ORIGINS OF BOXING IN THE ORIENT
While various forms of martial arts are synonymous with the Orient, dating back to and before the 8th Century and the first shogun wars, western-style boxing did not take root there until shortly before the turn of the 20th Century.
That came as a consequence of the Spanish-American War of 1898. Conquered, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States of America, ending Spanish colonisation of the islands and heralding in an era of American domination that would last until the Republic of the Philippines came into existence on July 4, 1946.
It was the U.S. influence that gave birth to the sport, initially in Manila, and for some time the Philippines tended to dominate the zone from that head start, with the country's best boxers tending to travel to the United States, often by way of Honolulu, where there was a big Filipino community, to further their careers.
Some outstanding individuals did much to pioneer boxing in its early history in the Orient.
One was Yujiro Watanabe, of Japan, a boxer-turned-promoter who laid important groundwork in developing the sport in Japan and bridging language and cultural barriers with neighboring countries. Watanabe boxed successfully in America in the years after 1910 and returned to Tokyo in 1921 to form the Japan Club, a basis for the boom in Japanese boxing that was to come in the post-war years.
The first international contest in Japan was at Tokyo's Kudan Arena in 1924, when Teiko Ogino boxed a 10-round draw with Young Gonzalo, of the Philippines, proving a Japan-Philippines match would draw in Japan and that men from the Philippines were not invincible.
Born in Hawaii in November 1908 of Japanese parents,"Sad" Sam Ichinose's career began in 1920, initially as a trainer, and in the post-war years he was to achieve enormous benefits for Orient boxing as a promoter, manager, agent and developer of raw talent.
No-one was better known in the Orient boxing circles than Lope "Papa" Sarreal, of the Philippines, who was active until shortly before his death at the age of 93.
Like Sad Sam, Papa began in boxing in 1920. He had a promotional and managerial involvement in almost every boxing country of the world. Papa promoted more than 70 world title bouts and was a giant in supporting boxing not only in his native Philippines but throughout Asia and the Orient, both when boxing was in its infancy and, later, in the rewarding years. A few of the many world champions with whom Papa was associated over the decades were Gabriel "Flash" Elorde, of the Philippines, Yoshio Shirai, of Japan and Saensak Muangsurin, of Thailand.
While there certainly was boxing in the Orient between the birth of the new century and World War II, and success in that period, it was in the post-war era that the real strength began to emerge.
The Japanese Boxing Association was re-formed in 1946, to be followed in 1952 by the Japan Boxing Commission, operating then and now at Tokyo's Korakuen Stadium, under the inaugural presidency of Soei Tanabe. An organisation was formed in the Philippines, largely through the work of Leon Castillo and Augustin Pineda, and in other parts of the Orient and Asia supervisory bodies were formed as the world attempted to return to normal after the war.
By the early 1950s the Orient and Asia were ready to form a zone boxing body and stand beside other respected regional organisations.
Although so-called Orient title bouts had been fought in days as early as the second decade of the 20th Century, they were courtesy titles because no organisation existed to sanction and supervise them.
The original edition of the World Boxing Council history book 20 Years records the first Orient title bout in the post-war-era as being in Tokyo in 1952, when 10,000 spectators saw Gabriel "Flash" Elorde outpoint Hiroshi Horiguchi to win the lightweight title. In November the same year Larry Bataan, of the Philippines, beat Japan's Akiyoshi Akazawa to take the featherweight championship.
But no supervising authority existed formally until October 27, 1954, when the Oriental Boxing Federation (OBF) was proclaimed in Tokyo at a meeting attended by representatives of Japan (Yachiyo Manabe), the Philippines (Alfredo Guidote) and Thailand (Phorn Panitchpakdi). First president of the OBF was Manuel Nieto, of the Philippines, a fitting appointment since it was Manila that the OBF story began.
