Over the last year or so the Minimumweight division has been almost frozen in the wake of the pandemic. The world champions have been worryingly inactive, the regional champions have sat and twiddled their thumbs and even the Japanese domestic scene has been a victim of the time, with only a single Japanese title fight at the weight in the entire of 2020. That single title fight saw Masataka Taniguchi (13-3, 8) claiming the previously vacant title in December, when he stopped Hizuki Saso. This coming Monday he'll defend that title for the first time as he defends against the once beaten Tatsuro Nakashima (11-1-1, 7) at Korakuen Hall.
When Taniguchi turned professional there was huge expectation on his shoulders inside of Japan. Him, and close friend Hiroto Kyoguchi, were expected to be the leading forces at the Watanabe Gym and were supposed to be the stars to carry the gym's legacy after Takashi Uchiyama and Kohei Kono retired. Whilst we have seen Kyoguchi scale the highest heights in the sport, Taniguchi hasn't quite managed the same, though the belief is that he still has the tools to do that.
The 27 year old champion was moved aggressive in the early part of his career, and fought in his first title fight, a Japanese title fight, just a year after his debut, losing a razor thin decision to Reiya Konishi. He would also lose a razor thin decision to Tsubasa Koura in an OPBF title fight just 7 months later. Despite those setbacks he has rebuilt well, won the WBO Asia Pacific title, challenged the then WBO champion Vic Saludar and won the Japanese title. He has notched notable wins over Joel Lino, Kai Ishizawa and Hizuki Saso. Maybe they aren't world class names, but all three are solid fighters, with Lino and Ishizawa both being very good fighters.
In the ring Taniguchi is an undeniable talent. He's a highly skilled boxer, who knows his way around the ring, has solid work rate, spiteful power, good movement and good handspeed. He's a really solid all rounder, and when his combinations flow he's a joy to watch. He's not the most physically imposing fighter, and he's more a fighter who's "very good" at everything rather than "great" in any particular area. The one area he's genuinely lacked through his career has been luck, and 2 of his losses could very easily have gone his way. In fact there's a very strong argument that both should have gone his way, and both of those losses came very early in his career. He's the sort of fighter who can compete at world level, will likely win a world title, and has a record that is thoroughly misleading.
Nakashima on the other hand is a 26 year old set to get his biggest bout to date. His biggest bout, by far. He's been a professional since 2015 and despite a slow start to his career did manage to show some real promise in 2017, only just missing out on a place in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final, with a draw against Yuga Inoue. The following year he would end up losing to the aforementioned Ishizawa, but has since bounced back with 4 straight wins including a solid one last time out against Ariston Aton. On paper his record looks solid, but in reality there is a lot of weak opposition on his record, with his most notable wins being over Mammoth Kazunori, very early in their respective career's, and Ariston Aton. Hardly the fighters to prepare you for a Japanese title fight .
Although his competition has been poor Nakashima is a solid boxer. He has light feet, moves around the ring easy, a nice jab, and good composure. He looks well schooled, but like a fighter who still has work to do. He's schooled but not polished. His jab lacks the spitefulness he really needs and as we saw against Ishizawa, he can be broken down, and he can end up fighting the wrong fight. He's not the biggest puncher out there, and whilst he is composed under pressure, his defensive flaws are clear to see when fighters put shots together, as Ishizawa did. He can also get dragged into exchanges more often than he needs to, as his lack of experience shows.
Whilst Nakashima is a good boxer, we see the issues that cost him against Ishizawa coming in to play again here. He's a good boxer, but he still makes mistakes, he holds his feet too long, and he struggles to get respect from his better opponents. Taniguchi might be asked questions, especially early on when the light feet of Nakashima will create some space, but as the fight goes on the challenger will be broken down, the body shots of Taniguchi proving to be especially potent here.
Nakashima will put up a good fight, he won't be there to make up the numbers, and he will come into the fight as a very live challenger. However the edge in class, the more rounded and polished skills, and the firepower of Taniguchi will prove to be a series difference maker here.
Prediction - TKO8 Taniguchi
On December 3rd we'll see a new Japanese Minimumweight champion being crowned as Masataka Taniguchi (12-3, 7) gets his second shot at the domestic title, and faces the unheralded Hizuki Saso (12-6-2, 4), in what will be his first title bout of any kind. Amazingly the bout comes almost 11 months to the day since Norihito Tanaka vacated the belt, ahead of his world title bout with Knockout CP Freshmart, and more than 8 months after Taniguchi was supposed to face Lito Dante for the belt, back in March.
