The first WBO Asia Pacific title bout to take place in Japan this year is an excellent match up between once beaten Filipino Ben Mananquil (16-1-3, 4) and local hopeful Tenta Kiyose (15-2-1, 7), who battle for the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title that was vacated in 2018 by Hiroaki Teshigawara when he moved up in weight to fight for the OPBF title. On paper the two men are well-matched, with neither being a huge puncher, and we suspect we'll have a really good contest. But let's have a look in more details.
Mananquil is a Filipino who has been criminally underrated during his career. The 26 year old "Nightmare" made his debut more than 8 years ago and fighting at Minimumweight as an 18 year old. He fought solely on the Filipino domestic scene for his first 9 bouts, running up a 9-0 (2) record, fighting at Minimumweight as an 18 year old. He fought solely on the Filipino domestic scene for his first 9 bouts, running up a 9-0 (2) record.
In 2013 Mananquil went on the road for the first time, and fought Kwanpichit OneSongchaigym, dropping Kwanpichit in the first round and coming close to a stoppage, before a clash of heads in round 2 saw the bout conclude with a Technical Draw. Another draw occurred in 2014, when he fought Jing Xiang, before losing a rematch to Xiang 5 months later. Since then he has stuck to fighting in the Philippines, and scored notable wins over Glenn Porras and Jess Rhey Waminal as well as getting a very fortunate draw against Hinata Maruta, who seemed to do more than enough to win an 8 round decision.
Against Maruta we saw a small looking Mananquil trying to protect himself, showing nice defense and trying to counter. He showed really nice defensive skills, but a lack of power, a lack of offense and really was depending on landing counter shots. That was a stark difference to the fighter who had fought Kwanpichit, and had come close to stopping the Thai. So what we know is that he can be aggressive, he has surprisingly speed and is defensively smart. We do however wonder how he'll fare on the road, with fans clearly backing his foe, whilst fighting at Bantamweight against a naturally bigger foe.
The 22 year old Kiyose hasn't yet made his international debut, though has fought through out Japan. He lost on debut, to Kensei Hirano, and fought to a draw in his third bout, against Noboru Osato. Following those set-backs Kiyose had some good success, reaching the 2015 Rookie of the Year final before losing to Matcha Nakagawa. Since that loss Kiyose has been in good form, going 8-0 (6) with notable wins against Ryuta Otsuka, Joe Tejones and Oleydong Sithsamerchai. Through those bouts he has won the WBC Youth Super Bantamweight title and broken into the WBA and IBF rankings.
Watching footage of Kiyose, quite a bit of which is available on Boxingraise, we see a pretty solid looking boxer with a sharp jab, good movement and quick hand speed. There's defensive flaws there, and he does drop his hands when punching which will be punished when he faces better opponents than he has been up against. Also he has looked over eager to finish opponents when he has them hurt, and has shown a lack of real intelligence when trying to close the show.
Kiyose will be strongly backed by local fans here, and will be the bigger, more aggressive, harder hitting fighter. Sadly for him however he also looks the more crude, less smooth, less intelligent fighter and that is probably going to be the difference. Mananquil isn't a big puncher, but he is a smart counter puncher and those counter shots are almost certainly going to be landing cleanly on Kiyose, due to his defensive flaws. Manaquil isn't unbeatable, far from it, but stylistically he's a fighter who will be a nightmare for Kiyose, unless the local shows more ring craft than he has in the past.
Saying all that, we wouldn't be surprised by a Kiyose win, though we suspect a win for the local would likely have some questionable scorecards.
The Japanese boxing scene gives us a pre-Christmas treat on December 24th as Keita Kurihara (12-5, 11) and Yuki Strong Kobayashi (14-7, 8) face off in Osaka for the vacant OPBF Bantamweight title. On paper this may not look like anything special, but in reality it's a brilliant match up, that again shows records really don't tell us everything.
Of the two men the more impressive has been the 25 year old Kurihara, who has really impressed in recent years with his power, aggression and wonderfully exciting style. His record is a total mess due to a less than great start to his career, losing 4 of his first 7 bouts to record a 3-4 (3) record. Since then however he has gone 9-1 (8) with his sole loss during that 10 fight stretching coming in a war to Hiroaki Teshigawara. On the other his wins during that run have included stoppages against Sonin Nihei, Ryan Lumacad, Tetsuya Watanabe and Kazuki Tanaka.
