At the top of the Japanese domestic scene right now is Yu Kimura (15-2-1, 2), who looks to make the next defense of his title at the start of April when he battles against late replacement Hayato Yamaguchi (12-5-1, 2), who has got the bout after Shin Ono was forced to pull out due to a rib injury.
Kimura won the title last year when he narrowly out pointed the under-rated Kenichi Horikawa and has since defended it twice, including an impressive victory over Yuki Chinen. Those wins have helped put the 31 year old Teiken fighter on the verge of a world title fight with world rankings with all 4 world title world title bodies, including a #2 ranking with the IBF. Sadly however he has yet to really capture the attention of fans outside of Japan, many of whom haven't had the chance to see him. Even those who have been able to see him in footage have had a limited number of chances with very little footage being available, the most notable of which was his bout with Ryoichi Taguchi.
Speedy, talented and well school Kimura is one of the many fighters on the verges of a world title fight. Given his age however he will need to make that leap from domestic champion to world contender sooner rather than later. A win over Ono would have allowed him to make that leap, especially considering the fact Ono gave IBF Minimumweight champion Katsunari Takayama a really tough test. Sadly however a bout with Yamaguchi doesn't quite have the same lure to it as the originally scheduled contest.
Whilst Kimura is a man in the form of career, and has won his last 6, the same cannot quite be said for Yamaguchi who actually lost last time out to Renan Trongco in the Philippines. Prior to that loss Yamaguchi was on a roll with 5 straight wins, including notable victories over Hiroya Yamamoto and Hiroyuki Otsuka. That run of 5 wins had followed back-to-back losses to Masayuki Kuroda and Cris Paulino in title bouts.
Through his 18 fight career Yamaguchi's most impressive performance was actually the loss to Kuroda, a narrow loss to the then Japanese Light Flyweight champion. Kuroda, a solid domestic level fighter, was defending the national title for the second time and Yamguchi took him all the way a razor thin bout that actually saw Yamaguchi dropping the champion. Another of his stand out results his narrow win over Eiji Fujiwara win in the 2010 All-Japan Rookie of the year, unfortunately that was very close and came more than 4 years ago.
On paper this looks almost nailed on to go the distance. Neither fighter is a big puncher and both have shown good resiliency, despite each being stopped once. If it does we can't see past a Kimura win, despite the fact he has seen his opponent change less than a month before the bout. For Kimura we suspect his confidence, longer training camp and high level of sparring will help him retain his title, but he'll not have an easy time with his competent challenger. If Kimura makes the mistake of over-looking Yamaguchi then we may see the title change hands though we suspect he'll be a professional and get the win before looking towards a bigger bout later in the year as he looks to move onwards and upwards.
For Yamaguchi this is a great opportunity to make a name for himself, but unfortunately we see him coming just short against the very talented Kimura.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)