The Futility of Scheduling World Title Fights in Japan
By Teodoro Medina Reynoso
Sat, 04 Dec 2021
Bob Arum has already said it, it will be impossible for a foreign fighter to fight and win in Japan.
And that was nearly a year ago at the height of the onslaught of the coronavirus Delta variant which then forced Japan to restrict foreigners travel and entry to Dai Nippon.
Of course, Arum was not being prophetic. He stated that after Filipino Geimel Magramo woefully lost to Japanese Junto Nakatani in their oft-postponed fight for the vacant WBO flyweight championship in Tokyo.
The fight was originally set for April but eventual got to be held in November 2020, nearly five months after boxing was resumed in Japan in July following a three months hiatus forced by the pandemic starting March 2020.
By that time, generally, Japan had a then existing ban on visiting foreign fighters. But authorities made a little exception to those fighting Japanese fighters for the world crown. However, with a proviso that such bouts would happen only in improving local conditions vis a vis the pandemic, therefore on a moveable or moving date, and that the visitor would agree to a strict quarantine regimen.
Magramo patiently waited for a final date and authorisation for entry for months and when he got the final clearance in November 2020, he was made to undergo perhaps one of the world's most stringent quarantine protocols, and in winter time which had naturally limited outdoor training.
Long story short, the ordeal adversely affected his pre fight preparations and conditioning such by the time of the fight, it could be said he was not in the best shape compared to his opponent, Nakatani who despite going through pre fight quarantine, had gone through normal though longer rigid training and is well acclimatized being a native Japanese.
Nakatani dominated Magramo almost from the opening bell and eventually stopped him a few rounds later.
This is not to say, under normal conditions, Magramo could have beaten Nakatani. But based on his fighting prowess and record, he could at least have given the Japanese a harder time and a tougher fight.
That most probably prompted Arum to utter that statement about the impossibility of holding a world title fight in Japan and of visiting foreign fighter to win there.
Arum was not dissing the country. That statement was also directed at his superstar ward Naoya Inoue who was then planning to hold his second fight in 2020 in Japan versus then Filipino IBF mandatory challenger Michael Dasmariñas in December.
Arum had originally planned to reintroduce Naoya to US fans with a unification fight set in April in Las Vegas versus WBO titlist Johnriel Casimero. But the pandemic torpedoed that supposed grand reintroduction.
Naoya instead made a first defense of his unified WBA-IBF titles against Australian Jason Moloney in October winning by middle rounds knockout.
Perhaps frustrated by how things had turned out and not wanting to end the year with just one fight, Naoya and his camp had wanted another fight to be held this time back in Japan.
That's where Arum came in with the statement. Which was somehow validated by that Magramo tragedy. Arum declared that it would be best for Naoya to fight again early 2021 and the most suitable place would still be the USA.
And so that happened. In May 2021, Naoya defended against Dasmariñas in the US, winning by another all in a day's work early round knockout.
But the tough luck of scheduling world title fights in Japan is happening again on account this time of the renewed restrictions over the coronavirus Omicron variant.
And it has claimed two major bouts as casualty: the Gennadiy Golovkin vs Ryota Murata unification fight at middleweight and the Jerwin Ancajas vs Kazuto Ioka unification tiff at super flyweight later in December.
But Naoya Inoue may be getting his wish this time as his earlier scheduled fight, another title defense versus Aran Dipaen of Thailand would most likely push through as the Thai challenger is already in Japan before the new ban.
In hindsight, the Ioka vs Ancajas fight could have been salvaged had the Ancajas group pushed through with an earlier plan to hold training camp in Japan.
It seems that it is becoming futile to schedule world boxing title fights in Japan involving visiting foreign fighters given the still fluid pandemic situation.
It becomes even so when some Japanese fight handlers are looking for other countries which could accommodate their fighters for major fights or at the very least, unfettered focused training.
The author Teodoro Medina Reynoso is a veteran boxing radio talk show host living in the Philippines. He can be reached at email@example.com and by phone 09215309477.
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