Blessed with power, heart and grit Kurihara is a nightmare to face at this level. His skills probably won't take him to the top, unless he works on his technical flaws, especially his defense and how he sets up offensive work, but on the Oriental scene there's not many who will defeat him. Many may feel they can, but they'll end up in a war that really won't do them well. To beat him either a fighter needs to be insanely tough themselves, like Teshigawara, or be a very sharp boxer-mover who can counter him and make him pay for his aggression. Fortunately for him there's not too many of either those on the Oriental level at the moment.
Kobayashi is the slightly older man at 27 and has had 21 fights, to Kurihara's 17, but in terms of rounds fought is much more experienced, with 109 rounds to Kurihara's 53. Despite that he is also a heavy handed fighter, who has stopped fighters like Hikaru Matsuoka, Satoshi Ozawa and touted Filipino Vincent Astrolabio. Unfortunately for him he has been matched hard, and has lost 3 of his last 8, with stoppage losses to Takahiro Yamamoto and Rey Megrino, as well as a decision loss to Ye Joon Kim. Against Megrino and Yamamoto there was simply too much of a difference in power, whilst Kim out boxed and out moved Kobayashi.
Kobayashi is also an aggressive fighter, who likes to stand just inside range and launch hard right hands up top, and short hooks. His ability to close distance is one of his weakest points from a technical; stand point, with his slow feet and weak looking jab being an issue, but he is sharp with his power shots. Sadly he is relatively flat footed, and looks to be someone who sets him self a bit too much, with a lack of fluidity to his overall work, and is a bit of an "offense or defense" fighter, rather than someone who can switch between the two on a whim.
Give that both like to let their hands go, both are relatively slow of foot and neither likes to back down we're expecting the two to meet centre ring and have a tear up. And we mean a tear up. In a war we favour the hard hitting and more aggressive Kurihara, but he will certainly give Kobayashi openings for his right hand, and we're expecting him to land plenty of those.
As a prediction we're going with a Kurihara stoppage in the middle rounds. Given that this is on Kobayashi's home turf Kurihara may fight like a man who feels he needs a KO and will fight like that's his only way to win in what we're expecting to be a Christmas cracker!
The 2018 curse of the Japanese Bantamweight title has really been a massive problem this year. First we saw Ryo Akaho vacate the title after falling ill from weight, cancelling a January fight with Yuhei Suzuki, then we saw Suzuki suffer an injury ahead of a scheduled bout for the vacant and then we saw Suguru Muranaka fail to make weight. In the end we had to wait until September to see a champion being crowned, with Yuta Saito defeating Eita Kikuchi for the vacant title.
Even with a champion being crowned things haven't been plain sailing, with Saito then being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. This has caused a number of issues, including the JBC taking the rare step of organising a JBC "interim" title bout, with Hayato Kimura (27-10, 18) facing off with Seizo Kono (19-10-1, 12) for the JBC Interim Bantamweight title on December 20th.
Sadly the bout doesn't capture the imagination in the way a title bout should, though we expect the contest to be a good one all the same. The two men are both flawed, on paper they are similarly matched, and both are hungry fighters looking to make the most of their chance. A chance that perhaps neither has really earned.
The 29 year old Kimura began his career as a teenager in Thailand, debuting on his 16th birthday. Over the last 5 years however he fought solely in Japan where he has mixed success. To begin his career he was 19-5 (14), fighting in Thailand, Korea, Japan and the Philippines. Since fighting exclusively in Japan Kimura has gone 8-5 (4) That has included losses in two Japanese title fights, losing decisions to Sho Ishida and Kenta Nakagawa, as well as a loss in a OPBF title fight against Rene Dacquel, all at Super Flyweight. He has been matched hard, with other losses coming to Marlon Tapales and Michael Dasmarinas, both at Bantamweight, but his best wins have come against the likes of Toyoto Shiraishi and Kenya Yamashita, and those wins were 2 years apart.
Although Kimura is lacking results, and has scored his most notable wins at Super Flyweight, he is a very capable fighter and he is still developing, both technically and physically. He'd a quick boxer puncher, with a sharp jab and nice offensive work. Sadly for him his foot work and balance questionable and he does lack real thunder in his shots. Although tough he is defensively flawed can be tagged, often relying too much on his reactions.
