One of the great things about this Treasure Trove series, at least for us, is the fact we get to share some really under-seen bouts. Many of those are 4 rounders which are often over-looked yet can often provide some of the most intense, exciting and thrilling action. The 4 rounders we often seen in Japan, China and South Korea are typically well matched bouts, between two men who feel they have the ability to pick up a win, and as a result both come to fight. Unlike in some countries where 4 round bouts are knock over jobs or a case of a youngster getting ring time against someone there just to survive.
With that said we have a thrilling 4 round brawl for this weeks Treasure, and it is a fun one from the 2019 Rookie of the Year!
Yuta Ashina (3-1) vs Shodai Nagata (4-5) II
In early November we got the East Japan Rookie of the Year finals. One of the bouts there was the second clash between the limited Shodai Naata and the once beaten Yuta Ashina.What few would have expected was the war they gave us.
In 2018 the men fought for the first time, with Ashina taking a clear decision over Nagata. The bout wasn't close or competitive, but was a fun little bout that laid the seeds for what we were to get in their rematch.
Sadly following his win over Nagata we didn't see Ashina build on that win and instead he was out of the ring for more than 9 months. When he returned to the ring in, September 2019, he beat Ryuya Seto and helped move towards this match up. At this point in time he was 25 years old, an aggressive, strong and brutish fighter, but one who lacked technical know how and was very much a come forward, brawler, with a focus on pressure, aggression, physical strength and letting his hands go.
Following his loss to Ashina in 2018 we had seen Nagata reel off two wins and he was pretty much fighting for his career at this point, given he was already 32. Despite his record he had shown enough to to be regarded as a live fighter and was in the ring looking to not only avenge his loss to Ashina but also reach the 2019 All Japan Rookie of the Year final. Despite not being much of a puncher Nagata was tough and his style, although crude, was made for fun fights, as we'd seen in his win over Kazuki Ikeye a few weeks earlier. In fact that was actually last week's Treasure Trove bout!
Within seconds of the bout starting Ashina was pressing Nagata, trying to walk him down and get up close. Although Nagata's first instinct was to back off it wasn't long until he began to hold his feet, and when that began to happen we began to see some great back and forth action with both men letting their shots go on the inside. Up close it always seemed like Ashina was the more active and the cleaner, tidier puncher, but Nagata was taking his chances to let his own shows go, and try to counter the pressure of Ashina.
By the end of the first round we were getting a brilliant little low key inside war. It was a round that Ashina took, based on quality and work rate, but Nagata was playing his part in a fantastic opening round.
The second round started much like the first one finished. We again saw Ashina getting up close, and dragging Nagata into his fight, giving us some brilliant and forth inside action. This was a real fun round with both men trying to wear out and break down the other man whilst trading shots. Sadly neither looked like they had the power needed to take the other out with a single shot, but both landed enough to suggest they could chip away at the other and force a stoppage.
The incredible action and tempo continued into round 3 as Nagata tried to pull back the fight, and became the more aggressive of the two. It was this round that saw the best of both men, as they both held their feet more often, letting shots got almost none stop between them. This gave us some intense, and lengthy back and forth exchanges which were brilliant to watch. In the end however Nagata simply couldn't keep pace with the much younger Ashina. Despite that he continued to give everything and play his role in one of the most action packed rounds that we had in the entire of the 2019 Rookie of the Year.
Unsurprisingly, after the first 3 rounds were fought at such a high tempo, the final round saw the pace catch up with both men. Even then, when both looked tired, they continued to fight at a great pace until the later stages when exhaustion became too much for both men and they both began to run on fumes. That was a huge issue for Nagata in the final minute or so, as he had to dig deep and see out some rocky moments.
For fans who like gruelling inside wars, with a lot of leather being thrown and intense, long back and forth stretches this is one of the most well hidden gems of Asian boxing from 2019. A genuine treat of a fight.
