For today's closet classic we roll the clock back to an historic bout from back in 1987, and it's a bout that, sadly, doesn't get the attention it deserves. That's despite the bout being a genuine major one for the division it was in. In fact it was a bout that saw an inaugural champion being crowned and a record being set, that still stands more than 30 years on.
Hiroki Ioka (8-0, 5) vs Mai Thomburifarm (11-1, 4)
The bout in question was the first ever WBC Minimumweight title bout, which took place in October 1987 in Osaka, just 4 months after the inaugural IBF title fight. The division wasn't well-established at this point, but this was a very much a major fight at 105lbs, and pitted an 18 year old Japanese hopeful against a Thai riding an 11 fight unbeaten run.
Hiroki Ioka, the uncle of Kazuto Ioka, had turned professional in 1986 under the guidance of the legendary Eddie Townsend. Ioka had debuted at the age of 17 and debuted in January '86, and had run up 5 straight wins by the end of the year. In 1987 he had beaten Kenji Ono for the Japanese Minimumweight title, setting the record as the youngest Jappanese national champion, before moving on to this WBC title fight. The youngster had been nurtured by Townsend to be an outside fighter, using his long and rangy body to fight off the jab, and with his Japanese title win there was a lot of momentum behind him. Despite the momentum he was still only 18 years and 9 months old. He was looking to set the Japanese record as the youngest world champion, and this was seen as a major step up.
Thai fighter Mai Thomburifarm had lost on his debut, in 1986, but then reeled off 11 straight wins. His competition hadn't been great, though as is always the case with Thai's from that era the records of his opponents are very much questionable and may well be incomplete. What is known is that prior to this fight with Ioka Mai had won the Thai Light Flyweight title. Coming in to this fight he was in his mid 20's but had never previously fought outside of Thailand.
From the off Ioka looked to make the most of size and speed. He got behind his jab, kept it pumped out and tried to neutralise the pressure of the Thai visitor. Ioka's big flaw, through his career, was his relative lack of power and he struggled early on to get the respect of Mai, who continued to come forward. The Thai's hunger and fire kept him coming forward but he continually struggled to get close enough, early on, to get his shots off with much success.
As the bout went on the pace of the bout increased, with Ioka occasionally pushing back Mai and letting his shots go. Mai responded, at times, but generally got the worst of things, as Ioka's clean and accurate punches took their toll on the Thai.
Whilst certainly not an all out war, and very much a show case of boxing, moving and jabbing, this was more exciting than most technical match ups and certainly had it's share of flash points and exciting moments, especially late on as both men started to wear the wounds of their bout.
For those looking for excitement and action this isn't a thrill a minute bout, despite having it's moments. It won't even be remembered as one of the greatest Minimumweight bouts ever. It is however a bout that deserves it's place in the Closet Classic series. It's a bout that helped build the division, and showed that technical and tactical bouts can still be very fun to watch!
Through the history of boxing we've had thousands of controversies. Be it questionable score-cards, poor stoppages, rules enforced badly or any number of other things we have had controversial actions and dubious incidents plaguing the sport. As part of this series we look at some of these disputable decisions and contentious contests.
The format for this series will see us setting the scene for the bout, discussing the bout briefly and then discussing the controversy of the contest, and where applicable what happened afterwards, with potential fall outs. We also want to include footage of the bout where we can!
Hiroki Ioka (10-0, 6) vs Napa Kiatwanchai (6-0, 3) I
To begin this series we're looking at a bit of a forgotten controversy but it's actually the bout that inspired us to cover controversial fights in this manner. Especially given how blatant the controversy is and how forgotten it is now, more than 30 years later
In October 1987 Japenese teenager Hiroki Ioka had taken a decision over Thai fighter Mai Thomburifarm to become the first ever WBC Minimumweight champion. At the time Ioka was just 18 years old and fighting for the 9th time. He would make his first defense just 3 months later, whilst his mentor Eddie Townsend was incredibly ill, and later passed after Ioka's win. In June 1988 Ioka would fight for the first time following Townsends's death, taking on little known Thai challenger Napa Kiatwanchai.
Kiatwanchai had done little to earn a world title fight. He was 6-0, inexperienced and taking a huge step up in class. That however didn't phase him and he travelled to Japan with plenty of self belief.
The fight started perfectly for Ioka, who dropped his Thai foe mid way through the opening round to secure an early lead. Ioka built on that but Napa wasn't there to make up the numbers and the diminutive Thai fought his way back into the bout.
Through 11 rounds it wasn't the most exciting or dramatic of contests, but was hotly contested, incredibly competitive and compelling with the unknown Napa out doing all expectations to make things very competitive. Ioka, who was apparently advised to avoid southpaws, struggled to read the Thai's lefty stance despite being the much taller and longer fighter.