The 29 year old Kono has been a professional for a little over 11 years and has had an interesting career, but like Kimura it's not all rosy and successful. In fact his career has seen him fighting for the WBC Youth Intercontinental Super Bantamweight and OPBF Bantamweight title, losing by stoppage to Rey Vargas and Mark John Yap respectively. Other losses on his record to notable names include a TKO loss to Taki Minamoto, a decision loss to Yu Kawaguchi and a decision loss to Kazuki Tanaka. Worryingly he is now 18 months from a win, following back to back losses to Yap and Tanaka. Not only is he ona 2 fight losing run but he is 6-7 over his last 13 fights dating back over 6 years! Not the sort of form a fighter should be getting a title shot from, even if some of those losses have been at Super Bantamweight.
Although out of form Kono is a decent fight, with a good work rate, a fun enough style and someone who brings a decent amount of aggression and excitement. He's at his best on the front foot, however his foot work is a touch slow, his punches don't appear to be crisp and snappy, and he can often be seen with his hands down when on the edge of range, sometimes inside it. His lack of real speed or power is a major issue, and although technically pretty solid he is clearly missing a standout out trait.
Given the recent losses for Kono it's hard to see him bringing any momentum into this bout, or much confidence. Kimura however is coming into the bout on the back of a win over Kenya Yamashita and we suspect that that sort of boost will really help Kimura. Kono is the naturally bigger man, but he's not a man who fights with his size usually, and we suspect that the size advantage will actually be neutralised by the speed and movement of Kimura anyway.
Although we don't think these are the best in the division in Japan this should still be a very interesting match up, and leave us going into 2019 with some interesting things going on at 118lbs in Japan. Hopefully next year will be a much better one than this year for the Japanese Bantamweight title, which has really been cursed through the whole year.
The Japanese Bantamweight title has, in 2018, been a cursed trinket. It was vacated in January by Ryo Akaho, who fell ill days before a scheduled defense. Following Akaho we then saw Yusuke Suzuki pull out of the bout for the then vacant title, due to injury, and Suguru Muranaka was forced to cancel a bout due to weight issues.
Due to those issues we've gone with out a Japanese champion since Akaho vacated in January and over a year with out a Japanese title fight, with Akaho's August 2017 defense being the last time the title was on the line. Interestingly Akaho's that night was Yuta Saito (10-9-3, 7) who will be battling against Eita Kikuchi (21-5-4, 8) this coming Saturday for the vacant title.
Whilst the title not being fought for in over a year is bad we actually need to go back over 2 years to find Saito's last win, which came in April 2016 against Corrales Kawashima. Since the win over Kawashima we've seen Saito go 0-2-1, fighting to a draw with Tatsuya Takahashi and losing to Akaho and Naoya Okamoto.
On paper Saito has no right to be in a title fight, he has won less than half of his career bouts, is without a win in well over 2 years, and has only scored 3 wins since the the start of 2013. Whilst he's better than that sort of form suggests, and he has pushed fighters like Yushi Tanaka, Keita Nakano, and Naoya Okamoto incredibly close. Yes he has been losing, but he's been losing close bouts, often away from home, by close decision above the Bantamweight limit. And given the way Akaho, Suzuki and Muranaka have failed to come in on weight Saito will be regarded as a safe fighter to mane weight and get in the ring.
In the ring Saito has got nasty power at domestic level, but sometimes lacks the skills to make the most of it. With 7 of his 10 wins coming inside the distance it's clear he can hurt opponents. Sadly though he can be hurt himself, as Akaho showed, and he can be out boxed, as several have shown. Give a real chance to prepare he can be a nightmare, and he will know he needs to make a statement here, as this really could be his last chance.
At 32 years old Kikuchi probably wouldn't have expected his shot at the belt, especially given that he hasn't fought since losing in a Japanese title eliminator to Yusuke Suzuki last October. Like Saito however he is seen as a dependable fighter, who will be in the ring and won't be missing weight. In some ways that is possibly the key to this bout from the JBC's perspective, “lets make sure this bout takes place”. At his best Kikuchi was a solid fighter, and has scored career wins over the likes of Hideo Sakamoto, Noldi Manakane, and challenged for the OPBF Super Bantamweight title, losing to Shingo Wake in 2013.
