The Light Flyweight division isn't one of the outstanding ones but on some levels it is an exciting one and one that appears set to go through a number of changes in coming years, with a number of emerging young talents who look set to make their name in the division over the coming year or two.
At the top of the Japanese domestic scene right now is Yu Kimura (15-2-1, 2), who looks to make the next defense of his title at the start of April when he battles against late replacement Hayato Yamaguchi (12-5-1, 2), who has got the bout after Shin Ono was forced to pull out due to a rib injury.
Kimura won the title last year when he narrowly out pointed the under-rated Kenichi Horikawa and has since defended it twice, including an impressive victory over Yuki Chinen. Those wins have helped put the 31 year old Teiken fighter on the verge of a world title fight with world rankings with all 4 world title world title bodies, including a #2 ranking with the IBF. Sadly however he has yet to really capture the attention of fans outside of Japan, many of whom haven't had the chance to see him. Even those who have been able to see him in footage have had a limited number of chances with very little footage being available, the most notable of which was his bout with Ryoichi Taguchi.
Speedy, talented and well school Kimura is one of the many fighters on the verges of a world title fight. Given his age however he will need to make that leap from domestic champion to world contender sooner rather than later. A win over Ono would have allowed him to make that leap, especially considering the fact Ono gave IBF Minimumweight champion Katsunari Takayama a really tough test. Sadly however a bout with Yamaguchi doesn't quite have the same lure to it as the originally scheduled contest.
Whilst Kimura is a man in the form of career, and has won his last 6, the same cannot quite be said for Yamaguchi who actually lost last time out to Renan Trongco in the Philippines. Prior to that loss Yamaguchi was on a roll with 5 straight wins, including notable victories over Hiroya Yamamoto and Hiroyuki Otsuka. That run of 5 wins had followed back-to-back losses to Masayuki Kuroda and Cris Paulino in title bouts.
Through his 18 fight career Yamaguchi's most impressive performance was actually the loss to Kuroda, a narrow loss to the then Japanese Light Flyweight champion. Kuroda, a solid domestic level fighter, was defending the national title for the second time and Yamguchi took him all the way a razor thin bout that actually saw Yamaguchi dropping the champion. Another of his stand out results his narrow win over Eiji Fujiwara win in the 2010 All-Japan Rookie of the year, unfortunately that was very close and came more than 4 years ago.
On paper this looks almost nailed on to go the distance. Neither fighter is a big puncher and both have shown good resiliency, despite each being stopped once. If it does we can't see past a Kimura win, despite the fact he has seen his opponent change less than a month before the bout. For Kimura we suspect his confidence, longer training camp and high level of sparring will help him retain his title, but he'll not have an easy time with his competent challenger. If Kimura makes the mistake of over-looking Yamaguchi then we may see the title change hands though we suspect he'll be a professional and get the win before looking towards a bigger bout later in the year as he looks to move onwards and upwards.
For Yamaguchi this is a great opportunity to make a name for himself, but unfortunately we see him coming just short against the very talented Kimura.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
With all the Japanese talent in the smaller divisions, both established and emerging, it can sometimes be easy to over-look some fighters. It may sound even stranger but some of those over-looked fighters are actually national champions, such as Suguru Muranaka at Flyweight and Light Flyweight Yu Kimura (14-2-1, 2).
For Kimura to be over-looked seems astounding given that he is a world ranked fighter who is promoted by the biggest promotional outfit in Asia and has really come of age this year winning, and defending the Japanese crown. How ever he has been sharing a division with Naoya Inoue, Ryo Miyazaki, Ryoichi Taguchi and, more recently, Kenshiro Teraji. It's an unfortunate position for Kimura though one that allows him to avoid the attention of fans asking for him to fight in more demanding contests and instead allows him to fight opponents that he wants to fight with little or not pressure on him.
The next fight for Kimura will see him taking on the little known challenge of Atsushi Aburada (9-6, 5) in a bout that will see Kimura defending his title for the second time, but taking what feels like a huge step backwards from his previous outing. Whilst it seems to be a step back some have suggest that a win here for the champion will move him onto OPBF title bouts, suggesting the intention is to use this bout as a stay busy defense before bigger and better assignments next year.
