It's fair to say that much of the Western world is looking forward to waking up on December 25th an unwrapping their gifts as we have Christmas celebrations and a day to look forward in a year that has brought so much frustration, sadness and anger. Thankfully for fight fans right around the world we'll be getting a second day of gifts as A-Sign Boxing give us a sensational show on December 26th, a day dubbed "boxing day" in some parts of the world. For this week's one to watch we're picking a bout from that December 26th show, and it's one that should be a brilliant technical war, pitting a former world champion against a current OPBF champion.
The One to Watch?
Masayuki Ito (26-2-1, 14) vs Hironori Mishiro (9-0-1, 3)
December 26th 2020 (Saturday)
On paper this is a truly fantastic match up, pitting two talented fighters against each other, both desperate for a win in what looks like the best non-title bout from the post-Christmas run. One man is a former world champion looking to bounce back from his title loss, and very frustrating 2020, whilst the other is an Oriental champion looking to claim a major scalp and move to within touching distance of a world title fight. Together they should make for a very, very high level match up and a very interesting mix of styles.
Of the two men it's Masayuki Ito who will be the more well known. The former WBO Super Featherweight champion made his biggest mark on the boxing world in July 2018, when he upset Christopher Diaz in the US to claim the previously vacant title. He would go on to make a single successful defense, stopping Evgeny Chuprakov, before losing the belt in an underwhelming performance against Jamel Herring. Since then he has fought just once, taking a win over Ruben Manakane, and had a number of issues, including surgery earlier this year.
In the ring Ito is a very capable fighter. Early in his career he was a good technical boxer, but as he developed physically he became more of a boxer-puncher and went from 15-0-1 (6) to 26-2-1 (8), scoring stoppages in 8 of his last 11 wins. There is a decent boxer inside him, but now a days he has been relying a lot more on his right hand than he used to. It has made him more fun to watch, but has also lead to a number of bad habits. Regardless, he's a very capable boxer, though does struggle with southpaws and can be made to look basic by fighters who move and neutralise his right hand. Despite being somewhat basic he has crafted a very good record for himself with wins against the likes of Diaz, Chuprakov, Takuya Watanabe, Ernie Sanchez, Masao Nakamura, Taiki Minamoto and Masaru Sueyoshi.
In the other corner will be the unbeaten Hironori Mishiro, a 26 year old who has been on the fast track since turning professional in 2017. After 3 rather low key bouts he began to take on, and beat, very good fighters like Shuma Nakazato and Shuya Masaki. In 2018, just 15 months after his debut, he became the OPBF champion outpointing Carlo Magali in a brilliant 12 bout before fighting to a draw with Masaru Sueyoshi, in an OPBF/JBC title unification bout. Since then he has recorded 3 more defenses of his Oriental title, beating Takuya Watanabe, Ryo Takenaka and most recently Yoshimitsu Kimura,
Although not well known in the west Mishiro has shown an ability to box and fight. He lacks power, but makes up for that in his skills, movement, boxing IQ and now how in the ring. When he needs to dig his toes in he can do just that, as we saw against Kimura, Sueyoshi and Magali, and we've also seen him look like an excellent boxer, with a quick jab, solid movement and a sharp right hand. Sadly his lack of power is 1 of 2 issues we have with him, the others being question marks about his chin and durability, as we have seen him hurt before, and his killer instinct. But in terms of skills he is a very, very good fighter.
What to expect?
Given that both men have been out of the ring for over a year we expect a very tense and tight start to the bout. Both men are talented, but will be rusty, and will be wary of taking a risk too earlier, especially Ito given his surgery earlier this year. Thankfully though we do expect the fight to warm up nicely in the middle rounds and by round 4 or 5 we expect this to be a very good, chess match.
We're expecting the fluid jab and movement of Mishiro to give Ito problems in the middle rounds, and make it hard for the former world champion to land his heavier shots, and essentially become rather frustrated with the movement of Mishiro when the two men are at range. He'll then need to change tactics, and follow the game plan that Kimura used to good effect against Mishiro, bullying. In the late part of the fight expect Ito to get up close, out muscle and out hustle Mishiro, reeling back the rounds that he lost in the middle portion of the fight, maybe even stunning or dropping Mishiro.
