Right now the Bantamweight division is a mess, it's an exciting mess, but still a mess. We have a vacant WBC title, a vacant IBF title and three different WBA champions. It's a division that has a lot of promise, but in reality it's likely to become a gold dash for some fighters over the coming few months, with everyone looking to throw their hat into the ring for a title fight.
One man who has shown interest in getting a shot at a world title fight is OPBF champion Mark John Yap (28-12, 14), who has climbed up the WBC rankings in recent times thanks to a 9 fight winning run which has seen him win the OPBF title and make 2 defenses. This coming Wednesday he looks to secure his third defense, as he takes on veteran Takafumi Nakajima (29-9-1, 13) in a very interesting match up on paper.
Looking at his record Yap doesn't look like a fighter who should be speaking about a world title fight. Records however only tell a fraction of the story about the Japanese based Filipino who is having a really good career surge. Like a number of Filipino fighters he picked up a lot of losses before he ever really got going with his career, and a number of those losses were close. Yap won his first 8 bouts, but between May 2008 and August 2014 Yap had suffered 12 losses in 23 fights, falling from 8-0 (2) to 19-12 (10). A number of those were at Super Bantamweight, and others were to very talented fighters, including Ryosuke Iwasa who beat him in 2013.
Since the start of 2015 we've seen Yap turn his career around, settle at the Mutoh gym and score notable victories over Tatsuya Ikemizu, Hiroyuki Kudaka, Takahiro Yamamaoto, Kentaro Masuda and Seizo Kono. During those fights he has shown pretty much every thing a contender needs to show. He has shown his stamina, in defeating Kudaka over 8 and 10 rounds, his power to stop Yamamoto and Masuda, his heart and bravery, to pull himself off the canvas 3 times against Masuda and the skills to at least compete at world level. Few would fancy to win a world title, but he is certainly on his way to earning a shot.
As for Nakajima he's a proper gritty and grizzled veteran who debuted almost 15 years ago and has been a staple of the Japanese scene since then. As with the champion the challenger doesn't have the most impressive of records, but he has spent much of his career fighting at Super Bantamweight, not Bantamweight, and twice took Hidenori Otake to the wire, losing two razor thin decisions. Whilst it's easy to say that was perhaps a stylistic issue with Otake it's worth noting that Nakajima holds wins against the likes of Kinshiro Usui, Coach Hiroto, Shingo Wake, Dennis Tubieron and Jin Miura.
Nakajima is a very fit 33 year old who has mixed with younger fighters, even going to China and beating the much younger Xian Qian Wei,he's hard working in the ring and throws a lot of leather with an aggressive mentality. Despite his energy and skills he can be out fought, out punched, out sped and out moved. Back in 2016 we saw him suffer his third career stoppage, albeit at Featherweight, when Kosuke Saka took him out in 88 seconds, that bout he can be hurt, but Kosaka is a big puncher up 2 weights from where he's fighting Yap here.
Whilst Nakajima is very fit and under-rated it's hard to see him ending the charge of Yap here. We're expecting the challenger to give everything he has, starting fast and putting Yap under some pressure. The champion will however ride out the storm, before his youthfulness and natural strength will wear down the hungry Nakajima. The challenger won't be there to roll over, and will look to win, but will come up short following a fantastic effort. For Yap a win should push him further up the WBC rankings, and move one step closer to a shot at a world title.
This coming Sunday we get the chance to see a host of title fights in Osaka. One of those is an OPBF Bantamweight title bout between under-rated champion Mark John Yap (27-12, 13), a Japanese based Filipino, and the win-some-lose-some Seizo Kono (19-8-1, 12). On paper the bout may not look the best but given the fighters in question we could be in for a genuine treat, much like Yap's previous defense against Kentaro Masuda.
With a dozen losses on his record Yap look like a journeyman on paper. Like many Filipino's however his record is very deceiving and in reality he's a fringe world level fighter, in great form and really showing his value as a contender. Especially now that he's been able to get some notice for fights and is fighting at his natural weight class of Bantamweight. That's worth noting because his last 3 losses have come outside of the division, and his record at 118lbs is very impressive. It's also worth noting that Yap's last loss at Bantamweight came more than 4 years ago, to current world champion Ryosuke Iwasa.
In the ring Yap is a well developed fighter who has built well off his experience. His 39 fights have seen him rack up 265 professional rounds and he has consistently been regarded as a top sparring partner by local fighters. Technically he's the not the best, but he's a solid technician who can have win a shoot out, and proved that by pulling himself off the canvas 3 times to defeat Masuda in a 4 round thriller. Although his record doesn't show it he can bang, and is riding a 3 fight stoppage run and an 8 fight winning run, and is very much a fighter showing his form with recent wins over Tatsuya Ikemiu, Hiroyuki Kudaka, Takahiro Yamamoto and the aforementioned Masuda.