From this historic meeting grew plans for a carnival of champions to be held in Manila the following year, on December 3 and 7, 1955, to decide the first official Orient titleholders. They were: Danny Kid, Philippines, flyweight; Keeichi Momoro, Japan, bantamweight; Shigeji Kaneko, Japan, featherweight; Leo Alonzo, Philippines, lightweight; and Hachiro Tasumi, Japan, middleweight.
The first convention of the OBF was in Tokyo in November 1957, attended by representatives of Thailand, Japan, the Philippines and a new member, Korea, which had formed a national federation the year before and was keen to take its place in the federation.
More countries joined as of the OBF grew in strength and influence in the late Fifties and 1960s. A major development came in 1977 when Australia joined and the name was changed to Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation (OPBF) to include the South Pacific region. Since then, numbers of participating countries and states have grown to 16 Australia, Fiji, Guam, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, the Philippines, PAMA (Professional Association of Martial Arts, representing boxers from several Asian republics of the former USSR), Republic of China, the Samoas, Thailand and Tonga.
Francisco Guilledo holds a special place in the history of the Orient as the first man from our zone to win a world title.
If the name Guilledo means little it is because this history-maker, born in Iloila in the Philippines on August 1, 1901, fought under the name of Pancho Villa, taking his ring name from the Mexican Revolutionary.
Reflecting the influence America had on boxing in the zone, Villa learned his craft in the gymnasium of U.S. military bases in Manila. A "Fighting" fighter, he boxed 50 times in the 29-month period from January 1921 to June 1923, when he won the world flyweight title. Villa's first steps of major significance were victories over "Terrible" Pandong on February 21, 1921, and George Mendies on December 8 of the same year in fights billed as being for the Orient flyweight and bantamweight titles.
He moved to the United States the following year and was popular with American fight fans, who appreciated his aggressive style and knockout power in each hand.
Villa won the American flyweight title on September 14, 1922, in New York, stopping Johnny Buff in 11 rounds, but held the crown only briefly, losing it on points over 15 rounds on March 1, 1923, to Frankie Genaro, who had been the 1920 flyweight champion. Despite the setback against Genaro, who was later to win the world title, Villa's whirlwind style impressed Tex Rickard. When that legendary American promoter was looking for a challenger to fight world flyweight king Jimmy Wilde at New York's Polo Grounds on June 18, 1923, he was sure Villa was the man.
When ring historians look back on the flyweight division, some regard Welshman Jimmy Wilde as the best-ever champion. He won the title on December 16, 1916, knocking out Young Zulu Kid, of America, and reigned until his meeting with Villa. But Wilde, whose best days were behind him, was no match for the young, powerful, hard-punching Villa, who dominated the fight before knocking out Wilde in the seventh round.
Villa fought 25 times in the 25 months between his triumph over Wilde and his last fight, on July 4, 1925, a title defence against Jimmy McLarnin, in the interim repulsing title challenges from Benny Schwartz and Frankie Ash, winning both on points over 15 rounds.
Pancho Villa was a sick man worse as he trained for the McLarnin fight. Poison from broken and septic teeth was claiming his life. He had a wisdom tooth removed the day before the fight, which he lost badly on points, had more teeth taken out the next day and died nine days later on the operating table as surgeons tried to cope with an abscess on his jaw.
Next Filipino to achieve the ultimate was Cafernio Garcia, who beat Fred Apostoli in seven rounds in 1939 to take the world middleweight title. In a 116-bout career, Garcia, managed by George Parnassus, met the best of an outstanding group of middleweights from that era.
Of all the Philippine heroes to win world titles over the years among them Pedro Adigue, Rene Barrientos, Roberto Cruz, Ben Villaflor, Bernabe Villacampo, Rolando Navarette, Frank Cedano, Luisito Espinosa and Manny Pacquaio none was as highly acclaimed, in his homeland or abroad, as the late Gabriel "Flash" Elorde.
