This past weekend we had the chance to see WBC Light Flyweight champion Kenshiro Teraji (18-0, 10) [寺地 拳四朗] retain his title as he defeated Tetsuya Hisada (34-11-2, 20) [久田 哲也] by a wide unanimous decision. The bout wasn't a FOTY contender, or anything like that, but it was one with plenty to talk about, and was one we had, legitimately, waited 4 years to see! With that in mind let's share what we took away from the clash, and the broadcast of it.
1-The broadcast shouldn't have been so hard to watch
We'll start with the obvious one here. The fight was only made available via Cantere Doga, a subscription streaming service in Japan, available only in Japan, that's run by Kansai TV (KTV), with "Cantere" being a bit of a portmanteau of "Kansai" and "Telly". That was the ONLY way to watch the bout.
When you consider that Kenshiro has a growing international fanbase, and Japanese boxing as a whole has an audience outside of Japan, this decision is among the stupidest we've seen this year. Especially as it was essentially shown for free to all Cantere Doga subscribers, with the minimum cost being 300yen (about $3 or £2.50). The bout should, really, have been on available internationally, without the use of technological work arounds, VPN's and other spoofing tricks. The smart move for KTV and for Shinsei Promotions, who promoted the show, would have been an international feed on YouTube, via Boxing Real or KTV themselves, which would have been geo-locked, locking out a domestic audience, who could pay to watch.
The way the bout was broadcast was a big, big mistake, and hopefully one we'll not see repeated in the future.
2-Kenshiro looked really sharp
Coming in to this bout we hadn't seen Kenshiro in the ring since late 2019, when he beat Randy Petalcorin. That was 16 months out of the ring, the longest of his career by far. Despite the long lay off he looked sharp through much of the bout. His footwork was on point, allowing him to get in and out, and dictate the range and tempo for much of the contest, his jab was as brilliant as ever, his combinations were brilliant, he was scary accurate, and his straight right hand was crisp and clean. He really didn't look like a man with a long lay off, or like a man who had been in trouble outside of the ring.
The right hand Kenshiro dropped Hisada with in round 2 was an absolute beauty and it seemed at times that he was going to stop Hisada, something that has only ever happened when Hisada has fought at Super Flyweight. We'll get on to why a stoppage didn't happen in a few moments.
The only real issues with Kenshiro's performance were some defense lapses, where he was caught with some solid right hands, and he seemed to lose some spring in legs late in the bout, with the lack of activity likely playing a factor on his stamina more than anything else. It really was an excellent performance by the champion.
3-Hisada is stupidly tough
There are some undeniable facts when it comes to Tetsuya Hisada, one is that he's popular in Osaka, one is that he's aged like fine wine and one is that he is as tough as they come. The 36 year old has only been stopped once in 37 bouts, and that came in 2012 at Super Flyweight against 4-time world title challenger Hiroyuki Kudaka. Here he showed how incredibly tough he was once again. He was dropped from a clean right hand in round 2 and and hurt numerous times through the bout, but never really came close to being stopped. He showed a really impressive will to win, and a steadfast determination that really did show that he wasn't happy to just be on the big stage.
Sadly for Hisada his toughness wasn't enough to cope with the skills of Kenshiro, but no one can fault his effort and we really hope this isn't the end for him.
Also it needs to be noted that despite having 11 losses to his name, Hisada is very much a world class fighter, and shouldn't be written off for having double digit losses. Revisionist history will suggest he was a "weak" challenger, but he showed that records really aren't the be all and end all.
4-The audience was massively pro-Hisada
One of the most telling things through out the bout was the strong, strong crowd support for Tetsuya Hisada. In all honesty this shouldn't have been much of a shock, given he was the local fighter in Osaka, but it was still weird just how silent fans were to Kenshiro's entrance, giving him a very polite and subdued clap when he got in the ring. The crowd also applauded Hisada pretty much any time he landed anything, whilst a lot of Kenshiro's work was met by relative silence. Despite both men being Japanese it was clear who brought the crowd to the venue, and who they wanted to see win. There was a scattering of Kenshiro fans, but they were very clearly out numbered by Hisada fans who went wild every time he landed anything of note.
The fans were also very appreciative of Hisada as he walked back to his changing room after the fight.
It should be noted that the fans were also very pro-Hisada when he fought Hiroto Kyoguchi, and it shows Hisada's local appeal, even against higher profile fighters than himself. Win or lose, and he has lost plenty, he has become a local boxing hero in Osaka.
5-Yuji Fukuchi had an easy job
When we talk about Japanese referees there are a few that stand out, and one of those is veteran referee Yuji Fukuchi. With more than 2 decades experience of refereeing at the top level Fukuchi knows what his job is, he knows how to do his job, but here he really wasn't really needed. The bout was a very cleanly fought one, and barring the knockdown there wasn't much else for him to be involved in. A few clinches to break up, a minor headclash in round 6, and very, very little else. This would be one of the easiest world title fights he's ever been the third man for.
Despite being an easy assignment Fukuchi never took his eye off the ball. His positioning was fantastic through the bout, he let them fight without getting in the way and he was focused on letting the fighters fight, something they were happy to do.
In fairness it wasn't just Fukuchi who had an easy job but also the judges, and the cards, of 119-108 and 118-109, really were the only two ways this could have been scored. Despite a very spirited and valiant effort from Hisada.
Did you know - The song Kenshiro entered to was "Ai o Torimodose!!", which is also known as "YOU wa SHOCK", and was the theme song for anime "Fist of the North Star", which focuses on a warrior names Kenshiro! We've included the full version of that song below.
This past weekend we saw professional novice Ryosuke Nishida (4-0, 1) [西田凌佑] score a career best victory as he defeated former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (17-2-1, 17) [比 嘉 大吾], and claimed the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title, with a brilliant performance. The bout, which was aired live in Okinawa, then aired on tape delay in Tokyo a few days later, featured one of the best performances of 2021 so far, and it was something that is worth re-watching, and re-enjoying over and over.
Having watch the bout a few times, we're going to share some of what we took from the bout with the latest in our Five Takeaways series.
