This coming Saturday our focus will be on Las Vegas, where we see a major Bantamweight clash between IBF and WBA "super" champion Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16) [井上 尚弥] and Australian challenger Jason Moloney (21-1, 18). Despite both countries being part of the OPBF, and often fighting at OPBF level and lower level, we don't actually see the two countries clash in world title bouts very often. In fact in total we can only find 12 prior occasions where the countries have clashed at the top level.
Interestingly, for those who have backed Moloney, history is on your side, rather overwhelmingly in fact with Australia leading the rivalry 9-3*! Not only that but some of the wins scored by Australian's over Japanese champions have included victories over the man many regard as Japan's finest fighter ever!
With that in mind we've decided to take a look at the rivalry between two countries.
Fighting Harada Vs Lionel Rose - February 27th 1968
The first world title clash between fighters from the two countries came in 1968 when Japanese legend Fighting Harada, the then WBC and WBA Bantamweight champion, faced Lionel Rose at the Nippon Budokan. At the time the 24 year old Harada sported a tremendous 50-3 (19) record, had gone unbeaten for more than 4 years and had reeled off 19 straight victories since an loss to Jose Medel in 1963. He was also a 2-weight world champion and had been the only man to beat legendary Brazilian Eder Jofre. Rose on the other hand was a 19 year old with a 27-2 (8) record, having won 17 in a row.
Despite everything, on paper, favouring Harada the Australian took a narrow decision win to claim the Bantamweight titles and write his name in the history books as the first aborigine world champion, and a thorn in side of Japanese boxing.
Rather notably all 3 officials, the two ringside judges and a scoring referee, were Japanese and all 3 scored the bout in favour of Rose
Takao Sakurai Vs Lionel Rose - July 2nd 1968
Less than 5 months after dethroning Fighting Harada fans saw Lionel Rose return to Japan to make his first defense of the WBA and WBC Bantamweight crowns. In the opposite corner was the then unbeaten 26 year old Takao Sakurai. At the time Sakurai was 22-0 (4) and had been moved quick following his debut in 1965. Prior to turning professional he had won an Olympic gold medal at the 1964 Olympics, becoming the first Japanese fighter to do that, and was super active in the professional ranks, racking up 22 wins in just over 3 years.
Sadly for Sakurai he couldn't avenge the loss of Harada, losing a razor thin decision in front of the fans at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo. Scoring referee Nick Pope, from the US and Japanese judge Ko Toyama gave the bout to Rose, whilst Takeo Ugo had the bout even at 72-72.
Sadly for Sakurai this was to be his only world title fight, and he would later lose in a world title eliminator to the brilliant Ruben Olivares. Although he went on to win the OPBF Bantamweight title his career was, in the eyes of many Japanese fans, a disappointment.
Fighting Harada Vs Johnny Famechon I - July 28th 1969
After the loss to Rose Harada would move up the scale, and begin pursuing the Featherweight throne. He had hoped to become the first man to bridge the Flyweight to Featherweight gap. After winning 4 of 5 bouts, following the loss to Rose, Harada set his sights on French born Australian Johnny Famechon. At the time Famechon was the WBC champion and was seeking his first defense of the title. At the time he was 24 years old and boasted a very solid 51-4-6 (18) record, whilst the 26 year old Harada was 54-5 (21).
This bout, held in Sydney, was a war with Famechon hitting the canvas in rounds 2, 11 and 14, whilst Harada was down himself in round 5. It seemed, to most, that Harada had done it and had etched his name further in history. Sadly however he was denied by scoring referee Willie Pep, himself a boxing great. Pep, the only scoring official, had denied Harada by a point in a decision that is still, to this day, regarded as a travesty.
Had Harada got the decision her he would have been the first man to have moved, successfully, from Flyweight to Featherweight to become a 3-weight champion; it would have made him the 5th fighter to have been a 3-weight world champion; it would have made him the first Japanese 3-weight world champion and the second Japanese fighter to win a world title on foreign soil.
To put some of that into perspective we've still never seen actually seen a male fighter win world titles at 112, 118 and 126 and we had to wait until 2010 to see the first Japanese fighter to be crowned to be crowned a 3-weight champion.
