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Better UK 168er, Froch or Calzaghe?



With the recent retirement of British super middleweight Carl Froch, one topic that has received much attention is his standing among former British greats in a division that has produced some of the finest ever champions from these shores.

Below I analyse the respective careers of arguably the top two British 168lb legends and give my take on who stands higher in the all-time pantheon.

Joe Calzaghe


After bursting on to the world scene with an impressive first title victory, long periods of frustration followed until “The Pride of Wales” finally proved the doubters wrong and cemented his place among the greats of the sport with a superb finish to the longest ever championship reign in the 168lb weight class. While it’s true that there are a number of sub-par and even downright useless opponents littered among Calzaghe’s CV, the Welshman also defeated a range of former champions and world-class fighters in over a decade as WBO champion, as well as establishing himself as the premier fighter in a second weight division.

Style & Ability:

A super-fast southpaw with blurring combinations and a furious work-rate, Calzaghe had a seemingly inexhaustible engine, completing the twelve-round championship distance on thirteen occasions. He also had an excellent set of whiskers, and despite several brief visits to the canvas, never came close to being stopped in 46 contests. Fragile hands plagued his career and probably prevented more knockout victories, but he nevertheless carried serious power, with a number of former foes commenting on the deceptively hurtful effect of his so called “slaps”. Capable of boxing to a disciplined plan at long range and frustrating opponents with his speed and movement, as well as biting down on his gum shield and brawling wildly when it suited him, one of Calzaghe’s main strengths was his uncanny ability to adjust his style mid-fight and outmatch any opponent skill for skill.

Titles & Accolades:

[168lbs] British champion (1995-1996, 1 defence); WBO world champion (October 1997-September 2008, 21 defences); IBF world champion (March 2005-November 2006, 1 defence); WBC & WBA “super” world champion (November 2007, 0 defences); The Ring & lineal champion (March 2006-September 2008, 3 defences); undisputed champion (2007 following unification with Mikkel Kessler); holds the all-time records for the longest reign (10 years, 11 months) and consecutive number of title defences (21, joint with Sven Ottke) in the 168lb division.

[175lbs] The Ring champion (April 2008-February 2009, 1 defence).

2014 Boxing Hall of Fame, first ballot inductee.

Five Significant Opponents:

1. Chris Eubank (vacant WBO title, October 1997). Calzaghe floored Eubank in the first round and then barely let the former champion take a breather, claiming a wide, unanimous victory in an excellent, break out performance.

2. Byron Mitchell (13th defence WBO title, June 2003). In a wild two-round brawl, Calzaghe was floored briefly for the first time in his career before blazing back and putting Mitchell to the canvas within seconds of rising to his feet. The champion then poured on flurries of punches, rocking the former WBA titleholder backwards and causing referee Dave Parris to intervene.

3. Jeff Lacy (18th defence WBO title/IBF unification/The Ring & lineal title, March 2006). Lacy came over to the UK as an undefeated, rival champion being heavily hyped as a monster puncher and a new “Mini Tyson”, but Calzaghe absolutely ruined him – winning every second of every round in one of the finest performances ever seen in a British ring.

4. Mikkel Kessler (21st defence WBO title/3rd defence The Ring & lineal title/WBC/WBA unification, November 2007). In an absorbing battle between undefeated champions, the fight ebbed back and forth for the first four rounds before Calzaghe made the necessary adjustments to befuddle his opponent in a brilliant exhibition of technical boxing, winning comfortably on the cards to finally prove even the most ardent of his detractors wrong.

5. Bernard Hopkins (The Ring light-heavyweight [175lb] championship, April 2008). In a scrappy encounter, Calzaghe was floored by a counter right hand in the first round before clawing his way back to win a close split decision in the American’s backyard, landing more punches on Hopkins than any previous opponent had ever recorded. To put the victory in context, in his next bout Hopkins dominated the much younger, undefeated American puncher Kelly Pavlik in one of his finest ever performances.

Other Notable Victories:

W12 Robin Reid (a close split decision over a former WBC champion); TKO5 Omar Sheika (the boisterous American contender was coming off a quality victory over world-rated Glen Johnson); TKO10 Richie Woodhall (the Olympic bronze medalist and former WBC champion was world class, but stopped late); TKO1 & TKO6 Mario Veit (the undefeated mandatory challenger was blasted out in a round, before stringing together fifteen consecutive victories and forcing a rematch, but Calzaghe travelled to Germany and repeated the result in six); W12 Charles Brewer (an exciting battle ended in a wide unanimous decision over the former IBF champion); W12 Sakio Bika (the awkward African was unlucky to receive a technical draw against WBC champion Markus Beyer prior to facing Calzaghe, and went on to become champion in 2013); W12 Roy Jones Junior (the Welshman humiliated a vastly faded version of the best fighter of his generation at New York’s Madison Square Garden).

