On New Year's Eve we were able to watch two notable bouts to close the year, with the first of those being the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title bout between Daigo Higa (17-1-1, 17) and Yuki Strong Kobayashi. The bout saw Higa look the best he has in years as he dominated and then went on to stop Kobayashi in a performance that, for the first time, suggested Higa could, potentially, make it as a top Bantamweight
The former WBC Flyweight champion had looked less than spectacular since returning to the ring in early 2020, but against Kobayashi he looked sharp, accurate, heavy handed and incredibly crisp. With that in mind we’ve decided to begin 2020 by taking a look at 5 possible bouts for Higa as we enter 2021 and give him the “Five For” treatment.
1-Zolani Tete (28-4, 21)
We generally feel that Higa, although powerful, is a small Bantamweight. He’s fast, heavy handed and strong, but still small at the weight. Despite that we feel his lack of stature may be an advantage against certain fighters in the division and one such fighter we would like to see him in with is former 2-weight world champion Zolani Tete. The elongated South African is a former IBF champion at 115lbs and a former WBO champion at 118lbs, though he’s not actually a big, strong, powerful fighter. Instead he’s a boxer-puncher, who can be lulled into rather dull bouts and against Higa the lack of aggression from Tete may be his downfall. Given that Tete hasn’t fought since losing the WBO Bantamweight title to John Riel Casimero we suspect he’d jump at the chance of a big bout in Japan, and this would, in theory be an easy one to make. Especially given that Tete has got history with Japan, having won his IBF Super Flyweight title there in 2014.
2-John Riel Casimero (30-4, 21)
Higa’s bout with Kobayashi on December 31st was not only a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific title but was also sold, by the Japanese media, as a “WBO World Title outpost bout”, essentially a tune up for a WBO world title bout. If that is indeed the plan then Higa’s target will be WBO world champion John Riel Casimero, an explosive and exciting Filipino world champion who has been chasing big fights at Bantamweight. Casimero was lined up to fight Naoya Inoue in April 2020 before Covid19 derailed the bout and has been chasing Guillermo Rigondeaux in the last few months. If those bouts fail to materialise a bout between Casimero and Higa would have all the hallmarks of being something very exciting and genuinely explosive. It’s also worth noting that unlike many at Bantamweight Casimero wouldn’t have significant size advantages over Higa, with the two men being very similar in terms of height and reach. This would be a genuinely brilliant bout, and a great chance for Higa to make his international debut, or even serve as a part of a Kazuto Ioka lead double header.
3-Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-1-0-1, 13)
Of course if Higa can’t get Casimero he may well fancy his chances with WBA regular champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, a man that Casimero himself has been strongly linked to since late last year. The 40 year old Cuban has rarely done what’s best for his career, though did famously travel over to Japan to face Hisashi Amagasa in a surprisingly entertaining bout way back in 2014. Now an older, slightly more hittable fighter, and fighting down at 118lbs, Rigondeaux may well be a target for a number of Bantamweights. We know Casimero is wanting him, but Higa may also feel the Cuban is one he’d like to have a shot at. Physically Rigondeaux is slightly taller and has got a longer reach than Higa, but their size difference isn’t as much as one would imagine when thinking about a former Flyweight champion taking on a former Super Bantamweight champion. Although much maligned for the lack of drama in a number of his bouts by Western fans, fans in Japan do hold Rigondeaux in high regard and this would do very, very good numbers on TBS.
4-Liborio Solis (30-6-1-1, 14)
Another man who is known to Japanese audiences, and is himself a former Rigondeaux opponent, is Venezuelan veteran Liborio Solis. The 38 year old has fought in Japan three times, beating both Kohei Kono and Daiki Kameda and losing to Shinsuke Yamanaka, and is very much a fighter that Japanese fans will remember well for his aggression, style and excitement. Now a long way removed from the man who twice dropped Shinsuke Yamanaka Solis would make the perfect opponent for Higa from a style perspective. These two are both small Bantamweights, both like to fight on the inside, and with Solis being on the slide we suspect Higa may actually be able to stop the former WBA Super Flyweight champion. This would, in some ways, be a cynical match up against a former champion, but it would be a thrilling contest for as long as it lasts. Notably Solis isn’t likely to demand a huge purse making this a very viable bout.
5-Seiya Tsutsumi (5-0-2, 4) II
In his second bout as a Bantamweight Higa fought to a draw with former amateur rival Seiya Tsutsumi, back in October 2020, in a bout that left many, including ourselves, feeling like Higa wouldn’t be able to cut it as a Bantamweight. His result against Yuki Strong Kobayashi made us eat our words though with that performance now fresh in our minds we would love to see him re-run his bout with Tsutsumi, with the WBO Asia Pacific title on the line. For Tsutsumi it would be a chance to claim a regional title, and a chance to take a third win over Higa, who he beat twice in the amateurs, and it would feel like a reward for a man who had a torrid 2020, with two highly debatable draws. For Higa it would be a chance to avenge his draw and get revenge for the amateur defeats. For fight fans this would just be a joy, and hopefully not one TBS would sit on for weeks before airing it, like they did with their first bout.
On New Year's ever we had the chance to see former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (17-1-1, 17) claim the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title, as he destroyed Yuki Strong Kobayashi (16-9, 9) at the Ota-City General Gymnasium. The performance was Higa's third since having his suspension lifted by the JBC, and his first since drawing with close friend Seiya Tsutsumi this past October. Kobayashi on the other hand was looking to make his second defense of the regional title.
With the bout having been watched, rewatched and now dissected we've taken the opportunity to share some of our reflections from the bout.
