By Marcus Bellinger
After a dry spell the last week or so has been a hectic one in Japanese boxing with significant bouts both at domestic and world level.
The only place to start is at the Kokugikan in Tokyo where Luis Nery rematched Shinsuke Yamanaka for the WBC bantamweight title on 1 March. There was already a cloud of suspicion hanging over Nery after he tested positive for Zilpaterol after dethroning Yamanaka last August.
Things then took a huge twist as Nery came in 5 pounds overweight on his first attempt and was only able to shed around 2 pounds a couple of hours later and was stripped of his belt without even making a defense. Coming in a few ounces or even a pound overweight is a real annoyance and has become a far too often occurrence nowadays but coming in a pound over the next weight division is simply unforgivable.
Despite the events from the previous day the fight went ahead with only Yamanaka eligible to win the now vacant belt. Whilst the home man was given a rapturous reception on the way to the ring, Nery was roundly booed which is highly unusual as visiting fighters are always given respect from the fans in the land of the rising sun.
Yamanaka actually began well, landing with the jab and some body shots but Nery soon took the play away from him and scored a knockdown in the opening round. Realising he was there for the taking Nery overwhelmed Yamanaka, scoring 3 more knockdowns in the second round before the contest came to a conclusion in what was actually pretty painful viewing given the circumstances that had occurred.
Yamanaka announced his retirement soon afterwards and the Teiken southpaw can leave with his head held high and will definitely go down as one of Japans greatest world champions. The 35-year-old was a huge draw, pulling in TV audiences of 7 and 8 million more than once and he made 12 successful defences of the WBC 118 lb strap scoring wins over the likes of Vic Darchinyan, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, Malcolm Tunacao and Liborio Solis. Although unification alluded him his defining victory came in one of the best bantamweight title bouts seen in recent times against Anselmo Moreno in their thrilling up and down rematch in September 2016.
As for Nery despite the 2 wins over Yamanaka he leaves Japan with his reputation in tatters and he has since subsequently been put on the Japan Boxing Commissions banned list and been suspended indefinitely by the WBC. Going forward it will be extremely difficult to route for the Mexican and Cliff Rold summed it up perfectly in his Boxing Scene column late last week, “Yamanaka deserved better”.
The other world title contest on the show saw Ryosuke Iwasa score a wide unanimous decision against Ernesto Saulong in his first defense of the IBF super bantamweight trinket. The fight was a forgettable one and Iwasa failed to build on the momentum of his terrific 6th round stoppage of Yukinori Oguni last September. Next up for the Japanese southpaw is a mandatory defense against TJ Doheny who should provide a more willing opponent and make for a far more entertaining encounter.
The last day of February saw Ohashi protégé Ryo Matsumoto step up for his first world title tilt when he faced super bantamweight titlist Daniel Roman at the Korakuen Hall. The fans in attendance were treated to 12 rounds of absorbing action as the pair went back and forth throughout. At the final bell it was Romans hand who was raise with cards of 119-109 twice and 118-108 although these didn’t tell the full story of what was a competitive scrap where with many close rounds.
Matsumoto in spots had real success but the champion’s methodical and more consistent pressure saw him get the nod and going forward the American will be a tough out for any super bantamweight especially if you aren’t able to dissuade him from coming forward. Matsumoto can certainly come again and after avenging his only previous loss to Victor Uriel Lopez then having an operation for hyperthyroidism this experience for the 24-year-old will be invaluable and bouts against the many countrymen at the domestic and regional level would be the wise next step.
On 3 March at the Korakuen Hall Masayuki Ito was aiming to maintain his world title dreams and avoid any banana skins when he squared off against Vergil Puton. The super featherweight controlled proceedings throughout, eventually securing a 9th round stoppage and with Vasyl Lomachenko almost certain to vacate Ito's number 1 spot with the WBO should secure him a shot at the vacant belt.
Since losing a razor thin split decision to Rikki Naito back in February 2015 the 27-year-old has strung together 7 straight wins capturing the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific trinkets in the process. He has more than served his apprenticeship at the domestic and regional level with victories over the likes of Shingo Eto, Ernie Sanchez, Takuya Watanabe and Lorenzo Villanueva and he is as ready as he’ll ever be for a world title crack.
