This coming Tuesday we'll see two become one, as the Japanese Welterweight champion Keita Obara (25-4-1, 22) faces interim champion Takeru Kobata (12-5-1, 5), to unify the two titles and leave us with just a single Welterweight king pin.
The title became "split" earlier this year, when Obara was forced to pull out of a planned defense against former champion Yuki Nagano, with Kobata beating Nagano for the interim belt whilst Obara was given time to recover from his injury. As a result of the Nagano Vs Kobata bout we not only saw Kobata claim the interim title, but also send Nagano into retirement, ending his career before he got a chance to avenge his 2020 loss to Obara.
Of the two men Obara is the much, much, much more well known. He isn't just the Japanese champion, but is also a man known outside of Japan. He famously got knocked out of the ring in a world title fight against Eduard Troyanovsky, as well as suffering a KO2 at the hands of Alvin Lagumbay, following a highlight reel worthy double knockdown, and he has also fought in the US, losing to Kudratillo Abdukakhorov in 2019 and fighting to a draw with Walter Castillo in 2015. Although he's come up short on the road he has proven to be an excellent fighter on the domestic and regional scene, and is a fighter who has the size, power and technical skills to essentially control the domestic scene. Since turning professional in in 2010 he has gone 25-2 (22) at home, avenging one of his losses, with the other having come on his debut.
Aged 35 Obara is coming to the end of his career. He's getting on in terms of age but also in terms of his body. He's not had long, hard fighters, and his 30 fight career has only consisted of 161 rounds, but he has started to suffer regular injuries and whilst his body hasn't been beaten up in the ring he is certainly feeling the effects of a long career, as both a professional and an amateur. Despite that he is still a hard man to beat, at least domestically. He has brutal power, he can box pretty solidly and when he can dictate the tempo of a fight he's very hard to beat. Sadly for him fighters above domestic level have got the speed, and skills to neutralise him, but typically domestic Japanese fighters lack those. The international fighters make the most of Obara's slow feet, predictable in ring style, and the fact that he doesn't like to throw until he's set. He can box well, but struggles to change things around if they aren't going his way. He also struggles with durability, and 3 of his 4 losses have come by stoppage.
Whilst Obara is well known among Japanese fans and has had some international attention the same can't be said of Kobata. The 24 year old from Oita is something of an unknown, even within his homeland. He debuted back in 2015 and went 0-2-1 in his first 3, before finally stringing together some wins to reach the 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year, losing in 2 rounds to Kosuke Arioka at Lightweight. That loss saw the then 19 year old fall to 5-3-1 (1) and there was no expectations at all on his shoulders. Over the following few years he matured, and his body filled out, taking him from Lightweight, to Light Welterweight and then Welterweight, which has now become his weight. Since moving through the weights we have seen Kobata have genuine success, and score notable domestic wins over Change Hamashima, Rikuto Adachi, Tetsuya Kondo, Fumisuke Kimura and, most recently, Yuki Nagano. That good run has caught the eye domestically, most notably the wins over Adachi and Nagano.
In the ring Kobta is a stubborn fighter, with under rated power, an awkward southpaw stance, and a busy work rate. He has a busy jab, throws nasty body shots, and has been breaking fighters down. For many fans, even those in Japan, the bout with Nagano was the first time they had been able to watch Kobata and they would have been impressed. He fought largely in the pocket against the dangerous Nagano, slipping and sliding shots well, whilst tagging Nagano over and over with his jab, straight right hand up top, hooks to the body and uppercuts, eventually breaking down Nagano. That performance was excellent, but maybe showed Nagano's lack of boxing IQ rather than just rounded Kobata is.
Whilst Kobata has skills, we can't help but feel that this bout will be the exact opposite of the Nagano fight. Whilst Nagano was happy to close the distance and walk into Kobata's range we suspect that Obara will be happy to create space, fight at distance and use his his straight shots to keep Kobata at range and off balance. The skills of Kobata could see him catching Obara with counter shots, but sadly we don't think he'll land enough of those to beat Obara. Instead we suspect Obara's power will take it's toll and he will, eventually, breakdown the interim champion.
Prediction - TKO 7 Obara
This coming weekend we'll see unified regional Welterweight champion Ryota Toyoshima (15-2-1, 9) look to make his second defense of the WBO Asia Pacific title, as he takes on Filipino challenger Adam Diu Abdulhamid (17-10, 9) at Korakuen Hall, in the headline bout of this month's Dynamic Glove show. The bout doesn't appear to be a step up for the champion, but it will see him tick over with his first bout since an impressive December defense against Shoki Sakai, whilst Abdulhamid will get the most notable bout of his career so far.
