The month of March has seen a clear uptick in fights and action but things still aren't as busy as they usually are as countries continue to get on top of Covid19 and loosen their restrictions around sports and events. With that in mind our "one to watch" this week is a bit of a strange pick in some ways, but one we do suggest making the effort to see, especially if you already have a Boxing Raise subscription. That's because it features a very interesting fighter who will be looking to prove a point after missing out on years of his career.
The One to Watch?
Narumi Yukawa (0-0) Vs Yuya Azuma (5-4-1, 1)
March 18th (Thursday)
It's rare that we feature a debutant in our "One to Watch" but that's the case this week as we advise everyone to give a watch to young debutant Narumi Yukawa, who kicks off his career following some major out of the ring issues. In the opposite corner is Yuya Azuma, a solid lower level Japanese domestic fighter who famously took on the debuting Rentaro Kimura last year. Incidentally Kimura and Yukawa are stable mates at the gym run by Suruga Danji in Shizuoka.
The 25 year old Narumi Yukawa was an amateur standout at one point, and was being tipped for being things before ruining his amateur career when he got busted by the police for possession of drugs. This saw him being given a suspended sentence in Japan and as a result he spent several years out of the ring, not being allowed to fight until his sentence was over. He was however allowed to train and Danji Suruga did train him, helped him get his life back on track and made it clear that if people wanted to teach Yukawa about drugs and help in various ways that was something he was very open to.
Despite having now not fought in almost 5 years Yukawa has a lot of lost time, time he will want to make up for now. With that in mind we're expecting him to make an impression here, and repay the trust and belief he's had from Mr Suruga. We also get the feeling he will want to outshine the aforementioned Rentaro Kimura, who stopped Azuma in 2 rounds last July.
On paper the 21 year old Yuya Azuma has an under-whelming record, and has lost 54 of his last 7 bouts. He is however not a push over, and he asked some solid questions of Kimura in the opening round of their bout. He has also shown his ability with wins over decent fighters, like Ryo Tanimoto, and could easily have had wins in a number of his losses, with his loss to Tom Mizokoshi in 2018 being a razor thin one. His record might not show it, but Azuma is a good, technical boxer, though he does lack some pop on his shots.
Despite not being the best fight Azuma has the tools needed to test fighters, he has good movement, good understanding of the ring and nice accurate shots. He times things well and he boxes on the move. He also has experience on his side and he is certainly a lot more active than Yukawa, which he'll need to hope is a help here.
What to expect?
We're expecting to see Yukawa take a round or two to show what he can do, ease himself into the bout, and then spend time beating Azuma up. He will want to win, and win impressively. He could rely on his boxing skills and look to take a clear decision, but we suspect his intention is to make a statement, and to do so quickly.
We wouldn't be surprised to see Yukawa take 1 or 2 rounds to shake some ring rust, get a feel of professional boxing, and then, in round 3 begin to amp up his work rate and pressure. When he does that he'll begin to push Azuma back and then break him down, unloading huge bombs on him until the referee jumps in and saves him.
Expect the finish here to be brutal, and for Azuma to take a lot of punishment before the stoppage.
The bad news?
This will be tucked away on Boxing Raise, which we know not everyone has, and it's a shame Azuma hasn't managed to get a win following his loss to Kimura last year, in fact it seems like the lads from the Suruga Danji gym are picking on him a little bit. Despite that there is a lot to like here, and we're looking forward to Yukawa in the ring after all these years and.
As part of the Treasure Trove series we have a few distinct things we want to showcase. They are fun fights, top prospects, brutal KO's and great action. Today we look at a bout featuring a top prospect, who was actually making his debut, and looked almost as good as he was hyped to be. Not only are we showing a top prospect but also a brutal KO in a fantastic 2-for-1 offering!
Rentaro Kimura (0-0) vs Yuya Azuma (5-3-1, 1)
Japan's Rentaro Kimura turned professional in 2020 with a fair bit of fanfare and expectation on his shoulders. Those in Japan were tipping him big time, and he himself seemed to have all the tools to be a star. He was a good looking kid, a former stand out amateur, and a man who knew his roots, signing professional with a small gym in Shizuoka rather than a big gym in Tokyo. Although he lacked an Olympic medal or success in the World Amateur Championships, he ticked a lot of boxes to be regarded as a prospect. He had a chance what he could do when he debuted in July in a bout later shown on Fuji TV.
In the opposite corner to Kimura was fellow Japanese fighter Yuya Azuma. On paper Azuma wasn't expected to be much of a test, though in reality his record could have been very different had he had some luck go his way. From his 9 bouts he had had a razor thin loss to the touted Tom Mizokoshi, losing a majority decision there, and a super close split decision loss to Kensuke Fujita. In another time line Azuma could easily have been 8-1 entering this bout. He had never been stopped, was a capable fighter and had enough about him to have fans expecting him to test Kimura.
