Ranking the Best Pinoy Title Wins in Japan
By Teodoro Medina Reynoso
Tue, 28 Nov 2023
Morris East (R) of the Philippines knocks down Akinobu Hiranaka of Japan during their WBA super lightweight championship on Sep. 9, 1992 in Japan.
From as far back as I could remember, it has been very hard for a Filipino fighter to win against a Japanese in Japan. Especially so in a title fight.
The late great Flash Elorde suffered many of his losses in Japan, including five of five against a certain fighter named Shigeji Kaneko. In fact, Elorde dropped 11 of his total 27 defeats on his prime and pre retirement years in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Nonito Donaire, a sure fire Hall of Famer and former multi division world champion, is the latest to have suffered the same fate, losing twice to current Japanese idol Naoya Inoue, first on points in 2019 and then by 2nd round TKO in 2022.
A couple of years ago, the Games and Amusements Board (GAB) had to amend its policies concerning allowing Filipino fighters to fight in Japan, alarmed as it was by their dismal performance record.
Despite this history of seeming futility, there have also been world title bouts held in Japan where the usually underdog or unheralded Filipino challengers pulled the rugs from under the favored, well regarded Japanese defending champions.
These are five, ranked according to significance or shock factor:
5. MELVIN JERUSALEM KO2 MASATAKA TAKAYAMA
A failure in an earlier world title crack, Melvin Jerusalem challenged the reigning WBO mini-flyweight champion Masataka Taniguchi in the main event of "3150 FIGHT vol.4", which took place at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium in Osaka, Japan on January 6, 2023 and was broadcast by Abema TV.
After losing the opening round 10–9 on two of the judges' scorecards, Jerusalem won the fight by a second-round technical knockout. He knocked Taniguchi down with a one-two combination near the first minute of the round, which left the champion unable to recover sufficiently enough to beat the ten count.
4. MILAN MELINDO KO1 AKIRA YAEGASHI
Also a loser in a previous world title attempt, Milan Melindo won the IBF light flyweight title by shock first round stoppage of Akira Yaegashi on May 21, 2017 at the Ariske Arena in Tokyo, Japan.
Melindo earlier fought Mexican great Juan Estrada for the WBC flyweight crown and lost by unanimous decision. He bounced back by winning the IBF interim light flyweight title on points over Thai Teerapong Uthida which set him up against Yaegashi for the regular belt.
Milan did not figure to trouble much less beat Yaegashi as the Japanese was an accomplished fighter and champion who had seen action in many major bouts.
3. BERNABE VILLACAMPO UD15 HIROYUKI EBIHARA
Bernabe Villacampo (June 11, 1943-June 4, 2022) was a Philippine boxer who took the WBA World Flyweight Championship in a fifteen round Unanimous Decision on October 19, 1969 against Japanese defending champion Hiroyuki Ebihara at the Prefectural Gymnasium, in Osaka, Japan. Villacampo's business manager was the famed Lope Sarreal Jr. A strong puncher, he knocked out opponents in 40% of the matches he won.
The defeat was so comprehensive that Ebihara who was a respected accomplished fighter who had previous wins over the likes of Pone Kingpetch, retired afterwards. Villacampo primed himself by engaging in series of hard fights against fellow Filipinos Ric Magramo and Erbito Salavarria who would later also become two time world champion.
2. GERRY PENALOSA SD12 HIROSHI KAWASHIMA
Gerry Penalosa captured the WBC and lineal super flyweight title with a split decision win over Hiroshi Kawashima on 27 February 1997 and made three successful title defenses.
The split decision verdict was slammed by independent boxing scribes and observers as Gerry thoroughly dominated Kawashima almost from the beginning.
Kawashima was an accomplished and feared fighter and champion known for his deadly body punching but Gerry's speed, accuracy and seeming boundless energy frustrated him for most of the bout.
He later lost it on points to In-Joo Cho on 29 August 1998. Two years later, he had a rematch with Cho to regain the title but again lost by controversial unanimous decision.
1. MORRIS EAST TKO11 AKINOBU HIRANAKA
A Fil-American meztiso, Morris East turned professional in 1989 and won the WBA World Light Welterweight Championship by defeating Akinobu Hiranaka with an 11th-round TKO victory in Tokyo on 9 September 1992.
With the victory, East became the youngest ever Filipino to hold a world championship in boxing at the age of 19 years and 31 days old.
The knockout victory was awarded by the distinguished Ring Magazine as the KO of the Year 1992 on account of the fighter he defeated, Hiranaka, was a feared KO artist who had earlier won the world title by knocking out the dreaded Puerto Rican bomber Edwin "El Chapo" Rosario.
Honorable Mention: DODIE BOY PENALOSA KO12 (15) SATOSHI SHINGAKI IBF inaugural world light flyweight championship, Dec 10, 1983, Osaka, Japan
I hope this ranking will change after December 26, 2023.
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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