When it comes to fan friendly fighters from the past 10 years or saw few were as consistently entertaining as former 2-time WBA Super Flyweight champion Kohei Kono (33-12-1, 14), who not only excited fans but also proved that records are for DJ's. Despite ending his career with 12 losses Kono was a 2-time world champion, spent the better part of a decade in the Ring Magazine divisional rankings, competed in 10 world title fights and scored notable wins against the likes of Tepparith Kokietgym, Denkaosan Kaovichit and Koki Kameda.
During a career that ran from 2000 to 2018 Kono achieved an incredible amount, He was the East Japan Rookie of the Year winner, a Japanese champion, a 2-time OPBF champion and a 2-time WBA champion. He faced a genuine who's who, including Nobuo Nashiro, Tomas Rojas, Yota Sato, Tepparith Kokietgym, Liborio Solis, Denkaosan Kaovichit, Koki Kameda, Luis Concepcion, Naoya Inoue and Jason Moloney. He also put on thrillers, not just with some of those guys but also fighters like Teppei Kikui, with the third bout between Kono and Kikui being something really special.
Rather than talking about the obvious, Kono being exciting, we're here today to shine a light on more of Kono's life and career as we share 10 facts you probably didn't know about... Kohei Kono
1-Prior to turning to boxing Kono was interested in track and field, and had actually been part of the track and field club at high school. He switched to boxing after he began to read a book entitled "Become a professional boxer in 6 months". He would later begin boxing at the Watanabe gym in 1999 under the tutelage of Tomoaki Takahashi.
2-Unlike most world champion's Kono's amateur record is not a good one. In fact it's widely reported that he went 2-2 in the unpaid ranks, before turning professional in 2000.
3-Similarly Kono is also among the rather small number of world champions who lost on debut, losing a 4 round decision to Yoshiaki Nitta on November 22nd 2000, in what was an all debutant bout. Following this loss Kono's father changed his views on boxing, and went from not wanting to see his son fighting to positively helping Kohei train, and turned his living room into a practice area.
4-In regards to his professional debut, it came on November 22nd 2000, just a single day before Kono's 20th birthday! Rather oddly it was one of just 3 bouts he had during the month of November. The other's were in 2002 and 2003.
5- In 2013 Kono, alongside Tadashi Yuba, appeared in the music video for Kavka Shishido's track "Kiken na Futari". The two boxers featured in an under-ground fight in the video. The track it's self broke into the top 65 in the Japanese Oricon Singles chart
6-Kono was reportedly very shrewd with money and it wad reported that his living costs, in 2013 and early 2014 was between 20,000 and 30,000 Yen a month. This would have been around $200 to $300 at the time. Kono's then promoter Hitoshi Watanabe explained that Kono doesn't drink alcohol, didn't eat out, and was able to live off just his boxing income at the time. This essentially allowed him to focus on his boxing career, and he gave up the part time job he had had when he won the Japanese national title in 2007.
7-Kono was given two different nicknames, for very different reasons. The most famous of those was "Tough Boy", due to his incredible toughness and durability through his career. The other much less well known, was the "Japanese Pacquiao", which he seemingly adopted for a short time in 2015 after a short training camp with Freddie Roach. The nickname came from his similar looks to Pacquiao and was something he was called by a female employee at a duty free shop when he arrived back home in Japan. Sadly the "Japanese Pacquiao" moniker seemed to be a very, very short lived one.
8- Incidentally Kono was also mistaken for Pacquiao at one of the WBA's General Assembly's, with the two looking incredibly similar at the time.
9-On October 7th 2015 Kono got married. Interestingly his wife was the daughter of well known Japanese folk singer Minami Rambo.
10-When he retired in 2018 he held a press conference with Hitoshi Watanabe and revealed a few interesting details about his career and what he was hoping to do after boxing. During this press conference he explained the best moment of his career was his with Tepparith Kokietgym, the most exciting was his bout with Koki Kameda and that he was planning to take over the Gaienmae Chiropractic Center, which is run by his father.
Bonus fact -
1 - It's often been reported that had Kono lost in his December 2012 bout with Tepparith Kokietgym he would have retired from boxing.
2 - Kono's bout with Koki Kameda is the first, and so far only, time we've had an all-Japanese world title bout on US soil. This was because Kameda, at the time, was unable to secure a license to fight in Japan and was the WBA mandatory for Kono, forcing the bout to be held on neutral territory for both men.
