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 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
One of the best division's in the sport right now is the Light Flyweight division, which is a division full of talented fighters, promising match ups, and exciting hopefuls. It's a division that has gone under-the-radar historically but has started to get more and more buzz around it in the last few years thanks to the emergence of some fantastic fighters, like Kenshiro Teraji, Felix Alvarado, Carlos Canizales and Hiroto Kyoguchi.
On November 23rd we see two more men looking to throw their hats into the ring and move towards a world title fight in 2021. The bout in question will see 23 year old southpaw Riku Kano (16-4-1, 8) take on the often under-rated Ryoki Hirai (13-6-1, 4) in a contest for the WBO Asia Pacific title. With the title here the winner will find themselves leaping the queue towards a WBO world title fight, and the loser will have a long, long road back to being a contender, making this a very important bout for the two men involved.
Of the two fighters it's the 23 year old Kano who is the more well known. The youngster made his debut way back in 2013, in the Philippines, and despite losing on debut he began to build some moment soon afterwards. Just over a year after debuting he claimed the WBA Asia Minimumweight title, at the age of 17 and still hadn't made his Japanese debut. When he did finally head back to Japan, in 2015, he did so with some genuine buzz around him and expectation around him. That buzz would lead to him getting a world title fight in 2016, at the age of 18, against Katsunari Takayama. The bout was set up with the hope of Kano becoming the youngest ever Japanese world champion, but in the end Takayama was too good, taking a technical decision over Kano.
Sadly for Kano that buzz has never quite comeback and he's gone 6-2 since that loss, with defeats to Jerry Tomogdan and Shin Ono. He has now moved up in weight, though it's hard to know id he will ever "come good" and reach the heights expected of him.
Despite falling short so far Kano is a solid boxer-mover. He's quick, sharp, has nice balance and good skills. Sadly however he's very much lacking in the physical aspects of the sport. He's a light puncher, who doesn't sit on his shots, and doesn't have the physical strength and power to hold his own against a man pressing him. Kano also has question marks over his heart, and he seemed to mentally crumble against Shin Ono. He's a talented fighter, but very an immature one, mentally and physically. Thankfully for him, those issues can be worked on and sorted out, but will need to be worked on NOW!
Whilst much was made of Kano's career early on Hirai never got that early attention. That was, in part, due to his struggles to build any career momentum. He won his first 3 bouts but quickly fell to 3-3-1 and was later 5-4-1. By that point his career looked like it was going no where and he wasn't helped by fighting with a small promoter in Kobe. And then things started to change for Hirai who began to not some good wins, including victories over Takumi Sakai and Ryoya Ikema. Those wins lead to him getting a Japanese title fight in 2018, with Hirai losing a close decision to Shin Ono. Following that loss he suffered another razor thin set back, to Yuto Takahashi, before getting his career back up and running in 2019, with 3 wins.
In the ring Hirai is an interesting fighter. He's not got the highest work rate and he's not the most destructive. What he is however is a solid body puncher, he knows his way around the ring and is surprisingly quick, with both hands and feet. At world level we don't see him making much of an impact, though he could be a banana skin against the right champion, however at domestic and regional level he's a legitimate threat and he could be too much for Kano here.
It's fair to say that Kano is the man with the expectations on his shoulders, and at the time of writing he's the clear favourite with those polled on Boxmob, however we see him really struggling here.
Kano is the better boxer. He's the quicker, smoother, better natural talent. He is however the sort of man who struggled with pressure, and tenacity, and we expect to see that from Hirai, as we saw against Ikema. Our prediction here is a good start for Kano, but as the bout goes on, and he begins to slow down, Hirai's pressure will get to him, and break him down. Eventually Kano's mental strength will be question, and he'll come up short for answers, eventually being stopped.
Prediction - TKO9 Hirai
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
This preview was originally posted for the bout's first scheduled date, March 1st. Rather than re-writing it we'll be using it for the new date of July 26th. This was posted before their was a huge hiatus in Japanese boxing due to the global situation that essentially put boxing, and life for most of us, on hold. As a result there are some fairly obvious issues, but we have tried to make it clear that we are aware of the issues.
The reason it's being reused is it's still essentially our view on the fight, despite the changes in date, and the fighters both aging since the original March date for the bout.
After a couple of relatively quiet months things really amp up through the month of March, with a whole host of notable fights taking place all over the place. The first of those will see Japanese youngster Daiki Tomita (14-1, 5) take on veteran Kenichi Horikawa (40-16-1, 13) in a bout for the vacant OPBF Light Flyweight title. The bout, which takes place on March 1st at the City Plaza Yayoinokaze Hall, in Izumi City.
