On June 29th we'll see WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight champion Masayoshi Hashizume (19-0-2, 11) look to make his first defense, though unlike many champions he's not cherry picked and easy opponent. Instead the unbeaten Hashizume will be taking on former 3-weight world champion Kosei Tanaka (16-1, 9) in a brilliant bout to headline an Ohashi promoted card at Korakuen Hall. For Hashizume the bout marks his first major step up in class, and lets him take a huge stride towards a world title fight, if he can win here, whilst Tanaka will be looking to establish himself as a top contender in the talent heavy Super Flyweight division, and move towards a second world title fight at the weight.
Unlike most bouts the challenger is the more well and the betting favourite here. The once beaten Tanaka, 27, has long been one of the faces of Japanese boxing and someone widely regarded as a truly special fighter. The Hatanaka promoted fighter was destined for success the moment he turned professional and within a year of his debut he had claimed the OPBF Minimumweight title, doing so on an Ohashi promoted card at Korakuen Hall when he stopped the then unbeaten Ryuji Hara. Just a fight later, in just his 5th professional bout, Tanaka claimed his first world title, the WBO Minimumweight belt, just 19 months later he added the WBO Light Flyweight title and in 2018 added the WBO Flyweight title to his collection, needing just 12 fights to become a 3-weight champion. Sadly however his winning run came to an end in late 2020, when he was stopped in 8 rounds by WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka. In just 17 fights Tanaka has a genuine legacy for taking on top fighters, taking on challenges, and for have a resume many fighters will never be able to match. In just 17 bouts he has beaten the aforementioned Hara along with Yulian Yedras, Vic Saludar, Moises Fuentes, Angel Acosta, Sho Kimura, Ryoichi Taguchi, Jonathan Gonzalez and Sho Ishida.
Whilst Tanaka has been matched insanely hard he has had the talent to back up that ambition. He is lightning quick, with both his hands and his feet, he has some of the best combinations in the sport, great body shots, an amazing will to win, and an ability to fight through genuine adversity. As he's gotten older, and bigger, he has had tougher and tougher nights and it does feel like Super Flyweight is the highest he will have success at, but with his skills, his heart and his speed there is no reason he can't reach the top in the division in the coming years. Even in a division as tough and as stacked as the current Super Flyweight.
Whilst Tanaka is known, in has had fights shown globally including his 2018 Fight of the Year contender Vs Sho Kimura, the same can't be said of Hashizume. In fact Hashizume is something of a forgotten fighter even in his Japanese homeland. He turned professional in 2013, debuting 2 months before Tanaka, and he would win the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014. That should have set him up for big things, but sadly he spent the following few years being matched incredibly softly against very poor Thai imports. Those low level Thai bouts did little for his development and in 2017, when he finally faced a domestic opponent again, he was lucky to escape with a draw against the out of form Kota Fujimoto. Thankfully that draw seemed to make Hashizume and his team sit up and get serious, and he would step up the following year, beating Takahiro Murai and Marjun Pantilgan before getting a shot at Japanese Super Flyweight champion in December 2018. Sadly for Hashizume he would be denied by Okumoto, with that bout ending a draw that seemed harsh on Hashizume. Since then he has scored 3 wins, with his latest coming this past February when he beat Akio Furutani for the WBO Asia Pacific and OPBF titles.
In the ring Hashizume is a big, strong looking Super Flyweight. He's also a smooth boxer, with nice speed, good combinations, a nice jab and impressive composure. Sadly he does a bit passive at times, and whilst he is solid all round, there is nothing that stands out as being sensational about him. He stalks, he comes forward and he looks to get to opponents, using a mix of boxing skills, pressure and physicality. There's a lot to like about him, including his willingness to march forward, and his commitment to his right hand. Sadly though he is defensively pretty basic, with a high guard that drops as bouts go on, and leave him easy to tag up top. He also gets sloppy in the later stages of bouts, especially if he's chasing things.
Hashizume has the physical traits to make life hard for Tanaka. He has the size, the strength and the power to ask questions of Tanaka up close. Sadly however for Hashizume that's really all he does have going for him. Technically Tanaka is better, the huge difference in speeds favours Tanaka, as does the level he's been fighting and the proven ability to find ways to win. We suspect that Hashizume will have moments, especially early on as he comes in behind a high guard and looks to force Tanaka where he wants. As the bout goes on however the speed difference, and the ability of Tanaka's to mix things up, draw mistakes and punish them, will show through and we suspect by the mid point Hashizume's face will be swelling up, before Tanaka begins to go to the body, where he will take out Hashizume with a body shot, or a series of them.
Prediction - TKO9 Tanaka
Kosei Tanaka challenges for first title as he battles Ryuji Hara in major coming of age bout!
Domestic fights can sometimes mean more than some world title fights. British fans for example recently saw Billy Joe Saunders agree to fight Chris Eubank Jr rather than take a shot at the WBO Middleweight title. There is just something special sometimes when domestic fighters collide. For Japanese fans, and of course fans of Japanese boxing, we see one such fight at the end of this month and in fact this is being fought between two world ranked fighter both of whom could have taken easier fighters had it not been for fact they want to challenge themselves and they want to make a statement to their fans at home.
