On December 20th we see a really interesting match up for the IBF Flyweight title, pitting a veteran champion against a little known challenger in a major step up. On paper the bout doesn't look the most appealing, especially to those who have followed the two men, however we suspect the reality is that this will be a lot more compelling that it looks. In fact we're genuinely expecting a very, very interesting match as the champion faces the double teaming of his opponent and father time.
The champion in question is 38 year old IBF Flyweight king Moruti Mthalane (39-2, 26), the ageless wonder of South Africa. Mthalane, enjoying his second reign as the champion, will be seeking his 4th successive defense since winning the title back in July 2018, when he narrowly escaped with a win over Muhammad Waseem. In the opposite corner to the veteran champion will be little known Filipino Jayson Mama (15-0, 8), a 23 year old who has quietly been building a reputation for himself at home, with out too much fuss and attention. Although relatively unknown Mama youth on his side as well as hunger, an unbeaten record and he's still very much a fighter who is improving with every bout.
Before we go into detail about the bout it's self it is worth noting that this will be the first time in 43 bouts that Mthalane will be fighting in his home of KwaZulu-Natal. Something that may well add something extra to the bout. It could be that the emotion of being at home will help Mthalane or could, potentially, be a hindrance with the added pressure of needing to perform at home after several years of fighting on the road.
The 38 year old South African is often a forgotten man in the sport, which is a real shame as he's had an excellent 20 year career in the sport. He made his debut in December 2000, aged 18, and won his first 14 bouts before losing in 10 rounds to Nkqubela Gwazela in a South African Flyweight title. He would would bounce back from that loss with 9 straight wins, including a notable one against Hussein Hussein, in an IBF world title eliminator. That win lead to a 2008 bout with Nonito Donaire that saw Mthlane give Donaire fits before being stopped in round 6 due to a cut. In the 12 years since that loss however Mthalane has gone unbeaten, winning 16 fights, and becoming a 2-time IBF Flyweight champion.
During his 16 fight winning run Mthalane has scored really impressive and notable wins. He stopped Julio Cesar Miranda for the IBF title around a year after his bout with Donaire then went on to record 4 defenses, stopping Zolani Tete, John Riel Casimero, Andrea Sarritzu and Ricardo Nunez before vacating the title. He vacated due to a paltry purse bid offer for a fight in Thailand with Amnat Ruenroeng, and then, sadly, sat out of the ring for the entire year. On his return to the ring he won the IBO title, and picked up a few low key wins before re-claiming the IBF title in 2018, with a win in Malaysia over Muhammad Waseem. Since reclaiming the title Mthalane has built a reputation as a Japan-killer, beating Masahiro Sakamoto at the end of 2018, Masayuki Kuroda in May 2019 and Akira Yaegashi in December 2019.
Notably Mthalane's not fought since December 2019, and we do wonder if ring rust will be an issue here along with his age, but it's hard to deny that his record is an impressive one and is getting better with time.
In the ring the South African is a brilliant technician. He can box, he can fight, he can apply intelligent pressure. The only thing lacking is true 1-punch KO power, but he's got solid pop in his hands, excellent speed, brilliant accuracy, fantastic stamina, brilliant experience, an unerring calmness, true self belief and a brilliant ability to take a shot when he needs to. At his best he's a boxer, though when he needs to become a fighter he can, as we saw last time out against Akira Yaegashi. There are areas to pick on, and we do wonder if he can keep high work rate for 12 rounds against an aggressive fighter, but he's shown a lot to like during his long, successful, and often over-looked career.
Aged 23 Jayson Mama is very much a fighter who is slowly making a name for himself with out too much fuss, and without too much attention. He's been a professional since 2016, when he was just 18, and had created a buzz for himself following a very strong 2015 in the amateurs, picking up a number gold medals in Filipino Youth tournaments including the Philippines National Games, the Manny Pacquiao Sports Challenger and the Palaron Pambansa.
Despite having a solid 2015 in the amateurs Mama's team were cautious early on and matched him to be busy, rather than tested in 2016, when he picked up 5 wins, including one over Roland Jay Biendima which has aged excellently. In 2017 he was less active, picking up 3 wins, though did face more notable domestic names, such as Bimbo Nacionales and Rodel Tejares. He was just as busy in 2018, though managed to again move forward and achieve more, winning the WBO Oriental Youth Flyweight title, making his international debut in Macao and going 10 rounds for the first time.
Mama really moved his career forward in 2019 winning the IBF Silk Road Flyweight tournament, beating Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr in the final, before stopping former world champion Kwanthai Sithmorseng and then beating Dexter Alimento. Sadly he has only fought once this year, and that was very much a tick over fight in February against domestic foe Reymark Taday,
In the ring Mama looks razor sharp with his jab, he looks calm and relaxed, judges distance well and likes to work with some space. On the inside he looks less effective, and looks like he can be bullied and out muscled up close, but at range he looks very solid and well schooled with a lot of ring craft. Despite being well schooled the feeling with watching Mama is that he really lacks power and physicality. His shots don't have much sting on them and he will struggle to get the respect of opponents, something we've seen him failed to do against his best opponents so far. He's a very good boxer, but we're not sure if he has toughness, the power or the strength to make a mark at the top.
For Mama this bout is a big step up and if it was just purely boxing skills he would have a decent chance against Mthalane. Both are very talented boxers, and Mama would certainly be able to hold his own. Sadly however it's the things missing with Mama that give us concern here. His lack of fight changing power, his weak inside game, and inability to back up opponents will be a massive issue for him against Mthalane. Of course Mthalane is old, and has had a hard career, but we suspect he still has enough to deal with the Filipino challenger here.
We're expecting to see Mama have a good start, using his speed and jab well, taking the early initiative before being ground down by the consistent, clean work of Mthalane, who we suspect will force a late stoppage of the Filipino challenger.
This is probably too much too soon for Mama, though we fully understand his team taking their opportunity here and rolling the dice with their young hopeful.
Prediction - Mthalane TKO11
A rarity here at Asian boxing as we have a guest writer previewing a bout, and for that we want to say thanks to our good friend Troy for penning this brilliant preview of the up coming Junto Nakatani Vs Giemel Magramo bout, which will take place on November 6th at Korakuen Hall and be shown live on BS NTV and G+.
By Troy Parslow
Old fashioned fine tuning and the quick study:
Redefining the cult, the boxing fan knows plenty of opinion, incredulity, hubris and that loyal grip we close around those trusted fighters. An illusion of discovery tends to feed our particular vices, so perhaps that’s where I find myself when I tell you, in this year of on-again, off-again uncertainty, there isn't a fight I've been anticipating more than Giemel Magramo versus Junto Nakatani.
If the conversation on flyweights due more attention starts with South Africa's Moruti Mthalane, it's with 26 year old Giemel Magramo I might try to end it.
