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.
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.