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!
Just over a week ago Japanese Featherweight Hinata Maruta (11-1-1, 9) scored the best win of his career, stopping Ryo Sagawa to claim the Japanese Featherweight title. It was, at last, Maruta living up to the early hype and expectation that had been put on his shoulders when he turned professional aged just 18. It was proof that Maruta was a special talent, and that things were, at last, starting to click for a man who was seemed to be groomed for success.
With the Japanese title now around his waist we've decided to look at 5 potential bouts for the 23 year old Maruta, who will be looking to build on his win over Sagawa and take huge strides towards a potential world title fight.
1-Reiya Abe (20-3-1, 9)
One man we would love to see Maruta in against is the highly skilled Reiya Abe, a talented southpaw counter puncher who would be a very interesting opponent for Maruta. The newly crowned champion would go in to the bout as the favourite, but he would be expected to have a real test here against a man who controls distance well, will look to neutralise the reach and speed of Maruta and is just as talented as the champion. Abe is regarded as a boxing genius in Japan, and it's hard to argue with that, though he can also be a lazy genius and at times cruises a bit too much, waiting for a mistake, rather than pressing the action himself. Against Maruta that would be an issue for Abe though it would also give Maruta a chance to get some experience against an incredibly skilled southpaw. This would be highly level stuff from the off and a compelling bout to view, even if it wouldn't be the most exciting.
2-Shun Kubo (14-2, 9)
Whilst we would absolutely love to see Maruta take on Abe we could under-stand if Maruta wanted to take on a bigger name and someone more well known. If that's the case than a bout against former WBA and OPBF Super Bantamweight champion Shun Kubo would be a smart match up for the Morioka Gym to pursue. Kubo, who faces Ruito Saeki in March, is a long, rangy, technical boxer, but also one who lacks in terms of durability. He's technically solid, and should ask questions of Maruta, but his questionable chin would be a major issue against someone with the power of Maruta. Despite that a win for Maruta against Kubo isn't meaningless. In fact it would be very meaningful. As mentioned Kubo is a former world champion, and he has also only been beaten by world class fighters, losing in 9 rounds to Daniel Roman and in 6 rounds to Can Xu. A win for Maruta over Kubo would see him earning comparisons to Xu and Roman and taking huge strides towards a world title fight of his own.
3-Daisuke Watanabe (12-4-2, 7)
Notably Maruta might not get much of a choice about his first defense and may well be forced to make a mandatory defense against the #1 ranked JBC fighter. If that's the case then he may be expected to take on Daisuke Watanabe, who's very much an under-rated and often over-looked fighter. Watanabe has been matched hard since making his debut in 2014 and was 2-2 after his first 4 bouts. Since then he has scored notable wins against the likes of Gakuya Furuhashi, the current Japanese Super Bantamweight champion, Dai Iwai, Richard Pumicpic and Shingo Kusano, who he beat in the Hajime No Ippo 30th Anniversary tournament last year. Watanabe's record might not look like that of a real threat to someone like Maruta, but his power, aggression and determination would see him asking questions of Maruta, and testing what the young champion has in his locker. Maruta would be a very clear favourite to win, but this would still be a solid match up and very good first defense.
4-Genesis Servania (34-2, 16)
Staying with Japanese ranked fighters, and looking at people who mean something on the world stage, a bout between Maruta and former world title challenger Genesis Servania would be a compelling match up, and a potentially huge opportunity for Maruta. Internationally Servania is known for one, his 2017 world title thriller with Oscar Valdez, that saw both men being dropped. Whilst Servania has done very, very, little since then his name does still man something and a win over him would almost certainly help Maruta leap towards a world title fight. Aged 29 Servania is still very much in his physical prime and isn't a shot fighter, despite how bad he looked against Carlos Castro in 2019. He is however a fairly predictable fighter, who fights behind a tight guard, and is somewhat slow, making for an easy target for someone quick and rangy, like Maruta. On paper this would be a step up for the newly crowned champion, but would also be a bout he'd be expected to win, dominantly.
5-Musashi Mori (12-0, 7) OR Satoshi Shimizu (9-1, 9)
We're cheating a little bit here, but for a good reason. We want to see Maruta face the winner of the May 13th clash between Musashi Mori, the WBO Asia Pacific champion, and Satoshi Shimizu, the OPBF champion, in a bout for the triple crown! Ths bout really sells it's self and would be a unification bout for the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles. No matter who wins the May 13th bout between Mori and Shimizu they would make for the ideal dance partner for Maruta in the fall. Of the two Mori is the younger, more technically skilled fighter, and would pose some really interesting questions from a technical stand point for Maruta. Shimizu on the other hand is a crude, open, wild fighter, with lights out power, who would test Maruta's chin and and how Maruta copes with a fighter who is just as long and rangy as he is. Maruta against the winner of Shimizu Vs Mori is the bout that should be made as soon as possible, and the winner of that would be incredibly close to a world title fight in 2022!
Note the bout between Maruta and Sagawa was supposed to be aired last weekend on Fuji TV. Due to the earthquake that hit Japan on Saturday the broadcast was delayed and it will be aired on February 19th as a result
Many division's out there are really interesting, and have a lot of brilliant match ups that could be made at any moment. One of the most interesting is the Featherweight division, which isn't the "deepest" but is among the most "interesting", not just in Asia but globally. Despite not being as deep as the Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight division's it's still a very, very good weight class.
