A year ago Japan's Takeshi Inoue (15-1-1, 9) was on the verge of the biggest fight of his career, a bout with WBO Light Middleweight champion Jaime Munguia. Although he lost to Munguia he impressed with his heart and determination and this coming Saturday he's back in the ring seeking the first defense of his second reign as the WBO Asia Pacific Light Middleweight title, as he takes on China's Cheng Su (14-2-1, 8). The situation couldn't be much more different to the one he found himself in last January, but a win here keeps him in the mix for another world title fight, whilst a loss is unthinkable for the 30 year from Tokyo.
Inoue, for those who missed the Munguia bout, is a rugged, aggressive fighter who comes in pretty square on and looks to make a fight of things. Early in his career he did seem to be more of a boxer-fighter but as his career has progressed he has become more and more of a pressure fighter, often abandoning his jab to ply forward behind his guard and get things up close. This sort of change seemed to happen in 2016 or 2017, and was particularly notable when he beat Akinori Watanabe. That was a clear win for Inoue but seemed like he could have made it far easier for himself had he made the most of his jab. Whatever the reason for the change it's not been bad for his career and since beating Watanabe we've seen Inoue unify the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, fight for a world title and then recapture the WBO Asia Pacific belt.
Although the bull strong Inoue lost to Munguia his record is actually solid, at least in regards to the regional scene. Wins over Akinori Watanabe, Koshinmaru Saito, Riku Nagahama, Ratchasi Sithsaithong, Yuji Nonaka and Patomsuk Pathompothong give him wins almost every notable fighter on the regional scene at 154lbs, barring current Japanese champion Hironobu Matsunaga. Though of course there is a gulf between the regional scene at the weight and the world level, which he'll be hoping to mix with once again later in the year.
As for Cheng Su the Chinese challenger, who is also 30, is much less well-known and well established. The southpaw from Shenyang stands at 5'11 and will be fighting outside of China for the first time in his career. Going through his record it's hard to pick out anything noteworthy, other than a win last May over Filipino Junjesie Ibgos, who used to be a Featherweight and is 0-4 outside of the Philippines. Footage of him however is more worrying than his competition.
Watching Su we see a rather slow, lumbering fighter who technically looks "alright" but lacks the tools needed to even make a legitimate mark on the regional scene. He seems to understand the basics doesn't always put them into practice. He's slow, lacks real snap on his punches, and when he throws his straight left hand his defenses completely fall apart. He follows opponents around the ring and looks like he's fortunate to be fighting at such a low level that his mistakes have rarely been punished, except in his 2017 loss to Nikolozi Gviniashvili.
On paper this might look like an interesting match up, but we weren't joking when we said Inoue can't afford to lose here. His entire career would be discredited with a loss to someone as limited as Su, who he really should be dealing with inside the distance. We expect to see Inoue closing the gap between the two men, working away on the inside and stopping Su relatively early on.
Anything but a stoppage for Inoue should be viewed as a disappointment.
Prediction - TKO5 Inoue
The Watanabe show to end 2019 is a huge stacked card, with 6 title bouts in total, including 2 regional title bouts. The most interesting of the two, will see WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight champion Ginjiro Shigeoka (4-0, 3) taking a huge step up in class to take on Filipino challenger Rey Loreto (25-14, 17). For Shigeoka this will be his first defense, and a win will almost certainly see him being fast tracked to a world title fight in the new year. A win for the champion however, is not a given and Loreto has proven time and time again that he is not someone we should ever write off, despite his less than stellar record.
The 20 year old Japanese fighter is, along with his older brother Yudai, regarded as one of the best talented in Japan. He went 56-1 as an amateur, and has been fast tracked since turning professional, defeating Joel Lino in his third bout and Clyde Azarcon in his 4th bout, for the WBO Asia Pacific title. In the ring he's an aggressive, super sharp pressure fighter. He's one of the most naturally gifted young fighters in the sport today, and combines very high ring IQ, with brilliant balance, powerful punching and sensational movement. More problematic for opponents is that Shigeoka is a southpaw, adding yet another problem for every opponent to solve.
Of course there are questions that still need to be asked of Shigeoka before anointing him the next star of Japanese boxing. We don't know what his chin is like, we don't know what happens when he's under pressure, whether he can fight 12 rounds, and we don't know how he copes with a fellow southpaw, though we'll see that answered here against Loreto. For the first in his career Shigeoka is going up against someone who has proven himself as a a tough, thunder punching fighter, and we expect to see him being forced to answer a lot of questions, win or lose.
