Japan’s Junto Nakatani – who fights Alexandro Santiago for the WBC bantamweight title at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo on Saturday – can fight.

For a fighter who’s already won titles at flyweight and super flyweight he’s tall, and his reputation’s growing. His knockout of Andrew Moloney in May 2023 was impressive. Moloney had already established himself in the US, so for Nakatani to knock him out as he did that night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas was a great way for him to introduce himself to a new audience. It’s even been described as “the knockout of the year” and compared to Manny Pacquiao’s knockout of Ricky Hatton in 2009.

Moloney might not have been a pound-for-pound contender but he was very respected. To stop him like that made a real statement. If it hadn’t been for the controversy that surrounded Devin Haney being awarded victory over Vasyl Lomachenko that night, Nakatani would have earned even greater respect. 

He already strikes me as big enough to succeed as a bantamweight, but whether or not he’ll also carry his power up in weight is another question. Judging by his frame, it won’t have been easy for him to make flyweight or super flyweight, so he can be expected to fill out, but he might also have to become more reliant on his boxing abilities.

Santiago’s therefore a suitable first test. Though Nonito Donaire was past his prime when Santiago outpointed him in July 2023 it was a win that resonated and that people will remember. It shouldn’t be overplayed, but it gives him further momentum. 

It’s been suggested that victory for Nakatani could earn him recognition on pound-for-pound lists, but the nature of performance is just as important. In so many respects pound-for-pound lists can be bad for boxing – they make fighters reluctant to take certain fights because they know that if they lose they’ll no longer feature on them, and also how difficult it can be to return to them. Pound-for-pound lists come to be seen as money-makers by professional fighters – without those conversations taking place more of the fights we want to see might get made.

More relevant might be whether Nakatani can add his name to the likes of Naoya Inoue, Jesse “Bam” RodriguezRoman “Chocolatito” GonzalezCarlos CuadrasJuan Francisco Estrada and more among the lighter-weight greats of the modern era. Winning certainly brings him into that conversation, but the extent to which he is remembered alongside those names will depend on how he looks not only against Santiago – who’s not just showing up to make Nakatani look good – but against other opponents as well. 

Increasingly, the modern era feels like a good one for Japanese boxing beyond the borders of Japan. There was the Kameda brothers, Tomoki and Daiki; in 2024 Inoue is one of the best fighters in the world. I expect Nakatani to look good, but not to stop Santiago – it’s difficult to consistently carry power up in weight. A points victory would regardless give him plenty of momentum.

Also on Saturday, but at the Caribe Royale in Orlando, Florida, Edgar Berlanga fights Padraig McCrory

Berlanga’s more recent fights have meant him recording more rounds, which should be to his benefit. He was almost getting bored, or taking for granted, that he would knock opponents out; receiving some criticism has given him increased focus and led to him improving his boxing, and not just his punching.

The undefeated McCrory is hungry – this is the biggest opportunity of his career – and has some power in his right hand. Berlanga’s often been too easy to it, so a fight between them should be fun, even if it’s one Berlanga can be expected to come through to ultimately get back on track.

McCrory looks a more difficult opponent than Jason Quigley, who Berlanga beat in June 2023 but who was more shopworn. A fight between Berlanga and Jaime Munguia can then still hopefully prove a lot of fun. 

At 168lbs everyone’s aiming for the money that comes with a fight against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, and Munguia and Berlanga are both high-action fighters who sell tickets and can be defensively vulnerable. Berlanga’s 26 – even if he’s not being spoken about like he was, he still has a lot of potential, including at world level. “Canelo” also doesn’t seem desperate to fight the very best, so if he looks good enough, he can return to contention to fight him.

All of that, of course, relies on him beating McCrory, who’s good enough that he can’t be overlooked. A fight between an Irishman and an American-Puerto Rican seems like it’s made for New York, but there’s a big Puerto Rican population in Orlando, too – McCrory will definitely know who’s the so-called “A side”.