One of the great things about this Treasure Trove series, at least for us, is the fact we get to share some really under-seen bouts. Many of those are 4 rounders which are often over-looked yet can often provide some of the most intense, exciting and thrilling action. The 4 rounders we often seen in Japan, China and South Korea are typically well matched bouts, between two men who feel they have the ability to pick up a win, and as a result both come to fight. Unlike in some countries where 4 round bouts are knock over jobs or a case of a youngster getting ring time against someone there just to survive.
With that said we have a thrilling 4 round brawl for this weeks Treasure, and it is a fun one from the 2019 Rookie of the Year!
Yuta Ashina (3-1) vs Shodai Nagata (4-5) II
In early November we got the East Japan Rookie of the Year finals. One of the bouts there was the second clash between the limited Shodai Naata and the once beaten Yuta Ashina.What few would have expected was the war they gave us.
In 2018 the men fought for the first time, with Ashina taking a clear decision over Nagata. The bout wasn't close or competitive, but was a fun little bout that laid the seeds for what we were to get in their rematch.
Sadly following his win over Nagata we didn't see Ashina build on that win and instead he was out of the ring for more than 9 months. When he returned to the ring in, September 2019, he beat Ryuya Seto and helped move towards this match up. At this point in time he was 25 years old, an aggressive, strong and brutish fighter, but one who lacked technical know how and was very much a come forward, brawler, with a focus on pressure, aggression, physical strength and letting his hands go.
Following his loss to Ashina in 2018 we had seen Nagata reel off two wins and he was pretty much fighting for his career at this point, given he was already 32. Despite his record he had shown enough to to be regarded as a live fighter and was in the ring looking to not only avenge his loss to Ashina but also reach the 2019 All Japan Rookie of the Year final. Despite not being much of a puncher Nagata was tough and his style, although crude, was made for fun fights, as we'd seen in his win over Kazuki Ikeye a few weeks earlier. In fact that was actually last week's Treasure Trove bout!
Within seconds of the bout starting Ashina was pressing Nagata, trying to walk him down and get up close. Although Nagata's first instinct was to back off it wasn't long until he began to hold his feet, and when that began to happen we began to see some great back and forth action with both men letting their shots go on the inside. Up close it always seemed like Ashina was the more active and the cleaner, tidier puncher, but Nagata was taking his chances to let his own shows go, and try to counter the pressure of Ashina.
By the end of the first round we were getting a brilliant little low key inside war. It was a round that Ashina took, based on quality and work rate, but Nagata was playing his part in a fantastic opening round.
The second round started much like the first one finished. We again saw Ashina getting up close, and dragging Nagata into his fight, giving us some brilliant and forth inside action. This was a real fun round with both men trying to wear out and break down the other man whilst trading shots. Sadly neither looked like they had the power needed to take the other out with a single shot, but both landed enough to suggest they could chip away at the other and force a stoppage.
The incredible action and tempo continued into round 3 as Nagata tried to pull back the fight, and became the more aggressive of the two. It was this round that saw the best of both men, as they both held their feet more often, letting shots got almost none stop between them. This gave us some intense, and lengthy back and forth exchanges which were brilliant to watch. In the end however Nagata simply couldn't keep pace with the much younger Ashina. Despite that he continued to give everything and play his role in one of the most action packed rounds that we had in the entire of the 2019 Rookie of the Year.
Unsurprisingly, after the first 3 rounds were fought at such a high tempo, the final round saw the pace catch up with both men. Even then, when both looked tired, they continued to fight at a great pace until the later stages when exhaustion became too much for both men and they both began to run on fumes. That was a huge issue for Nagata in the final minute or so, as he had to dig deep and see out some rocky moments.
For fans who like gruelling inside wars, with a lot of leather being thrown and intense, long back and forth stretches this is one of the most well hidden gems of Asian boxing from 2019. A genuine treat of a fight.