1-Nishida's composure is amazing
One thing that was apparent from the opening bell was that Nishida had absolutely no nerves coming into this bout. He was extremely confident and cocksure. Sometimes however we see confidence eroding when a fighter is under pressure, something we saw with Felix Verdejo last year against Masayoshi Nakatani and something we have seen thousands of times before. In this bout however that confidence never wavered and that was, in part, due to the excellent composure of Nishida.
Having only turned professional in 2019 it would have been easy for Muto gym to have given Nishida the kid glove treatment, but instead they put him in with a feared puncher, with an aggressive style, and sent him off on the road, from Osaka to Okinawa. On paper there was so many things that could have gotten to him. From the occasion to the pressure of Higa. Instead however he never seemed to show any cracks. In fact if anything he almost seemed to thrive at the idea of showing up Higa in front of his friends and family. Higa's pressure has forced fighters to crumble, but for Nishida that pressure was like water off a ducks back. To us a prospects composure under pressure is one of the key things to keep an eye on when judging potential and the way Nishida coped under pressure suggested, to us, that he really is an exceptional young fighter. It's also worth noting that that incredible composure helped him see counter opportunities and reserve energy, allowing him to be the man with gas in the tank in the later rounds.
2-Nishida fought to a brilliant game plan
Going in to this our view, as those who read our preview may have seen, was that natural size was going to be a major factor in this bout, and it proved to be one of the reasons why Nishida won. At range he was too long for Higa, and he used his reach really well, hammering both the head and body really well, but he also used his size up close, neutralising and smothering Higa, leaning his weight into Higa up close, and tying him up. He really showed how a bigger fighter should fight a smaller fighter and he bullied Higa around at times. He knew he was stronger than Higa and the bullying up close in the first half of the fight really paid off in the later rounds, when Higa looked about spent. Given this was the first time Nishida had been scheduled for more than 8 rounds he fought a really smart game plan.
The gameplan, created by Kosuke Takeichi, was perfect and it's worth giving real credit to Takeichi for coming up with the tactics that allowed his man to really hammer a tired Higa late on, even though Higa did try to turn things around early in 10 that was sniffed out and Nishida quickly resumed control of the action.
It's also worth noting here, that he essentially silenced the crowd for large swathes of the bout. He limited Higa's success so much that the small number of people who travelled from Osaka seemed to make far more noise than the locals.
For British fans, Osaka to Okinawa is a further distance than Land's End to John o'Groats.
3-Higa is too small for the Bantamweight division
In fairness this is something that has been obvious since his return to the ring in 2020, following a lengthy suspension for missing weight and being stripped of the WBC Flyweight title in 2018. Sadly though Higa, currently, isn't allowed to fight any lower than Bantamweight by the JBC and is in an awkward position. He's simply not big enough to compete at 118lbs, but isn't allowed to fight at 115lbs, which we suspect would be the best weight for him.
Higa has always been a very physical fighter. He's a come-forward steam roller who is strong, powerful, and has some brilliant combinations. But defensively he's raw and against opponents who are natural Bantamweights he'll always struggle to force his fight on people. He's small, short, and hasn't got the physical dimensions to be a force in the division. He landed enough good shots on Nishida to see his power really hasn't carried up, and he was pushed around way too easily here.
Sadly the warning signs for Higa have been here for a while. His draw with Seiya Tsutsumi last year, a natural Super Flyweight who is also very comfortable at Bantamweight, showed his power hasn't carried up and his recent exhibition with Naoya Inoue saw Inoue toying with him and showing him little respect. Sadly though it's really hard to see where goes from this, and he may well need to leave Japan to fight at his best weight, which would, in it's self, be a massive risk for his career.
4-Michiaki Someya continues his excellent form
The last few months we have seen some shocking refereeing but but Michiaki Someya once again showed himself to be among the very best referees in the sport. His positioning, clear instructions, and control of the action through out, is second to none. The bout certainly wasn't the dirtiest or the roughest bout ever but he was on top of things and when the fighters ended up in a situation that needed splitting he split them, the rest of the time he was happy for them to fight out of the clinches. His willingness to let them fight when they were up close, and only split them when he had to, helped this bout, and we'd like to see more referees letting fighters fight out of the clinch. Seriously for everyone considering becoming a referee in the sport, give a watch to Michiaki Someya, he is head and shoulders above many of the higher profile referees, and he certainly should get more big fighters.
5-No home town favors with the judging
To fans outside of Japan it's not always obvious just how big the country is, and how different various parts of Japan are. Most fights international fans see are from Tokyo, with Osaka coming in a distant second. Major fights taking place in Okinawa are very, very rare, and major fighters coming from Okinawa are few and far between. For boxing in the area to take off, they need local stars, and Higa, along with Toshiki Kawamitsu and Ryuto Owan are the regions 3 most notable fighters. It's also worth noting that at least 2 of the judges for the bout are either from, or based in, Okinawa and the crowd applauded almost any time Higa did anything. The judges however didn't even come close to scoring this in favour of the local star. They scored this deadly fair, and didn't even make an attempt to bail out the local star.
Given recent events judges in the UK and the US would have tried to have helped the local star, even though the bout was relatively one sided, but here they really didn't. They could have given Higa and extra round or two, been generous, and gone by the idea that it wouldn't have mattered. But they didn't. They scored the fight fairly, for all 12 rounds. Just as they are supposed to. Not as the promoter would have wanted. Not like the home fans wanted, and not like the local star wanted. We need more of that in the sport!
Just over a week ago Japanese fight fans at Korakuen Hall saw talented youngster Taku Kuwahara (8-0, 5) scored his latest win, over-coming Yoshiki Minato (9-4, 4) in what was a truly fantastic 8 rounder at Super Flyweight. The bout was one that was easy to overlook if you didn't follow the Japanese domestic scene, but ended up over-delivering on every front. It was a contest between two highly skilled youngsters, fought at a brilliant tempo through out and the two delivered one of the best bouts we've seen in Japan in 2021.
With the bout having been aired around a week ago we've given a watch, and another watch and have now decided to talk about the bout in more detail as we give it the Five Take Aways treatment!
1-Fuji done goofed!
