One thing that's clear in the world of boxing is that there are too many titles, and too many of them are meaningless titles with no clear qualifiers as to who can win them and what their purpose is in the sport. For example can anyone tell the difference between the WBA Continental, Intercontinental and International titles?
Thankfully does have some titles that are worth something, even in this weird world where the WBA and WBC want to hand out belts like a fashion accessory. And on December 13 we'll see 3 titles unified in Tokyo as WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight champion Ryoji Fukunaga (12-4, 12) takes on Japanese champion Kenta Nakagawa (19-3-1, 12), with the winner not only defending their title, and taking the title from their opponent, but also the currently vacant OPBF title, to become a triple crown champion.
As with all triple crown bouts in Japan this is a really interesting match up and one that be excited about. Style wise the men should match up wonderfully, and given that both men are in their mid-30's neither man can accord a set back if they want to move their career forward. With that in mind, how do we expect this bout to go? And who are the fiughters?
The 34 year old Fukunaga is a hard hitting southpaw who turned professional in 2013 and lost to Seita Mochizuki. He then reeled off 4 straight wins before losing again, in a blow out loss to Ryo Matsubara in 2015. That could have been it for him, but instead he gritted his teeth and rebuilt, surprisingly winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year, thanks to a solid win against Kota Fujimoto in the final. By the end of 2017 he was 10-2 (10) before suffering back to back decision losses to Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart. With a 10-4 his career looked like it was going nowhere, and he was out of the ring for 10 months before picking up a low key win in May 2019. He then got a big chance, taking on Froilan Saludar earlier this year for the WBO Asia Pacific title.
In the ring Fukunaga is a bit of a slow fighter in terms of his hand speed, he's a little bit clumsy when he throws punches, bounces on his feet a lot and does a lot of things wrong. When he throws his left he often complete drops his right and has very, very poor defense. Thankfully for him however he a decent chin, good reactions and a real awkwardness to how he fights. He's also blessed with brutal power. Although his punches are technically poor they are thrown with bad intent and are of the "nasty thudding" variety. His jab, when it lands, is hurtful and his left hand is like a wrecking ball, slow but damaging, however he needs to land and that is not a given due to his wide arching punches and lack of speed.
Aged 35 Kenta Nakagawa actually turned professional way back in 2004 and began his career with 2 wins in his first 3 bouts. Then he vanished from boxing for me than 6 before returning in 2011. His return to boxing saw him lose to Teppei Tsutano but since then he has gone a very impressive 17-1-1 (12). During that 19 fight run he's had since he returned to the score he has scored notable wins over the likes of Joe Tanooka, Hayato Kimura, Ryosuke Nasu, Takayuki Okumoto and Yuta Matsuo, and become a 2-time Japanese champion. It's worth noting that his first title reign was a show one, lasting just 5 months, and saw him suffer a 7th round TKO loss to Ryuichi Funai, but he has reeled off 6 straight wins since then.
In the ring Nakagawa is a smart boxer puncher. Like Fukunaga he's a southpaw, but unlike Fukunaga he's actually a pretty polished fighter with deliberate and quick movement, accurate straight punches a powerful left hand, and good timing. He's a much better on the back foot than Nakagawa, and knows how to create, and use distance, landing accurate shots and making opponents make mistakes. He's not the quickest out there, or the biggest puncher, but he has respectable power, and his accuracy and timing make up for his lack of single punch power. What's also rather impressive is his composure under pressure, and he showed this well under the aggression and pressure of Yuta Matsuo back in July.
If a bout was decided on skills alone this would be an easy win for Nakagawa. He is by far, the more polished, rounded and knowledgable fighter in the ring. The issue here however is the power of Fukunaga. If he lands a clean one on Nakagawa he certainly has the power to get Nakagawa's attention, and potentially get him to unwind. We suspect Nakagawa's movement will limit there, but there is always a chance he could land, and it may only take one clean, wild left hand to turn the bout around.
We suspect that Nakagawa will manage to rack up rounds, box smartly, and get a big lead through the bout. However there will always be danger, whilst he'll look in control there will be a sense of tension through out the contest. Fukunaga might miss a lot, might look clumsy, but he will be dangerous to the end and it will take a very good performance from Nakagawa to see this out, secure the win and finish the night as a triple crown champion.
