By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On February 1st, the world ranked Keita Obara challenges Yuki Nagano for the Japanese championship, at the legendary Korakuen Hall.
Keita Obara (22-4 / 20 KOs) began his amateur boxing career back in high school, before joining Tokyo University. During that time, he won the National Sports Festival, which is considered to be Japan’s premier sporting event, twice. Despite losing on his pro debut, to the 9 year veteran Kazuyoshi Kumano (26-12), Obara went on to win 16 fights in a row, 15 of them being finishes.
Specifically, after capturing the Japanese Super Lightweight title, he squared off with former WBO Asia Pacific champion Jay Solmiano (19-3) for the vacant OPBF crown. Obara scored a knockdown, courtesy of a counter left, and finished him off seconds later with a right straight to the chin. He then defended his new belt against heavy hitter Shinya Iwabuchi (26-6), in an exciting affair, where he ended things in the very last round, after connecting with the powerful overhand left hook.
In a clash of top world title contenders, Obara took Walter Castillo (26-5) to the limit, delivering the punishment for 12 rounds, while leaving the Nicaraguan bloodied and bruised. Even though the contest was unfairly declared a draw, since Castillo refused the rematch, Obara eventually challenged the unified IBF & IBO World champion Eduard Troyanovsky (28-2), but was completely dominated in less than 5 minutes.
The Japanese star decided to move up to Welterweight and almost a year removed from this crashing defeat, he faced former WBC International champion Narong Bunchan (28-7) for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title. Obara put together an excellent combination, dropping his Thai rival in the 2nd round and kept throwing big shots until the referee stepped in and stopped the fight. He made a successful defense against Shusaku Fujinaka (16-12), whom he knocked out with a thunderous right hook.
In a surprising turn of event, Obara lost to the unheralded Alvin Lagumbay (11-5) in April of 2018, after a double knockdown occurred, from which only the Filipino managed to answer the 10 count, thus earning the biggest win of his young career. Obara would exact his revenge that summer, beating Lagumbay with ease and regaining the strap.
His second trip to America last year proved to be unfruitful, as he fought Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (17-0), for one more chance at the big one, in yet again another losing effort. Obara bounced back, when he scored his 20th knockout this past October over Toshiro Tarumi (12-4), showcasing his superiority in the ring, and becoming the number 1 contender for the Japanese Welterweight title.
Yuki Nagano (17-2 / 13 KOs) had also faced a few shortcomings early on his career but has been unstoppable since then, currently riding an impressive 15 fight winning streak for the past 6 years.
His first big match was against the then undefeated Yuki Beppu (21-1). Nagano displayed incredible power and hand speed from the get go, even dropping Beppu with a left straight in just the 2nd round, wining a clear unanimous decision. This victory gave him the opportunity to challenge the Japanese champion Ryota Yada (19-6) on April of 2019. It was a wild brawl that saw both men exchange punches nonstop as well as knockdowns. Finally in the 7th, Nagano overwhelmed Yada with a plethora of hooks in order to capture his first ever professional title. After demolishing Makoto Kawasaki (11-8) in his inaugural title defense, he will now be involved in the most important fight of his career.
Obara and Nagano are very similar, in the sense that they are quite relentless in the ring. Defense isn’t their strongest suit as they rather take a punch just so they can give one back. This strategy is always a recipe for an action packed match but has resulted in both men getting dropped on multiple occasions throughout their careers. Nagano’s favorite weapon is the left straight punch, which he uses in every single one of his outings, clubbing his opponents repeatedly like a caveman, until they go down. Obara also possesses KO power in his left hand, despite being an orthodox, as well as in his right, making him even more dangerous.
This will be a test of endurance and strength. Who can take the most and inflict the maximum damage at the same time. For Obara, who’s already at the top 5 of the IBF rankings, could be the win he needs to put himself closer to another world title opportunity, whereas for Nagano is the chance to finally burst into the world scene. So will Obara’s experience prove to be the difference maker or will Nagano’s unbeaten streak continue? One thing’s for sure. With 33 KOs between these 2 warriors, someone’s going down….hard!
