Of all the bouts still to come in 2020 the one that has us the most excited to watch isn't a fight with big names. It's not even a world title bout. Instead it's a bout between two youngsters we've been following for a little while, and think could make for something very special when they get into the ring together on December 26th for a Japanese Youth title bout. It's not a bout we expect people worldwide to care too much about, but it's one that those who follow the Japanese scene in depth will be anticipating like Christmas day its self.
The bout in question is the 8 round Japanese Youth Light Welterweight title bout between the unbeaten and power punching Jin Sasaki (9-0, 8) and all action tough guy Aso Ishiwaki (8-2-1, 6). This is a bout that has the potential to be something that outshines the main event, its self a very good bout between Masayuki Ito and Hironori Mishiro, and in fact could be the Christmas Cracker that we all deserved this year.
It's a bout that has so many small sub-stories all playing a factor as well. Not only do we have two youngsters taking a major risk, but we also have the also great East Japan Vs West Japan rivalry, a Youth title on the line, and two men each wanting to take a huge stride down the path to stardom in 2020. That completely ignores the key reason to be excited however, the styles of the two men in the bout. Styles that should make for something amazing.
Of course with these not being the most well known of fighters we do need to explain why we're so excited about this bout. To begin with lets look at the unbeaten Jin Sasaki.
The 19 year old Sasaki is one of the best teenagers in boxing right now, and amazing he only turned 19 in July, by which point he was already 7-0 (6). The youngster is the star of the Hachioji Nakaya Gym and is a genuine revelation after going 1-3 in the amateurs. He turned professional in 2018 and debuted just weeks after his 17th birthday. Even at that young age his prodigious power was obvious and he stopped his first 4 opponents in a combined 8 rounds, whilst also making his international debut over in Bangkok. He would later enter the 2019 Rookie of the Year, at Lightweight, though had to pull out of the tournament at the East Japan final stage. Despite the disappointment of the Rookie of the Year in 2019 Sasaki has made himself a must watch fighter in 2020 with blow out wins over Shun Akaiwa and Tatsuya Miyazaki, and has been a star on the A-sign live Stream shows.
Unlike many Japanese fighters who are respectful, almost to a fault, Sasaki carries himself with an air of cocky confidence. His walk to the ring, his celebrations and his general attitude scream that he know he's a star and that he wants fans to pay attention to him. Whilst some of that is likely youthful exuberance a lot of it is stems from a very positive attitude and he seems to bask in the attention he has been receiving. He's blessed with that aura of a star, as well as brutally heavy hands, a finishers instinct and under-rated boxing skills to go with it. As with most Japanese fighters at 140lbs, we don't think he'll make a mark on the global stage, but on the domestic and regional picture he could be a real star for the next 10 to 15 years, if he wants to be.
As for Aso Ishiwaki he's a 21 year old fighting out of Nobuhiro Ishida's gym in Neyagawa, Osaka. Like Sasaki he didn't have much of an amateur pedigree and turned professional aged just 17. Sadly Ishiwaki lost on debut within a round, being stopped by Kanta Takenaka in a Lightweight bout. Sadly the inexperience of Ishiwaki showed here but just 4 months later he was back in the ring and started a 5 fight winning streak. That winning streak took him to the 2018 All Japan Rookie of the Year final, where he suffered a razor thin split decision loss to George Tachibana. It would have been easy to write him off after that bout, with a 5-2 (3) record, however he gritted his teeth, worked hard and had a break out 2019. That year began with a thrilling 6 round draw against Yoji Saito, and ended with a trio of stoppage wins, including one against former Japanese title challenger Ryuji Ikeda. By the end of the year we were desperate to see more of him.
In the ring Ishiwaki's style really reminds us of former world title challenger Daiki Kaneko. He's not the most technically well schooled or the biggest single punch puncher in the sport, though his power is certainly solid. But what he is, is a very tough, strong, physically powerful fighter, who comes forward, seems to have excellent stamina and grinds opponents down with aggression and work rate. Unlike Sasaki we don't see the cockiness or the aura of incredibly self belief with Ishiwaki, but we do see a self assured tough guy who has the mentality of a silent destroyer. He won't tell you he's good and he's not flamboyant, but he will show you he's good, and you will sit up and take note. In some ways that's a lot more intimidating than the outward confidence of a fighter like Sasaki.
When it comes to the actual fight it's a really hard one to call.
We expect to see Sasaki show a lot more care than he has in recent bouts, he's quick and heavy handed, but he will be respectful of Ishiwaki's toughness and strength, and his solid power. Sasaki will know that if this becomes a war he'll struggle to keep the pace with Ishiwaki. On the other hand he'll also need to land solidly enough to get Ishiwaki's respect early. If he can't this is going to be a long night for the teenage sensation.
