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Japanese Scene Year in Review: Fight of the Year

Choosing the fight of the year was the most difficult choice because of the limited access to fights that fans outside of Japan had. Because of this, I only selected 6 fights as contenders, 3 that there were video of and 3 that there weren't. While I was tempted to choose a fight that there was video of, there was one fight in particular that stood out among the others, despite the fact we have not seen video of it yet.

Winner: Nobuchika Terado vs Andy Howson (Krush.21) - While video has yet to surface of this fight, it was chosen as Krush's 2012 fight of the year. Howson started strong, dropping Terado 2 or 3 times in the opening round and a half and looked to be well on his way to victory. Terado, who was knocked out by Krush champion Shota Takiya in just 71 seconds earlier in the year, did not want to be a quick KO victim again and dug deep and dropped Howson. He followed up with two more knockdowns in the 2nd round, forcing the referee to stop the bout and defending his ISKA Super Bantamweight title. He snagged victory from the jaws of defeat and put on one of the year's most exciting and spectacular performances in doing so.

Runners up: Yuki vs Yuto Watanabe (RISE 87) - Sticking with the theme of improbable comebacks, Yuki and Yuto Watanabe squared off at RISE 87 in a fight for Yuki's 63kg title. It was Yuki's first defense and a fight he was favored in. However, Watanabe started strong in the first round and scored a knockdown, then went on to win the 2nd round and draw in the 3rd, giving him a 3 point lead with just 2 rounds left. Yuki closed the gap in the 4th, but needed at least two knockdowns to win the fight outright and at least one to force an extension round. In the 5th round, Yuki hurt Watanabe and dropped him, meaning the fight would likely go to an extension round. However, Yuki saw his opportunity and took it, forcing a standing 8 count as he battered Watanabe with several unanswered punches. When the scores were announced, two of the judges saw the fight for Yuki with the third having it scored a draw and Yuki retained his title in dramatic fashion.

Satoru Suzuki vs Bovy Sor Udomson (Shootboxing 2012 act.1) - Since coming to Shootboxing in 2009, Bovy has proven he is no stranger to wild, exciting brawls, putting on some of the promotion's best fights including fight of the year contenders in 2009, 2010 and 2012. This year's fight saw him face off against former boxer Satoru Suzuki. Suzuki started very strong, knocking Bovy down about half way through the round. Somehow, Bovy managed to get up despite smacking his head quite hard against the ground, but suffered another knockdown, putting him down 4 points after just 1 round (in Shootboxing, knockdowns result in a 2 point deduction each). Despite the deep hole he found himself in, Bovy stormed back in rounds 2 and 3, outbrawling the boxer and almost scoring knockdowns of his own. Unfortunately, he was unable to do so and Suzuki found himself the winner after 3 rounds. 

Chang Hyun Lee vs Genji Umeno (K-1 Rising World GP Final 16) - Over the course of 2011 and 2012, Genji Umeno had become one of Japan's most highly touted fighters, using 2011 to clear out the Featherweight division and start a run at the Lumpinee Stadium title. Despite getting himself ranked, he chose to take a fight in K-1 and move up in weight to 61kg. His first opponent at the new weight and under the new ruleset was unknown Korean Chang Hyun Lee, a training partner of Sun Hyun Lee who had scored a big upset of his own in his first fight in K-1. Despite looking like he had adapted well to the new ruleset, Umeno was having a tough time getting away from Lee's combinations, as he was able to land at will throughout the first round.  Umeno came out stronger in the 2nd round, landing combinations of his own, but not without eating more shots from the Korean. The 3rd round was the decisive round as Lee looked a bit tired in the first minute, but dropped Umeno with a huge overhand right. The knockdown seemed to energize both fighters as they both went for broke in the final two minutes, landing power shots, but neither man was able to drop the other and the fight ended. Lee had upset Umeno with the decisive knockdown, taking a 29-28 decision on all 3 cards.

