Last week we saw Takuma Inoue (14-1, 3) claim the OPBF Bantamweight title by dethroning Keita Kurihara (15-6, 13) at Korakuen Hall in what was a highly anticipated match up, getting interest not just in Japan, but internationally. The bout managed to get listed on betting websites in Europe, Russia, the UK and US and fans genuinely seemed to want to watch it on Thursday, with many complaining about the lack of a live stream or a live TV broadcast. Thankfully it was aired, albeit on tape delay, a few days later.
With the bout now aired, and with fight fans having had a few days to give it a watch we’re now going to look back on the bout and share some of the things we took from the contest.
1-The cut was a major problem for Kurihara
The first thing that needs to be mentioned was that the cut that Keita Kurihara suffered in the first round was a genuine problem for him. It was a nasty cut as soon as it happened, and it was one that really could have forced a much earlier conclusion to the bout than we had. The bout went to the scorecards after round 9, but in fairness there were worries that the contest could end up being stopped in the first 4 rounds, which would have resulted in a technical draw. It was a deep one, it was a big one, and it was one that certainly gave Kurihara some issues throughout the bout. Thankfully Kurihara didn’t make excuses or use the cut as an excuse, and in fairness we suspect even if he had avoided the cut it wouldn’t have changed the winner of the bout.
2-Kurihara failed to set things up
One thing that surprised us here was how little Kurihara tried to use his reach and jab, and how he trudged forward whilst paying with the jab, rather than really letting it go. It was a good weapon in the first round, and should have been used throughout the contest to set up his power shots. He has a genuinely good jab, and we saw it in the first minute or two of the bout. Sadly though the jab almost vanished as he began looking more and more for a hail Mary shot. We suspect this is likely due to the cut, which came across his left eye, but it really showed as the bout went on. He came out looking for big right hands and heavy hooks and was caught time and time again. If he’d used his jab he could well have gauged range better and landed his harder shots. It’s a shame his jab really did vanish after he had early success with it.
3-Inoue’s footwork was fantastic
Whilst we can easily talk about how Kurihara failed to create openings and work on them it needs to also be said that Inoue did brilliantly at making Kurihara reset. We constantly saw Inoue on his toes, moving, changing directions, keeping Kurihara from having a range where he could have success. It wasn’t the eye catching, sparkling footwork of someone like Vasyl Lomachenko, but instead it was very, very effective footwork. Inoue was almost always in control of the range and the tempo of the bout, despite mostly fighting on the back foot. He used half-steps, forwards and backwards, small pivots, he created angles, made Kurihara fall short and really neutralised the reach advantage of Kurihara. He knew was the quicker man and made full use of that by using really smart footwork right throughout the bout.
4-Inoue KO backers - What were you thinking?
One of the strange things before the bout was the amount of money that went on an Inoue T/KO win, taking the result to almost events on the betting market. We’re not sure why so much money poured on a stoppage for the challenger here, and we suspect even he’s not sure. Before the bout he stated that he was going to box his bout, and that was a style that had only seen him pick up 3 low key stoppage stoppage wins. Kurihara has been stopped before, but his last stoppage came to Hiroaki Teshigawara, and we really don’t understand why money poured on an Inoue stoppage. Given the way Inoue fought there was no plan to go for the finish early on, and although he caught Kurihara with some very clean shots in the second half he never really hurt the champion.
5-Despite a year out Inoue was razor sharp
Prior to this bout Inoue had been out of the ring since November 2019, when he lost to Nordine Oubaali. That was his first loss and we had expected him to look, at the very least, a bit rusty. Instead he looked razor sharp from the opening moments to the eventual conclusion of the bout. His defense was on point, his footwork - as already mentioned, was fantastic, his offense was clean and crisp, and he boxed fantastically. Everything he did was pretty much on point, and we dare say that was, in part, due to the danger that Kurihara posed. We’ve seen Inoue turn off in bouts, get lazy in others, and give rounds away. Here however he was focused throughout, he was fighting like a man who knew if he was tagged he could be hurt and didn’t want to be dropped again. It was only for around 30 seconds in round 5 that we saw him in any trouble at all, and he quickly regained his composure and went on to land some of his best shots afterwards. Given this is the same Takuma Inoue that was run incredibly close by Kentaro Masuda and Mark John Yap, and was dropped by Rene Dacquel, Froilan Saludar and Mark Anthony Geraldo, this was the performance he needed. In fact we would go as far as to say this is the best we’ve seen from Inoue.
