By Marcus Bellinger
The term Golden Age comes from Greek mythology and was used by early Greek and Roman poets referring back to when mankind lived in a better time and were pure. As a metaphor it is used when describing a period in a field of endeavor when great tasks were accomplished and it is often used when referring to an outstanding point in time for a team/country in sport or a particular genre of music or film.
In boxing circles over the last year or so we have been told by a number of scribes and pundits that this is a golden age of British boxing and whilst in certain aspects such as crowds, the number of big events and TV coverage you can make a strong argument in terms of quality of fighters and number of elite operators I think it is at best debatable.
One nation who is undoubtedly experiencing a golden age of talent inside the ring is Japan and in this piece we aim to come up with some of the reasons why and explore the unique boxing scene of the land of the rising sun.
Japan certainly isn’t an amateur powerhouse on the international front but a strong high school system is the breeding ground for much of the young outstanding talent that is currently making waves in the sport and all 10 of the reigning titlists (interim/regular not included) are below the age of 30. Japan has a rich history of producing quality fighters especially from 105 to 130 lb giving young boxers plenty of potential heroes to aspire to.
When turning professional a fighter aligns themselves to a Gym who handle all the promotional and managerial responsibilities. In house contests are not permitted by the Japan Boxing Commission (JBC so although there are more notable and larger Gyms there isn’t the same disparity between stables as there is for example in the US or the UK for obvious reasons. Fighters also regularly appear on other promoters shows and there is definitely a more flexible approach in many areas of the sport and being with a smaller Gym doesn’t mean you can’t reach the top.
The JBC certainly have a unique outlook when it comes to belts as there are only 4 other straps sanctioned apart from the 4 universally recognised world titles. These are the WBC Youth, the domestic, OPBF and very recently the WBO Asia Pacific. For those unaware the OPBF (Oriental Pacific Boxing Federation) is an affiliate of the WBC and is the Asian equivalent of the European title.
For a fighter to be able to challenge for a world title in Japan they must have won either the Japanese, OPBF or WBO Asia Pacific bauble first. This gives the land of the rising sun arguably the strongest domestic structure in the world and boxers must prove they are the best in the country and the region before moving onto world level. We’ve often seen Japanese pugilists winning world hardware in under 10 fights but because they are properly tested before hand the likes of Kazuto Ioka, Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka have handled the step up with aplomb. Also it’s a rare occasion that a fighter from Japan will look out of their depth in a world title clash especially from strawweight to super featherweight. It should also be stated that only in 2013 were the WBO and IBF finally recognised by the JBC and this of course has given boxers more options when challenging for world titles.
Pay-per view is an often strongly debated issue around the world but the model is null and void in Japan with terrestrial channels broadcasting a vast amount of top flight boxing in the country. Fuji TV, NTV, TBS, TV Tokyo and CBC are the main free to air outlets that showcase many of the countries biggest stars giving them a huge platform and reach.
A handful of fighters have deals with a specific network and notable world title bills that are on free to air TV in Japan are routinely viewed by millions of people. Kazuto Ioka and Shinsuke Yamanaka have attracted audiences of 8 million and the bout between Ryota Murata and Hassan N’Dam was watched by over 10 million and this shows there’s a huge appetite for boxing. TV is split regionally across the country so different areas have different channels so ratings for the whole nation are not always available. Satellite channels G+ and WOWOW broadcast some local cards and international fights and online pay services Boxingraise and ASign have given youngsters and domestic and regional boxers a much needed platform to display their skills.
There’s no doubt with the number of belts that it is easier these days to capture a world strap but the speed in terms of time and number of fights which many Japanese fighters are claiming world titles shouldn’t be underestimated and more often than not they are defeating solid opposition to do it. With a cluster of emerging talent ready to challenge on the world stage and some superb starlets in the amateur ranks the golden age of Japanese boxing is highly unlikely to be a flash in the pan and expect the country to be a huge force over the next decade.
Article by Marcus Bellinger - Who can be followed on twitter @marcusknockout
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features