The one clear thing to note is the experience between the two fighters.
The 22 year old Tomita has fought 15 times as a professional since making his debut in 2015, as a fresh faced teenager. He would win the 2016 Rookie of the Year, at Minimumweight, and moved up the professional boxing ladder to an OPBF Minimumweight title fight with Tsubasa Koura in 2018, losing that bout but putting in a performance that showed the 20 year old had real potential. Since then he has moved up in weight and won the WBO Asia Pacific title. He is, for all intents, a man with a very bright future ahead of him, and not someone to be written off for a single loss, that he learned a lot from.
Horikawa on the other hand is a 39 year old, in fact he turns 40 later in March, who has been a professional since 2000 and will be competing in his 58th professional bout. During his long career he has faced off with a genuine who's who of the lower weights, including Akira Yaegashi, Florente Condes, Edgar Sosa, Tetsuya Hisada, Yu Kimura and Kenshiro Teraji. Whilst he's not often been able to over-come his toughest opponents few have got past him without working incredibly hard for victory. At his age, and with wear and tear, we do wonder what he has left in the tank.
So with Horikawa having the edge in experience, and Tomita having the edge in youth, lets look at other areas of the two men.
Tomita is very much a boxer. The 5'4" fighter is someone who looks to create space and use his jab to control the tempo and range of the bout. It's a sharp jab, he doubles it up well and he does follow it up with the right hand pretty well. Since moving up in weight, to Light Flyweight he's looked stronger and has began to show a more proficient body attack, and it does seem like he really has learned a lot from the loss to Koura. Just last time out he looked much more rounded as he took a win over Hayato Yamaguchi, and showed a much more varied attack on the inside. He still seemed happier at range, but was able to do more than just hang with Yamaguchi up close.
Horikawa on the other hand is an aggressive, in your face type of warrior. He gets up close, wants to fight, and likes to get close where he can dictate the tempo of the bout. Given his age it'll be no surprise to learn that his tempo, speed, energy and reactions are much reduced from what they once were. As a result he is more conservative than he used to be and approaches opponents with less intensity than he once did. In his late 30's however he is more technically solid than he's ever been and will look to counter to get inside rather than rush in like he used to.
In Horikawa's prime his energy, aggression, and willingness to pursue and harass opponents would have been a huge benefit here. Sadly though Horikawa looked like an old man last time out, losing a clear decision to Yuto Takahashi, who was too quick, too sharp and too mobile.
We expect the youth factor of Tomita to a massive factor here, and for him to essentially out youth the now faded Horikawa. There will certainly be moments where Tomita is backed up, tagged and on the receiving end of flurry's from Horikawa. Those flurry's will win Horikawa a round or two, but not be enough to take the decision.
Prediction - UD12 Tomita
The title challengers for the 2020 Champion Carnival are mostly set now, with only 2 eliminators yet to be fought. One of those, the Super Flyweight bout, will take place on December 22nd but before that, on December 15th, we get a truly mouth watering bout at Light Flyweight. The bout will see the flawed, but heavy handed, Masamichi Yabuki (9-3, 9) take on sensational youngster Rikito Shiba (4-0, 2), with the winner likely to be getting a crack at Yuto Takahashi in the new year. This is a bout that might not set alarm bells ringing for those who don't follow the Japanese scene, however those who do follow the domestic scene will know that this is a bout to get very excited about.
At 27 years old Yabuki is the older of the two fighters, and the man regarded as the better puncher. He made his debut back in 2016 and began to make a name for himself almost immediately, scoring 3 quick blow out wins to reach the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, fighting at Flyweight. Sadly for Yabuki his winning run would come to an end in the Rookie final where he lost a decision to a then 8-0 Junto Nakatani, who has obviously shown his ability since then. A second run of blow outs, including an opening round win over Masashi Tada, came to an end in 2018 when he was himself stopped inside a round by Seigo Yuri Akui. Since then he has gone 3-1, with notable wins against Gilberto Pedroza and Ryuto Oho and a loss to the very talented Daniel Matellon.
Despite being a puncher Yabuki isn't an overtly aggressive or risky fighter. Instead he's a heavy handed boxer-puncher. He boxes, rather than fights, and it's his boxing that opens the door for his KO's thanks to how heavy his punches are and how smart he is with his punches, often fighting more as a counter puncher than the aggressor, bringing fighters on to his shots, rather than chasing them. Whilst he is talented we did see him being out boxed by Daniel Matellon, and it was a much clearer win than the score-cards suggested. His issue at times is he's sometimes not active enough, and seems to fight like his power is enough to win any fight. It's always worth noting that he did come up on the wrong end when Akui dragged him into a fire fight, and questions will remain about his chin, especially as he's dropping down in weight for this fight.