Of the two fighters it's the champion who will go in to this one with high expectations. He has been in great form recently, with 8 straight including notable ones against the likes of Moon Hyon Yun, Woo Min Won Riku Nagahama, Yuki Beppu and Shoki Sakai. Since his last loss, back in 2017, he has developed into a very solid boxer-puncher, who understands what he's doing in the ring, has solid enough power to get respect, and can move around the ring really well. He's unlikely to ever pose a threat at top of the global scene, and we suspect he knows that, however on the regional scene he has the tools to have excellent reign at the top. He has the skills, the power and the toughness to make a real mark at this level and have a lengthy reign.
Whilst Toyoshima is never going to become a world beater, the 26 year old from the Teiken Gym, has proven he is a very solid all rounder and notably only one man seems to have the answers to him, with that being Masaharu Kaito who gave him both of his defeats. When dragged into a war he can win those, as we saw against Yuki Beppu where his chin took the best Beppu had to offer, before he broke down and stopped Beppu. Sadly he's not a huge puncher, but more of a consistent puncher, who lands clean, regularly, and hurts fighters round by round. He had solid pop in every punch, and he really did show that in neutralising the pressure of Shoki Sakai, a notoriously tough man. If we are looking for areas he's weak he's not the quickest, he's not a fighter who has natural speed, but he makes up for that with decent timing and solid, dependable work rate, and a very nice variety of shots in his arsenal.
As for the challenger the 27 year old Filipino has been around since 2013 and had mixed success early in, going 3-2 in his first 5. Following that stumbling start he found his groove, and climbed to 9-2, before suffering a stoppage loss Georgii Chelokhsaev in Russia, where he suffered an injury in the opening round. That loss was a set back, but not the end end as he returned to the ring soon afterwards and picked up 2 wins on the domestic scene before a close loss in 2017 to Apinun Khongsong. That loss started a downfall, that saw him fall to 11-6, and he's never really rebuilt from there, strugglign for consistency. He's shown he can score upsets, as he did in 2018 against Youli Dong, but his results aren't consistent and worse yet he suffered his second inside the distance loss this past March, at the hands of Vitaly Petryakov.
In the ring it's fair to say that Abdulhamid is a very capable fighter. He moves like an aggressive fighter, he likes to press and pressure, coming forward to set the tempo of the bout. Early on he can be somewhat apprehensive of throwing shots, but as the rounds tick by he does fire more leather off. His aggressive footwork in ring style makes life hard for opponents, as we saw against Khongsong and Dong, but he's not a guy who will cut the ring down quickly. Instead he's a bit predictable and basic, allowing opponents with decent footwork to create space or make him pay for being wide with his shots.
Watching the two men one thing seems to be pretty clear, and that's the gulf between the two fighters, but instead the manner in which the Filipino fighter is essentially made to order for Toyoshima. The pressure from Abdulhamid should see him essentially walking into the firing zone of Toyoshima, who we suspect will pick him apart with the cleaner, crisper, more technically sound shots. Abdulhamid does have decent work rate when he decides to let his shots go, which typically comes after a slow start, but they are wide and will leave him open to counter shots from Toyoshima.
We suspect Abdulhamid will start slowly, losing a number of the early rounds, before trying to pick up the pace in the middle of the bout, and end up being caught time and time again by counter shots until he get stopped in the later rounds.
Prediction - TKO11 Toyoshima
The Welterweight division in Japan isn't the best, and sadly at the moment the one genuine stand out in the division, Keita Obara, is injured and was forced to pull out of a Japanese title defense earlier this year against Yuki Nagano (19-3, 15). Rather than letting the title scene sit until Obara returns the JBC have allowed Nagano to fight for the interim title this coming Monday, where he will face Takeru Kobata (11-5-1, 4) at Korakuen Hall in the main event of the latest Dynamic Glove show.
Of the two fighters Nagano is the very clear favourite. The 32 year old is a former Japanese national champion, who holds wins over a number of notable domestic fighters, such as Riku Nagahama, Yuki Beppu, Ryota Yada, Makoto Kawasaki and Yuki Beppu. In fairness he possibly has the best resume in the division of any Japanese fighter, even better than Obara's, with only fellow Teiken stable mate Ryota Toyoshima giving him a run for his money. Sadly though at the age of 32 and having taken a fair bit of punish through his career, it's hard to know just how much he has left to offer the sport, though.
In the ring Nagano is heavy handed southpaw boxer-puncher. He's got a stiff jab, a very heavy straight left hand and like many Teiken fighters in recent years, likes to box at mid-range whilst drawing mistakes and hammering with straight shots. He has a nice array of of short punches, but does tend to only use them to close the show against opponents who are hurt. He's clearly talented but he's not flawless, and he's certainly not the quickest, the sharpest or the toughest, having been stopped in 2 of his 3 losses. Sadly for Nagano his defensive skills are lacking and against Obara in 2020 he was simply made to look second best in every dimension. Obara simply did what Nagano wanted to do, far better than Nagano could.