Magramo (24-1, 20) of Paranaque City, Philippines, has the ‘Skull and Bones Family’ heritage of his father, and Manny Pacquiao rival of ten rounds, Melvin, and a host of uncles (Alvin, Ronnie, Ric and Ric Jr) with storied careers. He has the notable form of a sole loss--separated only from a majority draw by a point deducted for an accidental butt--travelling to South Korea to fight their then adopted Muhammad Waseem and a ten round stoppage win, travelling this time to China for their own Wenfeng Ge. But beyond an inherent, steely resolve--the Magramo legacy--or his resume's story, this Magramo is a talent above the rest. This birthright of insatiable aggression can be to the detriment of his performance, still he bears this inconsistency well; with the temperament to reset and refocus, he joins sporadic reckless abandon with an application of genuine pressure fighting skills in a can't-miss combination. By virtue of a father's guidance and slow burn matchmaking, they've nuanced their pressure fighting essence--upper body deception, and technique to manipulate the in-fight into the bargain.
For all he's inherited, 'Pistolero' seeks a family first major championship belt when he fights Japan's 5”7½ southpaw Junto Nakatani (20-0, 15), November 6th, at Tokyo's Korakuen Hall, to fill Kosei Tanaka's WBO flyweight void.
Short of a lower-weight personage—a rare few—himself, recognition is still easier come by for one of boxing’s disciples of a Monster. And it's nothing Nakatani, Kanagawa, hasn't earned. Between his bridging of bulldog to versatile blue-chipper, and frequent US sparring excursions, a readiness to expedite the learning process and realize ambitions unfolding come off him in waves. For my money, among the most rapidly maturing fighters in the sport, it comes as no surprise he’s jumping at a first title opportunity. After all, what’s a championship fight at 22 and 20 fights to the man, then boy, who risked his unblemished rise in harum-scarum shoot-outs with punchers Masamichi Yabuki and Seigo Yuri Akui? He’s since come of age, harnessing leviathan wingspan and spit-shining a tenacity to fight inside that gift of length. Ready as ever, he forged ahead, turning away Mario Andrade, Naoki Mochizuki and Milan Melindo, amongst others.
Is this a fight, then, for old fashioned fine tuning or a quick study?
To understand a Magramo is to expect aggression, and Giemel is good for it. But his ability to weaponise said aggression, and pressure, effectively will come under more scrutiny than ever. At his best, he's moving forward with a proactive upper body movement: shifting his weight over his front foot, rolling his shoulders from side-to-side, drawing leads and making himself difficult to read and counter when he's throwing from different positions. Slipping and countering, he establishes a threat for his level changes and feints at the shoulder. Against China's Ge, Magramo applied this upper body movement busily in the opening rounds, punching at different angles and exploring his timing to help determine the distance and Ge's responses. A probing, sometimes pawing, lead hand often supplements the upper body in gauging distance and triggering a lead he intends to pick off. You'll see Magramo throwing his jab from any shape, and if he's not baiting, he'll use it to disrupt rhythm or break his own: doubling and tripling up (stutter stepping as he goes) and feinting in combination with the right hand or leading with a reverse 1-2. When he has momentum, he'll pick his opponents head up with it and push them back off-balance. Maintaining his own base and shape, of course, is also important for someone looking to push forward consistently and as a rule he is well-balanced, allowing him to slip and counter as he moves in inside or bounces back out.
By no means perfect in his pressure, Magramo isn't the best at cutting off the ring, with opponents often escaping and circling out to their right as he squares up on rear hands or in anticipation of an exchange at short range. This is only compounded when he's already leaning forward (weight over his front foot) and falls in, short of the target and available to be countered out of shape. In this position Magramo will often attempt to restore his balance with a jab, get low and initiate a clinch, or just embrace an exchange. By keeping his front foot in step with his opponent, however, and on-balance to counter off the upper body movement and feints, he closes distance well and can stay in front of his opponent with enough regularity to drive the action and push a pace. It's worth mentioning here how efficiently Magramo passed Michael Bravo's southpaw lead, changing his rhythm, leading with delayed right hands, pawing with his jab and slipping inside at every opportunity.
Taking away Michael Bravo's jab early enough to finish him inside eight rounds is encouraging, but eluding Junto Nakatani's is a different challenge altogether and similarities between the two opponents end not long after acknowledging they share a long southpaw stance. As busy as it is versatile, Nakatani establishes his jab early and sets about conditioning his opponent with his lead hand, adding layers as he goes. Probing and feinting from the get go, he doesn't waste time before he's stepping in, working his man up and down and occupying the opposite guard or lead hand (in a southpaw-orthodox clash, such as we have here)as he lines up a back hand. Taller than all of his opponents at flyweight, he has certain advantages gaining dominant lead hand position and jabbing over orthodox opponents, but in altering the path of his jab over and under an opponent's lead hand, as well as jabbing from different looks and adding foot feints, the timing and positioning of his jab is seldom predictable. Magramo can't, and generally wouldn't, wait for Nakatani to get lazy or fall into a predictable rhythm with his lead hand, so it's on him to draw on the success Naoki Mochizuki had provoking Nakatani's jab with upper body movement and level changes, as a means of slipping and countering his way inside.
True to 'Skull and Bones' form, Magramo is most at home harrying in the pocket. If he can manage the distance, it's inside the jab he's best equipped to take the fight to Nakatani. Here 'Pistolero' looks to instinct, and he counters readily with an innate punch anticipation and reflexes. Catching, parrying, rolling and then countering, he's unforgiving and stylish. On the inside, he typically likes to get low and work up from shovels hooks to the body. For the Nakatani fight, Magramo will likely try to use this low starting position to work under the larger frame, pushing his head into Nakatani's shoulder, comprimising his balance and forcing him upright—something Mochizuki was also able to achieve. Magramo doesn't hesitate in using a shoulder or forearm to set up his offense, or lean on an opponent's shoulder, arching his back, to make room to work the body, and he can exploit the taller man throwing in combination off of his weaving transitions more if he works him into an upright position.
Of course, if you're familiar with Nakatani, you'll know it's not as simple as slipping his jab and dominating the fight. Nakatani, too, is very capable an inside fighter, exceptional for his height and length and he works that large frame underneath shorter opponents with ease. He can't boast some of the acute reflexes of Magramo, but he can control the space, he's strong and he works his arms inside his opponents more regularly, which he'll use to walk them back to the ropes or turn them. Positioning his own head onto a shoulder, and shifting it each side in anticipation or reaction to opposition success, he creates space similarly moving his man around with a shoulder or forearm. More importantly for this fight, though, can be Nakatani's ability to counter off of step backs and punching on the break. A combination of Magramo leaning heavily onto an opponents shoulder, and his neglecting the use of his arms to control them, can leave him unbalanced and available to be countered if an opponent slides on their back foot and simply creates separation stepping back.
