Japan began 2015 with 8 world champions and ended the year with the same number with 3 new world rulers and 3 losing their belts and in part 1 we will explore possible fights that may take place in 2016 for the 8 current boxers holding world hardware. (Note neither interim nor regular belt holders are considered legitimate world champions by this writer and will be included in the second part of this series.)
In what has become customary Takashi Uchiyama fought twice scoring a superb second round stoppage over the highly talented Jomthong Chuwatana and dispatching the woefully overmatched Oliver Flores in 3 rounds this past New Year’s Eve. An elbow operation kept him out of the ring between the Jomthong and Flores bouts and let’s hope the persistent niggling injuries are behind him and we can see the best of the man known as ‘KO Dynamite’. The 36 year old at last seems to have a defining fight in the offing with a clash against unbeaten Nicholas Walters expected to take place in the US sometime in the spring although no date or venue has been confirmed at time of writing.
It was an interesting year for bantamweight kingpin Shinsuke Yamanaka with a straight forward 7th round stoppage of Diego Ricardo Santillan and a highly controversial split decision win over Anselmo Moreno. The lack of body attack and struggles to pin down the slick Panamanian were badly exposed and at 33 it’s probably unrealistic to expect any improvements but the lethal left hand still make Yamanaka a force to be reckoned with. A March return is expected and a long overdue unification with IBF champion Lee Haskins has been hinted at by his team. A fight in the US has also been numerously mentioned and clashes up at super bantamweight with Nonito Donaire or Julio Ceja would be fascinating encounters. Moreno and Suriyan Sor Rungvisai have been ordered to contest a WBC final eliminator and either would present a tricky rematch for Yamanaka.
For Naoya Inoue 2015 was one of frustration having been side-lined with a damaged hand until December 30th when he returned to easily see off Warlito Parrenas in 2 rounds in the first defence of his WBO super flyweight strap. There seemed to be very little ring rust and let’s just keep our fingers crossed that the man known as ‘Monster’ has no more hand problems. A rematch with Omar Narvaez who had a rematch clause and a mandatory defence against David Carmona look to be next for the 22 year old and his American debut is expected sometime in 2016. The buzz on social media grows ever louder for a showdown between Inoue and Roman Gonzalez but both have quality options in their respective divisions to take care of first.
Whilst Kohei Kono may have only fought once the satisfaction of finally lifting the cloud of Koki Kameda that hovered over him for more than a year would have felt very sweet. The pair waged war in their blood and guts 12 rounder in Chicago with the champion showing a never say die attitude to deservedly prevail on points. At 35 and with a fairly basic style, many in a pact 115 lb division will view Kono as the easiest path to a world title. Interim belt holder Luis Concepcion has expressed a great desire to take on Kono but his handlers at the Watanabe Gym have suggested that a contest with Hong Kong’s Rex Tso is in play for a date in the first half of 2016 in Macao.
You would have been hard pressed to find anyone who would have predicted that Yu Kimura would become a world champion in 2016 but the 32 year old rose to the challenge snatching the WBC light flyweight crown away from Pedro Guevara via split decision in a real shock result. After 6 rounds Kimura looked to be on the way to a stoppage loss but a stand of defiance proved to be just enough to seal his world title. With fellow countrymen Ryoichi Taguchi, Akira Yaegashi, Ryo Miyazaki and Kosei Tanaka all at 108 lb options for the WBC belt holder are endless. A March return has been touted as part of a doubleheader with Yamanaka and former champion Kompayak Porpramook was a rumoured opponent but the heavily avoided Jonathan Taconing lurks ominously in the background and could be a treacherous mandatory challenger sometime this year.
Ryoichi Taguchi ended 2014 with a terrific performance to bully and completely dominate Alberto Rossel to capture a world light flyweight strap. Unfortunately easy KO wins over Kwanthai Sithmorseng and Luis de la Rosa did nothing to progress the 29 year old’s career forward and far stiffer opposition is required in 2016. As stated with Kimura there is no shortage of quality opponents and some mouth-watering domestic bouts are available to be made.
Akira Yaegashi made a late entry for comeback fighter of the year putting on a virtuoso display to dethrone Javier Mendoza of his IBF 108 lb title and leave fans on social media gushing with admiration. The 32 year old is massively respected for his willingness to fight anyone, anywhere, challenge himself and his daring to be great attitude. Yaegashi is expressed a wish to attempt to become a 4 weight world champion and don’t rule anything out with the Ohashi Gym fighter.
Last but not least Kosei Tanaka delivered on the lofty expectations placed upon him and won the vacant WBO strawweight trinket scoring a unanimous points victory over Julian Yedras in just his 5th pro fight eclipsing the record set by Naoya Inoue. With blistering speed and dazzling combinations the 20 year old is a fantastic talent but a willingness to engage unnecessarily still needs to be worked on as he moves up in weight. This impetuous nature was on full display in his New Year’s Eve clash with Vic Saludar which saw Tanaka dropped for the first time in round 5 but come storming back to KO the Filipino in the next round with a terrific body shot. A move up to light flyweight is imminent but a far more disciplined approach inside the ring is required if he is to succeed in an ever growingly stacked division.
In part 2 we will explore the potential fighters who will capture or at least vie for a world championship this year.
Article thanks to Marcus Bellinger who can be found on twitter @marcusknockout
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)