Japan has a strong history as a very good boxing nation. They have had 86 world champions, 28 more than traditional boxing nation Puerto Rico. They currently have a generation of boxers who are a new breed of Japanese boxer and look to be the best group of boxers yet, possibly already better than the “Golden Sixties” which saw the likes of ‘Fighting’ Harada, Masao Ohba and Shozo Saijo compete.
The stereotype of Japanese boxers has been that they are by-the-book fighters who are very technically proficient but they can struggle with taking punishment. That was the past, and the current crop of Japanese boxers are out to create a new legacy. They have 9 world champions, the oldest of whom is 31 and six who were born in the nineties as well as Kazuta Ioka who just retired as world champion.
So who are the boxers that could make a noise on a global stage?
Ryosuke Iwasa (24-2) is probably the least impressive of the Japanese champions. He won the IBF Super Bantamweight Title over compatriot Yukinori Oguni but has lost to two world champions, in Lee Haskins and Shinsuke Yamanaka. He does not have a great defence and Haskins showed he is vulnerable to being hurt. “Eagle Eye” is a southpaw with a decent reach and a willingness to leave it all in the ring. He will defend his title against Ernesto Saulong whilst TJ Doheny has put himself to be in the position to be mandatory.
Naoya Inoue (15-0) on the other hand is the undoubted star of the Japanese movement. At 24, he is already a two-weight World Champion and a move up to Bantamweight is likely his next move. He has held the WBC Light Flyweight Title and the WBO Super Flyweight Title, skipping a weight class and destroying highly-rated champion Omar Andreas Narváez in the process. He is aptly nicknamed ‘The Monster’ and has absolutely ferocious power. He uses a great jab to pressure opponents, patiently stalking and working to the body. He is already rated in most Pound-for-Pound lists and moving up to a third weight class where he has already spoken of unifying will only bring more eyeballs to a boxer who was already featured on the inaugural Superfly card.
Daigo Higa (15-0) is another great champion, holding the WBC Flyweight Title aged only 22. He took the title against Juan Hernandez Navarette. He stopped Navarette, like he has every other opponent, adding to that list with Moises Fuentes this past weekend. He comes forward throwing punches to the head and body looking to constantly remain in the pocket. He throws with immense power at all time and has great finishing instincts. No one has survived long enough for the gas tank to be truly troubled. He has some flaws, including his small stature but he will always be in exciting bouts. For European boxing fans, Higa has a chance of facing British prospect Andrew Selby as his mandatory in a very intriguing contest.
Sho Kimura (16-1-2) is the WBO Flyweight Title, whose three unsuccessful bouts came in his first eight. Since then he has been on a bit of a tear and won the title by stopping famed Chinese boxer, Zou Shiming and then defending his title by stopping Toshiyuki Igarashi. Kimura is an unrelenting fighter who punches with bad intent and looks to switch down to the body. Paddy Barnes has suggested he would like a fight with Kimura for his WBO Title so we may well be seeing Kimura in Europe soon.
Ken Shiro (12-0) is part of the Japanese dominance at Light Flyweight. He holds the WBC belt winning the title against Ganigan Lopez and then following it up by defeating Pedro Guevara, two of the highest-rated boxers entering the year in the division. He has a decent knockout record given his weight class but his most impressive skill is his movement. He uses his footwork to establish a strong jab. He is precise counterpuncher who lands accurate punches but he is open to punches from the opponents and has not yet learned to switch well to the body.
Kosei Tanaka (10-0) is another two-weight world champion at only 22. He turned professional at 18 and is his fifth fight won the WBO Strawweight Title against Julian Yedras. He made one defence before heading up to Light Flyweight, stopping Moises Fuentes in five rounds for the title. He beat Acosta and CP Freshmart in Title defences and has recently announced he will be headed up to the Flyweight division. Tanaka is an explosive fighter with great speed and surprising bursts of power. His ability to cover distance and get out of range is good but my favourite thing is his stamina which sees him fight the same incredible pace in the final round as the first with his constant moving and volume punching.
Ryoichi Taguchi (27-2-2) is the Light Flyweight Champion I have ranked the highest on my Pound-for-Pound list. His losses came before he was a champion, most recently to Naoya Inoue who was having only his fourth fight. Taguchi beat former world champion Florante Condes and then beat Alberto Rossel for the WBA Title. He made six successful defences of his belt, although one was a draw. He then beat Milan Melindo in a unification bout to win the IBF Title behind a dominant jab. He has a good amount of determination, walking down opposition with aggression and impressive, accurate combination punches. It seems that he will be taking on Hekkie Budler next.
Hiroto Kyoguchi (9-0) has the impressive record of being the Japanese boxer who a world title in the quickest time from turning over, only taking 15 months – winning a decision over Jose Argumendo. He has an aggressive style, is very powerful for the weight. He is only 24 but looks like a veteran with his polished style. It is easy to watch and he throws plenty of good combinations with intelligent defence. He still has questions to answer but he looks such a natural in the ring, I would make him favourite against anybody in his division.
Ryuya Yamanaka (15-2) is also a Champion at Strawweight, holding the WBO Title. Only 22 years old, he won the belt against Tatsuya Fukuhara. He surprised the champion with his hand speed and defensive abilities. He is a weak puncher but he can dominate the ring and give himself the edge in most matchups. His jab is probably his best weapon which comes from his long reach. He is arguably one of the weaker champions but at only 22, can develop into an impressive one.
Japan has never had a greater hotbed of talent, in terms of boxing. They have 9 world champions as well as a host of impressive boxers. Shinsuke Yamanaka is an impressive former champion who will rematch Luis Nery for his belt soon. Kazuta Ioka retired as a world champion and one of the best in his weight. They also have a star prospect in Takuma Inoue, younger brother of Naoya. All bring their own individual style to the boxing world and if marketed properly could be stars the world over.
By Cain Bradley