By Eric Armit
I suppose I am not the only one of a certain age (don’t ask) who longs for “the good old days”. The days when there were only eight weight divisions and only one world champion in each division and Ring Magazine effective decided who was the champion. There were no “sanctioning bodies”-well there was the North American Boxing Association-but no one paid any attention to them. Title fights were held over fifteen rounds and national titles were prized by fighters as second only to world titles. Tobacco was the addictive substance of choice and if people had heard the word testosterone they probably thought it was the name of an Italian-American baseball player. Oh happy days!
That’s the rose tinted spectacles view because back in the 1950’s and early 1960’s there was evil lurking at the very heart of boxing in America.
In the 1950’s America was boxing. Current major boxing nations such as Japan and Mexico played little part at world title level and there was still a tendency in America to attach the label “horizontal” when describing British heavyweights.
Madison Square Garden (MSG) was the boxing equivalent of Mecca. Television was becoming a force through twice-weekly shows at the Garden and an organisation known as the International Boxing Club (IBC) headed by Jim Norris as President and his partner Arthur Wirtz was the most powerful outfit in boxing.
Businessmen Norris and Wirtz formed the IBC in 1949 along with lawyer Truman Gibson and Joe Louis but Norris was President and held 80% of the stock in IBC. Norris came from a family that controlled the grain market in Chicago and was personally rich. He was involved in ice hockey and horse racing.
In 1949 an ailing Mike Jacobs, through his Twentieth Century Boxing Club, owned the rights to promote at the Garden but the Garden organisation bought those rights from Jacobs for $100,000 and turned those rights over to their silent partner Norris who had exclusive leases on the Garden, Yankee Stadium, New York Polo grounds and other stadiums in Chicago and St. Louis. Norris had the stadiums but he needed fighters to fill them.
The fledgling IBC saw the heavyweight title as an obvious target but they were still finding their feet and did not “own” then champion Joe Louis. With the end of his career looming, and with the help of Gibson, Louis had moved to ensure himself of some post-retirement income by convincing the top four heavyweights Ezzard Charles, Jersey Joe Walcott, Lee Savold and Gus Lesnevich to give Louis exclusive rights to their services. One of the IBC’s first moves was to pay Louis $150,000 to retire and for him to also to assign to IBC the exclusive rights to Charles, Walcott, Savold and Lesnevich allowing the IBC to promote a tournament to fill the vacant heavyweight title and control the future of the heavyweight division.
IBC had the stadiums and the TV outlets and for the boxers they would need they turned to Frankie Carbo.
Since the early 1940’s Frankie Carbo had been building his position of power acting along with his No 2 Frank “Blinkey” Palermo as a promoter, matchmaker and undercover manager for many top level fighters with Palermo bringing to the table Ike Williams, Johnny Saxton, Clarence Henry and heavyweight Coley Wallace who would later portray Joe Louis in a film.
Carbo himself had his claws into most of the top lightweights, welterweights and middleweights and was behind the notorious Billy Fox vs. Jake LaMotta fixed fight where LaMotta was stopped in four rounds by the vastly inferior Fox. Although La Motta denied the fight was fixed he eventually admitted he threw the fight in return for a promised shot at the middleweight title. This was just one example of the power Carbo wielded.
Norris and Carbo began to work together with the urbane Norris the velvet glove and Carbo the iron fist and the real power man in the duo.
To obtain fighters IBC used the commercial approach along the lines of your fighter will not get a title shot or appear on a big TV show unless we get exclusive promotion rights and a share of your fighter. Carbo’s approach, usually channelled through Palermo, was more physical. Sign with IBC and give us a piece of your fighter or get hurt and very few had the courage to withstand those threats when the man behind them Carbo was a former member of Murder Inc
Naturally some of those left out in the cold complained over the monopoly that the IBC had established and hinted at some dark forces behind Norris and the IBC claiming that Norris was just a front for Carbo. The influence of Carbo in owning fighters and fixing fights was known to much of the press but only hinted at. Some State Commission also knew or strongly suspected the power and presence of Carbo but shutting out the IBC would mean the loss of the huge dollars that big fights could generate in hotels, clubs and businesses in their cities and stadiums.
