One of the very best fights of 2021 was the Japanese Super Bantamweight title fight between Gakuya Furuhashi (28-8-1, 16) and Yusaku Kuga (20-5-1, 13), which saw Furuhashi claim the Japanese title, in his third attempt, by breaking down Kuga in the 9th round of a total barn burner. This coming Tuesday we're in for another treat as, around a year after their first bout, the two men face off again in a brilliant rematch, with Furuhashi going into this one as the champion, and Kuga looking to reclaim the title to become a 3-time champion.
Sadly, unlike their first bout, we're not expecting a fight of the year contender. Or anything even close to that if we're honest. Instead we're expecting to see a rather dominant win by one of the men involved, with father time, a hard career and accumulated punishment being responsible for what will be a bit of a let down, compared to their first bout.
In their first contest Kuga got off to a good start, out boxing Furuhashi, who like a man possess. Furuhashi wasn't going to be denied last year, and despite being behind going into the final rounds he broke down Kuga who took a lot of damage late in the bout. Following that bout both men have fought once. Furuhashi retained his title, with a TKO win over the gutsy but over-matched Seigo Hanamori whilst Kuga won a Japanese title eliminator, defeating Ryoichi Tamura in the third meeting.
Sadly Kuga's win over showed something that's rather unfortunate. Both men were shot. They had fought two twice, in two all out wars, but this third bout seemed to show that their battles had taken a lot out of each other. Kuga was still a tough, heavy handed fighter, but he looked like he had lost two steps since their 2019 bout. Losses to Furuhashi and Jhunriel Ramonal have been punishing ones, and Kuga's toughness has, potentially, been his downfall with the former 2-time Japanese champion having taken a lot of damage in recent years.
At his best Kuga was a terminator like fighter. He was a decent boxer, with very heavy hands, a great chin, and an impressive will to win. Sadly that style does take a toll on fighters, and it has certainly taken it's toll on Kuga who is still heavy handed, but no longer has the intensity he once had, or the toughness he had. He's only 31 but he's a very, very old 31.
As for Furuhashi he has always been a high intensity fighter, but someone who hasn't regularly relied on his chin and power to win fights. Instead he has relied on a high work rate, a lot of energy, and setting a pace that others can't typically match. He has taken punishment, and bouts against the likes of Yasutaka Ishimoto, Ryoichi Tamura and Kuga have been punishing, but he hasn't typically taken the huge amount of shots that Kuga has had. This means, at 34, he's probably in better physical shape than the challenger. We don't expect to see quite ferocity he had last year, but we also do expect he'll need to be that aggressive.
We expect Furuhashi to do what he does. Setting a high tempo, taking the fight up close and again getting in the face of Kuga. Kuga likes to fight at mid range, getting extension of his shots and landing straight shots. Furuhashi on the other hand, wants to get up close, work the body and land on the inside, smothering Kuga's power at the same time. That is exactly what we're expecting to see again from him. The body work and intensity took the fight out of Kuga last time and we expect to see it do the same here.
We suspect that this time around it will take Furuhashi a few rounds less to take the fight out of Kuga, and instead of stopping his man in 9 rounds, whilst down on all 3 cards, we suspect Furuhashi will stop Kuga in 6 rounds, whilst leading on the cards. After the bout we wouldn't be surprised at all by Kuga either moving up in weight, for one final run, or retire saving his body from further punishment.
Prediction - TKO6 Furuhashi
In 2020 the boxing calendar got completely screwed up with Covid19 forcing bouts to be postponed and cancelled on a regular basis. One of the bouts that was postponed was a mandatory title fight for the Japanese Super Bantamweight title. That bout has now been rearranged for January 22nd and will see defending champion Yusaku Kuga (19-4-1, 13) taking on mandatory challenger Gakuya Furuhashi (26-8-1, 14), in what could be something a little bit special and very brutal.
Those who have been following the Japanese scene over the last few years will know all about the 30 year old Kuga who is now enjoying his second reign as the Japanese Super Bantamweight champion. For those who haven’t been following the scene Kuga is a very fan friendly fighter, who’s a puncher first, with an aggressive style and warmonger mentality in the ring. He came up short in his first title fight, back in 2015 when he lost a razor thin decision to Yasutaka Ishimoto but has gone 8-2 (6) since then, and managed to avenge his loss to Ishimoto in 2017 to claim the title, for the first time. In his first reign he made 2 defenses of the title before losing in 2018 to Shingo Wake, in what was really an undressing for Kuga, who had no answer to Wake’s movement and jab.
