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.
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