This coming Friday Japanese fight fans are set for a treat as former Japanese Flyweight champion Suguru Muranaka (26-3-1, 8) takes on Yuta Saito (10-9-3, 7) in a bout for the vacant Japanese Bantamweight title. On paper the bout may not look particularly special, but the reality is that this could turn out to be one of the sleeper bouts of the year, and, given the styles of the two men, really could be an action packed war or attrition. On paper we can all see it looks like a mismatch, but for Muranaka it's his first real bout as a fully fledged Bantamweight, whilst Saito is a natural Bantamweight who has dipped his toes at Super Bantamweight in recent years.
Muranaka is by far the more well known. He challenged for the WBA Super Flyweight title last year, when he came up short against Kal Yafai, and prior to that had been the Japanese Flyweight champion, holding that title from December 2013 to April 2014, when he was stripped of the belt for failing to make weight. As a Flyweight Muranaka was a really good domestic level fighter, and could well have made a mark at Oriental or even world level. It was at that weight that he scored really good wins over Takuya Kogawa and Masayuki Kuroda, and scored a sensational 1-punch KO of Yusuke Sakashita.
At Flyweight Muranaka was an all action fighter, able to walk forward, use his physicality and fight at an incredibly high tempo. As he's gone up in weight he's found it harder to have the same success, opponents haven't been hurt by his shots, they've been able to take his pressure easier and have more success up close. This has been seen in narrow wins against Hiroyuki Kudaka and Ken Achiwa, as well as his loss to Khalid Yafai. Muranaka is still tough and has a great engine, but hs can no longer back fighters up in the same way, and fighters he's been fighting at Super Flyweight are now his physical equals.
On paper Saito doesn't look like he's fit to be fighting for a title, especially not one as highly regarded as the Japanese Bantamweight title which has been held by fighters like Shinsuke Yamanaka, Toshiaki Nishioka, Ryosuke Iwasa, Yasuei Yakushiji, Joichiro Tatsuyoshi and Yoshio Shirai. Despite that he's ranked #4 by the JBC and is a genuine contender on the domestic scene and also has one of the most misleading records in Japan. His 22 fight career saw him begin 2-3 before winning the 2012 Rookie of the Year, whilst fighting as a Super Flyweight. In the years since he has filled out his frame, been matched hard, and become a notable fighter on the fringes of the Japanese title scene whilst moving between Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight.
As mentioned Saito lost 2 of his first 3 bouts, since then he has gone 9-7-3 with losses coming to very good domestic fighters, such as Mugicha Nakagawa, Takayuki Okumoto, Yushi Tanaka, Naoya Okamoto and Ryo Akaho, in what was also a Japanese Bantamweight title fight. His team have matched him hard, and even in those losses he has been competitive, with Nakagawa the only one to take a clear decision over him and even against Akaho he was very competitive being being stopped in round 9. With that in mind it's fair to say he deserves to be in the mix, especially given that the top fighters in the country have progressed beyond domestic level already.
Coming in to this Saito will be the under-dog, but we genuinely think he'll be a handful, and although he should be regarded as the under-dog he is a very live under-dog, and we wouldn't be surprised by the naturally bigger man picking up a narrow decision win.
Unfortunately the Japanese Bantamweight division, at least domestically, is a big lacking right now, but with the likes of Kai Chiba, Fumiya Fuse, Ryuto Owan and Kazuki Nakajima, among others the division is maybe only a year or two away from being red hot, like it usually is.
The Flyweight division is one of the sport's very best. What it lacks in big names it more than makes up for in action, excitement, high quality fighters, brilliant match ups and general all-round quality.
We know knowledgeable western fans are acquainted, at least somewhat, with Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada but below those two is a wealth of talent that they may not be aware of. It's that lesser known talent that often gives us some of the best fights as the fighters look to make their mark and make a statement to allow them to get a big fight.
One match up that features two lesser known fighters comes around on April 8th when Japanese champion Suguru Muranaka (21-2-1, 7), one of the few fighters to be world ranked by all 4 world bodies, defends his title against Tetsuma Hayashi (25-2-2, 9). The fighter may not have “knockout out” power, at least according to their records, but they both bring a lot of action, a lot of excitement and a lot of heart in battles that are so entertaining.
Muranaka won the title just a few short fights ago when he over-came former world title challenger Takuya Kogawa with a narrow split decision. That win over Kogawa has been followed by two successful defenses, both ending inside the distance with the most recent being an eye catching 1-punch finish against Yusuke Saksahita last October.
For many hardcore fight fans Muranaka is on the periphery. He's a name they might have seen in the rankings but probably haven't seen in action. He is however a pure work horse in the ring. He is happy to throw a lot of shots, use a high rate and although his power is limited he refuses to lose an exchange, always trying to throw the final punch in any back-and-forth.
