The curse of the Japanese Bantamweight title has been on going saga this year, with 3 fights for the bout cancelled before Yuta Saito (11-9-3, 8) [齊藤裕太] defeated Eita Kikuchi [菊地永太] for the belt back in September.
Saito was pencilled in to defend the belt in a mandatory title fight before the year was over, with Yusuke Suzuki (9-3, 6) [鈴木悠介] his supposed opponent. Sadly that bout has been cancelled before it was even officially announced. Sadly the reason for the cancellation is a pretty serious one.
Saito, who's bout with Suzuki was expected to take place on December 20th, has been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a serious chronic condition that could keep him out of the ring for a prolonged time, and prevent him really building on the win over Kikuchi.
As a result of Saito's illness we will instead see Hayato Kimura (27-10, 18) [木村隼人] facing off with Seizo Kono (19-10-1, 12) [高野誠三] for the interim title on December. This bout was originally ordered as a Japanese title decider, but due to the health issues of Saito the JBC have taken the decision to put the interim title on the line.
Suzuki doesn't totally miss out. Instead the long term plan is for him to fight the eventual unified champion. Saito will need to face the interim champion within 4 months of the Kimura Vs Kono bout, to unify the titles, and the winner of the unification bout will need to face Suzuki within 3 months.
Whilst it does lead to an exciting year ahead for the Japanese Bantamweight title we do need to wonder quite why so many health issues have effected people, including Suzuki, linked to the belt since the start of this year. And we also need to wish Saito the best with his medical problem, which can have a significant effect on day to day life for sufferers.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Good things come to those who wait, and we've had to wait to wait over a year for a Japanese title fight, due to injuries and weigh in issues. As fans we deserved something good for the long wait, and we got something better than good as Yuta Saito (11-9-3, 8) [齊藤裕太] and Eita Kikuchi (21-6-4, 8) [菊地永太] put on a 2 round shoot out for the title, in one of the best bouts on Japanese soil this year.
There was no feeling out stage at all. Kikuchi set off at a high pace behind his busy jab, it took Saito a minute or so to adapt but when he did he instantly found success with his right hands, slamming them into the face of the taller, faster Kikuchi.
Kikuchi tried to respond by upping his work rate, letting shots go in the trenches but reverted back to trying to create space and pop out his jab. It was a tactic that seemed wise but couldn't halt the marauding Saito who continued to press forward to the end of the opening round.
In the second round Saito immediately went on the offensive, quickly forcing Kikuchi to give ground, and even wobbled the taller man with the heavy shots up top. It wasn't long until Kikuchi found his back against the rounds and Saito throwing heavy leather in his direction. Knowing he had to fight back to survive Kikuchi began to throw heavy artillery Saito's way but was shut down by Saito's relentlessness and accuracy who refused to back off. The pressure told and with head shots landing clean the referee finally stepped in and saved Kikuchi, who simply couldn't handle the power of Saito.
With the win the title finally has a new owner, almost 8 months after it was vacated by Ryo Akaho due to weight loss related health issues. After 3 cancelled title bouts bouts the belt has a new owner, and Yuta Saito has some gold around his waist.
Sadly for Saito his impressive performance today will leave him with a target on his back for fighters like Keita Kurihara (12-5, 11) [栗原 慶太], Yusuke Suzuki (9-3, 6) [鈴木悠介] and Kyosuke Sawada (12-2-1, 6) [澤田京介], who will all be chasing for a Japanese title fight. Saito against Kurihara or Suzuki has Japanese FOTY potential, whilst Sawada's style would be an interesting match up for Saito.
For Kikuchi this is probably the end of his career. He gave his all today but it sadly wasn't enough against the hard hitting Saito.
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
In 2018 we've not seen a single bout for the Japanese Bantamweight title. Instead we've seen a string of cancellations, bouts falling apart at really late notice. We've had two contests pulled due to a fighter being unable to safely make weight and another cancelled due to an injury. It's a shame that the domestic crown has been left on ice almost all year, but thankfully that will change tomorrow.
It will change as fans get the chance to see Yuta Saito (10-9-3, 7) [齊藤裕太] face off with Eita Kikuchi (21-5-4, 8) [菊地永太] to crown a new champion. This bout comes more than a year after Ryo Akaho successfully defended the belt against Saito, in the last bout for the title.
Today Saito and Kikuchi took part in their weigh in, and to the relief of the everyone, both men made weight!
