That veteran is Japanese star Katsunari Takayama (29-7-0-1, 11), the IBF Minimumweight champion, and one of the most “must watch” fighters on the planet. He was involved in a bout that many had down as the 2014 FOTY, his 12 round war with Francisco Rodriguez Jr, and had previously been in wars with the likes of Mario Rodriguez, Nkosinath Joyi, Yutaka Niida and Eagle Den Junlaphan, among others. In the other corner will be first time world title challenger Ryuji Hara (19-1, 11), a former amateur stand out who now looks to prove himself on the world stage. Although not a star Hara is a former Japanese and OPBF champion who has impressed with his speed and skills in the past.
Of the two men it's Takayama who is, by far, the most well known. His list of opponents reads like a who's who of the lower weights and includes the likes of Roman Gonzalez and Isaac Bustos as well as those named above. Not only has he faced a who's who but he has made his name from his exciting style, his wars with the likes of Rodriguez and his willingness to travel, which has seen him fight in South Africa, the Philippines, Mexico. He is also known for being one of the few “Grandslam” champions, holding every title in his career.
In the ring Takayama has made a name as being a warrior. A true warrior. He's shown an insane work rate, an amazing toughness and a fantastic will to win. We've seen him be out boxed, we've seen him be out fought but we've never see Takayama give up in a fight or slow down, instead it seems the better the opponent the more he steps it up.
Despite his style and energy Takayama does lack power, an issue that has seen him add a lot of miles to the clock. Despite only being 32 he has 302 rounds to his name, an average of more than 8 rounds a fight. Those miles on the clock did, unfortunately show themselves last time out when he was very fortunate to over-come Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr. For the most part that bout was one-sided with Takayama bringing his pressure and work-rate though a cut, inflicted by a punch, should have been a TKO loss. Instead however it resulted in a very controversial technical decision.
Although Takayama is viewed as being a fighter on the slide he is still one of the best in the division and a really proven world level performer.
As for Hara he was a man tipped for success when he first turned professional and for 18 fights success came easily for him. He won the Rookie of the Year before claiming a Japanese title and then an OPBF title whilst running to 18-0. On his way up he beat the likes of Kenichi Horikawa, Takashi Kunishige and Donny Mabao. Unfortunately, last October, he suffered his first defeat, being stopped in 10 rounds of a brilliant bout with the sensational Kosei Tanaka.
Since the loss to Tanaka we've only see Hara fight once, scoring a 2nd round KO win over Thailand's Petchnamchai Sor Sakulwong.
At his best Hara is a fantastically speedy fighter. He's not the most powerful or the strongest but he's very highly skilled and amazingly quick with his hands and his feet. In fact he could well be regarded as one of the sports fastest fighters right now. In terms of ability he's certainly more technically capable than Takayama but much less proven and his loss to Tanaka has perhaps shown that he's just below world class.
Coming in to this bout the key question is “what does Takayama have left?” If Takayama is 90% of the fighter he once was we suspect he'll stop Hara late, with the challenger tiring out in the later rounds. If Takayama however has slipped slightly further than this becomes a bout that really is too hard to call.
The one thing we're sure is that the styles of the two men should gel brilliantly and we should see both men giving their all in a thriller. The aggressive style of Takayama should force the action with Hara looking to create space, box and counter the aggressive champion. As a result we're expecting a potential FOTY.
(Image courtesy of http://www.l-kid.com)