The reason this feels like a step back is because Kimura's last 2 bouts have all been very good ones. Last time out he easy defeated Yuki Chinen, a gangly puncher, prior to that he had over-come the experienced nearly man Kenichi Horikawa in a very close one. In both of those Kimura showed his fighting spirit and fought hard even when he himself was tagged hard and in both he showed his speed, movement and although there was a lack of power there was real desire to win.
Kimura's lack of power is his downfall and it's what will prevent him from making a mark at the highest level in the sport. His will to win, speed and movement however are enough to make him a problem for most fighters in the division.
As for Aburada he's a harder one to read. The 24 year old is inconsistent to say the least and has gone 5-5 in his last 10. Whilst it's fair to say that many of his losses are close he does seem to have decent power having scored 3 stoppages in those 5 wins, notably one over Toshimasa Ouchi. Sadly many of those bouts have come at a very low level and this leads us to wonder if he's even more inconsistent than his record would suggest.
With Aburada being complete unproven at the level we need to go with the champion. We don't think he'll do it with out some problems at times but we can't see Kimura coming undone at the point, especially not when he is nearing a major international bout like he is. We're guess Aburada has his moments though loses a very clear decision.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
National titles fights can be formalities, especially in countries like Japan where some fighters are genuinely picking up national titles before quickly moving on to bigger and better things. Others are really serious bouts with fighters who both have aspirations of bigger things.
One of those bouts that features fighters wanting to move on to bigger things comes this Saturday as we get two world ranked fighters battling not just for the Japanese Light Flyweight title but also for their chance to move up the world rankings and their chance to move towards a world title fight.
The champion going into the bout is Yu Kimura (13-2-1, 2) who is defending his belt for the first time. Kimura, promoted by Teiken, enters not just as the champion but also as a man with 3 world rankings IBF #8, WBC #13 and WBO #15 though many felt he was very fortunate to win the title when he fought Kenichi Horikawa earlier this year. Although not powerful Kimura is skilled and works hard with what tools he has
We had hoped to see a rematch between Kimura and Horikawa but instead we've got an equally as interesting bout with Kimura fighting Yuki Chinen (14-1, 7). Chinen, himself ranked #14 by the WBO, is the bigger man, having several of inches of height advantage over Kimura and is also the the bigger puncher. With a 4" height advantage and stinging power Chinen is dangerous though can be out boxed by fighters who can take his power.
Interestingly whilst both men are very different they have only lost to very good fights. Both men have lost to Ryoichi Taguchi, who stopped Kimura in 6 and out pointed Chinen over 10 rounds in a fight for this very same title. Kimura's other loss came to recent world title challenger Shin Ono in a technical decision way back in 2008. Whilst neither Taguchi or Ono have won world titles neither man has looked out of place when they have fought at world level with Ono giving Takayama Katsunari a tough contest earlier this year whilst Taguchi is the only man to see the final bell against Naoya Inoue.
For this actual bout the contest is a hard one to predict. Both men have a lot to win, and a lot to lose. They both have very contrasting styles and sizes and this alone brings a lot of variables. We think Kimura will need to get inside and let his hands go, he'll need to rely on his speed and work rate to have any chance against Chinen and he'll also need to avoid the power of Chinen, especially when you consider that Taguchi stopped him just a bouts back.
For Chinen the issue will be opening up just a little bit of distance to help him get the leverage on his shots. He really is freakishly tall for a Light Flyweight and has an astonishing reach for a fighter at 108lbs. He also has some pretty notable wins with victories over Kenta Maeda, in the 2009 Rookie of the Year final, current PABA Minimumweight champion Samartlek Kokietgym and the then Filipino Minimumweight champion Crison Omayao and veteran Ryan Bito. He hasn't stopped any of those men but the wins are still worth noting considering the level of those bouts.
It's a tricky one to predict here though with the show being a Teiken show it's fair to assume Chinen knows her maybe needs to do a little bit more than usual to win a fight. With that in mind we expect Chinen to really go for it and try and turn up the heat from the off and we think that might just see him through to a very close decision victory, unless he has to power to stop Kimura.
When we talk about great domestic fights this is the sort of thing we think of and whilst neither men are known on the world stage we'd be shocked if the winner of this wasn't moved onto either an OPBF title fight, against Jonathan Taconing, or a world title fight later this year. Funnily if they wish to stay at the Japanese title level they may find their next fight being against Takuma Inoue, who claimed he wanted to be a Japanese national champion in just his third bout.
(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.