It’s fair to say that boxing action to begin 2021 is relatively limited and there are very, very few shows scheduled for the next few weeks. We hope that changes in February and March but for now it seems clear that the sport, as we know it and love it, is still pretty much hamstrung by the ongoing global issues that are affecting pretty much everyone on the planet right now. Despite that we are still getting some interesting bouts and today we’re going to take a quick look at one we think you should pay attention to, especially if you’re an active subscriber to Boxing Raise.
The One to Watch?
Shu Utsuki (7-0, 6) vs Masashi Wakita (10-10-2, 5)
January 22nd (Friday)
We’ll start by being honest, we do not think this is going to be a competitive bout, however it should be a showcase for one of the most exciting Japanese Lightweights, and the man he’s up against an experienced fighter himself, who can make things awkward. More than anything the focus here is on an unbeaten, heavy handed, and exciting prospect who is looking to score a 6th straight stoppage win and continue their climb towards their first title fight, which may well come later this year, or very early next year.
The 26 year old Shu Utsuki is one of the most promising fighters at the long established Watanabe Gym, though he’s also a man who has struggled to land big fights and to get notable opponents in the ring, which has sadly slowed his rise through the ranks. In the ring he’s aggressive, very heavy handed, well schooled and a natural boxer-puncher. Before turning professional he had a strong amateur background with over 80 amateur wins and more than 100 amateur bouts, and that amateur pedigree is shown pretty much any time he’s in the ring.
Although not as accomplished as stablemate Hironori Mishiro we would day suggest that Utsuki is the spiritual successor at the Watanabe Gym to former world champion Takashi Uchiyama. Like Uchiyama he’s a dynamite boxer puncher, with a strong amateur pedigree and the potential to make big waves, if, or when, he gets the chance to shine.
In the other corner to Utsuki will be 24 year old Masashi Wakita a “win some, lose some” type of fighter who’s a tall, rangy fighter at 135lbs, but also a fighter who can struggle to get going at times, is relatively inconsistent and does keep picking up early losses. On paper it’s easy to write him off following 10 defeats, 6 by stoppage, but Wakita isn’t as bad as his record suggests and on his day he can give fits to fighters with his size and awkward southpaw stance, as we’ve seen against Fumisuke Kimura and Kanta Takenaka.
With his size, his stance and his experience Wakita can be a problem for fighters. Though in recent years he has been taking punishment and has, sadly, been stopped in 5 of his last 7, with 3 of those losses coming in the first 3 rounds. He tends to give up his height easily when under pressure, and tries to fight fire with fire. In a boxing bout he’s decent, but in a fight he often looks lost and confused.
What to expect?
Although he’s not the best fighter out there Wakita is an honest fighter and he will always give a genuine account of himself. After being stopped by Yoji Saito last year he seemed to be genuinely angry at himself, and we suspect that sort of passionate drive can drag the best out of him. Sadly though we see this as being a match up against someone several levels better than himself. Even the best Wakita imaginable would struggle with the speed, skills and power of Utsuki.
With that in mind we expect to see a relatively quick win from the unbeaten man. The first round or two he may look to feel out Wakita, get used to the taller man, and the southpaw stance of his foe. That will be as much to do with shaking some cobwebs as seeing what Wakita has to offer.
From there on however we expect Utsuki to go into seek and destroy mode, applying educated pressure and stopping his man, potentially as early as late in round 2, but certainly before the end of round 4. Potentially in very, very brutal fashion.
The bad news?
The only real bad news here is that this is pretty much a showcase bout and not a legitimate even matchup where either man could potentially win. However given the lack of recent bouts we’ll happily take a fun mismatch this week, especially given the hot favourite is expected to face much, much bigger tests later this year and this should serve as a warm up for those bigger bouts.
Given the less than stable start to UFC, it has grown to be the market leader in the world of Mixed Martial Arts. Dana White is seen as the man that held the UFC together in the early days when its future was less than secure. White had a dream, or rather a vision, of exactly where he wanted the UFC to be. Guided by this vision, he brought on board the Fertitta brothers who paid $2 million to buy the UFC back in 2001. What has happened since may leave fans astounded by how much the UFC is now worth according to Betway Sports.