Again we're only considering Asian fighters for these rankings.
1-Can Xu (18-2, 3)
The stand out Asian fighter in the division is Chinese "Monster" Can Xu. Unlike another monster, who is known for his power and being a physical freak, Xu is a monster in terms of stamina, chin and output. The 26 year old is the current WBA "regular" Featherweight champion and really came along wonderfully in 2019, when he beat Jesus M Rojas, Shun Kubo and Manny Robles III. Although not a technically perfect boxer, or a big puncher Xu is a nightmare to fight with a swarming busy style and an ability to take a punch whilst letting his shots go. A total nightmare to take on.
2-Tugstsogt Nyambayar (11-1, 9)
Earlier this year we saw Tugstsogt Nyambayar come up short in a competitive, but clear, loss against Gary Russell Jr. That may have ended Nyambayar's unbeaten record but with wins over Harmonito Dela Torre, Oscar Escandon and Claudio Marrero it's hard to question his #2 ranking. Yes he's not scored a world level win yet, but in reality he's done more than anyone on this list, other than Xu. The heavy handed boxer-puncher was a former amateur standout and is a quality professional, but needs to be much more active and he has fought only 4 times in the last 36 months, completely wasting some of his prime years. Incidentally enough that's the same accusation that has been sent Gary Russell Jr's way over the years as well.
3-Ryo Sagawa (9-1, 4)
The Japanese domestic scene at Featherweight is legitimately crazy with 6 very good and interesting fighters in and around the top top. The best of those is, probably, Ryo Sagawa, who holds wins over 2 of the other top Japanese guys at the weight. Sagawa is the current Japanese national champion, an excellent boxer, who controls distance well and looks like a true natural in the ring with a really eye pleasing and smooth style. When he needs to brawl and fight he can, though at his best he is an excellent boxer. Despite being a genuine talent Sagawa also has some questions still hanging over him, and his chin is certainly still suspect, meaning that whilst he's talented, there is always a risk he'll be stopped, making his fights the type that will have you on the edge of your seat.
4-Reiya Abe (19-3-1, 9)
The man Sagawa beat for the Japanese title was Reiya Abe, another of the excellent Japanese fighters at Featherweight. Abe is a brilliant technical boxer, an intelligent southpaw with a very good jab and he controls distance fantastically well. He was unfortunate in 2019 to fight to a draw with Taiki Minamoto and then lose a very close one against Ryo Sagawa. Abe is clearly below Sagawa in the rankings, but there was much that separated the men when they fought and in reality there's still not much between them. In fact whilst Sagawa does have the head to head win, Abe has solid wins himself over the likes of Daisuke Watanabe and Satoshi Hosono, among others. With a tough 2019 behind him we're really looking forward to seeing what the future brings for the skilled Abe.
5-Mark Magsayo (20-0, 14)
As well as a bunch of fantastic Japanese fighters at Featherweight we also have a number of talented Filipino's. The best among the Pinoy's is Mark Magsayo, who has been banging on the door of a world title fight for a while now, but not managed to get the shot at the big time yet. Despite not getting a fight at world title level yet Magsayo already has wins over Chris Avalos, Shota Hayashi and Pungluang Sor Singyu. He made a smart move a few years ago, in leaving ALA Promotions but hasn't yet managed to secure a big fight with his new promoter. Magsayo is an excellent boxer puncher, and like many fighters we feel he will look better when he steps up faces tough competition.
6-Hinata Maruta (10-1-1, 8)
Back to Japan for our #6 entry in the form of 23 year old Hinata Maruta. The talented Maruta has promised a lot since making his professional debut way back in 2015 and whilst he's yet to accomplish what was expected of him there is no doubting his ability. The one thing we need to see from Maruta is his chin being tested and his ability to move through the gears. It's often felt like he's only had 3 gears and that really did cost him against Hidenori Otake, in his sole loss. Thankfully since his defeat to Otake he has shown a lot to be excited about and wins over Tsuyoshi Tameda and Takenori Ohashi have been excellent. If Maruta can continue to improve as he has done recently he'll be finding himself with some big wins soon. Interestingly he is mandated to fight Abe in a Japanese title bout, though it now seems likely that that bout could slip to 2021 due to the ongoing situation. That may actually be a good thing for Maruta, give him extra time to grow into his man strength.
7-Jhack Tepora (23-1, 17)
It's really hard to know what is going on with Jhack Tepora. At times he looks fantastic hi KO of Lusanda Komanisi in 2017 was brutal, and his win in Malaysia against Edivaldo Ortega should have helped launch him to some huge fights. They didn't and instead he fought a meaningless bout to Jose Luis Gallegos last June before being upset by Oscar Escandon in December 2019. That loss was among the bigger upsets of 2019, and completely killed what moment he had. Rumour from the Philippines circulated suggesting he had fallen out with his team, and that they had gotten fed up with some of his out of the ring habits. Whether their is truth to those rumours or not is unclear, but what is clear is a lack of activity has been a major issue for Tepora, who has fought just 3 times since the start of 20918. He needs to sort his career out before it's too late.
