On July 17th we'll get the next Japanese Youth title fight, and it's a mouth watering on as teenage sensation Jin Sasaki (10-0, 9) attempts to defend his Japanese Youth Light Welterweight title against second generation fighter Kaiki Yuba (7-0-2, 5), himself the Japanese Youth Lightweight champion.
Coming in to this one we have the makings of something very special. We not only have two unbeaten fighters risking their "0", we also have two men who have real power facing off, and two youngsters who are each looking to move on to bigger and better things than the youth title. In fact the bout also doubles as an eliminator for the Japanese senior title, with the winner in line to face Andy Hiraoka for the vacant Japanese 140lb title. The bout has explosive fighters, fighting for something meaningful and we really can't ask for more than that!
Coming in to this bout all the momentum is with the 19 year old Jin Sasaki, who won the title in December when he battered Aso Ishiwaki in 3 rounds. That was Sasaki's 3rd stoppage win of 2020, his fourth successive stoppage, and his 10th straight win. Not only that but was, in many ways, a fight that saw Sasaki prove a lot more than we'd seen from him in the past. Prior to that win Sasaki had been blitzing fighters, with his power and aggression being the key to his wins, and he hadn't really had to show much in terms of boxing skills. Against Sasaki however we saw him relax more and show there was more to him that brutally heavy hands in what was a career best win.
Despite being just 19 Sasaki is a special talent. He has genuinely nasty power, very under-rated boxing skills, but also a real understanding of what being a star is all about. He brings showmanship to the ring, he oozes charisma and has that must watch quality that stars have. Whether he can reach the top is unclear, but at 19 he ticks pretty much every box a fighter can tick, and he looks like someone who just "gets" it. He is someone who understands what boxing is, what he is doing in the ring, and how he needs to act to build his reputation. He is however still a boxing baby with just 21 professional rounds to his name, since his debut in 2018, and he has only been beyond 3 rounds once in his career. He's very inexperienced, and we do have question marks about his chin and his stamina, but from what we have seen he looks every bit a star of the future.
At the age of 22 Yuba is the older, more mature fighter, and standing at 5'10 he's also the taller man, but he's actually moving up in weight here having won the Japanese Youth Lightweight title in early 2020, in his most recent bout. Moving up and down the weights does however, run in the Yuba blood line with his father being the legendary Tadashi Yuba who won Japanese titles in 5 weight classes during his long and storied career. Like his father Yuba is a tall, rangy fighter, with heavy hands, but flawed defense and sadly a frustrating history of head clashes, which have resulted in both of his professional draws. Sadly for him he's not fought since January 2020, and as a result he enters this bout on the back of a long period of inactivity, but that win was the biggest of his career.
In the ring Yuba is a talented boxer-puncher who fights out of the southpaw stance. He's a patient fighter, who likes to control behind his long lead hand and line opponents up for his heavy straight left hand. At times he does seem over-eager to land his left, with his poise going as he over-extends and at other times throws the left when well out of range, but most of the time he does show good composure, timing and very good counter punching skills. Like his father he does love his own power, and in fairness to him it is nasty when he lands, but he is much more polished than his father ever was, and is a better boxer than his dad, even if he's not quite the same puncher his father became.
On paper we really like this fight. Sasaki's aggression and power against Yuba's counter punching and power. Sadly though fights aren't won and lost on paper, and we can't help but feel things are stacked against Yuba. His inactivity feels like it could be an issue, moving up in weight seems like it could be a problem, and fighting in Sasaki's home of Hachioji could also be an issue. With out the ring rust we suspect Yuba would have a real chance here with his patience, his timing and his counter shots. But with such a long lay off, we think it'll take him 3 or maybe 4 rounds to get a read on Sasaki, and that's 3 or 4 rounds he doesn't have.
We expect Sasaki to jump on Yuba, apply a lot of pressure, and take the fight to the taller man from the off. Yuba might catch him with a counter or two, but will have to take some heavy leather in the process, and we suspect that Sasaki will hurt Yuba when he lands. Yuba will try to fight back, but we suspect the added weight and strength of Sasaki will play a major role in breaking him down, and this could be over in 4 rounds with Sasaki picking up his latest win.
Don't get us wrong, Yuba has a chance. He has the power and skills to catch Sasaki, and if he does we could see our prediction turn out to be very wrong, but we're backing the teenage terror here.
Prediction - TKO4 Sasaki
On July 16th we'll see a new OPBF Minimumweight champion being crowned as Melvin Jerusalem (16-2, 10) clashes with Toto Landero (11-5-2, 2) for the vacant title, in a second bout between the two men who fought back in 2018. Although the bout isn't a huge bout for global boxing, it is a very, very interesting one between two former world title challengers each looking to move towards a second shot at the top.
