December 2020 was a huge month for fights, and we got a lot of great action during the month. Thankfully with so many great bouts fans were entertained through the entire month. We were also happy to have a lot of fights that didn't get much fan attention. Today we look at one of those bouts as dig in to the Treasure Trove again for what was one of the most impressive debut performances of the year.
Kanta Kawamura (0-0) Vs Koyo Nakayama (0-0)
On December 8th Korakuen Hall played host to a rather small card, that had 7 bouts on it, including 3 all debutant bouts. Only 2 bouts were scheduled for more than 4 rounds and it was a card that was easy to overlook, even with the involvement of the brilliant Ichitaro Ishii acting as the promoter.
One of the all debutant bouts took place at a contracted 51.5KG's, just over 113.5lbs, and saw Kanta Kawamura, from the KG Yamato Gym, take on Koyo Nakayama, from the Hachioji Nakaya Gym.
On paper there was no reason to be too excited about this one. It was just an all debutant clash a few weeks before Christmas. But to the two men, this one mattered. It was their debut!
Aged 21 coming in to this Kawamura was the slightly older and taller fighter, but other than that it was hard to say he had any advantages. There was no amateur record that stood out, there was nothing about him that screamed he was anything special or that he would be in a fun bout. Nakayama was only slightly younger, at 20, and was giving away around 3" but again there was nothing to say he was going to be in a bout was memorable here. He, like Kawamura, was also not a fighter with any sort of notable amateur background.
Going in to this neither man was touted. Neither man had any notable publicity, and both went in looking to make a statement, and make people sit up and take notice.
From the opening bell Nakayama came out like he knew Christmas was just around the corner. He was aggressive, fighting like a raging bull, storming out of his corner. It seemed as if he felt the quicker he won, or lost, the sooner Christmas would be here and the sooner he could tuck into some KFC. Kawamura on the other hand fought sensibly, backing up, making Nakayama miss, using his reach and skills and landing counters.
From the first 10 seconds it was clear this one was not going to go the distance, and soon afterwards the two stood and traded. It was clear, there and then, that Nakayama was completely out of his depth. He didn't care though. He knew he had to continue pressuring, hoping to land something to turn the fight around. He had come to fight and fight he would!
Sadly the effort and desire of Nakayama was for nought with Kawamura luring Nakayama into one mistake too many, landing two huge right hands as Nakayama flailed away, then an uppercut as veteran referee Akihiko Katsuragi stepped in and waved this over. In just over 100 seconds Kawamura had made us fans and so to had Nakayama.
Although this was an all debutant bout the men were clearly on different levels. The winner showed he had the tools to go a long way, but the loser, he showed that he has the tools to be a very fan friendly fighter. Both guys here won us over and we'll not complain about that!
One thing we don't usually get in Asia are bouts involving the big lads, the Heavyweights. They are few and far between in the Orient, and many of the Heavyweights from Central Asia are off making their name in the US, with very few of them really being involved in memorable bouts. Back in November 2020 however we got a rare Korean Heavyweight fight, and man was this a spectacle we got the intensity and action of a typical Korean bout but with men who were much bigger than fighters who typically fight in a Korean style.
With that in mind lets look at this weeks Treasure Trove bout! And it's a good one, even if it's just a touch unusual for a bout in Asia!
Sung Min Lee (7-1, 2) vs Hyun Tae Bae (6-1-1, 4)
In corner was Korean Heavyweight champion Sung Min Lee, who was looking to make his first defense around 17 months after winning the title. Lee's reign had been a weird one outside of the ring, due to various bouts being cancelled and Covid19 scuppering various plans including a bout in Japan. Despite not defending the belt for over a year he had remained, arguably, the best in Korea in the weight class, and won his last 6 bouts. Although not a world beater he was a decent fighter, he came to fight and typically came in decent shape, typically weighting in around 220lbs. This bout however saw him come in at a career heaviest, 234¾lbs, after a career longest lay off.
In the opposite corner was 31 year old challenger Hyun Tae Bae, who had debuted way back in 2013 but had had a very stop-start career. Typically Bae had been fighting at Cruiserweight, where he had won a Korean title, and in fact it was possible that he could have made Light Heavyweight had he needed to, something backed up by a 2016 bout where he weighed in at 176lbs. Coming in to this he had very little momentum. He had fought just twice in the previous 4 years, was only a few bouts removed from a TKO loss to Quintin Carey. Despite being a natural Light Heavyweight-come-Cruiserweight he was the taller man, and was, in many ways, the more natural boxer, whilst Lee was a natural fighter.
From the off it was clear that Bae was in the ring to take the title from Lee. He had looked over the champion at the final instructions and quickly got behind his jab. Lee, however, had ambitions to keep his title and was all out on the offensive, pressing forward, through some wild shots, and letting his weight and physical strength play a factor. Within a minute or so it was clear. Bae was the skilled boxer, the more well schooled and polished man, and Lee was the supposed puncher, looking to make up for his crude technique by landing the big shots. Despite Lee looking like the puncher he was the only one to be staggered during the round as Bae's clean head shots shook Lee for a moment.
It was a great round of action to kick off the bout and it set the stage for what would become a genuine fantastic, and easily over-looked war.
In the first half of the bout Bae's skill, movement, and technical skills were on show, as he out landed Lee and made the champion look super crude. Even more crude than he actually is. Huge right hands from the challenger crashed into the champions head, and it seemed like Lee was going to eventually crumple to the canvas. The champion looked unfit to begin with and he couldn't avoid the power shots of the challenger, who had him backing up time and time again. The head of the champion was being used as target practice by the challenger.
As the rounds went on however the challenger began to tire. His more polished skills couldn't make up for the energy he was using to keep up a relatively high output and the chin of the champion wasn't cracking as expected. The huge shots that Bae was landing had shaken the champion but not dropped him, and Lee himself was landing plenty of solid shots of his own. The challenger had put a lot in to the first few rounds and had won them, but not won the bout.
