On January 14th we get the first Japanese show of 2021 and it comes with the first notable fight of the year in regards to Japanese boxing as OPBF Bantamweight champion Keita Kurihara (15-5, 13) looks to defend his title against Takuma Inoue (13-1, 3) at Korakuen Hall. The bout, on an Ohashi promoted show, is a mouth watering one pitting a huge punching champion against a talented, but much lighter punching, challenger. It has the hallmarks of being something hugely entertaining and one that isn’t an easy call at all, especially given all the sub stories leading into the bout.
Before we get on to the bout we need to consider a few things including the fact that neither of the men involved in this one fought at all in 2020. In fact neither man has been in the ring since November 2019. How that plays a part in this bout will be interesting to see as it has certainly given one fighter a chance to reassess where his career is going whilst it has completely slowed down the momentum of the other. We also need to consider the style of the two men and whether a year out of the ring will have allowed them to improve or mature in a way that could prove vital to this fight. Also is there a chance that one fighter has overlooked the other, or lacks the hunger they may have once had.
Coming into this bout the more well known of the two fighters, especially internationally, will be the challenger. The 25 year old Takuma Inoue is the younger brother of Naoya Inoue and a man who seemed groomed for success. The Ohashi Gym hopeful began his professional career way back in 2013, following a solid amateur career, and seemed to be heading to big things after early career wins over Tatsuya Fukuhara, Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr and Nestor Daniel Narvaez. Sadly though he never managed to really kick on after those good wins, and rather than racing through the ranks he spent a long time competing at the upper echelons of the regional title scene. It was there he notched solid wins against Mark Anthony Geraldo, Rene Dacquel, Froilan Saludar, Kentaro Masuda and Mark John Yap. Solid wins, but they certainly did seem to keep him busy, rather than preparing him for world level. Sadly he was also hit by some injuries that slowed his rise, and cost him a 2016 bout with Marlon Tapales.
Although less well known Keita Kurihara is a legit threat himself and the 28 year old slugger is a man who might have losses on his record but can’t be overlooked. He faltered early in his career, losing 4 of his first 7 bouts, against some relatively poor opposition, as he struggled to find his in ring identity and his ideal weight. Since then however he has gone 12-1 (10) with his loss coming to world ranked fighter Hiroaki Teshigawara, in what was a thrilling battle. Although his career started slowly he has notched recent wins against the likes of Ryan Lumacad, Kazuki Tanaka, Yuki Strong Kobayashi, Warliot Parrenas and Sukkasem Kietyongyuth, smashing his way into the world rankings. His competition might not have been on the same level as Inoue’s but he has faced progressively better fighters in recent years, rather than essentially biding time at one level in the sport.
Of course the last time we saw Inoue was on the under-card of the WBSS Bantamweight final, between Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire, where Takuma put in a solid effort but lost a decision to WBC Bantamweight champion Nordine Oubaali. For much of that fight Inoue looked out gunned, over-powered, and out-muscled. Late on however the Japanese fighter mounted an excellent comeback and had Oubaali in all sorts of trouble in the championship rounds. Sadly we’ve not seen him in action at all since then, and that bout took place way back on November 7th 2019. Whilst that lengthy break could be an issue for a fighter, especially after a loss, we dare say the break could serve Inoue well. When he lost to Oubaali he was 23 and still to really find his man strength. Now however he’s 25, he’s coming into his physical prime, and potentially he’ll have naturally bulked up, becoming strong, more naturally powerful and more physically imposing. Had he been 25 when facing Oubaali there’s a feeling he may have had the physical maturity to handle Oubaali’s man strength just a bit better than he did. Also the lengthy break from the ring has given him time to heal up all the niggles and injuries he’s had whilst also working on his flaws, something he likely did in 2020 when sparring with Kosei Tanaka.
Of course Inoue wasn’t the only fighter out of the ring last year and Kurihara’s most recent bout came around 1 week after Inoue’s last bout. That was a 6th straight win for the hard hitting Kurihara, who put away Sukkasem in 2 rounds, whilst fighting just above the Bantamweight limit. That was an impressive performance and had followed on from a 35 second destruction of Warlito Parrenas. Coming in to 2020 Kurihara had real momentum, he won 6 bouts in a row, including 3 in 2018 and 2 in 2019, he seemed to be chugging along, climbing up the world rankings and really finding his stride with some very impressive performances. We do however need to wonder if the break will have a negative effect on him, slowing his rise, killing off the snowball like momentum he had been building. By the time the fight comes along he’ll be 28, still in his prime years, but he’ll feel like he wasted a year of his prime. This was a chance for him to mature, but instead a missed opportunity to build on his success.
In terms of styles Inoue is a boxer. He has a nice jab, nice movement and nice skills, though he can often find himself getting involved in a tougher than expected bout. He lacks real power, or rather he seems to lack the belief in his power, and can often find opponents walking him down when he struggles to get their respect. Despite that he has a good boxing brain, smart defensive skills and a very good team behind him. Sadly though he isn’t his brother. He’s not got Naoya’s fight changing power, or insane quickness. He can fight and he can box, but often he looks rather unsure of himself, and at times it even seems like he lacks the self belief needed to be a star. He has a lot of tools to like. He’s tough, he’s brave and he’s got very impressive stamina, but can be found backing up too easily at times, and that can see him losing rounds that he could win.
As for Kurihara he’s a lot less technical than Inoue. He’s more like a bulldozer than a boxer. He comes forward, has real belief in his power and knows that what he hits he can hurt. He’s not just heavy handed but he’s also big at the weight, standing at around 5’7”, with long levers, a wiry frame and naturally heavy hands. At times he can look a bit wild, a bit open, and a bit crude, though he has certainly worked on this in recent years, and he’s not the quickest fighter out there. However a fighter looking to take advantage of his flaws will need to be aware that if Kurihara catches you he’s going to hurt you, and he really is a serious puncher. He’s not impossible to hit, but trying to hit him and make him pay is a risk. A real, genuine, risk. When he has his man hurt he is also a very good finisher.
