[Criteria: Fighter theoretically enters weight category of choice]
BANTAMWEIGHTS 118 lbs: p1 Masahiko Harada p2 Panama Al Brown p3 Naoya Inoue p3 Carlos Zarate Serna p4 Manuel Ortiz p4 Kid Williams p4 Pete Kid Herman p5 Johnny Coulon p5 Lionel Rose p5 Orlando Canizales
[8.9] MASAHIKO HARADA 62-55(22)-7 [Featherweight & Bantamweight & Flyweight]: David L Hudson - Boxing Monthly online -
Harada, Mashiko (1943-): Mashiko ‘Fighting’ Harada was probably Japan’s greatest boxer who won world championships in the flyweight and bantamweight divisions in the 1960s. Born in 1943 in Tokyo, Harada turned professional at age 16. In October 1962 he faced Pone Kingpetch for the flyweight championship. The 19-year-old Harada koyoed the champion in the 11th round to capture the title. He lost the title in a rematch held in Kingpetch’s hometown – Bangkok, Thailand. The Associated Press scored the bout 71-67 for Harada, but two official scorecards went for Kingpetch.
Harada later moved up in weight and challenged undefeated bantamweight champion Eder Jofre. Employing his trademark whirlwind attack, Harada outpointed the Brazilian legend to capture the title in 1965. He defeated Jofre by another close decision in their 1966 rematch. He held the bantamweight title until he dropped a decision to Lionel Rose in 1968. The next year, Harada moved up in weight and challenged featherweight champion Johnny Famechon in Sydney, Australia. Most ringside observers felt that Harada won the bout, but referee Willie Pep (who originally indicated the bout was a draw) scored the bout for the Australian champion by a single point. Even the Australian crowd booed the result. Harada retired in 1970 after he lost to Famechon in a rematch. In February 2007 Harada became president of the Japanese Professional Boxing Association. David L Hudson, Combat Sports: An Encyclopedia of Wrestling, Fighting and Mixed Martial Arts
‘When I began boxing, in the late 1950s, Japan was poor. The gyms were full, full of young men like me who saw opportunity in boxing. Today, our gyms are not very busy. No-one owned much of anything. Now, look around. It’s a rich, wealthy country. People can buy anything. Why be a boxer? It’s a tough, hard sport. We all began to notice the difference after the (1964) Olympics, when we began to become more prosperous. But as we became richer, we lost a certain spirit, I think – the spirit that I had, and the men who boxed when I did.’ [Fighting Harada, Los Angeles Times 1988]
These are the words of an older Fighting Harada but his reputation was built during his fearsome prime in the 1960s, when the vitality of youth saw him a tsunami personified.
Masahiko Harada was born two years before the atom bomb was dropped on Japan. One of seven siblings – another of whom would eventually become a notable pro in his own right – there was little else for Masahiko to do in the near apocalyptic post-war years in Japan but fight.
That spirit he spoke of? Bushido values were part of Japanese culture for centuries. The chivalrous and respectful way of the samurai was reflected in Harada’s own approach to the sport of boxing: said by his opponents to be a gentleman before and after fights, Masahiko would be dubbed Fighting Harada for that very spirit and style. The name fitted him perfectly; armed with one of the best jabs of all time, he was unruly inside the ropes, a face-first swarmer, a throwback, who threw more power punches in three minutes that some fighters do in whole fights.
He won his first world title while still in his teens, and was arguably the best in three weight classes, retiring before his 30th birthday in a career spanning less than a decade.
He was at his best at bantamweight, but no bantam worthy of a ranking this high had it easy.
Harada’s style befitted his age: fast feet, high energy and no fear. He turned pro at 16 and fought 13 times in his first year, culminating in victory over no less a figure than future world champ Hiroyuki Ebihara in the final of the All-Japan rookie tournament.
