In 2018 we're expecting to see a big year for the Bantamweight division, with the rematch between Shinsuke Yamanaka and Luis Nery already agreed and a lot of talk about super fights with Naoya Inoue involved. On the Japanese domestic scene there also appears to be plenty of be excited about, and this coming Saturday we'll see the first domestic title fight of the year, as Bantamweight champion Ryo Akaho (31-2-2, 20) takes on mandatory challenger Yusuke Suzuki (9-3, 6).
Of the two men it's Akaho who is by far the more well known. He is a 2-time world title challenger, a former OPBF champion and is now enjoying a Japanese title reign as he continues his career and seeks one more shot at world honours. He has had a long career, with his debut coming back in February 2005, and fought in his first title fight way back in 2009, when he fought to a draw with Daigo Nakahiro for the Japanese Super Flyweight title.
As a Super Flyweight Akaho was a crude bullying type of fighter. He would claim the OPBF title in 2011, battering Fred Mundraby for the then vacant title. As the OPBF champion Akaho would make 3 defenses, stopping Toyoto Shiraishi and Yohei Tobe, and taking a decision over Yoshihito Ishizaki, before getting his first world title fight. At world level we saw just how crude Akaho was, with Yota Sato really schooling him with some excellent pure boxing and movement. The loss to Sato was a major set back for Akaho but one that sent him to Bantamweight, as he finally gave up the battle to make 115lbs. As a Bantamweight he would get his second shot at the title, but get stopped in round 2 by Pungluang Sor Singyu in 2015. Since then he has fought on the Japanese scene, scoring wins over Shiraishi, for the second time, Hiroaki Teshigawara, Yushi Tanaka and Yuta Saito. The win over Tanaka netted Akaho the domestic title whilst the win over Saito was his first defense.
Aged 31 it's unclear how long Akaho has left, especially given he's an old 31, but he's still an exciting and fun to watch fighter. He's still a crude, tough slugger at heart, and not a fighter with much in terms of technical nuance, but the aggressive nature makes him a fun TV friendly fighter. He has shown some technical aspects recently, but they are few and far between and instead he gets through on experience, toughness, stamina and physicality. Against a decent boxer-mover he wouldn't stand much of a chance, if the boxer can keep it up for the distance.
Whilst lots is known about Akaho much less is available on Suzuki. He's 29 and turned professional in late 2012, following a respectable 78 fight amateur career, in which he went 54-24 (25). His amateur pedigree saw some excitement about his career and he began fighting in 6 rounders from his professional debut. Sadly for him he was thrown in deep early on, and would suffer a loss in his second bout to Yusaku Kuga, who has subsequently won the Japanese Super Bantamweight title. A short winning streak was then ended in 2015 with a close loss to Ryoichi Tamura and then another to Jeffrey Francisco in the Philippines. Those losses led to Suzuki to have a 6-3 (4) record.
Thankfully for Suzuki he now appears to have found his way in the professional ranks and has scored wins over Ken Kodama, Keita Nakano and Eita Kikuchi to secure this title fight against Akaho, and show that he is progressing as a fighter.
Although footage of Suzuki is rather hard to find there is some stuff out there of the hard hitting southpaw. He likes to come forward and apply the pressure, he uses a very fast range finder jab, which isn't accurate but it is busy, and a very vicious looking straight left hand. Watching what we can of him shows a fighter who knows he has vicious power in his left hand, but he's not someone who looks like he truly knows how to use that power. Physically he's a strong fighter at 118lbs and looks like he takes a very solid shot. He also has the killer mentality, if he gets his man hurt he will look to finish them off.
Given the limitations of both fighters we're not expecting much of a boxing contest. Instead we're expecting a fight, and this could be a very fun fight between two men who can bang, and two men who are tough. We suspect that Akaho's experience will be the key, byut Suzuki hasn't got the wear and tear, is the naturally bigger man and is a very dangerous southpaw. We favour Akaho, but it's a real 60/40 type of fight.
This coming Saturday we'll see Japanese Bantamweight champion Ryo Akaho (30-2-2, 19) defending his title against under-rated challenger Yuta Saito (10-7-3, 7). On paper the bout is a horrible mismatch, with the champion being a 2-time world title challenger, a former Oriental title holder and a current national champion whilst the challenger has only won 50% of his bouts, but the challenger will know this is likely to be his only shot at a title.
Akaho is relatively well known by fight fans across Asia, and may well be on the radar of some Western fans. His first shot at a title came way back in 2009, fighting to a draw with Daigo Nakahiro for the Japanese Super Flyweight title, before capturing an OPBF title 18 months later, stopping Fred Mundraby in 5 rounds. As the OPBF champion Akaho ran up 3 defenses before earning a shot at the then WBC champion Yota Sato, who took a clear win over the challenge who subsequently moved up in weight.
Less than 3 years after moving up Akaho earned his second world title fight, though was stopped in 2 rounds by Thai Pungluang Sor Singyu in Thailand. Since that loss he has gone 4-0 (1), with the highlights being a very fun bout with Hiroaki Teshigawara last October and a win over Yushi Tanaka this past March for the Japanese Bantamweight title.
