This coming Tuesday we'll see the next Japanese title fight as Japanese 154lb champion Makoto Kawasaki (13-8-1, 2) looks to record his first defense of the title, as he takes on former contender Ryosuke Maruki (18-7-1, 13). The bout is, in many ways, an indictment of how poor the Japanese domestic scene is at 154lbs, with the better fighters in the division having no real interest in the Japanese title right now, with the likes of Takeshi Inoue and Hironobu Matsunaga both looking for bigger and better things.
The 38 year old Kawasaki won the title earlier this year, in a hotly contested decision win over Koki Koshikawa. The win was a career defining one for Kawasaki, who had previously come up short in bouts for the interim and regular Japanese Welterweight titles. It was a moment which will live with him for the rest of his life, though is also a win that seemed to partly luck, with the decision it's self, and partially good fortune to be facing Koshikawa, rather than a fighter like Matsunaga or Inoue. Given his age, it's hard to imagine him having a long reign, though he has got the skills, work rate and toughness to maybe record a defense or two before he hangs up his glove.
In the ring Kawasaki is a good technical boxer, with a decent work rate, a gritty determination, but a lack of power, and a lack of anything that really stands out. He's solid enough, but in no area at all is he spectacular, even for a domestic level fighter. Notably he isn't just old, at 38, but he is also a man who has had just 18 rounds of action since the start of 2020, and that level of inactivity is a major issue for a fighter who lacks power and physicality.
Maruki on the other hand is a 31 year old who turned professional in 2010 and quickly made a buzz for himself, before losing in the 2012 All Japan Rookie of the Year final. He began his career 4-0-1 (3) but quickly saw his record fall apart, going 7-3-1 (5) before winning the WBC Youth 154lb title in 2015. Maruki would establish himself as a top domestic contender in 2016, but sadly for him he would come up short in 3 Japanese title fights, losing to Yuki Nonaka in 2016, Nobuyuki Shindo in 2018 and Akinori Watanabe, in a Japanese interim title fight, also in 2018. By the end of 2019 it seemed his career was about over, but he has scored two recent wins, both by stoppage, and is now set for one more crack at a national title.
In the ring Maruki was, for years, a very, very aggressive fighter. In recent bouts however he has become a smarter fighter, using his movement more, letting opponents come to him. Despite changing his style one thing has remained, and that's been his heavy hands. Below the top tier of the domestic scene his shots have been punishing, and when he lands he does shake opponents up. He's also shown a willingness to take a shot to land one, and only the extremely heavy handed Akinori Watanabe has ever managed to stop him, despite his 7 losses to date. Sadly he's not particularly polished, and does rely more on his power and strength, rather than skills, but he's still managed success, and we suspect that his power will be a key factor here.
At his best Kawasaki would have the skills, the work rate and the tools to over-come the best version of Maruki. Sadly for Kawasaki however he's now 38, heading into retirement, and not the fighter he once was. Whilst neither he, nor Maruki, is a world beater, we do feel that Maruki simply has too much left for this version of Kawasaki. We expect Kawasaki to have success early on, but as the bout goes on the strength of Maruki and his willingness to take one to land one, will prove to be the difference as he eventually breaks down the veteran, to finally win the big one.
Prediction - TKO9 Maruki
On April 2nd we get the next Japanese title, as Makoto Kawasaki (12-8-1, 2) and Koki Koshikawa (9-3, 6) clash in a bout for the Japanese Light Middleweight title, which was vacated by Hironobu Matsunaga who seems to have his eyes on bigger and better things.
Sadly for both men they are better known for losing in the biggest fights of their career, and to date the men are win-less in title bouts, but have had opportunities in the past. For the 37 year old Kawasaki this will be his 4th bout for a title, and he has to know it's now or never. Aged 31 Koshikawa may get another chance, but his last two bouts have seen him come up short in title bouts, suffering a stoppage loss to Matsunaga in 2019 and a wide decision loss to Yuki Nonaka last year. Although neither really deserves another title opportunity at this point in time, it's fair to say that neither man will get a better chance to win a title than here, with this bout.
Aged 37 Kawasaki is certainly winding down his career. He debuted in 2012, fighting to a draw with Koki Tyson, and was 2-1-1 after 4 bouts, with his first loss coming to Hironobu Matsunaga, who would also give him his second loss. After 12 bouts he was 7-4-1 but not long after that he managed to land his first title bout, a shot at the Japanese interim Welterweight title, which he lost. He later went on to lose a bout for the WBA Asia Welterweight title and the Japanese Welterweight title. Sadly him getting a shot, at this point in time, says a lot about the Japanese domestic scene at 154lbs. He's a natural Welterweight, who has had very mixed results, and is getting this shot due to the lack of interest in the domestic title. However he's experienced and a capable fighter, though nothing special.
