Recently the new broke that Japanese Heavyweight Kyotaro Fujimoto (19-1, 11) [藤本京太郎] would be defending his unified WBO Asia Pacific and OPBF Heavyweight titles against Thai foe Suthat Kalalek (12-9, 11). The bout, inspired little excitement, and if we're being honest it was actually a huge disappointment given that Kyotaro is a triple crown winner, having unified the Japanese title along with the two regional belts, and is a world ranked fighter. He should have been looking to move towards a big Heavyweight clash, not face someone best known for challenging for an OPBF Super Middleweight several years ago.
Yes you read that right, Kyotaro's next opponent is a blown up Super Middleweight, who faced off with Yuzo Kiyota in 2015 for the OPBF title at 168lbs, suffering a third straight loss with Kiyota stopped him in the 10th round.
It would be easy to defend Kyotaro's position if he was fighting in a 10 round stay busy fight, but this will be his first bout since May, when he took on chinny Australian Aaron Russel. For a man who has unified two regional titles his competition has been terrible, and it's actually hard to excuse given the ranked contenders for the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific title. It's not like when Kyotaro was defending the Japanese Heavyweight title in a very shallow talent pool, with no interesting competitors, bar Nobuhiro Ishida who shocked us all and gave Kyotaro two tough bouts well above his natural weight class.
Rather than criticise who Kyotaro is facing we've decided to look at some of the alternative contenders that he could have faced, or could face in the future. These are fighters that would have given him a more serious test and really interest fans in a way that the Thai can't and have competed for the unified belts that Kyotaro holds.
1-Zhang Zhilei (19-0, 15) [张志磊]
One of the most obvious contenders is former Chinese amateur star Zhang Zhilei, who like Kyotaro is world ranked by the WBO and would make for an exceptionally interesting dance partner for the Japanese fighter. Not only is Zhilei higher ranked than Kyotaro with the WBO, holding a #6 ranking to Kyotaro's #7, but he is also a leading contender for both of Kyotaro's titles, with a the OPBF #1 ranking and a WBO Asia Pacific #2 rankings.
The Chinese fighter has an imposing record, and looks to be a puncher, but the bout would be as much of a step up for him as it would for Kyotaro. Like Kyotaro there has been a lot of criticism about Zhilei's competition, with his last 6 opponents all being stopped inside a round. The Chinese fighter would have not only the titles to win but also some respect, just like Kyotaro would. Also at the age of 35 Zhilei may see a win over Kyotaro as a chance to boost his WBO ranking and move towards a potential rematch with Anthony Joshua, who beat him in the 2012 Olympic games.
Sadly it appears that the 2009 Asian Boxing Championships gold medal winner has as little interest in Kyotaro as Kyotaro has in him, but the reality is that, from a fans perspective, the bout makes more sense than any other bout for the two men.
2-Junlong Zhang (19-0, 19) [张君龙]
A second Chinese fighter who would make a lot of sense for Kyotaro to face is Junlong Zhang, a 36 year old dubbed the “Dragon King”. Unlike his countryman Zhang doesn't currently hold a world ranking, though has been in and out of the WBA rankings over the last year or two. He now needs a ring return, having not fought since December 2017, but would immediately be able to make up for lost time with a win against Kyotaro.
Like both Zhile and Kyotaro there has been criticism of Zhang's competition but with wins over the likes of Jason Gavern, George Arias, Saul Farah and Victor Emilio Ramirez he does actually have a number of wins that are pretty solid. He would also enter as the #9 ranked WBO Asia Pacific contender, though is conspicuously absent from the OPBF's rankings.
Although western fans may anticipated a Zhilei Vs Zhang bout it does seem like a Zhang Vs Kyotaro bout does have more interest in China, with Kyotaro having been mentioned by the “Dragon King” as someone he wants to fight. There is however no clear reason why the two haven't fought, and sadly we suspect the bout will continue to be one of those “what if” contests, despite how much sense it makes.