Of the two men the more well known, and more proven, is Jerusalem. The 27 year old who is now based in Cebu City has been a professional since 2014 and quickly impressed with some displays of real power punching as he raced out to 8-0 (7) within 2 years of his debut. He then got his first gut check, taking on former world champion Florante Condes, and beat the heavy handed Condes by decision. That win put him in the mix for a world title fight and just 11 months later he challenged Wanheng Menayothin, giving the then WBC champion one of his toughest bouts. Sadly after a close decision to Wanheng we then saw Jerusalem lose to tricky compatriot Joey Canoy in July 2017.
Since losing to Wanheng and Canoy we've seen Jerusalem get his career back on track with 5 straight wins, including one over Philip Luise Cuerdo and one over his upcoming opponent Toto Landero.
In the ring Jerusalem is an aggressive fighter, who lets a lot of shots go. He sets a high work rate, has heavy hands and really does bring the fight to his opponent, wearing them down with tenacity and volume. Whilst he is usually ultra aggressive, he is also very flawed, throwing a lot of shots that don't land, and being open to counters. He's also very messy at times, fighting with a mentality of hitting anywhere, and he was actually deducted points in both of his losses. Notable without the point loss against Wanheng he'd have earned a majority draw! His wild and sloppy work is a real flaw and something that he tends to get away with, but can be a problem against his best opponents.
Although Jerusalem is the more well known that doesn't mean Landero is a total unknown himself. In fact the 25 year old has been a professional since 2013, and like Jerusalem he went on a decent unbeaten run to begin his career, going 8-0-2 (2) in his first 10. Whilst the names he beat in that early run aren't amazing he did manage to beat Rolly Sumalpong and scored two wins over Philip Luis Cuerdo. Interestingly his unbeaten run came to an end in 2016, when he lost to Joey Canoy, before bouncing back and scoring an excellent win over Vic Saludar, the best win of his career so far. Sadly in his 6 bouts since beating Saludar we've seen Landero going 2-4, however his losses have come to notable names including Knockout CP Freshmart, Simpiwe Konkco, Jerusalem himself and Tibo Monabesa. Whilst those are, understandable losses, they are still losses that have killed any momentum Landero had on the back of beating Saludar.
In the ring Landero is very much a pure boxer. He's quick on his toes, he throws lots of jabs, looks to fight at range and is relatively busy, though not as busy as Jerusalem. Sadly though everything for him depends on his jab, and it's not a shot with much pop on it. In fact it's very much a pawing jab, a stay away from me shot, rather than anything hurtful or meaningful. Against fighters with poor footwork, or limited work rate his style works, but against most others his lack of power is a real issue, and doesn't impress judges. In fact that's likely why he has been losing in his most notable bouts.
Sadly for Landero we suspect his lack of stopping power, and low work rate, will be an issue again here. Landero is the better boxer, by some margin, but Jerusalem is the better fighter, and we suspect the pressure, aggression and work rate of Jerusalem will be the key here. Landero will stick the jab in Jerusalem's face, and have success early on, but as Jerusalem's engine gets going he will out work and out fight Landero to take either a late stoppage or a clear, decision.
Prediction - UD12 Jerusalem
On July 14th we get another sensation regional title match up in Japan as the unbeaten pairing of Ginjiro Shigeoka (5-0, 4) and Toshiki Kawamitsu (6-0, 3) clash for the WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight title, which Shigeoka will be trying to defend for the second time. The match up pits two touted youngsters against each other in a bout that not only looks good on paper, but should also be a stylistic joy to watch with the two men having very different styles, but styles that should gel really well.
The talented, yet diminutive, Ginjiro Shigeoka was a standout amateur in Japan, only losing a single bout in the unpaid ranks, before turning professional in 2018 with very high expectations on his shoulders. He quickly showed what he could do, as an aggressive, explosive, boxer-puncher. He raced through the ranks, winning his regional title less than 12 months after his debut and seemed on the verge of stardom at the end of 2019, when stopped former world title challenger Rey Loreto.
At that point in time Shigeoka was the hottest prospect in Japanese boxing and as we entered 2020 it seemed he was only a fight or two away from a world title shot. And then Covid hit and Shigeoka hasn't fought since the pandemic started, costing him a lot of momentum and around 19 months of his career. Thankfully however he is still only 21 years old.
Prior to his break from the ring Shigeoka looked like he had all the tools to go a very, very long way. He was quick, sharp, physically imposing, picked his shots well, with great power up top and to the body, and despite being a born puncher he was scary quick. He looked like the only thing he was lacking was a little bit of experience, and he was rushing things just a little bit at times, but for a novice he looked like a nailed on future world champion and like a future star of Japanese boxing. Sadly with such a long lay off, it's hard to know just what he'll look like here. Will he be as sharp as he used to be? Will he be as hungry as he once was?
