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Kosei Tanaka: 5-0, But a “World Champion”

Matt McGrain

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The quotation marks need explaining: I, like so many other boxing fans, cannot take the proliferation of alphabet belts seriously. As every seasoned Sweet Science reader knows, a man holding a given trinket is never much better than three or four-to-one on to be the best fighter in the division. Still, even in a case where a youngster is scooping up a vacant strap rather than beating an incumbent champion, the speed with which a prospect is matched for one of boxing’s many alphabet belts is telling. It imparts to the fan the confidence in which the would-be-title-holder is held by his management and fistic team. A gym knows a fighter better than a fighter will ever know a gym. Kosei Tanaka’s gym showed the confidence to see him matched for a world title in just his fifth outing last weekend, in Aichi, Japan.

The number is not without significance. Naoya Inoue, aka “The Monster”, currently a dark horse galloping on the pound-for-pound beach after just eight contests, is a two weight world-champion who must name, already, among the most dangerous fighters on the planet. He was allowed to match for a strap in his sixth contest; Tanaka has just broken his record for a Japanese fighter claiming a strap by a single fight. The fact that Inoue was matched for his second title two weights north, at super-flyweight, just eight months later, leaves him as a distant speck on Kosei Tanaka’s horizon, but he has signalled a warning note to his more prestigious countrymen and it is not a discord that will go unnoticed by the former record holder. For all that Tanaka and Inoue are said to like and respect one-another, a future in which they do not meet for every marble the Japanese fight scene can muster does not seem possible.

Tanaka’s opponent for his this prestigious occasion was Julian Yedras. Yedras, out of Campeche, Mexico, is at first glance every inch the ABC setup one has come to expect from occasions that see a valuable commodity like Tanaka anointed champion, and to an extent he was; as a challenge, Yedras represents neither the advanced thuggery of Orlando Salido, who derailed Vasyl Lomachenko’s early attempt at a strap, nor Inoue’s extreme daring in taking on divisional #1 Adrian Hernandez, for his first title outing. But, having now dropped to just 24-2, Yedras brought more than enough to his teenage opponent’s table to make things interesting.

A record populated mainly by journeymen and prospects, the Mexican’s status is clear, and it is not that of a strapholder – but Yedras had matched one outstanding fighter in Carlos Buitrago, currently ranked the #5 minimumweight in the world. The result was a points loss and perusing the scorecards we can see that it is a wide one (116-113, 118-111, 118-110), but as is so often the case the cards do not tell the story.

Buitrago landed combinations often and they were consistently the better punches, but Yedras had his successes also. Wild-swinging and impossible to discourage, he thundered forwards against his slicker, more experienced opponent, popping out a torqueless jab with persistence, shaping himself around a whipping hook and digging in a right hand to the body. A thudding, rather than a stinging hitter, an apparent lack of power handicaps him but Yedras has at least some of the banditry that made Salido so dangerous, even if he lacks certain elements of style and, shall we say, artistry which his fellow Mexican mastered.

Nevertheless, Yedras looked a handful against Buitrago, and early in the fight he put together a rather frightening rush on the cards. In the mid-rounds Buitrago had mastered him, or so it seemed, until the tenth, when it suddenly looked as though the Mexican’s dogged determination and investment in the body might pay off; the round was close, but I scored it for him, making the fight take on a narrow appearance entering the eleventh. Had Yedras taken both remaining rounds he would have made a draw on my card, and according to broadcaster Box Azteca, he would have done enough to win. In the end, I thought that Yedras won the fight quite literally in the final seconds of the twelfth where he rallied and appeared to hurt his man. It was that close.

This fight gave me the impression that Yedras would be dangerous for Tanaka. So it would prove. He was clearly the fresher man in the closing rounds against the more elite Buitrago, and capable of concentrated bursts of consistent pressure yielding consecutive rounds on the scorecards. This is a dangerous combination for a prospect that has yet to do the twelve. Any sudden lapses of will would be exposed; any tiny coughs in his engine would be heard and pounced upon – and any stylistic tics, say, the propensity to exchange unadvisedly or a failure to work to keep a more limited fighter on the outside could be ruthlessly exploited.

