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
As part of an Ohashi card on July 16th we'll see OPBF Featherweight champion Satoshi Shimizu (8-1, 8) defending his title against former Japanese Youth champion Kyohei Tonomoto (9-2-1, 4). On paper this doesn't look the best of bouts, but there is a lot that makes this bout really interesting, and something that could be, potentially, a slippery match up for the defending champion.
The 34 year old Shimizu turned professional in 2016, with many thinking he turned pro far too late to make the most of his ability. Prior to that he had been a very successful amateur, fighting at 2-Olympics and winning bronze at the 2012 Olympics in London. Had he turned professional then we would likely be talking about Shimizu having made an impact at world level. Sadly he wanted to battle for a place at the 2016 Olympics, falling short and turning professional afterwards.
In the ring Shimizu is a crude, but awkward, gangly southpaw puncher. Despite a very strong amateur background he's very unorthodox and throws shots from weird angles, often with his chin exposed. Typically he's gotten away with it in the professional ranks due to his freakish power and absolutely bizarre dimensions for a Featherweight. Last time out however he was punished with Joe Noynay stopping him in 6 rounds in a Super Featherweight bout. That loss not only scuppered Shimizu's unbeaten record but also left him injured and requiring a lengthy break from the ring to recover. As a result Shimizu is now 11 months removed from his last bout and 18 months removed from his last win, which was also his last defense of the OPBF Featherweight title.
With the inactivity, injuries, age, and potentially low confidence Shimizu may well be there for the taking.
In Tonomoto we have a challenger who is just starting to come into his physical prime. He turns 25 in July and appears to finally have some momentum in his career. He made his debut in 2013, reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2014, losing to Reiya Abe, and then vanished from the sport in late 2015 for over 3 years. Since returning to boxing in December 2018 Tonomoto has gone unbeaten in 3 fights, including winning the Japanese Youth Featherweight title in May 2019, and defending it 7 months later.
Sadly footage of Tonomoto is relatively scarce, though in his Japanese Youth title win he did show a lot to like. He moved around the ring well, was accurate and smartly neutralised Hikaru Matsuoka early on before finding his range and boxing well behind his clean and effective jab. It wasn't the most exciting or explosive of performances but it was a smart and efficient stuff from the youngster who was well deserving of the win. He looked like he had the ability to go further in the sport than the Japanese Youth title, but also looked like there was areas holding him back, including his lack of power and lack of intensity.
We do believe this is the perfect time to face Shimizu. If he was in with a dangerous fighter, someone with some bang, or a high work rate, he could be in a lot of trouble. In reality however he's in with a light puncher who he should, really, be able to walk through.
We suspect Shimizu will start slowly, ease his way into the bout, and then begin to step up on the gas in the middle rounds and break down the game challenger. Tonomoto will be there to win, but will, sadly, lack the ability, strength and power to cope with the champion.
Prediction - TKO6 Shimizu
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.