One of the most dramatic, exciting and captivating fighters from 2020 was the brilliant Lightweight bout between Japan’s Masayoshi Nakatani (19-1, 13) and Felix Verdejo (27-2, 17). The bout, fought in The Bubble, at the MGM Grand had everything we could ever wish to see in a fighter. It had skills, heart, power, multiple knockdowns, momentum shifts and one of the biggest comebacks of the year. The bout really was something truly amazing and those who missed it really did miss out one something truly special.
1-Nakatani’s will to win is incredible
Few will ever describe Masayoshi Nakatani as a truly skilled fighter, but he has a number of traits that make him incredibly tough to beat. Whilst the most obvious of those, visibly, is his physical size and stature, the other is his will to win. He, like many top Japanese fighters, has incredible determination and his will to fight through adversity cannot be questioned. He did it against Izuki Tomioka, who took an early lead against Nakatani in an OPBF title fight, and against Yoshitaka Kato, who pushed him all the way very early in his career and clearly hurt him with a body shot. He had answered those questions about how much he wanted to win, and what he’d go through to win. Being dropped in rounds 1 and 4 weren’t enough to finish off that will, neither was taking a number of huge right hands in the first few rounds.
Sometimes that will to win, despite being tagged repeatedly, is a trait that will be too much for an opponent and in many ways this was somewhat comparable to the first Antonio Margarito Vs Miguel Cotto fight, though admittedly not as good as that sensational 2008 battle. Nakatani, like Magarito, was being out sped, out boxed, and tagged at will, but refused to quit, pressed forward and slowly broke down his man, who was left questioning what exactly he had to do to stop the terminator like figure in front of him
2-Verdejo’s questionable heart is his biggest issue
Felix Verdejo is an incredibly talented fighter, and he has a lot of things going for him, including blistering speed and fantastic power. Sadly however he still has a number of real issues, and issues that have been clear issues in both of his losses. One of those is his stamina. Due to his style he puts a lot in every shot he throws, and when those shots don’t take opponents out he uses a lot of energy. That’s great if you blow opponents out, which he likely expected to do here, but by the end of round 5 he had clearly slowed and in round 6 he was becoming negative. This was very, very similar to how he suffered his previous loss, with his negativity kicking in, and Verdejo using a lot of energy to try and stay from a taller man.
Another issues he has is his heart. He’s rarely come under any real pressure during his career, but the two notable times where he has had questions being asked of him he has come undone. Sadly for Verdejo whilst a fighter can learn to pace themselves better they can’t suddenly develop the heart and guts to dig themselves out of a hole. With Verdejo having now twice been broken down in the later stages of fights, whilst tiring and crumbling mentally, we suspect he will never become the star he was groomed to be.
3-Nakatani’s jab was vital to his victory
Standing at close to 6’ Masayoshi Nakatani has one of the tallest bodies in the Lightweight division and one of the longest reaches in the division. With that in mind it will come as no surprise to learn he has a solid jab, and that jab really was his key to victory here. Not only did it help him create space when he needed it but it also helped get Verdejo’s respect, broke his man down, created situations to land his right hand and forced the stoppage late on. It also, more notably than anything, helped him extend this fight, and allowed him to slowly break Verdejo mentally and get to a tired Verdejo late on. The lanky Japanese fighter might not be the quickest fighter, or even the smoothest fighter out there, but that long jab is a brilliant weapon and something that he has shown in both of his US bouts as well as his Japanese bouts. Notably however when fighters have taken the jab away from him, as Izuki Tomioka did in 2018, he does struggle to work his way into bouts.
