This coming Saturday fight fans in Osaka are set for an explosive encounter as Japanese Super Featherweight champion Kosuke Saka (21-6, 18) takes on Tsubasa Narai (8-1, 7), with both men being known as flawed but very heavy handed fighters each looking to prove a point.
Of the two men Saka is the much, much more well known and established. The 30 year old Osaka native has been a professional since 2012 and has really made a great name for himself in Japan, whilst proving to be one of the most fun to watch and exciting fighters in the country. He began his career with 6 straight wins before losing to future world champion Masayuki Ito in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2012. He would then lose 2 of his next 4, falling to 8-3 before reeling off 8 straight wins, which included a 3rd round TKO over Shota Hayashi for the Japanese Featherweight title. Sadly in his first defense Saka really didn't look there, and was stopped in bizarre fashion by Takenori Ohashi, with Saka mis-hearing the 10 second clacker as the bell. Saka would lose again just 3 fights later, being stopped in 2 rounds by Joe Noynay in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title, before claiming the Japanese title at 130lbs with a dominant TKO win over Masaru Sueyoshi, who retired soon afterwards. In his sole defenses of the title he scored a brutal TKO over Takuya Watanabe, but was stopped in 3 rounds last time out, as he ran into the criminally under-rated Yoshimitsu Kimura in a bout for the OPBF title.
During his 27 fight career Saka has looked both, amazing, and terrible. When his head is one he is a brutal swarming fighter, with rocks for hands, a great engine and a terrifying mix of tenacity and intensity. It's those tools which saw him beat the likes of Ryuto Kyoguchi, Shota Hayahasi, Masanori Rikiishi, Masaru Sueyoshi and Takuya Watanabe. He is a nightmare to fight, with incredibly heavy hands, a high work rate, and the type of energy that forces opponents to fight his fight. At other times however he's open, he's clumsy and he can look like he just doesn't want to be in the ring. He's open to counters, and whilst he is dangerous he is also very vulnerable, with 4 stoppage losses to his name. In fact his last 4 losses have all been inside the distance. It really can be hard to predict what Saka will turn up.
Aged 22 Narai is a talented youngster, who is getting this shot very, very early in his career. He debuted in 2019 and won his first 7 bouts, picking up the 2020 All Japan Rookie of the Year along the way. His power was evident, as he won 6 of those 7 bouts inside the distance, and only went beyond the 3 round twice, a 4th round TKO witn over Tomohiro Igarashi and a decision win over the awkward Yuki Yazan. Sadly for Narai his winning record came to an end in 2021, when he was stopped in 2 rounds by Kyonosuke Kameda, the cousin of Koki, Daiki and Tomoki Kameda, in a bout for the Japanese Youth Featherweight. That loss was expected to be a major set back, but just 9 months later Narai scored the biggest win of his career, stopping Shinnosuke Hasegawa in 2 rounds to climb towards a Japanese title fight. In the months that followed that bout Narai was announced as the next challenger for Japanese Super Featherweight title, thanks to the big win over Hasegawa.
In the ring Narai is a big puncher, but he's also a rather crude fighter who hasn't really had time to develop from his Rookie of the Year triumph. In the ring he tries to box, looking for openings and then lower the boom on his right hand. He's cautious and doesn't take many risks, instead waiting for an opponent to make a mistake before committing to his own power shots. When he's feeling like he's got his opponent hurt things change completely and he often over-commits when they are hurt. It's a tactic that has worked, but does see him make mistakes, and the type that good domestic fighters will make him pay for, and we saw that happen when he faced Kameda. His major issues in the ring is that he's not razor sharp, and his style of trying to draw a mistake before going for the kill needs him to either be ultra quick, or be willing to take a risk to draw a lead and he's simply not got the tools to do that, at the moment.
Going in to this fight the feeling is that the first man to land a clean bomb could end up winning. Saka is certainly the more proven and the man who has answered more questions, but is also worryingly inconsistent, and when tagged clean we have seen him fall apart, numerous times. As for Narai, it's hard to know what he's learned since losing to Kameda. When it comes to a shoot out, like this is expected to be, the man who's more proven and more experienced tends to take home the win, and that's what we expect to see here, with Saka perhaps getting dropped, but recovering to stop the challenger. This could last just a few rounds, but every round will be tense and could see chaos in the ring, but we do favour Saka to emerge from that chaos with the title.
Prediction - TKO3 Saka
The final Japanese show this month takes place at Korakuen Hall and has a really solid looking main event as Yoshimitsu Kimura (13-2-1, 8) faces former foe Kanehiro Nakagawa (11-6, 5), in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight, and a contest that has the potential to be something of a sleeper classic. One that is easy to over-look, but should deliver something a little special. The bout not only has two guys who are often over-looked, but two guys who have very fun styles, and also have a bit of history, with this being the second bout between the men.
