We often focus on the most recent fights in a lot of our series, and the reality is that we prefer the higher quality footage that we get. There are, however, legends from the past that we think every fight fan has to love. The men in question may not have been the best that their division has ever given us or all time greats but that doesn't take away from the fact they had something special about them. In this week's "Reliving the Finish" we look at a KO that ended the final world title reign of one of these legends and damn near forced him to retire.
Koichi Wajima (31-4-1, 25) Vs Jose Duran (59-4-9, 21)
The man in question is Koichi Wajima, if you've never seen him before you really need to. Pretty much every fight we was in resembled a Rocky movie, with Wajima fighting in a style that seemed part hyper active child, part Kangeroo and part Frog. His fights were typically dramatic, exciting, and full of hayemakers, by both him and his opponents. He wasn't what we would describe as a polished fighter, but he was so unusual and unorthodox that he was pretty much impossible to prepare for with sparring. He used a patented "Frog Jump Punch", which was literally what you'd imagine, had incredible and will win and a style that was very energy intensive.
During the 1970's Wajima was a 3-time Light Middleweight champion with his final reign only being a short one. It began in February 1976, when he won the WBA title, and ended that May when he came up against Jose Duran.
Although not as legendary Jose Duran is an often forgotten Spanish fighter who was a very notable fight back in the 1970's. Heading into this bout with Wajima he gone to the Olympics, in 1968, won the Spanish national title and the European title. In his only previous world title bout he had lost a decision to Miguel de Oliveira, in 1975.
Aged 30 entering this bout Duran likely knew that this wasn't going to get another shot like this. By now Wajima was 33, his style and toughness had taken a toll on him and although not "chinny" he did get hit a lot and there were question mark about his durability. From his 4 previous losses he had been stopped 3 times, with 2 of losses coming in his previous 4 bouts.
Duran got off to the start he would have wanted and took control of the bout quite early, dropping Wajima in round 2 with a right hand and out boxing the older, smaller, shorter, crude man. Wajima was down again in round 14, from a a brlliant combination to the head from Duran.
One thing Wajima always had was heart and that was his downfall in still being in the bout was we entered round 15.
In the final round Wajima kept coming forward, he was tired, absolutely exhausted, and even more wide open than usual. With less than a minute of the round gone Duran took advantage of Wajima's almost non-existent defense and planted a gorgeous straight right hand on to the chin of the Japanese icon, sending him crashing down.
Some how Wajima tried to get up but his effort was never going to be enough as the referee completed the 10 count.
Duran was crowned as the new champion, though sadly his reign was a short one losing to Argentinia's Miguel Angel Castellini just 5 months later. Sadly Wajima would return to the ring, and suffer another stoppage loss in 1977, to Eddie Gazo, before hanging them up for good. By then Wajima was well and truly a legend and had been one of the top Japanese sports stars of the 1970's.
On January 26th Japan's Takeshi Inoue (13-0-1, 7) will attempt to become just the 4th Japanese fighter to win a world title at 154lbs. With that in mind I though we'd have a look at the previous 3 Japanese fighters to achieve the feat.
Koichi Wajima (31-6-1, 25)
The master of the “Frog Punch” Koichi Wajima was Japan's first champion at 154lbs, and the only Japanese fighter to win world titles at the weight more than once. He was also the 10th Japanese fighter to ever win a world title.
Wajima was born in 1943 and made his debut at the age of 25, in the summer of 1968. His career was short, though it never seemed plausible for him to have an incredibly long career given his age when he debuted, but what he achieved was genuinely remarkable.
In his 12th professional bout Wajima claimed his first title, the Japanese Light Middleweight title, stopping Noriyasu Yoshimura in 4 rounds. That win saw Wajima's record move to 12-0 (11) and actually ended Yoshimura's career after just a single defense. Wajima would suffer his first loss just weeks later, and suffer another defeat in early 1970, dropping to 13-2 (12), from then on however he went on a tear, going unbeaten for 17 fights.
That 17 fight unbeaten run saw included 8 successful defenses of the Japanese Light Middleweight title before and win his first world titles, the then unified WBA and WBC Light Middleweight titles. Wajima would win the titles by taking a split decision over Carmelo Bossi and would make 6 defenses of the belt. The defenses including wins over veteran Domenico Tiberia, the unbeaten Miguel de Oliveira and countryman Ryu Sorimachi, before he lost the title to Oscar Albarado. A rematch with Albarado saw Wajima become a 2-time champion but he would lose in his first defense to Jae Doo Yuh. A rematch with Yuh saw Wajima defeat the Korean to become a 3-time champion.
Sadly Wajima's third, and final, reign lasted just 3 months before he lose the title to Jose Duran. He would attempt to reclaim the WBA title but would lose his final bout to Eddie Gazo then retire from fighting. Despite being long retired he does currently run a gym, and recently saw protege Hiroaki Teshigawara become the OPBF Super Bantamweight champion.
Masashi Kudo (23-1, 12)
The second Japanese fighter to win a world title at 154lbs was Masashi Kudo, a now often forgotten fighter from the 1970's. He was born in 1951 and made his debut in 1973. In just his 6th professional fight he won the Japanese Middleweight title, defeating Nobuyoshi Ozaki, and he would record 8 successful defenses before moving down in weight.
At 154lbs he would defeat Eddie Gazo with a 15 round split decision to win the WBA Light Middleweight title. He would record 3 defenses, two of them by close decision, before losing the belt to Ayub Kalule in 1979. After that loss Kudo retired from boxing.
As a fighter Kudo was technically very limited, but he was a very strong, powerful guy, with a fantastic engine. Prior to turning his hand to boxing he had been a very solid wrestler, and his physical strength from wrestling likely helped him have his success in the boxing ring. If we're being honest he was an over-achiever to say the least, but a very tough guy.
Tadashi Mihara (24-1, 15)
The third, and most recent, Japanese fighter to win a world title at 154lbs was Tadashi Mihara. He was born in 1955 and debuted soon after his 23rd birthday, in 1978. He raced away to the OPBF title, winning that in just his 5th bout, and made 6 defenses before making his US debut.
On his US debut he stopped Ramon Dionisio, as part of the under-card to Sugar Ray Leonard Vs Ayub Kalule, which was for the WBA Light Middleweight title. Leonard, who beat Kalule, vacated the title and Mihard would then return to the US to face Rocky Fratto for the vacant title. Mihara would narrowly defeat Fratto to become the WBA champion, but his reign was short lived and he would lose the title less than 3 months later, wheen Davey Moore beat him.
Despite the loss to Moore Mihara would continue to fight, and would claim the Japanese title which he defended 5 times, before ending his career in 1985.
Interestingly Mihara is the only one of these men to have won the title on American soil, something Inoue will be looking to do, he was also unbeaten in 14 when he won the title, Inoue is currently 13-0-1. One final coincidence is that Munguia (34-0) and Fratto (24-0) were both unbeaten.
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).