On Sunday 26th May Filipino skillster Ben Mananquil (17-1-3, 4) returns to Japan as he looks to make his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title, and takes on recent OPBF title challenger Yuki Strong Kobayashi (14-8, 8). The bout isn't likely to get much attention outside of Asia, but could move the winner into the higher reaches of the WBO Bantamweight rankings.
Of the two men the champion certainly enters the bout as the favourite. Just looking at his record he looks like he's on a different level to the challenger, and that's ignoring the level he's been fighting at. When we consider what Mananquil has actually done it seems even clearer that he should be regarded as the favourite. The 4 marks on his record have come to Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym, Jing Xiang, a loss and a draw, and Hinata Maruta. Those aren't bad marks to have against you, but he has also picked up good wins too, including victories against Glenn Porras, Jess Rhey Waminal and Tenta Kiyose, who he beat for this title back in February.
For those who haven't seen Mananquil he's a really talented boxer. Defensively he is smart, a good mover and knows his way around the ring. He's not a very handed puncher, but he does find home for shots very easily. He's a smart counter puncher, who's accurate with his shots on the back, making miss and tagging them in return. Notably he's a really small Bantamweight, and stands at just 5'4" but fighting out of the southpaw stance and using a good boxing brain he makes his diminutive height work for him, and and uses it to become a smaller target, drawing opponents in and making them make a mistake. It's rarely fun to watch Mananquil, but he is effective at what he does, and does make more natural Bantamweights give away their advantages.
On paper Yuki Strong Kobayashi isn't a great fighter. He has lost 8 of 22 pro bouts, in fact he has lost the same amount of bouts that he has won by stoppage. Unlike some fighters who have suffered early losses and built a career afterwards he has actually suffered consistent losses through his career, he was 8-4 after 12 bouts and has gone 6-4 since. What's notable however is that he is 1 4-1 in his last 5 and through his career he has mixed with great company. His last 4 defeats have come to regional title level fighters, in the form of Takahiro Yamamoto, Ye Joon Kim, Rey Megrino and Keita Kurihara. Those bouts have seen his chin being a major issue, with Yamamoto and Megrino both stopping him and Kurihara sending him down 4 times, but wins over Noboru Osato and Vincent Astrolabio are really notable and show there is quality there.
This is a bout where Kobayashi's chin is less likely to be an issue than it has been. Instead he'll be able to stick to his boxing without too much fear of what is coming back in his direction. In fairness he is a better boxer than this record suggests. He's aggressive, he comes forward and he tried to make life difficult for opponents with volume and body shots. There's very much a "I have to attack a lot to have a chance" look to him, but he's a fun go to watch in action, throwing lots of lead hooks to try and cramp the distance and let him work on the inside.
Stylistically this should be fun. The pressure of Kobayashi against the sweet boxing skills of Mananquil, the aggression of the challenger versus the defensive know how of the champion. It should be really fan friendly, though we expect the local fans in Osaka will be disappointed when their man loses a clear, but competitive, decision to the Filipino.
We're expecting the cleaner shots to come from Mananquil, who we think will run away with the bout in the final rounds. Kobayashi will be close through 8, but come up short after 12 rounds.
Prediction - Mananquil UD12
This coming Friday fight fans in Tokyo will get the chance to see hard hitting OPBF Bantamweight champion Keita Kurihara (13-5, 11) make his first defense, and go against hard hitting Filipino puncher Warlito Parrenas (26-9-1, 23). The bout, at Korakuen Hall, is expected to be a really explosive encounter, and could end up being one of the bouts of the month, given the styles and mentalities of the two men involved.
Aged 26 Kurihara is just coming into his prime and has really built well from a faltering start to his professional career. He won his first two bouts, back in 2011, but fell from 2-0 (2) to 3-4 (3) and it would have been easy to have written him at that point. Instead however he built himself up, filling his frame from a frail Flyweight up to that a powerful and strong Bantamweight. Since his poor start he has gone 10-1 (8), with his only loss coming to the now world ranked Hiroaki Teshigawara. In terms of notable wins Kurihara has beaten the likes of Sonin Nihei, Ryan Lumacad, Kazuki Tanaka and most recently Yuki Strong Kobayashi, in what was a controversial bout due to numerous officiating errors.
Although Kurihara began his career as a Flyweight, even making Light Flyweight a couple of times, he is now a fully fledged Bantamweight. He's a very confident fighter, who is incredibly heavy handed and looks to make every fight a bit of a shoot out. He can box, and has a solid if sometimes under-used jab, but he's mentality isn't to box, it's to break opponents down. His jab is used to help him get close, it's used to hurt people. and earn their respect, back them up and set up the distance for his devastating hooks and straight right. Last time out, against Kobayashi, Kurihara wasn't at his best but still managed to drop Kobayashi 4 times, on route to a unanimous decision. It was revealed that he wasn't 100% going into the bout, but still managed to have the power to drop a very decent regional level foe.
