On the final two days of 2016 Japanese fight fans will get a series of world title bouts, ranging from intriguing rematches to complete mismatches. One of the most anticipated of those bouts will see WBO Super Flyweight champion Naoya Inoue (11-0, 9) return to the ring to seek his 4th defense of the title, as he takes on former 2-time WBA champion Kohei Kono (32-9-1, 13), and looks to secure one of the most notable wins of his career.
If you ask a typical western boxing fan right now what Japanese fighters they could name Inoue will be one of the few names on their lips, a sad fact in many ways but one that shows the appeal of the “Monster” who has been named dropped across Western boxing media, including by HBO. The 23 year old Kanagawa fighter isn't just a name who has been dropped by Western media but also by every hardcore fight fan, many of whom have seen Inoue fight either live on Fuji TV or on Youtube, and understandably they have been impressed by a youngster who combines exceptional skills, power and speed.
Inoue burst out in 2014 when he claimed the WBC Light Flyweight title, stopping Adrian Hernandez in 6 rounds, and then went on to claim the WBO Super Flyweight title with a stoppage against Omar Andres Narvaez. Those bouts saw Inoue prove he was the monster and saw him claiming world titles in his 6th and 8th bouts as a professional, with the win over Narvaez exciting people to a potential show down with Roman Gonzalez.
Although Inoue hasn't looked his best in recent bouts, wins over David Carmona and Petchbarngborn Kokietgym, he has been plagued by issues including over-training and over-looking his opponents. Coming in to the bout with Kono however he has cut back his training and will have taken Kono seriously, knowing this is a huge chance to remind fans just how good he is, how fast he is and how destructive he is.
During a 42 fight career Kono has been one of boxing's true over-achievers. He lost on debut back in November 2000 and suffered his second lost in his 10th bout to fall to 8-2 (2). He again fell to a loss in 2005 as his record fell to 14-3 (4). At that point his career could easily have fallen by the way side but instead he took lessons from those losses and avenged that third defeat less than 2 years later as he claimed the Japanese Super Flyweight title, his first professional title. He would later unify with the OPBF title in 2008 but failed to claim a world title in his first attempt, losing in a thriller to Nobuo Nashiro. A second loss at world level occurred in 2010, to Tomas Rojas, before he suffered losses to Yota Sato and Yohei Tobe, falling to 25-7 (9).
Amazingly since the start of 2012 Kono's career has gone 7-2-1 (4) with wins against Petchbarngborn Kokietgym, Tepparith Kokietgym, to claim his first world title, Denkaosan Kaovichit, to claim his second title, Koki Kameda and Inthanon Sithchamuang whilst losses have come in close decisions to to Liborio Solis and Luis Concepcion.
In the ring Kono is an incredibly tough man, he has been down several times during his career, and has been hurt even more often, but has never stopped coming forward and trying to fight. Although tougher than old boots Kono is technically limited, a bit slow, and likes to walk forward before letting his hands go. He's solid with a high work rate and a great energy level but he doesn't really work to get his way in and instead applies often clumsy pressure, allowing fighters to out work and out move him.
Whilst Inoue's last few opponents haven't been exceptional it's fair to say Kono is genuine world class. Sadly though Inoue has been better against top opponents than against the lesser foes and his father has set a more relaxed training regime this time, to help prevent injuries. With that in mind we're expecting to see the best Inoue to date, and we're expecting to see him use his speed and power to dismantle a tough, and brave, Kono within 9 rounds.
Every so often we get a fight that we genuinely want to see. This year we've already had a few, such as Leo Santa Cruz Vs Carl Frampton and Daigo Higa Vs Ardin Diale. We get another later this month when WBA Super Flyweight champion Kohei Kono (32-8-1, 13) battles against the exciting and hard hitting Luis Concepcion (34-4, 24). The bout is one of the most exciting match ups we could make on paper and is one we had hoped to get earlier in the year, though both men took different options before the WBA ordered them to fight.