In the ring Kawasaki is a hard worker. He's gritty, he's determined and he sets a good work rate whilst making for fun fights. Sadly though he's not quick, he's not sharp, he's not powerful, or particularly skilled and he's more of a battler than a boxer. He has slow feet, slow hand speed, and his punches are incredibly wide. He leaves himself open and whilst his style can make for fun fights he does seem like he's there to be stopped at times, especially at title level. He's been lucky to not face many decent punchers, but when he did face a good domestic puncher in Yuki Nagano he was stopped in 2 rounds.
Koshikawa turned professional in 2014, following a very solid amateur career that had seen him go 46-25 (23), and there was pretty high expectations for him under the guidance of Celes Kobayashi. Sadly for him his time at the Celes Gym was a frustrating one. He won his first 4 bouts before losing a wide decision to veteran Koshinmaru Saito in 2015 and then took a break from the ring, of more than 2 years. On his he was matched softly to begin with, before stopping former Japanese Welterweight champion Daisuke Sakamoto in July 2018. He built on that win with a victory over former OPBF champion Ratchasi Sithsaithong and moved towards a Japanese title fight. Sadly for him his first title fight saw him having moments of success, before the press of Matsunaga broke him down in 4 rounds. He was then out of the ring for close to 2 years, before losing a wide decision to WBO Asia Pacific Middleweight champion Yuki Nonaka in 2021.
In the ring Koshikawa shows some of his amateur skills. He knows his way around the ring, has a nice jab and looks relaxed and composed. Sadly for him however his hooks are wide and wild, his stamina is questionable, his defense is flawed and he's still very much an amateur fighting in the professional ranks, with a style that style doesn't look like ever really been able to adapt to the professional style. That means when he's under intense pressure he often struggles, and as we saw against Nonaka, he can can be out boxed by accurate and busy fighters who just do the basics really well. He is clear talented, but his talent has never really been developed and as a result he still struggles to show why there was some hype early on.
Coming in to this bout we are looking at two flawed fighters, albeit two very different fighters. Of the two Kawasaki is the one who will look to dictate the tempo early on, and will bring the fight to Koshikawa, who will look to box and move. Sadly for Kawasaki we think a younger, fresher, version of him would have the tools to beat Koshikawa. In 2022 however the 37 year old inactive Kawasaki will struggle to force the tempo for long, and will struggle a lot later on. When that happens we see Koshikawa letting his hands go and forcing a late stoppage on a tired and exhausted Kawasaki.
Prediction - TKO9 Koshikawa
This coming Wednesday fight fans will be in for something of a treat at 154lbs as teak tough Japanese fighter Takeshi Inoue (17-1-1, 10) takes on unbeaten Australian puncher Tim Tszyu (19-0, 15), in a bout with the potential to be an instant classic. The contest is mouth watering on paper, and a genuinely meaningful one in regards to the WBO, with Inoue looking to defend his WBO Asia Pacific title against WBO Global champion Tszyu. The winner will not just be a unified minor title holder, but will also be on the verge of a WBO world title fight as we head into 2022.
Of the two fighters it's fair to say all the buzz is around Tszyu, the son of former Light Welterweight great Kostya Tszyu. The second generation fighter has quickly been racking up wins against notable opponents, and impressing with his calculated style, heavy hands and brutal finishing mentality. The last few years have been huge for him, and he has essentially cleaned out the domestic scene with wins against the likes Wade Wyan, Dwight Ritchie, Jack Brubaker, Jeff Horn and Dennis Hogan. Early on he was promoted heavy on the fact that his father is a modern day great, but with his recent wins he has moved out of being the son of a legend, and became a legitimate contender in his own right, and someone who seems almost ready for a world title fight of his own.
In the ring Tszyu has real star potential. He's a very impressive boxer puncher, who applies intelligent pressure, lets his shots go when in range, counters well, and is incredibly heavy handed, seemingly inheriting the power of his father. He's not the quickest, and he's not the most active, but he's a very heavy handed fighter, who is very calculating, smart in the ring and physically incredibly strong. To date he has answered a lot of questions, though there is still some question marks hanging over him. He has proven his stamina, by going 10 rounds a number of times, but there is some question marks over his chin, and what happens when a fighter can take his power and keep coming forward. We've not seen a fighter really test him since Wade Ryan did, way back in October 2017, and since then Tszyu has racked up 12 straight wins and looked like a destructive force along the way.
