In recent years Ryota Murata has gotten attention as being the big Middleweight star of Japan, and with good reason having won an Olympic gold medal as well as the WBA Middleweight title. Before Murata however there was another Japanese fighter to make a mark on the Middleweight scene, and that was the heavy handed Shinji Takehara (24-1, 18).
Takehara fought between 1989 and 1996, winning the Japanese, OPBF and WBA Middleweight titles along the way. He lacked major wins of international note, apart from his final victory, but he was still a major force in Asian boxing for most of his career, and even now remains in the sport through a gym he runs in Japan.
Today, almost 25 years after his last bout, we'll shine a light on Takehara and his career, as we bring you the 5 most significant wins for... Shinji Takehara!
Takehito Saijo (October 28th 1991)
The heavy handed Takehara made his professional debut in May 1989, when he beat Masao Tadano. Following his debut he went on an impressive run over the following 2 years or so, racing out to 10-0 (9). He had been hugely impressive, though for the most hard his opposition had been limited, with the only noteworthy name in that run being Biney Martin, who actually took Takehara the scheduled 6 round distance in 1989. Things chance in late 1991 when Takehara, aged 19 at the time, got his first title fight, taking on Japanese Middleweight champion Takehito Saijo, who was looking for his 6th defense of the title.
In Takehara's bout against Saijo fans saw the heavy handed teenage hopeful being given a genuine test, with Takehara having some real questions asked of him. Saijo was out boxed, and out slugged, and out punched, but he was game, he pressured the youngster, pressed forward and tried to use his experience to over-come the young up and comer. Despite a brave effort by Saijo he was unable to cope with the power of Takehara and in round 7 Takehara would dump Saijo on to the canvas, thrice, forcing the stoppage. This was a coming of age performance by Takehara who took some huge steps towards making a name for himself domestically. Interestingly this was only the second time Saijo had been stopped, with his other stoppage being in his debut more than 5 years earlier.
Hisashi Teraji (February 17th 1992)
Whilst winning a Japanese title was a huge deal for Takahara and the early part of his career it's worth noting that he only made a small number of defenses. Despite that he did score some very noteworthy ones. The first of which saw him take on Hisashi Teraji, just 4 months after winning the title. At this point in time Teraji was unbeaten, sporting a 6-0-3 (5) record and was regarded as a dangerous challenger.
Although Teraji was viewed as a danger man for the champion he really posed no threat in the ring to Takehara, who controlled the opening round behind his jab and power and barely took a clean shot from the challenger. In round 2 Takehara rocked his man with a huge left hook and dropped him a few moments later. This was the start of the end and Teraji knocked out only moments later.
This would be Teraji's first, and only loss. Following this bout he went 14-0 (6). Not only that but Teraji would go on to win the Japanese Middleweight and OPBF Light Heavyweight titles during the remainder of his career. Oh he would also have a son, a Kenshiro Teraji, who would go on to become of the faces of Japanese boxing more than 20 years later.
Yoshinori Nishizawa (May 17th 1992)
Another notable Japanese title defense for Takehara came against the then completely unheralded Yoshinori Nishizawa in May 1992, in what was Takehara's second defense. Looking at Boxrec this bout meant nothing, and was a step down from the Teraji bout. In fact Nishizawa's record of 6-5-3 (4) makes him the "worst" of the challengers that Takehara had. There is however a lot more to it than that.
The bout was, as mentioned, Takehara's second defense of the title, it was also the first time he went 10 rounds, something he had to do again 3 months later against Biney Martin, and it was a win that aged well. And we mean really well. In the years that followed Nishizawa would create a legacy of his own. He would win the Japanese Middleweight title in 1997, become a multi-time OPBF Super Middleweight champion an OPBF Light Heavyweight champion, and twice fight for world titles, putting both Anthony Mundine and Markus Beyer on the canvas. This win may not have meant anything at the time, but would go on to become an incredibly meaningful victory for Takehara.
Sung Chun Lee I (May 24th 1993)
After winning the Japanese title Takehara set his sights on bigger and more meaningful silverware. This included an OPBF title, after 4 defenses of the Japanese title he finally got a shot at an Oriental title and clashed with Korean fighter Shung Chun Lee, in the first of two bouts between the men. Boxrec, as it's known to do, has an incomplete record for Lee, though it's not fully known what his record was. What is known is that he entered the bout highly ranked by the OPBF and was reportedly the Korean national champion.
