Christmas is cancelled in Japan
For the many boxers fighting in Japan between 26-31 December Christmas is cancelled with a mixture of some of the sport’s elite pugilists, domestic contenders and a selection of the country’s brightest young hopes all in action and aiming to take the next step up the professional ladder.
The action commences on Boxing Day at the Central Gym in Kobe where Shun Kubo (8-0, 6 KOs) and Lloyd Jardeliza (7-2-1, 6 KOs) vie for the vacant OPBF 122lbs title.
Kubo, a southpaw out of the same Shinsei Gym that produced Hozumi Hasegawa, is among a cluster of talented Japanese super-bantamweights coming through the ranks. The 25-year-old’s most significant win to date came in December 2014 over eight rounds to the then world-ranked Luis May which can be seen here.
Despite 6 of his 7 victories coming by KO, Jardeliza hasn’t mixed at a very high level and faces an uphill task against his talented opponent. The 20-year-old’s only previous trip on the road saw him lose over 10 rounds in Perth, Australia, to Nathaniel May for a minor WBO bauble.
The 27th is a hectic day featuring five shows altogether with the highlight being a clash of youth versus experience as Kenichi Horikawa (30-13-1, 7 KOs) makes the first defence of his Japanese light-flyweight title against the highly talented Ken Shiro (5-0, 3 KOs) at the Oyamazaki-cho Gym in Kyoto.
Horikawa has been a great servant to the domestic scene in Japan and his seventh round stoppage of Shin Ono in September (to finally capture a domestic belt at the fourth time of asking) was a really feel good story. The 35-year-old has mixed in great company having shared a ring with Edgar Sosa, Akira Yaegashi, Yu Kimura and Ryuji Hara amongst others. His only stoppage defeats came at the hands of Sosa, Florante Condes and Michael Landero.
Shiro was tipped for stardom since turning pro in late 2014 and so far he hasn’t disappointed. The 23-year-old came through his toughest test surviving an early flash knockdown to outpoint unbeaten Filipino Rolly Sumalpong in October for a youth title. The son of former Japanese and OPBF light-heavyweight champion Isashi Teraji saw off the normally durable Takashi Omae in four rounds four months ago and in March the bigger and undefeated Katsunori Nagamine was stopped in seven rounds in a bout which you can view here.
Over at the Bunka Center in Hyogo, promising strawweight Riku Kano (7-1-1, 4 KOs) faces his stiffest test when he squares off against former world title challenger Pigmy Kokietgym (58-8-2, 23 KOs) over eight rounds.
Kano, at just 18, has eyes on becoming the youngest ever world champion from the land of the rising sun and breaking the record set by Hiroki Ioka. Due to boxers needing to be 17 to fight as pros in Japan, Kano began his career in the Philippines and Thailand and, although he went 1-1-1 in his first three bouts, he has strung together six consecutive wins with four coming inside the distance.
Fans may remember Pigmy being taken out in eight rounds back in June 2014 by top strawweight Hekkie Budler in Monte Carlo. The 34-year-old was being lined up for a crack at WBO belt holder Kosei Tanaka but a shock upset 11th round TKO loss to Jaysever Abcede left those plans in tatters and defeat to Kano would leave the Thai with nowhere to go in terms of opportunities at world level.
The last significant action on 27 December sees Yuki Monaka defend his Japanese light-middleweight strap against Koshinmaru Saito at the Abeno Ward Center in Osaka with former world title contestant Hiroyuki Hisitaka taking on the underrated Mark John Yap in an eight round bout that should be highly competitive.
The 29th brings us the welcome return of super-flyweight king Naoya Inoue (8-0, 7 KOs) who headlines Ohashi’s excellent looking show at the Ariake Colosseum when he defends his WBO crown for the first time against Warlito Parrenas (24-6-1, 21 KOs).
After sending shockwaves around the world on the penultimate day of 2014 with his brutal two round decapitation of long reigning champion Omar Narvaez, the man known as ‘Monster’ has unfortunately been sidelined throughout the whole of 2015 with a damaged right hand.
The 22 year old recently got married and signed a deal with an influential Japanese marketing company and is set to fight on US soil sometime in 2016 with the hope of building to a lower weight super fight with Roman Gonzalez.
