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Fistic Notes and Nuggets: The Hauser Report

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The past three weekends have seen PBC fighters on center stage in the United States. In each instance, there was a lesson in boxing politics. Let’s take a look.

On February 10, Bounce TV televised a PBC triple-header. Robert Easter impressively dismantled an overmatched Luis Cruz, and Terrell Gausha looked lethargic in outpointing Luis Hernandez. But the story of the night was the WBA super-bantamweight title fight between Rau’shee Warren and Zhanat Zhakiyanov.

Warren was a heavy favorite. And the odds widened exponentially when he knocked Zhakiyanov down twice in the first round. In round three, the momentum shifted. Zhakiyanov appeared to drop Warren with a pair of right hands, but referee Gary Rosato ruled that Rau’shee’s trip to the canvas was caused by a push. Thereafter, Zhakiyanov forced the pace. Warren, bleeding from the nose, had his moments but spent a great deal of time avoiding conflict rather than engaging in it.

The fight was contested at The Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio. Warren was the house fighter in every sense. He’s a favorite of PBC impresario Al Haymon; he’s a three-time U.S. Olympian; and he’s from Ohio. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Rau’shee would get the judges’ nod. Zhakiyanov is from Kazakhstan.

Then came the decision . . . Larry Hazzard Jr, 115-111 for Warren . . .  John Stewart, 115-111 for Zhakiyanov . . . Ryan Kennedy, 116-110 for Zhakiyanov.

The wide discrepancy in the scoring was similar to the gap that existed last year when Warren lost a split decision to Juan Carlos Payano. On that occasion, two judges scored the fight 113-111 for Payano while the third judge had it 115-109 for Warren.

Kudos for the honest scoring that boxing fans saw in Warren’s fights.

 

*     *     *

Good judging was the takeaway from the February 10 PBC card in Toledo. Bad refereeing was the takeaway from the February 18 card featuring PBC fighters in Cincinnati Ohio.

Showtime televised the featured bouts. In the opener, Marcus Browne and Thomas Williams squared off in a light-heavyweight contest. Sixty-eight seconds into round two, Browne scored a flash knockdown, dropping Williams with a stiff jab. Then, with Williams defenseless and clearly on the canvas, Browne whacked him with a vicious left to the side of the head.

This isn’t the first time that Browne has punched an opponent who was on the canvas. He also did it in his last fight, an April 16, 2016, outing against Radivoje Kalajdzic at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. In that bout, midway through round one, Kalajdzic visited the canvas on what was clearly a slip. And Browne hit Kalajdzic with a jolting straight left when Kalajdzic was down. Instead of warning Browne for his transgression and deducting one or more points, referee Tony Chiarantano mistakenly called the incident a knockdown and ignored the foul.

Referee Ken Miliner was no better in overseeing Browne-Williams. Williams was badly hurt by the illegal blow. Browne should have been disqualified for a flagrant foul. Instead, Miliner counted Williams out. Then a light went on in the referee’s head, and he deducted a point from Browne while allowing Williams five minutes to recover. But that missed the point.

Williams was in no condition to continue after being knocked woozy by an illegal punch. He staggered and seemed a bit disoriented when he rose. He was not allowed to sit, nor was he examined by a doctor during the recovery period. He was knocked down twice more and counted out in the sixth round.

To repeat: Browne should have been disqualified for a flagrant foul.

Miliner also evinced an embarrassing lack of familiarity with the rules of boxing. Just before the action in Browne-Williams resumed, the referee was overheard on a Showtime microphone saying several times that the fight would pick up with the start of the third round rather than continuing the interrupted second stanza.

In the main event, Adrien Broner took on Adrian Granados. The contract weight was 142 pounds. But Broner had trouble making weight and Granados was advised – take it or leave it – that the new contract weight was 147 pounds.

Broner isn’t the only fighter with a history of blowing off weight requirements. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, among others, comes quickly to mind. But Broner has raised the practice to an art form with no repercussions to date. That tarnishes the integrity of the competition.

Broner-Granados was scheduled for ten rounds. Ernie Sharif was the referee. Unfortunately, Sharif allowed Broner (who was the house fighter and hometown favorite) to foul throughout the bout.

In round three, Broner rocked Granados with combination that consisted of an elbow to the nose followed by a head butt that opened a cut on the bridge of Granados’s nose. That was followed by more elbows, more head butts, forearms to the throat, and other maneuvers that might be acceptable in mixed martial arts but aren’t in boxing.

Sharif looked on as a somewhat interested spectator might throughout it all.

It was a difficult fight to score. I gave the nod to Granados by a 96-94 margin. The judges awarded Broner a split-decision victory, which led Granados to complain during a post-fight interview, “They were playing with me. We had to change the weight. They’re just playing all types of f****** games. That’s bullshit. Give me a fair go. You all are treating me like I’m a dumb ass. Come on, man. That’s bullshit.”

Broner has lost both times he went in tough (against Marcos Maidana and Shawn Porter). He fights like a man who’s looking for shortcuts and, in recent years, has regressed as a fighter. He should be fighting at 140 pounds but appears to lack the discipline to make that weight.

 

*     *     *

And more on officials . . .

In all three of PBC’s February 25 fights on FOX, the referee stopped the bout with the loser still on his feet. Each stoppage was appropriate.

In the first televised bout of the evening, heavyweights Dominic Breazeale and Izuagbe Ugonoh engaged in an inartful slugfest that was more brawling than boxing. But it was fun while it lasted.

Breazeale was knocked out by Anthony Joshua in seven rounds last June. In that outing, he showed toughness and courage but not much more. Ugonoh was born in Poland to Nigerian parents, fought his first nine pro contests in Poland, and then moved to New Zealand where he had eight more bouts.

