This coming weekend we'll see Takeshi Inoue attempt to dethrone Jamie Munguia, the WBO Light Middleweight champion, in Texas. The Japanese fighter is regarded as a huge under-dog and few are giving him much of a chance.
With the bout just days away we thought it would be an interesting time to look at 5 occasions where a Japanese fighter has taken a world title whilst fighting on US soil. Given that it's only happened 5 times, in history, it shows how rare it really is. Even more telling is that we've only seen 3 occasions where a Japanese fighter has dethrone a reigning champion on US soil, and Inoue, if successful, would be the first since 1980!
Raul Rojas v Shozo Saijo II - September 27th 1968
The first Japanese fighter to win a world title on foreign soil was Shozo Siajo, back in September 1968. The Cinderella Boy had a less than remarkable start to his professional career, beginning his career 3-1-2, and being 13-4-2 (2) when he made his debut in January 1968. Amazingly Shozo would defeat the then WBA Featherweight champion Raul Rojas in a non-title bout in June of that year, over 10 rounds. That bout then resulted in a rematch 3 months later for the WBA title.
Heading into their rematch Rojas was 35-2-1 (22), he had only lost in the first bout with Shozo and to the legendary Vicente Saldivar, having gone 12-1 since that loss. Saijo was 16-5-2 (3), and other than the win over Rojas there was little of note on his record.
Surprisingly Saijo repeated his win over Rojas, defeating him over 15 rounds to win the WBA Featherweight title. The bout was a clear win for Saijo, who dropped Rojas on route to a unanimous decision. Sadly for Rojas his career would never truly recover and he would retire in 1970 with a record of 38-7-2 (24). Saijo on the other hand, who was Japan's 7th world champion, would hold the title until 1971 and make 5 defenses, losing to Antonio Gomez in 3 rounds. He would retire after that loss with a 29-7-2 (8) record.
Samuel Serrano vs. Yasutsune Uehara - August 2nd 1980
Having just mentioned Samuel Serrano, as being the man who ended Villaflor's second reign, it's worth noting that he was actually the third champion to be dethroned by a Japanese fighter on US soil. The talented Puerto Rican had defended the belt 10 times since the win over Villaflor, and was going in with Japan's Yatsusune Uehara.
Although relatively forgotten now Uhara was a former standout in Japan. He had gone 117-8 (87) in the amateurs, had claimed medals on the international stage and had turned professional with a then Japanese record signing fee, going with the Kyoei Boxing gym. Despite being highly touted he would lose his second professional bout, and come up short in a world title bout with Villaflor in 1974. Heading into this bout the allure that Uehara once had, had faded. He was 25-4 (20), aged 30 this was seen as him getting a shot that he wouldn't win. Serrano on the other had was 27 years old, 42-4-1 (14), and unbeaten in 26 bouts!
Uehara was the big under-dog and the reasons for that showed early on, with Serrano winning the rounds using his boxing skills. Uehara however believed in his power and pressure and managed to land an occasional bomb. Although being outboxed Uehara was dangerous and he showed just how dangerous in the final seconds of round 6, when he landed a dynamite right hand when Serrano was on the ropes. The dropped Uehara who failed to beat the count. The result was the Ring Magazine Upset of the year for 1980. Sadly though Uehara would lose in a rematch the following year, having recorded just 1 defense. Uehara would retire after their rematch with a record of 27-5 (21), Serrano on the other hand would make 3 defenses before losing to Roger Mayweather in 1983. He would retire the following year, before making a strange comeback in the 1990's, eventually hanging them up with a record of 50-6-1 (17).
Ben Villaflor vs Kuniaki Shibata I - Mach 12th 1973
It would take 4 years until a Japanese fighter following in Saijo's footsteps and claim a world title on American soil, with Kuniaki Shibata being the man to achieve the feat. The "Genius Puncher" was one of the protege's of the great Eddie Townsend and had distinguished himself as a top fighter in 1970, when he became the first Japanese fighter to win a world title in Mexico, dethroning Vicente Saldivar in December 1970.
Despite winning the WBC Featherweight title from Saldivar we wouldn't see Shibata have a long reign, losing in his third defense to Clemente Sanchez in 1972. The following year he would move up in weight challenge WBA Super Featherweight champion Ben Villaflor, a Filipino born fighter who had held the WBA belt since April 1972. Villaflor had recorded 1 defenses, and had amassed an excellent record of 48-4-3 (25), whilst Shibata was 37-4-3 (23).
In the ring the two were amazingly well matched, though Shibata would take a narrow decision, winning by a point on 1 card and 2 points on the others, to take the title and become a 2-time world champion. Sadly for Shibata his reign was again a short one, losing inside a round 7 months later in a rematch with Villaflor. Villaflor's second reign would continue until 1976, when he lost to Samuel Serrano, then retired with a record of 56-6-6 (31). Shibata on the other hand would bounce back from his title loss to win the WBC title, which he would defend 3 times before losing to Alfredo Escalera in 1975. He would continue on but retire in the late 1970's with a record 47-6-3 (25).
Tadashi Mihara v Rocky Fratto - November 7th 1981
Amazingly we've not seen a Japanese fighter dethrone someone on American soil since Uehara's win over Serrano. We have however seen two Japanese fighters pick up vacant titles on US soil. The first of those was Tadashi Mihara, who had a very short reign ,but a notable one all the same.