1-Higa was razor sharp
From the very first seconds it was clear that this was a different Daigo Higa to the one who had fought Tsutsumi. This was a hungry, driven Higa and he looked a million times better. He was razor sharp from the off, with quick shots from both hands, fantastic movement, timing, combinations and shot selection. This was probably the best we've seen Higa look since he won the WBC Flyweight title and stopped Juan Hernandez Navarrete over 3 years ago. It was as close to a punch perfect performance as we could have had from him and he really did look red hot from the very start. This was the Higa we fell in love with and the one once dubbed the "Romagon of Okinawa", with brutal uppercuts and devastating hooks to the body.
2-Kobayashi neglected his jab
Yuki Strong Kobayashi has always had a decent jab, he was the naturally man here, and that jab should have been on of his key weapons. Stupdily however he rarely used it, which made his entire game plan fall apart. Instead of jabbing his way regularly, which could have had him building some success and slowing down Higa, he generally just trudged in, walking to Higa, who pounded him as a result. There were times where Kobayashi used the jab, with mixed success, in the opening round, but he needed to stick with it to have any chance here. His footwork was too slow and his hands too slow to try to just walk down a fighter like Higa here, especially this version of Higa.
3-Higa could struggle at world level
Although Higa looked brilliant here and was as a sharp as a tack offensively we would have two reservations about him getting a world title fight any time soon. Firstly he is very small for a Bantamweight, and will struggle against the bigger, stronger fighters at the weight. A bout with, for example, Nonito Donaire, would see him being completely dwarfed and likely over-powered. Seconds there are a lot of holes in his defense, still. He was too quick for Kobayashi to do much against him here, but a top fighter in the division would punish him at mid range. We did see Kobayashi have some success at times, albeit nothing sustained, but a better fighter than Kobayashi would have sustained success.
It is worth noting that Higa does have a solid chin, but he certainly won't want to take big bombs from world class guys, especially at a weight that he is small at.
4-This should have shown live!
This bout was shown worldwide thanks to various TV outlets showing the bout all over the globe. Sadly however not one broadcaster managed to show it live, with even TBS in Japan showing it on delay. This seemed like a missed opportunity if we're being honest and with the result floating about online before the broadcast it did diminish the experience of watching the bout a little bit. We understand that there are reasons for these decisions, and the delay wasn't a massive one, but it's still a shame, especially as Higa's last bout was also shown on a lengthy delay as well. If TBS want to back Higa, they should consider doing it properly and giving him live exposure where possible.
On the same note, it was also disappointing that MBS in Kansai didn't air the bout at all, a real surprise given that Kobayashi is from Osaka and Higa is a name known across Japan. Fingers crossed Higa will get nationwide TV coverage in the near future, and his bouts aren't left to things like Paravi.
5-We really want Higa Vs Casimero!
The Bantamweight division right now is in a really interesting situation where there is so much talent at the top and so many interesting match ups that could be made. Obviously the triple title unification bout between Naoya Inoue and John Riel Casimero is the bout we all want, but Casimero is in an interesting position where he has several other good looking options. The most likely of those seems to be a bout with Cuban veteran Guillermo Rigondeaux, but we would absolutely love to see Casimero take on Higa. Higa's win over Kobayashi certainly opened the door there, and the WBO Asia Pacific title will help Higa's WBO ranking. Entering this one Kobayashi was ranked #13 by the WBO and we'd expect Higa to not just climb into those rankings but into the top 10.
As for the fight, Casimero isn't a big Bantamweight and won't have some of the advantages the natural Bantamweights will have on Higa, but he is a destructive one and the styles should gel really well.
This past week at Korakuen Hall fight fans saw former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (16-1-1, 16) fight to an unexpected draw with the unbeaten Seiya Tsutsumi. Whilst that bout hasn't yet been aired on TV, and won't be until mid-November, we can't help but think the result was a notable set back for Higa, in what was his second bout as a Bantamweight.
With that in mind it's clear Higa needs more time to get used to the power, strength and durability of Bantamweights and with that in mind we've gone with the idea that he is the perfect fight to look at in this week's Five For... article, as we look at 5 potential opponents we'd love to see Higa in with.
1-Seiya Tsutsumi (5-0-2, 4) II
The obvious one to start with, a rematch between Higa and Seiya Tsutsumi. From all accounts fans at the venue thought this was close, very exciting and a bout that was genuine fantastic. Given the nature of the bout, the eventual result, and the friendly-rivalry of the two men, who are friends and twice fought as amateurs, this makes total sense. And fingers crossed TBS don't feel the need to hold the broadcast on ice for 3 weeks. This would be a chance for both men to right the wrong of their draw, it would be a chance for both men to move their careers forward and it would be a chance for fans to enjoy a re-run of what was, supposedly, a really good fight!
2-Yuki Strong Kobayashi (16-8, 9)
The realisation that Higa isn't a world class Bantamweight, yet, needs to be accepted and with that in mind he shouldn't be thinking about fighting the top guys. Instead he should be looking at fringe contenders and regional champions. With that said a bout between Higa and WBO Asia Pacific Champion Yuki Strong Kobayashi would certainly not be something we'd complain too much about. Kobayashi is no world beater, but he's got a regional title, he has no bout booked, and he's on a few fights removed from going the distance, in a dramatic bout, with Keita Kurihara. A bout between Higa and Kurihara would probably be better, but Kurihara is booked for a bout next January, and Kobayashi is free so this would be the only open chance for Higa to take a regional title.
3-Nawaphon Por Chokchai (49-1-1, 39)
Looking outside of Japan there are several really attractive opponents in Asia. Potentially the most interesting of those is Thailand's Nawaphon Por Chokchai, who like Higa was first making waves as a Flyweight before moving up to Bantamweight. Nawaphon, like Higa, is typically an aggressive, exciting fighter to watch, with good work rate and power. Both men are, at the time of writing, ranked in the top 10 with the WBC, and neither man will be getting a world title fight this year. With that in mind we'd love to see the two fighters battle in what would, essentially, be a world title eliminator. We'd see this as a legitimate test for both men, and be sat on the edge of our seats knowing that both men throw shots with nasty intent. This would, almost certainly, be a thrilling war.
