This coming Saturday we'll see a triple crown champion being crowned at Light Flyweight as fast rising youngster Shokichi Iwata (8-0, 6) puts his Japanese title on the line and takes on OPBF champion Kenichi Horikawa (41-16-1, 14), with the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title also up for grabs for the winner. The bout is very much the future of Japanese boxing facing off with a man who is a true ring veteran. There is a staggering 16 years age difference between the two men, with Iwata being just 26 and Horikawa being 42, with a career that stretches back a staggering 22 years!
Iwata was a stand out amateur before he kicked off his professional career in 2018, doing so in the US with his debut coming in Carson, California. He impressed on debut and since then has climbed rapidly though the domestic ranks. In his 6th bout he beat veteran Toshimasa Ouchi, with an 8 round decision, and just 5 months later he would claim the Japanese Light Flyweight title, stopping Rikito Shiba in 9 rounds to take the legendary national title in just his 7th professional bout. Since then he has made a single defense, stopping Ouchi in a rematch earlier this year, inside a round. It's clear, from the fact he's now looking to become a triple crown champion, that he's trying to rapidly climb up the world rankings and will be looking to use the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles to keep his options open for a world title fight, potentially later this year.
In the ring Iwata is a smart boxer-puncher who seems like he can do everything to a very, very, very high level. He's quick, sharp, light on his feet and can genuinely tailor his gameplan to take advantage of his opponents flaws. We've seen him fight at a high tempo as a pressure fighter, we've seen him box, we've seen him move and we've seen him showing his counter punching skills. As a fighter Iwata seems capable of doing everything, and whilst we wouldn't say he's elite in any single category, he does seem to be incredibly good at everything, which makes a very hard man to beat. The problem for opponents is that Iwata has plans A, B, C and D and that versatility will allow him to race through the domestic and regional ranks. Despite that there are still questions for him to answer, and we've not yet seem him get a real chin check, or prove himself above Japanese level, though he certainly looks like he has the tools to become the next Japanese force at 108lbs, following in the steps of Hiroto Kyoguchi and Kenshiro Teraji.
Horikawa is a true servant of Japanese boxing, with 58 fights over 22 years. He has proven himself as a genuine credit to boxing, a rugged fighter and someone willing to face anyone and everyone. During his long career he has faced Akira Yaegashi, Michael Landero, Florante Condes, Edgar Sosa, Tetsuya Hisada, Ryuji Hara, Yu Kimura, Shin Ono and Kenshiro Teraji, to just name a few notables. During his career he has proven himself to be a tough guy, with his only stoppages coming to Landero, Condes and Sosa. He has also shown himself to be a hard working, and he has turned around a 3-4 start to his career to become a 2-time Japanese Light Flyweight champion, as well as a former WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight champion and the current OPBF Light Flyweight champion. Unlike most fighters Horikawa's most notable success have come late in his career, and he had never won a title until he was 35, when he stopped Shin Ono for the Japanese title. He has aged like fine wine, and used his experience wonderfully well to improve, fight by fight.
In the ring Horikawa isn't pretty, he's not flash, and he's not explosive. Instead he's a rugged, hard working, who can get messy and physical when he needs to, as we saw in his third and final bout with Tetsuya Hisada. He's physical strong, comes forward and looks for mistakes. He has good timing, a smart boxing brain and looks to make the most of the flaws his opponents have. For a man who has had biggest results the wrong side of 35 it'll be little surprise to learn that he has great stamina, but he rarely needs to really show it, fighting at a relaxed tempo rather than an electric one. What he does really well is gradually break opponents down, physically and mentally. He's consistent, he's accurate, he's hard to get to and he dictates a lot of the action. He knows how to make things messy, he knows how to make opponents look bad and he knows how to win rounds. He know how to control the action and he knows that his counters can be a major difference maker, as we saw in his 2020 bout with Daiki Tomita. Sadly though there is a major issue with him coming into this bout, and that is the fact he's been out of the ring for around 2 years now, and it's really hard to know what he has left in the tank.
