This coming Friday fight fans at the EDION Arena Osaka will get the chance to see 23 year old hopeful Riku Kano (17-4-1, 8) look to defend his WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight title for the first time, as he takes on the once touted Takumi Sakae (22-3-1, 16). On paper this really is a strange one. Both men are relatively young, with Kano being 23 and Sakae being 27, but neither man is in a position where they can afford a loss. At least not if they want to land a big fight in the next few years. They are two men who desperately need the regional title to remain relevant, and knowing that can often add a lot of excess pressure on to a fighter's back.
Of he two men the more well known is Riku Kano, the 23 year old champion who was once being groomed as the next Japanese wunderkind, though has sadly fallen well short of expectations. He debuted at the age of 16 in the Philippines, and despite losing on debut bounced back quickly and won the WBA Asia Minimumweight title just a year later. He then went on to win the OPBF "interim" title and fought Katsunari Takayama for the WBO world title in 2016, aged just 18! Sadly however Takayama out worked him on route to claiming a technical decision. Since that loss Kano has never really looked like a special talent, losing inside the distance to Jerry Tomogdan and Shin Ono, and struggling in other wins, including victories over Naoya Haruguchi, Tetsuya Mimura and, most recently, Ryoki Hirai.
Although once regarded as a genius prospect Kano's failings have become more and more apparent over the years. Against Takayama he was outworked by a man around twice his age, against Tomgodan he was broken and battered, against Ono we saw Kano pretty much fall apart and unravel after a cut, showing questionable heart, and in other bouts, even his wins, we've had to question his work rate and hunger. He pretty much comes across as a fighter missing a lot of the most vital tools for a star. Despite that there is still a lot to like about Kano, and you can understand why so many were excited about him at the age of 17. He's quick, he's sharp, he's light on his feet, has a good sense of distance and timing, and understands what he needs to do in the ring. He just sadly misses a lot of the physical traits needed to take that understanding and make it work in the ring. There's almost a sense that he thinks he's as good as he was told he was, and doesn't like it when fighters take it to him, and it almost offends him that fighters try to beat him. And rather than fighting with fire, he tends to crumble a little bit.
Takumi Sakae on the other hand turned professional in 2011 and ended up winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2013. He seemed to be moving towards success when he won the IBF Youth Light Flyweight title in 2015, but his rise through the ranks his a wall in 2016 when he lost to the then Japanese national champion Tatsuya Fukuhara. That was the start of a bad patch in his career as a technical draw to Lito Dante followed and a technical loss to Ryoki Hirai wasn't far behind. He had gone from a 22 year old with a 13-0 record to a 23 year old with a 14-2-1 record in the space of just 9 months. To rebuild he took on some very limited opponents, stropping 4 of his following 5, before losing against, this time to Norihito Tanaka in a Japanese title eliminator in 2018. Since then he has gone backwards, again, and faced very poor foes to try and rebuild some momentum.
On paper Sakae's record looks good, and not many fighters at 105lbs or 108lbs will have 16 stoppages in 22 wins. That makes him look like a legitimate puncher. In reality however his competition has been dreadful, and he's struggled when he's had to fight decent to good opposition. Sadly he's been stuck without a major promoter, fighting in Fukuoka, and not been able to develop his skills, and early potential has floundered, badly. He was also not helped but really never being able to get the fights he needed to prepare for his best opponents. Despite his flawed however Sakae isn't a bad fighter, he's just not one who has massively developed. He's got decent pop, a good work rate, he's tough, he comes to fight and, sadly, that can also lead to head clashes, and fights getting messy.
We feel that Kano is the better boxer, the more talented boxer, and the more technically skilled fighter. However we also know that skills aren't always the be all and end all, and sometimes the styles of the fighters involved is key and we actually think that will be the case here. We think that Kano's negativity will cause him a lot or problems against Sakai, who will trudge forward all day, and try to take the fight to the youngster. Kano won't have the power to get Sakae's respect and we actually see the challenger basing his game plan on that of Shin Ono. If he does that there is a very genuine chance he ends up stopping Kano here, at least if he comes with some real hunger.
We're picking the upset for this one, and going with a Sakae win, a career saving Sake win, by stoppage in the later stages of the fight.
Prediction - Sakae TKO11
The Japanese eliminators for the 2019 Champion Carnival continue this coming Sunday with two more bouts to decide the mandatory challengers for the new year. One of those challenges will be in the Minimumweight division, where Takumi Sakae (19-2-1, 13) and Norihito Tanaka (16-7, 9) will battle for mandatory status. In theory they will be challenging Shin Ono, though rumours persist that Ono will vacate before the end of 2018 to fight for a world title.
Of the two men there isn't really a standout favourite. Sakae was a young prodigy who won the Rookie of the Year in 2013 as a 20 year old, but has failed to kick on since then. Tanaka on the other hand is a grizzled veteran who debuted in 2005 and has shared the ring with Kenichi Horikara, Ryoichi Taguchi, Akira Yaegashi, Takashi Kunishige and Tsubasa Koura. They are very different fighters but neither is to be strongly favoured over the other.
