Japanese boxing has a number of stars who are huge news in their homeland. One of the biggest is 26 year old Osakan fighter Kazuto Ioka (17-1, 10), who has won titles in 3 divisions and proven to be one of the biggest attractions in the lower weight classes.
On September 27th we'll see Ioka return to the ring as he looks to make the first defense of his WBA Flyweight title. In the other corner will be Argentinian challenger Roberto Domingo Sosa (26-2-1, 14).
Ioka first came to the attention of international boxing fans back in 2011 when he claimed the first of his world titles, the WBC Minimumweight title. That was in Ioka's 7th professional bout and it saw him conquering the long time champion Oleydong Sithsamerchai. The win was a break out win for the youngster, though those in Japan knew he was a talented youngster given that he had been matched hard from debut and been following in the footsteps of his uncle, Hiroki Ioka.
Ioka's early rise saw him defending his first world title twice before he unified titles at Minimumweight, with a win over compatriot Akira Yaegashi. He later went on to claim a Light Flyweight title, that he defended 3 times. In 2014 he finally made a move up to the exciting Flyweight division though came up short in his first title bout there, losing a decision to Amnat Ruenroeng in a bout for the IBF title. Since that loss he has won 3 in a row, including a decision last time out against Juan Carlos Reveco to claim the WBA Flyweight title.
At his best Ioka is an excellent boxer who excels at mind range where he can use his speed and skills. He was, clearly out, sped and out muscled by Ruenroeng, who is of course an enigma to fight at the best of times. Other than that loss however he has been proven to be a world class boxer who can hold his own in an up close fight if need be. His greatest offensive weapon is his straight right hand to the body, which has seen off numerous foes. At Flyweight however he does look a little light-weight and looks like he could be over-powered by a number of the divisions top fighters. Although just 26 years old he looks like he has already found his divisional ceiling.
Whilst Ioka is a recognised world level fighter the same cannot be said of Sosa, despite a few notable wins on his record.
The Argentinian fighter began his career back in 2006 and ran up 24 straight wins, including a very notable decision victory over South African fighter Zolani Tete. The Tete bout was an IBF world title eliminator and is, still, the biggest win on his record. Unfortunately since then he has gone 2-2-1 with losses to Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr, in an IBF title fight, and the little known Diego Luis Pichardo Liriano, who beat him last November. As well as those two set backs he was also held to a draw against Javier Nicolas Chacon. Despite that run of form the WBA have allowed him to fight for a world title.
Footage of Sosa shows that he's nothing special. He may hold a victory over Tete but that result seemed to say more about the judging than Sosa's ability, which seemed distinctly average despite the fact he did show some guts, especially late, to turn the fight around and claim the narrow win. He looks to be a battler and one who is very difficult to discourage, but ability wise there is little that stands out other than his will to win and toughness.
Whilst he's technically not outstanding Sosa is a fighter who has carved out his career at Super Flyweight and will, as a result, have significant size and strength advantages over Ioka. That could be his key advantage here, though could also be an issue for the visitor who has only weighed in as a Flyweight once in his previous 29 bouts. Incidentally he has only fought outside of Argentina once, his loss to Sanchez in 2013.
On paper this looks like it could be a tough test for Ioka who will actually need to be at his best to over-come the determined Sosa. If Ioka looks to have a fight with Argentinian he could in trouble given the natural size difference between the two men, and the fact Ioka still doesn't look like a fully fledged Flyweight. Saying that however Ioka should be able to box and move, avoid a slug-fest and take a decision victory.
We suspect that Ioka wins “comfortably” on the cards but is given some really tough moments when Sosa does cut the distance and gets to him. Those moments however will serve as a warning to Ioka and put him back on the right track.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Arguably the fight that promises the most this month comes at 105lbs and features one of the sports most exciting veteran fighters and a young man looking to prove a point.
That veteran is Japanese star Katsunari Takayama (29-7-0-1, 11), the IBF Minimumweight champion, and one of the most “must watch” fighters on the planet. He was involved in a bout that many had down as the 2014 FOTY, his 12 round war with Francisco Rodriguez Jr, and had previously been in wars with the likes of Mario Rodriguez, Nkosinath Joyi, Yutaka Niida and Eagle Den Junlaphan, among others. In the other corner will be first time world title challenger Ryuji Hara (19-1, 11), a former amateur stand out who now looks to prove himself on the world stage. Although not a star Hara is a former Japanese and OPBF champion who has impressed with his speed and skills in the past.
Of the two men it's Takayama who is, by far, the most well known. His list of opponents reads like a who's who of the lower weights and includes the likes of Roman Gonzalez and Isaac Bustos as well as those named above. Not only has he faced a who's who but he has made his name from his exciting style, his wars with the likes of Rodriguez and his willingness to travel, which has seen him fight in South Africa, the Philippines, Mexico. He is also known for being one of the few “Grandslam” champions, holding every title in his career.
