Way back in March 2019 we had a genuinely excellent card from Shanghai, with several really good bouts. Earlier in the series we spoke about the sensational bout between Baishanbo Nasiyiwula and Yusuke Konno and today we look at another stellar bout on that card, which again saw China and Japan clash. Like that clash this was a nail biting bout, but yet a very different one, featuring a prospect taking on a fighter who would end the year in a world title fight.
Wulan Tuolehazi (10-3-1, 5) vs Ryota Yamauchi (4-0, 4)
Chinese fighter Wulan Tuolehazi is someone we have mentioned before in this series, for his fun bout with Ardin Diale, and is best known for his 2019 bout with Kosei Tanaka. At world level Tuolehazi was exposed, big time, by Tanaka, but on the regional level he was very much in the mix and had scored notable wins in 2018 over Kwanthai Sithmorseng and Jayr Raquinel. Although not the quickest, or the most powerful, Tuolehazi is well regarded as an awkward, rangy boxer, with a good boxing brain, and enough power to get respect of opponents. He's probably not going to be winning a world title, but we expect to see him banging on the door of another title fight in the years to come.
Japanese prospect Ryota Yamauchi has looked sensational through his first 4 bouts. He was beginning to look like one of the countries rising prospects, and had already stopped the likes of Lester Abutan and Yota Hori in his first 4 bouts. He looked a bit crude and wild, but very strong, quick, powerful and big. He had shown touches of real brilliance and it was clear that Kadoebi, his promoter, thought very highly of him, highly enough to put him in this bout this early. The bout wasn't just a step up in terms of competition, but also his first international bout and his first 12 rounder. Given that prior to this bout Yamauchi had fought just 14 total rounds prior to this contest it was clearly a big risk for the 24 year old hopeful.
The bout started quickly with Yamauchi looking to set the tempo behind his jab, and it seemed like his speed and busy jab was going to be a key factor in the fight. He was forcing Tuolehazi back with it and using it to set up his right hand. Tuolehazi would begin to respond may way through the round and then we saw the two men mixing up shots in a brilliant back and forth. The action was technical, but incredibly high tempo and absolutely thrilling throughout the first 3 minutes.
We typically see feeling out rounds, but that wasn't the case here, and they would never really look backwards, with the action continuing to be hot, and the drama increasing round by round.
In round 3 we saw the first knockdown of the fight, and a major momentum shift as Tuolehazi's right hand dropped Yamauchi, putting the Japanese fighter down for the first time in his career. Even before the knockdown Tuolehazi seemingly found something that he could land, regularly, on the young, and in fact Yamauchi seemed to have no answer or defense to the shot, that regularly from the Chinese fighter.
Yamauchi would later drop the local, and would go on to turn the fight from from boxing into a brawl, as he mixed up his tactics and tried to keep the bout out of the hands of the judges.
The bout, which had started with a brilliant opening round, remained a fantastic bout, right upto the end. It was action packed, dramatic, saw both men needing to show heart, and swung back and forth. If you missed this first time around, sit back and enjoy one of the real hidden gems of 2019.
With so many bouts being cancelled, and vanishing from schedules, we have again had a problem with this series. Originally we had planned to cover Bektemir Melikuziev's bout on a DAZN. That bout, and card, was cancelled last week and as a result we turn out attention to Japan for a much smaller profile bout from Tokyo.
The One to Watch?
Kosuke Tomioka (2-0, 2) vs Shota Hara (2-2-1)
August 31st (Monday)
Firstly lets just begin by not talking explicitly about the fighters but about boxing in a more general sense. This is a bout which will be streamed for free on the A-Sign Boxing Youtube channel. With that in mind we have two reasons to tune in before we even talk about the fighters. This is free, and we all love free, and it helps support a small promoter, and that is something we should all be getting behind right now in these difficult times as boxing fans.
With those reasons out of the way this is a Rookie of the Year bout featuring one of the hottest young talents in Japan and someone who has started to get a lot of buzz, despite only being 2-0 and 18 years old. On paper it's another step forward for him, whilst his opponent has never been stopped and will be coming to win. This should be a great test, and will give fans a chance to dip their toes into the whole Rookie of the Year thing.
Aged 18 Kosuke Tomioka is regarded as one of the best teenagers in Japan. He's explosive, skilled, slick, exciting and, unlike many Japanese fighters, is happy to show boat and entertain. The talented youngster ticks boxes in terms of talent and entertainment and we expect to see him reaching the later stages of the tournament without too much bother.
