This coming Saturday the Korakuen Hall plays host to the next Japanese title fight, and will see Rikito Shiba (5-1, 3) clash with Shokichi Iwata (6-0, 4) for the now vacant Japanese Light Flyweight title. For Shiba this will be a chance to claim a second belt, having previously held the Japanese Youth title, whilst Iwata, who has been touted as a future world champion, will be getting his first at title level. Despite both men only having 6 fights each the bout is a perfect example of the match making in Japan, that doesn't protect high regarded hopefuls, and instead matches them hard early on, and lets them shine with out waiting for an opportunity at domestic level.
The 25 year old Shiba was a solid amateur before turning professional, in 2018, scoring a very good win over Hiroki Inamine on debut. He then added good wins over Yasuhiro Tanaka, Hizuki Saso and Shisui Kawabata, to claim the Japanese Youth throne in 2019. Sadly for Shiba his winning run came to an end in December 2019 when he faced off with Masamichi Yabuki in a Japanese title eliminator, succumbing to the power of Yabuki in 4 rounds. Since that loss Shiba has fought just once, taking a 7th round TKO win over Hideyuki Watanabe, in a bout that really saw him under a lot of pressure, and take more punishment than expected.
In the ring Shiba is a solid boxer-puncher. He's not a massive hitter, but he gets respect, and his stoppage over Watanabe was an impressive one, but he is a very talented boxer, with a good amateur back ground, a good understanding of the ring and lovely speed. His real issue however is that he often looks under-sized, a bit on the lighter side, and we saw against Yabuki, he's not the biggest, strongest or toughest. Whilst Yabuki is a monstrous puncher, and not many in the division hit like he does, it was still a worry to see Shiba hurt almost every time Yabuki connected with a clean shot. That sort of fight can damage a fighter mentally, and it's going to be a major test for him here, following his poor performance against Watanabe as well.
Whilst Shiba was a good amateur his success in the unpaid ranks was over-shadowed by that of fellow 25 year old Shokichi Iwata, who was regarded as one of the top amateur in Japan at one point, and holds notable amateur wins against the likes of Kosei Tanaka and Takuma Inoue. He made his professional debut in late 2018, doing so on a show in the US, and ended 2019 with a 4-0 record, without scoring a win of note. Thankfully he stepped up with wins over Ryo Narizuka and, most recently, Toshimasa Ouchi this past June. Sadly for him he hasn't yet kicked on in the way many had anticipated, but this opportunity against Shiba is a huge one, and a win would boost his career massively, moving him towards bigger and better fights.
In the ring Iwata is a very good boxer puncher, who can brawl when he needs to, has very respectable power, speed and movement and knows how to change the tempo of bouts. His jab is solid and his work on the inside is very much under-rated. Notably we don't think we've seen anything close to the best from Iwata, who feels like he's been fighting in 3rd gear a lot of the time and it would be really exciting to see what he can do when he's really being tested, again not something we've really seen since he turned professional.
Whilst we think Shiba has the potential to win this title in the future we are going in to this one feeling like the bout will instead be a show case for for Iwata who will look to set the tempo early on, and control the bout there after, breaking down Shiba as the rounds go on. Shiba will try to counter, as he did against Watanabe, but we feel the body shots of Iwata will take the fight out of him.
Prediction - Iwata TKO9
The final Japanese title fight for 2020 comes on December 26th when Light Flyweight champion Masamichi Yabuki (11-3, 11) makes his first defense, taking on veteran Toshimasa Ouchi (22-9-3, 8) at the Aioi Hall in Kariya. The bout is likely to be over-shadowed by other action during the run in to the end of the year, though is still a very interesting bout, and a real test of Yabuki's power against a sturdy and highly experienced veteran.
For those who don't follow the Japanese domestic scene the Light Flyweight division is one of the most interesting in the country right now. Not only does the country have two of the biggest names in the division, in WBA champion Hiroto Kyoguchi and WBC champion Kenshiro Teraji, but it also has depth and intrigue. Veterans like Tetsuya Hisada and Kenichi Horikawa are still hanging with the youngsters, Reiya Konishi is banging on the door of a third world title fight, Shokichi Iwata, Yudai Shigeoka and Ryu Horikawa are all looking to have a big break out in the next year or two.
