One of the distinctly unique things about Japanese boxing is the Rookie of the Year and the way it's formatted, with the regional tournaments leading to an All Japan final in December. The tournaments, and the way they allow us to get well matched bouts with novices is one of the genuine highlights of the Japanese system. No other country, even South Korea who do run their own rookie shows, has something that comes close to the Japanese Rookie of the Year.
Kantaro Nakanishi (1-0-1) vs Shodai Morita (2-0, 2)
The All-Japan Rookie of the Year, for those unaware, pits the best rookie's in the West of Japan against the best in East Japan. To find out who's the best the fighters compete in a knockout tournament with the West and East finals typically taking place in November, before the All-Japan finals in December. Today's Treasure Trove bout is the West Japan Bantamweight final.
In one corner was Kantaro Nakanishi, who had gone 7-6 (4) as an amateur and was fighting out of the obscure HK Sports Gym in Kitakyushu City. His gym was a small one and he really was unknown, though had notably defeated a 5-0-1 fighter on debut and held a 4-0 opponent to a draw in his second bout, advancing in the tournament on a tie breaker. Aged 18 at the time of this bout he, and his team, would have been full aware that getting into the All Japan final would be huge and would give him a chance to show case his skills in front of a nation wide audience on G+ as part of the national final.
Of course the bout wasn't all about Nakanishi and Shodai Morita was also an unbeaten teenager, also aged 18. Unlike Nakanishi, who had gone the distance in both of his bouts, Morita had look explosive in his. He had blasted out Sadayuki Yamada in his debut and then stopped Daichi Okamoto inside a round to book his place in this final. Whilst Nakanishi was one of the few notable names at his obscure gym Morita was coming from the Morioka gym, which has the likes of Hinata Maruta training at it. It seemed he had the power, the better gym, and home advantage, with this being his third bout at the EDION Arena Osaka.
On paper this looked brilliantly well matched. The tough matched non-puncher against the heavier handed but less tested fighter. From the opening seconds it was clear we were going to get something really exciting.
Morita seemed the quicker man, dancing around, using his movement to unsettle Nakanishi. Despite being a novice himself Nakanishi showed great composure and didn't look flustered at Morita's movement and feints, instead remaining poised and making sure he had his say in every exchange. He was countering well, and a number of his right hands really caught the eye in the opening round, whilst Morita burnt a lot of excess energy with un-needed movement.
Despite the extra movement from Morita there was always a threat that he had the fight changing power. Not only was that threat on everyone's mind but it was clearly something that Morita himself had belief in. It was as if he felt when he landed clean the bout was going to be over, whilst he felt like Nakanishi couldn't hurt him. This made for an exciting dynamic, which one man needing to be more cautious, but still busy, and the other being a bit more reckless but also being very dangerous.
We won't ruin this one, but it's a cracking little 4 rounder that's well worthy of a watch.
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.