Not all of our Closet Classics are all out wars and some are just amazing bouts of technical brilliance, exciting back and forth battles and are simply thrilling must watch bouts. Today we want to break into the Cloest and share a modern classic which combined two unbeaten men, both with a lot of promise at the time. Entering the bout one man was the unbeaten OPBF champion whilst the other fighter was a man tipped for stardom, and a man who has since become one of the most men in Japanese boxing. Today we give you what was arguably the best Japanese bout of 2014.
Ryui Hara (18-0, 10) vs Kosei Tanaka (3-0, 1)
The date was October 30th 2014 and the then OPBF Minimumweight champion Ryuji Hara, who was on the verge of a world title fight, was facing off with the fast rising Kosei Tanaka. Both men were talented, speedy fighters, each looking to move forward with their careers. A win for Hara, would be his first OPBF title defense, whilst a win for Tanaka would see him create history as the quickest Japanese fighter to claim an OPBF belt.
Hara had been a solid amateur but unlike most successful amateurs he actually only got a C class license when hr turned professional in 2010. Later that year he would go on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year, at Minimumeight, before taking the Japanese title in 2012, with a win over Kenishi Horikawa, then the OPBF title in the spring of 2014. By the time of this fight he was universally world ranked and looked like a potential star for the Ohashi Gym, which by then was seeing Naoya Inoue racing through the ranks. Through his first 18 bouts Hara looked a very tidy, talented and quick boxer, though liked in terms of fire power and physicality.
Whilst Inoue had been getting fanfare and attention in the Kanto region of Japan the fans in Chubu seemed to know they had a special talent in the form of Kosei Tanaka, a very skilled youngster who had signed up with former world champion Kiyoshi Hatanaka in 2013 and scored 3 solid wins to begin his career. In a major step up he the faced off with Hara, looking to announce himself and taking an OPBF title in 4 fights, something that Inoue took 5 fights to do. He was seen as a man clearly on the tail of Inoue, but had to get through the "Monster's" stablemate here.
What we got was here was an incredibly bout, showing the speed and technique of both, in what was a technical buy thrilling, aggressive and exciting fight with both men looking like they were on fast forward at times. The bout had amazing back and forth and for 9 rounds it was almost impossible to split them, before finally seeing one man's strength and accuracy finally forced the other to wilt.
In many ways this is the start of Kosei Tanaka's incredible climb to becoming a 3 weight world champion, and is a bout that every fan, especially those of the lower weights, deserves to see.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
-Kyotaro Fujimoto (19-1): WBO #7 / WBC #20
A heavyweight Japanese fighter is something very rare, let along being ranked in the top 10. The former K-1 champion debuted in 2011 and has had a successful run in the regional scene, currently holding the OPBF & WBO Asia Pacific Heavyweight belts while riding on a 14 fight winning streak. Even though we may never see him challenging for a world title, it’s fun knowing he is there.
Super Welterweight/Jr Middleweight:
-Takeshi Inoue (13-0): WBO #5 / WBA #13 / WBC #19
The undefeated 4-year veteran is climbing the Super Welterweight rankings very fast, managing to place himself as the #5 in the WBO. A former Japanese title holder and now the unified OPBF & WBO Asia Pacific champion, may very well be one or two fights away from his first world title opportunity.
Super Lightweight/Jr Welterweight:
-Hiroki Okada (18-0): WBO #3 / WBA #4 / WBC #9
One of brightest prospects in Japan right now, Okada has never lost a single bout in his entire career. A bona fide knock out artist (13 KOs), he held the Japanese crown for 32 months and defended it 6 times, before winning the WBO Asia Pacific championship from Jason Pagara (41-3) this past December. Since the WBO world champion Maurice Hooker will not participate in the WBSS, this title will probably be his main focus as of now. Okada’s next confirmed appearance is on September 14th in the US (opponent TBA).
-Masayoshi Nakatani (17-0): WBC #7, WBO #13
Much like Okada and Takuma, Nakatani is also another undefeated fighter, who just recently made a record 10th title defense of the OPBF Lightweight championship. Despite the fact that he is ranked “only” #7 by the WBC, it’s worth pointing out that his last bout took place on July 29, so that win wasn’t taken into consideration at the latest ranking updates.
-Nihito Arakawa (31-6): WBO #3
Former Japanese, OPBF and reigning WBO Asia Pacific Lightweight champion, Arakawa has been in many big fights through out his 14-year career. At 36, he is still looking for his second world title opportunity.