8-Musashi Mori (11-0, 6)
Talented youngster Musashi Mori is the current WBO Asia Pacific champion and is very much "one of the future". At the time of writing he's just 20 years old but has already accomplished a hell of a lot, winning the 2017 Rookie of the Year and winning his regional title, taking it from Richard Pumicpic, which he has defended twice. Although still a work in progress two wins over Pumicpic and one over Takuya Mizuno pretty much show that he's already incredibly talented. For recent bout he has been training under the guidance of Ismael Salas so we're expecting to see significant improvements form the youngster in his next few fights. He's a talented southpaw, though does lack his man strength and power, and it will be interesting to see if he can develop that side of his game as he matures.
9-Richard Pumicpic (21-11-2, 6)
With two close losses to Musashi Mori and a close loss to Ryosuke Iwasa it's easy to understand why Richard Pumicpic had double digit defeats. He has been matched hard, had to travel for bouts, and still run good fighters very close. He has now lost 3 in a row, but in reality he's deserved better from the judges. He's not the most powerful, or the quickest, or the biggest, but he's a nightmare. He's tough, rough, knows his way around the ring and really makes life difficult for anyone in the division. On his day he could beat men ranked well above him on this list, but has certainly lacked any form of luck and good fortune during his career. Fingers crossed we see the now 29 year old getting another opportunity to show what he can do in the near future. He's one of those fighters where you need to ignore his record, and just watch what he can do.
10-Ryo Matsumoto (23-3, 21)
Arguably the most over-looked man in the division is former world title challenger Ryo Matsumoto, who moved up to Featherweight in 2018 following his loss to Daniel Roman. Matsumoto has all the things needed to be a star. He's good looking, powerful, quick, skilled, has great size for the division and is someone with an amazing story, fighting through a nasty illness. He also has a sense of vulnerability, with 2 stoppage losses against him. He has the things needed to be a feel good story in boxing, but needs to be given time to adapt to the division, which he has naturally grown into. A rematch with Ryo Sagawa would be interesting and is potentially something he and his team are viewing for the future.
On the bubble:
Satoshi Shimizu, Jhon Gemino, Genesis Servania, Shohei Omori and Shun Kubo
Over the last few years Japan has gained a reputation for ending the boxing year in style, with major shows in the final few days of the year. Typically those bouts get announced through November, as promoters officially announce the bouts and put their shows together along with major domestic television companies.
As we enter November we thought it would be fun to look at some of those rumours for the month, and some of the confirmed bouts, as well as those that have been mentioned as possible, and those on the verge of being officially announced.
We'll start by looking at what we know, with the confirmed notable bouts from the month.
December 1st is set to be a crazy day with several major shows.
In Tokyo we'll get a card televised by G+ which will be headlined by Valentine Hosokawa (23-6-3, 10) defending his Japanese Light Welterweight title against Takashi Inagaki (20-17-2, 9). The card will also feature a brilliant match up between Seiya Tsutsumi (4-0, 3) and Matcha Nakagawa (13-1-1, 5) as well as the ring return of former IBF Super Bantamweight champion Yukinori Oguni (19-2-1, 7)
On the same day in Osaka we get two Shinsei Gym cards, featuring a combined 6 title bouts. The shows will be Real Spirits vol 60 and Real Spirits vol 61, with the first card featuring 4 female title bouts, including a WBO female Minimumweight title bout between Kayoko Ebata (12-7, 6) and Etsuko Tada (17-3-2, 5) and an OPBF Atomweight title bout between Eri Matsuda (1-0) and Minayo Kei (6-3, 1).
The second card will see former world title challenger Reiya Konishi (16-1, 6) defending the WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight title against Richard Rosales (13-7-2, 7) and a potentially thrilling contest between Masao Nakamura (24-3, 23) and Carlo Magali (23-10-3, 12) for the WBO Asia Pacific Super Featherweight title.
December 3rd will give us a single big show, headlined by OPBF Featherweight champion Satoshi Shimizu (7-0, 7) and Takuya Uehara (16-0, 10), with a brilliant supporting bout between Hinata Maruta (7-1-1, 6) and Tsuyoshi Tameda (18-3-2, 16), which is one of the bouts we're most looking forward to!
On December 9th things get a bit crazy again. We will get a Japanese Welterweight title fight, as Ryota Yada (17-4, 14) defends his belt against Shusaku Fujinaka (16-9-2, 10), and a Japanese Super Flyweight title bout, with Takayuki Okumoto (21-8-3, 10) making his first defense against Masayoshi Hashizume (16-0-1, 10). These bouts have been officially announced and confirmed.
The same day we're set to see to see Shohei Omori (19-2, 14) taking on Takahiro Yamamoto (21-5, 17) and Sho Ishida (26-1, 15) taking on Warlito Parrenas (26-8-1, 23). These bouts haven't been formally announced, though teams from both have confirmed they are taking place, and will be at the EDION Arena Osaka. It's unclear if they will share the same card as the other bouts or if the EDION will host another double dose of boxing with two shows. There is also some speculation that if this is a second show there will be one more big bout to add to the card.
On December 13th we'll see Japanese Lightweight champion Shuichiro Yoshino (8-0, 6) defending his belt against Kazumasa Kobayashi (10-7-1, 6) at the Korakuen Hall and a week later we'll see Nobuyuki Shindo (20-4-1, 8) and Akinori Watanabe (37-7, 31) fight to unify the Japanese Light Middleweight title.