Despite the lengthy gap between bouts for the title we can't help but be excited about this one, as it really does look set to be much, much better than the record of the two men suggest.
Of the two fighters it's fair to see Taniguchi will be the clear favourite, and with good reason. The Watanabe gym fighter is a former amateur standout who seemed destined for success when he turned professional in 2016. In his early professional bouts he looked fantastic, with speed, power, skills and a good ring IQ, and in 2017 he got his first title bout, losing a razor thin majority decision to Reiya Konishi for the Japanese Minimumweight title. Due to how close that loss was, in Konishi backyard as well, Taniguchi's career didn't really suffer and just 7 months later he got his second title bout, facing Tsuabasa Koura for the OPBF Minimumweight title. Once against Taniguchi came up narrowly close, losing a majority decision to Koura.
Thankfully for Taniguchi things did fall in place for him in 2018 when he claimed the WBO Asia Pacific Miunimumweight title, with a unanimous decision win over Filipino Joel Lino in Thailand. That win was followed by some wrangling over Japanese rules before Taniguchi fought Vic Saludar for the WBO world title, losing a clear decision to the big punching Filipino. Since that loss we've only seen Taniguchi fighting once, though that was a notable win in a Japanese title eliminator against the big punching Kai Ishizawa, in what was a legitimate barn burner.
In the ring the 26 year old Tanigcuhi is a fantastic fighter. He's skilled, he knows how to keep things long, has solid power, he's tough and he has the amateur background to fall back on. Two of his 3 losses could easily have gone his way, and against Vic Saludar he found out he wasn't ready for world level, just yet. Sadly though he his record paints the picture of a limited fighter, with losses in 20% of his career bouts, not a number that's actually reflective of his talent and he's much better than his record suggests. He's probably the best 12-3 fighter in the sport, and could just as easily be 14-1 at this point. Despite being talented he's not someone who has responded well to power, and at times he seemed intimidated by Saludar, who's stiff shots made Taniguchi think twice, and he was dropped by Ishizawa in their amazing 2019 clash.
When it comes to Hizuki Saso it's fair to say a lot less is known about the 25 year old, despite the fact his professional career dates back to 2015 and he has more professional bouts than Taniguchi. The youngster from Kanagawa has been a professional since 2013 and suffered his first loss in 2014. Notably his second loss came in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final to Tsubasa Koura and that started a bad run for Saso who quickly fell from 6-1 to 6-4-1, going win-less for more than 2 years.
The bad run for Saso saw him struggle to find his place in the sport and dip his toes at Light Flyweight whilst rebuilding his career, winning 6 of his following 8 bouts to rebuild to 12-4-1, and open up the opportunity for a title fight.
In the ring Saso is a tidy little boxer with a speedy and sharp jab, nice light movement and good body shots. Sadly though he lacks power, his work rate leaves something to be desired. From a physical stand point he doesn't seem the strongest or the most powerful, and he seems like the type of guy that could be bullied around rather easily by a decent, strong fighter, like Taniguchi. He also has questionable defense and in his last bout, against Yuni Takada, took a lot of clean shots, often when bending at the waist. In fact if we're being honest Saso was incredibly lucky to take home the win in that bout. He has nice skills, but they seem very unpolished, and like they need a lot of work for him to be ready for a title bout.
From what we've seen of both men it's hard to see a route to victory for Saso. He lacks the power needed to get Taniguchi's respect, like Ishizawa and Saludar, he lacks the work rate to out work him, and he lacks the physicality to try and bull him. As for Taniguchi this really is his fight to lose. He has the skills to outbox Saso, he has the power to hurt him, and he has the physicality to boss him around.
What we're expecting to see is Saso to show a lot of respect to Taniguchi early on. By round 3 or 4 however Taniguchi will have gotten the motor going and will be lining Saso up regularly with powerful straight left hands. When that happens it'll become less a competitive contest and more a test of how tough Saso is, and how brave his corner is. Sooner or later however Saso will be stopped.
Prediction - Taniguchi TKO6
The 2020 Champion Carnival is slowly starting to come together and at the end of August we saw the Japanese title challenger decision bouts being announced. Before that announcement there was several already on the docket, including a Minimumweight eliminator between former world title challenger Masataka Taniguchi (11-3, 7) and hard hitting youngster Kai Ishizawa (6-0, 6), with the winner to get a shot in early 2020.