Having won the title late last year, when he stopped Yamamoto, Yap has made it clear he's eyeing up a potential world title fight, and will know that he cannot afford a slip up here.
With 28 bouts on his ledger Kono has had a frustrating career, and although he's never had long absences from the ring he always seems to see any momentum come to a stop relatively quickly. He began his career 2-1-1 (1) before running out to 10-1-1 (7). Since then however he has gone 9-8 (5) losing to a mix of fighters from Rey Vargas to Yuki Murai, Satoshi Niwa, and Benjie Suganob. Despite the mixed form in recent bouts Kono is actually enjoying some good form, at last, and has won his last 5 including a decision win over Hideo Sakamoto.
In the ring Kono is a solid fighter, but the reality is that solid isn't usually good enough to claim an OPBF title. He's got nice skills, but in recent years his form has been poor, he's not been able to put full performances together and he lacks both lights out power and the stamina to fight at a good pace for 8 rounds, never mind a potential 12. With 2 stoppage losses against him he's not rock solid, even if one of those losses was to the world class Rey Vargas, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him come undone later in the bout.
Kono could prove a test for Yap, but we suspect Yap's extra experience, toughness and ability will be too much, and the champion will manage to retain his title with a stoppage in the second half of the bout.
This coming 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.
In recent years Bantamweight has been one of the most intriguing divisions in Asia. We've not only had fighters like Shinsuke Yamanaka, Pungluang Sor Singyu, Tomoki Kameda and Marlon Tapales all holding world titles but we've also had great fights, like Pungluang Vs Tapales and the rematch between Yamanaka and Anselmo Moreno as well as the brilliant wars between Kentaro Masuda and Tatsuya Takahashi and Takahiro Yamanoto and Yu Kawaguchi.
We'll have another potential Bantamweight thriller this coming Friday as Takahiro Yamamoto (18-4, 15) looks to defend his OPBF Bantamweight title against Japanese based Filipino Mark John Yap (24-12, 10). On paper it looks like a mismatch, in favour of the champion, but the likelihood is that we'll end up with a very special and exciting fight between two men with different styles but the same never say die mentality.
Of the two men the champion is, of course, favoured here. He's got the much better record on paper, he's the puncher and he's a guy who is coming into this bout with a world ranking. The 25 year old Ioka gym fighter will be seeking a 4th defense of his title and will be hoping to move towards a world title fighter, potentially as early as 2017.
In the ring Yamamoto is an aggressive, heavy handed, tough guy with a boxer-puncher's skill set. He was wild early in his career but has tamed that wildness recently as he's developed his boxing skills, whilst maintaining his heavy handed blows. That power has helped him go 9-1 (9) in his last 10 bouts, with wins over Yu Kawaguchi, Yuki Strong Kobayashi and Rex Wao in his last 3 bouts. With the win over Kawaguchi he has avenged his only defeat in the last 5 years! In fact it's worth noting that his other 3 losses came during a 4 fight run where he went 1-3.
Aged 27 Yap is a fighter in his prime years and he's also a bit of a young veteran having been a professional for close to 10 years. Not only is he a veteran but he's a battle tested one who has developed from his losses becoming a really solid fighter a million miles removed from the man who was stopped in 3 rounds by Jessie Albaracin. Not only has he improved but he's also on a very under-rated 5 fight winning streak, which includes wins over the then unbeaten Tatsuya Ikemizu and two wins over former world title challenger Hiroyuki Hisataka.
Yap is technically solid, tough and has a proven engine, having gone into the tenth round on 10 occasions in his career. Whilst he's yet to do 12 rounds there no reason to doubt he'll be able to do the extra 6 minutes, and he has actually done 10 at a decent pace in the past, rather than a lazy slow paced 10 rounder. In many ways he's the top of guy who should have a much better record and should be regarded as a genuine OPBF level contender, rather than a massive under-dog for a bout like this.
We're expecting this to be a genuinely competitive bout, and a fun to watch one with both men showing what they have in their locker. For Yap that will be his skills, his ability to box and smother, and his toughness. For Yamamoto his key will be his power, his aggression and his ability to force the pace. We're expecting this to be competitive, have some back and forth and see both men answering some key questions. In the end though we think the champion will just be able to chip away enough at Yap to score a late stoppage, but not without needing to work very hard for the win.
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.