Boxing history is full off strange stories, strange careers and odd tales from it's long and brilliant history. The story of how we've managed to get to a Japanese Bantamweight title bout between Yuta Saito (12-9-3, 9) and Yusuke Suzuki (10-3, 7) in 2019 is one of those stories that has had twists, turns, injuries, illness and upsets to lead us to where we are, and to set up a potential under-the-radar war for July 27th.
We need to rewind almost 2 years to get to the start of this story. Backin August 2017 Saito was stopped in a Japanese title fight by Ryo Akaho. Akaho's next defense was planned for early 2018 against Yusuke Suzuki, the then mandatory challenger. Sadly Akaho would fail to face Suzuki due to issues making weight.Suzuki would then suffer an injury in the build up to a fight against Suguru Muranaka, with Muranaka then failing to make weight for a bout with Saito for the vacant belt.
From Saito's loss to Akaho in August 2017 the title wasn't fought for again until September 2018, when Saito beat up Eita Kikuchi to claim the belt, ending a supposed curse on the belt. That curse however still had one more twist with Sato suffering an illness that delayed his first defense until this past April, when he would stop Hayato Kimura, to unify the main title with Kimura's interim belt. On the same day as Saito's win over Kimura we saw Suzuki return to the ring, after 18 months out, due to the issues causing bouts with Akaho and Muranaka falling through. Now, 18 months after Suzuki was supposed to fight Akaho he gets his long awaited chance. Saito on the other hand gets the chance to notch his second defense.
With a record of 12-9-3 it's fair to say that Saito is no world beater, though he's better than those numbers suggest and has turned around a 2-3 start to his professional to develop a pretty notable career, that's despite once being 8-7-2. The problem for Saito, though much of his career, was that he could be out boxed. He quickly developed a reputation as a dangerman, thanks to his bludgeoning power and naturally heavy hands, but he was a crude puncher, and people used speed and movement to neutralise him. In recent bouts he has shown a real improvements and stoppage wins over Kikuchi and Kimura. In those wins he has proven himself to be a very good pressure fighter, bringing the action and breaking opponents down. He can still be out boxed, but it will take a very good domestic fighter to over-come his aggression and pressure.
Suzuki began his career in 2012 and their was quite a bit of expectation on his shoulders, so much so that he was put in a B class tournament in 2013, losing to future Japanese Super Bantamweight champion Yusaku Kuga in his third professional bout. He would rebuild from that early set back though suffered back to back losses in 2015 and 2016, to Ryoichi Tamura and Jeffrey Francisco. Since those losses Suzuki has reeled off 4 wins, including a good one against Eita Kikuchi. Sadly those 4 bouts have come over the last 3 years as injuries have really been derailed his rise. No, at the age of 30, it is now or never for Suzuki.
Stylistically Suzuki is an awkward looking southpaw. He's hard hitting, has a bit of a herky-jerky style and always looks a bit awkward, as if he's trying to draw a mistake with feints. When he actually goes on the offensive he looks really hard hitting and exciting, though we suspect his herky jerky style has been responsible for judges occasionally going against him. Had he shown a bit more aggression there's a chance, and a good one at that, that he would won all 3 bouts where he has come up short.
With this bout we're expecting Saito to bring intense pressure, forcing Suzuki into a fight. This should give us a real fire fight, and a potential thriller. Both men can hit hard, both are tough and both come to fight. Techncially Suzuki is the more rounded, though we feel like his inactivity and ring rust will work against him here, he has fought just 3 rounds since November 2017 and that will likely be a big problem in the later rounds.
Prediction - Saito UD10
On April 18th we see the Japanese Bantamweight title being unified, as regular champion Yuta Saito (11-9-3, 8) takes on interim champion Hayato Kimura (28-10, 19) in an interesting contest. The bout isn't the best of the 2019 Champion Carnival bouts, but is an intriguing one and one that could, finally, end the curse of the Japanese Bantamweight title.
The "curse" reared it's head last year, and struck a number of fighters. We saw Ryo Akaho vacate the title due to weight issues, Ryoichi Tamura suffer an injury before a title bout, Suguru Muranaka fail to make weight and Saito suffer an illness after winning the belt. It was Saito's illness which lead to an interim title being created, and has essentially lead to this bout.
Saito's title win, which came in September, was the biggest win of his career by far. The Hanagata Gym fighter won the title by stopping veteran Eita Kikuchi in 2 rounds. It was his first win in over 2 years, though he has been in and around the title mix for much of that time. He had fought to a draw with Tatsuya Takahashi in early 2017 and had also given Ryo Akaho a close bout in a title fight. Whilst the win over Kikcuhi was his best win Saito had shown good ability prior to the win, and had been incredibly close in a number of his losses. With some luck he could well have had 6 of his losses swing the other way, and things would look very, very different.
At 31, and now reportedly suffering from ulcerative colitis, we do wonder what Saito has left in him. He was never the quickest, or sharpest of fighters. He is heavy handed, tough, happy to bring pressure and force a fight, at a pretty exciting pace, be he's not quick and can certainly be out manoeuvered, out jabbed and outsped.
