BOXING AND PRO WRESTLING IN JAPAN

BOXING IN JAPAN

Tokyo was the site of one of the greatest boxing upsets in history: when Buster Douglas stunned undefeated Mike Tyson at the Tokyo Dome in February 1990 for the world heavyweight title. Tyson fought twice in Tokyo.

Muhammad Ali fought the Japanese wrestler at the Budokan in Tokyo in 1976. Harvey Dickson wrote in the New York Times, “My in-house Japanese-culture consultant turned to me Sunday night and said, “Do you remember when Muhammad Ali fought the Japanese wrestler in the 1970s?” I assumed this was a gross misinterpretation of something. Maybe a cartoon she saw once. But no. On June 26, 1976, Ali met Antonio Inoki, a professional wrestler, in the ring in Tokyo (at Budokan!). Inoki, for reasons best known to him, which is not to rule out terror given his prominent chin, spent most of the match on his back, trying to kick Ali. It ended in a draw. See Pro Wrestling Below. [Source: Harvey Dickson, New York Times]

Japan has produces some good small boxers. Masahiko "Fighting" Harada became the world bantamweight champion in 1965 when he defeated Brazilian Eer Jofre. Three years earlier he claimed the world flyweight championship when he defeated Pone Kingpatch of Thailand. Japan's only other undisputed world boxing champion was Yoshio Shirai, a flyweight champion in the early 1950s.

Masahiko Harada, a bantamweight and flyweight champion, was the first Japanese to enter the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Two others have been inducted: matchmaker and critic Joe Koizumi, and Akihiko Honda, a promoter who helped bring Mike Tyson and other top boxers to Japan. Harada and Joichiro Tatsuyoshi each won five world championship titles. Harada did it in the flyweight and bantamweight divisions between 1962 to 1972 and Tatsuyoshi did in in the bantamweight class between 1991 to 1998. Tatsuyoshi captured the WBC bantamweight crown in 1991 with a win over American Greg Richardson in only his eighth fight---the shortest time in which a Japanese boxer claimed a world title. After a near-career-ending detached retina he bounced back to claim the crown again in 1997 but lost in1998. He fought again in 2008.

Yoko Gushiken is No. 1 among Japanese for consecutive title defenses. He defended the WBA light flyweight title 13 times in a row. Kazumi Izaki, a 44-year-old mother of two, became Japan’s oldest boxer when she was approved Japan’s boxing licensing board.

In February 2010, 26-year-old boxer Hirokazu Yamaki died of brain trauma after being knocked out in the eight round of a fight in Tokyo . He remained unconscious after the fight and underwent unsuccessful emergency surgery.

Top Japanese female boxers include WBC light-flyweight campeona Naomi Togashi, a 36-year-old maternity nurse; WBC strawweight champ Naoko Fujioka, also 36. The two women were both given Boxer of the Year. Having boxed long in the amateur ring, Fujioka (7-0, 5 KOs) recently turned professional but is a good puncher, whose title-winning bout with Anabel Ortiz (TKO8) was also named Fight of the Year. [Ibid]

Good Websites and Sources: New Japan Pro Wrestling puroresu.com/newjapan ; Pro Wrestling Video YouTube ; Oriental Boxing ring-japan.com/oriental ; Latest in Boxing t3.rim.or.jp/~sports

Links in this Website: SPORTS IN JAPAN (Click Sports, Recreation, Pets ) Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SUMO RULES AND BASICS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SUMO Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; KARATE, AIKIDO AND JAPANESE MARTIAL ARTS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JUDO, JAPAN AND THE OLYMPICS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; KENDO, ARCHERY AND JAPANESE MARTIAL ARTS WITH WEAPONS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BOXING AND PRO WRESTLING IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Toshiaki Nishioka

Toshiaki Nishioka was one of Japan’s best boxers in the 1990s and 2000s. Dan Rafael of ESPN.com wrote: Nishioka was one of the finest Asian fighters of this era. During his 18-year professional career, Nishioka (39-5-3, 24 KOs), 36, had his ups and downs. He won the Japanese national title in 1998 and made two defenses. In 2000, he lost a decision challenging then-bantamweight world titleholder Veeraphol Sahaprom of Thailand. It was the first of four title bouts against Sahaprom during their 2000-2004 rivalry. But Nishioka never was able to win the belt at 118 pounds, settling for draws with him in the second and third fights followed by another decision loss. [Source: Dan Rafael, ESPN.com, November 14, 2012]

Nishioka moved up to junior featherweight and, in 2008, he claimed an interim belt by outpointing Napapol Sor Rungvisai before being elevated to a full titleholder. He defended the title seven times, beating a series of top opponents. For one of the defenses, Nishioka traveled to Mexico and scored a sensational third-round knockout in an upset against Jhonny Gonzalez, a former bantamweight titleholder who later won a featherweight belt. Nishioka counts the win against Gonzalez as the best of his career. [Ibid]

"Looking back, I was very exited to defend my title outside of Japan," he said. "The emotion that went through my mind right after the fight was unspeakable. That was the kind of fight that I will never be able to experience that kind emotion ever again in my life. As a fight that I have emotional attachment is the fight against Napapol, (because I) became a world champion, which I dreamed of since I was 11 years old." Nishioka also defeated top contender Rendall Munroe from Great Britain and former champion Rafael Marquez of Mexico in October 2011 in Las Vegas. After the fight with Marquez, Nishioka took some time off, during which he vacated his belt. He wanted Donaire all along and returned a year later to challenge him for his version of the title last month. [Ibid]

Nishioka was named Japan’s Boxer of the Year in 2011 by Tokyo Sports Writers Association along with the Japan Boxing Commission (JBC) thanks to his invaluable victory over Rafael Marquez with his belt on the line in Las Vegas in October 2011.

