This coming Friday fight fans at the EDION Arena Osaka will get the chance to see 23 year old hopeful Riku Kano (17-4-1, 8) look to defend his WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight title for the first time, as he takes on the once touted Takumi Sakae (22-3-1, 16). On paper this really is a strange one. Both men are relatively young, with Kano being 23 and Sakae being 27, but neither man is in a position where they can afford a loss. At least not if they want to land a big fight in the next few years. They are two men who desperately need the regional title to remain relevant, and knowing that can often add a lot of excess pressure on to a fighter's back.
Of he two men the more well known is Riku Kano, the 23 year old champion who was once being groomed as the next Japanese wunderkind, though has sadly fallen well short of expectations. He debuted at the age of 16 in the Philippines, and despite losing on debut bounced back quickly and won the WBA Asia Minimumweight title just a year later. He then went on to win the OPBF "interim" title and fought Katsunari Takayama for the WBO world title in 2016, aged just 18! Sadly however Takayama out worked him on route to claiming a technical decision. Since that loss Kano has never really looked like a special talent, losing inside the distance to Jerry Tomogdan and Shin Ono, and struggling in other wins, including victories over Naoya Haruguchi, Tetsuya Mimura and, most recently, Ryoki Hirai.
Although once regarded as a genius prospect Kano's failings have become more and more apparent over the years. Against Takayama he was outworked by a man around twice his age, against Tomgodan he was broken and battered, against Ono we saw Kano pretty much fall apart and unravel after a cut, showing questionable heart, and in other bouts, even his wins, we've had to question his work rate and hunger. He pretty much comes across as a fighter missing a lot of the most vital tools for a star. Despite that there is still a lot to like about Kano, and you can understand why so many were excited about him at the age of 17. He's quick, he's sharp, he's light on his feet, has a good sense of distance and timing, and understands what he needs to do in the ring. He just sadly misses a lot of the physical traits needed to take that understanding and make it work in the ring. There's almost a sense that he thinks he's as good as he was told he was, and doesn't like it when fighters take it to him, and it almost offends him that fighters try to beat him. And rather than fighting with fire, he tends to crumble a little bit.
Takumi Sakae on the other hand turned professional in 2011 and ended up winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2013. He seemed to be moving towards success when he won the IBF Youth Light Flyweight title in 2015, but his rise through the ranks his a wall in 2016 when he lost to the then Japanese national champion Tatsuya Fukuhara. That was the start of a bad patch in his career as a technical draw to Lito Dante followed and a technical loss to Ryoki Hirai wasn't far behind. He had gone from a 22 year old with a 13-0 record to a 23 year old with a 14-2-1 record in the space of just 9 months. To rebuild he took on some very limited opponents, stropping 4 of his following 5, before losing against, this time to Norihito Tanaka in a Japanese title eliminator in 2018. Since then he has gone backwards, again, and faced very poor foes to try and rebuild some momentum.
On paper Sakae's record looks good, and not many fighters at 105lbs or 108lbs will have 16 stoppages in 22 wins. That makes him look like a legitimate puncher. In reality however his competition has been dreadful, and he's struggled when he's had to fight decent to good opposition. Sadly he's been stuck without a major promoter, fighting in Fukuoka, and not been able to develop his skills, and early potential has floundered, badly. He was also not helped but really never being able to get the fights he needed to prepare for his best opponents. Despite his flawed however Sakae isn't a bad fighter, he's just not one who has massively developed. He's got decent pop, a good work rate, he's tough, he comes to fight and, sadly, that can also lead to head clashes, and fights getting messy.
We feel that Kano is the better boxer, the more talented boxer, and the more technically skilled fighter. However we also know that skills aren't always the be all and end all, and sometimes the styles of the fighters involved is key and we actually think that will be the case here. We think that Kano's negativity will cause him a lot or problems against Sakai, who will trudge forward all day, and try to take the fight to the youngster. Kano won't have the power to get Sakae's respect and we actually see the challenger basing his game plan on that of Shin Ono. If he does that there is a very genuine chance he ends up stopping Kano here, at least if he comes with some real hunger.
We're picking the upset for this one, and going with a Sakae win, a career saving Sake win, by stoppage in the later stages of the fight.
Prediction - Sakae TKO11
On July 14th we get another sensation regional title match up in Japan as the unbeaten pairing of Ginjiro Shigeoka (5-0, 4) and Toshiki Kawamitsu (6-0, 3) clash for the WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight title, which Shigeoka will be trying to defend for the second time. The match up pits two touted youngsters against each other in a bout that not only looks good on paper, but should also be a stylistic joy to watch with the two men having very different styles, but styles that should gel really well.
The talented, yet diminutive, Ginjiro Shigeoka was a standout amateur in Japan, only losing a single bout in the unpaid ranks, before turning professional in 2018 with very high expectations on his shoulders. He quickly showed what he could do, as an aggressive, explosive, boxer-puncher. He raced through the ranks, winning his regional title less than 12 months after his debut and seemed on the verge of stardom at the end of 2019, when stopped former world title challenger Rey Loreto.