Fighting Harada Vs Johnny Famechon II- January 6th 1970
With the controversial nature of their first bout hanging over them Harada and Famechon faced off again just a few months later. In the interim Harada had picked up a stay busy win and Famechon had fought a couple of bouts in the UK.
Sadly for Harada their was no controversy this time as the Japanese star was knocked out in front of his home fans at the Metropolitan Gym in Tokyo. The bout was a hotly contested one through 13 rounds but in the 14th Famechon caught Harada with a couple of left hooks. They shook the Japanese star who got a standing count before being sent out of the ring and being stopped.
This would turn out to be Harada's final career bout, and the final successful defense for Famechon who lost the title to the brilliant Vicente Saldivar just 4 months later, before retiring himself.
Video below thanks to Adam Auld
Yoshiaki Numata Vs Lionel Rose - May 30th 1971
After being a thorn in the side of Japanese boxing for a while Lionel Rose, with his wins over Harada and Sakurai in world title fights and Guts Ishimatsu in a none title fight, Yishiaki Numata was after revenge in 1971. By this point Rose had out grown the Bantamweight limit, had tested the water at Lightweight and then decided to challenge WBC Super Featherweight champion Numata. At this point in time Numata, enjoying his second reign as a world champion, was a 26 year old sporting a very impressive 43-6-3 (12) record. Amazingly Rose was still only 22 entering this bout, and was 40-6 (11).
Thankfully for Japanese fans Numata managed to end the run against Australians as he took a narrow, and debated, decision over Rose to retain his title. The bout, at the Prefectural Gymnasium in Hiroshima, saw the scoring referee and two scoring judges all favour Numata. It's worth noting, like in Roses' win over Harada, that all 3 were Japanese.
This would turn out to be a rather notable bout, as it would not only be Rose's final world title bout but it was also Numata's final successful defense and final victory. Numata would lose the title 5 months later, and retire following a loss in 1972 to Kenji Iwata.
Satoshi Shingaki Vs Jeff Fenech I - April 26th 1985
After more than a decade of the two countries peacefully co-existing and no world title bouts we had two in just 4 months, both of which were between the same two men. The first came in April 1985 and saw the then 21 year old Satoshi Shingaki, who had an 8-1-1 (6) record, lose the IBF Bantamweight title in 9 rounds to the 20 year old Jeff Fenech, who was then 6-0 (6).
Fenech really did a number on the gutsy Shingaki here. The Aussie couldn't miss at times and broke down Shingaki with huge right hands, brilliant combinations and intense pressure. All credit to Shingaki for his toughness, but he had the tar beat out of him by a rampant Fenech.
Incidentally Shingaki's reign is a really interesting one. He was the first Japanese fighter to win an IBF title, and did so with out the IBF being recognised by the Japan Boxing Commission. Doing so outside of their auspice, sadly though he was also the first Japanese fighter to lose an IBF title. It's also interesting that IBF Bantamweight title will also be on the line in this weekend's bout between Inoue and Moloney.
Satoshi Shingaki Vs Jeff Fenech II - August 23rd 1985
Less than 4 months after taking the IBF Bantamweight title Jeff Fenech gave Satoshi Shingaki a chance to reclaim the belt, in what was Fenech's first defense. Sadly for Shingaki this went even worse than their first bout. Shingaki was cut very early in the bout and never managed to get any real success, with the Marrickville Mauler really beating the former champion from pillar to post.
After 3 rounds Shingaki's team called a halt to the bout. The fighter himself wanted to go on, and tried to convince the referee he was fine, but in reality this was the right decision to stop the bout.
Interestingly Shingaki's career would go on, and he would go on to win his 3 following bouts, but they were all at a very low level, with the Japanese fighter retiring with an 11-3-1 (8) record. As for Fenech he would have a career somewhat similar to Fighting Harada, being denied a third weight world title in a bout many felt he deserved, drawing wwith Azuma Nelson, and then being stopped in a rematch with Nelson. He had, by then, stamped his mark as one of the all time greats. Amazingly Fenech's final bout with a third bout with Nelson in 2008.
