As we entered 2021 one of the divisions that had us the most excited was the Light Flyweight division, which has an incredibly stacked top 10-15 on the global stage. As well as being one of the best divisions at the top it is also one of the best in terms of emerging youngsters looking to make their mark on the upper echelons of the sport.
This coming Thursday at Korakuen Hall we see two of the best prospects in the divisions clash, as Ryu Horikawa (3-0-1, 1) and Yudai Shigeoka (2-0, 1) battle for the vacant Japanese Youth title in a truly brilliant match up that will put the winner on the fast track to more senior titles and much bigger fights.
Of the two fighters the older man is Yudai Shigeoka, the older brother of the more well known Ginjiro Shigeoka. The 23 year old Shigeoka, who turns 24 in April, had a very successful amateur career before turning professional in 2019, following his brother to the professional ranks. He debuted in a low key bout, stopping Thai visitor Manop Audomphanawari in 2 rounds back in October 2019, before stepping up massively and out pointing OPBF champion Lito Dante over 6 rounds, in a much more polished performance. Sadly however he has been out of the ring since beating Dante, back in December 2019.
From his performances so far we know that Shigeoka is a talented southpaw, with good handspeed, fantastic accuracy and timing and a good judge of distance. Against Manop he showed some brutal body work, and looked very relaxed and natural against a man who really wasn't fit to face him. Against Dante however we saw Shigeoka show what he can do with an excellent boxing display, staying wary of Dante's strength and power. Rather than going to war with Dante he boxed, moved, and tied up when he needed to, showing fantastic maturity for a fighter in just his second professional bout.
In the eyes of many Yudai Shigeoka is just as promising as his younger brother, and potentially has more upside, being a little bit more of a boxer-puncher, rather than a puncher-pressure fighter, and being taller. A win here would certainly open the door for Watanabe to move him towards bigger fights later in the year.
At just 20 years old Ryu Horikawa is a boxing baby, but one who has shown a lot of potential already. Like Shigeoka he too debuted in 2019, albeit at the age of 19, and quickly caught the eye. His debut saw him score a 3rd round TKO win over Jun Ishimoto before he scored an excellent win over Yuki Nakajima, just weeks after his debut. He then squeezed in a third fight before the end of 2019, as he travelled to China and made his international debut, fighting to a much debated draw with Xiang Li in a 10 rounder for the WBO Oriental Light Flyweight title. That experience will serve him well here in a scheduled 8 rounder. In 2020 Horikawa managed to fight in a single fight, defeating Daiki Kameyama in a very close and competitive 6 rounder as he continued to build his record and experience.
In the ring Horikawa is a fantastic boxer-mover. He’s very quick, very sharp and almost glides around the ring. Although not the biggest or strongest fighter at 108lbs he has an excellent jab, understands range very well and can sneak inside very easily, before getting away. One of his biggest strengths is his reflexes, and he spots openings very quickly, both on the front foot and the back foot, often tagging opponents at the slightest of mistakes. Despite being very good, his inexperience does occasionally show and he is clearly not the strongest fighter, with Yuki Nakajima pushing him around up close in the later stages of their 2019 bout.
On paper this might not look like an amazing match up, but it is one we are expecting to be a fantastic high speed, chess bout between two quick, talented fighters, each looking to kick their career on to the next level. Sadly for Horikawa we think his physical immaturity will be an issue here. He is, arguably, the better pure boxer but sadly he’s in with a stronger, more powerful fighter and we suspect, over 8 rounds, that will grind him down. The key for Shigeoka is his potent body attack, and we suspect that will take the wheels form Horikawa in the middle rounds, and leave the younger man in real problems in the final stages.
We suspect Horikawa survives the 8 rounds, but does come up short in a competitive, but clear, decision.
Prediction - Shigeoka UD8
The Japanese Youth Title bouts have been some of the under-rated highlights of recent years, and whether they do, or don't, help prospects become stars is yet to be seen, after all the titles have only been around for a few years. What they do do is give young and fast rising prospects a chance to test themselves for some notable silverware. The titles are already proving to be something youngsters in the country want, and are quickly becoming a stepping stone towards the more well established senior titles.
This coming Friday we get an exceptionally good looking Japanese Youth title fight, as Rikito Shiba (3-0, 2) and Shisui Kawabata (2-0, 2) battle for the Light Flyweight title. To a fan who doesn't follow the Japanese scene this bout doesn't look like anything special, but those who do follow Japanese boxing will be really excited about this bout, between unbeaten 23 year old southpaws.
Prior to turning professional both were solid amateurs, with Shiba going 38-13 and captaining a university team whilst Kawabata had around 50 amateur bouts of his own and was used as a sparring partner for Naoya Inoue last year before making his professional debut. Since turning professional neither has tasted defeat and both have looked better with every fight.
Of the two men it's Shiba who has been the more impressive professional. The RK Kamata boxing gym fighter impressed on his debut, beating Hiroki Inamine over 6 rounds, then won a B Class tournament final just a few months later. He would earn a shot at the Youth title in April, when he stopped Hizuki Saso, though would sadly see a proposed fight with Tsuyoshi Sato fall through in July when Sato suffered an injury. That would have been a very special fight, though we're glad that Sato isn't needing to wait long to fight for the title with this bout against Kawabata now being set.
In the ring Sato is a little genius. He's heavy handed, very highly skilled, a great judge of distance and a nasty body puncher. We've yet to see him being tested, and the truth is we think it might be a long time until that happens, which is why the Sato falling through was so disappointing. He's not an average 3-0 fighter, and is more like what British fans would expect a 16-0 type to look like, with a high IQ and a very smart, yet aggressive, approach in the ring.
Kawabata made his debut back in March and was obviously expected to shine on debut given his amateur back ground and time sparring with the "Monster". Surprisingly however Kawabata was dropped by Thai fighter Natchaphon Wichaita on debut, before bouncing back to stop the Thai in the second round. What was saw in his debut was a fighter with nice speed and decent power, but not the crisp shots that we've seen from some other former amateurs who have turned professional. Despite being knockdown he showed good composure and was obviously more embarrassed than hurt. You could pick a lot of areas for him to work on, both defensively and offensively, especially in the way he often seemed to slap his shots, but there was a lot to like and he fought like a man eager to impress.
In is second pro bout Kawabata took out Mongkol Kamsommat in 2 round, on the under-card of Ioka Vs Palicte. On paper this result doesn't mean a lot but it was the quickest that Mongkol had been stopped thus far in his career. He can clearly hit, with solid power, though we do wonder what that power is like against a capable opponent, like we'll see with his bout against Shiba.
We feel that Kawabata will have a good career. He's shown enough in 2 fights to look like a future fixture on the regional title scene. Sadly though he's yet to show us anything to suggest he can have with Shiba, who had faced better opponents, dug deeper and just looks like the type of fighter who could go all the way. Shiba looks like a star in the making and with him we see that crisp, sharp, clean punching that other top level former amateur standouts have. We expect that clean and clear approach will be the difference maker here, and will lead him to his first title.
Prediction TKO5 Shiba
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.