One of the bouts shown last weekend on Fuji TV was the Super Bantamweight clash between the unbeaten Kazuki Nakajima (9-0-1, 8) and the upset minded Kenta Nomura (7-4, 3). On paper this wasn't expected to be much of a test for Nakajima, and in the end he didn't need to work too hard for the win, stopping Nomura in the third round of a scheduled 8 rounder.
With the bout now aired and having been watched, and rewatched, we've got some take aways from the bout to share.
1-Nakajima is horribly stiff and upright
The first thing to note watching this bout, and other Kazuki Nakajima bouts, is that Nakajima is so stiff and upright. He looks really rigid, everything he does looks forced and his chin is in the air. We get that it's very much his style, but he looks so hittable, predictable and like someone with a bit of skill will be able to take him out. Nomura wasn't the guy to ask questions, but we did see Seiya Tsutsumi ask those questions earlier in the year and we assumed that Nakajima would have looked less stiff here than he there. Nope. Just as stiff. The focus for Ohashi should be on trying to get him to relax in the ring a little bit, it's obviously not easy, but it would improve his game so much. Despite being stiff he does have surprisingly quick handspeed.
2-Despite being stiff Nakajima has a nasty straight left hand
Again we're not stating anything new here but Kazuki Nakajima has a fantastic straight left hand. It's straight, it's quick, it's powerful and it's sharp. It's a bit on the predictable side of things, as a lot of Nakajima's work is at range and worked off his straight shots, but it's easily the best punch in his arsenal and does, in some ways, remind us of Shinsuke Yamanaka. It's not quite as brutal as Yamanaka's, but the way he makes every shot counts, and is efficient with is it Yamanaka-like.
3-Koji Matsumoto wears glasses in a weird way
This is an odd one, for sure, but it was weird that Koji Matsumoto put his glasses on the back on his head. It's more of an observation than anything else, but we are curious as to why the great trainer rests his glasses in such an odd position. Several of our team wear glasses and we put them on the top of our heads, but Koji, he puts them on the back of his head, under his ponytail when working in the corner, as he was for Nakajima. If anyone can explain this one we'd love to hear it!
4-Nomura isn't very good against southpaws
This was Nomura's second bout against a southpaw in 13 months and he has been stopped by both of them. He tried to box with Nakajima, and didn't look like he had any idea how to cope with the left stance. He was throwing out range finder jabs that had no effect, was caught regularly by left hands and looked genuinely lost and confused. Nakajima, although rather stiff looking, is quite tricky, but Nomura really showed no idea how to deal with even the most basic of Nakajima's work.
5-Michiaki Someya is a referee that is in the right place at the right time
We've mentioned Michiaki Someya in one of these before and we do so again here as he once again showed his ring positioning is brilliant, and he's where he needs to be, when he needs to be there. This wasn't a tough bout for him but we can't ignore that he was consistently doing what he had to, was in the perfect place for the stoppage and made things crystal clear. He's not a big name referee but he is certainly a very good one, and from his showings on this card he's one we'll be keeping a close on here following two solid performances on this show.
It's been a while since we've had some action worthy of breaking down into one of our Take Away articles, but last week we had several bouts of note. One of those was the latest win for unbeaten Japanese prospect Katsuki Mori (7-0, 1), who over-came Yuki Uchida (7-8, 1) in a 6 round bout at Korakuen Hall. The bout wasn't shown live, but was televised over the weekend on Fuji TV, giving us a chance to watch the contest, albeit on delay.
1-Mori Carries himself like a star
Watching Katsuki Mori in action leaves us feeling like we are watching a star in the making. He oozes charisma, know that he needs to come forward and take risks, and knows how to put on a show, which we saw in round 6. He's a lovely aggressive stylist who controls range very well, has a tight guard and really does have very quick hands. Not only has he got the skills and mentality to be a star but, at just 20, he already appears to be connecting with the Japanese fans, and it's clear that they too are buying into the Mori journey. His baby faced good looks will help appeal to female fans and it's hard to not see him becoming one of the more notable stars of the lower weights.
2-Mori's shorts were familiar
This is probably a coincidence more than anything but the shorts Mori wore, with the red design and gold trim, were very, very similar to the shorts Naoya Inoue wore against Yuki Sano. Whilst Mori and Inoue are obviously very, very different fighters the similarities in their shorts, and overall look, was starling. What this even more notable was that for both men it was the first time they were shown on Fuji TV. For Inoue the bout with Sano was shown live, and part of a major broadcast, whilst Mori had never had a bout shown in full on terrestrial TV, with G+ carrying some of his previous bouts. Maybe, just maybe, they view him as being the next special talent from the Ohashi gym and want to evoke these connections as soon as they can.