4-ESPN’s commentary was poor
Through much of the early rounds the commentary was more focused on Verdejo’s preparation for the fight rather than calling what was going on in the ring. This meant they ignored a lot of work, with far too much time spent talking about Ismael Salas, who seemed to be the focus of the commentary work for much of round 2. They were very much overlooking everything Nakatani did and over-egging what Verdejo was doing, other than Timothy Bradley who actually did add some genuine insight here about Verdejo’s lack of body shots, rather than repeat “Nakatani can’t take all these shots”, something he did. The pro-Verdejo commentary ended up missing out on some very important things, and also ended up not mentioning Verdejo’s loss, which came to a physically similar fighter to Nakatani, something that would have actually been very insightful for this bout. One of the most annoying things about modern day commentary is that it’s very cheerleading of a fighter, and that was shown here.
It wasn’t until round 5 that they even seemed to question Verdejo, who had been having success but was still being caught himself in the earlier rounds. Even in the later stages, when Nakatani was coming on strong, the focus still seemed to be about Verdejo, and what he had to do to win and his past, rather than what was actually happening. This even saw the commentary talking about Tyson Fury Vs Anthony Joshua at the start of round 9, when Nakatani rocked Verdejo.
Andre Ward even said it was difficult to see Verdejo go out like he did, continuing the narrative that Verdejo was their man. Whilst he might be the Top Rank fighter they need to separate promotional bias from their commentary.
For us commentary should be adding to the fight and telling us what is happening to the fight. It shouldn’t be about trying to sell out of the ring narratives and sacrifices or other fights. Tell us about the fight that is going on, and even give the fight a chance to breathe. This was an incredible fight, and it deserved so much better than it got.
5-Celestino Ruiz did a great job here
In 2013 Celestino Ruiz was the third man in the ring for a controversial bout between Mike Mollo and Artur Szpilka, and he made it very clear which side he was on. He was widely condemned for his performance that night, and deservedly so. Since then however he has slowly been building a solid body of work, and this bout was another example of it. Lesser referees would have panicked after the first knockdown and robbed us of what was a great fight, but Ruiz took his time. Ruiz was also timely with his breaks when the fighters were tangled, even when those the clinches favoured the tiring Verdejo. He also gave Verdejo every chance to continue after the first knockdown. Where he didn’t need to be involved he didn’t involve himself, and like a good referee he let the action flow as much as possible.
We think it’s probably time where we accept Ruiz is actually a very, very good referee, and the Mollo Vs Szpilka fight was a very bad night at the office for him, rather than a sign of anything else.
Last Saturday we saw Japanese Lightweight Masayoshi Nakatani (19-1, 13) put in a career defining performance to stop the highly touted Felix Verdejo in one of the best comes of 2020. Nakatani, who was down twice, managed to break down and stop Verdejo late on, whilst a mile down on the scorecard, and had the performance of the weekend, by some margin.
Sadly he did suffer a nasty injury in that bout, which will keep him out of the ring for a while, but when Nakatani returns we suspect he'll be looking to build on that win and get his career moving forward towards an eventual world title fight. With that in mind we've decided to give Nakatani the "Five For" treatment this week, and look at 5 potential bouts that the elongated, Japanese Lightweight contender could be looking at for 2021.
1-Teofimo Lopez (16-0, 12) II
The obvious one that will bring up a lot of interest for Nakatani would be a rematch with current WBA, WBO, IBF and WBC "Franchise" champion Teofimo Lopez. The two men fought in 2019 with Lopez taking a very hard fought decision over Nakatani, a decision that was much closer than the score-cards state. After that bout people raved about Nakatani, who soon retired before coming back to the sport this year, and really began to doubt Lopez. A rematch would give Nakatani a chance to avenge his sole loss, and fight for world titles, and would give Lopez a chance to put his first Nakatani bout down to "bad night at the office". There are, of course, more interesting, and some much easier, options for Lopez but this seems to be one that could well sell it's self.
