Although the Netherlands certainly holds the choice cuts of fighters at 70kg and above, Japan has dominated the lighter weights of kickboxing for years and without much credit. Last weekend, the two best fighters from the 65-67kg divisions- former K-1 Youth champion, Masaaki Noiri, and current GLORY and Krush 67kg champion, Yuta Kubo- met in Nagoya for 3rd time.
While Kubo had come away with two big wins in their previous meetings (once in the K-1 63kg tournament semi-finals and once in the GLORY 65kg finals) it was Noiri, the 20 year old prodigy, who finally earned his revenge and the Krush 67kg title.
By all reports, the fight was relatively one-sided. After sustaining an eye injury from a knee in the second round, Kubo desperately tried to employ clinching tactics against Noiri, which failed when the ref took measures to seperate them frequently, even going so far as to give Kubo a warning. Noiri picked apart Kubo from the outside using his length, taking extra care to aim for the older fighter's injured eye.
In the final round Kubo again tried his hand at clinching but this time was given a deduction from the referee for doing so. Free to engage, Noiri began landing hard knees, kicks, punches, and swarming Kubo at the end of the round with hooks to the body and head.
At the end of three, Noiri was awarded the unanimous decision victory, snapping Kubo's impressive 17 fight winning streak and taking his 67kg Krush title in the process.
This win, in my opinion, has created the most dynamic and interesting rivalry in kickboxing. With the exception of perhaps Peter Aerts and Semmy Schilt (Recently retired), no other pair of fighters in the sport have such a series of high level back and forth battles. They have only lost to each other on the world's biggest stages, and only after defeating everyone else in their weight brackets (which now span three seperate divisions). They are far and away some of the most technically skilled athletes in the world, they have distinctly opposing personalities, and they're both from the same country.
As GLORY Kickboxing continues its push into Japan, Noiri and Kubo are without a doubt the keys to getting Japanese fans back in seats. The Japanese favor exciting narratives over rankings and title fights, and right now there is no better narrative than a fourth, and potentially fifth match between the two best 65kg kickboxers in the world.
Also on the Krush .32 card, Yoshihiro Sato continued his impressive rebound from a disasterous 2012, winning his fourth straight fight and defeating Shintaro Matsukara by unanimous decision. Sato will be riding a hefty amount of momentum into his Full Thai rules fight against Buakaw on October 6, which will undoubtedly be his most significant battle since the 2010 K-1 MAX Finals against Giorgio Petrosyan.