Back in early November we saw the Inoue brothers, Naoya and Takuma, both fight in world title bouts. On December 2nd we see their cousin, Koki Inoue (14-0, 11), attempt to claim his first international title, as he takes on hard hitting Filipino Jheritz Chavez (9-3-2, 7) in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Light Welterweight title.
Whilst Koki isn't as well known as his cousins he is usually a fun to watch fighter and Chavez, although not unbeatable, is a tough and heavy handed fighter who will be in there looking to take out Inoue and make a name for himself.
Trained by his uncle, Shingo Inoue, Koki Inoue was a stellar amateur with over 100 amateur wins and a number of notable amateur titles. Since turning professional in 2015 he has been moved aggressively and despite some frustrations has managed to score solid wins over a string of national and regional fighters. Earlier this year he claimed the Japanese title, with a decision win over Valentine Hosokawa and made his first defense in July, stopping Ryuji Ikeda.
In the ring Inoue is a boxer puncher. He's managed to show his boxing ability in decision wins over Marcus Smith and Valentine Hosokawa, boxing on the move and using the ring well. He does however look better as an aggressive fighter, using his combinations to demolish fighters with excellent hand speed, stinging power and smart punch placement. Sometimes he does seem too happy to get on the back foot and move, but when we see his aggressive mentality come through he really does look like an excellent prospect, able to make a mark at a much higher level.
The 28 year old Chavez isn't particularly well known but has shown himself to be a dangerous and tough fighter. He's certainly not the most polished, or technically sound, but he's heavy handed, always comes to win and does take a good shot. Sadly for Chavez he is pretty clumsy, quite flat footed and can be made to look very slow whilst opponents stick their jab through his guard. That was seen in 2017, when Hiroki Okada out boxed him whilst comfortably boxing behind his jab and it was clear that Chavez had no answer to Okada's reach. Notably however he did look a lot more positive in his 2018 loss to Rikki Naito, where he came on strong and had Naito in real trouble late on.
Although not the busiest fighter Chavez does have the tools to give problems to fighters. He's small and tough, a very hard man to budge with a good engine, heavy hands and a man who can fight with a smart gameplan. He boxes cautiously early on, gets an under-standing of his opponent and then presses with more intensity later in a bout. Despite his traits he can be a slow starter and whilst he is tough he does have holes in his defense, holes that Inoue could well make the most of.
We're expecting Chavez to press forward, but his lack of speed and size will allow Inoue to rack up the rounds early on, by simply boxing and moving. As the fight goes on however Chavez's pressure could end up causing Inoue problems, and that's when the bout will get interesting. Despite that we see Inoue having the energy in his legs to remain on the outside and control the fight.
Inoue certainly has the power to get Chavez's respect, and that may be the big difference between this bout, and contest between Chavez and Naito. Naito couldn't hurt Chavez, and when Chavez mounted his late surge he had nothing to be afraid of. Here we suspect Inoue's power could be enough to keep Chavez shelling up. Chavez will unload late, but we don't expect him to have much success against the talented Inoue.
Prediction - UD12 Inoue
Over the next few weeks we get a lot of Japanese title eliminators, as we find out who will be challenging for Japanese titles at the Champion Carnival in 2020. Whilst some of those are more attractive match ups than others one that looks like it could be a lot of fun is the Light Welterweight bout between Cristiano Aoqui (14-7-2, 10) and Daishi Nagata (13-2-1, 5). On paper this might not look like a great bout, but in reality we are expecting this to be one of the best eliminators this year, with the styles of the two men expected to gel perfectly.
Of the two men it's the Aoqui who is the more experienced professional. He turned professional back in 2006 and with 23 pro bouts under his belt the 30 year old puncher is a bit of a veteran. His record is certainly not great on paper, but losses to the likes of Valentine Hosokawa (SD8), Hiroki Okada (TD9) and Koki Inoue (RTD 2) are certainly nothing particularly shameful. Instead that show the level he has been competing at the last few years and there's certainly one or two of his career defeats that could easily have gone his way.
