When we talk about the "best" fighter we tend to be discussing the most successful, and not the most skilled. With boxing we need to remember that skills, alone, don't pay the bills and it's often the other facets, along with skills, that lead a fighter to success. A great example is Jorge Linares, one of the most skilled fighters out there just lacking in terms of durability.
Another great example of skills was Hiroshi Kawashima (20-3-1, 14), one of the most skilled and polished defensive fighters Japan has ever produced. Kawashima will never be mentioned alongside the likes of Fighting Harada as Japan's greatest ever boxer, but in terms of skills Kawashima is very much in the countries elite tier. Sadly for Kawashima his incredible skills came at a price, and he worked on a defensive style following a couple of early stoppage losses, and he lacked the durability to take risks and be an aggressive fighter. His skills made up for his poor chin but still limited his overall success.
Even with a questionable punch resistance however Kawashima turned his career around and went from 4-2-1 (4) to a man who made 6 defenses of the WBC Super Flyweight title in the mid 1990's. He made those defenses by using his exceptional skills to out box his challengers, and neutralise their aggression.
Rather than waxing lyrical about Kawashima development as a fight we're here today to look at the 5 most significant wins for... Hiroshi Kawashima during his often under-rated 24 fight career.
Hideki Koike (July 13th 1992)
Having been written off after 7 professional bouts it took Kawashima time and effort to rebuild. His talent was obvious but there was always a question mark on whether or not he was going to be stopped again. In the summer of 1992 he took on the then Japanese Super Flyweight champion Hideki Koike, who boasted a 10-1-1 (8) record. Koike had stopped his previous 4 opponent, had power and had entered as the champion. That wasn't enough for him to over-come Kawashima, who proved too smart and too talented for the champion. This win saw Kawashima take his first professional title, and at the age of 22, prove that he had made the changes needed to at least compete at the higher end of domestic level.
Kenji Matsumura (April 6th 1993)
As the Japanese Super Flyweight champion Kawashima would make 3 defenses of his title. The final one of those saw him take on Kenji Matsumura, a name that hardcore fans of the division may recognise. Matsumura had, prior to this bout, been a 4-time world title challenger with bouts against Khaosai Galaxy, twice, Sung Kil Moon and Katsuya Onizuka. Although his best days were behind him he was a step up step up, on paper, from the other domestic challengers that Kawashima had faced. Kawashima would go on to stop Matsumura in 5 rounds, matching the feat that WBA champion Onizuka had done 7 months earlier and allowed comparisons between himself and the popular "Spanky K".
Jose Luis Bueno I (May 4th 1994)
Whilst Kawashima wouldn't get a shot at Onizuka, he did get his hands on WBC champion Jose Luis Bueno in May 1994. Bueno had ended the reign of Sung Kil Moon in October 1993, when he outpointed Moon in Korea, and had travelled to Japan to take on Kawashima in his first defense. This was a massive step up in class for the Japanese fighter who rose to the occasion and to take a clear decision over Mexican champion. Bueno didn't want to give up his title, and that was clear through out, but he struggled to dictate the tempo or distance of the bout as Kawashima's boxing brain out thought the experienced champion. Bueno kept it competitive but was dropped in round 11 as Kawashima did enough to secure the win and the world title.
Carlos Salazar (August 7th 1994)
After winning the title Kawashima's first defense saw him take on Argentinian fighter Carlos Salazar. Salazar is one of the many over-looked fighters from this era. He had given the then WBC Flyweight champion Sot Chitalada a tough one in 1990 in Bangkok, and then gave Sung Kil Moon fits in 1993 in Korea. In April 1994 Salazar fought in a close loss to Marco Antonio Barrera, and then travelled to Japan to take on Kawashima. Unsurprisingly Salazar was no push over for Kawashima and the two southpaws matched each other really well in a tactically fascinating, but rather drama free, bout. Whilst this was certainly not an exciting bout, despite some fun exchanges, it was a really impressive win, especially when you consider that Salazar would go on to win world titles at Flyweight and Bantamweight. This wasn't a fun bout to watch but was a win that aged brilliantly and helped enhance Kawashima's reputation as a result of Salazara's later success.
Jose Luis Bueno II (January 18th 1995)
Sometimes a bout can be significant due to when it happens and that certainly played a part in making Kawashima's rematch with former champion Salazar so important. The bout, like their first, was competitive at times, though not the close bout Chuck Hassett had it. Again Kawashima took the decision, and dropped Bueno, this time in round 7, on route to his decision win.
The real reason why this bout was so important was that it came just a day after the Great Hanshin earthquake. Emotions in Japan were high thousands were killed, 10's of thousands were injured and 100's of thousands had been displaced. The country was hurting and Kawashima's win managed to add some normality to a country that was going though something horrific.
