By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On September 24, one of the best pure Japanese world title fights takes place as Sho Kimura goes one on one with 2 division champion Kosei Tanaka for the WBO Flyweight World Championship.
Sho Kimura (17-1 / 10 KOs) made his pro debut at 25, later than most fighters do, especially considering that he didn’t have an extensive (or much successful) amateur career. Despite suffering a KO loss in his first fight, he quickly bounced back, earning 11 wins and 2 draws within 3 years. In 2016 he faced undefeated Masahiro Sakamoto (8-0*) for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title. After 12 rounds of back and forth action, Kimura got the majority decision and the gold.
However, his real test came in last year’s July, when he challenged Shiming Zou for the WBO World Flyweight championship. Zou, with a record of 9-1 at the time, was a 3-time World Amateur champion and a 2 time Olympic champion, with victories over the likes of future WBC Silver Bantamweight title holder Nordine Oubaali and WBO Intercontinental & European flyweight champion Paddy Barnes. Kimura was coming in as the underdog and was even fighting the champion in his own country. On paper, Zou was going to walk through the Japanese contender, as he had already bested much more experienced fighters as a pro, like Luis de la Rosa (23-3*), Prasitsak Phaprom (28-0*) and Prasitsak Phaprom (40-1*). In a shocking turn of events, Kimura dominated the match in every single round while going for the kill in the 11th, as he blasted Zou with a plethora of body shots and when the Chinese was at his weakest, he nailed him in the head 20 consecutive times to get the TKO win and to finally become the World champion.
Kimura made his triumphant return to Japan, on December of 2017, defending against the former WBC, The Ring and Lineal Flyweight World champion Toshiyuki Igarashi (23-2*) at Ota-City General Gymnasium. Once again, he was facing a great amateur boxer (77-18) and just like Zou, a well-versed rival, who already owned wins over strong boxers like Wilbert Uicab (33-5*), former World champion Sonny Boy Jaro (34-10*) and Nestor Daniel Narvaes (19-0*). Kimura, much like his previous bout, surprised the crowd with his physical prowess and technique, outclassing Igarashi. The fight picked up in the 8th round where both men were swinging for the fences, bringing the fans on their feet. Kimura delivered a vicious combination during the 9th that stunned Igarashi and rendered him unable to respond, leaving no option for the referee but to stop the match.
His second and latest title match was in China against Filipino prospect Froilan Saludar (28-2*) this past July, which basically was a tune up for the upcoming clash with Tanaka.
Kosei Tanaka (11-0 / 7 KOs) is considered by many to be one of the top Japanese boxers today, along with Naoya Inoue and Kazuto Ioka. Unlike Kimura, Tanaka had quite a successful career as an amateur. Trained under Hideyasu Ishihara (former OPBF champion & world title contender) he won numerous high school/inter-high school titles, the All Japan championship as well as the National Sports Festival, which is considered to be Japan’s premier sports event. He even reached the quarter-finals of the 2012 AIBA Youth World Championships.
Tanaka turned pro on November 10 of 2013, the same day he turned 18. After winning his first 3 bouts, he challenged world ranked Japanese fighter Ryuji Hara (18-0*) for the OPBF Minimumweight title. Hara was undefeated at that point, with 18 victories under his belt, and was also ranked #2 by the WBO. It was an exciting affair that saw both men fight at a good pace. Tanaka fired up during the 5th round and was completely dominating the veteran champion. Hara retaliated in the 6th and it was then that the match became a huge brawl that lasted 5 more rounds, much to the joy of the fans at Korakuen Hall. Finally, in the 10th round, Tanaka delivered a brutal non-stop beating on Hara that forced the stoppage thus gaining him the OPBF crown.