Kobata on the other hand is something of an unknown, even for those who actively follow the Japanese scene. The 23 year old is a southpaw from Oita who has typically fought outside of the main Japanese boxing markets, of Toyko, Osaka, Kobe and Hyogo, and he's not yet found something of a boxing home. Instead his career has sene him fight across Japan, travelling for fights and being willing to take on fights in their home towns regularly. Thankfully that has began to pay off for him, and recently he has been getting more and more fights in Tokyo against notable names, and scoring some solid domestic wins along the way. In fact his last 5 bouts have come against Change Hamashima, Shoki Sakai, Rikuto Adachi, Tetsuya Kondo and Fumisake Kimura. Not only that but he's also been picking up wins, stopping Adachi in a round and beating both Kondo and Kimura to climb up the Japanese rankings.
Rather sadly footage of Kobata is rather had to come by, but there some of his recent fights available. What is freely available show Kobata to be a pressure fighter, who comes forward looking to draw his opponents into a fight, without taking too many risks. He comes forward behind a somewhat cautious stands, edging towards an opponent looking to draw a mistake which he can counter with his crisp left hand. Up close he's physical, aggressive, and likes to impose himself, pushing opponents around. His style is somewhat frustrating to watch, and it feels like he could do much more with it, but it's getting results for him, and making him a very hard man to beat. He also had the advantage of being genuinely tough, despite having 2 stoppage losses to his name. He has shown he's rugged, and he can stand and fight when he needs to. He also has sneaky power, as Adachi found out.
For Nagano the key here is to fight his fight. He needs to keep it at range. He needs to box and move, create space, and use his reach. If he lets Kobata back him up and dictate the tempo and range here, he will be dragged into something tough and testing. Instead if he can establish a busy jab, keep Kobata at range and land huge left hands of his own he should have the tools to break down Kobata.Nagano does need to be wary of Kobata getting close and turning this into a rougher and tougher bout than he wants, but Nagano should have the tools to win break down his younger foe.
Prediction - TKO8 Nagano
On December 9th Japanese fight fans at Korakuen Hall will see Japanese Welterweight champion Keita Obara (24-4-1, 21) make his second defense, as he takes on Masaya Tamayama (14-2, 8), who will be competing in his first title bout. On paper this is a huge step up for the challenger, whilst Obara will be looking to continue his domination of the domestic scene, and potentially move towards a triple crown fight in 2022.
Of the two men involved in the fight it's fair to say that Obara is the much, much more well known fighter. He is, after all, a former world title challenger, a 2-weight Japanese national champion and a fighter who has previously held both of the notable regional titles. He is also someone who was long viewed as one of the few Japanese Light Welterweights who could make a mark internationally, and in fairness to him he did with a world title bout and two bouts in the US. Aged 35 he is certainly getting towards the end of his career, but with just 29 fights to his name, and a total of 156 rounds, he's not taken much punishment and does take very good care of his body outside of the sport.
In the ring Obara is a relative basic boxer, but one who does what he does pretty well. He is a pretty typical boxer-puncher, who wants distance to work at, and wants to be able to get full extension on his shots. At domestic level, and regional level, his power is brutal and it's rare that opponents have been able to survive against him. His power has carried up at domestic level from 140lbs to 147lbs and in fact it's probably fair to say that his 5'11" frame was always more suited to Welterweight than 140lbs. Although heavy handed Obara isn't the quickest out there, and he can be made to look slow of foot, he also doesn't like being forced to reset, something we've seen in a number of his losses, and he does have question marks over his chin, with 3 of his 4 losses coming by stoppage. Whilst we'll forgive his first loss, on debut when he ran out of gas in a scheduled 6 rounder, his other two stoppages have been devastating KO's worthy of a highlight for each of his conquerors.
Aged 28 Tamayama is coming into his prime but there is still a lot of question marks over his head. He turned professional in 2013 and reached the East Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2014, losing in the final to Hironobu Matsunaga. Following that loss he went on a nice winning run, picking up 8 wins before losing in 2019 to Riku Nagahama in what was a very well contested bout. Sadly whilst his 8 win run did look good on paper it didn't really hold up to scrutiny and he lacked a win of any note, and several of his wins, including one over Toshiro Tarumi was incredibly close. None of those wins really aged well either. Since lose to Nagahama he has notched two wins, but again they lack in terms of quality, with the best of them coming against Hisashi Kato, a limited "win some, lose some" domestic fighter
In the ring Tamayama is an aggressive fighter, who likes to bring pressure and force a fight. He's not particularly polished, or a big puncher, but his style is certainly one that could make for fun action bouts with the right dance partner. Despite bringing pressure he is a patient fighter, and he doesn't like wasting shots. He'll bring the pressure with his feet and look to get a mistake from his opponent before firing off shots. It's worth noting that he fights out of the Teiken gym and in some ways his style is similar to what we recently saw from Kenichi Ogawa against Azinga Fuzile, albeit with out the "Crush Right" of Ogawa. Against certain opponents, such as Shoki Sakai, he would make for a great fight, but against other fighters he just lacks those touches needed to make a mark at a higher level. Sadly he also doesn't have the tightest of defences and we regularly see opponents landing clean shots on him as he comes in.