On the same day over in Kanagawa Masayuki Kuroda defended his Japanese flyweight crown against mandatory challenger Katsunori Nagamine. This was expected to be one not to miss and it proved to be the case with Kuroda keeping Nagamine at bay early on with a busy jab before the challengers incessant pressure began to tell as he put the champion on the floor in round 8. Kuroda managed to survive the storm and took the decision with judge’s tallies of 96-93, 96-94 and 95-94.
Given his high ranking a world title shot is a solid possibility for Kuroda in the near future. Nagamine has gained a reputation as a real crowd pleasing operator and despite the loss this should remain intact and he can be in many more enjoyable fights going forward. On the same bill Kazuto Takesako blitzed Hikaru Nishida inside a round to claim domestic honours at middleweight, extending his record to 8-0 8 KOs and could be one worth keeping an eye on.
Finally on 26 February back at the Korakuen Hall in what looked a tasty matchup on paper for the Japanese Youth lightweight title unfortunately didn’t live up to those expectations as Izuki Tomioka fought to a second round technical decision versus Kaiki Yuba. It has since been revealed that Tomioka will be moving down to 130 pounds in search of a shot at the national super featherweight title.
To read more from Marcus follow him on twitter @marcusknockout
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
Earlier this year we did a number of “Divisional Overview” pieces before taking a hiatus with the Bantamweight division due to the fact there was a number of big bouts lined up one after the other the space of a few weeks. Now we've had those bouts and we can finally let loose with out “Divisional Overview-The Brilliant Bantamweights”.
To begin we look at 9 of the best from Asia, then we take a look at some lesser figures from the Asian boxing scene and then some international fighters. Hopefully we'll help to show just how interesting the division is right now.
Other notable Asians-
Malcolm Tunacao (35-5-5, 20)-Former Flyweight champion Tunacao is 37 and father time will certainly end his career shortly but he's still a real threat in the division and the 2-time OPBF champion still can't be forgotten about given his ability and experience. In fact he gave Yamanaka one of his toughest fights so far back in 2013.
Hideo Sakamoto (16-1-2, 5)-Japanese 29 year old Sakamoto isn't a world beater by any means but he is one of the divisions most over-looked fighters and he is currently on a 6 fight winning streak, dating back 4 years, since losing a close one to Eita Kikuchi. Among those wins are stoppages against Hiroki Shiino and Kazuyoshi Niki.
Yu Kawaguchi (23-6, 10)-Current OPBF champion Kawaguchi isn't the best fighter in Asia but he's a feel good story and his recent win over Takahiro Yamamoto was certainly career defining. We suspect he may be a target for fighters like Omori or Matsumoto if they can't secure bigger fights next time out.
Kazuki Tanaka (2-0, 2)-Japanese prospect Tanaka is viewed as one of the most exciting young fighters in Japan and his team are suggesting he could go all the way. Whilst it's hard to say for now we don't expect to need to wait too long with the view being that he will fight a JBC ranked opponent next time out.
Petch Sor Chitpattana (30-0, 19)-Unbeaten Thai youngster Petch is only 21 but has been racking up wins at an alarming pace since his 2011 debut. His competition so far has been poor to say the least but he already has a WBC world ranking.
Panomroonglek Kaiyanghadaogym (47-2, 27)-Thai veteran Panomroonglek is best known for losing to Koki Kameda though it seems he now has every intention of making a move towards a WBA title fight.
Jamie McDonnell (26-2-1, 12)-Englishman McDonnell recently defeated Tomoki Kameda to retain his WBA "regular" title and it now seems like we could describe him as the #2 in the division. His title might only be a "secondary" title but the win over Kameda was a big one.
Juan Carlos Payano (16-0, 8)-Dominican fighter Payano is the current WBA "super" champion and is the man who eventually defeated Anselmo Moreno, albeit it in controversial circumstances. Payano is "the man" in terms of the WBA but he's yet to defend his title and has done nothing to inspire us into believing he'll be a long term title holder.
Randy Caballero (22-0, 13)-IBF champion Caballero made a splash in Japan last year when he stopped Kohei Oba in an IBF eliminator. A fight later Caballero claimed the IBF title though unfortunately suffered a serious injury before his first defense. On his return he's expected to face Ryusoke Iwasa or...
...Lee Haksins (31-3, 13)-Haskins is another Englishman and will be fighting Iwasa on June 13th. He's a tricky southpaw who holds notable wins over McDonnell and Stuart Hall and has done everything but fight for a world title.
