When we go back through the annals of boxing history a lot of fighters are scarcely known. One of the many forgotten fighters from Japan is Shozo Saijo, a former Featherweight world champion and one of the most pivotal guys in the success of Japanese boxing.
Although a key figure, historically, Saijo's importance is rarely under-stood by fight fans in the West. We won't go into a full fledged profile of the former fighter, as we've already done one of those here Shozo Saijo, but here are 10 facts you probably didn't know about... Shozo Saijo.
1-Saijo began boxing at the age of 10, along with his brother.
2-In September 1968 Saijo became the first Japanese fighter to win a world title outside of Japan. He did so by beating Raul Rojas in a bout for the WBA Featherweight title, in what was actually the second bout between the two men in the space of just a few months following a win by Saijo in a non-title bout. This put him down as one of the few willing to prove himself in bouts outside of his homeland, and made it clear Japanese fighters could have success anywhere.
3-When he won the WBA Featherweight title he became the second world champion from the Kyoei gym, following in the footsteps of Hiroyuki Ebihara. This further helped the gym establish it's self in those early years, before going on to become one of the power players for the nation.
4-In Japan Saijo was known as the "Cinderella Boy" due to his good looks and unexpected story, similar to that of former Heavyweight champion James J Braddock who was dubbed the "Cinderella Man
5-In 1970 Saijo, the then WBA Featherweight champion, faced off with Hiroshi Kobayashi, the the WBA Super Featherweight champion, in the first ever bout between reigning Japanese world champions. Despite both being world champions the bout was actually a none-title bout, and ended in a narrow win for Kobayashi
6-Although not listed on IMDB Saijo has actually been featured in movies, including a 1974 movie (assumed to be Chokugeki! Jigoku-ken) with martial arts movie legend Sonny Chiba!
7-Following his boxing career Saijo entered the world of kick boxing, and amassed a very respectable 17-1-1 (13) record.
8-Saijo would pick up 4 of the major honours at the Japanese boxing awards, picking up his awards over a stretch of 3 years. He won the Best boxer award in 1968, the Skill award in 1969 and the Effort prize in 1970. He also won the Fight of the Year in 1968 for his bout with Flash Besande, which was the last out right winner not to have had a title on the line!
9-In 1968 Saijo won the inaugural Japan Professional Sports Award. As of the 2018 awards he was one of only 3 boxers to have won the award, along with the legendary pairing of Yoko Gushiken and Joichiro Tatsuyoshi
10-Now, in his 70's, Saijo is still involved in boxing and is the chairman of the Nakahama Boxing Gym
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).