Prospect report - Kosei Tanaka

Once again, many thanks to all the people that read and commented on my previous scouting report . I genuinely enjoy doing these, although unfortunately I rarely have time for one, but hey, I managed to find a couple of extra hours so here we go again!

Recently, I've noticed a rising trend in Japanese boxing of having very young amateur boxing stars turn professional early (as in in their late-teens), especially in the lower weight classes and matching them tough right from the get-go, fast-tracking them to regional or even world-title bouts as soon as possible.
The merits or faults of taking a well-schooled but very young amateur boxer and having him skip most of the 4-round, 6-round and 8-round prospect buildup phase can certainly be debated, but it is worth noting that especially below bantamweight, the selection pool for top-notch athletes is shallower and World-level competition is often made up of other young men, perhaps on their way to growing up into super-flyweights, bantamweights or super-bantamweights. Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez himself, whom many view as the World's top P4P fighter after Floyd Mayweather's 'retirement', debuted as an 18-year old minimumweight and gradually grew into a flyweight by age 25. He did not, however, skip the learning phase of his career, as it took him over 3 years and 20 bouts to challenge for a World title.

The Japanese, however, have at least two successful recent examples of fighters going for broke almost right from the get-go.

- Former amateur standout Kazuto Ioka debuted as a 20-year old minimumweight in 2009 and less than 2 years later won his first world title in just his 7th pro-fight. By his 24th birthday, he was a 2-weight titleholder and nowadays he sports a record of 18-1-0 (10 KOs) and campaigning successfully at flyweight.

- Former amateur prodigy Naoya Inoue turned professional at 19, won the Japanese light flyweight title 10 months later in only his 4th pro fight (beating current world titleholder Ryoichi Taguchi), won the WBC World light-flyweight title in just his 6th pro fight, then jumped two divisions and absolutely smashed long-time two-weight champion Omar Narvaez in under 2 rounds.

So with those examples of kids taking on the world, now we move on to the next wave of Japanese teens jumping from what is basically high-school boxing straight into the professional World title picture. Two young amateur rivals have turned pro at the same time at the end of 2013 and are both making big waves in the lower weight classes.

Naoya Inoue's younger brother Takuma Inoue, who just turned 20 this Christmas, beat World-ranked contender Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr in just his 2nd pro bout last year and won the OPBF super-flyweight title in just his 5th pro bout.

3 weight divisions lower at minimumweight, another 20-year old, Kosei Tanaka, took the OPBF title from unbeaten Ryuji Hara in just his 4th bout and the WBO World title in his 5th pro-fight which means that yes, I am profiling him as a prospect although he is already a titleholder. But with only 5 pro-fights and at only 20 years old, we can safely expect him to have significant room for growth over the coming years.

Of the two I have decided to have a better look at Kosei Tanaka because I was able to find all 5 of his bouts on Youtube, as opposed to Takuma Inoue, who seems slightly more illusive to my non-hiragana typing abilities.

Here is his professional debut against WBO Asia Pacific champion Oscar Reknafa:

Here is his 2nd fight against WBA #13-ranked Ronelle Ferreras:

Here is his 1st round KO of Crison Omayao:

Here is his OPBF title-winning bout against Ryuji Hara:

And here is his title-winning 5th bout against Julian Yedras. By the way, this is a dark-horse Fight Of The Year candidate. It starts off pretty well but really builds up in violence starting in the middle rounds. Just excellent stuff!

If you only have time to watch one bout, I recommend the last one since it is both the most exciting and the most relevant for his current abilities.

As I have previously done in prospect scouting reports that I compiled on Anthony Joshua and Dmitry Bivol, I have listed what I saw into 6 categories of observations, from the best habits on display to the worst.

The Very Best

1) Explosiveness. Tanaka is mighty fast, fast hands, fast feet, but even more impressively, even in the midst of rapid flurries he manages to find a sudden, unexpected extra gear and just explode with a power punch or an offensive step.

2) Closing distance offensively. Tanaka moves in like lightning. He is just a natural at closing distance and teleporting from a safe distance into his opponent's grill, within striking distance.

3) Stamina. Tanaka's stamina is just insane for a fighter this inexperienced. Despite his torrid pace, his constant movement and his volume punching, he just keeps up the same rhythm in the 12th as he does in the 1st.

The Good

4) Hand speed. Pure and simple, he has big time hand speed.

5) Work rate and aggression. Tanaka just loves to punch and he does it in droves. He is also constantly attacking and pressuring his opponent. He just never stops throwing.

6) Punching angles and punch technique. He is just a natural puncher. Not only does he punch a lot, but he puts his weight behind every punch, irrespective of distance, stance, balance. He throws with thump from every possible angle and varies them constantly.

7) Combination punching. More punching! More punches! Punches, punches, punches! He probably punches in his sleep.

8) Fighting spirit. He genuinely seems to love fighting. He just loves to turn every exchange and every round into a dog-fight. He wouldn't normally need to exchange this much as he could easily outbox and outwork his opponents, but I can only assume he loves getting punched as much as he loves punching.

