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
This coming Friday fight fans at the Korakuen Hall will get a pretty interesting domestic title fight at 105lbs in a bout that neither man can really afford to lose. In one corner we will have 35 year old Japanese champion Shin Ono (22-9-3, 5), making his first defense of the title and looking to move towards one more world title shot. In the other corner will be 20 year old Riku Kano (13-3-1, 7), a once highly touted prospect who appears to be struggling no and has lost 2 of his last 5 bouts.
Ono, from the esteemed Watanabe gym, has been a professional since 2001. His early career was pretty low key, with a couple of early career losses whilst moving to 8-2 (2). Sadly though after those first 10 bouts Ono took a 3 year break from the ring, not fighting between January 2005 and February 2008. In 2008 however he returned, picking up a notable win over a then unbeaten Yu Kimura before being stopped by Masayuki Kuroda. The loss Kuroda began a real dip in form for Ono who went 1-2-2 in his following 5 fights. He quickly fell from 8-2 to 11-5-2 (2).
It was then that Ono had one of the best runs of his career, defeating Xiong Zhao Zhong in an 8 round bout, taking a very controversial win over Omari Kimweri to gain the OPBF Light Flyweight title and working his way up to an IBF title fight with Katsunari Takayama. He lost to Takayama, but didn't shame himself, losing 115-111 on two cards and 117-109 on the other, with two knockdowns late costing him hard. He would then suffer a number of set backs, coming up short in Japanese title fights to Kenichi Horikawa, Tatsuya Fukuhara and Reiya Konishi as well as a world title fight with Wanheng Menayothin.
With his career on the line Ono claimed the Japanese title earlier this year at the champion carnival, defeating Ryoki Hirai with a close unanimous decision. The win saw Ono really grit his teeth, fall back on his experience and fight like a man who knew couldn't afford a loss. He used a busy southpaw jab, managed to get in and work when he needed to and exposed all sorts of flaws with Hirai.
Kano made his his professional debut as a boxing baby in 2013, as a fresh faced 16 year old. Due to Japanese licensing rules his first 7 fights all took place in Thailand and the Philippines, with teenager going 5-1-1 (3) in those bouts and claiming the WBA Asia Minimumweight title, with a win over Madit Sada. It wasn't until June 2015 that Kano would make his Japanese debut, and the following year he claimed the OPBF “interim” Minimumweight title, defeating Merlito Sabillo. Just months later Kano would get his biggest fight, facing off with Katsunari Takayama for the WBO world title. Sadly for Kano he wasn't strong enough, busier enough, experienced enough or powerful enough to over-come Takayama, who took a clear technical decision, and destroyed Kano's hopes of becoming the youngest ever Japanese world champion.
Since the loss Takayama we've not really seen Kano look all that good. He's stopped a couple of limited Thai visitors, suffered a stoppage loss to Jerry Tomogdan in a regional title fight and struggled past domestic foe Naoya Hariguchi.
In the ring Kano is a skilled boxer, he has nice speed and good movement. Sadly though he really does lack power, he's somewhat physically immature, being more of a boy than a man, has a pretty weak work rate and as shown in the bout with Tomogdan he really dislikes taking body shots. His lack of work rate and issues with tempo could be a major problem here.
We'd love to see Kano click and put it all together, live up to the early potential he showed and become a world champion. Sadly though we don't see that happening any time soon and we don't see him really holding his own with Ono. Ono's activity and ability to create a fight up close and personal will be the key. The champion will cut the distance and work away at the body of Kano. We don't think will stop Kano, but we do think he'll out work him to a clear decision victory.
The last few years we've seen a number of Japanese prospects turn professional young and race through the ranks. Fighters like former champion Kosei Tanaka, current world champion Naoya Inoue and the fast rising Hinata Maruta have all made their mark on the sport already. Another youngster looking to add his name to a growing list of young Japanese super-talents is Riku Kano (9-1-1, 5). The youngster from the Taisei gym made his debut at 16 years old and this coming weekend, at the age of 18, fights for the OPBF “interim” Minimumweight title as he faces former world champion Merlito Sabillo (25-2-1, 12).
For those unaware Kano has got his eyes on a special achievement later this year, becoming Japan's youngest ever world champion. For a chance to achieve that he will have to over-come Sabillo and claim the OPBF crown.
For those who haven't seen the 18 year old in action he's a very high capable boxer-mover. He lacks power, though in fairness is just a kid, but has a very smart boxing brain, lovely speed and a genuine youthful energy. He perhaps lacks the limitless tank seen in some of his countrymen but has previously gone 12 rounds, shutting out Madit Sada in the harsh conditions of Thailand back in December 2014. Although he has gone 12 rounds his last few bouts have been over a shorter distance and his most notable win, last December, saw him easily out point Pigmy Kokietgym in Japan.
For Kano the bout is a big step up. Beating Pigmy in his 10th bout is impressive but Sabillo is a different kettle of fish to the Thai and Pigmy was 34 and just 2 fights removed from an unexpected stoppage loss to Jaysever Abcede, just 4 months earlier.
Aged 32 Sabillo is at the opposite end of his career to Kano, he's coming to the end and another loss is likely to see his career fade into relative obscurity. Unfortunately it's been a massive downhill for Sabillo who won the WBO Minimumweight title in 2013 and now, just over 3 years later appears to be looking down the barrel. Since winning that title he has gone a very disappointing 3-2-1, with a very controversial draw against Carlos Buitrago stopping it from being a 3-3 record.
At his best Sabillo was a crude, tough and aggressive fighter. He was fun to watch but a bit limited and somewhat lucky to face the limited Luis de la Rosa for the WBO “interim” title. He was also lucky, as mentioned, in the draw against Buitrago but was unlucky to face the then relatively unknown Francisco Rodriguez Jr, a man who simply battered Sabillo to a stoppage. An unlucky stoppage to Ellias Nggenggo followed 8 months later and since then he has been matched softly, in an attempt to let him rebuild his confidence.
Coming in to this the big questions are “what does Sabillo have left?” and “can Kano step up this high this quickly?” If we're being honest we don't think Sabillo has much left, maybe 1 more good performance we're not sure however if Kano can do it. His team are confident in it, but it's a big step up and one that will see him need to be at his best to succeed. If Kano has got that skill and ability that his team believes he has, he will win a very controlled decision, if not this could be a real dent in his dreams of becoming Japan's youngest world champion, especially with Sabillo's under-rated power.
At the time of writing this bout is officially for the OPBF “interim” title, it is however likely that the title will be upgraded, either before the fight or in the weeks that follow.
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.