It’s fair to say that boxing action to begin 2021 is relatively limited and there are very, very few shows scheduled for the next few weeks. We hope that changes in February and March but for now it seems clear that the sport, as we know it and love it, is still pretty much hamstrung by the ongoing global issues that are affecting pretty much everyone on the planet right now. Despite that we are still getting some interesting bouts and today we’re going to take a quick look at one we think you should pay attention to, especially if you’re an active subscriber to Boxing Raise.
The One to Watch?
Shu Utsuki (7-0, 6) vs Masashi Wakita (10-10-2, 5)
January 22nd (Friday)
We’ll start by being honest, we do not think this is going to be a competitive bout, however it should be a showcase for one of the most exciting Japanese Lightweights, and the man he’s up against an experienced fighter himself, who can make things awkward. More than anything the focus here is on an unbeaten, heavy handed, and exciting prospect who is looking to score a 6th straight stoppage win and continue their climb towards their first title fight, which may well come later this year, or very early next year.
The 26 year old Shu Utsuki is one of the most promising fighters at the long established Watanabe Gym, though he’s also a man who has struggled to land big fights and to get notable opponents in the ring, which has sadly slowed his rise through the ranks. In the ring he’s aggressive, very heavy handed, well schooled and a natural boxer-puncher. Before turning professional he had a strong amateur background with over 80 amateur wins and more than 100 amateur bouts, and that amateur pedigree is shown pretty much any time he’s in the ring.
Although not as accomplished as stablemate Hironori Mishiro we would day suggest that Utsuki is the spiritual successor at the Watanabe Gym to former world champion Takashi Uchiyama. Like Uchiyama he’s a dynamite boxer puncher, with a strong amateur pedigree and the potential to make big waves, if, or when, he gets the chance to shine.
In the other corner to Utsuki will be 24 year old Masashi Wakita a “win some, lose some” type of fighter who’s a tall, rangy fighter at 135lbs, but also a fighter who can struggle to get going at times, is relatively inconsistent and does keep picking up early losses. On paper it’s easy to write him off following 10 defeats, 6 by stoppage, but Wakita isn’t as bad as his record suggests and on his day he can give fits to fighters with his size and awkward southpaw stance, as we’ve seen against Fumisuke Kimura and Kanta Takenaka.
With his size, his stance and his experience Wakita can be a problem for fighters. Though in recent years he has been taking punishment and has, sadly, been stopped in 5 of his last 7, with 3 of those losses coming in the first 3 rounds. He tends to give up his height easily when under pressure, and tries to fight fire with fire. In a boxing bout he’s decent, but in a fight he often looks lost and confused.
What to expect?
Although he’s not the best fighter out there Wakita is an honest fighter and he will always give a genuine account of himself. After being stopped by Yoji Saito last year he seemed to be genuinely angry at himself, and we suspect that sort of passionate drive can drag the best out of him. Sadly though we see this as being a match up against someone several levels better than himself. Even the best Wakita imaginable would struggle with the speed, skills and power of Utsuki.
With that in mind we expect to see a relatively quick win from the unbeaten man. The first round or two he may look to feel out Wakita, get used to the taller man, and the southpaw stance of his foe. That will be as much to do with shaking some cobwebs as seeing what Wakita has to offer.
From there on however we expect Utsuki to go into seek and destroy mode, applying educated pressure and stopping his man, potentially as early as late in round 2, but certainly before the end of round 4. Potentially in very, very brutal fashion.
The bad news?
The only real bad news here is that this is pretty much a showcase bout and not a legitimate even matchup where either man could potentially win. However given the lack of recent bouts we’ll happily take a fun mismatch this week, especially given the hot favourite is expected to face much, much bigger tests later this year and this should serve as a warm up for those bigger bouts.
This weeks one to watch is not likely to be one on the radar for many fans, but it's one we think could provide both action, excitement and be a hotly contested bout. It's one that is easy to over-look, but could be very, very interesting.
The One to Watch?
Yoji Saito (1-1-2, 1) vs Masashi Wakita (10-9-2, 5)
October 14th (Wednesday)
Although it's not the highest profile bout we'll get this weekend we believe this could be a bit of a sleeper classic between two men each needing a big performance, and each capable of delivering it. One one hand we have a touted hopeful who has struggled to get going, and on the other we have a fighter who's career has stalled, but we've seen enough of him to know he can make a go of things. In both corners we have a man looking for a win, and we have men who's styles should gel fantastically.
Kadoebi promoted Yoji Saito turned professional with some pretty lofty expectations on his shoulders. Sadly a loss to Shu Utsuki on his debut prevented him from getting off to a winning start, despite the bout being a tremendous fight. Since then Saito has has gone unbeaten, but has only managed a single win, a stoppage of Tameji Ito. Despite his struggle to get victories he has consistently been in thrilling bouts, including his 2019 war with Aso Ishiwaki.
In the ring Saito is a strong, powerful lump. He's not the smoothest, he's got questionable stamina, but boy does he know how to fight. He's blessed with heavy, thudding hands, impressive physical strength, really gritty toughness and a fighters mentality.
On paper Masashi Wakita looks really limited, and has won less than half of his career bouts. Despite his record the man from the Mitsuki Gym shouldn't be written off. Wakita is a freakishly tall Super Featherweight, standing at 5'11" he's also a southpaw, with a nice jab, under-rated power and a questionable chin. He's got reach, skills, the ability to box at range and under-rated counter punching skills. He also has valuable expecerience against good domestic competition.
Sadly for Wakita his biggest issue isn't isn't his skills, it's his toughness, or rather the relative lack of it. During his 21 fight career he has been stopped 5 times, and he's actually been stopped 4 times in his last 6 bouts. Whilst that's not great he has been matched hard, with losses to the likes of Shawn Oda, Satoru Sugita and Ryusei Ishii. He has also given the likes of Spicy Matsushita and Yuichiro Kasuya very close contests.
What to expect?
We expect to see Saito coming forward, pressing, pressuring and trying to get to Wakita from the early going. Wakita on the other hand will box, move, and try to avoid a tear up. It question will be "how long before Wakita gets dragged into Saito's fight?"
If Saito can cut the distance from the off this could be short, explosive and brutally one sided with Saito stopping Wakita. The longer it goes however the better things are for Wakita, and his movement, clean accurate punching and reach will make live progressively tougher for Saito. If Wakita lasts more than 4 rounds he will give Saito absolute fits in what will becoming a very, very compelling and competitive contest.
The bad news?
Unfortunately this won't be shown live, and instead we'll need to be patient. Also the bout will be available first on Boxing Raise, limiting the viewership, though Kadoebi do tend to upload their bouts to YouTube in the weeks following. Alko if Saito gets his way this could be a very, very short bout.
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.