After 10 rounds we do not expect there to be much between the two men in a very close bout.
The bad news?
The real bad news here is one that will be a problem to Western fans specifically and that's the timing of this bout. The bout is part of an earlier than normal Japanese card, and to watch it Americans on the East coast will have to stay up after mid-night, whilst Europeans will need to get up very early on December 26th to see the bout live. It should be a great bout, but the day after Christmas might be one where fight fans from Europe and Africa could be nursing a sore head following a much needed Christmas celebration.
For this week's treasure trove we get to share one of the true forgotten classics from 2019, and a bout that had skills, excitement, drama, competitive action and ticked the boxes that we all want to see from fights. It did so in a way that combined everything else with high level boxing, and two men who both wanted to move their careers forward, and both delivered great performances in a bout that really deserved more international attention that it got.
Hironori Mishiro (8-0-1, 3) vs Yoshimitsu Kimura (12-1, 7)
In one corner was OPBF Super Featherweight champion Hironori Mishiro, a man tipped for success from the moment he signed a professional contract with the Watanabe Gym. He had been a talented amateur and after 3 fights, to get comfortable with the professional scene, he was put on the fast track. In just his 6th bout he won the OPBF Super Featherweight title, beating Carlo Magali, and was unfortunate not to unify the title with the Japanese title just 4 months later, fighting to a draw with Masaru Sueyoshi.
In his fourth defense the then 25 year old Mishiro took on 23 year old challenger Yoshimitsu Kimura.
Kimura wasn't tipped for big things when he turned professional. Instead of a strong amateur background Kimura had learned on the job and began his career in 4 rounders before winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year. In 2018 he stepped up, big time, and came up short against tricky Filipino Richard Pumicpic, in a WBO Asia Pacific Featherweight title bout. Following that loss he allowed his frame to fill out and quickly found his groove at Super Featherweight, with 3 stoppages.
The bout looked interesting on paper and the two fighters seemed to not only respect each other, but also boxing history, producing a poster for the event that mirrors the design used for the iconic bout between Takanori Hatakeyama and Koji Arisawa. The build up had been genuine, the fighters were genuine and both were regarded as very solid technical fighters.
What we didn't expect was a bout that was going to deliver a brilliant, high tempo battle of skills, wits and determination.
From the opening moments the two men looked to set a high pace behind their jabs. Both men were looking to create space for their jabs, though it was Mishiro who seemed to establish his first. As a result Kimura began to chance tactics, trying to get inside and letting shots go up close. Sadly for him Mishiro responded and a right hand dropped the challenger less than 2 minutes into the bout.
With the knockdown scored Mishiro took the early lead however Kimura wasn't done, not in the slightest. He hadn't been hurt and his hopes were merely banged.
The technical action was back in play in round 2, with Mishiro using his jab well, keeping range for the most part, but Kimura wasn't afraid of the champion and picked his moments to step on the gas. This gave us a quiet, but tense round, where we had some exciting moments, but nothing too dramatic until late on.
From there on the bout began to build and build with Kimura settling well in round 3 and beginning to put his foot on the gas in round 4. He had realised he couldn't match Mishiro in a boxing contest and instead looked to make things into a war. Mishiro was forced to respond as Kimura's pressure began to amp up. By the mid-point of round 4 we were starting to see something a little bit special unfold in front of us. It wasn't a brawl, it wasn't a war, but it was a technical, exciting battle that had a bit of everything between two men who matched each other really well.
The middle rounds saw more and more action coming on the inside as the two men became happier to stand their ground and let their shots go, trying to get the upper hand.This lead to some amazing exchanges, with Mishiro generally landing the flashier work and Kimura landing the harder shots. For those who like to watch single rounds the 7th was particularly good, with both being hurt during a fantastic 3 minutes of action.