Elorde started boxing in the early 1950s, won the Orient lightweight championship and on March 16, 1960, claimed the world junior-lightweight title on a seventh round knockout of Harold Gomez. He made 10 successful world title defences between 1960 and 1967 before losing his crown on points to Japan's Yoshiaki Numata. In between defences of the world title, Elorde continued to protect his Orient laurel. In February 1964 he figured in one of boxing's classic bouts, stepping out of his true division to make a gallant but unsuccessful bid for world lightweight title held by Carlos Ortiz, losing on a 14th-round stoppage.
The name Gabriel Elorde appears a number of times in the WBC's Hall of Fame records, saying much for his achievements in boxing. He was No.1 junior-lightweight in the WBC Top 10 of All Time list (ahead of Alexis Arguello); he shared with Alfredo Escalera , of Puerto Rico, the record for most successful defenses of the world junior-lightweight title; and his classic battle with Ortiz for the lightweight championship is recorded in the WBC annuals as 1964's Fight of the Year.
Something of a late starter in the OBF family, because of the 1950-53 Korean War, Korea quickly made up for lost time and has carved an enviable reputation.
There have been many outstanding Korean world champions among them Ki-Soo Kim, Soo-Hwan Hong, Jae-Do Yuh, Dong-Kyun Yum, Sung-Yun Kim, Sang-Hyun Kim, Chan-Kee Park, Tae-Shik Kim, Chul-Ho Kim and Hwan-Jim Kim. The finest, certainly, was Jung-Koo Chang, the WBC flyweight titleholder. He took the crown on March 26, 1983, on a third round knockout of Hilario Zapata. On June 28, 1987, he stopped Augustin Garcia in 10 rounds to record his 13th successful WBC title defence, breaking the record previously held by Luis Estaba, of Venezuela. Chang retired as undefeated champion and later made a comeback, not totally successful.
Japan's first world champion and the beginning of a long line of titleholders from the land of the Rising Sun, was Yoshio Shirai, who won the flyweight title on May 19, 1952.
Shirai was born in Tokyo. His career was complicated by World War II and he won the world championship at an age when many boxers are, if not retired, then seriously thinking about it 29. Shirai had mixed fortunes early in his career but continued to improve his skills. He won the flyweight and bantamweight championships of Japan in 1949, was undefeated the following year and in 1951 lost and regained the domestic flyweight title.
The same year Shirai lost on points over 10 rounds in a non-title bout in Tokyo with the world champion, Dada Marino, one of many great boxers to be steered to the heights by Sam Ichinose.
The Marino fight was an important advance for Shirai. Although losing, it was no disgrace and Shirai's performance was considered good enough to earn another non-title bout, in Honolulu in December 1951. It turned out to be a stunning upset, with Marino succumbing in round seven after being knocked down six times. That triumph earned Shirai a title fight with Marino on May 19, 1952, at Tokyo's Korakuen Stadium, and he won comfortably on points to write himself into the record books.
There were four successful defenses - against Marino in November 1952, Tanny Campo in May 1953, Britain's Terry Allen later that same year and Leo Espinosa in May 1954 before, in November 1954, Shirai, at 32 lost the title on points to Pascal Perez.
Shirai's contribution was more than winning a world title. He inspired his countrymen by proving a Japanese boxer could be the best.
In the relatively short era of the post-war years, many great Japanese boxers were to follow Shirai to world titles.
One of the most popular of all was the warrior Fighting Harada, two-time world champion as a flyweight and bantamweight and a challenger for the featherweight crown. The great Jiro Watanabe, long-reigning king of the super-flyweight division, was another outstanding titleholder. Other boxers from Japan to take world titles included Hiroyuki Ebihara, Takeshii Fuji, Yoshiaki Numata, Hiroshi Kobayashi, Shozo Saijo, Masao Ohba, Kuniaki Shibato, Koiochi Wajima, Guts Ishimatsu, Shoji Oguma, Sansumu Hanagata, Royal Kobayashi, Yoko Gushiken, Musashi Kudo, Shiego Nakajima, Yastusene Uehara, Katsuo Tokashiki, Tadashi Tomori, Tsuyoshi Hamada, Joichiro Tatsuyoshi and Masamori Tokuyama.