In round 12 however things changed and a tiring, swollen Ioka was slowing. The tempo had gotten to both, but particularly to Ioka. At one point in the final round the Japanese fighter took his gum shield out and even threw it to his own corner, getting himself a short break. The break didn't do him any favours and he was rocked badly just moments later. He looked out on his feet with about a minute to go. Napa couldn't finish him in a follow up and then the bell rang...about 32 seconds early. There was a sense of confusion.
Napa's team were celebrating, as if their man had stopped Ioka. Ioka's team looked confused and dejected. Their was a real air that the title was changing hands. Had the bout been stopped because of the damage to Ioka? Had the time keeper been confused by the gum shield situation? Or was there something else at play?
After a few moments an announcement came out that the bout was a draw and the referee raised the hands of both men.
Ioka had been bailed out from being stopped with the early finish and had retained his title with a fortunate draw.
The finish to the bout lead to protests in Thailand at the Japanese embassy in Thailand and WBC would go on to order a rematch between the two men. That rematch came in November 1988, with Napa narrowly beating Ioka, with a majority decision, to take the win, and the title. The two would then have one more bout, in June 1989, with Napa stopping his Japanese rival in 11 rounds to record his second successful defense.
Whilst this is certainly not the biggest controversy to ever hit the boxing world, it is still an interesting one, and one that rarely gets a mention. For those wanting bigger profile controversies in this series, don't worry, we have some big ones lined for the future but with this bout being the inspiration for the series, it made sense to start here!
We bring another in our mini-series of commercials featuring boxers, and here we have an interesting mix of legends bringing us a very varied variety of products and quality of commercials.
Manny Pacquiao - Hennessy
Filipino great Manny Pacquiao was in so many adverts that it was clear some of them would be complete stinkers. We think this one for Hennessy isn't a good one. The product isn't featured at all until the final few frames and it tells us little about the product. The sense of fun Pacquiao pokes at himself in most of his adverts is gone and the whole commercial just takes it's self way too seriously.
Manny Pacquiao and Chris John - Kuku Bima Ener-G
From an overly serious advert with Manny Pacquiao to one featuring Pacquiao and Chris John selling an energy drink with tigers and dragons. This is much more the style of silly commercial we are used to seeing from Pacquiao, and it really tries to sell the product. This is a commercial that isn't taking it's self seriously and uses the people involved pretty well. We've never tried the product but on the back of this we'd like to.
Guts Ishimatsu - Ape Escape
Manny Pacquiao isn't the only Asian boxer featured in a lot of commercials. Another is Guts Ishimatsu, who's adverts really are varied from food to subscription services to video games! Here's his advert for popular Playstation video games Ape Escape, featuring Ishimatsu, and his acting chops, and a giant Ape.
Hiroki Ioka - Top Boy
Western readers will be well ahead of "Head and Shoulders" and it appears there's a Japanese product that is similar, combining Shampoo and Conditioner. That is Top Boy. Here we have a 1988 advert featuring Hiroki Ioka trying to sell the product. This is one of those commercials where the subject matter seems to come second to the people involved in what is a real 80's advert. A little camp, a little garish ans certainly not something that would help sell the product in this day and age.
Yoko Gushiken - Ishigaki Memorial Park
Someone who has done quite a lot of adverts over the years is Japanese legend Yoko Gushiken. Sometimes they really don't make the most of his ability to catch the eye, but this one does, as we see a lot of Gushiken, or is that Gushiken's, singing and trying to entice people to Ishigaki Memorial Park. This is silly, daft, and shows Gushiken having some fun. A simple but effective commercial!
Today we celebrate a new period in Japanese history, the Reiwa period. This ends the Heisei era, which began back in January 8th 1989, and although the change is not likely to be noticed in the west it is a major event in Japan.
We thought, with the end of the era, it was worth looking at the 10 most influential fighters of the Heisei era.
Just a caveat, before we begin, by influential we're not looking at the fighters who were the most successful during the era, but those who had a long last effect on the sport, specifically in Japan. Those who forced changes, influenced fighters or inspired fighters who followed them. To be considered they had to have fought between January 8th 1989 and April 30th 2019.
10-Takashi Uchiyama (24-2-1, 20) - The Watanabe Wonder
Several fighters on this list have gotten here due to their influence with fighters who have followed in their footsteps, or fighters who have turned their hand to promoting. Takashi Uchiyama on the other hand helped put the gym he was fighting for on the map. The Watanabe Gym had been opened for a few years but didn't really have a star to focus on, they lacked a fighter who could help attract top prospects and a man who carry the gym. In Uchiyama they had that star. Uchiyama's long reign as the WBA Super Featherweight champion, from 2010 to 2016, made his one of the major faces of Japanese boxing and he would inspire the Watanabe Gym, which is now regarded as one of the best in Japan. His effect on the Watanabe gym today has lead to fighters like Hiroto Kyoguchi and Ryoichi Taguchi becoming major forces. He's now running a gym of his own, and it's clear that Uchiyama's influence is going to continue well into the future.