The brilliant back and forth was becoming more and more tricky to score, with the judges struggling to split them in what was a fantastic 2-way technical battle. A battle so tightly fought that it genuinely went to the wire.
This wasn't an all out war, it wasn't a pure technical fight, instead it merged the two perfectly. It gave us smooth boxing, brilliant technical work, a high tempo, some thrilling exchanges and such a hotly fought and competitive bout that it is well worthy of a watch.
Note - Not all rounds are shown on the broadcast of this fight, but the ones that are show just how great this contest was, and makes it worthy of a place in the Treasure Trove.
The Super Featherweight division is an interesting one at the moment, with out being one stacked with well known contenders. In fact most of the leading contenders are older fighters, who have moved up in weight or on the slide whilst others are much more obscure hidden gems of the boxing world.
For those who want to know about the divisions champions we have covered those here - The state of the Division - Super Featherweight - The Champions
Francisco Vargas (25-1-2, 18)
One of the top contenders is former WBC world champion Francisco Vargas, who is certainly a fighter on the slide following a hard career. The 34 year old Mexican warrior holds notable wins over the likes of Will Tomlinson, Takashi Miura, Juan Manuel Lopez, Abner Cotto and Stephen Smith. Sadly, he is very much a man at the end of his career and the wars have certainly began to catch up on him, as we saw in 2017 when he lost the title to Miguel Berchelt. Vargas might have 1 more big bout in him, though until he returns and we see what he has he is still a top divisional contender.
Scott Quigg (35-2-2, 26)
Englishman Scott Quigg is a former WBA Super Bantamweight champion who has out-grown the 122lb weight class, and in 2018 seemed to out grow the Featherweight division too, failing to make weight for a WBO title fight against Oscar Valdez. The 30 year old looks to have regressed in recent fights, relying just on his toughness, size and stamina rather than skills. If Quigg can put it together he could be a handful for some of the champions, and with Eddie Hearn behind him there will be opportunities, but the feeling is that he's also on the slide, and he was given a lot of punishment earlier this year, suffering a broken nose against Oscar Valdez.
Jason Sosa (21-3-4, 15)
American fighter Jason Sosa is a former WBA champion who is just hanging on to being a contender, though will need a good 2019 to be taken seriously as a threat to the champions. He made his name on the back of a massive 2016 upset win over Javier Fortuna and successfully defended the belt once, beating Stephen Smith, before vacating the belt to fight WBO Champion Vasyl Lomachenko, who toyed with him. Having retired after 9 rounds against Lomachenko Sose has gone 1-1, losing a close dcision to Yuriorkis Gamboa and scoring a low key win over Reynaldo Blanco. It's hard to see where he goes from here but he will be back in the ring on January 18th in what looks to be a stay busy fight.
Jamel Herring (19-2, 10)
American fighter Jamel Herring is a 33 year old who has been strongly linked to a fight with WBO champion Masayuki Ito. The former amateur stand out, who competed at the 2012 Olympics, is a long rangy southpaw who had long fought at Lightweight before dropping down in weight last year and stringing together a few wins to establish himself at 130lbs. Although not the biggest name Herring is a talented fighter, who could be a nightmare given his size and frame, though isn't known for giving us much excitement and is very much a safety first fighter. At 33 it's fair to say that 2019 has to be a big year for him.
Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (13-0, 10)
One of the few rising young contenders is 24 year old Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov, a Tajik born Russian boxer-puncher. The southpaw has had a couple of very good years recently, without getting much attention. Althoigh he's only had 13 fights he has beaten the likes of Rogelio Jun Doliguez, Jimmy Paypa, Malcolm Klassen and Robinson Castellanos. Rakhimov is likely to be moved towards a world title fight in 2019 and we'd not be surprised to see him in big fights by the end of the year. A real gem in the division and a brutal natural puncher.