In the ring Aoqui isn't the most skilled, or the smoothest, but he is an entertaining fighter, with explosive power, an exciting and aggressive style. When he gets opponents hurt he goes for the kill with quick, heavy hitting combinations looking to take them out without giving them a chance to recover. Whilst it is the exciting combinations from Aoqui that catch the eye he does box well, using a good jab to open the door for his power shots, moving well and setting a solid tempo from start to end. He's always looking to get on the front foot and set the pace of the bout. As well as being aggressive Aoqui is quite flawed, he can be hit, and he can also been caught coming forward. Those defensive flaws, alongside his aggression, is why he makes for such good fights, and is a very TV friendly fighter.
Although less experienced as a professional Nagata was a solid amateur, running up a solid 41-21 (11) record, and he won the 2012 All Japan champion. He turned professional with pretty loft expectations on his shoulders, and those expectations didn't fade despite a draw on his debut, to Takeshi Inoue no less. Since then Nagata has been consistently matched tough, struggling with some opponents that he perhaps faced a little bit too early in his career. Those tough bouts have however toughened him up and last year we saw him give Rikki Naito all he could handle in an excellent bout for the OPBF Light Welterweight title, losing a split decision to Naito. In the bout with Naito we saw Nagata answer a lot of questions and prove what a good boxer he was, and show his will to win.
In the ring Nagata is a smart pressure fighter, he brings the pressure behind intelligent footwork and good jabs, pressing for openings, looking for gaps to strike in and mentally challenging his opponents. It's not the all action pressure of some other fighters, but it's a very clear style that is based around making opponents work hard for their space and their opportunities. Defensively he's relatively tight with his guard, but he can be hit through it and around it, and he is open to over hand rights, as we saw against Naito. He seems to be able to take a decent shot, but there are question marks about his overall durability given how he was essentially bullied and battered by Vladimir Baez in his first defeat.
Given that Aoqui likes to box at a high tempo, and unleash combinations, and Nagata applies a lot of forward movement, we're expecting to see the two men in range a lot, and trading blows in some thrilling sequences. If the power of Aoqui can trouble Nagata then this could be a short but thrilling action bout, but we're not expecting Aoqui to blow through his foe. Instead we suspect the jab of Nagata will offset Aoqui's power early on and we'll end up with a very exciting back and forth, in a bout that is very, very hard to call.
Prediction SD8 Nagata
The Light Welterweight scene in and around Asia isn't all that strong right now, despite some interesting fighters and fights that could take place in the division. One of the more notable fighters in the division is current OPBF champion Rikki Naito (21-2,7), who will be defending his title for the third time as he travels to Korea and takes on Gyu Beom Jeon (9-3-1, 4).
On paper this doesn't look like a great bout, but there's a lot of underlying sub stories here which are worth being aware of.
Firstly the bout has been rescheduled a number of times this year. The rescheduling has meant that Naito has been out of the ring for close to a year, with his last bout coming last October, when he struggled past Daishi Nagata in a barn burner. Not only has he been out of the ring for a while, but his last 2 bouts both saw him being dropped late, and left a lot of questions about his stamina. More tellingly however is the story about Naito's father and his bouts in Korea.
Cassius Naito, Rikki's father, fought in Korea 5 times, and lost all 5 bouts. Notably 4 of those losses came to Jae-Doo Yuh and the other one to Chong Pal Park. For Rikki this is personal and this is for his father, just as much as being for himself.
In the ring Rikki is a solid boxer, with nice speed and movement, good ring craft and he fights to his strengths. Sadly however he has always felt like an under-sized Light Welterweight, he's not got much stopping power at the weight, he's run on fumes in the final rounds of his last 2 bouts and as mentioned he's been dropped in his last 2 matches. There is a feeling that whilst he's talented, he's not going to go far at 140lbs due to his own failings. If he could make 135lbs safely he would likely fair better than he will at Light Welterweight.
Whilst Naito is an experienced fighter and is well known in the region, having won the Japanese Super Featherweight title before moving up to Light Welterweight, a lot less is known about Jeon. The Korean 27 year old debuted in 2016 losing on debut. He was 2-2-1 after 5 bouts and 4-3-1 after 8, but he has rebuilt well with 5 straight wins, including 3 by stoppage. On paper he hasn't been fighting at a high level, but a 2018 win against Dong Hee Kim was solid and saw him claim the South Korean title.
