It's taken less than 3 weeks for boxing to throw us the first curve ball of the year, with the announcement of an IBF Super Bantamweight title bout pitting unbeaten champion TJ Doheny (20-0, 14) against little known Japanese challenger Ryohei Takahashi (15-3-1, 6) [高橋竜平] on January 18th. The bout was put together on short notice, with Takahashi's team struggling to get him a visa on short notice for a bout he simply couldn't turn down. As we write this, it's still unclear if a visa has been granted, things are being cut that fine!
So, let's just accept a visa has been given and that the bout is on, lets now look into the bout, and what we're going to be seeing for Doheny's DAZN debut, and his first bout under Eddie Hearn.
The unbeaten 32 year old champion won the title last year, travelling to Tokyo and dethroning Ryosuke Iwasa. That bout, shown in Japan and the US, was supposed to set the winner up for a bout with the then WBO champion Isaac Dogboe. Instead of facing Dogboe in a unification bout the Australian based Irish man saw had to recover from serious facial injuries and in December Dogboe was himself dethroned. That seemed to leave Doheny with plenty of options on the table, including potential Japanese returns for some of their big names like Shingo Wake. Instead, however, he signed with Eddie Hearn, and that deal was announced on January 8th with his first bout under Hearn announced for just 10 days later.
Dubbed "The Power" Doheny is actually not an out and out puncher. He can bang, and he certainly does have power, but as he showed against Iwasa he's a talented mover, a sharp puncher, an intelligent fighter and not someone who look to just bang with a banger. He made Iwasa look slow and clumsy by stopping "Eagle Eye" from setting his feet, and for the most part out worked and out manoeuvered the Japanese fighter. Other than the win over Iwasa Doheny's record is a bit thin, with his best wins coming against the likes of Mike Oliver, Denkaosan Kaovichit, Marco Demecillo and Mike Tawatchai. That however isn't a sign that he's a bad fighter, just one who hasn't been able to really prove what he can do, often enough.
As mentioned Takahashi is a little known fighter, and if you don't follow the Asian or Oceanic scene you almost certainly won't have seen him at all. Almost all of his bouts have been in his native Japan, and most haven't been televised. His early career wasn't great, losing his debut in 96 seconds to Shogo Sumitomo in December 2012, before fighting to a draw with Matcha Nakagawa in his second bout. It wasn't until January 2014 that he scored his first win, but he really came of age during that year and went on to win the All Japan Bantamweight Rookie of the Year whilst advancing his record to 5-1-1. In 2015 he notched 3 more wins before leaving Japan for the first time and losing a wide decision to a then 5-0 Andrew Moloney, then a prospect but now a leading Super Flyweight contender. Since that loss Takahashi has gone 8-1 with notable domestic wins over Matcha Nakagawa, Kazuki Tanaka and Shingo Kusano as well as a big win over Thailand's Mike Tawatchai in Thailand.
Takahashi is an aggressive fighter, he looks to set a high work rate and fights like someone who is confident in himself. That confidence has grown in the last few years, really booming since he stopped the then touted Kazuki Tanaka back in May 2017, with what was sheer determination and pressure. That was a tactic he used well against Mike Tawatchai as well, to take a clear decision in Thailand. Sadly however Takahashi is defensively open, and in his bout against Shingo Kusano he was being caught bu southpaw left hands time and time again, looking like he really wasn't sure how to fight a southpaw, though had the energy and desire to take the narrow decision. That is the bout that should worry those picking the upset. Even against orthodox fighter Takahashi's defense doesn't look the best, but against southpaws he really is open.
Although we would suggest Doheny would win anyway Takahashi also to issues with his visa, the late notice and the time zone change. Any one of those issues would be a problem, but all 2 really do show the card is stacked against him, we don't blame Doheny for that but do wonder if Eddie Hearn has had problems putting together an attractive card due to over stretching his resources and time. He's got a lot on his plate right now and giving fighters like Takahashi the opportunity of a life time on short notice might work, but it's a reputation he won't want to build.
As a prediction we suspect Doheny's speed, power and southpaw stance will pick apart a game challenger and Takahashi, whilst brave, will be stopped in the middle rounds by the champion, who is looking to unify with WBA champion Daniel Roman later in the year.
(Image courtesy of Yokohama Hikari)
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