One of the biggest surprises this year, at least in Asia, was Sho Kimura's (15-1-2, 8) [木村翔] historic win in China this past July against Zou Shiming to claim the WBO Flyweight title. Going in to that bout no one outside of the Japanese domestic fans knew anything much about Kimura who went over to China and stopped the local hero, and in turn became a bit of a celebrity in China.
This coming Sunday Kimura makes his first defense of that title as he takes on fellow Japanese fighter, and former WBC champion, Toshiyuki Igarashi (23-2-3 12) [五十嵐俊幸] in a mandatory defense of the title, and a very interesting all-Japanese world title bout.
The 29 year old Kimura has been a professional since April 2013 and was surprisingly stopped in 75 seconds on is debut, by Shosuke Oji. He would then reel off 5 low key decision wins on the lower level of the Japanese domestic scene before suffering back to back draws to have a record of 5-1-2 after 8 bouts. It was hardly the stellar record of a fighter going places but since then he has impressively reeled off 10 wins. They include not only the shock win over Shiming but also a win over the then touted Masahiro Sakamoto, a win that saw Kimura claim the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title. Sadly the wins over Sakamoto and Shiming are the only ones of any note at all on Kimura's record, and both of those came about 8 months apart.
Watching Sakamoto we see a relatively basic fighter, but one who looks very strong. He has a solid jab, a tight guard and good work rate, whilst continually pressing forward and looking to push opponents backwards. His desire is key, and was what showed against Shiming as his hunger kept him pushing Shiming back and finally breaking the Chinese fighter. It wasn't just Shiming where we saw his pressure over-come a more skilled fighter but also against Sakamoto, in a bout that saw Kimura just keep coming and coming and coming. Considering his debut loss his career has changed around and he now looks capable of taking a shot and walking forward.
Whilst Kimura is a new guy on the block so to speak, having only been a champion since beating Shiming in July, the same can't be said for the 33 year old Igarashi who was a stand out amateur before his debut back in 2006. As an amateur Igarashi went 72-11, competed at the 2004 Olympics, where he lost to Endalkachew Kebede of Ethiopia in the first round of the competition, and when he turned professional there was very high expectations of him. Due to his amateur background he debuted in 6 rounders and ran up a 6-0-1 (5) record before fighting for, and winning, the Japanese interim Flyweight. Sadly that unbeaten run would end soon afterwards, with Igarashi losing to future world champion Tomonobu Shimizu in a bout for the full version of the Japanese Flyweight title.
Following the loss to Shimizu we saw Igarashi go on a bit of a roll, winning 10 straight. They included a 3rd round TKO win over Takayasu Kobayashi for the Japanse title, a successful defense against Kenji Yoshida and a career defining split decision win over Sonny Boy Jaro for the WBC Flyweight title in 2012. Sadly though Igarashi's reign failed to set the world alight, taking a razor thin decision over Nestor Daniel Narvaez, the younger brother of Omar Andres Narvaez, and then losing in his second defense to Akira Yaegashi, who he had beaten a number of times in the amateur ranks. That loss was put down to over-confidence and an injury but really begin the start of the end for Igarashi as a top fighter, and since then he has gone 6-0-2 (3) but not looked particularly good during that run. In fact that run has been horribly plagued by head clashes, cuts and technical decision, including 2 technical decision wins and 2 technical draws.
At his best Igarashi was a very good fighter, technically the Linear champion, but never felt like an elite fighter. He was skilled, a solid puncher and fast, but clumsy, open and could be out worked. His southpaw stance had it's uses, but often caused clashes of heads and that has been even more apparently in recent years. Part of that has been due to a recurrent shoulder injury whilst others have been due to his inability to keep fights at a distance and last time out a headclash caused a really serious eye injury, an injury that will be a target for Kimura.
Kimura might not be anything special, and in fact his title reign is likely not going to last long, but we do see him getting past Igarashi here. If he can handle the southpaw stance of Igarashi he will give the challenger real fits with his pressure and determination alone. Igarashi will have moments, but unless he can crack the chin of Kimura we don't see him winning. Instead we see Kimura's pressure paying off in the second half and the champion retaining the title, narrowly.
Interesting the winner of this will be a target for a number of other Japanese fighters, including former 2-weight champion Kosei Tanaka, current Japanese champion Masayuki Kuroda, the all action Takuya Kogawa, former Kimura foe Masahiro Sakamoto and WBC champion Daigo Higa.
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.