Before anyone jumps to any conclusions based on the heading of this post, let it be known; nobody actually died.
I merely used the phrase “bites the dust” because, well; frankly it sounds cool.
That being said, this past Saturday night, I was blessed with a rare opportunity to see a Japanese boxer fight on American soil in the form of Jr. featherweight champion Akifumi Shimoda’s title defense against amateur stand-out, Rico Ramos.
Said fight was staged on HBO, which in the boxing business basically translates to “the big leagues.”
That being said, I came into the fight hopeful, but fully aware of what to expect.
In most cases I have to go very much out of my way to dig up videos and records of Japanese fighters, largely because even the very best of them rarely get to a stage in their career where fighting outside of Japan is an option, let alone economically viable.
The fact of the matter is, Japan is a small island nation that isn’t exactly crazy about boxing; making it difficult for their fighters to grow beyond the competitive confines of their nation’s borders.
The last couple of fights that I can recall involving a Japanese fighter fighting in a high-profile match on foreign soil; had very mixed results.
On the one hand, long-standing (or should “sitting”) middleweight champ Felix Sturm tattooed the face of, and utterly annihilated the unproven Koji Sato.
Oddly enough, both of these contests involved Japanese fighters from 154-160 lbs., the highest weights the national Japanese boxing commission stages fights at, and consequently some of the weaker divisions in terms of talent.
While Ishida’s win seemed like a fluke, given that Kirkland seemed very much clear-headed despite the multiple knockdowns; Sato’s loss was a forgone conclusion.
Both guys were low-rated, and obviously brought in as fodder for their opponents.
The only difference was, one pulled the upset, and the other may have had years taken off his life.
Now that I think of it, I think that’s why the fight from last Saturday night meant a little more to me than the others I mentioned:
Akifumi Shimoda went into the fight last Saturday night a legitimate, defending world champion.
While hardly a big deal to anyone outside the hardcore, it meant something to me to know that Shimoda was held in high enough regard that the people of Teiken Boxing Gym felt it wise to send him to America to defend his title.
Not only that, in winning the fight he would’ve made history as being the first Japanese champion to successfully defend his title.
In case you couldn’t tell from the way I phrased that last sentence, and indeed the heading of this post; Shimoda did not make history.
A Southpaw, Shimoda came into the fight sporting excellent footwork and a straight to the body with mean intentions.
To my surprise, Shimoda proceeded at a measured pace out the gate, cutting-off the ring and pressing the action.
He didn’t look great by any means, but he did more than enough to stymie Ramos and shut down his anemic offense.
All through the fight, I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of a small group of Japanese fans positioned behind Shimoda’s corner, shouting his name and waving a big white banner in support of their champion.
Like me, they were rallying behind the Japanese guy despite virtually everyone else in the New Jersey arena not giving 2-shits about who he was or where he came from.
Indeed, I felt myself wince at the sound of the ring announcer pronouncing the bout as a production of “Tai-Ken” Boxing Gym.
It’s “Teh-ee-ken,” asshole. Get it right.
Despite my better instincts telling me Shimoda was going to get knocked the fuck out like seemingly all of his countrymen do when fighting away from home; I found myself feeling in the later rounds that Shimoda might actually get the win.
Then came the 7th round.
Early in the fight, Shimoda slammed Ramos with a nasty headbutt that opened a gash over the challenger’s eye.
The cut was pretty bad, and as such; Ramos’ trainer urged him to step up his efforts and throw more punches.
It took a few rounds of nagging from his corner, but for whatever reason; Ramos came out to fight in the 7th.
All through the round, you could tell something was different.
Mostly defensive and counter-oriented, Ramos lost the majority of the rounds in the fight purely based on his sinfully low punch output.
In the 7th, Ramos poured it on and went on the attack.
From the opening few seconds of the round, Shimoda went from being an indefatigable and confident young champion; to a fighter on the run.
Ramos backed Shimoda up for much of the round, something he hadn’t done for 1 second in any of the earlier portions of the fight; and indeed, seemingly couldn’t miss with his right hand.
Gassed or hurt, or maybe both; Shimoda spent his last moments in the fight stumbling backwards, seemingly without any answers to his opponent’s assault.
Stepping back and around the left side of Ramos amid a torrent of punches, Shimoda walked right into a cracking left hook that sent his jaw from one corner of the ring to the other.
Oh yeah, and he went down too.
Splayed out on the mat, utterly devoid of consciousness, Shimoda’s last act before the referee’s stoppage was to clumsily, and pathetically rise to his knees and face first onto the mat.
In watching that 7th round, you got the sense that, had Ramos asserted himself earlier in the fight, there’s a good chance he would’ve walked right over Shimoda.
While there was no clear disparity between the 2 fighters in terms of technical ability, the difference in guts and raw athletic power seemed fairly evident during the final round.
It saddened me to see Shimoda lose his title, knowing full well that he; nor likely any other Teiken fighter would likely be making their way over to the states any time soon.
Personally, I fail to see the beauty of Kameda and his brother Daiki’s collective souls, so here’s hoping Nishioka makes his way over here someday.
Hopefully he’ll fair better than most Japanese fighters seem to.