Kimura is a 29 year old who already has close to 40 bouts, an has been a professional for close to 14 years. He fought many of his early bouts outside of Japan, fighting numerous times in Thailand, Korea and the Philippines before really beginning to make a name for himself in Japan, from 2013 onwards. Whilst his success in Japan has been mixed he has fought stiff competition, losing to the likes of Michael Dasmarinas, Marlon Tapales, Sho Ishida, Kenta Nakagawa and Rene Dacquel, and has usually been competitive even in his losses.
As a fighter Kimura is a busier fighter than Saito, he's someone who can fight at range, but can also bring a war when he wants. At his best he sets a high work rate, brings pressure and lets his hands go, though can often fight a bit too much too orders, and can be rather tiresome to watch. A bit too reserved. When he shakes the shackles however he's a very good fighter and should be mixing on the regional scene, rather than just the domestic one.
Although Kimura can be in some pretty dull bouts we don't imagine this will be anything short of brilliant. The aggression of Saito will draw out the fighter in Kimura and we're expecting to see the two men meet in center ring, go to war, and give us some exhilarating action. We'd favour Kimura to come out on top, relying on his better speed, experience and youth. Saito is the puncher, but we've seen Kimura over-come punchers before and we expect to see him do the same again here.
The 2018 curse of the Japanese Bantamweight title has really been a massive problem this year. First we saw Ryo Akaho vacate the title after falling ill from weight, cancelling a January fight with Yuhei Suzuki, then we saw Suzuki suffer an injury ahead of a scheduled bout for the vacant and then we saw Suguru Muranaka fail to make weight. In the end we had to wait until September to see a champion being crowned, with Yuta Saito defeating Eita Kikuchi for the vacant title.
Even with a champion being crowned things haven't been plain sailing, with Saito then being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. This has caused a number of issues, including the JBC taking the rare step of organising a JBC "interim" title bout, with Hayato Kimura (27-10, 18) facing off with Seizo Kono (19-10-1, 12) for the JBC Interim Bantamweight title on December 20th.
Sadly the bout doesn't capture the imagination in the way a title bout should, though we expect the contest to be a good one all the same. The two men are both flawed, on paper they are similarly matched, and both are hungry fighters looking to make the most of their chance. A chance that perhaps neither has really earned.
The 29 year old Kimura began his career as a teenager in Thailand, debuting on his 16th birthday. Over the last 5 years however he fought solely in Japan where he has mixed success. To begin his career he was 19-5 (14), fighting in Thailand, Korea, Japan and the Philippines. Since fighting exclusively in Japan Kimura has gone 8-5 (4) That has included losses in two Japanese title fights, losing decisions to Sho Ishida and Kenta Nakagawa, as well as a loss in a OPBF title fight against Rene Dacquel, all at Super Flyweight. He has been matched hard, with other losses coming to Marlon Tapales and Michael Dasmarinas, both at Bantamweight, but his best wins have come against the likes of Toyoto Shiraishi and Kenya Yamashita, and those wins were 2 years apart.
Although Kimura is lacking results, and has scored his most notable wins at Super Flyweight, he is a very capable fighter and he is still developing, both technically and physically. He'd a quick boxer puncher, with a sharp jab and nice offensive work. Sadly for him his foot work and balance questionable and he does lack real thunder in his shots. Although tough he is defensively flawed can be tagged, often relying too much on his reactions.
The 29 year old Kono has been a professional for a little over 11 years and has had an interesting career, but like Kimura it's not all rosy and successful. In fact his career has seen him fighting for the WBC Youth Intercontinental Super Bantamweight and OPBF Bantamweight title, losing by stoppage to Rey Vargas and Mark John Yap respectively. Other losses on his record to notable names include a TKO loss to Taki Minamoto, a decision loss to Yu Kawaguchi and a decision loss to Kazuki Tanaka. Worryingly he is now 18 months from a win, following back to back losses to Yap and Tanaka. Not only is he ona 2 fight losing run but he is 6-7 over his last 13 fights dating back over 6 years! Not the sort of form a fighter should be getting a title shot from, even if some of those losses have been at Super Bantamweight.
Although out of form Kono is a decent fight, with a good work rate, a fun enough style and someone who brings a decent amount of aggression and excitement. He's at his best on the front foot, however his foot work is a touch slow, his punches don't appear to be crisp and snappy, and he can often be seen with his hands down when on the edge of range, sometimes inside it. His lack of real speed or power is a major issue, and although technically pretty solid he is clearly missing a standout out trait.
Given the recent losses for Kono it's hard to see him bringing any momentum into this bout, or much confidence. Kimura however is coming into the bout on the back of a win over Kenya Yamashita and we suspect that that sort of boost will really help Kimura. Kono is the naturally bigger man, but he's not a man who fights with his size usually, and we suspect that the size advantage will actually be neutralised by the speed and movement of Kimura anyway.
Although we don't think these are the best in the division in Japan this should still be a very interesting match up, and leave us going into 2019 with some interesting things going on at 118lbs in Japan. Hopefully next year will be a much better one than this year for the Japanese Bantamweight title, which has really been cursed through the whole year.
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.