One of the most interesting divisions right now is the Flyweight division, which features 4 world champions with a combined record of 88-3 (62) and mixed youth and experience well. It also mixes styles really well, with a hyper aggressive champion, a skilled multi-weight champion, a counter punching genius and a talented, yet incredibly frustrating, champion. It's also a division with some really interesting contenders, which again mixes styles, experiences and skills.
WBO - Kosei Tanaka (15-0, 10)
Unbeaten Japanese star Kosei Tanaka is enjoying success in his third division, having won world titles at Minimumweight and Light Flyweight before beginning his charge at Flyweight in 2018. He's a fighter who's inconsistent at times, but when he's on he looks sensational. Blessed with incredible speed, in both his hands and feet, under-rated power and a smart boxing brain Tanaka can do it all, but is regularly dragged into the wrong type of fight.
IBF - Moruti Mthalane (39-2, 26)
The most experienced champion in the division is 37 year old South African Moruti Mthalane, who has got 2 losses on his record but has gone unbeaten in over 11 years. The 2-time IBF champion has the best resume in the division, with notable wins against the likes of Zolani Tete, John Riel Casimero and most recently Akira Yaegashi. Despite his age he's looked after his body well, avoided wars and looks like he could have another year or two at the top. It's just a shame that Mthalane gave up the IBF title way back in 2013 or he'd likely have been a much more well regarded fighter.
WBA - Artem Dalakian (19-0, 14)
Azeri born Ukrainian fighter Artem Dalakian seemed like a breath of fresh air in 2018, when he travelled to the US and beat Brian Viloria for the WBA title. Sadly since then his reign has been dire, despite going 3-0 (3). He has made 2 mandatory defenses against poor Thai challengers and made a voluntary against the hapless Gregorio Lebron. Next up for Dalakian, in February, is Josber Perez, and it's clear that Dalakian and his team are happy to avoid decent challengers if they can. Sooner or later the WBA will force him to face a solid challenger, but until then expect fighters like Perez to be the norm for the talented, yet frustrating, 32 year old.
WBC - Julio Cesar Martinez (15-1-0-1, 12)
All action Mexican puncher Julio Cesar Martinez had a sensational 2019, going 3-0-0-1 (3). Notably he stopped the once touted Andrew Selby and former champion Cristofer Rosales. The only blot on his record for the year was his stupid late shot on Charlie Edwards, that gave the Englishman an excuse to seek a DQ win, though the result did only end up being changed to a No Contest. Had it not been for the late shot Martinez would have been the champion in August, rather than waiting until December. He's now planning his first defense for February and a win there is likely to open the door to much bigger fights down the line.
In recent years we've seen the Flyweight division really shine with great talent, incredible depth and fantastic match making. Right now however it's a division that's a bit of a mess and between the 4 world champions we don't have anyone with a lengthy reign, in fact all of the champions won their title this year, and one of the current champions has spoke about leaving the division in the near future.
Artem Dalakian (18-0, 13) - WBA (2 defenses)
As mentioned none of the champions has held their title long, in fact the longest reign only began in February when Azeri born Ukrainina Artem Dalakian claimed the WBA title, with an upset win over Brian Viloria. Since then he has defended the title twice, beating Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep and Gregorio Lebron, both by stoppage. Dalakian is a big, strong, powerful fighter who is surprisingly tricky and combines his heavy hands with some unorthodox fighting. He's 31 already, but hasn't had a hard career and is a "young" 31, if we can say such a thing.
Cristofer Rosales (28-3, 19) - WBC (1 defense)
Nicaraguan fighter Cristofer Rosales shocked the boxing world back in April when he stopped the then unbeaten Daigo Higa, who had been stripped of the WBC title on the scales. Since beating Higa for the belt we've seen Rosales defend the title once, stopping Paddy Barnes in Northern Ireland with a brilliant body shot. He's now set to make his second defense later this month, as he takes on Charlie Edwards in London. Rosales is a brilliant boxer-puncher who has developed from losses earlier in his career, to forge a good standing as a world champion. Sadly though his reign is expected to end shortly, win or lose against Edwards, with Rosales stating he intends to move up to Super Flyweight in the near future.
