Over the last decade or so the Super Flyweight division has been one of the hottest, most interesting, exciting and compelling division's in the sport. We've really had everything at 115lbs in that time, with Fights of the Year contenders, brutal knockouts, huge upsets, all action wars, star making performances and recent the emergence of Jesse Bam Rodriguez, arguably the hottest young talent in professional boxing. At the global scene the division has been delivering year after year, though what most probably aren't too aware of, is that the division has also been delivering great fights on the lower levels, such as the Japanese and Oriental scenes, with some absolute thrillers in recent years. We could well be in for another of those thrillers this coming Tuesday, when Japanese champion Kenta Nakagawa (21-4-1, 12) defends his title against Hayate Kaji (15-1, 9) at Korakuen Hall.
Of the two men Nakagawa is the more established and the more well known. The 36 year fighter is currently enjoying his third reign as the Japanese champion, and has really established himself as one of the top domestic level fighters in the division over the last few years. He first won the title in 2016, won it again in 2019 and reclaimed it earlier this year. Sadly however his first two reigns have been short, losing in his first defense of his first reign and his second defense in his second reign, and at 36 it's hard to imagine him now having a lengthy run with the belt. Despite his short reigns Nakagawa has had a genuinely solid career, albeit one that maybe could have been better. He began as a professional in 2004 and went 2-1 before taking a 6 year break from the ring, losing 6 years of his developmental years. Since then he has gone 19-3-1 with notable wins against the likes of Joe Tanooka, Hayato Kimura, Takayuki Okumoto, Yuta Matsuo, Ayato Hiromoto and Hiroyuki Kudaka.
As a fighter Nakagawa is a technical, intelligent southpaw, with a gritty determination and a good variety of shots. Early in his career he was known for having solid speed, but as time has gone on, and he's aged, he has slowed down and relied more on his technical skills rather than his speed. He uses his technical ability to create space, landing straight shots, and he boxes well whether he's going forward or backwards. He's a crisp, clean puncher who doesn't take unnecessary risks, and instead boxes smartly. looking for holes to land big straight left hands, and gets his jab out there to remain busy. Sadly when he is dragged into a war, he doesn't have the power to turn things around, and he has been stopped in his two most recent losses, including one in a sensational fire fight to Ryoji Fukunaga. He's tough and brave, but he has been stopped, he struggles under intense pressure, and when fighters don't let him control space he really struggles to dictate things.
Whilst Nakagawa is a 3-time champion and a veteran Kaji really is the opposite. The 24 year old has been on the scene since he was a teenage, and he made a lot of buzz in Japan early on, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2015. Sadly Teiken spent years after that success slowly bringing him along, too slowly. There were reports that he was getting frustrated, and other reports suggesting he was playing up and being unprofessional. The reality is likely a mix of the two. He was a teenager looking like he could be fast-tracked and instead moved at a snails pace whilst being matched against opponents who did little to develop his skills over the following 4 or 5 years. Last year he got his first real chance to prove himself, and he did just that, in a thrilling bout with Ryoji Fukunaga for the triple crown. A bout that many felt Kaji had deserved to win, though was denied on the scorecards, losing a highly controversial majority decision. A decision that would later be questioned when Fukunaga subsequently landed a dream fight with Kazuto Ioka just a few weeks later.
Despite the frustrations of Kaji's development he has shown that he is a legitimate prospect at 115lbs. Early on he was something of a raw puncher. He was blasting out opponents, and did so earlier on stopping 6 of his first 8 opponents in the first 2 rounds. In more recent bouts however he has become a smarter fighter, accepting his power won't take everyone out and instead of being a pure banger, he has become an intelligent boxer-puncher. His last 5 bouts have all gone the distance, and he has developed the tools to become a genuine force on the regional scene. In the ring Kaji moves around the ring well, picks his spots well, and controls range really nicely whilst firing off crisp, clean, sharp combinations, with every shot having decent pop behind it. At times he has been accused of being lazy and pedestrian, but against Fukunaga he raised to the occasion and was out boxing, out punching and out fighting the dangerous and tough Fukunaga. If looking for a complaint with Kaji he still fights like a man who has more to offer than we see from him, but we suspect that as he mature we'll see more and more from him. Like many Teiken fighters over recent years, he doesn't like to waste energy, and is too apprehensive at times, but that is something we expect to see change as he gets used to fighting longer distances and becomes more comfortable with his stamina.
In his prime we feel Nakagawa would have the tools to deal with a 24 year old Kaji. We think he would be too mature and too mentally switched on. This however isn't a prime Nakagawa and given how Kaji dealt with the southpaw stance of Fukunaga, we really don't see him having any problems at all with the 36 year old champion. We expect to see Kaji pressing forward, and being too quick, too sharp and simply too young for Nakagawa, who will have success, but will be out worked by the younger man, when Kaji puts his foot on the gas. We don't see Kaji stopping Nakagawa necessarily, but we do see him hurting Nakagawa and securing a clear, yet hard fought decision. We expect to see Nakagawa down going into the late rounds, and trying to up the tempo, and potentially being caught by a bomb, but seeing out the storm to survive the distance.
Prediction - UD10 Kaji
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.