9-Katsuya Onizuka (24-1, 17) - Superstar Spanky K
Popular fighters are influential due to their ability to draw a crown, get people talking and get eye balls on the sport. That was certainly the case with Katsuya Onizuka, who's popularity was huge in the 1990's. He turned professional in 1988 and would fight through to 1994, running up 5 defenses of the WBA Super Flyweight title, and even having a video game released with his likeness in Japan. Onizuka was certainly controversial, with numerous suspect wins, but his popularity kept people interested and kept watching. Following his retirement he would train fighters in Fukuoka, work for TBS in a commentary position and continue to have a pretty notable impact in the sport, much more so than fans in the West would realise.
8-Kazuto Ioka (23-2, 13) - Bar setting prodigy
The Osakan boxing scene is the second biggest in Japan, behind that in Tokyo, and for the better part of a decade the face of Osakan boxing was Kazuto Ioka. He drew huge TV rating, he was crowned as super prospect from his debut and he would, famously, win the WBC Minimumweight title in just his 7th bout. His career has been remarkable, winning world titles in 3 divisions, and chasing a 4th divisional world title. He's notable won an all-Japanese unification bout, a real rarity, challenged for a 4th divisional world title and set the mark for fewest fights to a world title, a mark that has since been beaten by Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka. Ioka put a marker down for the newest wave of Japanese fighters, and really helped kick start the era of the Japanese super prospect.
7-Hozumi Hasegawa (36-5, 16) - Hyogo Hero
We're going to mention a man who inspired a generation of fighters a little bit further down this list, but Hozumi Hasegawa also fills that role excellently. In fact Hasegawa ois the man many current fighters cite as an inspiration, especially those in the Hyogo region. He was, for a long time, the one fighter from Hyogo who kept the region on the map, he was "The Ace" of Japan for years, a multi-time JBC MVP, a 3 weight world champion, a sensational fighter in the ring and someone who's appeal did actually cross over from Japan to the West. Hasegawa began his career in 1999 and despite some early defeats he would go on to win world titles at Bantamweight, Featherweight and Super Bantamweight, he was a TV star in the ring, with a great style to watch and with a list of notable names on his record. He wasn't the megastar that some had anticipated, but he was a big name, and the face of Japanese boxing during a little bit of a transition period in the 00's
6-Sugar Miyuki (11-1, 4) - Female punching pioneer
Women's boxing today is thriving in Japan, and Kasumi Saeki recently showed how good the top youngsters are. We've recent world champions like Naoko Fujioka, Ayaka Miyao, Etsuko Tada and Shindo Go all make their mark but the real OG is Sugar Miyoshi. A fighter you won't easily find on boxrec, where she's listed under her birth name of Nojima Miyuki and has an offiial record of 1-1. Miyuki was oriinally a Shoot Boxing fighter, a style more similar to kick boxing than regular boxing, but would turn to boxing in 1995, years before the JBC would recognise female boxing. In 1997 she would go on to win the IWBF Minimumweight title, becoming Japan's first female world champion. Her work in boxing saw him raise the profile of the sport in the country, fighting exhibitions and working as a trainer. She would clearly kick start the female boxing movement in Japan, long before any of the others, and was a key factor in careers for the likes of Miki Kikukawa and Yumi Takano. She pre-dates the like of Feujin Raika by years and also played a role in showing that fighters could convert from one of Japan's other combat sports leagues. Although Miyuki is only "officially" listed at 1-1 we know that's wrong, due to footage of her and reliable sources, we her impact it still being felt, directly and indirectly to this very day!
5-Naoya Inoue (17-0, 15) - International man of focus
It's hard to really figure out where Naoya Inoue sits in this list. He hasn't inspired a generation of fighters, he hasn't forced rules to change, he hasn't set up a gym, or played a part in the running of the sport. However what he has done, internationally, has drawn eyes to Japanese boxing, he has managed to capture an international audience like no other Japanese fighter, getting American and European fans talking, and featuring as a cover star for magazines that often put Japanese boxing down their list of priorities. He has, arguably, become the first Japanese fighter, in a long time, to become a global star. His real influence is likely to be more notable in the Reiwa era, but it's impossible to state how much he has done since his debut in 2012. He, more than any other fighter, has made Japanese boxing global and we expect that will be something felt for a very, very long time.
4-Hiroki Ioka (33-8-1, 17) - First generation Ioka!
