On July 23rd we get a genuinely interesting WBO Asia Pacific Middleweight title bout, as veteran champion Yuki Nonaka (34-10-3, 10) takes on the once touted Koki Koshikawa (9-2, 6). Although the bout isn't a big one, and won't get much international attention, it is a really interesting one with a lot of sub-stories around it and different threads that need unpicking before the bout comes around.
For those unaware Nonaka is one of the real stalwarts of Japanese boxing. The now 43 year old began his career way back in 1999, and did so with some very mixed results going 2-3 in his first 5. Unlikely many fighters that have great longevity Nonaka really struggle early on. In fact at the age of 31 he was 19-7-2 (7), though by that point he had unified the Japanese and OPBF Light Middleweight titles. Amazingly since then Nonaka has gone 15-3-1 (3), reclaiming the Japanese title at 154lbs, and later winning the unified WBO Asia Pacific and OPBF titles at 160lbs whilst having a sensational late run to his career. Not only has he been getting good results, but also beating solid fighters, like Charles Bellamy, Yuto Shimizu, Ryosuke Maruki and Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa, all of whom were younger than Nonaka.
What has really been the key to Nonaka's success is his boxing brain and his fitness. He's never been a man with much power, or much speed, but he's a physical fit fighter with a really good boxing brain, in fact he almost beat Takeshi Inoue, by just keeping things simple, using good movement and countering the bull like Inoue. Not only is he smart, and does the little things really well, but he's also a tall, rangy southpaw, giving opponents even more problems in landing clean on him. It's also worth noting that his defense is, usually, very good and in his 47 professional bouts he has only been stopped once, and that was way back in 2002.
However with all that said it now needs noting that Nonaka hasn't fought in almost 2 years, with his last bout coming in September 2019 when he was run surprisingly close by Korean Hyun Min Yang, who was aggressive, busy and came to fight. Nonaka was cut in that fight, around the nose, and it was a really messy, tough bout that seemed to suggest father time was getting to him. And that was 2 years ago. We really need to wonder how's he going to look with the ring rusty at the age of 43. Can he still dig deep and can he still show the same skills and timing he did earlier in his career?
Koki Koshikawa made his professional debut in 2014 following an solid amateur background that saw him going 46-25 (23). He was expected to be moved quickly by the Celes gym, and debuted in 6 rounders before quickly moving into 8 rounders. Sadly however a loss in his 5th bout, to Koshinmaru Saito, slowed his ascent and he was out of the ring for more than 2 years afterwards. When he returned to the ring he scored 5 straight wins, but the most notable of those were a stoppage over former Japanese interim champion Daisuke Sakamoto and a close decision over Ratchasi Sithsaithong, with neither being a real headline grabbing win. Despite his competition he managed to get a shot at the Japanese Light Middleweight champion Hironobu Matsunaga in 2019, and despite looking good in the first round Koshikawa was broken down in 4 as Matsunaga retained his belt.
Sadly since losing to Matsunaga, in November 2019, we've not seen Koshikawa in the ring, and overall his career has fallen a long way short of expectations. He was supposed to be a domestic force, but lost to the two most notable domestic fighters he's faced. He has been outboxed by one and stopped by another, and coming in to this fight he's also moving up in weight.
Koshikawa is inactive, he's failed in his biggest fights, and he's moving up to Middleweight for the first time. However he can't be written off here. He was a good amateur, he has a decent boxing brain, at 30 years old he's pretty much in his prime and he will know this is his last chance to shine following the loss to Matsunaga. He has the boxing skills to be a problem, he has speed and decent movement, he lets his hands go well but he's also someone who has struggled on the bigger stages, and has come apart under pressure.
In their primes, there is no doubt that we'd strongly favour Nonaka. His skills, boxing brain, punch picking, timing and ring control of distance would be too much. He would catch Koshikawa coming in and rely on his straight shots, getting Koshikawa's respect, and racking up the rounds. Koshikawa would likely see out the schedule, but would look a bruised, beaten, battered man by the end of 12 rounds.
In their current guise however we really wouldn't be shocked by father time catching up with Nonaka. The veteran struggling to pull the trigger at times, falling short, being under pressure and missing when he does through. His body breaking down in front of us.
We're huge fans of Nonaka, and his career has been truly remarkable, but we actually suspect Koshikawa's youth and hunger will be a major issue, and he will manage to break down the veteran.
