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.
On July 20th fans in Osaka will be getting a quadruple title show. Whilst the two world title fights will, rightfully, get the attention of most fans, the undercard title bouts, which will support the main contests, will almost certainly be interesting bouts themselves.
On paper the more exciting of those bouts will be the OPBF Bantamweight title bout between champion Takahiro Yamamoto (17-4, 14) and Filipino challenger Rex Wao (11-2, 9), both of whom are flawed fighters, powerful punchers and likely to come in to the ring with a point to prove. For Yamamoto the bout will serve as his second defense whilst Wao will be looking for a career best win following 2 losses in his last 3.
The champion won the title last year winning a bloody and exciting 7 round thriller with Yu Kawaguchi, who he had actually lost to 4 months earlier in a compelling split decision. The second bout between Kawaguchi and Yamamoto was rough, tumble and all action with the two men engaging in a genuine old fashioned brawl. Since then his only defense has been essentially a walk over against the woefully ill prepared Yuki Strong Kobayashi.
In the ring the champion is crude, but he can punch, he can take a shot and he looks like a terror at this level. It seems unlikely that he'll progress far beyond continental level but on the OPBF title scene it's going to take a good fighter to make him look bad and beat him cleanly.
Despite not having the best of records Yamamoto has improved markedly following a 6-3 (5) start and has run up 11 wins in his last 12 bouts, 9 by stoppage, including the stoppage of Kawaguchi. It's fair to say however that his record has got a lack of solid wins, other than the one over Kawaguchi last August. That's however shown he can step up and can win at a higher level than his records generally suggests.
As for the challenger the Filipino looked like a star in the making early on, moving to 10-0 (8) before suffering a 7th round KO loss to Silvester Lopez in late 2014. Since that loss Wao has gone 1-1, with his second loss being a decision loss to Xian Qian Wei in China last November.
Sadly when it comes to footage of Wao there is very little to go on and the only quality footage we've come across was his loss to Wei. From that footage Rex looked like a fun to watch, front foot boxer who is some what predictable but has the right mindset to be in some fun fights. He didn't, however, look like a man who should have been fighting at Featherweight. He also seemed to lack a little bit of activity, which he probably needed in China to beat a Chinese fighter.
Despite losing 2 of his last 3 Wao should make a decent challenger and a win over a then unbeaten Virden Rivera shows that there is something about Wao to be excited about, as does the footage. It is a worry however that Lopez took care of him as easily as he did and could suggest a lack of durability on behalf of the Filipino fighter.
When they get in the ring we expect to see these two meet in the center and have a war. Both like to fight, both will trust their power and both believe that the best way to win is to fight fire with fire. Unfortunately however for Wao we suspect his chin will let him down in the middle rounds of a total slugfest. Until he's stopped however this could be something very fun and a genuinely thrilling contest.
Over the last few years things have been really interesting for Japanese fighters in, and around, the Bantamweight division. We won't pretend it's all been good news, in fact losses for the likes of Ryo Akaho, Shohei Omori, Tomoki Kameda and Ryo Matsumoto have all be very depressing for fans of the Japanese scene, however it has been brilliantly fun to follow. Some of the best bouts at the weight have been fights like the exciting 10 round bware between Kentaro Masuda and Tatsuya Takahashi and the up and down rematch between Yu Kawaguchi and Takahiro Yamamoto.
This coming Thursday we get the chance to see another potential war as Masuda (24-7, 13) faces off against Kawaguchi (25-7, 12) in a bout for Masuda's Japanese Bantamweight title. It will be the second time the two men face off, and will see Kawaguchi seeking revenge for a 10th technical decision loss to Masuda.
Back in 2014 these two men traded blows in a rough and tough bout for the then vacant Japanese title. Although it was rough it was a fight that Masuda was a comfortably winner of, with the bout going to the score cards more than 2 minutes early. Since then both men have been stopped, both have been in tough bouts and both have shown vulnerabilities.
Since their first bout Kawaguchi has gone 5-1, with his only loss being a thrilling cut stoppage loss to Takahiro Yamamoto. The loss to Yamamoto, in their second meeting, saw Kawaguchi lose the OPBF title, a title he had won in their first meeting, but now it seems like he's hungry for revenge against Masuda.