Moruti Mthalane (36-2, 24) - IBF (0 defenses)
South African Moruti Mthalane is currently enjoying his second reign as the IBF Flyweight champion, having won the title back in July when he beaten Muhammad Waseem. At 36 years old he is the division's senior citizen, but is a young 36 and is someone with a lot of world class experience. Mthalane is going to be defending his title on New Year's Eve against little known challenge Masahiro Sakamoto. Mthalane is a wonderfully talented fighter with the best ring IQ of any champion in the division, he's surprisingly quick, has a good steady work rate and under-rated power.
Kosei Tanaka (12-0, 7) - WBO (0 defenses)
The newest if the champions in the division is Japan's Kosei Tanaka, who claimed the WBO title in September, to become a 3 weight champion in just his 12th professional bout. The talented Japanese youngster claimed the title in thrilling 12 round war against Sho Kimura and is expected to make his first defense of the title in Spring 2019 against Ryoichi Taguchi. Tanaka is a highly skilled, lighting quick boxer puncher who already has an incredible record, with wins against Ryuji Hara, Vic Saludar, Moises Cuentes, Angel Acosta, Palangpol CP Freshmart and Kimura. Sadly for Tanaka he often lets the warrior inside dictate how he fights, giving up his skills to have a fighter, something that has seen him being dropped in the past and suffering notable injuries. If he can use his brain more going forward he could be an incredibly tough fighter to dethrone, that however is a big if.
The good Japanese fights through 2018 really haven't stopped coming, the main issue perhaps is less about the consistency of great fights but where they were shown. During August and September we had a huge number of great fights, sadly some of those are tucked away behind a paywall on boxingraise.com. They include the all action Middleweight bout between Yasayuki Akiyama and Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa and the third meeting between Saemi Hanagata and Yuki Kuroki.
Even with those bouts "out of sight", so to speak, there was still 5 other great bouts during those two months that were televised.
If you missed part 1 than can be read here The best Japanese Fights of 2018 (Part 1)
Part 2 can be read here The best Japanese Fights of 2018 (Part 2)
And part 3 can be read here The best Japanese Fights of 2018 (Part 3)
August 17th - Korakuen Hall
Satoshi Shimizu (6-0, 6) vs Shingo Kawamura (16-3-1, 8)
On paper the OPBF Featherweight title bout between defending champion Satoshi Shimizu and domestic challenger Shingo Kawamura looked like a mismatch. It was hard to imagine the 2012 Olympic bronze medal winner and current OPBF champion losing to a fighter like Kawamura. Someone obviously hadn't told Kawamura he was there to lose, and instead he set off like the confident, cocksure fighter who had been the betting favourite. With Kawamura pressing the fight and Shimizu forced to respond we got something truly hellacious! It's just a little bit unfortunately that is shared a card with an even better bout.
August 17th - Korakuen Hall
Akira Yaegashi (26-6, 14) vs Hirofumi Mukai (16-5-3, 6)
As mentioned Shimizu Vs Kawamura was good, it was however over-shadowed by the insane war between Akira Yaegashi and Hirofumi Mukai, a fight that may well be the best Japanese fight of the year, and one that had everything. Both Yaegadhi and Mukai have seen better days, both are beyond their best and both have shown clear signs of sliding. Despite the wear and tear both are warriors and that was seen when they got in the ring together and featured in a truly amazing back forth brawl that saw both men rely on their heart, just as much as their skills. This had one of the best rounds of the year, worldwide, as well as being one of the true standout Japanese fights of 2018.