For the first time our one to watch will sadly not be shown during the week that the bout takes place, but it's one that we know needs to be on the radar of fight fans, and deserves attention, even if we do need to wait several weeks to see the TV version of the bout. We know this one is going to be a lot of fun, very exciting, and bombs being thrown from both men.
The One to Watch?
Daigo Higa (16-1, 16) vs Seiya Tsutsumi (5-0-1, 4)
October 26th (Monday)-Being televised on November 18th
We all like exciting action right? Well this ticks that box. It will feature one of the most exciting Asian fighters in the sport, who always excites, taking on a man who is looking to announce himself on the professional ranks. It also sees the exciting, more well known professional, looking to earn some revenge for two amateur losses. We have history, we have exciting styles, and we have a potentially amazing bout here!
We suspect anyone reading this will known who Daigo Higa is, but if not, and if this is the first time you've come across his name you can have a lot of fun checking out some of his previous bouts. Stylistically he's very similar to Roman Gonzalez, with smart, pressure boxing, gorgeous combinations, an under-rated defense and vicious power. He's a free flowing, offensive monster who was the WBC Flyweight champion a few years ago. Sadly though Higa lost that title on the scales, suffered an upset loss to Crisofer Rosales, and then had a lengthy suspension, due to missing weight. He's now back, and looking to make up for lost time.
Seiya Tsutsumi on the other hand is a fighter that you'll be forgiven for not knowing much about. He's a heavy handed boxer-puncher. He began his career as a puncher, but has recently shown more and more to his boxing, and he looks like a fantastic all rounder, with a smart boxing brain, a lot of power and good technical ability. He's unlucky to not have a perfect record, with his one draw being a controversial one against Kazuki Nakajima. In that bout we felt Tsutsumi out boxed Nakajima but was thwarted by some rough scoring.
As professionals both men have shown an ability to punch, with Higa having the advantage there, and fight. Higa is the more experienced, though we dare say that Tsutsumi is the more well schooled, and he holds 2 amatuer wins over Higa.
What to expect?
We expect to see something very, very special here.
From the opening seconds we expect to see Higa pressuring, pushing and coming forward. That will almost certainly force Tsutsumi on to the backfoot, where his boxing, counter punching and jabbing, trying to get Higa's respect and force him to think twice.
Sooner or later Higa will get Tsutsumi into the trenches, and when that happens expect to see a war breaking out, with both men taking it in turns to let their hands go up close. We might not see too many rounds like this, but boy oh boy they are going to be great. This is going to be violent, destructive, high tempo action and, sooner or later, one guy will be ground down.
We thing Higa take the win, and will be the clear favourite, but Tsutsumi will certainly not be there to make up the numbers and he could well give Higa absolute fits.
The bad news?
Obviously the delay in when this is being shown, around 3 weeks after it takes place, is bad news. Avoiding the result will be almost impossible, and it's a massive sham TBS have such a lengthy delay for the bout. Especially given the fact they've not shown any "Guts Fighting" boxing since January!
One thing that needs saying about this sport is that the best fights are sometimes bout we don't expect much from. For example two guys who both sport losing records meeting in a 4 rounder. Today however we are going to prove that even bouts like that can provide some real thrills and spills as we bring you an action packed East Japan Rookie of the year bout between two men with losing records, but the right mentality.
What needs to be remembered when two fighters each having losing records is that they believe the other fighter is beatable. When both share that mind set we can get some amazing action with two men desperate to pick up what would be considered a rare win. That's exactly what we saw here in a real action packed thriller.
Shodai Nagata (3-5) vs Kazuki Ikeya (1-2)
In one corner was Shodai Nagata, a 32 year old sporting a 3-5 record. There was little on his record to suggest he was one to watch. Just 2 fights earlier he had been dominated by fellow novice Yuta Ashina, and had bounced back with just a single, low key win over Futoshi Yamada. Nagata's 5 wins up to this point had been stretched over more than 3 years and he'd lost 4 of his previous 6. There was literally no reason to believe he had much to offer the sport. Thankfully though he was given a chance with this bout and he took that chance by putting in a wonderfully entertaining performance.