Despite being solid Kikuchi has been stopped in 3 of his 5 defeats and with just 8 stoppages in 30 career bouts he is not much of a puncher himself. With his 33rd birthday coming in December he will be physically less of a fighter than the one who challenged Wake, and went in the later stages with Taiki Minamoto, but can still hold his own against solid domestic competition.
We don't think anyone would claim these are the best Japanese fighters at Bantamweight, a division that has the likes of Naoya Inoue, his brother Takuma Inoue or the exciting Hiroaki Teshigawara but they are in a position to fight for the national title and both will do everything they can to win. With that in mind we're expecting a brilliant fight, and we expect to see both men put it on the line, With his edge in power we favour Saito, but we wouldn't be surprised no matter who won. What we would be surprised by is for the winner to really have a long reign, as they will have fighters like Keita Kurihara snapping at their ankles for a shot, and it's hard to see either man defeating the contenders who will be lining up for a shot at the title in 2019.
This coming Friday Japanese fight fans are set for a treat as former Japanese Flyweight champion Suguru Muranaka (26-3-1, 8) takes on Yuta Saito (10-9-3, 7) in a bout for the vacant Japanese Bantamweight title. On paper the bout may not look particularly special, but the reality is that this could turn out to be one of the sleeper bouts of the year, and, given the styles of the two men, really could be an action packed war or attrition. On paper we can all see it looks like a mismatch, but for Muranaka it's his first real bout as a fully fledged Bantamweight, whilst Saito is a natural Bantamweight who has dipped his toes at Super Bantamweight in recent years.
Muranaka is by far the more well known. He challenged for the WBA Super Flyweight title last year, when he came up short against Kal Yafai, and prior to that had been the Japanese Flyweight champion, holding that title from December 2013 to April 2014, when he was stripped of the belt for failing to make weight. As a Flyweight Muranaka was a really good domestic level fighter, and could well have made a mark at Oriental or even world level. It was at that weight that he scored really good wins over Takuya Kogawa and Masayuki Kuroda, and scored a sensational 1-punch KO of Yusuke Sakashita.
At Flyweight Muranaka was an all action fighter, able to walk forward, use his physicality and fight at an incredibly high tempo. As he's gone up in weight he's found it harder to have the same success, opponents haven't been hurt by his shots, they've been able to take his pressure easier and have more success up close. This has been seen in narrow wins against Hiroyuki Kudaka and Ken Achiwa, as well as his loss to Khalid Yafai. Muranaka is still tough and has a great engine, but hs can no longer back fighters up in the same way, and fighters he's been fighting at Super Flyweight are now his physical equals.
On paper Saito doesn't look like he's fit to be fighting for a title, especially not one as highly regarded as the Japanese Bantamweight title which has been held by fighters like Shinsuke Yamanaka, Toshiaki Nishioka, Ryosuke Iwasa, Yasuei Yakushiji, Joichiro Tatsuyoshi and Yoshio Shirai. Despite that he's ranked #4 by the JBC and is a genuine contender on the domestic scene and also has one of the most misleading records in Japan. His 22 fight career saw him begin 2-3 before winning the 2012 Rookie of the Year, whilst fighting as a Super Flyweight. In the years since he has filled out his frame, been matched hard, and become a notable fighter on the fringes of the Japanese title scene whilst moving between Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight.
As mentioned Saito lost 2 of his first 3 bouts, since then he has gone 9-7-3 with losses coming to very good domestic fighters, such as Mugicha Nakagawa, Takayuki Okumoto, Yushi Tanaka, Naoya Okamoto and Ryo Akaho, in what was also a Japanese Bantamweight title fight. His team have matched him hard, and even in those losses he has been competitive, with Nakagawa the only one to take a clear decision over him and even against Akaho he was very competitive being being stopped in round 9. With that in mind it's fair to say he deserves to be in the mix, especially given that the top fighters in the country have progressed beyond domestic level already.
Coming in to this Saito will be the under-dog, but we genuinely think he'll be a handful, and although he should be regarded as the under-dog he is a very live under-dog, and we wouldn't be surprised by the naturally bigger man picking up a narrow decision win.
Unfortunately the Japanese Bantamweight division, at least domestically, is a big lacking right now, but with the likes of Kai Chiba, Fumiya Fuse, Ryuto Owan and Kazuki Nakajima, among others the division is maybe only a year or two away from being red hot, like it usually is.