For Kono, 35, the bout will be his 4th defence of the title and see him attempting to extend a reign that began back in March 2014, when he stopped Denkaosan Kaovichit. Although his reign hasn't been the best he did create history last year when he over-came Koki Kameda, to win the first ever all-Japanese world title bout on US soil, and effectively retire Kameda.
The Japanese fighter, dubbed the “Tough Boy”, is one of the real success stories of hard work and determination. He began his career with very little amateur experience and lost on his professional debut. That loss was a set back but Kono developed from it and after suffering other losses he eventually climbed his way through the rankings.
In his 21st bout Kono got his first title contest, facing off against Japanese Super Flyweight champion Teppei Kikui. A tough contest saw Kono claim the win, and the title, his first. Since then he has won the OPBF title, twice, and been a 2-time world champion, bouncing back from multiple setbacks to become the fighter he is today.
Although crude Kono is aggressive, tough, determined and hits harder than his record suggests. He's not the best Super Flyweight on the planet, or the best in Japan, but he's a total handful for anyone in the division with his never say die attitude. He's crude, needs to his feet, isn't the quickest to get into position and some times looks rather inactive whilst following an opponent round the ring, an issue that has cost him in the past. He is however someone you outbox and don't try to out fight.
With Concepcion we have another fighter who has been written off, multiple times, before finally getting to where he is today. He debuted back in 2006, as a 20 year old, and won his first 3 bouts before coming up short against Gilmer Baules. A 19 fight winning streak followed, with 17 stoppages, before Concepcion's's next loss. During that excellent winning run he stopped fighters like Omar Salado, Eric Ortiz and Denkaosan Kaovichit, who was dropped 3 times in 90 seconds to claim the WBA “interim” Flyweight title.
That winning run finally came to an end in 2011 when Concepcion fought the first of 3 bouts with Hernan Marquez, losing an 11th round TKO in a FOTY candidate. That was the first time where some suggested Concepcion was on the slide but a rematch 6 months later so many write him off all together, with Marquez stopping him in 109 seconds. That loss left a 26 year old Concepcion being looked at as a “shot” fighter with a record of 23-3 (18), and many felt he was a glass cannon.
Concepcion then went on a 9-0 (5) run, showing serious improvement in his boxing ability and less reliance on his power. He wasn't beating genuine world class fighters, but was over-coming fringe level foes, like Odilon Zaleta, Pablo Carrillo and Nestor Daniel Narvaes, all of whom will be familiar to Japanese fight fans. That run came to an end when he took on WBC Super Flyweight world champion Carlos Cuadras, and lost a wide decision to the Mexican despite putting up a credible effort.
Since the loss to Cuadras we've seen Concepcion score two notable wins, stopping the then WBA "interim" Super Flyweight champion David Sanchez and then out pointing Hernan Marquez, to finally avenge the two losses to the big punching Mexican.
Although Concepcion is a much improved fighter to the one who twice loss to Marquez he is still still an exciting and aggressively minded slugger. His defence is porous, his attitude in the ring isto attack and stalk and he is still looking to march forward and land a big shot. When he faces Kono he'll be in with a man willing to meet him face on and willing to take one to land one, with Kono's own machismo leading us to a fight. Both men can be out boxed relatively easily, but it takes a special fighter to beat either in a fight, and that's what we're going to get this coming Wednesday, a fight.
We'd not like to predict the result of the bout, but we do suggest that everyone tunes in, and we predict that this one could be a genuine FOTY contender between two men who simply like to fight. Don't expect to see the shoulder roll or fighters slipping and dodging, instead expect a tear up, get the popcorn, sit back and enjoy.
In the west we are used to seeing big fight nights come on Friday's and Saturdays. In Japan however things aren't that predictable and this coming Wednesday fans in Tokyo will get a world title triple header at the Ota City Central Gymnasium.
Of the bouts on offer the least appealing comes at 115lbs where WBA champion Kohei Kono (31-8-1, 13) [河野 公平] will make the 3rd defense of his title and battle Thai challenger Inthanon Sithchamuang (28-7-1, 15) [อินทนนท์ ศิษย์ชะมวง], who will be fighting in his first world tile bout.