9) Chin. So far I've seen him take a lot of power punches and not only was he never hurt, but it didn't even seem to tire him out. Now to be fair most opponents at this weight don't have that much power so the ease with which he takes punishment could very easily turn against him once he starts moving up.

The Decent

10) Size. Tanaka is very tall for the weight. You can definitely see that he is a flyweight or super-flyweight in the making and can only compete this low on the scale because of his youth. However, despite him towering over opponents, boxrec measurements have his reach as only 62½″, which, if accurate, would make him one of the shortest-armed fighters in all of boxing. I genuinely can't tell by watching him live if this number is accurate or not.

11) Timing and counterpunching. He does OK in this department although he doesn't generally seem to wait for his opponents to make a move in order to time them.

12) Guard. He keeps his hands up a lot, even in the later rounds. He also relies heavily on absorbing blows with his arms, gloves. This works very well for him against straight right hands and uppercuts but man oh man do crosses go around his guard!

13) Inside fighting - offense. Tanaka is a very willing inside fighter which is rare for someone this tall and this young, but he just cannot seem to wait to jump into his opponent's phone-booth. And once inside he does seem to be able to generate enough space for his power punches which is commendable.

14) Doubling the jab. He has a lightning quick double jab, but he uses it rarely and even then it doesn't always gain him a visible advantage.

The Not So Great But Improving

15) Power. For a guy who lands so many power punches and who is so obviously bigger than most of his opponents, Tanaka rarely seems to genuinely hurt them. Now he does have two pretty assertive KOs in his 5 fights and he did end up hurting at least two of his other 3 opponents so there is at least something there. But I am worried about what he might or might not be able to do when he moves up.

16) Body punching. This is the area where I think he can make the most spectacular improvement. He is an absolutely devastating body puncher, he gets awesome leverage and awesome placing in his body punches but he doesn't throw as many of them as he could and also he generally throws them as single power punches as opposed to using them in combination or at least doubling them up (as Naoya Inoue does). I think he could become a real killer at this with just some fine tuning.

17) Defending against body punches. As mentioned before his guard is open to crosses but it is also very open to body punches. His long lanky torso has just a big bullseye painted on it and his puny elbows, relatively straight-up stance and tendency to exchange in close make him even more vulnerable to body attacks.

18) Jab. His jab is inconsistent at best. It's fast and he does use it a bit but it lacks assertiveness and he doesn't seem to know how to use it to keep opponents at bay.

19) Stance. He is somewhat squared-up at times and seems to prefer bringing his centre of gravity closer to his punching target. He often ends up on top of his opponent pulling his head down.

The Bad

20) Ring movement. This one is deceiving because he seems very mobile, bounces on his toes and glides around the ring with relative fluidity. But the thing is, he doesn't incorporate this in either his offense or his defense. He just moves around when he doesn't feel like attacking yet or when he is simply observing his opponent. But using movement as a form of in-and-out offense or keep-away defense? Fuhgeddaboudit!

21) Head and upper body movement. I do seem to remember seeing him move his head or his upper body once or twice in his most recent bout but that's it.

22) Inside fighting - defense. He is very, very open to punishment when fighting in close. He really seems to relish the phonebooth-war / give-and-take kind of fight, which, you know, is at least entertaining if nothing else.

23) Gameplan. For a guy this tall and this mobile, with this kind of hand-speed, there is no way he shouldn't be picking his opponents off from a distance, jabbing, or at least moving in-and-out when attacking. He had about the same gameplan in all of his bouts and it really doesn't seem to play to some of his strengths.

24) Eating jabs. His opponents' jabs all look delicious!

25) Pawing at his goddamn eye. I don't know what the deal is, but he seems to have something in his left eye in most of his bouts. Whether it's sweat, vaseline, or just his tendency to smash it against his opponent's head, he seems to be constantly bothered by something in his eyes.

The Downright Horrible

26) Moving out of offensive combinations. He has a very-easily observable tendency to stay at just about the wrong distance from his opponents after every attack. After moving in and smashing his opponent with a combination, he neither moves back out, nor ties his opponent up. He simply raises his guard and stays right in God damn front of his opponent waiting for a retort. This is really bad and just invites return fire.

Overall Impression

Kosei Tanaka is basically what you would expect from a highly talented youngster taking on high-level opposition in his first few bouts. He is spectacularly talented, a truly fluid, flashy and committed puncher, with speed, flair, accuracy and just overall impetuous hunger for violence. And at the same time has a lot of things to work on and if you are an experienced opponent preparing a gameplan against him, you really do have a lot to work with.

Right now his lack of assertive power, his willingness to take punishment and his reluctance to use his physical advantages don't work against him at this weight class. But when he decides to move up and starts encountering bigger fighters, whose punches hurt more and who are less bothered by his barrage, he will get in trouble. Also, anybody with a powerful and quick jab might be a challenge because he is very susceptible to jabs and it could disrupt the way he jumps into his combinations. Before he gets to that point, he absolutely needs to start incorporating more movement into his offense and refine his body-punching, which could be the biggest ace up his sleeve.

By the way, you can see Kosei Tanaka defending his title on New Year's Eve in his hometown of Nagoya, Japan.

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