Every so often a match up comes around where the first impression isn’t a guess at who’s going to win, or how, but is instead a feeling that “that’s gonna be awesome”, and that was the case in December 2019 when Kosuke Saka (20-5, 17) won the Japanese Super Featherweight title knowing that Takuya Watanabe (37-9-1, 21) was waiting in the wings as the mandatory challenger. Following Saka’s win the bout was supposed to take place in April 2020, as part of the Champion Carnival, though was sadly postponed due to the ongoing pandemic, which ended up postponing almost all of the Champion Carnival bouts from last year.
Despite the delay to the fight it is still a bout that seems almost certain to be something special. Really, really special. And really brutal.
For those who don’t follow the Japanese scene, the easiest way to sum this up is “aggressive monster with brutal power, up against insanely tough blood and guts warrior”. That sort of combination always makes for spine tingling action, thrilling back and forth exchanges and the sort of fight that reminds you why you love this sport. And that’s exactly what we are expecting here. Neither man is world class. Neither man will be expected to use the Japanese title and leapfrog into a world title bout. But that doesn’t really matter, this is going to be an hellacious fight deserving of your time, attention, and eyes.
The 28 year old Kosuke Saka doesn’t have a record of a champion, with 5 losses in 25 bouts. He is however much better than his record suggests and his losses have, for the most part, not been embarrassing ones. His first loss was in 2012, in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final against Masayuki Ito. That was quickly followed by him losing 2 of his next 4, including a TKO loss to Hiroshige Osawa. The loss to Osawa was followed up by Saka reeling off 8 T/KO wins, including victories over Ryuto Kyoguchi - Hiroto Kyoguchi’s older brother, Takafumi Nakajima and Shota Hayashi. Winning the Japanese the Japanese Featherweight title with his win over Hayashi. Sadly though his reign was an embarrassing one, losing the title in his first defense, against Takenori Ohashi, when he misheard the 10 second clacker and confused it for the bell, giving Ohashi a free shot, which he took, knocking Saka out cold.
Saka bounced back from his title loss by moving up in weight, stopping touted prospect Masanori Rikiishi in 2 rounds and then taking out the limited Gusti Elnino, before being brutalised by under-rated Filipino Joe Noynay in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title. That looked like a bad loss, until Noynay followed it up and battered Olympic bronze medal winner Satoshi Shimizu a few months later. Since the loss to Noynay we’ve seen Saka fight twice, a nothing win against Isack Junior and then a sensational win against Masaru Sueyoshi last December to win the Japanese Super Featherweight title. That win over Sueyoshi was Saka at his best. He was marauding throughout, bullying Sueyoshi, taking the space away from the technically well schooled Teiken man, and breaking him down round by round, until Sueyoshi was left a ruined man midway through round 6.
In the ring Saka is a monstrously hard hitting bully. He has brutal power, in both hands, he presses forward with one thing in mind, destruction, and he fights like every punch he throws is designed to break bones. He loves coming forward, applying pressure behind a stiff jab, pushing opponents on to the ropes and going to work. He’s all about heavy shots, coming forward and not taking a backwards step. His mentality is to break his opponents. Offensively he is a brutal monster. Where he is flawed however is defensively. He can be countered, he can be caught clean, and he can regularly over-commit. His footwork isn’t the sharpest out there, crossing his feet much more often than he should, and when hurt he can be slow to recover, as we saw against Noynay where he never regained his composure after the first of several knockdowns.
Saka’s biggest issue however is his mental state. It was a mental lapse against Ohashi that cost him and it was his lack of composure after being hurt that was his downfall against Noynay. If he can be locked in, as he was against the likes of Hayashi and Sueyoshi, he is very hard to beat. But his two recent stoppage losses does leave us wondering about how consistent he is, and where his mind is focused coming into this bout with Watanabe.
The 31 year old Takuya Watanabe is a true veteran of the ring, having debuted almost 14 years ago to the day. He is one of the most experienced men currently fighting in Japan, with 47 bouts and 289 rounds to his name, and he is also a surprisingly well travelled fighter with bouts in Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, China and Taipei. In fact 14 of his 47 bouts have been fought outside of Japan, including his infamous 2014 blood bath with Jae Sung Lee in South Korea. A bout that really did see Watanabe leaving his blood all over the Gwanakgu Hall, in Seoul.