Ones That Got Away:

Steve Collins was scheduled to defend against Calzaghe in October 1997 before withdrawing injured at late notice and then retiring from the sport, citing a lack of motivation for the fight. Carl Froch chased a fight with Calzaghe towards the end of his reign, but Calzaghe opted instead to pursue bigger names in America at light-heavyweight. Fights with American greats Roy Jones and Bernard Hopkins were mooted for much of Calzaghe’s 168lb reign, with Hopkins even agreeing terms at one point before backing out of the contest. A fight with long-reigning rival IBF holder Sven Ottke also should have happened, but neither champion was prepared to travel to the other’s backyard. Fights against middleweight Kelly Pavlik and light-heavyweight Antonio Tarver would also have been huge, but failed to materialize.

Carl Froch


Perhaps no British fighter in history has ever undertaken a more challenging run of back-to-back, world-class match-ups than Carl Froch: From December 2008-May 2012, The Cobra fought eight consecutive contests of the highest caliber (Pascal-Taylor-Dirrell-Kessler-Abraham-Johnson-Ward-Bute), winning far more than he lost and earning the respect of the entire boxing community as one of the sport’s toughest warriors. On the downside, despite the array of entertaining victories, he never quite managed to reach the summit of his division.

Style & Ability:

A super-strong fighter who loved a tear-up, Froch was also a world amateur bronze medalist who possessed an underrated and at times under-utilized set of boxing skills, with a ‘hands low’, unorthodox style often masking his technical know-how and effective left jab. He was also the owner of an absolute granite jaw and legitimate one-punch knockout power. The Englishman’s warrior spirit and inclination towards a straight shoot-out perhaps proving his shortcoming against more technically adept opposition, he nevertheless demonstrated he was capable of boxing to a disciplined strategy when it suited him.

Titles & Accolades:

[168lbs] English champion (2003, 0 defences), Commonwealth champion (2004-2006, 7 defences) & British champion (2004-2007, 4 defences); 2 x WBC world champion (December 2008-April 2010, 2 defences & November 2010-December 2011, 1 defence); IBF world champion (May 2012-February 2015, 4 defences); WBA “regular” world champion (May 2013-May 2015, 2 defences) [Note: Andre Ward was recognized as the WBA’s “super” world champion during this period]

“Super Six World Boxing Classic” tournament, runner-up (2011).

Five Significant Opponents:

1. Jermain Taylor (1st defence WBC title, April 2009). After being floored in the 3rd round by a right hand and behind on two of the judges’ cards going into the 12th, The Cobra scored a dramatic, Hollywood-style stoppage with just fifteen seconds remaining on the clock.

2. Mikkel Kessler (3rd defence WBC title, April 2011 & 2nd defence IBF title/WBA unification, May 2013). In their first meeting, the teak-tough “Viking Warrior” ended Froch’s first reign as WBC champion, earning a unanimous points verdict in a brutal back-and-forth battle in his native Denmark. After re-establishing himself as a world champion, Froch enticed the Dane to London and returned the favour – this time unanimously outpointing Kessler in yet another closely fought, outstanding war of attrition.

3. Arthur Abraham (vacant WBC title, November 2010). Abraham was considered a dangerous puncher and even went into the battle as a betting favourite, but was completely out-boxed by Froch, scoring a virtual shutout in easily his most disciplined, polished performance.

4. Andre Ward (2nd defence [2nd reign] WBC title/WBA unification, December 2011). The Englishman fought bravely, but Ward’s awkward style, more refined defence and superior technical skills proved a step too far, taking a clear unanimous victory over the twelve-round distance.

5. Lucian Bute (IBF title, May 2012). Bute started as a favourite in the Englishman’s hometown, but Froch battered the shell-shocked, undefeated IBF champion in a one-sided, five round beat down in one of his most impressive wins.

