When we talk about robberies we rarely see the local fighter on the wrong end. In 2017 however we saw a really poor decision go against an unbeaten local star. Not only was the local man robbed, but he was the new face of the country's boxing scene and he was an Olympic champion. It seemed like he had dominated the bout but was still, some how, seeing his opponent get their arm raised. The bout was among the very worst decisions of the year, and lead to a rematch being ordered and judges, for once, being punished. At least for a little while.
Ryota Murata (12-0, 9) Vs Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (35-2, 21) I
The fans who had crowded into the Ariake Colosseum in May 2017 had expected the event to be a huge one for Japanese boxing. It was a triple title show and Japanese fighters Kenshiro Teraji, then fighting as Kenshiro, and Daigo Higa had both won titles earlier in the show. It was now time for the country to have it's second Middleweight world champion as Ryota Murata took on Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam for the vacant WBA Middleweight title.
On paper this was a huge step up for Murata, who had won an Olympic gold medal in 2012, but was regarded as a winnable bout against the talented N'Dam N'Jikam. Murata had proven himself to be a physically strong and imposing fighter, but technically quite limited, quite slow, flat footed and someone who often relied on his physicality and strength rather than his skills. Despite his limitations he was a nightmare to face and when he put his foot on the gas he had shown glimpses of being very special.
As an Olympic champion Murata was pretty much put on the fast track not just to a title but super stardom in Japan. He had his pro-test bout televised and had linked up with Bob Arum, Teiken and Misako who all worked alongside Dentsu to help handle a Japanese boxing super commodity.
Although a very talented fighter N'Dam N'Jikam was best known for his heart and determination, often picking himself off the canvas in his losses. He was dropped numerous times by Peter Quillin and David Lemieux, but had shown his desire by finishing both bouts, and being competitive when he remained on his feet.
Just 5 months before this bout N'Dam N'Jikam had won the "Interim" WBA Middleweight title with a brutal KO win over Alfonso Blanco. Rather than being upgraded to the "regular" champion N'Dam N'Jikam was taking on Murata for the vacant title.
From the first round Murata took the centre of the ring, applied consistent, effective and direct pressure on N'Dam N'Jikam who moved around the outside of the ring throwing mostly single shots, moving away from the Japanese fighter. Early on Murata didn't do too much, he certainly gave away from rounds, but when he got going he began to dominate, landing all the heavy shots. Those heavy shots saw him dropping N'Dam in round 4.
N'Dam N'Jikam showed real heart, something we all knew he had, but was rocked time and time again. It didn't seem like a competitive bout at times in the middle rounds, but N'Dam's desire and toughness kept him in it. Somehow. By the middle rounds it seemed less and less like N'Dam N'Jikam was trying to win, and instead trying not to be stopped.
After 12 rounds it seemed a foregone decision. There was no logical way to see anything but a Murata win. He had, at worst, lost the first 3 rounds, and gone on to drop N'Dam N'Jikam before dominating the final 8 rounds.
Some how the judges saw something different. Gustavo Padilla managed to some how, score the bout 116-111 to N'Dam N'Jikam whilst Hubert Earle had given it to N'Dam N'Jikam with a score of 115-111, over-ruling a 117-110 card in favour of Murata from Raul Caiz Sr. Some how N'Dam N'Jikam had got the split decision, in a bout that seemed impossible to give him in Murata's home of Japan. It was one of those incredibly rare robberies against the unbeaten local. And it was a result that still, 3 years on, makes no sense.
The two judges who scored the bout for N'Dam N'Jikam were suspended for 6 months, the head of the WBA scored the bout himself, scoring 117-110 for Murata, and then a rematch was ordered. The rematch saw Murata stopping N'Dam N'Jikam, who retired after the 7th round, to claim the title he should have got here.
It’s fair to say that we got very, very few dream fights in 2020. We know that we got some really good fights, but we got very, very few of the big blockbuster fighters. There was no Anthony Joshua Vs Tyson Fury, Errol Spence Vs Terence Crawford or Gennady Golovkin Vs Saul Alvarez III. Going in to 2021 the sport needs a big bounce back year, and good fights aren’t enough, we need some great fights.
With that in mind we’ve come up with a list of 10 fights we want to see in 2021 as the sport looks to rebuild following a frustrating year affected by Covid19, budget cut, a lack of crowds and viewers less willing to shell out for PPV.