Like many Korean fighters Jeon is aggressive, a bit raw defensively but he has a fan friendly style. He puts some pepper on his right hand, likes to fight at mid to close range and fires in body shots. Sadly for Jeon he doesn't set a typically high work rate, and although he does seem to have some promise this is a huge step up in class for him.
We have seen Naito struggle in recent bouts, he has been inactive and his father did fail to win in any of his Korean bouts. Despite that he should have the skills in his locker to take home a clear win against Jeon who isn't ready for a bout at this level. Jeon will come to win, but be out worked, out sped and out thought, before being broken down and stopped.
Prediction - TKO9 Naito
To begin a busy July we'll see Japanese Light Welterweight champion Koki Inoue (13-0, 10) make his first defense, as he takes on domestic foe Ryuji Ikeda (14-5-4, 9) at the legendary Korakuen Hall. For Inoue this looks to the next step forward on his rise to a potential world title shot, whilst Ikeda gets a chance to gate crash, and make his name against a member of the Inoue clan.
The unbeaten champion has been on the radar since making his professional debut back in late 2015. A lot of the early attention his career got was due to the fact he was the older cousin of the Inoue brothers, Naoya Inoue and Takuma Inoue. He was also trained by their dad, his uncle, Shingo Inoue, and like Naoy and Takuma he was a stellar amateur on the Japanese domestic scene. For those who followed the Japanese scene he was an exciting addition to the Ohashi gym, and given he fights at 140lbs he was someone who could make his mark on the international stage, fighting in a weight class that gets more attention than the lower classes.
Early in his career Inoue's competition was poor, though in 2016 he stepped up, beating Futoshi Usami, and then added fighters like Mitsuyoshi Fujita, Cristiano Aoqui and Dong Hee Kim to his list of victims, as he gradually moved to a Japanese title fight. Unlike his cousins he had a slow climb, which result in him getting his first title fight last time out. In that title fight Inoue out boxed veteran Valentine Hosokawa, putting on a boxing display against the aggressive Hosokawa, who really struggled to cut the distance and use his trademark volume. It wasn't an exciting bout, by any stretch, but was a comfortable and relaxed performance by the talented southpaw boxer-puncher. He admitted it wasn't the most exciting, but it was controlled and given he how changed tempo late in the bout it was clear he had a lot more in the tank than he showed.
The challenger is much, much less well known than the champion, despite having significantly more professional bouts. Ikeda hasn't got the Inoue name, or the Ohashi Gym backing, instead being managed by Shinji Takehara and Takanori Hatakeyama, but he is ranked by the JBC and is pretty fun fighter to follow. He's 24 years old and has been a professional for close to 7 years, developing from a small Lightweight into a fully fledged Light Welterweight. Despite starting his career 2-1-1 Ikeda woud shine in 2013, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year, at Lightweight and score notable wins over Cristiano Aoqui and Ryosuke Takami on route to that crown. Since his rookie triumph he has gone 8-4-3 (7), showing himself to have power in his shots, but not quite ability to beat his better opponents, such as Kazuyasu Okamoto and Darragh Foley.
In the ring Ikeda is an aggressive fighter, looking to come forward, launch big right hands and look for a finish. He's crude, predictable and uncultured, but with his aggression he does have the potential to be in some exciting bouts. Sadly that excitement is dependent on him facing someone with a style to fight back and sometimes fighters will better fight to their strengths, move and simply out box him.
It's hard to see what Ikeda has to really test Inoue. He has a hard right hand but it's a thudding powershot, rather than a snappy concussive blow, he's wide open, defensively flawed and very basic. Ikeda has been hand slected by Inoue, and promoter Hideyuki Ohashi, to help make the champion shine and that's exactly what we're expecting to see here. Ikeda's flaws will see Inoue ripping him apart, and we would be surprised if Ikeda lasted more than 6 rounds with the champion, who will be looking to leave an impression here.