The only other show of real significant that has been confirmed is the Japanese Rookie of the Year final on December 23rd. Nothing after Christmas, but before the start of 2019, has really been announced. But we have had a lot of rumours, speculation for December!
One bout that is supposed to be, finally, made is the long awaited IBF Light Middleweight world title eliminator between Takeshi Inoue (13-0-1, 7) and Julian Williams (25-1-1-1, 15), a bout that has seemingly been delayed, rescheduled and redelayed several times already this year. Fingers crossed this is actually made before the year is over, as it seems both fighters have wasted a lot of this year waiting for this bout to take place. Interestingly this could be the only bout to actually take place outside of Japan.
Another IBF eliminator which is rumoured to take place in December is a Super Bantamweight title eliminator between Ryosuke Iwasa (25-3, 16) and Cesar Juarez (23-6, 17). This bout is supposedly set to take place in Tokyo, though no date has been made public. If this is confirmed then we are in for a treat as these two, together, should be an amazing contest, with both being heavy handed and flawed. Fingers crossed we get this one announced shortly!
Staying on the subject of IBF title fights there has been speculation in Japan that Masayuki Kuroda (30-7-3, 16) may get an unexpected shot at Flyweight champion Moruti Mthalane (36-2, 24). This rumour has come about after a scheduled eliminator with Kuroda and Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking fell through after the Thai suffered an injury. Kuroda's seemed to suggest this would be a long shot, but they are chasing the bout and it could, potentially, be on.
The first of the rumoured big cards to end the year is expected to be on December 30th and is expected to be the Fuji TV card. The strongest rumour for this show is a WBO Super Featherweight title defense for Masayuki Ito (24-1-1, 12), with the named linked to him being Evgeny Chuprakov (20-0, 10). This bout is expected to be confirmed in the coming days, or at the very least Ito's part of it is, with Chuprakov perhaps not being the opponent. The same date is also pencilled in as a potential date for Kenshiro (14-0, 8) to make his next defense of the WBC Light Flyweight title, though no opponent has been linked to him.
The December 30th Fuji card has also been set as the potential date for a WBC Bantamweight title bout between Petch Sor Chitpattana (48-0, 33) and Takuma Inoue (12-0, 3). This bout depends on another bout not taking place, as per an order at the WBC convention in early October, so we should see this bout being either confirmed or not very quickly. There is also a rumour that Takuma's stable mate at the Ohashi gym, Akira Yaegashi (27-6, 15) may also be involved on the same show.
If the rumours for December 30th are a bit of an exciting mess things get even crazier for New Year's Eve. For weeks we've been hearing that WBC Minimumweight champion Wanheng Menayothin (51-0, 18) would be defending his title against Shin Ono (23-9-3, 6). This was rumoured to be part of a triple header, which has changed a few times but new seems most likely to feature a rematch between Ryoichi Taguchi (27-3-2, 12) and Hekkie Budler (32-3, 10), with Taguchi looking to reclaim the WBA Light Flyweight title from the South African. Along with that rematch is rumoured WBO Light Flyweight title bout between Angel Acosta (19-1, 19) and Hiroto Kyoguchi (11-0, 8). If this triple header is done, then TBS would be expected to show at least 2 bouts live on their Kyoguken show.
Things get more complicated when we consider the other rumours, which include a potential WBO Flyweight world title defense by Kosei Tanaka (12-0, 7). His could be squeezed on TBS as an early bout, or could be used to stack the show to a quadruple header or could end up being only CBC live, with TBS showing it on tape delay. It's really unclear how he fits in, but he will almost certainly be wanting to fight on a year ending show, after missing out on the chance last year due to injury.
Last, but certainly not least, is the rumoured WBO Super Flyweight title bout between Kazuto Ioka (23-1, 13) and Donnie Nietes (41-1-5, 23), a bout so big that TBS have seemingly given Ioka the option to take the date and broadcast if he wants it. This was rumoured strongly in September, and Japanese sources were suggesting that it could take place in the Philippines with TBS still airing it live, however the rumours did quieten quickly. It should be noted that Ioka's not been one for leaking news in the past, this could be well in the works. Given how silent things have gone however we may well see this bout being delayed into 2019, potentially as part of the next Superfly card.
(Bottom image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
The action for November continues over the coming week or saw with 7 title bouts in the space of just 4 days, and whilst some of the bouts aren't great they do tend to feature at least one fighter of real note in every one of the bouts.
Of those 7 title bouts 5 come on November 23rd's show in Osaka, with the title number selling the show as being something special, though the reality is that the show just simply has some well matched, or interesting looking fights on it.
Dwight Ritchie (14-0-0-4, 1) v Koki Tyson (10-2-2, 10)
One of those title bouts will see the unbeaten Dwight Ritchie defending his OPBF Middleweight title against Japanese puncher Koki Tyson, with Ritchie looking for this first defense of the belt and Tyson looking to become an OPBF champion at the second time of asking. Ritchie impressed in Japan earlier this year, when he ripped the title form Hikaru Nishida but will be facing a totally different stylistic match up here against the crude but heavy handed Tyson, who has shown fragility but can certainly bang.
