Last Friday we saw Kosuke Saka (21-5, 18) make his first defense of the Japanese Super Featherweight, as he scored a 6th round TKO win over veteran Takuya Watanabe (37-10-1, 21), in what was Watanabe's third shot at a Japanese title. The bout, aired live on Boxing Raise, was was the first Japanese title fight of 2021 and was a hold over from last year's Champion Carnival, which was delayed due to the ongoing Pandemic, forcing a delay from April 2020 to January 2021.
With that bout now in the record books, and now re-watched we're going to share our views on the bout in the latest "Five Take Aways".
1-Saka has improved a lot in recent fights
Before the bout Kosuke Saka spoke about wanting to hit without getting hit, and seemed to have been training hard on becoming a better boxer. Through his career he has always been more of a puncher than a boxer, and it seemed strange for him to talk about such a drastic change after 25 professional bouts. To his credit however it really did show and he seemed a much better boxer than the man we saw take the Japanese title in 2019. That's not to say he's removed aspects of his style that make him such a dangerous fighter, he's still a dangerous puncher, which we'll get onto in a moment, but he's really improved from the man who was, for the most part, a rather basic come-forward pressure fighter with a lot of power. He's really improved his understanding of the ring, how to use his jab, how to fight going backwards and how to use space. Given his improvements, and the fact he is still incredibly dangerous, we really like this more rounded Saka who appears to have become a genuine boxer-puncher.
2-Saka punches like a mule
The obvious point, Saka punches stupidly hard. From the early going he seemed to get Watanabe's respect, something very few fighters have managed to do. Saka landed to both the head and body of Watanabe in round 1 and it really put Watanabe into a bit of a shell. Watanabe had success with his jab, using his reach, but he often looked worried about Saka's firepower. Given Watanabe is a known tough guy it was telling how quickly Saka's power seemed to worry the challenger.
In fairness Watanabe was right to be wary and that was shown in round 6 when Watanabe came forward trying to turn the tables after the open scoring at the end of round 5. The finish from Saka showed his power, and showed that he really is a brutal puncher. If Saka lands clean we have the feeling he can stop anyone in the Japanese and regional scene. Genuinely a dangerous, brutal, vicious puncher.
3-This wasn't as good as we expected
We got it wrong. Going in we were expecting a sure fire FOTY contender. The power and aggression of Saka against the skills and toughness of Watanabe seemed set to give us a bout that would start slowly and really gear up to something special. There were glimpses of this happening, but that's all we ever got. Glimpses. This was a surprisingly tame contest given the individuals involved.
Don't get us wrong, this wasn't a bad fight. It wasn't dull, and it didn't lack excitement. It just wasn't what we expected. It was underwhelming giving the fighters, but still a very solid fight overall. That's on us though, we had very, very high expectations. Sadly those expectations were offset by Watanabe not wanting to get too involved early on, Saka showing more versatility than usual, and the ending coming when it did.
4-This may have been a more competitive bout last April
We mentioned how Saka had been taking about working on hitting and not getting hit during the long break, he also turned got an extra 9 months to physically mature into a weight that he only moved into a few years ago. That extra 9 months almost certainly helped him. It possibly also hindered Watanabe. At 31 he's not an old man but he is an old fighter, and he would probably have been a slightly better fighter 9 months ago.
It's not a huge change difference on paper, but we can't help feel like Saka improved, mentally, physically, emotionally and in terms of ability. Watanabe on the other hand aged, got older and edged towards his 32nd birthday. Watanabe would also have known that this was almost certainly his last chance. Had he lost last April there was a small window for him to earn another title fight, now however that opportunity is almost certainly gone, and that may have added some extra pressure to him.
We might be wrong here, but we do have a very strong feeling the lengthy postponement favoured Saka a lot more than it favoured Watanabe.
5-The wars have probably caught up with Watanabe
It's rare for Japanese fighters in this day and age to fight more than 40 times. You can count the amount of active Japanese born fighters with 40 or more bouts to their name on one hand. The typical Japanese style does not make for long careers with lots of bouts. With that in mind it's perhaps not too much to suggest that the 31 year old Watanabe, who now has 48 bouts to his name, has started to feel the effects of his long career. Watanabe is an incredibly tough fighter. His blood bath with Jae Sung Lee proved that, as did his bouts with the likes of Satoshi Hosono, Yongqiang Yang and Taiki Minamoto. He has had a lot of tough bouts and those miles on his body will be adding up.