Aged 24 Shiba won his first title earlier this year, taking the Japanese Youth title last time out. Despiute being a professional novice he was a solid amateur, running up a 38-13 record in the unpaid ranks and captained his university team. His amateur reputation was so strong that he was quickly put into a B class tournament, winning the tournament final in his second bout, and then earned a shot at the Japanese Youth title as part of a 4 man tournament. Although he's only 4-0 he has shown more in those 4 fights than many fighters show in significantly more fights, and he has proven he can box, he can brawl, he can counter puncher and he's a real natural talent.
Watching Shiba in action we see a super talented youngster who looks as good going backwards as he does getting on the front foot. He changes gears with ease and finds holes for shots that most wouldn't have seen. As well his versatility we're always impressed by his footwork and movement, and he creates the space he needs with such ease. There is often a sense, when watching him, that he needs a challenge to get the best out of him, and we don't think we've seen him at 100% yet. Whilst he is impressive there are areas for him to work on, and he has been seen as being a little bit of a show boater at times, looking bored at others and over confident. That's something we expect to see less from him when he steps up in class.
We've enjoyed seeing both men so far and coming into this one it really does have that 50-50 type edge to it. It's a bout where the naturally smaller, but more talented, fighter takes on a naturally bigger, stronger and more powerful fighter, and they are often hard ones to predict. The key question coming into this bout however is whether or not Yabuki can comfortably make 108lbs. If he can we expect something special as he looks to counter Shiba's speed and movement with his heavy body and timing. If making weight takes too much out of him though this could end up being a rather prolonged beating for Yabuki.
Prediction - Shiba UD8
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
We have repeatedly waxed lyrical about the current Light Flyweight scene and the talent at the top, making it the deepest division in the sport right now. What we haven't gone into as much depth about is the rising talent, the young prospects and promising hopefuls looking to rise through the ranks and make a name for themselves. This coming Monday however we see one of the talented youngsters in title action as Daiki Tomita (13-1, 5) takes on Hayato Yamaguchi (15-7-1, 2) for the WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight title, which was vacated by Reiya Konishi earlier in the year.
For the once beaten Tomita this bout will be his second title fight, following a loss last year to the then OPBF Minimumweight champion Tsubasa Koura. The loss to Koura seems to have been made Tomita realise making that making the Minimumweight limit was getting tough for his growing body and he moved up to Light Flyweight properly in April this year. He flirted with the division a few times earlier in his career, with a couple of early career bouts there and a one off bout above the 108lbs limit against Mochamad Sholimin in 2017.
As a fight Tomita showed a lot of early promise. In 2016, as a 19 year old, he had won the All Japan Rookie of the Year and was lined up to fight for the Japanese Youth title in 2018, though had that bout fall through when Kai Ishizawa suffered a training injury. Due to Ishizawa's injury Tomita got the shot as Koura and it did feel like the bout had come just a little bit too early for him. Against Koura we saw Tomita prove he was a good boxer, with solid fundamentals, nice speed and real grit, but he was easily outclassed by Koura, who was too quick, too sharp, too experienced and too smart. His first bout following Koura was at Light Flyweight and saw Tomita stop former world title challenger Jeffrey Galero in 3 rounds, becoming only the third man to stop Galero, following Koura and Pedro Taduran, the newly crowned IBF Minimumweight.
Aged 30 Yamaguchi is a bit of a veteran, having made his debut way back in 2008. During his long career he has real mixed success. He lost 2 of his first 3 bouts before rebuilding and winning the 2010 All Japan Rookie of the Year. His run of form lead to a Japanese title fight in 2011, losing a close decision to Masayuki Kuroda. Another loss, to Cris Paulino, followed the Kuroda bout and at the end of 2012 Yamaguchi was 8-4-1, a short winning run followed before back to back defeats to Renan Trongco and Yu Kimura, in 2014 and 2015. Those losses saw Yamaguchi fall to 12-6-1 (2) and although he began to get his career back on track a loss in 2016 to Tetsuya Hisada, in a Japanese title eliminator, again killed any momentum he had. It then seemed like he'd retired but returned after more than 4 years away from the ring to upset Kenji Ono.
In the ring Yamaguchi is feather fisted but gutsy and brave. With 3 stoppages against him he will always have question marks over his durability, but few will question his desire. Sadly his desire doesn't match up to his ability and his biggest wins have all come against lower domestic level lighters, like Kneji Ono, Hiroya Yamamoto and Seiya Fujikita. A win over Tomita wouldn't be the biggest shock, given those wins, but we would consider it an upset all the same.
Prediction - UD12 Tomita
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
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
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.