In the ring Takayama has made a name as being a warrior. A true warrior. He's shown an insane work rate, an amazing toughness and a fantastic will to win. We've seen him be out boxed, we've seen him be out fought but we've never see Takayama give up in a fight or slow down, instead it seems the better the opponent the more he steps it up.
Despite his style and energy Takayama does lack power, an issue that has seen him add a lot of miles to the clock. Despite only being 32 he has 302 rounds to his name, an average of more than 8 rounds a fight. Those miles on the clock did, unfortunately show themselves last time out when he was very fortunate to over-come Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr. For the most part that bout was one-sided with Takayama bringing his pressure and work-rate though a cut, inflicted by a punch, should have been a TKO loss. Instead however it resulted in a very controversial technical decision.
Although Takayama is viewed as being a fighter on the slide he is still one of the best in the division and a really proven world level performer.
As for Hara he was a man tipped for success when he first turned professional and for 18 fights success came easily for him. He won the Rookie of the Year before claiming a Japanese title and then an OPBF title whilst running to 18-0. On his way up he beat the likes of Kenichi Horikawa, Takashi Kunishige and Donny Mabao. Unfortunately, last October, he suffered his first defeat, being stopped in 10 rounds of a brilliant bout with the sensational Kosei Tanaka.
Since the loss to Tanaka we've only see Hara fight once, scoring a 2nd round KO win over Thailand's Petchnamchai Sor Sakulwong.
At his best Hara is a fantastically speedy fighter. He's not the most powerful or the strongest but he's very highly skilled and amazingly quick with his hands and his feet. In fact he could well be regarded as one of the sports fastest fighters right now. In terms of ability he's certainly more technically capable than Takayama but much less proven and his loss to Tanaka has perhaps shown that he's just below world class.
Coming in to this bout the key question is “what does Takayama have left?” If Takayama is 90% of the fighter he once was we suspect he'll stop Hara late, with the challenger tiring out in the later rounds. If Takayama however has slipped slightly further than this becomes a bout that really is too hard to call.
The one thing we're sure is that the styles of the two men should gel brilliantly and we should see both men giving their all in a thriller. The aggressive style of Takayama should force the action with Hara looking to create space, box and counter the aggressive champion. As a result we're expecting a potential FOTY.
(Image courtesy of http://www.l-kid.com)
Seeing top fighters face each other in genuinely intriguing contests seems to be something that is really rare in our sport right now. We've started to see prospects matched hard but it's rare that world champions face another top fighter by choice, instead waiting for a mandatory to give them a tough test. For some fighters however the pursuit of making a name for themselves has made them chase big names and tough match ups.
One fighter who has called for big fights over the last year or two is WBC Bantamweight kingpin Shinsuke Yamanaka (23-0-2, 17) who's wish comes true on September 22nd when he faces former WBA “super” champion Anselmo Moreno (35-3-1, 12), a man who was blatantly ducked by Koki Kameda.
For Yamanaka this promises to be one of, if not the, trickiest test of his career but also a chance to beat a fighter well know in the West, and a man who has impressed American fans and media. It may not be the huge unification bout that Yamanaka may have wanted but it's still a significant and tough defense for the monstrously hard hitting southpaw. On paper it's a great match up and in terms of styles it really has the potential to be a thoroughly intriguing bout between two men with very different in-ring abilities.
Yamanaka, for those who haven't seen him, is one of the sports truest punchers. His straight left hand is ridiculously potent and combines lights out power with laser guided accuracy. Aside from the left his arsenal is under-utilised though he does have a sharp jab, when he uses it, a solid hook and spiteful uppercuts. He can hold his own up close though it's at mid-range to long-range that he is incredibly dangerous. Not only is he dangerous but he's also smart and manages to draw mistakes from opponents whilst having his left hand ready to land at any time.
At 32 years old Yamanaka is one of the elder-statesmen of Japanese boxing, along with fellow champions like Takashi Uchiyama and Kohei Kono. Despite his age he hasn't taken a lot of damage and has gone through 8 defense of the WBC title without suffering too much damage. Part of his “youthfulness” has come down to the fact he has stopped 7 of his 9 world class opponents, whilst the other part is his ring craft which has seen him control the distance and timing against most of his opponents. One thing to note however was that recent foe Suriyan Sor Rungvisai did show some issues with how Yamanaka copes with pressure, for his troubles though Suriyan was dropped 3 times.
Whilst Yamanaka is a boxer-puncher Moreno is the more pure boxer-mover. He's a slippery and sharp fighter who rarely stays still, rarely looks to trade and scarcely throws a shot with full venom. Instead of holding his feet and putting his weight behind a shot he'll stay on his toes, move, duck, dive and frustrate opponents with a combination of his movement, hand speed and elusiveness. As well as the trickery in the ring he's also a southpaw, making him even more awkward for opponents.