2-Devin Haney (25-0, 15)
If a bout with Lopez can't be made there isn't many options out there for Nakatani to get a world title fight, though the one existing option is a bout with WBC champion Devin Haney. This is a bout that we wouldn't be surprised to see getting rumoured a lot in 2021. Nakatani wants a world title fight, as mentioned already, and Haney needs a good dance partner after struggling to get notable names in the ring with him. With Nakatani coming in hot after the win over Verdejo, and with his performance against Lopez in 2019 he makes for the perfect opponent for Haney, and an opponent who lets Haney measure up against Lopez. The bout would also be one that could allow Haney to actually look exciting, taking on a man who is there to be hit, and will let his own shots go, something we haven't seen much of from Haney's last two opponents. If we were the ones advising Haney right now, this is the bout we would pursue for him.
3-Shuichiro Yoshino (13-0, 10)
Nakatani is, right now, the hottest Japanese Lightweight, but yet he isn't the only Japanese fighter of note at 135lbs. Another is the OPBF, WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese champion Shuichiro Yoshino, who is currently ranked by all 4 world title bodies. This is perhaps the most obscure option out there, but to be the clear #1 in Japan, and to boost his world title opportunities this should certainly have some appeal to Nakatani. Likewise if you're Yoshino a win over Nakatani in Tokyo in 2021 would be huge for his career, and put him to a world title fight. It's really unlikely we'll see this one, but we'd be lying if we didn't say we'd love to see it headlining on a G+ card in the middle of next year, in a de facto world title eliminator, likely with the WBO.
4-Richard Commey (29-3, 26)
We suspect Nakatani may become an avoided man at 135lbs given his win over Verdejo and how he ruined the opportunity of a Lopez Vs Verdejo bout. With that in mind it might make sense to match him with another avoided man, such as Ghana's Richard Commey, the former IBF champion. Commey, like Nakatani, is an awkward assignment for anyone in the division, and as a former champion he has some name value and a win over him means something. The bout should be relatively easy to make, for either the US or Japan, and could serve as a world title eliminator. For Nakatani the bout would be a real dangerous fighter, with Commey being a dynamite puncher, but the younger, fresher, less battle worn, and much taller, Nakatani should feel he has the tools to over-come Commey.
5-Denys Berinchyk (14-0, 8)
Staying with the idea of Nakatani being an unwanted opponent, and perhaos needing to find another avoided man, a bout between the Teiken Lightweight and Ukrainian Denys Berinchyk could make a lot of sense, and would be a highly interesting fight. Not only would this be two men who are very much avoided, but it would also be a clash between two of the leading WBO contenders, potentially even a final eliminator, and a bout between two men who's styles are different but should gel. Nakatani, as we all know, is a relatively basic fighter, with awkward dimensions, a good jab and freakish size, whilst Berinchyk is an aggression, combination punching greinder. Put these in the ring together and we could end up with something spectacular, and see the winner put right up in line for a WBO title fight in late 2021.
Usually when it comes to these 5 Midweek Facts series we tend to talk about fights who few outside of their homeland remember. Today however we're going to talk about Masayoshi Nakatani (18-1, 12), who made a mark on the US scene when he fought Teofimo Lopez in 2019, and gave Lopez a surprisingly tough test.
Sadly after his loss to Lopez we saw Nakatani announce his retirement over social media, stating that he had planned to retire when he lost. Sadly that retirement to cost him the chance to strike when the iron was hot and build on what was a very hotly contested bout with one of the fastest rising stars in the US.
Despite his retirement he has remained a figure that is spoken about by fans in the west, mostly fans who are confused by his retirement when he was just 30 years old. Sadly we can't explain the decision of Nakatani's but we can bring you some interesting facts regarding Nakatani!
1-He went to the same high school as two future stablemates at the Ioka Gym. They were multi-weight world champion Kazuto Ioka and former Minimumweight champion Ryo Miyazaki
2-As an amateur Nakatani compiled a record of 45-15 (30), meaning he had an impressive 50% stoppage rate in the unpaid ranks.
3-Interestingly the university Nakatani went to had the boxing team disbanded when he was there, and as a result he took up Nippon Kempo, and had very credible success there thanks to his balance, size and physical skills.