Aged 25 Toshiki Kawamitsu is not someone many outside of Japanese would have been too aware of until left year. That's despite the fact he was a solid amateur himself, and looked good in his early bouts, showing good technical skills, a nice engine and a good work rate. It wasn't until 2020 however that he really made a mark on the sport, upsetting former amateur standout Kenshi Noda in what was a genuine gem of a clash in October. He then build on that by taking out Kosuke Ando in January 2021, when he was called as a late replacement. With those two wins, and 6th round TKO over Yuni Takada, he has 3 solid domestic wins, all by stoppage, coming into this bout.
In the ring Kawamitsu is a good technical fighter, who enjoys fighting up close, applying educated pressure, picking his shots well, taking counter shots on the arms, and breaking down opponents with his clean punching. Since moving beyond 4 rounders he has really impressed with his work rate, accuracy, and ability to find holes in defense whilst mentally and physically forcing fighters to crumble. He does, at times, look a little bit like he could be hurt by a big puncher, and Noda did seem to rock him at one point. Not only does he have a good style though, it also seems he'd comfortable moving up and down the scales, with his last 3 fighters taking place at Minimumweight, Light Flyweight and Flyweight, and the reality is that his frame could fill into a good sized Super Flyweight down the line.
Had this bout been taking place early to mid 2020 it would have been one where we would have been confidently picking Shigeoka. He looked like someone special whilst Kawamitsu looked like a capable, but inexperienced, novice. Now however the bouts is actually a trickier on to pick. Especially given how Kawamitsu has looked in his last few bouts. We would still favour Shigeoka, his power, speed and physicality are terrifying and his body shots are crippling. However this is not a foregone conclusion. There's a chance that Kawamitsu could survive the power of Shigeoka, and could begin to grind down the inactive and rusty champion. The size difference could be key, and Kawamitsu is significantly bigger than Shigeoka, and the styles of the bout could also play a major fact.
We suspect Shigeoka will want to get close to Kawamitsu, but at the same time that's actually Kawamitsu's wheel house, as we saw against Noda where he protected himself well up close, and landed a lot of shots, wearing down Noda. If he can do that against Shigeoka he could end up stopping the champion. But that is a big "if".
We're expecting Shigeoka to look rusty for a round or two, to be under pressure from Kawamitsu, and to genuinely struggle with the bigger man. But eventually the power of Shigeoka will get the break through he needs, likely with a body shot, and he'll take out Kawamitsu in the toughest bout of his career, so far.
Prediction - TKO7 Sheigoka
This coming Thursday we get one of the most compelling match we've seen all year, as the unbeaten pairing of Ryutaro Nakagaki (2-0, 2) and Ayumu Hanada (6-0, 4) battle for the vacant Japanese Youth Super Flyweight title. Not only is this a title bout however, but it's a match up between two of the best young Super Flyweights on the planet and is a match up that will see the winner put on the fast track to more senior and more well recognised titles.
Not only are the two men talented unbeaten youngsters, but they are also fighters who have come from very different boxing back grounds. The 21 year old Nakagaki was a product of the Japanese amateur scene, and one of the very best amateurs in Japan over the last few years. Not only was he a good amateur but talent scouts were raving about him, and he ended up signing with the very highly regarded Ohashi Gym, the same gym that has developed fighters like Naoya Inoue and Akira Yaegashi. Hanada on the other hand never had that amateur development and instead left Japan all together to debut as a baby faced youngster in Mexico, developing his skills away from home, and when he finally returned back to Japan he didn't end up with a major gym, but instead chose a gym that allowed him more control of his career.
Despite having very different paths to this bout, the men are both well regarded, and seen as very, very bright hopes for the future.
Aged 21 Nakagaki is the older man, and the talented southpaw genuinely looks like a very special talent. In fact he legitimately looks like one of the best prospects in world boxing, despite having only had two professional bouts to his name. As an amateur he went 82-15 (19), won 8 amateur titles and looked like something very special. When he turned professional Mr Ohashi seemed really excited about the youngster, though did worry about his lack of power, something that was certainly questionable when he was an amateur. Since turning professional however he has looked like the consummate boxer-puncher, with brilliant pure boxing skills, very spiteful power, very sharp punching and sensational shot selection.
Since making his professional debut in October 2020 Nakagaki has shown everything a fighter can show in just 2 bouts. On debut he took out the limited Shohei Horii, in 2 rounds, then stepped up and looked even better when he stopped Yuji Okinori in 4 rounds, showing brilliant body work in that bout. So far he has looked brilliant and we expect to see that continue here.
Hanada on the other hand debuted as a professional way back in 2018 as a 16 year old in Mexico. It was in Mexico that he had his first 4 boiuts, going 4-0 (3) before returning to Japan in 2019 for his first contest in the country, albeit one not recognised by the JBC or Boxrec. Last year he finally JBC license and began and made his official Japanese debut in December 2020 when he blitzed Ryuku Nagamine in just 100 seconds. Since then he has added a second win, albeit in a very competitive bout with Mammoth Kazunori this past April, in what turned out to be a very good test for both of the youngsters.