Mihara was 14-0 (11) when he faced fellow unbeaten fighter Rocky Fratto, then 24-0 (9) for the WBA Light Middleweight title. Mihara was looking to become the third Japanese champion 154lbs, following Koichi Wajima and Masashi Kudo, and managed to achieve the feat by narrowly outpointing Fratto over 15 rounds. Notably this is at the same weight that Inoue will be challenging the unbeaten Munguia at, and like Mihara was at the time Inoue is also unbeaten after 14 fights
Sadly for Mihara his reign was a very short one, losing in his first defense against Davey Moore, less than 3 months after his big win. The loss to Moore would be Mihara's sole defeat however and he would fight on until 1985 before retiring with a record of 24-1, 15). Fratto on the other hand would never win a big one, and retire following a loss to Harry Daniels, with a record of 28-4 (9).
Masayuki Ito v Christopher Diaz - July 28th 2018
The second vacant title to be won by a Japanese fighter on US soil came almost 37 years after Mihara's win and saw Masayuki Ito announce himself on the world stage with an excellent performance to claim the WBO Super Featherweight title, defeating Christopher Diaz. Going into this bout it was supposed to be a coming out party for Diaz, the unbeaten Puerto Rican who was promoted by Top Rank. Ito however ripped up the script and out boxed the betting favourite.
Entering the bout Ito was 23-1-1 (12), he had unified the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, and had been on the verge of a world title fight for a while. Diaz on the other hand was 23-0 (15), touted as a rising star from Puerto Rico and had scored notable wins over Bryant Cruz and Braulio Rodriguez on route to his shot. Sadly for Diaz he was unable to cope with Ito's size, range and variation, being dropped in round 8 and never really managing to get a foot hold in the bout.
Since this contest, which was just last summer, both men have fought once, with both scoring a stoppage win. Ito over-came mandatory challenge Evgeny Chuprakov and is expected to be back in the ring in the US later this year, to defend against Jamel Herring.
Fight fans around the planet have probably never heard of either Mikhail Lesnikov or Afrizal Tamboresi. Neither are big names, neither have fought in the west and if we're being honest neither are likely to ever be big names.
If you have heard of either man, the most likely reason is that Indonesian fighter Tamboresi has fought a few notable names in Asia. He's lost by stoppage to the likes of Rocky Fuentes (KO2), Takuma Inoue (TKO2), Mike Tawatchai (TKO4) and Juan Miguel Elorde (KO1). What you know from those names is that those who we have named fight between Super Flyweight and Super Bantamweight.
This past Sunday Tamboresi fought the aforementioned Mikhail Lesnikov. The Russian fighter is a Light Welterweight-come-Welterweight. He looked huge in comparison to Tamboresi, in fact according to boxrec there was over 5" in height advantage, needless to say significant reach difference.
It was clear when the men stepped into the ring that there was a huge physical disparity. The two didn't belong in the same ring together, this was a 23 year old natural Light Welterweight, against an old, 33 year old, blown up Super Flyweight, who had never shown the best punch resistence, with 6 stoppage losses in his last 6 bouts. He had been flattened by the light punching Takuma Inoue at Super Flyweight and should never have been in the ring against Lesnikov.
From the moment they walked to center ring to get the final instructions from the referee it was obvious the two shouldn't have been allowed in the ring together. Lesnikov had every advantage, and could well have really hurt Tamboresi.
Unsurprisingly Lesnikov (now 3-2, 1) scored his first stoppage victory, not just beating Tamboresi, but icing him in rather brutal fashion. It was Tamboresi's 7th stoppage loss in 21 bouts, and even worse it was his 7th straight stoppage loss. It wasn't just a knock out, it was one of the most graphic this year. First the Russian wobbled his man with an uppercut before finish the show with a brutal hook. The only positive, was that Tamboresi managed to get to his feet without being down too long and seemed to be in charge of his senses when he congratulated Lesnikov. This could have been much, much worse.
Whilst weight classes in some countries are adhered to, and restrictions will be put in place to stop such disgusting physical mismatches that wasn't this case this weekend in Vietnam. The country is wanting to develop it's boxing scene, and we really do hope they succeed, but they do need to stop things like this happening. They can't allow a wild west system of significant size differences and putting fighters at risk.
Tamboresi (now 11-10), really needs to wonder who set this fight up and whether that person has his best interest at heart. The commission behind the bout need to have a close look at this sort of thing in the future. Lesnikov isn't a notable fighter, but he should still never have been in the ring with someone who was so much smaller and had been stopped in his 6 previous bouts. Boxing has a duty of care to the fighters involved in it, and the duty of care here was simply ignored. All involved, from the commission, to promoter Cocky Buffalo, to Tamboresi's team should all feel ashamed by this "fight" and should make sure to not allow such an horrific physical mismatch in the future.
For those who missed the bout, we've included it below, and you can see how different the fighters were in terms of size, and how much of a mismatch this was.
We've yet to see the giant of China really make its mark on professional boxing in the way that some had anticipated, but there has been a few notable fighters from the country, and it does look like we're set to see rise in competition from the country over the coming years. So let's look at where we stand today with Chinese boxing.
We'll start by looking at Can Xu (15-2, 2), the biggest hope of the country now, and the next Chinese fighter set to fight for a world title. The 24 year old Featherweight will be getting a WBA "regular" world title fight on January 26th. Xu has genuinely impressed at times, and is a better fighter than many would expect. Wins over the likes of Neomar Cermeno, Jelbirt Gomera, Hurricane Futa, Spicy Matsushita and Corey McConnell show he's, at worst, Oriental level. Sadly though he does seem to be getting a world title fight a little bit too early in his career. He's an exciting, high output guy with a good pressure style, but his lack of power is an issue, and will certainly be a problem with bouts at world level. Notably he's one of about 60 Chinese Featherweights, with the next best, arguably, being Yiran Li (4-0, 3), a 22 year old who has shown early promise, but needs real work to develop to being close to Oriental level.
