There were tons of notable wars in 2023 in the sport of kickboxing. Picking Fight of the Year was, by far, the most challenging category to select just one winner. Ultimately, the Combat Press 2023 Kickboxing Award for Fight of the Year goes to Toki Tamaru vs. Kazuki Osaki.
Fight of the Year – Toki Tamaru vs. Kazuki Osaki
There were kickboxing matches in 2023 that had higher stakes, such as Akihiro Kaneko vs. Masashi Kumura 3, or were nonstop slugfests, such as Ahmad Chikh Mousa vs. Berjan Peposhi. But, there were no fights in 2023 I revisited more than Toki Tamaru vs. Kazuki Osaki.
The young Tamaru already had a professional career loss to RISE champion and current pound-for-pound-ranked Osaki. Additionally, Japan’s Osaki was on a 19-fight winning streak at the time, having won four bouts in 2023, all by knockout.
This was in the semifinal round of the RISE tournament, and Tamaru just one win away from the final. In the second round of their match, Tamaru would need to shift tactics, as he had lost the first round. Getting hit with tight punching combinations and leg kicks, he would need to adjust his offense.
Osaki likes to lean in tight against his opponents and wait for them to try to land strikes before throwing a flurry of his own. He attempts to bait his opponents into striking at him and aims to counter.
Tamaru would begin to throw strikes at distance, when Osaki was out of position, and split his double-forearm guard with uppercuts and crosses. Osaki would counter back with knees and punches to the body. Tamaru would throw head kicks to the open side, in a Southpaw vs. orthodox matchup, to force Osaki off balance.
Tamaru would also begin doubling and tripling up strikes with his lead hand, while pivoting, to try and force Osaki’s guard open to deliver a cross counter from the more advantageous position, or lead hook. Lead-hand attacks, the jab and hook, became the key for Tamaru.
With pivoting off of lead-hand attacks, it became a fight of position and footwork, as much as it was a fight of fists and kicks. With his lead-hand strikes, Tamaru was able to interrupt Osaki’s quick combinations with more powerful punches, snapping his opponent’s head back in the second and third rounds.
Ultimately, this fight was a tight back-and-forth war, where the decision was decided just on a handful of strikes. Power vs. speed, precision vs. position, Southpaw vs. orthodox – this fight had it all. Tamaru was able to adjust his game plan to avenge an earlier loss. With the victory, the 21-year-old Tamaru would progress to the tournament final and defeat Thailand’s Kumandoi Petchyindee Academy to capture the world title.
Tamaru vs. Osaki wins the Combat Press 2023 Kickboxing award for Fight of the Year, while other candidates include Ahmad Chikh Mousa vs. Berjan Peposhi, Koki Osaki vs. Masahiko Suzuki, Akihiro Kaneko vs Masashi Kumura 3, and Chingiz Allazov vs. Marat Grigorian, among several others.
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