Yabuki is someone who wants to see his name in the mix at the top level, alongside Kenshiro, Kyoguchi and even Hisada, who is expected to get a second world title fight next year. With that in mind he knows the Japanese title is vital for him right now, and he needs to look impressive with it. And impressive he has been in recent bouts.
The 28 year old champion, from the Midori Gym, began his career in 2016 and he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final at Flyweight, where he lost a competitive decision to Junto Nakatani. Prior to reaching the final Yabuki had already racked up a 3-0 (3) record with all of is wins coming in the opening round. Following his first loss he reeled off 3 more quick wins, including a blow out over Masashi Tada in 2017, to move to 6-1 (6) before suffering his second loss, a blow out at the hands of Seigo Yuri Akui in early 2018. That loss seemed to suggest that Yabuki perhaps didn't have the power, size or strength to compete at Flyweight and he began to dip his toes into moving down in weight, losing later that same yeah to Cuban Daniel Mattellon, who has since won the WBA "interim" title.
In 2019 Yabuki finally committed to the move down in weight, and dominated Rikito Shiba in a Japanese title eliminator, stopping him in 4 rounds, to earn a shot at the title. That shot came this past July when he brushed aside Tsuyoshi Sato inside a round to become the latest Japanese Light Flyweight champion.
Blessed with heavy, heavy hands, Yabuki is a real dangerman. He's a boxer-puncher at heart, with decent counter punching skills, though he often seems to be happier fighting as a counter puncher rather than as a fighter. When he comes forward he's terrifying, and with his power, size and strength he would potentially have more success than he has so far. Especially at 108lbs where his punches really are destructive.
In Ouchi we have a 35 year old challenger who began his career all the way back in 2003, and has had some real mixed success. After 6 fights he was 3-2-1 and it took him a really long time to get going, as he ran into other fighters on their way up, such as Shin Ono, Ryoichi Taguchi, Yasutaka Kuroki, Masayuki Kuroda and Kenichi Horikawa. Despite all the slips up he managed to get a shot at the Japanese title back in 2012, fighting to a draw with Kuroda, and again in 2016, losing to Kenshiro.
After his 2016 loss to Kenshiro it seemed that was the end for Ouchi, who was out of the ring for almost 3 years before picking up 2 wins last year. Those wins helped him into the Japanese rankings and with no one able to take the fight with Yabuki here he has found himself being advanced quickly up the rankings to essentially being the mandatory challenger for Yabuki.
In the ring Ouchi is a tough fighter who struggled with his power early on, in fact in in his first 28 bouts he had just 4 stoppages to his name. As he's aged however he has began to hold his feet more, put more on his shots, and shown more self belief, as a result he has score 4 KO's in his last 5 wins, and some against decent domestic fighters, like Takeru Kamikubo and Akiyoshi Kanazawa. He has also been showing that power later in bouts, with 3 of his last 4 stoppages coming in round 7. Impressively he has only been stopped 3 times in his long career with the last of those coming way back in 2014, by Atsushi Aburada, and with that in mind we suspect he could be a genuine test of Yabuki's power.
Coming in to this we've not seen what Yabuki's stamina is like at Light Flyweight, though we have seen him look like a terrifying puncher and we expect to see that again here. Ouchi might be tough but at 35 and with slowing reactions we wonder if he has the reflexes to avoid the power shots of Yabuki for long. If not Yabuki will get to him sooner or later.
We expect Ouchi to survive a few rounds, but eventually Yabuki's heavy hands will chip away at him, break him down, and go on to stop him in the middle rounds, after a brave and valiant effort from the challenger.
If he gets the win as expected, don't be surprised to hear Yabuki call out the world champions at 108lbs in a post fight interview for a bout in 2021.
