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
The Japanese Youth Title bouts have been some of the under-rated highlights of recent years, and whether they do, or don't, help prospects become stars is yet to be seen, after all the titles have only been around for a few years. What they do do is give young and fast rising prospects a chance to test themselves for some notable silverware. The titles are already proving to be something youngsters in the country want, and are quickly becoming a stepping stone towards the more well established senior titles.
This coming Friday we get an exceptionally good looking Japanese Youth title fight, as Rikito Shiba (3-0, 2) and Shisui Kawabata (2-0, 2) battle for the Light Flyweight title. To a fan who doesn't follow the Japanese scene this bout doesn't look like anything special, but those who do follow Japanese boxing will be really excited about this bout, between unbeaten 23 year old southpaws.
Prior to turning professional both were solid amateurs, with Shiba going 38-13 and captaining a university team whilst Kawabata had around 50 amateur bouts of his own and was used as a sparring partner for Naoya Inoue last year before making his professional debut. Since turning professional neither has tasted defeat and both have looked better with every fight.
Of the two men it's Shiba who has been the more impressive professional. The RK Kamata boxing gym fighter impressed on his debut, beating Hiroki Inamine over 6 rounds, then won a B Class tournament final just a few months later. He would earn a shot at the Youth title in April, when he stopped Hizuki Saso, though would sadly see a proposed fight with Tsuyoshi Sato fall through in July when Sato suffered an injury. That would have been a very special fight, though we're glad that Sato isn't needing to wait long to fight for the title with this bout against Kawabata now being set.
In the ring Sato is a little genius. He's heavy handed, very highly skilled, a great judge of distance and a nasty body puncher. We've yet to see him being tested, and the truth is we think it might be a long time until that happens, which is why the Sato falling through was so disappointing. He's not an average 3-0 fighter, and is more like what British fans would expect a 16-0 type to look like, with a high IQ and a very smart, yet aggressive, approach in the ring.
Kawabata made his debut back in March and was obviously expected to shine on debut given his amateur back ground and time sparring with the "Monster". Surprisingly however Kawabata was dropped by Thai fighter Natchaphon Wichaita on debut, before bouncing back to stop the Thai in the second round. What was saw in his debut was a fighter with nice speed and decent power, but not the crisp shots that we've seen from some other former amateurs who have turned professional. Despite being knockdown he showed good composure and was obviously more embarrassed than hurt. You could pick a lot of areas for him to work on, both defensively and offensively, especially in the way he often seemed to slap his shots, but there was a lot to like and he fought like a man eager to impress.
In is second pro bout Kawabata took out Mongkol Kamsommat in 2 round, on the under-card of Ioka Vs Palicte. On paper this result doesn't mean a lot but it was the quickest that Mongkol had been stopped thus far in his career. He can clearly hit, with solid power, though we do wonder what that power is like against a capable opponent, like we'll see with his bout against Shiba.
We feel that Kawabata will have a good career. He's shown enough in 2 fights to look like a future fixture on the regional title scene. Sadly though he's yet to show us anything to suggest he can have with Shiba, who had faced better opponents, dug deeper and just looks like the type of fighter who could go all the way. Shiba looks like a star in the making and with him we see that crisp, sharp, clean punching that other top level former amateur standouts have. We expect that clean and clear approach will be the difference maker here, and will lead him to his first title.
Prediction TKO5 Shiba
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.