The bout was a genuinely brutal contest. The Korean visitor took bomb, after bomb, after bomb in the early going. Eating massive shots, and refusing to go away. Instead of buckling under the power of Takehara, like so many others, Lee seemed to want to take the fight to the Japanese fighter. Test his gas tank and drown him in the later rounds. It made for a brutal, yet thrilling bout that saw Takehara needing to answer questions about his stamina and toughness later on, with the Japanese fighter being under intense pressure in round 9. In the final moments of round 12 however Takehara did it, and forced the Korean to the canvas, for the 10 count, with Lee's determination and chin finally cracking, after what had been an amazing effort by the visitor.
This bout actually lead to a memorable rematch in 1995, with that bout seeing a rare double knockdown in round 8 before Takehara took another decision over the Korean.
Jorge Castro (December 19th 1995)
Whilst the first 4 significant wins for Takehara are very much Asian centric this one certainly isn't. In fact it is, by far and away, the most notable and the most famous win of his career, and is still probably the most important for any Japanese Middleweight, ever. It was Takehara's 1995 world title win against WBA Middleweight champion Jorge Castro.
Coming in to the bout Takehara had really come a long way. He was now 23-0 (18), he was highly ranked by the WBA, but this was a massive step up in class. He was going from Oriental level to world level and was taking on a world class veteran. At the time Castro was sporting an incredible 98-4-2 (68) record, he had won his last 28 bouts, going unbeaten since a 1992 loss to Roy Jones Jr, and had defended the WBA Middleweight title 4 times, including a 1994 win against John David Jackson that was later named the Ring Magazine Fight of the Year. Early on the bout saw Takehara boxing and moving, using his reach to keep Castro at range, the experience of facing Lee seemed to prepare him somewhat for the tactics of Castro. As the bout went on however Castro's pressure began to get him success, and Takehara began to slow, his movement less crisp than it was earlier in the bout. Despite the great effort from Castro it wasn't enough and after 12 rounds Takehara took a close, hotly contest, decision to claim the WBA Middleweight title, becoming the first Japanese fighter to become a Middleweight champion, something we had to wait more than 20 years to see replicated by Ryota Murata.
Sadly Takehara's reign was a short one. He lost the title in his first defense, to William Joppy in 1996, then hung up the gloves whilst still in his mid 20's. Despite that the win over Castro remains one of most significant wins by a Japanese fighter ever, Takehara's name will long live on in the annals of Japanese boxing history, even if his reign was over before it really got going.
Although world titles titles are becoming more and more of a joke in recent years, with the WBA creating so many worthless titles and the WBC's "Franchise title" devaluing their own "world" title, and creating so much pointless confusion, they are still a major target for fighters and a draw for casual fans. They might be losing their value month after month, but to the legacy of a fighter they are still vital and something every major fighter chases.
With that in mind we've asked ourselves a question this week in regards to world titles:
"Who... should get a world title shot in 2021?"
As is usually the case in this series the three guys will only be looking at fighters from Asia for this question, though it can be any active fighter from Asia, whether they are a former champion or not.
Lee: "I think this week I will pick an obvious answer, and say Wanheng Menayothin should get a world title fight in 2021. Most obviously against Panya Pradabsri, the man he lost the WBC Minimumweight title to last year. In fact I really think this rematch should be one that takes places sooner rather than later and is one I genuinely want to see!
The first bout was fantastic. It was exciting, it had good back and forth, some controversy, Wanheng's first loss, a potential passing of the torch and the the start of the end for the legacy of Wanheng. I would love to see him get the chance to reclaim his title, go out on top, and end his career with the WBC title around his shoulders. The bout would capture the imagination of hardcore fans, like their first bout did, and given the result of the first bout this would have a lot of intrigue and interest.
Alternatively if that rematch can't be made maybe now is the perfect time to see Wanheng Vs Knockout CP Freshmart. Sure it would have been better when both men were champions, but that never seemed to be the plan for promoters. Having them battle now however would either legitimise Knockout or, again, let Wanheng end his career on top."
Takahiro: "Hiroaki Teshigawara. In recent years a lot of Japanese fighters in and around Super Bantamweight have had world title fights (Takahashi, Wake, Kameda, Oguni, Iwasa), but sadly no world title chance has come for "Teshi". I would like it if the 30 year old got a chance now, before his prime years run out. At the moment (time of writing) Teshi is ranked #3 with the IBF (who have no one rated at #1 or #2), #4 with the WBA and #12 with the WBO. It would be great for one of the champions to give him a shot.
Although not a big name outside of Japan Teshi is popular in Tokyo, would draw a good audience of local fans if he got a fight that was shown on WOWOW or DAZN, and would ask questions of any champion. He is tricky, awkward, heavy handed, and can be very fan friendly.
