Every so often we get a bout at domestic or regional level that looks a little bit special, and like it could be something rather amazing. This Sunday we get one such bout as Japanese Featherweight champion Hinata Maruta (12-1-1, 9) takes on mandatory challenger Reiya Abe (22-3-1, 10), for both the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific Featherweight titles. The bout screams high level, intense, high speed chess match, and looks likely to be one of the very best Japanese domestic bouts of the year, as the two men look to prove that not only are they the best in Japan, and arguably the best in Asia along with Satoshi Shimizu and Can Xu, but also suitable for a world title bout later in the year, something both men are known to want sooner rather than later.
Of the two men, the more highly regarded is Maruta, who turned professional in 2015 with a lot of fanfare from those at the Morioka Gym. His debut saw him defeat hard hitting Filipino Jason Canoy, and he soon won the WBC Youth Bantamweight title, beating Wilbert Berondo to win the belt. After 2 defense he stepped up massively and lost a clear, but competitive, decision to the then OPBF Super Bantamweight champion Hidenori Otake. The loss served as a wake up call in some ways, and made Maruta that he needed to do more than just have exceptional skills, but also needed to apply them. After the loss his team looked to get him some international experience, with bouts in Thailand and the Philippines, though the bout in the Philippines ended with a terrible draw marking his record for second time. Since that draw however he has been in the form of his career, scoring 5 straight wins including notable domestic victories over Tsuyoshi Tameda, Coach Hiroto, Takenori Ohashi, Ryo Sagawa and Ryo Hino. Of those victories the one over Sagawa won Maruta the Japanese title, whilst his win over Hino served as his first defense.
In the ring Maruta is genuinely fantastic. He's a tall, rangy, long fighter who we've seen grow from a very slender and slim looking kid at Bantamweight, where he debuted aged 18, into a young man at the age of 25. He has gone from looking like someone who really needed to fill out their frame to someone who is slowly maturing into a bit of a beast in the ring. He's ultra sharp, incredibly quick, and fights to his strengths, keeping range behind his quick and clean jab, and uses good footwork to keep space, and draw mistakes. His early career saw him going through the motions a lot, and not really putting his foot on the gas as much as we'd like, but in recent years he has shown that third gear, whilst still looking like he has a lot still to give. He's a fighter who manages to exert pressure, despite fighting at range, due to his physical features, but he also has exceptional awareness, and is incredibly slippery, with very smooth defensive moves, which allows him to fight as counter puncher, whilst pressing behind his long jab. Unlike some Japanese fighters he's also willing to tie opponents up when they get too close, something that seems to have been developed from American training camps, as we really don't see it from many Japanese fighters. Notably Maruta might, still, look like he's not fully developed his frame, but he has solid power, to go with his accuracy, timing and speed and looks like he is always comfortable in the ring. Like many exceptional fighters he seems to have that amazing calm, confident composure, that separates brilliant fighters from the very good ones, and that makes he so relaxed in the ring as if he sees everything before it happens. The scariest thing about him however is that he seems to be light years ahead, in terms of skills, than many other fighters, and as a result only seems to need to show glimpses of what he can do. Fingers crossed when he steps up to facing global names we really see what he's been keeping in the locker.
Whilst we talking glowing of Maruta we also need to mention the challenger, who is certainly not a bad fighter himself. In fact Abe has been dubbed a boxing genius in Japan, and is a very high level, intelligent fighter himself, and sadly for him he also suffers with a similar issue to Maruta, a difficulty in showing everything he's capable of. He turned professional in 2013 aged 20 and lost his second professional bout, to Koki Kobayashi, before bouncing back and winning the 2014 All Japan Rookie of the Year. In 2015 he lost for the second time, to Shingo Kusano, before reeling off a brilliant 11 fight winning run. That winning run saw him over-come the likes of Ryo Hino, Hikaru Marugame, avenge the loss to Shingo Kusano, Tsuyoshi Tameda, Joe Noynay, Satoshi Hosono an Daisuke Sugita. A brilliant run that saw him fight for the Japanese title in 2019, and fight to a draw with Japanese Featherweight champion Taiki Minamoto. He would also come up short 4 months later when he lost a razor close decision to Ryo Sagawa for the vacant title, which Minamoto gave up when he moved up in weigh. Since that draw he has rebuilt well with wins against Ren Sasaki, Koshin Takeshima and Daisuke Watanabe to earn a third shot at the Japanese throne.