On paper Loreto has a journeyman's record, but in reality his record only tells a fraction of the story. The 29 year old Filipino began his career in 2008, as a teenager, and suffered 4 straight losses. He managed to turn things around, but struggled for consistency, and was 7-7 by the time he turned 20. From 7-7 Loreto struggled to get going, 4 of his following 5 to fall to 8-11 (4), but since then has been impressive, going 17-4 (13). Of course it's not all about the number, and Loreto has been scoring notable wins in recent years, beating the likes of Wisanu Por Nobnum, Pornsawan Porpramook and Nkosinathi Joyi, twice. That winning run lead Loreto to a world title fight in 2017, against WBA Minimumweight champion Knockout CP Freshmart. Sadly for Loreto he lost to Knockout and has only fought twice since then, against very limited opposition.
Through his career Loreto has always proven to be tough, a massive puncher, and very dangerous. Technically he's fair crude, but strong and bull like, giving himself a chance to land counters when opponents open up. He can be out boxed, but he only needs to really land one shot to turn the fight around, as we saw in the first Joyi fight. At his best Loreto is a threat for anyone aside from the divisional elite, however with inactivity it's unclear what he'll offer.
If Loreto is 75% the fighter he once was he will be a threat through out the bout. Anything less than that and we suspect Shigeoka will make a huge statement and stop the Filipino, likely from body shots. If Loreto is at his best however, he stands a real chance of getting the upset. We suspect it'll be clear early as to what sort of mentality Loreto is in, and he has been given a lot of time to prepare for this, so he should be up for it.
We expect to see Shigeoka showing a bit more patience than usual, trying to figure out Loreto's southpaw stance, and being cautious early on. He'll keep the pressure on but do so with a higher guard than usual, keeping his defense tight and slowly chipping away at Loreto. He'll have to avoid the heavy return fire, but his reflexes so far have looked impressive and we suspect they will allow him to get in, an out, safely. It may only take one clean shot from Loreto to change the fight, but he still needs to land it clean, and that doesn't look like it will be easy to do against Shigeoka.
Prediction - UD12 Shigeoka
The year is set to end with a bang thanks to a bumper show from Watanabe. Whilst much of the focus will be on the two main world title fights the card is an interesting one through out, and potentially the most explosive of the bouts will be at regional title level.
The bout in question will see Japan's Yusaku Kuga (19-3-1, 13) clash with Filipino Jhunriel Ramonal (16-8-6, 9) for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Bantamweight title. It's not a bout that will get much attention, or looks particularly competitive, but is one that could be very brutal, and very explosive.
The favourite going in will be Kuga, a big punching Japanese fighter who is the current Japanese national champion. Kuga is fairly basic, but very heavy handed, exciting and aggressive. He's someone who can be out boxed, as we saw last year when he was stopped by Shingo Wake, but is extremely dangerous and is able to have a toe to toe war with pretty much anyone in and around the regional scene, as we saw against Ryoichi Tamura.
After starting his career 6-1-1 (4) Kuga has gone 13-2 (9), avenging one of those losses and notching wins over the likes of Sukkasem Kietyongyuth, Yasutaka Ishimoto, Jonathan Baat and Ryoichi Tamura. Not only has he proven his ability against good domestic and regional level opponents he has also been scoring those wins early on, taking 10 of his wins in the first 4 rounds.
On paper Ramonal looks like a very limited fighter, with 8 losses in his 30 career bouts. In reality however he's a much better fighter than his record suggests. He's not a world beater, a long way from it, but given genuine preparation time, he's a dangerous opponent. Going through his record it is a real mess, an inconsistent mess. He has shown he can mix at the top of the regional scene, fighting to a narrow loss in an OPBF title fight in 2011, but then has lost to a number of domestic level fighters. When he's on point he's talented, but he can be made to look slow, sloppy and can be easily out boxed.
Coming in to this Ramonal is unbeaten in 4 bouts, going back to a 2014 decision loss to Sho Nakazawa. Since then he has fought to a draw with Jenel Lausa and most recently scored a stunning TKO in over Shingo Wake, a win that has essentially put him into this title fight. In that win over Wake Ramonal was cut, being out boxed, but remained a hungry and dangerous fighter, with that danger being realised in frighteningly graphic fashion.