4-Aston Palicte (26-4-1, 22)
Higa isn't the only man who is looking to turn a their career around and another is 2-time world title challenger Aston Palicte. Whilst Palicte picked up a win last time out, beating Jonathan Francisco, he is 2-2-1 in his last 5, including a loss to Higa's new stablemate Kazuto Ioka in a WBO world title fight. Higa's relationship with Ioka makes this a really viable match up, and it would also give Higa a chance to face a bigger, taller man who isn't a natural Bantamweight, but does have Bantamweight like proportions. It's also worth noting that both men need a notable win, and facing off against each other would give both men a chance to get a win at that type of level.
5-Petch Sor Chitpattana (57-1, 42)
We're back over to Thailand for our final choice, with a bout between Higa and the tough, aggressive and fun to watch Petch Sor Chitpattana. As with Palicte Japanese fans will have seen Petch, who fought Takuma Inoue at the end of 2018, and he also has a world ranking, in fact he has 2. His style would make for an amazing fight with Higa, his toughness would force Higa to dig deep, the bout would be an easy sell, and action packed contest. It's fair to say that Higa would be the very clear favourite, but in reality Petch is no push over, and his will to win saw him asking real questions of Takuma Inoue. He hits hard enough, and often enough, to keep Higa honest, and would force Higa to work hard every round.
Whilst the draw with Tsutsumi was a set back for Higa his career isn't over, not even close, and there are a lot of interesting match ups out there for him. We've looked at just 5, but there is honestly a huge list of potential bouts out there for him, and with style and popularity fans will continue to follow him. If he's in thrillers, win or lose, we know fans will remain interested in Higa and we wouldn't advise anyone to write him off after the draw with Tsutsumi.
This past Thursday we saw the very long awaited return to the ring of the hugely popular Daigo Higa (16-1, 16), who stopped Jason Buenaobra in 6 rounds, after almost 2 years out of the ring. Although expressed some really worrying comments after the bout, at least for fans wanting to see him in the ring long term, his return did leave us salivating at the potential bouts he could be involved in, if he sticks around.
As fans we would love to see Higa's motivation return, but for that to happen he'll need fights that excite him and get the juices going. No easy bouts, just tough, testing, exciting ones. With that in mind, here are Five For... Daigo Higa.
1-Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-1, 13)
If we're looking at bouts that intrigue us there are very, very, very few times we'll ever list Guillermo Rigondeaux, however we would love to see how his defense, movement, and 39 year old legs hold out against the incessant, high octane pressure of Higa. If Higa needs a fight to excite him, get his motivation up and make him want to fight, a bout against a world level name, for the WBA "regular" title should be the type of bout that does just that. Yes this is an extremely tough bout for Higa, but maybe the type of bout he needs to reignite his love for the sport.
2-Nawaphon Sor Rungvisai (48-1-1, 38)
Of course Higa isn't the only fighter who has moved up from Flyweight to Bantamweight in recent years, and another was Thailand's Nawaphon Sor Rungvisai. On paper a bout between Higa and Nawaphon might not excite those looking to see top names clashing but in reality this would be so much fun to watch. Both guys are aggressive, and style wise this should be a lot of fun. Higa would be favoured, but that doesn't change the fact that this style a really fun and interesting bout between two fighters who like to come forward and like to let heavy leather go. More notably than the style is the significance of this bout, with Nawaphon being ranked #2 by the WBC and said to be pushing for a world title fight. Higa Vs Nawaphon in a world title eliminator? Yes please!
3-Zolani Tete (28-4, 21)
If Higa can't get a true top level name, then it'd be fun to see him face a recent champion, and an interesting possibility there would be Zolani Tete. Tete was stopped last year, by Johnriel Casimero, but is still an awkward out for anyone in the division, has a decent name and would ask questions of Higa. If Higa isn't motivated then Tete would expose than, jab his head off and take a clear win, likely sending Higa into retirement, but if Higa can get up for this, he could potentially take out Tete and prove his value in the Bantamweight division. It's a very winnable bout, if Higa can get up for it.
4-Petch Sor Chitpattana (54-1, 39)
Given Higa's only world ranking at the moment is the WBC it's worth looking at who's around him in the WBC rankings, and once such fighter is Petch Sor Chitpattana, who is ranked really close to Higa. Not only are both world ranked but both men love to come forward, both like to let leather go, both are tough and stylistically this should be something truly special. It would be one of the rare times that Higa would be up against a man who may be able to match him physically, and take his punishment, and would be a really fun fight to watch. It lacks something in terms of importance, but as a spectacle this would be sensational to watch.
5-Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-1, 12)
We're back to thinking of Higa against a recent champion, and why not go up against someone known in Japan for being a previous Naoya Inoue opponent right? So with that in mind Emmanuel Rodriguez seems a perfect choice. Like Petch and Nawaphon the Puerto Rican former world champion is ranked in the WBC, in fact he's #3 with the WBC, behind Nonito Donaire and Nawaphon, and a bout between Higa and Rodriguez would be something to get very excited about. Rodriguez is still a solid name in the division, he's world ranked, and would give Higa an opponent who can ask questions of him. Style wise this isn't the best out there for Higa, but it's certainly a very significant bout, and could, potentially, even help him secure a US debut, which could play a major part in helping with his motivation.
We've all heard of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and we've decided to put our spin on things with "Six degrees of separation" looking to connect Asian fighters you may never have assumed were connected! Today we connect Daigo Higa and...Ki Soo Kim.