With wins against Kurihara, Pabustan, Kinoshita and Omori I think he's done enough to earn one and hopefully he gets one. I don't think he'd win, but I'd love him to get the chance to try."
Scott: "When this question was first posed, back in March, I didn't have an answer, but now I do. Ryosuke Nishida. In the last 6 months or so we've seen the now 4-0 Nishida beat former world title contender Shohei Omori and former world champion Daigo Higa. Surely a world title fight can't be far away, even in the shark infested waters at Bantamweight.
He might not be the most deserving of contenders, even among Japanese Bantamweights, but I love seeing fighters moved quickly and aggressively and given his last two wins there are very few fighters being moved as quickly, or as aggressively as Nishida.
He did state he wanted to face Johnriel Casimero, and whilst that might be out of the question, for now, there's no real reason that bout can't be targeted for a big end of year show if TBS or Fuji TV jump behind Nishida and help make him a star.
At the moment Osaka lacks a real star and Nishida has the ability to change that, if he can get some TV backing. He has the charisma, the confidence and the tools to be a star, and it would be great if he got a shot at the big time before the bells ring in 2022."
One thing we love about Japanese boxing is the willingness of youngsters to step in the ring with decent competition straight off the bat, and it's even better when they do that in 6 rounders in bouts that we can watch. With that in mind we want to discuss one such fighter this week as we talk about 20 year old Kotoji Irita (0-0), who will be making his debut on May 23rd, as part of a huge festival of fights from Dangan.
Irita is not a name we expect many to be familiar with, even those that follow amateur boxing, but he is someone who is has a lot to like about him already, including a decent domestic amateur career, and some freakish dimensions for someone fighting at Super Flyweight. And he is certainly someone worth having an eye on as he heads towards his first professional bout.
The young Irita was born in the first half of 2001 in Yatsuhiro City, Kumamoto, and like many fighters from Kumamoto has head over to Tokyo to become a professional fighter, much like the Shigeoka brothers who are from the same Prefecture. Unlike the Shigeoka's however he hasn't signed with Watanabe Gym but instead the Dangan Aoki Gym, which isn't as powerful as Watanabe at the highest levels in the sport, but do put on a lot of shows and will allow him to be very busy, if that's what he wants to do.
Prior to signing professional Irita managed to have a pretty solid career on the Japanese amateur scene, going 36-11 in the unpaid ranks and fighting in a number of notable amateur tournaments, such as inter high school tournaments and national selection tournaments. He wasn't an absolute standout on the amateur scene, but like many fighters who develop on the tough Japanese High school scene it was clear he was talented and had a style that was potentially more well suited to being a success in the professional ranks than the amateur ranks.
In his amateur performances Irita proved to be quick, sharp, light on his feet and a genuine physical freak, fighting in the men's Flyweight division (52KG's) despite standing at 5'9". To put that into some form of comparison, he's very similar in stature to Zolani Tete, who also fights at a similar weight and is also 5'9". Just like Tete he's also a southpaw, making an already awkward fighter even tougher to fight.
Although Irita has been impressive there is a lot of work to do, though that's to be expected of a 20 year old kid with less than 40 amateur bouts. The fact he is as good as he's looked in some of the amateur bouts has impressed us, and got him on our radar ahead of his May 23rd debut.
In regards to Irita's he's not facing a chump. Instead he'll be up against 4-1 (3) youngster Kosuke Tomioka, who impressed in his early bouts before being stopped in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final at Super Flyweight last year. He has proven himself as a teenage worth following, and credit to Tomioka for taking on Irita following his last bout, though we suspect this will be more about Irita than Tomioka, and we see the debutant as being too tall, too rangy and to too mature for Tomioka.
*Note - Irita's debut was postponed indefinitely due to the on going State of Emergency that put boxing on pause in Tokyo.
It's fair to say that the Philippines has had some true boxing legends, who will always be remembered for what they've done in the sport. Fighters like Pancho Villa, Flash Elorde and Manny Pacquiao are true all time greats whose names will always live on in the sport. Sadly it also has a host of forgotten fighters, who burned out too soon, or failed to build on their big wins. Fighters who greatness at the tips of their fingers but failed to deliver on their potential, with perhaps the most well known of those being Marvin Sonsona. Another fighter who failed to deliver on their promise was the now often forgotten Morris East (20-4-0-1, 12), who fought between 1989 and 1995. He had a short, but explosive career and a controversial one.
East debuted when he was just 15 years old, he became a world champion at the age of 19, he scored the Ring Magazine KO of the year, but less than 3 years later his career was over. His final bout came when he was just 21 years old, ended with him being suspended for a year and never fighting again. He would later become a trainer, but his career in the ring certainly felt like it could, and should, have been so much more.
