It's been well over a year since former multi-time world champion Katsunari Takayama [高山 勝成] announced he was retiring from professional boxing to begin chasing an Olympic gold medal at the 2020 Olympics. Ever since he made that announcement however he has been fighting the system with the Japanese Amateur Boxing Federation (JBF) refusing to allow him to try and qualify for the Olympics. In their eyes it was a case of being either a professional, or former professional in Takayama's case, or an amateur. There was no going back after making a professional debut.
Over the last few weeks however the JBF have had major upheaval with a number of major officials being deposed, including Akira Yamane. The changes have continued and it's now been reported that rules will change to allow professional fighters to compete at the Olympics for Japan, albeit there does seem to be conditions attached.
At the moment things aren't straight forward, and there doesn't seem to be a unified rule, but the JBF will be getting in touch with Takayama to discuss how he can participate, likely in qualification bouts. It seems like they do plan on allowing fighters to make the move from the professional ranks to the amateurs in the future, though how they do that doesn't yet seem to be decided. It should be noted however that there are two major national champions later this year,
It seems, once again, that Takayama has helped shake up the Japanese system. He was one of the very few fighters who actively chased the IBF and WBO titles when the JBC didn't recognise them, leaving the JBC to fight out of the Philippines, and he's now changed the way the amateur system works in regards to the Olympics. Although he was never one of the biggest names in the sport his impact on the Japanese boxing scene can not be overstated. He really has been one of the countries' most significant fighters in recent memory, even if he fails to reach the Olympics he has changed the system in a big way.
Back in 2017 former multi-time world champion Katsunari Takayama [高山 勝成] announced his retirement from professional boxing, stating he wanted to turn his attention to the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo. Originally he was told he wouldn't be allowed so began a petition that garned 25,000 signatures supporting him, and he delivered that petition to the Japanese Olympic Committee back in March. Despite his campaign the Japanese Boxing Federation have refused to allow him to register as an amateur fighter.
Despite a year of battling the case isn't over for Takayama who, this morning, revealed that things were being taken to the Japan Sports Arbitration Agency (JSAA).
It seems like this is probably going to be the last chapter in the story if Takayama loses, though he will be hoping that the mediation goes in his favour and has the petition to show there is a huge amount of support in his favour.
The fighter appears to have been unable to tie the JOC and JBC down for meetings which is part of why he has gone to the JSAA to act as a neutral party.
The JBF seem to be against any professional fighters returning to the amateur ranks, due to the fact professionals fight for a living whilst amateurs are typically part of an education. That's despite the fact that amateur fighters are allowed to compete at the Olympics, and several did in 2016 with the likes of Amnat Ruenroeng and Hassan N'Dam both doing so, though neither did particularly well.
It's worth noting that Takayama often looked to be a pioneer in the sport. He chased the IBF title around the globe well before the JBC recognised the title, chased the "Grandslam" crown of winning versions of all 4 world titles . This however is looking like a tougher challenger than any of his other ones.
Last year we saw Japan's Hiroto Kyoguchi (9-0, 7) [京口 紘人] claimn the IBF Minimumweight title with a hard fought win over Mexican fighter Jose Argumedo (20-4-1, 12). We have since seen Kyoguchi take care of, the then mandatory, Carlos Buitrago (30-3-1-1, 17) in his first defense.
It's fair to say that 2018 promises a lot from the champion, but it's not all about him, and the IBF recently sent a letter to the teams of two of their highest ranked fighters to negotiate an eliminator for the #1 place, and put themselves in the mandatory position to face Kyoguchi later in the year.
The two fighters that this relates to are former chamoion Argumedo and rising Filipino youngster Mark Anthony Barriga (8-0, 1), who are both referred to as the "2 highest ranked available contenders" in the division.
At the time of writing Barriga is ranked #4 by the IBF and Argumedo #7. With places #1 and #2 both being vacant, #3 is Ryuji Hara (23-2, 14) [原隆二] who is set to get a WBO world title fight at Light Flyweight, #5 is former Japanese Minimumweight champion Reiya Konishi (15-0, 5) [小西伶弥] who has stated his intent is to move up in weight and #6 is OPBF champion Tsubasa Koura (11-0, 8) [小浦 翼]. Interestingly whilst plans for Hara and Konishi have been spoken about it's interesting that Koura is regarded as "unavailable", suggesting that he has something in the pipe line, a potential world title fight of his own maybe?
For Barriga the bout is a huge step up. The 24 year old was a former amateur stand out for the Philippines before turning professional in summer 2016. Since then he has been active, fighting 5 times last year alone, and has scored a notable win over Samartlek Kokietgym. Although a talented boxer he has had questions over his power, with only a single stoppage so far, but he has looked like a genuine talent and has the potential to go far, if he can use his skills to the best.