In the ring Akaho is a rough and tumble fighter. He's heavy handed, but not a KO artist, a bit wild and a bit loopy, but a tough warrior who's only stoppage loss came from a brutal barrage by Pungluang. As with many crude fighters he's not very quick, and he can be countered and caught, but getting into a fire fight with him is rarely a smart idea, and it makes a lot more sense to outbox him, rather than try to out fight him.
With a 10-7-3 record Saito looks like a really low level challenger. It should however be noted that he is the #1 ranked Japanese contender and he could easily have had a very different looking record. Of his 7 defeats they have all been close, with only a round or two separating him and his opponent. He has never been stopped and seems to be a fighter who is easy to over-look, something Tatsuya Takahashi perhaps did back in January when the two fought to a majority decision draw.
Although not a naturally gifted fighter Saito is, like the champion, a rough and tumble fighter with an aggressive mindset, heavy hands and the willingness to have a fight. That has seem him go to war with decent domestic talents like Takayuki Okumoto, Yuta Nakagawa, Yushi Tanaka and the aforementioned Takahashi. Although he's yet to beat one of those men, they have all known that they had a real tough time with Saito.
Aged 29 perhaps the best is yet to come from the challenger though the reality is that this is a huge step up in class, and one we don't think he's ready for. We're expecting a lot of action, with the styles gelling well, but Akaho will have a bit too much of everything for the challenger, en route to either a very late stoppage or a wide decision win
The Japanese scene at Bantamweight has been one that has combined excitement and promising fighters along with veteran and experience over the last few years. We've seen Ryosuke Iwasa, Kohei Oba, Kentaro Masuda and Shohei Omori hold the title over the last 5 years and we've seen challengers like Yu Kawaguchi, Konosuke Tomiyama, Hirofumi Mukai and Satoshi Niwa all come up short in challenged.
The 4 champions mentioned above have all set their sites on bigger and better things. Oba and Omori have fallen short in eliminators, Iwasa lost in a world title fight whilst Masuda recently stated his intent to chase a world title.
One fighter who has tried to win world titles but now finds himself back the domestic scene is veteran Ryo Akaho (29-2-2, 19), who looks to win the vacant Japanese Bantamweight title as he takes on Yushi Tanaka (19-1-3, 13), himself challenging for this title for the second time. For both men this will be seen as a must win, Akaho needing a win to keep alive his dreams of getting another world title fight and Tanaka looking to prove that he deserves to be title level fighter.
Of the two men it's Akaho who is more well known. The Yokohama Hikari fighter debuted back in 2005 and moved through the ranks relatively slowly before getting a shot at the Japanese Super Flyweight title in late 2009. In that title shot he fought to a draw with Daigo Nakahiro but remained in the title mix and won the OPBF Super Flyweight title 17 months later. As the OPBF champion Akaho would defend the title 3 times, scoring notable wins over Toyoto Shiraishi and Yohei Tobe, before getting his first world title bout.
In Akaho's first world title shot he came up short against Yota Sato, the then WBC Super Flyweight champion. That was to be Akaho's final bout at 115lbs before he moved up to Bantamweight and slowly moved towards a second world title bout, which came in August 2015 when he took on Pungluang Sor Singyu for the vacant WBO Bantamweight title. Sadly for Akaho he was bullied in round 2 by Pungluang who knocked him out in controversial fashion. Since that loss Akaho hasn't looked like a world class fighter, struggling past Shiraishi in a rematch and only narrowly over-coming Hiroaki Teshigawara last year, along with scoring a blow out of a terrible Thai foe.
In the ring Akaho is a strong and tough fighter, but one who is relatively basic, a little crude and raw and lacks in terms of speed and isn't the puncher his record may suggest. He can be out boxed, he can be out slugged and he can be out fought, but it takes a good fighter to do any of those things and he has the rugged toughness to make anyone below world level work for a win.
As mentioned this will be Tanaka's second shot at a Japanese title, and his chance to help add to the growing reputation of the Hatanaka gym which already features world champion Kosei Tanaka and Japanese Featherweight champion Shota Hayashi. His first shot at the title saw him being dominated, and stopped, by Kentaro Masuda a year ago. That was really Tanaka's only bout against a genuinely notable fighter in their prime and it showed that he was a long way from being Japanese title worthy. It is however worth nothing that Tanaka has held the WBC Youth Bantamweight title, winning that in July 2013 and making 3 defenses of the title.
Whilst Tanaka hasn't fought many good fights in their prime he has scored wins over Filipino journeyman Rey Laspinas, a good win, and a beyond shot Wandee Singwancha, who was well beyond his best and fighting significantly above his best fighting weight. Sadly much of his competition to date has been dire and lead to his record really not reflecting his skills. For example Tanaka isn't a big puncher, despite almost a 60% stoppage rate, and although he comes into this bout on a 3-0 (3) run following the loss to Masuda he's really not faced anyone to give him another gut check.
Stylistically there is little about Tanaka to be impressed by. He lacks the sensational skills and speed of Kosei Tanaka and the tenacity of Shota Hayashi. He's not terrible as such, but there is little about him that is actually impressive. He's just a very basic fighter who shouldn't really be getting a second shot so soon after being dominated in his previous shot. And with that in mind it'll be no surprise to hear that we're predicting a loss for Tanaka here, likely by stoppage in the middle rounds.
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.