Having spent the last 2 weeks in none stop talks with a CBC representative to get a legal feed to the WBO Flyweight title bout between Sho Kimura and Kosei Tanaka we went into Monday with real fear. What if the bout we had done so much to hype failed to deliver, what if the stream failed, what if it ended inside a round or two, or ended because of a technical decision.
Thankfully our fears were averted and instead we got a genuine contender for fight of the year, and a fight that reminds us how special all-Japanese world title fights are. In fact it reminds us that sometimes the bouts we are most looking forward to really can deliver and that fighters don't always “just want to win”, sometimes they want to win in a fashion that lasts long in the memory.
Coming in to the bout we had Sho Kimura (17-2-2, 10) [木村翔] as the defending WBO Flyweight champion faced off with mandatory challenger Kosei Tanaka (12-0, 7) [田中恒成]. The champion was seeking his third defense, following a title win last year against Zou Shiming and succesful defenses against Toshiyuki Igarashi and Zou Shiming. Tanaka on the other hand was looking for his place in history, as only the second man to claim world titles in 3 weight classes in just 12 fights, following Vasyl Lomachenko.
As we've become accustomed to with Japanese fights there was no feeling out round. There was no gradual build up to a crescendo. Instead the two men started fast, with the opening round playing out as the first of 12 action packed rounds of brutality. The naturally stronger Kimura applied the pressure straight away and forced Tanaka to box and move, through Tanaka regularly stood his ground anded traded blows, relying on his speed and reactions to out land Kimura. The champion was hurt in round 2 from a huge counter left hook from Tanaka, which lead to Tanaka going for the finish, though Kimura was no where hurt enough and he began to fire back as Tanaka realised it was too soon. Kimura was hurt again in round 3 from a right hand, but held his own for much of the round.
Kimura began to build some momentum of his own in round 4 and in round 5 he began to grind down Tanaka, who was taking a lot of hard shots, despite having moments of his own. Kimura, who is typically a fighter who gets stronger the longer bouts go, seemed to be dragging Tanaka into his fight with body shots and his pressure taking a toll.
That sustained success from Kimura didn't last too long with Tanaka turning it back on it round 6, as he began to try and turn the fight back in his direction. That was partly because Tanaka changed his game plan and started to use more movement. Whilst Kimura was strong and aggressive he was being made to chase shadows at times and at one point Tanaka looked Lomachenko-esque switching from side to side on Kimura who was unable to respond.
Kimura's pressure began to amp up again in round 8, especially late in the round as he tried to put the pain on Tanaka, but again Tanaka's movement saved him from too much harm, despite a real desire being shown from the champion. In round 9 it seemed Tanaka again took control as he began walking down Kimura, a tactic that was unexpected but seemed to work as Kimura's right eye began to close rapidly. The champion was soon fighting one eyes, and on the back foot. Despite being defensively tight Kimura was eating shots on a regular basis with Tanaka pushing him backwards.
Tanaka looked like he was in the lead, but was wanting to leave an impression in the final rounds as he hunted a stoppage. It wasn't a smart move and instead it left the door open to Kimura who gritted his teeth and had real success late on, leaving Tanaka's face swollen and bruised. The tactics of Tanaka late were impressive, backing up Kimura, but were unnecessary and Tanaka kept getting caught by the heavier shots of Kimura.
At the end the bout seemed to be very competitive at times, with both men having a few clear rounds. Both men had been to hell and back, both were swollen messes, both had taken serious punishment. To us it seemed like Tanaka had won a clear, but competitive fight, but the judges seemed to have it very close with scores of 114-114, 115-113 and 116-112, giving Tanaka the majority decision.
With the win Tanaka joins the growing list of Japanese 3 weight champions, having achieved that feat quicker than any other Japanese fighter in history. Also we believe he's become the youngest 2 weight champion in history. For Kimura the loss ends his Cinderella man run of results, though given this performance and his growing popularity in China and Japan we suspect we'll see him return to title level in the not so distant future.
We'd like to send a massive thank you to the people at CBC for helping us get an official feed and thanks to the two men in the ring for a FOTY contender. It's just a shame it wasn't shown live across Japan, and won't be aired in much of Japan until the middle of the week.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Earlier this month fight fans in Japan got a minor upset, with Filipino Vic Saludar defeating Ryuya Yamanaka for the WBO Minimumweight title. Today Vic's brother Froilan Saludar (28-3-1, 19) attempted to double the family's haul of world titles as he travelled to China and faced off with WBO Flyweight champion Sho Kimura (17-1-2, 10) [木村翔], who was looking to secure his second defense of the belt.
The fight started excellently for Saludar as he boxed off the back foot, neutralising the pressure of Kimura and landing the cleaner, better and more accurate shots. To his credit Kimura took the shots well but it was clearly a round for the challenger. Saludar also seemed to shine in round 2 as he picked off Kimura's pressure, countered excellently and showed off the boxing skills that had seen earn so much hype early in his career.
The fight began to turn in round 3 when Kimura upped the pressure, moving through the gears and and trapping Saludar on the ropes, where he went to work big time. The Filipino had no answer with Kimura showing he had the ability to cut the ring off as and when he wished.
Saludar tried to return the favour in round 4, when he trapped Kimura, but was unable to get the champion's respect and the round finished with Kimura back on top. The pressure of Kimura was beginning to be cranked up and he was forcing Saludar to move move more, use his legs more and wear himself out. That was compounded by the clean body shots that Kimura was landing, with those shots taking the legs from the challenger in round 5. Without his movement Saludar was a sitting duck and was dropped with a shot to the mid-section in round 5 as he began to wear down under the now relentless pressure of Kimura.