Before we look at where we are today, we need to discuss the fact the two men faced off way back in 2017. That bout saw Kimura take a very hard fought decision over Nakagawa, who at the time didn't look like someone we'd be talking about 5 years later. The bout saw Kimura move to 8-0 and continue his ascent through the ranks, whilst Nakagawa fell to 4-5, and seemed to be heading towards total obscurity. Since then Kimura has gone 5-2-1, and proven to be one of the most fan friendly fighters in Japan, with notable bouts against the likes of Hironori Mishiro, Shuma Nakazato and Kosuke Saka, with his win over Saka landing him his regional title. As for Nakagawa he has totally turned his career around, going 8-1 and scoring notable domestic wins over Seiichi Okada, Ryuto Araya, Ken Osato, Taiki Minamoto and Shinnosuke Hasegawa.
With the short history lesson out of the way, lets talk about the two men, and who they are today, and how that could also play a major role in this bout.
The 25 year old Yoshimitsu Kimura is one of the most fun to watch fighters in Japan. He debuted in 2015 and would go on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2016, fighting as a Featherweight. He ran up a 9 fight unbeaten record, including the aforementioned win of Nakagawa, before challenging Richard Pumicpic for the WBO Asia Pacific Featherweight title and coming up short, in a really competitive bout. That fight, at the age of 21, showed there was real potential with Kimura. He bounced back from that loss by by moving up in weight and scoring 3 solid wins before challemging OPBF Super Featherweight champion Hironori Mishiro, and losing a very close, incredibly competitive bout by split decision, in what was one of the best fights of 2019. That loss was followed by another set back as he suffered a draw, in another thriller, with Shuma Nakazato. In his bout following that draw Kimura scored the biggest win of his career, stopping Kosuke Saka in 3 rounds to win the OPBF Super Featherweight title.
One this to note coming into this bout regarding Kimura is that earlier this year he was scheduled to face Samir Ziani. That bout was cancelled at short notice, and coming in to this bout it's going to be interesting to see if that cancelation effects Kimura or not, as he did admit he had lost motivation due to that fight falling through.
In the ring a driven Kimura is a nightmare to fight. He's gritty, determined and as we saw against Mishiro and Nakazato, he simply doesn't know when he's beaten. That has made him a fan favourite and a must watch fighter in Japan. He can be hurt, he can dropped, but it's going to take something very special to stop him and stop his desire. In terms of his style he's someone who can box and move, and is a very solid boxer, however what makes him so much fun to watch is that he has real dog inside him. When things are tough he often forgets his boxing skills and goes all out, setting a high tempo, applying a lot of pressure and simply try to grind down opponents. Although his best offense is his volume he is also a solid puncher, and that was shown in his bout with Saka, when big head shots from Kimura left Saka stumbling around the ring. At 130lbs, and now in his physical prime, Kimura looks like a nasty fighter, as he develops his power, his strength and his confidence, making him even tougher to beat. He can box, he can fight, he can punch, and although he's not world class in any area he is a very, very solid all round.
On paper Nakagawa is very limited, and his 11-6 (5) record includes not just 6 losses, but also 2 stoppage losses. Despite that the 27 year old is regarded as one of the top Super Featherweights in Japan and in Asia. He is highly regarded not due to a padded record, like some fighters out there, but due to his current form, and the way he has totally turned his career around. He debuted in 2014, losing in 2 rounds, and was 4-5 after 9 bouts with losses to the likes of Toru Kiyota, Kimihiro Nakagawa and, of course, Yoshimitsu Kimura. Since then however he has developed in so many ways, and taken those losses as a sign to improve, to develop and to grow as a fighter. He has gone 7-1 since that start, and really should have been 8-0 with the loss to Ren Sasaki in 2018 being a very debatable one. He now fights like a man determined to never lose again, and victories over the likes of Seiichi Okada, Ryuto Araya, Taiki Minamoto and Shinnosuke Hasegawa have certainly helped in still a real confidence in him.
Sadly it's not all been plain ailing for Nakagawa, despite his great form, and he, like Kimura, has had a bout cancelled this year. For him it was a planned bout against Kosuke Saka, that had to be scrapped when Nakagawa suffered an injury. That means he has been out of the ring since October 2021.
In the ring Nakagawa doesn't do anything amazingly well. He's not got lights out power, or lightning speed, or incredible movement. Much like Kimura however he's become a very, very hard man to beat, with a great sense of will and desire in his in ring work. He comes forward, is determined and sets and odd rhythm to things, which upsets fighters. He does a lot of things wrong, isn't technical, but is tough, has plenty of pop on his shots and throws from some really awkward and peculiar angles. His footwork is odd, his punches are weird and yet he still managed to use his really odd style to great success. Trying to prepare for Nakagawa and his really odd style, that looks amateurish as hell at times, must be a nightmare and few will be able to replicate it in sparring, making him even tough to fight.
Sadly for Nakagawa we do feel that Kimura is genuinely a special fighter. Maybe not a future world champion, but special enough to compete at that level even if he does fall short. As for Nakagawa he's awkward, clumsy and hard to beat, but we do feel that, over 12 rounds, his style will be tiring to himself, and after 4 or 5 rounds Kimura will begin to read him better, time him more consistently, and take over the fight. We see Nakagawa having some really good success early on, but as the rounds fly by Kimura will begin to take over, and do enough to win a clear decision.