Other Notable Victories:

WRTD5 Robin Reid (the faded former WBC champion couldn’t hold off the rising star); W12 Jean Pascal (the undefeated, world-class Canadian later established himself as a light-heavyweight champion); W12 Andre Dirrell (undefeated, Olympic bronze medalist Dirrell lost a somewhat controversial split decision in Nottingham); W12 Glen Johnson (the faded 42 year-old former light-heavyweight champion fought well in losing a majority decision); TKO9 & KO8 George Groves (Froch’s bitter domestic rival floored and hurt The Cobra in the first round of their first meeting before being controversially stopped later in the fight, but the feud was brutally and conclusively settled in Froch’s final outing).

Ones That Got Away:

Froch pestered Calzaghe to give him his first title shot, but lacking the requisite name-value, couldn’t bait the Welshman into a fight. A rematch with Andre Ward and a rubber match with Mikkel Kessler would both have been interesting, but the Dane retired and Froch seemed to show a lack of interest in a second meeting with his American conqueror. Domestic rival James DeGale earned a mandatory shot at Froch’s IBF title, but – as Collins had done to Calzaghe and then Calzaghe had done to Froch years earlier – the champion cited a lack of motivation in meeting another domestic rival, and relinquished the belt instead. Light-heavyweight champions Sergey Kovalev & Adonis Stevenson would have presented an interesting test had the super middleweight elected to try for a belt in a second weight division, but Froch always said he was comfortable at the 168lb limit. Perhaps the most mouth-watering match-up of all would have been with middleweight monster Gennady Golovkin. The undefeated and much feared Kazakhstan champion called out Froch through the media, but despite early signs a deal might be made, the 38 year-old Englishman decided to retire instead.

The Verdict

Success in boxing is all about levels. And it seems to me that there is often a tendency to conflate respect for the Nottingham hero’s warrior spirit and formidable series of match-ups with the level of his actual success in the ring; whereas with Calzaghe the reverse is true, and many observers tend to let the disappointing periods during his career detract from the magnitude of his final accomplishments. So while there is certainly no argument here that Froch indeed faced a more consistent level of challenging opposition, we should remember that just because a fighter consistently fights the best, that does not automatically make him the best. (If it did, Oscar De La Hoya would probably be the greatest fighter of all time). Ultimately, there is a reason that a younger, more dangerous version of Mikkel Kessler was handily beaten by Calzaghe but the older, more shopworn version was able to defeat Carl Froch; and there is a reason Calzaghe reached the absolute pinnacle of the super middleweight division, while Froch never did. The reason is that he was not quite able to compete successfully at the same level.

Had these two fine champions met in the ring, the evidence suggests that Calzaghe’s greater speed and more refined boxing technique would probably have won the day. That being said, the theoretical victor in a meeting between the pair is not really the main issue here. “Mythical” match-ups are of course fun to debate, but based as they are on pure conjecture, they do not form the primary basis for assessing a fighter’s overall achievements. Looking at what they actually did, rather than what they might have done had they faced off in the ring, the only conclusion to be drawn, I think, is that Calzaghe still comfortably surpasses The Cobra in terms of his overall level of success.

That conclusion should not be construed as denigrating the career of Carl Froch. He is undoubtedly one of the finest champions Britain has ever produced. Ultimately though, it was Calzaghe who scaled the greatest heights: becoming the undisputed, consensus No.1 in his weight class; defeating fellow pound-for-pound entrants and Hall of Fame legends; emerging victorious in his most significant, defining contests; becoming a two-division champion and being regarded as a top three pound-for-pound talent for a sustained period of time, on both sides of the Atlantic. The Cobra’s CV, while outstanding, simply falls a notch below these accomplishments.

Matt can be followed on Twitter @Boxinphilosophy


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Three Punch Combo: A Bouquet for “ShoBox” and More



new television

THREE PUNCH COMBO — We are embarking into a new age in boxing. There are new television contracts and digital platforms available that are making the sport more visible than ever before to the masses. But with all these new deals and platforms, it is important not to forget some of the consistent programming that has been around for some time. There is no better example of this than the ShoBox series on Showtime.

ShoBox, more formally ShoBox: The New Generation, began with a simple premise of matching young prospects in with tough opposition. To get their fighters on this series, promoters would have to find credible opponents who could potentially test and maybe even upset their prized prospect. This premise has led to consistently competitive and entertaining fights in the more than 200 broadcasts since the inception of the series in 2001.

