Inoue Is Japan’s Greatest Fighter

TOKYO – Ahead of what has been called the biggest event in the history of Japanese boxing, International Boxing Hall of Fame historian Joe Koizumi has rated Naoya Inoue as Japan’s greatest boxer.

Koizumi first started writing for The Ring in the 1960s, aged just 17, and he is a boxing encyclopaedia who was enshrined in Canastota in 2008.

Koizumi first held a license with the Japan Boxing Commission to work corners in 1965, and he helped several champions. He has also worked as a matchmaker and been involved in more than 150 world title fights, and after everything he has seen, he thinks Inoue is the best his country has produced. 

Here are Joe Koizumi’s five best fighters from Japan.

Jiro Watanabe – 26-2 (17 KOs) 

This southpaw made his debut in 1979 and called it a day in 1986 having lost his WBC super flyweight title to Gilberto Roman. After 11 pro fights, Watanabe lost in his first effort for a world title (the WBC) to Chul Ho Kim over 15 rounds in Korea, dropping a narrow decision, but five fights later was crowned by the WBA after beating Panamanian Rafael Pedroza for the WBC. He added the WBA belt five fights later and the Roman loss was his first in five years. 

Koizumi notes: “Very excellent southpaw counterpuncher who became actually a WBC/WBA unified champion by defeating Payao Poontarat twice.”

Kuniaki Shibata – 47-6-3 (25 KOs)

Retired in 1977 following three consecutive wins, Shibata was a two-weight world champion who hit the road for some of his biggest fights. In December 1970, he travelled to Tijuana to beat the brilliant future Hall of Famer Vincente Saldivar to claim the WBC featherweight title, a belt he would lose to Clemente Sanchez little more than a year later. 

But he moved up in weight to defeat Ben Villaflor for the WBA strap at super featherweight, only to be dropped and stopped in a rematch seven months later. Unperturbed, he defeated Mexican veteran Ricardo Arredondo over 15 rounds in Japan in his next outing to win the WBC belt at super feather. 

Koizumi notes: “Who acquired the world belts abroad by defeating Vicente Saldivar and Ben Villaflor.”

Yoko Gushiken – 23-1 (15 KOs)

Lost just once in his seven-year career, and that was in his final fight – to Pedro Flores, a man he had already defeated. Southpaw Gushiken was a long-reigning WBA light flyweight champion, holding the title for nearly five years and making 13 defenses. 

He was a noted puncher and retired at the age of just 25.

Fighting Harada – 55-7 (22 KOs)

For many, Masahiko Harada would top this list, or certainly would have done until recently, having won titles at flyweight and bantamweight.

At the age of just 19, he won his first world title from Pone Kingpetch in 1962 but lost a return three months later and he continued fighting greats throughout his career, twice beating Eder Jofre, outpointing Alan Rudkin, and avenging an earlier loss to Jose Medel to seize the bantamweight crown.  

He lost his belt to Australian Lionel Rose, and bowed out after two losing attempts at Johnny Famechon’s featherweight title.

Harada’s achievements are all the more special because he won the titles in two weight classes when there were just 10 divisions and one champion in each.

1. Naoya Inoue – 26-0 (23 KOs)

The 31-year-old “Monster” is arguably the best fighter in the sport today and still racking up incredible achievements. He has unified all four belts in a second weight class, reigning as the super bantamweight champion heading into tonight’s fight at the Tokyo Dome against Mexico’s Luis Nery. Inoue has won titles at four different weights, and some think his success at 126 is inevitable.