6,781 miles away from the political epicenter of the world, Washington, D.C., lays 4 major islands of the 6,852 that make up the archipelago Nippon-koku or Japan. Like its 4 major islands, Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku, 4 major boxing gyms (Kyoei, Yonekura, Misako, and Teiken) in the “Land of the Rising Sun” are developing devastatingly talented prizefighters.
Japan is historically and culturally connected with all things brave. Take a moment to examine the Samurai code in feudal Japan, Kamikaze aviators from WWII, the Shinobi and the art of stealth, and of course Sumo wrestling. Who doesn’t love watching 300 pound men “bulldoze” each other in a diaper? In all seriousness, Japanese boxers have established themselves as a dominant force in the Strawweight through Junior Featherweight divisions, and have done so in an entertaining manner.
As a frame of reference, Japan’s first boxing gym was built in Tokyo in 1921; 2 years after Jack Dempsey won the World Heavyweight title from Jess Willard. Thirty-one years later, Japan produced its first World Champion, Yoshio Shirai, who captured the Flyweight crown from Salvador (Dado) Marino in 1952. Shirai was literally a “diamond in the rough”, as he was lucky to be alive, as this occurred 7 years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The smooth orthodox pugilist from Tokyo passed away at the blessed age of 80 years old in 2003. He will remain a legendary figure for the sport in Japan, and in the hearts of boxing fans, forever. Shirai remains a source of inspiration for the 40+ World Champions that the home of the cherry blossom has produced, since his hand was raised in victory.
The most dominant years of Japanese prizefighters was in the 1960’s and early 70’s. Masahiko Harada, current president of the Japanese Boxing Commission (JBC), captured championships in the flyweight (1962) and bantamweight (1965) divisions. As a matter of fact, in the early 70’s, “The Land of the Rising Sun” simultaneously had 5 reigning World Champions. To name a few, Guts Ishimatsu, Koichi Wajima, and Yoko Gushiken, all played a part during this “golden era”, echoing the voice of recognition when it comes to Japanese boxing.
The early 2000’s seem to be making a heroic attempt to be heralded in the same manner. The short list of the current and rising pugilists from Japan include Nobuo Nashiro (current WBA Super Flyweight Champ), Takefumi Sakata (Former WBA Flyweight Champ), Toshiaki Nishioka (current WBC Super Bantamweight Champ), Koki Kameda (WBC Flyweight Champ), and Hozumi Hasegawa. Hasegawa, a fan favorite, is the current WBC Bantamweight Champion, and has defended the title 10 times.
The 29 year-old southpaw touts a record of 28-2-0, and is as technically proficient as any top prizefighter in the sport. Hasegawa knocked out his last opponent, Alvaro Perez, in the fourth round and cracked many boxing pundits Top 10 P4P list—including my own. In addition, Hasegawa was voted Japanese Boxing MVP for the second year in a row by the JBC. Recently there have been talks of Hasegawa traveling across the Pacific and continuing his career in the U.S. Hopefully, this will lead to a bout between the champion from Hyogo, and Golden Boy’s promising Mexican prospect, Abner Mares, who is managed by Frank Espinoza of Espinoza Boxing Club (also manages Israel Vasquez, Martin Castillo, Carlos Molina, Ronny Rios, etc.).
With the 2012 London Olympic Games 2 years away, watch for Japan to make a serious statement in the lighter divisions. Media networks like TBS, TV Tokyo, TV Asahi, Fuji TV, and NTV are having a tremendous impact on the popularity of the sport with the youth. In addition WOWOW, the first private satellite broadcasting station in Japan, features 5 hours of boxing programming per week that generally features National as well as World Champions.
Contrary to popular belief, “boxing’s rising”—especially in Japan. It is always promising when boxing champions begin to emerge in all parts of the world. It reinforces the desire for all things to grow, as it continues to expand its fan base and marketing potential. With a global collective effort, boxing has the chance to turn fans on the periphery into real fans of the “sweet science”. Like a samurai walking from city to city conquering souls for the Shogun with the sword, boxing will conquer the hearts of potential fans around the world with its hands. God Bless Japan.