When one thinks of the biggest fights of 2009, obviously Cotto-Pacquiao, Mayweather-Marquez and Hatton-Pacquiao will spring to mind immediately. But in terms of the sheer number of eyes watching a fight, perhaps no fight globally in 2009 has been, is, or can be bigger than the Sunday morning showdown between Daisuke Naito and Koki Kameda at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan.
The bad blood between WBC flyweight titlist Naito and Japanese boxing's baddest boy Kameda goes back years, and starts with Naito's 2007 fight against Koki's brother, Daiki. Naito clearly outclassed Daiki in the fight, and was fouled frequently. At the end, Daiki and his father were suspended after the Kameda family essentially attempted to assault Naito. Daiki even slammed Naito to the ground, picking him up by the waist to do so. Daiki was suspended for a year. His father was suspended indefinitely.
Koki got off with a warning, but was not without fault. TV cameras caught him telling Daiki to elbow Naito in the eye.
So yeah, this one's a little bit personal.
Beyond the genuine dislike, this is a fight that pits philosophies. Naito is regarded as a gentleman, a credit to Japanese boxing and the sport in general. His series of fights with Thai living legend Pongsaklek Wonjongkam turned him into a superstar. And then there's Koki, perhaps the rudest and crudest Japanese fighter of them all.
To truly understand how loathed he is, you have to at least sort of "get" the cultural differences. What may seem to be "cool" in a bad guy way in America is truly disgraceful from a famous Japanese athlete. And Kameda ups the ante. Were Floyd Mayweather Jr. on his worst behavior a Japanese fighter, he might approach Kameda, who speaks with a brash arrogance that is perhaps unrivaled throughout the boxing world.
But ignoring all of the great dramatic reasons this fight is so huge, how might it play out?
Naito is a fine, fine boxer, and while his KO rate isn't exceptional and he doesn't seem like the hardest puncher, there's some pop. Back in 2004, Naito defended his Japanese flyweight title against Takeyuki Kojima. It was the fastest knockout ever in a Japanese title fight:
But truthfully, if you're looking for the ferocious puncher of the two, it's Kameda, who has some sharp highlights of his own:
There are a few factors I think really will make this fight go one way or the other.
Kameda: Hype or Legit?
At 23, Kameda has a 21-0 (14 KO) record, but has been criticized by several of Japan's top boxers as being untested and not as good as advertised. Many have said they'd love to fight him. Naito is a VERY big step up in class for Kameda. Even considering that fighters in Japan, Thailand, etc., tend to have softer looking records than we're used to, Kameda's record is soft.
Personally, I think Kameda is the real deal. He's a ferocious fighter, and so far his style has backed up his big talk. That said, you have to wonder what happens if he's faced with a man that doesn't crumble quickly, and what happens when he gets hit back. Does he pull the cliche bully bit and back down? Does he tear back at Naito?
Naito: Age May Be a Concern
At 35, Naito is no spring chicken. He knows that, too, and as far as freshness, Kameda has a big advantage. Naito has been through some tough fights over his 13-year professional career. Kameda has been through just one, against Juan Jose Landaeta in 2006, a disputed split decision win for Kameda.
But Naito's wars with Wonjongkam and plenty of other tough distance fights give some cause for concern. He was given much more of a battle from China's Xiong Zhao Zhong than most expected in his last fight in May. Is he on the downside?
These questions and more will be answered in just a few hours. I may be in the minority here, and if it turns out Kameda isn't the fighter I think he is, this pick might look just plain stupid. But I'm going with Kameda by late stoppage. Bad Left Hook will be here at 5:58am ET for live, round-by-round coverage and scoring. If you're nuts enough, we hope you'll join us.