Through out the history of this great sport various fighters have had what we can describe as strange careers, and one such, great case, is that of Malcolm Tunacao (35-3-3, 20) who did things in the reverse manner to many fighters. Unlike many fighters who spend more of their careers to get a world title fight he got an unexpected one less than 2 years into his career, when he was just 22 years old, which he made the most of. His career peaked very early and for many fighters a career like that can be over relatively early.
For Tuancao much of his career was spent chasing a second time at the top and his career would continue on for a further 14 years, though he wouldn't manage to climb the summit of the sport for a second time, despite coming close in 2012.
Despite the rather strange he had, he also had a very worthwhile one, and today we get to take a look at it as we bring you the 5 most significant wins for...Malcolm Tunacao
Medgoen Singsurat (May 19th 2000)
The talented Malcolm Tunacao debuted in August 1998, doing so in a 6 rounder, and he quickly stepped up to 10 rounds, with his third professional bout being scheduled for 10 rounds. In less than 14 months Tunacao had won the GAB Flyweight title, beating Rio Sumampong, and soon afterwards recorded his first defense. By this point he was 10-0 (6) and still a boxing baby. Despite that he was offered a WBC Flyweight title fight in May 2000 taking on WBC and Linear champion Medgoen Singsurat, a 20-0 (12) fighter who had dethroned Manny Pacquiao in 1999 and had already recorded his first defense.
Despite taking a massive step up in class Tunacao did the unthinkable and upset the Thai in Thailand, to claim the WBC Flyweight title, and the biggest win of his career. By far. The Filipino, who was a genuine unknown at this point, looked calm and relaxed through despite being away from home, he looked composed in his big step up and Singsurat had no answer for southpaw stance and movement of Tunacao who looked genuinely class. Tuancao also smartly kept this out of the hands of the judges. He came out hot in round 7 and unloaded bombs on Singsurat from the start of the round, beating the fight out of him, and bending the rules where needed. This was a veteran-like performance from a young fighter fighting on the world stage for the first time.
In many this win seemed like the type of victory that had unearthed a special talent. Sadly though Tunacao's reign was short lived, losing the title 10 months later to a then little known Pongsaklek Wonjongkam... wonder what happened to him...
Kumarnthong Chuwatana (November 19th 2005)
After winning the WBC title so early in his career Tunacao was almost frozen out of notables fights. From his March 2001 loss to Wonjongkam to 2005 there was very, very little of note on his record. Wins over limited veterans or novices were the order of the day and they did little to forward his career, though a win over Kazuyoshi Niki was decent. We had to wait more than 6 years for the next major win for Tunacao and that came against Kumarnthong Chuwatana, not a name we suspect many will know much about.
In July 2005 Kumarnthong won the OPBF Bantamweight title, defeating Japan's Jun Toriumi at Korakuen Hall. Tunacao was his first challenger, and Tunacao dominated the bout, taking a very wide unanimous decision over the Thai, who was, for all intent, a flash in the pan champion. After the bout Kumarnthong went on to do almost nothing in the sport, with a win over Hiromasa Ohashi in 2007 being the only exception. This was however a major win for Tunacao, who claimed his first OPBF title, and opened up new doors for his career. Sadly however Tunacao's reign was short and he lose the belt in his third defense, to Rolly Lunas in 2007.
Seung Suk Chae (February 6th 2010)
It's fair to say the 2009 was a big year for Tunacao who became a sparring partner for Hozumi Hasegawa and later signed with the Shinsei Gym due to that sparring. Despite only fighting once in 2009, his career changed. In a big way. The following year he travelled over to South Korea to take on Seung Suk Chae for the vacant OPBF Bantamweight title. At the time Chae was the South Korean national champion and sported an impressive 16-1 record.
Despite being on the road Tunacao out pointed the Korean over 12 rounds, taking a razor thin decision over Chae to claim the OPBF Bantamweight title for a second time, and begin his days as a Shinsei fighter with a title wrapped firmly around his waist. Unlike his first OPBF reign this one wasn't a short reign, and in fact it lead into some of his biggest wins, and some of his most meaningful performances.
Kohei Oba II (July 11th 2010)
During his second reign with the OPBF title Tunacao made sure to make the most of the belt and recorded 3 good defenses. The first of those was a rematch with Kohei Oba, a man he had fought to a draw with 4 years earlier. At this point Oba, dubbed the "Mayweather of Nagoya", was 27-0-1 (11) and was highly rankedby the WBC. Although the OPBF champion Tunacao was regarded by many as the under-dog, and at 32 years old was thought to be slowing down, an issues against a speedy, technical fighter like Oba.
As it turned out the experience of Tunacao proved vital here. Oba started quick, and looked sharp in the early going. In fact for a round or two it seemed like the speed difference was going to be too much for Tunacao to over-come. And then Tunacao began to turn things around, timing Oba, getting a read on his speed, and finally doing enough to take home the unanimous decision victory.
Impressively this defense, against an unbeaten challenger in Japan, was followed by wins over notable names in Hidenobu Honda and Daigo Nakahiro. Sadly though both of those men were coming to the end of their respective careers.
Christian Esquivel (December 22nd 2012)
More than 2 years after winning the OPBF Bantamweight title, for the second time, Tunacao got the chance to secure himself a second world title bout a chance to become a 2-weight world champion. The only thing standing in his way of the opportunity was Mexican fighter Christian Esquivel, who Tunacao had to face in a WBC world title eliminator in late 2012. Going in Tunacao was ranked #1 by the WBC, whilst Esquivel was ranked #3, though at 35 he knew this would be his last chance. As for Esquivel he wasn't there to make up the numbers, instead he was looking for his second shot, and a chance to rematch Shinsuke Yamanaka, who had beaten him for the title in 2011.
Through the first 6 rounds Tunacao regularly got the better of things, using his southpaw stance and his experience well to control the action.Esquivel was still game however and wasn't there to make up the numbers. Despite being game the Mexican was finally taken out in round 7 when Tunacao managed to hammer him in the corner, sending him to the canvas. The Mexican couldn't beat the count and Tunacao managed to secure himself a world title fight with Yamanaka, who was sat ringside scouting the action.
