The year is set to end with a bang thanks to a bumper show from Watanabe. Whilst much of the focus will be on the two main world title fights the card is an interesting one through out, and potentially the most explosive of the bouts will be at regional title level.
The bout in question will see Japan's Yusaku Kuga (19-3-1, 13) clash with Filipino Jhunriel Ramonal (16-8-6, 9) for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Bantamweight title. It's not a bout that will get much attention, or looks particularly competitive, but is one that could be very brutal, and very explosive.
The favourite going in will be Kuga, a big punching Japanese fighter who is the current Japanese national champion. Kuga is fairly basic, but very heavy handed, exciting and aggressive. He's someone who can be out boxed, as we saw last year when he was stopped by Shingo Wake, but is extremely dangerous and is able to have a toe to toe war with pretty much anyone in and around the regional scene, as we saw against Ryoichi Tamura.
After starting his career 6-1-1 (4) Kuga has gone 13-2 (9), avenging one of those losses and notching wins over the likes of Sukkasem Kietyongyuth, Yasutaka Ishimoto, Jonathan Baat and Ryoichi Tamura. Not only has he proven his ability against good domestic and regional level opponents he has also been scoring those wins early on, taking 10 of his wins in the first 4 rounds.
On paper Ramonal looks like a very limited fighter, with 8 losses in his 30 career bouts. In reality however he's a much better fighter than his record suggests. He's not a world beater, a long way from it, but given genuine preparation time, he's a dangerous opponent. Going through his record it is a real mess, an inconsistent mess. He has shown he can mix at the top of the regional scene, fighting to a narrow loss in an OPBF title fight in 2011, but then has lost to a number of domestic level fighters. When he's on point he's talented, but he can be made to look slow, sloppy and can be easily out boxed.
Coming in to this Ramonal is unbeaten in 4 bouts, going back to a 2014 decision loss to Sho Nakazawa. Since then he has fought to a draw with Jenel Lausa and most recently scored a stunning TKO in over Shingo Wake, a win that has essentially put him into this title fight. In that win over Wake Ramonal was cut, being out boxed, but remained a hungry and dangerous fighter, with that danger being realised in frighteningly graphic fashion.
Given that both fighters are heavy handed, both get in the ring to win and both are happy to fire off bombs, this has the potential to be very explosive. It's easy to back Kuga, and he is rightfully the favourite, but given how Ramonal's power took out Wake, it's clear that Kuga can't take a win for granted here. Instead Kuga will need fight smartly, but should manage to break down Ramonal, likely busting him up with his heavy hands and forcing the referee to step in.
We're anticipating a bout with a lot of tension here, some fun exchanges, but eventually the fight will be beat out of Ramonal.
Prediction TKO5 Kuga
On March 25th fight fans in the Philippines will be able to see a WBO Asia Pacific title fight, as once beaten Filipino Juan Miguel Elorde (27-1, 15), the WBO #2 word ranked contender, defends his Super Bantamweight title against Japanese challenger Shohei Kawashima (17-2-2, 4). For the champion this will be his 4th defense, and would likely be one of his final bouts before a potential world title fight, whilst Kawashima would be getting a huge chance to gate crash the WBO world rankings, and claim his biggest win to date.
The 32 year old champion is the grandson of the legendary Flash Elorde, one of the most iconic names in Filipino boxing. His career, which began in 2008, has been a slow steady climb through the rankings. He would win his first 10 bouts, before suffering an upset loss to Jerry Guevara in 2011. Since that early career set back he has gone 17-0 (11). On paper that sounds really impressive, but in reality there are very few wins of note on his record with his best wins being against the likes of Yodsingdaeng Jor Chaijinda and Waldo Sabu.
Despite his competition being limited, especially for a now highly ranked fighter, Elorde is a talented fighter, with a lovely crisp jab, an educated boxing brain and a good straight right hand. Sadly watching him he just sort of ticks all the boxes for "good" and has nothing outstanding about him. He's pretty basic, not very rounded and doesn't really impress when watching him. The most impressive traits of Elorde is his jab, which is crisp and sharp, but that's perhaps not as impressive as it seems, and he may struggle to land it against fighters who above regional journeyman level.
Aged 27 Kawashima is a Japanese fighter who debuted in 2012 and rose through the ranks well, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014 before travelling in 2016, beating Jin Wook Lim in Korea and losing a razor thin decision to Cristian Mijares in 2016. Since losing to Mijares, in Mexico, Kawashima has gone 3-1 (1) suffering a surprise 6th round KO loss to Gaku Aikawa in 2017. The loss to Aikawa was a genuine surprise, and came from a truly brutal shot from Aikawa, in what was probably the shot of his career.
In the ring Kawashima is a talented boxer with good timing, good movement and solid stamina. He lacks power but is a very skilled fighter who uses range well, is smart and sharp. Sadly his lack of power will be a major issue when he steps up and he will struggle too get respect from opponents. He also has a few defensive flaws, often dropping his hands or having them too close together. Rarely do we see Kawashima actually have a solid guard to box behind, and although Aikawa's KO was a surprise it wouldn't be a huge shock if he was stopped by any top domestic foe.
On paper Elorde will be the favourite. He's got the better record, he's the bigger puncher, has the home advantage, will be fighting at home and has the title. He will however be forces to battle for the win and we wouldn't be surprised at all
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.