The War Report: Slice of the cake (Week 29, 2017)
Six weight classes separate fighters from 105 to 122 pounds, leaving plenty of opportunity for the smaller men of boxing and create a competitive landscape that has flourished, no matter the attention it receives. On Friday, Sho Kimura will challenge Zou Shiming for the WBO flyweight title in Shanghai. On Sunday in Tokyo, Japan, Hiroto Kyoguchi won the IBF minimumweight title and, with Ryoichi Taguchi defending his WBA junior flyweight belt on the same evening, Japan now boasts 10 world titleholders at 122 pounds and under. Out of 24 belts up for grabs, that’s 42% of the little big men and second in total titles to the United States (16) across the entire spectrum of weight limits. Excluding unified titles, however, Japan and the U.S. sit atop all countries with 10 different world champions. Half of that total, for Japan, has been added since the very last day of 2016 and, while it has been quite a rise so far in the Far East, Japan can take it even further.
On August 15, Japan’s longest reigning champion Shinsuke Yamanaka will look to make the 13th defense of his WBC bantamweight title against his No. 1 contender, Mexico’s Luis Nery. Taking place in Kyoto, and on a Tuesday, Yamanaka’s streak shouldn’t go unnoticed (only he and Gennady Golovkin have 10-plus defenses of a current reign) and neither should this fight, as it either adds to a legend or begins a new one.
On August 26 (HBO), Yoshihiro Kamegai faces Miguel Cotto for the vacant WBO junior middleweight title and, with limited expectations as the massive underdog, the Japanese action fighter goes into Carson, California, with nothing to lose. The next day in Ashikita-gun, Tatsuya Fukuhara looks to defend his WBO minimumweight title for the first time since being elevated from interim status, post-Katsunari Takayama’s retirement. Japan will keep the belt in house, one way or the other, however, as Fukuhara faces fellow countryman Ryuyu Yamanaka. All this, of course, leads to a big date, not only for Japan but the entire region of weight classes it helps curate.
September 9, Naoya “The Monster” Inoue will make his American debut on an HBO tripleheader dedicated to the exposure of super flyweights. Billed “SuperFly,” the card will feature three fights that could easily be main events on their own (Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs. Roman Gonzalez II and Juan Francisco Estrada vs. Carlos Cuadras round it out) but, for Japan, it’s the official exposure of their most heralded young phenom in his prime. Inoue looks to successfully defend his WBO super flyweight title for a sixth time vs. Antonio Nieves but there will be high expectations for the only Japanese fighter to potentially crack any pound-for-pound list.
Kosei Tanaka (WBO 108) and Yukinori Oguni (IBF 122) share a card on September 13 for their next defenses and soon to be announced Sho Ishida will have a mandatory bout with WBA super flyweight titlist Khalid Yafai. Also, Japan’s first Olympic gold medal winner since 1964, Ryota Murata, will have a rematch with Hassan N’Dam for a WBA middleweight trinket that was robbed from the former on the scorecards last May. Ken Shiro (WBC 108), Kazuto Ioka (WBA 112) and Daigo Higa (WBC 112) complete the list of Japanese world titleholders.
Contrary to when the United Kingdom boasted the most titleholders in boxing, no less than a year ago, Japan has quietly taken its spot, while the U.S. usually lingers in and around the top. No matter what recognition it gets, or is called for, it’s a serious accomplishment for any country and what they have consistently done from 105-to-122 pounds has been impressive for years. It’s not difficult to ignore the fact that, in the Land of the Rising Sun, most, if not all, top fighters at 122 pounds or less have had go to Japan to earn recognition or fight for one of the titles they’ve accrued. Luckily, the cultivators of boxing’s little big men will have a chance to spread across the Pacific on September 9 and, along with more exposure, maybe the appreciation will come then. Perhaps that rests on their monster to make a big enough splash but, no matter if the small guys fully catch the attention of those stateside, Japan will always enjoy an impressive slice of the cake from the entire boxing field.