Coming into this we suspect Inoue will be the favourite, and we suspect many of those who haven’t seen Kurihara won’t be giving him a chance. In reality however Kurihara is a very, very live underdog. He has the size and power to really give Inoue nightmares and if Inoue hasn’t built his confidence, and can’t get Kurihara’s respect here then there is a very, very real chance that Kurihara takes either a very clear decision or even stops Inoue in the later rounds. If Inoue can get Kurihara’s respect, and if the 14 months out of the ring has helped him physically mature as expected, he should be able to outspeed, out box, and move Kurihara to a decision win.
We see this as a very competitive match up and we really wouldn’t be surprised at all by either man winning.
Prediction - Kurihara TKO9
New Year's Eve is always a big day for boxing in Japan, and this year is no exception with a brilliant WBO Super Flyweight world title bout between Kazuto Ioka and Kosei Tanaka set to headline the end of year festivities. It is worth noting however that the brilliant main event for the day is set to be one of two title bouts on this year's final Japanese show. The other will WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight champion Yuki Strong Kobayashi (16-8, 9) seek his second defense, and his biggest win to date, as he faces former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (16-1-1, 16).
The bout, which will be aired in the Kanto region of Japan, is one that looks poor on paper and we suspect many will see it as a mismatch in favour of the challenger. In reality however we suspect this could be an absolutely brilliant bout, between two well matched fighters, who's styles should gel and make for a very hotly contested and action packed battle.
Of the two fighters it's certainly Higa who is the more well known. The former WBC Flyweight champion began his career with a brilliant and thrilling run of 15 straight stoppage victories. He looked like he was set to be one of the major stars of Japanese boxing over the coming years, and looked, in some whats, like a Japanese Roman Gonzalez, with a style that saw him being dubbed the "Romagon of Okinawa". He connected quickly with fans, and seemed like a quiet guy out of the ring and a destructive one between the ropes, whilst also having the legendary Yoko Gushiken as his mentor.
Sadly after making 2 defenses of the WBC Flyweight title Higa's career came to a startling halt, after he lost the title on the scales ahead of his bout with Cristofer Rosales. He was the first Japanese fighter to ever lose a world title in that fashion and it seemed like he was mentally done going into that fight, being stopped in the 9th round. The weight issue saw the JBC suspending him, and it was almost 2 years later before he returned to the ring, with the JBC not allowing him to fight at a weight below Bantamweight. On his return to the ring that wasn't an issue, as he took out Jason Buenaobra, with no issues at all. Sadly though for Higa and his fans, his second bout back was an issue as he struggled against fellow Japanese fighter Seiya Tsutsumi in October, with the two men fighting to a draw. A draw that many felt Tsutsumi should have won.
At Flyweight Higa a lot of things going for him. He was physically intimidating, with really impressive core strength and power. He was quick on his fight, pressured fantastically well and threw brutal combinations to head and body. His shots at 112lbs were damaging, and he was able to rip opponents apart with combinations, and force them to back off with single, clean jabs. He had it all at 112lbs. At 118lbs however it does seem like his physicality is less dominant, he looks small at Bantamweight, and his style hasn't had the same effect as we saw at Flyweight. He looks somewhat average at the weight. As well as the move up in weight Higa has also left long term mentor Yoko Gushiken and is now fighting out of Tokyo, whilst sparring at fitness gyms, something that has gotten the AMBITION Gym in trouble recently. There is very much a feeling that things are not what they once were for Higa.
When it comes to Yuki Strong Kobayashi we have a fighter with a record that looks unimpressive, and in some ways very limited. With 8 losses from 24 fights we're not even going to pretend he's close to world class. However his numbers don't really reflect the fighter he is today, but more the journey he has taken to get where he is. The 29 year old has had a hard career since beginning his journey way back in 2011 and the man from Osaka has not had the chance to build his record, and pad out his experience with easy fights. He began his career with some success, winning his first 4, but soon began slipping and was 6-3 (4) after 9 bouts, and 10-7 (5) after 17 bouts. His career was going nowhere in early 2017, after losses to Takahiro Yamamoto, Ye Joon Kim and Rey Megrino. But then things changed, and he has gone 8-1 since then, with the one loss being a controversial one against Keita Kurihara, which saw Kobayashi out boxing Kurihara long stretches of the bout, but hitting the canvas numerous times, costing him the win. That same Keita Kurihara is now a world ranked contender just a few fights off a potential world title fight. And the fact Kobayashi went 12 rounds with Kurihara is a testament to his toughness and determination.
Since his loss to Kurihara we've seen Kobayashi score a career best win over Ben Mananquil, defeating him for the WBO Asia Pacific title, and make his first defense, surprisingly going 12 rounds with Ki Chang Go en route to a wide decision win.
In the ring Kobayashi is a pretty basic come forward boxer. Watching him you don't see anything that stands out as spectacular, there's no eye blurring speed, or dynamite power, there's now intense work rate and super high output, and there's flash. Despite all that he's actually a solid boxer, he understands what he's doing and why, he gets the fact he needs to use a jab to set the table, he throws a good solid straight right hand behind it and his defense has improved no end from the early days. He's unfortunate not to have been blessed with any of those traits that a top fighter needs, but he's strong and he always comes to fight. He's also a very natural Bantamweight, which could play a major part in this fight.
Coming in to this the obvious prediction is for Higa to steam roll Kobayashi, applying intense pressure early and breaking down the champion. That however seems far fetched given how Higa has looked at Bantamweight, and the fact Kobayashi, whilst not the most intimidating of fighters, is a strong, well schooled guy, with a tight defense and a good jab. After all if Kurihara, a big puncher at Bantamweight, can't put Kobayashi down and out, we don't think Higa can either.
Instead we expect the smaller Higa to be cautious and instead of trying to break down Kobayashi with pressure and power, he'll use his brain, be quick, get in and out, landing combinations before getting away. Despite that tactic we still expect the power, strength and jab of Kobayashi to be a problem for Higa, who will eat a lot of punches on his way in, and his way out. The jab and right hand of Kobayashi will be enough to get Higa's respect, and we suspect enough for him to pick up rounds, giving us a very close fight.