Prediction - TKO9 Koshikawa
This coming Wednesday we see the Champion Carnival resume as Japanese Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako (12-0-1, 11) defends his title against mandatory challenger Riku Kunimoto (4-0, 2). For the champion this will be his fourth defense, and his sixth bout since winning the title in impressive fashion back in March 2018, when he blasted Hikaru Nishida in 92 seconds. As for the challenger this is a huge step up in class and his bout at title level. Despite the difference in professional experience the bout was one of the most interesting bouts scheduled for the 2020 Champion Carnival, when it was originally announced.
Like many bouts from the 2020 Champion Carnival this bout was delayed. It was originally pencilled in for May 2020, before Covid19 forced it to be rescheduled to July. Kunimoto requested a delay from the July date, due to issues training, which saw the bout being rescheduled before Takesako suffered a training injury, scuppering the November date and forcing a delay until 2021.
As his record suggests Kazuto Takesako is a puncher. A real big puncher. The 29 year old started his career with 10 straight T/KO wins, only once going beyond round 3. He was blasting through competition with surprising ease, including the likes of Shoma Fukumoto and Hikaru Nishida. It wasn't until 2019 that he was taken the distance, as he was held to a 10 round draw by the tricky and awkward Shuji Kato. Despite Kato seeing out the 10 rounds we saw Takesako write the wrong and stop Kato in a rematch just 5 months late. We also saw him prove his stamina this year when he won a wide 12 round decision over Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa.
Through his 13 bout career we've seen Takesako fight just 53 professional rounds, but he has impressed thanks to his destructive power and aggression. He has faced decent domestic level competition and, below Ryota Murata, he is probably the best in Japan.
Despite looking impressive there are questions about Takesako that we still haven't seen answers for, or where the answers are unclear. The most notable of those regards his chin, and we have seen him hurt a number of times during his career, and we do wonder if, maybe, he's a bit of a glass cannon. We also don't know how he will with a busy, taller, rangy boxer-puncher. The only fighter similar to that that he's faced was Shuji Kato, but Kato wasn't as busy as we'd have liked, and he also didn't keep things on the move as much as he perhaps needed to, opting to counter Takesako rather than keep things at range. We also wonder what the injury in 2020 will do to him, and whether he has real motivation for this bout.
Whilst we have seen a lot of Takesako, with a lot of his bouts being featured on G+, we haven't seen all that much of Kunimoto, sadly. On one hand that's bad, but on the other it shows how quickly he has been moved along. He debuted in August 2018 and is already getting a title fight. The 23 year old has been matched well from the off, getting some experience in his first couple of bouts, before being stepped up in 2019 and showing there was something pop on his shots with a win over Shoma Fukumoto.
Although footage of his recent bouts isn't available there is some old footage of Kunimoto on Boxing Raise and from that we can see a really talented young fighter. He appears full of self belief, confident in his defenses, and willing to press forward behind a tight guard before letting his shots fly. He's fairly crisp and clean with his shots, but can be seen over-reaching when he throws his straight right hand. His body work appears pretty solid and he does seem to take a shot well, when he needs to.
Sadly for Kunimoto whilst he does look a talented 23 year old he also looks like a work in progress. We know that's obvious, given his inexperience and the fact we were watching some very early fights of his, but it seems almost impossible to imagine he's improved enough from those fights to really be competitive here with someone like Takesako. Sadly the biggest issue with Kunimoto isn't his ability, or skills, or even his experience but instead his inactivity. He's now not been in the ring for over 2 years, and even at the age of 23 ring rust can be a major issue.
We're expecting Kunimoto to show glimpses of real promise here, but those glimpses won't be enough. The power, pressure, aggression and physical strength of Takesako will be too much. Sooner or later the champion will grind down the challenger, and break him up. Kunimoto, sadly, doesn't appear to have style needed to cope with the physicality and heavy hands of Takesako, at least at this point in his career. He'll try, and have some success, but we suspect he'll be found wanting and will be stopped somewhere in the middle rounds.
Prediction - TKO7 Takesako
NOTE - Due to a new state of emergency in several regions of Japan, this bout has been postponed from May 1st to May 19th.
