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Preview of Humberto Soto vs. Motoki Sasaki

Humberto Soto vs. Motoki Sasaki June 25, in Cozmel, Mexico
(Adapted from Boxing-zine’s preview written by Yuriko Miyata)

Four months shy of his 36th birthday, Motoki Sasaki (36-8-1, 23KO) prepares for his second world title shot. Though one might not label his opponent, Humberto Soto (55-7-2, 32KO), an elite champion, the Mexican has claimed titles in three weight classes and is, without question, a top rate boxer. It is clear that the wily veteran is up against stiff odds.

However, as Sasaki has pulled off numerous upsets to return to the spotlight in the past, his supporters believe that he will not go down without a fight. Even if there may be but a single beam of hope, they have invested their faith that Sasaki will do something special this weekend.

Back in February 2003, Sasaki faced talented and popular Tadashi Yuba. At that time, the tall southpaw had already earned the distinction of two-division champion and boasted a 20-1-2 (13KO) record. Sasaki, on the other hand, had already suffered four losses, two by stoppage, and fell short in his only previous attempt at a national crown. Yet he stepped up to stop Yuba in nine frames and claim the first title of his career.

Tadashi Yuba vs. Motoki Sasaki (full fight)

Fast-forward to February 2008, Sasaki had lost his title years earlier and was matched with another hard-punching lefty in Rev Santillan. The veteran rose to the occasion once again. Sasaki would buckle the OPBF titleholder early as he blitzed him at opening gong. Then, employing a hit-and-run style offense, he would send the Filipino slugger to the canvas in round two, hurt him again in the third, and drop him once more in the sixth before stopping him seconds before the end of that stanza.

Rev Santillan vs. Motoki Sasaki Pt. 1

For both fights, Sasaki had been the underdog, but found success by forcing the incumbent into fighting at his pace.

Saturday’s bout with Soto will be Sasaki’s second world title shot. In October 2009, the Teiken warrior challenged WBA welterweight strapholder Viacheslav Senchenko. Unable to contend with the Ukrainian’s technical ability, Sasaki lost by wide margins on the scorecards. However, while he was outclassed by Senchenko, he certainly did not go without putting up a fight. Sasaki continued to press valiantly despite getting penalized for a headbutt, enraging the titleholder’s promoter as the Ukrainian was exasperated and bloodied after 12 hard fought rounds. Though he may not have taken the world title home, Sasaki succeeded in showing his will and determination.

Viacheslav Senchenko vs. Motoki Sasaki Pt. 1

On July 20, 2010, in his second appearance after the failed title attempt, Sasaki was matched with three-division OPBF champion Randy Suico for the Filipino’s regional light welterweight crown. Seemingly down on the cards as the fight was about to enter the championship rounds, the veteran pulled out a dramatic split decision win after dropping Suico with a left hook in the 10th. In his most recent bout, Sasaki came off the canvas to stop Pan-Soo Kim, finishing the Korean challenger with swift efficiency after creating an opportunity in round five.

Sasaki the survivor is getting another crack at a world title. Again, he will venture to enemy territory to wage battle. This time the odds are even tougher, as the veteran will have to make a weight limit he has not had to meet since the previous millennium.

His opponent, 31-year old Humberto Soto won his first world title in 2005, edging then undefeated Rocky Juarez for the interim WBC 126-lb belt. He would move up to super featherweight in 2008, and take the interim WBC title in October and the full version two months later. Last year, the Mexican transferred to the lightweight division, claiming another vacant green belt with a points decision over former champion David Diaz.

It would appear that Sasaki would have a better shot at an upset should Soto look to make it an action fight. However, the possibility of that happening may be low as the champ has become more of a technician recently and has not had a stoppage victory in almost two years. While his jab had been very effective even in the era in which he was more of a puncher than a boxer, he has since transformed his style. Soto now mainly works from the outside, using the lead blow to set up a diverse arsenal of punches. He fights at his own pace and is content to win by decision.