Naoya Inoue (20-0, 17) Vs John Riel Casimero (30-4, 21)
The obvious one to start with is one….we thought we had! Back in early 2020 Bob Arum managed to sort a deal to have WBA “Super” and IBF Bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue face off with WBO champion John Riel Casimero. The bout looked set to be a massive Bantamweight unification bout, putting 3 of the major titles together. And then it had to be delayed due to Covid, and was then scrapped all together with Casimero going off to face Duke Micah and Inoue facing Jason Moloney. What seemed like a dream bout at Bantamweight heading into 2020 is still a highly anticipated clash in 2021, though we might be waiting a whilst as Bob Arum has stated the won’t be taking place unless they can have fans in attendance. Still, maybe late 2021 is a possibility for this hugely attractive all-Asian unification bout!
Hiroto Kyoguchi (14-0, 9) Vs Kenshiro Teraji (17-0, 10)
One bout that has made this type of list for a few years now is the all-Japan Light Flyweight unification bout between WBA “super” champion Hiroto Kyoguchi and WBC champion Kenshiro Teraji. Both of whom had 2020’s to forget. Kyoguchi was scheduled to defend his title in November, before testing positive for Covid19 on the day of the fight, forcing the entire event to be cancelled at short notice in what was one of the most disappointing moments of the year, and one of the most heart breaking given that Thanongsak Simsri had had to go through a lengthy quarantine before fight night. As for Kenshiro he was supposed to fight in December before his bout was cancelled due to legal issues resulting from some drunken misbehaviour. With neither man fighting in 2020 both will know that 2021 needs to be a big year for them. We suspect both will start the year by facing the men they were scheduled to fight at the end of 2020, but then maybe, just maybe, we can have this one to close the year and finally give us the chance to know who is the better man from the two.
Knockout CP Freshmart (21-0, 7) Vs Ginjiro Shigeoka (5-0, 4)
Going into 2020 we had hoped to see Ginjiro Shigeoka fight for a world title before the year was over. Instead the Japanese youngster was out of the ring for the entire year, killing the momentum he had built in 2019. Despite that he has remained a highly ranked contender and is still someone we’d love to see get a world title fight in the near future. Currently the man many regard as the best in the division is WBA “super” champion Knockout CP Freshmart, and stylistically we actually see him making for an interesting fight with Shigeoka. Knockout is talented, he’s solid, but there are question marks about his desire, he lacks power and he’s not the quickest out there. The champion’s technical ability would ask real questions of Shigeoka, whilst Shigeoka’s explosive power and lightning speed would see him getting chances to land against the champion. Together they would make for a compelling bout. Maybe not the most fan friendly, or exciting, but certainly a compelling and intriguing bout. Before this would like to see both men get the chance to shake some ring rust, so maybe a bout for the summer, it not the fall after both have managed an easy win early in the year.
Junto Nakatani (21-0, 16) Vs Artem Dalakian (20-0, 14)
There is something about unification bouts that is that little more endearing to fans and the boxing media, and even two relatively low key champions unifying is pretty important, and can catch the attention of global fight fans. With that in mind we would love to see anyone of the Flyweight champions unifying their titles. On paper the most attractive bouts would include WBC champion Julio Cesar Martinez however we’re actually prefer to see WBO champion Junto Nakatani take on WBA champion Artem Dalakian in what would be a very intriguing, and potentially very technical match up. Nakatani has come of age in recent years, and the 23 year old is slowly making a name for himself, both at home and internationally among the hardcore fans. Dalakian on the other hand is frustrating hardcore fans with his run of C tier defenses. A unification between these two men, the only two unbeaten champions at the weigh, in summer would be a very interesting bout and see the winner prove themselves as being one of the divisional elite. Potentially even leading the winner to a US bout with Martinez in 2022
Gennadiy Golovkin (41-1-1, 36) Vs Ryota Murata (16-2, 13)
Staying with unification bouts a Middleweight clash between IBF champion Gennadiy Golovkin and WBA champion Ryota Murata is a really compelling match up that ticks a lot of boxes, and would make for a huge spectacle at a Japanese dome. Golovkin is expected to face Jaime Munguia in May giving Murata the chance to fight in a tune up defence in the early part of 2021, after being inactive for the entire of 2020, and then we could have the two clash in September in a huge Middleweight bout. In terms of styles these two should gel perfectly, and although Golovkin would be a clear favourite it would still be a major boxing event for Japan, and the sort of attention grabbing super show that could follow the Olympics. The loser of this would likely be heading to retirement, but the payday for both would be huge, and for fans this would be a spectacular bout with genuine international attention.
