We continue to try to shine a light on the unheralded, and often little spoken about, Asian fighters of the past as we continue our 5 Midweek Facts series. This time we turned our attention to a former OPBF Flyweight champion who we don't think many will have heard of, yet was a regional champion and was said to be on the verge of a world title fight.
The man in question is Masaharu Naganawa (12-1-2, 2), a fighter who fought from 2003 to 2007 and later set up a boxing fitness gym. Sadly his career was a short one but one that showed what a technically excellent boxer he was, before it came to an end.
1-Prior to joining a boxing gym Naganawa had hoped to become a soccer player in the J League.
2-As a professional Naganawa fought of the the Gifu Yokozeki gym, where he became their first OPBF champion thanks to a decision win over Jojo Bardon in August 2007. That win not only saw Naganawa claiming the OPBF Flyweight title but also avenging his sole career defeat. Interestingly from his 15 bout career he beat all his opponents apart form Yuki Sano, who he fought to a draw with in 2004
3-We mentioned in the introduction that Naganawa's career was a short one. That was sadly due to a retinal detachment that forced him to retire at the age of 23 and just after his career defining win.The injury forced him to cancel a scheduled bout with Masafumi Okubo in April 2008.
4-Sticking on the subject of Naganawa's retirement, he had, supposedly, been on the very of a WBC world title fight with Daisuke Naito. The plan had been for the two to clash in August 2008, if Naganawa had beaten Okubo and Naito had retained his title against Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. Whilst Naito did retain Naganawa's retirement ended the plans of the bout.
5-Following his retirement from the sport as an active fighter Naganawa has set up the Fitness Boxing Gym Minerva in Gifu Prefecture. The gym is typically open every day of the week, other than Thursday and Sunday. Interestingly the gym claims to have more female members than male ones,
As we continue to await live boxing's eventual return we also continue our 5 Midweek Facts series. This week it's the turn of fighter turn promoter Shosei Nitta (22-9-2, 16) who fought from 1987 to 1997. Although he wasn't a star during his in ring career he is a significant figure in Japanese boxing, especially now a days, and he's someone who fans perhaps should be more aware of than they are. That's despite the fact he's not fought in well over 20 years!
Nitta has really done everything related to boxing. He may not have been a major success but he's fought, run a successful gym and is now a major player behind scenes in Japanese boxing
1-Nitta began his boxing career as a fighter at the Kaneko Boxing Gym, which was established in 1980. Although the Kaneko gym isn't a huge one it is a pretty notable one and he would be their 3rd fighter to win an OPBF title, following Eijiro Murata and Kevin Palmer.
2-Outside of the ring Nitta is a smart guy and he graduated from the Yokohama National University, which attracted attention early in his career, as very few boxers are university graduates. Later in his career he would become the first OPBF champion to have graduated from a national university.
3-In 1997 Nitta lost the OPBF Bantamweight title to In Shik Go and retired from the sport. In retirement he moved to the US, though returned to Japan in 1999 and began working for what was then Kenwood, the audio equipment company.
4-In 2003 Nitta set up the Nitta Boxing Gym, which was then renamed the Kawasaki Nitta Boxing Gym in 2010. That's the gym that has produced the likes of Masayuki Kuroda, Gaku Takahashi and Gakuya Furuhashi. Interestingly those 3 won Rookie of the Year in consecutive years, with Kuroda in 2006, Takahashi in 2007 and Furuhashi in 2008. In regards to Rookie of the Year Mr Nitta himself was beaten in the 1988 East Japan Rookie of the Year final by Mitsumasa Ikeda, who lost in the All Japan final to Katsuya Onizuka.
5-Nitta is one of the main figures behind the campaign to get justice for Iwao Hakamada and has also helped expand boxing in Vietnam. He has served as both the director and secretary general of the JPBA and has been responsible for boxing's growing influence in community in Japan, with the Kawasaki Nitta Gym fighters working hard to help the local community in Kawasaki.
With their being no live fights at the moment we've spent some time recently exploring the lesser talked about pre-war boxing scene. In the US pre-war boxing was big news, with the rise of Joe Louis being particularly notable, and the hugely popular Jack Dempsey. Over in Asia there wasn't much worthy of major attention, and many of the top Asian fighters ended up in the US anyway. However that doesn't mean there weren't things happening in Asia, particularly in Japan which had a boxing scene that was very different to what it is today.
One of the early names of note was Nobuo Kobayashi (6-4-2, 2), who had a very short career, but one that was notable for a number of reasons, as we'll explore in this weeks "5 Midweek Facts" article.