Whilst Tszyu is waiting for a shot at the big time, Inoue has had a shot, which came in 2019 when he challenged the then WBO champion Jaime Munguia, and gave the unbeaten Mexican a legitimately tough nights work. The bout with Munguia showed how tough, rugged and strong Inoue was, but also showed his technical limitations as he pressured but had little overall success against Munguia. Since then Inoue has worked on technical things, and has been showing a much better jab in recent bouts, better defense and overall more to his boxing than just the pressure style that had made him a very fun fighter to watch in Japan. That slightly more rounded style has seen him scoring 4 wins since the loss to Munguia, though they have been at a regional to domestic level.
In the ring Inoue is a small, rugged fighter with incredible physical strength, fantastic power of recovery and a staggering will to win. He is slow, and like many Japanese fighters in the higher weights, he relies more on his physical tools rather than his skills to get by in the sport. He can be out boxed, as Munguia showed as Yuki Nonaka showed at times too, but over 12 rounds he will give fighters fits, and if a fighters tried to blow him out early on there's a real risk of them taking a lot out of themselves in the process. Here we expect to see him trying to rush and cramp Tszyu for space, and work up close, much like we saw Ricky Hatton do to Tszyu's father. Sadly for Inoue he doesn't have the foot speed and tenacity of Hatton, but we see that being the gameplan he'll be looking to apply here.
The reality is that Tszyu is the better boxer, the bigger puncher, the more natural athlete and the quicker man. Despite that we suspect Inoue will cause problems for Tszyu, just through he sheer bloody mindedness and determination. He will walk through some of Tszyu shots, the type of shots that have been taking out domestic competition, and smile. He will look to break Tszyu mentally, through his pressure. He will certainly have some moments, but in the end Tszyu will come out on top, either a late mercy stoppage from the referee or a clear, and wide decision victory.
Prediction - UD12 Tszyu
When we think of Japanese boxing we tend to think about the men at the lightest end of the scales, the Minimumweights through to Bantamweights. Rather unfortunately however we, as fight fans, tend to forget that Japanese title bouts from Welterweight to Middleweight are often some of the most entertaining contests we get to see. Surely a lot of the Japanese fighters in those weights fail to make a mark at the highest level but they do, often, match up really, really well and give us some thrilling action bouts.
This coming Wednesday we're expecting another brilliant Japanese title match up in those weight ranges as Japanese Light Middleweight champion Hironobu Matsunaga (17-1, 11) takes on unbeaten challenger Rei Nakajima (4-0). On paper the bout doesn't scream anything special, but beneath the records are two men who should make for an excellent match up, and styles that should gel brilliantly to give us a compelling contest.
Of the two men it's clearly the champion who is the more well known. The 33 year old Matsunaga has been a professional since 2012, and first began to make waves in 2014, when he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year, losing in the final at Welterweight to Yuki Beppu. Since then he has really built his name and reputation. He has gone 12-0 (8), scored wins in Thailand and Korea, won the WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese titles at 154lbs and become one of the leading faces of the Japanese scene at 154lbs, along with Takeshi Inoue. More than any of his achievements however he has also become a fan favourite thanks to his aggressive style, which is built around a lot of pressure, combinations and using under-rated speed and movement. He's not the best boxer out there but he's a fantastic fighter with a real tenacity to his boxing.
Since winning the Japanese Light Middleweight title in 2019, when he stopped Nobuyuki Shindo, Matsunaga has made two very credible defenses, stopping both Koki Koshikawa and Yuto Shimizu. Those wins have seen him extend his current winning streak to 12 and his current T/KO run to 6. They have also helped him prove his tenacious hunger and desire to be the best in Japan, and there's a genuine shout that his recent form has seen him over take the likes of Takeshi Inoue, whose last impressive domestic win came almost 3 years ago.
Whilst Matsunaga is well known, and has been on the radar of Japanese fans for the better part of a decade the same cannot be said of 22 year old Rei Nakajima, who only turned professional in 2019. Despite that Nakajima did manage to prove he was a legit prospect in his last two bouts, putting on a virtuoso performance against Thai veteran Komsan Polsan before scoring a break out win in 2020 against former OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Middleweight champion Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa. In just 4 bouts the 22 year old has proven he belongs at title level, and could well have the potential to be the best in divisional domestically.
