Earlier this year Kyotaro Fujimoto vacated the Japanese Heavyweight title, to pursue bigger and better fighters, including the upcoming bout with Daniel Dubois. As a result of Kyotaro's decision we now have no Japanese Heavyweight champion, though that will change on December 15th when Kotatsu Takehara (15-12-3, 8) and Ryu Ueda (8-1-1, 5) battle for the vacant title, in what will be a second bout between the two men.
The 41 year old Takehara twice came up short against Fujimoto in shots at the Japanese title, and also lost in 2014 to Nobuhiro Ishida in what was essentially an eliminator for the title. Since then he has gone 5-1 (4) and made the most of a JBC rule change regarding the age of a fighter. Although no world beater he is a rare Japanese Heavyweight who is a natural Heavyweight, and hasn't been under the Heavyweight limit since 2005, when he managed to fighter as a Cruiserweight. He's also, notably, had international experience with fights in Australia, USA and China, and has shared the ring with genuinely notable names. Among those to have fought Takehara are Alex Leapai, Magomed Abdusalamov, Johann Duhaupas and Lucas Browne.
Although Takehara has never been the quickest, the strongest or the most powerful he is certainly slower and clumsier than he once was and at 41 years old he is unable to fight at a high pace. His 2018 bout with China's Zhiyu Wu was certainly not a Heavyweight classic, with both looking exhausted, out of shape and very limited. What he is however is an experienced fighter, he picks his shots well and seems to realise his limitations. Rather than setting a high pace he'll fight conservatively, waiting for his moments to strike. It's a tactic that suits him, but one that can cost him against busier or younger fighters.
The 27 year old Ueda is more of a Light Heavyweight, come Cruiserweight, come Heavyweight than a natural Heavyweight. He began his career weighing 180lbs back in 2014 and has blown up the high 220's. Despite the weight increase he has actually got the height to be a natural Heavyweight, standing at around 6'4". Notably Ueda's one professional loss came in to Takehara back in 2016, but since then he has gone 3-0-1 (3) with wins against a pair of Korean fighters and once against domestic foe Yamato Fujinaka back in April this year.
Footage of Ueda has, at times, been hard to find though what is available shows a guy who looks like an athlete. He's in shape, he looks like he could have done other things and he looks really exciting. He's a southpaw boxer who looks the part. That until he starts actually fighting and we realise he's someone who is uncoordinated, clumsy and not the athlete he looks to be. He over balances, he swings around the house, fights with a low guard, fights in straight lines and over reaches. For someone who visually looks the part before he throws a punch, he really is worryingly bad.
Although Ueda is younger, taller, fresher we see him being stopped again here, with Takehara picking the better shots and breaking down the youngster, to claim the Japanese title and the biggest win of his career.
Prediction - TKO7 Takehara
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)
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