Over the past few years the Super Bantamweight division has become one of the most interesting at elite level, with the likes of Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Stephen Fulton, Brandon Figueroa and Daniel Roman putting on some incredible performances in some great bouts. Outside of the elite level the division has also become a real hot bed of contenders all looking to break out and earn their shot at a world title. This has seen fighters like Marlon Tapales, Azat Hovhannisyan, Carlos Castro and Ra'eese Aleem all fight some of the other leading fighters in the division.
Two other fighters looking to move into title world title contention clash this coming Tuesday in Saitama as Takuma Inoue (15-1, 3) and Gakuya Furuhashi (28-8-2, 16) face off, not just to move a step closer to a world title bout, but to also unify the WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese titles at the weight, in what could be a genuinely thrilling 12 rounder.
Of the two fighters the more well known, especially internationally, is Takuma Inoue. The younger brother of Naoya Inoue who we have seen develop as a fighter since making his debut way back in 2013, aged 17. Although better known as the Monster's little brother, Takuma has had an impressive career of his own, winning the OPBF title at Super Flyweight, Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight, as well as the WBC "interim" title, and holding notable wins against the likes of Tatsuya Fukuhara, Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, Nestor Daniel Narvaes, Froilan Saludar, Hiroyuki Kudaka, Keita Kurihara and Shingo Wake. He might not be the Monster, but in regards to his own career, the 26 year old has had a genuinely very, very good one so far, and still has much of, if not all of, his prime years to come and we suspect he will become a fixture at world level as he continues to physically mature, and become a stronger, heavier handed fighter.
In the ring Takuma is very different to his brother, yet they both similarities. The key difference between them is that Takuma isn't blessed with Naoya's fighter changing power, he can't take opponents out with one shot and he rarely scores knockdowns. He is however, much like his brother, very technically schooled and an excellent boxer. He understands the sports, he gets the theory behind what he's supposed to do in the ring, and he fights to his own strengths. His timing is solid, his movement is impressive and his will to win is great. Despite lacking power he can take a shot, and he hits regularly enough and clean enough to get respect of fighters, with his recent wins over Kurihara and Wake both showing that his jab is heavy enough to keep fighters at bay, with his control of range and distance are excellent. His one loss, which came to Nordine Oubaali, showed he had grit, determination and real toughness, as he battered early on in that bout, but came close to stopping Oubaali in the later rounds, and that really showed his character and stamina, and that was despite the fact he was only 23 at the time. Despite losing that bout his reputation, in many ways, was actually enhanced.
Although Inoue is well known in the West the same can't be said for Gakuya Furuhashi, who has spent his entire career fighting on the Japanese domestic scene. In Japan however he is a popular fighter, with a sizable local following in Kanagawa and Tokyo. He began his career back in 2007, as a fresh faced 19 year old, and won the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2008 at Bantamweight. In the years that followed he had mixed success, sliding from 8-0 (1) to 13-5 (4), but kept improving and in 2015 got his first shot at a Japanese title, fighting to a draw with future world champion Yukinori Oguni. Sadly that set back was then followed by back to back losses as his career seemed to stumble before losing in a second title fight, this time to Yasutaka Ishimoto. Following that bout he was 28 and then had a 18-8-1 (8) record, had gone 1-3-1 in previous 5 and it seemed like his career was about over. Since then however he has put together the ring of his career, going 11-0-1, making his international debut in Vietnam and beating the likes of Ryoichi Tamura and Yusaku Kuga whilst winning, and twice defending, the Japanese Super Bantamweight title. Now, aged 34, he looks the best he has ever looked, and is fighting like a man who has promised himself that he'll retire when he loses again, and isn't in a rush to let that happen.
In the ring Furuhashi is very much a warrior type fighter, who wants to force the bout to be fought on the inside, setting a high tempo, and having a war. He's not the quickest, or the sharpest, or the most technically well schooled, but he's one of the most determined fighters out there and he sheer bloody minded a lot of the time. His work rate is amazing, his desire to come forward and have a fight is stunning and as we saw against Yusaku Kuga in their first bout, back in 2021 he can take some huge shots and shake them off to come forward. In a war he's a hard man to beat, and despite not being a massive puncher, his work rate and desire grinds opponents down. He is intense in the ring, and a nightmare to keep away from. Notably however he can also box, something he wanted to show last year when he faced Seigo Hanamori. Something that Hanamori didn't let Furuhashi show as he tried to out Furuhashi Furuhashi, and got stopped quickly for it in a thrilling 3 round war. Sadly at the age of 34, and with a lot of tough bouts on his ledger, it's hard to know what he has left in the tank, and whether winning the Japanese title last year is something that will mark the pinnacle of his career.
Style wise Furuhashi does have the tools to make life really tricky for Inoue, his aggression, work rate, desire and intense forward march is the style that can unsettle Inoue's ability to control range. Furuashi however doesn't have the quickest of feet, or the skills to cut the ring off against a mover. With that in mind we expect Inoue to use his feet a lot, box and move, make Furuhashi commit to coming forward and throwing, before sliding to the side, landing a counter and making Furuhashi reset his forward march. Style wise Furuhashi is a nightmare for Inoue, but sadly his own limitations in the style, are going to make Inoue shine. The only real question is whether Inoue can close the show on a tired, and likely bloodied, Furuhashi late on. We feel he could, but we're not sure he will.