Given that both fighters are heavy handed, both get in the ring to win and both are happy to fire off bombs, this has the potential to be very explosive. It's easy to back Kuga, and he is rightfully the favourite, but given how Ramonal's power took out Wake, it's clear that Kuga can't take a win for granted here. Instead Kuga will need fight smartly, but should manage to break down Ramonal, likely busting him up with his heavy hands and forcing the referee to step in.
We're anticipating a bout with a lot of tension here, some fun exchanges, but eventually the fight will be beat out of Ramonal.
Prediction TKO5 Kuga
The Super Flyweight division has been a strange one in recent years. The WBC title has repeatedly had the best guys mixing for the title, but all the others have seen some awful match ups. The most notable of those has been the IBF title, which has seen Jerwin Ancajas defending against some dire competition. On December 28th we'll see Ancajas' next mandatory challenger being decided as Japan's Sho Ishida (28-1, 15) takes on former Ancajas opponent Israel Gonzalez (24-3, 11) in Osaka. The winner will be the next mandatory for the Filipino world champion, whilst the loser is unlikely to get another shot any time soon.
Japan's Sho Ishida was, for years, seen as the the underling of Kazuto Ioka. The two were close friends, and stablemates, training together at the Ioka gym under the watchful eye of Kazunori Ioka, Kazuto's father. Since then Kazuto has gone off on his own, retired, comeback, signed with an American promoter and began fighting out of a new gym. He has also moved up to Ishida's weight class and claimed the WBO title, becoming a 4 weight champion. Ishida on the other hand has been knocking on the door. He failed in his first world title fight, losing a close but clear decision to Kal Yafai in 2017, but seemed like a man who would take positives from that loss. He has since gone 4-0 (2), but has not looked fantastic in his most recent bouts, including a narrow win against Ikuro Sadatsune.
Although Ishida has blown hot and cold through his career he has shown the tools to mix at world level. He's tough, he's smart, he's a sharp boxer-puncher, he's a rangy fighter with a nice jab, good footwork and under-rated power. When he's on song he is a real talent, and and he has a number of wins over fellow world title challengers, such as Warlito Parrenas, Ryuichi Funai Petchbarngborn Kokietgym and Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking. Sadly when he's not firing on all-cylinders he is pretty limited, and recently struggled with a Japanese level domestic bantamweight, Ikuro Sadatsune. It very much seems like Ishida, despite being a talent, is someone who is unsure of himself.
Gonzalez, from Mexico, has twice fought for world titles and has had very mixed results. In his first world title bout he was dominated by Ancajas, dropped several times and stopped in round 10. He looked completely out of his depth and really hadn't done anything to earn a shot either. Unless beating naturally smaller men like Ramon Garcia Hirales and Mauricio Fuentes counts for something. In his second world title fight however he pushed Kal Yafai all the way. In fact he seemed to do, perhaps, enough to earn the decision over Yafai in a very competitive 12 round bout in Monaco. The two results couldn't have been any more different and only came 9 months apart.
Whilst Gonzalez's performance against Ancajas was terrible, with the Mexican never looking comfortable with the speed and southpaw stance of the Filipino, he showed he can fight when he took on Yafai, and that bout really we more indicative to what we expect here. Against Yafai the Mexican was aggressive, busy, strong and had a tempo setting jab. He wasn't flawless, far from it, but he often dictated the action against Yafai. Yafai never really seemed to look comfortable against him.
Originally this bout had been planned for earlier in the year, in Mexico, but due to promotional issues was pushed backwards and put over to Japan. That may be a key thing about this bout, with the Osakan crowd expected to be well and truly behind Ishida.
Technically Ishida is the better boxer, but Gonzalez is the better fighter, and if Gonzalez can set the tempo there's a genuine chance that he'll outwork a lazy Ishida. We, however, expect to see Ishida fired up for this, boxing at range, banging in his jab, and using his body shots to slow Gonzalez down. Gonzalez will always be in the bout, but we see him losing a close, but clear, decision to a hungry Ishida.
Prediction - UD12 Ishida
Earlier this month we saw a tremendous Japanese Youth Bantamweight title fight, with Toshiya Ishii stopping Haruki Ishikawa in a 4 round shoot out that saw both men hitting the canvas. On December 28th we cut down a few pounds for another Japanese Youth title bout, as unbeaten Japanese Youth Flyweight champion Joe Shiraishi (9-0-1, 4) take on Jukiya Washio (7-4-1, 2), in an rather weak looking first defense.