Prediction - UD12 Nakagawa
On November 21st we're set for a really good Dangan card live on Boxing Raise. Much of the talk going into the show will be for the attractive main event, up at 140lbs. That bout however isn't the only title bout on the card, and another is a Japanese Youth Super Flyweight title bout between defending champion Suzumi Takayama (3-0, 3) and Hiroto Yashiro (2-0, 2). Despite the lack of experience for both men this has the potential to be a legitimate show stealer, and potentially the hidden gem of the entire month.
Before we talk about the bout, we need to cover a little bit of history here. Neither man is the first in their family to be an active fighter. Takayama's uncle is former 2-time world title challenger Yuji Watanabe, a former Japanese and OPBF champion and one of the most exciting Japanese fighters of the 1990's. Yashiro on the other hand is is related to Yoshimitsu Yashiro, who's cousin is Hiroto Yashiro's father, a man who is best known for his reign as the Japanese Super Featherweight champion. This shows that boxing is in the blood of both men. Both were influenced by older members of their family, both turned to boxing as kids and both have strong amateur backgrounds.
Yes they might have 5 professional bouts between them, but both are a lot more experienced than those numbers suggest.
Aged 24 Takayama is the slightly older man, and also the reigning Japanese Youth Super Flyweight champion. He made his professional debut in February 2019 following a 51 fight amateur career and has been moved very quickly, as one would assume from a man winning a Japanese Youth title in just his third bout. He had a relatively easy introduction to the professional ranks before stopping Korean fighter In Soo Jang in his second bout then scoring a tremendous win over Tetsuro Ohashi in his third bout for the Youth title. It was really that win over Ohashi that saw Takayama answering all sorts of questions. He showed he can bounce back from adversity, being dropped at one point, he showed stamina, stopping Ohashi in round 8, and that he was a determined, tough, fighter who could dig deep. He also showed what we already knew, that he was fantastic fighter, a good boxer with solid power, and the ability to box, punch or fight with a pressure style. In just his third bout he ticked more boxes than many fighters tick in the first 20 fights of their careers.
Yashiro, 23, made his debut in September 2019 and did so away from the TV cameras, stopping an over-matched Thai in 2 rounds. Thankfully however his second bout, which took place in February this year, was shown on TV and showed Yashiro to be a very good boxer puncher. He's quick, he took center ring and gradually broke down Abdul Rauf without ever needing to move beyond second gear. That however was no surprise given that Yashiro was a stellar amateur, winning 75 of 94 bouts in the unpaid ranks. Those skills that had got him so many amateur wins show through when he's in the ring. He's a razor sharp boxer, with great balance, good hand speed, impressive power, good timing and fantastic anticipation. Sadly his competition in the professional ranks is too limited to take much away from, but in terms of skills, he's evidently very good.
Although we've been impressed by both, both also have a lot of questions to answer. For example was Takayama quite lucky that Ohashi was very much a feather fisted fighter? If he wasn't would have managed to gut it out? Was he also lucky that Ohashi began to run out of steam? Admittedly that was partially a result of the pace of their bout and body work, but it's still a fair question.
As for Yashiro what's he like under adversity? Can he dig deep like we've seen from Takayama? Have his previous bouts as a professional prepared him for a bout like this one? Are his skills, by themselves, going to be enough against someone as talented, skilled, tough and heavy handed as Takayama? What's his stamina like? What's his chin like?
With those questions hanging over them this is a really hard one to call. We'd favour Takayama, due to the fact we know he can fight 8 rounds and we know he can dig deep, but this is certainly not a foregone conclusion and we can't rule out any result. The only thing we are confident predicting is a fantastic bout between two young fighters who will both have very good futures.
If pushed, we'd pick a late Takayama win. His experience over the long distance, and his performance over Ohashi being the deciding factors.
Prediction - Ohashi TKO8
The sport of boxing is back in Japan, and has been for a few days now, following the hiatus we had due to the ongoing global situation. On July 16th we had our first Japanese title bout and now we return with another from Korakuen Hall. Like the bout from last week this is another Champion Carnival bout, pitting a defending champion against their mandatory challenger, though unlike that bout neither of these two men are all that well known. Despite that this may end up one of the month's better bouts.