The first big bout in Japan this year will be a mouth watering Middleweight bout as OPBF champion Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa (12-4-1, 11) takes on Japanese national champion Kazuto Takesako (11-0-1, 11). On paper this should be a unification bout, but politics has seen the Japanese title not being on the line, and instead only Hosokawa's OPBF title will be up for grabs.
Despite the title situation this is still a mouth watering clash between two heavy handed fighters who get into the ring with the intention of stopping their opponents, every time they fight. Neither is the most technically accomplished, but both are destructive, hard hitters who throw with bad intentions.
Aged 35 Hosokawa is a man who has had a strange career. He debuted at the age of 29, losing a decision and was 2-2 (1) after 4 bouts. He then began to build a reputation as a fearsome fighter, scoring 4 straight stoppages before losing a close decision to Yasuyuki Akiyama, and falling to 6-3 (5) From there he has gone 6-1-1 (6), gained revenge over Akiyama, to become the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific champion, lost to Yuki Nonaka than gone 1-0-1 (1) with Koki Tyson, becoming a 2-time OPBF champion in the process.
In the ring Hosokawa is an aggressive volume puncher. He's very much the type of fighter who comes forward and throws a lot, often happy to take one to land one. He sets a high pace and although he's heavy handed he's very much a fighter who grinds down opponents, rather than blasts them out. His last 4 stoppages have all come after the 6th round, and he's the sort of fighter who could find himself down on the cards before a strong finish. Technically he's crude and he can be outboxed, especially early on, but he's rugged, and his incredible output is a nightmare to fight against and does break opponents down.
Takesako is the younger man, at 28, and is the more powerful single punch hitter. In many ways he's the opposite of Hosokawa. He turned professional following an a notable amateur career and raced through to a title fight, winning the Japanese Middleweight title in his 8th bout when he almost gutted Hikaru Nishida. None of his first 8 bouts went beyond 3 rounds as he destroyed fighters like Nishida, Shoma Fukumoto and Elfelos Vega in impressive fashion. More recently however we have learned that Takesako can box, and can go longer in bouts. He took 7 rounds to stop Chaiwat Mueanphong, went 10 in a bout against the slippery Shuji Kato, in a bout that ended in a draw, before adapting for a rematch and forcing Kato to retire in the corner after 8 rounds.
Technically Takesako is the better boxer, and the bigger puncher, but he lacks the volume of Hosokawa and we have more question marks about Takesako's chin, which hasn't looked the best, than we do with Hosokawa's, which has looked solid. Although Takesako is unbeaten he has been shaken by Kato and seemed to really dislike being put under pressure by Sanonsuke Sasaki in their 2018 bout. He looks destructive, but like he could have a questionable chin of his own.
This has the hall marks of a special fight. Two guys who can punch, two guys who are aggressive and two guys with differing mentalities. Hosokawa tends to impose himself behind his bullish strength and high work rate. If he can land clean there's a genuine chance he could break down Takesako, and do so early if Takesako's chin is as suspect as it looks. On the other hand Takesako could just as easily land a counter as Hosokawa presses forward and shake him, before stopping him with a follow up.
This is a hard one to call, the only thing we're sure about is it will not go the distance!
With Takesako being more dangerous early we'll be going with him, but could just as easily see Hosokawa breaking him down.
Prediction - TKO7 Takesako
Earlier this year we saw Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa (11-4-1, 10) and Koki Tyson (14-3-3, 12) fight to an entertaining, if some what frustrating, draw in a bout for the OPBF Middleweight title, a title that both men have previously held. The belt had been vacated by Yuki Nonaka, who was hoping to get a high profile bout that failed to materialise, and as a result of the draw remained vacant. On October 11th we'll against see Hosokawa and Tyson battle, as they rematch for the belt, and this time it seems like it could be better bout than their first.
The first time the men faced off Tyson took the bout at relatively short notice, something that seemed to hinder both men. Tyson wasn't in great shape, and seemed to struggle in the final few rounds, whilst Hosokawa had been training to face a very different stylistic challenge to Tyson. This time around both men have had time to work on a game plan for the other, they know what they are getting involved in and we're expecting a more explosive and exciting bout than their first.