Yoshinori Nishizawa Vs Anthony Mundine - January 19th 2004
After Jeff Fenech twice stopped Satoshi Shingaki it took a long time to see Australia and Japan battle at the top level again. In fact it was close to 20 years! Sadly when we did see the two countries collide it wasn't in the most mouth watering encounter. In one corner was the enigmatic, out spoken, brash and confident Anthony Mundine, the 28 year WBA Super Middleweight champion, who was 19-1 (14), and the new star of Aussie boxing. In the opposite corner was 38 year Japanese fighter Yoshinori Nishizawa, who was 24-13-5 (12) and one of the very, very few Japanese Super Middleweights to make any sort of mark on the boxing world.
This was regarded as joke defense for Mundine, who seemingly looked for the easiest opponent he could get away with for his first defense. From the off Nishizawa looked old, slow and limited. Surprisingly however Nishizawa managed put Mundine down in round 2, embarrassing "Choc". Sadly for Nishizawa Mundine pulled himself off the canvas and went on to stop him in the 5th round of the bout to retain the WBA Super Middleweight title in front of his fans at the Entertainment Centre in Wollongong.
Despite the loss here Nishizawa would get a second world title fight, losing to WBC champion Markus Beyer and fight right right through to 2011, when he was 45! Mundine on the other hand was last seen in the ring just over a year ago, losing to John Wayne Parr in what is likely to be Mundine's final bout. Now aged 45 Mundine sports a 48-10 (28) record.
One interesting aside here is that Nishizawa later went on to join the Ohashi Gym as a trainer, that's the same Ohashi gym that promotes Inoue!
Video thanks to Tamika Lovingood
Shinsuke Yamanaka Vs Vic Darchinyan - April 6th 2012
The last Bantamweight title bout between the two countries came in 2012 when Japan's Shinsuke Yamanaka, the then WBC champion, made his first defense and took on Australian based Armenian Vic Darchinyan. The then 29 year old Yamanaka had won the title in late 2011, stopping Christina Esquivel, and was then boasting an unbeaten record of 15-0-2 (11). He had the youth advantage over the then 36 year old Darchinyan, but Darchinyan had the clear edge in experience, with a 37-4-1 (27) record.
The bout, at the Tokyo International Forum, was a really intriguing one. It was one that Yamanaka struggled in early on, in what was a serious test for a first defense, but later into the bout Yamanaka dug deep and turned it around, using his younger, fresher legs to take home a decision. This was, however, a controversial bout with the tide turning after the 5th round, which was a round that saw Darchinyan cut from what looked to be an accidental elbow.
Following this win Yamanaka would go on to become one of the major faces of Japanese boxing. He would run together one of the longest reigns of any Japanese world champion and hold the title until losing to the controversial Luis Nery in 2017, then losing a rematch in 2018. As for Darchinyan he would continue his career through to 2017 with mixed results. His style and personality always allowed him to get bouts and opportunities, but losses after this to Nonito Donaire, Nicholas Walters, Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar and Sergio Frias all came by stoppage.
Takashi Miura Vs Billy Dib - May 1st 2015
In the middle of the 2010's Japan had two major forces at 130lbs. One was Takashi Uchiyama, the WBA king, and the other was Takashi Miura, the then WBC king. In 2015 Miura, then aged 30 and sporting a 28-2-2 (12) record, faced off with former IBF Featherweight champion Billy Dib, then 29 with a 39-3-0-1 (23) record, with the men clashing at the Ota-City Gymnasium.
On paper this was an interesting match up. It gave Dib a chance to become a 2-weight world champion and it gave Miura a chance to score a win against a notable name, following 4 straight victories against Mexican foes. It proved to be interesting in the ring, with Dib boxing and moving, using the ring well, and Miura looking to cut off the challenger. Midway through round 3 Miura got his way, and landed his patented left handed, shaking Dib who was on the canvas just moments later. That was all she wrote, with Dib not being able to continue and Miura living up to his "Bomber Left" moniker.
Sadly for Miura he would lose the WBC Super Featherweight title 6 months later, in Las Vegas, to Francisco Vargas in a 2015 FOTY contender, and would retire following a 2017 loss to Miguel Berchelt. As for Dib, he was last seen in the ring in December 2019, beating the previously unbeaten Van Thao Tran of Vietnam.
