An extraordinary day of boxing in Japan today produced a desperately late contender for the fight of the year as many of Japan’s best fighters gathered under two separate roofs to put on a show of boxing as good as anything seen in the west this year.
First up was the absurdly talented prospect Kosei Tanaka who moved to 6-0 versus Filipino warhorse Vic Saludar (now 11-2), fought for Tanaka’s strap, which had been annexed by the Japanese in just his fifth fight. Saludar, who is twenty-five and looks about forty, embodies the bloody-mindedness and durability of his countrymen as well as any of his more famed cousins and he came to win. Tanaka was fighting here in his last fight at 105lbs, such are the demands made upon his 5’5 inch frame in making minimumweight, and perhaps it showed. Overly-eager to get his less prestigious opponent out of there he walked through fire and has now been chin-checked by an able puncher (nine of Saludar’s eleven victories have come by way of stoppage). His offense-first strategy was not without risks however, and he was dropped by a ratcheting shot to the temple in the fifth; up quickly, he surged back into the attack, winning by stoppage with a shot to the body in the sixth.
It was an odd performance that will call into question both Tanaka’s ring smarts, perhaps understandably for a twenty-year old prospect who finds himself defending a “world” title, and his punch resistance. This would be harsh were it not for the fact that Tanaka is, like his lethal countryman Naoya Inoue, bound, at some stage for super-flyweight and bantamweight. My own guess is that fighting dumb was the real problem here and that this can be amended. The great thing about the fight game is we will get to find out, and it should be great fun.
Perhaps not as much as the next bout on offer, Katsunari Takayama versus Jose Argumedo, a fight of the year candidate fought on the very last day of the 2015. Takayama, a strapholder at 105lbs, is always entertaining; I’ve never see him in a bad fight. Fast, with wonderful footwork and a very limited punch, one would expect to see him box and move and stay away from his opponent, always a more dangerous puncher than he, but rather he flirts with disaster. Perhaps the best engine in boxing allows him to work, work, work for three minutes of every round and this he does, often in close, throwing two-handed and providing ample opportunity for his opponent to hit back.
This, Jose Argumedo did. Not a huge puncher, Argumedo is a good hitter and likely relished the openings the lighter punching Takayama gave; indeed, after losing the first round he banked the second punching through the target with a crackling right hand. Of more concern was the cut to the left eye the paper-skinned Japanese emerged with in this round.
Takayama, of course, began aggressively in the third but was labelled with some hard punches; for the first time I doubted the fight would go the distance, although I’ve been burned by such predictions before where Takayama is concerned – the pace he sets is incredible.
Argumedo, seemed, for the moment, equal to it and I thought he poached the round to take a lead into the fourth which saw the doctor called to the ring apron for the first time for a short look at Takayama’s cut. I thought the Japanese worked well in this round however, driving back his Mexican opponent with two right hands, boxing directly and with nerve.
The fifth was a round of the year candidate with toe-to-toe wars erupting all over the ring. The work was becoming sloppy but the pace was so absurd and the battle so heart-fuelled that it was impossible not to be moved. In the sixth, Argumedo took a flush right hand and nodded, “yes” to Takayama who barrelled forwards. My feeling was that the fight was turning firmly in favour of Takayama whose stamina seems limitless.
But it was not to be. Argumedo landed hard punches in the eighth and Takayama ended this round with not one but two cuts on his formerly good right eye; the doctor, this time, spent more than a minute examining him. He was allowed to complete the eighth, and a raucous ninth but it was clear the fight would not be allowed to see twelve rounds. Takayama was pulled at the end of the ninth and the fight went to the scorecard, the Mexican taking a split technical decision 87-84 twice and 85- 86 in what should register as a minor shock. My card had it the same as this last; I had Takayama taking the fight by a point, but certainly there is nothing wrong with the decision for all that the winning cards may be a little wide.
Those who have already picked a fight of the year can probably rest easy given how it ended, but make no mistake, had the fighters been allowed to complete twelve rounds we might have had a problem.