Can Xu (18-2, 3) Vs Josh Warrington (30-0, 7)
At the start of 2020 there was a Featherweight bout that we wanted, and we were taunted with, and that was a bout between WBA champion Can Xu and IBF champion Josh Warrington. Promoter Eddie Hearn has stated he’s planning to put this one on, however we had heard that right through 2020, and it seems unclear if, or when, this could actually be made. The plan, for this one is that fans would likely need to be in attendance but that seems almost impossible to imagine in the UK right now. Interestingly China does allow fans into venues, but would cause it’s own issues in terms of travel, transport, and time of day, which may not work for a UK TV audience. Regardless of the logistics behind this one, the fight itself would be something special, and would be a high tempo war between two men who love to torture the compubox operators. Expect to see compubox records shattered if, or when, this one is made!
Masayoshi Nakatani (19-1, 13) Vs Shuichiro Yoshino (13-0, 10)
It’s rare that we can get genuinely excited about an all-Japanese Lightweight bout but we need to admit that we would absolutely love to see Masayoshi Nakatani clash with Shuichiro Yoshino in 2021. The bout would likely be the biggest all-Japanese bout at 135lbs in a generation, and would be for the OPBF, WBO Asia Pacific and Japanese Lightweight titles, domestic bradding as well as doubling up as world title eliminator for the two men, who have various world rankings between them. In terms of match up it’s one that we suspect Yoshino would want more than Nakatani, with Nakatani expected to land a big fight on the back of his huge win over Felix Verdejo, but Nakatani may well see it as a great chance to build on his 2020 success. In terms of the in ring styles, we suspect the two men would gel well, with Nakatani looking to use his size and toughness and Yoshino looking to use his explosive power and speed, making for a very interesting in ring dynamic.
Zhanibek Alimkhanuly (9-0, 5) Vs Liam Willaims (23-2-1, 18)
In 2021 we expect some major changes in the Middleweight division, among those we expect to see Demetrius Andrade leave the division, to compete at 168lbs, and vacate the WBO title. If that happens then two top contenders will fight for the belt, and at the moment two of the top 3 ranked WBO contenders are Zhanibek Alimkhanuly, from Kazakhstan, and Liam Williams, from Wales, leaving the door wide open for this bout in the new year. Although it’s not a super fight, by any stretch, it is a fighter that should be something a little bit special, with William’s aggression and power going up against the skills and timing of Alimkhanuly. It’d be a hard one to call and have interest from Central Asia, Europe and the US. Not only would it be a fantastic match and an intriguing clash, but the winner would instantly find themselves in the mix for some big fights at 160lbs.
Tugstsogt Nyambayar (12-1, 9) vs Mark Magsayo (21-0, 14)
At Featherweight we have a lot of interesting potential match ups, and one we would really love to see would be a clash between once beaten Mongolian fighter Tugstsogt Nyambayar and unbeaten Filipino Mark Magsayo. The two men will both be looking to make a name for themselves in 2021, and a bout between the two would be a great chance for them to do just that. Not only that but with talk of Gary Russell Jr potentially leaving the division to make a mark 130lbs it could leave the WBC title vacant. A bout between these two for the potentially vacant WBC title would be fantastic, and could, potentially be made. Alternatively the two could clash in a world title eliminator to get a shot at the belt at the end of 2021. In terms of styles we’d have the more destructive and powerful “King Tug” trying to neutralise the speed and movement of Magsayo, which should give us some thrilling back and forth.
Jin Sasaki (10-0, 9) Vs Phoobadin Yoohanngoh (10-0, 5)
The finish this off we look at the 140lb weight class for a really interesting potential bout between teenagers. In one corner we would have Japanese teenage sensation Jin Sasaki, the currently Japanese Youth champion, and in the other would be WBA Asia South champion Phoobadin Yoohanngoh. Although it’s a huge long shot to imagine this one taking place we can’t help but feel this would be a thrilling bout between two youngsters who both stepped up to challenges in 2020. On paper this would see Sasaki taking on the best boxer he has faced, with Phoobadin would be taking on his most dangerous puncher, and the winner would certainly be edging towards an OPBF title after this one. Sadly whilst we want this bout in 2021 we suspect it’ll be one we have to wait several years for!
We're back again with more commercial's featuring boxers. This time is maybe the most eclectic selection so far, featuring a herbal product, a Wonderboy promoting a banking product, a Monster in his underwear and a legendary along with a monkey. Yes the world is a strange place and commercials are real oddities.
Manny Pacquiao - Tolak Angin
We kick off this months look at commercials featuring Asian boxer's by returning to the face of Asian boxing, Manny Pacquiao. Here Pacquiao is promoting a herbal supplement Tolak Angin. The product is best known for being available in Indonesia, but has spread around the globe and could be purchased in the UK from Amazon at one point. The commercial is a really basic one, but one that sadly left us wondering what on earth the product is...needing us to research it. For an advert appealing to a market who knew what the product was this is great, but those who didn't know would just be confused...as we were.
