On Sunday 26th May Filipino skillster Ben Mananquil (17-1-3, 4) returns to Japan as he looks to make his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title, and takes on recent OPBF title challenger Yuki Strong Kobayashi (14-8, 8). The bout isn't likely to get much attention outside of Asia, but could move the winner into the higher reaches of the WBO Bantamweight rankings.
Of the two men the champion certainly enters the bout as the favourite. Just looking at his record he looks like he's on a different level to the challenger, and that's ignoring the level he's been fighting at. When we consider what Mananquil has actually done it seems even clearer that he should be regarded as the favourite. The 4 marks on his record have come to Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym, Jing Xiang, a loss and a draw, and Hinata Maruta. Those aren't bad marks to have against you, but he has also picked up good wins too, including victories against Glenn Porras, Jess Rhey Waminal and Tenta Kiyose, who he beat for this title back in February.
For those who haven't seen Mananquil he's a really talented boxer. Defensively he is smart, a good mover and knows his way around the ring. He's not a very handed puncher, but he does find home for shots very easily. He's a smart counter puncher, who's accurate with his shots on the back, making miss and tagging them in return. Notably he's a really small Bantamweight, and stands at just 5'4" but fighting out of the southpaw stance and using a good boxing brain he makes his diminutive height work for him, and and uses it to become a smaller target, drawing opponents in and making them make a mistake. It's rarely fun to watch Mananquil, but he is effective at what he does, and does make more natural Bantamweights give away their advantages.
On paper Yuki Strong Kobayashi isn't a great fighter. He has lost 8 of 22 pro bouts, in fact he has lost the same amount of bouts that he has won by stoppage. Unlike some fighters who have suffered early losses and built a career afterwards he has actually suffered consistent losses through his career, he was 8-4 after 12 bouts and has gone 6-4 since. What's notable however is that he is 1 4-1 in his last 5 and through his career he has mixed with great company. His last 4 defeats have come to regional title level fighters, in the form of Takahiro Yamamoto, Ye Joon Kim, Rey Megrino and Keita Kurihara. Those bouts have seen his chin being a major issue, with Yamamoto and Megrino both stopping him and Kurihara sending him down 4 times, but wins over Noboru Osato and Vincent Astrolabio are really notable and show there is quality there.
This is a bout where Kobayashi's chin is less likely to be an issue than it has been. Instead he'll be able to stick to his boxing without too much fear of what is coming back in his direction. In fairness he is a better boxer than this record suggests. He's aggressive, he comes forward and he tried to make life difficult for opponents with volume and body shots. There's very much a "I have to attack a lot to have a chance" look to him, but he's a fun go to watch in action, throwing lots of lead hooks to try and cramp the distance and let him work on the inside.
Stylistically this should be fun. The pressure of Kobayashi against the sweet boxing skills of Mananquil, the aggression of the challenger versus the defensive know how of the champion. It should be really fan friendly, though we expect the local fans in Osaka will be disappointed when their man loses a clear, but competitive, decision to the Filipino.
We're expecting the cleaner shots to come from Mananquil, who we think will run away with the bout in the final rounds. Kobayashi will be close through 8, but come up short after 12 rounds.
Prediction - Mananquil UD12
The Japanese boxing scene gives us a pre-Christmas treat on December 24th as Keita Kurihara (12-5, 11) and Yuki Strong Kobayashi (14-7, 8) face off in Osaka for the vacant OPBF Bantamweight title. On paper this may not look like anything special, but in reality it's a brilliant match up, that again shows records really don't tell us everything.
Of the two men the more impressive has been the 25 year old Kurihara, who has really impressed in recent years with his power, aggression and wonderfully exciting style. His record is a total mess due to a less than great start to his career, losing 4 of his first 7 bouts to record a 3-4 (3) record. Since then however he has gone 9-1 (8) with his sole loss during that 10 fight stretching coming in a war to Hiroaki Teshigawara. On the other his wins during that run have included stoppages against Sonin Nihei, Ryan Lumacad, Tetsuya Watanabe and Kazuki Tanaka.
Blessed with power, heart and grit Kurihara is a nightmare to face at this level. His skills probably won't take him to the top, unless he works on his technical flaws, especially his defense and how he sets up offensive work, but on the Oriental scene there's not many who will defeat him. Many may feel they can, but they'll end up in a war that really won't do them well. To beat him either a fighter needs to be insanely tough themselves, like Teshigawara, or be a very sharp boxer-mover who can counter him and make him pay for his aggression. Fortunately for him there's not too many of either those on the Oriental level at the moment.
Kobayashi is the slightly older man at 27 and has had 21 fights, to Kurihara's 17, but in terms of rounds fought is much more experienced, with 109 rounds to Kurihara's 53. Despite that he is also a heavy handed fighter, who has stopped fighters like Hikaru Matsuoka, Satoshi Ozawa and touted Filipino Vincent Astrolabio. Unfortunately for him he has been matched hard, and has lost 3 of his last 8, with stoppage losses to Takahiro Yamamoto and Rey Megrino, as well as a decision loss to Ye Joon Kim. Against Megrino and Yamamoto there was simply too much of a difference in power, whilst Kim out boxed and out moved Kobayashi.
Kobayashi is also an aggressive fighter, who likes to stand just inside range and launch hard right hands up top, and short hooks. His ability to close distance is one of his weakest points from a technical; stand point, with his slow feet and weak looking jab being an issue, but he is sharp with his power shots. Sadly he is relatively flat footed, and looks to be someone who sets him self a bit too much, with a lack of fluidity to his overall work, and is a bit of an "offense or defense" fighter, rather than someone who can switch between the two on a whim.
Give that both like to let their hands go, both are relatively slow of foot and neither likes to back down we're expecting the two to meet centre ring and have a tear up. And we mean a tear up. In a war we favour the hard hitting and more aggressive Kurihara, but he will certainly give Kobayashi openings for his right hand, and we're expecting him to land plenty of those.
As a prediction we're going with a Kurihara stoppage in the middle rounds. Given that this is on Kobayashi's home turf Kurihara may fight like a man who feels he needs a KO and will fight like that's his only way to win in what we're expecting to be a Christmas cracker!
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.
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.