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Wainwright weighs-in on Junto Nakatani

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Junto Nakatani added his name to Japan’s elite with his sensational stoppage of Alejandro Santiago. Photo by Naoki Fukuda

It’s widely accepted that undisputed Ring Magazine junior featherweight champion Naoya Inoue is one of the premier boxers in the world. He’s long left us awestruck with his incredible performances.

However, he’s not the only fighter from Japan that is elite. Four-weight titleholder Kazuto Ioka and WBA/WBC unified Ring Magazine junior flyweight champ Kenshiro Teraji have long excelled and are close to pound-for-pound recognition. They may already be future hall of famers.

On Saturday, we saw the continued emergence of Junto Nakatani, who was hugely impressive stopping grizzled Mexican Alexandro Santiago in six rounds for the WBC bantamweight title.

Junto Nakatani used his reach brilliantly in breaking down the battle-tested defending titleholder. Photo by Naoki Fukuda

The tall Japanese fighter had previously won world titles at flyweight and junior bantamweight but this promised to be a real test. What unfolded in less than 20 minutes reinforced our belief that Nakatani is also very, very special.

He kept the defending champion behind his jab and honest when he mixed in his powerful left hand. By the third round Santiago was showing signs of wear and tear with a cut over his right eye and in Round 5, he suffered an abrasion over his other eye.

Nakatani had much the better of things but Santiago was determined not to go down without a fight though his moments were fleeting.

With a minute gone in the sixth Nakatani rammed home a sledgehammer left than landed flush and dropped Santiago. The Tijuana native got to his feet but looked groggy. Soon afterwards Nakatani plundered into him with a combination punctuated right hook that ended matters.

At the time of the stoppage Nakatani, who upped his ledger to (27-0, 20 knockouts) led 50-45 on all three scorecards.

Nakatani, now 26, has been expertly guided by Rudy Hernandez in Los Angeles since the Japanese fighter was a teenager.

“I thought that the fight was going to be the hardest he ever had,” Hernandez told The Ring. “I was really surprised how Junto was able to control in all stages. The fight was completely fought on his terms. We got the win, and it was well earned.”

According to CompuBox, Nakatani outlanded Santiago in every round. He landed 76 of 308 at a connect rate of 24.7 percent. Meanwhile Santiago landed 24 of 203, which equated to 11.8 percent. Nakatani dominated with the jab landing 47 of 233 but also disarmed Santiago, who could only find a home for 2 of 107 of his jabs.

It wasn’t just that Nakatani won, it was how he won against a savvy champion, who had never previously been stopped. On paper this looked like a distance fight, but Nakatani outperformed the par going in.

While it was a career best win for Nakatani, the always classy Hernandez was quick to spare a moment for the opposition.

“For me it was a bittersweet win,” said Hernandez. “I have a lot of love for the coach and his family. He’s such a nice man. He made me walk out the locker room with my head up and to enjoy this moment. I couldn’t, but felt better when I met up with Junto and team. Very few people have an impact on me. Mr. Quirarte is one of them. I’m blessed to have met him.”

Now that Nakatani is a three-weight world champion and the accolades are plentiful maybe there will be other fighters willing to face him. At flyweight and particularly junior bantamweight there seemed to be a reluctance to face Nakatani. He’s a tall, powerful, southpaw and very good to boot, which makes him extremely hard to decipher.

I’d like to see Nakatani look to piece back the undisputed bantamweight title that was previously held by the awesome Inoue. There appear to be bountiful options including Naoya Inoue’s younger sibling Takuma, who holds the WBA title, the IBF belt is held by Emmanuel Rodriguez and the WBO boss is Jason Moloney.

Now this could get very interesting and all would be big money fights in Japan. If Nakatani were to face Takuma Inoue that could put down an interesting story line if Nakatani were to win to face Naoya Inoue further down the line. Rodriguez has to face his IBF mandatory Ryosuke Nishida and all signs point to that taking place in Japan in the spring. Nishida is tall and awkward and could well upset Rodriguez, which again would help do bigger business if it was a unification between two Japanese fighters. However, if the Puerto Rican defends his title he’d have helped rebuild his reputation in Japan after getting iced in two rounds by Inoue. Lastly, Moloney already has the “revenge of the brother” going for him after Nakatani scored The Ring Magazine Knockout of the Year against his brother, Andrew, last May.

Nakatani gruadually broke down Moloney with vicious uppercuts. Photo by Naoki Fukuda

“As far as what’s next, in our perfect world we can unify titles with [WBA titlist Takuma] Inoue, that’s if there’s a chance that fight could be made,” said Hernandez. “Our goal is to retire leaving behind a career we can be proud of.”

If Nakatani gets through that potential 118-pound gauntlet the proposition of daring to be great against Inoue up at 122 pounds would loom large. It could, if built right and all the stars align, be the biggest all-Japanese fight in history. First, Nakatani has to raise his profile and there would be no better way of doing that than becoming undisputed bantamweight champion.

“He’s stepping on those [Naoya] Inoue shoes pretty hard now but if that can’t happen, we continue to do our job, hoping Junto can claim to be one of the top 3 fighters ever from Japan,” said the well-regarded trainer.

For my money, Nakatani should be top 10 pound-for-pound and I said so to The Ring’s Ratings Panel. How my colleagues feel will ultimately determine if it is the correct timing. However, mark my words, if not now that moment is imminent.

 

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on
Twitter@AnsonWainwright

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