3-Uchida was the perfect foil
Although Yuki Uchida had a pretty poor looking record the selection of him as the opponent for Mori was perfect. Uchida was known as a flawed, slower fighter who's tough and will come to fight. That allowed Mori chances to counter, chances to box, and a chance to prove he can fight 6 rounds at a good pace. Don't get us wrong, Uchida didn't have much of a chance, but he always seemed to feel like he felt he had one, and he wasn't just accepting a loss. He came to win, he gave an honest effort, and he asked questions of Mori. This is what we want to see from fighters with losing records, not the survival mentality but someone giving it a go. These sorts of efforts actually help the prospects develop quickly, and do more than a string of meaningless wins, like we see in some countries.
4-Japanese referees continue to keep things simple
Whilst this wasn't a hard bout for an official, and one where he was rarely needed. However if you concentrate on Michiaki Someya, the referee for the bout, he was doing a lot of little things that were very notable. He was always maintaining a good distance from the action a good view of the two men, he, for the most part, remained out of camera shot and let the action go on the inside when he had to. Once again we can't help but be impressed by how well Japanese referees are letting the action flow.
5-Mori is still a work in progress
We are massive Katsuki Mori fans, and we do see him as a star in the making. He is however still "in the making" and is certainly a long, long way from being the complete product. He's high skilled, has star appeal but, fast hands and a good boxing brain. What he's missing is experience, man strength and power. Experience is guaranteed to come with time and as long as Ohashi keep him busy we'll see him building on that part of his game. The power and man strength issue is the thing that is still holding him back. He repeatedly caught Uchida clean and yet struggled to really hurt him. Against Uchida that wasn't too much of a problem, but as he steps up in class he will need to have some stopping power. It may never come, which would limit how far he can go, but we suspect it will, and as he matures we do see him having enough pop to get the attention of his opponents.
Earlier this week we saw the latest show from A-Sign boxing and one of the most eye catching bouts on that card was the opening round win scored by 19 year old Jin Sasaki (8-0, 7) against Shun Akaiwa (5-2-1, 3). The bout lasted around 45 seconds, with Sasaki putting on arguably his best performance so far and stopping the JBC ranked Akaiwa in very, very impressive fashion.
With that bout now viewed, re-viewed, and viewed again we thought we'd share some of our take aways from the bout.
1-A-Sign Boxing's presentation is solid!
Okay we start this by talking about the presentation and not the fight, but bear with us as it's certainly relevant here. The whole event was presented very nice, despite being very dark. The lights weren't focused on the crowd but instead on the fighters, hiding the fact that there was only a small crowd, the commentary for the event worked nicely and added the occasion and the stream quality was clear and clean through out. This is the first time, to our knowledge, that A-Sign have live streamed one of their own events and the way they did it was really solid. Yes there are issues that can be picked at, such as reusing music for introductions through the show, but overall a very nice presentation with a multi-camera set up. The commentators didn't talk for the sake of talking, and the the focus was on the in ring action.
If, or rather when, A-Sign do this again we would like to see them add replays post-fight, maybe include some post fight interviews and tweak the onscreen graphics, but that's us being picky. This was very professional, and very nicely presented. Simple but very solid.
2-Power, speed and aggression...Sasaki has em!
It's hard to talk too much about a fight that lasts around 45 seconds, but even in that short glimpse of time we saw enough to say that Sasaki has some of the tools needed to go a long way. Straight from the opening bell he was aggressive, exciting, and throwing sharp, hard, fast punches. He looked incredibly quick, incredibly powerful and strong. Whilst there was some real crudeness to his work at times, there was also the brash confidence of "I can take you out". He did look very wild in the opening seconds, but he also showed a really nice jab and the finishing shot, a brilliant left hook, was brutal. Sasaki does need some polishing, but there is already a lot to like about him, and he looks like he has natural tools to have a successful career.
3-Akaiwa was beaten before a punch was thrown
With it being a short bout it's hard too read too much into what happened in the ring, but we can't help feeling that Akaiwa was a beaten man before he got into the ring. He looked nervous, was looking down a lot, and seemed to be a man who had accepted that he was going to get beat before a punch was thrown. This probably wasn't helped by Sasaki looking like a confident ball of machismo. Akaiwa seemed to be a fighter who had mentally crumbled in his ring walk. Maybe we are reading too much into things, but it very much felt like Akaiwa, despite being JBC ranked coming into the bout, didn't have the belief in himself that he could win here.
Whilst it's easy to look back on what happened and say that, it seemed like it was the case during the short fight as well. Akaiwa threw little more than arm punches, there was little conviction on what he threw and he didn't seem to complain at all at the referee stopping it, despite the fact he was up on his feet after being dropped.
4-Koji Tanaka's count was really weird..and isn't consistent.
