Home Boxing History Kiyoshi Tanabe: The Boxer of Tragedy and Triumph

Kiyoshi Tanabe: The Boxer of Tragedy and Triumph

Tanabe (left) at the 1960 Olympics

Name: Kiyoshi Tanabe
Born: 10 October 1940
Record: 22 fights, 21 wins (5 by KO/TKO), 0 losses, 1 draw
Division: Flyweight
Stance: Orthodox
Titles: Japanese flyweight champion
Major Contests
Scored wins over: Leo Zuleta, Jet Parker, Ric Magramo, Akahsi Namekawa (three times), Horacio Accavallo **
Lost to: 0
Drew with: Yuzo Narumi
**Past/ future holder of a version of a world title

Kiyoshi Tanabe’s Story

Tanabe is often referred to as “the boxer of tragedy” as he was forced to retire just as he had broken through with a huge win and seemed to have the potential to become a multi-division champion. He was born in Tokyo and emerged onto the Japanese amateur scene in the late 1950’s winning the National High Schools title and the national amateur title. He twice scored wins over Takayo Sakurai who would go on to win a gold medal at bantamweight in the 1964 Olympics. Tanabe competed at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome where he beat the vastly experienced 1956 silver medallist Romanian Mircea Dobrescu but lost to Russian Sergey Sivko in the semi-finals. He was the first Japanese boxer to win an Olympic medal in boxing. He went on to win a gold medal at the 1962 Asian Games in Indonesia and his record stood at 115-5 when he decided to turn professional. He had his first paid fight in December 1963 and in 1964 was fighting over ten round in only his fourth contest. Also in 1964 he beat world rated Filippino Leo Zulueta and Jet Parker. He was giving away 5” in height to the 15-1-1 Parker but won the unanimous decision. In January 1965 he decisioned the reigning Japanese champion Akashi Namekawa in a non-title fight and in August outpointed another rated fighter Ric Magramo. He faced Namekawa for the Japanese title in October 1965 and won and then knocked out Namekawa in two rounds in a title defence in March 1966. His run of wins ended at 19 when he fought a draw with Yuzo Narumi in another title defence. Narumi had lost only one of his twenty-one fights but the draw raised doubts over whether Tanabe was ready to face the best in the division. Those doubts were dispelled in February 1967 when he faced the WBA champion Horacio Accavallo in a non-title fight. A new trainer, Eddie Townsend, took over and although he had only had twenty days to work with Tanabe he focused on improving Tanabe’s offence having him use a lower guard and firing more hooks and uppercuts. Accavallo’s record was an impressive 73-1-6. He had never lost inside the distance and had an unbeaten run of 48 bouts reaching back over seven years. Against a more aggressive Tanabe Accavallo was forced to take standing counts in the third and fourth rounds and was outpunched in the fifth. Numerous head clashes saw Accavallo suffer a cut upon his hairline and the blood was affecting his vision. There were no technical decisions in those days so when the fight was stopped in the sixth due to the injury Tanabe was declared the winner on a TKO.

The return match with Accavallo, this time with the title on the line, was scheduled for 15 July in Buenos Aires. The win over Accavallo made Tanabe a big favourite for the return but instead Tanabe’s world came crashing down. In training for the second Accavallo fight he suffered a detached retina in his right eye. At that time a detached retina meant the end of a career and Tanabe’s place against Accavallo was taken by Hiroyuki Ebihara who outpointed Accavallo in August 1967 to win the WBA title. To add to Tanabe’s woes the condition of his right eye worsened and just two years after retiring at 26 he was blind in the right eye.

It is difficult to say how far Tanabe could have gone. He was no Naoya Inoue lacking that level of power but he had plenty of other things going for him. He had great hand speed switching effortlessly to head and body, outstanding accuracy, excellent footwork and was comfortable boxing at distance or inside. The tremendous work rate he set against Accavallo almost overwhelmed the champion at times but he was not fated to achieve greatness.

Video of the Accavallo fight