In the ring Hanada looks almost like a discount store version of Ricardo Lopez. That's certainly not meant as an insult, but it's clear he's looking to build his style around the legendary Mexican fighter. His poise, balance and combinations are very much like that of "Finito" and it's clear the Mexican training has really sculptured his in ring style He's measured, he's talented, heavy handed, young, promising and really likes to do things in a technical style.It's a joy to watch when he pulls it off, though he is very much a work in progress, and lets be honest there's not been many fighters even close to being as good as Lopez. In the bout with Kazunori in April we saw a number of issues with Hanada that he will need to work on, but as a 19 year old boxer-puncher, he looks like he has an excellent future ahead of him, if he gets the right training and the right match ups.
With both of these men being boxer-punchers, this has the potential to be a very high level bout, though it's really the difference, rather than the similarities, that we think will decide the fight. Hanada is the more raw fighter, he has a lovely style, but one that needs significant polishing and work. He looks like he's trying to replicate a master boxer, but lacks the experience to really pull it off. At the moment. Nakagaki on the other hand is a very polished fighter, relying less on his power and more on his skills and speed and punch picking.
For us the bout is coming way too early for Hanada. He has a punchers chance, but that's all we see him having here. We expect to see Nakagaki out boxing, out skilling and out fighting Hanada, potentially even scoring another stoppage, late in the bout, with body shots.
No matter who wins or loses here however, we expect to see huge things from both men in the future, and don't be surprised if the winner and loser both end up competing at the world level before the end of the 2020's.
Prediction - TKO7 Nakagaki
This coming Wednesday we get the chance to see a really compelling match up in New South Wales as under-rated Filipino slugger Joe Noynay (18-2-2, 7) looks to defend his WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title against unbeaten Australian challenger Liam Wilson (9-0, 6). For Wilson the bout is a massive step up in class and his first for a well regarded internationally recognised title, whilst the bout will be Noynay's first in Australia and his first in well over 18 months. For the winner the WBO Asia Pacific title is a major honour, but the winner will also begin a real move towards getting a world title fight, making this bout a genuinely significant one.
Of the two men it's Noynay who is the more well known and the more recognisable. Although not a major star the 25 year old southpaw is a very dangerous fighter with a solid record and has shown no fear of fighting on the road. In fact many of Noynay's best performance have been on the road, including a very competitive loss with Reiya Abe back in 2017, along with wins over Jinxiang Pan, Kosuke Saka and a career best win over Satoshi Shimizu. Not only has he impressed on the road, but he also seems to get more aggressive when fighting on foreign soil and has shown under-rated power, with his punches being much more destructive than a typical fighter with a 32% KO rate. That actually is likely due to the fact he went the distance a lot early in his career, after debuting as a teenager.
During his career Noynay has proven to be a fighter who can box, though his boxing is usually quite clumsy, and puncher. He's shown good patience in bouts, but when he lands clean he can hurt guys. Sometimes he is a bit too rough around the edges to really show what he can do, as we saw in his most recent bout against Kenichi Ogawa in what was a messy affair plagued by head clashes, but he is more skilled than some would give him credit for. He's also very tough and took some big bombs from Satoshi Shimizu, and Kosuke Saka, before stopping both of those men. He will believe in his chin, his power, and experience here.
Wilson, also 25, was a very solid amateur competing in a variety of major international tournaments such as the 2018 Common Wealth Games and the 2014 AIBA Youth World Championships. Unlike Noynay he is a boxer first, and his amateur fundamentals do show when he's in the ring. As a professional however he's very unproven with just 9 bouts since making his debut in June 2018. To date his most notable results are a decision win over Brent Rice for the Australian national title in 2018, a KO win over Jesus Cuadro, a TKO win over Rodynie Rafor and a 10 round decision win over Francis Chua earlier this year. He's managed to go 10 rounds a few times but has never shared the ring with someone like Noynay before.
In the ring Wilson is an aggressive boxer. He's technically well schooled, looks very relaxed in the ring and puts his shots together well, however we have seen him taking risks and being punished for them, as he was against Jackson Woods in 2020, when he was clearly hurt in the opening round. He has gotten away with it in the past but there's a good chance his aggressive nature, and surprisingly sloppy defense, could be an issues against a heavy handed fighter like Noynay here. He often stands in front of opponents, and relies on his own crisp punches, to get to opponents but he is certainly there to be hit.
