Kal Yafai defends his WBA super-flyweight world title against Sho Ishida on the undercard of Anthony Joshua-Carlos Takam, on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Box Office, so we find out more about the challenger and the rise of Japanese boxing…
Where was he born?
Sho was born in Osaka, Honshu, Japan’s biggest island, on November 17, 1991. He is 25 and has an older brother and sister. He is the only boxer among them.
Osaka, where is that?
Pretty much in the middle of Honshu, between Hiroshima and Tokyo. It’s a port known for its culinary skills, also known as the Kitchen of Japan. Traditional Osaka food dishes include okonomiyaki (pan-fried batter cake) and takoyaki (octopus dumplings).
How did Ishida get into boxing?
Well, like many youngsters he grew up loving karate and was heading down that route before he fell in love with boxing, because it was “cool”. By the time he was 16, he had already won the National Athletic Meet at bantamweight, and remained in the successful amateur programme until he finished high school then he made his pro debut in February 2008.
What has been his biggest and best win so far?
He was crowned Japanese super-flyweight champion in his 10th fight which, like the national title in Japan, is a great stepping stone. He went on to make five defences, the fifth his best win to date, out-pointing former holder Ryuichi Funai, his sixth defence. Funai, is the holder again after Ishida vacated.
How is this a stepping stone?
Well, the super-flyweight division is red hot in Japan, the most competitive they’ve got and arguably one of the hottest divisions in the world. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai just flattened the famous Roman Gonzalez, Naoya Inoue, Jerwin Ancajas and of course Yafai hold the titles. Throw in Jamie Conlan, who challenges Ancajas next month, Juan Francisco Estrada, Carlos Cuadras, Koki Eto, there are plenty of stars shining…
How many of those world titles holders are from Japan?
Inoue, or ‘The Monster’, holds the WBO and took just five pro fights to be crowned. Along the way he saw off compatriot Kohei Kono, who was the WBA champion a few years earlier (2014-16). Daiki Kameda held the same belt back in 2010, adding the super-fly strap to the flyweight version. He was bettered by Daiki Kameda, a three-weight world champion, who was the lightest of them all, winning at minimum, fly, then light-flyweight.
Highlights of the WBO super-flyweight title fight between Naoya Inoue and Antonio Nieves
Does Ishida work closely with any of them?
No but he trains alongside Kazuto Ioka, another three-weight world champion Japan has seen. He is Osaka-based with Kazuto’s father, Kazunori Ioka, running the gym and the younger Ioka won the WBC minimumweight title in his seventh fight, added the WBA, moved up to take the WBA light-flyweight and has won six WBA title fights at flyweight in a row. Not a bad gym-mate.
Three-weight world champions are a rarity, right?
Well, over here we have had Ricky Burns and Duke McKenzie, but the current world scene does have the likes of Terence Crawford, Mikey Garcia. Jorge Linares, Leo Santa Cruz and Miguel Cotto, with a hat-trick to their name. Add Japan’s Akira Yaegashi and Ioka, you can see how well it is doing.
How come? What is their secret, then?
Well Japan still looks at the United Kingdom as the world’s leading market, but they have a successful development in place and have done for almost a decade. Olympic success drives them on with middleweight Ryota Murata, London 2012’s gold a classic example. He matched Anthony Joshua recently, adding a world title to his medal after beating Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam in a rematch to pick up the vacant WBA belt. There is also a new training programme organised by the Japanese Professional Boxing Association, that starts at Under-15. It has been going since 2008.
Is boxing big news in Japan?
Not yet. Baseball is without doubt the number one sport out in Japan, as big as football is here in the UK. Their own football and the traditional Sumo are still ahead of boxing. But if we tell you that David Beckham, on the back of the 2002 World Cup, is still one of their superstars, you can see what the likes of Inoue, Murata and the rest are up against.
Did Ishida box in the Olympics, like Yafai did in Beijing?
Ishida didn’t even try. Once he realised that boxing is cool, he set his sights on winning a professional world title. It has been his dream from the word go. But he could well make history on Saturday because despite their success down at super-flyweight, no Japanese fighter has won a world title on European soil.
Anything else you can tell us about him?
He doesn’t speak English but goes by the nickname ‘The Prince of Naniwa’. Naniwa is what Osaka used to be called.
What are the odds?
It’s no surprise that Yafai is the massive favourite, with Sky Bet having him at a huge 1/16 and Ishida at 15/2. Both are unbeaten and someone’s ‘0’ has to go, unless you fancy the draw at 25/1.
Watch Kal Yafai vs Sho Ishida on the Joshua vs Takam undercard, from the Principality Stadium, Cardiff, on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Box Office. Book via your Sky remote or online.