Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
The first Japanese show of 2021 comes to us this coming Thursday thanks to Hideyuki Ohashi who puts on the next show under the Phoenix Battle series. This is a card that has a brilliant main event, but really the key part of the card are the bouts below it, which are all intriguing bouts for touted prospects.
We'll start with the main event, which will see OPBF Bantamweight champion Keita Kurihara (15-5, 13) defending his belt against former WBC "interim" Bantamweight champion Takuma Inoue (13-1, 3), in what is a puncher Vs Boxer bout. For the heavy handed Kurihara this will serve as his second defense, following his title win in late 2018 against Yuki Strong Kobayashi and a win here would likely see him taking huge strides towards a world title fight. As for Inoue this will be his first bout since losing to Nordine Oubaali in 2019. For Inoue a loss would be very hard to come back from, and he'll be incredibly focused here making for what should be an excellent match up. Our full, in depth, preview of this one can be read here Keita Kurihara Vs Takuma Inoue - The first big Japanese fight of 2021!
In an excellent looking 8 rounder we'll see the fast rising Katsuki Mori (7-0, 1) take on Sora Takeda (6-1, 1) in a battle between two Rookie of the Year winners. In 2018 Takeda won Rookie of the Year at 105lbs and since then has added two more wins to record, giving him a 6 fight winning streak since a loss on his 2017 debut. Mori won the Rookie of the Year in 2019, and has only fought once since then. Of the two men Mori seems to be the more promising man, who has shown more so far in his career, but this is certainly not a gimme either way.
One of two highly regarded novice prospects on this card is former Japanese amateur stand out Ryutaro Nakagaki (1-0, 1), who takes a huge step up in class from his debut to take on fellow southpaw Yuji Okinori (10-5-2, 3). The 21 year old Nakagaki is tipped as a future champion and was a stellar amateur on the Japanese scene before making his professional debut last year. When he turned professional the worry was about his power, but he showed he had plenty of pop on his debut. In Okinori we have we have a 27 year old who asks questions, and comes in with a bit of momentum following back to back TKO wins. We strongly favour Nakagaki, but this is a legitimate test.
The other highly regarded professional novice is Keisuke Matsumoto (1-0, 1), the son of former world title challenger Koji Matusmoto, who looks for his second win as he takes on Bejita Ishikawa (3-12-2, 1). Matsumoto was given a test on debut, and had to pull himself off the canvas to secure victory, though showed great composure and the mentality that should take him far in the sport. Ishikawa on the other hand is well known for his gimmick, of dressing up like Dragon Ball Z character Vegeta, hence his ring name of Bejita. Ishikawa is unlikely to provide much of a test, but it's going to be good to see Matsumoto back in the ring, as he is tipped as something special, despite the issues on his debut.
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
A day after a number of Kazakh prospects make their debut we'll also see two touted Japanese prospects begin their professional careers, albeit in much lower profile action. As well as the prospects this card will also feature a former world title challenger in a very good looking domestic match up as boxing slowly begins to resume normality in Japan.
One of those debutants is Ryutaro Nakagaki (0-0), who picked up 8 national titles in the amateurs. Regarded as a brilliant technical Nakagaki views himself as someone who can be fast tracked based on his amateur pedigree. The one thing he needs to work on, according to those in Japan, is sitting on his punches and developing more power as he heads to the pros. We'll see whether he's done that here as he takes on the limited Shohei Horii (3-5-2, 2), who has been stopped in 4 of his 5 defeats. This should be an easy win for Nakagaki, but it'll be interesting to see how he wins.
The other amateur standout on this card is "Mirai Monster" Keisuke Matsumoto (0-0), who also won numerous amateur championships before heading to the pros. As well as his amateur success Matsumoto is a third generation fighter, following in the footsteps of his father, multi-time world title challenger Koji Matsumoto, and his grandfather. He had hoped to go to the Olympics but after missing out he took the advice of Naoya Inoue and turned professional. Matsumoto will be up against Hironori Miyake (9-9-2, 1), who has proven to be a tough fight, though one who lacks power, and this should be a decent test of what Matsumoto has in the locker, despite Miyake's record looking less than great.
In the main event of this card former world title challenger Ryo Matsumoto (23-3, 21), no relation to Keisuke, take on Takuya Mizuno (17-2-1, 14) in a mouth watering show down. Coming in both men will be looking to make a major statement and take home a stoppage. Of the two Matsumoto is the more talented, and despite having 3 losses he is still very much a fighter with the potential to reach the top, but there is pressure on his shoulders following back to back losses in 2018. As for Mizuno he was beaten last time out by Musashi Morui and will see this as a chance to get his career back on track following that loss. Although there is no title on the line here the bout is still a brilliant match up between two talented, young, skilled, Japanese punchers who are risking a lot at this stage in their careers.
Tynyshpayev Academy of Transport and Communications, Almaty, Kazakhstan
Also on Monday is a small card in Kazakhstan, for a second day running. This really is a small card that's hard to give too much attention to, though the main bout on the show does appear to be a minor regional title fight.
That title bout will see Mukhitdin Rajapbaev (12-7-1, 8) battle against the hard hitting Yedil Kozhamberdiyev (9-2, 9) in a 10 rounder for the WBC Asian Boxing Council Cruiserweight title. Coming in to the the 32 year old Rajapbaev, from Uzbekistan, has failed to win any of his last 6, and has been stopped 3 times in those 6 bouts. Aged 33 Kozhamberdiyev is stepping up, but has got momentum on his size having won his last 8, all within the first 3 rounds. Kozhamberdiyev has faced some god awful competition but is the naturally bigger man, and the fighter entering with form.