Of the two men it's Kono who is the far better known, even if many do only know him as being “the man who retired Koki Kameda”, following his high profile Stateside win over Kameda last year. The Japanese fighter is currently enjoying his second reign as the WBA Super Flyweight champion having first won the title in 2012, stopping Tepparith Kokietgym, and then reclaimed it in 2014, when he stopped Denkaosan Kaovichit.
In the ring Kono isn't the most technically gifted or the fastest or the most mobile. What he is however is a warrior, he's as tough as old boots, has a fantastic engine and gets into great shape for every fight. That was seen in his 12 round against Kameda and also his enthralling 12 round loss to Liborio Solis, among other bouts. Of course his record doesn't show it, but he posses very solid power and many of his losses have been very close and come at world, or fringe world, level.
Compared to Naoya Inoue, the WBO champion at the weight, Kono is limited and would certainly not be fancied to over-come the Monster, but against almost anyone else at the weight Kono would likely be competitive, and make for a great action fight.
As for the challenger the Thai is relatively unknown outside of those who follow the Asian, and more specifically the Thai, boxing scene. Notably he is better than his record may suggest, and notably began his career by suffering a trio of losses straight off the bat with one loss coming for Yasutaka Kuroki, who won the OPBF and Japanese titles in career, and one to Masayoshi Segawa, who would later fight Kazuto Ioka for the Japanese Light Flyweight title. Other loses include defeats to Rocky Fuentes, Samartlek Kokietgym, Mark Anthony Geraldo and Jerwin Ancajas, all very good fighters.
Since his last loss, to Ancajas in Macau in 2014, Inthanon has gone 8-0-1 (6) which looks impressive on paper but the reality is that he has been matched softly during that run, with the best wins coming against Heri Amol and Jetly Purisima, whilst he also fought to a draw with Espinos Sabu.
In the ring Inthanon, with out being rude, is a tryer. Sadly he hasn't really fought many people at his level and he has either been thrown to the wolves, or matched against very opponents. That has left him generally looking a level better than his opponents, or several levels below them. We suspect that this will be another case of looking lower than his opponent with Kono likely to force the issue and break down Inthanon, probably in the middle rounds.
Whilst we are expecting this one to be one sided, we'd be shocked if it wasn't fun to watch, with Kono likely looking to make a statement from the opening bell and taking the fight straight to Inthanon.
All Japanese title fights aren't that rare though they certainly aren't that common, despite how recent the Katsunari Takayama Vs Ryuji Hara fight was. Whilst they aren't rare by themselves we've never seen an all-Japanese world title fight place on US soil. That changes on October 16th when WBA Super Flyweight champion Kohei Kono (30-8-1, 13) takes on long term mandatory challenger Koki Kameda (22-1, 18) in bout that has been more than a year in the making.
The fight, which was ordered last year, has been a real wrangle between not only the fighters but also promoters, sanctioning bodies and national bodies. It's due to those wrangles that the bout takes place outside of Japan, with Kameda currently “banned” from fighting in Japan by the JBC. Although Kameda is banned by the JBC he's not got a worldwide ban, and given that the WBA did order this bout it's essentially forced Kono to take on Kameda.
There had been talk of the bout taking place in various places, such as Macau, the Philippines, South Korea and even Thailand, but in the end the money to fight in the US on a PBC show made more sense that staging the bout in Asia. As a result, the two men will face off in Chicago, it will be Kameda's 2nd US bout, and 5th bout outside of his native Japan whilst Kono will be making his international debut. Despite that both have fought numerous world level bouts and both are genuinely world class.
Although both are world level fighters it's fair to say Kameda is the more recognised name and the more experienced the top level. In fact he's a 3 weight world champion seeking a 4th divisional title here, and if he gets it he will set a Japanese record. As for Kono he's “merely” a 2-time Super Flyweight world champion.
