On Tuesday we reported that OPBF Minimumweight champion Lito Dante (16-11-4, 8), from the Philippines, would be facing Masataka Taniguchi (12-3, 7) [谷口将隆] in what was not only an OPBF title fight but also a Japanese title fight. With that bout set to take place at Korakuen Hall on March 17th.
That bout is set, despite Dante having no direct connection to Japan, such as a Japanese gym affiliation.
Of course this is a rather odd situation, though not unique and it's not actually the first time it's happened. But it is the most high profile and is something that needs explaining.
So, how can a Filipino fighter fight for a Japanese title?
Last year the OPBF changed their rules, to help deepen the challenger pool for national titles, where needed. The rule, as applied by the JBC, is essentially "OPBF member country boxer's Japanese title challenge" and there are a lot of caveats to it, which have all come into play here.
So lets start at the beginning. Taniguchi became the mandatory for the Japanese title last September when he beat Kai Ishizawa (6-1, 6) [石澤開 in an absolute thriller. This gave Taniguchi a Japanese title fight at the 2020 Champion Carnival, where he was expected to face Norihito Tanaka (19-7, 10) [田中教仁], who has choosen to pursue a world title fight instead.
So that left Taniguchi as the mandatory with no champion to face, and a struggle to actually secure a bout with a suitable domestic contender.
Now we get the rule in question
The rule's main caveat is that there has to be no domestic ranked fighter available to fight for the title.
The current JBC rankings only has 7 Minimumweights ranked. One of which is Taniguchi, one is stable mate Shin Ono (24-10-3, 6) [小野心] and another is Ryoki Hirai (13-6-1, 4) [平井亮輝], who fought in December. Essentially that rules out the top 3. The others are unavailable for various reasons, or have other plans, such as Ishizawa who will be looking to return to the ring in March himself for his first bout since losing to Taniguchi.
As a result of no suitable contenders, a bout can't be made with a domestic fighter.
As a result the JBC have allowed a fighter from the OPBF member countries, in this case the Philippines, to fight for the Japanese title.
Another relatively recent example of this came in April 2019 when Tamao Ozawa and Hye Soo Park fought for not only the Japanese title, due to a lack of Japanese female Flyweight challengers, but also the Korean female Flyweight title, essentially unifying the two titles momentarily.
There was also supposed to be a Japanese Heavyweight title fight last year where a Japanese and Korean fighter were meant to clash, before the Korean in question was injured. Sadly details of that bout are less clear on the plans behind it.
So, to summarise:
Due to a lack of available contenders for Taniguchi, the JBC have allowed the bout to be for their title, under an OPBF rule that allows fighters from OPBF affiliated countries to challenge for national titles in special circumstances.
The Minimumweight division is a criminally over-looked division, due to the fact many fans, especially those in the west, don't have the access to know who's who, and instead see the fighters as under-sized and lacking the power and skills to be worthy of watching. The reality however is that the division, right now, is a very interesting one.
We recently looked at the champions in the division, "The state of the Division - Minimumweights - The Champions", which range from the under-powered IBF champion Carlos Licona to the dangerous WBO champion Vic Saludar to the longest active reigning world champion in boxing.
Now we have a look at a number of the leading contenders in the division.
Tsubasa Koura (14-0, 9)
OPBF champion Tsubasa Koura is expected to fight for the WBC title in Spring and has so far been very impressive. He won the Rookie of the Year before becoming the OPBF champion and is now widely regarded as a leading contender. He's skilled, quick and heavy handed but now needs to show it at the highest level
Tatsuya Fukuhara (21-6-6, 7)
The 29 year old Tatsuya Fukuhara is a former Japanese and WBO champion who is technically a bit limited, but has an amazing work rate, a real toughness and a willingness to travel for big fights. It's expected that he'll get another world title shot in 2019, and he'll be a handful for any champion.
Simphiwe Konkco (19-5-0-1, 7)
South African fighter Simpiwe Konkco is a tricky fighter with a good work rate and proven world class skills who has lost just once in the last 8 years, with that loss coming to Hekkie Budler. Despite that good form it is worth noting Konkco has had a hard career and has racked up a lot of tough rounds in recent years. Perhaps he's just on the slide now.
Masataka Taniguchi (11-2, 7)
With 2 losses in 13 bouts it would be easy to write Masataka Taniguchi off, however his losses have both been razor close and have come to the aforementioned Koura and Reiya Konishi. He's a handful for anyone and is really chasing a world title fight, with the WBO title likely to be his target following his recent victory for the WBO Asia Pacific title.
Mark Anthony Barriga (9-1, 1)
Highly skilled Filipino Mark Anthony Barriga is one of the sports most natural boxer's, regardless of weight, with fantastic timing and a very high ring IQ. Sadly though what Barriga has in defensive movement and he lacks in power and every bout he has is likely to go long. If he can't hurt his opponent, or stop them coming forward, as we saw against Licona, he leaves himself open to losing close bouts.
Robert Paradero (17-0, 11)
The unbeaten Robert Paradero is one of the many Filipino fighters on the verges of a title fight, in fact he was supposed to get a world title eliminator earlier in December. The unbeaten Filipino is a 4 year pro, despite only being 22, and seems ready for a big step up in class, which hopefully we see next year.
Joey Canoy (14-3-1-1, 7)
Filipino 25 year old Joey Canoy doesn't have a perfect record but has had a very, very interesting career so far. He's a 6 year pro who has scored very notable wins over Toto Landero and Melvin Jerusalem, dropped Simpiwe Konkco en route to a No Contest and only lost to decent fighters like Hekkie Budler, Jessie Espinas and Jerry Tomogdan. A very interesting contender.
Pedro Taduran (13-2, 10)
Another young Filipino to consider at Minimumweight is Pedro Taduran, who gave Wanheng Menayothin hell earlier this year in a really hotly contest 12 round bout. At 22 Taduran is a boxing baby, but the southpaw has a great work rate, solid power and a real hunger. He just needs to work on his technical skills and if he does that he could go all the way.
Byron Rojas (25-4-3-1, 11)
It's unclear if former WBA champion Byron Rojas will fight at 105lbs much longer, as he looked huge in his recent loss to Knockout CP Freshmart, but if he can make the weight then the 28 year old Nicaraguan does remain a top contender. He has lost twice to Knockout but holds a massive win over Hekkie Budler. A key player in the division if he doesn't move up.
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.