A bit of a longer one here for the Tales from the East series, and something a little bit different.
One of the many things we don't really talk about much on this site, though we realise we should, is the pre-war fighters. Those who made a name for themselves before World War 2. Admittedly there isn't many fighters who are noteworthy enough to really spend time talking about in detail, but there are certainly some who deserve a lot more attention than they get. Today we look at one such fighter in the form of Yoichiro Hanada (93-37-28-1, 1)*.
Who? You may ask. Well Hanada was one of the most notable pre-war, and even post-war, Japanese fighters having a career that stretched almost 20 years, featured 160 bouts, and saw him record possibly the lowest known KO rather for someone with over 50 wins. He was also a massive player in the Japanese scene of the time.
Born in 1915 Hanada would be one of the standout Japanese amateurs of his time. He had reported won the All Japan Japanese Amateur Flyweight title in 1932 before turning professional in late 1933 with the then fledgling Teiken. His amateur skills were clear, he was quick, had good footwork but a lack of power, something we'll talk about a little later.
As a professional Hanada would win his debut, but lose his second pro bout, just weeks later, and his early record was blotchy to say the least. After 15 bouts he was 6-4-5, with those 15 bouts coming in a 12 month period. Not only was he inconsistent in terms of results, but he was busy and that busy schedule allowed him to develop his skills and tools. Towards the end of 1934 he fought against Isamu Ito for the vacant Japanese Flyweight, and won a 10 round decision.
Before we go any further we just need to make something clear. This wasn't the Japanese title we know now. In fact this title win pre-dated the Japan Boxing Commission by around 20 years, but it was still a major win for Hanada and began what may well be the longest reign, of any title, by any fighter.
After winning the Japanese title in 1934 Hanada began to find his groove in the ring, and won all 3 of his bouts in 1935. He made his first defense of the belt In 1936, against ISamu Ito, the man he beat for the belt originally. That same year he also fought outside of Japan for the first time, losing to future world champion Little Dado in the Philippines, where he also fought Speedy Cabanela, and beat "Little Thunderstorm" in China. In fact in 1936 he had 12 recorded bouts, including his only 4 bouts outside of Japan, remaining at him for the rest of his career. Interestingly the bout with Dado is listed by some Japanese sources is as being for the original Oriental title, a belt which predates the current OPBF title.
Hanada made his second Japanese title defence in 1937, defeating the Hajime Sakamoto. In total he fought 8 times during the year, with his sole loss from the year coming to Filipino fighter Young Dumaguilas.
Through the late 1930's Hanada had a high level of activity, though struggled to maintain along winning streak, going into 1940 with a record of 31-12-13. That same sort of inconsistency ran through 1940. Sadly for Hanada his form completely fell apart in 1941 and 1942, going 1-7-2 at one point in his career.
As 1942 came to an end it appeared that Hanada's career was also at an end. He was now 30 years old, had had 82 fights and boasted a record of 45-22-15. The war had left Japan a mess and it seemed almost certain that Hanada was done.
Hanada would be out of the ring from July 1942 to April 1946, close to 4 years, before returning. Despite being out of the ring for a lengthy amount of time Hanada would make up for lost time with 20 bouts in 1946. Amazingly Hanada went unbeaten the entire year, with 15 wins, 4 draws and a No Contest. That form ran into 1947 where he scored arguably the biggest win of his career, defeating Yoshio Shirai in July. That was the same Yoshio Shirai who would later become the first Japanese world champion in 1952.
In August 1947, the month after Shirai, Hanada fought in a Japanese title eliminator for the belt which had become vacant due to him not defending it in since before the war. He would then reclaim the belt in September, when he beat Hideo Nagahara
In 1949 Hanada would become a 2-weight champion as he defeated Hiroshi Horiguchi for the Japanese Bantamweight title. Horiguchi, the brother of the hugely popular Piston Horiguchi, had began his career in 1943, won the Bantamweight title in 1947 and would remain one of the top Japanese fighters at the weight through to the end of his career.
Just a month after Hanada beat Horiguchi he recorded his sole stoppage win, defeating Shohei Yamaguchi by TKO in the 4th round. This was after more than 100 bouts for Hanada, and more than 70 wins. Rather oddly the only other stoppage loss on Yamaguchi's record was a stoppage to Horiguchi.
Sadly for Hanada his reign as the Japanese Bantamweight champion was short lived and he would lose the belt back to Horiguchi just 3 months later. The two would actually clash in a rubber match, in a non-title bout, at the end of the year with that bout ending in a draw.
In January 1949 Hanada would return to Flyweight and attempt to defend his Flyweight title against Yoshio Shirai in a rematch of their 1947 bout. This time Shirai would prove too good for his countryman, taking him down with a left uppercut to the body. Hanada failed to beat the count. This was a particularly notable bout and seemed to be the passing of the torch in many ways for Japanese boxing. One of their big pre-war stars losing to the man who would fly the flag for Japanese boxing through the 1950's.
The loss to Shirai helped Shirai and his trainer Alvin Robert Cahn begin the ground work on taking Shirai to a world title in 1952, with Cahn's scientific boxing training proving vital to how Japan began to develop the sport. It also ended any claim the Hanada had to being the Japanese Flyweight champion, more than a decade after first winning the title.
Despite losing the Japanese title to Shirai that wasn't the end of the Hanada story as he continued fighter, running up close to another 20 wins, before his career fell apart in 1951. Hanada, like many greats, simply went on too long and suffered 6 straight losses, 3 by stoppage, to end his career on a low. A low that wasn't helped by his out of the ring antics, and it was known that he enjoyed drinking, with reports being that he had been drinking the day before his rematch with Shirai. It may not have made any difference against the future world champion, but it certainly didn't help his cause.
Although not listed on boxrec Japanese sources list Hanada's final bout as having come on February 7th 1953 to Sumio Katsumata
Having mentioned that Hanada only scored a single stoppage there's thought to be two difference reasons for this. First his style was very much based the reason he was dubbed "Ima Ushiwakamaru", which essentially a nickname used to explain his agility. Essentially he didn't sit on on his punches so they had little power. It's also worth noting that he apparently lacked the middle finger on his right hand, further limiting his power.
One other thing that was quite notable about Hanada, albeit limited to his Flyweight reign. In 1943 Toshimitsu Kushihashi was regarded as being the national Flyweight champion, though the term was never used. It's worth nothing that Hanada did beat him in 1946 before officially reclaiming the title in 1947. With this in mind some regard his reign of 14 years, from December 1934 to January 1949, as the longest in Japanese boxing history. Whilst the reign was broken, due to his need to reclaim the title, the reign is still regarded by some as the longest by any Japanese fighter.
Sadly Hanada passed away in 1966, though details regarding his death are unclear. It's not reported as to how he died, or on what date.
Whilst not the star Piston Horiguchi was Hanada is still a very significant figure in Japanese boxing history. His lengthy reign as the Japanese Flyweight champion, winning the Flyweight and Bantamweight titles, fighting Small Dado and then, eventually, passing the torch to Shirai are all key parts of his legacy.
*There is some dispute over Hanada's record. All sources agree he had around 160 fights, around 93 wins, either 37 or 38 losses, 27 draws and then 1 No Decision and 4 exhibitions, which are recorded in some sources. The notable different is the 1953 loss to Katsumata, which is noted on several Japanese sources, but not Boxrec. Given how pre-war record keeping was done there is a chance that Hanada had more bouts than is on his official record.
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).