On April 8th we'll see a really interesting Japanese Welterweight title bout between a huge punching champion and a teak tough challenger, who should be able to put on a genuine show!
The bout in question will see Keita Obara (23-4-1, 21) making his first defense of the title, as he takes on "reimported boxer" Shoki Sakai (25-11-2, 13), who has fought much of his career in Mexico and the US. The two men have had very, very, very different careers, but together they should make for something of a special fighter.
Of the two men Obara is the well proven and more established fighter. Aged 34 he's at the back end of his career but hasn't actually taken all that much punishment during his 28 fight career. In fact he's only fought 146 professional rounds since his 2010 debut. That is in part due to his style, which is built around his out-side boxing and power. He hurts fighters when he lands and has 21 stoppages in 23 wins, and at Japanese and Oriental level he tends to not need to land too many shots to finish bouts. Sadly though he has also shown a questionable chin and has been stopped in 3 of his 4 losses, including a loss on his 2010 debut to Kazuyoshi Kumano and in a 2016 world title fight against Eduard Troyanovsky.
At his best Obara is a very, very good boxer-puncher. Not world class as such, but a good "top 30" type of guy. He has very good power, decent stamina, good size, but he lacks in terms of his durability and his speed. He's not slow as such, but he's quite deliberate and technical, which makes him look slower than he really is. At Japanese level he has looked almost untouchable since losing on debut, and since then he has never lost against a fellow Japanese fighter. In fact his record against Japanese fighters is 15-1 (14), and he has genuine dominated the scene at 140lbs and 147lbs.
During his long career Obara has won Japanese and OPBF titles at Light Welterweight and the WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese titles at Welterweight. The last of those titles was the Japanese Welterweight title which he won in February 2020, when he stopped Yuki Nagano. That win is, notably, his most recent bout and is now well over a year ago. It's going to be very interesting to see what the 34 year old Obara, with more than a year of ring rust, is going to be like here.
Although somewhat new to Japanese fans Shoki Sakai is no spring chicken himself. He's 30 years old and has been a professional since 2010. Unlike most Japanese boxers however he really made his name outside of his homeland, and carved out the first few years fighting only in Mexico, in fact his first 15 bouts were all in Mexico and 24of his first 25 were in the country. From 2016 however he began to frequent rings in the US, where he was matched against some fairly notable names such as Ashley Theophane, Cameron Krael, Eddie Gomez, Alexis Rocha and Gor Yeritsyan. He was used as a bit of a gatekeeper, testing highly regarded prospects, and often being a very credible test due to his toughness and desire. He lacked the skills to beat the top prospects, but gave them all a tough time and lasted the distance with them all, making them all work incredibly hard.
In 2020, after 36 bouts as a professional, Sakai made his Japanese debut and has now won 2 bouts in Japan, beating 2017 Rookie of the Year winner Hironori Shigeta and current Japanese Youth champion Takeru Kobata. Two very decent domestic wins and two wins that showed what Sakai could do in the sport.
As a fighter Sakai is a pretty basic pressure fighter, who can box a bit but really relies on his pressure. Given his skillset however that's a tactics that works for him. He's technically limited, but strong, tough and has a good work rate. With that in mind he uses what he has. He comes forward, looks to get inside and works up close. He's not the quickest, sharpest, or particularly light on his feet, but he's a tough lump who gets in the ring and looks to have a fight. Sadly for him he does take a lot of punishment, and in his 38 bouts he has already had 241 professional rounds and some of those have been tough rounds, such as the 8 spent with Gor Yeritsyan.
When it comes to this bout there are a lot of interesting questions. For example what is the lengthy lay off going to do to Obara? He may have aged over night, he may have been caught by father time, or he may just be a bit rusty. In fact at the age of 34 is Obara now at the end of his career? Can he even get up for a fight like this? At On the other hand can Sakai take the power of Obara? Can Sakai get past the very good jab of Obara? In fact can Sakai's style even have success against Obara given his somewhat flat footed approach in the ring?
Sadly for Sakai we suspect he'll be in trouble here. We don't see him getting close with the regularity he needs to really be a test for Obara. In fact we expect the power and straight shots of Obara too get Sakai's respect early and as the bout goes on Sakai will be taking more and more punishment, as he tries over and over to cut the distance. Up close Sakai will have some success, but Obara will hold, spoil and force the referee to split them, allowing him to get back behind his jab.
We expect to see Sakai being well behind going into the second half of the bout and taking more risks, before finally being stopped. Potentially by his corner.
Prediction - TKO9 Obara
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.