Daigo Higa of Japan is a rising star in the flyweight division. Radu takes a close look at his skills.
Welcome back to Bad Left Hook Scouting Report! You may have noticed we were off for a few weeks. This is only because the Scouting Report team have been busy enjoying summer in our luxurious 5-star chalets in the high Alps, chilling on the golden beaches of exclusive Pacific Island resorts and of course cruising the Greek islands in our Bad Left Hook-funded super-yachts.
Fortunately we got all these scouting reports done before we kicked into vacation mode:
- Heavyweight Anthony Joshua, touted as the next great heavyweight of his generation.
- Light heavyweight Russian youngster Dmitry Bivol.
- Minimumweight titleholder Kosei Tanaka.
- Former 2012 US Olympian Jose Carlos Ramirez, fighting at jr. welterweight.
- Power punching American super-featherweight Saul Rodriguez.
- Former 2012 US Olympian Joseph ‘JoJo’ Diaz Jr., fighting at featherweight.
- Argentinian buzzsaw light middleweight Brian Castano.
- British giant super-middleweight Callum Smith.
- Olympic medalist and hopeful cruiserweight title challenger Evander Holyfield.
- Cossack otaman and rising cruiserweight contender Oleksandr Usyk.
- Floyd Mayweather’s favourite young fighter: welterweight
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- Fan favourite Chechen hammer Artur Beterbiev, fighting at light heavyweight.
- Young and developing American light middleweight Erickson Lubin.
- Kiwi heavyweight banger Joseph Parker.
- Former Mexican amateur star Oscar Valdez, fighting at featherweight.
- Lithuanian dental therapist Egidijus Kavaliauskas, fixing people’s jaws at welterweight.
- Philly fighter and soon-to-be jr. middleweight title challenger Julian Williams.
- Japanese light flyweight champion Kenshiro.
- Heavyweight cousins Tyson and Hughie Furry.
- Thai teenage flyweight prodigy Stamp Kiatniwat.
- Russian welterweight dazzler Konstantin Ponomarev.
- Puerto Rican lightweight super-prospect Felix Verdejo.
Today I’m going to go all boxing hipster on you guys and I’ll introduce you to a fighter I bet 90% of you have never heard of. (If you have heard of him, then you too are a boxing hipster and … just stop it!)
We’ve previously discussed how more and more Japanese amateur stars are turning pro early and stepping right up to World-level opposition in their first few pro bouts. This is how we’ve come to have some pretty impressive kids make big waves in the lower weight classes, such as Naoya ‘Monster’ Inoue and already 3-weight titleholder Kazuto Ioka. And on this series we’ve already covered very young minimumweight titleholder Kosei Tanaka and Japanese light flyweight champion Kenshiro. But it turns out young fighters from Japan without a stellar amateur background are getting in on the act as well. Daigo Higa is a 20-year old flyweight protégé of the great Yoko Gushiken, a former long time light flyweight champion and a recent Hall Of Fame inductee. The young Daigo Higa has drawn comparisons to Gushiken himself but also to Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, who is quite popular in Japan. So much so, that he has been dubbed “The Romagon of Okinawa” by some of the Japanese press. (“Romagon” is what the Japanese call Roman Gonzalez. It’s a contraction of the two names: Roman Gonzalez. Get it? GET IT?! It’s… errrr… it’s not great…). But Higa has been getting some recognition outside of Japan as well. Our very own Scott Christ ranked him as the second best flyweight prospect in the World at the end of last year.
Higa started his career slowly but in 2015 travelled to Thailand to take on undefeated prospect Kongfah CP Freshmart for the WBC ‘Youth’ World Flyweight title. Both the bout itself, which was a fast-paced war, and Higa’s resounding victory made waves in Asia and the youngster’s subsequent performances only served to increase the hype. Most recently, he completely blew out OPBF champion Ardin Diale of the Phillipines in less than 4 rounds to take his title and mind you, in Japan the OPBF title is a pretty big deal. His record currently stands at a perfect 10-0 with 10 KOs. So I thought, with so much high praise and so many endorsements, let’s see what they fuss is all about:
- Here is his professional debut against some Thai kid also making his professional debut.
- Here is his 4th pro bout, against another inconsequential Thai foe called (aka sponsored by) Pongpayu Chaiyonggym.
