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.
The Japanese scene at Bantamweight has been one that has combined excitement and promising fighters along with veteran and experience over the last few years. We've seen Ryosuke Iwasa, Kohei Oba, Kentaro Masuda and Shohei Omori hold the title over the last 5 years and we've seen challengers like Yu Kawaguchi, Konosuke Tomiyama, Hirofumi Mukai and Satoshi Niwa all come up short in challenged.
The 4 champions mentioned above have all set their sites on bigger and better things. Oba and Omori have fallen short in eliminators, Iwasa lost in a world title fight whilst Masuda recently stated his intent to chase a world title.
One fighter who has tried to win world titles but now finds himself back the domestic scene is veteran Ryo Akaho (29-2-2, 19), who looks to win the vacant Japanese Bantamweight title as he takes on Yushi Tanaka (19-1-3, 13), himself challenging for this title for the second time. For both men this will be seen as a must win, Akaho needing a win to keep alive his dreams of getting another world title fight and Tanaka looking to prove that he deserves to be title level fighter.
Of the two men it's Akaho who is more well known. The Yokohama Hikari fighter debuted back in 2005 and moved through the ranks relatively slowly before getting a shot at the Japanese Super Flyweight title in late 2009. In that title shot he fought to a draw with Daigo Nakahiro but remained in the title mix and won the OPBF Super Flyweight title 17 months later. As the OPBF champion Akaho would defend the title 3 times, scoring notable wins over Toyoto Shiraishi and Yohei Tobe, before getting his first world title bout.
In Akaho's first world title shot he came up short against Yota Sato, the then WBC Super Flyweight champion. That was to be Akaho's final bout at 115lbs before he moved up to Bantamweight and slowly moved towards a second world title bout, which came in August 2015 when he took on Pungluang Sor Singyu for the vacant WBO Bantamweight title. Sadly for Akaho he was bullied in round 2 by Pungluang who knocked him out in controversial fashion. Since that loss Akaho hasn't looked like a world class fighter, struggling past Shiraishi in a rematch and only narrowly over-coming Hiroaki Teshigawara last year, along with scoring a blow out of a terrible Thai foe.
In the ring Akaho is a strong and tough fighter, but one who is relatively basic, a little crude and raw and lacks in terms of speed and isn't the puncher his record may suggest. He can be out boxed, he can be out slugged and he can be out fought, but it takes a good fighter to do any of those things and he has the rugged toughness to make anyone below world level work for a win.
As mentioned this will be Tanaka's second shot at a Japanese title, and his chance to help add to the growing reputation of the Hatanaka gym which already features world champion Kosei Tanaka and Japanese Featherweight champion Shota Hayashi. His first shot at the title saw him being dominated, and stopped, by Kentaro Masuda a year ago. That was really Tanaka's only bout against a genuinely notable fighter in their prime and it showed that he was a long way from being Japanese title worthy. It is however worth nothing that Tanaka has held the WBC Youth Bantamweight title, winning that in July 2013 and making 3 defenses of the title.
Whilst Tanaka hasn't fought many good fights in their prime he has scored wins over Filipino journeyman Rey Laspinas, a good win, and a beyond shot Wandee Singwancha, who was well beyond his best and fighting significantly above his best fighting weight. Sadly much of his competition to date has been dire and lead to his record really not reflecting his skills. For example Tanaka isn't a big puncher, despite almost a 60% stoppage rate, and although he comes into this bout on a 3-0 (3) run following the loss to Masuda he's really not faced anyone to give him another gut check.
Stylistically there is little about Tanaka to be impressed by. He lacks the sensational skills and speed of Kosei Tanaka and the tenacity of Shota Hayashi. He's not terrible as such, but there is little about him that is actually impressive. He's just a very basic fighter who shouldn't really be getting a second shot so soon after being dominated in his previous shot. And with that in mind it'll be no surprise to hear that we're predicting a loss for Tanaka here, likely by stoppage in the middle rounds.
Japanese Bantamweight champion Kentaro Masuda (25-7, 13) returns to the ring this coming Thursday to defend his title for the second time as he takes on first time title challenger Satoshi Ozawa (13-6-1, 2). Whilst this is Masuda's second defense of his current reign it is part of his second reign, with his first seeing him successfully defend the title twice before being blitzed by Shohei Omori in 2015.
Of the two men it's the 33 year old champion who will be the favourite. He's much more experienced with 32 fights under his belt, including 7 Japanese title bouts of which he has won 5. Whilst he's not been perfect in them he has only lost to fringe world class guys in the form of Omori and Ryosuke Iwasa, which scoring wins against the likes of Yu Kawaguchi, Konosuke Tomiyama, Yushi Tanaka and Tatsuya Takahashi.