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.
In 2018 we're expecting to see a big year for the Bantamweight division, with the rematch between Shinsuke Yamanaka and Luis Nery already agreed and a lot of talk about super fights with Naoya Inoue involved. On the Japanese domestic scene there also appears to be plenty of be excited about, and this coming Saturday we'll see the first domestic title fight of the year, as Bantamweight champion Ryo Akaho (31-2-2, 20) takes on mandatory challenger Yusuke Suzuki (9-3, 6).
Of the two men it's Akaho who is by far the more well known. He is a 2-time world title challenger, a former OPBF champion and is now enjoying a Japanese title reign as he continues his career and seeks one more shot at world honours. He has had a long career, with his debut coming back in February 2005, and fought in his first title fight way back in 2009, when he fought to a draw with Daigo Nakahiro for the Japanese Super Flyweight title.
As a Super Flyweight Akaho was a crude bullying type of fighter. He would claim the OPBF title in 2011, battering Fred Mundraby for the then vacant title. As the OPBF champion Akaho would make 3 defenses, stopping Toyoto Shiraishi and Yohei Tobe, and taking a decision over Yoshihito Ishizaki, before getting his first world title fight. At world level we saw just how crude Akaho was, with Yota Sato really schooling him with some excellent pure boxing and movement. The loss to Sato was a major set back for Akaho but one that sent him to Bantamweight, as he finally gave up the battle to make 115lbs. As a Bantamweight he would get his second shot at the title, but get stopped in round 2 by Pungluang Sor Singyu in 2015. Since then he has fought on the Japanese scene, scoring wins over Shiraishi, for the second time, Hiroaki Teshigawara, Yushi Tanaka and Yuta Saito. The win over Tanaka netted Akaho the domestic title whilst the win over Saito was his first defense.
Aged 31 it's unclear how long Akaho has left, especially given he's an old 31, but he's still an exciting and fun to watch fighter. He's still a crude, tough slugger at heart, and not a fighter with much in terms of technical nuance, but the aggressive nature makes him a fun TV friendly fighter. He has shown some technical aspects recently, but they are few and far between and instead he gets through on experience, toughness, stamina and physicality. Against a decent boxer-mover he wouldn't stand much of a chance, if the boxer can keep it up for the distance.
Whilst lots is known about Akaho much less is available on Suzuki. He's 29 and turned professional in late 2012, following a respectable 78 fight amateur career, in which he went 54-24 (25). His amateur pedigree saw some excitement about his career and he began fighting in 6 rounders from his professional debut. Sadly for him he was thrown in deep early on, and would suffer a loss in his second bout to Yusaku Kuga, who has subsequently won the Japanese Super Bantamweight title. A short winning streak was then ended in 2015 with a close loss to Ryoichi Tamura and then another to Jeffrey Francisco in the Philippines. Those losses led to Suzuki to have a 6-3 (4) record.
Thankfully for Suzuki he now appears to have found his way in the professional ranks and has scored wins over Ken Kodama, Keita Nakano and Eita Kikuchi to secure this title fight against Akaho, and show that he is progressing as a fighter.
Although footage of Suzuki is rather hard to find there is some stuff out there of the hard hitting southpaw. He likes to come forward and apply the pressure, he uses a very fast range finder jab, which isn't accurate but it is busy, and a very vicious looking straight left hand. Watching what we can of him shows a fighter who knows he has vicious power in his left hand, but he's not someone who looks like he truly knows how to use that power. Physically he's a strong fighter at 118lbs and looks like he takes a very solid shot. He also has the killer mentality, if he gets his man hurt he will look to finish them off.
Given the limitations of both fighters we're not expecting much of a boxing contest. Instead we're expecting a fight, and this could be a very fun fight between two men who can bang, and two men who are tough. We suspect that Akaho's experience will be the key, byut Suzuki hasn't got the wear and tear, is the naturally bigger man and is a very dangerous southpaw. We favour Akaho, but it's a real 60/40 type of fight.
This coming Sunday we get the chance to see a host of title fights in Osaka. One of those is an OPBF Bantamweight title bout between under-rated champion Mark John Yap (27-12, 13), a Japanese based Filipino, and the win-some-lose-some Seizo Kono (19-8-1, 12). On paper the bout may not look the best but given the fighters in question we could be in for a genuine treat, much like Yap's previous defense against Kentaro Masuda.