Rex Tso - Standard Chartered Balance Transfer Loan
From one of the most marketable men in Asian boxing to another, with Hong Kong star Rex Tso advertising Standard Chartered Balance Transfer Loans. Yeah we were completely lost by that idea too. The commercial does little to connect Tso to the product and appears to be more of a training video until the final seconds when we see the product details on the bottom of the screen. Yeah this is just a terrible mess of a commercial. Really bizarre.
Ryota Murata - Under Armour
Japanese star Ryota Murata is another very marketable fighter and someone who has often found himself as a face of products in Japan. One of his most notable contracts has been with sportswear company Under Armour with this being one of the many commercials for the company he has featured in. Give the previous two adverts this month at least we know what he's promoting, which is a huge improvement from the Rex Tso advert. Still it's a bit boring and little more than a training video.
Naoya Inoue - Body Wild Airz
We stay in Japan as we feature Naoya Inoue walking around in his underpants! Yup this one sees the Monster advertising some underwear in what is a short but interesting advert that clearly makes it obvious what he's advertising. An advert making the product clear seems a novel here, but it's good to see Bodywild using one of the faces of Japanese boxing to sell their product, rather than just...featuring him training.
Guts Ishimatsu - ENEOS
One of the few men who always seems to be in humorous and entertaining adverts is the legendary Guts Ishimatsu. He's in another here for ENEOS, who are an oil and energy company. We'll admit we're not totally sure on what the commercial is selling us, though it appears to be some kind of loyalty card, but in reality that hardly matters, seeing the interactions here between Ishimatsu and the Monkey is brilliant. We suspect, although we could be wrong, that part of the advert is a call back to a previous Ishimatsu advert, for Ape Escape, but even if that's not the case this is still a funny advert and much more memorable than other adverts we tend to see.
For today's Closet Classic we're going to be doing something a little bit different as we look at an amateur fight. For those who don't follow amateur boxing this will be something a little bit different, whilst those who follow amateur boxing will know what an incredible was this bout was, and why it is worth time, of any fan, to watch.
Ryota Murata Vs Ievgen Khytrov
As we write this, with Coronavirus essentially putting sport on ice in mid March 2020, Ryota Murata is the WBA Middleweight champion, one of the major faces of Japanese boxing and one of the most fun to watch fighters out there. Sure Murata might not be technical genius but the tough, powerful and physically imposing Japanese fighter is always a fun go to watch, with his pressure style guaranteeing action, no matter what. For fans who have followed him since he turned professional his technical flaws have been evident, but yet he was still a solid amateur, with big power and an exciting power-based style. At the 2011 World Amateur Championships he was a dark horse who had made his was to the final with a string of solid wins, stopping Abbos Atoev and beating Stefan Haertel, Darren O'Neill and Esquiva Falcao.
Highly established Ukrainian amateur Ievgen Khytrov went in to the tournament as an outsider himself. Although more established on the international scene than Murata he wasn't seen as one of the top 8 seeds. He had looked good in the tournaments earlier in the year and had reached the final thanks to wins over the likes of Nursahat Pazzyyev, Aleksandar Drenovak and Bogdan Juratoni. He was part of a very strong emerging Ukrainian team and whilst not regarded as one of the absolute sensations of the team, such as Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk who were both seeds, he was still seen as one to watch following a win over Abbos Atoev at a tournament just a few weeks earlier. Like Murata he was seen as an aggressive, exciting fighter, but he was more polished and set a brilliantly high work rate.
From the opening moments it was clear that we were set for something special as the two men met head to head in the center of the ring and began to let their shots go. It was clear that Khytrov was the more natural boxer, and the more active, but Murata was looking to make his physical strength pay as he applied some basic but strong pressure. The bout continued to be a thrilling toe to two battle from the opening bell right through, with Murata trying to land his booming right hand whilst Khytrov out worked and outshined Murata with his crisp punching and smart footwork.
For those who think amateur fights are all touchy, tappy stuff this is something totally different and something well and truly worth a watch.
Another month and another chance to see some adverts featuring fighters from Asia. This time we include a sportswear advert, two game adverts, a commercial for a TV service and a vehicle.
Yup we're all over the place this month!
Ryota Murata - Under Armour
Starting with the bright lights of Las Vegas we see Ryota Murata wearing some Under Armour clothing, sparring and seeming very happy at the clothing. The advert was given the name "I just want to be strong Ryota Murata" but in reality the commercial doesn't really seem to sell the product. Sure the brand and it's logo is flashed a lot on the screen but unless you're a Japanese speaker our feeling is the concept of this advert falls somewhat short.