Then we saw Lee begin a real comeback. As Bae slowed Lee began to come on strong. He began to dig deep like a champion, and was pushing the challenger back. Bae went from bossing the fight with his power shots at mid-range to being beaten on the inside, and force to hold, lean on and do what he could to catch his breath. Things had gone from easy for the challenger to a struggle in the middle rounds. He was still having success, and landing plenty of shots, but was being out worked, and was having to fight Lee's fight more and more regularly.
With the fight turning in Lee's favour, and Bae seemingly fighting through exhaustion it seemed like we could end up seeing the challenger dig deep, but dig too deep and eventually fold with his body seemingly running on fumes. And then Lee began to tire and as a result boxing became a second thought. The primary thought was to fight. The resulted in some sensational back and forth in the middle of the ring as both men started to fight in a very flat footed manner. When we saw some glimpses of boxing they favoured the challenger, who was clearly the more intelligent boxer, but they were merely glimpses before his energy tank ran low and he was forced into a fight, which saw the tide turn back to Lee.
As the rounds flew by, it was getting harder and harder to tell who was in the lead. In many ways however it felt like it didn't matter. It seemed inevitable that one, or the other, would collapse before the final bell. They had both looked exhausted for much of the fight. They had both eaten shots like it was an addiction and they had both been biting down hard on their gumshields a lot more often than either guy would have wanted. Amazingly however we saw rounds 8 and 9 tick by, and we somehow entered round 10.
The final round was another gruelling 3 minutes for the two men who seemed determined to leave every ounce in the ring. Both had slowed, drastically, both seemed to be fighting out of instinct, and yet both refused to take the easy option and accept defeat. But were still willingly going through serious punishment in the hope of taking the Korean title home with them. Both seemed out on their feet. Both seemed off balance, and both were looking like they needed a long rest, but neither was willing to wave the white flag.
In the end the two men managed to stay up right, and neither ended up suffering a loss as the judges had this even, ending a great fight by leaving the door wide open for a rematch. Something we, as fans, want to see, but something that the fighters may wish to avoid given the punishment they doled out on each other here.
For those who like the sweet science this is probably not for you, but for people who enjoy seeing big guys punching lumps out of each other this is a perfect way to spend 40 minutes of your day.
One thing Japan does that no other country seems to have quite the same ability to do, is the "well matched 4 rounder". Japan has given us so many great 4 round bouts in recent years due to the fact that their promoters don't aim to pad records left right and center. Instead the fighting comes first, at least for the most part, and the record doesn't matter in the same way. As a result we often see debutants thrown in against each other, and novices clashing. Heck that's the entire idea behind the Rookie of the Year, the C-class tournaments and the All round 4 shows that wee see in Japan regularly.
Today for the Treasure Trove we have one such bout that isn't just a very solid 4 rounder but also an all debutant bout. Although not unheard around the globe, these are less common than you'd have realised, and rarely are they are fun as they manage to be in Japan. As we see here!
Ryusei Sasanoike (0-0) Vs Masato Ichino (0-0)
In one corner was 35 year old Masato Ichino, from the Token Boxing Gym in Tokyo, a pretty small, low key one. He's stated that the boxers he likes include Edwin Valero and Takashi Miura, aggressive and big punching fighters, and his goal for the sport is to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2021. Debuting at the age of 35 it's clear his potential is limited, especially given Japan has essentially got a retirement age for fighters that isn't too much older than Ichino's age when he debuted, but his hunger to compete is a positive and it's great to see fighters like Ichino willing to put the gloves on and give the sport a go.
In the opposite corner was 17 year old Ryusei Sasanoike, who also fights out of a small gym, the Mt Fuji Nexus Gym. Despite being 17 he had fought a few amateur bouts, going 3-0 in amateur bouts at the Under 15's level and has set himself the goal of becoming a world champion. A lofty ambition for someone so inexperienced, but an ambition that shows the level he wants to get to, and how that is far above the aim of Ichino. Given his age there is a lot of time for him to develop, but he was quite literally a boy up against a man here.
Despite their vastly different targets in the sport the two were both debutants. Sure Ichino was twice the age of Sasanoike, but he was going to have his man strength and be more physically mature than the youngster. At 17 it was way too early to say anything much about Sasanoike, who had only turned 17 a few months earlier.
From the off both guys looked fast and hungry to pick up their first win, there there was some nervous energy from both men. It didn't take long however for Sasanoike to show that he did have that something else. He looked very sharp, and like a man who knew how to box, picking some nice shots and looking very calm and confident. He didn't look the complete product, not by any stretch, but there was something about him that did catch the eye. Ichino on the other hand looked raw, as we'd expect from a debutant, but someone who didn't want to lose to a kid half his age. Sadly for Ichino not wanting to lose didn't help him win, and the speed of Sasanoike was a major difference maker through the opening round.
In round 2 we saw real hunger from Ichino, he knew he had lost the opening round and that he had to turn things around, something he tried to do with a lot more offensive work than in the opening round. Sadly for him the extra energy didn't really pay off too well, and later in the round Ichino was put on the canvas, as Sasanoike scored the first knockdown of his professional career. By the end of round 2 Ichino, was clearly down on the scorecards and sporting a swelling under his right eye, but still hungry and still fighting like a man with a point to prove. He was still the aggressor, the one coming forward and the man who seemed to want to turn the fight around, something he showed again in round 3. Unfortunately for him he wasn't good enough, Sasanoike had settled into his groove, was picking some very nice shots and as round 3 ticked on he was really letting shots fly. Those shots forced some rather nasty swelling, that forced the doctor to take a look before allowing the bout to continue.
