On July 16th we'll see a new OPBF Minimumweight champion being crowned as Melvin Jerusalem (16-2, 10) clashes with Toto Landero (11-5-2, 2) for the vacant title, in a second bout between the two men who fought back in 2018. Although the bout isn't a huge bout for global boxing, it is a very, very interesting one between two former world title challengers each looking to move towards a second shot at the top.
Of the two men the more well known, and more proven, is Jerusalem. The 27 year old who is now based in Cebu City has been a professional since 2014 and quickly impressed with some displays of real power punching as he raced out to 8-0 (7) within 2 years of his debut. He then got his first gut check, taking on former world champion Florante Condes, and beat the heavy handed Condes by decision. That win put him in the mix for a world title fight and just 11 months later he challenged Wanheng Menayothin, giving the then WBC champion one of his toughest bouts. Sadly after a close decision to Wanheng we then saw Jerusalem lose to tricky compatriot Joey Canoy in July 2017.
Since losing to Wanheng and Canoy we've seen Jerusalem get his career back on track with 5 straight wins, including one over Philip Luise Cuerdo and one over his upcoming opponent Toto Landero.
In the ring Jerusalem is an aggressive fighter, who lets a lot of shots go. He sets a high work rate, has heavy hands and really does bring the fight to his opponent, wearing them down with tenacity and volume. Whilst he is usually ultra aggressive, he is also very flawed, throwing a lot of shots that don't land, and being open to counters. He's also very messy at times, fighting with a mentality of hitting anywhere, and he was actually deducted points in both of his losses. Notable without the point loss against Wanheng he'd have earned a majority draw! His wild and sloppy work is a real flaw and something that he tends to get away with, but can be a problem against his best opponents.
Although Jerusalem is the more well known that doesn't mean Landero is a total unknown himself. In fact the 25 year old has been a professional since 2013, and like Jerusalem he went on a decent unbeaten run to begin his career, going 8-0-2 (2) in his first 10. Whilst the names he beat in that early run aren't amazing he did manage to beat Rolly Sumalpong and scored two wins over Philip Luis Cuerdo. Interestingly his unbeaten run came to an end in 2016, when he lost to Joey Canoy, before bouncing back and scoring an excellent win over Vic Saludar, the best win of his career so far. Sadly in his 6 bouts since beating Saludar we've seen Landero going 2-4, however his losses have come to notable names including Knockout CP Freshmart, Simpiwe Konkco, Jerusalem himself and Tibo Monabesa. Whilst those are, understandable losses, they are still losses that have killed any momentum Landero had on the back of beating Saludar.
In the ring Landero is very much a pure boxer. He's quick on his toes, he throws lots of jabs, looks to fight at range and is relatively busy, though not as busy as Jerusalem. Sadly though everything for him depends on his jab, and it's not a shot with much pop on it. In fact it's very much a pawing jab, a stay away from me shot, rather than anything hurtful or meaningful. Against fighters with poor footwork, or limited work rate his style works, but against most others his lack of power is a real issue, and doesn't impress judges. In fact that's likely why he has been losing in his most notable bouts.
Sadly for Landero we suspect his lack of stopping power, and low work rate, will be an issue again here. Landero is the better boxer, by some margin, but Jerusalem is the better fighter, and we suspect the pressure, aggression and work rate of Jerusalem will be the key here. Landero will stick the jab in Jerusalem's face, and have success early on, but as Jerusalem's engine gets going he will out work and out fight Landero to take either a late stoppage or a clear, decision.
Prediction - UD12 Jerusalem
One of the best things about Japanese boxing right now is the Featherweight division, which is red hot with talent, and has a brilliant variety of styles among it's top fighters. You have pure boxers, like Reiya Abe and Ryo Sagawa, you have warriors like Tsuyoshi Tameda and Daisuke Watanabe, you have boxer-punchers, like Hinata Maruta, and emerging prospects, like Jinki Maeda and Ryuto Owan. The division in Japan is bursting at the seams, even if international fans aren't really paying it much attention. Yet. It's inevitable that at least one of the top Japanese Featherweights will make a mark at the top level in the coming years, and it's a case of when, and not if, we see one of them fighting for, and potentially winning, a world title.
The division is set for another huge bout in Japan on May 21st as OPBF champion Satoshi Shimizu (9-1, 9) takes on WBO Asia Pacific champion Musashi Mori (12-0, 7), in a bout to unify the two regional titles in the division.
As with so many Featherweight bouts in Japan recently, the bout is not just a really good one, between two very solid fighters, but also a match up between two men who are very talented, and have very different styles. It's the mix of styles that makes such a compelling match up, and will see both men being forced to prove what they can do against a fighter who will ask them very serious questions.
Of the two men the more well known is Satoshi Shimizu, 2-time Olympian who won bronze at the 2012 London games, losing in the semi final to Luke Campbell. He had hoped to compete at the 2016 Olympics, but after failing to qualify turned professional, at the advanced age of 30. The idea, originally, was to fast track him. After all he had been a stellar amateur with 150 amateur wins, and an Olympic gold medal. The fast tracking worked well early on, and he won the OPBF Featherweight title in his 4th professional bout, just just 13 months after his debut and raced out to 8-0 (8) whilst beginning to edge towards a world ranking. And then he flirted with the Super Featherweight division and got badly beaten by Joe Noynay in 2019, with Shimizu then requiring a long break from the ring and staying out of action for a year, in part to his injuries and in part due to Covid19. When he finally got back in action last year, he was already 34 and the clock was ticking on his career.
