2-weight champ Jyunjin Nakatani – in the devastated area of LA, where he started out. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

2-weight champ Jyunjin Nakatani – in the devastated area of LA, where he started out.

Close-up look at his camp for his first defense in the super flyweight division!

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In a corner of South Central, where I came to the U.S. at age 15 and did a lot of road work, I found a neighborhood called South Central.

In the 1970s, 80% of the residents in the 132-square-mile neighborhood of South Central, south of downtown Los Angeles, were black.

Blacks began living in the area in 1948, after World War II. In 1948, after World War II, blacks began to live in the area, and young gangs sprang up here and there to fight against whites who found them difficult to deal with. Murders are not uncommon as a result of the racial strife that continues. There is no end to the number of young people who become drug dealers in order to escape poverty. At some point, turf wars between people of the same skin color also began to arise.

In the six days following August 11, 1965, a major riot by blacks in nearby Watts claimed 34 lives, injured 1,032 people, and nearly 4,000 were arrested. According to Area Vibes, a demographics specialist, the number of crimes occurring in South Central today is 83 percent higher than the national average, and the number of assaults is up a whopping 331 percent.

In one such neighborhood, there was a community of Mexican immigrants. They, too, fought, sometimes against whites and sometimes against blacks. Time has passed, and today, two-thirds of the population living in South Central is Hispanic.

Junjin Nakatani, 25, who has been camping in Los Angeles since July 20 in preparation for his first defense of his WBO super flyweight title scheduled for September 18, recently visited the area. South Central is a place with fond memories for Nakatani, who has won 25 fights with 19 KOs since his debut, and has won two weight classes.

I’ve been living at Rudy’s father’s house here for a long time,” Nakatani said. I was staying in Rudy’s sister’s kid’s room, and one night I heard a popping sound from outside. ‘Junto, did you hear that? I remember she said, ‘It’s a gunshot.'”

Nakatani, who won Japan’s number one amateur U15 tournament, chose not to go on to high school, but went to the United States on his own “to become a world champion in the pros. The second trainer he met in the U.S. was Rudy Hernandez (60). He was a 15-year-old Nakatani, who was chasing his dream. It was an exciting time for 15-year-old Nakatani, who was chasing his dream, but he was also worried that Rudy would give up on him.

Rudy, who had trained his own brother, the late Genaro, to become a world champion and had coached top Japanese athletes such as Shinji Takehara, Takanori Hatayama, and Masayuki Ito, saw 15-year-old Nakatani in action and, touched by his extraordinary and innocent nature, accepted to coach him, saying, “This kid will definitely become a thing.

Ten years have passed since that day, and Jyunjin Nakatani has won two world titles, the WBO flyweight and super flyweight titles. In particular, his fight on May 20 of this year, in which he won by KO in the final round to win the two weight classes, was held in Las Vegas and was highly acclaimed in the United States, his home country.

Nakatani won the second weight class in his first attempt. Nakatani’s expression shows his mental composure.

Standing on the “land of origin,” Nakatani said.

I went out for road work in the morning, and a few days later, a picture was placed at the spot where I heard the gunshot. I realized, “Oh, the person who was shot died, that’s the gunshot from that time. …… I also saw how people were arrested for using drugs in the neighborhood. South Central is not a good place to be. I felt that it must indeed be a very unsafe place.

But I didn’t have time to think about it being scary or dangerous. I just wanted to be recognized by Rudy, and I was determined to follow him and become strong, and become a world champion.

After signing a contract with Rudy, Nakatani stayed at his father’s house in South Central while learning the basics of boxing.

Road work and two practice sessions were the normal menu,” Nakatani said. I did about 20 rounds of gym work in the morning and in the afternoon. Since I turned pro at the age of 17, I have been emphasizing the quality of my training, but looking back, I feel that it is important to do quantity when you are young and can absorb a lot.

Nakatani’s fighting style reveals his good balance and physical strength. He still spends a great deal of time on core training, and he attributes his robustness to the lessons he absorbed from Rudy.

I am not a strong person to begin with,” he said. It is because I trained hard that I have the body I have today. Rudy also taught me how to defend myself thoroughly. I learned the position of my feet, the position of my head, timing, angles, footwork, and other really detailed techniques. He taught me to keep my head in a position to avoid being hit, to keep my body close to the ground to avoid being punched, to take one step to the side and move in the opposite direction, and so on.

In the late summer of his 15-year old year, when he was a selfless fighter, he sometimes felt homesick. It was Rudy’s father who encouraged Nakatani at that time. That “grandfather” still lives in the same place today.