The champion seemed confident that Saludar hadn't recovered as we began round 5 and he jumped on the challenger, unloading shots from the off. Saludar began to fight fire with fire and traded blows in what was a wild fire fight, but unfortunately for Saludar he was now running on fumes and a second knock down saw Saludar take the 10 count.
With two defenses now under his belt Kimura is now set to return to make a mandatory title defense against former WBO Minimumweight and Light Flyweight champion Kosei Tanaka, in what is expected to be a thrilling all Japanese world title fight as we head towards the end of 2018.
Earlier this year Japan's Sho Kimura (16-1-2, 9) [木村翔] scored one of the upsets of the year, as he stopped Zou Shiming in China to claim the the WBO Flyweight title. It put Kimura on the boxing map, in China at least, but left him as a relative unknown champion in his own homeland. Today he had a chance to make a name for for himself as he took on countryman Toshiyuki Igarashi (23-4-3 12) [五十嵐 俊幸] live on TBS as part of the huge Kyokugen show.
Sadly for Kimura the first round wasn't a hugely kind one for him, as he was made to look wild, open and reckless. Igarashi on the other hand looked fleet footed, accurate and smart, jabbing the fact of Kimura and landing the occasional southpaw left. The second round was slightly better for Kimura, as his pressure started to have some moments, for the most part it was Igarashi's skills that seemed more telling. The one highlight for Kimura in round two came at the end as he landed a very eye catching 2 punch combination.
From round 3 Kimura's pressure become more and more effective, taking more and more of a toll on Igarashi who seemed to begin falling apart in round 3 as the body shots from Kimura began to slowly take his legs away and the headshots started to land more regularly. The pressure continued to build in round 4 as Igarashi;s eyes began to show real signs of battle and both were looking swollen.
Amazingly Igarashi had one of his best rounds in round 5, as he moved well and made Kimura look wild. It was however just a brief respite for the challenger who wads dragged into a toe-to-toe war in round 6. The battle saw Kimura landing a much higher volume, whilst Igarashi looked to land single big shots. The two clashed heads towards the end of the round, with Igarashi suffering a cut over his right eye, as his face began to really fall apart. The following round things went from bad to worse for Igarashi who who took real damage through the round, despite being able to cut the champion with a punch near the right eye.
Kimura's pressure finally rocked Igarashi in round 8, with a right hand landing flush on the challengers' jaw. It seemed to really impact him and Kimura looked to secure the finish there and then as Igarashi went into survival mode. Amazingly the challenger saw out the round, and came out storming for round 9, but it was one final throw of the dice before his energy reserves ran out and Kimura forced him into the corner where he unloaded, eventually forcing the referee to jump in and stop the action.
The stoppage loss for Igarashi is the first time he has been stopped, and likely marks the end of his career as a world class fighter. As for Kimura this is a second huge win for him this year and his wish of becoming better known at home and getting a bigger place to live seems to be a genuine reality now in what is one of the feel good boxing stories of 2017.
Upsets regularly happen in this sport, but rarely do they shake a full continent. That however happened today when the WBO Flyweight world title was ripped from the hands of Chinese star Zou Shiming (9-2, 2) [邹市明] by little known Japanese fighter Sho Kimura (15-1-2, 8) [木村翔], who refused to read the script and upset a man priced as a 1/40 favourite!
Kimura rarely looked like a man taking a leap up in class as he pressured Shiming from the opening round, forcing the Chinese fighter to fight at a pace he never seemed comfortable with. That was despite Shiming using his boxing skills well, and avoiding a lot of the heavy leather Kimura threw his way.
As the bout progressed Kimura began to have growing success, landing notably to the body, and despite taking some solid counters he never seemed to be discouraged by what Shiming threw his way, including some really eye catching shots. Instead it seemed as if the Chinese fighter was beginning to question himself, moving more than fighting and needing to do so whilst Kimura continued to press.
That pressure came at a cost to Kimura, who was cut over the right eye from a head clash, but the blood seemed to drive the challenger on, further leaving Shiming in trouble.
Shiming's footwork began to falter in the later rounds, twice slipping in his own corner, and it seemed clear he was tiring from the incessant and often wasteful movement. As a result Kimura was getting more and more chances and he made the most of them in round 11 letting his hands go on a tiring Shiming who fell to the canvas as Kimura unloaded. The Chinese fighter, showing clear signs of exhaustion, got back to his feet but the referee knew he was unfit to continue waving off the bout and saving the Chinese hero from extra punishment.
With the loss Shiming likely looks at retirement, and will be kicking himself for having this fight after an overly long training camp that likely left him less than 100%. At 36 he's old, very old for a Flyweight, and it's hard to see him mounting any sort of a comeback. For Kimura however it's a career defining win, and one that will live on long with the Japanese fans, who will perhaps see this as a huge win over a major geopolitical rival.
Amazingly with the win Kimura becomes only the 9th Japanese fighter* to win a world title title outside of Japan, the first since Tomoki Kameda back in 2013, the first to do so on Chinese soil and helps secure Japan's graps on the Flyweight division, becoming their third reigning champion at the weight alongside WBA champion Kazuto Ioka and WBC kingpin Daigo Higa. Also, impressively, Japan now has 12 Japanese born world champions, and 13 world champions if we include Teiken promoted Jorge Linares, showing just how much of a high Japanese boxing is on right now!
*Koki Eto's WBA "interim" Flyweight title isn't included in this stat
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.