The Rookie of the Year tournament in Japan is one of the annual highlights of the Japanese boxing calendar and something that often brings highlights throughout the entire tournament. From the preliminary bouts, to the regional finals and the All Japan finals we get so lucky with Rookie of the Year and the consistently fantastic bouts that it delivers. The competition really is a Treasure Trove on it’s own and is one of the key reasons why Japanese boxing is so much fun to follow. The match ups are, generally, competitive, well matched and evenly fought between novices. The tournament tends to develop prospects and unearth real talent, and fans usually get the chance to join a fighter early in their professional journey. It is a tournament format that really should be copied in other parts of the world and it would certainly help make under-cards more interesting in the West.
We’ve said all that to begin with as this week's Treasure Trove bout is one of the East Japan Rookie of the Year finals, which took place on December 20th at Korakuen Hall. And boy did this deliver. Big time.
Kenji Yoshino (1-2, 2) vs Eiki Kani (2-1-1) II
Before we talk the actual bout we need to go back a little bit to just lay down the foundations of the bout, but we’ll get there in a little bit.
In February 2019 Kenji Yoshino made his professional debut at the age of 18, losing in 4 rounds to Taigo Ito. Some 5 months later he suffered his second loss, being stopped in 4 rounds by Eiki Kani to end 2019 0-2. Like most fighters he ended up sitting out most of 2020 due to Covid19 but returned to the ring in November 2020 and stopped Taiga Ito in a rematch of his debut, to secure his place in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final around 6 weeks later.
Eiki Kani on the hand had debuted all the way back on December 30th 2018, at the age of 17, on the under-card of Masayuki Ito’s win over Evgeny Chuprakov. He had fought to a draw in his debut before fighting his second bout in July 2019, when he stopped Yoshino in 4 rounds. He then added a win over Daijo Kogo towards the end of 2019. He then scored a win in an East Japan Rookie of the Year bout against Tomohiro Ishida which should have led him to a clash in the semi finals with Masanori Iwai, who pulled out of their bout giving Kani a bye to the East Japan final.
So for those who followed that, Yoshino and Kani had fought back in 2019, when both men were fighting in their second professional bouts, with Kani stopping Yoshino in the 4th round. Despite that, the two men had fought their way to the finals of the East Japan Rookie of the Year in 2020, with Yoshino now out for revenge and Kani looking to do the double over Yoshino.
There was a lot on the line for the two youngsters, who were fighting for a place in the All Japan final, which will take place in February, the chance to call themselves the East Japan Rookie of the Year and to settle chapter 2 of their personal rivalry. This was more personal than pretty any of the other Rookie of the Year bouts from the year, and it was also among the most exciting.
The bout started relatively slowly but within a minute both men were starting to let their shots go, and both managed to find real success. Yoshino, who sported the Teiken shorts, looked the bigger man, and the heavier handed fighter, but was putting a lot into his shots, and he even wobbled Kani late in the round. Kani on the other hand seemed to be the smarter man, landing the better counters and covering up better. The dynamic of the two men made for an exciting first round, which got better and better as it went on, and the final 40 seconds or so of the round were tremendous as both men looked to make a statement for the judges.
Although the first round was great it was fought in bursts, from both. The second round however was a lot more consistent, with both men looking to go tit for tat. Again it was Yoshino who looked the bigger single shot puncher, but Kani was regularly finding excellent counter shots, punishing Yoshino for his wider shots. Almost the entire final 90 seconds of the round was thrilling back and forth up close with neither man wanting the other to have the final say. Both rounds were hard to score, but both were brilliant to watch.
The action continued to be enthralling through round 3. By now Yoshino’s pace was dropping. He was still throwing hard shots when he threw, but was throwing a lot less, and Kani was starting to land more. This felt like Kani was starting to finally break up a tiring Yoshino. That was until Yoshino got a second wind and started to connect with his bombs, forcing Kani to hold for a few moments until he came back trying to shine at the very end of the round. It was another compelling round, and it left the bout very finely balanced as we entered round 4.
In round 4 Kani began to look tired, backing off, letting Yoshino come to him, and then tried countering. It was a somewhat negative tactic, especially given how he’d fought earlier in the bout, but it was clear that he was feeling the pace of a hectic bout, and he was desperate not to be stopped by Yoshino in round 4, like he had been in their first bout. With just over a minute left Kani was rocked, but gritted it out, once again spoiling and trying to catch his breath. With that done the two men then exchanged some big shots as they each looked for a decisive blow to secure a win.
After 4 rounds both men had given their all, they had each taken a lot of heavy shots, and they had each battled through exhaustion. They had gone to a decision and amazingly the judges were unable to split them, leading to a majority decision draw in one of the best 4 rounders we saw in the entire of 2020.
Yes the action might be bitty, the quality of the fighters might not be the highest, and the fight itself might not be anywhere close to a Fight of the Year contender, but this was certainly a war and was a thoroughly enjoyable 4 round tear up.
