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)
When the 2015 Champion Carnival bouts were announced one bout really stood out to us despite the fact it didn't feature a big name. The champion in question had numerous loses on his record and the challenger was little more than and advanced prospect. There was, however, something especially intriguing about the bout with the division being a major one in Japan.
The bout in question is the Bantamweight title bout which will pit the massively under-rated champion Kentaro Masuda (21-6, 11) against fast rising prospect Shohei Omori (13-0, 8). Unless you actively follow the Japanese scene the odds are you won't know much about either man, if you follow the scene however you will know just how good these two are what a brilliant match up this is.
On first glance international fans will write off Masuda. They'll state the obvious, “he's got 6 losses in 27 fights”. What they won't realise is how many of those losses are some what misleading. He was 3-3 (2) after his first 6 bouts, with 2 of those losses being razor thin decisions and the third being very competitive. Since that start Masuda has gone 18-3 (9) with his two of his losses coming to highly established fighters in the form of Hidenori Otake and Ryosuke Iwasa.
Whilst it'd be wrong to write off Masuda for his record it'd also be neigh on criminal to over-look his current form which has been sensational since his 7th round TKO loss to Iwasa back in July 2012. What we've seen is a 7-0 run from Masuda which has included his title winning bout, a 10th round technical decision win over Yu Kawaguchi last April, a sensational first defence which saw him destroy Konosuke Tomiyama in the 3rd round of their bout, and an enthralling 10 round war with “Zombie” Tatsuya Takahashi.
Aged 32 now Masuda knows another loss will derail any hopes he has of getting his hands on OPBF title or even getting a world title fight. In fact a world title fight, as amazing as it might seem, really isn't out of the question considering Masuda is #14 with the WBC and #12 with the IBF.
In the ring the champion is an aggressive fighter who hits significantly harder than his record suggests, can fight well behind his jab and is really tough. In regards to his footwork it is smarter than it looks and he can get in and out relatively well though it's not sensational and later in fights he can become very basic in his movements. Technically there is still some places to polish, especially when he's throwing his right hand, and he's short for the weight at just 5'5”, though he does appear to be able to use his feet to negate that relatively well. Also he does manage to use his lack of size well and has a tight guard that protects his head whilst his body is typically out of reach behind his elbows as he makes himself appear smaller than he is.
One thing that is a little bit questionable is Masuda's stamina. It's looked really good at times though he did seem to be running on fumes at times against Takahashi. That wasn't particularly shocking, given that Takahashi took more clean shots than a fighter is expected to take, though it could be an issue in future bouts.
Now on to the challenger. Omori is a fighter we are huge fans of and we see a very, very bright future for, either at Bantamweight or at Super Bantamweight. Like the premier Bantamweight on the planet, Shinsuke Yamanaka, the youngster is a Southpaw though he looks a lot more polished than “The God of Left”. In fact Omori looks incredibly polished and looks a much more rounded fighter than Yamanaka, despite the fact he's only 22 and has only fought in 13 bouts, consisting of just 42 rounds.
Omori came to the attention of many in Japan back in 2012 when he was crowned the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Bantamweight. The following year he scored notable wins over Kiron Omura and Albert Alcoy, both opening round KO's, and then built further on his reputation with a punch perfect performance against Christian Esquivel last year. It was really the fight against Esquivel that put him on the radar of some fans and it really was a sensational performance that saw the youngster using his speed, accuracy, power, timing, movement and boxing brain to beat the experienced Mexican. It was that win that put Omori in to the world rankings and it's because of that win that he is currently the WBC #13 ranked fighter.
Watching Omori is like watching a very, very good prospect who is only a few fights away from being world class. There is still improvements he can make, there are still tweaks that need to be done, there are still little things he can do a bit better than he already does. For a fighter with so little experience however those faults will of course still be there. That brings us to the big question marks however, what is Omori's stamina like? What is his heart like? Is he experienced enough? At the moment we've never seen Omori go beyond 8 rounds, though he did score a clear 8 round decision victory over Yubon Kaneyama last year. We also know that he has been in with Esquivel and he's sparred with Iwasa, among others, suggesting he's got a good level of experience even if the quantity is lacking.
We're expecting to see a lot of answers about Omori and how good he actually is. We're expecting to see him being given a “chin check” for the first time. If Omori can take the right hand bombs of Masuda then we're expecting to see Omori given a gut check. If he can pass both of those checks and come out with flying colours then he should end the bout as the new champion and as the biggest revelation of the year, so far.
If Omori can't take the power of the champion and can't cope with Masuda's pressure than Masuda will retain and will do so by stoppage. Our suspicion however is that Omori will take this opportunity and shine with an outstanding performance and gets a win that will help him get bigger fights later in the year.
(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.