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.
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).