September 1st - Korakuen Hall
Yuta Saito (10-9-3, 7) vs Eita Kikuchi (21-5-4, 8)
We had to wait most of the year to finally see a Japanese Bantamweight title bout, after a number of bouts fell through this year, but when we finally did see the title being fought for we got a really fun bout to crown a new champion. On paper the match up between Yuta Saito and Eita Kikuchi didn't promise a lot, but it really did over deliver in what was a short but thrilling war, as both men seemed to put it all on the line, knowing this could be their final shot at a title. It wasn't just the desire of the two fighters that shone, but their styles also jelled amazingly well and made for something action packed.
September 11th - Korakuen Hall
Takuma Inoue (11-0, 3) Vs Mark John Yap (29-12, 14)
In mid-September we saw a WBC world title eliminator at Bantamweight, when the unbeaten Takuma Inoue faced off with OPBF Bantamweight champion Mark John Yap. On paper this promised a lot, with both men knowing that a win would secure them a world title fight, and although it wasn't a FOTY contender it was a very good contest and a very well fought one between two talented fighters each desperate for a shot at a world title. This wasn't explosive but did nicely combine skills, styles and wills to win, in a very competitive contest. Sadly though, for both men, it did show they were some way below the divisional elite and they will have to improve before making that final step up.
September 24th - Takeda Teva Ocean Arena
Sho Kimura (17-1-2, 10) Vs Kosei Tanaka (11-0, 7)
When we did The best Japanese Fights of 2018 (Part 1) we were inspired to due to the brilliance of WBO Flyweight title bout between Sho Kimura and Kosei Tanaka, a bout that we still consider the leading FOTY candidate, not just for Asia but for the world this year. We had high expectations for the bout, and it over-delivered, massively. Both fighters came to win, Kimura came looking for his third defense whilst Tanaka came chasing his third world title, the styles gels, the mentality of both fighters worked perfectly, and the bout ended up being something extra special. The sort of bout that every fight fan should watch, and if you've already seen it it's worth watching again!
One of the highlights of the boxing year is the series of shows we get at the end of the year,often featuring a number of big names from the Japanese boxing world with some massive fights. It now seems like the Watanabe Gym are starting to piece together their end of year card, which will be expected to take place on December 31st on TBS. That will be part of “Kyokugen”, a huge event on TBS, which is not just boxing, but a special broadcast that combines various sporting activities.
In recent years the boxing part of Kyokugen has featured a number of world title fights. These have included shows like the 2014 extravaganza that included Hisashi Amagasa challenging Guillermo Rigondeaux, the 2015 card that saw Kazuto Ioka have his rematch with Juan Carlos Reveco and the fantastic 2017 clash between Ryoichi Taguchi and Milan Melindo.
Given how big the previous shows have been and how they have gotten progressively bigger and more significant we're expecting the 2018 card to be something massive.
We already seem to know one of the bouts on the card, a WBA Light Flyweight “super” title bout between reigning champion Hekkie Budler (32-3, 10) and former IBF Minimumweight champion Hiroto Kyoguchi (10-0, 7) [京口 紘人]. This bout has been on the cards for a while and looks to have been agreed in principle, with the only caveat being that Kyoguchi successfully defeats Tibo Monabesa on September 25th.
The bout between Budler and Kyoguchi will give Kyoguchi a chance to avenge Budler's win over his Watanabe stablemate Ryoichi Taguchi (27-3-2, 12) [田口良一], more about him later, and will reward Budler well after he gave up the IBF title, rather than fulfil their mandatory obligations to face the feared Felix Alvarado. The bout would be a tough first defense for Budler and it would give Kyoguchi a chance to become a 2-weight champion.
A second bout has been mooted with Thai sources reporting WBC Minimumweight champion Wanheng Menayothin (51-0, 18) [วันเฮง ไก่ย่างห้าดาวยิม] is in talks to face Japanese Minimumweight champion Shin Ono (23-9-3, 6) [小野 心] on the card. The bout would be huge for Wanheng, as it would see him risking his unbeaten record and fight for the first time outside of Thailand, and it would give Ono a third shot a world title. Wanheng's team had reportedly been in talks for this bout before he beat Pedro Taduran and it does look like something they have actively wanted.