Whilst Nagata had nothing on his record to excite anyone neither did Ikeya, who was also 32 and had lost his first two bout before squeaking a decision over Atsushi Mikita in May 2019. He had been stopped in his debut, and had, perhaps, been a little unfortunate in his second professional bout, but had anything on his record to really suggest he was going to suddenly have some kind of thriller. As with Nagata however he played his part in a thriller here.
Of course both men would have assumed they were better than the other. Nagata would have assumed his extra experience would help him here, whilst Ikeya would have felt that he should have had wins in his previous 2 bouts. Both would have known a win would take them to a chance to fight on Japanese TV, and opened the potential door to an All Japan Rookie of the Year final. As a result the two Welterweights would have gone in to this knowing they could win, and they could open rather large doors for their career.
From the off Ikeya came out swinging, put his head down and unloading hooks like he had purchased them in a sale. He was landing on the guard, the head, the shoulders and every part of Nagata's body. He didn't care about where, as long as they were landing. Having realised Ikeya was setting a high pace Nagata decided to fire back, but selected his moments better, landing the cleaner shots and kept more in reserve whilst Ikeya continued to chase him down and unload bombs.
Ikeya's lack of power was evident in round 1 and in round 2 Nagata began to try and turn the tables, pressing Ikeya back more. It was still the intensity and hunger of Ikeya that was the making the fight, but Nagata's cleaner punching, and more refined technique was becoming a difference maker. Ikeya threw a lot, but stilled to land, Nagata threw less and may have even managed to out land Ikeya, who was feeling the tempo by the end of the round.
In round 3 we saw the action continue at a hectic pace, though the action was paused for quite a while after Ikeya took a ball busting low blow. This was smartly handled by Ikeya who sold it like it was a monstrous low blow and took his time to catch his breath. It was something he seemed to need and was a perfectly break for a man who had set a high pace and really needed a few extra moments to rest. After that we got straight back to the action we'd been having, with the two trading blows up close in some thrilling back and forth action. By now however it was becoming clear that the skill and strength advantages of Nagata were too much for Ikeya's energy and heart to over-come.
Despite being out classed, exhausted and put on the back foot Ikeya continued to try and fight hard in round 4. By then however Nagata was feeling in control whilst Ikeya felt like a man who had given everything and could really only muster arm punches and shoe shining shots, rather than anything with the power needed to stop Nagata in his tracks. In fact the only stopping in the tracks anyone had was Ikeya being stopped in his and a point being taken from Nagata in round 4, as he again went low, with less than a minute of the fight left. The restart afterwards was brilliant with the two men essentially trading to the bell with 40 seconds of pure, raw, violence ending the bout.
Despite the fact neither had much power or had winning record they had, between them, given us 4 fantastic rounds of fan friendly action. The bout may have lacked in terms of drama, but for action alone this is worth a watch. Simply a great fun, low level, action bout. The perfect type of gem for this series.
This weeks one to watch is not likely to be one on the radar for many fans, but it's one we think could provide both action, excitement and be a hotly contested bout. It's one that is easy to over-look, but could be very, very interesting.
The One to Watch?
Yoji Saito (1-1-2, 1) vs Masashi Wakita (10-9-2, 5)
October 14th (Wednesday)
Although it's not the highest profile bout we'll get this weekend we believe this could be a bit of a sleeper classic between two men each needing a big performance, and each capable of delivering it. One one hand we have a touted hopeful who has struggled to get going, and on the other we have a fighter who's career has stalled, but we've seen enough of him to know he can make a go of things. In both corners we have a man looking for a win, and we have men who's styles should gel fantastically.