Sadly for Tunacao his dreams of becoming a 2-weight world champion ended in tears, with the Filipino being stopped in the 12th round by Yamanaka, in what was one of the toughest defenses for "God's Left". After that he picked up 3 low key wins before ending his career, and later being attacked in the Philippines by his then girlfriend.
Over the last decade or so there has been a massive lack of boxing video games. Whilst we're all aware that the "Fight Night" series has been missing in action, as EA focus on UFC and other sports games, there also hasn't been many lesser known boxing games released in recent years. The likes of the ridiculous "Funky Head Boxers", the classic "Punch Out!!", licenced games like "George Foreman's KO Boxing" and the "Foes of Ali", and the often over-looked "Victorious Boxers" have all vanished from the shelves and the sport really is lacking in terms of games.
Thankfully it does appear that "ESports Boxing Club" is set to change that, when it's released, but the sport certainly deserves more than one boxing game every few years.
Rather than focusing on the politics of video games, or complaining about why we get so few boxing games now a days, the team at Asian boxing have been asked to suggest fighters for future video games, as they answer this week's Who... question:
"Who... would you like to see in a video game?"
They been told that they are two fighters, one modern day and one from the past, and that both fighters need to be from Asia.
Lee: "I've been a little bit predictable this week and selected two fighters from South Korea, but in fairness I have picked two very different fighters.
For my modern pick I want to go with Hyun Mi Choi. I think getting females involved in boxing video games would be amazing, and anything to get more attention on Choi, and what a great story she has been for boxing would be fantastic. It's a shame she spent so much of her career in relative obscurity, here in Korea, but now she's big news and should be featured in any potential video game. She, along with the current female fighters at 130lbs and 135lbs would make for some very interesting match ups, and I would love to see ladies boxing in video game form.
For my fighter from the past I was struggling between three fighters but settled on Jung Koo Chang. I think from all the possibilities Chang would be the most interesting. It would be great to see how the game developers would manage to make someone who fights the way Chang does fit into their system, and it would also highlight the career of one of the best little men in history. Chang deserves more attention from fans than he gets, and having him in a widely available video game would be great for his profile, and for the profile of Korean boxing.
For those wondering, the other two I thought about were Myung Woo Yuh and Sung Kil Moon. I think Chang would be the most fun to play as, but any of the three would be great!"
Takahiro: "When it comes to my modern pick, there is only one fighter I need to mention. Naoya Inoue! The inclusion of Inoue would help the game sell in Japan, it would be a great sign that Inoue has made it as a global boxing star, and it would be so much fun to play as the Monster against all the other fighters in the game. I would love to see how they would make him, and how life like it would be. If it was really life like they could include things like his ring walk music, "Departure" by Naoki Sato. And lets be honest. Everyone would want to see the Monster in a video game putting him in with some of the best from the past!
As for retired fighters I want to see Koichi Wajima in a video game! His style would be funny to see a game, with his Frog Punch technique and his peculiar stance. Whilst Wajima is certainly not a big name to international fans, and isn't regarded as a legend in the eyes of many in the west, at least not like Fighting Harada and Yoko Gushiken, I think playing as Wajima would be so much fun"
Scott:"Knowing that Taka was going to pick Inoue I was a little bit unsure who I wanted to select for the modern day fighter, I though about Kosei Tanaka and seeing how they would put his speed into a game, or how they would manage to put Diago Higa's pressure style into a game or how Gennady Golovkin's power would translate or how Srisaket Sor Rungvisai's strength and aggression would work in video game form.
In the end however I've decided the modern day fighter I would like the most would be Kazuto Ioka, with Ioka being included in both his Minimumweight form and his Super Flyweight form. There would be the body punching, aggressive fighter and the more intelligent but slower and less heavy handed version in a two-for-one deal. Ioka's a big enough name to attract a Japanese audience and a special enough talent to add value to the game.
For my retired pick I'm going a little bit left field and picking Saensak Muangsurin. There's never enough Thai fighters in video games, and Saensak would allow one to be included, in a weight class that fans would pick quite regularly. As with a number of other picks it would be really interesting to see how they would adapt his style to video games, and his Muay Thai stance that never looked right in boxing would makee him seem very unique in a game. That's ignoring his rock solid chin, his porous defense and his brutal power. To me having someone with such a unique style in the game would be pretty awesome, and it would also draw attention to someone who has been sadly over-looked a lot in recent years. He wouldn't add to the sales, so I understand him not being in a game, but I'd still love him being there due to how different he would be compared to the others in the game."
As we write this, in early May, once beaten Jamshidbek Najmitdinov (16-1, 13), is pencilled in to make his US debut and with that in mind we thought we'd take this opportunity to discuss once beaten man Uzbekistan. He's not the typical type of fighter we look at in this "Introducing" series, but he's certainly the sort of fighter who deserves a lot more attention than he's gotten so far, and is definitely someone fans need to be aware of. Even if he is, now, the wrong side of 30.
In recent years we have seen a massive rise in fighters from Uzbekistan getting massive amounts of attention. Guys like Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Israil Madrimov, Shohjahon Ergashev, Shakhram Giyasov and Bektemir Melikuziev have all been getting rave reviews and a lot of time to show what they can do on in front of a main stream audience, with each of those fighters having become well known in the US. The same, however, cannot be said of Jamshidbek Najmitdinov who is a very obscure fighter, but someone who is much better than fans may realise. In fact with just a bit of luck, there's a good chance he would have landed a world title fight already, or at least seriously impacted the look of the Light Welterweight division of the last few years. More about that a little later.
Unlike many of those top names from Uzbekistan Najmitdinov has lacked two things. A major international amateur profile, and a strong backer able to get him fights away from Uzbekistan, where he has fought almost his entire career so far. He has lacked the backing to secure the fights he's needed to progress his career and become more well known, and that's been the major issue with his career so far.