Whilst Matsunaga is very much a come forward pressure fighter the challenger is pretty much the opposite. In fact Nakajima is one of the true pure boxers of the Japanese scene. He's a diminutive Light Middleweight, standing at around 5'5", but uses his lack of stature in his favour, making himself smaller and being elusive, even whilst standing right in front of an opponent. He's quick, sharp with an excellent boxing brain, often drawing mistakes to counter. We've seen him show no fear against the dangerous Hosokawa and he has proven to be as slippery as an eel, both on the inside and the outside.
Whilst it can often be easy to think Japanese fighters rely on their toughness and determination that isn't something we've ever seen from Nakajima. Instead he relies on his technical ability, his boxing brain and his high level understanding of the ring. It's what makes him so different to many Japanese fighters, particularly at 154lbs where toughness and physicality often play a major role.
Given the styles of the two men involved this is actually a really hard one to call.
There is every chance that Matsunaga will manage to get up close, using his experience, bullying Nakajima around and breaking down the challenger. We've seen him do it to bigger men than himself and this is a rare fight where he will be the naturally bigger man. In fact he'll have around 3" height advantage whilst usually he's giving away 3", if not more, himself. He'll be in there looking to land body shots, take Nakajima's legs away and grind him down in the later rounds.
Likewise there is also a chance that the speed, movement, ring crafty and skills of Nakajima will neutralise the pressure of Matsunaga, and he'll walk him on to shots. It's unlikely that Nakajima has the power to take the champion out, but he has the movement to frustrate him, and rack up rounds. If he does that for 7 or 8 rounds there's a chance that he'll have mentally beaten Matsunaga to the point of no return, and the champion will simply not have the energy needed to turn things around.
Whilst we have really, really, enjoyed Matsunaga's rise through the ranks, and it really has been brilliant to watch. We do see him up against a stylistic nightmare here, and someone who will use his pressure against him really well. We suspect the sharp shooting, counter punching brilliance of Nakajima will see him racking up the points, winning the rounds, and doing more than enough to convince the judges he deserves the decision and the title. He'll have to work for it, and work hard, but we see Nakajima doing enough to take home the W.
Prediction - UD10 Nakajima
Earlier in the year we were anticipating the Champion Carnival being well under-way and we were set to see another Champion Carnival bout on March 7th. That bout ended up being postponed due to the on going global situation and instead of taking place in March, as expected, it will now be taking place this coming Saturday. Despite the delay we're really looking forward to the next bout in the annual series of "Champion Vs Challenger" bouts, and that's because it's a great looking up on paper. The bout in question is up at 154lbs where Japanese domestic champion Hironobu Matsunaga (16-1, 10) takes on mandatory challenger Yuto Shimizu (15-3-2, 5) in what we suspect will be an excellent bout for the Japanese Light Middleweight title.
The under-rated champion has done things the hard way, without much fuss and without much acclaim, but now in his early 30's he's reaping the benefits of hard work. He made his debut way back in 2012, but began to get some attention in 2014, when he reached the all-Japan Rookie of the Year final, losing to Yuki Beppu. That loss saw Matsunaga fall to 6-1 (3) but since then he has gone 10-0 (7) and been on an excellent run. Whilst he is obviously the Japanese champion right now it's worth noting that he has scored notable wins over the likes of former Japanese Middleweight champion Sanosuke Sasaki, Korean foe Je Ni Ma and multi-time Japanese title challenger Koshinmaru Saito. Those wins lead him to his 2019 title shot against Nobuyuki Shindo, which he won in by breaking down Shindo.
Since winning the belt Matsunaga has defended it once, stopping former amateur star Koki Koshikawa in a thrilling match up last November. That was the 5th straight stoppage win for Matsunaga, who has really come on since that loss to Beppu way back in 2014.
In the ring Matsunaga may not be someone getting much attention, but he is quickly becoming a must watch fighter. He's small for a Light Middleweight but is aggressive, moves well, and after getting a read on his opponents comes forward with heavy shots from the southpaw stance. At range he can struggle to get close, but when he gets into range for his shots he grinds opponents down, both mentally and physically. It's the grinding and consistent power shots that take their toll on opponents rather than any single shots. When he has his man hurt he doesn't let off them and really makes them suffer, and feel sorry for themselves. At the higher levels we suspect he'd struggle to make a mark, but at Japanese domestic level he is a very, very hard man to beat.
