On April 20th we'll see a potential FOTY candidate as teak tough Japanese veteran Nihito Arakawa (32-6-2, 18) makes his European debut, facing off with Ukrainian puncher Denys Berinchyk (10-0, 7) in Kyiv. The bout, for the WBO International Lightweight title, looks like it could be an all out war, and is a bout that bout men will see as their best opportunity of moving towards a world title fight.
The 37 year old Japanese fighter is a man coming to the end of his long career, which began more than 15 years ago. During his career he has had some very memorable nights, in both wins and defeats. His highs have included winning the Japanese Lightweight title in 2010, when he beat Akihiro Kondo in the first of two bouts between the men, or when he won the OPBF title in 2011, or his FOTY bout with Omar Figueroa in 2013, or when he became a 2-time Japanese champion in 2016, or when he won the WBO Asia Pacific title in 2017.
Despite all the highs Arakawa has had a hard career. Yes he's tough, as we saw against Figueroa, but at the age of 35 with 40 bouts and over 280 rounds under his belt it's hard to know how much he has left in the tank. We've seen other tough Japanese veterans, such as Hidenori Otake and Akihiro Kondo, suffer recent stoppage losses and it could well be Arakawa's turn following a very tough, hard and punishing career.
At his best Arakawa was a work horse. He was a bit slow, a bit clumsy, but full of energy, sharp with his left hand, set a good work rate, incessant and incredibly tough. His will to win made up for his technical limitations and he was always going to be bringing the fight in the later stages, no matter how the earlier rounds had been. In recent bouts, such as his 22018 draw with Rimar Metuda and his narrow win over Anthony Sabalde, there has been a clear sign of decline to Arakawa.
In Berinchyk we have a very highly regarded 30 year old who was a former amateur standout, but hasn't yet made his mark on the professional ranks. As an amateur he competed at the 2012 Olympics, where he won a Silver medal, and the 2011 World Amateur Championships, where he also picked up a silver medal. He was tipped to be a major star in the pros when he began his professional career back in 2015, but issues with activity and promotional backing have slowed his ascent, despite good wins over the likes of Lorenzo Parra, Allan Vallespin and Jose Luis Prieto. Since the start of 2016 he has fought just 7 times, horrific inactivity for an advanced prospect.
At his best Berinchyk is an aggressive pressure fighter with serious power, good technical skills and sharp, clean punching. Sadly with his inactivity, ring rust and the fact he is now 30, it's hard to know what he's actually got in the locker. Is he going to be able to shine when someone is in his face, like Arakawa, or is he going to come undone under pressure? Can he fight at a high work rate? If he's half the fighter he was an amateur he should be strongly favoured here but there is still a number of question marks over his head.
Despite Berinchyk so far failing to shine as a professional he'll know this is a major chance to make a mark for himself and will be really up for it. We suspect that Arakawa, even in his prime, would have struggled with the physicality and technical abilities of Berinchyk. We're expecting to see the fight start competitively, but as it goes on the younger legs and better skills of the Ukrainian will tell and he'll take a clear, yet competitive, decision victory.
Our prediction is a clear but hard fought, and incredibly exciting, unanimous decision win for Berinchyk here, as he looks to make a statement and become another Ukrainian mixing on the world stage.
This coming Saturday is a hectic day for fight fans with bouts all over the place, ranging from low level nothing bouts all the way up to world title bouts. One of the bouts, somewhere in the middle of all the contests, is a Japanese Lightweight title bout between defending champion Nihito Arakawa (27-6-1, 16) and little known challenger Yusuke Tsukada (8-5, 3). For Arakawa the bout will be his first defense, of his his second reign, whilst Tsukada will be fighting in his first title bout.
The exciting and teak tough Arakawa came to the attention of international fans back back in 2013 when he engaged in a memorable FOTY style bout with Omar Figueroa Jr. On that occasional Arakawa impressed less with his skills and more with his determination and toughness, walking through hell to try and break down the then destructive American. Following that loss Arakawa went 1-3 and it seemed like his career was over.
In the last 2 years we have seen a resurgent Arakawa transfer to the Watanabe gym and claim the Japanese Lightweight title, with a notable win over the then champion Kota Tokunaga.
As we all know Arakawa is as tough as they come. The loss to Figueroa would have finished off most other fighters but Arakawa, at the age of 34, appears to be having an Indian summer. He is also a man with the desire to not only win the title, for the second time, but now to retain it and move towards exciting fights in 2017, potentially with slugger Shuhei Tsuchiya.
Whilst Arakawa is known, to some degree, by pretty much every fight fan the same cannot be said of Tsukada who is really unknown outside of the hardcore Japanese fans. Those hardcore fans however will remember him from multiple Dangan shows at the Korakuen Hall in recent years.