Nakatani will be forced to hold his own on the inside routinely, but stepping to Magramo and applying his own pressure might not be to his benefit here. If we learned anything from the rout of Melindo, it'd be that despite his willingness to drive the exchanges, a probing lead hand constant and every physical advantage, controlling range on the front foot doesn't always look like one of his stronger impulses, and his balance suffered for it. Attempting to mirroring his opponents footwork in the early going and losing his shape, he was forced to reset on a few occasions as Melindo escaped relatively unpunished from positions you might expect the opposite. Melindo himself, perhaps, should have penalised these missteps more readily and pulled the trigger upon pivoting into space and finding new angles--you should know Magramo will.
It's at range Nakatani has shown some of his keener footwork: stepping out and to his left against Mochizuki, he was able to creep out of range, manipulate the distance and cause him to reach for counters and fall in. Similar can be said when he's stepping back to counter, and he finds some of his most dominant angles at the end of a jab. I thought he was more effective, or at least consistent, setting traps for Melindo, timing him and scoring off half-steps and step backs as Melindo tried breach the distance. Not only central to disrupting the Magramo rhythm and pressure though, with more space Nakatani's lead can get to work setting up long combinations, where he finishes with wide, arching hooks and uppercuts around and under a guard the jab (and sequent left hands) will narrow.
A great example of the utility of Nakatani's lead hand, and a useful approach to exploiting length in a Magramo fight can be seen in the first 20 second of his fifth round against Mochizuki: circling to his left and jabbing twice at the guard he conditions Mochizuki to expect a third but instantly breaks his rhythm, stepping back around to his right and hooking off the jab; his next jab is feinted, Mochizuki dips to move in underneath but Nakatani anticipates, pushes a couple more jabs at his guard and forces him to reset; stepping back once this time, Nakatani then shifts his weight onto his front foot as if to step in with a jab, Mochizuki bites again and shoots his own over the top, only to be met with a lead hand uppercut as Nakatani slides on his back foot; tying the sequence up, Nakatani bends at the waist, initiates a clinch (securing a right underhook), turns Mochizuki and switches into an orthodox stance as he steps out of the clinch to land an unexpected rear uppercut.
Conclusions and Pick
If picking a winner wasn't hard enough following almost half as many cancelled dates as there now (finally) scheduled rounds, and the spectre of modern overtraining, these two talented, learned first-time challengers don't make it any easier.
One inevitably we can trust is their meeting 'inside' throughout the fight. The fight will go there, but, for me, it's on Nakatani to keep these meetings to a minimum. He won't shut him out on the outside, or by boxing in circles, but in combination with his willingness to call the upper body bluffing, that brilliant lead hand and his ability to anticipate the target and slide into space before Magramo can negotiate his length, I think Nakatani will prove more successful pulling him out of shape and stealing his rhythm off the back foot, circling to his right (avoiding Magramo's sweeping right hand), working check hooks around the guard and moving him onto uppercuts as and when he leans over the front foot. It tends to be when Magramo picks up his feet and chases a fight that we see most of his bad habits, in particular his back foot swinging forward, moving of the wrong foot first and jumping in with both feet off the ground. And besides, any Magramo opponent would surely appreciate the ability to create this separation and score in response to the abrasive pocket fighting. Because as competent as Nakatani is inside, when you have his relative versitility, stepping to the man who can only win the fight at one range might not prove as profitable when that man is good there as Magramo. As the fight goes longer, Nakatani's best bet as the stronger clinch fighter is to limit his in-fighting, almost exclusively, to working his arms into underhooks when Magramo secures an angle inside his jab, pushing him back to break up his offence and then stepping back out to punish him leaning forward or falling asleep in the clinch.
Whilst I consider Nakatani's broad skill set and acknowledge a path to victory, Magramo might have come yet a fight too soon. Having not even experienced a tenth round, perhaps the biggest test of his durability to date will come to the body. Weaker than he is now and less equipped to defend himself, he survived and outlasted Yabuki and Akui chin checks—that's tough. Here, however, he faces an opponent that knows the application of investing in the body and, crucially, if Magramo is to offset length and reach, he won't be passing up any opportunity to isolate a torso so long upon closing the distance. It's hard to imagine the Magramo slip and counter game, established so reliably on that rhythmic upper body, won't afford him enough opportunities to target the Nakatani body and dull him. But whether it's the body attack that slows any movement or Nakatani choosing the hold his feet and contest the pocket, when it heads inside I make Magramo the favourite to win those exchanges if he's not quickly tied up. Sound defensive and spatial instincts make him a dangerous counter (combination) puncher and he can better build on his combinations at short range, where he shifts his weight well and works his opponent up and down. It's crucial Magramo keeps his discipline moving the upper body; that's how he provokes the jab, picks it off and how he stays elusive and dangerous as he moves inside. Nakatani has previously struggled for timing punching down at shorter fighters in the opening spells, which would suggest there's a window for Magramo to get his foot in the door, slipping to the body early. From there, it's just as important he uses technique to control Nakatani on the inside, whether that's disrupting his stance with his head or just positioning him with a forearm or shoulder, creating the space to consistently target the body and outwork him in these areas.
Anxious to make up for lost time, I expect they'll make good on expectations. Tactically fascinating, with both wrestling for control and showing off talented offence in high-level exchanges, a lot of the rounds will be traded at a high pace. Ultimately though, I see Magramo provoking leads, slipping inside and targeting Nakatani's long torso with enough consistency to push the pace, keep the fight in the areas he's more equipped to win the exchanges and subdue the bigger man. Whilst I'm not sure Nakatani is forced into the losing column with a stoppage, I think Magramo does enough to build momentum and consolidate a lead in the second half of a fight that inspires cult followings on both sides.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On December 31st, 3 division World champion Kosei Tanaka defends his WBO Flyweight title against Chinese rising star Wulan Tuolehazi.
Kosei Tanaka (14-0/8 KOs) is considered to be one of the top Japanese boxers today, along with Naoya Inoue and Kazuto Ioka. Trained under Hideyasu Ishihara (former OPBF champion & world title contender) he won numerous high school/inter-high school titles, the All Japan championship as well as the National Sports Festival. He even reached the quarter-finals of the 2012 AIBA Youth World championships.
He finally turned pro in 2013 and after winning his first 3 bouts, he challenged world ranked fighter Ryuji Hara (23-2) for the OPBF Strawweight belt. Hara was undefeated at that point, with 18 victories under his belt, and was also ranked #2 by the WBO. It was an exciting affair that saw both men compete at a good pace. Tanaka fired up during the 5th round and was completely dominating the veteran champion. Hara retaliated in the next and it was then that the match became a huge brawl that lasted 5 more rounds, much to the joy of the fans in attendance. Finally in the 10th, Tanaka delivered a brutal nonstop beating on Hara that forced the stoppage.
