In Japan “Interim” national title fights aren't very common and are only really brought in when the champion is injured. This coming Friday we get one such a case, with Akinori Watanabe (36-7, 30) battling against Ryosuke Maruki (15-5-1, 10) due to an injury suffered by Nobuyuki Shindo, the Japanese Light Middleweight champion. In fact interestingly Shindo suffered the injury when he won the vacant title with a close decision win over Maruki at the Champion Carnival in May.
For Watanabe this is a chance to add to his excellent career which has seen him claim Japanese and OPBF titles at Welterweight and a PABA title at Light Welterweight. It's also a chance to prove, at the age of 33, that the old dog still has plenty up his sleeve, despite recent losses to Magomed Kurbanov, Takeshi Inoue and Toshio Arikawa.
For Maruki on the other hand the bout is a third shot a Japanese belt at 154lbs, having come up short in close bouts to Shindo and Yuki Nonaka. Sadly for Maruki he has got a reputation as a nearly man having also lost in the 2012 Rookie of the Year final, losing to Ryota Itoyama, and needing two cracks to win the WBC Youth Light Middleweight title.
Watanabe has had a thrilling career. He would win his debut by decision before going on an incredible “stop or be stopped” run, that saw him going 17-3 (17). All 3 of those losses came in the first 3 rounds, including a 90 second loss to Tadashi Yuba in a Japanese Welterweight title fight, whilst 9 wins came in the opening round and all 17 in the first 8 rounds. Since then he has developed more than just his power, and has climbed a number of good wins, both by stoppage and by decision. Those have included a huge 2011 win over Yo Inoue for the Japanese and OPBF Welterweight titles, as well victories over Koshinmaru Saito, Prawet Singwancha and Kyung Suk Kwak .
Watanabe had gone from 18-3 (17) to 33-4 (28) before losing in a Japanese title eliminator to Toshio Arikawa. That started a bit of a rot for Watanabe though a win this past April over Ratchasi Sithsaithong showed there was still some hunger there for Watanabe who will be wanting to make the most of this opportunity.
Maruki's career has been explosive and exciting than Watanabe's but has been an interesting one with the 27 year old showing a lot of promise but just unable to get over the line when he needs to. He made his debut in 2010 and reached the Rookie of the Year final in 2012 before losing a close decision. He would suffer his second and third defeats in 2014, both of which were razor thin decisions. He would then lose Yuki Nonaka in 2016 and Shindo earlier this year, both in shots for the Japanese title.
Despite losing his biggest bouts Maruki is an absolute handful. He's tough, strong, heavy handed and aggressive. His issues has often been pacing and tempo, starting too slowly and needing to do too much too late, and struggling to set the distance of the bout, with his best opponents often keeping him at range and preventing him from using his body shots up close. If he can set the pace early, get inside and work away he can cross the line and get the big, much needed career wins.
We're expecting this, due to the styles of the two men, to be something very special. We're expecting both men to look for a fight, and throw power shots on the inside, there won't be a huge amount of feinting or technically impressive skills on show, but there will be a toe-to-toe war. For Maruki we think will be ideal, he's younger, naturally bigger and hungrier. Watanabe's power could be the difference, but we're thinking that Maruki will get it right, at least, and he'll finally pick up the big win.
The Japanese Light Middleweight scene is, arguably, the strongest it's ever been. At the top of the table is Takeshi Inoue, a talented and rising hopeful looking to move towards an IBF title fight, and Yoshihiro Kamegai. Below those two is an interesting array of veterans, and hopefuls, including the likes of Yuki Nonaka, Akinori Watanabe, Hironobu Matsunaga and two men who will be fighting for the national title this Tuesday.
That title bout will pit the hungry and hard hitting Ryosuke Maruki (15-4-1, 10) against former Welterweight champion Nobuyuki Shindo (19-4-1, 8) in a very well matched and potentially thrilling bout.
Of the two fighters Shindo is the more well known, having competed in a number of Japanese title fights. The elongated 31 year old picked up a couple of early career defeats before getting his first title fight in 2015. In that bout he came up short against Suyon Takayama, but would win the title the following year with a decision victory over Yasuhiro Okawa for the vacant title. His reign Japanese Welterweight champion would be short however as Toshio Arikawa stopped him in 10 rounds to rip the title from his waist.
Since losing the Welterweight title in 2016 to Arikawa Shindo has moved up in weight and allowed his 6'1" frame to fill out to that of a Light Middleweight. Since moving up in weight he has gone 2-0 (2), stopping both Sanosuke Sasaki and Cobra Suwa to earn a shot at the Japanese title at 154lbs.
In the ring Shindo is a physically imposing fighter, who is very tall and rangy, and a south paw. He has shown solid power since moving up in weight and has a solid work rate. Despite his physical traits he can be dragged into a battle on the inside, can be out worked, out boxed and hurt, having been dropped by Sasaku just 3 fights ago. We've yet to see him in with a hungry and primed Light Middleweight, and whilst the division should be better for him it's hard to really know what he has in his arsenal for top domestic competition at 154lbs.