Coming in to this Wilson should be regarded as the favourite. He has the amateur pedigree, he has home advantage and he has a lot of momentum behind him, helped in part by being active over the last 18 months or so, in fact he's fought 5 times since Noynay was last in the ring. We however would not be surprised, at all, if Noynay ended up doing what Woods, among others, couldn't. Noynay is a hungry fighter, the reigning champion and a man risking a lot here, including the WBO Asia Pacific title and several world rankings. He'll be there looking to take Wilson's head off, and we suspect, sooner or later, he will land with a huge left hand and will close in for the finish, taking Wilson out. We really do think this is too soon for Wilson, and comes far, far too early in his career. Wilson will have success, and is dangerous himself, but we really do think this is perhaps 2 or 3 fights too early in his career.
Prediction - TKO6 Noynay
This coming Sunday we get the next in a long series of really interesting Japanese Youth title bouts. This one is at Super Bantamweight as the talented and skilled champion Tom Mizokoshi (8-2-1, 4) takes on the crude but heavy handed Haruki Ishikawa (8-3, 6), in what is very much a boxer against puncher match up. The champion is one of the best young pure boxers in the country whilst Ishikawa is a very big puncher, but someone who does lack in terms of his defensive skills. The combination of these styles should make for a genuinely excellent bout.
Aged 22 Mizokoshi is one of the young stars of the Midori Gym. He made his debut back in 2017, at the age of 18, and despite some early set backs, going 2-1-1 in his first 4 bouts Mizokoshi then found his groove and went on to win his next 5. That run of performances started to get people genuinely excited about the youngster but sadly a lot of that excitement was forgotten in August 2020 when he suffered an upset loss to Hiroyuki Takehara, who stopped Mizokoshi in 3 rounds and left him with a broken jaw. Thankfully Mizokoshi bounced back from the broken jaw, and this past March scored his most notable win to date, beating Satoru Hoshiba by 8 round decision to win his Youth title.
In the ring Mizokoshi is a defensively minded boxer, who moves around the ring wonderfully, he's light on his feet, uses very good straight punches and is very much a pure boxer. He wants to control the range, he wants to keep things long, and if an opponent makes a mistake he looks to land hurtful counters. On the whole he is risk adverse, and has a style that we actually see a lot of in the US, rather than Japan. He's someone who seems to appreciate that he's not the complete package, or a fully mature fighter, and fights in a style that hides the fact he's not a fully mature man quite well. Sadly however, as we saw against Takahara, when he's tagged he can be hurt, and he has been hurt in roother fights as well. One final thing worth noting is that although he's a boxer first, he does have respectable pop in his shots, and fighters shouldn't plan to walk through him. He lands often enough and clean enough to make that a bad idea.
Aged 21 at the time of writing Ishikawa is the slightly younger fighter, but is the more physically imposing, and the more wild swinging puncher of the two. He's the one who would be regarded as a genuinely dangerous fighter and he has been for a while. He began his career in 2017, whilst a teenage, and stopped his first 5 opponents in a combined 11 rounds. That explosiveness made fans sit up and take notice though sadly for him his unbeaten run would come to an end in the 2018 All Japan Rookie of the Year final, losing a very close decision to Yusei Fujikawa. Sadly since that loss he has gone 2-2, with the most notable bout being a TKO4 loss in a Japanese Youth Bantamweight title bout to Toshiya Ishii, in an instant classic. He also lost last time out, in December 2020, to Kai Chiba in a very underwhelming performance.
At his best Ishikawa is a very fun to watch fighter, who takes risks, has heavy hands, comes to fight and doesn't care too much about taking a shot or two, if he can land one of his own. Sadly though his loss to Ishii seemed to show up limited technical skills and against Kai Chiba he looked very passive, as if he felt he couldn't win. Those results do not bode well for him here, and if he's not in the right mindset coming in to this we really see him getting frustrated by the movement of Mizokoshi. If he can land clean however, this fight could turn in a moment, and he could go from being out boxed, to winning in spectacular come from behind fashion.
We feel Mizokoshi should be able to out box Ishikawa right through the fight, though we wouldn't be surprised, at all, if he had one or two scares along the way. He should be able to see out the storms, and he should be able to rely on his boxing skills, but Ishikawa's power will mean that the challenger is always a dangerous threat.
It wouldn't be out of the question to see Mizokoshi dropped, en route to a very wide decision win.
PRediction - Mizkoshi UD8
This coming Thursday we'll see world ranked Japanese Flyweight Ryota Yamauchi (7-1, 6) look to make his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title as he takes on domestic challenger Yuta Nakayama (8-3-1, 5), in what is a step up in class for Nakayama. On paper this looks a bit of a mismatch, but on the other hand it is good to see Yamauchi staying busy, after a rather frustrating 2019 and 2020 and it does give his second shot at a professional title.
