Heavyweight boxing isn't typically big news in Japan, however some fights do get the attention of boxing fans and notably there was a fair bit of coverage in the Japanese boxing press about the recent WBC Heavyweight world title bout between Deontay Wilder and Bermane Stiverne.
Part of the reason why the division is so over-looked in Japan is the fact that very few fighters in the country are Heavyweights. Typically the Japanese fighters have made their names in the lower weights with only a handful of champions above Lightweight. The big international Heavyweights get attention but domestically there is little time for Japanese fighters in the weight class which have typically been few and far between.
On April 30th however there will be a Heavyweight bout in Japan that has the potential to attract a lot of attention, both domestically and internationally. That bout, will see Japanese Heavyweight champion Kyotaro Fujimoto (11-1, 6) defending his title against former WBA interim Light Middleweight champion Nobuhiro Ishida (27-10-2, 11), a man best known for his huge upset victory over James Kirkland.
Ishida's international reputation, not just from the Kirkland bout but also contests with Gennady Golovkin, Paul Williams and Dmitry Pirog, will of course grab the attention of fans in the west. That attention was seen last year when Ishida began a remarkable journey to the Heavyweight division which saw him losing a close decision to Fujimoto in a surprisingly competitive 8 round bout. That bout was Ishida's Heavyweight debut and showed that he could compete in the division, at least domestically. Now a year on we've seen Ishida given time to really adapt to the division, get used to the weight and win two subsequent bouts in the division. Not only has he gotten used to the weight but he has seemingly gotten better after every fight.
Of course it takes two to tango and Fujimoto has also been a fighter showing signs of improvement since the first bout with Ishida. The was seen when Fujimoto stopped Kotatsu Takehara in what was their second meeting. In that bout Fujimoto looks brilliant. He was fast, sharp and landed almost at will. It wasn't the somewhat clumsy Fujimoto we had seen early in his career instead it was whole different fighter and one who was exciting to watch.
For those who didn't see their first bout it was an intriguing contest to say the least. Ishida seemed the more skilled and the one with the know how however his stamina lacked, his power wasn't there and he certainly slowed the longer the bout went on. He was probably fortunate that the contest was only an 8 rounder as it seemed he was beginning to struggle with the pace. The bout showed flaws for both men. Fujimoto showed a relative lack of skills and seemed unable to really make his weight advantage count until late whilst Ishida's lack of stamina stopped him from taking the later rounds that he needed for the win.
This time around we're expecting to see both men to have worked on their flaws. We know Fujimoto isn't going to suddenly become Wladimir Klitschko and be able to jab and move whilst remaining light on his feet. Likewise we know that Ishida isn't going to become a 100-punch per round swarming fighter. Though both will have improved since their first meeting and we're expecting a better fight over-all than their first contest.
Whilst we would love to see an Ishida win we do feel he's probably going to come up short. We suspect he surprised Fujimoto in their first meeting but this time around Fujimoto will know what to expect and will have trained for Ishida. Unfortunately if that's the case then we suspect Fujimoto will take a hard fought win over the challenger. Fujimoto will need to put on his best performance to win, but that's what we're expecting to see against Ishida here.
(Image courtesy of http://www.kadoebi.com)
It's fair to say that in boxing we have a number of "types" of interesting fights. The most interesting are those which pit elite fighters against each other in a unification contest, fights such as Kazuto Ioka's fight against Akira Yaegashi a few years ago. A step down from that are where we get to see an elite fighter in action, fighters like Floyd Mayweather Jr, Bernard Hopkins or Manny Pacquiao.
Several steps down from seeing the elite fighters in action are the domestic clashes that have fans eager to watch to see who is the best at a certain weight in a certain country.
Somewhere between the elite fights and the big domestic clashes are the "gimmick" fights if you will, the quirky bouts that get a lot more interest than a typical fight but not as much as a real super fighter.
In 2012 British fans saw a gimmick fight as Cricket player Freddie Flintoff fought in his one, and only, professional boxing contest. That fight got huge media attention in his homeland and although he was awful his bout seemed to get more headlines than most other bouts in Britain. In Japan we are on the verge of a similar "gimmick" bout as former Japanese and WBA interim Light Middleweight champion Nobuhiro Ishida (25-9-2, 10) moves from Light Middleweight/Middleweight all the way up to Heavyweight to challenger national Heavyweight champion Kyotaro Fujimoto (8-1, 5).
