Japanese boxing great Takashi Uchiyama looked motivated on Wednesday as he made his final preparations to defend his WBA super featherweight belt for the 11th time against Nicaragua’s Oliver Flores at Ota General City Gymnasium on Thursday.

One of the major reasons for this is because he’ll step into the ring in better shape than he has in recent years.

The hard-punching right-hander has been plagued by hand and elbow problems due to his own heavy striking. But his gym’s president, Hitoshi Watanabe, said Uchiyama will fight injury-free for the first time in about five years.

“He’ll enter tomorrow’s bout in satisfactory fashion,” Watanabe said at the signing ceremonies for Uchiyama and WBA light flyweight champ Ryoichi Taguchi, a member of the same gym, on Wednesday at the same venue. “His chest size has gotten bigger by about 10 centimeters. I think the fans will see a very strong Uchiyama tomorrow.”

Uchiyama had minor surgery on his left elbow after a title defense in May. But the 36-year old said he’s no longer bothered by that and is in top form.

It is the first world title shot for Flores, who has 27 wins, two losses and one draw in his professional career. The 24-year old said his motivation level became higher after he saw Uchiyama in person, but he won’t underestimate the undefeated champ.

“Uchiyama is a great fighter,” Flores said through an interpreter. “I’ve gotten even hungrier (to face Uchiyama). I’m ready to fight both physically and mentally, and I think the fans will be satisfied tomorrow.”

Uchiyama has held all of his world championship bouts inside Japan, but there is speculation his next fight might happen around spring in the United States. That’s another major motivator.

Uchiyama didn’t mention the potential bout abroad because he needs to first beat Flores in order to make it happen, but would certainly like the chance.

“I know there are talks on that and my president’s working on it. I’d be excited,” Uchiyama said. “Yet I’m only focusing on beating Flores now, and if I get it done, I’ll think of setting a new goal after January 1.”

Despite him having landed in the top 10 of Ring Magazine’s pound-for-pound list earlier this year, Uchiyama’s fame has not necessarily been high globally — perhaps because he’s always fought in Japan. But that could change if he hits the ring overseas and has an intriguing bout, particularly in Las Vegas.

“If I win this fight, a potential big match might take shape,” said Uchiyama, who’ll fight on New Year’s Eve for the fifth consecutive year. “So I’m just concentrating on winning this one.”

Meanwhile, Taguchi will make his second title defense against Luis de la Rosa of Colombia.

Taguchi, who captured the belt on New Year’s Eve last year, said his life has completely changed and doesn’t want to part with it by any means.

“Before my second title defense, I feel composed,” Taguchi, 29, said. “My daily life has changed a lot and I feel that it’s paid off to be the world champion.”

However, de la Rosa is confident he can take the title from Taguchi.

“Taguchi will be surprised tomorrow,” said de la Rosa, the seventh-ranked boxer in the WBA light flyweight class. “It will be a victorious night for me and I will go back to Columbia with the belt.”

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