saOver the years the Middleweight division in Japan has long been over-looked, at least internationally, with only Shinji Takehara and Ryota Murata managing to make much of an impact on the international scene at the weight. Despite that the division has been really interesting to follow domestically and has featured a host of stunning bouts which are well worth checking out, for example Makoto Fuchigami's incredible war with Koji Sato or Tadashi Yuba's bout with Carlos Linares. On April 17th we might be in for another treat as Riku Kunimoto (5-1, 2) clashes with the unbeaten Mikio Sakai (4-0) for the currently vacant title, in what has the potential to be a really interesting bout, even if it's not set to be the most explosive of bouts.
On paper this is a hard one to call, and one that we’re expecting will be a very, very high level technical bout, unlike the aforementioned bouts with Tada and Fuchigami, but that’s certainly not a bad thing, especially given the credentials of the two men, and the level they are fighting this early in their respective careers. In fact with just a combined 10 professional bouts to their name, the bout is a sign of what makes Japanese boxing so interesting, the lack of record padding and the willingness to take risks early in careers and losses not being the end of the road, like we can sometimes see in the West.
Of the two men, the 24 year old Kunimoto will be the favourite going in. He's the younger, taller, fight who's also fighting at home, with this bout being held in Osaka on a card promoted by his promoter. He is also the one with title fight experience, having challenger Kazuto Takesako for the Japanese title last year, where he entered as the mandatory challenger. Sadly for Kunimoto he was stopped within a round by the hard hitting Takesako, who vacated the title after that win. Prior to that loss Kunimoto had looked impressive, racing out to 4-0 in just 8 months, before the pandemic totally derailed his rise. During his firsy 4 bouts he had made his international debut, fighting in China, and scored a good win over Shoma Fukumoto. Sadly though more than 2 years out of the ring before facing Taksesako was not great preparation against someone as dangerous and heavy handed as Taksesako. Since that loss he has returned and picked up a low key win over Kazuki Kyohara.
In the ring Kunimoto is a really solid fighter, despite the loss to Takesako. He's a boxer-puncher, with a big frame, a good amateur background, and some very polished skills. He stands at 5'10", which is big for a Japanese fighter, moves well on his feet and likes to use his straight punches to set other things up. Although he does have very nice straight shots he's not against putting up the earmuffs and walking forward with a high guard, getting inside and working away up close with some very educated body shots. At times he can be found over-committing, but for the most part he's accurate, smart, aggressive and versatile.
Aged 28 Mikio Sakai is very much a pure boxer, with next to no power on his shots, but a lot of skill, energy, boxing IQ and a very, very strong amateur background. He made his professional debut in 2019, beating Elfelos Vega, and then squeaked past Ran Tomomatsu, in a really good fight. Sadly he was then inactive for a year before resurfacing in late 2020 to beat Toshihiro Kai and last year he defeated veteran fighter Koshinmaru Saito, in a real got check. With no stoppages in his first 4 bouts it's fair to say he has no real power, though with 28 rounds to his name in just 4 bouts, he has done pretty well in proving he has decent stamina and can go 8 rounds without an issue.
In the ring Sakai likes to come forward, boxing behind his jab, using his footwork and drawing errors from opponents that he can counter. He's accurate, patient, very sharp, has varied offensive weapons and intelligent defensive work. Although not a big puncher he is physically strong, and he knows how to tie up opponents when he needs to. Where Sakai really excels is his boxing brain, and whether he's on the front foot or not he is constantly thinking a step or two ahead of his opponents, luring them into making errors, and conditioning their behaviour. He's not the most eye catching or glamorous of fight but he does a lot of subtle things, really well.
Sadly for Sakai it doesn't really matter how skilled he is, when he's in an opponents home town, in a title fight and he has no fight changing power. Unfortunately for Sakai we expect to see Kunimoto press more of the action, and whilst Sakai will pick some gorgeous counters he will find himself being out worked, and fighting the crowd just as much as Kunimoto. The judges, almost certainly by accident, will end up giving the closer rounds to Kunimoto, and at the end of the day those close rounds will end up deciding this bout.
Kunimoto will press, pressure, and try to bully the more naturally gifted Sakai. He won't dominate the bout, but will do enough to catch the eye of the judges often enough to take home the victory.
Prediction - UD10 Kunimoto
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.