In May 2009, Toshiaki Nishioka defended his WBC super bantamweight title knocking out challenger Johnny Gonzalez of Mexico in the third round. Nishioka’s record at that time was 34 wins, 21 by knock out, and four losses and three draws. In January 2009, Nishioka defended his WBC title by stopping Genearo Garcia of Mexico with a technical knock 57 second into the 12th and final round. In October 2010, Nishioka defended his super bantamweight title for the fifth time by defeating Britain’s Rendall Munroe. In April 2011 Nishioka knocked out his opponent to keep his claim on the WBC super bantamweight title.

In October 2011, Kyodo reported, boxing champion Toshiaki Nishioka defeated second-ranked Rafael Marquez of Mexico by a unanimous decision to successfully defend his WBC super bantamweight title for the seventh time. Nishioka became the first Japanese boxer to defend a world title in the mainland United States, improving to 39-4-3 (24 knockouts) after the win at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

At 35 years and 2 months, Nishioka also became the oldest Japanese fighter to retain his world belt, replacing previous record holder Daisuke Naito."I didn't let my focus drop for one single moment. I am really happy," said Nishioka. "(Marquez) took measures to stop my lefts and it was difficult to hit him so I just slowly kept chipping away." The last time Nishioka lost was to in 2004 to Thai legend Veeraphol Sahaprom. The southpaw claimed the title when he bear Thailand’s Napapol Sor Rungvisai in 2008 in Yokohama.

Toshiaki Nishioka Retires

In November 2012,Toshiaki Nishioka announced his retirement. Dan Rafael of ESPN.com wrote: His retirement comes one month after he was knocked down twice and ultimately stopped in the ninth round challenging 122-pound titleholder Nonito Donaire in October 2012 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Nishioka, who does some part-time work as a boxing analyst on Japanese-televised fights, said he plans to start his own boxing gym in his hometown of Amagasaki, Japan. [Source: Dan Rafael, ESPN.com, November 14, 2012]

"Boxing gave me so much happiness and I was able to experience special feelings. I was touched and moved with strong emotion from fighting and boxing," Nishioka said in remarks translated into English. "I was able to become a world champion and able to fight against Donaire in the United States in the main event on a major television station (HBO) in U.S. I am very satisfied with what I have accomplished with my life as a boxer."

Nishioka said he was not retiring simply because he lost a lopsided fight to Donaire. "The first week (after the fight), I was frustrated and angry, but it was just a result of the fight," he said. "I have given everything toward this last fight against Donaire and trained this past year. For that, I am very proud of myself and satisfied. "To be honest, I feel I can still become world champion against anybody except for Nonito Donaire. There is no more motivation and emotional satisfaction I will receive by fighting anybody other than the last fight I prepared myself and fought against Donaire in October. This is the reason I decided to retire from boxing."

Daisuke Naito

Daisuke Naito took the WBC flyweight crown by defeating Thai boxer Pongsaklek Wongjingkam in July 2007. He lost twice to the Thai in the past. He retained his title in July 2008 with a 10th round knock out of countryman Tomonobu Shimzu. Naito beat Daiki Kameda in a controversial bout in October 2007 (See Kameda) and won a rematch against Wongjingkam in March 2008 in Tokyo in a 12-round bout with no knockdowns.

In December 2008, Naito successfully defended hi his WBC flyweight title by defeating fellow Japanese Shingo Yamaguchi with a technical knockout in the 11th round. Yamaguchi but up a good fight, Naito was battered and exhausted after the fight. It was his forth title defense,

In May 2009, Daisuke Naito managed to hold on to his WBC flyweight title despite a tough a challenge from China’s Xiong Zhaozhong. Naito was knocked down in the sixth rounds but kept his offensive enough to win an unanimous decision.

In May 2009, Xiong Zhaizhing became the first male Chinese boxer to contend for a world title when he faced off against WBC champion Daisuke Naito of Japan in a flyweight division fight. Although Xiong knocked down Naito in the sixth round Naito prevailed and won the fight.

In 2009 Koki Kameda claimed the WBC flyweight title with a unanimous decision over Daisuke Naito.

Yutaka Niida

Minimum weight boxer Yutaka Niida captured the WBA crown in September 2007 after defeating top ranked Eriberto Gejon of the Philippines. In March 2008, Niida stopped challenger Jose Varela of Venezuela in the sixth round, sending him the canvas with 2 minutes 16 seconds left in the round, to defend his WBA minimum weight crown for the seventh time.

In September 2008, Niida was defeated by Roman Gonzalez of Nicaragua with a forth-round technical knockout. Gonzalez dominated the fight and sealed the victory with a hard right to Niida’s right eyes, Gonzalez improved to 21-0 with 11 knockouts. Niida dropped to 22-2 with three draws.

Hozumi Hasegawa

WBC bantamweight champion Hozumi Hasegawa was voted the Japanese boxing MVP in 2005 and 2006. He defeated the former champion, a Thai, in March 2006 and won an a unanimous decision against a to pcontender from Mexico in April 2005.

