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.
In the 1980's and early 1990's we had some legendary Super Flyweights including Jiro Watanabe, Gilberto Roman, Khaosai Galaxy and Sung Kil Moon. Sadly when Galaxy retired the WBA title was left vacant and a new champion needed to be crowned. To find a new champion the WBA matched up two of the best fighters in the division in what turned out to be a hugely controversial bout on April 1992. It was controversial but a truly fantastic bout, that now, almost 30 years later, is often forgotten.
Katsuya Onizuka (18-0, 16) vs Thanomsak Sithbaobay (37-2, 21) I
To crown the new champion, the man to replace the legendary Khaosai Galaxy, the WBA matched up experienced Thai Thanomsak Sithbaobay, the then #2 ranked WBA fighter, with Japan's Katsuya Onizuka, the then #1 ranked fighter. The bout made sense, it looked great on paper and was another chapter in the long running Japan Vs Thailand rivalry.
Although not well remembered now Thanomsak was a legitimately brilliant Super Flyweight. Heading into this bout he had lost only twice, a split decision in Japan to Kenji Matsumura, in 1987, in an OPBF Flyweight title bout and a thin decision in a WBA Bantamweight title bout to Luisito Espinosa in 1990. He had been a former OPBF Flyweight champion, and had beaten the likes of Soon Jung Kang, Frank Cedeno, Torsak Pongsupa and Choo Woon Park. He was a talented all rounder, who could box, bang, fight and brawl, and a man who had earned Onizuka's respect when Onizuka had gone to Thailand and seen him training. He was regarded as the Thai successor to Khaosai Galaxy, and their next champion.
As for Onizuka he was a former Japanese champion who had ended the lengthy domestic reign of Shunichi Nakajima but was stepping up beyond domestic class for the first time. He had impressed, mightily, on the Japanese scene, whilst building a huge fan following. He was fun to watch, a very heavy handed boxer-puncher, with charisma and good looks, able to attract more than just the boxing fans to his fights. He was an anointed one, who was regarded as Japan's next big thing, and their first champion at the weight since the legendary Jiro Watanabe back in the mid-1980's. Onizuka was to Watanabe what Thanomsak was to Khaosai Galaxy, making this a proxy version of the bout we never got.
For those in South East Asia this was something to get excited about. Really excited about.
From the opening seconds it was clear that both men felt confident of their abilities and both began behind their jabs, looking for control of center ring and the ability to guide their opponents where they wanted them. The winner of the battle of the jabs was Thanomsak who's jab seemed stiffer than Onizuka's and it seemed he was also landing it cleaner, backing Onizuka on to the ropes mid way through the round. To his credit Onizuka fought well off the ropes, but he took some solid body shots from the Thai whilst there. The second round was much like the first, with both men battling for center ring, and the Thai getting the advantage, despite some good moments from Onizuka. By the mid way point of round 2 it was clear we were getting something a little bit special, with each guy responding to being hit with combinations of their own. Despite some amazing back and forth action it seemed, once again, like the Thai did more than enough to take it, especially with his stellar combinations and more consistent offensive work.
Realising that Thanomsak was stronger than her was Onizuka seemed to change tactics in round 3. He had given up trying to take center ring and was instead going to use the outside of the ring, fighting off the ropes. He did need to change things but it wasn't a tactic that had immediate success, instead it seemed to allow the Thai to walk in and unleash with him on the ropes. Although the success for Onizuka wasn't immediate he did have some great moments fighting off the ropes, and tucked up well when the Thai was unloading. By the end of the round Onizuka was bloodied from the nose and, seemingly, down on all 3 cards. He had had moments but was being out worked.
The pace and tempo continued to be red hot in round 4 as Thanomsak continued pressing the pace and forcing Onizuka on to the ropes. This time around however Onizuka began to have consistent success off the ropes, moving well, and landing clean. Thanomsak on the other hand seemed to slow, he still had moments of great success, but they were less consistent than they had been in the first 3 rounds. The Thai was certainly slowing down, though it was unclear if it was due to his work rate or a choice, as he still seemed to be controlling things and stepping up the pace in exciting bursts.
In round 5 we again saw Thanomsak slowing slightly. He continued to pick moments to strike, and when he let his hands go he looked sensational, but the tempo was dropping from him. Then again we weren't seeing Onizuka make him pay, instead we were seeing the Japanese local have his face smeared with his own blood, backing off, and moving without letting his hands go. It was hard, if not impossible, to have given Onizuka any of the first 5 rounds, putting him in a hole, bloodied and looking like a man who had to turn things around, and quickly.