In the ring Masuda is a fighter who has developed in front of our eyes. He began his career 1-2, and was 3-3 after 6 fights before falling to 14-6 in 2012 following his loss to Iwasa. Since then he has turned things around, going 11-1 in the last 4 years and really made him self a staple of the Japanese title scene. In the ring he's rugged, has solid stamina and comes to fight with an exciting aggressive style. Although not the biggest puncher he hits harder than his record suggests and his shots sting, with surprising effect, as Konosuke Tomiyama found out back in 2014. He is however 33 and has had a long hard career with some suggesting that he may be on the slide now following a number of tough wars.
Whilst plenty is known, and a lot of footage of Masuda is available, the same cannot be said of Ozawa who is an 8 year professional at the age of 29, but hasn't yet fought many fights of name value, and has next to no big name wins. Like Masuda he had an early career struggle, falling to 2-3 and later being 4-3-1. He has however rebuilt going 9-3 since the start of 2012. That might not sound great but it has included notable wins over Yuki Strong Kobayashi Yoshihiko Matsuo, twice, as he's emerged as a contender for the Japanese throne.
Ozawa is technically a decent fighter, he has nice skills and nice speed, but he has a clear lack of power having only scored 2 stoppages in 20 fights, and his toughness is also there to be questioned with the challenger having suffered 4 stoppage losses. His lack of durability will be a real issue against a fighter like Masuda who is marauding and aggressive, and although Ozawa is a decent fighter he will struggle to keep the champion off him.
Whilst Ozawa is a live under-dog here it's hard to see anything but a Masuda win, likely by stoppage in the middle section of the fight
In recent years Bantamweight has been one of the most intriguing divisions in Asia. We've not only had fighters like Shinsuke Yamanaka, Pungluang Sor Singyu, Tomoki Kameda and Marlon Tapales all holding world titles but we've also had great fights, like Pungluang Vs Tapales and the rematch between Yamanaka and Anselmo Moreno as well as the brilliant wars between Kentaro Masuda and Tatsuya Takahashi and Takahiro Yamanoto and Yu Kawaguchi.
We'll have another potential Bantamweight thriller this coming Friday as Takahiro Yamamoto (18-4, 15) looks to defend his OPBF Bantamweight title against Japanese based Filipino Mark John Yap (24-12, 10). On paper it looks like a mismatch, in favour of the champion, but the likelihood is that we'll end up with a very special and exciting fight between two men with different styles but the same never say die mentality.
Of the two men the champion is, of course, favoured here. He's got the much better record on paper, he's the puncher and he's a guy who is coming into this bout with a world ranking. The 25 year old Ioka gym fighter will be seeking a 4th defense of his title and will be hoping to move towards a world title fighter, potentially as early as 2017.
In the ring Yamamoto is an aggressive, heavy handed, tough guy with a boxer-puncher's skill set. He was wild early in his career but has tamed that wildness recently as he's developed his boxing skills, whilst maintaining his heavy handed blows. That power has helped him go 9-1 (9) in his last 10 bouts, with wins over Yu Kawaguchi, Yuki Strong Kobayashi and Rex Wao in his last 3 bouts. With the win over Kawaguchi he has avenged his only defeat in the last 5 years! In fact it's worth noting that his other 3 losses came during a 4 fight run where he went 1-3.
Aged 27 Yap is a fighter in his prime years and he's also a bit of a young veteran having been a professional for close to 10 years. Not only is he a veteran but he's a battle tested one who has developed from his losses becoming a really solid fighter a million miles removed from the man who was stopped in 3 rounds by Jessie Albaracin. Not only has he improved but he's also on a very under-rated 5 fight winning streak, which includes wins over the then unbeaten Tatsuya Ikemizu and two wins over former world title challenger Hiroyuki Hisataka.
Yap is technically solid, tough and has a proven engine, having gone into the tenth round on 10 occasions in his career. Whilst he's yet to do 12 rounds there no reason to doubt he'll be able to do the extra 6 minutes, and he has actually done 10 at a decent pace in the past, rather than a lazy slow paced 10 rounder. In many ways he's the top of guy who should have a much better record and should be regarded as a genuine OPBF level contender, rather than a massive under-dog for a bout like this.
We're expecting this to be a genuinely competitive bout, and a fun to watch one with both men showing what they have in their locker. For Yap that will be his skills, his ability to box and smother, and his toughness. For Yamamoto his key will be his power, his aggression and his ability to force the pace. We're expecting this to be competitive, have some back and forth and see both men answering some key questions. In the end though we think the champion will just be able to chip away enough at Yap to score a late stoppage, but not without needing to work very hard for the win.
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.