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.
Covering the entire of 2020 in this series means that we get to jump about the calendar, looking for fights that we enjoyed and then sharing them with you guys in our Treasure Trove series. For some bouts we'll skip to the beginning of the year, and for others we'll look at bouts later in the year. For today's bout we only go back a few months, to November, but it's one that you may not have seen. It that was the case you're in for a treat. And if you have seen it, you'll remember how amazing the second round was and know it's worth a rewatch!
Junpei Tsujimoto (6-2-3, 4) vs Daiki Ogura (4-3-1, 4)
In 2018 Japanese hopeful Junpei Tsujimoto caught our attention by winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year, a sign of good things for a professional novice. Although he had lost on debut he had bounced back, and gone from 0-1 to 4-1-3 (2) by the time of his Rookie of the Year win. He then managed to notch a couple of wins in 2019 and hope was building for him. He had good size, good power, long reach and seemed to tick many boxes.
The he lost in 2 rounds to Nath Nwachuku in in February 2012. His momentum and confidence shattered.
On his return to the ring in November Tsujimoto battled Daiki Ogura.
Ogura was never regarded particularly highly. He had lost 2 of his first 3 bouts and had struggled to get going, though had managed toturn his career around to the point where he was 4-2-1 (4) after 7 bouts. Until a 4 fight unbeaten run was stopped last December by Seyedsaeid Hosseini in a low key bout in Thailand. He was looking to bounce back from that loss when he took on Tsujimoto.
This bout, which was part of the under-card for Junto Nakatani Vs Giemel Magramo, was not expected to be anything special, but it ended up being very memorable, due to one of the most amazing we had in a Japanese ring during the year.
The first round saw Ogura raging forward, trying to get to Tsujimoto, who was happy to back off and use the ring. It was boxing from Tsujimoto, who looked the better boxer and used straight punches very nicely. On the other hand it was fighting from Ogura, who looked to get close and land thudding round house shots whilst pressuring Tsujimoto. Towards the end of the round Tsujimoto certainly seemed to be the one forcing his fight and neutralising the fight of Tsujimoto.
Moments into round 2 Ogura's power paid dividends as he got Tsujimoto backing up, and then he rocked Tsujimoto who was all over the place before going down. He looked dazed when he got up with around 2 minutes left and Ogura went for the kill. It wasn't pretty from Ogura, but it was clear that he wasn't going to to let Tsujimoto catch a break, and several huge left hooks from Ogura landed. Several times it looked liked Tsujimoto was on the verge of going down again, and he seemed to be fighting out of desperation. And then. Out of nowhere, a right hand from Tsujimoto turned the fight on it's head, sending Ogura down, where he stayed as the referee waved off the bout.
It was amazing to see Tsujimoto pull victory from the jaws of defeat, and potentially even saving his career in the process.
This isn't like the wars we've shared the past few weeks, but this is still a fight worth watching and one of the most drastic turn arounds we've seen this year. Remarkable stuff.
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.