As the fight goes on, we expect Higa to tire, and the bout to slowly become a war of attrition in the later rounds. We suspect neither man will manage to finish the other off, taking us to the scorecards, in a very hotly contest bout. Just, narrowly, won by Higa, in what would be his first decision win.
Prediction - MD12 Higa
On December 27th we'll see Japanese Youth Super Bantamweight champion Toshiki Shimomachi (12-1-2, 8) make his final defense of the title, win or lose, as he takes on Satoru Hoshiba (7-4, 2), a man he previously faced over 3 years ago. On paper this is an intriguing match up, with out being a big one, and a great chance for the two men to end the year on a high, after what has been a frustrating 12 months for both the talented youngsters.
Of the two men it's Shimomachi that has really impressed us over the last few years and has quickly become one of the most under-rated prospects in all of Japan. He's also someone who has developed a style we don't see too much of in Japan, but is bringing him great success, and could, very easily, take him all the way in the coming years.
The 24 year old champion debuted all the way back in December 2015 and started his career 2-1-1 (1). That was his record at the end of 2016 before he kicked on and won the 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year, beating Ryosei Hamaguchi, Satoru Hoshiba, yes the man he'll be facing again here, and Arashi Iimi en route to the All Japan crown. He then followed that up in 2018 with wins against Kiyohei Endo and Renan Portes before ending the year with a draw against Daisuke Watanabe, a draw that has aged very well.
It was in 2019 that Shimomachi won his title, stopping Kenta Nomura in August, but sadly it took more than a year for him to defend the belt, doing so this August against Hiroki Hanabusa in a very impressive performance.
Unlike most in Japan Shimomachi's style is much more like that of an American counter-puncher than a typical Japanese fighter. He dictates range and distance with smart, well educated feet, he uses the ring well, lines up his counters, and when an opponent makes a mistake he punishes them with sharp, powerful straight left hands. Not only is his straight left a potent weapon but so too is his right hook, and his control of distance, which really is brilliant, makes him an incredibly awkward opponent. Unlike many counter punchers Shimomachi actually tries to lure mistakes, his fighters with his hands low, and uses slippery movements to make opponents miss. He wants opponents to try to hit him, and this makes him an exciting fighter to watch, rather than someone who is overly negative.
Aged 23 Satoru Hoshiba is a bit of an unknown, and he hasn't had the same level of bouts or publicity as Shimomachi since they fought in 2017. In fact footage of Hoshiba is hard to find and, as a result, it's somewhat tricky to get a read on his style, however we do know plenty about his career.
He debuted in 2015 and was stopped in the opening round, he then returned to the ring 4 months later and was again stopped early, making it to round 2. Then he managed find something of a groove, winning 4 in a row to reach the penultimate stage of the 2017 Rookie of the Year, where he lost a majority decision to Shimomachi. That bout, one of the very few we have got footage of involving Hoshiba, saw him applying real pressure and taking the fight on the inside, where he managed to have genuine success.
Despite losing to Shimomachi we have seen Hoshiba bouncing back well winning 3 of his 4 subsequent bouts. The one loss during that stretch was another bout we've been lucky to get footage of, and saw Hoshiba being stopped in 2 rounds by Tom Mizokoshi. In that bout Hoshiba again showed a willingness to come forward, marching down Mizokoshi with intense pressure and even seemed to have rocked him at one point. That was until he was rocked himself, and Mizokoshi fired off bombs until the referee stepped in.
Given what we have seen of Hoshiba we suspect this to be a fun bout, with the challenging show casing his intense, pressure, pushing forward incessantly and showing no fear of Shimomachi's power and defensively skills. Sadly for Hoshiba however his lack of power, and the heavier hands of Shimomachi, are likely to be the difference here. We suspect that Hoshiba will come forward, and will make mistakes that Shimomachi will capitalise on, breaking down Hoshiba and stopping a tiring challenger in the later rounds.
Prediction - Shimomachi TKO7
The final Japanese title fight for 2020 comes on December 26th when Light Flyweight champion Masamichi Yabuki (11-3, 11) makes his first defense, taking on veteran Toshimasa Ouchi (22-9-3, 8) at the Aioi Hall in Kariya. The bout is likely to be over-shadowed by other action during the run in to the end of the year, though is still a very interesting bout, and a real test of Yabuki's power against a sturdy and highly experienced veteran.
For those who don't follow the Japanese domestic scene the Light Flyweight division is one of the most interesting in the country right now. Not only does the country have two of the biggest names in the division, in WBA champion Hiroto Kyoguchi and WBC champion Kenshiro Teraji, but it also has depth and intrigue. Veterans like Tetsuya Hisada and Kenichi Horikawa are still hanging with the youngsters, Reiya Konishi is banging on the door of a third world title fight, Shokichi Iwata, Yudai Shigeoka and Ryu Horikawa are all looking to have a big break out in the next year or two.
Yabuki is someone who wants to see his name in the mix at the top level, alongside Kenshiro, Kyoguchi and even Hisada, who is expected to get a second world title fight next year. With that in mind he knows the Japanese title is vital for him right now, and he needs to look impressive with it. And impressive he has been in recent bouts.
The 28 year old champion, from the Midori Gym, began his career in 2016 and he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final at Flyweight, where he lost a competitive decision to Junto Nakatani. Prior to reaching the final Yabuki had already racked up a 3-0 (3) record with all of is wins coming in the opening round. Following his first loss he reeled off 3 more quick wins, including a blow out over Masashi Tada in 2017, to move to 6-1 (6) before suffering his second loss, a blow out at the hands of Seigo Yuri Akui in early 2018. That loss seemed to suggest that Yabuki perhaps didn't have the power, size or strength to compete at Flyweight and he began to dip his toes into moving down in weight, losing later that same yeah to Cuban Daniel Mattellon, who has since won the WBA "interim" title.
