Earlier today Tanaka took the title with a dominant win over Mexican Julian Yedras (24-2, 13) in a performance that could be described as “comfortable but flawed”.
The early going was perfection from Tanaka who claimed the first couple of rounds with amazing boxing. It was the sort of boxing that every fan wishes to see. It saw Tanaka using his movement to open up opportunities for his lightening quick hands, making Yedras look incredibly slow and showing signs of not just being a special talent but a future pound-for-pound level boxer. There really was every thing you could ask for, world class foot work, frightening combinations and sharpness on every punch. It was near flawless for the first 6 minutes.
In the third round things began to change, significantly, as Yedras found a way to cut the distance with his pressure. In theory the close Yedras could get the more the bout favoured him, in reality however Tanaka showed he could more than hold his own on the inside or in a brawl. Yedras was beginning to have success but was forced to take some solid shots in return as Tanaka showed he was capable of beating Yedras up close.
The success for Tanaka appeared to go to his head slightly and it saw rounds 4, 5 and 6 become more and more tricky as Yedras seemed to build on his success round after round. Tanaka's lovely movement was becoming less visible and instead he seemed to hunt the knockout and allow himself to take some silly shots that really weren't necessary. That was particularly clear in round 6 as Tanaka seemed to take a lot of flush shots in the final minute of what was Yedras's first “clear” round, though could well have been his third on the spin if you'd felt like being generous, as one judge seemed to but more about that later.
Having clearly realised he was making this harder for himself Tanaka got back to his boxing in round 7 and seemed to thoroughly dominate the round with his speed, power, shot selection and accuracy which were all sensational. It was a round that ended in brawling though had seen Tanaka showcase everything about himself as a fighter and even seemed to show him hurt Yedras at one point. It was a round that seemed to show Tanaka had plenty in the tank but wasn't willing to show his hand all the time.
Sadly the seventh round was followed by another disappointing round from the youngster who seemed to take more than he needed. It was a close round, and could easily have gone Yedras's way, though it seemed like Tanaka was fighting in neutral as opposed to letting his hands go as he had the previous round. It was also another round that Yedras got inside and had success, particularly to the body.
Having looked slightly tired in round 8 there could have been questions about the youngster's energy reserves but then, in round 9, he came alive and had a thoroughly dominant round. We saw a return to the hurtful but lightning quick flurries, the smart movement, the breath taking accuracy and the skills that will take the young man very far. It was one of the clearest rounds of the fight and was a round that seemed to show Tanaka had a lot in reserve. The same skills were again on show in round 10 as Tanaka continued to show case the skills that had excited the hardcore Japanese fans prior to his debut.
The big question, for many, was how Tanaka would handle the championship rounds. Prior to this bout he had never been beyond 10 rounds. It then seemed very clearly he could handle the distance with ease as he toyed with Yedras in the eleventh. The Mexican looked like an amateur as he missed time and time again whilst being picked off at range and tagged up close. It was showcase stuff from the youngster who looked like an experienced, championship level fighter.
Going in to the final round it was clear that Yedras would need a knockout, even the most generous of judges had to have had him behind by a sizeable margin. Unfortunately for the Mexican he never came close to landing anything to turn the fight around. That was despite Tanaka show boating right in front of him, trying to draw a lead which was eventually punished by another amazing combination. The final round was full of magical moments from Tanaka which also included him turning the Mexican on the ropes whilst making it look effortless.
After the final bell we had it 118-110 to Tanaka, having given Yedras rounds 6 and 8. The closest we could possible see it was 116-112, having given Yedras rounds rounds 4 and 5, though that was being generous. Two of the judges had it in the middle of that window with scores of 117-111. Those cards really couldn't be argued with. The third judge however managed to score the bout a very confusing 115-113 to Tanaka, some how finding another pity round for the Mexican.
The close card, turned in by Puerto Rican Luis Ruiz, was far too close. We know he's not got much experience at this level but with a performance like that we can see why.
Despite the poor card of Mr Ruiz he couldn't take away from the performance of Tanaka which was, at times, amazing. The youngster is now likely to fight in a much bigger bout, possibly against IBF champion Katsunari Takayama who was ringside for television channel CBC, and whilst he showed some flaws here we suspect they came out of contempt as much as anything else. It was clear early on that Yedras couldn't hurt Tanaka and the Japanese fighter didn't seem to mind taking a few shots. The only major flaw was that the youngster got a bit too reckless when he thought he had Yedras hurt, but for a young man competing in just his 5th professional bout there's no real shame in being a little bit excitable.
It's clear than Tanaka doesn't have the KO power of fellow Japanese youngster Naoya Inoue, who's record Tanaka broke with this win, but he has everything else a fighter could want and at just 19 years old the world really is his proverbial oyster. Unification and multi-weight titles are certainly in his future.