With Kamegai moving beyond domestic level we've disappointingly been left with the title in the hands of Suyon Takayama (22-1, 7), who has held the title since December 2012 and racked up 5 defense. On paper that sounds like a credible reign however 4 of those 5 defenses, and in fact his title win, have been incredibly close and the domestic challengers haven't been great.
To end September Takayama will be defending his title against first time challenger Ryoji Tanaka (8-4-1, 2), another really disappointing challenger who has lost back-to-back fights coming in to this one. That sort of form really sums up how poor the division is, and how poor the challengers to Takayama's title have been recently.
Although Takayama's reign has been poor he is a solid fighter. He's tough, gutsy, hard working and a real grinder. His style might not always be the most eye pleasing or exciting but he's a proven winner, as he showed last time out when he climbed off the canvas to defeat Nobuyuki Shindo, for the second time. He wins, and he wins, but rarely impressively and rarely will he look like an emerging contender for the world stage. In fact we'd be shocked if he ever progresses above domestic level given his lack of power and general struggles domestically.
We'll admit we've not seen the 28 year old Tanaka before though we know that he really isn't a credible challenger here. He has, as mentioned, lost his last 2 bouts, both by decision, and his most notable wins are over Dai Taoka and Tomoyuki Omura, both of whom are less than impressive. The most notable thing about him is that his 2013 win over Taoka was for the All Japan Rookie of the Year, since then however he has gone 2-2, and is lucky not to have gone 1-3.
Although Takayama does make life look difficult for himself when he fights we really can't see anything but a clear and decisive win here against a fighter who has never gone beyond 8 rounds and shouldn't offer any real challenge to the champion. The big question will be whether or not Tanaka can survive the distance
(Image courtesy of Kadoebi.com)