Behind Shibata is a wave of promising young fighters with heavy hands and the dream of proving themselves. Fighters such as Koki Tyson Maebara and Shoma Fukumoto. Sadly for those 3 they are still some way from being ready to fight Shibata.
Later this month we see a veteran try and upset Shibata when the champion battles against the little known Yasuyuki Akiyama (10-4-1, 8) who we have struggled to get any footage of, and in fact we know very little about.
Although we know little about Akiyama we know plenty about Shibata so we'll start with the fighter we know.
Shibata is a 33 year old veteran who has been a professional since 2003. It was during his early years as a professional that his record became muddied and by the end of 2008 his record read 11-5-1 (6). Since then he has gone 14-3 (5) whilst unifying Japan and Oriental titles at both 154lbs and 160lbs. Not only has his form been good but his results have as well and he has score a number of genuinely good wins, such as decisions over Yuki Nonaka, Daisuke Nakagawa-twice, Yoshihisa Tonimura, Makoto Fuchugami and Hikaru Nishida as well as stoppages against Takayuki Hosokawa and Fuchigami.
Whilst Shibata's record doesn't look good to the neutral observer it's hard to argue about his resume on the Japanese domestic scene and with his growing confidence in his ability and power. That confidence will have taken a huge boost after his most recent bout which saw him stopping former world title challenger Makoto Fuchigami.
In the ring Shibata is a nightmare. He has a busy and accurate, moves excellently and fights wonderfully on the outside. He sometimes fails to follow up his jab with a right hand but the way he fights is crafty and allows him to use his size and speed excellently to neutralise opponents whilst getting his own shots off.
The last 2 men to beat Shibata have been tough and aggressive fighters who have simply been too fast and too strong. One of those was Ryota Murata, a tough and powerful Olympic champion who has his sights set on a world title. The other was Japanese based American Charlie Ota, who stopped Shibata twice down at Light Middleweight. Unless you have power and the ability to walk through Shibata's jab as well as the footwork to be able to cut him off he's a really tricky opponent.
So now on to Akiyama who really is a bit of a mystery man. What we know about him is that he's a 35 year old who is set to fight the most significant bout of his career, by far. On paper he's a puncher but in reality his power looks to be artificial with with his first 6 wins all coming by stoppage over weak opposition. In fact many of Akiyama's wins have come against poor opponents with his only wins over note being over Shuhei Ito and Ryota Ityama, both in 2013.
Whilst Akiyama's biggest wins haven't been at a high level there is one result that genuinely stands out coming into this bout. That's a loss to Hikaru Nishida from July 2012. Nishida is a genuinely under-rated fighter however he did lose to Shibata last year and so his win over Akiyama does stand out a fair bit here.
Again we need to say we've not seen Akiyama however we have seen enough of Shibata to know what to expect here. We're going to see Shibata doing what he does so well, boxing on the back foot, keeping a busy jab and making Akiyama chase him. Akiyama's chasing will work against him and see him eating copious jabs, an occasional straight and losing round after round as the bout slips away from him and his title shot essentially comes to nothing.
For those wondering, this bout was originally announced for March 26th, though was rescheduled after Akiyama suffered an injury. That injury has given the division a few months to develop and from what we understand Maebara will be immediately in talks with the winner for a fight in December.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)