Tucked just off one of the busiest districts in Tokyo, a three-storied building stands alone unassumingly at the end of a Kitazawa street covered in a clean green paint. To get there you’d first have to walk by the state of the art facility that competes for a slightly different clientele just yards before it with its training pool peering through their glass windows.
Passing that air-conditioned establishment by and walking up to the Kaneko Gym is a choice that isn’t taken lightly and especially not in a heat wave of this magnitude that has already claimed several lives.
In a corner of the top floor of Kaneko Gym sits busted up punching bags that will literally hang on to their last remaining shreds of value while a nearby rack holds dozens of copies of “Boxing Beat” and “Boxing Magazine” with domestic stars Naoya Inoue and Ryota Murata gracing their covers. A small space just wide enough for one to slide between the ring and the wall that borders it is used to hang old Winning gloves that cluster together in a organized chaos that resemble a sort of boxing honeycomb configuration.
Kaneko once was home to Tomonobu Shimizu, the WBA super flyweight champion in 2011. Now the gym that’s short on space, cold air, and the friendly amenities that are common in Japan’s more recognized boxing establishments, will have a chance at hosting a champion once again.
Hidenori Otake, a 37-year-old warrior in the super bantamweight division jumps rope as he preps in another hot Tokyo night with humidity so high that the dry heat of Phoenix, his destination in the days ahead, will feel like a welcome home. The jet lag won’t be a concern for Otake, who traveled abroad four years ago to challenge Scott Quigg in Liverpool for his only other title shot. It will be a more tranquil experience for Otake when he arrives to his air conditioned (he was curious if it would be) hotel and spa in the swanky Scottsdale, just outside of Phoenix proper.
Knowing everything that the outspoken champion Isaac Dogboe has said about him, Otake tells me with his translator Shuji Aoki, “I’ll be the one to get the knockout, and I will do it in enemy territory. I see no disadvantage in my size when comparing it to Dogboe’s power.” That being said, Otake has been sparring shorter competition in anticipation for his 5’2 opponent and relishes his preparation saying “Minus a few extra pounds, I’m ready to fight today!”
“I’ve watched Dogboe’s last three fights and noticed how he likes to always assert himself by coming forward. I’ll watch and control the distance.” The one fighter who did just that was Satoshi Shimizu, who defeated Dogboe in the Olympics. “It’s unnecessary for me to watch that amateur fight as Shimizu is a south paw.”
“I understand that this is my last chance at a title shot. I don’t feel any pressure about this fact but am instead motivated.” Part of that motivation comes from Dogboe’s multitasking personality in which he’s talked about unifying titles after he defeats Otake and also wanting to enroll in universiy, potentially this Fall. “I really hope he takes classes but I’ll prevent him from attending anything too soon.”
Hidenori Otake (31-2-3, 14 knockouts) will challenge the WBO super bantamweight champion Isaac Dogboe (19-0, 13 knockouts) on August 25th at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, live on ESPN.