3-Junior Fa (15-0, 8)
Outside of the two Chinese fighters we have a number of fighters from Oceania who would almost certainly love to share the ring with Kyotaro, one of which is 28 year old Kiwi Junior Fa , who is currently ranked #12 by the WBO in their world rankings, #1 in the WBO Asia Pacific rankings and #15 with the OPBF. The unbeaten Far hasn't looked untouchable as a professional, with a few close bouts, but would make for a very suitable opponent for Kyotaro, who has also not looked lawless.
Fa is a former amateur standout, and he holds a very notable amateur win over Joseph Parker, but has yet to set the professional scene on fire. A win over Kyotaro would boost his WBO rankings, set up a potential rematch as a professional with Parker and see him claim the biggest win of his career. So there is real reason for Fa to take the bout. For Kyotaro it would see him defeat a top contender for one of his titles and legitimise his regional champion claim.
Sadly hopes of this bout are a bit strained. Of Fa's last 6 bouts 3 have been in the US and it's almost certain that the long term plan isn't for him to stay in the regional scene for long. Added to that is his recent struggles and it could be that his unbeaten record, and as a result some of the allure of a Kyotaro showdown, could end sooner rather than later.
4-Lucas Browne (25-1-0-1, 22)
Just days after Kyotaro's bout with Suthat fans will be able to see Lucas Browne take on Julius Long in Australia. Given how both Kyotaro and Browne and in need of a win to get give their career a kick start a match up between the two seems ideal, even if we will need to wait until December to get it. And by that time we should see Browne pick up a comeback win following his brutal 6th round KO loss to Dillian Whyte in March
Browne, 39, is a a heavy handed and popular slugger who can't afford any more set backs if he's to land another big fight, and a win over the world ranked Kyotaro would fast track him to a big fight. For Kyotaro it'd be a chance to claim a big win over a fighter who has name value in Europe, specifically the UK, and put himself in the mix for potential UK fights against some of the Heavyweight that Britain has to offer, and the pay days that come with those fights.
Although not the most attractive match up on paper, given Browne's age and recent KO loss, it's a fight that has a lot of reward for Kyotaro if he wins. Of course that reward comes with a high risk and if he gets caught by a Browne howitzer there is a chance his career will be in tatters. A brilliant high risk high reward bout and one that would certainly be interesting, even if it'd wouldn't be action packed.
5-Joseph Parker (24-2, 18)
Talking about high risk and high reward we come to former WBO world champion Joseph Parker, who had been linked to a fight with Kyotaro for a while before winning the WBO world title in later 2016. So the bout has history behind it and given the fact Parker has lost his last 2 bouts there is also a case of perhaps getting him at the perfect time, with the Kiwi having low confidence and needing a win to re-enter the mix following a loss to Dillian Whyte in July.
For Parker, who is only ranked by the WBC, a win would put him straight into the WBO title mix and potentially help him set up rematches with Whyte or Anthony Joshua, who defeated Parker to take the WBO title form him. For Kyotaro the bout could reward him with a huge win over a former world champion, a WBC ranking and a chance to shut up his critics, who suggested he was scared of a then unbeaten Parker.
Sadly this bout has been organised and fallen through a few times with various reasons given for the bout falling through. It would be a shame if we don't see it at some point, given the two are the most notable Heavyweight's in the region, but we wouldn't be surprised to see Parker ignore Kyotaro now, given that he's been facing much bigger fish.
It's a shame that Kyotaro, who once promised so much as a professional boxer, has spent the last few years facing such limited competition given the quality of regional rivals out there. We hope, sooner rather than later, that the Japanese fighter does take on a notable foe from the Asia Pacific region, but given current form we suspect he'll continue to take the path of least resistance whilst hoping for an undeserved pay day against a world champion.
(Images courtesy of Boxmob. Sina, Loop Tonga, Hatton Boxing and stuff.co.nz)
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).