After 65 appearances in the pro ring, Humberto Soto is a battle-tested champion with superior technique. Motoki Sasaki will look to make it an uncomfortable night for the Mexican titleholder, using his unique pugilistic skills in hopes of setting up one of his trademark finishes. The veteran has made a career out of pulling out big victories at tough odds, and it will be interesting to see if he can do so again this weekend.

A Week in Japanese Boxing  
June 12 – 18

June 12
  IMP Hall,Osaka

Miyazaki fails to impress in title defense
Talented light flyweight prospect Ryo Miyazaki retained his OPBF title on Sunday with a unanimous decision over Donny Mabao. However, despite winning handily on the scorecards (117-111, 119-110, 118-110), the champ lost the battle with the scale, as cutting weight drastically to meet the 108-pound limit resulted in an unimpressive performance. After storming out of his corner at the initial gong in an attempt to end the fight early, the typically dynamic youngster failed to score even a knockdown as stamina issues came into play.

Miyazaki (14-0-3, 8KO) is often compared to WBC minimumweight strapholder Kazuto Ioka. While the regional champ has more than enough ability to someday match the achievements of his more celebrated gymmate, he and his handlers may have to rethink their training regiment. Team Miyazaki had hoped to push the 22-year old toward a title shot within the year, but it seems the prospect will continue to campaign at the regional level in order to work out lingering issues before taking a step up in competition.

On the undercard, Myung Ho Lee (13-1, 5KO) edged Shin Ono (11-5-2, 2KO) by unanimous decision and increased his win-streak to 11 in a row. Currently the #5 rated flyweight by the JBC, Lee dropped his opponent in the fourth with a left hook. Though the game Ono continued to press forward, Lee fended him off to win by scores of 97-94 and 96-94 (twice).

June 12   Sangyo Hall (Hiroshima)

Nakahiro wins in ring comeback

Former national super flyweight beltholder Daigo Nakahiro (22-4-1, 8KO) chalked up his first win in four appearances as he outscored Thai national champ Suriya Chuwattana. Though suffering a cut from an accidental clash of heads in the seventh, the Hiroshima native held on to come on top by final tallies of 79-74 and 78-75 (twice).

Although winless in his previous three bouts, in retrospect, those three opponents make up a tough lineup for any pug in Japan in the 115-118 pound range. In December 2009, the veteran was able to retain his crown by squeezing out a majority draw over current OPBF champ Ryo Akaho. Nakahiro would lose his title while attempting to make his fourth defense at the hands of one of the country’s hottest prospects, Yota Sato, last September. Then earlier this year, the 29-year old suffered a consecutive loss when he stepped in as a replacement to face regional bantamweight titleholder Malcolm Tunacao. Nakahiro was stopped in six frames.

Monday, June 13  Korakuen Hall,Tokyo

Arakawa defends national lightweight title by TKO4
(Translated from the "Man of the day" post by Shinjiro Funabashi)

Southpaw technician Nihito Arakawa gave Masanori Shoda few opportunities in their contest on Monday, thoroughly dominating the first-time title challenger en route to a fourth round stoppage victory. With three defences of his 135-lb crown under his belt, anticipation is high for a showdown to determine the nation's top lightweight between Arakawa and OPBF strapholder Ryuji Migaki.

Although Arakawa has found himself on the canvas early in recent bouts, the champ attributes that to "being too cautious and not letting my hands go." On Monday, he was active from the opening gong, particularly with his southpaw jab, while measuring up his opponent.

Midway through the initial frame, Shoda connected with a hard straight right, but Arakawa handled the punch well as he later commented, "I saw it coming, so I was able to withstand it."

The champ further reflected, "Shoda prepared well for this fight and it was clear that he was trying to hit me just as I finished throwing my punch. Even if I see it coming, if I get hit by the punch, even lightly, it just shows that I was too slow to get to the proper position to counter my opponent's pressure. That is something I will have to work on."