Next up in what was becoming one of the best day’s boxing I’ve ever seen, a rematch of the desperately close Kazuto Ioka-Juan Carlos Reveco meeting from April of this year, a majority decision win for Ioka not without controversy. A meeting between the #3 and #5 ranked flyweights respectively, it was attractive for reasons other than the alphabet trinket on the line. Both good boxing and hard punching were expected and both were delivered as Ioka wiped the slate clean of any uncertainty surrounding his victory in their first contest with a splendid, dominant performance over a game, brave fighter.
Ioka opened smartly behind his composed jab, looking for and landing a left hook to the body as Reveco circled to his left while awaiting opportunities to swarm in. A clear first round for Ioka did not mean a great deal given the pattern of their first fight but as the fight progressed it was clear that a new pattern was emerging.
Ioka looked every inch how he was supposed to during his short spell as the world’s best prospect in the time before Amnat Ruenroeng got to him and decisioned him over twelve torrid rounds in 2014. A triple left hand in the third was a highlight as Ioka found a hook, uppercut and another hook as he stepped up the rattling body-attack he began in round one. Boxing neatly behind the jab, he would happily abandon it on occasion and land a lead uppercut through the middle and as he countered the work Reveco used to do damage last time around something close to a technical mismatch began to emerge. The fourth round saw a stirring two-handed surge from Ioka who had his opponent rattled with his back to the ropes and giving little back; Reveco, who emerged with a cut below his left eye, fired his way out of danger when a stoppage seemed a possibility; nevertheless after six rounds I had Ioka 5-1 ahead.
Skill is often a substitute for experience but Reveco is tough and insistent and he began, for me, to creep into a fight he had looked like losing on a stoppage as early as the fourth. Ioka seemed aware of this and in the ninth he launched a hellacious attack to both body and head, pinning Reveco on the ropes again and savaging him. Reveco, all heart, came roaring back when once again on the brink, but Ioka appeared too big, too solid and brought his own more youthful insistence to the fore. An uppercut seemed to stagger Reveco with a minute remaining and his retaliation seemed exhausted. The fight began to take on the singular sense of the brutal.
Before the eleventh, Ioka was the very semblance of calm while Reveco looked a beaten man; when Ioka folded him with the latest in a long line of brutal bodyshots – a surgical left hook, his honey punch all night – I was surprised to see Reveco force himself to his feet before 10. His determination spoke for him. But when he remained bent as though by nausea, ring centre, unable to obey the referee’s instruction to walk to him, the contest was, rightly, ended.
It was an impressive display from Ioka, the type of display I once expected of him. It may yet be that he has plenty to offer at the sharpest end of this stacked division although his size at the weight was a factor today. Whether he moves north or stays put he won’t always be so much the bigger man.
The “main event”, featuring senior Japanese pugilist Takashi Uchiyama, was typically one-sided. One of the longest reigning strapholders in the world and clear divisional #1 at super-featherweight, Uchiyama dominated the over-matched Oliver Flores, stopping him in three rounds, not for the first time today, with a bodyshot.
Uchiyama is in desperate need of extension at this point in his career, having fought just five rounds in 2014. Aged 36, big money fights and pound-for-pound honours will not be within his grasp much longer and while he’s proven winning is easy boxing at this sort of level, hopefully the desire to do more than the minimum will move him to greater things in 2016. He did announce himself “ready for anyone” at the post-fight press conference, but this is not new rhetoric. He expects to be matched again in April.
Destructive body-punching seems, after today, as much a part of the Japanese fistic psyche as the murderous flavour of box-punching served up by Uchiyama, Tanaka, Ioka, and, earlier in the week, Naoya Inoue. Each is different but each bursts from the same culture of brilliant violence rendered with technical surety. They won’t all come west – but those that do should be welcomed with open arms by fight fans.
Based on today’s quality of entertainment we arguably have some catching up to do.
Check out our quick result video from Japan at The Boxing Channel.