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
The Super Flyweight division is a really interesting one at the moment, with the division full of talent and interesting match ups. We, of course, have a WBO world title fight later in the year between Kazuto Ioka and Aston Palicte, but before that we'll actually see a WBO world title eliminator, as unbeaten Puerto Rican Jeyvier Cintron (10-0, 5) takes on Japan's Koki Eto (24-4-1, 19), with the winner assured a world title fight against the Ioka Vs Palicte winner.
Those who have followed the Asian scene over the last few years will likely have seen Eto in action, and will likely be aware that he is incredibly entertaining. He's not the best boxer out there, he's not the most technically skilled, or the most naturally talented, but he is a true warrior with a style that really does lead to exciting fights. Early in his career he was one of 3 fighting brothers, along with Taiki and Shingo Eto. Despite their being 3 brothers Koki was the only one to really have success, with Shingo and Taiki both losing in OPBF and JBC title bouts.
Koki's biggest claim to fame was his memorable WBA "interim" Flyweight title win in Thailand, beating Kompayak Porpramook in 2013 in a FOTY candidate. He would lose the belt in his first defense, being stopped by Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep, but bounce back by winning the OPBF Flyweight title in a war with Ardin Diale. The following year he moved up in weight and was relatively competitive with Carlos Cuadras in a WBC Super Flyweight title bout. Since that loss Eto has gone 7-0 (6), albeit at a low level with his best wins coming against Filipino domestic level fighters.
Although Eto isn't the most skilled he does have great energy, an incredible will to win, under-rated power and real desire. Sadly he is flawed, he is open, he does lack in terms of skills, and has questionable concentration levels. Also he's had an incredibly tough career and taken a lot of damage. Whilst we have joked in the past that Eto would trade knockdowns with himself whilst shadow boxing, there is air of truth to it, as he really is that wild at times and could be dropped any time, despite having a decent chin.
Whilst Eto is relatively well known for his exciting fights Cintron is probably better known for amateur exploits than his professional career. He is a 2-time Olympian, competing at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and a former standout of the Puerto Rican boxing scene. Although he failed to medal at the Olympics he did win a Silver medal at the 2012 Youth World Championships and a bronze at the 2014 Central American and Caribbean Games. He would also compete in the WSB before eventually signing with Top Rank and turning professional in 2017. His early bouts were, as we typically see in the west, nothing to talk about, but in his 7th bout he took a WBO Youth title, then quickly added the WBO Latino title to his collection. Cintron has since defended the Latino title twice, and raced up the WBO world rankings, leading to this bout.
With 10 bouts to his name it's fair to assume that Cintron hasn't faced many fighters of note, but his last 4 foes have a combined record of 70-13-3 and he has looked good in those bouts. Cintron has a style that clearly has good amateur foundations. His movement is light and looks natural, his punching is crisp, and his combinations look hurtful. He has a very nasty looking straight left hand, and gauges distances really with it.
We're expecting t0 see Eto be his usual aggressive self. He has a chance of catching Cintron early on and causing the Puerto Rican some issues in the first round or two. Sadly for Eto he's going to struggle as soon as Cintron gets his timing down, and from then on the Puerto Rican will land at will, really testing the bravery and resilience of Eto. Sadly we suspect the long and hard career of Eto will come back to bite him here.
Prediction TKO7 Cintron
On April 21st fight fans in Osaka will get a Japanese title double header. One of the bouts headlining that show will see Japanese Super Flyweight champion Takayuki Okumoto (21-8-4, 10) make his second defense, and take on mandatory challenger Yuta Matsuo (15-3-1, 8).
The 27 year old champion is a 12 year veteran of the sport. If that sounds mathematically strange it is, and that's because Okumoto started his career as a 15 year old, fighting in Thailand. He had mixed success, going 1-1 with the loss coming to former world champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin, before waiting to mature and fight on Japanese soil, where he has fought all but 1 of his subsequent 31 bouts. Whilst he's no world beater Okumoto has proven to be a gutsy fighter, who is improving, has a good work rate and is certainly not a typical 21-8-4 fighter. His long career has seen him beat the likes of Shota Kawaguchi, Yuta Saito and Hiroyuki Kudaka, come up short against the likes of Ratanapol, Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking and Ryuichi Funai.
