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.