Aged 35 Hosokawa, the brother of former Japanese Light Welterweight champion Valentine Hosokawa, is likely coming to the end of his career. He only turned professional in 2014 though and hasn't had a long career, but it has been a tough one. He's an all action, in your face fighter, who lacks in technique but brings a lot of pressure, power and aggression. It's that aggression and power which has made him worth paying serious interest in. He's a nightmare to fight, and although he can be out boxed, as we saw Yuki Nonaka do to him in February, his whole style is very hard to deal with, and he remains heavy handed late into bouts, as we saw in his 2018 win over Yasuyuki Akiyama.
At 26 years old Tyson is coming into his prime years, physically at least, yet is already a 7 year pro who has been in the title mix for around 4 years. Before getting to the title scene he had won the 2013 Rookie of the Year and was proving to be a big puncher, having amassed a 9-1-1 (9) record by the time of his first title fight. Whilst few doubted his power his lack of boxing IQ and maturity were shown up in his first title fight when Akio Shibata stopped him in 7 rounds. Since then Tyson has gone from being a wild puncher into a much more refined boxer-puncher, as seen in his wins over the likes of Dwight Ritchie and Brandon Lockhart Shane. Despite being a better boxer than he was earlier in his career there are still question marks about his chin, his mental toughness and stamina, but he's clearly been working on his flaws.
In their first bout Tyson fought smartly through out. He started off behind his jab and when he tired he tied up and smothered Hosokawa. Sadly though his lack of fitness showed and whilst he was smothering he was losing rounds, not doing enough to win them. Here we expect to see a fitter Tyson fight with a bit more aggression, take a few more risks and, as a result, engage more with the aggressive Hosokawa. Sadly for Hosokawa he's just getting older and he seemed in great shape for their first bout. The feeling we get is that Hosokawa's career will begin to wind down soon whilst Tyson's is set to take off in a big way.
We might be wrong and the pressure and power of Hosokawa could have the break through he was looking for in their first bout, but we actually expect the boxing of Tyson to be the difference between the two men.
Prediction UD12 Tyson.
This coming Monday we'll see the ageless Yuki Nonaka (33-10-3, 10) hunt his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Middleweight title, as he goes up against Korean puncher Yang Hyun Min (8-2, 7). At first glance this is a highly skilled veteran taking on a young and hungry fighter, but how do we see this one going? Does Min have a chance or will Nonaka continue picking up wins his 40's?
Of the two fighters the lesser known is Min, a 26 year old Korean who has fought his entire career in Korea so far. He made his debut in 2016 and won his first 3 bouts, all by stoppage. Following the promising start Min was out boxed by Jae Hyuk Shin in early 2017 and just 2 months later Min was stopped by Heuk San Lee, down at Welterweight. Since losing to Lee, a Korean based Cameroonian fighter, Min has gone 4-0 (3) and won both the Korean and WBA Asia Middleweight titles.
Whilst Min is a double champion his competition has been incredibly poor with his best win, on paper at least, coming against China's Yihao Wang back in June. That competition explains he looks like a puncher on paper, though in reality it's almost impossible to take anything from the numbers on his record. His loss to Lee shows that Lee can punch a bit, and that Min didn't take a good shot at Welterweight, but tells us nothing about Min or his potential. Sometimes, when it comes to Koreans and Thai's, that can be a bit misleading and they can turn out to be better than their records suggest. From the footage available of him he's aggressive and powerful looking, but clumsy, not particularly quick or sharp and throws wide hooks. He's fun to watch, but very much what an American fan would describe as a club fighter.
Nonaka on the other hand is very well respected in Japan, and even the wider Asian boxing regions. The 41 year old southpaw has been a professional for close to 20 years, debuting in November 1999, and despite losing 3 of his first 5 he has carved out an excellent career. He managed to unify the Japanese and OPBF Light Middleweight titles in 2009, reclaimed the Japanese title in 2014 and won the unified OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Middleweights titles earlier this year. Although he has lost 2 of his last 4 they both came to fighter who went on to fight in world title fights, Dennis Hogan and Takeshi Inoue, with those losses being his only 2 losses since 2010!
In the ring Nonaka is a pure boxer and the sort of fighter that every emerging fighter should watch. He's incredibly smart, and at the age of 41 he has the ring craft to beat younger and stronger fighters. His style is relaxed, he fights behind his jab, moves when he needs to and doesn't waste much of anything, as he limits his movement and punch out put. Despite being conservative in his approach he can step it up as, and when, he needs to and is very tricky to beat. for those looking to beat him they need to use speed and output, which Hogan used well, and out land him at range, but those trying to pressure him really need to consider a different gameplan.