In 2019 Yabuki finally committed to the move down in weight, and dominated Rikito Shiba in a Japanese title eliminator, stopping him in 4 rounds, to earn a shot at the title. That shot came this past July when he brushed aside Tsuyoshi Sato inside a round to become the latest Japanese Light Flyweight champion.
Blessed with heavy, heavy hands, Yabuki is a real dangerman. He's a boxer-puncher at heart, with decent counter punching skills, though he often seems to be happier fighting as a counter puncher rather than as a fighter. When he comes forward he's terrifying, and with his power, size and strength he would potentially have more success than he has so far. Especially at 108lbs where his punches really are destructive.
In Ouchi we have a 35 year old challenger who began his career all the way back in 2003, and has had some real mixed success. After 6 fights he was 3-2-1 and it took him a really long time to get going, as he ran into other fighters on their way up, such as Shin Ono, Ryoichi Taguchi, Yasutaka Kuroki, Masayuki Kuroda and Kenichi Horikawa. Despite all the slips up he managed to get a shot at the Japanese title back in 2012, fighting to a draw with Kuroda, and again in 2016, losing to Kenshiro.
After his 2016 loss to Kenshiro it seemed that was the end for Ouchi, who was out of the ring for almost 3 years before picking up 2 wins last year. Those wins helped him into the Japanese rankings and with no one able to take the fight with Yabuki here he has found himself being advanced quickly up the rankings to essentially being the mandatory challenger for Yabuki.
In the ring Ouchi is a tough fighter who struggled with his power early on, in fact in in his first 28 bouts he had just 4 stoppages to his name. As he's aged however he has began to hold his feet more, put more on his shots, and shown more self belief, as a result he has score 4 KO's in his last 5 wins, and some against decent domestic fighters, like Takeru Kamikubo and Akiyoshi Kanazawa. He has also been showing that power later in bouts, with 3 of his last 4 stoppages coming in round 7. Impressively he has only been stopped 3 times in his long career with the last of those coming way back in 2014, by Atsushi Aburada, and with that in mind we suspect he could be a genuine test of Yabuki's power.
Coming in to this we've not seen what Yabuki's stamina is like at Light Flyweight, though we have seen him look like a terrifying puncher and we expect to see that again here. Ouchi might be tough but at 35 and with slowing reactions we wonder if he has the reflexes to avoid the power shots of Yabuki for long. If not Yabuki will get to him sooner or later.
We expect Ouchi to survive a few rounds, but eventually Yabuki's heavy hands will chip away at him, break him down, and go on to stop him in the middle rounds, after a brave and valiant effort from the challenger.
If he gets the win as expected, don't be surprised to hear Yabuki call out the world champions at 108lbs in a post fight interview for a bout in 2021.
Prediction - Yabuki TKO6
Of all the bouts still to come in 2020 the one that has us the most excited to watch isn't a fight with big names. It's not even a world title bout. Instead it's a bout between two youngsters we've been following for a little while, and think could make for something very special when they get into the ring together on December 26th for a Japanese Youth title bout. It's not a bout we expect people worldwide to care too much about, but it's one that those who follow the Japanese scene in depth will be anticipating like Christmas day its self.
The bout in question is the 8 round Japanese Youth Light Welterweight title bout between the unbeaten and power punching Jin Sasaki (9-0, 8) and all action tough guy Aso Ishiwaki (8-2-1, 6). This is a bout that has the potential to be something that outshines the main event, its self a very good bout between Masayuki Ito and Hironori Mishiro, and in fact could be the Christmas Cracker that we all deserved this year.
It's a bout that has so many small sub-stories all playing a factor as well. Not only do we have two youngsters taking a major risk, but we also have the also great East Japan Vs West Japan rivalry, a Youth title on the line, and two men each wanting to take a huge stride down the path to stardom in 2020. That completely ignores the key reason to be excited however, the styles of the two men in the bout. Styles that should make for something amazing.
Of course with these not being the most well known of fighters we do need to explain why we're so excited about this bout. To begin with lets look at the unbeaten Jin Sasaki.
The 19 year old Sasaki is one of the best teenagers in boxing right now, and amazing he only turned 19 in July, by which point he was already 7-0 (6). The youngster is the star of the Hachioji Nakaya Gym and is a genuine revelation after going 1-3 in the amateurs. He turned professional in 2018 and debuted just weeks after his 17th birthday. Even at that young age his prodigious power was obvious and he stopped his first 4 opponents in a combined 8 rounds, whilst also making his international debut over in Bangkok. He would later enter the 2019 Rookie of the Year, at Lightweight, though had to pull out of the tournament at the East Japan final stage. Despite the disappointment of the Rookie of the Year in 2019 Sasaki has made himself a must watch fighter in 2020 with blow out wins over Shun Akaiwa and Tatsuya Miyazaki, and has been a star on the A-sign live Stream shows.
Unlike many Japanese fighters who are respectful, almost to a fault, Sasaki carries himself with an air of cocky confidence. His walk to the ring, his celebrations and his general attitude scream that he know he's a star and that he wants fans to pay attention to him. Whilst some of that is likely youthful exuberance a lot of it is stems from a very positive attitude and he seems to bask in the attention he has been receiving. He's blessed with that aura of a star, as well as brutally heavy hands, a finishers instinct and under-rated boxing skills to go with it. As with most Japanese fighters at 140lbs, we don't think he'll make a mark on the global stage, but on the domestic and regional picture he could be a real star for the next 10 to 15 years, if he wants to be.
As for Aso Ishiwaki he's a 21 year old fighting out of Nobuhiro Ishida's gym in Neyagawa, Osaka. Like Sasaki he didn't have much of an amateur pedigree and turned professional aged just 17. Sadly Ishiwaki lost on debut within a round, being stopped by Kanta Takenaka in a Lightweight bout. Sadly the inexperience of Ishiwaki showed here but just 4 months later he was back in the ring and started a 5 fight winning streak. That winning streak took him to the 2018 All Japan Rookie of the Year final, where he suffered a razor thin split decision loss to George Tachibana. It would have been easy to write him off after that bout, with a 5-2 (3) record, however he gritted his teeth, worked hard and had a break out 2019. That year began with a thrilling 6 round draw against Yoji Saito, and ended with a trio of stoppage wins, including one against former Japanese title challenger Ryuji Ikeda. By the end of the year we were desperate to see more of him.
