While most North American fight fans don’t spend a lot of time thinking of Japan as a powerhouse, the Land of the Rising Sun does in fact have a very robust boxing scene, at least in the lower weights. In three of the eight divisions below lightweight, the top fighter in the world is from Japan.
Undefeated WBA super featherweight champion Takashi Uchiyama is an exciting gunslinger of a fighter. The undefeated star has knocked out 19 of 23 opponents and the lone blemish on his record is a technical draw against Michael Farenas, in a fight that was stopped after just three rounds. Among the top fighters stopped by Uchiyama are Jorge Solis, Juan Carlos Salgado, Bryan Vasquez and previously unbeaten Jaider Parra.
After turning professional in 2006, WBC bantamweight champion Shinsuke Yamanaka drew in two of his first seven fights. But since 2008, he’s been perfect, winning 17 straight with only two making it the distance. In November 2011, he captured the vacant WBC strap and immediately defended it against future Hall of Famer Vic Darchinyan. In September he is slated to face Anselmo Moreno, a former champion and defensive specialist.
Perhaps no fighter on the planet offers more tantalizing potential than WBO super flyweight champion Naoya Inoue. The 22 year old has fought just eight times as a professional, yet he’s already a two-division world champion.
A strong argument can be made that Inoue deserved to be boxing’s Fighter of the Year in 2014. In April of last year, he stopped experienced champion Adrian Hernandez in six rounds to capture the WBC light flyweight title. It was an extremely impressive performance for a fighter days shy of 21, who was competing in only his sixth professional bout.
However, it doesn’t even approach what Inoue did in December of last year, when he skipped over the 112-pound division to face long-time super flyweight champion Omar Narvaez. The Argentine champion had lost only once in his decade-and-a-half long career, to Nonito Donaire in 2011. In his fight with the explosive Donaire, Narvaez was able to defensively stymie Donaire and avoid getting stopped. Inoue KOd Narvaez in two rounds.
There’s a very good chance Inoue will face undefeated WBC flyweight champion Roman Gonzalez later this year, as the two share a promoter in Japan. Gonzalez is a three-division world champion, 43-0 with 37 knockouts. He’s arguably the greatest pound-for-pound boxer on the planet. A showdown between him and Inoue would be one of the most exciting potential fights in the sport.