Although it failed to make this list properly we do need to give a quick mention to Kawashima's November 1995 win over Boy Aruan. This was, rather surprisingly, the first time a Japanese and Indonesian fighter had fought in a world title bout.
We still have no regular fights taking place in the ring and lots thoughts about contests we could, and perhaps should, have had from the past. On one hand the idea of these articles are fantasy fights, but unlike most we're only looking at fights that could have taken places, rather than putting together fighters from different. Instead we're looking at fighters who had careers that over-lapped, and would have made sense!
Hiroshi Kawashima Vs Katsuya Onizuka
For today's fight we're looking a bout that could have taken place in the mid 1990's and would have been a very interesting bout for both the styles we would have got and the time when the bout would have been viable. On one hand you'd have a heavy handed and aggressive fighter, towards the end of his career, taking on a chinny but defensively smart fighter just coming into their prime. This would have been a great all Japanese bout for the 90's.
Well theoretically this could have been a world title unification bout in 1994, but the window was tight. Katsuya Onizuka was the WBA Super Flyweight champion champion from April 1992 to September 1994, running up 5 defenses. On the other Hiroshi Kawashima won the WBC Super Flyweight title in May 1994, and held the title until February 1997, running up 6 defenses, including his first in August 1994. So there is a window there in late 1994. Of course it could easily have been a none unification bout, either earlier in 1994 or even 1993, perhaps in the way of Kawashima's win over former Onizuka foe Kenji Matsumura.
In the early 1990's Katsuya Onizuka was one of the most popular fighters in Japan. He had started his career as a popular, exciting wrecking ball. When he began fighting at world level he began to struggle, with his power not carrying up and many of his world title bouts were incredibly close. Despite the close bouts at world level he remained an exciting and popular fighter, with his toughness and charming personality keeping fans on side. Prior to winning the WBA title he had gone 18-0 (16) and would late advance his record to 24-0 (17) before losing the title.
Whilst Onizuka struggled at world level the opposite was true for Hiroshi Kawashima. The talented Kawashima struggled early in his career, with his chin being cracked twice early on and he was 4-2-1 (4) after 7 professional bouts. Those early setbacks lead to him redeveloping his style and by the time he had won the WBC title title he was fighting very differently, sliding around the ring, controlling the range and countering. His chin was never great, but he had learned to hid his chin and built a style that covered his flaws and worked to his strengths.
How would we see it playing out?
We certainly see Onizuka having the firepower to take Kawashima out, if he can land clean. That however was not an easy task and although Onizuka was aggressive he wasn't the most polished or intelligent fighter. It wouldn't take a world class power-puncher to stop Kawashima, but it would take someone landing solidly on him, and that was certainly tougher to do than it seemed.
On the other hand Onizuka was there to be hit and to be countered. He could box, and he could fight but he was never the quickest, the sharpest or the best at changing pace. We suspect that against a fighter like Kawashima, the rather basic approach of Onizuka would be very ineffective, but it would also carry a sense of danger.
We see Onizuka always posing a threat to the more skilled Kawashima, he will always be the one pressing, and pushing forward. Sadly for him we don't see him having any sustained success. Instead we suspect Onizuka will have moments but lose a clear decision, at least if the scoring was fair.
On thing that is worth noting is that Onizuka did get some dodgy decisions in his favour, and that may have happened here, but we suspect that with the bout being an all-Japanese bout those score-cards would have neutralised.
Would history of been changed?
In regards to history this bout would have been an interesting one had it been held in 1994, when both were champions. It would have come just months before the massive bout between Joichiro Tatsuyoshi and Yasuei Yakushiji, and possibly even take some shine off of that thriller. It would also have been the first WBA/WBC all Japanese unification bout, coming years before we finally saw Akira Yaegashi and Kazuto Ioka unifying titles.
In regards to the actual titles there's a chance that Kawashima could have held both titles until 1997, when he ended up losing the WBC title to Gerry Penalosa. We would suspect that Onizuka would retire after his first loss, which we expect would happen if he faced Kawashima. On the other hand if Onizuka managed to stop stop Kawashima, unlikely but not impossible, both titles would likely have ended up around the waist of Hyung Chul Lee, who ended Onizuka's reign.
The titles would have eventually been split, of course they would, but it would have still been great to have seen this bout and to have seen the titles together for the first time. We should have had them unified in 1984, when Jiro Watanabe and Payao Poontarat faced off, but had we seen them unified in 1994 we wouldn't have any complaint at all and it would have been huge for the division and massive for Japanese boxing. Instead we had to wait until 2008 for the belts to be unified, with Cristian Mijares beating Alexander Munoz to finally put the belts together.
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