Of course there is much more to Watanabe than just being a road warrior, in fact there’s a teak tough competitor, with a hugely under-rated skill set, an amazing will to win, and a real hunger to win a Japanese title before he hangs them up. A title he wants to add to a collection that includes a WBC Youth world title, an IBF Asia title, a WBO Asia Pacific title, a WBO Oriental title and an OPBF “silver” title. Despite his collection of silverware he has been eluded by a Japanese title, losing in previous bouts for the title against Hisashi Amagasa and Satoshi Hosono.
Through Watanabe’s career he has really built his reputation and has had nothing handed to him. He turned in 2007, as a teenager and won his first 6 before losing to the mysterious Saengachit Kiatkamthorngym, in what appears to have been Saengachit only professional bout. He quickly fell from 6-0 to 10-3-1 (3) and struggled to find his identity in the ring. By 2012, when he fought Hisashi Amagasa, he had advanced his record to 15-3-1 (4) but had no idea how to deal with Amagasa and the “Slimming Assassin’s” unique physical features. Rather than biting down and fighting hard, like he would now, he looked lost and confused. But then Watanabe started to find himself, and built a reputation as a legitimate warrior on the back of his 2014 bout with Jae Sung Lee, where he spent much of the bout painting the canvas red, but refused to back down, and ran Lee close. By then he was a 25 year old fighter boasting a 20-5-1 (8), but also a man building a reputation as a warrior.
In 2015 Wayanabe got his second Japanese title fight and ran Satoshi all the way in a loss that helped solidify him as a solid, upper domestic level boxer. He wasn’t a fighter, he was a boxer. A tough as nails boxer, with a busy work rate and the ability to hold his own in exchanges with Hosono. In fact he was unlucky not to get the nod in a bit of a forgotten classic. Since then he has been really busy, facing a mix of lower level talent, to tick over and get experience on the road, and upper level talent, with losses to Masayuki Ito and Hironori Mishiro, where they simply out boxed him. In 2019 however he earned another Japanese title fight, this one, on the back of winning a brutal 8 round decision against Taiki Minamoto in a Japanese title eliminator. That was supposed to secure Watanabe in 2020 but due to Covid19 the bout, as mentioned, got postponed and will not be taking place this coming Friday.
In terms of his style Watanabe is probably quite fairly described as a fighter-boxer. He can box, and is a solid boxer, with a solid and busy jab, and he likes to use his footwork, setting shots up at midrange and using some very underrated skills. However he’s at his best when he turns into a fighter, taking a fight into the trenches with his educated uppercuts, hooks, crosses and lovely flowing combinations. When he gets the fight at mid to close range he covers up a lot of his flaws, such as his slow feet and his almost trudging pressure. At range he can be out boxed, as Amagasa, Ito and Mishiro showed. In the trenches however he will hold his own with anyone at domestic level. What helps there is his incredible chin, his amazing hunger and his willingness to take a bomb to land his own shots. If a fighter wants to go to war, Watanabe will go to war.
It’s the willingness of Watanabe to go to war, and his eagerness to fight fire with fire that makes us so excited here. It’s Saka’s power, pressure and aggression, against Watanabe’s toughness, sneaky combinations and inclination to respond when he’s hit that should make for something special here.
Saka is certainly the heavier puncher, the more destructive fighter, and the man who, if he lands clean, can genuinely do damage. But what happens when the irresistible force hits the immovable object? Watanabe is certainly the better boxer, but can he withstand the tenacity of Saka? Likewise can Saka mentally stay strong when shots that have been forcing men to crumble have no effect on Watanabe?
Predicting this one is tough, though predicting any Saka fight is tough, with the only sure thing being that this will be something truly captivating.
If pushed to select a winner, we’ll be going with Watanabe to weather out the storm from Saka, make him question himself and crumble late. Despite that the reality is that any outcome here is possible and that the journey to the final result is going to be thoroughly engrossing, beautifully brutal and fantastically physical.
