As we entered 2021 one of the divisions that had us the most excited was the Light Flyweight division, which has an incredibly stacked top 10-15 on the global stage. As well as being one of the best divisions at the top it is also one of the best in terms of emerging youngsters looking to make their mark on the upper echelons of the sport.
This coming Thursday at Korakuen Hall we see two of the best prospects in the divisions clash, as Ryu Horikawa (3-0-1, 1) and Yudai Shigeoka (2-0, 1) battle for the vacant Japanese Youth title in a truly brilliant match up that will put the winner on the fast track to more senior titles and much bigger fights.
Of the two fighters the older man is Yudai Shigeoka, the older brother of the more well known Ginjiro Shigeoka. The 23 year old Shigeoka, who turns 24 in April, had a very successful amateur career before turning professional in 2019, following his brother to the professional ranks. He debuted in a low key bout, stopping Thai visitor Manop Audomphanawari in 2 rounds back in October 2019, before stepping up massively and out pointing OPBF champion Lito Dante over 6 rounds, in a much more polished performance. Sadly however he has been out of the ring since beating Dante, back in December 2019.
From his performances so far we know that Shigeoka is a talented southpaw, with good handspeed, fantastic accuracy and timing and a good judge of distance. Against Manop he showed some brutal body work, and looked very relaxed and natural against a man who really wasn't fit to face him. Against Dante however we saw Shigeoka show what he can do with an excellent boxing display, staying wary of Dante's strength and power. Rather than going to war with Dante he boxed, moved, and tied up when he needed to, showing fantastic maturity for a fighter in just his second professional bout.
In the eyes of many Yudai Shigeoka is just as promising as his younger brother, and potentially has more upside, being a little bit more of a boxer-puncher, rather than a puncher-pressure fighter, and being taller. A win here would certainly open the door for Watanabe to move him towards bigger fights later in the year.
At just 20 years old Ryu Horikawa is a boxing baby, but one who has shown a lot of potential already. Like Shigeoka he too debuted in 2019, albeit at the age of 19, and quickly caught the eye. His debut saw him score a 3rd round TKO win over Jun Ishimoto before he scored an excellent win over Yuki Nakajima, just weeks after his debut. He then squeezed in a third fight before the end of 2019, as he travelled to China and made his international debut, fighting to a much debated draw with Xiang Li in a 10 rounder for the WBO Oriental Light Flyweight title. That experience will serve him well here in a scheduled 8 rounder. In 2020 Horikawa managed to fight in a single fight, defeating Daiki Kameyama in a very close and competitive 6 rounder as he continued to build his record and experience.
In the ring Horikawa is a fantastic boxer-mover. He’s very quick, very sharp and almost glides around the ring. Although not the biggest or strongest fighter at 108lbs he has an excellent jab, understands range very well and can sneak inside very easily, before getting away. One of his biggest strengths is his reflexes, and he spots openings very quickly, both on the front foot and the back foot, often tagging opponents at the slightest of mistakes. Despite being very good, his inexperience does occasionally show and he is clearly not the strongest fighter, with Yuki Nakajima pushing him around up close in the later stages of their 2019 bout.
On paper this might not look like an amazing match up, but it is one we are expecting to be a fantastic high speed, chess bout between two quick, talented fighters, each looking to kick their career on to the next level. Sadly for Horikawa we think his physical immaturity will be an issue here. He is, arguably, the better pure boxer but sadly he’s in with a stronger, more powerful fighter and we suspect, over 8 rounds, that will grind him down. The key for Shigeoka is his potent body attack, and we suspect that will take the wheels form Horikawa in the middle rounds, and leave the younger man in real problems in the final stages.
We suspect Horikawa survives the 8 rounds, but does come up short in a competitive, but clear, decision.
Prediction - Shigeoka UD8
It's not often we'll preview a 6 rounder but not all 6 rounders are made evenly and on December 10th we get a 6 rounder that stands out. That is a clash between Yudai Shigeoka (1-0, 1) and Lito Dante (16-10-4, 8). In one corner we have one of the most highly regarded prospects in Japan, having his second professional bout and taking on an OPBF champion. For Shigeoka it's a chance to put the Minimumweight on alert that he, like his brother Ginjiro Shigeoka, aren't in the professional boxing to play around but are wanting to be put on a serious fast track. For Dante however it's a chance to take an 0 of a touted Japanese fighter, following a career defining win over Tsubasa Koura earlier this year.
The 22 year old Shigeoka made his pro debut in October, stopping Manop Audomphanawari, and looked like a man who wasn't needing to get out of first gear. He showed some real touches of brilliance against Manop, but hardly broke a sweat as he took a 2nd round TKO win. That win says more about his amateur pedigree than his opponent, and he looked so calm and relaxed, so well schooled, so knowledgeable and such a sharp body puncher that it was clear he had come to the professional ranks following an excellent amateur career. That amateur career had seen him look like he was heading to the Olympics, but when the divisions being fought at in the 2020 Olympics were changed he decided to follow his younger brother to the professional ranks.
After winning 82 of 92 amateur bouts Shigeoka is a brilliant young fighter and he has been in the Watanabe Gym polishing his skill set and honing it for the professional ranks. Not only does the Watanabe gym have Yudai and his brother but it has some of the best talent in Japan, such as Hiroto Kyoguchi and Masataka Taniguchi, who will not only train with Shigeoka but also inspire him to make the most of his incredible skill set. In fact it was Taniguchi that Shigeoka had his pro-test bout with earlier this year, and Shigeoka really impressed with his skills and speed.
On paper Dante looks like a typical "opponent", a record with a lot of losses and a handful of draws. On paper he should be no threat for a fighter with the potential of Shigeoka. The reality however is totally different and Dante is a nightmare to fight. He's as tough as they come and can fight hard for 12 rounds. He's not an explosive puncher, but he's a solid puncher who has given fits to a who's who of the Asian scene. He has given tests to the likes of Vic Saludar, Takumi Sakai, Jesse Espinas, Tibo Monabesa and has also travelled to push Simpiwe Konkco and Siyabonga Siyo to12 round decisions. Notably however is the fact that he scores his biggest win back in March, when he upset Tsubasa Koura.
Dante is strong, tough and has under-rated technical abilities. He is the sort of fighter who you need to respect when facing him. Of course he's not world class, a monster puncher, or lightning quick, but he's a human boulder who keeps coming forward and a fighter needs to pick on his flaws, rather than go to war with him. To beat Dante a fighter needs to be disciplined, quick and light on their feet. They need to be up for the fight, but fight smartly, and if they try go toe to toe with him it will not end well.
We expect Shigeoka to have studied the Dante Vs Koura fight, and to build a game plan around his movement, his energy and his speed. He has the advantages in reach and speed and despite the lack of professional experience he has got the tools to win, especially in a 6 rounder, he just needs to make sure he uses them properly. If Dante can force the action to be fought up close, this could be a very painful night for Shigeoka who may not have the heart to survive the trouble that Dante could bring if this ends up a rough fight up close.
This is a high risk bout for Shigeoka, but it's fair to assume it's a calculated risk from the fighter and his team who will be looking to make a big splash in the sport in 2020. They'll know the key here is to win, and we suspect that is what they'll do, even if it's not a pretty win.
Prediction - UD6 Shigeoka
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.