Last August we saw Koki Eto beat Kompayak Porpramook in a Fight of the Year candidate, just months later Eto lost his title, in his first defense, to Thailand's Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep (30-2, 20). Yodmongkol, pictured, may not have had a big name but he did have a big performance and genuinely impressed us all.
Yodmongkol returns to the ring on March 4th for his first bout since becoming the "interim" champion.
In the opposite corner to Yodmongkol is Japan's Takuya Kogawa (22-3 13). Kogawa, fighting in is second world title fight, will be hoping for a better result than when he was last in Thailand, losing a close but clear decision to Thai great Pongsaklek Wonjongkam.
When Yodmongkol fought Eto we thought Yodmongkol was a sizeable under-dog. We thought he was unprepared for an offensive warrior like Eto though it turned out that Yodmongkol was just as much of a warrior as Eto and eventually broke down the Japanese fighter. The worrying thing about Yodmongkol though is that at just 23 he's yet to reach his physical prime and he is still improving fight after fight. Over the next few year we can only imagine him getting better and him getting stronger, a terrifying combination.
As well as the fact that Yodmongkol is improving in terms of skills he is also improving in terms of confidence. He is currently on a 27 fight unbeaten streak dating back almost 4 years. Success breeds success and it also breeds confidence, fair to say that Yodmongkol is becoming more confident and has more belief in his skills than he did when he was just a teenager.
For Kogawa this is a tough, tough assignment.
We all know that Japanese fighters have fared terrible on Thai soil. Eto's victory over Porpramook is thought to be the first "world" title fight victory by a Japanese fighter on Thai soil and we all saw what happened to him when he faced Yodmongkol.
What will make things more difficult for Kogawa than other fighters who have gone over to Thailand from Japan is the fact Kogawa's confidence will be low. He was defeated last time out when fought Suguru Muranaka, losing the Japanese Flyweight title in the process, and having lost in his only prior fight on the road it's hard to imagine he will cope well with the always treacherous Thai conditions.
When a fighter goes over to Thailand, no matter where they are from, they are subjected to a very unusual situation. Firstly the fights are in the middle of the day, the temperatures are hot, the air is often sticky and worst of all the fights are often outdoors in temporary venues. What this results in is a very draining venue that sees Thai's getting an advantage based on the fact they are more accustomed to fighting in the conditions. For visitors however it must be unbearable.
In terms of the styles of the two fighters we have a fast footed and fleet fisted challenger who likes to move in and out throwing combinations against a come forward pressure fighter. This should see some great exchanges, some highlight style back and forth action though at the end of the day Kogawa's style could be his downfall.
Kogawa's style is tiring and in the Thai conditions it's doubly tiring. He works hard with his feet, he works hard with his flurries and he works hard to get off his shots. What doesn't help him is his lack of power which can often mean he needs to work harder to make a fighter respect him. Although some may suggest that Kogawa is a more solid puncher that we're suggesting, considering he has stopped 3 of his last 4 opponents, he did score 2 of those stoppages against very limited opposition and has actually only stopped 3 of his last 8 opponents.
With Yodmongkol what you get is a pretty typical "Thai style". He hads his hands up, he comes forward and he looks to apply constant pressure. When in range he will unload shots and try to slow his opponents down with both the pressure and body shots. As well as the pressure and body shots Yodmongkol also has very good timing with his head shots and throws some very good counters that seem to look wild but land at an alarming accurate rate.
If Kogawa wants to try and jump in and out he may have some success, at least early on. He will however need to have an insane gas tank to keep it up for 12 rounds and he'll also have to mix it up to prevent Yodmongkol from timing him. Unfortunately for the Japanese fighter this gives him several problems. He needs to work hard but he can't burn out, he needs to attack but he can't get predictable. It's hard to see him managing to solve both of those problems against an aggressively minded fighter like Yodmongkol.
What we're expecting is that Kogawa starts fast and gets in to his rhythm early on. Unfortunately for him the conditions and the pressure of Yodmongkol takes it's toll by round 4 or 5 and by the championship rounds Kogawa's early lead has been over-turned. Whilst we do expect Kogawa to see out the 12 rounds we don't imagine him looking too great come the final bell as Yodmongkol makes the first successive defense of his title and takes his next step towards become a notable name on the world stage.