Although Tomioka didn't manage to make a splash in the higher ranks of the amateurs, which is generally a sign of a real talent, it does need noting that he turned professional at 16 and made his professional debut just weeks after his 17th birthday. Just to add to that he was a very, very good amateur at the Under Junior and Under 15 levels, winning 6 titles in those age groups.
Aged 25 Shota Hara isn't tipped for anything big but is also no push over. Unlike Tomioka he's a man and he has seen his body fill up, and he's moved from Flyweight, tested the water at Bantamweight and is now competing in Rookie of the Year at Super Flyweight. Despite his record entering the bout he's certainly not an easy out at this level and is a capable fighter with a counter punching style and a very nice left hook.
Defensively Hara isn't the best, but he does land nice counters, can box and will look to make Tomioka pay for any mistakes he makes. He will not be there to make up the numbers.
What to expect?
We expect Tomioka to box and move, it's something he does and looks so natural doing. Despite his talent we suspect he'll need to stay sharp and keep his focus as Hara does like to soak up pressure and counter well.
We suspect that Hara knows he is the slower man, the less technically capable fighter, and the less flashy fighter. He is however the man, the more mature fighter, and the one who will look to hug, hold, push and pull Tomioka. If he can use his man strength in the clinch and counter Tomioka clean he does have a chance at scoring the upset here.
It is however a big "if" as we suspect that Hara will be struggling with the skills and speed of Tomioka, who will show what he can do, out boxing the older man at range, landing sneaky body shots up close, and keep things at a safe distance, for the most part.
Whilst we aren't expecting a war or a thrilling back and forth battle here, we are expecting fans to become aware of just how good the 18 year old Tomioka is.
The bad news?
We know some people aren't interested in Rookie bouts, and it's a shame as many of them are entertaining, well matched, exciting and lay down the early frame work for some excellent fighters. This is a Rookie bout, and one we really do think is a good chance for fans to get a feel for what they are about. This going to be fun, it's a chance to see a man that many in Japan are tipping as one of the country's future stars and it should feature plenty of exciting flashes of 2-way action.
Every so often a bout we expect absolutely nothing from massively over delivers and gives us something very special. Today we get to look at one such bout from the opening series of bouts from the Hajime No Ippo 30 Anniversary tournament, which took place in November 2019. The bout appeared to promise little but gave us an action thriller.
Shingo Kusano (11-8-1, 4) vs Qiang Ma (5-1-2, 3)
In one corner was tournament outsider Shingo Kusano, a Japanese southpaw who had lost his previous 4 bouts and looked like he was there to make up the numbers. He had been badly struggling for form and was more than 3 years removed from his last victory. Aged 30 it was essentially now or never for Kusano who had been a professional for over 8 years and had achieved very little since reaching the 2013 All Japan Rookie of the Year final.
At 23 years old Qiang Ma was seen as a tournament wild card. He had lost his debut in 2017 but had then gone unbeaten in 7 fights and had stopped 3 of his last 4. Although no world beater he seemed to have momentum on his side and would have been seeing the tournament as his chance to put his name on the boxing map and prove he was more than just a Chinese domestic level fighter. This was his international debut, and his chance to shine.
The fight started with both men feeling their way into the action and then Ma came alive, and went on the front foot. Although the first few forays forward didn't result in much success for Ma he did manage to drop Kusano. Although Kusano didn't look hurt from the knockdown Ma went for the finish and dropped Kusano for the second time just moments later. Kusano recovered to his feet but Ma could smell blood and had Kusano reeling all over the place soon afterwards. To his credit Kusano recovered his senses.
From there on the battle became a real test. Ma was looking to repeat his first round success whilst Kusano was looking to rely on his experience and ring craft to turn the tables on the Chinese youngster.
This is a dramatic and exciting bout, youthful energy against experience.
Whilst not a fight of the year contender it certainly worthy of a watch.
As mentioned yesterday we've got two "Ones to Watch" this week, and here is the second of those bouts. This one takes places of the weekend and is expected to be made available to watch live on Boxing Raise. It's a match up that might not look amazing on paper but it should be a very interesting one and is a meaningful bout on the domestic stage
The One to Watch?