Since suffering an opening round TKO loss in 2013 we've seen Yuki Nagano (16-2, 12) go on a fantastic run of 14 straight wins, against some of the most notable Welterweights in Japan. the latest of those wins as in April when he travelled to Osaka and defeated Ryota Yada to become the Japanese Welterweight champion. This coming Saturday he returns to the ring seeking his first defense of the title, as he takes on veteran foe Makoto Kawasaki (11-7-1, 2).
The talented Nagano really has turned his career around after a 2-2 start to life in the professional ring and wins over the likes of Giraffe Kirin Kanda, in the 2015 Rookie of the Year final, Riku Nagahama, Yuki Beppu and most recently Ryota Yada really have been impressive. Now aged 30 he has a great combination of experience, skill, power and is still young enough to have not really lost any of the physical traits. He's also helped out by being a southpaw, and being backed by one of the most notable Japanese promoters, Teiken.
Although on a great domestic run it's hard to imagine Nagano mixing on the world level. There's a fair argument to suggest he's one of the best fighters at Welterweight in the Asia Pacific region, but he's a long, long way behind the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford. He's pretty basic, but heavy handed, patient, accurate and has good time. He has also shown a real will to win, though of course he has question marks about his chin and after winning the title does he still have the desire that lead him there?
Kawasaki is a proper veteran, he's 35 years old and has been a professional for over 7 years, yet hasn't really managed to have consistency in his biggest fights, despite facing several notable names. His debut came against Koki Tyson, and ended in a draw, and since then he has been a win some lose some fighter through his career, losing to the likes of Hironobu Matsunaga, Ryota Yada, Daisuke Sakamoto and Xingxin Yang. Although he has picked up losses he has shown an ability to score upsets, beating the likes of Kazuya Murata and Yuichi Ideta. During his 19 fight career he has only been stopped once, being taken out in 7 rounds by Yada back in 2016.
In the ring Kawasaki is a pretty tough fighter, but lacks real power, and boxes mostly off the jab. He has struggled to get respect of fighters in the past and, when he's been backed up, he has been unable to force opponents to respect him. His first 3 losses, all in 4 or 5 round bouts, were close, but his last 4 have all been much clearer defeats and it really does seem like he's struggled as he's stepped up in levels and has had his jab neutralised.
We're struggling to see how Kawasaki can pull it off here. He's the big under-dog and although a veteran appears to have been selected as an easy first defense for Nagano, who we see taking a dominant and clear win. The winner isn't in much doubt, here, and it would be a huge surprise to see Kawasaki upset the in form, younger, stronger, hard hitting champion.
Prediction - TKO9 Nagano
The Japanese Welterweight scene is a pretty interesting one right now, without being one that gets much attention. The domestic scene features not only Keita Obara, who has progressed beyond Japanese title level, but up and comers like Kudura Kaneko and Rikuto Adachi as well as established fighters like Giraffe Kirin Kanda and Toshiro Tarumi. It's not a scene bustling with world class talent, but enough talent to make things interesting.
We get a great example of how interesting the division is this coming Sunday when Japanese national champion Ryota Yada (18-4, 15) defends his belt against mandatory challenger Yuki Nagano (15-2, 11). On paper this looks pretty evenly matched, pretty explosive and very exciting.
Yada won the title just over a year ago, stopping Toshio Arikawa in 8 rounds. Since then he has defended the belt twice, stopping Kazuyasu Okamoto and Shusaku Fujinaka. Those wins have seen Yada create a 6 fight winning run, since he was stopped in December 2016 by Jayar Inson and the 29 year old Osakan certainly seems to have developed since his last loss. He has not only developed his skills, but also his mentality, and he's seemingly become a lot more driven since that loss, with his win over Arikawa being an excellent performance based on desire, fitness and will to win.
Blessed with power Yada is a real dangerman on the domestic scene and it will take a tough fighter to see out the distance with him. He has good energy to go with his power, and as mentioned a real will to win. He does fall short in technical aspects but seems to be fully aware that his offense is his best defense and that he is much better off taking the fight to his opponents, or fighting as a controlled counter puncher at range, and chipping away at opponents. He's not going to out box many in a pure boxing sense, but he can hurt people and that is his key.
