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.
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).