Daisuke Watanabe (10-4-2, 6) vs Shingo Kusano (13-8-1, 5)
August 22nd (Saturday)
We absolutely love tournaments and on Saturday we see the end of the Hajime No Ippo 30th Anniversary Featherweight tournament that began last November. The tournament, a 7 man competition, was supposed to finish back in May but due to the global situation was pushed back until August 22nd. The finalists are certainly not the two men we expected to see, and the tournament has legitimately been full of upsets, but we're here now with a bout between Daisuke Watanabe and Shingo Kusano.
The 29 year old Daisuke Watanabe is a man who has had a very odd career. His results are inconsistent, but he's been matched very tough pretty much from the off, leading to him sporting a 6-4 (3) record after 10 bouts. Despite his record he is much, much better than those numbers suggest and those results are, at least in part, down to the tough competition he's faced so far, including Sho Nakazawa, Gakuya Furuhashi, Reiya Abe, Toshiki Shimomachi, Dai Iwai and Richard Pumicpic. He's reached the final thanks to a semi-final victory over Richard Pumicpic and will almost certainly know a win here gets him right in the mix for a domestic title fight.
Defensively Watanabe has got work to do, he can be hit, he can be caught clean and he's not got an iron chin, having been stopped twice. He's also offensive, presses forward and can be countered. He is however not the type of fight you want to stand in front of too long, given his powerful right hand.
Aged 31 this could end up being the last bout of note for Shingo Kusano, who has been a professional since 2011 and has certainly had some mixed results himself. Prior to the tournament he had lost 4 in a row, and was without a win in over 3 years. His career looked over. The tournament has however seen that all change, thanks to a 5th round TKO win over Qiang Ma and a big upset over Jae Woo Lee in the semi-final. Although somewhat chinny he appears to be determined to make this tournament his and with two upsets already in the tournament it looks like he know it's win or bust for his career.
Kusano's style is that of a relaxed counter puncher. He looks to create range and land his southpaw left hands at range, backing off a lot and looking to make opponents over-reach and leave themselves open. He lacks lights out power, but is gritty, determined, and surprisingly swift for a 31 year old.
What to expect?
Neither of these men are high intensity fighters, however given he dynamic and styles of the two men this has the potential to be a compelling match up from the off.
Watanabe is a come forward boxer-puncher. He's got solid bang in his shots, looks to set things up at range. He counters nicely with his straight right hand, but often throws it in a looping fashion. His jab, whilst crisp, is often under-utilised, and whilst that can be a problem we don't see it playing into this fight too much.
Kusano is a southpaw who backs up a lot, almost invites pressure, and looks to counter on the back foot. That's a style that should gel well with Watanabe's come forward boxing, and should see both men finding a nice range to work at. Kusano style of creating range and boxing at distance could end up suiting Watanabe a bit too well and allow Watanabe to shoot off his heavy right hand regularly.
Unsurprisingly we expect to see Watanabe coming forward and Kusano back off, with Kusano trying to draw leads from Watanabe and counter them. This could work well for him, given Watanabe's loopier shots, or could end up going very badly for Kusano, given the power that Watanabe has.
This could be tactical, interesting, and although not a thrill a minute fight there could be real drama in any exchanges the two men have.
The bad news?
The only real bad news here is that we've waited so long for the bout. It was, as mentioned, supposed to be in May but got pushed back. We wonder if either man is up for it like they would have been had it been held in May, as scheduled. Also for those not subscribed to Boxing Raise this will, sadly, be one you miss out on.
This week we've decided to do two different "Ones to Watch", in part due to the fact so many we've wanted to cover in this series recent being cancelled. So for the first of this weeks "Ones to Watch" we focus on the mid-week Kadoebi show, which will give us a WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title in the main event, but an even more interesting looking support bout at Lightweight.
As a result of that, and the fact it's a mid-week bout, this is a day earlier than usual, but the second of the two "Ones of To Watch" this week will be up tomorrow as a result!
The One to Watch?
Yuichiro Kasuya (13-2-2, 4) vs Masanori Rikiishi (7-1, 4)
August 19th (Wednesday)
The men involved in this one both have something in the "L" column on their records, but that barely matters in Japan where unbeaten records are less important. What is key is this is a bout we expect to be very interesting and competitive. Both of these men can box, both are looking to go places and, on paper, it's a very evenly matched bout. It pits a light punching boxer mover against a heavy hitting boxer-puncher, which can provide an interesting in-ring dynamic. The bout should be a highly skilled affair, and the winner will almost certainly find themselves on the verge of a regional or domestic title bout. This is a compelling match up despite the fact neither man is well known outside of Japan.
