As we head towards Christmas we have a few interesting shows left, including one on December 14th from Kadoebi. For us that card is one with several intriguing match ups and features a bout we want to highlight in this series. Especially given that the show will be made available to watch on Boxing Raise. The bout isn't one that we suspect will be a FOTY contender, but it is a contest that should be genuinely fascinating to see unfold, and features a man who has thrice fought in the US.
The One to Watch?
Hiroki Okada (19-2, 13) vs Izuki Tomioka (7-3-1, 2)
December 14th (Monday)
Not every bout we talk about in this series will be promising fireworks and excitement, and this one is certainly more focused in intrigue rather than excitement. This match up is a really compelling one between a former national and regional champion, looking to get his career back on track following successive loses, and a rising youngster looking to score his biggest win so far, and secure another big fight in the new year.
The 31 year year old Hiroki Okada is the more well known of the two fighters, but very much the man who is now fighting for his career. Okada began his career 19-0, he had won the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific titles and even made a successful US debut, beating Cristian Rafael Coria in 2018. And then things fell apart and he suffered back to back KO losses to Raymundo Beltran and Javier Molina, as his world title ambitions fell apart. Now Okada is set to fight for the first time since his two KO losses in 2019.
During his successful run Okada was a solid boxer-puncher, with good ring IQ, decent timing and counter puncher and solid power. He always seemed to lack that extra gear however, and often seemed to fight at quite a low tempo. He liked fights to be slow, controlled, and fought at a comfortable pace. In his losses however, and in a number of other bouts, we've seen him really struggle with a high tempo bout and with quick, sharp fighters. Which could be an issue here. Whilst he is flawed he will also be very wary that another loss he could spell the end of career. A loss to Beltran and Molina are one thing, but a loss on the domestic scene would be much, much harder to come back from.
It can be easy to write off a fighter with a 7-3-1 (2) record, like the 23 year old Izuki Tomioka, however records really aren't always what they seem and in Japan for instance a 7-3-1 type record can mean that the fighter isn't particularly good, or has been matched incredibly hard. Tomioka falls into that second category, his competition has been insane, and he's hard more than his share of success as well. In his short career he has run Masayoshi Nakatani incredibly close, losing by 11th round TKO in a bout that he was very much in, lost a debatable one against Shuya Masaski and was leading Shuichiro Yoshino after 8 rounds. He is perhaps the best 7-3-1 fighter on the planet today and, with a little bit of luck, could well have won titles and have a very different standing in the sport.
What makes Tomioka such a good fighter isn't just the fact he has been a real test for Nakatani, Sasaki and Yoshino, but also his skill set, his size and the tools he has at his arsenal. He's not a puncher or a brawler but instead he's a pretty pure boxer, one of the best in Japan, with an incredible reach and a frame made for boxing. He's tall, and rangy and has a sensational jab, in fact his jab neutralised that of Masayoshi Nakatani when the two men fought. He's quick, he's sharp, he maintains range, he lands and gets away. He is a brilliant boxer. Sadly he is lacking in physical strength and power, his stamina is questionable and he has been stopped in 2 of his 3 losses. But in a pure boxing bout he has the tools to be a nightmare on the Japanese and Oriental scenes. Notably this bout will see him testing the watter at 140lbs, but we really don't see that being an issue for him, he's a big kid, and he's still physically maturing.
What to expect?
We expect Okada to look determined, and the stronger, more powerful man. The one who will be physical when he needs to be. Sadly however we also see him being a man who will be questioning himself and will be real low on confidence. He'll know that another loss and it leaves him in an awful place.
We suspect that early on Okada will be more aggressive than we've seen from him in the past. He'll look to force his will and physicality on Tomioka. On paper it's a good gameplan, and one that really targets a weakness of Tomioka.