This past Friday, we saw just how this premise works once again. There was a four fight card that featured competitive fights on paper in all the matches. However, in two of those matches there did seem to be clear favorites though each of the respective fighters was being matched with their toughest foe to date.

James Wilkins and Misael Lopez opened the telecast in a 130-pound contest. Wilkins was featured in a documentary that aired on Showtime just prior to the card and was expected to make a smashing television debut. He was a knockout artist and the thought was that he would put on a show to open the telecast. But instead, Wilkins got a boxing lesson from Lopez who was busier from the outside and managed to mostly avoid the power of Wilkins throughout the contest in winning an eight round unanimous decision.

The main event featured Jon Fernandez facing O’Shaquie Foster in another 130-pound contest. Fernandez had been getting a lot of buzz and many in the sport considered the Spaniard a future star. This was supposed to be a test for Fernandez as Foster (pictured on the right) represented a step up in class, but nonetheless many expected Fernandez to pass the test with flying colors. Instead, the power punching Fernandez was clearly out-boxed by Foster for ten rounds in an entertaining fight.

These two fights showed once again that when young fighters are matched tough we often get better than expected fights that can sometimes deliver surprises. This coming Friday, the series returns with highly touted lightweight prospect Devin Haney (19-0, 13 KO’s) in the main event taking on former world title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos (33-2-2, 21 KO’s). This is a fight in which Haney is favored but one in which he is facing the toughest challenge of his young career. At the very least, this should be a test for the highly touted 19-year-old Haney and I am certain we get a compelling fight.

ShoBox is boxing’s most consistent series and one that just continues to provide fight fans with high caliber, competitive fights.

10 Percent or 10 Pounds – How To Combat Fighters Who Blow Up In Weight

It is time to address the issue of fighters gaining an absurd amount of weight following the weigh-in. There is a reason why we have weight classes in boxing. If one fighter enters the ring weighing significantly more than his opponent, it gives the bigger fighter a big advantage. This can make for not only non-competitive fights but potentially dangerous situations. I have a simple solution that I think can combat this problem.

In past articles, I have touched on the issue of fighters who miss the contracted weight. My argument has always been to implement a system with stiff financial penalties. So in a similar aspect, I think stiff financial penalties can combat the continued problem of fighters blowing up in weight after the official weigh-in.

What I propose is second day weigh-ins where fighters would not be permitted to put on more than ten pounds or 10 percent (whichever is more) of the contracted weight limit. If they are over, the fight still goes on but the fighter who misses the second day weight limit pays a substantial fine. This simple adjunct can be easily administered by the various state commissions in the United States (or any other commissions worldwide).

Here is an example:  Let’s say we have a fight contracted at 130 pounds and each fighter weighs in at 129 pounds. The second day limit would be 10 percent of 130 pounds which was the contracted weight. So each fighter could come in at a maximum of 143 pounds. Now let’s say one fighter comes in at 146 pounds. The penalty I propose would be 20 percent of that fighter’s purse per pound over the weight. And this money goes directly to their opponent. Under this example, the fighter over weight would lose 60 percent of his purse.

Zero Shouldn’t Mean That Much

We are in an era, largely due to The Floyd Mayweather Jr. Factor, where fighters are often overly protected to keep that precious zero in the loss column. But to do so, they are frequently matched with soft opposition and learn little from dismantling their overmatched foes. There is little to no growth in their career during this period and though the record may get glossy, the development of the fighter may be stunted.

Setbacks can humble fighters and make them see what needs to be done so as not to experience that feeling again. They become better overall fighters and put themselves in a better long term position in their career.

This past weekend, we saw two once promising prospects bounce back with career defining wins after suffering an early unexpected defeat. They are both now in prime position to have their respective careers blossom which may not have otherwise been the case.

Earlier I mentioned O’Shaquie Foster’s upset win against Jon Fernandez. Three years ago, Foster was a highly touted prospect. He had a good amateur background and was blessed athletically with dynamic speed. After building up an 8-0 record against less than formidable opposition, he lost in a dreadful performance to Samuel Teah. Another loss would follow several months later to Rolando Chinea. But Foster clearly learned from his mistakes in these fights and bounced back, layering his natural athletic ability with much improved skills in frankly outclassing Fernandez. Foster’s losses made him take a step back and re-evaluate what needed to be done inside the ring. He is now in prime position to become a contender in the 130-pound weight division.