Interestingly Masuda has also gone 5-1 since their first meeting, with his only loss being a 1-sided blow out against Shohei Omori. Despite that loss Masuda has scored notable recent wins over Konosuke Tomiyama, Tatsuya Takahashi, Hideo Sakamoto and most recently Yushi Tanaka.
In the ring Kawaguchi can be dragged into a war. He's not the most technical, nor the most defensive, but his openness does lead to some very fun action and he's the sort of fighter that fans like watching as he will always give his all, and his limitations can lead to great wars. At 5'5” he's not a tall Bantamweight and at 29 he is a fighter who is older than his actual age, but he's still got a fair bit left in him and will be coming to the ring for a real fight.
Much like Kawaguchi it's fair to describe Masuda as a flawed warrior. He struggled to get his career off the ground, losing 6 of his first 20 bouts, but turned things around to become the Japanese champion, and to become a man who really has shown that hard work and dedication can turn a career around. He's won 10 of his last 11 bouts and has proven to be a dangerous puncher who can fight hard for 10 rounds. We're going to say he'll be a world champion, but the 33 year old has been like a fine wine and aged wonderfully.
When the men get in the ring on Thursday we're expecting a sloppy, yet enjoyable war. Masuda is probably the better boxer, but the two men will simple want a fight and we wouldn't be shocked to see this one be very closer over the 10 rounds, with Masuda just doing enough to retain his title.
We don't, and never have, supported “interim” title fights for the sake of it. Despite that we do, occasionally see interim title fights that either special, such as the WBA “interim” Flyweight title bout between Koki Eto and Kompayak Porpramook. Another possible “interim” thriller comes on April 1st when we get an OPBF “interim” Bantamweight title fight between the criminally under-rated Filipino parring of Rey Megrino (22-20-3, 19) and Jonathan Baat (30-7-4, 14).
On paper the bout might not look anything note worthy, in fact some may even be questioning why a fight fan should even care about these two fighting. The truth however is that both fighters are fringe world class and the owners of two of the most misleading records in the sport. On their day either could be a handful for very good fighters and in fact both are very deserving of bigger and better fights than they have been getting in recent years.
Of the two men the oldest is the 35 year old Baat, who has spent the last few years fighting out of Japan. He has been a professional since 2000 and fought a relative who's who in his 41 fight career. That has seen him share the ring with Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, Kohei Oba, Shingo Wake, Qiu Xiao Jun, thrice in fact, Rodrigo Guerrero, Ma Yi Ming, Mike Tawatchai and Liborio Solis. He's certainly not unbeatable but he's a tough and tricky Southpaw who hits harder than his record suggests.
During his career Baat has claimed several minor titles, including the MinProBa Bantamweight and the WBO “interim” Oriental Bantamweight crown. Along with those to title wins he has also fought for PABA, WBC International Silver and the WBC Asian Boxing Council Continental titles.
On paper Baat would be favoured, given the records of the two men. Records however are made for DJ's and Megrino is one of the men who should never be over-looked due to the numbers attached to his name. If anything he's a fighters who has proven that a bad start to a career isn't the be all and end all and he has turned his career around drastically from a 6-8-1 start. In fact it was only 4 years ago that Megrino was 15-20-3 (13) and staring down the barrel of becoming a career journeyman. Since then however he has reeled off 7 wins, 6 inside the distance. Those wins have seen him beat the likes of Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, Myung Ho Lee and Ernesto Saulong.
Whilst Megrino is on a good run it's perhaps worth noting that the 29 year old has never been one to be matched softly. Of his 20 losses only 5 have come by stoppage, and a large number of his losses have come against notable fighters. They have included losses to Wonjongkam, twice, Denkaosan Kaovichit, Tepparith Kokietgym, Marlon Tapales, Paipharob Kokietgym, Sonny Boy Jaro, Nawaphon Por Chokchai, Arthur Villanueva and Pungluang Sor Singyu, and of course many of those losses have come in Thailand with some having questionable judging.