5 months removed from his breakout performance, Tanaka became the WBO Strawweight World champion, after beating Julian Yedras (24-7) for the vacant crown. His sole defense was against the WBO Asia Pacific champion Vic Saludar (19-4). Tanaka’s wild style almost proved to be his downfall as he was repeatedly getting tagged by the Filipino challenger, losing the fight on the scorecards and even suffering his first knockdown, before stopping Saludar with a sweet liver shot to retain his belt. (Saludar eventually won the World title in 2018)
Tanaka would then move up to Light Flyweight and once again captured gold, putting on a boxing clinic against former World champion Moises Fuentes (25-6). He comfortably defended the WBO championship over knockout artist Angel Acosta (21-2) but had a rough time against Rangsan Chayanram (16-2). Much like in the Saludar fight, his fighting style got him in serious trouble. Not only the Thai fighter dropped him in the opening round but even when Tanaka returned fire and finished him in the later rounds, he had sustained serious injuries during the battle, which led him pulling out of the much anticipated unification title bout with Ryoichi Taguchi on New Year’s Eve.
Upon his return to the ring, this time at Flyweight, he outclassed the then unbeaten Ronnie Baldonado (15-2), earning a shot at Sho Kimura (18-3). In what was a fight of the year candidate, both men went to war for 12 rounds, throwing fists repeatedly, with Tanaka getting the better of these exchanges. In the end, the unstoppable prodigy received the majority decision and was crowned a 3 division champion, at only 23 years of age.
As fate would have it, his initial defense would be against the man he was meant to meet back in 2017, Ryoichi Taguchi (27-4). The former WBA & IBF champion looked like an old fighter here, unable to match Tanaka’s speed and power, getting peppered with hooks and jabs on numerous occasions, losing his second world title fight in a row and retiring shortly after. Tanaka marked his second one this past August when he dispatched mandatory challenger Jonathan Gonzalez (22-3), dropping him 4 times with body shots. Looking to close of the year with a bang, he steps into the squared circle one more time, as he takes on a rather dangerous foe coming all the way from China.
Wulan Tuolehazi (13-3) represents a new wave of Chinese boxers, who have quickly risen up in the world rankings and are looking to make an impact. In spite of a few shortcomings at the beginning of his career, he quickly bounced back and even scored a TKO victory over former WBA World champion Ekkawit Songnui (49-7) in less than 3 years into the sport.
Tuolehazi would soon come back to knock out Watana Phenbaan (18-6) with a thunderous overhand right, thus capturing the interim WBO Asia Pacific title. Wasting no time, he’d then face OPBF champion Jayr Raquinel (12-1) with the vacant WBC Silver crown on the line. Tuolehazi withstood the Filipino’s heavy punches, while buying his time, patiently waiting for openings in order to strike back. He finally floored Raquinel with a straight right in the last round, which seemingly came out of nowhere, pretty much sealing the deal and earning him a second championship.
A thrilling encounter took place earlier this year, when he locked horns with Ryota Yamauchi (5-1), this time for the WBA International belt. The Chinese star put together some strong combinations throughout the match, stunning his Japanese rival on multiple occasions and dropping him with a perfectly placed uppercut during the 3rd round. However, the tide would shift in the second half of the fight, after Yamauchi connected with a big punch to the mid-section that hurt the champion. Both men took a lot of punishment, but it was Tuolehazi that walked away with the gold. It’s worth mentioning that both Raquinel and Yamauchi were undefeated prior to these outings.
These past few months, he has defended his belt against former WBC International champion Ardin Diale (35-15) in yet again another very close contest as well as Satoshi Tanaka (7-6), whom he knocked down twice with body shots. Tuolehazi now aims to end 2019 by adding the World championship to his collection of belts, but that might be easier said than done.
Much like in every Tanaka fight, the question remains, will this finally be the time that his recklessness proves to be his undoing? It is well known that Tanaka’s brawling style has put him in dangerous positions, almost costing him 2 title bouts (Saludar and Chayanram) in the past, where he was saved only by his incredible knockout power and hand speed. Tuolehazi needs to exploit that chink in the champion’s armor, if he wants to emerge victorious. His best shot is to wait for Tanaka to go on the offensive and then counter strike with the right, which is his biggest weapon. His high threshold for pain will be put to test more than ever before against a man who loves to attack nonstop.
To conclude with, it’s almost guaranteed that Kosei will be triumphant in this title defense as well, against a seemingly inferior opponent, but then again crazier things have happened in the boxing ring. Either way, we will find out for sure on New Year’s Eve.
On December 23rd in Yokohama fight fans get a really interesting card with 3 world title bouts taking place. One of those world bouts could quite fairly be described as a must win bout for both men, who know a loss will likely send them into retirement, and at very least give them little option but to seriously question their future in the sport.
That bout is the IBF Flyweight title bout, which pits current champion Moruti Mthalane (38-2, 25) against 2-weight world champion Akira Yaegashi (28-6, 16). Entering the bout the 37 year old Mthalane will be looking to make his third defense, of his second reign, whilst Yaegashi will be be looking to become a 4 time champion, just a couple of months short of his 37th birthday. For Flyweights these two men are ancient and bother are grizzled veterans.
As the champion Mthalane deserves to really be credited for what is a disappointingly over-looked career. He is a 2-time IBF Flyweight champion who first won the title in 2009, when he beat Julio Cesar Miranda, and never actually lost the belt in the ring. Instead of travelling to Thailand to defend it against the then unknown Amnat Ruenroeng for pennies he vacated it. A decision that was a bad one at a time when he needed fights, but one he finally recovered from when he became a 2-time champion in 2018.
Mthalane, from South Africa, is unbeaten in over a decade, with his last loss coming to Nonito Donaire way back in 2008 and since then he has gone 15-0 (10), with notable wins over the likes of Miranda, Zolani Tete, John Riel Casimero, Ricardo Nunez, Muhammad Waseem and most recently Masayuki Kuroda.
In the ring the champion is a crafty but aggressive pressure fighter. He's not the quickest, but he is incredibly sharp, with a very high boxing IQ and unerring accuracy. His composure is excellent and he judges distance brilliantly. He knows his way around the ring, he's a natural there, and he knows how to be aggressive but safe. Notably though he is ageing, and there's always a potential question over father time, especially for a lower weight fighter in their mid 30's. Overall he's not taken much punishment but with close to 240 rounds under his belt he as certainly racked up ring miles, and miles in training.
The challenger, Yaegashi, is a fighter who will be well known to fight fans around the globe for his list of world title bouts, and other thrillers. His first world title bout came way back in 2007, hen he lost to Eagle Den Junlaphan and suffered a nasty injury in that bout. Since then however he has proven to be a warrior, and someone with desire to not only win, but to put on a show. His 2011 bout with Pornsawan Porpramook, which he won to become the WBA Minimumweight champion, was regarded by many as the Fight of the Year, whilst his 2012 clash with Kazuto Ioka was a massive all-Japanese unification bout. He lost to Ioka but would then move up in weight to claim the WBC and Lineal Flyweight title, defending it several times before running into Roman Gonzalez, at his best. A short reign as the IBF Light Flyweight champion followed, thanks to an often forgotten battle with Javier Mendoza. After being blown out by Milan Melindo in 2017 his career looked over, but 3 stoppage wins have seen his team back him for one more big fight.
