On February 11th fight fans in Hiroshima will get the chance to see a popular local fighter challenger for an OPBF title, in what is a real must win for the local, and the next stepping stone in the career of the champion.
The champion in question is 26 year old Filipino Edward Heno (13-0-5, 5), the current OPBF Light Flyweight champion who will be taking on 35 year old challenger Koji Itagaki (18-13-3, 7). Another loss for Itagaki almost certainly ends his career, which began in 2005, whilst a win would be his defining achievement, and a huge upset. A win for Heno however would enhance his reputation and move him one more step towards a world title fight, in one of the sports most packed divisions.
Heno won the title in September 2017, travelling to Japan and stopping Seita Ogido. Prior to winning the belt he had stopped the then 12-0 Cris Ganoza and been held to a very controversial draw with Ogido, having originally been announced as the winner before a scoring error was discovered. Since winning the title he has defended it against Merlito Sabillo and Jesse Espinas.
In recent years Heno has proven to be a very talented boxer, with underrated power, a lot of confidence and a willingness to travel to prove himself, having travelled for both the bouts with Ogido and the bout with Sabillo. In the ring he's an accurate, sharp puncher, with smart defense and the ability to pick some fantastic counters. There's definitely areas to improve and work, but on the whole he's a fantastic young fighter who is hungry to prove himself, before getting a world title fight. It's clear he doesn't just expect a title shot, but feels the need to earn it.
Itagaki has had a number of notable chances in the last few years. In 2017 he lost to Kenichi Horikawa, in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight title, and in 2018 he lost to the then Japanese champion Tetsuya Hisada, before at the end of the year to Horikawa in a Japanese title eliminator. In fact coming into this bout he is 2-4-1 in his last 7, going back more than 3 years. Unfortunately for Itagaki his record is reflective of his career, and he is a "win some lose some" fighter, who has mixed with good fighters, losing to the likes of Horikawa, Hisada, Rey Loreto, Suguru Munraka, and Warlito Parrenas, but unfortunately come up short against almost everyone of note.
Despite his failings against decent fighters Itagaki isn't actually a bad fighter. For an older fighter he's light on his feet and has good a lovely quick jab. Sadly though he's a light puncher, he has to work incredibly hard for success and struggles to get respect from opponents. He certainly has the skills to make life difficult for opponents, but if a fighter can cut the ring off, they can really get to him. Likewise against a young, talented fighter, like Heno, we suspect that Itagaki's lack of physicality will be his down fall.
We rate Heno incredibly highly and we're expecting him to show why he is so well regarded in the sport. We're expecting to see him show his speed,timing and variety to neutralise the movement of Itagaki, and force a late stoppage over the veteran. Yes Itagaki will be awkward early on, but as the pressure comes from Heno he'll slow down, and eventually be broken down.
We don't expect to see Heno just look win, but instead we expect him to win in a way that makes a statement and begins to open the door to potential world title fights in Japan against WBA "super" champion Hiroto Kyoguchi or WBC champion Kenshiro.
The Light Flyweight division is arguable the best in the sport right now, with so much fantastic talent and so much depth. It may not have the allure of the Welterweight division, the Lightweight division, the Middleweight division or the Heavyweight division, but for hardcore fans it's a division with a lot of intrigue and interest right now. Below the world level there are a number of rising contenders, hopefuls and prospects. One of those is OPBF champion Edward Heno (12-0-5, 5) who looks to make his second defense this coming weekend. Heno's challenger will be fellow rising contender Jesse Espinas (19-2, 11), in what looks like another in a growing line of brilliant all-Filipino match ups.
The champion won the title last September, stopping Seita Ogido in their second meeting, though he was very unlucky not to have won the belt May that year when he was judges to have been held to a draw against Ogido after a tabulation error originally had him announced as the winner. Prior to winning the title Heno's best win had been a stoppage over Chris Ganoza. Since winning the belt he successfully defended the belt once, defeating former world champion Merlito Sabillo.
In the ring Heno is speedy yet hard hitting fight, who certainly hits a lot harder than his record suggests. At the age of 25 he's moving into his physical prime, and has filled out his frame into that of a powerful Light Flyweight, rather than a small one. His career began with 3 straight draws and he was 6-0-4 (1) but has really turned that around with 4 stoppages in his last 6 wins. That sort of form is impressive and he has shown he can step up to the plate, as he did in his win over Sabillo, and can perform on the road, as he did twice against Ogido. This however will be one more solid test for Heno, and if he wins he really will be deserving of a world title fight.