Given the styles of the two men, as well as their experience, it's really, really hard to see how Min wins. He'll be pressing the fight, looking to land bombs, but eating a steady stream of counter shots. Barring a freak shot from Min we really don't give him any chance at all. Instead we see either a very wide decision win for Nonaka, or a stoppage from accumulation in the middle to late rounds.
Prediction - TKO8 Nonaka
Despite the Japanese Middleweight scene not making much waves on the global scene, except for Ryota Murata and Shinji Takehara, it has been brilliant as a fight fans wanting to watch some great fights. There's been something the Japanese Middleweight title that has just delivered thrillers, such as Makoto Fuchigami Vs Koji Sato and Tadashi Yuba Vs Carlos Linares and Makoto Fuchigami Vs Tomohiro Ebisu.
The latest thriller for the title was earlier this year, when Kazuto Takesako (10-0-1, 10) saw his stoppage run come to an end in a thrilling draw against mandatory challenger Shuji Kato (10-1-2, 6). On August 3rd they run it back, in a very highly anticipated rematch, with both men looking to make a point, and walk away as the better man and the champion.
In their first bout Takesako had entered as a steam roller. He had scored his first 10 wins in just 23 rounds, with only 1 bout going beyond 3 rounds. He had won the title in just 92 seconds, smashing through the durable Hikaru Nishida, and had recorded his first defense by stopping former champion Sanosuke Sasaki in 2 rounds. He was seen as the unstoppable force on the Japanese scene.
Kato on the other hand wasn't really much of a name, though had won the Rookie of the Year in 2017 and had earned his shot at the title with a decision win against Hikaru Nishida in late 2018. He had momentum coming in to the bout, but looked like he was taking a massive step up, with his best win being a narrow victory win over the man Takesako had blitzed for the belt.
When they got in the ring we saw Takesako being made to look human, with Kato neutralising the power of Takesako with smart defense, good movement and a really accurate jab. It was the smart work of Kato that actually saw him taking a very clear early lead and instead of Takesako blowing him out it was the champion forced to dig incredibly deeply late on to to pull out the draw. It saw both men proving so much about themselves. We learned that Kato can take a shot, knew how to ride punches and could pick up his game to fight at title level. We also learned that Takesako could go 10 rounds, could dig deep and could fight hard in the later stages of a bout, proving that whilst he was a puncher, it wasn't only his power that made him dangerous but also his desire to win.
After their first bout both men spoke about a rematch, and now we get that rematch with both hungry to prove a point. For Kato it's a case of proving his first performance against Takesako wasn't a fluke, whilst Takesako will be desperate to get back to his destructive best.
Given how Kato neutralised Takesako we feel he'll be the more confident man here, but that confidence may be misplaced and with Takesako knowing he needs to step it up, shorten his punches e see the champion making a statement. Kato can be a nightmare, especially with his long southpaw jab, but we expect Takesako will have trained to combat that southpaw stance and will find himself landing his right hand much more often than in the first bout.
Prediction - Takesako TKO7
The Middleweight scene in Asia isn't a hugely impressive one, and we would be surprised by anyone rising through the ranks right now to make a mark on the world title scene any time soon. However, it is a very interesting scene with a lot of well matched fighters who could all mix with each other in some brilliant and very entertaining match ups. We've seen this time and time against over the last few years, especially with all Japanese bouts.
On July 9th we get the chance to see another all-Japanese Middleweight bout, as the hard hitting pair of Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa (11-4, 10) and Koki Tyson (14-3-2, 12) battle for the vacant OPBF Middleweight title. On paper this has all the hall marks of a thriller, and could well end up being little more than an all action shoot out between two former champions.
Tyson held the title from November 2016, when he out boxed Dwight Ritchie in an excellent performance, to December 2017, when he lost in controversial fashion to Yasuyuki Akiyama. Akiyama would himself lose the belt in his first defense, being stopped in an 11 round thriller by Hosokawa last September. Hosokawa's reign was, however, a short one, losing to Yuki Nonaka this past February who recently vacated the title, leading us to where we are now.