Guts Ishimatsu - Drift Spirits
This one is a very short one, at just 15 seconds, but is one that just makes us wonder what was going through everyone's mind when they came up with the idea. The commercial has former Lightweight champion Guts Ishimatsu dressed like a thumb with a steering wheel. And the thumb looks a little bit like a different body part. The advert is for a phone video game called Drift Spirits, and the games looks alright here, but it's Guts that steals the show in bizarre advert.
Yoko Gusiken - NTT
Whilst seeing Guts Ishimatsu as a thumb is entertaining, and easily the most interesting of the adverts here, we have to give Yoko Gushiken credit for all the work he's done in promoting things as well. Here he's advertising a TV service in Japan along with a Feisty young lady throwing combinations on the mitts with him. The CS and BS you see mentioned in the advert are the two satellite systems in Japan, with NTT offering both. Interestingly the eagle eared among you will maybe even recognise the music used here , it's "Conquistador" by Maynard Ferguson, the same track that Gushiken used for his ring walk music.
Koki Kameda - Pigg Fishing
If you thought Guts Ishimatsu being in a commercial for a video game was odd, here's one with Koki Kameda advertising some other game. This advert just looks terrible and poor Kameda seemed confused through out. Really not sure what's going on here, but the game looks absolutely terrible and Kameda's acting doesn't look much better than the game. Absolute no idea how to play the game, but it looks like a really poor social sim type thing with some fishing in it.
Tae Shik Kim - Saehan Motor Elf
Another short one to finish off as we look at a 1979 advert featuring former WBA Flyweight world champion Tae Shik Kim advertising a Saehn Motor Elf. Yeah the product sounds a bit naff in terms of it's name and the advert is old, and in black and white, but we can't help but love the music in use here and just and just how old this really is! It's over 40 years old...and it looks it!
So this is the 4th in our mini series looking at Asian boxers in commercials and today we do a special looking at 5 adverts that were based around food and drink, and trust there's more of these for future editions of this series. In fact it appears food and drink is probably the #1 subject for Asian fighters to advertise!
Joichiro Tatsuyoshi - Stir Fried Beef
Whilst we said food and drink was the #1 subject for Asian fighters to be involved in commercials for, we didn't say they were all good, and that's obvious here in a 1994 advert featuring Japanese icon Joichiro Tatsuyoshi. For those saw edition 2 of this series you should be aware Tatsuyoshi didn't do a great Nissan commercial, and this wasn't any better. For a guy who oozed natural charisma his adverts were terrible.
Takanori Hatakeyama - Kirin Beer
We like beer! Do you like beer? It seems that Takanori Hatakeyama likes beer! Here we see the popular Hatakeyama bringing in the laundry before the rain begins and enjoying a can of Kirin lager afterwards. This is simple, slightly comedic and essentially void of dialogue. Not the best advert but still an interesting look at Japanese commercials circa 2001...they typically weren't great.
Ryota Murata - Pork miso soup
As we've seen already some Japanese food adverts were awful, though in fairness there does seem to be a bit more polish to this Ryota Murata advert for some a Sukiya product, in fact a soup set. It's not an amazing advert but compared to the two above, it works much better in selling the product, with the product clearly on view.
Guts Ishimatsu - Sweet Gum
When a former boxer has legitimate acting roles you tend to think they can work a commercial, and Guts Ishimatsu can certain work commercials. He's been in a lot of them including this one for a sweet gum. The veteran is a natural on camera and the advert not only looks professional and works and also has a comedic element. A really solid advert for...gum... Nothing amazing, but solid.
Manny Pacquiao - Uni-Pak Sardines
Whilst Guts Ishimatsu has been in a lot of commercials, we believe that Filipino great Manny Pacquiao has been in more, and we mean a lot more. They vary in quality and humour, but the Filipino marketing teams know what they are doing with the "Pacman". Here we have an advert for Uni-Pak Sardines, and this probably the best of the food and drink adverts on this list, with Pacquiao and friends enjoying the sardines. It's light-hearted, it's silly and it's got Pacquiao not taking himself too seriously.
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.
By Marcus Bellinger-
This past weekend was a busy one involving Asian fighters with world title fights of significance as well as domestic bouts in Japan.
The most notable action came on Sunday from Kokugikan, Tokyo as Teiken Promotions presented a solid triple header that was headlined by the rematch between Ryota Murata and Hassan N’Dam. Murata was on the wrong end of one of the most appalling decisions seen in recent times in their first encounter in May with 2 judges somehow giving it to the French based Cameroonian.
Murata immediately was on the front foot, applying pressure to N’Dam who was letting go with flurries. After the first couple of rounds Murata began to take over and N’Dam was burning up unnecessary energy. The constant body attack on N’Dam was paying dividends and Murata dished out an absolute hammering in rounds 5, 6 and 7 before N’Dam was wisely pulled out by his corner at the end of the 7th.
