When Kosei Tanaka (4-0, 2) turned professional his team seemed to suggest he was something special. They seemed to feel their man was almost ready from the off to win a world title. They weren't just talking the talk however and instead they set off on an aggressive career progression for their teenager wunderkind. Their aim wasn't to just hype Tanaka but to make a statement of intent. Essentially what they had done was put the alert out there, “Our kid is special, and we'll show you why”.
On his debut he toyed with a then world ranked foe over 6 rounds before beating another over 8. Two fights in it was clear that Tanaka was a sensational talent, though he still had things to prove before being moved to world title fights. The first thing he had to prove was his power, which he proved by blowing away Crison Omayao inside a round. Then he had to prove he could beat a genuinely world class fighter and score a “graduation” type win by claiming a continental or national title before fighting for a world title, a rule brought in for Japanese fight by the JBC. Tanaka did that in his 4th bout by stopping the excellent Ryuji Hara in 10 rounds to claim the OPBF title, and set a Japanese national record for the fewest fights to win the OPBF title.
In May Tanaka looks to set another Japanese record, the record his team talked about when he debuted. The Japanese record for fewest fights to a world title. That fight comes on May 30th when he takes on Mexico's Julian Yedras (24-1, 13) for the vacant WBO Minimumweight title. The bout will be the first world title contest for either man though it features two men who have shown plenty of promise and are both looking to score a win that will make them a world champion.
Aged 26 Yedras is a Mexican fighter who, at one point, was viewed as a very promising prospect himself. He had won his first 21 fights, claimed the WBC youth Silver Minimumweight title and had shown plenty of exciting qualities, including some vicious body shots, sharp movement and heavy looking jab. Despite the good start to his career he was written off by many following his first defeat, a clear decision loss to the highly talented Carlos Buitrago.
Since losing to Buitrago, in a WBO Minimumweight world title eliminator, we've seen Yedras score a trio of low level decision wins as he's regained some career momentum. The wins certainly high quality wins, or the sort of thing that deserve a #1 WBO world ranking, but they were wins that allowed Yedras to rebuild his confidence ahead of a big bout.
Watching footage of Yedras is interesting. He seems like a very strong kid who likes to come forward behind his and get on the inside where his body shots are used to take the wind out of his opponents. It's those body shots which are the key to offensive work and are the most eye catching of his offensive weapons. It's clear from watching him that he likes working on the inside and applying copious amounts of pressure to try and break his opponents down. Typically it's worked, at least against low level competition.
At just 19 years old Tanaka is a “boxing baby” but what a prodigious young fighter he is. As an amateur he was exceptional on the Japanese domestic scene and was unlucky in several international tournaments. As a professional he has proven to be every bit as good as his team said he was. And he's getting better. On his debut he looked fast and talented in his most recent bout however he looked like he could do it all and kept up with the pace of the more experienced, and lightning quick, Ryuji Hara.
What we've yet to see from Tanaka is how he deals with real adversity. Whilst he was, at times, behind against Hara he was never in any real trouble and, at worst, he was only ever 2 rounds behind whilst boxing well within himself. The problem is that it's going to take a very, very special fighter to make Tanaka deal with real problems and most fighters simply don't have the ability to make us question Tanaka. In fact at the moment there is maybe 4 fighters in the division who could pose him questions, and 3 of them are world champions.
Stylistically the question isn't “what does Tanaka do well?” but more “what can't he do?” We've seen him box, we've seen him brawl and we've seen him in seek and destroy mode. There is very little that we've not seen him do so far, and more impressively he seems to do everything incredibly well. At his best however he looks to be a boxer-puncher with near perfect timing, mind blowing punch selection and scary accuracy. Perhaps the one flaw is the questionable power but even that appears to be more solid than his record indicates, maybe not as terrifying as Naoya Inoue's but certainly very solid.
Our first assumption about this fight is that Tanaka will fight as the counter puncher, fighting on the move, hammering his laser-like right in to the face of Yedras, whilst the Mexican comes forward applying his pressure. We suspect if that happens Yedras will come up short in a bout that Tanaka makes look easy. On the other hand however Tanaka has shown a willingness to hold his feet and trade, if he does that here he could well end up seeing off Yedras who leaves a lot of gaps in his defense and is very predictable with his body shots. In fact it could well be a body shot counter that ends the Mexican's hopes.
The one question that hovers over this bout is whether Tanaka can take Yedras's body shots. We know the Mexican has stopped numerous foes with shots to the midsection. We suspect however that Tanaka will take them without too many problems and when he does we're not sure Yedras will have any other weapons with which to even test Tanaka.
If, as we suspect, Tanaka wins there is talk that he will face IBF champion Katsunari Takayama in the summer with the winner likely to get a shot at Hekkie Budler in November. If both of those bouts come off and Tanaka wins both it'll be fair to say he'll be a top contender for the 2015 Fighter of the Year and the clear #1 in the division. Of course this boxing and the best laid plans of promoters and fighters don't always go to as hoped.
(Image courtesy of Kosei Tanaka's blog)