Kameda's career has been one shrouded in success and controversy. As mentioned, he's a 3-weight world champion. The first of those titles was the WBA Light Flyweight title back which he won back in 2006 with a controversial win over Juan Jose Landaeta, the second was the WBC Flyweight title which he won by out pointing Daisuke Naito in 2009 whilst the third was the WBA Bantamweight title, that he won in 2010 with a win over Alexander Munoz.
In total Kameda has a very impressive 12-1 record in world title bouts. Those numbers are more impressive than his competition which, at times, has been thoroughly disappointing. That was especially true of his reign at Bantamweight where he faced Mario Macias, Nouldy Manakane and Jung-Oh Son, who almost managed to shock the boxing world in 2013 losing by split decision to Kameda.
Although not a great fighter as a Bantamweight Kameda is certainly a very talented fighter with great timing, a fantastic array of punches, impressive speed and genuine confidence. Stylistically he can box or he can fight as a pressure fighter, something he did much better at the lower weights where his natural strength was a key to his style. Notably he's a southpaw and one who uses his stance well with a good right hand jab and solid hooks.
At Bantamweight Kameda's power and strength was relatively ineffective and he found himself needing to box and move more often than forcing the fight with pressure. Despite the lack of power he did actually go unbeaten as a Bantamweight, and his only loss came at Flyweight to Thai great Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. In that bout Kameda was lazy, out boxed, out worked and out thought by the Thai legend, who put in one of his last great performances.
Kono's career certainly hasn't been as notable as Kameda's but he has been a popular fighter in his homeland where he has consistently proven to be a tough guy, in fact his nickname is the “Tough Boy”. Technically he's not the best but he's shown real desire through his career and has bounced back from numerous losses to become a champion, twice over. He's done that through will power a refusal to be just another contender. That desire to be a champion saw Kono claim a world title in his third attempt, following a Japanese, and two OPBF reigns.
Kono's desire to be a champion saw him turn a 25-7 (9) record into his current 30-8-1 (13) record. That may not look impressive but that's included 4 world titles, in which he's gone 2-1-1 (2) and 4 stoppages in his last 5 victories, a notable turn around in terms of his power. That power has improved not because he's stronger than he once was but because he's improved significantly from the fighter he used to be.
In 2012 there was talk of Kono retiring, he silenced that talk by knocking out the then WBA Super Flyweight champion Tepparith Kokietgym in 4 rounds. Although he lost the title in his first defense he would regain it just 2 fights later, knocking out Denkaosan Kaovichit in the 8th round and he recorded his first defense last December, exactly 2 years after he first won a world title.
Technically Kono is basic. There is nothing that will send the division into fear and there is nothing that will catch the eye as being amazing about him. Fundamentally he is slow, basic and relatively predictable. Despite that he's the sort of fighter who is still a difficult man to beat, he's tough, impossible to dissuade and hits harder than his record suggests.
On paper this fight can go two ways and they both depend more on Kameda than on Kono. If Kameda wants to box and move it's very hard to see him losing. He has the speed and ability to make life very easy for himself in a performance similar to the one he used against Naito. On the other hand if Kameda looks to make a point and attempts to fight Kono then life will be different with Kono really having a genuine chance against Kameda an he may well have the power needed to stop the cocky former multi-weight world champion.
We know that there is real animosity between these two, but we don't imagine that Kameda will fight a stupid fight and instead he will likely cruise to a wide decision victory using his speed and movement to secure the decision against the clumsier Kono.
Kohei Kono Vs Norberto Jimenez-The Tough Boy looks to record his first defense and end a frustrating year on a high!
A lot of fighters have 2014 to be very frustrating. Some of those fighters have had their ruined by injuries, some by managements issues, some by legal issues and some by the issues out of their hands. One man falling into that final category is Kohei Kono (30-8, 13). Kono started the year brilliantly and recaptured the WBA Super Flyweight title all the way back in March with an 8th round KO of Denkaosan Kaovichit. It seemed that that win could kick start a career defining year for the “Tough Boy” but sadly those hopes were dashed when the WBA demanded that Kono defend his belt in a mandatory against Koki Kameda, a man who had never fought at the weight and was suspect to a ban by the Japanese Boxing Commission. With the JBC and the WBA at loggerheads for months Kono was effectively put on the shelf for issues completely out of his hands despite the best intentions of his promoter who had tried to make the fight.