1-Former Japanese world champion Daigo Higa, who returns to the ring in February to finally restart his career after being suspended by the JBC, is promoted by former Light Flyweight king Yoko Gushiken, who has guided Higa through his career so far, from his debut to his world title triumph to his title loss in 2018.
2-Back in the 1970's and 1980's Yoko Gushiken ran 13 defenses of the WBA Light Flyweight title, a Japanese male record that still stands too this day.The 11th of those defenses was a controversial one over Yong Hyun Kim, whilst we won't into the controversy here, as we plan to do a full article on the Poison Orange Incident in the future, the defense was one of the final ones of Gushiken's career and he would lose the belt the following year.
3-On September 26th 1981 Yong Hyun Kim lost in an OPBF Light Flyweight title fight to Siony Carupo. On that very same show Thailand's Satanfa Pratip also lost in an OPBF title fight, up at Welterweight. The Thai was stopped in 5 rounds by Chung Jae Hwang.
4-Although Satanfa Pratip, who went 3-3 as a professional, isn't a big name, he did fight a notable trio of Thai fighters. One of those was Chung Jae Hwang, as mentioned, another Jun Suk Hwang and the the third was future world champion In Chul Baek.
5-Whilst In Chul Baek is well known internationally for reaching the pinnacle of the sport, and winning the WBA Super Middleweight title late in his career, his first career title was the OPBF Light Middleweight title, which he won back in 1981, when he stopped Sang Ho Lee. Another man who held that very same OPBF title was Sae Chul Kang, in fact Kang was the first man to hold that title.
6-On October 1st 1961, November 1st 1961 and December 14th 1963 Sae Chul Kang battled with, and lost to, Ki Soo Kim. The first of those bouts was actually Kim's professional debut, following his outstanding amateur career.
The month of November is a crazy one for fight fans with notable fights taking place through the month, he we look at the most notable bouts set to take place during the first week of the month in the first part of our look towards a brilliant looking month.
Hiroki Okada (13-0, 10) v Valentine Hosokawa (20-5-3, 9)
The first title fight of a thoroughly hectic month will see Japanese Light Welterweight champion Hiroki Okada defending his title against veteran Valentine Hosokawa,who has come up short in two previous title fights. For Okada the bout will be his 6th title defense,and if he wins there is the thinking he may vacate the title rather than face mandatory challenger Koichi Aso, who he has beaten twice already, and move on to OPBF title bouts instead. For Hosokawa this will likely be his last chance at a title given that he's 35 years old.
Tatsuya Fukuhara (17-4-6, 6) v Genki Hanai (7-0, 5)
We see more Japanese title action early in the month as Minimumweight champion Tatsuya Fukuhara defends his title against the unbeaten, and fast rising, Genki Hanai. For the under-rated champion this is his third defense of the title and he is likely to fight for a world title in 2017, if he can secure a victory here over Hanai. If he gets that chance it will open big doors for the popular Kumamoto man. For Hanai the bout will be his first title bout, and whilst he could claim the title he may also play party pooper to Fukuhara's world title dreams and get himself in the position for a world title bout. A really intriguing domestic level clash for Japanese fight fans.
Daigo Higa (10-0, 10) v Felipe Cagubcob Jr (6-2-5, 2)
The first OPBF title fight of the month comes on a huge day of action as sees exciting Flyweight contender Daigo Higa look to defend his OPBF title for the first time. The “Romagon of Okinawa” will be up against little known Filipino challenger Felipe Cagubcob Jr. The exciting Higa will be looking to join the mix at world level in 2017 but will need to continue his winning ways to do that, with many expecting him to do just that here with a stoppage. For the Filipino challenger, this will be his first bout away from home and see him taking on his best opponent to date, and a man who has enjoyed mowing through Filipino fights thus far through his career
Zou Shiming (8-1, 2) Vs Kwanpichit Onesongchaigym (39-1-2, 24) II
Staying with the Flyweight division we will not only see an OPBF title fight but also a world title fight as the vacant WBO title goes on the line in a bout between Zou Shiming and Kwanpichit OnesongChaigym. These two men met back in 2014, when Shiming came close to stopping Kwanpichit on route to a wide, and now we have the two men going at it again with a world title up for grabs. A win for Shiming is expected, and if he manages to win he will become the second Chinese world champion, but he has failed to reach the heights expected of him and Kwanpichit has rebuilt well since his loss, winning his last 12 bouts, all by stoppage.
Nonito Donaire (37-3, 24) v Jessie Magdaleno (23-0, 17)
The Super Bantamweight division hasn't been the most exciting in recent years, but does look like a division that is genuinely interesting with a mix of experience veterans and emerging youngsters. One of the veterans of the division is 33 year old Filipino sensation Nonito Donaire who defends his WBO title against emerging destroyer Jessie Magdaleno in a bout that could turn out to be the bout of night. At his best Donaire is a real sensation but at 33 he's not the fighter he once was. Magdaleno has shown real promise but this is a huge step for the unbeaten American.
Oscar Valdez (20-0, 18) v Hiroshige Osawa (30-3-4, 19)
At Featherweight we appear to be seeing the emergence of a new Mexican star, Oscar Valdez. In his first defense of the WBO Featherweight title Valdez will be facing Japan's Hiroshige Osawa, a relative unknown outside of the Japanese scene. Valdez really does look like a special fighter and his rise to becoming a star is exciting to watch, though here we see him up against a veteran who is fighting in what will likely be his only shot at a world title. For Osawa it's now or never and he'll give everything he's got, whether that's enough or not is the big question and unfortunatley it's hard to see him winning here unless Valdez has completely taken his eye off the ball.