With that said we wouldn't be surprised if he decided to call it quits and retire after this loss.
After doing a few really interesting divisions in this series we then come to a jumbled mess at Super Featherweight. The division is almost entirely dominated by the mess of Japanese fighters, who have sort of proven themselves capable, and probably would make for a brilliant round robin. The top few guys stand out, but the rest sort of match each other out, a bit too well
1-Masayuki Ito (26-2-1, 14)
Former WBO Super Featherweight world champion Masayuki Ito had a 2019 to forget, losing the WBO title in May, to Jamel Herring, and then taking a TKO over Ruben Manakane but suffering a nasty looking injury in the bout. His lack of fortune seemed o continue this year, when he had to pull out of a bout in China, before other issues saw the card he was supposed to be on being cancelled all together. Ito is a talented boxer who proved his ability in 2018, with wins over Christopher Diaz and Evgeny Chuprakov, but did look very limited against Herring. It's going to be interesting to see how he bounces back, and we suspect he'll be looking to face some southpaws in the near future, as he didn't appear to ever understand Herring's stance and movement when they fought.
2-Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (15-0, 12)
Russian based Tajik Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov is currently in the running for an IBF title fight, after beating Azinga Fuzile back in September 2019. That win was marred with some controversy, in regards to some drug issues, but stands. Although it'd be hard to see him beating Jo Jo Diaz that bout is an interesting one and would be a very, very exciting one if it took place. Aggressive, heavy handed, tough and with an impressive will to win Rakhimov is a nightmare to fight, despite some technical flaws. He's not the quickest or the smoothest, but he's probably the deadliest in this top 10, as wins over Fuzile, Robinson Castellanos and Malcolm Klassen have shown. Very much the under-rated dangerman of the division.
3-Kenichi Ogawa (24-1-1-1, 18)
Former Japanese national champion Kenichi Ogawa is best known his controversial bout against Tevin Farmer in 2017. That bout ended with Ogawa being crowned the IBF Super Featherweight champion then being stripped for a failed drug test. Whilst there are still unanswered question about the test he served a year ban and was actually out of the ring for almost 14 months before finally returning last year. After two low key wins he had a technical draw with Joe Noynay, in a messy bout for the WBO Asia Pacific title. We expect to see Ogawa back in big bouts in the near future and the 32 year old from the Teiken gym certainly still has time left in his career, but will need to move fast when boxing returns later in the year.
4-Joe Noynay (18-2-2, 7)
Filipino fighter Joe Noynay Had a fantastic few months in 2019, stopping both Kosuke Saka and Satoshi Shimizu, before ending the year with the aforementioned technical draw against Kenichi Ogawa, in what really was a messy, dirty accidental foul filled war. Although not a puncher, as such, he looked really destructive against Saka and Shimizu and has been impressive since losing to Reiya Abe more than 3 years ago. At 24 years old the talented southpaw is one to keep an eye on, and is only behind Ogawa on the basis the depth of the two men's records. We would favour Ogawa, marginally, in a rematch but given the mess of their first bout we're not in a rush to see them face off again.
5-Hironori Mishiro (9-0-1, 3)
Rushing through the rankings has been 25 year old boxer Hiironori Mishiro, who has proven he can box and brawl, when he needs to. Mishiro won the OPBF title in his 6th professional bout and has since made 4 defenses of the title, including a draw against Masaru Sueyoshi and victories over Takuya Watanabe and Yoshimitsu Kimura. Although not the most powerful Mishiro is well schooled, a very smooth boxer with excellent movement and skills. He's proven he can turn things around and brawl, as he did against Sueyoshi. Sadly Mishiro does look like he lacks some real killer instinct, and that could be a major problem when he moves from regional level to world class. As well as his lack of killer instincts there is also question marks about his punching power, but so far his achievements have been impressive.
