One of the best things about Japanese boxing is the competitive match ups that take place at the lower end of the domestic scene. These bouts typically don't feature fighters with the potential to be regarded as prospects, but are often some of the most compelling fights to just sit and watch. The bouts typically feature two men who come in to the ring to win and as a result give us something a lot better than the typical low level squash matches we see in the west.
Today we're lucky as this weeks Treasure Trove article is set to be one of the best 4 rounders from 2020, and is a legitimately thrilling action bout between two men who were incredibly hungry to prove a point. The fact both men came into this feeling like they could win ended us making for a brilliant, hotly contested, back and forth thriller.
Yusuke Endo (2-2-1, 2) vs Takahiro Nakatsuka (2-2-1)
Many bouts at this level in Japan have fighters with similar records and potential and this was a great example as we saw Yusuke Endo and Takahiro Nakatsuka clash. Both men were in their early 20's, with Endo being 23 and Natasuka being 21, both had debuted in 2018, were 2-2-1, and both men had lost on debut, won their second bout and lost their third bout. Interestingly both men had also fought to a draw with Weed Taichi. Both were also, obviously, here to win.
Endo was fighting out of the Shonan Yamagami Boxing Gym, a relative small gym based in Fujisawa City, Kanagawa Prefecture. Stood at 5'10" he was taller than many fighters he had shared the ring with, and had competed at the 2019 East Japan Rookie of the Year, being eliminated follow a draw with Weed Taichi in June. Following that set back he had fought just once, beating Hoshi Saito in October 2020 and was now hoping to build some career moment with back to back to back wins. Notably in all his bouts, except for his draw, the bout had finished early with both of his wins and both of his losses finishing in the first 3 rounds. He was proving to be a glass cannon.
Nakatsuka on the other hand was fighting out of the JB Sports Gym, which is run by Hajime No Ippo creator Jyoji Morikawa. He stood at 5'8", slightly shorted than Endo, but was certainly a tall guy for the Feather and Super Featherweight divisions, between which he was plying his trade. Going through his first 5 bouts he had done the distance every time, but was certainly developing into a talented young man, maturing physically and building on his experience. The hope was clearly to build up his power and strength as he became a man. Sadly for him he had been out of the ring since January 2020, when he fought to a draw with Weed Taichi, and it was clear he was hungry to get back to winning ways.
On paper this was a bout that was easy to over-look, despite the evenly matched records of the two men. However this bout is not one to ignore!
Given this was a 4 rounder it's fair to say this was a sprint, and not a marathon, and both men came out throwing punches almost immediately. Within seconds of the bout starting we were having exchanges in the middle of the ring, with Endo getting the better of things, before Natasuka began to fire back, and then Endo came for more. The entire first round was back and forth brilliance, fought at an incredible tempo. Both men proved themselves willing and able to go to war, but both also showed some nice touches of boxing. Albeit those were mere flashes of boxing before both men resumed a high tempo action fight. Towards the end of the round Endo was staggered, but came back well and seemed to finish the round strong. This was 3 minutes that genuinely flew by. It was brilliant, hugely entertaining and impossible to look away from.
With the first round being brilliant it would have been fair to have assumed both teams would have told their men to slow down entering round 2. If they had, they were ignored as the two continued to put on a fire fight in the second stanza. There was a little bit more technical work here, but very little as both continued to fight at an ultra high tempo and trade shots back and forth in 3 minutes of brilliant, brutal action. This was a much easier round to score than the first one though, with Nakatsuka clearly taking it on our cards, despite a spirited effort from Endo.
Given how good Natasuka had things in round 2 he seemed determined to not let the momentum slip and he started round 3 fast, really fast. Endo had to respond, and he did, even rocking his man with a straight right hand and knocking his gumshield out moments later. This lead to a weird break where covid19 safety kicked in and the gumshield had to be picked up with what appeared to be tongs. Soon afterwards the action resumed, and the men were straight back to unloading bombs on each other, with Endo getting the better of things overall, though Natasuka really wasn't making things easy for him. Given this was round 3, and both men and thrown an incredible amount of leather, it was amazing to see them getting more intense, rather than slowing down.
Given that we'd had 3 brilliant rounds, and that the first could have gone either way, we were not going to get a quiet final 3 minutes. Instead we got another all out battle to win the round. Once again both men stood their ground and let big shots go, defense was rarely thought about as both fighters hunted a stoppage. Neither wanted this to be in the hands of the judges. Early in the round Natsuka was sunned, and rocked, though as the round went on he managed to shake Endo. Both looked like they could end up hitting the canvas, both seemed to be fighting to a stand still and both looked amazingly well matched that they were made for each other.
This was a bout all about aggression, work rate and hunger. Defense, intelligent boxing, and counter punching traps were out of the window. The fans knew they were getting something special and this really is a must watch bout.
In the end it felt like neither man deserved to lose and thankfully for both, the judges agreed, scoring this 38-38, 38-38 and 39-37, to Endo, to give us a majority draw.
If you have the time to enjoy a great fight, seriously watch this one. It's amazing and one that truly deserves to be watched, even if it is "only a 4 rounder".
(Note the bout starts about 6:25 into the video below)
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.