In the ring Ishiwaki's style really reminds us of former world title challenger Daiki Kaneko. He's not the most technically well schooled or the biggest single punch puncher in the sport, though his power is certainly solid. But what he is, is a very tough, strong, physically powerful fighter, who comes forward, seems to have excellent stamina and grinds opponents down with aggression and work rate. Unlike Sasaki we don't see the cockiness or the aura of incredibly self belief with Ishiwaki, but we do see a self assured tough guy who has the mentality of a silent destroyer. He won't tell you he's good and he's not flamboyant, but he will show you he's good, and you will sit up and take note. In some ways that's a lot more intimidating than the outward confidence of a fighter like Sasaki.
When it comes to the actual fight it's a really hard one to call.
We expect to see Sasaki show a lot more care than he has in recent bouts, he's quick and heavy handed, but he will be respectful of Ishiwaki's toughness and strength, and his solid power. Sasaki will know that if this becomes a war he'll struggle to keep the pace with Ishiwaki. On the other hand he'll also need to land solidly enough to get Ishiwaki's respect early. If he can't this is going to be a long night for the teenage sensation.
As for Ishiwaki he has, at times, been a slow starter and he'll need to avoid that here. He'll need to apply pressure quickly, and look to break down Sasaki, asking him mental and physical questions round after round. The longer it goes the more he'll ramp up the pressure trying to break down Sasaki.
If Sasaki can hurt Ishiwaki, and it's a big if as the man from Osaka looked like a granite chinned monster against the hard hitting Yoji Saito, then there is a chance this could be over all. If he can't we suspect the higher level of competition will play a major role in the outcome.
We're feel that Ishiwaki will see out some real rocky storms early on, Sasaki will land some massive shots, wobbling Ishiwaki, hurting him, and maybe even dropping him. But won't be able to finish him off, and eventually the pressure and back and forth will break down Sasaki in a thrilling shoot out for the title. But we do not expect this to be a 1 and done rivalry and we wouldn't be surprised to see the two men clash again down the line.
Prediction TKO6 Ishiwaki
One thing that's clear in the world of boxing is that there are too many titles, and too many of them are meaningless titles with no clear qualifiers as to who can win them and what their purpose is in the sport. For example can anyone tell the difference between the WBA Continental, Intercontinental and International titles?
Thankfully does have some titles that are worth something, even in this weird world where the WBA and WBC want to hand out belts like a fashion accessory. And on December 13 we'll see 3 titles unified in Tokyo as WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight champion Ryoji Fukunaga (12-4, 12) takes on Japanese champion Kenta Nakagawa (19-3-1, 12), with the winner not only defending their title, and taking the title from their opponent, but also the currently vacant OPBF title, to become a triple crown champion.
As with all triple crown bouts in Japan this is a really interesting match up and one that be excited about. Style wise the men should match up wonderfully, and given that both men are in their mid-30's neither man can accord a set back if they want to move their career forward. With that in mind, how do we expect this bout to go? And who are the fiughters?
The 34 year old Fukunaga is a hard hitting southpaw who turned professional in 2013 and lost to Seita Mochizuki. He then reeled off 4 straight wins before losing again, in a blow out loss to Ryo Matsubara in 2015. That could have been it for him, but instead he gritted his teeth and rebuilt, surprisingly winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year, thanks to a solid win against Kota Fujimoto in the final. By the end of 2017 he was 10-2 (10) before suffering back to back decision losses to Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart. With a 10-4 his career looked like it was going nowhere, and he was out of the ring for 10 months before picking up a low key win in May 2019. He then got a big chance, taking on Froilan Saludar earlier this year for the WBO Asia Pacific title.
In the ring Fukunaga is a bit of a slow fighter in terms of his hand speed, he's a little bit clumsy when he throws punches, bounces on his feet a lot and does a lot of things wrong. When he throws his left he often complete drops his right and has very, very poor defense. Thankfully for him however he a decent chin, good reactions and a real awkwardness to how he fights. He's also blessed with brutal power. Although his punches are technically poor they are thrown with bad intent and are of the "nasty thudding" variety. His jab, when it lands, is hurtful and his left hand is like a wrecking ball, slow but damaging, however he needs to land and that is not a given due to his wide arching punches and lack of speed.
Aged 35 Kenta Nakagawa actually turned professional way back in 2004 and began his career with 2 wins in his first 3 bouts. Then he vanished from boxing for me than 6 before returning in 2011. His return to boxing saw him lose to Teppei Tsutano but since then he has gone a very impressive 17-1-1 (12). During that 19 fight run he's had since he returned to the score he has scored notable wins over the likes of Joe Tanooka, Hayato Kimura, Ryosuke Nasu, Takayuki Okumoto and Yuta Matsuo, and become a 2-time Japanese champion. It's worth noting that his first title reign was a show one, lasting just 5 months, and saw him suffer a 7th round TKO loss to Ryuichi Funai, but he has reeled off 6 straight wins since then.
In the ring Nakagawa is a smart boxer puncher. Like Fukunaga he's a southpaw, but unlike Fukunaga he's actually a pretty polished fighter with deliberate and quick movement, accurate straight punches a powerful left hand, and good timing. He's a much better on the back foot than Nakagawa, and knows how to create, and use distance, landing accurate shots and making opponents make mistakes. He's not the quickest out there, or the biggest puncher, but he has respectable power, and his accuracy and timing make up for his lack of single punch power. What's also rather impressive is his composure under pressure, and he showed this well under the aggression and pressure of Yuta Matsuo back in July.
If a bout was decided on skills alone this would be an easy win for Nakagawa. He is by far, the more polished, rounded and knowledgable fighter in the ring. The issue here however is the power of Fukunaga. If he lands a clean one on Nakagawa he certainly has the power to get Nakagawa's attention, and potentially get him to unwind. We suspect Nakagawa's movement will limit there, but there is always a chance he could land, and it may only take one clean, wild left hand to turn the bout around.