Whilst Kurihara is just coming into his prime the same can't be said of Parrenas, who is now 35 and has previously retired. The Filipino, best known for losing to Naoya Inoue in a WBO Super Flyweight world tile fight, is a 12 year veteran who has had a really fun career to follow. Win or lose he has delivered great action, and has proven to be a heavy handed, though someone what chinny, brawler. On paper it looks bad to see 9 losses against his name, but he has lost to the likes of Jonathan Taconing, Marlon Tapales, Naoya Inoue, Ryuichi Funai and Sho Ishida. That alone shows the level he's been competing at, at times. Sadly though he does typically come up short against the better opponents, and a lot of his wins against regional journeyman, Thai novices or Japanese domestic level fighters. He's dangerous, given his power, but is technically quite limited and flawed.
At his best Parrenas would be a nightmare for a fighter like Kurihara. A fighter who comes to have a shoot out with Parrenas, could always be in trouble. Now however Parrenas is on the slide, clearly, he's a long way removed from his best and is several years removed from a win of note. He's still a danger, but if he was to win here it would be just one last hurrah for an aging puncher.
We like both guys, but unfortunately we can't help but think this bout has come a few years too late for Parrenas, who we expect to see being stopped by the younger, fresher, hungrier Kurihara.
Prediction - Kurihara TKO6 in a thrilling fire fight
Towards the end of April fight fans in Okayama get a small treat, thanks to a card at the Suntopia. The card is a double header, and here we're going to look at one of the part of that double header, a JBC Youth Bantamweight title fight which will see Tetsu Araki (13-1-1, 2) make his first defense of the title, and take on the unbeaten Atsushi Takada (6-0-3, 3).
In another world both of these men could easily be unbeaten, in fact it wouldn't take a huge rewriting of history to see the men come into this bout with records of 15-0 and 9-0, and whilst that may have looked nicer on paper it should be noted that both are excellent young fighters.
The once beaten champion began his career in 2014, fighting to a split decision draw against Koichi Uryu. Just 4 months later Araki would defeat Uryu in a rematch, beginning a 4 fight winning run. That run came to an end in September 2015 when he lost a split decision to Tenta Kiyose, with essentially 1 round costing him a split decision win. Since then he has reeled off 9 straight victories, including notable ones against Yuto Nakamura, the Japanese Youth Super Flyweight champion, Ryuto Owan, a previously unbeaten prospect, and Morihisa Iju, who reached the 2014 West Japan Rookie of the Year final.
Sadly we've not managed to see much of Araki, a problem we often have with Japanese fighters who typically compete outside of Tokyo. Despite the lack of footage we have been told that he is a talented fighter and has a very busy jab, a light flowing style and the ability to press the action in the later rounds. He's not the most powerful or strongest, but he is a talented and smart fight with good straight punching, and solid body shots.
Aged 21 Takada is the younger man, Araki is 24, and he began his career in 2015. Strangely he too began with a draw, unable to get over the line against Wolf Nakano. A 3 fight winning run was interrupted when he dropped to Flyweight and was held to a draw by Kyomu Hamagami. A second 3 fight winning run also ended with a draw, when Hironori Miyake hold him over 8 rounds. Look at his record we do see a strange symmetry to his results and notable weight changes, fighting at Super Flyweight on debut, moving up to Bantamweight, then down to Flyweight, back to Super Flyweight and now back up to Bantamweight. He's a growing youngster, though we do wonder just how strong he is at 118lbs.
Takada is also lacking in terms of footage, even Boxingraise has no footage of him or Araki, despite that we have been told that he does hit harder than his record suggests, is aggressive and has a mean left hand, which he fires off with very respectable timing and power.
Given the lack of footage it's hard to make a prediction on this one. Araki does however have the advantages in experience and home advantage, and we would make him the favourite on the little footage of the two men we have seen, but it is a toss up, and that's part of what makes these Japanese youth title fights so interesting.
On April 18th we see the Japanese Bantamweight title being unified, as regular champion Yuta Saito (11-9-3, 8) takes on interim champion Hayato Kimura (28-10, 19) in an interesting contest. The bout isn't the best of the 2019 Champion Carnival bouts, but is an intriguing one and one that could, finally, end the curse of the Japanese Bantamweight title.
The "curse" reared it's head last year, and struck a number of fighters. We saw Ryo Akaho vacate the title due to weight issues, Ryoichi Tamura suffer an injury before a title bout, Suguru Muranaka fail to make weight and Saito suffer an illness after winning the belt. It was Saito's illness which lead to an interim title being created, and has essentially lead to this bout.
Saito's title win, which came in September, was the biggest win of his career by far. The Hanagata Gym fighter won the title by stopping veteran Eita Kikuchi in 2 rounds. It was his first win in over 2 years, though he has been in and around the title mix for much of that time. He had fought to a draw with Tatsuya Takahashi in early 2017 and had also given Ryo Akaho a close bout in a title fight. Whilst the win over Kikcuhi was his best win Saito had shown good ability prior to the win, and had been incredibly close in a number of his losses. With some luck he could well have had 6 of his losses swing the other way, and things would look very, very different.