In January 2008, Hozumi Hasegawa retained the WBC bantam weight title for a record 5th time, making him Japan’s longest-reigning champion, . He outlasted Simone Maudrotto of Italy in a 12-round slugfest in Osaka. As of 2008 Hasegawa had 22 wins, including seven knockouts and two defeats.

In October 2008, Hasegawa beat Alejandro Valdez if Mexico in Tokyo with a technical knockout to defend the WBC bantamweight title for seventh time.

In March 2009, Hasegawa defended his WBC title by stopping Vusi Mainga of South Africa with a technical knock out on the first round.

Hasegawa was named Japan Boxing Commission boxer of the year in 2009 for the second consecutive year and the forth overall after successfully defending his title three times. In July 2009, he defended his WBC bantamweight title for the ninth time with a technical knockout of American Nestor Rocha in the first round. In December he defended it for the 10th time knocking out Nicaraguan Alvaro Perez with a hard right in the forth round. The victory made him No. 2 among Japanese for consecutive title defenses.

In December 2010, Hasegawa beat Mexico’s Juan Carlos Burgos to claim the WBC batameight tititle. It was his second WBC title, making him the 9th Japanese boxer to win championship titles in two classes.

In April 2011 Hasegawa was TKOed by Jhonney Gonzalez of Mexico in the forth round to lose his WBC featherweight title. In May 2010, Hasegawa lost his WBA bantam weight title to Mexican challenger Fernando Montiel. Hasegawa then moved up two weight classes to featherweight. In his debut at the weight he out pointed top ranked WBC boxer Juan Carlos Burgos to claim the then vacant WBC Featherweight title.

Kameda Brothers

In December 2010 all three Kameda brothers---the oldest super flyweight Koki, the second-oldest flyweight Daiki, and the youngest Tomoki---won their fights in a tripleheader held in Saitama. Daiki won a decision over 14th-ranked Romanian Silvio Olteanu in his second title defense. Tomoki defeated Pichitchai Twins Gym of Thailand in a non-title fight.

In 2007, Koki Kamada severed a “voluntary three-month suspension in 2007 for his involvement in his brother’s unruly behavior (See Below) and move dup to the flyweight division. In March 2008, he won a unanimous decision over Rexon Flores of the Philippines in a nontitle match. It was his first fight in eight months. At that time he was the top contender in the WBA flyweight rankings,

Koki and Daiki Kameda failed to pay tax on about $1 million in taxable income.

In December 2011, Koki Kameda successfully defended his WBA bantamweight title but his brother Daiki lost a unanimous decision to WBA super flyweight champion Tepparith Kokietgym in the main event of a world championship doubleheader. Koki, the oldest of the three Kameda boxing brothers, stopped 12th-ranked Mexican Mario Macias in the fourth round with a flurry of body blows in his third title defense at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. [Ibid]

Koki Kameda

Koki Kameda is a popular and controversial boxer in Japan. As of March 2008 he had won the WBA light flyweight title and had a 17-0 record, including 11 knockout wins, A native of Osaka, he trains under his father and is known for quick hands, relentless stalking and showmanship and antics, that have included wiggling his hips in fights and sticking out his tongue out at opponents.

Koki Kameda is the oldest of boxing Kameda brothers. In August 2006 at the age of 19 Kameda fought Venezuelan Juan Landaeta for the vacant WBA light flyweight title. Kameda won in a controversial split decision. Most thought that Landaeta---who was 20-4 with 16 knockouts after the fight---dominated. In first round Kameda was floored for the first time in his career. He scored some points with some skilled combinations in the 3rd but almost went down again in the 11th. Among those who carried him off at the end was sumo yokozuna Asashoryu. Some said the result was a farce, or even worse, a fix. Even Kameda fans voiced their disappointment over the decision. Before that he had compiled an 11-0 record with 10 knockouts but hadn’t really faced anyone. Kameda answered his critics later with a unanimous decision over Landatea in a rematch.

In 2009 Koki Kameda claimed the WBC flyweight title with a unanimous decision over Daisuke Naito.

Koki made history with a unanimous decision win over former WBA super flyweight Alexander Munoz from Venezuela. With the win Koki claimed the vacant WBA bantamweight crown and became the first Japanese boxer to win world titles in three weight classes. Afterwards the said “Winning world title belts in three different weight classes was dream since I was a little kid, so I’m thrilled.” If I get a chance, I want to fight in some other weight category. I think super flyweight is better for my body.”

In March 2010, Koki Kameda lost the WBC flyweight title to boxer Pongsakiek Womgjogkam of Thailand, giving the Japanese boxer his first defeat in 23 career bouts. There was some controversy over head buts delivered by the Thai boxer that opened a cut above Kameda eye. After the bout Kameda’s father and coach lost his cool and launched into a violent verbal tirade the cased him to have his boxing license taken way, a move which bars him from taking part in any boxing activities. The only other time a licence was taken away like that was when was an American boxer was prosecuted on murder charges in 1997.

