Over the last decade or so the Light Flyweight division has been dominated by Japanese fighters at world level such as Naoya Inoue (WBC), Kazuto Ioka (WBA), Yu Kimura (WBC), Akira Yaegashi (IBF), Kosei Tanaka (WBO), Ryoichi Taguchi (IBF and WBA), and Kenshiro Teraji (WBC), along with current world champions Hiroto Kyoguchi (WBA) and Masamichi Yabuki (WBC). The conveyor belt of great Japanese fighters at 108lbs looks set to continue with the emergence of current Japanese national champion Shokichi Iwata (7-0, 5), who makes his first title defense, as he takes on veteran Toshimasa Ouchi (22-11-3, 8) this coming Saturday, in what is the second bout between the two men.
Whilst Iwata is still early in his career, he is a notable hopeful for Japanese boxing. He had a stellar amateur career, including notable wins over the likes of Kosei Tanaka, before beginning his professional boxing campaign in 2018 with a win, in the US, against Joel Bermudez. Since that win he has been moved quickly, and won the Japanese title last year when he stopped Rikito Shiba in 9 rounds. In just his 7th professional bout. On route to his title he showed progress every fight, he showed development between fights, and matured as both a fighter and as a man. That was show cased in 2021 when he out pointed Ouchi over 8 rounds, showing that he could do 8 rounds, and when he stopped Shiba for the title.
Early in his career Shiba appeared to have a lack of power, and his first 4 bouts all went a little bit longer than expected. Notably however it appears, on reflection, that he was being smart, getting ring time, and closing the show, when he could, late in the bout, testing things along the way. It's now clear that he's a solid puncher, not a KO artist, or a massive puncher, akin to Yabuki, but a solid, puncher, who's power carries late into bouts. Not that but he's also an aggressive, technical fighter, who sets a good work rate and tempo, and is well schooled, a given from his amateur background. He has all the tools to go a very, very long way, and the type of style to turn heads when he's in the ring. He also has the intention, for this fight, to not just beat Ouchi but to stop him, and continue his improvements with a man he previously went the distance with.
As for Ouchi he is a true veteran of the sport and is fighting in his 37th professional bout, in a career that stretches back all the way to 2003. Now aged 36 this is probably Ouchi's last chance to claim a Japanese title, having previously come up short in 3 other title bouts. With a record that consists of 11 losses it's easy to write Ouchi off as some sort of loser, but his competition, has typically been high with losses to the likes of Taguchi, Yabuki, Kenshiro, and Shin Ono. He has also proven his toughness, with just 3 stoppage losses during his 36 fight career, and the most recent of those came against Atsushi Aburada. Notably he is the only fighter to have ever lost a decision to current world champion Masamichi Yabuki, showing his toughness.
The most notable thing about Ouchi is he knows how to look after himself. You don't have a long career, like he has, without knowing how to protect yourself. He is defensively tight, uses a very high tight guard, and uses a pretty crafty jab. Sadly though he is now 36, and understandably he has slow feet, slow handspeed and doesn't have the quickest reflexes. Earlier in his career he did have enough speed, but in recent years that speed has gone and he often looks like he's pushing shots, which is an issue against quicker, younger, fresher guys. Not only is he somewhat slow, but he's also happy to have a low work rate, and whilst we might see bursts of activity from him, he's not going to set a high tempo, which is another issue against the younger guys.
Coming in to this bout there really isn't too much of a doubt over who should win, but more the method of victory. It's incredibly hard to see Ouchi beating Iwata, or even coming close. Instead the question really is whether Iwata can break down Ouchi or not. Sadly for Ouchi, we do actually see Iwata doing just that. Chipping away with body and combinations round by round to force the brave Ouchi to be stopped late, likely with his corner throwing in the towel after Ouchi gets dropped in one of the later rounds. He'll be brave, he'll be determined, but sadly for him, father time and Iwata will be too much here.
Prediction - Iwata TKO9
This coming Saturday fight fans in Kobe will get the chance to see a new Japanese Youth Light Flyweight champion being crowned, as Yuga Inoue (11-2-1, 2) and Aoba Mori (7-2-1, 1) face off for the currently vacant title, which was vacated earlier this year by Yudai Shigeoka.
For Inoue this will be his second shot at a title, following a loss to Kai Ishizawa back in a 2018 clash for the Youth Minimumweight title, whilst Mori will be getting his first shot at a belt. For both men however this will be regarded as a great chance to put their name on the map and potentially open doors to bigger and better fights down the line. Given they are both young, they will both know a loss isn't the end of the road, but a win would be a huge boost to their standing in the sport.
Of the two men it's the 22 year old Inoue who is the more known. Despite the surname, he's not related to "Monster" Naoya Inoue, or the always fun to watch Takeshi Inoue, and unlike those men he's also not from a massive area, fighting out of Hyogo rather than Tokyo. Despite that he has managed to carve out a solid career for himself since debuting as a teenager in 2016. He went unbeaten in his first 8 bouts, won the 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year and gave Kai Ishizawa fits back in 2018. Since the loss to Ishizawa Inoue has gone 4-1 with his sole loss being a competitive one to Daiki Tomita, whilst he has picked up good wins against Daiki Kameyama, Katsuya Murakami and Tetsuya Mimura.
In the ring Inoue is a very skilled boxer mover. He's light on his feet, has a very solid jab, uses upper body movement really well and despite not having much power he does put his shots together really well. Inoue's big problem is that he can't get respect of opponents, which is a real shame as he's an excellent boxer, with a lot of good technical skills, and an exciting style. At times he can look a bit deliberate with what he does, but he's certainly able to mix things up thanks to his fast, crisp shots, and lovely combinations.
Mori is 21 years old, and like Inoue debuted as a teenager, back in 2017. Unlike Inoue however his career didn't get off to a great start, losing in his debut against Kaito Takeshima. In fact Mori could easily have been 0-7 in his first 7 bouts, instead of 5-2, with all of his early wins being razor thin decisions that could easily have gone the other way. Since those early struggles however we have seen Mori begin to mature and last time out he scored his first stoppage win, taking out Keisuke Iwasaki. Now in his early 20's he seems to have matured from a young, light punching kid into a youngster with enough power to get the respect of his opponents, even if he will never be a KO artist.
In the ring Mori is flawed but a fun to watch youngster who brings pressure, and an exciting style. Sadly he really does lack power, and while he is maturing he doesn't look a physically imposing kid, or someone who's ever going to have true fight changing power. Instead he seems like someone who's going to be in fun fights, but has a style which will lead to him losing bots and taking punishment when he faces better fighters. The key to Mori's pressure is his upper body movement, and he is a fighter who is hard to catch clean, lets his hands go and fighters like someone who trusts his chin, when he needs to.
We expect to see Mori coming forward, pressing and trying to make this into a war, forcing the tempo and letting shots go. Sadly for him we don't think he'll get Inoue's respect, and instead we're expecting to see Inoue land a lot of clean jabs, slowly chipping away at Mori. As the rounds go on, the shots of Inoue will begin to break down Mori, who'll show his toughness and see out the final bell, but will finish the bout with a swollen face and battered looking face.
Related - UD8 Inoue
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
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
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.