Of course whilst Xu is looking to become a world champion China does still have Xiong Zhao Zhong (27-8-1, 14) as an active fighter, or at least he was active last year, losing to Knockout CP Freshmart in a WBA title fight, and has been linked to another fight later this year. The 36 year old is the first ever Chinese man to win a world title and should be regarded as the aging veteran of the Chinese scene. Whether he fights again or not is unclear but he will continue to be involved in the sport following various investments and developments in the wider Chinese scene. To many he will be one of the figure heads of the next wave if Chinese boxing, and will be regarded as a key figure.
From the little guy to the big guys, the country has a couple of notable Heavyweight punchers who seem to get attention internationally. The more notable of the two is Zhilei Zhang (20-0, 16), who has shown a willingness to travel for fights, was a stellar amateur and has been linked to a potential future bout with Anthony Joshua. "Big Bang" is a 35 year could southpaw with surprising speed and movement, a solid straight left hand and nice combinations for such a big guy. There are however fears of his durability, and he turns 36 this coming May, so time is not on his side. The other Chinese Heavyweight of some note is 37 year old Zhang Junlong (20-0, 20), though his career appears to be meandering towards an anti-climatic end with nothing other than a pretty looking record.
Staying with the heavier weights China has a notable fighter at both Crusierweight and Light Heavyweight. The Cruiseweight of note is Peng Qu (14-2-1, 10), the current OPBF "Silver" Cruiserweight champion. Qu was fighting at Light Heavyweight until recently, and has since scored 2 opening round wins at 200lbs, including a freak 62 win over Joey Vegas who injured his knee. At Light Heavyweight they have the very talented, though somewhat chinny, Meng Fanlong (14-0, 9). The unbeaten Fanlong is a 30 year old who appears to be on the verge of something big after stopping Frank Buglioni last November in Monaco. Fanlong does have a serious question mark over his chin, having twice been dropped by Zura Mekereshvili, but is a sharp punching, smart boxer-mover and has the potential to fight for a world title this year.
There's an interesting Chinese trio at 168lbs, who aren't likely to fight at world level but are all very interesting names on the regional scene, and could one day face off to decide who the best Chinese Super Middleweight is. The fighters in question are Ainiwaer Yilixiati (14-1, 11), Wuzhati Nuerlang (11-2, 9) and Ahatelike Muerzhabieke (8-1-1, 5). All are pretty young, aged between 20 and 25, all are in China and all are going to be looking for things like the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, which could make for a very interesting dynamic.All 3 are aggressive, exciting and well worth following, even if they aren't going to be fighting against the divisional elite.
The exciting, but flawed, Baishanbo Nasiyiwula (15-2-1, 6) has shown a willingness to fight at either Welterweight or Light Welterweight. There's no one else of note at Welterweight but there is the promising Lei Wang (2-0, 1) competing at 140lbs, and could be either a rival for Baishanbo down the line, or could China a 2-pronged attack in the division. Wang was a top amateur and a WSB participant who made his debut last year, and looked really good on debut, but did struggle against Ricky Sismundo on his second outing and there will need to be time given for his professional development before stepping in too deep.
One of the most interesting divisions in China is the Lightweight division, where there are a number of different unbeaten and promising fighters all coming through at the same time. One of the most interesting is Xiangxiang Sun (15-0, 10), who is unbeaten and has notable wins over Nelson Tinampay, Roldan Aldea and Roy Mukhlis among others. There is also Yongqiang Yang (11-0, 8), who has a huge 2018 with wins against Takuya Watanabe and Harmonito Dela Torre, and hard hitting prospect Xiang Li (4-0, 3), who kicked off the year with a good win over Arvin Yurong. As well as the unbeaten fighters there is also Wang Zhimin (11-3, 3), a 33 year old fighter who is teak tough and although unlikely to fight for a world title, he is good gatekeeper to the stars and a solid test for any emerging prospect.
A forgotten man in the Chinese boxing world is Qiu Xiao Jun (23-4, 11), a former world title challenger. Jun is a talented and exciting, yet flawed, fighter who could well climb the rankings again and find himself fighting for titles once more. However having lost twice to Nehomar Cermeno, and having fallen out with his old promoter it does feel like Jun's career is in limbo at the moment, and his last fight was in Thailand, whilst the one before that saw him failing to make weight.
At Super Bantamweight, the division that Jun first made his name out, we have the unbeaten Zhong Liu (13-0, 5) making his mark. The 27 year old Southpaw is a former WBO Greater China Super Bantamweight champions and has scored wins over experienced Indonesian foes in recent fights, picking up a regional title last time out. Hopefully 2019 will see him stepping up.
The lower weights have not only the aforementioned Zhong but also several other notable fighters. At Flyweight there is Wulan Tuolehazi (9-3-1, 4), who scored a huge 2018 win over Jayr Raquinel, and is unbeaten in 8 bouts. Also at Flyweight is Wenfeng Ge (11-1, 6), who was recently stopped by Giemel Magramo but proved his toughness in that loss and could certainly rebuild following his defeat, though is never likely to be a threat at world level. Whilst Magramo is unlikely to fight for world titles it's hard to imagine Jing Xiang (16-4-2, 3) not getting to that level, following some excellent recent performances against former world champions Merlito Sabillo and Kompayak Porpramook. There is also Lu Bin (1-1, 1), though his future is very unclear following his 2018 loss to Carlos Canizales.
The Chinese boxing might not be setting things on fire right now, but there is clearly a wave of fighters making a name for themselves, and it's not going to be long until the country does provide us a constant stream of contenders, challengers, prospects and, eventually, champions. One thing those involved in Chinese will need to do however, is sort out their internal politics and work together to push Chinese boxing forward, rather than to hold it back.
