This is a bit of a weird week for Japanese boxing with two very good mid-week shows, one from Kadoebi and one from Teiken, as well as a great show at the weekend. Best thing is all 3 shows will be made available to watch, as Japanese boxing ends the month of March with a bang. Today we look at one of those mid-week bouts as we bring you the second "One to watch" for this week!
The One to Watch?
Gonte Lee (2-0-1, 1) vs Aso Ishiwaki (8-3-1, 6)
March 25th (Thursday)
This is a bout that really has excited us since first seeing it on the Japanese schedule websites. It's a match up that gives us a lot of reasons to be excited.
For one man this is a real step up, following a successful amateur career that saw him turn professional with lefty expectations on his shoulders. The man in questions was one of the more notable Japanese amateurs but has failed to set the world alight since turning professional a few years ago. The other man is a fighter we love watching, and someone who always brings the action, despite being a technically limited fighter. He desperately needs a win after a major set back in December.
Not only do we have two guys looking to prove a point, but we also have styles that should gel well, giving us something well worthy of our time and attention.
The 25 year old Gonte Lee, also spelled Kuntae Lee, was a sensational Japanese amateur who went 102-10 in the unpaid ranks and ran up more than 60 successive wins as an amateur. When he turned professional in 2018 there was huge expectations on his shoulders, and his February 2019 debut was hugely anticipated. Sadly his opponent seemed to be very wary of him and went down very softly following that debut win Lee won his second bout 5 months later and then had a technical draw near the end of 2019. Sadly since then he hasn't been seen in the ring as Covid19 slashed the opportunities for Japanese fighters to tick over.
Lee is an incredibly polished fighter, who looks the deal and has a very smooth technical style. He's quick, sharp, and understands the ring really well. Sadly however with 2020 beign a write off for him the 140lb hopeful really needs to begin motoring on with his career and can't waste any more time sitting and twiddling his thumbs. With that in mind we expect to see him being matched hard going forward and that's certainly the case here against Ishiwaki.
In 2018, at the age of 19, Aso Ishiwaki came runner up in the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Lightweight, and impressed with his come forward and aggressive style. In 2019 he built on that with notable and impressive performances against the likes of Yoji Saito, Takuya Matsusaka and Ryuji Ikeda, and heading into 2020 he was one of the fighters we were most excited about seeing again. Sadly though Covid19 essentially put his year on ice until December, when he fought his only bout of the year, and was destroyed by the sensational Jin Sasaki in a Japanese Youth title fight. We expected that to be a much, much more competitive bout than it was, though Sasaki looked absolutely incredible and out performed what we, any many others, expected. This will be his first but since that loss.
In the ring Ishiwaki is an aggressive boxer-fighter. He's generally shown to be sturdy, tough, strong and powerful, though the loss to Sasaki may have shown he wasn't quite as strong at 140lbs as he had been at Lightweight. Technically he is flawed, but has a fan friendly style and mentality and makes for fun bouts, win lose or draw, and he is certainly one of the most fun to watch fighters in Japan.
What to expect?
Given the styles of the two men are drastically different, with Ishiwaki being a pressure minded fighter and Lee being a pure boxer, this should be a compelling match up of styles. We suspect Lee will want to keep this at range, using his southpaw jab and find holes for his crisp straight left hand. Ishiwaki on the other hand will come forward, using a tight guard to try and force Lee on to the back foot.
Whilst we do like Ishiwaki, a lot, we do wonder whether the mental scars of the Sasaki bout will be on his mind, and whether he really has the size and strength to compete at 140lbs going forward. If he doesn't then his style, whilst exciting, could be a major issue against the stronger, more mature, 140lbs fighters, like Lee.
We're expecting Ishiwaki to press, pressure and come forward, barrelling forward and trying to get inside and work away on Lee. Sadly though we think he's going to take a lot of shots coming forward, Lee's understanding of the ring being too much for him.
Despite a good effort, a great deal of desire, we see Ishiwaki being stopped late into this 8 rounder. He'll have success, but on the whole he will be out worked, out fought, out boxed, and out landed by a very skilled man looking to make a statement.
The bad news?
There really isn't anything bad here, though if we're looking for niggles the bout will be aired on pay TV channel G+ during the middle of the week, so there might be something of a limited crowd and atmosphere. It's also a shame that Ishiwaki is coming into this on the back of a loss an Lee hasn't fought since November 2019, though we dare say those two "negatives" balance each other out a bit here.
On February 2nd we'll see Japanese-Korean Gonte Lee make his professional debut, following an excellent amateur career. Although he isn't a medal winner at a major international event, such as the World Amateur Championships or Olympics his debut is one worth getting very excited about.
Lee had been a standout amateur, winning numerous tournaments on the Japanese scene, including 6 high school crowns, whilst running up a spectacular (102-10) record, including a Japanese record setting 62 straight wins. Those performances had lead him to fighting in a number of international competitions, competing for North Korea.
It was hoped that Lee would compete at the 2020 Olympics in Japan under the North Korean banner. His decision to instead turn professional was a clear sign of fear that the 2020 Olympics may not have boxing, and his decision to turn professional was certainly effected by the issues going on in amateur boxing. The fact he was one of North Korea's biggest hopes in boxing, and was deciding to give up his Olympic dream 2 years out due to the uncertainty of AIBA was a statement, and he made it alongside Japanese hopeful Mikito Nakano, with both turning professional under Teiken.
Although, at the time of writing, the only footage of Lee is as an amateur it's hard not to be impressed by him. He is a razor sharp Southpaw, who has excellent speed, anticipation and reflexes, as well as a lovely variety of punches. Unlike some fighters who rely on speed he manages to combine those traits with excellent boxing skills, solid fundamentals, an accurate jab and a powerful straight left hand. He also looks like he has impressive body punching, something we don't typically see amateurs having, and a style that should suit the professional game well.
We know that his first bout is a gimme, as he takes on Thai novice Aphisit Namkhot (1-1, 1) but the expectation is that he will be moved quickly through the ranks in 2019 and 2020. His style pedigree and style should see him competing for titles in the near future, and we're incredibly excited to see his rise through the ranks.
With Teiken having had a few bad years, with the likes of Shinsuke Yamanaka, Akifumi Shimoda, Toshiyuki Igarashi and Takashi Miura all retiring, and high profile losses for Ryota Murata, Roman Gonzalez, Carlos Cuadras and Jorge Linares, the gym is need of some success stories. Whilst some of those successes have come in the form Masaru Sueyoshi and Hayate Kaji they will want significantly more and the signing of Lee is a clear statement of intent, and we suspect after Lee shines on debut we'll be seeing Teiken approach a number of other amateur standouts later in the year as they look to bolster their future hopes. Although Teiken is still the most well known gym in Japan others have started to sign up talent for their future, with Watanabe, Kadoebi and Ohashi all signing top prospects, and we think Lee, and Nakano, will be the start of Teiken's upcoming talent raid of the amateur scene.
Is Lee's debut going to shake up the Japanese scene in a seismic way? No. But it will be something to look forward to, and the start of a journey that we expect will see success at domestic, regional and world level.
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.