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 depth at Light Flyweight is really impressive right now, with so many world class fighters plying their trade at 108lbs. The depth is so extreme that a number of very good fighters get totally over-looked, one of whom is Japanese national champion Tetsuya Hisada (30-9-2, 19) who is having a great few years and really proving at the age of 33 that he deserves to be in the mix for a world title fight. To keep his dreams of getting that shot a reality however he will have to extend his domestic reign and on April 14th he'll be defending his title in a mandatory title fight against Koji Itagaki (18-11-3, 7).
The champion won the belt last year, defeating fellow veteran Kenichi Horikawa for the title which had been vacated by Ken Shiro. He went on to defend the title twice last year, beating former world title challenger Atsushi and youngster Takeru Kamikubo. In all 3 of his title victories Hisada has shown an amazing engine, getting better as the fights get one, consistent power and a real desire to prove himself. That desire has also seen him totally turn his career around, and just 3 years ago he was 21-9-2 and floundering as a professional.
The reason for a lot of Hisada's problems, before his current 9 fight winning run, was the fact he kept fighting at different weights. He regularly fought at Flyweight and even fought a few times at Super Flyweight. At those higher weights he has really struggled but at Light Flyweight his record is genuinely impressive at 8-2 (7), with those losses coming to Ryoichi Taguchi and Kenichi Horikawa, with the loss to Horikawa being avenged. Above Light Flyweight he is 22-7-2 (12). Even if the winning %'s aren't starkly different, 80% and 71%, the difference in his power at the lower weight is telling.
On paper Itagaki has the record of a journeyman, losing in 11 of 32 bouts. He has however been matched incredibly hard on the domestic and regional scene facing the likes of Yu Kimura, Suguru Muranaka, Palangpol CP Freshmart, Warlito Parrenas, Tatsuya Fukuhara, Rey Loreto and Kenichi Horikawa among others. Given that level of competition there is little surprise to see him having losses pile up, though unfortunately he has also come up short against weaker opponents, and at 34 it's unlikely he'll manage to turn things around and score a career best victory.
In the ring Itagaki is a tough battler. He's not much of a puncher, he's not quick and he's not a defensive master. He is however a gutsy fighter. He will take the fight to Hisada and refuse to give anything but his all. Sadly for him that won't be enough here and despite his determination and effort we can't see past a late stoppage for Hisada, who will make Itagaki look his 34 years.
It is worth noting Itagaki comes into this on the back of one of his best wins, a decision over Koki Ono, but he won't have enough to over-come Hisada here.
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.