We've just mentioned how Akaiwa was stood up right when the bout was stopped but that really doesn't explain the finish very well at all. Referee Koji Tanaka picked up the count after the knockdown at the count of 3 and seemed to be giving a consistent count up to the count of 8. Akaiwa had gotten up quickly and it seemed like we would go on. Then Tanaka made a Steve Smoger like decision to delay the "9" slightly and the "10", giving Akaiwa around and extra 2 or 3 seconds. Tanaka then waved off the bout.
On first viewing this may look very awkward and weird, and is perhaps unfair to the fighter scoring the knockdown. In reality however this actually gave Tanaka an extra second or two to decide to stop the bout. Making the right decision. It also gave Akaiwa that extra moment to decide if he wanted to continue. Too often we see a fighter "pretend" the wanted to go for it, getting up at 10. The style of count Tanaka gave was awkward but prevent any type of situation like that. We're not sure if it's a normal thing for him, but we liked it and would like to see more referees use that touch of discretion where needed. It's not like he let Akaiwa continue and turn the fight around, but it was an extra second or to decide whether or not Akaiwa needed to be stopped.
We'll be looking to see if this is a usual Koji Tanaka thing, or whether it was a case of "this fight hasn't gone long, lets see if I can give the fighter benefit of the doubt", but whatever it was we liked it and it was a good bit of common sense refereeing. Notably it doesn't appear to be a consistent thing with Tanaka, who didn't do the same on August 18th, for a bout between Yuichi Wakita and Kazunori Hirano, but it was very notable and clearly looked deliberate in this bout with Sasaki and Akaiwa so we will keep a close eye on how he issues counts going forward.
5-Boxing is a form of entertainment...and Sasaki gets it!
From his entrance and gown to his performance in the ring it was clear that Sasaki gets it! He walks confidently, he's naturally charismatic, catches the attention and oozes the "Come watch me" magnetism that stars need and knows he needs to entertain. This was seen through out his entrance but also the fight. After dropping Akaiwa he was making it clear he desperately wanted Akaiwa to get up so he could finish him in style. Had the referee now ruled Akaiwa was unfit to continue we would have almost certainly been left with a brutal finish. This is a young kid who knows that he needs to sell himself, he needs to entertain and he needs to excite. And he's doing a real good job at exactly that!
Last week talented Japanese amateur stand out Ryutaro Nakagaki (1-0, 1) made his professional debut, taking on Shohei Horii (3-6-2, 2) at Korakuen Hall. The bout wasn't shown live but was aired over the weekend on Fuji TV. Since then we have watched the bout back a few times and have made some notes of what we saw.
1-The Ohashi Team are there for each other
Fans who have watched this will likely have noticed a lot of red Mizuno shirts in the crowd. These are the Ohashi team who are very much a family supporting each other. Those there to cheer on Nakagaki included the Inoue brothers. We can't help but thing that the stablemates of Nakagaki, and other Ohashi gym fighters, does help the stable with it's unity feel. They sit together, they support each other, they act as a team and they are all there to help each other. This is something we see some other gyms do, but few seem to do it in quite the same was that Ohashi does.
2-Nakagaki looks a natural
We've seen a lot of debuts recently of former amateur standouts and we dare say that Nakagaki looked as impressive anyone. He looked razor sharp, used his lead hand to control distance, showed nice footwork, and despite coming forward he was really more of an aggressive counter puncher than an aggressive guy with a high output. He showed a very good boxing brain, looked well schooled, and managed to not only come forward but also draw mistakes and punish them. There is still some tweaks to his style that we would want to see him make, but we were really impressed by how he looked in the ring.
3-Horri wanted to win
We seem to say this a lot about Japanese fighters but Horri wasn't there to just get in the ring and take a pay packet. He was there to win, he wanted to win, he wanted to fight. He was just up against someone several levels above him. He didn't want to fiddle and spoil and hold he wanted to win, and believed he could win. At leats until he went down. He seemed to feel confident that he could draw out a chance to win, and that one of his sweeping hooks would land. He was wrong, and he was completely outclassed, but his effort was something we have to value much more than a fighter in another county coming to fall over, or just survive.
4-Nobuhiro Matsubara continues to impress
We would all prefer a fight was stopped a little bit too early than too late. On first viewing we felt that Nobuhiro Matsubara stepped in a little bit too early. In reality however the stoppage is not we can complain about. Horrii had been down earlier in the round, he was starting to eat consistent leather and and was proving to be a bit too brave for his own good. He could have been stopped after the knockdown, but the referee seemed to feel he'd give Horri the benefit of the doubt, Horri took more punishment and the doubt was gone. This is the second time in recent weeks we've praised Matsubara and he's quickly showing what a fantastic referee he is. He also seemed to a smile and a look of "I know" from Horri, showing that even the fighter himself acknowledged this was being stopped for his health.
We suggest everyone considering becoming a referee looks at how Nobuhiro Matsubara is doing things.