Julio Ceja (29-1, 26)-Big punching Mexican is a serious threat and has spoken of fighting Shinsuke Yamanaka in the past. On paper he's a major threat and a really good boxer-puncher, though he has been beaten by McDonnell and was surprisingly taken the distance by Oscar Blanquet last time out.
Over the last few weeks we've been doing divisional overviews as part of our features. Last week we made an exception to do a feature on Japanese boxing's fast risers. This week we're making another exception as the division we got up to in our over-view is the Bantamweight division. Rather than rush out a Bantamweight over-view we've decided to put that off for a few weeks due to the potential changes the division will see in the month or so. Instead of a divisional over-view we've decided to take a look at some of the divisions up coming bouts and what they may mean for future of the Bantamweight division.
This first major bout is this coming Saturday, March 28th, when Japan's Ryo Akaho (25-1-2, 17) steps foot in the ring against Prosper Ankrah (24-4, 15) in a bout for the WBO International title. Akaho is ranked in the top 15 by all 4 world title bodies, including a #1 ranking with the WBO, and seems to be on the verge of a world title fight. He'll need to over-come Ankrah to get that opportunity but it shouldn't be that difficult for the heavy handed Japanese fighter who has won his last 6 bouts since moving up from Super Flyweight in 2013. This will be Akaho's first bout since signing a 1-year promotional deal with ALA in the Philippines and is expected to be an impressive showing from the confident Japanese fighter.
Just 8 days later, April 5th, we see an OPBF title fight which will see the heavy handed Takahiro Yamamoto (15-3, 12) battle against Yu Kawaguchi (22-6, 10). Yamamoto is from the Ioka stable, which features world class talents like Kazuto Ioka, Ryo Miyazaki and Sho Ishida, and he'll be hoping to follow in their footsteps. Kawaguchi on this other hand comes from a less known stable though is the more experienced man and has previously fought in a Japanese title fight, coming up slightly short there. The match up isn't hugely attractive but it is significant and the winner will be involved in at least one more significant match up later in the year. The two should make for a very competitive match up and the winner will deserve another big bout in the near future, unfortunately however neither is the best Japan, never mind the best in Asia.
On the same show we will get the chance to see the very highly touted Kazuki Tanaka (1-0, 1) in action. Tanaka is regarded as one to watch and those in the know suggest he could be fast tracked at an electric pace. Tanaka should be able to claim a notable and impressive victory here as he takes on Kaname Tabei (10-8-2, 7), though this is a step up from his debut. If Tanaka looks as impressive as our sources say, he should then we suspect he will be moved into 8 rounders in his next bout.
On April 13th we see a brilliant Japanese title fight as the world ranked Kentaro Masuda (21-6, 11) attempts to defend the title against the unbeaten and fast rising Shohei Omori (13-0, 8). Masuda has been in sensational form in recent years winning the title, with a victory Kawaguchi, and defending it impressive fashion against Konosuke Tomiyama and Tatsuya Takahashi. On the other hand Omori is just breaking through though looks to be a very special fighter who understands everything involved in being a top level boxer. The unbeaten youngster will be getting a gut check here but a win will see him moved onwards and upwards fast over the next 12 months.
April 16th sees another title bout as unbeaten WBC champion Shinsuke Yamanaka (22-0-2, 16) defends his title against unbeaten Argentinian challenger Diego Ricardo Santillan (23-0, 15). For us, and many others, Yamanaka is the division's clear #1 fighter and although he didn't look sensational last time out, against Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, his record speaks for it's self. Blessed with a missile of a left hand Yamanka has skills and power and will be expected to see off Santillan without too many problems in this one. Santillan does seem to be confident and a upset win would really shake up the division though a win for Yamanaka is widely expected.
April 22nd will see another unbeaten Japanese fighter, Naoto Uebayashi (7-0-1, 4) put his unbeaten record on the line as he takes on Filipino fighter Giovanni Escaner (12-3, 8) in a really fantastic match up that will give the winner a massive boost towards an OPBF title fight. Uebayashi was a very touted fighter when he turned professional though has failed to really shine in the professional ranks, having been down twice already. Escaner is on the verge of an OPBF title fight and will be hoping to score a career boosting win on foreign soil. Although this bout will go under the radar it is incredibly significant on the Asian scene.