Okumoto is a southpaw with credible speed and power, a wealth of experience and under-rated skills. He's not heavy handed or lightening quick, but he is all round pretty solid with a good boxing brain a relative toughness and good patience. He can come forward, boxing on the back foot and fight as the counter puncher. Sadly whilst Okumoto is a good all rounder he isn't likely to make a mark above domestic level. He's not got any elite level quality, and that's typically needed for fighters to reach the top, but he will be a hard man to dethrone at this level and it will take a special domestic fighter to beat him.
The challenger, 29 year old Matsuo, is relatively unknown though has been in an around the title mix for a few years now. He did earn this shot last year, stopping veteran Rey Orais in 5 rounds to become the mandatory challenger, and this will be his second title fight. Matsuo has been a professional since 2012 and his most notable contests to date have been losses to Ardin Diale, in 2015, and Masayuki Kuroda, in 2017. Despite those losses it is worth noting that he has scored noteworthy wins over Yota Hori, Ryuto Oho and Ryoji Fukunaga, all of which are good domestic wins but there's little to suggest he will have much success above the domestic level.
Watching Matsuo we see a relatively active boxer with an aggressive mentality. He's not the quickest or the sharpest, but he does have a rather unique rhythm, bouncing at mid-distance with and getting in and our. he's quite quick, with both hands and feet, and has a slight jerkiness to his style. It's a more aggressive style than that of Okumoto, but also a less rounded style, and a much more energy intensive one, with a lot of excess movement.
This isn't the biggest title bout we'll see in Japan this year, but could end up being one of the most competitive, with two well matched, flawed, but promising fighters. Both are true domestic level fighters and both will put it all on the line here.
Being at home, and being the champion, Okumoto will have the crowd behind him and we think that could be a key factor here. The bout is a 50-50 one, though we suspect that the home advantage will be enough to help earn Okumoto the decision victory, in a very hotly contest bout.
The Japanese Youth title scene is a really interesting one, with a number of promising youngsters breaking through and getting a chance to having meaningful bouts very early in their careers. Whilst not all Youth champions will go on to great success the youth title have certainly given us pretty interesting and well matched bouts at a lower level.
On April 14th we get a host of shows, with one in Tsu being headlined by a Japanese Youth Super Flyweight title bout. That bout will see heavy handed champion Yuto Nakamura (9-5, 7) make his first defense of the title, and take on little known challenger Toma Kondo (7-4, 1).
Nakamura won the title last December, when he took a razor thin decision win over Ryosuke Nasu, building on an impressive opening round win over Futa Akizuki just a few months earlier. Those two wins helped Nakamura rebuild from a series of set backs, and saw him put himself on the map, even if it was only at Japanese Youth title level.
Although unlikely to ever be a player at the top echelons of the domestic scene Nakamura is a solid boxer-puncher. He's exciting and a heavy handed but crude, a bit on the wild side but aggressive and pretty fan friendly. When his power comes into play it is genuinely fight changing, as Akizuki found out, but there is a real worry that his power won't carry up and it never really seemed to worry Nasu last time out. In fact if anything it was Nasu's shots that left Nakamura looking like a damaged fighter, with serious cuts and swelling around his face, and Nasu is not a puncher.
Whilst Nakamura put himself on the map last year it was a year to forget from Kondo, who lost 2 of his 3 bouts. In fact Kondo is 1-3 in his last 4 bouts and hasn't looked good since losing in the 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year final to Joe Shiraishi. At 22 years old there is clearly time to rebuild, and get his career back on track, but at the moment his confidence isn't going to be high and there will be pressure on him to win here.
Despite Kondo's poor recent results his performances haven't actually been bad and he's looked like a really promising young fighter. Last time out he lost to Tsuyoshi Sato, by TKO in round 5, and he had really solid moments in the bout but was always under intense pressure from a very aggressive fighter. Kondo looks to be a solid pure boxer, with nice skills, a good jab and intelligent movement. Sadly though he has a total lack of power and he will always struggle to get the respect of his opponents.
Kondo has the skills to counter and frustrate Nakamura but the huge difference in power will be a massive difference here, and we suspect Kondo's inability to get respect from Nakamura will be a massive problem. Nakamura isn't as technically good as Kondo, or as quick or as sharp, but we expect he'll be successful here and retain his title.
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.