It's fair to say that January wasn't a busy month, by any stretch of the imagination, but there was a handful of gems that took place over on Japanese subscription service Boxing Raise and with that in mind we felt it was worth sharing those gems as we cover the The Best of Boxing Raise January 2021.
As with our previous "Best of Boxing Raise" article all the fights featured here can be accessed by subscribers by logging into Boxing Raise and adding the "movie/####" to "https://boxingraise.com/".
The rising Lightweight hopeful - Shu Utsuki (7-0, 6) vs Masashi Wakita (10-10-2, 5) [movie/9409/]
To begin with we don't have a gem per se but a bout you should make an effort to watch as it features one of the most promising Lightweights in Japan. That is the unbeaten, and heavy handed, Sut Utsuki who was up against the rangy and experienced Masashi Wakita. The bout wasn't the most competitive or most exciting, but for fans wanting to see one of the more promising Japanese fighters at 135lbs this is well worth a watch.
Japanese Super Featherweight title bout - Kosuke Saka (20-5, 17) vs Takuya Watanabe (37-9-1, 21) [movie/9411/]
An obvious choice here for this months list was the first Japanese title fight of 2021, and that saw Japanese Super Featherweight champion Kosuke Saka take on mandatory challenger Takuya Watanabe. On paper this one promised a lot, with Saka being one of the biggest puncher in Japan and Watanabe being a well known tough guy, who has been in some thrilling action bouts during his long career. The bout may not have quite reached the lofty expectations some, including ourselves, had for the bout, but it was certainly worth a watch.
Japanese title war! - Yusaku Kuga (19-4-1, 13) vs Gakuya Furuhashi (26-8-1, 14) [movie/9413/]
Another obvious choice to enjoy was the sensational Japanese Super Bantamweight title fight between defending champion Yusaku Kuga and mandatory challenger Gakuya Furuhashi. Like the Saka Vs Watanabe bout, the expectation was high, and this exceeded those expectations, giving us a legitimate fight of the year contender. If you like high-tempo, inside, phone booth wars this will be down your alley. And if you don't like those sorts of fights, why are you even following this sport? Genuinely this is going to be a very, very hard fight to beat and we may well have already seen the Japanese fight of the year!
Teenager debuts - Seiya Iwamoto (0-0) vs Keisuke Endo (0-0) [movie/9432/]
One thing Japan does better than anywhere else is making 4 rounders something, and their regular 4 round shows match novices who both come to win, rather than have a prospect taking a quick and easy win against someone incredibly limited. One example of that was the debut of 17 year old Seiya Iwamoto, who took on Keisuke Endo in a short but fun fight. The skill level here was low but the action came from the opening bell and the bout really is a gem hidden away on the service. Fun, short and exciting.
All debutant Lightweight clash - Tomoki Sato (0-0) vs Jun Nakahara (0-0) [movie/9434/]
Another 4 rounder that's worth watching is the Lightweight bout between Tomoki Sato and Jun Nakahara. Again these were two debutants and both men were there looking to leave an impression. This wasn't a crude battle, like Iwamoto Vs Endo, but was an entertaining bout, with 2 knockdowns and a chance to see two fighters who may well end up competing in a Rookie of the Year tournament one day. Despite the novice status of both men there was plenty to like here, and it's clear both fighters have got something to work with, even if they are both very, very rough around the edges.
Another 4 rounder! - Kei Fujita (2-1, 2) Vs Narimichi Miura (1-2, 1) [movie/9436/]
Another exciting 4 rounder was the bout between Kei Fujita, who fought on the under-card of Kazuto Ioka Vs Kosei Tanaka, and Narimichi Miura. On paper this looked like it could be an explosive one given neither man had seen the final bell in any of their bouts. It didn't end up being quite as explosive as anticipated, but it was still a damn good bout and round 2 in particular was thrilling. If you like competitive back and forth action this is fantastic to watch and was fought in really good spirits by two men who believed they could take home a victory.
We know some don't enjoy "club level" fights, but to us they are quickly becoming some of our favourites and the 4 rounders in this list are great examples of why, with exciting action and both fighters coming to win. With so few fights taking place in January we really do suggest giving these 4 rounders a watch, as well as the three bigger bouts!
We continue to through the Asian rankings today as we look at the Lightweight division. The division is a relative weak one in Asia however and really is in a transitional state which we expect to see changing over the coming years. Thankfully it appears likely that the division will become a stronger one in the years to come.
1-Shuichiro Yoshino (12-0, 10)
With no world champion, or even former world champion, in the Lightweight division the #1 pick for the Asian scene is an easy one, Shuichiro Yoshino. The unbeaten Japanese fighter is a flawed but talented boxer puncher who has unified the JBC, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific and is the #1 pretty much with out question here. Although Yoshino isn't the best pure boxer he is a real threat in the division and no one should take too many risks against. We have seen him score some sensational KO's already, including the brilliant one against Harmonito Dela Torre last year, and we expect big things form him. Although talented we have seen him being out boxed and there is a risk that he will run into someone who can take his power and will defeat him. So far, however, we've not seen anyone do that to him.
2-Valentine Hosokawa (25-7-3, 12)
A potentially controversial choice at #2 is Japanese veteran Valentine Hosokawa. The 39 year old is a former Japanese Light Welterweight champion who has moved down in weight and looks stronger than ever. Although he has 7 losses to his name they include defeats to the likes of Koki Inoue, Shinya Iwabuchi and Min Wook Kim. Hosokawa has aged like fine wine in recent years and despite being 39 he may be at best. Powerful, with great stamina, an aggressive mentality and with more bang on his punch than his record suggests he's a very hard fighter to beat and we suspect he has the potential to really shine now that he's not giving away natural size at 140lbs.