Prediction - UD12 Kimura
This coming weekend we'll see OPBF Super Featherweight champion Masanori Rikiishi (11-1, 6) look to record his first defense of the title, as he takes on exciting and aggressive Filipino challenger Tomjune Mangubat (15-3-1, 12). The bout doesn't feature a huge name in the sport, but does feature two men with the potential to compete at world level over the coming years, and the OPBF title could well be the key to either man unlocking a shot at world honours.
The 28 year old Rikiishi, the brother for former world champion Masamichi Yabuki, was put on the fast track from the moment he turned professional in 2007. His first two bouts came against fighters with a combined 10-4 record and he easily won both of those bouts before his team rushed him too quickly, and he ran into the hard hitting Kosuke Saka, with Saka stopping him in 2 rounds. Since then however he has bounced back excellently, and strung together good wins, beating the likes of Freddy Fonseca, Yuichiro Kasuya, Soreike Taichi and most recently Takuya Watanabe, with that win netting him the OPBF title. He has tested the water at Super Featherweight and Lightweight, and has seemingly decided that his future, for now, lies at 130lbs which suits his frame well.
Fighting out of the southpaw stance Rikiishi is a clever boxer, who uses the ring well, has something of a relaxed textbook style. He uses a stiff and accurate jab, to control the action, uses his footwork well to control range and chips away at fighters with his jabs early on. As rounds go by he looks to unleash heavier shots with his left hand, but is a very patient fighter, who bides his time, looks for the openings and makes the most of them. He's a frustrating fighter to watch, as he doesn't give many chances to his opponents, and takes the ones he gets, as we saw in impressive fashion against Taichi. By fighting in such a relaxed and calm manner he doesn't ever over exert himself, but when he wants to pick up the tempo he can. We saw last time out, against Watanabe, we saw him prove he can easily go 12 rounds when he needs to and mix more into his arsenal than we typically see from him. He's certainly not a 1-punch artist, or a slippery defensive genius, or someone with a titanium chin, but he is someone who understands the sport and knows what he's doing in the ring.
Aged 24 Tomjune Mungubat, aka the War Dog, is one of the many Filipino fighters who has gained a reputation for putting in sensational and exciting performances, regardless of results. He is a fighter who makes for fan friendly wars and will put on a show. He's not the most polished, or the most skilled, but he has very solid power, a good engine and the sorts of flaws that make for highly engaging battles with opponents, whether he's better than them or note. He first came to our attention in 2019, when he engaged in a 10 round thriller with Jong Seon Kang, losing a split decision to the Young Korean, and since then has gone 4-1 (3) with his only losing coming to the highly regarded Charly Suarez. Sadly his style does have its issues, especially against the more technically sound fighters, but given his power he will always be dangerous.
Mangubat is a tall, ranger fighter who doesn't have the most polished style, but he is aggressive, heavy handed, uses a lot energy, throws with bad intentions and loves coming forward. From the first bell to the final moments he will come forward, doing so behind a high guard and pressing the action. He can picked and prodded at, as we saw Charly Suarez do back in March, and he can be hurt, having been stopped in 2 of his 3 losses, but it takes a lot to stop him, and even Suarez had to unload barrage after barrage in the later rounds of their fight. Defensively he can look a bit rigid, especially when he's tired, but even then he is still dangerous and still throws enough to hurt fighters and keep them honest.
On paper this should a really good fight and a hard one to predict. Rikiishi is, easily, the more skilled of the two and the better pure boxer, but the tenacity, power, aggression and willingness to take risks will make Mangubat dangerous. Especially early on. Rikiishi will need to be cautious in the early going, following the gameplan set forth by Suarez of picking, poking, and neutralising the aggression of Mangubat. If he can do that early on and then start to press more himself, landing his spiteful left hand, then there is a real chance he stops Mangubat quicker than Suarez did. If he can't land those hard, well timed, left hands however he is in for a very, very tough night.
We feel Rikiishi has the tools to land his clean shots, hurting and stopping Mangubat, be he will have to take some punishment to see off the Filipino challenger.
Prediction - TKO7 Rikiishi
This coming Saturday we'll see a new Japanese Youth Super Featherweight champion being crowned as Hyoga Taniguchi (5-3-2, 1) and Seika Fukuda (6-3, 1) clash for the title. The bout pits two talented but flawed youngsters against each other, and although neither is likely to make a name above domestic level, both could well be major players on the domestic scene over the coming decade or saw.
Of the two men Taniguchi is the more well known. The 23 year old southpaw made his debut in 2018 and struggled early on, going 1-2-1 after 4 bouts. He then reeled off a nice run going 3-0-1, and winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2019, before suffering something of an upset loss last year to Hiro Ichimichi. Since that loss he has bounces back with a 6 round decision win over Caliente Koyasu, though it's really hard to know what he has to offer. Taniguchi is a work horse in the ring, but with a lack of power, a lack of physicality and desire to dig deep to win bouts, his future does seem to depend on whether or not he can grow into his man strength in the near future or not.