Koki Kameda in 2011 and 2012

In April 2012, Koki Kameda successfully defended his World Boxing Association (WBA) bantamweight title, winning a unanimous decision victory over Nouldy Manakane of Indonesia. Three judges scored the fight at Yokohama Arena 115-113, 118-110 and 117-110 in favour of the defending champion. It was Kameda's fourth defence since winning the vacant title when he beat Alexander Munoz of Venezuela in December 2010, stretching his record to 28 wins, including 17 KOs, against one defeat. Manakane, ranked 11th in the WBA, now has 24 wins, including 15 KOs, against 11 defeats and a draw. [Source: AFP April 4, 2012]

AFP reported: “Kameda is the eldest of a trio of boxing brothers who have bad-boy images in the media and among boxing fans. Second brother Daiki was suspended from boxing for a year after his failed title bid against then World Boxing Commission flyweight champion Daisuke Naito in October 2007 for using dirty tactics. Koki Kameda was reprimanded by the Japan Boxing Commission for urging his brother to fight dirty. Their father, Shiro Kameda, has been barred by the WBC from serving as a cornerman in its matches for abusing match officials and has been slapped with a life ban by Japan's boxing authority. [Ibid]

In August 2011, WBA bantamweight champion Koki Kameda successfully defended the title for the second time in a unanimous decision over Mexican challenger David De La Mora. Kameda sent De La Mora to the canvas with a left counter punch in the third round and continued to wrack up points afterward in the 12-rounder at Nippon Budokan. The 24-year-old Kameda improved to a 26-1 record, including 16 knockouts. De La Mora, 23, appearing in his first world title bout, slipped to 23-1 (16 Kos). [Source: Kyodo news]

In December 2011, Koki Kameda successfully defended his WBA bantamweight title by stopping 12th-ranked Mexican Mario Macias in the fourth round with a flurry of body blows in his third title defense at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. Koki sent Macias to the canvas with a left hook in the opening round and again with a left in the third round before finishing him off 2 minutes, 4 seconds into the fourth. "It feels so good to fight in my native Osaka," Koki said. "It was my best bout ever in the bantamweight class. I was in good form. I was able to see all of his punches." He improved to 27-1 with 17 knockouts. [Source: Kyodo, December 8, 2011]

In December 2012, AP reported: “Koki Kameda retained his WBA bantamweight title by scoring a split decision over Mexican challenger Hugo Ruiz on Tuesday. Two judges scored the bout for the Japanese champion 116-113 and 115-113, while the third favored Ruiz 117-113. Kameda was making the fifth defense of the title he won in 2010 and improved to 29-1 with 17 knockouts. Ruiz dropped to 31-2 with 28 Kos. While both fighters came out cautiously, Kameda dominated the final three rounds, and bloodied Ruiz's nose. [Source: Associated Press, December 4, 2012]

Daiki Kameda

In October 2007, 18-year-old Daiki Kameda, brother of Koki Kameda, was involved in an embarrassing flyweight fight in which he tackled his opponent Daisuke Naito, lifted him and threw him down, hit him while on the floor and, according to some observers, used wrestling-style moves such as head butting, thumbing Naito’s eyes, elbowing him and punching him in the groin---and lost.

Daiki Kameda was sharply criticized in the press. He shaved his head and apologized in public and was suspended for a year for poor sportsmanship from boxing by the Japan Boxing Commission. It was the first time in 10 years a boxer was suspended by the commission.

Daiki Kameda is the second oldest of boxing Kameda brothers. Before the bout he called Naito as “cockroach” and said he would commit hara-kiri if he lost. He did not keep his promise. Koki admitted that he and his father instructed Daiki to use unsportsmanlike-like tactic the fight against Naito. They were also punished by the Japan Boxing Commission. Daiki Kameda returned ti the ring in November 2008

Koki, Daiki and a third brother Tomiki have all trained together under their father since childhood, using some unorthodox training methods such as lifting sandbags to improve their uppercut strength and dodging ping pong balls thrown at them to improve their weaving and dodging skills. The family has made numerous television appearances and have been touted as “golden eggs” in the Osaka area from which they hail.

In November 2008, in his return to the ring after a one-year suspension, Daiki Kameda beat Mexican boxer Angel Rezaga in a non-title fight. In October 2009, he lost in second attempt to win a world title, he was defeated in a 12-round decision by Thailand’s Denkaosen Kaowichita in the WBA flyweight division in his hometown of Osaka. In December 2010, he said he was going to give up his flyweight belt and fight in a heavier class, super flyweight or bantamweight division.

In February 2010,Daiki Kameda captured the WBA flyweight championship with a unanimous decision over Thai boxer Denkaosen Kaowichit in Kobe, avenging a loss to the same boxer, a year earlier. In September 2010, Daiki Kameda beat fellow countryman Takefumi Sakata to retain is WBC flyweight title at Tokyo Big Sight. It was his first defense of a title he won won in February.

In June 2012, Daiki Kameda won his WBA flyweight bout in Tokyo with a technical knockout of Mexico's Jovanny Soto. Kameda put Soto down in the third round and used a flurry of punches in the fourth to finish off the fight 21 seconds into the round. "This is the best of my recent fights," said Kameda. [Source: Jiji-Daily Yomiuri, June 27, 2012]

In December 2011, Daiki Kameda lost a unanimous decision to WBA super flyweight champion Tepparith Kokietgym in the main event of a world championship doubleheader that also featured his brother Koki. Kyodo reported: “Daiki “and the Thai champion exchanged hard punches throughout the bout, but Tepparith was more effective in his first title defense. The judges scored the bout 115-113, 116-112 and 119-110 in favor of Tepparith. Daiki dropped to 22-3 with 14 Kos.

If Daiki had won, he and Koki would have become the first Japanese boxing brothers to win world belts in multiple weight classes. Koki has claimed the WBA light flyweight and WBC flyweight titles, while Daiki has won the WBA flyweight crown. "I'll accept my defeat," Daiki said. "As a challenger, I wanted to give him a good fight. I just wasn't good enough against him."