Whilst Megrino's current run has been impressive he has a number of other wins of note. They include stoppages over Denver Cuello and Ratanapol Sor Vorapin and the then hotly tipped pairing of Kenji Kubo and Fonluang KKP. It's fair to call him crude but given his toughness and god given power he's a real threat and seems to be a man just coming into his prime in recent years, though has sadly become a member of the “who needs him club?” and with his upset wins stacking up, it's clear why opponents aren't in a rush to face him.
With both men having upset mentalities, under-rated skills, over-looked toughness and a lot to win here we are expecting something very special. Sadly though we think the bout has come too late for Baat who at 35 has seen better days. Of course he may surprise but we think the 6 year age difference between the two, and the sheer hunger of the 29 year old Megrino, will be the difference between the two men.
Last year the Champion Carnival featured a number of great fights, it also featured a relatively one sided beat down. That beat down saw Shohei Omori claim the Japanese Bantamweight title with a blow out win against the then champion Kentaro Masuda (23-7, 12). The win seemed to set Omori on the way to a world title, though of course he was himself blown away late last year by Marlon Tapales.
This year's Champion Carnival again sees Masuda in the Bantamweight title bout against an unbeaten fight, this time Yushi Tanaka (16-0-3, 10), with the men trading shots for the title that was vacated last year by Omori.
Although Masuda, now 33, was blown out by Omori he's actually a very good fighter, with under-rated skills, genuine heart, a real will to win and criminally under-rated power. His record might not be flattering but like a good wine he has improved with age and has become a much better fighter than he used to be.
Early in his career Masuda looked limited and started 1-3, and was in fact 3-3 after just over 2 years in the professional ranks. Since 2010 however Masuda has gone 16-3 with his 3 losses coming to notable opponents in the former of Hidenori Otake, Ryosuke Iwasa and Omori. On the other hand he has scored notable wins against the likes of Yosuke Fujihara, Yu Kawaguchi, Konosuke Tomiyama, Tatsuya Takahashi and, most recently, Hideo Sakamato.
Although not a monstrously hard hitting Masuda has stopped the likes of Tomiyama, who was stopped in 3 rounds, and Sakamoto, who was stopped in 7 rounds, whilst fans and the press were amazed that Takahashi managed to see the final bell against Masuda. In fact Masuda suggested that Takahashi was like a “zombie” following the bout.
Aged 24 Tanaka is the man stepping up in class, considerably, for this bout. He is however an unbeaten fighter with a lot of confidence and at 24 he is a fighter coming into his prime.
Although relatively untested Tanaka does hold some notable wins, including a 2012 stoppage victory over former world champion Wandee Singwancha, albeit a 32 year old Wandee who had lost 2 of his previous 3 and was well above his best fighting weight. Other notable wins on Tanaka's record include decisions victories over Vergel Nebran and Mako Matsuyama.
Although Tanaka has a better than 50% KO rate it should be noted that he doesn't seem to stop too many notable fighters. His best stoppage is over Wandee, a former Minimumweight champion, whilst whilst many of his other stoppages have come against very limited Thai's and Indonesians that have essentially boosted his KO rating. Incidentally he is 4-0-1 (3) in title fights, though all 5 of those bouts took place for the WBC Youth Bantamweight title.
Sadly footage of Tanaka has been hard to come by though from what we have seen of him he he is pretty well schooled with a nice jab and a quick, sharp, hook. He looks rather quick but not exceptionally saw and defensively he seems to be rather open, keeping his hands worryingly low. There is little that he has shown that is really exciting but given that he is in the Hatanaka gym it's clear he does get some high quality training and he has actually been sparring with Hinata Maruta ahead of this fight.
Given what is available of both men, it's hard to see Tanaka winning the bout, barring a career best performance. In fact from what we've seen we've got to strongly favour Masuda to actually stop Tanaka in the later stages, taking advantage of Tanaka's relative lack of top quality experience. Tanaka does have the edge in speed and natural size, but we don't think that will be enough to over-come the experienced and determined Masuda, who we suspect will reclaim the Japanese title.
Fans in Osaka on New Year's Eve really are in for a treat, on paper at least, with 4 title bouts. Sadly whilst the card sounds deep it is somewhat a false economy with only one of those bouts really looking like a stand out contest, that being the WBA Flyweight title bout between Kazuto Ioka and Juan Carlos Reveco.
