We continue this weekly series by talking about Daisuke Naito (26-3-3, 23) who had a rather remarkable career in many ways. He turned professional at the age of 22 but didn't really find major success until he was in his 30's, which is old for a Flyweight. He burned incredibly brightly at the end of his career, scoring many of his more noteworthy wins after his 30th birthday.
During his 42 fight career Naito would prove Flyweights could punch but also that he wasn't an iron chinned guy, and his 34 second loss to Pongsaklek Wonjongkam in 2002 still stands at the shortest Flyweight world title bout in history. There was ups and down through out his career, with the blow out loss to Wonjongkam and a prior draw against Takefumi Sakata being among the lows. Today however we put the lows to the back of our mind and instead we look at the 5 most significant wins for... Daisuke Naito.
Takeyuki Kojima (October 11th 2004)
In June 2004 Naito beat Hiroshi Nakano for the Japanese Flyweight title, ending Nakano 20 bout unbeaten run to claim his first professional title. Typically that bout would make it on to a list like this, but for Naito his domestic title reign is actually better known for his first defense. That came 4 months later when he took on Takeyuki Kojima in a real "blink and you miss it" fight. The bout lasted just 24 seconds, with Kojima being dropped twice, and Naito setting the record for the shortest ever Japanese title fight. Whilst this bout perhaps wasn't as "big" as the win over Nakano it is, on reflection, a more significant win and one that will have a lot more replay value than his 6th round technical decision title win.
Pongsaklek Wonjongkam III (July 18th 2007)
After Naito lost his first 2 bouts with Pongsaklek Wonjongkam few would have given him a chance ahead of their third meeting. In fact the TV channels in Japan gave him so little of a chance that the channel that aired the first two bouts chose not to be involved here, leaving it to independent channel MX Tokyo to pick it up. As it turned out the major TV channels, particularly TBS, let a huge feel good moment for Japanese boxing slip through their fingers. Rather than a huge audience tuning in to see Naito's hand being raised against his Thai nemesis a fraction of the audience saw the event that saw Naito become the WBC Flyweight champion. This was a career defining win and helped really establish Naito, despite the fact he was already 32 years old at this point!
Daiki Kameda (October 11th 2007)
Whilst the win over Wonjongkam was the win that felt good and helped put Naito on the map it was his first defense that really helped his legacy. That was his infamous win over Daiki Kameda in a foul filled mess of a fight. For fans wanting great action they didn't get that here, but they did get some crazy stuff going on. Kameda, then a teenager with a 10-0 record, put on a shameful display of fouling against Naito. Whilst Naito retained his title, with a clear decision, Kameda should have been disqualified for his tactics. Kameda did less boxing in the final round as he did wrestling and had 3 points deducted. The significance of a first world title defense is huge but the out of the ring implications for this bout make it even bigger. Kameda would be suspended by the JBC for a year, his father was indefinitely suspended, and Naito became a massive star with the nation's sympathy well and truly behind him. The Wonjongkam win was massive, but missed the TV exposure it deserved, whilst this bout was the one that made Naito a star.
Tomonobu Shimizu (July 30th 2008)
In his third defense of the WBC Flyweight title Naito took on fellow Japanese fighter Tomonobu Shimizu. Prior to this Shimizu had previously challenged Wonjongkam, losing to the Thai, and had managed to win the Japanese national title. The bout was hotly contested with the two men being very well matched and not too much splitting them on the scorecards through 9 rounds. Thankfully for Naito he turned it on in round 10, and forced a finish against the tiring Shimizu, who had given his all. By it's self this win wouldn't have made the list had it not been for what Shimizu would accomplish afterwards. In his very next fight Shimizu would beat Toshiyuki Igarashi before later going on to win the WBA Super Flyweight title. On reflection this is a really good win, even if Shimizu hadn't accomplished his best work until later on.
Xiong Zhao Zhong (May 26th 2009)
Talking about a win that has aged well we need to finish this with Naito's 2009 win over Chinese challenger Xiong Zhao Zhong. This bout had all sorts going on, and was not one of Naito's best performances. In fact it was a terrible performance in a bout plagued by head clashes and pre-fight issues, issues that forced the bout to shift the country it was being held in on short notice! Despite the mess around it it's a really, really important bout. Not only was it Naito's final successful world title defense, as he took a decision over Zhong, but it was also the first time a fighter from the People's Republic of China challenged for a world title and, given what Xiong later did it's a win that has aged really well. Naito was poor here, and he apologised for his performance after the bout, but in terms of significance this a win that adds real legs onto his legacy more than many of his other wins.
Sadly Naito would lose his belt in his fight after this one to Koki Kameda, ending the Naito Vs Kameda family rivalry that had brewed since Naito's fight with Daiki Kameda.
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