Prediction - Yabuki TKO6
From all the postponements and other issues there hasn't been many bouts officially cancelled, with many of them being either postponed or delayed indefinitely. One bout that has been cancelled however was a planned Japanese Light Flyweight title bout which would have seen Yuto Takahashi defending the title against Masamichi Yabuki. This bout was totally cancelled when Takahashi decided to vacate the belt and retire from professional boxing at the age of 27, citing issues with motivation and training. The bout, which had been scheduled for much earlier in the year, was a Champion Carnival bout that left the Japan Boxing Commission with a vacancy to fill. That vacancy will be filled this coming Friday as we see a mouth watering clash the big punching Yabuki take on a very exciting youngster with an all action style.
Instead of the originally planned what we'll have instead is a match up between Masamichi Yabuki (10-3, 10) and Tsuyoshi Sato (10-1-1, 5), in what looks likely to be a real thriller.
Those who haven't seen Yabuki have been missing out on a really exciting boxer-puncher, who has recently moved down in weight from Flyweight to Light Flyweight. At 112lbs he was a heavy hitting, with under-rated boxer skills, and used those skills to set up his power. Despite being a good boxer puncher at Flyweight he wasn't a world class one, or someone showing traits of being world class. He had he has looked impressive in his wins but had lost his 3 most meaningful bouts at the weight, with those losses coming to Junto Nakatani, Seigo Yuri Akui and Daniel Matellon.
Last year Yabuki dropped down in weight and the power on his shots told, as he stopped Rikito Shiba in 4 rounds to become the number #1 contender for the Japanese Light Flyweight title. He looked a bully at the new weight, and although he wasn't charging forward wildly it was clear the extra 4lbs of lost weight wasn't going to do him any harm. Instead it seemed, at last, as it he was at the weight that suited him and his arsenal of heavy straight shots and ability to box on the move.
At the age of 28 Yabuki is coming into his physical prime, and given his average bout length is 3.7 rounds he's not taken punishment. Instead he has typically blasted opponents out early, with 5 wins in the opening round and only 4 of his 13 career bouts going beyond 4 rounds. He's a dangerous fighter.
At just 23 years old Tsuyoshi Sato is quickly becoming a fan favourite with an aggressive pressure style that has made his bouts must watch. He debuted at the age of 18 and was 1-1-1 after 3 bouts, but since then has reeled off 9 wins, won the 2017 Rookie of the Year, and has stopped 3 of his last 4. Whilst his competition hasn't been great, and can't be compared to that of Yabuki's, he has got good wins already over the likes of Daiki Kameyama, Yoshiki Abe and Masashi Tada, the only man to take Sato 8 rounds.
Watching Sato in action we really do have a fun little fighter. He comes forward, he pressures and presses and looks to back up his opponents before going to work on the inside. Physically not as imposing as Yabuki, which could be an issue here, but he always looks to make a fight his fight, and what we could find is that his pressure can give Yabuki issues. At least up close. Yabuki likes to fight at mid-range and if Sato can close the distance and work inside he could give Yabuki fits.
Sadly whilst we do love watching Sato we do feel this fight might be coming a little too soon for him. At 23 he's still a boxing baby and given what Yabuki did to Rikito Shiba we worry about something similar happening here. We see Sato pressing but the power of Yabuki simply being too much, with Yabuki landing clean hurtful shots as as the younger man comes in.
We suspect Yabuki wins, but Sato will bounce back in the coming years.
Prediction - TKO6 Yabuki
In August we were supposed to see Kenichi Horikawa (40-15-1, 13) defending his Japanese Light Flyweight title against Ryuto Oho, who sadly was unable to compete due to issues making weight. Coincidentally Horikawa's stablemate Norihito Tanaka, the Japanese Minimumweight champion, was supposed to defend title in October against Yuto Takahashi (10-4, 5), but Tanaka was injured.
Rather than Horikawa and Takahashi remaining out of the ring due to circumstance Takahashi has moved up 3lbs and will meet Horikawa in a bout for Horikawa's title. It's a bout born out of circumstance, but a bout worth being really excited about.
Horikawa is a real stalwart of the Japanese boxing scene, having debuted back in April 2000 and having more than 55 professional bouts. Whilst fighting a lot says one thing what is more telling is the fact Horikawa has faced a who's who of the lower weights. During his long career he has fought Akira Yaegashi, Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa, Tetsuya Hisada, Noknoi Sitthiprasert, Yu Kimura, Shin Ono and current world champion Kenshiro, among others. Whilst he has lost to many of the bigger names he has faced he has rarely been an easy out for anyone, and has regularly pushed them all the way.
