Typically the 140lb division in Japan has never been a glamour division in the country. There's rarely been notable Japanese fighters at the weight, though there has been notable exceptions like Keita Obara and Hiroki Okada in recent years and prior to that Akio Kameda was a notable exception. Right now however Japan does have a genuine hopeful for the division in the form of unbeaten 25 year old Andy Hiraoka (19-0, 14), from the Ohashi Gym. This coming Tuesday Hiraoka will be looking to record his second defense of the Japanese national title, as part of a stacked card headline by Naoya Inoue Vs Nonito Donaire II, as he takes on Shun Akaiwa (7-3-1, 5), in what could be one of Hiraoka's final bouts on the domestic stage before ploughing into bigger and better bouts in the near future.
Fans of the Japanese scene will know that Hiraoka has been around for years, and it's genuinely hard to believe he is still only 25. The talented southpaw kicked off his professional career way back in 2013, and the following year he reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, though had to pull out due to illness. At that point in time it was unclear whether he was going to actively pursue boxing as a serious career, and he was a very talented long distance runner. He ended up taking almost 2 years out of the sport, before returning in late 2016 and rising through the ranks over the years that followed. That rise saw him winning the Japanese Youth title in 2017, which he defended once, beat former world title challenger Akihiro Kondo, score two wins in Las Vegas, and then win the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific titles in 2021 with a career best win over Jin Sasaki, which has been followed by him defending both of those titles. As we write this he appears to have the tools to compete at, if not win at, world level, though those tools do still need some work, and some honing.
Stood at 5'11" and fighting out of the southpaw stance, Hiraoka is a natural athlete and is very much a fighter who could have taken up numerous other sports, but his dad has been responsible for developing Hiraoka as a fighter, something that has been really helped since he joined the Ohashi gym a few years ago and been able to train along side the likes of Naoya Inoue. In the ring he's very much an outside fighter, who uses his reach, height, speed and athletic ability to his advantage. Early in his career he was a rather crude boxer, who got by on just his athletic ability. Now a days however he's become a lot more polished, learning how to box and move, neutralising fighters, using the experience he's built up and wins over Kondo and Sasaki have proven that he does have more in his tool kit than just athletic ability. He's started to understand timing, distance and how to really set traps and counter, as well as using his jab to control fights and neutralise aggressive opponents. Whether he wins a world title or not is hard to say, but he is, genuinely, the brightest Japanese hope at 140lbs, and the only Japanese fighter at the weight with any chance of winning a world title in the next few years.
As for his opponent, Shun Akaiwa is someone who has never really shown the potential to conquer even the domestic scene. The 29 year old from Fukuoka fights out of the relatively obscure Manabe Boxing Gym and has been a professional since 2014. He won his debut in just over 2 minutes, but then took more than 2 years out of the ring, before fighting to a draw and was 2-1-1 after 4 bouts. Despite that poor start he left a mark in 2020, just before the pandemic shut down boxing in Japan, with a notable upset win over Kenta Endo in a bout aired by G+. That win seemed like it ould set Akaiwa up for bigger bouts, but sadly for him he was then stopped inside a minute by Jin Sasaki, and then beaten again by the hard hitting Yasutaka Fujita in 2021, losing whatever momentum the win over Endo should have given his career. Thankfully for him he has bounced back with back to back wins over Akira Morita and Hokuto Matsumoto.
In the ring Akaiwa is an a rather crude looking fighter with something of a unique style. He leans a lot from the waist, has flat feet he likes to set, and doesn't have a very busy jab, though it does find the target a lot when he throws it. His guard is high when he's under pressure but he tends to be the one coming forward, albeit in a rather awkward and gangly fashion. Sadly for him he lacks offensive crispness, and often slaps with his wide shots. He does have a style that should make for fun fights, with the right opponents, but he also looks incredibly limited a lot of the time. One thing he has going for him is decent power at the domestic level, but against top domestic fighters his power isn't enough to get their respect, as we saw when Jin Sasaki battered him in double quick fashion.
Sadly this bout is less about being a competitive contest and much, much more about Hiraoka looking good before moving on to bigger and better fights. We suspect he'll take a round or two to get a look, then get to work, slowly breaking down Akaiwa, before letting heavy shots go in the middle rounds and stopping the challenger in 5 or 6 rounds, without taking much punishment along the way. This is not about testing or really challenging the champion, but instead giving him a chance to shine on a global broadcast, and we expect him to really shine. Showing his polish, poise and finishing ability along the way.
Prediction - TKO6 Hiraoka
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.