On July 21st we get the chance to see a fantastic main event at Korakuen Hall as Japanese Flyweight champion Seigo Yuri Akui (15-2-1, 10) takes on the unbeaten Taku Kuwahara (8-0, 4). The bout may not have feature some huge name, but it's a match up between two men who have often been over-looked, and are quietly moving towards bigger and better things than the Japanese national title.
Given that neither man is a big name it's worth learning a little bit about both men before we look at how we think the bout will go.
The champion is a 25 year old from Okayama, a place not known as a boxing hotspot. Despite not having a big team behind him Akui has managed to make quite a lot of noise in his 18 bout career. He turned profession in 2014 and the following year he won the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Light Flyweight, aged 20. At that point in time he was 6-0-1 (2) and someone who looked promising, but not too much fuss was made about him, even with his Rookie of the Year triumph. He then went on a destructive run, stopping his following 5 opponents in a combined 7 rounds before losing to Junto Nakatani in August 2017. That bout said more about Nakatani than Akui, with Nakatani being too big and too good, but soon afterwards Akui bounced back with a blow out win over Masamichi Yabuki, the man who will challenge world champion Kenshiro Teraji later in the year. That win was followed by an unfortunate TKO loss to Jaysever Abcede in late 2018, when Akui suffered an injury and fought on with it until being stopped with just over 40 seconds left.
Since suffering his second loss Akui has been on a tear again, blasting out Yoshiki Minato and Shun Kosaka, both within a round with the win over Kosaka netting Akui the Japanese Flyweight title. He has also made a single defense of that belt, beating Seiya Fujikita last October, via 10 round decision.
With a 10 stoppages in 18 bouts it's easy to assume that Akui isn't a dangerous fighter. In reality however he's a vicious puncher, and a fast starter. From 15 professional wins he has managed to score 9 opening round stoppages, 10 stoppages in the first 3 rounds and has one got one decision win since the start of 2016. He is a brute of a puncher, a fast starter and a very, very dangerous man in the ring. Sadly though when fighters do see out the early stages of bouts with Akui he can be out boxed, out fought and can give him real problems. In saying that however he did impress with his engine and boxing skills against the tough Fujikita and that win did show there was more to him than his early power.
The 26 year old Taku Kuwahara was a very good amateur, with international experience, and despite originally being from Osaka he is now based in Kanagawa, fighting out of the Ohashi Gym, where he gets top quality training and sparring. There was some excitement about his debut in 2018, and he quickly built some buzz, but sadly it wasn't until 2019 that he managed to notch a couple of wins of real note, beating Jonathan Refugio and Ricardo Sueno. Those wins saw him build some real momentum, but that momentum, like with many fighters, was stopped in 2020 and he didn't fight at all during the the year. Thankfully however he returned to the ring this past March with a solid win, in a very exciting fight, with Yoshiki Minato. Notably Kuwahara went 8 rounds with Minato, a man blown out in a round by Akui.
Early in his career Kuwahara looked like a man with plenty of pop, stopping 4 of his first 5 opponents, but he's gone the distance in his last 3 and there are question marks about his punching power. However he is a high skilled boxer, with some lovely tricks up his sleeve, he's quick, he's sharp, and we've seen him go 8 rounds on 4 occasions, answering plenty of questions about his stamina. He also fights at a good tempo and keeps a high work rate whilst looking very relaxed in the ring.
Coming in to the bout it really is a compelling match up. Will Akui manage to launch himself to the next level with a big win in Tokyo? Will Kuwahara manage to make the most of his chance and take his first title? Will the power of Akui be too much for Kuwahara to handle? Will Kuwahara have the skills and experience to cope with the power and aggression of his foe?
The first thing we need to think about is whether Kuwahara can see out the early storm. We suspect that someone with the experience, amateur and professional, of Kuwahara should be able to fight smartly, being cautious early on, and then moving through the gears as the bout goes on. The second thing is whether or not Akui can change things when he's being out boxed, something we expect to see Kuwahara do. That's where we're less confident and we suspect that Akui will end up starting fast, being neutralised, and then really struggle to catch up with the quicker, sharper, smoother Kuwahara.
As the rounds go on we see Kuwahara getting more and more comfortable, and whilst he might end up eating a shot or two later in the bout, and we've seen him take some shots he's not needed to in the past, we don't see Akui managing to have any sustained success later in the bout. Instead we see Kuwahara having a scare or two, from single shots, but seeing them out and taking a clear unanimous decision over Akui, and becoming the new champion.
Prediction - UD10 Kuwahara
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
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.