We suspect that Nakagawa will manage to rack up rounds, box smartly, and get a big lead through the bout. However there will always be danger, whilst he'll look in control there will be a sense of tension through out the contest. Fukunaga might miss a lot, might look clumsy, but he will be dangerous to the end and it will take a very good performance from Nakagawa to see this out, secure the win and finish the night as a triple crown champion.
Prediction - UD12 Nakagawa
Way back in July we got a genuine upset in Japan as Daishi Nagata (15-2-1, 6) stopped Koki Inoue to claim the Japanese Light Welterweight title. That result was really unexpected with Inoue a clear favourite to win and to retain his title, before heading on to bigger and better things. Inoue however didn't get a chance to find his groove before being cut, and the referee was later forced to step in and stop the bout due to the damage on Inoue, who then announced his retirement from the sport.
On December 10th we'll see Nagata back in the ring as he goes for his first title defense and takes on tough veteran Akihiro Kondo (32-9-1, 18) at the Korakuen Hall. On paper this looks a really good match up, a tough first defense and a chance for Nagata to legitimise his title reign, whilst also looking like a chance for Kondo to claim another title and continue his long career. In reality however we don't expect this to be as competitive as it looks. In fact we have a feeling that this will actually be quite an easy defense for the newly crowned champion.
The 30 year old champion was a solid amateur before turning professional in 2014, facing a then debuting Takeshi Inoue in a really weird match up between two touted, former amateurs. That bout resulted in a draw before Nagata went on a decent run of results to boast an 8-0-1 (4) record by the end of 2016. In early 2017 he suffered his first loss, being stopped in 7 by the bigger, stronger and more powerful Vladimir Baez before rebuilding and putting on a great performance, in a loss, to Rikki Naito in 2018. Despite losing to Naito it was clear that Nagata had the tools to win domestic and regional titles, and since then he has reeled off 4 wins, including the one against Koki Inoue.
In the ring Nagata is a little battler. He can box, he can fight and he can brawl, but at his best he's a grinder, getting in an opponents face, working a high tempo, and bullying them around the ring. He's got really good stamina, with his best success against Naito coming late in the bout, and a very under-rated boxing brain. Whilst his win over Inoue was a genuine surprise, that was more due to how highly regarded Inoue was, and not the lack of skills we'd seen from Nagata. He's strong, he's relatively tough, he's energetic and he's a real handful. He's unlikely to make a mark at the higher levels due to a lack of size, and lacking fight changing power, but on the domestic and regional scene he's going to be a tough man to beat, especially now with his confidence riding sky high.
Aged 35 Akihiro Kondo is a genuine veteran of the sport. He made his professional debut in 2006, just weeks after his 21st birthday, and has gone through the ranks the hard way. He lost in his second professional bout before bouncing back to win Rookie of the Year in 2007 and the Japanese Lightweight title in 2009, beating Yoshitaka Kato, and moved to 13-1. Sadly though his reign was short, losing in his first defense against Nihito Arakawa, but his career continued on and he attempted to reclaim the title in 2012, losing a close decision to Kato in their second clash. He took 15 months away from the ring, from April 2013 to July 2014, before losing to Arakawa for a second time. Despite that set back he continued in his comeback, winning the WBO Asia Pacific Light Welterweight title in September 2016 and working his way to an IBF world title fight in 2017, losing Sergey Lipinets in 2017. He lost that bout, but gave Lipinets genuine resistance and one of his toughest bouts up to that point.
Sadly since the Lipinets bout Kondo has looked on the slide, going 3-2 with a KO loss to Downua Ruawaiking and a wide decision loss to Andy Hiraoka, both in 2019. It seems very much like father time is catching up with the tough, rugged veteran.
At his best Kondo was a solid, tough, fighter with under-rated defense, clean accurate punching, and a real will to win. He was a really hard man to beat, with good energy, hurtful power, solid skills, a really good jab and solid timing. On the back end of that he was never a big puncher, he was never particularly quick and he could be made to chase shadows. He was never impossible to beat, and he could be out pointed, as Kato and Arakawa did, but he looked so damn tough and hard to hurt, that the real game plan to beat him was to box him and night fight him. Sadly however those days appear to be behind him and he's become even slower than he used to be. He's still tough, despite the KO loss, but he's also very basic, and with what speed he did have now being gone he's a much easier man to beat in 2020 than he was in 2010.
At his best Kondo would have been a really tough first defense for Nagata. His toughness, physicality, strength and will to win would have given the champion real issues. In 2020 however we see Nagata being too quick, too sharp, too hungry and too good for Kondo. We suspect Nagata will look to get inside and will outwork Kondo up close and look to beat Kondo at his own game. If Nagata struggles with that we suspect he'll get on his toes and move, which would be a safer option but not the option we think he'll go with first. He'll want to make a statement and to do that he'll want to come forward, not give Kondo room to breathe and take the tires out of the 35 year old challenger.
We suspect Kondo will be too tough to be stopped but we do imagine he'll end up losing a very clear decision to the champion.
Prediction - UD10 Nagata
On December 3rd we'll see a new Japanese Minimumweight champion being crowned as Masataka Taniguchi (12-3, 7) gets his second shot at the domestic title, and faces the unheralded Hizuki Saso (12-6-2, 4), in what will be his first title bout of any kind. Amazingly the bout comes almost 11 months to the day since Norihito Tanaka vacated the belt, ahead of his world title bout with Knockout CP Freshmart, and more than 8 months after Taniguchi was supposed to face Lito Dante for the belt, back in March.
Despite the lengthy gap between bouts for the title we can't help but be excited about this one, as it really does look set to be much, much better than the record of the two men suggest.
