The Japanese scene today is very much one focused on young fighters and prospects, with many of the old guard having retired. The are however some of the old guard continuing their careers, two of whom are set to face off on October 12th in a Japanese Light Flyweight title eliminator, with the winner to get a shot at the title next year.
The fighters in question are 38 year old Kenichi Horikawa (37-15-1, 11) and 35 year old Koji Itagaki (18-12-3, 7). Between them they are 73 years old with a combined record of 55-27-4 (18) and 566 career rounds, and both know that this really could be their last notable bout if they lose. If they win however they open up the door to another big fight in the first half of 2019. Not only are they experienced but they know each other, having had a great battle against each other in early 2017.
Of the two men Horikawa is the older, more experienced man and the one who has hit the higher highs. He is a former Japanese Light Flyweight champion, having won the title in September 2015 when he beat Shin Ono, and actually beat Itagaki in February 2017 to claim the WBO Asia Pacific title. As well those wins he has mixed against great competition, losing to the likes of Akira Yaegashi, Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa, Kenshiro, Noknoi Sitthiprasert and Tetsuya Hisada, who he is 2-1 against.
In the ring Horikawa is a rough around the edge fighter who can box but often elects to fight, biting down on the gum shield and going toe-to-toe. This can make his bouts exciting, but they can also become sloppy and messy, and his third bout with Hisada became a bit of a bloody mess after several hard head clashes.
Itagaki's record looks dire, he has won just over 50% of his bouts and at 35 is getting no better. The reality however is that he too has been matched hard. He would fight to a draw with future world champions Yu Kimura and Tatsuya Fukuhara and suffer losses to Suguru Muranaka, Warlito Parrenas, Rey Loreto, Horikawa and the aforementioned Hisada, in a Japanese title fight earlier this year. It's worth noting that he has also scored some notable wins, including a stoppage over a then debuting Rangsan Chayanram, aka Palangpol CP Freshmart, and wins over Benezer Alolod and Koki Ono.
Like Horikawa we tend to see Itagaki getting dragged into brawls. He's a better boxer than Horikawa, has good foot work and speed, even at his age, and uses a busy jab whilst on the move. He showed against Hisada that even in his mid-30's he's a bundle of energy. However he can be made to stand his ground and fight fire with fire. It makes for great action but his lack of power is an issue when that happens.
When these two get in the ring on Thursday we suspect we'll see an energetic display from Itagaki, who will use his movement and try to avoid getting involved up close with Horikawa. Eventually however the fresh feet of Itagaki will slow and allow Horikawa his inside fight. When that happens the crowd will be given some thrilling action. The real question however is how long can Itagaki bounce around the ring. If he can do it for more than 4 rounds he should take the decision, but if Horikawa can cause a fire fight early on then he has a real chance of doing enough to take decision.
We suspect Itagaki should be able to take the decision, and avenge his previous defeat to Horikawa, but he will have to work incredibly hard for it.
*Please note this super early preview is due to the fact that the October 12th card has a staggering 6 different Japanese title eliminators so we are posting them a little earlier than usual.
The Light Flyweight division in Japan right now is red hot. Not only does the country boast a trio of world champions, Kosei Tanaka, Ryocihi Taguchi and Akira Yaegashi, but the country also has a number of top contenders, like up coming world title challenger Ken Shiro and former champion Ryo Miyazaki.
Recently Ken Shiro vacated the Japanese title, just weeks before a scheduled defense, as a result he scheduled opponent Tetsuya Hisada (27-9-2, 17) had his proposed shot at the belt changed. Instead of facing Ken Shiro in early April it was decided that he would take on veteran, and former champion, Kenichi Horikawa (32-14-1, 7). The bout will finish off a trilogy between the two veterans and decide the new champion, and should be a genuine treat between two men who are well matched and both have a lot to gain from a win here.
Hisada began the year as the mandatory challenger for the title and when it seemed like that shot would come against Ken Shiro it seemed very hard to believe he would have any chance of winning the title. There appears to be a gulf between the two men, with Ken Shiro being not only the Japanese champion but also the Oriental champion and like a man who was ready to fight for a world title.