First Thailander to acquire a world title was the graceful Pone Kingpetch, who was to win and lose the flyweight championship three times in a memorable career.
Kingpetch (real name Nana Seadoaghob) was born in the Northern Thailand seaport province of Hui Hui. He dabbled in Muy Thai kick-boxing as a teenager before turning to Queensberry rules, picking up his early pointers from a how-to-box book written by an American at the behest of the Thai Government.
At 5 feet 6 in, unusually tall for a flyweight, he was a stylist who relied on his height and reach advantages and preferred skilled boxing at range to rugged infighting. He was, nonetheless, a good puncher who one not a few bouts inside the distance.
He captured the Thailand flyweight title on November 6, 1956, beating Kunio Vitichai on points, and in January the following year won a 12-round decision over Danny Kid to claim the Orient flyweight title. He lost an Orient title fight with Leo Espinosa in July 1957 but showed better form in September that year by out pointing Hitoshi Misako to regain the Orient championship.
Kingpetch in early 1959 broke his jaw in a serious car accident and was sidelined for a year. It was in this period that he came under the patronage of a wealthy and influential Thai, Thong Thos Indradat, who owned a pharmaceutical company in Bangkok. Indradat took Kingpetch under his wing, gave him employment with his company and laid the groundwork for a world title challenge when - and if - Kingpetch resumed his career.
In his comeback fight on January 31, 1960, Kingpetch had a fourth-round knockout of Baby Ross. At that point Indradat opened negotiations with the world flyweight champion, Pascal Perez, of Argentina, an outstanding titleholder who had taken the championship from Yoshio Shirai in November 1954 and defended 10 times.
The Perez-Kingpetch bout, in Bangkok on April 16, 1960, was a classic case of the puncher meeting the boxer, and the Thailander won a split decision and the title after 15 enthralling rounds. The closeness of that fight warranted a return and in September 1960 Kingpetch travelled to Los Angeles, for the first time leaving the shores of Thailand, to give Perez the chance he had given him five months earlier. This time, Kingpetch was the clear master, dominating the fight and knocking out Perez in eight rounds, proving he was not only a worthy champion but also one who could win away from home and without the cheers of partisan fans whose support was a powerful spur.
He defended twice in Japan, in 1961 and 1962, out pointing Mitsunori Seki and Kyo Noguchi, before a third visit to Tokyo, on October 10 1962, to lose the title on an 11th round knockout at the hands of the man who is, perhaps, Japan's most loved sporting son, Fighting Harada.
To fulfill a return clause in the 1962 Tokyo contract, Harada flew to Bangkok to defend on January 12, 1963, against Kingpetch , a defence considered something of a formality because Harada was strongly favoured to win. But the Kingpetch story was not yet over. In the return, Kingpetch's skills were honed to their finest and he outpointed the bull Harada to win back his title, the first man to regain the flyweight championship.
In September 1963 Kingpetch travelled once more, to Japan to risk his crown against the rugged southpaw Hiroyuki Ebihara, who took it on a sensational first-round knockout. Even the most dedicated Kingpetch supporters doubted their fighter could win the return with Ebihara. But again Kingpetch triumphed, outpointing Ebihara on January 23, 1964, to win the flyweight championship for a third time and set a record which might never be broken.
In April 1965 in Rome, Italy, Pone Kingpetch lost the title on points to Salvatore Burruni and had two more fights, both in Bangkok, both KO wins, before announcing his retirement in May 1966. He died in Bangkok in 1982 of pneumonia.
Since Kingpetch, other Thais have brought honour to themselves and their country by winning world titles, among them NetrnoiVorasing, Chartchai Chinoi, Bergerk Chartvanchai, Venice Borkorsor, Saensak Muangsurin, Payao Poontarat, Sot Chitilada, Samart Payakaroon, Pongsaklek Won Jongkam and Veeraphol Nakhonluang.