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
The name “Inoue” obviously makes fans think of Naoya Inoue, the WBO Super Flyweight champion and one of the most notable fighters in Japanese boxing. Naoya however is one of many with the surname, including his brother Takuma Inoue and cousin Koki Inoue. Outside of that particular clan there is one other Inoue making a name for himself, and that's Japanese Light Middleweight champion Takeshi Inoue (10-0-1, 5), who returns to the ring this coming Thursday for his first defense of the title. That will see the unbeaten champion take on fellow unbeaten Riku Nagahama (7-0-1, 3).
The champion was a solid amateur, running up a 39-16 record and captaining a University team, which saw him mixing with solid amateurs on a regular basis. He turned professional in 2014, fighting to a 6 round draw with Daishi Nagata on debut, and since then has found his grove, settled into the sport and become a really talented hopeful.
In the ring Inoue has shown a bit of everything. He can box, and is pretty solid behind his jab, he can fight on the back foot and he can bring the action with a pressure style, a style that helped him score a brilliant win earlier this year against Akinori Watanabe and really break away from the other domestic contenders. Last time out he again impressed as he stopped the usually tough and highly experienced Koshinmaru Saito.
Although not a puncher Inoue has enough power to keep opponents honest, he has a great engine, a good work rate and can either box or fight. His problem, going forward, is that he might look to fight with the wrong type of opponent, being dragged into wars when he doesn't need to be, he's also not really proven his ability to go 10 rounds or his ability to take a really good shot. We suspect he can, at least at domestic level, but we've not got proof he can.
Ranked #1 by the JBC Nagahama is a fighter getting a huge chance to claim his first title, despite having only been in one bout scheduled for 8 rounds or more. That leaves questions about his stamina, and with only 26 total bouts, including an 11-7 amateur record, to his name he also lacks experience.
Whilst it's easy to pick flaws with Nagahama there is a fair bit of positivity to take from his career so far. He debuted in June 2015 and by the end of the year he had claimed the Rookie of the Year crown at Middleweight. The following year he dropped down in weight and began to find his grove, stopping Tetsuya Kawabata in July 2016 and then Koji Kase in November. That win showed that Nagahama was an aggressive and exciting fighter, who liked to come forward and let his hands go, though he did so with mixed success and often missed the target all together.
For Nagahama the bout is a massive step up in class. He's now up against his first opponent with real proven ability. More worryingly for the challenger is that his style should gel with Inoue's too well, and they could be almost like mirror images in the middle of the ring, with Inoue have almost every advantage. If that's the case then there will only be one winner, Inoue, and that win will likely be by late stoppage from accumulation.
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.