This week's "What a Shock" is one from an historical bout that was a genuinely thrilling bout, but saw the bookies get it very, very wrong... along with a referee who wanted to play his part in an historic occasion.
Kohei Kono (30-8-1, 13) Vs Koki Kameda (33-1, 18)
In 2015 we saw the first ever All-Japanese world title fight to take place in the US, as WBA Super Flyweight champion Kohei Kono travelled over to Chicago to take on mandatory challenger Koki Kameda. The bout was a politically confusing mess, due to the fact Kameda was banned in Japan due to a licensing situation with the Japan Boxing Commission, but was able to box away from home. As a result Kono went on the road, for his first bout away from home.
Coming in to this Kameda was the clear betting favourite, priced at 1/9 to win and become the new champion. He was already a former world champion at Light Flyweight, Flyweight and Bantamweight, albeit only the WBA "regular" champion at Bantamweight. He had been a huge name in Japan, and along with his brothers Daiki and Tomoki the Kameda's had been stars at home. Controversial stars, admittedly, but still big names.
Although he was the favourite Kameda really hadn't looked good in recent bouts. At Bantamweight his struggled against pretty much anyone. His power wasn't enough to keep fighters honest and his work rate lacked. It was however assumed that Super Flyweight was going to be a weight well suited to him, and against Kono it seemed that Kameda had a lot of advantages. Kameda was 28, he was naturally quicker than Kono, he was a southpaw and he was fighting outside of Japan for the 5th time.
Kono on the other hand was a 34 year old dubbed the "Tough Boy", technically Kono was never an outstanding boxer. He was however an excellent fighter, who rugged, had a great work rate and always came to fight. Against movers he struggled, and he could be out boxed, but few were going to win in a rough house fight against him. On paper his style was made for Kameda, who was a good mover with fast hands and a tight guard. Although Kono had 8 losses to his name they had, typically, been at world level and 7 of his 8 losses had come before he had won a world title.
Although he was a gutsy, brave, aggressive fighter, Kono's limitations had long been known about. If you moved, used your feet, and had good speed you should be able to beat him. If you tried to have a tear up with him it was going to be a toss up.
Amazingly Kameda selected to have a war with Kono. From the opening stages the bout was being fought at close quarters and this was a very different type of fight to many of Kameda's bouts at 118lbs, where he sat back. This worked well in the opening round with Kameda's aggression and speed being far too much for Kono through the first 3 minutes. In round 2 however it began to turn around with Kono having the success in a rather dramatic and action packed round. The round saw Kameda land a number of low blows, with Kono going down from a series of them, and being given time to recover. Only seconds after the bout resumed Kono dropped Kameda with a straight right hand down the pipe.
From there on the bout became an all action war, with Kono's pressure forcing the action and dragging Kameda into a brawl. Kameda was deducted 2 points in round 3 for repeated low blows whilst the action continued to heat up due to Kono's pressure.
Referee Celestino Ruiz was really involving himself in the action, but that didn't really change the tempo of the fight, which was dictated by Kono. Not only was he dictating the action but by the start of round 4 Kono was already in a comfortably lead, thanks to the knockdown and the two deductions from Kameda. The momentum of Kono continued to press and pressure and force the fight with Kameda left to try and respond, despite being in a hole.
Round 5 was a really good back and forth round as the two fighters traded shots on the inside. It was a much better round for Kameda than the previous 3, and began a good rally from the Osaka, who also seemed to do enough to take round 6. He had began to find his rhythm, used his hand speed well, tightened his guard and countered well, forcing Kono back at times.
The momentum then swung backward to Kono who won rounds 7 and 8 before being deducted a point himself in round 9 for pushing Kameda down. By then it seemed immaterial to the scoring, Kono was in a comfortable lead and Kameda, who had scored 1 stoppage in his last 6, needed a KO...against a man who had never been stopped. Instead of Kameda going for the stoppage we actually saw Kono dominate after his deduction in round 9, our working, out punching and out battling Kameda in the championship rounds.
With the bout going the distance Kono ended up taking a unanimous decision, with scores of 116-108, 115-109 and 113-111, a score that is truly appalling.
With the win Kono not only retained the WBA Super Flyweight title, scoring the second of 3 successful defenses during the ring, scored a major betting upset, and also sent Kameda into retirement. Kameda did continue to be involved in the sport, and held some exhibition style events including one against Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, but never again fought as a professional.