In the ring Taniguchi is an aggressive fighter who comes forward behind his jab, sets a nice tempo, and looks relaxed coming forward. Sadly for him he is very much a work in progress. Defensive he is open, especially to counters, and given his lack of power and physical strength fighters will be willing to take one to land one. It's clear, watching him, that he's a thinking fighter, but unfortunately for him it's not thoughts that are instinctive and instead he's thinking about things as we see them, and at times it looks like we can see the cogs turning when he's fighting. When found out of his comfort zone he really looks like he's really uncomfortable, though to his credit he is willing to hold when he needs to, and does have nice speed that he and his team can build on. Though there is so many areas where he will need to improve if he's to make a mark at the top of the domestic scene, rather than just becoming a bit player on the domestic level.
Aged 22 Fukuda is a tall and rangy fighter who debuted in 2019 and won his first 5 bouts, reaching the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, before losing inside a round in the final against Tsubasa Narai. That bout could have seen Fukuda being written off, but in reality it said more about Narai's power than it did about Fukuda. He bounced back with a win over Eiji Togawa but has lost his last two, losing 8 round decisions to Yuna Hara and Seira Kishida. With 3 losses in his last 4, it's hard to know what his mindset is, but this is a great chance for him to make a mark on the sport and to claim his first professional title.
In the ring Fukuda really is someone who looks like he has a nice under-standing of the ring. He uses quick footwork, changes leaves and comes forward. Sadly though he looks like a boy rather than a man and, like Taniguchi, lacks his man strength and power. As well as lacking in terms of physicality, he also seems to have questionable balance, and there's something of an awkwardness to his footwork at times, along with wide, looping slow punches. He's certainly not a bad fighter, but just like Haniguchi, he looks like a work in progress, and someone trainers need to spend a lot of time with to really develop and round off.
With neither man having much power we're not expecting an early finish here. Instead we're expecting something of a light punching war, with the styles gelling, and both men digging deep to try and dictate the tempo and work rate. Of the two men, Fukuda does look the better fighter, but he'll know he's the away fighter, travelling from Osaka for the bout, and will need to try harder to win over the fans and the judges. Sadly though we do get the feeling that home advantage will be the key here, and in a very, very hotly contested bout, fought at mid to close range, we'll see Taniguchi just do enough to edge the decision. Regardless of who wins, neither of these youngsters is the complete product yet, and hopefully in a few years time we'll see them clash again, after both have had time to work on some of their flaws and limitations.
Prediction - MD8 Taniguchi
This coming Sunday fight fans in Sumida City are set for a festival of boxing, with Dangan at the helm. Not only does the day involve an actual festival of the sport, with special events being held in the city to help promote and celebrate the sport, but there will also be a stacked card at the Sumida City Gymnasium, with 3 title bouts on the show.
One of those 3 title bouts will see Masanori Rikiishi (10-1, 6) clash with Takuya Watanabe (38-10-1, 22), in a bout for the vacant OPBF Super Featherweight title. The bout really is a must win for both men with the 33 year old Watanabe fighting in his 50th professional bout, and the clock is ticking on his career, and Rikiishi knowing another set back at this point could leave him in the "who needs him?" Club.
Of the two men the well known is Watanabe, who debuted in 2007 and has been a fixture on the Oriental scene for years. He is one of the few Japanese fighters to regularly travel for fights, and has notched up bouts in South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, as well as Japan. He has also faced legitimate who's who of the Japanese scene, with bouts against the likes of Masayuki Ito, Hisashi Amagasa, Satoshi Hosono, Hironori Mishiro, Kosuke Saka and Taiki Minamoto. Whilst he has lost the bigger bouts of his career, he has repeatedly shown good technical fundamentals, an incredible will to win, under-rated boxing IQ and a sturdy chin, with the monstrously hard hitting Saka being the only man to stop him in 49 bouts. Sadly though Watanabe has shown himself to not be the hardest man to hit, nor quickest, nor a particularly heavy handed fighter, especially at 130lbs. He hits hard enough to get respect, and throws enough to keep that respect, but there is a feeling that a bit more pop in his punches or a slightly higher work rate would have resulted in a lot more success over his career.
In the ring Watanabe is a well schooled, though some what basic, fighter. He comes forward behind a tight guard, likes to set things up behind the jab and apply pressure, wanting to keep opponents on the back foot and establish a fight at mid-range at his tempo. Sadly he has struggled against fighters who are crisper, sharper and faster than he is, as we saw against the likes of Ito and Mishiro, and as we saw against Saka, he does seem to be slowly showing some cracks in his incredibly toughness. Also given his age and long career, one of the longest in terms of fights of any active Japanese fighter, it's little wonder that he is starting to show the signs of slowdown.
Aged 27 Rikiishi is coming in to his prime, but is still a fighter lacking a break out win, and is the second most famous fighter in his family, behind his brother and former world champion Masamichi Yabuki. Despite that he is a fighter who has the potential to leave a big mark on the Japanese and Oriental scene over the coming years. He's talented, he's big and strong at the weight, has a good boxing brain and a good team behind him. He is also a fighter who has tasted a defeat early in his career, been humbled somewhat by that loss, and developed as a fighter since then. He has learned from his defeat to become a better, more rounded, fighter. Also despite his loss, he's not been wasting time padding his record, instead he had a single easy comeback fight, before climbing his way through the rankings and moving to this title fight, with good wins against the likes of Freddy Fonseca, Yuichiro Kasuya and Soreike Tacihi.