Today Kazuto Ioka is one of the biggest names in Japanese boxing. His unclue, Hiroki Ioka, is however a man who deserves on any list of influential fighters. The talented former 2-weight world champion saw his career begin before the Heisei era but his influence grew through out the era. He won his first world title in 1987, 3 months before the Heisei era began, but would make his first defense just weeks after the new emperor took the throne. He went 22-8-1 (11) during the Heisei era, defending the WBC Minimumweight title and winning the WBA Light Flyweight title. He would also chase a third divisional world title, coming up short at both Flyweight and Super Flyweight. After retiring in 1998 he would turn his hand to promoting, inspire his nephew to fight and guide numerous careers, as well as working as part of the West Japan Boxing Association. His influence may often be over-looked but he has been incredibly influential and will continue to be so in the Kansai region.
3-Katsunari Takayama (31-9-0-1, 12) - Rule changing road warrior
It's hard to ignore just how influential Katsunari Takayama was to Japanese boxing during his 40 fight career. The Minimumweight warrior was a trend setter who pushed his dreams and forced the JBC, and the JABF, to change how they did things. His pursuit of the IBF and WBO world titles eventually helped their legitimacy in Japan, and played a part in getting the JBC to recognise both the titles. He also brought real attention to the Minumumweight division, in part thanks to his incredible fight with Francisco Rodriguez Jr. He also, very notable, pushed the JABF into allowing former professional fighters to return to the amateur ranks. Whilst Takayama will never go down as one of the all time greats, it's impossible to ignore the effect that his career had on Japanese boxing.
2-Hideyuki Ohashi (19-5, 12) - The Phoenix
In the west Hideyuki Ohashi is relatively unknown, though plays a massive role in Japanese boxing, and has done for over 30 years. At the start of the Heisei era Ohashi was 9-3 (5) though went 10-2 (7) during the rule of Emperor Akihito, becoming a 2-time Minimumweight world champion during that 12 bout run. What he's he's done since hanging up the gloves in 1993 has been amazing, and he has not only played a role in the governing of Japanese boxing, due to roles with the JBC and JPBA, but also ran the Ohashi Gym. That gym has given us the likes of Katsushige Kawashima, Akira Yaegashi and Naoya Inoue. The "Ohashi Gym" is one of the most significant in Japan right now and looks to go from strength to strength.
Koki Kameda - Insanely popular, controversial, and a real star. His effect as a fighter was divisive but few can argue that he's not, even in retirement, a major draw.
Kiyoshi Hatanaka - A massive figure in boxing in Chubu, formerly a fighter and now the region's leading promoter with the likes of Kosei Tanaka and Kento Hatanaka making their name under him
Akinobu Hiranaka - Huge punching fighter who's work in Okyama as a promoter has started to build a notable, and exciting, local scene
Toshiaki Nishioka - Japan's fighters have tended to stay at home, fighting in the confines of of Japan. Nishioka would be one of the few fighters to go out of Japan for fighters on a semi-regular basis. He would fight in the US, Mexico and France during his career and prove that Japanese fighters could win away from home.
Yoshihiro Kamegai - Who spoke about Naoya Inoue dragging eyes to the Japanese scene. The same can also be said of Yoshihiro Kamegai, who actually became a bigger name in the west than in Japan, thanks to his fun to watch brawls. We wouldn't suggest many fighters follow his style, but his mind set of making it big in the US has helped lead the way for others.
Ryota Murata - It's unclear how much influence Murata has, or hasn't had. His TV figures are huge, his popularity, even now, is massive, but the real influence is the intangible, and that's the amateur success. We've yet to see Japanese amateurs really flourish on the international stage since Murata's 2012 Olympic gold medal, but it's expected that the 2020 Olympics will be a very successful one for Japan. It's assumed that Murata's amateur triumph may potentially have a similar effect to Amir Khan, who won an Olympic medal in 2004 and saw the UK team have a massive games in 2012.
1-Joichiro Tatsuyoshi (20-7-1, 14) - A generational influence
Few fighters can match the influence that Joichiro Tatsuyoshi had to the current Japanese scene. "Joe" made his debut 8 months after the start of the Heisei era and fought through to 2009, albeit with some breaks in there. During his career he would be a 2-time WBC Bantamweight champion, and whilst he was fast tracked to a title his influence was less due to his title reigns and more his style, his personality and his charisma. His effect on Japanese boxing was inspiring a generation of fighters, helping to kick start the current era of Japanese boxing. Even now he is still insanely popular, and when he appears at ring, as a member of the crowd, the cameras regularly zoom in on him. Enigmatic, exciting and incredibly charismatic the Osakan is still a star, though had had to pay for his boxing with various issues now effecting him.
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