The talented but light punching Yuichiro Kasuya is a Kadoebi promoted fighter who is in the top 10 of the JBC, OPBF and the WBO Asia Pacific rankings. He's a talented but frustrating fighter who promised a lot as a teenager but has failed to build on that promise in the way we, and others, had expected. At just 23 years old however time is still on his side. He came to our attention way back in 2014, when he won the All Japan Rookie of the Year, aged 18, but since then has gone 7-2-2 (3) and spent a full year out of the ring.
Masanori Rikiishi proved himself as a talented amateur, running up a 25-5 (15) record in the unpaid ranks, before turning professional in 2017. He would win his first two bouts but would then come up short against Kosuke Saka in 2018, in what was a case of trying to bite off too much too soon. Since then he has scored 6 wins, including a very good one last time out against Freddy Fonseca. Interestingly he's the younger brother of Japanese national Light Flyweight champion Masamichi Yabuki and at 26 years old he is tipped for big things on the Japanese and regional scene, following in the footsteps of his brother. He's a big big fighter at the weight and although not as destructive as Yabuki he is very much a talented boxer-puncher, as shown by his rankings with the OPBF and JBC and his performances against the likes of Fonseca.
What to expect?
On paper this looks really interesting and could end up being either a brilliant match up between two well matched fighters, as it looks on paper, or a frustrating mess of a fight.
We expect Kasuya to to try and keep the bout at range, he will move and box and try to stay safe, whilst using his jab to rack up points. It's something we've seen from him in the past and something that did lead to his early career success. In recent bouts he's shown more willingness to sit on his shots, and has stopped 3 of his last 5, but when he's stepped up to domestically ranked fighters he struggled and we expect to see him show a lot of respect to Rikiishi's power.
With Rikiishi we have a more aggressive boxer-puncher who can damage opponents, hit them hard and can also box to a game plan. For our money he's physically the stronger guy, as well as the bigger puncher here. He might be giving away a little bit in height and reach but his southpaw stance will help neutralise the jab of Kasuya, and he will look to land the hard shots, whilst pressing with intelligent pressure from center ring.
We see Kasuya starting well, but after a few rounds the power difference will prove to be a difference maker with Kasuya being backed up, holding, spoiling, and struggling to maintain his offense. In the end his good start will mean something, but not enough with Rikiishi taking a narrow decision.
The bad news?
This looks interesting but as mentioned it could become a frustrating mess. If Kasuya tastes the power of Rikiiishi and doesn't like it we could see him holding a lot, and spoiling. We hope that doesn't happen but it could. Also the southpaw-orthodox dynamic could result in headclashes and some really ugly moments. Hopefully we avoid those however and get a really engaging tactical bout at mid-range.
We love watching Rookie of the Year bouts due to how intense they can be, how hungry the fighters involved can be and how much both men want to prove themselves. It's rare that we we see young and hungry fighters matched against each other in the West. More often we mismatches with one fighter heading in as the clear favourite and the other there to pad the other guy's record. In the Rookie of the Year that doesn't happen. Today we look at great 2019 Rookie of the Year bout as continue to thrust our arm into the 2019 Treasure Trove.
Jin Sasaki (6-0, 5) Vs Tetsuya Kondo (4-1, 3)
In one corner was 18 year old hopeful Jin Sasaki, an unbeaten fighter who had looked really impressive and exciting since making his debut in August 2018. He was still young, a bit raw around the edges but looked powerful, heavy handed and really exciting. He was showing real signs of promise and had proven that whilst he was heavy handed he could box a big, as we had seen in his previous bout against Hikaru Sato. Whilst he looked like he was lacking experience, and his amateur experience really wasn't much at all, there was a feeling that he was a natural for the pros with his physicality being highly impressive for such a youngster.
Tetsuya Kondo on the other hand was a 22 year old who had lost a close decision on debut, to Taichi Koide, but had bounced back well with 4 straight wins to get his career on track. Despite his winning run he had, for whatever reason, been out of the ring for 13 months coming in to this bout, and had lost much of the momentum his winning run had built. Like Sasaki he was aggressive, had a fun to watch style, and and lacked the polish of a solid amateur. Saying that however he had shown some nice defensive touches against Ryugo Yanagibori in 2018.
Going into this bout, which was an East Japan Rookie of the Year semi-final bout at Lightweight, we knew we had two men who liked to be aggressive, like to fight, and could put on fun action. What we weren't quite expecting was the action we got.
