When we discuss the greatest Japanese boxers of all time one man who seemingly gets over-looked, a lot, is Kuniaki Shibata (47-6-3, 25). The excellent former fighter fought from 1965 to 1977, carved out a brilliant career, won multiple world titles, was dubbed a genius but now, around 45 years after his last bout, is often over-looked. Unlike many top Japanese fighters he focused on skills, counter punching, and ring craft, as opposed to power, strength and incredibly toughness. He worked around his flaws, including a suspect chin, to have a tremendous career and be one of the earliest Japanese world champions.
Although often forgotten we can't ignore Shibata and today we bring you 10 facts you probably didn't know about... Kuniaki Shibata
1-Shibata was the 1965 All Japan Rookie of the Year winner at Super Bantamweight, beating Masachika Tokutome in the final.
2-Although the Yonekura gym is one of the most legendary in Japan, with several world champions coming from the gym before it closed it's doors in 2017, what's often forgotten is that Shibata was it's first world champion. Shibata was later followed by Guts Ishimatsu, Shigeo Nakajima, Hideyuki Ohashi and Hiroshi Kawashima.
3-Various stories from Japan state that whilst Shibata was seen as a brilliant talent, and a boxing genius he was also seen as a rather boring individual with the media preferring to focus on his Yonekura Gym stablemate Guts Ishimatsu, who was much more an out-of-the ring entertainer and much, much more charismatic.
4-Shibata was the 9th world champion from Japan. He was also the first 3-time world champion from the country and the second 2-division world champion, following the legendary Fighting Harada.
5-Rather amazingly Shibata was the Japanese fighter to win world titles outside of Japan. Doing so in 1970 when he upset the legendary Vicente Saldivar in Mexico. More impressively he is also the only Japanese fighter to achieve that feat twice, having also won the WBA Super Featherweight title in 1973 when he out-boxed Ben Villaflor in the US
6-During his in ring career Shibata was awarded annual awards on 5 different occasions. In 1967 he won the New Comer award, in 1970 he was awarded the Distinguished Service award, in 1973 and 1975 he won the Fighting Spirit award and in 1974 he won the Best Fighter award,
7On August 7th 1974 Shibata got married in LA, with the wedding later airing on Fuji TV's "Love Love Show". Around the time of the marriage Shibata was criticised in in the Japanese press, with women said to weaken boxers. His bout after getting married saw him defeat Ramiro Bolanos in October 1974, with Bolanos, from Ecuador, being promised a car and a house from then Ecuadorian President, Guillermo Rodríguez Lara, if he won. Sadly for Bolanos he was stopped by Shibata in the 15th round
8-Following Shibata's retirement he would go on to remain at the Yonekura gym as a trainer, passing on his ring skills and knowledge to the next generation of talent at the gym.
9-In 2020 Shibata was one of the fighters who took part in a Nikkan Sports series looking as fighters favourite knockouts. Shibata's choice for the series was Hiroyuki Ebihara's KO of Pong Kingpetch in 1963. Shibata would later ask Ebihara about the shot whilst the two played golf together, and Ebihara seemed to suggest that it was a shot that came from experience, rather than aiming for the KO.
10-Mexican fighter Jose Flores adopted the nickname "Shibata" due to Kuniaki Shibata.
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).