On the scales both men came in on the limit and both in pretty good shape. Of the two Saito probably looked the stronger man, having a more filled out frame, but Kikuchi certainly has the edge in height and reach and will potentially be the heavier man when they meet in the ring tomorrow.
The vacancy of the title, which has been vacant since January, is longest the title has ever gone without a champion and it's clear that both men have been given a huge opportunity to claim gold tomorrow when they face off.
Sadly neither man is a standout. Coming in to this Saito has lost his last 2 bouts and is without a win in almost 29 months whilst Kikuchi lost in a Japanese eliminator in his last bout, last October. But the title does need a champion and the winner will have a host of people wanting to challenge for the title, such as Keita Kurihara (12-5, 11) [栗原 慶太], Yusuke Suzuki (9-3, 6) [鈴木悠介], who actually beat Kikuchi last year in an eliminator before suffering an injury this year, and Kyosuke Sawada (12-2-1, 6) [澤田京介] who will all be chasing the belt in 2019.
For fans wanting to watch this bout but can't make their way to the brilliant Korakuen Hall it will be televised live on G+.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
The Japanese Bantamweight title has been held by some national boxing icons, though this year it has been dragged through the mud and has seemingly been cursed with 3 title bouts now being cancelled this year! With the most recent, which was set to take place tomorrow, being cancelled due to Suguru Muranaka (26-3-1, 8) [村中 優] being taken to hospital, before he was supposed to weigh in to face Yuta Saito (10-9-3, 7) [齊藤裕太].
The title had been vacated back in January when Ryo Akaho (31-2-2, 20) [赤穂 亮] was forced to pull out of a bout against Yusuke Suzuki (9-3, 6) [鈴木悠介], in a similar though not identical circumstances. Suzuki was himself injured before a scheduled fight with Muranaka in April.
Now logically, though when does boxing use logic, a match up between Suzuki and Saito would make sense though it's unclear if that's now the option the JBC have in mind.
Sadly for Muranaka this could essentially end his career. He has had weight issues in the past, failing to make weight several times including failing to make the Flyweight limit for a defense of the Japanese Flyweight title. Failing to make weight for that bout really was the start of Muranaka's problems and since then he has suffered two suspensions. It's now hard to see the JBC giving him any more chances, especially given their crack down on fighters failing to make weight this year.
(Image of Saito courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Back in January Ryo Akaho (31-2-2, 20) [赤穂 亮] vacated the Japanese Bantamweight belt due to health reasons, cancelling a scheduled defense of the title. Originally the vacancy was set to be filled on April 12th with a scheduled bout between Yusuke Suzuki (9-3, 6) [鈴木悠介], who was supposed to originally face Akaho in January, and former world title challenger Suguru Muranaka (26-3-1, 8) [村中 優]. Sadly that bout was cancelled when Suzuki suffered an injury in trainer, and the title has remained vacant since.
Today it was announce that the title would have it's vacancy filled on June 22nd, with Muranaka facing off with Yuta Saito (10-9-3, 7) [齊藤裕太] for the title at the Korakuen Hall.
For Muranaka, a former Japanese Flyweight champion, this bout gives him a chance to become a 2-weight national champion. His reign as the Flyweight champion ended in 2015, when Muranaka was stripped for being unable to make the weight, and since then he has bounced between Super Flyweight and Bantamweight with his world title fight coming last year against WBA Super Flyweight champion Kal Yafai. The loss to Yafai is Muranaka's only defeat since a 2006 loss to Tomoya Kaneshiro and he has since bounced back from the Yafai fight with a victory over domestic foe Ken Achiwa.
Coming into this fight Saito is ranked #4 by the JBC but has notably lost his last 2 and is win-less since April 2016, when he defeated Corrales Kawashimo. In his last 3 bouts Saito has fought to a draw with Tatsuya Takahashi, been stopped by the aforementioned Akaho in a title fight and lost at Super Bantamweight to Naoya Okamoto. Against Akaho he put up an excellent fight, but was eventually stopped in the 9th round, whilst level on two of the score cards. It was a performance that kept him in consideration for another title fight.
Despite his form Saito has managed to get a title fight due to the bizarre situation with Akaho and Suzuki, and the fact that the originally rumoured opponent for Muranaka, Seizo Kono (19-10-1, 12) [高野誠三] lost earlier this month to Kazuki Tanaka (9-1, 6) [田中一樹],and would need some time to recovering the hard bout with Tanaka.
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