Every so often we get a bout at domestic or regional level that looks a little bit special, and like it could be something rather amazing. This Sunday we get one such bout as Japanese Featherweight champion Hinata Maruta (12-1-1, 9) takes on mandatory challenger Reiya Abe (22-3-1, 10), for both the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific Featherweight titles. The bout screams high level, intense, high speed chess match, and looks likely to be one of the very best Japanese domestic bouts of the year, as the two men look to prove that not only are they the best in Japan, and arguably the best in Asia along with Satoshi Shimizu and Can Xu, but also suitable for a world title bout later in the year, something both men are known to want sooner rather than later.
Of the two men, the more highly regarded is Maruta, who turned professional in 2015 with a lot of fanfare from those at the Morioka Gym. His debut saw him defeat hard hitting Filipino Jason Canoy, and he soon won the WBC Youth Bantamweight title, beating Wilbert Berondo to win the belt. After 2 defense he stepped up massively and lost a clear, but competitive, decision to the then OPBF Super Bantamweight champion Hidenori Otake. The loss served as a wake up call in some ways, and made Maruta that he needed to do more than just have exceptional skills, but also needed to apply them. After the loss his team looked to get him some international experience, with bouts in Thailand and the Philippines, though the bout in the Philippines ended with a terrible draw marking his record for second time. Since that draw however he has been in the form of his career, scoring 5 straight wins including notable domestic victories over Tsuyoshi Tameda, Coach Hiroto, Takenori Ohashi, Ryo Sagawa and Ryo Hino. Of those victories the one over Sagawa won Maruta the Japanese title, whilst his win over Hino served as his first defense.
In the ring Maruta is genuinely fantastic. He's a tall, rangy, long fighter who we've seen grow from a very slender and slim looking kid at Bantamweight, where he debuted aged 18, into a young man at the age of 25. He has gone from looking like someone who really needed to fill out their frame to someone who is slowly maturing into a bit of a beast in the ring. He's ultra sharp, incredibly quick, and fights to his strengths, keeping range behind his quick and clean jab, and uses good footwork to keep space, and draw mistakes. His early career saw him going through the motions a lot, and not really putting his foot on the gas as much as we'd like, but in recent years he has shown that third gear, whilst still looking like he has a lot still to give. He's a fighter who manages to exert pressure, despite fighting at range, due to his physical features, but he also has exceptional awareness, and is incredibly slippery, with very smooth defensive moves, which allows him to fight as counter puncher, whilst pressing behind his long jab. Unlike some Japanese fighters he's also willing to tie opponents up when they get too close, something that seems to have been developed from American training camps, as we really don't see it from many Japanese fighters. Notably Maruta might, still, look like he's not fully developed his frame, but he has solid power, to go with his accuracy, timing and speed and looks like he is always comfortable in the ring. Like many exceptional fighters he seems to have that amazing calm, confident composure, that separates brilliant fighters from the very good ones, and that makes he so relaxed in the ring as if he sees everything before it happens. The scariest thing about him however is that he seems to be light years ahead, in terms of skills, than many other fighters, and as a result only seems to need to show glimpses of what he can do. Fingers crossed when he steps up to facing global names we really see what he's been keeping in the locker.
Whilst we talking glowing of Maruta we also need to mention the challenger, who is certainly not a bad fighter himself. In fact Abe has been dubbed a boxing genius in Japan, and is a very high level, intelligent fighter himself, and sadly for him he also suffers with a similar issue to Maruta, a difficulty in showing everything he's capable of. He turned professional in 2013 aged 20 and lost his second professional bout, to Koki Kobayashi, before bouncing back and winning the 2014 All Japan Rookie of the Year. In 2015 he lost for the second time, to Shingo Kusano, before reeling off a brilliant 11 fight winning run. That winning run saw him over-come the likes of Ryo Hino, Hikaru Marugame, avenge the loss to Shingo Kusano, Tsuyoshi Tameda, Joe Noynay, Satoshi Hosono an Daisuke Sugita. A brilliant run that saw him fight for the Japanese title in 2019, and fight to a draw with Japanese Featherweight champion Taiki Minamoto. He would also come up short 4 months later when he lost a razor close decision to Ryo Sagawa for the vacant title, which Minamoto gave up when he moved up in weigh. Since that draw he has rebuilt well with wins against Ren Sasaki, Koshin Takeshima and Daisuke Watanabe to earn a third shot at the Japanese throne.