Sadly for Tamayama his limited defensive skills will cost him here. Against the likes Hisashi Kato he can afford to get hit, against Obara however he can't. Obara's power is devastating at Japanese level, and we suspect that we'll see that here. We expect to see Tamayama pressing forward, showing some good hunger, but getting tagged with hard right hands on his way in. Sooner or later those will be his undoing and he'll get rocked before Obara puts him away.
Prediction - TKO6 Obara
This coming Saturday Korakuen Hall plays host to a really good looking OPBF Welterweight title fight, as defending champion Ryota Toyoshima (14-2-1, 9) makes his second defense of the title and takes on the teak tough Shoki Sakai (26-12-2, 14) in what should be an exciting all action bout.
Toyoshima made his professional debut in 2014, as an 18 year old, and despite struggling early in his career he has developed into a very solid boxer-puncher. He drew on debut and was 7-2-1 (5) after 10 bouts, with two losses to Masaharu Kaito, and despite winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year the expectations on him were quite low at that point. Since the start of 2018 however he has gone 7-0 (4) and been on a solid run with wins against the likes of Moon Hyun Yun, Woo Min Won, Riku Nagahama and Yuki Beppu. He won the OPBF title with a 12 round decision win over Nagahama and unified it a fighter later with a dominant 10th round KO win against Beppu.
In the ring Toyoshima has proven himself to be aggressive, heavy handed, exciting and yet patient. He comes forward, applying educated pressure, looks to keep busy with his hard right hands and uses his jab well to set the tempo. He's not the most polished, or rounded fighter out there, and he's also not quick, but he is strong, heavy handed, has good stamina and does a lot of things well. He's never going to be a threat to the top guys internationally, but there's not too many regional level fighters that would be fancied above him, and with a few more wins he could end up moving up the world rankings towards a more significant international fight. Sadly his flaws would limit him at that level, but at this level he's going to be a hard man to dethrone.
With 40 bouts to his name Shoki Sakai is not a typical Japanese fighters. In fact "EL PV" has had one of the most unique careers of any active Japanese fighters. He started his career in 2010, in Mexico, and his first 36 bouts were all outside of Japan as he picked up fights in Mexico, Nicaragua and the USA. He also managed to fight some pretty notable fighters during those years of his career such as Ashley Theophan, Eddie Gomez, Alexis Rocha and Gor Yeritsyan, and was often matched with promising prospects. In 2020 he finally fought in Japan beating Hironori Shigeta, and since then has fought twice more in the Land of the Rising Sung, including a great fight with Japanese Welterweight champion Keita Obara this past April.
Whilst Sakai's career is unique for a Japanese fighter, he does have a lot of stereotypical Japanese traits. He's strong, rugged, tough, and comes forward, applying pressure. His toughness made him so valuable over in the West, where he would always come to fight and take the fight to prospects, but it's also quickly endeared him to local fans back in Japan, who were awed by his will to win against Keita Obara, who was pushed all the way. His style lends it's self to fan friendly fights, and given his under-rated skills and work rate, it also means he has a chance against very solid regional and domestic fighters. Such as a Toyoshima. He's predictable, and has slow feet, but his pressure is incessant, and he will be looking to press Toyoshima, using his high guard to put Toyoshima on the back foot and look to break him down with body shots.
Coming in to this we feel Sakai is the perfect opponent to test Toyoshima, like he was for prospects in the west. He will come forward, he will pressure, and he will march towards Toyoshima like a man possessed. Sadly for him however the difference in foot speed will be the key, with Toyoshima lighter on his feet, a better mover and the man who wants to fight at a longer range. Sakai will certainly have moments, and a lot of them, but we feel the cleaner, more eye catching shots will be from Toyoshima, who will just about manage to do enough and take the decision. He'll have to work hard for it, but the youth, speed and the fact he has fewer miles on the clock should help him over the line in a potentially thrilling battle.
Prediction - UD12 Toyoshima
When we think about fights that get us excited there is a general rule of thumb. Do we have two guys with styles that should gel? If so are those styles aggressive and exciting? If the answer to both of those questions is "yes" then we get super excited about what we could end up seeing, knowing perfectly well that we may well get something a little bit special.
With that in mind we're expecting something special on May 19th when we get the chance to see OPBF Welterweight champion Ryota Toyoshima (13-2-1, 8) take on WBO Asia Pacific champion Yuki Beppu (21-1-1, 20) in a brilliant unification bout, which could a genuine FOTY contender. Even if neither man is particularly well known outside of Japan. In fact it wouldn't be the first FOTY contender for either man, with both well known for fan friendly bouts, their limitations and their aggressive in ring mentalities. It will also be a bout where both men are wound a little bit tighter than usual, following the fact this bout was delayed, having originally been planned for May 5th.