Prediction - UD12 Inoue
On April 2nd fight fans in Paranaque City get a potentially very interesting all-Filipino bout as Jhunriel Ramonal (17-9-6, 10) and Pete Apolinar (15-2, 9) battle for the vacant OPBF Super Bantamweight title. For both men this is a major bout, and a huge chance for them to put their names in the mix for notable regional bouts at 122lbs, whilst the losing will have a long climb back to becoming relevant.
Of the two fighters involved the more notable is Ramonal. The 32 year old veteran is someone who has been around the block a time or two, and despite having a messy record he has scored a number of notable wins, whilst proving he can never be written off. As a professional Ramonal began his career in 2007 and had mixed results through his early years as a professional, going 12-4-1 (6) through his first 17 bouts. By the end of 2014 he was 14-8-4 (7), having gong 2-4-3 in his previous 9 bouts, and it seemed his career was pretty much over. In fact it was more than 3 years before we saw him back in a boxing ring, and on his return he continued to struggle, with draws in his first two bouts back. Surprisingly however in 2019 he had something of a career resurgence, and scored brutal KO wins over Shingo Wake and Yusaku Kuga, showing that he was a tough, heavy handed, fighter and someone not to be over-looked. Sadly though his rise hit a brick wall when the pandemic started, and he lost his moment, without a fight in well over a year. When he returned, in July 2021, he was then upset himself by Landy Cris Leon, in what was a genuine shocker.
In the ring Ramonal isn't quick, sharp, or even the most skilled. What he is however is determined, heavy handed, tough, and a true rugged fighter. He trudges forward, takes a lot of punishment as a result, but has dynamite in his hands. He's not got quick hands, or quick feet, and he hasn't got the best defense, but what he hits he hurts. At regional and domestic level he really is the type of fighter who has a punchers chance against anyone. Above regional level his flaws are an issue, and sadly for him accumulated damage is also a problem, with Ramonal having been cut numerous times during his career, and has lost due to those cuts on several occasions. Against fighters who hold their feet he is devastating, as we saw against Kuga, but if a fighter moves, keeps things at range and boxes safe he can be made to look foolish, slow and awkward, and game plans to beat him will revolve around showing him respect and taking advantage of his lack of speed.
Aged 26 Pete Apolinar is from a newer generation of Filipino fighters, and made his debut in 2014, around the same time as Ramonal's career seemed to be ending. He began his career on the low level Filipino domestic scene, and ran up 5 straight wins before being stopped in a round by Jeo Santisima in 2015. Following that loss Apolinaro rebuilt, winning 10 bouts in a row including wins against the likes of Lloyd Jardeliza, Jetro Pabustan, and Jess Rhey Waminal, who he beat for the OPBF Silver title last year. Sadly for him his winning run came to an end last year when he was stopped by rising Korean hopeful Jong Seon Kang in a WBO Oriental Featherweight title. For this bout he will be moving down in weight, dropping 4lbs to go from Featherweight to Super Bantamweight.
In the ring Apolinar is a pretty tidy fighter, with a nice sharp jab, good movement in the pocket and some slippery tricks in his arsenal. He has good short punches, under-rated defense, and his does slip and roll shots well. Sadly though at Featherweight, where he fought Kang, he issue was with the physicality of the Korea, who kept coming, despite taking taking some low in round 4. Apolinar had success in the bout, but was simply worn down and worn out by Kang, who is known for his energy and work rate. As the bout went on Apolinar's work rate went, and he stood in range way too much against a bigger, stronger man. As he slowed be became more of a target, and was backed on to the ropes too easily, before being wiped out in round 8. Thing he'll have to avoid here against someone like Ramonal.
In terms of skills Apolinar is the much, much better boxer. He has some really advanced skills in his locker, and he really is a very skilled young man. Sadly though skills aren't always the be all and end all. Sometimes heart, desire, power, and determination is key, as we've seen in recent wins for Jordan Gill and Leigh Wood in the UK. We suspect Apolinar's boxing skills will see him take an early lead, but the power of Ramonal will land, sooner or later. When that happens Apolinar will be in trouble, and will begin to be broken down, much like we saw against Kang.
Prediction - TKO6 Ramonal
This coming Tuesday fight fans at Korakuen Hall will get a very interesting Japanese Youth Super Bantamweight title fight, as defending champion Haruki Ishikawa (9-3, 7) takes on Ryuya Tsugawa (8-1, 4), in a brilliant match up, and a great example of the bouts we've been getting due to the Youth title in Japan.
Of the two men the more well known is Ishikawa. The 22 year old champion has been a professional since 2017, and reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2018, when he lost in the final to Yusei Fujikawa. He bounced back from that loss with a pair of wins, though then suffered back to back losses, losing in a 4 round thriller against Toshiya Ishii and a disappointing performance with Kai Chiba. After those losses it seemed he was faltering big time, before resurrecting his career last year with a big domestic win over Tom Mizokoshi for the Japanese youth title.
In the ring Ishikawa is somewhat crude, a little bit wild, but also naturally heavy handed, and when he lands he can really hurt people. He's also someone who has been developing his skills over the years. He can still be out boxed, and as we saw against Chiba, he can be put into his shell by someone who can box, moves and has some power themselves, but when he's on song he's very dangerous and not the type of fighter anyone at this level wants to get into a fire fight with.