3-Yongqiang Yang (13-0, 10)
Unbeaten Chinese hopeful Yongqiang Yang has quickly risen through the ranks without getting much attention. He was supposed to face Masayuki Ito in China earlier this year, before the situation in China forced the show to be cancelled. Although certainly not a big name or a high profile fighter Yang has notched a string of respectable wins recently, beating Takuya Watanabe, Harmonito Dela Torre, Ernie Sanchez and JR Magboo in his last 4. Yang is a solid boxer-puncher, he's very strong and powerful, and at just 27 he's still getting better and getting stronger. Yang has only been a professional since 2016 but he is certainly already on the fringes of a legitimate world ranking.
4-Romero Duno (22-2, 17)
Hard hitting Filipino Romero Duno is a pretty well known 24 year old who has been fighting in the US frequently in the last few years. Duno made a big impact on his US debut in 2017, when he stopped the touted Christian Gonzalez, and since then score some decent wins over the likes of Juan Antonio Rodriguez. Sadly for Duno his rise through the ranks took a huge hit last year when he was stopped inside a round by Ryan Garcia. Duno can box, he can punch and he is a dangerman, though the loss to Garcia certainly showed him to be a clear level below world class, and he did look very slow in the bout. We suspect he'll be a gatekeeper going forward, but with his power he'll always be a risky opponent and someone who prospects will see as a solid test. A beatable. but solid test.
5-Ravshanbek Umurzakov (10-1, 7)
It's really hard to know where Uzbek hopeful Ravshanbek Umurzakov stands right now. The 26 year old looked like he was going to be moved quickly towards big things after early career wins over Eden Sonsona, Rimar Metuda and Roldan Aldea. Sadly however back in January we saw Umurzakov being stopped in 7 rounds by Esneiker Correa. That loss to Correa was a bad one for Umurzakov who took a lot of punishment and had his defensive flaws shown up time and time again. Although talented he really does have a lot of work to do before moving onwards and upwards. He's more proven than many fighters on this list, but the loss to Correa is going to loom his head for quite some time.
6-Elnur Abduraimov (5-0, 5)
Staying with Uzbek fighters Elnur Abduraimov is certainly worthy of some attention. The 25 year old would rank above his compatriot had it not been for the stop-start nature of his career so far. Abduraimov made his debut in September 2018 and fought 3 times by the end of the year. Sadly he only fought twice in 2019, with his last fight coming in May, when he stopped Issa Nampepeche in 4 rounds. Talented, explosive, heavy handed and very promising we're really hoping to see more of Abduraimov, but it seems like he'll not fully commit to the professional ranks until after the Olympics, so it could be a while before we really see what he can do.
7-Viktor Kotochigov (11-0, 4)
Another hard fighter to place is 26 year old Kazakh Viktor Kotochigov. The well travelled Kazakh, who has been a professional since December 2015, has shown some real promise, with wins over Piotr Gudel, Jairo Lopez and Javier Jose Clavero. Whilst clearly a talented fighter Kotochigov does have a knack of fighting within himself and there is a worry he'll never be able to find that extra gear that he'll need to make a mark on the world stage. He's a talented boxer but also has question marks remaining over his power, and we've yet to see him go in against someone with hunger and power. It would be nice to see him tested when the sport resumes, but in reality we suspect we'll see him being given some easy bouts when the sport continues.
8-Ju Wu (9-0-2, 2)
Chinese boxer Ju Wu is another of those less known fighters who has quietly gone about things and made his name without too much of a fuss. The 20 year old southpaw drew 2 of his first 3 but has won his last 8 bouts including wins over Adones Aguelo, Rimar Metuds and Alain Chervet, with the win over Chervet coming last December in Switzerland. Although not a puncher Wu is a genuine talent, a very good boxer, a very smart fighter and a young man who is still some time from developing his man strength.
9-Shu Utsuki (6-0, 5)
Whilst Yoshino is the divisional king of Japan it's hard to not mention Shu Utsuki, who is 26 years old and looks like a star in the making. He's a former Japanese amateur standout who turned professional in 2018 and scored notable wins over Jerry Castroverde and Omrri Bolivar last year. He's not as polished as some of the man ranked above him, but with 24 rounds to his name, nasty past, good movement and tight defense it's hard not to get excited about him. We were expecting a big 2020 for him, but it seems unlikely that we'll see too much from him now, but 2021 could be a huge year for the man from the Watanabe gym.
10-Izuki Tomioka (7-3-1, 2)
With 3 losses to his name Izuki Tomioka looks a little out of place here, but the reality is that no one has had an easy time with him. His first loss came against Masayoshi Nakatani, in 11 rounds, his second was a razor thin split decision to Shuya Masaki and he was stopped earlier this year by Shuichiro Yoshino, whilst in the lead on the cards. Despite those losses Tomioka is only 23 years old, he's developing and he's maturing and as he matures we suspect he'll manage to toughen up and become a very good fighter. Head to head he could certainly hold his own, if not beat, men ranked well above him, but his results and set backs have really dragged him down the rankings here.
On the bubble:
Xiang Xiang Sun, Apichet Petchmanee, Abdurasul Ismoilov, Kaiki Yuba and Masanori Rikiishi
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).