After a really hectic and busy May, with big fights on a consistent basis, notable action drops off massively in June with the first Japanese title fight taking place on June 13th. That bout sees Japanese Minimumweight champion Norihito Tanaka (18-7, 10) make his first, following his title win in January, as he takes on Naoya Haruguchi (15-10, 6). On paper this isn't a hugely interesting fight, but does have history behind it, as we'll explain in a moment.
The 34 year old Tanaka is a true veteran of the Japanese ring. He debuted in 2005 and won his first 9 fights before suffering 3 defeats in 4 bouts. Whilst that sounds bout it is worth noting that those losses included a decision to Kenichi Horikawa, in 2007, and a DQ loss to Ryoichi Taguchi, two losses that on reflection are certainly aren't bad. He would bounce back with 3 wins before getting his first title fight, battling Akira Yaegashi for the Japanese Minimumweight title, and losing a wide decision. After that Tanaka fought twice, going 1-1, before taking a break of over 5 years. He resurfaced in 2017 and has since gone 4-2 (3) with notable wins against Takumi Sakai and Shin Ono in his last 2 bouts.
In the ring Tanaka had proven to be a smart, crafty, tough fighter with under-rated skills, a good boxing brain and respectable power. Tanaka isn't quick, by any stretch, but he has excellent time, lures opponents in and counters really well. Tanaka's smart boxing, accurate punching and experience makes him a very tricky fighter to look good against and beat. He's certainly not unbeatable, but is significantly better than his record suggests, and even in his 30's going to be hard to dethrone.
As mentioned Tanaka is 4-2 since his return in 2017. One of those losses was in an OPBF title fight to Tsubasa Koura in 2018, the other was in 2017 when he lost a majority decision to Naoya Hariguchi, the man he'll defend his title against. That loss came in the second bout of Tanaka's return and saw Tanaka losing a very close decision in Haruguchi's home city of Kagoshima City, this time the bout is Tanaka's home of Tokyo which could be a major factor.
Haruguchi is the younger man, at 29, but actually has just as many fights as Tanaka, with both having 25 contests to their name. His career began in 2012 and has been a rocky road. He lost on his debut, to Takumi Sakae, was 1--2 after 3 bouts and 3-4 after 7 contests. The inconsistent form of Haruguchi did look bad but it is worth noting that 2 of those losses came to Sakae, who would win the 2013 Rookie of the Year, and one was to Keisuke Nakayama, who later held the OPBF Flyweight title. As his career went on he would become a very clear "win some lose some" fighter, wiith his best run being a 6 fight winning streaking between 2016 and 2017. That winning run saw Haruguchi not only avenge one of his losses, to Jun Takigawa, but also score his win over Tanaka. Sadly however that run ended he has gone 1-3, with losses to Riku Kano, Tatsuya Fukuhara and Lito Dante, strange form for a man about to challenge for the Japanese title.
When it comes to watching Haruguchi footage is limited, partly due to him fighting mostly outside of the main Japanese boxing markets. What little footage is available of Haruguchi is several years old and comes from his 2015 loss to Reiya Konishi, where he was out worked by the then unbeaten Konishi. The take away from that footage is that Haruguchi was a crude fighter, who was easy to force back, defensively open and lacked any sort of sharpness in his punches.
Whilst Haruguchi beat Tanaka when they fought a couple of years ago we really don't see him being competitive here this time around. It certainly feels like he got the benefit of the doubt in their first bout, especially given he was dropped twice and still got the win, and won't be getting that in Tokyo. His form, with 3 losses in his last 4, also don't bode well coming into this bout.
We're expecting to see Tanaka finish off what he started, and this time we're expecting him to finish off Haruguchi, and retain his title in style.
Prediction - Tanaka TKO9
The Minimumweight division in Japan is really interesting right now, with great fighters across every level, from domestic Youth right up to world level. At the moment the domestic champion is Shin Ono (23-9-3, 6) and on January 12th he'll make a mandatory title defense, as he takes on veteran Norihito Tanaka (17-7, 9) in a very good match up that could well launch the winner into a world title fight later in the year.
Aged 36 Ono doesn't have long left in his career, in fact the Southpaw from the Watanabe gym has already had a career that is almost 18 years long. During his career he has faced a who's who including Xiong Zhao Zhong, Tatsuya Fukuhara, Masayuki Kuroda, Yu Kimura, Katsunari Takuyama, Knockout CP Freshmart, Reiya Konishi and Riku Kano, with wins against a number of those men. Through his career he has proven to be a gutsy fighter, with a good work rate, a real hunger and, even in his mid 30's, he's pulling out good results.
This is set to be Ono's second defense of the title, following his title win last year against Ryoki Hirai and his maiden defense against Riku Kano. Whilst he has proven to be a fantastic servant to Japanese boxing he has had a very hard career, his lack of power has made things even tougher and he has already had over 221 rounds of professional boxing. Those rounds have often been tough, with Ono getting embroiled in battles of attrition, rather than battles of skill, and that's despite being a pretty skilled fighter.
Tanaka is the slightly younger man at 33, though he turned 34 in February, but has also had a long career that began in 2005. Notable though Tanaka's career hasn't been as active as that of Ono, in fact Tanaka took a break of more than 5 years, between 2011 and 2017, and that gave his body time to rest. Since beginning his comeback he has gone 3-2 (2) and earned this shot on merit with an upset win over Takumi Sakae in late 2018, earning a mandatory title shot. Whiilst that's his biggest win of the comeback he did manage to give the touted Tsubasa Koura real problems in an OPBF title fight, before being stopped.
Through his career Tanaka has proven to be tough, smart and tricky. He has given problems to the likes of Koura, Takashi Kunishige and managed to go 10 rounds with Akira Yaegashi in a Japanese title fight, way back in 2011. Tanaka has under-rated power, a veteran's patience and a good ring IQ. Sadly he's not the quickest, his work rate isn't amazing and despite being skilled there are holes in his work that a quicker fighter can take advantage of.
We expect to see Ono being the one who comes forward, bringing the pressure and forcing Tanaka to respond. Strangely that'll actually be something that works in favour of Tanaka, who will be hoping to be able to counter Ono, bring his under-rated straight right hand into play. Despite Tanaka having the edge in power we suspect that Ono's work rate and toughness will see him over the line, albeit narrowly, in a very competitive contest. We do see Ono being rocked, at least once, but gutting it out for the win.
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.