Kadoebi promoted Yoji Saito turned professional with some pretty lofty expectations on his shoulders. Sadly a loss to Shu Utsuki on his debut prevented him from getting off to a winning start, despite the bout being a tremendous fight. Since then Saito has has gone unbeaten, but has only managed a single win, a stoppage of Tameji Ito. Despite his struggle to get victories he has consistently been in thrilling bouts, including his 2019 war with Aso Ishiwaki.
In the ring Saito is a strong, powerful lump. He's not the smoothest, he's got questionable stamina, but boy does he know how to fight. He's blessed with heavy, thudding hands, impressive physical strength, really gritty toughness and a fighters mentality.
On paper Masashi Wakita looks really limited, and has won less than half of his career bouts. Despite his record the man from the Mitsuki Gym shouldn't be written off. Wakita is a freakishly tall Super Featherweight, standing at 5'11" he's also a southpaw, with a nice jab, under-rated power and a questionable chin. He's got reach, skills, the ability to box at range and under-rated counter punching skills. He also has valuable expecerience against good domestic competition.
Sadly for Wakita his biggest issue isn't isn't his skills, it's his toughness, or rather the relative lack of it. During his 21 fight career he has been stopped 5 times, and he's actually been stopped 4 times in his last 6 bouts. Whilst that's not great he has been matched hard, with losses to the likes of Shawn Oda, Satoru Sugita and Ryusei Ishii. He has also given the likes of Spicy Matsushita and Yuichiro Kasuya very close contests.
What to expect?
We expect to see Saito coming forward, pressing, pressuring and trying to get to Wakita from the early going. Wakita on the other hand will box, move, and try to avoid a tear up. It question will be "how long before Wakita gets dragged into Saito's fight?"
If Saito can cut the distance from the off this could be short, explosive and brutally one sided with Saito stopping Wakita. The longer it goes however the better things are for Wakita, and his movement, clean accurate punching and reach will make live progressively tougher for Saito. If Wakita lasts more than 4 rounds he will give Saito absolute fits in what will becoming a very, very compelling and competitive contest.
The bad news?
Unfortunately this won't be shown live, and instead we'll need to be patient. Also the bout will be available first on Boxing Raise, limiting the viewership, though Kadoebi do tend to upload their bouts to YouTube in the weeks following. Alko if Saito gets his way this could be a very, very short bout.
One of the fun things about this series is the fact we get to go back and look over some fights from 2019 that few people would have paid any attention to, and we get to shine a light on them. Sharing some of the true hidden gems of Asian boxing from 2019.
With that in mind let us share with you, today, a brilliant little 4 round inside war between two men looking to progress to the East Japan Rookie of the Year final. This wasn't some high level chess match but instead had two men willing to match each other on the inside in what was a truly brilliant 4 round war.
Hidetoshi Takane (3-0, 1) vs Yuri Wakabayashi (3-1-1, 3)
Coming in to the bout the 21 year old Hidetoshi Takane was a Kadoebi Gym fighter who was looking to move his career forward. Although a relative non-puncher he was an exciting fighter, with an aggressive style and he had impressed since making his debut in December 2018. He had booked his place into the East Japan Rookie of the Year semi-finals with a clear decision win over Dan Sawai and looked like one of the fighters who could end up giving their career a big boost at the end of the tournament. He was fan friendly, exciting, young, and with a great engine.
Aged 33 at the time of this bout Yuri Wakabayashi would have known his future in the sport was limited. He was only weeks away from his 34th birthday and was looking to get has career back on track. He had debuted almost 2 years early, fighting for the first time in October 2017, and had looked powerful and aggressive in stopping his first 2 opponents. Sadly a close loss and a draw derailed his rise before he blew out Shosuke Oji in August 2019 to secure his place in the East Japan Rookie of Semi final the following month.
With Takane being a note non puncher and Wakabayahi having stopped 3 of his 5 foes the presumption was that Takane would smartly here, and keep things at range. Instead we got both men meeting each other in center of the ring, and from there we ended up getting a special treat.