4-The only title held by Nakatani during his professional career was the OPBF Lightweight title, which he held from January 2011 to August 2019. During that time he made 11 defenses of the belt, a record for most defenses of the belt during a single reign. In fact only the legendary Flash Elorde, with 13 defenses over his 3 reigns, has more defenses of the title!
5-Rather surprisingly Nakatani's favourite fighter is Bernard Hopkins.
Bonus Fact - Following Nakatani's bout against Teofimo Lopez the Japanese fighter explained there had been some issues with the way he had been treat in the US. He had been put in 2 different hotels, had been messed about in regards to a medical and had suggested that fellow Japanese fighters travelling to the US for a fight took someone who spoke English and always went for a finish due to the judging. He accepted defeat to Lopez, though felt that the scorecards failed to account for the competitive nature of the in ring action.
The middle of November is hectic with fights involving Asians at domestic, regional and even world level. The huge names might not be in action lots of solid fighters are.
On November 11th Japanese fans get a real treat with an OPBF title Quadruple header.
Merlito Sabillo (25-3-1, 12) v Ryuya Yamanaka (12-2, 3)
The lowest weight title being competed for on the OPBF quadruple header show is the Minimumweight title and will see former world champion Merlito Sabillo take on Japanese youngster Ryuya Yamanaka for the vacant title. Sabillo. In recent years Sabillo has struggled, and has gone 2-3-1 in his last 6 bouts, suggesting his career is hanging by a thread. Yamanaka is much less well known, but has been suggested as a possible future WBO title challenger and will have to win here if he's to get a shot in 2017. It should be noted however that this is a huge step up for the 21 year old Japanese fighter who is being thrown in with a proverbial shark here.
Takahiro Yamamoto (18-4, 15) v Mark John Yap (24-12, 10)
A much more interesting bout comes at Bantamweight where we'll see heavy handed champion Takahiro Yamamoto defending his title against Japanese based Filipino veteran Mark John Yap. On paper this doesn't look hugely interesting given that Yap has double digit losses, however his record, like that of many Filipino's, is misleading and in recent years he has been stringing together good wins, including two over Hiroyuki Hisataka and one over Tatsuya Ikemizu. Saying that however Yamamoto is a talented fighter, with heavy hands and an ultra aggressive style which makes him look like a fighter who is going to be very hard to beat at this level.
Shun Kubo (10-0, 7) v Jin Wook Lim (8-4-5, 2)
At Super Bantamweight we'll see the unbeaten, and world ranked, Shun Kubo attempting to defend his title against Korean visitor Jin Wook Lim. Kubo is talented and is seen as the future of the Shinsei gym however it does seem like his team are wanting to develop him at OPBF level before having him follow in the footsteps of stablemate Hozumi Hasegawa, and this will be his second defense of the OPBF title. Lim will be making his international debut here and comes in to the bout as a former Korean Bantamweight champion, and one who holds a win over Sa Myung Noh and a draw with Ye Joon Kim, this is however a huge step up for Kim and one that he's making on the road. A very tough assignment for him against a very talented hopeful.
Masayoshi Nakatani (12-0, 7) v Allan Tanada (14-5-3, 6)
At Lightweight we have OPBF champion Masayoshi Nakatani looking to extend his reign, and take it into a third year, as he takes on former OPBF Super Featherweight champion Allan Tanada. The under-rated Nakatani holds notable wins over the likes of Yoshitaka Kato, Ricky Sismundo and Shuhei Tsuchiya and will likely be adding another notable win to his record here. Tanada holds goof wins himself over the likes of Jose Ocampo, Rikiya Fukuhara and Roy Mukhlis but has lost 3 of his last 4 and few would back him here against the much taller Nakatani, however he is upset minded and won't fear Nakatani's reputation.
