Right now the Bantamweight division is a mess, it's an exciting mess, but still a mess. We have a vacant WBC title, a vacant IBF title and three different WBA champions. It's a division that has a lot of promise, but in reality it's likely to become a gold dash for some fighters over the coming few months, with everyone looking to throw their hat into the ring for a title fight.
One man who has shown interest in getting a shot at a world title fight is OPBF champion Mark John Yap (28-12, 14), who has climbed up the WBC rankings in recent times thanks to a 9 fight winning run which has seen him win the OPBF title and make 2 defenses. This coming Wednesday he looks to secure his third defense, as he takes on veteran Takafumi Nakajima (29-9-1, 13) in a very interesting match up on paper.
Looking at his record Yap doesn't look like a fighter who should be speaking about a world title fight. Records however only tell a fraction of the story about the Japanese based Filipino who is having a really good career surge. Like a number of Filipino fighters he picked up a lot of losses before he ever really got going with his career, and a number of those losses were close. Yap won his first 8 bouts, but between May 2008 and August 2014 Yap had suffered 12 losses in 23 fights, falling from 8-0 (2) to 19-12 (10). A number of those were at Super Bantamweight, and others were to very talented fighters, including Ryosuke Iwasa who beat him in 2013.
Since the start of 2015 we've seen Yap turn his career around, settle at the Mutoh gym and score notable victories over Tatsuya Ikemizu, Hiroyuki Kudaka, Takahiro Yamamaoto, Kentaro Masuda and Seizo Kono. During those fights he has shown pretty much every thing a contender needs to show. He has shown his stamina, in defeating Kudaka over 8 and 10 rounds, his power to stop Yamamoto and Masuda, his heart and bravery, to pull himself off the canvas 3 times against Masuda and the skills to at least compete at world level. Few would fancy to win a world title, but he is certainly on his way to earning a shot.
As for Nakajima he's a proper gritty and grizzled veteran who debuted almost 15 years ago and has been a staple of the Japanese scene since then. As with the champion the challenger doesn't have the most impressive of records, but he has spent much of his career fighting at Super Bantamweight, not Bantamweight, and twice took Hidenori Otake to the wire, losing two razor thin decisions. Whilst it's easy to say that was perhaps a stylistic issue with Otake it's worth noting that Nakajima holds wins against the likes of Kinshiro Usui, Coach Hiroto, Shingo Wake, Dennis Tubieron and Jin Miura.
Nakajima is a very fit 33 year old who has mixed with younger fighters, even going to China and beating the much younger Xian Qian Wei,he's hard working in the ring and throws a lot of leather with an aggressive mentality. Despite his energy and skills he can be out fought, out punched, out sped and out moved. Back in 2016 we saw him suffer his third career stoppage, albeit at Featherweight, when Kosuke Saka took him out in 88 seconds, that bout he can be hurt, but Kosaka is a big puncher up 2 weights from where he's fighting Yap here.
Whilst Nakajima is very fit and under-rated it's hard to see him ending the charge of Yap here. We're expecting the challenger to give everything he has, starting fast and putting Yap under some pressure. The champion will however ride out the storm, before his youthfulness and natural strength will wear down the hungry Nakajima. The challenger won't be there to roll over, and will look to win, but will come up short following a fantastic effort. For Yap a win should push him further up the WBC rankings, and move one step closer to a shot at a world title.
One of the most interesting divisions right now is the Super Bantamweight division. It's not red hot in terms of big names or money making stars but in terms of quality and interesting match up it's a fantastic division. We recently saw both Daniel Roman and Ryosuke Iwasa retain the WBA and IBF title respectively and with contenders like Tomoki Kameda, Hidenori Otake, Diego De la Hoya, Shingo Wake and Marlon Tapales all chasing world title fights the division really is bubbling over nicely.
One other notable contender in the division is current Japanese national champion Yusaku Kuga (15-2-1, 10) who returns to the ring this coming Tuesday to defend his title against mandatory challenger Ryo Kosaka (16-3-1, 8). For the champion this bout will be his second defense, following his title win in February 2017, whilst Kosaka will be getting his first title shot.