Of the title match ups on the card the weakest looks to be an OPBF Bantamweight title bout between exciting, and heavy handed, champion Takahiro Yamamoto (16-4, 13) and little known challenger Yuki Strong Kobayashi (9-4, 5).
The champion claimed the title earlier this year, winning a thriller against Yu Kawaguchi, avenging a defeat to Kawaguchi in the process. That win saw Yamamoto and Kawaguchi go to war from the off with Yamamoto leaving Kawaguchi a bloody mess, forcing the referee to stop the bout.
In the ring the champion is tough, busy, heavy handed and a real nightmare. Defensively he can be found open and there is still a lot for him to improve, but he's a real handful for anyone and appears to be a man making his way, albeit slowly, to a world title fight in the future. Not only is he talented but he is also improving and his work at the Ioka gym is really helping him to develop into a genuinely good fighter young fighter.
Whilst the champion is a really talented boxer-puncher the challenger really doesn't seem to have much going for him. Last year he was beaten up by Hinata Maruta, in what was Maruta's protest bout, and was beaten in a bout last December by Satoshi Niwa, in fact that loss to Niwa was Kobayahi's third loss in just 5 bouts, and he enters this one 3-3 in his last 5. Somewhat worrying for Kobayashi is that he has been decision by three relatively limited foes and was stopped in 2013 by Kiron Omura. A stoppage loss to Omura is a worry given Yamamoto's power.
In the ring Kobayashi has scored some semi notable wins, including a decision over Bunta Mitaka and a stoppage against Hikaru Matsuoka but they are certainly no better than Japanese domestic level wins in a division that is stacked. Sadly for him that is a problem, as he jumps from facing Japanese ranked contenders in 8 rounders to facing an OPBF champion, with a serious punch, over 12 rounds.
Whilst it's fair to say that Kobayashi has a chance, we need to also say it's a very slim chance and we can't see him surviving 12 rounds with a fighter as talented or as heavy handed as Yamamoto who will likely make his first defense of the OPBF title inside 8 rounds.
Japan has a number of really exciting young fighters. Some of those are, of course, known world wide, such as Naoya Inoue, others however are still quietly making a name for themselves without too much fuss or fanfare. One such fighter is Japanese Bantamweight champion Shohei Omori (14-0, 9), who will defend his belt for the first time on September 16th as he takes on former world title challenger Hirofumi Mukai (11-3-2, 1).
Unlike many touted Japanese fighters Omori doesn't have an extensive amateur grounding. Instead he turned professional with only a handful of amateur bouts on his ledger. Rather than develop as an amateur Omori developed as a pro, and he developed very quickly. In fact just 20 months after his debut he had claimed the All Japan Rookie of the Year, at Bantamweight, and raced to 7-0 (3).
Whilst those in Hyogo have followed Omori's development with excitement many didn't really take note of the youngster until May 2014 when he stopped former contender Christian Esquiviel in 4 rounds. That win caught the eye of many, including our selves, and just 11 months later he blitzed Kentaro Masuda in 3 rounds to claim the Japanese title.
Now world ranked by all 4 major title bodies Omori is quickly racing towards a world title bout, though of course will need to retain his unbeaten record and his Japanese title when he faces Mukai.
In the ring Omori is a strong and big Bantamweight. He combines very well polished skills, as shown against Equivel, with explosive aggression, spiteful power and under-rated hand speed. As well those skills he's a growing young man at just 22 and he's a southpaw which really just adds to the difficulty of opponents facing him. There are still questions for him to answer, such as what his stamina is like over the 10 and 12 round distances, and what his chin is like, however he looks like a genuinely exciting contender ready to make a statement on the world stage.
Of course the 29 year old Mukai was himself once tipped as a future star. Unlike Omori he was an accomplished amateur with 77 bouts in the unpaid ranks, including 51 wins. That amateur experience saw him being moved quickly and by fight 3 he was already participating in 8 round bouts. His 5th bout saw him over-come Sonny Boy Jaro, who would become the WBC Flyweight champion just 13 months later, and his 6th bout saw him challenge for the OPBF Flyweight title.