- Here is his breakout performance, a 7th round stoppage of undefeated Thai youngster Kongfah CP Freshmart for the WBC “Youth” World title.
- Here is his follow up performance, his longest pro bout to date, 10 rounds against young Filipino trialhorse Renren Tesorio.
- And here is a poor stream capture of his 9th fight, a quick stoppage of very young and utterly green Filipino Romel Oliveros.
On top of these, I also caught his most recent performance on stream, a dominating wipe-out of OPBF flyweight titleholder Ardin Diale, but unfortunately it is not available on Youtube yet.
As usual, here is a list of things I noticed, categorized from best to worst:
The Very Best
1) Brutality. Daigo Higa is a bloodthirsty little brawler. He is constantly trying to crush his opponents at all times. He doesn’t waste time softening or setting them up. He throws power punches in bunches at all times, goes for the chin or the liver with every single punch. He will also jump opponents with a barage of accurate shots if he feels they are slightly hurt, even if he finds himself doing it once or twice every round. There is no doubt that whoever gets into the ring with him is in for a night of pain.
2) Power. His power is without a doubt his gamechanger. Give-and-take wars are pretty common down at flyweight, but unlike other fighters, he genuinely seems to constantly have his opponents in trouble. I think his 100% KO ratio is no accident.
3) Body punching. Daigo Higa is vicious body puncher (especially with his left hand) and he clearly relies on hurting his opponents to the body. Several of his stoppages are from perfectly placed body punches. He also insists on integrating at least one big body punch into almost all of his combinations.
4) Work rate. It’s more than work rate, it’s constant pressure.
5) Quick reload on power shots using his upper body. A very particular skill he has is to generate repeated power punches from the same side or from the same angle in very quick succession, without having to wind up a lot for each of them. In other words, he has the ability to torque his upper body very quickly like a coiled spring. I wouldn’t even call it combination punching. He throws single power punches that don’t set each other up in any way, but throws them in lightning-quick succession.
6) Hand speed. Having said that, even when he does throw combinations, they are very quick.
7) Stamina and toughness. He seems to be just as composed, just as active and just as powerful irrespective of how many rounds he has had to go or how many punches he has taken.
8) Guard. His guard looks really good. It is tight, it is firm and it is up at all times. His back (right) hand is especially close to his chin at most times. The one vulnerability he does have is that his guard tends to be broken by combination punching or body punching. Opponents can temporarily dislodge it by whacking away at it several times with force.
9) Upper body movement. He uses this to set up his charges and it works for him when he has his high guard glued to his face but he doesn’t employ enough of it when letting his hands go.
10) Punch variation and angles. Higa doesn’t really have a complex arsenal of punches. Even his most successful combination is very repetitive: left hook upstairs, left hook to the body, then left hook back upstairs and finished off with an overhand right. But what he does do is change angles on his punches mid-combination. He does do this in a pattern, so it’s not entirely unpredictable, but it is still difficult to deal with using basic defense.
The Not So Great But Improving
11) Jab. To his trainers’ credit, he is obviously trying to incorporate more and more of a jab into his offense, although it doesn’t seem to natural to him. Right now it’s kind of mechanical, kind of slow and kind of soft. It’s also a source of trouble as he is deploying it against opponents with a longer reach, which means he needs to navigate a dangerous area in-between while throwing it. But he seems to believe in it and be working on it so there’s reason to trust it will become better.
12) Cutting off the ring. Daigo has the tendency to follow his opponent around a bit and react to (rather than anticipate) his opponent’s movements. He does seem to have made some improvement in this regard.
13) Size. No official measurements are available on boxrec, but I think you can tell he is at a height and reach disadvantage against all the opponents in the bouts linked above. I think he is a very short flyweight and the reach disadvantage can become a factor. Also, at only 20 years of age, he might outgrow the division pretty soon. At super-flyweight he would be at an even bigger length disadvantage.
14) Footwork. His feet are slow, he drags them behind himself too much, they are too close to each other and too upright. He has muted reactions to movement and doesn’t get as much push and as much balance from them as he could.
15) Head movement. His keeps his head tilted forward in an attempt to keep his chin slightly inaccessible, but really, that is the only tactic he has. His head moves in straight lines only, casually following the opponent around and honestly speaking it’s a pretty easy target.