Momo Koseki (22-2-1, 8) v Chie Higano (6-4, 2)
On a separate Japanese card fight fans will be able to see Japan's longest reigning active world champion. That's WBC Atomweight champion Momo Koseki who has held her title for more than 8 years and looks to extend that reign with her 17th defence! The frightening Koseki will be up against domestic foe Chie Higano in what should be a straight forward win for Koseki who looks to extend various Japanese records here. For Higano the bout is a huge step up from facing domestic class foes to facing a nightmarish world champion in what really should be a mismatch.
Toshio Arikawa (13-4, 11) v Yasuhiro Okawa (14-12-3, 5) II
On November 14th we go back to Japanese title action here as Japanese Welterweight champion Toshio Arikawa attempts to make the first defense of his title. On paper this looks like a mismatch, and Arikawa is in great form winning his last 4 bouts with stoppages against Akinori Watanabe and Nobuyuki Shindo in his last 2 bouts. Saying that however Okawa holds a relatively recent win over Arikawa, and has lost only once in the last 5 years. This looks like a mismatch but should turn out to be a very interesting bout.
Iwan Zoda (11-1, 10) v Jeronil Borres (7-1-1, 5)
Our favourite Indonesian prospect returns to the ring on November 18th to defend his IBF Youth Flyweight title, and move towards a potential world title fight. The exciting Iwan Zoda will be up against fellow youngster Jeronil Borress, a once beaten Filipino who has has never been stopped and recent took on former world title challenger Richard Claveras. This is far from an easy defense for Zoda and instead it's a chance for him to prove himself, and his power, and the bout could end up telling us a lot about both fighters.
Ryosuke Iwasa (22-2, 14) v Luis Rosa (22-0-0-2, 10)
One of the most notable non-title bouts of the month for Asian fight fans sees former world title challenger Ryosuke Iwasa take on the unbeaten Luis Rosa in an IBF world title eliminator at Super Bantamweight. On paper this is a must win for Iwasa, who is best known for losing to Lee Haskins and Shinsuke Yamanaka, For Rosa the bout is a step up following a string of bouts against relatively limited opponents, like German Merez and Luis Hinojosa, but he's touted as a potential world champion and will be wanting to show his ability here. Interestingly the winner of this could find themselves up against the winner of the upcoming Jonathan Guzman/Yukinori bout.
Earlier this year Fuji TV ran a show featuring Naoya Inoue and dubbed it "Exciting Time". The show, which featured not only Inoue but also the public exhibition of Ryota Murata, really did suggest that we were at the beginning of a very exciting time in Japanese boxing.
When you recall that actual card, on April 16th this year, you'll also remember that it saw the 7th straight stoppage victory for the highly touted Ryo Matsumoto further adding to the idea of "Exciting Time".
Since then however things have just become a little more exciting, in fact we'd go as far as to suggest Japanese boxing is on the verge of a Golden Age thanks to all the young talent coming through. There are so many good youngsters that we felt the need to talk about them, though unfortunately we're bound to over-look some just due to how many there are right now.
The most obvious of the promising Japanese youngsters is clearly Naoya Inoue (4-0, 3). The youngster has already claimed the Japanese national title and will be looking to add the OPBF title next time out as he takes on Jerson Mancio of the Philippines.
Whilst there is still a lot development to be done with Inoue, who's been fast tracked so far, there is so much to like about the kid that it's easy to see why so many are excited about him. He has wonderful shot selection, great movement, very hurtful power and one of the best boxing brains of any youngster in the sport. In fact it's fair to say that he's just a flat out natural in the ring and there is no doubt that he'll be a world champion sooner rather than later.
Whilst we all know about the talent of Naoya Inoue it's also worth noting that his 17 year old brother has just turned professional himself.
Takuma Inoue (0-0) has followed in his brother's footsteps by signing up with the Ohashi stable of fighters and although he's yet to fight as a professional there is a lot of expectation surrounding him. In fact the rumour is that Takuma will be trying to claim a Japanese national title in just 3 fights, beating his older brother by a fight.