Sadly however we're not sure if it's actually going to be a viable tactic here for Okada, who is much slower, clumsier and doesn't have the crisp jab that Tomioka has. He has the heavier shots, but will need to be in range to deliver them against a taller, faster, sharper fighter. Whilst Okada will be trying to hurry and bully Tomioka the younger man will be staying at ranging, jabbing and moving, scoring points, and racking up the rounds.
Over 12, or even 10, rounds Okada may have stood a chance in breaking down Tomioka in the later stages. Over 8 rounds however it's hard to imagine Okada taking enough out of Tomioka's tank to close the show. With that in mind we expect a Tomioka decision win, in a bout that might get messy late on.
The bad news?
For those anticipating a war this isn't going to be that. This is very much a bout where the technical skills of both will be on show and one where Tomioka's speed, size, and jab will be the difference maker. Thankfully however the show will have wars on it, and Matcha Nakagawa Vs Ryo Suwa, Mikio Sakai Vs Toshihiro Kai and Ryoji Fukunaga Vs Kenta Nakagawa should be able to bring the fireworks to the event.
The contenders at 140lbs are numerous, we know we're going to miss some off this list, and it's certainly not an exhaustive one, but it proves how deep the division is right now,and how brilliant the weight class is, even if it does lack, overall, in proven, world-class elite level talent.
If you missed our preview look at the division's champions that can be read here The state of the Division - Light Welterweight - The Champions
Josh Taylor (14-0, 12)
Arguably the best fighter in the division right now doesn't have a title, but could end up with one early in 2019. Josh Taylor is a former amateur standout from Scotland who made an impressive impression early in his career, on national TV in the UK, before massively improving his reputation in 2017 and 2018. In his short career he has already scored notable wins over Ohara Davies, Miguel Vazquez, Viktor Postol and Ryan Martin. More is expected to come when he faces Kiryl Relikh in a WBSS semi-final later this year.
Jorge Linares (45-4, 28)
Venezuelan veteran Jorge Linares, who has won world titles at Featherweight, Super Featherweight and Lightweight, is now competing at Light Welterweight, though has the option of moving backdown in the future. At the age of 33 Linares doesn't have forever to make an impression at 140lbs, but with his name, his reputation, his following and style we suspect there will be a big fight for him later in the year. He's in action on January 18th, against Pablo Cesar Cano, and a win there will almost certainly move him up the ladder towards a world title shot.
Mohamed Mimoune (21-2, 2)
Feather fisted Frenchman Mohamed Mimoune is one of the dark horses in the division, and has been unbeaten in over 5 years, suffering both of his losses back in 2013. During his current unbeaten run, of 10 fights, he has got his passport out and beaten Ceferino Rodriguez and Sam Eggingtton on the round, taken the unbeaten records of Ceferino Rodriguez, Emiliano Dominguez Rodriguez and Nabil Krissi, and, proven that even without power he's a nightmare to fight. A real dark horse on the fringes of world class.
Jack Caterall (23-0, 12)
The highly regarded Jack Caterall is one of the many British fighters looking to make a big statement in 2019. Sadly though it feels like he has been on the verge of making a statement for a few years now and hasn't ever felt like he's managed it. He scored a huge win over former amateur star Thomas Stalker in 2014, and hasn't really managed to make the strides since then. Good wins over Joe Hughes, Martin Gethin, Tyrone Nurse, Tyrone McKenne and Ohara Davies have followed in the years since, but it still feels like he's only operating on a domestic level. At 25 he's young enough to wait, but there is a real risk of him going stale.
Terry Flanagan (33-2, 13)
On the subject of going stale that certainly seems to be the downfall of Terry Flanagan. "Turbo" was once 33-0, the WBO Lightweight champion and a man going places,though has now suffered back to back losses and is only just making it on to this list. His biggest issue was that his record papered over the fact he had been a thoroughly disappointing Lightweight champion. He had won the title in sensational fashion in July 2015 but his challengers were, without trying to sound too harsh, poor and uninspiring. Those poor challengers likely contributed to Flanagan going off the boil and looking very poor in his last two bouts. He needs something to light the fire under his backside in 2019 or his career with crash and burn, but he does have the talent to right the ship. He needs desire to go with that talent if he's to get his career back in track.
