Last week we saw Japan's Rikki Naito (22-2, 7) make his third defense of the OPBF Light Welterweight title, with a good win in South Korea over Gyu Beom Jeon. The bout had been rescheduled several times, and in the end it really wasn't competitive, with Naito dominating much of the bout with his boxing skills, until slowing down late and Jeon just a slight window of opportunity. In the end bout was a clear victory Naito.
With the OPBF title still around his waist Naito will have a target on his back and he looks a very beatable champion, especially by fighters who can force him to fight at a high pace and get to him late. Today we look at 5 potential opponents for Naito going forward.
1-Koki Inoue (14-0, 11)
On December 2nd Koki Inoue will look to claim the WBO Asia Pacific title, as he faces Jhertiz Chavez, and add it to a collection that also includes the Japanese title, a match with Naito would therefore clear who is the best at 140lbs not only in Japan but also the wider region. The two have some history, following them from the amateurs, they are both regarded as being among the best in regions and stylistically they should make for a compelling all southpaw bout. This has everything, history, titles, and regional domination. Of course Inoue will need to get past Chavez, and that is certainly not a given, for this bout to have the allure in 2020.
2-Mercito Gesta (32-3-2, 17)
Another bout that is dependent on future bout would be a showdown with US based Filipino veteran Mercito Gesta. Gesta has a bout scheduled for November, but if he comes through that unscathed a bout with Naito would certainly be an interesting looking contest. For Gesta it would be a chance to face a fellow Asian fighter, something he's not done recently, having fought solely in the US since 2007 mostly against American and Mexican opponents. On the other hand it would give Naito a great chance to fight in the US and make his American debut, and in a bout he would see as very winnable. Gesta would likely be the favourite but this certainly would be interesting.
3-Yusuke Konno (15-4, 8)
We go back to Japan for our third option, and a bout with the under-rated Yusuke Konno. On paper this doesn't have the greatest allure, but in reality this would be the type of bout that would push Naito, and test him to his absolute limits. In terms of skills and speed the advantages lie with Naito, however Konno has the advantages in stamina, power and will be in there to win. We saw Konno score a career best win earlier this year over Baishanbo Nasiyiwula in China, to extend his current winning streak to 4, and he would be make for a fantastic bout with Naito. This would be skill against will, speed against power and brilliant to watch.
4-Miguel Vazquez (41-9, 15)
In his prime Miguel Vazquez was an avoided fighter, nobody wanted to share the ring with the awkward, talented, and smart Mexican. In the last few years however he has been able to get the role of gatekeeper and has landed a lot of fights against solid prospects and hopefuls. Although he typically loses he always puts up a good effort, and exposes areas for youngsters to work on. With that in mind he makes the perfect opponent for a future Rikki Naito fight. Naito should have enough to beat him, but this would still be a very good at this point and a chance for Naito to be compared to some of the better fighters in the division. If the Naito gym could get this in the US it would also help improve Naito's international profile and could be his US debut.
5-Downua Ruawaiking (16-0, 13)
A high risk-high reward option would be a showdown with unbeaten Thai puncher Downua Ruawaiking, aka Apinun Khongsong. The Thai poses a lot of risk and danger with his power but by that same token he is the IBF #1 ranked fighter in the division and if Naito could secure a fight with him, and beat him, he could find himself in line for a world title fight. It would take a lot of money to make the Thai and his team risk their future fight for the title, maybe too much money to risk here, but it would make for a very interesting boxer-mover vs boxer-puncher match up and the type of high risk-high reward fights that we love seeing fighters take.
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).