6-Kosuke Saka (20-5, 17)
Few fighters had the rollercoaster year that Kosuke Saka had in 2019. He was stopped in 2 rounds in April, by Joe Noynay, in what was considered a real set back, scored a low key nothing win against Indonesian journeyman Isack Junior in September and then ended the year by smashing Masaru Sueyoshi to claim the Japanese Super Featherweight title with his best win to date. Saka, at his best, is a nightmare to face and he looked at his absolute best when he beat Sueyoshi. That was the sort of performance that put the division on notice and was his most impressive win since he stopped Shota Hayashi, back in April 2017. Saka is dangerous, but a flawed glass cannon. He'll be in some great fights, win or lose.
7-Takuya Watanabe (37-9-1, 21)
With 9 losses in 47 bouts Takuya Watanabe doesn't look like a fantastic fighter, but boy is his record misleading. He's certainly not a world beater, but on the regional scene not many fighters will beat him without needing to answer serious questions. He's technically a very solid fighter, despite not being the quickest, most powerful or sharpest punching. What he is, is very physically strong and powerful, incredibly tough and has a solid gas tank. Despite his 9 losses he has never been stopped, and that was despite his blood bath in South Korea with Jaesung Lee which saw Watanabe give the Gwanakgu Hall in Seoul a serious donation of claret. Watanabe has lost to some men on this list, notably Masayuki Ito and Hironori Mishiro, but he made both men work for their wins. Most recently he was seen beating Taiki Minamoto to set up a mouth watering showdown with Kosuke Saka, though we may need to wait until 2021 for that bout given the current climate.
8-Yoshimitsu Kimura (12-2, 7)
Having previously lost to Hironori Mishiro and Richard Pumicpic, who is in our Featherweight rankings, the case may be that Yoshimitsu Kimura is too highly ranked here, but in reality he pushed Mishiro all the way in December and is very much a fighter developing rapidly. Aged just 23 he had matured fantastically into a Super Featherweight, after winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year at Featherweight. In the coming year we expect to see Kimura really climb up these rankings, and he may well be among the best kept secrets in the division. Don't be fooled by his two losses, they were very competitive, and great learning experiences for the youngster who is going to be a key player in the next few years.
9-Masaru Sueyoshi (19-2-1, 11)
Former Japanese national champion Maasaru Sueyoshi rounds out the Japanese fighters in these rankings, though the reality is that he could probably beat some of the ones above him, and did draw with Mishiro. Despite being, head to head, better than some of the guys above we really can't put him higher than Saka, due to Saka's victory over him, and Watanabe and Kimura both looked better than he did last time out. Sueyoshi is a very good technical fighter, he controls distance, tempo and timing well, but lacks real power and struggles with the physical side of the sport. Saka really bullied him, showing no respect to Sueyoshi's power, and we suspect many of those ranked higher up this list would now do the same with that tactic being shown to work against the 29 year old Teiken fighter.
10-Stanislav Kalitskiy (10-0, 3)
As well as all the Japanese talent "clogging" up the division there are some interesting fighters emerging from Central Europe. Among those is the unbeaten 22 year old Stanislav Kalitskiy, who is based in Russia. The talented Kalitskiy lacks power, with only 3 stoppages in his 10 bouts, but has stepped up his competition well and a January win over Alan Isaias Luques Castillo is worthy of note. It'll be interesting to see what RCC have planned for him, but we suspect it's going to be a long, hard slog for him going forward. He is simply too early in his career, and lacks the power, to let him off the leash any time soon.
On the bubble:
Taiki Minamoto, Akzhol Sulaimanbek Uulu, Sultan Zaurbek, Nurtas Azhbenov and Xiang Li
The month of November has been a strange one in many ways, with some really awesome fights, some disappointments, and some real up and down moments through out boxing. The brilliant WBSS final was certainly one of the highlights of the year but bouts falling through was an issue at times.
Thankfully we do have something that is consistent with boxing, and that is that Boxing Raise will show some absolutely amazing fights. This month that was once again true, with some absolutely tremendous action being made available on the Japanese service, that once again made a great case as being the best value service for any boxing fan.
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/".
Youngsters go to war - Ryugo Ushijima (3-0-2, 2) vs Taison Mukaiyama (4-2, 3) [movie/7017/]
Earlier in 2019 we had our attention grabbed by Ryugo Ushijima, thanks to a thrilling contest with Shota Ogasawara. On Boxing Raise this month Ushijima faces off with Taison Mukaiyama and this was some that possibly exceeded the Ogasawara bout, with the two men really smashing lumps out of each other, in a bout that had an opening round knockdown, and a lot wild action. This wasn't as polished as some of the other bouts from through the month but was genuinely great fun to watch.