Although a talented fighter Hisada's limitations really are domestic level. He's never fought for a title before and has had mixed success at Japanese level. He's currently on a 7-2-1 (7) run, showing real belief in his power, but in the past his power has been questionable and even now he's got a sub 50% KO rate. Saying that however he has often fought above Light Flyweight and his power is more telling than his records suggests. Like wise he's also a tough fighter, with his only loss coming to Hiroyuki Hisataka, a former multi-time world title challenger.
Aged 32 Hisada is getting on in his career and this could be his one and only shot at a title. That could be the drive he needs to put in a career defining performance or it could well be that the shot is too late in to his career for him to make the most of it. After all if he's not managed to impose himself at the top of the division in Japan so far, will he ever be able to?
Whilst Hisada might be a late bloomer it's worth noting that Horikawa didn't actually record his career defining win until he was 35 and he claimed the Japanese title, with a stoppage against Shin Ono. He may not have held the title long, but it was a career defining victory, and his first title success, and he has since added the WBO Asia Pacific title to his career achievements. His career has been a long and remarkable one, with fights against a real who's who of the Asian scene, like the aforementioned Yaegashi as well as Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa, and Yu Kimura.
Horikawa's long career has had it's ups and downs but he's been a great servant and been a persistent figure on the Japanese title scene. He had his first title bout in 2009, against Yaegashi and would have numerous title fights before finally winning his first title. Although he came up short a number of times he was almost always competitive. Although he has 14 losses, he has only been stopped 3 times and has had a number of very close bouts that could have gone his way.
Both fighters like to throw punches, both are veterans and both are under-rated, in terms of skills, power, work rate and toughness. Also worth noting that these two have faced off twice before and both times it was Horikawa coming out on top. Potentially that's another reason for Hisada to be particularly fired up here, looking for not only the title but also revenge for two of his losses.
At their best Horikawa wins this, close but clear, but given he's now 37 and he's fighting for something he's won before, whilst Hisada is trying to claim a title in what may be his only chance we are favouring Hisada to just, narrowly, come out on top here.
This year three young and unbeaten Japanese prospects have left us wanting more and more. One of those is Flyweight destroyer Diago Higa, who has arguably ended the year looking like a star in the making, another is Bantamweight hopeful Hinata Maruta, who we cannot wait to see again, and the third is Ken Shiro (5-0, 3) who faces his most meaningful test on December 27th.
The test in question will see the unbeaten 23 year old go up against Japanese Light Flyweight champion Kenichi Horikawa (30-13-1, 7), in what will be Horikawa's first defense of the Japanese title, and a major bout for Kyoto, the home for both men. It's a bout that, on paper, has everything. The local rivalry, a friendship between the two fighters and youth vs experience.
The 35 year old Horikawa is expected to retire in the very near future. Despite his age however he is in arguably the form of his career. Last time out he scored his most significant win to date, stopping Shin Ono to claim the Japanese national title. That bout saw Horikawa, finally, claiming a title of note after having regularly come up short in “the big ones”.
Through his long career Horikawa has mixed with some of the best in Asia. He has come up short against the likes of Akira Yaegashi, Florante Condes, Ryuji Hara and Yu Kimura. Despite those set backs, and more, he has never looked like a fighter who was going to give up and instead has shown his character, toughness, both mental and physical, and his desire, time and time again. That desire however has been couple with under-rated skills and in another era he could well have been a real world title contender, rather than “merely” a Japanese champion.
Technically nothing stands out about Horikawa, but yet nothing is glaringly bad. He's a solid all rounder, with good skills, speed and toughness, and although his record doesn't show it, he also had and power to keep opponents honest and, as seen last time out, the work rate to simply grind down fighters who over-look him.
Whilst Horikawa is certainly coming to the end of his career the same cannot be said for Ken Shiro who debuted back in 2014 and has quickly made a name for himself. On debut he scored an impressive win against Heri Amol and has since racked up a series of more and more impressive wins, including a 7th round TKO against Katsunori Nagamine and, last time out, a win over Rolly Sumalpong.
