While there is a dark cloud hovering over the main event featuring WBC junior lightweight titlist, Oscar Valdez, and Robson Conceicao, there was a great deal of relief from the hard-core boxing fans that -- regardless of the circumstances of that bout still taking place -- that the match-up between WBO flyweight belt-holder, Junto Nakatani, and Angel Acosta would proceed.
Because while Valdez is expected to take care of his Brazilian challenger with relative ease at the Casino Del Sol in Tucson, Arizona, Nakatani-Acosta is really the best fight on this card that will air on ESPN+ on Friday.
Nakatani, the Japanese southpaw is considered by many pundits as the next standout champion from this country which has produced a multitude of elite fighters in the lower weight classes the past half-century.
"He's a very talented fighter, he's a true professional to the sport," said Rudy Hernandez, who trains the 23 year old. "He comes to the gym and works, he's always trying to learn, always trying to get better at what he does."
Photo courtesy of Top Rank
For years, Hernandez has had a close association with Teiken Promotions, which promoted his brother, the late Genaro, and he has been tasked with training various boxers from this county who make the decision to hold their camps in Southern California. Back a few years ago he lead Masayuki 'the Judge' Ito to the WBO 130 pound title.
Hernandez is an old-school type of trainer, who sticks to traditional means of crafting his fighters skills. You wont see him doing any intricate pad routines with his guys. He still firmly believes in shadow-boxing, the heavy bag and sparring. He enjoys working with boxers from this part of the world because they are generally more compliant.
To him, it's very simple: I teach, they learn. I talk, they listen.
"Our cultures are completely different, so it makes a difference," explained Hernandez, after their days work had concluded a couple of weeks back at the Knockouts Boxing Gym in South Gate, which is a working class suburb a few miles from Los Angeles. "These guys from day one, the moment they are born, they have a different structure and their thing is to always come and give their best.
"If they can't give their best, they've failed themselves -- and their families."
On this particular morning Nakatani, a sharp-shooting left hander spars 10 rounds (which included several stanza's with Saul Sanchez, who is preparing for an upcoming outing on 'ShoBox') and then some work on the heavy bag, which are closely supervised by Hernandez, who has trained him since he was 15 years old.
With his 5'7 frame, you could easily see him moving up in weight and having success. While he is most comfortable from the outside, he can also bump-and-grind in tight quarters. He is a multi-faceted fighter.
Nakatani is like most Japanese boxers, generally very quiet and well-mannered, with an abundance of respect for authority figures. Which is why Hernandez believes he can become the best boxer he's ever worked with, which includes the late, great 'Chicanito'.
''When it comes to discipline, they were both great, but where Junto edges my brother is that he doesn't question, he tries and he succeeds with whatever it is I'm asking of him," stated Hernandez, who had more than a few family feuds with his brother back in the days when they would work at the L.A. Boxing Club.
Nakatani (21-0, 16 KOs) captured the WBO strap by stopping Giemel Magramo in eight rounds for the vacant strap last November. In many ways this is a litmus test as he goes up against the hard-punching Puerto Rican, who is the former WBO junior flyweight champion. Acosta (22-2, 21 KOs) has bounced back with two victories since taking a controversial 12th round stoppage loss to Elwin Soto back in 2019.
Photo courtesy of Top Rank
Hernandez states, ''I'm expecting the very best Angel Acosta, he already knows how it's like to be a world champion, now he's moving up divisions and looking to get a second world title. Like most fighters that have already tasted that belt, they know what comes with it, of course he's going to give it 110-percent."
This is a quality pairing of world-class flyweights. Ring Magazine ranks Nakatani fourth at 112, with Acosta at number eight.
Currently the likes of Kazuto Ioka, Ken Shiro and Hiroto Kyoguchi are also major belt-holders that hail from 'the Land of the Rising Sun'. But it's unified bantamweight champion, Naoya Inoue, who casts a large shadow over everyone else. But Hernandez doesn't believe that there is any particular pressure to live up to 'the Monster'.
"Because that's like saying every fighter here lives under the expectation of Floyd Mayweather, or other great fighters that we have. I think each one of them is an individual, and only very few are meant to be the cream of the crop."
It was reported that the Sept. 18 junior featherweight unification bout between Stephen Fulton and Brandon Figueroa will be backed up as Figueroa has come down with Covid. This is the second fighter in recent weeks to have come down with the virus that is under the direction of trainer, Joel Diaz, who also works with WBA/IBF 122-pound champion, Murodjon Akhmadaliev, who had to have his bout with Ronny Rios delayed with the same illness.
Diaz explained that Figueroa came to the Coachella Valley with his family, as his sister acts as the nutritionist and the mother as the camp cook. A couple of weeks ago, Diaz noticed that the mother was not at his training facility because she was feeling under the weather. At that point Diaz requested she get tested, ''because I don't want anyone in the gym that has Covid."
Soon Figueroa's father told Diaz that his son was feeling a bit congested. He would soon test positive, and the decision was made to keep him out of the gym, but he kept training in the garage of the home he was staying at.
"Until they had to break it down to (Al) Haymon," Diaz told SNAC.com this past Tuesday, ''because they were going to bring a camera crew to the gym and they were not there."
Diaz is now in Tucson, as he prepared Acosta for the contest with Nakatani on Friday night. He said of the defending champion, "He's a good little fighter, he has a good little style. But I don't think he will withstand the power of Acosta. Acosta, he hits like a 130-pounder."
The trainer expects his charge to stop Nakatani between rounds eight and ten.
And yes, both Diaz and Acosta were tested as they arrived to the fight venue.
"We're negative, we're good."
Does anyone else say 'Junto Nakatani' in their Harry Kalas voice?....The undercard portion of this card will begin at 5:30 pm, ET/2:30 pm, PT on ESPN+. It will be capped off by Nakatani-Acosta. It also includes the likes of the highly touted Xander Zayas, Raymond Muratalla, Lindolfo Delgado and Rene Tellez Giron... The main portion of the card will resume on 'the Plus' at 10 pm, ET/7 pm, PT, and will begin with Gabe Flores Jr. facing Luis Alberto Lopez, before the nights main event... Yes, Donald Trump and his son have been hired by Triller to take part in this weekends broadcast in Hollywood, Florida....Looks like Terrell Owens still wants a part of Donovan McNabb. Maybe that could be a co-feature on an upcoming Triller show...So Miami beats App. St, right?.... I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org....