Prior to the bout Fuji TV showed clips of the two men, and tried to get some words from both men. Sadly the words from both fighters were pretty drowned out by some music, making very, very difficult to catch what either man was trying to say. It's a real shame as they only had to reduce the volume on the music to help add to this bout. A simple mistake to correct, especially given this was a pre-recorded segment, and music was clearly added over the top of the videos, but a mistake all the same. Thankfully this is not something we are used to seeing from Fuji TV and is, at least for now, a one off.
2-These two put on a showcase of boxing
When this bout was first announced, back in 2020, the expectations were high. Both fighters were known as very talented youngsters with bright futures ahead of them. It was assumed they would both look to take home a victory, and it was generally sold as an East Japan hopeful against a West Japan hopeful. Boxing fans who followed the Japanese scene knew these two could put on a great bout, but few would have expected something as good as we got. Both men really did go out there with the intention of not just winning, but winning over new fans and winning over the judges. They put on something of a technical war, with Kuwahara's skills up against Minato's will and genuinely this ended up being a very special bout.
The folk behind this deserve big props for their match making, and the fighters also deserve credit for signing up to the bout, and performing the way they did. Both were a joy to watch, with Kuwahara's body shots being a genuine delight.
3-Time for Kuwahara to fight for titles!
Taku Kuwahara has been on our radar since his debut in 2018 and he's proven his talent time and time again, with good performances against the likes of Takamori Kiyama, Jonathan Refugio, Ricardo Sueno and now Yoshiki Minato. He's been described as a prospect or hopeful for the last 3 years, though now he needs a chance to prove what he can do and to be given a shot for a title. We aren't sure whether he's going to commit to Flyweight or Super Flyweight, but the reality is he could mix with regional and domestic title holders in either division and fingers crossed we see him get that type of opportunity next. He's too good to hold back, and he's answered enough to prove he belongs at a higher level. Time for Mr Ohashi to let him prove what he can really do!
The bout seemed like a pretty fair win for Kuwahara, who seemed to be a bit better in every area, though to see two judges have this a shut out, and the third judge give Minato a single round really does feel harsh. Minato held his own through out. Every round was competitive, and it's a case where more 10-10 rounds would have reflected the actual nature of the bout a lot more accurately than what we got. Looking at the scorecards, this looks like an easy win for Kuwahara, it certainly wasn't.
Although Kuwahara won the majority of the rounds, we felt there was 2 or 3 rounds that could, and maybe should, have gone Minato's way. Sadly for him the three wise men didn't agree. It's hard to say the judges got it wrong here, but it's a shame we didn't see at least one judge from West Japan, and it a real shame that Minato's work wasn't reflected on the cards.
We didn't agree with 80-72 or 79-73, though we can understand how the judges got there. For us it was a lot, lot closer than those cards suggest, and it's a shame that Minato didn't get a bit more recognition for his work.
5-Fuji have another potential star
Fuji TV have, for a few years now, been the most important free to air channel in Japanese boxing, and they have been pushing boxing a lot in recent years. They have the likes of Naoya Inoue and Ryota Murata on their channel and have linked up with various other notable fighters, such as Kenshiro Teraji and now former world champions Daigo Higa and Masayuki Ito, in recent years. They also seem to be building a very good stable of fighters through their agreements with various promoters. We've seen the likes of Rentaro Kimura, Ryutaro Nakagaki and Keisuke Matsumoto all get a lot of attention on Fuji Broadcasts over the last 12 months or so.
With that said, Taku Kuwahara also appears to fit that that mould of young, charismatic, talented fighter that they have working alongside, who should be given the limelight. Sure he's not the next Naoya Inoue but he's a sensationally talented young fighter, with an exciting aggressive style and a defense that sometimes seems like it could get him in trouble. He's TV friendly, he's got a good team behind him, and if Fuji get on board with him, we genuinely think they could have another future world champion to focus their broadcasts on. He's only 25 now and there is a lot of time for him to be moved not just on to regional titles, as mentioned above, but also world titles.
Bonus take away -
Do not write off Minato!
This was Yoshiki Minato's third loss in 4 bouts. He has gone from 8-0 to 9-3 in less than 2 years. Despite that do not write him off! He's 22 years old, he has been matched hard, he has shown what he can do, he's a very solid young prospect and on he back of this performance he certainly has the ability to mix at, if no win at, Japanese and Oriental title level. We would go as far as to sat the one thing he is missing, and needs to work on is something that will come naturally. Physical maturity. He still looks a little bit of a feather fisted fighter, but give him another 12 to 24 months and he will be one to keep a serious eye on the domestic scene. A really under-rated youngster, with the potential to go a lot, lot further than his record currently suggests.
Last weekend we got the chance to catch the TV broadcast of Andy Hiraoka's (17-0, 12) return to a Japanese ring, as he took on Fumisuke Kimura (9-7-1, 6) for the second time. The bout was little more than a stay busy for the talented and promising Hiraoka, and saw him stop Kimura in 3 rounds, rather than going the scheduled as the two did in 2018. It was a win that looked easy for Hiraoka, but it was also a win that deserves a bit more attention than we originally gave it. With that in mind lets have look back over the bout, and give our Five Take Aways from the bout.
1-There's still work to do with Hiraoka
With 17 bouts to his name we'd have assumed Andy Hiraoka would be a polished fighter, but in reality there is still a lot of work to do with him. His lack of an amateur career shows, and he's very much a great athlete who's not a good boxer. Technically there is plenty more for him to learn at the Ohashi Gym.
One one hand that's a negative. Suggesting he's still got a lot of improvements to make and is still so limited as a boxer after 17 fights. On the other hand we see it as a positive and given there is a lot of room to improve, he, and his team, should realise that his potential isn't close to being reached yet. Fingers crossed they manage to make the strides with his development that are there for him. He has a lot going for him, and his team shouldn't be relying on what he's learned so far. In fairness however we are seeing improvements with every fight and that's a great sign for his future.
2-Hiraoka needs to be matched better!