So far in his career Ken Shiro has shown us he can do a bit of everything. At his core he's a boxer-mover, and it's that that mentality which is probably the one that suits him best, and is certainly the one he used to great effect against Nagamine. Despite being a boxer-puncher the youngster has shown the ability to be a counter puncher, an out boxer, a puncher and at times a brawler.
So far Ken Shiro has had almost everything his own way. The one scare was a flash, and we really do mean flash, knockdown against Sumalpong. Following that that knockdown, which came from a peach of a punch, the youngster was back within a 3 count and looked more embarrassed than hurt, before going off to win the bout with a clear decision. That bout showed that Ken Shiro could do 10 rounds, knew how to ride out a storm and knew how to adjust during a fight
For the youngster this is a huge step up but one that he will feel confident of making, in fact the way he's looked so far it seems almost certain that he will go on to win a world title down the line. That level of confidence could bite him in the backside, as it recently did with Shohei Omori, it could however help him buckle down and put in the work needed to continue his rise.
Coming in to this one we do need to admit we are very excited about the match up. We do however think it's a case of Ken Shiro being too young, smart and fast for the more worn champion. Our prediction is Ken Shiro to take a decision, albeit a very hard fought and competitive one.
Sometimes it's great to have a long term national champion sorting the division out and taking on all comers whilst extending a reign to prove they really are the best in the country. On the other hand it can also be great when a champion vacates to focus on bigger and better challenges, whilst leaving an opening for a potentially brilliant match up.
That second scenario has been seen recently in Japan at Light Flyweight, where Yu Kimura, a world ranked and potential world champion, has vacated the national title and left us with a title showdown between the two top domestic contenders.
Those contenders are former OPBF champion Shin Ono (18-6-2, 2) and former multi-time title challenger Kenichi Horikawa (29-13-1, 6). Neither is a genuinely big name in the sport but both have styles that should gel well to give us an exciting war on September 17th.
Of the two men Ono is probably the better known of the two and is, on paper at least, the more distinguished of the two men. In his 24 fight career he holds notable wins over Xiong Zhao Zhong, Yu Kimura, Toshimasa Ouchi and Omari Kimweri. On paper they are solid wins, though in reality they do generally come with small notes, such as Kimura being a 5 fight novice when Ono beat him, whilst the fights with Ouchi, Kimweri and Zhong were all paper thin.
The most notable fight of Ono's is actually a loss, in an IBF Minimumweight title fight back in May 2014 to Katsunari Takayama. That bout saw Ono give Takayama some problems before Takayama came on strong to take a clear win, with the help of two late knock-downs. Since then however Ono has fought just once, more than 12 months ago, and has suffered an injury that ruled him out of a rematch with Kimura that was supposed to happen earlier this year.
As a fighter Kimura is a talented and fast southpaw who moves a lot and lets his hands go a fair bit. On the hand he's also a jab busy fighter who rarely sets his feet and as a result lacks real power on his shots. This is why he's only scored 2 stoppages in 24 fights and why he hasn't had the success that his career has perhaps deserved given his in ring ability. Another issue is actually his southpaw stance and he has already been involved a trio of technical decisions. His biggest problem however will be inactivity, given he's not fought in a year and at 33, heading towards 34, he can scarcely afford time out of the ring.
At 35 years old Horikawa is the older man in terms of physical age, however with 43 bouts, and 287 rounds on the clock, he's much older than his physical age. Not only has he got a lot of miles on the clock but a lot of them have come against talented fighters with losses to Akira Yaegashi, Michael Landero, Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa, Ryuji Hara and Yu Kimura, among others. Sadly for Horikawa 3 of those losses have come in Japanese title fights, which another has come in OPBF title contenst. In fact he is currently 0-6 in title contests.
Whilst going through Horikawa's losses looks impressive it needs to be noted that he also has a number of solid wins on the domestic scene, including wins against Masayoshi Segawa, Norihito Tanaka, Hiroshi Matsumoto, Yusuke Sakashita, Tetsuya Hisada and Toshimasa Ouchi.
