This coming Sunday sees the Japanese Light Middleweight title up for grabs again as current champion Yuki Nonaka (26-8-2, 9) attempts to defend the belt against former champion Charlie Ota (24-2-1, 16). The bout may not have intentional fans foaming at the mouth in excitement though the bout is a really good one and one that could have world level implications with both men currently holding world rankings, albeit low ones.
Of the two men it's the challenger, Ota, who is better known. Originally from the US he has had carved out a successful career in Japan winning OPBF and Japanese Light Middleweight titles. Internationally Ota has fought in Canada, losing to Jermell Charlo, and in the US, beating both Gundrick King and Mike Ruiz and in Japan he is popularly known simple as “Charlie”.
Whilst Ota is known internationally by boxing fans it's what he's done in Japan that has been impressive and his record reads like a who's who of Japanese boxing in the Middle and Light Middleweight divisions. Among those Japanese fighters that he has beaten are Takayuki Hosokawa, Akio Shibata, Tadashi Yuba, Taisei Marumoto and Koji Numata, all of whom have held titles themselves.
When comparing Ota with top international fighters he is relatively crude and is rather short for the weight, at 5'7” he does however have hurtful power, as seen when he dropped Charlo, and an explosive style that sees him unloading heavy shots. At home however most fighters in the division are similar in stature to him and he's simply more power and tougher than they are. If he chooses to go to war he tends to win even if things aren't the prettiest in terms of boxing. This warrior attitude was seen spectacularly in his bout with King Davidson. In that bout Ota was down in the opening round before showing his fighting spirit and taking the bout to the touted Davidson and shutting down his foe with intense aggression. Like a wounded animal Ota fights back when hurt and that may be when he's at his most dangerous.
Although we are big fans of Ota we also like Yuki Nonaka who is one of the most pleasant boxers to watch anywhere on the planet. Nonaka lacks major power and speed but is technically so sharp with an accurate southpaw jab, razor like left hand and surgical uppercuts, all of which he showed recently to regain the title. He combines very intelligent offensive work with smart defense that sees him slipping shots wonderfully, controlling beautifully and neutralising when he needs. He's not untouchable by any means but he's become very difficult to tag clean with anything of note and is tough enough to shots when they come back.
Internationally Nonaka, who at the time of writing is the WBO #15 ranked fighter, is an unknown domestically however the 37 year old manages to draw in sizeable crowds in Osaka. Whilst we won't pretend he's known for taking on the most dangerous opponents out there he does have a few solid win over the likes of Kazuhiko Hidaka, Dmytro Nikulin, Lee Oti, Ryo Okayama and Kengo Nagashima. He has also only lost 3 bouts in the last decade with 2 of those coming at title level.
If boxing was an art form Nonaka would be highly regarded however boxing is often a fight and we're not certain how a 37 year old Nonaka will perform in a fight against a very good opponent. Against flawed foes he has looked exceptionally talented and he has been able to fight to his strengths. When forced to fight opponents fights however we feel Nonaka can be out worked and a lot of his losses have only been by a couple of rounds.
Going into this bout we suspect we're going to see the boxer against the brawler. Nonaka's sweet science against Ota's street fighting warrior attitude. Sadly for Nonaka we suspect that being rushed and pressured by a guy like Ota won't end well for him and will draw him into a fight that he can't win. Stylistically it's a bout that is all wrong for the champion and although he's fighting at home in Osaka, his 18th fight in the City, we don't think he'll be able to retain his title in one of the most interesting national title fights this year.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)