In one corner wee will have Japanese Super Flyweight champion Kenta Nakagawa (18-3-1, 12), looking to make his first defense of his second reign, whilst the other corner will play host to mandatory challenger Yuta Matsuo (15-4-2, 8), who is hoping to make it third time lucky after previous losses in title bouts.
Of the two men it's Kenta Nakagawa who will be entering as the favourite. The Southpaw from the Misako gym is part of a gym having great success in recent years, and we know success breeds success in boxing. He's the champion going in, he's riding a 5 fight unbeaten run and claimed the title in a bit of an upset last December, dethroning Takayuki Okumoto in Osaka. He has proven that he's a solid boxer-puncher and the win over Okumoto just added to his reputation.
At the age of 34, and turning 35 in August, Nakagawa is an old fighter for the division, but hasn't taken too much punishment. His 22 bouts have combined for 102 professional rounds and he has only suffered a single stoppage loss so far, when he lost the Japanese title the first time in a 2017 clash with Ryuichi Funai. Sure he's old, but he's a young 34 at the weight, without too many hard miles on his body and has scored plenty of quick wins to keep the miles off the clock.
The challenger has gotten this bout despite failing to secure a single win last year, going 0-1-1. His loss came to Okumoto in last year's Champion Carnival, when he challenged Okumoto for the title Nakagawa now holds, and he then went on to fight to a draw with Hiroyuki Kudaka in what was a title eliminator. Despite the draw he gets this shot due to being ranked #1 going into that bout. Not only is he without a win in the last year but he's also come up short in 2 title bouts, the one with Okumoto and one with Masayuki Kuroda in 2017. Added to those set backs is the fact he's also the naturally smaller man, fighting mostly at Flyweight.
Although the under-dog Matsuo is a live challenger coming in to this bout. His form might not be great but wins over the likes of Ryoji Fukunaga, Ryuto Oho, Seiya Fujikita and Yota Hori show he can beat good fighters. Also he's stylistically a nightmare at this level. He's strong, comes forward, tough, throws solid shots, even if they aren't destructive, and can keep a good work rate. He's not the most intense, and he can be found walking in without letting shots go, but he will make people fight for every minute of every round, pressing them and trying to break their heart.
We expect to see Matsuo pressuring, getting on the front foot and making Nakagawa work hard, from the opening round the champion will need to be on his toes, picking his shots. Thankfully for the champion he does appear to be a solid, hard hitter who lands clean, and he may well manage to get Matsuo's respect with his heavy straight shots. We don't think Nakagawa will stop Matsuo, but we do think he'll land the better blows, create the space he needs to work from and keep Matsuo at bay and take a clear, but hard fought, decision to retain his title.
Prediction - UD10 Nakagawa
On February 14th we'll see Filipino slugger Froilan Saludar (31-3-1, 22) make his first defense of WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight title as he takes on fellow puncher Ryoji Fukunaga (11-4, 11) at the Korakuen Hall. On paper this isn't a bout that we expect to see a lot of international attention, but with both men possessing serious power there is a real chance this could end up being a bit of a sleeper classic.
Saludar's career has been an odd one. He was once tipped as a future star of the Filipino scene, before suffering a loss in his 21st bout, when he was taken out by McWilliams Arroyo in a world title eliminator. He would later come up short against Takuma Inoue and then lose in a world title fight in 2018 against Sho Kimura. Those losses essentially saw him being written off, and he'd gone from 19-0-1 (12) to 28-3-1 (19). Since then however he has quietly rebuilt, with 3 T/KO wins, including a spectacular one of unbeaten Japanese hopeful Tsubasa Murachi last September to win the WBO Asia Pacific title.
Early in his career many in the Philippines touted Saludar as a future star. So far his career has fallen short, a long way short, but at 30 years old his career is certainly not over. He's now more mature than he was younger, a little less bouncy and less wasteful in terms of energy, though there does still seem to be a bit too much wasteful movement in his work. He's never had the greatest of engine, but seems to use his experience more to hide that, moving more intelligently and occasionally "old manning" his way through rounds. It's not the most exciting thing to see, but given how exciting he is when he lets his hands go it's certainly not a bad game plan for the "Sniper", who has shown he can strike at any moment. It's that experience that also helps Saludar defensively and he's certainly looking like a man who rides shot better now than he did just a few years ago.