Despite losing to Wake it wasn’t long until Kuga reclaimed the title, winning it back from Ryoichi Tamura in 2019, in what was the second bout between the men and an all out war, one of the genuine hidden gems of 2019. After reclaiming the title he made a single defense before taking on Jhunriel Ramonal at the end of 2019, and being brutally taken out after just 84 seconds, in a genuine upset.
At his best Kuga is a really brutal fighter to go up against. For much of his career he has been a heavy handed, teak tough warrior, with a great engine and a really physical style. He can box, though often seems happier to have a war, and his two battles with Ryoichi Tamura were both brutal, punishing affairs for both men. Sadly though his toughness has been questioned in recent losses, with Shingo Wake breaking him down in 10 rounds and the loss to Ramonal being a clean KO. As well as those losses we do wonder what he’s like mentally coming into this bout. Had he been able to get a confidence easy win after his loss to Ramonal we’d feel better about his chance, but we do wonder if that loss is still playing on his mind more than a year after it. We also wonder if the wars with Tamura have taken something from him.
At his best Kuga is a nightmare. His power is destructive at this level, he’s very physical, his right cross is a concussion maker and his pressure and work rate is incessant. He’s not the quickest, the sharpest, and his jab is somewhat limited, but he’s a real bully in the ring. The most obvious way to beat him is to out box him, out maneuver him and refuse to have a tear up with him. Saying that however we do, genuinely, wonder what the Ramonal loss has done to him, and what shape his chin is going to be in, and what his confidence is going to be like.
Furuhashi is a 33 year old who fights out of the Nitta Gym in Kawasaki, and has been one of their most notable fighters for years. Sadly though he has had a long career and this will be his third, and potentially last, shot at a Japanese title. His desire is to become the first fighter born, raised and from a gym in Kawasaki, and it’s really been a driving force for him in recent months. He was supposed to get this shot, as previously mentioned, in 2020 but has had to wait a long time to get it, and will now know that this could be now or never for him.
Furuhashi, unlike Kuga, isn’t really a name we expect too many fight fans outside of Japan to be familiar with, even those that follow the Japanese scene from around the globe. Despite that he is a really fun fighter to watch and has been in and around the title scene since 2014, when he was supposed to fight Hidenori Otake who pulled out of the bout due to a rib injury. Following that he got a show at Yukinori Oguni in 2015, fighting to a draw with the future IBF world champion and then lost 3 of his following 4 bouts, including a title bout in 2016 to Yasutaka Ishimoto. That run, which saw him going 1-3-1 including the draw with Oguni, seemed to spell the end for him as he slipped to 18-8-1 (8). Surprisingly however he has rebuilt brilliantly, going 8-0 (6) since then, including wins against Yuta Horiika and Ryoichi Tamura, with the win over Tamura in September 2019 earning him this belated third title fight.
In the ring Furuhashi’s strength is his tenacity, work rate, energy and willingness to press forward. Technically he’s nothing special, he’s not quick, he’s not got massive amounts of power, but he’s got an abundance of energy, he’s physically strong and is sneaky on the inside, with some excellent hooks and uppercuts. When backed up he responds with solid combinations and makes an opponent walk through a lot of leather to get to him, and he knows how to make things scrappy. Like Kuga he’s tough, but he’s more of a gritty tough than an iron chinned tough guy. Sadly for him however he has taken a lot of punishment during his long career, and his willingness to have a war with anyone has almost certainly taken something of a toll on his body.
As mentioned, to beat Kuga a fighter needs to use their brain and out box him. Getting into a war with him is a painful gameplan, for anyone unless they have lights out power, like Ramonal. Furuhashi doesn’t have that, and if Kuga is half the fighter he was before the Ramonal loss he should be able to force his will against Furuhashi. If that happens the heavier shots of Kuga will be the difference maker, and will, sooner or later, break down the gutsy and determined Furuhashi.
For Furuhashi to win he needs to totally change his gameplan. He can’t try to go to war with Kuga. He can’t hold his feet and try to out-battle Kuga. Instead he needs to move, lure Kuga in, reel off some shoe shining combinations and get out of dodge. He has the energy for that, and his legs can certainly do it, but we’re not sure he has the mentality to do it. He’s one of those fighters who takes a shot and wants to respond immediately, rather than thinking “I’ll get you next time”.
