The Japanese scene at Bantamweight has been one that has combined excitement and promising fighters along with veteran and experience over the last few years. We've seen Ryosuke Iwasa, Kohei Oba, Kentaro Masuda and Shohei Omori hold the title over the last 5 years and we've seen challengers like Yu Kawaguchi, Konosuke Tomiyama, Hirofumi Mukai and Satoshi Niwa all come up short in challenged.
The 4 champions mentioned above have all set their sites on bigger and better things. Oba and Omori have fallen short in eliminators, Iwasa lost in a world title fight whilst Masuda recently stated his intent to chase a world title.
One fighter who has tried to win world titles but now finds himself back the domestic scene is veteran Ryo Akaho (29-2-2, 19), who looks to win the vacant Japanese Bantamweight title as he takes on Yushi Tanaka (19-1-3, 13), himself challenging for this title for the second time. For both men this will be seen as a must win, Akaho needing a win to keep alive his dreams of getting another world title fight and Tanaka looking to prove that he deserves to be title level fighter.
Of the two men it's Akaho who is more well known. The Yokohama Hikari fighter debuted back in 2005 and moved through the ranks relatively slowly before getting a shot at the Japanese Super Flyweight title in late 2009. In that title shot he fought to a draw with Daigo Nakahiro but remained in the title mix and won the OPBF Super Flyweight title 17 months later. As the OPBF champion Akaho would defend the title 3 times, scoring notable wins over Toyoto Shiraishi and Yohei Tobe, before getting his first world title bout.
In Akaho's first world title shot he came up short against Yota Sato, the then WBC Super Flyweight champion. That was to be Akaho's final bout at 115lbs before he moved up to Bantamweight and slowly moved towards a second world title bout, which came in August 2015 when he took on Pungluang Sor Singyu for the vacant WBO Bantamweight title. Sadly for Akaho he was bullied in round 2 by Pungluang who knocked him out in controversial fashion. Since that loss Akaho hasn't looked like a world class fighter, struggling past Shiraishi in a rematch and only narrowly over-coming Hiroaki Teshigawara last year, along with scoring a blow out of a terrible Thai foe.
In the ring Akaho is a strong and tough fighter, but one who is relatively basic, a little crude and raw and lacks in terms of speed and isn't the puncher his record may suggest. He can be out boxed, he can be out slugged and he can be out fought, but it takes a good fighter to do any of those things and he has the rugged toughness to make anyone below world level work for a win.
As mentioned this will be Tanaka's second shot at a Japanese title, and his chance to help add to the growing reputation of the Hatanaka gym which already features world champion Kosei Tanaka and Japanese Featherweight champion Shota Hayashi. His first shot at the title saw him being dominated, and stopped, by Kentaro Masuda a year ago. That was really Tanaka's only bout against a genuinely notable fighter in their prime and it showed that he was a long way from being Japanese title worthy. It is however worth nothing that Tanaka has held the WBC Youth Bantamweight title, winning that in July 2013 and making 3 defenses of the title.
Whilst Tanaka hasn't fought many good fights in their prime he has scored wins over Filipino journeyman Rey Laspinas, a good win, and a beyond shot Wandee Singwancha, who was well beyond his best and fighting significantly above his best fighting weight. Sadly much of his competition to date has been dire and lead to his record really not reflecting his skills. For example Tanaka isn't a big puncher, despite almost a 60% stoppage rate, and although he comes into this bout on a 3-0 (3) run following the loss to Masuda he's really not faced anyone to give him another gut check.
Stylistically there is little about Tanaka to be impressed by. He lacks the sensational skills and speed of Kosei Tanaka and the tenacity of Shota Hayashi. He's not terrible as such, but there is little about him that is actually impressive. He's just a very basic fighter who shouldn't really be getting a second shot so soon after being dominated in his previous shot. And with that in mind it'll be no surprise to hear that we're predicting a loss for Tanaka here, likely by stoppage in the middle rounds.
Last year the Champion Carnival featured a number of great fights, it also featured a relatively one sided beat down. That beat down saw Shohei Omori claim the Japanese Bantamweight title with a blow out win against the then champion Kentaro Masuda (23-7, 12). The win seemed to set Omori on the way to a world title, though of course he was himself blown away late last year by Marlon Tapales.
This year's Champion Carnival again sees Masuda in the Bantamweight title bout against an unbeaten fight, this time Yushi Tanaka (16-0-3, 10), with the men trading shots for the title that was vacated last year by Omori.
Although Masuda, now 33, was blown out by Omori he's actually a very good fighter, with under-rated skills, genuine heart, a real will to win and criminally under-rated power. His record might not be flattering but like a good wine he has improved with age and has become a much better fighter than he used to be.
Early in his career Masuda looked limited and started 1-3, and was in fact 3-3 after just over 2 years in the professional ranks. Since 2010 however Masuda has gone 16-3 with his 3 losses coming to notable opponents in the former of Hidenori Otake, Ryosuke Iwasa and Omori. On the other hand he has scored notable wins against the likes of Yosuke Fujihara, Yu Kawaguchi, Konosuke Tomiyama, Tatsuya Takahashi and, most recently, Hideo Sakamato.
Although not a monstrously hard hitting Masuda has stopped the likes of Tomiyama, who was stopped in 3 rounds, and Sakamoto, who was stopped in 7 rounds, whilst fans and the press were amazed that Takahashi managed to see the final bell against Masuda. In fact Masuda suggested that Takahashi was like a “zombie” following the bout.
Aged 24 Tanaka is the man stepping up in class, considerably, for this bout. He is however an unbeaten fighter with a lot of confidence and at 24 he is a fighter coming into his prime.
Although relatively untested Tanaka does hold some notable wins, including a 2012 stoppage victory over former world champion Wandee Singwancha, albeit a 32 year old Wandee who had lost 2 of his previous 3 and was well above his best fighting weight. Other notable wins on Tanaka's record include decisions victories over Vergel Nebran and Mako Matsuyama.
Although Tanaka has a better than 50% KO rate it should be noted that he doesn't seem to stop too many notable fighters. His best stoppage is over Wandee, a former Minimumweight champion, whilst whilst many of his other stoppages have come against very limited Thai's and Indonesians that have essentially boosted his KO rating. Incidentally he is 4-0-1 (3) in title fights, though all 5 of those bouts took place for the WBC Youth Bantamweight title.
Sadly footage of Tanaka has been hard to come by though from what we have seen of him he he is pretty well schooled with a nice jab and a quick, sharp, hook. He looks rather quick but not exceptionally saw and defensively he seems to be rather open, keeping his hands worryingly low. There is little that he has shown that is really exciting but given that he is in the Hatanaka gym it's clear he does get some high quality training and he has actually been sparring with Hinata Maruta ahead of this fight.
Given what is available of both men, it's hard to see Tanaka winning the bout, barring a career best performance. In fact from what we've seen we've got to strongly favour Masuda to actually stop Tanaka in the later stages, taking advantage of Tanaka's relative lack of top quality experience. Tanaka does have the edge in speed and natural size, but we don't think that will be enough to over-come the experienced and determined Masuda, who we suspect will reclaim the Japanese title.
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.