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
Over the last decade or so the Light Flyweight division has been dominated by Japanese fighters at world level such as Naoya Inoue (WBC), Kazuto Ioka (WBA), Yu Kimura (WBC), Akira Yaegashi (IBF), Kosei Tanaka (WBO), Ryoichi Taguchi (IBF and WBA), and Kenshiro Teraji (WBC), along with current world champions Hiroto Kyoguchi (WBA) and Masamichi Yabuki (WBC). The conveyor belt of great Japanese fighters at 108lbs looks set to continue with the emergence of current Japanese national champion Shokichi Iwata (7-0, 5), who makes his first title defense, as he takes on veteran Toshimasa Ouchi (22-11-3, 8) this coming Saturday, in what is the second bout between the two men.
Whilst Iwata is still early in his career, he is a notable hopeful for Japanese boxing. He had a stellar amateur career, including notable wins over the likes of Kosei Tanaka, before beginning his professional boxing campaign in 2018 with a win, in the US, against Joel Bermudez. Since that win he has been moved quickly, and won the Japanese title last year when he stopped Rikito Shiba in 9 rounds. In just his 7th professional bout. On route to his title he showed progress every fight, he showed development between fights, and matured as both a fighter and as a man. That was show cased in 2021 when he out pointed Ouchi over 8 rounds, showing that he could do 8 rounds, and when he stopped Shiba for the title.
Early in his career Shiba appeared to have a lack of power, and his first 4 bouts all went a little bit longer than expected. Notably however it appears, on reflection, that he was being smart, getting ring time, and closing the show, when he could, late in the bout, testing things along the way. It's now clear that he's a solid puncher, not a KO artist, or a massive puncher, akin to Yabuki, but a solid, puncher, who's power carries late into bouts. Not that but he's also an aggressive, technical fighter, who sets a good work rate and tempo, and is well schooled, a given from his amateur background. He has all the tools to go a very, very long way, and the type of style to turn heads when he's in the ring. He also has the intention, for this fight, to not just beat Ouchi but to stop him, and continue his improvements with a man he previously went the distance with.
As for Ouchi he is a true veteran of the sport and is fighting in his 37th professional bout, in a career that stretches back all the way to 2003. Now aged 36 this is probably Ouchi's last chance to claim a Japanese title, having previously come up short in 3 other title bouts. With a record that consists of 11 losses it's easy to write Ouchi off as some sort of loser, but his competition, has typically been high with losses to the likes of Taguchi, Yabuki, Kenshiro, and Shin Ono. He has also proven his toughness, with just 3 stoppage losses during his 36 fight career, and the most recent of those came against Atsushi Aburada. Notably he is the only fighter to have ever lost a decision to current world champion Masamichi Yabuki, showing his toughness.
The most notable thing about Ouchi is he knows how to look after himself. You don't have a long career, like he has, without knowing how to protect yourself. He is defensively tight, uses a very high tight guard, and uses a pretty crafty jab. Sadly though he is now 36, and understandably he has slow feet, slow handspeed and doesn't have the quickest reflexes. Earlier in his career he did have enough speed, but in recent years that speed has gone and he often looks like he's pushing shots, which is an issue against quicker, younger, fresher guys. Not only is he somewhat slow, but he's also happy to have a low work rate, and whilst we might see bursts of activity from him, he's not going to set a high tempo, which is another issue against the younger guys.
Coming in to this bout there really isn't too much of a doubt over who should win, but more the method of victory. It's incredibly hard to see Ouchi beating Iwata, or even coming close. Instead the question really is whether Iwata can break down Ouchi or not. Sadly for Ouchi, we do actually see Iwata doing just that. Chipping away with body and combinations round by round to force the brave Ouchi to be stopped late, likely with his corner throwing in the towel after Ouchi gets dropped in one of the later rounds. He'll be brave, he'll be determined, but sadly for him, father time and Iwata will be too much here.
Prediction - Iwata TKO9
This coming Saturday the Korakuen Hall plays host to the next Japanese title fight, and will see Rikito Shiba (5-1, 3) clash with Shokichi Iwata (6-0, 4) for the now vacant Japanese Light Flyweight title. For Shiba this will be a chance to claim a second belt, having previously held the Japanese Youth title, whilst Iwata, who has been touted as a future world champion, will be getting his first at title level. Despite both men only having 6 fights each the bout is a perfect example of the match making in Japan, that doesn't protect high regarded hopefuls, and instead matches them hard early on, and lets them shine with out waiting for an opportunity at domestic level.
The 25 year old Shiba was a solid amateur before turning professional, in 2018, scoring a very good win over Hiroki Inamine on debut. He then added good wins over Yasuhiro Tanaka, Hizuki Saso and Shisui Kawabata, to claim the Japanese Youth throne in 2019. Sadly for Shiba his winning run came to an end in December 2019 when he faced off with Masamichi Yabuki in a Japanese title eliminator, succumbing to the power of Yabuki in 4 rounds. Since that loss Shiba has fought just once, taking a 7th round TKO win over Hideyuki Watanabe, in a bout that really saw him under a lot of pressure, and take more punishment than expected.
In the ring Shiba is a solid boxer-puncher. He's not a massive hitter, but he gets respect, and his stoppage over Watanabe was an impressive one, but he is a very talented boxer, with a good amateur back ground, a good understanding of the ring and lovely speed. His real issue however is that he often looks under-sized, a bit on the lighter side, and we saw against Yabuki, he's not the biggest, strongest or toughest. Whilst Yabuki is a monstrous puncher, and not many in the division hit like he does, it was still a worry to see Shiba hurt almost every time Yabuki connected with a clean shot. That sort of fight can damage a fighter mentally, and it's going to be a major test for him here, following his poor performance against Watanabe as well.
Whilst Shiba was a good amateur his success in the unpaid ranks was over-shadowed by that of fellow 25 year old Shokichi Iwata, who was regarded as one of the top amateur in Japan at one point, and holds notable amateur wins against the likes of Kosei Tanaka and Takuma Inoue. He made his professional debut in late 2018, doing so on a show in the US, and ended 2019 with a 4-0 record, without scoring a win of note. Thankfully he stepped up with wins over Ryo Narizuka and, most recently, Toshimasa Ouchi this past June. Sadly for him he hasn't yet kicked on in the way many had anticipated, but this opportunity against Shiba is a huge one, and a win would boost his career massively, moving him towards bigger and better fights.
In the ring Iwata is a very good boxer puncher, who can brawl when he needs to, has very respectable power, speed and movement and knows how to change the tempo of bouts. His jab is solid and his work on the inside is very much under-rated. Notably we don't think we've seen anything close to the best from Iwata, who feels like he's been fighting in 3rd gear a lot of the time and it would be really exciting to see what he can do when he's really being tested, again not something we've really seen since he turned professional.
Whilst we think Shiba has the potential to win this title in the future we are going in to this one feeling like the bout will instead be a show case for for Iwata who will look to set the tempo early on, and control the bout there after, breaking down Shiba as the rounds go on. Shiba will try to counter, as he did against Watanabe, but we feel the body shots of Iwata will take the fight out of him.
Prediction - Iwata TKO9
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.