by Cliff Rold
In each of the last two years, American fans were treated to a pleasant surprise from the land of the rising sun. In 2013, Nihito Arakawa faced undefeated Lightweight Omar Figueroa and gave him a fight every fan was talking about the next day. Earlier this year, Yoshihiro Kamegai gave former featherweight and super featherweight titlist Robert Guerrero 12 hard, bloody rounds.
It was enough to wonder for some US fans not often exposed to the Asian market if there was more where that came from?
The answer is yes, and Arakawa and Kamegai don’t even represent the good stuff.
Since flyweight Yoshio Shirai won his country’s first world title in 1952, Japan has regularly produced some of the best fighters in the world. Hall of Famer Fighting Harada, Yoko Gushiken, Jiro Watanabe, and Masao Ohba are just a few of their great champions. With plenty of fans at home, and plying their trade at lighter weights, they haven’t always been available in English speaking markets.
This Saturday on Showtime (9 PM EST/PST), U.S. fans get their latest looks at the rare upper quality talent from Japan making a home for himself away from home.
Due to the boxing politics back in Japan, WBO bantamweight titlist Tomoki Kameda (30-0, 19 KOs) is - along with older brothers Koki and Daiki - regarded by the commission as persona non grata for the foreseeable future (details and rumors available elsewhere). The 23-year old was the last of the three brothers to claim title status, with his win over Paulus Ambunda last August putting the family in the Guinness Book of World Records as the only family of three siblings to pull the feat.
In Tomoki's case, third might be the charm.
At a tall for his division 5’7, with good speed, power, and the most fan friendly style, Tomoki might be the best of the lot. With the frame to move up in weight, and having signed with adviser Al Haymon earlier this year, the chance to make a big impression is close at hand.
Not far away on the scale, fellow Haymon clients Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares could make fascinating future foes. Kameda has business at hand before he can get there.
This weekend is hardly a walk in the park. Alejandro Hernandez (28-10-2, 15 KO) is a tough veteran and poses a formidable challenge when the two meet at UIC Pavilion in Chicago, Illinois. The durable contender from Mexico has only been stopped once, via injury. He enters off three straight wins, the last an impressive upset of Daniel Rosas.
Hernandez will give Kameda testing rounds. The defending titlist should pass the test.
A potentially bigger question for the global boxing scene is this: would success for Kameda open the door for more of Japan’s best to venture abroad?
Economics might preclude, but it’s worth wondering because there are talents worth wondering about. As good as Kameda looks, he’s not Japan’s best just yet.
He’s not even his nations best bantamweight. With Anselmo Moreno deposed as WBA titlist, the label of best bantamweight is almost universally passed to WBC titlist Shinsuke Yamanaka.
A recent 12-round points win over Suriyan Sor Rungvisai gave Yamanaka his 7th successful title defense, including five by knockout. A quick fisted boxer-puncher, Yamanaka would be a welcome addition to any international market.
As good as Yamanaka is at bantamweight, he might not be Japan's overall best active fighter. That honor probably still resides at super featherweight, though the race is close.
Takashi Uchiyama has reigned as WBA titlist at 130 lbs. since Jan. '10, posting eight defenses with six inside the distance. Those include knockouts of current titlists Takashi Miura and Bryan Vasquez (interim) along with a knockout title win over Juan Carlos Salgado.
Already 34, Uchiyama may be closer to the end than the 32-year old Yamanaka.
They are the homeland standard to which Kameda can be compared. The most likely scenario is that whatever Kameda carves out for himself in the U.S. will be his own and boxing’s marketplace will continue to function as it does.
Sometimes, talent will line up in divisions to make a series of good fights.
Sometimes, very good fighters will be too far apart on the map to make fights make sense. Where they choose to make a living is almost always dictated by wherever pays the best.
But if there is a chance that Kameda can perform and make more of the world wonder, he’ll have made a commendable impact.
Congrats to the San Francisco Giants on winning a wild World Series…Madison Bumgarner is absurd…Now, time to get ready for Brady vs. Manning on the gridiron…Hopkins-Kovalev is almost here. Adonis Stevenson against someone who matters will wait until 2015…So is Roman Gonzalez-Gallo Estrada II really a thing for next year? It should be…Marvel’s movie-verse basically just tea bagged every other film studio this week. It must be nice to know you just announced you’re going to make another $15 billion dollars with no end in sight. The IMAX bill will be harrowing…Welcome to the team Steve Kim…Jose Ramirez becoming a Fresno franchise sounds great. He’s already packing Selland Arena. With the Save Mart Center and Bulldog Stadium also in town, Ramirez could make Central California a viable boxing hotbed.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]