As early as 1952 the Department of Justice set up a jury to investigate the claims that the IBC and MSG were exercising an illegal monopoly but action was stymied by the lawyers for the IBC and MSG claiming that professional boxing was not subject to the anti-trust laws as enshrined in the Sherman Antitrust Act. The IBC pursued their case all the way to the US Supreme Court but finally lost their case in 1955 with Norris estimated to have incurred $500,000 in legal fees,
In 1955 the New York State Athletic Commission decided to hold hearings into the allegations of mobster’s involvement in boxing and called Norris to give testimony. When questioned over his links to Carbo Norris stated that his meetings with Carbo were few, accidental and entirely unrelated to boxing. That was a lie as even at that time Carbo was using threats and actual violence to coerce boxers and managers to do business with the IBC.
The whispers of a criminally supported monopoly enjoyed by the IBC/MSG consortium grew to a point where action was taken in a US District court in 1957 to challenge the IBC’s monopoly. Norris had tried to forestall the case by resigning from IBC which was then bought by MSG but the court was unconvinced and ruled that through their control of the promotion of championship fights and control of major stadia IBC constituted a monopoly as shown by the fact that in the period from May 1953 and the case being heard in 1957 the IBC had an “interest” in 36 of the 37 championships fights held in the United States. The judgement limited the MSG for a period of five years from promoting more than two championships bouts in each calendar year and also placed the same limitations on Norris and Wirtz who were ordered to dispose of whatever stock they held in MSG. The court also ordered that the IBC be disbanded and that the Garden and other stadiums that had worked exclusively with the IBC must be leased for a reasonable rent to independent promoters effectively erasing one part of the empire of evil that had reigned for so long.
That ruling dealt with the IBC and MSG but what of Carbo? His undercover part in the IBC was being uncovered and he was the next one in the court’s sights. For him the beginning of the end came in 1958 when to avoid a trial where the extent of his role would become public he pled guilty to the derisory charges of managing boxers and acting as a matchmaker without a licence. He served two years in Riker’s Island prison and was released in 1960.
Unfortunately for Carbo in the same year as he was released a Senate Subcommittee led by Senator Estes Kefauver had been set up to investigate ties between organised crime and professional boxing and that turned the spotlight on Carbo, but who was this guy Carbo, often referred to as Mr Grey, who was being described as the Czar of Boxing?
Paolo Giovanni Carbo was born in Sicily on 10 August 1904. His family emigrated to America and Carbo quickly settled into a life of crime being sent to a reform school before he was even in his teens. He graduated from there to a variety of street crimes and protection rackets. He committed his first murder when he was twenty when he killed a taxi driver who refused to pay off the organisation Carbo was working for. Carbo pled not guilty and in the end through plea bargaining he was sentenced to two to four years but was released after twenty months.
The advent of prohibition boosted Carbo’s career and eventually he was recruited by Murder Inc who acted as enforcers for the Italian-American and Jewish Mafia and were suspected of over 500 contract killings. By the end of the 1930’s Carbo had been charged with more than eight murders but none of the charges stuck due to the reluctance of witnesses to come forward. Not surprising since after Carbo was charged with the murder of Murder Inc. informant Harry Greenburg one of the former members of Murder Inc who had also agreed to testify against Carbo suspiciously fell to his death from a window of a hotel whilst under police protection. Carbo was also a main suspect in the murder of Ben “Bugsy” Siegel who had overseen the building of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas for the Mob.
With the end of prohibition Carbo moved into boxing and the threats and coercion tactics he had applied in every business he had been a part off worked well for him in boxing and the extent of his influence only became apparent during Kefauver’s investigations.
The testimony came from others as Carbo pled the Fifth Amendment i.e. the refusal to incriminate himself, 25 times and Palermo did the same. The lid was lifted by boxers and managers who felt with Norris stripped off any influence and the US Senate looking to nail Carbo it was time to talk-and they did.
Former lightweight champion Ike Williams explained how Palermo had fleeced him of much of his ring earning. Another witness stated that Rocky Marciano’s manager Al Weill refused to allow Harry Matthews, the top rated heavyweight who had a long unbeaten streak, a fight with Marciano until finally Carbo approved it. By which time Matthews had been unbeaten for nine years building a run of 51-0-1 but being frozen out. Outstanding future middle weight champion Joey Giardello was another fighter frozen out. Giardello always claimed that he would have received a title shot much earlier if he had been managed by the mob but it was not until he had had been a pro for eleven years and had 106 fights that he was allowed to challenge for the middleweight title.