In the ring Rikiishi is a talented boxer-mover, who keeps things long when he's getting himself set, but steps in when he's confident, and has solid sting in his shots, a lovely smooth style, and he fights to his physical advantages, of being a well sized Southpaw. He fight looked set to make a mark at 135lbs, but dropped down a few fights ago, and looks even stronger at Super Featherweight, where his long and rangy frame makes him an incredibly tough guy to get close to, especially with his clean straight punches and intelligent footwork. The big worry, remains, his chin and he was taken out early in his career by Kosuke Saka, but we suspect he knows how to protect his chin better now, and Saka, for all his flaws, is a huge puncher on the Japanese scene.
In many ways this bout contains two similar fighters in terms of styles. Both like to get their jabs out, use straight punches, and keep bouts at mid range until they feel their opponent wearing down. For us however it just feels like Rikiishi is the more polished fighter, the more natural boxer, and the more intelligent, with a smoothness to him that Watanabe doesn't have. At mid range Rikiishi will have notable success. For Watanabe the key is to mix up the fight, close the distance and grind down Rikiishi. That has to be his focus, but we're not sure he'll manage it. Instead we see Rikiishi getting a large lead early on, and surviving a late charge to take a clear but competitive decision win.
Prediction - UD12 Rikiishi
This coming Sunday fight fans in Hyogo will get the chance to see the latest Japanese Youth title fight, as Seira Kishida (5-1-2, 2) and Seika Fukuda (6-2, 1) battle for the vacant Japanese Youth Super Featherweight title. Both men are in their early 20's and this will be the first title fight for both men, with both knowing a win here could give their career a notable boost in the right direction.
Of the two men Kishida the older man, at 23, and also the naturally bigger fighter, standing at 5'11". He's also the man in better form. In fact since losing to Kazuki Higuchi in December 2018 he has gone 4-0-2, albeit at a low level whilst slowly but surely building up his record and getting ring time. Notably he has often gone rounds, but did score only his second stoppage win last time out, and as he matures we suspect his frame will fill out making him perhaps nasty puncher at range. Though he's certainly still a boy in the ring, and not yet a man.
Sadly recent footage of Kishida is hard to come by, however there is some video of him to work from to get a read of his style, and he really does look a gangly freak who hadn't filled out his frame at all when the fights took place. For a tall he he, unsurprisingly, has very long arms, a good sharp jab, albeit one he should use more. He's quick with both his hands and feet, but does seem to waste a lot of energy with some nervous movements. For such a tall guy who does have some lovely body shots in his arsenal, and can fight on the inside, but we suspect his team will try and train him not trade up close going forward, and the early footage may well not be reflective of his current style, which for his success needs to focus more around his jab and using his size.
Aged 22 Fukuda is the slightly younger man. He made his debut in 2019 and won his first 5, reaching the belated All Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2020 (which took place in February 2021), where he lost to Tsubasa Narai. Since then he has gone 1-1- but hasn't been matched softly and a loss last year to Yuna Hara over 8 rounds isn't a bad result. Interestingly Fukuda holds a win over Kazuki Higuchi, the man who beat Kishida early in his career. Sadly whilst his recent results haven't been good, it is worth noting he has gone 8 rounds, in the loss to Hara, which could serve him well here in a scheduled 8 rounder.
Thankfully there is a surprising amount of footage of Fukuda and he looks fun to watch, but very flawed. He comes forward behind a high guard, likes to get up close and let his hands go, especially with hooks. He is open when he throws, and leaves a lot of opportunities to counter, but he also makes action exciting and and fun to watch. Sadly he doesn't really have the make up for his style, he's not a big puncher or particularly quick, but he is fun to watch and will make for fun action fights at the lower levels of the sport. He sets a good tempo, he keeps coming forward and he likes to really let his hands go. But technically he is very, very flawed, and his lack of power is a major issue for someone who throws shots like he does.
We suspect that Fukuda will look to pressure, get close and try to make the fight a high tempo one. Sadly though we're not sure he'll be able to over-come the size of Kishida, who will look to keep things at range and will hold his own on the inside, when Fukuda gets up close. Fukuda will have moments, but his lack of power will be a major downfall here, in what should be a very entertaining little war between two well matched, but flawed, fighters.
Prediction - UD8 Kishida
On April 23rd fight fans in Osaka are set for a treat as Japanese Super Featherweight champion Kosuke Saka (21-6, 18) defends his title against mandatory challenger Kanehiro Nakagawa (11-6, 5). On paper the bout is certainly not one which will grab the attention of international fans, especially given the records of the challenger, but for those following the Japanese scene this is a very interesting match up, and one that has the potential to be very, very exciting.
