Over the past few weeks the Flyweight division has really been THE division to follow. Just a month ago we saw Akira Yaegashi sadly lose his WBC title to the sensational Roman Gonzalez, a day later we got to see Juan Francisco Estrada retain his unified crown with a sensational performance against Giovani Segura. Less than a week after those two bouts we saw IBF champion Amnat Ruenroeng narrowly retain his belt against the heavy handed McWilliams Arroyo.
Now we get to see Japanese domestic champion Suguru Muranaka (20-2-1, 6) defend his belt for the second time as he himself looks to make a mark on the world scene and work his way towards bigger and better fighters. Hoping to end Muranaka's reign will be 2011 Rookie of the Year Yusuke Sakashita (12-4-2, 7), a man looking to take a major step up and prove himself as yet another Flyweight to keep an eye on.
Of the two fighters it's certainly Sakashita with the most to gain and least to lose. After all going in to this fight he is ranked relatively low down the JBC rankings, he's risking nothing and most notably he has no one expecting him to win. In many ways this is a no-lose situation for the challenger who at just 23 has a lot of time to bounce back if he loses, and if he wins he announces himself as a seriously promising young man in boxing's most stacked division.
Sadly for Sakashita whilst there is little to lose there is also little chance of him upsetting the champion. So far in his career his crowning achievement is winning the Rookie of the Year back in 2011 with wins over the likes of Shigeki Oka and Isao Aoyama, neither of whom have really made a mark on the sport. since their losses to Sakashita. Against his more notable opponents he has lost with defeats coming to Kenichi Horikawa and Shohei Kikuzato among others.
Although far from a top tier fighter Sakashita will come into this bout with confidence, after all he has won his last 4 bouts. Those 4 wins have seen him gain some career momentum but have come at a moderately low level, especially compared to fighters like Muranaka.
Whilst Sakashita has little to lose Muranaka is risking a lot. Firstly, and most obviously, he has his title up for grabs though he will also be risking his hard earned world rankings. Although unknown outside of Japan Muranaka is ranked by all 4 of the major organisations and a route to a world title fight is clearly open for him when he feels ready. Considering what is on the line it's little wonder he is facing a weak foe here.
Going in to this bout Muranaka will be looking for his second defense of a title he won last year when he defeated Takuya Kogawa by split decision. His first defense came earlier this year, when he stopped Masayuki Kuroda, and it's fair to say that those two title bouts have proven that Muranaka is, at very worst, fringe world class. It's also worth noting that he is unbeaten in almost 8 years, and his two losses have both been split decisions.
Although not a puncher Muranaka has enough traits to make up for his lack of dynamite. He is as determined as they come, he throws a lot, he's tough, resilient, elusive when he needs to be and happy to take one to land one. It may not always be pretty to watch him but he is not an easy opponent for anyone bar the truly elite, in fact in many ways he is a stylistic nightmare for many fighters out there due to his sheer grittiness and determination as well as his fantastic work rate.
On what we've seen of both men this is a total mismatch. Sakashita is ranked outside of the top 10 by the JBC for the simple fact that he's nothing special. He's not a terrible fighter but he's also not a particularly good one and although he has a record that suggests he's a power puncher he is fortunate not to have faced many decent fighters. In this fight Sakashita will find out about "levels" and will realise, relatively quickly, that he's not on Muranaka's level. The champion may not have power but he has the skills and work rate to make lesser fighters feel the pace and that's what we imagine will happen here with Sakashita struggling through the middle rounds and probably suffering a stoppage towards the end of the bout after a gallant effort against a man in a different league to himself.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
When we talk about Minimumweight fighters we do typically expect to see fast fighters, right now however there are very few who rival the speed of Go Odaira (10-3-3, 1) the Japanese champion at 105lbs. Although a light puncher he really is like Speedy Gonzales in the ring throwing lightning quick punches, moving in and out of range and, when he's in rhythm, he strikes before an opponent gets a chance to return fire. It's a thing of beauty watching him in action at full pace even if you know a knockout isn't likely to come.
On September 24th Odaira will be making the second defence of his title as he defends his belt against the little known Hiroya Yamamoto (8-1, 3). The bout is almost certain to go the distance, especially when you consider that between them they have 4 KO wins from 25 combined fights with just a sole stoppage loss, though who will win, and how?
Odaira, as mentioned, is fast. He has been compared to his promoter Susumu Hanagata, a former WBA Flyweight champion and one of just 2 men to beat the great Masao Oba, and in many ways his style is based around that of Hanagata who also lacked power but had serious speed. Amongst his notable wins are decisions over former world title challenger Takashi Kunishige and Japanese challenger Yuma Iwahashi, neither was a dominant win though he was the deserving winner in both bouts. Saying that however his most impressive performance was his title winning effort against Masashi Tada in January this year, that was dominant.
