The Japanese eliminators for the 2019 Champion Carnival continue this coming Sunday with two more bouts to decide the mandatory challengers for the new year. One of those challenges will be in the Minimumweight division, where Takumi Sakae (19-2-1, 13) and Norihito Tanaka (16-7, 9) will battle for mandatory status. In theory they will be challenging Shin Ono, though rumours persist that Ono will vacate before the end of 2018 to fight for a world title.
Of the two men there isn't really a standout favourite. Sakae was a young prodigy who won the Rookie of the Year in 2013 as a 20 year old, but has failed to kick on since then. Tanaka on the other hand is a grizzled veteran who debuted in 2005 and has shared the ring with Kenichi Horikara, Ryoichi Taguchi, Akira Yaegashi, Takashi Kunishige and Tsubasa Koura. They are very different fighters but neither is to be strongly favoured over the other.
At 25 years old Sakae is likely edging towards his physical peak and if we're being honest he's had a genuine interesting career. As mentioned he won the Rookie of the Year back in 2013, just over 2 years after his debut, but failed to really use that as a launch pad. His 2014 was a relative waste of a year and in 2015 he claimed his first title, the IBF Youth Light Flyweight title, whilst also making his international debut. In 2016 he would lose a Japanese title fight to Tatsuya Fukuhara, before fighting to a technical draw with Lito Dante and ending the year with a loss to Ryoki Hirai in a Japanese title eliminator. In the space of just 12 months Sakae's record had gone from 13-0 (8) to 14-2-1 (9) and he had rebuilding to do.
Sadly Sakae's rebuilding has seen him stopping 4 very limited opponents and then taking a decision win, last time out, against Akihiro Toya. The only win of note is the one over Toya, which was a close decision, and strangely Toya's next fight will be a Japanese title fight in November.
In the ring Sakae is a pretty decent fighter. He's got nice speed, nice straight shots and respectable power. Sadly however he often finds himself in brawls as opposed to really using his skills. He's a pretty exciting fighter but tactically a naïve one who will always struggle against fighters who are strong enough to push him back and drag him into a war.
When we talk about an interesting career Tanaka has certainly had one of those. The 33 year olf from Tokyo debuted in 2005 and won his first 9 bouts before going 1-3 in his next 4, including a DQ loss to Ryoichi Taguchi and a decision loss to Kenichi Horikawa. A 3 fight winning run was snapped by a loss to Akira Yaegashi in a Japanese title fight in 2011 and after going 1-1 following that bout he took a 5 year break from the ring before returning last year. Since returning he has gone 2-2, suffering a stoppage loss last time out to Tsubasa Koura in an OPBF title fight.
Through his career Tanaka has proven to be tough, strong and a nightmare for fighters we would deem as being better. He was clearly beaten by Yaegashi but was actually in front against Koura prior to the stoppage, and had dropped the young Oriental champion prior to being finished himself. He's rugged, a bit clumsy but knows his way around the ring, and is very good inside the pocket. He can often find the sneaky shots up close that novices don't see coming and he counters very well, as we saw when he put Koura down. Sadly though at 33 he's very old for a Minimumweight and he has taken a fair bit of punishment through his career.
We see Sakae as the more technically solid fighter, but Tanaka is the smarter man, the man with the better ring IQ and the fighter who will be able to dictate things a touch better. We think the ring IQ of Tanaka could will see him landing solid counters when Sakae gets over excited and attacks up close. Those clever counters will be enough to hurt Sakae, but the younger man does have home advantage and that could well end up helping him on the cards. We see that home advantage as being the difference maker here, with Sakae likely to take a narrow decision win.
The Minimumweight division has been one of the most over-looked in recent years with a number of really good fights, with fighters like Katusnari Takayama involved in a number of thrillers. The next possible thriller in the division comes on March 26th when Japanese Minimumweight champion Tatsuya Fukuhara (16-4-5, 6) [福原 辰弥] defends his title against the unbeaten Takumi Sakae (13-0, 8) [榮 拓海].
The champion won the title late last year, when he narrowly beat Hiroya Yamamoto. That was Fukuhara's first “big” win though he had mixed with good company in the past losing to the likes of Yu Kimura, Takuma Inoue and Takuya Mitamura and drawing with Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, in Thailand.
Although Fukuhara doesn't have the best record he is going through a rich vein of form with a 6 fight unbeaten run, including 4 wins and 2 draws. The competition during that run may not be exceptional but they did include the win over Yamamoto and the draw with Fahlan the best results on Fukuhara's record.
In the ring Fukuhara is a gutsy fighter who has his limitations but has a great engine, a fantastic work rate and a fantastic will to win. He can certainly be out boxed, and isn't the most powerful or quickest, but he is a fighter who has the engine to really push people on the domestic scene. In fact he has taken a round from both Kimura and Inoue and must have taken 4 from Fahlan to earn the draw in their bout.
The unbeaten challenger is tipped by some as “one to watch” and is highly ranked by the world title bodies, with the WBO having him particularly high.
Sakae first made his mark on the sport in 2013, when he won the Rookie of the Year and advanced his record to a promising 7-0 (4). At the point he was 20 years old and had shown real promise beating the likes of Kenta Shimizu and Yoshinori Wakahara. Sadly since then his career has been mostly spent against limited opponents with a trio of poor Thai's and a pair of limited Indonesian's padding out his record. In fact the best wins since he won the Rookie of the Year have been decision victories over Boy Tanto and Japan's Munehito Kijima.
Watching Sakae it's clear he has a lot of potential and the 22 year old does appear to have respectable power, nice skills and a fun style. He has however been down, dropped in his last fight, and hasn't been able to really show how good he is. There is more promise here than perhaps proven ability. His team though do seem confident in their man and have already taken him on the road, for a bout last
On paper this is a huge step up for Sakae whilst Fukuhara is just going in again. Whilst that doesn't always tell the full story we suspect it will tell us a lot here with Sakae's youth and inexperience being both and advantage and a problem. We suspect that Sakae will start fast before Fukuhara comes back, with the big question being just how much of a lead Sakae builds up before the fight turns around.
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.