Down by a wide margin as we entered the final round Ichino had nothing to lost by going all out and trying to take out the young upstart, who had been embarrassing him at times. Sadly for him however Ichino was merely seeing his younger, more talented rival going through the gears and showing what he could do. The older man some success late in the round, but that merely forced a response from the youngster. By the final bell Ichino bloodied, beaten and bruised, a clear loser, but had been his part in the debut of a really promising youngster.
This is not a fight that will get FOTY talk, or even be considered in the top 1000 fights of 2020. It was however a fun 4 rounder and the first showcase of someone who looks like he has the potential to be a notable figure on the Japanese boxing scene. For those that haven't seen this one, it's about Sasanoike, a teenage prospect who looks like he has the tools and youth to reach some heady heights. It's a good solid bout every all, if somewhat one sided, but it's worth a watch to see the teen in action.
(Note - The first bell rings around the 8:50 mark of the below video)
Korean fight fans don't get a lot of fights. It's a shame in many ways that Korea, a country with a strong history of boxing, has such a lack of fights taking place on it's soil. Despite that the fights they do get are almost always amazing and few countries give us as many fun fights to enjoy than South Korea. One of the best things about the country's boxing scene is that the country gives us all novice bouts, regularly, and they almost always deliver some incredible action.
With that in mind let us take you back to November 2020 for this week's Treasure Trove article, which is a thrilling action bout from Hwaseong in South Korea.
No Jin Lee (0-1) vs Yong Wan Jung (1-1-1)
It's fair to assume, before we talk about the fighters, the that no one outside of Korea will be too aware about No Jin Lee or Yong Wan Jung. Both men were total novices when they fought and neither man has gone on to do much of note since. In fact neither fighter is ever expected to go on to do much with their career's. Despite that, they made for a hell of a hell of a bout together.
Lee was the older man, at 35 years old, and had only made his debut 5 months earlier, losing a majority decision on his debut to fellow debutant Jin Uk Jeon. The reality, at this point in time, was that he wasn't going to have an amazing career, but for many fighters that's not as important as we, as fans, some times think it is. Especially in Asia, where lots of fighters turn professional for the enjoyment of the sport, rather than to become a world champion.
Jung was much, much younger, than Lee and was in fact just 23 coming into this bout, but was already much more experienced than Lee. Jung had made his debut in July 2019, scoring a decision win over Hyo Jae Yoon before losing his second bout, to Jiayilawuhan Zanghaer over in China, and then fighting to a draw against Tae Gwang Park. All 3 of his bouts coming into this had gone the distance, and he really hadn't stood out as being some one worthy of attention following those bouts.
As with many low level Korean bouts it didn't take long for leather to begin flying here. In fact it took only the blink of an eye after the opening bell to see both men letting leather fly. Originally it was Lee coming forward, behind his southpaw stance, but within seconds Jung turned it around began to drill his man with big right hands. Lee's response being tagged was to try and walk through shots in an attempt to land his own. As a result we ended up getting a prolonged back and forth exchange. Through the round it was clear Jung was the much more skilled man, often finding the target with his right hand and even wobbling Lee late in the round. Despite landing almost at will however Jung was taking shots himself as Lee refused to wilt, making for a thrilling 3 minutes of almost non-stop action.
Round 2 started much like round 1. We saw Lee coming forward, and walking into shots, eating them flush, whilst trying to grind down Jung, or force Jung to break his hand on Lee's head. This wasn't high quality boxing, but it was intense, with both throwing, and landing, a lot of leather. Against Lee was taking the worst of it, but ever so often he would land a big left hand, or a right hook, and it seemed, just for a moment, that he could perhaps stop Jung in his tracks. Until Jung again took control with some accurate right hands and uppercuts. By the end of the round Jung was clearly beginning to wear down, the accumulation of shots taking its toll, but like any good Korean fighter he didn't know how to quit and he kept fighting back, right through to the bell.
Given that both men had taken a lot of punishment in the first 2 rounds it was probably a relief to both men entering round 3, knowing this was only scheduled for 4 rounds. Despite that we wouldn't actually see round 4. Instead we saw Lee landing bombs again at the start of round 3, and leaving Jung cut and swollen around the right eye. The facial damage saw Jung being taken to the ringside doctor who said enough was enough. At first glance the damage wasn't too bad, though on a second look it was clear he had taken a lot of shots to the head, he couldn't get out of the way and the shots had taken a visible toll on him.
Although not every Treasure Trove bout is a war, this one is. It's not the highest skill level, or the most impressive technically, but it's exactly what we love about Korean boxing. It was exciting, it was brutal, and it featured the perfect mix of intense offence and dire defense!
One of the things particularly notable about 2020 was the huge number of upsets we had, all over the planet. It seemed not a week could go by without at least one major favourite slipping up in a bout where they were expected to win, and to win with ease. Today we look at one such bout as we head back into the 2020 Treasure Trove and find a bout that was worthy of attention, especially if you missed it the first time around.
Koki Inoue (15-0, 12) vs Daishi Nagata (14-2-1, 5)
Before we get on to the bout we need to really go into some details about what the world was like in July 2020. By that point boxing was pretty much on a global standstill waiting for governments to asses their strategy to deal with the Covid19 pandemic. As a result the Ohashi promoted "Phoenix Battle 71" was the first card at Korakuen Hall since late February and was only the second card in Japan upon the sport restarting the country, and was fought in front of an eerie and empty Korakuen Hall. It was also a chance for the long over-due Champion Carnival to continue.
As part of the Champion Carnival Japanese Light Welterweight champion Koki Inoue, the cousin of Naoya Inoue, had to defend his title against mandatory challenger Daishi Nagata.
