The sport of boxing is back in Japan, and has been for a few days now, following the hiatus we had due to the ongoing global situation. On July 16th we had our first Japanese title bout and now we return with another from Korakuen Hall. Like the bout from last week this is another Champion Carnival bout, pitting a defending champion against their mandatory challenger, though unlike that bout neither of these two men are all that well known. Despite that this may end up one of the month's better bouts.
In one corner wee will have Japanese Super Flyweight champion Kenta Nakagawa (18-3-1, 12), looking to make his first defense of his second reign, whilst the other corner will play host to mandatory challenger Yuta Matsuo (15-4-2, 8), who is hoping to make it third time lucky after previous losses in title bouts.
Of the two men it's Kenta Nakagawa who will be entering as the favourite. The Southpaw from the Misako gym is part of a gym having great success in recent years, and we know success breeds success in boxing. He's the champion going in, he's riding a 5 fight unbeaten run and claimed the title in a bit of an upset last December, dethroning Takayuki Okumoto in Osaka. He has proven that he's a solid boxer-puncher and the win over Okumoto just added to his reputation.
At the age of 34, and turning 35 in August, Nakagawa is an old fighter for the division, but hasn't taken too much punishment. His 22 bouts have combined for 102 professional rounds and he has only suffered a single stoppage loss so far, when he lost the Japanese title the first time in a 2017 clash with Ryuichi Funai. Sure he's old, but he's a young 34 at the weight, without too many hard miles on his body and has scored plenty of quick wins to keep the miles off the clock.
The challenger has gotten this bout despite failing to secure a single win last year, going 0-1-1. His loss came to Okumoto in last year's Champion Carnival, when he challenged Okumoto for the title Nakagawa now holds, and he then went on to fight to a draw with Hiroyuki Kudaka in what was a title eliminator. Despite the draw he gets this shot due to being ranked #1 going into that bout. Not only is he without a win in the last year but he's also come up short in 2 title bouts, the one with Okumoto and one with Masayuki Kuroda in 2017. Added to those set backs is the fact he's also the naturally smaller man, fighting mostly at Flyweight.
Although the under-dog Matsuo is a live challenger coming in to this bout. His form might not be great but wins over the likes of Ryoji Fukunaga, Ryuto Oho, Seiya Fujikita and Yota Hori show he can beat good fighters. Also he's stylistically a nightmare at this level. He's strong, comes forward, tough, throws solid shots, even if they aren't destructive, and can keep a good work rate. He's not the most intense, and he can be found walking in without letting shots go, but he will make people fight for every minute of every round, pressing them and trying to break their heart.
We expect to see Matsuo pressuring, getting on the front foot and making Nakagawa work hard, from the opening round the champion will need to be on his toes, picking his shots. Thankfully for the champion he does appear to be a solid, hard hitter who lands clean, and he may well manage to get Matsuo's respect with his heavy straight shots. We don't think Nakagawa will stop Matsuo, but we do think he'll land the better blows, create the space he needs to work from and keep Matsuo at bay and take a clear, but hard fought, decision to retain his title.
Prediction - UD10 Nakagawa
The final Japanese title eliminator set to take place this year occurs in Osaka on December 22nd and will see 4 time world title challenger Hiroyuki Kudaka (26-18-2, 11) battle against former Japanese title challenger Yuta Matsuo (15-4-1, 8). Despite being the final of the eliminators this year it's certainly not the best of the eliminators, but should be a thrilling match up between two men who, with the right opponents, can make for some amazing bouts.
The 34 year old Kudaka is a proper veteran, with 47 bouts under his belt and 331 professional rounds. He has been a professional since September 2002 and despite losing his first 2 bouts had gone on to carve out a bizarre yet excellent memorable career. He has faced the likes of Panomroonglek Kaiyanghadaogym, Hussein Hussein, Takefumi Sakata Denkaosan Kaovichit, Hugo Fidel Cazares, Tetsuya Hisada, Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Sonny Boy Jaro, Omar Andres Narvaez, Ryo Matsumoto and Takuya Kogawa, and managed to pick up a number of upsets during his career.
Whilst Kudaka's opponents have included a number of world class fighters he is actually quite a limited fighter himself, though he's got traits that can make him a handful. He's big, at both Flyweight and at Super Flyweight the divisions he has regularly fought at, he's tough and rugged and he throws a lot of leather. Despite not being a big puncher he's a solid puncher, and his shots do do damage. Sadly though he's rather slow of foot, and his hand speed it nothing to write home about, he's a clunky and defensively poor, and speedy fighters can take him and get away. He's typically wanting to fight on the inside, which makes for fun bouts but at 34 we do wonder what his body has left after such a hard career.
Conmpared to Kudaka it's fair to say that Matsuo is a boxing baby with 20 bouts, but he's now 30 and opportunities to get title fights won't come around much more often. He's been a pro since 2012 and has had mixed success of his own. He began his career in good fashion, winning a B class tournament in 2013, less than a year after his debut, but since then has had a bit of a rocky time, going 10-4-1. He has typically held his own, and all 4 losses were competitive, but they have all come in his biggest bouts, including losses to Masayuki Kuroda for the Japanese "interim" Flyweight title and to Takayuki Okumoto for the Japanese Super Flyweight title. His other losses include a razor thin decision to Ardin Diale.