(Images courtesy of Max Power Boxing)
Right now the Filipino scene is red hot with a number of top class world champions at the top of the sport, some brilliant fighters in the title mix and some prodigious prospects starting their journey to the top. The scene may not get the attention of the Japanese one, but it is a very underrated one, and one that will be a major player again in 2019. So with that in mind we'd like to look at some of the most notable stories in Filipino boxing as we head into the new year.
Veterans on Top
As we've entered 2019 we see 3 familiar Filipino names at the top of the world level. WBA "regular" Welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39), WBO Super Flyweight champion Donnie Nietes (42-1-5, 23) and WBA "super" Bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire (39-5, 25). At a combined 112 years old the trio are certainly veterans, but all 3 looked really good last time out, and we wouldn't be surprised by at least 1 of them ending 2019 as a world champion.
Of the three we know that Pacquiao will defend his title on January 19th, against Adrien Broner, and that Donaire is lined up for a WBSS bout with Zolani Tete. The plan is unclear for Nietes, though he looked very impressive in taking a decision win over Kazuto Ioka on New Yea's Eve, and has certainly still got a lot to offer the sport, even at the age of 36.
It's not just the veterans who are coming into 2019 as world champions but also two men in their physical primes. These are IBF Super Flyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas (30-1-2, 20) and WBO Minimumweight champion Vic Saludar (18-3, 10).
Whilst Ancajas had a relatively disappointing 2018, despite defending his title 3 times, there are notable fights on the horizon for him. He has an expected mandatory defense against Ryuichi Funai and has also been linked to a bout with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Both of those would be bouts for him to get his juices flowing. As for Saludar he had a career defining win last year, dethroning Ryuya Yamanaka, and is now expected to make his first defense in the Spring.
Hard hitting Interim Twosome
As well as the full, or regular, champions there are also two Filipino fighters who start the year with WBA "interim" titles, and both of those are unbeaten heavy handed hopefuls. One is Bantamweight Reymart Gaballo (20-0, 17) whilst the other is Jhack Tepora (22-0, 17), the Featherweight champion. Both of these fighters impressed us in 2018 and we're expecting to see huge things from both in 2019.
Tepora has his first defense set for January 19th, against Hugo Ruiz, whilst Gaballo will be in a none-title fight in February, his second since winning the title in the US. If they come through their next bouts both are expected to be moved onto big things before the year is out.
Just below the champions we see a host of contenders. Just a short list of these contenders includes the likes of Mark Anthony Barriga (9-1, 1), Melvin Jerusalem (14-2, 8), Pedro Taduran (13-2, 10), Edward Heno (13-0-5, 5), Rey Loreto (24-14, 16), Jonathan Taconing (28-3-1, 22), Christian Araneta (17-0, 14), Giemel Magramo (23-1, 19) and Aston Palicte (24-2-1, 20).
Barriga, Jerusalem, Taduran, Taconing, Palicte and Loreto have all come up short in recent world title fights, but all proved they belonged on that level and we suspect that they will all be getting another world title fight sooner rather than later. In fact Palicte has a world title eliminator sorted fro the end of this month whilst Taconing is expected to get a world title shot very shortly.
Whilst Araneta, Magramo and Heno haven't yet had their shot at world honours it seems that all 3 are only a fight or two off and we could well see all 3 challenging for world titles before the end of the year. Magramo has already fought this year, stopping Wenfeng Ge in China, Heno has an OPBF title defense set for February whilst Araneta last fought in December, beating Vincent Bautista over 8 rounds.
Our list above also misses out fighters like Albert Pagara (31-1, 22), Mark Magsayo (18-0, 13), Johnriel Casimero (25-4, 16), Genesis Servania (32-1, 15) and Marlon Tapales (31-2, 14) who are also in the mix for a title this year. The depth at this level from the Philippines is genuinely incredible and it's hard to not imagine at least a handful of these fighters getting a shot.
Promising Pinoy Prospects
Arguably the most exciting part of the Filipino scene right now is the prospects. These include the hard hitting Romero Duno (18-1, 14), 21 year old Samuel Salva (16-0, 10), the sensational KJ Cataraja (9-0, 7), former amateur standout Jade Bornea (13-0, 9), teenager Carl Jammes Martin (11-0, 10) and southpaw puncher Richard Bulacan (6-0, 4).
Whilst we're not expecting any of these fighters to compete in massive bouts this year we do expect to see them all take a huge step forward towards big bouts in 2020. Of the ones listed it's Cataraja who excites us the most, and he really should be seen as one of the sports best prospects globally, but the others are all well worthy of attention from fans following the Filipino boxing scene.
Whilst the present is interesting for the Filipino scene we can't help but feel that the future is even more exciting. We're going to be seeing Pacquiao, Donaire and Nietes hanging up the gloves in the near future, and while the generation of fighters following in their footsteps have got huge shoes to fill, we can't help but get excited about the sheer quantity of fantastic Filipino's set to make their mark at the highest level.
On January 26th Japan's Takeshi Inoue (13-0-1, 7) will attempt to become just the 4th Japanese fighter to win a world title at 154lbs. With that in mind I though we'd have a look at the previous 3 Japanese fighters to achieve the feat.
Koichi Wajima (31-6-1, 25)
The master of the “Frog Punch” Koichi Wajima was Japan's first champion at 154lbs, and the only Japanese fighter to win world titles at the weight more than once. He was also the 10th Japanese fighter to ever win a world title.
Wajima was born in 1943 and made his debut at the age of 25, in the summer of 1968. His career was short, though it never seemed plausible for him to have an incredibly long career given his age when he debuted, but what he achieved was genuinely remarkable.