Whilst Kuga’s confidence could be shot, and a quick start from Furuhashi would give Kuga a lot of questions to answer, we suspect his chin hasn’t become cracked from the losses to Wake and Ramonal. Instead we suspect he’ll be back to his usual rampaging self. We expect Furuhashi to try and respond, punch for punch, with Kuga, giving us a thrill a minute war, until Furuhashi comes undone from the repeated heavy shots of Kuga and the referee is forced to step in and save stop in the second half of a sensational fight.
Expect blood, bombs, thrilling exchanges and incredible action here!
Prediction - TKO8 Kuga
For fans wanting to watch this one, it will be shown live on streaming service Boxing Raise.
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
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.
On May 18th the boxing world goes a little bit crazy, with a huge card in the UK, for the WBSS, as well as a big card in New York, which will feature WBC Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, a second notable UK card, this time in Stevenage, a decent card in Russia and a very good looking domestic card in Japan.
Although the Japanese show will, clearly, be overshadowed by the international action the card does promise fire works, and the main event could end up being one of the best bouts of the day. That bout is a Japanese Super Bantamweight title bout, pitting newly crowned champion Ryoichi Tamura (12-3-1, 6) against former champion Yusaku Kuga (17-3-1, 12), in a rematch of a great bout from 2017.
In their first bout Kuga entered as the champion, making his first defense. He would narrowly win a tough battle with Tamura but lost the belt a year later to Shingo Wake. Wake vacated the belt, with Tamura winning it this past January, with a clear decision against Mugicha Nakagawa. The rematch seemed to be something both men wanted and something that fans were also clamouring for.
The reason that fans, and us, are looking forward to this fight so much is the styles and mentality of the two men. They are both very, very similar. They are both aggressive, strong, powerful men. They have difference, which we'll get on to in a minute, but they have enough similarities to knew they are going to give us some insane action. The best thing is that their aggressive mindsets are shown every time they are in the ring, neither likes to back off, or back up. Both come to meet in the centre of the ring and both look to unload with shots.
The big difference between the two is their offensive work. For Kuga his offensive work is power based. His shots are heavy and hard, they are a touch slow, and he doesn't fight with 10 rounds of intensity, but every shot he lands is thrown with bad intentions. He's a puncher-brawler if you will, and as a result he knows he needs some distance to work with, trying to get full extension on his shots.
Tamura on the other hand is more a volume guy, with intense pressure. His shots are hard, but not thundering, instead he throws a lot of leather, and is a bit of a perpetual punching man. He has an incredible gas tank and refuses to slow down, knowing he has the toughness to take shots whilst throwing his own. If he had Kuga's power he would be a truly frightening fighter, combining power with work rate and toughness, but as it is he's still a nightmare even if he can't take fighters out with a single shot.
What both men really rely on is their toughness, and both take a great shot. Or at least they did. Kuga's yet to show any decline, but Kuga has currently got some question marks over his chin following his stoppage loss to Wake. Kuga was dropped from a huge left hand in that bout, then took some serious punishment late on, with Wake tagging Kuga with clean left hands until the towel came in. Although it's not proven, there is a chance that loss has done damage to his durability.
Although Kuga won the first fight between these two, we feel like the men have headed in a different direction since then. Kuga's loss suggests he might be on the slide, whilst Tamura's last performance was his best to date and showed that he's adding more wrinkles and more intensity. With that in mind we see this as being a likely case of revenge, and not repeat. We're expecting the fire of Tamura, seeking to avenge his loss, and the boost in confidence a fighter gets when they are champion, to be the difference maker.
Prediction UD10 Tamura
By - George Delis (@Delisketo )
One of the most anticipated fights within the Asian boxing community will take place on July 27, as Yusaku Kuga defends his Japanese Super Bantamweight championship against Shingo Wake.
