We continue this little series as we look at the now relatively unknown Noburu Kataoka (4-2, 2). Kataoka fought in the 1950's, between 1956 and 1957. His career was a short one, lasting just 6 bouts spread over 8 months, but it was a significant one as he became the first JBC Heavyweight champion in 1957, and the only one for over 50 years.
Whilst Kataoka certainly didn't have a big career, or one that is well remembered now, it is a career with intrigue, and with that I mind we bring you 5 Midweek Facts about Noburu Kataoka. He didn't use his real name, he didn't even set off to become a boxer, and he only fought 3 opponents during his entire career. His career is a small one, but one that plays an interesting role in Japanese boxing history.
1-Although Kataoka is best known for his boxing career, he actually picked up the sport after previously being a sumo wrestler. Interestingly Kataoka's debut opponent, Iwao Murashita, was also a former sumo wrestler.
2-Kataoka's birth name was Akio Kataoka, not Noburu Kataoka
3-During his 6 fight career, Kataoka only fought 3 opponents. He beat Iwao Murashita on debut, lost to American fighter Charlie Tims, then fought Yutaka Nakagoshi 4 times.
4-Rather oddly all 3 of the men that Kataoka fought only fought him. None of them ever fought anyone else. Murashita and Tims never fought again as pros and Nakagoshi only fought in his 4 fight series with Kataoka.
5-Whilst widely regarded as the first Japanese Heavyweight champion there is an argument that he was technically the second, although he was the first to be recognised by the JBC. That's due to an obscure claim of Johnny Freeman having won recognition as the Japanese Heavyweight champion in 1935. This is a pre-JBC title, and one that few recognise.
Noburu Kataoka, but he holds a weird place in Japanese boxing, as an oddity, as a first, and a man who's name has only really been mentioned in passing in recent years.
Thankfully if you read these weekly segments this isn't like the last two, this isn't about a fighter who has taken their own life, or a fighter who has done some sort of crime. Instead this is just an oddity, that we felt the need to talk about, and shine a light one someone who holds a genuinely unique little place in boxing.
If you didn't recognise the name don't worry. You're not alone. As a boxer Kataoka fought just 6 times a a professional. He debuted on September 17th 1956 and ended his career on May 4th 1957. He went 4-2 (2) in the ring, and actually only fought 3 people, but more about his career a little later.
Born in August 1932 Kataoka had originally been a sumo wrestler before joining the Fuji Boxing Gym as part of a special project they were running in the 1950's.
The gym, set up by Fuji Okamoto in 1934 in Kanagawa City, had hoped to develop Japanese Heavyweights. Kataoka was the only real success from the project.
On his debut Kataoka would face Iwao Murashita, another fighter who had converted from sumo wrestling to boxing. On the scales Kataoka was just above the Light Heavyweight limit, in an era before the Cruiserweight division. Murashita was around 12lbs heavier but lost the decision to Kataoka.
Prior to Kataoka making his debut Takeo Yamanaka had made his move from Middleweight to Heavyweight, and had had no success, losing to fighters he had a 20lb advantage over. He had however done enough to convince the powers that be that he deserved to be ranked, and was some how given a #3 ranking, behind Kataoka and Murashita. It wasn't be relevant however, as he never fought after Kataoka made his debut.
A month after his debut Kataoka would suffer his first loss, a blow out to Charlie Tims. Things aren't totally clear when it comes to this bout, but one source does suggest that Tims was a former US amateur. Interestingly this bout came on a card at the Ryogoku International Stadium and also featured Masaki Kanehira, the future founder of the Kyoei Gym.
The need for a domestic opponent for Kataoka was needed. He had beaten Murashita and Yamanaka served no purpose. The loss to Tims, who appears to have been a legitimate Heavyweight for the era, was a bump on the road, but didn't end the dreams of the Fuji Boxing Gym.
A domestic opponent was finally found in March 1957 with Kataoka facing Yutaka Nakagoshi in the first bout between the two men, held on March 23rd. This resulted in an 8th KO win for Kataoka. Amazing the men would clash twice more that month, with Nakagoshi winning their second bout in 3 rounds, on March 26th, and Kataoka winning the rubber bout on March 30th, with a 6th round KO.
After fighting 3 times in the space of days the two men would clash for the fourth, and final, time on May 4th less than 2 months after their first clash. This time there would be something on the line, with the bout being the inaugural Japanese Heavyweight clash. After 10 rounds Kataoka had his arm raised, but the few felt the bout had been anything to get excited about. One local fighter of the era, who had attended the bout, "the two people were slow, I it was not fun to watch...Speaking of heavyweight, it didn't much interest public at the time". The bout was also criticised for being a "a battle without speed and stamina", with both men said to have looked exhausted for most of the bout.
At the time of the win it Kataoka created several bits of history. He wasn't just the first Japanese Heavyweight champion but set the record for the fewest fights needed to become a Japanese national champion. That record was beaten in 1959, when Kenji Yonekura claimed the Japanese Flyweight title in his fifth bout
With no more heavyweights coming on to the Japanese scene Kataoka was unable to find a challenger. He wouldn't fight again after winning the title, and instead the title was deactivated at the start of 1958. It wouldn't be seen again until 2013, when Kyotaro Fujimoto defeated Okello Peter fore the belt, reactivating the title for the first time in over 50 years.
Amazingly between Kataoka's reign and Fujimoto there was no real demand for the title to return. Fighters like Kong Saito in the 1970's and Yosuke Nishijima in the 1990's, but a lack of domestic level competition saw no demand for the title to be brought back into service until Fujimoto's emergence.
From what we could find Kataoka is still alive, at the age of 87. Since he retired we've seen 2 Japanese champions being crowned, Fujimoto and Ryu Ueda, and 5 title bouts. The Heavyweight scene might not be a staple of the Japanese boxing yet, but things have changed massively since Kataoka and Nakagoshi had their quadriology in 1957.
Kataoka might not be a huge name in Japanese boxing, but he etched his name into the history books, and no one will ever take that away from the former Japanese Heavyweight champion.
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).