One thing about boxing being such a global sport is the misconceptions that fight fans around the world have of other regions and countries. Sometimes this is based on a one off example, that people use to assume is always the case, other times it's based on a lie repeated so often that it becomes accepted as truth to an audience who don't feel the urge to check for themselves.
Whatever the reason, we all make have our own wrong views on things, and in many cases people just haven't take the effort to correct us. In fact in a lot of cases the misconceptions might be repeated by those who perhaps should know better, and should know to correct us.
With that in mind we want to expose 5 misconceptions of Japanese boxing today, with these conceptions often being parroted by fans.
1- The fans are super quiet
We'll start with one of the big ones, and one of the most parroted misconceptions about Japanese boxing, and that's the idea that Japanese fans are "quiet" and that the atmosphere of Japanese fights is poor. This is something that has really been repeated ad infinitum since the early 1990's, when the Japanese fans were quiet for the Mike Tyson Vs Buster Douglas bout at the Tokyo Dome.
Interestingly watching the Japanese version of the fight, rather the HBO broadcast, does make it clear the crowd were noisier than they seemed. They weren't raucous but they weren't particularly silent either, at least not in the way the HBO coverage of the fight made out, and they often roared and appreciation at big shots being landed, particularly in round 8, when Tyson was rocked before coming back and dropping Douglas. It should also be noted however that this wasn't a typical fight for Japan. This was more of a status fight, much like many fights featuring Floyd Mayweather later in his career. It was an event that appealed as much to business men, as boxing fans. It was also not a bout where they had a dog in the fight.
Now we'll accept the Japanese fans aren't the loudest out there, but for a bout they are behind, and a bout where they have a connection with the fighters they are incredibly loud. For example take this 2019 Japanese Middleweight title bout between Kazuto Takesako and Shuji Kato, where they are loud, cheering, applauding, as early as the first minute. They appreciate intense action, big shots, determination and clean punching. When they see that they respond with their noise.
Yes British and Polish fans are louder, but don't live with the misconception that Japanese fans don't make noise. They do. At least they did before the sport returned with mandatory masks, and rules on them to not cheer due to Covid19. Yes there is a sense of respect shown in some events, but the fans happily lose their shit when they have a reason to!
2-Everyone Fights on New Year's Eve / Loads of fights on NYE
This is one of the most interesting misconceptions as it's not just fans but also the media that make it, and repeat it. And it's one we actually understand, to some extent. However it is very wrong to assume every big fighter in Japan fights on New Year's Eve.
What is true is that many top fighters in the country fight in the last part of the year, but they are usually spread out through November and December, and it's rare, especially now, to get more than 1 card on New Year's Eve.
The idea that fighters like Naoya Inoue, Kenshiro Teraji and Ryota Murata fight on New Year's Eve are very much misconception. None of that trio have ever fought on New Year's Eve. Though all three men have fought in late December.
The only TV channel that currently does boxing on December 31st is TBS, and if you want to be technical its affiliates. Fuji TV, who have deals with Inoue, Murata, Kenshiro and others, show RIZIN on New Year's Eve.
As a result the only fighters who currently fight on New Year's Eve, at least at the highest level, are TBS fighters, such as Kazuto Ioka and Kosei Tanaka.
Part of the reason for this mistake is that Fuji TV have held an end of year show in December, thought not on New Year's Eve, the last few years. And in the past TV Tokyo used to hold them, usually headlined by Takashi Uchiyama. TV Tokyo however have dropped boxing in recent years, leaving TBS, and affiliates, as the only show in town on New Year's Eve.
If you want to check back you can see this quite clearly. Since 2017 there has only been 1 card a year on New Year's Eve shown to a Japanese audience, including the 2018 card from Macao headlined by Kazuto Ioka Vs Donnie Nietes
3-Japanese champions don't want to travel
We often hear that Japanese champions want to stay at home, and keep titles hostage . Whilst financially it can, for a number of fighters, make sense for them to do that it typically isn't true, and many top Japanese fighters are open to travelling. In fact we've seen Naoya Inoue do it a number of times recently, and we also saw fighters like Toshiki Nishioka, Takashi Miura, Kohei Kono, Ryota Murata, Sho Kimura, Tomoki Kameda and Masayuki Ito travel as champions in just the last few years.
That's along with the fact fighters like Shinsuke Yamanaka, Takashi Uchiyama and Hozumi Hasegawa all wanted to fight abroad in world title fights in the last decade or so. That's almost all the notable names of the last decade, barring currently active fighters.