One day, somewhere down the line, we hope these two youngsters clash again in a third bout. Given how good this was when both were novice we can only hope a third bout in 3 or 4 years, manages to be just as good!
Note - There are some minor issues with the signal for this video. They should only last a few seconds.
Although there are a lot of fights this month there are very few bouts featuring Asian fighters at Heavyweight, something that is almost always worth talking about. Especially when the Heavyweight in question is a former amateur standout and potentially the man to put his country on the boxing map. That is what we get this coming Saturday as we see an Azeri banger in the ring for his biggest test so far!
The One to Watch?
Mahammadrasul Majidov (3-0, 3) vs Andrey Fedosov (31-3, 25)
April 17th (Saturday)
The Heavyweight division can be a frustrating on to follow at times, especially when good fighters are essentially able to age themselves out of contention. This bout is a massive step up for a man who really needs to sink or swing very soon. We love big step ups and this is certainly one of those as a 34 year old novice professional takes on on someone who should be regarded, quite fairly, as a divisional gatekeeper.
In one corner is unbeaten 34 year old Azeri Mahammadrasul Majidov, a former amateur standout and one of the heaviest handed fighters in the sport. As an amateur Majidov was a true star, winning the World Amateur Championships twice and taking bronze at the Olympics. Sadly his best days as an amateur came early in the 2010's and he didn't turn professional until he was the wrong side of 30. Despite that he has the power and technical ability to still become a contender before he "ages out" of the sport.
Since turning professional in 2019 Majidov has shown continual development, and looked like a technically well schooled brute. Sadly though he competition has done little to test him, barring a knockdown on his debut. he has needed better tests, especially given his age. Instead he has had an easy win over Tom Little and a bout with the horribly out of shape Sahret Delgado, who shouldn't have passed a medical given how unfit he was.
In the opposite corner is 35 year old professional veteran Andrey Fedosov, a US based Russian fighter who has been a professional since 2003. Although never a world beater Fedoosov was the type of fighter who was always a credible foe and is one of the best wins on the record of Bryant Jennings, who stopped Fedosov in 2013. Since that loss Fedosov bounced back, winning 7 in a row and winning the 2015 Boxcino tournament. At his best Fedosov is a genuine test for any fighter coming through the ranks.
Sadly however Fedesov hasn't fought since scoring a win over Joey Dawejko in 2018, and has only fought 3 times since winning the Boxcino tournament in May 2015. That level of inactivity really could be a problem against someone as sharp and effective as Majidov. It's a shame in many ways that Fedosov could well have made a good living as a gatekeeper on the European scene, with bouts against the likes of Tony Yoka, Daniel Dubois and Derrick Chisora, where his tough nosed approach to the ring would have kept him busy.
What to expect?
We don't expect a war here. Neither man is known for fighting with a mega fast out put, and taking huge amounts of risks. Instead we expect something more akin to a showcase of power punching from Majidov, who is methodical, accurate and punches like he has a sledgehammer in his hands. We expect to see that power showing it's effects early against Fedosov who inactivity will be an issue..
If Fedosov can last more 4 than rounds then we suspect things could get very interesting as we finally see whether Majidov has got a gas tank, and can go rounds. The longer this goes the more interesting it'll be. But that's a big if and there is every chance that Majidov's power will simply be too much for an inactive and old Fedosov
The bad news?
The only real bad news is that Majidov is 34 already and Fedosov has been so inactive. It's a shame that we've not seen the Russian build on his Boxcino success, as he genuinely did deserve so much more on the back of that. Likewise it's a shame Majidov didn't turn professional 5 or 6 years earlier, and lost his prime years as a result.
For this Treasure Trove we continue to stay away from Japan as we head over to Kazan in Russia for another genuine hidden gem of a fight featuring a Kazakh fighter and a Belorussian. Although the bout was certainly not a big one, and the names involved were certainly not well known ones outside of the hardcore boxing fans the two men put on a genuinely thrilling 2-way back and forth war. The bout didn’t last long but it had more action in it than many 12 rounds, and for the most part it was fought at a really high level with both men showing tools they developed in their days as amateurs.
Arman Rysbek (7-0, 6) vs Mikhail Dauhaliavets (2-0, 2)
For this bout we go back to September 27th and a show promoted by “All Champions”, the promotional company serum by Artem Evseenko. The card was a pretty interesting one with a number of competitive bouts, a few shocks and several really, really good bouts, with this being the pick of them. It was also a super rare thrilling all-southpaw bout, with both fighters being lefties.
In one corner war unbeaten 29 year old Kazakh hopeful Arman Rysbek. Rysbek was a fighter who had been slowly making his name. After debuting in the US he had also gone on to fight in Argentina and Kazakhstan whilst compiling his 7-0 (6) record. From his 7 bouts he had scored 5 wins in the opening round, but had faced mostly very poor opposition since his 2018 debut. Prior to turning professional he had been a solid amateur competing in numerous international competitions and had also been successful domestically, with notable amateur wins against the likes of Magomed Madiev, Tursynbay Kulakhmet, Ali Akhmedov and Adilbek Niyazymbetov. He had also impressed in the WSB, winning 5 of his 7 bouts in the pro-style tournament.