In the ring Abe is a very, very intelligent fighter. He fights out of the southpaw stance and love to control the range and tempo behind his his footwork, creating space to land counter left hands. At times he neglects his jab, which is an excellent weapon, but does let opponents be their own downfall a lot of the time. He's a fighter who loves to feint, get a read on opponents, and condition them to expect one thing before changing things up. His footwork is a job to watch and his ability to dictate the range of a bout is brilliant, especially as he often does it without really letting his hands go. For people wanting to study footwork, Abe's is some of the best in the sport. Sadly his lack of actual output is frustrating at times, and has been one of his major downfalls in his losses, as he is too patient at times, and tries too hard to draw a mistake rather than reverting to Plan B and becoming more offensive, though credit to him he has had notable success fighting his way. Whilst it's his footwork and distance control that shines, he does do a lot of things "wrong" in an attempt to draw leads. His hands are very low and whilst he's not an easy target, he can be dropped when caught clean, as Minamoto did twice. His style is also unlikely to win friends in the west, if he ever ends up challenging a top American or British fighter.
Whilst we are big fans of both men, we can't help but feel that Abe, in some ways, is made to order for Maruta. The boxing brain of Abe is incredible, and if you could put his brain in to almost any other fighter it would improve them. But his style, and his laziness at times, won't serve well against a fighter with the speed, timing, and reach of Maruta. Maruta will take a few rounds to work out the distance, but then we suspect he will use his own feints to draw bites from Abe, and counter those, whilst also controlling behind his own jab. The question marks about Abe's chin, raised by the Minamoto fight, will also rear their head here and we wouldn't be surprised to see Abe on the canvas at some point due to the power and speed of Maruta.
As the bout goes into the later rounds we expect to see Abe try to turn it around, and look to let his hands go more, but that will result in him taking more and we wouldn't be surprised at all by a late stoppage by Maruta, due to accumulation of shots.
Prediction - TKO11 Maruta
The Japanese scene at Featherweight is a really interesting one, despite the hard hitting Taiki Minamoto has abandoned the division due to struggles making weight. this coming Friday we see just how interesting the division is as we get a mouth watering bout to crown a new Japanese champion. The match up question sees former Minamoto foe Reiya Abe (19-2-1, 9) and the criminally under-rated Ryo Sagawa (7-1, 4). Whilst fans who don't follow the Japanese scene won't be hugely impressed by the fighters on paper, this is one of the most interesting match ups currently on schedule, and it to be something very interesting.
Of the two men it's Abe who is probably the more well known, though it's certainly not clear cut. He's world ranked by the IBF and WBC and is a 26 year old who has gone through things the hard way, learning on the job and doing so without any substantial amateur background. He debuted at the age of 20 and was narrowly beaten in his second bout, back in 2013, before rebuilding to take the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014. A loss in 2015 to Shingo Kusano could have been a major set back but instead appeared to be little more than a blip as he has since gone 11-0-1. That 12 fight unbeaten run really has been credible to say the least with victories over Ryo Hino, Hikaru Marugame, Tsuyoshi Tameda, Joe Noynay, Satoshi Hosono and Daisuke Sugita, as well as revenge over Kusano. The only mark on his record since that second loss was a majority draw with Minamoto back in May, in what was a thrilling contest for the title.
Although less well known Sagawa has really made a name for himself, at least regionally, in the last 18 months or so. He turned professional with pretty expectations on his shoulders following an impressive 62-22 record in the unpaid ranks. He looked really good on his debut, stopping Ho Ya Kim, but then suffered a stoppage loss to Retsu Kosaka just 5 months later. The loss to Kosaka left many wondering whether Sagawa could take a shot, and whilst clearly very skilled the issues with his durability were expected to hold him back. It wasn't like he had been taken out with one shot, but had been hurt and instead of holding he just fell apart, lost his shape and was eventually stopped. Since then however he has gone 6-0 (3) and scored noteworthy wins over the likes of Junki Saski, Ryo Matsumoto, Shingo Kawamura and, most recently, Al Toyogon.
Whilst both have some clear similarities, being under-rated in good form, holding wins over a former world title challenger and losing their second bout, the two men are stylistically quite different. Yet both would be described as technically solid boxers.
