One other notable contender in the division is current Japanese national champion Yusaku Kuga (15-2-1, 10) who returns to the ring this coming Tuesday to defend his title against mandatory challenger Ryo Kosaka (16-3-1, 8). For the champion this bout will be his second defense, following his title win in February 2017, whilst Kosaka will be getting his first title shot.
The champion is one of the many exciting Japanese fighters who has been quietly making waves over the last few years. He debuted in 2010 and in 2012 he competed in the Rookie of he year, losing to Nobuhiro Hisano in June of that year. That could have been a major set back but Kuga saw the loss as inspiration and went unbeaten in his next 8 bouts, defeating Yusuke Suzuki, Koji Aoki and Yuki Iwasaki, whilst fighting the then touted Naoto Uebayashi to a draw. It was clear that he had major potential back then and worked his way towards his first Japanese title fight. Sadly for Kuga he would lose in his first shot, coming up just short against Yasutaka Ishimoto. In 2016 Kuga would stop Jonathan Baat to earn his second shot at the title, and he would gain revenge over Ishimoto in 2 rounds to claim the title.
Since winning the belt Kuga has defended it just once, narrowly over-coming the aggressive and hard hitting Ryoichi Tamura, in a bout that saw both men forced eat some huge bombs. In that bout Kuga showed he had a chin to go with his power, though left question marks about his stamina and how well he can fight when backed up. On the front foot he's devastating, with nasty power, but on the back foot that power is much less potent.
Whilst we've followed Kuga with interest since early in his career the same can't be said of Kosaka, sadly. That is something that tends to happen when fighters don't fight much in Tokyo, and with Kosaka being based with the Shinsei Gym on Kobe he really has gone somewhat under the radar, despite climbing up both the JBC and OPBF rankings.
The challenger debuted in 2011 and despite 3 stoppage wins to begin his career he began to falter, losing a pair of technical decisions then having a draw to slide to 3-2-1 (3). His third, and most recent, loss came in December 2013 when he was stopped in 7 rounds by Yuta Yasumoto. Since that loss we've seen Kosaka go 9-0 (5) defeating a combination of poor Thai imports and low key domestic foes, such as Satoshi Niwa and Morihisa Iju. Whilst he is the mandatory for the title show there is a feeling that he lacks a really good domestic win, and did actually only get this shot after Yasutaka Ishimoto announced his retirement. The reality is that there are much proven domestic contenders out there than Kosaka, despite his relatively nice run.
Although Talented Kosaka isn't looking like a fighter ready for a title shot, especially not against a danger man like Kuga. Whilst Kuga did look like he was beatable last time out he is unlikely to struggle here. Kosaka may have the edge in technical boxing ability, but Kuga has the power, the aggression and the strength to walk through the challenger's best shots and take him out, likely in the second half, when Kosaka begins to feel the pace. We suspect the challenger will start well, but Kuga will turn it around and record his second defense, and begin his advance towards a world title fight, which he may well get later this year.