Back on December 10th we saw Japanese Light Welterweight champion Daishi Nagata (15-2-2, 6) make his first defense of the title he won back in July, when he upset Koki Inoue. In that defense Nagata fought to a 7th round technical draw against Akihiro Kondo (32-9-2, 18) in a bout that is seriously worth watching for those that missed it. It wasn’t a fight of the year contender, but was a compelling bout, and one to enjoy during the upcoming barren stretch from boxing.
Having watched the bout when it aired in December, and now going back over to rewatch it we thought we’d discuss what we took from the bout, and what we saw from the two men that was worth talking about
1-This started at a hot pace
With Nagata having secured a career best win over Koki Inoue just a few months before this fight it was clear that he was going to be flying high with confidence coming into this one. He tried to show that straight from the off and put a lot into round 1 as confidence and excitement seemed to be driving him on. Given that Nagata is a really good boxer and Kondo is a really tough guy we’re not too sure why Nagata didn’t try to control the bout at a slower pace and use his speed to control the action. Whatever the reason it didn’t matter, this started hot and was really fun from the opening bell due to Nagata’s decision to take the fight to Kondo, and Kondo’s willingness to respond and counter. Sadly for Nagata we suspect this hot pace he looked to set will turn into a learning experience for future bouts.
2-Kondo isn’t shot... but he is old
In 2019 Akihiro Kondo suffered losses to Downua Ruawaiking, via 5th round KO, and Andy Hiraoki, by UD10, and heading into 2020 we had assumed he was pretty much shot. In reality however he’s not shot, in fact the 35 year old is still a very, very capable fighter. He is however an old fighter, and his speed has dropped just a touch along with his reactions and movement. His timing is still there, his toughness is still there and he’s full of experience. If a fighter wants to beat Kondo the best tactics are not to treat him like a shot fighter and blast him out, that’s not going to happen. To beat Kondo you really should be looking to avoid a fight, boxing smartly and staying on the move, don’t let him time his counters and certainly don’t stand still in front of him. Even as early as the opening round Kondo was landing solid right hands on Nagata, and chin checking the champion. Nagata may have been winning the early rounds but he was certainly not getting things all his own way. With this in mind we would certainly not suggest Jin Sasaki’s team look at Kondo for a bout in 2021, he’s too tough, too rugged and too experienced for the teenage sensation.
3-The bout had great atmosphere at Korakuen Hall
Given that the Japanese Boxing Commission has really limited what fans are allowed to do at fights, in terms of preventing cheering, chanting, yelling and the like, it was great to hear a raucous atmosphere here for this bout. It was a rough, tough war, with a lot of shots being landed by both and it deserved the atmosphere it got, with plenty of nose being made by fans who were clearly picked up on the camera. Whilst it did seem like some of the noise was probably prohibited noise, there was also plenty of applause from excited fans who knew they were getting a really, really good bout. It’s a shame the bout ended the way it did, following Nagata being badly cut from head clashes, but it was a good one and it got a worthy reception from the crowd…
...or at least we think it did. Sadly the camera at Korakuen Hall was focused on the far side of the ring and the fans there didn’t seem to be showing much in terms of excitement or emotion, so this take away does come with the caveat that the noise may have been added afterwards. If that was the case it was well done, and did actually add to the fight, rather than distract from it.
4-Nagata was lucky when the bout was stopped
It can seem silly at times to talk about a fighter being lucky but we really do feel that Nagata was very, very lucky for the early conclusion here. He seemed to be getting tagged repeatedly and Kondo seemed to be coming on strong, and had been for several rounds. Had this bout gone on much longer Nagata would almost certainly have ended up taking the loss on the scorecards. It’s never great to defend a title by technical draw, but it’s better than losing it by technical decision and had this bout gone midway into round 8 we genuinely feel the title would have changed hands. Sadly for Kondo he does have himself to blame, he admitted his gameplan was about coming on strong in the middle rounds and had he started to get more offensive just 1 round earlier he would have had rounds in the bag needed to take home the decision and the Japanese title.