One interesting note about this fight is it was actually aired live in Australia but on tape delay in Japan, with TV Tokyo foolishly not showing it live, but showing it around 30 minutes after it had taken place.
Ryosuke Iwasa Vs TJ Doheny - August 16th 2018
The last bout to pit the two countries against each other on either man's soil came in 2018 when Australian based Irish born fighter TJ Doheny travelled to Japan to face off with the then IBF Super Bantamweight champion Ryosuke Iwasa at the legendary Korakuen Hall in Tokyo. At the time Iwasa was seeking his second defense of the IBF title which he had won in sensational fashion against Yukinori Oguni, whilst Doheny was the mandatory challenger. Entering the bout Iwasa was 28 and boasted a 25-2 (16) record, he was at home, he was the taller and longer man. Doheny on the other hand was 31 and had ran up a 19-0 (14) record.
We had expected fireworks here. Between them they had scored 30 wins by stoppage from a combined 44 wins wins, and the two losses for Iwasa had both come by stoppage. Doheny however had a different idea in mind, and instead of trying to bomb with the heavy handed Iwasa he boxed, he moved, he made Iwasa look slow and unsure of himself and ended up taking a unanimous decision to claim the the title. This was the first time an "Australian", in this case an adopted one, had taken a decision on Japanese soil against a Japanese champion since Rose dethroned Harada 50 years earlier!
Since this bout Iwasa has remained a contender and is currently the interim champion. Doheny on the other hand didn't get to enjoy a long reign, making just a single defense of the title.
Ryohei Takahashi vs TJ Doheny - January 18th 2019
Talking about Doehny's single defense that actually came in 2019 against a Japanese challenger, when he took on the little known Ryohei Takahashi at the iconic Madison Square Garden. This is the only time there has been a world title fight between a Japanese fighter and an "Australian" on US soil and sadly it was regarded as a mismatch before the men even stepped into the ring.
Doheny, then 20-0 (14), was expected to easily defeat the over-matched 28 year old Takahashi, who was 16-3-1 (6). Takahashi had no clear route to victory. He was made to order, in many ways, for Doheny. And that proved to be the case. Takahashi was tough, and few could fault his bravery, but Doheny used him as target practice, and forced Mike Ortega to step in and stop the bout in round 11, with Takahashi probably lucky to have taken a single round by that point.
Following this bout Takahashi faded back into obscurity on the Japanese domestic scene, picking up 3 wins including a somewhat controversial one earlier this month against Kiyohei Endo. As for Doheny he lost the IBF Super Bantamweight title a few months after this win, losing in a sensational 12 round war with Danny Roman, in a bout that unified the IBF and WBA titles. Since then Doheny has gone 1-1 including a shock loss in March this year to Ionut Baluta.
*For the sake of this we have included Vic Darchinyan and TJ Doheny as Australian's, who both flew the Australian flag along with the Armenian and Irish flags respectively. If we remove those results it's 7-2 to Australia and not 9-3. Either way these stats aren't in favour of Inoue this weekend, or Japanese boxing in general.
Other interesting details
Lionel Rose also scored notable wins in none-title fights against Japanese fighters Guts Ishimatsu, in 1970, and Bomber Uchida
Sam Soliman won the OPBF Middleweight title against Tokutaro Toyozumi and retained it against Satoru Suzuki, scoring both those wins in 2003
Prior to facing Takashi Miura we had seen Billy Dib in the ring with Kenichi Yamaguchi, in what was a short, dramatic, controversial and crazy one round bout that ended with Yamaguchi being stopped after being dropped. The result was later over-turned to a No Contest If you've never seen this one it is crazy.
Before winning the WBA Super Featherweight title Takashi Uchiyama beat Nedal Hussein for the OPBF Super Featherweight title.
In July 2016 Jack Brubaker retained the OPBF Welterweight title in Japan by beating Suyon Takayama, this, like many bouts between fighters from the two countries, was fantastic and is well worth hunting down!
Also in 2016 Dwight Ritchie beat Hikaru Nishida, in Japan, for the OPBF Middleweight title. His reign was short lived however, as he lost in his first defense just 5 months later, losing to Koki Tyson.