A hard days work for a decent days pay
Knowing how much the UFC is currently worth, it would be expected that the fighters are handsomely rewarded for their efforts: after all, it is their blood that spills, and their bones that break. Where White is a media machine, one thing he appears not to be is a fair boss: high profile fighters often leave the UFC over pay disputes. There are claims that fighters have been underpaid for years and many quit to receive better pay elsewhere. Given the worth of UFC, many would expect the fighters to be paid the right pay.
No job is safe despite the valuation
Lack of job security is an unfortunate way of modern life: it is rare to hold down the same job for the whole of your working life. This is the case as the economy can be unstable, companies struggle, and have to let staff go. The UFC, despite it's worth, provides no security for its fighters: with Yoel Romero being the first, there are 60 more jobs to go. White reports that serious cuts are needed, but given the worth of the UFC, the reasons for this are a mystery.
So what is the UFC actually worth?
The Fertitta brothers paid a mere $2 million for the UFC back in 2001. The word 'mere' is used as by 2016, the UFC was valued at a staggering $4 billion. The Fertitta brothers have no doubt had a decent return on investment, so it isn't overly clear where the fighters do not receive a decent wage (although to be fair to the UFC, would around $150,000 per year do for most people?), and why there are at least 60 job cuts on their way.
White and co have constantly battled to keep the UFC on the up and to keep the UFC at the top of the MMA world. This saw them being the last sport to cease before Covid-19 lockdowns, and the first to resume afterward. Why the push to keep the UFC going? Because, the more fights and the more publicity, the higher the value goes, especially when factoring in huge fights such as the one coming up between McGregor and Poirier on January 23rd.
So, to finally get to the point, what is the UFC actually worth? The answer is, we don't know. White has claimed in a recent interview that the UFC is now worth at least $9 billion. With poor pay and job cuts in sight, the value of the UFC has skyrocketed.
One thing about boxing in Korea is the mentality and mind set that many of the fighters have. Without trying to be too dismissive, the quality of skills many fighters in Korea have is quite low, but their heart, desire and energy is through the roof. If hunger, energy and will power were enough to create stars Korean boxing would be one of the best boxing scenes out. Back in January 2020 we had a really intriguing bout in Jeonju being one of the most gutsy youngsters in the country, and a former amateur standout, who bucked the trend, and had skills, rather than just heart. Together they made for something worthy of your time.
Han Bin Suh (5-0-3, 4) vs Dong Myung Shin (2-0)
Heading into this one Han Bin Suh was one of the most exciting men in world boxing. The baby faced youngster was all action. Win or lose you knew Suh was going to throw a lot of leather, get involved in a war up close, and simply try to grind his man down through volume, pressure, tenacity, and fire. That combination of work rate, toughness and desire had seen him win the KBM Super Bantamweight title in April 2019 and make 3 defenses before the year was over.
All 3 of Suh's title bouts had been must watch contests, with the then 19 year old quickly getting a reputation as a boxing steam train. Once he got going, there was no slowing him down.
His third challenger was 31 year old Dong Myung Shin, a former amateur stand out who had debuted in 2018, taking a 6 round decision, had then fought again in early 2019 before have an 11 month break between fights. He had looked very skilled in those two bouts, but they had come at a low level, against opponents he was supposed to beat. Those two bouts showed that whilst he was skilled he lacked power, and couldn't hurt the men he was up against.
Shin was dropping in weight to take on Suh in a bout that looked set to be really intriguing. Maybe not special, but certainly intriguing with aggressive monster taking on skilled mover.
Then we got to the bout and we were treat to something fantastic.
From the off Suh took the center of the ring, and looked to take the initiative early. He was backing Shin up, and Shin had to rely on his excellent boxing skills to neutralise the pressure of the hungry champion. The challenger did that well with some excellent footwork, clean counters and even held his own when the two men exchanged on the inside. It was clear Shin was far, far more skilled than the champion, but this wasn't first time Suh was the less skilled fighter in the ring, and he knew it. He knew his strength wasn't his skill, but his tenacity and work rate, and he tried to drown Shin activity in round 2. Once again however the challenger created space and picked him off, landing the cleaner blows.
