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.
Over the last few days we've worked our way through the top 10 rankings for the Asian scene at Minimumweight through to Super Flyweight and today we add the Bantamweight rankings, and this is one of the divisions with incredible depth. We feel the #1 is a consensus pick, #2 and #3 are interchangeable and then the other 7 are a mix of really talented fighters in one of the most packed top 10's that we'll be covering. There could be some debate about the placements, but in reality there's not a lot separating some of these guys. However, that's not a bad thing, and it helps show the competitive nature of the division right now.
1-Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16)
The current WBA "Super" and IBF unified champion champion is arguably the face of Asian boxing right now, Naoya Inoue. The heavy handed 27 year old from Kanagawa is already a 3 weight world champion and within just 19 fights is one of the sports genuine stars. After winning world titles at Light Flyweight and Super Flyweight Inoue moved to Bantamweight and decimated Jamie McDonnell, Juan Carlos Payano and Emmanuel Rodriguez, before working hard to defeat Nonito Donaire in the WBSS Finale last November. The bout against Donaire saw Inoue needing to prove his toughness, chin and will to win and proving them in the way he did really boosted his standing in our eyes, and he answered some real questions. Having now shown he can fight through adversity we know Inoue is much, much more than just an offensive "Monster".
2-Nonito Donaire (40-6, 26)
Having given Inoue such a tough bout in the WBSS final it's fair to suggest that Nonito Donaire is #2, or at worst #3, in division in regards to Asian fighters. The 37 year old Filipino veteran is a physical monster at the weight, with huge size advantages over almost everyone else at 118lbs. He's not just big but he's also strong, very powerful, incredibly tough and a nightmare to fight. He's not as quick as he once was, though as he's lost speed he has adapted and certainly throws fewer wild shots than he once did. There is a case of father time being on his back, but the "Filipino Flash", is experienced, skilled, strong, and has become a more intelligent fighter as the years have gone on. We don't imagine he'll have a Bernard Hopkins-esque career, but he did show there is more than just a bit of life left in his career.
3-John Riel Casimero (29-4, 20)
We mentioned that Donaire was either #2 or #3, the man he is potentially interchangeable with is WBO champion John Riel Casimero. Casimero is a 3-weight world champion, and is someone who has long been over-looked by fans of the sport. He's won titles at at 108lbs, 112lbs and now Bantameight. Blessed with confidence, speed and power Casimero is nightmare to face when he's on song. He is however rather unpredictable and he can look both amazing and terrible in the same fight. He won the WBO title last year, stopping Zolani Tete, and seems to be enjoying a good run of form, though that could change at any moment. Originally the plan had been for Casimero to face off with Inoue in April though that bout was cancelled by on going global situation. Now it appears the two men could end up going in different directions with Casimero now looking likely to face Joshua Greer Jr, in a mandatory title defense instead.
4-Keita Kurihara (15-5, 13)
After the top 3 we end up with 4 or 5 guys who are very tricky to split, and matching any of them would give some compelling bouts. Among those "chasing group" is OPBF champion Keita Kurihara, a hard hitting 27 year from Japan. On paper Kurihara shouldn't be here, with 5 losses from his 20 bouts, however those losses don't tell the full story of where Kurihara is now. In fact 4 of his losses came in his first 7 bouts and he has only been beaten once in his last 13, with that coming to Hiroaki Teshigawara. In that time he has beaten Ryan Lumacad, Yuki Strong Kobayashi, Warlito Parrenas and Sukkasem Kietyongyuth. He's not the most talented of the ones in this area of the rankings, through he is very much among the most dangerous.
5-Reymart Gaballo (23-0, 20)
The most overlooked man in the division, by some margin, is 23 year old Filipino Reymart Gaballo. Gaballo is a joy to watch, but also a freakishly good fighter with some absolutely terrifying traits. He's lightning quick, tall and rangy, with frightening power, very confident and despite look a bit raw around the edges appears to take a good shot, and throw and even better one. His best win to date is probably over Stephon Young, more than 2 years ago, and since then has been supposedly decent opponents. We're really looking forward to seeing the leash being off Gaballo and allowing him to back up our high ranking of him as he looks like the sort of fighter who really could stamp his authority on the division.