Of the two men the champion is the much more well known. The hard hitting Saka is someone who has really, really heavy hands, but is also incredibly flawed in the ring making his bouts great fun, action packed, unpredictable, and always worth tuning in for. When he's on song he's a destructive and violent force, but he's also a bully and when a fighter fires back he can be in all sorts of problems. Despite his flaws he has had a very solid career so far with highlights including being a 2-weight Japanese champion, having previously held the Japanese Featherweight title, and beaten the likes of Ryuto Kyoguchi, Shota Hayashi, Masanori Rikiishi, Masaru Sueyoshi and Takuya Watanabe. Sadly for him he has also suffered some 3 stoppage losses in his last 8 bouts, and has proven that his chin isn't made out of the same material as his hands.
As a fighter Saka is very much a rock handed boxer-puncher. He comes forward, he presses the action, and uses his physical strength and power to back opponents up. We saw him dominate Sueyoshi with his straight shots, activity and power, before breaking him down to claim the title. Notable we've also seen him box and move, something he did to great affect against the tough Takuya Watanabe, who he broke down whilst mostly fighting off the back foot. When he is on form and focused, he's a deadly fighter, who comes to break opponents up. Sadly though he has over-looked fighters in the past, and switched off mentally during fights, most notably against Takenori Ohashi who knocked him out when he turned away thinking the bell had gone, when it was the 10 second clacker. Losses to Joe Noynay and Yoshimitsu Kimura have also been by stoppage, early in bouts, when they've made him pay for his poor defensive skills.
On paper Nakagawa doesn't look like much of a challenger, given his rather un-pleasing looking record. That however doesn't look at what he's done, and the forms he's in, and in fairness to him, he is in some of the best form of any fighter on the Japanese domestic scene. The reason his record is so underwhelming was a nightmare start to his professional career, with Nakagawa going He started his career 4-5 (3) in his first 9 bouts, before turning things around and going 7-1 (2) since then, with wins in his last 6 fights, and in fair the "1" in that 7-1 was a very controversial loss. Whilst numbers alone don't tell much of a story, it needs to be said that Nakagawa's wins have been fairly notable, with victories over former Japanese champions Seiichi Okada and Taiki Minamoto, wins over highly ranked contenders Shinnosuke Hasegawa and Ken Osato and one over former OPBF title challenger Ryuto Araya. The 26 year old, has had to do things the hard way, and has genuinely earned a shot with his current string of wins.
Despite his winning run Nakagawa will enter as the under-dog, something he's now accustomed to given his recent competition. Nakagawa has proven himself in those wins as a tough cookie, willing to wage war when he needs to. At his best however he's a rather technical fighter, who presses forward, has a rather awkward looking style but is some how hard to catch clean, and surprisingly accurate, with good timing, and gritty toughness. He's a pressure fighter with under-rated defensive skills and he looks like the sort of fighter who is hard to back up and hard to dissuade from coming forward. Technically he looks off, yet it's his technical skills and unusual rhythm that gets him success, and he's one of the few Japanese fighters at 130lbs who is less orthodox than Saka.
Coming Saka should be favoured. He's more proven, more dangerous, fighting at home, and the man who enters as the champion. And we fully suspect Saka to win. However the style of Nakagawa will potentially give Saka fits at times, especially early on, as Nakagawa uses his under rated defense, and awkward strength to make Saka miss. Sooner or later Saka will land, and will make Nakagawa feel his power, but we wouldn't be surprised at all if that was in the second half of the bout, after Saka has been frustrated, tagged and made to look very ordinary. We suspect Saka will have to show some mental resolve, but will eventually get to his man.
Prediction - TKO8 Saka
On December 14th fight fans will have their attention on Japan, with a major show at the with Western fans focus in on Kokugikan, in Tokyo. That show however, with two world title bouts, isn't the only Japanese show show this coming Tuesdays, with a smaller card set to take place at Korakuen Hall. That Korakuen Hall show is much smaller, but it promises to deliver so amazing action with two OPBF title bouts.
For us one of the OPBF title bouts looks like a potential hidden for the month, and that is the OPBF Super Featherweight title bout between Kosuke Saka (21-5, 18) and Yoshimitsu Kimura (12-2-1, 7), who battle for the currently vacant title, which was vacated by Hironori Mishiro. The bout certainly doesn't have the star power of the bouts at the Kokugikan, but may well end up being the most explosive bout of the day.
Of the two men the much more proven is Saka. The heavy handed fighter from Osaka is a bit of an unknown outside of Japan, but has already won both the Japanese Feather and Super Featherweight title, and came runner up in the All Japan Rookie of the Year, all the way back in 2012 where he lost to Masayuki Ito in the final. He is a very aggressive, heavy handed monster who often goes over-looked when we talk about exciting Japanese fighters, in part due to having 5 losses. The first of those was to Ito in 2012 and by the summer of 2014 he was 8-3 (5). Since then however he has gone 13-2 with his only losses in that run coming in a freak ending against Takenori Ohashi and to the criminally under-rated Joe Noynay. As for his wins during that 15 fight run, he has beaten the likes of Ryuto Kyoguchi, Takafumi Nakajima, Shoita Hayashi, Masaru Sueyoshi and Takuya Watanabe. (For those curious, Ryuto Kyoguchi is indeed Hiroto Kyoguchi's brother).