Of the two fighters it's fair to see Taniguchi will be the clear favourite, and with good reason. The Watanabe gym fighter is a former amateur standout who seemed destined for success when he turned professional in 2016. In his early professional bouts he looked fantastic, with speed, power, skills and a good ring IQ, and in 2017 he got his first title bout, losing a razor thin majority decision to Reiya Konishi for the Japanese Minimumweight title. Due to how close that loss was, in Konishi backyard as well, Taniguchi's career didn't really suffer and just 7 months later he got his second title bout, facing Tsuabasa Koura for the OPBF Minimumweight title. Once against Taniguchi came up narrowly close, losing a majority decision to Koura.
Thankfully for Taniguchi things did fall in place for him in 2018 when he claimed the WBO Asia Pacific Miunimumweight title, with a unanimous decision win over Filipino Joel Lino in Thailand. That win was followed by some wrangling over Japanese rules before Taniguchi fought Vic Saludar for the WBO world title, losing a clear decision to the big punching Filipino. Since that loss we've only seen Taniguchi fighting once, though that was a notable win in a Japanese title eliminator against the big punching Kai Ishizawa, in what was a legitimate barn burner.
In the ring the 26 year old Tanigcuhi is a fantastic fighter. He's skilled, he knows how to keep things long, has solid power, he's tough and he has the amateur background to fall back on. Two of his 3 losses could easily have gone his way, and against Vic Saludar he found out he wasn't ready for world level, just yet. Sadly though he his record paints the picture of a limited fighter, with losses in 20% of his career bouts, not a number that's actually reflective of his talent and he's much better than his record suggests. He's probably the best 12-3 fighter in the sport, and could just as easily be 14-1 at this point. Despite being talented he's not someone who has responded well to power, and at times he seemed intimidated by Saludar, who's stiff shots made Taniguchi think twice, and he was dropped by Ishizawa in their amazing 2019 clash.
When it comes to Hizuki Saso it's fair to say a lot less is known about the 25 year old, despite the fact his professional career dates back to 2015 and he has more professional bouts than Taniguchi. The youngster from Kanagawa has been a professional since 2013 and suffered his first loss in 2014. Notably his second loss came in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final to Tsubasa Koura and that started a bad run for Saso who quickly fell from 6-1 to 6-4-1, going win-less for more than 2 years.
The bad run for Saso saw him struggle to find his place in the sport and dip his toes at Light Flyweight whilst rebuilding his career, winning 6 of his following 8 bouts to rebuild to 12-4-1, and open up the opportunity for a title fight.
In the ring Saso is a tidy little boxer with a speedy and sharp jab, nice light movement and good body shots. Sadly though he lacks power, his work rate leaves something to be desired. From a physical stand point he doesn't seem the strongest or the most powerful, and he seems like the type of guy that could be bullied around rather easily by a decent, strong fighter, like Taniguchi. He also has questionable defense and in his last bout, against Yuni Takada, took a lot of clean shots, often when bending at the waist. In fact if we're being honest Saso was incredibly lucky to take home the win in that bout. He has nice skills, but they seem very unpolished, and like they need a lot of work for him to be ready for a title bout.
From what we've seen of both men it's hard to see a route to victory for Saso. He lacks the power needed to get Taniguchi's respect, like Ishizawa and Saludar, he lacks the work rate to out work him, and he lacks the physicality to try and bull him. As for Taniguchi this really is his fight to lose. He has the skills to outbox Saso, he has the power to hurt him, and he has the physicality to boss him around.
What we're expecting to see is Saso to show a lot of respect to Taniguchi early on. By round 3 or 4 however Taniguchi will have gotten the motor going and will be lining Saso up regularly with powerful straight left hands. When that happens it'll become less a competitive contest and more a test of how tough Saso is, and how brave his corner is. Sooner or later however Saso will be stopped.
Prediction - Taniguchi TKO6
If we're being honest it can be easy to hate on some weight divisions, and one of those that is an easy target is the Featherweight division, especially in 2020 when almost no big bouts took place in it. In a division that has the likes of Can Xu, Josh Warrington, Gary Russell Jr and Emanuel Navarrete there is the talent there for some phenomenal bouts but sadly we've not seem much at all worth being excited about. Fingers crossed 2021 will be a much, much better year for the division.
Thankfully whilst the division's biggest and brightest haven't given us much to talk about the division does still have some interesting action going on below the top level, and on November 23rd we get the chance to see one of the rising hopefuls of the division in action, as he takes on a serious puncher. The bout isn't set to get much international attention, but it should still deliver some action.
The bout in question will pit WBO Asia Pacific champion Musashi Mori (11-0, 6) against heavy handed challenger Tsuyoshi Tameda (21-5-2, 19), in one of the more interesting bouts the division has given us this year. On paper it might not look that interesting, but in reality the bout is a perfect mix of styles, and a serious test for a man who turns 21 the day before the fight.
The unbeaten champion is the big hope from the gym run by former WBC Bantamweight champion Yasuei Yakushiji, and has been guided brilliantly so far. He debuted aged 17 and won the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2017, the following year he won the WBO Asia Pacific title, narrowly over-coming Richard Pumicpic, and since then has been learning under the guidance of Ismael Salas. It's been under Salas' guidance that we've seen Mori build around his strength's and go from an aggressive fighter, to be a well balanced boxer, with a might better defense and understanding of the ring.
Under Salas we have seen Mori become a touch boring, dull and less exciting than he once was. On one hand that is disappointing, but it's clearly been a change that will increase Mori's in ring success and it's clear that he's not a much more polished boxer than he was. He's quick, sharp, moves around the ring well and has a razor like southpaw straight left hand. One thing we don't see from him often enough, for our liking, is a jab thrown with intent, but it is in his arsenal, as are short, crafty uppercuts to the body. Although he's technically very good we don't see the X-Factor with him at the moment. He's talented, but lacks that eye catching speed, good night power and we do query his physical maturity, with the youngster still looking like a body. In a year or two, when he build his man strength, that might change, but at the moment it very feels like he needs more time to develop and at 20 going on 21, talk of a world title fight is too soon in our eyes.