Yusaku Kuga (16-2 / 11 KOs) is a star on the rise. Burst into the scene in 2010, while still 19 years old, he started massing up victories one after the other. In just 3 years, he was already facing much more experienced boxers than himself, like Yuki Iwasaki (11-4*), Koji Aoki (16-7*), Kojiro Takada (13-8*), knocking out every single one of them. With a record of 11-1-1 he entered his first major championship bout on December of 2015, facing former WBO International champion Yasutaka Ishimoto (26-8*) for the vacant Japanese Super Bantamweight title. Both men went to war and in the end, Ishimoto got a very close decision to win the match and the belt. That loss, only motivated Kuga even more to try and capture the gold. In 2016 he dispatched Thai fighter Sukpraserd Ponpitak (13-5*) and Philippino standout Jonathan Baat (32-7*) to earn another shot at the Japanese crown. The rematch between Kuga and Ishimoto was set on February of 2017. Most fans expected this to be another back and forth affair, but that wasn’t the case this time around. Kuga blasted the champion early in the first round, knocking him down, to the surprise of everyone in attendance. In the second, Ishimoto endured a heavy beating which led to the referee stopping the fight and declaring Kuga the 39th Japanese Super Bantamweight champion. Just 5 months later, he earned his first successful title defense over Ryoichi Tamura (8-2*) and his second on March of 2018 when he KOed Ryo Kosaka (16-3*) within 2 minutes into the match. Kuga is currently ranked amongst the top of the division by the WBA, the WBC and the WBO.
Shingo Wake (24-5 / 16 KOs), not to be outdone by his upcoming opponent, has had quite a career thus far. Fighting close to 12 years, he has come face to face with some of the toughest boxers the Asian scene has to offer. In 2013, he locked horns with future IBF World champion Yukinori Oguni for the OPBF Super Bantamweight title. Oguni, undefeated at 10-0 at the time, was considered the massive favorite to win the scramble, having already defended the OPBF belt thrice against Hiromasa Ohashi (24-10*), Masaaki Serie (21-4*) and Roli Gasca (19-3*). Wake came determined and put on a clinic for 10 rounds, even knocking the champ down in the second. Oguni was rendered unable to continue and Wake won his first major title in the process. After earning 5 title defenses from 2013 to 2015, all finishes, he decisioned former IBF Asian champion Pipat Chaiporn (35-7*) in a World title eliminator bout. When the time came, Wake was overwhelmed by Jonathan Guzman’s (21-0*) power and got dropped numerous times throughout the match, suffering his only KO loss today. Despite coming short on his big opportunity, he displayed his fighting spirit by never surrendering and even giving Guzman some trouble, which made him more popular with the Japanese fans. Since then, he has been on a 4 fight winning streak, all KOs, including victories over Mikihito Seto (34-14) as well as former WBC International Silver champion and World title contender Boonsom Yamsiri (50-3).
Both fighters are looking to take that next step in their careers. For Kuga, it’s a chance to finally break in the World title picture whereas for Wake it’s time to step back up and regain his place amongst the top contenders.
Prediction: This is a pretty even fight. Kuga is 27 years old with a 58% KO ratio, while Wake is 31 with a 52% KO ratio. However, with 31 bouts under his belt, the experience factor definitely lies with Wake. At the same time, Kuga has never been stopped in his 19 fights, unlike Wake. Comparing recent performances, Kuga has faced better competition overall. Moreover, under the notion of “you are as good as your last fight”, Kuga finished Ryo Kosaka within the first round while Wake needed 4 rounds to put down a relatively inferior opponent in Roman Canto. All in all, Kuga maybe winning this on paper but you can never count out a veteran the caliber of Wake.
One of the most interesting divisions right now is the Super Bantamweight division. It's not red hot in terms of big names or money making stars but in terms of quality and interesting match up it's a fantastic division. We recently saw both Daniel Roman and Ryosuke Iwasa retain the WBA and IBF title respectively and with contenders like Tomoki Kameda, Hidenori Otake, Diego De la Hoya, Shingo Wake and Marlon Tapales all chasing world title fights the division really is bubbling over nicely.
One other notable contender in the division is current Japanese national champion Yusaku Kuga (15-2-1, 10) who returns to the ring this coming Tuesday to defend his title against mandatory challenger Ryo Kosaka (16-3-1, 8). For the champion this bout will be his second defense, following his title win in February 2017, whilst Kosaka will be getting his first title shot.
The champion is one of the many exciting Japanese fighters who has been quietly making waves over the last few years. He debuted in 2010 and in 2012 he competed in the Rookie of he year, losing to Nobuhiro Hisano in June of that year. That could have been a major set back but Kuga saw the loss as inspiration and went unbeaten in his next 8 bouts, defeating Yusuke Suzuki, Koji Aoki and Yuki Iwasaki, whilst fighting the then touted Naoto Uebayashi to a draw. It was clear that he had major potential back then and worked his way towards his first Japanese title fight. Sadly for Kuga he would lose in his first shot, coming up just short against Yasutaka Ishimoto. In 2016 Kuga would stop Jonathan Baat to earn his second shot at the title, and he would gain revenge over Ishimoto in 2 rounds to claim the title.