Parrenas seemed to have earned a mandatory shot at Inoue’s title but the Filipino had to be content with a draw on the road in July against David Carmona in a bout for the interim strap. Many Japanese boxing fans will be familiar with the 32-year-old as he has fought in their nation on seven previous occasions. Parrenas will certainly come out guns blazing which should make for an interesting fight while it lasts but a one round blowout loss to Oscar Blanquet doesn’t inspire much confidence. He was also beaten inside the distance by the heavy-handed and avoided Jonathan Taconing and bantamweight contender Marlon Tapales.
In arguably the most intriguing contest throughout this whole period, reigning IBF 108lbs champion Javier Mendoza (24-2-1, 19 KOs) makes the second defence of his title against Akira Yaegashi (22-5, 12 KOs).
Yaegashi is coming off two low level victories after enduring a harrowing 2014 suffering back-to-back knockout defeats to Roman Gonzalez and Pedro Guevara. Taking the Guevara fight just three months after being stopped by the formidable Nicaraguan wasn’t a wise choice but it fully demonstrated the no fear, dare to be great attitude of Yaegashi and the Ohashi Gym. Despite his seemingly insatiable first for trench warfare, the 32-year-old can box and use his brain as he did against Edgar Sosa back in December 2013 and similar tactics could prove useful against the Mexican.
Mendoza won his world championship causing a minor upset by outpointing Ramon Garcia Hirales in September 2014. The 24-year-old is a fun fighter to watch and carries plenty of power and aggressive intent but it will be interesting to see how he copes with his first fight outside of his homeland. His only defence so far was a horrible ugly encounter with Milan Milendo back in May with the bout coming to a halt in the sixth round due to multiple head clashes.
On a strong undercard, Takuma Inoue makes the first defence of his OPBF 115lbs title against Rene Dacquel and, as if two Inoues weren’t enough, cousin Koki Inoue debuts against Arif Maud in a six round light-welterweight contest. Talented bantamweight Ryo Matsumoto faces the useful Jestoni Autida and there’s a terrific looking clash for the Japanese featherweight belt with champion Satoshi Hosono squaring off against former world champion Akifumi Shimoda.
New Year’s Eve is now a much anticipated part of the calendar for Japanese boxing fans with Takashi Uchiyama and Kazuto Ioka being the main attractions and 2015 is no different with both men topping different bills in Tokyo and Osaka respectively.
Uchiyama (23-0-1, 19 KOs) attempts the 11th defence of his super-featherweight belt against Oliver Flores (27-1-2, 17 KOs) at the Ota-City General Gymnasium. Unfortunately, this is the second underwhelming New Year’s Eve opponent in a row for the hard-hitting champion with Argentine Israel Hector Enrique Perez retiring after nine rounds on the last day of 2014.
The immense power was fully on display in May when gifted Jomthong Chuwatana was chillingly knocked out in two rounds to quash any doubts about Uchiyama’s position as number 1 at 130lbs. Elbow surgery has kept him out of the ring since May and reports surfaced late last week that a deal was in place for him to face Nicholas Walters in Spring 2016 somewhere in the US. Hopefully, the Jamaican’s absurdly scored draw with Jason Sosa doesn’t put this fantastic fight in jeopardy.
How on earth Flores obtained a ranking let alone gained a shot at a world title is a mystery. The only name of any note on the Nicaraguan’s record is Miguel Berchelt who stopped him in two rounds back in November 2012.
I’m afraid the second half of this doubleheader looks no more competitive as Ryoichi Taguchi (22-2-1, 9 KOs) faces Luis de la Rosa (24-5-1, 14 KOs).
Taguchi completely dominated light-flyweight champion Alberto Rossel over 12 rounds last New Year’s Eve and easily swept aside the hapless Kwanthai Sithmorseng in eight rounds in May. Many will know him for being the only man to have taken Naoya Inoue the distance but the 29-year-old is a quality fighter in his own right and deserves far more challenging opponents to test his skills against.
De la Rosa is in wretched form having lost four of his last seven bouts and three by stoppage. The 30-year-old was blitzed inside a round by both Alexis Diaz and Moises Fuentes and only lasted eight against Merlito Sabillo. He was also outpointed over 10 rounds by Zou Shiming back in July 2014. The Colombian has no win of any substance on his record and is another example of a fighter being gifted completely unmerited opportunities at world level.