We mentioned that Matsunaga quietly climbed the rankings to his title and it's fair to say the same is true of Shimizu. He was 3-3-2 after 8 bouts before going on a solid 8 fight winning run to earn his first title fight. That winning run had seen him defeat Hikaru Nishida, who later won the Japanese Middleweight title and former OPBF title challenger Takehiro Shimokawara to earn a shot at Yuki Nonaka. Although he lost to Nonaka he had earned the shot on merit. Since then he has gone 3-1, earning this shot with a win over Nobuyuki Shindo back in November 2019 which had followed another solid win over Charles Bellamy.
In the ring Shimizu is a rather weird looking fighter. He has a very herky-jerky style, long arms and an awkward rhythm. There's nothing pretty about him, but he's yet he's still effective, frustrating and uses his size well. For someone who's big at the weight he doesn't have the busiest of jabs, or the quickest of footwork, but has proven to be a hard man to hit, and someone who can land from very odd angles, as we saw when he beat Shindo last year. Also it's worth noting that whilst not a puncher he does hit hard enough to get the respect of opponents, time and time again, in fact he actually dropped Shindo last year on route to his win.
For Matsunaga the big issue is whether he can get inside the long reach of Shimizu. The straight right hand of the challenger will be a real issue for the champion. If he can slip it, get inside and fight up close, using his edge in speed and sharpness, this could look easy for Matsunaga, however that is a big if. What we're expecting is for Shimizu to make it real ugly. We expect the challenger to land at range and tie up up close, but to do that effectively against a grinder like Matsunaga, for 10 rounds, is certainly not easy.
We expect this to be ugly at times. Shimizu falling in and clinching and holding and making a mess of things. Saying that however we struggle to see Matsunaga losing, his energy, volume and tenacity will simply be too much and too regular for the challenger.
Prediction - TKO8 Matsunaga
A year ago Japan's Takeshi Inoue (15-1-1, 9) was on the verge of the biggest fight of his career, a bout with WBO Light Middleweight champion Jaime Munguia. Although he lost to Munguia he impressed with his heart and determination and this coming Saturday he's back in the ring seeking the first defense of his second reign as the WBO Asia Pacific Light Middleweight title, as he takes on China's Cheng Su (14-2-1, 8). The situation couldn't be much more different to the one he found himself in last January, but a win here keeps him in the mix for another world title fight, whilst a loss is unthinkable for the 30 year from Tokyo.
Inoue, for those who missed the Munguia bout, is a rugged, aggressive fighter who comes in pretty square on and looks to make a fight of things. Early in his career he did seem to be more of a boxer-fighter but as his career has progressed he has become more and more of a pressure fighter, often abandoning his jab to ply forward behind his guard and get things up close. This sort of change seemed to happen in 2016 or 2017, and was particularly notable when he beat Akinori Watanabe. That was a clear win for Inoue but seemed like he could have made it far easier for himself had he made the most of his jab. Whatever the reason for the change it's not been bad for his career and since beating Watanabe we've seen Inoue unify the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, fight for a world title and then recapture the WBO Asia Pacific belt.
Although the bull strong Inoue lost to Munguia his record is actually solid, at least in regards to the regional scene. Wins over Akinori Watanabe, Koshinmaru Saito, Riku Nagahama, Ratchasi Sithsaithong, Yuji Nonaka and Patomsuk Pathompothong give him wins almost every notable fighter on the regional scene at 154lbs, barring current Japanese champion Hironobu Matsunaga. Though of course there is a gulf between the regional scene at the weight and the world level, which he'll be hoping to mix with once again later in the year.
As for Cheng Su the Chinese challenger, who is also 30, is much less well-known and well established. The southpaw from Shenyang stands at 5'11 and will be fighting outside of China for the first time in his career. Going through his record it's hard to pick out anything noteworthy, other than a win last May over Filipino Junjesie Ibgos, who used to be a Featherweight and is 0-4 outside of the Philippines. Footage of him however is more worrying than his competition.
Watching Su we see a rather slow, lumbering fighter who technically looks "alright" but lacks the tools needed to even make a legitimate mark on the regional scene. He seems to understand the basics doesn't always put them into practice. He's slow, lacks real snap on his punches, and when he throws his straight left hand his defenses completely fall apart. He follows opponents around the ring and looks like he's fortunate to be fighting at such a low level that his mistakes have rarely been punished, except in his 2017 loss to Nikolozi Gviniashvili.