Pediction Inoue TKO5
Seeing unbeaten fighters clash, with similar records, is something we don't see often enough, and it's a shame as it's quite exciting to see similarly matched fighters going up against each other in bouts that look like 50-50 contests. Both where both men having something to lose and both are taking a risk are always great.
On April 8th we get one such bout as Japan's Andy Hiraoka (13-0, 9), the Japanese Youth Light Welterweight champion, takes on Thai foe Atchariya Wirojanasunobol (12-0, 5). On paper this is a mouth watering bout, a real test for both men, and the winner could end up using their victory to move towards a regional title fight, and move onwards and upwards.
The 22 year old Hiraoka first made a mark back in 2014, as an 18 year old. The tall and rangy southpaw went on to make his way to the 2014 Rookie of the Year final at Lightweight, before needing to pull out due to illness. He would then take almost 2 years away from the ring before returning in late 2016 to score a couple of wins over Thai foes. That was followed by a sensational 2017 for the youngster, who would win the Japanese Light Welterweight title in November that year. Since then has had two more wins, scoring a single defense of the title in one of those bouts.
Hiraoka is a tall and rangy fighter, standing at 5'11". He's a southpaw with good speed, really solid power, and good boxing fundamentals. He's still a maturing young man, rather than a fully grown man, and there is a sense that he could certainly mature into a strong Welterweight in the future, adding muscle and meat to his bones as he develops physically. At the moment he does struggle when he's under pressure, and isn't a great inside fighter, but at range he is very good and if he can use jab and straight shots he does look very hard to beat.
Atchariya is a 29 year old Thai who debuted in late 2014 and has slowly gone about making a name for himself. A number of his early opponents were novices, though he did score some decent early wins over Heri Andriyanto and Stevie Ongen Ferdinandus. Despite the slow start to his career it was really in 2018 that he came into his own, scoring really solid wins over Kaewfah Tor Buamas and Taisho Ozawa, his two best wins by far and both came on WP Boxing shows in Bang Phun.
Atchariya is a pretty solid fighter himself. He's not a big puncher, but he does have nice variety to his shots, moves around the ring well and fights very confidently, with a lot of belief in ring IQ and how he controls distance. Despite his skills he doesn't have a great work rate, he's not hugely power or quick. He's certainly very confident in the ring, but he's not the most spectacular in any way. More a solid all rounder than a fighter who does anything amazingly well.
We suspect that the Ohashi team, who manage Hiraoka, will have selected the Thai for a reason and it's likely his work rather and lack of power. Despite that this isn't a given win for their guy and Atchariya has the ability to sneak the rounds, make Hiraoka miss and counter him. We favour Hiraoka to win, in what will perhaps be an ugly fight at times, but this is a very clear step up in class and by far his toughest bout to date.
The Japanese Light Welterweight scene has slowly developed into something quite interesting recently, with not only a handful of established fighters at the weight, but also a good crop of rising hopefuls. This coming Saturday we see a clash of established fighter and rising hopeful colliding for the Japanese national title.
The bout in question will see 37 year old champion Valentine Hosokawa (24-6-3, 11) attempt to make his third defense of the title as he takes on mandatory challenger Koki Inoue (12-0, 10), the cousin of Naoya and Takuma Inoue. For Hosokawa this will be his 34th career bout, in a career that began back in 2006, and his 7th bout at title level. For Inoue this will be his first title bout, and comes less than 42 months after his professional debut. Not only that but is a very clear step up for the challenger against a very experienced and talented champion.
Hosokawa, for those who haven't seen him or followed him through his career, is a real physical freak. At the age of 37 he has an insane work rate and engine, his style is that of an aggressive swarmer, who doesn't hit hard but hits often and typically our works opponents. Although he's had sme pretty decent unbeaten runs he is currently in the best form of his career, with wins over Quaye Peter, Koichi Aso, Vladimir Baez and Takashi Inagaki. Even his most recent losses, to Noriaki Sato and Hiroki Okada, were very competitive decisions, and he showed he was still a damn good fighter in both of those set backs.