In one corner you have the OPBF Minimumweight champion Ryuji Hara (18-0, 10), a man who really is on the verge of a world title fight. Hara is ranked in the top 5 by all 4 world title bodies and could easily have got a shot with any of the champions had he been willing to just wait for his opportunity. Instead of doing that he has chosen to defend his OPBF title against the fastest rising young fighter in the division, if not in the whole of boxing, Kosei Tanaka (3-0, 1).
We'll get on to Tanaka in a few moments, and we have a lot to say about him, but for now Hara.
Hara has been a professional since 2010 and since then he has gone through the the ranks the "traditional way". Firstly he won the Rookie of the Year, in 2010, in 2012 he went on to claim the Japanese title before winning the OPBF title earlier this year. As well as the climbing up the ranks he has also scored a number of notable wins including perennial national title challenger Kenichi Horikawa, former world title challenger Takashi Kunishige, and the tough and testing Donny Mabao. It was the win over Mabao that won Hara the OPBF title and although he was pushed hard it does need to be noted that Mabao was essentially a Flyweight.
As a boxer Hara is a technically solid fighter with respectable power and nice speed. He has a nice variety of shots though does have real weaknesses in defense, which is often open, his movement is very bouncey at times and energy consuming, and most worryingly he's been down numerous times in his career leading some to question his durability, especially considering he has yet to fight an actual puncher.
At 24 years old Hara should be a physically mature fighter, especially for someone in the lower weights, however stood at just 5'1" he's small, even for a Minimumweight and doesn't appear to be a strong looking fighter like some other smaller fighters in the division. He looks weak in some ways and even with his skills it's hard to see him surviving an onslaught of someone like Francisco Rodriguez Jr or Oswaldo Novoa. He's good with out a doubt, but should be matched with similar fighters if he hopes to become a champion and right now the only similar champion is Hekkie Budler, another skilled but small and light hitting guy in the division.
Another notable thing to consider with Hara is his stoppage rate. On paper he scores a KO every other fight. In reality however he's gone the distance in his last 6 bouts and is without a stoppage in over 2 years. That has seen him go from 12-0 (10) to 18-0 (10) and we suspect it will drop lower over the coming years as more fighters fall to topple over at his power and he needs to revert to winning bouts with his boxing skills as opposed to his power. Those skills are good, but he has to use them if he's ever going to fulfill his early potential.
So now Tanaka, a man who looks like a novice on paper but in reality is more talented them other fighters with a lot more experience. In fact in many ways Tanaka looks as close to the real deal as anyone at 105lbs, and we include Francisco Rodriguez Jr in that assessment. Blessed with lightning speed, an innate sense of timing, freakish maturity for a teenager, very light and educated movement and the confidence to go in against anyone. As well all those gifts you see when he steps in the ring he also has under-rated power and his 1 stoppage from 3 bouts really doesn't tell you the whole story about how hard Tanaka hits. The proof of that is the way he dismantled Crison Omayao in his most recent bout needing less than a round to see off the Filipino.
A former amateur standout the Japanese domestic circuit there is little doubt that, with fair judging, Tanaka could have been an Olympic hopeful for either 2016 in Rio or 2020 in Tokyo. Instead however he turned professional in his teens under the guidance of former WBA Flyweight champion Susumu Hanagata. If you think we've been complimentary about Tanaka then Hanagata has been flattering his young charge and seemed to indicate that Tanaka had the ability to match the achievement of Saensak Muangsurin in winning a world title in just his 3rd bout. The last time we heard something like that about a Japanese youngster it was Hideyuki Ohashi talking about Naoya Inoue, who set a Japanese record by winning a world title in fight #6. Inoue's record may well be under some serious threat if Tanaka can show off his ability here against Hara.
The big question about Tanaka going into this bout, and the one he will need to answer, is how does he cope with a 12 round fight. He managed to do 8 rounds easily against Ronelle Ferreras, even spending the final round blowing off energy and fighting toe-to-toe out of choice to try and excite the fans rather than stop Ferreras, who hadn't been stopped in over 5 years. If Tanaka decides to box for 12 rounds, which we suspect he can, and takes a decision it will be impressive and proof that he is ready for a world title fight. If instead he tries to make a statement and stop Hara we think fans will be even more excited and the youngster may well find himself with fans getting behind him in a big way, in fact a stoppage win could see even western fans sit up and take note.
At just 19 years old and stood at 5'4" Tanaka has the young to develop and the size to go up the weights. We don't think he has any issues at 105lbs for now but we'd be shocked if he didn't make a mark at 108lbs, 112lbs and even 115lbs at some point when he matures. He may not be Naoya Inoue, but to us Kosei Tanaka is just as good as Inoue.
We can't say that this is a forgone conclusion. Hara is the more proven fighter, he has shown his skills and toughness and managed to 12 rounds but he is, in our eyes, a very big under-dog against a man set to be one of the stars of the boxing world over the next decade.
(Image courtesy of Kadoebi.com)
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.