Keita Kurihara takes on former challenger Froilan Saludar in Tokyo on Thursday
Power-punching Keita Kurihara will defend his OPBF bantamweight title against experienced former world title challenger Froilan Saludar at the Ariake Arena, Tokyo, Japan, on Thursday.
Kurihara, The Ring’s No. 10 ranked bantamweight, appreciates the importance of this fight if he is to achieve his next target and fight for a world title in 2024.
“Currently, my world ranking has risen, and I’m on the verge of becoming world champion,” Kurihara (17-7-1, 15 knockouts) told The Ring through Loren Goodman. “I can’t afford to lose here and miss this chance, so I’m putting all my energy into preparing for this fight.”
Kurihara knows he has to be wary of his well-travelled Filipino opponent, who will be fighting in Japan for the fifth time.
“Saludar has fought some famous boxers here in Japan,” he said. “Even though he lost to Takuma Inoue and Daigo Higa, he knocked both of them down, so he’s a really dangerous fighter with a big punch.
“His power early on is especially impressive, so you’ve got to be careful about that, but as the fight gets into the middle rounds, you can see how it drops off a bit.”
The 30-year-old enters this contest on the back of two exciting fights with compatriot Kai Chiba.
Kurihara lost the first fight when he was stopped in the final round in a close battle. However, he was able to exact revenge in the rematch, stopping Chiba in two-rounds.
“Up until my first fight with Chiba, I was a fighter who could punch, but there were a lot of holes in my game,” he admitted. “Chiba studied me, nullifying my strengths and exploiting my weaknesses.
“In the second fight with Chiba, we were able to improve on those weaknesses and come away with the win. I feel confident now that I’ve been able to improve on all those areas that were weak.”
The father of three is a good case of not judging a book by its cover. He had a difficult start to his career but has learnt on the job and improved immeasurably over the past few years.
“I started boxing as a freshman in high school at the gym I still belong to, Ichiriki Boxing Gym in Tokyo,” he said. “I turned pro without going to college or any experience as an amateur, and at first I had a losing record of 3 wins, 4 loses, but then I won a regional title, and have now been able to rise to the top of the world rankings.”
All being well in this fight and Kurihara might get his big opportunity to fight for a world title. He is currently ranked No. 3 by the WBC and No. 4 by the IBF.
“It’s the dream, to become world champion – I’ve been following my whole life,” he said. “I want to become known as the very best at bantamweight.”
Saludar (33-7-1, 23 KOs) turned professional at flyweight in 2009. The one-time prospect went unbeaten in his first 20 outings but was stopped by McWilliams Arroyo (TKO 2). He suffered a second defeat at the hands of Takuma Inoue (UD 10). The now 34-year-old got back in the win column with several wins before getting stopped in a WBO 112-pound title fight by Sho Kimura (KO 6) in China in July 2018.
His form has become patchy since, but he has lost only when he’s stepped up against the likes of Andrew Moloney (UD 10), Daigo Higa (SD 8) and, most recently, Luis Nery (TKO 2).
Kurihara enters as the favorite but as he pointed out, he’ll have to be careful early in the fight before slowly breaking Saludar down. Kurihara seems to be on the up and I can see a second-half stoppage win coming.
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