In their first fight there was very little to separate the two men. Two of the judges had the bout scored 115-113, albeit in opposite directions, whilst the deciding judge had it 116-112 to Kawaguchi. A 1-round swing could have swung the bout to a draw whilst a round the other way would have taken the split decision and made it a majority. It wasn't “controversial” as such, but it was so highly competitive that neither man had a clear edge.
Now, second time around, we're expecting much of the same. A bout between two very evenly matched fighters who are both tough and have different strengths but both come to win, every time they are in the ring. Both have their flaws, and neither is close to being the best Bantamweight in Japan, but both are fighting at a good level for them and both will put it all on the line to claim this title.
In their first fight the difference, for some, was Kawaguchi's experience. He knew how to grit it out and how to to win a close one, like he had done in the past. That experience is still an advantage he has however Yamamoto will have learned so much from the first meeting, his experience will have developed as a result. If the experience was the only difference between the two then it's not hard to imagine the title changing hand here.
Kawaguchi isn't just the more experienced but he's the older, more seasoned fighter having fought the likes of Yasutaka Ishimoto and Kentaro Masuda. Losses in those bouts were set backs but they were character building and and used to help him develop. A big question is whether his title win has also helped him develop, or perhaps find a new level of confidence. If he has then he may be able to find a new gear.
With the first fight being close we're expect much the same here. The big question is who has improved more in the last 4 months. Has the experience of a title fight helped Yamamoto understand the 12 round distance and what to do when he can't bang fighters out, like he has done in 12 of his 15 wins? Or has holding the OPBF title brought a new level to Kawaguchi's game and confidence?
We're really unsure on who is is going to show the biggest improvement here, but if you're in Osaka at the start of August this really will will be worth attending and we're expecting another, competitive, exciting and very close 12 round battle. We don't see either man moving to the top level, though either against Ryosuke Iwasa, for example would be another entertaining contest, and there are a lot of options out there for the winner.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)