On May of 2015, Tanaka became the Minimumweight World Champion, after he fought and beat Julian Yedras (24-1*) for the vacant WBO title. His first and only defense was against the WBO Asia Pacific champion Vic Saludar (11-1*) in December. Tanaka’s wild style almost proved to be his downfall as he was repeatedly getting caught by the Filipino challenger, losing the fight on the scorecards and even got dropped, before knocking Saludar out to retain his belt. (Saludar eventually won the WBO world title, on July of 2018)
After that fight, Tanaka moved up to light flyweight and soon won this division’s world title as well, when he TKOed former world champion Moises Fuentes (24-2*) on December of 2016. He successfully defended the WBO championship twice against future world title holder Angel Acosta (16-0*) and WBA Asia champion Rangsan Chayanram (14-1*). It’s worth mentioning that Acosta’s all 16 wins have come via KO. Also, much like the Saluda fight, Tanaka’s fighting style got him in trouble once more, during his encounter with Rangsan. In what was supposed to be an easy fight before challenging Ryoichi Taguchi (WBA Light Flyweight World Champion) in a unification bout, it turned out to be one of his toughest matches yet. Not only the Thai fighter knocked him down in the opening round but even when Tanaka won, he sustained serious injuries which led him pulling out from the double world title bout.
When Tanaka returned to action in 2018, his next goal was to become a 3 division world champion. As a flyweight, he defeated the interim WBO Oriental champion and unbeaten fighter, Ronnie Baldonado (10-0*), this past March, via KO. Now he is set to take on Sho Kimura at the Takeda Teva Ocean Arena, for the gold.
Even though many believe that Tanaka is guaranteed to win the belt in Nagoya, this fight can very well be his biggest test today. It’s obvious that Tanaka is the more accomplished amateur boxer of the two, plus he is already a 2 division world champion, while only at 23 years of age. However, that won’t be Kimura’s first time facing an over-achieved opponent. As aforementioned, Shiming Zou (Olympic winner) and Toshiyuki Igarashi (2 time All Japan champion) were much better boxers, both in amateur and in pro competition, yet still both equally fell to him. At the same time, Tanaka’s brawling style has almost cost him 2 world title fights (Saludar and Chayanram) and was only saved by his incredible knockout power and hand speed.
So the question is: will Tanaka’s wild fighting bring him the title one more time or will the “Upset King” Kimura put an end to his undefeated streak ?
*Fighter’s record prior to the fight mentioned.
Whilst boxing tends to be associated with weekends in Japan no day is off limits and this coming Wednesday proves that with a mouth watering double header in Osaka. One of those bouts will see WBO Light Flyweight champion Kosei Tanaka (9-0, 5) [田中恒成] defending his title against once beaten Thai challenger Palangpol CP Freshmart (14-1, 8) [คู่เอก พลังพล ซีพีเฟรชมาร์ท] in what looks like a solid bout on paper.
The champion won the title last year, when he closed out the year with a destructive and one-sided beat down of Moises Fuentes, stopping the Mexican in the 5th round of a bout that really looked like a show case. In his first defense of the belt Tanaka defeated hard hitting Puerto Rican Angel Acosta, taking a comfortably decision despite having some early issues with the visitor.
Prior to becoming the Light Flyweight champion Tanaka had had a short reign as the OPBF, and WBO Minmumweight champion and had racked up impressive wins against the likes of Ryuji Hara, Julian Yedras and Vic Saludar, showing he could box, brawl, fight and grit it out in those bouts. Since moving up however he's looked more relaxed and has rounded off some of his defense flaws, whilst keeping his insane speed.
In the ring Tanaka is still a diamond in the rough, despite being a 2-weight champion, but has the natural speed, and explosiveness to make up for the rough edges. Against a really intelligent fighter his flaws come be exposed more, but the truth is that that only Vic Saludar and Ryuji Hara have really had success against him, and he's looked a much stronger fighter since moving up to Light Flyweight. He's looking to prove that later this year, with a lot of talking of a bout against WBA champion Ryoichi Taguchi, but will obviously need to be successful later this coming week to get that long awaited unification bout.