Having been a professional for close to 6 years Tsukada has had mixed results. He was 3-3 after bouts, having suffered two stoppage losses. In those early bouts Tsukada looked uncoordinated, and under-trained. He was defensively very open and offensively his work was wild, open and crude. Whilst he has tempered his wildness in recent years he is unable to take a good shot and has now suffered 5 stoppage losses, including a defeat last year to Ribo Takahata. That loss ended a 3 fight winning run, including a good decision win over Kazuhiro Nishitani in June 2015.
Unfortunately for Tsukada his inability to take a shot is likely to be a major issue here. Arakawa isn't a big puncher but he is a steady puncher who will land a lot on Tsukada and force a stoppage, likely with the referee needing to save the challenger in the middle rounds. Hopefully, with a win, Arakawa will move on to the anticipated bout with Tsuchiya in early 2017.
Internationally we don't tend to see many Japanese Lightweights make a name for themselves, however one man has done just that, Nihito Arakawa (26-6-1, 16) [荒川 仁人]. Arakawa did so by putting on an incredibly gutsy display against the then touted Omar Figueroa. Since that bout however he has faded somewhat from the attention of boxing fans and gone 2-3 in subsequent bouts, whilst also returning to Japan. Despite his current form he is still regarded as a top Japanese Lightweight and he will be looking to reclaim his seat atop the domestic table on April 16th when he faces incumbent Japanese champion Kota Tokunaga (17-2, 11) [徳永 幸大].
When it comes to Arakawa we all remember his performance against Figueroa. It was gutsy, brave and exciting. He wasn't technically the most sound fighter, the quickest, the most defensively intelligent or the biggest puncher but his heart was incredible and his toughness was off the charts. Even the bout was, in all honesty, a lost cause he refused to back down and continued to bring the fight in the later rounds, trying to secure a remarkable turn around.
Arakawa will be hoping to use that energy and toughness later this week against Tokunaga, as he attempts to become a 2-time Japanese champion, at the age of 34. He first held the national title in 2010 and vacated it in 2011 as he chased a world title.
As we all know Arakawa can be out boxed. It happened against Figueroa, it happened against Jorge Linares and more recently it happened against Rikki Naito. He does however seem like the sort of fighter who will only be beaten against men capable of going to the final bell and have the energy to stay out of a fire fight. Going to war with Arakawa is often a mistake.
The 26 year old champion comes in to the bout as on of the more questionable Japanese domestic title holders. He won the belt a year ago, stopping Yuya Sugizaki in 8 rounds, and subsequently defended it twice, scoring a come from behind stoppage win over Yuhei Suzuki and a thin decision win over Kazuhiro Nishitani, both relatively limited challengers.
The champion is a fun to watch fighter. He has very respectable power at the domestic level, throws some lovely combinations and can use his height, 5'10”, very well. Sadly for all that goes in his favour he is a seriously flawed fighter and has been stopped twice, suggesting a poor chin, and has been rather fortunate in some ways that his challengers have been poor so far. They have worn themselves out whilst Tokunaga has been patient and used his energy reserves in the second half of bouts.
With questionable toughness, a low work rate and a lack of higher level experience Tokunaga has a lot of question marks over him. He is a much improved fighter to what he once was, but he has yet to prove he's anything like the best Lightweight in Japan.
We suspect that Tokunaga will start the bout cautiously, boxing on the back foot and using his reach. Arakawa however will have the know how to slip the jab, get in Tokunaga's face and make life very difficult for the champion. As the rounds go on Arakawa's will to win will over-come Tokunaga who we think will be stopped in the second half of the bout. Tokunaga will likely show signs of being a good fighter, but simply won't be able to handle Arakawa's pressure or toughness.
In the sport of boxing it's usually the main event that looks like the best and most interesting contest on a show. On March 8th however we think the best fight on offer is actually buried well down the card yet gives us everything we could possibly want in a fight, despite their being no title, of any type, on the line.
Whilst the main event is an interesting contest and sees Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (42-1-1, 30) fighting Alfredo Angulo (22-3, 18) in an all Mexican affair their is a sense of of inevitability about it. It just feels like a bout set up to get Canelo another win on his record and put his sole loss, a decision at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, behind him. This feeling is shown in the betting with Canelo priced as a 1/7 favourite in a bout many feel is a mismatch, albeit it one with potential fireworks.
For us the better bout is the one that features the wonderfully skilled Jorge Linares (35-3, 23) taking on the teak tough and ridiculously brave Nihito Arakawa (24-3-1, 16). Whilst some have commented that this is a mismatch we have to admit that we view this as very close to a 50-50 match up and potentially a fight of the year.
Talking about fight of the year, it wouldn't be the first time either man has been on the losing side in bout of that quality. In 2011 Linares was on the losing end of a sensational come from behind stoppage against Antonio DeMarco in a bout he had dominated for the vast part. Last year it was Arakawa's turn to be involved in a barn burner as he took on the massive punching Omar Figueroa and although he lost widely on the cards he put up a great effort and pushed Figueroa harder than any other fighter.