From the opening seconds of the opening round the two men met each other front on and were unloading huge shots on the inside. There was no feeling out process, this was just an immediate war. The inexperience of both men played a part, and the referee would occasionally be needed to tidy things up in the first minute, but there we just got a phone war.
The two men hammered each other up close through out the opening round trying to mirror each other. This was not the type of opening round anyone have expected going in, but boy did the deliver one of the best opening rounds of any bout in Japan last year.
It would have been easy for the tempo to have dropped after the hectic and brilliant first 3 minutes, but it really didn't, and instead they stood toe to toe. The referee was occasionally needed, but it was rare and he was left just as much of a spectator as the fans, able to enjoy one of the truly exceptional rookie wars.
The action really didn't slow down at all in the 4 rounds, with both men throwing and landing an incredible amount in a gem of a fight that deserves to be in the Treasure Trove.
It's a shame this was just a 4 rounder and was fought off TV, on A-Sign, as this deserved far viewers than it got.
In the second of two "Ones to Watch" this week we look at a Bantamweight contest that should have a serious over-flowing of fireworks. The previous bout we looked at in the series, between Reiya Abe and Ren Sasaki, might be a bit of a slow one, but this fight will more than make up for it in terms of action!
The One to Watch?
Kai Chiba (12-1, 8) vs Haruki Ishikawa (8-2, 6)
October 13th (Tuesday)
We all love wars and that's exactly what we expect to see here between two men who have shown power and aggression and under-rated boxing skills. We suspect the styles will gel almost perfectly and we should end up with something of a thriller, where we suspect both men will be hurt before we hear the final bell. Not just do the styles match up well, but so do the mentalities of the two men, who both like a fight. Also it's worth nothing that both men have been stopped before, suggesting that neither is carrying titanium up top.
Of the two men it's probably Kai Chiba who is the more well known, and the more technically developed. The 27 year old has been a professional since 2015 and won his first 7 bouts, scoring noteworthy wins over Ikuro Sadatsune and Ryo Matsubara along the way. By that point he was 7-0 (6) and looked like he was on his way to something big. And then he was upset by Filipino Brian Lobetania, who stopped Chiba in 4 rounds. Since then we've not really seen the same Chiba, who has gone 5-0 (2) and has focused more on his boxing than his puncher.
Although Chiba has changed his style, and is more cautious following the loss to Lobetania, he can still get dragged into a fight. We saw glimpses of that last time he faced a domestic opponent, battling against Matcha Nakagawa, where despite boxing he always seemed happy to let shots go.
Aged just 21 Haruki Ishikawa is still a boxing baby, but he has already been involved in some great action and his 2019 bout with Toshiya Ishii was one of the Japanese highlights last year. Ishikawa turned professional in 2017 and went 6-0 (5) before losing a razor thin decision in the All-Japan Rookie of the Year final in December 2018. Since then he has gone 2-1 (1) and has been fighting at a decent level, against the likes of Alvin Medura and Atsushi Takada.
At his heart Ishikawa is a fighter. He's a heavy handed type of guy, willing to let his hands go, throw bombs and take one to land one. At times he can look unpolished, raw, and green but he also looks very powerful, energetic, strong and is so much fun to watch. He'll stalk his man, march forward, look to get into range and then unload. Sadly his raw approach is likely to see him having a short career, but a very exciting one to follow.
What to expect?
We expect to see bombs away! The pressure and aggression of Ishikawa will likely force a high tempo on the bout, and even when he's not throwing he's always pressing and coming forward. That will likely work in Chiba's favour and from early on it'll be clear that Chiba is the more skilled fighter.
The big question here isn't about skill however, but how much can the two men take. Sadly we think this is another area where Ishikawa comes up short compared to Chiba. Yes both men have been stopped once, but of the two chins we feel Chiba is the tougher and move proven man.