Since turning profession in 2016 there have been some really obvious things about Shimizu that can't be denied. Firstly he's not actually a very good boxer. He's clumsy, he's slow, he's wide with his punches and he does almost everything wrong. There is nothing about him that screams "former amateur stand out". Secondly he punches like a mule. Shimizu is a horrible boxer, but a brutal puncher, and when he lands clean fighters feel it. In fact when he lands just glancing blows opponents feel it. Thirdly, he's awkward as all hell. He's rangy a 5'11", southpaw at Featherweight. Add that to his power and he is just a nightmare to fight, even with all his technical flaws. Sadly at 35 it's now or never for Shimizu, and it's hard to imagine him ever making good on the promise he had when he turned professional.
Aged just 21 Musashi Mori is at the opponent end of his career, though is already an established young fighter who is rapidly rising through the ranks, and moving towards a world title fight. Like Shimizu he debuted in 2016, though did so as a 17 year old, in a 4 rounder, without any hype or noise around him. The following year he went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year, beating Zirolian Riku in the All Japan final in what was Mori's Korakuen Hall debut, at Super Featherweight. Following that win big things were predicted of the youngster but a genuine scare against Allan Vallespin saw some doubt creep in about the youngster. Rather than question his potential he did something smart, and realised he wasn't a natural Super Featherweight, and dropped to Featherweight instead. Since moving down in weight he has really found himself scoring 2 wins against Richard Pumicpic, winning the WBO Asia Pacific title in the first of those, as well as notching notable defenses against Takuya Mizuno and Tsuyoshi Tameda. As well as his impressive resume for such a young novice he has also been working with the amazing Ismael Salas, who has really helped develop Mori's boxing ability, brain and style, developing him into an excellent young fighter.
In regards to how Mori fights, he's an intelligent boxer, with some snap on his shots. Over the last few years he has toned down his aggression, used his jab a lot more, and really developed in to one of the best counter punchers in Japan. He's accurate, has quick hands, very good footwork and seems comfortable on the inside as well as at mid-range. Defensively there is still work to do, but that has been the area where has really improved so much from his early days, and it's clear that Salas has taught him a lot about defense, and how to control range. Sadly for him he does lack in terms of 1-shot power and physicality, and it's clear that a lot of fighters at Featherweight could bully him around, but he has enough sting on his shots to get respect from opponents, and lands his shots very clean, often as counters with opponents walking on to them.
In terms of abilities, Mori is the much, much better boxer. He's more polished, he's smoother, he's lighter on his feet, he moves better, and his jab is significantly better. If this was all about boxing ability, and just boxing ability, Mori wouldn't have any problems winning. Of course boxing is so much more than just skills and when you carry dynamite in your hands, as Shimizu does, this care never going to be easy. Especially given the awkwardness, reach and size of Shimizu, and the way he throws from some truly angles that fighters can't really prepare for.
We expect to see Mori showing a lot of respect to Shimizu early on. And we mean a lot of respect, but do so whilst picking and poking at Shimizu. Trying to rack up rounds without taking risks. As for Shimizu the key isn't to try and box, but to time Mori coming in, and tagging him before he can get to close. To have success Mori needs to work quickly, use his speed, and if he gets inside he needs to work up close, smothering the power of Shimizu in the process. If he can do that we'll see him chipping away at Shimizu round by round and establishing a clear lead on the scorecards.
Shimizu will always be dangerous, right through to the final bell, and he could turn the bout around at any moment, with a wild looping left hand, or wide right hook. That's a real danger that Mori will need to be wary of, even if he feels in control. If Mori can, however, avoid eating eating too many shots clean we see him taking a clear, and wide, decision over the 35 year old, unifying the two regional titles and establishing himself as one of the leading Japanese contenders at Featherweight, along with Hinata Maruta.
Prediction - UD12 Mori
On May 21st we're expecting to see the Ohashi Gym return to Korakuen Hall, for their next show. The show will see several interesting bouts on it, including a really good one for the OPBF Bantamweight title, between two men with a point to prove.
That match up will see the unbeaten Kazuki Nakajima (9-0-1, 8) battle the once beaten Kai Chiba (13-1, 8), with the two fighting for the title that was recently vacated by Takuma Inoue, a stable of Nakajima's.
On paper this isn't a bout that will get too much attention. Although both men are very good fighters, neither man has really connected with a wider audience yet, and that's despite the fact both are explosive fighters who could make for some really good fights. In fact this one should be really good it's self, and has the potential to turn into an explosive shoot out.
If pushed, the more well known fighter is probably Nakajima, albeit not by a huge amount. The 27 year old Ohashi promoted fighter was a stellar amateur who debuted in 2017 and has, for the most part, been destructive puncher. He is naturally heavy handed southpaw, with dynamite in his straight left hand. In just 10 bouts he has 5 opening rounds wins, including stoppages against good domestic fighters Kenichi Watanabe and Jin Minamide. He has also shown an ability to keep his power late, stopping Yoshihiro Utsumi in round 7 and breaking down Takuya Fujioka over 6 rounds.
Although very heavy handed, and we do legitimately mean heavy handed. Nakajima is also a very rigid, stiff fighter. His footwork is predictable to say the least, his output isn't the best, he struggles to cut the range, and can be outboxed by a smart fighter, as he was in 2020 when he fought Seiya Tsutsumi in the God's Left Bantamweight title final, in a bout we thought he was lucky yo get a draw in. If a fighter looks to take him on head to head they will be punished, but if a fighter boxes, they can confuse him and out point him. The game plan has been shown by Tsutsumi, who really was very unlucky, and it just takes someone to build on that.