To begin the bout, in an empty and eerie Korakuen Hall, we saw Kimura boxing boxing on the front foot, backing up Azuma who looked to find errors from Kimura and even tripped him in the opening minute. The trip seemed give Azuma some confidence as he began to get more aggressive, but Kimura began to land harder shots, following his jab with some very stiff left hands, both up top and to the body. With just 2 minutes gone Azuma's face was reddening as Kimura began to unload. By the end of the round it was less a case if "Would Kimura win?" and more "When would Kimura win?"
In round 2 we saw Azuma essentially come out knowing he was in with a special fighter, and he decided that he had to go for it. He put his foot on the gas and showed real hunger to try and turn things around. Kimura tried to put a stop that with a will timed, and truly brutal, low blow, though to his credit Azuma continued to be aggressive after getting a few moments to recover.
This aggressive mentality of Azuma, who had decided he wasn't going down without swinging, really elevated the action and made it more than just a slow and gradual beating. If Azuma had gone negative he'd have lasted longer, sure, but he'd have taken away his only possible route to to victory.
Sadly for Azuma about 70 seconds into round 2 Kimura went into killer mode and landed one of the best combinations we saw all year and totally destroyed Azuma who was laid out in spectacular fashion. This was a KO worthy of replaying over and over, and it was the type of KO that could have got the bout into the Treasure Trove by it's self. The fact it came from a super prospect in his debut made it even better.
If you like prospects this is one for you, if you like brutal finishes this is one for you and if you like both of those things you will love this little treasure from Korakuen Hall!
At the time of writing it's not totally clear which bouts will and won't get TV, though we are hoping that this week's "one to watch" will get some sort of tape delay television coverage as it's a bout that has had us more and more intrigued as time has gone on. The bout is on a show that we know will have TV cameras, and the main event will be shown, so we are hoping that the co-feature will also be shown, in some form, as it's the debut of a man many are tipping as a future Japanese star.
One to Watch?
Rentaro Kimura (0-0) Vs Yuya Azuma (5-3-1, 1)
July 22nd (Wednesday)
We love seeing touted youngsters making their debuts and this is one such case, with former Japanese amateur standout Rentaro Kimura making his professional debut in a 6 rounder against the under-rated Yuya Azuma, who is a very good fighter despite his 5-3-1 record. The debutant has spoke about wanting to fight for a world title within 10 bouts, so his journey to the top could be a quick one, and we would advise everyone to get on the ground level, before Kimura has raced his way into major fights.
With Kimura expecting to fight for a world title within 10 fights it should come as no surprise to learn that he was very impressive as an amateur. In the unpaid ranks he went 72-16 (26), won 3 notable amateur titles and captained his University team. Although managed by Suruga boys in Shizuoka he's expected to spend a lot of time training in Tokyo, at the Misako Gym, where he will be training with some of the top fighters in Japan. As an amateur he was a very exciting and skilled prospect, with a nice aggressive style from the southpaw stance, and if the hype is right he could be one of the next great Japanese Super Featherweights.
On paper Azuma looks like he is there to be blown away, with only 5 wins from his 9 professional bouts and only a single stoppage to his name. That, however, looks at just the numbers. In reality Azuma could easily have an 8-1 record, with several of his loses being by razor thin decisions, and coming away from home. Since his last loss he has been in good form, scoring 3 straight wins, including a pretty decent one over Ryo Tanimoto last time out. Sadly with a lack of power Azuma will find it hard to turn a fight around, but the 20 year old is far better than the numbers of his record suggest.
What to expect?
It's obvious that Kimura will want to do more than just win his debut. Given his confidence, and the positive talk about racing to a world title fight we expected him to be out to impress, not just to win. We really were impressed watching him as an amateur and can see him being very impressive here. His style looks like it was pretty "pro-ready" and he could be set to make a big statement early on. We expect his clean, crisp punching, movement, skills and speed will be on show here.
Despite not being a big name Azuma has quite a lot of footage available and he looks like a very handy fighter. He's aggressive and brings pressure, but does so with surprisingly intelligence for such a youngster. He's patient, comes forward without taking too many risks and also looks big compared to the guys he has been fighting. He looks like a genuine student of the sport, though lacks those one off attributes that you can't teach, the lightning speed and lights out power. For a man with so many losses so early in his career it's obvious those set backs have helped to improve him as a fighter.
We genuinely expect Kimura to have to work hard for a win here. Azuma might not be a special fighter, but he's certainly no pushover and Kimura should expect to be tested by the desire and hunger of Azuma. We think Azuma will make life difficult for 3 or 4 rounds, but potentially begin to be broken down by then. If Kimura gets the stoppage it should be considered a very good result for the debutant, and instead we're expecting him to take a clear, but very hard earned, decision.
The bad news?
As stated at the beginning it's unclear if this bout will actually be shown on TV, at all. If it is then it's fantastic news, but there's a chance that all we will get is some short highlights, which would be a huge shame given the hype behind Kimura.
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.