In the ring Tyson is a hard hitting boxer-puncher, he's shown issues with durability, having been stopped in all 3 of his losses, but he's a huge puncher and has under-rated boxing skills, which he showed really well against Dwight Ritchie in his title win. When he can use his size and reach to dictate a fight he's a very hard man to beat and at 26 years old he is getting better, stronger and more mature. It's also worth noting that since his last loss he has relocated, leaving Osaka and the Mutoh Gym to Tokyo and the Kadoebi Gym, where his level of sparring and training has increased.
Whilst Tyson is a talented boxer-puncher Hosokawa is a skilled pressure fighter, with a swarming style, based around intense aggression, a high work rate and heavy hands. He combines his power and pressure with a tough chin, and a real desire to win. There are no question marks about his durability, but he is crude, easy to hit and can be out boxed, out moved and out thought, as we saw when he fight Yuki Nonaka. If he can force his pressure on an opponent he tends to be able to grind them down with his heavy hand and relentless punching.
Given the styles of the men involved we should have something very special, and something that could end at any moment. The key to the bout will, however, be a case of who can dictate the distance. If Tyson can use his reach, speed and movement he could make life easy, picking off the shorter Hosokawa with his his straight punchers. That however is no easy feat and Hosokawa will be looking to crush the distance and go to work on the inside. If he can do that he'll break down Tyson.
For us the main different between the tough is the durability factor, and fighters have been able to hurt Tyson through his career. We expect Hosokawa will also be able to hurt him, and if he does he won't let him off the hook. At some point we see Hosokawa getting to, and stopping, Tyson. Though we wouldn't be hugely surprised by Tyson landing a bomb on Hosokawa, as he rushes in, and knocking him out.
The only result we can't see happening is a Hosokawa decision, the other results are all very, very possible here in a bout we're really excited about.
Prediction - TKO9 Hosokawa
The Japanese Middleweight scene isn't known as something too exciting, but right now it's probably as interesting as it's ever been. There's a relative lack of depth, and very few really interesting bouts to be made, but those top domestic level bouts are really interesting match ups.
One of the fighters that really does standout as a must watch fighter on the domestic scene is national Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako (10-0, 10), who will be looking to make his second defense on March 2nd, when he takes on mandatory challenger Shuji Kato (10-1-1, 6). For Kato this will be his first title fight, but also a huge step up in class for him.
Takesako is from the World of Sport Boxing Gym, the same gym as the recent world title challenger Takeshi Inoue. He turned professional back in 2015 and rose through the ranks quickly, whilst leaving destruction behind him. His first 6 bouts took place over 21 months and saw him need just 12 rounds to stop all 6 foes. Those wins lead to him getting a Japanese title eliminator in late 2017, and he made the most of his opportunity as he blasted out Shoma Fukumoto in the opening round. That win lead to him facing Japanese champion Hikaru Nishida in early 2018, and Nishida was also blasted out inside a round.
Since the winning Takesako has fought twice. His first opponent following his title win was tough Thai Chaiwat Mueanphong, who managed to survive into the 7th round with Takesako before eventually succumbing to his power. He then defended his title against a game and aggressive Sanosuke Sasaki, who came to win but was stopped in the second round.
Takesako is, as he record suggests, a big puncher. His power is legitimate and when he lands clean he hurts fighters. He has devastating blows to both head and body and surprising hand speed for such a puncher. Where he perhaps looks limited is in terms of his naturally size, he's only about 5'10" which is tiny for a Middleweight, and in his recklessness. When he feels he has his man hurt he can leave himself a little bit too open. Another issue is his defense is quite basic. He's essentially a puncher-boxer, who appears to be able to take a shot as well as landing his own dynamite leather.
Whilst Takesako has been on our radar for a while the same can't really be said of the 28 year old challenger. Kato, a southpaw from Tokyo, made his debut in December 2014 fighting just above the Super Middleweight limit, stopping his foe inside a round. He would drop down in weight for his second bout, in July 2015, and take a decision win. After having won his first 2 bouts Kato would suffer his first loss, being taken out by Altin Pepa in September 2015. His return to the ring would also end in disappointment as he was held to a draw by Agoo Masaru. Since that draw however, Kato has built himself a decent record, winning his last 8 bouts. Those 8 bouts have sene him being crowed the 2017 Middleweight Rookie of the Year, and becoming the mandatory for the Japanese title, following a split decision win over Hikaru Nishida last November, in what is by far and away his best win to date.