In the ring Abe is a very, very intelligent fighter. He fights out of the southpaw stance and love to control the range and tempo behind his his footwork, creating space to land counter left hands. At times he neglects his jab, which is an excellent weapon, but does let opponents be their own downfall a lot of the time. He's a fighter who loves to feint, get a read on opponents, and condition them to expect one thing before changing things up. His footwork is a job to watch and his ability to dictate the range of a bout is brilliant, especially as he often does it without really letting his hands go. For people wanting to study footwork, Abe's is some of the best in the sport. Sadly his lack of actual output is frustrating at times, and has been one of his major downfalls in his losses, as he is too patient at times, and tries too hard to draw a mistake rather than reverting to Plan B and becoming more offensive, though credit to him he has had notable success fighting his way. Whilst it's his footwork and distance control that shines, he does do a lot of things "wrong" in an attempt to draw leads. His hands are very low and whilst he's not an easy target, he can be dropped when caught clean, as Minamoto did twice. His style is also unlikely to win friends in the west, if he ever ends up challenging a top American or British fighter.
Whilst we are big fans of both men, we can't help but feel that Abe, in some ways, is made to order for Maruta. The boxing brain of Abe is incredible, and if you could put his brain in to almost any other fighter it would improve them. But his style, and his laziness at times, won't serve well against a fighter with the speed, timing, and reach of Maruta. Maruta will take a few rounds to work out the distance, but then we suspect he will use his own feints to draw bites from Abe, and counter those, whilst also controlling behind his own jab. The question marks about Abe's chin, raised by the Minamoto fight, will also rear their head here and we wouldn't be surprised to see Abe on the canvas at some point due to the power and speed of Maruta.
As the bout goes into the later rounds we expect to see Abe try to turn it around, and look to let his hands go more, but that will result in him taking more and we wouldn't be surprised at all by a late stoppage by Maruta, due to accumulation of shots.
Prediction - TKO11 Maruta
One of the best things about Japanese boxing right now is the Featherweight division, which is red hot with talent, and has a brilliant variety of styles among it's top fighters. You have pure boxers, like Reiya Abe and Ryo Sagawa, you have warriors like Tsuyoshi Tameda and Daisuke Watanabe, you have boxer-punchers, like Hinata Maruta, and emerging prospects, like Jinki Maeda and Ryuto Owan. The division in Japan is bursting at the seams, even if international fans aren't really paying it much attention. Yet. It's inevitable that at least one of the top Japanese Featherweights will make a mark at the top level in the coming years, and it's a case of when, and not if, we see one of them fighting for, and potentially winning, a world title.
The division is set for another huge bout in Japan on May 21st as OPBF champion Satoshi Shimizu (9-1, 9) takes on WBO Asia Pacific champion Musashi Mori (12-0, 7), in a bout to unify the two regional titles in the division.
As with so many Featherweight bouts in Japan recently, the bout is not just a really good one, between two very solid fighters, but also a match up between two men who are very talented, and have very different styles. It's the mix of styles that makes such a compelling match up, and will see both men being forced to prove what they can do against a fighter who will ask them very serious questions.
Of the two men the more well known is Satoshi Shimizu, 2-time Olympian who won bronze at the 2012 London games, losing in the semi final to Luke Campbell. He had hoped to compete at the 2016 Olympics, but after failing to qualify turned professional, at the advanced age of 30. The idea, originally, was to fast track him. After all he had been a stellar amateur with 150 amateur wins, and an Olympic gold medal. The fast tracking worked well early on, and he won the OPBF Featherweight title in his 4th professional bout, just just 13 months after his debut and raced out to 8-0 (8) whilst beginning to edge towards a world ranking. And then he flirted with the Super Featherweight division and got badly beaten by Joe Noynay in 2019, with Shimizu then requiring a long break from the ring and staying out of action for a year, in part to his injuries and in part due to Covid19. When he finally got back in action last year, he was already 34 and the clock was ticking on his career.
Since turning profession in 2016 there have been some really obvious things about Shimizu that can't be denied. Firstly he's not actually a very good boxer. He's clumsy, he's slow, he's wide with his punches and he does almost everything wrong. There is nothing about him that screams "former amateur stand out". Secondly he punches like a mule. Shimizu is a horrible boxer, but a brutal puncher, and when he lands clean fighters feel it. In fact when he lands just glancing blows opponents feel it. Thirdly, he's awkward as all hell. He's rangy a 5'11", southpaw at Featherweight. Add that to his power and he is just a nightmare to fight, even with all his technical flaws. Sadly at 35 it's now or never for Shimizu, and it's hard to imagine him ever making good on the promise he had when he turned professional.