Hirotaka Urabe vs Naoki Ishikawa III (Krush.25) - After starting the year with a draw at Krush.15 on January 9th, 60kg champ Hirotaka Urabe and #1 contender Naoki Ishikawa met for the third time, with Urabe's title on the line for the 2nd time. Both had gone undefeated over the course of the year and looked to end the year with a strong win. Ishikawa came out hot, wobbling Urabe in the 1st en route to a knockdown. Not to be shown up, Urabe came back in the 2nd and dropped Ishikawa to even the score at 18-18. Knowing the 3rd round would be the deciding one, the two went for broke and produced one of the best rounds of 2012, disregarding defense and looking to take control of the round. In the end, no winner was decided as the two drew for the second time in as many title fights and ended their 2012 the same way it started. Next year will likely see them meet for a 4th time and hopefully it is as exciting as their 3rd encounter.

Keisuke Miyamoto vs Ryuya Kusakabe (NJKF: Kick to the Future 6) - Kusakabe is no stranger to entertaining fights, as his run through the Krush 55kg tournament saw him put on 2010 and 2011 fight of the year contenders against Nobuchika Terado and Shota Takiya, respectively. 2012 was no different story as he set out to defend his WBC Japan Super Bantamweight title against MA Kick champion Keisuke Miyamoto. Over the course of 5 rounds, the two exchanged frequently, much to the delight of the Korakuen Hall crowd, and at the end of 5 rounds, Miyamoto was given a unanimous decision. The fight saw Miyamoto emerge as one of Japan's new stars, but it also helped cement Kusakabe as one of the country's most exciting fighters.

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Japanese Scene Year in Review: Knockout of the Year

From head kicks to spinning backfists to jumping knees, 2012 produced some brutal yet entertaining knockouts and luckily, most of them got uploaded to Youtube in one form or another. While I cannot say this is a definitive list, as 9 of my 10 nominations took place in Krush, this is the best I could do with the resources I had. 7 of the 10 have an accompanying video, but for the 3 that don't, the pictures say it all. Not surprisingly, 5 of the 10 were head kick knockouts that left the other fighter out cold. However, there was one that lifted itself above the others.

Winner: Hirotaka Urabe (vs Masato Kobayashi, Krush.18) - In what was one of the biggest mismatches of the year, Krush 60kg champ Hirotaka Urabe faced off against DEEP and GCM Flyweight Masato Kobayashi. While Kobayashi shared a name with the legendary Masato, he did not share his kickboxing skill. After hurting his opponent with a pair of flying knees and some punches in between, Urabe landed a high kick that made Kobayashi drop. He didn't get up. It was one of the year's most devastating knockouts and will probably stop Krush from booking a mid-level MMA fighter against one of their champions for a while.

Runners up: Yasuhiro Kido (vs Kenta, Krush.17) – The first time these two met, Kenta had all the momentum in the world while Kido was trying to pull himself out of a slide. In the rematch, the momentum had swung to Kido. He started off the 1st round with a beautifully timed knee that dropped Kenta. Then came the 2nd round, where, about half way into the round, Kenta had Kido in the corner and went to attack. Kido ate a right hand to the side of the head while ducking away and somehow, in a small window, Kido turned and landed a beautiful spinning backfist that put Kenta down and, upon attempting to stand up, Kenta didn’t have his legs and the referee was forced to wave off the bout. It was not Kido’s first spinning backfist KO, as he had stopped Shintaro Matsukura to end 2011 and it wouldn’t be his last, as he finished Xu Yan in the K-1 Final 16 with the same maneuver.

Thomas Adamandopoulos (vs Ryuji Kajiwara, Krush.21) – Thomas Adamandopoulos was the first of many French fighters to compete in Krush, making his promotional debut in 2011, winning the ISKA World Super Lightweight title against Keiji Ozaki. His second appearance saw him face off against Krush 63kg champ Ryuji Kajiwara in a title fight. From what I can tell, the fight was pretty close, though Adamandopoulos was getting the better of the exchanges. Then half way through the second round, Adamandopoulos connected on a high kick that put Kajiwara out for good. This is one of the three fights that there is no video of, but the picture below speaks for itself.

