In recent years we've been able to get some real gems coming out of China, which is building up it's boxing base from having a lot of it's local hopefuls take on visitors from around Asia, and Tanzania. This can give us some really poor fights every so often, but we have also had some absolute barn burners, and it's quickly making the Chinese scene one of the most over-looked in the sport. Thankfully it's also a country that gives us this week's "One to Watch".
The One to Watch?
Xiang Li (7-2-1, 2) vs Ryu Horikawa (2-0, 1)
October 17th (Thursday)
We absolutely love seeing young fighters facing tests before they get too old, and this fits that to a tee, in fact here we're seeing to young fighters facing tests in what is a genuinely mouth watering match up. As the WBO Youth Light Flyweight champion Xiang Li has already proven himself, and actually did so in Hong Kong when he beat local hopeful Raymond Poon KaiChing. For Ryu Horikawa however this is a big step forward in his career, with it being his first 10 round bout, his first title bout and his first bout on the road. This is a huge step up for the visitor, and a tough first defense for the champion. A very interesting match up.
Li is a Chinese fighter who isn't particularly well known, but has impressed, and showed a lot to be excited about last time out, when he out pointed Raymond Poon in Hong Kong. Despite being put on the back foot early on Li showed good composure, good hand speed and figured out Poon. When they went down the stretch, Li really seemed to have the better engine, landed the better shots and really turned the tables whilst landing some very crisp body shots and head hooks up top. It wasn't a flawless performance, but still an impressive one in what was clearly a bout geared against him.
Horikawa, at just 19, is a real natural talent and in his first 2 bouts he has shown he can fight or box and he appears to be one of the next of Japanese Light Flyweights, along with the likes of Rikito Shiba, Shokichi Iwata and Tsuyoshi Sato. There are flaws with Horikawa's skills, and he certainly lacks experience with only 11 rounds to his name, but he does look incredibly promising. Last time out he impressed over 6 rounds, against Yuki Nakajima, and although this is a 10 round bout we don't see Li as being more talented than Nakajima, however we do question Horikawa's stamina over the longer distance.
What to expect?
Early on we're expecting both men to be relatively cagey, getting a feel of the other. This is something we expect will be better for Horikawa than for Li, with Horikawa's more rounded boxing, movement and speed being a key difference between the two men. As the fight goes on the two will both begin to take more risks, holding their feet more, and letting combinations go. This is where we expect to see Horikawa answering a lot of questions about his stamina, durability and mental toughness. If he can can handle the increase in pace we see him really shining, despite some tough patches.
From what we've seen of both Li is the more wild fighter, but fighting out of the southpaw stance that could give him and advantage, especially with the home crowd. Horikawa will be fully aware that to get the win he needs to put it beyond any doubt, and we see that showing in the final few rounds as he tried to force the bout to be fought at a chaotic pace.
The bad news?
China doesn't have the greatest of reputations when it comes to scoring, and it would be a shame to see dodgy score-cards rear their heads so early in the careers of either man. The bout it's self is great, but we really need to hope for fairness.
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.