Eventually the mandatory was deferred with an agreement for the two men to fight in 2015. By then however Kono had lost several months of his career, the memory of his win over Kaovichit was waning and any hope of a career defining year was out of the window.
Thankfully with issues sorted Kono has managed to get a fight arranged for the year. Sadly it's a disappointing one that we suspect many will turn their nose up at, and rightfully so. Rather than fighting a top guy in the division Kono will instead find himself up against the relatively unknown Norberto Jimenez (20-8-3, 10). A man so obscure that many hardcore fans won't even be aware of him, despite the fact he is unbeaten in 20 contests dating back more than 3 years.
Part of the reason Jimenez is unknown, despite his current streak of 18-0-2, is that he's been fighting solely at home in the Dominican Republic, and this will be his first bout away from home. Another part of the reason is that he's beaten nobody of note, in fact the only notable fighters that he's faced are Juan Carlos Payano, who beat him in 2 rounds way back in 2010, and Luis Hinjosa, who beat him by 6 round decision in 2011.
Although unknown outside of his homeland Jimenez has become a bit of a fan favourite with crowds at home. Known as “Meneito” he is flamboyant and like many flamboyant fighters he is also speedy. Sadly for him however his speed is rarely used well and his shots are looping, his footwork leaves a lot to be desired and a lack of power allows fighters to walk through a lot of his shots. Worst of all however is his defense, or lack of defense and he can often be seen leaving himself wide open any number of shots especially when trading with his chin in the air and his arms flailing in the air.
Against a low level of fighter, such as those Jimenez has been up against, he can get away with his numerous issues, he is however taking a massive step up to fight Kono and if Kono is out to make a mark then we may well see Jimenez finished off early.
Kono is known for his toughness and although he has been down in the past he has never been stopped, and has rarely even been halted in his tracks. What has happened to him however is that fighters have fought to his weaknesses. Kono, for all his toughness, is relatively slow of foot and can be found chasing as opposed to cutting the ring off, he can be out pointed by fighters with the energy to box and move and those with reaches that keep him at bay.
In a boxing based contest Kono is beatable. In a fighter however Kono will give anyone at 115lbs a real nightmare. He's not just tough but also possess genuine power, something that isn't really reflected in the stats on his record but is shown by his notable stoppages in recent years against Kaovichit and Tepparith Kokietgym. Not only has he stopped those two men but he has also recorded knockdowns against fighters like Liborio Solis and Tomas Rojas, two world class fighters in their own right.
Although not the sharpest fighter in the division Kono is a solid all-rounder. He can be beaten with intelligent speed and movement but rarely do fighters beat him without getting into trouble at some point and without being tough fighters. We suspect that Jimenez will be trouble early on and Kono will find a home for his hurtful right hand on the chin of the challenger. If Jimenez wants to fight like he usually does then Kono will walk him down and take him out somewhere in the middle of the fight.
There is a chance Jimenez will be much better here than he has looked in the past, however we honestly don't think he is. We think he's been fighting to the level of his opponents but rather never been given a chance to develop with fights to make the most of his natural speed. Speed is Kono's weakness but Jimenez doesn't have the boxing knowledge to make the most of it against an opponent like Kono.
(Image courtesy of Watanabe)
Whilst boxing fans in the West know all about the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry they may not realise that Asia has some similarly interesting rivalries with great history and great match ups. One such rivalry is the long-standing Japan v Thailand rivalry which had been one of the standout rivalries in world boxing.
If you've followed the rivalry you'll be well aware that Thailand is really dominant on home soil. Japanese fighters have had one worst records in world title fights when they've had to travel to Thailand and whilst the rivalry is a good one it's been hugely one sided when a Japanese fighter has travelled.
When it's been the Thai fighter travelling however the rivalry is much more interesting with a more even spread of results.