Possibly the best match up comes on May 9th when Tomoki Kameda (31-0, 19) takes on Jamie McDonnell (25-2-1, 12) in a really intriguing contest between two top 15 fighters. Originally it was hoped that this would be a unification of the WBO and WBA “regular” title but the WBO have made the decision not to allow their title to be on the line, and have actually threatened to strip Tomoki. As controversial as the WBO's move is we have to agree with them in principle that the WBA have created too many paper titles. In regards to the fighters Tomoki is a beautiful to watch boxer who throws eye catching combinations, can switch between head and body and can hit a lot harder than his record suggests. McDonnell is a solid all round fighter with great volume punching, though of the two he's the one with more to prove despite being a “2-time world champion”. The winner here will probably be seen as the "#2 champion" behind Yamanaka though will remain a clear second.
Another bout in the pipeline, though one with out a date at the moment, will see Ryosuke Iwasa (19-1, 12) battle against Lee Haskins (31-3, 13) in a contest for the IBF interim title. This is another match up that will pit a pair of top fighters each other and could against set the tone for the division over the remainder of the year. Iwasa is a talented boxer-puncher though is relatively unknown outside of Japan despite being in a nail biting clash with Yamanaka and being a very solid amateur on the Japanese domestic scene. Haskins is a talented but frustrating fighter who has perfected a style that gets him wins but has turned fans away from him. The winner here will be expected to fight Randy Caballero later in the year to unify the IBF and IBF interim titles and then a possible high profile bout may be scheduled for the winter.
With all these bouts either signed and sealed, or in the pipeline, it's clear that the division is going to under-go a lot of changes in the next few weeks. It's also worth noting that later in the year we're expecting to see the debut of Hinata Maruta, who is likely to make a name for himself at Bantamweight.
Also we're expecting big things from the Thai trio of Suriyan Sor Rungvisai (40-6-1, 18), Panomroonglek Kaiyanghadaogym (44-2, 26) and Petch Sor Chitpattana (29-0, 19) who have all been linked to world title fights later in the year just like Kazakh puncher Zhanat Zhakiyanov (24-1, 17). Though these title bouts aren't expected until much later in 2015.
(Images courtesy of boxmob.jp and WBO Boxing)
The year really got going in March with a lot of action building on the momentum from February.
The month kicked off with two very interesting cards on March 1st. In Japan we saw Middleweight titles unified as Akio Shibata defeated Daisuke Nakagawa to add the Japanese title to his OPBF belt. Sadly for Nakagawa he would retire after this loss. As for Shibata he has defended the unified crown twice, including a very recent win over Makoto Fuchigami.
In the Philippines on the same day Genesis Servania showed his class as he stopped former world champion Alexander Munoz in 12 rounds. This win saw Servania continuing his rise through the ranks and it now looks likely that he will kick off 2015 with a WBO world title bout.
The busy start to the continued on March 3rd when Japanese boxing fans had “Women's Day” and saw a trio of female world title bouts at the Korakuen Hall. These bouts saw wins for all 3 of the Japanese champions in action with Momo Koseki, Naoko Shibata and Ayaka Miyao all retaining their world titles.
On March 4th we had more title action with a Japanese title double header. These saw Hiroki Okada claim the Japanese Light Welterweight title with a decision win over Masayoshi Kotake and Takayuki Hosokawa upsetting Tadashi Yuba for the Light Middleweight title. For Okada this was his first decision win after starting his career with 7 straight stoppages whilst Hosokawa's reign was a short lived one and he had to give up his title before making a single defense.
In Thailand, also on March 4th, we saw one of the most controversially scored bouts in Asia this year as Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep retained the WBA “interim” Flyweight title with a highly debatable majority decision over Japanese visitor Takuya Kogawa. Kogawa appeared to out work and out fight Yodmongkol though was unable to convince Wan-Soo Yuh, Derek Milham or Pierluigi Poppi that he deserved the win. Sadly the judging over-shadowed what had been a genuinely fantastic and hard fought contest.
After the insanely busy start to the month it was a few days before we saw another Asian fighter in a major bout. This came on March 8th as Nihito Arakawa returned to the US following his thrilling loss to Omar Figueroa, sadly however he was unable to claim a win here either as the Teiken managed Jorge Linares clearly defeated “The Baby Faced Sniper” in a WBC Lightweight eliminator.