Due to his lack of power Odaira isn't going to force an opponent to back off though he has got solid movement and energy. He will move and punch, make an opponent miss then punch again. Though he will never prevent a fighter from going to him.
In Yamamoto we have a man stepping up to title level for the first time, though at 22 we would expect him to be back at this level in a few years time. Unfortunately for Yamamoto his record is somewhat revealing. He won the 2012 All-Japan Rookie of the Year though since then he has done little of note and in all honesty the 2012 Rookie of the Year in the Minimumweight division was poor. In all he has gone 2-1 (1) since winning the Rookie of the Year with a stoppage loss to Hayato Yamaguchi, himself a former Japanese title challenger, and a narrow win over Kazuhiro Nakamura.
Ranked #7 by the JBC Yamamoto is going to be a clear under-dog and he's well behind a number of domestic rivals, in fact there is a massive difference between Yamamoto and #1 challenger Kosei Tanaka, who we believe will be heading straight to the OPBF title as opposed to facing the winner of this bout. The #7 ranking makes it sound like Yamamoto has a chance but we don't see it
With Odaira proven ability, notable wins and speedy trickery it's hard to see what Yamamoto brings to the table to beat Odaira. The challenger does have, on paper, a power edge though we don't see that mattering here, instead we can only see a clear and dominant win for Odaira via a wide decision as he makes the most of his speed, skills, and experience to take a clear win.
(Image courtesy of http://www.hanagata-gym.com)
The Japanese Heavyweight scene has certainly been lacking in action through out history though in recent years things have heated up a bit with the arrival to boxing of Kyotaro Fujimoto (9-1, 5) a former K1 fighter who turned to boxing a few years back and brought immediate attention to the Heavyweight division. That attention has seen the reinvention of the Japanese Heavyweight title a title that sat vacant for more than 50 years until Fujimoto won it last year.
It seems that with Fujimoto now the champion every fighter in Japan, who feels like they can make Heavyweights, ants a piece of the pie, or more precisely the Heavyweight title. The queue of the contenders might not be huge but it has seen Nobuhiro Ishida for one jump up through the weight to try and claim the title.
Another man after the belt is 36 year old Kotatsu Takehara (10-9-3, 4), who has already had one shot at the title and managed to give Fujimoto hell despite losing a narrow decision last November. He gets another shot on September 10th at a show dubbed "Kamikaze 4".
In the first meeting between the two men, which can be seen here, Fujimoto started brilliantly and used his speed to great effect in the early running. By the mid rounds however he was slowing notably and as the bout went on Fujimoto became more tired with his shots looking like slaps and his his general work becoming laboured. In those rounds Takehara really made an exhausted Fujimoto work not to win them but to actually survive.
At the end of the first bout the judges all felt Fujimoto had won with scores of 97-93, 97-94 and 96-94 though neither man looked much like a winner. Fujimoto looked too tired to celebrate whilst Takehara looked disappointed in himself, as if to suggest he felt he could have won.
This time around we're expecting more from both men. Their advantage will still be what they were. Fujimoto will still be the faster man and the younger man, he'll still be able to rattle off combinations but he'll still struggle to hurt Takehara who is tougher than his record indicates. Likewise Takehara will struggle to catch Fujimoto early on but will come on strong in the middle rounds when Fujimoto's footspeed begins to slow. It really is a case of who can adjust most from their first bout.
For the defending champion he needs to have been working on his stamina. If he tires in the middle then he may not be so lucky this time around. He needs to make sure that his footspeed doesn't slow and he really should fire off singles as opposed to combos. If he fights conservatively rather than trying to stop Takehara we do feel he will take another decision victory, this time without the worries that he had last time around.
As for Takehara he is the naturally stronger fighter and for him to win he'll need to use not juts his strength but also his weight and experience. From the opening round he needs grab, hold and wrestle with Fujimoto. He needs to burn up Fujimoto's gas tank quicker than last time and if he can lean his weight on the younger man he could easily tire him out and leave him open for shots later on.
For us the bout is a tough one to call though one we think Fujimoto should win there is no certainty. He's certainly not a great champion and he is beatable. Whether it's Takehara that beats him here or not is the question, though we really don't imagine Fujimoto holding the title for long even if he over-comes Takehara.
An interesting side note to this bout is that the winner is likely to face Nobuhiro Ishida on December 31st. That bout would be the biggest in Japanese Heavyweight history.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.