The bout may not be as "gimmicky" as the Flintoff one but it appears to have managed to capture the imagination of fans across the world and our own news pieces about the fight have been amongst our most popular pieces.
The bout, scheduled for just 8 rounds, hasn't got a title on the line, there is no world title fight at the end of it for the winner, there is no major award for winning. What there is is pride and honour combined with some risk, some danger and the possibility of either man being made to look incredibly poor.
For Ishida the risk is obvious. He's facing a much bigger, stronger and more powerful man. He's proven to be tough in the past and despite being wiped out by Gennady Golovkin he isn't a push over, as James Kirkland found out in Ishida's career defining victory over him.
Whilst the risk of being knocked out, bullied and battered is there for Ishida the reward for winning is huge. Despite their not being a title up for grabs a victory will make Ishida a legendary name in Japan, it will get him the acclaim and fame that any fighter wants and would help him to prove so many people wrong. It was also allow him to fight for the national title in his next fight, something the JBC refused to allow him to do here.
More importantly for Ishida however is the fact he can say "I tried it", something so many other fighters retire wishing they could have said. It's all well and good winning titles but to say you tried everything you wanted to do is equally as important, not leaving doubt or questions in your own mind.
For Ishida this bout is all about him trying to do the extreme, for his opponent, Fujimoto, this bout is equally as important.
Not only would Fujimoto lose his title if he lost this bout, despite Ishida being unable to win it, but his whole professional boxing career would become a joke, he would become a laughing stock and it would, in some ways, make a mockery of his reign as the Japanese Heavyweight champion. After all how could a Middleweight blow up and beat the Heavyweight champion?
Although stronger, younger, naturally bigger and more powerful Fujimoto knows that his boxing skills are limited. He's not awful but he's certainly nothing special. If he can be made to look like a being fool by Ishida that would almost certainly be a big hit to his pride and possibly be bad enough to force him into retirement or a return to Kick Boxing where he first made his name in fighting circles.
There is next to no risk of Fujimoto being stopped, Ishida wasn't a puncher at 154lbs or 160lbs, but being beaten by a more skilled and technically complete fighter over the distance can be just as bad for a fighter as being knocked out. Fighters beaten by, say Bernard Hopkins, never seen to look the same whilst those destroyed by Roman Gonzalez have managed to go on to achieve some notable success in their own right. A loss to Ishida could well be comparable to a loss to Hopkins.
As for the fight it really is a battle between a fighter with better skills, speed and experience and a fighter who is stronger, younger and more rugged. There are clear arguments to be made for either man winning and for either man losing.
For Ishida his experience and skills are a clear edge. He's also filled into his Heavyweight frame amazingly well and although we expected him to look awful with the weight he's been putting on he actually looks brilliant. Sure he won't be a thunderous puncher but the hope is clearly to help him with stand the shots of Fujimoto.
Although he has bulked up well a big question is whether or not Ishida will maintain his speed. His speed would be a huge advantage over the some what clumsy Fujimoto and if Ishida can fire off combinations and get in and out he'd almost certainly have enough in his locked to box at range to take home a decision.
As for Fujimoto his youth and presumably energy will be significant as will his natural size. In the clinch we'd expect Fujimoto to wrestle with Ishida, at range we'd expect him to walk through Ishida's shots and get inside to rough up the older man. The shots of Fujimoto are likely to be the heaviest that Ishida has ever felt and whilst they won't be as explosive as Golovkin's were they will all thud, even the jabs will be heavy.
Although we can see the argument for both men winning we can't help but feel that this is Fujimoto's to throw away. His lack of skills will be an issue early on, and he'll likely lose the first 2 or 3 rounds. After that however we imagine he'll find a way to slowly but surely grind down Ishida who think may just make it to the final bell but only just, and not before a few serious scares late on.
We genuinely do hope we're wrong. We would love it if Ishida was to win and even though we are technically "neutral" we do tend to love the bizarre, odd and risky and for Ishida this is certainly risky, hence the fight headlining "Kamikaze 3".
Is it a suicide mission for Ishida or is it a career defining opportunity for 38 year old? That's what we will find out in less than a week.
(Pictures courtesy of:
Nobuhiro Ishida's blog
Video courtesy of TUGmanBOX)
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.