5-Akira Yaegashi is the corner is going to be a big thing
More than a week after this fight Akira Yaegashi announced his retirement form in ring competition. He'll remain a figure in boxing however working for Fuji TV, in their Diamond Glove shows, and working as a trainer for the Ohashi gym, including working with Nakagaki. Given his experience, his know how, his career and his style we suspect he's going to be a very, very valuable man in the corner. We didn't see much of him here, though after the bout you could see him on the ring apron talking to Nakagaki, but we suspect we'll see a lot of Yaegashi working the corner and working closely with fighters to pass on his knowledge. He's going to be a very, very important man in developing talent at the Ohashi gym, along his own mentors Koji Matsumoto and Hideyuki Ohashi.
Last week the highly touted Keisuke Matsumoto (1-0, 1) scored his debut win, stopping Hironori Miyake (9-10-2, 1) in the 4th round. The bout was then broadcast on Fuji TV this past weekend, in full, as part of Fuji's coverage of the "Phoenix Battle" shows, promoted by Ohashi.
We've rewatched the bout a few times now and have decided to share our take aways from the contest, which is well worthy of a watch if you've not yet seen it.
1-Fuji have gone in big on Matsumoto
This should come as no real surprise but Fuji TV and and Ohashi Gym have gone in big on Keisuke Matsumoto and his potential. Despite the fact he was only making his debut the bout was televised in full by Fuji TV, who spent several minutes before broadcasting his fight building him up, giving him time to talk and show training footage of him. The fact his bout got shown in full and the main event in from the card only got shown in digest form is a real sign that Fuji TV view him as a potential star. It should be noted that he featured numerous times on "Mirai Monsters" when he was an amateur, and we suspect that Fuji will continue to see him as a potential star for their channel over the coming years.
2-Miyake came to win
On paper a top prospect taking on a guy with a 9-9-2 record is a mismatch, and if this bout was happening in the UK we would typically expect the 9-9-2 guy to be there to fiddle and fidget his way through the bout. We would usually see him holding, spoiling, getting super negative and trying to survive rather than win. The idea of a fighter trying to actually beat a prospect in some countries is a novel concept. Miyake however came to win, and showed plenty of desire. Sadly for him that desire was beaten out of him but not before he dropped Matsumoto with a monstrous right hand. This was the sort of test that advances a prospect quickly, rather than just gets them an easy win.
3-Matsumoto took a while to settle
This is something that we noticed rewatching the fight a lot more than we did the first time we watched it. Matsumoto seemed to have a lot of nervous energy in the first two rounds. He was throwing some extremely silly shots in the first round, he failed to make the most of his jab, and he was caught several times with his hands down, including the knockdown. We're not sure whether this was an issue with learning on the job, or just not not settling very quickly. When he did settle, in round 3, boy did he look good. The issues we saw in the first 2 rounds were completely gone in rounds 3 and 4. This was really an impressive turn around and we dare say that if Matsumoto from rounds 3 and 4 turn up next time he's going to really shine. He showed some brilliant aggressive boxing, a fantastic jab and the tools to go a long, long way in the future.
4-Down but not a bad chin
The potential elephant in the room is the fact that Matsumoto was dropped by a guy with just a single stoppage in 20 bouts. On paper that is a concern. In reality however we need to look at the actual knockdown again. When we do that we see it wasn't so much a chin issue but more of a rookie mistake, with Matsumoto getting greedy offensively and showing some real naivety in terms of his defense. The knockdown came from a single shot, straight on the chin whilst pulling straight back with his guard completely open. He wasn't hurt, despite how clean the shot was, and he looked completely with it when the bout resumed. Yes he was down, but we don't think he has a bad chin. In fact if anything we link this back to #3, he hadn't settled and was making mistakes, rather than any sort of chin issue.
5-Miyake is a tough nut!
Despite some early success for Miyake the bout became a painful one for him, with Matsumoto landing hard shots to his head and body. Despite those shots Miyake never really looked badly hurt. He was having the fight beaten out of him, and taking shots clean, but never looked like a man who was going to go down. We've seen opponents for prospects go down the first time they were caught, and Miyake had chances to "go down bravely", but instead remained up right until the referee decided enough was enough. By that point Matsumoto was zoned in and landing at will, but even the clean power shots weren't enough to drop Miyake. A genuine tough guy who we think would be a good opponent for plenty of established domestic opponents.
On Sunday live from Kazakhstan we had the chance to see Kamshybek Kunkabayev (1-0, 1) make his professional debut, as he easily defeated Issa Akberbayev (20-2-0-1, 15) in 2 rounds. The bout wasn't a fun or exciting one, in fact as a spectacle it was dire, and we'll get on to why in a few moments, but it was also an impressive debut for a man that many feel will be a big star in the professional ranks in the coming years.
Whilst we didn't really enjoy the bout, again we'll explain why shortly, it was a bout that we felt deserved the treat of a Take Aways article because there was a lot to take from the bout, despite how lacking it was in terms of entertainment.