Najmitdinov debuted way back in July 2013, on a show in Tashkent. The show featured just 5 bouts in total, and on the event the debuting 23 year old Najmitdinov defeated Botir Nosirov via a 4 round decision. Despite a win on debut it was more than 2 years before Najmitdinov was back in action in the pro's, though in fairness he did try to make up for lost time, fighting in 3 times in 2015, squeezing fights into October, November and December. Those wins saw him race his record to 4-0 (3) and he would notch another win in January 2016 to keep momentum building.
Whilst Najmitdinov was building up some momentum, and getting busy, his competition was absolutely terrible. His first 5 opponents failed to have a recorded win and were little more than a nuisance for the talented fighter who needed bigger, better tests. Thankfully they came later in 2016, as he took on the the sturdy Ismatullo Gulomov, whp extended Najmitdinov 6 rounds. He would then secure a fight against Mansur Abdumamatov for the Uzbekistan national title at 140lbs, winning that in 7 rounds to claim his first title belt.
Despite winning the Uzbekistan Najmitdinov would never actually defend it. Instead he would score two stay busy fights in early 2017 before getting his first international bout, over in Ukraine against former world champion Viktor Postol. On paper this wasn't just a step up in class for Najmitdinov, but a completely new game all together. He was going from fighting novices in Uzbekistan to taking on a former former champion in Kiev. Despite the massive leap up in class Najmitdinov gave Postol all he could handle, and them some, dropping the Ukrainian veteran several times, and hurting him repeatedly, whilst Vadym Lavrenets, the referee, did all he could to help Postol survive. Despite being beaten and hurt numerous times the bout ended in a disgusting home town decision, from the Ukrainian judges who all gave the win, by some margin, to Postol. Following this "win" Postol would go on to challenge the then WBC "silver" champion Josh Taylor and more recently the WBC and WBO world champion Jose Carlos Ramirez. Had this bout gone the right way there's a good chance Postol wouldn't have had those opportunities, and Najmitdinov could have been in the world title mix as early as 2017.
Sadly since the controversial loss to Postol we've not seen Najmitdinov land a fight of real note. His most relevant fight since was a 10 round win, in Kazakhstan, against limited Indonesian veteran Hero Tito, a 10 round win that has been followed by 3 quick blowouts back in Uzbekistan. The only thing of note from those 3 wins was was Najmitdinov winning the WBC CIS and Slovac Boxing Bureau (CISBB) Welter Title in 2019, hardly a massive achievement.
Sadly fighting in Uzbekistan for almost his entire career has meant not a lot of footage of Najmitdinov is available. Thankfully however a few of his fights are out there, including his clash with Postol and his clash with Tito. In both of those bouts it was clear that Najmitdinov was heavy handed, aggressive, strong, and powerful, but much a fighter who was crude around the edges. He's the sort of fighter who looks like he could be a nightmare for anyone, but that the best fighters in the division would counter, a lot. His shots are looping, they aren't the quickest or the sharpest, but when he lands, he lands hard. As with many of the current fighters from Uzbekistan there is some flair to his in ring style, and a sense of excitement, but a lot of work needs doing with him.
In 2020 Najmitdinov signed with Banner Promotions. The hope was that he would have made his US debut in 2020 but, of course, 2020 was not a normal year. As a result he's not yet made his US debut, but that is set to come on May 28th, as he finally begins to move his career forward and move towards some career defining fights, that are well over-due.
In recent years Ryota Murata has gotten attention as being the big Middleweight star of Japan, and with good reason having won an Olympic gold medal as well as the WBA Middleweight title. Before Murata however there was another Japanese fighter to make a mark on the Middleweight scene, and that was the heavy handed Shinji Takehara (24-1, 18).
Takehara fought between 1989 and 1996, winning the Japanese, OPBF and WBA Middleweight titles along the way. He lacked major wins of international note, apart from his final victory, but he was still a major force in Asian boxing for most of his career, and even now remains in the sport through a gym he runs in Japan.
Today, almost 25 years after his last bout, we'll shine a light on Takehara and his career, as we bring you the 5 most significant wins for... Shinji Takehara!
Takehito Saijo (October 28th 1991)
The heavy handed Takehara made his professional debut in May 1989, when he beat Masao Tadano. Following his debut he went on an impressive run over the following 2 years or so, racing out to 10-0 (9). He had been hugely impressive, though for the most hard his opposition had been limited, with the only noteworthy name in that run being Biney Martin, who actually took Takehara the scheduled 6 round distance in 1989. Things chance in late 1991 when Takehara, aged 19 at the time, got his first title fight, taking on Japanese Middleweight champion Takehito Saijo, who was looking for his 6th defense of the title.
In Takehara's bout against Saijo fans saw the heavy handed teenage hopeful being given a genuine test, with Takehara having some real questions asked of him. Saijo was out boxed, and out slugged, and out punched, but he was game, he pressured the youngster, pressed forward and tried to use his experience to over-come the young up and comer. Despite a brave effort by Saijo he was unable to cope with the power of Takehara and in round 7 Takehara would dump Saijo on to the canvas, thrice, forcing the stoppage. This was a coming of age performance by Takehara who took some huge steps towards making a name for himself domestically. Interestingly this was only the second time Saijo had been stopped, with his other stoppage being in his debut more than 5 years earlier.
Hisashi Teraji (February 17th 1992)
Whilst winning a Japanese title was a huge deal for Takahara and the early part of his career it's worth noting that he only made a small number of defenses. Despite that he did score some very noteworthy ones. The first of which saw him take on Hisashi Teraji, just 4 months after winning the title. At this point in time Teraji was unbeaten, sporting a 6-0-3 (5) record and was regarded as a dangerous challenger.
Although Teraji was viewed as a danger man for the champion he really posed no threat in the ring to Takehara, who controlled the opening round behind his jab and power and barely took a clean shot from the challenger. In round 2 Takehara rocked his man with a huge left hook and dropped him a few moments later. This was the start of the end and Teraji knocked out only moments later.