As for Ishiwaki he has, at times, been a slow starter and he'll need to avoid that here. He'll need to apply pressure quickly, and look to break down Sasaki, asking him mental and physical questions round after round. The longer it goes the more he'll ramp up the pressure trying to break down Sasaki.
If Sasaki can hurt Ishiwaki, and it's a big if as the man from Osaka looked like a granite chinned monster against the hard hitting Yoji Saito, then there is a chance this could be over all. If he can't we suspect the higher level of competition will play a major role in the outcome.
We're feel that Ishiwaki will see out some real rocky storms early on, Sasaki will land some massive shots, wobbling Ishiwaki, hurting him, and maybe even dropping him. But won't be able to finish him off, and eventually the pressure and back and forth will break down Sasaki in a thrilling shoot out for the title. But we do not expect this to be a 1 and done rivalry and we wouldn't be surprised to see the two men clash again down the line.
Prediction TKO6 Ishiwaki
Way back in July we got a genuine upset in Japan as Daishi Nagata (15-2-1, 6) stopped Koki Inoue to claim the Japanese Light Welterweight title. That result was really unexpected with Inoue a clear favourite to win and to retain his title, before heading on to bigger and better things. Inoue however didn't get a chance to find his groove before being cut, and the referee was later forced to step in and stop the bout due to the damage on Inoue, who then announced his retirement from the sport.
On December 10th we'll see Nagata back in the ring as he goes for his first title defense and takes on tough veteran Akihiro Kondo (32-9-1, 18) at the Korakuen Hall. On paper this looks a really good match up, a tough first defense and a chance for Nagata to legitimise his title reign, whilst also looking like a chance for Kondo to claim another title and continue his long career. In reality however we don't expect this to be as competitive as it looks. In fact we have a feeling that this will actually be quite an easy defense for the newly crowned champion.
The 30 year old champion was a solid amateur before turning professional in 2014, facing a then debuting Takeshi Inoue in a really weird match up between two touted, former amateurs. That bout resulted in a draw before Nagata went on a decent run of results to boast an 8-0-1 (4) record by the end of 2016. In early 2017 he suffered his first loss, being stopped in 7 by the bigger, stronger and more powerful Vladimir Baez before rebuilding and putting on a great performance, in a loss, to Rikki Naito in 2018. Despite losing to Naito it was clear that Nagata had the tools to win domestic and regional titles, and since then he has reeled off 4 wins, including the one against Koki Inoue.
In the ring Nagata is a little battler. He can box, he can fight and he can brawl, but at his best he's a grinder, getting in an opponents face, working a high tempo, and bullying them around the ring. He's got really good stamina, with his best success against Naito coming late in the bout, and a very under-rated boxing brain. Whilst his win over Inoue was a genuine surprise, that was more due to how highly regarded Inoue was, and not the lack of skills we'd seen from Nagata. He's strong, he's relatively tough, he's energetic and he's a real handful. He's unlikely to make a mark at the higher levels due to a lack of size, and lacking fight changing power, but on the domestic and regional scene he's going to be a tough man to beat, especially now with his confidence riding sky high.
Aged 35 Akihiro Kondo is a genuine veteran of the sport. He made his professional debut in 2006, just weeks after his 21st birthday, and has gone through the ranks the hard way. He lost in his second professional bout before bouncing back to win Rookie of the Year in 2007 and the Japanese Lightweight title in 2009, beating Yoshitaka Kato, and moved to 13-1. Sadly though his reign was short, losing in his first defense against Nihito Arakawa, but his career continued on and he attempted to reclaim the title in 2012, losing a close decision to Kato in their second clash. He took 15 months away from the ring, from April 2013 to July 2014, before losing to Arakawa for a second time. Despite that set back he continued in his comeback, winning the WBO Asia Pacific Light Welterweight title in September 2016 and working his way to an IBF world title fight in 2017, losing Sergey Lipinets in 2017. He lost that bout, but gave Lipinets genuine resistance and one of his toughest bouts up to that point.
Sadly since the Lipinets bout Kondo has looked on the slide, going 3-2 with a KO loss to Downua Ruawaiking and a wide decision loss to Andy Hiraoka, both in 2019. It seems very much like father time is catching up with the tough, rugged veteran.