At his best Moreno was sensational. He went on an excellent 27 fight winning streak between 2003 and 2012 whilst notching notable wins against the likes of Tomas Roas, Volodymyr Sydorenko-twice, Rolly Lunas, Mahyar Monshipour, Nehomar Cermeno-twice and Vic Darchinan. Sadly however those times appear to be behind him and he has lost 2 of his last 4, with a decision loss to Abner Mares at Super Bantamweight and a controversial technical decision loss to Juan Carlos Payano last year. It was the loss to Payano saw Moreno lose the WBA Bantamweight "super" title after 12 successful defenses.
Coming in to this bout we're expecting to see world class skills from both guys though the bout will be decided by who can make the most of their advantages. Will Moreno manage to get in and out with out taking punishment? Or will Yamanaka manage to time the Panamanian challenger? If Yamanaka catching Moreno there is a big chance he will drop the challenger, and possibly even stop Moreno. Another huge question is whether Moreno will be effected by inactivity with the challenger having fought just 6 rounds in the last year and 18 rounds in the past 24 months. For a fighter who depends on reflexes and timing that could well be a huge problem for the challenger.
Although we know this will be a tough ask for Yamanaka we are expecting to see the champion shine, stepping up to the task at hand and making a real statement with a late stoppage before seeking another major bout, either at the end of the year or in early 2016.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Earlier this year we saw Tomoki Kameda (31-1, 19), the youngest of the 3 fighting Kameda brothers, suffer his first defeat as he can up just short against the under-rated British warrior Jamie McDonnell (26-2-1, 12). Prior to the bout Kameda had vacated the WBO belt in an attempt to claim the WBA title though unfortunately for him he finished up with nothing other than a black mark on his record.
Although Kameda did come up short against McDonnell the Japanese fighter has invoked a rematch clause as he attempts to become a 2-time world champion and avenge his first defeat. Sadly for Kameda he no longer goes into the bout with the confidence of an unbeaten fighter, though he does appear to still have the Kameda arrogance even if he has changed one or two things since the first bout with McDonnell.
As a fighter Kameda is a boxer-mover. He has some of the fastest hands in the Bantamweight division and throws some of the best combinations in the sport. At his best he looks sensational and incredibly flashy with a style that is easy on the eye and fun to watch. Sadly though his best is own shown in glimpses and he can often be found moving too much, switching off or trying to be too cute. In many ways his biggest flaws aren't his skills but instead his mentality, which has come into question in each of his last two bouts.
Whilst Kameda is a flashy and exciting fighter his style does come at the expense of his power. We know he can hit hard, and in fact he dropped McDonnell in their first meeting, and he lands enough clean shorts to keep opponents honest. Sadly though he doesn't hit as hard as he perhaps needs to at the world level, despite showing impressive stopping ability against current WBO champion Pungluang Sor Singyu. The flashy combos have very little sting on them and whilst they win rounds they don't deter opponents.
Hopefully Kameda will have “grown up” since his loss. The loss was, at least in part, down to Kameda switching off after a very bright start. Had he shown more maturity he would possibly still be unbeaten today and looking towards unification bouts not looking to try and right what he feels was a wrong.
When it comes to McDonnell we have a real battler with a fantastic work rate and an incredible will to win. We don't mean to be harsh when we say this but McDonnell doesn't have the great level of skill, but he more than makes up for that through sheer bloody-mindedness. Unlike many fighters with a great engine McDonnell isn't reckless with his aggression, and although he throws a lot of punches he's not defensively open, though can take a shot when he is tagged, which makes him a really hard fighter to beat. He's not unbeatable but he is difficult to beat.
Like many busy fighters McDonnell is much better coming forward than he is on the back foot. He's also some what suspect early on and it can take a few rounds for his engine to really get going. When he's at full speed however he's a nightmare. Like Kameda though he has shown, more than once, than he too can turn off for large portions of bouts and has admitted in the past that he needs big bouts to bring the best out of him and get his juices going. We suspect this will be a big enough bout, however there is a chance that he may feel he's going over old ground and may not turn in as solid a performance as he did last time out.
We know above we said Kameda was partly responsible for his loss when these two men first fought and it is true. Of course it was also McDonnell's will to win and that really was what separated the men, McDonnell simply wanted it more and that was shown in the final round as Kameda floundered for 3 minutes whilst McDonnell went to work. That round was essentially the difference between the two men in what was a really close fight, it was the difference between winning and losing.
Coming into the rematch we're expecting another ultra-close bout with the winner decided by whoever has their head on right. If Kameda fights to his potential and stays on the ball we think he'll take the decision however Kameda at 99% will come up short again if McDonnell has taken this seriously. We know the Englishman has an eye on moving to Super Bantamweight in the near future and it could be that his focus is there and not on this bout. We have seen him over-look opponents in the past and it could be that his win over Kameda the first time around could have him over-look him here.
The only thing we're certain on in regards to this fight is that it will be another brilliant contest between two genuinely world class Bantamweights. Something we'll see again later this month when Shinsuke Yamanaka defends his WBC title against Anselmo Moreno. Hopefully the winners will collide in the near future.
For those who missed the first bout we've included it below.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.