Japanese boxing ended 2015 on a real high with a number of notable wins by Japanese fighters in world title bouts. Sadly the momentum of 2015 hasn't really carried over into early 2016, which has been a disappointingly quiet period for Japanese boxing.
The period has been so quiet that local fans in Japan don't get to see a world title fight on Japanese soil until May 4th, when they do get two world title bouts.
The first of those will see WBC Light Flyweight champion Yu Kimura (18-2-1, 3) defending his title for the first time. The 32 year old Teiken fighter, who upset Pedro Guevara last November, will not be having the typical “easy” first defense but will instead be up against top contender Ganigan Lopez (26-6, 17).
The talented, and gutsy, Kimura was touted as a potential world champion very early in his career but it took more than 9 years for him to reach the pinnacle of the sport. On his route there the talented, speedy and under-rated, fighter claimed the Japanese title and recorded 3 defenses of the title.
Although lacking many big name wins Kimura has beaten Guevara, obviously, as well as current Japanese champion Tatsuya Fukuhara and former champion Kenichi Horikawa as well as a credible win over Yuki Chinen. When it comes to his losses they have been to current world champion Ryoichi Taguchi and former world title challenger Shin Ono.
Kimura showed his gutsiness against Guevara, rebuilding from a poor start to take a narrow win over the talented Mexican and proved a lot. We knew he was talented, gutsy and fast but in that bout he proved he really could turn fights around, he proved he could bite down on his gum shield go to war and score a world class win over 12 rounds.
When it comes to Lopez the challenger is a tested fighter who has mixed with numerous world class fighters. That has seen him suffer losses to the likes of Juan Palacios, Adrian Hernandez, Denver Cuello and Pedro Guevara whilst scoring wins over the likes of Mario Rodriguez and Luis Ceja. During his 32 fight career he has suffered just a single stoppage loss, to Cuello, and his last notable fight was a narrow loss to Guevara.
In the ring Lopez is a heavy handed southpaw with an aggressive mentality and whilst not the most skilled he is a real handful for most of the fighters at 108lbs. He comes solid, though unspectacular skills, with a genuine toughness and spiteful power. All that comes with the awkward southpaw stance and a 34 he'll know that this could well be his final chance at the top level.
In many ways this fight is being widely over-looked yet could, potentially, be a fire cracker of the fight with both possibly choosing to go to war and having a fire-fight in the centre of the ring. On paper that seems a bad idea for Kimura, but he'll know that smothering Lopez's work would be in his favour. For Lopez the idea of fighting in close quarters does give him the advantage of possibly scoring a stoppage, something he may feel he needs. This really could be a very special bout.
On paper we have to favour Kimura, who is the clear betting favourite, however Lopez is a very under-dog.
We often hear how low the talent pool is in a number of the lower weight classes. That tends to actually be wrong and a number of lower divisions are very deep, though sadly the best fighters aren't matched against each other nearly enough. That is clearly seen at 108lbs where fighters like Paipharob Kokietgym, Randy Petalcorin, Rey Loreto and Ryo Miyazaki have essentially been frozen out of big fights for a year whilst lesser fighters, like Richard Claveras and Luis De la Rosa are getting shots instead.
Thankfully however we do sit on the verge of a genuinely intriguing bout in the division as WBC champion Pedro Guevara (26-1-1, 17) takes on former Japanese champion Yu Kimura (17-2-1, 3) in a genuinely intriguing bout that sees Guevara return to Japan for the first time since he won the title, stopping Akira Yaegashi last December.
For many lower weight fight fans Guevara is one of the best in the division. His resume includes wins over Karluis Diaz, Jorle Estrada, Raul Garcia, Mario Rodriguez and Ganigan Lopez, though it's the win over Yaegashi that really broke him through into being a divisional star. He's also only lost to a genuinely world class fighter, a split decision to Filipino fighter Johnriel Casimero, more than 3 years ago.
In the ring the champion can box or fight. His power is under-rated though really it's his boxing skills that set him apart from many of the others in the division and it was those skills that lead to his win again Yaegashi. It does however need to be said that he didn't look his best last time out, against Lopez, in a bout that saw Lopez make life very difficult for the champion.
Going forward we suspect Guevara will move up in weight, the 26 year old is a big lump for a Light Flyweight and at some point he'll likely look to establish himself in the more prestigious Flyweight division. For now however he's a handful for anyone at 108lbs and there is no doubting that he is one of the division's key players.
As for Kimura he's a man who has often remained under-the radar for non-Japanese fans, many of whom would likely regard him as a non-puncher with little real potential to change that or to ever make a name for himself. What generally isn't too well known is that he was a solid amateur himself running up a 65-15 (8) record in the unpaid ranks before turning professional back in 2006. As a professional he has done things the hard way on the Japanese scene and suffered a couple of losses as a result, though both losses have come to “names” in Shin Ono and current WBA champion Ryoichi Taguchi.
As a fighter Kimura is a very talented boxer-mover with good accuracy, an intelligent boxing brain and good movement. He does, as his record suggest, lack power though much of that is down to his style which compromises on power due to the movement. His ability has seen him notch up a number of notable victories, including his 2014 Japanese title winning victory, a decision over Kenichi Horikawa, and a notable defense over Yuki Chinen. It's really since winning the Japanese title that Kimura has come into his own and started to believe he could, one day, become a world champion.
Although Kimura has improved massively from the fighter he once was it's still hard to see what he really has to trouble Guevara, who looks to be the worst of the champions for Kimura to be facing. Kimura will struggle to out box the champion and certainly won't be able to hold his own when it comes to power and physical strength. To us this looks like a worth while challenge but one that likely is being used as Kimura's final bout, and a chance to say he fought at the top level. At 32 he's unlikely to get another opportunity as this level and he'll put everything he has into the bout but we really can't see how he beats the very talented Mexican.
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.