In terms of his record Muranaka hasn't been beaten in more than 8 years. Both of his losses were close decisions and he has gone 14-0-1 (5) in his last 15 bouts. Those wins have seen him over-come the likes of Yuki Nasu, Along Denoy, Kogawa and Masayuki Kuroda and he has managed to establish himself as the top Flyweight on the Japanese domestic scene.
For many fans Hayashi isn't even on the periphery of their conversations about the Flyweight division. Despite that the 26 year old is #15 by the WBA and is getting his second shot at the Japanese title, almost 3 years after he came up short in a fight with Kogawa. That loss has since been followed with a run of 7-0-1 (3), including wins over Junichi Ebisuoka and Samransak Singmanasak.
In some ways it's hard to know how good Hayashi is. His world ranking doesn't seem very accurate, especially given the depth of the division, and his two losses have come to the only title level fighters he has fought in Kogawa and Takayasu Kobayashi, who came up short in two title bouts himself. He does look good in regards to “the eye test” and appears to have nice movement, lovely hand speed and explosive combinations, though defensively he can look a bit suspect and can be seen to rush his work.
At times Hayashi can seem apprehensive whilst at other times he can look reckless. Unfortunately for him those are his major flaws. He can't seem to ever find the middle line in terms of committing too much and not committing enough. Against a fighter like Kogawa that was unltimately his downfall.
We suspect the Kogawa bouts for both men to tell us a lot about this fight. Hayashi was relatively apprehensive against Kogawa, it was a big step up and although he was very competitive he never managed to enforce himself on Kogawa for long, it was more an occasional and short burst of success. On the other hand Muranaka managed to boss the bout at times and really forced Kogawa backwards, essentially winning a brawl and forcing Kogawa on the the retreat. We see Kogawa forcing Hayashi on to the retreat. Hayashi will fire back, he will try to force Muranaka back at times but overall there will just bee too much from the champion for the challenger to cope with in a fighter that sees a lot of action but a clear winner.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
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)
With last week being a hectic week in Japanese boxing we're glad to see that this week is a little less busy. Despite that we do still have a national title fight as Japanese Flyweight champion Suguru Muranaka (19-2-1, 5) makes the first defence of his title.
Muranaka, who beat Takuya Kogawa for the title late last year, may not be a big name on the world stage but he is a proven quality fighter and his win over Kogawa did prove that, even though it is his only real win of note. Interestingly that victory was Muranaka's 13th victory ina 14 fight unbeaten run and you now need to go back to 2006 to find his last loss, a majority decision to Tomoya Kaneshiro.
Notably both of Muranaka's losses have come in close contests. His loss to Kaneshiro was a majority decision whilst his only other loss, to Shigeo Saito, was a split decision back in 2005.
The first challenger to Muranaka's throne is former world title challenger and former Japanese Light Flyweight champion Masayuki Kuroda (21-4-3, 13).
Kuroda, who was used as the sparring partner in Naoya Inoue's test bout, has of course been out of form recently. He is without a win since November 2011 though has lost just 1 of his last 4 bouts. That's because Kuroda, who lost to the talented Juan Carlos Reveco, has had a trio of draws with Ryoichi Taguchi, Toshimasa Ouchi and, most recently, Hyobu Nakagama.
In terms of experience, both in fights and quality, Kuroda has a big advantage here. Fights with Taguchi, Reveco and Yuki Sano have all been valuable bouts in his development. Sure he's failed to beat Taguchi and Reveco but both of those men are good fighters and, at worst, are on par with the best win on Muranaka's record.
As well as the experience Kuroda also has the edge in power. Neither man is a big puncher but with 13 stoppages in 28 bouts Kuroda is certainly a hard hitting than Muranaka who has just 5 stoppages in 22 bouts.
Of course Kuroda has those two edges Muranaka himself has his advantages. Firstly he's a natural Flyweight. Kuroda, for his achievements at Light Flyweight, has never done anything as a Light Flyweight. In terms of results he is 1-1-1 above a contracted 110lbs and could well have been 0-3. Add that to his awful record in recent bouts and it's hard to favour the challenger.
In terms of the two men stylewise Muranaka is a hard worker. He lacks real pop though Kogawa he throws a lot and depends an awful lot on his stamina and engine. This can make for great fights but he tends to need to go the distance and has stopped just 1 of is last 7 inside the distance. He's unlikely to stop Kuroda and will know that he needs to out work the challenger to retain his title the hard way.
Kuroda on the other hand is a strong guy. His work isn't technically great but he tends to be happy to be involved in an inside battle and goes to the body pretty. With that in mind he'll likely view his best chance at winning coming from grinding down Muranaka in an action packed bout with his body attack being the key.
What we're expecting is a busy fight. There will be lots of leather thrown and we actually envision this as being tough for the judges. Muranaka doesn't have the power to keep Kuroda away though on the other hand Kuroda doesn't have the skills to really dictate the action. This will see both men have spells of control and spells where they struggle, though we think overall Muranaka will do just enough in enough rounds to take a competitive but hard fought decision over the scheduled 10 rounds.
(Poster 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.