In the opposite corner is a 21 year old challenger who debuted in 2018 as a Bantamweight and reached what is, essentially, the Rookie of the Year semi-final, losing to Yusei Fujikawa in the West Japan final. Since then he has bounced back with 4 wins, 3 by stoppage, and won the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2019. Along with his recent winning run he has shown impressive development, not just with his boxing skills but also his power and his physical strength, settling in as a very solid Super Bantamweight prospect. Not only has he been in good form, but also scoring solid wins, beating Takeshi Takehara, in the 2019 Rookie of the Year final, and Hikari Mineta in his last two bouts, though has sadly been out of the ring since late 2020.
In the ring Tsugawa is a relaxed fighter, who has lovely fluidity with his shots and soaks up pressure well with some crafty subtle movements and counter shots. He looks to keep things at mid range when he can, but has got skills to counter up close and hits hard enough to get respect when he lands. He also seems happy to have a war when he needs to. Notably he is better at boxing, than fighting, but can do both. The big worry for him however, is that his chin is something of an unknown and it will be very interesting to see how he fares against a big puncher, someone like Ishikawa.
We can't help but think this is going to be a fire fight. Ishikawa loves a war, and Tsugawa seems happy to be dragged into one. Tsugawa is the better from a technical stand point, but Ishikawa is the bigger puncher, and our feeling is that Ishikawa power could be a major issue. When he lands he hurts people and if Tsugawa can be dragged into a war here, he could be in all sorts of trouble.
We suspect this will be an intense, action war, but a short one, and after 4 rounds or so Ishikawa's power will prove to be the difference maker, breaking down Tsugawa in a genuine thriller.
Prediction - Ishikawa TKO4
One of the very best fights of 2021 was the Japanese Super Bantamweight title fight between Gakuya Furuhashi (28-8-1, 16) and Yusaku Kuga (20-5-1, 13), which saw Furuhashi claim the Japanese title, in his third attempt, by breaking down Kuga in the 9th round of a total barn burner. This coming Tuesday we're in for another treat as, around a year after their first bout, the two men face off again in a brilliant rematch, with Furuhashi going into this one as the champion, and Kuga looking to reclaim the title to become a 3-time champion.
Sadly, unlike their first bout, we're not expecting a fight of the year contender. Or anything even close to that if we're honest. Instead we're expecting to see a rather dominant win by one of the men involved, with father time, a hard career and accumulated punishment being responsible for what will be a bit of a let down, compared to their first bout.
In their first contest Kuga got off to a good start, out boxing Furuhashi, who like a man possess. Furuhashi wasn't going to be denied last year, and despite being behind going into the final rounds he broke down Kuga who took a lot of damage late in the bout. Following that bout both men have fought once. Furuhashi retained his title, with a TKO win over the gutsy but over-matched Seigo Hanamori whilst Kuga won a Japanese title eliminator, defeating Ryoichi Tamura in the third meeting.
Sadly Kuga's win over showed something that's rather unfortunate. Both men were shot. They had fought two twice, in two all out wars, but this third bout seemed to show that their battles had taken a lot out of each other. Kuga was still a tough, heavy handed fighter, but he looked like he had lost two steps since their 2019 bout. Losses to Furuhashi and Jhunriel Ramonal have been punishing ones, and Kuga's toughness has, potentially, been his downfall with the former 2-time Japanese champion having taken a lot of damage in recent years.
At his best Kuga was a terminator like fighter. He was a decent boxer, with very heavy hands, a great chin, and an impressive will to win. Sadly that style does take a toll on fighters, and it has certainly taken it's toll on Kuga who is still heavy handed, but no longer has the intensity he once had, or the toughness he had. He's only 31 but he's a very, very old 31.
As for Furuhashi he has always been a high intensity fighter, but someone who hasn't regularly relied on his chin and power to win fights. Instead he has relied on a high work rate, a lot of energy, and setting a pace that others can't typically match. He has taken punishment, and bouts against the likes of Yasutaka Ishimoto, Ryoichi Tamura and Kuga have been punishing, but he hasn't typically taken the huge amount of shots that Kuga has had. This means, at 34, he's probably in better physical shape than the challenger. We don't expect to see quite ferocity he had last year, but we also do expect he'll need to be that aggressive.
We expect Furuhashi to do what he does. Setting a high tempo, taking the fight up close and again getting in the face of Kuga. Kuga likes to fight at mid range, getting extension of his shots and landing straight shots. Furuhashi on the other hand, wants to get up close, work the body and land on the inside, smothering Kuga's power at the same time. That is exactly what we're expecting to see again from him. The body work and intensity took the fight out of Kuga last time and we expect to see it do the same here.
We suspect that this time around it will take Furuhashi a few rounds less to take the fight out of Kuga, and instead of stopping his man in 9 rounds, whilst down on all 3 cards, we suspect Furuhashi will stop Kuga in 6 rounds, whilst leading on the cards. After the bout we wouldn't be surprised at all by Kuga either moving up in weight, for one final run, or retire saving his body from further punishment.