The opposite corner was hosting 30 year old Mikhail Dauhaliavets from Belarus. He had turned professional at the start of 2020 and his competition was terrible, with both of his early opponents being taken out very early on. Despite his professional competition being low level he, like Rysbek, had been a solid amateur and had been involved in the WSB. As an amateur Dauhaliavets had competed at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and had well over 100 amateur fights. Those included wins against the likes of Dmitry Bivol, Damien Hooper, Vladimir Shishkin, Serge Michel, Oleksandr Khyzhniak. Sadly in the WSB he went a less than stellar 3-6, though did beat the well regarded Carlos Mina giving him his only loss in the WSB. As well as his two professional bouts in 2020, prior to facing Rysbek, Dauhaliavets had also fought in a number of amateur bouts at the start of the year.
On paper this looked like it could be interesting, especially given their amateur pedigree, but we didn’t expect what we got which went well beyond “interesting” as the two men traded blows for the lightly regarded Eurasian Boxing Parliament Super Middleweight title.
From the opening seconds the men met in the center of the ring and immediately got down to business, fighting up close and personal with big shots traded pretty much from the opening seconds. There was no feeling out process at all with the two men banging in hooks and uppercuts almost immediately. The balding Dauhaliavets looked the more technical and classy but Rysbek looked the more aggressive and heavy handed. The entire round almost was fought with the two men never more than a step or two away from each other and rarely was their time to breathe in what was one of the best rounds seen in Russia all year. This was technical, exciting, action packed and a fantastic way to start the fight.
The first round was genuinely brilliant, and logic suggested that both men were going to slow down in round 2, especially given the fact that between them they had scored 7 of their combined 9 wins in the opening round. That logic failed and they continued to fight at a fantastic pace through round 2. It was slightly slower than the opening round, but it was still a high tempo round with heavy shots from both. Jabs were used to set up the heavier artillery at times, but they came at a premium as hooks and uppercuts continued to be the order of the day and a counter right hook from Dauhaliavets snapped Rysbek’s head back about 2 minutes into the round. By the end of the round Rybek’s face was visibly reddening.
Round 3 saw the pace continue to be a hot one, with both men giving and taking some solid leather. It was again the more technical stuff from Dauhaliavets that seemed the more eye-catching, but Rysbek looked like a man who was willing to walk through anything to land his own shots and got through with some very nice single shots up top, despite taking combinations in return. Right through the round the two men barely left the All Champions logo in the centre of the ring, and they were damn knee toe-to-toe for the entire 3 minutes.
Despite the action being relatively even through the first 3 rounds it was Dauhaliavets who seemed to be doing enough to edge in front as we entered round 4. Despite the great action neither man had looked in too much trouble, despite Rysbek being rocked in round 2. In round 4 however Dauhaliavets really began to put Rysbek to the sword, finding holes in his defense and leaving his face even more red than it had been earlier in the bout. By the end of the round Rysbek was starting to look like a man whose body was still in the fight but his mind knew he was up against someone better than himself. He also seemed to have some sort of issue with his eyes when he went to the corner.
Rather than continue on his team made the right move and pulled Rysbek from the bout between rounds 4 and 5 giving us an anti-climactic ending to what had been a very fun fight through 4 rounds.
It was a sad ending, but that shouldn’t overshadow what we had seen prior to the stoppage, and that top tier action. This was genuinely a hidden gem of a fight and despite the Asian fighter losing the bout is one that fight fans deserve to watch. It really is a shame that there wasn’t a louder audience for such a thrilling, action packed contest.
Note - Fight begins about 5 minutes into the video
After spending the last few weeks of this series in Japan we’ve decided to go on the road this week and take our treasure Trove over to China for a late year bout between two debutants who put on a genuinely unexpected gem in Qingdao. The bout wasn’t a high profile one, it wasn’t even that got much attention afterwards, but was certainly a tasty post-Christmas treat for those actively following boxing in China. This was just a fun fight that deserves to be seen by far more people than those who saw it the first time around.
Apudureyimu Maimaiti (0-0) vs Xiyuan Liu (0-0)
The bout, at 140lbs, saw Apudureyimu Maimaiti and Xiyaun Liu face off on December 26th as part of a show promoted by SECA Ltd. Neither of fighters really had much at all known about them. In fact other than the two men being debutants there is almost nothing we can really do to try and introduce either man.
The limited bits of information about the two men seemed to suggest that Maimaiti, from Urumqi, was something of an amateur, but his record in the unpaid ranks was poor and incomplete at best. As for Liu we had nothing to go on. Instead we just had to watch the fight, and we’re glad we did.
Straight from the opening seconds the two men went at it. There was no feeling out process at all and instead bombs were being thrown from the very start. Neither man seemed to know what a jab was and despite some holding the action was fast and frenetic with both men deciding their big shots were the key to victory. From early on however it was clear that Maimaiti was the much better boxer, and the one with an amateur background, mixing body shots into his work, and looking to create some space to work. Liu on the other hand just looked like a tough nut wanting to release some pent up frustration after 2020.
