In Europe the traditional route to a world title was to win a national crown, for example the British, Italian or French title, then move towards winning a European title before progressing towards a world title. Whilst are other options, with British fighters often collecting a Commonwealth on their way up for example, the tradition route has always been to gradually step up, before moving towards a world title.
The same is true in parts of Asia. Traditionally fighters will win a national title, before a regional title and then on to world titles. It's true that fighters do often skip stages but many do go, or try to go, the traditional route using each level as a stepping stone.
One fighter trying to take that step up this week is former Japanese Welterweight champion, and current OPBF “interim” champion, Suyon Takayama (24-1, 8) who takes on the OPBF champion Jack Brubaker (10-1-1, 5) this coming Monday in a bout shown over the www.boxingraise.com website.
Aged 30 this is a step for the once beaten Takayama, who has won his last 12 in an unbeaten 6 year run. That run saw him claim the Japanese title in December 2012 and record an impressive 6 defenses. As the champion Takayama beat the likes of Koshinmaru Saito, Cobra Suwa, Moon Hyun Yun and Nobuyuki Shindo. Amazingly however he failed to stop any of the top Japanese fighters and went the distance in all 7 of his title bouts at Japanese level. Whilst that proved his stamina his also also show his lack of power.
At the turn of the year Takayama vacated the national title to focus on the OPBF title and claimed the interim belt in February, when he stopped Filipino fighter Joel De La Cruz. That was Takayama's first stoppage win since November 2012 and it said more about De la Cruz than Takayama, with the Filipino suffering his 10th stoppage loss.
In the ring Takayama has a great engine, a brilliant will to win a genuine grit. He lacks power, he lacks amazing speed and in fairness very little, other than his stamina, really impress. But he's hard to beat and will continue to be so at the level he's fighting. He will however never make a genuine mark on the world stage.
As for Brubaker the 24 year old Australian also has just a single loss to his name, coming in an Australian national title fight at 140lbs. Since then he has moved up in weight and strung together 5 straight wins, including his title winning effort against China's Xing Xin Yang and a single defense of the title against Paddy Murphy. Again Yang we were impress by Brubaker who looked like a promising fighter as he boxed carefully behind a good jab, found a range for his right hand and dropped Yang twice in the opening round before finishing him in the 4th. Although Brubaker impressed Yang did look terrible was out of his depth from the opening bell.
Although he has looked impressive in his last couple of bouts it's hard to really know how good he is given that his competition hasn't been great. He is however a fight who appears to be developing, appears to hit harder than his record suggests and comes to fight. There are a lot of holes in his defence but there is a lot to like about, and his jab is sharp with some crisps coming off of it.
When we see the men in the ring we're expecting to see Brubaker fight on the outside whilst Takayama will try and turn it into a fight. If Brubaker has the energy to avoid a fight and can pick off the challenger with his jab he should be able to take a clear win. If however Takayama can get inside and turn it into a fight then we'd favour Takayama to out work and out point Brubaker for the title over 12 compelling rounds.
The Asian scene at Welterweight is a bit disappointing if we're being honest, and that's obvious when it comes to the upcoming OPBF “interim” title fight between Japan's Suyon Takayama (23-1, 7) and Filipino journeymen Joel Dela Cruz (19-23-3, 7).
Takayama, who vacated the Japanese title around the new year, is a talented and hard working fighter who is gritty, determined and has a great engine. Technique wise he does, perhaps, a lack a little but his will to win is extraordinary and it was that will that helped him win the Japanese title in 2012 and make 6 defenses of the title.
Although a really determined fighter Takayama has a genuine lack of power, with his last 7 bouts going the distance, and in fact 9 of his 11 bouts have gone the complete schedule. His work rate is high but there is no real venom or killer instinct with the work rate. He also appears to be relatively under-sized but so far that hasn't been an issue, and the only “monster” he has fought is Nobuyuki Shindo who he has beaten twice in very competitive bouts.
Technically Takayama isn't the best, he can be hit and often makes simple mistakes. At the level he's been fighting at however they've never really been an issue with his fitness and desire being enough to wins bouts.
Whilst Takayama has a solid and impressive record, the same thing cannot be said of Dela Cruz, who really does have a journeyman's record, and is amazingly 2-11-1 in his last 14 bouts. Whilst some of those losses have come to very credible fighters, like Leonardo Zappavigna and Cameron Hammond other have been to less impressive fighters, like Kurt Bahram and Ozan Craddock.
Aged 30 Dela Cruz has been around the block in an 11 year career that has featured 45 bouts and over 270 rounds. He has "only" been stopped 9 times but has got a lot of miles on the clock and we'd not be shocked to see those contribute to another stoppage here with Takayama simply breaking him down in the later stages of the bout.
