Part of that intrigue comes down to the prospects in and around the weight, like Kazuki Tanaka, Hinata Maruta and Daisuke Watanabe. Another part however is the great match ups that can be made at the top of the domestic scene.
The next bout at the top of the Japanese scene scenes Japanese champion Yasutaka Ishimoto (27-8, 7) defending his Japanese title, for the first time, against mandatory challenger Yosuke Fujihara (16-3, 4). For Ishimoto this is first defense of a title that took him 3 shots to win and it's a chance to strengthen his claim as the king of the Japanese domestic scene. For Fujihara the bout is a chance to continue his development as a fighter and record a third successive win of note.
Of the two men it's Ishimoto who is the better known fight. He's been a professional since 2002 and has mixed with several notable names. That has included Masaaki Serie, twice, Yota Sato, Shingo Wake, Yu Kawaguchi, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr, Chris Avalos and Yukinori Oguni. Whilst no one will act like Ishimoto is a world beater he's got a number of very good wins on his record, including victories over Wake, Kawaguchi, Vazquez Jr, Gakuya Furuhashi and Yusaku Kuga.
In the ring Ishimoto is a busy, well schooled fighter with a sharp jab, solid work on the inside and although he lacks power he is a real handful combining speed, heart and work rate. So far he only has one stoppage loss, to Avalos, and could well have had wins in a number of his losses. In fact in another world he'd have about 4 less losses.
When it comes to Fujihara much less is known with footage being scarce, though he has faced some notable fighters of his own. Sadly for him he has suffered losses to many of those notable fighters, including Kentaro Masuda and Ryuta Otsuka. He has however scored wins over Teppei Kikui, Kenji Kubo and Yukunoi Hisanaga. Interestingly he is 3-3 in his last 6, but the 4 most notable wins have come in his last 7 bouts and he has also looked good since moving to 122lbs, in fact his only losses have come at Bantamweight as opposed to Super Bantamweight.
Notably Fujihara went 8 rounds with Kentaro Masuda, back in 2011, before taking 2 years off. In his second bout back he was stopped inside a round by Yuta Nakagawa and was then stopped against by Ryuta Otsuka, before taking a year out and returning to score back-to-back wins. Although clearly not the busiest of fighters it's plausible that the breaks have helped him develop significantly as a fighter, both mentally and physically.
Although Fujihara is in good form it does seem like he's stepping up, in a big way, for this bout and we suspect that whilst he'll be game against Ishimoto he won't be able to keep it up for the 10 rounds and will either be broken down for a late stoppage, or suffer a clear, but competitive, decision loss to the talented champion.