Earlier today saw the official announcement of Rex Tso’s (20-0, 12) next bout, with the announcement being that the 29 year old “Wonder Kid” would be back in the ring on March 11th to take on Japan’s Hirofumi Mukai (13-4-3, 3). Whilst many fight fans in the west will have seen Tso, who has worked with Top Rank over the last few years, they may not be that aware of Mukai, who has never fought on Western TV but has carved out an interesting career in Asia.
The 31 year old Mukai was a notable name in the amateur ranks in Japan. Although he didn’t stand out as a star he was talented enough to be able to gain a B class licence upon his professional debut back in 2009 and it seemed clear that the Mutoh gym had big plans for the then 23 year old.
On debut Mukai fought as a Super Bantamweight, over-coming Toru Uemura with a 6 round majority decision in August 2009. Less than 2 months later Mukai defeated Kenta Omae to finish the year 2-0. It seemed that he wasn’t fighting at his best weight and in 2010 he slowly worked his way down to Super Flyweight, whilst picking up wins against Korean Jin Man Jeon and Indonesian Anis Ceunfin, winning 8 round decisions against both men.
It was in February 2011 that Mukai first scored a notable win, as the Osakan southpaw out pointed former world title challenger Sonny Boy Jaro of the Philippines. Sadly for Mukai his winning run would 6 months later when he was out boxed by Rocky Fuentes, with Mukai challenging Fuentes for the OPBF Flyweight title. Despite the set back to Fuentes Mukai was still seen as a promising fighter and just 4 months later he would challenge Thai legend Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, the then WBC Flyweight champion.
Sadly for Mukai the bout with Wonjongkam was a painful affair with the two men clashing heads a little more than a minute into the contest and Mukai suffering a badly damaged eyebrow. The damage was so severe that it caused an almost immediate ending to the contest with blood running down the face of Mukai and the bout instantly being declared a technical draw.
Following the bout with Wonjongkam we saw Mukai score 3 wins over Thai’s, including a stoppage win over Khunkhiri Wor Wisaruth, to move to 8-1-1 (1) and get his career back on the right track. Sadly though Mukai’s rise back through the ranks was derailed in April 2013 when he was stopped by Mark Anthony Geraldo, who scored a 2nd round KO against Mukai. Mukai was stopped at the end of the round, but had been down earlier in the bout and and it seemed like his lack of power was coupled with potential durability issues.
Amazingly just 7 months after the loss to Geraldo we saw Mukai get his second world title shot, as he took on the then WBC Super Flyweight champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Srisaket dropped Mukai earlier in the contest before forcing Mukai’s team to through in the towel in round 9, following a beat down of the Japanese fighter.
After more than 4 months out of the ring Mukai returned to action and fought to a draw with Myung Ho Lee. At that point Mukai’s record read 9-3-2 (1) and it was looking like his career, and early promise, were going to waste.
In August 2014, in a real must win, Mukai over-came Japanese based Filipino Mark John Yap with a narrow decision. He then built on that win with a wide decision win over former world title challenger Konosuke Tomiyama, who some Western fight fans might remember for his brilliant fight with Genesis Servania. Those two wins helped Mukai earn a Japanese Bantamweight title fight against Shohei Omori in 2015.
Sadly in his bout against Omori Mukai was bullied and stopped in 6 rounds. The bout saw him struggle with the size and power of Omori and despite some success with his boxing he was never able to gain the respect of the champion who simply walked through his shots whilst winging in his own power punches.
The loss to Omori was a painful one, though it was far from the end and in April 2016 Mukai scored a 7th round TKO win against Toshikuni Wake, his first stoppage win against a Japanese foe and his first stoppage win since his 2012 stoppage against Khunkiri. Mukai tried to build on that success as he took on Ryotaro Kawabata but that bout saw a head clash in round 3 causing a technical draw. It was a disappointing result but one that didn’t really damage Mukai’s career.
To end 2016 Mukai was featured on a stacked card co-promoted by Mutoh and Morioka, with the Osakan taking on recent world title challenger Inthanon Sithchamuang, who had challenged WBA champion Kohei Kono just 7 months earlier. Inthanon had gone 12 tough rounds with Kono but was stopped in round 2 by a very confident Mukai, who claimed the WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight title with the win.
Although his record is blotchy Mukai has had an interesting career and not been protected, at all. his losses to Fuentes, Gerlado, Srisaket and Omori have come to world class guys, and did the draw to Wonjongkam. He holds wins over former world champion Jaro, as well as world title contenders Tomiyama and Inthanon, as well as current OPBF Bantamweight champion Yap.
In the ring Mukai has grown. Early in his career he used his speed and skills to try and win bouts on points. As he’s aged however he has shown more willing to stand his ground, and shown a real development in his power. He is still quick and highly skilled but has added more commitment to his offensive work in recent bouts and it seems like, at 31, he’s probably the best he’s been.
Although Mukai will probably not have enough to over-come Tso he is the most talented fighter Tso will have faced and will be coming into the bout looking to upset the Hong Kong fighter, and claim the WBO International and WBC Asian Boxing Council Super Flyweight titles held by Tso. At today’s press conference to announce the bout Mukai seemed confident as if he felt he could well derail Tso’s rise and earn himself a world title bout later in the year. It’ll be a huge ask for Mukai, but he has the potential to over-come Tso, if he puts it all together here.
Scott Graveson covers the Asian boxing scene for www.asianboxing.info