For this weeks one to watch we've got a bout that we don't expect will be a war, but it is one we expect will be a compelling chess match. Both men are very talented but negative, and focus more on fighting at range than we typically see in Japan, which can be quite jarring at times. Despite that the bout should be a hotly contested one and a very, very interesting one, even if the pace isn't what we typically see in Japan. The bout will also serve as the headline for the upcoming A-Sign show.
The One to Watch?
Reiya Abe (19-3-1, 9) vs Ren Sasaki (10-0, 6)
October 12th (Tuesday)
Here we get the chance to see a brilliant talented, though often over-looked, Japanese Featherweight taking on an unbeaten hopeful looking to prove what he can do. We have two talented fighters up against each other in what both will view as a must win bout. Although the bout is set to be shown for free on A-Sign boxing, so there's really no excuse to miss this one which has the ingredients of a technically enticing chess match.
World ranked Featherweight Reiya Abe is one of the many talented Japanese fighters at 126lbs that doesn't get much attention. Dubbed a "Genius" Abe is a brilliant boxer, with a fantastic boxing mind, fantastic counter punching and great control of range. Sadly for all his talent and ring craft he does lack killer instinct and the extra gear needed to reach the top level of the sport. In terms of skills there are few that can compare to him in Japan, but there are fighters who have shown more will, and that's the one thing he has been lacking at times.
Notably 2019 was a bad year for Abe, in which he went 1-1-1, and hopefully the set backs to Taiki Minamoto, who he drew with, and Ryo Sagawa, who he lost to, will help him add some fire to his boxing. If he can increase his output, use his jab more, and show more killer instinct in the ring there's no reason why he can't go much, much further in the sport, especially given he has really under-rated power in his left hand.
The unbeaten Ren Sasaki has been quietly making a name for himself but yet to really break through. His most notable performances came in 2017, when he won the All Japan Rookie of the Year but sadly since then he has failed to make much of a name for himself. That's despite wins over Kanehiro Nakagawa, Ge An Ma and Morihisa Iju. In fact last year he won the Knock Out Dynamite Tournament, though did so by default after Yuki Yamauchi was forced to pull out of the final before the bout took place.
In the ring Sasaki is a cagey fighter who looks to create distance, box off his jab and keep opponents at range. It's only really when he has someone hurt that he opens up, and when's done that in the past he has been clipped, with Ge An Ma wobbling him last year. Technically he is solid but as with Abe there is a feeling that he simply doesn't do enough at times, and as a result he has had some very close decision.
What to expect?
The first few rounds we expect to see both men cancelling each other out really well. Both are, at heart, counter punchers and neither enjoy leading off. Sadly this could make the bout feel like it's very slow to get going. Thankfully though we expect to see Abe take the advantage in these slow, almost tedious rounds, and force Sasaki to become more aggressive.
If Sasaki is forced to let his hands go more, chasing the fight, we see that playing right into Abe's game plan and giving the talented Abe counter opportunities. When that happens expect to see him draw leads from Sasaki, and counter them with thunder bolt left hands.
If Sasaki doesn't fall behind early on, and isn't forced to chase things, expect a very, very high level chess match. It might not be the most exciting or the most thrilling action war, but it will be very interesting and a bout fought with very high level skills on show by both men.
The bad news?
Not everyone likes a chess match, and this could end up being a stinker if both men feel they are in control. The styles of the two men are pretty similar, and both are rather risk-averse. This could be a very, very interesting bout, but could, just as easily, end up being horrific to watch.
The Featherweight division is a really frustrating one, with inactive champions and a long queue of contenders. Thankfully whilst it is a frustrating division it is one with a lot of depth to it, and a lot of interesting contenders, from former champions to unknown youngsters making their mark. Here we'll have a look at some of those contenders.