6-Takuma Inoue (13-1, 3)
Naoya Inoue's little brother, Takuma Inoue, is pretty much the opposite of Keita Kurihara. Whilst Kurihara is all about power Inoue at the cost of skills Takuma Inoue is very much about skills and movement, at the expense of his power. He's a smart boxer-mover, with under-defense, very good movement and sharp punches, but a lack of punching power a strange lack of physical strength, despite visibly looking strong. His 2019 loss to Nordine Oubaali saw him being bullied for much of the fight, though his will to win shined through late on and he pushed Oubaali hard late on, answer questions about his heart and his stamina. We do wonder whether he could drop back down to Super Flyweight, where he fought earlier in his career. If he could he would a great addition there, but instead might find his success being a bit limited at Bantamweight. Saying that however he's only 24 and is still a boxing baby, despite being a pro since 2013. He might not be the generational talent that his older brother is, but don't write him off at after just a single loss.
7-Nawaphon Por Chokchai (48-1-1, 38)
Former Flyweight world title challenger Nawaphon Por Chokchai, also known by various other names, has reeled off 12 wins since being stopped by Juan Hernandez back in 2017. Whilst his competition hasn't been the best he has scored notable victories over Amnat Ruenrroeng, Richard Claveras, Sonny Boy Jaro and Ryan Lumacad since his sole defeat, putting him back among the contenders looking for a shot. His record is padded, but watching him, you know he can step it up and would be a nightmare for many of the divisional elite. Some how he's only 28 at the moment, and right bang in his prime, despite already having 50 bouts to his name. Another fighter we can't right off for just having a loss against his name.
8-Michael Dasmarinas (30-2-1, 20)
There's an argument that 27 year Filipino Michael Dasmarinas should be much higher up this list, and we do appreciate those arguments. Wins over Karim Guerfi and Kenny Demecillo are very good wins. Sadly however we can't the gift he got against Manyo Plange out of our head, and his win over Demecillo was certainly not the clear cut win that many would have expected for a supposed top divisional talent. He's skilled and talented, but we do wonder if he has maybe hit an early peak and is now, perhaps, heading the wrong way. He's been a sparring partner for both of the Inoue brothers, and is technically a mandatory for the IBF title, but we do wonder whether he'd last long with the Monster if, or when, they fight.
9-Yusuke Suzuki (11-3, 7)
Japanese national champion Yusuke Suzuki is another fighter with a record looks out of place in this top 10, but he certainly belongs here. He would also be an absolute nightmare for many in the rankings. The 31 year old southpaw is a solid puncher, teak tough, with an insane work rate and excellent will to win. He can be out boxed, and he cant be out manoeuvred, but but he's a dark horse in the division and certainly deserves a mention. Last time out he over-came some awful facial swelling to out point Yuta Saito. To date he has only lost once at the weight, and that was a split decision in the Philippines to the touted Jeffrey Francisco. Since then he has reeled off 5 wins and come back from a nasty injury. He's not in the mix for the higher positions but is pretty much interchangeable with the man ranked #9.
10-Yuki Strong Kobayashi (16-8, 9)
Another fight who's record doesn't scream "top 10" is Yuki Strong Kobayashi, who is in the list due to his recent results. In the last 60 months he had gone 6-1 (3) with his only loss being a close one to Keita Kurihara. In that same time he has beaten Satoshi Ozawa, Vicent Astrolabio and Ben Mananquil. The win over Mananquil saw him net the WBO Asia Pacific title and score a recent big surprise last year over the talented Filipino. Kobayashi has improved from the fighter he once was, and when he was 10-7 (5) his career very much seemed like it was going nowhere but the 28 year old is now an experienced regional champion and with Muto gym well and truly behind him his future is bright. He's not near the top of this list, but certainly belongs on it. A rematch between him and Kurihara would be good, as would a bout with Suzuki.
On the Bubble:
Ben Mananquil, Kenny Demecillo, Renz Rosia, Yelshat Nikhemttolla, Petch Sor Chitpatttana, and Carl Jammes Martin
Whilst Christmas is fast approaching the action doesn't really end for Asian fight fans with Japanese and Filipino fighters being in a number of notable before the year is out. Here we look at those big upcoming bouts.
