By Cliff Rold
The first weekend in February will be a busy weekend on the boxing calendar. The biggest fight of the weekend, Saturday’s cruiserweight unification match between Murat Gassiev and Yunier Dorticos, features a pair of legitimate power punchers with the chance to turn the lights out just about any time. Gassiev has 18 KOs in 25 wins; Dorticos is 21 for 22.
That stat line matters.
It will always matters.
For all the sophistication hardcore fans may acquire, all the appreciation for the nuances of the game, now and ever the greatest allure is the knockout. It’s what separates boxing (and it’s kissing cousins in MMA) from other sports.
As long as men like Dorticos and Gassiev are standing, even on a night where they don’t have their best stuff, they have a chance to end a fight in an instant. If the New England Patriots are down three scores at the two minute warning on Sunday night against Philadelphia, even Tom Brady can’t change their fate.
Power punchers have the potential for the four-touchdown antidote in their game. The lack of US TV for Gassiev-Dorticos is a frustration but takes nothing away from the quality of the match. The next day, another power puncher without US TV will take to the ring.
He is unlikely to ever be a household name in the US mainstream and isn’t yet even among hardcore fans. He could get there among the latter.
Japan’s Daigo Higa, managed by Hall of Fame Jr. flyweight great Yoko Gushiken, has something rare among championship boxers: the WBC flyweight titlist has a perfect knockout record to date. He’s 14-0 and no one has lasted the distance. Only heavyweight Anthony Joshua can currently say the same among championship boxers.
Both Higa and Joshua will eventually find someone to either take them the route or defeat them, ending their 100% knockout ratio. Until it happens, it’s fun to watch. While Higa has single shot power (six knockouts inside two rounds), his knockouts arrive on average at around the four round mark. His power has shown to carry with three past six rounds, and one of them in the tenth.
It’s not just a statistic that makes him worth a look. Higa is an offensive delight to watch. He presses the fight constantly, tortures opponents to the body, and rarely seems to want to be out of the pocket.
Higa defends this weekend against, on paper, the most accomplished opponent of his career. 30-year old former 105 lb. titlist Moises Fuentes (25-4-1, 14 KO) might be a little better on paper than in the ring at this point. Smaller fighters sometimes seem to age faster than larger counterparts and Fuentes was badly beaten, and beaten up, by Japan’s Kosei Tanaka just a little more than a year ago. He split a pair of fights with journeyman Ulises Lara last year, losing a decision before scoring a sudden first round stoppage in the rematch.
This could be a last hurrah for Fuentes. It won’t quite be a coming out party for Higa. Along with solid wins over veterans Juan Hernandez and Ardin Diale, a Fuentes win would add to his ledger while leaving plenty of questions about how things will look as the competition continues to increase.
Saturday will be his second defense of the WBC belt. His age gives him plenty of time for greater tests. Higa, only 22, arrives at a wide-open moment in his division. Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada are long gone to 115 lbs. The WBA belt is vacant (not even an interim beltholder these days) while 29-year old countryman Sho Kimura (16-1-2, 9 KO) holds the WBO belt. The class of the division is IBF titlist Donnie Nietes (40-1-4, 22 KO).
Nietes makes his HBO debut on the next installment of what this scribe hopes will be the extended “Superfly” series of bouts against serious veteran contender Juan Carlos Reveco (39-3, 19 KO). No matter who wins, Nietes is 35 and Reveco 34.
The end is closer than it probably appears for either.
Higa is just getting started, title or not. Maybe he can be the sort of cross continental star Japan’s Naoya Inoue is getting the chance to be someday. Maybe he runs into a big shot and it tempers his offensive mentality. We don’t know yet how good he is or might be.
It’s a case where he’s worth finding out about. Right now, HBO’s investment below featherweight is one of the few consistent bright spots in their subscriber lineup. It is consistently delivering quality entertainment. If they continue that investment, it will behoove them to find new infusions of life along the way.
If they’re bringing Nietes into the mix, it means “Superfly” isn’t isolated to the 115 lb. class. Higa, if the right business could be done, seems a perfect candidate for future cards.
If he keeps winning, he absolutely should be a candidate for future cards.
There can never be enough knockout artists in boxing and in the lightest weights it’s an extra bonus. A big part of their cache is in the action level they provide in offset to their size. Daigo Higa is all action.
For now, that action is probably reserved in most of the western world for a lookup on YouTube after his fights are over. With each passing fight, those lookups could mean more buzz and a chance to see Higa on a bigger stage.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]