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.
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).