I've taken a liking in the last year to Japanese dynamo Kosei Tanaka, who is an utterly shredded 108-pound boxing champ from Japan. So much so that I decided to celebrate the new year's arrival twice -- once when Kosei did during his Dec. 31-into-Jan. 1 title fight (the J apanese hold big boxing matches on this day traditionally). Second of course, when the clock hits midnight in New York -- which hasn't happened yet.
We live in an uncanny world -- I watched Kosei through a legal Japanese online feed as he basked in the confetti descending from the arena's rafters -- basically, a day before I'd see any confetti in New York at all.
Why did I find this compact cannon so compelling? After all, lots of small Japanese fighters vie for titles quickly (competition is sparse at 108 lbs., as you might imagine) and then lose all their belts not long after.
And it's dangerous for reporters to fall in love with certain ring stars -- that's how you overlook their flaws, to the detriment of your work and their success (a good writer knows when to give a technical tip to a pug -- though it may not be received well at first).
Let's start with Kosei's physique. Granted, he's 5'4" and has less surface area to carve than most, but his musculature looks like it was sculpted by an X-acto knife.
I'm not as fond of the bronze-dyed hair he sported in the ring today, but the kid has enough grit once the bell rings to pull off all manner of style beforehand. He's sponsored by Mizuno, wears a shimmering robe, and as the above headline alluded to, he wore a shirt in the ring after the match that in English proclaimed him "Knockout Dreamboy."
When the fight starts, the matinee idol does take his lumps -- he has a tendency to pull straight back from oncoming punches and in so doing, take the shots right on the cheeks.
But his speed and power are a wonder to behold even via the web. Brutal and bedazzlng. He throws inventive combos of jabs, uppercuts, wide hooks and long rights. But the distance of his punches seems not to matter. Yes, he might take a shot while he's punching, but when he lands, he'll equalize whatever you gave him -- and then add in far more.
Because he has Golovkin-like power. That's not to say he's the hardest hitter in the game today, in a tie with GGG. It'd be a ludicrous comparison -- the kid has eight bouts his resume.
But the thudding sound of his punches is very reminiscent of the sound Golovkin's shots make. They resound through the arena. His fists are like the massive cast-metal bells Japanese people ring on New Year's Day. He's a two-bell gong show, and he loves dinging that body.
Will I travel to Japan to hang with him soon? I sure hope so -- for one, I have a credit on Japanese airline ANA that's gonna expire. Two, I've been studying this language for a year now, and I want the challenge of facing all those kanji signs (though I know I won't be able to read 95 percent of 'em).
Kosei-san needs to circle more, pull back less, bend slightly more at the knees on defense (ie duck). He keeps his hands low because he knows his power will overwhelm a dude even if he takes some shots first. That self-destructive tactic won't work as the top levels of the game, though his fast hands do enable him to parry shots coming his way, and the respected rankings of Boxrec.com already tab him sixth in the world in his division.
It's possible he neglected defense as the new year dawned because his Mexican opponent, though carrying a 24-1-1 record, had faced pitiful competition south of the Rio Grande. The result was a TKO win for KOsei (who likes to emphasize his power on merch by using that capitalization).
And yeah, the kid does look like a 21-year-old when he's wearing a shirt. He seems humble, he smiles, he eats and lives rather modestly.
If he keeps winning, riches will be dangled before him that may tempt him away from that admirably unburdened lifestyle (or corrupt his naive manner). Today, at the shrine, he'll no doubt ring the bell, clap and pray for that scenario -- if only because it'll mean he's jumped from sixth in the world to two or even one. He can decide how abstemious he wants to remain then (and I dunno him well, so perhaps he's already a partier and he manages to recover from it so well one would never know).
I just know that I had a great first New Year's Eve watching the kid from afar. I hope that next year I celebrate just one night -- whichever one he is celebrating, in whatever arena in the world.