One of the more meaningful bouts from the last 7 days of Asian boxing saw Japanese Light Middleweight champion Hironobu Matsunaga (17-1, 11) score a 7th round TKO win over mandatory challenger Yuto Shimizu (14-5-2, 5), as part of the Champion Carnival. The bout was a pretty interesting one on paper, with the all action Matsunaga taking on the bigger, craftier Shimizu, and proved to be a decent one in the ring, though perhaps it was a little underwhelming given the pre-fight hopes.
With the bout now in the bag however it's one we want to talk about in more detail as we'll discuss our Five Take Aways from Matsunaga Vs Shimizu
1-Matsunaga is must watch
Stood at around 5'5" Matsunaga doesn't look like a Light Middleweight, especially not in this day and age of Light Middleweights regularly coming in close to, if not over, 6' tall. Despite that he is among the most fun fighters in the division to watch. He's like a terrier, who is always pressing forward, a fast, aggressive fighter who brings pressure, output, and an exciting style. Whilst it's obvious that he won't be mixing with the top guys in the division, he is carving out a very solid career for himself and is also becoming one of the most fan friendly fighters in Asia. Yes he's diminutive, but he's don't let that distract from the exciting style he brings to the ring.
2-Shimizu never got Matsunaga's respect
In recent years Yuto Shimizu has had real success by getting the respect of his opponents, using his size well and making the most of being a 6' foot tall guy with long arms and legs. He has used his reach well against the likes of Charles Bellamy and Nobuyuki Shindo, and made life tricky for them. Here however he never got Matsunaga's respect, he could never force Matsunaga back, and the champion just kept coming. In part that was due to the lack of output from Shimizu, who really did look timid, and in part that was due to the agility, movement and pressure from Matsunaga, who really never stopped moving, pressing and swaying. As a result of this we dare say Shimizu was a mentally broken man, well before he was stopped in round 7.
3-Open Scoring works Fine...but...
For years now Japan has employed open scoring for JBC, OPBF and WBC world title bouts. They are one of the few countries, that use the system and use it well. Whilst we won't say we've never seen a fighter in the lead cruise the final few rounds, we will say, again, that it works, and it worked here, as it has regularly worked in Japan. But it does take certain things to be in play.
Firstly you need fair judging, which is something that we've not always seen in some some countries. With out that open scoring, and scoring in general if we're being honest, doesn't work. It also requires consistency from the judges, again something we don't see, and it needs accountability, we think you know that that also doesn't seem to exist.
From what we've seen in Japan open scoring isn't the issue, and we can't think of many cases where open scoring has harmed a bout in Japan. The issue, around the world, is poor judges repeatedly getting assignments and repeatedly messing up.
With that said, we have no idea how a judge gave Shimizu 2 of the first 5 rounds here!
We know others will disagree and are staunchly against Open Scoring, and we get that too, but seeing it in use, regularly, has left us feeling it works. Though it needs to be noted it works less well in Thailand, where judges have been less consistent, fair and even in their scoring of bouts. Fingers crossed that changes one day
4-There's interesting bouts out there for Matsunaga
We'll admit the Japanese Light Middleweight scene isn't the most interesting to a global audience, and Takeshi Inoue aside we don't think many fans in the west could name a current Japanese fighter at 154lbs. Despite that the scene it's self is an interesting one for those who follow it and Matsunaga certainly has some interesting bouts available to him for the next year or two. Obviously a clash with Inoue would be great be we'd also absolutely love to see Matsunaga take on Akinori Watanabe. Alternatively a rematch with Yuki Beppu, who is the only man to beat Matsunaga, or a bout with Ryosuke Maruki, which would provide fireworks, or a bout with Rei Nakajima, or potentially a bout wih Keita Obara, if Obara can be tempted up a weight.
5-Kazutoshi Yoshida timed his stoppage well
On first look at the stoppage, live and in real time, we felt that referee Kazutoshi Yoshida let the punishment go on a bit too long before stepping in. On reflection and reviewing, we take that back. He got the stoppage bang on. Yes Shimizu had been in trouble earlier in the round but he was fighting back, aware of where he was, trying to spoil and smother. The final, huge, right hook from Matsunaga however jacked back Shimizu head and it was the perfect time to step in. Credit to Shimizu for remaining up right but it's fair to say he had no issues with the stoppage. We dare say he knew he was a beaten man, and he knew Yoshida have given him every chance he could.
Once again we're actually praising referees, what is wrong with us?
The 154lb Light Middleweight division is one of the most interesting in the sport, both globally and in regards to Asian fighters. The division has no standout on the global scene, and whilst that can be bad for a division it actually helps to make the division really intriguing with a feeling that the top 5 or 6 guys, if not more, can all beat each other. The division could hold some brilliant tournaments and it'd be very hard to pick the eventual winner.
Saying that however we're not here right now to discuss the division at large rank the top Asian fighters in the division. And boy is this a trickier one than we imagined with a huge drop off towards the bottom end of the top 10.