Over the last few days we've worked our way through the top 10 rankings for the Asian scene at Minimumweight through to Super Flyweight and today we add the Bantamweight rankings, and this is one of the divisions with incredible depth. We feel the #1 is a consensus pick, #2 and #3 are interchangeable and then the other 7 are a mix of really talented fighters in one of the most packed top 10's that we'll be covering. There could be some debate about the placements, but in reality there's not a lot separating some of these guys. However, that's not a bad thing, and it helps show the competitive nature of the division right now.
1-Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16)
The current WBA "Super" and IBF unified champion champion is arguably the face of Asian boxing right now, Naoya Inoue. The heavy handed 27 year old from Kanagawa is already a 3 weight world champion and within just 19 fights is one of the sports genuine stars. After winning world titles at Light Flyweight and Super Flyweight Inoue moved to Bantamweight and decimated Jamie McDonnell, Juan Carlos Payano and Emmanuel Rodriguez, before working hard to defeat Nonito Donaire in the WBSS Finale last November. The bout against Donaire saw Inoue needing to prove his toughness, chin and will to win and proving them in the way he did really boosted his standing in our eyes, and he answered some real questions. Having now shown he can fight through adversity we know Inoue is much, much more than just an offensive "Monster".
2-Nonito Donaire (40-6, 26)
Having given Inoue such a tough bout in the WBSS final it's fair to suggest that Nonito Donaire is #2, or at worst #3, in division in regards to Asian fighters. The 37 year old Filipino veteran is a physical monster at the weight, with huge size advantages over almost everyone else at 118lbs. He's not just big but he's also strong, very powerful, incredibly tough and a nightmare to fight. He's not as quick as he once was, though as he's lost speed he has adapted and certainly throws fewer wild shots than he once did. There is a case of father time being on his back, but the "Filipino Flash", is experienced, skilled, strong, and has become a more intelligent fighter as the years have gone on. We don't imagine he'll have a Bernard Hopkins-esque career, but he did show there is more than just a bit of life left in his career.
3-John Riel Casimero (29-4, 20)
We mentioned that Donaire was either #2 or #3, the man he is potentially interchangeable with is WBO champion John Riel Casimero. Casimero is a 3-weight world champion, and is someone who has long been over-looked by fans of the sport. He's won titles at at 108lbs, 112lbs and now Bantameight. Blessed with confidence, speed and power Casimero is nightmare to face when he's on song. He is however rather unpredictable and he can look both amazing and terrible in the same fight. He won the WBO title last year, stopping Zolani Tete, and seems to be enjoying a good run of form, though that could change at any moment. Originally the plan had been for Casimero to face off with Inoue in April though that bout was cancelled by on going global situation. Now it appears the two men could end up going in different directions with Casimero now looking likely to face Joshua Greer Jr, in a mandatory title defense instead.
4-Keita Kurihara (15-5, 13)
After the top 3 we end up with 4 or 5 guys who are very tricky to split, and matching any of them would give some compelling bouts. Among those "chasing group" is OPBF champion Keita Kurihara, a hard hitting 27 year from Japan. On paper Kurihara shouldn't be here, with 5 losses from his 20 bouts, however those losses don't tell the full story of where Kurihara is now. In fact 4 of his losses came in his first 7 bouts and he has only been beaten once in his last 13, with that coming to Hiroaki Teshigawara. In that time he has beaten Ryan Lumacad, Yuki Strong Kobayashi, Warlito Parrenas and Sukkasem Kietyongyuth. He's not the most talented of the ones in this area of the rankings, through he is very much among the most dangerous.
5-Reymart Gaballo (23-0, 20)
The most overlooked man in the division, by some margin, is 23 year old Filipino Reymart Gaballo. Gaballo is a joy to watch, but also a freakishly good fighter with some absolutely terrifying traits. He's lightning quick, tall and rangy, with frightening power, very confident and despite look a bit raw around the edges appears to take a good shot, and throw and even better one. His best win to date is probably over Stephon Young, more than 2 years ago, and since then has been supposedly decent opponents. We're really looking forward to seeing the leash being off Gaballo and allowing him to back up our high ranking of him as he looks like the sort of fighter who really could stamp his authority on the division.