This would be Teraji's first, and only loss. Following this bout he went 14-0 (6). Not only that but Teraji would go on to win the Japanese Middleweight and OPBF Light Heavyweight titles during the remainder of his career. Oh he would also have a son, a Kenshiro Teraji, who would go on to become of the faces of Japanese boxing more than 20 years later.
Yoshinori Nishizawa (May 17th 1992)
Another notable Japanese title defense for Takehara came against the then completely unheralded Yoshinori Nishizawa in May 1992, in what was Takehara's second defense. Looking at Boxrec this bout meant nothing, and was a step down from the Teraji bout. In fact Nishizawa's record of 6-5-3 (4) makes him the "worst" of the challengers that Takehara had. There is however a lot more to it than that.
The bout was, as mentioned, Takehara's second defense of the title, it was also the first time he went 10 rounds, something he had to do again 3 months later against Biney Martin, and it was a win that aged well. And we mean really well. In the years that followed Nishizawa would create a legacy of his own. He would win the Japanese Middleweight title in 1997, become a multi-time OPBF Super Middleweight champion an OPBF Light Heavyweight champion, and twice fight for world titles, putting both Anthony Mundine and Markus Beyer on the canvas. This win may not have meant anything at the time, but would go on to become an incredibly meaningful victory for Takehara.
Sung Chun Lee I (May 24th 1993)
After winning the Japanese title Takehara set his sights on bigger and more meaningful silverware. This included an OPBF title, after 4 defenses of the Japanese title he finally got a shot at an Oriental title and clashed with Korean fighter Shung Chun Lee, in the first of two bouts between the men. Boxrec, as it's known to do, has an incomplete record for Lee, though it's not fully known what his record was. What is known is that he entered the bout highly ranked by the OPBF and was reportedly the Korean national champion.
The bout was a genuinely brutal contest. The Korean visitor took bomb, after bomb, after bomb in the early going. Eating massive shots, and refusing to go away. Instead of buckling under the power of Takehara, like so many others, Lee seemed to want to take the fight to the Japanese fighter. Test his gas tank and drown him in the later rounds. It made for a brutal, yet thrilling bout that saw Takehara needing to answer questions about his stamina and toughness later on, with the Japanese fighter being under intense pressure in round 9. In the final moments of round 12 however Takehara did it, and forced the Korean to the canvas, for the 10 count, with Lee's determination and chin finally cracking, after what had been an amazing effort by the visitor.
This bout actually lead to a memorable rematch in 1995, with that bout seeing a rare double knockdown in round 8 before Takehara took another decision over the Korean.
Jorge Castro (December 19th 1995)
Whilst the first 4 significant wins for Takehara are very much Asian centric this one certainly isn't. In fact it is, by far and away, the most notable and the most famous win of his career, and is still probably the most important for any Japanese Middleweight, ever. It was Takehara's 1995 world title win against WBA Middleweight champion Jorge Castro.
Coming in to the bout Takehara had really come a long way. He was now 23-0 (18), he was highly ranked by the WBA, but this was a massive step up in class. He was going from Oriental level to world level and was taking on a world class veteran. At the time Castro was sporting an incredible 98-4-2 (68) record, he had won his last 28 bouts, going unbeaten since a 1992 loss to Roy Jones Jr, and had defended the WBA Middleweight title 4 times, including a 1994 win against John David Jackson that was later named the Ring Magazine Fight of the Year. Early on the bout saw Takehara boxing and moving, using his reach to keep Castro at range, the experience of facing Lee seemed to prepare him somewhat for the tactics of Castro. As the bout went on however Castro's pressure began to get him success, and Takehara began to slow, his movement less crisp than it was earlier in the bout. Despite the great effort from Castro it wasn't enough and after 12 rounds Takehara took a close, hotly contest, decision to claim the WBA Middleweight title, becoming the first Japanese fighter to become a Middleweight champion, something we had to wait more than 20 years to see replicated by Ryota Murata.
Sadly Takehara's reign was a short one. He lost the title in his first defense, to William Joppy in 1996, then hung up the gloves whilst still in his mid 20's. Despite that the win over Castro remains one of most significant wins by a Japanese fighter ever, Takehara's name will long live on in the annals of Japanese boxing history, even if his reign was over before it really got going.
Although world titles titles are becoming more and more of a joke in recent years, with the WBA creating so many worthless titles and the WBC's "Franchise title" devaluing their own "world" title, and creating so much pointless confusion, they are still a major target for fighters and a draw for casual fans. They might be losing their value month after month, but to the legacy of a fighter they are still vital and something every major fighter chases.
With that in mind we've asked ourselves a question this week in regards to world titles:
"Who... should get a world title shot in 2021?"
As is usually the case in this series the three guys will only be looking at fighters from Asia for this question, though it can be any active fighter from Asia, whether they are a former champion or not.
Lee: "I think this week I will pick an obvious answer, and say Wanheng Menayothin should get a world title fight in 2021. Most obviously against Panya Pradabsri, the man he lost the WBC Minimumweight title to last year. In fact I really think this rematch should be one that takes places sooner rather than later and is one I genuinely want to see!
The first bout was fantastic. It was exciting, it had good back and forth, some controversy, Wanheng's first loss, a potential passing of the torch and the the start of the end for the legacy of Wanheng. I would love to see him get the chance to reclaim his title, go out on top, and end his career with the WBC title around his shoulders. The bout would capture the imagination of hardcore fans, like their first bout did, and given the result of the first bout this would have a lot of intrigue and interest.
Alternatively if that rematch can't be made maybe now is the perfect time to see Wanheng Vs Knockout CP Freshmart. Sure it would have been better when both men were champions, but that never seemed to be the plan for promoters. Having them battle now however would either legitimise Knockout or, again, let Wanheng end his career on top."
