The next youngster hoping to graduate from “young prospect” to “world champion” is 19 year old Kosei Tanaka (4-0, 2), who will be hoping to claim the WBO Minimumweight title on May 30th when he takes on Mexican foe Julian Yedras (24-1, 13). Tanaka is hoping to claim a title just a few days before his 20th birthday but those who have seen the youngster all agree that he's a fighter well beyond his years and with natural ability that many other fighters could only dream of having.
For those who haven't seen Tanaka in action you've been missing out so far, though thankfully there is still time to catch up on the youngster before his bout with Yedras, which is a little more than a fortnight away.
On November 10th 2013 we saw the beginning of Tanaka's professional journey as he took on Indonesian visitor Oscar Raknafa. Coming in to the bout Raknafa was ranked #6 by the WBO at Minimumweight and although he was limited he didn't travel to lose. In fact he made it very clear that he had traveled to Nagoya to win. Just over a minute in to the fight however Rakanafa was on his backside due to the skill, power and speed of Tanaka who let loose with a sensational combination.
In fairness Raknafa wasn't particularly hurt, despite being dropped, but it was the perfect start for the Japanese youngster who settled quickly and went on to show case his ability by boxing, fighting and brawling. It wasn't punch perfect by any means but it was a perfect introduction to professional boxing for the touted youngster who didn't want a gimme to begin his career.
Unlike many fights Tanaka wanted to be tested when he began his career and wanted to know if he was as good as he, and his team, thought he was. There was little point in facing someone who try to win. As a result Tanaka proved he could cope under pressure and proved that he wasn't afraid of getting hit if necessary. It as almost a perfect debut.
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The Second Step
It took 4 months until we saw Tanaka return to the ring on March 16th 2014 as he battled Filipino foe Ronelle Ferreras in an 8 round contest. Coming in to the bout Ferreras was ranked in the top by the WBA and, like Raknafa, came to win. Ferreras was risking his world ranking and was hoping to take the scalp of a very highly touted Japanese youngster.
Instead of Ferreras making life difficult Tanaka seemed to take control early with his movement, sharp punching, and brilliant timing. Ferreras's pressure was neutralised and the Filipino was often made to pay for coming forward. When Tanaka needed to defend himself he did so though it often seemed that his ring generalship was too good for Ferreras to ever really trap him.
At times Tanaka seemed to switch off the offense a bit too quickly and allow Ferreras to recover though it often seemed like Tanaka was happy using the bout to learn things. Notably he learned he could do 8 rounds at a solid, though not spectacular, tempo and have a lot left in the tank. He also seemed to know that he could make the fans out out of his hands when he upped the tempo and more importantly he got in rounds against a southpaw, very early in his career.
The Show of Power
Having gone the distance in his first couple of bouts there were questions as to whether or not Tanaka had the power he'd need to reach the top. We saw those questions being answered on July 20th 2014 when he took on Filipino foe Crison Omayao and blitzed the poor visitor inside 2 minutes.
Again we saw Tanaka up against an opponent who was stepping in to the ring with the intention of scoring a win. Unfortunately for Omayao his defenses let him down early on and Tanaka seized the opportunity to land a rocket right hand that dropped Omayao flat on to his back. From then on Tanaka was smelling blood and on moments later Omayaoa was down again.
The young Japanese fighter had set out to make a statement and did so whilst proving he could hit, and hit hard. He also took his opportunity after the fight to set out his next target, announcing that he wanted to fight for the OPBF Minimumweight title in his 4th professional bout. No Japanese fighter had ever won the Oriental title so quickly but it wasn't to stop Tanaka from wanting to go for it. What made the announcement even more notable was that he essentially called out the then world ranked Ryuji Hara, who was ranked by all 4 major organisations.
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The Showdown with Hara
Having called for a fight with Ryuji Hara following the win over Omayao, Tanaka got his wish and got a fight with Hara on October 30th 2014. Hara entered the bout very highly ranked by all 4 world title bodies, he too was unbeaten and appeared to have an incredibly bright future ahead him.
The bout was spectacular and again saw a fighter facing Tanaka with the intention of beating him. For the first time however Tanaka was up against someone who not only believed he could win but also had world class ability, and was just as quick as Tanaka. It was also Tanaka's first 12 round bout and he had never previously gone more than 8 rounds.
For 7 rounds this was an incredibly high skilled back-and-forth battle between two truly exceptional young fighters. At times it looked like Hara's experience was going to be too much. In the end however Tanaka found a new gear and let loose eventually stopping a tiring looking Hara in the later stages of the bout.
As with the previous bouts this one saw us learning something new about Tanaka. Notably he kept his power and speed late in the the bout and could comfortably do 10 rounds at a hot pace. He could almost certainly have done 12 if needed. He also proved that he could take a really solid shot.
The next step for Tanaka is, as we know, his bout with Yedras on May 30th. On paper it's a step up from the Hara bout and is a "World" title bout though in reality it looks to be a bout on the same level as the win over Hara, if not a slight step backwards.
If, as we suspect, Tanaka defeats Yedras then the next step is the interesting one. Does he sit on his title and trying to develop with the belt around his waist, like we see many quick risers do in the west or does he instead try to prove he is something special and go after things like unification bouts and fellow top fighters. We know there is talk of a unification bout with IBF champion Katsunari Takayama later in the year and a possible showdown with Hekkie Budler may be on the cards if Tanaka does indeed face, and beat Takayama.