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.