The Polish betting website STS bet had Inoue as a very clear favourite, the polls on Japanese websites had Inoue favoured with 67% of the vote backing him and a lot of people saw this as a formality. After all Inoue was an Inoue, he had already won and defended the title, he had also won the WBO Asia Pacific title and seemed like a man with the ability to compete at a very high level. He was an unbeaten and talented southpaw, with explosive combinations heavy hands, a good amateur pedigree and an Ohashi gym fighter.
Nagata on the other hand was a guy who had already lost twice, including a TKO loss to Vladimir Baez, and had struggled past both Min Ho Jung and Cristiano Aoqui. He wasn't a bad fighter, not by any stretch, but was a technically limited boxer, with a pretty basic style. There was nothing that really stood out as being in his locker that should have been too much for Inoue. He had been a good amateur, but hadn't really shined on the professional ranks and his best performance, to this point, had come in a regional title fight against Rikki Naito, a bout he had lost.
Despite being the under-dog Nagata was hungry and straight from the opening bell he came out and rushed Inoue, putting the champion on the back foot and under pressure. The speed, aggression and tenacity from Nagata was great to see as he consistently pressed forward and forced Inoue to use his feet through out the first minute of the fight. Not only was Nagata pressing forward, but he was also landing quite frequently and connected with a very nice left hand. The pressure and Nagata was incessant through the entire round and it was clear that he wasn't there to make up the numbers. He was there for the belt and if Inoue wanted to keep it he'd have to earn a victory, rather than just turn up as many had originally expected. To his credit Inoue did have some success late in the round, but it was too little, too late to turn the round in his favour.
The pressure of Nagata continued into round 2 and he managed to really lay the shots off on Inoue in one particular sequence around 40 seconds into the round. Inoue didn't seem capable of responding the to the fast start of Nagata, who looked like a man possessed. Inoue looked the more talented boxer, and he showed more boxing ability, but he was being forced into a fight, and Nagata was getting the better of it, by far.
Round 3 we saw more of the same, though we also saw a massive headclash that left Inoue cut. It was a nasty headclash but the resulting cut wasn't a particularly bad looking one, even if it did seem to bother Inoue who was again backed up time after time and was even rocked to his core at one point, with his legs buckling after a shot.
After 5 rounds all 3 judges had Nagata in the lead. Inoue had tried to fight his way back into things, in rounds 4 and 5, but it wasn't nearly enough and the open scoring had Nagata up 48-47, twice, and 49-46. The champions title reign wasn't just slipping away, but it was being ripped away by a super determined challenger, who was forcing his fight on the bout. Inoue was slowly finding his feet though and knew he had to turn things around.
Round 6 turned out to be Inoue's best round as he gritted his teeth and stood his ground, trying to turn things around. He let Nagata continue to come forward but this time fired off shots on the inside, finding room for some brutal uppercuts and excellent straight left hands, despite blooding dropping from his right eye, which was a repeated target for Nagata's jabs. It felt, for the first time, like the tide might be swinging and that Inoue was being forced to show his champion's spirit. He was still under pressure, and he couldn't make Nagata go away, but he was landing his own leather, and was slowly getting Nagata's respect.
Sadly for Inoue his success in round 6 was for nought as Nagata came out even hungrier in round 7 and ended up connecting repeatedly with the swollen and cut right eye of Inoue. The eye, was quickly becoming a swollen, grotesque lump of flesh and it was clear that the doctor was going to want a look at it sooner, rather than later. With around 45 seconds of the round left Michiaki Someya took Inoue over to the corner, with the doctor waving the bout off and saving Inoue from further punishment.
For those wanting an all out war. This isn't one of those. It's a very good bout, regardless, but isn't a war. Instead it's a great example of will over-coming skill. Nagata wanted it so much more than Inoue, he jumped on him from the opening bell, and ripped up the odds on the bout. He put in a career defining performance and showed what he could do.
Sadly for Inoue he would announce his retirement soon after this loss and begin a journey into his other love, anime, with the plan being for him to become an animator in his post boxing life.
Whilst we love watching boxing from throughout Asia one thing that is consistently true, is that South Korea provides a higher ratio of great fights than any other country. The fighters might not be the best out there and the skills might not be the most impressive, but their hearts, determination and in ring mentalities seem to provide an unfairly high number of amazing bouts.
Today we we get to share one of the most significant Korean bouts from 2020, between two men each putting it all on the line in an attempt to claim the KBM Lightweight title.
Moo Hyun Kim (5-1, 1) vs Dong Hyun Won (3-3)
This bout came on November 14th from the DND Boxing Gymnasium in Hwaseong and saw Moo Hyun Kim and Dong Hyun Won battle for the vacant KBM Lightweight title. On paper it was nothing special, but it was in Korea, and that automatically made it something that was worthy of noting. Korean bouts, really do provide a lot of action, even the lowest level Korean bouts.
The entire in ring mentality in Korea seems to be about winning a fight. It's not about out-pointing the other man, and fighting cute, but winning a toe to toe fight. Having a war. That was the case here.
In one corner was 27 year old Moo Hyun Kim, who made his debut in 2016 and won his first 4 bouts, including wins in Japan against Hironori Shigeta and George Tachibana both of which were wins that aged well. He then lost in 2017 to Gyu Beom Jeon before bouncing back with a win in 2018. Kim then took more than 2 years away from the ring before picking up a narrow decision win of Jun Gyu Oh in August 2020, just 3 months before this title bout.
In the opposite corner to Kim was Dong Hyun Won, a 36 year old who debuted in 2016, going 1-1 that year before taking more than 3 years out of the ring. When he returned in 2019 he won his first 2 bouts, but then suffered back to back losses, falling to 3-3. Given his age this was pretty much viewed as his one and only chance to win a Korean title, and it seemed like a chance he didn't really deserve given he had lost his previous 2 bouts, and was 13 months removed from his last win.
