Santiago vs Nakatani in the works for Feb. 24

Fighting

WBO super flyweight champion Junto Nakatani is headed to heavier pastures, as ESPN’s Salvador Rodriguez reports that the Japanese standout has “nearly finalized” a February 24th clash with WBC bantamweight titlist Alexandro Santiago on Japanese soil.

After a lengthy and eye-catching flyweight run saw Nakatani (26-0, 19 KO) knock out GIemel Magramo for WBO gold and smash his way to back-to-back defenses, he kicked off his super flyweight campaign with a wide decision over the very capable “Chihuas” Rodriguez. He went on to claim his second WBO belt by obliterating Andrew Moloney with what’s probably still 2023’s Knockout of the Year, then ran over Argi Cortes four months later.

I’d have liked to see him stick around 115 a bit longer, but there probably wasn’t much point; Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez are inactive, with Estrada likely to face Carlos Cuadras in a trilogy match at some point after his return, and WBA champ Kazuto Ioka vacated his WBO belt when Nakatani’s mandatory came calling. Outside of Fernando Martinez, the pickings are slim.

Plus, it’s not like Nakatani doesn’t have the frame for 118. He was huge at 112, he was big at 115, and he’ll still have height and reach advantages over all four bantamweight titlists.

That includes Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KO), who finally graduated from workhorse to champion with a decisive win over Nonito Donaire in July. He’ll be an underdog here, not because he’s not a great boxing but because Nakatani is arguably Japan’s strongest non-Inoue fighter at the moment. Still, Santiago will make him earn it, and he deserves all the credit in the world for taking on one of the sport’s best in hostile territory.

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