Not all fights in this series are wars, or dramatic 2-way battles of attrition and determination. Today we look at something a little bit from the treasure. This was more a bout that put one guy on the map, rather than being a thrilling all action fight. The was less about the fight and more about the single guy, who thrilled us through out, and made us bigger fans than we were previously.
Nobuyuki Shindo (20-4-2, 8) vs Hironobu Matsunaga (14-1, 8)
Coming into this the tall and rangy Nobuyuki Shindo was enjoying his second reign as a Japanese champion. He was the Japanese champion at 154lbs, having previously been the Welterweight champion. Although not the most pleasing fighter to watch Shindo was a freak of nature. He was a huge guy, standing at 6'1" with massive wingspan, and to top that off he was also a southpaw. He was the sort of fighter others avoid if they can. In 2018 he had won the Japanese Light Middleweight title with a narrow win over Ryosuke Maruki and then defended it against "interim" champion Akinori Watanabe, in what was a truly amazing fight. He then entered 2019 with a mandatory due as part of the Champion Carnival.
The mandatory challenger for Shindo was Hironobu Matsunaga, and exciting but often over-looked fighter, with an aggressive style, that saw him barrelling forward with a lot of pressure. Like Shindo, Matsunaga was a southpaw, but that was about all they had in common, with Matsunaga being significantly short than the champion, and having a very aggressive style, compared to Shindo's rather negative and cautious one. He had earned his title fight by retiring Koshinmaru Saito in October 2018, but this was still regarded as a big step up for him, against an opponent who towered over him and had the edge in experience.
From the opening seconds it was clear the two men were significantly different in terms of size, with Shindo physically looking 2 divisions bigger than Matsunaga. Shindo managed to get his jab out working early and used his feet to maintain distance and held up close, neutralising Matsunaga when he did close the distance. Around half way into the round however we were starting to see Matsunaga getting closer, getting more aggressive and landing heavier artillery than the champion. By the end of the round it was very much becoming a Matsunaga fight, with his pressure building and his punches landing.
Having began to find his range in round 1, and finding a way around the reach of Shindo reach, Matsunaga kept coming forward in round 2. This forced Shindo to fight fire with fire at times, and from there on we get a fun fight with the fun under-dog forcing the action and the brave champion trying to get his respect, and fight back. This was particularly apparent at the end of the round, when Shindo was forced to fight off the ropes and landed a monstrous right hand. We knew Shindo was tough, given his bout with Watanabe, we knew he was skilled, and we felt like we were set for something very fun.
Again this isn't an all out war, but is a rather fan friendly bout, and a real chance to see one of the more over-looked, and entertaining, Japanese fighters out there.
Every so often a division we don't tend to think of much in Asia delivers a fight of real value and excitement. Today we look at one such fight that took place at 154lbs in November 2019, and whilst it became a bit one sided by the end it was genuinely brilliant to watch live, with contrasting styles and an air of tenseness. This wasn't a Fight of the Year contender, don't get us wrong, but it was a genuine treasure hidden away just days before the WBSS Bantamweight final.
Hironobu Matsunaga (15-1, 9) vs Koki Koshikawa (9-1, 6)
In one corner was the once beaten Japanese Light Middleweight champion Hironobu Matsunaga. He had been riding a 9 fight unbeaten run since losing in the 2014 All Japan Rookie of the Year final, where he lost to Yuki Beppu. During that 9 fight winning run he had built his career really well with wins against the likes of Sanosuke Sasaki, Je Ni Ma, Koshinmaru Saito and Nobuyuki Shindo. He was an aggressive fighter who was physically strong, a bit limited defensively but pretty much an exciting bully in the ring, with a great engine and an under-rated jab.
Whilst Matsunaga had, arguably, over-achieved by winning a Japanese title having failed to even win Rookie of the Year Koki Koshikawa was seen as an under-achiever of sorts. He had been a solid amateur, and had been tipped for big things when he signed with the Celes Gym, but an early winning run was ended when he was clearly beaten in 2015 by Koshinmaru Saito. He had bounced back with 5 wins, including one over Daisuke Sakamoto in his final bout, but hadn't really impressed in the way many had anticipated.
The bout began with Koshikawa pressing forward, using his jab to apply pressure to the champion. It was a confident and competent start from Koshikawa who seemed to momentarily wobble Matsunaga late in the opening round, before being clocked hard himself moments later.
The second round saw the challenger again coming forward in the early going but less than a minute into the round we started to see more pressure being applied by the champion, who was finally finding his groove. It wasn't consistent success for the champion, but there was more moments for him, and he had began to back up Koshikawa, who continued to have moments.
The last 30 seconds of round 2 were genuinely brilliant and saw the bout move up a gear as both men began to unload huge shots on each other. From there on the bout took a real thrilling feel and things began to get brutal with Koshikawa getting cut early in round 3, and bombs going back and forth through the round.
If you missed this one it's worthy of a watch, especially given the current lack of live boxing.
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.