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.
It's not often a Japanese national title fight is considered a "4 star" fight on Boxrec.com though on March 24th we do get one of those rare oddities and hopefully it's not just a fight that will interest Japanese audience but in fact those around the globe.
The reason this fight is so highly regarded by boxrec.com is due to Hidenori Otake (21-1-3, 9) the defending Japanese Super Bantamweight champion who is seen by some hardcore fans as one of the fringe elite level fighters in his division.
It's not just the fans and the JBC who have been taking note of Otake but also the world title bodies, two of which have Otake ranked inside the top 15. One of those is the WBO who have him at #12 (at the time of writing) the other is the IBF who have given him a very lofty #3 ranking and will almost certainly view him as one of their top contenders.
The reason Otake is ranked so highly isn't due to a big stand out win but his impressive 15 fight winning streak that dates back more than 6 years and has included 3 Japanese title defenses in less than 18 months.
Otake's 4th title defence comes against Takafumi Nakajima (22-6-1, 9) a man he has already beaten, albeit in a very narrow and hard fought contest that could easily have gone the opposite way, back in August 2012. In effect this bout not only features a world ranked fighter, a Japanese national title but also a continuation of their back story together. Three separate but very significant features that all add up to making this a hugely notable clash.
When the men first met it was Nakajima on a great run of results. He was entering on a 6 fight winning streak which included victories over Kinshiro Usui, Coach Hiroto and Shingo Wake. It may have been a shorter run than Otake's, which saw him winning his previous 9, but it was a better run in terms of who he had beaten.
The better results going in to the first fight however didn't help Nakajima beat Otake for the then vacant title. It was a close fight but two of the judges saw it as a clear but competitive victory for Otake, both scoring it 97-94, whilst the third judge felt Nakajima had just nicked it with a 96-95 card.
Since their first fight Nakajima has been relatively inactive fighting just twice. Whilst one of those wins did come against Mikihito Seto, a former Japanese interim champion, neither were great considering Nakajima's relatively merits in the first Otake meeting. As for Otake he has, as previously mentioned, defended the belt 3 times though didn't look great in beating either Seto or Nobuhisa Coronita Doi.
If we look at the world rankings and their previous bout against each other you'd probably think that Otake has this in the bag. Instead however this is one of those true 50-50 fights. In fact using boxrec's rankings Nakajima, ranked #10 by Boxrec, should be the favoured fighter over the Otake, #13.
One thing that perhaps could swing it is age. Otake is 32 going on 33 and whilst he's not had a long career he has had a hard one with his lack of power causing him to have 148 rounds in his 25 fights to date, an average of almost 6 rounds a fight. As well as the total of 148 rounds his last 5 bouts have gone a combined 48 rounds and each of those rounds was very tough for Otake who often had to go to the well to secure wins. At 32 Otake isn't young for a Super Bantamweight and with hard rounds piling up he's probably "older" in terms of boxing years than many other fighters at a similar point in their career.
At 29 years old Nakajima is notably the younger man in terms of "real years". He may have had marginally more rounds at 163 though that's only just over 5 rounds a fight and his last 4 bouts went just a combined 28 rounds, including the 10 rounds he spent with Otake in their first fight together. Many of the other rounds were easier than rounds that Otake has been in with only Wake really giving Nakajima a good tough fight, other than Otake obviously.
The one thing that is clear is that neither man is a puncher and this is likely to go the distance. This will likely leave us with a lot of close and competitive rounds which will again be split very little. It really is a toss up and a draw wouldn't be out of the question.
If you put a gun to our heads we'd favour Nakajima with his youth but it really is too close to call. An excellent match up and the sort that national titles were designed to create. Two of the best Super Bantamweights in Japan colliding in a major domestic scrap great stuff.
The one hope we do have for this bout is that the winner will fight Shingo Wake in an OPBF/Japanese title unification later this year. That bout is better than this one though only just and it would pretty much serve as world eliminator between two of the top fighters in the division.
(Poster courtesy of Boxmob. Otake is the man with a belt on the right whilst Nakajima is inset nest to him)
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.