In his 12th professional bout Wajima claimed his first title, the Japanese Light Middleweight title, stopping Noriyasu Yoshimura in 4 rounds. That win saw Wajima's record move to 12-0 (11) and actually ended Yoshimura's career after just a single defense. Wajima would suffer his first loss just weeks later, and suffer another defeat in early 1970, dropping to 13-2 (12), from then on however he went on a tear, going unbeaten for 17 fights.
That 17 fight unbeaten run saw included 8 successful defenses of the Japanese Light Middleweight title before and win his first world titles, the then unified WBA and WBC Light Middleweight titles. Wajima would win the titles by taking a split decision over Carmelo Bossi and would make 6 defenses of the belt. The defenses including wins over veteran Domenico Tiberia, the unbeaten Miguel de Oliveira and countryman Ryu Sorimachi, before he lost the title to Oscar Albarado. A rematch with Albarado saw Wajima become a 2-time champion but he would lose in his first defense to Jae Doo Yuh. A rematch with Yuh saw Wajima defeat the Korean to become a 3-time champion.
Sadly Wajima's third, and final, reign lasted just 3 months before he lose the title to Jose Duran. He would attempt to reclaim the WBA title but would lose his final bout to Eddie Gazo then retire from fighting. Despite being long retired he does currently run a gym, and recently saw protege Hiroaki Teshigawara become the OPBF Super Bantamweight champion.
Masashi Kudo (23-1, 12)
The second Japanese fighter to win a world title at 154lbs was Masashi Kudo, a now often forgotten fighter from the 1970's. He was born in 1951 and made his debut in 1973. In just his 6th professional fight he won the Japanese Middleweight title, defeating Nobuyoshi Ozaki, and he would record 8 successful defenses before moving down in weight.
At 154lbs he would defeat Eddie Gazo with a 15 round split decision to win the WBA Light Middleweight title. He would record 3 defenses, two of them by close decision, before losing the belt to Ayub Kalule in 1979. After that loss Kudo retired from boxing.
As a fighter Kudo was technically very limited, but he was a very strong, powerful guy, with a fantastic engine. Prior to turning his hand to boxing he had been a very solid wrestler, and his physical strength from wrestling likely helped him have his success in the boxing ring. If we're being honest he was an over-achiever to say the least, but a very tough guy.
Tadashi Mihara (24-1, 15)
The third, and most recent, Japanese fighter to win a world title at 154lbs was Tadashi Mihara. He was born in 1955 and debuted soon after his 23rd birthday, in 1978. He raced away to the OPBF title, winning that in just his 5th bout, and made 6 defenses before making his US debut.
On his US debut he stopped Ramon Dionisio, as part of the under-card to Sugar Ray Leonard Vs Ayub Kalule, which was for the WBA Light Middleweight title. Leonard, who beat Kalule, vacated the title and Mihard would then return to the US to face Rocky Fratto for the vacant title. Mihara would narrowly defeat Fratto to become the WBA champion, but his reign was short lived and he would lose the title less than 3 months later, wheen Davey Moore beat him.
Despite the loss to Moore Mihara would continue to fight, and would claim the Japanese title which he defended 5 times, before ending his career in 1985.
Interestingly Mihara is the only one of these men to have won the title on American soil, something Inoue will be looking to do, he was also unbeaten in 14 when he won the title, Inoue is currently 13-0-1. One final coincidence is that Munguia (34-0) and Fratto (24-0) were both unbeaten.
Earlier today we saw Ryoichi Tamura (12-3-1, 6) [田村 亮一] claim the Japanese Super Bantamweight title, as defeated Mugicha Nakagawa (24-6-1, 14) [武田勇太] for the previous vacant title. On paper that isn't huge news, despite being a notable story, however for fans of Hajime No Ippo the news is something to rejoice due to Tamura's link with the creator of Hajime No Ipppo, Jyoji Morikawa.
The 53 year old Morikawa not only created Hajime No Ippo but also runs his own gym, the JB Sports Boxing Gym. The same gym that Tamura fights out of.
Located in Adachi the JB Sports hasn't had a huge amount of success, despite being a physically impressive gym with a statue of Takamura Mamoru on it's roof. In fact we need to go back to 2000, when Manabu Fukushima (36-12-4, 20) [福島学] won the Japanese Super Bantamweight title, to find their only other title success.
Interestingly Fukushima's success saw him being used as the basis of a character in the Hajime No Ippo series, Itagaki Manabu. Given that history we may well see Ryoichi Tamura also being the basis of a character in the future and being used as inspiration for Mr Morikawa for future Ippo stories.
Whilst Tamura's win won't suddenly put the JB gym in the position to sign the top amateurs, who are more likely to sign with Watanabe, Ohashi or Teiken, it is a sign that the JB gym is going places, and they may well be set for their biggest yet. Not only is Tamura now a Japanese champion but Kyosuke Sawada (12-2-1, 6) [澤田京介] is himself a Japanese ranked fighter and it seems plausible that success could generate more success, and more success.
The recognition of Ippo and Morikawa's success, in both manga and sports, is likely to lead to more attention to both the gym and his creations. In Japan "Ippo" is big news, the gym stocks Ippo goods, and in fact today saw Ippo tape being used at the Dangan card.
After the win today Tamura stated "I have had many dreams, but now they've became a reality, I would like to thank Professor Morikawa, trainer, and staff." (translated), and the win has got Mr Morikawa and Ippo extra attention in the national presses.
Sadly if you'd like to see Tamura's big win today you'll have to watch it over the subscription service Boxingraise.com, though it was a very impressive performance from Tamura, the sort of performance that should really build him a large fanbase, even without cross fans from Ippo.