Prediction - TKO6 Furuhashi
On November 11th we get one of the most interesting OPBF title bouts of 2021 as former WBC Bantamweight title challenger Takuma Inoue (14-1, 3) takes on former IBF Super Bantamweight world title challenger Shingo Wake (27-6-2, 19), in a must win bout for both men, if they are are to be in the mix for a world title in the next year or two. Not only is it a must win bout for both men, and not only does it have the vacant OPBF Super Bantamweight title up for grabs, but it's also a truly intriguing match up between two men who are both known for their technical skills, and they could provide something of a compelling chess match here.
Of the two men the more well known is Takuma Inoue, the younger brother of Naoya Inoue and a man many expected to see great things from. Whilst he is very clearly in Naoya's shadow there is no denying that Takuma is a talented fighter and one who has accomplished plenty during his short career. He has already won OPBF titles at Super Flyweight and Bantamweight and will be looking to become a 3-weight OPBf champion here, he has also held a WBC "interim" world title and holds plenty of noteworthy wins against the likes of Tatsuya Fukuhara, Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, Froilan Saludar and Keita Kurihara. He was also a lot more competitive with Nordine Oubaali than Alejandro Rochin's scorecard suggested, in what is Inoue's only loss as a professional.
Unlike his older brother Takuma doesn't have the brutal "Monster" power than Naoya does. Instead he needs to rely more on boxing skills, a boxing brain and movement. Sticking to great game plans to neutralise good opponents, winning rounds and taking victories, typically on the scorecards. Despite that it is worth noting that he hits harder than his record suggests, and he certainly trouble Nordine Oubaali late in their bout. He has also proven his stamina, his heart, determination and his ability to box on the back foot for 12 rounds, something that certainly isn't easy to do.
Aged 34 Shingo Wake is very much a man in last chance saloon, however in fairness to him he has easily exceeded the expectations many would have had for him had they followed his career from the start. The talented southpaw really struggled early in his career. He was once 3-2-1 (2) and was 12-4-2 (5) before winning his first title, the OPBF Super Bantamweight title, incidentally the same title he is trying to capture again here. Amazingly however he has rebuilt from a slow start and is 24-4-1 in his last 29 bouts, a stark change to his first 6 bouts. He has proven himself to be a very skilled boxer, a sharp shooting southpaw, with light feet, a good jab, under-rated skills and stunning bravery, as we saw in his brutal loss to Jonathan Guzman in 2016. He can box, he can punch, he can counter, and being a southpaw he's almost always a nightmare for fighters.
Although not as well known as Inoue it's fair to say that Wake is just as accomplished. Like Inoue he has come up short at world level, losing to Jonathan Guzman in an IBF world title fight, he has also won lower level titles including the OPBF and Japanese Super Bantamweight titles, and he has notched notable wins of his own. They include victories over among his most notable wins are victories over Yukinori Oguni, Jhunriel Ramonal, Jae Sung Lee, Panomroonglek Kaiyanghadaogym and Yusaku Kuga. During those wins he has proven he can do a bit of everything, but is at his best at range as a sharp shooter, drawing errors and pouncing on them with stiff, fast, straight left hand counters.
Coming in to this one, the bout really is an interesting one, and one that could be a tricky one to predict as both are very well schooled fighters. Of the two Inoue is certainly the better pure boxer, the quicker man, and the younger man. Wake on the other hand is the natural Super Bantamweight, the southpaw and the much heavier handed fighter. On paper we suspect Inoue will be the favourite, though this is, for us, a 50-50 bout. Wake's power and natural size is a major thing to consider and unlike most Inoue opponents, Wake has the skills to land, and to land clean. He has the ability and timing to draw a mistake from Inoue and counter, and make his success pay.
We will however be favouring Inoue, in a very, very hotly contested bout. We wouldn't be surprised at all to see Inoue dropped, hurt, and needing to tough out some real scares on route to a razor thing decision. His speed, youth and movement being the difference maker. We see this being incredibly close, and perhaps even a split decision, in a very well fought, high level, chess match.
Prediction - SD12 Inoue
Back in January we saw Japanese veteran Gakuya Furuhashi (27-8-1, 15) put in a career defining performance to break down Yusaku Kuga and claim the Japanese Super Bantamweight title, and in doing so gave us one of the very best fights of 2021. On August 2nd we see Furuhashi return to the ring to make his first defense of the Japanese title as he takes on 23 year old youngster Seigo Hanamori (7-3, 5), in what look like an easy first defense for the talented and all action champion. Whilst this looks like a mismatch, we do need to take a closer look and see if Hanamori can actually be a banana skin for Furuhashi, and whether, maybe, Furuhashi has had a career that is at it's peak, before a very, very sharp come down.
For those who haven't followed Furuhashi the 33 year old is a genuine fan favourite in Kanagawa and nearby Tokyo. He turned professional way back in 2007 and won the 2008 All Japan Rookie of the Year, winning his first 8 professional bouts along the way. Sadly however he started to pile up losses soon afterwards and went from 8-0 to 10-3 in just over 2 years. Just a few fights later he had fallen to 13-5 and it seemed like his career was going to be spent trying to fight his way out of the domestic mix. Since then however he has gone 15-3-1, fought for the Japanese title 3 times, winning it last year in his third shot, and held future world champion Yukinori Oguni to a majority draw in 2015. He has also maturing perfectly with age, winning his last 9 fights, the longest run of his career, including really good wins against Ryoichi Tamura, in 2019, and Kuga, earlier this year.
