming in to this bout is the lengthy lay off, and potentially his confidence. He's not fought since the end of 2020, when he fought Higa, and with such a long lay off, it'll be interesting to see if he has ring rust and is less sharp than usual. Notably, despite the recent lack of activity, Tsutsumi is still only 26 and we suspect his team will have kept him busy with good sparring perhaps limiting his rustiness.
Coming in to this, we expect to see Sawada starting fast, looking sharp out of the blocks and looking fantastic in the first few rounds. As time goes on however we expect to see Tsutsumi growing into the bout, and the rounds go on his power, aggression and in some ways his frustration, will show throw as he begins to get used to the speed and sharpness of Sawada and begins to turn. When that happens we suspect that the power and heavy hands of Tsutsumi will change the flow of the bout, with Sawada being hurt, and stopped later on.
Prediction - TKO9 Tsutusmi
On February 5th we'll, hopefully, see a new Japanese Bantamweight champion being crowned as Kyosuke Sawada (14-2-2, 6) and Kenshin Oshima (7-1-1, 3) battle for the title which has been vacant since Yusuke Suzuki retired in January 2021 due to injuries. Since then we have seen one fight take place for the title, with Sawada having a technical draw with Ikuro Sadatsune, before a scheduled rematch was cancelled with Sadatsune unable to compete, continuing what has been a rather cursed run for the title over the last few years, with cancellations, injuries and weight issues cancelling a surprising number of bouts for the belt. Despite the "curse" the belt still has real meaning, it's been held by some Japanese legends and is a title both men will be desperate to win. For Sawada the bout is, as mentioned, his second crack at the belt whilst Oshima will be getting his first title bout, and his first real chance to show just how good he is, after something of an underwhelming start to his professional career, so far.
Sawada is a very well schooled pure boxer, with lovely hand speed, textbook skills and a lot of amateur experience, having scored over 60 wins in the unpaid ranks. That amateur experience was supposed to help him race through the ranks, though unfortunately he came up against Yusuke Suzuki and Hiroaki Teshigawara in his first two bouts, and a lot of the expectations that were on his shoulders were quickly forgotten, with some then wondering whether he was going to ever make a mark on the sport. As it turned out however his losses weren't actually bad ones and both Suzuki and Teshigawara went on to achieve plenty themselves, with both winning titles, it was just unfortunate that Sawada had come up against them so early in his career, and theirs.
Since his bad start to the pro ranks Sawada has gone unbeaten and managed to show genuine improvement along the way. He has adapted his amateur style without throwing all the amateurs away. As a result he's a wonderfully skilled boxer, who sticks to the text for the most part, but can switch things up when he needs to. He's most comfortable range, his punches are very crisp and he's light on his feet with excellent shot selection. Sadly he can be made to look a little bit lost up close, but in fairness to him he has the tools, typically, to avoid an inside battle, and the composure to see things out, tie up when he needs to, and create space. Notably he also has solid power, much more so than his record suggests, and he gets opponents respect due to how cleanly he lands, especially with his counter shots as we saw against Sadatsune. His speed, timing and placement are all excellent, and make him a very tough opponent, no matter who he's against, and helps explain how he's turned his career around in such an impressive fashion after back-to-back losses to start his days as a professional.
Oshima turned professional with some buzz, and was regarded by some as a potential face of the future of the Teiken Gym. Prior to turning professional he had gone 27-13 in the unpaid ranks and seemed to have the potential to make a mark in the professional ranks, especially given his style was rather "pro-ready". Sadly however he would lose his second professional bout, to Yuki Iriguchi. he would then suffer another set back when he fought to a draw with the then win-less Nobuaki Kanazawa. With a 3-1-1 record after 5 fights it seemed like Oshima's amateur promise wasn't going to be realised in the professional ranks, but just like Sawada he has turned things around, winning his last 4 bouts. Not only has he won 4 in a row but they have included some solid wins too, including decision victories over Joe Tanooka, Ikuro Sadatsune and Wilbert Berondo. Sadly though the most win on his record did come more than 2 years ago, way back in November 2019.