Whilst we suspect Nakajima is more well known, that's not to say that Chiba is an obscure fighter, at least not to those who follow Japanese boxing. He's a 28 year old who debuted in 2015 and was getting some real momentum in his career in 2017, following back to back wins over Ikuro Sadatsune and Ryo Matsubara. He headed in 2018 as one to watch, and was then shocking upset by Brian Lobetania of the Philippines. That loss really was a huge one for Chiba who struggled to re-discover his footing, narrowly getting past Keisuke Tabuchi on his return and not quite looking like the force he once seemed to be. That was until last December when he schooled the usually exciting Haruki Ishikawa and put his hat in the ring for a title of some kind.
Early in his career Chiba looked like an offensive monster, and really was aggressive, heavy handed and came forward a lot. He wasn't a brawler, but was a very offensively minded fighter. An aggressive boxer-puncher. The loss to Lobetania seemed to change him though and now he focuses more on his boxing, more on his defense and uses his footwork and jab a lot more effectively to set up his power punches. It's one of those cases where a loss has actually improved a fighter technically. He's less exciting than he used to be, a lot less reckless, but still boxes to his strengths, and the loss was a blessing ins disguise.
In terms of boxing ability we would go as far as to say Chiba is the better boxer. He moves around the ring with a lot more fluidity than Nakajima, he uses his feet better and looks a more natural boxer. Sadly however boxing ability by it's self isn't the be all and end all. Sometimes the key to winning are the other facets a fighter has, and in this case we believe the power of Nakajima will be the difference maker.
At some point in the 12 rounds we can't help but think Nakajima will land clean, and when that happens we expect to see Chiba really feel it, and get shaken, as he did against Lobetania. Chiba might have improved, significantly, from that bout but Nakajima is also a much better fighter than Lobetania will ever be.
We expect to see Chiba winning the early rounds, but sooner or later he would hold his feet for a moment too long, and Nakajima will land one of his missile like left hands. That will shake Chiba, who we suspect will respond with bombs of his own, catching Nakajima but not having the effects he would hope to have. When that happens the end will be nigh and we suspect Nakajima will get the better of it, and will force a stoppage of Chiba. Likely whilst Chiba is up on the scorecards. Perhaps comfortably so.
Prediction - TKO7 Nakajima
When we think about fights that get us excited there is a general rule of thumb. Do we have two guys with styles that should gel? If so are those styles aggressive and exciting? If the answer to both of those questions is "yes" then we get super excited about what we could end up seeing, knowing perfectly well that we may well get something a little bit special.
With that in mind we're expecting something special on May 19th when we get the chance to see OPBF Welterweight champion Ryota Toyoshima (13-2-1, 8) take on WBO Asia Pacific champion Yuki Beppu (21-1-1, 20) in a brilliant unification bout, which could a genuine FOTY contender. Even if neither man is particularly well known outside of Japan. In fact it wouldn't be the first FOTY contender for either man, with both well known for fan friendly bouts, their limitations and their aggressive in ring mentalities. It will also be a bout where both men are wound a little bit tighter than usual, following the fact this bout was delayed, having originally been planned for May 5th.
Aged 30 Beppu is the older man, though is certainly not an older fighter by any stretch. In fact his 23 combined bouts have only lasted 64 rounds, and his career, which started in 2012, has not been a punishing one. At all. Beppu debuted in late 2012 and began to build some traction in 2013, before winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014, stopping future Japanese Light Middleweight champion Hironobu Matsunaga in 2 rounds in the final, to record his 7th straight TKO victory. He would extend that stoppage run up to 14 straight wins before fighting to a draw, in 2017, with the tough Charles Bellamy. After a few more blow out wins he suffered his first loss, in a Japanese elimiator against Yuki Nagano and, and then scored his first decision win in 2019, when he out pointed Jason Egera. It was however his December 2019 bout that put him on the boxing map, as he defeated Ryota Yada in an instant classic. That bout saw Beppu being dropped 5 times, but stopping Yada in round 10 to claim the WBO Asia Pacific Welterweight title. Sadly he's not been in the ring since that title win.
At his best Beppu is a scarily heavy handed boxer-puncher. Defensively he's not the best, and given Yada dropped him 5 times his chin is very questionable, but his heart, determination and will to win is incredible. His footwork is under-rated, his movement is also better than people give him credit for and he is certainly a more rounded boxer than most realise. Given how many times he got up against Yada it's clear he's a very determined fighter, and a determined fighter, with fight changing power is never an easy out for anyone. Sadly however he is a man who is easy to hit and despite being a power puncher he is a naturally smaller Welterweight, which is likely to be a real issue for him here, but not something that he can't, potentially, over-come.
Aged 25 Ryota Toyoshima is a man who debuted in 2014 and didn't really managed to make much noise early on. He fought to a draw on debut and suffered his first loss in his 4th professional bout, losing to Masaharu Kaito. He rebounded well, winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year before losing against to Kaito in 2017. That loss left the then 21 year old sporting a 7-2-1 (5) record, but he has rebuilt really well since then scoring 6 wins in a row, including recent wins over Moon Hyon Yun, Woo Min Won, Masafumi Ando and, most notably, Riku Nagahama, with the win over Nagahama netting him the OPBF title.
In the ring Toyoshima is an aggressive fighter who comes forward behind a tight high guard, he presses, and pressures and when in range he lets shots fly. He's not the most technical or the most defensively, especially when he lets his hands go, but he can take a good shot and has very respectable power himself. In fact he's willing to take one to land one, due to his power and chin. Whilst he does have a solid, stiff, jab, he doesn't use it as much as he should, and instead plods forward trying to get angles for his hooks and straight right hand. It's a tactic that can look sluggish and slow at times, but as bouts go on his pressure builds and he starts to have more and more success against fighters who are sapped from his constant forward march.