One thing that needs saying about this sport is that the best fights are sometimes bout we don't expect much from. For example two guys who both sport losing records meeting in a 4 rounder. Today however we are going to prove that even bouts like that can provide some real thrills and spills as we bring you an action packed East Japan Rookie of the year bout between two men with losing records, but the right mentality.
What needs to be remembered when two fighters each having losing records is that they believe the other fighter is beatable. When both share that mind set we can get some amazing action with two men desperate to pick up what would be considered a rare win. That's exactly what we saw here in a real action packed thriller.
Shodai Nagata (3-5) vs Kazuki Ikeya (1-2)
In one corner was Shodai Nagata, a 32 year old sporting a 3-5 record. There was little on his record to suggest he was one to watch. Just 2 fights earlier he had been dominated by fellow novice Yuta Ashina, and had bounced back with just a single, low key win over Futoshi Yamada. Nagata's 5 wins up to this point had been stretched over more than 3 years and he'd lost 4 of his previous 6. There was literally no reason to believe he had much to offer the sport. Thankfully though he was given a chance with this bout and he took that chance by putting in a wonderfully entertaining performance.
Whilst Nagata had nothing on his record to excite anyone neither did Ikeya, who was also 32 and had lost his first two bout before squeaking a decision over Atsushi Mikita in May 2019. He had been stopped in his debut, and had, perhaps, been a little unfortunate in his second professional bout, but had anything on his record to really suggest he was going to suddenly have some kind of thriller. As with Nagata however he played his part in a thriller here.
Of course both men would have assumed they were better than the other. Nagata would have assumed his extra experience would help him here, whilst Ikeya would have felt that he should have had wins in his previous 2 bouts. Both would have known a win would take them to a chance to fight on Japanese TV, and opened the potential door to an All Japan Rookie of the Year final. As a result the two Welterweights would have gone in to this knowing they could win, and they could open rather large doors for their career.
From the off Ikeya came out swinging, put his head down and unloading hooks like he had purchased them in a sale. He was landing on the guard, the head, the shoulders and every part of Nagata's body. He didn't care about where, as long as they were landing. Having realised Ikeya was setting a high pace Nagata decided to fire back, but selected his moments better, landing the cleaner shots and kept more in reserve whilst Ikeya continued to chase him down and unload bombs.
Ikeya's lack of power was evident in round 1 and in round 2 Nagata began to try and turn the tables, pressing Ikeya back more. It was still the intensity and hunger of Ikeya that was the making the fight, but Nagata's cleaner punching, and more refined technique was becoming a difference maker. Ikeya threw a lot, but stilled to land, Nagata threw less and may have even managed to out land Ikeya, who was feeling the tempo by the end of the round.
In round 3 we saw the action continue at a hectic pace, though the action was paused for quite a while after Ikeya took a ball busting low blow. This was smartly handled by Ikeya who sold it like it was a monstrous low blow and took his time to catch his breath. It was something he seemed to need and was a perfectly break for a man who had set a high pace and really needed a few extra moments to rest. After that we got straight back to the action we'd been having, with the two trading blows up close in some thrilling back and forth action. By now however it was becoming clear that the skill and strength advantages of Nagata were too much for Ikeya's energy and heart to over-come.
Despite being out classed, exhausted and put on the back foot Ikeya continued to try and fight hard in round 4. By then however Nagata was feeling in control whilst Ikeya felt like a man who had given everything and could really only muster arm punches and shoe shining shots, rather than anything with the power needed to stop Nagata in his tracks. In fact the only stopping in the tracks anyone had was Ikeya being stopped in his and a point being taken from Nagata in round 4, as he again went low, with less than a minute of the fight left. The restart afterwards was brilliant with the two men essentially trading to the bell with 40 seconds of pure, raw, violence ending the bout.
Despite the fact neither had much power or had winning record they had, between them, given us 4 fantastic rounds of fan friendly action. The bout may have lacked in terms of drama, but for action alone this is worth a watch. Simply a great fun, low level, action bout. The perfect type of gem for this series.
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.