The entire first round was just brilliant 2-way action that started fast though did slow down near the end of the round as Maimaiti began to grab control of the action and Liu’s face began to redden.
In round 2 Liu went back on the offensive, as if realising he couldn’t out box Maimaiti and had to turn it back into a war. Sadly for him the tactic backfired with Maimaiti riding shots well, firing back, and breaking down his hungry but flawed foe. That was despite Liu having some genuine success part way through the round. The problem for Liu was he was putting so much into everything he did, he was tiring himself out with effort, and having his face smashed in by Maimaiti’s clean head shots, that left him a swollen mess.
After 2 rounds of wonderful, intense and exciting action this one didn’t get to see the end of round 3 with Liu dumped on his backside within seconds of round 3 starting and the referee knowing there was no point in letting the gutsy take any more punishment.
Sadly the video of the fight does have a blip in it early in round 2, just to make those watching aware.
This series is about the fun and exciting bout that don’t get attention, giving a chance to relive some of the exciting and unheralded bouts that took place last year, with that in mind this is a perfect bout to include and we hope you enjoy this exciting little tear up as much as we did!
For this week's one to watch our attention turns to Uzbekistan and a show that will be shown on DAZN. Although not officially a world title eliminator it features two fighters who each have at least one ranking with a world title body, and on paper it looks like a mouth watering match up.
The One to Watch?
Israil Madrimov (6-0, 5) vs Emmany Kalombo (14-0, 14)
April 3rd (Saturday)
There are two huge reasons to watch this one. One of those reasons is the fact the bout features one of the hottest prospects in world boxing, and the other reason is that the bout is a match up between unbeaten fighters. In fact it's a bout between unbeaten punchers who have a combined 95% KO rate and the are not men who like to hear the final bell. As well as those two reasons it's worth noting that the fight is between two men both knocking on to the door of a potential world title fight!
Hard hitting Uzbek fighter Israil Madrimov is one of the most exciting, hard hitting, and talented prospects in the sport. The 154lb fighter was a stand out amateur before turning to the professional ranks, in 2018 and every bout so far has seen him facing fighters with winning records and being scheduled for either 10 or 12 rounds. He has quickly built a name for himself, and has scored a sting of solid wins over the likes of Eric Walker, Charlie Navarro and Alejandro Barrera. He might lack that A level wins, but he already has a number of B tier wins and looks ready for a bigger, more meaningful fight.
In terms of his style Madrimov is a stylish fighter who brings switch hitting and power to the ring. He has still got questions to answer, but appears to have all the tools to reach the top, even if there are still areas that need work. The key thing for his team, however, will be to challenge him. Don't let him have easy bouts and get bored. We suspect as he takes on better opponents we will see better performances from him.
In the opposite corner to Madrimov is South African based Congolese fighter Emmany Kalombo, who is sporting a perfect 14-0 (14) record and is looking for what would be a massive break out win. In fact if Kalombo won here he would go from being a fighter unknown outside of Africa to someone who would be on the verge of a world title fight. Saying that however he will enter this bout as a massive under-dog, and it would take a career best performance for him to win here.
In the ring he's Kalombo has proven to be a hard hitting, exciting, aggressive fighter. He's not the most technically sound fighter or a particularly polished one, though that's no surprise given he only had a very short amateur career and has been learning on the job. Despite needing to essentially learn everything on the job he's a more educated fighter than some would assume, and he's got a very nice jab with solid handspeed and he certainly understand what he's doing in the ring, even if he's clearly a work in progress.
What to expect?
On paper this looks like a really, really interesting match up. A match up that is worth getting excited about. Having also seen some of Kalombo's bouts it becomes even more interesting, knowing that the Congolese fighter can genuinely box and punch. He might not be a world champion in the making but he's not a scrub either.
Whilst we were pleasantly surprised by Kalombo's skill set we can't forget he's in their with Madrimov, a man who can clown all the best in the division. We expect to see the Uzbek clowning early on, but after a few rounds, and after tasting Kalombo's powerful jab a few times, we'd expect Madrimov to get serious and begin to work away on his man.
We don't imagine Kalombo will go away easy but by rounds 5 or 6 cracks will begin to show and Madrimov will go through the gears, forcing a stoppage later in the contest.
The bad news?
The only real bad new is the fact we expect many fans to downplay the ability of Kalombo, who really does look a decent fighter. He doesn't look world class, but he looks better than some recent world challengers, and could certainly mix with some success against the top 30 type guys that we often see being given shots.
As an aside, another bit of bad news is the fact that Madrimov's wait for a world title goes on, despite the fact he enters this bout as the WBA #1 ranked contender.