(Images courtesy of boxmob.jp, JB Sports)
Over the Christmas period we saw an interesting match up being speculated on featuring English Light Heavyweight Anthony Yarde (17-0, 16) and American based Cuban veteran Sullivan Barrera (22-2, 14). That bout didn't get much further than speculation, started by Barrera, but was an interesting match up all the same.
Sadly it was turned down with Yarde's defenders suggesting he wasn't ready, he needed more experience, he needed seasoning take on someone like Barrera.
The Englishman's lack of an amateur career was also put forward as to why taking the bout at this stage would be foolish, with Yarde's amateur career only lasting for about 12 fights.
That got me into thinking about other fighters who lack much in terms of amateur credentials, and how they have been developed. The one that stood out the most was Japan's Masayuki Ito (24-1-1, 12), the current WBO Super Featherweight champion. Ito had 0 amateur fights, and was developed through a very different professional system to the one that has brought Yarde to the point where he is. In fact Yarde, as the WBO's #1 contender, is technically next in line for a WBO world title fight, but supposedly isn't ready for a grizzled veteran like Barrera.
As mentioned Yarde had 12 amateur fights before beginning his professional career in 2015, at the age of 23, and he scored 4 wins during that year, going 4-0 (3). All of those wins came against fighters with losing records, little ambition and who were there to pick up losses and supposedly teach Yarde a few things before losing. They included the then 0-11 Curtis Gargano, who is now 0-51-1, and the then 3-10-2 Tamas Danko, who is now 3-22-2.
Ito on the other hand debuted in 2009, aged 18, and only fought once that year. It wasn't until November 2010 that he would be 4-0. By that point he had most faced domestic novices, who didn't have much of a career afterwards, there was one who had a winning record when Ito faced him but on the whole those opponents were hard to make any sort of note about.
Ito's 5th bout however was a draw with the then 4-0 Tsuyoshi Tameda, in a Rookie of the Year bout, that was a big step up and we've since seen Tameda carve out a name for himself as a big puncher on the Japanese domestic scene. That compares very favourably with Yarde's 5th opponent, David Sipos, an Hungarian who tends to lose whenever he fights outside of Nyíregyhaza, Hungary.
The Rookie of the Year competition is really the building ground for a lot of Japanese fighters. It's a domestic tournament that pits novices against each other, developing the talent of fighters. It's lead to over 20 world champions, with Ito being the most recent, and is a great proving ground for fighters to fight opponents at a similar experience level. In 2012 Ito would win the tournament whilst advancing his record to 9-0-1, 3. Within 10 fights Ito had become Rookie of the Year, had fought to a draw with Tameda and would actually beat Masaru Sueyoshi and Kosuke Saka. Sueyoshi, then 3-0, is the current Japanese Super Featherweigth champion whilst Saka, then 6-0, is a now former Japanese Featherweight champion.
By his 10th fight Yarde had beaten just 1 opponent with a winning record, stopping the then 22-10 Ferenc Albert inside a round. His other 9 opponents all had either losing records, or 50-50 records at best. There was no unbeaten fighters on his ledger, no hungry youngsters looking to build themselves up, just domestic journeymen or very limited visitors.
Interestingly Yarde would claim his first title in his 11th bout, winning the British Area Light Heavyweight title by stopping Chris Hobbs. Hobbs was 6-1-1 and was an obvious step up for Yarde. Yarde would then begin collecting minor WBO titles, beating Richard Baranyi for the WBO European title and Norbery Nemesapati for the WBO Inter-Continental title. Those titles have since been defended against Nikola Sjekloca, Tony Averlant, Dariusz Sek and Walter Gabriel Sequeira as he's climbed up the WBO rankings use those belts as a launch pad for his #1 ranking.
On paper wins over the likes of Baranyi, then 18-1, Nemesapati, then 25-6, and Sjekloca, then 32-4-1, were really good wins. Since then however none have done anything. Baranyi has lost 2 of his 3 bouts, Nemespati hasn't fought, and had lost 4 of his previous 8 suggesting his best days were behind him, and Sjekloca has picked up 3 low key wins. They were all credible wins, but the reality is that none of them have shown any ambition since. It could be that Yarde beat it out of them, or it could be that they were all just starting to slide.
Essentially leads us to where we are now with Yarde. 17-0 (16) with no wins over notable domestic opponents, a string of wins over fringe European level fighters on the slide, and a lack of real substance. A fighter with power and talent, but no real experience and no real desire to change that.
Ito's 12th bout would be a win against Taiki Minimoto, the now reigning Japanese Featherweight champion and his following bout would be his first title bout, a win over Jeffrey Arienza for the WBC Youth Lightweight title. Ito wouldn't defend the belt and would instead go on to face domestic foes. Those domestic foes included the big punching Masao Nakamura in what was Ito's 16th fight. He was the under-dog going into that bout but pulled off an upset win over the former OPBF champion to make fans really sit up, that was his 17th bout and he was still just 23. In his 18th bout he challenged Japanese champion Rikki Naito, and lost a razor thin decision to Naito.
Since losing to Naito we've seen almost every fight from Ito being a step forward. He would win the OPBF title just 6 months after losing to Naito, and would unify it with the WBO Asia Pacific title 16 months later by beating Takuya Watanabe. He would notch up wins a variety of opponents, such as the skilled Shingo Eto, the hard hitting Lorenzo Villanueva and the teak tough Vergil Puton. Every bout served a purpose, other than to add to the number in the win column. Those bouts prepared him for this summer's win over Christopher Diaz for the WBO world title, which it's self was an upset.