Jessie Vargas (27-1, 10) v Manny Pacquiao (58-6-2, 38)
Whilst Valdez is a rising star of boxing there is still some megastars of the sport out there, including Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao, who looks to reclaim the WBO Welterweight title as he takes on once beaten champion Jessie Vargas. The bout will see the 37 year old Filipino attempt to further strengthen his legendary status in the sport, and become a 3-time WBO Welterweight champion which is an incredible feat it's self. For Vargas the bout will give him a chance to score a career defining win. With 10 years age difference between these two there is a possible passing of the torch or further proof that Pacquiao really is a truly special fighter.
Ye Joon Kim (14-1-2, 7) v Yuki Strong Kobayashi (10-5, 5)
To end a hectic weekend attention turns to South Korea where world ranked Super Bantamweight hopeful Ye Joon Kim looks to defend his IBF Asia title. In the opposite corner to the Korean hopeful will be Japanese visitor Yuki Strong Kobayashi, who has previously fought for the OPBF Bantamweight title. Kim is regarded as one of the very few Korean's of any real interest and whilst this won't boost his standing in the sport he is someone who could, potentially at least, create a buzz in Seoul. Kobayashi isn't a terrible fighter, but is Kim fails to win here it's more about Kim being inconsistent rather than Kobayashi suddenly being a massively improved fighter.
Over the next 12 months we're expecting to see a lot of changes in the world of professional boxing. As a result we have put together a list of 30 Asian fighters to keep an eye out for 2016. These range from champions to novices but all are expected to make a mark on the sport over the next 12 months. Here is part 2 which looks at 5 young novices who have impressed in 2015 and look likely to do the same over the next year.
For those who missed it, part 1 is here.
This coming November is a hectic month to say the least with numerous title bouts as well as a major debut, of a man regarded as being a once in a generation prospect and a show to make a real note of for the effects it will have on the Japanese scene for the next 12 months.
The notable action kicks off on November 2nd with a mouth watering “Strongest Korakuen” card. The show features 4 bouts to decide the mandatory challenger for 4 Japanese titles.
The lightest weight covered by those bouts is Flyweight where former world title challenger Masayuki Kuroda (23-6-3, 14) takes on recent Japanese title challenger Yusuke Sakashita (13-5-2, 8). Of the two men it's Kuroda who is the more established having been a former Japanese Light Flyweight champion and of course he challenged for a world title, losing a decision to Juan Carlos Reveco. Saying that however he has gone 2-3-3 in his last 8 bouts. Sakashita on the other hand did challenger for the Japanese Flyweight title last year, before being iced by a single shot by Suguru Muranaka, in what would actually be Muranaka's last fight as a Flyweight.
At Bantamweight we see former Japanese champion Kentaro Masuda (22-7, 11) attempt to move towards regaining the title he lost to Shohei Omori earlier this year. Masuda is in for a tough fight however with the under-rated Hideo Sakamoto (16-1-3, 5) who is quickly coming into his own. Masuda, a 32 year old late bloomer, was completely dismantled by Omori but had scored several notable wins, including a 3rd round blow out against Konosuke Tomiyama and a 2014 FOTY contender against Tatsuya Takahashi. Coming in to this Sakamoto is on a 6-0-1 (3) run including a win over Hiroki Shiino though was held to a draw last time out, against Hiroaki Teshigawara, albeit a controversial one. This could be something very special.
At Lightweight we see former Japanese and OPBF champion Nihito Arakawa (25-6-1, 16) attempt to move towards reclaiming the Japanese title. The teak tough Arakawa, who is of course well known for his bout with Omar Figueroa, will be up against recent challenger Yuya Sugizaki (20-10-1, 6). Strangely both of these men lost their most recent bouts with Arakawa actually going 2-5 in his last 7, with losses to Yoshitaka Kato and Rikki Naito in his last 2 bouts, and Sugizaki going 5-4 in his last 9, including an 8th round TKO loss to current champion Kota Tokunaga. Despite those losses we do suspect that this could be a very action packed fight.
The remaining bout is at Welterweight and, on paper at least, appears to be the most one sided. The fight will see former Japanese, OPBF and PABA champion Akinori Watanabe (33-4, 28) take on the little known Toshio Arikawa (11-4, 9). Given that both men have been stopped and both guys have real power, in fact between them they have 52 bouts with on 8 going the distance, we're not expecting this one to reach the final bell. Given the huge edge in experience and quality of opposition we're expecting Watanabe to earn a shot at Japanese title shot at Suyon Takayama, though we have seen Watanabe lose fights that he really should have won in the past.
All 4 of those bouts will come with an incentive, the MVP of the bouts will be the recipient of a 1,000,000 yen bonus, a really big reason to impress.
Just days after the Strongest Korakuen show we get the first Japanese title fight of the month, and it's a fight that looks like a sure fire thriller. The bout in question is a rematch between Japanese Flyweight champion Takuya Kogawa (24-4, 13) and the highly ranked, at least by the JBC, challenger Tetsuma Hayashi (25-3-2, 9). When the men first met, back in 2012, Kogawa won a very competitive bout however the champion has been in some real wars since then whilst Hayashi is thought to be in his prime. Given the styles of the two men this really could be a FOTY contender with unbridled action and numerous exchanges.
The emergence of a new wave of Japanese youngsters rising through the ranks has been really exciting. Whilst the biggest name among those fast risers is, of course, Naoya Inoue, he may not actually be the most exciting. That tag could instead be applied to Daigo Higa (7-0, 7) who looks to make the first defense of his WBC Youth Flyweight title on November 7th at the Korakuen Hall. In the opposite corner to Higa will be tricky Filipino champion Renren Tesorio (15-6-3, 4), who is known to Tokyo fans due to his very competitive 2014 battle with Toshiyuki Igarashi. This could be the next step towards a world title for Higa, or could see the power punching 20 year old really given a very tough test by the much more experienced Filipino.