Given Toyoshima's love of marching forward, and the power of Beppu it's hard to not expect this to be an absolute tear up. Toyoshima is the less classically "skilled" of the two men, and the less powerful puncher, but he's the naturally bigger man, the stronger man and the more imposing man. Given Toyoshima has plenty of bang in his own shots there's a real chance he'll be able to put Beppu down, like Yada did, and maybe even drop him a few times. On the other hand Beppu is a determined terrier with a big bite. He will jump in an out, use his very under-rated jab and make the most of his speed.
We expect to see both men damaged here, we expect to see at least one knockdown each way, and by the end we expect to see both men looking a mess. Expect to see both men marked up, bloodied, and feeling the effects of some huge head shots.
As for picking a winner, we're going with Beppu, in a late stoppage, in what could well be the Japanese fight of the year. We think his long lay off, since late 2019, will serve him well here, especially given how Toyoshima was in a war just a few months ago. Saying that however we wouldn't be surprised at all if the referee ends up needing to wave this off, in favour of either man.
Prediction - SD12 Beppu
On January 16th we'll see the second OPBF title fight of the new year as Welterweight champion Riku Nagahama (12-2-1, 4) defends his belt against Ryota Toyoshima (12-2-1, 8), in what will be Nagahama's first defense of the belt. For both men it's a great opportunity to start the year with a win of note and whilst a loss would be a set back they would have the rest of 2021 to get back on track.
Coming into the bout it's the champion who is riding high after winning the title last February, in the final show before Japanese boxing locked down due to Covid19. Not only did Nagahama win the title last February but he did so in what was arguably his best win to date, ending the unbeaten run of the previously unbeaten Japanese based Afghan fighter Kudura Kaneko. Going into the bout Kaneko seemed to have a lot of steam behind him, but Nagahama boxed smartly to out point the then 11-0 Kaneko.
Boxing smartly really is the way forward for the 29 year old Nagahama who is a tidy boxer, but someone who has come up short when he's been dragged into a war or shoot out, with his chin letting him down against both Takeshi Inoue and Yuki Nagano. Sadly for him those bouts exposed his two biggest flaws. One is his relative lack of power, which meant he couldn't get respect from either man, and the other is his questionable durability. He's not china chinned, or an accident waiting to happen, but both Nagano and Inoue broke him down, with Nagano really breaking his face up with good straight right hands and left hooks. Inoue on the other hand forced the referee to jump in in round 8, when Nagahama was taking shots. In both cases Nagahama found himself being man handled and caught clean, a lot, at close range, forcing the referee to save him. Both stoppages came with Nagahama on his feet, but looking beaten, bruised and damaged when the referee stepped in.
Despite the two losses however he did have success and is certainly a very skilled boxer. We saw this when he won Rookie of the Year in 2015, we saw it in both of his losses and in his recent winning streak, which has seen him win 4 in a row.
Aged 25 and fighting out of the Teiken gym Ryota Toyoshima is regarded as a very hungry, and hard hitting, challenger looking for his chance to make a mark at title level, after having been overshadowed by the aforementioned Yuki Nagano. The heavy handed southpaw made his debut in 2014, as a teenager and ended up losing early in his career. After just 4 bouts he was 2-1-1 but rebuilt well, winning Rookie of the Year in 2016. He suffered his second career loss in 2017, coming up short to Masaharu Saito who had also given him his first loss, but since then has found his groove with 5 straight wins, 3 of which have been by stoppage.
It's fair to say that Toyoshima, unlike Nagahama, has got very respectable power. He's also a lot more comfortable at a slower pace than Nagahama, who always wants to be seen doing something. For Toyoshima little things are one of his strengths, lulling opponents slightly before countering, or changing the tempo of the action. Despite being a very capable boxer Toyoshima's real strength comes in his naturally heavy hands. When he lands clean he tends to hurt opponents, and chip away at their resilience. He's able to land hard to head or body and does throw some very sneak short left hooks, as we saw against Masafumi Ando in 2019. When he's in seek and destroy mode, as he was against Woo Min Won, he can make for very fan friendly tear ups, and that's what we expect to see from him here.
For Nagahama the key to victory is using his skills to keep control of the tempo and prevent Toyoshima from making this a war, and he does have those tools in his arsenal. He needs to work when he gets space, he needs to stick his jab in Toyoshima's face as often as he can and upset the puncher's rhythm.
As for Toyoshima the key is to out work, out power, and out muscle Nagahama. He will take shots in return, but his chin and the lack of pop on Nagahama's shots should prove to be the difference. The thing he needs to avoid is allowing Nagahama to dictate the tempo from the early going, if that happens Toyoshima will struggle to play catch up on the cards and his power might not be able to bail him out.
We're expecting the pressure and power of Toyoshima, along with his sneaky body shots, to be the difference. We expect him to slow down Nagahama and then, later on, force the stoppage with a spent Nagahama covering up on the ropes after feeling the relentless assault of the challenger.
Regardless of who wins however we are expecting a genuinely exciting little war here, the bout really could be a sensational way to top off the first Dynamic Glove card of 2021.
Prediction - Toyoshima TKO8
For those interested the bout will be televised live on G+, which is available via the Isakura service those outside of Japan.
