Over the last few years things have been really interesting for Japanese fighters in, and around, the Bantamweight division. We won't pretend it's all been good news, in fact losses for the likes of Ryo Akaho, Shohei Omori, Tomoki Kameda and Ryo Matsumoto have all be very depressing for fans of the Japanese scene, however it has been brilliantly fun to follow. Some of the best bouts at the weight have been fights like the exciting 10 round bware between Kentaro Masuda and Tatsuya Takahashi and the up and down rematch between Yu Kawaguchi and Takahiro Yamamoto.
This coming Thursday we get the chance to see another potential war as Masuda (24-7, 13) faces off against Kawaguchi (25-7, 12) in a bout for Masuda's Japanese Bantamweight title. It will be the second time the two men face off, and will see Kawaguchi seeking revenge for a 10th technical decision loss to Masuda.
Back in 2014 these two men traded blows in a rough and tough bout for the then vacant Japanese title. Although it was rough it was a fight that Masuda was a comfortably winner of, with the bout going to the score cards more than 2 minutes early. Since then both men have been stopped, both have been in tough bouts and both have shown vulnerabilities.
Since their first bout Kawaguchi has gone 5-1, with his only loss being a thrilling cut stoppage loss to Takahiro Yamamoto. The loss to Yamamoto, in their second meeting, saw Kawaguchi lose the OPBF title, a title he had won in their first meeting, but now it seems like he's hungry for revenge against Masuda.
Interestingly Masuda has also gone 5-1 since their first meeting, with his only loss being a 1-sided blow out against Shohei Omori. Despite that loss Masuda has scored notable recent wins over Konosuke Tomiyama, Tatsuya Takahashi, Hideo Sakamoto and most recently Yushi Tanaka.
In the ring Kawaguchi can be dragged into a war. He's not the most technical, nor the most defensive, but his openness does lead to some very fun action and he's the sort of fighter that fans like watching as he will always give his all, and his limitations can lead to great wars. At 5'5” he's not a tall Bantamweight and at 29 he is a fighter who is older than his actual age, but he's still got a fair bit left in him and will be coming to the ring for a real fight.
Much like Kawaguchi it's fair to describe Masuda as a flawed warrior. He struggled to get his career off the ground, losing 6 of his first 20 bouts, but turned things around to become the Japanese champion, and to become a man who really has shown that hard work and dedication can turn a career around. He's won 10 of his last 11 bouts and has proven to be a dangerous puncher who can fight hard for 10 rounds. We're going to say he'll be a world champion, but the 33 year old has been like a fine wine and aged wonderfully.
When the men get in the ring on Thursday we're expecting a sloppy, yet enjoyable war. Masuda is probably the better boxer, but the two men will simple want a fight and we wouldn't be shocked to see this one be very closer over the 10 rounds, with Masuda just doing enough to retain his title.
Back on April 5th Japanese fans as the Prefectural Gymnasium in Osaka got a treat as Yu Kawaguchi (23-6, 10) and Takahiro Yamamoto (15-4, 13) traded blows in a very good and highly competitive bout for the OPBF Bantamweight title. Now, 4 months later, the men are set to do it again with Kawaguchi seeking to prove the judges got it right, whilst Yamamoto looks to avenge his closest loss to date.
In their first fight there was very little to separate the two men. Two of the judges had the bout scored 115-113, albeit in opposite directions, whilst the deciding judge had it 116-112 to Kawaguchi. A 1-round swing could have swung the bout to a draw whilst a round the other way would have taken the split decision and made it a majority. It wasn't “controversial” as such, but it was so highly competitive that neither man had a clear edge.
Now, second time around, we're expecting much of the same. A bout between two very evenly matched fighters who are both tough and have different strengths but both come to win, every time they are in the ring. Both have their flaws, and neither is close to being the best Bantamweight in Japan, but both are fighting at a good level for them and both will put it all on the line to claim this title.
In their first fight the difference, for some, was Kawaguchi's experience. He knew how to grit it out and how to to win a close one, like he had done in the past. That experience is still an advantage he has however Yamamoto will have learned so much from the first meeting, his experience will have developed as a result. If the experience was the only difference between the two then it's not hard to imagine the title changing hand here.
Kawaguchi isn't just the more experienced but he's the older, more seasoned fighter having fought the likes of Yasutaka Ishimoto and Kentaro Masuda. Losses in those bouts were set backs but they were character building and and used to help him develop. A big question is whether his title win has also helped him develop, or perhaps find a new level of confidence. If he has then he may be able to find a new gear.
With the first fight being close we're expect much the same here. The big question is who has improved more in the last 4 months. Has the experience of a title fight helped Yamamoto understand the 12 round distance and what to do when he can't bang fighters out, like he has done in 12 of his 15 wins? Or has holding the OPBF title brought a new level to Kawaguchi's game and confidence?
We're really unsure on who is is going to show the biggest improvement here, but if you're in Osaka at the start of August this really will will be worth attending and we're expecting another, competitive, exciting and very close 12 round battle. We don't see either man moving to the top level, though either against Ryosuke Iwasa, for example would be another entertaining contest, and there are a lot of options out there for the winner.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
At the turn of the year we saw Ryosuke Iwasa vacate the OPBF Bantamweight title as he turned his attention on to claiming a world title belt. As a result of Iwasa vacating the belt we've seen a bout set up to find his successor and on March 5th we'll see the vacant title end up in the hands of either Takahiro Yamamoto (15-3, 12) or Yu Kawaguchi (22-6, 10). The bout may not pit the best Bantamweights in Asia against each other, in fact those involved aren't even the best Bantamweights in Japan, but as a stand alone bout this is an immensely interesting contest.