The talented Shiraishi has been on a great since making his debut in May 2016 as a 19 year old. Despite a draw in his second pro bout, to Ryosuke Nasu. In 2017 the youngster would go on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Flyweight, taking the unbeaten of Yoshiki Minato along the way and noting good wins over Toma Kondo and Kento Yabusaki. He sadly failed to build on his Rookie success in 2018, when he only fought once, but in 2019 he's scored a KO win against Prince Andrew Laurio of the Philippines and beating Minato in a rematch, to claim the Japanese Youth title back in September.
Although not a big puncher Shiraishi has proven to be a solid hitter with great boxing skills, a smart boxing mind. He's accurate, he punches through the target, moves well and appears to be getting better with every fight, whilst also maturing and developing physically. There are areas for him to work on, his work rate isn't great and he does look like he's still years from his physical prime, but there's so much to like about him and it's clear that he has the potential to go a very long way, if guided and matched right.
It's a bit harder to see a bright future for Washio, despite the fact the challenger is a perfectly solid fighter himself. The 22 year hasn't really scored any major wins, and is 3-4 in his last 7, but with a touch of luck those numbers could have been very different and he has been within distance of a win in 2 of those losses. It's worth noting however that he's not naturally a Flyweight, and he's looked poor at at the weight, which again isn't the most natural division for him. Arguably his best weight is actually Light Flyweight, where he has had much of his success so far.
Washio's most notable bout to date came earlier this year, when he challenged Arata Matsuoka for the Japanese Youth Flyweight title, and lost a clear but competitive decision. During the bout Washio looked better than his record would suggest. He seemed to through some very smart right hands, but looked very under-sized and under-powered against Matsuoka, who bossed the action on the front foot. Had the men both been naturally the same size the bout could have gone Washio's way, but it was so clean, even when he landed clean, this his shots just lacked in terms of power compared to that of his rival.
Sadly for Washio we see him in up against someone who is just better than him in every way. We feel that Shiraishi is too big, too good, too strong, too sharp and too smart for him. Washio will have moments, but they will be few and far between as Shiraishi gets an easy first defense under his belt, by simply boxing and moving.
Prediction - UD8 Shiraishi
Among the many bouts in the pre-Christmas period we'll see WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight champion Yuki Strong Kobayashi (15-8, 9) make his first defense, as he takes on unheralded Korean challenger Ki Chang Go (8-3, 4) at the Sumiyoshi Ward Center.
For Kobayashi this is a great chance to not only defend his title, but to also put memories of his loss to Keita Kurihara behind him, with that loss coming in the same venue almost a year to the day of this fight. On the other hand it gives Go a chance to pick up a win in Japan, a country where he lost last year to Masahiro Sakamoto, a former stablemate of Kobayashi's at the Muto Gym. Sadly it's that bout between Go and Sakamoto that make us pretty confident in feeling that this will be little more than a mismatch in favour of the champion.
Kobayashi is no world beater, don't get us wrong, but he's a fighter who has developed from his losses and is much, much, better than his record suggests. Since his 2011 debut he has been inconsistent, but has turned things around well in recent years, following a 6-3 (4) start, and in fact he was once 10-7 (5). His recent winning form hasn't seen him blitzing over-matched foes, instead he has been performing well against the likes of Vincent Astrolabio and Ben Mananquil, with the win over Mananquil being his title winning bout.
Kobayashi's 23 fight career has seen him suffer 3 stoppage losses, but last December he showed his heart and toughness, pulling himself off the canvas 4 times to lose a razor thin decision to Keita Kurihara. That loss seems to have solidified Kobayashi who looked better than ever last time out. He showed an aggressive boxing mentality, pushing and physically imposing himself against Mananquil, dragging the Filipino into a fight before breaking him down. He looked strong, exciting and kept coming, breaking down Mananquil in an overlooked war. There was real desire in the way he fought, and whilst it wasn't the most skilled and technical of showings, it was exciting and aggressive.
Go made his debut in 2016 and despite losing his first 2 bouts has since gone 7-1, though all of those wins have come in Korea, and pretty much of the wins have come to either novices, or fighters with less than 50% wins. His best win, on paper, is a narrow decision over the then 3-0-1 Joo Ho Lee, and sort of says it all. He has shown he belongs in this level. In fact he hasn't shown he even belongs even close to this level.
