Hardcore fans will likely recognise the name Yoshinori Nishizawa, he's certainly not the most obscure we'll ever cover in this series of articles looking below the surface of Asian boxing. In fact Nishizawa fought in world title bouts all the way up at Super Middleweight during his 25 year career. He didn't challenge obscure champions either, his first world title was against Anthony Mundine, a huge name down under, and his second was against Markus Beyer, a big star in Germany and a 3-time world champion.
But who actually was Yoshinori Nishizawa? And why is he known as the "Middle Aged Star"?
To begin with we need to go back to very start. Nishizawa was born in 1966, he saw Muhammad Ali on TV as a child and was inspired to become physically stronger, before taking up baseball. One thing would lead to another and in the mid 1980's Nishizawa went into the legendary Yonekura Gym, as a 19 year old. He debuted the following year, in October 1986 and would score a 3rd round KO on his debut. He would have early success, going 5-0-1 (3) and claim the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 1988.
As things seemed to be on their way up for Nishizawa bad times struck, and he would go from 5-0-1 at the end of 1988 to 7-8-4 (4) by the start of 1995. On paper that would have been the point that many wrote him off. He was then 28 and his career had faltered.
Despite the faltering Nishizawa had twice fought for the Japanese Middleweight title, fighting to a draw with Takehito Saijo and losing a decision to Shinji Takehara, he had also fought with Korean Jun-Suk Hwang, who had already fought for a world and would do so again after beating Nishizawa.
Surprisingly this was the point where Nishizawa's career actually began to turn around. He picked up 3 wins in 1995, earning a third Japanese Middleweight title fight in 1996. He lost to Kevin Palmer in that title fight but bounced back and won the Japanese Middleweight title in his 4th shot at the belt, days after his 31st birthday. That was his 25th professional bout and saw Nishizawa more to 12-9-4 (8).
The age that most men would think about retirement was the age where Nishizawa began to have a growing amount of success, defending the Japanese title 3 times. His reign did however come to an end in 1998, when he not only lost the belt to Nobunao Otani but also lost in an OPBF title fight to former foe Kevin Palmer.
The set backs in 1998 were just that, setbacks. The following year Nishizawa moved up in weight and took the OPBF Super Middleweight title, at the age of 33. His reign was another short one, with just a single defense, but he didn't lose the title until he was 34, and came up short to Guy Waters.
Another move up in weight in 2000 saw Nishizawa challenge Hisashi Teraji, the then OPBF Light Heavyweight champion. Nishizawa was unable to defeat Teraji, the father of Kenshiro Teraji, but did recapture the Super Middleweight title in 2001, aged 35.
By the time Nishizawa had reclaimed the OPBF Super Middleweight title he was 18-13-5 (9), 35 years old, and edging towards the JBC's retirement age. He refused to leg go of his career though, and ran up a winning streak that ran from 2001 to 2004, and ended with him fighting Anthony Mundine for the WBA Super Middleweight title. At the age of 38 Nishizawa would get his first shot at a world title, and would surprisingly drop Mundine at the very end of round 2. Sadly it was brief success for Nishizawa, who would be stopped himself in round 5.
Nishizawa would bounce back from the loss to Mundine by reclaiming the OPBF Super Middleweight title, to become a 3-time champion.
Just 11 months after losing to Mundine, and just weeks short of his 39th birthday, Nishizawa would travel to Germany to face Markus Beyer. He gave Beyer a decent fight, dropping Beyer in round 2, before losing a clear decision to the German.
The loss to Beyer should probably been it if we're being honest. It was his 46th bout, his second world title fight, and he was turning 39 the following month. Nishizawa however continued on. In fact he fought on with his last bout coming on December 2nd 2011, when he was 45!
After the Beyer loss Nishizawa went 5-6-1 (5), though became the OPBF Light Heavyweight champion, in 2006, and claimed a number of minor titles afterwards, including a Korean Boxing Assocation title and the very lightly regarded World Professional Boxing Federation (WPBF) World Cruiserweight title.
Despite his final bout coming in 2011 Nishizawa didn't actually announce his retirement until August 2013, by which point he was 47.
Nishizawa's career saw the JBC needing to adapt it's rules. Originally the retirement age was 37, unless a fighter was an active champion. Nishizawa forced the rules to be changed for fighters who were world ranked, OPBF or JBC ranked, like he was at the age of 37. This rule has been changed since, allowing more freedom on the maximum age, but this was a big change at the time.
Following his, over-due, retirement Nishizawa did actually set up a gym however he is now often found at the Ohashi Gym, linking up with fellow former Yonekura gym fighter Hideyuki Ohashi, where he now works as a trainer.
Dubbed the "Middle Aged Star" due to his success in his mid to late 30's Nishizawa is an odd case in boxing, of a fighter who did have his best success beyond the age that many fighters peak at. His record of 31-21-6 (19) might not be anything incredible, but twice challenging for a world title and winning OPBF titles on 4 occasions, all after his 33rd birthday is certainly impressive.
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).