Earlier this week Fuji Next did one of their Diamond Glove shows where they show fights from the past. One of those bouts was Yohei Tobe the Japanese Super Flyweight title victory against Taiki Eto from back in April 2014. That bout saw Tobe stop Eto in the 9th round to advance his record to 8-1-1 (5) and had him claim his first professional title. It was a coming together of what Tobe was supposed to be, the Misako man beginning to deliver on his promise and potential. Sadly however he never really managed to deliver with the consistency that he needed and instead of being one of the stand out Japanese fighters of his era, as some had tipped when he turned professional, he was a fighter who will be forgotten to annals of time. Or a fighter who will be remembered as a “what if?” story. A real shame given the expectations on his shoulders and the incredibly bright start to his professional career.
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?
Yohei Tobe (currently 13-3-1, 9) [戸部洋平] was a fantastic amateur, running up a 42-10 (20) record. He was a fixture on the national scene and a fighter who was turning professional under the guidance of the well established Misako Gym, who were also putting Keita Obara on the fast track despite a debut loss for the heavy handed Light Welterweight. The gym he was with looked to create champions, they would push their fighters and not cover them in cotton wool. It should have been an environment that suited someone like Tobe, a former amateur stand out with big dreams. Sadly though it could have been part of his downfall.
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.
He would finish off 2011 by scoring what is still probably his best win to date, an 8 round decision over Kohei Kono. By that point in time Kono was a former Japanese and OPBF champion who had twice fought for world titles. He was going through a bit of a career crises, with back-to-back losses to Tomas Rojas and Yota Sato, but was less than 17 months removed from being the OPBF Super Flyweight champion. In fact Kono so far from being done that he would go on to claim his first world title just over a year later. Tobe was under a lot of pressure from Kono but used his jab brilliantly, moved fantastically and countered when he had the space to work with. It was a fantastic and mature performance from Tobe under extreme fire.
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.
The loss seemed to show Tobe's biggest issue, it wasn't a lack of experience as such, but a lack of true natural toughness. It would be something that would be his undoing several years later as well.
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.
Much like the loss to Akaho it wasn't a lack of experience or skills that saw Tobe come up short against Rodriguez but instead his punch resistance and his inability to control the type of fight he was having. He was significantly bigger than Rodriguez, and should have used that to his advantage. He should have found a way to establish his jab, used his speed and boxed, but instead he got dragged into a war and couldn't deal with the fire power of Rodriguez.
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)
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