On Tuesday at Korakuen Hall we had an interesting card headlined by world ranked Featherweight Reiya Abe (20-3-1, 9) taking on the then unbeaten Ren Sasaki (10-1, 6). The bout was regarded as a must win for Abe, who had gone 1-1-1 in 2019 and could ill afford another set back, and a potential coming out party for Sasaki, who was unbeaten but relatively unknown. In the end Abe ended up taking a decision, in an all southpaw bout, but what did take from the contest?
Lets discuss that in our latest Five Take Aways.
1-The step up showed for Sasaki
In his first 10 bouts Ren Sasaki had done a lot. He had won Rookie of the Year, had fought overseas and won the Knock Out Dynamite Tournament. He had also taken a number of unbeaten records and had looked promising. Sadly however for him there is a huge step up in class from facing the likes of Ge an Ma and Morihisa Iju, who we actually thought was unlucky against Sasaki, to facing Reiya Abe. This was a massive step up in class, and despite some moments the gulf in experience and ability showed in the middle and later rounds. Hopefully however this experience will help Sasaki going forward and help him develop as a fighter.
2-This was really high level stuff
One of the things that we tend to enjoy about Japan is seeing two aggressive fighters facing off, or an aggressive and a defensive fighter. This bout however was two very high level defensively minded, smart fighters. As a result we got a bout that didn't feel very Japanese. It was lacking the excitement and drama of a typical Japanese bout, but was still hugely intriguing, with both men laying traps, using angles and feints, trying to draw leads and countering, and using intelligent footwork. This was high skill Japanese boxing at it's best, and not fighting.
3-Japanese crowds can make noises even with masks!
We have bemoaned the silence of a masked Japanese audience in these articles in the past, but the crowd really appreciated the skills on show here with plenty of applauds and even some of the banned cheering. The idea that Japanese audiences are silent really is wrong, and is a myth that has some how been repeated for decades, but they are respectful and do appreciate a good bout between fighters they have bought into. That was the case here, as both men drew response after response from the crowd. When Abe was hurt in round 3 we got some pretty constant noise as the fans were sucked in by the action. Given the Korakuen Hall had less than 1,000 people in it this was a solid amount of noise.
4-Abe needs to stop playing with his food!
We have been consistently impressed over the years with Reiya Abe's skills. The guys is a natural in the ring, he's got an incredible ring IQ, solid speed, a brilliant judge of distance and is often one step ahead of his opponents. He really is a brilliant boxer and in terms of his raw ability and skills there are very, very few in Japan, at any weight, that match him. He does however lack in other areas, for example his power, work rate, tenacity and killer instinct. Quite a few times during his career, and again here. Quite often it seems he's happier to show what he can do, rather than closing the show and this actually quite frustrating to watch. He needs to stop playing with his food, put the hammer down, and make a statement!
5-Tetsuya Iida had a pretty easy day
During this series we've wanted to talk about more than just the action and the fighters. We've already mentioned the crowd and now we want to mention the referee, Tetsuya Iida, who didn't really do a lot. Unlike in the west where some referees feel they are part of the action and must be seen and heard by the fans in Japan the referees tend to play as little role as they can. They tend to let the action speak and only really get involved when they need to. There's no regular catchphrases from the referees and nothing of them trying to make a song and dance about themselves. They are their to officiate the bout. Iida did just that and was rarely needed here. To be totally honest he could probably have sat outside of the ring for most of this bout and only broke up a handful of clinches. Not only that but he spent most of the bout out of shot and rarely obscured the view of the judges. We can't help but feel referees in the UK and US need to watch how Japanese referees do things and try to spot the little things they do
From September 26th to November 23rd there are set to be a number of Japanese shows made available, for free, on YouTube. Whilst we'll be tuning in to all of them we know some fans need a reason more than just "free boxing" to put their time aside, so with that in mind let us try to tempt you into watching the free action we'll be getting!
Firstly the shows are free. There is no catch there. If these are a success they may become a more regular thing, and may show promoters that there is a market for these, and a reason to put them on. Secondly they give everyone a chance to dip their toes into Japanese boxing during a time when life is certainly not great for many of us, and it could a bit extra escapism from what is going on outside of where we all live.
And there's also some interesting fighters and bouts coming up on those shows.