Whilst it has been a while since we last saw Oshima in the ring, and by a while we really mean "too long!", one thing is undeniable. He's a talented boxer. He's very much a boxer-come counter puncher, with a nice array of punches, a very impressive sense of composure and good timing and distance control. He's never going to make for the most fun of bouts, and he does rely on his movement and jab a little too much at times rather than using the rest of his arsenal, but there is clearly a lot of skill there. He times fighters well, he picks good counter shots, and creates distance forcing opponents into errors. His style is awkward, he's a nightmare to fight and although he lacks the speed, power and explosiveness of top prospects, there is no denying his boxing brain and his ring IQ, he's just a little big unlucky to lack the physical traits to go with his brain.
Sadly for Oshima whilst his run was nice, this is a notable step up especially after such a long break, and in many ways he's the type of fighter that Sawada would have loved to face. Oshima lacks fight changing power, something that Sawada would perhaps be wary of, and Oshima is also not a high tempo guy, allowing Sawada to out work him. Sawada is also the quicker, sharper, fighter and the more polished boxer.
We suspect that the early portion of this bout will be a good technical chess match, with Sawada getting the better of things. As it goes on however Sawada will begin to take total control, and the bigger question isn't going to be who wins, but rather whether or not Sawada will manage to stop Oshima late on. We don't think so, but we do think Oshima will be in trouble in the final few rounds.
Prediction - UD10 Sawada
Back in July we saw a scheduled Japanese Bantamweight title fight between Kyosuke Sawada (14-2-2, 6) and Ikuro Sadatsune (11-4-4, 4) end in an inconclusive manner, as a head clash early in round 2 left both men bloodied, and saw the bout being waved off as a technical draw. It was a disappointing conclusion to the bout for both men and the fans, and it also left the title vacant. Prior to the early ending we had seen a lot of things happen in the opening round, including a knockdown and some really telling moments.
Rather than looking back of the career of the two men so far, as we usually do in their previews, we're going to focus on that first fight as the basis of how we expect to see the second bout go.
The first bout, or rather the first round of it, was controlled by Sawada, a former Japanese amateur standout who used two really effective tools through the first round of their first bout. One of those was his boxing brain and the other was his movement. Through out that first round he out thought Sawada, made him make mistakes and used his quick hands and understanding of range and distance to counter, land cleanly and dropped Sadatsune with a gorgeous combination. Through out the round, not just on the knockdown, Sawada seemed too quick, too sharp and too smart for the more bull like Sadatsune, who trudged into shots at times.
Although Sadatsune is a southpaw, that didn't really help him, and in fact Sawada seemed more than comfortable with the lefty stance of Sadatsune, and it helps him landing his straight right hand damaging left hook.
Whilst the first didn't lead to a conclusive ending, it was clear, just from the first 3 minutes, that Sawada is a much, much better boxer than Sadatsune.
Despite feeling like Sawada is the better boxer, and the man who looked likely to win the first bout, had it not ended the way it did, it is worth noting that that was only round 1 and Sadatsune was likely to find his way into the bout. We think that'll be the case again here, and he will begin to get a read on Sawada's speed and timing, will begin to close the distance, and make it a rough fight in the later rounds. By then however we feel it will be too little too late for Sadatsune, who will be in a deep hole by the time he begins to have success against a tiring Sawada, who will finish the bout on cruise control.
Prediction - UD10 Sawada
Over the last few years no Japanese title has been treat quite as strangely as the national Bantamweight title, which would be well within it's rights to have some sort of complex after what it's been through. Since Ryo Akaho won it in August 2017 it has been fought for just 3 times, successfully defended once, vacated twice, and had a host of bouts for it cancelled due to health issues, such as illness and a fighters missing weight. It must get the feeling that no one really wants it. Despite a lineage that includes legends of the sport, such as Yoshio Shirai, Naoto Takahashi, Joichiro Tatsuyoshi, Yasuei Yakushiji, Toshiaki Nishioka and Shinsuke Yamanaka.