As for Kono he went 2-4 after this bout, losing to the likes of Naoya Inoue, who stopped him in 6, Rex Tso, in an under-rated classic, and Jason Moloney, before retiring with a 33-12-1 (14) record.
The bout, although a fantastic 12 round battle fought at an excellent pace on the inside, was marred by a referee who didn't speak the same language as either fighter. He also tried to over-control the fight, which probably actually needed a Japanese referee, for both language issues and styles issue with Japanese fighters typically allowing more inside work than Western referees. Despite that no one can take away a career defining for Kono and a bout that was a massive upset.
One thing we often think about when we do these articles is whether or not fans will realise just how big some of the shocks were. Sometimes we know they will, the records and reputations of the fighters involved make it impossible not to see an upset as an upset. Sometimes however the upset is less obvious when we look back over something from the past. That usually happens when the fighter who scores the upset goes on to be better known than the fighter they beat. Today we look at one such example, and in fact this is an example where the supposed favourite was deemed the very clear favourite. They had a world title, they had the momentum, they seemingly had everything going in to the bout. That was except for the fact the under-dog knew their career was over if they lost again here.
December 31st 2012
Ota-City General Gymnasium, Tokyo, Japan
Tepparith Kokietgym (21-2, 13) Vs Kohei Kono (27-7, 10)
In May 2011 Thailand's Tepparith Kokietgym began to make a name for himself, beating Drian Francisco for the WBA "interim" Super Flyweight title. In the months that followed he was promoted to "Regular" champion and in December 2011 he beat Daiki Kameda to make his first defense of that title. That was a solid win for the Thai who then return to Japan 4 months later and stopped "Champion in Recess" Tomonobu Shimizu, to unify the WBA title. That was again a really good win for Tepparith who was starting to build a reputation as an under-rated fighter who was enjoying Japanese rings. That reputation grew further still when he beat 2-time WBA champion Nobuo Nashiro. That was a third straight win against a Japanese fighter in Japan, and saw him being dubbed a Japan Killer.
Not only was Tepparith riding a real hot streak in Japan, and the WBA champion but he had won 18 in a row, having last lost in more than 4 years earlier, in a bout against Suriyan Sor Rungvisai. The 24 year old appeared to be a man with a seriously bright future.
In the opposite corner was Japan's Kohei Kono, who was barely in the WBA's top 10. He was a 32 year old, who had lost in two previous world title fights, including one to Nashiro. He was seen as being beyond his best years, and even at his best he was nothing special, despite being regarded as incredibly durable which lead him to being dubbed the "Tough Boy". With 7 losses form his 34 bouts it seemed like this would be a final shot at the top before retirement, something that seemed almost certain if he lost...again. It wasn't like he was even losing to the best in the world, or that all of his losses had come early in his career either. Whilst he had lost on debut he had also lost 3 of his previous 5 bouts coming into this one, including a loss to the then 2-0 Yohei Tobe.
Of the Japanese fighters involved in world title fights on December 31st 2012, he was the one given the least chance. He was seen as the one true under-dog for the day, with the fantastic Boxmob holding a poll that saw 77% of people favoured Tepparith, 1%going with the draw. The least likely outcome was an early win for Kono, with only 9% of those polled going with that outcome, not a suprise with Kono having just 10 stoppages in 34 bouts.
The first round saw the champion looking to get behind his jab, though to his credit Kono did start fairly fast, and was busy from the off. After a very good opening minute for the Japanese challenger the champion began to settle, landing some solid shots of his own, and took the center of the ring. It was a close and competitive round, but one where the extra class of the champion seemed to do just enough to nick it.
In round 2 we again saw some nice back and forth, but the crisp boxing of the champion, and more consistent approach to his work seemed to again be the difference. Kono wasn't there to lose, but just seemed to be getting caught by the better shots as the skills from the Thai caught the eye. Both offensive and defensively Tepparith just seemed that bit better better than the hungry, and tough, Kono.
Kono continued trying in round 3 and landed some good shots, as he had in every round, but was being out landed and had his head snapped back mid way through the round. He seemed to be working much harder for every moment of success, whilst Tepparith looked calm, relaxed, and almost like he was doing things effortlessly. The last shots in the exchanges seemed to come from the Thai who looked in control, for the most part.