One of the great things about this series is that we get away with completely ignoring the big names and instead focusing on the unheralded fighters who gave us some amazing action in 2020. The Treasure Trove is full of the unknown fighters who put on a show, rather than the big names. With that in mind we can quite happily enjoy sharing bouts between two men that most fight fans won’t be aware of. For today’s Treasure Trove we’re doing just that, once again, and looking at men who went into their televised bout with just a combined 6 professional bouts between them. Despite the novice status of both men they had both been solid amateurs on the Japanese scene and both knew this was a great chance to make a mark on the domestic boxing scene.
Toshiki Kawamitsu (4-0, 1) vs Kenshi Noda (2-0, 2)
One of the notable facets of Japanese boxing is the fact youngsters don’t pad their records for years. Instead they take risks, they have faith in their teams and belief in themselves, allowing good prospects to be matched against each other early on. There is no long drawn out process of “tick over, after tick over” fights but instead bouts over the 4 and 6 round scheduled are regularly competitive bouts, matched to genuine test fighters. Today we get to share one such case from August 2020, with two talented youngsters clashing in a genuine barn burner of a fight
In one corner was the almost unknown Toshiki Kawamitsu, who had been a solid but unspectacular amateur before turning professional in late 2018. The notable takeaways from his amateur career was that he had been regarded as being in the top 10 in Japan at his weight, behind some big current names, and that he had been from the same region as Daigo Higa. Other than that there was little to really note about the 25 year old who had shown little power in his first 4 professional bouts, stopping just 1 of his opponents. Despite the lack of power he did look like a man who would, down the line, make a mark of some kind on the domestic title scene. Admittedly it did look like he was a long way from challenging for a national title, but it did seem to be where he would head, one day.
In the other corner was Teiken hopeful Kenshi Noda, who was a much more proven amateur and seemed to be getting groomed as a future contender for Teiken. Like Kawamitsu he was 25 but since turning professional he seemed to show a lot more physicality and power than his opponent, blowing out his first 2 opponents inside a round. Notably he looked the more natural puncher, but his competition had, for the most part, been more limited than Kawamitsu, who had been forced to prove himself against domestic talent whilst Noda was blowing out limited foreign fighters. Despite his poor competition Noda was regarded as the better amateur and the better prospect and went into this fight as the favourite, with the expectation that he would have far too much for the lighter punching Kawamitsu.
What we ended up with was a genuine hidden gem of a bout, and one of our favourite bouts from 2020.
From the first moments of the first round it was clear both men felt this was their chance to shine with both men happy to ignore the typical feeling out round and getting to work from the first few seconds. Despite some wrestling in the opening minute we saw a lot of shots thrown, by both men who looked to establish their game plan. For Noda the key was 2 and 3 punch combinations, looking to get full extension on his shots whilst Kawamitsu looked to set a higher tempo, getting inside with his hooks, and use smart footwork to stop Noda from lining up his straight shots. Through the round both men had real success making for an exhilarating start to the fight.
After a fantastic first round the bout went up a gear in round 2 and both men began to open up even more, with both taking some heavy head shots during what was a brilliant 3 minutes of action. Again there was a little bit of holding and wrestling, but for the vast majority of the round this was clean and exciting back and forth action. It wasn’t a slugfest as such, but was a very exciting technical war, with both men showing their amateur skills, and the way they had adapted to the professional ranks. After a great first round the second was somehow even better.
With great action and fantastic back and forth, it was clear that both men were going to have to answer serious questions as this went on and early in round 3 that was shown when Kawamitsu seemed to hurt Noda, and was then stumbled himself by a left hook. Noda seemed to feel his man was there for the taking and went all out trying to take out Kawamitsu who gutted it out and sent a tiring Noda to the canvas. It was ruled a push or a slip but it was clear that Noda was suddenly coming apart, and he was pushed down again just seconds later.
Knowing he was in trouble Noda tried to fire back big shots but was hurt again as the bout seemed to move up another gear. Noda looked like he was almost out on his feet at times, but was firing back huge bombs at others as we ended up with a chaotic final minute of the round, with Noda finally having a count against him late on, after being on the floor numerous times. It seemed clear that Noda, the man who had blasted out his first 2 opponents was in trouble, and was starting to run on fumes. Kawamitsu on the other hand was like a terrier, biting away at his man.
In round 4 the terrier got to his man once again, and a tired Noda couldn’t keep Kawamitsu off him, eventually being worn down, dropped again and finally saved by the referee who had seen enough.
For fight fans who like exciting little wars this is genuinely brilliant and a bout that deserves the 20 or so minutes to watch. High octane action from the off, relentlessness from Kawamitsu and incredible toughness and bravery from Noda who still looked very uneasy on his feet when he left the ring.
This is a bit of a weird week for Japanese boxing with two very good mid-week shows, one from Kadoebi and one from Teiken, as well as a great show at the weekend. Best thing is all 3 shows will be made available to watch, as Japanese boxing ends the month of March with a bang. Today we look at one of those mid-week bouts as we bring you the second "One to watch" for this week!
The One to Watch?
Gonte Lee (2-0-1, 1) vs Aso Ishiwaki (8-3-1, 6)
March 25th (Thursday)
This is a bout that really has excited us since first seeing it on the Japanese schedule websites. It's a match up that gives us a lot of reasons to be excited.
