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Junto Nakatani aims to make history vs Alexandro Santiago in 118-pound belt clash


In his most recent fight, Junto Nakatani (right) outpointed the tough Argi Cortes, who suffered three knockdowns but lasted the 12 round distance. (Photo by Naoki Fukuda)

by Francisco Salazar | 

Winning and successfully defending a world title belt is an impressive accomplishment.

Winning a world title belt in three different weight classes within a four-year period is extraordinary.

Nakatani will attempt to win another world title belt, this time at 118 pounds, as he challenges WBC bantamweight titleholder Alejandro Santiago on Saturday night at the Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan. The 12-round bout will headline a three-bout card, promoted by Akihiko Honda, that will stream live on ESPN+ (4 a.m. ET/ 1 a.m. PT).

At Friday’s weigh-in, Nakatani weighed in at 117.5 pounds. Santiago came in at 117.75 pounds.

The 26-year-old Nakatani (26-0, 19 knockouts), who resides in Sagamihara, Japan, won the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title on May 20, dropping Jason Moloney three times en route to a sensational knockout win in round 12. The knockout of Moloney was voted ‘Knockout of the Year (2023) by The Ring.

In his last bout on September 18, Nakatani made a successful defense of the title, defeating Mexico’s Argi Cortes by decision over 12 one-sided rounds.

Early last year, the WBO mandated Kazuto Ioka, then the sanctioning body’s junior bantamweight titleholder, to enter into negotiations with Nakatani for a world title defense. The WBO would later strip Ioka of the belt after Ioka decided to follow through on a rematch against then-WBA titleholder Joshua Franco.

An all-Japan fight between Ioka and Nakatani would have generated buzz in and out of Japan. Nakatani was disappointed that a fight against Ioka could not be made.

“That is fate,” Nakatani told The Ring through a translator on a recent visit to a gym in South Gate, California. Nakatani set up a training camp there for the Santiago fight.

“I wanted to make the fight happen, but he (Ioka) made the decision to not fight me for various reasons. I cannot answer for him.”

Junto Nakatani received the KO of the Year award from The Ring in 2023 -Photo by Yuriko Miyata

Nakatani will face Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KOs), who resides in Tijuana, Mexico. The 28-year-old Santiago won the WBC title from Nonito Donaire by unanimous decision in his last bout on July 29.

Santiago has won his last four fights since losing by majority decision to Gary Antonio Russell in November 2021. Nakatani is taking into consideration Santiago’s win over Donaire and his skill-set.

“Santiago is a very mobile fighter,” said Nakatani, who stands over 5’7” tall. “I think it will be a focused battle on my part. Throughout the training camp, I’ve felt comfortable adjusting to the new weight. I just want to do my best where I can give the best performance (against Santiago).”

Nakatani is trained by Rudy Hernandez, who is based in Southern California and has a reputation of being an old-school trainer. He is the brother of the late Genaro Hernandez, the two-time world junior lightweight titleholder.

Hernandez has implemented a rigorous training program, where Nakatani improved notoriously his punching rate. It has shown in recent fights as Nakatani has stopped seven of his last nine opponents, including multiple knockdowns of Cortes in his last bout.

Nakatani credits Hernandez for sitting down on his punches, although it was hard adjusting at the beginning.

“There are training sessions where we work on just throwing uppercuts, especially in close proximity. Or there are times when it is just throwing hooks and crosses on the heavy bag. It’s very hard work, but it has paid off. I now feel comfortable throwing punches from distance or from up close, as if I was in the pocket.

“I have a lot of respect for Rudy Hernandez. He is a very good trainer. It has been great working with someone like him.”


Francisco A. Salazar has written for The Ring since October 2013 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (California) Star newspaper. He can be reached at [email protected]

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