Just over a week ago Japanese fight fans at Korakuen Hall saw talented youngster Taku Kuwahara (8-0, 5) scored his latest win, over-coming Yoshiki Minato (9-4, 4) in what was a truly fantastic 8 rounder at Super Flyweight. The bout was one that was easy to overlook if you didn't follow the Japanese domestic scene, but ended up over-delivering on every front. It was a contest between two highly skilled youngsters, fought at a brilliant tempo through out and the two delivered one of the best bouts we've seen in Japan in 2021.
With the bout having been aired around a week ago we've given a watch, and another watch and have now decided to talk about the bout in more detail as we give it the Five Take Aways treatment!
1-Fuji done goofed!
Prior to the bout Fuji TV showed clips of the two men, and tried to get some words from both men. Sadly the words from both fighters were pretty drowned out by some music, making very, very difficult to catch what either man was trying to say. It's a real shame as they only had to reduce the volume on the music to help add to this bout. A simple mistake to correct, especially given this was a pre-recorded segment, and music was clearly added over the top of the videos, but a mistake all the same. Thankfully this is not something we are used to seeing from Fuji TV and is, at least for now, a one off.
2-These two put on a showcase of boxing
When this bout was first announced, back in 2020, the expectations were high. Both fighters were known as very talented youngsters with bright futures ahead of them. It was assumed they would both look to take home a victory, and it was generally sold as an East Japan hopeful against a West Japan hopeful. Boxing fans who followed the Japanese scene knew these two could put on a great bout, but few would have expected something as good as we got. Both men really did go out there with the intention of not just winning, but winning over new fans and winning over the judges. They put on something of a technical war, with Kuwahara's skills up against Minato's will and genuinely this ended up being a very special bout.
The folk behind this deserve big props for their match making, and the fighters also deserve credit for signing up to the bout, and performing the way they did. Both were a joy to watch, with Kuwahara's body shots being a genuine delight.
3-Time for Kuwahara to fight for titles!
Taku Kuwahara has been on our radar since his debut in 2018 and he's proven his talent time and time again, with good performances against the likes of Takamori Kiyama, Jonathan Refugio, Ricardo Sueno and now Yoshiki Minato. He's been described as a prospect or hopeful for the last 3 years, though now he needs a chance to prove what he can do and to be given a shot for a title. We aren't sure whether he's going to commit to Flyweight or Super Flyweight, but the reality is he could mix with regional and domestic title holders in either division and fingers crossed we see him get that type of opportunity next. He's too good to hold back, and he's answered enough to prove he belongs at a higher level. Time for Mr Ohashi to let him prove what he can really do!
The bout seemed like a pretty fair win for Kuwahara, who seemed to be a bit better in every area, though to see two judges have this a shut out, and the third judge give Minato a single round really does feel harsh. Minato held his own through out. Every round was competitive, and it's a case where more 10-10 rounds would have reflected the actual nature of the bout a lot more accurately than what we got. Looking at the scorecards, this looks like an easy win for Kuwahara, it certainly wasn't.
Although Kuwahara won the majority of the rounds, we felt there was 2 or 3 rounds that could, and maybe should, have gone Minato's way. Sadly for him the three wise men didn't agree. It's hard to say the judges got it wrong here, but it's a shame we didn't see at least one judge from West Japan, and it a real shame that Minato's work wasn't reflected on the cards.
We didn't agree with 80-72 or 79-73, though we can understand how the judges got there. For us it was a lot, lot closer than those cards suggest, and it's a shame that Minato didn't get a bit more recognition for his work.
5-Fuji have another potential star
Fuji TV have, for a few years now, been the most important free to air channel in Japanese boxing, and they have been pushing boxing a lot in recent years. They have the likes of Naoya Inoue and Ryota Murata on their channel and have linked up with various other notable fighters, such as Kenshiro Teraji and now former world champions Daigo Higa and Masayuki Ito, in recent years. They also seem to be building a very good stable of fighters through their agreements with various promoters. We've seen the likes of Rentaro Kimura, Ryutaro Nakagaki and Keisuke Matsumoto all get a lot of attention on Fuji Broadcasts over the last 12 months or so.
With that said, Taku Kuwahara also appears to fit that that mould of young, charismatic, talented fighter that they have working alongside, who should be given the limelight. Sure he's not the next Naoya Inoue but he's a sensationally talented young fighter, with an exciting aggressive style and a defense that sometimes seems like it could get him in trouble. He's TV friendly, he's got a good team behind him, and if Fuji get on board with him, we genuinely think they could have another future world champion to focus their broadcasts on. He's only 25 now and there is a lot of time for him to be moved not just on to regional titles, as mentioned above, but also world titles.