For those who misses it we also had a recent look at the divisional champions The state of the Division - Featherweight - The Champions
Can Xu (15-2, 2)
Little known Chinese fighter Can Xu made his debut in 2013, and lost 2 of his first 5 bouts, but has since reeled off 12 wins and climbed up the rankings thanks to wins over the likes of Hurricane Futa, Chris George, Corey McConnell and Nehomar Cermeno. He made his US debut last year, and looked really poor in beating Enrique Bernache but clearly has got the skills to beat good competition. He's a light punching fighter who throws a lot, looks pretty tough and has sparred with the likes of Naoya Inoue. Sadly for Xu his lack of power and world level experience is going to be a problem for him when he faces the top fighters in the division. He will be back in action on January 26th in his biggest bout to date, challenging WBA "regular" champion Jesus M Rojas in what is an incredibly tough looking test for the Chinese fighter.
Joseph Diaz (27-1, 14)
American 26 year old Joseph "Jo Jo" Diaz was a stand out amateur, fighting at the 2012 Olympics and the 2011 World Amateur Championships, before making his professional debut in later 2012. Since turning professional he has been an active fighter and has score notable wins over the likes of Rene Alvarado, Jayson Velez, Horacio Garcia, Victor Terrazas and Jesus M Rojas. Sadly he failed to make weight against Rojas., in a bout for the WBA "regular" title, and was beaten by Gary Russell Jr, in a WBC title fight. Diaz is talented but lacks power and will be forced to fight hard in every top-level fight he has.
Miguel Flores (23-2, 11)
American fighter Miguel Flores is a 26 year old who is set for a WBC title fight on February 16th, taking on Leo Santa Cruz. Were he not set for a title fight, which is an undeserved one, he wouldn't be listed here. He has been stopped in 2 of his last 3 bouts and we now need to go back to August 2016 to see his last win of note, a close decision win over Ryan Kielczweski. Although a decent fighter we really don't see him as a legitimate contender, as stoppages to Dat Nguyen and Christ Avalos have shown, and instead another poor challenger for the frustrating Leo Santa Cruz.
Carl Frampton (26-2, 15)
Northern Irishman Carl "The Jackal" Frampton is one of the division's more proven and more popular fighters with fantastic ring IQ and a good mix of skills, speed and power. Sadly at the age of 31 and with a tough career behind him we do wonder how much longer he will remain as an active fighter, and there is a chance we won't actually see him fight again. He was last seen fighting a few days ago, losing a decision to IBF champion Josh Warrington, and despite having moments in that fight he did look his age against the younger, fresher man.
Abner Mares (31-3-1, 15)
It's hard to know exactly what to make of the 33 year old Abner Mares, a talented multi-weight champion from Mexico. We suspect he'd be best suited at Bantamweight, where his 5'4" frame will still him from being outsized, but his next bout is set to take place at 130lbs, against Gervonta Davis. His last few fights have mostly been at Featherweight, where he's had a mixed record, losing to Jhonny Gonzalez and twice losing to Leo Santa Cruz whilst beating the likes of Andres Gutierrerz and Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar. At his best he was a skilled punching machine, but now he seems to be faded fighter looking for a big pay day. Still a skilled fighter, but one past his best.
Tugstsogt Nyamabayar (10-0, 9)
Mongolian hopeful, and former amateur standout Tugstsogt Nyamabayar is a hotly tipped 26 year old who turned professional in early 2015 and has been very impressive through his short yet destructive career. He stopped his first 8 opponents, including the tough Jhon Gemino, before being taken the distance by the then 19-0 Harmonito Dela Torre. Sadly his 2018 was a bit of a write off, with only a 3 round win over Oscar Escandon, but he's set for a bit 2019 with a contest against Claudio Marrero set for January 26th. A win over Marrero will open the doors for a huge fight later in the year for the heavy-handed Mongolian.
Marlon Tapales (31-2, 14)
Former WBO Bantamweight champion Marlon Tapales is a 26 year old Filipino fighter who skipped the Super Bantamweight division to attempt to make a mark at Featherweight. He's a short southpaw, but someone who has really underrated power and a gritty toughness. With only a 42% stoppage rate Tapales would be easy to write off an easy opponent but he has stopped his last 5 bouts early and scored of those wins on the road, twice stopping Shohei Omori and also stopping Pungluang Sor Singyu. He's very tough, very hard hitting and manages to use his lack of size very well. He's going to be a very, very hard man to beat at Featherweight.