Then we get to round 4. As if out of no where Kono managed to find some really clean and effective shots. Just seconds into the round he landed a jab and forced Tepparith back, a left hook on the jaw landed not long afterwards then a right hand. The a body shot. He was putting his foot on the gas and landing solid shots, and soon afterwards came a beauty of a left hook sending Tepparith down. The Thai got up but looked wobbly as Kono went for the kill, sending a still wobbly Tepparith down for the second time. Their was no doubting the fight in the champion, who got to his feet a second time. Kono knew this was his chance, and refused to let Tepparith off the hook pressing, pressuring, putting on the jets and dropping the Thai for the third time. That forced the referee to stop the bout, under the three knockdown rule.
The emotion of the new champion was on show immediately as he celebrated with his team, in the corner, before going over to thank promoter Hitoshi Watanabe. He had managed to shock us all, and, at the age of 32, scored a career defining win, taking a world title against all the odds. Ending not only the reign of Tepparith but also Tepparith's streak as a Japan killer.
For Tepparith this was the end of him as a top tier fighter. Strangely he sort of just drifted in the sport, winning 14 more bouts before leaving the sport with a 35-3 (22) record, this being his only stoppage loss. As for Kono his reign was a short one,losing the title in his first defense, before recapturing it in 2014 and making 3 defenses, including one against fellow Japanese fighter Koki Kameda in Chicago. He would continue on until 2018, facing the likes of Naoya Inoue and Rex Tso, before hanging them as a 2-time world champion with a 33-12-1 (14) record.
Although never the best in his weight Kono would become a fan favourite, and one of the most exciting fighters in the sport.
Over the next 12 months we're expecting to see a lot of changes in the world of professional boxing. As a result we have put together a list of 30 Asian fighters to keep an eye out for 2016. These range from champions to novices but all are expected to make a mark on the sport over the next 12 months. Here is part 2 which looks at 5 young novices who have impressed in 2015 and look likely to do the same over the next year.
For those who missed them the previous parts are available below-
Part 1 is here
Part 2 is here
Part 3 is here
Part 4 is here
The month of September was a month with a few stand out days, October however looks mouth watering with numerous days of note.
Waseem Muhammad Vs Min Wook Lee
The new month kicks off with an intriguing debut in South Korea. The bout in questions sees Pakistani debutant Waseem Muhammad (0-0) battle against Korean local Min Wook Lee (2-2) in a bout for the South Korean (KBC) Bantamweight title. On paper it looks a strange one but Muhammad is based in Korea and AK Promotions seem to have invested heavily in the former Pakistan amateur stand out. A win for Muhammad as we may see him become the first Pakistan born fighter of real note.
Shusaku Fujinaka Vs Randall Bailey
On the same card as Muhammad's debut we'll see an intriguing match up between Japan's Shusaku Fujinaka (12-5-2, 8) and American veteran Randall Bailey (45-8-0-1, 38), with the two men fighting for the WBO Asia Pacific Welterweight crown. Fujinaka isn't a great fighter but this bout has garnered real attention with Bailey, a former multi-time world champion, bringing genuine attention to the South Korean boxing scene. With Bailey contracted to AK Promotions this could end up being the first of many fights in Korea for the “KO King”.
Ken Shiro Vs Rolly Sumpalong
It's again minor title action that has our attention as Japan's fast rising Ken Shiro (4-0, 3) battles against unbeaten Filipino Rolly Sumalpong (9-0-1, 4) in a bout for the WBC Youth Light Flyweight title. We've been impressed by Ken Shiro since his debut, last year, and if he wins here we're expecting to see him fight for a Japanese title in early 2016. Sumalpong on the other hand has gone under our radar but did claim the WBC Eurasia Pacific Boxing Council Minimumweight title earlier this year and could himself be one to watch.
Yoshitaka Kato Vs Ricky Sismundo
On the same card as the Ken Shiro Vs Sumpalong fight is a potentially explosive Lightweight clash between Yoshitaka Kato (29-5-1, 9) and Ricky Sismundo (29-8-2, 13). This bout will likely go under-the-radar for many fans but it really does look like it could be a very special bout between two tough guys with under-rated power and under-rated skills. It is only scheduled for 8 rounds but it could end up being one of the best 8 round bouts of the year.