Abe is a tricky countering punching southpaw, who uses his jab well, sits back, controls range and fires in booming left hands. He has often been perhaps a touch on the safe side, but he knows how to turn up the tempo and go for the finish. He's not the most exciting of fighters, not even close, but is one of the smartest boxers in Japan and has a an excellent ring IQ. Last time out, against Minamoto, he was dropped twice, but seemed to win to take the vast majority of rounds. The trouble for Abe isn't his chin but is his work rate, and there are times when he simply doesn't do enough, and waits for his opponent to make the first move, rather than drawing a mistake.
Sagawa on the other hand is more of offensively mined boxer, who can box on the back foot when he needs to. He has the typical crispness we've seen time and time again from fighters who have come from the Japanese amateur scene, and he is a lovely puncher, with crisp combinations and great accuracy. When he needs to press forward he can turn into a pressure fighter, as we saw against Toyogon when he had to be more aggressive to get the judges on side. The big worry for him is his chin, and not only was he down against Kosaka but also Sasaki and he's been shaken in several bouts, leaving us to really wonder about his durability going forward.
With both men being excellent boxers, though having contrasting styles, we're expecting a really tactical and smart fight between the two men. Abe will try to draw Sagawa in, countering with the left and picking his moments to up the tempo in the hope of rocking, and then stopping, Sagawa. Sagawa on the other hand will look to avoid the left, but still be pretty aggressive, and we're expecting to see him switching between head and body with raiding attacks then smothering any return fire.
We feel the difference between the two men is the durability, and even when Abe was down against Minamoto he was up and didn't look like he was going to be stopped. Sagawa certainly has the power, especially with body shots, to questions of his durability but we suspect the under-rated power of Abe, and his countering punching skills, will eventually crack Sagawa. When that happens we'll see Abe go for the finish and take out Sagawa.
Prediction - Abe TKO9
It's not often that you'll see a national champion, who is making their second defense and on a 6 fight unbeaten run being regarded at the under-dog in a mandatory Japanese title defense. This coming Wednesday however we see just that, as Japanese Featherweight champion Taiki Minamoto (16-5, 13) defends his title against Reiya Abe (19-2, 9) in a truly mouth watering clash at Korakuen Hall. On one hand you have an explosive, and hard hitting champion, who has lost just once in the last 4 years, on the other a challenger who has won his last 11 and at times has looked untouchable.
This is one of the most interesting looking Japanese title bouts of 2019.
The 28 year old Minamoto is promoted by the Watanabe gym and has been a pro for a little over 8 years.His career showed early promise, though also showed him to be a bit of a glass cannon, going 9-3 (8) in his first 12 bouts. From his 3 early losses 3 were stoppages, whilst the other came to future world champion Masayuki Ito. Since that start he has gone 7-2 (5), beating the likes of Eita Kikuchi, Seizo Kono, Dai Iwai, Takenori Ohashi and Tatsuya Otsubo, whilst his last loss came in 2015 to Yukinori Oguni. It was the win over Iwai that set up his rise to the title, which he took from Ohashi and defended against Osubo. During those bouts we saw the best of Minamoto, who looked amazing against Ohashi, using his boxing skills, speed, accurate punching and heavy hands to dismantle, beat up and stop the then defending champion. Against Otsubo however we saw Minamoto struggling, and needing to dig incredibly deep to over-come the then challenger.
At his best Minamoto is a real talent. He's an excellent boxer-puncher, and his performance against Ohashi saw everything click for him, he dominated the then champion, using movement, speed, skills, power, and ring IQ. It was a relative mismatch with Minamoto never looking in any trouble and Ohahsi being made to look like a rank novice. When he fights like that he is going to be a very, very, very hard man to beat at domestic level. Sadly though his performance after the winning the title saw him ignoring his boxing skills and becoming more of a brawler, fighting Otsubo's fight. It was a stupid tactical move and showed a bit of arrogance in a bout where he was strongly favoured to win. If he fights like that against Abe he'll be made to look silly, and he'll know he needs to stick rigidly to a game plan, and not make errors.
