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
Although widely over-looked in the West the Minimumweight division is one of the more interesting right now, with a lot of good looking match ups that could be made, and could be made very easily given the promotional situation of many of the divisions top fighters. It's funny that the division has been so over-looked despite 3 unbeaten world champions, including the 48-0 Wanheng Menayothin. Not does it have unbeaten champions but also a number of unbeaten contenders, including OPBF champion Tsubasa Koura (11-0, 8), who looks to make his first defense of the title this coming Saturday. In the opposite corner to the unbeaten champion will be once beaten challenger Masataka Taniguchi (8-1, 6), with both men looking to secure a world title in 2018.
Of the two men it's been Koura who has been the most impressive. He turned professional in 2014, as a 19 year old, following a 29 fight amateur career that saw him going 19-10 (6). Given his lack of amateur success Koura turned professional with a C class licence and entered the 2015 Rookie of the Year, which he would win with a decision victory over Ryusei Kitamura in the final.
Since winning the Rookie of the Year we've seen Koura go 5-0 (5) with wins over the likes of former world title challenger Jeffrey Galero and the upset minded Jaysever Abcede. He has shown raw power, good boxing and an aggressive mentality that makes for fan friendly bouts. There are flaws with Koura, who can be reckless and open at times, but he has that type of power which is rarely seen at 105lbs. That power of Koura's has caused one or two problems, and although an OPBF champion, and Rookie of the Year winner, he has only had 35 combined career rounds and has never been beyond round 5. That may well be hiding issues with stamina or pacing, though at the moment it's not yet been a problem.
The challenger turned professional in early 2016, passing his B grade test on the same day as current IBF world champion and fellow Watanabe gym fighter Hiroto Kyoguchi. He took that exam following a notable amateur career in which he went 55-19 (16) and had captained his University team whilst fighting at a consistently high level. In the professional ranks he took 4 quick blow out victories before battling hard to over-come the talented Dexter Alimento with a split decision. In 2017 we've seen him come up just short against Reiya Konishi, in a bout for the Japanese title, and follow that loss up with two blow out wins.
In the ring Taniguchi is a technical but aggressive fighter. His power is probably not as good as his record suggests, but is still very good, with issues regarding potential stamina problems also possible. Taniguchi has done 10 rounds once, in his loss and perhaps needs a little bit more seasoning before a potential world title fight, if he over-comes Koura. The problem with the youngster is that too many of his bouts have come against hapless foes's and he already has 4 opening round stoppages, and has scored no wins over fellow Japanese fighters. That's not to say he can't, but he really should have faced some domestic opponents rather than so many limited Thai's and Filipino's.
Although both men are aggressive, heavy handed, flawed and both are 23, there is a lot of differences. Taniguchi is the more well schooled from an amateur perspective and is a southpaw, whilst Koura is arguably the more impressive with his wins over Galero and Abcede over shadowing Taniguchi's wins, and Koura is also the man with the confidence of being a champion.
It's a 50-50 type of fight, and at the time of writing that is a view shared by a members poll on boxmob who have Taniguchi narrowly ahead 51-49. We do favour Koura, but it's likely to be either a very close decision, or a bout decided on a single moment of genius. We feel that Koura's power makes him the more likely to do something magical, but really there is very little to split the guys here.
The Minimumweight division has been one of the most interesting in Japan in recent times. It has not only seen the country develop world champions, like Katsunari Takayama and Tatsuya Fukuhara, but also top contenders like Riku Kano and Go Odaira. At the moment the country also boasts a huge number of prospects in the division, such as OPBF champion Hiroto Kyoguchi and Tsubasa Koura.
This coming Sunday we see a new fighter being crowned as the national champion, as unbeaten youngsters collide for a title previously held by Fukuhara. In one corner will be Masataka Taniguchi (6-0, 4) whilst in the other will be Reiya Konishi (12-0, 5). Both men are 23 years old, unbeaten fighters and fighters who are not only fighting for the Japanese title, but also looking to take a huge step towards a world title fight.
Having been a professional for just over a year Taniguchi has been a fast riser. He was touted as a top prospect when he turned professional and raced away to a 4-0 (4) record between April and June last year. His KO run came to an end in October when he scored a statement making win over Dexter Alimento, taking a razor thin 8 round split decision over the then 11-0 Filipino prospect. In his most recent bout Taniguchi defeated Vincent Bautista, claiming a 6 round decision.
At the start of his career Taniguchi looked like a wrecking ball, much like stable mate Kyoguchi. He showed free flowing combinations and an aggressive in ring style. In more recent bouts however his power hasn't carried up, and instead he has been relying more on his boxing ability. That's not to say he doesn't have solid power, as he showed when he dropped Alimento, just not the vicious power that Kyoguchi seems to have.
Taniguchi may only have 22 rounds to his name as a professional but he has had top sparring at the Watanabe gym, which has been fire this year, and was a former amateur stand out running up a 55-19 (16) record in the unpaid ranks. He is more experienced than his record suggests and as a southpaw he is also naturally a tricky proposition than an orthodox fight. The one flaw her perhaps has is that he's never been beyond 8 rounds, and this is likely to be his second toughest bout to date.
Hailing from the Shinsei gym Konishi is the far more experienced fighter as a professional. He debuted back in mid 2013 but really came to the attention of fans in 2014, when he claimed the All Japan Rookie of the Year crown. That marked Konishi was one to watch going forward, but sadly his career has since been a bit of a slow burner. He picked up 3 wins in 2015 against domestic foes, and two more wins last year against limited opposition. Although many of his opponents have been limited, with his 2011 win over Jun Takigawa being arguably his best, he has been racking up ring time with 55 professional rounds under his belt, and 4 complete 8 rounders.
Unlike Taniguchi there isn't much information available on Konishi's amateur credentials, but given he competed in the Rookie of the Year it's safe to say he didn't have much of an amateur pedigree. Despite that he looks to have learned his trade on the job and does look like a solid fighter who uses a lot of upper body movement and physical strength. He might not be a big puncher but he is a strong fighter who uses a lot of pressure. Sadly whilst he is strong he is flawed, his defense is lacking and he's not particularly quick compared to other fighters in the division.
Coming in to this bout there are a lot of questions to be asked about both men. Can they both go12 rounds? What happens when Taniguchi is under pressure? Can Konishi take the combinations of Taniguchi?
Sadly for Konishi we think that he'll come up short here. He'll certainly have moments, and will likely be the naturally stronger fighter, but in the end the more complete skills, power and speed of Taniguchi will be the difference with the Watanabe man taking a clear, yet competitive, decision 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.