Kazuto Ioka and Akira Yaegashi

In June 2012, WBC minimum weight champion Kazuto Ioka beat WBA champ Akira Yaegashi by unanimous decision in the first unification title bout between Japanese boxers. AP reported: “Ioka dominated the early rounds and survived a late flurry of punches by the resilient Yaegashi to improve to 10-0 (6 KO). Yaegashi put up a strong challenge despite a swollen left eye but couldn't overcome his younger opponent and dropped to 15-3 (8 KO). The judges scored the bout 115-114, 115-113, 115-113 for Ioka. [Source: Associated Press, June 20, 2012]

Joe Koizumi wrote on Fighnews.com, “Kazuto Ioka is the unbeaten WBC 105-pound ruler who captured the diadem by a stunning demolition of previously unbeaten defending titlist Oleydong Sithsamerchai with a single body shot in February and impressively scored a couple of defenses over Juan Hernandez (W12) and Yodgoen Tor Chalermchai (TKO1). The vastly-talented Ioka is eagerly gunning for a unification of the belts with WBA counterpart Akira Yaegashi since the 22-year-old baby-faced assassin, still physically developing, has had a weight problem and wishes to outgrow the 105-pound category soon or later. [Source: Joe Koizumi, Fighnews.com, January 26th, 2012]

In August 2011, Kazuto Ioka defended his WBC minimumweight crown with a unanimous decision over Mexican top-ranked challenger Juan Hernandez. The 22-10 Japanese is now 8-0 with knockouts. In December 2012, the Bangkok Post reported: “Japan's Kazuto Ioka overwhelmed Jose Rodriguez of Mexico by a technical knockout victory in the sixth round to take the vacant World Boxing Association (WBA) light-flyweight title. Ioka, former WBC strawweight and WBA minimumweight champion, knocked down Rodriguez in the first round with a left hook to the body. He sent him to the floor twice more in the sixth round, with the referee stopping the fight at two minutes 50 seconds, after the second knock-down. [Source: Bangkok Post, December 31, 2012]

With his victory, 23-year-old Ioka, who is ranked second in the WBA, became the fastest Japanese boxer to win two world titles in different categories, stretching his unbeaten record to 11 wins, including seven Kos. "I don't feel that I really did it, but I'm very happy that I did," said Ioka. "I want to prove that hard work will make your dream come true," he added. Rodriguez, also 23 and ranked fifth, now has 28 wins, including 17 KOs and two defeats. [Ibid]

Akira Yaegashi was the WBA 105-pound champ. His gallant and grueling title-winning triumph over Pornwawan Porpramook (TKO10) was already named International Fight of the Year by ESPN Sports in 2011. [Ibid]

Toshiyuki Igarashi Takes WBC Flyweight Crown

In July 2012, Japan’s Toshiyuki Igarashi defeated title-holder Sonny Boy Jaro of the Philippines by a split decision to become the new World Boxing Council (WBC) flyweight champion. Two judges counted it 116-112 and 115-113 in favour of the Japanese, while the other judge scored it 116-112 for the defending champion. [Source: AFP, July 17, 2012]

AFP reported: “It was the first attempt at a world title for the 28-year-old Japanese, who is ranked top in the WBC, stretching his record to 16 wins, including 10 KOs, against one draw and one defeat. The 30-year-old Jaro now stands at 34 wins, including 24 KOs, against 11 defeats and five draws. Jaro, became flyweight champion and took the WBC title four months ago with a sixth-round knockout over Thai legend Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. [Ibid]

Yota Sato

In July 2012, Yota Sato defended his World Boxing Council (WBC) super flyweight title beating Sylvester Lopez of the Philippines by a unanimous decision victory. The three judges counted it 118-110, 116-113, 119-109 all in favor of the defending champion. "Lopez is ranked top and he has 19 wins and 15 KOs. He is really a strong fighter, so I was a bit nervous in the first round. I will fight more aggressively in my next defense of the title," said Sato, 28. "I'm not satisfied with the way I fought today, but I promise that I will improve a lot for my next match," he added. [Ibid]

AFP reported: “Lopez looked passive in the first round, allowing the Japanese to connect an array of right hooks. Sato again fired a couple of effective right hooks in the third round as he led 40-36, 39-38 and 40-36 after the fourth round. Sato's combination of left jabs and right hooks lifted him up to 79-73, 78-75, 80-72 at the end of the eighth round. Lopez became aggressive in the following rounds but received a right straight to the face in the 10th and a right hook in the 11th, allowing the Japanese to safely keep the lead. [Ibid]

It was Sato's first defense of the title he wrested from Suriyan Sor Rungvisai of Thailand in March, improving his record to 25 wins, including 12 KOs, against two defeats and a draw. The 24-year-old Lopez saw his record reduced to 19 wins, including 15 KOs, against four defeats and a draw. [Ibid]

Ryota Murata Wins Japan's First Boxing Gold since 1964

Ryota Murata beats Brazil's Esquiva Falcao to win Japan's first Olympic boxing gold medal since Tokyo 1964. A two-point penalty in the final round for the Brazilian helped Murata secure Japan's second boxing gold of the games . Falcao and his brother, Yamaguchi, who won the bronze medal as a light heavyweight, both fell short of winning Brazil's first Olympic boxing gold medals. In December 2012, Murata was given a special award at the Japan Grand Prix at the 62nd Japan Sports Awards. Established by The Yomiuri Shimbun, the awards are given every year to the most prominent athletes and teams in the world of sports. [Source: BBC, August 11, 2012; Yomiuri Shimbun, December 15, 2012]

