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Ranking the best Japanese fighters of all time

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  • Ranking the best Japanese fighters of all time

    Japan has a very strong boxing tradition and has given us some of the best boxers in history. Names such as Fighting Harada, Hiroshi Kobayashi, Yoko Gushiken, Koichi Wajima and more recently, Hozumi Hasegawa and Naoya Inoue, surely belong in the pantheon of boxing. In that respect, I'd like to rank their greatest fighters of all time. I'll be using various criterias, not just the number of title defenses, but also who they beat. Each guy's best victory sometimes weights heavier than their number of world titles or defenses.

    1. Fighting Harada
    He belongs here because he is the only man to have bested Eder Jofre, one of THE greatest ever, and twice. Fighting Harada was an action fighter who was not a huge puncher but broke his opponent down with constant and furious two-fisted attack. Born Masahiko Harada (a name he shares with one of Japan's best ski jumpers) 5 April 1943 in Tokyo, Harada became a pro in February 1960 and won his first 25 fights, scoring 10 stoppages. He first loss was to Edmundo Esparza of Mexico, on points in June 1962. Harada unexpectedly got a fight for the WBA flyweight title on 10 October, only 4 months later, against reigning champion Pone Kingpetch. After leading on points, Harada knocked Kingpetch out in the 11th round and thus became a world champion for the first time. However, since that fight was in Japan, Harada had to go to Thailand for the rematch on 12 January, which he lost by a majority decision. He then became a bantamweight. He was stopped for the first time by Jose Medel, a world class fighter and puncher who also fought Jofre, Olivares and Rose, by TKO6 in September 1963. On 18 May 1965 he made his greatest achievement by beating Eder Jofre, 47-0-3 at the time, by SD15 to become the undisputed bantam champion. He defended the title first against Alan Rudkin by UD and then again faced and beat Jofre, this time by UD, 31 May 1966. In his third defense, he avenged the loss to Medel by UD, after overcoming two dangerous rounds. In his fourth defense, he beat Bernardo Caraballo, also by UD, before losing his title to the young Lionel Rose on 27 February 1968, at the Nippon Budokan, by UD. Harada moved up to featherweight and in July '69 fought Johnny Famechon for his WBC title, knocking Famechon down three times and getting knocked down once, at the Sydney Stadium. The referee and scoring judge Willie Pep originally scored the fight a draw, but was intimidated by the crowd to change it to a decision victory for Famechon. Because of the controversy, they had a rematch in Japan on 6 January '70, but this time, after doing well and again putting Famechon down in the 10th, in the 14th he was put through the ropes with a massive right hand and knocked out. That was the end of his career and Harada retired with a record of 55 wins, 22 by ko, and 7 losses, 2 by ko. He was inducted by the IBHOF in 1995.

    2. Kuniaki Shibata
    One of the few Japanese to win three world titles in two different weight classes was Kuniaki Shibata. He had rather impressive knockout power and could also box, but he also got knocked out early and suddenly a few times. His greatest victory was when he beat Vicente Saldivar by a corner retirement in 12, which was how he first became a world champion. Shibata stood 5'4 but was physically strong and muscular. He was born in Hitachi, 29 March 1947, and lived and fought out of Tokyo. He became a pro in 1965 and won his first 21 fights, scoring six first-round knockouts and 15 in all. He was knocked out by experienced American Dwight Hawkins in 7 rounds in March 1968. After winning the Japanese feather title, he went to Tijuana, Mexico, to fight the reigning WBC champ, hall of famer Vicente Saldivar, 11 December '70. He beat Saldivar into submission, forcing him to retire in his corner after 12 rounds. In his first defense, he knocked out Raul Cruz in 1 round, with a single right uppercut. After drawing against Ernesto Marcel in the second defense, he was knocked out by Clemente Sanchez in 3 in the third. He then became a super feather and beat Ben Villaflor for the WBA title in March 1973, in Honolulu, by UD15. He made one successful defense by decisioning Victor Federico Echigaray, before Villaflor knocked him brutally out with one punch in 1 round in the rematch, 17 October '73. Shibata however rebounded by capturing the WBC title in his next fight, by UD against Ricardo Arredondo. He made three successful defenses this time, before again losing his title by KO, in 2 rounds to Alfredo Escalera, 5 July '75. He retired in 1977, with a record of 47 wins with 25 ko's, 6 losses and 3 draws.