At that point in time Shigeoka was the hottest prospect in Japanese boxing and as we entered 2020 it seemed he was only a fight or two away from a world title shot. And then Covid hit and Shigeoka hasn't fought since the pandemic started, costing him a lot of momentum and around 19 months of his career. Thankfully however he is still only 21 years old.
Prior to his break from the ring Shigeoka looked like he had all the tools to go a very, very long way. He was quick, sharp, physically imposing, picked his shots well, with great power up top and to the body, and despite being a born puncher he was scary quick. He looked like the only thing he was lacking was a little bit of experience, and he was rushing things just a little bit at times, but for a novice he looked like a nailed on future world champion and like a future star of Japanese boxing. Sadly with such a long lay off, it's hard to know just what he'll look like here. Will he be as sharp as he used to be? Will he be as hungry as he once was?
Aged 25 Toshiki Kawamitsu is not someone many outside of Japanese would have been too aware of until left year. That's despite the fact he was a solid amateur himself, and looked good in his early bouts, showing good technical skills, a nice engine and a good work rate. It wasn't until 2020 however that he really made a mark on the sport, upsetting former amateur standout Kenshi Noda in what was a genuine gem of a clash in October. He then build on that by taking out Kosuke Ando in January 2021, when he was called as a late replacement. With those two wins, and 6th round TKO over Yuni Takada, he has 3 solid domestic wins, all by stoppage, coming into this bout.
In the ring Kawamitsu is a good technical fighter, who enjoys fighting up close, applying educated pressure, picking his shots well, taking counter shots on the arms, and breaking down opponents with his clean punching. Since moving beyond 4 rounders he has really impressed with his work rate, accuracy, and ability to find holes in defense whilst mentally and physically forcing fighters to crumble. He does, at times, look a little bit like he could be hurt by a big puncher, and Noda did seem to rock him at one point. Not only does he have a good style though, it also seems he'd comfortable moving up and down the scales, with his last 3 fighters taking place at Minimumweight, Light Flyweight and Flyweight, and the reality is that his frame could fill into a good sized Super Flyweight down the line.
Had this bout been taking place early to mid 2020 it would have been one where we would have been confidently picking Shigeoka. He looked like someone special whilst Kawamitsu looked like a capable, but inexperienced, novice. Now however the bouts is actually a trickier on to pick. Especially given how Kawamitsu has looked in his last few bouts. We would still favour Shigeoka, his power, speed and physicality are terrifying and his body shots are crippling. However this is not a foregone conclusion. There's a chance that Kawamitsu could survive the power of Shigeoka, and could begin to grind down the inactive and rusty champion. The size difference could be key, and Kawamitsu is significantly bigger than Shigeoka, and the styles of the bout could also play a major fact.
We suspect Shigeoka will want to get close to Kawamitsu, but at the same time that's actually Kawamitsu's wheel house, as we saw against Noda where he protected himself well up close, and landed a lot of shots, wearing down Noda. If he can do that against Shigeoka he could end up stopping the champion. But that is a big "if".
We're expecting Shigeoka to look rusty for a round or two, to be under pressure from Kawamitsu, and to genuinely struggle with the bigger man. But eventually the power of Shigeoka will get the break through he needs, likely with a body shot, and he'll take out Kawamitsu in the toughest bout of his career, so far.
Prediction - TKO7 Sheigoka
The Watanabe show to end 2019 is a huge stacked card, with 6 title bouts in total, including 2 regional title bouts. The most interesting of the two, will see WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight champion Ginjiro Shigeoka (4-0, 3) taking a huge step up in class to take on Filipino challenger Rey Loreto (25-14, 17). For Shigeoka this will be his first defense, and a win will almost certainly see him being fast tracked to a world title fight in the new year. A win for the champion however, is not a given and Loreto has proven time and time again that he is not someone we should ever write off, despite his less than stellar record.
The 20 year old Japanese fighter is, along with his older brother Yudai, regarded as one of the best talented in Japan. He went 56-1 as an amateur, and has been fast tracked since turning professional, defeating Joel Lino in his third bout and Clyde Azarcon in his 4th bout, for the WBO Asia Pacific title. In the ring he's an aggressive, super sharp pressure fighter. He's one of the most naturally gifted young fighters in the sport today, and combines very high ring IQ, with brilliant balance, powerful punching and sensational movement. More problematic for opponents is that Shigeoka is a southpaw, adding yet another problem for every opponent to solve.
Of course there are questions that still need to be asked of Shigeoka before anointing him the next star of Japanese boxing. We don't know what his chin is like, we don't know what happens when he's under pressure, whether he can fight 12 rounds, and we don't know how he copes with a fellow southpaw, though we'll see that answered here against Loreto. For the first in his career Shigeoka is going up against someone who has proven himself as a a tough, thunder punching fighter, and we expect to see him being forced to answer a lot of questions, win or lose.