At 25 years old Sakae is likely edging towards his physical peak and if we're being honest he's had a genuine interesting career. As mentioned he won the Rookie of the Year back in 2013, just over 2 years after his debut, but failed to really use that as a launch pad. His 2014 was a relative waste of a year and in 2015 he claimed his first title, the IBF Youth Light Flyweight title, whilst also making his international debut. In 2016 he would lose a Japanese title fight to Tatsuya Fukuhara, before fighting to a technical draw with Lito Dante and ending the year with a loss to Ryoki Hirai in a Japanese title eliminator. In the space of just 12 months Sakae's record had gone from 13-0 (8) to 14-2-1 (9) and he had rebuilding to do.
Sadly Sakae's rebuilding has seen him stopping 4 very limited opponents and then taking a decision win, last time out, against Akihiro Toya. The only win of note is the one over Toya, which was a close decision, and strangely Toya's next fight will be a Japanese title fight in November.
In the ring Sakae is a pretty decent fighter. He's got nice speed, nice straight shots and respectable power. Sadly however he often finds himself in brawls as opposed to really using his skills. He's a pretty exciting fighter but tactically a naïve one who will always struggle against fighters who are strong enough to push him back and drag him into a war.
When we talk about an interesting career Tanaka has certainly had one of those. The 33 year olf from Tokyo debuted in 2005 and won his first 9 bouts before going 1-3 in his next 4, including a DQ loss to Ryoichi Taguchi and a decision loss to Kenichi Horikawa. A 3 fight winning run was snapped by a loss to Akira Yaegashi in a Japanese title fight in 2011 and after going 1-1 following that bout he took a 5 year break from the ring before returning last year. Since returning he has gone 2-2, suffering a stoppage loss last time out to Tsubasa Koura in an OPBF title fight.
Through his career Tanaka has proven to be tough, strong and a nightmare for fighters we would deem as being better. He was clearly beaten by Yaegashi but was actually in front against Koura prior to the stoppage, and had dropped the young Oriental champion prior to being finished himself. He's rugged, a bit clumsy but knows his way around the ring, and is very good inside the pocket. He can often find the sneaky shots up close that novices don't see coming and he counters very well, as we saw when he put Koura down. Sadly though at 33 he's very old for a Minimumweight and he has taken a fair bit of punishment through his career.
We see Sakae as the more technically solid fighter, but Tanaka is the smarter man, the man with the better ring IQ and the fighter who will be able to dictate things a touch better. We think the ring IQ of Tanaka could will see him landing solid counters when Sakae gets over excited and attacks up close. Those clever counters will be enough to hurt Sakae, but the younger man does have home advantage and that could well end up helping him on the cards. We see that home advantage as being the difference maker here, with Sakae likely to take a narrow decision win.
The Minimumweight division has been one of the most over-looked in recent years with a number of really good fights, with fighters like Katusnari Takayama involved in a number of thrillers. The next possible thriller in the division comes on March 26th when Japanese Minimumweight champion Tatsuya Fukuhara (16-4-5, 6) [福原 辰弥] defends his title against the unbeaten Takumi Sakae (13-0, 8) [榮 拓海].
The champion won the title late last year, when he narrowly beat Hiroya Yamamoto. That was Fukuhara's first “big” win though he had mixed with good company in the past losing to the likes of Yu Kimura, Takuma Inoue and Takuya Mitamura and drawing with Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, in Thailand.
Although Fukuhara doesn't have the best record he is going through a rich vein of form with a 6 fight unbeaten run, including 4 wins and 2 draws. The competition during that run may not be exceptional but they did include the win over Yamamoto and the draw with Fahlan the best results on Fukuhara's record.
In the ring Fukuhara is a gutsy fighter who has his limitations but has a great engine, a fantastic work rate and a fantastic will to win. He can certainly be out boxed, and isn't the most powerful or quickest, but he is a fighter who has the engine to really push people on the domestic scene. In fact he has taken a round from both Kimura and Inoue and must have taken 4 from Fahlan to earn the draw in their bout.
The unbeaten challenger is tipped by some as “one to watch” and is highly ranked by the world title bodies, with the WBO having him particularly high.
Sakae first made his mark on the sport in 2013, when he won the Rookie of the Year and advanced his record to a promising 7-0 (4). At the point he was 20 years old and had shown real promise beating the likes of Kenta Shimizu and Yoshinori Wakahara. Sadly since then his career has been mostly spent against limited opponents with a trio of poor Thai's and a pair of limited Indonesian's padding out his record. In fact the best wins since he won the Rookie of the Year have been decision victories over Boy Tanto and Japan's Munehito Kijima.
Watching Sakae it's clear he has a lot of potential and the 22 year old does appear to have respectable power, nice skills and a fun style. He has however been down, dropped in his last fight, and hasn't been able to really show how good he is. There is more promise here than perhaps proven ability. His team though do seem confident in their man and have already taken him on the road, for a bout last
On paper this is a huge step up for Sakae whilst Fukuhara is just going in again. Whilst that doesn't always tell the full story we suspect it will tell us a lot here with Sakae's youth and inexperience being both and advantage and a problem. We suspect that Sakae will start fast before Fukuhara comes back, with the big question being just how much of a lead Sakae builds up before the fight turns around.
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.