Although East's career wasn't the longest, and was underwhelming if we're being honest, we still thought we'd take the opportunity to look at his career and share the 5 most significant wins for...Morris East
Boy Masuay II (December 29th 1989)
As previously mentioned Morris East made his debut at the age of 15, doing so on May 3rd 1989 when he beat Jessie Miranda. He would go on to win his first 3 bouts before suffering a 10 round majority decision loss to domestic journeyman Boy Masuay in September 1989, when East was still just 16 years old. It was Masuay who took East's "0" but just 3 months later East got revenge, stopping Masuay in 6 rounds.
Sadly there isn't too much known about these, but knowing that East avenged his first loss is something rather significant, and to have done it by KO just months after, is something fairly notable and a significant achievement for the youngster. Sadly it would be the only loss that East actually avenged, which is a shame as it would have been good to see him face the other 3 men who beat him.
Pyung Sub Kim (February 29th 1992)
It's well known that top Filipino fighters often need to travel to secure the big fights that they need to make a name for themselves. East was no exception and fought on the road 4 times during his career. The first of his international bouts came in early 1992 when he travelled over to South Korea to take on OPBF Light Welterweight champion Pyung Sub Kim. This was not only East's international debut but also his first bout for a notable title. It was also a hell of a fight!
East was dropped early on by Kim, though battled back, gritted it out and went on to drop Kim multiple times en route to a 10th round KO win for the OPBF title. This was a genuine gut check for the then 18 year old Filipino who showed resilience and hunger as well as proving that he wasn't going to be intimidated on the road. Something that would prove vital just a few months later.
Akinobu Hiranaka (September 9th 1992)
Less than 7 months after his OPBF title win East travelled again, this time to face WBA Light Welterweight champion Akinobu Hiranaka over in Japan. The hard hitting Hiranaka had won the world title in April 1992 and was looking for an easy first defense at home, which he expected to get against the 19 year old East. After all East was young, he had been dropped by Kim and had lost 2 bouts by this point. He wasn't a world class fighter, and he wasn't like Edwin Rosario, who Hiranaka had beaten for the title over in Mexico.
The idea of East being an easy opponent for Hiranaka turned out to be wrong. Very wrong. Through 10 rounds this was a really, really competitive bout, with East giving as good as he got against the hard hitting local favourite. It was an exciting bout and it saw East rise to the occasion before landing the punch of his career in round 11, knocking Hiranaka down hard with a thunderbolt left hand. Hiranaka got to his feet but was stumbling as the referee waved off the bout. With the win East became the youngest ever Filipino world champion, at the age of 19, and it seemed, for a moment, that the Philippines was going to have a massive star on their hands. A new sensation. A man for the future. He also won the Ring Magazine KO of the year for the finish here.
As for Hiranaka he would never fight again after this loss, though he currently runs a boxing school in Okinawa.
Outside of boxing this win was massive for East, who got the chance to meet his father after this win, a man he had never seen. He met his father around a month after this victory when he travelled from his homeland to the US, thanks in part to CNN who tracked down his father and helped get them together.
Jeff Malcolm (November 26th 1994)
Sadly the hopes of East being the new star of the Philippines was short lived. Just 4 months after winning the belt he lost it to Juan Martin Coggi in Argentina, where he was stopped in 8 rounds. That would be his last world title bout, and his last bout with major international attention. He did however face a couple of notable fighters, the most notable of whom was Australian veteran Jeff Malcolm in 1994.
Malcolm had begun his career back in 1971, and by the time he fought East in 1994 he had amassed a record of 82-23-10 (25). He had more losses than East had total fights, with East being 17-3-0-1 (11), despite that Malcolm was still regarded as a very solid fighter and he was only a few fights removed from a WBO World title fight at Welterweight. Malcolm travelled over to the Philippines to take on East, who was having his second bout following his world title loss, and the Filipino would go on to take a decision over the Aussie veteran.
Despite being 38 when had this bout Malcolm wouldn't retire until the early 00's, following a loss to Fernando Sagrado, by which point he was a rare centurion with a record of 100-27-11 (36).
Robert Azumah (May 27th 1995)
Having once looked like a hero of Filipino boxing, East's career came to an end when he was in his early 20's and in many ways under a cloud of controversy.
East's final bout saw him defeat Indonesian based Ghanaian born fighter Robert Azumah, by unanimous decision, on a show promoted by Elorde promotions. It was a win that saw East retain the GAB Super Welterweight title, in fact it was the only time he successfully defended a title of any type. After the bout he was suspended by the GAB for a year and decided that he had had enough of the sport, it's politics and those around him.