It's far to say that after 4 bouts both were similar. Neither had done anything. Ito would then take the lead, winning the Rookie of the Year crown. Ito would continue to face stiff competition but Yarde arguably went above him, winning his first title and his first international before Ito had. Ito however faced challengers who wanted to take the belt from him, unified against a live opponent and took on fighters who fought with ambition, rather than the desire to survive. Whilst Yarde had over-taken Ito in terms of where they were he hadn't developed like Ito had.
There is, of course, time for Yarde to catch up. He's fit his first 18 fights into the same amount of time that it took Ito to fight 9 fights. The difference there however is that Ito debuted as a teenager, he had time on his side, Yarde was in his mid 20's, and hasn't got that huge amount of time to waste treading water.
We would love to see Yarde take a big step up in February, when he returns to the ring, but the feeling is that if Barrera is too seasoned then Yarde won't be in with a top fighter. Instead we may need to wait until he is 28, 29 or even 30 before he fights a top name. It's a shame given that the UK scene at 175lbs has had fighters like Hosea Burton, Frank Buglioni, Callum Johnson, Ricky Summers, Bob Ajisafe and Charlie Schofield all in it in recent years, and now has Joshua Buatsi rising incredibly quickly though the ranks. The fact Yarde failed to face any top domestic fighters is a massive shame, yet it was facing top domestic competition, at the same point in their careers, that has helped make Ito the fighter he is today.
We're not saying Yarde should jump in with Barrera, but it would certainly do his career the world of good to have opponents who have 3 months to prepare, who are ambitious and come to win. Whether that's a top domestic foe, a top European fighter or a fringe world class fighter, he needs someone to give him a fight, and to do it before fans turn away.
We might get proven wrong, Yarde might be able to deliver at the top, but the Light Heavyweight division is expected to become red hot in the coming years, and with the likes of Dmitry Bivol, Marcus Browne and the aforementioned Buatsi all in or around the top there's not going to be a generational shift to open the door to Yarde. In fact if anything the division could be overcrowded with top Super Middleweights like Callum Smith, Gilberto Ramirez Sanchez and David Ramirez all expected to move up sooner rather than later.
(Images courtesy of Frank Warren.com, Boxmob.jp)
In 2019 we expect to see a wave of Japanese fighters racing through the ranks, following the patter we've seen from the likes of Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka. At the moment there are 4 fighters with 1-0 (1) records that we expect to see racing through the rankings, potentially fighting for their first titles before the end of 2019.
Masahiro Suzuki (1-0, 1)
World Sports Boxing Gym
On November 3rd we saw Masahiro Suzuki make his debut, and he was really impressive as he over-came Antonio Siesmundo at the Korakuen Hall. Fighting at 140lbs, though expected to drop down to 135lbs going forward, Suzuki was put in a baptism of fire with a hard hitting and tough Filipino who came to win, and win big. Suzuki showed off the tools he learned whilst composing an impressive 64-26 (21) amateur record, showing great composure, fantastic skills and the ability to mix up what he was doing. He didn't have things all his own way, and seeing him adapt was the most impressive thing about his performance.
He's pencilled in for his second bout on March 2nd at the Korakuen Hall, though his opponent hasn't yet been named, and we are really looking forward to that bout, which should be televised on G+.
Mikito Nakano (1-0, 1)
Debuting on October 6th we had massive expectations of 23 year old Mikito Nakano, who was tipped as one of the future stars of the Teiken gym. As an amateur Nakano went 68-9 (48) and turned professional having sparred with the likes of Hiroaki Teshigawara. With such lofty expectations we were, in some ways, expecting a punch perfect debut against Thanawat Yancharoen. Instead it seemed like Nakano was just impressive, rather than spectacular in debut.
Despite not being totally blown away by Nakano we do see a lot to like about the Featherweight hopeful, who showed excellent footwork, lovely punch variety and the mentality of punching through the target. He looked sharp and is obviously a top prospect, despite not making our jaws hit the flaw.
At the moment it's unclear when he will return to the ring but we'd suspect he'll be in action in Spring.
Yuki Nakajima (1-0, 1)
Another 23 year old who debuted in October was Yuki Nakahima, a Light Flyweight fighter under the Kadoebi banner. He made his debut on Slugfest 6 and looked excellent as he defeated Thai novice Somphon Banyaem. Nakajima showed a lovely crisp jab, good movement and a very confident approach to his work in the ring, something that he'll have developed during his amateur career which saw him going 52-21. He controlled the first round of his debut behind his jab before upping the ante in round 2 and taking out the Thai with a brutal left hook to the body.
Interestingly Nakajima's bout is the only one from Slugfest 6 not to be posted publicly by Kadoebi, with Boxingraise being the only way to watch the bout at the time of writing. A real shame we'd have loved to have shared his debut. Subscribers to boxingraise can however watch Nakajima's debut by searching for him in Japanese, "中嶋憂輝".
It should be noted that Yuki's older brother Kazuki Nakajima (6-0, 5) is himself a very highly regarded prospect with the Ohashi Gym.
Ginjiro Shigeoka (1-0, 1)
Minimumweight hopeful Ginjiro Shigeoka made his debut back in September, when he was 18, following an amazing 56-1 amateur career. His debut was televised, on tape delay, on TBS and he looked like a special talent after just a few seconds. He quickly put the then 4-0 (4) Sanchai Yotboon on the back foot and showed touches of genius whilst applying constant educated pressure, switching levels, throwing combinations and still being defensively responsible. It was the sort off debut that immediately impressed and was the sort of thing that got us very, very excited.
Sadly there is no set date on when Shigeoka will return, but Watanabe are well known for handling prospects well, and we've seen a number of their fighters race through to title fights, so wouldn't be surprised if Shigeoka gets a big fight before his 20th birthday, which will be in October.