Jose Zepeda (30-1-0-1, 25)
Interestingly one of the few notable fighters that Flanagan has beaten was heavy handed American southpaw Jose Zepeda, who unfortunately suffered a nasty injury in his bout with Flanagan. Since the loss to the Englishman we've seen Zepeda going 7-0-0-1 (5) with notable wins overAmeth Diaz, Carlos Diaz Ramirez and Abner Lopez. This wins, and Zepeda's connections, have secured Zepeda a world title shot against Jose Carlos Ramirez in February. That will be make or break for Zepeda, and should, in all honesty, be a gut check for Ramirez at the very least.
Rances Barthelemy (27-1-0-1, 14)
Cuban fighter Rances Barthelemy is a 32 year old former Super Featherweight and Lightweight champion, who has shown world class ability, but not the mentality to go with it. His resume is an impressive one littered with wins over good competition, like Hylon Williams Jr, Arash Usmanee, Argenis Mendez, Fernando David Saucedo, Antonio DeMarco, Denis Shafikov and Kiryl Relikh, but he's had a fair bit of good luck, and some thoroughly uninspired performances. A great talent, but a fighter who tends to underwhelm.
Yves Ulysse Jr (17-1, 9)
Sensational Canadian fighter Yves Ulysse Jr is a 30 year old who looks to be wanting to prove himself before getting a world title opportunity. In 2017 he began to make a charge through the rankings, dominating Zachary Ochoa and Ricky Sismundo, but suffered a real set back of a decision loss to Steve Claggett inn October 2017. Since then he has bounced back brilliantly with wins over Cletus Seldin, Ernesto Espana and Maximilliano Becerra. He may have a loss on his record but he also has a host of good wins and is quickly moving towards a world title fight.
Maxim Dadashev (12-0, 10)
Unbeaten Russian fighter Maxim Dadshev, aka "Mad Max", is a hard hitting 28 year old who is based in the US and is rising contender to get excited about. His first 4 or 5 bouts were nothing special but since then every fight has been a step forwards. In 2018 he scored notable wins over Abdiel Ramirez, Darleys Perez and Antonio DeMarco. He's not looked unbeatable, and was forced to dig deep against Perez and DeMarco, but after just 12 fights that's not really a surprise. In 2019 we expect his team to continue matching hard and prepare him for a world title shot in 2020. A flawed but exciting fringe contender.
Anthony Yigit (21-1-1, 7)
Swedish fighter Anthony Yigit is best known internationally for his gutsy loss to Ivan Baranchyk in October 2018, when his face was badly swollen and the referee stopped the fight. Prior to that loss he had been unbeaten and pretty impressive picking up the European title and scoring good wins over the likes of DeMarcus Corley, Lenny Daws,Sandor Martin and Joe Hughes. Despite the loss to Baranchyk the personable Yigit certainly deserves to remain in the title mix, and hopefully he does get another shot in the future.
Hiroki Okada (19-0, 13)
Japan's Hiroki Okada is another fringe contender, looking to come into his own in 2019. He's a former Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific champion, but really failed to deliver on his US debut, struggling past Cristian Rafael Coria. His next bout is set for February 10th against Raymundo Beltran, and that is going to be make or break for both men. Beltran is seen as being on the slide, but Okada is seen as untested. A loss to Beltran will likely send Okada back to Japan with his tail between his legs, whilst a loss for Beltran will end his career. Interestingly the Okada Vs Beltran bout is expected to decide a future WBC title challenger, for Jose Carlos Ramirez
Akihiro Kondo (31-7-1, 18)
Another Japanese fighter in and around the world rankings at 140lbs is 33 year old tough guy Akihiro Kondo, who will be fighting in an IBF eliminator in February against Downua Ruawaiking. The tough Kondo is best known for losing in an IBF title fight to Sergey Lipinets in 2017. Kondo is a technically solid but unspectacular fighter who is insanely tough, has a good engine and is very steady in the ring. Sadly though he is pretty 1-paced and even a win in his world title eliminator won't really prepare him for any of the champions.