Following his retirement, whilst still in his early 20's, he moved to the US, and later became a boxing trainer, training the likes of Zab Judah and Nonito Donaire among others.
"This week we the guys behind Asian boxing answer another "Who?" question, and like last week's this one is a bit of a fun one, rather than an overtly serious one. The world is too depressing to be serious all the time, and sometimes we need a laugh.
This week the guys have been tasked to answer the following question:
"Who... has the least appropriate nickname in the sport?"
As is typically the case, they have been asked to keep it to Asian fighters for the sake of this, and by inappropriate they have been advised that doesn't just mean a bad nickname, but a misleading one, or that really doesn't make much sense.
For example a British example was Johnny "The Entertainer" Nelson, who was best known for having sleep inducing fights during his active career.
Lee: "Nicknames are supposed to strike fear into an opponent, or tell us something about a fight and his style. They are supposed to mean something. The best nicknames stand out and are memorable. Sadly though some names are just terrible, and for my answer this week I'm not choosing a nickname as such, but instead a fighting name. A very misleading fighting name.
Knockout CP Freshmart.
You love it, you can hate it, and you can be indifferent to it. But one thing you can't deny is the fact "Knockout" doesn't live up to his name. At all. As I'm answering this "Knockout" has scored 7 T/KO's in 21 bouts, a 33.33% stoppage rate. That's pretty bad, but things get worse when we look at recent fights, where Knockout has a single stoppage in his last 10 wins. A 10% stoppage rate!
Knockout needs rebranding as "Unanimous Decision CP Freshmart" and to lean into his new fighting name.
I know I'm picking an easy target, but I really needed to get this off my chest. Knockout CP Freshmart, has the most misleading name in world boxing!"
Takahiro: "The standout here for the least suitable nickname in Asian boxing is a very, very, very easy question to answer! Former Japanese Bantamweight champion Kohei Oba was dubbed the "Mayweather of Nagoya". I don't think I need to add anything here. That's a bad nickname, it's a wrong nickname, and it's a misleading nickname. It's a very, very, very bad one.
It was clear that Oba tried to mimic the style of Floyd Mayweather Jr at times, using a shoulder roll and upper body movement. But he was a very weak imitator of the American great and lacked everything that made Mayweather a star. He didn't have the stinging power of Mayweather, the lighting reflexes, the incredible boxing brain, the speed or anything else that Mayweather had.
It is still, even now, a funny nickname that makes me smile, but that's because it's inappropriate for Oba. The only part of the nickname that was right was "of Nagoya" and even that later proved to be wrong, as he fought much of his career out of Hyogo."
Scott: "I seriously love nicknames of boxers, and there really are some amazing nicknames out there. Sadly their are some dreadful ones.
Whilst doing research for this I came across some incredible nicknames. These included former Filipino fighter Kid Moro's nickname of "Love Me Tonight", making it sound like he's going to make his opponents his bitch for the night, or Bert Somodio, who had he super intimidating nickname of "Nursery Kid".
I also need to admit I love Lito Dante being known as "Naruto".
A really bad one was "Shōsha manbokusā", the nickname that was used by Yu Kimura. The name literally translates as "Trading Company Man Boxer". That's going to properly strike fear into the hearts, and minds, of opponents isn't it? I know lots of boxers use nicknames based on their jobs, things like the "Punching Postman", but this most be the most mundane and dull of those types of nicknames. I get that it sounds better in Japanese but...still awful, awful nickname! This might be a technically correct nickname, but it's certainly not a good one and given the sport he's competing in
Some others that don't really translate from Japanese into English very well such as "Lucky Man", one of the nicknames given to Katsushige Kawashima.
The least appropriate however was the nickname used by 4-time world title challenger Hiroyuki Kudaka. The exciting Kudaka was known as the "Sexy Soldier". Unlike some names, where a mistranslation can be used as an explanation of a bad nickname, this was the name Kudaka himself used on his blog in the past. Now, don't get me wrong, he's a decent looking guy, but "Sexy Soldier" is hardly going to make a boxer fear him. In fact it almost sounds like he's going to go pole dancing after his fights or be a stripper or something. A very, very odd, peculiar, and inappropriate nickname."
When it comes to looking back over the 2020 Rookie of the Year there are lot of things that will stand out, such as how delayed the final was due to Covid19 and how the tournament final was fought in an empty Korakuen Hall. It will also, however, be remembered as the launch pad for several careers. Maybe the most promising of those is that of Super Featherweight winner Tsubasa Narai (7-0, 6), who dominated the tournament with 4 KO wins in his 4 bouts. Not only was he dominant through out the tournament, but he also showed genuine star power in a division that has been one of the most popular in Japan over the last 30 years or so.