Since winning the belt Kuga has defended it just once, narrowly over-coming the aggressive and hard hitting Ryoichi Tamura, in a bout that saw both men forced eat some huge bombs. In that bout Kuga showed he had a chin to go with his power, though left question marks about his stamina and how well he can fight when backed up. On the front foot he's devastating, with nasty power, but on the back foot that power is much less potent.
Whilst we've followed Kuga with interest since early in his career the same can't be said of Kosaka, sadly. That is something that tends to happen when fighters don't fight much in Tokyo, and with Kosaka being based with the Shinsei Gym on Kobe he really has gone somewhat under the radar, despite climbing up both the JBC and OPBF rankings.
The challenger debuted in 2011 and despite 3 stoppage wins to begin his career he began to falter, losing a pair of technical decisions then having a draw to slide to 3-2-1 (3). His third, and most recent, loss came in December 2013 when he was stopped in 7 rounds by Yuta Yasumoto. Since that loss we've seen Kosaka go 9-0 (5) defeating a combination of poor Thai imports and low key domestic foes, such as Satoshi Niwa and Morihisa Iju. Whilst he is the mandatory for the title show there is a feeling that he lacks a really good domestic win, and did actually only get this shot after Yasutaka Ishimoto announced his retirement. The reality is that there are much proven domestic contenders out there than Kosaka, despite his relatively nice run.
Although Talented Kosaka isn't looking like a fighter ready for a title shot, especially not against a danger man like Kuga. Whilst Kuga did look like he was beatable last time out he is unlikely to struggle here. Kosaka may have the edge in technical boxing ability, but Kuga has the power, the aggression and the strength to walk through the challenger's best shots and take him out, likely in the second half, when Kosaka begins to feel the pace. We suspect the challenger will start well, but Kuga will turn it around and record his second defense, and begin his advance towards a world title fight, which he may well get later this year.
The Super Bantamweight division is one of the most interesting around Asia, with Japan in particular having a very strong base for fighters. At the moment the country boasts two world champions, Shun Kubo and Yukinori Oguni, along with a host of contenders, like Ryosuke Iwasa, Tomoki Kameda, Hidenori Otake and Shingo Wake. Below those men are a number of rising fighters, looking to make their mark and move themselves into global contention.
Among those rising fighters is heavy handed Japanese champion Yusaku Kuga (14-2-1, 10) who looks to make his first defense of the title this coming Saturday, as he takes on the under-rated Ryoichi Tamura (8-2-1, 5). On paper the bout is “just” a Japanese title defense for Kuga, but an impressive win could see him jumping into the fringes of the world rankings, whilst Tamura will be looking to score a career best win and get his career rolling with a big win.
Earlier this year Kuga won the Japanese title stopping the popular Yasutaka Ishimoto in 2 rounds, announcing himself as a real dangerman. Prior to that he had been on the radar for a while. For most that was due to a loss to Ishimoto in 2015, though for others it was back in 2013 that he started to capture the imagination with a good win over former amateur standout Yusuke Suzuki and an unfortunate draw against Naoto Uebayashi. Those bouts began a run of solid performances that lead to Kuga getting his first bout with Ishimoto, which he lost narrowly.
The rematch with Ishimoto came after an impressive stoppage win over Jonathan Baat in 2016 and saw a more mature and more aggressive Kuga fight with the intention of taking Ishimoto out early, and he did drop him very quickly. With that aggression and power Kuga is a handful for many, and although he's flawed, with rough edges, he's a really dangerous fighter and not someone to have a war with.
Tamura made his debut back in May 2013 and lost to Wataru Miyasaka in a very competitive debut bout. That loss could have been it but instead Tamura's team showed their belief in him and kept putting him in hard fights. That resulted in a few early set backs, with Tamura being 3-2-1 (1) after 6 bouts, but developing massively into a solid professional during those early set backs. The tough love and hard development paid off and in 2015 Tamura beat Yusuke Suzuki, before following it up with stoppages against domestic foes like Yuki Matsuda, Ryoji Okahata, and Renji Ichimura. Those wins saw Tamura shoot up the rankings, and earn a shot at the title.