Shun Kubo Vs Lloyd Jardeliza
The first of the “post Christmas” bouts comes just a day after the festivities and sees one of Japan's most promising prospects, Shun Kubo (8-0, 6), battle against a Filipino puncher, Lloyd Jardeliza (7-2-3, 6), for the OPBF Super Bantamweight title. The bout looks to be, on paper, a late Christmas present, and one that could well be a cracker. Kubo is seen as the next fighter of note from the Shinsei Gym, the gym that has managed Hozumi Hasegawa, and Kubo is supposed to the fighter who follows in Hasegawa's footsteps. Jardeliza has lost 2 of his last 4 but is regarded as a serious puncher and could well follow in the footsteps of Marlon Tapalese, who recently upset Shohei Omori in Japan. This could be a shoot out, an exposure or a break out win.
Kenichi Horikawa Vs Ken Shiro
Just a day after the Kubo/Jardeliza fight we get two Japanese title fights. In our eyes the more interesting of the two comes down at 108lbs where veteran Kenichi Horikawa (30-13-1, 7) defends his title, for the first time, against the fast rising Ken Shiro (5-0, 3). The men have a good friendship but have a local rivalry, with both being Kyoto fighters, and are likely to have that rivalry over-rule their friendship in what could be a real coming out party for the talented Ken Shiro, or a statement win for Horikawa, who looked better than ever last time out when he stopped Shin Ono.
Yuki Nonaka Vs Koshinmaru Saito
The other Japanese title fight on December 27th sees Light Middleweight champion Yuki Nonaka (27-8-3, 9) defending his title against Koshinmaru Saito (22-7-1, 12). Nonaka, now in his second reign as champion, will be hoping to secure his third successive defense of the title whilst also making his ring return for the first time since his controversial draw against Takayuki Hosokawa back in April. Saito is an experienced title level fighter though has gone 0-4 in title bouts so far, and isn't really being given much of a chance to end that run.
Riku Kano Vs Pigmy Kokiegym
Whilst the two title bouts on December 27th are worthy or attention there is another bout which perhaps deserves to be more than just a foot note. That bout will see teenage hopeful Riku Kano (7-1-1, 4) go up against former world title challenger Pigmy Kokietgym (58-8-2, 23). For Kano, 18, this is a monstrous step up in class however it's one his team will believe he's capable of making, especially considering they are talking about Kano challenging the record for the youngest Japanese world champion. Notably Pigmy is just 4 months removed from his upset loss to Jaysever Abcede.
Naoya Inoue Vs Warlito Parrenas
Whilst December 26th and 27th are notable days it's fair to say that December 29th over-shadows the earlier action. That is mostly due to the ring return of wunderkind Naoya Inoue (8-0, 7) who defends his WBO Super Flyweight title against Filipino slugger Warlito Parrenas (24-6-1, 21). On paper this shouwl be a win for Inoue, especially if he's as good as we believe, however Parrenas is a huge puncher and Inoue's inactivity and injuries could well take their toll and he might not be the fighter he once was, or become he fighter we all wish he would become.
Akira Yaegashi Vs Javier Mendoza
The Inoue/Parrenas bout isn't the only world title fight on December 29th as Inoue's stablemate and close friend Akira Yaegashi (22-5, 12) attempts to become a 3-weight world champion. The popular Yaegashi will be up against aggressive Mexican fighter Javier Mendoza (24-2-1, 19), who will be defending his IBF Light Flyweight title. Yaegashi, a former champion at 105lbs and 112lbs, lost twice last year and will likely know that a loss here will be the end of his career at the top level. He has however got the experience and skills to give Mendoza a tough one, if his body can hold up at 108lbs.
Takuma Inoue Vs Rene Dacquel
Takuma Inoue (5-0, 1), Naoya's younger brother, is also on the card defending a title as he risks his OPBF Super Flyweight title against talented, yet under-rated, Filipino Rene Dacquel (15-5-1, 5). This will be the first defense by Inoue of a title he won earlier this year, when he out pointed Mark Anthony Geraldo, and an impressive showing could see his team push him towards a world title fight in 2016. For Dacquel, a former GAB champion, this is a chnce to really make a name for himself, and add another belt to his collection, as well as improving his 1-1-1 record in Japan. This really could be a tough ask for Inoue.