On March 11th Japanese fans got a treat as the heavy handed Koji Numata fought to a thrilling draw with Takehiro Shimokawara. The bout was a 12 round war that was incredibly close leading to a split decision draw. A rematch between the two later in the year saw Numata stopping Shimokawara for the title before Numata announced his retirement, incidentally he had also announced his retirement after this draw.
Our “Prospect of the Year”, Kosei Tanaka, fought his first bout of the year on March 16th as he defeated Filipino foe Ronelle Ferreras. Ferreras entered the bout as a world ranked foe though never came close to genuinely testing the Japanese youngster who lost a round en route to a clear 8 round decision win.
Also on March 16th was “The Bloodbath of the Year” as Takuya Watanabe give an-in ring blood donation in his loss to Jaesung Lee. Watanabe was cut early in the bout and although blood was going everywhere the referee was happy for the bout to continue it's 10 round schedule. By the end of the bout Lee's shorts were covered in claret and it was a mystery as to how Watanabe had managed to continue the distance despite leaving much of himself in the ring.
A day later Japanese Welterweight champion Suyon Takayama recorded a narrow defense of his title as he only just over-came Tetsuya Suzuki. Takayama would defend the belt once more, later in the year, and again seemed fortunate to keep the belt with it being very clear that he was one of, if not the, weakest domestic champion in the country.
On March 22nd we got one of the months biggest upsets as Merlito Sabillo was battered by the then unknown Francisco Rodriguez Jr. Sabillo, defending the WBO Minimumweight title, was never really in the bout as his young Mexican foe was too good, too strong and too big. Going in to the bout it was widely seen that Sabillo was taking on a weak foe, oh how wrong we were and Rodriguez was one of the year's genuine revelations, also scoring a win over Katsunari Takayama later in the year.
Just a couple of days after Sabillo's loss we saw another Filipino come up short in a title bout as Vinvin Rufino suffered an 8th round TKO at the hands of Hisashi Amagasa, the OPBF Featherweight champion. On the same show Hidenori Otake retained the Japanese Super Bantamweight title with a narrow decision win over Takafumi Nakajima. Fans in attendance here would almost certainly have been surprised if they were to be told that both Otake, against Scott Quigg, and Amagasa, against Guillermo Rigondeaux, would fight in world title bouts before the year was out.
Staying with disappointment for Filipino fighters we saw Richard Pumicpic come up short in an OPBF Bantamweight title bout against Ryosuke Iwasa. Pumicpic really did give Iwasa a nightmare for 12 rounds though was unable to do quite enough to take the win over “Eagle Eye” who hinted that he had had problems making the 118lb weight limit. Before the year was out however Iwasa had agreed to an IBF Bantamweight world title eliminator, suggesting he was making a little bit of an excuse for a below par performance.
It wasn't all bad for Filipinos however and on the same day Jonathan Taconing claimed the OPBF Light Flyweight title which had been vacated by Naoya Inoue. Taconing took on fellow Filipino Vergilio Silvano and the two men were involved in a full on brawl with Silvano eventually being stopped in round 11. The bout was regarded by many in attendance as one of the year's best contests in the Philippines though sadly full fight footage doesn't seem to have emerged.
On March 26th it was the turn of Thai's to feel disappointed as veteran Denkaosan Kaovichit was stopped by Kohei Kono in a bout for the vacant WBA Super Flyweight title. Kono dropped the Thai in round 4 before finishing him off in round 8 to begin a second reign as a world champion. Sadly for Kono he has been inactive since this win with problems regarding mandatory challenger Koki Kameda delaying any chance of Kono to really build on his momentum. Thankfully however the champion will be back in action on December 31st. For Denkaosan this was the start of a forgetable year which also saw him suffer a KO loss to the exceptionally talented Ryo Matsumoto in September.
On March 29th Russian “Krusher” Sergey Kovalev defended the WBO Light Heavyweight world title with a clear win over the out matched and negative Cedric Agnew who was stopped in 7 rounds after being thoroughly dominated.
The final notable bout of the month saw Ryuji Hara claim the OPBF Minimumweight title with a narrow decision over Filipino Donny Mabao. Mabao failed to make weight though still couldn't defeat the then unbeaten Japanese fighter who took a majority decision over the tough and experienced Filipino who had a 5lb weight advantage on the scales.
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features