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
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
We have repeatedly waxed lyrical about the current Light Flyweight scene and the talent at the top, making it the deepest division in the sport right now. What we haven't gone into as much depth about is the rising talent, the young prospects and promising hopefuls looking to rise through the ranks and make a name for themselves. This coming Monday however we see one of the talented youngsters in title action as Daiki Tomita (13-1, 5) takes on Hayato Yamaguchi (15-7-1, 2) for the WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight title, which was vacated by Reiya Konishi earlier in the year.
For the once beaten Tomita this bout will be his second title fight, following a loss last year to the then OPBF Minimumweight champion Tsubasa Koura. The loss to Koura seems to have been made Tomita realise making that making the Minimumweight limit was getting tough for his growing body and he moved up to Light Flyweight properly in April this year. He flirted with the division a few times earlier in his career, with a couple of early career bouts there and a one off bout above the 108lbs limit against Mochamad Sholimin in 2017.
As a fight Tomita showed a lot of early promise. In 2016, as a 19 year old, he had won the All Japan Rookie of the Year and was lined up to fight for the Japanese Youth title in 2018, though had that bout fall through when Kai Ishizawa suffered a training injury. Due to Ishizawa's injury Tomita got the shot as Koura and it did feel like the bout had come just a little bit too early for him. Against Koura we saw Tomita prove he was a good boxer, with solid fundamentals, nice speed and real grit, but he was easily outclassed by Koura, who was too quick, too sharp, too experienced and too smart. His first bout following Koura was at Light Flyweight and saw Tomita stop former world title challenger Jeffrey Galero in 3 rounds, becoming only the third man to stop Galero, following Koura and Pedro Taduran, the newly crowned IBF Minimumweight.
Aged 30 Yamaguchi is a bit of a veteran, having made his debut way back in 2008. During his long career he has real mixed success. He lost 2 of his first 3 bouts before rebuilding and winning the 2010 All Japan Rookie of the Year. His run of form lead to a Japanese title fight in 2011, losing a close decision to Masayuki Kuroda. Another loss, to Cris Paulino, followed the Kuroda bout and at the end of 2012 Yamaguchi was 8-4-1, a short winning run followed before back to back defeats to Renan Trongco and Yu Kimura, in 2014 and 2015. Those losses saw Yamaguchi fall to 12-6-1 (2) and although he began to get his career back on track a loss in 2016 to Tetsuya Hisada, in a Japanese title eliminator, again killed any momentum he had. It then seemed like he'd retired but returned after more than 4 years away from the ring to upset Kenji Ono.
In the ring Yamaguchi is feather fisted but gutsy and brave. With 3 stoppages against him he will always have question marks over his durability, but few will question his desire. Sadly his desire doesn't match up to his ability and his biggest wins have all come against lower domestic level lighters, like Kneji Ono, Hiroya Yamamoto and Seiya Fujikita. A win over Tomita wouldn't be the biggest shock, given those wins, but we would consider it an upset all the same.
Prediction - UD12 Tomita
There are some fighters we watch because they are world class fighters and have skills that few can match. There are also fighters we watch because we know they will provide an excite contest, no matter what. One fighter from that second group is in action on December 1st in what is supposedly a world title prelude, and his first defense of the WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight title.
That man is Reiya Konishi (16-1, 6), who faces off with Filipino foe Richard Rosales (13-7-2, 7) in a bout that we suspect will be a lot more interesting than the records of the men suggest. In fact we're expecting this to be a thrilling, fun and somewhat competitive bout between men who are likely to match each other well.
So far in 2018 Konishi has been involved in a couple of great bouts. The first saw him losing in a bout for the WBA "regular" Light Flyweight title against Carlos Canizales whilst the second saw him claim his WBO regional title, stopping Orlie Silvestre in the final round. For those who haven't seen Konishi before, those bouts are well worth a watch. They show Konishi's flaws, which are that he's easy to hit, doesn't hit particularly hard and gets involved in gruelling wars, along with his strengths, which are his great work rate, high levels of stamina, great heart, and fantastic body attack.
We don't see Konishi having a long career near the top, or even at the top if he can go all the way, but we do expect to always enjoy his bouts, which are fought at a thrilling intensity. They can get messy, due to head clashes and some mauling, but they are really dull and often both men know they have been in a fight, and fans know they've seen something a bit brutal.
Rosales on the other hand has had a year to forget, suffering losses to Vietnam's Tran Van Thao in January and to Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr in August, both in Thailand. Those losses have sandwiched a low key win against Delfin de Asis from May. Sadly for Roales his form on the road has been poor, going 0-3 in fights outside of the Philippines, and 13-4-2 (7) at home. Whether at home or away he lacks in terms of notable wins, and has suffered losses to every notable fighter he has faced, including Fahlan, Jayr Raquinel, Kwanpichit OngsongChaigym and Jake Bornea, likely explaining why Konishi's team have brought him to Japan for this bout.
At his best Rosales can be a nightmare, and he did legitimately make Fahlan and Raquinel earn their wins, but he's not a fighter who gets over the winning line against decent competition. We're expecting to see him come to fight, but lack the fire power to get Konishi's respect. Instead we think Konishi will drag Rosales into a war and come out with a clear win, likely a wide decision or late stoppage. Konishi will likely end up cut, he usually does, but will well deserving of the win.
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.