That one counterpunch, however, would prove to be one of the rare instances the challenger would succeed in finding the target as Arakawa calmly avoided Shoda's future attempts.

From there on, Arakawa found his rhythm, maintaining a good level of activity and attacking with a variety of punches. The young veteran went to both the head and the body, masking hard punches with weaker ones, and going inside and around the challenger's guard. In using a predicated mixture of punches in his assault, the champ continued to find success and wear down his opponent.

Arakawa explained, "Against an opponent that has a tight guard, throwing punches to both the head and the body is a tried and true tactic to breaking that guard down. That's how I was able to set up the shot upstairs that led to the stoppage."

The southpaw broke through Shoda's guard in the fourth when he rocked the challenger with a right hook. Arakawa gave his opponent not a moment to recuperate, immediately sending Shoda to the mat with a hard straight left. Though the challenger made it to his feet within the ten-count, the champ attacked with lefts and rights, forcing the referee to halt the bout. Although he was perfectly effective in his finishing skills, the titleholder felt that he still needs to improve in that area. "I ended up throwing only hooks to the head. There will be times when you will not be able to finish off a fighter unless you attack both the head and body."

Arakawa may show a good degree of self-reflection, but he also has his eyes set on bigger opportunities. In his post-fight interview, he called out the regional strapholder saying, "Now that I have defended my national title three times, the timing for a fight with Migaki is perfect. Fans want to see it happen, too. As a pro boxer, this is the type of fight I want to make happen. I would think that Migaki feels the same."

Migaki, coming off injury, is currently scheduled to defend his OPBF crown on July 2.

For his training camp against Shoda, Arakawa worked out in Mexico for approximately two weeks as he accompanied gymmate Masamichi Nozaki, who will campaign there part-time in the future. Mexican fighters left a strong impression on the 29-year old, particularly in regards to their mental toughness.

"I learned that, in a situation where they have a lot to lose if they lose a fight, boxers over there work hard to fight their style of fighting, even if the opponent makes it difficult."

He added, "Today, Shoda did a lot of things to make me uncomfortable, but I hope that I was able to fight my way of fighting."

Fuchigami stops Tajima in five to make second defense

In the co-feature on Korakuen's Monday card, Makoto Fuchigami, the middleweight member of Hachioji Nakaya Gym's trio of national titleholders, withstood a few shaky moments against Hidenori Tajima to halt the challenger after five innings.

An unorthodox lefty, Fuchigami's style incorporates unpredictable back-and-forth movement, long, piercing jabs and looping right hooks. While the 27-year old floored Tajima in the third with a crushing straight left, Fuchigami seems to have struggled a bit as the challenger countered the champ's movement to take the upper hand at managing distance. Despite eating a few right hands as he attempted to close the gap, the titleholder still succeeded in dishing out enough punishment that Tajima's corner believed their fighter's jaw may haver been fractured.

In making the second defence of his belt, Fuchigami advanced to an overall record of 16-6, 7KO.

June 17      Korakuen Hall,Tokyo

Parrenas upsets Kakutani in three-minute war

Warlito Parrenas Jr., fighting under the name Wars Katsumata, handed flyweight hopeful Atsushi Kakutani his second career defeat in a three-minute whirlwind of a battle on Friday. Although the bout never made it to the second round, each man tasted the canvas in an action-packed affair as the combatants exchanged heavy artillery from the get-go.

Katsumata (14-5, 12KO) struck first, dropping his opponent with a right hand. Kakutani (9-2, 5KO) ranked #12 by the JBC after winning the division in last year's rookie tournament, returned the favor, sending the Filipino import to the mat with a left hook. Katsumata reclaimed control of the fight by scoring a second knockdown with a flush left hook. Though Kakutani again picked himself up from the canvas, he would not be able to withstand the Filipino's follow-up barrage, falling once more to signal the end of the bout.
Yamanaka, Sato and Arakawa
shine in 2011 edition of Champion Carnival

May 2011

Champion Carnival, the annual year-opening series of national title fights, was capped off last Thursday with an awards ceremony held during the “Boxing Day” fan appreciation festivities. Though the 2011 edition was missing a few names due to bigger opportunities (Kazuto Ioka and Takashi Miura, for example), injury (Masaaki Serie), and illness (Yoshihiro Kamegai), several other pugilists rose to the occasion to put forth excellent performances. Previous carnivals have proven to be a stage for up-and-coming boxers to shine, and this year’s offering lived up to that expectation as on-lookers saw some of the nation’s brightest hopefuls take positive steps toward world contender status.

