The injury to Okada has proven to be a relatively serious one and rather than await his return to fitness the JBC have allowed the man he was preparing to fight Masayoshi Kotake (9-9-2, 5) to fight for the interim title. Kotake however will not be handed the interim title, or matched easily for it, instead he will be facing the once beaten Masanobu Nakazawa (17-1-1, 7) for the belt.
On paper Kotake looks like a poor contender. He has won just 45% of all his bouts and is certainly not a star in the making. It is notable however that he has mixed with some very good competition such as Okada, Shinya Iwabuchi, Akihiro Kondo and Jimrex Jaca. Sadly whilst his competition has been good it doesn't defend his form, which includes just 1 win in his last 5 bouts.
Although clearly not the best fighter Kotake does have some things going his way. He's tough, and has never been stopped, he has a real grittiness to his fighting and he does hit harder than his record suggests. On paper he has a 25% KO rate but all of his wins since 2011 have come by stoppage, those wins have coincided with him being scheduled for more than 6 rounds.
Another thing to note about Kotake is that he's a 28 year old Southpaw. So he's younger than his 33 year old foe, and has that tricky advantage of being a southpaw.
With an impressive looking record fans will typically favour Nakazawa. He's not been beaten since his 5th professional bout and is actually on an impressive 14-0 run dating back more than 4 years. Unfortunately however his competition has been weak to say the least with his best wins coming against the likes of Tetsuya Hasunuma, who holds a win over Kotake, and Kazuya Soma.
The one name fans will recognise form Nakazawa's record is Shuhei Tsuchiya, a man who actually stopped Nakazawa in the 2nd round of their meeting back in November 2010. It was a Rookie of the Year bout but one that does stand out as being Nakazawa's only notable contest so far. Whilst it may be unfair to use that bout to point out flaws it needs to be said the he didn't seem happy at his corner throwing in the towel after he easily beat the 10 count.
Footage of both is fairly limited but, on the whole, Nakazawa look a better boxer. The test however is going to be whether or not he can fight for 10 rounds against a tough southpaw with under-rated power. In many ways Nakazawa, although the better man on paper, is stepping up significantly and given his age he may know that this really is a must win bout. For Kotake a loss will likely be the end of his title hopes, though we suspect he'll come into the ring full of confidence and may well look to apply the pressure from the off.
We favour Nakazawa but wouldn't back him too strongly given that this really is his first test since the Tsuchiya bout almost 5 years ago.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)