One great thing about boxing in the East is that top prospects aren't held back. If you're good enough to swim with sharks you're allowed to swim and go for it. This has been seen time and time again with fighters like Kazuto Ioka who has proven himself capable of beating the best in the world.
The next Japanese fighter who is trying to prove that he's more advanced than his record shows is the 20 year old super stud Naoya Inoue (5-0, 4) who, in just his 6th professional contest, looks to set a Japanese national record for the fewest fights to win a world title. In turn that would see Inoue breaking the record of Ioka who took 7 fights to claim the WBC Minimumweight title.
When it comes to Inoue he was always earmarked for an early world title fight. Some reports suggested that Inoue would actually fight for a world title in his 3rd professional bout in an attempt to tie the long standing record of Saensak Muangsurin. Whilst that record was never really in the mind of Hideyuki Ohashi, the chairman of the Ohashi boxing Gym which promotes and trains Inoue, it showed how highly Inoue was regarded.
It wasn't just promotional hype that was behind Inoue from the off. He was a stand out amateur, a 7 time national champion, a fighter who was respected by the naturally bigger and more mature Ryota Murata, a fighter who beat up the world ranked Masayuki Kuroda in a public sparring test and more importantly he was someone with a natural look about him as a boxer. That once in a life time natural ability that made everything look so effortless.
The big test for Inoue however is this coming Sunday as he takes on Mexico's Adrian Hernandez (29-2-1, 18), the current WBC Light Flyweight champion and a man that many view as the top fighter in the 108lb division. This isn't Inoue trying to pick up an easy title to break the national record but is instead Inoue attempting to supplant himself as the top dog of his division and prove that he's as good as people say.
Before we look at Hernandez lets just look at what we've seen of Inoue so far. On his debut he showed a sharp jab, fantastic judgement of distance and exceptional body shots as he stopped the Filipino champion Crison Omayao in the 4th of a scheduled 8 rounds. It wasn't a punch perfect debut but it wasn't far off. In his second pro bout he showed perfect timing and a fast boxing brain as he landed a brutal counter left hook. His third bout let him show off his speed, accuracy and jab as he dismantled Yuki Sano pretty much one handed in an a really stunning showing.
Inoue's toughest bout came in his fourth contest as he took on the then reigning Japanese Light Flyweight champion Ryoichi Taguchi and was forced to work hard for the victory over 10 rounds. It was the first fight where his power didn't make an opponent feel too uncomfortable but his physical strength certainly took it's toll on Taguchi who was looked tired in the later rounds. It was the brute strength of Inoue that was on show in his most recent bout as he just steam rolled Jerson Mancio in an OPBF title fight in 5 rounds. Although just a novice Inoue has already been in 30 pro rounds, he has experienced round 10 twice, he has done 100's of rounds of sparring with world level fighters, including stable mate and current world champion Akira Yaegashi, and has had the best preparation he could possibly have by facing a former Hernandez opponent Atsushi Kakutani.
With 33 fights under his belt there is no doubting Hernandez's experience. He not only has more than 6 times as many fights as Inoue but he also had a total of 179 rounds, almost 6 times as many as Inoue, and has been in 9 world title bouts. That's almost twice as many world title bouts as Inoue has had total bouts.
Like Inoue, Hernandez impressed early in his career and within 2 years of being a professional had beaten both Rodel Mayol and Gilberto Keb Baas, both of whom went on to win world titles and had previously fought in world title bouts.
Although he started well Hernandez did run into problem when he saw his unbeaten record get destroyed by Oscar Ibarra who stopped him in 6 rounds. Details of the actual bout are scarce to say the least but it may well have shown that Hernandez wasn't the must durable of fighters out there.
Following the loss to Ibarra we saw Hernandez rebuild really well stringing together 9 straight wins including a WBC title victory and a solitary defence before losing to Kompayaka Porpramook in an all out war in Thailand. The Porpramook bout was a thriller that saw both men trading shots for 10 rounds before Hernandez suffered to the combination of Porpramook's body attack and the heat. Whilst the Mexican would later avenge the loss it did suggest that Hernandez could be broken down with a determined and prolonged body assault.
Since the loss to Porpramook we've seen Hernandez has go 7-0 (4) with a victory in a rematch over Porpramook, to reclaim the world title, as well as 4 defences including the one over Kakutani late last year. Surprisingly in that bout, against Kakutani, Hernandez was dropped in the opening round though did come back very well to stop the Japanese fighter, though it did lead us to suggest Hernandez isn't as good as some may think he is.
