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.
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.