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.
The Japanese eliminators for the 2019 Champion Carnival continue this coming Sunday with two more bouts to decide the mandatory challengers for the new year. One of those challenges will be in the Minimumweight division, where Takumi Sakae (19-2-1, 13) and Norihito Tanaka (16-7, 9) will battle for mandatory status. In theory they will be challenging Shin Ono, though rumours persist that Ono will vacate before the end of 2018 to fight for a world title.
Of the two men there isn't really a standout favourite. Sakae was a young prodigy who won the Rookie of the Year in 2013 as a 20 year old, but has failed to kick on since then. Tanaka on the other hand is a grizzled veteran who debuted in 2005 and has shared the ring with Kenichi Horikara, Ryoichi Taguchi, Akira Yaegashi, Takashi Kunishige and Tsubasa Koura. They are very different fighters but neither is to be strongly favoured over the other.
At 25 years old Sakae is likely edging towards his physical peak and if we're being honest he's had a genuine interesting career. As mentioned he won the Rookie of the Year back in 2013, just over 2 years after his debut, but failed to really use that as a launch pad. His 2014 was a relative waste of a year and in 2015 he claimed his first title, the IBF Youth Light Flyweight title, whilst also making his international debut. In 2016 he would lose a Japanese title fight to Tatsuya Fukuhara, before fighting to a technical draw with Lito Dante and ending the year with a loss to Ryoki Hirai in a Japanese title eliminator. In the space of just 12 months Sakae's record had gone from 13-0 (8) to 14-2-1 (9) and he had rebuilding to do.
Sadly Sakae's rebuilding has seen him stopping 4 very limited opponents and then taking a decision win, last time out, against Akihiro Toya. The only win of note is the one over Toya, which was a close decision, and strangely Toya's next fight will be a Japanese title fight in November.
In the ring Sakae is a pretty decent fighter. He's got nice speed, nice straight shots and respectable power. Sadly however he often finds himself in brawls as opposed to really using his skills. He's a pretty exciting fighter but tactically a naïve one who will always struggle against fighters who are strong enough to push him back and drag him into a war.
When we talk about an interesting career Tanaka has certainly had one of those. The 33 year olf from Tokyo debuted in 2005 and won his first 9 bouts before going 1-3 in his next 4, including a DQ loss to Ryoichi Taguchi and a decision loss to Kenichi Horikawa. A 3 fight winning run was snapped by a loss to Akira Yaegashi in a Japanese title fight in 2011 and after going 1-1 following that bout he took a 5 year break from the ring before returning last year. Since returning he has gone 2-2, suffering a stoppage loss last time out to Tsubasa Koura in an OPBF title fight.
Through his career Tanaka has proven to be tough, strong and a nightmare for fighters we would deem as being better. He was clearly beaten by Yaegashi but was actually in front against Koura prior to the stoppage, and had dropped the young Oriental champion prior to being finished himself. He's rugged, a bit clumsy but knows his way around the ring, and is very good inside the pocket. He can often find the sneaky shots up close that novices don't see coming and he counters very well, as we saw when he put Koura down. Sadly though at 33 he's very old for a Minimumweight and he has taken a fair bit of punishment through his career.
We see Sakae as the more technically solid fighter, but Tanaka is the smarter man, the man with the better ring IQ and the fighter who will be able to dictate things a touch better. We think the ring IQ of Tanaka could will see him landing solid counters when Sakae gets over excited and attacks up close. Those clever counters will be enough to hurt Sakae, but the younger man does have home advantage and that could well end up helping him on the cards. We see that home advantage as being the difference maker here, with Sakae likely to take a narrow decision win.
On April 17th fight fans at the Korakuen Hall will see OPBF Minimumweight champion Tsubasa Koura (12-0, 8) return to the ring the make the second defense of his title, as he goes up against veteran Norihito Tanaka (16-6, 9). For Koura the bout will act as his next step towards a potential world title fight, a chance to shine on the global stage, whilst Tanaka will be looking to claim his first professional title more than 13 years after his debut!
Aged 23 Koura is one of the rising stars of Japanese boxing. He made his debut in August 2014 in a low key 4 rounder but the following year he announced himself as a key prospect in Japanese boxing by being crowned the Minimumweight Rookie of the Year. That Rookie of the year win, which saw him defeat Ryusei Kitamura in the final, saw Koura catch the attention of a number of fans going into 2016.
In 2016 we saw the youngster go from strength to strength, adding 3 more wins to his record including an excellent 2nd round TKO win over former world title challenger Jeffrey Galero, who had gone the championship distance with Wanheng Menayothin. In 2017 he further enhanced his reputation by stopping Jaysever Abcede in 4 rounds for the OPBF title, which he defended with a razor thin win against the talented Masataka Taniguchi.
In the ring Koura is an aggressive, hard hitting youngster who has impressed fight after fight. He's only got 48 rounds under his belt though has already gone 12 rounds at a high pace and shown his grit and determination to over-come Taniguchi. Despite being a puncher he does have under-rated skills, and those skills will have been kept in check by the Taniguchi fight, which will have done Koura the world of good, especially given that he had stopped his previous 6 opponents in a combined 14 rounds. He's far from flawless, and certainly has some rough edges, particularly defensively, but he's young, talented and improving fight on fight.
Most fight fans won't be familiar at all with Norihito Tanaka, despite the 33 year old being a genuine veteran of the Japanese scene. As previously mentioned he debuted back in 2005 and had a good winning run to begin his career, winning his first 9 fights and being crowned the East Japan Rookie of the Year in 2006. Sadly though that great start was followed by 3 losses in 4 fights, including defeats to Kenichi Horikawa and Ryoichi Taguchi, which seriously slowed his rise. A short winning run saw him claim the Strongest Korakuen in 2010 before losing in a Japanese title fight to Akira Yaegashi back in 2011, a loss that was then followed by defeat to Takashi Kunishige.
With a record of 14-5 (7) Tanaka stepped away from the ring for over 5 years, before returning in 2017, and since then he has gone 2-1 (2), with the only loss being a razor thin one to Naoya Hariguchi. It's worth noting that given his long break from the ring Tanaka is a very young 33, and his only loss not to have gone the distance was a DQ loss to Taguchi, who he hit on the break. He has never been stopped, and went the distance with two future world champions and a former world title challenger. His toughness really can't be questioned.
Whilst it's clear that Tanaka is tough he does lack experience against real punchers, like Koura, and at 33 the question really is whether or not his body can handle not only the power but the high energy offense of Koura. When Koura has a man hurt he doesn't really let off and instead lets the punches fly, which will be a major problem if Tanaka can't get his respect. Taniguchi could get Koura's respect, and had the skills to really push Koura, we don't think that'll be the case here with Tanaka who we see being stopped in the middle rounds as Koura takes a huge step towards getting a shot at a world title.
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.