1-Israil Madrimov (5-0, 5)
The 25 year old Israil Madrimov is one of the most promising fighters on the planet, and in just 5 fights has proven to be an exceptional talent with all the tools to be a superstar in boxing. The talented Uzbek, dubbed "The Dream", can box, bang, brawl, fighter, punch, entertain and looks to have all the tools to be something very, very special. With wins over solid fringe contenders, like Alejandro Barrera and Charlie Navarro we've seen Madrimov facing very advanced competition for someone with so few fights and he has been impressive every time we've seen him. Madrimov is one of the surest "future world champions" in the sport today.
2-Sadriddin Akhmedov (11-0, 10)
Another man we're tipping for the top is Kazakh youngster Sadriddin Akhmedov, but like Madrimov he's not just one for the future but a fantastic fighter right now. Akhmedov, a Kazakh based Canadian, is a boxer-puncher who is an absolute joy to watch. He's not as destructive as Madrimov but at just 22 years old he is still looking like a very, very special fighter. His record isn't the best among the Asian fighters, but his skill-set, and talent is incredible and in regards to the eye he's passing with flying colours. His best wins are over the likes of John Ruba and Jose Antonio Villalobos but he can clearly beat better than he's been facing. Akhmedov is one of the best hidden gems in world boxing today.
3-Takeshi Inoue (16-1-1, 10)
The most proven of the Asian fighters at the weight is former world title challenger Takeshi Inoue. The 30 year old Japanese mauler is best known for his 2019 loss to Jaime Munguia, in which he took Munguia 12 rounds and managed to back up the Mexican youngster. Inoue has scored wins against the likes of Akinori Watanabe, Yuki Nonaka and Riku Nagahama, he's also a former unified Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific champion and the current WBO Asia Pacific king. In terms of professional accolades he's top, but it really feels like Akhmedov and Madrimov both have significantly better skills and potential.
4-Hironobu Matsunaga (16-1, 10)
Japanese national champion Hironobu Matsunaga is someone in a very rich vein of form and has won his last 10 in a row, following a loss in the 2014 All Japan Rookie of the Year final at Welterweight. The pint size fighter from the Yokohama gym is one of the shortest men in the division but also an absolute nightmare to fight. Matsunaga is a physically strong pressure fighter who breaks opponents down with volume and pressure. He doesn't have a big international performance under his belt but wins over the likes of Je Ni Ma, Koshinmaru Saito and Nobuyuki Shindo he has proven his ability on the domestic and fringe regional scene and is, for us at least, the #2 in Japan.
5-Madiyar Ashkeyev (14-0, 7)
We return to Western based Kazakh's now with 31 year old fringe contender Madiyar Ashkeyev, who is based in Oxnard, California. The unbeaten Ashkeyev turned pro in 2015 and has slowly been making a name for himself, with decent wins against the likes of Luis Hernandez, Cecil McCalla and Rodolfo Ezequiel Martinez. The hope is that Ashkeyev will jump in with a higher level of opponent later in the year, though his career has been rather frustrating at times and it has felt like he could have stepped up a level much earlier. A talent, but some one with questions still to answer and at 31 time is ticking down on his prime years.
6-Teerachai Kratingdaenggym (43-1, 31)
Once beaten Thai Teerachai Kratingdaenggym, also known as Tewa Kiram, is best known for his loss to Lucas Matthysse at Welterweight. Since then he rebounded well with 5 wins and a move up in weight. We'd love to see him in with a regional level test soon, but the WBA Asia champion is a man who is hard to get a read on. We know he's better than many Thai's with padded records, and we thought he was giving Matthysse fits. He does however have a questionable chin, as we saw against Matthysse, and we do wonder if he can dig deep when the going gets tough. A solid boxer-puncher, but we wouldn't be surprised if his level was fringe regional, and we certainly wouldn't fancy him against any of the guys above him.
7-Akinori Watanabe (39-7-1, 33)
Japanese veteran Akinori Watanabe has had a truly compelling career since he turned professional in 2004. He was a crude puncher early on, suffering a number of stoppage losses as a result, but has become a more rounded boxer-puncher in recent years, and looks much sturdier at 154lbs than he did at Welterweight. During his long career he won Japanese, OPBF and PABA Welterweight titles and since moving up he has held the Japanese "interim" title and the OPBF title. Although not a world class fighter, by any stretch, the 34 year old is a good, solid, regional level fighter, and someone who would put up a fight, win or lose, against anyone else on this list. The top guys would beat him, but they'd be forced to work for their wins.
8-Tonghui Li (12-2, 6)
Chinese 30 year old Tonghui Li is a bit of a wild card. He's a former OPBF "silver" and IBF Asia champion and has some notable wins against the likes of Romeo Jakosalem, Larry Siwu and Arnel Tinampay. Sadly though he's also picked up a couple of losses, including a 2018 defeat to Jung Kyoung Lee. Li is one of those fighters who we don't expect to see much from, but a win over Tinampay means a lot and we wouldn't be that shocked if we saw him fighting for a regional title when boxing resumes. Li against Watanabe or Teerachai would be very interesting, and maybe the sort of bout we could end up with in December if travel restrictions allow.