In the ring Matsuo always strikes us as a basic, but aggressive fighter. He comes forward behind his jab and does apply pretty constant pressure, but doesn't always combine that pressure with much in terms of output, which means he can be out worked. He's also not the quickest and sometimes his pressure can look more like he's following an opponent around, rather than being effective on the front foot. When an opponent opens up he tends to be willing to respond, and fight fire with fire, but all too often that is contingent on his opponent taking risks, rather than opportunities that Matsuo creates for himself. He's tough, has under-rated hand speed and plenty of tools in his arsenal, but often looks like he fights the wrong fight to make the most of the tools he has.
Although neither of these are world beaters they are the type of fighters who styles should click. Both come forward and both like to lets shots go, when their opponents are in front of them. If Kudaka is willing to open up we see Matsuo responding in a fire fight of an 8 rounder. If this happens the fans are set for a treat, and a real thriller.
The issue, although a small one given what's at stake, is that both might just wait for the other to lead, and give us a stinker. We don't see this happening, but there is a risk.
If we get a stinker this could easily end in a slow and gruelling draw, but in reality we expect a fight, with Matso's youth handspeed and extra youth being the difference in a brilliant little action bout.
Prediction - UD8 Matsuo
On April 21st fight fans in Osaka will get a Japanese title double header. One of the bouts headlining that show will see Japanese Super Flyweight champion Takayuki Okumoto (21-8-4, 10) make his second defense, and take on mandatory challenger Yuta Matsuo (15-3-1, 8).
The 27 year old champion is a 12 year veteran of the sport. If that sounds mathematically strange it is, and that's because Okumoto started his career as a 15 year old, fighting in Thailand. He had mixed success, going 1-1 with the loss coming to former world champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin, before waiting to mature and fight on Japanese soil, where he has fought all but 1 of his subsequent 31 bouts. Whilst he's no world beater Okumoto has proven to be a gutsy fighter, who is improving, has a good work rate and is certainly not a typical 21-8-4 fighter. His long career has seen him beat the likes of Shota Kawaguchi, Yuta Saito and Hiroyuki Kudaka, come up short against the likes of Ratanapol, Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking and Ryuichi Funai.
Okumoto is a southpaw with credible speed and power, a wealth of experience and under-rated skills. He's not heavy handed or lightening quick, but he is all round pretty solid with a good boxing brain a relative toughness and good patience. He can come forward, boxing on the back foot and fight as the counter puncher. Sadly whilst Okumoto is a good all rounder he isn't likely to make a mark above domestic level. He's not got any elite level quality, and that's typically needed for fighters to reach the top, but he will be a hard man to dethrone at this level and it will take a special domestic fighter to beat him.
The challenger, 29 year old Matsuo, is relatively unknown though has been in an around the title mix for a few years now. He did earn this shot last year, stopping veteran Rey Orais in 5 rounds to become the mandatory challenger, and this will be his second title fight. Matsuo has been a professional since 2012 and his most notable contests to date have been losses to Ardin Diale, in 2015, and Masayuki Kuroda, in 2017. Despite those losses it is worth noting that he has scored noteworthy wins over Yota Hori, Ryuto Oho and Ryoji Fukunaga, all of which are good domestic wins but there's little to suggest he will have much success above the domestic level.
Watching Matsuo we see a relatively active boxer with an aggressive mentality. He's not the quickest or the sharpest, but he does have a rather unique rhythm, bouncing at mid-distance with and getting in and our. he's quite quick, with both hands and feet, and has a slight jerkiness to his style. It's a more aggressive style than that of Okumoto, but also a less rounded style, and a much more energy intensive one, with a lot of excess movement.
This isn't the biggest title bout we'll see in Japan this year, but could end up being one of the most competitive, with two well matched, flawed, but promising fighters. Both are true domestic level fighters and both will put it all on the line here.
Being at home, and being the champion, Okumoto will have the crowd behind him and we think that could be a key factor here. The bout is a 50-50 one, though we suspect that the home advantage will be enough to help earn Okumoto the decision victory, in a very hotly contest bout.
Despite the fact there is still a lot of boxing left in 2018 we are heading to the end of the year. That means that we get to see the Japanese boxing scene decide it's title contenders for the next Champion Carnival. The Super Flyweight bout at the next Champion Carnival will feature either Yuta Matsuo (14-3-1, 7) or Rey Orais (20-17-2, 5) challenging for the title, with the two men meeting on October 12th decide who will be getting a shot at the gold.
Of the two men Matsuo is the one who has been active and mixing at Japanese domestic domestic level for a while. In fact the 29 year old from the World Sport Boxing gym fought for the interim Japanese Flyweight title last year, and pushed Masayuki Kuroda hard in tough 10 round loss. Since then he has bounced back with 2 notable domestic wins, over-coming Kazuto Nakane and Ryoji Fukunaga, whilst moving up in weight. Notably the loss to Kuroda is Matsuo's only defeat since a split decision loss to Ardian Diale in May 2015.