Although not the smoothest fighter Tamura is a strong and powerful fighter, with a very heavy right hand which he constantly looks to set up. Like Kuga he's more on the “crude” side of the spectrum, more so than Kuga in fact, and he can certainly be out boxed, but he does have some nice boxing skills and knows how to use his jab well, even if he under utilises it. Although he can jab and move he does seem to prefer fighting at close to mid range, and often looks like a fighter looking for a war.
With both fighters being crude, heavy handed sluggers this really could be a fire fight, and we'll admit that's what we're hoping for. If it is a fire fight we do suspect that Kuga will come out on top, making the most of his edge in speed and better accuracy and timing, , but with Tamura's power there is danger there that Kuga himself will be hurt. We don't see anyway this one can go the scheduled 10 rounds, but we also have no idea how this one can be anything but explosive given the two men involved.
Although the Super Bantamweight division isn't that attractive internationally at the moment, with the division's best fighter being the much avoided Guillermo Rigondeaux, the division is actually really interesting in Asia, particularly in Japan. The country boasts current IBF champion Yukinori Oguni as well as notable world level contenders like Ryosuke Iwasa, the returning Tomoki Kameda and Shingo Wake.
Domestically the division is also red hot with fighters like Shun Kubo, Kazuki Tanaka, Daisuke Watanabe, Sho Nakazawa and Shohei Kawashima all breaking through the ranks. At the top of the domestic table is veteran Yasutaka Ishimoto (29-8, 8), who won the title in late 2015 and has recorded two defenses of the title so far. On February 4th he will take on the man he originally beat to claim that title, Yusaku Kuga (13-2-1, 9), in a highly anticipated rematch.
Of the two men Ishimoto is the better known fighter, both domestically and internationally. On the international scene he is best known for defeating Wilfredo Vazquez Jr in Macao in 2013 and then losing, in the same venue, to Chris Avalos in 2014. In Japan however he is long serving veteran of the sport, who debuted back in 2002 and fought a number of top domestic fighters. His career on the domestic scene saw him fight for the Japanese title in 2012 and 2014, losing to Masaaki Serie and Yukinori Oguni, before finally winning the title against Kuga in 2014.
Promoted by Teiken Ishimoto has long been a staple of the Tokyo scene, with 34 fights at the Korakuen Hall. Those fans have been given some real treats thanks to Ishimoto, with his two bouts against Gakuya Furuhashi being particularly fun to watch. In the ring Ishimoto is technically well schooled, has a great engine, a gritty determination and a very fun style. He's not a big punch, as is clear from his record, but he's a consistently active fighter who fighters well both at range and up close.
At his best Ishimoto is a handful, and a fringe world class fighter. He has notable victories over the likes of Shingo Wake, Yu Kawaguchi, the aforementioned Vazquez and Furuhashi, He has also suffered razor thin losses to current world champion Oguni and a then rising Yota Sato, who would claim his title around 4 years after beating Ishimoto. At 35 years old and with 37 bouts, 237 rounds, under his belt Ishimoto is likely on the slide, and given his style he's certainly taken punishment through his career. Despite being on the slide he is still a fantastic fighter and is on a good run having won his last 5.
The challenger, the 26 year old Kuga, has been a professional since late 2010 and impressed early. In 2012 he took part in the Rookie of the Year, though was defeated early in the competition by Nobuhiro Hisano. Despite the set back against Hisano it was clear that Kuga's team didn't feel they had to protect him and he was quickly put in against decent opponents, beating both Takumi Takahashi and former amateur stand out Yusuke Suzuki. Kuga was unfortunate not to follow up the win over Suzuki with another win over an amateur standout as he was controversially held to a draw against Naoto Uebayashi.
Following the draw over Uebayashi we saw Kuga score a series of good domestic wins,beating the likes of Taishio Torimoto, Yuki Iwasaki and Koji Aoki as he moved towards his first title bout. Sadly for Kuga that title bout would come against Ishimoto and he would come up narrowly short, losing 96-94 and 96-95, twice. That loss was a heart breaking one for the youngster but one that seemed to fire him up, and since then he has been a wrecking ball smashing Sukkasem Kietyongyuth in 5 rounds and flattening Jonathan Baat in 4 rounds, in a Strongest Korakuen contest. The win over Baat saw the Filipino veteran suffer just his third loss and put Kuga's name along side Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym and Rodrigo Guerrero.