Unfortunately for Mukai that ambitious start to his career lead him to defeat at the hands of Rocky Fuentes in fight #6 before a technical draw in a world title bout against Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. That Wonjongkam bout ended after just 47 seconds with Mukai suffering a very bad cut. Sadly those results have been followed by further disappointments, including an opening round KO loss to Mark Anthony Geraldo, a 9th round TKO loss to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, in a WBC Super Flyweight title fight, and a draw with Myung Ho Lee.
The set backs have, clearly, been frustrating for Mukai though he has gone unbeaten in his last 3 bouts and scored notable wins over Mark John Yap and Konosuke Tomiyama, with those wins leading him to the show down with Omori.
Like the champion Mukai is a southpaw though stylistically that's almost all they have in common. Mukai is a gutsy fighter but one who prefer to use his jab, his legs and his movement to avoid a “real” fight. His lack of power, which has seen him score just a single stoppage, and lack of commitment behind his shots has been a problem and he's often had work incredibly hard to score his wins. Although a “baby” in terms of fights, with just 16, he has already fought 111 rounds, more than twice as many as Omori. Has has also taken serious damage with the Srisaket bout being a particularly painful beating.
We admit we are big fans of Omori, and may be slightly over-egging how good he is, but we really don't see him being tested by Mukai here. Omori will simply be too strong, too big, too aggressive, too powerful and too good for the challenger who will be very lucky to see the second half of the fight. The worrying thing for the rest of the division is that Omori is just getting better and a blow out against Mukai may well serve as a warning to the rest of the Bantamweight division.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Back on April 5th Japanese fans as the Prefectural Gymnasium in Osaka got a treat as Yu Kawaguchi (23-6, 10) and Takahiro Yamamoto (15-4, 13) traded blows in a very good and highly competitive bout for the OPBF Bantamweight title. Now, 4 months later, the men are set to do it again with Kawaguchi seeking to prove the judges got it right, whilst Yamamoto looks to avenge his closest loss to date.
In their first fight there was very little to separate the two men. Two of the judges had the bout scored 115-113, albeit in opposite directions, whilst the deciding judge had it 116-112 to Kawaguchi. A 1-round swing could have swung the bout to a draw whilst a round the other way would have taken the split decision and made it a majority. It wasn't “controversial” as such, but it was so highly competitive that neither man had a clear edge.
Now, second time around, we're expecting much of the same. A bout between two very evenly matched fighters who are both tough and have different strengths but both come to win, every time they are in the ring. Both have their flaws, and neither is close to being the best Bantamweight in Japan, but both are fighting at a good level for them and both will put it all on the line to claim this title.
In their first fight the difference, for some, was Kawaguchi's experience. He knew how to grit it out and how to to win a close one, like he had done in the past. That experience is still an advantage he has however Yamamoto will have learned so much from the first meeting, his experience will have developed as a result. If the experience was the only difference between the two then it's not hard to imagine the title changing hand here.
Kawaguchi isn't just the more experienced but he's the older, more seasoned fighter having fought the likes of Yasutaka Ishimoto and Kentaro Masuda. Losses in those bouts were set backs but they were character building and and used to help him develop. A big question is whether his title win has also helped him develop, or perhaps find a new level of confidence. If he has then he may be able to find a new gear.
With the first fight being close we're expect much the same here. The big question is who has improved more in the last 4 months. Has the experience of a title fight helped Yamamoto understand the 12 round distance and what to do when he can't bang fighters out, like he has done in 12 of his 15 wins? Or has holding the OPBF title brought a new level to Kawaguchi's game and confidence?
We're really unsure on who is is going to show the biggest improvement here, but if you're in Osaka at the start of August this really will will be worth attending and we're expecting another, competitive, exciting and very close 12 round battle. We don't see either man moving to the top level, though either against Ryosuke Iwasa, for example would be another entertaining contest, and there are a lot of options out there for the winner.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
When the 2015 Champion Carnival bouts were announced one bout really stood out to us despite the fact it didn't feature a big name. The champion in question had numerous loses on his record and the challenger was little more than and advanced prospect. There was, however, something especially intriguing about the bout with the division being a major one in Japan.
The bout in question is the Bantamweight title bout which will pit the massively under-rated champion Kentaro Masuda (21-6, 11) against fast rising prospect Shohei Omori (13-0, 8). Unless you actively follow the Japanese scene the odds are you won't know much about either man, if you follow the scene however you will know just how good these two are what a brilliant match up this is.