Aged 27 Maruki is getting his second shot at a title, following a narrow 2016 loss to Nonaka. In that bout Maruki looked like a champion in waiting, and were it not for for the rise of Inoue would probably have won some sort of title since the Nonaka bout. He's aggressive, exciting and hard hitting and despite losing to Nonaka didn't really lose much career momentum, scoring 3 wins since that set back. Maruki turned professional in 2010 and reached the All Japanese Rookie of the Year final in 2012. A pair of losses in 2014 slowed his rise but he has since improved a lot, and is 8-1 (5) in his last 9.
Although a bit crude around the edges Maruki is a real danger man at this level and will be getting in the ring with a point to prove. We expect to see him start fast, and look to jump on Shindo, cut the distance and work on the inside. He's a not a monster puncher, but is a very solid hitter and that will be something he'll be looking to prove here as he looks to neutralise Shindo's southpaw straight.
Interestingly Maruki is 0-2 outside of Aichi, having lost to Ryota Itoyama at the Korakuen Hall in the 2012 Rookie of the Year and losing to Nonaka at the EDION Arena in Osaka. He'll have to show he can perform away from home if he's to come out on top here. He has the tools to win, physically, but the big mental question is whether he can do it when the audience isn't all his friends, family and essentially those there to support him.
We think that the youth and aggression will be the key here and Maruki will wear down Shindo, shake the shackles of being an away fighter and make an impact. We know that Shindo can be a nightmare to fight with the unique angles and size he brings to the ring, but can't say Maruki allowing the former Welterweight champion to dictate the pace or fight at a comfortable range here. Instead we think Maruki stops Shindo somewhere in the middle rounds.
On July 20th Japanese fans get a pair of world title fights, they also get an OPBF title fight and a Japanese title fight. Of those bouts it's fair to say the least attention will be given to the domestic title bout, not only because it's a domestic title bout, but also because it's the least interesting of the bouts on the show.
The bout in question will see Japanese Light Middleweight champion Yuki Nonaka (29-8-3, 9) defending his title against Ryosuke Maruki (12-3-1, 7). It's a veteran against a rising young contender, a wonderful to watch boxer against a fighter.
Nonaka really is a veteran. He's 38 years old and has been a professional since 1999. He may “only have” 40 bouts to his name but he's had close to 300 rounds and has been in 12 title bouts, with the first taking place in October 2007.
The veteran is one of the most pleasing to watch fighters out there. He's a man who fights like a boxer, and is totally dependent on skills. He's not particularly quick, he's not a massive puncher, he's not flashy but he's a wonderful fighter to watch and can either move or hold his feet, defend himself, and fight with a wonderful array of pure shots. There is nothing spectacular about Nonaka but there is very little wrong with him. That's why at the age of 38 he looks as good as he ever has.
Like many in Japan Nonaka learned his trade in the ring. He suffered 3 losses in his first 5 bouts, beginning 2-3, and was once 14-7-2 (5). In recent times however he has gone 15-1-1 losing only to Akio Shibata during that 17 fight run, dating back over 8 years. Not only do the numbers look good but so do the actual results which have included wins over Kazuhiko Hidaka, avenging a loss, Lee Ota, Charles Bellamy, Koshinmaru Saito and Yuto Shimizu. There was also a draw last year with current OPBF champion Takayuki Hosokawa.
Given how Nonaka has turned his career around it's hard to rule out any challenger, and the 25 year old Maruki shouldn't be ruled out because his own record. At one point he was 7-3-1 (5), with losses to the likes of Jaypee Ignacio and Petchsuriya Singwancha, but has bounced back well with 5 straight wins, including avenging the loss to Petchsuriya. Notable the two bouts with the Thai were WBC Youth title bouts and have helped give Maruki some title fight experience over the 10 round distance.
Once touted as an aggressive puncher, and at one point having 7 stoppages from 9 wins, Maruki has gone the distance in his last 3 bouts and has scored just 2 stoppages in his last 7 contests. Suggesting that he's not a puncher. He is however an aggressive and strong fighter and looks like there is potentially a very good fighter there, but one that needs a lot of polishing if he's to reach the heady heights expected of him.
Despite being flawed Maruki is young, hungry and a fighter who will be looking to prove himself. He'll need to have a career best performance to really give Nonaka problems, but there is certainly a lot that he could improve on, and if he uses his youthful energy, physical strength and power he could Nonaka serious problems, at least at times.
Although we think Maruki has the potential to cause problems for Nonaka we don't see him bringing anything to the table that Nonaka hasn't faced before and we suspect that'll show with Nonaka adapting when things get tricky. That adaptive quality will allow the champion to retain via clear, but competitive, decision.
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.