For many years, decades, in fact, Japan has had a significant presence in boxing's lower weight divisions. Similar to boxing in the United States and, to a lesser extent, Britain, the sport is self-sustaining in Japan, i.e. Japanese fighters can make a fairly good living in their home market without the necessity of traveling to other parts of the world to ply their trade. Until recent times, most Japanese fighters were mere rumors to all but the hardest of hardcore Western boxing aficionados.
Now, with the prevalence and universality of modern technology, Japanese boxing is available to anyone with a computer and a high-speed internet connection. Literally, hundreds of Japanese fights from the last few years can be accessed in a matter of seconds.
Japanese boxing finds itself in great shape these days, with fighters ranked in the top-10 in almost every division below lightweight. (It should be noted that Japan only recognizes the WBA and WBC). The country has numerous champions and beltholders in the lower weights.
I would like to focus on three titlists in particular who are excellent fighters and may become much bigger names on the international boxing scene over the next 18 months. In my opinion, Takashi Uchiyama (junior lightweight), Toshiaki Nishioka (junior featherweight) and Kazuto Ioka (strawweight) are the class of Japanese boxing and are all top-three fighters in their respective weight classes. This is by no means a way to diminish the other great boxers from Japan, but I believe that these three, specifically, have the potential to become elite fighters in the sport.
Division: Junior Lightweight
Record: 18-0, 15 KOs
Notable Victories: Jorge Solis, Juan Carlos Salgado
Notable Losses: None
In a Nutshell: An upright knockout artist with missiles in both hands.
Offensive Weapons: Left Hook, straight right hand, and a slinging right hand that comes across his body.
About: Uchiyama got a late start to professional boxing, not turning pro until he was 25. In addition, even though he is in his 30s, he has only had 18 professional fights. Uchiyama has stopped his last eight opponents within the distance.
Ring Style: Uchiyama is a power puncher who looks to end fights with single shots. His left hook is concussive, but his straight right and his slinging right hand are also knockout weapons. He fights in a very upright style, almost European. His upper body is very stiff. He features a "show" jab, which is most often used just to land subsequent power shots. Uchiyama is a headhunter and only occasionally goes to the body with his left hook. He looks to lead whenever possible and is not a natural counterpuncher. He likes to stay in the pocket and doesn't mind trading, believing that those opportunities open up his opponents for his power shots. His defense is solid – he will take small steps back when his opponent advances – but it is not impenetrable.
Weaknesses: He seemed troubled by southpaw Takashi Miura, who dropped him in their fight early in 2011. Miura had some success with lead left hands. In addition, against conventional fighters, Uchiyama commits so much to his power shots that opponents can slip and counter him.
Threats in the Division: Adrien Broner (USA) and Takahiro Ao (Japan)
Division: Junior featherweight
Record: 39-4-3, 24 KOs
Notable Victories: Rafael Marquez, Jhonny Gonzalez
Notable Losses: Veeraphol Sahaprom (twice)
In a Nutshell: A crafty southpaw mover with perfect punch placement and a variety of defensive maneuvers.
Offensive Weapons: Jab, straight left hand, overhand left, right hook and an occasional left uppercut.
About: Nishioka is currently on a 16-fight winning streak, dating back to 2004. A true international champion, Nishioka has made title defenses in Mexico and the United States, and has also fought in France.
Ring Style: Nishioka works very well off of his jab which sets up his straight left hand. He doesn't have tremendous power but his punches are thrown with such perfect precision and placement that they cause damage. He moves constantly, turns his opponents and looks to create unique throwing angles. Nishioka features tricky upper body and head movement that makes him difficult to hit cleanly. In addition, Nishioka almost never exchanges with his opponents. He literally makes them miss and waits for them to get out of position before landing his shots. Later in fights, as he gets more comfortable, he uses his right hook a lot more – especially a double right hook to the body – and like everything else he throws, it's perfectly placed and causes a lot of damage.
Weaknesses: Nishioka is a special athlete who uses his superior foot speed and body control to dance around his opponents. However, this approach, somewhat similar in style to Sergio Martinez, leads to some moments where he is off balance and out-of-position. He leaves his body very exposed at times.
Threats in the Division: Nonito Donaire (USA) and Guillermo Rigondeaux (Cuba)
Record: 9-0, 6 KOs
Notable Victories: Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Juan Hernandez
Notable Losses: None
In a Nutshell: An athletic, boxer-puncher with power in both hands who is not averse to brawling.
Offensive Weapons: Jab, straight right hand, left hook.
About: A boxing prodigy, Ioka won a world title in just his seventh professional fight. His team was so confident of his abilities that he was matched with a 20-3-2 fighter in just his third professional fight.
Ring Style: The guy that I keep coming back to regarding Ioka is Abner Mares. They both have excellent technique, solid power and use their physicality well in the ring. Ioka likes trading and he can lead or counter effectively. He has excellent hand speed and solid finishing instincts. Ioka also moves very well and does an excellent job of varying his offensive attack. He likes to stay in the pocket and explode with multiple-punch combinations. Unlike most young fighters, he goes to the body with regularity.
Weaknesses: I am not 100% sold on his chin. In the Juan Hernandez fight, I don't think he reacted well when he was hit with solid shots. He likes to trap his opponents on the ropes but can be susceptible in these moments to uppercuts or hooks.