Of the two fighters Taniguchi is the much more proven and established. He's a former Japanese, OPBF and world title challenger and a former WBO Asia Pacific champion and has mixed with the likes of Reiya Konishi, Vic Saludar, Tsubasa Koura and Joel Lino. Before turning professional he was a solid amateur and was tipped for major success, but that success hasn't yet come. Notably he is still only 25, and despite the set backs through his career he still has time on his side, if he's still hungry enough to make the most of his talent. That hunger is however a big question and there is a chance that his losses have killed some of that desire to be a champion.
In terms of skill and style Taniguchi is an highly skilled boxer-puncher. Fighting out of southpaw stance Taniguchi is an aggressive fighter who judges distance well, fights behind a sharp jab and has under-rated speed and movement. His work rate isn't the highest and he's not a KO puncher but he is a solid puncher with a decent work rate. In fact when we think about Taniguchi, he's solid in every area, without being excellent in any, which is what was shown when he faced off with Saludar earlier this year. He's never going to be one of the truly top fighters in the division, but will remain a constant threat in and around the regional title scene.
Ishizawa is a 22 year old who turned professional in 2017 without too much fan fare, following a rather uninspired 28-14 amateur record. Since turning professional however he has impressed, thanks to his heavy hands, aggressive styles and pressure fighting mentality. Early in his career there was questions about how he'd look when he stepped up, but he answered those questions with stoppage wins over Tatsuro Nakashima and Yuga Inoue in 2018. Those bouts both saw Ishizawa needing to answer questions about what happens when a fighter can take his power, and the Inoue bout in particular was a huge test against a stylistic nightmare, that he eventually broke down.
Despite impressive performances against the likes of Nakashima and Inoue this is still a massive step up for Ishizawa. He's a hard puncher with an exciting pressure style, but he's up against someone who is more experienced, has more to his game, hits hard himself and moves well. The key for Ishizawa is to get close and work inside, but against someone who controls distance like Taniguchi that is much easier said than done and he will have to take punishment to get inside.
We'd love to see Ishizawa win, due to loving his style and youth, but in reality we feel this bout may be coming a touch too early for him and his inexperience will be exposed. Taniguchi may have come up short in his biggest bouts but he is talented, and even in defeat he has shown a real gritty toughness and determination. We suspect that grit will see him through some tough moments against Ishizawa, before taking a clear win, possibly even a late stoppage.
Prediction - TKO8 Taniguchi
After a really hectic and busy May, with big fights on a consistent basis, notable action drops off massively in June with the first Japanese title fight taking place on June 13th. That bout sees Japanese Minimumweight champion Norihito Tanaka (18-7, 10) make his first, following his title win in January, as he takes on Naoya Haruguchi (15-10, 6). On paper this isn't a hugely interesting fight, but does have history behind it, as we'll explain in a moment.
The 34 year old Tanaka is a true veteran of the Japanese ring. He debuted in 2005 and won his first 9 fights before suffering 3 defeats in 4 bouts. Whilst that sounds bout it is worth noting that those losses included a decision to Kenichi Horikawa, in 2007, and a DQ loss to Ryoichi Taguchi, two losses that on reflection are certainly aren't bad. He would bounce back with 3 wins before getting his first title fight, battling Akira Yaegashi for the Japanese Minimumweight title, and losing a wide decision. After that Tanaka fought twice, going 1-1, before taking a break of over 5 years. He resurfaced in 2017 and has since gone 4-2 (3) with notable wins against Takumi Sakai and Shin Ono in his last 2 bouts.
In the ring Tanaka had proven to be a smart, crafty, tough fighter with under-rated skills, a good boxing brain and respectable power. Tanaka isn't quick, by any stretch, but he has excellent time, lures opponents in and counters really well. Tanaka's smart boxing, accurate punching and experience makes him a very tricky fighter to look good against and beat. He's certainly not unbeatable, but is significantly better than his record suggests, and even in his 30's going to be hard to dethrone.
As mentioned Tanaka is 4-2 since his return in 2017. One of those losses was in an OPBF title fight to Tsubasa Koura in 2018, the other was in 2017 when he lost a majority decision to Naoya Hariguchi, the man he'll defend his title against. That loss came in the second bout of Tanaka's return and saw Tanaka losing a very close decision in Haruguchi's home city of Kagoshima City, this time the bout is Tanaka's home of Tokyo which could be a major factor.