Luke Campbell was a 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist and considered a can’t-miss future star in boxing. But in his 13th pro fight, in a rather shocking development, he was put on the canvas and lost a split decision to veteran Yvan Mendy. Another loss followed two years later against Jorge Linares but Campbell performed well while losing a split decision and flashed signs of improvement from the Mendy setback.

The rematch with Mendy for Campbell took place this past weekend and Campbell did what many expected him to do in their first encounter. He boxed effectively from the outside and mixed in precision combination punching to easily avenge the defeat. It was a dynamic performance by Campbell and put him in line for a big fight at lightweight.

Luke Campbell is a vastly different fighter from the one who lost to Mendy three years earlier and appears primed to potentially live up to the once high expectations. He is in a better spot today in his career due to what he learned from that first loss to Mendy.

Photo credit: Dave Mandel / SHOWTIME

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In Dismantling Povetkin, Joshua Recaptured His Swag among the Heavyweights



experienced opponent

He was in against a very crafty and experienced opponent in former WBA titlist Alexander Povetkin 34-2 (24). And although he was troubled by the dangerous Russian fighting small as he tried to inch his way in and time him, AJ adjusted well and started to take the initiative and dropped and stopped Povetkin in the seventh round, retaining his WBA, WBO, and IBF heavyweight titles and thus becoming the first fighter to ever stop Povetkin, something Wladimir Klitschko failed to do.

During the fight AJ was forced back. He had to adapt to Povetkin making him punch down and that caused him to be a little tentative, especially after being bloodied from a broken nose in the first round. And early on, AJ was a little confused and busy trying to keep Povetkin occupied from outside so he couldn’t get in on him. His most effective weapon in doing such was his left jab, delivered to the head or body, although the fight really turned when he began putting his one-two together. Then after a fairly evenly-paced bout, AJ slowed some with the hope it would lure Povetkin to close in a little harder, and he did.

As Povetkin, who came to fight, became more assertive, he became more vulnerable. AJ found the openings for his big right hand and left hook. With the first really solid right hand that bounced off his chin, Povetkin buckled and instinctively went back. Joshua pursued him and then, with near Joe Louis-like accuracy, put his right hands and hooks together, along with a beautiful right to the body in the middle of the assault and finished his game opponent.

Once again it was shown that trading with AJ is almost certain suicide. Povetkin was in great shape and would’ve been a handful for any other heavyweight in the world because he no doubt brought his A-game. Sometimes it takes AJ a little while to get going, and if you don’t do anything to bother him or wake him up, he doesn’t fight with the urgency of a “Smokin” Joe Frazier. However, when you wake him up and force him to cut loose, he’s so dangerous that he doesn’t need too many clean shots to end it. And making Joshua more lethal is that he has both short and inside power in both hands.

After months of hearing how Povetkin was the most serious threat to Joshua, that’s now finished business. Prior to the bout The Ring magazine rated the top six heavyweights in the world as follows…..Joshua, Wilder, Povetkin, Ortiz, Whyte and Parker, in that order. Now Joshua is 3-0 (2) versus Povetkin, Whyte and Parker which squashes the narrative that he has fought weaker opposition than WBC title holder Deontay Wilder 40-0 (39) who has only faced Ortiz among the top six.

Today, the most widely levied criticism of any elite fighter is that he didn’t fight the best man or men in his division. Fighters can’t control who their contemporaries are but they can control fighting the best of their era. Rocky Marciano’s era wasn’t stellar, but he fought every top fighter who was in line to challenge him. Floyd Mayweather fought in a stout era – the difference is an overwhelming majority of his bouts with big name opponents were strategically manipulated so that he faced them on the downside of their career – and that’s a fact, not a theory.

Forty years after his last victory in a title fight, Muhammad Ali is respected and revered as a fighter even by those who don’t claim to be a fan of his. Why? He wasn’t the most fundamental boxer in heavyweight history nor was he the biggest puncher, and not all of his fights were edge of your seat exciting. The thing that’s often cited as to why he was a marvel is that he fought the best of the best during one of the deepest eras in heavyweight history. There were a few times between 1975-77 that he held a win over every fighter ranked among The Ring magazine’s top-10. Sure he fought a few Brian London’s and Jean Pierre Coopman’s, but London was encompassed by Sonny Liston and Ernie Terrell during the 1960s and Coopman by Joe Frazier and Ken Norton during the 1970s.

