Junto Nakatani is one of my favourite active fighters. On Saturday he produced a wildly impressive performance against a very-tough champion in Alexandro Santiago, who previously impressed when he won his title from Nonito Donaire. He was brilliant.

Regardless of Donaire’s age, Donaire can seriously punch, so for Nakatani to completely control Santiago – disarm him; keep him where he wanted him – and then stop him with one punch was incredible. His team wasn’t at all surprised about how that fight went, which shows true belief in him. They knew that was how it would unfold. He only got hit by a couple of punches of note, when he made mistakes, and he then returned to what he’d already be doing so effectively and landed a left hand Santiago didn’t see and struggled to recover from before being stopped in the sixth. 

The biggest question before the fight was whether Nakatani might be able to carry his power up to bantamweight. His body type – he’s still huge, and imposing, at 118lbs, and he’s taller and longer than the majority of his divisional rivals. With his wide, southpaw stance and hands out in front of him he looks like a praying mantis. 

Before he knocked out Andrew Moloney in May 2023 he’d hit him with everything for 10-plus rounds and had to land that hail-Mary punch to get him out of there in the 12th. The snap in his punches against Santiago was different, which must mean he was previously struggling to make 115lbs. 

I foresee Nakatani becoming the undisputed bantamweight champion. He beats Takuma Inoue, Jason Maloney – when the plot of Moloney getting revenge for his brother will appeal – and Emmanuel Rodriguez, who can be expected to give him the toughest fight of the three. Takuma Inoue isn’t physically strong enough for Nakatani and Moloney’s defence is too open, but Rodriguez is both physical and dogged. I’d also like to think Nakatani can do that relatively quickly, because in the lighter weight divisions it can be easier to make the biggest fights.

Photo Credit: Naoki Fukuda / Top Rank

If he does, the time will come when he fights Naoya Inoue at super bantamweight. As with the Moloneys, there would be the revenge angle; he’ll also have collected all of the titles Naoya Inoue left behind when he moved up in weight. At super bantamweight Nakatani’s still likely to be bigger and taller than his opponents, and stylistically he can trouble even Naoya Inoue. He’s also entering the discussion, pound-for-pound. He’s 26; we’re going to be talking about him for years to come.

Takuma Inoue was similarly impressive when he stopped Jerwin Ancajas in nine on the same promotion, and is another fighter I’ve admired for some time. Shingo Inoue is a very good coach – he has two sons who have very different gifts and abilities but who both can fight. Takuma has great footwork, great timing and head movement, and is very explosive with his accurate punching. His IQ is also very high. Japanese fighters are typically in excellent condition and typically have excellent fundamentals, and he captures that; he’s also willing to stand and trade when he could have made that fight easier for himself.  

His extreme speed made Ancajas look bad. Ancajas looked slow-footed, and like he was punching and thinking slowly. Ancajas realised early on that he was going to get picked apart, so he committed to forcing a fight with Takuma Inoue from in close, and he was improving until the precision of Takuma Inoue’s punches ended the fight. Ancajas was so much bigger that it would come as no surprise if he’d struggled to make the weight and that that had contributed to him being stopped by a body punch, but that doesn’t change how impressively Takuma Inoue took the fight to him, given he was so much bigger. 

Naoya Inoue has changed boxing in Japan, and not just because of the attention his fights are receiving – it’s also because of his aggressive style. A lot of his predecessors might have won the fights he’s won inside the distance by instead earning decisions. The money and attention he’s attracting to Japanese boxing is also making he and his rivals better. When I consider all of the talent they have, I’m struggling to think of a time I’ve been more excited about the Japanese fight scene.

There’s been speculation about him fighting in Australia later this year, but that would surprise me, simply because he doesn’t need to. He gets paid very generously in Japan, and he’s also in a strong position – opponents will travel to him, because he’s such a superstar there.