For Murata this will put to bed the wrong that took place in May and he can move on to big things in 2018 and with Teiken and Top Rank behind him the sky is the limit. The 31-year-old is a mega star in Japan with many of the main sports pages featuring the fight as their lead story. The bout drew a whopping average audience of around 13.7 million which to put it in prospective are the best numbers for boxing on Fuji TV since 2000. The plan is for Murata to defend his belt in Japan next spring before a possible fight in the US next summer.
On the same card Daigo Higa made the first defense of his WBC flyweight crown against Frenchman Thomas Masson. Given the chasm between European and world level in the lower weights this was expected to be routine for Higa and that’s exactly what it was with the hard hitting champion prevailing via 7th round stoppage. Masson proved to be pretty durable but was unable to keep Higa at bay and after taking a knee was stopped soon afterwards due to an eye injury.
In the post-fight interview Higa called out fellow 112 lb titlist Kazuto Ioka for a unification on New Year’s Eve and the Osakan seems the only man with the traits to compete with the 22-year-old however, with recent rumours of Ioka retiring due to a dispute with his father this looks holy unrealistic. A homecoming defense in Okinawa is the aim for January or February 2018 with no opponent confirmed although Muhammad Waseem and Andrew Selby have been linked to Higa in recent times.
The third title clash saw Ken Shiro defend his WBC light flyweight strap against Pedro Guevara. Shiro was facing his second Mexican opponent on the trot after narrowly defeating Ganigan Lopez in May for the belt. After being behind Shiro rallied to claim a majority decision and the 25-year-old has proved his mettle in 2017 having come through 2 hard-fought contests. Unfortunately the Guevara fight wasn’t shown on Fuji TV and hopefully Shiro receives some live broadcast time in 2018 and a rematch with Ganigan Lopez is next up for the BMB Gym fighter.
Approximately 12 hours earlier bantamweights Ryan Burnett and Zhanat Zhakiyanov squared off in the first ever unification clash to be staged in Ireland. The first half of this contest was honestly quite a difficult watch with a whole lot of holding clinching and grappling resulting in a very messy contest. Zhakiyanov never stopped coming forward and putting on the pressure but as the Kazak slowed down Burnett’s extra class showed down the stretch. The Belfast man was a worthy winner but the scorecards of 119-109 and 118-110 were far too wide and yet another further demonstration of how hard it has become for a visiting boxer to win a point's verdict in the UK.
Burnett showed a real versatility and adaptability in being able to beat Zhakiyanov at his own game and this will stand him in good stead for the future. The 118 lb division was thrown in to chaos when Luis Nery failed a drugs test soon after his KO win over the long reigning Shinsuke Yamanaka in August and a decision is still to be made by the WBC. Incidentally Nery takes on Arthur Villanueva in a non-title affair in Tiajuana on 4 November. The other legitimate belt holder is South Africa’s Zolani Tete but whether the egos of promoters Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn can be put aside to make the bout between Tete and Burnett will have to be seen to be believed.
A few hours earlier at the Korakuen Hall the vacant Japanese lightweight title was contested between Shuichiro Yoshino and Spicy Matsushita. Yoshino was expected to overcome his veteran opponent and he duly did, scoring a 7th round knockout and claiming his first title in the process. Yoshino moved to 6-0 4 KOs and whilst it’s very premature to be talking about world title fights for the 26-year-old it will be interesting to see how he progresses with his first defense scheduled for February 2018. There were a number of Japanese title eliminators on the undercard including at flyweight where Katsunori Nagamine faced Akinori Hoshino. Despite a 7th round loss at the hands of Ken Shiro Nagamine has been in some thrillers in recent times and has become a bit of a favourite of mine. Unfortunately the bout with Hoshino never got going and at the end of 8 rounds it was a split draw with cards of 78-75 Nagamine, 77-75 Hoshino and a level 76-76. Nagamine progressed under the dominant point rule and will meet the winner of the November clash between Masayuki Kuroda and Mako Matsuyama sometime next year in what should be a far more exciting dustup.
Finally on the previous day still at the Korakuen Hall there was a Japan versus China show with Rikki Naito versus Baishanbo Nasiyiwula topping the bill. In what was a highly competitive bout Naito won a very close decision with scores of 77-75 76-75 and 75-79 and a rematch would be welcomed. This seems like a good initiative and could help the Chinese boxing scene which is still desperately searching for a genuine talent to take the sport forward.
It's been a while since Japanese boxing fans have had free to air action though over the next few weeks fans will get a number of free to air shows across 4 of the terrestrial channels with each showing at least 1 big name in action.