The next chapter in this great rivalry comes on March 26th when Thai veteran Denkaosan Kaovichit (62-3-1, 26) travels over to fight Japan's teak tough Kohei Kono (29-8, 12) for the vacant WBA Super Flyweight title, a belt both men have previously held in one form or another.
Of the two it's Kaovichit with the longer and more established career. He began boxing way back in 1996 and quickly established himself on the Thai scene winning the PABA Flyweight title on his debut. After running up more than 20 straight wins he then fought Eric Morel in a world title fight. Morel proved to be too strong for Kaovichit but it was clear that the Thai was, one day, going to become a world champion.
Around 5 years after Kaovichit lost to Morel he returned to the world level and came incredibly close to claiming the WBA Flyweight title when he fought to a draw with Takefumi Sakata. A rematch with Sakata the following year, 2008, finally saw Kaovichit becoming a world champion aged 32.
The Thai's reign was somewhat short lived with him losing the belt 14 months later to Daiki Kameda after 2 successful defences against Japanese fighters, including Kameda before losing a rematch to him.
Amazingly since losing to Kameda back in 2010 Kaovichit has racked up 14 wins from 15 bouts, including a notable split decision victory late last year over Japan's Nobuo Nashiro for the WBA interim Super Flyweight title. That victory over Nashiro saw Kaovichit taking his record against Japanese fighters to 4-1-1, a shocking figure considering how many fights he has had in his long career.
Aged 33 Kono hasn't had a career nearly as long as Kaovichit but it has been a career full of ups and downs and numerous tough, hard fights.
The Japanese fighter began his career in 2000 and surprisingly he lost on debut and he lost again in his 10th pro bout to drop to 8-2. By that point few would have expected Kono to emerge as a force on the world stage though the hard man from Tokyo kept with the sport and made sure he improved rather than accepted that he wasn't going to ever be that good. His improvement paid off in 2007 when he claimed the Japanese Super Flyweight title with a victory over Teppei Kikui and later added the OPBF title to his collection with a victory over Eden Sonsona.
Kono's short burst of success came to an end in 2008 when he lost in his first world title fight, dropping a very close decision to Nashiro in a bout for the WBA Super Flyweight title. Although Kono lost he proved he was around the world level and just 2 years later he had earned himself a shot at the WBC Super Flyweight title. Unfortunately for Kono he came up short a second time, losing to Tomas Rojas, despite dropping Rojas in the final round.
Fortunately for Kono he managed to win a world title in his third shot, upsetting Thailand's Tepparith Kokietgym for the WBA Super Flyweight title. It had taken him 3 attempts but finally he had climbed the summit and his hard work had been rewarded. Sadly for Kono his reigned lasted just a few months before he lost a thrilling battle with Liborio Solis of Venezuela.
With Kaovichit we have a fighter who is experienced, obviously, though not one with much power. A problem at the world level where he had never stopped a world class fighter other than Sakata. He has instead relied on his speed, movement and combinations to get as far in the sport as he's gotten. It's obviously worked for him in his prime but at 37 he's slowing and his stamina doesn't allow him to carry it off for 12 rounds any more. He showed his age in the Nashiro bout where he started very well but looked completely spent in the final few rounds and against another pressure fighter he could well have come undone completely.
In Kono we have an aggressive fighter who fights very well by bringing the pressure, relying on his toughness and mentality of trying to grind fighters down. His biggest win, the stoppage over Tepparith, proved that Kono can bang but usually he forces opponents to be dragged into battles of attrition something that should really work in his favour against Kaovichit, as long as he can cut the ring off and make the early rounds hard.
Stylistically we can't see Kaovichit beating Kono, especially not in Japan with their careers where they are right now. In their primes this would have been a genuinely interesting match up though we do feel that right now Kono has a lot left in the tank than the Thai who is ancient for a fighter in the lower weights. We expect this to be similar to the Kaovichit/Nashiro fight though Kaovichit's feet and work rate drop earlier and Kono starts to turn up the heat quicker than his country man did. We're expecting that Kono's work rate will pay off with Kaovichit being stopped in the championship rounds after some thrilling exchanges.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.