Last time out Ono suffered a pretty nasty cut in his win over Riku Kano. That cut should however be heeled with more than enough time for him to go through a training camp and prepare for Wanheng, in what would be his third world title fight. Ono has come up short against Katsunari Takayama and Knockout CP Freshmart, and will know that at the age of 35 this will be his final shot whilst Wanheng will see this as a chance to make his mark outside of Thailand.
The third bout could well be the most interesting on paper. It's almost a given that Watanabe will want to feature the aforementioned Ryoichi Taguchi, who has announced his intention to move up in weight. There isn't a Flyweight champion that Taguchi wouldn't make for a great opponent against, but there's possibly a match up that makes more sense than any other. That would be a bout between Taguchi and the winner of the upcoming WBO world title fight between Sho Kimura (17-1-2, 10) [木村翔] and Kosei Tanaka (11-0, 7) [田中恒成].
Tanaka has fought his entire career on TBS affiliate CBC, and has been featured on TBS in recent years as part of their December 31st show, except for last year when he was injured. When he and Taguchi were both fighting at Light Flyweight the two had been continually linked to a fighter, but injuries and mandatories stood in the way. Now however there wouldn't be any issue.
Of course Tanaka beating Kimura isn't a given, and it's worth noting that Kimura also had a working relationship with TBS, with the Aoki man having made his first defense on the channel last year, on the New Year's Eve card, against Toshiyuki Igarashi. His style against Taguchi's would be really interesting and something that would certainly appeal to fans, though maybe not quite as much as Taguchi Vs Tanaka fight.
There's actually one other option that Taguchi may have and that's WBC champion Cristofer Rosales (28-3, 19), who won his title in Japan earlier this year against Daigo Higa. Although not as attractive on paper as the two Japanese fighters Rosales has inked some sort of deal with Teiken promotions, and they may well feel that having Rosales face off with Taguchi would be an excellent way to end the year, and get Rosales his second defense. It would be an excellent match up, it would allow Rosales build on the big win over Higa and give Taguchi a chance to face one of the best fighters in the division.
Interestingly the Taguchi Vs Rosales option would, in theory, allowed for a split site show with 4 title bouts, if Tanaka beat Kimura and wanted to defend his belt live on CBC, in Nagaoya, with a potential showdown between those winners. Though we suspect TBS would pusher harder for the Kimura/Tanaka winner to defend against Taguchi instead.
(Images courtesy of SiamSports and Sho Kimura)
The Japanese boxing scene has seen more than it's share of wunderkinds over the last few years with the likes of 3-division world champion Kazuto Ioka, or 2-weight world champion Naoya Inoue. Thankfully though it seems like they aren't done, in fact they aren't even close to being done.
The next youngster hoping to graduate from “young prospect” to “world champion” is 19 year old Kosei Tanaka (4-0, 2), who will be hoping to claim the WBO Minimumweight title on May 30th when he takes on Mexican foe Julian Yedras (24-1, 13). Tanaka is hoping to claim a title just a few days before his 20th birthday but those who have seen the youngster all agree that he's a fighter well beyond his years and with natural ability that many other fighters could only dream of having.
For those who haven't seen Tanaka in action you've been missing out so far, though thankfully there is still time to catch up on the youngster before his bout with Yedras, which is a little more than a fortnight away.
The next chapter?
The next step for Tanaka is, as we know, his bout with Yedras on May 30th. On paper it's a step up from the Hara bout and is a "World" title bout though in reality it looks to be a bout on the same level as the win over Hara, if not a slight step backwards.
If, as we suspect, Tanaka defeats Yedras then the next step is the interesting one. Does he sit on his title and trying to develop with the belt around his waist, like we see many quick risers do in the west or does he instead try to prove he is something special and go after things like unification bouts and fellow top fighters. We know there is talk of a unification bout with IBF champion Katsunari Takayama later in the year and a possible showdown with Hekkie Budler may be on the cards if Tanaka does indeed face, and beat Takayama.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.