With the departure of seven-year K-1 champion and star Takeru Segawa from the promotion, Masashi Kumura and Akihiro Kaneko have been rising stars competing for his old spot at the helm of the ship. The two had orbited each other for years as top talents in the Super Bantamweight division - both held the Krush title, and Kaneko also fought and defeated Masashi’s brother Shuhei Kumura in a close extra-round affair in 2019. Masashi successfully avenged his brother’s loss, beating Kaneko in a 2020 meeting.
What followed was a fantastic run of form from both men. Both went 4-0 since the first fight with a string of stoppages, and Kumura notably won his second decision victory over one-time Krush 55 KG champ and current RISE 57.5 KG champ Taito Gunji. Their rematch materialized in the finals of a one-night 55 KG Grand Prix to decide the new owner of Yoshiki Takei's vacated belt. It was close and controversial – most viewers had it a draw after three rounds, and no extension was given – but the new K-1 Super Bantamweight champion was Akihiro Kaneko.
The intrigue continued from here with cross-promotional super event THE MATCH. Kaneko would lose a non-title bout to reigning RISE champion Masahiko Suzuki, while Kumura scored a big win in a close fight againnst top talent Shiro. The trilogy fight may have felt obvious, but was derailed as K-1 pulled in fresh talent in the form of former 2-weight Lumpinee stadium Muay Thai champion Kompetch.
Kompetch is a legitimate top-level fighter on the Thai circuit – if the intent from K-1 was to build up hype for the Kaneko-Kumura tie breaker, they bit off a little more than they could chew. He has been two-times Lumpinee champion and a one-time Channel 7 champion, who went 7-3 overall in 2022 with wins over fellow top fighters Ronachai, View, Samingdam and Focus. View challenges 57.5 KG K-1 champion Taito Gunji for his title, also on K'FESTA 6.
Kompetch would edge out Masashi Kumura in a close contest over three rounds, winning his present shot at the K-1 title. Bizarrely, after this was booked, he then accepted his first 4oz glove fight with the supremely talented Prajanchai on ONE's inaugural Friday Fights show at Lumpinee Stadium. He was wobbled and later dropped to the canvas by Prajanchai en route to losing a unanimous decision, fifty days before his K-1 title booking.
KOMPETCH – LOW KICKS AND STRAIGHT PUNCHES
Kompetch is a mobile and determined ranged striker. Orthodox like Kaneko, Kumura and Prajanchai, his stance is very square and medium length, a bit longer than is typical in modern Muay Thai. This gives him a high degree of mobility and the ability to fire a wide variety of strikes straight from his neutral position. His right kick is probably his best shot – he’s great at firing it on the move, and it lands with power despite appearing pretty hard for his opponents to see coming. He kicks low, middle and high, most often low, and does particularly nice work landing low kicks as counters. Even after being rocked and dropped in round two by Prajanchai, he was able to have significant success in the 3rd round with his right shin.
He’s also an active puncher, with a good jab that flows fluidly into follow-up shots. Generally he lengthens his stance as he jabs and steps back up into a more defensive stance as he retracts it. In this way he can quickly leave range, giving himself space to see and deal with counters, and surprise his opponent when he chooses to follow up with more punches. He throws the right cross quickly and often as a counter, and he has the gas tank to keep up a high pace for three rounds.
He also has good eyes and distancing, making him seem pretty hard to consistently hit at range. That square, upright stance starts to work against him on defense though – he’s a mobile target, but a big one, and opponents who manage to keep him in range for combinations can usually defeat his reactive parry-based defense. He simply carries his hands pretty far away from his head most of the time, and in a few fights during 2022 he ate a ton of punches for being open and upright in mid-range. Being quite mobile also means the low kick is often there if his opponents look for it, as Kumura did.
In my opinion his biggest issue by far, in a kickboxing context, is how open he leaves himself to counter punches. That right hand occasionally gets clumsy and always gets retracted at chest height; he also doesn’t often employ any of the pre-emptive head movement that might save him in these situations. Prajanchai hurt him badly twice with punches in exchanges, and Kumura was also able to ding him with the counter left hook frequently. Kompetch has also demonstrated an unfortunate willingness to turn his fights into boxing matches, only occasionally kicking for some stretches. Fortunately for Kompetch, he’s durable enough to eat a lot of punches if he has to.
When he’s at his best, he’s firing on the move. When he came out for the 3rd round in what was a very close fight with Kumura he came out on his toes, bouncing in and out with quick jabs, 1-2s and right kicks. He started slipping Kumura’s bombing overhand right and taking his head off-line as he threw his own right hand. Crucially, he kicked frequently. He hid clean body kicks behind punch combinations, and timed Kumura’s steps to hit his lead leg: as a ranged scorer, and as a counter to Kumura’s boxing. Kompetch can kick fast and with little telegraph, and generally picks his targets well with good timing.
THE KANEKO MATCHUP
Kaneko is a quick, hard hitting orthodox puncher. He carries big power at the weight and has much better technique than Kompetch in boxing exchanges. The evade & left hook he showed in his losing effort with Suzuki is sure to be very dangerous for Kompetch as a counter to his right hand. Kaneko's step up left kick is a very fast long range opportunity finder: his stance is quite bladed and he doesn’t square up any when he throws the kick, so there isn’t a lot of rotation behind it, but he has fast feet and is able to dig it in quickly and step down from it into powerful right hand blows. It will be more difficult for Kompetch to outmaneuver Kaneko than it was Kumura, given the short defensive stance of Kumura and the longer & more linearly mobile stance of Kaneko. If Kompetch tries to punch his way out of this dilemma, I expect this would go badly and it could turn out to be a short night for him.
The compromise inherent in that longer stance is where Kaneko will be most vulnerable to Kompetch's style. Kumura fought out of such a short and square stance because it allowed him to check low kicks – which he did many times, forcing Kompetch to find creative ways to keep landing them. Kaneko is both longer and more bladed than Kumura by default, and he'll have a much harder time being consistent with the check. In his last fight he ate big, clean outside low kicks from Suzuki. Kaneko's hands are dangerous and he might be able to time a big counter punch while Kompetch is low kicking, as Comeback TK.Yuttana did, but Comeback had an easier time of this as a southpaw. Kompetch's low kick doesn’t come with much of a defensive guard at all, but his twist takes his head slightly off-line in a way that helps him stay somewhat safer from orthodox right hands. If Kaneko can't finish Kompetch with punches or at least discourage him from kicking somehow, he could be in a difficult position with a compromised leg by the third round of this fight.
My tentative prediction is that Kaneko will either drop or KO Kompetch to defend his belt, but this should be a good match, and a fun meeting of two very different styles at a high level.