For one man this is a real step up, following a successful amateur career that saw him turn professional with lefty expectations on his shoulders. The man in questions was one of the more notable Japanese amateurs but has failed to set the world alight since turning professional a few years ago. The other man is a fighter we love watching, and someone who always brings the action, despite being a technically limited fighter. He desperately needs a win after a major set back in December.
Not only do we have two guys looking to prove a point, but we also have styles that should gel well, giving us something well worthy of our time and attention.
The 25 year old Gonte Lee, also spelled Kuntae Lee, was a sensational Japanese amateur who went 102-10 in the unpaid ranks and ran up more than 60 successive wins as an amateur. When he turned professional in 2018 there was huge expectations on his shoulders, and his February 2019 debut was hugely anticipated. Sadly his opponent seemed to be very wary of him and went down very softly following that debut win Lee won his second bout 5 months later and then had a technical draw near the end of 2019. Sadly since then he hasn't been seen in the ring as Covid19 slashed the opportunities for Japanese fighters to tick over.
Lee is an incredibly polished fighter, who looks the deal and has a very smooth technical style. He's quick, sharp, and understands the ring really well. Sadly however with 2020 beign a write off for him the 140lb hopeful really needs to begin motoring on with his career and can't waste any more time sitting and twiddling his thumbs. With that in mind we expect to see him being matched hard going forward and that's certainly the case here against Ishiwaki.
In 2018, at the age of 19, Aso Ishiwaki came runner up in the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Lightweight, and impressed with his come forward and aggressive style. In 2019 he built on that with notable and impressive performances against the likes of Yoji Saito, Takuya Matsusaka and Ryuji Ikeda, and heading into 2020 he was one of the fighters we were most excited about seeing again. Sadly though Covid19 essentially put his year on ice until December, when he fought his only bout of the year, and was destroyed by the sensational Jin Sasaki in a Japanese Youth title fight. We expected that to be a much, much more competitive bout than it was, though Sasaki looked absolutely incredible and out performed what we, any many others, expected. This will be his first but since that loss.
In the ring Ishiwaki is an aggressive boxer-fighter. He's generally shown to be sturdy, tough, strong and powerful, though the loss to Sasaki may have shown he wasn't quite as strong at 140lbs as he had been at Lightweight. Technically he is flawed, but has a fan friendly style and mentality and makes for fun bouts, win lose or draw, and he is certainly one of the most fun to watch fighters in Japan.
What to expect?
Given the styles of the two men are drastically different, with Ishiwaki being a pressure minded fighter and Lee being a pure boxer, this should be a compelling match up of styles. We suspect Lee will want to keep this at range, using his southpaw jab and find holes for his crisp straight left hand. Ishiwaki on the other hand will come forward, using a tight guard to try and force Lee on to the back foot.
Whilst we do like Ishiwaki, a lot, we do wonder whether the mental scars of the Sasaki bout will be on his mind, and whether he really has the size and strength to compete at 140lbs going forward. If he doesn't then his style, whilst exciting, could be a major issue against the stronger, more mature, 140lbs fighters, like Lee.
We're expecting Ishiwaki to press, pressure and come forward, barrelling forward and trying to get inside and work away on Lee. Sadly though we think he's going to take a lot of shots coming forward, Lee's understanding of the ring being too much for him.
Despite a good effort, a great deal of desire, we see Ishiwaki being stopped late into this 8 rounder. He'll have success, but on the whole he will be out worked, out fought, out boxed, and out landed by a very skilled man looking to make a statement.
The bad news?
There really isn't anything bad here, though if we're looking for niggles the bout will be aired on pay TV channel G+ during the middle of the week, so there might be something of a limited crowd and atmosphere. It's also a shame that Ishiwaki is coming into this on the back of a loss an Lee hasn't fought since November 2019, though we dare say those two "negatives" balance each other out a bit here.
After a bunch of quiet weeks recently we get to share two bouts this week as action begins to pick up and the boxing calendar starts to look more and more like normal. We have fights coming in thick and fast, and we have plenty to be excited about in coming weeks, and months. For this bout in particular we're looking at two youngster, both with a lot of promise, clashing at Korakuen Hall in a bout we're really looking forward to.
The One to Watch?
Seiya Tsutsumi (5-0-2, 4) vs Tulio Kuwabata (3-1-1, 2)
March 24th (Wednesday)
This bout has a lot going for it. Notably we have two youngsters in it, both of who need a win a win after back to back disappointments. As well as their need to pick up wins both are also highly regarded youngsters, who turned professional after notable amateur career, and both know that a win here will be huge for their careers. It is also a very, very interesting match up between two fighters with less than 10 bouts who are both clearly very talented fighters. This is the type of bout we rarely see outside of Japan, and the type of bout which could be something very special.
