Earlier in this series we looked at Yuki Nagano's Japanese Welterweight title win, which saw him stopping Ryota Yada in Osaka in April 2019. Around 5 months later he had a home coming defense, as he returned to Tokyo to defend the belt against 35 year old veteran Makoto Kawasaki. For Nagano this was his first defense, whilst Kawasaki was almost certainly going into the bout knowing a loss would be the end of his career.
Yuki Nagano (16-2, 12) vs Makoto Kawasaki (11-7-1, 2)
As mentioned Yuki Nagano was making his first defense of the Japanese Welterweight title. The 30 year old from the Teiken Gym had lost 2 of his first 4 bouts, but was almost 6 years removed from his previous loss and had won 14 bouts in a row. Those had seen him win the 2015 All Japan Rookie of the Year and score victories over Yuki Beppu and Ryota Yada. Nagano had proven that he was heavy handed and a relatively smart southpaw boxer-puncher. Rather than wading forward he laid traps, moved backwards and lined up his straight left hand, boxing to set up his power shots rather than forcing them.
As for Makoto Kawasaki he had managed to score a draw against Koki Tyson on his debut, in 2012, but struggled to make an impact on the sport. He had been beaten by the likes of Hironobu Matsuaga, Noriaki Sato and Ryota Yada. Despite the set backs Kawasaki continued trying and had come into this bout on the back of wins over the big punching Kentaro Endo and the experienced Yuichi Ideta. It seemed, coming in, that Kawasaki knew he needed to win. He wasn't going to get another chance. Sadly though everything was stacked against him. He lacked power, he was 35, he was going up against a new champion with momentum behind him and despite being tough there was few backing him for the upset.
To his credit Kawasaki went into the ring not caring what others thought. He was there to win, and quickly landed some eye catching blows, including a solid body shot about 15 seconds in. It was clear that whilst Kawasaki was cautious of the power of Nagano he wasn't afraid of it, and was happy to press the champion, something he did with genuine success. About 80 seconds into the round he seemed to shake Nagano, following up with combination, and he was the one making a fight of things. Nagano had success but it was a round to the challenger, who seemed to end the round finding range for several big right hands.
We won't ruin anything but the first round, but this was a short and dramatic little fight, well worthy of a watch.
For today's Treasure Trove we get to relive a fight that promise a lot, as the Japanese Welterweight title was on the line. The bout won't go down as the best Welterweight bout in Japan in 2019, but it's certainly a good one, and one well worthy of a watch, especially if you missed it first time around.
Ryota Yada (18-4, 15) vs Yuki Nagano (15-2, 11)
It's fair to say that Ryota Yada had one of the best bouts of 2019, his sensational war with Yuki Beppu, it's worth noting that that wasn't his only bout from the year. Another came several months early with Yada, the then Japanese Welterweight champion, faced off with mandatory challenger Yuki Nagano. On paper this looked like a fantastic match up, and whilst it didn't have the high drama and intense ups and downs of the bout between Yada and Beppu it certainly is worth a watch.
Yada, for those who aren't aware, is a boxer puncher from Osaka, he's not the most talented, but as we saw with his bout against Beppu he's heavy handed, tough, takes a good shot and is an aggressive fight. Technically he's basic, but he's strong, powerful, comes forward and makes fighters pay. When he lands opponents know it. He had held the title for just over a year, beating Toshio Arikawa for it in April 2018, and was looking to make his third defense as he went into his first mandatory title defense. On paper he was probably the slight favourite. Not only was Yada the champion, but he was also fighting at home, in Osaka, with Green Tsuda, his promoter, in charge of the event. It's also worth noting that despite having 4 losses on his record he had won 15 of his previous 16 bouts, after a 3-3 start, with the sole loss coming in a regional title fight.
Yuki Nagano on the other hand was a Teiken fighter, coming from Tokyo to fight in the lion's den. He had earned this title fight with a win over Yuki Beppu in 2018, as part of the 2019 version of the Champion Carnival, and had been riding on a solid unbeaten run of his own coming in with 13 wins in a row, including notable ones against Riku Nagahama and Yuki Beppu. Nagano, like Yada, wasn't the best boxer out there. He was, however, a crafty boxer-puncher, fighting out of the southpaw stance and blessed with concussive power. He was less powerful, less heavy handed and less physically imposing than Yada, but more rounded as a fighter, and certainly better at using an opponents aggression against them.
From the off it seemed clear that both men believed they had the power to take the other out, but they also knew they had to be cautious, as their opponent could also bang. This saw almost a tense stand off, with Yada being the one who was mostly coming forward, but doing so in a way that made it clear he didn't want to take a clean left from Nagano. Nagano, who did have moments on the front foot, was looking to line up the left time and time again.
As the fight went on we saw Yada becoming more aggressive, pressing more, trying to close the distance and press the challenger into a mistake. Nagano was however soaking up the pressure well and tagging the champion with solid lefts.
In the middle rounds the fight started to warm up nicely, with both taking a growing number of clean shots and from there on it felt like the fight could be over at any moments.
For those expecting an all out war, like Yada's bout with Beppu, this isn't that, this is more technical, and strangely more tense, but is a compelling watch. Especially if you don't know the result!
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.