We understand the logic behind this bout, and we'd be stupid to think it was more than it was, but the reality is that he's re-running a bout with a guy he beat 3 years ago. Since then we've seen him impress against better fighters than Kimura and show what he can do to an international audience, though his fights with Top Rank. He now needs to be matched tougher. And we mean much, much tougher. Fingers crossed that the plans for later in this year include a bout with a title holder of some sort. We'd love to see Hiraoka take on someone like Daishi Nagata, the Japanese champion, or Rikki Naito, the OPBF champion. This should be the type of level Hiraoka is fighting by the end of 2021, and there's no real reason why he shouldn't bet getting that level of bout, especially given his dominant win in 2019 against Akihiro Kondo.
3-Kimura's a tough, tough dude!
It's fair to say that Kimura didn't come to roll over. In fact he came with the belief that he could do better against Hiraoka this time than he did in their first meeting. Whilst he had the belief he could do better, it quickly became evident that he couldn't. Although Hiraoka isn't the complete article, he is a much, much, better fighter than the one who went 8 rounds with Kimura 3 years ago. The belief of Kimura however saw him refuse to just fold and instead he took a beating. A vicious, one sided, beating, especially in round 3. Despite being hammered from pillar to post he, somehow, remained upright. This was an incredible showcase of toughness from him, and one that really didn't need to be done. Credit to Kimura for not going down, but man was this brutal to watch at times.
4-A poor showing from Katsuhiko Nakamura
Genuinely we need to credit Kimura's toughness, but in reality we need to question referee Katsuhiko Nakamura for letting this continue as long as it did. Nakamura could easily have stopped this a minute or so earlier. Kimura barely landed a shot of note after the opening minute of the round and took a genuine hammering until Nakamura stepped in. Either of the flurries with Kimura in the corner, with about a minute of the round left should really have been the end of the fight, but Nakamura left this continue as if he he personally disliked Kimura. It was ugly, and a rare case of a Japanese referee getting it wrong. We understand why he wanted so long, but he really didn't need to.
5-Time for Kimura to hang them up
We've mentioned a few times that the ending to the bout was brutal and one sided. It was also thee third straight loss for Kimura, who is now win-less in 4 and has been stopped in back to back bouts. Whilst we were impressed by how tough the 33 year old was this was punishing and for the good of his health we would live to see this be the end for him. He doesn't need to take more punishment, and he doesn't need to take any more beatings like this. Fingers crossed he walks away from the sport now, on the back of a bout that was televised on Fuji TV against one of the brightest Japanese hopefuls at 140lbs.
Last Friday we finally got the chance to see the Japanese Featherweight title bout between defending champion Ryo Sagawa (10-2, 5) and mandatory challenger Hinata Maruta (11-1-1, 9).
The two men were originally supposed to clash in 2020, as part of the Champion Carnival, but saw their bout being delayed due to Covid 19. There was then a delay to the broadcasting of the bout, due to an earthquake in Japan earlier this month. Despite the delays, and the tragedies surrounding them, it was a bout that we were really looking forward to, and a bout that promised a lot. Thankfully it delivered and was a brilliant bout, well up there with some of the best bouts of 2021 so far. It was high level stuff, exciting and a really, really interesting bout.
In the end Maruta dethroned Sagawa, stopping him late in round 7, and finally lived up to the promise he had shown glimpses of since his days as an amateur. Before then however both men had shown a lot to like and given us a great bout.
With the bout now re-watched we've decided to give it the "Five Take Aways" treatment and share some of the things we took from the bout.
1-This is the best we've seen from Maruta
When he turned professional there was a lot of expectations on the shoulders of Hinata Maruta, who was aiming to win a world title within 3 years of his debut and was regarded as the future of the Morioka Gym. There was a lot of pressure on a man who was just a teenager. It was clear he had insane potential, and watching his early bouts it was clear he could go all the way, but there was also a lot of work to do and he could, at times, admire his work too much, and want to show off the flashy things, rather than get in and get the job done, drawing out bouts that that could have ended quickly. Here we saw him put it all together and put on a career best performance. He still switched off a little bit at times, but all in all this was a brilliant performance, he was sharp, quick, accurate, and when the time came to close the show he did just that. This was, by far and away, the best we've seen from Maruta.
2-Sagawa wasn't there to lose
Over the last few years Ryo Sagawa had been on a great role and had scored a string of notable wins over the likes of Junki Sasaki, Ryo Matsumoto, Shingo Kawamura, Al Toyogon and Reiya Abe. He wasn't going into the ring here to just hand his title over to some young upstart. He may have ended up being stopped in the end, but Sagawa was not in the ring to hand over his title and crown a new prince of Japanese boxing. Instead he fought hard, changed things up and tried to rely on his deep amateur experience and tough professional competition. He boxed early on and managed to turn up the heat as the bout went on, trying to get into Maruta's head and change the momentum of the bout. He wanted to keep his title, keep his career going forward and his effort can not be questioned here.
3-High level boxing can be exciting
There's an old George Foreman quote that we've all heard and seen, "Boxing is like jazz. The better it is, the less people appreciate it". Whilst that can be true, to some extent, we can still get high level boxing contests that are great to watch and highly entertaining affairs, when two fighters aren't overly negative and aren't coming to run and avoid a fight. That was certainly the case here. This was genuinely high level boxing, almost everything was based off technically solid work, jabs were the key for both men, feints and counter punching were seen regularly and both men fought first with their brains, rather than their brawn. Despite this being boxing contest, and not a fight, this was still a hugely exciting bout, and thoroughly entertaining. Really good boxing, and really good bout!
4-The finish was sensational
The big question mark we had coming in to this, in regards to Sagawa, was his chin, and it had let him down early in his career. Here he took some huge shots, with one of the best coming at the end of round 3, and showed surprising toughness and heart. Despite that there was little he could do to prevent the finish in round 7. Early in the round he took some big shots, and came through them trying to turn the fight around, even having some success in dictating the bout and forcing Maruta to back up. Sadly though there was next to nothing he could do to stop the counter right hand that dropped him the first time. That was a peach of a shot. Sagawa getting back to his feet afterwards was impressive, but Maruta had his man hurt, heard the clacker to signify the final 10 seconds of the round and finished with one of the best combinations we'll see this year. A brilliant, brutal, combination to put away the defending champion.
