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The annual Japanese Rookie of the Year tournament has been a proving ground for novices and prospects in the past. If a fighter lacks a notable amateur background they often end up competing in the Rookie of the Year competition and every year the winners get a huge chance to generate a small buzz, before beginning the following year as one to watch. In 2016 one of the men who ended the year as one to watch was Okinawan fighter Shawn Oda (5-0, 5), from the Ryukyu Boxing Gym.

Oda began boxing in elementary school and managed to shine in an U-15 tournament but as a fully fledged amateur he had a less than flattering 3-2 record, with a style that clearly wasn’t appealing to the amateur style of boxing judging. Instead of staying in the amateur code Oda turned professional at the age of 17.

From his debut, in May of last year, it was obvious there was something to be excited about when it came to Oda. In his debut, the then high school student dismantled Tomoya Ikeda in 152 seconds, taking Ikeda’s unbeaten record in stylish fashion. In his second bout Oda was given a genuine test by the then 5-0 Tsuyoshi Matsuda, before stopping Matsuda in 4 rounds, having previously knocked his man out of the ring in a performance of impressive power and destruction.

Just three months after the win over Matsuda we saw Oda return to the ring where he took on the then 3-0 Miguel Ocampo. Ocampo, a 29 year-old southpaw, looked confident heading into his bout with Oda but was stopped in the second round, with Oda’s power and aggression again being too much for him, as Oda moved another step closer to becoming the Rookie of the Year.

Oda’s 4th bout in the space of just 6 months saw him take on Yoshiki Takahashi, a 20 year-old who was 1-0 (1), and was the West Rookie of the Year. For a fourth bout in a row Oda was facing an unbeaten foe, and for the fourth time in as many fights Oda took an unbeaten record stopping Takahashi in a little over 2 minutes. Prior to the stoppage Oda had dominated his man with an impressive display of power and aggression,and with the win he also secured his place at the All Japan Rookie of the Year final which would be aired nationally on pay TV channel G+.

In the All Japan Rookie of the Year final Oda battled against fellow teenager Ryuki Ishii, who had a record of 4-1 (3) and had won 4 in a row following a defeat in his debut. The bout was a high profile one and saw Oda making his Korakuen Hall debut, having never fought in Tokyo prior to the contest. Despite being the “away” fight, travelling to the venue that Ishii’s had fought all of his bouts, it was Oda who impressed once again. He showed his determination and hunger by dropping Ishii in round 3, despite having lost his gumshield, and in round 4 he took out a tiring Ishii with a beautiful uppercut that forced the referee to step in after Ishii dropped to the canvas.

With the win over Ishii Oda claimed the Lightweight Rookie of the Year and earned himself a JBC ranking heading into 2017

Oda’s next bout will take place on April 2nd and will see him facing Thai foe Tienchai Sor Kanitsorn in a 6 rounder. The bout shouldn’t really test Oda but will allow him some more ring time before moving through the ranks and eventually towards a Japanese title fight. At 18 years old however there is no rush at all for the youngster who looks like a natural, yet raw, talent.

Away from the ring Oda enjoys skateboarding, and it seems like some have linked that hobby to Oda’s excellent balance, which seemed natural from debut. That balance has allowed him to be such a powerful puncher and although he’s sometimes wild, he rarely looks in any trouble in the ring; instead he looks like the fight game is natural to him. Something that he has put down to his father’s genetics, with his father being an American and his mother being a Japanese.

Unlike many Japanese fighters Oda does seem to have a solid grasp of the English language, using English in his twitter account. Given he’s a Lightweight, there is a chance that that English language ability will help him make a name for himself outside of his homeland, especially given the Lightweight talent in both the US and the UK. Whilst he is a long way from getting a world title fight, if he ever does, the language will help him when it comes to under-card bouts and even international training camps.

One other thing to note about Oda is that he was born in the same part of Japan, Urasoe in Okinawa prefecture, as fellow aggressive puncher Daigo Higa. Like Oda Higa who also has a perfect KO run going and turned professional at a young age before capturing the attention of fight fans with his KO run.

(Scott Graveson covers the Asian boxing scene for www.asianboxing.info)