On first glance international fans will write off Masuda. They'll state the obvious, “he's got 6 losses in 27 fights”. What they won't realise is how many of those losses are some what misleading. He was 3-3 (2) after his first 6 bouts, with 2 of those losses being razor thin decisions and the third being very competitive. Since that start Masuda has gone 18-3 (9) with his two of his losses coming to highly established fighters in the form of Hidenori Otake and Ryosuke Iwasa.
Whilst it'd be wrong to write off Masuda for his record it'd also be neigh on criminal to over-look his current form which has been sensational since his 7th round TKO loss to Iwasa back in July 2012. What we've seen is a 7-0 run from Masuda which has included his title winning bout, a 10th round technical decision win over Yu Kawaguchi last April, a sensational first defence which saw him destroy Konosuke Tomiyama in the 3rd round of their bout, and an enthralling 10 round war with “Zombie” Tatsuya Takahashi.
Aged 32 now Masuda knows another loss will derail any hopes he has of getting his hands on OPBF title or even getting a world title fight. In fact a world title fight, as amazing as it might seem, really isn't out of the question considering Masuda is #14 with the WBC and #12 with the IBF.
In the ring the champion is an aggressive fighter who hits significantly harder than his record suggests, can fight well behind his jab and is really tough. In regards to his footwork it is smarter than it looks and he can get in and out relatively well though it's not sensational and later in fights he can become very basic in his movements. Technically there is still some places to polish, especially when he's throwing his right hand, and he's short for the weight at just 5'5”, though he does appear to be able to use his feet to negate that relatively well. Also he does manage to use his lack of size well and has a tight guard that protects his head whilst his body is typically out of reach behind his elbows as he makes himself appear smaller than he is.
One thing that is a little bit questionable is Masuda's stamina. It's looked really good at times though he did seem to be running on fumes at times against Takahashi. That wasn't particularly shocking, given that Takahashi took more clean shots than a fighter is expected to take, though it could be an issue in future bouts.
Now on to the challenger. Omori is a fighter we are huge fans of and we see a very, very bright future for, either at Bantamweight or at Super Bantamweight. Like the premier Bantamweight on the planet, Shinsuke Yamanaka, the youngster is a Southpaw though he looks a lot more polished than “The God of Left”. In fact Omori looks incredibly polished and looks a much more rounded fighter than Yamanaka, despite the fact he's only 22 and has only fought in 13 bouts, consisting of just 42 rounds.
Omori came to the attention of many in Japan back in 2012 when he was crowned the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Bantamweight. The following year he scored notable wins over Kiron Omura and Albert Alcoy, both opening round KO's, and then built further on his reputation with a punch perfect performance against Christian Esquivel last year. It was really the fight against Esquivel that put him on the radar of some fans and it really was a sensational performance that saw the youngster using his speed, accuracy, power, timing, movement and boxing brain to beat the experienced Mexican. It was that win that put Omori in to the world rankings and it's because of that win that he is currently the WBC #13 ranked fighter.
Watching Omori is like watching a very, very good prospect who is only a few fights away from being world class. There is still improvements he can make, there are still tweaks that need to be done, there are still little things he can do a bit better than he already does. For a fighter with so little experience however those faults will of course still be there. That brings us to the big question marks however, what is Omori's stamina like? What is his heart like? Is he experienced enough? At the moment we've never seen Omori go beyond 8 rounds, though he did score a clear 8 round decision victory over Yubon Kaneyama last year. We also know that he has been in with Esquivel and he's sparred with Iwasa, among others, suggesting he's got a good level of experience even if the quantity is lacking.
We're expecting to see a lot of answers about Omori and how good he actually is. We're expecting to see him being given a “chin check” for the first time. If Omori can take the right hand bombs of Masuda then we're expecting to see Omori given a gut check. If he can pass both of those checks and come out with flying colours then he should end the bout as the new champion and as the biggest revelation of the year, so far.
If Omori can't take the power of the champion and can't cope with Masuda's pressure than Masuda will retain and will do so by stoppage. Our suspicion however is that Omori will take this opportunity and shine with an outstanding performance and gets a win that will help him get bigger fights later in the year.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
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.