Takayuki Hosokawa (28-10-5, 9) v Yutaka Oishi (13-5, 7)
The other OPBF title bout on the card will see OPF Light Middleweight champion Takayuki Hosokawa defending his title against fellow Japanese fighter Yutaka Oishi. For Hosokawa the bout will be his second defense of the title and see him trying to put a very poor performance against Koshinmaru Saito behind him, with many feeling that Hosokawa was lucky to get the draw in that bout. For Oishi the bout is his first for an OPBF title, though he has previously fought for a regional title in Australia, and he could genuinely play a spoiler to Hosokawa's hopes of fighting for a world title in the future.
Hinata Maruta (3-0, 2) v Joe Tejones (6-1, 2)
In a WBC Youth title fight we'll see fast rising Japanese prospect Hinata Maruta take on Filipino southpaw Joe Tejones. For Maruta this will be his first title defense, and he will be looking to build on an excellent win over Wilbert Berondo. The bout will however be Maruta's first against a southpaw and the focus will be on getting some rounds against a lefty. For Tejones the the opportunity is a big one, but it's hard to imagine him living with a fighter as naturally talented as Maruta and it is the visitor taking a huge step up in class.
Hirofumi Mukai (12-4-3, 2) Vs Inthanon Sithchamuang (30-8-1, 18)
In a WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight title fight we'll former world title challengers collide as Hirofumi Mukai, a former 2-time world title challenger, faces Inthanon Sithchamuang in a really intriguing type of match up. Mukai is probably one of the least qualified 2-time world title challengers of recent times, having faced Pongsaklek Wonjojngkam and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, but is still talented and is a nice pure boxer. Inthanon challenged Kohei Kono earlier this year in a gutsy, but out gunned, performance and given the limitations of the two men this should prove to be a really interesting bout.
Masahiro Sakamoto (8-0, 4) v Sho Kimura (12-1-2, 6)
A second WBO Asia Pacific title bout comes at Flyweight where the unbeaten Masahiro Sakamoto takes on the once beaten Sho Kimura in a wonderfully well matched bout that should test the ability of both men and their potentials. Sakamoto is stepping up in a big way here but was impressive last time out, taking a wide win over Il Che, and was the 2015 Flyweight Rookie of the Year. Kimura hasn't really scored a win of any note, but does come in to this bout on a 14 fight unbeaten run following a knockout loss on debut.
Milan Melindo (34-2, 12) Vs Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr (31-4-1, 16)
On December 30th we'll see IBF Light Flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi return to the ring, his supposed opponent will be either Milan Melindo or Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, who face off just 5 weeks earlier for the interim title. This bout will see Melindo getting a third shot at a “world title” and his first t home having had to travel to Macau and Mexico for his previous bit bouts. For Fahlan the bout is his second shot at a world title, after his controversial loss to Katsunari Takayama, and a win could see him return to Japan for another big bout, following bouts with Takuma Inoue, Ryo Miyazaki and the aforementioned Takayama. This bout will be a fun one and we wouldn't be shocked by any result.
Muhammad Waseem (4-0, 3) v Giemel Magramo (17-0, 13)
To end the month our attention turns to Korea where fast rising Pakistani fighter Muhammad Waseem takes on the unbeaten Giemel Magramo. Waseem, the most notable Pakistani born boxer since Hussain Shah, is looking to make his first defense of the WBC Silver Flyweight title and move towards a 2017 world title bout. For Magramo the bout is a huge step up and his first bout away from home, he's unbeaten but has never faced anyone with the pedigree or ability of Waseem, likewise Waseem has never faced anyone as hungry as Magramo.
In the west we tend to see fighters fighting a dozen or so bouts before they take a real step up in class. We often hear about how great they are going to be whilst they defeat opponents who simply aren't fit to be sparring partners. Sadly as a result of this mentality we often wait 3 or 4 years before we have any idea if the fighter in question is actually that good, of if his opponents are just that bad.
Sadly the “western” system means we have cases like David Price, who looked like a million dollars as he climbed to 15-0 (13) in a little under 4 years. Those 15 wins however so him face opponents who he blitzed through without being tested,in fact at best those 15 were domestic opponents. It's an unfortunate system that often sees fighters taking baby steps when they don't need to, and can often see them leaping from facing domestic fighters to world class fighters. Sometime they can make that leap, whilst other times they won't manage to do it, and in other cases they might need a second bite of the cherry, such as the case with Gary Russell Jr who looked like a fighter who was under-developed as a professional when he took on Vasyl Lomachneko, but looked a much better fighter in his second world title fight, against Jhonny Gonzalez.
Thankfully not everywhere has that same mentality and in some places the idea isn't about running up a long list of wins to build a name but instead about racing to the top, trying to make a point early in a fighters career and not bothering to pad a fighters record. With that in mind I've decided to look at the “Top 5 Under 5”, the 5 best prospects with less than 5 bouts. The only rules for this is that they must have made their professional debut and must have fewer than 5 fights in the traditional paid ranks, so bouts fought under WSB and APB rules don't count towards their records.
Over the next 12 months we're expecting to see a lot of changes in the world of professional boxing. As a result we have put together a list of 30 Asian fighters to keep an eye out for 2016. These range from champions to novices but all are expected to make a mark on the sport over the next 12 months. Here is part 2 which looks at 5 young novices who have impressed in 2015 and look likely to do the same over the next year.
