Having spent the last 2 weeks in none stop talks with a CBC representative to get a legal feed to the WBO Flyweight title bout between Sho Kimura and Kosei Tanaka we went into Monday with real fear. What if the bout we had done so much to hype failed to deliver, what if the stream failed, what if it ended inside a round or two, or ended because of a technical decision.
Thankfully our fears were averted and instead we got a genuine contender for fight of the year, and a fight that reminds us how special all-Japanese world title fights are. In fact it reminds us that sometimes the bouts we are most looking forward to really can deliver and that fighters don't always “just want to win”, sometimes they want to win in a fashion that lasts long in the memory.
Coming in to the bout we had Sho Kimura (17-2-2, 10) [木村翔] as the defending WBO Flyweight champion faced off with mandatory challenger Kosei Tanaka (12-0, 7) [田中恒成]. The champion was seeking his third defense, following a title win last year against Zou Shiming and succesful defenses against Toshiyuki Igarashi and Zou Shiming. Tanaka on the other hand was looking for his place in history, as only the second man to claim world titles in 3 weight classes in just 12 fights, following Vasyl Lomachenko.
As we've become accustomed to with Japanese fights there was no feeling out round. There was no gradual build up to a crescendo. Instead the two men started fast, with the opening round playing out as the first of 12 action packed rounds of brutality. The naturally stronger Kimura applied the pressure straight away and forced Tanaka to box and move, through Tanaka regularly stood his ground anded traded blows, relying on his speed and reactions to out land Kimura. The champion was hurt in round 2 from a huge counter left hook from Tanaka, which lead to Tanaka going for the finish, though Kimura was no where hurt enough and he began to fire back as Tanaka realised it was too soon. Kimura was hurt again in round 3 from a right hand, but held his own for much of the round.
Kimura began to build some momentum of his own in round 4 and in round 5 he began to grind down Tanaka, who was taking a lot of hard shots, despite having moments of his own. Kimura, who is typically a fighter who gets stronger the longer bouts go, seemed to be dragging Tanaka into his fight with body shots and his pressure taking a toll.
That sustained success from Kimura didn't last too long with Tanaka turning it back on it round 6, as he began to try and turn the fight back in his direction. That was partly because Tanaka changed his game plan and started to use more movement. Whilst Kimura was strong and aggressive he was being made to chase shadows at times and at one point Tanaka looked Lomachenko-esque switching from side to side on Kimura who was unable to respond.
Kimura's pressure began to amp up again in round 8, especially late in the round as he tried to put the pain on Tanaka, but again Tanaka's movement saved him from too much harm, despite a real desire being shown from the champion. In round 9 it seemed Tanaka again took control as he began walking down Kimura, a tactic that was unexpected but seemed to work as Kimura's right eye began to close rapidly. The champion was soon fighting one eyes, and on the back foot. Despite being defensively tight Kimura was eating shots on a regular basis with Tanaka pushing him backwards.
Tanaka looked like he was in the lead, but was wanting to leave an impression in the final rounds as he hunted a stoppage. It wasn't a smart move and instead it left the door open to Kimura who gritted his teeth and had real success late on, leaving Tanaka's face swollen and bruised. The tactics of Tanaka late were impressive, backing up Kimura, but were unnecessary and Tanaka kept getting caught by the heavier shots of Kimura.
At the end the bout seemed to be very competitive at times, with both men having a few clear rounds. Both men had been to hell and back, both were swollen messes, both had taken serious punishment. To us it seemed like Tanaka had won a clear, but competitive fight, but the judges seemed to have it very close with scores of 114-114, 115-113 and 116-112, giving Tanaka the majority decision.
With the win Tanaka joins the growing list of Japanese 3 weight champions, having achieved that feat quicker than any other Japanese fighter in history. Also we believe he's become the youngest 2 weight champion in history. For Kimura the loss ends his Cinderella man run of results, though given this performance and his growing popularity in China and Japan we suspect we'll see him return to title level in the not so distant future.
We'd like to send a massive thank you to the people at CBC for helping us get an official feed and thanks to the two men in the ring for a FOTY contender. It's just a shame it wasn't shown live across Japan, and won't be aired in much of Japan until the middle of the week.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.