Jayde Mitchell also claimed an OPBF title in Japan, beating Shintaro Matsumoto for the OPBF Super Middleweight title at Korakuen Hall. Matsumoto would later go over to Australia to try and claim the OPBF Light Heavyweight title, but was stopped in 3 rounds by Aaron Lai.
Interestingly Kyotaro Fujimoto may well be the Japanese fighter with the best single man rivalry against Australian fighters. He debuted against Australian Michael O'Donnell, lost in an OPBF Heavyweight title fight to Solomon Haumono, and then went on to beat Nathan McKay, Adam Lovelock, Will Nasio - for the OPBF title, Herman Ene Purcell, Randall Rayment and Aaron Russell.
Rather notably, given this weekend's fight, Jason Moloney holds a win over former Japanese world champion Kohei Kono, with the Australian stopping Kono in 5 rounds in 2018. Incidentally he did so a round quicker than Inoue did it, just 18 months earlier.
The Rookie of the Year is one of the very best proving grounds to Japanese novices wanting to make their mark on the sport, and the winners regularly, though don't always, go on to achieve big things in the sport. Here we're going to look at the winners of the 2014 All Japan Rookie of the Year tournament, and look at where their careers are now, what they've done since winning.
For many of the fighters here their careers have continued on to this day, but with some mixed success.
Note - The "then" records are the records following the Rookie of the Year finals.
Middleweight-Hisao Narita (then 8-1, 4)
Poor Hisao Narita was one of the winners from the 2014 Rookie of the Year who really didn't have a good time after the competition. Narito would win his first bout in 2015, narrowly defeating Yusuke Konno, but then 4 in a row, including losses Hironobu Matsunaga and Takeshi Inoue. A small winning run was then followed by back to back defeats, to Sanosuke Sasaki and Shinobu Charlie Hosokawa. Narita hasn't fought since losing to Hosokawa in June 2018 and it seems likely that Narita is now down with the sport, though he is only 28.
At the time of writing Narita has a professional record of 12-7 (6)
Welterweight-Yuki Beppu (then 8-0, 8)
Aged 23 when he won the Welterweight tournament Yuki Beppu was hailed as one of the ones to watch. His career since then hasn't totally lived up to expectations but he has proven to be a better fighter than just purely being a puncher. He would fight some very limited opposition to run his record to 14-0 (14) before fighting to a draw with Charles Bellamy, in what was a huge step up and a very credible performance. A loss to Yuki Nagano in 2018 saw Beppu lose his unbeaten record, which was then 18-0-1 (18) but he has bounced back with 2 wins, including his first decision win over Jasen Egera. His next bout is expected to come in December for the WBO Asia Pacific Welterweight title against Ryota Yada.
Beppu's current record is 20-1-1 (19)
Light Welterweight-Tetsuya Morisada (then 4-3, 4)
The forgotten man of the 2014 Rookie of the year is Tetsuya Morisada, who didn't get his moment in the sun. Morisada won the title by default Naoharu Kida abstained from the final. Kida wouldn't fight against until late 2016, coming back for what appears to have been a one off. Sadly for Morisada the limited but hard hitting would lose 3 of his following 5 fights. Although a puncher he is very much a glass cannon, and only 1 of his bouts ever went the distance, and it now seems like his career is over on the back of 3 straight stoppage losses and more than 12 months away from the ring.
His record if 6-6 (6) and despite only being 24 we doubt we'll see Morisada fight again.
Lightweight-Shogo Yamaguchi (then 6-0-1, 3)
Another fighter who won the All Japan Rookie of the Year without fighting in the final was Lightweight Shogo Yamaguchi, who had a walk over and Andy Hiraoka who fell ill before the final. Yamaguchi was a promising and unbeaten 21 year old who picked up 3 wins in 2015 before seeing his career stumble with a loss to Akihiro Kondo and then one to Genki Maeda. Sadly since then Yamaguchi has really struggled to get going and has only picked up 2 wins in 7 bouts. Despite that poor run of results it's worth noting he and Andy Hiraoka did finally face off, fighting in May 2017 with Hiraoki stopping Yamaguchi in 6 rounds.
With a record of 11-5-3 (6) the 25, soon to be 26, year old Yamaguchi is in a really tough point in his career, though he was active as recently as July, when he lost to Masanori Rikiishi.
