2013 to close with a bang in Japan

By Graham Houston

The old year has wound down as far as boxing in the West is concerned but not so in the East, with two big shows featuring three intriguing title fights in Japan on New Year’s Eve.

These fights — featuring title defences by Japanese superstars Takashi Uchiyama and Kazuto Ioka and the always entertaining slugger Takashi Miura — should provide treats for aficionados and I always think it’s a shame that none of the Western TV outlets negotiates to show these fights, even if screened on a one-day delay due to the time difference.

The oddsmakers have in recent times stayed away from the Far East fights, and it can be difficult to gauge how good some of these fighters really are. Yet the Asian nations — principally Japan, Thailand and the Philippines — have given us some of our greatest fighters: Manny Pacquiao, Fighting Harada, Flash Elorde, Yoko Gushiken, Pancho Villa, Pone Kingpetch, Pongsaklek, all come to mind, while Korea’s Myung-Woo Yuh won 18 consecutive WBA title bouts in the light-flyweight division.

Last year I previewed the New Year’s Eve shows in Japan and posted my own odds. As I remember there was considerable wagering activity at the sportsbook that offered betting lines. There were two big upsets last year on Japan’s Dec. 31 shows. In a heavyweight fight, the Japanese kickboxing sensation Kyotaro Fujimoto — people who follow MMA were very enthusiastic about this colourful fellow — suffered a shocking KO defeat in his step-up boxing match against Solomon Haumona. As I recall, money was flowing in on Fujimoto. The other big upset saw Tepparith, a Thai junior bantamweight who had won 18 bouts in a row, which included winning three consecutive world title bouts in Japan, suffering a fourth-round KO defeat against Kohei Kono, a Japanese veteran who had lost three of his last five fights. This result was also a blow to players — again, all the money was coming in on the favourite, Tepparith.

Here’s a look at this New Year’s Eve’s fights with the odds as I see them.


WBA super featherweight title: Takashi Uchiyama (champion) vs Daiki Kaneko
Graham’s odds: Uchiyama -600; Kaneko +400
Over 7.5 -150; under 7.5 +130

It’s difficult going against the powerful, undefeated Uchiyama, who makes the eighth defence of the championship that he won by stopping Mexico’s Juan Carlos Salgado in the last round four years ago. Uchiyama was an international-calibre amateur (he boxed in the 2003 world championships, where he reached the quarterfinals) and he should be 21-0 as a professional because he was on his way to beating Michael Farenas when a clash of heads caused the fight to end on a technical draw in the third round. Uchiyama is big and strong, a sound technician and an implacable aggressor who keeps steady and rather relentless pressure on his opponents — it’s very difficult for an opponent to hold him off for 12 rounds. I thought that Bryan Vasquez, the speedy Costa Rican who was unbeaten in 29 bouts, had a good chance of scoring an upset, but Uchiyama walked his man down in eight rounds.

Daiki Kaneko is clearly an improving fighter. Kaneko has won six fights in a row by KO — which includes avenging one of his two defeats — and he hasn’t lost in six years. He’s the Japanese champion at 130 pounds and at 25 he’s nine years younger than Uchiyama.

From what I’ve seen of Kaneko he appears to be a stylish boxer with a nice variety of punches, and there’s a confident look to his boxing, although Kaneko’s tendency to hold his left arm low is a worry against a right-hand bomber such as “KO Dynamite” Uchiyama.

This is by far Kaneko’s toughest fight, but if he can move, jab and counter — and Kaneko does have an excellent left hand — he can have success. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kaneko wins rounds in the early stages of the fight. Yet — assuming Kaneko gets off to a good start — can he maintain momentum for round after round? Kaneko has been able to hurt and stop opponents in Japanese title bouts, but Uchiyama is on another level entirely. The key, I think, will be whether Kaneko can hurt Uchiyama and slow him down a bit. If not, the longer the fight goes, the tougher it’s going to be for Kaneko.