Super Featherweight/Jr Lightweight:
-Masaru Sueyoshi (18-1): WBO #7
The 27 year old is steadily making his mark in Japan, suffering only one loss in his 4th pro bout, Sueyoshi has been victorious in his last 15 outings and even won the Japanese title on October of 2017. Another successful year and we might see him challenge for a world title by the end of 2019/beginning of 2020.
-Satoshi Shimizu (6-0): WBC #6
The Bronze Medalist at the 2012 Olympics, made his pro debut on September of 2016 and he has KOed/TKOed every single one of his opponents since then, claiming the OPBF Featherweight crown in just his 4th fight. He will defend that belt against Shingo Kawamura (16-3) later this month. If he can pass that test too, a fight with Gary Russell Jr. for the WBC title could be up for debate.
-Shun Kubo (13-1): WBA #7
The former WBA Super Bantamweight world champion returned this April, after his TKO loss to Daniel Roman in 2017, and won his comeback fight against former OPBF Featherweight champion & world title challenger Hiroshige Osawa (33-5) making a huge impact on his Featherweight debut.
Super Bantamweight/r Featherweight:
-Tomoki Kameda (35-2): WBA #2 / WBC #4 / WBO #9
El Mexicanito, has been on a 4-fight winning streak since moving up a weight class and has already broke the top 5 in both the WBA & the WBC. A fight with Emanuel Navarrete (WBA #1) could potentially set up a world title fight in 2019 with the winner of Daniel Roman/ Gavin McDonnell, which takes place this October.
-Hidenori Otake (31-2): WBO #6 / WBC #8
The reigning OPBF champion is scheduled to take on Isaac Dogboe (19-0) for the WBO World Super Bantamweight title on August 25.
-Takuma Inoue (11-0): WBO #8 / WBC #9
The undefeated former OPBF Super Flyweight champion is set to face reigning OPBF Bantamweight champion Mark John Yap (29-12), in a WBC World title eliminator fight on September 11.
-Hiroaki Teshigawara (17-2): WBO #6
Teshigawara recently stopped former world title contender Teiru Kinoshita (26-3) to defend his WBO Asia Pacific crown, bringing him one step closer to a WBO world championship match.
-Ryo Akaho (32-2): WBO #13
This is more of an honorable mention as Akaho made his return to the ring this past July, since his forced retirement last year, and knocked out Robert Udtohan, thus making it in the WBO world rankings once more.
Super Flyweight/Jr Bantamweight:
-Kazuto Ioka (22-1): WBA #2
In what must be considered the most bizarre ranking of this list, the former 3 division world champion, who’s return to the ring was announced just a couple of weeks ago, is already ranked #2 by the WBA ! Ioka is scheduled to fight WBC Silver champion and 2-time world title contender McWilliams Arroyo (17-3) on September 8, in the States.
-Koki Eto (22-4): WBC #5 / WBO #7 / WBA #9
The former interim WBA World Flyweight champion is currently ranked in the top 10 of the WBA, the WBC and the WBO. He fights Delfin de Asis (9-5) on August 16.
-Ryuichi Funai (30-7): WBO #5 / WBC #10 / WBA #13
Funai knocked out Philippino standout and world title challenger Warlito Parrenas (26-8), in impressive fashion, this past June, and won the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title. A strong first title defense and Funai could be challenging for the world championship by 2019.
-Kosei Tanaka (11-0): WBO #1 / WBC #2
Arguably one of the best fighters that have come out of Japan, Tanaka has won 2 world titles in 2 different divisions within 5 years. Now he looks to add a 3rd one to his collection as he goes one on one with Sho Kimura (17-1) for the WBO World Flyweight championship on September 24.
-Masayuki Kuroda (30-7): WBA #1 / WBC #4 / WBO #5
The current Japanese Flyweight champion has been on a 6-fight winning streak and has defended his belt 5 times since 2017 and now is ranked amongst the top 5 in the world and most importantly #1 by the WBA. A world title match against Artem Dalakian (17-0) sounds very plausible at this point and since both men have already fought this summer and have come out with no injuries, a fight between the two could take place around December.
-Junto Nakatani (16-0): WBC #5 / WBO #13
Undefeated Japanese flyweight prospect Junto Nakatani scored another TKO win on July 7 and now is ranked at the WBC’s top 5.
-Takuya Kogawa (29-5): WBC #8
After a draw with Yusuke Sakashita, Kogawa has retained his spot at the WBC rankings.