On paper this is probably the show we are the least interested in, especially given the other action taking place on the same day, however this shouldn't be ignored outright. Firstly the fact that BOXING REAL are behind the stream is something to sit up and make a note of, as they have provided amazing streams in the past and are very much a growing channel at the forefront of these free streams.
Anyone who has ever watched an Atomweight fight will know the women are small, but never stop throwing and we suspect that will be the case again here when Mika Iwakawa (9-5-1, 3) defends her WBO Atomweight title against Nanae Suzuki (10-3-1, 1). It may not be the most dramatic bout of all time, but it will certainly by a high tempo battle and given that women's rounds are still 2 minutes long this will really fly by. We're expecting non-stop punching, in a thrilling, if some what low level affair.
Former world champion Shun Kubo (13-2, 9) isn't a huge name in the sport but as a former world champion it'll be interesting to see what, if anything, he still has to offer the sport. He shouldn't struggle too much with Takashi Igarashi (13-4, 5), but there is a chance that Kubo's heart isn't in the sport after stoppage losses to Danny Roman and Can Xu in recent bouts.
One time world title contender Kohei Oba (36-3-1, 14), who was once dubbed the "Mayweather of Nagoya", will end a multi-year break from the ring to take on former Rookie of the Year winner Yoshiki Minato (8-3, 3). Not a great bout, but you've got to admit that having the nickname of "Mayweather of Nagoya" is at least a little bit interesting and we're curios as to what he has left in the tank.
Whilst the September 26th show isn't the best we do really want you to get behind the September 27th show if possible. This is from a small local promoter in Shizuoka who are almost certainly losing money to put this show on, but wanted to continue to have boxing in the region during these tough times. Originally they had wanted to run a boxing festival, as they have the last few years, but the on going situation prevented that but they are going to showcase local fighters regardless. With that in mind it'd be great to get behind the Suruga gym for this one.
If the feeling of supporting a small promoter isn't good enough there are 3 interesting bouts on this show.
The first of those is the return of Tsubasa Murachi (4-1, 3), who was knocked out hard by Froilan Saludar last year. Murachi was hoping to be fast tracked and risked it all against Saludar, who's experience and power proved too much. Rather than having an easy comeback he's taking on under-rated domestic foe Ryotaro Kawabata (12-3-2, 6) in a well matched 8 rounder. This looks competitive on paper and will let us see what Murachi's loss to Saludar has done to the 23 year old.
Although a faded force Koichi Aso (23-9-1, 15) has been a consistently exciting fighter to watch. Win or lose Aso is rarely in a dull fight and his aggressive, pressure style makes him on of Japan's most fan friendly fighters. He's up against a man flying high, as he takes on Shogo Yamaguchi (12-5-3, 7), who scored a a career best win over Shuhei Tsuchiya last time out, having been knocked down before pulling out the victory. This has the potential to be a real humdinger of a bout!
There are a lot of exciting prospects making their name in Japan, this is not a secret. One of the very best from those is Rentaro Kimura (1-0, 1), who made his debut earlier this year with a KO of the Year contender, which you can see below. He is the big hope of Shizuoka, a former amateur standout and a man who we suspect will be fighting for titles in 2021. One thing we'd love to see from fans is for them to get on the Kimura express early, and if you missed his debut there's no need to miss his second bout, as he takes on Takafumi Iwaya (4-3) on this show. There's a good chance this ends in Brutal fashion just as Kimua's debut did
From where we're sat the October 13th card on A-Sign Boxing is the show that needs the least amount of "selling" done for it. Before we even mention the fighters we need to just say this is promoted by arguably the most forward thinking promoter in world boxing. Ichitaro Ishii is thinking out of the box regularly, employing social media brilliantly, adapting things like behind the scenes and special documentaries into promoting events and giving fans more access to knowing fighters than any other promoter in the sport. What he's doing on a relatively small budget brilliant for the sport.
As for the bouts the main event is a truly fantastic match up between world ranked Featherweight Reiya Abe (19-3-1, 9) and the unbeaten Ren Sasaki (10-0, 6). Abe is one of the most talented boxers in Japan, but also a frustrating one, with a style is focused around countering, a lot. As a result Abe needs a suitable dance partner to look good against, and we suspect Sasaki will be such an opponent. If you like boxing skills, counter punching, ring craft, a cerebral approach to boxing and in ring genius, this is a bout you'll enjoy. A lot.