The fight started surprisingly slowly for a Korea fight with Kim pressing forward and Won using his experience to soak up the pressure. The low quality of skills from both men were clear and it seemed, through much of the first round, that the occasion and inactivity was getting to them. Then we had a moment of class as Kim dropped Won with a brilliant counter right hand that Won walked on. Won got to his feet and Kim seemed to be in control.
Sadly after the knockdown the rest of the round was tame. Thankfully things began to pick up in round 2, as Kim began to let his hands go more, and forced Won into responding, which he did in a big way late in the round. It wasn't am amazing round, at least not compared to typical Korean standards, but it was a big improvement from the opening round and was more like what we had been expecting. It was as if the touch paper was being lit and we were starting to get a fight.
Despite the fight beginning to erupt in round 2 the pace early in round 3 was slow, it was as if both teams had told their fights to calm down, relax and fight at their tempo. That was until midway through the round when Won decided to up his work rate, and drew out the dog in Kim, who came back strong in the second half of the round.
In round 4 we saw the tempo tick up again, though by now it was clear. Kim was much more skilled than Won, and Won was instead relying on his heart, his determination and his work rate to try to over-come the skills of his foe. At times Won's output was enough to win him portions of rounds, but it always seemed that once Kim turned on the gas he was getting the upper hand.
As the rounds went on Kim's edge in size, skills, and power proved vital as he began to beat the fight out of Won, who showed some genuine grit and bravery but was getting slowly beaten up. Through round 5 and 6 Won's heart and toughness were the only thing keeping him in the fight, which was fairly wild at times. That will and determination was however doing enough to impress some of the judges, with one having the bout even, 57-577, after 6 rounds.
In round 7 Won's will to win showed at the start of the round and, for the first time, he seemed to actually buzz Kim who backed up and had to regroup. Sadly for Won his success early in the round came back to bite him in the backside when Kim managed to clear his head and turned the tables. Won dug deep, despite taking a shellacking through much of the round, eating big head shots as Kim looked to put his man away. Won was left bloodied and battered part way through the round. With seconds of the rounds remaining a pair of head shots wobbled Won who was dropped at the very end of the round. He got to his feet before the 10 count but he was done, his corner knew it, the referee new it, and he knew it, as the bout was stopped, at an official time of 3:07 of round 7.
The bout is certainly not the most intense, especially not by the lofty standards we see from Korea, but it was certainly a battle worthy of attention. We had more than enough highlights to get excited about, plenty of exciting changes in tempo and some thrilling exchanges from both fighters. It took a while to get going at times, but there was more than enough good stuff here to enjoy, especially in the final round.
This wasn't a fight of the year contender, not by any stretch, but it was a fun, enjoyable battle between a skilled fighter and gutsy warrior.
One of the best things about Japanese boxing is the competitive match ups that take place at the lower end of the domestic scene. These bouts typically don't feature fighters with the potential to be regarded as prospects, but are often some of the most compelling fights to just sit and watch. The bouts typically feature two men who come in to the ring to win and as a result give us something a lot better than the typical low level squash matches we see in the west.
Today we're lucky as this weeks Treasure Trove article is set to be one of the best 4 rounders from 2020, and is a legitimately thrilling action bout between two men who were incredibly hungry to prove a point. The fact both men came into this feeling like they could win ended us making for a brilliant, hotly contested, back and forth thriller.
Yusuke Endo (2-2-1, 2) vs Takahiro Nakatsuka (2-2-1)
Many bouts at this level in Japan have fighters with similar records and potential and this was a great example as we saw Yusuke Endo and Takahiro Nakatsuka clash. Both men were in their early 20's, with Endo being 23 and Natasuka being 21, both had debuted in 2018, were 2-2-1, and both men had lost on debut, won their second bout and lost their third bout. Interestingly both men had also fought to a draw with Weed Taichi. Both were also, obviously, here to win.
Endo was fighting out of the Shonan Yamagami Boxing Gym, a relative small gym based in Fujisawa City, Kanagawa Prefecture. Stood at 5'10" he was taller than many fighters he had shared the ring with, and had competed at the 2019 East Japan Rookie of the Year, being eliminated follow a draw with Weed Taichi in June. Following that set back he had fought just once, beating Hoshi Saito in October 2020 and was now hoping to build some career moment with back to back to back wins. Notably in all his bouts, except for his draw, the bout had finished early with both of his wins and both of his losses finishing in the first 3 rounds. He was proving to be a glass cannon.
Nakatsuka on the other hand was fighting out of the JB Sports Gym, which is run by Hajime No Ippo creator Jyoji Morikawa. He stood at 5'8", slightly shorted than Endo, but was certainly a tall guy for the Feather and Super Featherweight divisions, between which he was plying his trade. Going through his first 5 bouts he had done the distance every time, but was certainly developing into a talented young man, maturing physically and building on his experience. The hope was clearly to build up his power and strength as he became a man. Sadly for him he had been out of the ring since January 2020, when he fought to a draw with Weed Taichi, and it was clear he was hungry to get back to winning ways.
On paper this was a bout that was easy to over-look, despite the evenly matched records of the two men. However this bout is not one to ignore!
Given this was a 4 rounder it's fair to say this was a sprint, and not a marathon, and both men came out throwing punches almost immediately. Within seconds of the bout starting we were having exchanges in the middle of the ring, with Endo getting the better of things, before Natasuka began to fire back, and then Endo came for more. The entire first round was back and forth brilliance, fought at an incredible tempo. Both men proved themselves willing and able to go to war, but both also showed some nice touches of boxing. Albeit those were mere flashes of boxing before both men resumed a high tempo action fight. Towards the end of the round Endo was staggered, but came back well and seemed to finish the round strong. This was 3 minutes that genuinely flew by. It was brilliant, hugely entertaining and impossible to look away from.
