Since winning the title Nakatani has defended the belt once, winning a hard fought bout with the tough Filipino Ricky Sismundo. That was Nakatani's second successive 12 round bout and it saw him completing the full distance for the second time.
This coming week will see Nakatani defending his belt for the second time as he takes on fellow Japanese fighter Futoshi Usami (12-1-1, 9) a man whose record indicates has serious power.
If you've never seen Nakatani you've been missing out. He's a lanky, lanky Lightweight who usually uses his reach well and delivers shots with real power to both the head and body of an opponent. He's not the most skilled but does have a nice variety of shots and his body uppercuts particularly stood out in his first break out win, a stoppage victory over Shuhei Tsuchiya. Unfortunately since the win over Tsuchiya, more than a year ago, we've not seen Nakatani record a stoppage and as a result there is the possibility that his power isn't as telling as his record indicates, however both Sismundo and Kato are very tough guys.
As well as his skills, power and size Nakatani also has a strong team behind him at the Ioka gym. This has lead to Nakatani getting a lot of opportunities to spend time in the gym with world class fighters like former 2-weight world champion Kazuto Ioka and former Minimumweight title holder Ryo Miyazaki as well as the very promising Sho Ishida. Although not a proven world class fighter yet Nakatani is going to improve just on the basis of having guys like that in the gym with him helping to push him with their experiences and skills rubbing off on him and he will learn a lot of things other fighters could only dream of.
We've got to admit that when it comes to Usami we don't know much about the challenger despite seeing one or two of his early fights, such as his win over Tetsuya Muraki from back in 2011. What we have seen does make it clear that Usami does have a bit of skill about him, a nice and relatively busy jab and solid defense that he applies good pressure behind. He also appears to have solid and hurtful power in his straight right hand and his left hook though early on in his career he did get over-excited when he had his man hurt and did throw some very wrong shots from out of range.
Usami's opponents so far haven't been the best and they have made it hard to gauge how good he is. His draw, with Masayuki Wakimoto, came 3 years ago however he sole loss came just 2 fights back, back in December 2013, when he was narrowly out pointed by Kazuya Murata in about made above the Lightweight limit. On paper they are bad results but in reality they aren't as bad as they look on paper and will have helped Usami improve despite not winning either of them.
What we suspect to see here, at least early on, is a jab fest between two men who do like to use their jab. Usami will likely be the one coming forward whilst Nakatani will be landing the heavier and sharper blows, and probably the more numerous given his edge in height and reach. As the fight goes on we suspect that Usami will become ragged, chasing Nakatani who will begin landing sharp clean counters, as he did so effectively against Tsuchiya. Those counters will take their toll on the challenger who we suspect will be stopped in the second half of the contest as Nakatani looks to reestablish himself as puncher to be feared.
If he does win, as expected, we'd assume Nakatani will remain at the OPBF level defending his belt for another year. He needs more experience before moving up a level and competing on, or near, the world stage. Given a year and another 3 defenses we suspect he'll be ready for a world ranked foe. For now though this is the sort of bout he needs. On the other hand for Usami a win here would be career changing and would certainly announce him as a man to watch but we tend to feel that his long term potential is much less than that of Nakatani and a win for Usami would likely be a flash in the pan rather than the emergence of a new future world champion.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)