Last week in this Treasure Trove series we looked at a pretty big fight, that we suspect many will have watched, even if a lot of fans sort of forgot about it. Today we bring you a much, much obscure fight, and one that seriously deserves watching, even if it wasn't one that looks particularly good on paper. In fact like many Japanese bouts it was a fight that shone because both men went into the contest feeling they could win. Something we don't see enough of in the west. Far too often bouts take place there to pad records, rather than entertain fans. This was certainly not a record padding fan, and it certainly entertained the local fans at Korakuen Hall.
Yuji Awata (12-7-1, 5) vs Toru Kiyota (9-4, 7)
Coming in to this Yuji Awata was a 29 year old southpaw from Kanagawa Prefecture. He had had mixed results through his entire career, and was 2-2-1 in his previous 5 bouts, but he had long been a good servant for Japanese boxing and had been a professional since 2012. His record didn't have many wins over notable names, despite him winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year, but he had always given an honest account of himself, and had always entered the ring looking to pick up a win. He had found himself coming up short numerous times, but he didn't enter the ring to roll over, even when he was up against the likes of the touted Shuma Nakazato.
Toru Kiyota was very similar. He was younger, at 25 years old, but was a fighter with a similar record, losing 4 of his 13 bouts. On paper his biggest achievement coming in to this was a win over Shota Suito in 2018, though he also held wins over Kanehiro Nakagawa and Ryukyu Oho, from when they were both very early in their careers. What was notable about Kiyota was that he had lost 3 of his previous 5 and his career seemed to be struggling, he needed a win, and like Awata would have come into this bout as a chance to pick up a victory against someone in his league. He would also have come into this bout wanting local bragging rights, as he too was based in the Kanagawa prefecture.
Knowing that both men felt they could win, and that both had tools that they could use to their advantage, with Awata being the taller more experienced man, and a southpaw, and Kiyota being the bigger puncher, this had the feel of being something that could be a little big special. Even if it wasn't being fought at the highest level. What we got was indeed a little bit special.
From off Kiyota was the man coming forward whilst Awata tried to box at range, using his southpaw jab, and counter left hands to try and keep Kiyota at distance. Through the opening round we saw both men land some solid shots, though over all it felt like Kiyota's power and aggression probably did enough for him to take the round. It wasn't the most exciting of rounds, and did see the two men clinch a fair bit, but there was very much a sense that something was going to break out, especially with the way Kiyota was attacking.
That aggression of Kiyota moved up a step in round 2 as he really did push forward more, let his hands go more, and had Awata on the back foot even more than he had in the opening round. Awata knew he could clinch if, and when he needed to, but was being punished regularly through the round as Kiyota came forward. Every so often however Kiyota would eat some huge, clean counter shots, as Awata began to find his timing, his range and his aim. Sadly Awata he would find himself on the canvas towards the end of the round, bundled down under the pressure of Kiyota.
Having been dropped in round 2 Awata came out hungrier in round 3 and landed some of his best shots early in the round. This was a change in tactics from the taller man, and one that Kiyota didn't appreciate, with the smaller puncher responding with some huge shots of his own. Despite being down the previous round Awata was looking clear headed, focused and like he knew he could capitalise on a Kiyota mistake. To his credit Kiyota continued to pressure his man, avoiding many of the many of the potential traps that Awata was trying to set, he was still aggressive, but was showing respect to Awata, and not rushing in quite as reckless as he had in the first two rounds. In fact he was using his jab really well in round 4, using it to mask the power shots that followed behind it.
Knowing he was well behind Awata had to change things, and he did that in round 5, as he became more aggressive. Kiyota was still the more offensive of the two men, but Awata was letting his hands go more often, taking center ring more than he had earlier in the fight, and fighting with more urgency. He was no longer waiting for Kiyota to fall into a trap, but was looking to force the issue more, this resulted in a brilliant exchange late in the round as both men let shots fly back and forth. This was the most exciting round of the fight up to this point, and finished with Kiyota trying to resume control of the action.
With the action heating up in round 6, and Kiyota looking like he was putting his foot down to stamp out any kind of a comeback at the very end of the previous round, it was down to Awata to really try to turn things around. Early in the round the men stumbled into each other, falling on top of each other, in a messy moment. Not too long after that Awata found the space to land some big left hands, straight to the face. It seemed to encourage Awata who got a big break through later in the round with a straight left-right hook combination that put Kiyota on the canvas. Kiyota beat the count, but it was clear that the tide was turning, and Awata would go on to land clean shots through the rest of the round, despite Kiyota trying to press back.
With both men having been dropped and with 2 rounds remaining it was fight against time for Awata, who knew he had to put his man down again. Kiyota had other ideas however and kept coming forward. He didn't want to just take a decision. He wanted to get revenge for being dropped and pressure behind a tightened guard, looking to press forward and draw a mistake, leaving Kiyota open for a counter shot. This made for an exciting 7th round and the action grew more intense in round 8 as Kiyota continued to hunt a knockout and Kiyota stood his ground more. The final round even better than the 8th, with Awata having his head snapped back at one point, but gritting his teeth and firing back.
Although not a Fight of the Year contender, or anything close, this is a genuine hidden gem. We had two knockdowns, styles that gell, and despite a slow start the bout was really enjoyable, and got better as the rounds ticked on. It was an aggressive but smaller fighter up against a crafty tall counter puncher. It was genuinely compelling viewing and something we think fight fans will really enjoy.
(Note if you are going to watch this bout, the fight starts about 13 minutes 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.