At his best Kondo was a solid, tough, fighter with under-rated defense, clean accurate punching, and a real will to win. He was a really hard man to beat, with good energy, hurtful power, solid skills, a really good jab and solid timing. On the back end of that he was never a big puncher, he was never particularly quick and he could be made to chase shadows. He was never impossible to beat, and he could be out pointed, as Kato and Arakawa did, but he looked so damn tough and hard to hurt, that the real game plan to beat him was to box him and night fight him. Sadly however those days appear to be behind him and he's become even slower than he used to be. He's still tough, despite the KO loss, but he's also very basic, and with what speed he did have now being gone he's a much easier man to beat in 2020 than he was in 2010.
At his best Kondo would have been a really tough first defense for Nagata. His toughness, physicality, strength and will to win would have given the champion real issues. In 2020 however we see Nagata being too quick, too sharp, too hungry and too good for Kondo. We suspect Nagata will look to get inside and will outwork Kondo up close and look to beat Kondo at his own game. If Nagata struggles with that we suspect he'll get on his toes and move, which would be a safer option but not the option we think he'll go with first. He'll want to make a statement and to do that he'll want to come forward, not give Kondo room to breathe and take the tires out of the 35 year old challenger.
We suspect Kondo will be too tough to be stopped but we do imagine he'll end up losing a very clear decision to the champion.
Prediction - UD10 Nagata
On November 21st at Korakuen Hall we are being treat to a very, very good card thanks to Dangan. The main event of the show is up at 140lbs and will see the winner walking away as the OPBF champion. Not only is there a notable title on the line for the bout but it is also a very, very interesting match up in terms of the fighters involved, their styles, weaknesses and the type of bout we're expecting to see. In fact we dare that the strengths of each fighter match the weaknesses of the other man, making this an incredibly interesting bout.
Coming in to the contest Rikki Naito (22-2, 7) is the reigning OPBF champion Light Welterweight champion, having won the belt in 2018 with a victory against Jeffrey Arienza. Since winning the belt he has recorded 3 defenses but in all 3 bouts he has had trouble, being dropped in two of those defenses, and really running on fumes in the other. In the other corner is the often under-rated Yusuke Konno (16-4, 9), who comes into the bout with little fanfare, but at 31 he'll know he can ill afford another set back.
Of the two men we suspect Rikki Naito is the much, much more well known. The second generation fighter is the son of former Japanese and OPBF Middleweight champion Cassius Naito. As a fighter Rikki managed to create some buzz in 2011, when he turned professional, but really broke through into the wider consciousness of Japanese fans in 2014, when he claimed the Japanese Super Featherweight title. After making 3 defenses he dipped his toes at Lightweight, beating Nihito Arakawa, before losing a technical decision in 2015 to Kenichi Ogawa. A second loss to Ogawa in 2016 saw Naito abandon the Super Featherweight division and later settle at 140lbs.
At 130lbs Naito was a talented boxer, with respectable power, good speed, good stamina and he looked like he was going to find himself being one of the next notable Japanese fighters at the weight. He was young, naturally talented and ticked a lot of boxes needed to be a solid fighter. The one thing he seemed to miss was physicality, instead relying on his movement and counter punching to get an opponents respect. We suspect the move to 140lbs was going to be a fail, but Naito surprised us, bulking up well, and maintaining his speed and timing really well. Sadly though his lack of physicality has proven to be an issue, and so to has his relative lack of punching power. He has also struggled with stamina at the weight and the bigger men have been able to lose early rounds before making a late charge. This has been seen particularly in his last 3 bouts, and he has been some what lucky to have built up the lead in the first 8 or 9 rounds to rely on when going to the judges.
The 31 year old Yusuke Konno has never really had much acclaim from fight fans, but he's certainly better than his record suggests. Like Naito he debuted in 2011, doing so at Welterweight, and in 2016 he competed in the Rookie of the Year, losing in the East Japan final to eventual All Japan Rookie of the Year winner Ryota Itoyama. By the end of 2015 he was 9-3 (3) and seemed to be toiling badly among the Japanese ranks. In 2016 he moved down in weight and quickly settled at 140lbs, where he got his first title fight. Sadly Konno lost that bout, but was in the lead before being stopped in the 10th, and final, round by Koichi Aso. It was a coming out performance, despite the loss, and since then Konno has has gone 5-0 (4), scoring notable wins against Kazuya Maruki, Takashi Inagaki, Vladimir Baez and Baishanbo Nasiyiwula, a win that netted him the WBA Asia title.
In the ring Konno is slow, he's a little bit on the clumsy side, and he can be out manoeuvred. His feet look somewhat clumsy, and his hand speed leaves much to be desired. He looks like he's there to be hit, and he is relatively open defensively. Watching him it looks hard to see how he's managed to have much success. However although looking bad he fights to his strengths. He has a heavy, deliberate, jab, he has criminally under-rated power, especially at 140lbs, he's tough, rugged, strong and big at the weight. Physically he's imposing, he can push folk around, he can take a shot and in a shoot out he can hold his own, as we saw again Baishanbo. Although his hands aren't quick, he does have sneaky speed, and seems to find a home for his shots with surprisingly success. He's also the sort of fighter who doesn't get discouraged, even when he's struggling for success.