In his most notable bout to date Go was stopped by Masahiro Sakamoto in 2018. Sakamoto out boxed Go, out fought Go and broke Go down, behind his calculated jab. As we've seen Sakamoto isn't much of a puncher, he's not a naturally big man, and yet he managed to beat down Go. With Kobayashi being a bigger man we expect Go to be taken out again here. Not only that but we expect it to be rather quick as well.
Prediction - TKO2 Kobayashi
The final Japanese title eliminator set to take place this year occurs in Osaka on December 22nd and will see 4 time world title challenger Hiroyuki Kudaka (26-18-2, 11) battle against former Japanese title challenger Yuta Matsuo (15-4-1, 8). Despite being the final of the eliminators this year it's certainly not the best of the eliminators, but should be a thrilling match up between two men who, with the right opponents, can make for some amazing bouts.
The 34 year old Kudaka is a proper veteran, with 47 bouts under his belt and 331 professional rounds. He has been a professional since September 2002 and despite losing his first 2 bouts had gone on to carve out a bizarre yet excellent memorable career. He has faced the likes of Panomroonglek Kaiyanghadaogym, Hussein Hussein, Takefumi Sakata Denkaosan Kaovichit, Hugo Fidel Cazares, Tetsuya Hisada, Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Sonny Boy Jaro, Omar Andres Narvaez, Ryo Matsumoto and Takuya Kogawa, and managed to pick up a number of upsets during his career.
Whilst Kudaka's opponents have included a number of world class fighters he is actually quite a limited fighter himself, though he's got traits that can make him a handful. He's big, at both Flyweight and at Super Flyweight the divisions he has regularly fought at, he's tough and rugged and he throws a lot of leather. Despite not being a big puncher he's a solid puncher, and his shots do do damage. Sadly though he's rather slow of foot, and his hand speed it nothing to write home about, he's a clunky and defensively poor, and speedy fighters can take him and get away. He's typically wanting to fight on the inside, which makes for fun bouts but at 34 we do wonder what his body has left after such a hard career.
Conmpared to Kudaka it's fair to say that Matsuo is a boxing baby with 20 bouts, but he's now 30 and opportunities to get title fights won't come around much more often. He's been a pro since 2012 and has had mixed success of his own. He began his career in good fashion, winning a B class tournament in 2013, less than a year after his debut, but since then has had a bit of a rocky time, going 10-4-1. He has typically held his own, and all 4 losses were competitive, but they have all come in his biggest bouts, including losses to Masayuki Kuroda for the Japanese "interim" Flyweight title and to Takayuki Okumoto for the Japanese Super Flyweight title. His other losses include a razor thin decision to Ardin Diale.
In the ring Matsuo always strikes us as a basic, but aggressive fighter. He comes forward behind his jab and does apply pretty constant pressure, but doesn't always combine that pressure with much in terms of output, which means he can be out worked. He's also not the quickest and sometimes his pressure can look more like he's following an opponent around, rather than being effective on the front foot. When an opponent opens up he tends to be willing to respond, and fight fire with fire, but all too often that is contingent on his opponent taking risks, rather than opportunities that Matsuo creates for himself. He's tough, has under-rated hand speed and plenty of tools in his arsenal, but often looks like he fights the wrong fight to make the most of the tools he has.
Although neither of these are world beaters they are the type of fighters who styles should click. Both come forward and both like to lets shots go, when their opponents are in front of them. If Kudaka is willing to open up we see Matsuo responding in a fire fight of an 8 rounder. If this happens the fans are set for a treat, and a real thriller.
The issue, although a small one given what's at stake, is that both might just wait for the other to lead, and give us a stinker. We don't see this happening, but there is a risk.
If we get a stinker this could easily end in a slow and gruelling draw, but in reality we expect a fight, with Matso's youth handspeed and extra youth being the difference in a brilliant little action bout.
Prediction - UD8 Matsuo
Over the last few years Kadoebi have been putting on some fantastic shows under their Slugfest banner, and having their fighters take risks. They have regularly shown a belief in their fighters and have pushed them to be tested, delivering some excellent bouts in the process. On December 16th however we see a blip in that form, as OPBF Light Middleweight champion Akinori Watanabe (38-7-1, 32) gets an ultra-rare gimmie, and defends his belt against Thai foe Sitthidet Banti (12-5, 6).