The unbeaten 21 year old was born in Osaka City in August 1999 and would pick up the sport of boxing as a teenager. Although not a stand out amateur Narai was certainly a fighter with potential and after 26 amateur bouts he had amassed a 17-9 (6) amateur record, and had competed in a high school tournament. He had shown some potential, but he was certainly not a distinguished amateur when he decided to turn professional.
When Narai turned professional he did so as a Super Bantamweight with the RK Kamata Gym, and debuted aged 19, in the 2019 East Japan Rookie of the Year qualifying round. Despite only being in his debut he quickly made a mark, stopping Kento Nakano in 3 rounds to progress in the tournament. Whilst his debut was impressive he was even more destructive in his second bout, stopping Taison Mukaiyama in just 100 seconds to progress further in the tournament.
In Narai's third bout we saw him having the toughest bout of his career as he took on Yuki Yazan, in the East Japan Rookie of the Year quarter finals. Yazan, who would reach the All Japan finals in the 2020 Rookie of the Year, proved to be tough, and durable and survived the power of Narai, but couldn't do enough to take the decision as Narai took his first, and so far only, decision win. Sadly for Narai however he was unable to compete in the semi-final a few weeks later, which would have seen him face Takeshi Takehara.
Have gone so far in the 2019 Rookie of the Year Narai returned in 2020 for that year's edition of the tournament, which was delayed massively due to the Covid19 pandemic. This time he was at Super Featherweight, his young body filling out to that of a good sized 130lb fighter. On his debut at the new weight Narai would get back to scoring stoppages as he stopped the previously unbeaten Tomohiro igarashi in round 4 to progress in the tournament. That was quickly followed by a TKO2 win over the more experienced Hiromichi Komatsu in the East Japan semi final and then another TKO2 win over American born Japanese fighter Dominique Kenshin in the East Japan Rookie of the Year final.
Having done so well in 2019 Narai's success in 2020 saw him go further than he had a year earlier. But there was still the All-Japan final left for him, and that was going to come against West Japan representative Seika Fukuda, a then 5-0 fighter who was taller than Narai and was also looking to move their career forward. On paper this was an excellent looking match ups and one of the standouts of the 2020 All Japan Rookie of the Year finals. In the end however it ended up being a showcase of power and aggression from Narai. After taking a few seconds to get a read on Fukuda we saw Narai rock his man with a big left hook, and within a minute Fukuda was looking like a man who very uncomfortable with Narai's power. He tried to fight back, but Narai was far too strong, and Fukuda would be rocked later in the round and then dropped. He got back to his feet but was dropped again moments later forcing the referee to wave off the bout, despite the fact Fukuda quickly recovered to his feet.
Sadly since the All Japan final, in February, we've not see Narai have his next bout being scheduled, though we're looking forward to it, whoever he faces.
At the moment Narai is very much an unpolished fighter, but he has an exciting style, genuine power, and he likes to fight. He's shown a willingness to stand and trade shots when he needs to, and he's shown to his hard enough to really shake people up when he lands. At just 21 we're not expecting him to be the complete article, but with the RK Gym behind him, they can certainly help him polish some of wilder traits of his. He's someone who perhaps won't be fighting for titles in the next year or two, but someone who certainly has the natural tools to be a major player on the Japanese scene over the next decade or so.
If you like fighters with power Narai is certainly one to keep a close eye on as he develops from crude puncher to future Japanese title contender, and potentially even further.
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.
For this week in our "Who..." series we're going to have a bit of fun, be a little bit silly and stop taking the sport so seriously. We've looked at very factual things so far and really sometimes the sport is more about fun, and being a bit outlandish. With that in mind we're going to focus not on who we would love to see getting an opportunity or getting honoured in the hall of fame or anything like that.
Instead we're going to focus on something very different as we go very much into the world of fiction, and being shallow as hell as the guys behind Asian Boxing bring you the fighter tell you...
"Who... would make for a great movie villain?"
Before we get on to the answers, the guys have been told to select only Asian fighters, and by "villain" they can also include henchmen.
Lee - "Ok I'm going to pick someone based on how they looked in their prime, rather than how they look now. With that in mind, my selection is In Chul Baek.
Baek, to me, has the look of a heavy in some kind of a gangster movie. The old, grizzled veteran, who comes in to sort out the good guys who think they can get their hands on the boss. Of course he can also back it up with frightening power.
To me he always looked "rough and tough" and looked like he could hold his own in a street fight if needed. But also looked like he could hold his anger if he needed to. Of course we also know he liked to drink. A lot. And that would also make him great as a right hand man in a gangster movie.