5-The Featherweight division in Japan is incredible!
The argument as to what makes a good division is one that we can go around in circles on, however a good division for us is "having a number of fighters who can be matched to give compelling and even looking match ups, and though fighters having no reason to avoid each other". With that definition in mind what an amazing scene the Japanese Featherweight division is right now. We have pure boxers like Sagawa, Maruta and Reiya Abe, we have punchers like Satoshi Shimizu and Tsuyoshi Tameda, we have craft little fighters like Musashi Mori, warriors like Daisuke Watanabe and Shingo Kusano, and emerging youngsters like Ryosuke Nishida and Rentaro Kimura, Jinki Maeda and Mikito Nakano.
Whilst not all of these fighters will ever compete at world level the domestic picture is incredible and there's no excuse for us to not get more amazing bouts in the division. With Maruta as champion we have potential match ups against Shimizu, Mori and Abe for the next year or two, and we have Sagawa's rebuilding process to look forward to. This division is going to be on fire in Japan for the next 5 or 6 years, if not longer, and to us that's something to be really, really excited about!
Earlier this month we saw a new Japanese Youth Light Flyweight champion being crowned, as Yudai Shigeoka (3-0, 2) scored a TKO win over Ryu Horikawa (3-1-1, 1) to claim the previously vacant title. The bout was later aired on Fuji TV and gave us a chance to see an excellent match up between two youngsters. In fact it gave us a match up that, in many ways, is part of why Japanese boxing is so good right now. Youngsters are risking unbeaten records against each other to deliver great fights and prove themselves, rather than padding their records until they are ranked high enough for a world title fight.
The bout looked great on paper, it seemed to have all the ingredients of being something special in the ring, and matched stylish boxer-mover against a more mature and aggressive pressure-fighter-come-puncher. And when they got in the ring, the two men delivered something sensational.
With the bout having been watched and dissected, it's one we want to go back over and look at again, as we bring you a Five Take Aways article on the fight.
1-The Japanese Youth title is brilliant and unique to Japan
The main Japanese title is the most competitive domestic title on the planet by far. It might not have the same history as the British title, but in recent years the Japanese title has been one that Japanese fighters have gone for, and looked to defend against top domestic fighters adding value to the title. Sadly the British title has been devalued by fighters vacating the belt, and the split between the two top promoters, leading to a lot potentially brilliant match ups simply not taking place. As a result the Japanese title has over-taken the British title in some ways.
Regardless of which title is more meaningful, the idea of a domestic Youth title is something really unique to Japan and is one of the most amazing concepts. It gives youngsters a reason to face off. They get a belt and recognition for winning bouts like this one. They have a reason to risk their records, and a reward for winning. It's something only Japan, and maybe Mexico, could pull off right now, but it's something every major boxing country should be looking to replicate. It repeatedly gives us great bouts and allows young prospects to prove themselves very early on. It really is something truly brilliant.
2-High level skills from two youngsters!
Before the first bell we knew these weren't the typical 3-0-1 and 2-0 novices we see out there. Both men had been very accomplished amateur fighters and both came into this bout with reputations as talented youngsters. In the ring that talent was evident from the very start. Horikawa looked the better boxer, he judges range well, moved like a feather at times and showed impressive punch selection. He showed touches of genuis and is clearly a brilliant schooled young fighter. Shigeoka however looked the stronger, more powerful man and the bully in the clinches, he knew he was the more mature fighter and he made the most of that advantage. Regardless of the styles the two youngsters showed some fantastic ability, heart and determination. We don't tend to see the skills these two showed at this age, and with so few fights to their name, but the skills on show really made this something very special.
3-Shigeoka is a monster...but also a work in progress
We all know Ginjiro Shigeoka is a star in the making, and he was actually working the corner for Yudai, his older brother, but what this bout showed is that Yudai is also well on his way to being a star. The 23 year old looked like a monster at times. He was being outboxed at times by Horikawa early on, but never looked too phased, and instead believed in his power, his toughness and his skills. He was was left with a bloody nose in round 3, but that seemed to drag out the dog in him, drawing out the bed in him and when he felt Horikawa slowing down he really did turn the screw. He might lack the 1-punch power of his brother but his combinations are a thing of beauty, his counter punching is excellent and his huge left hand is going to be a major threat at world level. He is however some one who sill has work to do, and we suspect his team will be working on his defense and his footwork, and at times he looked a bit too stationary for our liking. With just 3 professional bouts behind him, mistakes were expected, but he was still hugely impressive.
4-Akihiko Katsuragi did a great job
Although this was certainly not a dirty fight, the dynamic of the southpaw vs orthodox fighter caused the fighters to fall into each a fair bit and there was more clinching than we typically see in Japanese fights. Despite that Akihiko Katsuragi did really well as the referee. He gave them chances to work inside, but also knew to split them when shots weren't being thrown. He kept out of the way when he wasn't needed and only involved himself when he needed to. He also had a great view of the fighters at all times, and was clear with his instructions. Most notably he was always in position to jump in when needed and Horikawa chance when he was hurt. He didn't jump in too late, nor did he let a youngster get ruined.
This was just good, solid refereeing from a man who has been there, seen it, got the post card and knows what he's doing in the ring. Referees can learn a lot from watching how Katsuragi officiated here.
5-Do not write Ryu Horikawa off!
We've raved about Horikawa's skills already though his problem was almost certainly the fact the bout came too early for him. He's a talented boxer, but he's a kid and his lack of physical maturity and man strength showed. He was out boxing Shigeoka at times, but he lacked the fire power to get Shigeoka's respect whilst Shigeoka was able to bully him around, hurt him and walk through shots when he needed to. Despite the loss we wouldn't write him off. In fact if anything the loss will do him the world of good, it will help his team focus on letting him mature, develop physically and work on that on that side of things. He is technically very good, but also very young and needs to be given time. If he matures, as we expect, by his mid 20's he will be a real force on domestic scene and a potential national champion.