Carbo once claimed he had controlled the welterweight division for 25 years. An illustration was presented with regard to Johnny Saxton. A Carbo/Palmero fighter Saxton lost the welterweight title to Tony De Marco another Carbo owned fighter. Palermo managed Saxton so of course there was a return bout clause. However there was pressure within boxing for Carmen Basilio to get a title shot as despite a run of good wins he had been avoided. Even though Basilio was not owned by Carbo he was given a title shot. Saxton was told to waive his right to the return bout with De Marco and assured that he would get his title back. Basilio complicated matters by beating De Marco to win the title and beat then him again in a defence. Saxton got his promised chance and regained the title with a unanimous decision over Basilio a result that was universally condemned with two judges having Saxton winning by seven points. A promise kept but the decision caused such a stink that this time it was Basilio who had to be given a return and he beat Saxton inside the distance.
Top managers such as Jack (Doc) Kearns, Lou Viscousi and Willie Ketchum all worked with the IBC and Carbo. Typical of the deals was when Viscousi managed lightweight champion Joe Brown before Orlando Zuleta was approved to challenge Brown the promoter, a non-Carbo man, had to pay Carbo $5,000 and if Zuleta won Viscousi would get a piece of Zuleta.
A St. Louis police detective stated that Sonny Liston was owned by Carbo and others with Liston’s manager John Vitale and Palermo each having a 12% share, two unnamed others also having 12% each and Carbo 52%. Carbo made decisions that affected the careers of Jake LaMotta, Willie Pep Tony DeMarco and many many others. To get a title fight or fight on a TV card the fighters needed the approval of Carbo and Norris and that approval was conditionally on the fighter signing a long term exclusive contract with the IBC so even if they slipped up and a non-Carbo fighter such as Basilio won the title they still owned him through the IBC.
Incident after incident was revealed where Carbo and Norris decided the fate of boxers whilst sitting around a table at restaurant just across the road from the Garden and how Norris climbed on the gravy train taking cuts and shares from their dealings.
Due to illness Norris was allowed to give his evidence to the Senate committee in private. Norris was forced to admit that the testimony he had given to the New York State Athletic Commission in 1955 about his “rare” meetings with Carbo was a lie. He could afford to do so as the statute of limitations on perjury was five years and the Senate hearings were held more than five years after he gave his testimony in New York. With the dissolution of the IBC Norris was no longer involved in boxing but the revelations of his working relationship with Carbo seemed of little consequence. Norris had been part of a consortium that purchased the Chicago Blackhawks in 1946 and was chairman of the team when the club won the Stanley Cup in 1961 leading to Norris being elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962. He had suffered from heart trouble for some time and died in February 1966 when his reported net worth was $250 million a contrast to fighters he helped screw such as Ike Williams who died penniless. True to his IBC business practices to the end just before his death Norris arranged for a National Hockey League franchise to be awarded to St Louis even though no one from St. Louis had applied for the franchise-and Norris just happened to own the St. Louis Arena.
The Kefauver hearings did not finish Carbo. Carbo had still owned the welterweight title now in the hands of Virgil Atkins. A proposal was made for Atkins to defend against Don Jordan in December 1958. It looked a safe match for Atkins as Jordan had lost to Dave Charley and had looked unimpressive in beating Gaspar Ortega twice on split decisions with one of those fights labelled a world title eliminator. Jordan was managed by Californian Don Nesseth who had no ties to Carbo and was being advised by Californian promoter Jackie Leonard, again not a Carbo man. Just to cover themselves in case of an upset Palermo contacted Leonard and Nesseth and told them that Carbo wanted 50% of Jordan or the fight would not go ahead. Nesseth was reluctant to agree to this. Leonard was aware of Carbo’s reputation so he called Truman Gibson Jr. who was associated with Carbo and Gibson advised Leonard to pretend to agree to the proposal but not to go through with the deal. Leonard mentioned Carbo’s reputation but Gibson assured Leonard that the days of gangsters and Carbo-like enforcers were a thing of the past. On that basis Leonard flew down to Florida and told Carbo it was a done deal. Jordan won the title and Nesseth refused to sign Jordan over to Carbo. An angry Carbo ranted over the telephone to Leonard saying “Just because you are two thousand miles away, that’s no sign I can’t have you taken care of”. Leonard was given police protection after his home was fire bombed. He then made the mistake of going out without his police protection. When he returned as he was closing his garage door he was attacked with a piece of lead piping, beaten and hospitalised.