We're not fans of easy bouts for anyone, but if someone deserves it probably is the 34 year old Watanabe, who has had more wars than most and taken real punishment in bouts against the likes of Toshio Arikawa, Takeshi Inoue, Magomed Kurbanov and Nobuyuki Shindo in the last few years. The hard exciting Watanabe had to travel to Korea to win the title, stopping Jung Kyoung Lee in August, and appears to be having what is very much a straight forward homecoming defense.
For those who haven't followed Watanabe's career it has long been a case of ups and downs. He has been stopped in 6 of his 7 losses, and with 32 wins inside the distance it's often been a case of someone being taken out. In fact only 1 of Watanabe's first 21 bouts required the judges, and that was his debut! He's fun, exciting, aggressive and although he has tempered that aggression as he's matured, but is still very much a front foot fighter who doesn't want to let opponents off the hook when he hurts them. The tempering of his aggressive tendencies have helped him make up for a questionable chin, but even now, almost 16 years after his debut, he's not a hard man to catch, he has just learned to ride shots better.
The 28 year old challenger, who turns 29 less than a week after this bout, made his pro debut back in 2014, losing a decision to the talented Atchariya Tor Chantaroj and since then has lost to every notable opponent he's faced, other than a shot Saddam Kietyongyuth who he squeaked a 4 round decision against last year. Notably those losses have included a 10 round shut out, at Lightweight, to Xiangxiang Sun and more recently a KO loss in Japan to Takuma Takahashi, who was 3-0 at the time.
It's the loss to Takahashi that really stands out, as it came in Sitthidet's only previous bout in Japan and was on a few months ago. Technically Takahashi is a better boxer than Watanabe, he's more patient, sets things up properly and applies his pressure in a more text book manner than the marauding Watanabe. The reality however is that the slow and careful style of Takahashi allowed that fight to go 6 rounds despite the Thai offering little, and looking to just shoot back counters. When Takahashi put his foot on the gas the Thai had no answers.
We expect this to be a short and brutally quick win for Watanabe, who shouldn't need more than 3 rounds to see Sitthidet and retain his belt.
It Watanabe loses this will genuinely go down as one of the biggest upsets in a Japanese ring this year, and that's despite Watanabe being known as a big of a glass cannon.
Prediction- TKO2 Watanabe
The title challengers for the 2020 Champion Carnival are mostly set now, with only 2 eliminators yet to be fought. One of those, the Super Flyweight bout, will take place on December 22nd but before that, on December 15th, we get a truly mouth watering bout at Light Flyweight. The bout will see the flawed, but heavy handed, Masamichi Yabuki (9-3, 9) take on sensational youngster Rikito Shiba (4-0, 2), with the winner likely to be getting a crack at Yuto Takahashi in the new year. This is a bout that might not set alarm bells ringing for those who don't follow the Japanese scene, however those who do follow the domestic scene will know that this is a bout to get very excited about.
At 27 years old Yabuki is the older of the two fighters, and the man regarded as the better puncher. He made his debut back in 2016 and began to make a name for himself almost immediately, scoring 3 quick blow out wins to reach the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, fighting at Flyweight. Sadly for Yabuki his winning run would come to an end in the Rookie final where he lost a decision to a then 8-0 Junto Nakatani, who has obviously shown his ability since then. A second run of blow outs, including an opening round win over Masashi Tada, came to an end in 2018 when he was himself stopped inside a round by Seigo Yuri Akui. Since then he has gone 3-1, with notable wins against Gilberto Pedroza and Ryuto Oho and a loss to the very talented Daniel Matellon.
Despite being a puncher Yabuki isn't an overtly aggressive or risky fighter. Instead he's a heavy handed boxer-puncher. He boxes, rather than fights, and it's his boxing that opens the door for his KO's thanks to how heavy his punches are and how smart he is with his punches, often fighting more as a counter puncher than the aggressor, bringing fighters on to his shots, rather than chasing them. Whilst he is talented we did see him being out boxed by Daniel Matellon, and it was a much clearer win than the score-cards suggested. His issue at times is he's sometimes not active enough, and seems to fight like his power is enough to win any fight. It's always worth noting that he did come up on the wrong end when Akui dragged him into a fire fight, and questions will remain about his chin, especially as he's dropping down in weight for this fight.