For those who haven't seen Yaegashi you've missed out on one of the sports most consistently entertaining fighters of the last decade or so. He's dubbed the Fierce Warrior in Japan and not without good reason. Win or lose he's been in violent wars, fight after fight. Win or lose his face has regularly swollen up in a grotesque mess, a proud bad of war worn with honour by Yaegashi. He's a talented boxer, with light feet and great stamina, but often that boxing ability takes a backwards step as he gets involved in brawls, using his hand speed to out fight opponents. As he's gotten older he's had more and more exchanges, and his 2018 bout with Hirofumi Mukai is a great example of the type of war Yaegashi has needlessly involved himself in.
Sadly for Yaegashi this is the type of match up that doesn't look good for him. Against slower footed fighters he can shine, he can get in, he can get his shots off and he can get out. Against fighters with sharp punches and good timing however he is countered, caught coming in and has his facial swelling playing an issue. As he's aged his punch resistance has dropped and this is a major problem against a fighter like Mthalane.
We see this as being an action fight early on, with Yaegashi taking the fight to Mthalane, getting in and out for a round or two. Then we suspect he gets caught, and his warrior mentality kicks in, before Mthalane begins to break him down, and by the middle rounds a swollen, bloodied and battered Yaegashi is finally stopped by the referee, who will have seen enough.
Prediction - TKO7 Mthalane
Right now the Flyweight division, which for years was one of the strongest in the sport, is one of the least interesting. It's a division that is having a transitional period, with great fighters fighting 4lbs lower or 3lbs heavier. There are some sensational fighters at Flyweight, but they are few and far between, with many of the leading contenders are a bit limited. This has left the division with only a handful of excellent bouts at the top whilst we await for the next generation to develop.
Don't get us wrong, the division has some really exciting young talent in it's ranks, but the likes of Junto Nakatani, Nico Hernandez, Ryota Yamauchi, Jesse Rodriguez and Kento Hatanaka are just not ready, yet, to fight at the top.
That leaves us with some sensational champions and some veteran, or limited challengers. The match ups we want, are almost all unification bouts, with little else really being of major interest.
We say all that to pre-face the upcoming WBO Flyweight title bout which will put unbeaten 3 weight world champion Kosei Tanaka (13-0, 7) up against mandatory challenger Jonathan "Bomba" Gonzalez (22-2-1-1, 13). It's a bout that looks good, but in reality we don't see it as all that competitive.
Tanaka is one of the guys who should be in, or on the verge, of the top 10 pound for pound conversation. He is already a 3 weight world champion at the age of 24 with notable wins against the likes of Ryuji Hara, Julian Yedras, Vic Saludar, Angel Acosta, Sho Kimura and Ryoichi Taguchi. In just 13 fights he has gone 7-0 (3) at world level, never faced an opponent with a losing record and his last 10 opponents combined had gone 176-11-8. In many ways he is cut from the same cloth as Naoya Inoue and Vasily Lomachenko. He wants to prove himself, and do it as quickly as possible. No messing about, no easy fights.
Sadly Gonzalez is a man who showed a lot of early promise but has yet to deliver on that promise. The 28 year old southpaw turned professional at the age of 19 after an excellent amateur career and would stop his first 6 opponents in 9 combined rounds. Sadly that power hasn't carried up as he's moved through the levels, and only 1 of his last 6 bouts saw him take an early win. His lack of power at the higher level isn't his only issue as he appears to lack in terms of durability, and both of his losses have come by stoppage. The first of those was in 2013, when he was dominated by Giovani Segura with the second with the second being a loss to Filipino Jobert Alvarez in 2016.
What Gonzalez can do well is box. He's a nice, tidy boxer, with decent speed, nice movement and a brilliant arsenal of shots. Sadly though he is rather defensively open, and although he takes a good shot, his defenses fall apart when he's hurt, as we saw repeatedly against Segura. If you let him settle into his rhythm he's hard to unsettle, but at the same time he can be shaken, rather easily.
Boxing with Tanaka is rarely a good idea, he's an amazing boxer himself, with incredible speed, and he's often one, if not 2 or 3, steps ahead of his opponent. He's quick with hands and feet and is heavy handed enough to make incredibly tough world class fighters, even at Flyweight, respect him. His issues come when he faces fighters with big power, like Vic Saludar, not the boxers. Boxers are what he thrives against.
Coming into this we expect the fight to start off interestingly, with both boxing at a decent tempo and using their lightening speed. As the fight goes on however the fight will become more and more one sided, with Tanaka turning the screws in the middle rounds, upping his pace and unleashing his power shots. When that happens we expect to see Gonzalez crumbling, before being stopped, in a flurry of power shots, whilst on the ropes.
Prediction - Tanaka TKO10
This coming Saturday we'll see WBA Flyweight champion Artem Dalakian (18-0, 13) make a mandatory defense of his title as he takes on Thai foe Dennapa Kiatniwat (20-1, 15)*, aka Sarawut Thawornkham, in Kiev, Ukraine. On paper this looks interesting, but in reality the paper only tells us part of the story. For example the bout will be the Thai's first world title fight, it will be a huge step up in class and his second bout outside of Thailand, whilst Dalakian will be seeking his third defense of the WBA title and comes into the bout riding a huge wave of confidence following 3 impressive wins in 2018.
So lets look at the men involved.
The 31 year old Dalakian is an Azeri born Ukrainian who had a notable amateur career, and competed at the 2009 World Amateur Champions, pushing future world champion Amnat Ruenroeng all the way. He would later turn professional in 2011 and has gone unbeaten since then. Although unbeaten since he became a professional it wasn't until 2018 that he really got any attention from the boxing world. That was a year where he was given a chance, and defeat Brian Viloria to become the WBA Flyweight champion, doing so in the US. Since then he has notched up defenses against Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep and Gregorio Lebron. Prior to beating Viloria there was little on his record, with wins over veteran Silvio Olteanu and a then inexperienced Angel Moreno being the only wins of any note.
In the ring Dalakian is a talented boxer-puncher. He's not the most talented boxer in the division, or the hard hitter, but he combines his boxing and power excellently, with long reach, an awkward style, and good consistent aggression. He's not going to wipe world class opponents out, but he's going to be a nightmare for anyone with his strength and size being real problems. He's also tough, though was hurt at times by Viloira, strong and a fighter who looks really hard to beat. It's also worth noting he's well backed, and there's only a handful of fighters who will be able to afford home advantage against him.
Kiatniwat is real obscurity for those who don't follow the Asian scene in depth, and the reality is that those who do follow him will be aware he doesn't belong in a world title fight. He lost on his debut, being stopped by Masato Morisaki in May 2014, but has reeled off 20* straight wins since then. That sounds impressive, but the best of his wins have been against the likes of Tommy Seran, Crison Omayao and Michael Camelion. To put those into some context, Omayao is a blown Minimumweight, who Naoya Inoue beat on his debut, Michael Camelion was blasted in 33 seconds by Hiroto Kyoguchi back in 2016 and Tommy Seran has won just 1 of his last 9 bouts.