The 33 year old Fukunaga is a bit of an unknown if we're being honest. His record suggests he's a monster puncher with 11T/KO's from 11 wins but the quality of those wins is relatively low. His best win to date came in the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year, against Kota Fujimoto, and since then he has really not done anything of note. In fact since his triumph in the All Japan Rookie of the Year Fujimoto is 3-2 (2), though the two losses have come to good competition in the form of Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart, both in competitive bouts.
Despite his relatively weak wins Fukunaga does actually look to be a pretty solid boxer-puncher, albeit one with questionable defense. He moves forward looking to fire off his stiff jab and uncork his thunderbolt of a southpaw left hand. Defensively his hands are lower than they should be, but he seems to be trying to draw mistakes out of his opponents, and opening them up for counter shots with his head movement. Against the low level opponents he's been taking out it's a tactic that has worked, but against the better fights, such as the ones that have beaten him in recent years, it's not been as effective.
We certainly believe that Fukunaga has the power to hurt Saludar if he lands clean. Sadly for Fukunaga we don't see him landing too much clean, and would expect Sauldar to have the tools to out box him. In fact we wouldn't be surprised if Saludar saw how 1-dimensional Fukunaga was and started lining him up for big counters of his own by the middle rounds, and stopping the challenger.
Fukunaga has a puncher's chance, of course he does, but that is pretty much all he has, from what we've seen. Our prediction is a Saludar win, inside the distance, likely from a big overhand right in the middle rounds.
Prediction - TKO6 Saludar
The Super Flyweight division has been a strange one in recent years. The WBC title has repeatedly had the best guys mixing for the title, but all the others have seen some awful match ups. The most notable of those has been the IBF title, which has seen Jerwin Ancajas defending against some dire competition. On December 28th we'll see Ancajas' next mandatory challenger being decided as Japan's Sho Ishida (28-1, 15) takes on former Ancajas opponent Israel Gonzalez (24-3, 11) in Osaka. The winner will be the next mandatory for the Filipino world champion, whilst the loser is unlikely to get another shot any time soon.
Japan's Sho Ishida was, for years, seen as the the underling of Kazuto Ioka. The two were close friends, and stablemates, training together at the Ioka gym under the watchful eye of Kazunori Ioka, Kazuto's father. Since then Kazuto has gone off on his own, retired, comeback, signed with an American promoter and began fighting out of a new gym. He has also moved up to Ishida's weight class and claimed the WBO title, becoming a 4 weight champion. Ishida on the other hand has been knocking on the door. He failed in his first world title fight, losing a close but clear decision to Kal Yafai in 2017, but seemed like a man who would take positives from that loss. He has since gone 4-0 (2), but has not looked fantastic in his most recent bouts, including a narrow win against Ikuro Sadatsune.
Although Ishida has blown hot and cold through his career he has shown the tools to mix at world level. He's tough, he's smart, he's a sharp boxer-puncher, he's a rangy fighter with a nice jab, good footwork and under-rated power. When he's on song he is a real talent, and and he has a number of wins over fellow world title challengers, such as Warlito Parrenas, Ryuichi Funai Petchbarngborn Kokietgym and Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking. Sadly when he's not firing on all-cylinders he is pretty limited, and recently struggled with a Japanese level domestic bantamweight, Ikuro Sadatsune. It very much seems like Ishida, despite being a talent, is someone who is unsure of himself.
Gonzalez, from Mexico, has twice fought for world titles and has had very mixed results. In his first world title bout he was dominated by Ancajas, dropped several times and stopped in round 10. He looked completely out of his depth and really hadn't done anything to earn a shot either. Unless beating naturally smaller men like Ramon Garcia Hirales and Mauricio Fuentes counts for something. In his second world title fight however he pushed Kal Yafai all the way. In fact he seemed to do, perhaps, enough to earn the decision over Yafai in a very competitive 12 round bout in Monaco. The two results couldn't have been any more different and only came 9 months apart.