Jiji Press reported: “Middleweight Ryota Murata won Japan's first Olympic boxing gold in nearly half a century, narrowly defeating Brazil's Esquiva Falcao Florentino in a hard-fought contest. The victory capped a fairy-tale return to the ring for Murata, who briefly retired after failing to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics but later changed his mind. Murata's boxing life has had its ups and downs, but his hard work since coming out of retirement has paid off with a gold medal. However, Murata feels this is just another step on his life journey. "My worth won't be decided by this medal. How I live after the Olympics will decide that. I'll live my life so it befits the medal," Murata said.[Source: Jiji-Daily Yomiuri, August 13, 2012]

Although history had been against him, Murata felt his 14-13 win had always been a genuine aspiration. "Winning a gold medal wasn't just a dream. It was a realistic target," Murata said after the bout. Using his trademark body blows, Murata was effective in close in the first round and built up a 5-3 lead against Florentino, whom he also defeated in the semifinals of last year's World Championships. [Ibid]

The Brazilian southpaw changed tactics in the second round, and used his footwork to keep Murata out of range, where his body shots were less potent. The strategy worked, and Murata's lead was cut in half after this round. Florentino come out swinging in the final round, unleashing several heavy left hooks that forced Murata to the ropes. Murata countered with some more body blows, and a tiring Florentino began resorting to clinching to stop the flurry of punches. The referee warned Florentino for holding, which gave Murata two vital points. Murata squeaked into the final by beating Uzbekistan's Abbos Atoev in the semifinal the previous day. The Japanese boxer had been behind after two rounds, but dominated the third to advance. [Ibid]

Murata's gold was Japan's second boxing medal in London, following Satoshi Shimizu's bronze in the bantamweight division Friday. This was the first time Japan has won multiple boxing medals at an Olympic Games. The nation's last boxing gold was won by bantamweight Takao Sakurai at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. [Ibid]

Murata Fought with Late Mentor in Mind

Keiichi Kojima wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, "Believe in yourself!" middleweight boxer Ryota Murata repeatedly thought as he fought his way to Japan's first Olympic boxing gold medal in 48 years. In repeating the mantra to himself, Murata was honoring the memory of his late mentor, who constantly told him he had to believe in himself. Murata met teacher Maekawa Takemoto---whom he still looks up to as a lifelong mentor---at a boxing club of Minami-Kyoto High School in Kyoto. The enthusiastic teacher often told him: "Believe in your possibilities. Strive to realize your dream." [Source: Keiichi Kojima, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 13, 2012]

Before Murata met Takemoto, he was unable to wholly devote himself to anything. When he was a first-year student of Fushimi Middle School in Nara, he dyed his hair brown and was often scolded by his homeroom teacher. When the teacher asked Murata whether there was anything he wanted to do, Murata immediately said "boxing" because he wanted to be stronger when he fought with other boys. [Ibid]

The teacher introduced him to a boxing club at a local high school, but he quit the club in two weeks as he found the training too hard. Murata later recovered his desire to learn how to box, and when he had to decide which high school to go to, he chose Minami Kyoto High School, which is famous for its boxing club. At the high school, Takemoto sharply rebuked Murata when he had fights with other boys outside the ring or skipped training. However, he took Murata's concerns seriously. [Ibid]

At a training camp, it became a custom for the club's members to express their worries to Takemoto before they went to bed. "Even if you win a boxing match, it doesn't mean you can win in society," Takemoto repeatedly told the club members, "Be a person who others can trust." Murata was attracted by Takemoto, who was always up-front with his students, and he gradually became enthusiastic about training. After entering Toyo University, Murata quickly gained a reputation for the heavy punches he delivered from his 182-centimeter, 77-kilogram body. He soon decided he wanted to go to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. However, in those those days it was said that Japanese middleweights could not compete at a world-class level because there were many middleweights with overwhelming power. [Ibid]

After Murata was badly defeated as a member of a Japanese delegation competing in the preliminaries for the Beijing Olympics in March 2008, he gave up boxing and went to work for Toyo University. Murata later learned that Takemoto had gone to cheer for him at the preliminary match but cried in a dressing room after Murata was defeated. Takemoto dreamed of watching his student box in the Olympics. Murata later said that deep inside he may have given up on winning the match almost from the beginning. [Ibid]

Murata returned to the boxing ring in autumn of 2009, a move that made Takemoto ecstatic. But in February the next year, Murata was shocked to hear that Takemoto had committed suicide. He was 50. "I couldn't believe why a person who constantly told me to believe in myself would do that," he said Murata heard Takemoto had relationship problems. The venue of Takemoto's memorial service had an overcapacity crowd of mourners, including Takemoto's former students. [Ibid]

Murata swore to himself to make Takemoto's dream come true. He won a silver medal in the World Championships last year, winning a ticket to the London Olympics. Before the semifinals, Murata saw a dark blue T-shirt printed with white letters saying, "Takemoto Gundan" (Takemoto Corps). Hajime Nishii, 45, a teacher who used to train members of the boxing club with Takemoto at Minami-Kyoto High School, made the shirts to keep Takemoto's teaching in mind. Murata said seeing the T-shirt motivated him to do his best and he felt as if Takemoto was watching in London. [Ibid]

