Last week Rentaro Kimura (1-0, 1) [木村蓮太朗] made his professional debut with a lot of hype and expectation on his shoulders. His bout was, sadly, behind closed doors, but in front Fuji TV cameras and there was a clear intention from Fuji TV to make sure that they were show casing the 23 year old Kimura.
Before we discuss the bout lets just speak about Kimura. As an amateur he went he had gone 72-16 (26), he was the 2016 All Japan Bantamweight champion, before moving through the weights to claim the Lightweight crown at the 72nd and 74th National Athletic. He had also been the captain of the boxing team at the Toyo University.
His success as an amateur had lead to a lot of interest from professional boxing gyms for his signature, with some comparing him to other recent Japanese wunderkind. Despite a number of gyms wanting him to sign with them he eventually decided to sign with the relatively small Suruga Boys, a small and relatively new outfit in Shizuoka, where he was originally from. The hope, when he announced that he was turning professional, was that he could be the first Japanese world champion from a Shizuoka based gym.
Suruga Boys don't have experience and sparring depth needed for a fighter like Kimura to become a star. They are an emerging gym, and he needed to have a more established gym helping him. That came in the form of the Misako Gym, a gym that is very much an established on in Japan and is going through a rich vein of form with a host of Japanese national champions among their ranks. One those, Japanese Featherweight champion Ryo Sagawa, was the man that Kimura shared the ring with for his pro-test earlier this year.
The original plan had been for him to debut in Shizuoka but the on going global situation, something that essentially shut down Japanese boxing for more than 4 months, forced those plans to change. Instead it was last weekend he debuted as he took on Yuya Azuma (5-4-1, 1) [東祐也].
On paper the bout looked like a mismatch. Though after scratching behind the numbers Azuma had never been stopped in his 9 previous fights, he had been a professional for over 3 years and had run the likes of Tom Mizokoshi and Kensuke Fujita very close in two of his loses. He had also entered this bout riding a 3 fight winning run, including a solid upset over Ryo Tanimoto. Beneath the service Azuma was a solid opponent to debut against, and someone who wanted to win.
Prior to the broadcast Fuji TV gave Kimura something of a big build up. They showed some of his amateur footage, explained he had won national title in 2016, 2017 and 2019, and then showed some training footage, as well as footage from his pro-test with Sagawa. Whilst they knew the result, given the bout was aired several days after it took place, it was clear they were still looking to promote him and build up the hype on the youngster.
Although an empty Korakuen Hall always looks weird and strange, given that even under-card bouts usually have a solid attendance, it didn't seem to phase the debutant in the slightest.
Azuma had come to win, that was obvious from very early on. He hadn't come to make up the numbers, but a straight left from Kimura about 30 seconds in showed how sharp he was. Azuma did get some revenge for the shot, tripping Kimura over soon afterwards, and continued to try and box with the debutant. Sadly for Azuma he was regularly countered, tied up up close and forced onto the retreat. Kimura wouldd go on to land several other gorgeous shots later in the opening round, and did so with both hands. He looked offensively sharp, aggressive and despite showing some defensive holes Kimura couldn't ever make him pay, with Kimura's reflexes bailing him out when needed.
After a good first round we seemed to see a rather controlled effort from Kimura through the first minute of round 2. Azuma came out aggressive, and although he had had success he did get caught by a solid body shot and a nasty low blow, as Kimura began to try going to the body.
Then about 80 seconds into the second round we saw Kimura instantly go through the gears. He threw a couple of feints before drilling Azuma with a huge left hand, that began a series of clean shots up top from Kimura. The left hand was followed up almost instantly by a right uppercut, a glancing left hand, a clean left hand, and a huge second right uppercut. The combination took around 2 seconds, and sent Azuma crashing to the canvas.
In the blink of an eye Kimura had hurt his man, and by the time Azuma knew he was hurt was flat out on his back. In an instant we had learned exactly what Kimura was about. In just a few seconds we had seen the youngster make a statement and announce himself on to the professional boxing scene with a brutal finish.
Whilst there were flaws with his debut, and there were certainly areas for him to improve on, this was as good a debut performance as we've seen in a Japanese ring in the last year or two. This was a performance that showed a young fighter's skills, killer instinct and power.
Whilst some will state Azuma wasn't very good the reality is that he gave it a go, more than we typically see in the west from opponents of debutants. He genuinely believed he could win, he fought on after being cracked with a huge left hand in the opening round and a nasty body shot earlier in round 2. Sadly for Azuma he wasn't ever close to the level of Kimura. Even when Azuma did have his moments he was never able to really phase Kimura.
Next time out we'd like to see Kimura show something more on the inside. He did seem happy to tie up but we didn't see much of him fighting up close. That's a bit of a shame, as he did show some really nice touches up close, especially with his uppercuts, when he was willing to fight inside. We'd also like to see a little more patience, with the left hand he missed badly with almost midway through the opening round being a bit too reckless for us, just a tighter defense than he showed here. That is however us picking faults with a 23 year old who showed a lot to like in his debut and impressed us with his killer instinct.
For those that missed his debut we've included it below. Of course we were impressed by it, though it's fair to say we suspect others will be more critical than we are.
Given how quickly Japanese prospects get fast tracked we would expect to see Kimura moving towards title bouts in his next 4 or 5 contests, and he has already spoken about wanting to fight for a world title in in the next 3 years. For that to be viable he will need to improve defensively, but in fairness with Misako and Suruga boys seeing what he looked like on his debut they'll know where they need to focus his training. With Fuji TV in on the ground floor with his career, he has a massive ally who can help link him on to major cards, or keep him as an attraction on Diamond Glove shows. They will help him become a star, and he really does appear to already tick a lot of boxes.
Over the coming years we expect to see Kimura's KO of Azuma played over and over and to have a highlight reel KO on his debut will do a lot of favours for him in terms of marketing.
In regards to marketing it's worth noting that Kimura is a good looking kid, and with an exciting style, a willingness to hunt for a KO and a desire to be fast tracked, this young Super Featherweight appears to have everything needed to be a major name in the sport.
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).