Aged 30 Beppu is the older man, though is certainly not an older fighter by any stretch. In fact his 23 combined bouts have only lasted 64 rounds, and his career, which started in 2012, has not been a punishing one. At all. Beppu debuted in late 2012 and began to build some traction in 2013, before winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014, stopping future Japanese Light Middleweight champion Hironobu Matsunaga in 2 rounds in the final, to record his 7th straight TKO victory. He would extend that stoppage run up to 14 straight wins before fighting to a draw, in 2017, with the tough Charles Bellamy. After a few more blow out wins he suffered his first loss, in a Japanese elimiator against Yuki Nagano and, and then scored his first decision win in 2019, when he out pointed Jason Egera. It was however his December 2019 bout that put him on the boxing map, as he defeated Ryota Yada in an instant classic. That bout saw Beppu being dropped 5 times, but stopping Yada in round 10 to claim the WBO Asia Pacific Welterweight title. Sadly he's not been in the ring since that title win.
At his best Beppu is a scarily heavy handed boxer-puncher. Defensively he's not the best, and given Yada dropped him 5 times his chin is very questionable, but his heart, determination and will to win is incredible. His footwork is under-rated, his movement is also better than people give him credit for and he is certainly a more rounded boxer than most realise. Given how many times he got up against Yada it's clear he's a very determined fighter, and a determined fighter, with fight changing power is never an easy out for anyone. Sadly however he is a man who is easy to hit and despite being a power puncher he is a naturally smaller Welterweight, which is likely to be a real issue for him here, but not something that he can't, potentially, over-come.
Aged 25 Ryota Toyoshima is a man who debuted in 2014 and didn't really managed to make much noise early on. He fought to a draw on debut and suffered his first loss in his 4th professional bout, losing to Masaharu Kaito. He rebounded well, winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year before losing against to Kaito in 2017. That loss left the then 21 year old sporting a 7-2-1 (5) record, but he has rebuilt really well since then scoring 6 wins in a row, including recent wins over Moon Hyon Yun, Woo Min Won, Masafumi Ando and, most notably, Riku Nagahama, with the win over Nagahama netting him the OPBF title.
In the ring Toyoshima is an aggressive fighter who comes forward behind a tight high guard, he presses, and pressures and when in range he lets shots fly. He's not the most technical or the most defensively, especially when he lets his hands go, but he can take a good shot and has very respectable power himself. In fact he's willing to take one to land one, due to his power and chin. Whilst he does have a solid, stiff, jab, he doesn't use it as much as he should, and instead plods forward trying to get angles for his hooks and straight right hand. It's a tactic that can look sluggish and slow at times, but as bouts go on his pressure builds and he starts to have more and more success against fighters who are sapped from his constant forward march.
Given Toyoshima's love of marching forward, and the power of Beppu it's hard to not expect this to be an absolute tear up. Toyoshima is the less classically "skilled" of the two men, and the less powerful puncher, but he's the naturally bigger man, the stronger man and the more imposing man. Given Toyoshima has plenty of bang in his own shots there's a real chance he'll be able to put Beppu down, like Yada did, and maybe even drop him a few times. On the other hand Beppu is a determined terrier with a big bite. He will jump in an out, use his very under-rated jab and make the most of his speed.
We expect to see both men damaged here, we expect to see at least one knockdown each way, and by the end we expect to see both men looking a mess. Expect to see both men marked up, bloodied, and feeling the effects of some huge head shots.
As for picking a winner, we're going with Beppu, in a late stoppage, in what could well be the Japanese fight of the year. We think his long lay off, since late 2019, will serve him well here, especially given how Toyoshima was in a war just a few months ago. Saying that however we wouldn't be surprised at all if the referee ends up needing to wave this off, in favour of either man.
Prediction - SD12 Beppu
On April 8th we'll see a really interesting Japanese Welterweight title bout between a huge punching champion and a teak tough challenger, who should be able to put on a genuine show!
The bout in question will see Keita Obara (23-4-1, 21) making his first defense of the title, as he takes on "reimported boxer" Shoki Sakai (25-11-2, 13), who has fought much of his career in Mexico and the US. The two men have had very, very, very different careers, but together they should make for something of a special fighter.
Of the two men Obara is the well proven and more established fighter. Aged 34 he's at the back end of his career but hasn't actually taken all that much punishment during his 28 fight career. In fact he's only fought 146 professional rounds since his 2010 debut. That is in part due to his style, which is built around his out-side boxing and power. He hurts fighters when he lands and has 21 stoppages in 23 wins, and at Japanese and Oriental level he tends to not need to land too many shots to finish bouts. Sadly though he has also shown a questionable chin and has been stopped in 3 of his 4 losses, including a loss on his 2010 debut to Kazuyoshi Kumano and in a 2016 world title fight against Eduard Troyanovsky.
