At the beginning of 2014 Yoshitaka Kato (26-5-1, 7) was the unified Japanese and OPBF Lightweight champion. He went in to the year on an unbeaten run of 9 fights over the previous 3 years, a run that saw him not just unifying the titles but beating the likes of Akihiro Kondo-avenging an old defeat, Motoki Sasai and Rey Labao. He was in the form of his life.
Kato's solid run came to an end in January when he lost the OPBF title the very highly regarded Masayoshi Nakatani who really came of age in that bout. Although Kato lost his OPBF belt he managed to keep a hold of the Japanese title which wasn't on the line for the contest, though it will be on April 30th as he defends the nation title against former rival Yuhei Suzuki (14-3, 11).
The men first fought just over a year ago with Kato taking a very hard fought decision to defend the Japanese title. Since then the champion has gone 2-1 with the loss to Nakatani being the most recent. For Suzuki things have been a little bit better with the challenger going 3-0 (3), albeit against limited opposition.
On paper Kato holds a lot of advantages. He is more experienced than Suzuki, he has fought almost twice as many bouts, three times as many rounds and has mixed it in OPBF title bouts. For Suzuki, who lost to Kato in his only previous title fight of any kinda, this is a step back up from what he has been fighting in recent bouts.
Although Kato has the obvious edge in experience the power certainly lies with Suzuki who has stopped 4 of his last 5, the only man to see out the distance in that time is the defending champion. At 24 Suzuki is also younger than the 29 year old champion and is just beginning to mature fully, of course Kato isn't an old man but he is arguably getting to the point where a hard career can catch up with him.
Just as interestingly for Suzuki is the fact that, the loss to Kato aside, he hasn't been beaten since his was 21. His career since then has been 7-1 and he's certainly become a better fighter than he was.
Although an improved fighter Suzuki is still flawed and depends a lot on his power. If Kato, as he did last time, can take it then we see the champion taking another very tough decision victory. If however the miles on his clock are catching up with him, and he has plenty of miles having been in with Nakatani, Nihito Arakawa and Suzuki in the past, then Suzuki's punches might just have that bit of an extra effect and take their toll.
From where we're sat we think Kato retains, though has to dig very deep to keep his title on a bout that effectively serves as the co-feature to the very interest Heavyweight fight between Nobuhiro Ishida and Kyotaro Fujimoto, a bout that we think is a much more interesting contest. The Heavyweight bout may not have a title on the line but it certainly seems to have attracted the attention of fans around the world, something we can't imagine this national title fight managing to do despite it being a very interesting contest in it's own right.
(Image courtesy of www.kadoebi.com/boxing/)