Satoshi Hosono Vs Akifumi Shimoda
One other title bout here sees a former world champion take on a former world title challenger in a bout that could, very easily have, have headlined a lesser show. That bout will see former 3-time world title challenger Satoshi Hosono (29-2-1, 20) defending his Japanese Featherweight title against former WBA Super Bantamweight champion Akifumi Shimoda (30-4-2, 12).. The loser of this really can kiss their dreams of another top level fight good bye, however the winner will be regarded as a genuine world title challenger for 2016. This bout will be over-shadowed but is incredibly significant.
Takashi Uchiyama Vs Oliver Flores
We get a host of title bouts on New Years Eve, in fact there are 5 world title bouts on the day. Of the bouts in action the biggest mismatch is in Tokyo where long term WBA Super Featherweight champion Takashi Uchiyama (23-0-1, 19) defends his belt against limited Nicaraguan challenger Oliver Flores (21-1-2, 17). On paper this looks like an interesting match up for the unbeaten 36 year old champion though footage of Flores really doesn't impress and we suspect Uchiyama finishes off the challenger quickly before moving towards a major bout in early 2016.
Ryoichi Taguchi Vs Luis De la Rose
Staying in Tokyo fans get the chance to see Uchiyama's stablemate Ryoichi Taguchi (22-2-1, 9) defending his WBA Light Flyweight title against the horribly limited Luis de la Rosa (24-5-1, 14). The talented champion is looking for his second defense and shouldn't have to look too hard given the Colombian challenger has lost every time he has faced a notable opponent, and is 3-4 in his last 7. Sadly for Taguchi's fans this is a farce and they will know it, especially given the talent that is in the division and hopefully Taguchi will be facing a much better opponent in early 2016.
Kazuto Ioka Vs Juan Carlos Reveco II
Although both the title bouts in Tokyo are poor we have to admit that Osaka has got a great title fight to end the year as Kazuto Ioka (18-1, 10) defends the WBA Flyweight title against Juan Carlos Reveco (36-2, 19). Ioka beat Reveco, by majority decision, to win the title earlier this year in a really good bout. This rematch was ordered by the WBA but it really is almost certainly going to be one of the most exciting bout to end the year. Both men have a lot on the line here and both will bring the action in what should be something very special.
Katsunari Takayama Vs Jose Argumedo
Staying in Osaka it's also the venue for an IBF Minimumweight world title bout between defending champion Katsunari Takayama (30-7-0-1, 12) and little known challenger Jose Argumedo (15-3-1, 9). This will be Takayama's 3rd defense of the year but seems like a significant step backwards following a win last time out against Ryuji Hara. For Argumedo this is his first bout in 13 months and he enters the bout 1-1 in the last 2 years, leading to real questions as to why he's managed to get a world title fight.
Kosei Tanaka Vs Vic Saludar
Takayama isn't the only Minimumweight champion defending his title as WBO champion Kosei Tanaka (5-0, 2) makes the first defense of his title, in Aichi. The talented 20 year old will be up against Filipino puncher Vic Saludar (11-1, 9) in what looks like a solid first defense on paper. The talented Tanaka has been frustratingly inactive since winning his title in May but is likely to get a chin check here against a man who has serious power and will be looking to continue a 9 fight unbeaten run.
Takahiro Yamamoto Vs Yuki Strong Kobayashi
Going back to the Osaka card, the same show also has two lower level title fights on it, with an OPBF and a JBC title up for grabs. In the OPBF title fight we see Bantamweight kingpin Takahiro Yamamoto (16-4, 13) defending his crown against Yuki Strong Kobayashi (9-4, 5). For Yamamoto this will be his first defense since winning the title, with a TKO victory against Yu Kawaguchi, sadly however it is a bit of a “gimme” against a man we don't see posing any threat to the champion.
Sho Ishida Vs Ryuta Otsuka
As for the Japanese title fight, that comes at Super Flyweight where unbeaten champion Sho Ishida (20-0, 10) defends his belt against Ryuta Otsuka (15-8-2, 5). The talented Ishida will be looking for his 4th title defense whilst Otsuka will be hoping to claim a title in his shot. It's hard to see what Otsuka really offers, given he has lost 3 of his last 5, though it's clear that Ishida still needs a little bit more experience and seasoning before he moves onto the next level.
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).