If you’re a Boxing Raise subscriber you will not want to miss this one. And if you don’t subscribe to Boxing Raise, you should, even if it’s just to watch this bout! It may have taken over a year of waiting for this one, but we are just as excited as we were when we went into 2020
Prediction - TKO9 Watanabe
The Champion Carnival in 2020 is still having it's eliminators and title bouts being fought for through November and December. Among the bouts that are left are a Japanese title fighter, between Masaru Sueyoshi and Kosuke Saka, which is set to take place in December, and an eliminator between Taiki Minamoto (16-5-1, 13) and Takuya Watanabe (36-9-1, 21), with the winners fighting next year. Whilst the title bout is an excellent match up, we wouldn't be surprised by the eliminator actually being the better bout, pitting a true puncher against one of the most insanely tough guys in the sport.
The 28 year old Minamoto is a former Japanese Featherweight champion, and is someone who left his previous division due to issues making weight. Hisreign was a short one, beginning in April 2018 and ending after just 2 defenses, when he vacated following a draw with Reiya Abe. Despite the short reign reign he left an impression, winning the title in an excellent performance against Takenori Ohashi and pulling himself off the canvas to stop Tatsuya Otsubo and then twice dropping Abe to earn a draw. Prior to winning the Featherweight title he had challenged for the Super Bantamweight belt, but been beaten by Yukinori Oguni, before moving up.
As a fighter Minamoto is a very good boxer-puncher. He's got real venom in every shot he throws, he sets a good work rate and has under-rated speed. He's good at getting behind his jab and working at range, boxing and moving. Where he lacks, is just touches of polish, and if he had that polish there's a good chance he'd have taken the win over Abe. He's defensively a little bit open, though usually his offensive work keeps opponents from taking advantage of those flaws. To date his chin has proven to be generally good, and it's unlikely the extra 4lbs will be a major issue in how he takes a punch, but he has been down in the past, and can get dragged into a toe-to-toe brawl. Something that is not good for him.
Watanabe has been around or years, and it's genuinely hard to believe that he's only 30 years old. The teak tough Watanabe has been around, and around, and actually debuted way back in 2007. His career has been a road less travelled, and he has legitimately fought through much of Asia with bouts not only in Japan but also Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan. Given he such a road warrior it's worth noting he's actually had success on his travels, though is best known for his bloody and brave effort against Jae Sung Lee than any road win. His bout with Lee was a genuine blood bath with Watanabe bleeding profusely from very early on. Despite his long career he's never been stopped, and has gone the distance in all of his losses, including defeats to Satoshi Hosono, Masayuki Ito and most recently Hironori Mishiro.
Watanabe is a very capable boxer. He's got solid size, power, speed and very impressive toughness. Sadly though being solid in all areas doesn't make you great in them, and his toughness alone won't win all fights. He can be out boxed, as Ito and Mishiro did, and he can be out fought, though fighters will have to go through hell to outfight him. Like Watanabe he prefer to box than fight, though perhaps he would have had more career success if he had been a fighter and swarmed opponents bringing them into a war and testing his toughness against theirs. Sadly it does appear that Watnaabe is slowing down, and although he was competitive, at times, with Mishiro he lacked the foot speed to really push Mishiro all the way when the two men fought back in March.
At his best Watanabe is a nightmare for anyone at domestic level, and we would love to see him to go up against either Sueyoshi or Saka, though unfortunately we do think he's slipped a little. Against a fighter like Minamoto, who can box at range and land sharp shots, we see Watanabe struggling for sustained success. We do see Watanabe having moments, but not enough of them to convince the judges that he's doing enough to win. Up close Watanabe has the ability to out work and slow Minamoto's foot work down, but we don't imagine that happening early enough for Watanabe to ever be in control of the bout. Instead we see Minamoto as a little bit too good, too light on his feet and too quick.
Prediction - UD8 Minamoto
The Super Featherweight division isn't the best out there at the moment, but is one where there is a nice amount of talent across the various levels of the sport, meaning there are some fantastic fights out there, even if they aren't at the very top level. The Oriental scene has a handful of fighters who could all share the ring and put on great fights. We get one such fight on March 27th when the unbeaten OPBF champion Hironori Mishiro (6-0-1, 2) takes on OPBF Silver champion Takuya Watanabe (35-8-1, 20) in a really mouth watering match up.
The champion is a former amateur stand out who made his pro debut in 2017 and was hotly tipped as a star in the making straight away. He would score 3 straight forward wins before going up against the then unbeaten Shuma Nakazato, taking a hard fought win over Nakazato. He would then add an upset win over Shuya Masaki before challenging OPBF champion Carlo Magali. The bout over Magali was a massive step up, but one that Mishiro made, just doing enough to take a split decision win over the Filipino veteran. Since then he has defended the belt once, fighting to a draw against Masaru Sueyoshi in an OPBF/JBC title unification bout. The Sueyoshi bout was Mishiro's most impressive performance, despite only earning a draw.