With the first round being brilliant it would have been fair to have assumed both teams would have told their men to slow down entering round 2. If they had, they were ignored as the two continued to put on a fire fight in the second stanza. There was a little bit more technical work here, but very little as both continued to fight at an ultra high tempo and trade shots back and forth in 3 minutes of brilliant, brutal action. This was a much easier round to score than the first one though, with Nakatsuka clearly taking it on our cards, despite a spirited effort from Endo.
Given how good Natasuka had things in round 2 he seemed determined to not let the momentum slip and he started round 3 fast, really fast. Endo had to respond, and he did, even rocking his man with a straight right hand and knocking his gumshield out moments later. This lead to a weird break where covid19 safety kicked in and the gumshield had to be picked up with what appeared to be tongs. Soon afterwards the action resumed, and the men were straight back to unloading bombs on each other, with Endo getting the better of things overall, though Natasuka really wasn't making things easy for him. Given this was round 3, and both men and thrown an incredible amount of leather, it was amazing to see them getting more intense, rather than slowing down.
Given that we'd had 3 brilliant rounds, and that the first could have gone either way, we were not going to get a quiet final 3 minutes. Instead we got another all out battle to win the round. Once again both men stood their ground and let big shots go, defense was rarely thought about as both fighters hunted a stoppage. Neither wanted this to be in the hands of the judges. Early in the round Natsuka was sunned, and rocked, though as the round went on he managed to shake Endo. Both looked like they could end up hitting the canvas, both seemed to be fighting to a stand still and both looked amazingly well matched that they were made for each other.
This was a bout all about aggression, work rate and hunger. Defense, intelligent boxing, and counter punching traps were out of the window. The fans knew they were getting something special and this really is a must watch bout.
In the end it felt like neither man deserved to lose and thankfully for both, the judges agreed, scoring this 38-38, 38-38 and 39-37, to Endo, to give us a majority draw.
If you have the time to enjoy a great fight, seriously watch this one. It's amazing and one that truly deserves to be watched, even if it is "only a 4 rounder".
(Note the bout starts about 6:25 into the video below)
Last week in this Treasure Trove series we looked at a pretty big fight, that we suspect many will have watched, even if a lot of fans sort of forgot about it. Today we bring you a much, much obscure fight, and one that seriously deserves watching, even if it wasn't one that looks particularly good on paper. In fact like many Japanese bouts it was a fight that shone because both men went into the contest feeling they could win. Something we don't see enough of in the west. Far too often bouts take place there to pad records, rather than entertain fans. This was certainly not a record padding fan, and it certainly entertained the local fans at Korakuen Hall.
Yuji Awata (12-7-1, 5) vs Toru Kiyota (9-4, 7)
Coming in to this Yuji Awata was a 29 year old southpaw from Kanagawa Prefecture. He had had mixed results through his entire career, and was 2-2-1 in his previous 5 bouts, but he had long been a good servant for Japanese boxing and had been a professional since 2012. His record didn't have many wins over notable names, despite him winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year, but he had always given an honest account of himself, and had always entered the ring looking to pick up a win. He had found himself coming up short numerous times, but he didn't enter the ring to roll over, even when he was up against the likes of the touted Shuma Nakazato.
Toru Kiyota was very similar. He was younger, at 25 years old, but was a fighter with a similar record, losing 4 of his 13 bouts. On paper his biggest achievement coming in to this was a win over Shota Suito in 2018, though he also held wins over Kanehiro Nakagawa and Ryukyu Oho, from when they were both very early in their careers. What was notable about Kiyota was that he had lost 3 of his previous 5 and his career seemed to be struggling, he needed a win, and like Awata would have come into this bout as a chance to pick up a victory against someone in his league. He would also have come into this bout wanting local bragging rights, as he too was based in the Kanagawa prefecture.
Knowing that both men felt they could win, and that both had tools that they could use to their advantage, with Awata being the taller more experienced man, and a southpaw, and Kiyota being the bigger puncher, this had the feel of being something that could be a little big special. Even if it wasn't being fought at the highest level. What we got was indeed a little bit special.
From off Kiyota was the man coming forward whilst Awata tried to box at range, using his southpaw jab, and counter left hands to try and keep Kiyota at distance. Through the opening round we saw both men land some solid shots, though over all it felt like Kiyota's power and aggression probably did enough for him to take the round. It wasn't the most exciting of rounds, and did see the two men clinch a fair bit, but there was very much a sense that something was going to break out, especially with the way Kiyota was attacking.
That aggression of Kiyota moved up a step in round 2 as he really did push forward more, let his hands go more, and had Awata on the back foot even more than he had in the opening round. Awata knew he could clinch if, and when he needed to, but was being punished regularly through the round as Kiyota came forward. Every so often however Kiyota would eat some huge, clean counter shots, as Awata began to find his timing, his range and his aim. Sadly Awata he would find himself on the canvas towards the end of the round, bundled down under the pressure of Kiyota.
Having been dropped in round 2 Awata came out hungrier in round 3 and landed some of his best shots early in the round. This was a change in tactics from the taller man, and one that Kiyota didn't appreciate, with the smaller puncher responding with some huge shots of his own. Despite being down the previous round Awata was looking clear headed, focused and like he knew he could capitalise on a Kiyota mistake. To his credit Kiyota continued to pressure his man, avoiding many of the many of the potential traps that Awata was trying to set, he was still aggressive, but was showing respect to Awata, and not rushing in quite as reckless as he had in the first two rounds. In fact he was using his jab really well in round 4, using it to mask the power shots that followed behind it.