Bantamweight Shootout - Kazuki Nakajima (7-0, 6) vs Jin Minamide (4-0, 3) [movie/7019/]
The God's Left Bantamweight tournament is a genuinely brilliant idea, and although it hasn't managed to quite deliver as hoped it's still given us some great action. That was certainly seen in the semi-final bout between Kazuki Nakajima and Jin Minamide. This wasn't a drawn out war, we do have one of those coming up, but was a thrilling shoot out. It took a few moments for the fighters to light the touch paper, but as soon as that happened you knew the end was night, but weren't sure who would land a bomb first. Genuinely brilliant and hugely entertaining, little battle here!
Extreme Eliminatorion - Taiki Minamoto (16-5-1, 13) vs Takuya Watanabe (36-9-1, 21) [movie/7020/]
Whils the WBSS Bantamweight final was, easily, the best bout of the month we did see some other thrillers during the month. One of best of the rest was an 8 round war in a Japanese Super Featherweight title eliminator between Taiki Minamoto and Takuya Watanabe. This looked great on paper yet massively over-delivered and gave us one of the best fighters we've seen in Japan this year. It pit Watanabe's toughness and strong yet basic boxing against Minamoto's explosive boxing, and delivered what was an absolute barn burner, and a real must watch for any fan who had 40 minutes of time to enjoy themselves. This was amazing and got better and better as the fight went on and both men began to show the damage of war.
OH DAMN! - Tsuyoshi Tameda (21-4-2, 19) vs Jae Woo Lee (6-2, 5) [movie/7045/]
We've already mentioned a shoot out and a war, but when Tsuyoshi Tameda took on Jae Woo Lee in the Hajime No Ippo 30th anniversary tournament we ended up with something of a hybrid. This was was an up close war, fought as if both men wanted to have a shoot out. Both fighters unloaded bombs from the early going, setting their feet and firing off huge power shots, and trying to take each other out. If you like fights fought on the inside, with machimso being the driving force you'll love this. Absolutely amazing fight, and one that will have you engrossed from the first moment to the last.
Knockdowns traded in thriller! - Shingo Kusano (11-8-1, 4) vs Qiang Ma (5-1-2, 3) [movie/7047/]
On paper the Hajime No Ippo 30th anniversary tournament looked interesting with out being amazing. That thanking was instantly blown out of the water by he Tameda Vs Lee fight and just moments later we were given another fight as Shingo Kusano and Qiang Ma traded knockdowns in a brilliant war. This wasn't quite as intense as the Tameda Vs Lee bout but was another thriller, with bombs galore, both men being hurt and despite the lower intensity it was a more dramatic bout. Despite the records of the two fighters these two delivered something very special.
Whilst we certainly have less great action on Boxing Raise in November than in October, what we did get was some of the months very best fights from anywhere in world boxing. This month we were lucky to get such quality, even if the quantity was lacking!
(Image courtesy of Boxing Raise and Boxmob.jp)
One of the many things we're wanting to try in 2019 is a weekly news review, looking at the most interesting news stories from the last 7 days. For the same of this news won't include things like weigh ins and results, but instead things like announcements of fights, comebacks, deaths and other more general news from the week that's been.
We won't go into any of the stories in depth, leaving a link to the relevant story, but will quickly give our take on the news.
So without further ado, let us bring the 1st Asian Boxing Weekly News Review!
Srisaket to DAZN not yet a done deal! Still set to return in February
After strong speculation that WBC Super Flyweight champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (47-4-1, 41) [ศรีสะเกษ นครหลวงโปรโมชั่น] had inked a deal with DAZN it was revealed he hadn't....yet! He is in deep negotiations with the streaming service but hasn't inked anything yet, with a decision expected to be made shortly. What was also confirmed is that he would be fighting in a tune up bout on February 8th, in Thailand, before facing mandatory challenger Juan Francisco Estrada in the Spring. At the moment the opponent for Srisaket's opponent hasn't been announced, but will be before the end of the month, suggesting it's a limited foe, potentially an experienced regional journeyman.
WBSS announcements to be made next week!
