This coming weekend we'll see OPBF Super Featherweight champion Masanori Rikiishi (11-1, 6) look to record his first defense of the title, as he takes on exciting and aggressive Filipino challenger Tomjune Mangubat (15-3-1, 12). The bout doesn't feature a huge name in the sport, but does feature two men with the potential to compete at world level over the coming years, and the OPBF title could well be the key to either man unlocking a shot at world honours.
The 28 year old Rikiishi, the brother for former world champion Masamichi Yabuki, was put on the fast track from the moment he turned professional in 2007. His first two bouts came against fighters with a combined 10-4 record and he easily won both of those bouts before his team rushed him too quickly, and he ran into the hard hitting Kosuke Saka, with Saka stopping him in 2 rounds. Since then however he has bounced back excellently, and strung together good wins, beating the likes of Freddy Fonseca, Yuichiro Kasuya, Soreike Taichi and most recently Takuya Watanabe, with that win netting him the OPBF title. He has tested the water at Super Featherweight and Lightweight, and has seemingly decided that his future, for now, lies at 130lbs which suits his frame well.
Fighting out of the southpaw stance Rikiishi is a clever boxer, who uses the ring well, has something of a relaxed textbook style. He uses a stiff and accurate jab, to control the action, uses his footwork well to control range and chips away at fighters with his jabs early on. As rounds go by he looks to unleash heavier shots with his left hand, but is a very patient fighter, who bides his time, looks for the openings and makes the most of them. He's a frustrating fighter to watch, as he doesn't give many chances to his opponents, and takes the ones he gets, as we saw in impressive fashion against Taichi. By fighting in such a relaxed and calm manner he doesn't ever over exert himself, but when he wants to pick up the tempo he can. We saw last time out, against Watanabe, we saw him prove he can easily go 12 rounds when he needs to and mix more into his arsenal than we typically see from him. He's certainly not a 1-punch artist, or a slippery defensive genius, or someone with a titanium chin, but he is someone who understands the sport and knows what he's doing in the ring.
Aged 24 Tomjune Mungubat, aka the War Dog, is one of the many Filipino fighters who has gained a reputation for putting in sensational and exciting performances, regardless of results. He is a fighter who makes for fan friendly wars and will put on a show. He's not the most polished, or the most skilled, but he has very solid power, a good engine and the sorts of flaws that make for highly engaging battles with opponents, whether he's better than them or note. He first came to our attention in 2019, when he engaged in a 10 round thriller with Jong Seon Kang, losing a split decision to the Young Korean, and since then has gone 4-1 (3) with his only losing coming to the highly regarded Charly Suarez. Sadly his style does have its issues, especially against the more technically sound fighters, but given his power he will always be dangerous.
Mangubat is a tall, ranger fighter who doesn't have the most polished style, but he is aggressive, heavy handed, uses a lot energy, throws with bad intentions and loves coming forward. From the first bell to the final moments he will come forward, doing so behind a high guard and pressing the action. He can picked and prodded at, as we saw Charly Suarez do back in March, and he can be hurt, having been stopped in 2 of his 3 losses, but it takes a lot to stop him, and even Suarez had to unload barrage after barrage in the later rounds of their fight. Defensively he can look a bit rigid, especially when he's tired, but even then he is still dangerous and still throws enough to hurt fighters and keep them honest.
On paper this should a really good fight and a hard one to predict. Rikiishi is, easily, the more skilled of the two and the better pure boxer, but the tenacity, power, aggression and willingness to take risks will make Mangubat dangerous. Especially early on. Rikiishi will need to be cautious in the early going, following the gameplan set forth by Suarez of picking, poking, and neutralising the aggression of Mangubat. If he can do that early on and then start to press more himself, landing his spiteful left hand, then there is a real chance he stops Mangubat quicker than Suarez did. If he can't land those hard, well timed, left hands however he is in for a very, very tough night.
We feel Rikiishi has the tools to land his clean shots, hurting and stopping Mangubat, be he will have to take some punishment to see off the Filipino challenger.
Prediction - TKO7 Rikiishi
This coming Sunday fight fans in Sumida City are set for a festival of boxing, with Dangan at the helm. Not only does the day involve an actual festival of the sport, with special events being held in the city to help promote and celebrate the sport, but there will also be a stacked card at the Sumida City Gymnasium, with 3 title bouts on the show.
One of those 3 title bouts will see Masanori Rikiishi (10-1, 6) clash with Takuya Watanabe (38-10-1, 22), in a bout for the vacant OPBF Super Featherweight title. The bout really is a must win for both men with the 33 year old Watanabe fighting in his 50th professional bout, and the clock is ticking on his career, and Rikiishi knowing another set back at this point could leave him in the "who needs him?" Club.
Of the two men the well known is Watanabe, who debuted in 2007 and has been a fixture on the Oriental scene for years. He is one of the few Japanese fighters to regularly travel for fights, and has notched up bouts in South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, as well as Japan. He has also faced legitimate who's who of the Japanese scene, with bouts against the likes of Masayuki Ito, Hisashi Amagasa, Satoshi Hosono, Hironori Mishiro, Kosuke Saka and Taiki Minamoto. Whilst he has lost the bigger bouts of his career, he has repeatedly shown good technical fundamentals, an incredible will to win, under-rated boxing IQ and a sturdy chin, with the monstrously hard hitting Saka being the only man to stop him in 49 bouts. Sadly though Watanabe has shown himself to not be the hardest man to hit, nor quickest, nor a particularly heavy handed fighter, especially at 130lbs. He hits hard enough to get respect, and throws enough to keep that respect, but there is a feeling that a bit more pop in his punches or a slightly higher work rate would have resulted in a lot more success over his career.