Talking about the “new wave” of Japanese fighters it's worth noting that just a few hours after Higa's bout we will see the American debut of Middleweight hopeful Ryota Murata (7-0, 5) who faces off against Gunnar Jackson (22-6-3, 8). The Japanese puncher is regarded as one of the sports most marketable stars and is a real celebrity in his home land. The hope here is to help him become a star in the US and build his marketability in the West before a potential world title fight in 2016. This is a good test on paper even if Jackson isn't the most recognisable name out there.
Also making his American debut on the same day is heavy handed 140lb fighter Keita Obara (15-1, 14) who looked to extend his 15 fight winning streak and impress Western fans as he takes on Nicaraguan fighter Walter Castillo (26-3, 19) in an IBF Light Welterweight eliminator. The bout is a great chance for the 28 year old Misako gym fighter to make a name for himself however Castillo isn't a bad fighter himself and this really could be something very special for US fans tuning in to the PBC show from Miami.
Although there are two Japanese fighters making their US debut's they aren't the only Asian fighters of note on the road. There are two in action in Monaco with one of those being Kazakh Bantamweight Zhanat Zhakiyanov (25-1, 18) who faces WBA interim champion Yonfrez Parejo (17-1-1, 8). For Zhakiyanov, who is limited but heavy handed, this is a big step up in class however it's a winnable bout for the Hatton protege.
Another Asian on the Monaco card is the highly ranked Chinese fighter Qiu Xiao Jun (18-2, 8) who defends his WBC silver Super Bantamweight title against Frenchman Amor Belahdj Ali (14-3-1-1, 2). On paper this one looks likely to go the distance however Jun has stopped 4 of his last 5 foes, including former world champion Silvester Lopez, and it wouldn't be a shock for the crude Chinese “Dragon” to stop his relatively unknown Frenchman, who is the French champion.
Whilst the first Japanese title fight comes on November 5th we need to wait until the 9th for the first OPBF title fight, or rather the first OPBF/JBC title fight as unified Middleweight champion Akio Shibata (26-8-1, 12) defends his titles against the heavy handed, and genuinely fun to watch, Koki Tyson Maebara (9-1-1, 9). On paper this is a massive step up in class for Maebara however he does have 11 years of youth on the champion, a clear edge in power, a slight edge in height and is a southpaw. Shibata, whilst best known for losing a then debuting Ryota Murata, has been in good form recently and is 10-1 (4) in his last 11 bouts going back more than 4 years and is likely expecting to continue that run which has seen him notch wins over Makoto Fuchigami, Hikaru Nishida and Daisuke Nakagawa.
On November 11th we have a female world title double. The more interesting of those bouts sees boxer-model Tomomi Takano (8-1, 5) face off against WBO female Super Flyweight champion Daniela Romina Bermudez (17-3-2, 5). This is the first world title fight for Takano, who is much better known for her looks than her fighting ability, and it's fair to say she will be the under-dog against the much more proven Bermudez.
The other female world title fight will see Kumiko Seeser Ikehara (7-1-2, 3) defend her WBO female Minimumweight title against Momoko Kanda (9-7-2, 3). On paper this looks like a real mismatch in favour of the once beaten champion however the challenger is better than her record suggests and she has gone 5-1 (3) in her last 6 bouts as she's began to turn things around. Clearly Ikehara will be the favourite but this could be a very competitive match up.
Staying with female title action we see another female world title bout on November 13th as IBF female Light Flyweight champion Naoko Shibata (14-3, 4) defends her title against Mexican foe Maria Salinas (11-4, 4). This looks to be very well matched on paper despite the fact Salinas has gone 3-4-1 in her last 8 bouts, including a loss to Etsuko Tada in Japan. For Shibata this is expected to be her 4th defense and is expected to be much easier than her last bout, a narrow win over Saemi Hanagata back in February.
Every so often a bout comes along that has us licking our lips in real excitement. The next such bout takes place on November 21st and will be another US debut of a Japanese fighter. The bout in question sees WBC Super Featherweight champion Takashi Miura (29-2-2, 22) face off against unbeaten challenger Francisco Vargas (22-0-1, 16), an unbeaten and exciting mandatory challenger. Given the styles of both fighters and their in-ring mentalities this bout is almost certainly going to be a war and given the power of both men there is a very good chance that it won't be going the distance. Whilst it's not the main event of the show it's got a genuine chance of being the bout of the night.
The debut of the next in the long line of Japanese super-prospects comes on November 22nd as the very highly touted Hinata Maruta (0-0) kicks off his professional career. The talented 18 year old goes straight into the deep end with an amazingly ambitious debut against the world ranked, and heavy handed, Jason Canoy (24-5-2, 18). If Maruta wins here he could well end up with a lofty world ranking from the off, however Canoy, who has never been stopped, is a real danger man and recently blew away Drian Francisco. On paper this looks like one of the most ambitious debuts in recent memory and we really applauded the confidence of Maruta and his team.
The Maruta/ Canoy bout isn't the only Japan Vs Philippines bout of note. Another sees OPBF Light Middleweight champion Dennis Laurente (49-6-5, 30) defending his title against former Japanese champion Takayuki Hosokawa (27-10-4, 9). The 38 year old champion was last seen in the ring in August, losing a shut out to the touted John Jackson though has shown his toughness and could well break down Hosokawa who has been stopped 6 times from his 10 losses.