Within about 30 seconds we were seeing exchanges, with Kondo sticking his jab in Sasaki's face and Sasaki pressing the action. Kondo was use smart footwork and land combinations before getting out of range a the tempo quickly increased. The styles were giving us some brilliant back and forth in the second minute of the bout. The exciting exchanges made it seem clear this wasn't going to last long, and Kondo was dropped with about 40 seconds left. He beat the count and the action resumed.
We won't ruin what happens, as the bout didn't last too much longer, but this was intense, exciting, and a lot of fun. The sort of bout that we love featuring in this Treasure Trove series.
Looking for a short fight to watch this week? You could do a lot worse than this one!
This coming weekend is a packed one with action, as boxing continues to build it's momentum and slowly returns to something resembling normal. With that in mind we had a few options for this week's "One to Watch", however we did go with the obvious on from the US on Saturday night! It's the obvious choice but it's a good choice as the one to make sure you watch this week!
The One to Watch?
Israil Madrimov (5-0, 5) vs Eric Walker (20-2, 9)
August 15th (Saturday)
There are a few reasons to be really excited about this contest. Not only does the bout feature one of the sports most exciting rising hopefuls but it's also a world title eliminator and a chance to see questions asked of a man many are tipping for the top. The bout will also, potentially, see the fast tracked hopeful needing to show what he can do against a durable and world ranked foe.
Unbeaten Uzbek fighter Israil Madrimov is widely regarded as a nailed on future world champion. The talented Uzbek was a stand out amateur who turned professional in 2018, fighting in a 10 rounder straight away, and since then has marched up the rankings towards a world title shot. So far he has stopped all 5 of his opponents and barely lost a round so far. His total professional career has lasted just 25 rounds and he already been linked to world title fights.
Blessed with freakish power, speed and athleticism Madrimov is one of the most young fighters in the sport, and the 25 year old looks ready for big things. There are however questions for Madrimov to answer still, such as questions regarding his chin, his stamina and his ability to move to plan B when he can't hurt an opponent. Given what he did as an amateur however we think he'll answer those questions with ease, when he's finally asked them.
Eric Walker on the other hand is a 37 year old American veteran who has been a professional since late 2013. Despite turn professional late, at the age of 30, he has managed to carve out a solid career. He won his first 15 bouts, including an upset over Christopher Pearson, before losing a competitive decision to Patrick Day. Walker bounced back from that loss and competed in "The Contender" where he beat John Jackson and John Thompson before losing a razor thin decision to Brandon Adams in the semi-final of "The Contender". Since then he has reeled off 3 straight wins and moved himself in to the WBA rankings.
Coming in to this Madrimov is ranked #2 by the WBA whilst Walker is ranked #6.
What to expect?
We genuinely expect to see Madrimov make a statement here and look to not just win but to look amazing on route to his victory. Walker will however look to play his part and come in to the bout seeking an upset.
Although not the most naturally gifted fighter on there Walker is a deceptive quick and sharp fighter. He's clumsy, and awkward at times, but strong, tough and has under-rated power, with shots coming from some unorthodox angles. He could ask questions of Madrimov early on with those odd shots, but we suspect that by round 4 or 5 he'll be getting used as target practice and be broken down.
Walker is tough, he's never been stopped and went to war later on in his win over Christopher Pearson. Sadly for him however that toughness will see him prolonging his punishment from Madrimov, and getting badly beaten up the longer the bout goes.
We expect Madrimov to show some patience, take a round or two to see what Walker has to offer, then begin to go to town.
The bad news?
Whilst this will be a world title eliminator it's unclear when the winner will get a shot at a world title. The WBA Light Middleweight champion is over on PBC and if Madrimov wins, as expected we could end up waiting a while to see him getting a shot. Alternatively we could end up with the WBA playing silly buggers and creating a "new title" to keep things ticking over. Sadly until the WBA sort out the mess they keep creating any WBA "eliminator" will be seen as a bit of a joke.
This past week saw something happen that has worried me about boxing in Japan, where they have a very rigid gym system in place to manage and train fighters.
Boxing gyms around the world might generally look the same but they are different in certain regions. In most countries the training facility and the promoter are very different things. In Japan however they are very much interlinked. A fighter is generally promoted by their gym, and will train there along with other fighters from the same stable. In, say, the US or UK, different promoters will work with different fighters from various gym. Some fighters within a UK or US gym might fight for promoter A, some for promoter B and some for promoter C. That's not the case, at all, in Japan.