Watching footage of Kato we see a rangy fighter, who uses his lead hand to control distance, pawing at his opponent, moving backwards and trying to lure opponents in. It's not a pretty style, but it is an effective one at the lower levels. When he comes forward he doesn't appear to have much power on his shots, but they are thrown from some awkward angles. His technique often looks really poor, bug his size seems to allow him to get a real amount of weight behind his blows, which do do damage.
Whilst Kato has been having success, and will tower over Takesako, we really don't see what he has to offer when he goes up against Takesako. We suspect that Kato will manage to frustrate and annoy the champion, but won't be able to get Takesako's respect. We expect to see the champion begin to slip the lead hand of Kato and then pound away on the inside, stopping the challenger in the first 3 or 4 rounds, depending on how tough Kato is, and how well he can survive the power of the champion.
The Middleweight scene is not one that we tend to think of too much when we discuss Japanese fighters, even with the recent success of Ryota Murata. Strangely however the Japanese scene at 160lbs is probably as good as it's ever been, with several exciting fighters making their mark. Those include Japanese Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako as well as the unified OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific champion Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa (11-3, 10).
Hosokawa won the unified title last year in a Japanese Fight of the Year candidate against Yasuyuki Akiyama, avenging one of his losses in the process, and will be making his first defense this coming Sunday against skilled veteran Yuki Nonaka (32-10-3, 10), on February 24th. The bout will be pitting Hosokawa's aggression, power and tenacity, against Nonaka's skills, experience and toughness, in what could be the surprise bout of the week.
Aged 34 the hard hitting Hosokawa, who is the brother of Japanese Light Welterweight champion Valentine Hosokawa, made his debut in 2014, at the age of 29. He would lose on his debut and would actually lose 2 of his first 4 bout, both by razor thin decisions. Following those set backs he reeled off 4 straight stoppage wins before losing another close contest, that time to Yasuyuki Akiyama, the man he would later rip the two regional titles from. Following the loss to Akiyama we saw Hosokawa improve, showing his stamina with an 8th round TKO over Kazuyuki Fukuyama and a 7th round TKO over Hisao Narita, and earn a second bout with Akiyama last September.
After beating Hososkawa, by majority decision, Akiyama had shocked the regional scene with a TKO win over Koki Tyson for the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles. Hosokawa would end that reign by winning a war with Akiyama last year, stopping Akiyama in the 11th round. The fight started slowly but warmed into a real action packed contest, as Hosokawa began to march Akiyama down and broke him down with powerful shots. The performance showed the good, and the bad, of Hosokawa. He's aggressive, heavy handed, has a high work rate and is a very powerful and strong fighter. Defensively however he is open, he is predictable and he's not quick. He often marches forward looking to cut the distance usually comes forward in straight lines, something that someone with the skills and experience of Nonaka may be able to expose. Despite being predictable he doesn't seem to know how to take a backwards step and has proven to be almost impossible to dissuade from coming forward.
The 41 year old Nonaka is an old school veteran, having made his debut way back in 1999 as a Welterweight. He would fight as low as Light Welterweight before really settling on Light Middleweight. Early in his career he struggled to find his place and his style in the sport, losing 2 of his first 3, 3 of his first 5 and 4 of his first 9, including a KO loss to Masahiro Muroya. Amazingly after that stoppage loss, back in 2002, Nonaka has never been stopped in 36 subsequent contests!
Despite settling at Light Middleweight Nonaka would struggle to have major success, losing in his first title fight in 20078, when he was out pointed by Kazuhiko Hidaka in an OPBF Light Middleweight title fight. The following year he would take the Japanese Light Middleweight title with a win over Akihiro Furukawa. He would later go on to unify the Japanese and OPBF titles before losing both belts to Akio Shibata in 2009. That loss was a temporary set back and in 2014 he would become a 2-time Japanese champion, schooling Kengo Nagashima for the national title, which he held until 2017 and made 6 defenses of. Sadly since vacating the belt Nonaka has gone 1-2, with losses to Dennis Hogan and Takeshi Inoue in world title eliminators.