For those who missed it, part 1 is here.
This coming November is a hectic month to say the least with numerous title bouts as well as a major debut, of a man regarded as being a once in a generation prospect and a show to make a real note of for the effects it will have on the Japanese scene for the next 12 months.
The notable action kicks off on November 2nd with a mouth watering “Strongest Korakuen” card. The show features 4 bouts to decide the mandatory challenger for 4 Japanese titles.
The lightest weight covered by those bouts is Flyweight where former world title challenger Masayuki Kuroda (23-6-3, 14) takes on recent Japanese title challenger Yusuke Sakashita (13-5-2, 8). Of the two men it's Kuroda who is the more established having been a former Japanese Light Flyweight champion and of course he challenged for a world title, losing a decision to Juan Carlos Reveco. Saying that however he has gone 2-3-3 in his last 8 bouts. Sakashita on the other hand did challenger for the Japanese Flyweight title last year, before being iced by a single shot by Suguru Muranaka, in what would actually be Muranaka's last fight as a Flyweight.
At Bantamweight we see former Japanese champion Kentaro Masuda (22-7, 11) attempt to move towards regaining the title he lost to Shohei Omori earlier this year. Masuda is in for a tough fight however with the under-rated Hideo Sakamoto (16-1-3, 5) who is quickly coming into his own. Masuda, a 32 year old late bloomer, was completely dismantled by Omori but had scored several notable wins, including a 3rd round blow out against Konosuke Tomiyama and a 2014 FOTY contender against Tatsuya Takahashi. Coming in to this Sakamoto is on a 6-0-1 (3) run including a win over Hiroki Shiino though was held to a draw last time out, against Hiroaki Teshigawara, albeit a controversial one. This could be something very special.
At Lightweight we see former Japanese and OPBF champion Nihito Arakawa (25-6-1, 16) attempt to move towards reclaiming the Japanese title. The teak tough Arakawa, who is of course well known for his bout with Omar Figueroa, will be up against recent challenger Yuya Sugizaki (20-10-1, 6). Strangely both of these men lost their most recent bouts with Arakawa actually going 2-5 in his last 7, with losses to Yoshitaka Kato and Rikki Naito in his last 2 bouts, and Sugizaki going 5-4 in his last 9, including an 8th round TKO loss to current champion Kota Tokunaga. Despite those losses we do suspect that this could be a very action packed fight.
The remaining bout is at Welterweight and, on paper at least, appears to be the most one sided. The fight will see former Japanese, OPBF and PABA champion Akinori Watanabe (33-4, 28) take on the little known Toshio Arikawa (11-4, 9). Given that both men have been stopped and both guys have real power, in fact between them they have 52 bouts with on 8 going the distance, we're not expecting this one to reach the final bell. Given the huge edge in experience and quality of opposition we're expecting Watanabe to earn a shot at Japanese title shot at Suyon Takayama, though we have seen Watanabe lose fights that he really should have won in the past.
All 4 of those bouts will come with an incentive, the MVP of the bouts will be the recipient of a 1,000,000 yen bonus, a really big reason to impress.
Just days after the Strongest Korakuen show we get the first Japanese title fight of the month, and it's a fight that looks like a sure fire thriller. The bout in question is a rematch between Japanese Flyweight champion Takuya Kogawa (24-4, 13) and the highly ranked, at least by the JBC, challenger Tetsuma Hayashi (25-3-2, 9). When the men first met, back in 2012, Kogawa won a very competitive bout however the champion has been in some real wars since then whilst Hayashi is thought to be in his prime. Given the styles of the two men this really could be a FOTY contender with unbridled action and numerous exchanges.
The emergence of a new wave of Japanese youngsters rising through the ranks has been really exciting. Whilst the biggest name among those fast risers is, of course, Naoya Inoue, he may not actually be the most exciting. That tag could instead be applied to Daigo Higa (7-0, 7) who looks to make the first defense of his WBC Youth Flyweight title on November 7th at the Korakuen Hall. In the opposite corner to Higa will be tricky Filipino champion Renren Tesorio (15-6-3, 4), who is known to Tokyo fans due to his very competitive 2014 battle with Toshiyuki Igarashi. This could be the next step towards a world title for Higa, or could see the power punching 20 year old really given a very tough test by the much more experienced Filipino.
Talking about the “new wave” of Japanese fighters it's worth noting that just a few hours after Higa's bout we will see the American debut of Middleweight hopeful Ryota Murata (7-0, 5) who faces off against Gunnar Jackson (22-6-3, 8). The Japanese puncher is regarded as one of the sports most marketable stars and is a real celebrity in his home land. The hope here is to help him become a star in the US and build his marketability in the West before a potential world title fight in 2016. This is a good test on paper even if Jackson isn't the most recognisable name out there.
Also making his American debut on the same day is heavy handed 140lb fighter Keita Obara (15-1, 14) who looked to extend his 15 fight winning streak and impress Western fans as he takes on Nicaraguan fighter Walter Castillo (26-3, 19) in an IBF Light Welterweight eliminator. The bout is a great chance for the 28 year old Misako gym fighter to make a name for himself however Castillo isn't a bad fighter himself and this really could be something very special for US fans tuning in to the PBC show from Miami.