A 10th round stoppage victory in the most anticipated showdown of the carnival’s draw of fights earned national 118lb champion Shinsuke Yamanaka (14-0, 10KO) MVP honors. The Teiken prospect’s March 5th battle with fellow unbeaten Ryosuke Iwasa was unexpectedly a highly technical and strategic one, but contained the classic element of ebb and flow as each fighter attempted to assert his dominance in 28+ minutes of action. Yamanaka overcame a potential disaster in the second round – when the slick challenger rocked him with a counter left hand – to claim momentum in the middle frames with superior boxing and cleaner punches. Progressively finding a home for his left hand as the bout continued to the late innings, the southpaw titleholder battered Iwasa to the point that the challenger had bad swelling around both eyes. The end came as Yamanaka overwhelmed Iwasa in the middle of the final round with a flurry, causing the referee to step in at the 1:28 mark.

Yota Sato (21-2-1, 11KO), perhaps the breakout fighter on the domestic scene in 2010, was commended with the award for technical ability as he scored his biggest career win against two-time world title challenger Kohei Kono. It was assumed that the defending champ, a quick boxer who prefers to work from the outside, would have his hands full as Kono, a relentless pressure fighter, would come at him non-stop for all ten rounds. However, Sato established himself early, staking a claim on control of the bout by flooring the challenger with an exquisitely timed right uppercut seconds into round two. Though it was hardly a one-sided affair, the 27-year old champ boxed nicely to a well-deserved unanimous decision.

Selected as the recipient of the third and final honor, “Outstanding Performance,” was lightweight Nihito Arakawa. The cerebral technician put on a nice display of accurate punching as he attacked challenger Hiroshi Nakamori with precision. Coming off the canvas from a knockdown in the second stanza, the defending champion used lead lefts and left uppercuts to wear down Nakamori in the middle rounds. As the contest turned toward the homestretch, Arakawa rocked the challenger badly early in the eighth with a big left hand. A follow-up left-right would convince referee Biney Martin to halt the bout at the 0:55 mark.

While the trio of champions garnered the official awards for this year’s carnival, there were certainly other fighters that deserve recognition.

Flyweight Toshiyuki Igarashi (13-1-1) had one of the more stiff assignments as he was matched with wily veteran Takayasu Kobayashi. The former Olympian, however, delivered with a third round explosion in the form of a blistering left hand that made it by Kobayashi’s guard. Maneuvering out of the way as his debilitated opponent looked to clinch, Igarashi forced the stoppage with brutal efficiency, trapping the veteran in a corner with a barrage of punches.

Minimumweight strapholder Akira Yaegashi (14-2, 7KO) put on a clinic of which boxing purists would have been proud. Using speed, pinpoint punching and ring generalship, the champ was almost untouchable, resulting in a unanimous decision by wide margins over challenger Norihito Tanaka.

Though this year’s carnival is now over, as we head toward the summer, we can look forward to the start of a new Korakuen tournament. Victors of that series of fights are given preference for participation in next year’s Champion Carnival, and with exciting youngsters such as lightweight Shuhei Tsuchiya and minimumweight Ryuji Hara as potential entrants, the 2012 iteration of the carnival could be another good one.

For an extended description of the Champion Carnival format and an overview of this year’s fights before the start of the event, please see my preview at Bad Left Hook. Links to full recaps can be found below as well:.
1 Yamanaka-Iwasa
2 Sato-Kono
3 Arakawa-Nakamori