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.
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