Whilst Gonzalez's performance against Ancajas was terrible, with the Mexican never looking comfortable with the speed and southpaw stance of the Filipino, he showed he can fight when he took on Yafai, and that bout really we more indicative to what we expect here. Against Yafai the Mexican was aggressive, busy, strong and had a tempo setting jab. He wasn't flawless, far from it, but he often dictated the action against Yafai. Yafai never really seemed to look comfortable against him.
Originally this bout had been planned for earlier in the year, in Mexico, but due to promotional issues was pushed backwards and put over to Japan. That may be a key thing about this bout, with the Osakan crowd expected to be well and truly behind Ishida.
Technically Ishida is the better boxer, but Gonzalez is the better fighter, and if Gonzalez can set the tempo there's a genuine chance that he'll outwork a lazy Ishida. We, however, expect to see Ishida fired up for this, boxing at range, banging in his jab, and using his body shots to slow Gonzalez down. Gonzalez will always be in the bout, but we see him losing a close, but clear, decision to a hungry Ishida.
Prediction - UD12 Ishida
The final Japanese title eliminator set to take place this year occurs in Osaka on December 22nd and will see 4 time world title challenger Hiroyuki Kudaka (26-18-2, 11) battle against former Japanese title challenger Yuta Matsuo (15-4-1, 8). Despite being the final of the eliminators this year it's certainly not the best of the eliminators, but should be a thrilling match up between two men who, with the right opponents, can make for some amazing bouts.
The 34 year old Kudaka is a proper veteran, with 47 bouts under his belt and 331 professional rounds. He has been a professional since September 2002 and despite losing his first 2 bouts had gone on to carve out a bizarre yet excellent memorable career. He has faced the likes of Panomroonglek Kaiyanghadaogym, Hussein Hussein, Takefumi Sakata Denkaosan Kaovichit, Hugo Fidel Cazares, Tetsuya Hisada, Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Sonny Boy Jaro, Omar Andres Narvaez, Ryo Matsumoto and Takuya Kogawa, and managed to pick up a number of upsets during his career.
Whilst Kudaka's opponents have included a number of world class fighters he is actually quite a limited fighter himself, though he's got traits that can make him a handful. He's big, at both Flyweight and at Super Flyweight the divisions he has regularly fought at, he's tough and rugged and he throws a lot of leather. Despite not being a big puncher he's a solid puncher, and his shots do do damage. Sadly though he's rather slow of foot, and his hand speed it nothing to write home about, he's a clunky and defensively poor, and speedy fighters can take him and get away. He's typically wanting to fight on the inside, which makes for fun bouts but at 34 we do wonder what his body has left after such a hard career.
Conmpared to Kudaka it's fair to say that Matsuo is a boxing baby with 20 bouts, but he's now 30 and opportunities to get title fights won't come around much more often. He's been a pro since 2012 and has had mixed success of his own. He began his career in good fashion, winning a B class tournament in 2013, less than a year after his debut, but since then has had a bit of a rocky time, going 10-4-1. He has typically held his own, and all 4 losses were competitive, but they have all come in his biggest bouts, including losses to Masayuki Kuroda for the Japanese "interim" Flyweight title and to Takayuki Okumoto for the Japanese Super Flyweight title. His other losses include a razor thin decision to Ardin Diale.
In the ring Matsuo always strikes us as a basic, but aggressive fighter. He comes forward behind his jab and does apply pretty constant pressure, but doesn't always combine that pressure with much in terms of output, which means he can be out worked. He's also not the quickest and sometimes his pressure can look more like he's following an opponent around, rather than being effective on the front foot. When an opponent opens up he tends to be willing to respond, and fight fire with fire, but all too often that is contingent on his opponent taking risks, rather than opportunities that Matsuo creates for himself. He's tough, has under-rated hand speed and plenty of tools in his arsenal, but often looks like he fights the wrong fight to make the most of the tools he has.
Although neither of these are world beaters they are the type of fighters who styles should click. Both come forward and both like to lets shots go, when their opponents are in front of them. If Kudaka is willing to open up we see Matsuo responding in a fire fight of an 8 rounder. If this happens the fans are set for a treat, and a real thriller.
