Imagine the worst situation”…Close to Naoya Inoue! Junjin Nakatani, challenging for the 3rd bantam title, “The difference between a monster and a monster”. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Imagine the worst situation”…Close to Naoya Inoue! Junjin Nakatani, challenging for the 3rd bantam title, “The difference between a monster and a monster”.

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Camping in LA, a familiar place. No problem communicating in English at the gym.

Former WBO super flyweight champion Jyunjin Nakatani turned 26 on January 2, 2012. He will vacate his second world title and challenge WBC bantamweight champion Alexandro Santiago (27) for a three-weight championship on February 24, 2012.

He has been camping for a month since January 4 in LA, USA, where he originated. The menu is the same as before, with fists exchanged with various types on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Before his defense last September 18, he stayed there from July 20 to September 2, sparring 236 rounds.

This time, I decided to return to Japan almost three weeks before the fight in order to avoid jet lag and to prepare for the conditions,” Rudy advised. Rudy advised me to do so. The camp was shorter than usual, but we sparred intensely.

Rudy Hernandez (61), who has trained Nakatani since he was 15 years old, trained his own brother, the late Genaro, to become a world champion and has coached top Japanese fighters such as Takehara Shinji, Hatayama Takanori, Ito Masayuki, and Nakazato Shuma.

Sparring on January 13, Nakatani showed sharp moves

On January 13, Nakatani sparred four rounds at the Jackrabbit Boxing Academy, which stands in Long Beach, 37 km south of downtown LA. Nakatani was fast from the first round and showed a fine series of strikes. Once away from his partner, Nakatani utilized his long reach to land a jab and then an up-and-down one-two, and in the second round he used a lot of back-and-forth stepping and landed a sharp straight to the body.

In the next round, he lowered his center of gravity and changed his head position intermittently. It was apparent that he was envisioning a matchup with the shorter, Santiago. In the fourth round, he occasionally lowered his guard to entice his opponent and landed a jab, a right hook, two jabs to the straight, and a straight to the chest.


This is the third time the author has covered Nakatani’s U.S. camp, and he feels faster than ever.

Santiago (right) sells horsepower and mental strength©Esther Lin/SHOWTIME

Nakatani is 26-0 with 19 KOs, while Santiago, from Tijuana, Mexico, is 28-0 (14 KOs) with 3 losses and 5 knockouts. He fought Nonito Donaire, who had two fights with Inoue, for the WBC bantamweight title vacated by Naoya Inoue’s return last July, and won by a 3-0 decision. He is a short, 159cm tall fighter with a lot of horsepower. He has a style that allows him to overwhelm his opponents with his hands without backing down. Nakatani will be Santiago’s opponent in his first defense.

Nakatani said.

Santiago is the type of fighter who goes in and out, and when he gets to his own distance, his hands come out loudly. I expect him to be hard to hit with punches. My team’s approach is to prepare for difficult opponents by imagining the worst-case scenario. I practice by imagining situations where I could get caught in a mess at his distance.”

Like a Mexican, Santiago likes to strike. Two of his three defeats came in the sixth round, when he was still developing, and his third loss in November 2009 was also a winnable one.

I have no problem if I control the ring and get into close fights, but I definitely don’t want to fall apart and end up in the opponent’s ring. I will apply firm pressure and chip away. I won the belts in the flyweight and super flyweight divisions by decision, but this time I will enter the ring as a challenger. I feel good because I can have a sense of urgency in the form of a ‘challenge.

Always thinking about a theme while working through the menu

After the sparring session, I asked Nakatani to reflect on the four rounds he went through that day.

As Rudy told me, I worked on timing my moves. I tried to do it from a closer distance and from a farther distance. I was conscious of the speed of my back and forth movements.

My sparring partner today was the type who spends a lot of time standing still and does things with a backward center of gravity. Since we couldn’t start if we were to work together and watch each other, I decided to put pressure on him and break him down little by little. I also tried to hit his gloves with light punches to try to get more moves.

In the third round, my theme was to sit back, lower my center of gravity, and throw uppercuts. He doesn’t attack easily, so I dared to lower my guard to let him hit me. But of course, I kept my guard high when I was in range to get punched. It would have been unbearable if Santiago hit me with a barrage of punches (laughs). I tried to control the fight by switching between offense and defense.