The first of the shows comes a week today as the unbeaten Shinsuke Yamanaka (22-0-2, 16) defends his WBC Bantamweight title against unbeaten Argentinian Diego Ricardo Santillan (23-0, 15) on April 16th. This will be Yamanaka's 8th defense of the title and will see him attempting to continue his reign of terror in the packed Bantamweight division. For fans wanting to watch this one it will be on NTV at 19:56 Tokyo time with the broadcast set to finish at 20:54.
For those wanting to watch the undercard bouts for that card they are unfortunately not on a free to air channel.
Less than a week later we see action on TBS who will be televising two world title bouts. One of those will see IBF Minimumweight champion Katsunari Takayama (28-7-0-1, 11) defending his belt against Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr (27-3-1, 15) whilst the the other bout will see the mega-popular Kazuto Ioka (16-1, 10) attempt to become a 3-weight world champion as he battles Juan Carlos Reveco (35-1, 19) in a bout for the WBA Flyweight title. The beginning of this broadcast is stated to begin just before 20:00 local time on April 22nd.
From what we understand Sho Ishida (18-0, 10) may have highlights shown if the two main bouts both end early.
To begin May the televised action continues to roll and Fuji TV will begin the month by televising a couple of interesting looking bouts. The first of those will be Takashi Miura's (28-2-2, 21) WBC Super Featherweight world title defense against former IBF Featherweight champion Bily Dib (39-3, 23) whilst the other will be a bout between Ryota Murata (6-0, 4) and Douglas Damiao Ataide (13-1-1, 6). This show will give Miura a chance to really establish himself with fans whilst also allowing Murata to face a world ranked foe in what should make for an enjoyable card.
The hope here is that if both bouts are over early then highlights may be shown from Akira Yaegashi's (20-5, 10) bout, which will see the exciting 32 year old fighting for the first time as a fully blown Super Flyweight.
The last of the free to air shows during the little burst of action comes on May 6th when TV Tokyo get in on the action and televise a couple of interesting bouts between Japanese champions and Thai challengers. The first of those bouts will see WBA Light Flyweight champion Ryoichi Taguchi (24-2-1, 8) defending his title against Kwanthai Sithmorseng (49-3-1, 26) in what will be Taguchi's first defense of the title he won this past December. The other bout is a much more mouth watering contest between unbeaten WBA Super Featherweight “super” champion Takashi Uchiyama (22-0-1, 18) and Thai challenger Jomthong Chuwatana (9-0, 4). Uchiyama will be seeking the 10th defense of the title, as he slowly moves towards the Japanese record of 13 world title defenses, whilst Jomthong look to claim a world title in boxing to go along with his numerous titles from Muay Thai.
At the moment there hasn't been a time announce for either the Fuji TV or the TV Tokyo show however we suspect details will emerge closer to the date.
Of course whilst these channels are free to air in Japan that doesn't mean they will be the only ways to watch the bouts. For example we're aware that the Takayama Vs Fahlan bout will be aired in Thailand, on Mono 29, and the Ioka Vs Reveco bout will be televised in Argentina, on TYC Sports. At the moment however it does seem like some bouts are set to miss out on international coverage and that none of the bouts are set to be televised in the US or UK. Thankfully the free channels from Japan are available via certain methods on line.
(Image courtesy of http://www.kazutoioka.com)
With 2015 quickly approaching we've decided to do out look at the 15 prospects to watch in 2015. Here we bring you the first selection of those prospects, ranked from 10 to 6. Hopefully you'll put them on your radar for the test of the year.
For people who missed part 1 of this list, it can be found here.
10-Ye Joon Kim
South Korean boxing is certainly on a low point right now though it does have a very promising and exciting youngster making his name in the sport. That is Ye Joon Kim (10-1-2, 5) who appears to be the sole shining light in South Korean boxing. Kim combines charisma with arrogance, excitement with skill and, perhaps most tellingly, power with inexperience. There is a lot of improvements for the youngster to make however he has a lot of traits we like.
Aged 22 there is a lot of time for Kim to improve however we understand that there is a lot of pressure on the Seoul based fighter to pve himself and quickly, especially considering he is the shining light of Korean boxing. Thankfully he is as important as he is appealing and it's almost impossible not to enjoy watching this kid, despite some clear limitations.
Kim is the WBC Youth Super Bantamweight champion and although we don't think he will be ready for a world title bout by the end of 2015 we do suspect he will climb up through the WBC's world ranking, possibly moving into the top 10 by the end of the year. Prior to then however he will need a big win to boost him through the ranks and we think that'll come against a notable
Japanese based Filipino fighter Johnriel Maligro (12-0, 9) hasn't been getting a lot of attention but has been genuinely deserving of some after a brilliant 2014 that should have caught the attention of almost every boxing fan out there. Sadly for Maligro he is a 20 year old Super Featherweight competing in Japan where the division is red hot and he's been easy to ignore, despite wins over an 11-0 and a 10-0 opponent this last year.
