One of the big rising stars of the Japanese scenes right now is the Ohashi promoted Taku Kuwahara (5-0, 4), who was an amateur stand out before turning professional in 2018. Since turning to the pros Kuwahara hasn't put a foot wrong, stopping 4 of his 5 opponents and proving he can fight 8 rounds at a good pace, as he did against Takamori Kiyama. Although impressing in terms of his performances his competition has lacked. That changes this coming Tuesday when he takes on experienced Filipino Jonathan Refugio (21-6-5, 7), who was ranked #15 by the WBC when the bout was announced. For Kuwahara this is a legitimate step up in class and a genuine test whilst Refugio gets a 5th shot to pick up his first win on the road.
Despite being very highly regarded Kuwahara hasn't had the television exposure that some prospects have. He's been dubbed "Ioka II" in the Japan press but has been hidden away on Ohashi under-cards. Despite not having more than highlights of his fights out there there has been plenty of take aways from the footage. He's a born body puncher, like Kazuto Ioka. He sets things up behind his quick foot work, intelligent defense and excellent combinations, though for us it's his brutal hooks to the to the body that really catch the eye.
Aged 24 Kuwahara looks like he's going to be a mainstay in the Flyweight and Super Flyweight divisions for the coming years, and a win over Refugio will be his ticket to mix in regional title fights very soon. With his style, power and skills we wouldn't imagine he'd stay at regional level for long, especially with the relative lack of talent at Flyweight right now, and it could be that at the end of 2020 or early 2021 he'll be in the world title mix.
Aged 26 Refugio is someone who has had a long career, despite being so young. He made his debut in 2010, at the age of 17, and has already amassed over 235 rounds in the pro ranks and 32 bouts. Like many Filipino fighters he's not been particularly protected either with his team having him in there with some solid fighters. They have included the then 20-0 Wanheng Menayothin, the then 18-0 Merlito Sabillo, the then 5-0 Knockout CP Freshmart and the then 6-0 Hiroto Kyoguchi.
Since losing to Kyoguchi, back in 2017, Refugio has gone 5-0 (3), though all 5 of those wins have been on the Filipino domestic scene. Outside of the Philipines he is 0-4-1, with the draw coming against the fairly limit Seita Ogido in 2017, just 3 months before he took on Kyoguchi, and lost a decision. In the ring he's tough, knows his way around the ring and is pretty crafty, with a good southpaw jab, good ring craft and he knows how to neutralise opponents, something he's gained with over 30 fights of experience. Sadly he lacks real power, and struggles to keep opponents away. That issue will make a fight against a strong, powerful, young Flyweight incredible hard for Refugio.
Interestingly Refugio's bout with Kyoguchi, in many ways, is the one we'd look at at the most comparable to this one. In that bout Refugio put up a good effort, lasted 12 rounds, but was put in his shell in the second half of the bout. He started well against Kyoguchi but was eventually put into survival mode. Given that Kuwahara is bigger, stronger and naturally more powerful than Kyoguchi, though stylistically rather similar, this doesn't bode well for Refugio. We suspect, again, he will be in the fight early but be broken down through by Kuwahara in the middle rounds and stopped late on by a body shot.
Prediction TKO8 Kuwahara
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