Knowing he was well behind Awata had to change things, and he did that in round 5, as he became more aggressive. Kiyota was still the more offensive of the two men, but Awata was letting his hands go more often, taking center ring more than he had earlier in the fight, and fighting with more urgency. He was no longer waiting for Kiyota to fall into a trap, but was looking to force the issue more, this resulted in a brilliant exchange late in the round as both men let shots fly back and forth. This was the most exciting round of the fight up to this point, and finished with Kiyota trying to resume control of the action.
With the action heating up in round 6, and Kiyota looking like he was putting his foot down to stamp out any kind of a comeback at the very end of the previous round, it was down to Awata to really try to turn things around. Early in the round the men stumbled into each other, falling on top of each other, in a messy moment. Not too long after that Awata found the space to land some big left hands, straight to the face. It seemed to encourage Awata who got a big break through later in the round with a straight left-right hook combination that put Kiyota on the canvas. Kiyota beat the count, but it was clear that the tide was turning, and Awata would go on to land clean shots through the rest of the round, despite Kiyota trying to press back.
With both men having been dropped and with 2 rounds remaining it was fight against time for Awata, who knew he had to put his man down again. Kiyota had other ideas however and kept coming forward. He didn't want to just take a decision. He wanted to get revenge for being dropped and pressure behind a tightened guard, looking to press forward and draw a mistake, leaving Kiyota open for a counter shot. This made for an exciting 7th round and the action grew more intense in round 8 as Kiyota continued to hunt a knockout and Kiyota stood his ground more. The final round even better than the 8th, with Awata having his head snapped back at one point, but gritting his teeth and firing back.
Although not a Fight of the Year contender, or anything close, this is a genuine hidden gem. We had two knockdowns, styles that gell, and despite a slow start the bout was really enjoyable, and got better as the rounds ticked on. It was an aggressive but smaller fighter up against a crafty tall counter puncher. It was genuinely compelling viewing and something we think fight fans will really enjoy.
(Note if you are going to watch this bout, the fight starts about 13 minutes into the video below.)
Whilst many bouts featured in our Treasure Trove series are rather obscure, and not particularly well known, not all of them are and today's Treasure Trove bout is one of the most notable bouts from 2020. In fact it's one of the bouts that should have been included in any legitimate "Bout of the Year" short list from the major media outlets, but because it took place in January 2020, it was really forgotten by the end of the year. Especially given how boxing was put on the back burner just a few weeks later.
Murodjon Akhmadaliev (7-0, 6) vs Daniel Roman (27-2-1, 10)
Over the past few years the Super Bantamweight division has been slowly, but surely bringing through a new era of fighters as the division has repeatedly shifted it's focus from big names and established fighters, to newer younger fighters. Whilst that was happening there wasn't really any focus point for the division, which was in many a good thing, as it was a division that had really spent a while not doing much.
As we entered 2020 there were two men to focus on at the top of the division. One of those was the exciting Emanuel Navarrete, though he was a man who's time in the division seemed very limited and he would leave the division later in the year, and there was IBF and WBA "Super" champion Daniel Roman.
Roman had done everything he could to get his head above the rest and to show his ability globally. He had won the WBA title in Japan, beating Shun Kubo, had defended it in Japan against Ryo Matsumoto and then returned to the US for two more defenses before unifying with a 2019 FOTY contender against TJ Doheny, in which Roman won the IBF title. In his first defense of the unified titles he took on the rising Murodjon Akhmadaliev. In the ring Roman was a tough, exciting fighter, who didn't hit hard, but hit a lot, and really was a high tempo, high schooled fighter who had real grit, determination and an amazing will to win. He had long been under-rated and was now starting to get the respect he deserved.
Akhmadaliev was one of the many rising hopefuls in the division, and had been moved a lot more aggressively than any of the others. He, along with Stephen Fulton, Brandon Figueroa, Carlos Castro and Angelo Leo, looked like the new generation of fighters that the division needed. They weren't big names going into the year, though they were all expected to be part of the scramble to become the #1 man in the division. As part of that scramble Akhamadaliev had the first major opportunity as he took on Roman for the unified throne, in just his 8th professional bout. He had been a fantastic amateur, but had only been a professional for around 2 years and had only fought 28 professional rounds prior to this bout.
Heading in to this bout there was a genuine sense of excitement and anticipation. Could Akhmadaliev really be this special this early in his career? Was Roman going to have the experience and tools to over-come the confident upstart? From the off fans had a sense of anticipation and it was genuinely a fight that delivered.
The opening round was faster than a typical opening round. It wasn't a war, or an all out slugfest of an opening round, but it was a high tempo start to the bout, with both men boxing really well, and both showing some really high level stuff. Both were respectful of the other and both mixed stuff up really nice. For the most part Akhmadaliev was on the front foot, putting the pressure on, but Roman picked his spots well and it was a really close round fought at an incredible level.
In round 2 we saw the tempo step up again, as Akhmadaliev picked up his work rate, and forced Roman to come with him. This resulted in a genuinely brilliant round that saw Akhmadaliev being tagged early on, before recomposing himself and getting his own shots off. It was a continuation of the high level action of the opening round, with both men picking some fantastic shots, but it was high level action with an offensive edge. Both men were happy to lets shots fly, neither seemed happy to just sit back and instead both wanted to prove they could fight coming forward as well as going backwards.
The tempo again picked up in round 3, with Roman likely 2-0 and knowing he had to turn the heat up. It was heat that Akhmadaliev coped with without too many issues, and as the round went on he came back into the round himself, picking some sensational combinations and looking very composed for such a professional novice. Roman was having plenty of success but it never fazed Akhmadaliev who seemed very comfortable, and showed his brilliant amateur pedigree.
In round 4 Roman began to get a foot hold in the bout, amping up his pressure, working the body, and it seemed like momentum began to shift in the middle rounds. The champion was beginning to find his grove and it seemed to be at the right time. After all Akhmadaliev had only been beyond 6 rounds once, and there were question marks about his gas tank. The body work and extra aggression of Roman continued to play a factor through the middle rounds, along with some brilliant uppercuts that he used when Akhmadaliev left a gap up top. It was a sign that the champion had got a read on the challenger and that the momentum was turning.
