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
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.