From the footage that's available the Thai does look pretty good offensively, having a nice body attack, some short punching up close and a good jab. He fights out of the southpaw stance and does look solid, though given his competition he is very unproven and it's hard to say whether his power really can carry up. Defensively there are more worried and he has been tagged by fighters much less skilled than Dalakanian, and can often be seen with a very low lead right hand.
We suspect most see this as a mismatch in favour of Dalakian, and if we're being honest we don't see anything but a Dalakian win. Although we strongly favour Dalakian we do however expect to see Dennapa asking some questions of Dalakian, with the Thai's body shots and southpaw stance posing a few issues. We're going to suggest that Dennapa actually give Dalakian toughest fight to date, but suffers a late stoppage to the Ukrainian.
Prediction - Dalakian TKO10
*There are some questions over Kiatniwat's real record with at least 1 bout of his beign televised but not being listed on boxrec.com
The Flyweight division is one of the most interesting right now, with no fighter clearly standing out as being the best. There are strong arguments for any of the champions to be regarded as the number 1. We suspect that Kosei Tanaka will become the top guy, if he stays in the division for a while, but Charlie Edwards, Artem Dalakian and Moruti Mthalane all have a good argument to be regarded as the best.
This coming Monday Moruti Mthalane (37-2, 25) gets a chance to strengthen his claim as the best as he defends his IBF title against mandatory challenger Masayuki Kuroda (30-7-3, 16) of Japan. Kuroda isn't the best in the Land of the Rising Sun, that's clearly Tanaka, but is a world class veteran getting his second shoot at a title. Mthlane on the other hand will be getting a chance to make his second defense of second reign, and continue his mini-tour of Asia.
Aged 36 Mthalane is a proper veteran of the sport. He's been a professional since 2000 and is a legitimate 2-time IBF champion with a criminally under-rated resume and a 10 year unbeaten run. He's proven to be a technically excellent fighter with great timing, under-rated speed, brilliant accuracy and very solid defense. Through his career he has typically been an aggressive counter punching fighter, and it's a style that has had real success for the South African.
Going through Mthalane's record is like going through a mini who's who of lower weight fighters from the last decade or so. He's scored notable wins over Hussein Hussein, Julio Cesar Miranda, Zolani Tete, John Riel Casimero and Ricardo Nunez. Sadly though management issues cost him activity during some of his prime years, and he certainly missed out on some notable opportunities due to poor decision making. Thankfully however he has began to string together a good level of activity, and this will be his third bout in 10 months, following wins over Muhammad Waseem and Masahiro Sakamoto. Also, despite being 36, he is a rather fresh 36 year old, and doesn't appear to be showing much in terms of wear and tear.
Kuroda, himself a 32 year old, is much less well known that Mthalane but is a battled hardened veteran himself with a 14 year career and plenty of experience. He's had one previous world title fight, losing to Juan Carlos Reveco in a WBA title fight back in 2013, but is a 2-weight Japanese national champion, having held the Light Flyweight and Flyweight title. At national level he has scored numerous notable wins, including victories over Katsuhiko Iezumi, Shin Ono and Takuya Kogawa, whilst also fighting to a draw with Ryoichi Taguchi, though he has never really scored a win above domestic level.
Kuroda has proven to be a gruelling warrior in the ring. He does tend to start fights like he's a technical fighter, but always seems to get dragged into a war, ignoring his technical ability and fighting a brawl instead. He's technically solid, when he sticks to his boxing, but has somewhat questionable composure, and seems to be happy to take one to land one whilst fighting on the inside. He's usually in pretty entertaining fights, but has been dropped numerous times during his career, and he's not got the power or speed to really fight with the style he has, at world level.
Although we suspect Mthalane will lose to someone he should beat, due to his age, we don't see that loss coming here. Kuroda has a style that should make life easy for Mthalane, coming forward and trying to fight on the inside. Kuroda will likely have more success than Masahiro Sakamoto did, before he was stopped by Mthalane, but he'll likely face the same sort of beating Sakamoto had, with Mthalane's clean, hard, accurate punching and tight defense being too much for him.
Prediction - TKO9 Mthalane.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On March 16, 3 division World champion Kosei Tanaka defends his WBO Flyweight title against former double titlist Ryoichi Taguchi, in Gifu, Japan.
Kosei Tanaka (12-0/7 KOs) is considered by many to be one of the top Japanese boxers today, along with Naoya Inoue and Kazuto Ioka. Trained under Hideyasu Ishihara (former OPBF champion & world title contender) he won numerous high school/inter-high school titles, the All Japan championship as well as the National Sports Festival, which is considered to be Japan’s premier sports event. He even reached the quarter-finals of the 2012 AIBA Youth World championships.
Tanaka turned pro on November 10 of 2013, the same day he turned 18. After winning his first 3 bouts, he challenged world ranked Japanese fighter Ryuji Hara (23-2) for the OPBF Minimumweight title. Hara was undefeated at that point, with 18 victories under his belt, and was also ranked #2 by the WBO. It was an exciting affair that saw both men fight at a good pace. Tanaka fired up during the 5th round and was completely dominating the veteran champion. Hara retaliated in the 6th and it was then that the match became a huge brawl that lasted 5 more rounds, much to the joy of the fans at Korakuen Hall. Finally, in the 10th, Tanaka delivered a brutal nonstop beating on Hara that forced the stoppage thus gaining him the OPBF crown.
In 2015, Tanaka became the Minimumweight World champion, after he fought and beat Julian Yedras (24-4) for the vacant WBO title. His first and only defense was against the WBO Asia Pacific champion Vic Saludar (19-3) in December. Tanaka’s wild style almost proved to be his downfall as he was repeatedly getting caught by the Filipino challenger, losing the fight on the scorecards and even got dropped, before knocking Saludar out to retain his belt. (Saludar eventually won the WBO World title in 2018)
After that fight, Tanaka moved up to Light Flyweight and soon won this division’s world title as well, when he TKOed former World champion Moises Fuentes (25-6) in 2016. He successfully defended the WBO championship twice against future World title holder Angel Acosta (19-1) and WBA Asia champion Rangsan Chayanram (16-2). It’s worth mentioning that all of Acosta’s 19 wins have come via KO. Also, much like in the Saluda fight, Tanaka’s fighting style got him in trouble again during his encounter with Rangsan. In what was supposed to be an easy match before challenging the WBA World champion Ryoichi Taguchi in a unification bout, it turned out to be one of his toughest matches yet. Not only the Thai fighter knocked him down in the opening round but even when Tanaka won, he had sustained serious injuries during the battle, which led him pulling out from the much anticipated double title fight.