On paper Loreto has a journeyman's record, but in reality his record only tells a fraction of the story. The 29 year old Filipino began his career in 2008, as a teenager, and suffered 4 straight losses. He managed to turn things around, but struggled for consistency, and was 7-7 by the time he turned 20. From 7-7 Loreto struggled to get going, 4 of his following 5 to fall to 8-11 (4), but since then has been impressive, going 17-4 (13). Of course it's not all about the number, and Loreto has been scoring notable wins in recent years, beating the likes of Wisanu Por Nobnum, Pornsawan Porpramook and Nkosinathi Joyi, twice. That winning run lead Loreto to a world title fight in 2017, against WBA Minimumweight champion Knockout CP Freshmart. Sadly for Loreto he lost to Knockout and has only fought twice since then, against very limited opposition.
Through his career Loreto has always proven to be tough, a massive puncher, and very dangerous. Technically he's fair crude, but strong and bull like, giving himself a chance to land counters when opponents open up. He can be out boxed, but he only needs to really land one shot to turn the fight around, as we saw in the first Joyi fight. At his best Loreto is a threat for anyone aside from the divisional elite, however with inactivity it's unclear what he'll offer.
If Loreto is 75% the fighter he once was he will be a threat through out the bout. Anything less than that and we suspect Shigeoka will make a huge statement and stop the Filipino, likely from body shots. If Loreto is at his best however, he stands a real chance of getting the upset. We suspect it'll be clear early as to what sort of mentality Loreto is in, and he has been given a lot of time to prepare for this, so he should be up for it.
We expect to see Shigeoka showing a bit more patience than usual, trying to figure out Loreto's southpaw stance, and being cautious early on. He'll keep the pressure on but do so with a higher guard than usual, keeping his defense tight and slowly chipping away at Loreto. He'll have to avoid the heavy return fire, but his reflexes so far have looked impressive and we suspect they will allow him to get in, an out, safely. It may only take one clean shot from Loreto to change the fight, but he still needs to land it clean, and that doesn't look like it will be easy to do against Shigeoka.
Prediction - UD12 Shigeoka
In recent year's we've seen more and more Japanese fighters being put on the fast track to the top. The latest man to join the ever growing line of Japanese fighters to race to titles is highly regarded Watanabe prospect Ginjiro Shigeoka (3-0, 2), who returns to the ring this coming Saturday in an attempt to claim his first professional title, in just his 4th professional bout. The talented Japanese teenager won't be gifted a title, and instead will need to get through Filipino foe Clyde Azarcon (15-2-1, 5) as the two men battle for the currently vacant WBO Asia Pacific Minimumweight title.
Shigeoka is seen as the next star from the Watanabe Gym, which has given us a number of world champions in recent years like Takashi Uchiyama and Hiroto Kyoguchi. He was an excellent amateur, winning 5 high school crowns and losing just once in over 50 bouts, and even that loss was one that deserves an asterisks next to it. His amateur pedigree saw his debut becoming quite highly anticipated, and he lived up to the hype with an excellent win over Sanchai Yotboon last September. Since then he has added to his victories by beating Gerttipong Kumsahwat, who was really poor, and Joel Lino, a very decent Filipino.
Since turning professional Shigeoka really has had things almost all his own way. He's not had to work really hard, he's not been under any pressure from his opponents and instead he has been able to dictate everything. Whilst that does say something about his competition so far, it's worth noting that a win over Lino is genuinely impressive. His style, which is an aggressive one, is a calculated pressure style, he's strong, sharp, accurate, heavy handed and yet has a great boxing brain. He applies smart boxing, to an exciting style, and with Hiroto Kyoguchi in the same gym, he has an obvious mentor to try and replicate. On the subject of Kyoguchi, it's probably fair to say that Shigeoka is a better natural talent, and the key will be how he applies that natural ability. If he applies himself well, Shigeoka has the potential to be a major star of the future for Japan.
Of course a lot of the focus is on Shigeoka and his rise, but Azarcon is no push over. The 24 year old Filipino has been a professional for a little over 4 years and whilst he lost his second bout, losing a clear and wide decision to Junrel Jiemenz, he has since gone 14-1-1, with his only loss being a close one to the very talented Rene Mark Cuarto. Despite only suffering one loss in his last 16 there are a number of close bouts on his record, and it does seem very much like his lack of power is an issue at times, with Azarcon struggling to get opponents to respect him, despite often coming forward.
From the footage of Azarcon there he does look pretty aggressive and comes forward, but doesn't really have much sting on his shots or much crispness to his work. He's not bad, but seems to have a style that hasn't really been polished, and instead he looks rough around the edges, slapping his shots and not really fighting with a huge amount of intensity. It's likely his slapping style that has lead to his low stoppage rate, but there is possibly also a genuine lack of power, as well as the sloppy technique.
Although this is a step up for Shigeoka it's hard to imagine a fighter who lacks the pop to get Shigeoka's respect really testing him. Instead it seems more likely that Azarcon will start with some ambition, but it will be quickly beat out of him, and by the middle rounds the pressure and power of Shigeoka will begin to break him down. From there on it will be a case of "when" and not "if" Shigeoka can score an early win.
Prediction - Shigeoka 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.