In the ring Horikawa is a nightmare to fight against. He's tough, rugged, aggressive, throws a lot of leather up close and is really hard to dissuade. He's technically rough edges at time, he's not the quickest or the most powerful, but he is like a little terrier who won't stop coming at opponents and won't stop trying to break them down. Even at the age of 39 he's still proving there is life in his legs and that he has one of the best engines in Japan.
Whilst Horikawa is a well established veteran Takahashi is much, much less well known. The 26 year old, who live in Yokohama, has been a professional since 2014 but made his first mark in 2015 when he fought Tsubasa Koura in the East Japan Rookie of the Year semi-final, losing a decision but ending Koura's early stoppage run. After starting 4-0 Takahashi would fall to 6-3, thanks in part to a 2017 loss to Norhito Tanaka, the man he had been scheduled to this October. Since then however he has gone 4-1, with his only loss coming in a competitive bout to Tatsuya Fukuhara and wins coming over the likes of Ryoki Hirai and Yuta Nakayama.
In the ring Takahashi is a solid boxer. He uses his jab well, he's good on his feet but does drop his hands when throwing his right hand. He looks like a rising hopeful with plenty to like, but his defense has needed work for a while. It should be noted that his stoppage loss, which came to Tanaka came following a huge, clean right hand that legitimately hurt him. Prior to that he was certainly well in the fight. Typically he's not shown much power himself but last time out he did stop Nakayama in a round, and showed great finishing instincts when he had his man hurt.
Although on paper it doesn't look like a great fight, the reality is that it should be a fantastic fight. We suspect Takahashi will look to establish his jab, move and use his feet whilst Horikawa will attempt to put the pressure on. Stylistically this could be a really tough one to watch at times, but as it goes on we're expecting to see more and more action up close, and by the end, as Takahashi tires, we're expecting a war.
At range Takahashi will rack up the rounds, but as the bout begins to become more and more of a trench war that will favour Horikawa, who we feel will do just enough to retain his title with a 10 round decision.
Prediction UD10 Horikawa
Internationally the Light Flyweight division is one of the very best, with a very stacked top 8 or so and a brilliant mix of champions and challengers. In recent weeks we've had the pleasure of watching Hiroto Kyoguchi, Felix Alvarado, Kenshiro, Carlos Canizales and Edwin Soto showing what they can do, in a mix of impressive performances and exciting battles.
Below the world level the division continues to give compelling match ups at regional level and the rising crop of Japanese hopefuls in the division is amazing, with a handful of youngsters looking like future world champions. One of the few real veterans hanging around is Kenichi Horikawa (40-15-1, 13), the current Japanese Light Flyweight champion. The 56 fight veteran, now aged 39, has been a professional for more than 19 years, and is enjoying his second reign as the Japanese champion, having won the belt back in February. This coming Thursday he looks to make his third defense, as he takes on the much younger Ryuto Oho (12-5-1, 4), in what will be his first senior title fight.
The veteran has fought fought a who's who and has really managed to build a career by battling through set backs. After a career of ups and downs he won his first title in 2015, stopping Shin Ono for the belt. He lost it in his first defense, to Kenshiro, but bounced back winning the WBO Asia Pacific title in 2017 and then becoming a 2-time Japanese champion earlier this year. This will be his 13th title bout and his experience, at least at this level, cannot be doubted.
With so much experience under his belt Horikawa knows his way around the ring and inside it he's a very under-rated fighter. At heart he's a boxer-brawler, able to do either but wanting to turn bouts into brawls. A lot of his work comes from behind a good jab, he looks to back opponents up and force them into a fight. Even at 39 he has solid handspeed, good movement and an aggressive mentality with a high work rate. Technically he's not the sharpest, he's not the quickest and he lacks lights out power, but he does break fighters down and his will to win is very impressive.