The champion is one of the many exciting Japanese fighters who has been quietly making waves over the last few years. He debuted in 2010 and in 2012 he competed in the Rookie of he year, losing to Nobuhiro Hisano in June of that year. That could have been a major set back but Kuga saw the loss as inspiration and went unbeaten in his next 8 bouts, defeating Yusuke Suzuki, Koji Aoki and Yuki Iwasaki, whilst fighting the then touted Naoto Uebayashi to a draw. It was clear that he had major potential back then and worked his way towards his first Japanese title fight. Sadly for Kuga he would lose in his first shot, coming up just short against Yasutaka Ishimoto. In 2016 Kuga would stop Jonathan Baat to earn his second shot at the title, and he would gain revenge over Ishimoto in 2 rounds to claim the title.
Since winning the belt Kuga has defended it just once, narrowly over-coming the aggressive and hard hitting Ryoichi Tamura, in a bout that saw both men forced eat some huge bombs. In that bout Kuga showed he had a chin to go with his power, though left question marks about his stamina and how well he can fight when backed up. On the front foot he's devastating, with nasty power, but on the back foot that power is much less potent.
Whilst we've followed Kuga with interest since early in his career the same can't be said of Kosaka, sadly. That is something that tends to happen when fighters don't fight much in Tokyo, and with Kosaka being based with the Shinsei Gym on Kobe he really has gone somewhat under the radar, despite climbing up both the JBC and OPBF rankings.
The challenger debuted in 2011 and despite 3 stoppage wins to begin his career he began to falter, losing a pair of technical decisions then having a draw to slide to 3-2-1 (3). His third, and most recent, loss came in December 2013 when he was stopped in 7 rounds by Yuta Yasumoto. Since that loss we've seen Kosaka go 9-0 (5) defeating a combination of poor Thai imports and low key domestic foes, such as Satoshi Niwa and Morihisa Iju. Whilst he is the mandatory for the title show there is a feeling that he lacks a really good domestic win, and did actually only get this shot after Yasutaka Ishimoto announced his retirement. The reality is that there are much proven domestic contenders out there than Kosaka, despite his relatively nice run.
Although Talented Kosaka isn't looking like a fighter ready for a title shot, especially not against a danger man like Kuga. Whilst Kuga did look like he was beatable last time out he is unlikely to struggle here. Kosaka may have the edge in technical boxing ability, but Kuga has the power, the aggression and the strength to walk through the challenger's best shots and take him out, likely in the second half, when Kosaka begins to feel the pace. We suspect the challenger will start well, but Kuga will turn it around and record his second defense, and begin his advance towards a world title fight, which he may well get later this year.
In 2012 Japan's Satoshi Shimizu (5-0, 5) claimed Japan's first boxing Olympic medal in 44 years as he took a bronze medal at Bantamweight. After missing out on a place in the Japanese Olympic team for the 2016 Olympics Shimizu turned professional and raced away to the OPBF Featherweight title, claiming the regional title in his 4th bout, having been a professional for less than 13 months. This coming Monday he'll be making his second defense of that title, as he takes on little known Korean challenger Kyung Min Kwon (6-3, 3) at the Korakuen Hall.
The champion has been raced through the ranks, though turning professional at 30 years old he really didn't have the option of taking things slowly. He debuted in a 6 rounder, immediately moved up to 8 rounders then in just his 4th bout won his first title, stopping Sa Myung Noh in 5 rounds last October.
Although Shimizu has a very strong amateur background, with a reported 150-20 (70) record and is a 2-time Olympian, his style doesn't match that of an accomplished amateur. In fact his style is incredibly unique yet rudimentary. He makes for a pretty stationary fighter who throws wild, looping shots with venom on them. He can box and move but often often holds his feet and relies on his freakish power and size. Given he's a 5′ 10½″ southpaw fighting at Featherweight he really does pose some very unique nightmares in terms of size, stance and angles.