In the ring Furuhashi is a true blood and guts warrior. He gets in the ring, he wears his heart on his sleeve, and he fights. He's not a boxer, he's a fighter. He sets a high tempo, walks through fire when he needs to, sets a high pace, and really lets his shots go. He can be out boxed, he can be hurt, he can be beat, but at domestic level he's a real handful due to his incredible hunger and desire, toughness, work rate and refuse to lose attitude. It's those traits, rather than his boxing skills, that have seen him beating Tamura and Kuga in his last two bouts, and it's those traits that have made him such a huge fan favourite among the Japanese domestic fan base.
Whilst Furuhashi is a genuine name on the Japanese domestic scene the same cannot be said of Seigo Hanamora, who is, in fairness, a pretty obscure youngster, even for those who follow the Japanese scene in depth. He began his career in 2016 and had mixed success from the off, going 2-2 and 3-3 early in his days as a professional. Notably however he has won his last 4, all by stoppage, and has built some momentum coming into this fight. Sadly however his competition in those bouts has been very, very poor, and the one notable name on his record is Haruki Ishikawa, who stopped him in 2 rounds in 2018, and recently won a Japanese Youth title. Ishikawa is a very good fighter, but losing to him in 2 rounds is not a sign that someone is ready for a Japanese title fight. Especially not against a fighter like Furuhashi.
In the ring Hanamori is an aggressive fighter who throws everything with bad intentions. He's fun to watch, due to his aggressive nature, but he does leave himself open, he's very much there to be hit and he doesn't seem to hit as hard as he seems to think he does. He hammered away on John Yano in 2019 and took 5 rounds to stop him, and he had to put a lot into those 5 rounds before Yano ultimately wilted. Against someone like Furuhashi, who won't be bothered by his power, he's on to a hiding.
Hanamori might, one day, develop into a Japanese champion. It took Furuhashi over a decade and we might see the same for Hanamori. Here however we can't see anything but a loss for Hanamori. He'll come in confident, but be broken down, beaten up, and eventually stopped by a fighter who simply has too much of everything for him. Furushashi will take the fight to him, and will simply grind him down, likely within 5 or 6 rounds.
Prediction - Furuhashi TKO6
This coming Sunday we get the next in a long series of really interesting Japanese Youth title bouts. This one is at Super Bantamweight as the talented and skilled champion Tom Mizokoshi (8-2-1, 4) takes on the crude but heavy handed Haruki Ishikawa (8-3, 6), in what is very much a boxer against puncher match up. The champion is one of the best young pure boxers in the country whilst Ishikawa is a very big puncher, but someone who does lack in terms of his defensive skills. The combination of these styles should make for a genuinely excellent bout.
Aged 22 Mizokoshi is one of the young stars of the Midori Gym. He made his debut back in 2017, at the age of 18, and despite some early set backs, going 2-1-1 in his first 4 bouts Mizokoshi then found his groove and went on to win his next 5. That run of performances started to get people genuinely excited about the youngster but sadly a lot of that excitement was forgotten in August 2020 when he suffered an upset loss to Hiroyuki Takehara, who stopped Mizokoshi in 3 rounds and left him with a broken jaw. Thankfully Mizokoshi bounced back from the broken jaw, and this past March scored his most notable win to date, beating Satoru Hoshiba by 8 round decision to win his Youth title.
In the ring Mizokoshi is a defensively minded boxer, who moves around the ring wonderfully, he's light on his feet, uses very good straight punches and is very much a pure boxer. He wants to control the range, he wants to keep things long, and if an opponent makes a mistake he looks to land hurtful counters. On the whole he is risk adverse, and has a style that we actually see a lot of in the US, rather than Japan. He's someone who seems to appreciate that he's not the complete package, or a fully mature fighter, and fights in a style that hides the fact he's not a fully mature man quite well. Sadly however, as we saw against Takahara, when he's tagged he can be hurt, and he has been hurt in roother fights as well. One final thing worth noting is that although he's a boxer first, he does have respectable pop in his shots, and fighters shouldn't plan to walk through him. He lands often enough and clean enough to make that a bad idea.
Aged 21 at the time of writing Ishikawa is the slightly younger fighter, but is the more physically imposing, and the more wild swinging puncher of the two. He's the one who would be regarded as a genuinely dangerous fighter and he has been for a while. He began his career in 2017, whilst a teenage, and stopped his first 5 opponents in a combined 11 rounds. That explosiveness made fans sit up and take notice though sadly for him his unbeaten run would come to an end in the 2018 All Japan Rookie of the Year final, losing a very close decision to Yusei Fujikawa. Sadly since that loss he has gone 2-2, with the most notable bout being a TKO4 loss in a Japanese Youth Bantamweight title bout to Toshiya Ishii, in an instant classic. He also lost last time out, in December 2020, to Kai Chiba in a very underwhelming performance.
At his best Ishikawa is a very fun to watch fighter, who takes risks, has heavy hands, comes to fight and doesn't care too much about taking a shot or two, if he can land one of his own. Sadly though his loss to Ishii seemed to show up limited technical skills and against Kai Chiba he looked very passive, as if he felt he couldn't win. Those results do not bode well for him here, and if he's not in the right mindset coming in to this we really see him getting frustrated by the movement of Mizokoshi. If he can land clean however, this fight could turn in a moment, and he could go from being out boxed, to winning in spectacular come from behind fashion.