Haruguchi is the younger man, at 29, but actually has just as many fights as Tanaka, with both having 25 contests to their name. His career began in 2012 and has been a rocky road. He lost on his debut, to Takumi Sakae, was 1--2 after 3 bouts and 3-4 after 7 contests. The inconsistent form of Haruguchi did look bad but it is worth noting that 2 of those losses came to Sakae, who would win the 2013 Rookie of the Year, and one was to Keisuke Nakayama, who later held the OPBF Flyweight title. As his career went on he would become a very clear "win some lose some" fighter, wiith his best run being a 6 fight winning streaking between 2016 and 2017. That winning run saw Haruguchi not only avenge one of his losses, to Jun Takigawa, but also score his win over Tanaka. Sadly however that run ended he has gone 1-3, with losses to Riku Kano, Tatsuya Fukuhara and Lito Dante, strange form for a man about to challenge for the Japanese title.
When it comes to watching Haruguchi footage is limited, partly due to him fighting mostly outside of the main Japanese boxing markets. What little footage is available of Haruguchi is several years old and comes from his 2015 loss to Reiya Konishi, where he was out worked by the then unbeaten Konishi. The take away from that footage is that Haruguchi was a crude fighter, who was easy to force back, defensively open and lacked any sort of sharpness in his punches.
Whilst Haruguchi beat Tanaka when they fought a couple of years ago we really don't see him being competitive here this time around. It certainly feels like he got the benefit of the doubt in their first bout, especially given he was dropped twice and still got the win, and won't be getting that in Tokyo. His form, with 3 losses in his last 4, also don't bode well coming into this bout.
We're expecting to see Tanaka finish off what he started, and this time we're expecting him to finish off Haruguchi, and retain his title in style.
Prediction - Tanaka TKO9
The Minimumweight division in Japan is really interesting right now, with great fighters across every level, from domestic Youth right up to world level. At the moment the domestic champion is Shin Ono (23-9-3, 6) and on January 12th he'll make a mandatory title defense, as he takes on veteran Norihito Tanaka (17-7, 9) in a very good match up that could well launch the winner into a world title fight later in the year.
Aged 36 Ono doesn't have long left in his career, in fact the Southpaw from the Watanabe gym has already had a career that is almost 18 years long. During his career he has faced a who's who including Xiong Zhao Zhong, Tatsuya Fukuhara, Masayuki Kuroda, Yu Kimura, Katsunari Takuyama, Knockout CP Freshmart, Reiya Konishi and Riku Kano, with wins against a number of those men. Through his career he has proven to be a gutsy fighter, with a good work rate, a real hunger and, even in his mid 30's, he's pulling out good results.
This is set to be Ono's second defense of the title, following his title win last year against Ryoki Hirai and his maiden defense against Riku Kano. Whilst he has proven to be a fantastic servant to Japanese boxing he has had a very hard career, his lack of power has made things even tougher and he has already had over 221 rounds of professional boxing. Those rounds have often been tough, with Ono getting embroiled in battles of attrition, rather than battles of skill, and that's despite being a pretty skilled fighter.
Tanaka is the slightly younger man at 33, though he turned 34 in February, but has also had a long career that began in 2005. Notable though Tanaka's career hasn't been as active as that of Ono, in fact Tanaka took a break of more than 5 years, between 2011 and 2017, and that gave his body time to rest. Since beginning his comeback he has gone 3-2 (2) and earned this shot on merit with an upset win over Takumi Sakae in late 2018, earning a mandatory title shot. Whiilst that's his biggest win of the comeback he did manage to give the touted Tsubasa Koura real problems in an OPBF title fight, before being stopped.
Through his career Tanaka has proven to be tough, smart and tricky. He has given problems to the likes of Koura, Takashi Kunishige and managed to go 10 rounds with Akira Yaegashi in a Japanese title fight, way back in 2011. Tanaka has under-rated power, a veteran's patience and a good ring IQ. Sadly he's not the quickest, his work rate isn't amazing and despite being skilled there are holes in his work that a quicker fighter can take advantage of.
We expect to see Ono being the one who comes forward, bringing the pressure and forcing Tanaka to respond. Strangely that'll actually be something that works in favour of Tanaka, who will be hoping to be able to counter Ono, bring his under-rated straight right hand into play. Despite Tanaka having the edge in power we suspect that Ono's work rate and toughness will see him over the line, albeit narrowly, in a very competitive contest. We do see Ono being rocked, at least once, but gutting it out for the win.
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.