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
Next Sunday we'll see a new Japanese champion being crowned as Ryoki Hirai (10-4-1, 4) takes on Shin Ono (21-9-3, 5) in a bout for the vacant Japanese Minimumweight crown, which was vacated earlier this year by Reiya Konishi. The bout is a make or break bout for the relatively unknown Hirai whilst Ono is essentially fighting to keep his career after recent set backs in 4 other title bouts.
Of the two men it's Ono who is the more well known. He's a former OPBF Light Flyweight champion, having won that title back in 2013, he has twice fought for world titles, losing to Katsunari Takayama and Knockout CP Freshmart, and come up short in 3 Japanese title bouts, losing to Kenichi Horikawa and Reiya Konishi and fighting to a draw with Tatsuya Fukuhara.
At his best Ono was a skilled boxer-mover, and he holds notable wins over Yu Kimura, Xiong Zhao Zhong and Omari Kimweri. Sadly however he is now 35 years old, ancient for a Minimumweight, and with 203 rounds under his belt he has taken a lot of punishment. That has included 3 stoppage losses, with the most recent coming in 2015 to Kenichi Horikawa, and a lot of other accumulative damage from tough fights with Konishi, Knockout and Takayama. What hasn't helped has been his lack of power and despite scoring stoppages in his last 3 wins they have come against frankly terrible opposition.
We know Ono will be hungry, with this almost certainly being his final chance to claim a Japanese title but he has a lot of things going against him here, including his age, wear and tear and generally lacking the power he'd need to get the respect of any decent domestic opponent.
Whilst Ono has been fighting at title level for years the same can't be said of Hirai, who will be fighting in his first title fight here. The 27 year old from Kobe made his professional debut in late 2011 and struggled to find his groove, going 3-3-1 in his first 7 bouts as he bounced from Minimumweight to Super Flyweight. Following 3 successive losses he returned to Minimumweight and rebuilt his career by winning 7 of 8 bout. Those wins have shot Hirai up the Japanese rankings and have included recent victories over Takimi Sakae and Ryoya Ikema, which have helped him break into the WBO top 15 and earn this title fight.
Although relatively unknown we have been impressed by what we've managed to see of Hirai. That included his win over Ikema in which Hirai showed good composure when Ikema looked to him out early, smart movement, a good judgement of distance, lovely speed and some very sharp punching, especially to the body. Those are tools that he will be looking to use against Ono, who like Ikema is a southpaw.
Whilst this is a slight step up in class for Hirai, following his wins over Sakae and Ikema, it's hard to imagine his current 5 fight winning streak coming to and end to Ono, who has looked like a man on his way down for a while. Ono won't be there to lose, but we suspect Hirai will have a bit too much of everything for the veteran, and will score a late stoppage of Ono to send the Watanabe man into retirement.
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.