This coming Saturday Korakuen Hall plays host to a really good looking OPBF Welterweight title fight, as defending champion Ryota Toyoshima (14-2-1, 9) makes his second defense of the title and takes on the teak tough Shoki Sakai (26-12-2, 14) in what should be an exciting all action bout.
Toyoshima made his professional debut in 2014, as an 18 year old, and despite struggling early in his career he has developed into a very solid boxer-puncher. He drew on debut and was 7-2-1 (5) after 10 bouts, with two losses to Masaharu Kaito, and despite winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year the expectations on him were quite low at that point. Since the start of 2018 however he has gone 7-0 (4) and been on a solid run with wins against the likes of Moon Hyun Yun, Woo Min Won, Riku Nagahama and Yuki Beppu. He won the OPBF title with a 12 round decision win over Nagahama and unified it a fighter later with a dominant 10th round KO win against Beppu.
In the ring Toyoshima has proven himself to be aggressive, heavy handed, exciting and yet patient. He comes forward, applying educated pressure, looks to keep busy with his hard right hands and uses his jab well to set the tempo. He's not the most polished, or rounded fighter out there, and he's also not quick, but he is strong, heavy handed, has good stamina and does a lot of things well. He's never going to be a threat to the top guys internationally, but there's not too many regional level fighters that would be fancied above him, and with a few more wins he could end up moving up the world rankings towards a more significant international fight. Sadly his flaws would limit him at that level, but at this level he's going to be a hard man to dethrone.
With 40 bouts to his name Shoki Sakai is not a typical Japanese fighters. In fact "EL PV" has had one of the most unique careers of any active Japanese fighters. He started his career in 2010, in Mexico, and his first 36 bouts were all outside of Japan as he picked up fights in Mexico, Nicaragua and the USA. He also managed to fight some pretty notable fighters during those years of his career such as Ashley Theophan, Eddie Gomez, Alexis Rocha and Gor Yeritsyan, and was often matched with promising prospects. In 2020 he finally fought in Japan beating Hironori Shigeta, and since then has fought twice more in the Land of the Rising Sung, including a great fight with Japanese Welterweight champion Keita Obara this past April.
Whilst Sakai's career is unique for a Japanese fighter, he does have a lot of stereotypical Japanese traits. He's strong, rugged, tough, and comes forward, applying pressure. His toughness made him so valuable over in the West, where he would always come to fight and take the fight to prospects, but it's also quickly endeared him to local fans back in Japan, who were awed by his will to win against Keita Obara, who was pushed all the way. His style lends it's self to fan friendly fights, and given his under-rated skills and work rate, it also means he has a chance against very solid regional and domestic fighters. Such as a Toyoshima. He's predictable, and has slow feet, but his pressure is incessant, and he will be looking to press Toyoshima, using his high guard to put Toyoshima on the back foot and look to break him down with body shots.
Coming in to this we feel Sakai is the perfect opponent to test Toyoshima, like he was for prospects in the west. He will come forward, he will pressure, and he will march towards Toyoshima like a man possessed. Sadly for him however the difference in foot speed will be the key, with Toyoshima lighter on his feet, a better mover and the man who wants to fight at a longer range. Sakai will certainly have moments, and a lot of them, but we feel the cleaner, more eye catching shots will be from Toyoshima, who will just about manage to do enough and take the decision. He'll have to work hard for it, but the youth, speed and the fact he has fewer miles on the clock should help him over the line in a potentially thrilling battle.
Prediction - UD12 Toyoshima
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.
The Welterweight division in Asia hasn't been the most amazing to follow, despite some entertaining bouts such as 2019's fantastic bout between Yuki Beppu and Ryota Yada. Despite not being the best it does give us some interesting match ups on paper, such as the one at the start of between Keita Obara and Yuki Nagano, and the one we're going to focus on in this preview. That's the February 27th bout for the the OPBF title between Riku Nagahama (11-2-1, 4) and Kudura Kaneko (11-0, 8). On paper this looks good and in the ring we expect it to be even better than it looks.
Ranked #3 by the OPBF Kaneko is getting his first shot a major title, having previously won the Japanese Youth Welterweight title. The Japanese based Afghan born 22 year old is someone who has quietly been making a name for himself without too much attention on him. Since debuting in 2015, as a teenager, Kaneko has developed himself a reputation as a very talented boxer-puncher. He claimed the Youth title in 2018, when he beat Change Hamashima in their second bout, then scored a trio of solid domestic wins over Toshio Arikawa, Rikuto Adachi and Moon Hyun Yun. Those 3 wins have helped secure him this title fight, and have seen him get a title on merit, something we don't always see.
Although not well known outside of Japan Kaneko is a very physically strong fighter. He's not the quickest or the sharpest, but he's certainly not slow and sloppy and is instead more of a deliberate fighter, with heavy hands. There's power in both hands and for a fighter who isn't lighting quick with his hands he does move well, especially with his upper body. One other thing to note about Kaneko is that he finds the target well and varies his shots smartly. Defensively there is work to do for Kaneko going forward but at the moment no ones really been able to make him pay for the little flaws with see. Instead he tends to be the one making opponents pay, and make them pay rather quickly with 7 of his wins coming within 3 rounds.
Aged 28 Nagahama is a man who is now starting to fight for his career. He's not shot, or past his best, but he is in desperate need for a notable win, following stoppage losses in 2017, to Takeshi Inoue, and 2018, to Yuki Nagano. This will be his second title fight, following a loss in a Japanese title fight at 154lbs to Inoue, but isn't an easy one. In fact on paper this is his third toughest bout on paper, and he has lost his two toughest bouts to date. Looking through his record his biggest wins so far were 2015 Rookie of the Year win, at Middleweight, against Brandon Lockhart Shane and his 2019 win over Masaya Tamayama. The win over Tamayama was good, but that wasn't a win that really showed Nagahama was ready to mix it at regional title level.
Watching Nagahama we see a solid fighter, but one who doesn't blow us away, in any area. He's technically decent, but lacks speed, lacks power, and doesn't appear physically imposing. He lets good combinations go, but the never appears to have any sort of fight ending power on them. If you let him dictate the pace it'll be a slow, controlled fight and a win for him. To beat him, you need to dictate the pace, and for most fighters at regional title level that won't be a problem.
We expect this to start pretty slowly, with the two men looking to stand off and box against each other. It won't take long however until Kaneko puts his foot on the gas and lands something heavy, and begin to break down Nagahama, who will feel the need to respond and that will only speed up his demise.
Prediction - TKO5 Kaneko
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.