Azina Fuzile (13-0, 8)
Another of the division's hidden gems is South African fighter Azina Fuzile, who has been making a bit of a buzz in South Africa without too many fans outside of his homeland knowing much about him. He's a talented boxer-puncher with a relaxed style in the ring, a huge frame, freakish reach and a lot of skill. Dubbed the "Golden Boy" the 22 year old Fuzile has already scored wins against the likes of Macbute Sinyabi and Malcolm Klassen, and claimed some regional IBF titles, hence his current IBF ranking. It might be a touch too soon for a bout at world level, but by 2020 we would be very surprised not to see him in with another contender.
Miguel Roman (60-13, 47)
Another of the old guard is the insanely tough Miguel Roman, who has a long and hard career. With 73 bouts on his record Roman has legitimately fought a who's who of who in and around the division. Sadly the 33 year has been stopped twice in recent years, and both of those losses came in extremely punishing bouts, that his toughness really worked against him in. Until we see Roman back in the ring, or officially hanging them up, he will remain a contender, but there is a worry that he may now be damaged goods and not the fighter he once was.
Jono Carroll (16-0-1, 3)
Unbeaten Irish southpaw Jono Carroll is a 26 year old battler who sets a high tempo and looks to make every fight into a war. He has great stamina a fantastic work rate and an exciting style, though is technically flawed, defensively questionable and lacks the power to make the most of his style. He's expected to fight Tevin Farmer in 2019, and we'd find it very hard to back Carrol against the IBF champion. Whilst he'd be the under-dog against Farmer it's hard to dislike Carroll, his all action style or his passionate fan base.
Guillaume Frenois (46-1-1, 12)
Once beaten French veteran Guillaume Frenois recently fought Jono Carroll in an IBF eliminator and earned a draw, a draw that many felt Frenois should have won. At 35 years old the French fighter won't want to waste time and will likely try to get a shot at Farmer before Carroll, does. Frenois is a tall boxer with long reach, a defensively smart style and a tricky southpaw stance who has gone unbeaten since September 2013, when he lost in a European title fight to Devis Boschiero in Italy. Since that loss he has gone 15-0-1 and forced his way into world title contention.
Masao Nakamura (25-3, 24)
Hard hitting Japanese fighter Masao Nakamura is the current WBO Asia Pacific champion and is a feared fighter in the East. He's had a strange career, having debuted back 2006 and won the OPBF title in 2010. His OPBF reign was a short one, losing the belt in his first defense, in 61 second to Ronald Pontillas, before rebuilding through to 2014, when he would then suffer back-to-back losses to Masayuki Ito and Rey Labao. More rebuilding lead him in to the world title mix, before he retired in 2016, citing health issues. He returned in 2018 and has looked a force, going 3-0 (3) and taking the Asia Pacific belt. Although not currently ranked by any world title body Nakamura will likely change that in 2019 and will almost certainly be wanting a rematch with Ito.
Masaru Sueyoshi (18-1-1, 11)
Japanese champion Masaru Sueyoshi is highly ranked by the WBO and is climbing up the rankings one step at a time. The 28 year old is not a major name outside of his homeland but is unbeaten in 16 bouts, with his sole defeat coming back in July 2012 to current world champion Masayuki Ito. Since then we've seen Sueyoshi grow into a frustrating boxer, who sets a unique tempo in the ring and controls distance with subtle nuances, and smart footwork. He's not the prettiest fighter to watch but he's extremely hard to beat, and his KO against Nelson Tinampay in 2017 showed he could bang, despite not having a reputation as a puncher. Interestingly, he was last seen fighting to a draw with the OPBF champion Hironori Mishiro last October.
Hironori Mishiro (6-0-1, 2)
Having just mentioned the OPBF champion it makes sense to talk about him in a bit more details. The Watanabe promoted 24 year Hironori Mishiro was a top amateur before making his debut in 2017 and racing through the ranks to win the OPBF title in just his 6th professional bout. He's impressed regularly since his debut, but has shown areas of clear improvement that need making, and we suspect those areas something his team will be wanting to develop on whilst he's holding the Oriental title. He's quick, a shap boxer and can fight aggressively with a pressure style. There's a lot to like about Mishiro, but a lot for him to still work on.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.