This was one piece of brutality too far. The Californian State Commission and the Los Angeles Police Intelligence unit decided to go after Carbo. It is not clear how much success they might have had but they had a powerful ally. In November 1957 outside the small town of Apalachin in New York local and State law forces had stumbled on a meeting of Mafia bosses from all over the USA. The raided the meeting and more than sixty of the Mafia bosses had been detained and indicted. Before this there had been some doubts as to whether there was a nationwide criminal organisation. Now the FBI knew otherwise. The FBI was looking to build on that success in Apalachin and Carbo was an obvious candidate. In 1961 Carbo, Palermo, Truman Gibson Jr and two of Carbo’s enforcers were arrested and charged with extortion and conspiracy against Don Jordan. Gibson was only charged with conspiracy his part in the affair being his assurances to Leonard that it was safe to dupe Carbo.
With a young US Attorney General Robert Kennedy handling the prosecution Carbo was found guilty of the charges and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison and Palermo to fifteen years. Carbo was initially incarcerated in Alcatraz but later switched to prisons in Washington State and then Illinois. He was eventually granted early parole due to ill health and died in Miami Beach in 1976. Palermo served just seven and a half years. He returned to his previous base in Philadelphia and for a while it was rumoured that he had a share in the earnings of heavyweight title challenger Jimmy Young but he was never a force again and died in 1996 at the age of ninety-one. The final chapter in the story of the attempt by Carbo and Norris to monopolise boxing. The good old days-I don’t think so. Take off the rose coloured spectacles Eric.
By Rene Bonsubre,Jr
For the past few days, there were reports that Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2,22KO’s) was told to prepare for a February title defense. The name of the boxer who stood him up last November, Jonathan Javier Rodriguez (21-1,15KO’s), was once again mentioned as his next challenger. The Mexican Rodriguez was reported to have visa issues thus couldn’t make the trip to California. Ancajas fought in Mexico on December 7 against Chilean challenger Miguel Gonzalez and won by sixth round TKO.
With a February 22 date being floated, the next obvious story was that Ancajas will be on the undercard of the mega-rematch between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas.
Ancajas’ trainer and manager Joven Jimenez told this writer in a short chat that they have received a message from Top Rank to get ready for a title defense. But the present plan is for an April defense for Ancajas. Jimenez also told this writer that they will be starting their training camp but they will be moving south of the Philippines to Dipolog City.
This would be a new training location for Ancajas. When he started his reign as IBF champion in 2016, his training ground, known as Survival Camp here in the Philippines, was based in Cavite. But they had to move to a Philippine Marine base last year to avoid all the distractions that came when Ancajas got more attention from the media and fans. The 28 year old southpaw is a reservist in the Philippine Navy and was promoted last year to reserve senior chief petty officer.
Ancajas had made eight successful defenses of his title. He does have a looming date against Israel Gonzalez of Mexico, who beat Japanese Sho Ishida by split decision in a fight held in Osaka last December 28. This gave Gonzalez the IBF mandatory challenger status in the 115 lb division. Two years ago, Gonzalez (25-3,11KO’s) lost to Ancajas by tenth round TKO in a fight held in Texas.
It will be interesting in the coming weeks if Ancajas does wind up defending against Rodriguez or a rematch against his number one contender Gonzalez.
File Photo - Joven Jimenez and Jerwin Ancajas (right)
By Rene Bonsubre,Jr
Froilan “The Sniper” Saludar (31-3-1,22KO’s) is bracing for the first defense of his WBO Asia Pacific junior bantamweight title against heavy handed Japanese Ryoji Fukunaga (11-4,11KO’s).
Asianboxing first broke this story last December and a recent feature on the poster section shows the pair headlining the Kadoebi Gym’s “Slugfest 13” card on February 14.
This writer had a short chat with Jojo Palacios, who trains Saludar and asked about their preparations.
“Froilan’s training is going well, he has been in the gym starting December,” Palacios stated, “I have seen a video of his opponent. We are preparing for a puncher. Froilan has sparred with a featherweight, Pitt Laurente.”
Criztian Pitt Laurente (4-0,3KO’s) is a rising boxing prospect in the Philippines. In 2016, he was chosen as the best junior amateur boxer in Asia. The high point of his amateur career was a bronze medal at the 2018 AIBA World Youth Championships.