1-When Kobayashi was born in 1910 the place he was born was under Japanese rule. Now Wonsan is part of what is North Korea, a country that didn't even exist until after Kobayashi passed away.
2-Kobayashi was twice crowned the Japanese National Lightweight champion. The first of those came at the 1929 Meiji Shrine Games, whilst the other reign began in 1930 , when he beat Eiji Takahashi. This would actually end up being his last in ring victory. He is regarded as the 5th and 6th Japanese Lightweight champion of the pre-war era.
3-Kobayashi was managed by Teiken. Yes Teiken is that old that it operated back in the 1930's, albeit in a very different form to how it operates now a days.
4-In June 1930 Kobayashi lost the Japanese title to a Filipino! He was beaten by Joe Sacramento, who dethroned Kobayashi in his first defense. Interestingly Sacramento had twice shared the ring with one of the big Filipino pre-ward fighters, Ceferino Garcia, who famously fought Henry Armstrong among others.
5-Sadly Kobayashi was the first boxer to die in Japan from injuries suffered in the ring. He passed away following a 1930 loss to Filipino Bobby Wills. This bout took place in a ring set up at the Koshien tennis court in Nishinomiya and saw Kobayashi passing away aged just 20 years old.
One of the fun things about these articles for us, the Asian Boxing Team, is the fact we get to learn about fighters we didn't know anything about. Today we had have one such fighter as we talk about Byung Yong Min (4-2, 4), in our latest 5 Midweek Facts piece.
We'll admit we really didn't know anything at all about Min when were given his name, but in reality we wish we had known something about Min, who had a remarkably short career but a very notable one. He only fought 6 times, never heard the final bell of a fight, either stopping his opponent or being stopped in every bout. His career was so short he only managed 35 rounds as a professional, but they were exciting rounds!
1-Min was part of the sensational Korean team at the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul. The Korean team took all 12 gold medals, with Min beating Syed Hussein Shah of Pakistan in the final of the 81KG division. That is the same Syed Hussein Shah who would pick up an Olympic bronze medal in 1988, and become a major boxing figure in his homeland.
2-Despite his impressive showing at the Asian Games, and in the 1985 and 1987 Asian Championships, Min failed to make it to the national team for the 1988 Olympics.
3-In his professional debut, in 1989, Min faced 39 fight Australian veteran Kevin Wagstaff. Although Wagstaff was no world beater he was a former OPBF Cruiserwieght champion and a southpaw boasting a 24-12-3 (11) record. Min would stop Wagstaff in 2 rounds. Interestingly, albeit as an aside, Wagstaff's very next bout saw him fighting to a draw with Matthew Saad Muhammad.
4-In just his second professional bout Min claimed the OPBF Light Heavyweight title, beating Fred Toleafoa for the previously vacant title. This title win came impressively early in Min's career, just months after his debut.
5-From what we could find every one of Min's bouts was televised live on MBC in South Korea. Due to his amateur career and ambitions opponents he was one of the last staples of MBC's live coverage of the sport.
Another week is about to go by without fights so we again turn to our new "5 Midweek Facts" series to look at another fighter and find out 5 things about them that fans may not be aware of. Again this isn't the longer weekend series, where we look at 10 facts on a Sunday, but we also are looking at less well known fighters, as we try to shine a light on a regional or national level fighter.
Today's fighter for focus is former Japanese Light Flyweight champion Munetsugu Kayo (20-3-3, 10).
1-At the age of 2 Kayo suffered from Perthes disease, which resulted in him spending significant time away from his family. He did explain, in an interview in 2019, that at the time he was only able to stay at home for one night at weekends due to the disease.
2-Kayo was managed by the Shirai Gushiken Sports Gym, the gym that was set up by Light Flyweight great Yoko Gushiken. He was trained at the gym by George Nogi, who ended his career with a reported record of 3-0 (1), however boxrec has Nogi with an incomplete record of 1-0.
3-As an amateur Kayo was actually a decent fighter and ran up a solid 36-9 (16) amateur record. During that time he was trained by the legendary Shinkichi Kaneshiro, who also trained Puma Toguchi, Satoshi Shingaki and Tsuyoshi Hamada when they were amateurs.
4-In 2006 Kayo fought two Thai's, Fahkanong Singdongthai and Wandee Singwancha in title bouts. Strangely both Thai's failed to make weight for the bouts. Kayo would stop Fahkanong, to retain the OPBF Light Flyweight title, but lose to Wandee in a bout for the WBC "interim" Light Flyweight title.