Harada would launch his first attack on the bantamweights before he’d reached the pinnacle of his own division. Still growing into the weight, Harada was 19 years old, unbeaten in 25 pro bouts and around 115 lbs when he lost to experienced Mexican bantam Edmundo Esparza.
Esparza was a fully-fledged bantam at 118lbs. He was just one of a tremendous crop of Mexican monsters who would mix in great company over the next few years without winning world honours …
Harada didn’t look to rebuild slowly after dropping his world title. He first tried desperately to arrange a fight with number one ranked bantamweight contender Jesus Pimentel, then regarded as the hardest puncher in boxing. The Japanese kid knew no fear. The fight didn’t come off, with Harada expected to build his name Stateside first against another opponent …
If it is obvious to you, it should have been obvious to Harada. But he was still a boy. Boys are naive, even former world champions. The exuberance of youth was as much Harada’s downfall as the punches he shipped.
You can hear it in the tone of the Japanese commentators. You needn’t speak the language. There was panic first, as Harada became disorganised, then woe as he hit the deck.
In one of those moments that perfectly encapsulates a fighter’s make-up in just a few seconds, Harada leapt back up and ran at Medel just as he did at the opening bell, trying to save the fight the only way he knew how; by throwing lots of power punches. He wasn’t called ‘Fighting’ Harada for his defensive boxing.
But Medel had his man, and zapped Harada again with accurate counter blows. The referee saved him, wisely …
He wasn’t quite there.
Harada worked his way back, with a few comeback victories that moved him up the totem pole of World Boxing Association challengers. When a fight with Jesus Pimentel to determine champion Eder Jofre’s next challenger again fell through (this time because the Mexican caught a stomach bug) Harada’s management were unhappy with the cancellation and took Pimentel to court, citing loss of earnings. The Mexican was waiting out a proposed title fight with Jofre later on in the year …
‘The uppermost question in Japan’s boxing circles today is: will Masahiko (Fighting) Harada be able to beat undefeated world bantamweight champion Eder Jofre of Brazil in their 15-round title match on 7 April?’ read a Pacific Stars & Stripes article.
The Japanese press felt it was a close fight in reality. Perhaps swept away by nationalistic pride, they deemed Harada a tough fight for Jofre due to his swarming style, and harked back to his upsetting the odds once before, against Pone Kingpetch …
The fight was worth the wait. Warmly received at the time and holding up tremendously on film as one of the greatest title bouts of all time, Harada and Jofre put on a superb exhibition of both technical boxing and wild aggression.
Harada, of course, came sprinting out of his corner to start each round. The champion was measured and patient, as Jofre looked to counter Harada. The Brazilian had the arsenal to do so; equipped with a booming left hook, uppercuts with either hand and a right cross that had felled many excellent bantamweights.
Harada swarmed all over Jofre, with a greater focus on strategy not apparent in surviving footage of his earlier bouts, perhaps not wanting to over-commit as he did against Medel.
This approach paid off for Harada. When Jofre started to push him back in the fourth, Harada sensed an opportunity and seized it, cracking Jofre with a counter right uppercut.
It seemed innocuous at first. Sure, it had landed clean, but Jofre was an iron man, he had eaten an uppercut from Jose Medel and lived to tell the tale. Jofre’s poker face might have convinced even the Japanese buzzsaw to hold his cards close to his chest.
Then Jofre’s legs betrayed him. He staggered, only slightly.
Slightly was all Fighting Harada needed to flip the table over and launch the whole deck at Jofre …
A close split decision followed after 15, but the footage shows a clear winner. The now deposed champion of Brazil, all class, raised Harada’s hand.
Harada’s kamikaze style had won many fights for him, and it had won portions of this bout too, but in a post-Medel world Harada had learned where and when to attack. He was a different animal now, just as savage, but more cerebral …
But oh, what bantams they were! Boxing Monthly article Kyle McLachlan 26th October 2018, ‘The Top Ten Bantamweights of All Time’