Entering the bout Matsuo is #1 ranked JBC fighter and although the ranking is high, given how stiff the division is. Despite that he is a capable fighter. He's defensively solid, technically sound and is an intelligent fighter who applies pressure behind his guard and smart footwork. Sadly he's not that most active in the ring or the hardest hitter, but he is consistent through the fight. He's a bit 1-paced and 1 dimensional but at this level have a good single dimension can be enough to be a domestic contender.
Orais is a Japanese based Filipino fighter who, at the age of 34, is in the twilight of his in ring career and is currently a trainer at the Flare Yamagami gym. He fought regularly between 2000 and 2008, facing the likes of Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Bert Batawang and Denkaosan Kaovichit before taking a 10 year break from fighting that ended this year, with a win over Ken Achiwa. That win helped secure Orais a #2 ranking with the JBC, but is does mean that he has fought just 6 rounds in the 10 years coming into this bout. In his prime he certainly had mixed results, with a less than stellar record. Despite his record he did mix at a good level, and his win over Achiwa showed their was still life in the old dog.
Despite Orais being inactive for a decade prior to the bout with Achiwa he really impressed, showing no signs of ring rust and instead looking sharp, quick and confident. He wasn't particularly accurate but out worked, out fought and out boxed Achiwa whilst showing good movement and intelligent boxing, as well as a sense of flare and charisma. That flare can be seen in some of his more wild shots, but it's obvious that Orais can still fight, and do so at a good pace.
In some ways this is the textbook boxing of Matsuo against the wild and exciting Orais. We expect those styles to be a mess together, but an interesting mess. Matsuo should have the youth, size and hunger to out box Orais, but he will almost certainly be caught by some of the unpredictable shots of Orais.
Although Orais will have moments it's hard to see anything but a decision win for Matsuo, who's intelligent and consistency will be enough to secure the win and his place in the 2019 Champion Carnival.
It's fair to say that the 2017 Champion Carnival was somewhat under-whelming, despite some really good looking bouts. There was a number of rematches and a number of bouts that just failed to spark the emotions. Not all bouts were bad, and the Super Bantamweight title bout between Yasutaka Ishimoto and Yusaku Kuga certainly proved rematches weren't a bad thing by default, but there was an under-whelming feeling over-all.
One of the divisions with that under-whelming feeling was the Flyweight division, where champion Takuya Kogawa is inactive, due to an injury, and as a result we have a bout between the top two ranked fighters, Yuta Matsuo (12-2-1, 6) and Masayuki Kuroda (27-5-3, 15). As an eliminator for a title fight this would be fine, but for a title fight it's self it's certainly a bit disappointing.
Unfortunately for fans in Japan the division is very top heavy and the likes of Kazuto Ioka and Diago Higa have gone well past Japanese domestic level and left a bit of a vacuum between the top in the country and the domestic level fighters. Although there are a number of rising contenders, such as Junto Nakatanii there is a lack at the domestic level.
Of the two men here Matsuo is the #1 contender, and on paper he is 7-1 (3) in his last 8, with his only loss in that run being a razor thin one to Ardin Diale. The reality however is that Matsuo has struggled to over-come a number of his opponents, including Yota Hori, Seiya Fujikita and Ryuto Oho, who was rather unlucky on the score-cards.
In the ring Matsuo is well skilled but, as we saw against Oho, he can be made to look lazy, isn't a big puncher and although he can hurt his opponents there is certainly not much too be too excited about. He seems happy to have a war, but hasn't yet proven that that's his type of fight, in fact it's fair to say he's probably best off avoiding them in future.
Although ranked #2 by the JBC Kuroda is the much better known fighter. He was the man Naoya Inoue shared the ring with in his test bout, he was the Japanese Light Flyweight champion in 2011 and 2012, defending the belt 4 times, and challenged the then WBA Flyweight champion Juan Carlos Reveco in 2013. In terms of his results he has wins over Shin Ono, Katsuhiko Iezumi, Hayato Yamaguchi and Yuki Sano as well as draws with Ryoichi Taguchi and Hayato Yamaguchi. Despite those notable results Kuroda has come up short in two recent Japanese Flyweight title bouts, losing to Suguru Muranaka and Takuya Kogawa in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
Whilst Kuroda was one a very good fighter he has gone 4-4-3 in his last 11, dating back almost 5 years and lacks in terms of notable recent wins. In fact over the last 24 months his only wins have been against Yusuke Sakashita and Masashi Odaira, hardly something to have earned Kuroda back-to-back Champion Carnival contests.
With Kuroda being a faded force and Matsuo failing to impress it's hard to be too excited for this one. We'll admit it should be fun, and both guys have been in entertaining fights in the past, but we can't help feel that this is less than title worthy. Both guys are flawed enough to be in a war, and we expect that will, happen with Kuroda doing enough to take the win, but it does feel like a bout that shows how badly the Japanese Flyweight scene needs some new blood rising through the rankings.
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.