Anthony Joshua hasn’t yet sniffed the greatness of Ali on many levels, but he is on the same trajectory in regards to meeting and defeating the best of his generation. By the end of this month, the WBC heavyweight title fight between Deontay Wilder and former champ Tyson Fury will likely become official with them meeting in early December. And regardless of who wins, Joshua, if he really wants to etch a great legacy, must pressure the winner to meet him in their next bout. In addition to that, he must tell his brain, aka Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn, to forget about winning the purse war if it is the only stumbling block. If the winner of Wilder-Fury is impressive, he will have earned a 50-50 split.

During the faux negotiations between the Joshua and Wilder camps this past summer the purse split was the focal point. And prior to the prospect of Wilder and Fury meeting, Joshua clearly held the better hand based on his resume and owning three titles to Wilder’s single title.  But the Wilder-Fury winner will have closed the gap and Joshua needs to be next while the fighters are at or near their prime. The fact is Joshua versus the Wilder/Fury winner will be the most widely anticipated fight in the heavyweight division since Lewis-Tyson and maybe even since Tyson-Holyfield I. The onus is on the fighters to make it happen and they both have the clout to make sure it does, especially Joshua.

Interviewed in the ring after dispatching Povetkin, AJ said it didn’t matter to him who he fought next as long as it’s Wilder or Fury, but it was obvious that he preferred Wilder. A lot depends on how Wilder fares with Fury, but until then, here’s what we know…..Alexander Povetkin and Luis Ortiz are about on the same level; having never faced each other, it’s a tossup as to who’d win. Both Joshua and Wilder scored impressive stoppages over Povetkin and Ortiz respectively…AJ needed seven rounds and Deontay needed ten rounds. During his bout with Ortiz, Wilder was knocked around the ring and had to endure a few big exchanges, some of which he came out second-best. Wilder was also nearly stopped in the seventh round but battled back, summoning great courage and reserve to win a fight he was losing. Against Povetkin, Joshua was more troubled than he was beaten up. And once he found his range and pace and began putting his punches together, the fight ultimately ended when AJ got off with his best stuff. In essence, Joshua was more impressive against Povetkin and had fewer close calls than did Wilder against Ortiz.

Between now and the time Wilder fights Tyson Fury, it’ll be debated as to who was more impressive – Joshua against Povetkin or Wilder against Ortiz; the answer is clearly Joshua for the reasons stated. Moreover, when analyzing a fight, A + B doesn’t equal C. Joshua will be favored over either Wilder or Fury, but probably along the line of 7-5 and nothing will change that.

The thing that emerged from Joshua dismantling Povetkin is that AJ recaptured some of the limelight and swag he ceded to Wilder this past March. AJ is again the fighter to beat in the heavyweight division and will probably get the bigger purse split regardless of whether he faces Wilder and Fury.

That said, he better not let the fight fall through over it!

Between 1977 and 1982, Frank Lotierzo had over 50 fights in the middleweight division. He trained at Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia under the tutelage of the legendary George Benton. Before joining The Sweet Science his work appeared in several prominent newsstand and digital boxing magazines and he hosted “Toe-to-Toe” on ESPN Radio. Lotierzo can be contacted at

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Tanaka vs. Kimora: A Monday Morning Treat For Serious Fight Fans



Kosei Tanaka was just 4-0 the first time he was appraised on The Sweet Science back in 2015; the question then was, is Tanaka the world’s brightest boxing prospect? The question now is whether or not Tanaka is about to add a strap at a third weight to an already glittering career that has seen him annex belts at 105 and 108lbs in just his first eight fights.

Now 11-0 with seven knockouts he prepares, this coming Monday, to duel Sho Kimura in Nagoya, Japan and with a lot more than just the WBO trinket on the line.

Hearts and minds, as always, translate into dollars and yen. The winner of this all-Japanese contest will find himself buoyed in fame, glory and gold in his home country, which also happens to be one of the few places on the planet where a boxer can collect a small fortune without ever leaving his native shores. Should the winner dare to dream a wider dream, then that too can be facilitated by the win.  Even fistic denizens of boxing strongholds in Japan and Britain feel a shiver run down their spines when the words “Las Vegas headliner” are whispered into their ear.

The favored man among the hardcore in the west is Tanaka. He is still very young at just twenty-three years old and is slick and quick, what the west expects of a Japanese force. Interestingly enough, however, the Japanese seem to be leaning towards Kimura: older, at twenty-nine, armed with a superb work-rate, good power, limited technique but the conqueror of Chinese superstar Shiming Zou who he stopped in the summer of 2017. Zou may have had his bubble burst by the Thai brawler Amnat Ruenroeng in 2015, but it was Kimura who sent him stumbling into retirement and at a time when the talk was of China stealing Japan’s thunder as boxing’s home in the east.

