Earlier in the year we were anticipating the Champion Carnival being well under-way and we were set to see another Champion Carnival bout on March 7th. That bout ended up being postponed due to the on going global situation and instead of taking place in March, as expected, it will now be taking place this coming Saturday. Despite the delay we're really looking forward to the next bout in the annual series of "Champion Vs Challenger" bouts, and that's because it's a great looking up on paper. The bout in question is up at 154lbs where Japanese domestic champion Hironobu Matsunaga (16-1, 10) takes on mandatory challenger Yuto Shimizu (15-3-2, 5) in what we suspect will be an excellent bout for the Japanese Light Middleweight title.
The under-rated champion has done things the hard way, without much fuss and without much acclaim, but now in his early 30's he's reaping the benefits of hard work. He made his debut way back in 2012, but began to get some attention in 2014, when he reached the all-Japan Rookie of the Year final, losing to Yuki Beppu. That loss saw Matsunaga fall to 6-1 (3) but since then he has gone 10-0 (7) and been on an excellent run. Whilst he is obviously the Japanese champion right now it's worth noting that he has scored notable wins over the likes of former Japanese Middleweight champion Sanosuke Sasaki, Korean foe Je Ni Ma and multi-time Japanese title challenger Koshinmaru Saito. Those wins lead him to his 2019 title shot against Nobuyuki Shindo, which he won in by breaking down Shindo.
Since winning the belt Matsunaga has defended it once, stopping former amateur star Koki Koshikawa in a thrilling match up last November. That was the 5th straight stoppage win for Matsunaga, who has really come on since that loss to Beppu way back in 2014.
In the ring Matsunaga may not be someone getting much attention, but he is quickly becoming a must watch fighter. He's small for a Light Middleweight but is aggressive, moves well, and after getting a read on his opponents comes forward with heavy shots from the southpaw stance. At range he can struggle to get close, but when he gets into range for his shots he grinds opponents down, both mentally and physically. It's the grinding and consistent power shots that take their toll on opponents rather than any single shots. When he has his man hurt he doesn't let off them and really makes them suffer, and feel sorry for themselves. At the higher levels we suspect he'd struggle to make a mark, but at Japanese domestic level he is a very, very hard man to beat.
We mentioned that Matsunaga quietly climbed the rankings to his title and it's fair to say the same is true of Shimizu. He was 3-3-2 after 8 bouts before going on a solid 8 fight winning run to earn his first title fight. That winning run had seen him defeat Hikaru Nishida, who later won the Japanese Middleweight title and former OPBF title challenger Takehiro Shimokawara to earn a shot at Yuki Nonaka. Although he lost to Nonaka he had earned the shot on merit. Since then he has gone 3-1, earning this shot with a win over Nobuyuki Shindo back in November 2019 which had followed another solid win over Charles Bellamy.
In the ring Shimizu is a rather weird looking fighter. He has a very herky-jerky style, long arms and an awkward rhythm. There's nothing pretty about him, but he's yet he's still effective, frustrating and uses his size well. For someone who's big at the weight he doesn't have the busiest of jabs, or the quickest of footwork, but has proven to be a hard man to hit, and someone who can land from very odd angles, as we saw when he beat Shindo last year. Also it's worth noting that whilst not a puncher he does hit hard enough to get the respect of opponents, time and time again, in fact he actually dropped Shindo last year on route to his win.
For Matsunaga the big issue is whether he can get inside the long reach of Shimizu. The straight right hand of the challenger will be a real issue for the champion. If he can slip it, get inside and fight up close, using his edge in speed and sharpness, this could look easy for Matsunaga, however that is a big if. What we're expecting is for Shimizu to make it real ugly. We expect the challenger to land at range and tie up up close, but to do that effectively against a grinder like Matsunaga, for 10 rounds, is certainly not easy.
We expect this to be ugly at times. Shimizu falling in and clinching and holding and making a mess of things. Saying that however we struggle to see Matsunaga losing, his energy, volume and tenacity will simply be too much and too regular for the challenger.
Prediction - TKO8 Matsunaga
The main event of November's Dynamic Glove will be a Japanese Light Middleweight title bout as Hironobu Matsunaga defends his belt against Koki Koshikawa, interesting the winner of that bout will know their next opponent before their own fight. That's because the show's chief support bout is a Japanese Light Middleweight title eliminator pitting former champion Nobuyuki Shindo (20-5-2, 8) against Yuto Shimizu (13-4-2, 5), and the winners will be expected to face off at the Champion Carnival next year.
On paper this doesn't scream excitement or a great fight, but in reality both fighters are under-rated and, with the right dance partners, they can make for some sensational fights due to their flaws. This is seen most notable with Shindo who has been in his share of fantastic over the last few years.