“I am in Manila awaiting our visas for Japan,” Palacios added, “Once we get them, we can fully concentrate on our training. The fight will be held in Tokyo and we will leave February 11.”
The 30 year old Saludar was born in Polomolok, South Cotabato in the Philippines. In 2018, he was on the verge of making history with his brother Vic Saludar(20-4,11KO’s). Vic dethroned Ryuya Yamanaka for the WBO miniflyweight title two weeks before Froilan was set to face then WBO flyweight champion Sho Kimura.
They could have been the only Filipino siblings to hold world titles simultaneously; brothers Dodie Boy and Gerry Peñalosa won world titles in different decades. But fate had other plans. Froilan was impressive in the first two rounds only to weaken under Kimura’s body attack. Froilan was knocked down once in the fifth and twice in the sixth before the referee signaled the end.
This was Saludar’s second loss on a big stage. In 2014, he was stopped in two rounds by Puerto Rican McWilliams Arroyo in Bayamon in an IBF title eliminator.
With his career in dire straits, Froilan Saludar moved up in weight and beat Filipino journeymen Donnie Mabao and Jonathan Francisco away from the spotlight. Then he got a shot at the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title against Tsubasa Murachi last September. It seemed Saludar was going to be used as a stepping stone for the young Japanese prospect who at that time sported a 4-0,3KO’s record.
But Saludar survived a first round knockdown to drop Murachi three times in rounds four, seven and eight. The Japanese was attended to by the medical staff at ringside after the fight was stopped in the eighth round. Saludar celebrated, knowing his career was revitalized.
The 33 year old Fukunaga is a southpaw who has gone 1W-2L in his last three fights which included a unanimous decision defeat in an OPBF Silver super flyweight title bout in Thailand to Jakkrawut Majoogoen (30-1,16KO’s).
Saludar’s world ranking will also be at stake as he is currently number nine among the 115 lb. division contenders of the WBO.
File photo – Froilan Saludar
By Rene Bonsubre,Jr
Last December 30 Asianboxing reported on Pedro Taduran’s looming IBF title defense against Mexican Daniel Valladares, citing a report by WBA award winning journalist Julius Julianis.
The 23 year old Taduran(14-2,11KO’s) is currently one of the four reigning world titleholders from the Philippines. He won the vacant IBF world minimumweight title against Samuel Salva last September in Taguig City. This was the third all-Filipino world title fight for the past two years and the first one held in the Philippines since 1925.
Taduran’s manager Art Monis told this writer that there are still contractual issues that need to be ironed out. He is aware of the news report of the February 1 fight date. He has however, signed and agreed to the defense in Mexico but awaits confirmation from the Mexican side. As of this writing, there is no update on boxrec regarding the February date and exact venue of the fight. Taduran himself told this writer that he is preparing for his upcoming defense.
Taduran, who sports the moniker “Heneral” or General turned pro in 2015. After six wins, he lost a split decision to Joel Lino, who at that point in time had a 2-0 record. Lino currently holds the Philippine (GAB) minimumweight title. Taduran’ second career loss was in a WBC world title fight in 2018, to Thai Chayaphon Moonsri, by unanimous decision in Nakhon Sawan, Thailand.
In the title win against Salva, he came back from a first round knockdown and bombed Salva in rounds three and four. A drained Salva chose not to answer the bell for the fifth.
Valladares, whose ring moniker “Cejitas” means eyebrows, sports a record of 22-1,13KO’s. His lone career loss was to Genaro Rios in 2016 by majority decision. He had previously beaten Rios by split verdict. Valladares also previously held the WBC Silver light flyweight title. His biggest career win was against the previously undefeated Filipino contender Christian Araneta in an IBF light flyweight eliminator last September in Monterrey, Mexico. It was action packed fight with both boxers taking turns landing harsh shots to the jaw. This fight showed Valladares can take a punch, considering Araneta’s 82 percent KO rate. Araneta, however, decided not to continue fighting due to a right shoulder injury, going into the fourth. This was a recurrence of an old injury which had him sidelined in 2017.
The video bout also showed Valladares’ defensive flaws which Team Taduran will be sure to review. Valladares earned the number one spot in the 108 lb division of the IBF but will be going down to 105 lbs to challenge Taduran.
Valladares also owns a seventh round TKO win against another Filipino,former WBO world miniflyweight champion Merlito Sabillo.
