Unless you follow me personally you're unlikely to be aware that Tobe was actually one of the fighters who helped inspire me to follow Japanese boxing in depth, and crave out the footage and resources to develop a site like this and to follow the best of the Japanese prospects in the way that I do now.
After just 3 bouts as a professional I became hooked on following him. He was on the fast track to success, he was a trail blazer, he was a sensation. He was the sort of fighter Japan was producing. He was the next Kazuto Ioka, the next Japanese fighter to claim a world title in just a small number of fights. Sadly though all that failed to materalise.
So what exactly went wrong for Yohei Tobe?
The Misako Gym had created champions at all levels. Fighters like Koichi Wajima, Tadashi Mihara and Tadashi Tomori had won world titles under the guidance of the gym and they had created numerous OPBF and Japanese champions. It was a gym of champions. Sadly though it was a gym that wanted to fast track their fighters as they had done with the likes of Yamato Mitani in the 1990's and Kuniyuki Aizawa in the 00's. It was also a gym that never wrote a fighter off for suffering a loss, a loss was a learning experience, and if you were going to be fast tracked a loss at a higher level it was surely only going to aid your eventual development.
In fact Aizawa was a perfect example of that, with his 2006 loss in a Japanese title fight to Teppei Kikui coming just 17 months before Aizawa faced Alexander Munoz for a WBA World. The loss wasn't a bad thing.
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That created a bit of a perfect storm for Tobe to fail to reach expectations. On his debut he did everything one could ask of a debutant. He shined. He stopped Korean Super Flyweight champion Jin Ki Jung in just 70 seconds. Although Jung had been stopped earlier in his career he had never been blitzed like that before, and it was the type of result Misako would have been dreaming of. He looked ultra sharp, immediately comfortable, and like a sensation in the making. The crowd in attendance of the 6 round contest must have thought they were seeing someone begin their journey towards stardom. I certainly did.
Just 4 months later Tobe would again shine, stopping the very experienced Wandee Singwancha in 2 rounds. Although Wandee was well past his best it was still an impressive performance from Tobe who looked more patient this time around, but once again showed the razor sharp boxing skills, found holes in the defenses of Wandee. When he let his punches flow, as he did in the start of round 2, it was hard to not get very excited about the Japanese fighter, who seemed to have an amazing array of shots, found space to work with ease and even appeared to take a shot well, the one time Wandee landed something of note.
In 2012 Tobe kicked off the year with a dominant win over Ryan Bito whilst eyeing up bigger and better opportunities. He was starting to get a lot of attention with those in the boxing media referring to him as the “Golden Rookie”. He looked like he was something special and his team knew it, putting him in with OPBF Super Flyweight champion Ryo Akaho in just his 5th professional bout. Some had suggested it was perhaps too early but given how impressive he had looked and the confidence of the fighter and his team, and in fact the history of the Misako gym, there didn't seem to be any doubt in putting him in with someone like Akaho this early in his career.
Sadly for Tobe the bout against Akaho would see him suffer his first defeat. It wasn't all a case of being inexperienced but also the style match up, with Akaho's unorthodox, wild and aggressive style being too much for Tobe. Tobe's boxing, at times, looked good but he was never allowed the freedom to work as the tough Akaho trudged through his leather and bowled him over in round 8 to retain the title.
On his return to the ring in 2013 Tobe was held to an 8 round draw by the then unheralded Richard Pumicpic. The result was considered a major set back at the time, though since then Pumicpic has become a very appreciated fighter in and around the Oriental scene. He has given Ryosuke Iwasa fits in an OPBF title fight, gave Cesar Juarez a war in 2016, and claimed the WBO Asia Pacific Featherweight title in 2017 with a win over Hisashi Amagasa.
With a loss and a draw in successive bouts Tobe was matched a little bit softly through the rest of 2013 whilst rebuilding his confidence. That saw him score wins against Chatchai Or Benjamas / Chatchai Or Benjamas, Ken Achiwa and Yoshihito Ishizaki.
Of those only the win over Ishizaki was really note worth as it was in the Strongest Korakuen final and secured Tobe a shot at the Japanese Super Flyweight title in 2014. He would stop Ishizaki in 5 rounds to move on to that title shot, which saw him fight Taiki Eto for the vacant title, which had been vacated by Teiru Kinoshita ahead of Kinoshita's IBF world title bout with Zolani Tete.
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Against Eto we saw the magic that had gotten fans and the Japanese press so excited in Tobe. He put in a dominant performance before closing the show in round 9 to claim the title and get his career back on track. Sadly though he would lose the belt in his first defense, losing to Sho Ishida in what was a competitive bout, but one Ishida certainly seemed to do enough to win in. It was another set back. Just as things has been looking to get on the right track Tobe's rise was derailed again at title level, and his hopes of having a lengthy reign were already over, less than 4 months after it had began.
Sadly the loss to Ishida seemed to be followed by other issues and it was over a year before Tobe returned to the ring, and defeated old foe Ryan Bito in a one-sided affair, much like he had done back in 2012 when he was just starting his career. That win was then followed by another of the notable results that Robe has scored, as he travelled to South Africa and knocked out Luzuko Siyo to claim the WBA International Super Flyweight title. It was another performance that showed what Tobe could do, though he had failed to endear himself to fans with what seemed to be a moody demeanour the entire time he was in South Africa.
The win over Siyo seemed to, again, show what Tobe was capable of and a win back in Japan over Masaya Kohama gave him an easy home coming win. Sadly though injuries would keep him out of the ring for 15 months, before he return in October 2017 to beat a limited Thai foe. By now the win over Siyo was 18 months removed and any momentum that Tobe could have had was gone. His career had again gone from promising to aimless and even a win in early 2018 against Hajime Nagai on a televised card did little to reignite the flames.
As I write this Tobe's most recent bout saw him take to the road and travel to Mexico to take on Francisco Rodriguez Jr, a former Minimumweight champion who had given us a fight of the decade candidate in 2014 when he fought Katsunari Takayama. Rodriguez had unified the WBO and IBF titles at 105lbs but had outgrown the division. He had had mixed success at Light Flyweight but then moved up to Super Flyweight, where his body seemed to be stronger than it had been at 108lbs. Against Tobe we saw Rodriguez come in light, well under the Super Flyweight limit, whilst Tobe had stated his intention was to stop the Mexican. It was a mistake from Tobe who ignored his boxing skills to have a tear up with Rodriguez who stopped him in 2 rounds.
At the time of writing Tobe has a record of 13-3-1 (9) and is 31 years old. He turned professional at the age of 23 and had so much potential but now he sits as one of the biggest “what ifs” in Japanese boxing. What if he hadn't been thrown in with Akaho so early? What if he had avoided the momentum killing stretches of inactivity? What if he had racked up more experience before winning a Japanese title, and then taking a different route?
There is no doubt in my mind that, with the right team behind him and some fortunate timing Tobe could have claimed a world title, the win over Kono just over a year before Kono stopped Tepparith Singwancha almost seems to prove that. Instead he had a 6 month reign as a Japanese champion and an inconsequential reign as the WBA International Super Flyweight champion. He showed touches of genius but instead of becoming part of the Golden Era he is likely best remembered for his time as the “Golden Rookie”.
Tobe does still have time, his career isn't over, but it's hard to not think his best years are behind him and that he will never come close to what he could, and probably should, have been.
(All images courtesy of boxmob.jp)