Earlier this year Japan's Rikki Naito (19-2, 7) became a 2-weight champion, adding the OPBF Light Welterweight title to a previous reign as the Japanese Super Featherweight king courtesy of a 9th round TKO win against Jeffrey Arienza. This coming Tuesday Naito looks to make his first defense of that title as he faces off with the tough and hard hitting Jheritz Chavez (8-2-2, 6). It's a tough first defense for Naito and a great chance for Chavez to pick up a major regional title, to add to some minor title reigns and a GAB title.
For those who haven't seen Naito the Japanese fighter began his career as a somewhat hyped hopeful, courtesy of being the son of Cassius Naito. The potential was quickly shown and in just 29 months Naito had gone from debutant to Japanese Super Featherweight champion. At that point he was just 22, tipped for huge things and looking like a real one to watch, despite only being 9-0 (5). Sadly since then things have never really come together like Naito would have wanted, despite scoring 3 defenses of the title and notching wins against Masayuki Ito and Nihito Arakawa.
In December 2015 Naito lost the Japanese Super Featherweight title, via technical decision, to Kenichi Ogawa, and would lose a rematch a year later before deciding to abandon the division and has since grown into a solid Light Welterweight and gone 3-0 (2) with a notable win over Baishanbo Nasiyiwula.
In the ring Naito is a speedy fighter, though has began to slow down more in the ring as he's gone up in weight and become more physical. He's not a brawler but certainly holds his feet more at 140lbs than he typically did at 130lbs. On paper that sounds like it could be a problem, however in his case it really does simply seem like a case of maturing into a bigger and stronger fighter. Rather than peaking early he has developed into a strong young man, and become a potential fixture in the fringes of the world rankings.
Aged 27 Chavez has been a man who has made marks domestically but failed to come out on top when he's gone outside of the Philippines, losing to Vage Sarukhanyan in Russia and Hiroki Okada in Japan. Despite those losses he has looked very comfortable in and around the Filipino domestic following a 2-0-2 start to his professional career. That faltering start has been followed by notable wins over Tatsuya Yanagi, Al Sabaupan and Reymond Yanong. Not only has he been notching up wins but also been flipping between divisions, picking up regional titles at Lightweight and Welterweight and a domestic title at Light Welterweight.
Chavez looks like a fighter who is powerful, tough and strong, but fights like a man who wants to use his skills, his jab and his footwork to win bouts. Sadly that seems to leave him looking like he's a fighter who is just half a step behind the likes of Okada and Sarukhanyan, who took advantage of Chavez's slow feet and unwillingness to truly commit to an attack. Chavez does have a nice jab, but lacks the speed to really fight the way he does against a higher level of competition, who will stick their jab in his face as he trudges forward.
Given Naito's edge in speed we strongly favour him here on a stylistic basis. Chavez won't go away, and will follow Naito round after round, but Naito will always be a step or two ahead of the Filipino. Given that Okada couldn't stop Chavez we don't image Naito will, but we would be surprised if this was particularly competitive as a bout.
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.