It will be hard for a Filipino world champion to defend his title in Mexico but it has been done before.
In 1996, Luisito Espinosa defended his WBC Featherweight title against Mexican Alejandro “Cobrita” Gonzalez by fourth round knockout in Guadalajara,Jalisco, Mexico. This was Espinosa’s finest hour; returning to the same venue where Gonzalez stopped him in two rounds three years earlier.
Donnie Nietes set the gold standard having defended his WBO minimumweight title thrice on Mexican soil against Erik Ramirez (UD12 2009), Manuel Vargas (SD12 2009) and Mario Rodriguez (UD12 2010).
John Riel Casimero defended his IBF light flyweight title by split decision against Pedro Guevara in 2012.
Jerwin Ancajas has a successful defense in Mexico last year but it was against a Chilean challenger. The likes of Florante Condes, Rodel Mayol and Merlito Sabillo lost their world title belts in Mexico.
File photo- Pedro Taduran in Thailand 2018
By Daniel Sharman
Of all the heated debates that occur within the boxing fandom, perhaps that which rages most fiercely concerns the matter of various boxers' place within the so-called 'pound for pound' rankings. And this is no merely theoretical matter: a boxers' having his P4P status recognised is one important way in which he can advance his career, attract fan attention, increase his earnings, and open up new opportunities for himself. In this article, I want to look at WBO flyweight champion Kosei Tanaka's case for being considered P4P, a fighter whose achievements, due in large part to his size and nationality, have gone relatively unnoticed, and who is coming off his most polished performance to date against overmatched Wulan Tuolehazi. To highlight these achievements, and to support the claim that Tanaka's lack of P4P recognition is in large part due to factors unrelated to his talent and skill, I want to contrast Tanaka's case with a fighter who has received much fanfare and critical acclaim in recent months, Errol Spence Jr.
Whilst I could have chosen other fighters from the current P4P rankings, it seems that Spence's P4P recognition in particular owes more to his promotional presence, media advocacy, and fan following, than his actual achievements in the sport to date.1 This becomes even clearer when the matter is viewed from the perspective of Spence's first recognition as a P4P fighter, prior to his fights with Mikey Garcia and Shawn Porter (whilst P4P archives are relatively inaccessible, it seems that Spence has been listed as P4P for getting on for about 2 years now. For instance, TBRB listed him at number 10 as of 22 April 20182). Unlike Spence, Tanaka, despite achievements comparable to others ranked in the P4P, has never been listed, and, as far as I'm aware, has never been close to being listed. This seems to owe to two factors. Firstly, Tanaka is a lighter, smaller fighter (currently fighting at 115lbs), and, secondly, he is a little-promoted Japanese fighter who is yet to fight abroad. Conversely, Spence is an American fighting at welterweight, and has been selected by PBC's promotional machine (and their licensed media acolytes3) as a brand leader, and as such has been heavily promoted.
Now, the method most commentators adopt when drawing up their top 10 pound for pound lists is the same as that used when drawing up divisional top 10 rankings. To determine the overall quality of a fighter relative to his peers, multiple different factors, each of which is taken to be indicative of a fighter's quality, are taken into account. For example, number of championships held, number of weight divisions conquered, quality of opponents, quality of wins, career trajectory, and so on. What is most definitely not relevant to a fighters' P4P status is incidental facts about them, such as their nationality, their fan base, their name recognition, and, most importantly, their size and weight (after all, the whole point of P4P is that it doesn't take this fact into account). Of course, there are some factors which are partially relevant. For instance, whilst the fact that a boxer fights exclusively in his home nation is not necessarily indicative of a lack of skill on his part, a boxer who has travelled around the world beating home fighters in their backyards may be legitimately seen as more talented as a result. Nevertheless, with all this in view, I think it's more than fair to claim that Kosei Tanaka not only deserves a spot on the P4P lists, but should in fact take the spot currently held by Errol Spence.
To begin, lets quickly recap Tanaka's achievements in the sport so far.
Tanaka is a three weight world champion in just fourteen fights, and after only 6 years of being a professional. As such, he is tied with long-reigning P4P top 3 star Vasyl Lomachenko for being the fastest ever fighter to become a three weight division champion, both achieving the feat in just 12 fights.