The Laurente/Hosokawa bout is one of two title bouts for the day. The other sees Tatsuya Fukuhara (15-4-5, 6) facing off against Hiroya Yamamoto (9-3, 3) for the vacant Japanese Minimumweight title. The title, which was given up earlier this year by Go Odaira, has been a stepping stone to a world title fight for numerous former champions, and so the winner of this one will likely be looking at a major bout down the line. Interestingly however it would seem likely that the winner would have Genki Hanai chasing them for a title fight in early 2016 with the unbeaten Gifu man certainly looking to move into title level.
The only world title fight in Thailand this month sees unbeaten WBC Minimumweight champion Wanheng Menayothin (39-0, 14) take on heavy handed Korean challenger Young Gil Bae (26-4-1, 21). For the challenger this is a huge step up in class as he looks to become the first Korean born man to claim a world title since In Jin Chi, and in fact he's the first Korean man to even challenger for a world title in 2 years, following Jung-Oh Sun's challenger against Koki Kameda. Saying that however Bae is a major under-dog against the criminally under-rated Thai who has remained under the radar despite his long winning run, which has admittedly come against some weak opposition that has reflected his actual ability.
On November 28th we get the next in the “WOWOW Touch!” events. The events are a free-to-air day of WOWOW in Japan and with the past few years Japanese fans get a boxing treat on the subscription based channel, which mainly airs international bouts from the West. This year Japanese fans get a couple of very interest Mexico Vs Japan world title contests.
The most interesting of those is a potential war between Teiken promoted Mexican Carlos Cuadras (33-0-1, 26) and the always fun to watch Koki Eto (17-3-1, 13). For Cuadras this is his first bout in Japan since winning the WBC Super Flyweight world title in 2014, when he over-came Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in Mexico, though is his 6th bout in the country over-all. Interestingly he holds a record of 5-0 (5) in the country with all 5 bouts 8 rounds. As for Eto this sees him returning to the Super Flyweight division for the first time in more than 4 years and could potentially help the all-action warrior become an international star. Worrying for both men the winner will be mandated to fight Srisaket in 2016.
The other part of this double-header sees Japan's Yu Kimura (17-2-1, 3) take part in his biggest fight to date. The former Japanese Light Flyweight champion will be up against WBC world champion Pedro Guevara (26-1-1, 17), in a bout that sees Guevara return to Japan for the first time since he won his title last December against Akira Yaegashi. The challenger, 32, is currently on an 8 fight winning run following a TKO loss in 2011 to current WBA champion Ryoichi Taguchi however he has never fought at close to this level. As for Guevara the challenger has to be a big favourite despite being given a real test last time out against Ganigan Lopez.
We'll pretend July was the greatest of months but we have had more than enough notable action over the last 4 weeks!
The month began with action in Thailand as the unbeaten Knockout CP Freshmart (11-0, 6) retained his WBA interim Minimumweight title with a 4th round TKO of the previously unbeaten Alexis Diaz (16-1, 10). Diaz was expected to put up a real fight against the Thai but was made to look second rate as he beaten by the defending champion. Following the win talk began of a contest between Knockout and Hekkie Budler.
On July 4th we turned our attention to Mexico where Filipino slugger Warlito Parrenas (24-6-1, 21) found himself feeling robbed as he was held to a very debatable draw against David Carmona (19-2-5, 8) in a bout for the WBO interim Super Flyweight title. It seemed like Parrenas did far more than enough to claim the win here but he failed to convince the judges that he deserved the win. A really unfortunate outcome, but one that still keeps him in the hunt for a potential show down with Naoya Inoue later this year.
We saw Japanese youngster Takuma Inoue (5-0, 1) claim his biggest win to date as he out pointed Mark Anthony Geraldo (31-6-3, 14) and claimed the OPBF Super Flyweight title. This was Takuma's toughest bout to date but also his most impressive and it appeared he has now filled into a full blown Super Flyweight. For Geraldo it's a second successive loss but at 23 he has plenty of time to rebuild and we'd be shocked not to see him at this level again in the near future
On July 7th we had one of the months most interesting match ups as Donnie Nietes (36-1-4,21) took on Francisco Rodriguez Jr (17-3-1, 11). The bout saw Nietes have some problems, especially early, but take a clear decision over the former unified Minimumweight champion. Nietes looks to be the standout Filipino fighter at the moment but at 33 he really is getting on for a lower fighter and although he looked youthful in the ring some are wondering how long he really has left.
On the same day fans saw WBA Heavyweight champion, well “regular” champion, Ruslan Chagaev (34-2-1, 21) retain his title with a very easy win again Francesco Pianeta (31-2-1, 17). Chagaev dropped Pianeta twice inside a round to retain his title.
July 12th saw talented Korean teenager Kyoo Hwan Hwang (2-0, 2) claim his first professional title, the South Korean Light Middleweight title, as he scored a 6th round KO against Chan Hee Park (5-6-1). Hwang, tipped by some as the future face of Korean boxing, showed some really notable skills but it was very clear that he needs a lot of work before stepping up in class.
We saw a new Japanese Flyweight champion being crowned on July 17th as Takuya Kogawa (24-4, 13) clearly out pointed the tough Hiroki Saito (9-5, 5). Kogawa, who previously held this title, is now looking at some excellent domestic show downs, including a potential rematch with Suguru Muranaka, or alternatively passing up the title to chase world honours. For Saito it seems clear that he will come again, though does need some more seasoning against lower level competition rather than continuing to be matched this hard.
On July 18th we unfortunately saw Ik Yang (19-1-0-1, 14) being given a schooling by talented Argentinian Cesar Rene Cuenca (48-0-0-2, 2) in a out for the IBF Light Welterweight title. Yang was attempting to become a the second Chinese world champion though came up very short in this bout, which really showed how good Cuenca was.
On the same card we saw Nonito Donaire (35-3, 23) destroy the completely out gunned Anthony Settoul (20-4, 8). Now it seems likely that Donaire will move towards a WBA title fight with Scott Quigg.