9-Rei Nakajima (3-0)
Another wild card selection is 21 year old Rei Nakajima, a Japanese fighter promoted by Nobuhiro Ishida. At 5'5" he's a very short Light Middleweight but also a very, very talented fighter in the division. Having debuted last July it's still really early to get too excited about him, but he's proven he can do 6 rounds, something he's now down 3 times, and with a win over Patomsuk Pathompothong this early in his career it seems like he and his team have got eyes on making a mark at title level sooner rather than later. Yes it's early, yes he's unproven, but boy does this kid look good!
10-Arnel Tinampay (26-25-1, 12)
The dark sheep of the division is tried and tested Filipino journeyman Arnel Tinampay, who has one of the sports most confusing and misleading records. With just 26 wins from 52 bouts it's easy to suggest that Tinampay isn't good, but the reality is that his record could, and should, be very different. The 35 year old has scored notable upsets against the likes of Yosuke Kirima, Shoma Fukumoto and Koshinmaru Saito and had a number of losses that should have been wins, including a 2019 bout against Hassan Mwakinyo. If you're preparing to face Tinampay and look at his record rather than look at footage of him you're in trouble.
On the bubble:
Jugn Kyoung Lee, Nobuyuki Shindo, Nath Nwachukwu, Sung Miun Yuh and Vikas Krishan
This past weekend we saw Japanese 154lb fight Takeshi Inoue (16-1-1, 10) retain his WBO Asia Pacific title with an early win against the horribly over-matched Cheng Su. The bout was his third win since losing in a WBO world title bout in January 2019 to Jaime Munguia, and it seems clear that he wants to move back towards big bouts by the end of 2020.
With Inoue's recent win it seems an ideal time to look at 5 possible opponents for Inoue for later this year, as we do the latest in our "Five for..." series.
1-Hironobu Matsunaga (16-1, 10)
Our number 1 pick here is probably the most likely and the easiest fight to make, by far. Inoue has dominated the Japanese and Oriental scene at the weight, beating the likes of Akinori Watanabe, Koshinmaru Saito, Riku Nagahama and Yuki Nonaka. The only domestic fighter of note he's yet to face is current Japanese champion Hironobu Matsunaga, who will defend his national title in March then be available to face who he wants. Matsunaga, like Inoue, is an aggressive fighter and physically strong fighter at 154lbs who has the style to make for some excellent fights. Both of these men are lacking a bit of size at the weight but both are physical fighters and a fight between the two should be thrilling!
2-Tony Harrison (28-3, 21)
There's not many world class fighters that Inoue would be given much a chance against, however a man who has been stopped in 3 losses would give Inoue an outside chance. Former world champion Tony Harrison would be the perfect match up for Inoue to try and prove that he belongs on the world level. Harrison lost his world title in December, when he was stopped by Jermell Charlo, and facing off with him now would be a smart move if Inoue and his team can secure the bout. Inoue would clearly have to travel for the fight but his style would give Harrison, a boxer-mover, real problems. The aggression and pressure from Inoue against the skills and movement of Harrison, for 12 rounds would be great to see and a really interesting mix of styles.
3-Israil Madrimov (4-0, 4)
Unbeaten Uzbek Israil Madrimov is known to be struggling in terms of getting opponents, and getting rounds. His first 4 bouts have gone a total of 19 rounds and he could do with an opponent to test his stamina and his ability to fight over a longer distance. Inoue would answer those questions, and also ask question questions of Madrimov's in ring mentality against someone who is bull strong and physical. A clash between the two would see Madrimov enter as the big favourite, but it would still be an excellent test for the Uzbek, and the type of fight he needs to prove himself, before a world title fight. On paper this isn't a big name fight, but it would be a match up we would be very interested in seeing.
4-Julian Williams (27-2-1, 16)
Hours after Inoue defeated Cheng Su we saw Julian Williams being upset against Jeison Rosario, and losing the WBA "super" and IBF titles to the hard hitting Dominican fighter. Williams had made it clear that he will be making the most of a rematch clause in their contract, and that will likely be next for him, though we do like Inoue Vs Williams, and it's a bout with a back story. Originally the two were ordered to have an IBF eliminator in 2018, the saga went on and on and in the end the two men went in different directions. We can't help but feel this would be a great fight to watch and would love to see the two men facing off.
5-Carlos Adames (18-1, 14)
Dominican fighter had his flaws shown up last year, when he lost to Patrick Teixeira, but showed and aggressive and exciting style against the more skilled Brazilian. We can't help but feel that Adames' style and Inoue's style would gel for an excellent stylistic clash. Both men are physically strong, come to fight, let their hands go and don't know how to back up. Adames would be the favourite, and would be looking to bounce back from the loss to Teixeira in what was an instant classic, whilst Inoue has the momentum of his last 3 wins. This would be brutal, entertaining and something that both men could benefit from.
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).