Watching Shimizu, he looks easy to out box, he looks slow, wild and sloppy. It's a very awkward style but one that has been effective. Despite his flaws Shimizu has hardly lost a round through his career so far and he has stopped his first 5 foes in a combined 21 rounds. His longest bout to date has gone 7 rounds and he looked very comfortable in terms of stamina in that bout, suggesting he could do longer, if an opponent can survive his power.
As we've managed to see most of Shimizu's bouts to date, and know of his amateur background, there is a lot that we do know about the champion. The same cannot be said of the challenger, who debuted more than 7 years ago but has been, like many Koreans, struggling with consistent activity and in getting bouts against name opponents. He debuted back in December 2010, losing, and was out of the ring for over 6 years, before suffering a second loss on his ring return. A 3 fight stoppage run followed as he reeled 5 straight wins, before coming up short against Sung Min Cha last September. A rematch with Cha saw Kwon take a majority decision to avenge his most recent loss.
There is very little footage of Kwon available, and we've yet to come across a full fight of his. Given that we don't recall seeing much of him it's hard for us to know what he fights like, however from his record, and the little bit of footage out there, we can deduce a few things. Firstly he's not a big puncher. Whilst 50% of his wins are by stoppage they have come against very limited domestic level novices, and all of them have come in rounds 3 or 4. His stamina is to be questioned, given he has never been scheduled in a bout longer than 8 rounds. From the little footage that is out there he looks, like many Koreans, to be an aggressively minded fighter looking to have a tear up on the inside. He will be giving away size, power, reach, speed and skills to Shimizu and will really struggle with the variety and unorthodox angles that Shimizu finds.
Whilst the Korean has never previously been stopped he has spent much of his career at Super Bantamweight, and on the Rookie circuit in Korea. This is a massive step up in class and it's very hard to imagine him taking Shimizu's looping bombs for long, before becoming the Japanese fighter's 6th straight stoppage victim. Kwon might put up a gutsy fight, but from what we know of the two men it won't be a competitive one, as Shimizu continues to march towards a potential world title fight.
This coming Tuesday fight fans in Japan are in for a little bit of a treat, as the teak tough Hidenori Otake (30-2-3, 13) defends the OPBF Super Bantamweight title against the big punching Brian Lobetania (13-4-3, 11). The bout is likely to be one of the hidden gems of 2018 and could be one of those rare fights that really goes under the radar yet gives the hardcore fans something really memorable.
Otake is best known for his 2014 loss to the then WBA Super Bantamweight champion Scott Quigg. Since then however Otake has gone 8-0 (4) and claimed the OPBF title, as he's began a charge towards a second world title fight. He's not just gone unbeaten but has done so against good competition, beating the likes of Jelbirt Gomera, Kinshiro Usui and the very talented Hinata Maruta. Those bouts have all shown that Otake, at 36 years old now, has an amazing engine still and is just as teak tough as he showed against Quigg.
Although not the most technically gifted fighter out there Otake has so many things going for him. As mentioned he is incredibly tough, he was pounded by Scott Quigg but never took a backwards step and kept coming, even getting stronger the longer the bout went on. He has an incredible work ethic and can fight 12 rounds at a great tempo, often picking up the pace later in fights. He also has a lot of experience, with 231 rounds under his belt and 9 title bouts, in which he has gone 8-1 and has under-rated skills, with a nice jab, a solid right hand and great body work.
Looking at flaws with Otake he's not very quick, not a big puncher and pretty much a 1-trick pony, however it's a very good single trick. He will bring insane amounts of pressure, from round 1 to round 12 he will come forward, marching behind his jab, and look to out work opponents. It's not enough to win him a world title, against smarter, quicker opponents who move and take advantage of his slow feet, but against anyone below world level he's a nightmare.
Whilst fans in the west have seen Otake odds are they won't have seen the challenger, whilst fans in Japan have seen him, with his last bout being a mild upset win against the promising Kai Chiba. That bout showed that Lobetania is pretty limited, and like Otake is a one trick pony. Thankfully for Lobetania that one trick is pretty potent, and is a brutal overhand right hand. Against Chiba we saw Lobetania essentially spam his right hand, like a video game character, he missed with a lot of them, but every time it connected Chiba felt it, and wobbled hard in round 3 before being stopped the following round.