1-Issa Akberbayev came to lose
Entering with a 20-1-0-1 (15) record it's fair to have assumed Issa Akberbayev would have come to win. He didn't. In fact he barely even came to fight. Within moments of the fight starting he was on the back foot and never really changed that tactic, preferring to avoid a fight than try to win. This may have been a surprise but in reality Akberbayev's record really is one that should have told us all we needed to know. He was without a win in more than 2 years, with his last victory coming against Mirnes Denadic in December 2017, he was 36, had lost last time out and his competition, for the most part, had been very limited.
Whilst Akberbayev was tagged a fair few times in the opening round his attitude after being tagged said it all. "I don't want to be here". On paper his name, and record, will look very nice on Kunkabayev's record but in reality Akberbayev gave him nothing even close to representing a test.
2-Kamshybek Kunkabayev looked real good!
Although he had an ultra negative opponent Kamshybek Kunkabayev himself looked really good, kept his composure, didn't show his frustration, controlled the center of the ring and applied intelligent pressure behind his long jabs. This was calculated, smart, intelligent and controlled. What we saw from Kunkabayev looked smooth, it looked easy and it looked like he was really well schooled. Also for such a big man he is quick, accurate, sharp and his footwork was very good for someone making his debut. He was up against a frustrating opponent but settled well and controlled everything at his own pace.
3-The Tokyo Games have a real medal contender in Kamshybek Kunkabayev
For those unaware Kamshybek Kunkabayev didn't turn professional with the idea of being moved quickly through the professional ranks. Instead this bout, and maybe one or two others, are more about keeping his fitness up and fine tuning things, before the now postponed Tokyo Olympics. Given how he looked here it's very clear he's going to be in the medal mix. For those that follow the amateur scene that would have already been known, given he's a 2-time World Amateur Silver medal winner, but for those that don't follow amateur boxing, this bout showed the talent he has and for those looking for ones to watch at the Olympics make sure you remember his name.
Interestingly Kunkabayev is a Super Heavyweight in amateur boxing but fought as a professional Cruiserweight. It'll be interesting to see if he comes in "light" at the Olympics.
4-MTK shows shows really lack atmosphere
We need to start this by saying that we loved the venue for this show, it had a lot going on in the background and it looked interesting outside of the ring, something we've not always seen in the fan-free era of boxing. Sadly though that was about the only thing done to try and see an atmosphere. The venue was pretty much silent. We understand why there was no fans but something needs to be done to try and keep fans attention, especially when someone is fighting with Akberbayev's negativity.
The problem goes far beyond this fight, and is a general with MTK shows in general. It's probably not helped by the fact that the commentators, whilst very good and two of the best in Britain, are both subdued and insightful. Typically we love that type of commentary, but it sadly amplifies the near silence of the venue. Maybe they could try pumping crowd noises in or play background music, or something just to spice things up.
5-Top amateurs can be fast tracked
Whilst we weren't impressed by Akberbayev, at all, it was clear that Kunkabayev is a special talent. He showed to be very excited about and showed, like many other top amateurs fighters who are turning professional recently, that they are pretty much "pro-ready" fighters. We've seen it with a number of other fighters and it seems clear that there is a lot of amateur talent with styles than will work in the pro's. Kunkabayev's style probably does need tweaking for the pros, but it's clear he has the tools to be moved quickly.
We've seen the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko, Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Oleksandr Usyk and Naoya Inoue being moved quickly. The same can be said for the likes of Kunkabayev, and Tursynbay Kulakhmet. He's 28 now and we hope, after the Tokyo games, MTK push him fast and hard towards some notable professional opponents as he's already good enough to be mixing with top 50 type fighters.
On Saturday we got the chance to see the best and worst in female boxing. Late in the day Katie Taylor and Delfine Persoon put on a sensational bout in the UK. A few hours before that we saw Kazakh fighter Firuza Sharipova (11-1, 6) defeat the hapless Happy Daudi (8-7-1, 4) in Kazan, in a show case of how bad female boxing can be.
For those who missed the bout we've broken down contest in our latest Take Aways article.
1-Happy Daudi was terrible
The Tanzanian fighter really didn't look like she belonged in the ring at all. Physically she looked like she was carrying excess weight and was unfit but that was only one of her issues. The more serious issue was her punching technique, it would be a compliment to say it was terrible. She was falling short with her punches, throwing them miles out of range, and often flailing so badly off balance that it was amazing Sharipova wasn't countering her. Sadly for Daudi her defense was hardly better than her defense and the only really notable trait was her ability to take shots from Sharipova. Given how bad she was we can only wonder about the complete ineptitude of the fighters she has beaten.
