During this series we have looked at some real legends of the sport, and we do the same today as we look at Yoshio Shirai, the first Japanese world champion and a man who acted as the hope of light in post war Japan. His career was one of the most remarkable, and his achievements really helped set Japan up to become the Asian boxing powerhouse it would later become.
With Shirai being such an amazing person in the history of the sport we bring you 10 facts you probably didn't know about... Yoshio Shirai, and hopefully help give Shirai and his career some extra attention.
1-According to various reports in Japan Shirai wanted to become a boxer after boxing with a kangaroo at the circus when he was a child. Certainly a different reason to many who became boxers!
2-Shirai was injured in the first world war, and as a result suffered from sciatica. Prior to being injured he had served in the Japanese navy, as a mechanic. This injury almost saw Shirai retiring from the sport, years before he would become a star.
3-For most successful part of his professional career Shirai was trained by American Alvin Robert Cahn, who had no previous boxing training experience and was instead an American scientist working in Japan who convinced Shirai not to retire. The work between the two would see Cahn in still a very scientific approach to boxing in Shirai.
4-Under Cahn's guidance Shirai would win both the Japanese Flyweight and Bantamweight titles, and would defend both belts, switching between the two weights before settling on the Flyweight division.
5-Shirai would become a world champion on May 19th 1952 by beating Filipino Dado Marino for the Flyweight title. What's not so well remembered is that this was actually the third meeting between the two men in less than a year. Marino had defeated Shirai in May 1951, taking a split decision in front of 35,000 fans, with Shirai avenging that defeat in December 1951, in Hawaii. Their rubber match would see Shirai winning the title, becoming the first Japanese world champion. The two would then meet 6 months later, with Shirai beating Marino in his first defense, to close the series 3-1. in 2010 the anniversary of this win was celebrated with a special "Boxing Day" event in Japan.
6-Shirai is the only Japanese world champion to have not officially belonged to a gym under the JBC gym system when he won the title. Instead he was training under Cahn, who essentially had an exclusive contract with him, before the JBC was even set up. He was exempt from the rules that followed, and no other world champion from Japan has managed to get a similar exemption. As a result he is listed by some as having been "free" or "Shirai gym", which didn't officially exist and was essentially used as a place holder.
7-Shirai's 1955 rematch with Pascaul Perez set a Japanese audience rating record, of 96.1% on NTV, a record that still stands to today. Yeah that number isn't a typo, the bout had almost all of the TV audience of Japan watching. This was acrually the third bout between the two men, who had fought twice in 1954.
8-In 1995 he was made the honorary chairman of the Shirai Gushiken Sports Gym, set up by Yoko Gushiken. His role at the gym was regarded as being minimal, and he was told to keep out of the boxing business after retiring by Cahn, who had described the sport as being a "Monkey business", essentially telling Shirai the business side of boxing was dodgy and to be avoided.
9-The Japan Professional Boxing Association list him as having a record of 44-8-2 (15) with 9 exhibitions. Notably different to Boxrec's record of 46-8-4 (18). The reality is that his record isn't fully known and other sources have him listed at 53-8-4 (22) or 50-9-4 (22), with 9 exhibitions.
10-When Shirai passed away, on December 26th 2003, there had been over 40 other Japanese fighters who had won world titles. Interestingly exactly 7 years after Shirai's death Koki Kameda would claimed the WBA "regular" Bantamweight title, becoming the first Japanese fighter to have claimed world titles in 3 weight classes
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).