Shimizu Wins Olympics Boxing Bronze Medal After Referee Sent Home

Satoshi Shimizu lost his semifinal in the men's bantamweight boxing but left the Olympics with a bronze medals. Shimizu succumbed to Britain's Luke Campbell, a 2011 world silver medalist who dominated from the start for a resounding 20-11 victory. According to RIA Novosti: “The British southpaw came out strong, mixing up his combinations well and registering several stinging lefts to go 5-2 up round one. Shimizu belied his crude style to fare better in the second round but was still overpowered by Campbell and went 11-6 down. [Source: RIA Novosti, August 10, 2012]

Earlier Shimizu had a loss turned into a win after an appeal against his defeat by Azerbaijan’s Magomed Abdulhamidov was decided in his favor. The boxing referee from Turkmenistan who made the initial call was expelled from the London Olympics for his handling of the bout. Boxing's governing body, AIBA, released a statement saying the referee Ishanguly Meretnyyazov "is on his way back home". [Source: Ian McCourt, The Guardian, August 2, 2012]

Ian McCourt wrote in The Guardian: In the bantamweight bout “Magomed Abdulhamidov of Azerbaijan fell to the canvas six times in the third round against Satoshi Shimizu of Japan, yet still won a 22-17 decision. Meretnyyazov allowed the fight to continue after each tumble and he enraged the Japanese team by fixing the headgear worn by Abdulhamidov, who had to be helped from the ring after winning. AIBA overturned the result, saying Meretnyyazov should have counted at least three knockdowns and stopped the bout. [Ibid]

Other Japanese Boxers

In October 2003, Japan’s Hideki Todaka became the World Boxing Association champion when he beat Venezuelan veteran Leo Gamez. Todaka needed to defeat Denmark’s Johnny Bredahl to have undisputed claim to the title.

Nabuo Nashiro claimed the WBA super flyweight title in only his eighth professional fight in July, 2006 against Mexican Martin Castillo after the fight was stopped after just a minute after it began. He defended his titles in a fight in December 2006 against another Mexican Eduardo Garcia, In May 2010, Nashiro lost his WBA super flyweight title in a rematch with Mexican challenger Hugo Cazares.

In May 2008, Japan’s Yusuke Kobori knocked out champion Jose Alfaro from Nicaragua to claim the WBA lightweight title. He is the third Japanese to hold a lightweight title after Guts Ishimatsu in 1974 and Takanori Hatakeyama in 2000. Koboroi lost his WBA lightweight title tp Paulus Mose of Namibia in January 2009

Takefumi Sakata won the WBA flyweight title in July, 2007, defeating Roberto Vasquez of Panama. As of November 2007 he had defended his title twice and had a3 1-4 record. In November 2008, he won a split decision against Thai boxer Denkoasan Kawichit, who knocked Sakata down in the first round and would have won were it not for a one penalty point in the last round for repeatedly holding on,

In November 2006, Katsunari Takayama won the WBA minimum weight championship by defeating Carlos Melo of Panama.

Takashi Uchiyama is the unbeaten WBA super-feather champ who brilliantly scored an eleventh-round stoppage of Jorge Solis in a unification bout and registered five consecutive KO wins since dethroning Juan Carlos Salgado in 2010. In January 2010, Japan’s Takashu Uchiyama claimed the WBA super featherweight title by defeating champion Juan Corlose of Mexico in the 12th round in a bout in Tokyo with a barrage of punches that sent the Mexican to the floor, followed by a series of powerful punches that brought the fight to an end 12 seconds before the end of the last round. Uchiyama, 32, is still technically improving in each appearance despite his repeated hand injury. [Source: Joe Koizumi, Fighnews.com, January 26th, 2012]

In March 2009, Masatate Tsuji battled Yuji Kanemisu for the minimum weight title of Japan. The two boxers fought so ferociously that Tsuji collapsed after a brief exchange in the 10th round and died of acute subdural hematoma, a form or traumatic brain injury, three days after the bout. Kanemitsu wound up with a blood clot in his brain and was forced to retire under mandatory rules that require boxers with such injuries to quit.

In August 2009, Nobuhiro Ishida took the WBA super welterweight crown, defeating Macro Avdendano of Venezuela. Ishida was 34 at the time, making him the second oldest Japanese boxer to win a championship.

In April 2011 Takahiro Ao knocked out his opponent to take the WBC super featherweight title.

In August 2011, Tomonobu Shimizu claimed the WBA super flyweight championship with a split decision win over champion Hugo Cazares in his third try at the world title. Thirty-year-old Shimizu improved to 19-3.

In July 2011, Japanese challenger Kenichi Yamaguchi lost a title match to WBO featherweight champion Orlando Salido of Mexico.

In July 2011, Japanese champ Akifuni Shimoda lost a title match in Atlantic City in the WBA super bantamweight division to American challenger Rico Ramos.

WBC bantam champ Shinsuke Yamanaka received claimed his title by acquiring the vacant belt with an eleventh-round halt of Christian Esquivel in November 2011. The unbeaten southpaw, 15-0-2, 11 KOs, lately improved so remarkably that he registered nine wins in a row within the distance.

Professional Wrestling in Japan

Professional wrestling is very popular in Japan. One of the most popular villains of all time was the Great Togo. When he wrestled in the United States, he used to enter the ring wearing geta, Japanese wooden sandals, scatter salt in the ring like a sumo wrestler and do his best to inflame anti-Japanese antipathy among American fans by throwing salt in the eyes of his opponents and whacking them on the head with his geta. In the end he was usually defeated by his American opponents.

