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.
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)
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.