In the ring the 24 year old Mishiro is a very fluid fighter, able to box on the back foot, using his size and reach, or on the front foot, bringing the pressure and cutting the distance. He's strong, very quick, and looks incredibly relaxed in the ring. Although he has solid power, he's not a concussive puncher and despite being able to fight on the front foot, he does lack real killer instinct, something has shown it's self in the past. One thing that has really impressed about Mishiro is his stamina, and despite only having 7 fights he has already done 12 rounds twice. He's not a non-stop punching machine, but for someone so early in their career he has impressed, and he certainly paced himself better in his second 12 rounder than his first one.
The challenger isn't the natural boxer that Mishiro is, but is instead a 30 year old veteran who has been a professional for over 12 years and despite having 8 losses is a very good boxer-puncher with a gritty determination that makes him a hard man to beat. His career has also been different to most of his fellow Japanese fights. Not only has he been active, with 44 bouts in just over 12 years, but many of those have been on the road. He has right through South East Asia, with bouts in Thailand, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, and Taipei. On the road he has had some of his most memorable bouts, including his blood bath with Jaesung Lee in Korea his KO win against Leshan Li in Hong Kong and a very hard fought loss to Yongqiang Yang in China. As for bouts in Japan he has faced some pretty stiff competition, including Hisashi Amagasa, Satoshi Hosono and Masayuki Ito.
Watanabe is a tough, solid guy with solid power, solid all round skills, an incredible will to win, and brilliant stamina. Although a boxer-puncher he can get involved in a brawl and is pretty solid in every facet of his game. He's a touch slow, which Ito made the most of, and is slightly limited in terms of skill and timing, but very few will have an easy time with Watanabe, especially now he's a fully mature and experienced fighter.
This is clearly a bout that is designed to give Mishiro a tough defense, and further prepare him for the big time. It's a risk from him and his team, but a calculated one, and one we think they're confident of him passing. It's going to be a tough, 12 round test, but we do favour Mishiro to take the decision, albeit a close decision. If he does then we wouldn't be surprised at all to see his next bout come against a world ranked foe, possibly a rematch with Sueyoshi.
Whilst we're all looking forward to the host of world title bouts taking place at the end of 2016 there is perhaps a hidden gem among the bouts and it's not at world level, though it has fighters who will likely compete at the world level in the near future. That bout comes from the December 31st card in Tokyo and sees OPBF Super Featherweight champion Masayuki Ito (19-1-1, 9) take on WBO Asia Pacific champion Takuya Watanabe (30-6-1, 16) to unify the titles and crown a true Oriental champion. The bout might not have the name appeal of the world title bouts but is close to a 50-50 bout and should have fans on the edges of their seat with both fighters being very talented and very under-rated.
Of the two men the one with the most upside, potentially at least, is Ito who is one of our favourites here at Asian Boxing. The often-overlooked 25 year old wasn't tipped for big things at the start of his career and debuted at the age of 18 in a 4 rounder. In December 2012 he was crowned the All Japan Featherweight Rookie of the year, beating Masaru Sueyoshi and Kosuke Saka on route to the crown. A year later he claimed a WBC Youth crown, up at Lightweight, and a year after that he scored a massive win over Masao Nakamura.
Heading in to 2015 Ito was one of the rising hopes of Japanese boxing, though suffered a loss early in the year to Rikki Naito, albeit a very close and hotly disputed loss. He quickly bounced back from that set back by beating Dai Iwai for the OPBF title, which he has defended twice, against Shingo Eto and Ernie Sanchez.
In the ring Ito is a talented pure boxer with developing power. He's a mover-boxer who is very intelligent in the ring and has shown good stamina through his career as well as impressive speed and a very under-rated ability to judge distance and control the tempo of bouts. Although still not a huge puncher his shots carry enough weight on them to make opponents think twice and to mess up their face, as Iwai found out last year.