Indeed, Tanaka has also bested another top 3 P4P entrant, his illustrious countryman and current unified bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue, to become the fastest ever Japanese fighter to win a world title, taking only 5 fights to do so. He achieved this feat whilst only 19 years old, making him at the time one of the youngest belt-holders in the sport. Despite being only 24 years old currently, each of Tanaka's three championships have all been full world titles, and not secondary trinkets such as the WBA 'regular' belt or an interim title (this cannot be said of those such as Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez or Gervonta Davis). Further, Tanaka won these titles legitimately in the ring, not being 'upgraded' from a secondary or interim status (such as in the case of Devin Haney or Jean Pascal).
Furthermore, Tanaka has a record of 9-0 (5 KOs) in world title fights, and a record of 5-0 (2 KOs) against former or current world champions: these include wins against Vic Saludar, Moises Fuentes, Angel Acosta (then undefeated), Sho Kimura, and Ryoichi Taguchi. Given that several of the fighters listed later went onto become world champions speaks well of the quality of Tanaka's defences, and demonstrates his willingness to face tough opponents. Compare this with Spence's current record of 5-0 (3 KOs) in world title fights, and 5-0 against current or former world champions. Also note that when Spence was first listed as P4P, his record stood at only 2-0 (2 KOs), and 3-0 (3 KOs), respectively.
Despite his short career and lack of professional experience (compare his 15 fights with Spence's 26), Tanaka has faced good quality opposition throughout his career. Perhaps his best opposition has come in his fights against Sho Kimura and Ryoichi Taguchi. Kimura, the only reigning champion Tanaka has fought in his career thus far, had only lost on his debut, and so was essentially undefeated going into his fight with Tanaka. Further, Kimura was riding a four fight KO streak going into the bout. Despite being only his second fight at flyweight after moving up, Tanaka and Shimura put on a brilliant display, making for a strong fight of the year candidate. Tanaka won the bout by majority decision, thus becoming a three weight world champion.
Contrastingly, the only reigning champion that Spence has beaten is Kell Brook. Whilst Brook was once a brilliant fighter, at the time of his bout with Spence he was coming straight off a KO loss, having moved up to middleweight to receive an absolute bludgeoning from then unified, undefeated champion Gennady Golovkin. In addition to taking heavy punishment in general, Brook sustained a gruesome orbital fracture on his right eye socket in the fight. Despite undergoing surgery, Brook had no tune-up fight and went straight into his mandatory defence against Spence. Even though Brook was still able to keep the bout competitive, he ultimately had to withdraw from the bout in the 11th round after suffering another orbital fracture, this time to his left eye socket.
Furthermore, and perhaps more impressively, Tanaka voluntarily chose as his first defence the skilled and respected Ryoichi Taguchi, a former unified, Ring magazine light flyweight champion. Whilst Taguchi was coming off his first loss in 5 years, this had been to the highly regarded Hekkie Budler, and the loss was a close unanimous decision. Tanaka won the bout by UD, cementing his place within the division, and is now almost universally regarded as the number one at flyweight, being recognised as such by organisations such as TBRB and the Ring magazine. Notably, despite this tough first defence, Tanaka proceeded to fight twice more in 2019, against skilled mandatory challenger Jonathan Gonzalez, and Chinese breakout Wulan Tuolehazi.
Spence has also made respectable defences of his title, such as against former unified super lightweight champion Lamont Peterson, and undefeated contender Carlos Ocampo. However, whilst Spence's and Tanaka's current championship reigns are roughly equal in terms of quality of opposition, it should be noted that this is Tanaka's third title reign, not his first. As mentioned, he has previously faced stiff challenges as a champion at lower weights against Acosta, Saludar, and so on. Now, of course, Spence, unlike Tanaka, currently stands as a unified champion after his win over WBC champ Shawn Porter. This is a very respectable win, and the fight between the two was exceptional. Indeed, some commentators, such as the Ring's Michael Montero,4 erect new standards that fighters like Tanaka must meet in order to be considered pound for pound, such as needing to unify their title.
However, two things have to be noted. First, Spence won his unification bout by close, somewhat controversial split decision, being taken to his very limits, and leaving a good number of commentators feeling that Porter did enough to win the fight. Second, this standard is not imposed across the board for P4P inclusion, and was not imposed in the case of Spence. Thus, it appears to be no more than a moving of the goalposts to try and justify Tanaka's exclusion from the current P4P rankings. Indeed, not only was this standard not imposed on Spence, but he was actually moved up the pound for pound lists simply for beating an overmatched Mikey Garcia (whose career started at 125lbs) in a more-style-than-substance PBC showcase fight, prior to any form of unification.