That lineage will have another name added to it this coming Monday as Kyosuke Sawada (14-2-1, 6) takes on Ikuro Sadatsune (11-4-3, 4) for the currently vacant belt. Whilst the title may have been treated badly in recent years, it's clear, coming in to this, that both of these men are desperate to call themselves a Japanese champion and both are looking for the biggest win of their career, so far.
Of the two men it's Sawada who has earned this shot more. He actually earned a shot at the title back in 2019, when he beat Kazuki Tanaka in a Japanese title eliminator. That was meant to set up a bout with the then champion Yusuke Suzuki, who defeated Sawada back in 2013, but sadly Suzuki was forced into retirement following his bout with Yuta Saito. As a result Sawada was sat waiting for a shot at the vacant title when Covid19 destroyed the Japanese boxing schedule. That wait went on, and on, until Sadatsune stepped up to the challenge and and we ended up getting this bout arranged for a date in May. A date that would be postponed it's self due to Covid19 forcing a number of shows in Japan to be scrapped.
Despite all the issues around the title and bout we're expecting a good one here between a former amateur standout, Sawada, and someone who turned professional young and has learned the sport on the job, becoming a very good fighter in the process.
The 33 year old Sawada has been a professional since 2013, following an amateur career that had more than 80 bouts and around 60 wins. He turned professional with high expectations on his shoulders, but was matched hard from the off, and suffered back to back losses to Yusuke Suzuki, in Sawada's debut, and Hiroaki Teshigawara to start his career 0-2. Since then however he has turned things around, going 14-0-1 (6) and scoring notable wins over the likes of Kinshiro Usui, Yosuke Fujihara, Keita Nakano and Kazuki Tanaka. Those wins had lead him to becoming one of the main players on the Japanese domestic scene at 118lbs and one of the more under-rated domestic fighters.
In the ring Sawada really does rely on his amateur background. A lot. He's a pure boxer with good movement, good technical boxing skills and the sort of fighter who likes to do things at range on his jab and his straight shots. When dragged inside he can handle himself, but is very much happier at range where his shots seem to flow effortlessly. At his best he's a joy to watch, with fluid combinations and sort, though not destructive, power. At the age of 33 however, and with 21 months of ring rust coming in to this, we do wonder what he's going to look like here.
Aged 23 Sadatsune is a boxing baby, however he's been a professional since he was 17 and debuted way back in September 2015. He began his career with a 6 fight unbeaten record, going 5-0-1, before a loss in 2016, at the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, ended that run. Sadly he then struggled to get going again and fell from 5-0-1 to 6-2-2 in less than a year. It seemed like his career was going nowhere before he rediscovered some form winning 3 in a row before two razor thin losses in 2019, losing to Kenshin Oshima and Sho Ishida in bouts that he had a very valid claim to have won. Those setbacks could have been big but Sadatsune just kept ploughing on and picked two wins to get his career back on track before the pandemic struck, and slowed his ascent and he's now been out of action for around 18 months.
In the ring Sadatsune isn't as well schooled or as natural a boxer as Sawada, but he is a fighter who is improving with every fight, is criminally under-rated. He's strong, tough, has very over-looked technical skills and has more than held his own with the likes of Sho Ishida. He's also a southpaw, which further adds problems to facing him, and although he's not a big puncher he will hit harder as he matures physically, and now at 23 we suspect he will begin to show more and more pop. Since his 2017 loss to Kai Chiba, his second loss, he has never looked a clear second best in the ring, and has instead looked like a really hungry fighter who wants to prove something every time he fights. Whilst it is worth nothing that he's been inactive he does actually work at the boxing he fights out of, and we suspect with that in mind he will have stayed fit over the last 18 months or so and we think that could pay dividends here.
Had this bout taken place in 2020, we would have favoured Sawada, who at 32 would have been at the back end of his prime and would have been coming in on the back of the win over Kazuki Tanaka. With the long lay off however a lot of small things have changed against him. He's been inactive, he's aged, he's got ring rust, the momentum of his win over Tanaka, Nakano, Fujihara and Usui are now history and in that same time Sadatsune has matured and at 23, heading to 24, he's coming into his physical prime, he's developing as a man and is moving from a fresh faced boy to a fully fledged man.
