When we talk about the fighters who have the most controversy, and even mystique, around them after retirement few rival Jiro Watanabe (26-2, 17). His out of the ring activity has involved the Yakuza, being a hired thug and various arrests. Inside of the ring however he was a genius, a very lazy but a genius all the same.
Durign his 7 year professional career, that spanned from 1979 to 1986, Watanabe fought 28 times with half of his career, 14 total outs, spent in world title bouts. From those bouts bouts it should come as no surprise that former 2-time Super Flyweight champions scored some big wins and some super significant ones. In fact some of Watanabe's wins are genuinely significant in ways we may not realise.
With that said, here are the 5 most significant wins for... Jiro Watanabe.
Koji Kobayashi (February 2nd 1980)
We start with an early career win for Watanabe as he took on Koji Kobayashi in February 1980. By this point Watanabe was 6-0 (6) whilst Kobayashi was 6-0-2 (4), the two men were clashing in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final at Flyweight and Watanabe made a statement in stopping Kobayashi inside a round. The win not only netted Watanabe his 7th straight win, all by stoppage, and the Rookie of the Year but also a win over a future world champion. Whilst Kobayashi may not be a big name he would go on to win the WBC Flyweight title in 1984, stopping Frank Cedeno. Sadly Kobayashi's reign was a short one, but the win for Watanabe certainly is a major one, and often over-looked one.
Rafael Pedroza (April 18th 1982)
Watanabe came up short in his first world title fight, losing a close 15 round decision to Chul Ho Kim in South Korea, but a 1982 bout with Rafael Pedroza saw Watanabe claim a top tier title in his second shot at the top. The Japanese southpaw managed to take a a clear decision over Pedroza, from Panama, who was making his first defense of the WBA Super Flyweight title. The tough Pedroza really had no answer to Watanabe's consistency. The bout was certainly not an exciting one, with Watanabe respecting Pedroza's power and toughness, but those who enjoy watching a fighter controlling distance and tempo of a bout from their footwork and lead hand will find this one pretty impressive.
Payao Poontarat I (July 5th 1984)
After making 6 defenses of his WBA title Watanabe faced WBC champion Payao Poontarat. The hope was to find the best in the division and unify the two titles. Of course boxing bodies don't like to get on and the WBA decided that they didn't like the idea of a unified champion and stripped Watanabe for not facing Khaosai Galaxy. Despite the WBA's decision the bout went ahead and in the eyes of many this decided the king of the division. Sadly it failed to really crown the divisional king as what ended up happening was Watanabe took a huge controversially decision. The Japanese fighter, who claimed the WBC title due to the win, was seen as being very lucky to get the decision. Poontarat felt robbed and Watanabe himself suggested that Poontarat had been the superior boxer. The controversy lead to a rematch...
Payao Poontarat II (November 29th 1984)
...and the that rematch came in November 1984, with the WBC title on the line. This was Watanabe's first defense of the title he took from the Thai and again the action was pretty even at times. Despite being competitive it did seem like Watanabe had improved from their first bout, changed things a touch whilst Poontarat failed to have the same level of success he had in the first bout. Although it was competitive Watanabe was well up on the scorecards as he tried to right the wrongs of their first encounter. Poontarat was down in round 5, from a gorgeous right hook, and dropped again in round 11 before the referee halted the action and saved the Thai from further punishment. Whilst the first bout might have been inconclusive in terms of a winner their was no doubting the better man here with Watanabe making it clear he was the #1 in the division.
Interestingly just 8 days before this rematch Khaosai Galaxy beat Eusebio Espinal for the WBA title that had been stripped from Watanabe for facing Poontarat the first time around.
Suk Hwan Yun (December 13th 1985)
We suspect readers of this will be wondering why the little known Korean Suk Hwan Yun makes up the final result here. Afterall Wayanabe beat the likes of former champion Shoji Oguma, Inaugural IBF champion Soon Chun Kwon and former WBA champion Gustavo Ballas. The reason is simple. They were better wins than this one, but this one was more significant. Watanabe's bout with Yun saw the WBC Super Flyweight champion travel over to South Korea to take on the Korean challenger, and then stop Yun in 5 rounds. Yun had been bounced off the canvas twice in round 2 before being stopped a few rounds later. This would go on to be Watanabe's final win but it was more the circumstances around the win that made it significant.
The talented Japanese fighter was always expected to beat Yun, the two men were on different levels and the Korean did nothing before hand to earn a shot at Watanabe. The bout however was the first time, in history, that a Japanese world champion successfully defended a world title on foreign soil. prior to this the likes of Fighting Harada, Hiroyuki Ebihara, Kuniaki Shibata, Guts Ishimatsu and Royal Kobayashi all lost their titles on the road. It would take until 2009 for another Japanese fighter to repeat the feat, with Toshiaki Nishioka doing it against Jhonny Gonzalez.
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