Through 2 rounds it was clear that Shin's balance, poise, composure, timing and skills were all fantastic at this level, and he was starting to land clean and heavy blows consistently. That success however was coming at the expense of working really hard. Mentally and physically Shin was being asked a lot of questions, more than he had been asked in his first 2 professional bouts.
More was to come from Suh who seemed to start round 3 with success, his best of the fight up to this point. It suddenly seemed like maybe Suh's pressure youthful energy was getting to the challenger, who was still landing the better shots, but was under pressure for the first half of the round. And then Shin turned it around, and went on the offensive, giving us one of the rounds of the year, as Shin forced Suh backwards and we got 90 seconds of intense, brilliant, action. This was suddenly becoming Suh's type of fight, and was becoming thoroughly engrossing. That same engrossing action continued in round 4, with both men landing some huge shots. It was again Shin that was landing the better shots, but he simply couldn't discourage Suh from trying to march him down, not matter what he landed.
In round 5 it started to look a little bit like the pace had began to get to Shin, who's footwork was starting to slow and he was holding his ground with Suh in a way he hadn't earlier in the bout. But then in the final minute Shin went into a new gear and unloaded huge shots on Suh, just as it seemed Suh was starting to get some momentum.
Although Suh refuses to back off from Shin, and even had some pretty notable success, he seemed to have the play taken away from him by Shin every time he managed to build some success. Despite that Suh wasn't going to give his title up, and round after round he tried to go to war with Shin, giving us some spectacular 2-way action. Sadly for Suh however he was fighting on will alone, and his skills couldn't come close to keeping him competitive with Shin.
By the end of round 7 Suh's nose was bloodied, his will was beginning to be cracked. His usual tactic of "fight, fight, fight" was being neutralised by Shin's amateur experience and know how, his weak defense was being picked apart and he was unable to deal with the subtle things Shin was doing. This was even more obvious in round 8, as Suh struggled to close the space for the first time, Shin using his feet to create space and counter the champion.
Entering round 9 both were bloodied. Suh's nose, Shin's left eye. Both had taken a lot of shots, but neither had ever looked close to being stopped, and neither would be, as their toughness saw them through the final 2 scintillating rounds of action.
For those who like high intensity action, a nice mix of skills, and inside wars this is a must watch. It is up there with the very best battles we saw in Asia in 2020. It was relatively one sided, but thoroughly captivating. Round 3 is one of the most sensational rounds we had in Asia this year. The fight itself was an absolute joy, and from round 1 to round 10 we were treat by the perfect mix of skills, wills, desire and talent. This is the Korean domestic scene as it's best, and this is what happens when we see the desire of a Korean boxer take on someone with skills to use that heart against them.
If you want a war we have a war here!
Back in January 2020 the world was a difference place. We weren't all sat wondering when life would be back to normal, and "Covid19" wasn't even a thing. We were all sat waiting for the year to kick off, there was boxing scheduled for months and, up to this point, the issue seemed very much a Chinese-only issue, affecting Wuhan. Even then the number of people be affected was tiny, and we all assumed we could get on with things, and that whatever was happening there wasn't going to be an issue.
During that window G+ televised a show from Korakuen Hall with a mouth watering main event that we're going to feature as this week's Treasure Trove fight. On paper this one promised a lot, and whilst it may have under-delivered, sligthly, it was still a worthy watch.
Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa (12-4-1, 11) vs Kazuto Takesako (11-0-1, 11)
In one corner was OPBF Middleweight champion Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa, a hard hitting fighter who had taken the title 3 months earlier, when he broke down Koki Tyson in an 8 round war. Aged 35 at this point in time Hosokawa was a gritty fighter, with a solid work rate, a real hunger, and nasty heavy handed. He wasn't a 1-punch KO artist, but his shots were like being mashed by a hammer, over, and over, and over. Not only was he heavy handed, but he was also real tough and had under-rated stamina, often grinding opponents down in the latter stages of fighters.