Whilst we suspect Chiba will take home a win, likely by stoppage in the second half of the fight, we do expect this to be so much damn fun from the opening round to the end. We expect both men to take some huge head shots up close, have thrilling exchanges, and put on a show.
The bad news?
There isn't really isn't anything negative about this. It's a low-ish domestic level fight, and we know some fans do tend to avoid that level of bout, but for fans willing to put that to the side and just enjoy the bout they will not be disappointed here!
For this weeks one to watch we've got a bout that we don't expect will be a war, but it is one we expect will be a compelling chess match. Both men are very talented but negative, and focus more on fighting at range than we typically see in Japan, which can be quite jarring at times. Despite that the bout should be a hotly contested one and a very, very interesting one, even if the pace isn't what we typically see in Japan. The bout will also serve as the headline for the upcoming A-Sign show.
The One to Watch?
Reiya Abe (19-3-1, 9) vs Ren Sasaki (10-0, 6)
October 12th (Tuesday)
Here we get the chance to see a brilliant talented, though often over-looked, Japanese Featherweight taking on an unbeaten hopeful looking to prove what he can do. We have two talented fighters up against each other in what both will view as a must win bout. Although the bout is set to be shown for free on A-Sign boxing, so there's really no excuse to miss this one which has the ingredients of a technically enticing chess match.
World ranked Featherweight Reiya Abe is one of the many talented Japanese fighters at 126lbs that doesn't get much attention. Dubbed a "Genius" Abe is a brilliant boxer, with a fantastic boxing mind, fantastic counter punching and great control of range. Sadly for all his talent and ring craft he does lack killer instinct and the extra gear needed to reach the top level of the sport. In terms of skills there are few that can compare to him in Japan, but there are fighters who have shown more will, and that's the one thing he has been lacking at times.
Notably 2019 was a bad year for Abe, in which he went 1-1-1, and hopefully the set backs to Taiki Minamoto, who he drew with, and Ryo Sagawa, who he lost to, will help him add some fire to his boxing. If he can increase his output, use his jab more, and show more killer instinct in the ring there's no reason why he can't go much, much further in the sport, especially given he has really under-rated power in his left hand.
The unbeaten Ren Sasaki has been quietly making a name for himself but yet to really break through. His most notable performances came in 2017, when he won the All Japan Rookie of the Year but sadly since then he has failed to make much of a name for himself. That's despite wins over Kanehiro Nakagawa, Ge An Ma and Morihisa Iju. In fact last year he won the Knock Out Dynamite Tournament, though did so by default after Yuki Yamauchi was forced to pull out of the final before the bout took place.
In the ring Sasaki is a cagey fighter who looks to create distance, box off his jab and keep opponents at range. It's only really when he has someone hurt that he opens up, and when's done that in the past he has been clipped, with Ge An Ma wobbling him last year. Technically he is solid but as with Abe there is a feeling that he simply doesn't do enough at times, and as a result he has had some very close decision.
What to expect?
The first few rounds we expect to see both men cancelling each other out really well. Both are, at heart, counter punchers and neither enjoy leading off. Sadly this could make the bout feel like it's very slow to get going. Thankfully though we expect to see Abe take the advantage in these slow, almost tedious rounds, and force Sasaki to become more aggressive.
If Sasaki is forced to let his hands go more, chasing the fight, we see that playing right into Abe's game plan and giving the talented Abe counter opportunities. When that happens expect to see him draw leads from Sasaki, and counter them with thunder bolt left hands.
If Sasaki doesn't fall behind early on, and isn't forced to chase things, expect a very, very high level chess match. It might not be the most exciting or the most thrilling action war, but it will be very interesting and a bout fought with very high level skills on show by both men.
The bad news?
Not everyone likes a chess match, and this could end up being a stinker if both men feel they are in control. The styles of the two men are pretty similar, and both are rather risk-averse. This could be a very, very interesting bout, but could, just as easily, end up being horrific to watch.
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.