In the fourth round, I was told to do what I wanted to do, so I watched my opponent’s condition and tried to be precise when I had to close in. The theme throughout was to “just make moves. I feel that I am more sharp and faster than I was last week when this camp started. Now I just have to get my timing in my head.”

Nakatani’s high level of concentration is well documented.

Nakatani had two fights last year, and in a WBO super flyweight title fight held on May 20 in Las Vegas, he landed a counter left hook with 21 seconds to go before the bell to end the fight, sending his opponent to the canvas. It was a stunning knockout.

The fact that it was a spectacular victory at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where boxing legends such as George Foreman, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao have fought heatedly, immediately made it a hot topic in the home The victory was also the talk of the town in the journalism world.
The victory was named the “Knockout of the Year” for ’23 by ESPN and CBS Sports. While Naoya Inoue was honored as the best boxer of the year, Nakatani, who is five years younger than Inoue, is now a name to be remembered in his home country.

I feel honestly happy that I was able to have a world title match on the stage I had been aiming for, and that I was recognized in my home country. It’s a very good thing in my career. I hope to carry this into the future.”

Nakatani, who moved up to bantamweight after graduating from the 115-pound (52.16 kg) super flyweight division after three fights, struggled with weight loss until just before weigh-in time in his fight last September. When he showed up at the venue, Nakatani’s cheeks were puffy and his eyes were double-lidded. The camp commented that Nakatani was suffering from unprecedented weight loss and that he had reached his limit for the super flyweight division.

Although the weight was only 1.36 kg (1.36 lb) lighter than the bantamweight division, which has a maximum weight limit of 118 pounds (53.52 kg), the weight was different from that of a normal person. Moving up a weight class this time gave Nakatani a sense of increased speed, technique, and horsepower. At 172 cm tall, Nakatani is quite tall even for a bantamweight.

I think my body is getting close to being in good shape. I am able to move up in ranks as I gain experience, so I think I came to the bantamweight division at the best time. I feel that I will be able to show a performance that I have never seen before. I haven’t done it in bantam yet, but I think I will be able to fight fresh. I have high expectations for myself.”

His younger brother Tatsuto (right), who is two years younger than him, supports him as his manager.

Japanese fighters who have won the WBC bantamweight title include Takeichiro Tatsuyoshi, Yasuei Yakushiji, Hozumi Hasegawa, Shinsuke Yamanaka, and Naoya Inoue.

I’ve been watching the WBC green belt since I was a child, and I had a vision of having it around my waist. I want to win it for sure.”

Nakatani is often called the “Next Monster. It is needless to explain, but it means “the next great talent after Naoya Inoue. This time, he is challenging for the title that Inoue vacated about a year ago.

I haven’t really thought about the term “next monster,” but I would be happy if people would pay attention to my boxing in that way. I watched the unification fight between Marlon Tapares and Inoue at the end of last year with the image of them fighting because Tapares is a southpaw like me. I knew Inoue was strong. He is definitely better than me, and there is still a gap between us. He has a lot of options, and no matter what kind of fighters he fights, he can handle them. He is really great. I feel that it is a wonderful situation to have someone running in front of you whom you want to catch up with someday.

First, he must take advantage of the opportunity in front of him.

In the bantam division, there are many Japanese who are well-known. I don’t have a particular person I want to fight, but I think the fans will enjoy it, so I really want to make a fight between Japanese fighters in the future. I think that by moving up a weight class, the ranks will become thicker, and there are world-famous fighters there, so I think it will be a plus to become a champion there.

On February 24 at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Jyunjin Nakatani will no doubt have the WBC belt around his waist, and we hope to see him win “Knockout of the Year” for the second year in a row.

  • Photography and text by Soichi Hayashi

    Born in 1969. Passed the professional boxing test as a junior lightweight, but suffered an injury to his left elbow. After working as a reporter for a weekly magazine, he became a nonfiction writer, and in 1996, he moved to the U.S. to teach at a public high school in the U.S. He also works as an educator. 2014, he completed the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, The University of Tokyo. He is the author of "Minority Fist," "America Lower Level Education Site," and "America Problem Child Regeneration Classroom" (all Kobunsha e-books), "God's Ring," "The Door to the World: Forward! Samurai Blue" and "Hohoite to Nurture Coaching" (all from Kodansha).

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