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
The Japanese boxing scene gives us a pre-Christmas treat on December 24th as Keita Kurihara (12-5, 11) and Yuki Strong Kobayashi (14-7, 8) face off in Osaka for the vacant OPBF Bantamweight title. On paper this may not look like anything special, but in reality it's a brilliant match up, that again shows records really don't tell us everything.
Of the two men the more impressive has been the 25 year old Kurihara, who has really impressed in recent years with his power, aggression and wonderfully exciting style. His record is a total mess due to a less than great start to his career, losing 4 of his first 7 bouts to record a 3-4 (3) record. Since then however he has gone 9-1 (8) with his sole loss during that 10 fight stretching coming in a war to Hiroaki Teshigawara. On the other his wins during that run have included stoppages against Sonin Nihei, Ryan Lumacad, Tetsuya Watanabe and Kazuki Tanaka.
Blessed with power, heart and grit Kurihara is a nightmare to face at this level. His skills probably won't take him to the top, unless he works on his technical flaws, especially his defense and how he sets up offensive work, but on the Oriental scene there's not many who will defeat him. Many may feel they can, but they'll end up in a war that really won't do them well. To beat him either a fighter needs to be insanely tough themselves, like Teshigawara, or be a very sharp boxer-mover who can counter him and make him pay for his aggression. Fortunately for him there's not too many of either those on the Oriental level at the moment.
Kobayashi is the slightly older man at 27 and has had 21 fights, to Kurihara's 17, but in terms of rounds fought is much more experienced, with 109 rounds to Kurihara's 53. Despite that he is also a heavy handed fighter, who has stopped fighters like Hikaru Matsuoka, Satoshi Ozawa and touted Filipino Vincent Astrolabio. Unfortunately for him he has been matched hard, and has lost 3 of his last 8, with stoppage losses to Takahiro Yamamoto and Rey Megrino, as well as a decision loss to Ye Joon Kim. Against Megrino and Yamamoto there was simply too much of a difference in power, whilst Kim out boxed and out moved Kobayashi.
Kobayashi is also an aggressive fighter, who likes to stand just inside range and launch hard right hands up top, and short hooks. His ability to close distance is one of his weakest points from a technical; stand point, with his slow feet and weak looking jab being an issue, but he is sharp with his power shots. Sadly he is relatively flat footed, and looks to be someone who sets him self a bit too much, with a lack of fluidity to his overall work, and is a bit of an "offense or defense" fighter, rather than someone who can switch between the two on a whim.
Give that both like to let their hands go, both are relatively slow of foot and neither likes to back down we're expecting the two to meet centre ring and have a tear up. And we mean a tear up. In a war we favour the hard hitting and more aggressive Kurihara, but he will certainly give Kobayashi openings for his right hand, and we're expecting him to land plenty of those.
As a prediction we're going with a Kurihara stoppage in the middle rounds. Given that this is on Kobayashi's home turf Kurihara may fight like a man who feels he needs a KO and will fight like that's his only way to win in what we're expecting to be a Christmas cracker!
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.