    3. Koichi Wajima
    One of the most formidable action fighters in Japan's history and the history of the sport, Koichi "Man on Fire" Wajima had seemingly endless amounts of energy and could take punishment very well, except once when he was knocked out in 7 rounds by Jae-Doo Yuh. First of all, I want to clear up something: the story about him being born in Sakhalin is not true. He was born on Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, 21 April 1943. He became a pro in 1968 and in 1971 he won the world light middle title against Carmelo Bossi of Italy by SD, in Japan. Like Shibata, he won by a KO1 in his first defense, against Domenico Tiberia. He made 6 defenses in all, in his first reign, most notably against Ryu Sorimachi by MD and Miguel De Oliveira, first by a draw and then also by MD. He lost the world titles in 1974 to hard puncher and brawler Oscar Albarado, after an unforgettable war, by KO15. He recaptured the titles by beating Albarado by UD in the rematch in January 1975. In June, he was knocked out by Jae-Doo Yuh in 7, as mentioned. He once again avenged his loss and recaptured the title by stopping Yuh by KO15 in February next year. However, his prime was spent with that final moment of glory and he once again lost the world title to Jose Duran by KO14, in May that year. He once again attempted to become the world champion by challenging the new WBA champion, Eddie Gazo, but he was stopped by KO11 in June '77. He retired finally at the age of 34 and with a record of 31 wins with 25 ko's, 6 losses and 1 draw.

    4. Yoko Gushiken
    This light flyweight has more world title defenses than any other Japanese boxer: 13. Known for his characteristic Afro-hairdo, he went by the fighting alias of "Kanmuriwashi (Fierce Eagle)". Yoko could do a bit of both, box and punch and stood 5'4. He debuted professionally a month before his 19th birthday, in May 1974. He hails from Okinawa but lives in Tokyo. He won his WBA title by knocking out Juan Antonio Guzman in 7 on 10 October 1976 in Kofu, Japan. In his first defense, he fought to a split decision against Jaime Rios, whom he knocked out in 13 in his fifth defense. Rios had lost the same title to Guzman previously. He also beat the former WBA fly champion Alfonso Lopez by KO7, the future WBC super fly champion Rafael Pedroza by UD and future WBA light fly champion Pedro Flores by UD15, in his last successful defense. His 4-year reign was then ended in a rematch against Flores, who knocked him out in round 12, 8 March 1981, in Gushikawa. Gushiken was not yet 26 when he had his last fight and retired with a record of 23 wins with 15 ko's and only 1 loss. He was inducted by the IBHOF in 2015.

    5. Hiroshi Kobayashi
    Kobayashi won the undisputed super feather title in 1967 by knocking out Yoshiaki Numata in 12 rounds. He was usually not a knockout artist but could win by a late ko. He defended the titles first against Rene Barrientos with a draw and then against noted contender Jaime Valladares by UD, before he was stripped of the WBC one for not giving Barrientos a rematch despite a written agreement. He then beat Antonio Amaya by SD in a tough fight to defend his lone WBA belt. He beat Amaya in the rematch by UD. Kobayashi was known for his toughness and in both fights fought well despite blood streaming down his face. In 1968, he also fought Mando Ramos in a lightweight fight in Los Angeles and put Ramos down in the 9th and cut him over the left eye, but lost a UD10. Associated Press scored it 5-3 for him. In his last successful defense, he beat Ricardo Arredondo by UD, before losing it to Alfredo Marcano by TKO10, 29 July 1971 in Japan. On 16 October that year, he fought Roberto Duran and ended his career by getting knocked out by the legend in 7 rounds. He's got 60 wins, 10 by ko, 10 losses and 4 draws.

    6. Masao Ohba
    An outstanding flyweight who won the WBA title in 1970 by KO13 against Berkerk Chartvanchai and defended it 5 times, Ohba's career and life were tragically cut short on 24 January 1973, in an automobile accident. In his last defense, he beat the famed Thai world champion Chartchai Chionoi by a KO12, after almost being stopped in the first round. Oba's record was 35 wins with 16 ko's and 2 early losses on points and an early draw. He was inducted by the IBHOF in 2015.

