“I don’t understand why some players say, ‘I got stronger by losing. I’ve always fought against the pressure of ‘I absolutely have to win,’ and that’s how I’ve come this far.
Ginjiro Shigeoka, 22, ranked No. 5 in the WBC and No. 6 in the WBO, has made a career out of being undefeated.
In August, he gave up his WBO Asia-Pacific minimumweight title, which he had defended twice, in order to concentrate on challenging for the world title. His current record stands at 6-0, 5 KOs. Hitoshi Watanabe, 71, chairman of Watanabe Boxing Gym, to which Ginjiro belongs, says, “Ginjiro is definitely an outstanding talent who will become a world champion.
“We have sent out four world champions so far, but Ginjiro’s ability is not inferior to any of them. It’s unbelievable that he hasn’t lost a fight since he started boxing. I’m looking forward to seeing how far he can go.
Despite his small stature (153cm), his punches are heavy, as shown by his 83% KO rate. His skill and courage to observe his opponent calmly and stick to his own boxing style are attractive. Ginjiro says.
“I’ve been going to the karate dojo with my brother, who is two years older than me, since I was in kindergarten. But as you can see, I was small, so I was always losing to bigger opponents. At the time, I saw Hozumi Hasegawa (40) on TV, and he looked good, so I started boxing at the end of the fourth grade at the same time.
Boxing, which is a weight class system, suited Ginjiro’s small stature.
“The things I learned in karate, such as how to throw a punch, how to dodge, and how to step, came in handy in boxing. When I was in the fifth grade, I participated in a U-15 tournament and won the national championship. I didn’t think it was possible, but I promised myself that I would not allow myself to be defeated in the future. In other words, from that day on, I have been practicing to become the best in the world.
In junior high school, he did not participate in club activities, but continued boxing at the gym. Following in the footsteps of his older brother, he entered Kaishin High School in his hometown of Kumamoto.
Ginjiro vowed to be undefeated for the rest of his life, but in fact, he suffered the only defeat of his career in the finals of the Inter High School Kumamoto prefectural preliminary round held a few months after entering the school. His opponent was his older brother, Yuudai. “The advisor of the boxing club decided that he could not let his brother fight a life and death battle, and threw in the towel from the corner as soon as the bell rang to start the match.
“It was the advisor’s decision, so it couldn’t be helped. Besides, when I was in my first year of high school, I still had a feeling somewhere in my heart that I would eventually lose. However, we were able to win the national championship at the spring selection tournament. The more achievements you make, the more winning becomes a matter of course. I couldn’t afford to lose, and the things I had to carry became bigger and bigger. In the end, I won every tournament except for the National Athletic Meet in my third year of high school, which I could not participate in due to a broken left wrist.
As the champion of his five high school titles, he went on to become a professional player. His older brother went on to Takushoku University and aimed for the Olympics, but Ginjiro was determined to become a professional.
“He said, “Professional boxing is glamorous, and the world belt was and still is the only thing in my mind.
The reason why he chose Watanabe Boxing Gym is because the gym has top lightweight fighters such as Ryoichi Taguchi (34), former WBA/IBF light flyweight champion, Hiroto Kyoguchi (27), current WBA light flyweight super champion, and Masataka Taniguchi (27), former Japanese minimum weight champion. This is because he thought that being exposed to them would help him grow.
“About five months after I moved to Tokyo, I had a sparring session with Mr. Kyoguchi. I deliberately let him attack me in the beginning, but he gradually caught me at his distance and rhythm. My strengths were erased, and I realized that I lacked stamina. I think I’ve sparred with Mr. Kyoguchi for about 30 rounds in total. I learn a lot from him every time.
Watching the sparring, Chairman Watanabe was convinced of Ginjiro’s success.
“It’s true that Kyoguchi was pushing him, but I was impressed with the way Ginjiro was able to apply his punches and keep his distance. His impressive amateur record is no mean feat. He is a stoic fighter and his attitude toward boxing is perfect. I really felt that I had to let him win the world.
In July 2007, he won the WBO Asia Pacific minimumweight title in his fourth fight since his debut. He won by first round KO. On New Year’s Eve of the same year, he successfully defended his title for the first time, sinking the challenger in five rounds. In this fight, Chairman Watanabe witnessed Ginjiro’s fundamental strength.
“He got off to a good start in the first round, taking down the challenger with a short left hand, but in the third round, he took a straight left hand and fell back. In the third round, he was hit by a straight left and fell back. Nevertheless, in the 4th round, he used his legs to keep his distance and weakened his opponent with his body to reorganize the fight.
Then, in the fifth round, I knocked him out with my signature straight left hand. I showed my cleverness. In boxing, even a fighter with a winning streak can fall apart in the blink of an eye. He can handle himself calmly in a pinch. That’s how much he has to offer. Ginjiro knows how to show himself well.”
Chairman Watanabe immediately tried to prepare him for a higher stage, but the new coronavirus covered the world, and Ginjiro was forced to take a 19-month break.
“There were three or four times when a match was almost decided, but it was quickly called off. That happened three or four times. Whenever I was told that a match had been cancelled, I would lose my mind and not be able to do anything. I would look at the TV, but nothing would come in. I wondered if I would ever be able to box again. …… and my motivation dropped due to anxiety.
After a period of endurance, on July 14, he kicked out his undefeated challenger in two rounds and focused on a world match.
“I want to get in the ring without a gap. I want to get into the ring as soon as possible,” he said. “Right now, I’m practicing how to handle attacks with my legs and how to dodge punches with my upper body movements. I’m going to win the world belt.
His camp has a blueprint for him to win the world title in 2010 after gaining momentum in the preliminaries. How far will the record of the man who has never lost extend?
From “FRIDAY” November 19, 2021 issue
Reporting and writing： Soichi Hayashi
Photography： Hiroaki Yamaguchi