2-Sharipova needs to avoid every top fighter for the foreseeable future
Although Daudi was absolutely dreadful the fight also showed how poor Sharipova was. The Kazakh, who had been out of the ring for over a year, looked a million miles away from the top fighters between 130lbs and 140lbs. In recent weeks we've seen the likes of Katie Taylor, Jessica McCaskill, Delfine Persoon, Mikaela Mayer, Terry Harper and Natasha Jonas in action. On the back of this, and their recent fights, they would all deal with Sharipova very easily. She does some things nicely but she really slaps with her right hand, gets little power in her body shots, lacks power, and took 5 rounds to make a human punch quit. This was an easy win for Sharipova, but not an impressive performance, and not one which will strike fear into any top fight fighter in, or around, her weight class.
3-Sharipova needs to concentrate on her boxing career
On the subject of Sharipova she really does need to focus on her career if she wants to make her name in the sport. In Kazakhstan she seems to have fans, but also seems to open herself up to trolling and abuse from the media. She seems to be someone who gets a lot of attention for non-boxing reasons and it feels more like she's a media creation, who like to feature her for her looks, than a potential boxing world champion. Issues out side of the ring haven't helped her career grow and she had a lot of work to do to be a star in the ring. She's a million miles from the top fighters but bouts at this level don't help her either. Bout like this one continue to make her look like a joke. Her team need to get her developmental fights, she needs to learn things from her bouts, and need to work on her punching technique and her defense. Daudi was never going to be good enough to make her sharpen up. Bouts like this will do more harm than good for the Kazakh, who needs to be tested. With that said the previously planned rematch with Sofya Ochigava should be the target for her next outing.
4-The IBA are a joke!
We all want to laugh at the WBA and the WBC for their weird rankings, bad decision making and creation of extra titles. They are supposed to be taken seriously and don't.The IBA however just proved, once again, they were a joke. They actually allowed this farce to be for their "world" title. Neither fighter should have been anywhere close to a world title fight, even for a body seen as badly as the IBA. For these "smaller" bodies to get some respect they need to stop sanctioning bouts like this. For those who want to know just how stupid this bout was from a title perspective, this was the first IBA Light Welterweight title bout in 7 years! The belt's only previous champion was the legendary Holly Holm. This bout really does crap on what legacy the belt once head.
5-Women's boxing will struggle for respect whilst we still get this level of fight
Women's boxing has been on a roll recently and we've had some incredible bouts between female fighters at the elite level of the sport. We know that the women can bring it, and can give us bouts that deserve the limelight. Sadly whilst we are getting some amazing bouts we are still getting bouts like this one. Thankfully very few fans have seen this bout, but for us the worry is that bouts like this can be used as an example of how women's boxing is. There are the top women, who are brilliant, but there is a lack of them. Then we have too many fights like this, showing there is a very steep drop off between the best in the sport and the rest.
On Saturday we saw the Hajime No Ippo 30th anniversary tournament come to a conclusion with Daisuke Watanabe (11-4-2, 6) taking a unanimous decision over Shingo Kusano (13-9-1, 5) in the final. It was a brilliant fight, one of the best bouts we've seen since boxing returned a few months ago, and was fought between two men desperate to win, despite both men coming in to the ring with losses to their name. This was brilliant from the off, and got better and better as it went on.
It needs to be said that this was not the final that we expected when we saw the tournament bracket last year, but it was, in the end, the perfect way to end the tournament. With that said what exactly did we take away from this bout?
1-We need more tournaments in boxing!
This isn't something new, but it is something that needs repeating. Tournaments in boxing are brilliant, and should be a format used a lot more in bouts at a domestic, or regional level. Whether they are 7 man tournament, which this was, or a 4 man tournament, or something more extravagant, such as the Rookie of the Year or The Fighter, tournaments do give some great moments. Coming in to these the fighters have something to battle for, such as a cash prize or a title fight, fans know every bout in the tournament will have meaning, and in the end there are something that sells a longer story. Boxing is too focused on the here and now and forget that it needs to keep fans coming back. A tournament gives an over arching story, and that is a reason to continue to follow the fighters, at least for the short term.
If boxing promoters need some ideas for their mid-tier talent, a tournament is the right option!
2-These two can take a shot!
Prior to this fight Watanabe had been stopped in 2 of his 4 losses and Kusano had been stopped in 3 of his is 8. From their 12 combined losses, 5 were by stoppage. That would suggest that both men had questionable durability right? Well that sure didn't show here as both men landed a huge number of shots and neither man looked like they were close to being stopped. The final 3 rounds saw the two trading bombs in the pocket and providing some sensational back and forth. After seeing this fight we can safely say, both these men can take a shot!
3-Records really are for DJ's
With a combined 23-12-3 (11) record coming in to this bout it would be easy to say these two aren't talented. In fact we dare say some reading this without having seen the fight might say just that. The reality however is that both men are very, very good fighters. Both know their way around the ring, both can box, both can fight. These aren't guys who have records indicative of their talent. Instead they are fighters who have faced stiff competition and picked up losses.
