This coming Tuesday fight fans at Korakuen Hall could be in for something of a hidden gem, as Koichi Aso (25-9-1, 16) defends his OPBF Light Welterweight title against Akihiro Kondo (33-10-2, 18), in what will be Aso's first defense of the title that he won in a major upset against Rikki Naito. The bout might not be pitting two prime stars against each other, but it does pit two men who's styles should gel to give us something a little bit special. In fact the styles of the two men could, genuinely, give us a Japanese fight of the Year contender.
The champion is a 36 year old who really is an unknown outside of Asia, in fact you could make a good argument that he's unknown out side of Japan's main island of Honshu. All 35 of his bouts have taken place in Japan, with 32 taking place in Korakuen Hall, where he has built a reputation as someone to watch. Fans who have followed the Japanese scene, and Aso's career in particular, will know that he's not only been a servant to the local boxing scene, but has also been one of the region's most fun and exciting fighters to watch over the last 16 years. Win or lose his bouts have typically been thrilling battles, even as he's gotten older and began to slow, notably.
Aso debuted in 2006 and first began to make some buzz in 2008, when he reached the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, fighting to a draw with Valentine Hosokawa. Over the years that followed he became a must watch fighter with his aggressive pressure style, all out aggression and physically imposing, high risk-high reward style being amazing to watch. It was a risky style, as we saw against the likes of Shinya Iwabuchi, but it was also one that made him a main stay at the top of the domestic scene. Sadly he did come up short in two Japanese title fights against Hiroki Okada, in 2014 and 2016, but in 2017 he made the most of his third shot at the title, stopping Kazuki Matsuyama for the title. His reign was a short one, but was an exciting one with a single successful defense coming against Yusuke Konno before he lost to Valentine Hoskawa for the second time. By 2019 it seemed his career was coming to a close, but last December he stopped Rikki Naito in arguably his best win to date. Aso is all about aggression, coming forward and looking to make every fight into a war. He's not the biggest puncher, or the quickest fighter, but his aggression, pressure and work rate make him great to watch.
Whilst Aso is unknown outside of Japan the same can't be said of Akihiro Kondo who is somewhat known internationally for his 2017 battle with Sergey Lipinets, when the two fought for the IBF 140lb title. He's also somewhat well known for his brutal KO at the hands of Apinun Khongsong. Aside from those two bouts he is, like Aso, very much a Korakuen Hall icon with 43 of his professional bouts taking place at the venue. Like Aso we've seen Kondo making his name on the Japanese since 2006, and he's very much a stalwart of the Japanese scene. Like Aso he began making a name for himself in the Rookie of the Year, winning it in 2007, an he would win the Japanese Lightweight title in 2009, though lost it in his second defense against Nihito Arakawa. He failed in an attempt to recapture the Japanese title in 2012 but had something of a resurgence in the years that followed. After beating Komsan Polsan in 2015 we saw Kondo reel off a run of wins that saw him win the WBO Asia Pacific title and fight in that aforementioned bout with Lipinets, which saw Kondo giving the hard hitting Russian a very competitive and tough bout. Sadly though since facing Lipinets he has gone 4-3-1 and has career has been heading to the end, despite a notable win last time out against Aso Ishiwaki.
At the age of 37 Kondo isn't the fighter he once was, but he's still an incredibly tough guy, who tries to serve the role as the immoveable object. He's got a tough defense, he's rugged, and he presses forward behind his tight guard, whilst looking to land great counter shots. Sadly for Kondo he has never been particularly quick, and as he's aged he has lost pretty much all his foot speed, which has allowed younger fighters like Andy Hiraoka to out box him and by simply using their feet and moving around the ring. For fighters wanting to go to war with him however, Kondo is a nightmare, thanks to his timing, his accuracy and his ability to press the action, as we saw in 2020 when he faced Daishi Nagata. He's smart and his career has seen him develop a lot of experience ring IQ.