The issue, although a small one given what's at stake, is that both might just wait for the other to lead, and give us a stinker. We don't see this happening, but there is a risk.
If we get a stinker this could easily end in a slow and gruelling draw, but in reality we expect a fight, with Matso's youth handspeed and extra youth being the difference in a brilliant little action bout.
Prediction - UD8 Matsuo
The Super Flyweight division has been on fire internationally the last few years, with the likes of Roman Gonzalez, Naoya Inoue, Juan Francisco Estrada, Donnie Nietes, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Jerwin Ancajas and Kazuto Ioka all making a mark at 115lbs. Sadly however the Japanese domestic scene has been awfully lacking in terms of quality, in what seems like a genuine oddity. Since Sho Ishida vacated the title more than 3 years ago we've not seen a champion hold the title who seemed like they had the ability to go all the way to the top. Instead we've had Kenta Nakagawa, Ryuichi Funai, Hiroyuki Kudaka, and now Takayuki Okumoto (23-8-4, 11) holding the belt.
On December 8th Okumoto returns to the ring in search of his 4th defense, as he takes on former champion Kenta Nakagawa (17-3-1, 12).
Okumoto is a strange one. We can never criticise a fighter for being a trier and he is certainly a trier. He was a young prodigy who failed to have things immediately click, and bizarrely fought former world champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin in just his second pro-fight. After 18 bouts he was 10-6-2 (5) but since then he has gone 13-2-2 (7) with both losses coming to fighters who have fought for world titles, Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking and Ryuichi Funai.
In 2018 Okumoto finally scored a big win, narrowly over-coming Hiroyuki Kudaka to become the Japanese Flyweight champion, and since then has defended the belt against Masayoshi Hashizume, Yuta Matsuo and Dynamic Kenji. Sadly he's only looked genuinely good in one bout, the one against Kenji, and he's typically been rather lucky and had to battle hard for the wins. He's not got any massively impressive traits, but he's tough, has a lot of desire and is a hard man to beat, without being a huge puncher, or particularly fast. He's just a tough, solid, all rounder.
Aged 34 Nakagawa is very much coming to the end of his career, but the southpaw boxer-puncher is another who has turned around a faltering start. He began his career 2-2 but has since gone 15-1-1 (10), with his only loss during that 17 fight run coming to Ryuichi Funai. Sadly his run isn't as impressive as it sounds however and his best wins have been against Joe Tanooka, Ken Achiwa and Hayato Kimura, the man he beat for the Japanese Super Flyweight title. His recent wins have been, mostly, low key with 3 wins coming against novice Thai's.
At his best Nakagawa likely had the skills, the power and the tools to give Okumoto absolute fits. Sadly though it's hard to really know what he has left in the tank. He has fought just 7 rounds in the last 20 months, is 34 and whilst he hasn't taken too much damage he is certainly an ageing and worn out fighter.
We suspect that Okumoto's team have again got him a fighter who he can scrape a win against with out impressing. We suspect he will see out the storm that Nakagawa will bring and will do enough to rack up the rounds needed to take the victory, even if he doesn't look sensational doing it. He will out work, out battle and out box the older man just enough to take home the victory.
Prediction - U10 Okumoto
The Japanese Youth title scene kicks up another fantastic match up on October 19th as we see unbeaten youngsters clash for the Super Flyweight title. in one corner will be 20 year old Tetsuro Ohashi (7-0-1, 2), looking to build on his 2018 Rookie of the Year win, whilst the other will play host to fast rising 23 year old Suzumi Takayama (2-0, 2) in what looks like an excellent match up, between men with very contrasting styles.
Takyama ran up a 35-16 (10) amateur record before turning professional with the Watanabe gym and making his debut this past February, as part of the card headlined by Vic Saludar's world title defense against Masataka Taniguchi. His debut, a 3rd round KO win over Rungniran Korat Sport School, showed enough to get excited about him, but hard to read too much into things, given the limitations of the Thai. What was exciting however was that Watanabe gym were willing to step him up quickly, which they did in his second bout and are doing again here. One thing that is clear about the Watanabe gym is they don't want their prospects to waste time and will instead allow the talent to shine as quickly as possible.