This past weekend in the US the Super Bantamweight division came alive with stellar performances from Raeese Aleem and Stephen Fulton, who both looked spectacular on Showtime on Saturday night. Before those two bouts we also had a Japanese national title fight in the division, with that bout taking place on Friday in Tokyo, and being shown around the globe on Boxing Raise.
That bout in Japan saw Gakuya Furuhashi (27-8-1, 14) dethrone Yusaku Kuga (19-5-1, 13) in what was a sensational fight for a title that has repeatedly given us amazing bouts. It was a brilliant back and forth, fought almost entirely on the inside, and it saw both men take a lot of punishment. It was competitive, dramatic, brutal and one we suggest all fight fans make an effort to watch in 2021.
Having had time to let the bout breathe before rewatching it earlier today we've decided it's now time to share our take aways from what was a genuinely amazing fight.
1-The styles gelled perfectly
When we look at potential bouts, and how much we're going to enjoy them, or whether they are going to be fan friendly we need to think about how each fighter fights, and how their styles should gel. For this bout the styles gelled amazingly. Both men have the same mentality or fighting, rather than boxing, both have similar game plans, and both have similar strengths. This made for a bout that was great on paper, and equally as good in the ring.
Despite this being a mandatory title defense for Kuga it rather fortunately showed what good match making should focus on. It's not the records that matter when making a good fight, but the styles. Both of these men wanted to work at a high pace. Both wanted to let their shots go and both did so in different ways. Kuga wanted to fight at mid-range, but was willing to fight up close in spurts. Furuhashi wanted to fight up close, and was willing to take a bomb or two to get inside. In many ways this was similar to the Angela Leo vs Stephen Fulton fight seen on Saturday, and again the styles gelled. Wonderful to watch.
2-Akihiko Katsuragi did a great job
We've been over this so many times in this series but Japanese referees seem to be consistently fantastic and Akihiko Katsuragi, the third man in the ring here, is no exception. Katsuragi stayed out of the action, he let fight, he didn't look to interject at any point. He wasn't there to get involved unless he needed to be, such as at the end of the rounds. The one exception to that came towards the end of the bout when he quite rightly stopped the contest with Kuga being completely gone. We saw a lot of praise for David Fields' work on Saturday night, for letting Leo and Fulton fight, and it was the same here with Katsuragi. When they clinched, which was incredibly rare, they were allowed to fight out of it, breaks were few and far between.
Not only did Katsuragi not interject but he was also aware of the fight, it's meaning and the men involved. A lesser referee would, potentially, have stopped this at various points. A nervous referee may have thought a man was more hurt than he actually was and jumped in. We've seen it in the past with early stoppages particularly prevalent in the UK. Katsuragi showed no intention of stopping this until he needed to.
3-This deserved a louder audience
Originally this bout was planned for April 28th 2020, as part of the annual Champion Carnival series of fights. Sadly due to Covid19 the bout was postponed by around 9 months. Covid19 not only meant there was a lengthy delay to the bout, but also meant that restrictions were put on the fans, who were limited by number and by what they were allowed to do. All fans were forced to wear masks to attend the fight and they weren't allowed to chant and cheer on their man. Instead they were pretty much limited to applauding.
We fully understand the rules, the regulations and the limitations on the fans and the venues, and why they are in place.
However this bout deserved so much more noise and atmosphere than it got. Throughout the bout we had rounds of applause, with fans appreciating the fighters, the action and the fantastic bout they were watching unfold. Sadly however it deserved chants, cheering, and roars of appreciation from a full Korakuen Hall. It was a brilliant bout, a brutal war, and a great come from behind victory for Furuhashi. It deserved to have fans going wild over what we were seeing. Instead it sounded appreciative, rather than excited. It sounded respectful, rather than rapturous. It sounded mild instead of deafening.
4-Furuhashi wasn't going to be denied
This was Furuhashi's third shot at the title and at the age of 33 it was almost certainly going to be his last. Given the punishment he took in the bout a loss would have been incredibly hard to bounce back from, mentally and physically. He put everything he had into the bout. And that's really the key to this point. It was do or die and he wasn't going to be denied. He had his head snapped back multiple times, he took huge shots to the body and kept coming forward, and it didn't matter that he had to walk into the danger zone to get to his man. He wasn't going home empty handed here.
When a fighter has the mentality Furuhashi had here they are able to dig deeper and deeper than anyone can imagine and that showed as he fought like a man willing to go to the depths of hell for the title. He beat Kuga in part, due to his desire. His refusal to lose. It's rare we see a fighter dig as deep as Furuhashi did, but he showed exactly what the title meant to him, and how much he needed that belt.
5-The end for Kuga?
Yusaku Kuga is someone known for his brutal power and his durability. Or rather he was. Sadly this is now the third time in 6 fights that Kuga has been stopped, having also been worn down by Shingo Wake in 2018 and blasted out by Jhunriel Ramonal in 2019. With that in mind we do wonder if this is the end for him. He took a lot of punishment here, and he's also been in gruelling bouts with Ryoichi Tamura, twice and Yasutaka Ishimoto, in their first bout. A man can only go to the well so many times before his body says no more and we can't help but feel that might be where Kuga's body is right now. He has been on the wrong end of a lot of punishment during his 25 fight career, and it may well be time to hang them up, for the good of his long term health.
Last Friday we saw Kosuke Saka (21-5, 18) make his first defense of the Japanese Super Featherweight, as he scored a 6th round TKO win over veteran Takuya Watanabe (37-10-1, 21), in what was Watanabe's third shot at a Japanese title. The bout, aired live on Boxing Raise, was was the first Japanese title fight of 2021 and was a hold over from last year's Champion Carnival, which was delayed due to the ongoing Pandemic, forcing a delay from April 2020 to January 2021.
With that bout now in the record books, and now re-watched we're going to share our views on the bout in the latest "Five Take Aways".