Of the two men the star here is the champion. The Kadoebi promoted 26 year old is among the most exciting young fighters in Japan, with an aggressive mentality, heavy hands and flawed defense. Those things together make him a must watch fighter and unlike many youngsters in the sport he hasn't tried to pad out his record. In fact in his first 8 bouts he has faced 6 fighters with winning records, and has fought on foreign soil, and has picked up several very, very good wins. They include victories over Lester Abutan, Yota Hori, Alphoe Dagayloan and Satoru Todaka. Sadly he does have a loss on his record, but it was a controversial one in China to Chinese fighter Wulan Tuolehazi, in a bout that saw both men hit the canvas.
In the ring Yamauchi is aggressive, he has some brilliant body shots in his arsenal, but sadly he's some defensively naive, and Wulan landed big straight head shots on him time and time again. Also he has been cut in bouts, notable against Alphoe Dagayloan, and it's fair to say that there is a lot of work he can do defensively. Despite that he's big, he's strong, he's powerful and he comes to fight. He might take a shot, but he'll look to land some himself in return, and applies consistent, calculated pressure coming forward, which means his fights will, typically, be fun to watch.
Nakayama on the other hand has been a professional since 2016 and hasn't really managed to shine. He began his career going 1-1-1 before reeling off 5 straigth wins, building some moment against some some poor opposition. Since then however he has gone 2-2, before stopped twice, and hasn't looked like he belongs at title level. His most notable bouts so far are losses to Ryuto Oho, who beat him in a JBC Youth title fight, and Yuto Takahashi, who stopped him in a round before going on to win the Japanese Light Flyweight title. Although Oho and Takahashi are, or in Takahashi's case was, decent neither man is a big puncher, and neither man is a naturally strong and powerful fighter yet both stopped him. In regards to his best win, it's probably his TKO win over MJ Bo, a man that Yamauchi has also beaten.
Although not a bad fighter, by any stretch, Nakayama is also not a great fighter. He lacks fight changing power, his defensive is open and when he throws shots they are often very wide, leaving him even more open. He has a nice jab, his best punch, but it's hard enough to get respect from opponents and he seems to struggle with pressure, as we saw against Oho. There's a good boxer there, or at least the potential for him to be a good boxer, but in reality, he's very, very much a work in progress and it's a shame in many ways that he's so early in his development. With some polish he has got the potential to make a mark on the domestic scene, but as he is he's the sort of fighter who is made to order for Yamauchi.
We expect to see the champion pressing from the opening bell, getting inside and breaking down Nakayama with body shots. They will take the legs away from the challenger, who will struggle to get his own shows off. After 2 or 3 rounds Nakayama will be feeling the pressure and will either be broken down to the point of the referee stopping it after a knockdown or his corner pulling him out accepting the bout is a lost cause.
Prediction - TKO3 Yamauchi.
In 2020 we saw very, very few fighters have years that will define their careers. One of the few exceptions was Japanese Super Flyweight Ryoji Fukunaga (13-4, 13) who had a career defining as he went 2-0 (2) and went from having never held a title as a professional to being the unified Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight champion. He did that by scoring two legitimately solid wins as well, defeating Froilan Saludar and Kenta Nakagawa, and came in to 2021 with some real momentum. As we write this he is also holding world rankings with 3 of the 4 major title bodies. At 34 however he can ill afford a slip up, and he'll be well aware of that going into his first bout of 2021,against Takahiro Fujii (12-6-1, 3) on June 21st. That bout will see Fukunaga defending two of the titles he unified last year, and look to continue moving towards a potential world title fight. On the other hand the bout will also be a huge, and somewhat unexpected, title shot for Fujii.
Aged 34 Fukunaga is a heavy handed southpaw who turned professional in 2013 aged 26, and struggled early in his career. He lost on debut, and was 4-2 (4) after 6 bouts. Since then however he has turned things around, going 9-2 (9) winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year, as well as becoming a triple crown champion.
In the ring Fukunaga has a lot of technical flaws. He's easy to hit, he's not particularly quick and a lot of what he does looks forced. Despite that he's not an easy man to beat. He's got rocks for hands, and what he hits he hurts. He's got a great will to win, and excellent stamina, and even in rounds 9 and 10 he can still be found throwing a lot of bombs. He's also learned how to use his experience well, and when he needs to he can "old man" his opponents, go for a walk, catch his breath and then come forward again. At 34 we do wonder how much he has left in the tank, especially after wars with Saludar and Nakagawa last year, with both of those bouts being incredibly punishing, but we also get the feeling he and his team have picked a bit of a patsy here, to keep him ticking over in a stay defense, rather than a genuine challenge.
Fujii is a fellow southpaw, and is slightly younger than the Fukunaga, aged 32, but he's also much less accomplished and is taking a massive step up in class. He began his career back in 2010, with a draw against Satoshi Obata, and was 6-3-1 (2) after 10 bouts. Sadly it wasn't just early on that he had mixed results and he's actually 6-3 (1) in his last 9 bouts. What hasn't helped him is that he been very inconsistent with results, and every time he gets a win, he then slips up soon afterwards. At least he did until very recently, and he's currently riding a rare winning streak, having won his last 3 bouts with a decent win over Sonin Nihei. Sadly though that 3 win streak dates back to 2018, showing a lack of activity to go with his lack of consistency.