Having only turned professional in February there's not much footage of Takayama available, though thankfully his second bout, against Korean southpaw In Soo Jang, is available on Boxing Raise. The footage of Takayama's contest with Jang is short but but shows a composed, sharp punching young man who looks like he has a solid straight left hand and a very good right hook,to body or head. There is still work to do defensively and in terms of gauging distance against a fellow southpaw, but he looked good, stopping the Korean inside a round.
Whilst Takayama has the amateur background to allow him to be fast tracked the same can't be said of Ohashi who who made his debut in June 2017 and after picking up 3 wins that year. In 2018 he progressed quickly, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in December, when he shut out Shinobu Wakagi over 4 rounds. Watching Ohashi we see a very quick fighter who looks to fight on the outside, using his feet and his jab. He looks jittery in the ring at times but very sharp and like he's on a different level of speed compared to opponents. His jab, especially when it's doubled, is fantastic and the way he moves around the ring looks really natural and not like a youngster who has only been a professional for a couple of years.
We like who Takayama fights, we like his speed, his movement and the way he uses his jab to score points and punish opponents when they over commit. Sadly though he looks like a kid in the ring, his lack of physicality and power is an issue, and issues that can be hard to over. He's really skilled, but looks like he's not yet matured into his frame, and that could be something that doesn't happen for a year or two yet. Against a fighter like Takayama, who is a physically mature fighter, that will be an issue.
We feel Ohashi has the skills to have some early success against Takayama but in the end the power and strength of Takayama will be the difference. Whatever early success Ohashi can get on his speed will be erased by Takayama's power in the middle rounds, as his shots began to take a toll on Ohashi. When Ohashi slows it'll be the start of the end for him and Takayama will take him out in the later rounds.
Prediction - TKO7 Takayama
Over the last few years we've seen more and more Japanese fighters being fast tracked to their first professional titles. The likes of Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka have obviously gained a lot of attention due to the way they've become multi-weight world champions in very few fights, but other fighters like Ginjiro Shigeoka have also gone on to quickly win regional titles as they look to make a mark and take a huge step, very early on.
The next Japanese fighter looking to make their mark within just a handful of fights is Tsubasa Murachi (4-0, 3), who will look to become the WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight champion this coming Saturday, when he takes on former world title challenger Froilan Saludar (30-3-1, 21). For Murachi the bout is a huge chance to make a massive statement at the age of 22 whilst the 30 year old Saludar will get the chance to remain relevant, though will know a loss here likely ends his hopes of getting a second world title fight.
Of the two men it's Saludar who is, by far, the more well known. The Filipino debuted in 2009 and began his career with a 19-0-1 (12) record. By that point he was being tipped as a future world champion and looked like he had all the tools to go a long, long way. Sadly however a 2nd round TKO loss to McWilliams ended his unbeaten record and since then he has gone 11-2 (9). On paper that looks good, but in reality he has struggled when he's fought above Filipino domestic level with losses to Arroyo, Takuma Inoue and most recently Sho Kimura.
Despite his high profile losses Saludar is a fighter who generally passes the eye test. He moves around the ring well, fights confidently and has got decent power. He gave Inoue a decent fight through 7 rounds, though was dropped in rounds 8 and 9 as the Japanese fighter ran away with the win in the end, and also gave Kimura a decent fight before Kimura's pressure broke him in the middle rounds. There is flashes of real talent, but all too often that talent hasn't shown it's self for more than a few moments in his biggest fights.
Murachi on the other hand is unknown outside of the hardcore Japanese viewing fans, and even those may not have seen much of him. The 22 year old debuted in May 2018 following a 32 fight amateur career. In the amateurs he never really looked like a major star of the future, but when he turned professional it was pretty notable news for the gym he was turning over with, who seemed to know he had the potential to be moved aggressively. Although they spotted his potential they matched him relatively easily over his first 3 bouts, before stepping him up earlier this year against Raymond Tabugon, an experienced Filipino that he nearly shut out over 8 rounds.