Although Ito is a rising hopeful the same can also be said of Watanabe, despite the fact he is a bit older at 27 and already looks like a veteran with a 37 fight record. He debuted almost a decade ago and like Ito he has built himself up from early 4 rounders to being where he is today. His success was a slow burner, and after 14 fights he was 10-3-1 (3) but since then he has developed into a very solid fighter who has under-rated skills, insane toughness and a real will to win. Like Ito has he been the WBC Youth Lightweight champion and despite falling short in two Japanese title bouts, losing to Hisashi Amagasa and Satoshi Hosono, he has never embarrassed himself.
Many who have seen Watanabe will best remember him for his insane 2014 blood bath with Jae Sung Lee, a bout in which Watanabe gave the fans in Seoul a shower of blood, from a combination of a damaged nose and a bad gash on his head. Despite covering everything in claret Watanabe was always in the fight and ran Lee very close on the score cards. That loss is one of only 2 from Watanabe in his last 17, with the other being the loss to Hosono. Those 15 wins might not be against a who's who but they do include a recent win over Amin Sor Wangmoo for the Asia Pacific title which he will be defending here.
Skill wise Watanabe is a level below Ito, however he's proven his toughness, work ethic and desire and is also a bigger puncher than Ito. Whilst he is a level below Ito in terms of skills he's still a very solid boxer who has progressively gotten better, and better, and was very unlucky in a number of his losses, including the defeat to Hosono. At times he has looked disappointing but when facing his biggest tests he has stepped it up and given his all.
Coming in to this we're expecting a really high tempo, high skilled chess match, with touches of a war. It won't be a slugfest, neither man is a brawler, but it will be all action and it will be very fun with Watanabe likely getting the better of the exchanges and Ito getting the better of the work at range. It'll be close, it'll be competitive and it'll be a great fight, and we think Ito will just do enough to claim the win in what we think could be a genuine dark horse for fight of the day.
On October 22nd Japanese fans have a potential treat as the heavy handed “Bazooka” Satoshi Hosono (28-2-1, 20) defends his Japanese Featherweight title against the teak tough and incredibly gutsy Takuya Watanabe (26-5-1, 12). The bout really pits a banger against a gutsy guy in a fight that could, potentially, be a thriller.
Of the two men it's Hosono who is more well known and he has been on the radar for quite a while. In fact many of Hosono's early fights were on TV and in 2008 he claimed his first title, the OPBF Featherweight title. Since then he has fought in 15 title fights. They have included wins, and defenses of the OPBF and Japanese Featherweight titles, and 3 world title challenges. Although he has yet to win a world title he certainly hasn't shamed himself, losing a close one to Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, being widely out pointed by Celestino Caballero and suffering a technical draw with Chris John.
Although known, on the world stage, for those 3 major set backs Hosono is one of those perennial contenders looking for another shot at a world title. From what we understand he needs a good performance before promoter Hideyuki Ohashi will do the leg work to get Hosono another shot, and it's hoped that an impressive win here will convince Ohashi to splash the cash and bring a champion over to Japan for their man.
In the ring Hosono is a fun to watch fighter. He's very aggressive, powerful, tough and strong. Technically he is a bit limited and he is relatively slow but more often than not his pressure takes an effect on his opponents and his power breaks them down.
Whilst we've had plenty of time to become Hosono fans over the last few years the same cannot be said of Watanabe who really came to our attention just last year when he suffered a loss to Jaesung Lee, albeit in a blood bath in Korea. Prior to that bout he had fought in just two title bouts, winning the WBC Youth Lightweight title and coming up short in a Japanese Featherweight title fight with Hisashi Amagasa, losing clearly in that one.
It was the Lee fight that showed just how tough and gutsy Watanabe was. In that bout he suffered a nasty cut that bled, and bled and bled, through out much of the fight covering the shorts of Lee in claret, which also left the canvas sodden and was over the referee. It was one of the most recent “blood baths” in boxing and yet never once did it look like Watanabe would quit, instead fighting out to the bitter end.
In the ring Watanabe isn't just gutsy but is a solid fighter. Sadly however his competition, on the whole, has been very poor. That's been seen in 5 of his last 6 bouts which have seen him facing very poor Thais. The one exception during that run saw him face Shun Shimazaki and that was a very competitive bout.
What we know of the two men suggests they are on totally different levels and we suspect this will be shown with Hosono recording an easy, but exciting, defense against a man who will look out of his depth despite being game.
(Image courtesy of Ohashi gym)
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.