In the ring Saka, when he's on song, is a nightmare. He's very heavy handed, his shots hurt every time they land, and he combines his break like fist with a style that bring constant, intelligent pressure. In just a few years he has developed from a crude, but powerful puncher, into an intelligent, heavy handed pressure-puncher, who comes forward, puts opponents on the back foot and hurts them, time and time again, breaking them down physically and mentally. That was seen to great effect against Masaru Sueyoshi, who he beat for the title, and against the incredibly tough Takuya Watanabe, who had his incredible resistance broken. His current run has seen him climb into the WBO world rankings, and a win here would help him earn a place into the WBC rankings, and help him move towards a world title fight.
Whilst Saka is a proven force on the domestic scene Kimura isn't, at least not quite. The 25 has come close to making a mark a couple of times, but hasn't yet managed to win the big fights that he needs to win to put down a mark on the scene. Despite that he has shown he has the skills, the desire and the ability to mix it on domestic and regional level, though perhaps lacks the experience and maturity at the moment. He turned professional in 2015, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2016 and was 9-0 when he faced off with the always tricky Richard Pumicpic, suffering a competitive loss to the Filipino. He bounced back from that loss with 3 wins, before losing a razor close bout to Hironori Mishiro in late 2019, in a legitimately fantastic 12 round battle for the OPBF title Super Featherweight title. Sadly since that loss he's only fought once, fighting to a thrilling draw with Shuma Nakazato late last year.
In the ring Kimura is a technically well schooled fighter who can either fight as a pressure fighter or a boxer, but does tend to prefer a high tempo bout up close, with shots being thrown on the inside. He's shown fantastic determination, getting up in his last two bouts, impressive stamina, having already been 12 rounds twice, a great work rate and smart movement. He has decent power, but it's not destructive, and will get respect of fighters, but it's not fight changing at the high levels, and the likes of Mishiro and Pumicpic weren't too affected by it. Sadly he does, at times, look just a touch fragile, and whilst there's no doubting his heart and determination, we do have to wonder whether he'll be able to with stand the power and physicality of Saka.
We expect this to be a really fun, explosive fight. The styles should gel really, really well and we should see the two men getting close and exchanging heavy leather. Sadly for Kimura it does feel like his style will pay into the hands of Saka, who hits hard, is physically more imposing, and has that killer instinct. We see Kimura having moments in the first couple of rounds, before being backed up in rounds 3 and 4, and then finally being broken down in the middle rounds. The sheer power and of Saka will be the difference maker, and whilst this will be a great fight, we don't see Kimura have what he needs to take home the victory.
Prediction - TKO6 Saka
One of the unique, but truly brilliant, things about Japanese boxing is their domestic Youth title. It helps stop young hopefuls from meandering early in their career's and gives them something to fight for, before maturing and preparing for a proper Japanese title fight. The title might not have the reputation of the full national title, which is one of the most highly regarded titles below world level, but it's added a new spice in recent years to the Japanese domestic scene and has given us some amazing bouts since it was created just a short few years ago.
We expect another when Tsubasa Narai (7-0, 6) and Kyonosuke Kameda (6-2-1, 5) clash for the Japanese Youth Featherweight title, and put it on the line in what should be a very, very explosive, and very exciting clash.
The match up isn't one that will get international attention, but fans at the EDION Arena Osaka are in for a real treat, between two men who are young, exciting, heavy handed and flawed. Neither are the smartest or smoothest boxer. Neither has an impenetrable defenses, but both like to let their hands go, and both have fight ending power.
Of the two men it's fair to say Kameda is the more well known. He's the cousin of the Kameda brothers, and turned professional in with a lot of noise around him, on a show that was put together essentially put together by Koki Kameda at the very start of 2018. Despite the chatter around him, and his cousin matching him up, he also actually lost on debut, being stopped in 2 rounds by Shinnosuke Kimoto. Since then however Kameda has bounced back and gone 6-1-1 (5) with his two set backs being relatively understandable ones. The first was a draw in 2019 to the awkward Ryugo Ushijima, in the East Japan Rookie of the Year, and the second was a split decision loss in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, against Jinki Maeda.
Between his losses we saw Kameda pick up some genuinely solid wins, including a victory over the then unbeaten Tom Mizokoshi, and a TKO win over the then 5-0 Daiki Imanari. He also score a notable win last year against Daiki Asai last year. He's not the most polished fighter out there. In fact he is very much a rough around the edges fighter, but he's very heavy handed and is a freak at Featherweight, standing at around 6".
Whilst Kameda has the Kameda name helping him with his career, and with the attention he's had, Narai doesn't have that and has instead depended on making a mark with his fists. Something he has done really well. He debuted in April 2019, with a TKO win overKento Nakano, and stopped Taison Mukaiyama just weeks later. At that point it seemed like he was well on the way to a place in the 2019 East Japan Rookie of the Year, before he sadly had to pull out of the tournament. At that point in time he was fighting at Super Bantamweight. More than a year after the victory over Yazan we saw Narai return to the ring as a Super Featherweight and re-enter the Rookie of the Year, and this time he went all the way, stopping all 4 of his opponents on route to winning the All Japan tournament. In fact he stopped all 4 of his foes in the tournament in a combined 9 rounds and looked very, very impressive doing so.