We feel Mizokoshi should be able to out box Ishikawa right through the fight, though we wouldn't be surprised, at all, if he had one or two scares along the way. He should be able to see out the storms, and he should be able to rely on his boxing skills, but Ishikawa's power will mean that the challenger is always a dangerous threat.
It wouldn't be out of the question to see Mizokoshi dropped, en route to a very wide decision win.
PRediction - Mizkoshi UD8
One of the most exciting things about Japanese boxing right now is the Japanese Youth title scene, which has provided so many great fights over the last few years. The title might not be a sign that someone is, or isn't, destined for greatness but it is a title that is giving us some fantastic action bouts between two youngsters who are happily putting it on the line to claim a belt. We saw this in February, with a great bout between Yudai Shigeoka and Ryu Horikawa, and in December, when Jin Sasaki stopped Aso Ishiwaki.
This coming Sunday we'll see another new Japanese Youth Champion being crowned as Tom Mizokoshi (7-2-1, 4) and Satoru Hoshiba (7-4, 2) clash for the vacant Japanese Youth Super Bantamweight title. Interestingly this will not be the first time the men will have clashed, with the two having fought in a short but thrilling clash in 2019, which we'll talk about in more detail a little later on.
The title might not have the longest of lines so far, with the first champion being Takuya Mizuno in 2017, but it's a title that helped people sit up and take note of it's second champion, the highly skilled Toshiki Shimomachi, who we suspect to see big things from the future. Despite that it's certainly a title that can be used as a launch pad, and right now Hoshiba and Mizokoshi will both be wanting to launch their careers forward by winning the belt.
Of the two men the 21 year old Mizokoshi is the more highly regarded and he's seen as one of the brightest hopes at the Midori gym. As an amateur he went 9-5 though didn't wait around in the unpaid ranks long and made his professional debut in 2017, as an 18 year old, winning his debut inside a round. A draw to the then unheralded Hiroki Hanabusa in 2018 slowed his rise and a loss later that same year to Kyonosuke Kamaeda saw him fall to 2-1-1. Despite those set backs Mizokoshi found his groove and won 4 in a row, from late 2018 to the end of 2019, and was building a lot of momentum before Covid19 put a stop on boxing in Japan for most of 2020.
Sadly for Mizokoshi when he returned to the ring in August 2020 he was upset by Hiroyuki Takahara, who stopped Mizokoshi in 3 rounds and left the youngster requiring a break from the ring due to fractured jaw. Sadly that injury forced him to cancel a scheduled bout with Mugicha Nakagawa, as well as giving him his second loss.
In the ring Mizokoshi is a fun fighter to watch. At times he can look a bit timid, staying on the outside, and moving a lot, but he's looking to draw and error to counter. When he spots those errors he often explodes with a huge flurry of shots. When those errors are less forth coming he makes sure to land good, solid, single shot counters, landing the eye catching blows and then getting away in and attempt to draw another mistake. He's quikc, he's sharp and yet he also look like he can be hit, in part due to his rather low guard. It's a style that we suspect will have limitations when he steps up in class, but is certainly a fun one to watch and it's clear he is trying to entertain and fight to his strengths, which are his speed and movement. Whilst there is a lot to like about him there are major worries about his defense and his chin, and they were both shown up against Takahara last August, when a single right hand crumpled him. We also worry about his single punch power, and he negative he can look at times.
The 23 year old Satoshi Hoshiba made his professional debut way back in 2015, in fact he did so on the same show that featured Kosei Tanaka Vs Vic Saludar. Sadly for Hoshiba he was stopped in the first round in his debut, and was then stopped again in his second bout. Impressively he rebuilt his career following his 0-2 start, winning 4 in a row to reach the West representative final of the 2017 Rookie of the Year, losing a razor thin decision to Toshiki Shimomachi. Since that loss he has gone 3-1, including a good win last year against Takayoshi Suzuki. Interestingly he was supposed to face Shimomachi in a rematch late last year, for the Japanese Youth title, but sadly that bout was cancelled due to Shimomachi being ill.
In the ring Hoshiba is very different to Mizokoshi, in terms of styles and mentalities. Instead of boxing and moving he comes to fight. He looks to out work, out battle, out fight and out hustle opponents. He comes into the ring to fight, to press the action and to make opponents work every minute of every round. This saw him really impress against Shimomachi, who was unable to dictate the pacing and distance of the bout, and has seen Hoshiba give real problems to naturally better fighters. Sadly however his chin has let him down several times and walking into the fire has seen him getting burned multiple times in the past. He's exciting, but with a lack of power he really does need to rely on work rate, a lot, and it's a style that will limit his longer term potential.
We mentioned earlier that these two have fought before. They did that in 2019 when Mizokoshi managed to stop Hoshiba in 2 rounds. It is worth noting, however, that Mizokoshi was in all sorts of problems before catching Hoshiba with a perfect counter that bailed him out, and left Hoshiba wobbling whilst Mizokoshi unloaded. It was proof that Mizokoshi had heart, but also warning signs that he could be hurt.
