The Weekender

Japanese bantamweight Daigo Higa roars in the New Year.

A Happy 2021 to all our readers.

What a brilliant fistic end in Tokyo, Thursday (31st) to a forgettable 2020 around the world.

We saw a superb contest between Japan’s four-weight ‘world’ champion Kazuto Ioka and compatriot Kosei Tanaka. The latter attempting to match the achievements of his more experienced opponent. It was billed in Japan as their 2020 ‘superfight’ and definitely didn’t disappoint.

Broadcast live in the UK on subscription channel Boxnation it was riveting and highly competitive from the opening bell. Tanaka forced the pace immediately with the older Ioka slipping and countering beautifully. Ioka, the WBO ‘world’ super-flyweight (115lb/8st,3lb) champion having felt his opponent’s power, worked out his range and gradually proceeded to push the younger Tanaka back, meeting him toe-to-toe in ring centre.

After very bruising and close early rounds, Ioka then flipped the whole dynamic of the fight by scoring brilliant knockdowns from explosive left hooks late in rounds five and six. The landed like exocets on the challenger’s chin, sending him to the canvas, but short of their incendiary content to close the show.

After rising from both, in the seventh, Tanaka clearly sensing he was way behind on points, tried to continue backing up his opponent, but this led to his inevitable and devastating downfall.

Ioka, carrying the moniker ‘One for all, All for one’ on his apparel and pressing like a ‘Far Eastern musketeer’, responded to Tanaka’s relentless pace early in the eighth, and mid-round, nailed his opponent for a final time with a textbook left hook, shaking him to his foundations. The referee stepped in as soon as the punch detonated on Tanaka’s chin and held the crumbling challenger up to halt proceedings, thus avoiding his seismic crash to the canvas.

Ioka (26-2, 15 KO’s) was sensational and can look forward to potentially lucrative paydays against other sanctioning beltholders Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada or elite contender Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. The 115lb division is red hot.

Tanaka drops to 15-1, 9 KO’s but is young and brave enough at 25 to come again.

In the chief support, former WBC flyweight champion Daigo Higa (17-1-1, 17 KO’s) dominated from the opening bell and, after 25 seconds of the fifth round poleaxed compatriot Yuki Strong Kobayashi to capture the WBO Asia Pacific bantamweight title.

This was the second ballistic finish to the night and Kobayashi finished on his knees but then lay prostrate on the canvas for some minutes after the stoppage. Attended by medics he eventually recovered and his record drops to 16-9, 9 KO’s. It’s unlikely he’ll compete at such an elite level again.

Higa, in his spectacular victory, confirmed he’s not washed up and has a bright future ahead in the highly competitive bantamweight (118lb/8st,6lb) division. A fight against compatriot and Ring magazine pound-for-pounder Naoya Inoue (20-0, 16 KO’s) would be mouthwatering and a blockbuster in the Far East.

All in all the Tokyo bill from the Ota City Central Gymnasium was a brilliant end to 2020 hostilities and a much added bonus to Christmas TV scheduling. Hopefully this year will lead to greater TV exposure of Japanese fighters on these shores.

‘Cool Hand’ Luke hits Dallas for third shot

First big fight of the New Year takes place in Dallas, Texas tonight (Saturday) with the much anticipated contest between England’s experienced Luke Campbell and Californian prospect Ryan Garcia in the lightweight (135lb/9st,9lb) division. Up for grabs is the ‘interim’ WBC ‘world’ lightweight title.

Campbell (20-3, 16 KO’s) is a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and two time world title challenger. After coming up short against future boxing hall of famer’s Jorge Linares and Vasiliy Lomachenko the 33 year old Brit will be looking to capitalize on the inexperience of the Golden Boy Promotions backed Garcia.

The 22 year old Garcia (20-0, 17 KO’s) is considered by many to be the next ‘big thing’ and with his Mexican heritage, KO percentage and style many liken him to a young Oscar De La Hoya. He’s also something of a social media darling and approaches this contest supremely confident of victory.

For Campbell this is likely to be his final opportunity to nail a ‘world’ title and although it’s widely accepted that Teofimo Lopez is the supreme 135lb champion, as recognised by The Ring, a victory would be some accomplishment for the man from Hull, NE England.

Garcia comes into the fight a 3-1 odds on favorite by virtue of his youth, explosiveness and potential. However, look for the superior boxing skills of Campbell to make this extremely competitive whilst it lasts. If, and it’s a big if, the Brit can manage to keep the fight at range and gain Garcia’s respect by landing solid shots ‘early doors’ then we could see an excellent contest. Garcia may win by stoppage early, although we think unlikely, but anything beyond eight rounds and Campbell should be crowned the new champion. He may though have to drop Garcia to seal victory.

The contest will be shown live at 23:00 GMT Saturday on streaming site DAZN.

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