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.
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.
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)