Despite his age Nonaka is a criminally under-rated fighter. He lacks power but is surprisingly quick, an ultra sharp fighter who uses his jab to spear fighters, at range, lays traps with intelligent footwork and varies his shots amazingly well. His uppercut seems to find the target far too easily at times and he always looks so comfortable and relaxed in the ring. He's the sort of fighter that any young kid picking up the sport should take a look at. Sadly, for him, his lack of work rate, and his counter punching tendencies can see him fail to get the respect of fighters and being out worked by hungrier fighters. Also, notably for this fight, he will be in with a dangerous and natural Middleweight, something he hasn't typically faced, having fought mostly at Light Middleweight. He has dipped his toe at Middleweight, but not against someone with the power and physicality of Hosokawa.
Whilst we know this bout will go under the radar, especially coming just days before the mouth watering WBO Minimumweight title bout between Vic Saludar and Masataka Taniguchi, this has the potentially to be brilliant. Hosokawa's head first aggression should play into Nonaka's hands, and give the veteran a lot of openings. Nonaka however won't have the power to get Hosokawa's respect and we'd expect him to be willing to take 3 to land 1 as a result. This should result in a brilliant, mid range war with Nonaka easily out landing his man but being tagged by the bigger shots. If Nonaka's chin can hold up he probably takes the win, but that is a huge if, and we wouldn't be surprised by Hosokawa getting to him late to force a stoppage. Either way we are in for a treat!
On November 7th we'll see the next mandatory challenger for the Japanese Middleweight title being decided, as former champion Hikaru Nishida (17-9-1, 8) battles against 2017 Middleweight Rookie of the Year Shuji Kato (9-1-1, 6) at the Korakuen Hall. The winner will get their shot at the title in 2019 at the Champion Carnival, taking on either Kazuto Takesako or Sanosuke Sasaki who clash at the start of the month. In many ways this is a much better match up that the recent title bout, which was always seen as a mismatch between a rampant and destructive champion and an under-whelming challenger.
Of the two fighters it's Nishida who is the more recognisable by far, having been a former unified Japanese and OPBF champion. The 31 year old has mixed with the best domestically over the last few years and is a fighter who proves that hard work can achieve results. He began his career in 2008 and was 6-6-1 (1) after 13 fights, with his only early career win of note coming against the aforementioned Sasaki who would win a rematch just a few months later. He has however battled back and gone 11-3 since then, notching up wins against Fukutaro Ujiie, Kazuhiko Hidaka, Makoto Fuchigami, Ratchasai Sithsaithong, Akio Shibata and Tomohiro Ebisu.
In the ring Nishida is known as a basic but effective pressure fighter, coming forward behind a high guard and pressing his opponents before breaking them down up close. He has often shown that he can be out boxed, losing the OPBF title to Dwight Ritchie via a wide decision in 2016, and he's had to come from behind to break opponents down in the past. One of his biggest strengths has been his physicality, and he is an imposing fighter on the domestic scene. Another strong point for Nishida is his durability, but was blasted out in his title loss to Takesako earlier this year and we do wonder what that has taken out of him.
Kato is the younger, less known man who at 28 years old has real promise but hasn't really shown what he can do against notable domestic competition. He debuted way back in December 2014 but had a pretty inactive start to his career, ending 2016 with a record of 3-1-1 (2). In 2017 however he had a break out year, going 4-0 (3) to become the All-Japan Rookie of the Year at Middleweight. As with all Rookie tournaments his opponents were novices, so it's hard to say how impressive the Rookie win was, but it was certainly something and immediately put him on the right path. Since that rookie win he has scored a couple of wins this year, both against low level domestic foes.
From the footage we've seen of Kato he looks like a talented southpaw boxer with an educated lead right hand. He has an active style, applying pressure behind his jab and can move through the gears surprisingly quickly. Sadly he is a touch on the crude side, and whilst he can step up the tempo he can also be made to look slow and clumsy, with his shots typically having a lethargic appearance. Despite looking like he pushes his punches he must hit hard, at least at the level he's been fighting at, as he's managed to hurt pretty much everyone he's fought, and his straight left hand is clearly a heavy shot.
Whilst Kato has been on a good run, it's hard to imagine him stepping up this much in class and over-coming the flawed but rugged Nishida, who we suspect will walk down Kato and stop him in the later rounds of this scheduled 8 round contest. We know that Nishida was demolished by Takesako but Takesako appears to be several levels above Kato, and we think that Nishida will still have more than enough to deal with Kato.
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.