Sidney Boquiren recaps this past weekend's boxing action from Japan. For more Japanese boxing updates, you can follow Sidney on twitter: RingwalkNippon@Twitter
In the wake of the destruction left by a massive earthquake and tsunami in the northeast prefectures, along with the lingering nuclear power plant issues, boxing in Japan has been on hold since the disaster that occurred on March 11. World title fights, regional and domestic championship bouts and other events were postponed or cancelled outright as the country focused its attention on more pressing issues. Korakuen Hall, the beloved, rickety 50-year old structure that serves as the main venue for the sweet science in the nation’s capital, went dark for weeks as a precautionary measure.
Saturday was the second day of boxing since the historic hall reopened its doors. The number of empty seats in the stands was a telling sign that normalcy in Tokyo is still a far off goal. A typically coveted spot at the front of the rail on the western balcony was easily procured. It’s a shame that more people did not come that night, as Ohashi Gym, the event’s promoter, stacked the card with four of their best. And though (as expected) all of the A-sides won, there was something for every fan of the sport – a superb display of technique and skill en route to a unanimous decision, a nasty KO in which the victim instantaneously hit the canvas unconscious, and a good ole fashioned phone booth brawl.
Yaegashi smooth in winning wide decision over Tanaka
In the main event, national minimumweight titleholder Akira Yaegashi was untouchable for the majority of his ten round contest with Korakuen Tournament winner Norihito Tanaka. Expertly controlling distance, the affable 28-year old showed good hand speed and punch selection to snipe, bludgeon and generally fluster the challenger. Not only taller and longer than Tanaka, Yaegashi’s quicker footwork allowed him to maneuver in and out of space, alternating between a searing jab to the body from distance and more forceful left hooks when the gap closed.
Rounds 4 and 6 featured the best two-way action of the bout, as Tanaka got the defending champ to settle his feet for a few minutes. However, with every decent shot that the challenger fortunately landed, Yaegashi immediately fired back, scoring with several more. Using both hands well, the beltholder peppered Tanaka with lefts and rights to the body and head. Surprisingly accurate, Yaegashi found the mark with his right cross with more frequency in the later rounds, specifically targeting a spot behind Tanaka’s left ear.
After 30 minutes of schooling the challenger, Yaegashi was awarded with a wide unanimous decision by scores of 99-92, 99-91, 100-91.
Yaegashi, who improved to 14-2 (7KO), sits near the top of the rankings in both the WBA and the WBC. Naturally, questions on the possibility of a showdown with countryman and current owner of the WBC strap, Kazuto Ioka, were tossed about the dressing room after the fight. The thought of that bout is an interesting and ironic one. Both men ran through their opposition upon joining the pro ranks. Both were given a shot at a world title in just their seventh paid appearance. But where Ioka succeeded in changing Japanese pugilistic history by usurping the green belt from Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Yaegashi was thoroughly outclassed when he challenged Tokyo-based Thai stud Eagle Kyowa.
Since the 2007 setback, the national champ appears to have matured into a solid practitioner of the science, very perceptive of his position in the ring and impressively methodical in stalking his opponent. He has more than a chance to beat Ioka if he is ever able to get the 22-year old to sign for a fight. The Kansai superstar, unfortunately, will probably do what he can to avoid Yaegashi. Should that be the case, he can sit on his #9 rating until Ioka moves up in weight (which will likely happen sooner than later), or target the winner of the WBA title fight on April 19.
(more recaps after the jump)
Hosono looks to regain his mojo, stops Yasuda in 3
Despite falling short in his attempt to lift a world title from Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, Satoshi Hosono gained a reasonable measure of respect among boxing pundits abroad. As the Thai beast seemed to be unbeatable at 122, pushing the champ to work for a majority decision was perceived to be a sign that Hosono could be a force in the near future. Since that January 2010 loss, the 27-year old has nabbed three consecutive wins, but appears to be losing steam. On paper, one stoppage and two decisions by safe margins may seem to be decent results, but for the man nicknamed "Bazooka," those wins are considered mediocre at best.
Saturday’s match-up with journeyman Kazuyoshi Yasuda was, unabashedly, an opportunity for Hosono to recapture his swagger. From the outset, the difference in skill, physical abilities and experience was transparent. Yasuda attempted to win with heart, but a lack of size, power and guile meant that his challenge would be a short one. Within eight minutes, Hosono imposed his advantages seemingly at will, knocking around the stout challenger. A combination of punches at the turn of the first minute of round three, punctuated by a flush right cross, prompted the referee to put a stop to what was soon to become a one-sided beating.
This writer is in no way giving up on the prospect, now 20-1 (14KO). Hailing from Fukushima, a prefecture right in the middle of the natural disaster and the location of the infamous nuclear power plant, Hosono likely had a heavy heart going into the ring and may not have been completely focused. But poor habits that he had shown in his previous two fights – failing to cut off the ring and simply chasing the opponent among them – still linger. Perhaps Hosono is the type that needs to be matched with decent quality competition in order to bring out the best in him. Ryol Li Lee, the previous owner of current champ’s title, represents a decent challenge and would force him to learn to take better command of the ring. Veteran Naoki Matsuda, should he return to active status, would also test Hosono’s technical abilities. Though the Teiken product is troubled with injury and is in the twilight of his career, his name would be a nice addition to the prospect’s record.
Okada stops Bando in phone booth brawl
The best action fight of the night belonged to super featherweight beltholder Seiichi Okada. The 28-year old champion quickly established the pace of the bout, drawing veteran Hero Bando into his imaginary phone booth. With an arsenal clearly suited for close quarters combat, Okada unleashed uppercut combinations, rattled off nasty body shots to both sides of the journeyman’s midsection, and was clever in his use of a right cross up top.
The veteran, who had gone rounds with regional contender Rikiya Fukuhara and WBA king Takashi Uchiyama, did not submit entirely to the champ. Game throughout the fight, particularly in the early rounds when he met the on-coming titleholder with effective aggression, Bando showed tremendous (almost foolish) heart in standing in with the younger, fresher Okada. For every punch he was forced to absorb, Bando retaliated with salvos of his own.
However, the fourth stanza made it clear that Bando’s chances at victory were slim, as a right cross put the challenger down with 25 seconds left in the round. Climbing off the canvas, he continued to meet fire with fire in the middle frames, preventing the referee from waiving off the fight by showing just enough offensive every time it looked like he was about to be overtaken. Had Okada, who plugged away with an assortment of good, accurate punches, had true one-punch knockout power, the ending would have come much sooner. It was not until 11 seconds into round nine, however, that the referee would finally rescue the brave challenger.
With the stoppage, Okada advanced his record to 14-1 (9KO). Though a personal favorite, he clearly needs more seasoning on the domestic level and should be pushed gradually toward regional competition. A rematch with either Fukuhara, who he barely edged for the vacant title in January, or with Takashi Miura, who gave him his sole loss last year, would be good options for the slugger.
Hara electric with 80 second TKO
Former amateur elite Ryuji Hara continued his romp through elementary competition by destroying Kittikasem Ketkieyu in 80 seconds. The 20-year old prospect connected with two blazing left hands that dropped the Thai import like a sack of potatoes. Seeing that the spread-eagled Ketkieyu was unconscious, the referee waived off the fight immediately.
Hara, who won the rookie tournament last year in the minimumweight division, moved his record to 7-0, 5KO.
For more coverage of Japanese boxing, follow Sidney on Twitter: RingwalkNippon@Twitter