When we see these to in the ring we expect to see both men wanting to establish themselves as the boss in the centre of the ring. With that in mind we're expecting to see both men standing toe to toe with Aso looking to set the tempo, with the higher work rate, and Kondo catching and countering shots up close, in a bout that could well be fought in a phone booth. The bout, for the most part, will be a case of intense action, with shots going back and forth up close. We suspect the energy of Aso will be the difference maker over 10 rounds, but we wouldn't be surprised at all by Kondo rocking Aso at least once, in what should be a sensational 10 rounds.
We think this will be close, thrilling, exciting, with Aso narrowly taking home the victory on the scorecards, in what could be the final bout for both men.
Prediction - MD10 Aso
This coming Tuesday is a massive day for Japanese boxing, thanks to the return to a Japanese ring of Monster Naoya Inoue. Inoue's show however isn't the only one in Japan, and a second show, set to take place at Korakuen Hall, will also be an interesting one with a pair of regional title bouts.
One of those bouts will see OPBF Light Welterweight champion Rikki Naito (23-2, 8) defending his title against Koichi Aso (24-9-1, 15), in a bout that was supposed to take place earlier this year before Naito contracted Covid19 and has to pull out of the original date. For Naito this will be his 5th defense, following his title win in early 2018 against Jeffrey Arienza, whilst Aso will be fighting in his first OPBF title bout, though he has fought for and won a Japanese title earlier in his career.
Of the two men the more natural talent is Naito. He's a second generation fighter, following in the footsteps of the success Cassius Naito, and a very pure boxer. The 30 year old southpaw is fast, fluid and a naturally athletic fighter who has had a very solid career since turning professional in 2011. He won the Japanese Featherweight title early in his career, and and made 3 successful defenses, including one over Masayuki Ito, before losing the title in 2015 to Kenichi Ogawa, who also beat him in a rematch a year later. His only two losses as those to Ogawa, and we all know how good Ogawa is now given his recent world title win. Following the losses to Ogawa he moved up in weight and has settled at Light Welterweight, winning the OPBF title in his in his third bout at the weight. Since winning that title he has defended it against Jheritz Chavez, Daishi Nagata, Gyu Beom Jeon and Yusuke Konno, with the Konno bout being his most recent, coming in November 2020.
In the ring there is no doubting Naito's ability as a boxer. He is an excellent talent, with a great array of punches, eye catching speed, natural footwork, good heart and desire and a very good boxing brain. There really is a lot to like with Naito. Sadly however there are also some real issues for him. Like many "fast" fighters he lacks power, and his shots don't really shift fighters. Since winning the title he has only scored a single stoppage, and that was when Yusuke Konno injured his arm and had to pull out of their bout after 9 rounds. He has had to go the distance with Chavez, Nagata and Jeon, and worryingly in the later rounds of all 3 fights he has been in trouble as his speeds has dropped off and his stamina has let opponents into the bouts. Chavez and Nagata both dropped him and we do wonder whether he can really shine against the other top 140lb fighters in Asia.
Aso on the other hand is a true stalwart of Japanese boxing, and a legitimate veteran of the domestic scene, even if he is an unknown outside of his homeland. The 35 year old made his debut all the way back in 2006 and quickly made a name for himself domestically as a very fan friendly fighter, who came out fighting at a high tempo, applying pressure, and letting shots go. Early on he had plenty of good results, reaching the 2008 East Japan Rookie of the Year final, being eliminated on the tie breaker rule against Valentine Hosokawa but his style would come up short against the bigger punchers, and he was stopped inside a round by Shinya Iwabuchi in 2011. After 21 fights he was 15-5-1 (9) and his career looked like it was going to be a fun to watch one, but one that never really went anywhere, but in the years that followed he would distinguish himself as a legitimate contender on the Japanese scene, battling twice with Hiroki Okada, in 2014 and 2016. When Okada vacated the national title he was there to pick up the pieces and finally won the title in 2017, and made a single defense of the belt, in a Japanese Fight of the Year contender against Yusuke Konno. Sadly since that win he has gone 2-2 and looked like an old, fighter.
