One of the many forgotten legends of Asian boxing is Kuniaki Shibata (47-6-3, 25), an aggressive Featherweight and Super Featherweight from the 1960's and 1970's. He was a multi-time world champion and featured in 12 world title bouts, in an era before the WBO and IBF made titles fights much easier to get. He was aggressive, exciting, small and, sadly for him, his chin wasn't the best, costing him in 5 of his 6 losses.
Despite some technical and physical flaws Shibata was a legend of his time and one of the few Japanese fighters who had real success on the road, as well as at home. In fact his wins on the road, in Mexico and Hawaii in particular, were some of his most important and career defining wins.
Today we want to shine a light on Shibata as we bring you the 5 most significant wins for... Kuniaki Shibata!
Katsutoshi Aoki (July 5th 1967)
When we talk about significant wins for a fighter we don't always mean the biggest, best or famous wins that a fighter scored. That's certainly the case here with Kuniaki Shibata's 1967 win over fellow Japanese Katsutoshi Aoki. The then 20 year old Shibata entered the bout 13-0 (9) and hadn't really faced anyone of note before taking on 24 year old Aoki, a once touted Japanese youngster. Aoki was coming to the end of his career, despite only being 24, but was a popular, notable fighter in Japan and was well known for his 1963 bout with Eder Jofre and for being a former OPBF Bantamweight champion. He had also shared the ring with a who's who of Asian boxing in the 1960's, including Hiroyuki Ebihara, Kenji Yonekura, Fighting Harada and Takao Sakurai.
Aoki was the first "name" that Shibata fought, and he was blasted out inside a round by Shibata. This was the quickest loss of Aoki's career and was the first "big" win that Shibata scored. It was also, sadly, Aoki's penultimate bout with the popular fighter fighting again the following month before ending his in ring career with more than 60 bouts to his name.
Yasuo Sakurai (April 15th 1970)
Sadly Shibata struggled to really build on the win over Aoki. He struggled to get bouts against notable fighters and ended up losing his unbeaten record in 1968, to Dwight Hawkins, before suffering a second loss in 1969, to Hubert Kang. His early promise was faltering and he needed to get his career back on track. Thankfully for him he did just that in 1970, which was a banner year for the talented, though chinny, Japanese hopeful. A key part of 1970 for him was his April bout with Yasuo Sakurai, for the Japanese Featherweight title.
Sakurai wasn't a star, but he was a hungry fighter looking to secure the biggest win of his career and the Japanese title. He was a similar age to Shibata and a solid southpaw. He was, however, stopped in 10 rounds by Shibata, who scored one of the biggest and most significant wins of his career, claiming his first title and adding some real impetus to his career, in what was his second bout of the year, his second of five.
Vicente Saldivar (December 11th 1970)
Shibata's final bout of 1970 was, by far, the biggest, most significant and most important win of his career and was also an unexpected one as he travelled over to Mexico and took on the legendary Vicente Saldivar at the end of 1970. The talented Saldivar was enjoying his third reign as the WBC Featherweight champion, having taken the title from Johnny Famechon in May and had been unbeaten since 1962, when he suffered the sole loss on his record. Since that loss he had gone 20-0 and had become a genuine great of the Featherweight division.
Despite Saldivar being a great he wasn't good enough, on the night, for an inspired Shibata who out boxed him and ended up forcing the corner to stop the Mexican great between rounds 12 and 13. At the time of the corner stopping the bout the Mexican was down on all 3 cards and had struggled mightily with right hands of Shibata. This win saw Shibata become the second Japanese fighter, in history, to win a world title on the road and the nation's 9th ever world champion.
Ben Villaflor (March 12th 1973)
Despite Shibata's massive upset win for the WBC Featherweight title over Saldivar his reign was disappointingly short. He only managed to record 2 defenses before losing the belt after just 17 months, when he was stopped by Clemente Sanchez in 3 rounds. Another loss just a few months later, to Andries Steyn seemed to suggest that Shibata's career was on the back end. Despite that he revived his career in brilliant fashion in 1973, a year that saw him pick up 4 wins.
The biggest of those 4 wins for Shibata came in March when he travelled over to Hawaii and took on hard hitting Filipino Ben Villaflor for the WBA Super Featherweight title. The bout was a close 15 round affair, though it was one that saw Shibata come out on top of, taking a unanimous decision over Villaflor. This win saw Shibata create history, becoming the first Japanese fighter to win world titles on the road more than once, and becoming Japan's second 2-weight world champion, following the legendary Fighting Harada.
Ricardo Arredondo (February 28th 1974)
Sadly Shibata failed to hold the WBA Super Featherweight title for long, losing the belt in a return bout against Villaflor, with Vollaflor taking him out inside 2 minutes! This was Numata's 5th professional loss, 4th by stoppage, and it was hard to know what he had left in the tank. He and his team however still had belief and just 4 months later he was back in the ring and taking on WBC Super Featherweight champion Ricardo Arredondo. Coming in to the bout Shibata was looking to do something no other Japanese fighter had ever done, become a 3-time world champion. He was also looking to reclaim, for Japan, a title that Arredondo had take from fellow Japanese fighter Yoshiaki Numata and do so in front of 14,000 fans at the Nihon University Auditorium.
The two men fought for the scheduled 15 rounds, but in the end Shibata was too aggressive and too hungry for Arredondo, taking a clear and fair decision. Shibata came out hungry and despite eating a fair number of jabs out worked and out hustled Arredondo.
It was later revealed that neither man was 100% for this. Shibata revealed he had sprained his ankle before the fight and Arredondo cited that he was struggling with the weight. Despite those issues the two men put on a show for the fans in a very exciting bout.
Sadly this was the start of the end for Arredondo, who went 8-13 after this bout. Shibata on the other hand made 3 defenses before losing the belt in 1975. After that loss he had 3 low key bouts at home, winning all 3, before ending his career in the late 1970's.
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