We think the delay will actually swing this one from a Sawada win to a Sadatsune win, albeit in a very, very close decision. We see his youth, energy and the time Sawada has been out of the ring being the keys in a close, well fought, technical bout. We expect to see Sadatsune have that extra little bit of hunger and energy when he needs it, and to just bite down that bit harder than Sawada. It'll be close, it'll be amazingly competitive, but we see Sadatsune just, narrowly, coming away with the victory.
Prediction - SD10 Sadatsune
The 2020 edition of the Japanese boxing Champion Carnival is slowly coming together with Gakuya Furuhashi and Masataka Taniguchi already booking themselves Japanese title shots in the new year. This coming Saturday we'll see 4 more fighters claiming mandatory positions for Japanese title fights, with a host of eliminators taking place at the Korakuen Hall. One of those eliminators will be at Bantamweight and will see an interesting match up between Kyosuke Sawada (13-2-1, 6) and Kazuki Tanaka (11-2, 8).
On paper this isn't one of the most appealing bouts, given that both have already suffered a couple of losses and neither is a "big" name in regards to being an emerging force on the Japanese scene. The reality however is that the bout is set to be an excellent, hotly contested and very exciting one between two well matched, yet flawed, fighters with good amateur backgrounds.
Of the two Sawada is there more experienced professional, with 16 bouts since his 2013 debut, he is also the one who has had the bigger turn around with his career and the more peculiar record. He debuted in 2013 and lost to Yusuke Suzuki, the current Japanese Bantamweight champion, and lost in his second professional bout to Hiroaki Teshigawara, who currently holds the OPBF Super Bantamweight title. Since then he has gone 13-0-1 and beaten everyone he has faced, beating Keita Nakano in their second clash. Not only has he been on a good run after a very rocky start but he's picking up wins against solid domestic opponents, such as Kenta Okumura, Yuta Horiike, Kinshiro Usui and recent Japanese title challenger Yosuke Fujihara.
In the ring Sawada is a usually a technically sound fighter, with nice speed, clever footwork and a good jab who looks to fight at mid range. He's not usually the most exciting of fighters to watch, but he does gauge distance well and, with the right dance partner, he can be in some very fun bouts. Although Sawada does lack power he does land clean shots, and does so regularly, with an excellent work rate. It's also worth noting that while he is usually an outside fighter Sawada can hold his own on the inside, as we saw against Usui, with sharp clean punching and intelligent upper body movement. It's not something we often see from him, but it is something that's in his arsenal.
Tanaka is a 26 year old who made his debut in late 2014 and was tipped as a major star for the Green Tsuda gym, following a 63-14 amateur record. Sadly he has failed to live up to the early expectations, but has shown enough to remain a contender on the domestic scene. His career began with 7 straight wins, though alarm bells did ring a little bit when he struggled to get past Sukkasem Kietyongyuth. Since then he has gone 5-2, suffering stoppage losses to Ryohei Takahashi and Keita Kurihara with both losses showing he's not someone who can cope with being put under genuine pressure and isn't particularly durable.
Although not the toughest fighter out there Tanaka isn't actually a bad fighter. Technically he's solid, his amateur background shows when he's in the ring with a nice sharp jab, light feet and heavy hands. His right hand is a damaging and has got good understanding of distance. If you let him dictate the tempo he can look very good, and very strong with good balance. Sadly for Tanaka his competition in recent bouts has been poor, and since losing to Keita Kurihara in 2018 he has only scored 2 low level wins as he's looked to rebuild his confidence.
We believe that Tanaka has got the power to cause Sawada issues, but given recent form and how the fighters have bounced back from their setbacks it's hard not to imagine Sawada being the favourite. Sawada's all-round game seems better, his speed and ring craft are just a touch better. Tanaka certainly has the edge in power, but Sawada had the edge in tougness and we suspect that'll get him through some rough patches on route to a clear, but competitive, decision win.
Prediction - UD8 Sawada
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.