When Tanaka returned to the ring in 2018, his goal was to become a 3 division World champion. As a Flyweight, he defeated the interim WBO Oriental champion and then unbeaten fighter, Ronnie Baldonado (13-1), earning a title shot against Sho Kimura (17-2). In what was a fight of the year candidate, both men went to war for 12 rounds, throwing fists repeatedly, with Tanaka getting the better of some of these exchanges. In the end, Tanaka was awarded with the decision and the WBO Flyweight World championship, becoming a 3 weight class king, at only 23 years of age. As fate would have it, his initial defense will be against the man he wanted to face back in 2017, Ryoichi Taguchi.
Ryoichi Taguchi (27-3/12 KOs) after a short amateur career, made his pro debut in 2006, while only 19. For the next 7 years, he was building a name for himself, amassing a record of 19 wins, 2 decision losses and 1 draw, including victories over Norihito Tanaka (18-7), Tetsuya Hisada (33-9) and future WBC World champion Yu Kimura (18-3).
In 2014, Taguchi faced former IBF Strawweight World champion Florante Condes (27-10). Despite getting dropped twice, the Japanese star worked the body of the veteran and controlled the pace of the fight, keeping a much aggressive Condes at bay, thus eventually earning the unanimous decision and his biggest victory at the time. That win put him in world title contention and on New Year’s Eve, Taguchi went head to head with the WBA Light Flyweight champion Alberto Rossel (34-9), who was riding an 8 fight winning streak. Much like in the previous fight, Taguchi implemented a similar strategy and even scored 2 knockdowns, both via a left body hook. After an action packed second half, Taguchi left Ota City the new WBA World champion.
His first title defense was against former WBA Strawweight World champion Ekkawit Songnui (48-6). In what was a one sided beatdown, Taguchi knocked the Thai challenger down an impressive total of 5 times through out the fight, mostly with the right cross, before the referee stopped it. After dispatching journeyman Luis de la Rosa (25-13) and Juan Jose Landaeta (27-9), he met fellow countryman Ryo Miyazaki (24-2), former WBA Strawweight World titlist as well as Japanese & OPBF Light Flyweight champion. It was a back and forth affair where both men gave it their all. Taguchi was once again declared the victor and was named WBA’s MVP Player of the month (August 2016).
Taguchi fought unbeaten Carlos Canizales (21-0), a few months later, to a draw and also outboxed mandatory challenger Robert Barrera (22-2) in every single round, picking his body apart and finishing him off in the 9th, after a barrage of strikes. Since the aforementioned unification bout with WBO champion Tanaka didn’t materialize, Taguchi would face the IBF champion Milan Melindo (37-4), on December 31st of 2017, exactly 3 years after he won the WBA title. Melindo had a strong 2017, stopping 3 division champion Akira Yaegashi (27-6) in just the 1st round to win the title and also defending it against Hekkie Budler (32-4). Taguchi slowly established his dominance as the match progressed, wearing Melindo down, making him fight his fight and keeping him close while constantly attacking the body. When it was all said and done, Taguchi was declared unified WBA Super, IBF & The Ring Light Flyweight World champion. Unfortunately that reign wouldn’t last as he would lose all of his belts to Budler, this past May, in a very even encounter. Now returning to the ring almost a year later, Taguchi will once again fight for gold, but this time in a different division than he is used to.
As in every Tanaka fight, the question is, will this be the time his recklessness finally proves to be his undoing ? It is well known that Tanaka’s brawling style has put him in dangerous positions, almost even costing him 2 world title fights (Saludar and Chayanram) and that he was only saved by his incredible knockout power and hand speed. Taguchi, unlike most of Tanaka’s opponents, won’t try to engage in an all out war. Instead, he will try to slow him down and systematically punish him with body shots. Taguchi really excels the longer the fight goes. 15 of his 27 wins have gone the distance, compared to Tanaka’s 5 out of 12 (although in world title matches they are even 3-3). Despite all that, Tanaka always finds a way to come out on top, no matter the odds. So to sum this up, it’s obvious that Taguchi has all the tools to succeed at Flyweight and become a World champion, but can he do it against the seemingly unbeatable Tanaka ? We will find out this Saturday in the land of the rising sun.
In 2018 we've seen the Flyweight division go through some huge changes, and not a single fighter who began the year a world champion is actually still a champion. In fact the longest reigning champion in the division is Artem Dalakian, and his WBA reign only began in February. To end the year the division may have one more sting in the tail, as IBF champion Moruti Mthalane (36-2, 24) makes his first defense, of his second reign, and goes up against unheralded Japanese challenger Masahiro Sakamoto (13-1, 9).
The champion is a true veteran of the sport. He turned professional in 2000, as an 18 year old, and got his first big break in 2008, winning an IBF eliminator. Unfortunately he would come up short in his first world title fight, losing by TKO due to cute to Nonito Donaire in Las Vegas, but gave Donaire one of his toughest bouts at the time. Despite losing to Donaire we did see Mthalane claim the title a year later, beating Julio Cesar Miranda for the vacant title. As the champion he would make 4 defenses over 3 years, stopping Zolani Tete, Johnriel Casimero, Andrea Sarritzu and Ricardo Nunez. Sadly though politics would play a part in hins reign, not only leading to inactivity but also eventually leading to Mthalane vacating, rather than facing Amnat Ruenroeng for a very paltry purse.
Despite vacating the belt Mthalane remained a leading Flyweight contender, and would get a chance to recapture the belt this past July, a chance he made the most of by beating Korean based Pakistani fighter Muhammad Waseem by unanimous decision in Malaysia.
At the age of 36 is ancient for a Flyweight, and with 38 bouts on his record is certainly a fighter who has had a hard career. He has real wars with the likes of Donaire, Nunez, Waseem and Jether Oliva, who gave Mthalane a horribly swollen eye. Despite being old Mthalane is a technical master in the ring, with an excellent boxing IQ, an aggressive style, which can be either that of a pressure fighter or an aggressive counter puncher, and he is a surprisingly quick an powerful fighter. Defensively he's sound, though there are some question marks about his stamina, and he was running on empty in the later rounds against Waseem.
Whilst the champion has long been under-the-radar, hard core fans have known about him for around a decade. The challenger on the other hand is a real unknown for those who don't follow the Asian scene, and more specifically the Japanese scene. He made his first mark on the sport in 2015, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Flyweight and would lose his first title bout the following year, losing in a WBO Asia Pacific title bout to future world champion Sho Kimura. Thankfully for Sakamoto he would win that regional title the following year, stopping Kwanthai Sithmorseng, and defend it once, stopping Pigmy Kokietgym. Sadly those are the only 2 wins of major note on his record, and his loss to Kimura came at a time when no one really knew who Kimura was, and was the win that put Kimura on the road for his break out win against Zou Shiming in 2017.
Although Sakamoto hasn't had much TV exposure, aside from his Rookie of the Year stuff, he has got plenty of footage out there on boxingraise. That footage shows a smart fighter, a fighter who thinks about what he's doing, and boxing with his brain. Sadly though it shows a fighter with not exceptional natural talent. He's a a good, steady, boxer, but not a quick one or a monstrous puncher. He's a fighter who appears to have been more about hard work, dedication and gradual development, something that was clear between the loss to Kimura and his wins against the notable Thai's.