    7. Toshiaki Nishioka
    An outstanding and versatile bantam and super bantam, Nishioka is one of the country's best fighters in the 21st century. He was born 25 July 1976 in Kakogawa, Hyogo province. Standing almost 5'7, he was tall for his weight classes. He also was a versatile fighter, both capable of outboxing his opponents and winning by a sudden one-punch ko as well as breaking them down gradually. His career as a bantam suffered because he had to compete against one of the greatest bantams in history, Veeraphol Sahamprom. They had four fights, 2 ending in UD for Sahaprom and 2 were draws. First one was in 2000 and last in 2004 and all were defenses of Sahaprom's WBC title. In 2008, Nishioka first won the interim WBC super bantam title by UD against Nanachai Saru and then beat Genaro Garcia by TKO12 in January next year to win the full title. He went to Monterrey in Mexico in May, for his first defense to fight Jhonny Gonzalez. Although he was put down in the first round by the hard-hitting Gonzalez, in the third he suddenly produced an amazing knockout by catching Gonzalez flush with his trademark left hook. To my knowledge, he is the first Japanese fighter to beat a famous Mexican fighter by a one-punch ko in Mexico. In 2010, he beat Rendall Munroe by UD and in his sixth defense of the full title, he beat Rafael Marquez the same way, in 2011. He vacated his title in March 2012 to fight Nonito Donaire for the WBO title, which the Japanese boxing commission does not recognize. The fight happened 13 October that year in Carson, Arizona and Nishioka looked listless and was dominated by Donaire before being dropped twice and stopped by TKO9. That was his last fight, the second in USA. He chose to retire at the age of 36 and with a record of 39 wins, 24 by ko, 5 losses and 3 draws.

    8. Hozumi Hasegawa
    Best known as the man who ended Veeraphol Sahaprom's magnificent championship reign, Hasegawa won 3 world titles: at bantamweight, super bantamweight and featherweight. A good technical boxer with underrated power, his great vulnerability proved to be his chin, later on in his career. Especially above bantamweight. Born 26 December 1980 in Nishiwaki, Hyogo, Hasegawa turned pro in November 1999, just before his 19th birthday. Early on, he lost twice on points. After winning the OPBF bantam title by SD against Jess Maca, he challenged for the WBC title against Sahaprom, who had made 15 defenses and was the king of the division back then. The fight was however in Japan, on 16 April 2005, and Hasegawa made history by beating Sahaprom (46-1-2 at the time) by a close UD. After stopping Gerardo Martinez by TKO7, he again fought Sahaprom in his second defense and this time stopped him by TKO9, 25 March 2006 in Kobe. He beat Genaro Garcia and Simpiwe Vetyeka (16-0 at the time), both by UD, in his next two defenses. In 2009, he beat Vusi Malinga by TKO1-Malinga had previously stopped Sahaprom by TKO4. After 10 successful defenses, his reign was finally ended on 30 April 2010, by Fernando Montiel, who stopped him by TKO4. In his next fight in November, Hasegawa captured the WBC feather title on points against Juan Carlos Burgos. He lost it in the first defense against Jhonny Gonzalez, again by a TKO4, after being ahead on points. He took some time off from world title fights before coming back against Kiko Martinez, fighting for his IBF super bantam title and getting stopped by TKO7 in April 2014. In his last fight 16 September 2016, he once again became a world champion by beating Hugo Ruiz by RTD9 to win the WBC super bantam title. He retired with a record of 36 wins, with 16 ko's, and 5 losses.

    9. Daisuke Naito
    His claim to fame was beating the great Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, the first man to do it in 11 years and the first man to do it in a world title fight. Naito was previously knocked out by Wonjongkam in the fight for his WBC flyweight title in only 34 seconds, in 2002. It was the fastest knockout in a flyweight world title fight. He also lost to Wonjongkam by technical decision in 7 in 2005. He therefore had extra motivation when he faced Wonjongkam for the third time, in 2007, in Wonjongkam's 18th title defense. Naito won by the scores of 115-113 and 116-113 twice at Korakuen Hall in his homeland. He beat the 10-0 Daiki Kameda by UD in his first defense. He fought to a split draw with Wonjongkam in their fourth fight. He then scored a ko in 10 against Tomonobu Shimizu in his third defense and stopped Shingo Yamaguchi by TKO11 in the fourth. After defending successfully for the fifth time against the Chinese Chaozhong Xiong in 2009, he lost the title to the big brother of Daiki Kameda, Koki, 29 November that year, by UD. He had one more fight at super fly and beat Phaiboon Chumthong by KO5 in May 2010, before hanging them up. His record is 36 wins, 23 by ko, 3 losses and 1 draw. He has only been knocked out once-in 34 seconds. Naito was a clever fighter and durable, like most other famous Japanese fighters.

