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.
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