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)
On Sunday we get the 4th OPBF title fight in less than a week and on paper this one is most one sided though from where we're sat we actually imagine this could be just as tough and just as good as some of the others.
The reason that this one, for the OPBF Minimumweight title, looks so one sided is because it matches an unbeaten fighter, Ryuji Hara (16-0, 10), against a man with almost as many losses as wins, Donny Mabao (21-20-1, 4). Unfortunately though records in boxing can be rather misleading and deciding that a fight is won or lost on paper alone can be a major mistake.
Hara's unbeaten record certainly has some "good fortune" to go alongside his solid and very credible skills.
Those skills of Hara's were on show very early in his career as swiftly rose to 12-0 (10) and scored notable victories over Shuhei Ito, Ken Agena and Yokthong Kokietgym. Since then though Hara as gone 4-0 and really struggled in all 4 of those subsequent bouts. He went from fast rising star in the making to a man who may never quite fulfil his early potential, in fact he may never even come close.
Whilst those last 4 bouts of Hara's have come at a higher level than his first 12, and have all been 10 rounders with the Japanese title up for grabs he's actually looked a lot worse than he did in his first 12 bouts. A clear example of that was he second bout with Shuhei Ito. After winning the first by 5th round TKO Hara only just managed to retain his Japanese title in a rematch. In fact all 4 of the Japanese title fights that Hara has been involved in were competitive with many viewing him as a lucky champion and as a fighter who perhaps lacks durability, he has certainly been down enough times for us to wonder just how tough he really is.
In terms of skills Hara is genuinely really good, but his power doesn't appear to have carried up to Japanese title level, his durability is questionable at at 5'1" he's also a short fighter even in the Mnimumweight division. Thankfully though he does have good movement, solid speed and can punch equally well with both hands. He's also part of the Ohashi stable which also includes Akira Yaegashi, Naoya Inoue and Ryo Matsumoto who all offer top quality sparring and will have helped bring out the best in Hara.
In Mabao we have one of those Filipino fighters, like Rey Loreto and Richard Pumicpic, who posses a misleading record. The first thing you notice is of courses the number of losses. Unfortunately for Mabao he suffered a lot of them in either controversial bouts, such as his loss to Ronald Castrodes in 2008 or his loss to Kwanthai Sithmorseng in 2009, or to very good fighters such as Wisanu Kokietgym, Noknoi Sitthiprasert, Paipharob Kokietgym, Merlito Sabillo, Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep and Ryo Miyazaki.
When you look at that second list of names it's no wonder Mabao has been picking up losses, it's a whose who of Asian boxing including world champions, top contenders and a veritable list of top level boxers. Mabao hasn't got an awful record due to losing to weak opponents but has a bad record due to the sheer number of quality fighters he has faced.
Not only has Mabao been losing to notable names but in recent fights he has also been beating them. He has actually scored very notable victories over both Mateo Handig, famous for beating Katsunari Takayama, and Florante Condes, the former IBF world champion. They may have been back a few years but they proved that Mabao has the ability and he is tough having only been stopped 3 times in 42 fights,
With his toughness and experience we actually view Mabao as having a great chance to upset Hara. The one thing holding back the Filipino though will be his lack of power. With just 4 stoppages in 42 fights it's to see him hurting Hara, though we do view him as a fighter capable of dragging Hara into a very tough bout, certainly tougher than the records would indicate.
Whilst Hara did defend the Japanese title 3 times, we think this could well be his toughest test and anything but a convincing win could see him dropping down the world rankings. Considering Hara is in the top 5 according to the IBF, WBA and WBO this could be a major opportunity for Mabao and a possible huge fall from grace for Hara if her under-performs in what we're sure will be a really tough day in the ring.
(Photo courtesy of Ohashi Gym)
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.