Although there are two Japanese fighters making their US debut's they aren't the only Asian fighters of note on the road. There are two in action in Monaco with one of those being Kazakh Bantamweight Zhanat Zhakiyanov (25-1, 18) who faces WBA interim champion Yonfrez Parejo (17-1-1, 8). For Zhakiyanov, who is limited but heavy handed, this is a big step up in class however it's a winnable bout for the Hatton protege.
Another Asian on the Monaco card is the highly ranked Chinese fighter Qiu Xiao Jun (18-2, 8) who defends his WBC silver Super Bantamweight title against Frenchman Amor Belahdj Ali (14-3-1-1, 2). On paper this one looks likely to go the distance however Jun has stopped 4 of his last 5 foes, including former world champion Silvester Lopez, and it wouldn't be a shock for the crude Chinese “Dragon” to stop his relatively unknown Frenchman, who is the French champion.
Whilst the first Japanese title fight comes on November 5th we need to wait until the 9th for the first OPBF title fight, or rather the first OPBF/JBC title fight as unified Middleweight champion Akio Shibata (26-8-1, 12) defends his titles against the heavy handed, and genuinely fun to watch, Koki Tyson Maebara (9-1-1, 9). On paper this is a massive step up in class for Maebara however he does have 11 years of youth on the champion, a clear edge in power, a slight edge in height and is a southpaw. Shibata, whilst best known for losing a then debuting Ryota Murata, has been in good form recently and is 10-1 (4) in his last 11 bouts going back more than 4 years and is likely expecting to continue that run which has seen him notch wins over Makoto Fuchigami, Hikaru Nishida and Daisuke Nakagawa.
On November 11th we have a female world title double. The more interesting of those bouts sees boxer-model Tomomi Takano (8-1, 5) face off against WBO female Super Flyweight champion Daniela Romina Bermudez (17-3-2, 5). This is the first world title fight for Takano, who is much better known for her looks than her fighting ability, and it's fair to say she will be the under-dog against the much more proven Bermudez.
The other female world title fight will see Kumiko Seeser Ikehara (7-1-2, 3) defend her WBO female Minimumweight title against Momoko Kanda (9-7-2, 3). On paper this looks like a real mismatch in favour of the once beaten champion however the challenger is better than her record suggests and she has gone 5-1 (3) in her last 6 bouts as she's began to turn things around. Clearly Ikehara will be the favourite but this could be a very competitive match up.
Staying with female title action we see another female world title bout on November 13th as IBF female Light Flyweight champion Naoko Shibata (14-3, 4) defends her title against Mexican foe Maria Salinas (11-4, 4). This looks to be very well matched on paper despite the fact Salinas has gone 3-4-1 in her last 8 bouts, including a loss to Etsuko Tada in Japan. For Shibata this is expected to be her 4th defense and is expected to be much easier than her last bout, a narrow win over Saemi Hanagata back in February.
Every so often a bout comes along that has us licking our lips in real excitement. The next such bout takes place on November 21st and will be another US debut of a Japanese fighter. The bout in question sees WBC Super Featherweight champion Takashi Miura (29-2-2, 22) face off against unbeaten challenger Francisco Vargas (22-0-1, 16), an unbeaten and exciting mandatory challenger. Given the styles of both fighters and their in-ring mentalities this bout is almost certainly going to be a war and given the power of both men there is a very good chance that it won't be going the distance. Whilst it's not the main event of the show it's got a genuine chance of being the bout of the night.
The debut of the next in the long line of Japanese super-prospects comes on November 22nd as the very highly touted Hinata Maruta (0-0) kicks off his professional career. The talented 18 year old goes straight into the deep end with an amazingly ambitious debut against the world ranked, and heavy handed, Jason Canoy (24-5-2, 18). If Maruta wins here he could well end up with a lofty world ranking from the off, however Canoy, who has never been stopped, is a real danger man and recently blew away Drian Francisco. On paper this looks like one of the most ambitious debuts in recent memory and we really applauded the confidence of Maruta and his team.
The Maruta/ Canoy bout isn't the only Japan Vs Philippines bout of note. Another sees OPBF Light Middleweight champion Dennis Laurente (49-6-5, 30) defending his title against former Japanese champion Takayuki Hosokawa (27-10-4, 9). The 38 year old champion was last seen in the ring in August, losing a shut out to the touted John Jackson though has shown his toughness and could well break down Hosokawa who has been stopped 6 times from his 10 losses.
The Laurente/Hosokawa bout is one of two title bouts for the day. The other sees Tatsuya Fukuhara (15-4-5, 6) facing off against Hiroya Yamamoto (9-3, 3) for the vacant Japanese Minimumweight title. The title, which was given up earlier this year by Go Odaira, has been a stepping stone to a world title fight for numerous former champions, and so the winner of this one will likely be looking at a major bout down the line. Interestingly however it would seem likely that the winner would have Genki Hanai chasing them for a title fight in early 2016 with the unbeaten Gifu man certainly looking to move into title level.