-Masahiro Sakamoto (12-1): WBO #4
The former WBO Asia Pacific champion will probably be in line for a WBO World title match against the winner of Kimura/Tanaka in 2019. He is scheduled to face South Korea’s Flyweight champion Ki Chang Go (6-2) on August 11.
-Ryuji Hara (23-2): WBO #1
Much like Ioka’s, this is the second strangest ranking, especially considering that Hara hasn’t fought since October of 2017. Actually Hara has been the #1 ranked flyweight by the WBO since January, despite having only competed once in this division against the debuting Seneey Worachina. Hara was set to face Angel Acosta for the world title on April 7 but an injury prevented him from stepping into the ring.
-Tetsuya Hisada (32-9): WBA #1 / WBC #3 / WBC #6
The reigning Japanese Flyweight champion, since 2016, recorded a 4th successful defense against Koki Ono (12-5) on July 16, thus improving his streak to 11 consecutive victories. Now as the #1 ranked Light Flyweight by the WBA, he is rumored to face Hekkie Budler for the gold sooner or later.
-Hiroto Kyoguchi (10-0): WBA #2
The undefeated IBF World Minimumweight champion has recently decided to move up a weight class and has already reached the top of the WBA ranking. If Hisada doesn’t face Budler right away, then an eliminator between Kyoguchi and Hisada looks more likely to take place.
-Ryoichi Taguchi (27-3): WBC #4 / WBA #4
Despite losing his 2 world title to Budler, Taguchi is still ranked amongst the top Light Flyweights in the world and without a doubt he will gain another crack at the gold in no time.
-Reiya Konishi (16-1): WBO #6 / WBA #7
The former world title challenger and now new WBO Asia Pacific champion, is coming closer to once again fight for the world championship.
-Tsubasa Koura (13-0): WBC #3 / WBA #9 / WBO #11
At only 23 years of age, Koura has already amassed 13 career wins, including 9 KOs, as well as the OPBF Minimumweight championship. His 3rd title defense will take place on August 24 against an unnamed opponent as of yet. It’s safe to say that we will see him in a WBC world title match in early 2019.
-Ryuya Yamanaka (16-3): WBO #6
Yamanaka recently lost the WBO world title to Vic Saludar. Just like Taguchi, he is only a few fights away from competing again for the big one.
-Tatsuya Fukuhara (21-6): WBC #9
Fukuhara has been victorious in both of his 2018 fights but he will need a few more before he can challenge Chayaphon Moonsri again for the WBC world title.
-Shin Ono (22-9): WBO #9
Ono will make his first Japanese title defense against Riku Kano (13-3) on August 24. His last world title fight was in 2016.
(Image - of Fujimoto, courtesy of Kadoebi Gym)
The year really got going in March with a lot of action building on the momentum from February.
The month kicked off with two very interesting cards on March 1st. In Japan we saw Middleweight titles unified as Akio Shibata defeated Daisuke Nakagawa to add the Japanese title to his OPBF belt. Sadly for Nakagawa he would retire after this loss. As for Shibata he has defended the unified crown twice, including a very recent win over Makoto Fuchigami.
In the Philippines on the same day Genesis Servania showed his class as he stopped former world champion Alexander Munoz in 12 rounds. This win saw Servania continuing his rise through the ranks and it now looks likely that he will kick off 2015 with a WBO world title bout.
The busy start to the continued on March 3rd when Japanese boxing fans had “Women's Day” and saw a trio of female world title bouts at the Korakuen Hall. These bouts saw wins for all 3 of the Japanese champions in action with Momo Koseki, Naoko Shibata and Ayaka Miyao all retaining their world titles.
On March 4th we had more title action with a Japanese title double header. These saw Hiroki Okada claim the Japanese Light Welterweight title with a decision win over Masayoshi Kotake and Takayuki Hosokawa upsetting Tadashi Yuba for the Light Middleweight title. For Okada this was his first decision win after starting his career with 7 straight stoppages whilst Hosokawa's reign was a short lived one and he had to give up his title before making a single defense.
In Thailand, also on March 4th, we saw one of the most controversially scored bouts in Asia this year as Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep retained the WBA “interim” Flyweight title with a highly debatable majority decision over Japanese visitor Takuya Kogawa. Kogawa appeared to out work and out fight Yodmongkol though was unable to convince Wan-Soo Yuh, Derek Milham or Pierluigi Poppi that he deserved the win. Sadly the judging over-shadowed what had been a genuinely fantastic and hard fought contest.