Aged just 24 Oho is a relative novice. He was just 5 when Horikawa made his debut, despite his youth he has actually been around for quite a while, , debuting in late 2012. The following year he went on to win the Japanese Rookie of the Year crown, at Flyweight. His Rookie triumph was supposed to be a starting point to some solid success, but instead he went 0-2-1 in 2014 as he rise hit brick wall. He would then go 3-2 over his following 5 fights, falling from 6-0 when he won the Rookie crown to 9-4-1 (2) by the summer of 2017. Thankfully for Oho he has managed to rebuild a bit from all his set backs, winning 3 of his last 4, including the Japanese Youth Light Flyweight title last year and is actually unbeaten at 108lbs.
In the ring Oho is a smart, quick boxer-mover. He lacks in terms of power, despite scoring stoppages in 2 of his last 3, but does look very tidy in the ring and does a lot of pleasing things. Sadly Oho's lack of power isn't his only downfall and he also lacks in terms of durability and has been stopped twice in his 5 losses, albeit to heavy handed fighters like Seigo Yuri Akui and Masamichi Yabuki. He also has has a bit of a fragile, lightweight look to him, a look that doesn't bode well for a man fighting someone like Horikawa.
With Oho being the younger man, and the faster man, there will be opportunities for him, to stick and move and make Horikawa chase shadows. Sooner or later though the experience of the champion will kick in, and he will begin to grind down the challenger. When that happens we'll really see what Oho is made of. Our guess is that he comes undone under the pressure of Horikawa in the later stages, though he certainly won't go down without giving his all. He will look to do all he can to survive, before finally succumbing to the pressure of the grizzled veteran.
Prediction - Horikawa TKO10
This coming weekend is a crazy one, with 4 notable bouts involving Asian fighters taking place in the space of about 24 hours. The least interesting of those is a Japanese Light Flyweight title fight, which will pit defending champion Kenichi Horikawa (39-15-1, 13) against challenger Masashi Tada (13-5-3, 8), in what will be Horikawa's first defense, of his second reign, of the title.
The 39 year old Horikawa is an oddity in Japanese boxing. He's not only a true veteran at 39 years old but also has 55 bouts, an insane amount for a fighter in Japan, and 39 wins. He's been a professional for 19 years and despite a number of ups and downs his career really has been quite remarkable. When you think of 39 year old fighters, especially in the lower weights, you tend to think of them slowing down, having less success, and doing less, but Horikawa has bloomed in his 30's, twice claiming a national title after his 35th birthday and also claiming the WBO Asia Pacific title in the later stages of his career. It's also interesting to note the competition that Horikawa has faced during his career, sharing the ring with Akira Yaegashi, Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa, Tetsuya Hisada, 3 times in fact, Ryuji Hara, Noknoi Sitthiprasert, Yu Kimura, Shin Ono and Kenshiro. He's a veteran, but he's a veteran who has shared the ring with a true who's who.
Horikawa is a true battler. He's not the most skilled or smooth fighter, but he's aggressive, exciting, full of energy and really does know how to fight. He's crude, and could even be described as having a style that's a bit agricultural, but he does have some under-rated technical ability and speed. Horikawa looks to box his way inside, he looks to use his jab and footwork to get close, and that's usually where he works best with his hooks. He's crafty as well, and although he's had points deducted for it in the past, he knows how to use his head and how to wrestle on the inside.
Tada is no spring chicken himself, and turns 30 just days before the fight, but he doesn't have the miles that Horikawa has. In fact he only has 21 bouts to his name, with 101 rounds. He's been a professional for just over 10 years, and unlike Horikawa hasn't really made a name for himself. He's only had 1 previous title fight, losing in a Japanese Minimumweight title fight to Go Odaira way back in 2014. He followed that loss with a 3 year break, before going 2-1-2 since returning, including an opening round blow out loss to Masamichi Yabuki in late 2017. Not exactly the form of a title challenger.