When it comes to what Fujiii can do in the ring, one thing that needs mentioning is that he lacks power. Of any kind. He has only scored a single stoppage win since 2015. That sort of power will leave him needing to rely on his boxing skills against a guy like Fukunaga, who is a monstrous puncher who can really hurt people. Fujii has only been stopped once, very early in his career, but we suspect that he'll struggle with the power, work rate and aggression of Fukunaga, especially over 12 rounds. The guy can fight, but he's been fighting fringe domestic level fighters, and he's now leaping up to regional title level, with nothing to prepare him for what he's getting himself into here.
Fukunaga has had punishing bouts. He has taken a lot in his last two bouts, but this is a smart match up from his team. Matching him easily for his return to the ring, and we suspect he'll shake a bit of ring rust through the early part of the fight, before taking out Fujii in the middle rounds. The champion might lose a few rounds early on, but he'll be far too much for the challenger and will take him out sooner or later.
Prediction - TKO7 Fukunaga
One of the biggest upsets in 2020 was the huge surprise win that saw Daishi Nagata (15-2-2, 6) take the Japanese title 140lbs from Koki Inoue, the cousin of Naoya and Takuma Inoue, in one of the first shows back in Japan after boxing was put on the back burner due to the pandemic. Since that win Nagata has defended the title once, thanks to a technical draw against Akihiro Kondo, and this coming Thursday he'll be looking for his second defense as he takes on the unbeaten Masahiro Suzuki (5-0, 3). On paper Nagata is the big favourite, but will he manage to avoid an upset like the one he inflicted on Suzuki? Or will Suzuki be able to become the latest Japanese champion at 140lbs? Lets take a look at the fighters, how they match up and who we think will come out on top.
Of the two men Nagata is the clear favourite coming in to this bout. The 31 year old southpaw has been a professional since 2014, is the current Japanese champion and has faced a genuine who's who of the domestic scene. He fought Takeshi Inoue in his debut, fighting to a draw, and since then has shared the ring with Quaye Peter, Vladimir Baez, Takashi Inagaki, Rikki Naito, Cristiano Aoqui, Koki Inoue and Akihiro Kondo. Not only that but he has also shown he belongs in title level fights, giving Naito hell in a razor close 2018 bout and beating Koki Inoue.
In the ring Nagata is a well skilled boxer-fighter. He's at his best when he's applying intelligent pressure. Getting in and out and using his surprisingly quick feet. He's not that polished, but he's quick, strong, physically powerful, fights at a good tempo with under-rated punching power and really good stamina. In fact it was his stamina against Naito which made the fight so close, with Naito tiring and Nagata really coming on strong late on. Sadly though he's not the smartest of fighters and like many newly crowned champions he wanted his first defense to be a fan friendly one, and ended up holding his feet too long against Kondo, leading to that fight being a very close and competitive one. Not the showcase first defense he would have wanted. Given how bad that performance was we're expecting a much better one here against a very lively challenger.
Whilst Nagata is a strong, tough, lump of a fighter the exact opposite is true of Suzuki who is a much more rounded boxer, with good movement and a solid boxing brain. He was one of the few fighters over the last few years who really impressed on debut, when he beat Antonio Siesmundo, but sadly we've never seen that same level of performance from him since. In fact his performance have been rather mixed following his very impressive debut, though in fairness his competition has been pretty solid. In just 5 bouts he beaten Siesmundo, the heavy handed Kosuke Arioka, the solid domestic level Hokuto Matsumoto and former OPBF title challenger Takahiro Oda. And whilst he hasn't shown the same incredible potential he showcased on his debut but has shown a good boxing brain and he seems to be a fighter who is, slowly, finding his identity in the ring. He looks like he can do it all, box, move, punch and fight, but probably does need to find what he likes to do and focus on that more than he has at times.
Whilst we have been genuine impressed by Suzuki, it needs noting that he was hurt by Arioka, and seemed to struggle against Matsumoto. He has got questions to answer, and most notably one of those is his stamina. He looked good for 6 rounds against Siesmundo in his debut, and 6 rounds against Kelvin Tenorio, but we've never seen him go beyond 6 rounds, and this title fight will be a 6 rounder. We've also never seen him in with a southpaw, with Nagata set to be his first lefty, which is a second potential issue for Suzuki. Given Nagata's pressure and aggression Suzuki will need to be on his P's and Q's from the opening bell, he need to stay focused and be fully aware of what Nagata can bring, and we're not 100% sure Suzuki has that level of focus... yet.
In terms of pure skills Suzuki is, for our money, a level above Nagata. He's a smoother, not natural boxer. Skills however aren't the only thing important in a fight and we suspect the experience, physicality and the fact Nagata is comfortable fighting 8, 10 and even 12 rounds, will prove vital here.