People might like seeing an "0" in a fighters loss column, but in reality a lot of the best fights that happen in global boxing come between fights with losses on their record. This was a great example of that, and really over-delivered, giving us a brilliant fight, despite the perceived limitations of the two men, on paper.
4-Unique prizes can make for an interesting incentive.
We mentioned this bout was the Hajime No Ippo 30th anniversary tournament final. The bout was being fought for a large financial prize and the bonus of having the winning fighter immortalised in Jyoji Morikawa's legendary fictional work. This was something Watanabe himself admitted he wanted to win before the final. Whilst it's certainly a unique prize for winning a bout we can't help but feel that having something out there for the winner of bouts could add the occasion.
We see belts tossed around all the time. The idea of being a "world champion" is being devalued by the week. We regional and international titles tossed around like they are candy. But truly 1-off prizes in this sport are rare. The closest thing we can thing of is the Muhammad Ali Trophy. It would be somewhat cool to see sponsors and the like getting involved in the sport to offer truly unique and exclusive prizes for fighters. If both fighters want the prize that's up for grabs we expect to see them both digging deeper and really going for it.
With that in mind, a UFC style financial incentive for KO's and Fight of the Night is also something we'd like to see more of.
We understand this prize is "so Japanese", but the reality is that other countries could almost certainly do something similar if they thought bout it enough.
5-Japanese referees are fantastic
We often complain about referees stepping in too soon, or too late, or not doing enough about holding and spoiling. We rarely give referees credit when they do a great job. Here however Nobuhiro Matsubara did a great job. It was rare that we saw him, he let the action flow, he maintained continued have a great view of the action, a clean line of site and kept himself out of the picture. Whilst this was a relatively easy fight to referee, he did only what he needed to and split them when they were wrapped up and told them to watch their heads. He let them fight on the inside, allowing for the great action we ended up getting. One thing we see in the West is referees not allowing inside work often enough, but here the referee allowed it as often as possible and didn't instantly break them.
It's not just Nobuhiro Matsubara who has done a great job, but so many of the referees in Tokyo at the moment. They are some of the best in the sport right now and hopefully they begin to get some of the big jobs that seem to be reserved for a very small handful of officials who have been consistently making big mistakes on the big occasions.
This past weekend was a busy one for fight fans who were looking to follow all the fights that took place. Among the ones that were somewhat over-looked was the contest between former world title challenger Shingo Wake (27-6-2, 19) and fellow Japanese fighter Shohei Kawashima (18-5-2, 4). This was certainly not a big fight, but it was an interesting one, even if it did lack in terms of drama and action.
With that bout watched, and now rewatched, we have decided to share our Take Aways from the bout.
1-Using cut outs for Social Distancing was a genius move
To begin with lets talk about Korakuen Hall and how it was laid out. We have complained recently about the venue not enforcing social distance but this time there was social distancing, and it was done in a very clever way. The headline bout of the show was the Hajime No Ippo 30th Anniversary tournament final, and for the entire show there was cut outs of characters from the anime in the crowd. This made the venue look relatively full at first glance but did make people sit between a gap between each other. This was ingenious and something that we should see continue to be done! Also once again it's great to see that everyone is still wearing masks, even though or two people did take them down at times.
2-Shingo Wake is still a fantastic counter puncher
Last year we saw Shingo Wake being upset by Jhunriel Ramonal, this was his first bout since that loss and he looked super sharp at times. His picked his shots well, made Shohei Kawashima pay when he missed and really made it very clear that he was the boss. Scoring 4 knockdowns is impressive against a solid domestic talent like Kawashima, but the way he scored them is worthy of attention. The first was a brilliant little right hook, the second was from a solid straight left hand, the third was a truly brilliant counter straight left hand. If you make a mistake against Wake you better be prepared to pay for it!
3-Can Wake put his foot on the gas?
Although we were really impressed by Wake's counter punching, accuracy, power and timing on the back foot, we did feel like there was a lack of aggression from him at times. He seemed happy to go through the motions, happy to try to land the perfect shot. When he had to force the action it just look natural at all and he really struggled to force the issue. At times it seemed like he was playing with his food as a result and it did mean the bout went on a round or two longer than it had to. Whilst Kawashima is a good counter puncher himself he never looked like he had the power to hurt Wake, and it's a shame that Wake didn't manage to jump on his man and take him out in style. We do wonder if this was a change to a safety conscious style following his loss last time out, or if he really can't keep up an offensive charge now at the of 33.