16) Open to right hooks. For some reason I can’t quite figure out, he eats a lot of right hook counterpunches. He eats these both while throwing jabs or in the middle of two-way exchanges. To be honest he just walked into some monster right hooks right on the button in both the Tesorio and CP Freshmart bouts. I think he simply keeps his face too squared up while throwing. He would be well served to keep his left shoulder slightly forward so his chin is at least partially protected by it. As it stands right now there is a clear path from the right side to his chin whenever he punches with his left hand.
17) Composure and emotional control. Now I am probably reading too much into this, but before his OPBF title bout against Ardin Diale, he looked overwhelmed and very nervous and when he did win the bout he broke into such an emotional celebration… Sure, many boxers are emotional and you could argue that it’s a good thing, since they are more invested in the bouts. But I worry that his concentration both in the ring and in training camp might be affected if he feels so much pressure regarding his performance. I have also twice seen him start celebrating before the bout was over, which again does not bode well for his concentration. Then again, maybe this emotional outburst was linked to some event in his personal life and I could just be making a fuss over nothing.
The Downright Horrible
18) Lack of experience against pure boxers. For a fighter with only 10 pro bouts, his level of opposition has been very good, but they have all been about the same type of fighter. He has had immense success forcing everyone into a brawl, which is clearly his preferred type of fight. But he has never faced a fighter who is old enough, experienced enough and skilled enough to avoid being dragged into a give-and-take. Someone, like, say, Amnat Ruenroeng, Moises Fuentes or Sonny Boy Jaro.
19) Staying out of range. It has become so fascinating for me to start noticing patterns in young boxers from certain parts of the world. I previously noted that all prospects that I’ve covered from the British school of boxing seem to have a terrible guard. I am now officially calling a new trend. After noticing it in Kosei Tanaka, Stamp Kiatniwat and now Daigo Higa, I feel comfortable in saying that many young Asian boxers have trouble staying out of the opponent’s optimum punching range. For a counter-example of this, please watch how someone like Tyson Fury ends every offensive sequence by either jumping in and tying up his opponent, or moving away out of range and preparing to reload. In our scouting series we’ve also seen fighters like Erickson Lubin or Julian ‘J-Rock’ Williams do similar things. Even an eminent inside fighter like Oscar Valdez (who also has a length disadvantage for his weight class like Higa) has learned to disrupt his opponent’s range one way or another. Higa on the other hand will oftentimes find himself stranded in no man’s land after firing off combinations: neither moving away, nor moving in close. This makes some of his bouts look like they are patiently taking turns exchanging volleys. I’ll punch you and then I’ll patiently wait for you to punch me back. His superior hand speed and superior power mean that he ususally gets off four shots for every two coming back, and with greater effect. But he is definitely taking punches he shouldn’t be taking en route to bludgeoning his opposition.
Well Daigo Higa is clearly a fighter with high upside. His all-action style, his big power, brutal aggression, high work rate and good gas tank make him very, very difficult to handle. But at the same time his flaws are serious as well. His lack of head movement and especially his tendency to hover around lazily in range of his opponent’s offense make him a pretty easy target. His defense relies mostly on his guard, which actually is a decent tactic at flyweight where there aren’t too many big hitters.
But against a puncher who really sits down on his punches with good technique, this is suicide. Naoya Inoue or the real Roman Gonzalez would absolutely decapitate Higa. His slow feet and uneducated movement also make him vulnerable to mobile boxers with a good jab and quirky angles. I would pick someone like Amnat Ruenroeng or a flyweight version of Anselmo Moreno to outbox him. But, Higa is only 20 years old and he has a lot of time and room for improvement. And he actually has shown signs of improvement, so there is a real chance that he will either fix or learn to mitigate his flaws.
With just minor improvements he could easily be a top-10 flyweight by the end of the year. If Juan Francisco Estrada, Amnat Ruenroeng and Roman Gonzalez move up next year, Higa could potentially be the best flyweight in the world by the end of 2017. And if he learns to move his feet more, step out of trouble constantly or at least grab and hold to avoid taking punishment, I honestly think he is poised for many years as a top contender at or around flyweight.
A big thank you to the good folks at www.asianboxing.info
Source:: Bad Left Hook