The Super Flyweight division is red hot these days and has been for some time now as the great Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez brought notoriety to it some years ago. It will soon be time to usher in the new wave of outstanding super flyweights like Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez, Joshua Franco, Fernando Martinez, and many others. One of the guys that looks to join that list of names is twenty-six-year-old Kosei Tanaka (16-1).
For those who are frequent visitors of this site, you know that we have been one of the few who has produced stories on Kosei Tanaka as he has been fighting exclusively in Japan since the beginning of his career.
Speaking of careers, he has an impressive one so far, which consists of capturing the WBO title in three different divisions (Mini-Flyweight, Junior Flyweight, and Flyweight). He was on a roll, and with every year that passed, it was harder for him to stay in those divisions, so he kept moving up. In 2020, he made a decision that seemed to be more about ambition than anything else. Kosei was looking to be the youngest fighter to become a four-division champion, and to do that; he had to get passed the great WBO Champion Kazuto Ioka (28-2).
A contest of that caliber deserved a big platform, and in Japan, it doesn't get any bigger than New Year's Eve. The stage was set for both men to meet in the ring on December 31st, 2020. The fight was an instant classic as both men displayed superior skills that night, but the veteran Ioka got the better of the eager Tanaka.
After the fight, it seemed like Kosei disappeared for a while and would show up on social media from time to time. The posts were different, and it felt like a fighter who was deflated after going on such a run. Speaking to Tanaka through his translator and manager Andre Ueda, he told NYF, “I lost my confidence in defeat, and I also lost sight of my boxing.” Typically, you'll hear fighters come up with reasons they lost but rarely do you hear someone give you a brutally honest answer to a question like that. I appreciated and respected the fact that he would give that to me.
After taking some time off from the ring, Tanaka returned almost a year after his first career loss and faced the tough Sho Ishida (29-3) in December. After reflecting on his loss, Tanaka tightened up his defense and battled Ishida for ten rounds in another great fight. Kosei came away with a split decision victory but still felt that he had room to improve.
After discussing things with his team, he wanted to fly to the U.S in search of a great trainer to help fine-tune his skills. On March 4th, he flew to Las Vegas, and that's when he started working with Cuban trainer Ismael Salas. It was an interesting choice, but a smart one as Kosei needed someone to help him with the technical portion of his game, and Salas is the right man for the job. He has trained many world champions and is currently getting WBA Welterweight Champion Yordenis Ugas ready for his unification bout against WBC & IBF Champion Errol Spence Jr.
So what has Kosei learned from Salas up to this point? Tanaka told NYF, “Having Salas teach me how to box, I can see how I will change. I'm thinking about training in the U.S in the future, so I'm looking for a training place and trainer. I'm now also learning how to punch powerfully.” Although Tanaka is training with Salas, it's still in a place where he is trying to figure out if it's the right fit. For now, it looks like Kosei will stay in Vegas thru April and head back to Japan in May, where he will continue to train as he waits to hear from his promoter on a new fight date.
Although Kosei seemed to lose some of his confidence back in 2020, it looks like he has gained a lot of it back. When I asked him who he would like to face, he said, “I want to fight the world champions (Juan Francisco) Estrada, (Roman Gonzalez) Chocolatito, Franco brothers (Joshua & Jesse), and (Fernando) Martinez. However, it requires another step-up fight. We will give a great performance in the next fight.” For those that have followed Kosei Tanaka, you know that his call outs just didn't start now as he has been angling at least for that “Gallo” Estrada fight for quite some time.
As we end the interview, I asked Kosei Tanaka what message does he have for the current superfly champions? Tanaka said, “The champions of this class are really strong and wonderful. However, I want to be the next superstar champion. I want to defeat all of them and become the undisputed super flyweight champion.”
My Three Cents
Like many of you, I want to see Kosei Tanaka fight in the U.S this year as he is a buzzsaw and makes for exciting fights. He is in the proper division, and there are plenty of directions he can go. Any fight they make with the champions will be “must-see tv.” Hopefully, Matchroom, Golden Boy, DAZN, Top Rank, and ESPN can make a fight this year that brings Kosei Tanaka to the U.S so that fight fans can see what all of the buzz is about.