On paper this might look like an interesting match up, but we weren't joking when we said Inoue can't afford to lose here. His entire career would be discredited with a loss to someone as limited as Su, who he really should be dealing with inside the distance. We expect to see Inoue closing the gap between the two men, working away on the inside and stopping Su relatively early on.
Anything but a stoppage for Inoue should be viewed as a disappointment.
Prediction - TKO5 Inoue
Over the last few years Kadoebi have been putting on some fantastic shows under their Slugfest banner, and having their fighters take risks. They have regularly shown a belief in their fighters and have pushed them to be tested, delivering some excellent bouts in the process. On December 16th however we see a blip in that form, as OPBF Light Middleweight champion Akinori Watanabe (38-7-1, 32) gets an ultra-rare gimmie, and defends his belt against Thai foe Sitthidet Banti (12-5, 6).
We're not fans of easy bouts for anyone, but if someone deserves it probably is the 34 year old Watanabe, who has had more wars than most and taken real punishment in bouts against the likes of Toshio Arikawa, Takeshi Inoue, Magomed Kurbanov and Nobuyuki Shindo in the last few years. The hard exciting Watanabe had to travel to Korea to win the title, stopping Jung Kyoung Lee in August, and appears to be having what is very much a straight forward homecoming defense.
For those who haven't followed Watanabe's career it has long been a case of ups and downs. He has been stopped in 6 of his 7 losses, and with 32 wins inside the distance it's often been a case of someone being taken out. In fact only 1 of Watanabe's first 21 bouts required the judges, and that was his debut! He's fun, exciting, aggressive and although he has tempered that aggression as he's matured, but is still very much a front foot fighter who doesn't want to let opponents off the hook when he hurts them. The tempering of his aggressive tendencies have helped him make up for a questionable chin, but even now, almost 16 years after his debut, he's not a hard man to catch, he has just learned to ride shots better.
The 28 year old challenger, who turns 29 less than a week after this bout, made his pro debut back in 2014, losing a decision to the talented Atchariya Tor Chantaroj and since then has lost to every notable opponent he's faced, other than a shot Saddam Kietyongyuth who he squeaked a 4 round decision against last year. Notably those losses have included a 10 round shut out, at Lightweight, to Xiangxiang Sun and more recently a KO loss in Japan to Takuma Takahashi, who was 3-0 at the time.
It's the loss to Takahashi that really stands out, as it came in Sitthidet's only previous bout in Japan and was on a few months ago. Technically Takahashi is a better boxer than Watanabe, he's more patient, sets things up properly and applies his pressure in a more text book manner than the marauding Watanabe. The reality however is that the slow and careful style of Takahashi allowed that fight to go 6 rounds despite the Thai offering little, and looking to just shoot back counters. When Takahashi put his foot on the gas the Thai had no answers.
We expect this to be a short and brutally quick win for Watanabe, who shouldn't need more than 3 rounds to see Sitthidet and retain his belt.
It Watanabe loses this will genuinely go down as one of the biggest upsets in a Japanese ring this year, and that's despite Watanabe being known as a big of a glass cannon.
Prediction- TKO2 Watanabe
The 154lb division in Japan hasn't really been a particularly strong one, but it can still be a very interesting one, and the rare times it is relatively strong we do get some great fights. In 2018 we had an amazing example of that as Akinori Watanabe and Nobuyuki Shindo knocked lumps out of each other in a brilliant 10 round draw. Not all fights for the title are that good but when they are good, they tend to really be sensational.
On November 2nd we'll see bout between once beaten fighters, in what could be another instant classic for the title.
In one corner we will have new champion Hironobu Matsunaga (15-1, 9), who won the title in May when he stopped Shindo, and in the other corner will be the once touted Koki Koshikawa (9-1, 6), who is getting his first shot at the title.
Aged 32 Matsunaga is an example of what hard work, determination and a refusal to buckle after your first loss can do. In 2014 he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, losing to Yuki Beppu in 2 rounds. That was at Welterweight. He then moved up in weight and has gone 9-0 (6) whilst notching notable victories over the likes of Hisao Narita, Sanosuke Sasaku, Je Ni Ma, Koshinmaru Saito and most recently Shindo. Despite the loss to Beppu in 2014 Matsunaga's career has easily over-shadowed the "Kyushu Tyson's" so far.