Of course not everyone likes the cerebral stuff and some people just want to see action! You need not worry as Kai Ishizawa (6-1, 6) is in the house and taking on the rugged Masashi Tada (13-7-3, 8). Ishizawa is a super heavy handed, aggressive youngster who's somewhat rough around the edges, but scary strong, a serious puncher and one of the most exciting youngsters in the sport. When he gets in the ring it's always worth tuning in for. Tada isn't the best fighter, but he's tough and it'll be great to see if he can blunt the buzz saw that is Kai Ishizawa.
Although the other two bouts mentioned for this show have the ingredients to be show cases of different styles the bout we suspect will be the best of the bunch is the clash between Kai Chiba (12-1, 8) and Haruki Ishikawa (8-2, 6). On paper these two are made for each other, and in the ring we'll likely see that play out. Chiba is a real solid boxer-puncher, who had his chin cracked by Brian Lobetania. We know Chiba can punch, and can be taken out. Ishikawa on the other hand gave us one of the best fights of 2019 last time out, as he took on Toshiya Ishii, and in that fight showed a willingness to wage war on Ishii.
For something of a taster for the Chiba Vs Ishikawa bout, enjoy round 2 of Ishikawa's last bout:
We don't think we need to really tell people why they should tune in to see Hiroto Kyoguchi (14-0, 9) take on unbeaten Thai Thanongsak Simsri (14-0, 12), but if you're not already on board for this one we'll try to entice you to tune in on Kyoguchi's own YouTube channel.
Kyoguchi is regarded by many who follow the lowest divisions as one of the very best at 108lbs. Don't take our word for that though but instead that of experts. He's the Ring Magazine champion, the WBA "Super" champion, and is ranked #2 by BoxRec, TBRB and ESPN. He's a fun, exciting fighter and is quickly becoming a YouTube star in his own right, with his own channel being the outlet for this bout.
Simsri is obviously not regarded as highly as Kyoguchi, but he is a hotly tipped Thai fighter who has been dubbed "Srisaket II" by the Thai press and is regarded as one of the brightest hopes in Thailand. He's actually fought in Osaka a few times and despite being in Kyoguchi's homeland we don't see that being an issue for the hard hitting Thai. He'll be there to win and should make for a thrilling bout here.
On paper the best card, from what we know of right now, is the final card which takes on November 23rd and features a former multi-time world champion and 3 world title challengers and a man we have already mentioned for one of his previous bouts. This is being shown by Osaka TV and should, in theory, have the best production values, and the stronger overall name name appeal.
The main event here will see youngster Riku Kano (16-4-1, 8) one of the former world title challengers, battle against Ryoki Hirai (13-6-1, 4) in a brilliantly well matched bout do the vacant WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight title. At one point Kano was seen as the super prospect, and fought for a world title when he was just 18! Sadly things haven't gone his way since then, but it's still way too early to write him off. Hirai on the other hand had a terrible start to his career but is very much in the mix for regional and domestic titles. We expect this to be a compelling, and hotly fought 12 rounder for the belt.
Another of the world title challengers on this show is Sho Ishida (28-2, 15), who is best known for his competitive bout with Kal Yafai in the UK. Once tipped as a potential face of Osakan boxing Ishida's career is beginning to struggle and he's likely hoping that a move to Bantamweight will help save give new life to his once promising boxing career. In the other corner is the unbeaten Toshiya Ishii (3-0, 2), the main who faced off with Haruki Ishikawa in that round we shared a little bit earlier. Given Ishii's fun aggressive boxing style and Ishida's need to win to remain relevant this really can't disappoint.
Once again we have saved the best until last with former multi-time world champion Katsunari Takayama (31-8-0-1, 12) taking on multi-time title challenger Reiya Konishi (17-1, 7) in a 6 rounder that could end up being something very, very special. This will be Takayama's first bout since announcing his return to professional boxing earlier this year, afater failing to qualify for the Tokyo games, and there are real questions over what he has left in the tank. On the other hand Reiya Konishi is no push over and has twice fought for world titles, showing his heart and toughness in those bouts. Both of these men like letting their hands go, both get involved in trench warfare far too often and together they have the potential to give us the best damn 6 rounder of 2020!
For those note familiar with Takayama we have have left one final treat below, his incredible war with Francisco Rodriguez Jr, from 2014.
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
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).