As I wrote in profiling Tanaka in February (an article you can read here), Kosei is “a box-mover in the truest sense, a methodology designed to embrace, to the greatest extent, his natural gifts…it works well for a fighter with the necessary speed.” Speed, the kid has, in abundance, and he was able to repeatedly get around the corner on the Mexican with his left-hook and counter his opponent’s best work in the early rounds. Unsurprisingly to anyone who had seen his fight with Buitrago, however, Yedras was able to match jabs with the young Japanese. As it provided countering opportunities for Tanaka this seemed, perhaps, not to matter; but the plot would shortly thicken.

But before we get to Yedras and his inevitable surge, let’s take a moment to appreciate those things that the fledgling Tanaka does so well; the way he can find a three punch combination to the body off a jab to the face; the footspeed that guides him all the way around his back-stepping opponent to find the hook behind the ear without giving up a punching opportunity; the guard-splitting uppercut behind which he vanishes in a cloud of ethereal footwork; the stunning straight, hook, straight combination that sent the granite-chinned Mexican reeling to the ropes in the second. Old men in hard gyms might shed a single tear at seeing such skill demonstrated by an eighteen month professional, but Tanaka already makes them look easy. He is unencumbered by doubt or bulk.

Returning to Yedras and his jab, his surge. While it is true that his jab was absolutely failing to do its most important job, namely keep the spritely Tanaka busy, Yedras embraced this fact which was so detrimental to his scorecard and his face, and slowly, surely, he followed his jab in, and by the middle of the third he found ground zero, his target, the space inside his opponent’s rapier left-hook. Showing an immaturity typical of his age or perhaps even a machismo more typical of his opponent’s national character, Tanaka elected to stay in the pocket and fight.

It led to some fantastic exchanges, as Tanaka’s speed was neutralised by Yedras and his determination to punch regardless of what was coming the other way. It also induced in Tanaka a pause, eschewing the out-fighting at which he was so clearly the better, in favour of infighting, where the competition was hotter. Tanaka was still, clearly, winning the fight and he followed Yedras to the pocket with such savagery in the fifth that it seemed he may be on the verge of stopping him, but he dropped the fourth and perhaps the sixth, as Yedras stepped over the line from heart into sheer bloody-mindedness.

A golden fluidity on offence and defence brought Tanaka firmly back to the box-seat through eight, although fire-fights continued to break out with breath-taking regularity as the Japanese elected to hold his ground rather than move. In the ninth, Tanaka was finally chin-checked by a legitimate counter-right that landed flush and was perhaps momentarily troubled; but within seconds he had brushed the punch off and was back to his foraging attack, his chief weapon that varied, roaming left. Tanaka’s swarm is composed of more fast punches than perhaps anyone in the sport right now. It’s not that he has the out-and-out fastest hands, it’s that he is bringing across the eighth punch in the swarm at the same speed as the first and second; his lack of power is now absolutely confirmed because he was landing so many shots that even a chin like the Mexican’s couldn’t hold up against these shots in volume from any kind of puncher. I would speculate, though, that his punches may have the disorienting qualities of a Joe Calzaghe, the ability to “mix a man’s mind” so aptly described by Muhammad Ali.

While we now know absolutely that Tanaka lacks power, we can confirm, too, that he runs a deluxe engine. This was a fast fight and both men threw many punches but Tanaka is the man on the wrong end of the economy equation; he is a volume puncher who moves a lot, who circles, who forages. This means there will be few fights where he throws fewer punches than his opponent and perhaps none in which he will take fewer steps. Although Tanaka had the look of a tired man come the eleventh, and although he was likely out-worked in that round, he moved more, threw more, landed more, and rather unfortunately, showboated more than an opponent of seeming limitless stamina in the twelfth.