4-Shohei Kawashima is coming to the end of his career
We're maybe reading too much into this result, but we can't help thinking that Shohei Kawashima's career is coming to an end sooner rather than later. This is his third loss in 4 bouts and his his 5 losses in 9 bouts, his second successive stoppage loss and another very damaging one. We do have to wonder about his punch resistance and whether there is much reason for the 29 year old to continue. After winning Rookie of the Year there was real hope for him, but in recent years he has either been matched softly, or matched too hard. There was a lack of developmental fights from his team and that shows now a days.
5-Dangan do pre-fight videos right!
Dangan are, easily, one of the best promoters in the sport. Watching their shows however we don't tend to see much hype in their things, instead focusing on the fights taking place. Here we got some training footage, interviews and comments before the men got in the ring. We'd love to see more of that type of thing on these Dangan cards. We hate how over the top some TV channels go with their pre-fight hype, and ESPN are terrible for it but a short, 3 or 4 minute build up does add something without getting tiring. Hopefully that sort of thing will becoming a normal thing and will extend to more bouts on a show, rather than just the top bout or two.
On Wednesday we got the chance to see talented Japanese Flyweight Ryota Yamauchi (7-1, 6) claim his most important win to date as he over-came Satoru Todaka (10-4-4, 4) to become the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight champion. The bout was one that never seemed in double for the rising Yamauchi, who had Todaka down at the end of round 3 before the corner said enough was enough.
Whilst the bout wasn't shown live it was made available online hours after it took place, and with that in mind we felt it was another great fight to feature in our Take Away's series.
1-Yamauchi still has work to do
We are massive fans of Ryota Yamauchi and have been since very early in his professional career. For a fighter in just his 8th bout he looked very advanced, and seemed to be calming his usual aggression somewhat, using his jab more and having a much tighter defense than we've seen at times. Saying that however there is still real work to do before he thinks about a world title fight. It's clear the intention of this bout was to get him in the WBO rankings and move him closer to a world title shot, which is the right move, but we suspect he is still a few fights away from that level.
That's not to take anything at all away from his performance, but we suspect he's still not ready for any of the true top 10 in the division and a little more seasoning will seriously help him out. He was also caught, in round 2, by some big head shots, that he will will not want to take from the top fighters, he also left himself very open when trying to close the show in round 3. If we were at Kadoebi we would give him another year of before we let him loose at world level.
We genuinely think he has the physical tools and the arsenal to reach the top. His jab is great, his body shots are wicked and his punches are crisp. He does however often end up too close, and doesn't always use his size well, which he probably needs to at world level. A good gate keeper type opponent next would do his career the world of good.
2-Todaka was too small for Flyweight
Although it seems almost certain that Satoru Todaka will be hanging them up after this bout, something he alluded to at the weigh in, we can't help but think Flyweight is not, was not, and never will be, a weight suited to him. He wasn't massively dwarfed in terms of height by Yamauchi, though was clearly the shorter man, but his style was never going to work at the weight. He's not strong enough or powerful enough to make his head down pressure style count. We do wonder whether he could have made 105lbs earlier in his career, as his toughness and determination could have brought him genuine success at the weight.
3-Corner men in Japan aren't too brave
Some thing we've seen recently in the UK and US are corner men that are "too brave" and watch their fighter take rounds of unnecessary punishment in a fight they have no chance of winning. Here we saw Todaka's corner make a swift decision to stop the bout when their man was beginning to fall apart. It was the right decision and a decision that saw them do right by their fighter.
Whilst some fighters obviously want bouts to continue, and again Todaka had spoke about retirement before this bout, there is sometimes a need for a merciful corner and the folk from the Leopard Tamakuma gym did exactly the right thing. Not letting this go on too long and stopping their fighter from taking too much punishment.
4-Boxing Raise is amazing
Whilst there has been a lack of boxing in recent months we are seeing the sport resume and gear up in recent weeks. One of the notable services that is often getting over-looked is the Boxing Raise service. The monthly subscription service delved into their archives when there was no fights taking place and are now picking up a lot of the shows in Japan. For them to have same day availability of this fight is brilliant a testament to the hard work they do. TV channels and bigger services need to take note of what Boxing Raise are doing and begin asking themselves why they can't do similar. This was available just hours after it took place, not days, like Fuji TV, or even weeks, like TBS.
At ¥980 a month this is a bargain for fans of the Japanese scene, and we really recommend people wanting to follow Japanese boxing do give it a shot, especially now that boxing is back!
5-Fans at Korakuen Hall is still a worry
Earlier this week, in our Take Away's article about Ryo Sagawa Vs Yuri Takemoto, we mentioned how fans were sat at Korakuen Hall, and suggested it was a potential issue given what is going on in the world. This show solidified those feelings with the benches again very crowded in the center, and the space not used well for social distancing. We really do wonder whether it's the angle or whether social distancing just isn't in effect. If it's not, it probably should be, even if it does look bad on camera. On the other hand it is great to see everyone wearing masks, with ringside officials wearing face shields as well.
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).