Interestingly, despite being the All Japan champion at Super Featherweight, Narai isn't a big fighter. He's he's around 5'4" and will be the shorter, smaller man when he gets in the ring with Kameda. In fact Kameda will seriously tower over him. Despite that Narai looks to be the more polished boxer, he's certainly the more aggressive and the bigger puncher. He does appear to have some defensive issues, and has been tagged in the past by lesser fighters than Kameda. Given how small he is, he will have to take risks, he will struggle with the size, but if he can sneak in, land his devastating right hand, we could end up seeing Kameda's chin being given a real check.
On paper Narai is likely to enter as the favourite. He's unbeaten and will have a lot of momentum coming into this on the back of his Rookie triumph. He's in great form, the man moving down in weight, and is a very, very dangerous fighter. He is however the man who will be much smaller, and could find himself really struggling to get around the jab of Kameda. If that happens, and if Kameda fights a responsible and intelligent, performance, he could frustrate Narai, rack up the rounds, and eventually catch Narai coming in, when he gets desperate. If he can do that we suspect he'll unload and force a late stoppage, or cruise to a clear decision.
That however would take a lot of concentration from Kameda and is not something he's consistently shown through his career. Instead we suspect Kameda will look to use his jab, use his reach, but end up making mistakes and getting tagged by Narai. When that happens we expect to see Kameda seeing red and trying to fight fire with fire. When that happens it'll become a shoot out, and we favour Narai in that situation.
We might see him hit the canvas at some point, but we favour Narai here, by stoppage.
Prediction - Narai TKO4
This coming Wednesday we get the chance to see a really compelling match up in New South Wales as under-rated Filipino slugger Joe Noynay (18-2-2, 7) looks to defend his WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title against unbeaten Australian challenger Liam Wilson (9-0, 6). For Wilson the bout is a massive step up in class and his first for a well regarded internationally recognised title, whilst the bout will be Noynay's first in Australia and his first in well over 18 months. For the winner the WBO Asia Pacific title is a major honour, but the winner will also begin a real move towards getting a world title fight, making this bout a genuinely significant one.
Of the two men it's Noynay who is the more well known and the more recognisable. Although not a major star the 25 year old southpaw is a very dangerous fighter with a solid record and has shown no fear of fighting on the road. In fact many of Noynay's best performance have been on the road, including a very competitive loss with Reiya Abe back in 2017, along with wins over Jinxiang Pan, Kosuke Saka and a career best win over Satoshi Shimizu. Not only has he impressed on the road, but he also seems to get more aggressive when fighting on foreign soil and has shown under-rated power, with his punches being much more destructive than a typical fighter with a 32% KO rate. That actually is likely due to the fact he went the distance a lot early in his career, after debuting as a teenager.
During his career Noynay has proven to be a fighter who can box, though his boxing is usually quite clumsy, and puncher. He's shown good patience in bouts, but when he lands clean he can hurt guys. Sometimes he is a bit too rough around the edges to really show what he can do, as we saw in his most recent bout against Kenichi Ogawa in what was a messy affair plagued by head clashes, but he is more skilled than some would give him credit for. He's also very tough and took some big bombs from Satoshi Shimizu, and Kosuke Saka, before stopping both of those men. He will believe in his chin, his power, and experience here.
Wilson, also 25, was a very solid amateur competing in a variety of major international tournaments such as the 2018 Common Wealth Games and the 2014 AIBA Youth World Championships. Unlike Noynay he is a boxer first, and his amateur fundamentals do show when he's in the ring. As a professional however he's very unproven with just 9 bouts since making his debut in June 2018. To date his most notable results are a decision win over Brent Rice for the Australian national title in 2018, a KO win over Jesus Cuadro, a TKO win over Rodynie Rafor and a 10 round decision win over Francis Chua earlier this year. He's managed to go 10 rounds a few times but has never shared the ring with someone like Noynay before.
In the ring Wilson is an aggressive boxer. He's technically well schooled, looks very relaxed in the ring and puts his shots together well, however we have seen him taking risks and being punished for them, as he was against Jackson Woods in 2020, when he was clearly hurt in the opening round. He has gotten away with it in the past but there's a good chance his aggressive nature, and surprisingly sloppy defense, could be an issues against a heavy handed fighter like Noynay here. He often stands in front of opponents, and relies on his own crisp punches, to get to opponents but he is certainly there to be hit.
Coming in to this Wilson should be regarded as the favourite. He has the amateur pedigree, he has home advantage and he has a lot of momentum behind him, helped in part by being active over the last 18 months or so, in fact he's fought 5 times since Noynay was last in the ring. We however would not be surprised, at all, if Noynay ended up doing what Woods, among others, couldn't. Noynay is a hungry fighter, the reigning champion and a man risking a lot here, including the WBO Asia Pacific title and several world rankings. He'll be there looking to take Wilson's head off, and we suspect, sooner or later, he will land with a huge left hand and will close in for the finish, taking Wilson out. We really do think this is too soon for Wilson, and comes far, far too early in his career. Wilson will have success, and is dangerous himself, but we really do think this is perhaps 2 or 3 fights too early in his career.
Prediction - TKO6 Noynay
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.