Due to the way that Christmas seems to split big shows only at the end of the year we have brought forward next week's "One to Watch" so as to talk about one more fight that deserves a light on it before we all tuck into our wonderful Christmas lunches, present and celebrate the best day of the year. Yeah we might be biased but Christmas is great! Thankfully there is a really notable show this coming Sunday that fits in perfectly with the ethos of "One to Watch" and this is the All Japan Rookie of the Year finals which take place at Korakuen Hall. We've picked a final that pits unbeaten youngsters against each other, and looks like a brilliant match up on paper!
The One to Watch?
Katsuki Mori (5-0, 1) vs Takumi Chono (5-0, 3)
December 22nd (Sunday)
Rookie of the Year launches some fighters on to big things in the years that follow, with fighters like Masayuki Ito, Ryoichi Taguchi, Daisuke Naito and Katsunari Takayama all turning Rookie success into world title success. The tournament is really a major competition and a proving ground for novices in Japan who use the tournament as a great way to kick start their careers. Here we have two young and unbeaten men looking to launch themselves towards a title fight in 2020, and this is a great platform to shine on.
In one corner is 19 year old Ohashi gym hopeful Katsuki Mori, who has progressed to the all Japan final on the back of his excellent boxing skills, lighting quick movements, a brilliant jab and smart footwork. For a 5 fight novice it's clear he is picking up a lot from being in a gym that has Noaya Inoue and Taku Kuwara in it. He does lack power, but in terms of boxing skills, body punching and clean punching technique he is leaps and bounds above move 5-0 prospects. Notably for someone who doesn't have power he is a strong kid and he easily backed up the supposedly bigger punching Shu Nawai in the East Japan final in November. Somethin that is well worth noting is that through his first 5 professional bouts he has only had 1 round, by 1 judge, go against him. That's the level of his ability, and how in control and dominant he has been so far.
Takumi Chono, on the other hand, is a 21 year old from the little known Chunichi Gym in Nagoya. The gym is a legitimately tiny one, and whilst Mori is getting time to bounce back world class fights Chono is essentially training with follow local novices. On one hand that limits the people he can train with and the progress he can make at the gym, though on the other hand it could give him more determination and fire to prove that he can win the Rookie of the Year with out a big team behind him. So far his career has been pretty hidden, but he's already given 4 men their first loss and has also made his international debut. In the ring he lacks the polish and the skills of Mori, but he makes up for it in some ways with heavy hands and aggression. He has a raw puncher look to him, and although he can be caught he does seem to take a shot well.
What to expect?
We'll not lie, we see Mori as the clear favourite. There just looks to be something very special about the teenager, who seems like the type of fighter who will go on to do big things down the line. He needs time to physically mature, but the foundations are there and he is naturally a very skilled young kid. Despite those skills Mori has shown no fear of fighting on the inside and that could, potentially, give Chono a chance to make the most of his power.
We suspect Chono will know he can't outbox Mori, but he can out punch him, and will look to invite Mori in and land counters. It's a risky strategy to give rounds away, especially in a short 5 round bout like this, but his best chance to win is use his power.
We expect a showcase from Mori, but Chono is certainly a live under dog and will go in with the belief that he has the power to win and as the bout goes on, and his desperation kicks in, we could end up having very exciting back and forth action.
The bad news?
There isn't really much bad to take away from this one! It's not a high profile bout by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a good bout, and as with all All-Japan Rookie of the Year bouts both men will be there to make an impression on the viewers tuning in live on G+.
The All-Japan Rookie of the Year final is one of the true highlights of the Japanese calendar and takes place just days before Christmas at the Korakuen Hall. Before we reach the All Japan final we need to find out who is representing East Japan and who is representing West Japan, do to that we get the East and West Japan finals.
This coming Sunday we get the East Japan finals and we have looked through the match ups on that card looking for the bout we view as the "One to Watch".
The One to Watch?
Katsuki Mori (4-0, 1) vs Shu Nawai (3-1, 2)
November 3rd (Sunday)
There was a lot of potential bouts to select for this Weeks "One to Watch" thanks to the East Japan Rookie of the Year final, which could have had 5 or 6 "Ones to Watch", but we setting on the Minimumweight bout between Katsuki Mori and Shu Nawai due to the combination of youth, styles and the fact Nawai's previous bout has made us so excited to see him again. The bout is also a rematch between the two men who fought in October 2018.
The 19 year old Katsuki Mori is an Ohashi gym promoted youngster who debuted in August 2018, on the under-card of a show that featured Akira Yaegashi against Hirofumi Mukai and Satoshi Shimizu Vs Shingo Kawamura, less than 2 moths later he was on the under-card of the WBSS Yokohama show, headlined by Naoya Inoue. Having been on such big cards we don't expect him to feel too much pressure here, even if the bout is a big step up. Watching him we see a very tidy boxer with quick hands, a nice aggressive style and despite some rough edges he appears to be a very strong young kid with some nasty looking body shots in his arsenal. There is clearly work to be done, and he does look like a boy rather than a man, but he looks like a natural talent.
Aged 21 Shu Nawai is also not a fully mature fighter, but he looks more like a man in the ring than Mori and looks like a very powerfully built fighter, relying more on his physicality and pressure than speed and boxing. Coming from the Watanabe gym you can see bits in his style that do look like that some other Watanabe gym fighters. There are touches, albeit light ones, of Hiroto Kyoguchi in the way he fights, and he tries to respond when he gets hit. Last time out Nawai went to war with Yuichi Baba in what was a genuinely breath taking fight and showed that Nawai could take it as well as give it. He loves the inside battle and looks really strong up close. It's also worth noting that Nawai's one loss came to Mori, in what was Nawai's professional debut.
What to expect?
Mori looks the more naturally skilled boxer but a swarmer can of course smother a boxer for space and break them down up close. That will be the game plan of Nawai, who will be looking to get up close and personal and break down the younger man. The physical strength and aggression of Nawai looks like it could be a serious problem for Mori if the younger man can't create space.
Mori needs to concentrate on his jab, which is a lovely crisp punch, his footwork and his left hook to the body. Nawai is there to be hit and Mori needs to get his respect. If he can't then the younger man will be in trouble, but Mori has really clean jabs and left hooks to the body and there is a chance he can make Nawai pay for his wide, wild and sweeping hooks.
The bad news?
The bad news for those wanting to keep an eye on this bout is that it won't be shown live. In fact it won't be aired until November 10th when G+ show the card in full. It's a shame, but it is better than it never being aired at all!
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.