Sidney Boquiren previews this year's edition of the annual Japanese boxing series, the Champion Carnival. For more Japanese boxing updates, you can follow Sidney on twitter: RingwalkNippon@Twitter
In Japan, the start of a new year means that boxing fans will be treated to a new edition of the annual Champion Carnival series of fights. For a detailed explanation of the carnival, please take a look at our post last year at The Boxing Bulletin. Briefly stated, the event matches the reigning national champion against a world rated fighter or the winner of the previous year’s Korakuen Tournament. While the carnival does not always assure the most compelling of fights, it does provide opportunities for up-and-coming pugilists to test their skill against decent competition.
Last year’s event was a series of coming out parties as several exciting prospects used the stage to showcase their abilities and affirm their status as quality fighters.
Current WBA super bantamweight strapholder Ryol Li Lee claimed his first pro title in his carnival appearance last February, taking an important step in earning his shot against Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym.
Top national prospect Yoshihiro Kamegai also picked up his first crown and did so in exciting fashion as he pounded on the usually durable Yosukezan Onodera to a ninth round stoppage.
Perhaps the breakthrough Japanese fighter of 2010 was super flyweight Yota Sato. The 26-year old capitalized on his ticket to the carnival – an opportunity to fight for the vacant 115lb interim title – by upsetting highly touted prospect and world ranked Go Onaga. He would use the momentum to earn a wide decision over former Ring rated contender Daigo Nakahiro, taking the full crown just four months later.
This year’s lineup features a number of new faces that could make the same leap that Sato did over the past twelve months. Though a few hopefuls, such as Kazuto Ioka and Takashi Miura, will not make an appearance in the event (both are scheduled to challenge for world titles shortly), the 2011 edition of the carnival looks to feature several good prospects on the verge of stepping up to contender status.
Clearly the fight that is bound to make the most noise is the bantamweight showdown between two unbeaten prospects when champion Shinsuke Yamanaka (13-0-2, 9KO) faces Ryosuke Iwasa (8-0, 6KO). The Teiken titleholder was impressive offensively when he appeared on the undercard of Nishioka-Munroe in October. Yamanaka punished Jose Silveira over nine rounds with hard left hands and swift combinations, forcing the Mexican to retire in his corner.
His opponent on March 5th, despite the brevity of his pro career, is an exciting southpaw slickster that absolutely befuddled Kinshiro Usui in the Korakuen Tournament last year. Usui, a solid veteran whose only losses were two split decisions (one of which was against a legitimate world class contender in Kohei Oba), could not lay a hand on the sneaky Iwasa, who seamlessly would transition between offense and defense. Deceptively strong, the 21-year old also packs a decent punch to add to his cutesy style.
The winner between Yamanaka and Iwasa will lay their claim as Japan’s future in a division at which it has done well traditionally at the elite level.
In addition to the undefeated pair, another pug on whom one should keep an eye is Teiken’s flyweight prospect Toshiyuki Igarashi (12-1, 9KO). The 26-year old former Olympian won the interim 112lb domestic crown in only his eighth pro bout, but could not pull off a victory against then two-time world title challenger Tomonobu Shimizu in his next fight. Since that December 2008 setback, he has reeled off five straight wins including stoppages of trial horses Rexon Flores and Eric Diaz Siregar. Igarashi faces a fellow Shimizu victim in rugged veteran Takayasu Kobayashi (16-3-3, 2KO) on February 5.
With Miura signed to replace Jorge Solis as Takashi Uchiyama’s opponent on January 31, Seiichi Okada will meet with Rikiya Fukuhara on the undercard that Monday for the now vacant 130lb title. Though a bit advanced in age at 28, Okada still has just thirteen pro fights, winning all except for his first carnival appearance last year in which he dropped a split decision to Miura (this writer scored the bout – a phone booth war for the majority of the ten rounds – for the challenger). Okada has good technique and better than average power, and Fukuhara should be a decent test for him at this point in his career.
Sato and Kamegai will both participate in this year’s event as well, this time as the incumbent. The super flyweight has a tougher challenge in the form of Kohei Kono, who is making his return to the ring after losing to Tomas Rojas for the WBC title last autumn. Kamegai has an easier assignment in unheralded Shinya Nagase.
The carnival begins this Saturday with Hachioji Nakaya Gym’s dynamic duo of Nihito Arakawa and Charlie Ota. Both of these well schooled prospects won their titles in last year’s competition and are well on their way to moving to higher challenges. Arakawa (18-1-1, 12KO), a technician that has shown significant strides in the past few years, takes on rugged young vet Hiroshi Nakamori (29-2-1, 16KO). His gymmate faces former regional welterweight titleholder Taisei Marumoto(28-9-1, 15KO). Though the 34-year old is long in the tooth, he has won his last six, five by stoppage. Should Ota (15-1-1, 10KO) successfully defend his titles, we may see a rematch between the Tokyo-based American and domestic superstar Tadashi Yuba, who will fight on the undercard. The two combined to put on a fun little battle last September, and a rematch would be more than welcome by Japanese boxing fans.
Below is the schedule for all confirmed bouts in the 2011 carnival. The matchup for the super bantamweight division has not yet been determined as champion Masaaki Serie partially tore his MCL before his last fight in November and may have to vacate the title. A box-off would be arranged to crown a new champ.
Akira Yaegashi (Champion, WBA #3, WBC #8) vs. Norihito Tanaka (WBC #13 (108lb)) - April 2
Light Flyweight (vacant title)
Katsuhiko Iezumi (WBC #11) vs. Masayuki Kuroda (JBC #1) - March 22
Flyweight (vacant title)
Toshiyuki Igarashi (WBC #11, WBA #15) vs. Takayasu Kobayashi (JBC #1) - February 5
Yota Sato (Champion, WBC #9, WBA #5) vs. Kohei Kono (WBC #5) - Date TBA
Shinsuke Yamanaka (Champion, WBA #8, WBC #14) vs. Ryosuke Iwasa (JBC #1) - March 5
Satoshi Hosono (Champion, WBA #13) vs. Kazumasa Kihara (JBC #1) - February 3
Super Featherweight (vacant title)
Seiichi Okada (JBC #1) vs. Rikiya Fukuhara (JBC #5) - January 31
Nihito Arakawa (Champion, WBA #7, WBC #15) vs. Hiroshi Nakamori (JBC #3) - January 8
Yoshihiro Kamegai (Champion, WBC #11, WBA #13) vs. Shinya Nagase (JBC #1) - February 5
Yo Inoue (Champion) vs. Akinori Watanabe (JBC #2) - April 11
Charlie Ota (Champion, WBA #10) vs. Taisei Marumoto (JBC #1) - January 8
Makoto Fuchigami (Champion) vs. Fukutaro Ujiie (JBC #1) - February 14
For more coverage of Japanese boxing, follow Sidney on Twitter: RingwalkNippon@Twitter