6-Takuma Inoue (13-1, 3)
Naoya Inoue's little brother, Takuma Inoue, is pretty much the opposite of Keita Kurihara. Whilst Kurihara is all about power Inoue at the cost of skills Takuma Inoue is very much about skills and movement, at the expense of his power. He's a smart boxer-mover, with under-defense, very good movement and sharp punches, but a lack of punching power a strange lack of physical strength, despite visibly looking strong. His 2019 loss to Nordine Oubaali saw him being bullied for much of the fight, though his will to win shined through late on and he pushed Oubaali hard late on, answer questions about his heart and his stamina. We do wonder whether he could drop back down to Super Flyweight, where he fought earlier in his career. If he could he would a great addition there, but instead might find his success being a bit limited at Bantamweight. Saying that however he's only 24 and is still a boxing baby, despite being a pro since 2013. He might not be the generational talent that his older brother is, but don't write him off at after just a single loss.
7-Nawaphon Por Chokchai (48-1-1, 38)
Former Flyweight world title challenger Nawaphon Por Chokchai, also known by various other names, has reeled off 12 wins since being stopped by Juan Hernandez back in 2017. Whilst his competition hasn't been the best he has scored notable victories over Amnat Ruenrroeng, Richard Claveras, Sonny Boy Jaro and Ryan Lumacad since his sole defeat, putting him back among the contenders looking for a shot. His record is padded, but watching him, you know he can step it up and would be a nightmare for many of the divisional elite. Some how he's only 28 at the moment, and right bang in his prime, despite already having 50 bouts to his name. Another fighter we can't right off for just having a loss against his name.
8-Michael Dasmarinas (30-2-1, 20)
There's an argument that 27 year Filipino Michael Dasmarinas should be much higher up this list, and we do appreciate those arguments. Wins over Karim Guerfi and Kenny Demecillo are very good wins. Sadly however we can't the gift he got against Manyo Plange out of our head, and his win over Demecillo was certainly not the clear cut win that many would have expected for a supposed top divisional talent. He's skilled and talented, but we do wonder if he has maybe hit an early peak and is now, perhaps, heading the wrong way. He's been a sparring partner for both of the Inoue brothers, and is technically a mandatory for the IBF title, but we do wonder whether he'd last long with the Monster if, or when, they fight.
9-Yusuke Suzuki (11-3, 7)
Japanese national champion Yusuke Suzuki is another fighter with a record looks out of place in this top 10, but he certainly belongs here. He would also be an absolute nightmare for many in the rankings. The 31 year old southpaw is a solid puncher, teak tough, with an insane work rate and excellent will to win. He can be out boxed, and he cant be out manoeuvred, but but he's a dark horse in the division and certainly deserves a mention. Last time out he over-came some awful facial swelling to out point Yuta Saito. To date he has only lost once at the weight, and that was a split decision in the Philippines to the touted Jeffrey Francisco. Since then he has reeled off 5 wins and come back from a nasty injury. He's not in the mix for the higher positions but is pretty much interchangeable with the man ranked #9.
10-Yuki Strong Kobayashi (16-8, 9)
Another fight who's record doesn't scream "top 10" is Yuki Strong Kobayashi, who is in the list due to his recent results. In the last 60 months he had gone 6-1 (3) with his only loss being a close one to Keita Kurihara. In that same time he has beaten Satoshi Ozawa, Vicent Astrolabio and Ben Mananquil. The win over Mananquil saw him net the WBO Asia Pacific title and score a recent big surprise last year over the talented Filipino. Kobayashi has improved from the fighter he once was, and when he was 10-7 (5) his career very much seemed like it was going nowhere but the 28 year old is now an experienced regional champion and with Muto gym well and truly behind him his future is bright. He's not near the top of this list, but certainly belongs on it. A rematch between him and Kurihara would be good, as would a bout with Suzuki.
On the Bubble:
Ben Mananquil, Kenny Demecillo, Renz Rosia, Yelshat Nikhemttolla, Petch Sor Chitpatttana, and Carl Jammes Martin
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).