Aged just 21 Musashi Mori is at the opponent end of his career, though is already an established young fighter who is rapidly rising through the ranks, and moving towards a world title fight. Like Shimizu he debuted in 2016, though did so as a 17 year old, in a 4 rounder, without any hype or noise around him. The following year he went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year, beating Zirolian Riku in the All Japan final in what was Mori's Korakuen Hall debut, at Super Featherweight. Following that win big things were predicted of the youngster but a genuine scare against Allan Vallespin saw some doubt creep in about the youngster. Rather than question his potential he did something smart, and realised he wasn't a natural Super Featherweight, and dropped to Featherweight instead. Since moving down in weight he has really found himself scoring 2 wins against Richard Pumicpic, winning the WBO Asia Pacific title in the first of those, as well as notching notable defenses against Takuya Mizuno and Tsuyoshi Tameda. As well as his impressive resume for such a young novice he has also been working with the amazing Ismael Salas, who has really helped develop Mori's boxing ability, brain and style, developing him into an excellent young fighter.
In regards to how Mori fights, he's an intelligent boxer, with some snap on his shots. Over the last few years he has toned down his aggression, used his jab a lot more, and really developed in to one of the best counter punchers in Japan. He's accurate, has quick hands, very good footwork and seems comfortable on the inside as well as at mid-range. Defensively there is still work to do, but that has been the area where has really improved so much from his early days, and it's clear that Salas has taught him a lot about defense, and how to control range. Sadly for him he does lack in terms of 1-shot power and physicality, and it's clear that a lot of fighters at Featherweight could bully him around, but he has enough sting on his shots to get respect from opponents, and lands his shots very clean, often as counters with opponents walking on to them.
In terms of abilities, Mori is the much, much better boxer. He's more polished, he's smoother, he's lighter on his feet, he moves better, and his jab is significantly better. If this was all about boxing ability, and just boxing ability, Mori wouldn't have any problems winning. Of course boxing is so much more than just skills and when you carry dynamite in your hands, as Shimizu does, this care never going to be easy. Especially given the awkwardness, reach and size of Shimizu, and the way he throws from some truly angles that fighters can't really prepare for.
We expect to see Mori showing a lot of respect to Shimizu early on. And we mean a lot of respect, but do so whilst picking and poking at Shimizu. Trying to rack up rounds without taking risks. As for Shimizu the key isn't to try and box, but to time Mori coming in, and tagging him before he can get to close. To have success Mori needs to work quickly, use his speed, and if he gets inside he needs to work up close, smothering the power of Shimizu in the process. If he can do that we'll see him chipping away at Shimizu round by round and establishing a clear lead on the scorecards.
Shimizu will always be dangerous, right through to the final bell, and he could turn the bout around at any moment, with a wild looping left hand, or wide right hook. That's a real danger that Mori will need to be wary of, even if he feels in control. If Mori can, however, avoid eating eating too many shots clean we see him taking a clear, and wide, decision over the 35 year old, unifying the two regional titles and establishing himself as one of the leading Japanese contenders at Featherweight, along with Hinata Maruta.
Prediction - UD12 Mori
If we're being honest it can be easy to hate on some weight divisions, and one of those that is an easy target is the Featherweight division, especially in 2020 when almost no big bouts took place in it. In a division that has the likes of Can Xu, Josh Warrington, Gary Russell Jr and Emanuel Navarrete there is the talent there for some phenomenal bouts but sadly we've not seem much at all worth being excited about. Fingers crossed 2021 will be a much, much better year for the division.
Thankfully whilst the division's biggest and brightest haven't given us much to talk about the division does still have some interesting action going on below the top level, and on November 23rd we get the chance to see one of the rising hopefuls of the division in action, as he takes on a serious puncher. The bout isn't set to get much international attention, but it should still deliver some action.
The bout in question will pit WBO Asia Pacific champion Musashi Mori (11-0, 6) against heavy handed challenger Tsuyoshi Tameda (21-5-2, 19), in one of the more interesting bouts the division has given us this year. On paper it might not look that interesting, but in reality the bout is a perfect mix of styles, and a serious test for a man who turns 21 the day before the fight.
The unbeaten champion is the big hope from the gym run by former WBC Bantamweight champion Yasuei Yakushiji, and has been guided brilliantly so far. He debuted aged 17 and won the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2017, the following year he won the WBO Asia Pacific title, narrowly over-coming Richard Pumicpic, and since then has been learning under the guidance of Ismael Salas. It's been under Salas' guidance that we've seen Mori build around his strength's and go from an aggressive fighter, to be a well balanced boxer, with a might better defense and understanding of the ring.