Nagano secured his shot at the title when he beat Yuki Beppu in October, in a title eliminator. That was the 29 year old southpaw's first bout outside of Tokyo and he rose to the occasion in Kurume to score his 13th straight professional victory. It wasn't just his biggest win to date, but one that saw him build on the early potential that had guided him to the 2015 Rookie of the Year crown. As a fighter the win over Beppu stands out along with his wins in the Rookie tournament against Giraffe Kirin Kanda, Toshio Tarumi, Masaharu Kaito and his 2018 win over Riku Nagahama.
In the ring Nagano is a pretty patient fighter, who is a very heavyhanded southpaw left hand, which he fires out with a real sense of purpose. Despite it being a dangerous punch he is patient with it, timing opponents, countering with it and draw them on to it well. He also had a very frustrating lead hand, that keeps opponents guessing, without actually being a potent weapon, more a neutralising tool. It should be noted he doesn't have a high work rate, but does have power.
Coming into this we see the fight as likely to be a cagey affair early, with both trying to feel out the other. We then expect Yada, the more accomplished and heavy handed fighter, to come on stronger when both settle, and go on to force a stoppage in the second half of the fight to retain his title. It wouldn't be a massive surprise if Nagano scored the win, especially when you consider that 2 of Yada's 4 losses have come to Southpaws, but it would be an upset.
The Welterweight scene in Japan is one of the country's weakest in terms of depth, yet it does give us some strangely compelling match ups due to the flaws, and strengths, of the fighters at the top. That includes the flawed but hard hitting champion Ryota Yada, and the explosive but shaky chinned pairing of Keita Obara and Toshio Arikawa.
On October 21st we'll see two of the best Welterweights on the Japanese domestic scene face off, with the two men fighting for a place at the 2019 Champion Carnival, and a shot at the Japanese title. The men involved in that eliminator are the heavy handed Yuki Beppu (18-0-1, 18) and the in form Yuki Nagano (14-2, 11), who are expected to put on an explosive clash in Fukuoka to get a shot at the national title.
Of the two men it's clearly Beppu who has the better looking record. He's unbeaten in 19 fights with 18 wins, all by stoppage. The 27 year old has been dubbed the “Tyson of Kyushu”, in relation to his stoppages the region where he's based. His power is legitimate and would lead him to begin his career 14-0 (14), before fighting to a draw with Charles Bellamy in early 2017. Those first 4 wins included Beppu taking the All Japan Rookie of the Year title in 2014, scoring a notable win in the final against Hironobu Matsunaga. Sadly the results against Matsunaga and Beppu aside there is very little of note on Beppu's record. The numbers hide the distinct lack of competition that he's faced with a record padded with poor Thai and Indonesian imports who rarely lasted more than 2 rounds.
Although Beppu's competition is poor his power does look to be legitimate. He's really hurting fighters when he lands, and the win over Matsunaga certainly backs up the idea he's a solid puncher. His ability to go 8 rounds against Bellamy showed he has stamina and can take a shot, and he seemed to be the one finishing that bout by looking like the stronger man.
Nagano is a 29 year old fighter from the Teiken gym who is based in Tokyo, and this will be his first fight outside of the Korakuen Hall. He debuted in 2012 and despite losing 2 of his first 4 bouts he has now rebuilt with 12 straight wins, 9 of those by stoppage. Included in his successes is the 2015 Rookie of the Year crown, which saw him defeat Masaharu Kaito and Giraffa Kirin Kanda,and notable wins over Dai Taoka and Riku Nagahama since then. Notably coming in to this he is riding a 5 fight stoppage run.
In the ring Nagano is an accurate fighter who boxes well on either the front foot or the back foot. He's a southpaw with a sharp left hand, who finds holes and has good timing. He's not particularly quick and in his biggest fights he's not been amazingly offensive, but does look like a man who understand how to box smartly and lure opponents in. His win over Nagahama saw him really unloading the left hand, bursting the eye of Nagahama and forcing the referee in. The finish however showed that he's no a big 1-punch hitter and whilst he has got finishing instincts he does leave himself open.
The edge in power and home advantage are both with Beppu and we suspect that will be the difference here in what will be a shoot out. Nagano has got the better boxing brain, but we suspect he'll be dragged into a free swinging battle, with Beppu's power landing being the difference. It's worth noting that Nagano's southpaw stance my trouble Beppu, but even then we favour the “Kyushu Tyson” to land the big right hand and take his man out.
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.