In the ring Kuga is a “rough around the edges” puncher. He is flawed, a bit open and a bit defensively naive, but he's also a nasty puncher with a physical style. His punches all hurt and although not the most naturally smooth fighter his boxing ability can't be over-looked. At 26 he is coming into his prime and is still clearly improving fight after fight. With his power he's a huge danger man at the domestic level, and potentially has the power to go much further.
Although Ishimoto won the first clash we actually favour Kuga here. Since the first fight Ishimoto has had 20 really hard rounds and turned 35 whilst Kuga has developed into an even hungrier fighter and the win over Baat was incredibly impressive. We wouldn't be massively surprised if Ishimoto scored a repeat, but we do favour Kuga to win here in a genuinely thrilling contest.
Every so often a fight comes along that really excites us. Sometimes they are the obvious world level fights between two established fighters whilst other times they come at a much lower level. One such bout is coming up on December 21st when we see the exciting Yusaku Kuga (11-1, 7) battle against the under-rated Yasutaka Ishimoto (26-8, 7) in what looks to be a brilliant match up for the Japanese Super Bantamweight title.
Of the two men involved it's Ishimoto who is the better known man. For many fight fans he is known for two in Macau, the first being a huge upset of Wilfredo Vazquez Jr back in April 2013 whilst the second was a loss to Chris Avalos in an IBF world title eliminator. For Japanese fans Ishimoto is also known for coming up short in two other Japanese fights, losing decisions to Masaaki Serie in 2012 and Yukinori Oguni, last December.
Aged 34 Ishimoto is one of the elder statesmen of the Japanese Super Bantamweight scene which has really began to get very exciting in recent years. Of course we have Shingo Wake, Oguni, Ishimoto and the rising prospects like Hinata Maruta, Kazuki Tanaka, Sho Nakazawa and Hikaru Marugame. Despite being 34 he is however a fighter who appears to still have his speed and stamina. Those were both shown in his most recent bout, a decision win over Gakuya Furuhashi in what was a pulsating bout back in August.
In the ring Ishimoto is a technical fighter. He uses his jab and straight shots well and can hold his own on the inside. He has also shown his toughness, despite being stopped by Avalos. As for weaknesses, he does lack power and perhaps isn't as physically strong as some of the others in and around the domestic scene, never mind the world scene. Despite the lack of strength he is a capable enough fight to fight to his strengths and not be bullied by too many fighters out there.
Whilst Ishimoto is some what known by fans outside of Japan it's fair to say that Kuga isn't, and in fact only the really hard core fans really know much about Kuga. Despite that we have been fans of his and have been very impressed by him in the past. He's not as technically solid as Ishimoto, or even as proven, but he's one of the many fighters in the division who is breaking through on the back of some solid but over-looked performances.
In some ways Kuga first came to the attention of some fans back in 2013 when he fought the touted Naoto Uebayshi. Back then Uebayashi was 3-0 (2) and expected to become a star following a successful amateur career. Kuga however showed Uebayashi's flaws and dropped him before being held to a very controversial majority draw. For many the bout was a win that Kuga had stolen from him, for others however it was the revealing of a diamond in the rough. Since the draw he has gone 5-0 (3) whilst stepping up in terms of rounds, with his last 4 bouts all being 8 rounders. Saying that it does need to be noted that he has never been in a 10 rounder ahead of this title bout.
For Kuga this is a step up but at 25 it's coming at the right time and the Watanabe gym fighter certainly isn't being thrown to the wolves in facing the talented but light hitting Ishimoto. Talking about hitting, Kuga has as many stoppages in 13 fights as Ishimoto has in 34. That's one of Kuga's keys coming in to this one. Kuga is a solid puncher, his jab is heavy and his hooks are thrown with nasty intentions, he also moved well to set them up and has the look of a physically maturing fighter. He's not as sharp as Ishimoto but certainly seems to be the stronger man with under-rated speed and movement and a real desire to make a statement and join the growing number of Japanese fighters making a mark in the division.
Although Ishimoto is the more proven man we're expecting to see Kuga use his youth and power to make life very tough for Ishimoto from the early going. The veteran will hold his own but we suspect he will slow down as the fight goes on with Kuga claiming the title courtesy of a clear, but hard fought, decision. The fight might not be as exciting as Ishimoto Vs Furuhashi was, but will still be a brilliant bout.
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.