Back in September we saw a FOTY contender between Kosei Tanaka (12-0, 7) [田中恒成] and Sho Kimura (17-2-2, 10) [木村翔], with Tanaka taking a razor thin decision win over Kimura to claim the WBO Flyweight title. Following the loss Kimura hinted that he may walk away from the sport, and was suffering burn out from what had been a very active schedule.
In the space of just over 16 months Kimura had fought 5 bouts, including 4 world title bouts in 14 months. He hadn't just been active with fights but had also seen a huge increase in his media work, and his intense training had clearly left him needing a break from the ring. He had never out and out stated he was retiring but did suggest that it was on his mind, in the wake of the Tanaka fight.
Today however we have been informed, from multiple sources, that he has now returned to the gym to prepare for his return to the sport, with his plans expected to be publically announced in the near future at a press conference.
We suspect the plan will either be to chase another Flyweight title, possibly a rematch with Kosei Tanaka in the future or pursuing a WBC title shot, or even a potential move to Super Flyweight, which is a division that has gotten a lot of attention in recent years thanks to the "Superfly" series. A move up could get Kimura some big international fights against the likes of Juan Francisco Estrada, Kazuto Ioka's or Donnie Nietes, though we do feel like he would lose some of his strengths if he did add on the 3 extra lbs.
Earlier today the South African website www.sowetanlive.co.za revealed that two word bouts had organised between South African world champions and Japanese challengers. Not only that but that the bouts were taking place on New Years Eve, as the card finally seems to come together.
One of the bouts was a bit of a mild surprise, with IBF Flyweight champion Moruti Mthalane (36-2, 24) set to make his first defense against the relatively unknown Masahiro Sakamoto (13-1, 9) [坂本真宏].
Mthalane won the title in Malaysia, when he narrowly defeated Muhammad Waseem back in July to become a 2-time champion. That was Mthalane's 13th straight win since a 2008 loss to Nonito Donaire and showed that even in his mid 30's still a top Flyweight.
During his long career Mthalane has beaten the likes of Hussein Hussein, Julio Cesar Miranda, Zolani Tete, John Riel Casimero and Ricardo Nunez and proven to be a real boogeyman of the Flyweight division.
Sakamoto, from the Mutoh gym in Osaka, is genuinely a fighter that you'd have had to follow the Japanese scene to much about. The 27 year old won the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2015 before losing in a WBO Asia Pacific title fight against a then unknown Sho Kimura (17-2-2, 10) [木村翔] in November 2016. He had wanted to have a rematch with Kimura when he won a world title and has reeled off 5 stoppage wins since that defeat. Despite not being a buig name Sakamoto does hold stoppage wins over both Kwanthai Sithmorseng and Pigmy Kokietgym. He's technically solid, but this is a serious step up in class for him.
The second bout is a bout we already knew about, and will see Hiroto Kyoguchi (11-0, 8) [京口 紘人] challenge WBA Light Flyweight champion Hekkie Budler (32-3, 10). Budler had been targeted by both Kyoguchi and stablemate Ryoichi Taguchi (27-3-2, 12) [田口良一], who Budler beat for the belt earlier this year. It now seems almost certain that Taguchi is moving up in weight to pursue the long awaited showdown with Kosei Tanaka (12-0, 7) [田中恒成].
At the moment Kyoguchi, along with a number of Watanabe gym fighters, is in Thailand and this bout is expected to be officially announced next week with Watanabe holding a press conference after their man returns back to Japan. He will be looking to become a 2-weight champion and avenge Taguchi's loss to Budler from earlier this year.
For Budler this bout is a tough first defense, but one we suspect he is being paid well for and one he has a really good chance of winning, in what could a late contender for Fight of the Year. His style should give Taguchi fits, and could make for a real all action war.
The South African report does seem to confuse a few fact mentioning Hong Kong, Japan and Macau as the venue. Our understanding is that the bouts will both be in Macau as part of the under-card for Kazuto Ioka's (23-1, 13) [井岡一翔] WBO Super Flyweight title bout with Donnie Nietes (41-1-5, 23).
It's worth noting that South African Colin Nathan is quoted in the South article seemingly confirming that the bouts will all take place in Macau, "I am very excited about this opportunity which is not only great for my camp but also for local boxing. Macau has become a hot bed for boxing." Not Japan or Hong Kong.
From what we understand talks are taking place this week to try and secure a fourth world title fight for this Macau show, though it may slip to early 2019.
(Image courtesy of 610gym and Watanabe Gym, a big thanks to Bongani Magasela for the article on Sowetanlive)
Earlier today WBO Flyweight champion Kosei Tanaka (12-0, 7) [田中恒成] returned to the gym and spoke to the press, talking his future plans and his time at the WBO Convention in Puerto Rico. It during this session with the media that he revealed some interesting details.
Sadly Tanaka will not be fighting on New Year's Eve as originally expected, it seems like a combination of damage, out of the ring activity and other bouts has prevented him from getting on a major end of year show. That however doesn't mean he's thinking small, and his manager Kiyoshi Hatanaka stated that he was in talks for his man to make his first defense of the WBO title in Spring next year against former IBF and WBA Light Flyweight king Ryoichi Taguchi (27-3-2, 12) [田口良一], a man he has been linked too for quite a while.
Originally the two men were supposed to fight last year, on December 31st, but Tanaka had to pull out form that bout due to significant facial injuries. The two fighters however seemed to keep the hope of fighting in the future, and it seems like a deal is almost sorted for the men to face off in Spring next year.
As well as revealing he was targeting that bout Tanaka also revealed that he wanted to defend the belt multiple times next year, suggesting a busier schedule than he's had so far, before moving up down the line to become a 4 weight champion.
Interestingly it doesn't rule Taguchi out of an end of year bout, and the suspicion now is that the Watanabe Gym fighter will fight in a tune up before facing Tanaka, giving him a chance to adapt to the new weight and gain a world ranking on merit. At the moment however nothing involving Taguchi's immediate future has been confirmed.
After the interview he spent about an hour working out, shadowing boxing and hitting the mitts before leaving the Hatanaka gym.
of those rare fights where the two fighters give their all.
It was won by Tanaka, with a narrow decision, and had several Round of the Year contenders. In fact we suspect the bout will do more than just receive the WBO's fight of the Year award, but also that of several major boxing publications, as it really was a treat. Despite taking place on a Monday when most fans were unable to stream live it through the official source, or even watch it live, with the bout only being available in Nagoya in Japan, it was something to remember.
Well done to both men for picking up this great honour.
In 2017 we saw Sho Kimura (17-2-2, 10) [木村翔] come to the attention of boxing fans due to a massive win in China over Zou Shiming, to claim the WBO Flyweight title. Following that win Kimura defended the belt twice, before losing in September to Kosei Tanaka (12-0, 7) [田中恒成].
Going into that bout with Tanaka, Kimura had only been beaten once, being stopped in 75 seconds way back on his debut in 2013 to Shosuke Oji (1-0, 1) [王子 翔介] who surprisingly hadn't fought since stopping Kimura. That will however change tomorrow, when he fights for the first time in over 5 and a half years.
Oji, fighting out of the E&J Cassius gym, will be up against 19 year old Haruki Usui (1-0-2) [臼井春樹] at the Korakuen Hall tomorrow, with the fighters taking part in their weigh in today.
The 27 year old Oji explained that there had been various reasons why he couldn't fight, and due to inactivity he had lost his license, but not his fire to fight. He stated that he had continued training but it wasn't until this past May that he took part in a pro-test and regained his license. He seemed encouraged by Kimura's success and it's obvious that there is time to carve out a career in the sport, if that's what he wishes to do.
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