The only world title fight in Thailand this month sees unbeaten WBC Minimumweight champion Wanheng Menayothin (39-0, 14) take on heavy handed Korean challenger Young Gil Bae (26-4-1, 21). For the challenger this is a huge step up in class as he looks to become the first Korean born man to claim a world title since In Jin Chi, and in fact he's the first Korean man to even challenger for a world title in 2 years, following Jung-Oh Sun's challenger against Koki Kameda. Saying that however Bae is a major under-dog against the criminally under-rated Thai who has remained under the radar despite his long winning run, which has admittedly come against some weak opposition that has reflected his actual ability.
On November 28th we get the next in the “WOWOW Touch!” events. The events are a free-to-air day of WOWOW in Japan and with the past few years Japanese fans get a boxing treat on the subscription based channel, which mainly airs international bouts from the West. This year Japanese fans get a couple of very interest Mexico Vs Japan world title contests.
The most interesting of those is a potential war between Teiken promoted Mexican Carlos Cuadras (33-0-1, 26) and the always fun to watch Koki Eto (17-3-1, 13). For Cuadras this is his first bout in Japan since winning the WBC Super Flyweight world title in 2014, when he over-came Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in Mexico, though is his 6th bout in the country over-all. Interestingly he holds a record of 5-0 (5) in the country with all 5 bouts 8 rounds. As for Eto this sees him returning to the Super Flyweight division for the first time in more than 4 years and could potentially help the all-action warrior become an international star. Worrying for both men the winner will be mandated to fight Srisaket in 2016.
The other part of this double-header sees Japan's Yu Kimura (17-2-1, 3) take part in his biggest fight to date. The former Japanese Light Flyweight champion will be up against WBC world champion Pedro Guevara (26-1-1, 17), in a bout that sees Guevara return to Japan for the first time since he won his title last December against Akira Yaegashi. The challenger, 32, is currently on an 8 fight winning run following a TKO loss in 2011 to current WBA champion Ryoichi Taguchi however he has never fought at close to this level. As for Guevara the challenger has to be a big favourite despite being given a real test last time out against Ganigan Lopez.
Recently a poster on boxingforum24 asked a brilliant question that caught our eye. It was a simple question, but one with a lot of possible answers. “Good Asian Prospects?” It lead us to wondering what we could narrow it down to. As a result we've decided to do a few prospects features starting with this one which has interpreted the question as “Who are the best Japanese prospects with 5 or fewer fights?”
It was a way to limit the list but also give some exposure to some perhaps lesser known fighters. For those wondering these haven't been put into a particular order but all men featured here have had 5 or fewer fights at the time of writing.
At Welterweight Koki Koshikawa (4-0, 2) has been making waves and has been doing it quietly with out much fan fair. Part of why he's been doing it with out too much noise is his promoter, Celes Kobayashi, who doesn't have a huge TV and doesn't have the backing to give his man huge publicity. Despite that he has been very impressive, as seen in his debut win over Quaye Peter.
Koshikawa fights in a huge step up on June 8th when he battles former Japanese title challenger Koshimaru Saito. Saito will enter that bout as a ranked domestic contender though a win for Koshikawa would boost him from “prospect” to “contender”. Given how weak the Japanese domestic scene is at 147lbs there is every chance Koshikawa will be in the title mix by the middle of next year.
For fans from the west Koshikawa is likely to be the most notable due to his size and, like many others, he was a good amateur. We wouldn't say Koshikawa was an international star in the unpaid ranks but he was a very capable fighter. It was due to that amateur pedigree that he began his career in 6 rounders and why he is already being moved towards 8 round bouts. Given that he is now 24 he's a baby in the division but we do expect to see him matched very hard if he looks good in his clash against Saito.
Another man in, or around, the Bantamweight division is former amateur stand out Kazuki Tanaka (2-0, 2) who scored a genuinely outstanding win last time out, stopping Kaname Tabei in 4 rounds. The 22 year old Osakan is viewed as one of the best kept secrets in Japanese boxing and he's hoping to be moved towards a Japanese ranking later this year, a move that wouldn't be a shock at all despite his “novice” status in the pro game.
As an amateur Tanaka ran up a sensational 63-14 (14) record and it seems that the pro-style has suited him down to the ground already, especially when you consider the way he's been stopping opponents in the paid game. Unfortunately it may be a while until we manage to get footage of him in action but he's confident and talented.
With Green Tsuda backing him he's got a good gym with notable names, such as Nobuhiro Ishida and Yu Kawaguchi, there for him to talk to and get advice from the world really is his oyster. They key to Tanaka's future however seems to be just how much he can develop and how quickly he's moved. If he's given time at Japanese domestic level and the OPBF level to full mature then he really could go a very, very long way.
One more wildcard we'd like to mention is Keisuke Matsumoto (0-0) who isn't expected to turn professional until after the 2020 Olympics. The youngster has been featured in several TV segments, including this one here, and has trained alongside both Naoya Inoue and Akira Yaegashi, in fact Matsumoto's father and trainer is Koji Matsumoto who is also the trainer of Yaegashi.
It's really hard to say how good Matsumoto is, or will be, but the signs are that he could be another prodigy and may well be a real star of the future for Japanese boxing, even if we will need to wait a number of years to see how good he really is.
Images courtesy of-
Celes Gym and Green Tsuda
Note-Kosei Tanaka has not been included on here as he's advanced beyond the "prospect" stage despite still being a "novice".
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).