Throughout the history of our great sport, the Flyweight division has given his a host of legendary names. The likes of Jimmy Wilde, Pancho Villa, Fidel LaBarba, Midget Wolgast, Benny Lynch, Fighting Harada, Pone Kingpetch, Masao Oba, Miguel Canto, Yuri Arbachakov, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, Nonito Donaire, Omar Andres Narvaez and Roman Gonzalez, to name just a few, have etched their names in the annals of the sports all time legends.
Today it's hard to look at the Flyweight division and know which fighter will be the next to add their name among the divisional greats, though a number of fighters certainly seem capable of becoming divisional greats. One such fighter is current WBO champion Junto Nakatani (22-0, 17), who returns to the ring this coming weekend in pursuit of his second defense of the title, as he takes on Ryota Yamauchi (8-1, 7).
Although a long, long, long way from establishing himself as a legend, the 24 year Nakatani old certainly has the tools and time to make a huge mark on the sport. Despite that he has already made a name for himself as one of the best in the division today, and has down so by gradually building his reputation, rather than being moved rapidly through the ranks like many top current Japanese fighters. He debuted in 2015, aged just 17 and first began to make a name for himself the following year, when he went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year, beating future world champion Masamichi Yabuki in the final. In the years that followed he continued to progress, develop, mature and improve, whilst moving towards more notable fights. Along the way he won the Japanese Youth and Japanese national Flyweight titles, as well as scoring a very notable TKO win over Milan Melindo, and in 2020 he finally got a shot at a world title. In that bout he faced off against talented Filipino Giemel Magramo, in what looked like a 50-50 style fight. Despite being well matched on paper Nakatani dominated the contest with a real break out performance, stopping Magramo in 8 rounds, whilst dominating him on both the outside and the inside. Since that win he has defended the belt once, stopping Angel Acosta in his US debut last year in 4 rounds, in a bloody contest that saw Acosta being left a bloodied mess.
In the ring Nakatani is huge for a Flyweight, he's tall, rangy and looks like his body hasn't really started to fill out properly yet. In all honesty he seems like he could end up as high as Super Bantamweight, or even Featherweight, by the time his career is over. Whilst he has shown he can use his size well, with an excellent jab, great straight punches and intelligent hooks, he has also shown he can fight on the inside and be a dog when he needs to be, as seen in his wins over Seigo Yuri Akui, Magramo and Acosta, among others. Aged 24 he is still maturing, still improving, and is already a scary fighter for the other fighters in the Flyweight division, as he seems capable of doing almost everything, and doing it whilst in control of the action. Like all great fighters he switches between head and body at will, controls the tempo of the bout, and can change tactics as and when needed. Although maybe not as slick as IBF champion Sunny Edwards, or as aggressive as WBC champion Julio Cesar Martinez, he is arguably the most rounded fighter in the division, and a genuine nightmare for anyone at 112lbs.
Whilst Nakatani has been taken from relative obscurity to world champion by the MT gym, his challenger was something of a notable amateur who has been moved very aggressively by his team, the Kadoebi Boxing Gym. As an amateur Yamauchi went 38-15 (14) in the tough Japanese domestic amateur scene. Despite not having a stellar record, his style was more suited to the professional ranks, and that was seen almost straight away with his aggression and power shots breaking down Lester Abutan and Yota Hori in his second and third professional bouts. In just his fifth professional bout he travelled over to China and faced off with the then world ranked Wulan Tuolehazi, and lost a very competitive bout that saw a bit of home cooking from the 3 "wise men". That bout saw both men being dropped, and was a genuinely brilliant 12 rounder which allowed Yamauchi to prove his stamina, heart, desire and overall ability, even in hostile territory. Since that loss he has gotten back to winning ways, and scored a number of decent wins over the likes of Alphoe Dagayloan, Satoru Todaka and Yuta Nakayama, whilst winning and defending the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title.
Aged 27 Yamauchi is now in his physical prim, he looks mature, strong and powerful, and a lot of his style is based on his physicality and aggression. He has solid foundations from his amateur days, a nice jab, good variety in his shots, and applies constant pressure behind his jab and footwork. Although he does have a great jab, he uses it more to force opponents backwards, and to get inside, where he can go to work, rather than boxing and moving on the backfoot. His shots are heavy, damaging and when he unleashes on the inside he looks genuinely brutal, especially with his left hands to the midsection. At range he has struggled in the past, and against Tuolehazi, the Chinese fighter caught him time and time again with counter left hands, but he has improved since then and is certainly more defensively aware than he used to be. Worryingly for Yamauchi is the fact he's really jumping up in class here. Wins over the likes of Dagayloan and Nakayama are decent, but do not prepare a fighter to face someone who is genuinely world class. Another thing Yamauchi is missing is rounds. he does have a 12 round bout and an 8 rounder under his belt, but on average his bouts have gone just 5 rounds, and he's only gone beyond 6 a total of 3 times.
Having watched both men through their careers so far, we've been fans of both. We've loved watching Nakatani develop in front of our eyes, from a teenager to a national and then world champion, and his development has shown that fighters should take regular steps up in class, and be allowed to show what they are capable of against good fighter. We've also loved to see Yamauchi being moved aggressively and treat like a special fighter in the making. We've also been able to see bother fighters develop their styles and their in ring behaviour. Sadly for Yamauchi however, it does feel like this step up is a significant one, and that his strengths don't play into the very few weaknesses of Nakatani, who has a better jab and is cleaner and more varied on the inside. Yamauchi will certainly have moments, but we feel a lot of his work will come back with interest.
Despite feeling confident Nakatani will have too much, both inside and outside, we do expect this to be fought, mostly, up close, with the two men trading shots, making for a thrilling action bout, until Yamauchi finally has his resistance broken in the second half of the fight. He will give it his all, but eventually have to go out on his shield, having played his part in something of a special and all action bout. We wouldn't be surprised to see Nakatani being once or twice, Yamauchi to be dropped, at least once, and a lot of heavy power shots being thrown in a bout that could over-shadow the huge Middleweight bout between Gennady Golovkin and Ryota Murata, which headlines the card this is on.
Prediction - TKO9 Nakatani
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.