Japanese Scene: Arakawa tops Migaki in battle of top Japanese lightweights

HNakaya Poster

Sidney Boquiren recaps this past week's boxing action from Japan (more after the jump). For more Japanese boxing updates, you can follow Sidney on twitter: RingwalkNippon@Twitter

For Nihito Arakawa, his last 24 rounds in the ring have perhaps been his toughest. The 30-year old claimed the regional OPBF title after surviving a disastrous start against unheralded Jay Solmiano in October; and this past Tuesday, scored his biggest win on paper by besting fellow WBC top ten lightweight Ryuji Migaki. However, though proclaimed the victor in each of the two fights, the typically smooth southpaw technician has been knocked down, battered, and forced to claw his way to decisions. Arakawa may have rightfully earned the label as top dog at 135 in Japan and the region, but his performances have only created questions about where he should go from here.

The lefty has spent the past few years collecting belts that Migaki had owned only shortly before. In 2010, Arakawa picked up his first professional title by beating Akihiro Kondo, the man who had handed Migaki an embarrassing stoppage lost in the initial round of his first defense. Last year, after defending the OPBF crown three times – all by stoppage – Migaki was forced to give up his belt due to injury, and it was the southpaw who would succeed him. Tuesday’s main event finally brought the pair together in a showdown to decide the country’s top lightweight.

The fight should have been a classic matchup between cerebral boxer and come-forward puncher. However, the combination of an unreported injury and questionable strategy resulted in twelve rounds of less than compelling chess.

At the opening gong, the current and former champions attempted to make it a battle befitting of the anticipation the fight had gathered. Neither hesitated to meet at the center of the ring, circling and posturing as each looked for an opportunity to strike. Arakawa delivered the first blow in the form of a well timed straight left to the body. However, the former strapholder would not be out done, quickly showing that he was the stronger of the two by visibly moving the southpaw back with hard right hands even when blocked. Surprised by Migaki’s intentions of landing crosses instead of the straight right, Arakawa seemed to back off somewhat in an attempt to create more distance with his opponent.

The champ regained momentum in the second when the fight moved inside. Arakawa’s superior precision and punch selection was transparent, particularly as he landed the left uppercut and right hook. When space did open between the two, the southpaw’s lead left was also effective and defensively he looked solid, slipping and countering well. However, Arakawa began to look sloppy at the end of the frame, perhaps the result of a minor leg injury suffered in the opening round that would reduce his mobility.

From the third, Arakawa appeared off balance and his punches lacked their typical crispness. The impact of his unfortunate injury would be lessened however, as Migaki decided to go southpaw himself from the fourth stanza. The veteran would have his moments in the left handed stance, clearly baffling Arakawa momentarily, but while he managed to touch up Arakawa more as a lefty, his punches did not carry the power he displayed earlier.

The sixth round featured the most exciting action of the bout when Arakawa blasted Migaki with a well-timed left hand counter. The southpaw attempted to end the fight there, trapping the veteran on the ropes and exploding with a flurry of punches. The gritty Migaki refused to go down, somehow covering up and avoiding enough of Arakawa’s offensive that soon the incumbent would have to back off from fatigue.

Migaki would only revert back to an orthodox stance late in the fight when the champion had already built a decent lead on the scorecards. Though Arakawa was racking up points on precision and punches landed, he was far from the dominant technician that he had been as the national titleholder. The anti-climatic showdown finished with the champion successfully defending his crown by unanimous scores of 116-112, 117-112, and 118-111.

Now 22-1-1 (14KO), Arakawa is at a difficult intersection of his career. As much as he has fine-tuned his technical prowess and continues to work on physical strength, his struggles in the past two fights may suggest that he has hit a plateau. From a positive perspective, surviving those struggles and finding a means to win is a testament to Arakawa’s mental strength and instinctive abilities. On the other hand, they may simply mean that the southpaw requires a considerable amount of improvement before he will be ready to take on the division’s elite outside of Japan.

More Japanese boxing results

Iwasa defends Japanese bantamweight crown

Earlier today, bantamweight prospect Ryosuke Iwasa retained his national title in spectacular fashion by stopping veteran Yuki Murai in one round. According to Nikkan Sports, the 22-year old had been in control throughout the first 2+ minutes of the fight, working behind the one-two and effective body punching, when he connected with a vicious straight left that sent Murai to the canvas. The veteran would rise once, but could not stay upright before being counted out.

Iwasa improved to 11-1, 8KO. The sole blemish on the youngster’s record is his loss to current world champ Shinsuke Yamanaka in one of the best fights of last year in Japan.

Akaho and Tunacao win in Kobe

Also in action today, regional super flyweight strapholder Ryo Akaho (18-0-2, 11KO) was able to hold on to his belt via majority decision over Yoshihito Ishizaki by scores of 115-114 (twice), 115-115. The 25-year old champ is an offensive monster with good power and excellent explosion, but it seems he cannot be bothered to learn the defensive aspect of boxing.

Looking to stay busy while waiting for a shot at a world title, former world champion Malcolm Tunacao (30-2-3, 19KO) stopped journeyman Yuki Takemoto in four.

e-mail Sidney Boquiren

For more coverage of Japanese boxing, follow Sidney on Twitter: RingwalkNippon@Twitter

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