Unfortunately the night ended in disappointment for Filipino fans as Arthur Villanueva (27-1, 14) was controversially beaten by McJoe Arroyo (17-0, 8). The Filipino seemed to do enough to rack up the rounds but the judges all disagreed, giving Arroyo a very wide technical decision when the bout was stopped in round 10.
The same card also saw the US debut of Korean slugger Min Wook Kim (13-1, 10), who easily took care of Luis Alberto Pelayo (11-6, 7). Kim will hopefully return to the US later this year for a more notable bout.
On July 20th we saw the much touted Sho Nakazawa (7-0, 4) take a huge step up in class as he defeated former world title challenger Silvester Lopez (25-10-2, 18). Nakazawa was dropped early in the bout but managed to regroup and clearly out boxed Lopez who proved that whilst he isn't the most skilled he is still very dangerous.
On the same day we also saw South Korean hopeful Ye Joon Kim (12-1-2, 6) retain his IBF regional title as he stopped Yoshihiro Utsumi (12-7-3, 7) in 7 rounds. Kim, the face of the KBF, is one of Korea's most talented youngster and this performance showed that he does have real promise but really needs to be given more progressive tests.
We saw a new star emerge on July 24th as Daigo Higa (7-0, 7) went to Thailand and surprisingly picked up a 7th round KO win against Kongfah CP Freshmart (14-1, 8). The bout was one of the best of the month and lived up the high expectations that we had for the contest. The hope is now that Higa will be defending his belt in Autumn before possibly being matched with a world class foe next year.
Kazakh fighter Beibut Shumenov (16-2, 10) became a 2-weight world champion on July 25th as he claimed the WBA “interim” Cruiserweight title with a clear win over American fighter-come-analyst BJ Flores (31-2-1, 20). Flores showed good power early but Shumenov showed a completely revised style that saw him moving more than he had in the past. It was that movement that allowed Shumenov to claim the win with Flores later complaining about the Kazakh not standing still.
The month ended, in terms of major action, with Thai teenager Stamp Kiatniwat (14-0, 6) claiming the WBA interim Flyweight title with a majority decision win over Gregorio Lebron (13-3, 11) on July 29th. The win has seen Stamp receive some international attention but domestically he's really boosted his popularity and it seems that the 17 year old is being pushed as the new face of Thai boxing.
Recently a poster on boxingforum24 asked a brilliant question that caught our eye. It was a simple question, but one with a lot of possible answers. “Good Asian Prospects?” It lead us to wondering what we could narrow it down to. As a result we've decided to do a few prospects features starting with this one which has interpreted the question as “Who are the best Japanese prospects with 5 or fewer fights?”
It was a way to limit the list but also give some exposure to some perhaps lesser known fighters. For those wondering these haven't been put into a particular order but all men featured here have had 5 or fewer fights at the time of writing.
At Welterweight Koki Koshikawa (4-0, 2) has been making waves and has been doing it quietly with out much fan fair. Part of why he's been doing it with out too much noise is his promoter, Celes Kobayashi, who doesn't have a huge TV and doesn't have the backing to give his man huge publicity. Despite that he has been very impressive, as seen in his debut win over Quaye Peter.
Koshikawa fights in a huge step up on June 8th when he battles former Japanese title challenger Koshimaru Saito. Saito will enter that bout as a ranked domestic contender though a win for Koshikawa would boost him from “prospect” to “contender”. Given how weak the Japanese domestic scene is at 147lbs there is every chance Koshikawa will be in the title mix by the middle of next year.
For fans from the west Koshikawa is likely to be the most notable due to his size and, like many others, he was a good amateur. We wouldn't say Koshikawa was an international star in the unpaid ranks but he was a very capable fighter. It was due to that amateur pedigree that he began his career in 6 rounders and why he is already being moved towards 8 round bouts. Given that he is now 24 he's a baby in the division but we do expect to see him matched very hard if he looks good in his clash against Saito.
Another man in, or around, the Bantamweight division is former amateur stand out Kazuki Tanaka (2-0, 2) who scored a genuinely outstanding win last time out, stopping Kaname Tabei in 4 rounds. The 22 year old Osakan is viewed as one of the best kept secrets in Japanese boxing and he's hoping to be moved towards a Japanese ranking later this year, a move that wouldn't be a shock at all despite his “novice” status in the pro game.
As an amateur Tanaka ran up a sensational 63-14 (14) record and it seems that the pro-style has suited him down to the ground already, especially when you consider the way he's been stopping opponents in the paid game. Unfortunately it may be a while until we manage to get footage of him in action but he's confident and talented.
With Green Tsuda backing him he's got a good gym with notable names, such as Nobuhiro Ishida and Yu Kawaguchi, there for him to talk to and get advice from the world really is his oyster. They key to Tanaka's future however seems to be just how much he can develop and how quickly he's moved. If he's given time at Japanese domestic level and the OPBF level to full mature then he really could go a very, very long way.
One more wildcard we'd like to mention is Keisuke Matsumoto (0-0) who isn't expected to turn professional until after the 2020 Olympics. The youngster has been featured in several TV segments, including this one here, and has trained alongside both Naoya Inoue and Akira Yaegashi, in fact Matsumoto's father and trainer is Koji Matsumoto who is also the trainer of Yaegashi.
It's really hard to say how good Matsumoto is, or will be, but the signs are that he could be another prodigy and may well be a real star of the future for Japanese boxing, even if we will need to wait a number of years to see how good he really is.
Images courtesy of-
Celes Gym and Green Tsuda
Note-Kosei Tanaka has not been included on here as he's advanced beyond the "prospect" stage despite still being a "novice".
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).