Every so often a bout we expect absolutely nothing from massively over delivers and gives us something very special. Today we get to look at one such bout from the opening series of bouts from the Hajime No Ippo 30 Anniversary tournament, which took place in November 2019. The bout appeared to promise little but gave us an action thriller.
Shingo Kusano (11-8-1, 4) vs Qiang Ma (5-1-2, 3)
In one corner was tournament outsider Shingo Kusano, a Japanese southpaw who had lost his previous 4 bouts and looked like he was there to make up the numbers. He had been badly struggling for form and was more than 3 years removed from his last victory. Aged 30 it was essentially now or never for Kusano who had been a professional for over 8 years and had achieved very little since reaching the 2013 All Japan Rookie of the Year final.
At 23 years old Qiang Ma was seen as a tournament wild card. He had lost his debut in 2017 but had then gone unbeaten in 7 fights and had stopped 3 of his last 4. Although no world beater he seemed to have momentum on his side and would have been seeing the tournament as his chance to put his name on the boxing map and prove he was more than just a Chinese domestic level fighter. This was his international debut, and his chance to shine.
The fight started with both men feeling their way into the action and then Ma came alive, and went on the front foot. Although the first few forays forward didn't result in much success for Ma he did manage to drop Kusano. Although Kusano didn't look hurt from the knockdown Ma went for the finish and dropped Kusano for the second time just moments later. Kusano recovered to his feet but Ma could smell blood and had Kusano reeling all over the place soon afterwards. To his credit Kusano recovered his senses.
From there on the battle became a real test. Ma was looking to repeat his first round success whilst Kusano was looking to rely on his experience and ring craft to turn the tables on the Chinese youngster.
This is a dramatic and exciting bout, youthful energy against experience.
Whilst not a fight of the year contender it certainly worthy of a watch.
As mentioned yesterday we've got two "Ones to Watch" this week, and here is the second of those bouts. This one takes places of the weekend and is expected to be made available to watch live on Boxing Raise. It's a match up that might not look amazing on paper but it should be a very interesting one and is a meaningful bout on the domestic stage
The One to Watch?
Daisuke Watanabe (10-4-2, 6) vs Shingo Kusano (13-8-1, 5)
August 22nd (Saturday)
We absolutely love tournaments and on Saturday we see the end of the Hajime No Ippo 30th Anniversary Featherweight tournament that began last November. The tournament, a 7 man competition, was supposed to finish back in May but due to the global situation was pushed back until August 22nd. The finalists are certainly not the two men we expected to see, and the tournament has legitimately been full of upsets, but we're here now with a bout between Daisuke Watanabe and Shingo Kusano.
The 29 year old Daisuke Watanabe is a man who has had a very odd career. His results are inconsistent, but he's been matched very tough pretty much from the off, leading to him sporting a 6-4 (3) record after 10 bouts. Despite his record he is much, much better than those numbers suggest and those results are, at least in part, down to the tough competition he's faced so far, including Sho Nakazawa, Gakuya Furuhashi, Reiya Abe, Toshiki Shimomachi, Dai Iwai and Richard Pumicpic. He's reached the final thanks to a semi-final victory over Richard Pumicpic and will almost certainly know a win here gets him right in the mix for a domestic title fight.
Defensively Watanabe has got work to do, he can be hit, he can be caught clean and he's not got an iron chin, having been stopped twice. He's also offensive, presses forward and can be countered. He is however not the type of fight you want to stand in front of too long, given his powerful right hand.
Aged 31 this could end up being the last bout of note for Shingo Kusano, who has been a professional since 2011 and has certainly had some mixed results himself. Prior to the tournament he had lost 4 in a row, and was without a win in over 3 years. His career looked over. The tournament has however seen that all change, thanks to a 5th round TKO win over Qiang Ma and a big upset over Jae Woo Lee in the semi-final. Although somewhat chinny he appears to be determined to make this tournament his and with two upsets already in the tournament it looks like he know it's win or bust for his career.
Kusano's style is that of a relaxed counter puncher. He looks to create range and land his southpaw left hands at range, backing off a lot and looking to make opponents over-reach and leave themselves open. He lacks lights out power, but is gritty, determined, and surprisingly swift for a 31 year old.
What to expect?
Neither of these men are high intensity fighters, however given he dynamic and styles of the two men this has the potential to be a compelling match up from the off.
Watanabe is a come forward boxer-puncher. He's got solid bang in his shots, looks to set things up at range. He counters nicely with his straight right hand, but often throws it in a looping fashion. His jab, whilst crisp, is often under-utilised, and whilst that can be a problem we don't see it playing into this fight too much.
Kusano is a southpaw who backs up a lot, almost invites pressure, and looks to counter on the back foot. That's a style that should gel well with Watanabe's come forward boxing, and should see both men finding a nice range to work at. Kusano style of creating range and boxing at distance could end up suiting Watanabe a bit too well and allow Watanabe to shoot off his heavy right hand regularly.
Unsurprisingly we expect to see Watanabe coming forward and Kusano back off, with Kusano trying to draw leads from Watanabe and counter them. This could work well for him, given Watanabe's loopier shots, or could end up going very badly for Kusano, given the power that Watanabe has.
This could be tactical, interesting, and although not a thrill a minute fight there could be real drama in any exchanges the two men have.
The bad news?
The only real bad news here is that we've waited so long for the bout. It was, as mentioned, supposed to be in May but got pushed back. We wonder if either man is up for it like they would have been had it been held in May, as scheduled. Also for those not subscribed to Boxing Raise this will, sadly, be one you miss out on.
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.