In regards to footage of Murachi all 4 of his professional bouts are available on the Boxing Raise service, and they all show slightly different traits to the fighter. Despite none of the performances being identical they all show a naturally talented boxer-puncher, who loves to attack the body, has a cocky confidence and throws crisp combinations. He's a fighter who likes to fight at mid-range, likes to bring pressure and likes to throw short but sharp combinations. Offensively he's talented but defensively there are flaws, and he does just step back in straight lines a little too often for our liking and his guard does drop a little low at times.
This bout could see Murachi being punished for his defensive flaws for the first time, and Saludar certainly has the power to sting him when he lands, however we suspect the clean combinations of Murachi and natural size advantage will be the key. Saludar is a natural Flyweight whilst Murachi a big Super Flyweight and that, we suspect, will be the key.
We're expecting that the pressure and clean punching of Murachi will eventually wear down the Filipino for a late round stoppage.
Prediction - TKO10 Murachi
Earlier this year we saw Osakan boxing star Kazuto Ioka become the first Japanese man to win world titles in 4 weight classes, picking up the WBO Super Flyweight title. This weekend attention in the Super Flyweight division against turns to an Osakan, in fact two Osakans as Japanese national champion Takayuki Okumoto (22-8-4, 10) defends against Dynamic Kenji (11-3, 7), in a battle between two men based in Osaka.
For the 27 year old champion this bout will be his third defense of the title he won just a year ago, when he narrowly squeaked by Hiroyuki Kudaka to take the belt. Since becoming the champion Okumoto hasn't yet looked the part as a champion, squeaking out two razor thin defenses, a draw with Masayoshi Hashizume and a narrow win over Yuta Matsuo. Sadly for Okumoto he doesn't appear to be a man who has won a title and become a champion, he is instead, to use a wrestling term, transitional champion until some rising star comes through. He's a man who has made the most of an opportunity and is likely to do enough to retain the title without ever shining.
Despite only being 27 Okumoto has been a professional since he was 15, fighting in Thailand. In just his second bout he faced former world champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin. He would lose 2 of his first 3, though gritted his teeth, and has slowly made a career for himself, rebuilding from numerous setbacks along the way, including a KO loss in Thailand to Rusalee Samor in 2013 and a technical decision loss to Ryuichi Funaiin 2017. His record doesn't look greta overall, but he's gone 12-2-2 (5) in his last 16 and really has shown a lot of improvement, without becoming anything great.
Like Okumoto Kenji suffered set backs early his career, falling to 2-2 after 4 fights including a loss to Okumoto's former challenger Masayoshi Hashizume. In fact through 8 fights Kenji was 5-3 (2) and looked like his career was going nowhere. Since then however he has gond on a bit of a roll, with a 6-0 (5) record and notable wins over Futa Akizuki and Shota Kawaguchi. He has become a regular face at the L-Theatre in Osaka, and has rapidly rising from "no one" to "domestic contender". The only real issues with his 6 fight winning run actually came last time out, when he looked terrible in taking a razor thin win over Sophon Klachun, albeit well above the Super Flyweight limit.
Kenji is 28, and turns 29 in December. Although he's not old, by any stretch, there is a feeling that a loss here and he could become part of the who needs him club. He's heavy handed and dangerous, he's tough and comes to fight. Technically he's not the most polished but he is certainly a handful and his wins over Akizuki and Kawaguchi showed that.Being frozen out of the title picture for 18 months to 2 years, if he loses, would leave him in a very frustrating position, especially given he doesn't have a big promoter back him. In his eyes this might be his only big shot.
For all his limitations Okumoto is tough. Both of his stoppages losses came in Thailand to much more experienced fighters. For Kenji his only real way to take the title will be to stop Okumoto, who will have the crowd behind him despite both being based in Osaka. We genuinely believe Kenji has the power to rock, hurt and stop Okumoto, however Okumoto has the skills to outbox Kenji. Yes, Okumoto isn't some super slick sensation, but he's a solid enoiugh boxer, which is sometimes enough to hold a title at this level. We're expecting Okumoto's movement and jab to be a real issue for Kenji early with Kenji needing to preserve his energy and try to force a fight down the stretch. Sadly however we don't think Kenji will manage to catch him man cleanly enough to take him out, and take the title.
Prediction - Okumoto UD10
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.