In recent years Bantamweight has been one of the most intriguing divisions in Asia. We've not only had fighters like Shinsuke Yamanaka, Pungluang Sor Singyu, Tomoki Kameda and Marlon Tapales all holding world titles but we've also had great fights, like Pungluang Vs Tapales and the rematch between Yamanaka and Anselmo Moreno as well as the brilliant wars between Kentaro Masuda and Tatsuya Takahashi and Takahiro Yamanoto and Yu Kawaguchi.
We'll have another potential Bantamweight thriller this coming Friday as Takahiro Yamamoto (18-4, 15) looks to defend his OPBF Bantamweight title against Japanese based Filipino Mark John Yap (24-12, 10). On paper it looks like a mismatch, in favour of the champion, but the likelihood is that we'll end up with a very special and exciting fight between two men with different styles but the same never say die mentality.
Of the two men the champion is, of course, favoured here. He's got the much better record on paper, he's the puncher and he's a guy who is coming into this bout with a world ranking. The 25 year old Ioka gym fighter will be seeking a 4th defense of his title and will be hoping to move towards a world title fighter, potentially as early as 2017.
In the ring Yamamoto is an aggressive, heavy handed, tough guy with a boxer-puncher's skill set. He was wild early in his career but has tamed that wildness recently as he's developed his boxing skills, whilst maintaining his heavy handed blows. That power has helped him go 9-1 (9) in his last 10 bouts, with wins over Yu Kawaguchi, Yuki Strong Kobayashi and Rex Wao in his last 3 bouts. With the win over Kawaguchi he has avenged his only defeat in the last 5 years! In fact it's worth noting that his other 3 losses came during a 4 fight run where he went 1-3.
Aged 27 Yap is a fighter in his prime years and he's also a bit of a young veteran having been a professional for close to 10 years. Not only is he a veteran but he's a battle tested one who has developed from his losses becoming a really solid fighter a million miles removed from the man who was stopped in 3 rounds by Jessie Albaracin. Not only has he improved but he's also on a very under-rated 5 fight winning streak, which includes wins over the then unbeaten Tatsuya Ikemizu and two wins over former world title challenger Hiroyuki Hisataka.
Yap is technically solid, tough and has a proven engine, having gone into the tenth round on 10 occasions in his career. Whilst he's yet to do 12 rounds there no reason to doubt he'll be able to do the extra 6 minutes, and he has actually done 10 at a decent pace in the past, rather than a lazy slow paced 10 rounder. In many ways he's the top of guy who should have a much better record and should be regarded as a genuine OPBF level contender, rather than a massive under-dog for a bout like this.
We're expecting this to be a genuinely competitive bout, and a fun to watch one with both men showing what they have in their locker. For Yap that will be his skills, his ability to box and smother, and his toughness. For Yamamoto his key will be his power, his aggression and his ability to force the pace. We're expecting this to be competitive, have some back and forth and see both men answering some key questions. In the end though we think the champion will just be able to chip away enough at Yap to score a late stoppage, but not without needing to work very hard for the win.
On July 20th fans in Osaka will be getting a quadruple title show. Whilst the two world title fights will, rightfully, get the attention of most fans, the undercard title bouts, which will support the main contests, will almost certainly be interesting bouts themselves.
On paper the more exciting of those bouts will be the OPBF Bantamweight title bout between champion Takahiro Yamamoto (17-4, 14) and Filipino challenger Rex Wao (11-2, 9), both of whom are flawed fighters, powerful punchers and likely to come in to the ring with a point to prove. For Yamamoto the bout will serve as his second defense whilst Wao will be looking for a career best win following 2 losses in his last 3.
The champion won the title last year winning a bloody and exciting 7 round thriller with Yu Kawaguchi, who he had actually lost to 4 months earlier in a compelling split decision. The second bout between Kawaguchi and Yamamoto was rough, tumble and all action with the two men engaging in a genuine old fashioned brawl. Since then his only defense has been essentially a walk over against the woefully ill prepared Yuki Strong Kobayashi.
In the ring the champion is crude, but he can punch, he can take a shot and he looks like a terror at this level. It seems unlikely that he'll progress far beyond continental level but on the OPBF title scene it's going to take a good fighter to make him look bad and beat him cleanly.
Despite not having the best of records Yamamoto has improved markedly following a 6-3 (5) start and has run up 11 wins in his last 12 bouts, 9 by stoppage, including the stoppage of Kawaguchi. It's fair to say however that his record has got a lack of solid wins, other than the one over Kawaguchi last August. That's however shown he can step up and can win at a higher level than his records generally suggests.
