In the long history of combat sports, there has to have been another month similar to what December 2018 promises to be, but this much is certain: If there was one, it was a long, long time ago.
The sheer volume of current and all-time greats fighting in December is staggering, and that was even before the stunning announcement in Tokyo on Monday (Sunday in the U.S.) that Floyd Mayweather would fight kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa on New Year’s Eve in Japan.
Mayweather, Jon Jones, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Vasyl Lomachenko, Max Holloway, Brian Ortega, Cris “Cyborg” Justino, Amanda Nunes, Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury, Valentina Shevchenko, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Jermell Charlo, Jermall Charlo, Jarret Hurd, Adonis Stevenson, Cecilia Braekhus, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, Carl Frampton, Michael Chandler, Lyoto Machida, Junior dos Santos, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and, of course, Nasukawa are among the greats who will compete in December.
Nasukawa may be the least known of those, particularly to an American audience. Duke Roufus is one of the top MMA coaches and was a superstar kickboxer during his career.
He chuckled when asked if he was familiar with Nasukawa.
“Of course,” he said. “He’s probably the best fighter to come out of Japan in a long time. He’s dynamic, well-rounded, he fights MMA, he’s done Muay Thai and he’s a kickboxer. He’s just a beast. Until we find out the rules of engagement, it’s all speculation, but if there is a modified sort of rules sets that allow any sort of kicks, wow. With all due respect to Floyd, this kid’s legs are like human baseball bats which he can swing ferociously.”
The online sportsbook Bovada has already made Mayweather a favorite, even though Mayweather said it will be a few weeks before the rules are finalized and announced. Bovada has Mayweather at minus-260, while Nasukawa is a plus-200 underdog.
If there are no kicks allowed – and that seems likely, to be honest – it significantly decreases Nasukawa’s odds of winning because his kicks are such a big part of his arsenal (and because he’s so much smaller than Mayweather).
Despite that, Roufus said it would be unwise not to give Nasukawa a chance. He said he wouldn’t be shocked if Nasukawa became the first fighter to defeat Mayweather.
“No, not at all, and I say that because of my experience [in different combat sports],” Roufus said. “It’s almost like a completely different world when you go from boxing into these other forms of fighting.”
Roufus said there are several major differences to consider. First is whether or not kicks will be permitted. Second will be whether they use MMA gloves or boxing gloves. Third is how much Vaseline will be allowed and fourth is whether strikes such as spinning back fists and elbows will be permitted.
The rules regarding Vaseline will be critical, Roufus said, even though it’s not an area most people would think would be important. In MMA, fighters have Vaseline applied at the beginning of the bout and then not again. But in boxing and kickboxing, Vaseline is applied before the fight and after every round.
Roufus said that will be “a significant issue.”
“You can only put the Vaseline on at the beginning of the fight in MMA and that’s why guys get cut so much easier in MMA,” Roufus said. “When I was fighting [as a kickboxer], I used Vaseline as part of my defense. I’d put a lot of it in my hair the week of the fight so I wouldn’t catch elbows. When you think about the roundness of the boxing gloves with grease, believe me, if boxers weren’t allowed to apply the grease we wouldn’t see boxing matches going 12 rounds.”
Mayweather will have a significant size advantage, and that will be enhanced if kicks are outlawed. Nasukawa fights between 121 and 126, while Mayweather has been primarily at 147 for the past decade.
If kicks are outlawed and they wear boxing gloves, it will present a challenge for Nasukawa. Mayweather uses a high guard with the gloves in front and it decreases openings that would be there if MMA gloves are used.
“Can Tenshin adjust to that guard?” Roufus said. “That’s the main thing. If he can’t kick or knee, he’s going to have to learn to fight around that guard. The other thing that presents itself, with a boxing glove on, he can catch Floyd’s elbows, but with an MMA glove, it will hurt a lot more if you catch his elbow when he’s in that guard.”
By the time Mayweather and Nasukawa step into the ring on Dec. 31 at the Saitama Super Arena, it will already have been a December to remember.
Nasukawa, though, will have the chance to make it one for the history books.
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