The only issue I have with Baek as a villain, is that he was a bit small. But dress him in a suit, get him to be super quiet, and let be the ace in the hole for when he needs to step in and beat up the do gooders, or when ever his boss just wanted someone to have a good beating."
Takahiro - "A good villain has to look rough, look like he can handle himself, and knows how to fight. He also has to be bigger than most guys around him, and like he could kick anyones ass. For me the idea fighter for that task is former Japanese Heavyweight title contender Kotatsu Takehara.
At 6'1"he is much taller than most Japanese men, he is no pretty boy with a weathered and weary face, and although he's a very nice guy he looks very scary. A very intimidating man.
If I am looking for a movie henchman, or a man baddie, I would very much pick Takehara. He was a man who looked like he would batter people if they irritated him in the slightest and had a naturally angry look on his face."
Scott - "When a fighter is known as "Death Mask" it seems like we have an easy choice for this question. Former Thai great Veeraphol Sahaprom is a very obvious answer. He wasn't the biggest man, or the toughest man out there, but he already had the moniker, and had those cold steely eyes, with an emotionless face. If I could cast him he would be the emotionless hitman, shooting people in the back of the head then moving on.
Unlike the other guys mentioned he wouldn't be intimidating for his size or his looks necessarily, but I suspect the emotionless face of his would make him such a good movie hitman.
Maybe, as a sidekick, Veeraphol could have Rolando Navarrete alongside him. The "Bad Boy from Dadiangas" could be the wild and reckless one, causing trouble that Veeraphol needs to tidy up in his merciless way."
When it comes to the most well known promotional stables in Japan there is no one that matches Teiken, the stable that has dominated Japanese boxing, especially in recent years thanks to the relative collapse of main rival Kyoei. One of the many things that has helped make Teiken standout is their ability to attract some of the best talent in Japan, and many of the top amateurs from East Japan end up turning professional with the gym when they finally hang up their vest and begin to fight for pay.
Included in those former amateur standouts is Junya Shimada (0-0), who makes his debut later this week and is the focus of this week's "Introducing", as we flag him as one to pay attention to ahead of his May 6th debut against Shigeotshi Kotari.
The allure of Teiken really was seen in 2020, despite the pandemic, as the gym snapped up the signatures of several standout amateur fighters. They included Kenji Fujita, who we saw debut recently, Subaru Murata, who's debut is expected to come in the near future, and Shimada, who may be the mover over-looked of the recent Teiken signees.
Born in Kyoto in March 1998 the 23 year old Shimada was a genuinely top tier amateur, who not only had success at home, but also competed internationally whilst compiling a very impressive 58-23 record in the unpaid ranks.
Shimada began boxing at the Kokoku High school, in Osaka and continued to fight through his education, as he also competed during his time at Komazawa University.
Although the full details of Shimada's 81 fight career are unclear there are some details we know, including the fact he twice came third in notable national tournaments, including the 2017 Japanese National Sport Festival, where he was beaten by Ryuji Kanaka in the semi finals. The other semi-finalists there were Rentaro Kimura, the eventual winner, and the aforementioned Kenji Fujita, showing just how deep that tournament was.
More is known about how Shimada's 2018 went, with him fighting in a number of notable tournaments. They included the 2018 World University Championships in Elista, Russia. Sadly he was eliminated in the second round, by eventual silver medal winner Gabil Mamedov. Just weeks later he lost in the semi-final of the Japanese National Sports Festival in Ehime, losing to Kenji Fujita. He also competed at the 2018 Japanese National Championships, reaching the last 8 before losing to Taiga Imanaga.
Sadly for Shimada he was regularly in one of, if not the, deepest division domestically. For example the 2018 National championships saw the likes of Arashi Morisaka, Rentaro Kimura, Kenji Fujita and Ryosuke Nishida all in the final 8, along with Shimada himself. He was also younger than many of those other well established names, who had more experience than the young, but promising Shimada.
Despite not yet fighting as a professional there is a lot of expectation on Shimada and that's with good reason. He looked damn good as an amateur.
This can be seen in footage of Shimada in action, where he looked really quick, very sharp, had lovely light footwork and despite being an amateur also seemed to show the ability to target the body, something that many amateurs miss out on. His amateur record may not have blown many away, but it was clear, watching him, that he had the tools to be a major success. Had he chose to stay in the unpaid ranks major success would have come to him, sooner or later, it was too obvious that he had the tools to be a very good amateur.
