Daigo Higa looks to make the leap
Amid the fight week of an event tailor-made for his breakout, WBC flyweight titleholder Daigo Higa went to every event leading up to “SuperFly 2,” last February, during his first ever trip to the United States.
“The main purpose is for me to watch all these fighters,” Higa told UCNLive.com before the event’s final press conference, through Japanese translator Nobu Ikushima. Not many recognized the diminutive 22-year-old but eventually all of the reporters learned he made the trip and he was more than willing to introduce himself and talk to everyone. “It’s warm here. I love hamburgers; I love American food, so I’m extremely happy right now,” he said with a smile about his stay so far.
Sporting a perfect record, Higa, 15-0 (15), had just finalized his next defense, his third, of the WBC 112-pound belt versus Nicaraguan Cristofer Rosales. The fight takes place this Sunday in Yokohama, Japan, on the undercard of Ryota Murata vs. Emanuele Blandamura, and is a quick turnaround from his first round knockout of Moises Fuentes on February 4.
“The last fight was over in one round and I didn’t really take time off that much,” said Higa. “I’m right back in training, so I have a great environment right now to put on a great fight.”
The last fight was quick but it was a special one for Higa, who got to fight in front of a home crowd for the first time. Higa was born and raised in the city of Naha, which faces the South China Sea on the tiny island of Okinawa, well south of the big island of Japan. In the amount of time it lasted, Higa forced a fire fight rather quickly and, during an exchange just after the midway mark of the opening round, he rocked Fuentes to the ropes with a right hand. Higa proceeded to have free range to unleash varied combinations but the left-handed body shots tortured Fuentes, while he hid behind his guard. With about 40 seconds left in the round, Higa would then unleash a tremendous three-punch combo that did Fuentes in. First landing a left to the body, Higa threw a short uppercut to the head afterward and a final right hand dropped Fuentes to his knees. There, the Mexican spit out his mouthpiece just before beating the count but referee Len Koivisto was compelled to wave it off, defeating the purpose of Fuentes getting more time to recover. With the crowd going nuts, Higa climbed the turnbuckle to rejoice with them and would soon embrace his team.
“I’m ready to fight here in the States now,” Higa proclaimed. “I want to show the boxing fans my style of fighting.” When asked the secret of his style and early success, Higa proclaimed, “Hard training and an aggressive fighting style in your heart.”
From what we’ve seen so far from the offensive-minded fighter, Higa has a style American fans would love and it goes without saying that it’s perfect for television. His desire to go to the States is fueled by wanting more exposure and bigger fights. Higa isn’t a big star in Japan, especially when compared to Murata – who’s, without question, Japan’s biggest star at the moment – but this is only the beginning for Higa and it already helps that he has a trainer everyone knows in Japan. In fact, Yoko Gushiken – a junior flyweight champion during the mid-to-late 1970s – is the most revered Japanese fighter of all-time. With the 62-year-old’s unmistakable afro and mustache still perfectly intact, his being at Higa’s side has garnered some much-needed attention. There is an inevitable ceiling for Higa’s potential star power in Japan, however, and, as did Naoya Inoue did in “SuperFly 1,” there is a need to expand.
The “SuperFly” series has been a surprise hit in the U.S. and HBO has expressed interest in helping produce a third installment later this year. Luckily for Higa, the idea of the event isn’t boiled down to just the super flyweight/junior bantamweight class, as there were two world title bouts at 112 pounds featured on the card at The Forum, in Los Angeles. Peter Nelson, the executive vice president of HBO Sports, was introduced to Higa by his handlers at the presser, and could be seen sitting near him during the telecast, in which WBC champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Juan Francisco Estrada battled in a tremendous main event. Surely that night capped off a memorable week for Higa, who was admittedly shocked about the attention he received during his trip. However before he makes it back to the U.S. as a participant, Higa must be victorious this Sunday.
Rosales, 26-3 (17), is expected to be a tougher test for Higa, compared to Fuentes. The 23-year-old will be fighting for his first world title and two of his three defeats have been in the U.K. to notable names like Andrew Selby and the current WBA super flyweight titleholder Khalid Yafai. The WBC’s No. 2 ranked contender, Rosales has never been stopped and comes from the fighting town of Managua – the home of Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez – the pioneer of the lower weight classes getting mainstream attention in the States. With a victory, Higa can take advantage of the door Gonzalez opened for all small fighters worldwide.
Murata-Blandamura will be televised live from Yokohama in the U.S. on ESPN2 (8:00 a.m. ET/ 5 a.m. PT), on Sunday morning, and perhaps highlights of Higa-Rosales will make the broadcast. Considering Higa’s hellbent style, there is sure to be plenty of highlights to choose from, win or lose. That said, as his dream of making the leap across the Pacific Ocean to perform hangs in the balance, Daigo looks to make sure it’s a win.