Coming in to this it's easy to suggest that Mizokoshi should get the job done again. He's beaten Hoshiba once, and should do it again, right? Whilst we would typically agree we don't think it's all that straight forward here. Mizokoshi was hurt by Hoshiba when the men first fought and since then Mizokoshi has been stopped, in brutal and dramatic fashion. We need to wonder how his jaw is, and how much he's recovered since that loss. We're going to assume he hasn't fully recovered, at least not mentally, and with that in mind we suspect Hoshiba, if he starts fast, can leave Mizokoshi asking questions of himself. If Hoshiba keeps that up, and avoid the big counters, there's a real chance he could end up stopping his man here.
Whilst Mizokoshi is going to come in to the bout as the favourite, we're predicting an upset here. The pressure and work rate of Hoshiba, added to the damaging loss for Mizokoshi last time out, resulting in a second stoppage loss for the exciting Mizokoshi.
Prediction - Hoshiba TKO6
In 2020 the boxing calendar got completely screwed up with Covid19 forcing bouts to be postponed and cancelled on a regular basis. One of the bouts that was postponed was a mandatory title fight for the Japanese Super Bantamweight title. That bout has now been rearranged for January 22nd and will see defending champion Yusaku Kuga (19-4-1, 13) taking on mandatory challenger Gakuya Furuhashi (26-8-1, 14), in what could be something a little bit special and very brutal.
Those who have been following the Japanese scene over the last few years will know all about the 30 year old Kuga who is now enjoying his second reign as the Japanese Super Bantamweight champion. For those who haven’t been following the scene Kuga is a very fan friendly fighter, who’s a puncher first, with an aggressive style and warmonger mentality in the ring. He came up short in his first title fight, back in 2015 when he lost a razor thin decision to Yasutaka Ishimoto but has gone 8-2 (6) since then, and managed to avenge his loss to Ishimoto in 2017 to claim the title, for the first time. In his first reign he made 2 defenses of the title before losing in 2018 to Shingo Wake, in what was really an undressing for Kuga, who had no answer to Wake’s movement and jab.
Despite losing to Wake it wasn’t long until Kuga reclaimed the title, winning it back from Ryoichi Tamura in 2019, in what was the second bout between the men and an all out war, one of the genuine hidden gems of 2019. After reclaiming the title he made a single defense before taking on Jhunriel Ramonal at the end of 2019, and being brutally taken out after just 84 seconds, in a genuine upset.
At his best Kuga is a really brutal fighter to go up against. For much of his career he has been a heavy handed, teak tough warrior, with a great engine and a really physical style. He can box, though often seems happier to have a war, and his two battles with Ryoichi Tamura were both brutal, punishing affairs for both men. Sadly though his toughness has been questioned in recent losses, with Shingo Wake breaking him down in 10 rounds and the loss to Ramonal being a clean KO. As well as those losses we do wonder what he’s like mentally coming into this bout. Had he been able to get a confidence easy win after his loss to Ramonal we’d feel better about his chance, but we do wonder if that loss is still playing on his mind more than a year after it. We also wonder if the wars with Tamura have taken something from him.
At his best Kuga is a nightmare. His power is destructive at this level, he’s very physical, his right cross is a concussion maker and his pressure and work rate is incessant. He’s not the quickest, the sharpest, and his jab is somewhat limited, but he’s a real bully in the ring. The most obvious way to beat him is to out box him, out maneuver him and refuse to have a tear up with him. Saying that however we do, genuinely, wonder what the Ramonal loss has done to him, and what shape his chin is going to be in, and what his confidence is going to be like.
Furuhashi is a 33 year old who fights out of the Nitta Gym in Kawasaki, and has been one of their most notable fighters for years. Sadly though he has had a long career and this will be his third, and potentially last, shot at a Japanese title. His desire is to become the first fighter born, raised and from a gym in Kawasaki, and it’s really been a driving force for him in recent months. He was supposed to get this shot, as previously mentioned, in 2020 but has had to wait a long time to get it, and will now know that this could be now or never for him.
Furuhashi, unlike Kuga, isn’t really a name we expect too many fight fans outside of Japan to be familiar with, even those that follow the Japanese scene from around the globe. Despite that he is a really fun fighter to watch and has been in and around the title scene since 2014, when he was supposed to fight Hidenori Otake who pulled out of the bout due to a rib injury. Following that he got a show at Yukinori Oguni in 2015, fighting to a draw with the future IBF world champion and then lost 3 of his following 4 bouts, including a title bout in 2016 to Yasutaka Ishimoto. That run, which saw him going 1-3-1 including the draw with Oguni, seemed to spell the end for him as he slipped to 18-8-1 (8). Surprisingly however he has rebuilt brilliantly, going 8-0 (6) since then, including wins against Yuta Horiika and Ryoichi Tamura, with the win over Tamura in September 2019 earning him this belated third title fight.
In the ring Furuhashi’s strength is his tenacity, work rate, energy and willingness to press forward. Technically he’s nothing special, he’s not quick, he’s not got massive amounts of power, but he’s got an abundance of energy, he’s physically strong and is sneaky on the inside, with some excellent hooks and uppercuts. When backed up he responds with solid combinations and makes an opponent walk through a lot of leather to get to him, and he knows how to make things scrappy. Like Kuga he’s tough, but he’s more of a gritty tough than an iron chinned tough guy. Sadly for him however he has taken a lot of punishment during his long career, and his willingness to have a war with anyone has almost certainly taken something of a toll on his body.