Pro-wrestling matches sometimes take place in Tokyo nightclubs accompanied by strippers, singers and stand-up comics. Many of the events are hosted by local wrestling promoters, who have their won stable of wrestlers. Osaka alone has three such groups: Toryumon Japan, Osaka Pro-Wrestling and DDT.

Describing a match between Ebassan (the name of a local god) and Wonder Catman in a small 350-seat hall where fans have to take their shoes off and sit in floor, Mariko Akamoto wrote in the Asahi Shimbun, “Ebassan earned a cheer when he distracted the cat with a quivering bamboo branch...During the match the wrestler threw the Catman, shouting, “Go away you silly cat. We need more animals here”...300 spectators packed the floor, cheering wildly for their favorite wrestlers. There was barely a quiet moment as they shouted, laughed, applauded and rattled` noisemakers.”

Women’s pro wrestling is declining in popularity. To attract new fans the sports has recruiting schoolgirls to be participants.

Japanese Professional Wrestlers

The wrestlers have names like Maghum Tokyo (aka Mr. Viagra), Super Delfin, Stalker Ichikawa, Wonder Catchan 2002, Tigers Mask, Super Uchu Power, Snake Man, the Human Magnet. The costumes are often very cheesy-looking and look more like something you’d see in Bolivia or a Halloween party not in high-tech Japan or in the WWF.

A professional wrestling craze swept through Japan in 1955, triggered by fights between the wrestlers Rikidozan from Japan and the Sharpe Brothers from the United States. The second Godzilla film made in 1955 featured some wrestling scenes between Godzilla and his foe Angiras inspired by these fights.

A wrestler by the name of Rikidozan, or Riki for short, was very popular in the 1950s and 60s. He made a name for himself defeating foreign foes even though he himself was Korean. When ever he fought foreign wrestlers he would send them sprawling on mat with his infamous "karate chop." He gave Japanese hope when they needed hope in the postwar period by defeating foreigners. He career ended abruptly in 1963 when was stabbed to death by a young thug.

In June 2009, professional wrestler Mitsuharu Misawa died from a severe neck injury he sustained in a match before 2,300 people in Hiroshima Prefecture. Misawa was participating in the main event---the global Honored Crown Tag Team Championship. About 30 minutes into the match he was thrown by an opponent using a Greco-Roman suplex move, Misawa hit his head and was knocked out. The match was stopped. Efforts were made to resuscitate Misawa using an automatic external defribrillator as the crowd chanted Misawa’s name. The effort was unsuccessful. Misawa was taken away by stretcher and then ambulance and pronounced dead at the hospital.

Antonio Inoki, the Japanese Pro Wrestler Who Fought Muhammed Ali

Richard Leiby wrote in the Washington Post: Antonio Inoki is the sharp-chinned pro wrestler famous for having fought---or rather, kicked---heavyweight boxing champ Muhammad Ali to what was judged a draw, in a 1976 match in Tokyo. Inoki was a judo champion before he took to fighting the likes of Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and Ric “Nature Boy” Flair. In 2012, at the age of 69, he no longer physically trains his proteges but said he inculcates in them “a spirit and a mentality” rooted in the martial arts. [Source: Richard Leiby, Washington Post December 13, 2012]

Inoki delivered a huge flying-kick against Ali. The unusual matchup, which earned both men millions, went 15 rounds---during which Inoki stayed low to the mat, the better to escape punishing blows from The Greatest. “The glove was like iron, iron,” he said, rapping his hand on a glass-and-wooden table in the hotel where he stayed. “Very dangerous.” [Ibid]

Inoki, a former member of Japan’s parliament, is also known for launching an unofficial one-man diplomatic mission to Iraq in 1990 to negotiate with Saddam Hussein for the successful release of Japanese hostages before the Persian Gulf War. It was then that he was invited to make a pilgrimage to Karbala, the Shiite holy city, and then that he converted to Islam, in his telling. “They said, “You become a Muslim,” and I couldn’t say no,” he recalled. In Iraq, Antonio Inoki was bestowed with the Islamic moniker Muhammad Hussain, but he now says he is “usually” a Buddhist. [Ibid]

K-1 in Japan

K-1 is a brutal, kickboxing-karate hybrid that is a popular spectator sport in Japan. Fighters from many different countries and many martial art disciplines compete for large purses before large audiences at stadiums and arenas. The sport was founded in 1993 by Kazuyoshi Ishii, a former karate instructor who was later arrested for tax evasion. More than 22,000 people have show at an arena to see the fights. K-1 and its imitator, Pride, draw huge audiences on television and have become as much of a fixture of New Years Eve as the traditional holiday musical show, which is often one of the year’s highest rated shows.

The “K” in K-1 stands for karate and kung fu and the “1" indicates it is the best of all these sports. According to the rules any part of the body but elbows and the head can be used to strike an opponent. The rounds are three to five minutes and many of the fights ended in knockouts. The sport is designed to appeal to violence-longing televison audiences.

Among the most popular fighters are Bob Sapp from the United States, Andy Hug from Switzerland, Mike Bernardo from South Africa, Peter Aerts of the Netherlands and Masake Satake from Japan. The shaven-headed Bernardo appears a number of television commercials for razors, instant noodles and coffee. The brother of sumo champion Asashoryu’s fights in K-1 under the name Blue Wolf. K-1 is considered more popular than sumo.

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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