At his best Obara is a very, very good boxer-puncher. Not world class as such, but a good "top 30" type of guy. He has very good power, decent stamina, good size, but he lacks in terms of his durability and his speed. He's not slow as such, but he's quite deliberate and technical, which makes him look slower than he really is. At Japanese level he has looked almost untouchable since losing on debut, and since then he has never lost against a fellow Japanese fighter. In fact his record against Japanese fighters is 15-1 (14), and he has genuine dominated the scene at 140lbs and 147lbs.
During his long career Obara has won Japanese and OPBF titles at Light Welterweight and the WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese titles at Welterweight. The last of those titles was the Japanese Welterweight title which he won in February 2020, when he stopped Yuki Nagano. That win is, notably, his most recent bout and is now well over a year ago. It's going to be very interesting to see what the 34 year old Obara, with more than a year of ring rust, is going to be like here.
Although somewhat new to Japanese fans Shoki Sakai is no spring chicken himself. He's 30 years old and has been a professional since 2010. Unlike most Japanese boxers however he really made his name outside of his homeland, and carved out the first few years fighting only in Mexico, in fact his first 15 bouts were all in Mexico and 24of his first 25 were in the country. From 2016 however he began to frequent rings in the US, where he was matched against some fairly notable names such as Ashley Theophane, Cameron Krael, Eddie Gomez, Alexis Rocha and Gor Yeritsyan. He was used as a bit of a gatekeeper, testing highly regarded prospects, and often being a very credible test due to his toughness and desire. He lacked the skills to beat the top prospects, but gave them all a tough time and lasted the distance with them all, making them all work incredibly hard.
In 2020, after 36 bouts as a professional, Sakai made his Japanese debut and has now won 2 bouts in Japan, beating 2017 Rookie of the Year winner Hironori Shigeta and current Japanese Youth champion Takeru Kobata. Two very decent domestic wins and two wins that showed what Sakai could do in the sport.
As a fighter Sakai is a pretty basic pressure fighter, who can box a bit but really relies on his pressure. Given his skillset however that's a tactics that works for him. He's technically limited, but strong, tough and has a good work rate. With that in mind he uses what he has. He comes forward, looks to get inside and works up close. He's not the quickest, sharpest, or particularly light on his feet, but he's a tough lump who gets in the ring and looks to have a fight. Sadly for him he does take a lot of punishment, and in his 38 bouts he has already had 241 professional rounds and some of those have been tough rounds, such as the 8 spent with Gor Yeritsyan.
When it comes to this bout there are a lot of interesting questions. For example what is the lengthy lay off going to do to Obara? He may have aged over night, he may have been caught by father time, or he may just be a bit rusty. In fact at the age of 34 is Obara now at the end of his career? Can he even get up for a fight like this? At On the other hand can Sakai take the power of Obara? Can Sakai get past the very good jab of Obara? In fact can Sakai's style even have success against Obara given his somewhat flat footed approach in the ring?
Sadly for Sakai we suspect he'll be in trouble here. We don't see him getting close with the regularity he needs to really be a test for Obara. In fact we expect the power and straight shots of Obara too get Sakai's respect early and as the bout goes on Sakai will be taking more and more punishment, as he tries over and over to cut the distance. Up close Sakai will have some success, but Obara will hold, spoil and force the referee to split them, allowing him to get back behind his jab.
We expect to see Sakai being well behind going into the second half of the bout and taking more risks, before finally being stopped. Potentially by his corner.
Prediction - TKO9 Obara
On March 11th we'll see the next Japanese Youth title fight, as Rikuto Adachi (14-2, 11) and Takeru Kobata (8-5-1, 3) clash for the Japanese Youth Welterweight title at Korakuen Hall. On paper this isn't close to being one of the best Japanese Youth title bouts, but it's still an interesting one between two 22 year old fighters each looking to win their first professional titles and move their careers forward.
Of the two fighters it's Adachi who is more well known, has faced stiffer competition and is regarded as the more promising fighter. At 5'11" he's a tall Welterweight and having debuted as a 17 year old in 2015 he's also someone who has been training as a professional for years. In fact there was a lot of buzz about him in 2017, when he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final as a 19 year old. Although he lost in the Rookie of the Year final the loss was regarded as a learning experience and with Hiroki Ioka guiding his career he was expected to go on to bigger and better things. Sadly those bigger and better things haven't yet come for Adachi, who lost in a Japanese Youth title fight in 2019 against Kudura Kaneko and then really struggled to get going again.
In 2020 Adachi moved from the Hiroki Ioka Boxing gym to the Ohashi boxing gym, moving from Osaka to Kanagawa in the process, and it was assumed Ohashi would guide the talented youngster to success. Sadly however Adachi has had several bouts cancelled since signing with the Ohashi gym, and as a result he's now been out of the ring since December 2019.