Ugonoh was the aggressor in rounds one and two against Breazeale, landing reasonably often as Dominic plodded stoically forward.

In round three, Ugonoh got careless, found himself on the receiving end of a right hand, acquainted himself with the canvas, and rose to stagger Breazeale before the round was done. Then, after the bell, Breazeale landed a thudding right hand to the kidney, and Ugonoh sank to the canvas in pain. Referee Jeff Dodson let the matter pass without warning, as he’d done when Breazeale tackled Ugonoh earlier in the stanza.

In round four, two overhand rights wobbled Breazeale. This time, Dominic missed the open-field tackle and stumbled to the canvas. But in round five, Breazeale turned things around, winding up with two overhand rights that everyone in the arena except Ugonoh could see coming. That put Ugonoh down for the second time. He beat the count but was being pummeled when the referee intervened to save him from further punishment at the 50-second mark.

Next up, Jarrett Hurd battled Tony Harrison for the vacant IBF 154-pound belt. Both fighters had beaten the usual suspects. But Harrison was knocked out in the ninth round when he stepped up in class to fight Willie Nelson in 2015. That said something about Tony’s staying power.

In the early rounds of Hurd-Harrison, Hurd was the more confident, more aggressive fighter. Harrison fought cautiously, picking his spots and throwing enough counterpunches to keep Jarrett honest.

In round three, Harrison found a groove and became busier and more effective than before. In part, that was because Hurd didn’t know how to cut off the ring (or if he did, he couldn’t implement the strategy). In part, it was because Hurd seemed mystified by a counterpuncher.

Then, in round eight, Harrison began to tire and one wondered if the Willie Nelson fight was in the back of his mind. If it wasn’t, it should have been. Two minutes eight seconds into round nine, a straight right dropped Harrison to the canvas. He rose, looked disoriented, spat out his mouthpiece, and referee Jim Korb stopped the fight.

That set the stage for Deontay Wilder vs. Gerald Washington.

Since winning his WBC heavyweight belt 25 months ago against Bermane Stiverne (who has fought only once since), Wilder has faced Eric Molina, Johann Duhaupas, Artur Szpilka, and Chris Arreola. That’s low-level competition.

Washington, age 34, is a former college football player who played defensive end, mostly as a back-up, for USC. He had 14 amateur fights and didn’t turn pro until four months after his thirtieth birthday. Prior to attending college, he was a helicopter mechanic in the United States Navy.

In an effort to hype Wilder-Washington, the promotion kept talking about what a “great athlete” Washington is. The same was said about former college football player Michael Grant before he was knocked out by Lennox Lewis, Dominick Guinn, Jameel McCline, Carlos Takam, and Manuel Charr. Grant was a better athlete than Washington and also a better fighter.

Wilder defended the choice of Washington as an opponent, citing his own seven-month layoff due to a broken hand and torn biceps before adding, “We all know boxing is a business first. No matter what fans want to see, no matter what anybody wants to see, boxing is a business.”

Fighting in Birmingham as a native son of Alabama, Wilder was the local hero and a 12-to-1 betting favorite.

The first few rounds of Wilder-Washington saw Wilder do next-to-nothing while Washington tried to establish his jab. But Washington fights with his feet spread so far apart that he pushes his jab rather than stepping into it. Worse, Washington leans in when he throws the jab and brings it back low and slow. That’s a no-no in boxing and raised the question of what would happen when Wilder got around to timing Washington’s jab and dropped a right hand over the top. The answer came in round five . . . KO 5. At the time of the stoppage, one judge had Wilder ahead 39-37. The other two judges had the fight even at 38-38. That was hometown scoring.

Later in the evening, Wilder got into another fight. This one against Dominic Breazeale in the lobby of the Westin Birmingham Hotel where the fighters and their respective camps were staying.

Wilder had signaled bad blood toward Breazeale at the post-fight press conference, telling the media, “He had an altercation with my little brother. You don’t mess with my little brother. If you have a problem, you come to me and we can handle it. We can deal with it accordingly. So with that, I’ve got a problem with him. And it ain’t no problem that I wanna see him in the ring. So I’ll see him.”

See him, Deontay did. The fight spilled out onto the street and police intervention was necessary to restore order.

On Sunday morning, Breazeale posted a statement on Instagram that read, “I want to address the fact that Deontay Wilder and a mob of about 20 people unprovokedly attacked my team and my family in the lobby last night. My coach and I were blindsided by sucker-punches and my team was assaulted as well, all in front wife and kids. This cowardly attack has no place in boxing and, believe me, it will not go unpunished.”

Wilder had a previous run-in with the law when he was arrested in 2013 after an incident in a Las Vegas hotel room and charged with domestic battery by strangulation. According to a police report, the woman in question had a possible broken nose, swelling around her eyes, a cut lip, and red marks on her neck. Wilder’s attorney later said that Deontay was apologetic and had mistakenly thought the woman was planning to rob him. The matter was settled out of court.

But returning to in-ring combat . . . Wilder can whack with his right hand. The short chopping punch to the temple that dropped Washington would cause problems for any heavyweight. However, a good heavyweight might be experienced enough to not get hit by it. And Deontay has flaws as a fighter. Lots of them, including the fact that he pulls straight back from punches instead of slipping them.

It would be nice to see Wilder in the ring next against someone on the order of Luis Ortiz or Jarrell Miller. But more likely, he’ll fight Joseph Parker or an even less-threatening opponent while biding his time for a big-money bout against Anthony Joshua, Wladimir Klitschko, or Tyson Fury. That might be a good business strategy. But it makes Wilder an intriguing contender, not a champion.

 

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – A Hard World: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing – was published recently by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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

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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

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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 GlovedFist@gmail.com

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

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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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