Takahiro: "Hiroaki Teshigawara. In recent years a lot of Japanese fighters in and around Super Bantamweight have had world title fights (Takahashi, Wake, Kameda, Oguni, Iwasa), but sadly no world title chance has come for "Teshi". I would like it if the 30 year old got a chance now, before his prime years run out. At the moment (time of writing) Teshi is ranked #3 with the IBF (who have no one rated at #1 or #2), #4 with the WBA and #12 with the WBO. It would be great for one of the champions to give him a shot.
Although not a big name outside of Japan Teshi is popular in Tokyo, would draw a good audience of local fans if he got a fight that was shown on WOWOW or DAZN, and would ask questions of any champion. He is tricky, awkward, heavy handed, and can be very fan friendly.
With wins against Kurihara, Pabustan, Kinoshita and Omori I think he's done enough to earn one and hopefully he gets one. I don't think he'd win, but I'd love him to get the chance to try."
Scott: "When this question was first posed, back in March, I didn't have an answer, but now I do. Ryosuke Nishida. In the last 6 months or so we've seen the now 4-0 Nishida beat former world title contender Shohei Omori and former world champion Daigo Higa. Surely a world title fight can't be far away, even in the shark infested waters at Bantamweight.
He might not be the most deserving of contenders, even among Japanese Bantamweights, but I love seeing fighters moved quickly and aggressively and given his last two wins there are very few fighters being moved as quickly, or as aggressively as Nishida.
He did state he wanted to face Johnriel Casimero, and whilst that might be out of the question, for now, there's no real reason that bout can't be targeted for a big end of year show if TBS or Fuji TV jump behind Nishida and help make him a star.
At the moment Osaka lacks a real star and Nishida has the ability to change that, if he can get some TV backing. He has the charisma, the confidence and the tools to be a star, and it would be great if he got a shot at the big time before the bells ring in 2022."
One thing we love about Japanese boxing is the willingness of youngsters to step in the ring with decent competition straight off the bat, and it's even better when they do that in 6 rounders in bouts that we can watch. With that in mind we want to discuss one such fighter this week as we talk about 20 year old Kotoji Irita (0-0), who will be making his debut on May 23rd, as part of a huge festival of fights from Dangan.
Irita is not a name we expect many to be familiar with, even those that follow amateur boxing, but he is someone who is has a lot to like about him already, including a decent domestic amateur career, and some freakish dimensions for someone fighting at Super Flyweight. And he is certainly someone worth having an eye on as he heads towards his first professional bout.
The young Irita was born in the first half of 2001 in Yatsuhiro City, Kumamoto, and like many fighters from Kumamoto has head over to Tokyo to become a professional fighter, much like the Shigeoka brothers who are from the same Prefecture. Unlike the Shigeoka's however he hasn't signed with Watanabe Gym but instead the Dangan Aoki Gym, which isn't as powerful as Watanabe at the highest levels in the sport, but do put on a lot of shows and will allow him to be very busy, if that's what he wants to do.
Prior to signing professional Irita managed to have a pretty solid career on the Japanese amateur scene, going 36-11 in the unpaid ranks and fighting in a number of notable amateur tournaments, such as inter high school tournaments and national selection tournaments. He wasn't an absolute standout on the amateur scene, but like many fighters who develop on the tough Japanese High school scene it was clear he was talented and had a style that was potentially more well suited to being a success in the professional ranks than the amateur ranks.
In his amateur performances Irita proved to be quick, sharp, light on his feet and a genuine physical freak, fighting in the men's Flyweight division (52KG's) despite standing at 5'9". To put that into some form of comparison, he's very similar in stature to Zolani Tete, who also fights at a similar weight and is also 5'9". Just like Tete he's also a southpaw, making an already awkward fighter even tougher to fight.
Although Irita has been impressive there is a lot of work to do, though that's to be expected of a 20 year old kid with less than 40 amateur bouts. The fact he is as good as he's looked in some of the amateur bouts has impressed us, and got him on our radar ahead of his May 23rd debut.
In regards to Irita's he's not facing a chump. Instead he'll be up against 4-1 (3) youngster Kosuke Tomioka, who impressed in his early bouts before being stopped in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final at Super Flyweight last year. He has proven himself as a teenage worth following, and credit to Tomioka for taking on Irita following his last bout, though we suspect this will be more about Irita than Tomioka, and we see the debutant as being too tall, too rangy and to too mature for Tomioka.
*Note - Irita's debut was postponed indefinitely due to the on going State of Emergency that put boxing on pause in Tokyo.
It's fair to say that the Philippines has had some true boxing legends, who will always be remembered for what they've done in the sport. Fighters like Pancho Villa, Flash Elorde and Manny Pacquiao are true all time greats whose names will always live on in the sport. Sadly it also has a host of forgotten fighters, who burned out too soon, or failed to build on their big wins. Fighters who greatness at the tips of their fingers but failed to deliver on their potential, with perhaps the most well known of those being Marvin Sonsona. Another fighter who failed to deliver on their promise was the now often forgotten Morris East (20-4-0-1, 12), who fought between 1989 and 1995. He had a short, but explosive career and a controversial one.
East debuted when he was just 15 years old, he became a world champion at the age of 19, he scored the Ring Magazine KO of the year, but less than 3 years later his career was over. His final bout came when he was just 21 years old, ended with him being suspended for a year and never fighting again. He would later become a trainer, but his career in the ring certainly felt like it could, and should, have been so much more.
Although East's career wasn't the longest, and was underwhelming if we're being honest, we still thought we'd take the opportunity to look at his career and share the 5 most significant wins for...Morris East
Boy Masuay II (December 29th 1989)
As previously mentioned Morris East made his debut at the age of 15, doing so on May 3rd 1989 when he beat Jessie Miranda. He would go on to win his first 3 bouts before suffering a 10 round majority decision loss to domestic journeyman Boy Masuay in September 1989, when East was still just 16 years old. It was Masuay who took East's "0" but just 3 months later East got revenge, stopping Masuay in 6 rounds.