Of the two men the better known fighter is 25 year old Seiya Tsutsumi, who came to international note last year when he earned a 10 round draw against former world champion Daigo Higa. That result was a second straight draw for Tsutsumi, who had been incredibly unlucky earlier in the year with a draw against Kazuki Nakajima. The talented Tsutusmi is a boxer-puncher, who has shown brutal power, fantastic boxing skills, smart ring craft and the ability to go to war, when he's needed to. Sadly the two draws last year have marked up Tsutsumi's record, though we dare say he comes into this bout with a point to prove.
In the opposite corner to Tsutsumi will be Tulio Kawabata, also known as Tulio Dekanarudo, a 24 year old who turned professional with a lot of hype but has failed to live up to the expectations. The youngster was supposed to be one of the faces of the Mutoh Gym going forward and won his first 3 bouts with absolutely no issues at all, including making his debut in China and taking the unbeaten record of Eric Pulgo. Sadly however he was "exposed" in late 2019, by Filipino fighter Ken Jordan, who stopped him inside a round, and he failed to get back to winning ways in 2020, when he had a technical draw with Yoshihiro Utsumi. Like Tsutsumi he now desperately needs a win to get back on track.
What to expect?
We need to start by saying we really like this fight, despite the fact neither man has a win in their last two bouts. Sadly whilst we like the fact we don't see it as the most competitive bout out there. In fact we see it as a bit of a mismatch, as ones man's strength goes directly up against the other man's key weakness.
That is Tsutsumi's power against the questionable chin of Kuwabata. Tsutsumi might not be a KO artist at the highest level but he's a big puncher, his power get respect from the likes of Daigo Higa and his KO win over Ryan Rey Ponteras was an impressive one. His power also career up to Featherweight against Jiaqi Yu. That power is brutal at this level and Kuwabata's chin has been smashed by a lesser fighter.
Saying that Kuwabata is skilled and if he can settle, dictate the range and tempo we could see some good back and forth in this. It could end up being a pretty high level contest at times, if, and it's a big if, he can survive the early power of Tsutsumi.
Sadly however it seems inevitable that, at some point, Tsutsumi's power and aggression will get to Kuwabata and take him out.
The bad news?
This bout will be tucked away on Boxing Raise, limiting the viewing audience behind a pay wall, but other than that we see no real issue here in regards to watching the contest. However we do suspect some will perhaps write off Kuwabata as a poor fighter afterwards, which is unfair as he isn't. He's just unfortunately not blessed with a cast iron chin, and he is facing a heavy handed guy here.
Last week for the Treasure Trove series we shared a bout that was made available thanks to Seki-chan and Sakana, who purchased the rights for and filmed the show respectively. This week we return to that very same show from back on November 29th for another brilliant fight. This one is less dramatic but is even more compelling than last weeks Treasure Trove, with the two fighters being matched very well and giving us a thrilling back and forth action bout.
Naoya Shiotani (0-1) vs Sho Akatsuka (0-0)
As with last week’s Treasure Trove, between Hummer Taku and Yuma Yamanaka, we’re not looking at big names this week. In fact we’re looking at two rank novices, both looking to claim their first win, and make their first positive mark in professional boxing.
In one corner was Naoya Shiotani, a 33 year old fighter who had made his debut in April 2019 and been inside a minute. He was looking to bounce back from that loss some 19 months after suffering it. He had debuted in his home Prefecture of Mie, and was now the away fighter, travelling over to Kariya for this bout. He was from the little known Ichino Boxing Gym, a gym in Suzuka that really doesn’t get much attention at all
The other corner played host to the debuting Sho Akatsuka, a 23 year old from nearby Nagoya. Although he was making his debut he was from the more well established Nagoya Ohashi Gym, not to be confused with the Ohashi Gym run by Hideyuki Ohashi. Other than this being his debut, not much at all was known about the 23 year old, who seemingly had no amateur experience to talk about at all.
From the opening moments of this bout both men started quickly. It was immediately clear that Akatsuka, in the gold and black shorts was the more comfortable man, even when he got caught by a clean head shot in the opening few seconds. He did look polished, but he looked comfortable, calm and somewhat relaxed. Shiotani took a while to get going, but as the round progressed we began to see quite a few exciting exchanges, often on the inside. This wasn’t a slow feeling out round to begin the fight, a fairly active opening round that saw both men forced to cede ground and taste what the other man had to offer.
If round 1 was a taster of what each man had round 2 was a nice big meal of what both had as a slow start to the round erupted into a bit of an inside war, with both men getting inside at times and letting good solid shots go. What started as a good round Shiotani swing to Akatsuka, who lets a big flurry of shots go late in the round, before taking some back and then continuing his charge.
The pace rose massively in round 3 as Akatsuka immediately took the fight to Shiotani, who tried to stand his ground and fight back. The result almost a minute of back and forth high intensity action. The shots might not have had much on them, and neither guy ever looked in any distress, but the action was captivating, intense and brilliant, with both men teeing off inside the pocket. This was the sort of action that, at a higher level, would see people raving about it, and yet we were seeing it from two novice, desperately fighting away in search of their first win. Whilst the first two rounds were compelling the third was special, as both simply tried to break the other down. The crowd, who were allowed to chant and cheer due to Covid19 rules, gave both fighters a round of applause at the end of the round, a sign of their respect and enjoyment of the action they had seen over the previous 3 minutes.
