One of the unique features of Japan, and South Korea, are the Rookie of the Year tournaments. Whilst the Korean ones are a bit confusing, due to the fact the KBF, KBC and KBM all have their own tournaments, the Japanese one is relatively simple, and comes down to the best in East Japan fighting the best from across the rest of Japan in the All Japan final in December. Today we look at one of the East Japan semi-final bouts, and wow what an amazing bout this was!
Shu Nawai (2-1, 1) vs Yuichi Baba (3-4, 3)
The 21 year old Shu Nawai had debuted just a year earlier, losing to Katsuki Mori, but had bounced back with wins in January and July, including a blow out win over Tomonori Sakanashi. Given his age and lack of experience he was a genuine Rookie, however he was fighting out of the Watanabe gym and given the talent in the gym it was fair to suggest he had learned a thing or two from his talented stablemates. He was a boxing baby, but with high quality fighters around him, we expected to see him develop quite a bit early in his career. No one would suggest he was going all the way to the top, but he was pretty solid novice given his previous 2 performances.
Yuichi Baba on the other hand was a 34 year old who had debuted way back in 2006 but had been away from the ring for over 11 years, before returning in 2018. His return had real mixed success, and he went 2-2 over the year, alternating wins and losses. He had continued that inconsistent form in 2019 with another loss and another win, leaving him 3-3 since his return to action. Although his form was inconsistent he was given a chance, as he was coming from the FLARE Yamagami gym, a decent gym, and had the big edge in physical maturity and experience, with more than twice as many fights as Nawai.
From the opening moments it looked like the older man had the clear edge in skill as well as experience. He boxed on the outside and quickly got behind his jab, picking off Nawai as he came in, making the youngster look like a novice. Nawai would come forward through much of the opening round but he was force fed lefts and rights and eventually dropped 2 minutes into the fight. Rather than the knockdown putting cracks into Nawai's confidence it instead sent him into fighter mode and the rest of the opening round was a wild brawl with Baba throwing an incredible volume of shots. Nawai fought back hard and and the final 30 seconds or so of the round were amazing.
As we went into round 2 the same hectic pace pace continued, and both men went all out to try and secure their place in the East Japan Rookie of the Year Minimumweight final against the unbeaten Katsuki Mori, who had taken a win a day earlier to book his place in the final. Neither man wanted to miss out on the next round and this showed as they dug deep, then deeper.
Despite the bout only being a 4 rounder it seemed like they were going to eventually punch themselves out due to the none stop punching and the intense aggression of both.
This was a brawl, this was exciting and this was exactly what Rookie of the Year means to those involved. This was amazing and is a bout every fan owes themselves a chance to watch. Technically it's crude but the drama, intensity and action more than makes up for the bouts flaws.
It's Christmas folks treat yourselves to this cracker, and enjoy the rest of your day!
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.