Super Featherweight-Yuichiro Kasuya (then 6-0, 1)
Teenager Yuichiro Kasuya looked like a real one to watch when he won the Super Featherweight Rookie of the Year within a year of his professional debut. The youngster looked highly skilled, a natural in the ring and like a fighter with a lot of potential. His lack of power wasn't expected to be a major issue and as he matured it was assumed he'd fill into his body and add some physicality to his game. Sadly his career hasn't really gond the way that was expected following 3 successive set backs. The first of those saw him fight to a draw with Masaki Saito, before back to back losses to Spicy Matsushita and Izuki Tomioka. In 2018 he moved over to the Kadoebi Gym and has shown signs of reaching his early promise.
At 22, soon to be 23, the jury is out on what Kasuya will do with his career but he's now 13-2-1 (4) and has run off 4 straight wins, so we certainly wouldn't rule Kasuya out of becoming a player on the national scene at Lightweight in the years to come.
Featherweight-Reiya Abe (then 8-1, 4)
One of the most notable names from the 2014 Rookie of the Year was the then 21 year old Reiya Abe, who took the Featherweight crown and has become a fixture in the Japanese title picture over the last year or two. The talented southpaw sharp shooter surprisingly lost in his first bout after winning the Rookie of the Year, losing a decision to Shingo Kusano, but avenged that loss in 2016. Abe ran up an excellent 11 fight winning run following the loss to Kusano, but narrowly failed to take home the Japanese title in 2 title fights earlier this year.
Despite recent set backs against Taiki Minamoto, who held Abe to a draw, and Ryo Sagawa, who he lost a narrow decision to, there is absolutely no reason at all to write off the 26 year old Abe, who is now 19-3-1 (9) as a professional. We'd be hugely surprised if he doesn't pick up a title in the coming years, when he adapts his style just a little. He's a genuine talent.
Super Bantamweight-Shohei Kawashima (then 9-0-2, 2)
The then 23 year old Shohei Kawashima seemed like one to watch following the Rookie of the Year, given his age, unbeaten record and and his style. He proved he wasn't just a flash in the pan and in 2016 gave Cristian Mijares a very close bout in Mexico. Sadly a loss to Gaku Aikawa in 2017 left questions over Kawashima but he has since answered them with some solid performances, including one in March in the Philippines against Juan Miguel Elorde. Sadly he hasn't had much luck, and at times his match making has been too soft, but he is a real talent and hopefully he will get some bigger bouts in the near future.
With a record of 17-3-2 (4) Kawashima is still very much active and fights for the 23rd time as a professional on October 19th, sadly though it's against a less than inspiring opponent in the form of Masajiro Honda. Given his ability, and the way he seems to step up against stiffer competition, we'd love to see Kawashima given more bouts on the road against fringe contender types.
Bantamweight-Ryohei Takahashi (then 5-1-1)
Of all the fighters on this list the reality is that Ryohei Takahashi has had the highest profile single bout of any fighter, with Takahashi having fought for the IBF Super Bantamweight title earlier this year, when he put up a brave effort against TJ Doheny. Takahashi's is a tough, rugged fun fighter to watch but his limitations were shown against Doheny. Through his career he has come up short in his 2 most notable bouts, the loss to Doheny and a loss to Andrew Moloney, but he's a solid domestic and regional level fighter. With wins against the likes of Matcha Nakagawa, Kazuki Tanaka and Mike Tawatchai he belongs in the regional title picture and we suspect he will get a title fight of some kind in 2020.
With a record of 17-4-1 (7) Takahashi is far from done, and the 29 year old picked up his last win in June, stopping Jin Wook Lim, in what is his only bout since the loss to Doheny.
Super Flyweight-Masayoshi Hashizume (7-0, 4)
The then 21 year old took the Rookie of the Year crown with a technical decision over Shogo Yonenaga and is still unbeaten almost 5 years later. At the time of his Rookie win he was seen as being one of the future faces of the Ioka gym, along with the likes of Sho Ishida and Masayoshi Nakatani, but sadly the gym has never managed to guide any of those 3 to the achievements expected of them. In the years that followed his Rookie win Hashizume was matched incredibly softly until taking on Kota Fujimoto, and struggling to a draw in 2017. A second draw in 2018 saw him come up just short in a Japanese Super Flyweight title fight against Takayuki Okumoto.