Of the two men it's Yamamoto who is the lower profile fighter but the more exciting of the two. He's an Ioka gym fighter who punches like a mule and despite being technically flawed is a must watch fighter when he's in the ring. Sadly for those wanting to watch him, much of the footage of him in action has been deleted from the internet, leaving us with only his bout against Kiron Omura, from very early in his career.
Yamamoto made his debut back in 2008 and in a little more than a year he had raced to 5-0 (5). Sadly when he hit the bricks, he hit them hard and quickly fell to 6-3 (5) as he came across opponents he couldn't just take out. Even though Yamamoto had lost his perfect record he hadn't been out classed and only suffered losses, all 3 of which were close, to decent fighters such as Hideo Sakamoto and Jerope Mercado.
Since those losses Yamamoto has been in great form running up 9 straight wins with the most notable of those being a decision over Danilo Pena and a 2nd round TKO against Ippei Aoki.
Blessed with power, a solid chin, an aggressive nature and exciting style Yamamoto is a real threat, especially when he hits opponents clean. As well as the power he has been improving his skills in recent years and although still a flawed fighter he had developed into a solid boxer-puncher.
As for Kawaguchi he's more notable of the two fighters given that he has fought for the Japanese Bantamweight title, coming up short against Kentaro Masuda last year. On paper that's his most notable bout though he has also been in with Yasutaka Ishimoto and Jerope Mercado, losing to both of those.
On paper Kawguchi does have a muddied record however he has gone 16-2 (8) in the last 6 years and has rebuilt his career in fantastic fashion. We won't pretend a sensational fighter but at 28 years old he is in his prime and he's seemingly in his groove as a professional. When you consider his last two losses are to Ishimoto and Masuda there is nothing to be disappointed by and considering he's never been stopped he does look to be a credible title contender.
In the ring Kawaguchi is slightly more refined than we've seen Yamamoto, but he is relatively flat footed, a little bit predictable and basic. At the level he's been fighting at that's typically been enough though it was also why he lost to Masuda and Ishimoto. He's just been a bit too basic to beat them. Despite being basic Kawaguchi can grit his teeth and have a fight, something that we suspect he'll have to do here.
Given the fighters involved in this fight aren't the most rounded we're expecting a really fun to watch contest between two men who come to fight and know how to fight. Yamamoto certainly has the edge in power however Kawaguchi has proven his toughness and show that he can hang with heavy hitters, such as Masuda. That makes us think we could see this go the distance. With that said it's clear that this will be exciting and see both men being forced to take some heavy blows.
Although we see feel Kawaguchi ts the more technically rounded he so slow that we feel Yamamoto will take the decision based on his power and his eye catching shots. It will however be a very competitive and exciting contest.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Less than 24 hours after Manny Pacquiao's rematch with Timothy Bradley Japanese fans get a title fight of their own as the vacant Japanese Bantamweight title is put up for grabs. The title, vacated by Kohei Oba ahead of his unsuccessful bout with with Randy Caballero, will see Yu Kawaguchi (20-5, 9) meeting Kentaro Masuda (18-6, 10) in an attempt to crown a new national champion.
According the JBC these two are the top two contenders in Japan. Going in to the fight Kawaguchi it the #1 ranked fighter and Masuda is the #2 ranked fighter though this says a lot more about the Japanese Bantamweight scene than anything else.
As we know the top Bantamweight in Japan is Shinsuke Yamanaka, the WBC champion, behind him is Tomoki Kameda, the WBO champion and closely behind them is Ryosuke Iwasa, the OPBF champion and around the same level is former world title challenger Ryo Akaho. Basically Japan has 4 world level Bantamweights domestically however they struggle as a result and the domestic scene is rather weak.
Of the two fighters actually involved here we tend to feel that the 31 year old Masuda is the slight favourite. Firstly he appears to have mixed in better company with fights against both Iwasa and current Super Bantamweight champion Hidenori Otake. Although he lost to both has has been fight on and around the top of the Japanese domestic level for a while.
Whilst Masuda has faced two really recognisable names it's fair to say that Kawaguchi has only faced one on the same level, Yasutaka Ishimoto. He has also faced Jerope Mercado, but it's certainly Ishimoto that stands out and he actually beat Kawaguchi.
Interestingly both of the men have dipped their toes at Super Bantamweight as well as Bantamweight and whilst neither man should struggle to make 118lbs it still needs to be a point of consideration, especially when you consider that Kawaguchi hasn't weight 118lbs or less since 2009. To make the weight again could take something out of him though we're not expecting it to.
With both guys having, at best, moderate power we expect to see this bout going to a decision and with what we know of both it's going to be a close one with neither guy having the skills to clearly dominate the other.
In all honesty we're unsure who will win but we don't expect more than a round a two will separate the men in what promises to be a very interesting encounter, even if the winner won't crown the best Bantamweight in Japan. We're a guessing a split decision with Masuda the winner but this bout really is a toss up.
(Poster courtesy of http://green-tsuda.com)
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.