With a dozen losses on his record Yap look like a journeyman on paper. Like many Filipino's however his record is very deceiving and in reality he's a fringe world level fighter, in great form and really showing his value as a contender. Especially now that he's been able to get some notice for fights and is fighting at his natural weight class of Bantamweight. That's worth noting because his last 3 losses have come outside of the division, and his record at 118lbs is very impressive. It's also worth noting that Yap's last loss at Bantamweight came more than 4 years ago, to current world champion Ryosuke Iwasa.
In the ring Yap is a well developed fighter who has built well off his experience. His 39 fights have seen him rack up 265 professional rounds and he has consistently been regarded as a top sparring partner by local fighters. Technically he's the not the best, but he's a solid technician who can have win a shoot out, and proved that by pulling himself off the canvas 3 times to defeat Masuda in a 4 round thriller. Although his record doesn't show it he can bang, and is riding a 3 fight stoppage run and an 8 fight winning run, and is very much a fighter showing his form with recent wins over Tatsuya Ikemiu, Hiroyuki Kudaka, Takahiro Yamamoto and the aforementioned Masuda.
Having won the title late last year, when he stopped Yamamoto, Yap has made it clear he's eyeing up a potential world title fight, and will know that he cannot afford a slip up here.
With 28 bouts on his ledger Kono has had a frustrating career, and although he's never had long absences from the ring he always seems to see any momentum come to a stop relatively quickly. He began his career 2-1-1 (1) before running out to 10-1-1 (7). Since then however he has gone 9-8 (5) losing to a mix of fighters from Rey Vargas to Yuki Murai, Satoshi Niwa, and Benjie Suganob. Despite the mixed form in recent bouts Kono is actually enjoying some good form, at last, and has won his last 5 including a decision win over Hideo Sakamoto.
In the ring Kono is a solid fighter, but the reality is that solid isn't usually good enough to claim an OPBF title. He's got nice skills, but in recent years his form has been poor, he's not been able to put full performances together and he lacks both lights out power and the stamina to fight at a good pace for 8 rounds, never mind a potential 12. With 2 stoppage losses against him he's not rock solid, even if one of those losses was to the world class Rey Vargas, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him come undone later in the bout.
Kono could prove a test for Yap, but we suspect Yap's extra experience, toughness and ability will be too much, and the champion will manage to retain his title with a stoppage in the second half of the bout.
This coming Saturday we'll see Japanese Bantamweight champion Ryo Akaho (30-2-2, 19) defending his title against under-rated challenger Yuta Saito (10-7-3, 7). On paper the bout is a horrible mismatch, with the champion being a 2-time world title challenger, a former Oriental title holder and a current national champion whilst the challenger has only won 50% of his bouts, but the challenger will know this is likely to be his only shot at a title.
Akaho is relatively well known by fight fans across Asia, and may well be on the radar of some Western fans. His first shot at a title came way back in 2009, fighting to a draw with Daigo Nakahiro for the Japanese Super Flyweight title, before capturing an OPBF title 18 months later, stopping Fred Mundraby in 5 rounds. As the OPBF champion Akaho ran up 3 defenses before earning a shot at the then WBC champion Yota Sato, who took a clear win over the challenge who subsequently moved up in weight.
Less than 3 years after moving up Akaho earned his second world title fight, though was stopped in 2 rounds by Thai Pungluang Sor Singyu in Thailand. Since that loss he has gone 4-0 (1), with the highlights being a very fun bout with Hiroaki Teshigawara last October and a win over Yushi Tanaka this past March for the Japanese Bantamweight title.
In the ring Akaho is a rough and tumble fighter. He's heavy handed, but not a KO artist, a bit wild and a bit loopy, but a tough warrior who's only stoppage loss came from a brutal barrage by Pungluang. As with many crude fighters he's not very quick, and he can be countered and caught, but getting into a fire fight with him is rarely a smart idea, and it makes a lot more sense to outbox him, rather than try to out fight him.
