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[ODDS and EVENS] Japanese Boxing is Achieving Big Success on a Global Scale

Led by Naoya Inoue, fellow four-division champ Kazuto Ioka and rising star Junto Nakatani, this is a golden era for Japanese boxing.

Is this a golden era for Japanese boxing?

The colorful phrase "golden generation" is frequently used to describe a national sports team with extraordinary talent coupled with big success on the global stage. For example, Brazil, led by Pele and other stars, won the 1958, 1962 and 1970 FIFA World Cups. Then there was the Argentina men's basketball team (2000-12) with Hall of Famer Manu Ginobili leading the way in Olympic and FIBA competitions.

Generally, boxing is analyzed for individual achievements rather than a nation's collective success.

Boxing aficionados of a certain age will remember the "Four Kings" heyday: Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas "Hitman" Hearns in the 1980s. Four exceptional fighters who dominated lower weight classes.

Which brings us back to the question at the outset of this column.

Yes, this is a golden era for Japanese boxing.

Credit Japanese-language magazine Sports Graphic Number for providing proper context to the current era. In its June 13, 2024, issue, the magazine devoted dozens of pages to highlighting top fighters of the present era. There's also a recurring theme connecting more than 10 articles throughout the issue.

With undisputed super bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue on the cover, Sports Graphic Number proclaims this a "Japanese Boxing Golden Age."

Naoya Inoue
Naoya Inoue trains at Ohashi Boxing Gym in Yokohama on April 10. (©SANKEI)

Naoya Inoue Headlines Japan's Crop of Top Boxers

On May 6, Inoue was the headliner of the first pro boxing event at Tokyo Dome since February 1990 (heavyweights Mike Tyson and James "Buster" Douglas were the contestants in the main bout that day). And holding fights at Tokyo Dome underscores this point. 

Inoue (27-0, 24 knockouts) is now a global superstar and a crowd of 43,000 spectators reminded everyone that there's also a huge public demand to cheer for him in his homeland. 

After suffering the first knockdown of his career in the first round, Inoue battled back. He recorded a sixth-round technical knockout of Mexico's Luis Nery to retain his four championship belts.

"Monster" Inoue demonstrated that he could handle adversity in a high-pressure situation.

It was also a reminder that he is one of the world's best pound-for-pound fighters.

In one of Sports Graphic Number's detailed interviews, the author showcased Inoue looking back on his approach to fighting Nery.

It provided an interesting window into Inoue's fighting mindset and his confidence.

"Nery's fighting style is limited," Inoue was quoted as saying. "[His] offense and defense are not integrated to begin with, but are completely separated. I knew what Nery was going to do, so it was a question of how I would deal with it. So the flow of the match was up to me. That's how I approached the match."

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Naoya Inoue's second-round knockdown of Luis Nery on May 6. (KYODO)

'Monster' Inoue Sets the Standard for Japanese Boxing

At age 30, it appears that Inoue has several more years remaining as a top-level fighter, most likely at heavier weight classes, too.

And who are others who have transformed the current period into a golden era for Japanese boxing?

The bantamweight division is occupied by four Japanese title holders. WBA champ Takuma Inoue, Naoya's 28-year-old brother (20-1, five KOs) receives ample publicity following in his his brother's footsteps. But don't forget the others ― WBC champ Junto Nakatani (27-0, 20 KOs and he's only 26), IBF champ Ryosuke Nishida (9-0, one KO) and WBO champ Yoshiki Takei (9-0 eight KOs).

For Nakatani, a July 20 title defense against Filipino Vincent Astrolabio is next at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan.

Older brother Inoue and the bantamweight division are the cream of the crop in Japanese boxing right now.

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Kazuto Ioka punches Josber Perez in the third round of their WBA super flyweight title fight on December 31, 2023, at Ota City General Gymnasium in Tokyo. (ⒸSANKEI)

Also, remember that four-division champion Kazuto Ioka, 35, now reigns as the WBA super flyweight title holder. In an outstanding career, he is 31-2-1 with 16 KOs.

Compatriot Kosei Tanaka (20-1, 11 KOs) holds the WBO belt in the same weight class.

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WBA flyweight champion Seigo Yuri Akui proudly displays his title belt after his fight on the undercard of the Naoya Inoue-Luis Nery main event on May 6. (©SANKEI)

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Keep an Eye on These Other Boxing Standouts

WBA flyweight champion Seigo Yuri Akui demonstrated impressive boxing skills in his first title defense on the undercard of the Inoue-Nery main event, winning the 12-round bout by unanimous decision over Taku Kuwahara. Akui improved to 20-2-1 (11 KOs).

In addition, Kenshiro Teraji, whose name is sometimes shortened to Ken Shiro in news reports, is a gifted veteran pugilist. At age 32, he owns the WBA and WBC light flyweight championship belts and a 23-1 (14 KOs) career record. This includes a 12-1 record in title defenses.

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Kenshiro Teraji (right) fights Carlos Canizales in the 12th round of their WBC and WBA light flyweight world title bout on January 23 in Osaka. (ⒸSANKEI)

Elsewhere, in the minimumweight (aka mini-flyweight) division, 24-year-old IBF champ Ginjiro Shigeoka (11-0-0-1 ― this includes one no contest ― and nine KOs) is set to make his third title defense on July 28 in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, against Pedro Taduran of the Philippines.

"My opponent this time is an aggressive type," Shigeoka told the Boxing News website. "I think my reputation will be so much enhanced if I knock him out."

In July, a decisive victory by Shigeoka would enhance the overall reputation of the Japanese boxers listed above as a collective force to be reckoned with, one at a time, in the ring.

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IBF minimumweight champion Ginjiro Shigeoka (right) lands a punch in the first round of his title fight against Jake Amparo on March 31 in Nagoya. (KYODO)

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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