He became a world champion before he was old enough to knock back a celebratory Sapporo to commemorate the occasion. Nine years later, Koki Kameda is a grizzled veteran at the age of 28, although he still possesses the boyish looks of the precocious teenager whose flamboyant personality served as the gas can that ignited a nation.
Speaking through a translator at the balmy Las Vegas gym where he trains, Kameda’s physical bearing is the inverse of his words: reserved, self-contained, coolly disimpassioned.
“I’m probably the most famous fighter in Japan,” he says nonchalantly, “but I don’t let that get to my head. I welcome it. I have a lot of charisma, and that comes out in a lot of the programming in Japan on TV.”
In his homeland, Koki Kameda (33-1, 18 KOs), the eldest of three fighting brothers whom have all won world titles, is the kind of crossover star who models underwear in his downtime.
He’s been known to be a polarizing figure because of that aforementioned charisma, which manifests itself in an unflinching self-confidence that borders on brashness.
To wit, as he prepares to take on countryman and 115-pound world champion Kohei Kono (30-8-1, 13 KOs) in Chicago on Friday night (Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET/PT) for the opportunity to win his fourth title in as many weight classes, Kameda is anything but demure regarding his expectations for victory.
“I respect Kono as a champion, but my skill level is far superior,” Kameda says of his veteran opponent, who is six years his elder. “I’m not worried one bit as far as what his experience brings to the table, because I have the same experience.”
Kameda’s fighting style has evolved over the years as result of that experience.
He began his career as a fireball in the ring, out to singe opponents with a breathless work rate and funny car-fast fists.
He’s since become a more studious boxer, a craftsman as much as a dervish. If, in the past, he was the boxing equivalent of a machine gun, spraying its fire every which way, he’s now more akin to a rifle equipped with a high-powered scope, more precise, yet still capable of explosiveness.
“Every fight is different for me,” explains Kameda, who weighed in Thursday at exactly 115 pounds. “I can fight aggressively or I can box. I can just feel my opponent out in one round and know what I have to do to change.”
Against Kono, who hit the scale Thursday at 114.8 pounds, what he’ll have to do is break down a man who doesn’t succumb to pressure easily and who has deceptive power.
Kono’s never been stopped, and though his knockout percentage (33 percent) isn’t staggering, he’s sent his opponent to the canvas six times in his last five fights.
He’ll be defending his world title for the second time in his first bout outside of Japan when he battles Kameda, who will be in fighting in the U.S. for the second time.
Having already won titles at 108, 112 and 118 pounds, Kameda will reverse his upward trajectory in weight and drop down to 115 for a chance to become a world champion yet again.
“Even though I’ve fought at a heavier weight, I feel strong and good at this weight,” he says. “It’s never been a problem for me to come down in weight.”
Kameda sees this fight as a potentially transformative one.
He might not betray a lot of emotions on this day, but it’s because his mind is on bigger things.
He doesn’t want to talk about his ambitions. He wants to realize them.
“It’s very important for me to win four titles in four weight divisions,” he says. “Nobody in the history of Japan has ever done it.”
For full coverage of Kono vs Kameda, visit our fight page.