Under Salas we have seen Mori become a touch boring, dull and less exciting than he once was. On one hand that is disappointing, but it's clearly been a change that will increase Mori's in ring success and it's clear that he's not a much more polished boxer than he was. He's quick, sharp, moves around the ring well and has a razor like southpaw straight left hand. One thing we don't see from him often enough, for our liking, is a jab thrown with intent, but it is in his arsenal, as are short, crafty uppercuts to the body. Although he's technically very good we don't see the X-Factor with him at the moment. He's talented, but lacks that eye catching speed, good night power and we do query his physical maturity, with the youngster still looking like a body. In a year or two, when he build his man strength, that might change, but at the moment it very feels like he needs more time to develop and at 20 going on 21, talk of a world title fight is too soon in our eyes.
At one point Tsuyoshi Tameda looked like a star in the making, and was a stand-out, thrill a minute youngster. He turned professional in 2011, at the age of 17, and was one of the last students under the legendary eye of Kenji Yonekura. As a youngster he kicked off his career with 3 opening round KO's and looked like a destructive force. In just his 5th bout he fought to a draw with Masayuki Ito in the Rookie of the Year, before being beaten a fight later. Following his first loss Tameda went on a role and moved to 13-1-2 (11), including wins over future Japanese national champion Takenori Ohashi and Filipino fighter Mark Bernaldez. Then he lost to Simipiwe Vetyeka, losing a gruelling and 1-sided decision to the talent South African. Sadly Tameda has never really bounced back from that loss and has gone 8-3 since then with stoppage losses to the tricky Reiya Abe, the touted Hinata Maruta and the all action Jae Woo Lee. He's still shown rock hands, but those losses have shown that his chin is cracked, and that he can be stopped.
Now at the age of 27 there are real question marks about just what Tameda has left. Technically he's never been the best, despite being guided first by Yonekura and now by Hideyuki Ohashi. He has always been fun, a devastating puncher, and a real danger man, but has always struggled against fighters that can take his blows and those that can counter him. He makes a lot of mistakes, and gives opponents lots of chances to tag him, but if he lands he can take fighters out, as we saw in stunning fashion Takenori Ohashi.
For this bout we are really interested in several things. Firstly can Tameda land on Mori? And if so can Mori take the power of Tameda? We know Tameda can struggle to land on fighters but when he lands he does tend to chake them up and if Mori is caught clean by a right hand, even once, it will be very interesting to see how he responds. Secondly can Mori get Tameda's respect? If not is he capable of playing keep away for 12 rounds? Tameda does seem like he's somewhat damaged compared to the fighter he once was, but with Mori not having stand out power there's a chance his shots bounce off Tameda as the challenger comes forward.
We suspect the movement, skills, speed and timing of Mori will be the difference. We expect to see the youngster take a shot or two, but not cleanly and not solidly enough to really test his chin, and when he is tagged he'll tie up or get out of dodge. But there will always be that danger of him eating one and coming undone. Tameda will always try, and will always feel he had the power to turn things around, but we feel that after 7 or 8 rounds his steam will run out and Mori will ease over the finish line for a clear decision.
Prediction - UD12 Mori
The EDION Arena Osaka is a busy venue on December 8th hosting 2 shows, with a combined 3 title bouts. On the second of those cards we'll see Shinsei gym promoting a low key card that really is all about it's main event, the only non-4 rounder on the show. That main event will see fast rising youngster Musashi Mori (10-0, 6) defending his WBO Asia Pacific Featherweight title against once beaten puncher Takuya Mizuno (17-1-1, 14), in what looks like a mouth watering match up between talented young men.
Mori really burst on to the scene very quickly. After debuting in December 2016 he would go on to claim the 2017 Rookie of the Year, stopping the big puncher Zirolian Riku in the final. By the end of 2018 he had notched wins over Allen Vallespin and Richard Pumicpic, with the win over Pumicpic netting him his WBO Asia Pacific title, and a defense against Pumicpic in a rematch earlier this year showed that he really is a fighter still learning. Talking about learning Mori has began linking up with Ismael Salas, who trained him for his last fight, and real changes were made in how the youngster tames his aggression and boxes more smartly.
With Salas again behind him Mori is expected to make his second defense here against Mizuno, and continue to build on the skills, power and speed he has shown. The one real notable flaw early on was his defense, but that now appears to be getting corrected, and although their are a lot of areas for Salas to tweak with his new charge Mori looks like the type of youngster with the foundations in place to go a very, very long way.