In the ring Adachi has shown himself to be a rangy, tall, long boxer. He towers over many of his opponents and presses forward behind his jab, which he uses to try and create chances to land a big right hand. He's defensively quite open, appears to lack genuine crispness in his work, but is young, strong and big. Notably however the move to the Ohashi gym, and more than a year out of the ring, is likely to have polished off a lot of issues with Adachi and the key question coming into this is "how much has he improved since his last bout?" We suspect he will always be a flawed, but aggressive boxer-puncher, however we also know that his team will be working on those flaws.
Whilst Adachi has long been regarded as a genuine prospect the same can't be said for Kobata, who also debuted in 2015, as a 17 year old. In fact Kobata debuted as a Featherweight back in late 2015, and suffered a TKO loss on debut. Amazingly Kobata began his career 0-2-1 after 3 bouts and it was fair to assume his career was going no where. Credit however has to go to Adachi who buckled down hard and went on to reach the 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year final, losing in the final at Lightweight to Kosuke Arioka. Since then his body has filled out and he has moved to Light Welterweight and more recently Welterweight.
Early in his career Kobata looked very basic. He came to fight, but that was about as polite as we could be. He was a come forward southpaw, who marched in straight lights, let his hooks go and had very limited defensive skills or boxing intelligence. It made him fun to watch, but also saw him lose 3 of his first 9 bouts. Since then however he has matured, he has developed and despite still being limited he certainly appears to be more durable in recent years. Now-a-days he neutralises pressure better, he uses his southpaw jab and he knows what he's doing in the ring. In is most recent bout, against Shoki Sakai, he proved to be a crafty fighter, and a tough one and showed enough to genuinely run Sakai close. Although he has lost 2 of his last 4, it needs to be noted that he's not as bad as his record suggests.
On paper Adachi should be the favourite. He's the bigger man, the more highly regarded fighter and the man with the better record. We have no issue with Adachi being regarded as the favourite, and we suspect that if he can use his jab and reach well here he should be able to take a clear decision with a safety first gameplan.
However with the ring rust and the change in gyms we do wonder just how good Adachi will look here, and if Kobata gets off to a good start, makes the most of his southpaw stance and continues to show the improvements he has in recent years, we suspect he could be a genuine banana skin here.
Although we do think Adachi should be the favourite, we don't think he'll actually win here, and instead we're calling the upset. We suspect the work rate of Kobata, as well as his recent activity will play a major factor here and he will manage to squeak a razor thin decision.
Prediction - Kobata SD8
On January 16th we'll see the second OPBF title fight of the new year as Welterweight champion Riku Nagahama (12-2-1, 4) defends his belt against Ryota Toyoshima (12-2-1, 8), in what will be Nagahama's first defense of the belt. For both men it's a great opportunity to start the year with a win of note and whilst a loss would be a set back they would have the rest of 2021 to get back on track.
Coming into the bout it's the champion who is riding high after winning the title last February, in the final show before Japanese boxing locked down due to Covid19. Not only did Nagahama win the title last February but he did so in what was arguably his best win to date, ending the unbeaten run of the previously unbeaten Japanese based Afghan fighter Kudura Kaneko. Going into the bout Kaneko seemed to have a lot of steam behind him, but Nagahama boxed smartly to out point the then 11-0 Kaneko.
Boxing smartly really is the way forward for the 29 year old Nagahama who is a tidy boxer, but someone who has come up short when he's been dragged into a war or shoot out, with his chin letting him down against both Takeshi Inoue and Yuki Nagano. Sadly for him those bouts exposed his two biggest flaws. One is his relative lack of power, which meant he couldn't get respect from either man, and the other is his questionable durability. He's not china chinned, or an accident waiting to happen, but both Nagano and Inoue broke him down, with Nagano really breaking his face up with good straight right hands and left hooks. Inoue on the other hand forced the referee to jump in in round 8, when Nagahama was taking shots. In both cases Nagahama found himself being man handled and caught clean, a lot, at close range, forcing the referee to save him. Both stoppages came with Nagahama on his feet, but looking beaten, bruised and damaged when the referee stepped in.
Despite the two losses however he did have success and is certainly a very skilled boxer. We saw this when he won Rookie of the Year in 2015, we saw it in both of his losses and in his recent winning streak, which has seen him win 4 in a row.
Aged 25 and fighting out of the Teiken gym Ryota Toyoshima is regarded as a very hungry, and hard hitting, challenger looking for his chance to make a mark at title level, after having been overshadowed by the aforementioned Yuki Nagano. The heavy handed southpaw made his debut in 2014, as a teenager and ended up losing early in his career. After just 4 bouts he was 2-1-1 but rebuilt well, winning Rookie of the Year in 2016. He suffered his second career loss in 2017, coming up short to Masaharu Saito who had also given him his first loss, but since then has found his groove with 5 straight wins, 3 of which have been by stoppage.
