In recent years we've not seen many questionable decisions come out of Japan at the world level. There's been one or two, but mostly the judging in world title bouts in Japan has been fairer than anywhere else on the planet. That hasn't always been the case however, and in the 1990's the country had a reputation for having some truly horrific decisions. Today we cover one of the most controversial of the era as we look at a worlkd title bout from May 1993.
Katsuya Onizuka (21-0, 17) Vs Jae Shin Lim (12-2, 7)
Coming into the bout Japan's Katsuya Onizuka was the WBA Super Flyweight champion, a hugely popular fighter and someone who appealed to not only boxing fans, for a fun in ring style, but also non-boxing fans. He was good looking, stylish, appealed to females and oozed natural charisma. He was the sort of bankable star that was going to draw solid TV figures fight after fight. His popularity had already helped him over-come an in ring controversy, his world title win in 1992 against Thanomsak Sithbaobay. In his third defense, just 13 months later, he was matched with Japanese based Korean Jae Shin Li, also known as Kotaro Hayashi whilst fighting in Japan.
Sporting a 12-2 record Lim, on paper, had nothing for Onizuka to worry about. He lacked the experience to be regarded as a true challenger and the level of competition he had been facing was limited to say the least. He had faced absolutely no one good enough to prepare him for a world title bout. Notably he had won 11 bouts in a row coming into this, but the reality is that those 11 wins came against some very poor opposition, and no one capable of really testing Lim and proving him as a world class fighter.
On paper everything was stacked in favour of Onizuka. He was the draw, the man the crowd was behind, the main with edge in experience, the champion, the one who was proven at world level and the naturally bigger man. Lim however wasn't there to roll over and just be the under-dog. He was there to become the new champion.
From the opening stages Lim looked confident and sharp, making the most of a busy jab through first round and using his footwork to prevent Onizuka from setting himself, making the champion reset time and time again. Onizuka looked the more powerful man in the opening round, but was easily out worked and out boxed by Lim through the first round. Despite the decks being stacked against him Lim put on an excellent showing through the full round.
To his credit Onizuka moved up a gear in round 2, showing more aggression and hunger, landing the occasional shot that drew a roar from the crowd. Those moments of success from Onizuka were however fleeting moments whilst Lim remained consistent, and event seemed to shake Onizuka with a straight. By the end of the round the crowd were well into the fight, cheering on the local star, who seemed to be finding his groove.
Knowing that Onizuka was working his way into the bout Lim got back to what had worked well in the opening round. He was using his jab, his footwork, making use of his clear edge in speed and mobility, and simply outboxing the champion, out landing him and showing a gulf in skill between the two men. Onizuka, when he landed, drew huge roars from the crowd, but any half decent judge would have seen that they were fleeting moments from Onizuka in a round that he was easily out boxed in. The success from Lim continued through rounds 4, 5 and 6 as he began to establish control of the action. Onizuka was looking slow, clumsy, and struggled badly with the movement of Lim who looked much more skilled than the champion, who regularly ate jabs and missed his own shots. Round 5 was a particularly big one for the Korean who backed up Onizuka and battered him on the ropes, as he hunted what would have been a hugely surprising stoppage. It was a very one sided round that could, potentially, have even been scored a 10-8 for the challenger, who looked sensational.
At the midway point it seemed clear that Onizuka had to turn this around very, very quickly. There was no way he could have been in the lead by this point, and even the fact two of the judges were Japanese, as well as the referee, couldn't change that, right?
Onizuka, likely knowing he should be behind, began to try and turn things around in round 7 as he finally let his shots go, though Lim wasn't going to just let his lead go. Lim boxed well, had his moments, and although he probably didn't do quite enough, he made the round close whilst also getting a chance to catch his breath after the busy work rate from earlier in the bout. Onizuka seemed to also look the better man through parts of the 8th round. Sadly it really was just "parts" of round 8, with Lim holding his own through out the round and having some of the most eye catching moments of the round.
After the bout had been nice boxing for the most part through 8 rounds we saw the pace drop off in round 9, with some messy holding early on. About a minute into the round Onizuka had his biggest moment, rocking Lim with a huge right, which forced the challenger to hold on. It seemed like the tide was starting to turn in favour of Onizuka, but Lime smartly held, then moved, creating time to recover, whilst Onizuka failed to inject an immediate burst of pace. Around a minute later Onizuka seemed to hurt Lim again but the Korean saw out the storm, proving himself to be a legitimately tough guy. It was a huge round for Onizuka, but even when he landed his best shots he couldn't send the Korean down.
Impressively Lim had fully recovered by the start of round 10. Onizuka managed to have a nice first minute, landing a few eye catching shots, but lacked the energy to keep up the tempo, allowing Lim's to work his way back into the round, picking his spots well offensively, and taking a notable amount of Onizuka's shots on the arms. Lim also managed to continue picking his spots well in round 11, limiting Onizuka's success to a single shot here and there, whilst landing some huge shots of his own and winning in the exchanges.
It seemed that Lim had a lead, maybe only a narrow one but a lead all the same, as we went into the final round. Surprisingly it was Lim who took the early initiative, easily winning the first minute of the round, before Onizuka began to come back into the round. Even with Onizuka coming back into things it was still Lim out landing him, despite loud chants from the crowd as we went to the bell.
At the end Lim celebrated, Onizuka on the other hand seemed to be reserved. It seemed, at least to us, that Lim had done enough. At worse he had won 7 rounds, and maybe even more. In the end however the judges disagreed, giving Onizuka the split decision victory and pleasing the 11,000 fans in attendance.
The scores at the final bell were 116-115 to Lim, 116-15 to Onizuka and a bizarre 117-113 to Onizuka, a scorecard that we really can't explain.
A rematch would have made sense,sadly though Lim would only fight twice more. He was out of the ring for more than 2 years before returning in September 1995 for a couple of low key fights, both in Korea.
As for Onizuka he would record two more defenses, both of which were very close decision, before losing the belt in September 1994 to Hyung Chul Lee, and retiring following an issue with his eyes.
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