Hosokawa has come through the ranks the hard way. Built his success on experience and not seen losses as a reason to give in. He's come a really long way since winning the 2008 Rookie of the Year, at Lightweight, and bounced back well from two stoppage losses in OPBF title bouts, to Shinya Iwabuchi and Min Wook Kim. Even in his stoppage losses he showed incredible toughness and determination, before eventually being ground down by heavier handed fighters. Sadly though, we do wonder what his body has left, and he turns 38 just days after this fight. It could be that Hosokawa will be the next victim of father time.
Inoue, like his cousins, is a product of Shingo Inoue's training and like Naoya he's a strong, powerful fighter with skills. His performances at times have been excellent, but at others he has not really shined, and sometimes that's not been his fault. For example his fight with Cristiano Aoqui ended due to an injury suffered by Aoqui. When he's looked good however he has looked sensational with great combinations, movement, and sharp punching. Sadly his last performance showed little of that, as he put in a tame effort in a Japanese title challenger decider bout against Marcus Smith. Inoue would beat Smith, but looked poor doing so, before revealing he had taken several injuries into the bout. Injuries that likely played a part in his poor performance.
At 26 years old Inoue is coming into his physical prime. He's a clear talent, despite not being on the same level as his better known cousins, but this is a huge step up in class. He's gone from fighting the likes of Aoqui and Smith to fighting the Japanese champion, a former OPBF title contender and a man who is a nightmare to fight with his experience and work rate. If he's still carrying niggling injuries as well this could be too much, at the wrong time.
Whilst he is stepping up, we do favour Inoue to win. We think he's the stronger and faster man, he's certainly not had the miles on the clock Hosokawa's had. However he will have to work harder for this bout than for anything other since he turned professional, he needs to focus on controlling the ring, landing body shots and tiring Hosokawa with smart boxing. If he gets into a war that will not bode well for the challenger, even if he does hit harder, as Hosokawa will rely on his experience of a war, and come out on top.
This is a major test for both men, and should tell us a lot about Inoue's potential and what Hosokawa has left in his legs. It's an interesting bout, and a real test for the third member of the Inoue clan. But a test that he has the ability to pass, with the right game plan.
On February 18th we'll see an IBF Light Welterweight world title eliminator, as Japan's insanely tough Akihiro Kondo (31-7-1, 18) takes on rising Thai hopeful Downua Ruawaiking (14-0, 11), also known as Apinun Khongsong. The bout, will take place at the Korakuen Hall as the headline bout of an "A-Sign Bee" show, and promises a lot.
Kondo is best known outside of Japan for one bout, his 2017 contest with Sergey Lipinets for the IBF title. That bout saw Kondo take Lipinets the distance, and surprisingly actually fight pretty evenly with the Kazakh born American based Russian. What fans perhaps weren't aware of is that before that bout Kondo was a notable name on the Japanese scene, having debuted back in 2006. He had won the 2007 Rookie of the Year at Lightweight, claimed the Japanese Lightweight in 2009 and had been a featuring in the national title scene until 2013. He then had a short retirement before bouncing back and rebuilding his career to the point where he won the WBO Asia Pacific Light Welterweight title and earned an IBF title fight.
Against Lipinets we saw Kondo prove his was tough, had good stamina and under-rated boxing skills. He took solid blows from Lipinets and never looked hurt, whilst managing to put pressure on to the highly fancied Lipinets. That toughness is something we've seen right through his career, a career that has had ups and downs but certainly appears to have contributed to a solid fighter. In the ring Kondo is consistent, he's someone who will typically fight at a good pace, and will pressure through out, mixing up the pressure with intelligent punching. Although not a puncher he's gone 7-1 (7) in his last 8, and has certainly developed more belief in his power in recent years.
At the age of 22 Downua looks like he is one of the next rising stars of the Thai scene. He made his debut in June 2016 and moved his way up the regional scene, beating Heri Andriyanto in December 2016 Adam Diu Abdulhamid in August 2017 and most recently Sonny Katiandagho in December 2018. Although still a relative novice in professional boxing it's clear he's a very talented fighter, with heavy hands and impressive composure, having taken almost invited pressure from Katiandagho so that he could counter. He looks a more natural fighter than someone like Teerachai Kratingdaenggym, but this is by far his biggest test.