Sadly one thing that Horikawa has struggled with has been foot speed, and where fighters have moved he has struggled to force his fight on them. This was seen against Kenshiro and against Yuto Takahashi, and if Iwata wants to make life easy for himself he will to use his footwork to control the range of the bout and rack up rounds. Interestingly we actually believe that Iwata isn't just going to look to win, but instead impress. We expect to see him have Horikawa chasing him early on, but as the rounds go on, the 42 year old body of Horikawa begins to show it's age, cracks begin to appear, and Iwata will look to close the show in the second half of the bout, to give Horikawa only his 4th career stoppage loss.
Horikawa will have isolated moments in the first 3 or 4 rounds, whilst losing them, but as we head into rounds 8 and 9, Iwata will begin to hunt a finish and finally get it when the referee steps in to save Horikawa, who we expect will announce his retirement soon afterwards.
Prediction - TKO9 Iwata
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
On February 11th fight fans in Hiroshima will get the chance to see a popular local fighter challenger for an OPBF title, in what is a real must win for the local, and the next stepping stone in the career of the champion.
The champion in question is 26 year old Filipino Edward Heno (13-0-5, 5), the current OPBF Light Flyweight champion who will be taking on 35 year old challenger Koji Itagaki (18-13-3, 7). Another loss for Itagaki almost certainly ends his career, which began in 2005, whilst a win would be his defining achievement, and a huge upset. A win for Heno however would enhance his reputation and move him one more step towards a world title fight, in one of the sports most packed divisions.
Heno won the title in September 2017, travelling to Japan and stopping Seita Ogido. Prior to winning the belt he had stopped the then 12-0 Cris Ganoza and been held to a very controversial draw with Ogido, having originally been announced as the winner before a scoring error was discovered. Since winning the title he has defended it against Merlito Sabillo and Jesse Espinas.
In recent years Heno has proven to be a very talented boxer, with underrated power, a lot of confidence and a willingness to travel to prove himself, having travelled for both the bouts with Ogido and the bout with Sabillo. In the ring he's an accurate, sharp puncher, with smart defense and the ability to pick some fantastic counters. There's definitely areas to improve and work, but on the whole he's a fantastic young fighter who is hungry to prove himself, before getting a world title fight. It's clear he doesn't just expect a title shot, but feels the need to earn it.
Itagaki has had a number of notable chances in the last few years. In 2017 he lost to Kenichi Horikawa, in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight title, and in 2018 he lost to the then Japanese champion Tetsuya Hisada, before at the end of the year to Horikawa in a Japanese title eliminator. In fact coming into this bout he is 2-4-1 in his last 7, going back more than 3 years. Unfortunately for Itagaki his record is reflective of his career, and he is a "win some lose some" fighter, who has mixed with good fighters, losing to the likes of Horikawa, Hisada, Rey Loreto, Suguru Munraka, and Warlito Parrenas, but unfortunately come up short against almost everyone of note.
Despite his failings against decent fighters Itagaki isn't actually a bad fighter. For an older fighter he's light on his feet and has good a lovely quick jab. Sadly though he's a light puncher, he has to work incredibly hard for success and struggles to get respect from opponents. He certainly has the skills to make life difficult for opponents, but if a fighter can cut the ring off, they can really get to him. Likewise against a young, talented fighter, like Heno, we suspect that Itagaki's lack of physicality will be his down fall.
We rate Heno incredibly highly and we're expecting him to show why he is so well regarded in the sport. We're expecting to see him show his speed,timing and variety to neutralise the movement of Itagaki, and force a late stoppage over the veteran. Yes Itagaki will be awkward early on, but as the pressure comes from Heno he'll slow down, and eventually be broken down.
We don't expect to see Heno just look win, but instead we expect him to win in a way that makes a statement and begins to open the door to potential world title fights in Japan against WBA "super" champion Hiroto Kyoguchi or WBC champion Kenshiro.
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.