The final round took off exactly where round 3 ended, with the two men trying to replicate some sort of movie scene. Standing just inches apart, and throwing leather on the inside, taking it in turns to throw a flurry before awaiting the response. It wasn’t technical, it wasn’t smart, it wasn’t boxing, but it was fighting. It was fighting where both men were wearing their hearts on their sleeves and letting the desire of victory take control of the action. It was completely and utterly compelling and the sort of rock em sock em action that is almost impossible to look away from.
If you can look past the low quality of the fighters, their lack of name value, and just enjoy boxing, this will be an ideal taste of what makes Japanese boxing so good for the fans in attendance.
Like last week’s Treasure Trove this isn’t a Fight of the Year contender. It’s not an all out war. But it is a brilliant little insight into a part of Japanese boxing, the Central Japanese boxing scene, that we rarely get to enjoy. It was also a chance to enjoy the heart of Japanese boxing, the well matched 4 rounders. Whilst we all tune in for the big names, and the glitz and glamour, the core of Japanese boxing isn’t the stars. It’s the young men and women taking part in the sport for the enjoyment of boxing, and that is what we saw here. Two men who wanted to enjoy the sport. It’s highly unlikely either will be a star in the future, but for 4 rounds they had us glued to them. We were in their hands. This was a genuine treat for us, and another example of what makes the Japanese 4 round bouts so special, so exciting and so meaningful to the fans and the fighters.
The month of March has seen a clear uptick in fights and action but things still aren't as busy as they usually are as countries continue to get on top of Covid19 and loosen their restrictions around sports and events. With that in mind our "one to watch" this week is a bit of a strange pick in some ways, but one we do suggest making the effort to see, especially if you already have a Boxing Raise subscription. That's because it features a very interesting fighter who will be looking to prove a point after missing out on years of his career.
The One to Watch?
Narumi Yukawa (0-0) Vs Yuya Azuma (5-4-1, 1)
March 18th (Thursday)
It's rare that we feature a debutant in our "One to Watch" but that's the case this week as we advise everyone to give a watch to young debutant Narumi Yukawa, who kicks off his career following some major out of the ring issues. In the opposite corner is Yuya Azuma, a solid lower level Japanese domestic fighter who famously took on the debuting Rentaro Kimura last year. Incidentally Kimura and Yukawa are stable mates at the gym run by Suruga Danji in Shizuoka.
The 25 year old Narumi Yukawa was an amateur standout at one point, and was being tipped for being things before ruining his amateur career when he got busted by the police for possession of drugs. This saw him being given a suspended sentence in Japan and as a result he spent several years out of the ring, not being allowed to fight until his sentence was over. He was however allowed to train and Danji Suruga did train him, helped him get his life back on track and made it clear that if people wanted to teach Yukawa about drugs and help in various ways that was something he was very open to.
Despite having now not fought in almost 5 years Yukawa has a lot of lost time, time he will want to make up for now. With that in mind we're expecting him to make an impression here, and repay the trust and belief he's had from Mr Suruga. We also get the feeling he will want to outshine the aforementioned Rentaro Kimura, who stopped Azuma in 2 rounds last July.
On paper the 21 year old Yuya Azuma has an under-whelming record, and has lost 54 of his last 7 bouts. He is however not a push over, and he asked some solid questions of Kimura in the opening round of their bout. He has also shown his ability with wins over decent fighters, like Ryo Tanimoto, and could easily have had wins in a number of his losses, with his loss to Tom Mizokoshi in 2018 being a razor thin one. His record might not show it, but Azuma is a good, technical boxer, though he does lack some pop on his shots.
Despite not being the best fight Azuma has the tools needed to test fighters, he has good movement, good understanding of the ring and nice accurate shots. He times things well and he boxes on the move. He also has experience on his side and he is certainly a lot more active than Yukawa, which he'll need to hope is a help here.
What to expect?
We're expecting to see Yukawa take a round or two to show what he can do, ease himself into the bout, and then spend time beating Azuma up. He will want to win, and win impressively. He could rely on his boxing skills and look to take a clear decision, but we suspect his intention is to make a statement, and to do so quickly.
We wouldn't be surprised to see Yukawa take 1 or 2 rounds to shake some ring rust, get a feel of professional boxing, and then, in round 3 begin to amp up his work rate and pressure. When he does that he'll begin to push Azuma back and then break him down, unloading huge bombs on him until the referee jumps in and saves him.
Expect the finish here to be brutal, and for Azuma to take a lot of punishment before the stoppage.
The bad news?
This will be tucked away on Boxing Raise, which we know not everyone has, and it's a shame Azuma hasn't managed to get a win following his loss to Kimura last year, in fact it seems like the lads from the Suruga Danji gym are picking on him a little bit. Despite that there is a lot to like here, and we're looking forward to Yukawa in the ring after all these years and.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.