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
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.