Nevertheless, it worth mentioning for those like Montero, who actually claims that Japanese fighters don't care to unify that, if not for injuries sustained against Palangpol CP Freshmart, a unification bout against Ryochi Taguchi likely would have occurred in 2018. If Tanaka had won this bout (and it is likely given that he beat Taguchi just a year later), this would have made him a unified champion in only 11 fights. Also, it is perhaps worth mentioning here that Spence himself has shown relatively little serious interest in pursuing the most obvious unification fight in his own weight class, a fight against P4P star Terence Crawford; this would not appear to be the behaviour of a genuine P4P fighter.
Of course, like everyone else, I want to see Tanaka unify his flyweight title sooner rather than later. My preference would be for a fight against IBF champ Moruti Mthalane, who has dominated in the lower weight classes for years, and is coming off a very impressive stoppage of Akira Yaegashi. If that fight were to happen next, I would give Mthalane a very good chance of winning it.
It might be objected that Tanaka cannot be considered P4P given that he has been knocked down in several fights, and sustained a fair amount of punishment. He was also being outboxed up until his stoppages of Gonzalez and Saludar. To the first objection, I would respond that countless quality fighters (and hall of famers) have been down multiple times throughout their careers, and, more importantly, given how quickly Tanaka has progressed through the upper echelons of the pro-ranks, it is no surprise that his has experienced some setbacks and adversity along the ways (recall that Tanaka fought Saludar in his 6th pro fight).
Indeed, the fact that he has overcome this adversity speaks to his quality as a fighter, showing that he has heart, belief, and the will to fight back when things are not going his way. To the second objection, I would simply note that, one, every fighter has off days (it is known that Tanaka has a virus that prevented effective weight-cutting for the Gonzalez bout), and, two, Deontay Wilder's being comprehensively outboxed up until his stops his opponents is seen as a reason to rank him as P4P and as a top heavyweight, rather than exclude him from it.
Lastly, some might complain that the lighter weight divisions are less competitive than some of the heavier divisions because there are far more boxers in the larger weight divisions. This is a fair objection, and, in general, the greater the number of fighters in a division, the harder it is to get and stay at the top of that division. Nevertheless, I do not think is sufficient reason to exclude Tanaka from the P4P ranks in place of a fighter such as Errol Spence. This is because Tanaka has repeatedly sought out difficult challenges, and these top contenders are easily comparable, from a P4P perspective, with contenders from higher weight divisions. Indeed, despite having many boxers within them, the general quality of some higher weight divisions is for all that is still relatively low.
So what more could Tanaka could? If my argument has been correct, then he has already achieved more than a highly ranked P4P entrant such as Errol Spence Jr. Perhaps he could unify his current division, or, as seems more likely, move up in weight to fight WBO super flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka. If Tanaka were to win this latter bout, he would thereby be a four-weight champion in a record number of bouts; perhaps if Ioka fights and beats Juan Francisco Estrada next, Ioka will take Estrada's current P4P ranking, and then this will be up for grabs if and when he fights Tanaka. However, this is all speculation, and P4P recognition for Tanaka in the near future seems doubtful. After all, it seems a good deal of fans simply can't accept the foundational principle of P4P in the first place: that weight class is irrelevant to fighter's right for a place within it. Rather, they incoherently suppose that being in a glamour division like welterweight or heavyweight makes a fighter more deserving of P4P recognition. If this is indeed the case, it seems all we can hope is that Tanaka keeps winning, and, as he does so, gradually begins to gain the recognition his talents and achievements deserve.
1 As this article is primarily intended to highlight Tanaka's case for a place within the P4P top 10, I have left out any substantial discussion of the notion of P4P itself; nevertheless, I have attached an appendix briefly discussing the idea of the P4P and its purpose.
3 At least amongst hardcore boxing fans, inclusion in the P4P rankings is an effective way to promote a fighter.
4 See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-ZHb0b7Aq4&t=1257s timestamp: 19:35
(Image courtesy of A.McGovern)
These articles are submitted by guest writers and sites. They aren't submitted by the usual folk behind Asian Boxing and don't fall in line with our editorial stance, giving a fresh view on various boxing issues from the Asian boxing scene.