In terms of pure boxing skills Naito is head and shoulders above Konno, but that's not always the key to victory. Naito's issues with stamina and getting a fighters respect could be a real problem here. We have no doubt that Naito will take the lead early on, using his speed and movement to rack up the rounds early on. We think Konno and his team are expecting that to happen too. Though where this becomes an interesting fight is the final 4 or 5 rounds. When Naito slows down. The question will be whether or not Konno will be able to get to Naito in those later rounds, or do enough early on to take the legs out of Naito a few rounds earlier.
If Konno can take the legs away from Naito a little sooner than others have been able to, and really push him down the stretch, we see this one being a razor thin decision either way. Konno's strength, size, and determination will be a handful for Naito in those final rounds.
Sadly we see the early lead of Naito being too much for Konno to reel in, but this will be much, much closer than many expect.
Prediction - Naito SD12
Whilst the most notable member of the Inoue family, Naoya Inoue, won't be in action until later in the year he's not the only member of the clan with a belt at the moment. The other is his cousin Koki Inoue (15-0, 12), who returns to the ring on July 16th to make a mandatory defense of the Japanese Light Welterweight title. The unbeaten champion will be taking on Daishi Nagata (14-2-1, 5) as part of the Champion Carnival, in what looks like a genuinely fantastic looking match up, though one the champion will enter as the clear favourite in.
Originally this bout was scheduled for a March date, which was originally delayed due to Inoue being injured in training. It was then rescheduled for May before being delayed again due to the out break of the on going issues that have had global impacts. As a result this bout will actually be the first Japanese title fight in months, after boxing was put on a hiatus in Japan.
The champion, who not only holds the Japanese title but also the WBO Asia Pacific title, turned professional with a lot of expectations on his shoulders. By the time he made his debut in late 2015 Naoya had already become a 2-weight world champion whilst Naoya's brother Takuma was the OPBF champion, winning that title in just his 4th professional bout. Sadly it did take Koki a bit longer to make an impact than either of his cousins, as domestic fighters seemed to give him a pretty wide berth at times. Despite some frustrations Inoue managed to secure himself a mandatory title in 2019, which he won by out boxing Valentine Hosokawa, to win his first title in his 13th professional bout.
Since winning the Japanese title in April 2019 Inoue has defended it once, beating Ryuji Ikeda in 5 rounds, and unified it with the WBO Asia Pacific title, by stopping Jheritz Chavez in 7 rounds.
In the ring Inoue is a southpaw boxer puncher. He's not quite as heavy handed, relative to his weight class, as Naoya, but he holds plenty of pop. He likes to move, use the ring and lure opponents into his shots, whilst calmly boxing on the back foot. It's not always the most exciting to watch him do his thing, but when he goes through the gears and lets his hands go he looks sensational, with quick, hard, free flowing combinations. Sadly he does often seem too cautious, which is a shame given that he's such a great fighter to watch when he does turn up the tempo.
Aged 30 this is Daishi Nagata's second shot at a title, following a very close loss in an OPBF title fight against Rikki Naito. The challenger is a very fun fighter to see in action, pressing fighter and looking to force opponents to break, mentally and physically. He's not unbeatable, and was taken out in 7 rounds back in 2017 by Vladimir Baez, but he's a real tough out at this level with his pressure and aggression. He used that pressure to out work and out point Cristiano Aoqui last October, to earn his title fight, and build on previous wins over Yusuka Tsukada and Min Ho Jung. He's not the biggest puncher, but he's physically strong and does enough power on his shots to get the results of opponents.
Nagata, like Inoue, is a southpaw and stylistically he very different to the champion. Whilst the champion likes to uses his legs, establish range and chip away before moving through the gears Nagata would prefer a tear up, and will press from the off. That pressure is a tactic that could beat Inoue, but will need to be amped up and sped up from Nagata, who will need to find a bit more zip in his footwork compared to what we've seen from him in the past.
Although we think Nagata has the style to cause problems at domestic level we do see Inoue as being too quick, too sharp, and too good. The pressure Nagata brings will, like Chavez's, be used against him and he will walk into shots, with Inoue chipping away against someone who appears to be a willing participant in their own beating. Nagata will be looking to try and walk down Inoue but it will not a successful idea and by the middle rounds Inoue will begin to come forward more and take out the gutsy, but over-matched, challenger.
Prediction - TKO8 Inoue
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.
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.