Kimura was indeed impressive that night in Shanghai. He maintained pressure with wonderful variety, eschewing the jab, perhaps, for spells, but filling those gaps with an assortment of wonderful punches, most of all his body attack, which was persistent, withering, and apparently went unscored by two of the three judges who somehow had the Chinese ahead at the time of the eleventh round stoppage. Zou had shown a skill for flurrying while fleeing and Kimura had shown him how to fight.

Now a strapholder at 112lbs, Kimura staged two defenses in the following twelve months. The first was against Toshiyuki Igarashi, the man who beat Sonny Boy Jaro, the man who had beaten the superb champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam before a softer fight against Froilan Saludar. He won both by stoppage.

Kimura, then, rather came from nowhere but made the most of his arrival. What he displayed in all three of these fights was a determination to offer pressure and footwork educated enough to do it while taking many fewer steps than his harried opponent. A tad overrated as a puncher, I suspect, he places himself in hitting position often enough that his default fight plan – chase, harass, throw – makes him capable of hurting his opponents by way of persistence and pressure.

He left Zou, Igarashi and Saludar, broken in his wake.

In short, he is the type of opponent Kosei Tanaka has been waiting for.

There have been calls for Tanaka to be considered a pound-for-pound talent should he overcome Kimura this Monday. I understand the impulse. Tanaka, were he to triumph, would become a three-weight world champion and he hails from a boxing territory which has little direct control over the meaningful pound-for-pound lists, if such a statement is not a contradiction in terms.

In short, it is felt he would be undervalued.

Tempering these calls is the fact that he has never beaten a divisional number one and that Kimura would be, by far, the best opponent he would have bested, and the most proven. Some Tanaka opponents have come good after he defeated them, some were ranked in the lower reaches of their respective divisional top tens when he matched them, but none are scalps as impressive as those dangled by the likes of Errol Spence or Anthony Joshua, who populate the nine, ten and eleven spots in reputable lists.

But this is neither here nor there; the key is not what Kimura does not represent, it is what he does represent. He is the best that Tanaka has met and, I would argue, the first truly elite fighter that Tanaka has met. He is the litmus test and he is one with a stylistic advantage.

Tanaka can punch. Here we will find out whether or not he punches hard enough to keep Kimura off him. Personally, I doubt it and that means that Kimura is going to hand him a serious gut check.

Interestingly, it will not be Tanaka’s first. The first time I wrote about him I stressed that his chin was essentially untested. That is no longer true. Tanaka, who is reasonably sound defensively, can be lazy in minding himself and foolish in pursuing the attack.

Thai puncher Rangsan Chayanram checked him in 2017, delivering a serious eye injury among other ignominies before succumbing in nine; puncher Angel Acosta, a ranked fighter if not a great one, hit and hurt Tanaka repeatedly late in their 2017 contest. If Tanaka has been learning these lessons, expectations concerning his potential may be realized. If he is not, he will fall short. Kimura is the man to test him.

Kimura’s experience and seemingly limitless twelve-round stamina are to be pitted against Tanaka’s skill, proven heart and taut footwork. It sees a superior technician – Tanaka – who has shown a propensity for being drawn into a cruder fighter’s wheelhouse matching an aggressive stalker – Kimura – who specializes in drawing technically superior foes into knockdown-drag-out scraps.

It is framed both as a fight that is likely to finish a future pound-for-pounder’s education and a fight where a young pretender is found out by a grizzled veteran.

Best of all, it is a fight that fight fans can watch for free, simply by clicking here.  The Asian Boxing website has secured exclusive international rights to the fight and will broadcasting it, free of charge, to anyone with an internet connection. As can be seen here, the fight is due to start at 4pm Japanese time.

All the reader has to do is find out what that means for timing in their own corner of the globe and a potential fight of the year will unfold before his or her eyes free of charge.

World class boxing being broadcast for free and including two of the best below 115lbs; a stylistic crossroads contest that opens up the on-ramp to pound-for-pound recognition for at least one of the combatants – on a Monday.  All facts worth keeping in mind the next time that someone tells you boxing’s prime was any number of decades ago.

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