When we look at Hernandez we don't look at a naturally talented fighter. Instead we look at a heavy handed, much more so than his record indicates, fighter who is relatively slow though very big for the weight and has a remarkable 6 foot wingspan, freakish for a fighter in the lower weights. Although he's rangy and tall Hernandez doesn't always fight like the tall fighter and can be dragged in to a battle, as he was against Porpramook in Thailand, fairly easily. Most interestingly however is the fact that he's also lacking the foot work one tends to expect with a tall fighter. He's actually remarkably flat footed for a world class fighter and against a speedy opponent he could probably be made to look rather stupid.
For Inoue the danger is getting tagged cleanly by Hernandez. If that happens the Japanese youngster could be in trouble however we think that Inoue will be smarter than that, he'll not think that Hernandez is a guy their to be steam rolled like Mancio was. Instead Inoue will try to feel out Hernandez, he'll get the jab going from the off, stay on his toes and try to let Hernandez tag his guard a few times. If he feels comfortable at handling Hernandez's power after taking a few on the arms and gloves he will likely move inside and engage in trench warfare with the Mexican. If he doesn't feel comfortable, for whatever reason, we expect to see the educated jab of Inoue's being the key with Inoue jabbing and moving, taking advantage of the slow foot work of Hernandez.
Of course Hernandez gas a great chance, he's experienced, he's big and he's powerful but we're going for an Inoue decision despite a few shaky moments for the highly touted "Monster".
(Image courtesy of Ohashi Gym)
Many fans of the lighter divisions will know that we currently love the Flyweight division, arguably the most entertaining division fight after fight after fight. It's a division that in recent years has provided some fantastic buts, most recently Koki Eto's victory over Kompayak Porpramook.
Despite our love of the Flyweight division we've not got the same adulation for it's little brother the Light Flyweight division, despite the fact if features Kazuto Ioka and Teiken fighter Roman Gonzalez.
One of the reason's we dislike the division, at least on the world level, is that it's actually quite a weak division. You have Gonzalez and Ioka then you struggle to define who is the #3 fighter in the division. Is it Johnriel Casimero? Is it former Casimero victim Pedro Guevara? Is it Adrian Hernandez? It's hard to say.
What we can say however is that Hernandez (27-2-1, 16) will be strongly favoured to retain his WBC title later this month when he takes on Japanese challenger Atsushi Kakutani (13-3-1, 6) a fighter who in all honesty shouldn't be considered as even qualified to fight for a world title.
We don't like saying someone shouldn't be qualified for something but it's hard to see what Kakutani has done to be deserving of a world title fight. He has lost his two highest profile bouts to date including an opening round defeat to Wars Katsumata/Warlito Parrenas just over 2 years ago and suffered a loss to Teiru Kinoshita in his only previous title bout. Yes Kakutani hasn't even been crowned the Japanese champion.
Although the 28 year old Japanese fighter was unlucky against Kinoshita, losing a debated split decision, he didn't look particularly good in the fight before or the fight after the Kinoshita bout, drawing with Takashi Omae and narrowly defeating Rey Loreto.
In Kakutani's most recent bout he defeated limited Thai Kaokarat Kaolernlekgym, though the victory really proved little due to how poor the Thai was.
The only real advantage we can see for Kakutani is that he's a natural Flyweight so he may be very much the stronger, bigger man in the ring, though then again he may also be drained in the ring.
"El Confesor" Hernandez has the strongest claim to be the third best fighter in the division. Aged 27 Hernandez has scored victories over a mini who's who including Rodel Mayol, Gilberto Keb Baas, twice, and Kompayak Porpramook. He's shown that whilst he can be beaten, and stopped, he's actually a credible fighter who can box or bang and at his best he's takes quite some beating, Porpramook who's first fight with Hernandez was special indeed.
This is set to be Hernandez's third defense of the title this year and whilst that sounds impressive it's to be noted that none of the challengers have been great. Defenses against and Dirceu Cabarca and Yader Cardoza are certainly nothing to write home about.
Unfortunately for Kakutani his punch resistance is a real worry for us, especially seeing how Katsumata/Parrenas dropped him 3 times inside a round. Sure Katsumata/Parrenas is a huge puncher and Hernandez isn't, but Hernandez is a world class boxer with a solid punch on him, a punch we expect will send Kakutani to the canvas several times before the referee stops the contest.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.