Takashi Uchiyama's unbeaten 25-fight career is already an exceptional one. With 24 wins and a draw, the Tokyo-trained athlete is currently recognised as the best super featherweight fighter in the world. There's stiff competition for that top spot, but Uchiyama's long reign as the WBA world champion has him edging ahead of the likes of Mexico's Francisco Vargas, Dominican fighter Javier Fortuna, and fellow countryman Takashi Miura.
Japan has produced some phenomenal boxers through the years, particularly in the lighter weight classes, and they haven't always had the recognition they've deserved. With many legends of the sport and over 90 world champions, it can only be put down to an unfamiliarity issue. But there's a generation of exciting and powerful fighters that want to make some noise.
Uchiyama is one of those fighters. Known as 'KO Dynamite', the nickname says it all. He has 20 KOs from 24 victories for an 80% finishing rate. At that weight class, that is exceptional. The only small blemish on his record came in 2012. After coming back from injury to impressively defeat Jorge Solis, he registered a technical draw with Michael Farenas after sustaining a deep cut from a head butt. Since then, he's added six more wins and five more knockouts to his slate. However, he has only ever fought in Japan and if he wants to breakthrough in America and Europe, then he will have to spread his wings like some of those before him.
Pioneers like Masahiko Harada did fight abroad, albeit rarely, but someone like Hiroshi Kobayashi made his name as a fearless competitor by treading where many other Japanese boxers wouldn't and taking on tough fights in North and South America. Uchiyama has the skill and the standing to demand other world championship belts and he could rightly ask for them in his homeland, but a step outside the slightly more insular scene would really broadcast his name further afield.
Uchiyama has his next fight booked for April 27th in Tokyo, where he'll take on Panama's Jezreel Corrales (19-1). Apart from an early slip-up in just his second pro fight, Corrales has been unstoppable. However, he too has fought at home for all of his career and the journey to Japan swings things more in the favour of the champion and Uchiyama is 1/8 with 32Red Australia at the time of writing.
There was talk of a matchup with aforementioned WBA champion Javier Fortuna but, in his absence, Corrales has got his hands on the interim title and that makes this crucial for Uchiyama, who can seal a shot at the full title with a victory. Unibet and 32Red have it as 4/1 odds for Corrales. Most pundits don't completely write him off, but there is a general feeling that this fight will just prepare Uchiyama for a unification shot down the line.
He needs to take scalps fast. He is already nearing the tail-end of a career for a lighter fighter, with the speed and timing attributes much more of a factor than heavyweights who can push on into their forties. Uchiyama says he is ready for anybody, and ready for the big fights. He'll have to make good on those words by first dispatching Corrales, and then actively looking for the tough bouts, whether they take place home or away.
At 36 years old, there are those who believe Uchiyama has missed his chance to shine around the world, taking on too many fights in Japan and leaving the desire to go further afield too late. His performance against Corrales will be the measure of that, and if he still looks the part then there's no reason why there can't be more life left in him yet, giving him the chance to make his mark in Japanese boxing history.
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