Last September American Daniel Roman (23-2-1, 9) announced himself on the world stage with a stoppage win over Shun Kubo to claim the WBA Super Bantamweight title in Kyoto. The win saw Roman score his 15th straight win and step up massively from victories over the likes of Christopher Martin, Christian Esquivel and Adam Lopez. This coming Wednesday he'll return to a Japanese ring, this time as a champion as he faces off with touted Ohashi gym fighter Ryo Matsumoto (21-1, 19).
The American had been a solid amateur amateur before turning professional at the age of 20. As a professional he struggled early on, with a draw and a defeat in his first 4 bouts. After 11 bouts he was 8-2-1 but since then he has matured into a real handful. He's a skilled fighter, with a high activity rate, good body punching and a smart pressure style. It's not the intense pressure we see from the like of Gennady Golovkin or Srisaket Sor Rungvisai but more of a constant and intelligent pressure that takes a mental toll and comes from his jab and timing. There's nothing “blunt force” about Roman, and he's not going to KO people with with one shot, but he's going to mentally break them and wear them down.
Although not a power puncher, and with just 9 stoppages in 26 fights no one would argue other wise, Roman is a solid puncher and has stopped 4 of his last 6. Notably he has stopped his last 2 foes both in round 9 and seems to be showing more self belief in his power, with his work rate being a huge asset in those stoppages. It's unclear how good his chin is, and he's not the quickest, but he knows what works for him and is using his tools to get outcomes.
At 27 years old Roman is reaching his physical peak and as he continues to mature he will almost certainly add to his physical strength and power. He will never become a KO guy but with his pressure style the physical development he makes will make him tougher to defeat and even harder to try and force backwards. It's also worth noting that despite looking like a solid Super Bantamweight it does seem like he does make the weight quite easily, and could beef up just a touch to really push the divisional limit and fill out his frame a tiny bit more.
Aged 24 Matsumoto is a young gun, but appears to have been around for a very long time. That's because he actually debuted at the very end of 2011, aged 17, and has slowly been developed into a world class fighter. And by slowly we really do mean slowly. He looked ready to be let off the leash in 2015, following wins over Hiroyuki Kudaka, Denkaosan Kaovichit and Rusalee Samor the previous year, but was held back. Sadly for Matsumoto his rise hit the wall in 2016 when he suffered a shock loss to Victor Uriel Lopez. That loss was a major hit to Matsumoto's rise, but was a blessing in disguise with the youngster later receiving treatment for a medical issue that affected him in the contest. Since then he has looked better than even, avenging his loss, and noticing a significant growth spurt.
In the ring Matsumoto is a joy to watch. He combines silky smooth skills with brilliant speed, brutal power, and lovely shot selection. He's not a brawler but when he has an opponent hurt he lets his hands go very freely whilst at range he boxes well behind a razor sharp jab,with some blazing straight right hands. There is defensive flaws with Matsumoto but offensively he is a machine and his blow out against Hideo Sakamoto last year was truly impressive. Not only has he got the skills but he also has the team, with the Ohashi team being one of the best in Japan, if not the world, and will have seen him training with Naoya Inoue and Takuma Inoue as well as Akira Yaegashi and Satoshi Shimizu, all of whom are excellent fighters. Like so many young Japanese fighters he looks natural in the ring and has an incredible amount of composure and understanding in the ring.
Stylistically the Japanese fighter is a boxer-puncher. Despite being 24 he looks like a fighter who is still filling out his frame and maturing. When he completely develops into his body he'll likely be fighting at Featherweight, but for now he's just got the look of a boy, still, and not a man. That hasn't been an issue yet, but could be in the future.
Sadly for Matsumoto this is looking like a really test for the once beaten Japanese fighter. His style is somewhat made to order for Roman, with the American likely to apply his pressure and look to break down the Japanese fighter. What Matsumoto does have, that Kubo didn't, is the heavy hands that could stop Roman in his tracks, and the body punching to go with it. We're expecting to see Roman start slowly, box behind his jab and the speed of Matsumoto will give him a lot to think about. Eventually though Roman will drag Matsumoto into a war, and we suspect Roman will come out on top, but will be given a much, much harder bout than he was against Kubo. Matsumoto has long deserved a shot against a world class fighter, but this feels like a stylistically bad fight for him. He has the chance to shine, but we think Roman will have the tools to deal with him.
Currently the Super Bantamweight division is one of the most fractured in the sport, and as a result it's a bit of a frustrating mess to follow. Guillermo Rigondeaux, the WBA “super” champion looks set to jump to Super Featherweight for his next bout, WBO champion Jessie Magdaleno has yet to make his first defense, IBF champion Yukinori Oguni makes his first defense later this month, WBC champion Rey Vargas recently made his first defense and this weekend we see WBA “regular” champion Shun Kubo (12-0, 9) make his first defense.
Whilst the division is a mess, it's one which is thoroughly brilliant at the moment, with a nice mixture of veterans, Nonito Donaire and Rigondeaux, as well as fresh blood, like Kubo and Oguni, and almost every style. We have pure boxers, sluggers, bangers and hybrids making up the stacked top 20 in what, potentially, is the most interesting,yet frustrating, division in the sport right now.
Kubo's first defense, this coming Sunday, will see the Hyogo man defending his belt against mandatory challenger Daniel Roman (22-2-1, 8) in what is a really interesting looking match up, that pits two fighters with a lot of questions to answer, against each other on.
Aged 27 Kubo is one of a number of Japanese fighters who has moved through the ranks swiftly. As an amateur he was less than spectacular, running up a 30-18 record, but beat veteran Monico Laurente in his third bout and the world ranked Luis May in his 6th bout to announce himself as one to watch. An OPBF title win in 2015 opened doors for Kubo to progress his career and after just two defenses his team paid to bring tricky veteran Nehomar Cermeno over to Japan to defend the WBA crown. The bout with Cermeno was a real gut test for Kubo, but one that saw him out lasting the veteran, who retired citing injury at the start of round 10.
Against Cermeno we saw Kubo show off some world class skills, but almost come undone following a knockdown, go through a torrid spell and show some self doubt as Cermeno used his experience to come on strong. Now the question to answer for Kubo is how much did he learn and develop from that tough win? Is he going to come undone under pressure again or will the win have boosted his confidence?
Also aged 27 Roman is a fighter looking to make his mark on the sport and continue a 14 fight winning streak that began back in March 2014. During his current run has has scored a number of notable wins, including victories over Christopher Martin, Christian Esquivel and the unbeaten pairing of Marlon Olea and Adam Lopez. Whilst it's a nice record, and one that proves Roman is top contender, it lacks a major A class win and it's hard to know exactly how good he is, and we could see that being answered here.
From watching footage of Roman he's a technically well schooled fighter who has nice textbook boxing ability, and solid, but unspectacular speed. Where he lacks are power and he has been out boxed before by lesser fighters. It's also worth noting that whilst he's not “short” for the weight he is going to be giving away some significant size, with Kubo being a freakish Super Bantamweight, who will look to use his height and reach to neutralise the jab of Roman.
Roman is a very solid boxer, but the reality here is that he is stepping up massively here to face someone who has the home advantage and all the physical advantages. Roman is more experienced, and was a more accomplished amateur fighter, but it's hard to see what he has to beat Kubo. Unless he can land a bomb on Kubo we suspect the champion will record his first defense, and could well find himself becoming the target of domestic rivals like Yusaku Kuga and Hinata Maruta.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.