In 2020 we saw very, very few fighters have years that will define their careers. One of the few exceptions was Japanese Super Flyweight Ryoji Fukunaga (13-4, 13) who had a career defining as he went 2-0 (2) and went from having never held a title as a professional to being the unified Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight champion. He did that by scoring two legitimately solid wins as well, defeating Froilan Saludar and Kenta Nakagawa, and came in to 2021 with some real momentum. As we write this he is also holding world rankings with 3 of the 4 major title bodies. At 34 however he can ill afford a slip up, and he'll be well aware of that going into his first bout of 2021,against Takahiro Fujii (12-6-1, 3) on June 21st. That bout will see Fukunaga defending two of the titles he unified last year, and look to continue moving towards a potential world title fight. On the other hand the bout will also be a huge, and somewhat unexpected, title shot for Fujii.
Aged 34 Fukunaga is a heavy handed southpaw who turned professional in 2013 aged 26, and struggled early in his career. He lost on debut, and was 4-2 (4) after 6 bouts. Since then however he has turned things around, going 9-2 (9) winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year, as well as becoming a triple crown champion.
In the ring Fukunaga has a lot of technical flaws. He's easy to hit, he's not particularly quick and a lot of what he does looks forced. Despite that he's not an easy man to beat. He's got rocks for hands, and what he hits he hurts. He's got a great will to win, and excellent stamina, and even in rounds 9 and 10 he can still be found throwing a lot of bombs. He's also learned how to use his experience well, and when he needs to he can "old man" his opponents, go for a walk, catch his breath and then come forward again. At 34 we do wonder how much he has left in the tank, especially after wars with Saludar and Nakagawa last year, with both of those bouts being incredibly punishing, but we also get the feeling he and his team have picked a bit of a patsy here, to keep him ticking over in a stay defense, rather than a genuine challenge.
Fujii is a fellow southpaw, and is slightly younger than the Fukunaga, aged 32, but he's also much less accomplished and is taking a massive step up in class. He began his career back in 2010, with a draw against Satoshi Obata, and was 6-3-1 (2) after 10 bouts. Sadly it wasn't just early on that he had mixed results and he's actually 6-3 (1) in his last 9 bouts. What hasn't helped him is that he been very inconsistent with results, and every time he gets a win, he then slips up soon afterwards. At least he did until very recently, and he's currently riding a rare winning streak, having won his last 3 bouts with a decent win over Sonin Nihei. Sadly though that 3 win streak dates back to 2018, showing a lack of activity to go with his lack of consistency.
When it comes to what Fujiii can do in the ring, one thing that needs mentioning is that he lacks power. Of any kind. He has only scored a single stoppage win since 2015. That sort of power will leave him needing to rely on his boxing skills against a guy like Fukunaga, who is a monstrous puncher who can really hurt people. Fujii has only been stopped once, very early in his career, but we suspect that he'll struggle with the power, work rate and aggression of Fukunaga, especially over 12 rounds. The guy can fight, but he's been fighting fringe domestic level fighters, and he's now leaping up to regional title level, with nothing to prepare him for what he's getting himself into here.
Fukunaga has had punishing bouts. He has taken a lot in his last two bouts, but this is a smart match up from his team. Matching him easily for his return to the ring, and we suspect he'll shake a bit of ring rust through the early part of the fight, before taking out Fujii in the middle rounds. The champion might lose a few rounds early on, but he'll be far too much for the challenger and will take him out sooner or later.
Prediction - TKO7 Fukunaga
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.