Espinas made his debut at 19 years old and he won his first 3 bouts before being upset by Ronelle Ferreras. A second winning run saw Espinas reel off 8 wins before losing by stoppage in a very tough match up against the unbeaten and hard hitting Christian Araneta, also a rising Filipino prospect at Light Flyweight. Since that loss Espinas has gone 8-0 (4) scoring notable wins over the likes of Joey Canoy, Paipharob Kokietgym, Elias Joaquino and Lester Abutan. Those wins have have made Espinas a fixture in the world rankings, and he is moving his way towards a world title fight.
Although somewhat unknown outside of Asia Espinas is an accurate straight punching fighter who is sharp with his shots, defensively aware and fights like a confident fighter with a lot of self belief. There is a bit of a “strong but basic” look to him at times but that's getting results and there is tools in his arsenal that he doesn't always show, because of how accurate and heavy handed he is. It also helps that he has a solid chin and good work rate, able to turn up the pace when he has his man hurt.
We're expecting to see Espinas try and keep Heno at the end of his straight shots, sadly for Espinas we suspect the power, self belief and speed of Heno will be the difference and the champion will out box the challenger en route to a decision win. Espinas will certainly have moments, but we think the quality of Heno will be too much over the 12 round distance, and the champion will take up a close, but clear, decision win.
Over the last year or two we've seen Jerwin Ancajas break out as the Filipino fighter who has managed to catch the eye of fans world wide. With Ancajas's rise it's easy to over-look some of the contenders rising from the country which has given us a fantastic history or fighters. One of those other contenders making a name for himself is Edward Heno (11-0-5, 5), who claimed the OPBF Light Flyweight title last year, and it now looking to build on that title win. This coming Saturday we see Heno make his first defense of the title, as he takes on former world champion Merlito Sabillo (27-4-1, 13). A win for Heno will fast track him to a potential world title fight, whilst a win for Sabillo will resurrect his faltering career.
OF the two men it is the challenger who is more well known. He claimed the WBO Minimumweight title in 2013 and made a notable, albeit controversial, defense against Carlos Buitrago before being smashed by Francisco Rodriguez Jr and losing the title to the Mexican warrior. Since the loss to Rodriguez we've seen Sabillo go 4-3, losing in notable bouts to Riku Kano and Ryuya Yamanaka in bouts for the OPBF Minimumweight title, which Sabillo had previously held before winning the world title.
At his best Sabillo was a rough boxer-puncher. He wasn't a huge banger but at 105lbs he had respectable power, was a decent boxer but nothing exceptional and had more rough edges than a typical piece of sand paper. He was however a tough, rough fighter who was happy to get into a fight. Sometimes that came at his expense, which was certainly the case against Rodriguez Jr, but it was also something that he felt was his best tactic, and did net some notable results. At 34 however that style won't be the best for him, and he's a very old fighter for the lower weights, and will not be wanting too much of a war with a heavier handed and younger fighter like Heno. Instead he should be looking to make the most of his experience and his ring craft.
Aged 25 Heno has turned around a bizarre 0-0-3 start to his professional boxing career by winning 11 of his following 13, and remaining unbeaten. Many of his wins have been at the lower level of the Filipino domestic scene but he managed to stopped Cris Ganoza last March in a noteworthy win before a draw with Seita Ogido, in a bout that many felt Heno had deserved. A rematch with Ogido saw Heno score a 7th round TKO over the Japanese fighter to claim the OPBF title and show that he was a legitimate puncher.
Heno is naturally bigger than Sabillo, much younger and is riding an unbeaten record with a trio of good performances against Ganoza and Ogido. He might not be as proven as Sabillo, but he has all the momentum coming in to this bout and looks to be on his way up the rankings towards a world title fight. Whilst he is clearly some way behind the likes of Ken Shiro and Ryoichi Taguchi he is certainly on his way to mixing with that type of fighter, if he can get past Sabillo here.
We're expecting a bit of a slugfest here, as the two are flawed but aggressive fighters, but an entertaining one that sees the younger naturally bigger and stronger fighter come out on top. Whilst Sabillo might have that “one last hoorah” we don't see it happening here against someone with the hunger and drive of Heno.
The Light Flyweight division might not be getting much attention in the Western boxing world right now, with even the Mexican interest in the division seemingly on the wane a little. But it's a division that is really interesting, with a trio of Japanese champions who have all spoken about unification and a Filipino champion who is set to make his first defense against a really highly regarded challenger. Below world level there are a host of contenders and prospects looking to make their mark and earn a world title fight of their own.