As for the challenger the Filipino looked like a star in the making early on, moving to 10-0 (8) before suffering a 7th round KO loss to Silvester Lopez in late 2014. Since that loss Wao has gone 1-1, with his second loss being a decision loss to Xian Qian Wei in China last November.
Sadly when it comes to footage of Wao there is very little to go on and the only quality footage we've come across was his loss to Wei. From that footage Rex looked like a fun to watch, front foot boxer who is some what predictable but has the right mindset to be in some fun fights. He didn't, however, look like a man who should have been fighting at Featherweight. He also seemed to lack a little bit of activity, which he probably needed in China to beat a Chinese fighter.
Despite losing 2 of his last 3 Wao should make a decent challenger and a win over a then unbeaten Virden Rivera shows that there is something about Wao to be excited about, as does the footage. It is a worry however that Lopez took care of him as easily as he did and could suggest a lack of durability on behalf of the Filipino fighter.
When they get in the ring we expect to see these two meet in the center and have a war. Both like to fight, both will trust their power and both believe that the best way to win is to fight fire with fire. Unfortunately however for Wao we suspect his chin will let him down in the middle rounds of a total slugfest. Until he's stopped however this could be something very fun and a genuinely thrilling contest.
Fans in Osaka on New Year's Eve really are in for a treat, on paper at least, with 4 title bouts. Sadly whilst the card sounds deep it is somewhat a false economy with only one of those bouts really looking like a stand out contest, that being the WBA Flyweight title bout between Kazuto Ioka and Juan Carlos Reveco.
Of the title match ups on the card the weakest looks to be an OPBF Bantamweight title bout between exciting, and heavy handed, champion Takahiro Yamamoto (16-4, 13) and little known challenger Yuki Strong Kobayashi (9-4, 5).
The champion claimed the title earlier this year, winning a thriller against Yu Kawaguchi, avenging a defeat to Kawaguchi in the process. That win saw Yamamoto and Kawaguchi go to war from the off with Yamamoto leaving Kawaguchi a bloody mess, forcing the referee to stop the bout.
In the ring the champion is tough, busy, heavy handed and a real nightmare. Defensively he can be found open and there is still a lot for him to improve, but he's a real handful for anyone and appears to be a man making his way, albeit slowly, to a world title fight in the future. Not only is he talented but he is also improving and his work at the Ioka gym is really helping him to develop into a genuinely good fighter young fighter.
Whilst the champion is a really talented boxer-puncher the challenger really doesn't seem to have much going for him. Last year he was beaten up by Hinata Maruta, in what was Maruta's protest bout, and was beaten in a bout last December by Satoshi Niwa, in fact that loss to Niwa was Kobayahi's third loss in just 5 bouts, and he enters this one 3-3 in his last 5. Somewhat worrying for Kobayashi is that he has been decision by three relatively limited foes and was stopped in 2013 by Kiron Omura. A stoppage loss to Omura is a worry given Yamamoto's power.
In the ring Kobayashi has scored some semi notable wins, including a decision over Bunta Mitaka and a stoppage against Hikaru Matsuoka but they are certainly no better than Japanese domestic level wins in a division that is stacked. Sadly for him that is a problem, as he jumps from facing Japanese ranked contenders in 8 rounders to facing an OPBF champion, with a serious punch, over 12 rounds.
Whilst it's fair to say that Kobayashi has a chance, we need to also say it's a very slim chance and we can't see him surviving 12 rounds with a fighter as talented or as heavy handed as Yamamoto who will likely make his first defense of the OPBF title inside 8 rounds.
Back on April 5th Japanese fans as the Prefectural Gymnasium in Osaka got a treat as Yu Kawaguchi (23-6, 10) and Takahiro Yamamoto (15-4, 13) traded blows in a very good and highly competitive bout for the OPBF Bantamweight title. Now, 4 months later, the men are set to do it again with Kawaguchi seeking to prove the judges got it right, whilst Yamamoto looks to avenge his closest loss to date.
In their first fight there was very little to separate the two men. Two of the judges had the bout scored 115-113, albeit in opposite directions, whilst the deciding judge had it 116-112 to Kawaguchi. A 1-round swing could have swung the bout to a draw whilst a round the other way would have taken the split decision and made it a majority. It wasn't “controversial” as such, but it was so highly competitive that neither man had a clear edge.
Now, second time around, we're expecting much of the same. A bout between two very evenly matched fighters who are both tough and have different strengths but both come to win, every time they are in the ring. Both have their flaws, and neither is close to being the best Bantamweight in Japan, but both are fighting at a good level for them and both will put it all on the line to claim this title.