The problem is often the fact that financially it makes more sense to fight in Japan, especially at the lower weights. There aren't many countries that can draw a TV figure and gate for a fight in the lower weights, and many discussions for fights in the US for top Japanese fighters just end up failing for whatever reason. We often see Japanese fighters openly discuss wanting to fight in the US, particularly Vegas. Unfortunately it takes two to tango, and it's not that common that the US, or Europe, have a big enough draw at Minimumweight, Light Flyweight, Super Flyweight or Bantamweight to have the Western promoters want to pay for a top Japanese fighter to come over.
Just to add to this is the fact that in the last few days we've seen recently crowned WBO Flyweight champion Junto Nakatani state that he wants to fight abroad. The Japanese fighters want to travel. They want to improve their international standing and profile.
Similarly we see the same thing with some Japanese musicians, notably Hyde, from L'arc en Ciel, who explained why he wanted to break America in a fantastic video with Chris Broad from Abroad in Japan, which can be seen here if you're interested in Japanese rock music.
4-No one knows who these guys are
One thing we hear from Western fans is that "no one knows who that even is", as if being known in the West is all that it comes down to. Japan is the 11th most populated country in the world. If a fighter is known by just 10% of Japan, then they are known by around 12,000,000 people, that's more than the entire population of Belgium, or Greece or the Czechia, or similar to the entire population of Denmark and Finland added together. That's a huge number of people just "knowing" who you are.
Fair enough, the easy response to that is that "nobody watches them guys", but with big bouts often being on free TV the viewing figures for Japanese fighters often end up being multiples of what fighters getting in the US. A bout that has good viewing figures in the US draws between 1-2 million on TV, for many big bouts in Japan, a country around 1/3 the population of the US, that figure would be seen as massively disappointing.
The reality is that the top fighters in Japan are seen by more people than the top fighters in the US. Sure they are Japanese fans watching them and not American, or European fans, but their fan bases are still large. And thankfully in the last few years we have started to see more and more Western fans show an interesting in the fighters from the Land of the Rising sun. We've seen promoters show a growing interest as well. Now we just need TV companies to begin to show more interest, and start picking up more Japanese shows, to help increase fighters profiles in the West.
One thing that some fans, probably not those reading this in fairness, need to realise is that the fighters have a lot of fans following their top guys in the East, even if you maybe haven't seen them yet.
5-Japanese judging is fair
One of the most common comments about Japanese judging is that they are the fairest out there. Technically that might be true, but in reality it's hard to know for sure. The key reason this is a misconception however is the fact most fans aren't aware that the judging for most world title bouts in Japan is due the judges rarely being from Japan. In fact most world title fights have no Japanese judges involved.
In the 1990's Japan had a spate of awful judging decisions favouring their fighters, this was particularly notable in Nagoya and Osaka. There used to be a joke that when a champion was defending his title in Nagoya he started 3 rounds up at the first bell. Suggesting that they only needed to win 4 of 12 rounds to win a fight.
Japanese fans are very fair, mostly positive, and mostly open minded. They are happy to slam on their fighters if they feel something isn't fair and just. We saw it notable with Koki Kameda bouts. As a result the reputation they had been getting for dodgy decisions hurt them, and harmed the view of the Japan Boxing Commission (JBC).
Now a days the reputation for judging in Japan is very, very different. Part of that is the fairness aspect of Japanese boxing, but a bigger part is the fact that the country rarely uses it's judges for the biggest bouts, unless the bout features two Japanese fighters. As a result judges are typically all from neutral countries. There is no hiding behind the judges, that may or may not know the fighter and their team, because the judges are imported and completely neutral. They are there to score the bout, not pull favour for the promoter, fighter or TV company. They aren't there to bail out a fighter after a bad performance.
As we write this Naoya Inoue has only had Japanese judges work 1 of his title bouts, that was his 2016 clash with Kohei Kono. Likewise Kosei Tanaka has only had a Japanese judge in 1 of his world title bouts, against Ryoichi Taguchi, even his bout with Sho Kimura had 3 neutral judges. Kazuto Ioka is the same, with a Japanese judge only working his bout with Akira Yaegashi back in 2012.
Whilst Japanese judging might be fair, the judging of their biggest bouts is essentially outsourced for fairness. The world title bouts, the biggest bouts, have imported judges. Maybe world boxing would be better served by doing something similar, importing officials with no local ties. No reason to favour someone, and no accusations of bias. It would certainly help clean up judging in regions like the UK, Texas and Nevada, where accusations of bias, whether they are substantiated or not, have persisted in recent years.
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).