Sadly there isn't too much known about these, but knowing that East avenged his first loss is something rather significant, and to have done it by KO just months after, is something fairly notable and a significant achievement for the youngster. Sadly it would be the only loss that East actually avenged, which is a shame as it would have been good to see him face the other 3 men who beat him.
Pyung Sub Kim (February 29th 1992)
It's well known that top Filipino fighters often need to travel to secure the big fights that they need to make a name for themselves. East was no exception and fought on the road 4 times during his career. The first of his international bouts came in early 1992 when he travelled over to South Korea to take on OPBF Light Welterweight champion Pyung Sub Kim. This was not only East's international debut but also his first bout for a notable title. It was also a hell of a fight!
East was dropped early on by Kim, though battled back, gritted it out and went on to drop Kim multiple times en route to a 10th round KO win for the OPBF title. This was a genuine gut check for the then 18 year old Filipino who showed resilience and hunger as well as proving that he wasn't going to be intimidated on the road. Something that would prove vital just a few months later.
Akinobu Hiranaka (September 9th 1992)
Less than 7 months after his OPBF title win East travelled again, this time to face WBA Light Welterweight champion Akinobu Hiranaka over in Japan. The hard hitting Hiranaka had won the world title in April 1992 and was looking for an easy first defense at home, which he expected to get against the 19 year old East. After all East was young, he had been dropped by Kim and had lost 2 bouts by this point. He wasn't a world class fighter, and he wasn't like Edwin Rosario, who Hiranaka had beaten for the title over in Mexico.
The idea of East being an easy opponent for Hiranaka turned out to be wrong. Very wrong. Through 10 rounds this was a really, really competitive bout, with East giving as good as he got against the hard hitting local favourite. It was an exciting bout and it saw East rise to the occasion before landing the punch of his career in round 11, knocking Hiranaka down hard with a thunderbolt left hand. Hiranaka got to his feet but was stumbling as the referee waved off the bout. With the win East became the youngest ever Filipino world champion, at the age of 19, and it seemed, for a moment, that the Philippines was going to have a massive star on their hands. A new sensation. A man for the future. He also won the Ring Magazine KO of the year for the finish here.
As for Hiranaka he would never fight again after this loss, though he currently runs a boxing school in Okinawa.
Outside of boxing this win was massive for East, who got the chance to meet his father after this win, a man he had never seen. He met his father around a month after this victory when he travelled from his homeland to the US, thanks in part to CNN who tracked down his father and helped get them together.
Jeff Malcolm (November 26th 1994)
Sadly the hopes of East being the new star of the Philippines was short lived. Just 4 months after winning the belt he lost it to Juan Martin Coggi in Argentina, where he was stopped in 8 rounds. That would be his last world title bout, and his last bout with major international attention. He did however face a couple of notable fighters, the most notable of whom was Australian veteran Jeff Malcolm in 1994.
Malcolm had begun his career back in 1971, and by the time he fought East in 1994 he had amassed a record of 82-23-10 (25). He had more losses than East had total fights, with East being 17-3-0-1 (11), despite that Malcolm was still regarded as a very solid fighter and he was only a few fights removed from a WBO World title fight at Welterweight. Malcolm travelled over to the Philippines to take on East, who was having his second bout following his world title loss, and the Filipino would go on to take a decision over the Aussie veteran.
Despite being 38 when had this bout Malcolm wouldn't retire until the early 00's, following a loss to Fernando Sagrado, by which point he was a rare centurion with a record of 100-27-11 (36).
Robert Azumah (May 27th 1995)
Having once looked like a hero of Filipino boxing, East's career came to an end when he was in his early 20's and in many ways under a cloud of controversy.
East's final bout saw him defeat Indonesian based Ghanaian born fighter Robert Azumah, by unanimous decision, on a show promoted by Elorde promotions. It was a win that saw East retain the GAB Super Welterweight title, in fact it was the only time he successfully defended a title of any type. After the bout he was suspended by the GAB for a year and decided that he had had enough of the sport, it's politics and those around him.
Following his retirement, whilst still in his early 20's, he moved to the US, and later became a boxing trainer, training the likes of Zab Judah and Nonito Donaire among others.
"This week we the guys behind Asian boxing answer another "Who?" question, and like last week's this one is a bit of a fun one, rather than an overtly serious one. The world is too depressing to be serious all the time, and sometimes we need a laugh.
This week the guys have been tasked to answer the following question:
"Who... has the least appropriate nickname in the sport?"
As is typically the case, they have been asked to keep it to Asian fighters for the sake of this, and by inappropriate they have been advised that doesn't just mean a bad nickname, but a misleading one, or that really doesn't make much sense.
For example a British example was Johnny "The Entertainer" Nelson, who was best known for having sleep inducing fights during his active career.
Lee: "Nicknames are supposed to strike fear into an opponent, or tell us something about a fight and his style. They are supposed to mean something. The best nicknames stand out and are memorable. Sadly though some names are just terrible, and for my answer this week I'm not choosing a nickname as such, but instead a fighting name. A very misleading fighting name.
Knockout CP Freshmart.
You love it, you can hate it, and you can be indifferent to it. But one thing you can't deny is the fact "Knockout" doesn't live up to his name. At all. As I'm answering this "Knockout" has scored 7 T/KO's in 21 bouts, a 33.33% stoppage rate. That's pretty bad, but things get worse when we look at recent fights, where Knockout has a single stoppage in his last 10 wins. A 10% stoppage rate!
Knockout needs rebranding as "Unanimous Decision CP Freshmart" and to lean into his new fighting name.
I know I'm picking an easy target, but I really needed to get this off my chest. Knockout CP Freshmart, has the most misleading name in world boxing!"
Takahiro: "The standout here for the least suitable nickname in Asian boxing is a very, very, very easy question to answer! Former Japanese Bantamweight champion Kohei Oba was dubbed the "Mayweather of Nagoya". I don't think I need to add anything here. That's a bad nickname, it's a wrong nickname, and it's a misleading nickname. It's a very, very, very bad one.