Just to give some examples, when we talk about the Ohashi Gym, the Watanabe Gym and the Teiken Gym, the fighters train there and are promoted by Mr Ohashi, Mr Watanabe and Mr Honda respectively.
In Japan promoters typically work together to put on shows, and fighters from different promotions will be on shows put on by different promotions. The promoter of the event will typically make up a large portion of a show, with up to 50% of the fighters involved coming from one gym. A gym can't be responsible for all the fighters on a card as they aren't allowed to match two of it's fighters against each other, hence the need to work together.
With that said when an issue affects a gym, it can have notable knock on consequences. For example when Kyoei shut it's doors last year it left two fighters stranded and needed a new licensed gym to accept them just weeks before the Rookie of the Year final. Thankfully they were both able to sign temporary deals at the Hanagata gym, but there was a chance that they would have missed out on the Rookie of the Year due to the issue with Kyoei.
I'm saying all this as I think it really needs to be made very clear before I talk about the subject I'm about to touch on, just how big of an issue the current "on going situation" is to the Japanese gym system. I've simplified it a lot here, but overall the concept is pretty much as described. A gym is essentially a promoter, a gym needs to work with other gyms to make bouts, and the gym that is promoting and event will typically make up the vast majority of bouts on a card with their fighters.
On Friday news broke that Jorge Linares (47-5, 29) had had a PCR tests that resulted in a positive result. This was huge news to the international boxing community as Linares was scheduled to fight at the end of August against Javier Fortuna (35-2-1-2, 24) in the main event of a DAZN show.
Much of the international focus was on Linares, the big name fighter and the one who is known to international audiences. What wasn't really mentioned was the bigger implications of the positive test. Almost all of the attention was on the Fortuna bout, and whether Linares was going to be able to fight at the end of the month.
The more interesting thing for me however is the implication this has on boxing in Japan, more specifically the Teiken Gym, which is currently closed and will remain closed until it's given the green light to re-open from a local body It's not clear when that will be.
It should be noted that Linares himself is asymptomatic. He had no issues at all, none of the tell tale signs, like fever, headache or loss of taste and smell. It was a test that he had to take due to Californian regulations, with California being where the bout against Fortuna was set to take place. It wasn't a test he requested to check his health. We need to make that clear. He had no obvious symptoms.
Just hours after the news that Teiken, the most prestigious boxing gym in Japan, had been forced to close their doors for the foreseeable future, we saw the first bout featuring one of their fighters being cancelled. Whilst that was a low key bout, between their fighter Munetaka Kihara (3-2-1, 1) and the debuting Reiji Kodama (0-0), from the Misako Gym, it's unlikely to be the only bout cancelled due to the Teiken gym issues.
Notably, at the time of writing, Teiken have a show set for September 5th at Korakuen Hall, which will be televised as part of the Dynamic Glove series on G+. The show was set to be the first live televised show in Japan since boxing resumed and it was set to feature Teiken fighters in 5 of the 6 bouts. If the gym is closed for the next week or so those bouts will almost certainly be cancelled and the show will be off as the 5 Teiken fighters involved would have missed a week of training, this close to the event.
I've not been given a full list of bouts scheduled for Teiken fighters, though we are aware that Daiki Funayama (11-3-1, 4) is pencilled in to fight Kimihiro Nakagawa (7-4-2, 3) in Shizuoka on September 27th. If the gym is closed for the next week or so we could end up with not just the September 5th show being cancelled but this late September bout as well.
Whilst there is no blame to give to anyone, and this is just "one of those things" it's not the first time we've seen "one of these things" since boxing returned to Japan. We also saw the Osakan boxing gym cluster as well, which affected Mutoh gym fighters and forced a number of bouts to be cancelled. It's an issue that is likely to get worse before it gets better and with boxing returning to Japan we would assume more and more gyms will have issues like this. It's inevitable, especially given the fact so many people people are asymptomatic, that this won't be the last gym needing to be closed in Japan.
Precautions can be taken, and have been taken, but there will continue to be a risk of a fighting taking the virus into a gym and essentially forcing it to shut down. How do we stop this from being a problem? I really don't know.
We can't exactly expect fighters to stop sparring, that would be ridiculous and in Linares' he had been sparring with a number of Teiken fighters, including Kenji Fujita (0-0), Mikito Nakano (4-0, 4) and Gonte Lee (2-0-1, 1), all of whom would have developed immensely from ring time with him.