As mentioned, to beat Kuga a fighter needs to use their brain and out box him. Getting into a war with him is a painful gameplan, for anyone unless they have lights out power, like Ramonal. Furuhashi doesn’t have that, and if Kuga is half the fighter he was before the Ramonal loss he should be able to force his will against Furuhashi. If that happens the heavier shots of Kuga will be the difference maker, and will, sooner or later, break down the gutsy and determined Furuhashi.
For Furuhashi to win he needs to totally change his gameplan. He can’t try to go to war with Kuga. He can’t hold his feet and try to out-battle Kuga. Instead he needs to move, lure Kuga in, reel off some shoe shining combinations and get out of dodge. He has the energy for that, and his legs can certainly do it, but we’re not sure he has the mentality to do it. He’s one of those fighters who takes a shot and wants to respond immediately, rather than thinking “I’ll get you next time”.
Whilst Kuga’s confidence could be shot, and a quick start from Furuhashi would give Kuga a lot of questions to answer, we suspect his chin hasn’t become cracked from the losses to Wake and Ramonal. Instead we suspect he’ll be back to his usual rampaging self. We expect Furuhashi to try and respond, punch for punch, with Kuga, giving us a thrill a minute war, until Furuhashi comes undone from the repeated heavy shots of Kuga and the referee is forced to step in and save stop in the second half of a sensational fight.
Expect blood, bombs, thrilling exchanges and incredible action here!
Prediction - TKO8 Kuga
For fans wanting to watch this one, it will be shown live on streaming service Boxing Raise.
On December 27th we'll see Japanese Youth Super Bantamweight champion Toshiki Shimomachi (12-1-2, 8) make his final defense of the title, win or lose, as he takes on Satoru Hoshiba (7-4, 2), a man he previously faced over 3 years ago. On paper this is an intriguing match up, with out being a big one, and a great chance for the two men to end the year on a high, after what has been a frustrating 12 months for both the talented youngsters.
Of the two men it's Shimomachi that has really impressed us over the last few years and has quickly become one of the most under-rated prospects in all of Japan. He's also someone who has developed a style we don't see too much of in Japan, but is bringing him great success, and could, very easily, take him all the way in the coming years.
The 24 year old champion debuted all the way back in December 2015 and started his career 2-1-1 (1). That was his record at the end of 2016 before he kicked on and won the 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year, beating Ryosei Hamaguchi, Satoru Hoshiba, yes the man he'll be facing again here, and Arashi Iimi en route to the All Japan crown. He then followed that up in 2018 with wins against Kiyohei Endo and Renan Portes before ending the year with a draw against Daisuke Watanabe, a draw that has aged very well.
It was in 2019 that Shimomachi won his title, stopping Kenta Nomura in August, but sadly it took more than a year for him to defend the belt, doing so this August against Hiroki Hanabusa in a very impressive performance.
Unlike most in Japan Shimomachi's style is much more like that of an American counter-puncher than a typical Japanese fighter. He dictates range and distance with smart, well educated feet, he uses the ring well, lines up his counters, and when an opponent makes a mistake he punishes them with sharp, powerful straight left hands. Not only is his straight left a potent weapon but so too is his right hook, and his control of distance, which really is brilliant, makes him an incredibly awkward opponent. Unlike many counter punchers Shimomachi actually tries to lure mistakes, his fighters with his hands low, and uses slippery movements to make opponents miss. He wants opponents to try to hit him, and this makes him an exciting fighter to watch, rather than someone who is overly negative.
Aged 23 Satoru Hoshiba is a bit of an unknown, and he hasn't had the same level of bouts or publicity as Shimomachi since they fought in 2017. In fact footage of Hoshiba is hard to find and, as a result, it's somewhat tricky to get a read on his style, however we do know plenty about his career.
He debuted in 2015 and was stopped in the opening round, he then returned to the ring 4 months later and was again stopped early, making it to round 2. Then he managed find something of a groove, winning 4 in a row to reach the penultimate stage of the 2017 Rookie of the Year, where he lost a majority decision to Shimomachi. That bout, one of the very few we have got footage of involving Hoshiba, saw him applying real pressure and taking the fight on the inside, where he managed to have genuine success.
Despite losing to Shimomachi we have seen Hoshiba bouncing back well winning 3 of his 4 subsequent bouts. The one loss during that stretch was another bout we've been lucky to get footage of, and saw Hoshiba being stopped in 2 rounds by Tom Mizokoshi. In that bout Hoshiba again showed a willingness to come forward, marching down Mizokoshi with intense pressure and even seemed to have rocked him at one point. That was until he was rocked himself, and Mizokoshi fired off bombs until the referee stepped in.
Given what we have seen of Hoshiba we suspect this to be a fun bout, with the challenging show casing his intense, pressure, pushing forward incessantly and showing no fear of Shimomachi's power and defensively skills. Sadly for Hoshiba however his lack of power, and the heavier hands of Shimomachi, are likely to be the difference here. We suspect that Hoshiba will come forward, and will make mistakes that Shimomachi will capitalise on, breaking down Hoshiba and stopping a tiring challenger in the later rounds.
Prediction - Shimomachi TKO7
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.