It was clear that Oba tried to mimic the style of Floyd Mayweather Jr at times, using a shoulder roll and upper body movement. But he was a very weak imitator of the American great and lacked everything that made Mayweather a star. He didn't have the stinging power of Mayweather, the lighting reflexes, the incredible boxing brain, the speed or anything else that Mayweather had.
It is still, even now, a funny nickname that makes me smile, but that's because it's inappropriate for Oba. The only part of the nickname that was right was "of Nagoya" and even that later proved to be wrong, as he fought much of his career out of Hyogo."
Scott: "I seriously love nicknames of boxers, and there really are some amazing nicknames out there. Sadly their are some dreadful ones.
Whilst doing research for this I came across some incredible nicknames. These included former Filipino fighter Kid Moro's nickname of "Love Me Tonight", making it sound like he's going to make his opponents his bitch for the night, or Bert Somodio, who had he super intimidating nickname of "Nursery Kid".
I also need to admit I love Lito Dante being known as "Naruto".
A really bad one was "Shōsha manbokusā", the nickname that was used by Yu Kimura. The name literally translates as "Trading Company Man Boxer". That's going to properly strike fear into the hearts, and minds, of opponents isn't it? I know lots of boxers use nicknames based on their jobs, things like the "Punching Postman", but this most be the most mundane and dull of those types of nicknames. I get that it sounds better in Japanese but...still awful, awful nickname! This might be a technically correct nickname, but it's certainly not a good one and given the sport he's competing in
Some others that don't really translate from Japanese into English very well such as "Lucky Man", one of the nicknames given to Katsushige Kawashima.
The least appropriate however was the nickname used by 4-time world title challenger Hiroyuki Kudaka. The exciting Kudaka was known as the "Sexy Soldier". Unlike some names, where a mistranslation can be used as an explanation of a bad nickname, this was the name Kudaka himself used on his blog in the past. Now, don't get me wrong, he's a decent looking guy, but "Sexy Soldier" is hardly going to make a boxer fear him. In fact it almost sounds like he's going to go pole dancing after his fights or be a stripper or something. A very, very odd, peculiar, and inappropriate nickname."
When it comes to looking back over the 2020 Rookie of the Year there are lot of things that will stand out, such as how delayed the final was due to Covid19 and how the tournament final was fought in an empty Korakuen Hall. It will also, however, be remembered as the launch pad for several careers. Maybe the most promising of those is that of Super Featherweight winner Tsubasa Narai (7-0, 6), who dominated the tournament with 4 KO wins in his 4 bouts. Not only was he dominant through out the tournament, but he also showed genuine star power in a division that has been one of the most popular in Japan over the last 30 years or so.
The unbeaten 21 year old was born in Osaka City in August 1999 and would pick up the sport of boxing as a teenager. Although not a stand out amateur Narai was certainly a fighter with potential and after 26 amateur bouts he had amassed a 17-9 (6) amateur record, and had competed in a high school tournament. He had shown some potential, but he was certainly not a distinguished amateur when he decided to turn professional.
When Narai turned professional he did so as a Super Bantamweight with the RK Kamata Gym, and debuted aged 19, in the 2019 East Japan Rookie of the Year qualifying round. Despite only being in his debut he quickly made a mark, stopping Kento Nakano in 3 rounds to progress in the tournament. Whilst his debut was impressive he was even more destructive in his second bout, stopping Taison Mukaiyama in just 100 seconds to progress further in the tournament.
In Narai's third bout we saw him having the toughest bout of his career as he took on Yuki Yazan, in the East Japan Rookie of the Year quarter finals. Yazan, who would reach the All Japan finals in the 2020 Rookie of the Year, proved to be tough, and durable and survived the power of Narai, but couldn't do enough to take the decision as Narai took his first, and so far only, decision win. Sadly for Narai however he was unable to compete in the semi-final a few weeks later, which would have seen him face Takeshi Takehara.
Have gone so far in the 2019 Rookie of the Year Narai returned in 2020 for that year's edition of the tournament, which was delayed massively due to the Covid19 pandemic. This time he was at Super Featherweight, his young body filling out to that of a good sized 130lb fighter. On his debut at the new weight Narai would get back to scoring stoppages as he stopped the previously unbeaten Tomohiro igarashi in round 4 to progress in the tournament. That was quickly followed by a TKO2 win over the more experienced Hiromichi Komatsu in the East Japan semi final and then another TKO2 win over American born Japanese fighter Dominique Kenshin in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final.
Having done so well in 2019 Narai's success in 2020 saw him go further than he had a year earlier. But there was still the All-Japan final left for him, and that was going to come against West Japan representative Seika Fukuda, a then 5-0 fighter who was taller than Narai and was also looking to move their career forward. On paper this was an excellent looking match ups and one of the standouts of the 2020 All Japan Rookie of the Year finals. In the end however it ended up being a showcase of power and aggression from Narai. After taking a few seconds to get a read on Fukuda we saw Narai rock his man with a big left hook, and within a minute Fukuda was looking like a man who very uncomfortable with Narai's power. He tried to fight back, but Narai was far too strong, and Fukuda would be rocked later in the round and then dropped. He got back to his feet but was dropped again moments later forcing the referee to wave off the bout, despite the fact Fukuda quickly recovered to his feet.
Sadly since the All Japan final, in February, we've not see Narai have his next bout being scheduled, though we're looking forward to it, whoever he faces.
At the moment Narai is very much an unpolished fighter, but he has an exciting style, genuine power, and he likes to fight. He's shown a willingness to stand and trade shots when he needs to, and he's shown to his hard enough to really shake people up when he lands. At just 21 we're not expecting him to be the complete article, but with the RK Gym behind him, they can certainly help him polish some of wilder traits of his. He's someone who perhaps won't be fighting for titles in the next year or two, but someone who certainly has the natural tools to be a major player on the Japanese scene over the next decade or so.