Whilst Tanaka is well known, and is 4-0 (2) in world title bouts, the same cannot be said of Palangpol who is really only known in Thailand, despite having made his boxing debut in Japan and impressing, despite coming up short. Although he's a bit of a boxing novice he is a former standout Muay Thai fighter, and was a genuine star in "the art of eight limbs". It was that experience that helped him to claim some small regional titles and take on the likes of Koji Itagaki, Heri Amol and Donny Mabao very early in his career.
In the ring Palangpol is a patient fighter, he looks for his openings with aggressive footwork and although he still has the hall marks of a Muay Thai fighter who has turned to boxing he boasts very heavy hands and good timing on his counter straight right. Given his Muay Thai background it's little wonder that he looks relaxed in the ring, though sometimes that relaxed nature shows in his shots and although naturally heavy handed he has been seen to push shots. This will give opponents counter opportunities, an against a quick and smart fighter like Tanaka this could prove to be a really big problem.
The Thai won't have travelled to lie down, and is certainly a very good fighter, but it does seem like his Muay Thai flaws will be picked apart by Tanaka. As a Muay Thai fighter Palangpol is great but as a boxer his fluidity and stance aren't quite right and although he has serious power, especially in his body shots, it's hard to imagine him landing much clean on Tanaka. Instead we suspect the Japanese fighter will use his incredible speed and movement to tag the Thai until Palangpol is eventually stopped, somewhere in the middle rounds.
At the end of 2016 Japanese youngster Kosei Tanaka (8-0, 5) became a 2-weight world champion, claiming the WBO Light Flyweight title in just his 8th bout, at the age of 21. The youngster returns to the ring this coming Saturday as he takes on monstrously hard hitting mandatory challenger Angel Acosta (16-0, 16), from Puerto Rico. A win for Tanaka would open doors, later in the year, to all Japanese world title unification bouts and would see him further enhance his already impressive standing in the sport. On the other hand however a win for Acosta would end the current barren run for Puerto Rico, which amazingly boasts no current world champions.
The Japanese youngster turned professional back in November 2013, aged 18, and had a lot of expectations on his shoulders, with his team talking about him as someone with the ability to race through the ranks. It turned out his team weren't all talk, and in just his 4th fight he took on the then 18-0 Ryuji Hara, stopping Hara for the OPBF Minimumweight title. Just a fight later he won the WBO Minimumweight title, setting a Japanese record and after one defense he jumped up in weight. After just 37 months as a professional Tanaka won his second world title, claiming the WBO Light Flyweight title.
In the ring Tanaka is a lighting quick fighter. His feet are incredibly quick and his hands are even quicker. It's those quick hands that allow him to throw some of the sweetest looking combinations in the sport and allows him to get his shots off before opponents can react. He can control the range with either his feet or hands and when he's on song he looks like a very special fighter.
At his best Tanaka is one of the best offensive fighters in the sport. Sadly what he lacks is a consistent defense and that was notable seen against both Hara and against Vic Saludar, in Tanaka's only world title defense. He was dropped, and bullied, by Saludar in what was the worst performance of his career so far. Although Tanaka was poor against Saludar he did seem to put that, at least partly, down to making weight and the move has seen him look much, much better with some added power as well as a more durable look.
Whilst the champion will be in his 4th world title bout the challenger will be in his first, and will be looking to continue his impressive stoppage run. That run began in November 2012, when the then then 22 year old Acosta stopped Alexis Diaz in 3 rounds, and has continued through to now, with the latest stoppage being a 10th round TKO over Japhet Uutoni in a world title eliminator.
Acosta has scored wins in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and the USA. During those wins he has rarely gone more than 6 rounds and has faced mostly questionable opposition. Despite the poor competition Acosta has claimed the WBC FECARBOX and WBO Latino Light Flyweight titles. The most notable of his wins have been over Victor Ruiz, Juan Guzman, Luis Ceja and the aforementioned Uutoni.
Acosta is an out-and-out fighter with an aggressive mentality, despite that he can box on the back foot and has been seen landing some sensational counter shots, with his counter left hook looking particularly potent. He also seems to have nice speed, a wonderful variety of shots and they all seem to have nasty spite on them. It should be noted however that Acosta does look defensively open, and it looks like he makes a number of flaws, with his chin often in the air and he often leans straight backwards.