We also can't expect fighters to stop training indefinitely, or to spar with masks or train at home all the time, that just won't work, and is impossible for most fighters as very few will have private gyms.
The two extremes are that we shut boxing down completely in Japan, something that would stop the spread within the boxing community, and essentially kill the sport. Or alternatively we let it rip through the gyms, on the idea that the fighters are healthy and will fight it off.
They are the two extremes, and they are both stupid ideas. Almost as stupid as forcing gyms to essentially act like bubbles, keeping trainees, staff and the like in their own bubbles for weeks before an event.
What has been implemented in Japan is that fighters will be tested 3 weeks before a fight and a day before a fight. In theory that has worked pretty well, but hasn't been flawless and didn't prevent the situation in Osaka. The issue is, as mentioned, the asymptomatic carriers. Someone may not have any idea they are taking it to the gym,and may have no idea who they are passing it to, or even who they picked it up from.
The truth is it's taken minds far, far better than mine to get to where they are now, which, for the most part, has worked. It can still be improved, things can still be done to limit the spread, and make boxing gyms safer.
We're not going to see a big change to the whole Japanese gym system because of the current situation, and we would hate for that to even be considered. Saying that however improvements need to be taken in the planning of events before we begin to see big shows cancelled on a regular basis. That's not because one fighter is ill, but because half of the card belong to a gym that has had to be closed.
The only solution I can think of, for the short term at least, is that each show needs a bigger mix of gyms involved, meaning if a gym is closed we still end up with more than half of the planned bouts.
This is completely possible, but a frustrating and somewhat arduous task for a match maker putting a card together. It would also likely be more expensive and further limit just how much cross gym training fighters can do. For the short term however it might be something that will be needed to keep the system ticking over.
We need to make it clear. Single cases are not going to be a major problem in Japanese boxing. A fighter being ill isn't the issue. It's the gyms needing to be closed that will be a problem, and the possibility for a closed gym to cancel full shows. In some countries a fighter being ill will mean their bout is off, in Japan a fighter being ill can close a gym and result in bouts on various shows being cancelled, and shows themselves being cancelled.
One of the biggest strengths of Japanese boxing is the gym system, but right now, it's close to becoming one of it's biggest, and most troubling, weaknesses, and that is a massive concern for me.
After a couple of world title fights in this series recently we move down a level to a regional title fight, but give you one of, if not the, most dramatic fight of 2019, and a fight that if you missed it you really need to give it a watch now! This isn't just an Asian treat, but is a boxing treat, of the very, very highest level. We had drama, action, knockdowns, oh boy did we have a lot of knockdowns, and momentum shifts all over the place. Here we have one of the very, very best fights of the year!
Yuki Beppu (20-1-1, 19) vs Ryota Yada (19-5, 16)
The once beaten Yuki Beppu had won the 2014 All Japan Rookie of the Year and had ran off 14 straight stoppages to start his career. His stoppage run came to an end in 2017, when he fought to a draw with Charles Bellamy. He reeled off 4 more stoppage wins before losing in late 2018 to Yuki Nagano, in a Japanese title eliminator. In early 2019 Beppu scored his first decision win, out pointing Jason Egera, following his loss to Nagano and began to move towards this fight with Yada for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific Weltweight title. Although unknown outside of Japan Yada is a very heavy handed boxer-puncher. He's small for a Welterweight, but powerful, composed and a very dangerous fighter, who proved his boxing ability with his performance against Bellamy.
Earlier in this series we featured Ryota Yada's loss to Yuki Nagano, a bout that came about following Nagano's win in 2018 over Beppu, which had seen Yada lose the Japanese Welterweight title. Yada had bounced back from the loss to Nagano with a confidence building win over Robert Kopa which had helped prepare him for this bout with Beppu. Although Yada had 5 losses on his record he had started his career 3-3 and then rebuild, going 16-2, with his losses coming to Yuki Nagano and Jayar Inson. Although not the best fighter out there Yada is heavy handed, aggressive, and a pretty well rounded boxer-puncher, with a gritty toughness. He'd shown that he could run be stopped, with both Inson and Nagano taking him out, but it was going to take a fair bit to take him out.