5-Kayo's reign as the Japanese Lightweight champion was kind of odd. He managed 5 defenses, from his title win on March 15th 2007 to his title loss in 2009 to Ryo Miyazaki. On paper that doesn't sound too notable, but 3 of his defenses were technical draws and his title loss was also a technical decision. So, in his 7 Japanese title bouts, his title win, 5 defenses and title loss, he had 4 bouts ending in technical decisions.
We're assuming those reading this have clicked because they don't know who Anthony Villanueva is, or rather was. That's a shame as he holds a really important place in boxing history, and is a figure who deserves a lot more attention than he gets.
Whilst Villanueva didn't make much of an impact in the professional ranks he was a major figure for Filipino amateur boxing. He holds the distinction as the second ever Filipino fighter to win an Olympic medal, winning a silver medal at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, and there was a feeling he deserved the gold medal following a controversial loss to Stanislav Stepashkin.
1-Having began this by mentioning that Villanueva was the second Filipino boxer to win an Olympic medal it's worth beginning these facts by looking at who was first. That was his father José Villanueva, who won bronze at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. He was also the first Filipino to bring home an Olympic silver medal, in any sport.
2-Despite Villanueva's amateur success, and it's worth noting that he won his medal as a teenager, his professional career never really got going. He would fight 5 times as a professional, and go 1-3-0-1. Notably his single professional win, a majority decision over Shigeo Nirasawa, was deemed incredibly controversial it's self.
3-As well as his boxing career Villanueva took part in a number of other activities. These included acting. IMDB have him listed as having 2 acting credits, though it appears that his IMDB is incomplete and sources report he was in several other things, with reports being that he featured in 5 movies.
4-Following his boxing and acting careers Villanueva would take up a number of jobs. These included being a security guard at the Philippine consulate in New York.
5-Prior to passing away in 2014 Villanueva was pretty much ridden for the last 2 years of his life following multiple medical issues. He reportedly had multiple strokes and heart attacks, and was in dire financial problems. In the years before his passing he had attempted to sell his Olympic medal to have some funds.
Due to the lack of action going on in the ring right now, we've decided we need to put some extra mini articles out. As a result we've decided to do a mid-week spin off of our Sunday Series "10 facts you probably didn't know...". Rather than 10 facts however we're going to take a lesser known fighter and look at just 5 facts.
Today we'll give that treatment to former world title challenger Trash Nakanuma (27-6, 12), a man who went on to win the Japanese and OPBF Flyweight titles and had a decent, though often over-looked career. It spanned from 1993, when he was just 18 years old, to 2006 and saw him take on a number of world class fighters.
1-A rather obvious one to start with. He wasn't born "Trash", instead his birth name was Masaki Nakanuma. Like many from the Internation Boxing Gym however he took on a different surname, which was a word that had meaning in English. Other examples of this include Royal Kobayashi, Leopard Tamakuma, Jackal Maruyama and Crusher Miura.
2-Nakanuma's parents when he was just 1 year old and fell under the custody of his father. Sadly his father was certainly not a great parent, being a violent, drunk gambler. Nakanuma's father died when he was 17. This rough upbringing helped, in some ways, to get Nakanuma into boxing, and vowing to reach the top of the sport for his father and his sister, who had helped support Nakanuma's life.
3-In 1997 Nakanuma was was hospitalised with meningitis. He had a high temperature and, from reports in Japan, came incredibly close to dying. Unsurprisingly, given such a serious issue outside of the ring, Nakanuma's career was put on hold and it was almost 2 years before his next bout, in 1999.
4-Oddly half of Tamakuma's career defeats came in the space of 9 months, and in successfully more significant title bouts. He lost the Japanese Flyweight title in his second bout against Takefumi Sakata in April 2003, lost an OPBF title bout against Noriyuki Komatsu in August 2003 then lost in a WBC Flyweight title bout in January 2004. Interestingly he had previously beaten Sakata, in their first clash, and would later avenge the loss to Komatsu in 2004.
5-In a "Best I Faced" piece with Anson Wainwright for Ring TV Pongsaklek Wonjongkam stated that Nakanuma was the strongest fighter he faced during his career. Given Wonjongkam went in with a real who's who of who from the Flyweight division during his long career this is a huge compliment to how physically strong the Japanese fighter was. Even more impressive given his past, with the medical issue and situation with his father.
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).