The relationship of trust between Nakatani and Rudy (left) is solid.

Nakatani, now a world champ in two weight classes, greeted his visit with a smile on his 90-year-old grandfather’s face. He speaks no English at all. But he communicates with a bold laugh and gestures. He was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, on January 27, 1933, came to the United States in 1950, joined the U.S. Army, and bought a house in South Central three years later.

He was a soccer player in his younger days and played for Toluca, which now belongs to the Mexican First Division, and showed the author a photo of his active years. What was your position? When I asked him, he grinned and said, “I played goalkeeper, field, and everything. But it wasn’t very serious, so I went into lucha (professional wrestling ) after that.

Anyway, “Grampa” is a jovial man.

He then stepped on the dance floor and rubbed his middle finger and thumb to make a snapping sound, saying that dancing was what made his life worthwhile. The 90-year-old, whom Nakatani calls “Grampa,” proudly embraced the 25-year-old world champion and said to the author, “Junto has always been a hard worker.

Junto has always been a hard worker,” Nakatani said. That’s why he has come this far.

A few moments later, the door to the room Nakatani used to occupy when he was 15 years old opened to reveal the man who had told him about the shot, and the WBO super flyweight champion turned his gaze to that one room and said, ” This is where I used to live.

–What do you think about when you look at the scene behind this door now? He replied, “I guess it’s the feeling that I was working hard.

In this simple remark, I felt as if I were seeing the pride of a 15-year-old who had decided on a life before making his professional debut, overcoming loneliness in a foreign country, and running as fast as he could.

His opponent for the September 18 defense was Mexican Arj Cortez (28), ranked ninth in the division with 25 wins (10 KOs), 3 losses, and 2 draws. The champion’s camp was approached by the top rankers, but did not receive a colorful response from the challengers, who were scared off by his brilliant knockout on May 20.

The high level of concentration is remarkable.

He said, “I wanted a match with a well-known player, including a Japanese. The fans would be happy, and I would also feel that it would be worthwhile, and I would be excited about it. But when I saw Cortez’s video, he is more talented than his ranking, and he had a good fight with WBC champion Juan Francisco Estrada, so I am very determined. I’m looking forward to seeing how I can perform against this kind of opponent.”

Prior to winning the WBO super flyweight title, his 18 knockout victories had a pattern of damaging his opponents with a series of strikes. In his last fight, however, he hit a perfectly timed counter left hook that sent his opponent to the canvas.

I hope to show him a better way to win,” he said. I want to build up my game carefully, without being overpowering or messy, and then finish him off. Right now, I am practicing with the theme of keeping my distance. I want to fight in a way that confuses my opponent.”

On the ninth day of the Los Angeles Camp, boxing fans around the world were treated to a mega-fight in Las Vegas, as WBO champion Terence Crawford defeated WBA/WBC/IBF champion Errol Spence Jr. in a unification welterweight title fight. Both champions are southpaws like Nakatani, and the WBO super flyweight champion also watched the unification fight on TV.

The WBO super flyweight champion also watched the unification bout on TV, “I was struck by the height of Crawford’s left guard, the point where it was always in front of his chin. Plus, the accuracy of his jab. He can knock his opponent down with his jab alone. I really learned a lot. Crawford was meticulous in his fighting style. I learned that precise boxing makes a big difference.

Crawford is a switchy fighter, but this time you fought southpaw all the way. I think you decided that would work against Spence. Crawford took the first down in the second round, but instead of going all at once, you let the damage accumulate and made sure you took him down. The fact that he KO’d the fighter in a rhythm rather than forcing him to go down was also a quintessential example.”

Lunch that day was Japanese Teriyaki Chicken.

Jyunjin Nakatani fulfilled the promise he made to himself at South Central. He is a champion who understands firsthand the importance of self-discipline, and on September 18, we hope to see his further evolution as he approaches Crawford.

Rudy says, “He’s the best fighter I’ve ever worked with.”
Rudy with his brother Tatsuto (left), who supports his brother as a manager.
  • Photography and text by Soichi Hayashi

    Born in 1969. Passed the professional boxing test as a junior lightweight, but suffered an injury to his left elbow. After working as a reporter for a weekly magazine, he became a nonfiction writer, and in 1996, he moved to the U.S. to teach at a public high school in the U.S. He also works as an educator. 2014, he completed the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, The University of Tokyo. He is the author of "Minority Fist," "America's Lower Level Education Site," and "America's Problem Child Regeneration Classroom" (all Kobunsha e-books), "God's Ring," "The Door to the World: Forward! Samurai Blue" and "Hohoite to Nurture Coaching" (all from Kodansha).

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