5-Michiaki Someya did a great job
We feel this goes without saying now but Michiaki Someya continued to do a great job as the referee. He was clear with his instructions to the fighters, who fell into a number of ugly clinches as the bout went on, he was clear when he ruled out a knockdown in round 2 and felt comfortable correcting himself when he realised it was a slip, he was always aware of what was going on and when they could work in a clinch he let them. He seemed to quickly realise that due to the orthodox Vs southpaw dynamic that clinches could get messy and head clashes could occur and did his best to limit them. He couldn’t prevent them all, but he did a good job in a fight that could easily have gotten very ugly at times.
A few days ago we shared our Lightweight rankings and confessed that the division was a hard one to really talk about. There was a unified champion, Yuichiro Yoshino, but the rest of the division was a bit of a mess and there was no clarity within it. Things don't get any clearer at 140lbs. In fact Light Welterweight might be an even harder division to rank, but also one of the most interesting with a number of people all banging on the door of big fights.
1-Batyrzhan Jukembayev (18-0-0-2, 14)
Unbeaten Canadian based Kazakh contender Batyrzhan Jukembayev is really banging on the door for a world title fight. Although not too well known internationally Jukembayev has ready scored noteworthy wins against the likes of Cosme Rivera, Patricio Lopez Moreno and Miguel Vazquez. A talented boxer puncher, but still a work in progress, Jukembayev is part of the chasing pack wanting a world title fight sooner rather than later. At 29 the Kazakh will be wanting to get back into the swing of things as soon as possible, and certainly doesn't have too much time to waste if he's going to have a solid time at, or around, the top of the sport. He's not old, but he's also no spring chicken.
2-Shohjahon Ergashev (18-0, 16)
The most explosive and exciting fighter in this top 10 is the powerful, but technically flawed, Shohjahon Ergashev. The heavy handed American based Uzbek is a fighter who can completely destroy opponents with his left hand, but can also be made to look rather rudimentary and basic by those who can control the action against him. Ergashev burst on the wider scene in 2018, when he dismantled Sonny Fredrickson in a charismatic and thrilling performance, and has notched 7 more wins since then. He looked very human against the awkward Mykal Fox, but absolutely terrifying against Nazareno Gaston Ruiz and more recently Adrian Estrella. The crude dangerman of the division.
3-Shakhram Giyasov (9-0, 7)
Another US based unbeaten Uzbek hopeful is 2016 Olympic gold medal winner Shakhram Giyasov. The talented "Wonder Boy" has shown a lot of potential, and looks to be a better boxer than Ergashev, but has got a lot of questions to answer before we move up any further up this list. Although he's a hard hitting boxer-puncher there are defensive holes we've seen from Giyasov and the now 26 year old did not look good against Emanuel Taylor last year. He scored an impressive blow out against Darleys Perez last time out, but still has a lot to prove. We suspect that when Giyasov steps up in class he will impress more than he has so far, but it might be a case of waiting for another year or so before we come close to seeing how good Giyasov really is.
4-Downua Ruawaiking (16-0, 13)
Thailand's Downua Ruawaiking, also known as Apinun Khongsong, was preparing for a world title fight before the global situation pout a halt on worldwide boxing. When we come out of this current situation we would expect to see the Thai getting a shot at unbeaten Scottish fighter Josh Taylor. The Thai hasn't got many wins of note on his record, but his 2019 win over Akihiro Kondo in Japan was very impressive and certainly sees him deserving a high ranking here. Although he's not the quickest, he has shown under-rated technical ability, real power and he is much better than many Thai's around this weight. We don't expect him to defeat Taylor, when the two finally clash, but he is certainly among the very best at 140lbs in Asia, and is going to be someone who would be fancied against pretty much everyone in region.
5-Koki Inoue (15-0, 12)
The unbeaten Koki Inoue is the "lesser known Inoue", and is the cousin of Naoya and Takuma. Inoue isn't as well established as his two cousins, but is another boxing product of Shingo Inoue and the Ohashi gym. Inoue has proven to be a solid punching boxer-mover who has shown the ability to bang when he wants to, as we saw against Jheritz Chavez last year, and box when he needs to, as we saw against Valentine Hosokawa. At times he's been a bit dull to watch, but there is always a sense of tension with his fights, knowing he can go into another gear as, and when, he chooses. Currently Inoue is the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific and we see him moving onto the next level sooner, rather than later.