1-Saka has improved a lot in recent fights
Before the bout Kosuke Saka spoke about wanting to hit without getting hit, and seemed to have been training hard on becoming a better boxer. Through his career he has always been more of a puncher than a boxer, and it seemed strange for him to talk about such a drastic change after 25 professional bouts. To his credit however it really did show and he seemed a much better boxer than the man we saw take the Japanese title in 2019. That's not to say he's removed aspects of his style that make him such a dangerous fighter, he's still a dangerous puncher, which we'll get onto in a moment, but he's really improved from the man who was, for the most part, a rather basic come-forward pressure fighter with a lot of power. He's really improved his understanding of the ring, how to use his jab, how to fight going backwards and how to use space. Given his improvements, and the fact he is still incredibly dangerous, we really like this more rounded Saka who appears to have become a genuine boxer-puncher.
2-Saka punches like a mule
The obvious point, Saka punches stupidly hard. From the early going he seemed to get Watanabe's respect, something very few fighters have managed to do. Saka landed to both the head and body of Watanabe in round 1 and it really put Watanabe into a bit of a shell. Watanabe had success with his jab, using his reach, but he often looked worried about Saka's firepower. Given Watanabe is a known tough guy it was telling how quickly Saka's power seemed to worry the challenger.
In fairness Watanabe was right to be wary and that was shown in round 6 when Watanabe came forward trying to turn the tables after the open scoring at the end of round 5. The finish from Saka showed his power, and showed that he really is a brutal puncher. If Saka lands clean we have the feeling he can stop anyone in the Japanese and regional scene. Genuinely a dangerous, brutal, vicious puncher.
3-This wasn't as good as we expected
We got it wrong. Going in we were expecting a sure fire FOTY contender. The power and aggression of Saka against the skills and toughness of Watanabe seemed set to give us a bout that would start slowly and really gear up to something special. There were glimpses of this happening, but that's all we ever got. Glimpses. This was a surprisingly tame contest given the individuals involved.
Don't get us wrong, this wasn't a bad fight. It wasn't dull, and it didn't lack excitement. It just wasn't what we expected. It was underwhelming giving the fighters, but still a very solid fight overall. That's on us though, we had very, very high expectations. Sadly those expectations were offset by Watanabe not wanting to get too involved early on, Saka showing more versatility than usual, and the ending coming when it did.
4-This may have been a more competitive bout last April
We mentioned how Saka had been taking about working on hitting and not getting hit during the long break, he also turned got an extra 9 months to physically mature into a weight that he only moved into a few years ago. That extra 9 months almost certainly helped him. It possibly also hindered Watanabe. At 31 he's not an old man but he is an old fighter, and he would probably have been a slightly better fighter 9 months ago.
It's not a huge change difference on paper, but we can't help feel like Saka improved, mentally, physically, emotionally and in terms of ability. Watanabe on the other hand aged, got older and edged towards his 32nd birthday. Watanabe would also have known that this was almost certainly his last chance. Had he lost last April there was a small window for him to earn another title fight, now however that opportunity is almost certainly gone, and that may have added some extra pressure to him.
We might be wrong here, but we do have a very strong feeling the lengthy postponement favoured Saka a lot more than it favoured Watanabe.
5-The wars have probably caught up with Watanabe
It's rare for Japanese fighters in this day and age to fight more than 40 times. You can count the amount of active Japanese born fighters with 40 or more bouts to their name on one hand. The typical Japanese style does not make for long careers with lots of bouts. With that in mind it's perhaps not too much to suggest that the 31 year old Watanabe, who now has 48 bouts to his name, has started to feel the effects of his long career. Watanabe is an incredibly tough fighter. His blood bath with Jae Sung Lee proved that, as did his bouts with the likes of Satoshi Hosono, Yongqiang Yang and Taiki Minamoto. He has had a lot of tough bouts and those miles on his body will be adding up.
With that said we wouldn't be surprised if he decided to call it quits and retire after this loss.
Last week we saw Takuma Inoue (14-1, 3) claim the OPBF Bantamweight title by dethroning Keita Kurihara (15-6, 13) at Korakuen Hall in what was a highly anticipated match up, getting interest not just in Japan, but internationally. The bout managed to get listed on betting websites in Europe, Russia, the UK and US and fans genuinely seemed to want to watch it on Thursday, with many complaining about the lack of a live stream or a live TV broadcast. Thankfully it was aired, albeit on tape delay, a few days later.
With the bout now aired, and with fight fans having had a few days to give it a watch we’re now going to look back on the bout and share some of the things we took from the contest.
1-The cut was a major problem for Kurihara
The first thing that needs to be mentioned was that the cut that Keita Kurihara suffered in the first round was a genuine problem for him. It was a nasty cut as soon as it happened, and it was one that really could have forced a much earlier conclusion to the bout than we had. The bout went to the scorecards after round 9, but in fairness there were worries that the contest could end up being stopped in the first 4 rounds, which would have resulted in a technical draw. It was a deep one, it was a big one, and it was one that certainly gave Kurihara some issues throughout the bout. Thankfully Kurihara didn’t make excuses or use the cut as an excuse, and in fairness we suspect even if he had avoided the cut it wouldn’t have changed the winner of the bout.
2-Kurihara failed to set things up
One thing that surprised us here was how little Kurihara tried to use his reach and jab, and how he trudged forward whilst paying with the jab, rather than really letting it go. It was a good weapon in the first round, and should have been used throughout the contest to set up his power shots. He has a genuinely good jab, and we saw it in the first minute or two of the bout. Sadly though the jab almost vanished as he began looking more and more for a hail Mary shot. We suspect this is likely due to the cut, which came across his left eye, but it really showed as the bout went on. He came out looking for big right hands and heavy hooks and was caught time and time again. If he’d used his jab he could well have gauged range better and landed his harder shots. It’s a shame his jab really did vanish after he had early success with it.
3-Inoue’s footwork was fantastic
Whilst we can easily talk about how Kurihara failed to create openings and work on them it needs to also be said that Inoue did brilliantly at making Kurihara reset. We constantly saw Inoue on his toes, moving, changing directions, keeping Kurihara from having a range where he could have success. It wasn’t the eye catching, sparkling footwork of someone like Vasyl Lomachenko, but instead it was very, very effective footwork. Inoue was almost always in control of the range and the tempo of the bout, despite mostly fighting on the back foot. He used half-steps, forwards and backwards, small pivots, he created angles, made Kurihara fall short and really neutralised the reach advantage of Kurihara. He knew was the quicker man and made full use of that by using really smart footwork right throughout the bout.
