When we talk about the most memorable Japanese boxers in the 1990's there a number of notable names that jump to mind, such as Joichiro Tatsuyoshi and Hiroshi Kawashima. Another name belongs in that list was the controversial, but always entertaining, Katsuya Onizuka (24-1, 17). Onizuka's career was a relatively short one, starting in 1988 and essentially ending in 1994, but "Spanky K" was a notable figure on the Japanese domestic scene.
With some great fights under his belt, and some pretty notable achievements, we decided to highlight some parts of Onizuka's career as we bring you "The 5 most significant wins for...Katusya Onizuka".
As is always the case here, we include the 5 wins we feel are the most significant in Onizuka's career. That doesn't always mean the best or the most exciting, but the ones that have most significance and meaning in regards to his career.
Yutaka Sakamoto (February 27th 1989)
The first bout we want to shine a light in here is a rather obscure one from 1989, but a very significant one for Katsuya Onizuka. That's his All-Japan Rookie of the Year win in 1989, which saw him stopping Yutaka Sakamoto in 2 rounds in the final. The bout saw Onizuka not only claim the Rookie of the Year award but also the Skills Award, and put himself on the boxing map. This is really a win that helped kick start his rise through the domestic ranks and put him on course to step up his competition, which he did the following year. Rookie of the Year is important in Japanese boxing, and as a result this is an important and significant win.
Tatsuya Sugi (May 22nd 1990)
Another early career win of Onizuka's that's worth of a mention here was his 1990 win over the then OPBF Super Flyweight champion Tatsuya Sugi was the then OPBF champion. Whilst Sugi's title wasn't on the line here the bout was a clear step up for Onizuka, who would stop Sugi in the 7th round and prove he belonged on that title level. The loss came 5 months after Sugi's title win, against Rolando Bohol, and 11 months after Sugi had fought for the Japanese Super Flyweight title, losing on cuts to Shunichi Nakajima. With the win Onizuka made a statement and took huge strides towards his first title bout, which came 5 months later.
Shunichi Nakajima (October 15th 1990)
Onizuka claimed his first title in his bout immediately following his win over Sugi, when he won the Japanese Super Flyweight title. On paper it might not sound like a significant win, but that's really not under-standing the whole situation. The man he beat for the title was Shunichi Nakajima, the man who had recorded 6 defenses of the title, a record number of defenses that still stands for the belt today, and had recently challenged for the WBA world title, losing in 8 rounds to Khaosai Galaxy. With the win over Nakajima, which came courtesy of a 10th round TKO, it put Onizuka on route to a world title fight. He would defend his national title 3 times before getting a shot, himself at the WBA world title.
Thanomsak Sithbaobay I (April 10th 1992)
When Khaosai Galaxy vacated the WBA Super Flyweight title Onizuka got a shot at the vacant title, but had to take on the criminally under-rated Thanomsak Sithbaobay. When training in Thailand, earlier in his career, Onizuka had been impressed by the Thai. The Thai went on to look great, and seemed to do more than enough to earn the decision, but the score-cards all favoured Onizuka, who got the first of many questionable decisions in his favour. The win, whilst badly tainted by the officiating, was a hugely important one for Onizuka, and began his world title reign, which would continue until he lost the belt in his final career bout.
Armando Castro (December 11th 1992)
It's fair to say that Onizuka's world title reign was a frustrating one. He had won the title in controversial fashion, against Thanomsak, and had scored some close and often controversial wins. It's interesting to note however that Onizuka's second defense, against Mexican veteran Armando Castro, is one of the most notable. This was Onizuka at his very best, dominating a talented and experienced contender, who had actually been Khaosai Galaxy's last challenger. Whils Castro was no world beater he remained a relevant fighter until 1996. After facing Onizuka the Mexican would later go on to challenger for the WBO Bantamweight title, against Alfred Kotey and even face the likes of Erik Morales and Naseem Hamed.
Whilst Onizuka's later defenses were all controversial this was the bout that proved his was a top level fighter, at least for a time in 1992. Sadly he then scraped past against Jae Shin Lim, Thanomsak Sithbaobay and Seung Koo Lee, before losing the belt in 1994 to Hyung Chul Lee.
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.
Back in December we looked at some boxers who were involved in music, either with their own recordings, or when they inspired songs. Now we've decided to look at other times Asian boxers featured in media outside of the sport. We've tried to find some pretty interesting examples and whilst we know there are thousands of examples, we've tried to feature some that are less well known, or rather amusing.