Thankfully, the bill at the EDION Arena has far more appeal with a rematch between Kazuto Ioka (18-1, 10 KOs) and Juan Carlos Reveco (36-2, 19 KOs) for a secondary flyweight belt.
The first encounter in April was a closely fought contest with Ioka taking a majority nod on the scorecards. A rematch was ordered but both men took warm-up bouts with Ioka scoring a near shutout over Roberto Domingo Sosa in September. His place near the top table of the 112lbs division was looking very precarious after being bamboozled by the tricky Amnat Ruenroeng in May 2014 but the 26-year-old has seemingly now properly developed into a fully-fledged flyweight in the last year.
Reveco won a 10-round decision over Breilor Teran three months ago in preparation for his second trip to Osaka and to try and avenge the loss to Ioka. At 32, another defeat against the man from Japan would leave him in a difficult position and a major rebuild would almost certainly be necessary. Reveco engaged in a wild bout with Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep last December with both men hitting the canvas but the Argentine eventually prevailed winning via fifth round stoppage. He was pushed all the way by Felix Alvarado in June 2014 who also gave Ioka all he could handle in a world light-flyweight title fight on the last day of 2013.
The always exciting Katsunari Takayama (30-7, 12 KOs) makes the third defence of his IBF strawweight crown against Jose Argumedo (15-3-1, 9 KOs).
Takayama has thrilled fans of the lower weights for years and has ventured on the road multiple times fighting in Mexico, South Africa and the Philippines, fighting a number of big names. He grabbed the vacant IBF and WBO 105lbs straps stopping Go Odaira last New Year’s Eve but escaped with a ninth round technical decision against Fahlan Sakkreerin in April where by then he had relinquished the WBO trinket. There were murmurings about his preparation and struggles in sparring going in to his last contest with Ryuji Hara in September but the champion bullied his younger foe scoring an eighth round knockout victory to silence any doubts. The 32-year-old was involved in the fight of 2014 losing a decision in a pulsating 12-round affair to Francisco Rodriguez Jr in a too often rare minimumweight unification.
Argumedo has been plagued by managerial and promotional issues so hasn’t been active since November 2014. The 27-year-old lost a 10-round split decision to Carlos Velarde in May 2014, but he does have a knockout win over former world title challenger Javier Martinez Resendiz. He has met ex-WBC champion Oswaldo Novoa thrice winning a majority decision as well as losing one split and one majority verdict.
There are two further title fights on the card with Takahiro Yamamoto defending his OPBF bantamweight belt against Yuki Strong Kobayashi while Sho Ishida aims to keep his Japanese 115lbs title against Ryuta Otsuka.
Last but not least we head to the Aichi Prefectural Gym in Nagoya where Kosei Tanaka (5-0, 2 KOs) makes the first defence of his WBO strawweight title against Vic Saludar (11-1, 9 KOs).
Tanaka is the latest wonder kid to emerge from Japan and hasn’t put a foot wrong so far. Under the guidance of former world champion Kiyoshi Hatanaka, the 20-year-old showed his ability by stopping then unbeaten Ryuji Hara in 10 rounds for the OPBF 105lbs belt last October in what was a frantically fast-paced encounter. He then made history in May becoming the quickest fighter from Japan to become a world champion in terms of number of fights, decisioning Julian Yedras over 12 rounds in just his fifth bout. While his speed and sublime skills were on show against Yedras, the impetuous youthful tendencies were also evident and, against a big puncher like Saludar, he will need to be less reckless.
The younger brother of flyweight fighter Froilan, Saludar comes in to his first title tilt with nothing to lose and everything to gain and he will have undoubtedly been buoyed at Marlon Tapales’ stunning second round KO of Shohei Omori. After being forced to retire after four rounds due to a bad hand injury against Powell Balada in November 2013, the 25-year-old has strung together nine consecutive victories with seven KOs. Those wins have come at a low level and Saludar is yet to go more than eight rounds so he is an unknown quantity at world level.
Unless there is a miraculous late development, viewers in the UK won’t be able to view any of these shows as, for whatever reason, TV channels have shown no interest of televising cards from Japan which is a real shame given the talent, flair and KO power on display. Even more bizarre to me is BoxNation, a dedicated fight channel, have yet to show a live or even delayed coverage of a bill from the land of the rising sun.