The past year or two we've seen the Super Bantamweight division in Japan being one of the highlights delivering great fighter after great fight. Those great fights included May's rematch between Ryoichi Tamura and Yusaku Kuga (18-3-1, 12), which saw Kuga become a 2-time Japanese Super Bantamweight champion thanks to an all 10 round war.
Kuga returns to the ring on September 21st to defend his title against 32 year old veteran Yosuke Fujihara (18-6, 5), who gets his second Japanese title fight just over 12 years after his professional debut. On paper this looks like an easy defense for Kuga, though in fairness he does deserve an easy one after May's war with Tamura, which really was a damaging bout for both men.
For those who haven't seen Kuga he is a nasty, nasty fighter in the ring. He's heavy handed, aggressive, incredibly strong and tough. Offensively he's a monster but he's also technically quite crude, defensively flawed and can be out boxed. We saw Shingo Wake really pick him apart last year, when he stopped Kuga in the 10th round, but it took a fighter of Wake's high skill level to clearly beat Kuga. Kuga's only other losses were a 2012 loss to Nobuhiro Hisano and a razor thin 2015 loss to Yasutaka Ishimoto, a loss that was avenged in 2018. Since his 2015 loss to Ishimoto Wake has gone 7-1 (5), with both of the decision wins coming in close fights with Tamura and the loss being the one to Wake.
At 28 years old Kuga is still improving, developing and adding to his experience. Though the tough bouts will catch up with him soon or later and wars against the likes of Tamura, Wake and Ishimoto, and we hope he gets a big bout before those wars take the best out of him. His aggressive style makes for wars, and his power, strength and toughness, means he tends to win them, but it's still not a style which will lead to a long and fruitful career.
The 32 year old Fujihara showed a lot of promise early in his career, following his 2007 debut. He won his first 13 bouts, and notable won the 2008 Rookie of the Year. He was unbeaten for more than 3 years before losing in May 2011 to Kentaro Masuda. He quickly went from 13-0 to 14-3 as his career began to fall apart, including stoppage losses to Mugicha Nakagawa and Ryuta Otsuka. In 2016 he got his first Japanese title fight, losing a wide decision to Yasutaka Ishimoto, and since then he has gone 2-2. To suggest that Fujihara is a limited challenger really doesn't say as much as stating he is 5-6 in the last 6 years.
At his best Fujihara was a legitimate domestic title challenger. Problem is that his best really didn't last very long, and is very much in the past. Even recent wins over Naoya Okamoto and Keita Nakano really don't suggest things are turning around for Fujihara. The biggest problem for Fujihara is the fact that he lacks anything that makes him really stand out as a threat. He lacks lighting speed, thunderous power, he's not physically imposing or able to set a high work rate.
Given that Kuga will impose himself, will set a high pace and will look to take Fujihara out early on, it's hard to see anything but an early win for the champion. Fujihara will have to rely on his toughness early on, and sooner or later that toughness will way and Kuga will break him down.
One of the most interesting division right now, especially for Asian fight fans, is the 122lb Super Bantamweight division. At the world level fighters like Nonito Donaire rules the roost with the WBO, Shingo Wake looks set to get his long awaited shot at the IBF title whilst Albert Pagara and Ryo Matsumoto are both on the verge of getting world title fights before the year is over. Whilst the world scene is certainly interesting at 122lbs it's also a division that has really intriguing on the Asian regional and Japanese domestic scenes.
Part of that intrigue comes down to the prospects in and around the weight, like Kazuki Tanaka, Hinata Maruta and Daisuke Watanabe. Another part however is the great match ups that can be made at the top of the domestic scene.
The next bout at the top of the Japanese scene scenes Japanese champion Yasutaka Ishimoto (27-8, 7) defending his Japanese title, for the first time, against mandatory challenger Yosuke Fujihara (16-3, 4). For Ishimoto this is first defense of a title that took him 3 shots to win and it's a chance to strengthen his claim as the king of the Japanese domestic scene. For Fujihara the bout is a chance to continue his development as a fighter and record a third successive win of note.
Of the two men it's Ishimoto who is the better known fight. He's been a professional since 2002 and has mixed with several notable names. That has included Masaaki Serie, twice, Yota Sato, Shingo Wake, Yu Kawaguchi, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr, Chris Avalos and Yukinori Oguni. Whilst no one will act like Ishimoto is a world beater he's got a number of very good wins on his record, including victories over Wake, Kawaguchi, Vazquez Jr, Gakuya Furuhashi and Yusaku Kuga.
In the ring Ishimoto is a busy, well schooled fighter with a sharp jab, solid work on the inside and although he lacks power he is a real handful combining speed, heart and work rate. So far he only has one stoppage loss, to Avalos, and could well have had wins in a number of his losses. In fact in another world he'd have about 4 less losses.
When it comes to Fujihara much less is known with footage being scarce, though he has faced some notable fighters of his own. Sadly for him he has suffered losses to many of those notable fighters, including Kentaro Masuda and Ryuta Otsuka. He has however scored wins over Teppei Kikui, Kenji Kubo and Yukunoi Hisanaga. Interestingly he is 3-3 in his last 6, but the 4 most notable wins have come in his last 7 bouts and he has also looked good since moving to 122lbs, in fact his only losses have come at Bantamweight as opposed to Super Bantamweight.
Notably Fujihara went 8 rounds with Kentaro Masuda, back in 2011, before taking 2 years off. In his second bout back he was stopped inside a round by Yuta Nakagawa and was then stopped against by Ryuta Otsuka, before taking a year out and returning to score back-to-back wins. Although clearly not the busiest of fighters it's plausible that the breaks have helped him develop significantly as a fighter, both mentally and physically.
Although Fujihara is in good form it does seem like he's stepping up, in a big way, for this bout and we suspect that whilst he'll be game against Ishimoto he won't be able to keep it up for the 10 rounds and will either be broken down for a late stoppage, or suffer a clear, but competitive, decision loss to the talented champion.
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.