Although fighting at 140lbs Downua looks a big fight. He's not far off being 6' tall and has a long reach, which likely helps him generate his power. He's a blunt puncher with heavy hands, but a sharp puncher, with scything shots that catch opponents clean. He's also a relaxed looking fighter, with nice movement, under-rated speed and real accuracy. He's the sort of fighter you would see typically Thai team padding the record of, letting him develop slowly and building a good record, but for some reason he's being taken a different direction, potentially from a team that has learned that fighters can regress with too many mismatches. Saying that there are mistakes, especially when it comes to his defense and the way he drops his hands, but it seems likely that as he takes on better competition those mistakes will be tidied up, and against Kondo we expect him to be fighting smartly.
The big question here is whether the bout is coming too soon for Downua. At the age of 22 he is still a boxing baby and has only had 14 fights, accounting for 55 rounds. If Downua has got the stamina for 12 rounds, can keep his fluidity and speed through out then he has a real chance to upset the Japanese veteran. The reality however isn't that simple and we suspect the experience and determination of Kondo will prove to be too much, at this early stage, for the Thai.
We're predicting a late stoppage win for Kondo, perhaps even whilst he's down on the cards.
The Uzbeks are well and truly coming. Last year we saw so many Uzbek fighters leave a mark on the sport and it seems almost certain that 2019 will be an even bigger year for Uzbek boxers. One of those who impressed last year was heavy handed Light Welterweight hopeful Shohjahon Ergashev (15-0, 14), who went 5-0 (4) during a huge year for his career. He will be looking to build on his growing reputation this year, and will be returning to the ring on February 15th to take on fellow unbeaten Mykal Fox (19-0, 5), in what looks like a mouth watering match up.
Ergashev really made his mark at the start of 2018, when his bout with Sonny Fredrickson was televised. Not only was it televised but it ended with Ergashev scoring a 3rd round TKO win over Fredrickson in what turned out to be a show case for the exciting Uzbek, who quickly got compared to Naseem Hamed. That win saw Ergashev move to 11-0 (11), however his perfect stoppage run would come to an end 3 months later, when Wang Zhimin survived 10 rounds with Ergashev, who took a wide decision win. Following that bout Ergashev would go on to score 3 wins, the final of which saw him taking out Nazareno Gaston Ruiz in 18 seconds in December.
Ergashev, like many of the top Uzbeks breaking through the ranks right now, is extremely heavy handed, aggressive, exciting and has a rawness to him. Technically he can be good, but he's more of an unorthodox southpaw than a text book fighter, and is someone who clearly knows he hits hard. There is a lot more to him than just his power, and the comparisons to Naseem Hamed seem to be based around his unorthodox boxing, but we dare say we've not seen how good Ergashev really is. When he gets pushed we're likely to see a lot more form him and it might even be fair to suggest we've not seen him move beyond third gear yet.
At 6′ 3½″ the 23 year old Fox is a huge Light Welterweight, and will have size advantages over pretty much anyone he faces. He's around 5" taller than Ergashev and like the Uzbek he's also a southpaw, and lets be honest no one likes fight tall, rangy southpaws. Despite his young age he has been a professional for close to 5 years, having made his debut in April 2014. Since his debut he has faced a mixture of limited competition, fellow hopefuls and a veteran, name DeMarcus Corley. On paper the win over Corley, which came last year against a 44 year old Corley, is his best to date. Sadly it was also a close win, over a guy who is over a decade removed from his prime.
Fox usually towers over opponents and uses a nice crisp jab, making the most of his rach and speed to control fights. Whilst he does have an excellent jab his straight left hand does look slow and predictable, he seems to lack power in his power shots and that will be a problem in making a fighter like Ergashev give him any respect. He does have nice movement and good foot speed, to go with his jab, but there is a big difference between nice movement and the type of movement needed to last with someone like Ergashev.
We suspect that Fox will look to box behind his long levers, get the crisp jab in the face of Ergashev and box at range.Sadly for him Ergashev will have different plans and won't care too much about the jab of Fox, instead he will be looking to steam roll the American and we suspect that he'll find than easier than many will expect. We wouldn't be surprised, at all, if Ergashev stops Fox inside 5 rounds, and takes another step towards a potential world title fight.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On February 10, undefeated Japanese star Hiroki Okada faces former World champion Raymundo Beltran in a WBC Eliminator.
