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We all love power punchers and if a fighter has real KO power we tend to give them more attention than if they are just very technically gifted. At Light Welterweight Japan boasts one of the heaviest handed fighters in the division and although many outside of Asia have yet to hear of him we tend to feel that Keita Obara (16-1-1, 15) may be one of the sports most exciting and fun to watch fighters due to his insane lights out power really can just take a fighter and remove them of their senses.
Born on November 12th 1986 Obara first made his name in the amateur ranks where he was a solid and competent fighter despite never fighting in a major international meet. He impressed a lot on the domestic scene courtesy of his power and flair and this caught the eye of several promoters before he eventually signed with Misako gym.
Although Obara had been an impressive amateur his debut was a bit of a nightmare and really suggested that he was a young man who hadn't really grown up. He took on former All-Japan Rookie of the year Kazuyoshi Kumano in an ambitious match up and unfortunately Obara was rather crude at times fought with an undeserving swagger about him. He did drop Kumano early on but looked exhausted after 3 or 4 rounds and was stopped in the 5th round with his legs looking gone and Kumano on the all out offensive. Kumano had been a 32 fight veteran but was seen as a naturally smaller man at the tail end of his career and the loss by Obara was rightfully seen as a major set back.
Whilst the loss on debut was a bad one it did serve a positive purpose, it seemed to make Obara grow up and in his second pro bout, against Makoto Mori, we saw a much more mature performance form Obara. It had only come 4 months after the Kumano fight but Obara looked like a very different fighter as he scored a 2nd round TKO.
Having scored his first win Obara would have to wait some 5 months to score his second as he recorded a 5th round technical decision victory over Daichi Sakoda, to date that is the only decision bout in Obara's career as he progressed with explosive results. The ending wasn't a good one though Obara had again shown signs of growing up as he boxed rather than slugger, waited instead of rushed and generally acted more like a man rather than a boy.
In his 4th bout as a professional, just 14 months after his debut, Obara stopped the tough Kota Oguchi in 3 rounds. Prior to the bout Oguchi had never been stopped yet Obara took him apart with ease dropping him in the second round before forcing a stoppage the following round in what was Obara's scheduled 8 rounder. The win over Oguchi was followed up 3 months later when Obara made light work of the very tough and heavy handed Kengo Nagashima, who hadn't been stopped in over 6 years. Obara needed just 2 rounds to see off Nagashima in what was supposed to be a great test but turned out to be a relative walk in the park for Obara who was beginning to look very good.
Obara's run of impressive performances continued through 2012 as he scored back-to-back 8 round stoppages over Kazuya Maruki, who was just 95 seconds from hearing the final bell, and Hayato Hokazono, in Obara's first 10 rounder. Those wins prepared Obara for a Japanese title fight which he got in early 2013 against Hokozano in a rematch. This time around Hokozano lasted just 4 rounds as Obara claimed his first title, the previous vacant Japanese Light Welterweight title.
In his first defense Obara defeated So Takenaka in 3 rounds, going in to the bout Takenaka had never been stopped in 26 bouts yet was taken out by Obara who was starting to make statements every time he stepped in the ring.
As Obara began moving towards an OPBF title fight there was a major question regarding him, still. What would happen if he got extended late into a bout? We sort of got the answer in his second, and final, defense of the Japanese title as Obara took 9 rounds to dispose of Tetsuya Hasunuma in a very impressive and measured display. It was the sort of coming of age performance that showed Obara was more than just a puncher even if his power was his key selling point. It showed he could box, take his time and close the when needed but not rush a finish.
After just 2 defenses of the Japanese title, and just 11 total bouts, Obara stepped up to the OPBF level and took on Filipino Jay Solmiano for the vacant title. The bout looked interesting on paper with Solmiano having having been stopped just once in his previous 20 bouts, that however mattered little when Obara began connecting and Solmiano was stopped in just 4 rounds as Obara claimed his second title and moved towards a world ranking.
In Obara's first defense of the belt he took on former Japanese champion Shinya Iwabuchi and really impressed as he stopped Iwabuchi in the 12th round, going beyond 9 rounds for the first time in his career. The result was really impressive, in fact it made even more impressive by the fact that Iwabuchi had gone 12 very hard fought rounds with Min Wook Kim just 16 months earlier and yet Obara could do what Kim couldn't and force a stoppage.
To end 2014 Obara tested the waters at Welterweight and stopped Filipino visitor Rodel Wenceslao.Despite that "tester" at Welterweight we saw Obara drop back to 140lbs at the start of 2015 to defend his OPBF title against Yuya Okazaki. On paper it was a mismatch though it turn out to be relatively interesting with Okazaki making the most of his opportunity before eventually being stopped following a vicious Obara assault in round 6. It seemed that Obara's performance was hindered by battles with the scales and although he won he was criticised by the Japanese who seemed to be expecting more from the heavy handed destroyer who stated after the fact that he wouldn't be fighting at 140lbs again.
Despite saying he would be moving up in weight Obara has remained at 140lbs, despite dipping his toes at Welterweight. It was 140lbs where caught the eye of an international audience with a brilliant performance on his US debut, fighting to a very controversial draw with Walter Castillo in an IBF world title eliminator. The controversial nature of the bout saw Obara's team try to do their best to secure a rematch with Castillo but the Nicaraguan decided against against and Obara became the mandatory for a world title fight, with that shot now expected to come in September in Moscow.
(Image courtesy of http://www.misakogym.jp)