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
Since suffering an opening round TKO loss in 2013 we've seen Yuki Nagano (16-2, 12) go on a fantastic run of 14 straight wins, against some of the most notable Welterweights in Japan. the latest of those wins as in April when he travelled to Osaka and defeated Ryota Yada to become the Japanese Welterweight champion. This coming Saturday he returns to the ring seeking his first defense of the title, as he takes on veteran foe Makoto Kawasaki (11-7-1, 2).
The talented Nagano really has turned his career around after a 2-2 start to life in the professional ring and wins over the likes of Giraffe Kirin Kanda, in the 2015 Rookie of the Year final, Riku Nagahama, Yuki Beppu and most recently Ryota Yada really have been impressive. Now aged 30 he has a great combination of experience, skill, power and is still young enough to have not really lost any of the physical traits. He's also helped out by being a southpaw, and being backed by one of the most notable Japanese promoters, Teiken.
Although on a great domestic run it's hard to imagine Nagano mixing on the world level. There's a fair argument to suggest he's one of the best fighters at Welterweight in the Asia Pacific region, but he's a long, long way behind the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford. He's pretty basic, but heavy handed, patient, accurate and has good time. He has also shown a real will to win, though of course he has question marks about his chin and after winning the title does he still have the desire that lead him there?
Kawasaki is a proper veteran, he's 35 years old and has been a professional for over 7 years, yet hasn't really managed to have consistency in his biggest fights, despite facing several notable names. His debut came against Koki Tyson, and ended in a draw, and since then he has been a win some lose some fighter through his career, losing to the likes of Hironobu Matsunaga, Ryota Yada, Daisuke Sakamoto and Xingxin Yang. Although he has picked up losses he has shown an ability to score upsets, beating the likes of Kazuya Murata and Yuichi Ideta. During his 19 fight career he has only been stopped once, being taken out in 7 rounds by Yada back in 2016.
In the ring Kawasaki is a pretty tough fighter, but lacks real power, and boxes mostly off the jab. He has struggled to get respect of fighters in the past and, when he's been backed up, he has been unable to force opponents to respect him. His first 3 losses, all in 4 or 5 round bouts, were close, but his last 4 have all been much clearer defeats and it really does seem like he's struggled as he's stepped up in levels and has had his jab neutralised.
We're struggling to see how Kawasaki can pull it off here. He's the big under-dog and although a veteran appears to have been selected as an easy first defense for Nagano, who we see taking a dominant and clear win. The winner isn't in much doubt, here, and it would be a huge surprise to see Kawasaki upset the in form, younger, stronger, hard hitting champion.
Prediction - TKO9 Nagano
To begin 2017 we had expected to see Japanese Welterweight champion Toshio Arikawa (14-4, 12) to defend his title at the Champion Carnival against mandatory challenger Daisuke Sakamoto (13-8-3, 8). Sadly in the run up to that fight the champion suffered a training injury, breaking his jaw, and forced that bout to be cancelled. Rather than leaving the title on ice the JBC ordered Sakamoto to face off with Makoto Kawasaki (9-4-1, 2) in a bout for the interim title. That bout closes out the relatively quiet month of June and gives fans at the Korakuen Hall another potentially thrilling contest.
On paper the bout might not look great. After all between them they have a combined record of 22-12-4 (10) and neither has made an impact above domestic level. The reality however is that they are are well matched, both are hungry and both men are looking to make the most of their opportunity here. It's a bout that has real intrigue and has a genuine reward for the winner.
Of the two fighters it's Sakamoto who comes in to the bout with genuine form. The 35 year old veteran has gone 6-0-2 since losing a very narrow decision to Nobuyuki Shindo back in December 2013. That 8 fight unbeaten run has seen him score a now huge opening round win over Toshio Arikawa, a little more than 3 years ago,claim a decision over Ryoji Tanaka and fight to a technical draw with Takashi Inagaki. Whilst his last 3 wins have been against poor Thai's he hasn't been allowing ring rust to build up, and has instead been keeping his eyes focused on the Japanese title.
Although Sakamoto is in the form of his career, and has turned a 7-8-1 (3) record around, he is much better than the numbers suggest. He has lost close ones to the likes of Shindo, Kazuyoshi Kumano, Yasuhiro Okawa, and Yoshitaka Katabami and has been matched hard on the domestic level, fighting the likes of Yuji Wauke and Daichi Sakoda very early in his career. Like many he has been matched hard and had to develop the hard way, which is why he is now reaping the rewards of such a poor looking record.
Aged 33 Kawasaki is a man who is really a bit of an unknown outside of the most hardcore of Japanese fans, and really doesn't have the time to suffer another set back. His most notable result is a draw, on debut, with Koki Tyson, who was also debuting. Since then he has fought some notable names, but has come up short against the likes of Hironobu Matsunaga, Noriaki Sato and Ryota Yada. That's not to say he doesn't have any good wins, but victories over Mazuya Murata, Takeshi Goda and Koji Iida are scarcely amazing.
With a lack of power Kawasaki will depend on his work rate and stamina here. He has shown both at at the 5 and 6 round distance but has only gone beyond 6 rounds twice, being stopped in one of those bouts and taking a decision in the other. He has never shown that he can comfortable go 8, never mind more, and he lacks the experience to really know what to do when fatigue sets in.
The bout probably won't be a memorable bout that transcends Japanese boxing, but we do expect the bout to be a lot of fun, and high octane and we expect to see Sakamoto just being that bit too good, too experienced and too hungry for his long awaited rematch with Arikawa to come up short here.
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.