    10. Takashi Uchiyama
    Perhaps the best Japanese fighter of this decade, Uchiyama made 11 defenses of the WBA super feather title between 2010 and 2015. Known as "Ko Dynamite", he possessed power, but perhaps more of the accumulative sort and very good skills. He bust onto the scene by defeating the man who had knocked out Jorge Linares in 1 round, Juan Carlos Salgado, for the WBA belt, by TKO12. That was in January 2010 and next January he beat the excellent Takashi Miura by a corner retirement in 8. He stopped Jorge Solis by TKO11 at the tail-end of that year and then on the same date next year he stopped the 29-0 Bryan Vasquez by TKO8. He also knocked out the undefeated brother of Lorenzo Parra, Jaider, in 5 rounds in another defense. After making his last successful defense at the very end of 2015, he was upset by Jezreel Corrales of Panama on 27 April 2016 and knocked out in 2 after being down three times. Corrales also won the rematch on 31 December 2016, but by SD. Realizing perhaps he was not gonna get any better at 37, Uchiyama retired with an impressive record of 24 wins with 20 ko's, and only 2 losses, with 1 draw.

    11. Shinsuke Yamanaka
    The outstanding bantamweight Yamanaka is second in the number of title defenses in Japanese boxing history-12, only 1 shy of Gushiken's record. A great puncher and offensive fighter, Yamanaka won the WBC bantam title by stopping Christian Esquivel by TKO11 in November 2011. He decisioned Vic Darchinyan by UD in his first defense and then knocked out Tomas Rojas in 7 and Malcolm Tunacao in 12. However, his two best victories lay ahead; in September 2015, he beat Anselmo Moreno, the long-reigning former WBA champion, by SD and then in the rematch next September stopped him by TKO7. His last successful defense was in March 2017, when he beat Carlos Carson by TKO7. Like Uchiyama, Yamanaka proved to have a Kryptonite and his name was Luis Nery. Yamanaka lost his title finally on 15 August '17 when he was stopped by Nery by TKO4, after a competitive first three rounds. Their rematch happened 1 March next year but Nery failed to make the weight and the title was only on the line for Yamanaka. However, he was once again stopped, this time in 2 rounds, by the knockout artist from Mexico and chose to retire. He had fought for 12 years as a pro and his record is 27 wins with 19 ko's, 2 losses and 2 draws.

    12. Jiro Watanabe
    One of the best super flyweights from Japan, Watanabe won the WBA and WBC titles and has won 12 world championship fights, making 10 defenses altogether. Watanabe was a durable and strong fighter with enough power and boxing skills to succee at world level and be a champion for 4 years. Watanabe was born and raised in Osaka and turned pro in 1979, aged 24. He scored 7 knockouts and 3 decision wins before fighting for the WBC title against Chul Ho Kim in Seoul and losing by a mostly close unanimous decision after 15 rounds. It was in 1981 and the next year, 8 April in Osaka, he captured the WBA title by beating Rafael Pedroza by UD and thus began a long and successful reign. In his first defense, he beat the 57-1 Gustavo Ballas, who had previously briefly held the same title, by a corner retirement in 9. He then stopped the former two-time WBC flyweight champ Shoji Oguma by TKO12 in the second defense. His other notable defense was against future IBF champ Soon-Chun Kwon (TD11) and then on 5 July '84 he won the WBC title (after being stripped of the WBA one) by SD against Payao Poontarat, the defending champion. He stopped Poontarat in the rematch by TKO11 and made 3 more successful defenses before finally losing the belt to Gilberto Roman, a great Mexican fighter, by UD12 on 30 March '86. It was his last fight and he retired with a record of 26 wins, 17 by ko, and only 2 losses.

  • #2
    Updated. I replaced Sakata with Jiro Watanabe.

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    • #3
      --- Has KoJo emailed you his list yet?

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      • #4
        Originally posted by LondonRingRules View Post
        --- Has KoJo emailed you his list yet?
        No, who's he?

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        • #5
          --- Godfather of Japanese media, Joe Koizumi!

          No need to bow and scrape, Joe A#1 fella.

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