Footage of Tada is relatively hard to come by, though thankfully we have his full bout with Kenji Ono from just over a year ago. The bout ended in a draw and, if we're being honest, neither man really shone. Ono seemed to still be feeling the effects from tough bouts with Jun Takigawa, Seigo Yuri Akui and Hanto Tsukada, and would lose his next bout after facing Tada. Tadda on the other hand seemed cautious, fighting with a reserved style, not wanting to take damage or risks. Tada was dragged into a war up close later in the bout, as Ono began to close the distance, and Tada struggled to really respond. It was those later rounds against Ono that probably give us the best sign of his this fight with Horikwa will go.
Horikawa will press, he will get close, he will work the hooks in the pocket, he will wrestle and he will throw a lot of leather. That leather will be thrown with bad intent and Horikawa will be giving Tada a real challenge, throwing down the gauntlet to fight. We think Tada will try to fight fire with fire, but will come up short, and will be out worked through out, with his toughness being relied up in the later stage, before he finally wilts.
Prediction TKO9 Horikawa
The Light Flyweight division is one of the most interesting, with so many amazing fighters at the top of the division. It's perhaps not got the huge amounts of attention of some other divisions, but it is a brilliant weight class, for us the best in the sport right now.
At the end of 2018 Tetsuya Hisada vacated the Japanese title, to pursue a world title fight, and is expected to face Carlos Canizales later this year. With Hisada vacating, rather than face mandatory challenger Kenichi Horikawa (38-15-1, 12), we'll see Horikawa battle against Satoru Todaka (9-2-4, 3) to crown a new champion, with that bout taking place on February 14th at the Korakuen Hall.
Horikawa earned his shot by winning an eliminator back in October, stopping Koji Itagaki. On paper that win over Itagaki had set up a 4th clash with Hisada, before Hisada chose to vacate and chase a world title fight, giving Horikawa a shot at the vacant title. The 38 year old Horikawa, who debuted way back in 2000, is a true veteran of the ring with 54 fights. Despite suffering 15 losses in his 54 bouts Horikawa has truly fought a who's who, including Akira Yaegashi, Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa, Ryuji Hara, Noknoi CP Freshmart, Yu Kimura, Shin Ono, Kenshiro and the aforementioned Hisada. He typically comes up short against the top tier fighters, but did stop Shin Ono, holds 2 wins over Hisada and gave hell to Kimura and Kenshiro.
Despite being 38 Horikawa has a really good energy and work rate. He comes forward a lot, uses decent upper body movement to apply pressure and looks to force a fight. Despite being an offensively minded fighter Horikawa is smart with his pressure and limits his output at times, trying to draw mistakes and get inside. His jab and hook are not what they once were in terms of speed, but he does have good timing and does enjoy having a fight. If, or when, he gets inside he can make things violent and rough, and that's when he's at his best, picking up the work rate and grinding people down.
Todaka is a bit more of an unknown. The 29 year old made his debut back in 2014, losing to Yukiya Hanabusa, and hasn't really scored any wins of note. What he has done however is proven very tricky to beat, with only Hikaru Ota stopping Todaka. The loss to Ota actually tells us quite a lot about Todaka, who has adjusted his style since that defeat. Against Ota we saw Totaka get into a war, standing and trading and looking to go blow for blow with a pretty underrated fighter. Those blows resulted in a nasty cut that forced the doctor to stop the bout.
Although Todaka's style has changed slightly he is still, for all intents, an aggressive fighter, who comes forward and throws a pretty decent volume of shots. He's not particularly heavy handed, quick or accurate, but he's aggressive, looks strong and pressures opponents on to the back fighter behind his guard and footwork.
Sadly for Todaka it looks like his style is made to order for Horikawa, who very much a better version of Todaka. Both press the action both enjoy a war up close and both let their hands in range. Sadly for Todaka we can't see how he wins a war with Horikawa, who hits harder, is more experienced in that type of bout and physically stronger. If Todaka can instead use his younger legs, move in and out more and not try to march Horikawa down he has a chance, but the reality is that we see Todaka fighting Horikawa's fight, and losing.
If we're right it would see Horikawa become a 2-time national champion, and potentially put himself in the mix for a bigger bout down the line. If Todaka can however shock us, he'll have a number of domestic fighters snapping at his heels for a title shot later in the year, such as Ryuto Oho or Taku Kuwahara.
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.