On January 14th we get the first Japanese show of 2021 and it comes with the first notable fight of the year in regards to Japanese boxing as OPBF Bantamweight champion Keita Kurihara (15-5, 13) looks to defend his title against Takuma Inoue (13-1, 3) at Korakuen Hall. The bout, on an Ohashi promoted show, is a mouth watering one pitting a huge punching champion against a talented, but much lighter punching, challenger. It has the hallmarks of being something hugely entertaining and one that isn’t an easy call at all, especially given all the sub stories leading into the bout.
Before we get on to the bout we need to consider a few things including the fact that neither of the men involved in this one fought at all in 2020. In fact neither man has been in the ring since November 2019. How that plays a part in this bout will be interesting to see as it has certainly given one fighter a chance to reassess where his career is going whilst it has completely slowed down the momentum of the other. We also need to consider the style of the two men and whether a year out of the ring will have allowed them to improve or mature in a way that could prove vital to this fight. Also is there a chance that one fighter has overlooked the other, or lacks the hunger they may have once had.
Coming into this bout the more well known of the two fighters, especially internationally, will be the challenger. The 25 year old Takuma Inoue is the younger brother of Naoya Inoue and a man who seemed groomed for success. The Ohashi Gym hopeful began his professional career way back in 2013, following a solid amateur career, and seemed to be heading to big things after early career wins over Tatsuya Fukuhara, Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr and Nestor Daniel Narvaez. Sadly though he never managed to really kick on after those good wins, and rather than racing through the ranks he spent a long time competing at the upper echelons of the regional title scene. It was there he notched solid wins against Mark Anthony Geraldo, Rene Dacquel, Froilan Saludar, Kentaro Masuda and Mark John Yap. Solid wins, but they certainly did seem to keep him busy, rather than preparing him for world level. Sadly he was also hit by some injuries that slowed his rise, and cost him a 2016 bout with Marlon Tapales.
Although less well known Keita Kurihara is a legit threat himself and the 28 year old slugger is a man who might have losses on his record but can’t be overlooked. He faltered early in his career, losing 4 of his first 7 bouts, against some relatively poor opposition, as he struggled to find his in ring identity and his ideal weight. Since then however he has gone 12-1 (10) with his loss coming to world ranked fighter Hiroaki Teshigawara, in what was a thrilling battle. Although his career started slowly he has notched recent wins against the likes of Ryan Lumacad, Kazuki Tanaka, Yuki Strong Kobayashi, Warliot Parrenas and Sukkasem Kietyongyuth, smashing his way into the world rankings. His competition might not have been on the same level as Inoue’s but he has faced progressively better fighters in recent years, rather than essentially biding time at one level in the sport.
Of course the last time we saw Inoue was on the under-card of the WBSS Bantamweight final, between Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire, where Takuma put in a solid effort but lost a decision to WBC Bantamweight champion Nordine Oubaali. For much of that fight Inoue looked out gunned, over-powered, and out-muscled. Late on however the Japanese fighter mounted an excellent comeback and had Oubaali in all sorts of trouble in the championship rounds. Sadly we’ve not seen him in action at all since then, and that bout took place way back on November 7th 2019. Whilst that lengthy break could be an issue for a fighter, especially after a loss, we dare say the break could serve Inoue well. When he lost to Oubaali he was 23 and still to really find his man strength. Now however he’s 25, he’s coming into his physical prime, and potentially he’ll have naturally bulked up, becoming strong, more naturally powerful and more physically imposing. Had he been 25 when facing Oubaali there’s a feeling he may have had the physical maturity to handle Oubaali’s man strength just a bit better than he did. Also the lengthy break from the ring has given him time to heal up all the niggles and injuries he’s had whilst also working on his flaws, something he likely did in 2020 when sparring with Kosei Tanaka.
Of course Inoue wasn’t the only fighter out of the ring last year and Kurihara’s most recent bout came around 1 week after Inoue’s last bout. That was a 6th straight win for the hard hitting Kurihara, who put away Sukkasem in 2 rounds, whilst fighting just above the Bantamweight limit. That was an impressive performance and had followed on from a 35 second destruction of Warlito Parrenas. Coming in to 2020 Kurihara had real momentum, he won 6 bouts in a row, including 3 in 2018 and 2 in 2019, he seemed to be chugging along, climbing up the world rankings and really finding his stride with some very impressive performances. We do however need to wonder if the break will have a negative effect on him, slowing his rise, killing off the snowball like momentum he had been building. By the time the fight comes along he’ll be 28, still in his prime years, but he’ll feel like he wasted a year of his prime. This was a chance for him to mature, but instead a missed opportunity to build on his success.
In terms of styles Inoue is a boxer. He has a nice jab, nice movement and nice skills, though he can often find himself getting involved in a tougher than expected bout. He lacks real power, or rather he seems to lack the belief in his power, and can often find opponents walking him down when he struggles to get their respect. Despite that he has a good boxing brain, smart defensive skills and a very good team behind him. Sadly though he isn’t his brother. He’s not got Naoya’s fight changing power, or insane quickness. He can fight and he can box, but often he looks rather unsure of himself, and at times it even seems like he lacks the self belief needed to be a star. He has a lot of tools to like. He’s tough, he’s brave and he’s got very impressive stamina, but can be found backing up too easily at times, and that can see him losing rounds that he could win.
As for Kurihara he’s a lot less technical than Inoue. He’s more like a bulldozer than a boxer. He comes forward, has real belief in his power and knows that what he hits he can hurt. He’s not just heavy handed but he’s also big at the weight, standing at around 5’7”, with long levers, a wiry frame and naturally heavy hands. At times he can look a bit wild, a bit open, and a bit crude, though he has certainly worked on this in recent years, and he’s not the quickest fighter out there. However a fighter looking to take advantage of his flaws will need to be aware that if Kurihara catches you he’s going to hurt you, and he really is a serious puncher. He’s not impossible to hit, but trying to hit him and make him pay is a risk. A real, genuine, risk. When he has his man hurt he is also a very good finisher.
