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
On February 28th we'll see a new unified regional Super Flyweight champion as the unbeaten Masayoshi Hashizume (18-0-2, 11) takes on Akio Furutani (9-4, 3) in a bout for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title and the vacant OPBF title. The match up might not look the most interesting on paper, but it promises to be a lot more interesting than it looks, and shouldn't be the mismatch the records suggest. In fact the records are hilariously misleading here.
Of the two men Hashizume will, obviously, be the favourite. The unbeaten 28 year old is a talented and smooth looking southpaw, who debuted in 2013 and quickly made a name for himself, winning the All Japan Rookie and taking the unbeaten records of Ryusuke Tanaka, Dynamic Kenji, Takeshi Kajikawa and Eita Sakurai along the way. Aged 21 at the time he seemed destined for big things under the guidance of Kazunori Ioka. Sadly however the years that followed his Rookie of the Year triumph saw him facing over-matched opponents from Thailand, rather than developing his skills and experience. It wasn't until late 2017 that he would face another domestic opponent, and then he was surprisingly held to a draw by Kato Fujimoto. Despite that setback he would have some testing bouts in 2018 before facing the then Japanese champion Takayuki Okumoto and earning an unfortunate draw with Okumoto. That result showed he belonged at title level, but he had wasted a lot of time and sadly his career would again see him "waste" time as he only fought once in 2019 and has only fought once since the start of the pandemic.
Hashizume is a wonderful talent. He has sharp punching, lovely combinations, good movement and eye catching speed. He's also technically well polished. Sadly however he has wasted years of his development, he might have 20 bouts to his name, but only about half of them were legitimately meaningful, and his development wasn't really what it should have been under Ioka. He's now fighting out of the Kadoebi Boxing Gym, and did look really good last time out against Yoshiki Minato, but we do wonder if he's a case of "what could have been?" As for his actual talent, he's wonderfully gifted, but does lack genuine power, and his 55% KO ratio is very misleading. A total of 6 stoppages, from his 11, have come against horribly over-matched Thai's, and he only has one stoppage in his last 7 bouts, which is a worry at the level he's now fighting at.
On paper Furutani shouldn't be considered a real challenger at regional level. He's lost 4 of his first 13 bouts and that record can make it seem like he's simply not very good. Aged 24 however Furutani has had to develop the hard way, and learn from his losses. In fact he would lose 3 of his first 6 bouts, including one to recent Hashizume foe Yoshiki Minato. Since then however he had gone 6-1, with his sole loss during that run coming in a very hard fought and competitive rematch with Minato, and has recent scored back to back wins over Keisuke Nakayama and Takayuki Okumoto, both of whom have won titles. In fact that's the same Okumoto who has held Hashizume to a draw, and the same Keisuke Nakayama who held the OPBF Flyweight title. Those two wins are better than any wins Hashizume has, and going 5 fights unbeaten, dating back to December 2018, is a great sign of just how misleading his record is and the sort of form he is now is.
In the ring Furutani is a patient fighter, who looks create space, fight behind a slippery and accurate jab, and neutralise opponents with his good timing, accurate punches and frustrating counter style. He's not the most fun to watch or the biggest puncher, but he finds gaps, lands clean shots and doesn't take too much himself, making him something of a nightmare for fighters who let him dictate the pace. He won't take risks, he rarely needs to, but he will rely on basic boxing skills to have success. When things get messy he can hold his own, and he's not against spoiling up close when he needs to and holding when he has to. He's very much the type of boxer who wants to dictate the tempo, via any means necessary, making him a very hard opponent to beat. Despite his record suggesting he's not a puncher, he hits cleanly enough to get opponents respect and that is something that he'll need to do here.
Coming in to this fight it's hard to look at the record and not feel Hashizume will win. In fact we feel Hashizume will take home the victory, however we expect this to be a very, very, very tough bout for him. Hashizume will look to set a higher tempo than Furutani wants, he will use his crisp, clean punches to get in and out and although Furutani will land plenty of shots of his own, we suspect Hashizume will out work him, especially in the later rounds.
Expect this to be ugly at times, and not one to remember, but it will be compelling, with Hashizume doing enough to take home a close and hotly contest decision.
Prediction - UD12 Hashizume
Earlier this year we saw Takayuki Okumoto (21-8-3, 10) claim the Japanese Super Flyweight title, ending a short reign of Hiroyuki Kudaka. This coming Sunday he will make his first defense of the title, facing off with the unbeaten Masayoshi Hashizume (16-0-1, 10) in a bout between two Osaka based fighters each looking to end the year as a national champion and begin 2019 looking forward to a mandatory defense at the Champion Carnival.
The 26 year old champion won the title in his second shot at the belt, having come up short in his Japanese title challenge against Ryuichi Funai, via a 7th round technical decision. Despite losing to Funai he had been competitive and was certainly not embarrassing himself. In fact in many ways Okumoto's career is built up with solid efforts and peculiar match ups. They include taking on former world champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin as a 15 year old in Thailand, something that just seems crazy now, and then returning to Thailand 6 years later and losing to Rusalee Samor. In recent years Okumoto has proven to be a very capable having scored wins over the likes of Yuta Saito, Sonin Nihei and the aforementioned Kudaka. In fact since losing to Samor in October 2013 Okumoto has gone 11-2-1 with the loses coming to Funai and Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking.
Okumoto is a southpaw fighter who brings the pressure straight away. He's relatively quick on his feet, and although he doesn't set a mega work rate he does seem to look for a higher tempo than perhaps would like. He has under-rated footwork, and can regularly be seen turning on his opponents, in a similar but much less effective way to Vasyl Lomachenko. Watching him you can see he's a student of the sport and does know how to do things. Sadly why he shows touches of brilliance he is still a very flawed fighter who lacks real power, doesn't have real crispness to his work and can get involved in messy bouts far too easily, something that happened against Kudaka with the two men falling in on each other regularly.
Hashizume is getting his first title shot at the age of 24 though the Ioka gym fighter has long been tipped for success, with fans and fighter himself likely frustrated at the progress of his career. He turned professional in 2013 and went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014. It was then assumed he would be moved aggressively towards a title fight, and build on his 7-0 record with solid competition. Sadly however Hashizume's rise through the ranks stalled massively as he faced off with 7 inept Thai imports who were all stopped in a combined 21 rounds He had gone from a hot property to someone who was frustrating fans. Fans were further frustrated late last year when he did step up and could only just manage a draw with Kota Fujimoto. Thankfully since that draw the youngster has scored two decent wins over Takahiro Murai and Marjun Pantilgan.
We've been impressed by Hashizume on the most part. He looks the part, he's sharp, crisp, aggressive and looks like the short of fighter who is doing things instinctively. His southpaw jab is a huge weapon, his straight left hand is excellent and his movement is very confident. Sadly though he does look like a fighter who is very used to having things his own way and has all sorts of poor habits which have been allowed to build from his low level of competition. If he shows those flaws here, he could come up short against a less gifted but more skilled champion.
We think Hashizume is the more natural talent, but sometimes natural ability isn't the key and instead the will to win is. We suspect that that will be the case here, with Okumoto grinding out a messy decision win, likely having been behind in the early part of the fight.
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.