Young, heavy handed, promising and slowly proving himself as a prospect to watch Maligro is certainly a talent to keep an eye on. His problems might be that his opposition, especially in Japan, will be tough however he's managed to beate tough foes so far and there is a chance he'll manage to continue that run of form a little bit longer as he begins to move beyond the Japanese domestic scene.
We're not expecting Maligro to fight for a major title this coming year but we're hoping to see him up against a world ranked foe at some point in 2015. He has the youth to take his time though something makes us think he'll continue on his fast track and be matched with solid foes from the start of the year to the end of it, hopefully he'll continue to win and moved towards a very successful 2016.
The unbeaten Shohei Omori (13-0, 8) has become a bit of a break out prospect this year in the eyes of many fans though the hardcore fans out there likely saw it coming and the southpaw hopeful hasn't been as a much a hidden secret as a gem in the making. Aged 21 he has already shown all the signs of a man reaching the top though was clear in 2012 when he won the Bantamweight Rookie of the year. In 2013 Omori added 3 stoppages with the most notable of those being his win over Christian Esquivel, which was a real coming of age performance.
Sharp punching, accurate, surprisingly heavy handed and very calm in the ring it seems like Omori has everything needed in terms of skills. Add those skills to his southpaw stance, his larger than average size and his ability to impress at either 118lbs or 122lbs and you have a really exciting young prospect ready to stamp his mark on the boxing scene in 2015, and lets not forget he is already world ranked.
Omori's future likely hands on what Woz Boxing can do for him. He'll know Woz aren't a big or powerful outfit but if they can link up with a Japanese power player then he could be in the title mix as soon as the year begins. There is no reason why Omori can't be in the mix for a title at either 118lbs or 122lbs and the chances he could over-come the Japanese champion in either division. As for the OPBF champions, they are out of his league, for now, though both titles are expected to be vacated early in the year. We don't see Omori fighting for a world title next year but a regional or national title has to be in his plans for 2015.
It seems that the promising Sho Ishida (17-0, 9) has been around for ages but the 23 year old is still several years from hitting his prime. Despite that he looked sensational last time out when he won the Japanese Super Flyweight title in what is his most notable win so far. Incidentally that win came 11 months after his previous best win, a stoppage against Petchbarngborn Kokietgym. With that same idea we suspect that next summer will be Ishida big step up and that he'll then begin to focus on the world scene.
Next time out, on December 31st, Ishida will be defending his Japanese title against Masato Morisaki, we'd not be shocked to see him defending that belt once more before stepping up a level, and we know former world title contender Teiru Kinoshita has said he would like to fight Ishida in 2015, that would be a perfect test for the Ioka gym prospect.
Ishida appears to have the tools to go to the top. He has the speed, the backing, the support and style to go a long way behind his razor like jab. He however needs some seasoning fights before he looks at a world title bout and whilst we suspect a bout with Kinoshita would help him develop that seasoning we think he'll still need another fight or two. As mentioned we think that a big step up will occur in summer and that could well be against a former champion. We'd be very shocked if 2015 did see Ishida fighting for a world title but we'd be even more shocked if he did end the year looking ready for a big break.
One choice that won't surprise many fans is that of Ryota Murata (5-0, 4), an Olympic champion who has been tipped for success since his debut in 2013. The powerful, good looking, charismatic and promising fighter was ear marked as one of the 2012 Olympians with the potential to become an almost immediate sensation in the professional ranks. He's not quite done that as of yet though within just 5 fights he already has a top 10 WBC ranking and a win over OPBF and Japanese champion Akio Shibata.
Murata did have a few questions asked of him last time out, as he struggled with stamina issues against Adrian Luna Flores, though we suspect those questions will help Murata focus on his weaknesses and that he will begin to work on his stamina ahead of a charge up the rankings in 2015 or 2016.
We know Murata will be going to the top in a different way to his compatriots. Unlike many he won't be focusing on winning Japanese or OPBF titles, instead he'll likely be basing his future in the US or fighting out of Macau. If that's the case he could get around the JBC's rules of needing to win a stepping stone title before fighting for a world title. If Murata does that then we suspect we'll see him in with world ranked foes in 2015 before a possible world title fight towards the end of the year, if the stars align. It may however be a case of waiting until 2016 for him to get an opportunity to fight for a world title.
(Image of Ryota Murata courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
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