It’s rare to see Japanese fighters make a mark of any kind on the world stage at 140lbs, though the country has had 3 world champions at the weight. The most recent of those was almost 30 years ago, when the hard hitting Akinobu Hiranaka (20-2, 18) won the WBA title in Mexico.
Despite his success in the ring Hiranaka isn’t that well remembered, sadly, and his reign lasted just 5 months, retiring soon after his title loss. Despite that he did have a very notable impact in his professional career, that ran from 1985 to 1992, when he retired due to a cerebral hemorrhage. It was also a career that saw him and his small team need to do a lot of leg work themselves, and lack the financial backing of many other top Japanese fighters. That was a major surprise given that Hiranaka was an outstanding amateur running up an excellent 67-9 (64) record in the unpaid ranks and competing in the Olympics. Doing that nowadays would see pretty much any major gym in Japan try snatching up his signature, in at least a co-promotional deal.
Today we’re not to talk about the struggles the former champion went through however, and instead we are here to discuss the 5 most significant wins for...Akinobu Hiranaka.
Kazuki Yokai (March 24th 1985)
Unlike most fighters Hiranaka’s debut is actually one of his most significant wins as he, unlike most fighters in Japan, made his debut in an 8 round round, as he took on Kazuki Yokai. Although 8 round debuts in Japan aren’t unheard of, they are certainly very rare, and the last to debut in such a manner as we write this was Naoya Inoue. For Hatanaka and his team it was clear he was going to begin his career in an attention grabbing way, and an 8 rounder on debut was just what they needed to make a statement. Yokai, a limiter fighter himself, had scored a 6th round TKO just months earlier, but had been blown out in 2 of his 3 losses coming into this one. Hiranaka had 8 rounds to dispatch with Yokai but needed less than 1, taking him out in 2 minutes 43 seconds.
Masahiro Tanabu I (January 9th 1986)
Less than 10 months after his debut Hiranaka took part in his first title fight, as he took on Japanese Light Welterweight champion Masahiro Tanabu. The bout was a very notable step up in class for Hiranaka, against a 2-time Japanese national champion, who was boasting a 9-1 (4) record and had beaten everyone he had faced, and it was just Hiranaka’s 4th professional bout. Hiranaka was looking to tie the record for the fewest fights to a Japanese title, a record then held by James Callaghan and Modest Napunyi. Hiranaka went on to match the record, stopping Tanabu in 6 rounds. Not only did he tie the record for the fewest fights to claim a Japanese title, but he did so by winning the title in just his 13th professional round.
Amazingly since Hiranaka tied the record for fewest fights to a Japanese title only Joichiro Tatsuyoshi and Naoya Inoue have tied it, and no one has come close to his record for fewest needed to claim a Japanese title.
Naoki Ito (August 11th 1987)
Sadly Hiranaka’s reign as the Japanese Light Welterweight champion was somewhat underwhelming, though that was hardly his fault as the division was weak domestically at the time. One of his few defenses of note was his 1987 defense against Naoki Ito, which served as his 4th defense. Hiranaka stopped Ito in just 108 seconds to retain his title but that wasn’t the end of Ito. Just 16 months after Hiranaka destroyed him Ito went on to claim the OPBF title, stopping Chul Gang in 9 rounds in South Korea to claim the title. Not only did he win the title, but he also managed a defense of it, making this a significant defense for Hiranaka, and a very notable win that managed to age well.
Tricky Kawaguchi (July 21st 1988)
A second notable defense for Hiranaka came in July 1988 when he beat Tricky Kawaguchi in 5 rounds. This was a significant defense for an historical reason. The win was the 9th defense of the Japanese Light Welterweight title for Hiranaka, a then record for a single reign of the belt. The previous record, of 8 defenses in a reign, was held by Lion Furuyama during his second reign of the title. Furuyama, a multi-time world title challenger, held the title from 1972 to 1977, taking 5 years to run up 8 defenses whilst Hiranaka did his 9 defenses in less than 3 years. This was also his final defense before he vacated the title to begin his run towards a world title.
Edwin Rosario (April 10th 1992)
In 1989 Hiranaka got his first world title fight, and lost a controversial decision in Italy to Juan Martin Coggi. The bout was regarded by many as a terrible decision, though it didn’t end Hiranaka’s world title dreams. In 1992 Hiranaka got his second world title fight, though had to travel again for it, going to Mexico to face the dangerous Edwin Rosario for the WBA belt. Rosario, enjoying his second reign as the champion, was damn near blitzed by Hiranaka. The Japanese, desperate to not have the judges involved, hurt Rosario within seconds. Rosario tried to fight back but after just 92 seconds Ernesto Magana came in and saved Rosario, who had taken a pounding and could have been stopped earlier.
The win for Hiranaka saw him become only the third Japanese fighter to win a world title at 140lbs, the sixth Japanese fighter to win a world title on the road and the second to win a world title in Mexico, more than 20 years after Kuniaki Shibata had won his first title in Mexico stopping Vicente Saldivar. It would be more than 20 years later that another Japanese fighter won a world title on the road. This was a huge win for Hiranaka and put his name in the history book.
Sadly however his reign was short, losing the title in his first defense, to Morris East, before retiring due to a brain issue. Despite his retirement Hiranaka has remained in the sport and runs his own boxing gym, the Hiranaka Boxing School in Okinawa
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