Going into final rounds the scores could easily have been all over the place, though Akhmadaliev seemed to do enough in rounds 10 and 11 to take them. Albeit narrowly.
Heading into the final round it was clear this was a close one. Both men had had some great success at times, but it was going to be a hard one to confident say who was winning. Akhmadaliev had started so well, before Roman came back. And then Akhmadaliev gritted his teeth and showed his fire in the later stages, but was it enough for him to be in the lead?
Prior to the final round Roman's corner seemed unsure if their man was up, and told him he had to go for it. It seemed however that Akhmadaliev had been told it was in the bag as he got on his bike, a very risky strategy and one that could have bit him in the backside. Through the entire final round Akhmadaliev threw very little and let Roman dictate the round, until the dying seconds when Akhmadaliev finally let his hands go. By then he had given away the round. In fact it was the clearest round of the fight and the only one that seemed impossible to make any case of going the other way.
At the bell Roman celebrated, likely feeling the final round had been enough to see him keep the title, even if it was going to be a draw.
The three judges all turned in scores cards reading 115-113, showing just how close and competitive this was. Though thankfully for Akhmadaliev all 2 of those cards favoured him, crowning him the new champion in just his 8th bout. It was, however, a nail biter. A razor thin, highly competitive, totally compelling, highly skilled, high tempo chess match. This was brilliant... and sadly because it took part in January, was all but forgotten by fans come the "awards season" in December.
It's fair to suggest the Welterweight to Middleweight divisions in Japan do go a bit over-looked, especially by international fans who don't typically get the chance to see many Japanese fighters above 135lbs. Despite that the divisions often give us some amazing battles, and the Japanese Middleweight title consistently gives us barn burners. In 2020 we got several great Japanese battles above 135lbs including today's Treasure Trove bout, which took place at 154lbs and matched a Japanese ranked Welterweight against a Japanese ranked Middleweight, with the two men compromising on weight class.
Junpei Tsujimoto (6-1-3, 4) vs Nath Nwachukwu (5-0-2, 2)
For this bout we go all the way back to February 1st 2020.
In one corner was 25 year old Teiken prospect Junpei Tsujimoto, a promising puncher who had cracked into the JBC's Welterweight rankings, with a #15 ranking coming in to this bout. He had been stopped on his debut, in 2014, then taken almost 2 years out of the ring before returning with some success. He had draw 3 of his next 5 bouts before reeling off 4 straight wins. He was fighting at a low level, but had impressed in 2018, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Welterweight, and had won both of his 2019 bouts.
In the opposite corner was 22 year old Nath Nwachukwu from the little known Marvelous Gym. He had began his professional career in 2017 and had built his name in 2018, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Middleweight, and had scored two wins in 2019 as he continued to build some career momentum. Given his success he had earned a #13 ranking with the JBC at Middleweight and had ran up a 7 fight unbeaten run up to this point.
With both men having won Rookie of the Year, in 2018, there was an interesting sub story in regards to their Rookie triumphs. As well as that story there was also intrigue coming from the fact this was two Japanese ranked fighters and the fact they were meeting between the natural weight of the two men. Would moving up in weight be an issue for Tsujimoto? Would Nwachukwu be able to make 154lbs without any issue?
There was also a big of a strange aspect to the two men. Despite being the supposedly smaller man, Tsujimoto was the much bigger man. He looked like the natural Middleweight here, and towered over Nwachukwu, who was dwarfed, despite being the man who was typically fighting at a higher weight.
The bout started fast, though it wasn't long until Tsujimoto looked to create some space, use his reach and establish control of the tempo. Despite Tsujimoto trying to control the range and use his jab Nwachukwu had other ideas in mind and pressed forward, applying continual pressure through the round. Nwachukwu wasn't able to land too much of note, but was doing enough to get in and get shots off before Tsujimoto managed to create some space.
The opening round wasn't a spectacular round, but it was a very solid way to start the fight, it was a much better opening round than we typically see, and it was one that saw both men having moments. It was a round that left us engaged, wanting more and excited about what we were set to get. The pressure of Nwachukwu was exciting, but there was a chance that he was going to walk on to something and that Tsujimoto's long levers would detonate something big.
Nwachukwu started round 2 much like he had fought round 1 and right at the start of the round Tsujimoto looked to fight fire with fire. Soon afterwards Tsujimoto tried to get back to moving and boxing, realising that getting into a war with Nwachukwu wouldn't end well for him. Despite trying to box more and fight less Tsujimoto couldn't stop Nwachukwu from walking forward, and pressing.
Despite the pressure from Nwachukwu we saw Tsujimoto having success at range and half way through the round he seemed to be settling into the bout. That was until a looping right hand from Nwachukwu landed clean, dropping Tsujimoto hard. The knockdown had been a big one, but Tsujimoto got back to his feet. He wobbled, but he easily beat the count. Upon the restart Nwachukwu went for the kill whilst Tsujimoto tried too survive. The pressure ended up forcing the referee to jump in and save Tsujimoto.
Whilst certainly not a Fight of the Year contender this was a really fun 2 rounder. It was a bout that helped Nwachukwu earn a fight with Takeshi Inoue later in 2020, in what was a tough bout for Inoue, and was certainly a big win for Nwachukwu. As for Tsujimoto it proved his weakness, it showed up his relatively poor chin, and his ability to be hurt. That was an ability that ended up rearing it's head again in his sensational bout with Daiki Ogura, which took place 9 months later.
This is short, but fun and well worthy a watch with both men firing off bombs, a huge knockdown and a good chance to see Nwachukhu's exciting style.
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.