The Bantamweight division promised a lot for Japan last year but delivered little more than disappointment with a number of losses for fighters who were favoured, including Ryo Akaho, against Pungluang Sor Singyu in a WBO title fight, Tomoki Kameda, twice against Jamie McDonnell, and Shohei Omori, who came up short against Marlon Tapales in a world title eliminator.
Even when Japanese fighters won they were disappointing with the all conquering Shinsuke Yamanaka (24-0-2, 17) also failing to shine, defending his title twice. The first of those defenses was an expected and simple win over the horribly over-matched Diego Ricardo Santillan whilst the second of those defenses saw the Japanese puncher come up very fortunate against Anselmo Moreno.
On March 4th Yamanaka returns to the ring and hopes to return to his dominating best as he hunts a 10th defense of the WBC Bantamweight title, and faces off against Venezuelan warrior Liborio Solis (23-3-1, 10), a man who is well known to Japanese fans.
For Solis the bout will see him attempt to become a 2-weight world champion and look to record his third win in Japan, where he actually holds a 100% record with both previous wins being big ones. Not only is the challenger trying to keep his perfect Japanese record but also extend a 14 fight winning run.
The champion is widely regarded as the top Bantamweight and his reign as the WBC champion has been impressive, though relatively over-looked. He has yet to fight outside of Japan but has scored notable wins over the likes of Vic Darchinyan, Tomas Rojas, Malcolm Tunacao, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai and Anselmo Moreno. Although some of those bouts were close he did the important thing of pulling out the victory and has got himself a solid looking resume. Not only has he scored some solid wins but he has done so whilst becoming a star in Japan and being able to draw a sizeable TV audience.
In the ring Yamanaka is well schooled, but not an elite level boxer. He has a very good variety of punches in his arsenal but often neglects many of his punches whilst looking to land his thunderbolt left hand. That left hand has got fight ending power, but recent he has looked overly predictable as he attempts to land it. That predictability has made life easier for recent opponents and whilst he has scored 14 stoppages in his last 17 he has gone the distance in 2 of his last 3.
Whilst the champion is regarded as a genuinely elite world level fighter the challenger is much more over-looked, despite having been a former WBA Super Flyweight champion and holding a number of notable wins on record. Those wins include a decision in Panama over Rafael Concepcion, who famously gave Nonito Donaire fits and a decision in Mexico against Jose Salgado, as well as a huge win in Japan over current world champion Kohei Kono and a controversial victory over Daiki Kameda.
To many fight fans in the East it was Solis's win over Kono that really solidified Solis as a world class talent, and it was a hell of a fight with both men being dropped and both going to war with Solis taking a majority decision over the popular Watanabe gym fighter. Whilst that win really made Solis, in many ways his win over Kameda was the beginning of the end for the Kameda clan and saw Solis missing weight for a Super Flyweight unification bout. Since then he has fought as high as Featherweight and last time out scored a win over Jonathan Baat.
In the ring the 33 year old Venezuelan Solis is a tough, busy action fighter. Technically he's not the biggest or most technically capable but he comes to fight and will continually bring pressure with a high work rate and look to turn everything in to a war. It's a style similar in some ways to Suriyan, who gave Yamanaka hell in 2014.
Given the styles of the two men we're expecting something really exciting here with Solis bringing the pressure and Yamanaka boxing on the backfoot, lining up the left hands in an attempt to take Solis out. The fight should be a high paced and all action affair with Solis bringing the fight but it's hard to see him having the power to hurt Yamanaka. The bout, we suspect, will look similar to Yamanaka's bout with Suriyan with Yamanaka doing enough to claim the win, but certainly not looking at his best.
At the start of this year Japan had only ever had one IBF champion, Satoshi Shingaki. This year that number climbed to threee as Katsunari Takayama finally won the IBF Minimumweight title and Daiki Kameda (29-3, 18) claimed the Super Flyweight title.
On December 3rd both Takayama, who defends against Vergilio Silvano, and Daiki will put their titles on the line as Japanese boxing tries to prove that allowing IBF champions isn't a bad thing for the sport.
As mentioned Takayama will be fighting Silvano in the first defense of his title. For Daiki however things are much rickier as he attempts to unify his belt with the WBA title currently held by Venezuelan Liborio Solis (15-3-1, 7). For Solis this will be his second trip to Japan this year following his victory over Kohei Kono to unify the WBA interim and WBA regular titles.
For those of you who remember Solis's fight with Kono it was a really fun fight. Both men had their moments in a give and take contest that saw Solis dropped early on before dropping Kono in the eighth and eeking out the decision late. For many that bout was so good and so close that they were calling for a rematch between the two men, instead however Solis has been inactive for 7 months.
Against Kono we saw a bit of everything from Solis. We saw him boxing and moving, we saw him going to war and brawling and we saw him showing his toughness. It was genuinely great.
Several months after Solis' victory against Kono, Daiki won the IBF title as he out pointed Mexican Rodrigo Guerrero in a contest that was fought in a much different manner. Against Guerrero we saw Daiki sticking, for the most part, to boxing and moving, being negative and trying to avoid too many moments of back and forth action. It was a forgettable contest for the most part, though there was a highlight reel tenth round as both men unloaded.
From having seen both of those fights again recently we are really hoping that this won't fall into a clash of styles. If both men attempt to box for 12 rounds then Daiki's speed could well be the difference in what could potentially be one of the worst fights of the year.
What is, thankfully, more likely is that the bout will have moments of ups and downs. Solis, despite being the shorter man, is expected to have a notable reach advantage and if he can use that to his effect he could prevent Daiki from being overly negative. If he can use that and force Daiki the bring some action to him we could have a number of rounds like the tenth of the Daiki/Guerrero bout.
We'll admit we're hoping that Solis has the ability to bring the best from Daiki. If he can then we may, again, see Solis involved in a great contest in Japan and a contest that is fitting the "unification" tag that this bout has. If we end up with a forgetable one however then we expect the Japanese will further slate the way the Japanese Boxing Commission has accepted the IBF.
It'd be a shame for the fans to refuse the IBF as organisation opens up new doors to major fighters. For example a possible Light Flyweight clash involving Johnriel Casimero and Kazuto Ioka, Ryo Miyazaki or Naoya Inoue, or a fight involving a Hisashi Amagasa and Evgeny Gradovich at Featherweight.
Oddly the winner here, despite being a unified champion, would likely only be viewed as the third best fighter at 115lbs behind both Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Omar Andres Narvaez, the WBC and WBO champions respectively. Interestingly both Narvaez and Srisaket have beaten Japanese fighters in recent bouts with Narvaez stopping Hiroyuki Hisataka and Srisaket stopping Hirofumi Mukai.
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.