Samart Payakaroon in "The Body Guard"
One of the fighters we featured in the songs by Asian boxers was Thai great Samart Payakaroon. Samart wasn't just a boxer who turned to singing however but also acting, and did so in a number of roles, including a rather humorous role in Thai movie "บอดี้การ์ดหน้าเหลี่ยม", aka The Bodyguard.
Samart's role in the movie wasn't a massive one, but was a tongue in cheek comedy role in the movie, and it's genuinely fantastic to see what he was able to do in 2004 film. Incidentally the movie also features Khaosai and Khaokor Galaxy, who place twins in the movie, however the clip below is just Samart in what is genuinely a a clip worthy of 3 minutes of any ones time.
Katsuya Onizuka's Boxing video game
In the last few years the clamour for a new boxing game has grown, with Fight Night Championship now being a rather old and dated. Notably however former Japanese Katsuya Onizuka had a game that took his name back in the 1990's!
"Onizuka Katsuya Super Virtual Boxing" was a Japanese only Super Famicom game released in late 1993. Back then Onizuka, known as "Spanky K", was the WBA Super Flyweight champion and one of the most popular fighters in Japan. Interestingly the game was released around 3 weeks after his rematch with Thanomsak Sithbaobay.
Unlike most boxing games this one actually uses a first person mode, similar to Punch-Out!!
Onizuka has also featured in some other media, and is now known in Japan due to art work, with his paintings getting attention in his homeland and being available to buy.
Zou Shiming makes cameo in Transformers 4
Bob Arum's big hope to have a Chinese expansion was built primarily on the shoulders of Zou Shiming, a former Chinese amateur standout. Sadly the idea of making Macau an Asian boxing hub has failed, and Shiming's career has sadly been cut short due to injuries. Saying that however he is still very popular in China and a big name in his homeland.
Before his in ring career faltered he had a small part in Hollywood blockbuster Transformers 4. It wasn't a long cameo, or even a particularly long one, but it was a notable one with the producers of the film wanting to use Shiming to try and make the movie bigger in China, and tap into the growing Chinese film market.
This is less humours than the Samart Payakaroon clip, but still worthy of a few minutes to see Shiming trying to act!
Some thing totally different to everything else on this list is this old item that used to be sold on the Kameda shop. This was the "Kameda Roll", a food item that the Kameda brothers put their name to.
Back in 2010 this was pretty big news in Japan, back when all 3 of the Kameda brothers were active fighters. It was a collaboration between the Kameda brothers and Kitahorie Charbon, a cafe in Osaka. For those who know about Osaka they will know the area is regarded as having some of the best food in Japan and this roll was certainly interesting.
It was described on www.excite.co.jp as being a "melon bread-like biscuit dough with a two-layer structure of fluffy sponges with plenty of egg yolk", and was apparently a success back when it was released. Sadly though it hasn't been the raging, long term success of the George Foreman grill.
Rex Tso in HUAWEI Honor advert
Boxers being used in adverts isn't a new, or unique thing, but the partnership between Hong Kong's Rex Tso and Chinese phone giant HUAWEI was more than just Tso being used to advertise the phone. It was actually a solid partnership that ended up with HUAWEI streaming some of Tso's fights on their facebook page as the brand looked to make the most of their deal with the fighter.
The art featuring Tso for the phone is a pretty weak one if we're being honest, showing more of Tso training than any real attempt to sell the phone. The focus was clearly more on merely raising the brand awareness than showing what the phone could do, which is a shame as the Honor 6 was a fantastic phone. Still seeing Tso in this role was rather weird and it's clear that's, not the most natural of actors, despite his incredible charisma.
Other adverts that were considered included Gennady Golovkin's adverts for Apple Watch, which again did little to make us think anything positive of the device.
Naoya Inoue's under pants advert
We finish this article with one more advert, the Body Wild Airz advert featuring Japanese star Naoya Inoue, Unlike the Rex Tso advert this does try and sell the product, which are underpants.
Inoue became the face, and body, of the advertising campaign for the Body Wild underwear and whilst it was really smart marketing in many ways it does seem a rather peculiar of using one of the biggest stars in Japanese boxing. It also makes the product easy to rip, which does seem the best of ideas for those behind the product, even if that wasn't the idea behind the advert. Of all the adverts we came across featuring Asian boxers seemed the most bizarre. A boxer, selling boxers!
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