By Alan Hubbard
The last Japanese heavyweight to strut his stuff in a British ring was one Kendo Nagasaki, back in the seventies. OK, so he wasn’t a boxer and neither was he Japanese. The man behind the famous samurai mask was one Peter Thornley, a popular grappler not from the Far East but rather the West Midlands, who got to grips with the likes of Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy when wrestling was all the rage on our TV screens.
As it happens the most authentic Japanese heavyweights wear nappies and not boxing gloves. They are from the surreal world of sumo.
So the man with the multi-coloured mullet who flies in from Tokyo to face Britain’s most exciting young fighter, Daniel Dubois, next month is something of a rarity – a heavyweight who is a genuine boxer born and bred in the land of the Rising Sun.
In more than 50 years of ringside reporting I cannot recall a genuine Japanese heavyweight boxer of note so it will be fascinating to see if 33-year-old Kyotaro Fujimoto cuts the mustard – or in his case the sushi.
He comes with a 21-1 record, and is the Japanese and Asian champion, though this is the first time he has ventured out of his homeland..
He likens Dubois to a bear and describes him as a ‘skilful’ opponent. He is likely to discover that Britain’s newly anointed Best Young Boxer can bang a bit too before the night is out. Though with 13 ko’s himself he should be no slouch if it comes to a slugfest.
Just to spice things up, on the line will be Dubois’ WBO International Heavyweight Title and the WBC Silver Title formerly held by Dillian Whyte. Both fighters see this east-west collision as a vital, stepping stone to a world title shot.
Despite the scarcity of decent heavyweights Japan has emerged as something of an Asian powerhouse in world boxing.
It was 1952 that Yoshio Shirai won the flyweight crown, becoming the first Japanese world champion. Since then, Japan has produced some 40 world champions.
The most thriving period of Japan’s boxing ran from 1960’s to early 1970’s. In the “golden sixties,” Hall of Famer Fighting Harada, arguably their finest-ever boxer, won world championships in two divisions – flyweight and bantamweight where he outpointed my one-time flatmate, Liverpudlian Alan Rudkin, in Tokyo. Harada also twice beat Jofre, the only man to defeat the legendary Brazilian Harada.
In early seventies, Japan had five world champions simultaneously. Notable achievements in the period were: Kuniaki Shibata’s three world championships in two divisions (one in featherweight and two in super featherweight); Guts Ishimatsu captured WBC lightweight championship to become the first Japanese champion in that division; Koichi Wajima held the super welterweight championship including six consecutive defences.
World titles have been acquired by Japanese fighters from strawweight to middleweight. The latter division sees Ryota Murata, who was Olympic champion at London 2012, doing a James DeGale by currently holding a WBA belt.
However the Japanese fighter who is presently the talk of the boxing world is the 26-year-old Naoya Inoue, three weight world champion and currently unified bantamweight champion after his conquest last week of Nonito Donaire. Inoue’s whiplash body punching in 19 undefeated contests,14 of them world title bouts, puts him high in contention as the world’s best pound for pounder.
So Japan has talent and ai seat at the Copperbox or a cuppa in front of the other box (the scrap is live on BT Sport) sounds enticing on 21 December when Dynamite Dan engages in his 14th contest. It’s worth it for the novelty value alone.
Don’t be surprised if the Japanese slugger presents a few problems. As we know from history Japan is a nation which fights to the finish, defeat is not an option and is even considered a disgrace.
Not that Fujimoto is likely to commit hari-kari if clobbered like the majority of Dan The Man’s foes but you can bet he will do everything he can to stay on his feet and fight with pride and passion. It is the Japanese way.
Dubois will be heavily fancied to take him out, as he has a dozen of his opponents. On the other hand it could be Nippon tuck…
Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions are heading to the Copper Box Arena to stage a bumper night of boxing on December 21st.
Unbeaten Heavyweight sensation Daniel Dubois (13-0) looks to continue his path of destruction against Japan’s Kyotaro Fujimoto (21-1). The WBC Silver Heavyweight championship and the WBO International Heavyweight belts will be on the line.
Light Heavyweight prospect and Love Island star Tommy Fury (2-0) makes his long awaited return to the boxing ring after winning the hearts of the nation on the popular ITV reality television show over the summer. Tickets from £40 are now on sale via Seetickets and will be available via Ticketmaster shortly