Azn Badger's Blog

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I Believe In Toshiaki Nishioka

Pictured: Toshiaki Nishioka posing with Rafael Marquez.

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.

Pictured: Shimoda, laid out after a monster left hook from 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:

Hozumi Hasegawa was, and forever will be, “my guy” in Japanese boxing, but deep down I’ve always known he was little more than a upper-middle tier fighter.

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.

A few REALLY BAD 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.

Plus, HE LOOKS LIKE A MONKEY. And he smells funny.

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.

Fun fact:

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.

Again, HE LOOKS LIKE A MONKEY.

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!

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Another Japanese Fighter Bites The Dust…

Pictured: Akifumi Shimoda smacks super-underdog champion Ryol Li Lee.

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.

As detailed in some of my previous posts here, and here; Japanese boxer’s are not exactly a dominant force in the sport.

Well, except for maybe Piston Honda...

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.

Pictured: What happens when protected champions are fed unproven competition.

On the other, underdog Nobuhiro Ishida managed to beat the odds and inexplicably force a first round stoppage of up-and-coming Jr. middleweight beast, James Kirkland.

Pictured: What happens when a young fighter doesn't know how to react to a knockdown.

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.

BOOSH.

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.

At this point it seems Toshiaki Nishioka and Koki Kameda may be the only 2 Japanese boxers that stand any chance of competing on the world stage.

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.

 

 

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