The Japanese scene right now is one of the most exciting, not just in regards to the fighters currently at the top but also the emerging talent which is breaking through the rankings and looking to make a name as part of a new generation of Japanese fighters. One such fighter is 19 year-old Flyweight hopeful Junto Nakatani (10-0, 8) who already looks to be “one to watch”.
Nakatani is from the little known M.T. Gym, where his most notable stablemate is Akinoi Hoshino. Although from a little known gym he has started to turn heads in Japan and in the US.
Yes it seems weird that a teenager from Japan has been turning heads in the US but those who travel through the gym scene in North America may well have seen a teenage Nakatani training with the youngster actually having spent at the Maywood Boxing Club in California all the way back in early 2014. That training helped Nakatani run up a 14-2 (10) amateur record, but he didn’t turn professional with any fan fare and instead turned professional with a C class licence, like a typical rookie.
That amateur experience came in handy the following year, when he debuted and quickly despatched fellow debutant Junichi Itoga in 93 seconds on April 26th 2015. Going in to his debut the then 17 year-old Nakatani was some 15 years younger than Itoga, though it never mattered as the skills, speed and power of the youngster were simply too much.
Nakatani would move to 3-0 (2) by the end of 2015, notching a 4th round stoppage against Akira Kokubo in July and a 4-round decision over Magnum Nishda, with the scores from all three judges being 40-34 for that bout.
Although Nakatani debuted in 2015 he really had a break out in 2016 as he went 6-0 (5).
He began the year by stopping fellow unbeaten Tetsuya Tomioka in the 3rd round of a scheduled 4-rounder. At the time this didn’t look too notable as Tomioka was just 1-0 (1) entering the bout but he has since gone 4-0 (4) and looks to be a genuine puncher. He followed it up with a solid win over Takayuki Teraji on the Japanese domestic scene. That win was followed by an opening round win over Yutthana Srisaketpattana by Nakatani, who was then 5-0 (4) and set to begin his journey on the Rookie of the Year.
Based in Tokyo Nakatani entered the 2016 Rookie of the Year in the Flyweight division, and was a participant in the East Japan Rookie of the Year section. His first bout in the competition came in July against against Shu Muramatsu, who was stopped early in round 2. In the semi-final of the competition Nakatani took on Satoshi Tanaka, who was also stopped in round 2, albeit at the very end of the round when his team pulled out with some grotesque swelling around his right eye.
Having won the East Japan Rookie of the Year Nakatani progressed to the All Japan final where he risked his 8-0 (7) record against fellow puncher Masamichi Yabuki (then 3-0, 3). Yabuki had impressed from his debut in March 2016 and had taken out all three foes inside a round, including a notable win in the West Japan
The final of the East Japan Rookie of the year saw Nakatani take on fellow Southpaw Daisuke Yamada (then 5-2, 1). Coming in to the bout Yamada had won his previous two bouts by decision, and although he had a decent looking record for an East Japan Rookie of the Year final competitor he was no match for Nakatani who needed just 100 seconds to secure the win, with a dynamite left hand that completely took away Yamada’s senses in front of an impressed Korakuen Hall audience.
In the All Japan Rookie of the Year final Nakatani took on fellow puncher Masamichi Yabuki (who was 3-0, 3), who was being touted as a destroyer having stopped all of his previous opponents inside a round. The bout looked unlikely to go the distance on paper but the two managed to last the 4 rounds together with Nakatani doing enough to claim the decision and the All-Japan crown. The bout saw Nakatani taking Yabuki’s aggression and using it against him with a tired looking Yabuki unable to compete at a high pace in later rounds.
Since beginning 2017 we’ve seen Nakatani in action once, fighting on a show that was featured on subscription service Boxingraise.com. In that bout fans saw Nakatani take on Thai visitor Atiwit Munyapho, who had a reported record of 12-9-2 (3) though that is very different to his boxrec record. The bout was an exhibition of sorts for Nakatani who used his boxing to control the the Thai in the opening round before icing him with an excellent 1-2 in the second round.
Currently ranked by the JBC, Nakatani is expected to spend 2017 maturing and gaining valuable experience rather than racing to a title. Given his age that’s an great way for his team to handle him, however rather than just having him in the Japanese gyms his team have got him prepared for a training camp in March in Los Angeles, as he continues to develop in different settings.
Gifted with a baby face, a long and tall frame, natural speed and power, Nakatani is one to watch for the future and may well be a name we see competing at title level in the years to come. Whilst following his career might be a long haul, the talent is there for him to be a real star of the future, and it’s going to be worth investing time in following him for the long run.
(Scott Graveson covers the Asian boxing scene for www.asianboxing.info)