Matsunaga's success is impressive but he's had that success is telling. He's developed into a very good fighter, and gone about his work without too much fuss. He typically keeps things simple, and makes the most of his southpaw jab. There's nothing complicated about him, but he's persistent, has under-rated power and comes to fight. His left hand is solid and he always looks to get on the front foot and make opponents work to create their space. His head movement is smart and when he puts his foot on the gas he can go through the gears very quickly. The telling thing about him going through the gears is his style doesn't really change, he just does more and speeds things up, rather than taking significantly more risks.
Matsunaga's persistent front foot pressure, constant search for gaps and accurate output is a nightmare to go up against, and to beat him you really need to get his respect. He's not faced many punchers, and it will be interesting to see him in with one, but against opponents unable to hurt him he is a nasty fighter and is often all over his opponents.
At 28 years old Koshikawa is in the middle of his physical prime. Sadly though many had expected much more of him, much earlier in his career due to a solid reputation from his days in the amateur ranks. He turned pro more than 5 years ago and the hope was that Celes Kobayashi would guide him quickly through the ranks. Instead Koshikawa took more than 24 months out of the ring following a 2015 loss to Koshinmaru Saito, in what was Koshikawa's 5th bout and came just 15 months after his debut. Since his return to the ring he has scored notable wins over Daisuke Sakamoto and former OPBF champion Ratchasai Sithsaithong, whilst stringing together 5 wins, 4 by stoppage.
Sadly not a lot of Koshikawa footage is out there, though his win over Sakamoto was a good example of what he can do. Like Matsunaga he keeps things simple. He looks at his best when he's on the back foot, luring opponents in and setting the distance with his jab, however he can come forward and pressure pretty well when he feels in control. His right hand is a solid weapon and although he's not a 1-punch KO artist, he does chip away with his big shots and wears opponents down. He's still a bit reckless and rough around the edges, but physically strong and not an easy out at this level.
Given the fact that both men like to come forward we're expecting this to be a very fan friendly bout. Both are confident fighters, both are aggressive and both are pretty basic, which should give us a lot of trading and exchanges. The key issue is a question over who is the stronger man physically. If that's Matsunaga, which we suspect, then the fight could be a very close quarters war, and we wouldn't be surprised to see Koshikawa fighting off the ropes in a real under-rated war. If Koshikawa can force Matsunaga back, the fight really does change and we suspect his longer reach will come into play, and he will take a hard fought decision with his right hand really being used as a barge pole on the southpaw champion.
Prediction - UD10 Matsunaga
The main event of November's Dynamic Glove will be a Japanese Light Middleweight title bout as Hironobu Matsunaga defends his belt against Koki Koshikawa, interesting the winner of that bout will know their next opponent before their own fight. That's because the show's chief support bout is a Japanese Light Middleweight title eliminator pitting former champion Nobuyuki Shindo (20-5-2, 8) against Yuto Shimizu (13-4-2, 5), and the winners will be expected to face off at the Champion Carnival next year.
On paper this doesn't scream excitement or a great fight, but in reality both fighters are under-rated and, with the right dance partners, they can make for some sensational fights due to their flaws. This is seen most notable with Shindo who has been in his share of fantastic over the last few years.
The 33 year old Shindo is a physical freak at 6'1" and has the added benefit of being a southpaw, a very gangly and long southpaw. He's not a particularly big puncher, but he lands from really unusual angles and is a very relaxed fighter who can take punishment, and can dish it out. His 2018 bouts with Ryosuke Maruki and Akinori Watanabe, particularly the Watanabe one, were fantastic and showed what can happen when he's forced into a fight. Sadly his effort last time out, when he lost the Japanese Light Middleweight title to Matsunaga, was disappointing and looked like he was on the way out, but this fight will make it clear what he has left in the tank.
At his best Shindo looks to use his size and box behind a busy jab, using his legs and keeping distance between him an dhis opponent. Although not a powerful fighter he does throw crisp shots, and his straight left hand is a genuinely damaging punch whilst his jab is a shot that can control fights. Sadly though he can struggle on the inside and if fighters get at him they can legitimately get to him and break him down.