Fans who had seen the two emerging through the ranks it was obvious this had the potential to be an excellent bout, though few would have expected it to be anywhere near as good as we got. We knew both could punch, we knew both could fight, but we didn't know they would give us the treat that we got, or give so much in their attempts to claim the WBO Asia Pacific Welterweight.
Unlike many bouts, which have a feeling out round, this was a war early on. Within 30 seconds Yada was rocked, and badly shaken as Beppu went on the hunt. To his credit Yada saw put the first wave of Beppu's offense, but was shaken again soon afterwards. It looked like we were going to get a very short fight but to his credit Yada regrouped and started to force Beppu backwards.
In round 2 we again saw Beppu's power striking early and he seemed on the verge of a stoppage as he wailed away on Yada, as he was stuck on the ropes. Yada again saw out the storm, but continued to be under pressure and was wobbled badly with over a minute of the round left. Yada got dropped to the canvas with his legs seemingly gone and would soon be dropped legitimately as Beppu hunted the early finish. He was all over the place as he tried to hold on we went to the bell.
From there on it was Yada who began to finally find himself in the bout, and he began to find Beppu, dropping him numerous times as the bout swung in his favour. Beppu would be yoyo'd to the ring numerous times, but his heart and fighting spirit kicked in, as we ended up seeing numerous knockdowns, heart and desire from both, intense exchanges, and a sense that the bout could swing on a single shot.
This was amazing. This was brutal. This was special. Sit down, grab a beer and enjoy a bout that will long live on as the best WBO Asia Pacific title bout!
One thing was don't see enough of is great all-Korean bouts. It seems we could be seeing a change that in the near future, and we have had one or two in the last few years, but they are still rather rare. Thankfully this weekend we get actually get two, one of which is my pick for this week's "One to Watch".
The One to Watch?
Jong Seon Kang (10-0-2, 6) vs Seong Yeong Yang (8-2-5, 4)
August 8th (Saturday)
We love action bouts and given the fighters involved in this one we are expecting nothing short of a thrill a minute, full on war with incredible action, intense exchanges, limited defense and amazing wills to win. This isn't likely to be a bout for a purist, but for those who want a rock em sock robots style fight this should be ideal. The men both like to let their hands, both men are flawed, and both know how to put on a show!
Aged just 18 Jong Seon Kang is one of the countries brightest hopes, and is already a multi-year professional, having debuted back in November 2017. Although not a big name Kang really impressed us last year when he fought 5 times, going 3-0-2 (2). Whilst his bouts weren't at the highest level he certainly wasn't just beating limited opponents, in fact he managed to upset Ravshanbek Shermatov, travelled to China and beat Qixiu Zhang, and then defeated Tomjune Mangubat in an absolute thriller in Vietnam. He's tough, gutsy, throws a lot of leather and in his win over Mangubat was a genuinely sensational bout that showed he determination and saw him climb off the to earn the win.
It's fair to say that the 24 year old Seong Yeong Yang has a weird looking record, with 5 draws from 15 bouts however don't let that fool you into thinking he's not a good fighter. In fact he's become a very good fighter after a really weird 2-4-2 start this his professional career, and he's now unbeaten in 11 bouts. As with Kang his competition hasn't been amazing, but he's shown an incredible work, amazing engine, guts and drive. His most notable result is his 2019 draw in China against Jian Wang. That bout, like Kang's against Mangubat, was just an exceptional, all out, free swinging, intense war. Defense wasn't something either man wanted to show us, and we weren't complaining!
What to expect?
Given that both fighters are limited, action fighters who have high work rates, limited defense, throw in high volume without massive amounts of power we're going to tell you all to expect something special. Really special. From the opening round we expect to see a lot of leather thrown.
Of the two Kang is probably the more technical, but he's certainly not a technical fighter in a traditional sense. Kang is probably the higher volume guy, but not by a significant amount. We would expect Kang to be more willing to move, look for angles and space, but be willingly dragged into a tear up. That will give us some exciting exchanges early on, but as the fight goes on, and the foot work slows, we expect to see more toe-to-toe exchanges in what will, potentially, be a FOTY contender.
It might seem hyperbolic but this bout has the potential to be something truly amazing. We know it's going to be relatively low level, but that doesn't matter too much here, it's going to be entertaining and that's why it's this weeks one to watch!
The bad news?
At the time of writing it's unclear if the bout will be aired live, however it's a Cocky Buffalo show under the auspices of the KBA so at the very least we know it's going to be made available online after the bout. We might need to wait to watch it, but the wait will be worth it!
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.