It's fair to say that Toyoshima, unlike Nagahama, has got very respectable power. He's also a lot more comfortable at a slower pace than Nagahama, who always wants to be seen doing something. For Toyoshima little things are one of his strengths, lulling opponents slightly before countering, or changing the tempo of the action. Despite being a very capable boxer Toyoshima's real strength comes in his naturally heavy hands. When he lands clean he tends to hurt opponents, and chip away at their resilience. He's able to land hard to head or body and does throw some very sneak short left hooks, as we saw against Masafumi Ando in 2019. When he's in seek and destroy mode, as he was against Woo Min Won, he can make for very fan friendly tear ups, and that's what we expect to see from him here.
For Nagahama the key to victory is using his skills to keep control of the tempo and prevent Toyoshima from making this a war, and he does have those tools in his arsenal. He needs to work when he gets space, he needs to stick his jab in Toyoshima's face as often as he can and upset the puncher's rhythm.
As for Toyoshima the key is to out work, out power, and out muscle Nagahama. He will take shots in return, but his chin and the lack of pop on Nagahama's shots should prove to be the difference. The thing he needs to avoid is allowing Nagahama to dictate the tempo from the early going, if that happens Toyoshima will struggle to play catch up on the cards and his power might not be able to bail him out.
We're expecting the pressure and power of Toyoshima, along with his sneaky body shots, to be the difference. We expect him to slow down Nagahama and then, later on, force the stoppage with a spent Nagahama covering up on the ropes after feeling the relentless assault of the challenger.
Regardless of who wins however we are expecting a genuinely exciting little war here, the bout really could be a sensational way to top off the first Dynamic Glove card of 2021.
Prediction - Toyoshima TKO8
For those interested the bout will be televised live on G+, which is available via the Isakura service those outside of Japan.
The Welterweight division in Asia hasn't been the most amazing to follow, despite some entertaining bouts such as 2019's fantastic bout between Yuki Beppu and Ryota Yada. Despite not being the best it does give us some interesting match ups on paper, such as the one at the start of between Keita Obara and Yuki Nagano, and the one we're going to focus on in this preview. That's the February 27th bout for the the OPBF title between Riku Nagahama (11-2-1, 4) and Kudura Kaneko (11-0, 8). On paper this looks good and in the ring we expect it to be even better than it looks.
Ranked #3 by the OPBF Kaneko is getting his first shot a major title, having previously won the Japanese Youth Welterweight title. The Japanese based Afghan born 22 year old is someone who has quietly been making a name for himself without too much attention on him. Since debuting in 2015, as a teenager, Kaneko has developed himself a reputation as a very talented boxer-puncher. He claimed the Youth title in 2018, when he beat Change Hamashima in their second bout, then scored a trio of solid domestic wins over Toshio Arikawa, Rikuto Adachi and Moon Hyun Yun. Those 3 wins have helped secure him this title fight, and have seen him get a title on merit, something we don't always see.
Although not well known outside of Japan Kaneko is a very physically strong fighter. He's not the quickest or the sharpest, but he's certainly not slow and sloppy and is instead more of a deliberate fighter, with heavy hands. There's power in both hands and for a fighter who isn't lighting quick with his hands he does move well, especially with his upper body. One other thing to note about Kaneko is that he finds the target well and varies his shots smartly. Defensively there is work to do for Kaneko going forward but at the moment no ones really been able to make him pay for the little flaws with see. Instead he tends to be the one making opponents pay, and make them pay rather quickly with 7 of his wins coming within 3 rounds.
Aged 28 Nagahama is a man who is now starting to fight for his career. He's not shot, or past his best, but he is in desperate need for a notable win, following stoppage losses in 2017, to Takeshi Inoue, and 2018, to Yuki Nagano. This will be his second title fight, following a loss in a Japanese title fight at 154lbs to Inoue, but isn't an easy one. In fact on paper this is his third toughest bout on paper, and he has lost his two toughest bouts to date. Looking through his record his biggest wins so far were 2015 Rookie of the Year win, at Middleweight, against Brandon Lockhart Shane and his 2019 win over Masaya Tamayama. The win over Tamayama was good, but that wasn't a win that really showed Nagahama was ready to mix it at regional title level.
Watching Nagahama we see a solid fighter, but one who doesn't blow us away, in any area. He's technically decent, but lacks speed, lacks power, and doesn't appear physically imposing. He lets good combinations go, but the never appears to have any sort of fight ending power on them. If you let him dictate the pace it'll be a slow, controlled fight and a win for him. To beat him, you need to dictate the pace, and for most fighters at regional title level that won't be a problem.
We expect this to start pretty slowly, with the two men looking to stand off and box against each other. It won't take long however until Kaneko puts his foot on the gas and lands something heavy, and begin to break down Nagahama, who will feel the need to respond and that will only speed up his demise.
Prediction - TKO5 Kaneko
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.