Those who were a little underwhelmed by Tanaka’s belt-winning performance might consider this for a moment, as well as the fact that Yedras is a better opponent than has generally been credited. It is also worth considering that of the official scorecards, the two judges scoring 117-111 are far more a reflection of reality than the third card which read 115-113, and which seems close to unjustifiable. Finally, it should never be forgotten that Tanaka was 4-0 at bell. The aforementioned Muhammad Ali was fighting a late substitute by the name of Jimmy Robinson at that point in his career. Robinson, a career light-heavy, amassed a final record of 11-26. Joe Calzaghe on the other hand was fighting a Cypriot named Martin Rosamond. Rosamond, fighting his last fight, dropped to 10-16 and was stopped that night for the tenth time. Tanaka is ahead of the curve based upon this result, not behind it. Unlike Ali and Calzaghe he will learn his trade against ranked men, not journeymen. It seems likely that his opponent in one of his next two fights will be fellow Japanese Katsunari Takayama, inarguably among the three best minimumweights in the world. A victory over Takayama followed by a successful title-tilt somewhere north of 105lbs, a weight Tanaka is happy to acknowledge he won’t be able to make forever, and Japan will have another fighter breathing down the neck of the pound-for-pound list before he has even had ten fights.

That is all quite far away, admittedly. But there may be a change of wind coming. It blows from the East.

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Fast Results from Brooklyn: No Surprises as Garcia and Hurd Win Lopsidedly

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight, Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia made his eighth appearance at Barclays Center. Garcia’s 2017 fight with Keith Thurman drew 16,533, the attendance high for a boxing show at the arena. A far smaller crowd was in attendance tonight to see Garcia take on Ivan Redkach in a non-title fight slated for 12 rounds.

Redkach, a 33-year-old LA-based Ukrainian, is a southpaw. That’s no coincidence. Garcia hopes to land big-money fights with Errol Spence and/or Manny Pacquiao, both southpaws.

Redkach (23-4-1 coming in) turned his career around in his last fight with a career-best performance, a sixth-round stoppage of former two-division title-holder Devon Alexander, a 15-year pro who hadn’t previously been stopped. But there was a class difference between he and Danny Garcia, a former WBA and WBC 140-pound world title-holder and former WBC 147-pound champion.

Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) was simply sharper. His workrate slowed late in the fight, allowing the game Redkach to steal a few rounds, but at the final gun he was relatively unmarked whereas Redkach was conspicuously bruised. The scores were 118-110 and 117-111 twice. The crowd booed at intervals, understandable as they were subject to a drab 7-fight card that was even less interesting than it was on paper.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Jarrett Hurd, making his first start since losing his WBA/IBF super welterweight title to Julian Williams last May, went on cruise control from the opening bell and jabbed his way to a lopsided 10-round decision over Francisco Santana. Hurd, who improved to 24-1, finally let loose late in the 10th frame, putting Santana (25-8-1) on the canvas with a succession of left hooks, but by then many in the crowd had probably nodded off.

This was Hurd’s first fight with new trainer Kay Koroma who has drawn raves for his work with America’s elite amateurs. The scores were 97-92 and 99-90 twice. SoCal’s Santana has now lost five of his last eight.

The opening bout on the main TV portion of the card was a 12-round super bantamweight contest between Philadelphia’s Stephen Fulton and fellow unbeaten Arnold Khegai who currently trains in Philadelphia.

Fulton (18-0, 8 KOs) simply had too much class for Khegai (16-1-1), a Ukrainian of Korean heritage. Although Khegai frequently backed Fulton into the ropes, the Philadelphian had an air-tight defense and connected with many more punches. The fight went the full 12 with Fulton prevailing by scores of 116-112 and 117-111 twice.

If the WBO has its way, Fulton will proceed to a fight with Emanuel Navarrete, but don’t hold your breath as Navarrete is promoted by Bob Arum who undoubtedly wants to extract more mileage from him before letting him risk his belt against a crafty fighter like Stephen Fulton.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Sacramento Honors Diego ‘Chico’ Corrales

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight (Saturday, Jan. 25) former two-division world boxing champion Diego “Chico” Corrales will be posthumously inducted into the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame at the organization’s eighth annual induction ceremony at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort.