With what we saw in those fight of the year candidates we can safely say that these two men are completely different. Linares was a gorgeous silky combination puncher who was in and out with sharp shots, though unfortunately for him his face seemed to damage very easily and he eventually ran out of steam before being stopped in round 11. As for Arakawa he was crude, limited in terms of his boxing though refused to ever take a step backwards and walked through an torrent of abuse in an attempt to grind down Figueroa. Both men found themselves coming up short but both had impressed for different reasons.
Of course it wasn't just their fight of the year candidates that showed how different they were, it's actually been their whole careers.
Linares, born in Venezuela though fighting out of the Teiken Gym in Japan, was tipped for the top from an early age. This was due to his excellent success in the amateurs where he ran up a reported record of 151-5 (100)* and won various national titles.
The amateur success of Linares's was followed by success early in his professional career. He made his debut when he was just 17 and by the age of 21 he had already won the WBC Featherweight title by stopping Oscar Larios.
Just 16 months after winning his first world title Linares added a second, claiming the WBA Super Featherweight title with a stoppage over Whyber Garcia. This victory had moved Linares's to 26-0 (17), he was just 23 years old and deserved the nickname "El Niño de Oro" or "The Golden Boy". Unfortunately though Linares's career would quickly come tumbling down and just 2 fights later he suffered his first loss, being stopped in a round by Juan Carlos Salgado. The loss, a major upset, really told us a lot more about Linares than we really expected. It was suppose to be an easy win though he was stopped in just 73 seconds and the loss provoked some to ask questions about just how tough, both physically and mentally, Linares was.
Since the loss to Salgado we've seen Linares's career resemble a roller coaster with some notable ups and some major downs. Unfortunately for Linares, who has won 8 of 10 bouts since the Salgado contest, it's the lows that stand out with stoppages coming to both DeMarco, as mentioned above, and Sergio Thompson. He's still as talented in terms of pure boxing as anyone else on the planet but his lack of durability has been a major downfall and prevented him from having the Hall of Fame career it seemed he was destined for.
Whilst Linares was always expected to have success the same couldn't quite be said for Arakawa who really struggled to make much of a name as an amateur and went professional without much expectation on his shoulders. Amazingly Arakawa managed to quickly become an over-achiever in the professional ranks and within 9 fights he had become the All-Japan Rookie of the year in the Lightweight division.
Arakawa early career success had a minor blip as he dropped a close decision to Yoshitaka Kato in his 11th bout. It really was a blip and just 2 years later Arakawa would come close to claiming the OPBF title, scoring a majority draw with Randy Suico.
It wasn't until 2010 that Arakawa would claim his first title, the Japanese title, as he narrowly over-came Akihiro Kondo. After defending it thrice he would vacate to instead fight for, and win, the OPBF title with a victory over Jay Solmiano. After several defenses of that title Arakawa again stepped up and travelled to Mexico to fight the very highly ranked Daniel Estrada. Unfortunately Arakawa found himself on the wrong of a technical decision against Estrada after Estrada's eye was swollen shut. Although Arakawa lost the bout was shrouded in controversy with many feeling the swelling had come from punches and not the accidental fouls which were blamed for the damage. A rematch was ordered though Estrada decided not to fight Arakawa who instead got to fight Figueroa in their memorable contest.
Although Arakawa wasn't expected to have major success he has done incredibly well for himself and become a staple in the world rankings. In fact going in to this bout he is higher ranked by the WBC than Linares, though he is unranked by any of the other organisations.
Of course what makes this so interesting isn't the history of the two men, it's the styles and mentality of the men involved. Linares is a pure stylist who relies on speed, skills and movement to win bouts. He does have respectable power when he sits on punches though seems happier to box and move which he does in a wonderful and very pleasing manner. As for Arakawa he's a bullish fighter who lacks the well refined skills of Linares though makes up for that with a true "never say die" attitude. Arakawa could be 11 rounds down though would still believe he could win and will not stop trying until the final bell.
It's that that really makes this bout so great. On paper it should be a shut out to Linares, his skills are that much better than those of Arakawa that it should be a mismatch though the frailties of Linares and the desire of Arakawa means that this bout isn't clear cut at all and infact it could swing at any moment.
We can't deny that Linares will be expected to to open up a big lead on the cards. He will almost certainly take the first 7 or 8 rounds without any problems at all, though the final rounds are where we expect to see things get very interesting. The pressure and toughness of Arakawa could well grind down Linares as DeMarco did in 2011, it may not be the "expected" result by many experts but it's certainly a big possibility and it's the outcome we're going for.
We think that Linares, after winning the first 8 or 9 rounds will slow, tire and eventually be stopped either in round 11 or 12 by Arakawa who will likely book himself a rematch with Omar Figueroa in the process.
*Record taken from Teiken's website, boxrec however report an 89-5 amateur record for Linares
(Image courtesy of http://boxingnews.jp)
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.