At 31, and now reportedly suffering from ulcerative colitis, we do wonder what Saito has left in him. He was never the quickest, or sharpest of fighters. He is heavy handed, tough, happy to bring pressure and force a fight, at a pretty exciting pace, be he's not quick and can certainly be out manoeuvered, out jabbed and outsped.
Kimura is a 29 year old who already has close to 40 bouts, an has been a professional for close to 14 years. He fought many of his early bouts outside of Japan, fighting numerous times in Thailand, Korea and the Philippines before really beginning to make a name for himself in Japan, from 2013 onwards. Whilst his success in Japan has been mixed he has fought stiff competition, losing to the likes of Michael Dasmarinas, Marlon Tapales, Sho Ishida, Kenta Nakagawa and Rene Dacquel, and has usually been competitive even in his losses.
As a fighter Kimura is a busier fighter than Saito, he's someone who can fight at range, but can also bring a war when he wants. At his best he sets a high work rate, brings pressure and lets his hands go, though can often fight a bit too much too orders, and can be rather tiresome to watch. A bit too reserved. When he shakes the shackles however he's a very good fighter and should be mixing on the regional scene, rather than just the domestic one.
Although Kimura can be in some pretty dull bouts we don't imagine this will be anything short of brilliant. The aggression of Saito will draw out the fighter in Kimura and we're expecting to see the two men meet in center ring, go to war, and give us some exhilarating action. We'd favour Kimura to come out on top, relying on his better speed, experience and youth. Saito is the puncher, but we've seen Kimura over-come punchers before and we expect to see him do the same again here.
After years of not having an All-Filipino world title bout we had a couple last year, and it looks like we're going to get at least one this year. Just below world title bouts, in terms of significance, are world title eliminators and later this month we'll get an all-Filipino Bantamweight world title eliminator, as Michael Dasmarinas (28-2-1, 19) and Kenny Demecillo (14-4-2, 8) clash to decide the IBF mandatory challenger at Bantamweight. On paper the bout looks an easy one to pick, but in reality it may not be as easy to predict as it first seems.
The obvious pick for the win is Dasmarinas. On paper he has the better record and, if we're being honest, he is the much more well known fighter among those that follow the Asian boxing scene. During his 31 fight career, which began a little over 7 years ago, he has notched up a number of solid wins including victories over Hayato Kimura, Jhaleel Payao and Karim Guerfi. He has scored wins on the road and his only loss in the last 6 years was a very debateable one in South Africa, to Lwandile Sityatha. He has been incredibly active, for the most part, and shown himself to be a great all round fighter, with good skills and criminally under-rated power, as Guerfi found out in spectacular fashion around a year ago.
In the ring Dasmarinas has proven to be a very good boxer-puncher. He's a rangy southpaw with sneaky power, a great jab and a good boxing brain. He's not the quickest out there, but he's a sharp fighter and should certainly be regarded as a leading contender in the packed Bantamweight division. That is unless he's actually out grown the division, and his last outing, a very fortunate draw against Manyo Plange, would suggest that a move up to Super Bantamweight would help his career, and help him show what he can do more than draining those 4lbs.
Whilst Dasmarinas is pretty well known, at least among fans who follow the Asian scene, Demecillo isn't. In fact until recently Demecillo was a relative unknown even among hardcore Filipino fans. He began his career in 2012, like Dasmarinas, but struggled to get going and was 6-2-1 (3) following a 2014 loss to Eduardo Mancito. The following year he would suffer another loss, to Jetro Pabustan, to slide to 8-3-1 (5) and it would have been easy to write him off. Since then however he has gone 6-1-1 (3) and managed to shine against notable competition, scoring back to back stoppage wins against Daryl Basadre, as well as other victories over Jestoni Autida and Vyacheslav Mirzaev, with that win coming in Russia. The only set backs in his last 8 were a draw with Edrin Dapudong and a loss to Mark Anthony Geraldo, who got a WBC "silver" title fight off the back of that win.
Quality footage of Demecillo isn't the easiest to come by, though interesting the best we have is his fighter against Geraldo who is a southpaw, like Dasmarinas. Whilst Dasmarinas and Gerlado are different stylistically the footage does give us an indicator of how Demecillo will approach this bout. From what's out there Demecillo is a big, strong, powerful fighter at the weight, he's aggressive, brings a lot of pressure with his physicality and looks to get inside, though is technically quite limited and crude with his approach.
Whilst he is aggressive Demecillo doesn't have the best work rate and that is perhaps what cost him against Geraldo, in what was a close decision. If he can up the activity, and accuracy, whilst having the same approach against Dasmarinas.
Whilst we do agree with Dasmarinas being the favourite, as he will be in the eyes of many, we do believe that Demecillo can make this a very tough bout for his countryman and wouldn't be surprised by a very close decision in what could be one of the hidden gems of the month.
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.
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.