Aside from the win over Chiba it's easy to question Lobetania's record. He has 4 to his name, with only one of those coming against a really notable name, and that was against Jonas Sultan. Against Chiba however Lobetania proved not only that he has power, but also toughness, taking some bombs from the Japanese fighter. It should be noted he has only been stopped once, a surprise given his relatively open defense. Lobetania can punch, and take a shot, though interestingly he has got questions about his stamina, and he is 0-3 in bouts that have gone beyond 6 rounds.
What we're expecting here is for Otake to look to control the bout fighting at mid range early on and letting Lobetania tire himself out with the wild swings, before returning fire with busy combinations. In the second half of the fight, as the challenger slows down, Otake will be coming on strong and potentially even breaking down Lobetania in the second half for a TKO. If Otake can't stop the Filipino, we still expect him to take a clear and wide decision, in what will be an exciting war, until Lobetania starts to slow and fade.
The Flyweight division is an Asian dominated one right now, with two world champions from Japan and one from the Philippines, with the other actually being a Ukrainian based fighter born in Azerbaijan. Despite the Asian domination at the top it does seem like the OPBF title scene is a little bit disappointing Keisuke Nakayama (10-2-2, 4) being viewed as a weak champion as he goes into his second defense this coming Tuesday, against Filipino Jayr Raquinel (8-0-1, 5).
Nakayama is regarded as a weak champion because of his career so far. He was 6-2-1 (3) after his first 9 bouts, and since then he has gone 4-0-1 (1) with 3 razor decision wins and he could easily have gone 1-4 in that recent 5 fight run. In another world his record could easily read 6-6-1 (4), and whilst close fights aren't a bad thing by themselves, the consistency of close for Nakayama, at the level he's fighting at, does suggest he's not a world beater in the making. In fact he's a somewhat lucky Oriental champion.
In his title win Nakayama took a split decision over Richard Claveras whilst his first defense saw him take a controversial split decision draw over Joebert Alvarez. In both of those fights Nakayama was unconvincing and had they not both taken place in Tokyo he would have likely lost both. He lacks power, he lacks world class speed and although he can grit his teeth and fight there is little really that stands out about Nakayama, or his future and given he's 30 this year it's hard to imagine him even holding this title for long.
It seems weird to say of an OPBF champion, but Nakayama likely isn't even in the top 5 Japanese fighters at his own weight. He's clearly some distance behind Daigo Higa and Sho Kimura, we'd fancy Masayuki Kuroda and Katsunori Nagamine to beat him, Junto Nakatani would likely be favoured over him, and we'd not be surprised if Ryota Yamauchi, Seigo Yuri Akui or Akinori Hoshino would dethrone him, if they got a shot at him.
Aged 21 Raquinel is a bit of a boxing baby, but already has close to 4 years of experience under his belt. Sadly so far Raquinel has only fought at the domestic level, though has gone unbeaten and last time out claimed the OPBF interim title by out pointing Richard Rosales. That win over Rosales is the best win for Raquinel, but he also has a victory over Jimboy Haya, a very good win for such a novice.
Sadly there isn't a huge amount of footage of Raquinel, though from the footage available he does look a very promising young southpaw. He has a very sharp straight left hand, a snappy jab and looks to go to the body with his left hand. There's power there and great speed, as well as a very confident bounce in his step. Of course his competition hasn't been the best, and he has never fought away from home before, but he does look like a talent, and if managed well there is a lot of upside for Raquinel.
The big question here isn't whether ot not Raquinel is a better boxer, he certainly appears to be better, but more whether he's ready for a fight at this level. The bout might be a touch too early for him, and he may have been better off waiting a year to physically mature and develop more experience. However he is certainly a very under-dog here, and we'd not be surprised by his youthfulness and speed being too much for the flawed and uninspiring Nakayama. However with it being so early in Raquinel's career we do feel that Nakayama's experience, especially in longer bouts, will be the difference as he records another razor thin and debatable defense.
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.