On paper this is a boxer against a puncher, but the reality is that both men are more than that. Tanaka is boxer-puncher, who can brawl when he needs to and has such incredible speed that his combinations are just a thing of beauty. Acosta is a puncher, but can also brawl, and has more than enough nous to his boxing to be able to box with good fighters. With that in mind this really is an intriguing match up, and one that could go either way. When put under pressure Tanaka looked comfortable, and Acosta will look to force himself on he Japanese fighter. Despite that we think Tanaka's speed will be the difference and he will counter, out manoeuvrer and out land Acosta, who will have real highlight moments, but not quite enough to wear down the Japanese youngster, who will do enough to take a very competitive decision.
The first of 5 world title fights on December 31st will see former WBO Minimumweight champions face off in an attempt to become the new WBO Light Flyweight champion. The fighters in question are Japanese youngster Kosei Tanaka (7-0, 4) and experienced Mexican Moises Fuentes (24-2-1, 13), who is also a former WBO “interim” Light Flyweight champion who is looking to claim this title at the third time of asking.
Of the two men the Mexican visitor is probably the more well known. He's a man who has been a professional since 2007 and has gradually moved through the ranks. He claimed his first title back in 2010, the “interim” WBC Youth Minimumweight title, before upsetting Raul Garcia in 2011 for the WBO Minimumweight crown. As the champion Fuentes defended the belt twice, beating Julio Cesar Felix and the brilliant but faded Ivan Calderon. Following those wins he moved his attention to 108lbs and began his campaign there with a draw against the then WBO champion Donnie Nietes.
Following the draw to Nietes we saw Fuentes remain in the mix and quickly claim the “interim” title before getting a rematch with Nietes in 2014, a rematch that saw Fuentes suffer a 9th round KO loss to the brilliant Filipino. Since that loss Fuentes has strung together some solid victories over he likes of Oswaldo Novoa, Francisco Rodriguez Jr and Rommel Asenjo to put himself into another shot for the Light Flyweight title.
At his best Fuentes is a big, aggressive, hard working fighter who combines a high level of aggressive output with under-rated skills. His most notable aggressive work is aimed at the body of opponents and in his first fight with Nietes it seemed that that body attack took a lot out of the Filipino, though in the rematch Nietes managed to move and counter more effectively and broke down Fuentes. Whilst Fuentes is a big, tough and aggressive fighter he is also a fighter who has had a long and hard career with 157 rounds under his belt and the 31 year old has had some very hard and damaging bouts.
Whilst less well known to wider boxing fans Tanaka is a fighter who is well known in Japanese boxing circles. He was a former amateur standout and one of the many to make his name on the High School scene as a teenager. That amateur pedigree saw his signature being one that promoters chased for when he decided to turn professional, eventually signing with former world champion Kiyoshi Hatanaka. Together they set some incredible goals and raced off to them double quickly. That saw Tanaka claiming the OPBF title in his 4th fight, stopping the then 18-0 Ryuji Hara, and the WBO Minimumweight title in Tanaka's 5th professional bout, out pointing Julian Yedras.
Despite the champion at 105lbs Tanaka was struggling to make weight and that became clear in his first defense, when he was dropped by Vic Saludar before gritting his teeth and stopping Saludar in the 6th round, whilst well behind on the score cards. It was a genuine gutcheck for Tanaka and one he passed, whilst also making it clear that he wasn't going to stick around any longer at 105lbs. Instead he moved up in weight and scored a dominant win over Rene Patilano back in May to announce himself at a higher weight.
At his best Tanaka is one of the sports most exciting youngsters. He's lightning quick with his hands and has some of the best combination punching in the sport, he's light on his feet, well schooled and has under-rated power. Sadly though he can be bullied, as seen in the Saludar fight, he can also switch off at times, as he did against Yedras, and his defense can fall apart a bit too easily. Offensively he is great but that offensive may only carry him so far before his defensive issues cost him, and that could well happen at 108lbs against a tough and aggressive fighter like Fuentes.