Coming into this we suspect Inoue will be the favourite, and we suspect many of those who haven’t seen Kurihara won’t be giving him a chance. In reality however Kurihara is a very, very live underdog. He has the size and power to really give Inoue nightmares and if Inoue hasn’t built his confidence, and can’t get Kurihara’s respect here then there is a very, very real chance that Kurihara takes either a very clear decision or even stops Inoue in the later rounds. If Inoue can get Kurihara’s respect, and if the 14 months out of the ring has helped him physically mature as expected, he should be able to outspeed, out box, and move Kurihara to a decision win.
We see this as a very competitive match up and we really wouldn’t be surprised at all by either man winning.
Prediction - Kurihara TKO9
One thing that's clear in the world of boxing is that there are too many titles, and too many of them are meaningless titles with no clear qualifiers as to who can win them and what their purpose is in the sport. For example can anyone tell the difference between the WBA Continental, Intercontinental and International titles?
Thankfully does have some titles that are worth something, even in this weird world where the WBA and WBC want to hand out belts like a fashion accessory. And on December 13 we'll see 3 titles unified in Tokyo as WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight champion Ryoji Fukunaga (12-4, 12) takes on Japanese champion Kenta Nakagawa (19-3-1, 12), with the winner not only defending their title, and taking the title from their opponent, but also the currently vacant OPBF title, to become a triple crown champion.
As with all triple crown bouts in Japan this is a really interesting match up and one that be excited about. Style wise the men should match up wonderfully, and given that both men are in their mid-30's neither man can accord a set back if they want to move their career forward. With that in mind, how do we expect this bout to go? And who are the fiughters?
The 34 year old Fukunaga is a hard hitting southpaw who turned professional in 2013 and lost to Seita Mochizuki. He then reeled off 4 straight wins before losing again, in a blow out loss to Ryo Matsubara in 2015. That could have been it for him, but instead he gritted his teeth and rebuilt, surprisingly winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year, thanks to a solid win against Kota Fujimoto in the final. By the end of 2017 he was 10-2 (10) before suffering back to back decision losses to Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart. With a 10-4 his career looked like it was going nowhere, and he was out of the ring for 10 months before picking up a low key win in May 2019. He then got a big chance, taking on Froilan Saludar earlier this year for the WBO Asia Pacific title.
In the ring Fukunaga is a bit of a slow fighter in terms of his hand speed, he's a little bit clumsy when he throws punches, bounces on his feet a lot and does a lot of things wrong. When he throws his left he often complete drops his right and has very, very poor defense. Thankfully for him however he a decent chin, good reactions and a real awkwardness to how he fights. He's also blessed with brutal power. Although his punches are technically poor they are thrown with bad intent and are of the "nasty thudding" variety. His jab, when it lands, is hurtful and his left hand is like a wrecking ball, slow but damaging, however he needs to land and that is not a given due to his wide arching punches and lack of speed.
Aged 35 Kenta Nakagawa actually turned professional way back in 2004 and began his career with 2 wins in his first 3 bouts. Then he vanished from boxing for me than 6 before returning in 2011. His return to boxing saw him lose to Teppei Tsutano but since then he has gone a very impressive 17-1-1 (12). During that 19 fight run he's had since he returned to the score he has scored notable wins over the likes of Joe Tanooka, Hayato Kimura, Ryosuke Nasu, Takayuki Okumoto and Yuta Matsuo, and become a 2-time Japanese champion. It's worth noting that his first title reign was a show one, lasting just 5 months, and saw him suffer a 7th round TKO loss to Ryuichi Funai, but he has reeled off 6 straight wins since then.
In the ring Nakagawa is a smart boxer puncher. Like Fukunaga he's a southpaw, but unlike Fukunaga he's actually a pretty polished fighter with deliberate and quick movement, accurate straight punches a powerful left hand, and good timing. He's a much better on the back foot than Nakagawa, and knows how to create, and use distance, landing accurate shots and making opponents make mistakes. He's not the quickest out there, or the biggest puncher, but he has respectable power, and his accuracy and timing make up for his lack of single punch power. What's also rather impressive is his composure under pressure, and he showed this well under the aggression and pressure of Yuta Matsuo back in July.
If a bout was decided on skills alone this would be an easy win for Nakagawa. He is by far, the more polished, rounded and knowledgable fighter in the ring. The issue here however is the power of Fukunaga. If he lands a clean one on Nakagawa he certainly has the power to get Nakagawa's attention, and potentially get him to unwind. We suspect Nakagawa's movement will limit there, but there is always a chance he could land, and it may only take one clean, wild left hand to turn the bout around.
We suspect that Nakagawa will manage to rack up rounds, box smartly, and get a big lead through the bout. However there will always be danger, whilst he'll look in control there will be a sense of tension through out the contest. Fukunaga might miss a lot, might look clumsy, but he will be dangerous to the end and it will take a very good performance from Nakagawa to see this out, secure the win and finish the night as a triple crown champion.
Prediction - UD12 Nakagawa
On November 21st at Korakuen Hall we are being treat to a very, very good card thanks to Dangan. The main event of the show is up at 140lbs and will see the winner walking away as the OPBF champion. Not only is there a notable title on the line for the bout but it is also a very, very interesting match up in terms of the fighters involved, their styles, weaknesses and the type of bout we're expecting to see. In fact we dare that the strengths of each fighter match the weaknesses of the other man, making this an incredibly interesting bout.
