This coming Monday we'll see one of the brightest young hopes in Japanese boxing look to continue his rise through the ranks whilst an often over-looked fighter gets what could be his final shot at some silverware in a very looking contest at Korakuen Hall. That bout will see WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese Light Welterweight champion Andy Hiraoka (18-0, 13) take on the aggressive and fun to watch Cristiano Aoqui (16-8-2, 11) in what looks like a very, very interesting match up, something that we're getting a surprising amount of in Japan at 140lbs in the last few years.
Of the two men Hiraoka is more well known, especially with international audiences thanks to his wins in the US over Rogelio Casarez and Rickey Edwards. In US bouts, which took place on Top Rank shows, he looked like a really promising and athletic fighter, who was a work in progress but had enough tools to get the attention of fans, especially those who don't realise Japan has got talented fighters above Super Featherweight. Hiraoka looked big, tall, rangy, fast, athletic and powerful, showing he had the tools to go places in the sport, despite some technical flaws and limitations that clearly needed work, and a relative lack of experience. Prior to his US exploits the most notable thing on his record was a 10 round win over veteran Akihiro Kondo, where Hiraoka's speed and youth were keys against the older, slower, battle worn Kondo. Since his two bouts in the US however he has moved his career forward, and last year he scored the biggest win of his career, stopping the heavy handed Jin Sasaki in a dominant performance to claim the WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese titles, and stake his case as the best Japanese fighter at 140lbs, something that was strengthened when Koichi Aso scored a shock upset win over Rikki Naito just a few weeks after Hiraoka's win over Sasaki.
As mentioned earlier Hiraoka is a big, athletic, fighter who lacks polish. He has however been developing well over the last few years. He is very much an athlete who boxes, and that's not an insult to someone who was a very good distance runner in his youth, and that means he has a lot of tools going for him, including power, speed, reflexes, co-ordination and balance. All of which shine in his boxing performances. As for his boxing skills, he is an outside fighter, who knows he has physical tools others in Japan could only dream of. He is long, rangy, has a great jab, with power and speed, and really brutal straight shots. He can also keep up a good work rate over the long distances and showed, last time out, that his power carries late, stopping Jin Sasaki late in their bout. We do worry about him when he's under pressure, and he does seem to lack natural composure when under pressure, but with experience that should change and we dare say that's partly what this bout is about, against a fighter like Aoqui, and something he'd also have to prove against the likes of Koichi Aso or Daishi Nagata, who both also love to pressure and bully opponents.
Whilst Hiraoka has been seen outside of Japan, Aoqui hasn't been, though he does have something of a Brazilian following due to being a Japanese-Brazilian. His in ring style is something that few fans outside of Japan, and Brazil, will be aware of, but it is typically a fun one, with aggression at the forefront of his mind. He has been a professional since 2006 and has had to develop that style, finding what works for him over time. Unlike Hiraoka success wasn't easy to come by and he was stopped in 2 of his first 5 bouts, and was 4-2-1 after 7 bouts. Since then however he has bulked up from a young Lightweight into a solid an experienced 140lb fighter, who has developed a reputation as something of a tough guy, despite his 2 early stoppage losses. During his career he has fought something of a who's who of the Japanese scene, taking on the likes of Valentine Hosokawa, Hiroki Okada, Koki Inoue, Daishi Nagata and Akihiro Kondo. Whilst he has typically lost his most meaningful fights, he doesn't tend to be an easy opponent, giving the likes of Nagata, Okada and Hosokawa really tough battles.
In the ring Aoqui is aggressive, exciting, he comes forward and tries to draw mistakes, before exploding with a combination of heavy artillery. If he can't do that he seems happy to force a war and fight fire with fire against opponents. Notably however he can also box, even if that's not something he's too well known for, and when he needs to sit back and use his brain he can. And here we suspect his boxing brain and experience will be called on to over-come Hiraoka. Trying to come forward against Hiraoka seeking mistakes, we suspect, would be an error, and allow Hiraoka a chance to use his legs and his jab. Instead Aoqui will need to apply intelligent pressure, box his way in, and get to the body when on the inside. That however is easier said than done.
Sadly for Aoqui we suspect his toughness, and 33 year old legs, will be a problem for him here. Hiraoka might not be a global star in the making but he has plenty about him and we can't help but feel he's probably a level, if not two, above Aoqui who will need the fight of a lifetime to be competitive.
We suspect Aoqui will try to come forward, and find out the speed difference and size difference are a major issue for him. He will have moments, due to Hiraoka's lack of experience, but in the end athletic ability, speed, size and timing will become too much for Aoqui who we suspect will be stopped late on, in something of a slow, methodical beat down by Hiraoka.
Prediction - Hiraoka TKO10
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.