Downua Ruawaiking (14-0, 11)
The man Kondo is fighting in his IBF title eliminator is unbeaten Thai youngster Downua Ruawaiking, aka Apinun Khongsong, who debuted at the age of 19 is now only 22. Despite his youth he has been on a tear on the regional scene and really impressed back in December he did a number on Sonny Katiandagho to record a 4th straight stoppage win, and didn't look like he had even got out of 1st gear. It's hard to really know how good Downua is, but we're expecting to find out when he faces Kondo, he could be the next hidden gem from Thailand, or a fighter who fails when he takes the next step up. A really interesting match up.
Shohjahon Ergashev (15-0, 14)
One of a number of Uzbek fighters rising through the ranks, at an alarming pace, is Shohjahon Ergashev. The hard hitting 27 year old southpaw announced himself on the international scene in 2018, with notable wins against Sonny Fredrickson and Zhimin Wang. Ergashev is incredibly exciting, hard hitting, dangerous and aggressive. His last couple of wins in 2018 took less than 90 seconds combined and he's coming into 2019 with a lot of momentum and a much higher profile. Whether he's the #1 Uzbek in the division is yet to be seen, but he's certainly in the conversation.
Shakhram Giyasov (6-0, 5)
The other Uzbek looking to prove he is the #1 is 2016 Olympic silver medal winner Shakhram Giyasov, who only turned in 2018, making his debut in March, but has quickly become one of the most exciting rising stars out there. Despite his short career he has looked sensational, heavy handed, exciting and like a sure fire world champion. Technically there are things for him to work on but his competition so far has been stellar, with a combined record of 139-35-2. We're expecting to see Giyasov take a huge step up this year, and he's expected to fight in the Uzbek national stadium in Tashkent in early 2019.
On September 14th fight fans will be able to see unbeaten Japanese Light Welterweight fighter Hiroki Okada (18-0, 13) [岡田博喜] make his US debut. The unbeaten fighter from the Kadoebi Houseki Gym in Tokyo will be a bit of an unknown to American audience, but those who have followed the sport in Asia, specifically Japan, will be aware of the heavy handed 28 year old and what he brings to the ring. Ahead of his bout with Argentinian fighter Cristian Rafael Coria (27-6-2, 11) we've decided to look at Hiroki Okada by the numbers, and try to help American fans get a grasp of what they are going to get from Okada when he steps in the ring next week.
In terms of his style he's a hard hitting and intelligent counter-puncher, with a feared right hand and unlike many Japanese fighters he's not a fighter who relies on being teak tough. Instead he's a fighter who uses a solid ring IQ to find holes in his opponents and land some solid counter shots. As a result he can be a little unexciting at times, but with his power it's often a case of when will he strike with dynamite, as opposed to "if" he will strike.
Okada wasn't a stand out amateur, but was a solid one winning the ultra-competitive Inter-High School crown in 2007.
October 1st 2011 Vs Kazuya Nakano (Debut) - 4 round bout
Okada would make his professional debut against fellow debutant Kazuya Nakano back in October 2011. The then 21 year old Okada would stop his foe in the 2nd round of the bout, with Nakano being dropped to his knees from a brilliant counter-right hand.
At the time of writing Okada holds world rankings with all 4 world title bodies. His rankings are currently WBO#3, WBA#4, IBF #5 and WBC#9. This makes him eligible for any of the champions, though he had unfortunately been over-looked for the World Boxing Super Series, leaving only WBC champion Jose Ramirez in his sights for the foreseeable future.
(Image courtesy of Boxmob.jp)
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.