In Abe we have a 26 year old who has really come into his own and improved so much from his early days in the ring. Had he been with a big promoter he may well have a 21-0 record, with both of his losses being razor thin decision, though his losses have helped shaped the fighter he is today. His first loss came in his second professional bout, when he was 20, he would bounce back the following year to win the Rookie of the Year before a loss in 2015 to Shingo Kusano. That loss saw Abe's record fall to 8-1 (4) but since then he has gone on a tear. Look at Abe's record since his second loss is impressive, taking the unbeaten records of Ryo Hino, Hikaru Marugame and Daisuke Sugita, whilst adding notable wins over Shingo Kusano, avenging his loss, Tsuyoshi Tameda, Joe Noynay and Satoshi Hosono. His record is as good as anyone who hasn't yet fought for some form of a title.
In terms of his style Abe is a relaxed counter punching southpaw. He looked to establish a long distance on his bouts, pecking away with accurate clean punching, landing solid straight left hands and using his right jab and footwork to neutralise opponents. It's not always an exciting style to watch, but it is almost always very effective, and fighters are finding it very hard to cut him off, to change the fight or even have success against him. He has hardly lost a round in his last 5 bouts, and no one, since Noynay more than 2 years ago, has managed to run him close. He's slippery, skilled and will make opponents pay for rushing in. He is, arguably, the best counter puncher on the Japanese domestic scene right now.
Whilst we think Minamoto will need to box to win, he will also have to be smart about it. Boxing with Abe holds a lot of risks, most obvious of which is the fact Abe is the better pure boxer. Brawling and coming out swinging would cost Minamoto heavily, with Abe being given serious countering chances. If Minamoto can box smartly, not give Abe chances and control the fight with his harder punching, he has a chance. Otherwise we see Abe continuing his surge and taking a relatively clear decision, and the Japan title.
Prediction UD10 Abe.
Over the last few years we've seen Reiya Abe (18-2, 9) develop from a 1-1 fighter to the 2014 Rookie of the Year to a a fighter on the fringe of a title shot, in fact he's set for a Japanese title fight on May 1st. On January 19th, prior to his title bout, Abe will be in the ring looking to score his 11th straight win, as he takes on former amateur stand out Daisuke Sugita (4-0, 3) at the Korakuen Hall. The bout hasn't really been put together to push the winner towards a title fight, but more because both men have been struggling to get good fights, and this is a very good fight to prepare both men for the year ahead.
Abe is a 25 year old southpaw who is a sharp punching boxer. His current run of form has been one of the most impressive on the Japanese domestic scene, with wins over the likes of Ryo Hino, Tsuyoshi Tameda, Joe Noynay, Satoshi Hosono and Daisuke Watanabe. He has proven to be a very smart boxer-mover, with a high ring IQ, good movement, under-rated power and a very sharp southpaw jab. Despite not being a huge puncher he is a sharp puncher, and those sharp shots do do damage, especially with the consistency he lands at.
Although really talented Abe has frustrated at times, and has often fought within himself. He's a sharp punching counter puncher, who looks to draw leads and mistakes to counter, but against someone unwilling to open up he really struggles to create chances. When up against a negative fighter, as we saw when he faced Masashi Noguchi, Abe's bouts can be hard to watch and can really become boxing. Against an aggressive fighter however, he is fantastic to watch.
Sugita, as mentioned, was a standout amateur and went 110-31 (47) in the unpaid ranks winning a number of domestic competitions. Sadly he didn't turn professional until he was 29, and even then did so whilst still working as a full time policemen. Due to his age he isn't really able to waste time fighting in low key bouts, and given his outside of the ring professional he doesn't even get to keep his purses. Instead he appears to be fighting for the love of the sport and his desire of competition. That desire is almost certainly the reason he's accepted a bout with Abe and has already faced Jun Blazo and Masaaki Serie.
Having only debuted in April 2018 Sugita has been impressive, with 2 very solid wins this early in his career. Sadly footage of him has been hard to come by, though some video has been made available through Boxingraise. From the footage that is out there Sugita is an aggressive fighter, with a good guard, an exciting style and good power. His amateur background shows through with his crisp punching, his sharp movement and his composure in the ring. Whilst he is mostly composed there is a sense that he gets over excited at times and can be wild when and attacking.
Given the extra professional experience, a natural size advantage and his counter punching skills we suspect that Abe will come out on top. However Sugita will not make things easy for him, and this should be an entertaining fight. We're expecting to see Sugita on the front foot, making this into a fight and Abe responding, en route to a clear, but hard fought, decision victory.
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.