Coming in to this bout Tanaka is the clear betting favourite however we suspect he will be pushed all the way here in what will be a very tough and exciting bout. Fuentes' aggressiveness will be hard for Tanaka to deal with but given how Nietes beat Fuentes we suspect Tanaka will have a game plan based on countering, movement and speed. If he can counter Fuentes and force the Mexican to make mistakes he should come out on top, but will be given another serious test by a very determined visitor.
Over the past few years we have seen numerous Japanese youngsters fight on the fast track to the top. The quickest of those has been Kosei Tanaka (5-0, 2), who set a Japanese record earlier this year when he won world title in just his 5th bout. On December 31st Tanaka looks to make the first defense of his title, the WBO Minimumweight title, as he takes on former Filipino amateur standout Vic Saludar (11-1, 9), who will be fighting in his first world title bout.
Tanaka's rise through the ranks really has been meteoric. He debuted in November 2013 and beat the then world ranked Oscar Raknafa, that was followed up by another victory over a world ranked fighter, Ronelle Ferreras. Those wins helped the then teenage Tanaka climb into the world rankings though for many his first eye opening performance actually came against Crison Omayao, who was stopped in just 115 seconds.
Tanaka's rise was fast through his first 3 bouts but has since gone super sonic with the talented youngster claiming the OPBF Minimumweight title in October 2014, with an exceptional 10th round TKO win over Ryuji Hara. That win prepared Tanaka for his world title bout, which came this past May against Julian Yedras, who was clearly beaten over 12 rounds, despite a disgustingly close card from Luis Ruiz.
In the ring the 20 year old Japanese fighter is a natural. He's blessed with insane speed in both his hands and feet, clever defensive movements and some of the most amazing combinations in the sport. He does seem to lack true KO power but he's certainly still a relative baby and is likely to grow into his strength in the coming years, when that happens he'll have added power to his skills, speed and movement which are all exceptional.
Despite only have 5 fights of professional experience Tanaka has accrued 37 rounds, he has gone 12 rounds at a good pace and 10 rounds at an exceptional pace. There is some question marks on his stamina in soma quarters but others, such as ourselves, feel he has the ability to 12 fast rounds if needed and that he has slowed down at times to try things out rather than due to exhaustion.
Whilst Tanaka has been on the fast track from the get-go it's fair to say that his opponent, Saludar, has also been sped along being given this world title opportunity in just his 13th professional bout and after just 29 months as a professional fighter. He debuted back in July 2013, with a blow out win against Juanito Hondante, in a bout that lasted just 52 seconds.
Since his debut Saludar has looked like a confident fighter with very fast and heavy hands. Dubbed “Vicious” his punching power and aggressive style certainly sees him living up to his nickname. Sadly at times he has however shown a lack of control and his win over Michael Kaibigan was seemingly scored with a very cheap shot on a then downed Kaibigan, that could easily have cost him a DQ loss. Whilst he is vicious he is also wild, offensively wreckless and defensively open, meaning that a skilled fighter could well counter him and really make him pay for his free swinging offense.
One thing that also needs to be noted about Saludar is that he already has a stoppage loss on his record. That occurred in just his 3rd bout when he was forced to retire against Powell Balaba, after he fractured his hand. Prior to his retirement in that bout he had dropped Balaba and it seems likely that he would have won the contest had it not been for the injury.
Coming in tot his one we do favour Tanaka, however it's likely we will see him given a serious chin check on route to winning. The difference is the defensive ability, with Tanaka having the better all round defense, which will likely allow the champion to see out the early storm before breaking down the challenger in the later rounds.
In boxing we often hear fighters talk the talk, claim they are something or that they are trying to do something. All too often however those words are just words, they don't lead to the actions that they claim and they often get put down to hyping either themselves, a fight or an event. Whilst we can understand hyping something we also understand that when fighter backs up their words it means something else. It's not just hype but something more solid.
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)
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.