Corrales, who grew up in Sacramento, the son of a Columbian father and a Mexican mother, turned pro at age 18 and went on to compile a record of 40-5 (33 KOs). He won his first title in 1999 with a seventh-round stoppage of previously undefeated Robert Garcia. Now recognized as one of boxing’s top trainers, Garcia was making the fourth defense of his IBF 130-pound title.

Five years later, Corrales won the WBO world lightweight title with a 10th-round stoppage of Brazil’s previously undefeated Acelino Freitas. That set up a unification fight with the WBC belt-holder Jose Luis Castillo.

Corrales and Castillo met on May 7, 2005, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. To say they put on a great fight would be an understatement. The boxing writers in attendance will tell you that this was the greatest fight of all time. It was named Fight of the Decade by The Ring magazine.

The final round, the 10th, was unbelievable. Heading into the round, Corrales was ahead on two of the three scorecards, but his left eye was swollen nearly shut and during the round he was knocked down twice. No one would have faulted referee Tony Weeks for stopping the fight after the second knockdown. But, somehow, Corrales was able to rally, pulling the fight out of the fire with a barrage of punches that had Castillo out on his feet when Weeks waived it off.

Two years to the very day of this iconic fight, Diego “Chico” Corrales died in a motorcycle accident in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas when he rear-ended a car while traveling at a high rate of speed. He was 29 years old.

Corrales was a thrill-seeker. In a 2006 profile, Las Vegas Review-Journal boxing writer Kevin Iole enumerated these among Castillo’s hobbies: jumping out of planes from 14,000 feet, bungee jumping from 400 feet, snowboarding in treacherous terrain and scuba diving amid a school of sharks. “He lived his life the same way he fought,” said his promoter Gary Shaw, “with reckless abandon.”

It might seem odd that it took so long for Corrales to be recognized by the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame, but there was a period when Corrales’s name was mud in his hometown and perhaps the organization’s founder, Las Vegas sports radio personality T.C. Martin, a Sacramento native, thought it appropriate to let old wounds heal.

In 2001, shortly after suffering his first pro loss at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, Corrales pled guilty to felony domestic violence in the beating of his first wife and would serve 14 months in prison. “The whole family has worn a black eye for it,” Diego’s brother Esteban Corrales told Sacramento Bee reporter Marcos Bretan.

For all his recklessness, the incident didn’t jibe with his persona. In the company of Las Vegas sportswriters, the soft-spoken and well-spoken Corrales came across as polite and humble.

Corrales, one of five inductees in the 2020 class, joins three other boxers already installed in the Sacramento Hall: Pete Ranzany, Loreto Garza, and Tony “Tiger” Lopez.

Ranzany, a welterweight, fought four former or future world champions and was a fixture in Sacramento rings in the late 1970’s. Garza wrested the WBA super lightweight title from Argentina’s Juan Martin Coggi in France and successfully defended the belt here in Sacramento with a one-sided conquest of Vinny Pazienza. Lopez, Sacramento’s most popular fighter ever, made the turnstiles hum at the city’s largest arena where he fought eight of his 14 world title fights beginning with his 1988 humdinger with defending IBF 130-pound champion Rocky Lockridge.

Among the speakers at tonight’s confab will be Kenny Adams. Perhaps best known as the head trainer for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team that won eight medals in Seoul, Adams currently trains Nonito Donaire. He was with Diego Corrales for 24 fights, during which Corrales was 23-1, avenging the lone defeat by Joel Casamayor. Festivities start at 7 pm.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Ramirez-Postol, Taylor-Serrano and More

Arne K. Lang

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It takes a strong constitution to be a boxing promoter because things always go wrong. The only law that governs boxing is Murphy’s Law.