Sadly Hashizume has only fought once since his draw last year with Okumoto, picking up a win over Filipino journeyman Jayar Estremos. Now with a record of 17-0-2 (10) we do wonder where the talented southpaw is going with his career. He has the skills, but there is doubt about his team and his desire, though at 25 there is still plenty of time to buckle down and kick on.
Flyweight-Kenya Yamashita (7-0, 4)
When the then 18 year old Kenya Yamashita beat Shun Kosaka, who was 9-0 himself, in the Rookie of the Year final the expectations were that Yamashita would go on to be a star. At the time he was a stablemate of Shingo Wake, had a really exciting style and ticked all the boxed as one to watch. Sadly however within just a few fights of his Rookie triumph the shine had been taken off his rise, with 3 losses in 5 fights, including a thrilling 3rd round KO loss to Katsunori Nagamine. Despite those losses he has remained a tenacious, fan friendly fighter and has been a "stop or be stopped" fighter, only going the distance in 1 of his post Rookie of the Year bouts.
With a record of 14-5 (11) Yamashita's early promise is clearly not being realised, but on the other hand he is giving his so much action and excitement it's hard to complain about the 23 year old, who is very much a fan favourite. He last fought in July, in the quarter finals of God's Left Bantamweight tournament, stopping Gaku Aikawa, and will face Seiya Tsutsumi in the semi final on November 9th. Win or lost Yamashita is always worth watching.
Light Flyweight-Kenji Ono (then 7-1, 3)
Ono won the Rookie of the Year by beating Seita Ogido in the final and the then 26 year old seemed to have plenty of promise. He would reel off 4 straight wins following his Rookie triumph, including winning an incredibly bout with Jun Takigawa in 2016, but is win-less in his last 4, which have included an opening round blow out to Seigo Yuri Akui. Although there is time for him to do something with his career, we're not really sure what he can do before his career slips away.
Now aged 31 with a record of 11-3-2 (6) Ono is already on the older side for a Light Flyweight, and a loss in February to Hayato Yamaguchi, following back to back draws, doesn't bode well. Ono has fought just once a year in 2019, 2018 and 2017 and we wouldn't be surprised to see his career coming to an end sooner rather than later.
Minimumweight-Reiya Konishi (then 7-0, 4)
Whilst Ryohei Takahashi has had the biggest single fight we think it's very fair to say that Reiya Konishi has made more of his career than anyone else on this winners list. The then 21 year beat Yuki Kubo in the final then climbed through the domestic rankings before taking the Japanese Minimumweight title in 2017, with a win over Masataka Taniguchi. After defending the Japanese title twice he moved up in weight and challenged the WBA "regular" Light Flyweight champion Carlos Canizales in a really good bout in 2018. Despite losing to Canizales, by unanimous decision, Konishi would remain in the mix and got his second world title fight earlier this year, losing a clearer decision to Felix Alvarado.
At 26 years old Konishi is already a 2-time world title challenger and his 17-2 (7) record is very unlikely to be the end of his story. He's not fought in May but we wouldn't be surprised to see him back in the ring before the end of 2020 and potentially working his way to a third world title fight. With his style he's worthy of attention and with Shinsei gym needing a consistent draw Konishi could well be part of much bigger plans for his team.
The Lucky loser - Hironobu Matsunaga (then 6-1, 3)
Matsunaga lost in his final to Yuki Beppu as Welterweight but since then has had one of the more notable careers. In fact Mastunaga's career has been more successful than almost all the winners. He was 27 when he lost to Beppu but since then he has reeled off 9 wins, including one over Hisao Narita, and gone on to claim both the WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese titles at 154lbs. His recent wins have included stoppages over Koshinmaru Saito and Nobuyuki Shindo, and he has really made the most of his career.
Now aged 32 Matsunaga is the Japanese Light Middleweight champion and sports a 15-1 (9) record. Despite losing in the Rookie of the Year final he has shown not to write off fighters, and has done fantastically well with career. He's expected to defend his national title next year at the Champion Carnival, and, barring Konishi, is possibly the most successful of all the 2014 Rookie of the Year finalists.
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