Takuma Inoue is expected to make his professional debut on December 6th on the same show as Naoya attempts to claim the OPBF title and we'd be very shocked if he was given an easy opponent looking at how Naoya has done so far.
Whilst the Inoue brothers are youngsters with as much time as they want to build a career it's fair to say that Ryota Murata (1-0, 1) has a bit less time to reach his potential.
Aged 27 Murata has huge expectation on his shoulders though has the talent to go as far in the sport as he wishes. In fact in the case if Murata it's not just talent but the personality, the looks and the natural charisma to be a genuine star in either the west or the east.
Murata is a former amateur standout who claimed both an Olympic Gold and World Amateur Champion silver and that appears to have served him well. He made his professional debut back in August and dominated OPBF champion Akio Shibata and looked like he was made.
Incidentally Murata will also return on December 6th on the same show as the two Inoue brothers.
It's easy to fall in love with a puncher and we hope that's not what we're doing here but Masayoshi Nakatani (6-0, 5) looks like a monster.
Stood at 5'11" the Ioka trained Nakatani is a Lightweight with serious power, lovely body punches and a great jab, when he uses it. Although still fairly raw he looks like someone who has the potential to be very special.
Nakatani came to our attention earlier this year when he stopped fellow puncher Shuhei Tsuchiya in 3 rounds and we'll admit we're very excited about his future, which will hopefully see him fighting for either a Japanese of OPBF title in the next 12 months.
It's not just the debut of Takuma Inoue that is getting Japanese boxing fans excited but also the debut of Kosei Tanaka (0-0) who debuts on November 10th against the world ranked Oscar Raknafa of Indonesia.
Tanaka is just 18 but is seen as one of the future stars of Japanese boxing thanks to his excellent amateur career which saw him picking up 4 High School titles before turning to the professional ranks.
Tanaka is viewed as a "super prospect" like Naoya Inoue and Kazuto Ioka before him and on the showing of his test bout against Yuji Shimizu there really is no limit to what this youngster could produce in the ring.
As well as the five names mentioned above we'd also advise keeping an eye on the following fighters:
Sho Ishida (14-0, 7) is a Super Flyweight who at just 21 is starting to make a name for himself. Although more experienced than the names above he is still young and has already started to move up in terms of the quality of his opponents. We'd like to see him take another step up but he certainly doesn't need rushing at his age.
Shohei Omori (9-0, 5) is a southpaw currently campaigning in the Bantamweight division. Aged 20 he's slowly making a name for himself and really made an impact last time out stopping Kiron Omura in 92 seconds in by far his most notable victory to date. Stood at 5'8" he certainly could fill out in to a solid looking Featherweight at full maturity and is looking likely to move up the domestic Bantamweight rankings in the near future.
Hiroki Okada (6-0, 6) is another puncher much like Nakatani though one not likely to go as far as the Lightweight hopeful. Stood at 5'9 Okada is a sightly shorter than average Light Welterweight though he really impressed us by stopping Heri Andriyanto in 2 rounds earlier this year. Although it was the fifth stoppage of Andriyanto it's worth noting he had taken both Shuhei Tsuchiya and Yoshihiro Kamegai the distance in his two previous bouts in Japan.
Ryo Matsumoto (8-0, 7) is another Bantamweight prospect who is worth keeping a close eye on. The Ohashi fighter is 19 years old though already showing his man strength with a quick victory over the likes of John Bajawa. As well as his power he has also shown the ability to pace himself as he did out pointing Takuya Miyamori over 8 rounds last time out. Being in the Ohashi gym will see him maturing quickly and the rub of fellow stablemate will help him develop into a very good young fighter
With the likes of the fighters we've mentioned here, and of course the top youngsters who are already established like Kazuto Ioka and Tomoki Kameda, it really is a very exciting time for Japanese boxing. The next decade or so could give us a truly golden age in Japanese boxing.
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).