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!
This past weekend in the US the Super Bantamweight division came alive with stellar performances from Raeese Aleem and Stephen Fulton, who both looked spectacular on Showtime on Saturday night. Before those two bouts we also had a Japanese national title fight in the division, with that bout taking place on Friday in Tokyo, and being shown around the globe on Boxing Raise.
That bout in Japan saw Gakuya Furuhashi (27-8-1, 14) dethrone Yusaku Kuga (19-5-1, 13) in what was a sensational fight for a title that has repeatedly given us amazing bouts. It was a brilliant back and forth, fought almost entirely on the inside, and it saw both men take a lot of punishment. It was competitive, dramatic, brutal and one we suggest all fight fans make an effort to watch in 2021.
Having had time to let the bout breathe before rewatching it earlier today we've decided it's now time to share our take aways from what was a genuinely amazing fight.
1-The styles gelled perfectly
When we look at potential bouts, and how much we're going to enjoy them, or whether they are going to be fan friendly we need to think about how each fighter fights, and how their styles should gel. For this bout the styles gelled amazingly. Both men have the same mentality or fighting, rather than boxing, both have similar game plans, and both have similar strengths. This made for a bout that was great on paper, and equally as good in the ring.
Despite this being a mandatory title defense for Kuga it rather fortunately showed what good match making should focus on. It's not the records that matter when making a good fight, but the styles. Both of these men wanted to work at a high pace. Both wanted to let their shots go and both did so in different ways. Kuga wanted to fight at mid-range, but was willing to fight up close in spurts. Furuhashi wanted to fight up close, and was willing to take a bomb or two to get inside. In many ways this was similar to the Angela Leo vs Stephen Fulton fight seen on Saturday, and again the styles gelled. Wonderful to watch.
2-Akihiko Katsuragi did a great job
We've been over this so many times in this series but Japanese referees seem to be consistently fantastic and Akihiko Katsuragi, the third man in the ring here, is no exception. Katsuragi stayed out of the action, he let fight, he didn't look to interject at any point. He wasn't there to get involved unless he needed to be, such as at the end of the rounds. The one exception to that came towards the end of the bout when he quite rightly stopped the contest with Kuga being completely gone. We saw a lot of praise for David Fields' work on Saturday night, for letting Leo and Fulton fight, and it was the same here with Katsuragi. When they clinched, which was incredibly rare, they were allowed to fight out of it, breaks were few and far between.
Not only did Katsuragi not interject but he was also aware of the fight, it's meaning and the men involved. A lesser referee would, potentially, have stopped this at various points. A nervous referee may have thought a man was more hurt than he actually was and jumped in. We've seen it in the past with early stoppages particularly prevalent in the UK. Katsuragi showed no intention of stopping this until he needed to.
3-This deserved a louder audience
Originally this bout was planned for April 28th 2020, as part of the annual Champion Carnival series of fights. Sadly due to Covid19 the bout was postponed by around 9 months. Covid19 not only meant there was a lengthy delay to the bout, but also meant that restrictions were put on the fans, who were limited by number and by what they were allowed to do. All fans were forced to wear masks to attend the fight and they weren't allowed to chant and cheer on their man. Instead they were pretty much limited to applauding.
We fully understand the rules, the regulations and the limitations on the fans and the venues, and why they are in place.
However this bout deserved so much more noise and atmosphere than it got. Throughout the bout we had rounds of applause, with fans appreciating the fighters, the action and the fantastic bout they were watching unfold. Sadly however it deserved chants, cheering, and roars of appreciation from a full Korakuen Hall. It was a brilliant bout, a brutal war, and a great come from behind victory for Furuhashi. It deserved to have fans going wild over what we were seeing. Instead it sounded appreciative, rather than excited. It sounded respectful, rather than rapturous. It sounded mild instead of deafening.
4-Furuhashi wasn't going to be denied
This was Furuhashi's third shot at the title and at the age of 33 it was almost certainly going to be his last. Given the punishment he took in the bout a loss would have been incredibly hard to bounce back from, mentally and physically. He put everything he had into the bout. And that's really the key to this point. It was do or die and he wasn't going to be denied. He had his head snapped back multiple times, he took huge shots to the body and kept coming forward, and it didn't matter that he had to walk into the danger zone to get to his man. He wasn't going home empty handed here.
When a fighter has the mentality Furuhashi had here they are able to dig deeper and deeper than anyone can imagine and that showed as he fought like a man willing to go to the depths of hell for the title. He beat Kuga in part, due to his desire. His refusal to lose. It's rare we see a fighter dig as deep as Furuhashi did, but he showed exactly what the title meant to him, and how much he needed that belt.
5-The end for Kuga?
Yusaku Kuga is someone known for his brutal power and his durability. Or rather he was. Sadly this is now the third time in 6 fights that Kuga has been stopped, having also been worn down by Shingo Wake in 2018 and blasted out by Jhunriel Ramonal in 2019. With that in mind we do wonder if this is the end for him. He took a lot of punishment here, and he's also been in gruelling bouts with Ryoichi Tamura, twice and Yasutaka Ishimoto, in their first bout. A man can only go to the well so many times before his body says no more and we can't help but feel that might be where Kuga's body is right now. He has been on the wrong end of a lot of punishment during his 25 fight career, and it may well be time to hang them up, for the good of his long term health.
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).