Hiroki Okada (19-0/13 KOs), one of the brightest Japanese boxing stars of this generation, is currently ranked at the top 10 of the Super Lightweight division. Competing in the sport since his high school days, as an amateur, he won the National Sports Festival Tournament (Japan’s premier sporting event) twice, before turning pro.
Going 7-0 (all stoppages) prior to winning the Japanese title, Okada defended this legendary championship 6 times, from 2014 to 2016, against Koichi Aso (23-8) twice, Hayato Hokazono (18-5), Masanobu Nakazawa (18-2), Cristiano Aoqui (13-7) and Valentine Hosokawa (24-6), which proved to be his toughest at the time, as Hosokawa was a much stronger fighter than him. Despite taking a beating, he still managed to come out on top.
As Okada was moving up in the rankings, he began facing international competition and on December of 2017, he faced Jason Pagara (41-3) for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title. A long-time WBO International champion, the Filipino fighter was undefeated since 2011 and with only two decision losses in his entire career. Okada kept peppering him with left jabs (a key weapon to his arsenal) and eventually connected with an uppercut in the sixth round, which left him unable to respond to the referee’s count, giving Pagara his first stoppage loss and himself the strap.
After dispatching world title contender Ciso Morales (19-8) in just the first round (same strategy as in the Pagara bout, only this time he dropped him with a counter right hook) Okada signed with Top Rank and made his US debut this past September against Cristian Rafael Coria (28-7).
It’s worth mentioning that Okada has been training at the Kadoebi Houseki Boxing Gym, a gym that has produced many champions like WBC Strawweight World champion Eagle Kyowa, WBC & Lineal Flyweight World champion Koji Kobayashi, IBF Super Bantamweight World champion Yukinori Oguni, WBA Lightweight World champion Yusuke Kobori and unified Japanese, OPBF & WBO Asia Pacific Heavyweight champion, as well as K-1 champion, Kyotaro Fujimoto. Okada will need to be at his best when he takes on “Sugar” Ray Beltran, for a chance at the WBC World title.
The 20 year veteran Raymundo Beltran (35-8/21 KOs) finally won the World championship last year, at 36 years of age. The road to the gold wasn’t an easy one though.
His journey began in 2013 when he fought Ricky Burns (43-7) for the WBO Lightweight title, at the Englishman’s home turf. Sugar Ray brought his A game that night, dominating the fight and even dropping Burns with his patented left hook and also breaking his jaw. As the fight went the distance, it was almost certain that a new champion was going to be crowned but the judges declared the match a draw, a result that was deemed controversial by many.
Beltran failed to win the big one once again, this time against Terence Crawford (34-0) in 2014. The third time was supposed to be the charm, after he knocked out 2 division World champion Takahiro Ao (28-3), with an overhand right in the second round. However, due to missing weight and testing positive for illegal substances, the WBO title remained vacant.
The Mexican fighter made his return in 2016, after a 1 year suspension, winning 5 fights in a row, including a win over 2 time WBA interim Super Featherweight World champion Bryan Vasquez (37-3) to earn another opportunity at the strap. Beltran finally became the WBO Lightweight World champion by defeating former WBA title holder Paulus Moses (40-5) in February of 2018. Unfortunately, the celebration was short lived, as he lost in his first defense. Now, almost 6 months later, Beltran will make his Super Lightweight debut against an undefeated opponent, in Hiroki Okada.
