This coming Wednesday we see the Champion Carnival resume as Japanese Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako (12-0-1, 11) defends his title against mandatory challenger Riku Kunimoto (4-0, 2). For the champion this will be his fourth defense, and his sixth bout since winning the title in impressive fashion back in March 2018, when he blasted Hikaru Nishida in 92 seconds. As for the challenger this is a huge step up in class and his bout at title level. Despite the difference in professional experience the bout was one of the most interesting bouts scheduled for the 2020 Champion Carnival, when it was originally announced.
Like many bouts from the 2020 Champion Carnival this bout was delayed. It was originally pencilled in for May 2020, before Covid19 forced it to be rescheduled to July. Kunimoto requested a delay from the July date, due to issues training, which saw the bout being rescheduled before Takesako suffered a training injury, scuppering the November date and forcing a delay until 2021.
As his record suggests Kazuto Takesako is a puncher. A real big puncher. The 29 year old started his career with 10 straight T/KO wins, only once going beyond round 3. He was blasting through competition with surprising ease, including the likes of Shoma Fukumoto and Hikaru Nishida. It wasn't until 2019 that he was taken the distance, as he was held to a 10 round draw by the tricky and awkward Shuji Kato. Despite Kato seeing out the 10 rounds we saw Takesako write the wrong and stop Kato in a rematch just 5 months late. We also saw him prove his stamina this year when he won a wide 12 round decision over Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa.
Through his 13 bout career we've seen Takesako fight just 53 professional rounds, but he has impressed thanks to his destructive power and aggression. He has faced decent domestic level competition and, below Ryota Murata, he is probably the best in Japan.
Despite looking impressive there are questions about Takesako that we still haven't seen answers for, or where the answers are unclear. The most notable of those regards his chin, and we have seen him hurt a number of times during his career, and we do wonder if, maybe, he's a bit of a glass cannon. We also don't know how he will with a busy, taller, rangy boxer-puncher. The only fighter similar to that that he's faced was Shuji Kato, but Kato wasn't as busy as we'd have liked, and he also didn't keep things on the move as much as he perhaps needed to, opting to counter Takesako rather than keep things at range. We also wonder what the injury in 2020 will do to him, and whether he has real motivation for this bout.
Whilst we have seen a lot of Takesako, with a lot of his bouts being featured on G+, we haven't seen all that much of Kunimoto, sadly. On one hand that's bad, but on the other it shows how quickly he has been moved along. He debuted in August 2018 and is already getting a title fight. The 23 year old has been matched well from the off, getting some experience in his first couple of bouts, before being stepped up in 2019 and showing there was something pop on his shots with a win over Shoma Fukumoto.
Although footage of his recent bouts isn't available there is some old footage of Kunimoto on Boxing Raise and from that we can see a really talented young fighter. He appears full of self belief, confident in his defenses, and willing to press forward behind a tight guard before letting his shots fly. He's fairly crisp and clean with his shots, but can be seen over-reaching when he throws his straight right hand. His body work appears pretty solid and he does seem to take a shot well, when he needs to.
Sadly for Kunimoto whilst he does look a talented 23 year old he also looks like a work in progress. We know that's obvious, given his inexperience and the fact we were watching some very early fights of his, but it seems almost impossible to imagine he's improved enough from those fights to really be competitive here with someone like Takesako. Sadly the biggest issue with Kunimoto isn't his ability, or skills, or even his experience but instead his inactivity. He's now not been in the ring for over 2 years, and even at the age of 23 ring rust can be a major issue.
We're expecting Kunimoto to show glimpses of real promise here, but those glimpses won't be enough. The power, pressure, aggression and physical strength of Takesako will be too much. Sooner or later the champion will grind down the challenger, and break him up. Kunimoto, sadly, doesn't appear to have style needed to cope with the physicality and heavy hands of Takesako, at least at this point in his career. He'll try, and have some success, but we suspect he'll be found wanting and will be stopped somewhere in the middle rounds.
Prediction - TKO7 Takesako
NOTE - Due to a new state of emergency in several regions of Japan, this bout has been postponed from May 1st to May 19th.
One thing we absolutely love about the Japanese scene is the willingness of their prospects to step up in class and risk their unbeaten records early on. Sometimes it works brilliantly, whilst other times it does fail to develop a hopeful in the way their team would hope.
On April 5th we see talented Japanese Middleweight prospect Riku Kunimoto (3-0, 1) taking a huge step up in class to take on the heavy handed Shoma Fukumoto (12-3, 10), in what could be the best bout on the card, and is certainly the most interesting on paper give the risk that Kunimoto is taking against a hard hitting and relatively seasoned campaigner, who can ill afford another set back.
The 21 year old Kunimoto was a notable amateur before heading to the professional ranks last year with Mutoh Gym, as one of their big new hopes. On debut, last August, he looked really sharp, taking a wide decision over Korean Kyung Wook Kwon. There was a lack of power from him at times, but he was quick, accurate, able to find holes to head and body and showed some really nice flashes of offensive brilliance, as well as good defensive fundamentals. His style was very much that of a pressure boxer, bringing the heat with his footwork and high guard, then countering as Kwon tried to create space. Just a few months after his debut he would take on domestic foe Toshihiro Kai, and show a little more spite on his shots, and a few more wrinkles to his game before forcing the referee to save Kai in the neutral corner.
At just 21 it's clear that Kunimoto is not the complete product. Looking at him it appears he's carrying a little bit of "puppy fat", he hasn't matured into a fully grown man yet, but technically he's very talented, a very quick and exciting fighter. If he can develop his "man strength" in the next year or two he could quickly become a notable player on the often over-looked Japanese Middleweight scene. A big question here however is whether he's ready for Fukumoto.
Aged 28 Fukumoto is a 6 year pro, a brutal puncher and someone's who has shown some real touches of class. Sadly he has also shown a lack of durability, with all 3 of his losses coming by stoppage. Whilst a loss to Kazuto Takesako is totally understandable, he has twice been stopped by tough Filipino journeyman Arnel Tinampay, which is less understandable despite Tinampay's record against Japanese fighters being an impressive one. Fukumoto is a strong, powerful fighter, who has a solid jab but relatively slow hands and feet. He's a tall and rangy fighter but often tries to get inside, rather than using his reach and size properly. If he was to fight at range and make the most of his size he would likely be a lot more successful and find it easier to avoid big shots on the chin.
Whilst the chin of Fukumoto is one of his key problems he doesn't really do a huge amount to help himself. He's open defensively, drops his hands when hurt and doesn't seem to hold on to survive. His hands drop when he throws and there are gaps when his guard is up. He fights like a fighter who believes his power will scare opponents into not throwing at him, but unfortunately his defensive issues actually make fighters more willing to let shots go and this is an issue when facing an opponent who knows what they are doing, as Takesako and Tinampay did.
Coming in to this we do feel Kunimoto has the skills to take home a clear win over Fukumoto, and to do so by decision. There is however always a risk that Fukumoto could land a bomb, and change everything with one shot. We think Kunimoto will be wary of the power of Fukumoto, and fight smart to avoid exchanges, but there is always a risk here, and that should make for an edge of your seat bout, as most Fukumoto fights tend to be.
For fans interested in watching footage of Kunimoto ahead of this contest, his first and third bouts are available on Boxing Raise.
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.