This past weekend we saw professional novice Ryosuke Nishida (4-0, 1) [西田凌佑] score a career best victory as he defeated former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (17-2-1, 17) [比 嘉 大吾], and claimed the WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight title, with a brilliant performance. The bout, which was aired live in Okinawa, then aired on tape delay in Tokyo a few days later, featured one of the best performances of 2021 so far, and it was something that is worth re-watching, and re-enjoying over and over.
Having watch the bout a few times, we're going to share some of what we took from the bout with the latest in our Five Takeaways series.
1-Nishida's composure is amazing
One thing that was apparent from the opening bell was that Nishida had absolutely no nerves coming into this bout. He was extremely confident and cocksure. Sometimes however we see confidence eroding when a fighter is under pressure, something we saw with Felix Verdejo last year against Masayoshi Nakatani and something we have seen thousands of times before. In this bout however that confidence never wavered and that was, in part, due to the excellent composure of Nishida.
Having only turned professional in 2019 it would have been easy for Muto gym to have given Nishida the kid glove treatment, but instead they put him in with a feared puncher, with an aggressive style, and sent him off on the road, from Osaka to Okinawa. On paper there was so many things that could have gotten to him. From the occasion to the pressure of Higa. Instead however he never seemed to show any cracks. In fact if anything he almost seemed to thrive at the idea of showing up Higa in front of his friends and family. Higa's pressure has forced fighters to crumble, but for Nishida that pressure was like water off a ducks back. To us a prospects composure under pressure is one of the key things to keep an eye on when judging potential and the way Nishida coped under pressure suggested, to us, that he really is an exceptional young fighter. It's also worth noting that that incredible composure helped him see counter opportunities and reserve energy, allowing him to be the man with gas in the tank in the later rounds.
2-Nishida fought to a brilliant game plan
Going in to this our view, as those who read our preview may have seen, was that natural size was going to be a major factor in this bout, and it proved to be one of the reasons why Nishida won. At range he was too long for Higa, and he used his reach really well, hammering both the head and body really well, but he also used his size up close, neutralising and smothering Higa, leaning his weight into Higa up close, and tying him up. He really showed how a bigger fighter should fight a smaller fighter and he bullied Higa around at times. He knew he was stronger than Higa and the bullying up close in the first half of the fight really paid off in the later rounds, when Higa looked about spent. Given this was the first time Nishida had been scheduled for more than 8 rounds he fought a really smart game plan.
The gameplan, created by Kosuke Takeichi, was perfect and it's worth giving real credit to Takeichi for coming up with the tactics that allowed his man to really hammer a tired Higa late on, even though Higa did try to turn things around early in 10 that was sniffed out and Nishida quickly resumed control of the action.
It's also worth noting here, that he essentially silenced the crowd for large swathes of the bout. He limited Higa's success so much that the small number of people who travelled from Osaka seemed to make far more noise than the locals.
For British fans, Osaka to Okinawa is a further distance than Land's End to John o'Groats.
3-Higa is too small for the Bantamweight division
In fairness this is something that has been obvious since his return to the ring in 2020, following a lengthy suspension for missing weight and being stripped of the WBC Flyweight title in 2018. Sadly though Higa, currently, isn't allowed to fight any lower than Bantamweight by the JBC and is in an awkward position. He's simply not big enough to compete at 118lbs, but isn't allowed to fight at 115lbs, which we suspect would be the best weight for him.
Higa has always been a very physical fighter. He's a come-forward steam roller who is strong, powerful, and has some brilliant combinations. But defensively he's raw and against opponents who are natural Bantamweights he'll always struggle to force his fight on people. He's small, short, and hasn't got the physical dimensions to be a force in the division. He landed enough good shots on Nishida to see his power really hasn't carried up, and he was pushed around way too easily here.
Sadly the warning signs for Higa have been here for a while. His draw with Seiya Tsutsumi last year, a natural Super Flyweight who is also very comfortable at Bantamweight, showed his power hasn't carried up and his recent exhibition with Naoya Inoue saw Inoue toying with him and showing him little respect. Sadly though it's really hard to see where goes from this, and he may well need to leave Japan to fight at his best weight, which would, in it's self, be a massive risk for his career.
4-Michiaki Someya continues his excellent form
The last few months we have seen some shocking refereeing but but Michiaki Someya once again showed himself to be among the very best referees in the sport. His positioning, clear instructions, and control of the action through out, is second to none. The bout certainly wasn't the dirtiest or the roughest bout ever but he was on top of things and when the fighters ended up in a situation that needed splitting he split them, the rest of the time he was happy for them to fight out of the clinches. His willingness to let them fight when they were up close, and only split them when he had to, helped this bout, and we'd like to see more referees letting fighters fight out of the clinch. Seriously for everyone considering becoming a referee in the sport, give a watch to Michiaki Someya, he is head and shoulders above many of the higher profile referees, and he certainly should get more big fighters.
5-No home town favors with the judging
To fans outside of Japan it's not always obvious just how big the country is, and how different various parts of Japan are. Most fights international fans see are from Tokyo, with Osaka coming in a distant second. Major fights taking place in Okinawa are very, very rare, and major fighters coming from Okinawa are few and far between. For boxing in the area to take off, they need local stars, and Higa, along with Toshiki Kawamitsu and Ryuto Owan are the regions 3 most notable fighters. It's also worth noting that at least 2 of the judges for the bout are either from, or based in, Okinawa and the crowd applauded almost any time Higa did anything. The judges however didn't even come close to scoring this in favour of the local star. They scored this deadly fair, and didn't even make an attempt to bail out the local star.
Given recent events judges in the UK and the US would have tried to have helped the local star, even though the bout was relatively one sided, but here they really didn't. They could have given Higa and extra round or two, been generous, and gone by the idea that it wouldn't have mattered. But they didn't. They scored the fight fairly, for all 12 rounds. Just as they are supposed to. Not as the promoter would have wanted. Not like the home fans wanted, and not like the local star wanted. We need more of that in the sport!
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).