This fight will be a significant turning point for both Okada as well as Beltran. For Okada, this is without a doubt his biggest test yet, a match against a former World champion. Despite being a top ranked fighter (WBO #2 / WBA #3 / IBF #5 / WBC #9) he has never faced someone, the caliber of Beltran. Considering how poor his last performance was against Coria, a loss here is not an option for the Japanese star. Okada will need to keep him at bay with his left jabs, while trying to score some big shots with the right. A knock out victory will probably not be on the cards for him in this match. On the other hand, Sugar Ray has a killer left hook. Most of his KO wins have come due it. That’s his money maker and he will definitely look to land it again. His weakness though, is his defense. He usually leaves his head exposed and because of that he has been knocked down on numerous occasions throughout his career. Granted that, this is his gameplan most of the time, to take punishment in order to dish it back, but this might get him in more trouble than usual against a much younger and faster rival here. Plus, there’s the unknown factor of how Beltran will fair in this new weight class. To conclude with, this can be described as a “do or die” situation, as a loss for either man could be the end of their push (Okada) or even their career (Beltran) at this point. So who will leave California as the number 1 contender for the WBC World championship ? We will find out this Sunday.
Next year we'll see Koki Inoue look to increase the Inoue clan's hoard of titles, following his recent win over Marcus Smith in a Japanese title eliminator.
Whilst we know that Inoue has a Japanese title shot set for the 2019 Champion Carnival, we're not yet sure who he will be facing for that title in the new year. We will however find out on December 1st, when current champion Valentine Hosokawa (23-6-3, 10) defends his title for the second time, and faces off with fellow veteran Takashi Inagaki (20-17-2, 9). The winner of that will be the man that Inoue challenges.
At 37 Hosokawa's career has been like a fine wine, and he's really become an excellent fighter following a less than spectacular start to his career. He began fighting professionally in 2006, fighting to a draw with fellow debutant Yoshinori Kanazaki, and would suffer his first defeat the following year to Akihiro Kondo. After 10 bouts he was 6-1-3 (3) but would go on to win the 2008 Rookie of the Year at Lightweight, showing his potential. That potential would drive him to getting a shot at the Japanese Light Welterweight title in 2013, losing to Shinya Iwabuchi, and an OPBF title shot, losing to Min Wook Kim. Those losses were damaging, painful beatings, but they showed Hosokawa's drive, determination, heart and toughness. Those traits kep him in the sport, and saw him give Hiroki Okada problems in 2016, when Hosokawa got his third title fight. He came up short again there, but would go on to claim the Japanese title in 2017, winning a brilliant war with Koichi Aso. His only defense since then saw him pulling himself off the canvas to stop Vladimir Baez, in another thrilling contest.
In the ring Hosokawa is a man who defies all logic. He's a 37 year old with an insane engine, he seems to throw more punches as a fight goes on. He's not a huge puncher, by any stretch, but his output is grinding, both physically and mentally, and he will look to break opponents down through sheer attrition. Not only does he have an incredible work rate but he's also incredible tough, taking real beatings to Iwabuchi and Kim before being stopped. His determination and will to win are probably his key traits and are certainly responsible for him going as far and having a career that has peaked in his mid 30's.
Inagaki is a veteran himself, at 33 years old, and is getting his third Japanese title fight, after coming up short to Takashi Miura in a Super Featherweight shot in 2010 and Yoshitaka Kato in a Lightweight title fight 2011. As you can assume from that he's hs been a around a while, and debuted way back in July 2003, losing in the first round of his debut to fellow debutant Tatsuya Ishii. Inagaki's career has been a patchwork of wins and losses, though there are very few real highs from his career, other than his losses in title fights. Hios best wins are over the likes of Kazunori Fujita back in 2008, Joel Dela Cruz in 2009, Kazuma Kobayashi in 2012 and Yuya Okazaki last year and he does hold a notable draw with Daisuke Sakamoto. Sadly those results are easily outweighed by notable losses to the likes of Miura, Kato, Koichi Aso, Shusaku Fujinaka, Daishi Nagata and Yusuke Konno, with the losses to Nagata and Konno coming earlier this year.
The veteran challenger is a relatively slow fighter. He looks at his best when he's the man applying pressure, through much of his work is slow, and he looks like he's moving, and punching, through treacle. He looks strong and powerful, but isn't a puncher, doesn't have high output, and isn't swift.
Given the style of Hosokawa is to make everything into an intense, and massively entertaining, war we can't help but feel that he will simply out work and break down the challenger. Inagaki has been stopped 6 times during his career, and we suspect there will be another stoppage loss here for the challenger. If we're right and he is stopped he may well think about hanging up the gloves and retiring from the sport, ending his long career.
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.