The Bantamweight division is one of the hottest in Japan right now. The country boasts two of the truly elite divisional fighters in the form of WBC kingpin Shinsuke Yamanaka and WBO champion Tomoki Kameda. It also boasts a brilliant set of contender level fighters, such as Shohei Omori and Kentaro Masuda, who may well have fought by the time you're probably reading this, Ryosuke Iwasa, who is set to get an IBF title shot later in the year, and WBO #1 ranked contender Ryo Akaho.
It's fair to say that the coming year will be a major one, especially given the news about Iwasa's bout with Lee Haskins and the up coming contest between Tomoki Kameda and WBA "regular" champion Jamie McDonnell. Iwasa and Kameda however are trailing well behind Yamanaka in terms of resume so far and before either of them get the chance to change that we will see Yamanaka return to action and distance himself yet further from his compatriots.
That comes about on April 16th when the unbeaten Yamanaka (22-0-2, 16) takes to the ring in the search of his 8th world title defence and a victory over unbeaten Argentinian Diego Ricardo Santillan (23-0, 15). This will be Yamanaka's first bout against an unbeaten opponent since his 2011 war with Iwasa, though few are giving Santillan any type of chance in a bout widely considered a mismatch, despite the fact neither man has tasted defeat so far.
The reasons Yamanaka is so heavily favoured are numerous though they tend to come down to the fact he's more proven, has the more impressive wins and the more complete skill set. In fact in terms of his resume there is no active Bantamweight who can compare with Yamanaka, who already has wins over the likes of Iwasa, Christian Esquivel, Vic Darchinyan, Tomas Rojas, Malcolm Tunacao and Suriyan Sor Rungvisai.
The Japanese puncher is dubbed the "God Left" due to his rocket like left hand which has destroyed numerous opponents in his 24 fight career. In terms of over-all boxing he's not the most impressive, in fact in many ways he's a one-trick pony but his one trick is an excellent one. He looks for an opportunity to land his home run punch and often connects. Aside from the left hand he does have a solid, though massively under-utilised, jab and a spiteful array of other shots that continue go under-used.
Aged 32 Yamanaka is seemingly still in his prime. He has been involved in one or two wars, with the Iwasa bout standing out, but over-all he's not taken too much damage courtesy of his left hand and his intelligent footwork, which is used to set up his straight. From his 24 career bouts he has only amassed 157 professional rounds, around 6.5 rounds a bout, and has stopped 14 of his last 16 opponents.
Although there are flaws with Yamanaka, notably his refusal to use his jab to set up his left hand, he's a really hard fighter to beat. Firstly a fighter needs to be built of really tough stuff, and then they need to either out box him or work him. To date no fighter has been capable of that, though Suriyan did show the blueprint in to how to beat Yamanaka, though was dropped several times for his effort and relied on his super human toughness to just see out the 12 rounds.
Going through the record of the 27 year old Santillan yields little to really tell us how good he is. On paper his best win came almost 5 years ago when he stopped compatriot Guillermo Osvaldo Soloppi, then 13-0, in 5 rounds for the for Argentinian Bantamweight title. Since then however Soloppi has gone 5-5 with only a single win against a fighter with a winning record and doesn't look like a genuinely good win. Similarly a win over the then 11-0 Oreste Bernabe Nieva looks less impressive now than it looked at the time. Most worryingly for Santillan, at least in regards to his record, was his struggle past the limited Lucas Rafael Baez in a very competitive bout that saw Santillan getting the "home nudge" to retain his perfect record.
From the footage that we've managed to see of Santillan he appears to be slow footed, offensively reckless and defensively open. In terms of his power it's not impressive enough to worry a fighter like Yamanaka and he's not aggressive enough to put Yamanaka under the pressure that Suriyan did last time out.
Whilst it's fair to say that Suriyan did give Yamanaka a very tough time last time out it's hard to see Santillan doing the same. The Argentinian does look tough but he's never been hit by anything like a Yamanaka straight left hand. We suspect that when he is tagged by Yamanaka's power he will feel it, and he'll feel it hard. We suspect that that power will finish off Santillan within 8 rounds with Santillan becoming another of Yamanaka's victims.
Whilst this bout is, likely, to be one sided we expect that the division will go through a lot of changes in the next few months. We already know that Kameda Vs McDonnell is set, we know talks are on-going for Iwasa Vs Haskins and we'll also see Japanese and OPBF title fights in the division take place this month. It's hard to know exactly where the division is heading but it's certainly going to be an interesting year for fans of the Bantamweight division.
(Image courtesy of www.boxmob.jp)
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