Well folks, it’s that time again.
Tomorrow night, a Japanese boxer will once again challenge fate and attempt to defend their world title on American soil.
Said boxer is Toshiaki Nishioka, a hard-punching and tenacious veteran who will be defending his Super Bantamweight title against the equally powerful, but slighty shopworn Rafael Marquez.
It might not sound like a big deal to us here in the states, but to date, no Japanese fighter has ever succeeded in defending a legit world title on American soil.
The last champion to step up to the challenge, was former Jr. Featherweight champion Akifumi Shimoda, who if you’ll recall was knocked senseless in the 7th round via a left hook to the jaw from the challenger, and now champion; Rico Ramos.
Though it hurt to watch Shimoda lose in such dramatic fashion, but in my heart I knew it was to be expected.
I keep tabs on quite a few Japanese fighters, and in that sense I feel the fact that Shimoda was never one of them should speak to his abilities/promise as a fighter.
Besides, the man he won the title from, Ryo Li Lee; was perhaps the biggest underdog champs in recent memory, so in many ways it’s surprising that Teiken was willing to take the gamble in sending Shimoda to the states without a few more tune-up fights under his belt.
That being said, unlike Shimoda, I truly believe Toshiaki Nishioka is the real deal:
He was never as good as I hoped he would be, but I “picked” him, and wasn’t about to lose faith in him just because of a few losses.
That’s just who I am.
While Nishioka may not be “my guy,” the fact of the matter is, he’s likely one of the best Japanese world champion boxers of his generation.
2 names always pop up in discussions involving the current state of Japanese boxing, namely that of Koki Kameda, and Toshiaki Nishioka.
While Kameda is easily the more popular fighter, especially among Japanese fans, in my mind I view the older and more accomplished Nishioka as the better and more complete fighter.
Kameda has immense potential, but I don’t see his no-jab, counter heavy-style sustaining him on the world stage for very long.
Like many Japanese boxers, Nishioka took a few losses early in his career, though this in no way prevented his career from being a consistent march upward in terms of quality of opposition.
Left-handed and atypically powerful and gutsy for a Japanese fighter, Nishioka’s only real sore spot in his career was in the early 2000′s when he fought the immensely prolific and longstanding Bantamweight champ, Veeraphol Sahaprom a mind-boggling 4 times in as many years.
During this series of fights, Nishioka lost to, and drew with Sahaprom 2 times, with each fight going the distance and being closely contested on the scorecards.
Despite Nishioka’s 4 attempts to dethrone Sahaprom, it was my boy Hozumi Hasegawa who ultimately succeeded in 2004 via unanimous decision.
Not only that, Hasegawa KO’d Sahaprom in the rematch the following year, thereby cementing his reputation as a true Bantamweight champion.
Nishioka got a badass clip, so I figure it’s only fair I give one to my boy Hasegawa as well:
In fighting Sahaprom, I feel Nishioka came up short due to a clash of styles.
Nishioka isn’t the most elusive of fighters, making him easy prey for Sahaprom’s cagey tactics and seasoned boxing.
In this way, Hasegawa’s superior handspeed and constant lateral movement were likely responsible for his victories over Sahaprom.
Nishioka may not have Hasegawa’s speed or elusiveness, but he does have a solid chin, power in both hands, and the tenacity of a pit bull.
That counts for a lot when you’re a world class Southpaw with soild fundamentals.
At 35 years old, may not have many fights left in him, nor does his “on paper” reputation paint him as the best of fighters, but as of writing this, I truly believe him to be the best active boxer in Japan, and potentially in his weight class.
Despite his age, Nishioka hasn’t lost since 2004, and in the days since then, his career has blossomed in a renaissance of sorts, rewarding him with sound victories and highlight reel knockouts against solid competition.
He may not have been “my guy” in Hasegawa’s heyday, but now, when I’m forced to pick between him and the impetuous Koki Kameda, I think I’m finally ready to call Nishioka “my guy” in Japanese boxing.
I believed in him all those times he came this close to edging a victory against Sahaprom.
I believed in him when he finally won the title from Genaro Garcia.
I believed in him when he knocked the piss out of Jhonny Gonzalez.
And tomorrow night, when he faces another cagey veteran in the form of Rafael Marquez, I will believe in Toshiaki Nishioka all the same.
Do it for history! Do it for Japan!