Two of those hopefuls are Edward Heno (10-0-5, 4) and Seita Ogido (11-2-3, 3), who will be fighting for the OPBF title, and essentially looking to distinguish themselves as a top contender. Not only will this be an OPBF title fight, but it will be a second meeting for the title between themselves this year, after the two fought to a draw way back in May. Originally Heno was declared the majority decision winner of that contest, before a judging error was found, resulting in the decision being reversed to a draw.
In their first fight it seemed like Heno was the better fighter. He was more aggressive, seemed like the boss and was really unlucky not to get the win. Whilst he was a complete unknown going in he really proved himself as a potential nightmare on the regional scene. It'd take a lot of improvement for him to become a world champion, but at the age of 24 he does have time on his side.
Fighting from the southpaw stance and with both a good work rate and unexpected power Heno is a real handful. His KO win over Cris Ganoza is a really impressive win and although he was held to a draw by Roque Lauro that really says more about how under-rated Lauro is. Heno is a prospect, but an incredibly good, and over-looked, one.
As for Ogido his career was a slow burner and he was 6-2-1 (1) after 9 bouts, though those set backs included a draw with Seigo Yuri Akui and a razor thin loss to Kenii Ono. Since that “weak” start he has gone 5-0-2 (2) , with his most notable win coming against Jeffrey Galero last year. That win proved there was some real quality with him,but overall the rest of his record is somewhat limited with little to get excited about.
At the age of 24 there is potential for Ogido to improve, but the reality is that draws in his last two bouts, to Jonathan Refugio and to Edward Heno really suggest that he's fortunate, with both results arguably losses. He lacks fight changing power, and doesn't appear to have the aggression, or work rate to really come on strong and turn fights around, with his next looking like it's around the corner, and could well come to someone like Heno in a bout where his opponent is just too hungry.
Coming in to this one Heno will feel aggrieved by his draw in the first meeting with Ogido. He deserved the win, he knows he deserved the win, and this time we suspect he will be even more aggressive and determined, and will come out there hunting a stoppage. Whether he gets the early win or is a hard call,depending on how tough Ogido is, but we struggle to see anything but a win for the visitor.
This coming weekend is a huge one in Japan in 6 world title fights taking place over the two days. As well as those world title fights we will also get an OPBF Light Flyweight title fight, as unbeaten Filipino Edward Heno (10-0-4, 4) takes on Okinawan Seita Ogido (11-2-2, 3) for the currently vacant title, which was vacated recently by Ken Shiro ahead of his world title bout. The bout might be massively over-shadowed by the world title bouts, it does actually look like a really solid match up it's self.
Of the two men the more proven is Heno, a PBF champion at 108lbs with notable stoppage wins over Roque Lauro and Cris Ganoza, and he has gone 10-0-1 after 3 successive draws to begin his career.
Although relatively unknown outside of his homeland Heno has proven his ability at home and looks like a genuine prospect, with power, toughness and an ability to go 10 rounds, having gone 8 or more 5 times in 14 fights. He has fought as high as Super Flyweight and is certainly a strong and tough fighter, even if there is still a lot of questions for him to answer, with some expecting him to be able to answer those questions with ease. In fact some in the Philippines do see him as one of their hidden gems, as his 9th round KO of the previously unbeaten Cris Ganoza showed.
Aged 24 Ogido is a fighter looking to score a break out win and establish himself as one to watch. He lacks power, but is a gritty and determined fighter who has stepped up well following a loss in the 2014 Rookie of the Year final to Kenji Ono. He was last seen fighting to a fortunate draw against Jonathan Refugio, in a WBC Youth title fight and before that scored a very good win over Jeffrey Galero.
Sadly for Ogido he's in arguably the most stacked division in Japan. He's well behind the likes of Kosei Tanaka, Ryoichi Taguchi, Kosei Tanaka and Akira Yaegashi, and there are plenty of others who would be favoured to beat him as well, such as Ryo Miyazaki and Tetsuya Hisada. Sadly his lack of power will likely hold him back from ever reaching the pinnacle of the sport, but he has the potential to leave a real mark at Oriental scene, in the future.
Although Ogido is talented we're feeling that Heno will come out on top. He will out work and out muscle the Japanese fighter on route to a clear but competitive decision, which will perhaps be closer on the cards than the reality in the ring suggests.
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.