After weeks of fans asking when the WBSS semi-final bouts would be taking place we finally saw the Sauerlands react, and announce that an announcement would be made next week. It's unclear when in the week the announcement will be made but to have a time frame of "next week" is good enough to get us a little bit excited. The rumours were that early March had been targeted but it now seems like the shows have slipped to April or May, though we're genuinely glad that we'll see things being made public very shortly! We'll file this in the rarely used "Glad there was an announcement about an announcement", folder
Sirimongkol to return to the ring...as a Heavyweight!
The biggest "What the fuck?" story of the week came from Thailand, as multiple sources informed us that former WBC Bantamweight and Super Featherweight champion Sirimongkol Singwancha (96-4, 61) [ศิริมงคล สิงห์วังชา] would be back in the ring in the coming weeks, as a Heavyweight! The enigmatic Thai was a fantastic fighter in his prime, but he is more than a decade removed from his prime and more than 20 years removed from losing the WBC Bantamweight to Joichiro Tatsuyoshi in an amazing fight in 1997! Sirimongkol, now in his 40's, is only 5'6" and will look ridiculous fighting at over 200lbs, but we suspect he's going to be very softly matched.
Mishiro to defend OPBF title against Watanabe!
A pretty good, though possibly missed, announcement came out over the weekend from Dangan, who announced the OPBF Super Featherweight champion Hironori Mishiro (6-0-1, 2) [三代大訓] will defending his title on March 27th against OPBF "silver" champion Takuya Watanabe (35-8-1, 20) [渡邉卓也]. Whilst neither man is a huge name outside of Asia it's hard to not be excited here. Both are fun to watch, have plenty of skill and throw a lot of punches. Neither is world class, though Mishiro has certainly shown the potential to get their already in his short career, but they should make for a genuinely spectacular fight to headline Dangan 221.
Ryohei Takahashi will continue his career following loss to TJ Doheny!
Former IBF Super Bantamweight challenger Ryohei Takahashi (15-4-1, 6) [高橋竜平] revealed that his career will not end following his loss to world champion TJ Doheny earlier this month. Although it's not a huge surprise to hear that the 28 year old, soon to be 29 year old, would be continuing his career it's still good to hear and he will certainly be a good addition to the Japanese domestic scene. Bouts between Takahashi and the likes of Yusaku Kuga, Ryoichi Tamura and Hidenori Otake would be very enjoyable, whilst rematches with Kazuki Tanaka and Yuki Iriguchi would certainly be more than welcome.
Denver Cuello set to return in March!
Former world title challenger Denver Cuello (36-5-6, 24) was once touted as a future star of the smaller divisions. Sadly injuries hampered him, badly, and clearly harmed his chances against Xiong Zhao Zhong in 2013. Since then he has hardly fought, due to in part to his being banged up. This week however Ian Melodillar reported that Cuello would be back in the ring in March, as fights for the first time in years. It's hard to know what Cuello has left but if the 32 year is half the fighter he once was he could make for another interesting addition to the ranks in any of the lower weights. He's likely missed out on getting a world title, but adds some name value and more Filipino interest to the lower weights.
Ivan Dychko eyeing March 1st return!
Also looking at a March return is Kazakh Heavyweight Ivan Dychko (7-0, 7) [Дычко Иван]. Dychko's manager revealed that his charge would be looking to return in March 1st, likely in Florida. The bout will be Dychko's first since July 2018, and frustratingly his activity seems to have been with his promotional team as he's not been injured, and instead has been seeing bouts fall through due to reasons outside of his hands. It's been a very frustrating year for the fighter and his fans. Given his amateur credentials there is no reason for him to have been matched the way he has, and hopefully 2019 will see him being busy and taking on some serious tests, rather than continuing to waste time with mismatches and promotional frustrations.
Iwao Hakamada manga to be released
Former fighter Shigemi Mori along with Hideko Hakamada held a news conference this week to reveal a new Manga being released this year to try and raise the attention of Iwao Hakamada's, Hideko's brother, situation. Mr Hakamada, now 82, served 48 years for a quadruple murder in 1966 and spent much of that time in solitary confinement on death row. Although he was released in 2014, Hakamada is still awaiting a retrial, which could see his sentence being reinstated. The manga is set to be released in 8 page sections on a monthly basis from February 15th and will be translated for an international audience with the plan also being to put it on to youtube, to further international attention.
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).