As for Argumedo he's more of a punching rock. He's a huge fighter at the weight who usually comes forward, applies pressure and although quite basic is frighteningly strong, tough and physically imposing, as he showed against the likes of Katsunari Takayama [高山 勝成] who he beat for the IBF title back in 2015.
At the moment no news has broke about how negotiations are going, but the two teams have got until January 19th to agree to terms If either fighter refuses they will be dropped to outside of the top 10, per IBF rules, and likely miss out on a potential bout with the Japanese champion.
Back in September we saw the US debut of WBO Super Flyweight champion Naoya Inoue (14-0, 12) [井上 尚弥], who toyed with Antonio Nieves (17-2-2, 9). Following that bout it was hoped by his team, at the Ohahsi gym, that they would be able to secure a unification bout for late December against IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas (27-1-1, 18).
Sadly Ancajas has different plans and will instead defend his title in Belfast against the exciting, and unbeaten, Jamie Conlan (19-0, 11). As a result it's left Inoue in a bit of a frustrating position, as a lot of the top contenders with the WBO at 115lbs are now booked in other bouts, and the champions are all currently occupiued themselves.
Today Mr Ohashi held a press conference to talk about Inoue's future and stated that his next bout would be a normal defense of the title, but that he was having issues getting an opponent for his champion, with many top fighters already having fights set between now and the end of the year.
The WBO rankings have Juan Francisco Estrada (36-2, 25) ranked #1, but he's going the route of the WBC of which he has a mandatory title fight, at #2 they have Rex Tso (21-0, 13) [曹星如], who turned down the chance to face Inoue earlier in the year and will face former Inoue victim Kohei Kono (33-10-1, 14) [河野 公平] in October. In the #3 position is Conlan, who as mentioned will face Ancajas.
A planned bout with Roman Gonzalez (46-2, 38) has been the dream bout for Inoue and Ohashi, but the shine got taken off that bout with Gonzalez suffering back to back losses to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (43-4-1, 39) [ศรีสะเกษ นครหลวงโปรโมชั่น], who is mandated to defend against Estrada.
With so many top divisional challengers out of the mix it does seem like Ohashi will need to pull a rabbit out of the hat to get Inoue a genuinely interesting opponent. However there are options out there, and the WBO rankings do show some interesting names for Inoue. They include the big punching Aston Palicte (23-2, 19), who is ranked #4 in the latest rankings, former Minimumweight champion Oleydong Sithsamerchai (66-1-1, 27) is ranked #6 and is known in Japan for for wins over Eagle Den Junlaphan, Junichi Ebisuoka, Yasutaka Kuroki and of course his sole loss to Kazuto Ioka, and former WBC champion Carlos Cuadras (36-2-1, 27) is ranked #10 and would be a plausible foe for Inoue, despite recent losses to Gonzalez and Estrada.
It could also be a case that Ohash will look outside of the top WBO top 15 Super Flyweights, and and potentially make an offer to a fighter like Francisco Rodriguez Jr (24-4-1,16), who is #3 ranked at Flyweight, who is known for his exploits in the lower weights and has got some name value, especially with Japanese fans who will fondly remember his bout with Katsunari Takayama.
At the moment Ohashi is said to be looking at his options for Inoue's ring return, though a decision has clearly not yet been made in regards to his opponent.
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
Earlier this year we saw Katsunari Takayama [高山 勝成] announce his retirement from professional boxing and begin to turn his attention to the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.
So far the Japanese Boxing Federation, who are in charge of the Amateur boxing scene in the country, have refused to allow Takayama to go back to becoming an amateur, given that he has been a professional. That however hasn't stopped Takayama from campaigning to try and change the rules of the JBF, and to do that he has been collecting signatures from fans, and the the public, who want to see him get the chance to compete as an amateur, with thousands signing the the campaign since Takayama began collecting signatures in July.
Today Takayama was in Sakai City, Osaka, collecting signatures and from what we understand he collected more than 1,000 in just a single day.
Whilst it's unclear how many he will need to change the rules, and whether they ever well, it's great to see former "Grandslam" winner really chasing his dreams and it's hard not to get behind him as he continues to go the road less travelled and be a trend setter. He was a big part of the reason that the Japanese Boxing Commission, who control professional boxing in Japan, started to recognise the IBF and WBO titles, and whilst some fans may not like the idea of professionals fighting as amateur it's fantastic to see someone genuinely trying to change things, as Takayama has repeatedly through his career.
(Image courtesy of Hochi.co.jp)
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