Arguably the weakest division in Japan, at least domestically, is the Welterweight division which has been rather terrible for several years. The only man who has really moved beyond the domestic scene has been Yoshihiro Kamegai
With Kamegai moving beyond domestic level we've disappointingly been left with the title in the hands of Suyon Takayama (22-1, 7), who has held the title since December 2012 and racked up 5 defense. On paper that sounds like a credible reign however 4 of those 5 defenses, and in fact his title win, have been incredibly close and the domestic challengers haven't been great.
To end September Takayama will be defending his title against first time challenger Ryoji Tanaka (8-4-1, 2), another really disappointing challenger who has lost back-to-back fights coming in to this one. That sort of form really sums up how poor the division is, and how poor the challengers to Takayama's title have been recently.
Although Takayama's reign has been poor he is a solid fighter. He's tough, gutsy, hard working and a real grinder. His style might not always be the most eye pleasing or exciting but he's a proven winner, as he showed last time out when he climbed off the canvas to defeat Nobuyuki Shindo, for the second time. He wins, and he wins, but rarely impressively and rarely will he look like an emerging contender for the world stage. In fact we'd be shocked if he ever progresses above domestic level given his lack of power and general struggles domestically.
We'll admit we've not seen the 28 year old Tanaka before though we know that he really isn't a credible challenger here. He has, as mentioned, lost his last 2 bouts, both by decision, and his most notable wins are over Dai Taoka and Tomoyuki Omura, both of whom are less than impressive. The most notable thing about him is that his 2013 win over Taoka was for the All Japan Rookie of the Year, since then however he has gone 2-2, and is lucky not to have gone 1-3.
Although Takayama does make life look difficult for himself when he fights we really can't see anything but a clear and decisive win here against a fighter who has never gone beyond 8 rounds and shouldn't offer any real challenge to the champion. The big question will be whether or not Tanaka can survive the distance
(Image courtesy of Kadoebi.com)
If we're being honest the Welterweight division is in Japan is relatively pathetic. One man is head and shoulders above everyone else in the country and that man, Yoshihiro Kamegai, is unlikely to ever think about going back to fighting domestic foes. That leaves the division with out a big name and without a really exciting fighter, unless Keita Obara decides to make a permanent move to the division.
Sadly the lack of talent leaves the country with a weak champion in the form of Suyon Takayama (21-1, 7). On paper Takayama looks good but in reality he's a poor champion and his reign, which dates back to December 2012, has seen him record 4 decision wins with 3 of them being razor thin.
This week Takayama returns to the ring as he looks to record his 5th defense and record his second win over Nobuyuki Shindo (16-2, 6), the mandatory challenger for the title.
These two men first met back in 2008 East Japan Rookie of the Year final. In that bout Takayama took a razor thin decision over Shindo and later went on to win the Welterweight Rookie of the Year just a few weeks later. Going into their first meeting both men were unbeaten fighters looking to make a name for themselves.
Since the first meeting between the two men both have lost just once. Takayama's loss came in 2011 when he lost a split decision to Yuichi Ideta. Since then he has racked up 9 straight wins, including 5 in title bouts. Sadly for Takayama he has only notched 2 stoppages in those 9 wins. As for Shindo his loss came in December 2012 when he was narrowly beaten by Moon Hyun Yun. Since that loss Shindo has recorded 4 wins, with 3 stoppages.
Although not a great fighter Takayama has proven to be difficult to beat. He is defensively sound, works hard and often manages to “just do enough” to win rounds. His key strength has been work rate which is solid though a lack of power, especially at Welterweight is a problem and will prevent him from ever reaching a level beyond Japanese domestic level.
We've got to admit we've not managed to see much of Shindo though from what we do know he is a tall, lanky southpaw who is starting to grow into into strength. Early in his career he really struggled with his power and stopped only 2 of his first 11 opponents. Since then he has racked up 4 stoppages in 6 bouts and developed his skills.
What we're expecting to see is an interesting fight though not the most exciting. We suspect Shindo will try to make the most of his size and his south stance though flaws in his skillset will allow Takayama to get inside and make things competitive. The question is how often can Takayama get inside given that he will be giving around 6” in height and notable reach.
If Takayama can get inside and make the most of his opportunities then there is a really good chance he can grind out another razor thin decision. If Shindo can make the most of his his size then we can see the title changing hands.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
If we run through the names of the current Japanese champions one name that appears to stand out is Suyon Takayama (20-1, 7). Takayama, the Japanese Welterweight champion, is a fighter who really has been lost in the background and massively over-shadowed by Yoshihiro Kamegai, the only other Japanese Welterweight of note. It's a shame to admit this but Takayama is a fighter that even we over-look on a regular basis.