If you like fighters with power Narai is certainly one to keep a close eye on as he develops from crude puncher to future Japanese title contender, and potentially even further.
One of the many forgotten legends of Asian boxing is Kuniaki Shibata (47-6-3, 25), an aggressive Featherweight and Super Featherweight from the 1960's and 1970's. He was a multi-time world champion and featured in 12 world title bouts, in an era before the WBO and IBF made titles fights much easier to get. He was aggressive, exciting, small and, sadly for him, his chin wasn't the best, costing him in 5 of his 6 losses.
Despite some technical and physical flaws Shibata was a legend of his time and one of the few Japanese fighters who had real success on the road, as well as at home. In fact his wins on the road, in Mexico and Hawaii in particular, were some of his most important and career defining wins.
Today we want to shine a light on Shibata as we bring you the 5 most significant wins for... Kuniaki Shibata!
Katsutoshi Aoki (July 5th 1967)
When we talk about significant wins for a fighter we don't always mean the biggest, best or famous wins that a fighter scored. That's certainly the case here with Kuniaki Shibata's 1967 win over fellow Japanese Katsutoshi Aoki. The then 20 year old Shibata entered the bout 13-0 (9) and hadn't really faced anyone of note before taking on 24 year old Aoki, a once touted Japanese youngster. Aoki was coming to the end of his career, despite only being 24, but was a popular, notable fighter in Japan and was well known for his 1963 bout with Eder Jofre and for being a former OPBF Bantamweight champion. He had also shared the ring with a who's who of Asian boxing in the 1960's, including Hiroyuki Ebihara, Kenji Yonekura, Fighting Harada and Takao Sakurai.
Aoki was the first "name" that Shibata fought, and he was blasted out inside a round by Shibata. This was the quickest loss of Aoki's career and was the first "big" win that Shibata scored. It was also, sadly, Aoki's penultimate bout with the popular fighter fighting again the following month before ending his in ring career with more than 60 bouts to his name.
Yasuo Sakurai (April 15th 1970)
Sadly Shibata struggled to really build on the win over Aoki. He struggled to get bouts against notable fighters and ended up losing his unbeaten record in 1968, to Dwight Hawkins, before suffering a second loss in 1969, to Hubert Kang. His early promise was faltering and he needed to get his career back on track. Thankfully for him he did just that in 1970, which was a banner year for the talented, though chinny, Japanese hopeful. A key part of 1970 for him was his April bout with Yasuo Sakurai, for the Japanese Featherweight title.
Sakurai wasn't a star, but he was a hungry fighter looking to secure the biggest win of his career and the Japanese title. He was a similar age to Shibata and a solid southpaw. He was, however, stopped in 10 rounds by Shibata, who scored one of the biggest and most significant wins of his career, claiming his first title and adding some real impetus to his career, in what was his second bout of the year, his second of five.
Vicente Saldivar (December 11th 1970)
Shibata's final bout of 1970 was, by far, the biggest, most significant and most important win of his career and was also an unexpected one as he travelled over to Mexico and took on the legendary Vicente Saldivar at the end of 1970. The talented Saldivar was enjoying his third reign as the WBC Featherweight champion, having taken the title from Johnny Famechon in May and had been unbeaten since 1962, when he suffered the sole loss on his record. Since that loss he had gone 20-0 and had become a genuine great of the Featherweight division.
Despite Saldivar being a great he wasn't good enough, on the night, for an inspired Shibata who out boxed him and ended up forcing the corner to stop the Mexican great between rounds 12 and 13. At the time of the corner stopping the bout the Mexican was down on all 3 cards and had struggled mightily with right hands of Shibata. This win saw Shibata become the second Japanese fighter, in history, to win a world title on the road and the nation's 9th ever world champion.
Ben Villaflor (March 12th 1973)
Despite Shibata's massive upset win for the WBC Featherweight title over Saldivar his reign was disappointingly short. He only managed to record 2 defenses before losing the belt after just 17 months, when he was stopped by Clemente Sanchez in 3 rounds. Another loss just a few months later, to Andries Steyn seemed to suggest that Shibata's career was on the back end. Despite that he revived his career in brilliant fashion in 1973, a year that saw him pick up 4 wins.
The biggest of those 4 wins for Shibata came in March when he travelled over to Hawaii and took on hard hitting Filipino Ben Villaflor for the WBA Super Featherweight title. The bout was a close 15 round affair, though it was one that saw Shibata come out on top of, taking a unanimous decision over Villaflor. This win saw Shibata create history, becoming the first Japanese fighter to win world titles on the road more than once, and becoming Japan's second 2-weight world champion, following the legendary Fighting Harada.
Ricardo Arredondo (February 28th 1974)
Sadly Shibata failed to hold the WBA Super Featherweight title for long, losing the belt in a return bout against Villaflor, with Vollaflor taking him out inside 2 minutes! This was Numata's 5th professional loss, 4th by stoppage, and it was hard to know what he had left in the tank. He and his team however still had belief and just 4 months later he was back in the ring and taking on WBC Super Featherweight champion Ricardo Arredondo. Coming in to the bout Shibata was looking to do something no other Japanese fighter had ever done, become a 3-time world champion. He was also looking to reclaim, for Japan, a title that Arredondo had take from fellow Japanese fighter Yoshiaki Numata and do so in front of 14,000 fans at the Nihon University Auditorium.
The two men fought for the scheduled 15 rounds, but in the end Shibata was too aggressive and too hungry for Arredondo, taking a clear and fair decision. Shibata came out hungry and despite eating a fair number of jabs out worked and out hustled Arredondo.
It was later revealed that neither man was 100% for this. Shibata revealed he had sprained his ankle before the fight and Arredondo cited that he was struggling with the weight. Despite those issues the two men put on a show for the fans in a very exciting bout.
Sadly this was the start of the end for Arredondo, who went 8-13 after this bout. Shibata on the other hand made 3 defenses before losing the belt in 1975. After that loss he had 3 low key bouts at home, winning all 3, before ending his career in the late 1970's.
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces