A lot of the bouts we feature in this series are relatively recent bouts, but today we've decided to go back in terms to 1972 for one of the strangest knockouts we've seen and one at the very highest level of the sport. This was from a Featherweight world title bout, and was a brilliant KO by a man who ripped up the script and scores a huge upset. In the opposite corner was a technically excellent fighter, but one with a weak chin, which proved to be an issue here.
Kuniaki Shibata (35-2-3, 22) vs Clemente Sanchez (38-7-3, 25)
In one corner was brilliant Japanese technical Kuniaki Shibata, one of the most well schooled Japanese fighters from the 1960's and 1970's. Shibata was a great technician, with a fantastic and piston like jab, but he was also blessed with one of the worst chins of any world class Japanese fighter in history. His trainer, and Japanese training legend, Eddie Townsend tried to get him to fight in a way that helped him protect his chin, which had let him down in both of his losses up to this point.
At the time Shibata was the WBC Featherweight champion, having upset the legendary Vicente Saldivar in Mexico in 1970. After his title win he had defended the belt twice before taking on Clemente Sanchez.
Sanchez was much less well known and with 7 losses in 38 bouts he was, understandably, the under-dog for what was his first bout outside of Mexico. On paper this was a big step up in class for Sanchez. Despite his competition being limited, and a number of losses on his record, he was certainly a decent fighter and had scored wins against the likes of Raul Cruz and Tahar Ben Hassen. Coming into this he had been on a fairly destructive run stopping his last 7 and had scored 13 stoppages in his previous 14 bouts. That run had seen him go from a pretty average looking 25-7-2 (12) to a much more impressive looking 38-7-3 (25).
The bout started as a pretty interesting battle between two men looking to take control of the bout and through two rounds it was incredibly close and competitive. Neither guy would really manage to differentiate themselves in either of the first two rounds, with one many having success and the other come back at them. Then we got to round 3.
The round was relatively close until until Sanchez landed a thunderous 1-2, with the right hand sending Shinbata to the seat of his pants. He quickly tried to get to his feet, and for a moment it looked like he was going to be able to continue. Just seconds later however Shibata stumbled, before falling, ending up flat on his back where he took the 10 count.
Despite getting to his feet, Shibata was out cold in what seemed like a delayed reaction knockout. A very weird and unique ending to the bout, which deserves to be seen, and re-seen.
Whilst we know this won't be the only KO like this, it is still a rather odd finish.
Sadly for Sanchez he would the title on the scales before his first defense, whilst Shibata would later go on to have two more reigns as a world champion, both at Super Featherweight.
When we discuss the greatest Japanese boxers of all time one man who seemingly gets over-looked, a lot, is Kuniaki Shibata (47-6-3, 25). The excellent former fighter fought from 1965 to 1977, carved out a brilliant career, won multiple world titles, was dubbed a genius but now, around 45 years after his last bout, is often over-looked. Unlike many top Japanese fighters he focused on skills, counter punching, and ring craft, as opposed to power, strength and incredibly toughness. He worked around his flaws, including a suspect chin, to have a tremendous career and be one of the earliest Japanese world champions.
Although often forgotten we can't ignore Shibata and today we bring you 10 facts you probably didn't know about... Kuniaki Shibata
1-Shibata was the 1965 All Japan Rookie of the Year winner at Super Bantamweight, beating Masachika Tokutome in the final.
2-Although the Yonekura gym is one of the most legendary in Japan, with several world champions coming from the gym before it closed it's doors in 2017, what's often forgotten is that Shibata was it's first world champion. Shibata was later followed by Guts Ishimatsu, Shigeo Nakajima, Hideyuki Ohashi and Hiroshi Kawashima.
3-Various stories from Japan state that whilst Shibata was seen as a brilliant talent, and a boxing genius he was also seen as a rather boring individual with the media preferring to focus on his Yonekura Gym stablemate Guts Ishimatsu, who was much more an out-of-the ring entertainer and much, much more charismatic.
4-Shibata was the 9th world champion from Japan. He was also the first 3-time world champion from the country and the second 2-division world champion, following the legendary Fighting Harada.
5-Rather amazingly Shibata was the Japanese fighter to win world titles outside of Japan. Doing so in 1970 when he upset the legendary Vicente Saldivar in Mexico. More impressively he is also the only Japanese fighter to achieve that feat twice, having also won the WBA Super Featherweight title in 1973 when he out-boxed Ben Villaflor in the US
6-During his in ring career Shibata was awarded annual awards on 5 different occasions. In 1967 he won the New Comer award, in 1970 he was awarded the Distinguished Service award, in 1973 and 1975 he won the Fighting Spirit award and in 1974 he won the Best Fighter award,
7On August 7th 1974 Shibata got married in LA, with the wedding later airing on Fuji TV's "Love Love Show". Around the time of the marriage Shibata was criticised in in the Japanese press, with women said to weaken boxers. His bout after getting married saw him defeat Ramiro Bolanos in October 1974, with Bolanos, from Ecuador, being promised a car and a house from then Ecuadorian President, Guillermo Rodríguez Lara, if he won. Sadly for Bolanos he was stopped by Shibata in the 15th round
8-Following Shibata's retirement he would go on to remain at the Yonekura gym as a trainer, passing on his ring skills and knowledge to the next generation of talent at the gym.
9-In 2020 Shibata was one of the fighters who took part in a Nikkan Sports series looking as fighters favourite knockouts. Shibata's choice for the series was Hiroyuki Ebihara's KO of Pong Kingpetch in 1963. Shibata would later ask Ebihara about the shot whilst the two played golf together, and Ebihara seemed to suggest that it was a shot that came from experience, rather than aiming for the KO.
10-Mexican fighter Jose Flores adopted the nickname "Shibata" due to Kuniaki Shibata.
This coming weekend we'll see Takeshi Inoue attempt to dethrone Jamie Munguia, the WBO Light Middleweight champion, in Texas. The Japanese fighter is regarded as a huge under-dog and few are giving him much of a chance.
With the bout just days away we thought it would be an interesting time to look at 5 occasions where a Japanese fighter has taken a world title whilst fighting on US soil. Given that it's only happened 5 times, in history, it shows how rare it really is. Even more telling is that we've only seen 3 occasions where a Japanese fighter has dethrone a reigning champion on US soil, and Inoue, if successful, would be the first since 1980!
Raul Rojas v Shozo Saijo II - September 27th 1968
The first Japanese fighter to win a world title on foreign soil was Shozo Siajo, back in September 1968. The Cinderella Boy had a less than remarkable start to his professional career, beginning his career 3-1-2, and being 13-4-2 (2) when he made his debut in January 1968. Amazingly Shozo would defeat the then WBA Featherweight champion Raul Rojas in a non-title bout in June of that year, over 10 rounds. That bout then resulted in a rematch 3 months later for the WBA title.
Heading into their rematch Rojas was 35-2-1 (22), he had only lost in the first bout with Shozo and to the legendary Vicente Saldivar, having gone 12-1 since that loss. Saijo was 16-5-2 (3), and other than the win over Rojas there was little of note on his record.
Surprisingly Saijo repeated his win over Rojas, defeating him over 15 rounds to win the WBA Featherweight title. The bout was a clear win for Saijo, who dropped Rojas on route to a unanimous decision. Sadly for Rojas his career would never truly recover and he would retire in 1970 with a record of 38-7-2 (24). Saijo on the other hand, who was Japan's 7th world champion, would hold the title until 1971 and make 5 defenses, losing to Antonio Gomez in 3 rounds. He would retire after that loss with a 29-7-2 (8) record.
Samuel Serrano vs. Yasutsune Uehara - August 2nd 1980
Having just mentioned Samuel Serrano, as being the man who ended Villaflor's second reign, it's worth noting that he was actually the third champion to be dethroned by a Japanese fighter on US soil. The talented Puerto Rican had defended the belt 10 times since the win over Villaflor, and was going in with Japan's Yatsusune Uehara.
Although relatively forgotten now Uhara was a former standout in Japan. He had gone 117-8 (87) in the amateurs, had claimed medals on the international stage and had turned professional with a then Japanese record signing fee, going with the Kyoei Boxing gym. Despite being highly touted he would lose his second professional bout, and come up short in a world title bout with Villaflor in 1974. Heading into this bout the allure that Uehara once had, had faded. He was 25-4 (20), aged 30 this was seen as him getting a shot that he wouldn't win. Serrano on the other had was 27 years old, 42-4-1 (14), and unbeaten in 26 bouts!
Uehara was the big under-dog and the reasons for that showed early on, with Serrano winning the rounds using his boxing skills. Uehara however believed in his power and pressure and managed to land an occasional bomb. Although being outboxed Uehara was dangerous and he showed just how dangerous in the final seconds of round 6, when he landed a dynamite right hand when Serrano was on the ropes. The dropped Uehara who failed to beat the count. The result was the Ring Magazine Upset of the year for 1980. Sadly though Uehara would lose in a rematch the following year, having recorded just 1 defense. Uehara would retire after their rematch with a record of 27-5 (21), Serrano on the other hand would make 3 defenses before losing to Roger Mayweather in 1983. He would retire the following year, before making a strange comeback in the 1990's, eventually hanging them up with a record of 50-6-1 (17).
Ben Villaflor vs Kuniaki Shibata I - Mach 12th 1973
It would take 4 years until a Japanese fighter following in Saijo's footsteps and claim a world title on American soil, with Kuniaki Shibata being the man to achieve the feat. The "Genius Puncher" was one of the protege's of the great Eddie Townsend and had distinguished himself as a top fighter in 1970, when he became the first Japanese fighter to win a world title in Mexico, dethroning Vicente Saldivar in December 1970.
Despite winning the WBC Featherweight title from Saldivar we wouldn't see Shibata have a long reign, losing in his third defense to Clemente Sanchez in 1972. The following year he would move up in weight challenge WBA Super Featherweight champion Ben Villaflor, a Filipino born fighter who had held the WBA belt since April 1972. Villaflor had recorded 1 defenses, and had amassed an excellent record of 48-4-3 (25), whilst Shibata was 37-4-3 (23).
In the ring the two were amazingly well matched, though Shibata would take a narrow decision, winning by a point on 1 card and 2 points on the others, to take the title and become a 2-time world champion. Sadly for Shibata his reign was again a short one, losing inside a round 7 months later in a rematch with Villaflor. Villaflor's second reign would continue until 1976, when he lost to Samuel Serrano, then retired with a record of 56-6-6 (31). Shibata on the other hand would bounce back from his title loss to win the WBC title, which he would defend 3 times before losing to Alfredo Escalera in 1975. He would continue on but retire in the late 1970's with a record 47-6-3 (25).
Tadashi Mihara v Rocky Fratto - November 7th 1981
Amazingly we've not seen a Japanese fighter dethrone someone on American soil since Uehara's win over Serrano. We have however seen two Japanese fighters pick up vacant titles on US soil. The first of those was Tadashi Mihara, who had a very short reign ,but a notable one all the same.
Mihara was 14-0 (11) when he faced fellow unbeaten fighter Rocky Fratto, then 24-0 (9) for the WBA Light Middleweight title. Mihara was looking to become the third Japanese champion 154lbs, following Koichi Wajima and Masashi Kudo, and managed to achieve the feat by narrowly outpointing Fratto over 15 rounds. Notably this is at the same weight that Inoue will be challenging the unbeaten Munguia at, and like Mihara was at the time Inoue is also unbeaten after 14 fights
Sadly for Mihara his reign was a very short one, losing in his first defense against Davey Moore, less than 3 months after his big win. The loss to Moore would be Mihara's sole defeat however and he would fight on until 1985 before retiring with a record of 24-1, 15). Fratto on the other hand would never win a big one, and retire following a loss to Harry Daniels, with a record of 28-4 (9).
Masayuki Ito v Christopher Diaz - July 28th 2018
The second vacant title to be won by a Japanese fighter on US soil came almost 37 years after Mihara's win and saw Masayuki Ito announce himself on the world stage with an excellent performance to claim the WBO Super Featherweight title, defeating Christopher Diaz. Going into this bout it was supposed to be a coming out party for Diaz, the unbeaten Puerto Rican who was promoted by Top Rank. Ito however ripped up the script and out boxed the betting favourite.
Entering the bout Ito was 23-1-1 (12), he had unified the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, and had been on the verge of a world title fight for a while. Diaz on the other hand was 23-0 (15), touted as a rising star from Puerto Rico and had scored notable wins over Bryant Cruz and Braulio Rodriguez on route to his shot. Sadly for Diaz he was unable to cope with Ito's size, range and variation, being dropped in round 8 and never really managing to get a foot hold in the bout.
Since this contest, which was just last summer, both men have fought once, with both scoring a stoppage win. Ito over-came mandatory challenge Evgeny Chuprakov and is expected to be back in the ring in the US later this year, to defend against Jamel Herring.
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).