The 33 year old Shindo is a physical freak at 6'1" and has the added benefit of being a southpaw, a very gangly and long southpaw. He's not a particularly big puncher, but he lands from really unusual angles and is a very relaxed fighter who can take punishment, and can dish it out. His 2018 bouts with Ryosuke Maruki and Akinori Watanabe, particularly the Watanabe one, were fantastic and showed what can happen when he's forced into a fight. Sadly his effort last time out, when he lost the Japanese Light Middleweight title to Matsunaga, was disappointing and looked like he was on the way out, but this fight will make it clear what he has left in the tank.
At his best Shindo looks to use his size and box behind a busy jab, using his legs and keeping distance between him an dhis opponent. Although not a powerful fighter he does throw crisp shots, and his straight left hand is a genuinely damaging punch whilst his jab is a shot that can control fights. Sadly though he can struggle on the inside and if fighters get at him they can legitimately get to him and break him down.
The 31 year old Yuto Shimizu will be viewing this bout as a opportunity to secure his second title fight, following a loss in a Japanese title fight in 2016 to Yuki Nonaka. Since his loss to Nonaka we've not seen Shimizu being active, with only 3 bouts, but he has proven his value with 2 excellent bouts, a win and a loss, against Charles Bellamy. Prior to facing Nonaka we had also been impressive by Shimizu thanks to wins over the likes of Hikaru Nishida, a win that has aged wonderfully, Toru Chiba, Takehiro Shimokawara and Yosuke Kirima. Those may not be big wins outside of Japan but in Japan they are very good domestic level wins.
Shimizu, like Shindo, is a freak at the weight with a very wiry frame. His punching isn't as crisp as Shindo's, and in fact his hands look really slow, but he's tough, has more power on his shots than Shindo and seems more consistent, with his overall output. He has more to him than his jabs and straights and has a capable, if not incredible inside game. Where he struggles however is that he looks to be a slow starter and in both of his bouts with Charles Bellamy he looked really slow to get going. When he got up to speed he never looked sensation, but looked consistent and was willing to go war.
To us this feels like one of those bouts where Shindo has the type of opponent to look fun with. Shimizu is flawed, very flawed, but comes forward and will be looking to force the fight to be fought on the inside. Early on that won't work and Shindo will make the most of his edge in speed, though as the bout goes on we see Shimizu getting more success, getting closer and out working Shimizu with heavier shots. It's just a case of whether he can start that charge early enough and whether he can keep up with Shimdo's movement. Out guess is it will be too little too late from Shimizu, and Shindo will be the one getting a chance to reclaim the Japanese title next year.
Prediction - SD8 Shindo
When we think of the most exciting weights on the Japanese scene we typically think of the lower weights, the weights where the top Japanese fighters rise through the ranks quickly and move towards world title fights in the space of just a few years. Strangely though the weights around Middleweight have started to become fascinating domestically with a wave of young fighters looking to make a name for themselves. We saw that earlier this year with Hikaru Nishida upsetting Akio Shibata to claim the JBC and OPBF Middleweight titles, and we may well see it again on April 17th, when the little known Yuto Shimizu (11-2-2, 4) [清水 優人] challenges Japanese 154lb champion Yuki Nonaka (28-8-3, 9) [野中 悠樹].
Of the two Nonaka is the more well known. Of course he's the current champion, but he's also a man who has edged his way into the world rankings, been a 2-time Japanese champion, an OPBF champion and has scored notable wins over the likes of Charlie Ota, Kazuhiko Hidaka and Koshinmaru Saito.
In the ring Nonaka is a joy to watch. He's not the quickest, or the more powerful but he's a joyful boxer to see in action, as he throws wonderful combinations, judges distance and timing excellently and uses the southpaw stance very well. At 38 however his career is coming to an end and any fight could be his last. That's not to say he's had a hard career, but he is physically on the slide, much like Shibata was in his loss to Nishida.
In Shimizu we have a relatively obscure fighter who has only really been making a name for himself the last 2 or 3 years, despite debuting way back in 2007. In all honesty we doubt anyone thought Shimizu was going to become a contender when he began his career, and quickly slipped to 3-2-2 (1) after 7 fights, all at the 4 round stage. Since then however he has racked up 8 wins, defeating the likes of Hikaru Nishida, Toru Chiba, Takehiro Shimokawara and Yosuke Kirima.
Footage of Shimizu has been hard to come by though from we can see he has began to show more power in recent bouts, stopping 3 of his last 4 opponents, including Shomokawara who was proven to be tough at this level. We're not going to suggest he's a big puncher, but he's certainly got power to trouble fighters and could well be the type of fighter who holds his power late into a fight. What's key however is that at 28 he's not only much younger than the champion, but he's also a fighter coming into his prime.
It can seem odd to pick the challenger, who haven't seen much of, over the recongised champion but here we will be picking Shimizu to upset Nonaka, and maybe even force a late stoppage. We suspect that youth will play a big part in this but the key will be hunger and Shimizu's string of very good domestic wins have shown that hunger, which will continue to grow. For Nonaka however we think this could well be the end of his career, win or lose.
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.