We also want to quickly explain that the rematch between Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa and Yasuyuki Akiyama would have been on this list were it not for the fact that it is hidden behind a pay wall and we can't share the fight video. For us that's the best OPBF and best WBO Asia Pacific title fight of the year, and would probably be #2 on top 3.
#3 - Ryoichi Taguchi (27-2-2, 12) Vs Hekkie Budler (31-3, 10)
May 20th – Ota-City General Gymnasium
The first fight on our list of best 3 is the IBF, WBA and Ring Magazine Light Flyweight title bout between Ryoichi Taguchi and Hekkie Budler from back in May. The bout was a thrilling competitive war between two world class Light Flyweights, with very little to split the fighters. Both men had flaws exposed, both men seemed to have a year or two taken off their careers and as fan we had something very special.
Sadly since this bout, way back in May, bout we've not seen either man return to the ring. Taguchi is supposedly in talks for a Spring 2019 return up at Flyweight, in a WBO world title bout, whilst Budler will be facing off with Taguchi's stablemate Hiroto Kyoguchi on December 31st in Macau.
#2 - Akira Yaegashi (26-6, 14) vs Hirofumi Mukai (16-5-3, 6)
August 17th - Korakuen Hall
Our second entry is the fantastic Super Flyweight bout between former 3-weight world champion Akira Yaegashi and 2-time world title challenger Hirofumi Mukai. These took didn't take long to get to know each other, and as the bout went on the action got more and more intense, with round 6 being a contender for round of the year. Mukai tried to use his reach early on but got dragged into Yaegashi's type of fight as the contest played out, becoming more and more of a war.
Neither man has fought since this contest, but both are expected to return to the ring in 2019. Yaegashi has got his eye on fighting for a Super Flyweight world title, something that we don't give him much of a chance of winning, whilst Mukai would likely be looking for one more good run on the regional scene.
#1 -Sho Kimura (17-1-2, 10) Vs Kosei Tanaka (11-0, 7)
September 24th - Takeda Teva Ocean Arena
Our Fight of the Year, not just in Japan but globally, is the WBO Flyweight title bout between Sho Kimura and Kosei Tanaka, a fight that we can't talk highly enough. It was two brilliantly matched fighters, with styles and mentalities that gelled perfectly, it had two men willing to put it all on the line, it had a incredible atmosphere, a high work rate from both men, an amazing sequence from both with right hands in round 12 and it had a young fighter chasing history. This really was, for us, the most exciting bout of the year, the best bout of the year, and a bout that had everything we had wished for and more.
If you've not seen this one we suggest putting an hour away and giving it a watch. If you have seen it, you know what to expect and should make the time to rewatch it, as it's simply fantastic. One of the times where a bout didn't just live up to expectations, but thoroughly exceeded them.
The final part of our 19 for 19 series focuses on 3 more prospects, all of whom are exciting and aggressive fighters with fantastic power and eye catching skills.
If you missed the first 4 parts of this series you catch up here:
19 for 19: Part 1 - The Teenage Prospects,
19 for 19: Part 2 - A Rookie, an Uzbek puncher, a Pinoy Prodigy and an Olympic champion
19 for 19: Part 3 - Unbeaten novices from China, Uzbekistan, Thailand and Japan!
19 for 19: Part 4 - Heavy handed fighters from Uzbekistan, Indonesia and Japan!
Sadriddin Akhmedov (6-0, 6)
Rising Kazakh prospect Sadriddin Akhmedov is one of the best pure prospects in the sport, with great amateur pedigree, an exciting and aggressive style, serious power, a good promotional back, in Eye of the Tiger Management, and a great level of activity. He also has the advantage of fighting in a heavier weight than some other prospects on this list, as he's fighting between Light Middleweight and Middleweight. So far he has scored 6 wins since April this year, and looks likely to be kept active against in 2019, with a bout already pencilled in for January. It's clear his team are wanting to keep him busy and develop him with activity, though we really are hoping to see him take a step up in the new year.
Shawn Oda (10-0, 8)
Japanese Lightweight Shawn Oda has been a professional for just over 2 and a half years but has already accomplished a lot. He came to our attention in 2017, when he claimed the Rookie of the Year and has since gone on to claim the Japanese Youth Lightweight title. At the age of 20 his future is incredibly bright, and he has already shown the ability to box, brawl and bang. For a Japanese fighter at 135lbs he is someone to make a note of, though is still rough around the edges, and perhaps still depends on athleticism when he could be using his skills. Still he should be seen as a genuine top prospect.
Seiya Tsutsumi (4-0, 3)
Someone who really caught our eye in 2018 has bene Seiya Tsutsumi, an aggressive, pressure fighter who fights out of the Watanabe gym and won a B Class tournament this year. The hard hitting youngster had been a very impressive amateur on the Japanese domestic scene before turning professional and at just 22 years old he looks like being one of the most exciting Japanese prospects, in terms of both in ring style and long term potential. Sadly Tsutsumi did have to pull out of a bout earlier in December, though we are hoping to see him make a return in early 2019.
As well as the 19 fighters featured over the 5 parts we've also included a small list below of extra prospects to make a note of. For many of these they were missing from the main series due to a lack of available footage to share, but are all worth adding on to any sort of a prospect list.
Kudura Kaneko (9-0, 6)
Taku Kuwahara (3-0, 2)
Ginjiro Tsutsumimoto (2-0, 2)
Kanan Huseyinaliyev (4-0, 4)
Sultan Zaurbek (3-0, 2)
Makhmud Gaipov (2-0, 1)
Ryusei Kawaura (5-0, 4)
Andika D'Golden Boy (15-0, 8)
Sanjar Tursunov (1-0, 1)
Tran Van Thao (11-0, 8)
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).