Nobuchika Terado (vs Andy Howson, Krush.21) – Another entry from Krush.21 saw ISKA World Super Bantamweight champ Nobuchika Terado defend his title for the first time against the UK’s Andy Howson. After being dropped twice himself, Terado knew he had to go for broke and somehow found it in himself to turn the tides and drop Howson in the 2nd round. That was followed up by two more knockdowns for Terado, who pulled off the exciting, improbable comeback win, a fight Krush named their 2012 Fight of the Year, as well as my favorite photo of the year of Terado walking away from Howson as the fight is called (featured below). Unfortunately, this is one of the other fights there is no video of.

Hirotaka Urabe (vs Fumiya Osawa, Krush.20) – Being the only person featured on this list twice, Hirotaka Urabe had quite a year in 2012. In this instance, he was defending his title against improbable 60kg tournament winner Fumiya Osawa, who had just a .500 record coming into the tournament. Urabe chose to spend most of the first round feeling out Osawa, throwing kicks from range and countering, then clinching whenever Osawa came at him with offense. In the last minute of the round, he started getting aggressive, but clearly he had seen something from the previous clinching. With about 30 seconds left in the round, the two were separated from a clinch and Urabe threw a perfect spinning back kick to the body, landing on the liver and sending Osawa to the ground in pain, where he was unable to get up.

Yuta Kubo (vs Yuya Yamato, Krush.22) – In Krush’s first event to take place in Nagoya, they had set up a fun 5-match set of Nagoya vs Tokyo fights, with Yuta Kubo vs Yuya Yamato headlining. After the first 4 fights saw a 2-2 split, it was up to Japan’s top two Welterweights to settle the score. After a strong first round, Kubo dropped Yamato with a right hand. When Yamato got up, he was promptly met with a left high kick that kept him down. Again, no video for this fight, but the series of pictures is quite amusing.

To read about the other 4 selections in this category, as well as videos for all fights except for Thomas Adamandopoulos vs Ryuji Kajiwara, Nobuchika Terado vs Andy Howson and Yuta Kubo vs Yuya Yamato, which I will post pictures for, click read more

Also, I had promised to do a post each day, but due to New Year's Eve plans, I won't be able to put the Fight of the Year and Fighter of the Year posts on time, but I will post them either both on January 1st, or one on January 1st and the last on January 2nd.

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2012's Under the Radar Fighters in Kickboxing

2012 has been a year in kickboxing where new stars have emerged and established themselves as formidable fighters. Like always though, there are some fighters who had great years in 2012 but went under the radar, awaiting an opportunity on the biggest stages of the sport to potentially join the likes of breakout fighters like Murthel Groenhart, Davit Kiria and Sanny Dahlbeck. Much of kickboxing dwells in relative obscurity to many and there are a lot of good fighters that haven't gotten or are waiting on a big opportunity. The purpose of this post is to profile some fighters who had great years in 2012, but ultimately went under the radar.

Franci Grajs

Franci Grajs had a great year where he established himself as the #1 fighter in kickboxing at 85kg. The thing is, 85kg is not very well known by most fans, who are mostly familiar with 70kg and heavyweight. Grajs' performance at the Enfusion: Trial of the Gladiators final was his coming out party, and even though he beat fighters like Sahak Parparyan and Andrew Tate, he still hasn't gotten much recognition outside of this website. That's the nature of kickboxing when it come to divisions that aren't 70kg and heavyweight. 2013 will be a year where the likes of GLORY and K-1 have said they're going to bring in the 85kg division, and hopefully it will be when Grajs gets his big opportunity.