Sadly for Onizuka things didn't really seem to improve much in round 6, at least not early in the round. He did however have some good success in the middle of the round, when he began to get off the ropes and work with some space. It wasn't a clear round for him, or anything like that, but it seemed, at last, that he was starting to put some moments together, landing some solid shots and getting Thanomsak's respect. That continued in round 7, as the Thai continued to slow, feeling the pace of his brilliant start, and Onizuka began to back him up. The tables were beginning to turn and Onizuka was on the charge at last, though he was still in a deep, deep hole.
After a very good round for Onizuka he seemed to fail to build his success, and round 8 was a much closer one. Thanomsak didn't seem to suddenly have a second wind, but it seemed like Onizuka just failed to keep his foot on the gas. The local may have done enough to take the round, but it certainly wasn't a clear cut one, and it was far too close for comfort, given how clearly he had lost the first half of the bout. Round 9 was another where it seemed like Onizuka should have put his foot hard on the gas, but he couldn't and Thanomsak managed to have enough moments to keep things very close through the round. The aggression, pressure and combinations were gone from the Thai's work, but he was boxing smartly, jabbing, moving, making Onizuka miss and relying on the basics of the sport. It was a round that the Thai seemed to win, but simply keeping things simple, and re-opening a cut on Onizuka's left eye.
By now it seemed like Onizuka had 3 rounds to at least drop the Thai. Sadly for him he was looking too tired to press forward, and despite some fantastic flashes he was consistently out boxed through the round by an exhausted looking Thanomsak, who again kept things very simply, using his jab and his footwork to keep Onizuka at range.
After a few quieter rounds we saw Onizuka rush off his stool to begin round 11. The penny seemed to drop, at last, that he had to turn it on, put his foot on the gas and go for it. This lead to a truly brilliant round as both men sucked it up, dug deep and let their shots go. This was much more like the action from the early rounds, though it was Onizuka who was beginning to hammer away at his foe. Thanomsak came back but overall it was a round for the local, a clear round for him, and one he seriously needed.
With Onizuka having had a very good round 11 it seemed like he was going to end the bout hot, coming out hot for round 12. That however didn't really happen, and it was Thanomsak out worked his man in the final round, letting his shots go, catching Onizuka clean with head shots, unleashing flashy combinations. Onizuka certainly had moments, but nowhere near the amount we had expected from him, or the amount he needed. Going in to the round it seemed he was quite some distance behind, winning the round wouldn't have changed things, he needed to go out and try to stop the Thai.
After the bell Thanomsak celebrated, raising his hands. It seemed he was going to reclaim the title for Thailand, and take back the belt Khaosai Galaxy had vacated, Onizuka on the other hand walked back to his corner looking dejected. Like a beaten man. He seemed resigned to knowing his unbeaten record was gone, his title shot had ended with disappointment and that he had a lot of work to do to become a champion.
Then the result came in, and to everyone's surprise Onizuka was announced as the winner. Whilst his team, and the crowd celebrated he looked unhappy, as if he knew he hadn't won. The Thai looked genuinely disgusted at the result.
Whilst many of the fans had cheered the result, and Onizuka, there was a solid number who were angry about the outcome, describing it as a "Kyoei decision", blaming Onizuka's promoter. With scores of 115-114, twice, and 116-114 all in his favour the Japanese fighter had gotten the win courtesy of a 10-10 round on two cards, and two of them on the third.
Some of those in the venue told Thanomsak what they had thought, telling him that he should have been the champion. That he should have got the decision.
Around 19 months later the two men rematched, and once against Onizuka got a close decision. He would go unbeaten until September 1994, when he was finally dethroned by Hyung Chul Lee, and then retired due to an eye issue. As for Thanomsak he became a member of the "who needs him club?" after the second bout with Onizuka. He fought through to 1996, losing to Sirimongkol Singwancha, before a 1 fight return to the ring in 1998, which he lost. In the end Thanomsak would retire having never won a world title, and is regarded as one of the best Thai's to have never claimed a belt at the very highest level of the sport.
In the early 1990's there was a flurry of great bouts in Japan featuring exciting, though flawed, fighters. The country had a number of fighters who were in thrilling contests fighter after fight, due in part to their flaws. Today we feature a bout with one of those flawed yet thrilling fighters as he went blow to blow with a tough, rugged Mexican warrior, in what was a bit of a forgotten classic from late 1992.
Katsuya Onizuka (20-0, 17) vs Armando Castro (39-12-2, 34)
The charismatic Katsuya Onizuka was hugely popular in the early 1990's due to his aggressive style, his unique personality, his good looks and his interesting style, both in and out of the ring. He wasn't ever the best boxer, or the greatest fighters, but his limitations, aggression and power made his bouts must watch contests. In April 1992 he won the WBA Super Flyweight title, taking a narrow win over Thai foe Thanomsak Sithbaobay, filling a vacancy that had been left by Khaosai Galaxy. Just 5 months later made his first defense, stopping Kenji Matsumura, before taking on former Khaosai Galaxy foe Armando Castro.
