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!
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.