Vitaly Lisnyak

Vitaly Lisnyak has put together a very solid year, winning the W5 Fighter tournament at 60kg. He's gotten better with each fight, showing an increasing adaptation to kickboxing, as he comes from a Muay Thai background. His lone loss on the year came back in May to fellow up and comer Sofian Bougossa, but as aforementioned, Lisnyak has improved significantly since then. W5 did a great job of developing and building up fighters this year, and with 2013 possibly bringing a growth and expansion of W5, expect to see more of Lisnyak there. Despite not being a well known division, the weight range that Lisnyak fights in sees quite a bit of crossover with fighters from around the world, and there are plenty of match-ups out there for him.

Cheick Sidibe

Cheick Sidibe started the year off with a setback, a loss to Artem Levin in March. Of course there's no shame in losing to Levin though. After that, Sidibe has been on a tear, particularly in the last quarter of this year where he's racked up numerous wins over solid competition all over Europe. He's travelled to and won in England, Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Russia this year. He also did fight on It's Showtime's smaller show in Belgium on May 12, where he particularly raised my eyebrows in defeating up and coming Dutch fighter Jason Wilnis, handing him the first loss of his career. That fight was also at 85kg, and similar to Franci Grajs, hopefully Sidibe can get an opportunity on the big stage at that weight next year. He usually fights around 81kg but he looked great in defeating a legitimate and solid 85kg fighter in Jason Wilnis, and has put on very strong performances in all of his other wins.

Vladimir Mineev

Vladimir Mineev is only 22 years old but I'd already consider him past the status of a prospect. He's one of the better 95kg fighters and put together a 6-0 record in 2012. His recent win over Ali Cenik showed that he still has a lot of room for improvement, but it also showed that he can overcome adversity and defeat a solid 95kg fighter. He faced a gradual rise in competition this year and I'd say we can expect more of the same in 2013. His last loss came all the way back at the end of 2010, to Igor Jurkovic, and he even beat Sergei Lascenko back in 2009. It will be interesting to see how Mineev handles a step up in competition and to evaluate his progession. Cenik was a tough fight, but ultimately he passed the test.

 

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Japanese Scene Year in Review: Prospect of the Year

With 2012 winding down and no more Japanese events, outside of GLORY 4 TOKYO/DREAM.18, I have decided to do a 7-part series meant to recap the best of 2012. Starting today, and with a subsequent post each day, I will reveal the Prospect, Upset, Event, Promotion, Knockout, Fight and Fighter of the year for the Japanese kickboxing scene, as compiled by myself.

The title of prospect of the year was a 2-horse race between Hiroki Akimoto and Keisuke Miyamoto. Both captured an MA Kick title in their respective weight class and defeated the men considered the #2 fighters in their weight classes to claim WBC Japan titles. However, the final decision came down to one thing: consistency.

Winner: Hiroki Akimoto (2012 Record: 5-0-0, 3 KO) - Hiroki Akimoto was not the most surprising prospect of 2012, but he was the most impressive. Akimoto went 4-0-0 in 2011, stopping all of his opponents and looked as though he was going to continue that streak in 2012 as he finished his first 3 fights, including a TKO victory over Hiroki Fujisawa to win the MA Kick Featherweight title. That is when the former Koshien finalist took his biggest step up, facing Yosuke Morii, who had filled the void of #1 Featherweight in Japan after Genji Umeno's departure from the weight class, for the WBC Japan title. Akimoto got the toughest fight of his pro career, but won a unanimous decision, earning him the title and the top spot in the division. He followed up with the second biggest win of his career, a unanimous decision over top 5 Featherweight Shunta Ito. For the time being, Akimoto is the hottest prospect in Japan and looks to be unstoppable. He has his sights set on Lumpinee Stadium, but a fight I'm sure most would like to see first is a matchup with Genji Umeno.