After the insanely busy start to the month it was a few days before we saw another Asian fighter in a major bout. This came on March 8th as Nihito Arakawa returned to the US following his thrilling loss to Omar Figueroa, sadly however he was unable to claim a win here either as the Teiken managed Jorge Linares clearly defeated “The Baby Faced Sniper” in a WBC Lightweight eliminator.
On March 11th Japanese fans got a treat as the heavy handed Koji Numata fought to a thrilling draw with Takehiro Shimokawara. The bout was a 12 round war that was incredibly close leading to a split decision draw. A rematch between the two later in the year saw Numata stopping Shimokawara for the title before Numata announced his retirement, incidentally he had also announced his retirement after this draw.
Our “Prospect of the Year”, Kosei Tanaka, fought his first bout of the year on March 16th as he defeated Filipino foe Ronelle Ferreras. Ferreras entered the bout as a world ranked foe though never came close to genuinely testing the Japanese youngster who lost a round en route to a clear 8 round decision win.
Also on March 16th was “The Bloodbath of the Year” as Takuya Watanabe give an-in ring blood donation in his loss to Jaesung Lee. Watanabe was cut early in the bout and although blood was going everywhere the referee was happy for the bout to continue it's 10 round schedule. By the end of the bout Lee's shorts were covered in claret and it was a mystery as to how Watanabe had managed to continue the distance despite leaving much of himself in the ring.
A day later Japanese Welterweight champion Suyon Takayama recorded a narrow defense of his title as he only just over-came Tetsuya Suzuki. Takayama would defend the belt once more, later in the year, and again seemed fortunate to keep the belt with it being very clear that he was one of, if not the, weakest domestic champion in the country.
On March 22nd we got one of the months biggest upsets as Merlito Sabillo was battered by the then unknown Francisco Rodriguez Jr. Sabillo, defending the WBO Minimumweight title, was never really in the bout as his young Mexican foe was too good, too strong and too big. Going in to the bout it was widely seen that Sabillo was taking on a weak foe, oh how wrong we were and Rodriguez was one of the year's genuine revelations, also scoring a win over Katsunari Takayama later in the year.
Just a couple of days after Sabillo's loss we saw another Filipino come up short in a title bout as Vinvin Rufino suffered an 8th round TKO at the hands of Hisashi Amagasa, the OPBF Featherweight champion. On the same show Hidenori Otake retained the Japanese Super Bantamweight title with a narrow decision win over Takafumi Nakajima. Fans in attendance here would almost certainly have been surprised if they were to be told that both Otake, against Scott Quigg, and Amagasa, against Guillermo Rigondeaux, would fight in world title bouts before the year was out.
Staying with disappointment for Filipino fighters we saw Richard Pumicpic come up short in an OPBF Bantamweight title bout against Ryosuke Iwasa. Pumicpic really did give Iwasa a nightmare for 12 rounds though was unable to do quite enough to take the win over “Eagle Eye” who hinted that he had had problems making the 118lb weight limit. Before the year was out however Iwasa had agreed to an IBF Bantamweight world title eliminator, suggesting he was making a little bit of an excuse for a below par performance.
It wasn't all bad for Filipinos however and on the same day Jonathan Taconing claimed the OPBF Light Flyweight title which had been vacated by Naoya Inoue. Taconing took on fellow Filipino Vergilio Silvano and the two men were involved in a full on brawl with Silvano eventually being stopped in round 11. The bout was regarded by many in attendance as one of the year's best contests in the Philippines though sadly full fight footage doesn't seem to have emerged.
On March 26th it was the turn of Thai's to feel disappointed as veteran Denkaosan Kaovichit was stopped by Kohei Kono in a bout for the vacant WBA Super Flyweight title. Kono dropped the Thai in round 4 before finishing him off in round 8 to begin a second reign as a world champion. Sadly for Kono he has been inactive since this win with problems regarding mandatory challenger Koki Kameda delaying any chance of Kono to really build on his momentum. Thankfully however the champion will be back in action on December 31st. For Denkaosan this was the start of a forgetable year which also saw him suffer a KO loss to the exceptionally talented Ryo Matsumoto in September.
On March 29th Russian “Krusher” Sergey Kovalev defended the WBO Light Heavyweight world title with a clear win over the out matched and negative Cedric Agnew who was stopped in 7 rounds after being thoroughly dominated.
The final notable bout of the month saw Ryuji Hara claim the OPBF Minimumweight title with a narrow decision over Filipino Donny Mabao. Mabao failed to make weight though still couldn't defeat the then unbeaten Japanese fighter who took a majority decision over the tough and experienced Filipino who had a 5lb weight advantage on the scales.
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features