The 31 year old Yuto Shimizu will be viewing this bout as a opportunity to secure his second title fight, following a loss in a Japanese title fight in 2016 to Yuki Nonaka. Since his loss to Nonaka we've not seen Shimizu being active, with only 3 bouts, but he has proven his value with 2 excellent bouts, a win and a loss, against Charles Bellamy. Prior to facing Nonaka we had also been impressive by Shimizu thanks to wins over the likes of Hikaru Nishida, a win that has aged wonderfully, Toru Chiba, Takehiro Shimokawara and Yosuke Kirima. Those may not be big wins outside of Japan but in Japan they are very good domestic level wins.
Shimizu, like Shindo, is a freak at the weight with a very wiry frame. His punching isn't as crisp as Shindo's, and in fact his hands look really slow, but he's tough, has more power on his shots than Shindo and seems more consistent, with his overall output. He has more to him than his jabs and straights and has a capable, if not incredible inside game. Where he struggles however is that he looks to be a slow starter and in both of his bouts with Charles Bellamy he looked really slow to get going. When he got up to speed he never looked sensation, but looked consistent and was willing to go war.
To us this feels like one of those bouts where Shindo has the type of opponent to look fun with. Shimizu is flawed, very flawed, but comes forward and will be looking to force the fight to be fought on the inside. Early on that won't work and Shindo will make the most of his edge in speed, though as the bout goes on we see Shimizu getting more success, getting closer and out working Shimizu with heavier shots. It's just a case of whether he can start that charge early enough and whether he can keep up with Shimdo's movement. Out guess is it will be too little too late from Shimizu, and Shindo will be the one getting a chance to reclaim the Japanese title next year.
Prediction - SD8 Shindo
Earlier this year Korean fighter Jung Kyoung Lee (7-2-1, 3) scored a career best win, stopping Samuel Colomban to claim the OPBF Light Middleweight title. He returns to the ring later this month to make his first defense of that title, as he takes on Japanese veteran slugger Akinori Watanabe (37-7-1, 31) in what could be a really fan friendly contest, and the next step on the rebuilding process of Korean boxing.
Lee was a former martial artist who turned to boxing in 2017 and despite suffering a couple of early career setbacks, stumbling to 3-2-1 after 6 bouts, he has really come into his own with a 4 fight winning run. That winning run hasn't just had 1 good win over Colomban, but also includes a notable decision win over Tonghui Li, in what was a very oddly scored bout. Those two wins are two of the best of any active Korean boxer and shows that the man from Seoul is getting better.
Although improving Lee does still have a lot of areas that he needs to iron out. He's not the quickest, the biggest hitter or a particularly smooth fighter. He is improving, and rounding off, but there is a lot of work left for him to do. What he does have is a good tank, good physical strength and a gritty toughness. He'll never been a naturally smooth fighter, but he appears to be a hard worker, and as far as the Korean scene is concerned he actually comes across as a bit more intelligent than many Korean fighters, countering and using a bit of lateral movement. Whilst he does have some intelligent aspects he is very much a left hand happy type of fighter, who doesn't make the most of his southpaw stance.
Whilst Lee is on the way up it's hard to really know where Watanabe's career currently stands. The heavy handed Japanese fighters was long regarded as a glass cannon, but in recent years has shored up his defense and began to show some more durability, to go along with his attacking prowess. The 34 year old southpaw has been a professional for over 15 years and has gone on to achieve notable success. He has not only won the Japanese, OPBF and PABA titles at Welterweight but also claimed the Japanese "interim" title at Light Middleweight, a title he vacated to pursue this title bout.
Watanabe is a somewhat crude, but powerful, hard hitting and exciting fighter, willing to take one to land one. That mentality saw him suffering 3 straight stoppage losses in 2007-2008, but since then and another stoppage loss in 2010. Since then he has only really been stopped in wars, losing to Toshio Arikawa and Magomed Kurbanov, with that stoppage coming from facial swelling. His biggest issue is still his defense,
and in recent years his face has had a reputation for swelling badly, but seems to feel his offense is his best defense. Not always an effective tactic, as we saw when Takehi Inoue bullied him around the ring, but something that does see him playing to his strengths.
The experience and power edges both sit firmly with Watanabe, though he is the older man and is certainly the more damaged fighter. He's also on the road, fighting in Korea and the naturally smaller man. Although Watanabe is a live under-dog we do see him coming up short against the younger and hungrier Korean hopeful.
One thing to add is that this bout is taking place a rescheduled date. Originally it was supposed to take place much earlier in the year but Lee suffered a training injury forcing it be rescheduled for August 11th. This has seen Watanabe age a bit more, though we suspect there is still plenty of life in the veteran.
Prediction - UD12 Lee
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.