Sometimes we need to rely on others due to a lack of TV footage and today was one of those days as we had to rely on some of our Japanese friends who were lucky enough to be in the Korakuen Hall to watch a fight that really should have been shown live.
That fight was an OPBF Minimumweight title bout between the unbeaten pairing of Ryuji Hara, the incumbent champion, and Kosei Tanaka, a man that we thought was the best prospect in world boxing, bar none.
It was a huge step up for Tanaka who had fought 2 previous ranked opponents but nobody on the level of Hara who was world ranked by all 4 world title bodies and viewed as a potential world champion himself. For Hara it was a very risky first defense of the OPBF title but one that he seemed to feel he had to make.
The opening round went the way of the defending champion who appeared to settle into his stride quickly whilst Tanaka took a few moments to find his rhythm. Once Tanaka managed to settle he began to find his counters which were landing through rounds 2 and 3 with plenty of sting on them as Hara found himself being put on the back foot and need to reassess his game plan which he did in round 4 to take the round and even off the scoring at 38-38, which was a score shared by those in the Korakuen Hall and all 3 judges on the open scoring system.
Through the middle of the bout the two men continued to trade rounds with Tanaka winning round 5 and Hara taking the sixth. It was as competitive as you could get even if the rounds were fairly easy to score overall, in fact the most competitive parts of the rounds were the final moments as both put their foot on the gas to the bell trying to steal the round from under the nose of their opponent.
By the end of round 7 it seemed like Hara was finally beginning to take over and it was thought that if the fight went long Hara would have the experience over the distance to take home the win however Tanaka would take round 8 to continue the see-saw action of the fight which had left the fight 77-76, 76-76 and 76-76 after 8 rounds. It really was all play for in the championship stages of the bout, stages that Tanaka had been before.
Despite going beyond 8 for the first time Tanaka didn't seem worried at all and we had a sensational 9th round that the young challenger took as he proved he had a lot left in the tank instantly answering questions about his stamina. Just a round later he answered every other question he could possibly have been asked as he upped the pace, and forced the referee to stop Hara in the 10th round to claim the OPBF Minimumweight title in just his 4th professional contest.
The win for Tanaka sets a new Japanese record, he becomes the quickest fighter from Japan to claim an OPBF title, breaking the previous record of 5 fights which was jointly held by 3 men, including Hara's stable mates Naoya Inoue and Akira Yaegashi. It also opens up the very real possibility that Tanaka will attempt to become a world champion in just his 5th professional contest, another would be Japanese record breaking the 6 fight record of Naoya Inoue.
For Hara it's not back to the drawing board in the slightest. It's a loss and a major setback but it's come to such an exceptionally talented fighter that Hara can't lose heart.
Tanaka, now 4-0 (2), may well be even better than we thought. We suspect that if this bout went long he could struggling with pacing and stamina, instead we saw that he was comfortable getting rounds, trying new things and knew how to close the show when he needed to. There is little doubt that he's as good, if not better, than Inoue. For Hara, who falls to 18-1 (10), we wouldn't be surprised to see him regain the OPBF strap when Tanaka vacates it and build back towards a world title fight.
For those wanting to watch the fight we are really hoping footage pops up in the next 24 hours. It will be worth the wait!
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