Although he's the "forgotten champion" on the Japanese domestic scene Takayama is very credible fighter and a man who has held his title for almost 2 years and already made 3 defences. Unfortunately he's over-shadowed not just be Kamegai in his division and the other champions across the various divisions and also his own stable mates, many of whom are simply more exciting, more engaging and more interesting than Takayama. Fighters like Shuhei Tsuchiya, Hiroki Okada and Kyotaro Fujimoto all steal the headlines whilst Takayama fades into the background.
Another thing that hurts Takayama is his competition. He's been facing the top contenders but they simply lack any recognition themselves and worst of all the fights are hard to find video of making it almost impossible for fight fans to spread the word about him. It's a shame but it's what's happened unfortunately.
The next challenger for Takayama's Welterweight title is Koshinmaru Saito (20-5-1, 11), who is actually the man he beat to win the title back in 2012.
In their first meeting Saito gave a good account of himself though came up short on the score cards in a battle for the then vacant title. Sadly for Saito that was his third title effort and his third title bid having previously lost, by stoppage, to Daisuke Nakagawa and Akinori Watanabe, both of whom are big punchers and exciting fighters to watch.
Unfortunately when you look through Saito's record there is nothing on there that stands out except for his title bids. No other opponents have any name value. On paper he looks good but in reality its difficult to say and his best result was the close loss to Takayama in their first bout.
Just like the first bout we're expecting to see Takayama winning. We suspect this will be a competitive bout but we only expect one man to win, and in fact we expect this to be scored wider than their first bout with Takayama having improved whilst Saito has aged. It may be Saito's last chance but it's probably come a bit too late.
Ranked #1 in the Japanese rankings Saito is the obvious challenger but he's an uninspiring opponent and in all honesty this fight should lead the way to the only fight that matters in the Japanese Welterweight scene. Takayama Vs Kamegai. Come on guys, lets have that one made for early next year!
(Image courtesy of http://www.kadoebi.com)
The Welterweight division in Asia is the one that starts to see the big drop off in talent. Sure some top Welterweights do come from throughout Asia but the number is significantly less than one might imagine which is a shame, though it does meet with what we tend to think about Asian's in general with them being naturally smaller people than we typically find in the west.
The lack of real quality in and around the 147lb division has seen some pretty poor national champions in the past come out of Japan. Fighters like Takejiro Kato, Minoru Horiuchi (who was admittedly only and interim champion) and Dynamite Matsuo weren't really "national champion" level fighters.
At the moment however Japan does have a Welterweight champion to be proud of in the form of Suyon Takayama (19-1, 7) who may not be a world beater but is a credible champion and a world ranked fighter, holding a WBA #14 ranking. As well as his status on the world stage Takayama is a man who has already recorded two title defenses.
Of the two defenses already made by Takayama it's fair to say that one was a respectable one, taking a narrow decision over Moon Hyun Yun whilst the other, a decision over Cobra Suwa, summed up the weakness in the division.
Unfortunately for Takayama his next defense is another that suggests just how weak the Japanese domestic scene is as he takes on #1 ranked challenger Tetsuya Suzuki (29-11, 17).
On paper it's actually a great defense with Suuki being a 2-time Japanese Middleweight champion and a former OPBF Middleweight champion. In reality however Tetsuya was lucky that the Middleweight division at the time was weak. This was shown in the fact that Tetsuya's first reign began with a narrow decision over Keiji Eguchi, who was was stopped in his previous bout and his next bout, whilst his second came against Norifumi Suzuki, who had an impressive though thoroughly padded record.
As for the OPBF title that Tetsuya won, that came against Pil-Seung Oh who had last 5 of his previous 8 and would go on to lose his following 3. IT was another example of a fighter winning a title against a very weak foe.
Whilst it's unfair to say Tetsuya's a bum, he really isn't, he's also not the sort of fighter who should really be winning national titles. He's the sort of fighter who we think in another era wouldn't have made much of a mark on the domestic scene and in all honesty is a million miles from being fringe world class. This is shown perfectly in the fact he has lost 3 of his last 7 and of the wins he scored recently some have very poor. One of those wins came in a narrow decision against Thai veteran Prawet Singwancha whilst two of the other's were over winless Thai "body-donors" Udomsin Nonpitayakom and Petchmongkol Na Nonthachai.
We think that Takayama will clearly win this. It's been so long since Suzuki scored a notable win that we're unsure what he has in the tank and Takayama being younger, fresher, more suited to the weight and growing in confidence we can only see one winner and it could well be his most impressive so far.
As far as Japanese Welterweights go the only fight Takayama should be thinking about after this is a contest is a bout with OPBF champion Yoshihiro Kamegai. That bout would decide the best in Japan, unify the titles and see the winner take a big step towards a world title fight. That's three things worth fighting for!
(Photo Courtesy of Boxmob)
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.