With a loss to Kimura it's fair to say that Sakamoto has lost the biggest bout of his career. This bout is bigger though and he will be the clear under-dog. He's up against the most technically proficient fighter he has ever faced, and a man who has a wealth of experience at world level. Sakamoto's team have been developing a game plan for Mthalane for a while, and it's almost certainly one based around making the most of Mthalane's advanced age. Sadly though the Japanese fighter is likely to find himself up against it here.
We would love to see Sakamoto win, and the potential rematch with Kimura or a unification bout with Kosei Tanaka, though the truth is that he is the huge under-dog here. We suspect his lack of experience at this level will be a major problem. We suspect Sakamoto will have moments, but sadly will come up short to the pressure and accuracy of the very talented champion.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On September 24, one of the best pure Japanese world title fights takes place as Sho Kimura goes one on one with 2 division champion Kosei Tanaka for the WBO Flyweight World Championship.
Sho Kimura (17-1 / 10 KOs) made his pro debut at 25, later than most fighters do, especially considering that he didn’t have an extensive (or much successful) amateur career. Despite suffering a KO loss in his first fight, he quickly bounced back, earning 11 wins and 2 draws within 3 years. In 2016 he faced undefeated Masahiro Sakamoto (8-0*) for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title. After 12 rounds of back and forth action, Kimura got the majority decision and the gold.
However, his real test came in last year’s July, when he challenged Shiming Zou for the WBO World Flyweight championship. Zou, with a record of 9-1 at the time, was a 3-time World Amateur champion and a 2 time Olympic champion, with victories over the likes of future WBC Silver Bantamweight title holder Nordine Oubaali and WBO Intercontinental & European flyweight champion Paddy Barnes. Kimura was coming in as the underdog and was even fighting the champion in his own country. On paper, Zou was going to walk through the Japanese contender, as he had already bested much more experienced fighters as a pro, like Luis de la Rosa (23-3*), Prasitsak Phaprom (28-0*) and Prasitsak Phaprom (40-1*). In a shocking turn of events, Kimura dominated the match in every single round while going for the kill in the 11th, as he blasted Zou with a plethora of body shots and when the Chinese was at his weakest, he nailed him in the head 20 consecutive times to get the TKO win and to finally become the World champion.
Kimura made his triumphant return to Japan, on December of 2017, defending against the former WBC, The Ring and Lineal Flyweight World champion Toshiyuki Igarashi (23-2*) at Ota-City General Gymnasium. Once again, he was facing a great amateur boxer (77-18) and just like Zou, a well-versed rival, who already owned wins over strong boxers like Wilbert Uicab (33-5*), former World champion Sonny Boy Jaro (34-10*) and Nestor Daniel Narvaes (19-0*). Kimura, much like his previous bout, surprised the crowd with his physical prowess and technique, outclassing Igarashi. The fight picked up in the 8th round where both men were swinging for the fences, bringing the fans on their feet. Kimura delivered a vicious combination during the 9th that stunned Igarashi and rendered him unable to respond, leaving no option for the referee but to stop the match.
His second and latest title match was in China against Filipino prospect Froilan Saludar (28-2*) this past July, which basically was a tune up for the upcoming clash with Tanaka.
Kosei Tanaka (11-0 / 7 KOs) is considered by many to be one of the top Japanese boxers today, along with Naoya Inoue and Kazuto Ioka. Unlike Kimura, Tanaka had quite a successful career as an amateur. Trained under Hideyasu Ishihara (former OPBF champion & world title contender) he won numerous high school/inter-high school titles, the All Japan championship as well as the National Sports Festival, which is considered to be Japan’s premier sports event. He even reached the quarter-finals of the 2012 AIBA Youth World Championships.
Tanaka turned pro on November 10 of 2013, the same day he turned 18. After winning his first 3 bouts, he challenged world ranked Japanese fighter Ryuji Hara (18-0*) for the OPBF Minimumweight title. Hara was undefeated at that point, with 18 victories under his belt, and was also ranked #2 by the WBO. It was an exciting affair that saw both men fight at a good pace. Tanaka fired up during the 5th round and was completely dominating the veteran champion. Hara retaliated in the 6th and it was then that the match became a huge brawl that lasted 5 more rounds, much to the joy of the fans at Korakuen Hall. Finally, in the 10th round, Tanaka delivered a brutal non-stop beating on Hara that forced the stoppage thus gaining him the OPBF crown.
On May of 2015, Tanaka became the Minimumweight World Champion, after he fought and beat Julian Yedras (24-1*) for the vacant WBO title. His first and only defense was against the WBO Asia Pacific champion Vic Saludar (11-1*) in December. Tanaka’s wild style almost proved to be his downfall as he was repeatedly getting caught by the Filipino challenger, losing the fight on the scorecards and even got dropped, before knocking Saludar out to retain his belt. (Saludar eventually won the WBO world title, on July of 2018)
After that fight, Tanaka moved up to light flyweight and soon won this division’s world title as well, when he TKOed former world champion Moises Fuentes (24-2*) on December of 2016. He successfully defended the WBO championship twice against future world title holder Angel Acosta (16-0*) and WBA Asia champion Rangsan Chayanram (14-1*). It’s worth mentioning that Acosta’s all 16 wins have come via KO. Also, much like the Saluda fight, Tanaka’s fighting style got him in trouble once more, during his encounter with Rangsan. In what was supposed to be an easy fight before challenging Ryoichi Taguchi (WBA Light Flyweight World Champion) in a unification bout, it turned out to be one of his toughest matches yet. Not only the Thai fighter knocked him down in the opening round but even when Tanaka won, he sustained serious injuries which led him pulling out from the double world title bout.
When Tanaka returned to action in 2018, his next goal was to become a 3 division world champion. As a flyweight, he defeated the interim WBO Oriental champion and unbeaten fighter, Ronnie Baldonado (10-0*), this past March, via KO. Now he is set to take on Sho Kimura at the Takeda Teva Ocean Arena, for the gold.
Even though many believe that Tanaka is guaranteed to win the belt in Nagoya, this fight can very well be his biggest test today. It’s obvious that Tanaka is the more accomplished amateur boxer of the two, plus he is already a 2 division world champion, while only at 23 years of age. However, that won’t be Kimura’s first time facing an over-achieved opponent. As aforementioned, Shiming Zou (Olympic winner) and Toshiyuki Igarashi (2 time All Japan champion) were much better boxers, both in amateur and in pro competition, yet still both equally fell to him. At the same time, Tanaka’s brawling style has almost cost him 2 world title fights (Saludar and Chayanram) and was only saved by his incredible knockout power and hand speed.
So the question is: will Tanaka’s wild fighting bring him the title one more time or will the “Upset King” Kimura put an end to his undefeated streak ?
*Fighter’s record prior to the fight mentioned.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.