Satsoshi Shimizu (8-0, 8)
2012 Olympic bronze medal winner Satoshi Shimizu is the leading Japanese contender, and the current OPBF champion. He's a former amateur standout who is being guided by the Ohashi gym and has so far looked thoroughly destructive since making his debut in September 2016. Although a very heavy handed fighter there are question marks about Shimizu's actual skillset, and since making his debut he has looked technically flawed, with wide swings and flat footed. Ohashi are expected to secure him a world title fight in 2019, though we don't see an easy title being out there for the 32 year old puncher.
Claudio Marrero (23-2, 17)
Dominican fighter Claudio Marrero will be the next opponent for the aforementioned Tugstsogt Nyamabayar and is a proven quantity in and around world-class. He made his debut way back in 2010 and took gradual steps up in class until losing to Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar in 2013, he would bounce back with some explosive performances before a 2017 loss to Jesus M Rojas, which slowed his climb. In 2018 he fought just once, stopping Jorge Lara. Marrero is technically raw, but explosive, exciting and unpredictable. He's able to hurt fighters but also be hurt and is one of the most must watch fighters in the division.
Kid Galahad (26-0, 15)
Unbeaten Englishman Kid Galahad is the current mandatory challenger for the IBF title, currently held by Josh Warrington, in what would be a big all-British title fight for 2019. The 28 year old from Yokshire, though originally from Qatar, is a skilled boxer-mover who has come through the British scene the hard way, winning British and European titles, before winning an eliminator on the road this past October. Despite being unbeaten there are question marks over him, and he has failed a drugs test in the past and put on some very dreary performances, which may make him a hard sell, outside of his eventual world title shot at Warrington. A talent, but a frustrating one.
Shun Kubo (13-1, 9)
Japanese fighter Shun Kubo is a former WBA Super Bantamweight champion who stopped Nehomar Cermeno for that title in 2017 following a short reign as the OPBF champion. Following his title loss he has moved up in weight and is looking to become a 2-weight champion. He's proven to be tough and gutsy, and has the frame to build into a big Featherweight, but is technically flawed and needs to work on technique before fighting for another world title. At 28 years old and with the powerful Shinsei gym backing him he does have a shot at getting a title fight in 2019, though will almost certainly need to travel and would be a clear under-dog. Despite not being a big name he is in the WBA's rankings and could well see himself fighting for one of the many WBA variations in the future.
Genesis Servania (32-1, 15)
Former WBO title challenger Genesis Servania really made his mark in 2017, when he gave Oscar Valdez a much tougher fight than anyone had expected. The Filipino dropped Valdez before being dropped himself in what was a very entertaining contest. Since then he's not been able to get a big break, though has scored 3 stoppage wins and took part in a high profile with Naoya Inoue. Servania is a technically strong boxer-puncher with under-rated power, tough defenses and he can be in some very entertaining scraps, as we saw in 2013 when he fought Konosuke Tomiyama and gave us a thrilling contest. We're expecting to see him busy in 2019, due to a link up with Top Rank, and he may well get another world title fight before the end of the year.
Reiya Abe (18-2, 9)
Japanese fighter Reiya Abe is one of the more unknown fighters on this list, despite the 25 year old being on an impressive 10 fight winning run. That run has seen him defeat the likes of Satoshi Hosono, Tsuyoshi Tameda and Shingo Kusano, and work his way towards a May date for a Japanese title fight. He's currently ranked by a couple of world title bodies, despite having never had a title bout, but he's not ranked without merit, having given Hosono his clearest defeat to date. He's a talented boxer puncher with a lot of potential, and we suspect we'll see that potential being allowed to shine in 2019, though don't imagine he'll be getting a world title fight any time soon.
Kiko Martinez (39-8-2, 28)
Spanish veteran Kiko Martinez has had an amazingly strange career which appears to just go on and on. He's 32 years old now and debuted in 2004 taking his first massive win in 2007, when he stopped Bernard Dunne in 86 seconds for the European Super Bantamweight title. Since then he has had a distinguished career, winning and losing the IBF Super Bantamweight title and mixing with top fighters around the world. Every time he's written off he seems to bounce back and recently won the European Featherweight title to remain in the mix for one more world title bout. Given his age, his hard career and the mounting number of losses the hard hitting "La Sensacion" may not get another shot, but until he retires we suspect he will be a perennial contender.
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.