We're expecting Suzuki to start well, out boxing Nagata, moving around the ring, landing shots against the slower man. But unfortunately winning the early rounds won't be enough and as the bout goes on Nagata's pressure will build, and he will begin to break down Suzuki, both physically and mentally. The early success of Suzuki will be used to fire up Nagata who will come on strong in the second half of the fight and will break down Suzuki in the later stages.
If Suzuki can stay focused, can rely on his boxing, and can keep the bout at range, using his footwork, and can keep it up for 10 rounds he could take a decision. But that's a massive if, and one we're not expecting from him. He's got the technical ability, but we don't think he's got the other tools needed to take home the victory.
Prediction - TKO8 Nagata
Over the last year or so the Minimumweight division has been almost frozen in the wake of the pandemic. The world champions have been worryingly inactive, the regional champions have sat and twiddled their thumbs and even the Japanese domestic scene has been a victim of the time, with only a single Japanese title fight at the weight in the entire of 2020. That single title fight saw Masataka Taniguchi (13-3, 8) claiming the previously vacant title in December, when he stopped Hizuki Saso. This coming Monday he'll defend that title for the first time as he defends against the once beaten Tatsuro Nakashima (11-1-1, 7) at Korakuen Hall.
When Taniguchi turned professional there was huge expectation on his shoulders inside of Japan. Him, and close friend Hiroto Kyoguchi, were expected to be the leading forces at the Watanabe Gym and were supposed to be the stars to carry the gym's legacy after Takashi Uchiyama and Kohei Kono retired. Whilst we have seen Kyoguchi scale the highest heights in the sport, Taniguchi hasn't quite managed the same, though the belief is that he still has the tools to do that.
The 27 year old champion was moved aggressive in the early part of his career, and fought in his first title fight, a Japanese title fight, just a year after his debut, losing a razor thin decision to Reiya Konishi. He would also lose a razor thin decision to Tsubasa Koura in an OPBF title fight just 7 months later. Despite those setbacks he has rebuilt well, won the WBO Asia Pacific title, challenged the then WBO champion Vic Saludar and won the Japanese title. He has notched notable wins over Joel Lino, Kai Ishizawa and Hizuki Saso. Maybe they aren't world class names, but all three are solid fighters, with Lino and Ishizawa both being very good fighters.
In the ring Taniguchi is an undeniable talent. He's a highly skilled boxer, who knows his way around the ring, has solid work rate, spiteful power, good movement and good handspeed. He's a really solid all rounder, and when his combinations flow he's a joy to watch. He's not the most physically imposing fighter, and he's more a fighter who's "very good" at everything rather than "great" in any particular area. The one area he's genuinely lacked through his career has been luck, and 2 of his losses could very easily have gone his way. In fact there's a very strong argument that both should have gone his way, and both of those losses came very early in his career. He's the sort of fighter who can compete at world level, will likely win a world title, and has a record that is thoroughly misleading.
Nakashima on the other hand is a 26 year old set to get his biggest bout to date. His biggest bout, by far. He's been a professional since 2015 and despite a slow start to his career did manage to show some real promise in 2017, only just missing out on a place in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, with a draw against Yuga Inoue. The following year he would end up losing to the aforementioned Ishizawa, but has since bounced back with 4 straight wins including a solid one last time out against Ariston Aton. On paper his record looks solid, but in reality there is a lot of weak opposition on his record, with his most notable wins being over Mammoth Kazunori, very early in their respective career's, and Ariston Aton. Hardly the fighters to prepare you for a Japanese title fight .
Although his competition has been poor Nakashima is a solid boxer. He has light feet, moves around the ring easy, a nice jab, and good composure. He looks well schooled, but like a fighter who still has work to do. He's schooled but not polished. His jab lacks the spitefulness he really needs and as we saw against Ishizawa, he can be broken down, and he can end up fighting the wrong fight. He's not the biggest puncher out there, and whilst he is composed under pressure, his defensive flaws are clear to see when fighters put shots together, as Ishizawa did. He can also get dragged into exchanges more often than he needs to, as his lack of experience shows.
Whilst Nakashima is a good boxer, we see the issues that cost him against Ishizawa coming in to play again here. He's a good boxer, but he still makes mistakes, he holds his feet too long, and he struggles to get respect from his better opponents. Taniguchi might be asked questions, especially early on when the light feet of Nakashima will create some space, but as the fight goes on the challenger will be broken down, the body shots of Taniguchi proving to be especially potent here.
Nakashima will put up a good fight, he won't be there to make up the numbers, and he will come into the fight as a very live challenger. However the edge in class, the more rounded and polished skills, and the firepower of Taniguchi will prove to be a series difference maker here.
Prediction - TKO8 Taniguchi
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.