In the ring Watanabe is a well schooled, though some what basic, fighter. He comes forward behind a tight guard, likes to set things up behind the jab and apply pressure, wanting to keep opponents on the back foot and establish a fight at mid-range at his tempo. Sadly he has struggled against fighters who are crisper, sharper and faster than he is, as we saw against the likes of Ito and Mishiro, and as we saw against Saka, he does seem to be slowly showing some cracks in his incredibly toughness. Also given his age and long career, one of the longest in terms of fights of any active Japanese fighter, it's little wonder that he is starting to show the signs of slowdown.
Aged 27 Rikiishi is coming in to his prime, but is still a fighter lacking a break out win, and is the second most famous fighter in his family, behind his brother and former world champion Masamichi Yabuki. Despite that he is a fighter who has the potential to leave a big mark on the Japanese and Oriental scene over the coming years. He's talented, he's big and strong at the weight, has a good boxing brain and a good team behind him. He is also a fighter who has tasted a defeat early in his career, been humbled somewhat by that loss, and developed as a fighter since then. He has learned from his defeat to become a better, more rounded, fighter. Also despite his loss, he's not been wasting time padding his record, instead he had a single easy comeback fight, before climbing his way through the rankings and moving to this title fight, with good wins against the likes of Freddy Fonseca, Yuichiro Kasuya and Soreike Tacihi.
In the ring Rikiishi is a talented boxer-mover, who keeps things long when he's getting himself set, but steps in when he's confident, and has solid sting in his shots, a lovely smooth style, and he fights to his physical advantages, of being a well sized Southpaw. He fight looked set to make a mark at 135lbs, but dropped down a few fights ago, and looks even stronger at Super Featherweight, where his long and rangy frame makes him an incredibly tough guy to get close to, especially with his clean straight punches and intelligent footwork. The big worry, remains, his chin and he was taken out early in his career by Kosuke Saka, but we suspect he knows how to protect his chin better now, and Saka, for all his flaws, is a huge puncher on the Japanese scene.
In many ways this bout contains two similar fighters in terms of styles. Both like to get their jabs out, use straight punches, and keep bouts at mid range until they feel their opponent wearing down. For us however it just feels like Rikiishi is the more polished fighter, the more natural boxer, and the more intelligent, with a smoothness to him that Watanabe doesn't have. At mid range Rikiishi will have notable success. For Watanabe the key is to mix up the fight, close the distance and grind down Rikiishi. That has to be his focus, but we're not sure he'll manage it. Instead we see Rikiishi getting a large lead early on, and surviving a late charge to take a clear but competitive decision win.
Prediction - UD12 Rikiishi
One of the very best things about the Japanese boxing scene right now is the rise of young fighters wanting to be tested early in their career. Some times this does back fire, but on the whole it gives the scene, and those fighters, an extra edge. A risk factor that just captures the imagination a bit more than some of the Western match making, where keeping the "0" in tact is more important than proving yourself early.
One of the next rising fighters wanting to make a statement is the once beaten Masanori Rikiishi (6-1, 4), who has paid for his exciting match making, but also bounced back from a loss. The Japanese fighter will be up against the much more experienced Freddy Fonseca (27-3-1-1, 18), with the two men clashing on September 15th in Kariya. On paper this is an excellent test for both, who will both be hunting bigger fights if they pick up a win here.
The 25 year old Rikiishi didn't have a hugely successful amateur career though turned professional like a man who had done serious things in the unpaid ranks. His first fight was against a 6-3 Korean, his second bout against a 4-1 domestic foe. He was intent on proving himself quickly, though as mentioned, he paid the price for his tough match making suffering a 2nd round TKO loss in his third bout when he was stopped by former Japanese Featherweight champion Kosuke Saka. That loss left some questioning Rikiishi's match making, toughness and chin, though he has since bounced back with 4 straight wins. The only "gimme" among those was a confidence builder following his loss, against Egy Rozten. Since then he faced 3 solid domestic fighters.
In the ring Rikiishi is a tall out boxer, with solid power. Although he can mix it on the inside, and do rather well, it's certainly not the best for him and he's best off setting things up from the outside before moving in. His body shots are wicked and his boxing brain is alarming sharp for someone so early in their career. Defensively he does have some issues, hence why fighting at range is certainly playing to his strengths, but his accurate southpaw jab and good counter punching does make opponents pay for taking risks.
Fonseca is a 27 year old Nicaraguan who has been a professional for close to 7 years. During his 32 fight career he has mostly fought in Latin America, but did actually make his US debut earlier this year, losing to Jo Jo Diaz in 7 rounds. As with many fighters who fight on the Latin American scene his competition has been poor, and sadly he has has lost to the most notable fighters he has shared the ring with, Diaz and Juan Huertas. He's experienced, with out really scoring a notable win and does have a very padded record.
Despite having a record that's padded thicker than it should be Fonseca does pass the eye test, and a loss to Diaz is certainly nothing to be ashamed by. He does look quick, sharp, moves well and has a nice jab. Sadly though passing the eye test says a lot about the level of competition he's been fighting at and that has, for the most part, helped him look good and against Diaz we saw his limitations being on show, big time. He's not terrible, but he does seem to be someone who is very much a front runner and someone who will struggle when it's put on him.
On paper Fonseca is a huge step up in class for Rikiishi. In reality however the one big advantage Fonseca has is experience, and not skills, power or competition, Diaz aside. Yes this is a step up for Rikiishi, but one that he should be the favourite in. He's the more impressive on the eye, the one who has looked better in recent bouts and the man at home.
We expect to see Rikiishi take control behind his jab, find out what Fonseca has then chip away at him before finally scoring a stoppage in the second half of the fight.
Prediction TKO7 Rikiishi
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.