On September 3rd the EDION Arena Osaka, in Osaka will play host to a WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title fight, as the world ranked Riku Kano (19-4-1, 10) faces Yuga Inoue (13-2-1, 2) for the vacant belt. The bout will push the winner to the verges of a WBO world title fight, against fellow Japanese fighter Junto Nakatani, whilst the loser will begin the arduous climb back to where they are, a task that could be a rather tricky one in a division with the emerging talent that Flyweight currently has.
Of the two men the more well known is 24 year old Kano, who debuted way back in 2013,as a 16 year old, and quickly earned attention by winning the WBA Asia Minimumweight title in 2014. At that point Kano was just 17 and wasn't old enough to even debut in Japan despite having a 5-1-1 (3) record. He made his long awaited Japanese debut the following year, winning the OPBF "interim" title in 2016 before fighting for the WBO title in an attempt to become the youngest ever Japanese world champion, a dream ended by Katsunari Takayama. Since that loss to Takayama we've seen Kano go 9-2 and show real development. He looked like an immature youngster against Shin Ono in 2018, boxing well until being cut and then bullied into submission, but has developed into a brave, tough young man, showing real determination and guts to defeat Tetsuya Mimura, Ryoki Hirai and Takuma Sakae in recent bouts. He's not longer the frail child who looks like he could be broken mentally, but instead looks like a genuine fighter, who has learned from his set backs, and physically matured as he's moved from Minimumweight, to Light Flyweight and now to Flyweight.
In the ring Kano has always been a rather technical fighter, who has a lot of speed, with hand and feet. He's never been a big puncher, but he's a clean accurate puncher, who lands and gets in and out. In his Flyweight debut we so a more physical side to him, as he stopped Sanchai Yotboon in 2 rounds, but that bout really doesn't tell us what he's going to be like as a Flyweight, given Yotboon's limitations and the fact he's a natural Miniumweight himself. We expect a Flyweight Kano to focus on his speed, his accuracy and his skills and movement, and not massively change his style, especially not here as he takes on a legitimate test at the weight. Sadly at 5'4" he's not a physical match for the top guys at the weight, and will struggle with the heavier handed fighters at 112lbs, though to his credit he is a tricky southpaw and he is genuinely talented, even if he's yet to live up to the potential he clearly has.
As for Inoue, no relation to Naoya, the 23 year old debuted in 2016 and got a lot of attention in 2017 when he won the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Minmumweight. Sadly for Inoue his unbeaten record came to an end less than 11 months after his Rookie of the Year triumph as he was broken down in a 6 round thriller against Kai Ishizawa, in what was a brilliant bout for the Japanese Youth Minimumweight title. Since then Inoue's body has filled out as he's matured and gone 6-1 (1) winning the Japanese Youth title along the way. He has, notably, faced solid domestic foes, including the likes of Daiki Kameyama, Katsuya Murakami, Daiki Tomita and Aoba Mori, but unfortunately for him his form belies a man who has regularly struggled at this level. Whilst his 6-1 record since the Ishizawa fight looks good, it should be noted that it includes 4 controversial decision wins and there is a feeling that he has had the benefit of the doubt in a number of bouts.
In the ring Inoue is a technically well polished fighter, with a lovely jab, good balance and quick feet. He moves around the ring well, he looks poised and polished, and his jab really is the key to his work. There are other weapons in his arsenal, but there's no denying his best work is either the jab it's self, or comes off the jab. Sadly though the lack of variation in what he does is really against him, and whilst his jab is polished his other punches don't look very natural to him and they seem like they need real work. The lack of power is also something that's against him, and although he's still young, at 23, it does appear that he isn't going to develop much in terms of punching power. A double issue given how forced and pushed his shots in general are. It's due to his lack of power and lack of variation that many of his bouts end up being really close, as fighters figure him out, work out his jab and then begin to rack up points. Here that will be a massive issue against someone as well rounded as Kano.
To beat Kano the main tactic has been to bully him, either with physicality or work rate. Set a tempo he doesn't like, keep it up and watch him crumble. Sadly for Inoue he doesn't look to be the type of fighter who can either set a high output for 12 rounds, which he'd need to given his lack of power, or hurt him with any single shot and get his respect that way. Instead we expect the rather back approach of Inoue, and the lack of pop in his shots, in general, to work to Kano's advantage. Kano will show his speed early on, maybe losing a battle of jabs for the first few rounds, but then begin to show more variation, changing things up, and simply out work and out fight Inoue en route to a clear decision win over 12 rounds.
Prediction - UD Kano
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