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.