Runners-up: Keisuke Miyamoto (2012 Record: 4-1-1, 2 KO) - Like Akimoto, Miyamoto picked up two quality wins and an MA Kick title, stopping Yu Hiramoto in his first fight of 2012 to win it. The quality wins came over NJKF champion Arato in April and then against Ryuya Kusakabe in September to win the WBC Japan title. Kusakabe had been considered the #2 in the division behind Krush champion Shota Takiya. The deciding factor between he and Akimoto was a draw to former Lumpinee Stadium champ Pinsiam Maki and a loss to end his year to Kantapon Sor Aooddanmuang.

SHIGERU (2012 Record: 4-0-0, 0 KO) - SHIGERU was definitely one of the two biggest surprises on this list. If you had asked me who he was about 6 months ago, I'm not sure I would have been able to tell you. He started 2012 with a win over Takahito Fujimaki, netting him the WPMF Japan Super Featherweight title and avenging the only blemish on his otherwise perfect record, a draw against Fujimaki to close out 2011. His next fight was a back and forth affair against Hiroto Yamaguchi which saw both men hit the canvas, but SHIGERU ultimately got the better of his fellow prospect and handed him his first loss. After a defense of his WPMF Japan title in October, he scored the biggest win of his career, defeating Yuji Takeuchi by majority decision. Despite 3 other solid wins, the Takeuchi win put SHIGERU on the map and has him set up for a (hopefully) prosperous 2013.

Nemo (2012 Record: 3-0-1, 0 KO) - Naming himself after the popular Disney/Pixar character was quite applicable, as it is very hard to find out anything about this quickly rising prospect, whose real name is Noriyuki Inoue. His year started with a win at Kick to the Future 1, but took off with a win over Shuichi Wentz in October, Shuichi's first fight since his brutal head kick KO of Romie Adanza in K-1. He followed that up with a win over former top 10 Flyweight Naoki Otsuki which put him in line to fight for the vacant NJKF Flyweight title. He faces the winner of Takashi Saenchaigym vs Shota, which already happened, but there haven't been any results for. From what I was able to find, I believe Takashi won the fight, setting up a rematch of a fight that ended in a draw earlier this year, the only blemish for Nemo in 2012.

Mizuki Inoue (2012 Record: 3-0-0, 1 KO) - The thing that makes Mizuki Inoue so impressive is that she is also a high-level MMA fighter and her 4 wins in MMA have come by submission. Throw in that she has a 4-0 grappling record under the Jewels banner and one might wonder why she's on this list. While only fighting 3 times in Shootboxing, Inoue won a 4 round and a 6 round fight against Shootboxing star Ai Takahashi, while beating MINA's face into a bloody mess in her other fight, winning the Shootboxing 53.5kg Girls S-Cup in the process. She introduced herself to fight fans with a big 2012 and can only go up from here.

Sho Ogawa (2012 Record: 3-1-0, 0 KO) - Ogawa is another of one of the many products of K-1 Koshien and likely its last winner, as he won the 2011 tournament, though it took place this year. He made himself known late last year, making it to the quarterfinals of the Krush Youth GP where he lost to Hiroya, but not without giving him a tough fight. After his Koshien tournament win, he rattled off 3 straight wins, including a win over Minoru Kimura. Unfortunately, he dropped a decision in REBELS to Tatsuya Inaishi in his most recent fight. Despite that, Ogawa seems to be another fighter we can expect to make waves in the Lightweight division in 2013.

Shiro (2012 Record: 2-0-1, 1 KO) - After suffering the first defeat of his career in 2011 to Rui Ebata, Shiro put together an undefeated 2012, beating Daihachi Furuoka in January and Jomrachan Tor Ragu in August, with the draw coming against Rui Ebata in a SNKA title fight. Shiro proved with the draw against Ebata that he is an elite Bantamweight and he has another chance to prove it against Fonphet Chuwattana in January, as Fonphet is the #2 ranked Bantamweight at Rajadamnern Stadium.

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