In the ring Horikawa is a busy and tough fighter who combines those traits with a solid jab, impressive speed and under-rated technical ability, though he does have a knack of getting a bit wild at times. Looking at his record you may suspect he's a “bum” but the reality couldn't be further from the truth and in all honesty he's a real handful on the domestic stage. Unfortunately his biggest may well a combination of his lack of fire power and a mental problem in regards to winning a “big one”. If the pressure has got to him in the past then the same could strike here given that it will almost certainly be his last big fight.
Coming in both men know what is up for grabs and both will fight like they mean it. That should give us a lot of action and a lot of exchanges. Given that both men are relatively tough, just a combined 5 stoppage losses between, and neither can punch with authority we're really unlikely to see a stoppage, we are however certain to get action. The question is who will impress the judges? It's a hard one to answer and one we suspect will be answered in a very competitive 10 round battle between two very well matched veterans.
Interestingly it seems that youngster Ken Shiro is eyeing up the winner of this one for a show down in the near future. Whilst the two veterans are excellent fighters we suspect the youngster would have to be favoured over the winner, which ever way this one ends.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
The second Japanese title fight of the year takes place on February 1st in the Light Flyweight division. The title, which was vacated late last year by Naoya Inoue, is up for grabs as the #1 ranked Yu Kimura (12-2-1, 2) takes on the #2 ranked Kenichi Horikawa (25-12-1, 4).
From looking at the fighters records it'd be fair to assume that Horikawa would be the under-dog. Although he's more experienced with 38 fights on his ledger he has lost around 30% of his contests. This is however a case where numbers don't tell us the full story and in fact will mislead people.
Horikawa, 33, started his career back in 2000 and actually started his professional career with a 3-4 record. Despite that poor start Horikawa developed and advanced his record to an impressive 17-5-1 by August 2008. Having won 14 of 16 fights he had genuinely established himself on the domestic stage and moved in to a position to get a national title fight.
In 2009 Horikawa would get his first title fight. Unfortunately for him it came against Akira Yaegashi who narrowly outpointed Horikawa over 10 hard fought rounds to claim the Japanese Minimumweight title. Less than a year later Horikawa lost to Michael Landero in an OPBF Minimumweight title fight and since then his career has struggled for traction with losses in 4 of his subsequent 10 bouts.
Although Horikawa has been losing fights regularly over the past few years he has been facing a high calibre of opponent with losses coming to Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa Ryuji Hara and Noknoi Sitthiprasert. Those losses, whilst bad on paper, were often competitive with the losses to Hara and Noknoi both being very competitive. Horikawa may have several losses but he has mixed in extremely good company and will have learned more from those losses than he will have learned from many of his victories.
Aged 30 Kimura is the younger man though is much less experienced in terms of both quantity and quality of fights. He has been a professional since 2006 and started his career unbeaten through 5 bouts, going 4-0-1, before dropping a technical decision to Shin Ono. That loss was soon put behind him as he recorded 5 straight victories, including one over Masayoshi Segawa, to move to 9-1-1.
Unfortunately for Kimura he would then run into his most well known opponent, Ryoichi Taguchi, who stopped him in 6 rounds to inflict the first stoppage loss on Kimura's record. Since then he has bounced back with a trio of victories though when you consider that the most recent of those came against Tatsuya Fukuhara, who was beaten by the debuting Takuma Inoue back in December, then it's fair to say he's not yet proven his real quality.
The one certainty here seems to be that the bout will go the distance. Neither man has real power and in fact with just a combined 6 stoppages from 37 wins it's fair to say that neither man will fear the others power. Sure both have been stopped before but those stoppages have come to a higher level of fighter.
Going in to this fight we know to expect a decision and we also assume that many will be picking Kimura, we however fancy that the experience of Horikawa will help see him through to the victory. He's proven to be tough, he's tricky and whilst not the most technically skilled he does look like the sort of fighter who will give anyone who lacks concussive power a real nightmare. Not only does Horikawa have the experience edge but he also knows that this will likely be his final title opportunity, that can help fighters find an extra gear and we think that will just do enough to see him over the line.
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.