Coming in to the contest Rikki Naito (22-2, 7) is the reigning OPBF champion Light Welterweight champion, having won the belt in 2018 with a victory against Jeffrey Arienza. Since winning the belt he has recorded 3 defenses but in all 3 bouts he has had trouble, being dropped in two of those defenses, and really running on fumes in the other. In the other corner is the often under-rated Yusuke Konno (16-4, 9), who comes into the bout with little fanfare, but at 31 he'll know he can ill afford another set back.
Of the two men we suspect Rikki Naito is the much, much more well known. The second generation fighter is the son of former Japanese and OPBF Middleweight champion Cassius Naito. As a fighter Rikki managed to create some buzz in 2011, when he turned professional, but really broke through into the wider consciousness of Japanese fans in 2014, when he claimed the Japanese Super Featherweight title. After making 3 defenses he dipped his toes at Lightweight, beating Nihito Arakawa, before losing a technical decision in 2015 to Kenichi Ogawa. A second loss to Ogawa in 2016 saw Naito abandon the Super Featherweight division and later settle at 140lbs.
At 130lbs Naito was a talented boxer, with respectable power, good speed, good stamina and he looked like he was going to find himself being one of the next notable Japanese fighters at the weight. He was young, naturally talented and ticked a lot of boxes needed to be a solid fighter. The one thing he seemed to miss was physicality, instead relying on his movement and counter punching to get an opponents respect. We suspect the move to 140lbs was going to be a fail, but Naito surprised us, bulking up well, and maintaining his speed and timing really well. Sadly though his lack of physicality has proven to be an issue, and so to has his relative lack of punching power. He has also struggled with stamina at the weight and the bigger men have been able to lose early rounds before making a late charge. This has been seen particularly in his last 3 bouts, and he has been some what lucky to have built up the lead in the first 8 or 9 rounds to rely on when going to the judges.
The 31 year old Yusuke Konno has never really had much acclaim from fight fans, but he's certainly better than his record suggests. Like Naito he debuted in 2011, doing so at Welterweight, and in 2016 he competed in the Rookie of the Year, losing in the East Japan final to eventual All Japan Rookie of the Year winner Ryota Itoyama. By the end of 2015 he was 9-3 (3) and seemed to be toiling badly among the Japanese ranks. In 2016 he moved down in weight and quickly settled at 140lbs, where he got his first title fight. Sadly Konno lost that bout, but was in the lead before being stopped in the 10th, and final, round by Koichi Aso. It was a coming out performance, despite the loss, and since then Konno has has gone 5-0 (4), scoring notable wins against Kazuya Maruki, Takashi Inagaki, Vladimir Baez and Baishanbo Nasiyiwula, a win that netted him the WBA Asia title.
In the ring Konno is slow, he's a little bit on the clumsy side, and he can be out manoeuvred. His feet look somewhat clumsy, and his hand speed leaves much to be desired. He looks like he's there to be hit, and he is relatively open defensively. Watching him it looks hard to see how he's managed to have much success. However although looking bad he fights to his strengths. He has a heavy, deliberate, jab, he has criminally under-rated power, especially at 140lbs, he's tough, rugged, strong and big at the weight. Physically he's imposing, he can push folk around, he can take a shot and in a shoot out he can hold his own, as we saw again Baishanbo. Although his hands aren't quick, he does have sneaky speed, and seems to find a home for his shots with surprisingly success. He's also the sort of fighter who doesn't get discouraged, even when he's struggling for success.
In terms of pure boxing skills Naito is head and shoulders above Konno, but that's not always the key to victory. Naito's issues with stamina and getting a fighters respect could be a real problem here. We have no doubt that Naito will take the lead early on, using his speed and movement to rack up the rounds early on. We think Konno and his team are expecting that to happen too. Though where this becomes an interesting fight is the final 4 or 5 rounds. When Naito slows down. The question will be whether or not Konno will be able to get to Naito in those later rounds, or do enough early on to take the legs out of Naito a few rounds earlier.
If Konno can take the legs away from Naito a little sooner than others have been able to, and really push him down the stretch, we see this one being a razor thin decision either way. Konno's strength, size, and determination will be a handful for Naito in those final rounds.
Sadly we see the early lead of Naito being too much for Konno to reel in, but this will be much, much closer than many expect.
Prediction - Naito SD12
On October 8th attention returns to Korakuen Hall for the next bout featuring the under-rated Hiroaki Teshigawara (21-2-2, 14), who looks to extend his reign as the OPBF Super Bantamweight champion as he takes on Shingo Kawamura (16-5-4, 8).
For Teshigawara the bout serves as his 4th defense of the title, which he has held since October 2018, and should move him one step closer to a potential world title bout.
For those those who haven't seen Teshigawara he's a talented, awkward boxer-puncher who is very much knocking on the door of a world title shot. He's ranked in the top 10 by both the WBC and the IBF, and has won his last 9 in a row, with 8 of those wins coming by T/KO. Of course it's not the numbers that matter but the opposition and he holds stoppage wins over the world ranked Keita Kurihara, and world title challengers Jetro Pabustan, Teiru Kinoshita and Shohei Omori.