At 24 years old Mizuno is a mature man, whilst Mori is still only 20, and with 19 fights already under bis belt since his debut more than 6 years ago, he is a man who is very much the more experienced fighter. Notably he has had more soft touches than Mori, but he has also scored a number of solid wins, such as a victory in July over Roli Gasca and a 2017 over Yuki Iriguchi. Like Mori he made his mark quite young, and reached the West Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2015, though lost to Tenta Kiyose in what is his only defeat to date.
Watch Mizuno it seems like he is someone who has the tools to go far, but is missing the mentor that Mori has. Mizuno has power, work rate and desire, but needs to be polished, a lot. During his 19 fights he has had 5 that have ended by majority decision or split decision, going 3-1-1 in those 5 bouts, and it very much feels like he needs to be shown how to use his power better and how to control fights more. He has always struggled when he's been unable to beat opponents with his power, and that needs to be sorted out sooner rather than later.
Sadly for Mizuno we see his biggest strength, his power, also being his weakest point. If that power can't take his opponent out he really doesn't look good. Mori looks like he can take a shot if he needs to, and can also avoid shots. His defense was his weakness but with Salas working on Mori's technical skills we suspect his defense will be tighter here than ever before. Mori is likely to need to stay on point, but we suspect he'll box smart, temper that aggression further and take a wide decision against the dangerous but flawed Mizuno.
Prediction - UD12 Mori
The Featherweight division is Asia is incredibly interesting right now, both at the domestic levels and on the Oriental level. Fighters like Satoshi Shimizu, the OPBF champion, and Reiya Abe, the in form future Japanese title challenger, have really impressed recently with excellent performances. Another Japanese fighter who is emerging as one to watch is teenage prospect Musashi Mori (8-0, 5), who faces off with Richard Pumicpic (21-9-2, 6) this coming Sunday. The bout will be a second meeting between the two, who fought last year, and will be the first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Featherweight title for Mori.
As mentioned this is the second meeting between the two men. They fought last November with Mori taking a split technical decision win over Pumicpic to take the WBO regional title. The bout ended in the 5th round, giving us a very inconclusive and disappointing conclusion, but one that has certainly left us all looking forward to their rematch.
At 19 years old Mori is one of the most accomplished teenagers in the sport. He made his debut in 2016, as a 17 year old and would win the 2017 Rookie of the Year at Super Featherweight. He build on that success in 2018 with 3 more wins, including the one over Pumicpic as he dropped down in weight. Notable Mori looked like a puncher to begin his career, stopping his first 4 opponents in a combined 6 rounds and 5 of his first 6 opponents. He has however struggled to make an impact with his power at a higher level, going 8 very close rounds with Allan Vallespin last Summer. There are also question marks about Mori's defense and stamina.
Mori impressed early in his career, when he seemed to take opponents out. As he's stepped up it's become clear that there are areas for improvement. He showed some of those against Pumicpic in their first bout, showing more to his defense than he had against Vallespin. That is however still an area for him to work on. Where he is strong is with his sharp punching, he has a very good jab, a quick straight left hand, an educated hook and he is physically strong. Although only 19 he is a strong fighter at Featherweight, and doesn't look like a fighter who is draining to make the weight. Given how their first fight went, with it being a rough and tough battle on the inside, that physical strength will likely be a key asset here for the youngster.
On paper Pumicpic has the record of a fringe regional contender, in reality however he is a genuine nightmare to fight. The 28 year old has been a professional since 2008 and has proven his ability to compete at a high level, giving fits to Ryosuke Iwasa and Cesar Juarez as well as defeating the likes of Hisashi Amagasa, Roli Gasca, Joe Noynay and Yoshimitsu Kimura. He has also claimed various titles through his career, often winning them as the under-dog.
Stylistically Pumicpic is a handful. He's in the face of his opponents, applying pressure and is happy to go to war. Despite not being heavy handed, he is accurate, and refuses to let fighters use their size or speed against him. He's also a very under-rated fighter defensively, slipping and sliding shots with smart movement whilst cutting the distance. Sadly there are two things holding him back from the top level. One is his lack of power, and he'll never get respect from the top fighters with his clean but relatively weak shots, and the other is his lack of size, even at Super Bantamweight he was relatively small. He's very talented, tough and has good stamina, but is on the small side for the division.
Given how messy and sloppy their first fight was we're not expecting a pretty fight here. We're expecting another messy battle. As with their first bout we're expecting the natural strength of Mori to be a key factor, especially early on. We're expecting to see Mori take an early lead though as the bout goes on we expect Pumicpic to claw back the difference. Unless headclashes again force an early conclusion we see this being a very close decision bout, with Mori again taking the decision.
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.