Bonus take away -
Do not write off Minato!
This was Yoshiki Minato's third loss in 4 bouts. He has gone from 8-0 to 9-3 in less than 2 years. Despite that do not write him off! He's 22 years old, he has been matched hard, he has shown what he can do, he's a very solid young prospect and on he back of this performance he certainly has the ability to mix at, if no win at, Japanese and Oriental title level. We would go as far as to sat the one thing he is missing, and needs to work on is something that will come naturally. Physical maturity. He still looks a little bit of a feather fisted fighter, but give him another 12 to 24 months and he will be one to keep a serious eye on the domestic scene. A really under-rated youngster, with the potential to go a lot, lot further than his record currently suggests.
One of the more interesting bouts from Japan this past weekend was the Bantamweight clash between Yoshiki Minato (9-3, 4) and Kohei Oba (36-4-1, 14). The bout wasn't streamed live, but was made available on demand via the Boxing Real YouTube channel the following day and was an interesting bout to watch.
The fight was a huge step up in class for Minato, but also marked the return to the ring for Oba who had been away from the ring for more than 6 years. Oba, who had once been the Japanese Bantamweight champion, was once dubbed the "Mayweather of Nagoya" and was once a world title contender. The idea that even a past his best Oba would have the skills, experience and size to deal with Minato made this a compelling match up on paper, though sadly proved to be a mismatch in the ring.
1-Oba should retire for good
We're starting with a super obvious one here but Kohei Oba should retire and stay retired. This was his first bout in over 6 years and it really showed with Oba looking absolutely terrible from the opening moments and never getting his way into the bout. We're not sure if it was the long break from the ring, the struggle to make weight, or the fact he was 35, or a combination of all those issues, but he didn't look like he should have been in the ring. He tried the shoulder roll that had helped him through his career but he was getting caught repeatedly and really did looked shot to bits with his feet looking heavy, and his reactions looking slow.
Credit to him for trying this comeback, and we mean that as it can't have been easy to lost the weight he lost, but this should be a one off and he should not go back to training.
2-Minato looks suited to 118lbs
Prior to the fight this past weekend Yoshiki Minato had been fighting at Flyweight, he then moved up to Bantamweight for this contest and credit to the youngster, he looked great at 118lbs. He looked fluid, light on his toes, quick, aggressive and like the move up in weight might well suit him longer term. It's a shame that we saw him against the shadow of Oba, but hopefully he decides to either remain at Bantamweight or try his hand at Super Flyweight. We suspect he can get back down to 112lbs if needed, but we think he should rule that out after this bout.
3-Central Gym in Kobe is a lovely little venue
Doing this series has started to make us appreciate how different venues are. Of course we, as fans, know venues are all varied, but with only a scattering of fans we can really appreciate how different they are. With that in mind we can't help but think that the Central Gym in Kobe should be used more often. It's intimate, it's interesting and has a nice look to it. It's a pretty distinct looking venue, and one where social distancing seemed to work well. The one complaint about it is the over abundance of lighting, which, along with the ring canvas and the carpet outside the ring, made things just a tough difficult to see. A darker ring canvas would however solve that problem.
4-Ryuya Yamanaka should do more commentary
Former WBO Minimumweight champion Ryuya Yamanaka was part of the commentary team for this fight and we can't help but feel he was a great mind to have outside the ring to listen too. It's a shame how his career ended, especially given he was so young, but he has a very good boxing brain, and clearly can read a fight well. He worked well here and we'd like to see more of him working on commentary. He also did something that much more experience commentators in the west don't do. He let the action speak for it's self and let the fight breathe. He, along with Yusuke Ohashi, did a good job here in not speaking for every second of the fight. They didn't have long pauses between talking, but they did leave just enough gaps for the fight to talk. Also they did what we love about Japanese commentators, they sounded excited when something big happened. If there was a complaint about the commentary it would have been nice for Ohashi to turn it down just a touch, but that's a minor complaint.
Just to add, though we don't think it needs repeating again, the Boxing Real streams and on demand videos are top notch. These are high level productions and should be seen as the standard bearers for boxing streams. They damn close to TV quality! Well done folks for leading the way in the quality of these videos and streams!
5-The Torch has been passed
Before the bout Minato spoke about wanting to take the torch from Oba, in what was a bout between two men from Hyogo. With the win the 22 year old Minato took that torch. Now the big question is what can he do with it? Given his age it's likely he will find himself in the Japanese title picture in the coming years, but will he managed to go further than Oba? Or will he only manage to go as far as the former world title contender? Whatever the future holds for Minato this win will give his career a significant boost, and hopefully way lay the foundation for his career going forward.
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.
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).