At his best Aso was a bull in the ring. He was all energy, all aggression and all action. His style made him must watch, and although he was always crude, and lacked single punch power, he was made for TV. His output was high, his risk taking was obvious and overall he was incredibly fun to watch. Sadly his style does not age well, and at the age of 35 he isn't the fighter he was in his late 20's and early 30's. He can't keep up a high tempo, and his energy is lacking. He can no longer march forward for 10 rounds and throw a huge number of punches and instead fights in selective bursts.
In his prime Aso would have been absolute hell for a fighter like Naito. Naito's skills would have won him rounds, but Aso's pressure, output and volume would have helped sap the tank of Naito, and left Naito in hell in the later rounds, perhaps even being dropped late on for Aso to take a close decision, or a potential stoppage.
Sadly this isn't a prime Aso, but is a near prime Naito. Aso's inability to keep a high work rate will be a major issue here, and although he'll try to bully Naito early on, he'll not be able to keep up the output, allowing Naito to get in and out, get his shots off, create space and dictate the tempo. In the later rounds Naito won't be under too much pressure as Aso simply doesn't have the legs or energy more and will instead follow Naito as opposed to hunting him. After 12 rounds Naito will be running near empty but will end up easily surviving and taking home the victory.
Prediction - UD12 Nait
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
The Light Welterweight scene in and around Asia isn't all that strong right now, despite some interesting fighters and fights that could take place in the division. One of the more notable fighters in the division is current OPBF champion Rikki Naito (21-2,7), who will be defending his title for the third time as he travels to Korea and takes on Gyu Beom Jeon (9-3-1, 4).
On paper this doesn't look like a great bout, but there's a lot of underlying sub stories here which are worth being aware of.
Firstly the bout has been rescheduled a number of times this year. The rescheduling has meant that Naito has been out of the ring for close to a year, with his last bout coming last October, when he struggled past Daishi Nagata in a barn burner. Not only has he been out of the ring for a while, but his last 2 bouts both saw him being dropped late, and left a lot of questions about his stamina. More tellingly however is the story about Naito's father and his bouts in Korea.
Cassius Naito, Rikki's father, fought in Korea 5 times, and lost all 5 bouts. Notably 4 of those losses came to Jae-Doo Yuh and the other one to Chong Pal Park. For Rikki this is personal and this is for his father, just as much as being for himself.
In the ring Rikki is a solid boxer, with nice speed and movement, good ring craft and he fights to his strengths. Sadly however he has always felt like an under-sized Light Welterweight, he's not got much stopping power at the weight, he's run on fumes in the final rounds of his last 2 bouts and as mentioned he's been dropped in his last 2 matches. There is a feeling that whilst he's talented, he's not going to go far at 140lbs due to his own failings. If he could make 135lbs safely he would likely fair better than he will at Light Welterweight.
Whilst Naito is an experienced fighter and is well known in the region, having won the Japanese Super Featherweight title before moving up to Light Welterweight, a lot less is known about Jeon. The Korean 27 year old debuted in 2016 losing on debut. He was 2-2-1 after 5 bouts and 4-3-1 after 8, but he has rebuilt well with 5 straight wins, including 3 by stoppage. On paper he hasn't been fighting at a high level, but a 2018 win against Dong Hee Kim was solid and saw him claim the South Korean title.
Like many Korean fighters Jeon is aggressive, a bit raw defensively but he has a fan friendly style. He puts some pepper on his right hand, likes to fight at mid to close range and fires in body shots. Sadly for Jeon he doesn't set a typically high work rate, and although he does seem to have some promise this is a huge step up in class for him.
We have seen Naito struggle in recent bouts, he has been inactive and his father did fail to win in any of his Korean bouts. Despite that he should have the skills in his locker to take home a clear win against Jeon who isn't ready for a bout at this level. Jeon will come to win, but be out worked, out sped and out thought, before being broken down and stopped.
Prediction - TKO9 Naito
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.