On April 18th we see the Japanese Bantamweight title being unified, as regular champion Yuta Saito (11-9-3, 8) takes on interim champion Hayato Kimura (28-10, 19) in an interesting contest. The bout isn't the best of the 2019 Champion Carnival bouts, but is an intriguing one and one that could, finally, end the curse of the Japanese Bantamweight title.
The "curse" reared it's head last year, and struck a number of fighters. We saw Ryo Akaho vacate the title due to weight issues, Ryoichi Tamura suffer an injury before a title bout, Suguru Muranaka fail to make weight and Saito suffer an illness after winning the belt. It was Saito's illness which lead to an interim title being created, and has essentially lead to this bout.
Saito's title win, which came in September, was the biggest win of his career by far. The Hanagata Gym fighter won the title by stopping veteran Eita Kikuchi in 2 rounds. It was his first win in over 2 years, though he has been in and around the title mix for much of that time. He had fought to a draw with Tatsuya Takahashi in early 2017 and had also given Ryo Akaho a close bout in a title fight. Whilst the win over Kikcuhi was his best win Saito had shown good ability prior to the win, and had been incredibly close in a number of his losses. With some luck he could well have had 6 of his losses swing the other way, and things would look very, very different.
At 31, and now reportedly suffering from ulcerative colitis, we do wonder what Saito has left in him. He was never the quickest, or sharpest of fighters. He is heavy handed, tough, happy to bring pressure and force a fight, at a pretty exciting pace, be he's not quick and can certainly be out manoeuvered, out jabbed and outsped.
Kimura is a 29 year old who already has close to 40 bouts, an has been a professional for close to 14 years. He fought many of his early bouts outside of Japan, fighting numerous times in Thailand, Korea and the Philippines before really beginning to make a name for himself in Japan, from 2013 onwards. Whilst his success in Japan has been mixed he has fought stiff competition, losing to the likes of Michael Dasmarinas, Marlon Tapales, Sho Ishida, Kenta Nakagawa and Rene Dacquel, and has usually been competitive even in his losses.
As a fighter Kimura is a busier fighter than Saito, he's someone who can fight at range, but can also bring a war when he wants. At his best he sets a high work rate, brings pressure and lets his hands go, though can often fight a bit too much too orders, and can be rather tiresome to watch. A bit too reserved. When he shakes the shackles however he's a very good fighter and should be mixing on the regional scene, rather than just the domestic one.
Although Kimura can be in some pretty dull bouts we don't imagine this will be anything short of brilliant. The aggression of Saito will draw out the fighter in Kimura and we're expecting to see the two men meet in center ring, go to war, and give us some exhilarating action. We'd favour Kimura to come out on top, relying on his better speed, experience and youth. Saito is the puncher, but we've seen Kimura over-come punchers before and we expect to see him do the same again here.
It's not often that we get to have a serious conversation about the Asian Middleweight scene but it seems that we have one of very rare situations where we can talk about it, and in fact we can talk about it in some detail as the division headlines the 522nd Dynamic Glove.
We all know Gennady Golovkin is the most feared Middleweight on the planet and that Ryota Murata is destined to to go places. There is little point in Murata staying around at Japanese or even Asian level and he knows it. He may not have ever won the Japanese or OPBF titles but in all honesty he has bigger fish to fry. On March 1st however we get to see the next two best Middleweights in Japan in action.
In one corner we have the Japanese champion Daisuke Nakagawa (22-3-2, 17), a hard hitting 36 year old who was formerly a Japanese champion at Welterweight and Light Middleweight. In the other corner we have OPBF champion Akio Shibata (21-8-1, 9), a former unified champion at Light Middleweight who seeks to unify titles in a second division.
Not only titles on the line here, but so to is personal pride an honour. The men, who are fighting for the second time, know that this will likely be their last fight together and with Shibata winning their first encounter it's certainly a personal battle for Nakagawa.
Aged 36 Nakagawa is the older man and having had his career start way back in 1997 he is the man with the more miles on the clock in terms of time. Thankfully though, for him, he has had the power to keep the mileage down and with an impressive 17 stoppages in his 22 wins he certainly possess a killer instinct. Those 17 stoppage victories have seen him keeping his career rounds down and despite being a professional for well over a decade he has only fought in 140 professional rounds.
Stood at 5'11" Nakagawa is the slightly smaller man though that's unlikely to be an issue. The bigger issue is whether or not his body can go to the well once again at his relatively advanced age. Saying that though he did do very well against the hard hitting Tomohiro Ebisu last year in the bout that saw Nakagawa claiming the title.
Since losing to Shibata in their first meeting, back in Summer 2012, Nakagawa has gone on a 3 fight winning streak and stopped his last 2 opponents, including the aforementioned Ebisu.
Whilst things have been good since their first meeting for Nakagawa things haven't been so rosy for the 32 year old Shibata. Although he is the younger man man Shibata has both competed in more fights and more rounds. He has been in 30 bouts for 164 rounds, that's only 3 bouts more and 24 rounds but he has squished it into a shorter career that began in 2003.
Like Nakagawa, Shibata actually began his career at Welterweight before his body naturally filled out to that of a Middleweight. Unfortunately as he's gone through the weights his power has completely gone and from stopping 4 of his first 6 opponents he has ran up just 5 stoppages in 24 subsequent contests including just 1 in his last 7 bouts. This has been an issue that has certainly not helped him and when he fought Murata last year he simply couldn't get the Olympic champion to respect him despite landing some clean looking shots.
Skillwise and speed wise Shibata is talented and brave. Though unfortunately for him he hasn't been able to show the greatest of durability with 5 stoppages losses on his record, including the stoppage last time out to Murata and two stoppages to Charlie Ota. Despite those notable losses he does have some notable victories including his decision over Shibata, and decisions over Makoto Fuchigami and Takehiro Shimokawara.
When it comes to this fight there are a lot of questions. Can Shibata take the power of Nakagawa again? This is a key when you consider just how much the Murata fight will have taken out of him. If he can, has Nakagawa got a plan B? We know that Shibata is a good boxer despite his lack of durability and if he pumps that jab out and uses his movement he can really out box plenty of fighters. Has father time caught up with Nakagawa? At 36, going on 37, just how much life is there left in Nakagawa's legs?
As well as the questions there is also the manner of incentives. Nakagawa was recently given a world ranking from the WBO and will know that if he keeps winning he could get a world title shot before his career is over. Likewise Shibata may see a win here as a chance to get a second Murata bout or put himself on to the world stage, albeit the fringes of the world stage.
With everything considered it's a hard fight to call. We are, however, leaning towards a Nakagawa stoppage in the middle rounds. We think Shibata will be cautious early on and try to use his speed and jab though it won't be long before Nakagawa starts to land his own shots and eventually those heavy hands of his will take their toll. We believe that Shibata will be stopped after having a small lead on the cards in what will really be a great fight as both men try to force they style on to the fight.
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.