Carl Frampton’s first fight under the Top Rank banner was slated for Aug. 10 of last year in Philadelphia. With the fight five days away, Frampton suffered a freak injury while sitting in a hotel lobby. A boy playing behind a curtain knocked over a seven-foot pillar which fell on Frampton’s left hand, fracturing it.

This was the second time that a Frampton fight was knocked out by a freak injury. Two years earlier, a homecoming fight in Belfast had to be scrapped when Frampton’s opponent, Andres Gutierrez, slipped in the shower in his hotel on the eve of the battle and suffered severe facial injuries.

The latest bout to fall out because of an odd development is Jose Ramirez’s Feb. 2 WBC/WBO lightweight title defense against Viktor Postol at a Chinese golf resort south of Hong Kong. The event fell victim to the coronavirus, more exactly the fear it has instilled.

The virus, which produces flu-like symptoms that are resistant to conventional antibiotics, apparently originated at an outdoor food market in the city of Wuhan where live animals are sold. The numbers vary with each new story, but according to one account there have been 444 confirmed cases in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital city, and 653 cases worldwide including two in the United States, a man in his 30’s living near Seattle and a Chicago woman in her 60’s.

The fear of a pandemic (an epidemic becomes a pandemic when it spreads across multiple geographic regions of the world) has led to some drastic measures. The Chinese government has reportedly put 12 cities on lockdown, blocking traffic in and out. At many airports, visitors arriving from China are being screened. There are now thermal cameras than can record a person’s body temperature remotely.

Jose Ramirez (pictured with his promoter Bob Arum) was scheduled to leave for China yesterday (Jan. 23) but was intercepted. Viktor Postol is already there and apparently stranded until an outgoing flight can be arranged.

The Ramirez-Postol fight was to air on ESPN. No make-up date has been set.

– – –

British promoter Eddie Hearn says he’s close to finalizing a fight between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano. Hearn says the fight will take place in the U.S. in April. It figures that Madison Square Garden is the frontrunner.

If the fight comes off on schedule, this will be the biggest women’s fight in history!

That’s because the odds attached to the fight figure to be in the “pick-‘em” range and that guarantees that boxing writers and others in the boxing community will be surveyed to get their picks – about which there figures to be considerable disagreement – and that will greatly enhance the pre-fight buzz.

Taylor, 33, last fought in November in Manchester, England, advancing her record to 15-0 (6 KOs) with a unanimous decision over Christina Linardatou, a fighter from Greece via the Dominican Republic. It was Taylor’s first fight at 140 after previously unifying the lightweight title with a hard-fought decision over Belgium’s Delfine Persoon.

Amanda Serrano, a 31-year-old southpaw, born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn, has won titles in five weight divisions. She last fought as a featherweight, turning away gritty Heather Hardy, but has competed as high as 140. Boasting a 37-1-1 record, she’s won 23 straight, 18 by stoppage, 10 in the opening round

What sets women boxers apart from their male counterparts is that the women have a significantly lower knockout ratio. Amanda Serrano is the glaring exception.

Despite a less eye-catching record, Taylor has arguably fought the stiffer competition considering her extensive amateur background. As a pro, her victims include Cindy Serrano, Amanda’s older sister by six years. Taylor whitewashed her in a match at Boston Garden, prompting the elder Serrano sister to call it a career.

– – –

The most bizarre (non)story to appear in a boxing web site this week involved former unified heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe. A man representing Bowe, identified as Eli Karabell, was frustrated because Eddie Hearn wasn’t returning his calls. Karabell had offered Hearn the right of first refusal on Bowe’s next fight.

Bowe, now 51 years old, last fought in a boxing ring in 2008 when he returned to the sport after a three-and-half year absence for an 8-round bout in Germany. In 2013, he appeared in a kickboxing fight in Thailand where he was stopped in the second round after being knocked down five times by leg kicks.

“Will there be another chapter to write for Bowe?” concluded the author of this piece.

Egads, let’s hope not.

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