In their first fight the difference, for some, was Kawaguchi's experience. He knew how to grit it out and how to to win a close one, like he had done in the past. That experience is still an advantage he has however Yamamoto will have learned so much from the first meeting, his experience will have developed as a result. If the experience was the only difference between the two then it's not hard to imagine the title changing hand here.
Kawaguchi isn't just the more experienced but he's the older, more seasoned fighter having fought the likes of Yasutaka Ishimoto and Kentaro Masuda. Losses in those bouts were set backs but they were character building and and used to help him develop. A big question is whether his title win has also helped him develop, or perhaps find a new level of confidence. If he has then he may be able to find a new gear.
With the first fight being close we're expect much the same here. The big question is who has improved more in the last 4 months. Has the experience of a title fight helped Yamamoto understand the 12 round distance and what to do when he can't bang fighters out, like he has done in 12 of his 15 wins? Or has holding the OPBF title brought a new level to Kawaguchi's game and confidence?
We're really unsure on who is is going to show the biggest improvement here, but if you're in Osaka at the start of August this really will will be worth attending and we're expecting another, competitive, exciting and very close 12 round battle. We don't see either man moving to the top level, though either against Ryosuke Iwasa, for example would be another entertaining contest, and there are a lot of options out there for the winner.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
At the turn of the year we saw Ryosuke Iwasa vacate the OPBF Bantamweight title as he turned his attention on to claiming a world title belt. As a result of Iwasa vacating the belt we've seen a bout set up to find his successor and on March 5th we'll see the vacant title end up in the hands of either Takahiro Yamamoto (15-3, 12) or Yu Kawaguchi (22-6, 10). The bout may not pit the best Bantamweights in Asia against each other, in fact those involved aren't even the best Bantamweights in Japan, but as a stand alone bout this is an immensely interesting contest.
Of the two men it's Yamamoto who is the lower profile fighter but the more exciting of the two. He's an Ioka gym fighter who punches like a mule and despite being technically flawed is a must watch fighter when he's in the ring. Sadly for those wanting to watch him, much of the footage of him in action has been deleted from the internet, leaving us with only his bout against Kiron Omura, from very early in his career.
Yamamoto made his debut back in 2008 and in a little more than a year he had raced to 5-0 (5). Sadly when he hit the bricks, he hit them hard and quickly fell to 6-3 (5) as he came across opponents he couldn't just take out. Even though Yamamoto had lost his perfect record he hadn't been out classed and only suffered losses, all 3 of which were close, to decent fighters such as Hideo Sakamoto and Jerope Mercado.
Since those losses Yamamoto has been in great form running up 9 straight wins with the most notable of those being a decision over Danilo Pena and a 2nd round TKO against Ippei Aoki.
Blessed with power, a solid chin, an aggressive nature and exciting style Yamamoto is a real threat, especially when he hits opponents clean. As well as the power he has been improving his skills in recent years and although still a flawed fighter he had developed into a solid boxer-puncher.
As for Kawaguchi he's more notable of the two fighters given that he has fought for the Japanese Bantamweight title, coming up short against Kentaro Masuda last year. On paper that's his most notable bout though he has also been in with Yasutaka Ishimoto and Jerope Mercado, losing to both of those.
On paper Kawguchi does have a muddied record however he has gone 16-2 (8) in the last 6 years and has rebuilt his career in fantastic fashion. We won't pretend a sensational fighter but at 28 years old he is in his prime and he's seemingly in his groove as a professional. When you consider his last two losses are to Ishimoto and Masuda there is nothing to be disappointed by and considering he's never been stopped he does look to be a credible title contender.
In the ring Kawaguchi is slightly more refined than we've seen Yamamoto, but he is relatively flat footed, a little bit predictable and basic. At the level he's been fighting at that's typically been enough though it was also why he lost to Masuda and Ishimoto. He's just been a bit too basic to beat them. Despite being basic Kawaguchi can grit his teeth and have a fight, something that we suspect he'll have to do here.
Given the fighters involved in this fight aren't the most rounded we're expecting a really fun to watch contest between two men who come to fight and know how to fight. Yamamoto certainly has the edge in power however Kawaguchi has proven his toughness and show that he can hang with heavy hitters, such as Masuda. That makes us think we could see this go the distance. With that said it's clear that this will be exciting and see both men being forced to take some heavy blows.
Although we see feel Kawaguchi ts the more technically rounded he so slow that we feel Yamamoto will take the decision based on his power and his eye catching shots. It will however be a very competitive and exciting contest.
(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.