By Gleb Kuzin
Possibly Japan’s best super prospect yet looks to upstage Naoya Inoue, Ryota Murata, and Akira Yaegashi.
On the evening of May 20th, Japanese boxing fans will be as tense as ever as three of their undefeated prospects will be trying to become world champions. Each of them has entered a professional ring less than 13 times which is has become the norm in Japan. Since the start of the reign of fighters like Kazuto Ioka, Naoya Inoue and Vasyl Lomachenko we’re getting used to seeing fighters with young budding careers race toward their first world championship.
While 2012 Olympic Champion Ryota Murata will serve as the headliner, he is not the can’t miss fighter on this card. The man boxing fans should be most excited to see is only 21 years of age and didn’t get a shot at the Olympics. His name is Daigo Higa, a perfect 12–0 fighter whose swarming style has overwhelmed each opponent he has faced.
The swarmer (in-fighter, crowder) is a fighter who attempts to overwhelm his opponent by applying constant pressure — taking away an opponent’s spacing and timing. Swarmers tend to have a very good bob and weave, good power, a good chin, and a tremendous punch output (resulting in a great need for stamina and conditioning)This style favors closing inside an opponent, overwhelming them with intensity and flurries of hooks and uppercuts. They tend to be fast on their feet which can make them difficult to evade for a slower fighter; or are great at cutting the ring with precise footwork. They also tend to have a good “chin” because this style usually involves being hit with many jabs before they can maneuver inside where they are more effective.
The last successful swarmer to hold a world title didn’t last very long. Dejan Zlaticanin lost his title to Mikey Garcia by a devastating knockout in a short fight where he failed to find any success whatsoever as a smaller man against a masterful technician. Garcia controlled the fight from the opening bell establishing ring control, his stiff jab, and a barrage of straight punches. Dejan Zlaticanin was almost 33 at the time and likely will not return to the top of the lightweight division.
In his last fight against Diomel Diocos, Daigo demonstrated not only his speed, his footwork and his athleticism, but something even more important for a fighter of his age and style — ring IQ. He didn’t jump on his opponent right away, instead he used his ring generalship to trap Diocos against the ropes and unleash combinations with Marquez-like precision atypical of a swarmer. He also did exceptional work staying away from Diocos’s attempts to clinch before ultimately finishing the fight in round 4.
Daigo Higa is following the footsteps of his mentor Yoko Gushiken who became a world champion in his 9th professional fight. Higa has borrowed not only his drive but his style in the ring. Gushiken was best known for his continual relentless aggression and Higa has not only adopted it, but made it his own with improvements along the way. Unlike his mentor, who made 13 consecutive title defenses, Higa is not likely to stay at 112 long enough to mount any sort of streak.
Multiple reports indicate Higa is struggling to make the flyweight limit and that even if he were to win a world title in the division, we will likely be one-and-done. Higa sees the super flyweight division featuring notable names like Chocolatito González, Naoya Inoue, Carlos Cuadras, Juan Francisco Estrada and many others as the next chapter for him.
His opponent, current WBC World Flyweight Champion Juan Hernandez Navarrete, won the title vacated by Roman Gonzalez a little over two months ago when he travelled to Thailand to beat undefeated Nawaphon Kaikanha by an early stoppage. He continued his 15-fights winning streak scoring his 12th stoppage win since when he last suffered a defeat at teh hands of then-minimumweight champion and current flyweight titleholder Kazuto Ioka.
In that timespan Navarrete has gone to great lengths to prove he’s one of the best flyweights in the world, but at 30 years old he faces what is likely to be the toughest challenge of his career. A young and fresh swarmer with unyielding stamina and aggression.