With a 10-7-3 record Saito looks like a really low level challenger. It should however be noted that he is the #1 ranked Japanese contender and he could easily have had a very different looking record. Of his 7 defeats they have all been close, with only a round or two separating him and his opponent. He has never been stopped and seems to be a fighter who is easy to over-look, something Tatsuya Takahashi perhaps did back in January when the two fought to a majority decision draw.
Although not a naturally gifted fighter Saito is, like the champion, a rough and tumble fighter with an aggressive mindset, heavy hands and the willingness to have a fight. That has seem him go to war with decent domestic talents like Takayuki Okumoto, Yuta Nakagawa, Yushi Tanaka and the aforementioned Takahashi. Although he's yet to beat one of those men, they have all known that they had a real tough time with Saito.
Aged 29 perhaps the best is yet to come from the challenger though the reality is that this is a huge step up in class, and one we don't think he's ready for. We're expecting a lot of action, with the styles gelling well, but Akaho will have a bit too much of everything for the challenger, en route to either a very late stoppage or a wide decision win
This coming Sunday fight fans in Osaka should be in for a thrilling OPBF Bantamweight title fight, as under-rated champion Mark John Yap (26-12, 12) takes on former 2-time Japanese champion Kentaro Masuda (27-7, 15). On paper the bout might might not look amazing, especially given the relatively poor records of both fighters, however the styles of the men should make for something special, and both fighters are far better than the numbers suggest.
Japanese based Filipino Yap is a true veteran, despite only being 28. He debuted way back in 2007 and had some early success before his career started stumbling. He went from 8-0 (2) to 17-7 (8) and later 19-12 (10). At that point it looked like Yap's career was going to swirl down the drain and go nowhere, with the fighter being written off despite only being 26.
Instead of fading away Yap has been on a charge over the last two years, having some of the best performances of his career. They have included a shock win over the then unbeaten Tatsuya Ikemizu, a pair of wins over former world title challenger Hiroyuki Hisataka, a win over Juan Jose Landaeta and, most notably, a win over Takahiro Yamamoto for the OPBF title last November, in which he showed surprising power.
Like many Filipino's in recent years, such as Rey Loreto, Sonny Boy Jaro and Rey Megrino, we've seen Yap learn a lot from his losses before finding his groove in the sport. Now he's find it it's leading to a snowball effect of better performances and better results, and of course the OPBF title.
In the ring Yap isn't a fighter that stands out as “world class” in any area, however he is tough, strong, heavy handed, has a good engine and is incredibly determined. He can be out boxed, he can be out slugged, but he has solid all-round skills and is real nightmare for fighters, especially though who just look at his record, and over-look him. He's developed some great skills and has 261 rounds of professional experience to rely on in the ring, which has clearly helped him develop into a very good Oriental level fighter.
Masuda has been like a fine wine, developing into a very good fighter whilst getting older and older. He's now 34, so probably in the twilight of his career, but is riding a good 6 fight winning run, including stoppages over Hideo Sakamoto and Yushi Tanaka and a decision over Yu Kawaguchi. Not only is he on a 6-0 run but he's actually gone 13-1 (7) over the last 5 years, with his only loss being to Shohei Omori.
In the ring Masuda is a solid battler, who can box, hits harder than his record suggests and can brawl. He's a little on the small side for a top Bantamweight, at 5'5”, but often uses that lack of size to his advantage, making him a harder target and getting on the inside with out taking too much damage on the way in, then darting out. It's something that has got him a lot of success, and will likely continue to do so.
Whilst Masuda did suffer a number of early career losses they included defeats to the likes of Akihiko Katagiri, Hidenori Otake and Ryosuke Iwasa. Experience at that level will mean a lot and it's fair to say that Masuda has learned from his set backs. That's likely to show again here, but there is also the toll father time takes and it could be that Masuda has got wear and tear on his body that could show against a strong and powerful guy like Yap.
Given that both men enjoy a fight, both are criminally under-rated, both can punch and both are physically strong this is likely to be a gruelling and tough war. Don't expect this to be a beautifully boxed contest, but do expect it to be exciting, and a real hard scrap.
When it comes to a hard scrap like this we have to favour the younger man, and feel that Yap's freshness and lack of miles will be the difference, but this will be an incredible fight, with both men dealing out some incredible punishment. Masuda's older legs will likely hold him back in the later stages, and that will be the difference, but we can never write the old dog off and an upset certainly isn't off the cards.
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.