With a 39-12-2 (34) record Armando Castro didn't look like he belonged in the ring at world level. He was however a nightmare to go up against He was rugged, powerful, physically strong, aggressive, and a really under-rated fighter who pressed forward no matter what. Technically he was limited, but made up for those limitations with his desire, power and hunger. Despite his record he had he had gone 18-1 (13) in his previous 19 bouts, with the sole loss during that run being a decision defeat to the aforementioned Khaosai Galaxy.
What we ended up with when these two got in the ring was something brilliant. From the off Castro was looking to use his bull like strength and power to take out Onizuka. The Japanese champion was forced onto the ropes and found himself on the wrong end of Castro's heavy hooks. It wasn't the most polished or crisp of offensive work from Castro, but he very much fought like a man looking to just smash his way through Onizuka.
Onizuka wanted to show off his boxing skills but had to see off the storm, and yet fight back. Whilst his focus was on not taking too many shots he was also trying to slow down the Mexican who refused to back off. This made a brilliant, action packed dynamic between two men who both had heavy hands, very different style and and both were happy to let shots go.
This might not be too well remembered in the west but it's one that every fan should visit, whether you've seen it before or not. This is a great under-rated closet classic. It's violent, it's exciting and it sees both men landing huge shots through out. A really good, heavy handed action bout...with a young Steve Smoger as the third man in the ring!
Back in the 1990's there was a number of very popular Japanese fighters all around at the same time. The most popular and well known of those was Joichiro Tatsuyoshi, who even today is still a star in Japan and his name carries so much weight that his son is feeling the rub of sharing the same surname. Today we look at a classic featuring another of the big Japanese names from the 1990's and like Tatsuyoshi the man in question reached the top of the sport, and in fact got so popular Sega released a video game with his name on. Here we see that Japanese fighter taking on a hard hitting and determined Korean challenger in what is one of the most over-looked bouts of the 1990's.
Katsuya Onizuka (24-0, 17) Vs Hyung Chul Lee (17-4, 13)
The Japanese fighter we were alluding to was Katsuya Onizuka, who went by the nickname "Spanky K". Onizuka's popularity in Japan in the early to mid 1990's was perhaps only over-shadowed by that of Tatsuyoshi, though his success in the ring did make up for that in many ways. Onizuka had turned professional in 1988, won the Japanese Super Flyweight title in 1990 and then claimed the WBA Super Flyweight title in 1992, defeating Thanomsak Sithbaobay, in the first of 2 meetings. As the champion he would defend the title 5 times before facing Lee in September 1994. Unfortunately for Onizuka his reign was a poor one, with 4 of defenses coming by decision and several of those being questionable, with home town judges certainly helping him keep the title. He was a good fighter, but his popularity exceeded his skill, and by the time he fought Lee he was regarded as a lucky champion.
Hyung Chul Lee on the other hand was a relatively unknown fighter outside of Korea. He has lost 3 of his first 4 bouts, then lost in Japan to David Griman in 1990. The loss to Griman ended a 6 fight winning run for the Korean who fell to 7-1 (5). Following the Griman defeat Lee then began to find his form winning 10 in a row, albeit against limited opposition. Those wins saw him win, and defend, the South Korean Super Flyweight title and score 8 stoppages. He was looking like a destructive force, but was very much fighting at a level well under world class. Like many Korean fighters of the time however his will to win, high work rate and incredible toughness was always going to make him a nightmare for someone like Onizuka, who lacked world class power.
The fight started with both men looking to get their jabs into play, with Onizuka using his size advantage well and keeping Lee at range in the early going with his jab at footwork. It was however going to take more than a few jabs to get Lee's respect and whenever he managed to slip the jab the Korean made sure to crack Onizuka with a shot or two, often to the body. The game plans were clear, for Onizuka it was to chip away, win the rounds and take the fight, for Lee it was to slow the legs of Onizuka, land the body shots and take the fight to Onizuka later on. By round 2 Lee's tactic seemed to be the one winning out, and he was successfully dragging Onizuka into a war. By the end of round 2 it was clear we were going to get something exciting, though the worry was likely that Lee would have to do more than just trying to win the rounds. After all, Onizuka had his reputation as a fighter who was getting lucky with the judges.
As the rounds went on the fight became more and more engaging, with Lee closing the distance easier round by round, and Onizuka taking more punishment. Onizuka was landing the prettier stuff, the clean stuff, but Lee was landing the harder shots, he was the one making the fight and the one who was looking more comfortable with the pace. And from there we leave you to enjoy the bout, especially the brutally fantastic 9th round.
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