I do give Kaneko a chance, but the likely result, I believe, is Uchiyama scoring his 18th KO win, perhaps around the eighth round.

WBC super featherweight title: Takashi Miura (champion) vs Dante Jardon
Graham’s odds: Miura -400; Jardon +250
Over 8.5 +125; under 8.5 -145

If Uchiyama and Miura win their fights the stage will be set for an all-Japan battle-of-champions rematch in 2014. Uchiyama stopped Miura in eight rounds in January 2011, when Miura suffered a horribly swollen right eye. However, the southpaw Miura dropped Uchiyama heavily with a big left hand from his southpaw stance in the third round. Uchiyama was winning most of the rounds, but Miura’s eye injury was a grotesque-looking handicap.

Miura is, for me, one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, a hit-or-be-hit type, willing to take shots to land his heavy blows. Miura beat up Mexico’s Gamaliel Diaz to win the WBC title and he travelled to Mexico for his first defence, defeating Sergio Thompson by unanimous decision in one of 2013’s most gripping and dramatic fights, with Thompson down twice, Miura once.

Dante “Crazy” Jardon won a thriller in his last fight, too — and, like Miura, he came off the floor to win, stopping Gamaliel Diaz in the eighth round.

This is a fight between two heavy hitters who don’t always keep a tight defence — they’ve scored 39 KOs between them.

Jardon has boxing ability, as he showed when outscoring the extremely tough Miguel Roman in their rematch, but he can leave himself open when he seeks to unload his big hooks and right hands. I get the impression that Jardon is going to be taking the fight to the hittable and somewhat slow Miura, and this is one of those fights that could quickly flare into an all-out war, with each man getting rocked and wobbled. I will be surprised if the fight goes the full 12 rounds.

In a fight such as this, I usually go with the fighter who seems to have the better chin and who simply has the more resilient look, and that’s Miura in this fight. Boxing at home in Japan, I believe that Miura will be tough to beat, and I can envisage him outlasting Jardon for a stoppage win some time between the seventh and 10th rounds.


WBA light-flyweight title: Kazuto Ioka (champion) vs Felix Alvarado
Graham’s odds: Ioka -650; Alvarado +400
Over 8.5 -150; under 8.5 +130

Kazuto Ioka is the nephew of a world champion and the former Japanese amateur star seems to have it all — fast, skilled, intelligent and a hard hitter to body or head with an impressive variety of punches.

Ioka delivered a beautifully timed left hook to the body to crumple the Thai, Olyedong, in the fifth round to become WBC 105-pound champion in February 2011 and last December he moved up three pounds to capture the WBA title at 108 pounds. We know that Ioka can box brilliantly, and he showed he could prevail in a long, gruelling fight when defeating the very capable and tenacious Akira Yaegashi.

As good as Ioka is, though, I think that he might be facing a difficult fight against the Nicaraguan Felix Alvarado.

Ioka has boxed at the higher level, he’s boxing in his hometown of Osaka and he looks simply the more talented fighter. Alvarado, however, is aggressive and he can punch — he’s scored five KO wins inside three rounds in his last six fights. Also, Alvarado is in the same stable as the powerful and accomplished Roman Gonzalez and I believe he has sparred many rounds with Gonzalez — and anyone who can keep coming back for more against “Chocolatito” has to be a bit useful.

Alvarado impressed me with his three-round hammering of seasoned fellow-Nicaraguan Nerys Espinoza — he just kept steaming into the veteran, banging away, and Espinoza had a point deducted for holding before getting overwhelmed.

This is an intriguing fight because while we know that Ioka is exceptional we don’t know the level that Alvarado can reach.

These are young fighters — both aged 24 — and both are undefeated. Ioka, however, is the proven fighter and I expect him to win, either by stoppage in the last four rounds or by unanimous decision. To win, Alvarado will need at the very least to produce the performance of his life and the task looks beyond his capabilities.


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