In the ring Teshigawara is tough, heavy handed and can box or fight. When he needs to dig in and fight he can, and we've seen him do it more than once, but at his best he's a tricky, awkward boxer-puncher who sets an unusual rhythm, draws leads, counters them well and fights with a rather unique style. His hands are often down and he relies on herky jerky movement, applies pressure with his movement and is patient enough to wait for a mistake when he needs to. Although not a 1-punch KO artists he's heavy handed, every shot he lands has a good dose of pepper. Although he's not an elite level fighter he's the sort of fighter who will give anyone problems, and could, if he gets the right opportunity, win a world title.
Notably this will be Teshigawara's first bout since leaving the Koichi Wajima gym and joining the Misako Gym. Although a gym move like this can be an issue for some we suspect this will not be a problem at all for Teshigawara, who has long worked alongside Misako, who are expected to help open doors for the talented "Crush Boy".
As for Kawamura this is essentially him in the last chance saloon, after going win-less in his last 5 bouts. Those 5 bouts include 3 successive draws and losses to Satoshi Shimizu and Ryo Sagawa. He's dropping down in weight for this bout, and really does need a win. A good performance won't be enough to keep him relevant.
As a fighter Kawamura is an aggressive fighter but quite a limited one without much bang and without too much speed. He's not terrible, by any stretch, but he is very basic and at Featherweight fighters like Satoshi Shimizu and Ryo Sagawa have been able to walk through his shots and and manage to break him down. He's always been happy to let his hands go, but has never been a hard man to find, and to tag.
Although it's easy to write off Kawamura he has scored several wins of note. These include victories over Kyohei Tonomoto, Shingo Kusano, Kota Fukuoka and Tae Il Atsumi. They are however lower level fighters than Teshigawara, who we suspect will be too hard hitting, too smart, too strong and too good for Kawamura.
We expect to see Kawamura taking the fight to Teshigawara, and be made to pay as Teshigawara lands solid counters, and breaks down the challenger. Kawamura's toughness will see him survive a few rounds, but eventually he'll be broken down, and suffer his 5th stoppage loss.
Prediction - TKO6 Teshigawara
After an increase in fights in July and August it does appears things in Japan are going to quieten down a little bit in September, sadly. Thankfully however we do kick the month off with a brilliant match up this coming Thursdays from Korakuen Hall, and it really does have the potential to be something very special.
That is the triple title bout between JBC, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Lightweight champion Shuichiro Yoshino (12-0, 10) and former Japanese Light Welterweight champion Valentine Hosokawa (25-7-3, 12). On paper it may not look like a sensational bout, but in reality this has the potential to be something truly brilliant, between men with styles that should gel brilliantly to give us something special.
The talented and heavy handed Yoshino has has been moved very quickly since turning professional back in 2015. After debuting at Welterweight he has cut his weight and become the face of Japanese boxing at Lightweight. In his 4th professional bout he beat veteran Yoshitaka Kato and just 2 fights later he became the Japanese Lightweight champion. He added regional titles to his collection last year and will be hoping to keep all 3 bits of silverware here.
In the ring Yoshino really is a boxer-puncher, with some of the heaviest hands in Japanese boxing. He's a clean puncher, has under-rated movement, good hand speed and solid footwork. If we're looking for flaws he can be a slow starter at times, his defense isn't the tightest and he can be out jabbed, out moved and out worked. So far his power had worked as a neutraliser when he has been in trouble, as we saw against Izuki Tomioka in February, but there are areas to work on. He's not a complete fighter, but he is a damn good one, and one who does have the potential to mix with some of the fighters in the upper echelons of the division.
Aged 39 and sporting 7 losses in 35 bouts Valentine Hosokawa is a fighter who loves to defy numbers. He should be too old, he should be too battle worn, he should be on the way on the way out. In fact he should have been on the way out years ago. Like a fine wine however the warrior from the Kadoebi Gym has aged wonderfully and has had the best form of his career at an age where most fighters are retired. He had been putting in great performances, win or lose. He has dropped in weight recently and now looks more dangerous at 135lbs than he ever did at 140lbs, where he was always a nightmare to fight.
Hosokawa made his debut in 2006, and won Rookie of the Year in 2008. He came up short in his first two title fights, both in 2013, but won the Japanese in 2017, beating rival and friend Koichi Aso. After twice defending the title he was dethroned last year by Koki Inoue and then dropped in weight and destroyed Kosuke Arioka last November. He had planned a fight against Jacob Ng in Australia, but that fell through due to the on-going global situation but he's now landed this fight.
For those who hasn't seen Hosokawa he's a physically strong, aggressive, tough, hard working pressure fighter. He comes to win, he presses and lets his hands go. Although not a huge puncher he is a serious volume puncher and makes for real action fights.
Given Hosokawa's aggression and willingness to go forward we see him pressing from the off, and actually copying a gameplan that Harmonito Dela Torre tried to use against Yoshino. That gameplan did see Dela Torre get to Yoshino, before eating an absolute part way through the opening round. For Hosokawa he needs to keep up the pressure, use his strength and try to grind down Yoshino without taking too many risks. Despite moving down in weight worth noting that even at Lightweight he's a small fighter, and will be dwarfed by Yoshino here.
For Yoshino the focus will be on creating space, catching Hosokawa coming forward, and landing his power shots. He'll have to use his feet, he'll have to land very hard clean shots, and have to try and stop the forward march of the challenger. Although Yoshino is a hard puncher it's worth noting Hosokawa hasn't been stopped since back to back TKO defeats in 2013 to Shinya Iwabuchi and Min Wook Kim, and those losses both came at 140lbs.
We do favour Yoshino to take home the win here, we feel his youth, power, height and reach will be the difference, but he will have to work very hard for the win and we do not expect this one to be an easy one for the champion.
Prediction - UD12 Yoshino
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.