Kohei Kono Vs Koki Kameda
In a genuinely historic bout fans will get the chance to see two Japanese fighters fight for a world title on US soil, the first time such a bout has taken place in America. The bouts will see current WBA Super Flyweight champion Kohei Kono (30-8-1, 13) take on mandatory challenger Koki Kameda (33-1, 18) in what is likely to be a must win bout for both men. At 34 years old Kono will be unlikely to get another shot if he loses here to Kameda whilst a loss for Kameda would end a horror year for the Kameda clan, which has also seen Tomoki lose twice and Daiki suffer a huge shock loss. A loss for Koki and the Kameda's really will have lost the appeal they once had.
Gennady Golovkin Vs David Lemieux
It's rare to have bouts with every ingredient, but we think we may have one here with hard hitting Kazakh king Gennady Golovkin (33-0, 30) facing off against Canadian destroyed David Lemieux (34-2, 31). Coming into the bout both men are major punchers and world champions, with Golovkin holding the WBA “super”, WBC “interim” and IBO titles whilst Lemieux is the IBF title holder. Potentially this has “FOTY” written all over it, though could be over in a blink of an eye given the power, and styles, of the men involved. It's been a while since a world title bout had us this excited, and we've got it admit it might be a while before we see another, equally as exciting, unification bout.
Roman Gonzalez Vs Brian Viloria
Teiken promoted Nicaraguan sensation Roman Gonzalez (43-0, 37) looks to continue his rise to the top of the sport as he faces Filipino-American Brian Viloria (36-4-0-2, 22) in what looks to be another brilliant bout. Coming in to this one Gonzalez is looking for the 3rd defense of his WBC Flyweight title whilst Viloria is fighting to remain relevant in the sport. A win here for Gonzalez helps cement his place atop the pound-for-pound rankings and could move us a step closer to the potential super fight between the Nicaraguan and Japan's Naoya Inoue whilst a win for Viloria will give his career one more run at the top and continue his up-and-down career.
Donnie Nietes Vs Juan Alejo
In another title bout fans will get to see talented Filipino Donnie Nietes (36-1-4, 21) make his US debut as he defends his WBO Light Flyweight title against little known Juan Alejo (21-3, 13) of Mexico. The bout, which is to take place in California, is part of ALA's first US show and is part of their move towards establishing their outfit as a world wide promotional outfit. A loss for Nietes would be disastrous for both the fighter and the promoter, but he hasn't been matched hard here and it'd be a shock to see Nietes given any real problems.
Naoko Fujioka Vs Hee Jung Yuh
Former 2-weight world champion Naoko Fujioka (13-1, 6) looks to continue her brilliant career as she attempts to claim a 3rd divisional world title. The exceptional Japanese fighter faces South Korean fighter Hee Jung Yuh (15-2, 6) in a bout for the WBO female Bantamweight title in what looks, on paper, like a brilliant fight. Aged 40 Fujioka is certainly “old” but she's in great shape and will be favoured over Yuh, who has won 14 in a row. Interestingly Yuh is married to another fighter Young Kil Bae, who set to fight for a world title himself in early November.
Hikaru Marugame Vs Jonathan Baat
On the same show as the Fujioka/Yuh bout is a great test for one of Japan's most under-rated prospects, Hikaru Marugame (5-0, 3). The talented Marugame steps up massively here as he takes on the highly experienced Jonathan Baat (30-6-3, 14), a Japanese based Filipino. A win for Marugame is expected, but Baat has scored notable upsets in the past, including popping 4 cherries and this is clearly a dangerous assignment for the 25 year prospect.
Momo Koseki Vs Ayaka Miyao
We get the second world title unification of the month a week after the Golovkin/Lemieux bout as WBC Atomweight champion Momo Koseki (20-2-1, 7) takes on WBA champion Ayaka Miyao (20-5-1, 4). This bout has been on the radar of fans for a while and is finally happening due to the fact both fighters have, essentially, run out of worth while opponents. We're expecting a lot of action here and although it won't be the cleanest action it should be sensationally exciting and amazing fun to watch. Interestingly the winner will claim a place in history as the first ever unified Atomweight champion.
Satoshi Hosono Vs Hideyuki Watanabe
Japanese Featherweight champion Satoshi Hosono (28-2-1, 20) returns to the ring for his second defence in the space of about 9 weeks af he takes on the tough and gutsy Takuya Watanabe (36-5-1, 12). Hosono, a multi-time world title challenger, is looking to record his 4th successive defence but will be up against a man who simple doesn't know how to quit. Watanabe came to our attention last year, in the wake of his “bloody” bout with Jaesung Lee and having seen that war we suspect he'll go through anything in an attempt to claim the title. This could be the perfect bout to close out the month.
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).