The 2018 curse of the Japanese Bantamweight title has really been a massive problem this year. First we saw Ryo Akaho vacate the title after falling ill from weight, cancelling a January fight with Yuhei Suzuki, then we saw Suzuki suffer an injury ahead of a scheduled bout for the vacant and then we saw Suguru Muranaka fail to make weight. In the end we had to wait until September to see a champion being crowned, with Yuta Saito defeating Eita Kikuchi for the vacant title.
Even with a champion being crowned things haven't been plain sailing, with Saito then being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. This has caused a number of issues, including the JBC taking the rare step of organising a JBC "interim" title bout, with Hayato Kimura (27-10, 18) facing off with Seizo Kono (19-10-1, 12) for the JBC Interim Bantamweight title on December 20th.
Sadly the bout doesn't capture the imagination in the way a title bout should, though we expect the contest to be a good one all the same. The two men are both flawed, on paper they are similarly matched, and both are hungry fighters looking to make the most of their chance. A chance that perhaps neither has really earned.
The 29 year old Kimura began his career as a teenager in Thailand, debuting on his 16th birthday. Over the last 5 years however he fought solely in Japan where he has mixed success. To begin his career he was 19-5 (14), fighting in Thailand, Korea, Japan and the Philippines. Since fighting exclusively in Japan Kimura has gone 8-5 (4) That has included losses in two Japanese title fights, losing decisions to Sho Ishida and Kenta Nakagawa, as well as a loss in a OPBF title fight against Rene Dacquel, all at Super Flyweight. He has been matched hard, with other losses coming to Marlon Tapales and Michael Dasmarinas, both at Bantamweight, but his best wins have come against the likes of Toyoto Shiraishi and Kenya Yamashita, and those wins were 2 years apart.
Although Kimura is lacking results, and has scored his most notable wins at Super Flyweight, he is a very capable fighter and he is still developing, both technically and physically. He'd a quick boxer puncher, with a sharp jab and nice offensive work. Sadly for him his foot work and balance questionable and he does lack real thunder in his shots. Although tough he is defensively flawed can be tagged, often relying too much on his reactions.
The 29 year old Kono has been a professional for a little over 11 years and has had an interesting career, but like Kimura it's not all rosy and successful. In fact his career has seen him fighting for the WBC Youth Intercontinental Super Bantamweight and OPBF Bantamweight title, losing by stoppage to Rey Vargas and Mark John Yap respectively. Other losses on his record to notable names include a TKO loss to Taki Minamoto, a decision loss to Yu Kawaguchi and a decision loss to Kazuki Tanaka. Worryingly he is now 18 months from a win, following back to back losses to Yap and Tanaka. Not only is he ona 2 fight losing run but he is 6-7 over his last 13 fights dating back over 6 years! Not the sort of form a fighter should be getting a title shot from, even if some of those losses have been at Super Bantamweight.
Although out of form Kono is a decent fight, with a good work rate, a fun enough style and someone who brings a decent amount of aggression and excitement. He's at his best on the front foot, however his foot work is a touch slow, his punches don't appear to be crisp and snappy, and he can often be seen with his hands down when on the edge of range, sometimes inside it. His lack of real speed or power is a major issue, and although technically pretty solid he is clearly missing a standout out trait.
Given the recent losses for Kono it's hard to see him bringing any momentum into this bout, or much confidence. Kimura however is coming into the bout on the back of a win over Kenya Yamashita and we suspect that that sort of boost will really help Kimura. Kono is the naturally bigger man, but he's not a man who fights with his size usually, and we suspect that the size advantage will actually be neutralised by the speed and movement of Kimura anyway.
Although we don't think these are the best in the division in Japan this should still be a very interesting match up, and leave us going into 2019 with some interesting things going on at 118lbs in Japan. Hopefully next year will be a much better one than this year for the Japanese Bantamweight title, which has really been cursed through the whole year.
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.
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.