Boxing history is full off strange stories, strange careers and odd tales from it's long and brilliant history. The story of how we've managed to get to a Japanese Bantamweight title bout between Yuta Saito (12-9-3, 9) and Yusuke Suzuki (10-3, 7) in 2019 is one of those stories that has had twists, turns, injuries, illness and upsets to lead us to where we are, and to set up a potential under-the-radar war for July 27th.
We need to rewind almost 2 years to get to the start of this story. Backin August 2017 Saito was stopped in a Japanese title fight by Ryo Akaho. Akaho's next defense was planned for early 2018 against Yusuke Suzuki, the then mandatory challenger. Sadly Akaho would fail to face Suzuki due to issues making weight.Suzuki would then suffer an injury in the build up to a fight against Suguru Muranaka, with Muranaka then failing to make weight for a bout with Saito for the vacant belt.
From Saito's loss to Akaho in August 2017 the title wasn't fought for again until September 2018, when Saito beat up Eita Kikuchi to claim the belt, ending a supposed curse on the belt. That curse however still had one more twist with Sato suffering an illness that delayed his first defense until this past April, when he would stop Hayato Kimura, to unify the main title with Kimura's interim belt. On the same day as Saito's win over Kimura we saw Suzuki return to the ring, after 18 months out, due to the issues causing bouts with Akaho and Muranaka falling through. Now, 18 months after Suzuki was supposed to fight Akaho he gets his long awaited chance. Saito on the other hand gets the chance to notch his second defense.
With a record of 12-9-3 it's fair to say that Saito is no world beater, though he's better than those numbers suggest and has turned around a 2-3 start to his professional to develop a pretty notable career, that's despite once being 8-7-2. The problem for Saito, though much of his career, was that he could be out boxed. He quickly developed a reputation as a dangerman, thanks to his bludgeoning power and naturally heavy hands, but he was a crude puncher, and people used speed and movement to neutralise him. In recent bouts he has shown a real improvements and stoppage wins over Kikuchi and Kimura. In those wins he has proven himself to be a very good pressure fighter, bringing the action and breaking opponents down. He can still be out boxed, but it will take a very good domestic fighter to over-come his aggression and pressure.
Suzuki began his career in 2012 and their was quite a bit of expectation on his shoulders, so much so that he was put in a B class tournament in 2013, losing to future Japanese Super Bantamweight champion Yusaku Kuga in his third professional bout. He would rebuild from that early set back though suffered back to back losses in 2015 and 2016, to Ryoichi Tamura and Jeffrey Francisco. Since those losses Suzuki has reeled off 4 wins, including a good one against Eita Kikuchi. Sadly those 4 bouts have come over the last 3 years as injuries have really been derailed his rise. No, at the age of 30, it is now or never for Suzuki.
Stylistically Suzuki is an awkward looking southpaw. He's hard hitting, has a bit of a herky-jerky style and always looks a bit awkward, as if he's trying to draw a mistake with feints. When he actually goes on the offensive he looks really hard hitting and exciting, though we suspect his herky jerky style has been responsible for judges occasionally going against him. Had he shown a bit more aggression there's a chance, and a good one at that, that he would won all 3 bouts where he has come up short.
With this bout we're expecting Saito to bring intense pressure, forcing Suzuki into a fight. This should give us a real fire fight, and a potential thriller. Both men can hit hard, both are tough and both come to fight. Techncially Suzuki is the more rounded, though we feel like his inactivity and ring rust will work against him here, he has fought just 3 rounds since November 2017 and that will likely be a big problem in the later rounds.
Prediction - Saito UD10
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.
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.