4-Inoue KO backers - What were you thinking?
One of the strange things before the bout was the amount of money that went on an Inoue T/KO win, taking the result to almost events on the betting market. We’re not sure why so much money poured on a stoppage for the challenger here, and we suspect even he’s not sure. Before the bout he stated that he was going to box his bout, and that was a style that had only seen him pick up 3 low key stoppage stoppage wins. Kurihara has been stopped before, but his last stoppage came to Hiroaki Teshigawara, and we really don’t understand why money poured on an Inoue stoppage. Given the way Inoue fought there was no plan to go for the finish early on, and although he caught Kurihara with some very clean shots in the second half he never really hurt the champion.
5-Despite a year out Inoue was razor sharp
Prior to this bout Inoue had been out of the ring since November 2019, when he lost to Nordine Oubaali. That was his first loss and we had expected him to look, at the very least, a bit rusty. Instead he looked razor sharp from the opening moments to the eventual conclusion of the bout. His defense was on point, his footwork - as already mentioned, was fantastic, his offense was clean and crisp, and he boxed fantastically. Everything he did was pretty much on point, and we dare say that was, in part, due to the danger that Kurihara posed. We’ve seen Inoue turn off in bouts, get lazy in others, and give rounds away. Here however he was focused throughout, he was fighting like a man who knew if he was tagged he could be hurt and didn’t want to be dropped again. It was only for around 30 seconds in round 5 that we saw him in any trouble at all, and he quickly regained his composure and went on to land some of his best shots afterwards. Given this is the same Takuma Inoue that was run incredibly close by Kentaro Masuda and Mark John Yap, and was dropped by Rene Dacquel, Froilan Saludar and Mark Anthony Geraldo, this was the performance he needed. In fact we would go as far as to say this is the best we’ve seen from Inoue.
This past weekend we got the first live televised Japanese card of 2021 and if we’re being honest it wasn’t the best show we’ve seen in recent months. In fact, to be bluntly honest, much of the card seemed to meander, with a few highlights. That was until the chief support bout, which saw Jukiya Iimura (1-0, 1) make his professional debut, taking on Daisuke Yamada (6-6, 1). This was not a bout that had us frothing at the mouth or overly excited going in, but afterwards we felt we’d seen someone a little special make their first mark on professional boxing, and it seems we weren’t alone in thinking that. In fact it seems Iimura has instantly become someone worthy of making a real buzz around.
With that in mind we’ve gone and taken a look back over the bout and decide to share some of our take aways from the contest.
1-Iimura stood out immediately
It’s rare for Japanese fighters to standout in their ring walks, at least during the early stages of their careers. Iimura however stood out immediately. Part of that was the sombrero he was wearing to the ring but there was also an almost cheeky smile and a confident look to him. He didn’t look like a youngster stepping into his first professional bout, but instead he looked like a man who was about to show everyone that he was something special. It was clear, almost immediately that he wanted to catch the eye, he wanted to grab fans attention, and he wanted those watching to make a note of him. We’ll get onto his performance in a moment, but the aura that he gave off on his ring walk was telling and should have been enough to tell everyone in the venue that they weren’t about to see another rather cautious contest.
2-Iimura’s style is VERY pro-ready
Earlier on the card we had seen a number of other Kadoebi debutants, with Yudai Murakami, Yugo Kono and Jun Ikegawa all debuting on this show. All of them looked good, including Kon who suffered a 6th TKO loss to Koji Tsurumi, but they all looked like they hadn’t quite adapted to the professional style of boxing. Iimura on the other hand looked like he was made for this. Unlike the other debutants he wasn’t looking to sharp shoot at distance or point score at range. Instead he wanted to leave an impression. He came forward early on, he looked like he wanted to fight, rather than fiddle, and applied intelligent pressure. That pressure opened up opportunities to land heavy shots and he twice dropped Yamada with fantastic counter right hands, forcing a stoppage after the second knockdown. His style is already looking like that of an experienced professional. He is not only a man who seems to like being in front of an opponent and using subtle movements and footwork, but also has solid power, intelligent shot selection and he looks like a genuinely powerful young kid. His legs look particularly powerful and we suspect the amount of pop he is going to get into his shots is going to become very scary when he gets some more experience under his belt.
If you missed the performance we seriously suggest you go and watch the fight. It was very impressive from the youngster.
3-Daisuke Yamada was there to win
Although nowhere near the best fighter in the Flyweight division in Japan Daisuke Yamada didn’t get into the ring to lose. This was obvious from the way he fought. He came out with ambition and hunger. He pulled himself up after being dropped, both times, and he wanted to fight. He even had some moments of success. Unfortunately for him he was up against a fantastic young prospect who really was several levels above him, but we can’t take anything away from Yamada who wanted to do more than just make up the numbers. He wanted to take home a victory. We need to see more fighters, especially in the west, fight with Yamada’s mentality of wanting to win, even if you are very much up against it.
4-The finish was damn impressive
We mentioned that Iimura dropped Yamada twice but we really need to explain just how impressive the second knockdown was. It was a perfectly placed counter right hand, on the chin, over the extended right hand of Yamada. Watching the slow motion replay really did show how brilliant the shot was. We’re amazed that Yamada managed to get to his feet following the shot, though he obviously had little control of his body as he collapsed into the arms of Michiaki Someya and then later left the ring on a stretcher. We’ve not been told how Yamada is, but we suspect the stretcher was used as a precaution more than anything else.
5-Genuine concern and respect for Yamada
When Yamada was on the canvas after the bout was stopped it was great to see genuine concern and respect from both the crowd and Iimura himself. The youngster had just scored a really impressive win on debut, and rather than celebrating like we suspect he probably wanted to, he was subdued in his corner, and it wasn’t until he had checked on Yamada and spoke to his team that he put back on his Sombrero. As for the crowd they were silent in respect of Yamada until he was being carried out of the hall, where they gave him a round of applause. It wasn’t a big thing, from either the victory or the crowd, but it was still nice to see, and we’d like to see more youngsters showing some concern for their opponent in situations like this.
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).