In the opposite corner was Japanese national champion Kazuto Takesako. He was an explosive, power puncher, who had question marks over his chin, but real dynamite in his hands. He combined that explosive power with decent boxing skills, and a developing boxing brain, as well as physical strength. He was slow, and could be handcuffed, but in a shoot out he had the 1-punch KO power needed to destroy opponents. He wasn't putting his title on the line here, but was desperate to become a double champion and unify the Japanese OPBF titles.
Given the styles of the two men we knew this one could be a barn burner. Both men were heavy handed, both hand a point to prove and both came in looking to impress. Especially given that Hosokawa was risking his title, whilst Takesako's belt was essentially safe, regardless of the result.
From the off Takesako took the center of the ring, trying to force his will on Hosokawa, who looked happy to have space and tried to keep Takesako at range, behind his jab. Takesako made a mistake or two early, but Hosokawa couldn't capitalise on the first one, despite landing some heavy leather later in the round. Soon afterwards Takesako responded, and the two men were both quickly looking to establish that they were the boss. The lead to a full Korakuen Hall roaring with appreciation. They could tell that the two men were looking to hurt each other. Hosokawa looking to set things up and box, Takesako looking to get up close and let big bursts of power shots fly. It was a great opening round.
In round 2 we saw the intensity pick up as Takesako started to turning up the pressure just a touch. This left him in the position to be countered, but also saw him dig in some solid body shots shots, with Hosokawa being forced to respond. This gave us some thrilling exchanges, and it seemed clear that both men believed they had the power to hurt the other. Hosokawa also seemed to realise that up close he needed to spoil and he was often clinching and holding when Takesako got too close. It was messy at times, but utterly enthralling.
The action continued in a similar theme through out. Takesako pressing forward, looking to unleash, and Hosokawa taking shots well, riding them, and then looking to tie up, get some space to work and then box. By the end of round 3 Takesako's face was making up, but it was clear the crowd were well behind him, filling the hall with a chant of his name.
With Hosokawa on the wrong end of some big shots in round 4 he tried to make things messier, holding, spoiling and doing what he could to slow Takesako's charge down. The holding however kept him inside Takesako's range and the challenger hammered him when they were tied up. He was making Hosokawa pay for holding.
Coming out for round 5 Hosokawa seemed to realise he needed to let his hands go, and he did, starting the round faster and letting his shots go up close. It backfired however as Takesako continued to land the better shots, the stiffer blows, the more thudding leather.
Round after round things got rougher. Hosokawa desperately trying to limit Takesako's bursts of heavy shots and neutralise the challenger. Takesako happy to fight in short, effective bursts. It wasn't becoming pretty as they went on, but it was still rough with Hosokawa needing to show his toughness and hope that Takesako's steam was going to run low in the second half of the fight.
Sadly for Hosokawa the engine of Takesako didn't slow down in a notable fashion. When he did slow down he quickly pulled a burst of activity out, buoyed on by an exuberant crowd who seemed firmly on his side. Even when Hosokawa had moments it didn't take long for a response from the challenger, who looked like a man possessed.
It took real toughness for Hosokawa to take some of the bombs he took and keep trying. He really did have to take some hurt flurries to head, and body through out the bout and never looked like a man on the verge of quitting. Even when he was a long way down he gritted his teeth in the hope of getting a chance to change things. A chance that never came, and after 12 rounds he was the clear loser, though surving the distance was a moral victory of sorts here for a man who took real punishment through out.
This isn't a Fight of the Year contender, don't get us wrong, it was too one sided for that and it got ugly in the later stages. But it was a brutal, tough man fight, in front of a super hot crowd, with both men taking some heavy leather. It was a wonderful mix of styles with both men showing grit, determination and true belief that they had what was needed. How both men remained on their feet is a mystery, but that doesn't take away from the fact that this was thrilling action, huge bombs thrown both ways, and both men showing real resolve.
For those wanting a rough fight, in front of a rapturous crowd this is worth 50 minutes of your time, and well worthy of your enjoyment.
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.