Boxing can be a funny sport at times. Earlier this year Japanese Light Welterweight champion Hiroki Okada was preparing for the third defense of his national title, those preparations however ended early when he damaged his hand on the shaven skull of sparring partner, and stablemate, Yoshitaka Kato.
The injury to Okada has proven to be a relatively serious one and rather than await his return to fitness the JBC have allowed the man he was preparing to fight Masayoshi Kotake (9-9-2, 5) to fight for the interim title. Kotake however will not be handed the interim title, or matched easily for it, instead he will be facing the once beaten Masanobu Nakazawa (17-1-1, 7) for the belt.
On paper Kotake looks like a poor contender. He has won just 45% of all his bouts and is certainly not a star in the making. It is notable however that he has mixed with some very good competition such as Okada, Shinya Iwabuchi, Akihiro Kondo and Jimrex Jaca. Sadly whilst his competition has been good it doesn't defend his form, which includes just 1 win in his last 5 bouts.
Although clearly not the best fighter Kotake does have some things going his way. He's tough, and has never been stopped, he has a real grittiness to his fighting and he does hit harder than his record suggests. On paper he has a 25% KO rate but all of his wins since 2011 have come by stoppage, those wins have coincided with him being scheduled for more than 6 rounds.
Another thing to note about Kotake is that he's a 28 year old Southpaw. So he's younger than his 33 year old foe, and has that tricky advantage of being a southpaw.
With an impressive looking record fans will typically favour Nakazawa. He's not been beaten since his 5th professional bout and is actually on an impressive 14-0 run dating back more than 4 years. Unfortunately however his competition has been weak to say the least with his best wins coming against the likes of Tetsuya Hasunuma, who holds a win over Kotake, and Kazuya Soma.
The one name fans will recognise form Nakazawa's record is Shuhei Tsuchiya, a man who actually stopped Nakazawa in the 2nd round of their meeting back in November 2010. It was a Rookie of the Year bout but one that does stand out as being Nakazawa's only notable contest so far. Whilst it may be unfair to use that bout to point out flaws it needs to be said the he didn't seem happy at his corner throwing in the towel after he easily beat the 10 count.
Footage of both is fairly limited but, on the whole, Nakazawa look a better boxer. The test however is going to be whether or not he can fight for 10 rounds against a tough southpaw with under-rated power. In many ways Nakazawa, although the better man on paper, is stepping up significantly and given his age he may know that this really is a must win bout. For Kotake a loss will likely be the end of his title hopes, though we suspect he'll come into the ring full of confidence and may well look to apply the pressure from the off.
We favour Nakazawa but wouldn't back him too strongly given that this really is his first test since the Tsuchiya bout almost 5 years ago.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
There is something about heavy handed fighters that we just love. Maybe it's the way they can end a bout with a single punch, maybe it's their aggression or maybe the the anticipation of the big blow, we're not 100% sure but we're always attracted to fighters with those dynamite hands.
It's that sort of power that has seen the likes of Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, Adonis Stevenson and Takashi Uchiyama becoming must watch fighters. These are all men who have enough power to freeze opponents in fear and to leave opponents out cold when they connect clean.
The next Japanese fighter who will be hoping to become a "must watch" is Hiroki Okada (7-0, 7), pictured, who has a perfect record, a lot of expectation, an ever growing fan base and a big reputation as a man who refuses to let opponents hear the final bell.
Okada gets the chance to record win #8 on March 4th as he battles fellow Japanese fighter Masayoshi Kotake (9-7-1, 5) in a hugely interesting bout for the vacant Japanese Light Welterweight title. What makes the bout even more interesting is the fact Kotake has never been stopped in his 17 professional contests.
Unlike the men mentioned earlier in this preview Okada isn't given a huge amount of global hype, he's too young in his career for that and he knows it. The key for him is to keep scoring victories and keep slowly getting fans interested. If he keeps winning and keeps stopping opponents then naturally fans will start to talk about him. The best thing about Okada however isn't his power, despite what his record says, but is actually his style of fighting. He may have a perfect 7-0 (7) but his KO's haven't come from concussive single shots but from boxing and landing proper boxing shots. He has lovely hand speed, intelligent movement and seems capable of fighting just as well on the outside as the inside.
The one problem that people do spot with Okada is his defense. He does seem to get hit more than he should but his belief in his own chin and his own power perhaps lets him use it to his advantage. He's happy to take one when he has to, to land one of his own sharp shots. For some this is a flaw, for others a tactic, especially if he's fighting guys who actually can't hurt him.
With a guy who stops people it can be easy to question their gas tank. Okada answered those questions last time when he stopped tough Filipino Jaypee Ignacio in 8 rounds and had the energy left in his legs to have a dance afterwards. We dare say his legs and tank are good enough for 10 rounds if need and probably 12 at this moment in time. When you consider that he's only 24 he will have extra energy reserves just from youthful exuberance.
Whilst Okada seems to be a man on a fast rise it's fair to say that Kotake could well be the sort of fighter who could ruin Okada's coronation.
When you look at Kotake's record you don't see a record of a championship level fighter. He has only just won more than 50% of his bouts. Though records only tell us part of a story and Kotake has never been dominated by anyone. All 7 of his losses have come by decision and 6 of them were close to say the least with Kotake very unfortunate to have lost several of them. In many fights it was merely a case of Kotake losing a bout by a single round, that is genuinely how close he has been from having a very good looking record.
As well as having a deceptive record Otake is also a southpaw, and a tricky one at that. He knows how to use his right hand to unsettle fighters coming towards him and he also understands that a right handed fighter is looking for their straight right against him. He has speed, experience, skills and solid power of his own which is something that some may be over-looking going in to this fight.
As with Okada one of the big issues with Kotake is his defense. At times he can be very sloppy fighting with his hands down, moving back in straight lines and over-reaching for punches. These mistakes aren't regular ones but they are ones that he makes and can be capitalised on by a good fighter.
Another thing to note about Kotake, and possibly the most telling, is that he started his career back at Super Flyweight. Whilst he has been a professional for just over 7 years it's questionable as to whether he's really a natural Light Welterweight. If he's not then Okada's shots will hurt when they land.
For us this bout is a lot more competitive than it looks. Saying that however we do need to go with the obvious and state that we believe Okada will win. As mentioned above Kotake is tough and hasn't been stopped and we'd not be shocked if he took Okada the schedule though we believe that Okada's busyness will be the difference maker. He's much more aggressively minded than Kotake and the power advantage will show on the shots he lands. Kotake may fade late and suffer a stoppage but it won't be a surprise to see Okada taking the decision and the Japanese Light Welterweight title.
For those wondering, this bout with be the chief support contest on Dangan 94 and will be followed by Tadashi Yuba's Japanese Light Middleweight title defence against Takayuki Hosokawa.
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.