The bout, which was actually expected to be agreed for December, was a bout that we had known was in the works with the two men posing for a picture together back in August, following Shibata's most recent defense against Yasuyuki Akiyama. That was Akiyama's 3rd defense of the unified crown and his 5th straight win since losing to the then debuting Ryota Murata back in August 2013.
The bout will be Maebara's first title bout though he's a previous winner of the All Japan Rookie of the year, claiming the Middleweight crown in 2013. He's also a very confident fighter who seems to see himself as the #2 in Japan, only behind the aforementioned Murata who he has said he'd like to fight.
Whilst Maebara hasn't faced the stiffest competition so far he does have some notable victories on his record, including former champion Sanosuke Sasaki, who incidentally shared the ring with Murata in what was Murata's test bout, and Petchsuriya Singwancha. Whilst his competition hasn't been great the confident 22 year old does seem to have belief in his power and size and he will have a clear advantage in physical size when he faces Shibata as well as a big youth advantage.
The 35 year old defending champion, who wasn't at today's press conference, has been a real stalwart of the Japanese scene for a number of years. He won his first titles back in 2009, when he claimed the unified Japanese and OPBF Light Middleweight titles. He'd lose those titles to Charlie Ota bout would bounce back and has since become a 2-time Japanese Light Middleweight champion and the unified Middleweight kingpin.
Whilst Shibata did lose his most notable bout, to Murata, he has claimed numerous good victories over his career, including victories over Takehiro Shimokawara, Yuki Nonaka, Maebara's stable mate Takayuki Hosokawa,Daisuke Nakagawa and Makoto Fuchigami, scoring multiple wins over some of those fighters. Also in recent years we've actually seen improvements in Shibata who isn't a noted puncher but has stopped his last 3 foes.
Whilst this bout is unlikely to register too much internationally we do need to confess that we're looking forward to it and that it will be a pure boxer vs a pure puncher bout, which is always something to look forward too.
(Image, of Maebara, Takashi Edagawa and Takayuki Hosokawa, courtesy of boxingnews.jp)