This past weekend we got the chance to see talented Japanese hopeful Masanori Rikiishi (9-1, 5) score his latest win, and then announce that he was going to pursue the Japanese Super Featherweight title, currently held by Kosuke Saka, the only many to have beaten him. With that in mind we couldn't help but think that this was a great reason to do an extra "Five For..." talking about Rikiishi and the 5 bouts we'd most like to see for him.
1-Kosuke Saka (20-5, 17)
We start with the obvious on here, and that's a bout between Rikiishi and Japanese champion Saka. The bout seems to be the reason why Rikiishi has headed down to Super Featherweight, and it also seems like the most compelling bout out there for Rikiishi. As mentioned this would be a bout pitting Rikiishi against the only man who has beaten him, it would also be a Japanese title fight, and a chance for Saka to prove he didn't just beat Rikiishi due to experience in their first bout. This is a bout that essentially makes it's self. The only stumbling block, potentially, is Saka having a mandatory due, but this bout can wait until that mandatory is out of the way!
2-Kanehiro Nakagawa (10-6, 5)
If Rikiishi can't get the fight with Saka next then the logical thing is an eliminator style bout. With that in mind a bout between Rikiishi and the under-rated Kanehiro Nakagawa would be ideal. Although Kanehiro's record might not look great he has been on a roll recently with 5 straight wins, including victories against Seiichi Okada, Ryuto Araya and Taiki Minamoto. Nakagawa would give Rikiishi a real test, and find out whether or not Rikiishi was ready for a title fight. This might not look good to those who don't follow the Japanese scene, but this bout would be an excellent one, and one we'd genuinely love to see.
3-Ken Osato (16-4-1, 4)
Of course Nakagawa and Saka aren't the only interesting potentially interesting match up on the domestic scene for Rikiishi. Another is former 2-time Japanese title challenger Ken Osato, who would pose a very different set of questions than Nakagawa. Osato is a technical boxer, not a fighter, and he would be making Rikiishi think a lot about his ring position, and his footwork. We would strongly favour Rikiishi here, without too many problems, but it would be a great chance to see how good Rikiishi is against a technically sound boxer, who has good speed and isn't going to make the mistakes that many Rikiishi opponents have made so far. Osato has experience, skills, and should be a good test for any domestic type fighter in Japan at 130lbs.
4-Shun Kubo (14-2, 9)
Whilst we'd like to see Rikiishi take on Ken Osato to give him a technical test there is, potentially, an even better technical fighter to share the ring with. That is former WBA Super Bantamweight champion Shun Kubo, who fought this past September. This would be a very technical bout, and it could potentially be a bit of a stinker, but that's a risk we'd be happy to take. For Rikiishi this would be a chance to get a win over a former world champion, and a chance to share the ring with a very skilled southpaw. For Kubo it would be a chance to test the waters against a very capable Super Featherweight. For both men this would a really interesting bout. For fans however there is a genuine chance that this would fail to catch fire.
5-Taiki Minamoto (16-7-1, 13)
We've included a few potential chess matches for Rikiishi here, but the reality is that if he needs to prepare to face Saka he may not want to face someone with a style that isn't, at all, similar to Saka. With that in mind maybe a bout with the heavy handed Taiki Minamoto would be make more sense. Saka and Minamoto aren't identical, but we would find out whether or not Rikiishi has learned how to cope when he gets caught, and what his chin is like, because Minamoto can seriously punch. It would also be a real test of durability for Rikiishi, which we feel he needs before facing Saka, and it would also give Minamoto a chance to bounce back from a 3-fight win-less streak.
This past Sunday in Japan fight fans had the chance to see the latest show under the "Green Dream" banner. The main event of the card saw two Japanese ranked Lightweights face off, as Masanori Rikiishi (9-1, 5) battled Soreike Taichi (7-4, 5). On paper this wasn't a big fight, but as huge fans of Rikiishi it was one we were massively interested in, and one we wanted to give a closer look to.
The bout was a complete mismatch, don't get us wrong. Rikiishi stopped Taichi in the third round, before stating his intention was to challenge for the Japanese Super Featherweight title, officially announce his move down in weight, and look to avenge a very early career defeat to Kosuke Saka. That's one to look forward to, and we genuinely give this, more mature and more experienced, Rikiishi a chance against the heavy handed Saka.
Thankfully, for fans unable to get to Aichi over the weekend, the bout has now been uploaded to Boxing Raise in full, giving us a chance to watch it and talk about it. With that in mind lets have have a look at the things we took away from the bout.
1-The Aioi Hall is a small local venue
Since we've started doing this series one of the things that has really been interesting is the venues. We suspect it's just one thing we've never really been aware of until recently, due to a lack of crowd and due to doing these very specific pieces. One obvious thing is that they all have their own charm, and a lot of these smaller shows in Japan take place in what look like local community centers. It almost gives the venue a homely feeling, like you've been there before, even if you've never set foot there. The more we see of these smaller venues, such as the Aioi Hall and the FujisanMesse, the more we like the local community feel of Japanese boxing. Lots of shows take place at the Korakuen Hall and EDION Arena, but we're really starting to appreciate these smaller, lower profile venues.
One of the interesting things about boxing is it's local scenes, and there are few countries that have as distinct local scenes as Japan, and a venue like the Aioi Hall is key to the local scene in Cental Japan.
2-Rikiishi is a very smart, patient fighter
One of the misconceptions with Japanese boxing is that it's all action stuff. Rikiishi is one of the many fighters in Japan who doesn't have an a hugely aggressive style. Instead his style is somewhat more American than many would realise. He's patient, calm and smart. There's a lot of small half steps, good southpaw footwork, a very sharp jab, and the ability draw, and punish, mistakes. Watching him you can see a very American influence in his boxing, and it's also something we see with his brother, Masamichi Yabuki. He has power, but it's his boxing brain and composure that is his biggest asset.
3-Rikiishi's straight left hand is poison!
We've just mentioned that Rikiishi's boxing brain and composure are his biggest assets, but his straight left hand is his biggest weapon. It is poison. He throws it brilliantly behind the jab, it's straight, it's fast, it's hurtful, and because of the way he sets it up, either behind the jab or on a fighting coming at him, it tends to land incredibly sweetly. He dropped Soreike 3 times here, once at the end of round 2 and twice in round 3, and all 3 were from his left hand. This punch is money for him, and will help take him to some real success.
4-Soreike could be in some fun fights!
Okay lets be honest, Soreike's style was made to order for Rikiishi. He was a slower, aggressive fighter, who took risks, and lacked the ring craft and speed of Rikiishi. The loss however shouldn't be the end of Soreike and if we're being honest there's some really fun fights for him out there on the domestic scene. We'd love to see Soreike against someone like Yoji Saito or Katsunori Endo, Masashi Wakita or Arashi Iimi. Against someone more willing to hold their ground, and not set tracks Soreike could be really fun to watch.
5-Rikiishi won't have problems making 130lbs
We mentioned that Rikiishi was talking about moving down in weight, moving from Lightweight where he is currently ranked by the JBC to Super Featherweight. It can always be a danger to move down in weight, however this bout was fought at a contracted 59.5KG's, which is just over 131lbs, and it's clear that Rikiishi can make 130lbs. In fact he wasn't move over the divisional limit here. He's not a small guy for Lightweight, but he is quite a slim guy, and we suspect the move down in weight will not be an issue at all for him. His style isn't based around being stronger than an opponent, though we suspect he'll actually be stronger at the lower weight and will find very real success, very quickly there. Saying that however, Kosuke Saka will not be a push over, and we'd make Rikiishi the under-dog against the heavy handed Japanese champion.
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).