At one point Tsuyoshi Tameda looked like a star in the making, and was a stand-out, thrill a minute youngster. He turned professional in 2011, at the age of 17, and was one of the last students under the legendary eye of Kenji Yonekura. As a youngster he kicked off his career with 3 opening round KO's and looked like a destructive force. In just his 5th bout he fought to a draw with Masayuki Ito in the Rookie of the Year, before being beaten a fight later. Following his first loss Tameda went on a role and moved to 13-1-2 (11), including wins over future Japanese national champion Takenori Ohashi and Filipino fighter Mark Bernaldez. Then he lost to Simipiwe Vetyeka, losing a gruelling and 1-sided decision to the talent South African. Sadly Tameda has never really bounced back from that loss and has gone 8-3 since then with stoppage losses to the tricky Reiya Abe, the touted Hinata Maruta and the all action Jae Woo Lee. He's still shown rock hands, but those losses have shown that his chin is cracked, and that he can be stopped.
Now at the age of 27 there are real question marks about just what Tameda has left. Technically he's never been the best, despite being guided first by Yonekura and now by Hideyuki Ohashi. He has always been fun, a devastating puncher, and a real danger man, but has always struggled against fighters that can take his blows and those that can counter him. He makes a lot of mistakes, and gives opponents lots of chances to tag him, but if he lands he can take fighters out, as we saw in stunning fashion Takenori Ohashi.
For this bout we are really interested in several things. Firstly can Tameda land on Mori? And if so can Mori take the power of Tameda? We know Tameda can struggle to land on fighters but when he lands he does tend to chake them up and if Mori is caught clean by a right hand, even once, it will be very interesting to see how he responds. Secondly can Mori get Tameda's respect? If not is he capable of playing keep away for 12 rounds? Tameda does seem like he's somewhat damaged compared to the fighter he once was, but with Mori not having stand out power there's a chance his shots bounce off Tameda as the challenger comes forward.
We suspect the movement, skills, speed and timing of Mori will be the difference. We expect to see the youngster take a shot or two, but not cleanly and not solidly enough to really test his chin, and when he is tagged he'll tie up or get out of dodge. But there will always be that danger of him eating one and coming undone. Tameda will always try, and will always feel he had the power to turn things around, but we feel that after 7 or 8 rounds his steam will run out and Mori will ease over the finish line for a clear decision.
Prediction - UD12 Mori
One of the best division's in the sport right now is the Light Flyweight division, which is a division full of talented fighters, promising match ups, and exciting hopefuls. It's a division that has gone under-the-radar historically but has started to get more and more buzz around it in the last few years thanks to the emergence of some fantastic fighters, like Kenshiro Teraji, Felix Alvarado, Carlos Canizales and Hiroto Kyoguchi.
On November 23rd we see two more men looking to throw their hats into the ring and move towards a world title fight in 2021. The bout in question will see 23 year old southpaw Riku Kano (16-4-1, 8) take on the often under-rated Ryoki Hirai (13-6-1, 4) in a contest for the WBO Asia Pacific title. With the title here the winner will find themselves leaping the queue towards a WBO world title fight, and the loser will have a long, long road back to being a contender, making this a very important bout for the two men involved.
Of the two fighters it's the 23 year old Kano who is the more well known. The youngster made his debut way back in 2013, in the Philippines, and despite losing on debut he began to build some moment soon afterwards. Just over a year after debuting he claimed the WBA Asia Minimumweight title, at the age of 17 and still hadn't made his Japanese debut. When he did finally head back to Japan, in 2015, he did so with some genuine buzz around him and expectation around him. That buzz would lead to him getting a world title fight in 2016, at the age of 18, against Katsunari Takayama. The bout was set up with the hope of Kano becoming the youngest ever Japanese world champion, but in the end Takayama was too good, taking a technical decision over Kano.
Sadly for Kano that buzz has never quite comeback and he's gone 6-2 since that loss, with defeats to Jerry Tomogdan and Shin Ono. He has now moved up in weight, though it's hard to know id he will ever "come good" and reach the heights expected of him.
Despite falling short so far Kano is a solid boxer-mover. He's quick, sharp, has nice balance and good skills. Sadly however he's very much lacking in the physical aspects of the sport. He's a light puncher, who doesn't sit on his shots, and doesn't have the physical strength and power to hold his own against a man pressing him. Kano also has question marks over his heart, and he seemed to mentally crumble against Shin Ono. He's a talented fighter, but very an immature one, mentally and physically. Thankfully for him, those issues can be worked on and sorted out, but will need to be worked on NOW!
Whilst much was made of Kano's career early on Hirai never got that early attention. That was, in part, due to his struggles to build any career momentum. He won his first 3 bouts but quickly fell to 3-3-1 and was later 5-4-1. By that point his career looked like it was going no where and he wasn't helped by fighting with a small promoter in Kobe. And then things started to change for Hirai who began to not some good wins, including victories over Takumi Sakai and Ryoya Ikema. Those wins lead to him getting a Japanese title fight in 2018, with Hirai losing a close decision to Shin Ono. Following that loss he suffered another razor thin set back, to Yuto Takahashi, before getting his career back up and running in 2019, with 3 wins.
In the ring Hirai is an interesting fighter. He's not got the highest work rate and he's not the most destructive. What he is however is a solid body puncher, he knows his way around the ring and is surprisingly quick, with both hands and feet. At world level we don't see him making much of an impact, though he could be a banana skin against the right champion, however at domestic and regional level he's a legitimate threat and he could be too much for Kano here.
It's fair to say that Kano is the man with the expectations on his shoulders, and at the time of writing he's the clear favourite with those polled on Boxmob, however we see him really struggling here.
Kano is the better boxer. He's the quicker, smoother, better natural talent. He is however the sort of man who struggled with pressure, and tenacity, and we expect to see that from Hirai, as we saw against Ikema. Our prediction here is a good start for Kano, but as the bout goes on, and he begins to slow down, Hirai's pressure will get to him, and break him down. Eventually Kano's mental strength will be question, and he'll come up short for answers, eventually being stopped.
Prediction - TKO9 Hirai
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.