Aged 24 Shiba won his first title earlier this year, taking the Japanese Youth title last time out. Despiute being a professional novice he was a solid amateur, running up a 38-13 record in the unpaid ranks and captained his university team. His amateur reputation was so strong that he was quickly put into a B class tournament, winning the tournament final in his second bout, and then earned a shot at the Japanese Youth title as part of a 4 man tournament. Although he's only 4-0 he has shown more in those 4 fights than many fighters show in significantly more fights, and he has proven he can box, he can brawl, he can counter puncher and he's a real natural talent.
Watching Shiba in action we see a super talented youngster who looks as good going backwards as he does getting on the front foot. He changes gears with ease and finds holes for shots that most wouldn't have seen. As well his versatility we're always impressed by his footwork and movement, and he creates the space he needs with such ease. There is often a sense, when watching him, that he needs a challenge to get the best out of him, and we don't think we've seen him at 100% yet. Whilst he is impressive there are areas for him to work on, and he has been seen as being a little bit of a show boater at times, looking bored at others and over confident. That's something we expect to see less from him when he steps up in class.
We've enjoyed seeing both men so far and coming into this one it really does have that 50-50 type edge to it. It's a bout where the naturally smaller, but more talented, fighter takes on a naturally bigger, stronger and more powerful fighter, and they are often hard ones to predict. The key question coming into this bout however is whether or not Yabuki can comfortably make 108lbs. If he can we expect something special as he looks to counter Shiba's speed and movement with his heavy body and timing. If making weight takes too much out of him though this could end up being a rather prolonged beating for Yabuki.
Prediction - Shiba UD8
Earlier this year Kyotaro Fujimoto vacated the Japanese Heavyweight title, to pursue bigger and better fighters, including the upcoming bout with Daniel Dubois. As a result of Kyotaro's decision we now have no Japanese Heavyweight champion, though that will change on December 15th when Kotatsu Takehara (15-12-3, 8) and Ryu Ueda (8-1-1, 5) battle for the vacant title, in what will be a second bout between the two men.
The 41 year old Takehara twice came up short against Fujimoto in shots at the Japanese title, and also lost in 2014 to Nobuhiro Ishida in what was essentially an eliminator for the title. Since then he has gone 5-1 (4) and made the most of a JBC rule change regarding the age of a fighter. Although no world beater he is a rare Japanese Heavyweight who is a natural Heavyweight, and hasn't been under the Heavyweight limit since 2005, when he managed to fighter as a Cruiserweight. He's also, notably, had international experience with fights in Australia, USA and China, and has shared the ring with genuinely notable names. Among those to have fought Takehara are Alex Leapai, Magomed Abdusalamov, Johann Duhaupas and Lucas Browne.
Although Takehara has never been the quickest, the strongest or the most powerful he is certainly slower and clumsier than he once was and at 41 years old he is unable to fight at a high pace. His 2018 bout with China's Zhiyu Wu was certainly not a Heavyweight classic, with both looking exhausted, out of shape and very limited. What he is however is an experienced fighter, he picks his shots well and seems to realise his limitations. Rather than setting a high pace he'll fight conservatively, waiting for his moments to strike. It's a tactic that suits him, but one that can cost him against busier or younger fighters.
The 27 year old Ueda is more of a Light Heavyweight, come Cruiserweight, come Heavyweight than a natural Heavyweight. He began his career weighing 180lbs back in 2014 and has blown up the high 220's. Despite the weight increase he has actually got the height to be a natural Heavyweight, standing at around 6'4". Notably Ueda's one professional loss came in to Takehara back in 2016, but since then he has gone 3-0-1 (3) with wins against a pair of Korean fighters and once against domestic foe Yamato Fujinaka back in April this year.
Footage of Ueda has, at times, been hard to find though what is available shows a guy who looks like an athlete. He's in shape, he looks like he could have done other things and he looks really exciting. He's a southpaw boxer who looks the part. That until he starts actually fighting and we realise he's someone who is uncoordinated, clumsy and not the athlete he looks to be. He over balances, he swings around the house, fights with a low guard, fights in straight lines and over reaches. For someone who visually looks the part before he throws a punch, he really is worryingly bad.
Although Ueda is younger, taller, fresher we see him being stopped again here, with Takehara picking the better shots and breaking down the youngster, to claim the Japanese title and the biggest win of his career.
Prediction - TKO7 Takehara
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