Thankfully for us Shimada didn't stick around the amateurs for too long and instead turned professional, likely realising his style was more suited to the professional ranks. He looked like the type of fighter who wouldn't have any issues at all in switching from the amateurs to the pros.
Although we were impressed by how Shimada looked as an amateur there are areas to work on, and things we want to see him prove in the professional ranks. We never really saw him being given a chin check, which we'll certainly see in the pros, and we never really saw him show much power, though of course amateur gloves are much more padded and "safe" than the gloves used in professional boxing. There are also, of course, questions about stamina and pacing, the same questions that we need to ask whenever a fighter goes from amateur to professional. With Teiken behind him however we expect him to have answered some of those questions in the gym, hence him being matched with another former amateur standout on debut, rather than taking on a limited, low level, domestic fighter.
Shimada passed his B license test last September he explained what he felt in regards to his career, and stated "I'm finally on the starting line. I'm happy. My dream (to become the world champion) has changed to my goal. I feel that the real game is about to begin."
For those wanting to see what the fuss is about we've included Shimada's 2018 amateur bout with Jinu Ri below, thanks to the brilliant Sakana 1976 for filming and uploading the bout. If you're a fan of amateur boxing he is well and truly worth subscribing too
We're kicking off a new month and as we always do we get the chance to go back and look at some of the best, most unique, and most interesting names in Asian boxing history. This week we're going to leave our typical stomping ground, of Indonesia, along and focus on Japan, with 5 names from Japan. Included this week a Phantom, two former champions, someone who is very honest and some one who is new!
Attack Harada (23-29-4, 4)
We begin with a former champion as we look at Takeo Harada, better known by his fighting name of "Attack Harada", who fought from 1965 to 1976 and achieved a lot more than many fighters in this series. In fact Harada did a lot more than most fighters, full stop, during his 56 fight career. He struggled early on, debuting at the age of 17, but would go on to win the Japanese Super Bantamweight title in in 1970, dethroning Kuwashi Shimizu. Sadly his reign lasted just a few months, and he failed in 2 subsequent attempts to reclaim the title. Incidentally he also fought internationally, travelling to Thailand, Philippines, South Korea Guam and the US. Sadly despite his name he lacked stopping power, though was in some real battles during his time in the ring.
Snappy Asano (31-11-8, 1)
We mentioned Attack Harada failed in two attempts to reclaim the Japanese Super Bantamweight title, one of those actually came against another man making his way on to this list. Snappy Asano, born Eiichi Asano, was a fighter who fought from 1966 to 1974 and also won the Japanese title at 122lbs. He went on to hold the belt for 9 months, recording 2 successful defenses. As well as holding the Japanese title Snappy also fought for the OPBF title, earned a draw with the legendary Masao Oba, another draw with Chartchai Chionoi, in Thailand, and shared the ring with Venice Borkhorsor. Sadly Snap lacked the bite needed to make life easier, scoring just a single stoppage in his 50 fight career.
Sincere Inoue (3-1, 1)
The name "Inoue" has become one of the most notable in Japanese boxing in recent years thanks to Naoya Inoue, his brother Takuma Inoue and the unrelated Takeshi Inoue. Before the current wave of Inoue's there was the Sincere Inoue, a Japanese fight from the 1970's and 1980's. Sadly Inoue's record appears to be an incomplete on boxrec, though we're not sure what his complete one would be. What is known is that he faced future Japanese Lightweight champion Cheyenne Yamamoto in 1982, in the only loss Boxrec has for him. We are, very confident his record is wrong, due to him having a 4 year gap and "beginning" his career in an 8 rounder, but sadly details of Sincere are limited. Hopefully he'll be honest enough to update boxrec one day!
Phantom Ogawa (1-3-1)
Another man who's record is probably incomplete is Phantom Ogawa, who's Boxrec record of 1-3-1 run from 1979 to 1981. Strange from his 5 recorded bouts 3 of them are with the aforementioned Cheyenne Yamamoto, who he reportedly went 1-1-1 against. As well as the trilogy with Yamamoto it's worth noting he also clashed with Masaharu Owada, a future Japanese Middleweight champion. Sadly it's unlikely we'll ever see much footage of Phantom.
New Micky Yoshinobu (2-6, 1)
To finish this month's names article we look at a more recent fighter, in fact one who debuted in 2002 and last fought in 2010. That is Yoshinobu Murata, who was also known as Micky Yoshinobu, and New Micky Yoshinobu. Likely when they found the Old Micky Yoshinobu. Yoshinobu never got beyond fighting in 4 rounders during his career but we do absolutely love his final name. Interestingly his record does have some big time gapes and potentially, some missing bouts on his record, though we suspect his record is pretty accurate in fairness.
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