5-Daud Yordan (40-4-0-1, 28)
Indonesian veteran Daud Yordan appears to have been around forever, but the former world title contender is still only 32 and his career, which began in 2005, is still very much active. Originally a contender at Featherweight Yordan has seen his body fill out over the last decade and he's now fighting between Lightweight and Light Welterweight. Although not the physically imposing fighter he was lower down the weights he's certainly still a handful and a genuine gatekeeper. His 2018 proved he still deserves to be mentioned here in among the best in Asia, with an excellent win in Russia against Pavel Malikov and a game performance in a loss to Anthony Crolla. Yordan is some way from being world class, but is a definite gatekeeper level fighter.
6-Zhankosh Turarov (24-0, 17)
The second Kazakh to make it on to this list is the unbeaten 29 year old "Kazakh Kid" Zhankosh Turarov. The unbeaten Turarov has been a professional for more than a decade but has yet to make a real mark at the top, not help by the fact he spent around 21 months out of the ring from September 2017 to June 2019. Although talented there has, seemingly, been lacking direction and hunger in his career and he really needs some stiffer competition to see what he's really made out of. It'd be great to see Turarov taking on a test this year, but we do wonder if the desire is really there. He was supposed to be in a tournament last year but pulled out with injury and with that in mind we do need to wonder if he's perhaps, maybe, a touch fragile and injury prone. A talent, but one who needs to be questioned and needs to do more, soon.
7-Rikki Naito (22-2, 7)
OPBF champion Rikki Naito is in an interesting position. He's clearly a talented boxer who has won the Japanese Super Featherweight title and now holds the OPBF title at 140lbs, but he's a talented boxer with some real issues. We know his stamina isn't great, and he tends to run on fumes in the championship rounds. We know he lacks power, which further makes his lack of stamina and issue, as bouts do go long, and physically he's not the strongest at the weight. Despite those flaws he's fast, very skilled, smart and know how to move around the ring. As with Turarov his ability isn't going to be questioned, but boxing isn't all about ability and we can all see Naito's flaws, so to will future opponents. Jheritz Chavez and Daishi Nagata have pushed Naito all the way, and we suspect any decent regional level fighter will do the same, but he has been finding ways to win!
8-Daishi Nagata (14-2-1, 5)
It's hard to know how good 20 year old Japanese fighter Daishi Nagata is. It's clear he can fight, it's clear he's a warrior and his performances against Rikki Naito, in a razor thin loss, and Cristiano Aoqui, in a 2019 win, showed what he could do. Sadly though he's been fairly inconsistent, struggling past the unheralded Min Ho Jung and being battered into submission by Vladimir Baez. When he's on song Nagata could well be a nightmare for those ranked above him, as he was for Naito, but his next bout is likely to be against Inoue and we suspect there will be a clear between the two Japanese fighters when we get around to seeing that one.
9-Andy Hiraoka (15-0, 10)
Talented Japanese fighter Andy Hiraoka is someone we should have seen fans talking about internationally back in April. He was pencilled in to fight on the under-card of the now cancelled Naoya Inoue Vs Johnriel Casimero bout and the reality is that he would have got a lot of eye balls on him there. The talented 23 year old is big, strong, tough, fast and has the athletic traits to be a real one to watch in the division, with the potential to quickly outgrow the Asian scene. Despite the athletic ability Hiraoka is still a work in progress and needs to develop the technical skills to go with his athletic tools. We saw Hiraoka make good development last year, and his decision win over Akihiro Kondo was a career best win, but the best is yet to come.
10-Ablaikhan Khussainov (11-0, 8)
Rounding off our top 10 is another Kazkh, Ablaikhan Khussainov. Khussainov, like Jukembayev, fought much of his career in Canada but is now based in the US where he is hoping to have a big break through in the near future. The talented Kazakh fought much of his career at Lightweight but his last two bouts have suggested that a move to being a fully fledged Light Welterweight it now on the cards. Although not as proven as the others on this list Khussainov is a good former amateur, who has proven his professional ability around the globe and is clearly ready to be tested. His future may lie at Lightweight but for now we're ranking him at 140lbs, where his 29 year old body may be better, rather than draining the extra 5lbs. We're hoping that when the sport returns in 2020 we see Khussainov in a real test, as we genuinely believe he'll rise to the occasion.
On the bubble:
Hiroki Okada, Yusuke Konno, Baishanbo Nasiyiwula, Tuguldur Byambatsogt and Hwang Kil Kim
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).